It’s that time of year, so we’re giving you what I know most of you want: a mock draft.
But first, I think it’s important that I tell you a few things about the exercise here, from my standpoint, and also about the draft class and draft year as a whole.
1) Teams are still on the road at pro days. The last set of draft meetings starts in early April. The information trade really ramps up then. So while I might have a hunch that connects a player to a team here, really, even the teams haven’t made final calls or plans on guys, which makes tying this team to that player at this point a little premature. We’ll get there in a few weeks.
2) With that in mind, really my goal with this particular mock is to get guys going in the right range. I do have some players who I matched with a team need that resulted in my getting pushback from scouts. In some cases, I kept the players where I had them, but I’ll tell you in the blurbs where those sorts of reaches are.
3) Along those lines, in an effort to accurately place players in the right range, I vetted this mock with about a dozen teams over the last couple of days.
4) The quarterbacks are obviously big variables. I have the four top guys going 1-2-3-4. Am I convinced that’ll happen? I am not. But if I had to set a floor right now for the top four (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Trey Lance) being off the board, I put it at the ninth pick.
5) One position that was interesting through the exercise: offensive tackle in particular and offensive line in general. The 2021 class is seen as very strong at those positions. And when you go through the process of matching teams to players, you realize what a godsend that is for the NFL, because a lot of teams have needs at those positions.
6) On the flip side, you’ll see two receivers in the top 10 and three in the top 15, then none for a while. Why? Well, this is a second straight deep group at the position, so I’d bet a lot of teams will wait to address it. And by the way, this trend of strong receiver classes isn’t slowing down soon. Another bumper crop (George Pickens, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Justyn Ross and John Metchie) is expected in 2022. Which, really, is just a sign of where the game’s going.
7) You’ll also see positions like linebacker and tailback are absent, and that’s not an indictment of the players. More so, it’s just a reflection of how teams value those spots—and believe they can find good players at them later on in the draft.
Got all that? O.K., good.
So now that you’re all fired up for the mock, here’s a quick preview of what else you’ll find in this week’s GamePlan.
• A power ranking of available free agents!
• An analysis of where things stand with Russell Wilson.
• A reminder on offseason programs.
• The identity of a draft quarterback who’s tied to Cam Newton.
And now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into my first (very rough) mock draft.
For more coverage of the draft, check out our friends at NFL Draft Bible.
Without further ado, here are my one through 32 …
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
No need to explain this one.
2) New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
In the end, my feeling is the chance to reset the quarterback-on-a-rookie-contract clock, along with Wilson’s upside, will be too much for the Jets to pass up.
3) Denver Broncos (trade with the Dolphins, who currently have this pick via the Texans): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Curveball! Carolina and New England could make moves up, too. But new Denver GM George Paton has been on the ground at the quarterback pro days, and I’m not ruling out a big first statement from the new guy in charge. The Dolphins will receive the Broncos’ No. 9 pick below.
4) Atlanta Falcons: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Falcons are another team that’s had its decision-makers’ boots on the ground for all the big quarterback pro days. So let’s make a little history here, and go, quarterbacks 1-2-3-4.
5) Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR LSU
I could easily see Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater going here, but word on the street is that Joe Burrow is stumping for Cincy to bring his old Tiger teammate to Ohio. And the Riley Reiff signing gives the Bengals the flexibility to add a playmaker who’s an ideal stylistic fit for their quarterback.
6) Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
GM Howie Roseman loves his tight ends, and with Zach Ertz on his way out, and Chase off the board, Philly can add a unique player at the position to help Jalen Hurts (even after looking at whether it’d be worth displacing Hurts should one of the four quarterbacks above slip to them).
7) Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Sewell’s maturity has come into question as teams evaluate the 20-year-old, but his physical ability is undeniable. Sewell has All-Pro talent. And Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes come from places that weren’t shy about overinvesting in the line, so they’d figure it out with Sewell and Taylor Decker.
8) Carolina Panthers: Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama
Yes, the Panthers are hot on the quarterback trail, so I wouldn’t rule out a trade up for someone like Fields. But in this scenario, they land a guy whose floor as a player is long-term starting corner. It’s a middle-of-the-fairway pick, just as Derrick Brown was last year.
9) Miami Dolphins (trade with the Broncos): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Miami needs to get faster on offense, and Waddle is more than just a burner. He’s electric in every way with the ball in his hands and, even better, he comes with built-in chemistry with Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa. He’s a perfect complement to the big-bodied DeVante Parker.
10) Dallas Cowboys: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Rashawn Slater could prove to be Tyron Smith’s eventual replacement at left tackle. Or he could be a long-term answer at guard. What’s important, for now, is he’s a top-shelf prospect and would give Dallas a long-term building block somewhere in an aging position group.
11) New York Giants: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
Call this a hunch. Paye’s pro day is Friday, and by all accounts, he’s going to absolutely crush it. Joe Judge has connections to the Michigan staff, and that staff will give Paye (whose backstory is incredible) a glowing review. And GM Dave Gettleman loves big, fast pass rushers.
12) San Francisco 49ers: Greg Rousseau
Rousseau’s athleticism is undeniable, but after opting out in 2020, his game needs a lot of polish. Getting to play with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead? That’d probably help hasten his development. And in taking Rousseau, GM John Lynch would continue to feed a team strength to ensure it remains one.
13) Los Angeles Chargers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
I seriously considered moving Horn into the top 10, and nearly gave him to the Niners at 12. NFL people are very high on him, with some believing he’s a better prospect than Surtain. As it is, we know Brandon Staley values corners in his defense, and the Chargers need some.
14) Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
It’s no secret the Vikings have been digging for some time for offensive line help. Vera-Tucker’s measurements (his arm length in particular) at USC pro day were less than ideal, and have a lot of people thinking he’s strictly a guard and may slide a little. But he’s still a really good player.
15) New England Patriots: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
From a fit standpoint, the 170-pound Smith is perfect for the Patriots’ offense, a receiver who’s a technician capable of playing all over the field. Should Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne preclude this from happening? Did Donté Stallworth and Wes Welker preclude the Patriots from bringing in Randy Moss in 2007?
16) Arizona Cardinals: Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech
The post–Patrick Peterson Cards catch the sliding Farley, who’s only here because of his back issues. Farley, if he can stay healthy, absolutely has the tape (albeit from two seasons ago) and athletic profile to project as a No. 1 corner in the NFL.
17) Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
This is around where I see the second wave of offensive tackles starting to come off the board. The Raiders have a replacement for Rodney Hudson (Andre James) and can make it work at guard, where they lose Gabe Jackson. The massive Darrisaw, in this scenario, replaces Trent Brown.
18) Miami Dolphins: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
There are off-field questions that have dogged Parsons, but he’s a unique athlete, and I think Brian Flores will have confidence he can get the most out of Parsons in every way. The Nittany Lion star is a supercharged version of the linebacker prototype Flores brought from the Patriots.
19) Washington Football Team: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
Washington needs to find a left tackle and, truth be told, the best options on that front are off the board already. With Mayfield and Teven Jenkins still there, Washington goes with the more athletic option here (Mayfield did as good a job blocking WFT star Chase Young as anyone in the Big Ten in 2019) to shore up its Trent Williams–sized hole.
20) Chicago Bears: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
The Bears need help across the board on their offensive line, and Jenkins gives them a big, strong and physical piece to help Andy Dalton & Co.
21) Indianapolis Colts: Jaelen Phillips, DE, Miami
Edge rusher is one spot that hasn’t yet been fully taken care of in GM Chris Ballard’s rebuild of the roster, and Phillips has the measureables that Indy looks for in the defensive end spot. Medicals will have to check out here, but Phillips’s upside is enough to jump on, in lieu of a left tackle slipping here.
22) Tennessee Titans: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
Newsome’s a very solid, smart, all-around football player who came into the process with concern about his overall athleticism. A 40-yard dash some scouts had in the high 4.4s took care of that, and this would address a pretty serious need for the Titans.
23) New York Jets (via the Seahawks): Azeez Ojulari, DE, Georgia
Ojulari just strikes me as Robert Saleh’s kind of guy. He may not be athletically what Paye or the two Miami pass rushers are, but he’s crafty in his ability to get to the quarterback and would be a nice bookend for new Jet Carl Lawson.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
As we mentioned in the mailbag on Wednesday, GM Kevin Colbert’s connections in Tuscaloosa may have influenced my decision on this one, because I know how the Bama staff feels about Jones. So Colbert gets his Ben Roethlisberger heir here.
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (via the Rams): Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
First things first, Oweh had zero sacks at Penn State this year. That said, he apparently has run in the 4.3s in the 40 (his pro day is Thursday, so we’ll see), and Urban Meyer recruited him a few years back and almost got him to Ohio State. So consider this an educated dice role for the Jags’ coach.
26) Cleveland Browns: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
The Browns still need corner help, and edge-rusher help, and at this point in the draft, I’d bet on there being better corners than edge rushers. Also, we know the value that GM Andrew Berry places on athletic traits, and Stokes is overflowing with those (even if he needs to get more consistent).
27) Baltimore Ravens: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Barmore has the ability of a top 10 pick. But maturity and off-field issues had a lot of people thinking it might’ve been best that he stay another year in college. He didn’t. And the Ravens get good info on Bama players (see: Newsome, Ozzie). So that could go either way here.
28) New Orleans Saints: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
The idea of this multifaceted talent landing in Sean Payton’s offense is pretty fun to think about, as is the concept of Toney and Alvin Kamara breaking the huddle together, with defenses trying to figure out where those two would go.
29) Green Bay Packers: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Aaron Rodgers gets his help! I thought about Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore and Tutu Atwell here, too. But I’ll just say that NFL people are way higher on Moore than the public realizes. (And yes, he is the guy who celebrated, uh, uniquely in the Egg Bowl a couple of years back.)
30) Buffalo Bills: Joe Tryon, DE, Washington
Tryon could wind up being an outstanding value pick. He was a highly productive true sophomore in 2019 that opted out of the 2020 season. And the Bills really could use another edge rusher to give their defensive front some more juice.
31) Kansas City Chiefs: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
This was tough because I do know Eichenberg would be a bit of reach here. I considered Texas’s Sam Cosmi for this spot and Alabama interior OL Landon Dickerson (one problem with him is he may not be ready for the opener). I went with Eichenberg, in part, because of Notre Dame’s stellar record in producing NFL linemen. (Look it up, they almost all pan out.)
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
Without any crying needs on the roster, GM Jason Licht’s dealing from a position of strength here. Onwuzurike, like his teammate Tryon, would probably be higher on this list if he’d played in 2020. And he can help the Bucs get younger along an aging front.
As a reminder, I’ll be back with another one of these during draft week, and we’re going to have a ton of draft intel and info on the site in the weeks to come, as we turn the page on the NFL calendar from free agency to the draft.
Since we’re now a week into free agency, the time for teams to swoop in and take advantage of a down market has arrived. So we give you the best of what’s left …
1) Jadeveon Clowney: Would you believe Clowney just turned 28? It’s true. And over a tumultuous couple of years, he’s still flashed the ability to be a versatile edge defender, and could be a dangerous addition in the passing game for a team with a high-end rusher to play opposite him. Which is why his visit to Cleveland on Wednesday made a lot of sense. (Carlos Dunlap, Justin Houston and maybe to a lesser degree, Melvin Ingram, round out a crew of older rushers who could still bring value to the right teams.)
2) Sammy Watkins: Another 2014 draftee who’s seemingly been around forever but remains pretty young (27!), Watkins has speed and downfield ability you can’t teach, and has performed on big stages as a pro.
3) DaQuan Jones: The 317-pound interior lineman was a starter the last six years for Tennessee. And while he may have lost a step, it’s hard to find disruptive defenders at his size.
4) Richard Sherman: Sherman’s been pretty much on the ground floor in helping to build two highly successful programs and can still play man coverage, even at his age (he turns 33 next week). My sense is he’s willing to wait for the right fit.
5) Leonard Fournette: He’s been inconsistent and was a problem at the end in Jacksonville, but the playoffs showed again that there’s talent to work with there. Tom Brady’s actively recruiting him back to Tampa Bay, and Brady’s former team has monitored this one as well.
THE BIG QUESTION
Where do things stand with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks?
To me, this one’s amplified by the fact that any potential Deshaun Watson trade is—rightfully—on hold, at least temporarily. And with that in mind, this won’t read as great news for quarterback-hungry teams. I’d still say the likelihood is that Wilson has signed his last contract with the Seahawks, but I do feel like this situation is more workable than it was a couple of weeks ago, and in a place where the team and Wilson can keep things at status quo for a year.
If you’re reading the tea leaves here, and we’ve probably all been doing that to a degree, then the signals from the Seahawks are that they are going forward, business as usual.
On one hand, they’ve taken Wilson’s input and applied some of it. Wilson was consulted and gave his blessing to the coordinator hire of ex-Rams assistant Shane Waldron. Also, that offensive line help he asked for? Well, he wanted a high-end player there, not a reclamation project or developmental guy, and the trade for Raiders guard Gabe Jackson gave him that. And they gave Wilson another weapon (signing tight end Gerald Everett) and re-signed Chris Carson, to boot.
On the other hand, Seattle clearly isn’t kowtowing to Wilson. GM John Schneider’s M.O. in the past has been to see the top quarterback prospects throw live and, as such, he showed up at Josh Allen’s pro day in Wyoming three years ago. That ruffled feathers with Wilson’s camp, and if Seattle was trying to tiptoe around its quarterback, especially without a first-round pick in its war chest, the decision might have been made to sit out the big QB pro days this year. Very clearly, the Seahawks aren’t doing that.
Schneider was front and center at North Dakota State’s pro day on March 12. Which, again, I don’t think is a slight at Wilson so much as it is a sign of where the line will be drawn.
From here, we have the offseason program, then training camp and the season, and as I see it, where the relationship between the Seahawks and Wilson goes will be related very much to how the team, and how its quarterback specifically, play in 2021. If Waldron’s a home run hire (very possible), Jackson helps improve the line, Everett’s another viable target (alongside DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Will Dissly), and the Seahawks win the NFC West and get back to the conference title game, then there’s a shot we’re not back here again next year.
Which, really, is the same place Wilson and the Seahawks have been for a while.
WHAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
Offseason programs are supposed to start soon!
We covered part of this in the MMQB column on Monday. Teams with new coaches would, by rule, be allowed to start on April 5, and one idea being floated is for those to start on time with teams limited to having 20 players in the building at once (with guys coming in on shifts). Also, as things change with the vaccine becoming more available over time, another concept being discussed for spring and summer—because the NFL can’t force players to take the vaccine—is to leave stringent COVID-19 protocols in place for unvaccinated players, and start to loosen protocols for those who’ve been vaccinated.
That makes sense to me, as a motivator for players to get vaccinated, and also as a way to protect everyone in these buildings while starting on the path back to normalcy.
And that raises a question that the union has asked: Why even have offseason programs in this environment? I think there are two answers to that question that are pretty logical.
One, if the strength-and-conditioning piece of it is done in a strictly voluntary way (and given the circumstances, that would have to be stressed), it would at least give the players who live locally to their teams a chance to save on the cost of training to ramp up for camp and the season. Two, even if players don’t like OTAs and minicamps, having some semblance of them would serve bottom-of-the-roster players (maybe having some sort of “developmental” minicamp, rather than a full-squad minicamp could bridge the gap).
Anyway, all of this is worth keeping an eye on over the next 10 days.
THE FINAL WORD
Because it’s draft season, and the Patriots have been tied to Fields a little this week, I thought giving all of you this video would be a nice way to wrap the week up. Enjoy!