The NFL Draft is always tremendously difficult to predict. It takes elite sources, perfect understanding of roster evaluations, knowing GM personalities, scheme views, and position values, and your own evaluations to determine who really is a 1st round prospect and who’s being fluffed up.
This years’ draft, however, is more unique that most. With the top three picks have new GMs (Oakland’s Reggie McKenzie on year two of a massive rebuild), the Eagles and Lions having GMs on the hot seat, and no one having a clue where the quarterbacks end up, team’s picking in the 20s are literally in the same position as fans and media are: clueless.
With that said, I’ve combined the homework I’ve done, the people I’ve spoken with, and my own gut feeling thanks to draft history and my evaluations to give ten Bold (and Informed) predictions on how the 2013 NFL Draft will play out.
1. Four QBs in Round One; Eight in the Top 100
In what seems to be the worst pre-draft quarterback class in NFL history (or at least you’d assume that by the major media), few expect more than one or two go in the 1st round. But I’d be surprised if three (Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, and EJ Manuel) didn’t go in the first round, with Matt Barkley being the wildcard as a team tries to trade up. The Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Browns, Cardinals, Bills and Jets all need quarterbacks, and I think four of those seven bite in round one.
Also, teams like the Texans, Steelers, Chiefs, and Bucs could consider a quarterback in the 2nd or 3rd round if one falls to them.
2. Four Trades Happen Within the First 10 Picks
The Raiders and the Browns have no second round picks. The Jaguars and Lions have multiple needs that they can’t fill with just a Top 5 pick. The Cardinals and Bills likely don’t want to take a guard and quarterback (respectively) in the Top 10. And the Jets and new GM John Idzik is looking to stockpile picks. What does that add up to? We could see as many as five or six teams change spots in the Top 10.
The Dolphins, Chargers, Vikings, and 49ers all seem like logical teams to consider trading up. The targets? Ezekiel Ansah, Kenny Vaccaro, Lane Johnson, and Tavon Austin. In your mock drafts, you’re better off choosing picks by team, not draft order.
3. At Least One Running Back Goes in the 1st Round
We’ve never had a first round of the NFL Draft without a running back, though 2011 came close (the Saints traded up to take Mark Ingram). While that may again be the case this year that running backs are severely devalued, the idea of “getting your guy” and finding that starter capable runner may win out.
The Packers at 26 and the Broncos at 28 have a need, as well as potential 2nd round trade ups like the Lions and Jets. Eddie Lacy and/or Jonathan Franklin are likely to be picked in the Top 32.
4. We have 38-42 Receivers Drafted, Most Since 1992
Generally in the draft, the receiver class ends up in the early to mid-30s in terms of how many from the position get drafted. But in such a remarkably deep receiver class, I think 25+ teams will take at least one receiver, with the Panthers, Steelers, Jets, and Seahawks considering multiple picks at the position.
Also, don’t be shocked if you hear Justin Hunter, Quinton Patton, or Markus Wheaton’s name in the 1st round of the NFL after, after Tavon Austin is already off the board.
5. Tyler Eifert and Tavon Austin are Top 14 Picks
Just a month ago, I would have said you’re crazy if you had a tight end and a sub-5’10 receiver in the top half of the NFL Draft. But Eifert’s ball grabbing ability and athleticism at a playmaking position likely has him ending up as a Dolphin, a Jet, or to a team moving up to get him. As for Austin, it seems likely that he won’t leave the Top 10. My expectation is that the Panthers move up to get him, but he’s truly a wildcard, and I wouldn’t put it past the Browns or Bills to take him on draft day.
6. No (True) Offensive Guards Go in the Top 10
Maybe this is me being a bit stubborn, but I just don’t see the value of guards as Top 10 picks, especially when playmaking safeties (Kenny Vaccaro), receivers (Tavon Austin), defensive lineman (Ansah/Mingo/Jordan/Richardson/Floyd), or even quarterbacks (Smith/Nassib) are available. The Cardinals and Titans make the most sense to take guards, but I don’t think either wants to stay in the Top 10 to do so.
The Cardinals taking Chance Warmack makes loads of sense, and getting an extra 2nd rounder would be a nice use of value. That being said, it seems both guards will be gone by the Top 20 picks.
7. Three Non-FBS Prospects Go In the Top 40 Picks
I almost said the Top 32, but I’m not willing to go THAT far. Offensive Tackle Terron Armstead is the best of the bunch, and he should be a late 1st round pick for a team looking for a college left tackle that has the feet and polish to play both tackles and both guard spots in most systems.
Cornerback Robert Alford isn’t as high on our board, but his physicality, natural fluidity, and ability to play in the slot could increase his value to the Top 32. And finally, character concerning receiver Da’Rick Rogers has as much upside as any receiver in this draft. It only takes one team to feel comfortable with him.
8. Eight Defensive Backs in 1st Round, Five in Top 21 Picks
I feel confident that safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerbacks Dee Milliner, Desmond Trufant, DJ Hayden, and Xavier Rhodes will go in the Top 21. Also, cornerback Jamar Taylor and safeties Jonathan Cyprien and Eric Reid could be in consideration there too. Add in the strong cornerback/safety after those guys, and it seems fairly clear that we’ll have nine defensive backs in the first round.
My guess, after those seven listed, are Johnthan Banks or Darius Slay, with an outside chance at Matt Elam and DJ Swearinger
9. The Big Ten, Big East and Conference-USA Have the Same Number of Top 100 Picks
The Big Ten has been known for pumping out top offensive and defensive linemen on a consistent basis, with some playmakers and linebackers sprinkled in. This year? They may be the 7th conference in terms of Top 100 picks in the 2013 Draft. Johnthan Hankins, Kawann Short, Montee Ball, and Le’Veon Bell seem like locks, but they’re banking on Reid Fregal, Akeem Spence, and Travis Frederick all going on the Day Two, which is far from a confident prediction.
The Big East boasts two from Syracuse (Nassib/Pugh), two from Rutgers (Greene/Ryan), two from Uconn (Moore/Wreh-Wilson) and one from Cincinnati (Kelce), and could have a guy like Dwayne Gratz (Uconn CB) sneak into Top 100. And the C-USA features four possible Top 40 picks (Quinton Patton, DJ Hayden, Jamie Collins, and Margus Hunt), along with high ceiling prospects Vance McDonald (Rice TE) and Aaron Dobson (Marshall WR).
10. The Ratings for the 2013 NFL Draft Will Be Up from The Past Two Years
The NFL Draft has had an increase in ratings across the Networks each of the past five years. And I don’t see any reason that should stop. ESPN and NFL Network won’t have their insiders tweet picks early, which should make a more exciting and climatic pick for each of the Top 95 selections.
Also, the fact that no one has a good feel for where the quarterbacks will fall and that 10+ first round trades are expected, the 2013 NFL Draft should keep fans engaged early and often. Finally, with the Bleacher Report team doing their own draft preview, a whole host of Bleacher Report diehard readers will be infused with draft content. It makes for a perfect storm of record ratings and happy TV producers.