As Week One of the 2021 college football season has come and gone, it's time for another mock draft. This week's edition will look to predict what these teams should do, not necessarily what they will do, and add some projected trades within the first round. Enjoy!
1. Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
While the common train of thought for the Texans will be to find their quarterback of the future, who says it needs to come at pick first overall pick (yes, this is foreshadowing)? Draft philosophy should always be "best player available," Thibodeaux is the best player at the most important-non quarterback position. He's a three-dimensional pass rusher and complete package of an edge prospect who defends the run with technique and effort, processes the mental game quickly, has a nonstop motor, will swat throws at the line-of-scrimmage and has experience dropping in coverage (shouldn't ask him to do it often in the NFL). Thibodeaux was unblockable when he was left one-on-one vs. Fresno State in Week One, finishing with a sack and forced fumble in limited snaps before the injury. Thanks to his talents, the Texans land their alpha defensive lineman to bolster the fiery identity they are trying to develop on defense.
2. Detroit Lions: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
The Lions will quickly find out that Jared Goff is not the answer (they probably already know this) and have a chance to take the quarterback who best exudes "ankle-biting" energy - Spencer Rattler. Rattler is a feisty and confident competitor who believes he can make every throw imaginable and is correct for the most part. He needs to find the balance between his gunslinger tendencies and unforced interceptions, which were on full display versus Tulane. Rattler possesses the highest ceiling of any quarterback in this class despite his shaky start and will likely still be the first one taken.
3. New York Jets: Derek Stingley, CB, LSU
Is there a worse position group across the NFL than the Jets cornerback room? Robert Saleh can start fixing that with the accomplished Stingley, a young leader who will surely help set a standard in the secondary among safety Marcus Maye. Stingley is in the conversation for the best player in the class. Thus, picking a cornerback historically high at three is worth it.
4. Atlanta Falcons TRADED FROM Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada
The first predicted trade of this mock sees Atlanta look to secure Matt Ryan's heir. While the Falcons restructured Ryan's contract, they wisely inserted an out in 2022, saving them money. Picking Strong here could be viewed as a reach for most teams, but the Falcons provide Strong enough to succeed. He has young weapons in Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts and, most importantly, an offensive scheme that is helpful to his skill set and can help him shine. Work your magic, Arthur Smith, and this pick will pay dividends.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
After securing their franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars will soon learn that their current offensive line is not built to provide Lawrence the protection he needs and deserves. Enter the best offensive lineman prospect in the class who has played Left Guard, right tackle and now left tackle for the Crimson Tide. Neal is a mountain of a man who mauls defenders in the running game and is a wall in pass protection. Keep the Golden Boy upright, and he'll have an astounding career.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
With the Eagles naming Jalen Hurts their starting quarterback, they would be wise to give him time to prove himself. Learning a new offensive system could take longer than expected, and thus, the Eagles should not entertain a new quarterback, at least this early in the draft. Instead, they go with Leal, a player who exudes the Eagles' mentality in the trenches. A versatile defensive lineman that can learn from Brandon Graham on the edge or kick inside and wreak havoc at defensive tackle.
7. Cincinnati Bengals TRADED FROM Atlanta Falcons: Drake Jackson, DE, USC
After trading down to allow the Falcons to take Sam Howell, the Bengals burn themselves as top offensive lineman Evan Neal is now off the board. While they should prioritize protecting Joe Burrow, reaching and passing up a better talent would be detrimental. Instead, after losing Carl Lawson and replacing him with a much lower caliber player in Trey Hendrickson, the Bengals can find their pass rusher of the future in the athletic Drake Jackson. While technically raw, Jackson flashes a well-rounded skill-set to build from and can play as a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end.
8. Las Vegas Raiders: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Raiders have a tough decision on their hands with two stud defensive backs on the board. While Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton is a certified freak, 2021 draft picks Trevon Moehrig and Tyree Gillespie should be given time to show out at safety. Instead, Booth Jr. is the pick and a great one at that. He's got the size for the position and wide-receiver-like ball skills to create turnovers. He can finally bring stability to a volatile and weak position group.
9. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Hamilton, DS, Notre Dame
Hamilton's fall finally ends with becoming the Panthers' secondary leader of the future. He's in the argument with Thibodeaux and Stingley for the top prospect in the draft, so the value here is immense. Pairing his do-it-all toolkit with Panthers' safety Jeremy Chinn provides tremendous athleticism, physicality and playmaking ability to strengthen a defense that is already stout up-front.
10. Minnesota Vikings TRADED FROM New York Giants: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
The Vikings have bolstered their biggest holes on the interior of both defensive and offensive lines in recent years and now are in a position to find their Everson Griffen successor. While 2021 3rd round pick Patrick Jones has potential, Karlaftis offers a different, more powerful skill set that coach Zimmer will love. He dominated as a freshman with 7.5 sacks and 17 TFLs, and looked like his old self vs. Oregon State, understanding how to use his leverage and long arms to terrorize opposing offenses. Trading up would go against Vikings history; however, after a few years of lacking another dominant edge across from Danielle Hunter (and possibly losing him despite the recent restructure), Zimmer and company get aggressive and select an alpha defensive line talent.
11. Arizona Cardinals: Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa
The Cardinals cannot continue to ignore the offensive line position, especially with how important stopping interior pressure is when you have a shorter quarterback at the helm. Protecting Kyler Murray will only make his job easier, and drafting Linderbaum will allow Kingsbury to expand his offensive scheme. Linderbaum is an ultra-athletic center who excels on zone concepts and has a natural power and refined hand usage - thank the wrestling background - to win at the point of attack and anchor in pass protection.
12. New York Giants: Sam Howell, QB, UNC
The 2021 season has not started kindly for Giants' quarterback Daniel Jones, and he desperately needs to prove himself. The Giants don't have a great supporting cast for another young quarterback, but the value of taking Howell at 12 becomes too hard for Gettleman to pass up. He will certainly face backlash for the potential failure of the Jones pick, and whether it's he or someone else making the final decision for the Giants, they will want to usher in a new potential face of the franchise to help fans forget about Jones. Howell had an ugly start in trying to prove he was more than just a product of Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, but he still has traits teams will love and should look more comfortable as he grows accustomed to his new teammates.
13. Washington Football Team: Brandon Joseph, DS, Northwestern
While Washington could potentially go quarterback, they cannot pass up the value that is Joseph. With a deadly defensive line already, what better way to capitalize on the pressure than with a ball hawk with six interceptions in eight games in 2020.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
The Steelers can go in a plethora of directions here, but with Joe Haden becoming a free agent after the season, they decide to try and lessen the damage of his potential departure. Elam has the size, length and athletic ability that defensive coordinators dream of in a cornerback. He's got a well-rounded skill set in man and zone coverage, the fluid hips to stay in phase, and the ball skills to finish plays.
15. New York Giants TRADED FROM Minnesota Vikings: Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington
With their next shot at a franchise quarterback now added in Howell, it's time for the Giants to help him like they couldn't for Jones, with protection. Left tackle Andrew Thomas has continued to struggle, and right tackle Nate Solder isn't getting any younger (or better). Enter Kirkland, the 6'7 hulking tackle the Giants could ask to remain on his natural left side of the line or switch to the right if Thomas' play evens out. Kirkland has made major strides in his body and technique, resulting in strong pass protection for the Huskies, which would be highly welcomed on the Giants.
16. Denver Broncos: Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M
Regardless of who ended up winning Denver's quarterback competition, they would benefit greatly from Green's presence in the trenches. A mauling lineman (best at guard) who can pave lanes in the run game and anchor in pass protection - this is a clear best available that Denver can't pass up.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: George Pickens, WR, Georgia
The Chargers revamped the offensive line in 2020 and if it doesn't look like they hoped this season, expect a lineman here, but until then, they can capitalize on the wide receivers who have fallen and look for a potential Mike Williams replacement if he leaves in free agency. Pickens is 6'3 like Williams but adds a dynamic speed threat that Williams never had and an element the Chargers lost when they released the talented receiver, Tyron Johnson. Pickens could go much earlier than this due to his pure talent, so Justin Herbert will be lucky to enjoy his services.
18. New England Patriots TRADED TO Indianapolis Colts: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
The Colts jump ahead of the Saints, who could be in the quarterback business depending on how they feel about Jameis Winston (and Taysom Hill) after this season. Trading up for Corral would mean the Wentz gamble didn't work out, and the Colts look to get aggressive again because they already have a defense that can help them contend for a championship. Corral's raw traits could see him skyrocket up boards, especially if he improves his shaky decision-making.
19. New Orleans Saints: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
It's always dangerous to pair Sean Payton with a versatile, electric offensive weapon, and Burks is the latest shiny toy. He can primarily align in the slot for the Saints like he's excelled at for Arkansas, and Payton can scheme up all types of ways to get the ball into his hands in space. Burks is a human highlight reel who will thrive under a creative offensive coordinator who knows how to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses - there are not many better than Payton in that regard.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Ainias Smith, WR/RB Texas A&M
Get ready, we're going for a run on the athletic offensive talent in this class, and next up is the Aggies do-it-all swiss army knife, Ainias Smith. Players like Nyheim Hines or Curtis Samuel have paved the way for Smith's future success in the NFL, and providing Jalen Hurts with the underneath threat to complement DeVonta Smith and Jaelen Raegor could work wonders. New head coach, Nick Sirianni, will be grinning to get his hands on Smith and must already have concepts drawn up similar to how he utilized Hines in Indy.
21. Dallas Cowboys: Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State
The Cowboys are stocked pretty well on offense - it's the other side of the ball that needs a makeover. Adding Micah Parsons, Kelvin Joseph, and Osa Odighizuwa was a good start, but Harrison could bring the fire and pressure in the trenches to make it all work. He was consistently disruptive all day versus Minnesota and finally burst through with an influential strip-sack. Pairing his raw athleticism with the tutelage of Demarcus Lawrence could take Harrison to the next level, and the value in the low 20's for the Cowboys is too good to pass up.
22. Indianapolis Colts TRADED TO New England Patriots: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Patriots get a win-win scenario by adding extra draft capital and taking a player they very well could have got at 18. Wilson will be many people's wide receiver #1 this year, and rightfully so. The Junior might not have posted eye-popping stats with Justin Fields, but it's the traits that stand out - smooth and nuanced route running, electric YAC possibilities and slot+boundary versatility are just the beginning. Mac Jones gets a more dynamic Julian Edelman to grow and develop with for the future.
23. Tennessee Titans: Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M
Another stop on the dynamic offensive weapon train continues with a dual-threat tight end which makes his impact best felt in the run game (as of now). The Titans run+play action-heavy scheme will love the run/pass anonymity and overall physicality that Wydermyer provides. In addition, he's effective catching the ball due to elite body control and vice-grip hands to pluck away contested catches. Finally, Wydermyer will be a devastating weapon in the red zone, especially after play-action fakes to Derrick Henry draw in the defense.
24. Miami Dolphins TRADED TO Houston Texans: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
No, the Texans don't currently own this pick, but whether a Deshaun trade goes down before the start of the season, by the deadline, or after the season, a trade will go down, and Miami is in the driver's seat. Willis has the strong work ethic, elite arm+legs and off-script playmaking ability that is ever so alluring out of modern quarterbacks. His projection and development are along the lines of Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, and his draft stock might be in that range too. In his 2021 debut vs. Campbell, the most impressive aspect was the strides he's made mechanically, specifically with his footwork, which led to improved overall accuracy. Take Willis now and be patient with him, trusting that the mental inconsistencies can catch up over time and form a franchise quarterback.
25. New York Jets: Ricky Stromberg, OC, Arkansas
With Zach Wilson in town, it's all about protecting him from making his job easier and avoiding unnecessary injuries. As defenses look to generate more interior pressure than ever, offenses must adjust by getting powerful centers that can anchor. Enter Stromberg, a do-it-all center with a mean streak in the run game, can communicate protections well and easily anchor the line.
26. Cleveland Browns: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
The Browns have one of the more complete rosters in the NFL, and if the Jadeveon Clowney signing does not go well, they should look to find another defensive end to take some attention away from superstar Myles Garrett. Walker provides impressive power, length and technique that can make life hell for opposing quarterbacks.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
The Ravens could look to fill the hole left by Matt Judon on the edge and bring in the versatile and fiery Hutchinson. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves to align his defensive lineman and linebackers in all sorts of ways to confuse offenses, and Hutchinson is another chess piece at his disposal. He combines burst, power and a relentless motor to terrorize quarterbacks with ease.
28. Green Bay Packers: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
It's a crime that Olave has fallen this far, but that type of luck is just what it might take to get Aaron Rodgers to stay in Green Bay. Finally, adhering to his wishes, the Packers add a weapon in the first round, and there are not many better than the nuanced Olave. He is arguably the best route runner in the class, Olave has veteran tricks up his sleeve to separate and the strong hands to finish plays.
29. Detroit Lions: Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
With their second pick in the first round, the Lions look to protect future franchise quarterback Spencer Rattler. Faalele is quite literally the "Mountain" from Game of Thrones. At 6'8, 380, he showed his functional athleticism and power stored in that frame versus Ohio State. He regularly paved lanes for running back Mohamed Ibrahim (speedy recovery, please!) and can do the same for DeAndre Swift/Jamaal Williams. Faalele also put many Buckeye pass rushers into the dirt with surprisingly quick mirroring skills and heavy hands. With Rattler's penchant for looking for the big play and tendency to escape the pocket early, he'll need all the time dropping back he can get, and Faalele can provide just that.
30. Buffalo Bills: Darian Kinnard, OG/OT, Kentucky
It sounds crazy that the Bills have a sneaky good team while they are hot off an AFC Championship appearance, but they do, making this pick a very tough one. They could use some youth injected into the interior offensive line, and that's where Kinnard is expected to play his best ball. He provides a nasty attitude in the trenches that is synonymous with Bills Mafia and will be a fan favorite with how he is always blocking to the whistle.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
This is truly a luxury pick for the Bucs, who should trade this pick to a team that needs it. It's hard to find a hole on this roster that returned all their starters after winning a ring, but Harris' talent is just too much to pass up at this point in the draft. He could be a potential heir to Lavonte David, providing a similar level of athleticism and playmaking in coverage. David would be a perfect mentor for the raw Harris, and the Bucs would be set at the position for over a decade.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Chiefs are one of, if not the best team in the NFL in retooling every offseason and the talented "Sauce" falls right into their lap this time. Their experiment between cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Deandre Baker does not look promising so far, and Garnder has a higher ceiling than both due to his size, length and scheme versatility.
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