With the Super Bowl over and hearts in Cincinnati and St. Louis alike shattered, we move on to the NFL Combine taking place in Indianapolis, IN this week from March 3-6. With draft positions set (for now) I've finally finished my first mock draft of the season. As always, I don’t try to project trades and I try to select the player that both makes the team better and makes the most sense. At the same time if everything that we hear and see says they’re going somewhere else with the pick, I can’t ignore it.
Jacksonville – Top Needs – OT, C, LB
Evan Neal – OT – Alabama – The Jags needs aren’t limited to just the O-line, but taking Neal here plugs two holes; first, they keep Trevor Lawrence upright (32 sacks/152 pressures in 2021). They also have three starters from that line who are free agents and the other two will be next year. Neal may not be the best offensive lineman in this draft, but he seems to be the one that the Jags have zeroed in on.
Detroit – WR, CB, OG
Aidan Hutchinson – EDGE (DE) – Michigan – No, EDGE isn’t a position of need for the Lions, but how many times have we heard that successful teams don’t draft by need, they take the best available player? Well, Hutchinson is the best player available. You might get some argument about Kayvon Thibodeaux being better, and he might be, but I feel that the floor for Hutchinson is higher.
Houston – QB, TE, OG
Ikem Ekwonu – OT/G – North Carolina State – There’s no QB that’s getting enough buzz to think that the Texans would draft one this high (yet!), but two months ago you had evaluators saying that there were no QBs worth a First Round selection, and besides, it looks like the Texans are going to give last year's first pick David Mills another go-round as starter. In any case, taking Ekwonu is a low risk/high reward selection. He’s played inside and outside making the transition almost seamlessly. Has the length, mobility, strength, and balance to play either tackle position.
New York Jets – CB, EDGE, OT
Kayvon Thibodeaux – EDGE – Oregon – Probably the consensus #1 overall player in this draft, he does virtually everything not just well, but VERY well. My issue is that I think people are buying into the hype too much and I see Thibodeaux as Jadeveon Clowney 2.0 where he has the expectations, but they never seem to come to fruition. Regardless, everything says he should be a very good player, though in Robert Salah’s 4-3 alignment, he will likely need to add twenty pounds or so.
New York Giants – LB, EDGE, OG
Devin Lloyd – LB – Utah – Lloyd has shown that he is a “do-it-all” linebacker. Stop the run? Done. Rush the passer? Gotcha. Coverage? No problem. He does feel a tiny bit light for LB at the NFL level, but that also seems to be the way things are trending, look at Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah last season and the success he had. I suppose it will come down to how the G-men want to approach things – rebuild the O-line or the defense.
Carolina – QB, OT, OG
Kyle Hamilton – S – Notre Dame – This is another instance of team need Vs best player. Hamilton is, and I don’t mean this as either hyperbole or insult, a Queen on the chess board. He can do anything you ask of him and whether it’s his elite athleticism or his ability to see the play develop five seconds in the future, he makes it happen. Hamilton can be the lynchpin in a defense the same way that Ronnie Lott or Ed Reed were for their defenses.
New York Giants (From Chicago) – LB, EDGE, OG
Charles Cross – OT – Mississippi State – With Andrew Thomas’ play improving towards the back end of 2021, and Nate Solder a pending free agent at 34 when next season starts; taking Cross here in an effort to retool the offensive line could be great choice. After Ekwonu, I like Cross as the best LT in this draft, he does everything a tackle needs to do at a high level and is smart, mobile, and his hands are dynamite. Drafting Cross may allow Andrew Thomas to slide to RT and improve the line with a bit of shuffling. EDGE is another possibility at this pick but the remaining EDGE players are, I feel, a step below Cross.
Atlanta – QB, RB, S
Treylon Burkes – WR – Arkansas – Atlanta needs to begin looking to life after Matt Ryan. They are probably not making any move this year as they would only save about $8M if they cut him and it’s extremely unlikely they can trade him; that time is coming and maybe as soon as 2023. That said, I’m not sold that this is where the first QB comes off the board. With Calvin Ridley’s issues from last season, I think the Falcons look to trade him and find another young receiver (or two) to pair with Kyle Pitts. I like Burkes as the big bodied receiver that can make contested catches and break big plays if you try to arm tackle him.
Denver - QB, LB, EDGE
David Ojabo – EDGE (LB) – Michigan – With Bradly Chubb being a bit of a disappointment, and an injury-prone one at that, is this when the Broncos cut bait on him? I think so. Yes, QB is what’s holding this team back from realizing its fullest potential, but drafting a rookie QB is unlikely to help them in that regard. Instead we’ll take Ojabo and let him battle it out with Chubb in OTAs/camp. An extremely athletic and explosive player, he won’t last long on Day one.
New York Jets (From Seattle) – CB, EDGE, OT
Derek Stingley Jr. – CB – Louisiana State – If you had told Jets fans after the 2019 season that they would have a chance to get both Kayvon Thibodeaux AND Derek Stingley Jr. in 2022, they would have been estatic. Well, now is their day. Stingley has been a bit depressed in some evaluators rankings due to a disappointing 2020 and a lost 2021 (foot injury). I feel that once Stingley gets to the combine and scouts get a chance to see him in person they’ll remember what they liked so much (assuming that he’s healthy*). *Stingley will opt to NOT work out at the Combine this week
Washington – QB, OT, LB
Malik Willis – QB – Liberty – Another team that is a QB away from realizing its potential, Washington will have its choice of the entire class. Willis isn’t my favorite pick at QB, but he seems to be the one that NFL teams are warming to the fastest. With his arm strength and mobility combined he could step in and be the Commanders’ starter from day one. Issues could arise from his lack of touch on short throws, but the same was said about John Elway.
Minnesota – EDGE, OG, CB
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner – CB – Cincinnati – I’ve been a big supporter of “Sauce” for months now and a team that is conceivably losing its top three corners will be looking to fill that hole as quickly as they can. Gardner’s time with the Bearcats is marked by this stat – in a 1000+ defensive snaps he has allowed zero touchdowns to the man he was responsible for. Now, that stat isn’t going to hold up long in the NFL, but it shows that Gardner knows his position and his ability to play it is top-notch.
Cleveland – WR, DT, LB
Chris Olave – WR – Ohio State – The question isn’t whether the Browns take a WR in this draft, the question might be two-fold – how many and how soon? If the Browns decide to keep Jarvis Landry (I think they figure out a way), Olave is in a much better position to succeed at the NFL level. A technical receiver, Olave is capable of running whatever route you ask of him.
Baltimore – OT, LB, EDGE
Travon Walker – EDGE – Georgia – Walker’s explosion and athleticism should be enough for him to be a factor as a rookie, but once he learns his position, whatever that might be, look out. Has the ability to rush the passer as well as set the edge in the run game. Has long arms and violent hands that give opposing blockers fits.
Philadelphia (From Miami) – LB, CB, EDGE
George Karlaftis – EDGE – Purdue – The Eagles are getting great return on moves made last year with two picks right in the heart of the first round plus their own two picks later. With those they can remake their defense or add a WR opposite last season’s first rounder, DeVonta Smith. Either way, they have a chance to reshape their roster for years going forward. Karlaftis is the best remaining EDGE player remaining and, depending on what you think, a potential Top 10 player sliding to them at #15.
Philadelphia (From Indianapolis) – LB, CB, EDGE
Andrew Booth Jr. – CB – Clemson – This pick fills another huge hole in the Eagles’ roster. Booth is a combination of size, physicality, and ball skills that any team would be excited to draft. Has the mentality you want as well. Excels in man-to-man coverage and while he could improve in zone, he is an absolute eraser in man.
Los Angeles Chargers – DT, OT, WR
Trevor Penning – OT – Northern Iowa – With the left side solidified by last year’s first pick Rashawn Slater, the Chargers can give Justin Herbert more protection in drafting Penning. After the Senior Bowl, teams were talking about his ability to block and not just block but take opposing linemen out of the play completely. He’s a mauler and a beast at his position. If he has a weakness it’s that he can be TOO physical at times and ends up drawing a flag.
New Orleans – QB, WR, CB
Matt Corral – QB – Mississippi – Just so we’re clear, the last time New Orleans drafted an Ole Miss QB, he became a Saints legend and had a couple sons who were pretty good QBs in their own right. Am I saying that Corral is Archie Manning for a new generation? No, but I wouldn’t rule it out. He’d be stepping into an offense with two of the best weapons in the NFL (Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas) and given his growth the last two years I feel he’s going to be a solid starter unless the team falls apart around him.
Philadelphia – LB, CB, EDGE
Nkobe Dean – LB – Georgia – I was very tempted to use this pick on a WR, but decided that improving every level of the Eagles’ defense was a better path. Dean is linebacker who can blitz inside, cover in zone, and stuff the run. His speed can be a weakness at times as he overruns plays and misses chances to make plays. He also needs to work on shaking linemen who get to the second level and not letting them take him out of the play.
Pittsburgh – QB, OT, OG
Kenny Pickett – QB – Pitt – After what happened in 1983, I don’t think there’s any way that the Steelers let Pickett slip past them this year. With the Ben Roethlisberger era officially over, but a good/very good roster in place, Pittsburgh can focus on rebuilding their offensive line and finding their next QB because he sure ain’t on the roster right now. Pickett is a four-year starter for the Panthers and has all of the intangibles you want in your quarterback. Has solid athleticism (ask Wake Forest about that) and while he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, he puts everything together in a package that makes me think he’s a ten-year+ starter in the NFL.
New England – CB, WR, LB
Trent McDuffie – CB – Washington – While we could end up seeing one of the remaining WRs taken here, and I think it’s either Jahan Dotson or Garrett Wilson if it happens, the Patriots haven’t selected a defensive player in the first round since 2014. McDuffie changes that and bolsters the defense as a “sticky” corner who rarely finds himself out of position. He also seems to enjoy the more physical aspects of playing corner and doesn’t shy away from contact in the run game. As a bonus, he can play either inside or outside.
Las Vegas – WR, OG, C
Tyler Linderbaum – C – Iowa – I think as we get closer to the draft we’ll actually see teams really liking Linderbaum’s game and he may inch up towards the top half of the first round. For now though, the best interior lineman in the draft (assuming that you don’t count Ekwonu as one) is headed to Sin City. Unlike a lot of linemen, Tyler isn’t position flexible, or at least doesn’t appear to be, if he can’t make it at center, he may not have the raw power to make it as a guard. What he IS, is a polished, intelligent player who makes excellent use of his wrestling background and gives you options in play calling with him at center.
Arizona – CB, OG, OT
Keyon Green – OG – Texas A&M – You could easily flip-flop the Raiders and Cardinals picks here and I wouldn’t have much of an argument to it. Green with his positional flexibility (played every line position at A&M but center), natural strength, heavy hands, and surprising mobility feels like the type of player the Raiders would love and I’m sure the Cardinals would be happy with Linderbaum (center is #4 on their “needs” list).
Dallas – DT, EDGE, LB
Jermaine Johnson – EDGE – Florida State – This pick could also end up being either DT DeMarvin Leal or DT Jordan Davis, but replacing (or improving on) Gregory’s production (15.5 sacks in the last 3 seasons) seems like more of a priority. Anyone jumping from college to the NFL has a learning curve, but Johnson showed at the Senior Bowl that he can play both the pass and run with his ability to stack and shed, as well as be a finisher and hold the point of attack. I also like his flexibility for the future, if the Cowboys were to change their defensive alignment, Johnson can flip to OLB.
Buffalo – CB, OG, LB
Zion Johnson – OG – Boston College – I feel like the Bills would be better served drafting a WR to replace Emmanuel Sanders next season and they could get an absolute steal with a Jameson Williams or Garrett Wilson at this pick. But for now, the Bills will continue to build their line and take the best remaining interior lineman in Zion Johnson. Has some limited ability to play LT (started 1 season at LT in college), but will be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. Has the attitude, hands, power, and IQ to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
Tennessee Titans – CB, WR, LB
Garrett Wilson – WR – Ohio State – In what would be considered a disappointing drop if it happened on Draft Day, Wilson finally finds his spot. He can be a spot starter or take over in the slot (best position) while he learns from one of the All-Time greats, Julio Jones. Shows good release and can create separation, though I wonder how much of that was from teams playing soft because they were out-talented by OSU. If he can fix his concentration issues and cut down on his drops, he could be a real weapon for the Titans.
Tampa Bay – RB, DT, WR
Jameson Williams – WR – Alabama – No one is saying it out loud, but I think Tampa fans and the front office are feeling like 2022 will be a rebuilding year. When you’re replacing the best QB the NFL has ever seen and don’t have a successor in hand, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You also have WR Chris Godwin and DT Ndamukong Suh as free agents and it’s unlikely you’re getting both replaced this off-season (if they leave). May as well take a guy who was a Top 10 lock before his knee injury and play for the future.
Green Bay – OT, WR, TE
Drake London – WR – Southern Cal – I understand why evaluators and fans like London so much, he’s explosive, jumps out of the building, and his body control? *Chefs kiss*. I’ve also seen a ton of USC receivers come out in my lifetime who were supposed to be the next fill in name of HOFer and ended up being somewhere between hot garbage and decent at best. I think Jahan Dotson might be the better pick but I fully expect London to go somewhere in the mid-to-late teens.
Miami (From San Francisco) – OT, OG, C
Daxton Hill – S – Michigan - With none of the positions of need (also LB and RB) offering much in the way of value at this stage I’m going with the best player available and that’s Hill. Jason McCourty is 34 and probably only has a year or two left even if he does re-sign with Miami, so let’s draft his replacement. Hill has value as smart, athletic safety who can also come down and play as a nickel defender. Doesn’t mind getting his nose into the run game but his size can put him at a disadvantage.
Kansas City – CB, WR, EDGE
Rodger McCreary – CB – Auburn – After finishing the regular season 27th against the pass and allowing a combined 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns in the playoffs to Tee Higgins and *checks notes* Gabriel Davis?!? It’s a good bet that the Chiefs are looking for help in their secondary. McCreary does that and more. He’s an exceptional athlete who, even if he allows a catch, is always right there to limit the YAC. In man coverage he shows excellent hips and the ability to flip and run with his assignment as well as exhibiting good instincts and awareness in zone.
Cincinnati – CB, OG, C
Christian Harris – LB – Alabama – This isn’t necessarily a position of immediate need for the Bengals (LB is listed as their 5th most pressing need), but I don’t do trades, soooo. . . I also feel that if the Bengals identify an OT that they like, they should definitely make a move up or down and get value. In this case, I don’t feel like Harris is an over-reach. He’s athletic, plays well in space, can cover backs or TEs up the seam, he also displays great leadership.
Detroit – WR, CB, OG, LB, DT
David Bell – WR – Purdue – I seriously considered DTs Jordan Davis or Logan Hall here in a move that would reshape the Lions defensive line. As tempting as that might be, I went with David Bell who can line up opposite Amon-Ra St. Brown who had a surprisingly good season as a rookie. While not a matchup problem, Bell is an athletic receiver who is effective in his release and has the ability to create separation, couple that with hands that go get the ball rather than allowing it to come to him and things might be looking up in the Motor City.
Teams without a First Round Pick
Bears – OT, WR, C – First Pick – 2nd Round 39th Overall
John Metchie III – WR – Alabama – This might be a bit of a reach, but before his injury in the SEC Championship game people looked at Metchie as a First Round lock. With Allen Robinson likely off to greener pastures, giving Justin Fields another weapon will be paramount.
49ers – CB, S, OG – 2nd Round 61st Overall
Darrian Kinnard – OG – Kentucky – Plays with a mean streak and is an absolute tone setter in the run game. Is big, fluid, and mobile, but sometimes gets “over his skates” and his balance is off. His hand placement and usage could be better, but Kinnard puts defenders on the ground and he feels like a great fit for the 49ers offense.
Colts – CB, WR, TE – 2nd Round 47th Overall
Kaiir Elam – CB – Florida – TE Trey McBride might be an option here, but with the passing defense right in the middle of the league (16th) they could stand to improve. The big, physical Elam can help with that. Does his best work in press-man coverage. Quicker receivers can get the better of him though.
Rams – OT, TE, LB – 3rd Round 98th Overall (Compensatory)
Nicholas Petite-Frere – OT – Ohio State – May not be available here come Draft Day. He has developed well in his time at Ohio State and is a thick, fluid blocker with good length. Should be able to continue developing in the NFL depending on what team drafts him.
Seahawks – OT, CB, OG – 2nd Round 41st Overall
Kyler Gordon – CB – Washington – The ‘Hawks won’t have to look far for their first pick, Gordon already plays in Seattle. Exhibits good athleticism, instincts, and agility as well as a willingness to come up in run support. Can play inside or outside and chip in on special teams.