With the NFL regular season concluded, the 2013 NFL Draft season is upon us. As changes across the league will start to take place, the first 20 picks in the draft are set.
Because of the multitude of coach and front office changes that lead to scheme and draft philosophy change, look for the picks to vary each time a new mock draft is posted. The players in the mock will change as well due to the underclassmen declaration deadline approaching on Jan. 15.
For this mock draft, lets open the flood gates on underclassmen coming out, other than those who have already said they're returning. Because there is so much uncertainty with coaches and front office personnel, there are a lot of need-based picks in this mock.
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1. Kansas City Chiefs - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Smith is not the best player in the 2013 NFL Draft. We have him rated as the 16th best prospect overall. But it won't be a surprise for the Chiefs to use the top pick on him because of how desperately they need a starting quarterback. Of course if Kansas City reloads its front office, the Chiefs could go after a veteran free agent. Or fall in love with another quarterback in the draft. It's also true that Smith faded toward the end of the season, but he still has good talent. To really secure a top five draft position, Smith should participate in the Senior Bowl. His combine measurables will also be important – namely his hand size after he had issues holding the ball in the Pinstripe Bowl.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Like most teams drafting this high, the Jaguars have numerous needs. Jacksonville may look to move on from Maurice Jones-Drew, and there are lingering questions along the defensive line, at right tackle and in the secondary. Terrance Knighton is set to become a free agent and Tyson Alualu has had injury issues. Drafting a tackle could allow them to let Knighton walk. The Utah tackle is arguably the best player in the draft and should be scheme versatile in the NFL. With the first pick in the second round, the Jaguars should be able to find a quarterback there.
3. Oakland Raiders - Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Terrelle Pryor isn't the answer at quarterback for Oakland, but this is early for Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson or Mike Glennon. Instead, Oakland could look to improve one of the league's worst pass rush units with the talented Moore. Not only did Moore lead Texas A&M in tackles this season, he also had 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. After playing with his hand in the dirt and standing up, Moore would give the Raiders some flexibility on defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
This pick has quickly become a consensus, and for good reason. There is no certainty that left tackle Jason Peters can return after twice rupturing his Achilles' tendon before the season. Joeckel would be able to step right into Philadelphia's starting lineup at left tackle and stay there for years. He's a high-caliber tackle prospect who improved as the 2012 college football season progressed. Joeckel is the same caliber of prospect as players like Matt Kalil this year and Russell Okung in 2010. Joeckel, who excels in pass protection, may not be Joe Thomas, but he's close. He's a franchise player in a draft with few of them.
5. Detroit Lions - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
There are a number of places on defense the Lions could look for improvement. Several pass rushers will get looked at, including Florida State's Bjoern Werner or Georgia's Jarvis Jones. But the Lions routinely gave up big plays in the passing game this season and need a starting cornerback. Milliner would give them a corner that can play on an island, but support the run. What puts Milliner above other corners in this class is his ability to play man or zone situations with little fall off in either.
6. Cleveland Browns - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
After adding several pieces to their offense in this year's draft, the Browns could go heavy on defense in 2013. Cleveland needs help at all levels of the defense, other than tackle and middle linebacker. Werner is the best pure 4-3 defensive end in this scenario and he'd fit well in Cleveland. He's athletic enough to get around the edge, but strong enough to play the run in the physical AFC North. If the Browns like a cornerback, don't be surprised if they go in that direction to help opposite Joe Haden. An outside possibility could be Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
7. Arizona Cardinals - Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California
Much like Smith probably isn't worth the top pick, this is high for Barkley. When there is a team in need, quarterbacks get overvalued dramatically, and that's the case here. The Cardinals need to take a chance on a first-round quarterback after passing over top signal callers the past two years. The Cardinals unsuccessfully gambled on Matt Leinart in 2006, but it's time to gamble on a USC quarterback again. Don't be surprised if Tyler Wilson of Arkansas gets a long look here as well.
8. Buffalo Bills - Mike Glennon, QB, N.C. State
Before draft season has really even taken off, Glennon has been a hot name. How high he rises in the draft may be dependent on how he does at the Senior Bowl (assuming he gets an invite and participates). Glennon had an up and down year at N.C. State, but he profiles as a better version of Nick Foles. Glennon may not be a superstar, but he has the tools and size to be a good starter who can deliver the ball in all areas of the field.
9. New York Jets - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
It's time for Jets head coach Rex Ryan to get back to what he knows, and that's generating a pass rush. The Jets weren't able to get much of a rush from their outside linebackers this season, with Calvin Pace leading the outside linebackers with just three sacks. Jones, who has some medical issues that will need to be evaluated, is the most natural 3-4 linebacker in this class. He has the ability to take over the game and could plug in straight away on the outside.
10. Tennessee Titans - Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
The Titans need pass rush help. Derrick Morgan has underwhelmed and Kamerion Wimbley is 30. Montgomery didn't have the stats this season, but it wasn't because of a lack of on-field effort. Tennessee desperately needs safety help, but there just isn't one worth a pick this high. If concerns linger about the health of middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, this could perhaps be the draft ceiling for Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.
11. San Diego Chargers - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
San Diego hasn't taken an offensive lineman in the first two rounds of the draft since 2006. It's time to stop taking chances on front seven players on the defense and go with a surefire left tackle. Jared Gaither, who can't stay healthy, isn't the answer at left tackle. The powerful Lewan isn't an elite athlete for a tackle, but he has length and can drive defenders off the line of scrimmage.
12. Miami Dolphins - Keenan Allen, WR, California
Because they're set to have a lot of money under the salary cap, lets assume Miami can re-sign left tackle Jake Long. Miami needs a No. 1 option at wide receiver for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Allen is unquestionably the top wide receiver in the draft this year and is fairly similar in style to Brandon Marshall. A pass rusher like LSU's Barkevious Mingo or Oregon's Dion Jordan would also get a long look here.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
There were times this year when Banks got burned (namely against Alabama), but he has very good ball skills and size. The Buccaneers need talent at cornerback and Banks has it. They could also go after a pass rusher like Dion Jordan in this spot.
14. Carolina Panthers - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Because the Panthers play fairly well against the run, adding a tackle that can shoot gaps and get into the backfield would greatly help the defense. For a tackle, Richardson has great athleticism. He compares favorably to Nick Fairley of the Detroit Lions.
15. New Orleans Saints - Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
No team played the run worse this season than the Saints. Sedrick Ellis hasn't lived up to his draft position and the depth at tackle in New Orleans is reliant on Akiem Hicks developing. Instead of hoping on Hicks, Hankins would step into a prominent position inside for the Saints. There are some effort issues with Hankins, but his talent and size would be hard to pass up at this point in the draft.
16. St. Louis Rams - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
This is far from a sexy pick that will excite the Rams fan base. But after closing the season strong, St. Louis would benefit by taking players who are safe but good and reliable. Warmack, the most dominant interior blocker in the SEC in years, is perhaps the most sure thing in the 2013 draft.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers - Manti Te'o, MLB, Notre Dame
This may be somewhat of a fall for Te'o, but it's difficult to find a place for an inside linebacker of his style earlier than here. For Pittsburgh, this would be an ideal situation. Te'o could take over for Larry Foote, who will be 33 at the start of next season.
18. Dallas Cowboys - Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff played in just six games this season and may be due for a more rotational role for the Cowboys. With Josh Brent's playing future looking bleak, Williams could be a great two-down player for the Cowboys, while Ratliff plays inside on third down passing situations.
19. New York Giants - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, the vaunted Giants defensive ends, struggled this season and the team was last in the NFL in sacks. Maybe it's time for the Giants to add some exciting youth to the group in Mingo. The LSU junior fits the mold of what general manager Jerry Reese looks for in first-round picks. He's a high level talent with good size and can make an impact. Mingo would be best served by being eased into the NFL as a pass rush specialist. Given New York's woes in that area this season, Mingo could become next season's Aldon Smith.
20. Chicago Bears - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Bears have had one of the worst offensive lines in the league the past couple seasons and need talent at a few spots up front. Matthews is a sound blocker on the right side and could be good enough to move to the left in the NFL. Even if he has to stay at the right side, Gabe Carimi hasn't shown he could beat a player like Matthews out of a starting job.
Picks 21-32 will be determined by the order of playoff elimination.
21. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
In 2010, the 49ers doubled up on offensive linemen in the first round and it's turned out to be a great move. The Rams may be wise to do the same by adding a high-upside player like Fisher with their second pick in the first round. Fisher has great size for a left tackle and enough foot quickness get to the edge.
22. Minnesota Vikings - Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
Every year in the draft we see some unexpected picks. Most will scoff at this choice, and it's early for Poyer. But he's perhaps the best zone coverage cornerback in the draft this year. Poyer has good instincts and can quickly break on the ball. It's a reach, but a perfect scheme fit.
23. Cincinnati Bengals - Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Michael Johnson is approaching free agency and the contract for Carlos Dunlap is up after next season. After them, the Bengals have little talent at end. Jordan is raw as an end and needs to put on bulk, but his talent ceiling is extremely high. A middle linebacker like Alec Ogletree of Georgia would also be a strong consideration for the Bengals here.
24. Indianapolis Colts - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Following a fairytale season, the Colts have quickly put together one of the NFL's better young offenses. With that side of the ball more set, Indianapolis should go after the best defensive players they can. Ansah is a raw player with superstar potential. Early in his NFL career, he could be used in a similar fashion to how the Seahawks used Bruce Irvin this season.
25. Seattle Seahawks - Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Patterson was a sensation in his only season at Tennessee. An all-purpose star, Patterson could be used in a variety of ways at the next level. Patterson is a big play vertical threat from the slot and could be utilized on kick and punt return coverage.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Most think it's time for the Ravens to find a replacement for Ray Lewis, but finding Ed Reed's replacement may be just as important. The Texas product has a penchant for making a play on the ball and is physical enough to come up in run support. He's not an elite pass coverage talent like Reed, but he'd be a fine replacement if the veteran retires after the season.
27. Green Bay Packers - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The Packers look poised to move on from Jermichael Finley after this season, and Eifert is easily the best tight end in this class. Although Green Bay is loaded at receiver, Eifert is a player who could be a weapon over the middle of the field and help stretch the seam.
28. San Francisco 49ers - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Ricky Jean-Francois has only been marginal replacing Justin Smith, and the 49ers are a team that can go after depth in the first round. Floyd's quickness off the line would make him a good choice as an end in San Francisco's three-man front.
29. Houston Texans - Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Although defensive coordinator Wade Phillips often prefers nose tackles in his scheme to be smaller, Williams has the athleticism to fit in his system. On Houston's line, nose tackle Shaun Cody is the weak link and Williams would be an upgrade.
30. New England Patriots - Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State
The Patriots need a coverage safety and Thomas may be the best one in the draft. New England has shown in the past that its not averse to taking a player slightly early, and that would be case here. The Patriots could also look at a wide receiver in this spot.
31. Denver Broncos - Alec Ogletree, MLB, Georgia
Current starting middle linebacker Keith Brooking is 37 and Joe Mays often looked lost at the position. Ogletree is a high-level physical talent with some slight character flaws. He could be worth the risk. The Broncos could also look for secondary help with this pick.
32. Atlanta Falcons - Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Like many running backs who turn 30, Michael Turner seemed to look a step slower this season. Bernard is the top running back in the draft this year and could be a workhorse back in the NFL.
Note: I messed up the original pick for the Broncos and switched it after publishing.