I'd like to begin by thanking all three of you who read the introductory paragraph of the "need vs. best player available" mock draft I executed earlier this month. And for those of you reading this introduction, you'll find the following mock draft is of the more traditional mold.
However, the caveat here is: All of the picks you love are mine -- and mine alone -- while the picks you vehemently disagree with can be attributed solely to my Path to the Draft compadre, Daniel Jeremiah. DJ would appreciate it if you alerted him of your dissatisfaction on social media @movethesticks.
This is simple: Aidan Hutchinson is the safest pick in this draft. But don’t let that mask the fact that he's also an incredible athlete. Daniel Jeremiah talks about the three-cone drill being a great measure for pass rushers. Well, you want to guess whose three-cone time was elite -- and even lower than combine freak Travon Walker, who’s also in consideration for the top pick? Yeah, Aidan Hutchinson.
One of the big winners of this pre-draft process ends up as the No. 2 overall pick. With freakish athletic ability and the potential to provide far more pass-rushing production in Detroit than we saw during his Georgia career, Walker fills a big need for the Lions.
Johnson exploded for 12 sacks in his one season at Florida State and racked up twitchy testing numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine, so it’s not inconceivable the Texans have a high enough grade on the former Georgia Bulldog to make him their choice at No. 3. Many mocks have Kayvon Thibodeaux in this spot, but DJ has Johnson ahead of Thibodeaux in his Top 150 prospects list, leading me to believe that could very well be the order in which the two talented edge rushers come off the board.
If the Jets are in the receiver market at No. 10, then why wouldn’t they consider the best wideout in the class at No. 4, especially with the WR-needy Falcons picking at No. 8. This allows New York to get the top receiver on their board, rather than settling for the second- or third-ranked guy when Gang Green comes back on the clock in six picks.
What a deal -- New York nabs the top offensive tackle at No. 5. There are plenty of scenarios where Ekwonu and Evan Neal are both off the board by this selection, but in this simulation, the Giants finally fortify their offensive line with a physical finisher to put at right tackle, pairing him up with blind-side bookend Andrew Thomas.
Carolina attempted to acquire some of the big-name QBs on the move this offseason, but failed in those pursuits. The message is clear: The Panthers want a QB. With Pickett, they get the most pro-ready signal-caller in this draft -- a player who’s a magnet, someone truly capable of thriving as the face of a franchise.
Atlanta GM Terry Fontenot passed on two quarterbacks at No. 4 last year, so it seems unlikely to me he would take one here. However, the Falcons would surely consider a receiver in this slot, but in this projection, Garrett Wilson is already off the board. Having a talented pass rusher like Thibodeaux available at another glaring position of need is a real score.
It sounds like teams are becoming more comfortable with the fact that injuries were a big piece of the drop-off in Stingley’s performance over the last two years following his phenomenal freshman campaign. Stingley would’ve been the first corner off the board in 2020, and that talent is too tantalizing for Seattle to pass on.
Neal is usually long gone by this time in most mock drafts, but this scenario sees a high-level blocker with position flexibility available for the Jets with their second top-10 pick. Neal can provide insurance if Mekhi Becton doesn’t return to his rookie season form, and his versatility allows him to find a spot among the starting five right away in front of Zach Wilson.
Arguably the best technician at the position in this class, McDuffie provides a fundamentally sound and safe option at cornerback after the team’s last two first-round CBs (Jeff Gladney, 2020; Mike Hughes, 2018) have not worked out. McDuffie also gets the benefit of learning alongside veteran corner Patrick Peterson, who is back for another season in Minnesota.
Texans GM Nick Caserio was a part of the Patriots evaluation team that took safety Devin McCourty in the first round in 2010. Since then, McCourty has been a playmaker and stabilizing force in New England's secondary. Hamilton is more than capable of that kind of decade-plus impact for Houston’s defense.
The Ravens are a little long in the tooth on the interior of their defensive line, and Davis provides a jolt of youth and athleticism to go along with his massive 6-6, 341-pound frame. Plus, Calais Campbell's re-signing in Baltimore can aid in Davis’ quest to become more than just the two-down player we saw at Georgia.
By now, you’ve repeatedly been reminded that the Eagles have taken a receiver in the first round in each of the last two drafts. This anti-Packer philosophy would make it three in a row. Who cares?! Williams is a dynamic downfield threat, someone who'd further aid Philly’s commitment to Jalen Hurts as its franchise QB.
If Cross is available for New Orleans here, it’s a slam-dunk pick, as the team needs to replace Terron Armstead at left tackle. Arguably the best pass-blocker in this draft, Cross logged plenty of reps playing in Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense at Mississippi State.
GM Tom Telesco knocked it out of the park with last year's first-round selection of LT Rashawn Slater. The Chargers go back to the tackle well in this draft, securing their RT for the next 10 years as they continue to protect Justin Herbert and build up an offense already among the most explosive in the AFC.
Fletcher Cox is back on a one-year deal, but beyond the 2022 season, the Eagles could be looking for impact players fitting that kind of mold. Wyatt brings superior athleticism to the interior of Philly's defensive line.
One of my favorite players in this year's draft instantly becomes a fan favorite in New Orleans due to his silky-smooth route running and ability to create separation. Needing another playmaker opposite Michael Thomas, the Saints grab another Buckeye to fill that void.
This pairing is one of the most popular projections we've seen throughout this mock draft season, and there's one reason why: It makes a lot of sense. The need for a future face of the franchise is obvious after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, and Willis has the infatuating traits to be a next-gen QB in today's NFL. The biggest question: Will he still be on the board at this point?
Full transparency: The rough draft of this mock didn't have Lloyd anywhere in the first 32 picks. I think he belongs in the first round, but I wonder about the value of the position he plays as an off-ball linebacker. The Patriots seem like a team that would appreciate Lloyd, given that the last linebacker they took in the first round, Dont'a Hightower, became a defensive cornerstone.
At long last, the Packers take a receiver in the first round. Burks is physical, and a bigger-framed wideout than we've typically seen in recent years in Green Bay. He can be deployed in a variety of ways, with the play-making ability to create big gains after quickly getting the ball post-snap. This could minimize what's often been a slow transition into the NFL for rookie receivers during the Aaron Rodgers era in Titletown.
The Cardinals lost Chandler Jones in free agency. I don't see this as a one-for-one replacement. At 266 pounds. Karlaftis has great power for an edge rusher. That said, I wonder if he could add a little extra to his frame and give Arizona the kind of flexibility J.J. Watt provides on the defensive front. Just food for thought.
Replacing one Tyler with another. Yes, 2020 fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz was a reliable player for Dallas last year, but I just keep thinking about what a building block the first-round selection of Travis Frederick was for the Cowboys back in 2013. Linderbaum could provide a similar boost to an offensive line that has become a shell of what was the most dominant unit in football about five years ago.
This is a popular mock slot for Iowa State RB Breece Hall, and I could certainly see that happening. But perhaps the Bills can find more value at RB on Day 2, after securing the wide receiver with the best hands in the draft at No. 25. Dotson is a true playmaker with game-breaking ability.
Take a breath, people -- let's play this out. Ryan Tannehill has been a really good fit at QB during the Titans' resurgence under Mike Vrabel and he will be their starting QB in 2022. However, he'll be 35 in what is essentially the final year of his contract in 2023, and the dead cap number is manageable if Tennessee wants to move on following this year. In that case, why not try and find the future at QB right now? Ridder, like Tannehill, is an athletically gifted quarterback (4.52 40-yard dash) who could excel in the Titans' scheme. And seeing what he accomplished at Cincinnati, Ridder's a proven winner and leader.
The Bucs lost both of their starting guards this offseason, but added Shaq Mason to the offensive line via trade with New England. I still see another interior player with positional versatility making a lot of sense for a team that understands the importance of limiting interior defensive pressure in front of Tom Brady.
Cornerback is a pretty glaring need for the Chiefs, who lost starter Charvarius Ward to the 49ers in free agency. Booth's sports hernia surgery limited his participation in the pre-draft process, but he offers some top-level ball skills, as you can see in his tape at Clemson.
A quiet riser in this draft process, Ebiketie isn't typically projected as a first-rounder. But DJ has talked about the buzz building for the Penn State pass rusher to find his way into the back end of Thursday night. The Chiefs make it back-to-back defensive players at positions of need.
I keep having visions of Cooper Kupp essentially winning the Super Bowl on the end zone fade vs. Bengals CB Eli Apple. I like Chidobe Awuzie on one side, but I love the idea of continuing to fortify that position in the high-flying AFC with a player like Gordon. Playing opposite Trent McDuffie at Washington, Gordon got a lot of work from opposing offenses and acquitted himself quite well.
The presence of a capable starter in Jared Goff makes a QB selection here even more likely, at least in my eyes. Goff can be the bridge that allows a developmental process for a young QB. Plus, you get the extra season of cost control with the fifth-year option. Howell feels like Dan Campbell's kind of quarterback. It was easy to see his toughness when you watched him pinball off would-be tacklers in the run game this past season, especially against Miami. He's a physical runner and a talented passer -- in fact, our Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner, recently told me that he thinks Howell could end up as the best of this QB crop when all is said and done.