- With team needs shifting after the first week of free agency, a new look at how the first round might play out.
Welcome to my first mock draft of the season, and sorry in advance. This year in particular felt arduous in terms of balancing team needs and trying to match players with certain characteristics coaches like, to the extent we think coaches like them. (An insane amount of coaching turnover doesn’t help matters, either.) This is also our first mock draft since the initial wave of free agency, meaning that rosters—and needs—have changed significantly since our last.
A special thanks to Matt Maoncherian and the Sports Info Solutions guys for the work they did in their rookie handbook, which helped me out a lot in terms of coverage stats for defensive linemen, linebackers and corners, which is difficult to put together.
I suppose you could say this mock isn’t wild in the traditional sense, but here’s the best crack at putting myself into 32 war rooms:
1. Arizona: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
The league’s worst subterfuge campaign comes to an end. Angry Josh Rosen is free to Instagram himself with a new team and the Cardinals will start over in one of the most epic direction shifts in modern NFL history. Murray throws well, doesn’t seem to get rattled in tight spots (personally, I thought he was still making some heady directional throws late in that Alabama loss) and will almost certainly require a full-time spy on defense.
2. San Francisco: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
I really wanted to put Quinnen Williams here, but that would be a reaction to how the 49ers’ defense played a year ago. I also don’t want the Dee Ford deal to impact my thinking too much. Bosa is so good that other teams would gameplan around the inevitability that he’d destroy their offensive tackle or tight end. There’s a spot for him somewhere, despite the fact that San Francisco is heavily invested in defensive line talent already (DeForest Buckner, Soloman Thomas and DeForest Buckner).
Another determining factor here may end up being the division around them. Twice a year, they’ll get an Air Raid Cardinals offense with either a rookie or second-year quarterback, Sean McVay, and a Seahawks team with a quarterback who utilizes the outer edges of the pocket better than just about anyone in football. Bosa helps you with all of that.
3. N.Y. Jets: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
Could see this going one of two ways. In re-watching a little of Gregg Williams from last year, an interior terror like Williams who can manipulate multiple blockers and open space for other rushers and blitzers would be extraordinarily useful. This might come down to Williams and Gase’s opinion of what they have left on the roster and what needs upgrading the most (the Anthony Barr decision obviously looms large here, and would have definitely cemented my confidence in the Quinnen Williams pick instead of teetering on Josh Allen). If I had to make a safe gamble, it would be a more proven commodity who will be more useful against a division where most teams still pace themselves offensively via the run.
4. Oakland: Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky
Another toss-up for me here. I think the big difference between Allen and Montez Sweat from Mississippi State is that Allen may end up being a better transitional option for a base 4-3 defense if Oakland ends up layering on defense in this draft and comes up with multiple players at similar positions. There is also more tape available of Allen in coverage, which will be a nice additional bonus when facing the Chiefs and Chargers twice per season.
5. Tampa Bay: Devin White, LB, LSU
This is a fairly significant defensive shift Tampa Bay underwent, and they’ll need quite a bit. New coordinator Todd Bowles was drawn to powerful, do-everything safeties in both Arizona and New York, but that player isn’t on the board right now. In watching some of the blitzes he had called up for the Jets last year, though, I was drawn to the way he sometimes liked to bookend the center with a pair of blitzing inside linebackers to immediately create chaos and put pressure on a blocking back (our Andy Benoit adds that it’s a shorter distance to the quarterback, thus clouding his vision). White would do that well—30-plus pressures each of the last two seasons, 11-plus tackles for loss each of the last two seasons. Bowles will have to weigh whatever White lacks in coverage (Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara are in this division and can expose just about any coverage weakness in a linebacker) though someone who can create immense interior pressure can also probably keep some of those guys in the backfield on blocking duty.
6. N.Y. Giants: Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State
The only player in this draft whose last name truly describes the extent of his physical exertion, so a lot to like there (please know I’m kidding). Here are the dots I’m connecting, feel free to call me crazy: Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has openly said the remaining outside anchors need to play better. The organization holds dearly their history of drafting pass-rush talent. They’re not moving on from Eli Manning this year (and maybe next year, either). The best solution might be to find someone who can create some issues in the passing game for others in the meantime.
7. Jacksonville: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Maybe the first woah-eliciting pick of this mock draft, but the rationale is this: Jacksonville needs clean, productive offensive players who can do multiple things right away. This is about building around Nick Foles on the fly. Offensive tackle might be the obvious choice here, or maybe wide receiver, but I would say that Hockenson can—at times—manipulate a defense on a running play just as effectively as a good tackle. There’s some pretty solid play side and backside blocking on display here.
8. Detroit: Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
I thought this was an interesting note: Of the consensus top corners in this draft, Baker played the most even man-to-zone ratio (54.4 to 45.6) in college, where as most of the other dominant corners in this draft were more man-focused. A hunch: Matt Patricia is looking for heady guys who can slip easily from man to zone coverage to rattle opposing QBs. If they’re not thrilled with, say, Rashan Gary as a multi-tooled player up front and Hockenson is off the board, maybe Baker makes some sense here.
9. Buffalo: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Oliver will be a top-30 visit in Buffalo, and gives Sean McDermott a lot of moving parts up front. His 84 pressures over three seasons (a number that got better each year) is pretty significant. He averaged almost two tackles for loss and four pressures per game during his final year in Houston. I suppose receiver works here too, though D.K. Metcalf would work best with a seasoned quarterback in my opinion.
10. Denver: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
An offseason dip into free agency at the offensive tackle spot makes a luxury pick possible. Joe Flacco is basically on a series of rolling one-year deals from here on out, and can transition whenever the time is right. This is a chance for John Elway to fix his biggest issue in the long term, while maintaining some stability in the short term.
11. Cincinnati: Rashan Gary, EDGE, Michigan
Gary is headed to Cincinnati for a top-30 visit. In this scenario, he drops and the research pays off. After cutting Vontaze Burfict, a playmaking linebacker is also a necessity here. Given the depth at the position, though, they may be able to find one later in the draft.
12. Green Bay: Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State
Admittedly lazy here, but if Clay Matthews doesn’t come back at a lower price, the Packers need to find a way to start replicating some of that production—a job that will be shared among multiple players. Burns’s coverage stats are almost nonexistent; he was almost purely a pass rusher at Florida State. He does some super creative things at the line with a unique arsenal of moves and could be tricky for offensive tackles who aren’t technically sound (there’s a few in that division). Free agency definitely shows that Green Bay is prepping for life after Matthews already, but why not work in a long-term option like Burns, who could get some fun looks in Mike Pettine’s defense.
13. Miami: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
Assuming the Dolphins are in smart tank mode, it makes sense to break in your other outside anchor before the future franchise passer gets there. One has to like the fact that, in an Air Raid offense, Dillard wasn’t flagged for a single hold in 2018. If the run blocking needs to get better, so be it. You’ll have time.
14. Atlanta: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Long-term insurance in case Grady Jarrett gets too expensive following his franchise tag year. In the short term, a piece that could finally make all of these seemingly connected pieces function as the terrifying line they should be.
15. Washington: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
A gift for Washington, who, depending on the long-term outlook of Alex Smith, needs someone to develop behind bridge starter Case Keenum. Jay Gruden is a good enough coach to get this team near .500, which means it’s probably his best chance of nabbing a franchise passer in the coming years.
16. Carolina: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
In theory, it works. Line Metcalf up wide on first-and-10 and dare a team to single cover him when Cam Newton can throw the ball out of the stadium. Personally, a few metrics like his catch rate on catchable passes (78.8) and his reputation as a deep ball specialist scare me. But, Carolina could be inching toward something special with their current collection of skill position players around Newton.
17. N.Y. Giants (from Cleveland): Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
Dave Gettleman gets crack No. 2 at a quarterback… and passes. Too many needs right now to pass up a legitimate starting right tackle, even if Giants fans will shudder at the prospect of a powerful, run-blocking presence from a Florida school. On paper, this gives them a pretty darn good offensive line and fulfills their offseason goal, which is to maximize Saquon Barkley and give Eli Manning the cleanest possible pocket.
18. Minnesota: Jonah Williams, OT/G, Alabama
Perfect situation here for Mike Zimmer, who gets a player that can come in and battle at multiple positions on Day One. A stat to like: The Tide averaged 5.3 yards per carry when running to his gap in 2018—better than all but two gaps in Minnesota’s front five last year.
19. Tennessee: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
The player NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah says is a “DeSean Jackson clone” would certainly fit into an offense that was 18th (deep left), 24th (deep middle) and 32nd (deep right) in long passing plays a season ago. Freeing up Corey Davis is intriguing for the almost-there Titans.
20. Pittsburgh: Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
I’ll go back to Andy Benoit’s stellar offseason needs post, in which he wrote Pittsburgh is in desperate need of a “true perimeter cover artist opposite star Joe Haden,” who would “let them play less pure zone and more of the matchup coverages.” Williams has 35 pass breakups over the last two seasons, and has allowed an average QB rating on balls thrown in his direction of 26.
21. Seattle: Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
I found this note from plugged-in beat man Bob Condotta pretty interesting when many were associating Seattle with troubled Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons: “One of the whispered subplots of the draft last year was that [Pete] Carroll was taking a little more control and wanted to take fewer injury risks, in particular. So Simmons makes a lot of sense as a player but the other stuff would make me think Seattle would be cautious…”. Tillery had more pressures, albeit against a different class of opponent, over the last three years. He had 41 quarterback hits and 11.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Against some of the better offensive lines he faced, though, he was pretty darn good.
22. Baltimore: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
It’s hard not to love the idea of Baltimore loading up at the position and hammering teams with a consistent running game. A three-headed monster of Jacobs, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards would wear down defenses Naval Academy style. Here’s a ratio John Harbaugh will love especially: one fumble and 38 broken tackles per 100 touches. Inside the tackles, 6.9 yards per carry.
23. Houston: Cody Ford, OT/G, Oklahoma
Could possibly see them using an additional second-rounder to move back in for a wide receiver, or for Jacobs if he’s still hanging around. It’s difficult not to give them the best remaining tackle on the board, though. A second straight pick that I stole from draft columnist Kalyn Kahler’s pre-free agency mock.
24. Oakland (from Chicago): Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Fant checks a lot of boxes for Oakland, including a tight end that is comfortable lining up in the slot. He caught almost 90 percent of the catchable passes thrown in his direction, and was split out wide on more than 25 percent of his snaps.
25. Philadelphia: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
I really liked a few of the drafts I saw where the Eagles took a Jason Peters heir apparent. But in this made-up world I’ve created, where all the general managers do exactly what I want, the world has led us here. Murphy played a heavy dose of zone in college and has a reputation for sticking his nose in on the run game.
26. Indianapolis: Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
While base fit means nothing in the long term, the Colts took over a team that was equipped to run a different scheme and still did some incredible things with the parts provided. Ferrell logged 153 pressures over three seasons, with 36 passes knocked down and 80 quarterback hits. Of course he was playing around one of the best defensive lines of all time. But my goodness, that is astounding production.
27. *PROJECTED TRADE* Denver (from Oakland via Dallas): Garrett Bradbury, C, N.C. State
If he falls this far, the Broncos package one of their mid-round picks and an early second to move up for a player that SIS charted as botching just four pass-blocking situations in 2018. Matt Paradis isn't coming back, and it won't hurt to break in his replacement.
28. L.A. Chargers: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
The Chargers signed a 35-year-old Thomas Davis in free agency this year, which shows their focus on the linebacker position in general. Bush has 10 sacks in two years, plus was targeted more than 40 times in three years, which gives the Chargers ample opportunities to see how he operates against athletic talent. To my untrained eye, it doesn’t seem like the typical “Oh, he’s undersized, so he must be a coverage guy” type, though. There are some big hits in his college highlight reel, and some big blitzes too.
29. Kansas City: Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State
This may be entirely too simplistic, but I saw Campbell’s touchdown in the Rose Bowl and immediately thought of Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Campbell registered a 4.31 40 at the combine, has experience as a return man and, generally, seems to check a lot of the boxes the Chiefs might need checked in 2019.
30. Green Bay (from New Orleans): N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
Anticipating the Rams and Patriots up next, the run on first-round wide receivers continues. The Athletic reported earlier this year that GM Brian Gutekunst was there in-person for one of Harry’s best games of the year. It would be hard to imagine a new regime takes shape without pacifying Aaron Rodgers with some new weapons.
31. L.A. Rams: Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
A longer-term solution than Eric Weddle could be in the works.
32. New England: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
The Patriots are the perfect landing spot for Simmons, who may not be able to contribute right away after tearing his ACL in February.
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