Some mock drafts tell you what will happen, others tell you what should happen. This is the only mock draft that tells you what could happen. That’s how I began last year’s Mock Draft for The People, and it’s how I’ll begin this year’s as well, because you didn’t even read this introduction...
1. Jacksonville: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
He’s the best quarterback prospect in a decade and it isn’t particularly close. He’ll fit in any system you want to run: Air Raid, Shanahan-ian play-action, Wishbone, the playbook the Little Giants used—really, anything Rick Moranis can draw up. If you want to run it, it will work with Lawrence.
There are a lot of things that can happen between now and Thursday, but a potential chain of the events that causes Lawrence to fall from the top spot is limited to this specific scenario:
2. N.Y. Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
He’s not my choice as the draft’s second quarterback, but I understand why it makes sense for the Jets: 1) Mike LaFleur is bringing a Shanahanian offense to East Rutherford, and Wilson will often be working from the kind of spacious throwing platforms he enjoyed at BYU (which, along with his off-platform throwing, makes for an expansive offense). And 2) The Jets are still sitting on a warehouse full of Mark Sanchez-style headbands, so it’s about time they brought in someone who could put them to good use.
3. San Francisco (from Houston via Miami): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
My favorite thing about the draft punditry class, of which I someday hope to be a part, is the inside jokes. For instance, this year, everyone’s pretending that Trey Lance isn’t the second-best quarterback in this class.
Kyle Shanahan has watched football in the past five years, with multiple eyes that each have rods and cones and retinas that transmits images to his brain via optic nerves, and therefore understands how important movement skills, and the ability to create time and space, are for a quarterback in 2021. North Dakota State might be an FCS school, but they put a lot on Lance’s plate and he showed the ability to execute plenty of NFL concepts. He fits this offense, and he has the kind of talent you trade into the top three to get.
4. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* New England: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
*Trade Up from 15: New England sends Atlanta their second-round pick (46th overall), first of three fourth-round picks (120th), and a 2022 first-round pick and ’22 third-round pick
I know, the Patriots never trade up! And look at how well that’s worked out for them the past four drafts!
The 2022 QB draft class is at least shaping up to be a potential dud, Fields would have been the heavy favorite to go first overall in ’22 had he returned to Columbus, who knows when the Patriots will be within striking distance of the top-five again, and Bill Belichick probably doesn’t want to be perusing the dollar-store for replacement-level quarterbacks when he’s 70 (who among us would?). They just built the roster in free agency; this is the point where they go get their quarterback.
5. Cincinnati: JaMarr Chase, WR, LSU
This could be Kyle Pitts or one of the tackles. But a year ago the Bengals had to charm Joe Burrow just to get him to join the team and they surely see what’s gone on with disgruntled franchise quarterbacks across the league. Burrow wants his guy; who are they to say no?
Anyway, this is Burrow (voiced by Bob Saget) flying in from Baton Rouge with his new receiver:
6. Miami (from Philadelphia): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Dolphins now have DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki, and if that isn’t enough weaponry for your quarterback, maybe the weaponry isn’t the problem. So if the Dolphins are going to build around Tua, offensive line is where they upgrade now. Sewell steps in at right tackle, kicking Robert Hunt inside to guard (as God intended), and now we have a front five in Miami.
7. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* L.A. Chargers: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
*Trade Up from 13: L.A. Chargers send Detroit their third (77th overall) and fourth (118th) round picks.
Maybe it isn’t the best idea to trade up for a tight end when your offensive line is in shambles. But on the other hand: C’monnnnnn. Look at this guy! The Chargers have a one-year stopgap at tight end with Jared Cook; Pitts can grow up with Justin Herbert. They’ll have to leap over Carolina to get him though.
8. Carolina: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
For left tackle options, the Panthers have Greg Little and signed Cameron Erving to a suspiciously significant contract. After going all-defense in last year’s draft, and building up a pretty good receiving corps even without Curtis Samuel, it’s time to do something about a left tackle spot that’s been a problem since Jordan Gross retired.
9. Denver: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
If Trey Lance gets past the 49ers, the Broncos should go get him no matter what kind of destruction they have to carve out along the way. But if not, they have to address a cornerbacking group that was just a mess last season. Surtain is a Day One starter on the boundary.
10. Dallas: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
They’ll be bummed to miss out on Surtain, but Horn brings immense upside—a true man coverage corner with better ball skills than his two career INTs at South Carolina would suggest. And ball skills in the defensive backfield will earn a special place in Mike McCarthy’s heart after the Cowboys were one of 10 teams with 10 or fewer interceptions last season. Which, according to Mike McCarthy’s analytics calculator, is less than 11.
11. N.Y. Giants: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Parsons not only provides a perfect complement to the steady but less dynamic Blake Martinez on the second level, but if they wanted to use him on the edge he’d immediately be their best player at that spot.
And, as you read this, someone (his name is Ira) somewhere (he’s in Passaic) is furiously banging out an email to me pointing out that the Giants haven’t taken a first-round linebacker since Carl Banks in 1984. So I guess Joe Judge and Patrick Graham will have to beg Ray Handley for permission to make this pick, or something.
12. Philadelphia (from San Francisco via Miami): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Eagles don’t have to throw in the towel on Jalen Reagor by any means, but they also can’t bank on him becoming a No. 1 receiver. So, in their never-ending search for a No. 1 receiver, they turn to the best one left on the board.
13. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Detroit: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
*Trade Down from 7: Detroit receives L.A. Chargers’ third (77th overall) and fourth (118th) round picks.
The only reason the two Alabama receivers are getting out of the top 10 is because the position is already so obscenely deep—across the league and in this draft class—with yet another bumper crop expected in 2022. Smith’s ability to escape off the line of scrimmage and create with the ball in his hands meshes nicely with Jared Goff’s skillset.
14. Minnesota: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The problem with the Vikings bringing in Yannick Ngakoue last offseason wasn’t that he isn’t good (he’s very good). But Danielle Hunter is underpaid, and if they paid a pending free-agent like Ngakoue, Hunter’s new contract would have to top it. They’ll have to give Hunter a new deal regardless, but addressing the other defensive end spot via draft guarantees that second DE will be making less than Hunter, therefore avoiding the awkwardness of bringing in a high-paid vet.
An edge-bending force, Ojulari is the best edge player in this class, and all draft season I’ve been shouting that from the rooftops. It’s been a huge issue with the neighborhood association.
15. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Atlanta: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
*Trade Down from 4: Atlanta receives New England’s second-round pick (46th overall), first of three fourth-round picks (120th), and a 2022 first-round pick.
They could stay at 4 and take Kyle Pitts, but does it feel like the Falcons are a tight end away from turning things around? And if they love the fourth quarterback they should stay there, but considering Arthur Smith just made Ryan Tannehill into a superhero in Nashville, you can probably feel good about rummaging through the discount rack to find an heir apparent to Matt Ryan.
So Atlanta’s best move is to trade down and start rebuilding the roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I think Paye is best used moving around on the defensive line, and Dean Pees should have some fun with that.
16. Arizona: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
If the Cardinals are going to continue to run this Kingsbury Air Raid with four receivers running iso routes (and I presume they will since Kliff Kingsbury is still their coach), they’re going to need more than DeAndre Hopkins, the artist formerly known as A.J. Green and a bunch of dudes (Christian Kirk is OK, but also leaning a little too much toward "just a dude" status). Toney blows people away at the short and intermediate levels, and could feast immediately with all the attention Hopkins draws.
17. Las Vegas: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
This is nice for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, who don’t want to go into the season with Brandon Parker at right tackle. Outside of Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater—the Big Two, as they’re known by nobody anywhere—Darrisaw is the best of the rest in a pretty good tackle class.
18. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* Pittsburgh: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
*Trade Up from 24: Pittsburgh sends Miami its third rounder (87th overall)
Sensing a run on offensive tackles, the Steelers do the sensible thing and panic, finding a willing trade-down partner in Miami. Pittsburgh can’t run the quick-strike-all-the-time offense they did a year ago, and both tackle spots are trouble spots on this roster (even if they do bring back Ali Villanueva). Jenkins’s mauler mentality fits nicely with the Steelers way, and he keeps the Oklahoma State-to-Pittsburgh pipeline alive (James Washington, Mason Rudolph… also James Washington… seemed like there were others before I looked it up, but no deleting stuff now).
19. Washington: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The Football Team wins Round 1 by landing Owusu-Koamoah, a prototype for the modern linebacker. Washington’s obscene defensive line will allow him to roam free on early downs, and JOK is essentially an extra defensive back in passing situations.
20. Chicago: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
The Bears have dire needs at quarterback and cornerback as well, but Mac Jones isn’t a short-term upgrade over Andy Dalton, and they’re more likely to be able to land a starting-caliber cornerback at No. 52 than a starting-caliber OT.
Offensive line coach Juan Castillo is familiar with Mayfield from Castillo’s stint as an offensive analyst at Michigan. And there is no greater bond than that between an offensive analyst and a right tackle. You know that INXS song? (I… / I was standing / You were there / Two worlds colliding / And they could never, / ever tear us apart). Michael Hutchence might not have been writing specifically about Juan Castillo and Jalen Mayfield, but certainly those lyrics are more applicable to those two than they’ve ever been in any other situation.
21. Indianapolis: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC
Because they spent draft capital in the Carson Wentz trade, the Colts likely won’t be able to make a move up in Round 1. Thus, Chris Ballard will spend most of Thursday praying to Pan, the goat god, that Vera-Tucker falls to 21. Don’t listen to those fat cats in Washington who are telling you Vera-Tucker has to move to guard; he’s a left tackle, and a good one. And he’d immediately answer a big need at left tackle in Indy.
22. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN, THEN UP* Miami: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
*Trade Down from 18, Trade Up from 24: Miami receives Pittsburgh’s third rounder (87th overall) to move from 18 to 24, and trades that pick for the second of Tennessee’s two third rounders (100th) to move from 24 to 22.
The Dolphins moved from 18 to 24, but then jumped back up to leapfrog a division rival and snag the edge rusher everyone in this range is eyeing. Oweh didn’t have a sack last year at Penn State, but he was consistently disruptive despite being fairly raw after switching tracks from basketball to football. So the fact that he didn’t have a couple of garbage cleanup sacks in a shortened (seven-game) season probably isn’t reason to take him off your draft board.
23. N.Y. Jets (from Seattle): Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami-Fla.
Robert Saleh is in the fight of his life to hold back tears after the Dolphins sniped his guy in Oweh, but Phillips is a nice consolation prize at this juncture. Pair him with Carl Lawson in Saleh's wide-9 front and you might really have something.
24. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Tennessee: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
*Trade Down from 22: Tennessee receives Pittsburgh’s third round pick via Miami (87th overall) and sends its second of two third round picks to Miami (100th)
The Titans are perfectly happy to move down a few spots with a handful of cornerbacks still on the board. And the fact that they sent basically every cornerback within a 70-mile radius of Nashville packing this offseason, they can overlook concerns over Farley’s (probably minor) back surgery and secure a guy who probably should’ve gone in the top half of Round 1.
25. Jacksonville (from L.A. Rams): Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
He just destroyed Notre Dame and Ohio State’s offensive lines in the college football playoff, and while Barmore might be a rotational guy early, he has a chance to become a dominating presence in what has been a very soft middle of the defensive line in Jacksonville.
26. Cleveland: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
I’ve heard good, explosive linebackers referred to as “war daddy’s,” and I’m not sure the origin of the phrase or exactly what it means, but Davis is that. And, after seeing firsthand what Robert Saleh did with Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander in San Francisco, Joe Woods could use a guy like that.
27. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* Denver: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
*Trade Up from 40: Denver sends Baltimore its third round pick (71st overall)
Sure, why not. The Broncos aren’t any closer to figuring out their quarterback position than they’ve been at any point post-Peyton Manning, so they just have to keep buying lotto tickets. Jumping back in the first-round gives them that fifth-round option on Jones if he does become the answer, and leapfrogs the Saints in case Jones is their guy (which, I dunno, just doesn’t seem like it would be the case).
28. New Orleans: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
I think the knock on Collins—that he’s not overly physical—stems from the fact that when you see a 260-pound guy who moves like he does, you think his film should resemble action scenes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In reality, he’s sufficiently physical and aggressive, and he’s an incredible mover for his size. Put him next to Demario Davis—and let Davis mentor him for a couple of years—and you have a perennial Pro Bowler.
29. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* Philadelphia: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
*Trade Up from 37: Philadelphia sends Green Bay the second of its two third round picks (84th overall)
The Eagles are loaded with draft capital, and already moved out of what seemed to be a pretty sweet spot at 6. So if they’re sitting there watching the corners drop at the end of Round 1, well, do something about it Howie! If not for some durability concerns, Newsome would be an easy top-20 pick.
30. Buffalo: Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
Look at this! All the Bills had to do was sit there and wait patiently for one of the edge rushers to fall to them. In the long, athletic Tryon, they get a high-ceiling prospect who needs a little bit of development. He won’t make Western New York forget about Bruce Smith, but… maybe he's good enough to make them forget about the dominant career Liam Scheuer had at West Seneca West.
31. Baltimore (from Kansas City): Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
Sammy Watkins isn't your long-term X-receiver, but Marshall could be. He was best as a big slot at LSU, but he also has the traits to translate to a full-time boundary role.
32. Tampa Bay: Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
I realize there’s risk with a guy who had fewer than 500 dropbacks at the college level, but the traits are all there for Mills, who has decent arm talent, light feet, quiet mechanics and has a chance to get quicker and sharper as a processor as he gets more reps. And if Tampa takes a quarterback here, they have that fifth-year option for down the road.
* * *
And now, the part of the Mock Draft for the People I like to call: The teams that traded out of Round 1 in this mock draft, or weren’t scheduled for a Round 1 pick to begin with.
37. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Green Bay: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
*Trade Down from 29: Green Bay receives the second of Philadelphia’s two third round picks (84th overall)
There are a lot of second-tier tackle prospects to choose from, and the Packers can afford to move down if they have the opportunity. Eichenberg would at least provide needed depth early in his career, with a chance to become a starter at either tackle spot.
40. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Baltimore: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
*Trade Down from 27: Baltimore receives Denver’s third round pick (71st overall)
The Ravens can also afford to move down before they address their right tackle spot. An Alabama pedigree is typically all this front office needs to see, and Leatherwood has that as well as some solid tape at a couple different spots on the line.
56. Seattle: Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
Everybody wants Robert Rochell but only one team can get him, at least until advance cloning technology hits the commercial market. Rochell enters the league as a workout-warrior type who needs refinement, but he has confidence and the athleticism and ball skills to back it up.
57. L.A. Rams: Josh Myers, C, Ohio State
Sean McVay wants stability at center, but he’s cycled through Brian Allen and now Austin Blythe since John Sullivan’s retirement. Myers gives him a chance to develop a long-term answer there.
58. Kansas City: Tamorrion Terry, WR, Florida State
The Chiefs don't need a world-beating X-receiver, but they do need one, and Terry provides the kind of downfield playmaking ability that meshes nicely with Patrick Mahomes.
67. Houston: Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
I think we can all agree that there’s nothing wrong in Houston that can’t be fixed by drafting Rashad Weaver. (But, seriously, Weaver is a quality prospect who looked polished and was productive at Pitt. He gives them some semblance of a hope of possibly being a pass-rush threat.)
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