A couple weeks ago, I took a way-too-early look at what the 2013 NFL Draft, trying to pinpoint which prospects might be headed where.
Since that date, a number of things have changed that will undoubtedly impact next year's draft. The Cleveland Browns will have a new owner and a new man - Joe Banner - will be pulling the strings. Banner spent a couple decades building championship-caliber teams in Philadelphia, and his approach could be dramatically different than Mike Holmgren. And, considering how bad the Browns are, there will be an immediate opportunity for the Browns' new leadership to impact the draft.
Also, it's impossible to ignore the loss of Ray Lewis in Baltimore. The Ravens are near the top of the NFL today, but long-term their eyes have to be squarely on the best middle linebacker available to potentially replace the heart and soul of their organization. That man - Manti Te'o - might not be around when the Ravens are slotted to pick... so there could be some major movement when this year's draft begins.
However, with all of that in mind, let's take another way-too-early look at the 2013 NFL Draft.
1. Cleveland Browns - Matt Barkley, QB, USC
A couple weeks ago I had one of Barkley's receivers, Robert Woods, going here. But change at the top of any losing organization usually means the quarterback should be worried. In Cleveland, a struggling 29-year-old rookie shouldn't feel like his first round pick status gives him more than 12 months of job security.
2. Kansas City Chiefs - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Chiefs are bad. Really bad. In fact, the next time I put together a mock draft, they might be sitting at number one on the board. Whether they're picking at one or two, there will be a sexy replacement for Matt Cassell available. And we all know how the fans in Kansas City feel about Cassell.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jarvis Jones, OLB/DE, Georgia
Jones is considered by many analysts to be the best pro prospect in the draft. The Jags have holes everywhere and, like Cleveland, might consider replacing a recent first round pick at quarterback. But if Barkley and Smith are both off the board, they should take the best impact player available and take the best quarterback available in the second round.
4. Tennessee Titans - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Titans are another team that used a recent pick on their "quarterback of the future" in Jake Locker, and they're paying Chris Johnson a lot of money to underwhelm on a weekly basis. Through six weeks, they have already been outscored by 90 points! Lotulelei is considered a top-ten talent by most analysts, and many are calling him the top defensive tackle coming out in 2013; he could help solve a number of problems.
5. Carolina Panthers - Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU
The Panthers will have a high pick again this year because they continue to be a disappointment. With a great deal of money locked up at quarterback and running back, they might look to get Cam Newton an outside target. But if they can't stop anyone, it's worthless. Mingo's a beast, and Carolina should be thrilled to see him on the board here.
6. New Orleans Saints - Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
I had Te'o sliding to the mid-20s in my last mock draft, but the circumstances in a couple places have led to him skyrocketing up my board. The Saints have seen a few things in the first six weeks: Drew Brees can play, but they can't stop anyone. Jonathan Vilma is the heart of their defense, but he's aging and we haven't seen what he has left because an injury (and suspension) kept him off the field so far this year. Te'o wouldn't have to change his helmet paint to play in New Orleans... but this might be a pick that changes hands as well.
7. Oakland Raiders - Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech
Oakland doing something crazy? Really? A few years ago, I nailed the Raiders reaching for Darrius Heyward-Bey. This year, the Raiders are one of four teams in the NFL averaging under 18 points per game, and the lack of development from their receivers could lead to them taking another shot on a home run threat. However, if you're familiar with Rodgers, this isn't a stretch. He's big (6-3, 210) and was one of the top prospects in the country when he originally signed at Tennessee. After a failed drug test led to an early exit from Knoxville, he settled in at Tennessee Tech and has continued putting up enormous numbers. He's been compared to players like Julio Jones.
8. Buffalo Bills - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Bills spent a lot of money on their defense last offseason, and their reward is opponents averaging 32 points per game (second-worst in the NFL). With most of that money used up front, having someone who can cover would make sense here for the Bills. They'll certainly entertain the idea of a new quarterback, but their defense needs more immediate help.
9. Indianapolis Colts - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The realities in Indy are that Reggie Wayne isn't getting younger and Luck needs someone else to catch the ball. They might consider running back Marcus Lattimore (this would be too high for him in my opinion), and might look at their defense as well. But a fast, big (6-4, 205) receiver would put an enormous smile on Andrew Luck's face.
10. New York Jets - Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
This will be a fun draft to watch for those of us that aren't Jets fans. They'll probably have a pick in the top 15 overall, and undoubtedly will have the same questions at quarterback that they have today. With a few top signal callers still available, they'll think about it here. But their inability to do anything around Mark Sanchez is the bigger issue. A receiver like Robert Woods would also make sense here, but Lattimore would be a significant upgrade from Shonn Greene.
11. Tampa Bay Buccanneers - William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
Thru six weeks, the Bucs are 29th in the NFL with only 8.0 total sacks. This might feel like a reach for Gholston right now, but at 6-6 and 278 pounds, he's big enough and physical enough that a good combine could put him into the top ten. Tampa has plenty of issues to address, but a big defensive end to improve their pass rush makes sense.
12. St. Louis Rams - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Rams have two first round picks this year (theirs and Washington's), and will get to help their team a great deal with the two picks. Joeckel is enormous (6-6, 310) and is considered by most to be the top tackle prospect in the 2013 class. Sexy? No. Smart? Yes. And they'll get a chance to be sexy in a few picks.
13. Dallas Cowboys - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
There will come a time when the Cowboys look to replace Tony Romo, and most successful case studies suggest drafting that player a year or two before the change is required is the best course of action. It happens to work out well for the Cowboys, whose owner and general manager - Jerry Jones - is an Arkansas alumni.
14. Detroit Lions - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Like the Bucs, the Lions are having serious issues getting to opposing quarterbacks. And, when you're in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and a quickly developing Christian Ponder makes having an athletic defensive end (or three) a requirement to compete in the NFC North. Werner is considered by many to be the second- or third-rated end in this year's draft, and would be good value here for Detroit.
15. Miami Dolphins - Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
The Dolphins made the biggest splash at the 2012 Draft when the took Ryan Tannehill, and Reggie Bush has been a pleasant surprise as a number one running back. But moving forward thinking Brian Hartline is a number one receiver is something only Jerry Angelo would do. Allen is a game-changer outside, and would certainly help improve the odds their gamble on Tannehill works out.
16. San Diego Chargers - Robert Woods, WR, USC
Monday night's implosion highlighted the need for skilled playmakers in San Diego. Since the beginning of last year, they have clearly shown an enormous weakness in their offense while without Vincent Jackson, and Woods falling to them at 16 would present an opportunity for a local star to help their offense.
17. Philadelphia Eagles - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
The Eagles fired their defensive coordinator on Tuesday, but he's little more than an obvious scapegoat for a system that's failing across the board this year. If the Eagles are going to remain committed to Michael Vick, protecting him would be a good idea. Warmack is considered a top-ten prospect by many, and would be good value for Philly.
18. St. Louis Rams (from WSH) - Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The Rams are actually pretty solid defensively, but Ogletree is a fascinating proposition for them here. An inside linebacker at Georgia at 6-3 and 237 pounds, playing outside next to James Laurinaities would give St. Louis a couple incredibly athletic linebackers to build around. Ogletree is a good pass rusher as well, which could add another dynamic to this selections; the Rams are among the league sack leaders already.
19. Cincinnati Bengals - Eric Reid, S, LSU
The Bengals desperately need a big safety and haven't received consistent play from Taylor Mays or Reggie Nelson. Reid is a big kid (6-2, 215) and has succeeded against the best competition college football offers while at LSU. The Bengals could certainly do a lot worse than Reid at 19.
20. Seattle Seahawks - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Seattle needs some offensive weapons, and getting the best tight end available here is also the best value for their needs. There isn't another receiver that makes sense in the first round, especially at 20, so a big tight end is a good fit.
21. Denver Broncos - Kawaan Short, DT, Purdue
The Broncos might look at a running back to replace Willis McGahee, and at some point they'll need to admit that Champ Bailey isn't 25 years old any more. But both of their starting defensive tackles are on the wrong side of 30, making that a position of both need and value here. There's a very good chance that Short will jump up the boards in a lot of front offices if he continues blowing away Big Ten competition.
22. Arizona Cardinals - Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
They don't have a running game, but there isn't a back on the board that makes sense at 22. And while Kevin Kolb has done some nice things over the last couple years, a franchise quarterback is still an enormous area of need here. They have a really good defense, so getting a signal caller here makes sense.
23. Minnesota Vikings - Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Montgomery is a very well regarded prospect that could be off the board before the tenth pick. But his size (6-5, 260) might lead to questions about how he would fit into both a 4-3 and a 3-4 at the pro level. In Minnesota, he would be a lethal end opposite Jared Allen (who, it's worth noting, will turn 31 in early April next year). A talented player like Montgomery being on the board is an ideal situation for the Vikings.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
The Steelers have a list of injuries on their offensive line that would make any coach go crazy. If they suffer any more injuries, they might get pushed out of the playoff picture. They used a high pick on a guard last year - David DeCastro from Stanford - but he's going to miss the entire season because of a serious knee injury. If DeCastro comes back at full strength, having two good, young guards would be a blessing for Ben Roethlisberger; if he takes longer than 12 months to return, the Steelers need depth on their line moving forward.
25. Baltimore Ravens - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Ravens will be desperately praying that Te'o or Ogletree slides to them, because they are now more immediately facing life without their middle linebacker. If they can't trade up to get an inside linebacker, the Ravens will undoubtedly find a gem that once again reminds the league that Mr. Newsome is arguably the best GM in the game. Vaccaro would provide depth if/when Ed Reed isn't around.
26. Green Bay Packers - Dallas Thomas, OT, Tennessee
I bump the Bears up to being division champions and advancing past the Packers into the NFC's final four in this mock draft. Green Bay needs help at running back, depth in their secondary and now have injury issues at linebacker as well. However, if we've learned anything over the last three years, it's that Aaron Rodgers can beat any team with his arm as long as he's able to stand in the pocket and throw. They've had issues keeping him on his feet, though. Adding a tackle here makes sense.
27. New England Patriots - Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Vince Wilfork turns 31 in early November, and the Pats defense could use a big body to provide depth. Williams (6-2, 320) is similar physically to Wilfork and is a good run-stopping d-tackle. This would be really good value at 27, which would be typical of a Patriots pick. That is, of course, if we ignore the fact that New England trades down on a nearly annual basis.
28. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants inability to protect Eli Manning might be what ultimately costs them a trip back to the Super Bowl. Lewan is enormous (6-7, 310), but more importantly could step in soon as a starting tackle on either side. And, again, we see the Chicago Bears getting closer to the end of the draft.
29. San Francisco 49ers - Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
The Niners defense is as good as it gets, but their line is getting older. Williams is a big kid (6-3 1/2, 320) who eats up space and has been successful against the best competition in the country at Bama; he would provide a perfect fit in front of the stud linebackers in San Francisco.
30. Chicago Bears - Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin
The Bears released Chris Williams on Tuesday, another admission that they have failed to address their offensive line. Truthfully, the later they get in this year's draft the better the chances are that they'll get a solid tackle rather than being tempted by a tight end or linebacker. Wagner's a big prospect (6-6, 318) who played at Wisconsin with Gabe Carimi and Mike Tice's son, who was a reserve tackle for the Badgers.
31. Houston Texans - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Texans could use an outside option to play opposite Andre Johnson and, if they're picking this late in the draft, they obviously didn't have many holes during the year. Whether or not they end up the top team in the AFC is now an open discussion with Brian Cushing done for the year, but they're good and deep on both sides of the ball in a terrible division.
32. Atlanta Falcons - Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
This might be the most logical pick in this mock draft. If he's still available, Ertz (6-6, 250) could be an ideal replacement for the likely-retiring Tony Gonzalez as an offensive weapon at tight end in Atlanta. And, if they are indeed picking last in 2013, that indicates Gonzalez could be retiring with a Super Bowl ring.