To read the DenverBroncos.com staff's predictions for what the AFC West teams will do in the first round of this year's draft, click here.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --A couple of notes on the projections that follow:
- This reflects where teams' needs are now. That's why I'll update it multiple times over the coming weeks; free agency will make this a fluid exercise.
- The 2013 draft is the most wide-open at the top that I have seen in my 14 years covering the NFL. Projections over the next two months are likely to be more volatile than usual. The smart teams won't get too worked up over Combine and Pro Day results, and instead will trust the tape. But this is my best guess to ascertain teams' intent -- and not necessarily what I would do if I made the call.
Without further ado, here's my mock first round, version 1.0.
1. KANSAS CITY (2-14): OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Quarterback is a major reach here, but the second-most-important position on the offense, left tackle, is not. The last time a team with the top pick selected a left tackle and added a veteran quarterback, the Miami Dolphins picked Jake Long and signed Chad Pennington, and improved from 1-15 to 11-5. This is the smart play for a team that has much more talent than a typical 2-14 squad.
2. JACKSONVILLE (2-14): DE/LB Dion Jordan, Oregon
His combine workout was his last chance to impress before surgery on a torn labrum, and it could not have gone better. At 248 pounds, Jordan wouldn't seem to be the most logical fit as a 4-3 end, but that's the exact same weight as Bruce Irvin, who Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley unleashed as Seattle's defensive coordinator last year. Bradley wants speed; Jordan has it to spare.
3. OAKLAND (4-12): DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Dennis Allen might be starting from close to scratch here, and Floyd can help immediately. The most logical pick here was Utah DT Star Lotulelei, before word of his heart condition broke. That being said, the Raiders' myriad needs means they could go in many directions -- including multiple trades down. They need volume.
4. PHILADELPHIA (4-12): DE Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
If the Eagles can't successfully restructure cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha's deal, then cornerback becomes a higher priority, but for now, the big-money veteran remains an Eagle. With all signs pointing to a conversion to the 3-4, and the Eagles having cut two defensive linemen (Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson), they need to bolster this position, and Richardson's size and skill set project well to 3-4 end.
5. DETROIT (4-12): CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
A desperate need in a demanding division filled with quality pass catchers also happens to yield the best player available. If this comes to pass, the Lions will be thankful.
6. CLEVELAND (5-11): DE/LB Ziggy Ansah, Brigham Young
The Browns are one of seven teams that haven't had anyone post a double-digit sack season in six years. Ansah's athleticism is tantalizing, but he needs polish, so the Browns will have to resist the temptation to throw him out there for every down too soon. The Giants used Jason Pierre-Paul in a rotational role in 2010 before starting him in 2011; a similar transition would help Ansah.
7. ARIZONA (5-11): OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
The Cardinals' offensive line has been a sieve, and with a major quarterback upgrade likely not available for new Head Coach Bruce Arians, his first act will be to fix the front to give Kevin Kolb a chance -- or to prepare for a long-term quarterbacking answer to arrive next year.
8. BUFFALO (6-10): QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
The Bills need a franchise quarterback, and although the decision to give Tarvaris Jackson a contract extension is notable, all that does is give the Bills flexibility. General Manager Buddy Nix told Buffalo radio station WGR in November, "We want to draft a good young quarterback," and there is little reason to believe that has changed, especially with an offensive guru like Doug Marrone, who helped install the Saints' high-octane offense, calling the sideline shots now.
9: N.Y. JETS (6-10): DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Mingo needs to be coached up, but his athleticism, speed (4.58 in the 40 at the Combine), quick first step and high ceiling make him the pick for a team that doesn't possess a game-changer from the edge.
10. TENNESSEE (6-10): G Chance Warmack, Alabama
The Titans could go safety, cornerback, linebacker or offensive line, but Warmack is a potential 10-year starter at a slot where the Titans have a desperate need. This is usually a bit high for a guard, but as Titans General Manager Ruston Webster said last week, "I have never been one to say you don't take a guard in the first round."
11. SAN DIEGO (7-9): OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
If the Chargers don't emerge from the draft and free agency without a major upgrade at both tackle slots, Philip Rivers faces another battering season under siege.
12. MIAMI (7-9): DE/OLB Bjoern Werner, Florida State
If he slips this far, I don't expect him to descend any further. Woerner's 13 sacks and 18 tackles for losses provide evidence of his potential; he could play well off of Cameron Wake.
13. TAMPA BAY (7-9): CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
The Bucs' secondary deficiencies were fully exposed by the Broncos on Dec. 2, and they never fully recovered. Even if they add a cornerback in free agency, this is a unit in need of a near-total overhaul. Trufant's stock is rising after a splendid combine workout and a strong week at Senior Bowl practice, and the Bucs can plug him into the starting lineup immediately.
14. CAROLINA (7-9): WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
The Panthers' needs are many, and their cap room scarce. They could trade up and try to move in position to draft Joeckel, Fisher or Johnson, but if they don't, a short-term complement for Steve Smith -- and a long-term primary target for Cam Newton -- is essential.
15. NEW ORLEANS (7-9): DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
If Lotulelei checks out medically, he could ascend again, but teams might choose to avoid the risk. New Orleans needs help all over the defense, and Lotulelei offers top-five talent at a bargain price if he falls.
16. ST. LOUIS (7-8-1): G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
The Rams' eggs are firmly in Sam Bradford's basket, and their revival is predicated upon keeping him upright and giving him the best chance to succeed -- which means protection and targets. We'll get to the latter with their next first-round choice.
17. PITTSBURGH (8-8): DE/OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
You can't say "Jarvis Jones" without adding "spinal stenosis," and some teams will be scared off. Pittsburgh isn't afraid to make a choice like this and take its chances, and he's a natural fit for its scheme.
18. DALLAS (8-8): S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
New Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin has plenty of needs on the shaky defense he inherits, and Dallas could target the defensive line and fill a pressing need. But Vaccaro is the best candidate to help the Cowboys immediately, and since the team is perpetually in win-now mode -- especially with a quarterback who turns 33 in April -- that tips the scales in his favor.
19. N.Y. GIANTS (9-7): OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Fluker isn't in the elite class with Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson, but is an improvement over what the Giants have at the present time. Fluker's 40 time is meaningless, and recent weight loss is a positive sign.
20. CHICAGO (10-6): WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
With Johnny Knox retired and Devin Hester not the answer, the Bears need speed to partner with Brandon Marshall and provide Jay Cutler another dimension.
21. CINCINNATI (10-6): LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
The Bengals have never been shy about gambling on talented prospects with character concerns. A strong defensive line means Ogletree will be free to operate in space, and he can play multiple linebacker spots, enhancing his value.
22. ST. LOUIS (FROM WASHINGTON): WR Keenan Allen, California
The Rams' brief flirtation with troubled ex-Lion Titus Young shows dissatisfaction with their current complement. Allen won't work out until April 9 as he recovers from a posterior cruciate ligament, but he should show enough then to solidify his first-round status.
23. MINNESOTA (10-6): WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
If Austin and Allen end up going off the board in the previous three selections, the Vikings could end up trading down and trying to get Hopkins a few picks later. No matter what happens, if the Vikings don't add a big-ticket receiver in free agency, they must find one early in the draft or their offseason will be a failure.
24. INDIANAPOLIS (11-5): CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
A pass rusher would also help the Colts, but if Rhodes or Trufant fall this far, the Colts could run to the podium with this pick to shore up arguably the weakest position group on their roster. Offensive tackle is a possibility here if Fluker drops or if they decide to gamble on Terron Armstead's athleticism.
25. SEATTLE: DE/OLB Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
A poor combine workout doesn't help Moore's stock, and the pass rushers this year are lumped so closely together that his bad day could leave him as the one who slides. Seattle would prefer to find a wide receiver here, but the run on wideouts from picks 20-23 forces their hand. Moore can play every down, unlike 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin, who appears limited to being a pass-rush specialist.
26. GREEN BAY (11-5): RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
The Packers find their missing piece.
27. HOUSTON (12-4): LB Kevin Minter, LSU
A potentially perfect fit inside for Wade Phillips in the 3-4, an upgrade over Bradie James and an immediate starter.
28. DENVER (13-3): DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Draftniks have projected defensive tackles to the Broncos in the first round for years, but maybe this is the year they finally take one on the first day. Williams is 6-foot-2.5 and 313 pounds of mass with a work ethic to match, and can complement Derek Wolfe well in pass-rush situations.
29. NEW ENGLAND (12-4): DE Margus Hunt, SMU
Defensive tackle is a possibility, and Purdue's Kawann Short could also be in the mix. But Hunt's upside is massive, and there is the potential for him to become a poor man's J.J. Watt, or maybe a modern-day Ted Hendricks. Bill Belichick will gamble on athleticism, even if it is unpolished.
30. ATLANTA (13-3): DE Datone Jones, UCLA
John Abraham isn't getting any younger, and their recent mid-round picks at defensive end haven't yielded the return the Falcons need to regenerate the position.
31. SAN FRANCISCO (11-4-1): S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
The 49ers might take a hit in free agency in the defensive backfield, and would count on Cyprien, whose stock has been rising since the Senior Bowl, to become an immediate starter.
32. BALTIMORE (10-6): OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
I thought long and hard about Manti Te'o here, but offensive tackle is a priority position for Baltimore, as well. Armstead has the quick feet, athleticism and intelligence to learn left tackle, and his Shrine Game and Senior Bowl work demonstrate that he is not simply a workout wonder. The Ravens could re-sign Bryant McKinnie, which would buy time to let Armstead adjust. With Michael Oher a better fit on the right side -- ironically, not "The Blind Side" -- Baltimore needs to find a long-term answer to keep Joe Flacco upright, assuming the Ravens sign the QB long-term.