Nate Davis, USA TODAY Sports
If we know one thing about the NFL draft, it's that general managers will wheel and deal away Thursday night; a post-merger record 19 first-round picks ultimately switched hands in 2012. With that as a backdrop, here is USA TODAY Sports' final 2013 mock draft - with plenty of creativity sprinkled in.
1. Kansas City Chiefs - OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M:The former bodyguard for Aggies QBs Ryan Tannehill and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel seems to have the "can't miss" label and is widely ranked as the draft's best player (though Eric Fisher has narrowed the gap). Joeckel thrived in pro-style and spread offenses at A&M and did so last year against Southeastern Conference competition. Given what seems the inevitable departure of LT Branden Albert (which could happen in days or next offseason), taking Joeckel at the top makes sense at every level for the Chiefs.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan:New GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley probably would love to move out of this spot given the dearth of talent on the roster they inherited. But it's not going to be easy to entice a trade partner to come up to No. 2 if there isn't a blue-chip quarterback available. Given that, the Jags should take the best player available. That seems to be Fisher. He'd make a fine bookend for LT Eugene Monroe and could replace him in a year if Monroe walks in free agency in 2014. Adding a promising tackle should also make Maurice Jones-Drew a more effective runner while permitting Caldwell and Bradley to better evaluate Blaine Gabbert, who's been sacked 62 times in 25 NFL games, if he's upright more often.
3. Oakland Raiders - DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida:The Silver & Black have made 11 first-round picks since 2000 - two (K Sebastian Janikowski, RB Darren McFadden) remain on the roster. GM Reggie McKenzie wasn't responsible for any of those Round 1 whiffs but can't afford to miss now, either. Floyd represents the intersection of talent and need at No. 3 as Richard Seymour's replacement.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma:A former quarterback and tight end, Johnson showcased the athleticism at the combine that might one day render him this group's best blocker. His movement skills make him ideally suited to the up-tempo offense of new Eagles coach Chip Kelly while also allowing RT Todd Herremans to return to guard.
5. Detroit Lions - DE Ziggy Ansah, BYU:The Lions would surely love to get one of the offensive tackles after losing both of last year's starters, Jeff Backus to retirement and Gosder Cherilus to free agency. But last season's starting defensive ends, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, are also gone. Ghana native Ansah might be raw, but he stands a better chance of flourishing with DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley commanding so much attention inside.
6. Minnesota Vikings (PROJECTED trade with Cleveland Browns) - WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia:The buzz surrounding multidimensional Austin has been growing louder for months, and the Vikes might have to jump this high rather than give the New York Jets or St. Louis Rams two shots at him. He is not as thick as Percy Harvin but offers a similar skill set, which is good news for Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder and Greg Jennings. Meanwhile, the Browns could recoup at least the second-round pick they forfeited last summer by taking WR Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft.
7. Arizona Cardinals - OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon:Barring a leap up the board, it seems the Cards also will have to wait for O-line help. But Jordan, another converted tight end, offers intriguing skills as a pass rusher and coverage linebacker. Given the problems Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson pose in the NFC West, a rangy defender would be an asset.
8. Buffalo Bills - G Chance Warmack, Alabama:There seems little doubt the Bills will take a quarterback, but it just doesn't seem to make sense at this spot unless they've fallen in love with Geno Smith. Better to hitch your wagon to a guy who will protect Buffalo's passer of the future - not to mention RB C.J. Spiller - while replacing departed G Andy Levitre.
9. New York Jets - CB Dee Milliner, Alabama:Rex Ryan's love of cornerbacks is well known, and he just lost his favorite one. Best to grab the man who seems to be this crop's best corner now rather than let him fall into the clutches of the Miami Dolphins at No. 12.
10. Tennessee Titans - G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina:This is a big man who can move. He also is a candidate to play center. Most important, he makes QB Jake Locker and RB Chris Johnson more formidable players and surely will thrive under the watchful eye of coach (and Hall of Fame guard) Mike Munchak.
11. St. Louis Rams (PROJECTED trade with San Diego chargers) - S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas:The Rams already missed out on Austin in this scenario, and we'd urge them not to lose out on the best safety, too - especially since teams such as the Cowboys and 49ers might make a run at Vaccaro. The Chargers' new regime has a lot of work to do; sliding back five spots could net them St.Louis' third rounder.
12. Miami Dolphins - CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State:With 11 selections, Miami could become a player in the tackle market, either by dealing up or making a play for Albert or perhaps the Rams' Rodger Saffold. But corner also remains an issue given Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have moved on over the last year, and Brent Grimes (torn Achilles' in 2012) is no sure thing.
13. Jets (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers) - OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU:Tight end and offensive line (and, eventually, running back) could be options if they are serious about giving QB Mark Sanchez a fighting chance at reviving his career. But with no bona fide pass rusher on the roster and the secondary significantly weakened by Darrelle Revis' departure - his lockdown skills allowed Ryan to employ creative blitz packages - a hunter like Mingo becomes imperative.
14. Carolina Panthers - DT Star Lotulelei, Utah:Cornerback is a thought in the pass-heavy NFC South. But can you really bypass Lotulelei if he lasts this long? He shores up the defensive interior, allows for scheme versatility and, most important, makes life easier for edge rushers Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who would become even more disruptive to divisional signal-callers Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman.
15. New Orleans Saints - OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia:A trade makes sense since Commissioner Roger Goodell opted not to restore the second-round pick taken amid Bountygate. But can you afford not to get immediate help for a historically bad defense trying to reinvent itself as a 3-4 unit? As noted, NFC South quarterbacks spend a lot of time firing away, so Jones provides a needed counterweight ... provided the Saints aren't worried about his medical file or slow 40 times.
16. Chargers (PROJECTED trade with Rams) - OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama:It's time to get embattled QB Philip Rivers some real protection.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers - TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame:Heath Miller, probably Pittsburgh's MVP in 2012, tore three knee ligaments in December and is entering his ninth season. Let's get QB Ben Roethlisberger a new target now and infuse young defensive blood in subsequent rounds.
Tyler Eifert is the latest Notre Dame tight end likely to go high in the NFL draft.(Photo: Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports)
18. Dallas Cowboys - DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri:New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme requires athletic gap shooters in the trenches. DEs DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer applaud this selection. Vaccaro or one of the guards would be even better choices if the Cowboys can make it happen.
19. New York Giants - OT Menelik Watson, Florida State:He's unpolished but allows RT David Diehl to move inside (or move on) if he's ready to play by Week 1. Otherwise, Watson can glean Diehl's wisdom (much like LT Will Beatty once did) until the time is right.
20. Chicago Bears - CB D.J. Hayden, Houston:New coach Marc Trestman probably would like a young offensive lineman to improve the protection around QB Jay Cutler. But Cutler, DT Henry Melton and starting CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are slated for free agency in 2014, so GM Phil Emery better start planning ahead. Hayden would allow Chicago to better defend NFC North gunslingers Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford and provides insurance if Emery has to let Tillman and/or Jennings go.
Former Houston CB D.J. Hayden has plenty to look forward to.(Photo: Erik Williams, AP)
21. Atlanta Falcons (PROJECTED trade with Cincinnati Bengals) - CB Desmond Trufant, Washington:GM Thomas Dimitroff has made intriguing moves this offseason, but his team is awfully thin at corner after Dunta Robinson was released and Grimes left. With 11 picks available as currency, Dimitroff might have to make a deal to put the frosting on his cake - and past history indicates he might go much higher than the 21st spot. Trufant's ability to play inside or out is a plus.
22. Rams (from Washington Redskins) - WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee:Patterson arguably has more ability than any wideout in the draft. And if he's a bit immature, Jeff Fisher is just the right coach to help him grow up while harnessing his skills.
23. Browns (PROJECTED trade with Vikings) - QB Geno Smith, West Virginia:At this point, Smith is too tempting to bypass, especially since he has skills similar to those of Cam Newton, whom new Browns coach Rob Chudzinski worked with in Carolina. And with an excellent offensive line and RB Trent Richardson on hand to help, this could be a perfect place for Smith to blossom ... even if he has to marinate behind Brandon Weeden and/or Jason Campbell at the outset.
24. Indianapolis Colts - OL Justin Pugh, Syracuse:Let's safeguard QB Andrew Luck, who endured 41 sacks and countless more hits as a rookie, first and continue rebuilding the defense later. Pugh was a tackle in college but could plug in at guard right away for Indy.
25. Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks) - ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame:You could sail a Viking longboat through Minnesota's hole at middle linebacker. Te'o is a perfect remedy and should be comfortable in a locker room full of Golden Domers.
26. Bills (PROJECTED trade with Green Bay Packers) - QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse:Packers GM Ted Thompson is one of those draft savants who masterfully manipulates the process. He can wait to get a running back (Eddie Lacy?), safety (Matt Elam? Eric Reid?) or linemen while adding picks and enabling the Bills to get Nassib, who seems destined for a reunion with coach Doug Marrone. The Bills, who hold the 41st pick, probably need a bold stroke for Nassib considering other teams looking at quarterbacks ahead of them - Jaguars (No. 33), Eagles (35), Cardinals (38) and Jets (39) - might be interested.
27. Houston Texans - WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee:It seems Houston has needed a running mate for WR Andre Johnson forever, and the need is only underscored in light of Kevin Walter's release. As a speedster who can open up the hashes for Johnson, RB Arian Foster and TE Owen Daniels, Hunter is an ideal complement to the offense now and might one day be worthy of taking the No. 1 mantle from Johnson.
28. Buccaneers (PROJECTED trade with Denver Broncos) DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State:Denver owns just six choices and might still net a pass rusher such as Damontre Moore, a Texas A&M teammate of Von Miller's, by adding the No. 43 pick from Tampa Bay. (DE Dwight Freeney could also join the Broncos at any time, so reaching for a defensive end doesn't seem necessary.) The Bucs, meanwhile, are a team boldly making moves in a bid to return to prominence. Their league-worst pass defense was markedly improved by Revis' arrival, but another pressure player would obviously help. And don't forget, the D-line lost half its starters in free agency. A high-effort guy like Werner would be a perfect base end on the left side.
29. Eagles (proposed trade with New England Patriots) - QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State:What's a draft without a deal between the Eagles and Patriots? Philadelphia might pull the trigger on Geno Smith before this, but it seems to make more sense to upgrade the roster with the No. 4 pick before grabbing a passing prospect for Kelly to mold. Philly has nine picks, but this deal would cost it at least No. 35. It doesn't seem likely the Pats will stand pat with five selections (two in Round 7). A move like this still provides Bill Belichick options at wideout and D-back.
30. Bengals (PROJECTED trade with Falcons) - WR Keenan Allen, California:Unless they go up the draft ladder instead of down, it's hard to envision the Bengals getting top-shelf reinforcements on the O-line. But if it plays out that way, they might finally commit some cap space to unsigned RT Andre Smith. In the meantime, it's clear this offense needs more weapons after flaming out in the wild-card round twice in the past two seasons. Allen would be a very nice alternative to usually double-covered WR A.J. Green.
31. San Francisco 49ers - DL Datone Jones, UCLA:With a draft-high 13 picks, they could certainly construct a package for Vaccaro - who'd nicely replace Dashon Goldson - or anyone else they desire. But at this spot (or No.34), it seems likely the Niners will bolster a depleted and aging D-line.
32. Baltimore Ravens - DL Sylvester Williams, North Carolina:Enlisting successors to LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed and WR Anquan Boldin is perfectly logical. But GM Ozzie Newsome never reaches, and Williams is the best player available in this mock ... and also is a guy who can push disappointing NT Terrence Cody in the middle of Baltimore's defense. Yet with an AFC-high 12 picks in his pocket, Newsome isn't short on options.