NFL Draft: The Next Wave of Quarterback Prospects

2021 makes the fourth NFL Draft in a row that a quarterback has been selected with the number one overall pick and since 2001, 16 of the 21 first picks have been quarterbacks.

The quarterback position will always been the key target in the NFL Draft as, typically, it’s the difference in being a great team and a bad team.

Key to remember though that the top overall pick isn’t the only quarterback selected. In 2021 alone, there were five quarterbacks selected in the first 15 picks.

Usually, it’s the later-drafted quarterbacks who have the most success. Since 2001, the only number one overall selected quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl are Peyton and Eli Manning. The quarterback with the most Super Bowl wins? Tom Brady; a sixth-round selection in the 2000 NFL Draft.

We may spend a ton of time talking about names like Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield, but based on recent history, it’s likely only one of those four, if any, ever make an appearance in the Super Bowl.

Speaking of Super Bowl quarterbacks, we are witnessing a “changing of the guard” in the NFL at the position. With players such as Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers retiring in the last two seasons; Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan losing a battle with Father Time, and legends like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still at the top of their game, but getting long in the tooth, the next wave of quarterbacks is upon us.

While the league is actually rather young at the quarterback position currently with the majority of teams set with their “Franchise” quarterback, or at least, a projected starter under the age of 30, we all now how quickly that can change.

Teams such as Atlanta, Carolina, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota, New Orleans, New York Giants, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington all could be looking for quarterbacks in the next three draft classes according to future draft predictions by Walter Football’s website.

That doesn’t necessary mean that all these teams will draft a quarterback, or even need one as they could make trades, use free agency, or develop a quarterback that isn’t on anyone’s radar just yet.

Nonetheless, it’s a good sized list which makes it easy to look at the next crop of quarterbacks with the thought that many will be starters by 2024. Looking for the next Trevor Lawrence? As of now, there isn’t a “sure thing” guy like that on the watch list of now, but still some big names that’ll be available over the next two drafts.

Let’s start with the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft.

We recently looked at the top 32 prospects on the Big Board and found a few quarterbacks that may go at the top of the draft and that list begins with North Carolina’s Sam Howell.

Howell is not a Trevor Lawrence-like prospect, but does remind a lot of scouts of Baker Mayfield. Standing at 6-1, 225-pounds, Howell has thrown for over 7,000 yards with 68 touchdowns at North Carolina under Mack Brown and as of now, seems like the top quarterback in the Class of 2022, but he has a bunch of guys right on his heels.

Speaking of Mayfield, another high quality Oklahoma prospect is projected as a first-round pick in Spencer Rattler. A redshirt freshman last season, Rattler had some ups and downs in his first season as a starter, but for my money, he’s the one must-see QB on the board for 2022.

Rattler is a playmaker and showed outstanding growth in the final few games of the 2020 season and plays in the same system that has created some outstanding NFL talent. Mayfield as well as Kyler Murray went from Oklahoma to the Heisman Trophy ceremony to the top pick in the NFL Draft; could Rattler be the next Sooner to do so?

Time will tell, but neither Rattler nor Howell is built like a prototypical quarterback which is where the name Kedon Slovis comes in.

Slovis, out of Southern Cal, is a classic quarterback that has thrown for nearly 50 touchdowns the last two seasons. Slovis will need to turnover the football much less, but if Slovis and USC get on the right track, there’s a good chance that teams looking for an accurate, polarizing quarterback prospect will select Slovis early.

The 2022 quarterback draft class isn’t nearly as top heavy as the 2021 class, but it is deeper as there is potential of eight quarterbacks to be drafted in the first two rounds.

Outside of Howell, Rattler, and Slovis; J.T. Daniels out of Georgia, Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati, Tyler Shough out of Texas Tech, Carson Strong out of Nevada, and Matt Corral out of Ole Miss have shown potential to become NFL quarterbacks and all will have a great chance to climb up the draft board in 2022.

Plus, there’s always a name that’s not brought up much that makes a wild rise up draft boards. From Joe Burrow to Zach Wilson, quarterbacks are just a handful of great plays and wins away from going from unknown to potential first-round pick.

Jayden Daniels of Arizona State is a dark horse Heisman candidate that could gain some NFL attention while Malik Willis of Liberty already has some scouts trying to get a jump on what he could become at the next level.

2022 is a loaded defensive draft class, so if none of these quarterbacks grade high enough for some teams, this would be the draft to select a potential defensive superstar instead of reaching on a quarterback.

With players like Derek Stingley Jr., Kayvon Thibodeaux, Christian Harris, and Kyle Hamilton, it would make sense for a team that didn’t feel they were a QB-away from contending to reach with a top five pick with some future All-Pro defensive prospects available.

Feels like forever away, but hey, it’s the Draft after next and it doesn’t feature as large of a quarterback class, but features a class similar to 2021 with three big time players with high pro potential.

In 2023, the NFL Draft will be headline by a three quarterback battle for the top spot as Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, Alabama’s Bryce Young, and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud all already look like pro prospects entering 2021.

Wait, quarterbacks from Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State?? Has this ever happen before?

Entering 2021, there will be other prospects that emerge this season that will be added to the 2023 Draft watch list, but as of now, it’s hard to imagine anyone passing up that trio.

The 2023 NFL Draft could be the next to feature three straight quarterbacks taken with the first three picks as we seen in this year’s draft. So, if your team didn’t get their “guy” this season, don’t sweat it: plenty of talent is on the way in the next two NFL Drafts at the quarterback position!

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NFL Draft: Way Too Early 2022 Big Board

Ah, what an exciting weekend that made us all feel like normal for a few days. The 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone and many teams feeling improved and set for a rebuild.

But, it doesn’t always work like that. And there’s always next year!

While Trevor Lawrence headlined this draft class, many other quarterbacks made this a QB class unlike any other. There’s not that kind of firepower in 2022, but there is a loaded field of a defense players including one that may go number one overall over a quarterback for the first time since 2017.

Let’s separate the two sides based on offense and defense and take a look at the top 32 players in the projected NFL Draft class of 2022.

Offense:

  1. Sam Howell, QB – North Carolina
    A bit undersized, but without question the best quarterback mechianics in the projected field for next season. Playing at North Carolina, his numbers will look impressive in a pass-heavy offense in 2021. If the team with top pick in 2022 need a signal-caller, Howell will likely be the way to go.
  2. Evan Neal, OL – Alabama
    Based on size and build alone, Neal is a can’t miss prospect on the offensive line. If Neal stays healthy and can lead the charge for another Alabama top-tier offense, Neal will be a top five pick in 2022.
  3. Kedon Slovis, QB – Southern Cal
    In terms of a pocket passer similar to Mac Jones, Slovis is that guy in the 2022 class of quarterbacks. Turnovers are the difference in Slovis being a contender as the top overall pick and a mid-first round draft pick.
  4. Zion Nelson, OT – Miami (FL)
    I love Nelson’s ability to just manhandle defenders at times on the line and has shown the ability to dominate from the left tackle position. Depending on Nelson’s 2022 season and team needs, Nelson could also slide up into the top five.
  5. Chris Olave, WR – Ohio State
    Similar to 2021, there could be between five and eight wide receivers selected in the first round in the 2022 NFL Draft. As of now, I’d take Olave as the top receiver. Olave could’ve been a first or second round pick this year, but opted to return to school. Another big season should lock him as a top ten pick and the top WR selected, but there’s plenty of competition at the position including on his own team.
  6. Spencer Rattler, QB – Oklahoma
    Rattler may be the number one guy to watch in college football in 2022 in terms of the Heisman Trophy, but his Draft stock will also be talked about all year long. If he struggles, Rattler could be leapfroged by a number of QB prospects. If Rattler excels and has another 3,000 yard season and Oklahoma is a title contender, Rattler could shoot up to the number one pick. By far the top playmaking and most electrifying quarterback available regardless in 2022.
  7. Jalen Wydermyer, TE – Texas A&M
    Wydermyer is no Kyle Pitts, but is a top tier talent at the tight end position. In two seasons, he’s shown massive pass-catching TE potential with 78 catches, 953 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
  8. Desmond Ridder, QB – Cincinnati
    Great size, very experienced, and is the top dual-threat quarterback available in the 2022 Draft. Ridder won’t have the same attention on him as the other three quarterbacks ranked above, but once the season ends and scouts start breaking down tape and measurements, Ridder could easily surge up many draft boards.
  9. George Pickens, WR – Georgia
    We mentioned earlier this is a loaded WR draft class and honestly, Pickens would be number one if not for an injury in the spring. There’s a chance Pickens doesn’t play this season and that would definitely make it hard to rank him above some of the other top receiver prospects. Nonetheless, may have the highest ceiling out of all the wide receivers available in 2022.
  10. Charles Cross, OT – Mississippi State
    A redshirt sophomore who will be eligible to enter the 2022 Draft, Cross has fantastic size and will play a large roll in Mike Leach’s pass-heavy style of play which will attract a bunch of NFL teams to make him a first-round pick.
  11. Cade Mayes, OG – Tennessee
    A solid prospect right out of high school, Mayes transferred from Georgia to Tennessee before last season. Mayes will have a larger role at Tennessee this season with a more fast-paced offense.
  12. Justyn Ross, WR – Clemson
    Similar to Pickens, Ross would be ranked higher if he was 100% healthy. Not just any injury, but a spinal injury will likely deter may teams from selecting Ross in the top ten. However, if healthy enough to get back on the field this season, his speed and playmaking ability will make him a tough pass late in the first round.
  13. Garrett Wilson, WR – Ohio State
    The teammate of Chris Olave, Wilson was the top target for Ohio State early last season before production dropped a bit late. A more consistent season could lead to Wilson climbing up possibly above the three wide outs currently ranked above him.
  14. Tyler Linderbaum, C – Iowa
    Linderbaum may have been the top center in this year’s draft, but instead returned to Iowa for the 2022 season. Another season similar to last will lead to Linderbaum becoming a first-round pick.
  15. Tyler Shough, QB – Texas Tech
    Shough transfered from Oregon to Texas Tech and will likely produce some much better numbers in 2022. I love everything about Shough and feel he’s a dark-horse to shoot up draft boards as a top ten pick.
  16. Isaiah Spiller, RB – Texas A&M
    Of course, running backs going early in the NFL Draft are a thing of the past unless they’re just big time playmakers which Spiller is. While he may lack great size, speed, and just raw tools, he has a pure knack of making big plays.

Defense:

  1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE – Oregon
    A superstar defensive player that feels like the most sure-thing in next year’s draft class. Tribodeaux has the quick feet, explosive ability, and amazing size (6-5, 250 lbs.) to be one of the top tacklers in the NFL almost immediately upon arrival. If a team that has a young quarterback ends up with the top pick in 2022, Tribodeaux could be the number one overall pick.
  2. Derek Stingley Jr., CB – LSU
    Honestly, Stingley may be the top prospect, but the fact that a corner going number one, or honestly top five in this day and age, is unlikely, makes him right below Tribodeaux as of now. That doesn’t mean I don’t love everything about Derek Stingley’s game. Stingley is crazy fast and creates an island as a top tier corner that opposing quarterbacks want no part of. While a team that’s struggling may not be keen on selected Stingley in the top five, a good team may be willing to trade up to add him to their mix.
  3. Christian Harris, LB – Alabama
    There’s a top tier end, corner, and now, a linebacker in the 2022 Draft Class that is a top ten talent. Christian Harris has the NFL frame most General Managers are looking for and the tackling ability and pass rushing skills to be the top linebacker selected in next year’s draft.
  4. Drake Jackson, DT – Southern Cal
    Jackson may be a defensive end or edge rusher in the NFL. Jackson has pure pass rushing ability and is a flashy defensive linemen that will attract a ton of attention as a key defensive selection in 2022. While if a team with QB needs will clearly take Howell at number one, to me, these top four defensive players are the top overall players in the NFL Class of 2022.
  5. Kyle Hamilton, S – Notre Dame
    This is one of the best safety groups I’ve seen in a long time. Hamilton is the cherry on top of the field of talent as he’s 6-4, 220 lbs. and can make plays with his tackling ability as well as his ability to find the football and make a play. Reminds me of the “Honey Badger” and could play that type of role in the NFL as well.
  6. Kaiir Elam, CB – Florida
    Fantastic mixture of speed, length, attitude, and playmaking ability to make him a great corner at the next level. Elam won’t be targeted much this season, so numbers may not be as impressive, but Elam should still be a top fifteen selection.
  7. Zach Harrison, DE – Ohio State
    While Harrison has underperformed a bit at Ohio State so far, he still has the build to be a solid NFL end. At 6-6 and nearly 270 lbs., Harrison has only 38 tackles and less than six total sacks. If the stats improve a bit in 2022, Harrison could shoot up to become a top ten selection.
  8. Bubba Bolden, S – Miami (FL)
    Some of the hype has died down on Bolden over the last couple seasons and switched onto Hamilton of Notre Dame, but Bolden woke some people back up in 2020 and will look to do the same in 2021. Bolden looks to be the top tackling defensive back in the 2022 class, but if he can rack up a view more interceptions and pass break-ups this upcoming season, Bolden could jump back up on par with Hamilton.
  9. DeMarvin Leal, DT – Texas A&M
    Texas A&M is loaded with pro prospects, but none are as intriguing as DeMarvin Leal. Leal looks like an ideal-sized pro defender, but will need to consistently make plays in the backfield to climb up the draft boards. Based on his size alone, Leal will be hard to pass up early in the NFL Draft.
  10. Aiden Hutchinson, DT – Michigan
    Hutchinson had his 2020 season come to a disappointing conclusion due to an injury, but will look to rebound in 2021. In terms of a pure pass-rusher, Hutchinson may be the best in the draft field if 100% healthy.
  11. George Karlaftis, DE – Purdue
    Karlaftis’ draft stock took a hit in 2020 after a tough season including being hit with COVID, but at 6-4, 275lbs., Karlaftis has the size and talent to make plays all over the field. If healthy, Karlaftis could rise back up draft boards, but he could also see his stock fall further into the late-first or early-second round.
  12. Brandon Cox, LB – Florida
    Brandon Cox has the intangibles to be a great pro once he gets to the NFL. With an elite combination of high IQ, great tackling ability, and size that makes him a dominating, must see inside presence, Cox will be a steal if selected anywhere outside the top ten.
  13. Jordan Battle, S – Alabama
    A bit different than the other two safeties above him, Battle is an ideal strong safety at the next level who makes big hits and creates opportunities for teammates. Battle will have more of a leadership role this year on the Crimson Tide defense and playing alongside pro prospects Christian Harris and Josh Jobe, Battle will look to improve his draft stock throughout the season.
  14. Ventrell Miller, LB – Florida
    Miller and Cox will be the best one-two punch at linebacker this season in college football, but will also be in a “friendly competition” to rise up to the number two linebacker in the Draft. While Cox may be the leader and better IQ player, Miller is well rounded and rarely misses a tackle. If Miller can improve in the pass game, including both pass break-ups and getting to the quarterback, he could pass Cox and move up in the NFL Draft.
  15. Sevyn Banks, CB – Ohio State
    Ohio State seems to always have a top tier corner and this year is no different as Sevyn Banks is set for a breakout season. At 6-1, 200-pounds, Banks has all the tools to be the number two corner available in the 2022 NFL Draft.
  16. Josh Jobe, CB – Alabama
    Jobe isn’t too far behind Banks in terms of his tools and ability and will play on a top tier defense in 2021. Jobe doesn’t have crazy speed, especially for a first-round corner, but does have great ability to make plays on the ball and is a very good tacklers for his size.

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NFL Draft 2021: When Will Each Quarterback Take Over Their New Team?

The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft has come gone and while there were a few surprises, the “big five” quarterbacks were all selected in the top half of the draft has expected.

So, now that the dust has settled, who’s in the best fit going forward and when will we find out?

Now, look…none of these guys are likely to come in and become a superstar overnight. Most likely won’t even start week one or even up until the middle of the season. But, that’s usually a good thing!

Each selection comes with its on risk and reward factor, but we’ll take an in-depth look at each quarterback selected and how I believe they’ll “mesh” with their new NFL franchises including when we’ll see each rookie.

#1 – Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

We’ve been able to break this pick down since January because it was the no-brainier of the NFL Draft. Lawrence has been labeled, “Can’t Miss,” “Franchise Savior,” and “The Greatest QB Prospect Ever.”

No pressure, right?

While Lawrence checks all the boxes including the ticket-selling, must-see TV box that the Khan’s will love as we close in on the season, the Jaguars must be smart when it comes to throwing the young QB prospect into the fire. That will be hard to do since the city, and most the NFL, can’t wait to see what Lawrence becomes as a pro, the best bet is to hold him out until at least Week 4 or 5 if possible if not later.

With Gardner Minshew and C.J. Beathard on the roster, starting them early while Lawrence gets a chance to watch the game up close and continue to rehab the spring shoulder surgery is the best option for his long-term success.

As for the fit, I love the idea of Lawrence in an Urban Meyer-offensive scheme. But, it may take a few years to build around the young quarterback. Right now, Jacksonville still has holes everywhere on offense and defense. With D.J. Clark at WR and the combo of James Robinson and another first-round selection in Travis Etienne, the Jaguars offense could create some highlights, but the offensive line is a work-in-progress and the defense is a complete rebuild of where it was just three seasons ago.

Overall, Lawrence should be able to come in toward the middle of season and learn in a low-pressure setting as the Jaguars aren’t expected to be playoff contender in 2021. But, after a full season, another free agency period, and another likely top ten draft pick, expectations will be much highers for Lawrence and Jacksonville in 2022-23.

#2 – Zach Wilson, New York Jets

If there’s one quarterback rookie that is most likely to start week one, I’d put money on Zach Wilson with the Jets. Wilson comes from a pro-style offense and is a high IQ player who won’t take long to adjust to the NFL style of play.

The Jets also don’t have a ton of options at quarterback unless they plan on signing a veteran to push and/or guide Wilson during his rookie year. While I think it’s best for players like Lawrence, Lance, Fields, and Mac Jones to sit early in the season, I’m really content with Wilson playing from day one for the Jets.

New head coach Robert Saleh will put a lot of focus on improving the Jets’ defense this season and I expect that to pay off by December as the Jets have a young nucleus of talent on the defensive side of the ball. New offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur will be the one who guides Wilson through his rookie year.

Lafleur dealt with an unusual quarterback carousel in San Francisco, but usually kept the 49ers in the NFL’s top half when it came to passing yards and passing efficiency throughout the last three seasons. Lafleur will be able to take Wilson under his wing and create an offense built around the young quarterback going forward.

#3 – Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

While I love this pick so much more than the idea of the 49ers drafting Mac Jones, I still feel as if the less of Lance we see in 2021, the better.

Lance was 17-0 as a starter, but has played and thrown the ball less than any top ten quarterback draft pick in NFL history. He’s the enigma of the 2021 NFL Draft class, but also the most intriguing and the biggest risk-reward pick in the last few seasons.

Lance is phenomenal decision-maker who can make every throw, has excellent mobility, and is built like an NFL All-Pro. Lance would’ve been a great with any team in the Draft that could sit him and allow him to develop for at least one season. The 49ers at pick No. 3 is not different.

Keeping Jimmy Garoppolo is the key for San Francisco as we must remember how sought after and big of a prospect Jimmy was just a few seasons ago. Moving on from Garoppolo right now would be a mistake even if the 49ers selected Trevor Lawrence. This is Garoppolo’s team for at least the next season. Kyle Shanahan loved what Garoppolo when he first acquired the quarterback, but of course, when it comes to the draft, its easy to want to play with the new shiny toy.

A full year to develop, work with Garoppolo and Shanahan is a must for the North Dakota State prospect. I believe Trey Lance would thrive and become a statistical star in the Kyle Shanahan zone-read offense, but I hope we don’t see it until at least week 12 or later including the possibility of no starts until 2022.

#11 – Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

I never thought I would say this, but the Chicago Bears won day one of the NFL Draft. It’s hard to remember that back in January, some were calling for Justin Fields to leapfrog Trevor Lawrence as the top player in the draft! Now, that was short-lived and preposterous, but it just shows how big of a prospect Fields is.

Some questions about his mechanics, anticipation, and adaptability to the NFL game led to a slide, but to land Fields anywhere outside the top five is a steal if I’ve ever seen one. But, to the Bears at No. 11?? That’s a home run for Matt Nagy.

The Bears have two veteran quarterbacks to mentor the young quarterback this season with Nick Foles and Andy Dalton; two quarterbacks with great experience, skills to play at a high level in 2021, and understanding that neither are the “face of the franchise” being on the wrong side of 30.

Both quarterbacks will play this season, but the bigger role for both is the development of Justin Fields as he may not play in 2021 which would be a-okay in my book. Depending on what happens with the Packers this offseason with their quarterback situation, the Bears could contend for the playoffs this season, but if things go wrong and they find themselves way out of the playoff picture by week 12, the Bears may go ahead and pull the trigger on Fields.

Fields’ playing time this season will all depend on the success of the Bears under Foles and/or Dalton as well as their ability to stay healthy which has been a problem for both men over the last few seasons.

#15 – Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Tom Brady 2.0?? Let’s pump the brakes a bit here Patriots’ fans.

There’s still a bunch of question marks about Mac Jones including his ability to get out of the pocket against NFL-speed defense, but in terms of an NFL passer? He may be number two in this draft behind Lawrence. Plus, it’s without a doubt he’ll improve rapidly learning from the combination of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels if there’s still room to learn after a few years under Nick Saban.

Mac may be the best-coached 20-something year old NFL player in the history of football, honestly.

Nonetheless, when the Patriots made the surprising decision to re-sign Cam Newton, it made it clear that New England intended to start Newton for the foreseeable future. But, how long is that?

Depends on two things: Newton’s health and Mac Jones’ development.

Cam Newton has taken a beating the last few seasons and it’s clear he’s not the same “SuperCam” he was in the Carolina days. As a day on starter though, Newton is still the best option though for the Patriots. It’s key to remember though that the Patriots have done a rare thing and spent a good amount of money this offseason in hopes of returning to a playoff and championship contending team.

Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to hurt feelings (right, Drew Bledsoe?), so while other rookies may only play this year if their team struggles, if the Patriots are even close to contending for the playoffs and Newton is banged up or turning the ball over at a high rate, don’t be surprised to see Mac Jones anytime between week six and week ten. Mac Jones is great at reading a defense, has veteran-like pocket presence and can make every pocket throw – all things that will make Jones a big time weapon in the Josh McDaniels offense.

I can see Mac Jones leading the Patriots into a late run that leads to a wild card spot in the playoffs. Probably not your Rookie of the Year, but Mac will likely be the first class of 2021 quarterback to start a playoff game this season.

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2021 NFL Draft – Grades and analysis of the first round

After months of rumors, smokescreens, and seventeenth editions of your neighbor’s mock draft, the NFL Draft is finally here. Draft day is always full of surprises, but this time there are even more questions than usual. Who will be the third quarterback off the board? How many receivers will go in the first round? Is Trevor Lawrence’s forehead even bigger than Peyton Manning’s?

Oh, and if you haven’t heard, Aaron Rodgers might be on the trade block.

This page will be updated throughout the night with grades and analysis for every selection and trade.

1. Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars – QB – Clemson

The future has finally arrived in Jacksonville.

The only thing crazier than the expectations being placed on Lawrence is the fact that he may actually meet them. He has everything you could ask for in a prospect and then some, but he’ll be considered a bust if he’s anything less than the best player in franchise history. The Jaguars likely received some tempting trade offers throughout the offseason, so kudos to them for staying the course.

Grade: A+

Big Board Ranking: 1


2. Zach Wilson – New York Jets – QB – BYU

I get it. Wilson is athletic, he’s flashy, and he has the mobility to keep up with the modern game. But his draft value is based on what he could be, not what he is. After decades of failures, the Jets need a sure thing, and Wilson is not that; Justin Fields was the safe pick. There’s a very good chance Wilson becomes a star, but it’s equally likely that he’ll be just another name in the long list of Jets draft busts.

Grade: A-

Big Board Ranking: 6


3. Trey Lance – San Francisco 49ers – QB – North Dakota State

This was the most debated pick of the draft, and the Niners got it right. Lance doesn’t have the experience of Justin Fields. He doesn’t have the football IQ of Mac Jones. But the Niners already have Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback capable of taking them back to the Super Bowl. If Lance lives up to the potential his ridiculous athleticism gives him, great. Worst case scenario: San Francisco runs it back with Garoppolo

Grade: A

Big Board Ranking: 16


4. Kyle Pitts – Atlanta Falcons – TE – Florida

There wasn’t any way to screw this one up. Lost among the fuss over Trevor Lawrence is the fact that Pitts is one of the best offensive prospects we’ve seen in years. He’s a historic tight end prospect coming into a league with a historic lack of talent at tight end. Pitts will be able to contribute immediately alongside Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, giving Atlanta a receiving corps reminiscent of Matt Ryan’s 2016 MVP season.

Grade: A

Big Board Ranking: 2


5. Ja’Marr Chase – Cincinnati Bengals – WR – LSU

Let’s put it all together. Cincinnati used the No. 1 pick last year on Joe Burrow, who tore his ACL while playing behind a subpar offensive lineman. So with the opportunity to draft a plug-and-play left tackle, the Bengals took … a wide receiver? Chase is the best wideout in this class, but it won’t matter if Burrow can’t stay on his feet.

Grade: B-

Big Board Ranking: 4


6. Jaylen Waddle – Miami Dolphins – WR – Alabama

This pick is a disappointment after coming so close to drafting Chase, but that isn’t the Dolphins’ fault. Waddle is a better prospect than Devonta Smith and gives Tua Tagovailoa a true playmaker to grow with. Even though the Dolphins have improved over the past few years, they haven’t been exciting to watch. That just changed.

Grade: B+

Big Board Ranking: 7


7. Penei Sewell – Detroit Lions – OT – Oregon

This draft could not have played out better for Detroit. The Lions were expected to trade down, but there’s no reason to when you can draft someone this talented at No. 7. Sewell is a plug-and-play tackle with the potential to play 15 years at a high level, the most important piece of a rebuild besides a quarterback. In another draft, he could have been the No. 1 pick.

Grade: A+

Big Board Ranking: 3


8. Jacyee Horn – Carolina Panthers – CB – South Carolina

I don’t have nearly as much faith in Sam Darnold as the Panthers apparently do. Justin Fields should have been the pick here. But putting that aside, Horn wasn’t even the best cornerback on the board; that’s Patrick Surtain II. Still, the Carolina defense has been a nonfactor for some time now, and Horn has the intensity and drive to finally give them an identity.

Grade: C

Big Board Ranking: 13


9. Patrick Surtain II – Denver Broncos – CB – Alabama

It doesn’t get much easier: Surtain II is arguably the best defensive player in the draft and fills Denver’s biggest need. They could have justified taking a chance on a quarterback, but frankly, the Broncos aren’t making the playoffs any time soon. They’ll have plenty of high draft picks in the coming years if they decide that Drew Lock isn’t the guy.

Grade: A

Big Board Ranking: 9


10. DeVonta Smith – Philadelphia Eagles – WR – Alabama

You’ve already heard that Smith may not have the size to be successful in the NFL. I don’t think that’s true, but it is still a factor. Philadelphia already has a small quarterback and running back, and holes all across their defense. It made more sense to stay put at No. 12, draft Micah Parsons, and find a taller receiver in the second round. Of course, none of that is to say that Smith isn’t an instant gamechanger for Philly’s offense. And screwing over the Giants had to feel good.

Grade: B

Big Board Ranking: 10


11. Justin Fields – Chicago Bears – QB – Ohio State

For the first time in decades, the Chicago Bears have won the draft. Fields has the athleticism and experience that Mitch Trubisky and Jay Cutler were missing from the start, and is the least risky quarterback available besides Lawrence. The Bears had to give up next year’s first-rounder to swap places with the Giants, but that will be forgotten quickly if they’re right about Fields.

Grade: A+

Big Board Ranking: 5


12. Micah Parsons – Dallas Cowboys – LB – Penn State

Grade: A-

Big Board Ranking: 8

Another outstanding pick. The Cowboys had their eye on a cornerback, but still managed to trade down and grab a top-ten prospect. Parsons has the makings of a perennial Pro Bowler and will make an immediate difference on a Dallas defense that was hard to watch last year. He only fell this far because of some personality concerns, but, well … he’ll fit right in.



13. Rashawn Slater – Los Angeles Chargers – OT – Northwestern

Grade: A

Big Board Ranking: 12

I guarantee they’re popping bottles of champagne in the Chargers’ draft room. Slater was not expected to fall to No. 13, and like Sewell, has the skills to be a starter for the next decade. Last year, Justin Herbert won Rookie of the Year and the Chargers still posted a losing record. That’s not going to happen again.


14. Alijah Vera-Tucker – New York Jets – G – USC

Grade: C

Big Board Ranking: 29

The Jets have more holes in their roster than the Browns did a few years ago, but the offensive line is not one of them. There’s obviously room for improvement, but Mekhi Becton ensures that the group will be at least competent. If Vera-Tucker was a low-risk pick I’d understand it, but he lacks the strength to be a star. They could have gone with an edge rusher. Heck, they could have taken Mac Jones considering how often they screw up at quarterback.


15. Mac Jones – New England Patriots – QB – Alabama

Grade: A

Big Board Ranking: 14

It’s rare to see a quarterback drafted below his value, but as always, the Patriots played the board perfectly,  Chicago needed to give up their future to land a quarterback, but the Patriots stayed put and got their guy. I’m not sure that he has the athleticism to succeed, but it would be arrogant of me to say I know better than Bill Belichick. I’m giving them an A just for their patience.


16. Zaven Collins – Arizona Cardinals – LB – Tulsa

Grade: B-

Big Board Ranking: 19

Kwity Paye seemed like the obvious choice here. He’s a better prospect than Collins, and the Cardinals used their first-round pick on Isaiah Simmons, a linebacker, last year. Still, Collins is an intelligent player with a work ethic that could help quell rumors of a culture problem in Arizona.


17. Alex Leatherwood – Las Vegas Raiders – OT – Alabama

Grade: D+

Big Board Ranking: 28

Ah, my two favorite draft traditions: booing Roger Goodell and watching the Raiders draft players 20 picks too early. I’m actually higher on Leatherwood than most — he’s a natural lineman with an NFL-ready skill set — but he probably would have been there in the second round. At this rate, the Raiders will be stuck in mediocrity forever.


18. Jaelan Phillips – Miami Dolphins – EDGE – Miami (FL)

Grade: B

Big Board Ranking: 22

Edge rusher was the right call here, but I don’t understand how Kwity Paye is still on the board. There may be something the GMs know that we don’t. Phillips comes with some question marks surrounding his fundamentals, but the Dolphins have been incredible in the draft over the past few years. They can afford to take a risk if they like Phillips’ upside.


19. Jamin Davis – Washington Football Team – LB – Kentucky

Grade: C-

Big Board Ranking: 39

I’m of the mind that prospects should be judged based on their college careers, not their performance at the Combine. Davis is not a first-round pick. He has potential, but there were better linebackers and much better cornerbacks that would have provided much better value.


20. Kadarius Toney – New York Giants – WR – Florida

Grade: F

Big Board Ranking: 34

This is the last straw: it’s time to fire general manager Dave Gettleman. Not only was Toney the third-best receiver on the board, he plays one of only three positions that the Giants don’t have a need at. Even if there’s something wrong with Kwity Paye, there were edge rushers available with much more talent than Toney.


21. Kwity Paye – Indianapolis Colts – EDGE – Michigan

Grade: A

Big Board Ranking: 17

The Colts badly need a wide receiver, but they never expected Paye to fall to them. The best edge rusher in the class isn’t supposed to be drafted at No. 21. If he lives up to his potential, this could be the steal of the draft. It’s a deep receiving class; they’ll find someone in the second round


2021 NFL Mock Draft: Dolphins get their playmaker, Carolina takes Justin Fields

With the NFL Draft just over a week away, wide receivers and quarterbacks appear set to dominate the Day One headlines. My latest mock draft includes a mix of scouting reports, other mocks, and just a dash of personal bias. No trades, because the Chicago Bears will inevitably strike a deal worse than anything I could dream up. Let’s dive in.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Every year, my friend and I bet a dollar on who the No. 1 draft pick will be. Not this time. This pick is so certain that Lawrence has already made a $20,000 donation to Jacksonville charities. Jets fans might want to close their eyes.

2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Unless you count Chad Pennington, which you shouldn’t, the last notable quarterback drafted by the Jets was Joe Namath. Wilson joins the team as yet another franchise savior, with the mobility and playmaking ability to bring some excitement to a worn out fan base. 

3. San Francisco 49ers — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

San Francisco isn’t done swapping picks, and they may trade down here. What the team needs is an offensive playmaker, and the only one worthy of being drafted this high is TE Kyle Pitts — a position the Niners obviously have covered. But if they do stay put at No. 3, they’ll almost certainly upgrade at quarterback and try to run back their 2019 Super Bowl season.

4. Atlanta Falcons — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Atlanta has been telling people that Matt Ryan still has a few years of quality football left, and they may not be bluffing. They’ll pass on a quarterback here to pair Pitts with wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, creating one of the most intimidating receiving corps in football — if they don’t trade down.

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon

Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is an option, but franchise quarterback Joe Burrow is returning from an ACL tear and needs better protection. Sewell is as good as it gets: 331 pounds of explosive ability with a high football IQ.

6. Miami Dolphins — Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Miami’s front office will panic if the Falcons take Pitts, but celebrate when the Bengals choose Sewell. Chase is a transcendent receiver like the Dolphins have never had, with the quickness and route running ability to compensate for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s growing pains.

7. Detroit Lions — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Detroit is entering a rebuild, and they’re better off riding it out with Jared Goff than taking a flyer at quarterback here. The best option is to find a reliable offensive lineman, but Sewell is the only truly elite prospect. Instead, the Lions “settle” for Waddle and bank on finding their quarterback with a top five pick next year. 

8. Carolina Panthers — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St.

The Panthers didn’t give up that much for Sam Darnold, and there’s no way for them to be confident he’s the guy. If Fields is still available at No. 8, he’s going to Carolina. Head coach Matt Rhule will be willing to have an open competition in training camp, one that Fields will likely win.

9. Denver Broncos — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The poor Broncos are always stuck in the middle: not good enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to draft a top quarterback. They’ve missed too many times at the position, so they’ll settle for Surtain, a proven corner with the size to match up with the league’s best.

10. Dallas Cowboys — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Dallas defense was embarrassing last year, finishing 28th in points allowed. Pass rush is more of an immediate need, but Jerry Jones has a history of taking the best player available. Horn has more talent than any of this year’s defensive ends.

11. New York Giants — Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern

Sometime in the distant future, the Giants will enter a draft without gaping holes along the offensive line. That day is not today. Slater is smaller than most tackles but has an NFL-ready skill set, something New York has repeatedly learned is necessary in a prospect.

12. Philadelphia Eagles — Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Speaking of embarrassing NFC East facts, the Eagles haven’t had a 1,000-yard wide receiver since 2014. The top option on their depth chart is Jalen Reagor, who you’ve probably never heard of if you’re not an Eagles fan. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Smith reunite with quarterback Jalen Hurts?

13. Los Angeles Chargers — Christian Darrisaw, OL, Virginia Tech

The rule still applies: protect your young quarterback. It will be tempting to give Justin Herbert another weapon, but the Chargers need to elevate a left tackle position that has been mediocre for too long.

14. Minnesota Vikings — Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan 

The Vikings totaled 23 sacks last year, and their best defensive end had 3.5. There’s better value than Paye available here, but they won’t go very far in January if they don’t address their problems on the edge.



15. New England Patriots — Trey Lance, QB, N. Dakota St.

Lance is not going to last until the fifteenth pick, but the Patriots have been linked to him for a while either way. Bill Belichick usually isn’t one for splashy trades, but he may need to make an exception to find Tom Brady’s successor. Perhaps a deal with the Falcons could be coming?

16. Arizona Cardinals — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The Cardinals have already surrounded Kyler Murray with enough weapons to succeed. A recent back surgery has most experts projecting that Farley will fall to the end of the first round, but when healthy he’s the clear-cut best corner in the class. Someone’s going to take a chance on him.

17. Oakland Raiders — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St.

John Gruden has a history of making head-scratching picks, but this should be a no-brainer. Linebacker isn’t an obvious need, but Parsons is a top-ten talent that could get lost in the frenzy of quarterbacks and wide receivers.

18. Miami Dolphins — Jeremiah Owsu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

The Dolphins desperately need an edge rusher, but there isn’t much high-end talent at the position this year. Owusu-Koramoah should help shore up a run defense that lacks a big playmaker and ranked 23rd in tackles for loss last year.

19. Washington Football Team — Zaven Collins, DE, Tulsa

If Washington doesn’t make a big trade to move up the board, they could be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1. If they stay put, there won’t be an offensive player that makes sense here. Instead, they’ll bolster an already fearsome pass rush with Collins, a speedy complement to Chase Young.

20. Chicago Bears — Teven Jenkins, OL, Oklahoma St.

The Bears have two options here: offer up the farm to San Francisco for the second time in four drafts and risk setting the franchise back years like they did with Mitch Trubisky, or try and address their need at right tackle. Jenkins has the raw power to be a starter for years.

21. Indianapolis Colts — Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Indianapolis lost to the Bills in the postseason because they had no reliable wide receivers. New quarterback Carson Wentz became a laughing stock in Philadelphia because he had no reliable wide receivers. Guess who the Colts are drafting? They could probably trade down and still end up with Bateman or Elijah Moore.

22. Tennessee Titans — Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

After a failed experiment with Jadeveon Clowney, the Titans are still an edge rusher away from joining the upper echelon of NFL teams. Phillips comes with some injury concerns, but his intangibles are too good to pass up. Besides, Derrick Henry could probably play defensive end if they really needed him to.

23. New York Jets — Azeez Ojuliar, DE, Georgia

With needs at basically every position, the Jets go best player available. Their front seven lacks an identity but is closer to success than you might think.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Reports have suggested that the Steelers let James Conner walk because they’re locked into a running back at No. 24. The offense hasn’t looked right since Le’veon Bell’s holdout, and while I’m not convinced Harris is a first round talent, he seems destined to be the pick here.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars —  Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

Trevor Lawrence wasn’t enough? The Jets get some small measure of revenge by taking Ojuilar off the board, so the Jags give Lawrence an intelligent deep threat who went for 602 yards in his final three games.

26. Cleveland Browns — Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing the Browns picking outside the top 10. Last year, Cleveland learned the hard way that the road to the Super Bowl rests on stopping the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Newsome gives the Browns’ 22nd-ranked pass defense a better shot this time around.

27. Baltimore Ravens — Richie Grant, S, UCF

The Ravens are yet another wideout-needy team, but there won’t be good value with Moore and Bateman gone. Grant is a little rough around the edges, but his speed will gel with Baltimore’s approach. Some scouts have him falling to the second round, but the Ravens often buck expectations in the draft with success (see: Lamar Jackson).

28. New Orleans Saints — Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

The Saints’ needs don’t match up with the players who will be available here, partially because they don’t actually have many needs. Moehrig is a low-risk pick with the personality to be a locker room leader as the franchise turns a corner without Drew Brees.

29. Green Bay Packers — Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Finally. The Packers bow to pressure from their fans by drafting Toney as the door slowly closes on their Super Bowl window. He’s also taken a few snaps at quarterback, and for some reason Green Bay seems to like giving Aaron Rodgers competition. (That was a joke, but so is Jordan Love).

30. Buffalo Bills — Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn St.

Just like with the Browns, it’s all about stopping Kansas City. Oweh has the reflexes to harass Patrick Mahomes and keeps the Bills on track to build the best defense in the league. 

31. Kansas City Chiefs — Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama

After releasing former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher, the Chiefs desperately need someone to step up at left tackle. Leatherwood has the versatility and experience to play anywhere on the line.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami

It’s anyone’s guess whether the Bucs’ pass rush is actually the juggernaut that won them a Super Bowl or the inept group we saw in the first half of the season. Regardless, pressure up front is their path towards repeating as champs, and you can’t have too much of a good thing.

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2021 NFL Draft: Don’t buy into the wide receiver hype

If you haven’t noticed yet, NFL general managers have short memories. Mitch Trubisky didn’t stop them from trusting inexperienced college players. Lamar Jackson didn’t teach them not to pass on established stars.

That’s why last year’s class of first round wide receivers, which featured instant stars like Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb, could lead to busts in 2021. With the NFL Draft less than two weeks away, The Athletic’s latest mock draft has five wideouts going in the first round, starting with Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5. After all, last year’s wide receiver group was a success. What could go wrong?

Answer: everything. The 2014 draft was filled with first round receivers that made an instant impact in the league, and teams splurged accordingly on questionable wideouts in 2015.

Let’s take a look:

YearPickPlayerGYdsTDPro Bowls
20144Sammy Watkins864665330
20147Mike Evans1068266613
201412Odell Beckham Jr.826830513
201420Brandin Cooks1036880400
201428Kelvin Benjamin613021200
20154Amari Cooper936211384
20157Kevin White1728500
201514DeVante Parker834212220
201520Nelson Agholor873411260
201526Breshad Perriman632066140
201529Phillip Dorsett711634110
Source: Pro Football Reference

Brandin Cooks was the only first round receiver in 2014 who didn’t reach 900 yards in his rookie season. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans exceeded even the loftiest expectations with 12 and seven touchdowns, respectively. And if not for injuries that derailed the careers of Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins, this likely would have been the best wideout class in history.

Those early dividends caused a wideout frenzy in the first round of 2015, where the injury-prone Kevin White and the speedy but talentless Phillip Dorsett were considered elite prospects.

The warning signs were there — old draft profiles mention how Dorsett lacked technique and that there was “legitimate concern” Nelson Agholor’s skills would never develop — but recency bias prevailed. Needless to say, only Amari Cooper lived up to his draft status.

After that, GMs seemingly learned the risks of overestimating wide receivers. Only seven were drafted in the first round in 2017-2019; Calvin Ridley was the only one who became a star.

But the 2021 Draft seems poised to be a repeat of 2015. Both Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore are projected first round talents with short records of excellent play. Just look at Bateman’s draft profile:

“”The production looks good on paper, but I was at a couple of his games in 2019 and I just wanted to feel (his presence) more.” — Midwest scout for AFC team

Regardless, teams are going to be paying a premium for wide receivers this year. Let’s just hope they fare better than Kevin White.

NFL 2021 Draft: More Than Just The “Trevor Lawrence Draft”

With the Jets win on Sunday, many New York fans have been up in arms about the fact that as of now, they are no longer the team projected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Fear not, Jets fans as this is not a one-player draft.

While there’s no doubt Trevor Lawrence is the top prospect in the draft and will go with the top pick, the so-called “consolation” prize options aren’t bad.

If you must have a quarterback, New York would still have two highly touted options to choose from in Justin Fields of Ohio State and Zach Wilson of BYU.

Both Fields and Wilson have more question mark than Lawrence, but both also have high ceilings to become stars in the NFL.

There’s potential to trade down to acquire Trey Lance of North Dakota State, but I expect as we get closer to the draft, Lance to quickly fly up draft boards and become a top ten pick.

Lance is built like an NFL quarterback and appears to be more NFL-ready today even more so than Lawrence, Fields, and Wilson.

Again, I’m not saying any of those options are better now or will ever be as good as what Lawrence could become in the NFL, but there are options at quarterback in the 2021 draft field.

Not to mention other positions that are worth a top five pick such as receiver Ja’Marr Chase who, pre-pandemic, was projected to be a top three pick in this year’s draft.

Three other names to remember is Penei Sewell of Oregon, Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech, and Micah Parsons of Penn State.

Sewell is the top offensive line prospect in the 2021 draft field and is as talented as any O-lineman that has been draft eligible the last five years.

Farley is a cover corner who will likely become a number one corner for a team in his first year in the league. With the majority of teams moving away from the run, having a star cover corner becomes more important each year and Farley is just that.

Parsons may be the top overall defensive prospect in the 2021 draft and will be a great addition to a team that already has a QB such as Cincinnati or Miami.

With all this said, Trevor Lawrence is the ultimate prize no doubt, but let’s not confuse this draft as a “one-hit wonder-style” group. There are some great options in the top ten outside of the Clemson superstar in the NFL 2021 Draft.



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NFL Mock Draft 3.0 (The Bold Edition)

The NFL draft is this week! After months of questions and speculation, we’ll have all the answers we crave in just a few days. We’ve been hearing leaks linking certain players to certain teams, but it is the season for window dressing, and organizations often try to send false signals so their rivals don’t know their true intentions. Let’s take a one final stab at first round mock, and this one will follow a much different trajectory then my previous two.

1) Cleveland Browns – RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)

It may seem unfathomable that Cleveland would pass on a QB #1 overall, but in my opinion this is going to be a bold strategic play. The Browns own the first and fourth pick in the first round, and I believe their master plan was to land their QB of the future with the top pick, and add the draft’s biggest playmaker, Barkley, at 4. That doesn’t appear to be possible now, as we’ve been now hearing rumblings for weeks about how much the Giants love Barkley, and with him potentially going to the Meadowlands at #2, Cleveland may decide to just take him off the board from the get-go. And they’ll likely still be able to get the QB they want just a couple picks later. Read on.

2) New York Giants – QB Sam Darnold (USC)

I’ve been saying it for a month, but the Giants really are the team that will have the biggest impact on what happens the rest of the night. This pick basically comes down to if the Giants want to take a QB or not. If the answer to that question is yes, we’ve heard plenty of buzz about how Darnold is the one they most prefer. If the answer is no, they’ll have their pick between at minimum two of Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, or Quentin Nelson. I personally feel Nelson, the guard from Notre Dame, is the best fit for this team, and leaks have also been coming out for weeks that Barkley would be the pick if he’s available. If the Browns do take the Penn State running back ahead of them, passing on Darnold may just prove too hard to do, and the team will welcome their successor to Eli Manning to the Big Apple.

3) New York Jets – QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)

This is a pick I’m going to have to see to believe, but at this point there’s been too much written about it to just discount the idea. According to multiple reports, Mayfield is the QB New York is in love with, and while I personally feel he’s easily the 4th best QB in the draft, and that his personality may not be a hit in the biggest media market in the world, this marriage looks almost inevitable unless the Jets leave the Heisman trophy winner at the altar.

4) Cleveland Browns –QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)

I’d thought Darnold was the man for Cleveland all throughout this process, but comments made by Browns’ GM John Dorsey this week certainly made you think twice about that theory. The gist of Dorsey’s media session was how valuable hand size is to play QB in the NFL, particularly in a cold weather city. Allen has the biggest hands of any of QB’s in this years’ class and he’s also got a cannon of an arm. If he is the signal caller Cleveland desires, taking Barkley first and him 4th is probably the only way they secure their dream draft combo.

5) Denver Broncos- DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)

Similarly to the Giants pick, Denver’s decision will have a profound impact on the rest of the night. Also similarly to the Giants, it comes down to QB or no QB. We’ve been unable to get a strong sense of what exactly their intentions are, but to me this is basically going to be UCLA’s QB Josh Rosen, or Fitzpatrick, who I believe would be the better and safer selection.

6) Indianapolis Colts- DE Bradley Chubb (N.C. State)

In my previous version of a mock draft I had the Colts trading out of this pick, and while that is still an option, the only way I see them doing it is if Chubb is off the board. Indianapolis has made their affinity for Chubb no secret, and they’ll assuredly take him at #6 if they can.

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)

A lot of draft boards have recently placed Ward ahead of Minkah Fitzpatrick in terms of secondary prospects, and the Bucs, desperate for help on the back end of their defense, will be thrilled to add him.

8) Chicago Bears – OG Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)

In my first mock I had Chicago taking the talented linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with Nelson already off the board, but after placing the Notre Dame guard in the Windy City in my second version, I’m doing it a second consecutive time here. The Bears do need help at linebacker, but I’ve been saying Nelson is the best overall player in this draft for two months, and it will be an absolute steal for Chicago at #8.

9) San Francisco 49ers – S Derwin James (Florida State)

James has been my pick for the 49ers all along, and nothing is changing here. The playmaker takes his talents to the Bay.

10) Oakland Raiders – LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)

Just like with James and the Niners, Smith has been my unanimous choice for the team on the other side of the Bay Area three times, and it would be incredibly surprising for me if anything changed on draft day.

11) Arizona Cardinals (from Miami Dolphins) QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)

Here comes an absolutely fascinating point in the first round. If the draft has developed the way I’ve laid out this time, the Dolphins would find themselves in an unbelievably difficult situation here. In my first mock draft I had them taking Josh Rosen themselves, but in my second one I had DT Vita Vea heading to South Beach to plug the giant hole left behind when the team cut Ndamukong Suh just a few weeks ago. The issue facing Miami here will be if they decide to pass on Rosen, they know their arch rivals in Buffalo will pick him with the very next pick, and the UCLA QB could potentially haunt them for years to come, leaving the Dolphins open for immense criticism. In the end, I think Miami decides Vea is their guy, and they’ll get creative to attempt to land him, and prevent Rosen from heading to Buffalo. By making this swap with the QB desperate Cardinals, the Dolphins assure themselves of accomplishing the latter, and then they’ll cross their fingers Vea is still there at 15.

12) Buffalo Bills – LB Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)

In this scenario the Bills and their fans would be absolutely devastated. For this draft to be successful for Buffalo they simply have to come away with one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, or Baker Mayfield, but it’s easy to find a way they fail to land any of them. If this is the case on Thursday night the Bills will take the highest player on their board, and potentially make a reach pick for a QB with their second first rounder, #22.

13) Washington Redskins- CB Mike Hughes (Central Florida)

I went with CB Josh Jackson in the first mock draft, but Hughes in the 2nd, and nothing has changed since then. I like the former Central Florida DB in DC.

14) Green Bay Packers –DE Marcus Davenport (UTSA)

Davenport has long been linked to Green Bay, and let’s look for the Packers to make it official on Thursday.

15) Miami Dolphins (From Arizona Cardinals) –DT Vita Vea (Washington)

Miami doesn’t get burned by trading back. Still get their man at #15.

16) Baltimore Ravens –WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)

This may be one of the easiest picks of the draft to stick with. Baltimore desperately needs more weapons for veteran QB Joe Flacco, and Ridley is the best WR in the draft. It’s a slam dunk.

17) Los Angeles Chargers –OT Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)

No changes here, Phillip Rivers gets a new blind side protector.

18) Seattle Seahawks –OG Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)

Seattle obviously needs to improve their ability to protect Russell Wilson, and in particular the interior of their line has been a problem. Sticking with them taking the former Bulldog, Wynn, to attempt to rectify that issue.

19) Dallas Cowboys – WR D.J. Moore (Maryland)

In my last mock I had the Cowboys taking Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and in all honesty they still might. I personally believe Dallas has enough at receiver to win games right now, but the same can’t be said about linebacker where Vander Esch would be a day one starter. In the end though, following Dez Bryant’s much discussed release, I believe the Jones family just won’t be able to pass on Moore in hopes he can become their next decade long #1 receiver.

20) Detroit Lions- OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)

Detroit is a tough team to analyze in this draft as they could go several different positions, but I’m sticking to my selection from the last time, Orlando Brown, who can help the Lions right away in both run and pass blocking.

21) Cincinnati Bengals –OG Will Hernandez (UTEP)

Three mock drafts, and three times I’ve had the Bengals taking Will Hernandez at #21. Don’t let me down Cincinnati.

22) Buffalo Bills –QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)

Everyone knows the Bills are desperate for a QB, and while Jackson is far from their first choice, particularly because of how similar he is to the departed Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo will have to take him here and hope the fans don’t riot too much.

23) Los Angeles Rams –LB Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)

I started with the Rams taking Vander Esch in my first mock draft, and in the second I had him off the board to Dallas at #19. In this scenario he is still available, so I’m circling back with Los Angeles adding the talented tackling machine to help fill the hole left behind by the traded away Alec Ogletree.

24) Carolina Panthers- CB Josh Jackson (Iowa)

Carolina needs help on the outside on both sides of the ball, and while it is obviously possible they take a receiver, I’m having a late hunch they’ll take the edgy Jackson in hopes he can become their next version of Josh Norman.

25) Tennessee Titans –DE Harold Landry (Boston College)

Similarly to the Bills and Leighton Vander Esch, I had Tennessee taking Landry originally, had him off the board in the second mock, but with him still here this time, I love the former BC Eagle to Nashville.

26) Atlanta Falcons- DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)

The Falcons adore Da’Ron Payne and they’ll be devastated if he isn’t available with this pick. They will trade up to land him if it is necessary and feasible.

27) New Orleans Saints –TE Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)

The Saints are taking a tight end in the first round, that much we know. Or at least we’re pretty sure of. You could honestly convince me that any of Hayden Hurst, Mike Gesicki, or Dallas Goedert could be the pick over Andrews here, but I’m sticking with the former Oklahoma Sooner to be the selection, in hopes he can become a modern version of the connection Drew Brees had with Jimmy Graham.

28) Pittsburgh Steelers- LB Raashan Evans (Alabama)

In the two previous mocks I had Pittsburgh taking Louisville QB Lamar Jackson in an attempt to add a talented player to their QB room while simultaneously beginning to develop Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. With Jackson not available this time though, the Steelers take Evans, in an effort to begin filling the void Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury left on defense.

29) Jacksonville Jaguars –WR Courtland Sutton (SMU)

Sutton has the pick here for me all along, and nothing has changed. Done deal.

30) Minnesota Vikings- OT Connor Williams (Texas)

Another pick I’m making for the 3rd time, I love the Vikings adding Williams here to help protect prized offseason addition Kirk Cousins.

31) New England Patriots-QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)

When the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in the middle of last season, it became obvious Bill Bellichick was going to be looking for a new QB to groom to succeed Tom Brady in this year’s draft. Taking Rudolph this high may be a bit of a stretch, but he almost assuredly would not be available when they make their 2nd round selection, and for that reason I have him heading to Foxborough.

32) Philadelphia Eagles- TE Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)

Still love Goedert to Philly to help replace the departed Brent Celek and Trey Burton.

2018 NFL Mock Draft

It’s been clear for quite some time that there could be some trade movement toward the top of this April’s NFL Draft, and after the Jets paid a hefty price to move from number six to number three last weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to take a shot at a mock draft. Here goes.

1) Cleveland Browns – QB Sam Darnold (USC)
This year’s QB class is arguably the best rookie group the NFL has seen come into the league since 2004 when Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers, all went within the first 11 selections. While it’s easy to find a lot to like about Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield, Darnold is the most polished of the bunch, and for a Browns team that’s been desperate for an answer at the game’s most important position for over a decade, they can’t get too cute here.

2) New York Giants – OG Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)
This pick is undoubtedly going to surprise some people and I’ll admit, I actually had to talk myself into it, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. New York’s new GM Dave Gettleman’s calling card throughout his career has been mammoth bodies on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He preaches physical football, and it’s no secret the Giants’ O-line has been a mess for the better part of two years. A successor to QB Eli Manning would be the easy pick here, but Nelson is the best offensive line prospect to enter the draft since Cowboys’ guard Zack Martin, a fellow Notre Dame alum. Pairing him with free-agent addition Nate Solder would instantly make New York extremely formidable up front, and keeping Manning comfortable and upright may help him turn back the clock. The wild card here is that if the Giants do decide to pass on a quarterback, they could try to trade out of this pick with a QB desperate team, such as Buffalo, but the problem with that is that the Bills pick 12th, and it’s highly unlikely Nelson, whom many consider the best player in the draft regardless of position, would still be available.

3) New York Jets – QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)
While the Jets have gotten decent brief runs out of quarterbacks like Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez, like Cleveland, they’ve lacked someone they could truly identify as a franchise QB. Their offseason strategy has been a little interesting, to say the least, as after resigning veteran journeyman Josh McCown (who played well for them in 2017), they added former Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater, who’s missed the better part of two consecutive seasons recovering from a gruesome knee injury. Bridgewater is still only 25 years old, and if he could get back to where he was two years ago he’d be capable of becoming the signal caller the Jets have needed forever, but New York can’t count on that happening and miss out on a potential generational talent such as Allen. The Wyoming star has ridiculous arm strength and accuracy, and while playing in a lesser conference in college may have hurt him years ago, the success of the Eagles’ Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State may have diminished that myth. When the Jets traded three second-round picks to the Colts to move into this pick, their intention was clear; they want a QB, and the situation actually reminds me a lot of Philadelphia a couple years ago, when they traded up for Wentz despite having established quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel on the roster. Remind me how that worked out for them.

4) Cleveland Browns – RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
If the top of the draft plays out the way I’ve predicted, it would literally be a dream come true for the Browns. They acquired this pick from the Texans last year when Houston moved up to select QB Deshaun Watson, and while getting a first rounder represented a major haul in its own right, the Browns had to be counting their lucky stars when the Texans stumbled to the league’s 4th worst record. Cleveland can’t take their QB #1 overall, but after they do, they’ll be crossing their fingers that Barkley, one of the most talented collegiate players ever, will still be here at number four. The Penn State back does everything well, and most experts believe he’ll have a similar rookie impact to that of Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. Add him to a Cleveland offense that has Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon at receiver, a serviceable starting QB in Tyrod Taylor with Darnold waiting in the wings, all of the sudden these may not be the same old Browns.

5) Denver Broncos – DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)
The Broncos pick at number five is one of the most interesting ones in the entire first round and a selection that will have a profound impact on the rest of the night. It’s easy to see them taking a quarterback here, as after missing with both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, Denver has failed to draft and develop a young QB under president John Elway. The Broncos did, however, sign Vikings’ break-out star Case Keenum as a free-agent, and if the team believes last year was not a fluke, it diminishes their need for a young signal caller. And if that’s the case, after losing veteran Aqib Talib, Denver has a massive hole in their secondary, one that is begging to be filled by arguably the draft’s best defensive player, Minkah Fitzpatrick. Capable of playing both corner and safety, the Alabama product has literally been compared to a queen on a chessboard, and his playmaking ability would be a welcome addition to the Broncos’ last line of defense.

6) Indianapolis Colts – DE Bradley Chubb (N.C. State)
The Colts front office should receive a gold medal for their trade with the Jets over the weekend. Long linked to Chubb, an immensely talented edge rusher projected to become an instant star on the same level as the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, Indianapolis accumulated two second round picks this year, and another second rounder next year, just to move down three spots and still get the player they would have taken at number three.

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)
The Bucs’ have needs all over the defensive side of the ball, but especially in the secondary. Playing in a division with opposing quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton, Tampa has to improve their ability to defend the pass, and adding Ward, the latest stud Ohio State defensive back to come down the line would do just that. To me there is no way this pick can be anything other than secondary, the Buccaneers simply have to come away with Ward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Derwin James.

8) Chicago Bears – LB Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)
The run on defense continues with the Bears, and while a case could be made for them to take the third highest ranked defensive back, Derwin James, I have them selecting Edmunds, a big athletic linebacker who drew comparisons to former Bear Brian Urlacher throughout his collegiate career. If the draft does unfold the way I have it laid out thus far, however, with quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield still available, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Chicago trade down with a QB needy team in an effort to acquire more draft capital.

9) San Francisco 49ers – S Derwin James ( Florida State)
No team looks poised to make a more drastic two-year turnaround than San Francisco, as the midseason trade that brought QB Jimmy Garoppolo to the Bay Area completely changed the fortune of this entire organization. Armed with their QB of the present and future, the 49ers could look to add an offensive weapon here, but I think the prospect of adding the ball-hawking James to a new look secondary that already includes former Seahawks star Richard Sherman will be too tantalizing for GM John Lynch ( A former safety himself) to resist.

10) Oakland Raiders- LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)
Despite all the attention quarterbacks have gotten leading up to the draft, these things don’t often play out the way we anticipate, and Smith will represent the 6th consecutive defensive player taken in the top 10. A defensive field general is a tackling machine and just the kind of player Jon Gruden craves. This fit is a match made in heaven and I’m sure Chucky is already envisioning the forming Georgia Bulldog becoming a modern version of Derrick Brooks.

11) Miami Dolphins – QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)
Miami is probably not counting on one of the stud signal callers still being available at eleven, but if the situation presents itself, you better believe they’ll pounce. Veteran Ryan Tannehill has shown flashes during his career but he’s struggled to stay healthy of late, and this was a team that had the likes of Jay Cutler and David Fales taking snaps last year. Drafting Rosen would be an ideal scenario, as it would add an immensely talented player to the quarterback room, while the presence of Tannehill would allow the youngster to watch and learn before being thrown to the fire.

12) Buffalo Bills – QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
After spending the first couple hours of the draft sweating and trying to move up, Buffalo stays at number 12 and still gets their young quarterback. Mayfield has a high energy personality and if the draft plays out the way I’ve predicted this would be one of the most exciting storylines entering 2018. The Heisman Trophy winner would be joining a team that plays the Jets and Dolphins twice a year, two organizations that drafted QB’s ahead of him in the first round. For a kid that already plays with a chip on his shoulder, that would amount to a career-long grudge. Game on.

13) Washington Redskins- CB Josh Jackson (Iowa)
The Redskins could go a couple of different ways here. They are in dire need of shoring up a leaky run defense, but with Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland no longer here, their secondary depth is basically nonexistent. If Derwin James or Denzel Ward slide it would make this an easier decision, but Jackson is a good cover corner in his own right, and this may be a pick for position rather than the highest player on the board.

14) Green Bay Packers – DE Marcus Davenport (UTSA)
The Packers have already added to their defensive line with the addition of free-agent former Jet Muhammad Wilkerson, but adding Davenport to rush the passer opposite all-pro Clay Matthews almost makes too much sense. At 6’7 and 265 lbs, the University of Texas-San Antonio product is a load for opposing lineman, and he knows how to use his long arms to gain separation and win angles. His collegiate competition was obviously not the same as if he had gone to a D1 school, but he raised eyebrows with his performance at the combine, posting basically identical measurable to those of Texans’ all-pro lineman Jadeveon Clowney.

15) Arizona Cardinals – OT Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)
The Cardinals are in a very similar situation to that of Buffalo entering this draft. They’re dying to select their quarterback of the future as the free-agent combo of Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon doesn’t exactly get you excited, and while they desperately would like to bring in one of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, or Baker Mayfield, it is extremely unlikely any of them will be available at #15. GM Steve Keim will undoubtedly attempt to move up, with the Bears a logical potential trade partner at #8, but if they’re unsuccessful, adding the draft’s best tackle will benefit whoever is taking snaps under center.

16) Baltimore Ravens – WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
The Ravens had arguably the worst wide receiver group in the NFL last season, as veteran Mike Wallace led the receivers with 52 catches for 748 yards, while behind him on the depth chart Michael Campanaro and Jeremy Maclin weren’t scaring anyone. Baltimore has already signed free-agent Michael Crabtree which will help, but selecting Ridley, unanimously considered the top pass catcher in the draft and a potential future star, should be a no-brainer.

17) Los Angeles Chargers – OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)
The Chargers have gotten lackluster play from Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale at tackle in recent years, and they’re in dire need of adding some fresh young talent to the offensive line group. Brown has spent the past few seasons protecting Baker Mayfield’s blind side, a job he did successfully as his buddy was in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy two years in a row and took the award home in 2017. Los Angeles has other needs, but plugging a dependable tackle into their offense will help both Phillip Rivers now, and the club’s next QB down the road.

18) Seattle Seahawks – OG Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)
After disassembling their renowned defensive group the Seahawks basically admitted they’re entering a rebuilding period, and while their intentions are acceptable and understandable based on the salary cap, it is undoubtedly disappointing for fans in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle obviously now has immense holes on defense, but to me, there’s only one way they can go with their first-round selection. Prior to their midseason trade for tackle Duane Brown last season, this team had done little to nothing to improve what has long been a dreadful group up front. The only way they survive this rebuild is if star quarterback Russell Wilson makes it out the other side in one piece.

19) Dallas Cowboys – WR Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
Like the Ravens, Dallas had a disappointing output from wide receiver a year ago, and America’s Team should look to improve their pass-catching corps with this first round selection. Number one option Dez Bryant obviously had a down year by his standards in 2017, but he wasn’t alone, as super slot man Cole Beasley disappeared at times, and Terrance Williams failed to live up to expectations. Drafting Kirk should help everyone around him, as he would give the Cowboys something they’ve sorely lacked; a home run threat. Opposing coordinators would have to respect the Texas A&M product’s ability to take the lid off defenses, which would open up lanes for Bryant and Beasley, as well as future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten.

20) Detroit Lions – DT Vita Vea (Washington)
Former Patriots’ defense coordinator Matt Patricia is now running the show in Detroit, and with that, coupled with the fact the Lions already have a dynamic group of skill position players on offense, this pick screams defense to me. Vea is probably the top interior defensive lineman in this draft, a disruptive playmaker in both the run and passing games, and while it’s no guarantee he’s even still here at #20, if he is, this fit makes too much sense.

21) Cincinnati Bengals – OG Will Hernandez (UTEP)
The Bengals had the 12th pick and traded back with Buffalo, and while they acquired OT Cordy Glenn in that trade, it doesn’t necessarily diminish their need for help up front. Hernandez is a grinder who plays with an aggressive demeanor and goes hard until the whistle every snap, and while he’s smaller than a lot of NFL guards, he makes up for it with his quick feet and agility. If Cincinnati does pass on offensive line here their next biggest need would be a linebacker, and someone like Leighton Vander Esch could be in play.

22) Buffalo Bills- LB Rashaan Evans (Alabama)
This is a difficult pick to forecast because it is entirely possible the Bills will not, in fact, be the ones on the clock at #22. Armed with the 12th and 22nd picks entering the draft, and in desperate need of a quarterback, Buffalo will assuredly look to trade up. If they’re unsuccessful though, drafting a tackling machine like Evans seems like a no-brainer after the organization watched defensive leader Preston Brown take his talents to Cincinnati in free-agency.

23) Los Angeles Rams LB Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)
The Rams had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL a year ago, and despite the free-agent departure of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, this team should again score a lot of points. To me, the more important veteran to leave LA was middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, a longtime starter who was the undisputed quarterback of the team’s defensive unit. In fact, Mark Barron is the only projected returning starting linebacker in the Rams’ 3-4 scheme, making the 2nd level of defense a high priority in this draft. To that end, selecting someone like Vander Esch who has tremendous upside, makes all the sense in the world.

24) Carolina Panthers – CB Mike Hughes (Central Florida)
The Panthers thought they had addressed their need at corner in free-agency when they agreed to terms with veteran Bashaud Breeland, but they were thrown for a loop when the former Redskin failed his physical, terminating the contract. As we discussed earlier in regards to Tampa Bay, with the talented quarterbacks in the NFC South it is absolutely critical to assembling as many talented cover men as possible, and Hughes would certainly fit the bill.

25) Tennessee Titans – DE Harold Landry (Boston College)
This is a spot where Tennessee figures to have their pick of dynamic defensive line prospects, with potentially Harold Landry, Arden Key, Sam Hubbard, and Da’Ron Payne all still on the board. New head coach Mike Vrabel played a lot of outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme while with the Patriots, and he understands how important having a disruptive edge rusher can be in assembling a shutdown defense. That’s why to me, Landry is the pick here, as despite a down season in his final year at BC, his natural physical ability and willingness to be coached make him more attractive than Key who has rumors of character issues floating around.

26) Atlanta Falcons – DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)
The second veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe finalized his free-agent agreement with division rival Carolina, I believe the Falcons began eyeing big Da’Ron Payne to replace him. The former standout member of the Crimson Tide defense is an absolute mammoth of a man at 6’2 and 311 lbs, with ridiculous upper body strength, as his ability to bench over 400 lbs in high school was well documented throughout the combine. Payne is everything you’d want in a nose tackle, he often requires double teams, is never knocked off balance, and keeps his linebackers untouched to make tackles in the run game. There are a lot of teams in the market for defensive line help in the mid-late first round, so it’s not a guarantee he’ll be available at #26, but the fit here is beyond perfect, and don’t be surprised if Atlanta tries to trade up to make sure they get their man.

27) New Orleans Saints – TE Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)
No team in the NFL has a more glaring hole at tight end than the New Orleans Saints, as Coby Fleener has failed to stand out as the team’s starter over the past two seasons, and the Saints’ pursuit of a free-agent reunion with Jimmy Graham fell short. With so few teams outwardly targeting that position in the first round, head coach Sean Payton and company will likely have their pick of what is actually a pretty deep tight end class. You could make the argument that any of Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, Dallas Goedert, or Mike Gesicki is the best option at the tight end position, but I’m going to guess New Orleans will like the 6’5 Andrews the best, as he has the potential to become a slam dunk red zone option, similar to what the team had with Graham early in his career.

28) Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
Unfortunately, due to the devastating spinal injury pro-bowler Ryan Shazier suffered last December, the Steelers biggest weakness is at middle linebacker, even after signing Jon Bostic as a free-agent. Pittsburgh is in an interesting draft slot here late in the first round, as they know they will have no chance to select either Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith, but they are hopeful one of Leighton Vander Esch or Rashaan Evans will still be on the board at #28. As the Rolling Stones taught us, however, you can’t always get what you want, as in this mock draft both of those players have already been taken, and the gap between the 4th and 5th best linebacker in this draft is too large to justify taking Uchenna Nwosu here. That’s why I could see the Steelers pivoting to the interesting Lamar Jackson as a potential heir to Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Jackson is a bit of a polarizing player, as some teams already gauged his interest in a position change at the combine, but the Louisville product is adamant he’s a QB, and he may not find a better landing spot than Pittsburgh to prove it. Mike Tomlin is a player’s coach, the Steelers have a serviceable back-up in Landry Jones already, and a future Hall of Famer still under center in Roethlisberger. They would be able to essentially redshirt him and give him time to develop, an intriguing idea for an organization that has seen a quarterback similar to Jackson, Kordell Stewart, enjoys significant success.

29) Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Courtland Sutton (SMU)
Fresh off a surprising run to the AFC title game, where they very nearly knocked off New England, the Jags watched their top wide receiver, Allen Robinson, bolt to Chicago on the first day of free-agency. That immediately pushed receiver to the top of the Jacksonville draft board as quarterback Blake Bortles will need all the weapons he can get. Sutton is a big strong kid with tremendous wingspan who can be a match-up nightmare for smaller DB’s, and his absurd leaping ability makes him an ideal red zone target.

30) Minnesota Vikings – OT Connor Williams (Texas)
The Vikings are emphatically in win now mode after finishing just one win short of a Super Bowl appearance, and then committing $84 million in guaranteed money to lure free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to the Twin Cities. The biggest issue with the Vikings is that their offensive line was a mess a year ago, and if you’re going to invest so much money in your QB, you have to be willing to use premium draft picks to protect him. That’s why Williams, as well as an inside lineman such as James Daniels or Billy Price, would all be worthy selections at #30.

31) New England Patriots – DE/OLB Arden Key (LSU)
Pass rush is an obvious need for the Patriots, but so is left tackle, so if Connor Williams, whom we have going to the Vikings just one pick before New England is slated to go on the clock is still here, you’d have to believe he’ll be headed to Foxborough. If he isn’t though, look for Bill Belichick and company to target Key, a playmaking edge rusher who would have been higher on the draft board if not for personal issues that caused him to leave LSU for a period during football season last fall. As it stands, in typical Patriots’ fashion, if he falls into their lap at #31 don’t be surprised if New England gets the most out of the youngster and he becomes a thorn in the side of AFC East offensive tackles.

32) Philadelphia Eagles – TE Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)
The defending champions will return most of their talented roster in 2018, but the position group that took the biggest hit this offseason was a tight end, where Trey Burton inked a lucrative free-agent contract with the Bears, and longtime Eagle Brent Celek become a cap casualty. With that in mind, I feel the talented Goedert could become the ideal complement to incumbent starter Zach Ertz, a player the South Dakota State product was often compared to in college.

Leonard Fournette hopes to bring the run game back to Jacksonville

It has been several seasons since the Jaguars have had a power threat out of the backfield. The Jags featured “Fragile” Fred Taylor after selecting him in the 1998 Draft. Taylor was the Jaguars go to guy until being released in 2009 after the human bowling ball, Maurice Jones-Drew, took over the Jags running game after his breakout rookie season of 2006. But that was then, and this is now.  Jones-Drew became a free agent after the 2013 season and left Jacksonville for Oakland, where he retired after the 2014 season, and Taylor is only a memory in the Jaguars’ Ring of Pride.

For the next two years after MJD’s departure, the Jaguars struggled at the running back position. They picked up injury plagued RB, Chris Ivory from the Jets in 2016, who struggled to find a consistent game. TJ Yeldon has also served the Jaguars as a versatile RB and pass catcher, and still has a lot of promise for the Jaguar faithful.

With the Leonard Fournette acquisition, the Jaguars once again have a solid, explosive back that they have sorely missed for the past few seasons since the days of their staples, Taylor and Jones-Drew. Fournette will be the Jaguars go to back this upcoming season, leaving the Jaguars’ other physical RB, Ivory, as well as the versatile Yeldon for third downs as well as in split backfield scenarios.

Fournette, selected fourth overall, was a superstar running back out of LSU. In his sophomore season of 2015, Fournette became a consensus All-American after setting single season school records for both running yards (1,953), and rushing touchdowns (22). His sophomore season would turn out to be his best however, having suffered a high ankle sprain early in his junior, and final, season only playing in seven games. Fournette joined a number of players in sitting out their team’s bowl games in order to protect themselves entering into the 2017 NFL Draft. LSU played in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville.

Fournette brings his large, linebacker like frame to a needy Jaguar backfield. His 6-foot, 240-pound frame places him in the “heavyweight” class of running backs in the league.  Fournette thrives on plowing through defenders, which is a mixed blessing as it could lead to a shortened career. His larger stature garners comparisons to Bo Jackson, and more recently, Adrian Peterson.  The Jaguars certainly hope that if he can become a fraction of what those backs meant to their respective teams, the running game of the late 90’s and early 2000’s could be back in Jacksonville.

Ed Coleman
NFL Senior Writer