The NFL season is now over, and draft season has become. With the Super Bowl in the books we know the compete draft order, and the Senior Bowl has given us a look at some of the top college prospects. So let’s not waste any more time and dive right in.
No. 1: Jacksonville Jaguars — Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
I’m sticking with this from my last mock draft. Cam Robinson is likely heading to free agency, but even if he re-signs the Jaguars HAVE to get Trevor Lawrence some more protection. Yes, in the long run one of the pass rushers could have been a better pick here — but nothing matters more in the modern NFL than have a QB and protecting them. Until that happens, everything else is moot. Neal has absolutely unreal size at 6’7, 340 pounds, and moves like a player 80 pounds lighter. There’s also room to grow and develop, meaning he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet.
No. 2: Detroit Lions — Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
This is an incredibly safe pick for a team that’s slowly building into something impressive. Hutchinson is a great local pick that fans will love, but it also happens to be that he’s the best defensive end in the draft. A plug-and-play difference maker from day one, this feels like the perfect selection for the Lions.
No. 3: Houston Texans — Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
There are so many different ways I can see the Texans going with this pick, but among the things they’re lacking is defensive leadership — especially in the secondary. This is a very high pick for a safety, but Hamilton is a legitimate star, and right now I’m not really seeing a scenario where the Texans could trade back and still land him. So I think they stay put, make the pick, and get a hell of a player.
No. 4: New York Jets — Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
This is really a coin toss between Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr. I could see this pick going either way, but Gardner’s size is beyond rare. At 6’3”, he has abnormal physical traits that will allow him to play outside, and counter the modern NFL trend of putting big, possession receivers in the slot. Gardner also has the weight (200 pounds) to mix it up with athletic tight ends and not get overwhelmed.
No. 5: New York Giants — Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
The Giants have promising pass rushers already, but the value here is too good to pass up. It wasn’t long ago that Thibodeaux was viewed as the No. 1 overall pick, but the teams at the very top of this draft will err for reliability over potential. This pick will really diversify the Giants’ 3-4 pass rush and give them plenty of weapons to throw at opposing quarterbacks.
No. 6: Carolina Panthers — Ikem Ekwonu, OT, N.C. State
Ekwonu is a prospect who has been rocketing up boards because of his athletic ability, but there are some concerns whether he can be a left tackle at the next level. The Panthers offensive line is so atrocious that they literally won’t care what position he ends up at along the line. If he needs to be kicked to right tackle, that’s an upgrade. Moved inside to guard, the Panthers need that too. Carolina won’t have the same reservations, and be happy with this pick.
No. 7: New York Giants (from Chicago) — Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With the apparent commitment to Daniel Jones it’s time to upgrade the offensive line. Cross is a solid, reliable Day 1 starter at either tackle position. With starting left tackle Andrew Thomas making a huge jump this season it’s now important to solidify the rest of the line. While Cross projects more as a left tackle, he has the size and athleticism to be solid at either edge. That versatility will be valued.
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons — Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU
Any disappointment in Thibodeaux dropping wash away with the realization the Falcons are getting arguably the best cornerback in the draft. Stingley is the complete package and has every chance to become an elite outside corner at the next level with a little coaching to round out his drive and aggression.
No. 9: Denver Broncos — Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
I’m working under the assumption that the idea of Denver landing Aaron Rodgers is a pipe dream. New head coach Nathanial Hackett has a QB coaching background and it’s become abundantly clear that Drew Lock ain’t it. Pickett has an above-average arm, above-average athleticism, and comes off a little cocky. I’m not saying he’s Aaron Rodgers, but there are some similar traits here. I think Pickett can become an above-average starter with potential of going much further with a coaching staff that can develop his awareness for pressure.
No. 10: New York Jets (from Seattle) — Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Time will tell whether the Jets made a mistake by selecting Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick, but until that determination is finalized, they have to get him more help. Wilson is the top receiver in this class with the ability to make big plays with his legs to pick up YAC, or gain huge separation on deep routes thanks to his skill.
No. 11: Washington Commanders — Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Commanders are a decent team that has been let down by poor QB play for the entirety of Ron Rivera’s run with the team. We’re now entering a pivotal year, and I think it’s time for the team to make a run at a QB. Rivera will love Willis’ coachability, and his athleticism — even if he’s a work in progress as a pure passer. Keep in mind that the greatest success of Rivera’s coaching career came with Cam Newton and the Panthers, so he’s not afraid to make a splash at QB.
No. 12: Minnesota Vikings — Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
This is an extremely safe pick that fills a major need for the Vikings. Upgrading their secondary is of paramount concern to keep up. McDuffie is slightly smaller than the ideal, but he plays bigger than his height with amazing instincts and athleticism. He can match up perfectly with shifty receivers, and he’s a great open field tackler to limit YAC.
No. 13: Cleveland Browns — Drake London, WR, USC
London is the perfect receiver for the Browns. His 6’5 frame gives him a mammoth catch radius, and his 210 pound weight, coupled with a mean streak, means he can be an incredible blocker in the run game. London may not fit the modern NFL preference for smaller, agile receivers — but look at Mike Evans to know how successful a player like this can be.
No. 14: Baltimore Ravens — Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
With three top offensive tackles already taken, I could see the Ravens going for an interior lineman like Tyler Linderbaum, but instead I think they look for a potentially elite defensive tackle. Davis is a huge space-eater in the middle with above-average athleticism for a man of his size. The Ravens will be able to unlock his potential and turn him into a monster.
No. 15: Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami) — George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
The Eagles will be thrilled the draft fell this day. Karlaftis is a Top 10 talent who made it to the middle of the round due to team need, and better suiting a 4-3 scheme. An immediate day one starter, the Eagles get some much-needed help in their pass rush as they look to move forward and challenge in the NFC East.
No. 16: Philadelphia Eagles (from Indianapolis) — Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Going back-to-back on defense and landing two top prospects is too good to pass up. While Philadelphia definitely need secondary help, the value at this position just isn’t there. Instead I have them selecting the best player available who still fills a need. Lloyd is an athletic freak at linebacker who can evolve into one of the best at the position in a couple of years.
No. 17: Los Angeles Chargers — Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Supporting Justin Herbert is critical to continue to build the Chargers offense. As Keenan Allen approaches 30 this team needs to start thinking about a succession plan to pair with Mike Williams. Jameson Williams is a tremendous deep threat, and the already established receiver duo in Los Angeles will give him time to rehabilitate the torn ACL he suffered in the National Championship. There’s a definite leap of faith here, but assuming the Chargers think he can recover they’ll get a hell of a player on the other end.
No. 18: New Orleans Saints — Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
With the top receivers off the board I think the Saints look toward the future. In the middle of cap hell and a tremendous rebuild ahead of them, I think the team could see the value at getting Howell here being too good. It wasn’t long ago that the North Carolina QB was seen as the best passer in this draft class, and there is no way he makes it to their pick in the second round. This could be seen as a shocker, but this a team in dire need of a leader at QB.
No. 19: Philadelphia Eagles — Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
The real need for the Eagles in the secondary is at safety, but Elam’s is a strong, big-bodied corner who can fill a hybrid roles if needed. Elam faced strong competition in the SEC week in, week out — more than often winning his matchups.
No. 20: Pittsburgh Steelers — Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The Steelers have a type when it comes to the NFL Draft, and Penning is the exact kind of player they value. He’s big, strong, and has a mean streak that shined through during Senior Bowl practice. There is a chance this team gambles on a QB here, but I tend to think Pittsburgh will make a more considered choice and wait for the right passer to arrive, rather than knee jerk.
No. 21: New England Patriots — Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
This is another big-time schematic, and philosophical fit. Last year the Patriots showed they aren’t afraid to take NFL readiness over future ceiling with Mac Jones, and the same really applied to Olave. A polished, NFL-ready WR, he will represent a sure-handed target for Jones for years to come.
No. 22: Las Vegas Raiders — Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
I was really tempted to mock a DT here like DeMarvin Leal, but with Josh McDaniels now at the helm I think he’ll look to get Derek Carr some help. Being a smaller receiver will cause him to fall despite huge production in 2021, but I think McDaniels and Co. are willing to think outside the box to get someone who they think can help move the chains and get the offense ticking.
No. 23: Arizona Cardinals — Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
There are so many different directions the Cardinals could go here that it’s tough to isolate just one. However, Dean at No. 23 is just too good to pass up. Arguably the most athletic linebacker in the class, he has a natural knack for rushing the passer and will help add to a unit that needs to generate more pressure. Chandler Jones isn’t getting any younger, J.J. Watt was a stop-gap solution, Dean can be the future.
No. 24: Dallas Cowboys — Demarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
Leal was poised to be one of the top picks in this draft, but didn’t develop the way scouts had hoped in 2021. Still, there’s a ton of value here and I think the Cowboys will see the value in someone with Leal’s natural skillset. A lighter, pass rushing DT in the NFL, there are shades of Aaron Donald to his game, which Dallas will hope to tap into.
No. 25: Buffalo Bills — Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M
Back-to-back Aggies see the Bills getting some interior line help. Green played every position on the offensive line this past season out of necessity, but his true position in the NFL is inside. A powerful blocker, Green can develop into a top-tier guard and help tremendously in the run game — assuming the Bills can find a way to stop relying so much on Josh Allen’s legs.
No. 26: Tennessee Titans — Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
The Titans offensive line is getting old, fast. Drafting in the late 20s means looking to the future, and keeping a strong line should be of paramount concern. A former blocking tight end, Raimann has above-average athleticism and an ability to get downfield. Considering he won’t be relied on immediately he can grow into an above-average starter.
No. 27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Another case where it’s tempting to mock a QB out of desperation, I think the Buccaneers make the smart play over the obvious. Booth is great value at No. 27, and fills a major need for Tampa Bay. This is a team still planning for a future after Tom Brady’s retirement, but solidifying their secondary is more important than rolling the dice on a potential QB here.
No. 28: Green Bay Packers — David Ojabo, DE, Michigan
Another year, another Packers pick in the late 20s where they don’t take a WR. There’s every possibility someone like Treylon Burks could go with this pick, but I really like Ojabo for Green Bay. He’s still a relatively green pass rusher, and the fear is that Aidan Huchinson created pass rushing lanes, but there’s enough promise and potential that this could be a steal of the draft.
No. 29: Miami Dolphins (from San Francisco) — Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
New head coach Mike McDaniel needs to evaluate Tua Tagovailoa before getting a sense of what this offense even is. The Dolphins need a running back, but this is not the draft to look at the position in the first round. Instead they opt to get one of the most imposing tackle prospects, maybe ever. At 6’9, 380 pounds he’s still remarkably new to playing football since arriving from Australia in 2016, but he could develop into something the league has never seen at offensive tackle. McDaniel’s creativity could get him there.
No. 30: Kansas City Chiefs — Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Chiefs know where their bread is buttered. This team needs to keep feeding Patrick Mahomes with weapons and build their defense later in the draft. Burks is a huge target who can line up in the slot, or the outside — and fill a similar role to Travis Kelce, even creating new looks that are extremely difficult to defend.
No. 31: Cincinnati Bengals — Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
This should be no surprise. The Bengals are terrible in pass coverage and will need to blanket this draft with defensive backs in order to take a step forward. McCreary is solid value at this point, and would likely be taken with one of the first picks of the second round.
No. 32: Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) — Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Initially I had the Lions cashing in their pick from the Matthew Stafford trade here, but I think they will hold off until the second round. This board leaves Matt Corral, Carson Strong, and Desmond Ritter — all of whom could be taken here, but instead I think the Lions opt to get the next best pass rusher available. Yes, I know they took Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 pick, but Jackson is solid value here and will help re-make the defense in short order.