Even as days are reduced to hours before the 2013 NFL Draft, clarity remains hard to come by, and mock draft projections merely code for "best guess."
Over the past eight months, scouts have visited hundreds of campuses and evaluated thousands of prospects from around the country. Players have been poked and prodded through the all-star circuit, combine and pro days, working hard to achieve their dreams. And on the weekend of April 25-27, we will find out the 254 prospects who will hear their name called in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The first five picks in 2012 were fairly easy to forecast, but this year is a complete crapshoot, starting with the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 1 overall pick.
Mock drafts are fun exercises to predict who teams might select on draft day, but even more fun is when the draft is so wide-open that it's possible for even the best "experts" to miss every single pick. And that's what makes the 2013 NFL Draft so interesting.
1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS -- ERIC FISHER, OT, CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Yes, the Chiefs slapped the franchise tag on incumbent left tackle starter Branden Albert, but tackle is still a real possibility especially after the release of Eric Winston. Following up his strong performance in Mobile, Fisher pushed the envelope even further with an excellent few days in Indianapolis at the 2013 NFL Combine.
2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS -- DION JORDAN, DE/LB, OREGON
New Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley will be on the lookout for a versatile pass rusher that he can plug into the "Leo" pass rusher position in his defense. Jordan has some questions about his durability and bulk, but his versatility and athleticism makes him worthy of this selection.
3. OAKLAND RAIDERS -- LUKE JOECKEL, OT, TEXAS A&M
The Raiders have several holes to fill, but it's tough to ignore the attention Oakland has given the Texas A&M offensive tackle. Raiders offensive line coach Tony Sparano and head coach Dennis Allen were a big part of Joeckel's pro day work out in College Station and would fit at left tackle, pushing Jared Veldheer to the right side.
4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES -- LANE JOHNSON, OT, OKLAHOMA
The offensive tackles are going to fly off the board fast and even if both Joeckel and Fisher are still available at the fourth pick, Lane Johnson might be the best fit for Chip Kelly and his offense. Johnson is just scratching the surface of his potential at tackle.
5. DETROIT LIONS -- EZEKIEL ANSAH, DE, BYU
The Lions have one of the better interior defensive lines in the NFL with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but need to add pass rushers in the draft. Ansah offers positional versatility and can do a lot of things at the next level, plus the Lions staff is familiar with him after coaching him at the Senior Bowl.
6. CLEVELAND BROWNS -- DEE MILLINER, CB, ALABAMA
With the Browns transitioning to a hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Ray Horton, expect the Browns to focus on defense early in the draft. There is a more than good chance the Browns will trade back, but if they stay here, Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo and Dee Milliner are the likely targets.
7. ARIZONA CARDINALS -- STAR LOTULELEI, DT, UTAH
With the top three offensive tackles likely to be off the board, where does the Cardinals' focus switch? Maybe to offensive guard, but if Star Lotulelei is still available, it would be tough for Arizona to pass on him.
8. BUFFALO BILLS -- RYAN NASSIB, QB, SYRACUSE
We know the Bills will draft a quarterback at some point this draft, but will it be in the top-10? With new head coach Doug Marrone and his familiarity with his former quarterback Ryan Nassib, the Orange passer is a real possibility with this pick if the Bills front office doesn't want to risk missing him later.
9. NEW YORK JETS -- BARKEVIOUS MINGO, DE/LB, LSU
The Jets need a lot of help in several areas, mostly on offense, including the quarterback position. But the Jets have struggled to put pressure on the opponents' backfield and Mingo would give Rex Ryan's defense a pass rusher with upside.
10. TENNESSEE TITANS -- CHANCE WARMACK, OG, ALABAMA
As a former offensive lineman who was drafted in the top-10, Titans head coach Mike Munchak will undoubtedly be impressed with Warmack. And even after spending big money on Andy Levitre in free agency, the Titans could use another guard opposite him.
11. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS -- JONATHAN COOPER, OG, NORTH CAROLINA
The Chargers have questions at both tackle spots, but with the top three offensive tackle prospects off the board, they could focus on the interior, especially after losing Louis Vasquez in free agency. Cooper gives San Diego positional versatility to play either center or guard for the Bolts.
12. MIAMI DOLPHINS -- DJ FLUKER, OT, ALABAMA
The Dolphins have never been shy about taking prospects earlier than expected in order to fit need and signs point to them strongly considering Fluker at this pick. He would give Miami a pair of right tackles along with Jonathan Martin, but what do they do at left tackle?
13. NEW YORK JETS -- TYLER EIFERT, TE, NOTRE DAME
The Jets added this pick in the Darrelle Revis-to-Tampa trade and could go in several directions, especially if Geno Smith is still available. But they need to get stronger on offense and Tyler Eifert could be the target, after all, the Jets have had to watch Gronkowsi and Hernandez dominate in New England the past few years.
14. CAROLINA PANTHERS -- SHARRIF FLOYD, DT, FLORIDA
While I'd be surprised if Floyd lasts this long, the Panthers certainly wouldn't be upset to see him still on the board. The interior of the Panthers' defensive line has been a question mark since Kris Jenkins left in 2007 and, ironically, Carolina hasn't invested a top-50 draft pick on a defensive tackle since Jenkins over a decade ago.
15. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -- JARVIS JONES, OLB, GEORGIA
The Saints are transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will want to add pass rushers to the mix. Jones is a natural fit as a stand-up 3-4 LB pass rusher and although he has some flaws, his ability to disrupt the pocket is a coveted attribute.
16. ST. LOUIS RAMS -- TAVON AUSTIN, WR, WEST VIRGINIA
With Danny Amendola now in New England, the Rams are in the market for a speedy inside receiver. Austin has the speed and quickness to make plays at all levels of the field and can be a difference-maker for an offense that needs some life.
17. PITTSBURGH STEELERS -- XAVIER RHODES, CB, FLORIDA STATE
The Steelers need to get younger and faster on defense and with an aging secondary, Kenny Vaccaro could be a good pick here. But with if still available, Xavier Rhodes would be an excellent value pick here and would replace Keenan Lewis at cornerback.
18. DALLAS COWBOYS -- SHELDON RICHARDSON, DT, MISSOURI
I'm sure Jerry Jones will want to make a splash with this pick, but the Cowboys desperately need to revamp the trenches on both sides of the ball. If one of the top two guards (Warmack, Cooper) or top three defensive tackles (Floyd, Lotulelei, Richardson) are still available, that will make the most sense.
19. NEW YORK GIANTS -- BJOERN WERNER, DE, FLORIDA STATE
The Giants have never been shy about drafting pass rushers in the first round and with Osi Umenyora now in Atlanta, New York has an opening on the edges. Werner is ideally-suited as a base 4-3 defensive end.
20. CHICAGO BEARS -- SYLVESTER WILLIAMS, DT, NORTH CAROLINA
The Bears aren't shy about taking the best player available on the board, which might be Williams. The North Carolina tackle has intriguing upside and would give Chicago depth on the interior defensive line.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS -- KENNY VACCARO, S, TEXAS
Assuming the Bengals are able to re-sign right tackle Andre Smith, the Bengals focus will likely shift to defense with this pick. Cincinnati needs to find a safety to pair with Reggie Nelson and Vaccaro would give them versatility against both the run and pass.
22. ST. LOUIS RAMS (FROM WASHINGTON) -- ALEC OGLETREE, LB, GEORGIA
The Rams are expected to defense with this pick, especially if they snatch up Tavon Austin with their original first round pick. Alec Ogletree has his off-field troubles, but his on-field speed and upside could land him in the first round.
23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS -- TANK CARRADINE, DE, FLORIDA STATE
The Vikings are going to take a wide receiver with this pick, right? Not so fast. With several of their defensive stars not getting any younger, it wouldn't shocking to see Minnesota take a chance on a pass rusher, especially one with Carradine's upside.
24. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -- DATONE JONES, DE, UCLA
The Colts have done an admirable job on defense in their first season utilizing the 3-4 scheme, but need to add more depth in their front-seven. With 3-4 experience from his time at UCLA, Jones gives the Colts positional versatility to line up with his hand on the ground at end or stand up and move around as a pass rusher.
25. MINNESOTA VIKINGS -- MANTI TE'O, LB, NOTRE DAME
If the Vikings go offense and wide receiver with their original first round pick at 23, they will almost certainly go defense with this pick. The Vikings selected a defensive leader out of Notre Dame in the first round last year and could go back to that well here with Te'o.
26. GREEN BAY PACKERS -- MENELIK WATSON, OT, FLORIDA STATE
The Packers offensive line hasn't been their strength in recent years and could target one here. Watson doesn't have the impressive resume of most first round picks, but his upside will get him drafted much earlier than many expect.
27. HOUSTON TEXANS -- DeANDRE HOPKINS, WR, CLEMSON
The Texans have gone predominantly defense in the first round under the current regime, but at some point, they have to add weapons. Hopkins might not be the fastest or biggest, but he would be an excellent complement to Andre Johnson and help Matt Schaub in the passing game.
28. DENVER BRONCOS -- DESMOND TRUFANT, CB, WASHINGTON
Denver is likely to lean defense with this pick, either defensive line or cornerback. Trufant used his Senior Bowl performance to catapult into the first round discussion and would be a great addition to the Broncos secondary.
29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -- DJ HAYDEN, CB, HOUSTON
The Patriots need to stop the bleeding in the secondary by adding more depth on the outside at cornerback. Hayden had his near-fatal injury in November, but has first round tools.
30. ATLANTA FALCONS -- JAMAR TAYLOR, CB, BOISE STATE
The Falcons could use help at pass rusher and on the offensive line, but with the losses of Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, cornerback has shot to the top of the needs list. Taylor isn't a lock first round prospect, but he has the potential.
31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS -- JESSE WILLIAMS, DT, ALABAMA
San Francisco let nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga sign elsewhere and signed his replacement Ian Williams to an extension, but there can never be enough depth in the trenches. Williams is a powerful, stout anchor who has enough athleticism to play either the zero, one or five technique spots for the Niners.
32. BALTIMORE RAVENS -- KEVIN MINTER, ILB, LSU
The Ravens are world champions, but they also have needs all over their defense, including at middle linebacker where Ray Lewis leaves a gaping hole. Minter will never be the fastest athlete on the field, but he plays smart, alert football with a nose for the ball in the run game.
33. JACKONSVILLE JAGUARS -- GENO SMITH, QB, WEST VIRGINIA
34. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS -- ROBERT ALFORD, CB, SE LOUISIANA
35. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES -- EJ MANUEL, QB, FLORIDA STATE
36. DETROIT LIONS -- TERRON ARMSTEAD, OT, ARKANSAS PINE-BLUFF
37. CINCINNATI BENGALS -- ARTHUR BROWN, LB, KANSAS STATE
38. ARIZONA CARDINALS -- MATT BARKLEY, QB, USC
CLEVELAND BROWNS -- USED SUPPLEMENTAL PICK in 2012
39. NEW YORK JETS -- JOHNTHAN BANKS, CB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
40. TENNESSEE TITANS -- MARGUS HUNT, DE, SMU
41. BUFFALO BILLS -- JUSTIN HUNTER, WR, TENNESSEE
42. MIAMI DOLPHINS -- DARIUS SLAY, CB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
43. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS -- TRAVIS KELCE, TE, CINCINNATI
44. CAROLINA PANTHERS -- CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, WR, TENNESSEE
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -- FORFEITED PICK
45. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS -- JOHNATHAN HANKINS, DT, OHIO STATE
46. ST. LOUIS RAMS -- JOHNATHAN CYPRIEN, S, FIU
47. DALLAS COWBOYS -- ERIC REID, S, LSU
48. PITTSBURGH STEELERS -- EDDIE LACY, RB, ALABAMA
49. NEW YORK GIANTS -- SIO MOORE, LB, UCONN
50. CHICAGO BEARS -- JUSTIN PUGH, OL, SYRACUSE
51. WASHINGTON REDSKINS -- COREY LEMONIER, DE, AUBURN
52. MINNESOTA VIKINGS -- KEENAN ALLEN, WR, CAL
53. MIAMI DOLPHINS -- ZACH ERTZ, TE, STANFORD
54. CINCINNATI BENGALS -- JONATHAN FRANKLIN, RB, UCLA
55. GREEN BAY PACKERS -- MATT ELAM, S, FLORIDA
56. HOUSTON TEXANS -- KYLE LONG, OL, OREGON
57. DENVER BRONCOS -- DAMONTRE MOORE, DE, A&M
58. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -- TYRANN MATHIEU, DB, LSU
59. ATLANTA FALCONS -- ALEX OKAFOR, DE, TEXAS
60. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -- ROBERT WOODS, WR, USC
61. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS -- DJ SWEARINGER, S, SOUTH CAROLINA
62. BALTIMORE RAVENS -- QUINTON PATTON, WR, LOUISIANA TECH