Next spring's NFL Draft could be one of the more intriguing in recent memory. With a handful of teams using high picks recently on quarterbacks, many of whom are either developing slowly or not at all, there could be pressure on some of the league's losers to make redundant picks. Meanwhile, some very highly regarded players like Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o could go anywhere from the top five to the mid-20s because of trades and the needs of teams on the board.
For Bears fans, the idea of Te'o wearing a Chicago jersey and ultimately replacing Brian Urlacher in the middle is a lustful dream that might have a chance to come true. It might require a trade up a few places from where the Bears wind up (hopefully somewhere after the 28th overall pick), but teams wants and needs at offensive skill positions could make 2013 a wild draft to watch.
The NFL season is only four games old, but here's my first crack at the 2013 Draft. Will Te'o end up in Chicago? We'll see.
1. Cleveland Browns - Robert Woods, WR, USC
The Browns are a terrible football team, which should begin the 2013 Draft with some intrigue. They used a first round pick on a quarterback - Brandon Weeden - who played minor league baseball before heading back to college football. Why does that matter? Weeden turns 29 on Oct. 14, and is getting his tail whipped on a weekly basis.
The Browns will be tempted to pick Geno Smith and/or Matt Barkley to be a true franchise quarterback next to their other 2012 first round selection, running back Trent Richardson. But the reality for whomever is under center in Cleveland is that there are no weapons outside for an NFL defense to respect. taking a big receiver first overall is a huge risk (cough... Matt Millen) but the Browns need wideouts. The smart bet would probably be on the Browns trading out of this slot.
2. New Orleans Saints - Matt Barkley, USC
In many ways, this season in New Orleans is starting to resemble the 2011 year in Indianapolis. The heart and soul of the Saints appears to be missing, even though Drew Brees keeps telling every available microphone that they're better than their 0-4 record indicates. Unfortunately for Brees, they aren't. And that might be the best thing for the long-term stability of the franchise.
The Saints were reluctant to give Brees a long-term, big-money extension this summer, and there's a very good chance he'll be serving as a mentor to either Barkley or Smith in 2013. While Smith is having the more impressive statistical season, Barkley fits into the more classic NFL quarterback mold and would provide a more smooth transition for the Saints from Brees.
3. Tennessee Titans - Jarvis Jones, OLB/DE, Georgia
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 four weeks, they have already been outscored by 70 points! They have some skill on offense, so it might be time to stop their opponents from running all over the field. Jones is a beast and arguably the best pass rusher in the country.
4. Oakland Raiders - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
If only Al Davis were here to make this pick! Smith is the hottest name in the game right now, mirroring the ridiculous season that won RGIII the Heisman last year (read: incompletions and touchdown passes being nearly equal). He's a big kid (listed at around 6-3 and 220 pounds) who is mobile and has shown the ability to make good decisions with the ball. Carson Palmer isn't the long-term answer in Oakland (maybe not even the immediate answer), and Terrelle Pryor is a joke. Having one of Smith or Barkley on the board when Oakland is on the clock is best-case-scenario for Raiders fans.
5. Indianapolis Colts - Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU
The Colts obviously used the number one overall pick on Andrew Luck this year, and while there will be plenty of temptation to either protect him with a lineman or get him another good receiver to throw to, replacing Robert Mathis/Dwight Freeney should be a more immediate concern. Their two DEs are expensive and older, and Mingo is a beast. As much as Smith/Barkley going to Oakland is a perfect fit, one of Mingo/Jones being on the board for Indy is also an ideal scenario.
6. New York Jets - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Here's another wild card spot in the first round. The Jets can say they're committed to Mark Sanchez until they're blue in the face, but it's becoming more clear on a weekly basis that he might be the only guy in the league that has to look over his shoulder at Tim Tebow. Sanchez sucks, and Wilson will be a very tempting option for the Jets in the top ten picks.
However, with Santonio Holmes done for the year (career?) and Shonn Greene being a disappointment, the Jets could decide to pick a skill position player and continue lying to themselves about the future of Sanchez. They've made plenty of mistakes in the past, so moving forward with Sanchez wouldn't be a shocker.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Luke Joeckel, T, Texas A&M
The Jags used their first round pick on Blaine Gabbert a couple years ago, and the jury is still out on him as a starter (though there are plenty of indications he might not work out). They drafted a receiver for him this year - Justin Blackmon - and still have Maurice Jones-Drew around to run the ball. For the sake of all three of those guys, building a functional offensive line is a must. 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.
8. Kansas City Chiefs - Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
This is a team that's worth watching between the Super Bowl and the Draft this year. They have a surplus of running backs with a lot of skill, and a talented receiver in Dwayne Bowe that might be this year's Brandon Marshall (read: bad team gives up on stud too soon). The fact is, they have a lot of problems and might look to address them by being an active trade market before and at the draft. Some analysts think they'll look to replace Cassell; I think they'll address their defensive front with an enormous, talented tackle.
9. 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.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Bucs are allowing an NFL-worst 344 yards per game through the air through four games (which includes 510 to Eli Manning), and desperately need help in their secondary. They might look at a pass rusher here, but Milliner spent a lot of time playing with the Bucs' top pick in 2012, safety Mark Barron, at Bama. Taking a corner at 10 overall might be a risk, but they have players on offense that are good enough to win games... as long as they don't have to score 40 to get the "W."
11. Carolina Panthers - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Lotulelei is considered a top-ten talent by most analysts, some calling him the top defensive tackle coming out in 2013. If he falls to 11, the Panthers might have some significant trade options... or they might consider addressing a glaring need on their defensive line and use the pick on a really good player.
12. Buffalo Bills - EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
The Bills threw a lot of money at their defense last summer and, so far, it isn't working out. But the bigger issue in many people's eyes is the reality that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the long-term answer at quarterback that they're paying him to be. They have a couple good running back (Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller), and might think about a big receiver, but they need a quarterback to get the ball to the skill players they already have. Manuel is bigger than Tennessee's Tyler Bray, and his mobility might ultimately push him up to the fourth quarterback off the board.
13. St. Louis Rams - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The Rams are another team with a young quarterback that might consider pulling the trigger on another one at this point. Instead of selecting Bray, they'll take his top target at Tennessee in Hunter; I'm sure Sam Bradford wouldn't mind a legitimate outside threat. There's always a chance they consider picking another running back here, but the Rams simply don't have enough outside weapons to compete right now. And they'll be back with the Redskins' pick shortly after this selection.
14. Detroit Lions - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Some have Werner going as high as the top five, but the NFL Draft comes down to need as much as talent or skill. Werner is the best true DE in the draft and is having a huge season; the Lions are having perhaps the most disappointing season in the NFL to date. Considering the mobile quarterbacks in the NFC North, the Lions would be wise to address either their ability to rush the quarterback or their ability to defend receivers. If Werner's on the board here, they'd be crazy to let him slide any more.
15. Dallas Cowboys - Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Yes, they're still committed to Tony Romo and most of ESPN's braintrust believes he can win them a Super Bowl. But he isn't getting younger, and Bray would need at least a couple years to develop into an NFL starter. The Cowboys certainly have enough holes to fill that they might look elsewhere here, but Jerry Jones wants to win now. This might be the big splash surprise pick of the first round in 2013 that opens a lot of eyes.
16. St. Louis Rams (from WSH) - Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
What a wonderful luxury to have two picks in the first half of the draft! And Bradford would be the happiest man on the planet if he had a legitimate starting right tackle in Matthews and an outside threat in Hunter at this point. Matthews is a big kid (6-5, 310) and the Rams have an area of need at tackle. At least one of the top three tackles should be on the board here, and the Rams aren't likely to pass on the best available.
17. Seattle Seahawks - Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech
Here's your first sleeper pick in the round that could turn into gold. Rodgers is 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, and the Seahawks have an enormous need at receiver.
18. Denver Broncos - Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Broncos might look at a running back to replace Willis McGahee here, but they need to admit at some point that Champ Bailey isn't 25 years old any more. Banks has good size (6-1, 185) and runs well, which they'll continue to need in a division that likes to throw. And, in today's NFL, depth in the secondary is always a good idea.
19. 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). As I said about the Broncos planning to replace their defensive star in Bailey, a talented player like Montgomery being on the board is an ideal situation for the Vikings.
20. 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 20.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
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.
22. San Diego Chargers - David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
The Chargers might go through a significant series of changes in 2013 if they don't go deep in the playoffs, so guessing who might depart is hard to do at this point. But we do know at this point that both of their corners will be free agents, and it isn't likely that both will get paid. Amerson's a good, big corner that would fill a hole immediately for them.
23. Arizona Cardinals - Marcus Lattimore, RB, Arkansas
The Cardinals have a really good defense and a couple solid receivers, but they haven't been able to find consistency with their running game. Lattimore is the best back in this year's class, and while that doesn't say much it might help the Cardinals solve a big need in the bottom third of the first round.
24. Philadelphia Eagles - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Eagles need secondary help and Andy Reid likes to have depth at corner. Rhodes has good size (6-1, 217) and can run, which might make him an easy pick in the pass-happy NFC East.
25. Chicago Bears - Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
I can't be a complete homer and put them last in the first round, can I? The Bears picking at 25 would indicate a wild card playoff berth and a first round exit from the playoffs (Green Bay, Atlanta, the NY Giants and San Francisco are still on the board), so this might be a conservative place to put Chicago. However, even with that being said, the Bears could have to make an incredibly tough choice here. Do they go with the local legend Te'o to replace Hall of Famer Urlacher, or do they address their offensive line with one of the good tackles that's still available.
As long as Lovie Smith is the coach in Chicago, defense will be a priority. And as long as Urlacher is wearing a knee brace in his 30s, the Bears will have to consider replacing him at some point. Te'o might be the best linebacker to come out in the last five years, so letting him go would be nearly impossible.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Jackson Jeffcoat, OLB/DE, Texas
The Ravens will be desperately praying that Te'o slides to them, because they are facing the same reality with their Hall of Fame middle linebacker (Ray Lewis) that the Bears are. If Te'o is off the board, the Ravens will undoubtedly find a gem that once again reminds the league that Mr. Newsome is arguably the best GM in the game. Jeffcoat would fit well in their 3-4 scheme at 6-5 and 245, and would give the Ravens options with Terrell Suggs if/when he returns.
27. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, T, 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.
28. New England Patriots - Kawaan Short, DT, Purdue
A smart gambler would put their money on New England picking anywhere but their slotted pick, and 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. But if, for the sake of completing a mock draft, the Patriots were to pick here, and if Short was still on the board, this would be an excellent selection.
29. Green Bay Packers - Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama
The Packers could go any number of directions here, but Jones is a really good interior offensive lineman and the Packers still have trouble keeping Aaron Rodgers on his feet. They have seen that Rodgers can win them a Super Bowl when he has time to throw, so keeping him upright should be a priority.
30. San Francisco 49ers - William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
At 6-6 and 278 pounds, Gholston is a physical freak that would provide a rush off the edge the Niners have been looking for. He has been effective against strong Big Ten linemen, so the transition into the NFL shouldn't be overwhelming. And, with the depth in San Francisco, he'll have some solid professionals to learn from.
31. Houston Texans - DJ Fluker, OT, Alabama
Yes, another offensive lineman from Alabama. Fluker's a massive tackle (6-6, 335) who would fill a need in Houston. They, too, need to keep their quarterback on his feet to be a championship contender, and the money they have invested in running the ball would appreciate someone opening holes as well.
32. Atlanta Falcons - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
This might be the most logical pick in this mock draft. If he's still available, Eifert (6-5, 252) 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. Not a bad spot to land for Eifert.