This year’s NFL Draft will be a unique one for several reasons. Anyone on the inside will tell you that the scouting combine doesn’t have the dramatic effect on players’ stock that some of the pundits in the sports world would have you believe, but it is still a piece of player evaluation that is now missing from a process that was already hampered by COVID. Many key names that opted out of last season figure to come off the board early, so it will be interesting to see if teams are cautious to pull the trigger on prospects that haven’t played a down of football in 18 months.
Even in a normal year, draft predictions are a fool’s errand on the same level as trying to nail down the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That being said, they’re also fun. So let’s get a little foolish and take a look at how things might shake out on April 29th at 8 PM with a mock draft.
1. Jaguars- Trevor Lawrence (Quarterback-Clemson)
It feels like Lawrence has been the anointed one for years now. Lawrence to the Jags was a done deal as soon as their week 16 loss to the Bears was official. He comes even more highly touted out of college than the likes of Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, making the expectations off the charts in lowly Jacksonville.
2. Jets- Zach Wilson (Quarterback- BYU)
After shipping Sam Darnold out to Carolina, the Jets are clearly back in the quarterback market, yet again. All indications are that they were wowed by the BYU product’s workout in a t-shirt and shorts, and that he’ll be the pick.
3. 49ers (From Dolphins via Texans)- Trey Lance (Quarterback- North Dakota State)
The draft really starts here. They traded significant draft capital to the Dolphins to move up from pick 12, so they’ve got to be looking quarterback. Mac Jones’ name has been thrown around, but FCS-product Trey Lance’s upside is enough to make the Niners take a chance on him, despite being a bit of an unknown after only playing one game last year.
4. Falcons- Justin Fields (Quarterback- Ohio State)
The Falcons are a prime candidate to trade down with lots of needs on both sides of the ball. If they decide to keep the pick, it would have to be for the heir apparent to Matt Ryan.
5. Bengals- Kyle Pitts (Tight End- Florida)
After the run on quarterbacks, the Bengals might be sitting in position to have their choice of all the playmakers in the draft, all the way down at pick five. They are pretty set at receiver with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, so the 6’6”, 240-pound freak that runs a 4.44 40-yard dash is the pick.
6. Dolphins (From Eagles)- Jaylen Waddle (Wide Receiver-Alabama)
The Dolphins traded back up from pick 12 with the Eagles for a reason, and that reason is to put pieces around Tua Tagovailoa to succeed in his sophomore campaign. Waddle might have been Mac Jones’ favorite target (and therefore a Heisman candidate) at Alabama if he hadn’t been injured early last year.
7. Lions- Penei Sewell (Offensive Tackle- Oregon)
New Head Coach Dan Campbell was a blocking tight end in the NFL who never had more than 31 catches in ten years, and just talked about making the Lions a team that will bite other teams’ kneecaps off in his introductory press conference. He is more than happy to win ugly. Everything about this screams taking the best tackle in the draft, who is a mauler in the run game.
8. Panthers- Micah Parsons (Linebacker- Penn State)
The Panthers go straight to “Linebacker U” to get the playmaker they’ve been missing in the middle since Luke Kuechly retired. Parsons is the best defensive player in the draft. He is a terror against the run game and has a knack for finding gaps as a blitzer anywhere in the formation. He absolutely has the athleticism to become a great defender in coverage as well.
9. Broncos- Patrick Surtain II (Cornerback- Alabama)
The Broncos addressed cornerback in free agency with Ronald Darby, but he has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency in his career. With none of the quarterbacks they covet still available, Surtain is the best player left on the board, and has an NFL pedigree, so the pick makes sense.
10. Cowboys- Rashawn Slater (Offensive Tackle- Northwestern)
The draft always throws a few curveballs. The defense in Big D needs a lot of work, but they can help them out quite bit, as well as their franchise quarterback on a huge new extension, by getting their running game back to its former glory. That starts on the line. Slater can slide in on the left side of the line next to Tyron Smith for now, but offers a nice insurance policy if he has trouble staying healthy again.
11. Giants- Kwity Paye (Edge- Michigan)
The Giants signed Adoree Jackson in free agency to fill the hole at corner opposite James Bradberry, and also went out and got weapons for Daniel Jones, adding Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph. They were in the top half of the league in pass defense and sacks last year, but they’ll need more punch in their pass rush to take the next step.
12. Eagles (from Dolphins via 49ers)- Christian Darrisaw (Offensive Tackle- Virginia Tech)
Wide receiver is the popular pick here after Jeffrey Lurie joined the ranks of meddling owners and announced his support for Jalen Hurts. The man who actually makes the personnel decisions, General Manager Howie Roseman, built the team that won Super Bowl 52. He knows the best thing that he can do for his young quarterback is infuse some youth into this once-dominant (but now ancient) offensive line.
13. Chargers- Ja’Marr Chase (Wide Receiver- LSU)
The Chargers desperately need offensive line help, but there is a big drop off after the first three tackles off the board. If they can’t trade down, they can find help for Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert by giving him another weapon. Chase opted out of last year, but absolutely tore it up with Joe Burrow as his quarterback in 2019. Mike Williams has shown flashes as the wideout opposite Keenan Allen, but has not been consistent.
14. Vikings- Gregory Rousseau (Edge- Miami)
There are still a couple of top-tier cornerbacks left on the board, The Vikings might not have much confidence in the corners they spent first, third and fifth-round picks on last year, as they also added Patrick Peterson on a one-year deal this offseason to go opposite Xavier Rhodes. Perhaps they take the other approach to improving their defensive backfield and just make it so they don’t have to cover quite as long. An edge rusher to pair with Danielle Hunter could go a long way.
15. Patriots- Mac Jones (Quarterback- Alabama)
It wasn’t all that long ago that you’d expect Bill Belichick to trade out of this pick, or take a front seven player, or try to figure out some other way to outsmart the rest of the league. This offseason has been different. The Patriots were uncharacteristically aggressive in free agency and there is an unfamiliar sense of urgency in Foxboro. Jones has drawn some comparisons to the man Belichick misses so much in Tom Brady, and not just his unfavorable body composition and lack of athleticism. He shows mobility and patience in the pocket, and has experience in an offense with lots of horizontal routes and utilizes the runningback in the passing game. The Patriots need to get back to that style and need an upgrade on Cam Newton to do it.
16. Cardinals- Jaycee Horn (Cornerback- South Carolina)
The Cardinals have loaded up to win this year, adding JJ Watt, AJ Green and Rodney Hudson. The departure of the aforementioned Patrick Peterson leaves a big hole in their defensive backfield. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley would be incredible value here, but back surgery several weeks ago will likely cause him to fall down draft boards. Instead, Horn also offers excellent size and range at the position. Like fellow corner Patrick Surtain, he’s the son of a former NFL player. His father, Joe, was a receiver for the Chiefs and the Saints.
17. Raiders- Alijah Vera-Tucker (Offensive Tackle- USC)
The Raiders turned a strength to a weakness this offseason, surprisingly parting ways with center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Trent Brown. Head Coach John Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock haven’t been afraid to draft for need, and reach for a prospect in order to fill that need. Vera-Tucker actually is decent value at this stage of the first round.
18. Dolphins- Najee Harris (Runningback- Alabama)
The Dolphins continue to show their commitment to Tua, giving him another stud from his alma mater to work with in this offense. Harris is the next great back to come from the school that recently gave us Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry. At 6’ 2”, 230 pounds, Harris isn’t just a bruiser between the tackles, as he has extraordinary quickness and is a legitimate option in the passing game.
19. Football Team- Kellen Mond (Quarterback- Texas A&M)
The franchise in our nation’s capital definitely falls into that aforementioned “meddling owner” category. This is at least a round too early for Mond, who played well against SEC competition last year. A classic instance of drafting for need over value.
20. Bears- Caleb Farley (Cornerback- Virginia Tech)
The Bears figure to take a quarterback in this draft, and with Andy Dalton only on a one-year contract, could be a candidate to trade up for one of the top five passers. If they stand pat at 20, Farley is a top-10 talent and great value here if the back injury that scared everyone else away isn’t an issue.
21. Colts- Pat Freiermuth (Tight End- Penn State)
Quarterback Carson Wentz’s accuracy was never his strength, even when he was at his best. At 6’5”, 260, Freiermuth will give the Colts’ new quarterback another big target to go with Mo Allie-Cox and Michael Pittman. Freiermuth isn’t quite the athletic game-breaker Kyle Pitts is (who is?), but he’s the most complete tight end in the draft and Wentz was always at his best with a couple of solid tight ends in Philly.
22. Titans- DeVonta Smith (Wide Receiver- Alabama)
After the Heisman Trophy winner falls down the board due to concerns about his small frame (6’ 1”, 170), the Titans get the steal of the draft to replace the departed Corey Davis (Jets). Smith has elite quickness, runs sharp routes and catches everything thrown his way. As defenses continue to be neutered and forced to play a less physical brand of football, smaller receivers like Smith aren’t the risk they used to be. He’ll be a star.
23. Jets (from Seahawks)- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Linebacker- Notre Dame)
New head coach Robert Saleh had one of the best linebackers in the game (Fred Warner) as defensive coordinator in San Francisco, and he can’t pass up Owusu-Koramoah’s athleticism and playmaking ability. The rangy linebacker has excellent ball skills and coverage ability for today’s pass-heavy NFL. At 6’2”, 216 pounds, he’ll need to add a little bulk, but has already shown he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in and make a hit between the tackles.
24. Steelers- Travis Etienne (Runningback- Clemson)
The Steelers completely abandoned the run game towards the end of last year. Running back James Conner, who left in free agency for Arizona, was not a big play threat, which may be part of the reason he fell out of favor down the stretch. Assuming the Steelers want to get back to smash mouth football, Etienne gives them a home run threat and a receiver out of the backfield, but at 5’10”, 210 pounds, has the frame to hold up for 15-20 carries a game as well.
25. Jaguars (from Rams)- Azeez Ojulari (Linebacker- Georgia)
In the words of Tyler Durden in “Fight Club:” “It’s only when we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything.” The Jaguars were 1-15 last year. There has been a mass exodus of talent since their 2017 run to the AFC Championship game. The Jaguars can literally go anywhere with this pick and theoretically improve their roster, so the pick here is the best player left on the board. Ojulari is a versatile linebacker that can play in space and stand up against the run, but can also add some punch to the pass rush on third downs.
26. Browns- Jayson Oweh (Edge- Penn State)
Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson both appear to be moving on from Cleveland, so the Browns will be in the market for defensive linemen. They added Takkarist McKinley in free agency on a one-year deal, but will probably be looking for more production than he’s likely to provide. Besides, you can never have enough pass rushers in today’s NFL. Oweh ran a 4.36 40 at his pro day weighing 253 pounds, and the Browns will be excited to put him opposite fellow freak of nature Myles Garret on their front four.
27. Ravens- Teven Jenkins (Offensive Tackle- Oklahoma State)
The Ravens are one of the best organizations in football at managing the draft. They routinely stick to their board and draft the best player available according to their evaluations. However, Jenkins is good value at this stage of the draft and happens to fill a glaring need on the right side of their offensive line. His powerful, 6’6”, 320 frame will fit in well with Baltimore’s power running game.
28. Saints- Christian Barmore (Defensive Tackle- Alabama)
The Saints have a solid roster across the board assuming they are comfortable with their combination of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill at quarterback. However, they play in a division with a guy named Tom Brady. There is only one thing that has been a consistent way to disrupt him, and that’s pressure up the middle. The Saints get the best interior rusher in the draft from “Defensive Line U” to try and counter the Super Bowl champs.
29. Packers- Kadarius Toney (Wide Receiver- Florida)
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ future in Green Bay may not be in “Jeopardy” just yet (I’m sorry, I had to. I’ll see myself out). If the Packers are still aiming to keep their star quarterback happy and away from gameshow gigs, they’ll likely look to add another viable weapon opposite All-World receiver Davante Adams. Toney has the athleticism to stretch a defense, but can also work the middle of the field out of the slot, which is something this offense has been missing since Randall Cobb left town.
30. Bills- Wyatt Davis (Guard- Ohio State)
Josh Allen was able to carry the team on his back all season including an incredible second-half run that finally saw them hit the wall in the AFC Championship against the Chiefs. The Bills’ offensive line was exposed against a fierce Kansas City rush that includes defensive tackle Chris Jones. If the Bills want to get over the last hurdle to the Super Bowl, they can’t expect Josh Allen to make incredible plays on the run every week, and they’ll need more balance from the running game. An athletic guard with a nasty streak solves both problems.
31. Ravens (from Chiefs)- Zaven Collins (Linebacker- Tulsa)
Value meets need again for the Ravens. The Ravens like big-bodied, versatile linebackers. They lost their two best pass-rushers this off-season in Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon. Collins fits the mold of the latter, having the ability to set the edge against the run, play in the middle of the defense, or get after the quarterback.
32. Buccaneers- Jaelan Phillips (Edge- Miami)
The Bucs are in win-now mode with who will be a 44-year-old quarterback on opening day. They won the Super Bowl with a fierce pass rush and adding another fastball for Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles to throw at offenses is one of the easiest ways to get contributions from a rookie. This also gives the Bucs insurance, as Jason Pierre-Paul is 32 years old and will be a free agent next year.
Can’t screw up your first-rounder if you don’t have one…
56. Seahawks- Dillon Radunz (Offensive Tackle- North Dakota State)
The Seahawks need to do anything they can to try and convince Russell Wilson to stay. Actually investing in the line through the draft, in an attempt to keep him upright this year, might be their only chance.
57. Rams- Levi Onwuzurike (Defensive Tackle- Washington)
The Rams’ most heralded defensive lineman is deservedly Aaron Donald, but the loss of Michael Brockers to the Lions is a significant one. They’ll look to give Donald a new linemate here.
58. Chiefs (from Ravens)- Ifeatu Melifonwu (Cornerback- Syracuse)
A long, physical corner might be in the cards for the Chiefs, who had issues covering 6’5” Mike Evans in the Super Bowl. The 6’2” Melifonwu fits the bill.
67-Texans- Kyle Trask (Quarterback- Florida)
The Texans have to pay the price for poor draft management in recent years and don’t pick until the third round this year. They hope a viable quarterback drops this far in the draft as they navigate Deshaun Watson’s legal situation.