Just a few more days to go, and the madness will be over. It has been a long and arduous process mixed with plenty of rumor, intrigue, and arguing. Taking a full look at the top three rounds this is my final mock draft of 2013, and when it comes to Carolina pays close attention to players they've met with, and who is a mix of need and BPA.
Every first round pick has an explanation, but I've also included justification for the second and third round picks by Carolina. Trades are always impossible to predict, but looking at needs and trends I've projcted a few in the first round. After that I've elected to make no trades in the second and third, because it's simply too unpredictable. I hope you enjoy.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Chiefs will try and shop this pick, and do so unsuccessfully. No team will jump up this high, and instead they take a long-term answer to a future question. Branden Albert is being shopped, and adding Joeckel gives them the safest and most logical pick at the position.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
There's a strong chance they take a quarterback here, but to new head coach Gus Bradley, the 'leo' linebacker position is almost as important. Instead of making a hasty decision they wait to see how the class shapes up, and get a potentially elite pass rusher for his scheme.
3. Oakland Raiders: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
At this pick Lotulelei is the best player available, and with Tommy Kelly leaving Oakland it becomes a major need too. Getting pressure up the middle is vital for Oakland, and landing Star is the first step to turning around their defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Publicly Michael Vick is the starter, privately the Eagles need to find a replacement who can run Chip Kelly's offense. No player is better suited in this draft to run that offense than Geno Smith, who has experience in a shotgun-spread, which shares some offensive sensibilities with the read-option.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Getting Matthew Stafford protection is vital, and this is the first step to achieving that goal in a post-Jeff Backus era. I'm not buying their gusto to trade down, especially when they can secure Stafford's future when he was oft-injured early in his career.
6. **Trade** Miami Dolphins: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Perhaps they find a way to add Branden Albert via trade, but that doesn't preclude them from also making a play to really solidify their offensive line. With their recent spending spree in free agency, the Dolphins have surprisingly few holes to fill. Getting a left tackle is one of those. In exchange for moving down, the Cleveland Browns pick up and second and third round pick from the Dolphins.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The Cardinals buy some time at QB with Carson Palmer, so they'll see how the board shapes up. Taking the best 4-3 pass rusher in the draft, they'll hope Ansah compares favorably to Jason Pierre-Paul, to whom he's often related to.
8. Buffalo Bills: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
The Bills lost Andy Levitre to free agency, making an interior lineman important. One thing they can't afford to do is whiff on this pick, and Warmack is as close to a lock as anybody in this draft.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
There are a few picks and teams that are made for each other -- Mingo and the Jets is one of them. Rex Ryan will keep doing everything he can to make his defense elite, and getting a natural 3-4 pass rusher is vital in achieving that goal. They need offensive help too, but there's a plan for that.
10. Tennessee Titans: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Watch Milliner on film and you don't see an elite shut-down corner... not yet. However, he has excellent size and athleticism -- something the TItans have been missing at the position since Cortland Finnegan left. This might be a touch too early for Milliner, but he'd be a solid choice here.
11. San Diego Chargers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Arguably San Diego get the first 'steal' of the draft in Floyd. A lack of teams needing defensive tackle pushes him down, and despite missing on an offensive linemen, they'll be okay with getting an elite DT. Immediately he plugs in as a 5-technique end, and an awfully good one at that.
12. Cleveland Browns: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Prior to the draft the Browns floated the idea they were smitten with Dee Milliner. Perhaps that's true, and they really hoped he'd be here at #12 -- but getting Xavier Rhodes and picks is a fine consolation prize for Rob Chudzinski. He'll look to build his offense deeper in the draft.
13. **Trade** New York Jets: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Jets and Bucs finally screw and get it over with -- the result is Darrelle Revis makes it to Tampa Bay for a 1st, and future. They've been dancing for months, but it was a move that makes the most sense for all involved. New York need an offensive play maker in the worst way, and someone who doesn't rely on an elite QB to make things work. Enter Tavon Austin who can utilize Mark Sanchez's lack of ability and turn it into something. This team needs pop, Austin is pop.
14. **Trade** St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas
Watch Kenny Vaccaro on tape and you'll see he's tailor made for a Jeff Fisher defense. In this scenario the Carolina Panthers move back two spots, and add a third round pick (78th overall) to allow St. Louis to leapfrog the Saints and ensure Vaccaro is a Ram come draft day.
15. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
There's a possibility they take a look at D.J. Fluker to fill the void left by Jermon Bushrod, but the biggest weakness on this team is the lack of push from the defensive line. Richardson gives the Saints an excellent under tackle, and someone who can help revitalize their defense.
16. Carolina Panthers: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
First receiver in the door when visits came around, and he's been near the top of the board for a long time. Of all the receivers in this draft Hopkins has the best potential to become a future #1 receiver. Hopkins has the ability to start from day one, and is a fast learner. A master of all trades, this weapon helps Cam Newton immediately and stretches the field. When added to a group of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Greg Olsen, and Domenik Hixon -- suddenly the offense looks pretty dangerous.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
This is a move the Steelers prey on. Once thought to be a potential top-five pick, poor workouts left teams wondering. Pittsburgh will rely on their locker room to get Jones in shape, and provided he's motivated they get an excellent replacement for James Harrison.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Tony Romo has re-upped for a new deal, and now it's time to protect him. Cooper is an excellent left guard option who can start immediately, and more importantly get Mackenzy Bernardeau out of their starting lineup. Yeah... that's a thing. Scary, isn't it?
19. New York Giants: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Offensive tackle isn't their most immediate need, but it will be quickly. Getting Fluker would allow the Giants to buy some time training him up at tackle, and keep a revolving door of talent on their OL -- much like the did at defensive end.
20. Chicago Bears: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Some believe Brown is more talented than Luke Kuechly (blasphemy!). Whether you prescribe to that or not, he's still the best middle linebacker in the draft. After parting ways with Brian Urlacher they'll hope Brown is everything advertised, and can be their next 10-year MLB.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International
The Bengals are already a very good football team on defense, but lack an elite safety to round out their unit. Adding Cyprien gives them a hard-hitting player with excellent upside, and on a team with an abundance of pass rush potential he should be able to clean up.
22. St. Louis Rams: Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Rams wait for a receiver, and it pays off. There's a good chance Allen winds up being the best in this class, and his ability after the catch will immediately help Sam Bradford.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Rumors have the Vikings trying to trade up, but making that happen could be difficult. Instead the Vikings settle for Patterson, a player with immense upside, but also a risk. He works in this offense because he wont need to lean on a QB with excellent arm strength to make plays, which works while the Vikings decide on Christian Ponder.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Since taking over the Colts general manager Ryan Grigson makes smart decisions -- this is one of them. Jones is an excellent effort pass rusher, with the versatility needed to kick inside if needed. With plenty of variety on offense, now the goal is to pressure the quarterbacks in the division.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Te'o has become a punchline, but he's still an excellent middle linebacker. You don't see a defensive player get so closed to the Heisman without having potential, and his instincts paired with reliability make him a natural pick after playing their #23 pick a little risky.
26. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
A major coup, the Packers end up with the best tight end in the draft. They don't have a lot of needs, like most of the playoff teams -- but getting Eifert gives more options to Aaron Rodgers, and makes their offense almost unstoppable.
27. Houston Texans: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
The bridesmaid yet again. For the second straight year the Texans want to get a receiver to pair with Andre Johnson, but like 2012 they can't justify taking a second round option early. Instead they elect to protect Matt Schaub and find an answer to replace Eric Winston. With Dwayne Brown locked in at LT, there's no pressure to hope Watson can be anything more than a right tackle.
28. Denver Broncos: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
After losing Elvis Dumervil to a fax SNAFU, John Fox takes a player once believed to be the best 4-3 end in the draft. The offense needs no work, but ensuring they can keep rushing the passer is vital to Denver's success.
29. **Trade**: Buffalo Bills: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
Electing to part ways with their second round pick, and a 2014 first -- the Bills find their future franchise quarterback. Head coach Doug Marrone knows everything about Nassib, and wont risk him being available in the second round -- especially with the Jaguars holding the first pick.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Cornelius Carradine, DE, Florida State
It appears Atlanta really want to make a big jump again, but it's hard to imagine they're willing to give up multiple picks in two of the last three years. Yes, they're in win-now mode -- but it's a hard task. Instead they sit at 30 and take 'Tank' Carradine, who makes a lot of sense for what they want to do on defense.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
It's obscene how many picks the 49ers have this year, and getting Jesse Williams at 31 is a huge boon to their defense. He has the versatility to play multiple positions on their defensive line, and his work ethic will appeal to Jim Harbaugh's sensibilities.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Ravens find a way of doing this every year, and in 2013 it's landing Desmond Trufant. Unlike most years, the Ravens actually have significant holes to fill, but having one of the draft's top cornerbacks available is too good to pass up.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
34. San Francisco 49ers: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
35. Philadelphia Eagles: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
36. Detroit Lions: Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
37. Cincinnati Bengals: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
38. Arizona Cardinals: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
39. New York Jets: Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas Pine Bluff
40. Tennessee Titans: Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
41. New England Patriots (from Buffalo): Robert Woods, WR, USC
42. Cleveland Browns (from Miami): E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
43. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
44. Carolina Panthers: Matt Elam, SS, Florida
Far from a perfect prospect, the Panthers will rely on Steve Wilks to coach up their defensive backs. On film Elam looks a little too much like Charles Godfrey, but he's a more reliable tackler and an immediate starter at strong safety. The upside is there, and the starting potential is there -- this is the most sensible move Gettleman can make looking at the board.
45. San Diego Chargers: Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse
46. St. Louis Rams: Kyle Long, OT, Oregon
47. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina
48. Pittsburgh Steelers: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
49. New York Giants: Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
50. Chicago Bears: Travis Fredrick, C, Wisconsin
51. Washington Redskins: Eric Reid, FS, LSU
52. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
53. Cincinnati Bengals: Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati
54. Miami Dolphins: Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
55. Green Bay Packers: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
56. Seattle Seahawks: Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
57. Houston Texans: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
58. Denver Broncos: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
59. New England Patriots: Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
60. Atlanta Falcons: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
61. San Francisco 49ers: David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
62. Baltimore Ravens: Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
63. Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut
64. Jacksonville Jaguars: Zac Dysert, QB, Miami (OH)
65. Detroit Lions: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
66. Oakland Raiders: Philip Thomas, FS, Fresno State
67. Philadelphia Eagles: Damontre Moore, OLB, Texas A&M
68. Cleveland Browns: Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State
69. Arizona Cardinals: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
70. Tennessee Titans: Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
71. Buffalo Bills: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Mississippi
72. New York Jets: Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State
73. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sio Moore, OLB, Connecticut
74. San Francisco 49ers: Bacarri Rambo, FS, Georgia
75. New Orleans Saints: Brian Winters, OG, Kent State
76. San Diego Chargers: Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana
77. Miami Dolphins: Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
78. Carolina Panthers (from St. Louis): Bennie Logan, DT, LSU
Logan is the most versatile defensive tackle in the draft outside of Sharrif Floyd. He can immediately become a 5-tech in 3-4 looks, while Carolina can buy him some time behind Dwan Edwards at the under tackle spot. There is also a possibility Logan could add another 10-15 pounds to his frame and become a nose tackle.
79. Pittsburgh Steelers: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
80. Dallas Cowboys: Brian Schwenke, C, California
81. New York Giants: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
82. Cleveland Browns (from Miami): Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas
83. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State
84. Cincinnati Bengals: Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
85. Washington Redskins: Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech
86. Indianapolis Colts: Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon
87. Seattle Seahawks: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
88. Green Bay Packers: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
89. Houston Texans: Barrett Jones, G/C, Alabama
90. Denver Broncos: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
91. New England Patriots: Ryan Swope, WR, Okalhoma
92. Atlanta Falcons: Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
93. San Francisco 49ers: Corey Lemonier, OLB, Auburn
94. Baltimore Ravens: J.J. Wilcox, SS, Georgia Southern
While this mock only concentrated on the first three rounds, the Panthers have a lot of ways they could use their remaining picks. Given this scenario, look for potential offensive tackle Chris Faulk, defensive end David Bass, or potentially another defensive tackle like Akeem Spence who could all give the Panthers more 'hog-mollies' for their lines -- something Dave Gettleman craves.