It is officially combine week(end) in the NFL and the excitement could not be higher. Over the course of this week, teams will meet with some of the best players in the draft as they begin to put their strategy in place heading for April. This is a big week for these organizations but even bigger for the players as they look to boost their draft stock and make a name for themselves with the cameras on. Guys like Aidan Hutchinson, Derek Stingley Jr, and Kayvon Thibodeaux will have all eyes on them, not to mention this QB class that is dying for somebody to break out. Before all of that happens though, let’s go ahead and take a look at where I think the 1st round stands right now!
1.1 Jacksonville Jaguars
The pick: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Jacksonville holds the top spot in back-to-back years and secured their QB last time, how about getting some protection for him 365 days later? Lawrence struggled his rookie year but the surrounding problems may have been the biggest reason for that. One way to move past the circus of 2021 could be to set up a foundation for the future on offense; Neal achieves that. He has shown flashes of elite play and he may just dominate the combine. This is not an easy pick for the Jags, but it makes a lot of sense.
1.2 Detroit Lions
The pick: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
And the Michigan Wolverine fans sigh in disappointment as pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson will not stay in state. The problem is, that is a good storyline, THIS is a good pick. Thibodeaux has the highest ceiling of anybody in this class and putting him on a lackluster Lions defense may be the start of a new defensive area in Detroit. He has been dominating since his freshman year and I think anybody talking down on him is just struggling with a case of prospect fatigue. We have been hearing about him for years, but that does not mean he is overhyped.
1.3 Houston Texans
The pick: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Two OT’s in the first three picks?! When was the last time that happened? Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is in this class, it makes sense. Some may be surprised by Cross over Ekwonu but I think it makes sense. Cross is a better pass blocker as it stands now and he may be more of a safe bet as a starting left tackle because of that. Houston has to address the offensive line and either one of the top guys is a great pick that fills a major hole.
1.4 New York Jets
The pick: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
As DJ Khaled would say, “another one”. The draft kicks off with three offensive linemen in the first four picks, thus pushing a hell of a lot of defensive talent to the picks that follow. The Jets are in a very similar situation as Jacksonville, just with less dysfunction compared to Duval. They have to protect Zach Wilson if he is going to get a fair shake and with the flashes shown by Wilson last year that may be all he needs to start rolling. Ekwonu gives them a major boost as NYJ tries to string some wins together at last.
1.5 New York Giants
The pick: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
I love this pick for the Giants, and I hate it as a Cowboys fan. With the right moves they can start to get back on track and this is exactly the right way to begin that rebuild. Kyle Hamilton is a baller, straight up. His size, explosion, tackling, and coverage skills really make him the best safety we have seen in many many drafts. There are lots of offensive questions for the Giants, but I think taking defense early and often here can allow the offensive chips to fall where they may (Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley) while building up a defense that is younger and more talented than anything we have seen in Metlife Stadium in years. Daboll is talented enough to work with this offense if they make some offseason improvements, address defense here focus big on QB next time.
1.6 Carolina Panthers
The pick: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
This is a feel pick for me. I really, really think Carolina has dreams of Kenny Pickett in blue and silver and they are in the right draft placement for that to become a reality. The problem here? He probably is not QB1 in any draft class but this one. He has lapses in accuracy and mechanics, and you will hear about his hands at some point. The good news? They desperately need a quarterback and Pickett’s improvement from 2020 to 2021 may be a sign that he is a super-fast learner and has barely scratched the surface of his ability. They could make a move for a QB before the draft, but if they don’t I fully expect this pick to be one of the quarterbacks. Matt Rhule is on the hot seat, to say the least, and you can bet he wants to avoid a Sam Darnold sequel in what is absolutely the most important year in his coaching career.
1.7 New York Giants
The pick: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
This may need some explanation but personally, I think this is actually pretty realistic. Lloyd is soaring up draft boards and for damn good reason. He is a top-five player on my board and this combine may make that a lot more common. He is versatile, you can move him all over the linebacker corps. I’m talking run support, pass rush, sideline-to-sideline ability, and I think he absolutely has coverage potential. The Giants pairing him and Hamilton is a disgusting duo and would give New York energy and excitement for the entire defensive unit.
1.8 Atlanta Falcons
The pick: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
A couple of years ago this would be considered the steal of the draft, I still think it is. Did Stingley have some regression from his first and even second season at LSU? Yes. Was it the massive falloff some are making it out to be? Absolutely not. This guy is a stellar CB prospect with natural ability and the type of athleticism teams are coveting in the secondary. Atlanta automatically has an elite cornerback duo with Stingley and Terrell, both guys that deserve a lot more respect.
1.9 Denver Broncos
The pick: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Back-to-back steals? Yup, although this one is not as big as the highway robbery that Stingley at eight is. Denver is in a very weird spot here and there are no easy answers. Pickett is off the board and the others may just be too far a reach here. And so, best player available. I think it is hard to argue that guy is not Hutchinson here. He was dominant last year, no doubt about it, I just think the top five talk is a little much. Nonetheless, the Broncos have to start rebuilding the defense and this is one heck of a start to that. Surtain last year at nine, Hutchinson this time around, those two at this point are both fantastic value.
1.10 New York Jets
The pick: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Does this qualify as a surprise pick? If this guy does not tear his ACL in the last game of the season this may be the opposite of a surprise and more of a “how did he fall that far?”. Williams is a straight-up home run hitter. He carries the kind of big-play ability that teams want and has the size, route running, and catching to further solidify his argument. The Jets are doing Zach Wilson quite the favor with Ekonwu and Williams in this draft.
1.11 Washington Commanders
The pick: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
After all the scandal and turmoil the Commanders are in desperate need of a fresh start and a new hope for the fans, what better way to do that than addressing one of your biggest needs while simultaneously taking the new face of the franchise. Matt Corrall is not a perfect QB prospect by any means, but he does have some unteachable qualities and has shown flashes of real talent. A good combine showing for the Ole Miss man can cement him as a top 12 pick in my opinion.
1.12 Minnesota Vikings
The pick: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
I am sensing some Henry Ruggs over CeeDee Lamb/Justin Jefferson this year, just at the cornerback position. I think Sauce Gardner out of Cincinnati has done just about everything he can to be the 2nd corner off the board in this draft, I don’t think that happens though. The Washington Huskies have been DBU recently and McDuffie is the next guy up. He brings athleticism and the kind of aggression I have always loved from college corners. Minnesota has been needing young talent at CB for years and with the Mike Hughes pick really flopping, this sentiment is more true than ever. Personally, I think Gardner is the pick here. Realistically, I think the NFL will be lower on him than fans and media.
1.13 Cleveland Browns
The pick: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Let’s keep the explosive players’ trend going as we head into the teens. It seems right now that Baker Mayfield is going to be the quarterback for the Brownies in week one and if that is the case, they better surround him with some better weapons if they want a chance of success. Wilson stays in state and gives Clevland a pretty decent receiver room with Landry and DPJ. The rumor is they really want to keep free-agent TE David Njoku around with Austin Hooper, if they do that and go receiver here, there are no excuses for Baker in 2022.
1.14 Baltimore Ravens
The pick: Zion Johnson, IOL, Boston College
It is not common for John Harbaugh to pick this high and it took an insane amount of injuries for it to happen. The Ravens need to pay their franchise QB, while also facing the music that he has yet to make the deep playoff run his AFC counterparts have. One way to give Lamar a better shot to do that? Beef up this offensive line. Tyree Phillips especially, and Ben Powers to a degree, are not starters on a Super Bowl-winning team. This may be a surprising pick over guys like Lindenbaum, Green, and even Penning but in my eyes, Zion Johnson has just as much 10-year starter potential as any of those guys. I could see Baltimore falling in love with him and making him the guard of the future next to Bradley Boseman.
1.15 Philadelphia Eagles
The pick: Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The easiest pick of this mock draft, no question. The Eagles must find more cornerback talent if they want a good defense and Gardner is simply the best player available at this pick. There are major questions surrounding Philly coming into the offseason but with three picks between 15 and 20, they can answer a lot of them in the span of 20 minutes in April. Starting with Gardner is about as good as the Eagles can get at 15.
1.16 Philadelphia Eagles
The pick: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
With their first two picks, Philly gets two guys that you can argue are top 10 talent in this class. Karlaftis may have lacked in statistical production with the Boilermakers, but his presence and ability were always on full display. The Eagles are really rebuilding their defense with these two picks AND they still have a first to play with.
1.17 Los Angeles Chargers
The pick: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
This is a really common spot for Georgia NT Jordan Davis, but I think a 1st round, high upside pass rusher on the opposite side of Joey Bosa may bolster this subpar defensive line even more. This will be a major target for improvement for the Chargers and they can’t really go wrong, there are a plethora of linemen to choose from, I just think Ojabo brings the most potential and raw ability at this spot.
1.18 New Orleans Saints
The pick: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
I think Jameis Winston really found a home with the Saints and with salary cap penalties, Sean Payton out of the picture, and a really weak QB class, a more stable option may make more sense than reaching for Ridder, Howell, or Willis (I don’t think he’s a reach) here. Bring back Winston, let him get a full year under his belt, and let Michael Thomas run it back with another OSU receiver. Olave is a technician and has NFL ready written all over him. In a WR class full of flash, this guy may produce the most out of any rookie especially if he has MT13 taking the attention off of him.
1.19 Philadelphia Eagles
The pick: Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa
The heir to Jason Kelce has arrived, even if he is sticking around for another year. This value is sick and it fits a role either now, or next year considering the age of Kelce. The Eagles get Gardner, Karlaftis, and Linderbaum in this round, that is quite frankly absurd and it puts them on track to be serious NFC East contenders if Jalen Hurts can take that next step in his progression.
1.20 Pittsburgh Steelers
The pick: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
This has been a common pick in recent mock drafts, especially after the Senior Bowl and I think it’s for good reason. A combination of Willis/Najee Harris gives the Steelers the kind of mixture in the backfield that nobody else has. Pittsburgh has to find the next QB in their history after the retirement of Big Ben and nobody has the potential that Willis has. This pick may be the most fun to imagine of any in this draft.
1.21 New England Patriots
The pick: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Meet the next leader of Bill Belichick’s defense. Dont’a Hightower really regressed last year and Dean can give them a really formidable combination with Judon and Bentley in the room as well. Nakobi has shown signs of pass rush savvy and is the run stopper that a team like New England needs from their top linebacker. He is an athletic freak that has potential in coverage and coaching from the greatest coach ever, who you know, happens to be a defensive coach, may just be the thing that turns Dean from high upside to All-Pro.
1.22 Las Vegas Raiders
The pick: Drake London, WR, USC
Derek Carr needs a legit WR1 and new head coach Josh McDaniels has been on a never-ending search for one for years in New England. Enter Drake London, one of the most fun to watch receivers in this entire class. London is big, there is no way around it. He carries elite size and strength, paired with Renfrow in the slot, and Waller over the middle gives Vegas exactly what they need on offense.
1.23 Arizona Cardinals
The pick: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
It is entirely possible by the time April comes around, Johnson is a consensus top 15 pick. His Senior Bowl performance gave his stock a major jolt and a follow-up showing at the combine might just elevate him to the next level. IF he can get here, Arizona needs to jump on it. Their pass rush is aging and a guy like Johnson can not only make a big impact, but guys like JJ Watt can take him under his wing and give him that tutoring that he could really use to his advantage.
1.24 Dallas Cowboys
The pick: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
This is not the sexy pick some in Cowboys Nation would want here; guys like Treylon Burks and Jalen Pitre would get the crowd excited. Instead, the Jones family goes BPA here and takes the man that blew up the Senior Bowl in Trevor Penning. This move sets up the LT of the future for when Tyron Smith departs, and that may happen sooner than some think. They could also use this to move RT Lae’l Collins to left guard while cementing their first-rounder in as the starting right tackle. Dallas does not have the offensive line some think they do, as a matter of fact, it is a massive weakness. This move solidifies the future and present at o-line for the Boys.
1.25 Buffalo Bills
The pick: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Bills front office HAS to be smart here. As I just mentioned with Dallas, guys like Treylon Burks would be the fun pick, but Booth is the smart pick. Josh Allen has more than enough to work with on offense and they still have six rounds after this if they want to address WR3. With this pick, however, address cornerback. Booth is good value and can step into a prominent role on day one for Buffalo.
1.26 Tennessee Titans
The pick: Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M
I think this is three consecutive “smart, not sexy” picks. Again, they could use a WR here, maybe a linebacker as well, but the bottom line is they also need beef on the offensive line and Green is fantastic value here. He might just be an elite guard in three years and if he is, teams are going to be struggling trying to stop Henry with a top-five offensive line in front of him.
1.27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The pick: Jordan Davis, IDL, Georgia
It is very hard to imagine a world where a 6’6” 330 lbs nose tackle with immense raw potential falls out of the first round. The Bucs are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now as they try to address the retirement of Tom Brady, Ali Marpet, and multiple expected departures in free agency. One of those is Ndakamong Suh, who has helped Vita Vea immensely on the inside of the defensive line. Let Davis step in for him and watch offensive lines scramble to block the size and brute strength of Vea/Davis.
1.28 Green Bay Packers
The pick: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
I was seriously stuck between Burks and Minnesota pass-rusher, Boye Mafe here. They are going to need pass rush help with at least one of the “Smith Brothers” expected to be cut and they love have shown a liking to prospects like Mafe in the past. The bottom line however is if Rodgers comes back which I expect him to, possibly this Tuesday even, they have to do something that helps him. Burks is insane value here and believe it or not, he fills a need. The Packers have needed wide receivers for years and it’s about damn time they did something about it.
1.29 Miami Dolphins
The pick: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
The number one objective for the Fish this offseason has to be to protect Tua and give him weapons. Jaylen Waddle can not do it all and their offensive line is quite frankly atrocious. If they are betting on Tagovailoa, they have to either go OL or WR here. Raimann is, in my opinion, the best of the 2nd tier of offensive linemen in this class. He is raw, but we are past the time for an immediate, elite-level offensive lineman in this class and Raimann can certainly get to that level, it may just take him some time.
1.30 Kansas City Chiefs
The pick: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
If you have read pretty much any mock draft over the last two weeks, odds are you have seen Hill to KC at 30. The main reason for that is that it simply makes quite a lot of sense. I think Tyrann Mathieu has played his last down as a Chief and without him, they will desperately need somebody next to the young stud, Juan Thornhill. Hill makes sense in the very late 1st to mid 2nd round range and the fit here is just too good.
1.31 Cincinnati Bengals
The pick: Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
And the crowd erupts with memes, the Bengals have again passed up on offensive line. The only issue with that? There is not a guy to take here that would not be a reach in my opinion. I think they spend big in free agency and wait and see if they can get an o-lineman at 31. If they can’t, like in this scenario, they either trade back or place their focus on CB in my eyes. Gordon is a great guy to snag this late and he can certainly fill Eli Apple’s spot behind Awuzie and Hilton.
1.32 Detroit Lions
The pick: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
This is a good old-fashioned case of “why not”. The Lions do not have much to lose here as Ridder is likely good value here and has the potential to maybe be something. They also pick two picks after this, so why not take a flyer on Ridder and get another borderline 1st rounder at 34. If Goff is not getting it done, replace him with your 32nd overall QB and see if you have anything. If not? Fear not, there is a much better quarterback class on the way in 2023!