Updated 12/13/2012 1:15 am ET
The college season is over and the NFL is entering its stretch run, so it's time for my initial first-round projection for the 2013 draft.
This post is attributed to ESPN Draft Coverage
The order below is based on current records and playoff predictions, and assumes each playoff team would advance according to seeding (No. 1 conference seeds to the Super Bowl, etc.). Ties between teams with the same record are broken using strength of schedule, with teams having the lower SOS getting the higher pick.
Much can and will change as the playoff picture comes into sharper focus and more draft-eligible non-seniors make their intentions known, but this early look offers some perspective on where prospects might land given what we know at this point.
Defensive linemen have dominated my draft board all season long, and this projection is no different with 14 ends and tackles included. Offensive tackle is the next-best position with four prospects, while only one quarterback makes the early cut.
Among individual schools, Texas A&M and Georgia lead the way with three prospects, including a pair of Aggies in the top five. Alabama, West Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina all have two players in this mock draft.
Draft-eligible non-seniors are noted with an asterisk.
This might turn out to be a simple case of bad luck for the Chiefs. They're a year too late to cash in on the Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III bonanza, and there doesn't appear to be a 2013 quarterback prospect worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. I would have to think West Virginia's Geno Smith would be the choice over USC's Matt Barkley if the Chiefs go that direction, but at this point I think they go elsewhere. Kansas City already has spent first-round picks on the likes of Tyson Jackson and Dontari Poe, but needs a defensive tackle who can hold ground while also providing more pass-rush ability. Lotulelei will never be an elite pass-rusher, but he is strong against the run and has the quickness and power to collapse the pocket. He could become a mainstay in the middle and be good for five to seven sacks per year.
The Jaguars have a league-low 14 sacks this season. They signed the recently-releasedJason Babin as a Band-Aid, but even if Babin returns in 2013, upgrading the pass rush will be a huge priority. Moore can win with quickness or power, shows very good closing burst and is the kind of high-motor, high-character prospect the Jags are known to value. He also flashes the ability to hold the point against the run and has the versatility to line up in multiple spots.
The Raiders have managed only 17 sacks this season, and DEs Lamarr Houston (300 pounds) and Matt Shaughnessy (285 pounds) are unusually big. They would face a tough call between Werner and LSU DE Barkevious Mingo, who has a better natural skill set as a pass-rusher and would give the Raiders a lighter, faster edge rusher. However, Werner is the more consistent player and has a better all-around game.
The Eagles have major concerns along the offensive line, and also have a need at cornerback. The line situation will improve when C Jason Kelce and OTs Jason Peters andTodd Herremans return from injured reserve next season, but you could not fault Philadelphia for taking the best available offensive tackle. Joeckel is a smart, technically sound and tough player in the mold of Joe Thomas, and Joeckel started all 37 games at left tackle in his first three seasons with the Aggies. He could play right tackle opposite Peters and allow Herremans to move inside to guard.
The Panthers are much stronger against the pass than the run, so upgrading at defensive tackle is a priority. Lotulelei would be a great pick if he were available. In this scenario, though, Hankins has the size and quickness to be the right fit as a disrupter in the middle of the defensive front.
Tennessee ranks 26th in the NFL in pass defense and 21st in sacks with 27. Kamerion Wimbley has five sacks, but he will be 30 next season and the Titans need a younger, better version of Wimbley to start on the right side opposite Derrick Morgan. While Mingo isn't a finished product, he has the quick first step, speed and range to chase down quarterbacks.
A pass-rusher like Georgia's Jarvis Jones would be intriguing here, but corner is the Lions' biggest need and Milliner has the potential to be an immediate starter. He's not an elite cover corner but good enough to hold up in man coverage, and he is very good in zone. Milliner is also strong in run support, and simply a good all-around player.
There is still a lot of work to do on the top quarterbacks, but the question at this point is how high a team will reach for the top player a the position. It's easy to argue the Cardinals need a quarterback as badly as any team in the NFL right now, and when Smith is on, his mechanics, footwork and confidence make him an effective passer.
The Chargers must protect QB Philip Rivers better. They hope the healthy return of LT Jared Gaither will fill one spot, but they would still need a right tackle in that scenario and Lewan would fit the bill. He has the length to be effective in pass protection, and he's a tenacious run-blocker who gets under the skin of defenders.
This is not the sexiest pick and Browns fans probably would express some frustration initially, but Warmack is a flat-out stud who would instantly improve their offensive line. He is one of the best guards I've ever evaluated, an easy mover in pass protection who shows plenty of smarts and is also a nasty run-blocker. Cleveland RB Trent Richardson (a former teammate of Warmack) and QB Brandon Weeden would surely offer their stamps of approval.
The Bills could be in the market for a quarterback depending on how they feel about Ryan Fitzpatrick after this season, but there's no way Barkley has the arm to play in Buffalo in the winter. There is also no wide receiver worth taking this high to fill their need at that position. Te'o would give the team another young defensive leader up the middle with DTMarcell Dareus. He's a three-down linebacker who can handle the point of attack against the run and has shown plenty of ability in underneath coverage.
Miami has an inconsistent pass rush and needs another rusher opposite Cameron Wake, who will turn 31 in January. Jordan is long and athletic, has explosive initial power and shows the versatility to play multiple roles along the front seven.
The Saints are without a second-round pick as part of their punishment for the bounty scandal, so they must upgrade the pass rush with their first-rounder. Jones has top-notch pass-rush skills and his primary role as a rookie will be to get after the quarterback. He also has good range in coverage, and should be an upgrade as a starter on the strong side.
There is not a corner after Milliner worth taking here to fill a pressing need. There is talk about Joeckel's teammate Jake Matthews* as a first-rounder, and Matthews could fill the Bucs' need at right tackle. However, Montgomery is a solid all-around prospect who can hold up against the run and is a powerful pass-rusher.
Yes, the Jets have a quarterback need, but replacing Mark Sanchez with Barkley would be like trying to kick a Diet Coke habit by substituting Diet Pepsi. New York will almost certainly look to bring in a veteran if it chooses to upgrade at quarterback. The Jets' pass defense is surprisingly good despite the team having only 22 total sacks, but they still need a legitimate edge rusher. However, they're on the wrong end of a run on ends in this scenario. They could reach for a player such as Auburn's Corey Lemonier, but they also need a right tackle and Matthews is on the rise with his toughness in the run game and good hands in pass protection.
The Rams might consider a receiver such as Tennessee's Justin Hunter or California'sKeenan Allen here, but could also get better value with a defensive tackle such as North Carolina's Sylvester Williams. However, St. Louis must protect QB Sam Bradford for the organization to turn the corner, and Fisher has the length, light feet and balance to be effective against edge rushers.
Ogletree is raw, but he has freakish athleticism and plenty of upside. He comes with some character baggage, but the Bengals have shown a willingness to overlook character concerns and an affinity for SEC prospects. They're getting good play from LB Vontaze Burfict, but can they trust him to remain focused? Ogletree also could add depth if Rey Maualuga has trouble staying on the field, and there are no great fits at Cincinnati's other positions of need (SS, RB, WR, RT).
Williams is the best player available here by a long shot. He has good speed and range, power at the point of attack, quick hands and solid instincts. The Vikings also could go with massive Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins to play alongside the aging Kevin Williams, but Jenkins was not as consistently dominant this season and doesn't present nearly as much value.
Vaccaro has good movement skills, showing balance and the ability to turn his hips and run with receivers. His instincts and ball skills would help solidify the Dallas secondary. Jenkins is also a possibility here, too, with the Cowboys needing to solidify their defensive interior.
Allen doesn't have elite top-end speed, but he has good size and athleticism and his ball skills improved this season. He has the potential to turn into the downfield playmaker Bradford needs on the outside.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is frustrated by his team's inability to get to the quarterback this season, and the team could opt for a pass-rusher such as Lemonier or BYU's Ezekiel Ansah. However, Jenkins is a good fit as the successor to Casey Hampton in the middle of Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. Jenkins has the size to occupy blockers and stuff the run and occasionally provide interior pressure on the quarterback.
Hunter's inconsistent ball skills are a concern and he needs to get stronger and more physical in his routes, but you simply can't coach his combination of size and athleticism. He could provide a go-to option for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Seattle also has a need at outside linebacker and would find a good fit in Ogletree if he were available. Finally, Hunter's teammate Cordarrelle Patterson might also be in the mix here should the former juco transfer leave the Vols after one season.
Yes, left offensive tackle is Chicago's biggest need, but with four OTs off the board at this point the Bears cannot afford to reach after missing on the likes of Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi in recent years. Chicago DT Henry Melton has been terrific this season, but teams can never have enough disruptive defensive linemen and Richardson fits the bill with his quickness, speed ability to penetrate and power as a bull-rusher.
The Colts have a lot of needs along the front seven in their new 3-4 scheme. Ansah is raw, but he made huge strides in 2012 and showed impressive versatility for a player with limited experience. He also has a rare combination of size and speed. While Ansah is a project, the potential reward if he reaches his potential could be worth the risk.
The Giants have been successful under general manager Jerry Reese going with the best available athlete on the board, but in this case they find one of the top players available at a priority need area. Banks is not elite in man-to-man coverage, but he has good length and is solid in press coverage, shows instincts in zone, supports the run and is a ball hawk with 16 career interceptions.
The Ravens would continue a youth movement on defense with this pick. Lemonier might not come off the board this high, but he's an underrated prospect who played hard all season long on a bad defense. He's versatile and tough, has explosive upfield burst, closes quickly and shows some pop at the point of attack.
Guard might not be a top need for the Packers, but Cooper's combination of quickness, balance, power and good feet make him a perfect fit in the Packers' zone-stretch scheme. He is the best blocker in space in the class and a top-15 talent who would bring good value at this point.
Defensive tackle is a top need for the Broncos, and while Short has been inconsistent at times during his career he moves well for a 6-foot-3, 325-pounder and has shown the ability to disrupt offenses from the interior (14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2012).
Tennessee G Dallas Thomas would be a perfect fit because of his versatility and agility, but the 49ers might not invest a fourth first-round pick along the line to go with Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. However, Floyd's versatility to play inside or kick outside to end makes him a great fit on the other side of the ball. He can anchor against the run, chases plays all over the field and had a monster 2012 season.
The Patriots might not want to spend a first-round pick on a slot receiver, but Austin's playmaking skills as a receiver and return man (and even out of the backfield) will make him a tempting option in this area of the draft. The Patriots' other need areas include defensive tackle, perimeter receiver, guard and defensive back.
The Texans are looking for another pass-catcher who can take pressure off WR Andre Johnson and need an upgrade at tight end. Eifert is not an elite athlete, but he has the size to create mismatches and separation and also the best ball skills of any tight end in college football. Houston also could opt for USC WR Robert Woods, or a safety such as Florida'sMatt Elam or LSU's Eric Reid.