Jan 26, 2013; Mobile, AL, USA; Senior Bowl south squad offensive lineman Lane Johnson of Oklahoma (69) prior to kickoff of a game against the Senior Bowl north squad at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2013 NFL Draft: First-Round Pivotal Players - Lane Johnson

First of all, let me welcome my new colleague here at catcrave.com, Daniel Spicer. He is the new co-editor as we transition into next month as I will be stepping down as full-time editor and going back to being “just” another writer. My “real” life has gotten busier, which is a good thing for me, and I want to make sure you, the readers of this site that really make it go, do not suffer from my lessened ability and time to bring new articles and Carolina Panthers and NFL news to you. Please check out his article “Panthers Mock Drafts a Mockery” as it is his first article here and relates to what I’m about to add.

Last year, I don’t think anyone had a very accurate mock draft because of all the trades in the top-ten and a few other moves in positioning for choices in the first round. Daniel’s 100% correct – many people had a defensive tackle being “mocked” to Carolina at #9 in 2012.

I was not one of them.

If you wish to, go look back at last year’s catcrave.com articles and you’ll find an article from each active writer at the time regarding whom we each wanted to see the Panthers take, and why.

I chose Boston College LB Luke Kuechly.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the much-ballyhooed first round of the NFL draft in terms not of a “standard mock draft,” but in which teams have the need, the will, and the ability in draft capital to move UP the board, whom they’re targeting, and why.

The way I see it, there are really two players that teams will be targeting in a big way, but we’ll take a look at the first of those players here – Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.

The reason Johnson may be “the guy” that a team trades up for is pretty straightforward: He’s the last of the top-tier left tackles in the 2013 NFL draft, and therefore is a highly desirable acquisition for whoever drafts him.

Feb 23, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Central Michigan offensive lineman Eric Fisher runs the 40 yard dash during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at all the mocks, the grades, the information overload and taking past behavior into account by NFL teams in general, it appears TAMU LT Luke Joeckel will be the top pick. The Kansas City Chiefs have set things up quite clearly. They signed WR Dwayne Bowe to a long-term contract and franchised LT Branden Albert – a 1-year rental. The most obvious plan is to draft Joeckel, play him on the right side during his rookie year, evaluate things at the end of the 2013 season, and decided whether or not to keep them both.

Joeckel could be used as leverage in contract negotiations with Albert, much as the Miami Dolphins did this off-season with Jake Long and their early second-round pick of 2012, OT Jonathan Martin. Joeckel also protected Johnny Football’s blind side during his freshman, Heisman-winning campaign last season.

Okay. That sets up another team in the top-5 to snatch LT Eric Fisher of Central Michigan. The Philadelphia Eagles look to be the first/next good fit, as QB Geno Smith is unlikely to be drafted quite this high and Jason Peters recovers from a 2012 season in which he played none at all due to injury, but they have new Head Coach Chip Kelly of the University of Oregon fame, and they could well take a QB like Smith, so things look uncertain here.

Fisher would be a good insurance policy at #4 but if he slips, the Detroit Lions could use a LT at #5 overall.

Whether it’s Joeckel then Fisher or Fisher then Joeckel, Whenever the second of the two goes off the board, the clock really starts.

With Lane Johnson the last top-tier OT on the board and seemingly every year, more teams could use a highly-touted LT each season than there are prospects which is why the “positional value” of tackles is second only to that of the quarterback position, with outside pass-rushers being a very close third.

Once Fisher is off the board, a number of teams will look at and start talking to the next team on the board and – coincidentally enough – that team looks to be one that has a recent history of trading back: the Cleveland Browns.

Hmmm. Interesting.

Feb 23, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas A

It looks like whoever wants Johnson should be prepared to deal with Cleveland at #6 overall, and that’s in the best of circumstances. If Philly takes Fisher (or Joeckel) at #4, then it falls to the Lions to negotiate with and they’re a team that could also trade back after a disappointing season in 2012.

#7 overall awaits with the Arizona Cardinals, a team who has a need for 5 offensive linemen, apparently. Kevin Kolb et. al. got completely annihilated under center last season, squandering their defensive-led 4-0 start, which included a surprising road win at New England. They’d be ecstatic if one of the most athletic LT prospects in a while falls in their lap, as “raw” as he may be. He’s got an incredible upside and would be an instant upgrade for them.

Obviously, if someone drafting later than #7 wants him, they’ll have to ante up. Big.

That team could be the Miami Dolphins. They have Martin, but he struggled some last season and they need an anchor to replace departed Jake Long. They also have the OTHER end of the deal, which is a draft of riches. They have 5 picks in the first three rounds, so they could give up their #12 overall along with a second and possibly even a third-rounder, depending on how high the bidding goes and how much they want the young man. They have the # 42 and #54 picks overall – both second-round picks – so they’d STILL have some might left over to select other help – likely at corner or in the defensive backfield generally. Depending on how many bodies they feel they need to get, they could stand pat and use their organic pick at #12.

The San Diego Chargers at #11 overall don’t have as much “firepower” in draft choices as Miami does, but they desperately need a new LT. Michael Harris is hardly a household name and Jared Gaither was released, and if they do NOT draft an offensive lineman of some sort in the first round, the fans might storm their offices. Yes, it’s that bad in San Diego. The team rises and falls with QB Phillip Rivers so they have to protect him.

The San Francisco 49’ers are the other obvious squad that has the draft picks to make a move, but given their runner-up status in the Super Bowl and forthcoming #31 pick, they would have to spend a lot more to move that far up, but they’re in the conversation.

Whatever happens, several teams are going to be disappointed and will have to seek out their LT in round two unless someone has ideas of taking Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, an outstanding right tackle, and moving him to the left side.

Stranger things have happened, but remember…when you hear the commissioner announcing the first trade in the top ten, that’ll be the team jumping up to grab Lane Johnson and hopefully seal that blind side for their own quarterback. Following that, the 2013 season will tell us if it was a good move or not for whatever price was paid.

Stay tuned for my next post on the subject. Since the Panthers won’t be jumping up to grab Lane Johnson, it can and will affect their own desires of trading back in the first round…on this fellow. It’s the next guy whom the Panthers might…just might…wind up being able to either choose organically at #14 or trade back so they can add to their meager 5-pick 2013 NFL draft.

With a nod to Daniel’s post…no, a defensive tackle has nothing to do with it.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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