By Ryan Alfieri, Editor
Now just one day before the draft, the boards are set for the best weekend of the NFL calendar Usually, by this point we have some certainty about a handful of picks or at least know who the the first player off the board will be.
This year, just hours before the bell rings, no one has any idea what will unfold on Thursday night. Andrew Luck and RGIII may not be in this draft, but this is going to be the most exciting and drama-filled draft in recent memory.
Here are my final first-round predictions for the 2013 NFL draft:
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
To me, the Chiefs have spent far too many resources to field a roster that closely resembles the team that only won one game last year, but as the draft approaches, it seems inevitable that Joeckel will be the top pick in the draft. Widely-viewed as the safest pick in the draft, Joeckel will be a rock at left tackle for the next decade.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
In order for the Jaguars to turn around their defense, they need to add quicker, more athletic players on the interior of their line. Next to Sheldon Richardson, Floyd is the best penetrating defensive tackle in this class with the power to play in just about any front and will make an immediate impact in Gus Bradley’s defense.
3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Even after, trading for Matt Flynn, the Raiders’ quarterback situation is far from being settled. Geno Smith has taken plenty of criticism for essentially not being as quality of a prospect as Andrew Luck or RGIII, but as we have seen time and time again, quarterbacks tend to go much higher than conventional wisdom suggests they should go.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Jordan is unlike any outside linebacker prospect in recent memory. He is excellent in coverage, as he covered slot receivers at Oregon. He has tremendous athleticism and flexibility, flashing an array of pass-rushing moves. He was not asked to rush the passer as at Oregon often as he will in the NFL, but Jordan has unlimited potential with his raw athleticism and ability to play in space.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Lions could go in a lot of directions with this pick, but ultimately they take the best player available in Eric Fisher. Tackle is a clear need after losing both of their starters to retirement or free agency. They do have last year’s first round pick Riley Reiff, but his shorter arms make him a better fit for the right side while the athletic Fisher can take over the immediate duties on the left side.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
As the Browns bring in Ray Horton to install their new defense that now features Paul Kruger at outside linebacker, Cleveland is just one more stud cornerback away from having a elite defensive roster. Milliner is not quite the physical freak that Patrick Peterson or Morris Claiborne were, but he is the safest corner in this class and would be an immediate upgrade at one of their few positions of need.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Outside of quarterback, the real issues for Arizona’s anemic offense lie on the interior of their offensive line. Alabama’s Chance Warmack may be the more decorated player, but Cooper has unmatched athleticism for the position and is terrific on the second level.
8. Buffalo Bills: Arthur Brown, MLB, Kansas State
Curiously considered one of the “fastest-risers” of the latter part of the draft, Arthur Brown is arguably the best linebacker in this year’s class with his blend of speed and physicality. While a bit undersized, Brown will make an immediate impact on a Bills defense that has not been able to field an elite defense, not matter how many resources they pour into the position.
9. New York Jets: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Jets have plenty of needs on both sides of the ball, but the signing of Calvin Pace gives them flexibility to not be forced into taking an outside linebacker at this spot if the value is not there. Jon Gruden told me that Austin was the top player in this class, and he may not be far off. With incredible burst and change-of-direction, Austin is going to be the most dangerous player on the field no matter what his height is.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Titans defense is in a sore need for playmakers on the defensive side, and one of the best prospects in the draft happens to slide all the way to them. Star can play in any scheme and if his heart issues are truly gone, he could wind up as the best player to come out of this draft.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The top priority for the Chargers this offseason is to find a way to protect Philip Rivers and get him back to playing on an MVP-like level. Johnson is the most athletic offensive lineman in this class. Despite his inefficiencies in the run game, he is an elite pass protector and could turn out to be the top tackle to come out of this class in due time.
12. Miami Dolphins: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Somehow, this athletic freak of nature falls to the Dolphins outside of the top 10, providing irrestible value to a need position. Outside of Cameron Wake, the Phins don’t have many players who can rush the passer. Ansah is extremely raw and will need some time to develop, but his upside is too high to turn down at this point.
13. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
The Jets lost their defensive weapon in Darrelle Revis, which means they must find themselves at least an adequate pass-rush to help their much-weakened secondary. While he will have to put on some weight and adjust to a new position at outside linebacker, Mingo is the most explosive rusher in the draft and will give the Jets a much-needed dimension of speed.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
After passing on Fletcher Cox in last year’s draft, the Panthers cannot afford to ignore their horrendous defensive tackle position. Richardson has tremendous quickness and is able to penetrate better than any other defensive tackle in this class and would be a perfect fit as a 3-technique in the Panthers’ 3-4 scheme.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The draft process has not been kind to Jones, who tested poorly at the combine to drop his stock out of the top 10, but he is still a productive, polished pass-rusher that fills a huge void on the Saints’ 3-4 defense immediately.
16. St. Louis Rams: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Fluker may not have the feet necessary to play outside at left tackle, but if kicked inside, he has a chance to be a perennial all-pro at the position, which will solidify the Rams’ offensive line once and for all. Besides, based on their luck with health on the offensive line, Fluker may need to step in at tackle in emergency situations.