Safe or Surprise Draft: AFC South
As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, we’re laying out both the safest and riskiest route that teams might take with their first selection. Read them all.
First pick: Round 1, No. 27 overall
The Safe Route: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The Texans have been looking for a legitimate No. 2 weapon to pair with Andre Johnson for what feels like forever. They cut bait on Kevin Walter this offseason, while 2012 third-rounder DeVier Posey could miss most or all of the upcoming season as he rehabs an Achilles injury.
That leaves Johnson, Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin as the top three receivers. For a Houston team with Super Bowl aspirations, that won’t cut it. Hopkins, an athletic receiver who thrives by attacking the football, could step into the starting lineup immediately.
The Surprise: Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut
This is as big a reach pick as has been pitched in this “Safe or Surprise” series. Moore is a player carrying solid momentum into the draft, but he’s been projected by most as a second-round pick or lower.
However, Moore is an extremely versatile player who could slot in just about anywhere within Houston’s linebacking corps. And it’s a corps that needs a couple more reliable defenders and some depth. Moore would service both needs, and he may even be able to push for a starting spot.
First pick: Round 1, No. 24 overall
The Safe Route: Jesse Williams, DT/DE, Alabama
Datone Jones out of UCLA or Sylvester Williams of North Carolina would be a match here, too. The point being that the Colts, even with the free-agent signings of Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean-Francois, could use some young talent up front.
Williams could start learning the ropes behind 32-year-old Cory Redding — and the ex-Alabama star might thrive early on in spot duty, where he’d be able to leave it all on the field in limited snaps.
The Surprise: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The Colts’ running-back tandem of Vick Ballard and Donald Brown was serviceable in 2012, producing more than 1,200 yards. Ballard accounted for 814 on his own, and he may enter the ’13 season as the No. 1 back in Indianapolis.
Because the Colts still have hopes for the Ballard-Brown pairing, running back may slip down the team’s list of needs heading into the draft. This team made the playoffs last year with the backs it still has, and Ballard flashed the potential to get better.
And yet, Lacy might be the dynamic weapon that helps put this offense over the top. He’s strong between the tackles, still able to get outside, competent as a receiver and sturdy as a blocker. If there’s a run on defensive linemen before pick 24 and the top four or five linemen are off the board, the Colts could swing their focus to Lacy.
First pick: Round 1, No. 2 overall
The Safe Route: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
As you might expect of a 2-14 team that underwent a coaching change, the Jaguars have holes to plug all over the field, on both sides of the ball. Jordan, though, is the ideal addition for a defense that finished 29th in points allowed last season. He’s athletic enough that the Jaguars could use him in a number of ways, but his best fit would be as the Leo linebacker in Gus Bradley’s aggressive 4-3.
The Surprise: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
This is a better fit in the “We can trade down and still get this guy” sort of way, but don’t discount the possibility that Jacksonville considers Warmack.
No. 2 overall is exceptionally high for a guard to come off the board, but Warmack would be a clear upgrade over either Will Rackley (who missed 2012 with an injury), Uche Nwaneri or anyone else currently in the mix to start for the Jaguars inside. Blaine Gabbert could use a little more protection, and Maurice Jones-Drew would love this pick.
First pick: Round 1, No. 10 overall
The Safe Route: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama or Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Tennessee made one of free agency’s quicker moves, landing Andy Levitre on a massive six-year, $46.8 million contract. He will be expected to hold down one of the Titans’ guard spots for the next several seasons.
The other guard position? Up in the air. Tennessee also signed Robert Turner and Chris Spencer, both capable of playing guard. But those were one-year deals with the clear plan being to add another big body to the mix at some point.
And should either Warmack or Cooper (or both) be available at 10, the Titans might have to pull the trigger. Center Fernando Velasco was a pleasant surprise for the Titans in 2012; and with Velasco, Levitre and either Warmack or Cooper set up the middle, the Titans would not have to worry about their interior O-line for awhile.
The Surprise: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Compared to Sio Moore or Eddie Lacy, this is a pretty tame roll of the dice. The Titans can continue to ride the expensive Derrick Morgan-Kamerion Wimbley duo at DE only so long, and there is very little on the depth chart behind them.
Werner’s destined to land with a 4-3 team — he’s a decent defender against the run and an absolute headache for passing games, due to his quick burst and length. He would add a little pop to the Titans’ pass-rush and, eventually, might encourage Tennessee to show either Morgan or Wimbley the door.