Jeff Risdon, LionsDraft Editor
This is underclassmen declaration season, which means some players listed here are not necessarily going to be in the draft come April. Lots of potential management and coaching changes make predicting even tougher. Please note this are approximately the slots where I think players will be taken and it does not necessarily reflect where I believe players should be drafted.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Luke Joeckel, T, Texas A&M. In years where there is no quarterback that screams “take me!” at the top, teams typically do one of two things. Some go for the top defensive talent (Mario Williams, Courtney Brown), while others go for the best offensive line player (Jake Long, Orlando Pace). Without knowing who will be the GM or the coach, the safer pick is the top offensive tackle. That is Joeckel, should he declare. Of course some teams have opted to take a QB anyways (Jamarcus Russell, Sam Bradford), and the Chiefs could very well go down that road as well with Geno Smith or Tyler Wilson.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah. Jacksonville is another team that could very well have a new GM and perhaps head coach making the decision. If the new regime is of the “best player available” ilk, they could very well tab the massive Lotulelei. He is capable of disruptive play up the middle of the offense, and he possesses great range for a guy his size. I don’t see the Jaguars taking a QB here at this time.
3. Oakland Raiders
Manti Teo, LB, Notre Dame. This is a tough call because GM Reggie McKenzie has yet to give us a track record of his draft style. With the Rolando McClain experiment an abhorrent failure, the Raiders desperately need an impact player in the middle of the defense. Moreover, they need a leadership presence to build around, and Teo has proven he has those attributes. If McKenzie is (rightfully) scared of taking an inside backer this high, look for a pass rusher.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas. Yet another team facing impending management changes, and once again that makes forecasting the plan of attack difficult. I think given the dynamics at play with this franchise, the new GM will have a lot of pressure to fix the QB quagmire right away. Wilson is the best of the more traditional NFL style of QBs in this draft and has the potential to be something special. He also has the potential to make Nick Foles look appealing.
5. Carolina Panthers
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama. Another unknown GM situation, and this is the only confirmed one so far as Marty Hurney was fired earlier this season. This pick is based on the philosophy that you build your team to compete within your division, and the NFC South features an inordinate number of talented wideouts with great size and playmaking ability, and Milliner has the physical attributes and mentality to match up with them. Of course the Panthers also happen to lack the talented wideout with great size and playmaking ability, which could point them in that direction here.
6. San Diego Chargers
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama. The broken record continues with the new GM/Coach, or so Chargers fans pray. Warmack is the #1 rated player on my board right now (not done grading everyone by a longshot yet), but what makes this pick smart is that all three guards currently on the Chargers roster will be free agents at the end of the season. Warmack can start right away and has the potential to be a Pro Bowler very quickly if he applies himself. Wearing only half a shirt won’t be a climatological problem for Warmack in the beautiful SoCal weather too.
7. Cleveland Browns
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State. I’ll admit it; it was very hard to put Werner here and not let him fall a spot to the Lions, but in the spirit of faux realism the well-rounded Seminole goes a spot earlier to the Browns. I can definitely see Cleveland going after a corner here as well, but Werner has a very high floor and a very high ceiling as a strongside edge presence. The Browns are prime candidates to trade down as well.
8. Detroit Lions
Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M. Because Kyle VandenBosch isn’t going to be back at his current salary. Because both Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson, who have underachieved in 2012, are hitting free agency. Because Cliff Avril is unlikely to return after playing out his franchise tag year. Because no safeties are worthy of taking this high. Because Moore has the positional responsibility that allowed him to finish 3rd in the country in both sacks and tackles for loss but also lead the Aggies in total tackles.
9. Arizona Cardinals
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. This pick is perhaps too greatly influenced by the Cardinals pathetic offensive effort against the Jets, but no team needs a quarterback fix more than Arizona. Of all the picks thus far, this is the one I would feel most confident translates to reality come April; if Smith is still available when the Cardinals pick, I have to think they will take him for his accuracy, leadership, and dynamic throwing ability.
10. Tennessee Titans
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri. He is the best interior line player in the SEC, and that’s saying something. Richardson is a very active attack dog who echoes of Gerald McCoy and Tommie Harris as 3-techniques who specialize in getting to the QB. In evaluating the roster and potential free agents, there are a lot more gaping holes here than I expected, so a corner, wide receiver, and even offensive lineman all make sense here too.
11. Buffalo Bills
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. Patterson is the quintessential Buddy Nix pick, an inconsistently talented player with outstanding athletic metrics that has yet to fully blossom. The big question is if Patterson will ever bloom, as he has just one year of big-boy college football. If he does, he’s a legit #1 receiver with good size and a flair for the dramatic. If not, he’s the next Charles Rogers, hopefully without the drug and child support issues.
12. Miami Dolphins
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs senior has the length and awareness teams covet, and Banks is a very low-risk prospect with enough size to move to safety if needed. The Dolphins sorely need a playmaking wideout, but right now the only corner on the team under contract beyond this season is Nolan Carroll. Banks rates higher than any wideout at this juncture.
13. New Orleans Saints
Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M. In watching the Saints offense this year, I’m struck by how much they need help on the right side of the OL. Matthews is perhaps the most unlikely player listed in the first round here to actually declare, but if he does he is a natural fit as an immediate upgrade at right tackle for the Saints. Hard to overlook some of the DL talent here though.
14. New York Jets
Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon. This might seem counterintuitive for a team that realistically needs to replace every skill position starter on the offense right away, but the Jets also need a legit pass rushing force off the edge. Jordan has his warts but his length and closing burst are mighty enticing as a 3-4 OLB. In this scenario they fill the offensive holes, some of them anyways, in the next few rounds.
15. St. Louis Rams
Eric Fisher, T, Central Michigan. The MAC’s best prospect since fellow Chippewa Joe Staley, Fisher has exceptional length but is not a lunger like so many taller tackles. He will never be a power run blocker, but the Rams top offensive priority must be pass protection and Fisher is the best senior tackle for that job.
16. St. Louis Rams (from WAS)
Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State. When he is focused, Hankins is the most disruptive interior force in this draft. The issue is bringing the pain and intensity consistently. Jeff Fisher is the sort of cocksure coach who will bet on himself to get the best from Hankins, and he could represent a steal at this point of the 1st round. Teams are far more apt to take chances with acquired picks.