NFL Mock Draft: Eagles swap first-rounders, nab stud on D originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
We've finally reached the time of year football fans wait for with baited breath.
...the playoffs? No, no, no. The official order of non-playoff teams at the top of the NFL Draft!
Sunday's Week 18 action marked the end of the line for 18 of 32 teams across the league, which means it's time to turn your attention to draft leaks, 40-yard dash times, and that all-important late April date when your franchise can change its future.
So let's take a stab at projecting the first 32 picks off the board in a few months:
1. Jaguars: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Jacksonville could go any number of directions with this first pick -- top-tier D-line talent? O-line to protect Trevor Lawrence? Another QB entirely?! -- but ultimately the Jags pick the most talented player available. Thibodeaux finished the year with 7.0 sacks, 12.0 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles in 10 games, but his impact goes beyond the box score. He's a monster in waiting.
2. Lions: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Jared Goff is extremely not the answer in Detroit, and the Lions can't kick the can down the road while they have interesting weapons at skill positions in tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D'Andre Swift. Pickett really only had one good collegiate year, but he showed with the Panthers this past season a penchant for game-breaking plays and the kind of accuracy that makes good teams great ones. It's a gamble, but the Lions are so bad that they have to reach for the stars.
3. Texans: DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
The other no-doubt elite defensive end in this draft, Hutchinson could go No. 1 overall if Jacksonville has different draft board evaluations. As it stands, the Texans roll with Davis Mills at QB and add a pass rusher with T.J. Watt's hyper-athletic edge rush play style and production (14.0 sacks, 16.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles) that will make any defensive coordinator's eyes water. He could be the best player in the entire draft.
4. Jets: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Stingley underwent a procedure on his foot in October that held him out the rest of the season, but there doesn't seem to be any concern among draft heads long-term about the foot - which is good, because otherwise Stingley is a can't miss corner prospect. He's 6-foot-1, he had six picks in 25 games with the Tigers, and he has the instincts to be an All-Pro corner.
5. Giants: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
If the Giants are really bringing Daniel Jones back for another year, they need to do better than Andrew Thomas at left tackle. Here's the solution: Alabama's mountain of a human, Evan Neal. Neal stands 6-foot-7, weighs 350 pounds, is only 21 years old, and is widely regarded as the best offensive line prospect in this year's draft. Definition of a no-brainer.
6. Panthers: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Matt Rhule is going to keep cycling through quarterbacks until he finds one, or until he gets fired. I've seen worse approaches. Corral is a very intriguing player with dual-threat upside (he has 20 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs in 12 games this year) and could be extremely dangerous in the RPO game with Christian McCaffrey and down the field with Robby Anderson. Is he the perfect answer to Carolina's QB question? Probably not. But the Panthers tried every option at the most important position on the field this year and didn't find a single right answer. They'll keep searching.
7. Giants: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
SAUCE GARDNER. The Cincy corner has seen his draft stock rocket during his third year with the Bearcats, for good reason. Gardner has notched three interceptions in each of his three seasons with the Bearcats, is 6-foot-2, and is solid in man coverage. He feels like the kind of player who can slide into a pro system and start in Week 1. The Giants need to upgrade from James Bradberry, who they can release and save more than $12 million against the cap.
8. Falcons: DE George Karlaftis, Purdue
If not for Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, Karlaftis would be getting way more hype for potential as an edge rusher. He also hasn't popped statistically, racking up just 4.5 sacks in 12 games with the Boilermakers this year as opposing offenses key on him. But he's a monster in pass rush situations and will immediately improve the Falcons' fortunes on defense.
9. Broncos: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Denver doesn't have much in the way of playmaking at the linebacker position, so after shoring up corner last spring with the Pat Surtain selection (and nailing that pick) they double down on young defensive talent and take Dean, an exciting cornerstone of the Bulldogs' legendary 2021 defense who broke out for a career year with 6.0 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2 INT, and 2 forced fumbles.
10. Jets: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
Zach Wilson's rookie year wasn't a roaring success - him missing games didn't help - but I'd imagine the New York front office is going to come away encouraged by his second half. Elijah Moore has shown himself to be a solid WR option, but Wilson will need more help on the outside to really take a step next year. Williams has been a total monster with Bryce Young and the Tide this college season, catching 75 passes for 1,507 yards and 15 touchdowns before the CFP National Championship Game. I'm still not fully in on Wilson as the future, but I think NYJ wants to be, so might as well get him some weapons.
11. Washington: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Washington looks at the QB landscape and decides to ride with Taylor Heinicke instead of forcing a pick in a lesser QB crop. Instead the Football Team opts for at 6-foot-4, 219 pound safety who can change their defense. Hamilton seems like the big-bodied, ballhawk-y type of playmaker you can build a secondary around, not just another piece in the unit. In 31 career games with the Fighting Irish he notched eight interceptions, 16 passes defended, and 7.5 tackles for loss.
12. Vikings: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
The Vikings don't have a lot of long-term answers at cornerback and allowed the 7th-most passing yards and 9th-most passing touchdowns in the NFL this year. Booth doesn't have crazy INT production (just 3 INT in 24 career games) but his height and his long arms make him an exciting prospect. He's super fluid and should translate well to playing against NFL wideouts.
13. Browns: DT DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Cleveland has the best defensive end pairing in the NFL, but the interior of the line needs work. Enter Leal. He put up 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble in 11 games this year with Texas A&M while also setting a career-high in tackles with 58. He played all over the line for A&M, and while his pass-rush ability needs a little work, all the tools are there for him to become a truly special player. The dude is a monster.
14. Ravens: OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Lamar Jackson's at his best when he's on the move, but that mobility should be up to him instead of being thrust upon him by shaky offensive line play. Jackson was sacked 38 times this year, far and away a career high, and he's the future of the org. They need to keep him clean. Green is gigantic and is probably a Top 10 talent, so this could be a relative steal.
15. TRADE! Steelers (via PHI): QB Malik Willis, Liberty
PIT receives: 2022 No. 15 overall
PHI receives: 2022 No. 20 overall, 2023 3rd round pick
The Steelers jump up to get their QB of the future! Howie Roseman & Co. don't have anyone here they absolutely need to pick, so they trade down and keep accruing draft capital for the future. I like it.
The Steelers, meanwhile, take a gamble on a raw QB prospect with a sky-high ceiling. In two years as Liberty's starter Willis completed 62.4% of his passes, 47 TDs to 18 interceptions, averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, and also ran for 1,822 yards and 27 TDs. He's a human highlight reel, and could make Pittsburgh an explosive must-watch in his rookie season.
16. 🦅 Eagles: OL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Hello, Jason Kelce of the future! Back in late November I flirted with having the Eagles take Linderbaum giving the uncertainty surrounding Jason Kelce, the question mark about Brandon Brooks, and Landon Dickerson maybe tracking better as a guard than a center. Instead I sent him to the Steelers.
But this time around, I want Howie Roseman & Co. to grab the most exciting interior offensive line prospect in this draft. Linderbaum is slightly undersized but is a blue-chip talent with a penchant for mauling. Iowa breeds offensive linemen like no other. Kelce may want to return in 2022 or he may not, but he's not getting any younger and each season could be his last.
The beauty of it all? Linderbaum's most ready pro-level comparison is Jason Kelce.
If Jalen Hurts really is the guy at QB, having a center who's athletic enough to pull across the line and get out in front for lead blocks on RPOs and read options is invaluable. Plus, nailing down the next 10 years of your O-line at LT, LG, and C with Jordan Mailata, Dickerson, and Linderbaum is exactly how Roseman likes to build his teams. Call it in, Howie.
17. Chargers: OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
The Chargers had solid enough offensive line play this season in front of Justin Herbert - last year's pick Rashawn Slater was a home run - but they need to shore up the tackle position opposite Slater and keep their franchise QB upright. Ekwonu combines crazy strength with surprising mobility for a guy his size (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) and should help Herbert see cleaner pockets.
18. Saints: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
I think New Orleans wants to give the Jameis Winston experiment another try, with better weapons. Michael Thomas will return, and pairing him with Wilson could make for a dangerous twosome. Wilson racked up crazy production for the Buckeyes this year - 70 catches, 1,058 yards, and 12 TDs - and would provide the Saints with some relief for the target-heavy Thomas, who can't carry a downfield passing attack on his own.
19. 🦅 Eagles: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
Howie Roseman taking a first-round linebacker?! I know, I've lost my mind. But with so much capital in this year's draft (and soon the next year's draft as well -- more on that in a minute), Roseman finally wakes up to the fact that Jonathan Gannon's defense could've used a sideline-to-sideline linebacker with a nose for playmaking.
If Lloyd is still available here, it's a no-brainer. He's an attacking linebacker who excels in coverage - he has 7.5 sacks this season to go along with three interceptions - and brings the kind of versatility and athleticism that should make him a starting linebacker in midnight green immediately.
"In the run game, [Lloyd]’s a thumper who plays downhill and physical. He has a heavy run lane anchor and has good tackling efficiency in the box. He's a downhill player who is among the nations leader in TFLs."
Sign me up.
20. Chiefs (via PHI): WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
KC receives: 2022 No. 20 overall
PHI receives: 2023 1st Round pick, 2023 3rd Round pick
Howie keeps dealing! He re-loads for next year's draft in case Jalen Hurts isn't actually the answer at QB. You can never be too careful - or have too many draft picks.
For KC: Outside of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs' fire-breathing offense... has some pretty underwhelming options at wide receiver. We think of guys like Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle as good players because they play with Patrick Mahomes, not because they're objectively talented. Jahan Doston, however, is objectively talented. A compact big-play threat wideout, he had 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 TDs this season and could alleviate some of the attention Hill gets. Doston, Hill, Kelce, and Mahomes will be near-impossible to stop.
21. Patriots: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The Patriots taking a wide receiver in the first round feels like it has curse written all over it, and isn't exactly the way Bill Belichick likes to build his teams, but after a few swings and misses at the position he needs to give Mac Jones help if he wants the youngster to blossom into an elite QB. Burks is a big, 6-foot-3 playmaking wideout who had a breakout year with the Razorbacks. He notched 67 catches for 1,123 yards and 11 TD this year, including 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. He had TD catches of 91, 85, 66, and 52 yards this season, plus a 49-yard rushing TD. He could break the Patriots' offense wide open.
22. Dolphins: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The Dolphins have no idea if Tua Tagovailoa is actually any good, but it hasn't helped that this year he played behind the NFL's absolute worst offensive line. The second-year QB was constantly under fire, and if they have any hope of seeing him develop they need to get him protection ASAP. Cross (6-foot-5, 290 pounds) can be a Day 1 impact player on the O-line.
23. Raiders: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The tragic Henry Ruggs situation means Raiders quarterback Derek Carr still needs more weapons, as DeSean Jackson wa more of a one-season stop-gap than anything else. Olave, a speedy and slick do-it-all wide receiver who stands 6-foot-1 and put up 35 touchdowns in 38 games with the Buckeyes, will quickly be Derek Carr's favorite deep target and will open up the field for Darren Waller underneath. He's going to be very good.
24. Cardinals: DE Drake Jackson, USC
There aren't many glaring holes on Arizona's roster, but neither J.J. Watt nor Chandler Jones is getting any younger and the Cardinals will want to keep attacking opposing offenses. Jackson is a perfect hybrid edge rusher who can play linebacker or defensive end, depending on need. He has 12.5 career sacks and 25.0 tackles for loss with the Trojans, and can learn from some of the best in the business. Arizona could also look at wide receiver here.
25. Bengals: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
Joe Burrow excelled this year despite playing behind some extremely shaky O-line play. Imagine what happens when you throw Penning, a towering human at 6-foot-7, 340 pounds, in front of your franchise QB to give him more time to find Ja'Marr Chase. Penning will use his size and strength at the next level to push guys around the way he has in college.
26. Bills: DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
Davis has anchored the best defensive line in the country all year long leading into the CFP national championship game. The Bills ranked 19th in sacks this year and absolutely need to be better at generating pressure with four. That's where Davis, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 340 pounds, comes in. Georgia finished 10th in the nation in sacks despite Davis racking up just 2.0 of his own; that's not a coincidence.
27. Lions: WR Drake London, USC
Who is Kenny Pickett throwing to in Detroit? Amon-Ra St. Brown had a solid rookie year considering he was working with Jared Goff, but otherwise the cupboard is pretty bare for the Lions. That's why London is the no-brainer pick here; the Trojans wideout caught 88 balls for 1,084 yards and 7 touchdowns this season and at 6-foot-5 he has the size to become a go-up-and-get-it monster in Detroit.
28. Cowboys: OT Nick Petit-Frere, Ohio State
Tyron Smith is 31, he hasn't played a full 16-gameseason since 2015 and has played in just 13 games over the last two years, and the Cowboys can actually save money against the cap by cutting him if they can't find a trade partner. It's time to look to the future along the OL.
29. Chiefs: LB Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
After taking care of offense earlier, the Chiefs go out and add a difference-maker on defense with a big, athletic versatile edge rusher who tallied 15.0 sacks, 24.0 tackles for loss, and 3 forced fumbles in 39 games with the Gamecocks.
30. Buccaneers: WR George Pickens, Georgia
To start the year, it seemed the Bucs had almost too many weapons around Tom Brady. Now, with the Antonio Brown era over in Tampa and Chris Godwin likely to get paid (maybe elsewhere?) it's time for the Bucs to think about ways to give Brady more weapons as he moves into his last few years in the league. Pickens is a bit of a risk, considering he hardly played this year due to an ACL injury, but his raw talent and ability seems him projecting to Pro Bowl-level WR play. You didn't go get Brady just to play it safe. Take the swing, Tampa.
31. Titans: DE Travon Walker, Georgia
Walker set career-highs in tackles (30), sacks (5.0), tackles for loss (6.5), and passes defended (2) as a key piece in the Bulldogs' deep-as-a-chasm defense. He should shine in an NFL system.
32. Packers: WR David Bell, Purdue
If Davante Adams is gone after this season, as I expect he will be, the Packers will need to load up - both in case Aaron Rodgers sticks around, and for Jordan Love's future success. Bell caught 93 passes for 1,286 yards and 6 touchdowns last season and will immediately improve Green Bay's anemic receiving corps, Rodgers or no Rodgers.