It’s that time again.
Many of our dreams have been thoroughly crushed courtesy of our favorite team, and we seek to fill the desperate, football-shaped void by investing ourselves in the NFL Draft and conjuring fanatical pipe dreams, like this:
Hear me out! *Insert team here* disappointed in 2018. However, I’m fully confident that they’ll draft anywhere between 3-5 instant starters, like *insert hyped player they heard about through Twitter*, and we’ll be right back on top!— Some hapless fan clinging to the shredded fibers of hope
I don’t want to poo-poo on hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams are good. But we should also approach the NFL Draft with an analytical, realistic eye if possible. It’s impossible to insert ourselves into the war room, but we can follow clues and trends to maybe point us in the right direction. Maybe.
That’s what makes mock drafts fun, and I’ve decided to reinvest in my old scouting passion this year to give some insight (and possibly some hope) to the people! I’ve even included trades, because who doesn’t love wild conjecture?
- Arizona Cardinals: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: The Cardinals could trade down due to the plethora of other needs they have, but it’s hard to pass on this year’s top-tier talent. Nick Bosa would be an excellent choice here, too, but Williams has the look of a game-wrecking interior presence who could rank in the upper echelon with names like Fletcher Cox, Geno Atkins and, dare I say, Aaron Donald?
- San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State: The 49ers spent first-round picks on Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas in recent years. Armstead has emerged as a good run-stopper, but Thomas is still struggling to find his place. DeForest Buckner emerged as one of the best overall defensive tackles last year, and pairing him with Bosa’s well-rounded skill set could finally give San Fran the pass rush that it needs.
- (TRADE) Jacksonville Jaguars: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: To me, this is a trade to remain confident about for the next three months. The Jets have a lot of holes and no second-round selection due to the Sam Darnold trade in 2018. The Jags have a crippling need at QB, no cap space and the personnel to win now. Jacksonville brass attended multiple Ohio State games and a practice, and Haskins profiles as a man who can run the team’s West Coast-style offense far better than Blake Bortles. With only him and Drew Lock as shoe-in first-round QBs this year and GM David Caldwell taking what might be his last at-bat with the Jags, the latter needs to take the big swing.
- Oakland Raiders: Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky: The Raiders scraped together 13 sacks last year, and they cut someone who produced three of them (Bruce Irvin). For reference, 11 players matched or exceeded that paltry total. Josh Allen is an athletically gifted, savvy player who has exhibited clear growth since switching to defense just a few years ago. He fits the team’s need, and does so as the BPA (best player available).
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: For a decade, the Bucs have seemingly fielded a defense that ranges from below average to jaw droppingly terrible. It’s been a driving factor in their ineptitude, but the team has tools in place to push in the right direction. Unfortunately, that push will likely leave stalwart — and former top 5 pick — Gerald McCoy behind. He’s still a very good defensive tackle, but he will turn 31 in February, profiles as injury prone and carries a huge cap hit. They can replace him with Ed Oliver, an undersized but consistently dominant penetrator who should pair well with the sheer strength of Vita Vea in the middle.
- New York Giants: Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama: I know that Giants fans feel desperate for a new QB. Believe me, I’ve been there. I am perpetually there. But I do not think this draft will yield the person you want. David Gettleman repeated as recently as Jan. 2 that he believes in taking BPA, as evidenced by Saquon Barkley last year. If the draft shakes out this way, I’d be stunned if that player turned out to be Drew Lock or Kyler Murray. Conversely, Jonah Williams is an excellent, technically sound football player who can excel as a tackle or guard. With a shaky right side of the offensive line, Williams will slot right in and inject some consistency.
- (TRADE) New York Jets: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: With a new second-round pick and other valuable capital acquired from the Jaguars, the Jets will feel less pressure to hit on a top-3 pick while still having the luxury of a top-10 pick. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is an indisputably insane human being, but he did help 2018 first-rounder Denzel Ward to excel for the Browns. Byron Murphy is arguably just as talented as Ward, and his technical skill and instincts are readily apparent. If he performs well in testing at the combine, he should be a top-10 pick who’s capable of being a No. 1 corner for a long time.
- Detroit Lions: Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson: With Murphy swiped from underneath them, uncool Hagrid lookalike and supposed defensive mastermind Matt Patricia would be wise to bolster his team’s outside pass rush, which seems poised to finally lose Ziggy Ansah to free agency. Ferrell might lack elite bend, but he wins with intensity, technical skill and an ideal physical profile — all qualities that Patricia will appreciate.
- Buffalo Bills: Cody Ford, OL, Oklahoma: Only the Cardinals’ offense outmatched Buffalo’s in terms of ineptitude. Josh Allen exceeding expectations despite getting repeatedly chased week after week. The Bills need to shape up their offensive line before they focus on playmakers, who will be available in the second and third rounds. Ford is the human embodiment of a grizzly bear who can excel at guard, but he also has the potential to remain at right tackle. Either way, Allen will benefit from his presence.
- Denver Broncos: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: Lock wouldn’t be my pick here but it seems like it’s almost already…“locked”in. *throws on sunglasses* In all seriousness though, well-connected people, like Denver-based reporter and troll posterizer Ben Allbright, have proclaimed with certainty that Lock will likely not last past No. 10. Broncos grand czar John Elway reportedly loves him, and new defensive-minded HC Vic Fangio apparently has limited-to-no say over the 53-man roster. Lock seems like a well-mannered, intelligent man who has a bazooka attached to his shoulder and other favorable qualities. However, his lingering accuracy issues, ball placement inconsistencies and questionable processing skills make me weary of taking him so high. Sitting behind Case Keenum could help though.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: The Bengals have a litany of issues, and they’re in a good spot to pick from a number of available prospects. I understand the calls for quarterback, as well as linebacker, but they could really use an above-average presence on the offensive line beyond Cordy Glenn. New head coach Zac Taylor should have learned from the Rams how vital a good offensive line is, and he should advocate for a gifted tackle like Jawaan Taylor, who frequently exhibited awareness, plus athleticism and good strength.
- Green Bay Packers: Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware: With two first-round picks, the Packers are another team in a favorable position. A new perspective from head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should boost a talented offensive group, and the defensive group showed some great potential under coordinator Mike Pettine, who will return. They have a budding young secondary, and they could use another playmaker in Adderley, who jumps off the screen with each watch. Once he stopped lining up at cornerback at the Senior Bowl, he demonstrated his huge potential as a ranging free safety.
- Miami Dolphins: Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State: If the “Time is a flat circle” meme applies to any one NFL team, it probably best describes the Miami Dolphins. They’ve experienced the same problems over and over for years now, and pass rusher remains at the top of the list with an ancient Cameron Wake, an average Robert Quinn and an unimpressive Charles Harris. Brian Burns has a slight build, but, man, is he explosive. He’s got ideal length and a nice set of pass-rushing moves already, and the ceiling remains high. If he puts on about 10-15 pounds without losing significant burst, the Dolphins will get a nice prospect.
- (TRADE) Cleveland Browns: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi: The time of Cleveland stockpiling picks should be over. The team has 11 total selections and its prospective QB of the future in Bae-ker Mayfield. They should capitalize on their situation and make another splash to keep the reinvigorated offense moving in the right direction. By trading up ahead of other receiver-needy teams, the Browns can secure an enticing talent in Metcalf. With impressive measurables, freaky athleticism and a clean bill of health after a neck injury scare, he should be the first receiver off the board.
- Washington: Devin White, LB, Louisiana State: Washington — despite continual dysfunction, injuries and a subpar winning record for the last half-decade or so -— has generally proven successful on their No. 1 picks lately. Out of their last seven selections in the first round, five (Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Brandon Scherff, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne) can definitely rest comfortably in the “hit” category. If Devin White falls into their laps at 15, you can feel good about adding another tally to that column. He fits the prototype for the new-age NFL linebacker with excellent range and explosiveness to meet expectations at various points on the field.
- Carolina Panthers: Garrett Bradbury, OL, North Carolina State: Phew, the Panthers’ offensive line turned into a mess real quick, which proved consequential for franchise QB Cam Newton. Newton might be an athletic specimen, but he’s still a large human being getting tackled by equally large human beings. Taylor Moton emerged in 2018 as a capable player, but left tackle Matt Kalil has failed to regain his rookie form. Right tackle Daryl Williams is a free agent, which puts his availability into serious question. Perhaps the biggest blow comes at center, a position which loses Ryan Kalil after he retired. A lot could change between now and the draft, but Garrett Bradbury dominated at the Senior Bowl and showed how refined he is from a technical standpoint. He can immediately help to steady that unit.
- (TRADE) Atlanta Falcons: Greedy Williams, CB, Louisiana State: This selection will hinge completely on whether or not they bring back defensive keystone Grady Jarrett. He’ll command a lot of money, and the Falcons will work with modest cap space (about $18 million) while trying to address other needs. I’m operating under the assumption that Jarrett will be back, which will likely require the release of cornerback Robert Alford (saving about $8 million), and that development would open them up to grab an impact starter opposite Desmond Trufant. Williams has some additional work to do on his run support and occasionally spotty effort, but his length and instincts profile well with HC Dan Quinn.
- Minnesota Vikings: Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State: I don’t know how the Vikings could make any pick in the first two rounds that doesn’t start with the positional prefix of “OL.” They paid for a “franchise” QB in Kirk Cousins, and they need to give him time to throw to the best receiver duo in the pros…or complete a covered 2-yard checkdown. Y’know, whatever Kirk wants to do. They invested in Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, who both need better holes to run through. Dalton Risner was arguably the most consistent linemen in college football for the past few years. He put the cherry on top by showing out at the Senior Bowl, stating his case for the best player there. He represents plug-and-play potential at tackle or guard.
- Tennessee Titans: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: The Titans might be the worst good team in recent memory. They have quite a few weeks where they look close to legit contenders, and then others where they completely fall off the map. QB Marcus Mariota’s health often correlates to those performances, but his supporting staff is rough, to say the least. They could make upgrades to the interior offensive line, but Mariota — playing in his contract year — could really use a game-breaking receiver to take attention away from former top-5 pick Corey Davis. “Hollywood” Brown might legitimately be a DeSean Jackson clone, as he brings elite speed and separation into the fray.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: DeAndre Baker, CB, Georgia: The Steelers consistently confuse me with their draft selections. If I recall right, I’ve never once predicted one of their first-rounders correctly in the 10-plus years that I’ve done mocks. Oh well, I just have to keep trying for the sake of my beloved yinzers out there. Former first-round pick Artie Burns is a professional burnt toast cosplayer and Joe Haden can’t anchor the unit forever. Baker is a smooth athlete who has displayed the reliability that Pittsburgh needs right now.
- Seattle Seahawks: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: Seattle drafted a running back in the first round last season, and he belonged in the third or fourth round at best, so all bets remain off. At this point, however, Simmons seems like an easy choice. Character questions aside, which Seattle doesn’t really seem to care about anyway, Simmons profiles as a freaky-talented, energetic big man who can nestle right into that defensive line rotation. I could also see a trade down with a team who might want a QB or an edge rusher.
- Baltimore Ravens: Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State: Building around QB Lamar Jackson should include wide receivers that can actually impact the game in multiple ways on a consistent basis. While he’s not the fastest or the most shifty, Kelvin Harmon has college production, physical tools and technical polish, making him a bargain at this point in the draft. He’s also a beast of a blocker, which fits well into the team’s run-heavy philosophy.
- Houston Texans: Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia: Houston’s offensive line stumbled head to head with the Cardinals for worst offensive line in football. Deshaun Watson played well enough to keep the offense moving, but he needs better protection to avoid injuries and advance in his development. Cajuste isn’t the quickest mover and appears a little stiff at times, but he demonstrates consistent technique and functional strength. He’ll fit in with Houston’s man blocking schemes while still maintaining the ability to perform in zone concepts.
- Oakland Raiders (via Bears): T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa: Hockenson could go a lot higher than this spot, depending on what a few other teams do about their situations (namely Cincinnati, Green Bay and Carolina). For now though, the Raiders land a steal with the talented redshirt sophomore, who demonstrates sky-high potential as a two-way tight end who can immediately replace Jared Cook. Carr will appreciate Hockenson’s excellent hands and advanced, aggressive inline blocking.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State: The Eagles have benefited from Jason Peters’ Hall of Fame-level play on the blindside for nearly a decade now, but it looks like it’s nearly time to move on — he’s 37 and injury prone. Halapoulivaati Vaitai started a lot in Peters’ stead during Philly’s Super Bowl run, but he strikes me more as a good backup and spot starter, rather than a full-time asset. Andre Dillard performed as well as any college tackle in pass sets, especially impressive given Wazzou’s obsession with throwing the ball, but he’ll need to improve his functional strength and hand placement to reach his full potential at the next level. Dillard, who impressed at the Senior Bowl, seems like a good fit for Philly’s zone-heavy offense.
- Indianapolis Colts: Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan: The Colts surprised a lot of people this year with their strong defensive performance down the stretch, which you can credit to DC Matt Eberflus. Upper-echelon gameplanning and playcalling helped to mitigate the team’s issues, including a lack of consistent pressure, but that can only carry a team so far when playing overwhelming offensive forces like the Chiefs. As they continue to turn over personnel, Rashan Gary appears to be an enticing piece that can bolster the pass rush from the outside and inside. I, and many others, see him primarily as a 3-technique, but we’ll see. He’s got the burst to generate pressure on the edge. I’m lower on him than most due to concerns with his inconsistent effort and technique, but the potential is there.
- Oakland Raiders (via Cowboys): Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State: When you drop your two best pass rushers without much rhyme or reason, you’ve got to replace them eventually. Again, the Raiders mustered 13 total sacks last year, so doubling up should be a no-brainer in this draft class. Sweat lacks elite bend and needs to diversify his move set, which might push him down into this range, but he’s powerful, explosive and aggressive. Sweat performed well in Senior Bowl practices last week.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: After getting gashed on the ground in the playoffs by the Patriots, it highlighted how thin L.A.’s interior depth is. Brandon Mebane is 34 and Corey Liuget has never really lived up to his first-round status. Wilkins can fit in as a versatile defensive tackle who wins with impressive technical skill and relentless effort. He’s not the most physically imposing, which might earn him a few knocks, but he strikes me as a reliable starter that will pair well with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
- Kansas City Chiefs: Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama: Only for so long could MVP Patrick Mahomes and Co. carry their ramshackle defense and living fossil Bob Sutton, who was recently relieved of his defensive coordinator duties. The Chiefs have good talent, especially on the defensive line as long as they tie up some loose ends, but they could use a boost in the backfield. Eric Berry has preserved through so much adversity in his playing career and personal life, and he could use a reliable partner at the safety position. Thompson did not have great 2018 film, which could be attributed to lingering injuries, but 2017 provided glimpses of a special talent who can cover, pursue and hit.
- Green Bay Packers (via New Orleans): Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida: Green Bay did a nice job of creating pressure in 2018 despite lacking an dominant talent at edge rusher. Nick Perry sucks and Clay Matthews is old, while Kyler Fackrell is solid. If they want to add some dynamism, Polite’s scorching speed around the edge could be a boon. He’s undersized and needs improvements with converting speed to power, but elite quickness and heady processing make him an interesting prospect.
- New England Patriots: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: It takes the right team to draft run-oriented nose tackles nowadays, which could cause Dexter Lawrence to slip, but he can make a huge impact in the areas where he excels. The Pats could go with a QB here, but I don’t think they’ll bother if they know Tom Brady is going to continue lacing ’em up. They’ll want to keep their window open, and that requires talent infusion elsewhere. The defense has not been great the past couple years, and they could use someone better than Danny Shelton in the middle. Lawrence is a rock who exhibits excellent two-gapping ability with his surprising short-area quickness, tackling proficiency and functional strength.
- (TRADE from Los Angeles Rams) Miami Dolphins: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: I bet I had you going, didn’t I? I’m not as high on Mighty Mouse Murray as other people seem to be, but he’s got talent nonetheless. I generally don’t feel concerned about size with quarterbacks, especially with the way the NFL has moved, but Murray is the smallest serious QB prospect that I can remember. He’s probably going to measure in around 5’9” at the Scouting Combine, and he might be lucky to break 195 pounds. That’s especially small for a position that requires superior durability and field vision. He possesses eye-popping playmaking ability with his legs, and he throws with good accuracy and an electric arm. The Dolphins need something to energize their fan base, which has undoubtedly grown weary of the team’s enduring mediocrity. The 32nd pick has proven to be hot spot for drafting QBs in recent years, so they might as well give it a shot.
If you have questions about my train of thought, you should take a minute to remind yourself of where we’re at in the process. A lot can change between now and April. I believe in transparency, so I’ve listed some notable prospects that nearly missed the Round 1 cut for me.
- Joshua Jacobs, RB, Alabama: I know he’s a hot name right now, and he’s a good player, but I just don’t see him on the same level as others. Ranked as my 34th overall prospect, I think the strength of other positions, the ease of finding capable running backs a little later in the draft, and his lack of consistent usage in college could push him out. A lot of teams love picking running backs though, and it’s early in the process, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him work his way into one of my future mocks.
- David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State: I feel like he’s been forgotten about since the Jacobs hype began to take hold, but Montgomery is a damn good prospect who rates as my running back No. 1. A gritty, instinctive runner with good vision who can also catch…yes, please. However, he could suffer from some of the same drawbacks as Jacobs. Sneaking into the first round is possible, but he seems tailor-made for a mid-to-late Round 2 selection.
- Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: I like Noah Fant, he’s my 24th overall prospect, but I need to see how the off-season goes for some teams before anointing him as a surefire first-round pick. He’s an impressive pass catcher with an athletic build, which makes him a lot of fun to watch. However, he’s nowhere close to his teammate T.J. Hockenson as a blocker, and that should count for something. If he doesn’t go between picks 21 and 32, he should go within the top 10 of Round 2.
- N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State: As my 32nd overall prospect, this omission was difficult. I love Harry’s contested catch ability, as well as his general build and the play strength he regularly exhibits. He’ll have little problem matching up physically, and that’s a great advantage to have. However, like other scouts, I do have concerns about his speed and separation skills, which may present problems in the NFL and limit his effectiveness unless he tweaks his approach at the release point. We’ve seen players like Harry who’ve profiled similarly, and they haven’t always worked out — recent examples include Kevin White and Laquon Treadwell. I want to believe Harry breaking the trend, but I’m not sure that he’s worth the first-round risk.
- Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama: I can see multiple teams taking a first-round flier on Mack Wilson, who carries a mix of positive traits — nonstop effort, effective range and explosiveness, most notably. That said he’s smaller (listed at 6’0″ and 230 pounds) and he’s often overaggressive in his pursuit, which can result in poor angles to the ball. He also needs to clean up his tackling form.
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