Welcome to NFL Combine week my friends! I’ll be in Indianapolis all week gathering intel from the ground along with my colleague Eric Froton. Follow both of us on Twitter as well as NBC Sports Edge for the latest news from the Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.
We’re doing things a little differently for Mock 2.0. Below, are three rounds of picks in tables. Below that, analysis of all 32 teams’ hauls. Let’s get to it, I have a plane to catch!
|4||NY Jets||Kyle Hamilton||Notre Dame||S|
|5||NY Giants||Ikem Ekwonu||NC State||OT|
|7||NY Giants (via CHI)||Kayvon Thibodeaux||Oregon||EDGE|
|10||NY Jets (via SEA)||Treylon Burks||Arkansas||WR|
|13||Cleveland||Chris Olave||Ohio State||WR|
|15||Philadelphia (via MIA)||Devin Lloyd||Utah||LB|
|16||Philadelphia (via IND)||Derek Stingley Jr.||LSU||CB|
|17||LA Chargers||Charles Cross||Mississippi St.||OT|
|18||New Orleans||Trent McDuffie||Washington||CB|
|19||Philadelphia||Jermaine Johnson II||Florida State||EDGE|
|20||Pittsburgh||Kenyon Green||Texas A&M||iOL|
|21||New England||Travon Walker||Georgia||EDGE|
|22||Las Vegas||Jordan Davis||Georgia||DL|
|27||Tampa Bay||Trevor Penning||Northern Iowa||OT|
|28||Green Bay||Garrett Wilson||Ohio State||WR|
|29||Miami (via SF)||Zion Johnson||Boston College||iOL|
|30||Kansas City||Kaiir Elam||Florida||CB|
|31||Cincinnati||Bernhard Raimann||Central Michigan||OT|
|32||Detroit (via LAR)||Jameson Williams||Alabama||WR|
|34||Detroit||Andrew Booth Jr.||Clemson||CB|
|35||NY Jets||Arnold Ebiketie||Penn State||EDGE|
|36||NY Giants||Jahan Dotson||Penn State||WR|
|38||NY Jets (via CAR)||Daniel Faalele||Minnesota||OT|
|41||Seattle||DeMarvin Leal||Texas A&M||DL|
|43||Atlanta||Breece Hall||Iowa State||RB|
|47||Indianapolis||Kingsley Enagbare||S. Carolina||EDGE|
|48||LA Chargers||Phidarian Mathis||Alabama||DL|
|49||New Orleans||Sam Howell||North Carolina||QB|
|51||Philadelphia||Kenneth Walker III||Michigan State||RB|
|53||Las Vegas||John Metchie III||Alabama||WR|
|54||New England||Christian Harris||Alabama||LB|
|55||Arizona||Isaiah Spiller||Texas A&M||RB|
|56||Dallas||Jaquan Brisker||Penn State||S|
|58||Atlanta (via TEN)||Perrion Winfrey||Oklahoma||DL|
|59||Green Bay||Cameron Thomas||San Diego St.||EDGE|
|60||Tampa Bay||Trey McBride||Colorado St.||TE|
|61||San Francisco||Darian Kinnard||Kentucky||OL|
|62||Kansas City||Wan’Dale Robinson||Kentucky||WR|
|64||Denver (via LAR)||Jalen Pitre||Baylor||S|
|65||Jacksonville||Jalen Tolbert||S. Alabama||WR|
|67||NY Giants||Damone Clark||LSU||LB|
|68||Houston||Martin Emerson||Mississippi St.||CB|
|69||NY Jets||Mario Goodrich||Clemson||CB|
|70||Jacksonville (via CAR)||Verone McKinley III||Oregon||S|
|71||Chicago||Nicholas Petit-Frere||Ohio State||OT|
|79||LA Chargers||Tariq Woolen||UTSA||CB|
|80||Houston (via NO)||Jerome Ford||Cincinnati||RB|
|81||NY Giants (via MIA)||Jalen Wydermyer||Texas A&M||TE|
|85||New England||Alec Pierce||Cincinnati||WR|
|86||Las Vegas||Josh Jobe||Alabama||CB|
|89||Buffalo||Jayden Peevy||Texas A&M||DL|
|90||Tennessee||Jeremy Ruckert||Ohio State||TE|
|91||Tampa Bay||Neil Farrell Jr.||LSU||DL|
|92||Green Bay||Max Mitchell||UL-Lafayette||OT|
|93||San Francisco||MyKael Wright||Oregon||CB|
|94||Kansas City||Josh Paschal||Kentucky||EDGE|
|95||Cincinnati||Thayer Munford||Ohio State||iOL|
|96||Denver (via LAR)||Marcus Jones||Houston||CB|
|97*||Detroit Lions||Justyn Ross||Clemson||WR|
|100*||New Orleans||Abraham Lucas||Washington St.||OT|
|101*||Miami (via SF)||Brandon Smith||Penn State||LB|
|102*||San Francisco||Skyy Moore||W. Michigan||WR|
|103*||Kansas City||Nick Cross||Maryland||S|
|104*||LA Rams||Kyren Williams||Notre Dame||RB|
*Projected compensation picks
|Bailey Zappe||Western Kentucky||QB|
|Rachaad White||Arizona State||RB|
|Khalil Shakir||Boise State||WR|
|Kellen Diesch||Arizona State||OT|
|Lecitus Smith||Virginia Tech||iOL|
|Dohnovan West||Arizona State||iOL|
|Haskell Garrett||Ohio State||DL|
(1.1) OT Evan Neal (Alabama)
(2.33) EDGE Boye Mafe (Minnesota)
(3.65) WR Jalen Tolbert (South Alabama)
Earlier this month, new HC Doug Pederson singled out the trenches as a point of emphasis in building his first team in Duval. LT Cam Robinson and LG Andrew Norwell are impending free agents, while RT Jawaan Taylor has been shaky. Neal is already the betting favorite to go 1.1. So much so that he decided to sit out the NFL Combine. After the 1.1 slot, it’s a choose-your-own adventure for plugging holes, probably with a lean towards swinging for the fences on upside.
(1.2) QB Malik Willis (Liberty)
(1.32) WR Jameson Williams (Alabama)
(2.34) CB Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson)
(3.66) LB Leo Chenal (Wisconsin)
(3.97)* WR Justyn Ross (Clemson)
At the Senior Bowl, I heard the Lions liked Malik Willis. Heck, their coaching staff, which coached him, had a hard time keeping that secret. Lions QB coach Mark Brunell, coding things best he could, confidently said that he could turn one of the three quarterbacks on his Mobile roster into a Pro Bowler within three seasons. No chance he was talking about Bailey Zappe. The only other option was Sam Howell, who had a down 2021 season, and a down Senior Bowl week – an event that Willis dominated. After the Senior Bowl, my idea was the Lions might give serious thought to trading down from No. 2 to target Willis (I didn’t do something like this in my first mock draft because I don’t do trades in mock drafts). But for Detroit, the problem becomes feasibility should Willis dominate this week’s NFL Combine as expected. That development would further surge his NFL Draft stock to the degree that would make his price tag commensurate to the draft slot they currently sit in. Detroit is a good fit for Willis. The Lions have a veteran starter for next year in Jared Goff, so they can redshirt Willis for a season under the learning tree. And, truly and honestly, what is the actual downside for Detroit? If Willis “busts”, the Lions, a joke for 30 years running, remain a joke, only now they’d have one of the funnest gadget player in the NFL since Antwan Randle-El (who happens to be Detroit’s current WR coach) once Willis transitions positions (Willis ran a 4.38 at Auburn and is an incredible open-field runner), and they’d have another top-3 pick in three years to swing for the fences on another quarterback to try to drag themselves out of the never-ending cycle of futility. Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux will not do that for you. Even if one of them becomes a star, you’re still in more or less the same spot until you find your star quarterback. If Willis hits, he sparks the first legitimate Detroit football renaissance of our lifetime. Scared money don’t make none. The Williams and Ross picks are along the same thought process of shooting the moon, selecting a pair of guys at discounted prices who may not be 100-percent at the start of next season – but who cares about that if we’re the Lions, with this draft we’re officially planting the flag on 2023 being the start of a totally new era.
(1.3) EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
(2.37) S Lewis Cine (Georgia)
(3.68) CB Martin Emerson (Mississippi State)
(3.80) RB Jerome Ford (Cincinnati)
Houston needs help everywhere. They may or may not have a Deshaun Watson trade to look forward to pre-draft. They just hired a coach that the Illinois Illini spent a year ceremonially wheeling onto the field for game assignments “Weekend at Bernie’s” style before mercy-firing him following a 17-39 run. They truly could do anything. In this mock, we aren’t giving Houston extra picks from a hypothetical Watson trade. But Houston does benefit from the scenario of Malik Willis going above them, giving the Texans their choice of the class’ top edge rushers – they choose Hutchinson over Kayvon Thibodeaux. Much-needed secondary help is targeted next, followed by a Day 3 night-cap of Cincinnati RB Jerome Ford, who would play immediately. The Texans have two pending free-agent running backs.
New York Jets
(1.4) S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)
(1.10) WR Treylon Burks (Arkansas)
(2.35) EDGE Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State)
(2.38) OT Daniel Faalele (Minnesota)
(3.69) CB Mario Goodrich (Clemson)
The Jets need secondary help in the worst way. ESPN’s Rich Cimini recently reported that the Jets like Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton “a lot.” Cimini’s report also mentioned the possibility of the Jets doubling-down on defense in the top-10, particularly if Hamilton, DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE Travon Walker, and CB Sauce Gardner can be had. With the 1.10 pick, Walker was available, but I went with Burks. With Elijah Moore manning the slot, Corey Davis locking down one side, and Burks acting as an all-purpose WR1, the Jets would be in business with one of the NFL’s most intriguing wide receiving corps – when is the last time we could say that? Ebiketie and Faalele going against each other each day in practice would be a Ripley’s Believe it or Not? freakish display of length-on-length.
New York Giants
(1.5) OT Ikem Ekwonu (NC State)
(1.7) EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
(2.36) WR Jahan Dotson (Penn State)
(3.67) LB Damone Clark (LSU)
(3.81) TE Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M)
New York’s abysmal interior offensive line ranked dead-last in PFF’s pass-blocking metrics last season. Many teams might draft Ekwonu as a tackle, but if he falls to the Giants, he’d likely start his career inside. The Giants get the bonanza of Thibodeaux falling into their lap at 1.7. Thibodeaux might have the most raw talent of any prospect in this draft. Dotson is a better prospect than Kadarius Toney. And keep an eye on New York popping a tight end on Day 2, with the double-whammy of adjusting into Brian Daboll’s offense and Evan Engram’s impending free agency. Wydermyer is an inline guy with a legitimate receiving element to his game.
(1.6) CB Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati)
With reports – that in this case I can independently corroborate – that the Panthers recently called the Vikings about Kirk Cousins, I’ve developed a new working theory about Carolina: I think Matt Rhule is going to push for the acquisition of a veteran quarterback starter so he can save his job. Therefore, I didn’t pick any quarterbacks for the Panthers. Sauce Garder is a player I know Rhule will love – long, wiry, and active. Gardner and Jaycee Horn could form a longtime lock-down duo in the NFL – an enticing idea inside a game where 70% of your post-game win expectancy is predicted on passing success (and the suppression thereof).
(1.8) EDGE David Ojabo (Michigan)
(2.43) RB Breece Hall (Iowa State)
(3.74) OT Sean Rhyan (UCLA)
In my first mock, I gave the Falcons Malik Willis. I think that pairing makes a ton of sense – all the more so since Willis grew up in the shadow of the Falcons old stadium. But in this exercise I have Willis going earlier, and I don’t think any of the other quarterbacks make sense for Atlanta in the first round. So instead they address their edge-rushing need with Ojabo’s enormous speed-rushing ceiling. Atlanta desperately needs a starting running back and gets arguably the draft’s best in Round 2 with Breece Hall, a guy who will handle a ton of usage from Day 1.
(1.9) QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh)
(2.40) EDGE Logan Hall (Houston)
(3.64) S Jalen Pitre (Baylor)
(3.75) LB Brian Asamoah (Oklahoma)
(3.96) CB Marcus Jones (Houston)
Pickett was once committed to play for Matt Rhule at Temple and has been heavily linked to Carolina. But if Matt Rhule indeed feels he needs more immediate help, Pickett’s next-most logical destination is Denver. The Broncos arguably need a quarterback more. And their management team has shown an equal predilection for pocket-passing quarterbacks. George Paton, of course, comes from the land of Kirk Cousins, who stands as Pickett’s bonanza comp. Patton showed a cleverness for drafting defenders last process, and he gets a trio of #DraftTwitter favorites in this exercise in the extension-cord long Hall, bulldog-tough Pitre, and lightning-quick Asamoah.
(1.11) QB Matt Corral (Mississippi)
(2.42) WR George Pickens (Georgia)
(3.73) LB Chad Muma (Wyoming)
I can’t believe Corral is currently priced by sportsbooks 10-to-1 to be QB1. Those odds would be more like 4-to-1 if Corral had competed in the Senior Bowl. He and Pickens would make a fun pair. Pickens was at his best in 2020 catching downfield bombs from JT Daniels. But Pickens tore his ACL in the spring of 2021 and, when he came back late in the regular season, worked with the scrambler Stetson Bennett, who had displaced Daniels. Bennett didn’t throw downfield nearly as much, and, to be fair, Pickens probably didn’t quite have the juice coming off injury that he did at the end of the 2020 season. Either way, he’ll get his groove back working with Corral, a bombs-away swashbuckler with a legitimate rocket for an arm. For my money, Corral’s arm-strength is top-three in this class alongside Malik Willis and Carson Strong.
(1.12) EDGE George Karlaftis (Purdue)
(2.46) WR Christian Watson (NDSU)
(3.77) iOL Jamaree Salyer (Georgia)
Karlaftis would replace EDGE Everson Griffen, an impending free agent. Karlaftis is a big, stout end who projects as a fit for Minnesota’s new 3-4. He’ll set a hard edge in run defense and provide a relentless brand of pass-rushing. He’s also an underrated stud of an athlete, a Bruce Feldman Freak Lister who was vaunted in the Purdue weight room, with a 4.69 forty, 505-pound squat, 10-1 broad jump and a 37-inch vertical. Watson would be an awesome fit in Minnesota as they transition into Kevin O’Connell’s offense. Minnesota needs at least one more starting-caliber receiver to go three-wide in base-sets. Watson has a diverse skillset, and would compliment Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen perfectly as a pop-the-top outside receiver who blocks his butt off and can do damage on end-arounds as well. The question becomes: After he runs in the high-4.3s or low-4.4s in Indianapolis this week, is he going to be available at 2.46?
(1.13) WR Chris Olave (Ohio State)
(2.44) DL Travis Jones (UConn)
(3.78) EDGE Drake Jackson (USC)
(3.98*) LB Georgia Quay Walker (Georgia)
The fervor for Cleveland drafting a wide receiver in Round 1 may simply be too acute to for the organization to get cute at the top. And with two worthy local candidates at the position, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Browns looked in the direction of either, be it Olave or his teammate Garrett Wilson. I’m going with Olave here, a guy we know is guaranteed to make an instant impact. Speaking of guaranteed returns, Travis Jones. Remember A’Shawn Robinson wrecking run games in the playoffs for the Rams? That’s what you’re going to get from Travis Jones. He’s a war-daddy who’s coming to knock heads. He’s another former Feldman Freak Lister -- he arrived at school as a 360-pounder with 30-percent body fat, and lost more than 30 pounds to get down to 13-percent body fat. He’ll drop jaws in workouts this week.
(1.14) iOL Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa)
(2.45) CB Roger McCreary (Auburn)
(3.76) S Kerby Joseph (Illinois)
(3.99*) DL John Ridgeway (Arkansas)
Baltimore’s interior offensive needs addressing. Bradley Bozeman seems on the verge of leaving via free agency. And the left guard position needs an upgrade. Linderbaum is coming off the most dominant center season in PFF-graded history. Now, it’s true that Baltimore’s scheme isn’t zone-blocking dominant, as has been suggested would best fit Linderbaum’s skills. But Baltimore is a unique team in that it’s as run-dominant and scramble-heavy as any team in the league. It’s also multiple in its use of blocking schemes. Linderbaum, I believe, is absolutely a fit for this team – he just had the best run-blocking season ever for a PFF-graded center. Consider what his play-to-play dominance in this area will add for a Lamar Jackson offense. Linderbaum does not take snaps off, and, speaking to the run-blocking gift, he is something of a prodigy in the grappling department.
(1.15) LB Devin Lloyd (Utah)
(1.16) CB Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU)
(1.19) EDGE Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State)
(2.51) RB Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State)
(3.83) iOL Dylan Parham (Memphis)
The Eagles need defensive help in general, but this need is exacerbated by the amount of defensive starters hitting free agency – including EDGE Derek Barnett, LB Alex Singleton, CB Steven Nelson, and two starting safeties. Because of that, Philly may earmark all three of its first-round picks to the defense. The board has fallen well, with no linebackers taken yet, giving the Birds their choice. It’s true that the Birds don’t generally prioritize this position high in the draft, but if ever there was a year and scenario to change tact, this would be it, with need, value, and equity all aligning. Philly selects Utah’s rugged, sleek Lloyd. The market is starting to see Stingley more like I do, and this slot is now not as scandalous as it was even two weeks ago. Stingley was great as a true freshman, terrible as a sophomore, and injured as a junior. He’s a high-variance roll of the dice. Johnson is the opposite sort of pick. Relentless, clever and stout, Johnson will start immediately, and he will start for a long, long time.
(1.17) OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State)
(2.48) iDL Phidarian Mathis (Alabama)
(3.79) CB Tariq Woolen (UTSA)
Cross is another guy whose stock was higher a few weeks ago that has seen a dip in the lead-up to the NFL Combine. After Andre Dillard’s struggles, the tape of all future Mike Leach linemen will be scrutinized closer. Leach’s quarterbacks release the ball as quickly as anyone in the nation, giving the ample amount of collegiate pass-pro sets a cotton candy feel. But Cross could flip the script with a huge NFL Combine this week. Speaking of NFL Combine, Tariq Woolen could really help himself with a big week. He’s such an intriguing physical package, but he got torched long a few times in Mobile. Yet his confirmed testing numbers in the past suggest that athleticism and long-speed are not the problems. A former Feldman Freak Lister, Woolen is confirmed to have broad jumped 11-5 and run a laser-timed 4.34 forty while topping out at 23.33 MPH on the GPS.
New Orleans Saints
(1.18) CB Trent McDuffie (Washington)
(2.49) QB Sam Howell (North Carolina)
(3.100*) OT Abraham Lucas (Washington State)
McDuffie is a prospect that’s respected around the league, but he hasn’t been discussed as much by the draft community yet. Expect that to change after this week. He was McDuffie Island in the Pac-12 last season – he turned half the field into the Bermuda Triangle. It’s difficult to put my thumb on Howell’s stock right now after a down 2021 season and a mediocre Senior Bowl showing. Coming into the season, he was a QB1 candidate, and he’s the only true junior among the top quarterbacks in this class. But Howell entered the process with a legitimate stink on him, and he didn’t spray any Febreze on himself in Mobile. The NFL Combine usually isn’t as important for quarterbacks, but Howell could use anything he can get to turn around the narrative at this point. If you believe my gauge of things here, you could argue he’s slipped around 40 slots in one calendar year from where he would have been projected. You could also argue he’d be juice worth the squeeze at this slot for a team that needs a quarterback as a post-hype developmental dice-roll.
(1.20) iOL Kenyon Green (Texas A&M)
(2.52) QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)
(3.84) CB Derion Kendrick (Georgia)
I reported from the Senior Bowl that Pittsburgh was highly interested in Malik Willis, and the cat is out of the bag on that account at this point. But unless the Steelers pony up to move up the board, that isn’t going to happen. The Steelers also have a big need along the offensive line, both at guard and tackle. Green’s selection would plug the hole at guard. Then in the second round, Pittsburgh picks up the pieces at quarterback with Ridder, who some consider the most pro-ready signal-caller in the class. I’m not sure I’d say that, but, and I realize I’m damning by faint praise, he’s probably better than Mason Rudolph. Kendrick is a guy to monitor at the Combine because he could drop if he has terrible workouts – he just needs to get by and he’s going to go in the third or fourth.
New England Patriots
(1.21) EDGE Travon Walker (Georgia)
(2.54) LB Christian Harris (Alabama)
(3.85) WR Alec Pierce (Cincinnati)
Walker’s stock is soaring right now. If he makes it here he’d be a great fit in New England’s defensive front, and likely considered one of the true steals of Round 1. Alec Pierce’s game has an Eric Decker-feel that I think would appeal to New England. Pierce’s 17.1 aDOT was one of the highest in this WR class, but he’s mediocre in contested situations. But he’s a fierce athlete who wins his separation deep, as Desmond Ridder would know -- the 6-foot-3 speedster is a former Feldman Freak-Lister with an 11-foot broad jump, 40-inch vertical, 4.45 forty, and 4.14 shuttle in his testing past.
Las Vegas Raiders
(1.22) DL Jordan Davis (Georgia)
(2.53) WR John Metchie III (Alabama)
(3.86) CB Josh Jobe (Alabama)
Ironically, this class, ripe with Bulldogs and Crimson Tide, would stylistically look at the top like a Mike Mayock draft – he loved to use his blue chip assets on prospects from blueblood schools. But really, it would be attempting to plug holes Mayock left. With Jobe, you’re hoping to make up for the Damon Arnette mistake. With the Metchie pick, you’re hoping to find the long-term starting solution at receiver that you thought you had with Henry Ruggs. And with Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas headed for free agency, Davis makes a ton of sense as a Round 1 target as a jumbo-sized solution to Las Vegas’ hole in the pivot of their 3-4 defense.
(1.23) CB Kyler Gordon (Washington)
(2.55) RB Isaiah Spiller (Texas A&M)
(3.87) EDGE Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati)
The Cardinals have a major, major problem at outside corner that requires addressing with a major asset, be it in free agency or with a premium pick. Arizona’s outside corners ranked No. 28 in PFF coverage grade last season. Gordon has been rising early in the draft process and would start immediately. I really like Spiller’s fit in Arizona. The Cardinals already have their niche receiving backs, what they could use is an all-purpose back, and that’s Spiller’s forte. Sanders, meanwhile, would address the edge-rushing need on the roster.
(1.24) DL Devonte Wyatt (Georgia)
(2.56) S Jaquan Brisker (Penn State)
(3.88) iOL Ed Ingram (LSU)
Free agency is going to dictate how Dallas goes about their initial picks, but, right now, I would assume that the defensive front-seven and the offensive line would be the two initial priorities. Devonte Wyatt’s availability, therefore, would be a coup. And with OG Connor Williams hitting free agency, Day 2 could be prime shopping grounds for a replacement guard. In this case, LSU’s Ed Ingram provides a plug-and-play immediate starter.
(1.25) WR Drake London (USC)
(2.57) EDGE Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma)
(3.89) iDL Jayden Peevy (Texas A&M)
Josh Allen has the biggest arm in the NFL. The 6-foot-5 London has the best ball skills in the draft. London would be a great fit next to Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis. If you leave London 1-on-1 deep, he’s coming down with the ball. If you’ve like what you’ve seen of Allen-to-Davis downfield, just wait until you see Allen with an elite downfield rebounder like Drake London. I don’t think London will be a top-32 guy on all 32 boards around the NFL. But he’d be top-20 on Buffalo’s if I were in charge. Bonitto would function as a relentless designated pass-rusher in Leslie Frazier’s defense -- each of the past two years he led the class in PFF pressure rate. And I think Frazier will appreciate Peevy’s style of football. About a month ago, I called one of my favorite film evaluators in the industry. A guy who does the work. I asked him: “Who’s a guy nobody is talking about right now but they should be?” He goes: “Peevy from A&M – the guy is a mother******.” Trust me when I tell you, no higher compliment is given in these parts. Peevy is a stupid athlete. He’s a former five-star who can do standing back flips.
(1.26) LB Nakobe Dean (Georgia)
(3.90) TE Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State)
Listen – I will have Dean ranked higher than this on my board. But off-ball linebackers fall. And they fall for a pragmatic reason. The NFL’s base defenses are 4-3 and 3-4, right? But, at least using 2020 data, 31 of 32 teams’ most-used defensive formation was a nickel or big dime that include two or less linebackers on the field. I am of the supreme belief that every NFL team needs one stud off-ball linebacker. After that, you can mix and match based on skillset – you can employ guys with holes in their game and play platoons, to use baseball parlance. In one manner of looking at it, this has devalued the position. In the other manner of looking at it, this has been an evolution of the position that is leading us closer to position-less football, much like the current evolution of basketball. Back to Dean – this is a major reason why you could get a sticker-price discount on a player with the ability to become a top-32 linebacker in the NFL. The other reason is that he’s an incredible pass-rusher who wasn’t given the ability do it much at Georgia. As for Ruckert, his stock soared at the Senior Bowl, and Tennessee is not only in the market for a tight end, but they have the natural Ohio State connection from the top of their coaching staff.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(1.27) OT Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa)
(2.60) TE Trey McBride (Colorado State)
(3.91) iDL Neil Farrell Jr. (LSU)
In my mock drafts I tend to follow my convictions as much as any tea-leaf reading. And so while Penning is going much higher around the industry, he sees a drop here due to my questions about his game. He was a dominant run-game mauler in the FCS who wasn’t as dominant in pass-pro while racking up an incredible 16 penalties last season. McBride is the first tight end off the board and helps the Bucs in a post Rob Gronkowski-world. And with DT Ndamukong Suh also hitting free agency, Farrell makes sense as a space-clogging interior presence.
Green Bay Packers
(1.28) WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)
(2.59) EDGE Cameron Thomas (San Diego State)
(3.92) OT Max Mitchell (UL-Lafayette)
Really hard to say what direction Green Bay is taking, organizationally, at the moment. Is Aaron Rodgers coming back? Will he be given a LeBron James-like say in personnel decisions this offseason? Or will he be traded? If so, what assets would Green Bay recoup in return, and how would the Packers reconstituted roster look? For now, in this mock, I’m working under the assumption that Rodgers stays. So the Packers appease him by taking the best receiver available in their slot. Wilson would be a grand slam pick – with the depth of first-round receivers, a good one should be available at No. 28 no matter what shakes out above Green Bay. The Packers also shouldn’t have a problem addressing needs at EDGE and offensive tackle on Day 2 due to the depth at those positions.
(1.29) iOL Zion Johnson (Boston College)
(2.50) DB Daxton Hill (Michigan)
(3.101*) LB Brandon Smith (Penn State)
Miami has $61.2 million in cap space and could clear almost $20 million more by cutting WRs DeVante Parker and Allen Hurns, S Eric Rowe and K Jason Sanders. So by the time we get the NFL Draft, they could have totally new needs, we’d hope less of them, and more specific ones. Miami has a war chest of draft picks over the next two years, including an extra first-rounder next year to play with. By far the biggest offseason priority must be fixing an offensive line that PFF graded as the worst in the league overall. Miami allowed 40 sacks last season, and was pegged No. 30 in rushing yards afforded. Zion Johnson is the best available immediate upgrade, and he can be plugged into the lineup immediately. Following the same line of thought but at different positions, we present Dax Hill. Hill is position versatile – he can play safety, he can play corner, he can be a nickel defender… he’s just a good player. Smith is a freak athlete who has an issue of over-running plays and missing tackles – but if he figures it out, watch out. He’s big-time riser candidate this week at the NFL Combine who very well may not be available at 3.101 come late-April if he tests like a banshee.
Kansas City Chiefs
(1.30) CB Kaiir Elam (Florida)
(2.62) WR Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky)
(3.94) EDGE Josh Paschal (Kentucky)
(3.103*) S Nick Cross (Maryland)
When the Chiefs lost to Tom Brady’s Bucs in the 2020 Super Bowl, it was painfully obvious what area of the team KC needed to spend the offseason addressing: offensive line. They fixed it. After watching the Chiefs’ secondary get trashed by Joe Burrow in Cincinnati’s wild second-half comeback in the AFC championship game – following KC’s No. 27 rank in passing yards allowed during the regular season – it’s equally obvious what area of the team needs addressing this offseason. Elam is the prototype long NFL corner you sic on the Mike Williams’ and Courtland Sutton’s of the world. I’m honestly not sure why he’s been so underrated coming into the process. He’s long, he’s fluid, he’s skilled, and he’s perfectly built for the next-level. For their next two picks, KC goes with the Kentucky shuffle. I really love the fit of Wan’Dale Robinson here. Kansas City has so many athletic field-stretching receivers for Pat Mahomes, along with seam-stretching extraordinaire TE Travis Kelce. What they could really use is an uber-reliable intermediate guy. The Air Raid tree is full stud chain-moving receivers, and Mahomes could use one in Kansas City. Robinson is the guy. He’s a target vacuum with reliable hands who can catch the ball in traffic and make guys miss.
(1.31) OT Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan)
(2.63) CB Coby Bryant (Cincinnati)
(3.95) OT Thayer Munford (Ohio State)
If the whole world didn’t agree that Cincinnati badly needed offensive line help before the Super Bowl, it certainly does now. Raimann, a former tight end with nifty feet, is an ascending prospect with plenty of ceiling left to develop. One offensive lineman won’t be enough to cure Cincy’s issue if they haven’t devoted serious free agency money to the problem, so I gave them the local product Munford in Round 3. And speaking of local, how about keeping Coby Bryant home in Round 2? Bryant is a reliable corner with good size who helps out in run support and doesn’t miss tackles.
(2.39) WR David Bell (Purdue)
(3.71) OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (Ohio State)
The Bears don’t have a first-round pick because of the Justin Fields trade last year. The priority must be to help Fields as best they can. Bell would be a great step in that direction. Allen Robinson is a free agent. My comp for Bell? Allen Robinson. Bell’s game is going to transition fine to the NFL as long as defenses can’t gang up on him. They won’t be able to with Mooney’s speed on the other side of the field. Bell’s going to be nit-picked because he doesn’t have superstar athleticism, but he does have the makings for a very good possession receiver. The Bears could also use further reinforcements along the offensive line to keep Fields clean – something they didn’t do a good job of last season – and Petit-Frere, his former teammate at Ohio State, will help with that.
I’m heartbroken that Seattle doesn’t have a first-round pick to make fun of this year. But if the Seahawks made these two picks, I wouldn’t be making fun of anything. It’s likely that I have both of these guys slotted too low -- but I’m going to make the NFL Combine and pro day workouts render a final verdict. Leal has the length, explosion and rock ‘em, sock ‘em hands to play inside or outside, but there are concerns he lacks the beef to hold up against the run inside and the bend to hang outside. Smith is sort of like your younger brother’s Trevor Penning -- he’s a nuclear reactor of power coming forward in the run game, but he’s very raw in pass-pro and was a penalty machine in 2021. Because of his propensity to pop-up at the snap, I’m not as concerned by how he moves north-south this week as noting his flexibility in agility drills.
(2.47) EDGE Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina)
(3.82) QB Carson Strong (Nevada)
The ill-fated Carson Wentz trade has deprived Indianapolis of its first-round pick. The Colts finished No. 25 with 33 sacks in 2021 and must find an edge-rushing presence to add to DL DeForest Buckner and EDGE Kwity Paye. Kingsley Enagbare is a stylistic fit and a good value at this slot – long and strong, he presents a puzzle for offensive tackles. And then in the third round, how about we add some competitive heat for Wentz with some poetic symmetry in the form of another Carson, this one Nevada’s Strong? We know Indy likes big, strapping, howitzer-armed pocket passers – the fit is there.
San Francisco 49ers
(2.61) OL Darian Kinnard (Kentucky)
(3.93) CB MyKael Wright (Oregon)
(3.102*) WR Skyy Moore (Western Michigan)
San Francisco will sit out the first round due to the Trey Lance trade, though you won’t hear them lamenting that after last year’s run to the NFC title game, this year’s weak quarterback class, reports of Lance’s development, and the quarterbacks projected to be available where they would have picked (Trey Lance >>> Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder). As is, the organization has more than a few things going for them. A strong foundation firstly, a tradeable asset in Jimmy Garoppolo in a league thirsty for starting quarterbacks secondly, and four picks on Day 2 thirdly. With CB Jason Verrett, CB Josh Norman, and CB K’Waun Williams, and SS Jaquiski Tartt all unrestricted free agents, secondary help is a need – though some of that will be sorted out via free agency by the time we reach late April. It would seem that LG Laken Tomlinson may become a cap casualty, which would pave the way for a Kinnard-like pick – and he would be a nice plug-and-play replacement pick. Moore is a small-school stud with awesome tape who just needs great tests to complete the picture for the NFL. He was an outside receiver at WMU in a slot body who played against a lot of non-NFL corners. Evaluators need this week to clear up his eval a bit. But they already know he has some of the best releases off the line in the entire class. Kyle Shanahan will appreciate that.
Los Angeles Rams
(3.104*) RB Kyren Williams (Notre Dame)
The Rams join the party for one pick, a comp selection acquired for the Brad Holmes hire. With notable impending free agents like EDGE Von Miller, CB Darious Williams, RB Sony Michel, WR Odell Beckham Jr., C Brian Allen, and OG Austin Corbett, this pick would likely be earmarked to address the position of most need post-free agency. This is where it gets complicated. The team is $13 million over the cap. One way it could get under is by cutting WR Robert Woods, coming off a season-ending injury and carrying a $15 million-plus cap hit, but then you’re looking for another starter. With such a crap-shoot roster scenario, I’m just going to give them the best player left on the board. And a pretty good fit to boot. Don’t sleep on Kyren Williams because of his measurables. He’s a swiss-army knife of a weapon who is a huge value added in the passing game. And as long as enough of the band returns, that’s a scary proposition indeed. He’d be an awesome complement to a three-headed monster of a platoon with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson – a guy who will play up with a smart coach, and they don’t come any more clever than Sean McVay.