We’ve said it for months, if we’re the Jags we’re taking an offensive lineman here. We love Ikem Ekwonu, but if Evan Neal or Charles Cross is rated higher on their board, take one of them. The point is to protect Trevor Lawrence. Recent history in Jacksonville has shown that drafting really good edge rushers in the first round doesn’t immediately translate to winning football games. Keeping your franchise QB upright does, however. But we get it, GM Trent Baalke has a history of drafting traits, including long arms, and Walker could be special. We’d just point out that the same year Baalke took Aldon Smith because of traits, he also passed on J.J. Watt and Cam Jordan.
Hutchinson has been the No. 1 player on our Big Board for a while and he feels like the safest pick in this class, both on and off the field. He loves football, was dominant during the 2021 season, and at 21 years old, he’s nowhere near his ceiling. He feels like a Dan Campbell knee-biter.
We heard from several league sources that Stingley could find his way into the top 5 and, honestly, we were surprised. But this isn’t what we’d do, it’s what we think will happen, and the Texans have two first-rounders and needs up and down the roster. And if they’re getting the 2019 version of Stingley, this is a grand slam, even with Gardner still on the board.
We love Johnson’s story — transferred from Georgia to Florida State, racked up 12 sacks last season, then blew up the Senior Bowl and the combine and earned his way into the first round. That said, if we were making this pick solely on on-field production, Kayvon Thibodeaux would be it. But the nebulous away-from-football concerns continue to swirl around Thibodeaux who, fair or not, could slide a little bit. He’s a top-5 talent for us all day long but we think the Jets could go with Johnson here instead.
We just don’t think the Panthers would take a QB here, in part because you could put any of them behind the Carolina’s offensive line as currently constituted, and they’ll all look like the 2021 version of Sam Darnold. Ideally, the Panthers could trade down, pick up some Day 2 picks (of which they currently have none), and get a QB later in the round. Here we have them doing the same thing and taking offensive tackle. Ekwonu, a Charlotte native, would be our pick, but Carolina had all three of the top tackles in for 30 visits and Neal offers a little more position versatility.
The Giants have been linked to Cross in recent weeks and he’s arguably the best pass blocker in this class. We’d lean Ekwonu here (he’s the best run blocker), but Cross is the pick. Something to keep in mind (and this made this pick even tougher): It sounds like New York wants to keep former first-rounder Andrew Thomas at left tackle, which is where Cross played exclusively at Mississippi State. So Thomas, who has experience at right tackle too, may have to move to facilitate this pick. (These are the “Good Will Hunting”-level permutations that go through your mind trying to put this final mock draft together .. and we’re only seven picks in.)
We all know about this QB class and how, realistically, none stack up against recent groups that included Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow or even Kyler Murray. That doesn’t mean some of these players won’t have successful NFL careers, just that their college tape didn’t compare with the aforementioned classes. Knowing that, we’d target a wide receiver here, or even Thibodeaux if he were still on the board. But owner Arthur Blank just traded the face of the franchise to Indianapolis, and the current QB, Marcus Mariota, last started an NFL game in 2019. Plus, Willis has the most upside of anyone in this class, plays a similar style to Mariota, and also happens to be from Atlanta. Second-year coach Arthur Smith has a track record of developing young quarterbacks, which also makes Willis an intriguing option here.
It’s incredibly difficult, perhaps more than any other team, to get a sense for what the Seahawks will do in the first round. After all, this was the same outfit that took L.J. Collier and Rashaad Penny previously in Round 1. QB is an obvious need, of course, but so too is offensive line (it’s part of the reason Russell Wilson grew frustrated) and if Ekwonu is here, it’s an easy choice. He’s the best run-blocker in this class, he’s insanely athletic — and strong — and he’ll perhaps give Drew Lock a fighting chance in 2022.
The Jets desperately need to get Zach Wilson some weapons and while offensive line could be a need, the hope is that Mekhi Becton returns to the form that made him a first-round pick and the offensive line will have some stability next season. Wilson is our WR1 (full disclosure: it would be Jameson Williams if he was 100 percent healthy) and he reminds us a lot of Odell Beckham III. Wilson has compared himself to Diontae Johnson — either player is a win for the Jets and their young QB with this pick.
We’ve heard that Washington would be interested in a cornerback here, but both Sauce and Stingley are gone, so instead they refocus their efforts on a pass catcher. Coach Ron Rivera has hinted that he likes the Ohio State wideouts but Wilson’s off the board and this feels too high for Olave. Which brings us to London, a former basketball player who brings those high-point skills to the field. He’d be a big target for Carson Wentz, and we feel like London, who played at USC with Michael Pittman, is a similar type player with more upside.
You do enough mock drafts and you reflexively start pencilling in cornerback here. And Trent McDuffie would be worth the No. 12 pick but, man, Jordan Davis is a special talent. Mike Zimmer is gone but that doesn’t mean defense won’t be an early focus for the Vikings, and this feels like the range Davis could go off the board.
Davis Mills is the quarterback so we can’t imagine they target one here (again, if Mills was in this draft class he’s QB1) but they will consider getting him a weapon. Williams tore his ACL in January and should be on track to play by November. He’s one of the fastest wideouts in this class and showed the ability to beat coverage at all three levels last season for Alabama. The Texans had him in for a visit and he’d be a welcome addition to their WR room.
Look, we can’t imagine the parallel universe where this seems reasonable. But based on things we’ve heard — with the full understanding that this is peak smokescreen season — there’s a chance Thibodeaux slides. All the way to No. 14? That feels like a bit much but here we are. The Ravens have been linked to Trevor Penning, the Northern Iowa offensive tackle who fills a need, but Baltimore needs pass rushers too. Should this play out, it’s going to be one of those situations where we all wonder how Thibodeaux lasted this long. One last time: If we’re the Jets, we’re taking him at No. 4.
The Eagles would love Jordan Davis here but Wyatt could end up being the better player (not that it matters, other than to marvel at the physics involved, but Wyatt, at 304 pounds, ran a 4.77 40 at the combine, best among all defensive lineman, and a 0.01 seconds faster than Davis). He’s incredibly quick, has great hands, moves well laterally, and routinely shows off the strength to whip interior offensive linemen.
The Saints could package these picks to move up for a quarterback, top-3 offensive lineman, or even a wide receiver. Instead, we have them taking Penning, the offensive tackle out of Northern Iowa. Terron Armstead is gone to the Dolphins and Jameis Winston is coming off ACL surgery, so protecting him will be a priority.
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Interior offensive line would be an obvious choice here, as would the defensive line, but instead the Chargers bolster a secondary that already includes Asante Samuel Jr. and recently signed J.C. Jackson. McDuffie played outside at Washington but he can line up anywhere, and in a division where every quarterback is elite, you can never have enough high-caliber corners. And some teams have McDuffie as CB2 on their boards.
Does this feel really low for Hamilton? Yeah, absolutely, but the reality is that he’s closer to a mid-first-rounder than top-5, and most of that has to do with teams valuing edge rushers, cornerbacks, offensive linemen and even wide receivers more. But don’t get it twisted, Hamilton is a special talent and in the right system he can have early success. The Eagles could be on the lookout for a wideout or cornerback here too but Hamilton might be too good to pass up.
The Saints get their offensive lineman at No. 16 and land a quarterback here. Malik Willis feels like a better fit in the sense that he won’t have to be rushed onto the field with Jameis Winston ahead of him and he’s more Taysom Hill than, say, Drew Brees. But with Willis gone, Pickett’s the choice. Playing in a dome, and in the NFC South mitigates the hand-size concerns, and Pickett is athletic enough to do some Taysom Hill-type things with the ball in his hands. He doesn’t have the best arm in this class but neither did Brees. Then there’s Pickett’s age. He’ll be 24 years old in June, which makes him exactly 3.5 years younger than Winston, who is entering his eighth NFL season.
This was one of the toughest picks in our final mock draft. The Steelers have had top-30 visits with top QB prospects, and with two already off the board, who knows if they might go in another direction here and perhaps trying to move up in Round 2 for one. Needs include offensive and defensive line, edge rusher and cornerback but the top four OTs are gone, Pittsburgh may feel good about its interior OL depth after free agency, and two of the top DLs are gone too. We’re down to EDGE5 so here the Steelers go wide receiver. Treylon Burks was a consideration because his game mirrors that of JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Olave is a fantastic route runner who ran a 4.39 at the combine. And while he didn’t always play that fast, he’s an experienced difference-maker who can be a Day 1 contributor.
The Patriots have needs at cornerback and defensive line and those could be the targets here, but Lloyd (and Nakobe Dean) is a special player who could go higher than this. He’s the next iteration of the linebacker position and in some ways feels like a natural progression from Dont’a Hightower, who played at 260, some 25 pounds heavier than Lloyd. A Pats defense that includes Lloyd and Kyle Dugger feels like a step in the right direction to combat Josh Allen at least twice a season.
You’ve no doubt heard the number by now: 20. As in, 20 years since the Packers used a first-round pick on a wide receiver, and that was Javon Walker. The oversight obviously includes the 2020 draft, the deepest wideout class in human history, where the Packers drafted exactly zero receivers, didn’t even sign one as an undrafted free agent, and even traded up in the first round for QB Jordan Love! That changes here with Burks, who reminds us of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Anquan Boldin, Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown. Seems like someone Aaron Rodgers would love to throw to 15 times a game in a post-Davante Adams world.
The Cardinals had top-30 visits with offensive lineman Kenyon Green, and he’s still on the board here, but they also met with Karlaftis, which also makes sense after Chandler Jones signed with the Raiders. We like Karlaftis more in the second round, and we know some teams feel the same, but other teams like him in Round 1 and it wouldn’t surprise us to see him go off the board in this range.
Top-30 visits aren’t definitive proof of a team’s draft plans but they do sometimes offer insights into what the general draft-weekend roadmap might look like. Johnson played left tackle at Boston College in 2020 and more than held his own, but his NFL future is at guard or center, and he’s likely a Day 1 starter.
The Bills don’t have a ton of needs, and while there’s been some media speculation of a running back here, that would a stretch. Instead, linebacker or defensive back feels more likely, and here we’re going with Gordon, a freakish athlete who can play in the slot or outside, is a terror in run support and fantastic in coverage. Keep an eye on Christian Harris as a possible target here if the Bills decide to target the linebacker position. He’s considered an early Day 2 pick, but there’s a chance he finds his way into the back end of Round 1.
We like Bernhard Raimann in the first round and toyed with the idea of putting him here, but he’s considered more a finesse player at this early stage of his career (he’s only been playing left tackle for two seasons) and that doesn’t really fit what the Titans do up front. So instead we’re going with Green, who plays with a decided edge, has some tackle flexibility, and made a top-30 visit to Nashville.
There’s a pretty good chance the Packers package some picks and move up — perhaps even for a WR! — but here we have them bolstering the secondary with Dax Hill. He’s listed as a safety but he can line up anywhere, and even though the team used a first-rounder on CB Eric Stokes a season ago, there’s room for Hill here. He’d make life easier for Darnell Savage, the Packers’ former first-rounder heading into Year 4 of his rookie deal.
Who knows what the Chiefs do here, but Mafe has been on their radar for a while and even though he’ll turn 24 in November, he’s an athletic marvel who had a strong ’21 season before blowing up the combine. There’s a feeling he’s just scratching the surface and the Chiefs need pass rushers.
We’ve had Dotson as a second-rounder throughout the draft process and we still feel that way. But we’re willing to make a concession for an undersized, explosive playmaker with great hands landing in an Andy Reid system where Patrick Mahomes is the QB. Reid did mention getting bigger at WR, and maybe Treylon Burks would be an option here, but the team also signed 6-foot-1 JuJu Smith-Schuster and 6-foot-4 Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason.
Andrew Booth Jr. would be well off the board — and he could end up in, say, New England — but some pre-draft injuries could see him slide a bit; he didn’t run at the combine or his pro day because of a quadriceps injury, and he underwent hernia surgery earlier this year as well. Still, the Bengals need help in the secondary and Booth is expected to be ready to go by the summer, in which case this pick makes too much sense not to happen.
There’s been some media chitchat about the Lions targeting Malik Willis at No. 2 and that feels a little too rich. Instead, they’re more likely to trade up from here (Detroit also has the 2nd pick in Round 2) for a passer. Who that passer might be is another matter. It could be Desmond Ridder, or Matt Corral, but we’re going with Sam Howell, who has flown under the draft-media-hype-train radar for much of the last two months but he’s our QB2. We’d love the pick here and he has some Matthew Stafford gunslinger in him but he’s a better athlete.
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