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.
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.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
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.
Damontre Moore*, DE, Texas A&M
The Jaguars have a league-low 14 sacks this season. They signed the recently-released Jason 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.
Bjoern Werner*, DE, Florida State
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.
Luke Joeckel*, OT, Texas A&M
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 and Todd 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.
Johnathan Hankins*, DT, Ohio State
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.