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I’ve spoken to several football analysts with documented histories of mock draft accuracy over the past few days, and almost all have echoed the same sentiment:
This is the most wide-open first round they can remember.
Here’s my first crack at predicting it:
1. Jaguars – Georgia DE Travon Walker
Momentum has built for Walker to Jacksonville of late, based largely on the notion GM Trent Baalke prioritizes athletic traits above all else. At 6-foot-5, 272, Walker banked 92nd-percentile-or-better results in the 40-yard dash (4.51), three-cone drill (6.89), and broad jump (10’3”) in Indianapolis. Walker managed 9.5 career sacks and 13 tackles for loss across three seasons in Athens, however, and would be one of the most projection-driven No. 1 overall draft picks in the history of the league.
2. Lions – Michigan DL Aidan Hutchinson
Dan Campbell’s club should be happy with either Walker or Hutchinson falling into its lap at a glaring position of need. Last year’s Lions finished bottom three in sacks (30) and bottom two in QB hits (63). Hutchinson has drawn comparisons to stud pass rushers of the past, Jared Allen and Chris Long.
3. Texans – Oregon DL Kayvon Thibodeaux
Recent narratives surrounding Thibodeaux’s stock are shrouded in negativity, but Lovie Smith is the exact type of leader capable of coaching him up. Still among this draft’s most gifted players, Thibodeaux piled up 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in 32 college games. Pass rush is a colossal need in Houston.
4. Jets – Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson
GM Joe Douglas must continue to emphasize building Zach Wilson’s supporting cast. Often compared to Stefon Diggs, Wilson would bookend Corey Davis with Elijah Moore taking over in the slot.
5. Giants – Alabama OL Evan Neal
A full-season starter at left guard, right tackle, and left tackle during his three years in Tuscaloosa, Neal’s flexibility would give the G-Men options as Brian Daboll designs his new offense. At 6-foot-8, 337 with 34-inch arms and 40 starts in the SEC, Neal profiles as a safe bet to address New York’s forever OL need.
6. Panthers – NC State LT Ickey Ekwonu
Bereft of second- and third-round picks, Carolina’s desire to trade down is among the league’s worst-kept secrets two weeks before the draft. But I’m not projecting trades in this mock and lack confidence in the Panthers’ willingness to take Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis this high. Their offensive line is a mess.
7. Giants – Cincinnati CB Sauce Gardner
As a product of Rex Ryan’s defensive school, new Giants DC Wink Martindale prefers his corners big, long, and capable of winning in man coverage. Popularly compared to ex-Rex pupil Antonio Cromartie, Sauce stands 6-foot-3, 190 with 4.41 speed and 33 ½-inch arms and never allowed a TD pass in college.
8. Falcons – Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson
Johnson transferred from Georgia to FSU for his final college season and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors via 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. 2021’s Falcons ranked dead last in sacks (18) by an 11-sack margin, and no NFL defense registered fewer quarterback hits (58).
9. Seahawks – Utah LB Devin Lloyd
Beloved by NFL scouts for his playmaking ability and character, Lloyd crushed the pre-draft interview process after netting 43 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, and three pick-sixes in four years at Utah. Lloyd is my pick to be this year’s college prospect drafted far earlier than expected. I can envision old-school coach Pete Carroll falling for Lloyd as Bobby Wagner’s replacement.
10. Jets – Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton
Even after a disappointing finish to the 2021 season and forty time allegedly run in the low 4.7s at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, Hamilton has remained a top-five player in NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s rankings. Jeremiah and Jets GM Joe Douglas are known to be tight — they came up together as Ravens scouts — and Gang Green is needy at safety after losing Marcus Maye to the Saints.
11. Commanders – Alabama WR Jameson Williams
This draft’s most dynamic receiver, Williams scored 15 TDs on 79 receptions and hit paydirt twice as a kickoff returner in his final college season, only to tear his ACL in Alabama’s national championship loss. Yet all signs point to Williams making a smooth recovery. Drafting Williams to bookend Terry McLaurin would increase Washington’s (long) odds of making good on its questionable Carson Wentz investment.
12. Vikings – LSU CB Derek Stingley
Arguably the best cover corner in the country as a 2019 freshman, Stingley appeared in only 10 games over the past two seasons due to an illness and various injuries. The Vikings should feel more confident than most teams in adding Stingley because they can pair him with LSU ambassador Patrick Peterson.
13. Texans – Georgia DT Jordan Davis
Lovie Smith’s old Bears defenses featured frontline dominance via the likes of Tommie Harris, Alex Brown, Israel Idonije, Adewale Ogunleye, Tank Johnson, and Mark Anderson. Those teams prioritized generating pressure with four and resisted blitzing. In this scenario, the Texans add two high-ceiling defensive down linemen in Kayvon Thibodeaux and athletic freak, Davis.
14. Ravens – Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning
LT Ronnie Stanley has appeared in seven games over the past two years due to ankle and knee injuries. RG Kevin Zeitler is 32. Left guard and center are up for grabs. Penning looks and plays like a Raven.
15. Eagles – USC WR Drake London
At 6-foot-4, 219 with a dominant contested-catch résumé, London would stylistically complement slender route technician DeVonta Smith. The Eagles seem hellbent on giving up on Jalen Reagor.
16. Saints – Mississippi State OT Charles Cross
Offensive tackles with Air Raid backgrounds give NFL teams cause for pause, but Cross can protect the passer, and the Saints are hurting on Jameis Winston’s blindside after losing Terron Armstead to Miami.
17. Chargers – Ohio State WR Chris Olave
The Bolts need a true vertical receiver to capitalize on Justin Herbert’s downfield arm; Herbert ranked an inexcusable 18th in average depth of target (7.6 yards) among 33 qualified QBs last year. Olave’s game has limitations — he’s a long-speed (4.39) finesse receiver ticketed almost strictly for the perimeter — but Olave would perfectly complement big-bodied Mike Williams and aging slot man Keenan Allen.
18. Eagles – Washington CB Trent McDuffie
Smallish but explosive, aggressive, and fearless, McDuffie shined as both a perimeter and slot defender at Washington. The Eagles are wafer-thin at cornerback behind 31-year-old Darius Slay.
19. Saints – Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett
Pickett’s draft-slot projection is all over the place as a Kirk Cousins clone perceived to possess a limited ceiling. Yet in this scenario, the Saints would have to feel compelled to pull the trigger on arguably 2022’s top quarterback prospect. Pickett’s physical limitations could be mitigated in the Superdome.
20. Steelers – Liberty QB Malik Willis
The Steelers’ interest in Willis has been telegraphed for months. Overseeing his final draft as Steelers GM, my expectation is outgoing front-office shot caller Kevin Colbert will leave this organization in better quarterback shape than Mitchell Trubisky firmly topping the depth chart.
21. Patriots – Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis
Karlaftis is a power rusher with Belichickian traits.
22. Packers – Arkansas WR Treylon Burks
Can inherit some of Davante Adams’ old screen-game and back-shoulder targets.
23. Cardinals – Minnesota EDGE Boye Mafe
Combine freak ran 4.53 with 38-inch vertical at 6’4″/261.
24. Cowboys – Boston College OL Zion Johnson
With LG Connor Williams (Dolphins) and RT La’El Collins (Bengals) gone, and LT Tyron Smith and RG Zack Martin on their career back nines, Johnson would profile as an immediate starter at left guard and help stabilize the long-term outlook for a declining position group.
25. Bills – Clemson CB Andrew Booth
I’m ignoring buzz Buffalo goes running back in Round 1; analytically-sound GM Brandon Beane knows better. No. 1 CB Tre’Davious White is coming off a late-season ACL tear, while No. 2 Levi Wallace left in free agency. Plus sized (6’0″/194) with takeaway skills and extensive press-coverage experience, Booth likely would be drafted earlier if not for core muscle surgery that could cost him part of training camp.
26. Titans – Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
Tennessee can save nearly $18 million by cutting Ryan Tannehill after 2022. Corral is a dynamic athlete and accurate passer with a lightning-quick release. He warrants comparisons to Tony Romo.
27. Bucs – Tulsa OL Tyler Smith
Tampa lost first-team OGs Ali Marpet (retirement) and Alex Cappa (Bengals) this offseason. Smith profiles as a day-one starter on the interior who can take over at right tackle once RT Tristan Wirfs inevitably supplants Donovan Smith on the blindside.
28. Packers – Georgia LB Nakobe Dean
Undersized (5’11/229) playmaker was a ubiquitous presence in the SEC.
29. Chiefs – Penn State WR Jahan Dotson
The Athletic’s Robert Mays and Nate Tice compared Dotson to Tyler Lockett, a perennial Establish The Run favorite. ETR is also biased toward college receiver prospects with outstanding special teams track records; Dotson averaged 13.5 yards per punt return with a touchdown on 25 attempts at Penn State.
30. Chiefs – Washington CB Kyler Gordon
Budda Baker. Marcus Peters. Byron Murphy. Desmond Trufant. Sidney Jones. Taylor Rapp. Elijah Molden. The University of Washington has become the West Coast’s version of “Cornerback U”.
31. Bengals – Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt
Space eater would help replace Larry Ogunjobi inside.
32. Lions – Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
Ridder’s inconsistent ball placement renders him a fringe first-round talent. But he deserves top-32 attention after winning 44 games, rushing for 28 touchdowns, and netting a career 145.8 passer rating in four seasons at Cincinnati. By all accounts, Ridder crushed the pre-draft interview phase.