With NFL Free Agency winding down, the Rotoworld Football crew's attention is shifting toward April's draft. This year's prospect class is atypical when compared to recent years. The safety and tight end groups are long on talent. The draft is exceptionally strong in the trenches. Quarterback-needy clubs are in a rough spot because there is no surefire top ten-caliber signal caller.
Even if one is sure to be drafted in the top ten.
All of the draft pundits agree this year's first round is the most difficult to predict in recent memory. Nevertheless, this is my first crack at projecting the top 32.
1. Kansas City Chiefs -- Texas A&M LT Luke Joeckel
The Chiefs' attempt to trade Branden Albert is the strongest indication yet that they've settled on a left tackle with the first pick. The selection will come down to Joeckel versus Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, and it could go either way. Fisher may offer a bit more long-range upside, but Joeckel is the safer pick with superior 2012 game tape. After sending their second-rounder to San Francisco in the Alex Smith trade, the Chiefs hope to recoup a top-64 selection in the forthcoming Albert deal.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Oregon LB/DE Dion Jordan
The Jaguars intend to run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 under defensive-minded rookie coach Gus Bradley, making Jordan's incredible versatility especially attractive. Jordan can rush the quarterback both as a hand-in-dirt defensive end and stand-up linebacker. He can play traditional 4-3 strong-side linebacker, and even covered slot receivers at Oregon. Geno Smith should also be in play at No. 2, but first-year GM Dave Caldwell seems unlikely to begin his tenure with such a high-risk pick.
3. Oakland Raiders -- West Virginia QB Geno Smith
Chris Mortensen's February report of Oakland's serious interest in Smith was initially dismissed as a smokescreen. Upon further review, it makes a lot of sense. The roster has actually gotten worse since GM Reggie McKenzie took over 14 months ago, and 33-year-old Carson Palmer's $13 million salary is an albatross on the Raiders' already dysfunctional salary cap. Smith looks like a boom-or-bust prospect, but it's time for McKenzie to start swinging for the fences. The Raiders would likely cut Palmer if they drafted Smith, placing Geno in a camp battle with Terrelle Pryor.
4. Philadelphia Eagles -- Florida DT Sharrif Floyd
The Eagles efficiently plugged roster gaps in free agency, signing six new starters on defense and swiss-army-knife tight end James Casey to add a "joker" element on offense. Aside from 2012 first-rounder Fletcher Cox, the defensive line remains a work in progress. Philadelphia intends on drafting the best player available under Chip Kelly, and Floyd would add dynamic pass-rushing ability from the interior on passing downs. Floyd is both a value pick here and addresses a need.
5. Detroit Lions -- BYU DE Ziggy Ansah
Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Alabama's Dee Milliner should also receive consideration from the tackle- and cornerback-needy Lions, but neither offers the monster impact Ansah is capable of making on the front four. An ideal fit for Jim Schwartz's Wide-9 scheme, Ansah is explosive, relentless, and rushes with freakish length off the edge. He dominated the Senior Bowl game with Schwartz's coaching staff on the sidelines. Ansah would be a Week 1 starter at right end, across from free-agent addition Jason Jones with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley manning the middle.
6. Cleveland Browns -- Alabama CB Dee Milliner
Milliner lasting to the sixth pick would be Cleveland's dream scenario. The Browns have quietly put together one of the league's better young front sevens and need a right corner to stabilize the back end opposite Joe Haden. Milliner is physical enough to excel in man coverage and played lots of zone under Nick Saban. He is the clear-cut top cornerback in this year's draft class.
7. Arizona Cardinals -- Central Michigan LT Eric Fisher
Acquiring a franchise left tackle would finally allow Arizona to field a competitive offensive line. Levi Brown would move to the right side. Left guard Daryn Colledge and center Lyle Sendlein are adequate interior starters, leaving right guard as the Cardinals' only glaring weakness. New coach Bruce Arians could then use the 38th overall pick on big-armed N.C. State QB Mike Glennon.
8. Buffalo Bills -- Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert
Eighth overall may seem early for a tight end, but not if you've paid attention to GM Buddy Nix's offseason plan. "We want a guy who can go up and snatch the ball, that he’s open when he’s covered,” Nix stated after the season. “Go up and high point the ball and get it." High-pointing passes is Eifert's bread and butter, and Buffalo is needy at tight end, evidenced by the club's flirtations with Fred Davis. Unlike Davis, Eifert would be a long-term solution at the position.
9. New York Jets -- Utah DT Star Lotulelei
The Jets' roster is in such poor shape that rookie GM John Idzik won't have any trouble drafting the best player. He's not beholden to any particular position. After the Jets ranked dead last in 2012 run defense, Lotulelei would both fill a need and satisfy BPA. With Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples bookending Lotulelei, the Jets could lay claim to the AFC's most promising defensive line. Georgia outside pass rusher Jarvis Jones is also likely to be on Rex Ryan's radar.
10. Tennessee Titans -- North Carolina OG Jonathan Cooper
After struggling mightily on the interior the past three years, Tennessee's offensive line is starting to come together. Fernando Velasco has nailed down center. For $46.8 million over six seasons, Andy Levitre is the new left guard. Tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart have always been a strength. The other guard spot is the line's lone remaining weakness. With special movement skills for a 312-pound lineman, Cooper would be a perfect fit in Tennessee's zone-run scheme.
11. San Diego Chargers -- Oklahoma LT Lane Johnson
Johnson isn't quite as polished as Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel, but he arguably possesses more long-term upside with superior athleticism and less experience playing left tackle. The onetime quarterback recruit is only going to get better. San Diego needs help at both tackle spots, and Johnson's rare athleticism makes him a fit as the Chargers install more zone-running concepts.
12. Miami Dolphins -- Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes
Even after his recklessly desperate free-agency spending spree, Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland's roster has myriad holes. He needs two starting corners, an offensive tackle, another edge rusher, help at running back, and arguably a new right guard. Although press-corner Rhodes is a questionable scheme fit for coordinator Kevin Coyle's zone-heavy secondary, he's the best defensive back left on the board. Ireland is on the hotseat, and must nail day-one starters with his first 4-5 draft picks.
13. Tampa Bay Bucs -- Florida State DE Bjoern Werner
The Bucs have the makings of an explosive, big-play offense and can stuff the run on defense. They still don't have enough pieces up front or in the defensive backfield to stop the pass. It's quite possible this pick will ultimately be traded for Darrelle Revis, but if not Tampa Bay must use it on a pass rusher or back-four pass defender. Werner would offer the best value at No. 13 as a highly productive left end type to work in tandem with Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn is coming off a torn ACL, and Bowers has only 4 1/2 sacks through 26 career games.
14. Panthers -- Alabama OG Chance Warmack
Tavon Austin could be enticing here, particularly if new Panthers GM Dave Gettleman -- a former Giants exec -- envisions Austin as another Victor Cruz. Reaching for a cornerback like Desmond Trufant could also be tempting for such a corner-desperate team. Warmack would be the safest pick of the bunch and quite possibly provide the biggest immediate impact, upgrading on Geoff Hangartner at right guard. The Panthers need better play in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
15. New Orleans Saints -- Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones
Medical concerns, lack of ideal size, and poor workout numbers will make Jones a value pick on draft day. Jones' relentless playing style and dominance of SEC offensive tackles will keep him squarely in the first round. Jones is the best player available here, and the Saints need a dynamic edge rusher as they transition to a 3-4. Jones would be a Week 1 starter opposite Junior Galette.
16. St. Louis Rams -- West Virginia WR Tavon Austin
The Rams let free agents Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson walk because they are intent on increasing the big-play ability around Sam Bradford. Amendola and S-Jax were viewed as chain-moving, possession-type players. Austin can move the chains, but he can also hit home runs from multiple receiver positions, in the return game, and as a tailback in the I-formation. If Austin gets to 16 -- and he may not -- he'd be a no-brainer pick as Amendola's replacement and then some.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Alabama RB Eddie Lacy
The Steelers' offensive skill-position talent has become a major concern, especially at running back. "Obviously, we need to add to the pool of talent we have at that position," coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged. With underrated passing-game skills, bone-rattling power, and light feet on his 231-pound frame, Lacy is this year's premier draft-eligible back. He would bring a consistent, sustaining element to a Pittsburgh offense that currently finds itself at a crossroads. The Steelers trumpeted their interest in adding a big back when they flirted with Beanie Wells in free agency.
18. Dallas Cowboys -- Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson
As the Cowboys transition from the 3-4 to 4-3 defensive alignment, their biggest missing piece is a three-technique interior pass rusher. Richardson is a 6-foot-3, 294-pound up-field penetrator capable of starting on day one. He'd be better value than Texas FS Kenny Vaccaro at this pick.
19. New York Giants -- Washington CB Desmond Trufant
Giants GM Jerry Reese is a devoted believer in BPA strategy, making his drafts thoroughly unpredictable because they come directly off an undisclosed and predetermined board. If Reese leans toward need at the 19th pick, corner would rise atop his wish list. Trufant is a tall cover man who can really run and make plays on the ball. The G-Men have to turn the page on Corey Webster.
20. Chicago Bears -- Kansas State LB Arthur Brown
The fact that Brown is a non-pass-rush linebacker puts a lid on his draft value, but he's probably a top 12 or 15 overall player in this year's class. All of Chicago's projected starting linebackers are short-term fixes; WLB Lance Briggs is going on age 33, while MLB D.J. Williams and SLB James Anderson are on one-year contracts. Brown would be the Bears' middle linebacker of the future.
21. Cincinnati Bengals -- Florida S Matt Elam
Reggie Nelson has one safety spot on lock; the other is up for grabs. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer fancies his safeties as interchangeable, and Elam offers experience covering the slot as well as filling hard versus the run. Elam is rough around the edges and will need to be coached up, but he'd be a philosophical fit as another young, physical starter on a young, physical defense.
22. St. Louis Rams -- Texas S Kenny Vaccaro
A hard-nosed tackler whose real strength is pass coverage, Vaccaro is a complete and NFL-ready prospect. Coach Jeff Fisher had a tendency to draft defensive backs early during his 17-year run as the Tennessee/Houston coach, and now has two starting safety positions to fill in St. Louis. If Vaccaro lasts until pick No. 22, the Rams probably wouldn't take long to turn in their draft card.
23. Minnesota Vikings -- Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins
The Vikings shouldn't be done adding receiver talent following the Greg Jennings signing. They need to keep surrounding Christian Ponder with weapons. Hopkins has a wide catching radius and arguably the draft's best hands, plucking passes out of the air even in contested situations. He'd be the Z receiver in Minnesota, with Jennings at X and Jarius Wright manning the slot.
24. Indianapolis Colts -- LSU DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo
The Colts' starting outside linebackers if the season began today would be 32-year-old Robert Mathis and free-agent pickup Erik Walden, the latter of whom has nine sacks across 68 career games. Mingo needs technique work and will undergo an NFL position change, but he's the most explosive edge presence left. Mingo has the potential to develop into a franchise pass rusher.
25. Minnesota Vikings -- Florida International S Jonathan Cyprien
Safeties in Minnesota's Cover-2 scheme must both be sure tacklers and possess sideline-to-sideline range. Cyprien was a box defender at Florida International, but his stock has risen during the pre-draft process because he stood out in coverage at the Senior Bowl before running in the low 4.5s at his Pro Day. He'd be a sizable upgrade on Jamarca Sanford opposite Harrison Smith.
26. Green Bay Packers -- North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams
Like the Giants' Jerry Reese, Packers GM Ted Thompson is a best-player-available picker whose draft intentions are impossible to pin down. It's easier to pinpoint Green Bay's needs. One is at right defensive end, where 2012 second-rounder Jerel Worthy is recovering from a major knee injury and may have zero sophomore impact. A quick penetrator off the snap, Williams goes 6-foot-3, 313 with long arms (33 1/2"). He'd work in a rotation with Mike Neal across from B.J. Raji.
27. Houston Texans -- Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson is a top-ten prospect in terms of upside, but NFL evaluators may envision the JUCO transfer as a raw, boom-or-bust project who must polish up his routes. He's an obvious candidate to be drafted later than expected. Patterson would still be a no-brainer pick for the Texans, who are intent on adding perimeter speed and would use Patterson as a No. 2 wideout, working him in gradually as a short to intermediate threat opposite Andre Johnson. Patterson shouldn't take long to establish himself as a winner versus single coverage and post-catch tackle breaker.
28. Denver Broncos -- UCLA DL Datone Jones
At 6-foot-4, 283, Jones is viewed as a 'tweener because he lacks the ideal body type of a 4-3 defensive end, 4-3 tackle, or 3-4 "five technique." Jones just makes plays. After losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore, the Broncos are in the market for pass-rush help and could use Jones as an interior pocket pusher in the nickel package. Current Denver nose tackle Terrance Knighton can't play on passing downs.
29. New England Patriots -- California WR Keenan Allen
Allen isn't quite the vertical field-stretcher New England is believed to be searching for, but his run-after-catch ability and route-running chops make him a pro-ready NFL prospect. Allen has drawn comparisons ranging from Miles Austin to Reggie Wayne. While Danny Amendola is entrenched at one receiver spot, the Pats won't enter the season with Donald Jones at the other.
30. Atlanta Falcons -- Florida State DE Tank Carradine
The Falcons did well to secure Osi Umenyiora as John Abraham's right end replacement, but their long-term pass-rushing corps remains unsettled. Umenyiora is entering his age-32 season, and left end Kroy Biermann is movable chess piece who plays all over the defense. Coming off a torn right ACL, Carradine should be rounding into form just as Atlanta begins its 2013 playoff push.
31. San Francisco 49ers -- Alabama NT Jesse Williams
A physical plugger at 6-foot-3, 323, Williams is precisely the kind of player GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh value in the trenches. Free-agent pickup Glenn Dorsey is more of a Ricky Jean-Francois-type utilityman than solution at nose tackle. Williams would replace Isaac Sopoaga between Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, keeping the Niners' impenetrable run defense intact.
32. Baltimore Ravens -- Tennessee WR Justin Hunter
Baltimore's offense will change in Jim Caldwell's first full season as playcaller, but the receivers will still frequently be required to defeat man coverage on isolation routes. Hunter's shaky hands are a definite concern -- and the reason he probably won't crack the top-25 picks -- but he is capable of creating separation at the intermediate and deep levels of the field. The Ravens are unlikely to enter the season with Jacoby Jones as the uncontested starter opposite Torrey Smith.
Left Out of Round One: Georgia LB Alec Ogletree, Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks, Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o, Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore, Florida State OT Menelik Watson, USC QB Matt Barkley, Alabama T/G D.J. Fluker, SMU DE Margus Hunt, Stanford TE Zach Ertz, Auburn OLB Corey Lemonier, Boise State CB Jamar Taylor, LSU ILB Kevin Minter, Georgia NT John Jenkins, Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib, Arkansas-Pine Bluff OT Terron Armstead, Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins, Florida State QB E.J. Manuel.