This year’s draft has more question marks surrounding it than any draft in recent memory. In the last few days, “consensus” #1 overall pick DE Aidan Hutchinson has been supplanted by DE Travon Walker across most media outlets and in gambling odds. New and conflicting reports about nearly every top 10 pick have been coming out on a daily basis. As Mike McCartney, the agent for top prospects Aidan Hutchinson and Ikem Ekwonu, stated in a tweet on Tuesday, “It’s Tuesday and nobody knows”.
Despite all the uncertainties, I have attempted to determine how things could shake out on Thursday night, evaluating team needs and the many available reports circulating in the media. I have included some trades based on pure speculation and the history of actions that these general managers have taken on previous draft nights. While there will probably be 100 different shake-ups as soon as I post this, here’s my best guess for how things could look when the dust settles:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Travon Walker, Georgia
After a late surge, Walker is now a -300 betting favorite to be selected first overall by the Jaguars. With OT Cam Robinson now extended, Jacksonville appears to be all-in on selecting an edge rusher. Walker has drawn comparisons to Aldon Smith, who GM Trent Baalke drafted in San Francisco. However, Walker had limited production last season, tallying just 6 sacks. He has a poor stance, is often too high in his pass rush, and has trouble getting to the QB even when lined up on the interior against slower offensive guards. Walker tested well at the combine, but he will need good coaching to properly develop his game at the next level.
2. Detroit Lions: DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
While I am not as high on Hutchinson as most, as I expressed in his Draft Profile, the Lions will likely run to get this pick in if Hutchinson is sitting there for them. The local product could fit in well with Dan Campbell’s hard-nosed and aggressive philosophies. This pick also continues the trend of the Lions building from the trenches out, as they did in last year’s draft as well.
3. Houston Texans: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
The Texans are truly a wild card in this spot. The team has many holes, making virtually any pick an upgrade here. Some have Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton as the pick here due to GM Nick Caserio’s ties to the Patriots, who are known for taking safeties to build the defense. However, buzz has been building that LSU CB Derek Stingley could be the selection here, and while it could be smoke, I think Stingley could truly be the pick. Stingley had a tremendous freshman year that was followed by some injuries, which led to initial concerns about his draft stock. However, he tested well at the Combine and his Pro Day, leading to his rise back to the top end of the draft. I have Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner ranked ahead of Stingley, but if he can return to his freshman form Stingley will be a high level starter in the NFL.
4. New York Jets: OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
This is another pick that could go in multiple directions. Originally, I had Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux penciled in at this spot, but according to reports by Rich Cimini of ESPN, the Jets do not seem to be interested in Thibodeaux. Instead, their focus appears to be on adding to the offensive line and moving on from LT Mekhi Becton. It seems a bit early to give up on a prospect that was deemed as a developmental project, but if GM Joe Douglas has a higher grade on Ekwonu, then it makes sense for the Jets to make sure they have the best possible protection for Zach Wilson. Ekwonu started at LT but also played significant snaps at LG, so Ekwonu could offer the Jets some versatility. With reports that Joe Douglas will not let Ekwonu pass by them, this seems like the likely pick if the board falls this way.
5. New York Giants: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
The Giants will be on the edge of their seats early on Thursday night, as there are endless scenarios of how the top 4 picks could fall. This is a near ideal scenario for the Giants, as they get their starting right tackle in Evan Neal, who started 13 games at RT in 2020, allowing just 1.5 sacks on 810 snaps. He would immediately slot in opposite LT Andrew Thomas, helping to give Daniel Jones time in the pocket, a luxury he has not been afforded so far in his career. Joe Schoen cannot hope for a better outcome for his first pick as general manager. Now, he must turn his attention to the next pick, which could make things very interesting for their second selection at #7.
6. Carolina Panthers: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
Many mock drafts have the Panthers taking a QB with this pick, but I don’t see the value at this spot. The Panthers will likely look to move this pick to acquire picks on Day 2, as they currently have no selections until the 4th round after this pick. However, demand seems to be low for teams to move up to this point. The team to watch would be the Vikings should they decide to jump the Giants in order to select Ahmad Gardner. However, I’m not sure that a deal materializes here. The Panthers stay put and select Charles Cross, a natural pass protector. He can be a franchise cornerstone used to protect Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, or next year’s first round pick.
7. New York Giants: CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati
The Giants front office would be ecstatic if the board falls this way. The ability to choose between Gardner and Thibodeaux is a luxury that many likely would not expect the Giants to have at this point of the 1st round. Both would immediately fill roster holes, just like Evan Neal at 5. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan stated on Wednesday that he believes that Neal and Gardner are the most likely selections for the Giants at this point. I have the Giants taking Gardner as the eventual replacement for CB James Bradberry, who will likely be traded or released by Monday due to his $21 million cap hit. Gardner is a big, physical, man-to-man corner that would fit perfectly in new DC Don Martindale’s system. In 3 seasons and over 1000 snaps played at Cincinnati, Gardner gave up just 13 catches, 117 yards and 0 touchdowns. He is well worth the pick.
8. Atlanta Falcons: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
The slide of Thibodeaux ends here, as the Falcons stay put and select the best player available on the board. I have Thibodeaux as the top edge rusher in the class and possibly as the best player in this class. He fits the description of an elite edge rusher in the NFL. He has good bend, lateral quickness and a good get off from his stance. The narratives about character concerns are puzzling to me, as he just seems like a strong competitor who wants to do whatever it takes to win. Micah Parsons allegedly pulled a knife on a teammate and still only fell to the 12th pick last year. Thibodeaux has no such stories attached to him, making the reports seem like smoke to force him down the board and more attainable to teams picking later. The Falcons become the beneficiaries of the smoke, securing a potential long-term solution at defensive end.
9. Seattle Seahawks: TRADE Steelers send #20, #52 and 2023 2nd to SEA, Seahawks send #9 to PIT
Steelers select QB Malik Willis, Liberty
Here is the first trade of my mock draft. Seahawks GM John Schneider has an extensive history of trading down, so with a rebuild in full swing, there is no reason for them not to do so here. There are reports that the Seahawks have been actively listening to offers for this pick, while Steelers GM Kevin Colbert discussed the possibility of moving up on Tuesday. The framework for this trade is similar to that of another Steelers trade in 2019, in which they moved from 20 to 10 in order to select Devin Bush. In that deal, the Steelers traded 20, 52 and the following year’s 3rd rounder, so I increased the 3rd to a 2nd to account for the extra spot and the league’s so-called “Quarterback premium”. Pittsburgh selects Malik Willis, a rumored favorite of head coach Mike Tomlin, potentially finding a quick solution to their hole at QB with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger.
10. New York Jets: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
The Jets have been aggressively trying to add a premier wide receiver this offseason, making offers for Tyreek Hill and Deebo Samuel. While Samuel is supposedly still available, I do not see the 49ers moving on from him. Therefore, the Jets stay put and pick Garrett Wilson, a talented do-it-all wide receiver who is next in the strong pedigree of Ohio State receivers. He can have an immediate impact and create a strong connection with Zach Wilson. Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson could be in play here as well, but with the Jets seeming intent on adding a receiver, they jump at the elite talent in Wilson.
11. Washington Commanders: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
The Commanders have been fairly quiet since trading for QB Carson Wentz. There is not much buzz surrounding this pick to indicate which way the Commanders may go. While many analysts have them taking a wide receiver here, I do not see that as a pressing need for Washington, especially with the depth of this wide receiver class. Instead, the Commanders add perhaps the most interesting prospect in the class in Kyle Hamilton. He has the versatility to play linebacker, safety and cornerback. He has high level ball skills and pursuit. However, Hamilton has slid due to disappointing results at the Combine. These results tend to be over analyzed by the media and overthought by some front offices, leading to quality players like Hamilton sliding further than they should. Hamilton’s game tape far outweighs any Combine tests. He can add a versatile component to the Commanders defense, providing an upgrade over what Landon Collins could have been for their defense.
12. Minnesota Vikings: DE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
While cornerback is a greater need for the Vikings, I’m not sure that the value is there at this spot. This pick could be prime to be dealt either to move up for a top tier corner or to move back and get better value on a cornerback. However, there doesn’t appear to be any player that would warrant a team trading up for other than Jermaine Johnson, who the Vikings likely would rather just take themselves. Minnesota gets last year’s ACC sack leader, giving an already stout front 7 even more firepower.
13. Houston Texans: TRADE Chiefs send #30, #62 and 2023 1st to HOU, Texans send #13 to KC
Chiefs select WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
My second projected trade of this mock has the Chiefs moving up to get their Tyreek Hill replacement. Texans GM Nick Caserio stated on Wednesday that there was only a 50-60% chance that he would actually make a pick at 13, so the Chiefs make the jump from 29, offering a package similar to what they offered the Bills in 2017 to move from 27 to 10 to pick Patrick Mahomes. Sensing the potential of an upcoming run on receivers, the Chiefs get ahead of the Eagles, Saints, Packers and Patriots to make sure that they secure speedster Jameson Williams. Despite the torn ACL, Williams has immense potential and fits the Chiefs scheme perfectly.
14. Baltimore Ravens: TRADE Packers send #22, #59 and 2023 3rd to BAL, Ravens send #14 and #141 to GB
Packers select WR Drake London, USC
With the Chiefs getting aggressive, the Packers feel the pressure to lock up a top level target for Aaron Rodgers, moving ahead of the Eagles to secure their replacement for Davante Adams. Using the NFL Trade Value Chart, this trade is about even. The Ravens sneakily have a few holes to address, including RT, DE and CB, so they slide down to acquire more picks to get more chances to address these issues. The Packers select London, a big body with inside and outside versatility, crisp route running and a wide catch radius. While no one can quite replicate Davante Adams, London can do a lot of good things to try to fill in for some of the missing production.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Eagles quickly went from being in the driver’s seat for picking a receiver to scrambling to check their board to check their grades on other receivers. However, Chris Olave is no consolation prize. He is an elite route runner with reliable hands. He can stretch the field and also be a consistent target at the sticks. I have him ahead of Jameson Williams and Drake London on my board. The Eagles can finally be comfortable with their perimeter weapons with this pick, as having Olave and Devonta Smith is a lethal combination.
16. New Orleans Saints: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
The mini-run of WRs temporarily ends here, as the Saints select a tackle to replace Terron Armstead, who left for the Jaguars in free agency. Despite reported trust in veteran James Hurst, the Saints look to the future with Penning, potentially locking down a longer-term answer at the position. At the worst, Penning can serve as insurance should one of the tackles get hurt, as the Saints have been no stranger to injuries over the last few seasons.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: OG Zion Johnson, Boston College
The Chargers had possibly the quietest blockbuster trade of the offseason, adding DE Khalil Mack to an already loaded defense. The Tyreek Hill, Russell Wilson and Davante Adams trades have overshadowed this move by Los Angeles, which arguably makes them the favorites in the AFC West. While the Chargers do need an upgrade at RT, there are none that have the value to be taken at this spot since the Saints grabbed Penning. The Chargers still decide to focus on protecting Justin Herbert, selecting Zion Johnson. Johnson is arguably the best interior offensive lineman in this class, further opening running lanes for Austin Ekeler and increasing Herbert’s time in the pocket.
18. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
After addressing their need on offense, the Eagles turn to address a dire need on defense. The Eagles secondary has not been great over the last few seasons, leading to personnel changes each year and a lack of consistency. Now, the Eagles have Darius Slay to start on the outside and Avonte Maddox at nickel, but not much after that. Kaiir Elam can step in and fill the other outside role right away, helping to shore up the Eagles backend.
19. New Orleans Saints: DE George Karlaftis, Purdue
This seems like a pick that is prime to be moved. I initially had mocked a trade where the Bengals came up from 31 to select a corner at this spot. However, an interview with GM Mickey Loomis published Wednesday afternoon altered my view on the pick. Loomis stated, “For us, it’s an opportunity to get another good player a year ahead of time … We wouldn’t make a deal if we didn’t think we were gonna end up with a good player in that spot”. That doesn’t sound like someone that is looking to move out of the spot to add more picks for the future. And while some might say that these comments are indicative of their intention to take a quarterback, I would point to the re-signing of Jameis Winston and addition of Andy Dalton as a sign that the team is retooling and hoping to round out the roster and add a QB when a better one becomes available. The Saints add George Karlaftis, a pass rusher that originally had a top 10 grade and has fallen for seemingly no reason, to a thin pass rush. Karlaftis is very similar to fellow Purdue grad Ryan Kerrigan, a perennial pro bowler and consistent producer. Karlaftis can immediately step in and get significant reps.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Trade with Seahawks
Seahawks select OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
Having added more picks to help with the rebuilding process, the Seahawks turn their attention to the offensive line, helping to protect Drew Lock or whichever quarterback ends up taking the starting reps this season. This may seem early to some for Petit-Frere, but the offensive tackle class is thin after Trevor Penning. Petit-Frere has been mentioned by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero as a candidate to sneak into the first round. The Seahawks need help across the offensive line and Petit-Frere has experience at both tackle spots, offering them flexibility to let him grow in either spot. He allowed just 2 sacks on 435 passing sets as a Buckeye, which should be rather attractive to the Seahawks.
21. New England Patriots: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
This is one of my favorite fits of the draft. With mostly personnel for a 3-4 base defense, the Patriots can bring in Lloyd to start at either interior linebacker position. His versatility as a run and pass defender and as a pass rusher will be appealing to Bill Belichick. I don’t understand why most mock drafts have Lloyd falling this far, as he is very similar to Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons. Lloyd is everywhere on the game tape. Realistically, his talent could fall easily within the top 10 of all prospects in this draft. The Patriots get a steal here.
22. Green Bay Packers: Trade with Ravens
Ravens select DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
It might come as a surprise that Davis slid this far, but it seems to be a yearly occurrence that a physical freak falls a bit despite nearly everyone being high on the prospect (i.e. DK Metcalf). At 6’6, 341 pounds, Davis ran a 4.78 second 40-yard dash, which I’m sure you will hear no less than 1000 times on Thursday night, especially if he slides. Davis isn’t exactly Aaron Donald on the interior, but he is big and quick, which will pair well with 6’8 DT Calais Campbell on the other side of the Ravens defense. It will be difficult for quarterbacks to deliver a ball to receivers if they can’t see them (looking at you Kyler Murray). New DC Mike Macdonald will have a field day with both this front 7.
23. Arizona Cardinals: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
The Cardinals are in need of adding a viable starter opposite of Byron Murphy Jr. Booth can quickly step in on the outside and play a true role on the perimeter, which the Cardinals have struggled to find since the departure of Patrick Peterson. In a division with DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Deebo Samuel, Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, corners that can survive in man-to-man sets are highly valuable.
24. Dallas Cowboys: IOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Rumors have been swirling that the Cowboys are aggressively looking to move up, so do not be surprised if this pick is traded during the draft. However, I am not sure who the Cowboys have in mind. They could use some help at defensive end, but I think if they stay put they can get good value on Tyler Linderbaum. G Connor McGovern and C Tyler Biadasz have not performed up to expectations, so Linderbaum can provide an immediate upgrade over either. He can protect Dak Prescott and help him return to the numbers he was posting before his gruesome injury two seasons ago. We have seen the importance of a strong offensive line on clear display during the postseason in the last few seasons, so the Cowboys may look to replicate that if they hope to win a playoff game.
25. Buffalo Bills: CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
Buffalo’s roster is one of the most complete in the league, which makes it very difficult to determine who they might pick at this spot. I would slot a running back in here, but I have done that with the Bills each of the last two years to no avail. Instead, I give the Bills a versatile corner in Gordon, who can play inside or outside. Since the Bills now have to face Tyreek Hill, potentially Garrett Wilson with the Jets, and a possible new addition to the Patriots, they’ll need all the help they can get on the backend.
26. Tennessee Titans: DT Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
The Titans are another team with a stacked roster, but they could use help on the defensive interior. Tennessee’s defense took a slight step back in 2021, so Wyatt can help shore up the run defense. Some analysts say that Wyatt is a better prospect than his UGA counterpart Jordan Davis. Wyatt played all over the defensive line at Georgia, so while he won’t supplant Jeffery Simmons, he could at worst rotate with Teair Tart and Denico Autry at nose and tackle, respectively.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OG Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
The Buccaneers lost both of their starting offensive guards this offseason. While they were able to swing a trade with the Patriots for Shaq Mason, the other guard spot is still up in the air. Kenyon Green can step in and compete for the starting job. Green also played every position except center in college, so he could theoretically be a reserve at tackle as well despite his 6’4 stature not being ideal for a tackle spot. Ensuring that Tom Brady is adequately protected I’m sure will be paramount to the Buccaneers front office, so this pick makes a lot of sense for them.
28. Green Bay Packers: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
After addressing the Davante Adams-sized hole in the offense with their first pick, the Packers add to the defense. While linebacker isn’t exactly a top need for Green Bay, the value they are getting for Dean at this spot is too good to pass up. Dean’s sideline-to-sideline speed comes up on film almost every play. He is also a talented pass rusher. There is a reason that Nakobe Dean won the Butkus Award. He has the makings of an every-down starter in the NFL.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Roger McCreary, Auburn
Similar to Green Bay, the Chiefs turn their attention to the defense after addressing their wide receiver needs on offense. The Chiefs are in desperate need of more cornerbacks, especially with all of the firepower now in their division. McCreary is at his best in man coverage, which fits well with DC Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz heavy scheme. McCreary could be in line for significant reps early.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Trade with Texans
Texans select DE David Ojabo, Michigan
After adding more premium picks for this year and next, the Texans take a gamble on the injured Ojabo. GM Nick Caserio knows that this team will likely not be competitive next season, so he takes advantage of a top 10 talent sliding due to injury concerns, banking on his recovery. This situation seems reminiscent of Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith, who were strong contributors early in their careers after falling due to similar injury concerns. With time, Ojabo could develop into a solid pass rusher on a team devoid of them.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
Now the second Washington cornerback selected in the first round, the Bengals add to what is possibly the only remaining weak positional group on their team. While some may have McDuffie ranked higher, no one truly knows how these teams have cornerbacks ranked at this point of the draft. It is all about scheme fit at this point, which is why I think McDuffie fits well here. His scouting report shows that he excels in zone coverage, which makes up the majority of the Bengals defense. The Bengals add some depth on the backend as they gear up for another potential deep playoff run.
32. Detroit Lions: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The Lions decide to take a quarterback after all, but not necessarily the one that people would expect. I believe that Ridder can be the best QB in this class, which you can read about in his Draft Profile. Detroit adds a potential successor for Jared Goff, getting him on a contract with the coveted 5th year option, which they would not have if they wait until the second round to take a gamble on a QB. This can buy the Lions some time to evaluate their QB situation and decide if one, or neither, of Goff and Ridder are the answer.