Source: USA TODAY
NEW YORK — We’re close to getting answers about the 2013 NFL draft. For now, only questions remain as the draft opens with Thursday’s first round.
What’s happening at the top of the draft? Who’s crashing the first-round party? Who’s sliding out? Is this group of quarterbacks really the least impressive in recent years? And what about these health issues that are popping up as a big story line in Round 1?
These are some of the most pressing questions that have been asked over the last few months, weeks and days. We take a look at 10 of them and give you the latest answers.
1. Who will be the No. 1 overall pick?
Usually, we have our answer by now. Or at least a good feel for it. The consensus is the Kansas City Chiefs will select Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel, though there’s been some chatter Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, another tackle, could jump him. The Chiefs have also let it be known they’re willing to move out of the top spot for the right price and, just to make sure all smokescreens had been fanned, advertised their workout with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith on their website. Those who know general manager John Dorsey’s thinking on personnel matters think he’ll grab one of those. We’ll play the percentages and say it’ll be Joeckel.
2. Will Manti Te’o slip out of the first round?
No way. We’re not buying it. Te’o had the chance to meet with a bunch of teams at the combine, on his pro day and at private visits to clubs. Jerry Reese (New York Giants), Martin Mayhew (Detroit Lions) and Jeff Ireland (Miami Dolphins) are GMs who all spoke highly of Te’o after he visited. Let’s just say the sense is the catfishing incident didn’t do anything more to Te’o's draft stock than his subpar performance in Notre Dame’s national title loss to Alabama. A team is going to take Te’o in the first round, even if it’s as late as the Baltimore Ravens at No. 32.
3. Who will land Geno Smith?
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ new regime isn’t sold on Blaine Gabbert, but is Smith really worth taking at No. 2 overall? Probably not. But there’s been plenty of talk about serious trading at the top of this draft as teams get into position to grab the top offensive tackles. So wouldn’t it make sense for the Jaguars to slide back, collect an extra pick or two, stay in front of the Buffalo Bills (No. 8 overall) and grab Smith? Don’t discount that possibility.
4. What about Ryan Nassib?
It seems the mock drafters have him going to the Bills (and his college coach at Syracuse in Doug Marrone) or not going in the first round at all. The belief was Nassib wouldn’t wow the scouts but would win over the coaches later in the process as he sat down for meetings with them. That’s exactly what happened, and there’s a lot of chatter Nassib could be taken late in the first round by one of those top quarterback-needy teams (including the Bills) after a trade-up from early in the second round.
5. Who has made a late charge into the first round?
That would be SMU defensive end Margus Hunt. The Estonia native is a monster at 6-8, 277 pounds, so he’ll come with the warning label that he’ll have to play with low leverage to ensure he doesn’t get driven back. But that’s fine by plenty of teams, especially with coaching staffs who think his technique is just fine and will only get better. Hunt could come off the board as soon as No. 24 overall to the Indianapolis Colts.
6. When will Tyrann Mathieu be selected?
The third round is usually a good place for teams to start taking fliers on guys with good talent offset by a load of baggage. That’s where the Denver Broncos selected Maurice Clarett in a move that didn’t work out so well. It’s also where the New York Giants took Mario Manningham in a move that helped get them a Super Bowl title. Mathieu’s being on the smaller side (5-9) should prevent him from going in the first two rounds. But late Friday, listen for his name — despite the party flyer he tweeted that boasted he’d be taken in the first round.
7. Are D.J. Hayden’s health issues scaring teams?
Apparently not. The Houston cornerback, who nearly died after severing a vein during practice last year, made quite the statement at his pro day (a 40-yard dash timed in the high 4.3s/low 4.4s) and again at a workout this week. Hayden is still getting his body back to full strength, but many teams’ medical and training staffs have no doubt he’ll get there. He’ll be a first-round pick. Same with Utah DT Star Lotulelei, who might not get back into the top five, as he was originally projected, but won’t fall far after being cleared by a heart specialist following an abnormal test at the scouting combine.
8. What about Dee Milliner’s shoulder?
There’s concern about that one after he had surgery to repair a torn labrum. But that’s a common injury in the NFL and, if repaired and rehabbed properly, isn’t a long-term issue. Maybe Milliner slides to the back end of the top 10, but a tumble any further than that isn’t realistic, particularly with all of the teams up there that need cornerback help. (Psst! We’re looking at you, the Darrelle Revis-less New York Jets, at No. 9.)
9. Is the streak of 49 years with a running back chosen in the first round in jeopardy?
Very much so. This could be the first draft since 1963 without a running back going in the first round. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is the best hope to keep it going, but many think he’s destined for the second round. And why not? With the short shelf life of running backs and the ability to grab them all over the draft, why use a first-round pick on a ballcarrier, especially when there’s no standout back in the bunch?
Of course not. Nearly every team in front of the Niners at No. 31 overall is expecting them to slide up, using some of those 13 picks to make it happen. In fact, most teams in that bracket would be shocked if they didn’t do just that. The Niners need safety help after losing Dashon Goldson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency. There are safeties to be had in the first round — Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Eric Reid (LSU), Matt Elam (Florida) and Johnathan Cyprien (Florida International) — but the 49ers might have to be aggressive to go up and get the one they want. They have the ammo to do so.
Follow Mike Garafolo on Twitter @mikegarafolo