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In the Zone: The 2013 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is one of my favorite days in sports. It represents excitement and optimism, genuine enthusiasm for your favorite team in the most parity-driven sport in America. Among other things (gambling, one game a week, fantasy football, etc.), that is why it America’s game.

Without further ado, here is my 2013 NFL Mock Draft:

1) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS select Luke Joeckel, LT, Texas A&M

Not gonna lie. The fact that @JayGlazer thinks the Chiefs are going to take Eric Fisher instead really has me worried. My personal opinion is that Glazer, for whatever reason, has become the most plugged-in NFL reporter in the industry. Maybe it’s because players like him so much and his MMA-training academy.

Bottom line Chiefs fans, don’t be surprised if it’s Fisher here instead of Joeckel.

That said, Joeckel is the safer pick and he did his work against Big XII and SEC competition, not the MAC.

Now here’s the issue: What to do with current LT Branden Albert, who the organization tendered as the franchise player this year at $9.8 million? Another element that may have the team leaning towards Fisher is his apparent willingness to play on the right side compared to Joeckel. If KC can’t move Albert, Fisher can play right tackle his first year in the league or until Albert is out of the equation.

Now, obviously the Chiefs would like to trade Albert, and it appears they are close with the Miami Dolphins. The Chiefs want the Dolphins first pick in the second round (No. 42), but they may have to settle for their other pick in round two (No. 54). That shouldn’t worry Chiefs management. This draft is so deep in the second and third rounds. There will be plenty of quality prospects available at that juncture in the draft.

2) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS select Eric Fisher, LT, Central Michigan

Former Missouri Tiger QB Blaine Gabbert is safe for at least one more year – IF he can beat out Chad Henne for the starting job, which is absolutely no guarantee.

For some reason, new GM Dave Caldwell has been super-conservative with Jacksonville’s future. He has already come out and said that the team will not extend a contract extension offer to current LT Eugene Monroe, who was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft and is actually a very good player.

Caldwell isn’t even guaranteeing an extension to RB Maurice Jones-Drew!

Fisher, who has a higher ceiling than Joeckel because of his elite athleticism and perceived nastier demeanor on the field, can play right tackle this year while the organization figures out what to do with Monroe after 2013.

Quarterback, by the way, should be one of the better positions to pick from in the 2014 draft, especially if Johnny Manziel comes out, so I’m consider 2013 a throwaway season for the Jags so they can be appropriately aligned in the 2014 draft to take their QB of the future.

3) OAKLAND RAIDERS select Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

This young man was once considered the best prospect in the draft pool. He’s a fierce and destructive player when engaged in the game.

Playing at Utah, I’m sure the Oakland scouts and decision-makers have seen a ton of Lotulelei. He’s the same caliber prospect at this position as Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata were coming out of college.

Star had a medical issue pop up with his heart – very serious – during the pre-draft testing phase, but doctors have since cleared him of any issue.

4) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES select E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

The first big surprise of the draft!

New head coach Chip Kelly is bringing his now-famous brand of play-calling and offensive scheme to the NFL. Current QB Michael Vick would seemingly be the perfect player to quarterback Kelly’s “space-and-pace, fastbreak” style of football.

Vick, however, is coming off an awful year. He’s 32 years old. He’s played 16 games in a season just once in his career. And he’s turned the ball over 29 times the past two seasons while producing only 32 touchdowns.

E.J. Manuel, first of all, is a tremendous athlete. He ran the second fastest forty (4.65 seconds) of any QB at the combine. He was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2013 Senior Bowl. He was 21-6 as a starter at Florida State. He was near flawless in the Jon Gruden QB Camp series on ESPN. He’s also 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds.

Manuel may not start right away, because Vick still has a little left in the tank, but rest assured Kelly gets his QB of the future in E.J. Manuel.

5) DETROIT LIONS select Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, BYU

The Lions have a great young nucleus on the interior of their defensive line with Suh and Nick Fairley, but after cutting Kyle Vanden Bosch and letting Cliff Avril leave for free agency to Seattle, Detroit needs to find the third most premium position in the NFL: pass rusher.

Ansah has more upside than any player in this draft. Simply put, the Ghana native is a freak of nature.

He is by no means a finished or sure-fire prospect, but he’s worth the gamble. The New York Giants are extremely happy they took a similar gamble on Jason Pierre-Paul a few years ago, aren’t they?

6) ***Trade*** ATLANTA FALCONS select Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

It worked so well the first time, why not do it again?

Two years ago, Atlanta – coveting an elite wide receiver – traded up from No. 27 to No. 6 in the draft to take Julio Jones from Alabama. I’d say that worked out fairly well.

This year, the Falcons will trade up from No. 30 to No. 6 to grab another elite prospect from the Nick Saban Academy of College Football.

he Falcons are in “win NOW” mode. The window is open. There are virtually no holes on this roster, but cornerback – after losing Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes this offeseason – is an area that can certainly be upgraded. Milliner is the best cornerback in this draft by a good margin, and GM Thomas Dimitroff will give up whatever is necessary to get the player he covets.

7) ARIZONA CARDINALS select Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

The Arizona Cardinals are mildly surprised to see Smith, who some believe is the best QB prospect in this draft class, fall to No. 7, especially since a QB has already come off the board. New head coach Bruce Arians is happy he did, though.

Despite bringing in Carson Palmer, the long-term future is not set at the most important position on the field in Arizona.

Just like Manuel, Smith doesn’t have to come in and start immediately. Don’t underestimate, despite what we’ve seen recently from first year starting quarterbacks, the value of learning the game for a year or two before being thrown into the fire.

8) BUFFALO BILLS select Matt Barkley, QB, USC

What?!?! You mean to tell me former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone isn’t going to take the guy he coached in college? The same guy who came to Faurot Field and engineered a win over the Missouri Tigers? Get outta here!!!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Nassib ends up being the pick here, but let’s be honest. Barkley is the better prospect. If he came out last year, he likely would have been picked in the top-5 right behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

Barkley had an awful senior season, but I’m of the school-of-thought that pretty much anything not named Marquise Lee that comes in contact with Lane Kiffin is immediately infected with some sort of toxin. Barkley should have gotten away from that guy as soon as he could.

9) NEW YORK JETS select Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon

Some may be surprised that I don’t have the Jets going after a quarterback here to replace Mark Sanchez, but for some reason I think the Jets are not giving up on The Sanchize. In that vain, Nassib would make sense here, but I firmly believe this organization is going to get back to what, once, made them very formidable: defense.

The Jets need a pass-rusher, and Dion Jordan has pass-rushing potential in spades whether he has his hand in the dirt or not.

Rex Ryan loves edge rushers for his scheme, and Jordan is one of the best in this draft. In fact, he very well could be the next Aldon Smith.

10) TENNESSEE TITANS select Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

The Titans need help on the intereior of the defensive line so don’t be surprised if Mizzou’s Sheldon Richardson hears his name called here. I personally think Richardson is the better player, but most in the scouting community seem to side with the former Florida Gator.

Floyd and Richardson, in fact, are very similar players. Both are disruptive 3-technique penetrators with elite athleticism for their size and position.

11) SAN DIEGO CHARGERS select Lane Johnson, LT, Oklahoma

The Chargers are elated to see the third-ranked left tackle fall to their laps at No. 11.

Don’t be surprised to see the Chargers try to move up to get Johnson earlier. With Joeckel and Fisher going with the first two picks, it’s hard to imagine eight more picks would go by without another player from the second-most important position on the field taken, but that’s what I’ve got.

San Diego may not take the risk that he falls, but they are absolutely intent on coming out of the first round of the draft with a new left tackle. That’s almost a guarantee.

12) MIAMI DOLPHINS select Jonathan Cooper, G/C, North Carolina

Many in the scouting community think Cooper is one of the best prospects in this draft, regardless of position.

A very athletic blocker along the line, Cooper would be a tremendous fit in the zone blocking scheme the Dolphins use.

*I fully expect the Dolphins to complete the trade for Albert. By adding Albert and Cooper, plus all the moves made in the offseason (notably the Mike Wallace signing) the front office is doing all it can to put the right pieces around QB Ryan Tannehill.

13) ***Trade*** ST. LOUIS RAMS select Tavon Austin, WR/KR, West Virginia

Wow! Bold move from GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher.

It’s no secret that the Rams have failed to put legitimate playmakers around QB Sam Bradford since he was taken No. 1 overall in 2010. Ironically enough, the most productive wide receiver he’s worked with while in St. Louis, Danny Amendola, is no longer on the team.

I would argue vehemently that the best or most talented wide receiver he’s ever thrown to in St. Louis is former Mizzou standout Danario Alexander. Unfortunately, Alexander was hurt when the new regime took over last year and they decided to cut him because they could never see him play with their own eyes.

Of course, he shredded defenses with the San Diego Chargers once he got healthy enough to play again. Philip Rivers is happy to have him, I’ll tell you that.

Like Alexander, Tavon Austin is a threat to score any time you give him the ball. He’s not the physically dominant player you can just throw the ball up to like DX, but try to stop this guy in space.

Tavon Austin vs. #12 Oklahoma:

4 receptions, 82 yards

21 carries, 344 yards, 2 TD

146 kick return yards

572 all-purpose yards

Is this not exactly what Bradford and the plodding Rams offense needs? Austin = playmaker. Plain and simple.

The move, however, is certainly not without its concerns. The Rams, after all, aren’t exactly an immediate Super Bowl contender and need all the picks they can hoard. Trading away to move up is dicey.

Austin is also the smallest player in the draft. He’s physically strong, but how many 178 pound players thrive in the NFL?

That being said, Austin has never missed a game or practice in high school or college, and you have to hit him to do damage. Good luck with those moves and his 4.3 speed.

14) CAROLINA PANTHERS select Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

Most pundits mock Richardson to the Panthers, and I can’t disagree.

The Panthers desperately need help at defensive tackle and Richardson provides that.

Like Sharrif Floyd, Richardson is a prototypical 3-technique with a relentless motor and superior athleticism. Any team that ends up taking Richardson – headaches and all as Tiger fans can attest – will be happy it did so.

You know what’s funny? Sheldon Richardson is like a defensive tackle version of Cam Newton. They have the same kind of, let’s say, confident attitude.

15) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS select Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU

I’m tempted to put Jarvis Jones here because he is, at this point, the superior football player. Mingo, however, is the superior athlete.

After firing Steve Spagnuolo, New Orleans is switiching to a 3-4 alignment on defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan. The team absolutely needs a hybrid pass rusher for this new scheme and Mingo’s upside at that potential in the NFL is as high as just about anyone else’s.

16) NEW YORK JETS select Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR, Tennessee

As part of the package they got in the trade with the Rams, the Jets add some fuel to their offense.

Cordarrelle Patterson is, simply put, breathtaking to watch. Like Tavon Austin, he’s a nightmare with the ball in his hands. Unlike Tavon Austin, he’s 6-foot-2 and weighs 215 pounds. Patterson is one of the top-3 physical freaks in the entire draft.

Unfortunately, he’s in no way a slam dunk prospect because 1) he’s only played one year of FBS football. 2) There are concerns about his mental aptitude for the game.

At the very least, Patterson should immediately be one of the most exciting returners in the NFL, but is that worth the No. 16 pick in the NFL draft if that’s all he becomes?

Let’s ask it this way: In hindsight, would you take Devin Hester 16 th overall in the draft if you knew what he’d ultimately become in the NFL? Tough question to answer.

17) PITTSBURGH STEELERS select Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia

Missouri Tiger fans and James Franklin still have nightmares about this guy.

He was the most dominant SEC player Mizzou played against in year one. He completely took over that September 8 game at Faurot Field and irrevocably changed the Tigers maiden season in the NFL Minor League’s for the worse.

Jones, however, has plenty of red flags as a draft prospect despite what we saw him do on the field.

He tested horribly during the pre-draft process. I mean, his forty times are legitimately attainable by most males in decent shape age 30 and under. Seriously.

He also has spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spine at the base) that has some worried about his long term viability in the NFL. Doctors have cleared him, but it’s still a concern.

Jones, however, is just a darn good football player and that’s usually what the Pittsburgh Steelers draft. Jones replaces James Harrison as an edge rusher that must be accounted for in the gameplan.

18) DALLAS COWBOYS select Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Jerry Jones adds a Longhorn to the defense for his fans in the Lone Star state.

Vaccaro is widely considered the best safety prospect in the class. He doesn’t have any really elite measurables, but like the guy picked before him, the dude is just a football player who plays hard and fast.

19) NEW YORK GIANTS select D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

The Giants need some help to stabilize the offensive line.

Fluker is one of the largest human beings I have ever seen in person and was the captain of one of the most dominant offensive lines in college football history.

20) CHICAGO BEARS select Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State

Here comes the second run on offensive tackles.

Does anyone remember Jay Cutler yelling at J’Marcus Webb last year for getting him killed? The Bears have needed better play at the tackle spots for years.

Watson has one of the more unique back stories of any player in the draft. I suggest you check it out.

21) CINCINNATI BENGALS select Eric Reid, S, LSU

I really want to mock Georgia LB Alec Ogletree here because the Bengals have always loved to roll the dice on bad boys, but safety is too glaring of a hole on the roster to ignore.

22) ***Trade*** CINCINNATI BENGALS select Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are making moves again!

St. Louis moved up to get Tavon Austin earlier, and now the Rams are moving out of the first round to pick back up some of what they lost in the trade with the Jets.

Cincinnati needs a running back to take the pressure off Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in the worst way, so they move up in front of Denver and Green Bay to get the guy they want to complete their offense.

23) MINNESOTA VIKINGS select Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee

QB Christian Ponder no longer has Percy Harvin to throw the ball to.

Justin Hunter has an A.J. Green-esque ceiling in the NFL. He’s 6-foot-4, 198 pounds with track and field athleticism. If Hunter had not blown out his knee in 2011, I think he would have been a top-10 pick.

24) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS select Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

The Colts need help at cornerback and Rhodes is a physically imposing prospect at the position.

25) ***Trade*** NEW YORK JETS select Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse

Ok, so maybe the Jets aren’t exactly sold on Sanchez and Tim Tebow.

New GM John Idzik makes a move back into the first round with the Vikings to leap any teams (Jacksonville, cough cough) that may be eyeing a quarterback at the top of round two.

26) GREEN BAY PACKERS select Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

The Packers are growing tiresome of Jermichael Finley so they pick his successor.

Eifert is a decent blocker, but is at his best pulling down jump balls. He will terrorize smaller defensive backs down the seams and has the athletic ability to move out on the perimeter if need be.

27) HOUSTON TEXANS select DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

Andre Johnson has never had the help he’s needed on the other side. Hopkins is one of the most underrated players in this draft. Teammate Sammy Watkins got most of the attention at Clemson, but Hopkins was the more consistent player.

28) DENVER BRONCOS select Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

Elvis Dumervil is no longer on the opposite side of Von Miller. The Broncos don’t have many holes to fill on the roster, but another pass rusher is one of them.

29) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS select Desmond Trufant, CB, Washignton

Bill Belichick has had trouble finding long term answers at cornerback through the draft, but he’s going to try again.

Trufant comes from a family that has produced multiple NFL players, and he’s got a physical element to his game that The Hoodie will love to have on his team.

30) CLEVELAND BROWNS select Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

Cleveland will willingly ride the Brandon Weeden experience for one more (bad) year. The extra first round pick they got from Atlanta in the 2014 draft plus the premium pick they’ll get due to their poor record in 2013 will give the team the ammo it needs to be a player in the Johnny Manziel Sweepstakes.

Cleveland would be giddy to see Chance Warmack fall to this spot. Some scouts think he’s the safest pick in the draft.

31) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS select Robert Woods, WR, USC

The player the Niners thought they were getting last year when they picked A.J. Jenkins.

Woods is one of my personal favorites in the draft. I compare him to Reggie Wayne, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce. Never will he be the biggest, fastest, or strongest wide receiver on the field, but Woods is as smooth as they come. No one understands how to create separation through route mechanics in this draft better than Robert Woods.

This guy will have a very long and successful NFL career.

32) BALTIMORE RAVENS select Matt Elam, S, Florida

The successor to Ed Reed at the safety spot, Elam is an undersized safety who hits hard and makes plays. Even better, he raised the level of his play against the best competition. He’s definitely an Ozzie Newsome type of player.

That’s the 1 st round for all 32 NFL teams. I will not do that for every team but I will round out the draft for the Rams and the Chiefs. Let’s start with KC:

2 nd Round (54) – Kyle Long, G/T, Oregon

With Branden Albert off the roster, the Chiefs need a right tackle to compete with Donald Stephenson for the starting job. The younger brother of Rams DE Chris Long, and the son of Howie Long, Kyle Long is the guy that the Chiefs brass was eyeing when they made their trip to Eugene for the Oregon Pro Day.

3 rd Round (63) – Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia

Eric Berry needs some help on the back end of the secondary. Rambo is a ball-hawk who picked off 16 passes in his career with the Bulldogs.

3 rd Round (96) – Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M

Kansas City desperately needs someone more consistent on the other side of Dwayne Bowe. Swope played four years in College Station and caught 233 balls his final three seasons, is tough as nails, and has great hands. He also ran a sizzling 4.34 forty at the combine.

4 th Round (99) – William Gholston, DE, Michigan State

Glenn Dorsey didn’t work. Tyson Jackson isn’t working. The Chiefs need to find better luck drafting 5-technique defensive ends.

5 th Round (134) – Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

Some help for Derrick Johnson on the inside of Kansas City’s 4-LB alignment.

6 th Round (170) – Michael Hill, RB, Missouri Western State

Dude ran for 2,168 yards at 7.0 yards per pop last year right in the Chiefs backyard. Why not?

6 th Round (204) – T.J. Barnes, NT, Georgia Tech

New regime didn’t reach for Dontari Poe. They have no ties to him. T.J. Barnes is 6-foot-6 and weighs 360 pounds. Seriously.

7 th Round (207) – Brandon Kaufman, WR, Eastern Washington

Again, this regime didn’t draft Jon Baldwin, who seems to be slow to catch on in the NFL. Kaufman is 6-foot-5, 216 pounds and put up some eye-popping collegiate numbers. I’m talking video game numbers.

Now let’s get to the St. Louis Rams:

2 nd Round (37) ***Acquired from CIN*** – D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina

This was the pick they got from the Bengals in the earlier trade. The Rams currently have the worst group of safeties in the league. They’ve actually gotten worse at the position despite getting rid of Craig Dahl.

Swearinger, if you’ve ever seen him, play just looks like a Jeff Fisher kind of guy.

2 nd Round (46) – ***Traded to New York Jets***

3 rd Round (78) – Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

Call me crazy but I think Jeff Fisher, who LOVES physical running backs in a rotation, rolls the dice on Lattimore. He won’t be ready at the beginning of the year, but Lattimore seems determined to come back from the gruesome knee injury he suffered against Tennessee this year.

Knee injuries aren’t the death sentence they used to be, and before his, Lattimore was a first round pick, easily. St. Louis has plenty of speed in the backfield with Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Now they add a little size and a potential franchise back down the line.

3 rd Round (84) ***Acquired from CIN*** – Zaviar Gooden, OLB, Missouri

This may look like a homer pick, but I can tell you for certain that the Rams have interest in the former Missouri Tiger.

The Rams sent coaches to personally work out Gooden at Mizzou’s pro day. He’s also the best athlete among the entire linebacking corps and Les Snead always looks to add athletes and speed to his roster.

Gooden can be an immediate force on special teams, and contribute in nickel packages as a safety-trapped-in-a-linebackers-body who is able to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.

4 th Round (113) – Sanders Commings, CB/S, Georgia

The Rams only have three cornerbacks on the roster, albeit, three very good ones. Commings is versatile enough to help at any spot in the defensive backfield.

5 th Round (149) – Oday Aboushi, G/T, Virginia

Aboushi is versatile enough to play on the right side at tackle or kick inside to guard. There are no guarantees that Rodger Saffold stays with the Rams beyond 2013.

6 th Round (184) – Conner Vernon, WR, Duke

The Rams really like Mizzou WR T.J. Moe, but instead opt for Conner Vernon. Vernon is like a metronome at wide receiver.

He catches everything. He’s tough. He’s smart. He’s the perfect replacement to Bradford’s old favorite security blanket, Danny Amendola.

And rest assured, the Rams will be taking more than one pass catcher in this draft. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they use two of their premium picks at wide receiver if they happen to miss out on Austin, the guy they really want.

7 th Round (222) – Phillip Steward, OLB, Houston

Like the safety position, outside linebacker was a barren wasteland on this roster.

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