As the NFL Draft approaches in April, we are sure to see a whole lot of mock drafts. The 2013 draft is an especially interesting year in the "mocking" department, however, as few people can agree on whether or not there is a quarterback worthy of being drafted by the Chiefs at number one, while others do not even think that a quarterback will be taken in the first round at all. That is, unless there is a trade.
One such analyst is perhaps the most well-known NFL draft expert there is, ESPN's Mel Kiper. After releasing his latest NFL Mock Draft for ESPN Insider, Kiper projected left tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M to the Kansas City Chiefs over quarterback Geno Smith of West Virginia. Did that drop Smith down one spot? Maybe five spots? Ten? Nope, it dropped Smith out of Kiper's entire first round. Without divulging too much of Kiper's draft, which would be a breach of "pay wall," here's a snippet of what he had to say about Joeckel to the Chiefs:
So I think fans needs to consider that K.C. could be looking to secure the best available player here, period. From there, they either consider a QB with their first pick in Round 2, or perhaps the option of trading into the late first to maximize value. As for Joeckel, at this time he probably represents the best guaranteed production on the pick value.
While Kansas City still has the option of re-signing free-agent tackle Brandon Albert, there is little argument that Joeckel has a much higher ceiling, and having both would not be a bad thing for the Chiefs, one of the worst offenses in the NFL last year despite having players such as Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe. It would still leave them without a quarterback of the future (unless you believe that Matt Cassel will be back in KC and for some reason would still be an option for the future), but Kiper does have a point; the way the draft is shaping up, it's possible that Smith, Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, and others will be available at the end of the first or top of the second round.
With the NFL Combine on Feb. 20-26 and many college pro days left to be held in March, there could be a time when Smith or Barkley or another quarterback solidify there name as a must-have at the first overall pick, but as of today there is still debate about whether or not Smith is that good or if it's just a reach based on need. Matthew Fairburn did his post-Super Bowl mock draft for SBNation and went with Geno:
Geno Smith is far from a slam dunk to be the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but this pick still makes the most sense. The Chiefs have a desperate need at quarterback, and Smith is the draft's highest-ranked player at that position. This pick could change between now and April, but when a team doesn't have a quarterback, that's the biggest need.
As is common for most teams in the NFL that are 'the worst" in the prior year, quarterback is indeed the biggest need. Cassel had six touchdowns and 12 interceptions for Kansas City, while Brady Quinn had two touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight starts after taking the starting job from Cassel. Repeat: Quinn won the starting job from another player and had two touchdowns in eight starts.
However, another option that could entirely change this pick between now and April is free agency and the trade market. There is expected to be a high-dose of available quarterbacks with starting experience that could be available for Andy Reid to build his offense around, at least as a stopgap during what appears to be a soft draft class for signal-callers: Matt Flynn, Michael Vick, Alex Smith as the possible headliners, with Reid's former protege Kevin Kolb also possibly hitting the open market. It's obviously not the strongest crop of players, but that's why they are available in the first place, and it's much stronger than what you would normally see during free agency. These are guys who have had various levels of success, with Smith among the league-leaders in QB rating during the regular season for a team that eventually went to the Super Bowl with his former backup.
If the Chiefs decide to grab a quarteback like Flynn or Smith, they could draft Joeckel as the best player available, and still find themselves with a higher number of intriguing projects for what could be a very deep class of quarterbacks even if it is soft at the top. Still, Kiper notes that the only way he currently sees any quarterbacks being drafted in the first is if a team trades up into the backend of the round, where he possibly sees players like Smith, Barkley, or Mike Glennon being available, rather than expecting them to be snatched up by QB-needy teams making a possible over-draft if they were taken in the top 10.
Teams like the Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Browns, Cardinals, Bills, and Jets are all possibly looking for a quarterback. Of course, Blaine Gabbert, Carson Palmer, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Mark Sanchez are all still currently with their 2012 teams, and again, the free-agent market is interesting. Is it worth it to take a chance on a quarterback who doesn't truly excite just because it's a need? Maybe.
Since the newest edition of the collective bargaining agreement was settled upon in 2011 (though it came after the draft that year, it was widely expected that they would address the ridiculously-high contracts given to players who had not played in an NFL game yet) we have seen four quarterbacks taken in the first round in each of the last two years. Even players that were considered surprising "over-drafts" like Christian Ponder to the Vikings at 12th in 2011, and Brandon Weeden to the Browns at 22nd in 2012. The lower cost of a first-round rookie may compel a team like the Bills or Cardinals to draft Barkley, even if they have their doubts, if they think it's better to take a risk on a quarterback than to take a more talented-looking player at a position of less importance.
Then again, the Titans are still waiting on Jake Locker to develop, the Jaguars on Gabbert, the Vikings on Ponder, the Dolphins on Ryan Tannehill, and the Browns have already opened up their quarterback competition after just one season of Weeden. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
For that reason, Kiper is still holding off on mocking any quarterbacks in the first round of this year's draft. However, based on the recent examples of what we have seen anyway in the last two years, Fairburn and many other mock drafters continue to project a number of first-round quarterbacks in 2013. What will happen?
There is still plenty of time, and plenty of mocks, to go.