With the conclusion of Week 18, it’s officially draft season for more than half the NFL.
The top 18 picks are solidified, with the Jacksonville Jaguars claiming the No. 1 overall selection for the second year in a row. Here are The Baltimore Sun’s initial projections for the first round, which begins April 28 in Las Vegas:
Note: Picks 19 through 32 are projected from the ESPN Football Power Index.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
There’s no consensus top player in this year’s draft class, which makes the No. 1 pick a bit of a toss-up. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Thibodeaux, the former No. 2 overall prospect in the country, recorded 19 sacks in three seasons for the Ducks and finished with a 91.3 pass-rushing grade as a senior, according to Pro Football Focus. He’d be a cornerstone piece for a Jaguars defense that ranked 31st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
The 6-6, 265-pound Hutchinson also has a strong case to be the No. 1 pick. The Heisman Trophy finalist put together a monster senior season, recording 14 sacks and 16 ½ tackles for loss. Ranked No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s 2021 “Freaks List,” he’s expected to put up some impressive athletic testing numbers.
3. Houston Texans: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
With the uncertainty surrounding Deshaun Watson’s legal situation and Davis Mills’ up-and-down rookie season, the Texans could be thinking quarterback here. But with no consensus top signal-caller, it might make more sense to trade down or take the best player available. Neal dominated at left tackle for the Crimson Tide and has rare athleticism for a 6-7, 350-pound lineman.
4. New York Jets: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Will coach Robert Saleh look to upgrade on defense or try to give young quarterback Zach Wilson more help? The Jets had one of the worst collections of cornerbacks in the league this season, so adding the 6-1, 195-pound Stingley, a lockdown defender in man coverage who flashed elite ability as a true freshman, is a no-brainer.
5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
The Giants will have a new general manager and coach to guide their draft after parting ways with Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge following a disastrous 4-13 season. The 6-4, 320-pound Ekwonu, a dominant run-blocker, would immediately upgrade a porous offensive line. He recorded the most big-time blocks in the country over the past two seasons, according to PFF.
6. Carolina Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
If coach Matt Rhule wants to stick around in Carolina, he needs a better quarterback than Sam Darnold or Cam Newton. The 6-3, 220-pound Pickett is far from a sure-thing after breaking out in his fifth college season, but his experience and poise in the pocket could be just what the Panthers need to get the most out of a talented offense.
7. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears): George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
If the Giants want to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, they need to start winning in the trenches. The 6-4, 275-pound Karlaftis can line up anywhere on the line of scrimmage and beat blockers with power and technique.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Even veteran coordinator Dean Pees couldn’t get the Falcons to field a respectable defense. The 6-4, 220-pound Hamilton is an elite athlete who can help cover for plenty of mistakes in the secondary. The ball-hawking safety recorded eight interceptions in three seasons at Notre Dame.
9. Denver Broncos: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
If the Broncos can pry Aaron Rodgers away from Green Bay, they don’t need to worry about drafting a quarterback. But after Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock put together a disappointing 2021 season, Denver needs another option. The 6-1, 220-pound Howell is a polarizing prospect, but he put up huge numbers (10,283 passing yards, 92 touchdown passes, 1,009 rushing yards) in three seasons for the Tar Heels.
10. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With right tackle Morgan Moses hitting free agency and left tackle Mekhi Becton struggling to stay healthy, the Jets need reinforcements up front. The 6-5, 310-pound Cross is as dependable as they come, allowing just 16 pressures on more than 100 pass-blocking snaps this season, according to PFF.
11. Washington Football Team: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
It’s pretty clear that Taylor Heinicke is not the long-term answer. With Washington officially rebranding this offseason, what better time to draft a franchise quarterback? The 6-4, 215-pound Ridder put together a strong senior season to lead the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff, ranking among the nation’s top 10 quarterbacks in accurate pass rate and deep passing grade, according to PFF.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
With a new coach and general manager taking over for the Vikings, this is an opportunity for a hard reset. That could include drafting Kirk Cousins’ successor if they decide to move on from the veteran quarterback. Assuming Cousins comes back, the Vikings need to improve their secondary. Nicknamed “Sauce,” the 6-3, 200-pound Gardner did not allow a touchdown during his standout college career.
13. Cleveland Browns: Drake London, WR, USC
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is gone and Jarvis Landry isn’t what he used to be. Donovan Peoples-Jones, a former sixth-round pick, was the Browns’ leading receiver in 2021 with just 597 yards. The 6-5, 210-pound London, who led the nation in contested catches before suffering a fractured ankle, would give Cleveland a true No. 1 threat.
14. Baltimore Ravens: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
With aging veterans Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee hitting free agency and Tyus Bowser expected to miss significant time with an Achilles injury, the Ravens need a pass rusher. Like rookie Odafe Oweh, his former teammate at New Jersey’s Blair Academy, the 6-5, 250-pound Ojabo is a raw prospect with outstanding athleticism and speed. He racked up 11 sacks and a program-record five forced fumbles this season.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins): Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
At 6-foot and 225 pounds, Dean isn’t the typical prototype teams look for in a first-round linebacker. But his sideline-to-sideline speed, pass coverage chops and blitzing ability made him one of the best players in college football for the national champion Bulldogs. The Eagles need to upgrade a position that has been neglected for too long.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis Colts): Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Outside of former Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and promising rookie Quez Watkins, the Eagles have a frustrating group of receivers. The 6-2, 189-pound Williams is a big-play threat, having scored 12 touchdowns of 20-plus yards in 2021, according to PFF. His torn ACL suffered during the national championship game shouldn’t impact his draft stock too much.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
The Chargers need to fix their porous run defense, which allowed 4.6 yards per carry and ranked 30th in DVOA. The 6-6, 340-pound Davis is a true nose tackle who can eat up space on the inside and strengthen the middle of a soft defensive interior.
18. New Orleans Saints: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Given the Saints’ tight salary cap situation, adding a quarterback on a cheap rookie contract would be ideal. The 6-1, 205-pound Corral enjoyed two highly productive seasons as the starter in coach Lane Kiffin’s offense and would be a great fit with coach Sean Payton because of his arm strength and mobility.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
It’s hard to pinpoint who the Steelers will target with their first-round pick, especially because general manager Kevin Colbert is expected to retire. They could use help at cornerback, linebacker and offensive line, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely hanging up his cleats, too. A top-20 pick on a center might seem like a reach, but the 6-3, 290-pound Linderbaum is a dominant lineman who can help get the running game back on track.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay can’t do it all by himself. The 5-11, 195-pound McDuffie was a lockdown defender in three seasons as a starter for the Huskies and allowed just 16 receptions for 111 yards on 296 coverage snaps in 2021, according to PFF.
21. Las Vegas Raiders: Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
With defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas hitting free agency, the Raiders need to give edge rusher Maxx Crosby some help up front. The 6-3, 315-pound Wyatt is a disruptive force in the middle, recording four sacks and 27 quarterback pressures this season in addition to his stout run defense.
22. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco 49ers): Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Dolphins need to upgrade their offensive line, but it doesn’t make much sense to pick one here considering the options. The 6-3, 225-pound Burks is a monster in the open field, averaging 8.6 yards after the catch since 2020, according to PFF. With receiver Will Fuller V and tight end Mike Gesicki hitting free agency, the Dolphins need pass-catchers to pair with young star Jaylen Waddle.
23. New England Patriots: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
After trading Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots might lose star cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency. The 6-2, 196-pound Elam, who missed three weeks early in the season with a knee injury, recorded six interceptions in 26 starts for the Gators and was an All-SEC selection in 2020.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The Bengals surrounded quarterback Joe Burrow with plenty of weapons. Now it’s time to protect him. With Riley Reiff hitting free agency and the right side of the line playing poorly, Cincinnati needs an upgrade at right tackle. The 6-7, 321-pound Penning allowed just one sack in 436 pass-blocking snaps this season, according to PFF.
25. Arizona Cardinals: Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
The Cardinals have needs at running back, tight end and cornerback, but wide receiver takes precedence here with Christian Kirk and A.J. Green hitting free agency. Dotson is undersized at 5-11 and 184 pounds, but he more than makes up for it with strong hands and a wide catch radius. He exploded for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns on 91 receptions this season.
26. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams): Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
With Jared Goff likely entrenched as the starting quarterback next season, the Lions have time on their side to develop an intriguing prospect like Willis. The 6-1, 215-pound Auburn transfer rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons at Liberty while throwing 47 touchdown passes. His accuracy is inconsistent, but his 11% big-time throw rate was the best in the FBS this season, according to PFF.
27. Buffalo Bills: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Linebacker Matt Milano is a star, but former first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds has been a disappointment for the Bills. The 6-3, 235-pound Lloyd, who was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year after recording 110 tackles this season, grades well in run defense, pass coverage and as a blitzer.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
After helping the Cowboys’ defense make a huge leap this season, safeties Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker are all hitting free agency. The 6-1, 200-pound Brisker blossomed from a junior college transfer into one of the best safeties in the country, recording 9 ½ tackles for loss, five interceptions and 14 pass breakups in two seasons as a starter.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce can carry the load, but the Chiefs need more options at receiver. The 6-foot, 192-pound Wilson improved each season with the Buckeyes, recording 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games in 2021.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The list of notable Buccaneers entering free agency is long, and at the top is wide receiver Chris Godwin. But even if the Bucs re-sign him, they could stand to upgrade at the position. The 6-1, 188-pound Olave is a polished route runner who can thrive in the slot or out wide, giving quarterback Tom Brady a versatile weapon.
31. Tennessee Titans: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
With Harold Landry hitting free agency and big-ticket signing Bud Dupree putting together a disappointing first season, the Titans could use some fresh blood at edge rusher. The 6-5, 262-pound Johnson racked up 14 sacks for the Seminoles after transferring from Georgia and proved to be a strong run defender.
32. Green Bay Packers: Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
Depending on what happens with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, there aren’t a ton of holes on the Packers’ roster. The 6-3, 256-pound Ebiketie, who recorded eight sacks and 52 pressures this season after transferring from Temple, would provide solid depth if Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith don’t stick around in Green Bay.