With the NFL scouting combine kicking off next week in Indianapolis, get ready for the deluge of mock drafts.
While most mocks aim to predict where each player will fall — like The Baltimore Sun’s Version 1.0 — this one is a little bit different. Instead of pairing players and teams based on buzz on best fit, this is how things would shake out if this writer were the general manager for each franchise.
Here’s what each team should do with its first-round pick when the draft begins April 28 in Las Vegas:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
If the Jaguars are going to make a Bengals-like leap next season, they need to surround quarterback Trevor Lawrence with a better supporting cast. The 6-foot-7, 350-pound Neal entered the 2021 season as the No. 1 athlete on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List and should post some eye-popping numbers at the combine to solidify his status as the top lineman in the draft.
2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
The 6-6, 265-pound Hutchinson is the perfect prospect for the tough, blue-collar team coach Dan Campbell is building in Detroit. After a dominant 14-sack senior season, the Michigan native can be a building block for a defense that ranked 29th in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA in 2021.
3. Houston Texans: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The Texans need help just about everywhere, which means they should stick to the “best player available” mindset. The 6-4, 220-pound Hamilton is a unique chess piece who can play linebacker, safety or slot corner and make his presence felt at all levels of the field.
4. New York Jets: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
With right tackle Morgan Moses hitting free agency and questions swirling about left tackle Mekhi Becton’s long-term viability, the Jets could use another piece on the offensive line. The 6-4, 320-pound Ekwonu can play tackle or kick inside to guard to help solidify a unit that will be vital to young quarterback Zach Wilson’s success.
5. New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
This would be a dream scenario for the Giants, who land a player many considered the best overall prospect heading into the 2021 season. According to Pro Football Focus, the 6-5, 258-pound Thibodeaux posted one of the highest pass-rush win rates in the nation last season, beating his blocker within 2.5 seconds on 23.1% of his pass-rushing snaps.
6. Carolina Panthers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Panthers might very well make a play for a veteran quarterback like Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins, but they should still take a swing on a high-upside player like Willis. The 6-1, 215-pound Auburn transfer has an electric combination of rushing ability and arm strength that’s worth betting on.
7. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
While fixing the offensive line remains a top priority for the Giants, it’s hard to pass up a special talent like Stingley — especially if New York decides to move on from cornerback James Bradberry. The 6-1, 195-pound Stingley put together one of the best freshman seasons in college football history to help LSU win the national title in 2019. He hasn’t met high expectations the past two years, but an elite athlete of his caliber is worth a top-10 pick.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
“Sauce” could end up being the top cornerback off the board after a dominant college career in which he didn’t allow a touchdown pass playing more than 1,100 coverage snaps. The 6-3, 200-pound Gardner would form one of the best young cornerback tandems in the league with A.J. Terrell to give the Falcons some much-needed stability on defense.
9. Denver Broncos: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Star pass rusher Von Miller just won a Super Bowl in Los Angeles and Bradley Chubb has struggled to stay on the field in recent seasons. The 6-5, 250-pound Ojabo is still raw and is somewhat of a liability defending the run, but he has the type of high-level athletic traits worth taking a chance on for a Broncos team in desperate need of pass-rushing help.
10. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Drake London, WR, USC
After upgrading the offensive line, the Jets get their No. 1 wide receiver. Pairing the 6-5, 210-pound London, a contested-catch monster, with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore would give the Jets one of the most exciting wide receiver rooms in the league. We saw what that could do for Joe Burrow and the Bengals. Now it’s time to see if Wilson can take advantage.
11. Washington Commanders: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
After trading for Alex Smith, using a first-round pick on Dwayne Haskins and trotting out journeymen like Taylor Heinicke and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Commanders need to try and develop a real franchise quarterback. The 6-4, 215-pound Ridder is the most pro-ready of this year’s class with his quick processing, pocket movement and impressive speed in the open field. He has the potential to be a difference-maker for a franchise in need of a spark.
12. Minnesota Vikings: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
In this scenario, the Vikings are committed to building around quarterback Kirk Cousins in hopes of finally breaking through in a wide-open NFC. The 6-4, 275-pound Karlaftis is a powerful bull rusher who can play anywhere on the defensive line, giving Minnesota a solid one-two punch alongside star defensive end Danielle Hunter.
13. Cleveland Browns: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
After parting ways with Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns might be saying goodbye to fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry, too. In steps the 6-3, 225-pound Burks, an enticing vertical threat who can break tackles and pick up yards after the catch. With a physical profile similar to that of San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel, Burks caught 18 touchdown passes and averaged more than 16 yards per catch in his final two college seasons.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The Ravens like to stick to the “best player available” mantra, which could lead to a heated discussion in the draft day war room. Would a stud defender like linebacker Nakobe Dean, cornerback Trent McDuffie or defensive lineman Travon Walker be the best option? What about a potential game-breaking receiver like Jameson Williams to pair with Rashod Bateman, Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews? Is all-world center Tyler Linderbaum really worth a top-15 pick? In the end, solidifying the offensive line trumps everything after a season in which the Ravens allowed 57 sacks, second-most in the NFL. The 6-5, 310-pound Cross allowed just 16 pressures on 719 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, according to PFF. He’d be a solid bookend to Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley and provide valuable insurance if Stanley can’t stay healthy.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins): Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Eagles have long ignored linebackers in the first round, but we won’t do that here. Don’t be fooled by the 6-foot, 225-pound Dean’s small frame. He’s an elite sideline-to-sideline athlete who can diagnose plays in an instant and tackle in open space. He’d breathe new life into an Eagles defense that fell to 25th in DVOA in 2021.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis Colts): Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Darius Slay needs some help in the Eagles’ secondary, especially with fellow starting corner Steven Nelson hitting free agency. The next in a long line of star Washington defensive backs, McDuffie is outstanding in zone coverage and versatile enough to play in the slot or out wide. He’s not afraid to get dirty in run defense, either.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
This has quickly become a popular pairing for many mock drafters, and it’s easy to see why. The 6-2, 189-pound Williams suffered a torn ACL during the national championship game, but the injury doesn’t diminish an outstanding season in which he caught 15 touchdown passes and averaged 20 yards per reception. Pairing his speed with Justin Herbert’s arm is a match made in heaven.
18. New Orleans Saints: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
If the Saints can find a way to re-sign quarterback Jameis Winston after his strong start to the 2021 season, they might be a darkhorse contender to win the NFC. The retirement of coach Sean Payton will sting, but keeping longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. means the transition will be as smooth as possible under new coach Dennis Allen. The 6-foot, 192-pound Wilson is a shifty route-runner with a big catch radius who can give the Saints the big-play threat they’ve been missing.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The run on wide receivers continues with the 6-1, 188-pound Olave, who some believe is better than his former Ohio State teammate. Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith put together a solid rookie season in Philadelphia, but the play of former first-round pick Jalen Reagor leaves a lot to be desired. For quarterback Jalen Hurts to take the next step as a passer, he needs another weapon like Olave.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
The Steelers have been heavily linked to quarterbacks like Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett, but the bet here is that Pittsburgh lands an established veteran to take over for Ben Roethlisberger. In that scenario, fixing the offensive line becomes the top priority. The 6-7, 305-pound Raimann is a fast riser, transforming from a freshman tight end into one of the most dominant tackles in the country.
21. New England Patriots: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Whether or not the Patriots bring back star cornerback J.C. Jackson, the secondary could use an upgrade. The 6-foot, 195-pound Booth has limited experience, but the former five-star prospect has the size, strength and versatility to be a snug fit in almost any defense.
22. Las Vegas Raiders: Travon Walker, DL, Georgia
The Raiders need help just about everywhere on defense, and the line is a great place to start. The 6-5, 275-pound Walker wins with top-end strength and explosiveness and has shown the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or as a stand-up edge rusher. He’s even been asked to drop into coverage on occasion at Georgia. If he can refine his pass-rushing technique, Walker could be an impact player for a defense that really needs one.
23. Arizona Cardinals: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
One of the biggest questions of the draft is where Linderbaum ends up. The 6-3, 290-pound mauler is the best center prospect PFF has graded since it started evaluating prospects in 2014, yet it’s hard to justify picking an interior lineman so early in the draft. In Arizona, he would help solidify an offensive line that struggled run blocking in 2021.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Could NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons take on a bigger pass-rushing role in 2022? With defensive end Randy Gregory and linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal hitting free agency, the Cowboys could unleash Parsons on the edge while having the 6-3, 225-pound Lloyd patrol the middle. The Utah star can blitz, cover and shed blocks with the best of them, giving Dallas another versatile player to build around.
25. Buffalo Bills: Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
There aren’t too many holes on this Bills roster, which means they have the luxury of targeting just about any position they want. One area that should be addressed, however, is the defensive interior, especially if veteran Harrison Phillips is not re-signed. The 6-3, 315-pound Wyatt is an explosive athlete who flashes rare quickness and bend for someone his size. Wyatt, Ed Oliver, Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa would be a tough defensive front to deal with, to say the least.
26. Tennessee Titans: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
Offensive line and tight end are more glaring needs, but the Titans shouldn’t pass on a chance to upgrade their pass rush, especially with star outside linebacker Harold Landry III hitting free agency. The 6-5, 262-pound Johnson is a hard edge-setter who stood out at the Senior Bowl after recording 14 sacks in 2021.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Even before quarterback Tom Brady retired, the Bucs were facing a mass exodus of players like wide receiver Chris Godwin, tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and edge defender Jason Pierre-Paul in free agency. While there are impact positions to upgrade like receiver, cornerback and pass rusher, the idea of the 6-6, 340-pound Davis playing alongside Vita Vea, Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is way too fun to pass up.
28. Green Bay Packers: Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
All bets are off here if quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams don’t return in 2022. But even if they do come back, the Packers need another weapon. What the 5-11, 184-pound Dotson lacks in size, he more than makes up for with strong hands, elusiveness after the catch and silky-smooth route-running.
29. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco 49ers): Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
After allowing a league-leading 235 pressures last season, according to PFF, the Dolphins need to do everything they can to fix the offensive line. The 6-7, 321-pound Penning, a Senior Bowl standout after dominating FCS-level competition, would be a great start.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
With Melvin Ingram hitting free agency and Frank Clark’s future in Kansas City uncertain thanks to his bloated salary, the Chiefs need pass-rushing help. The 6-3, 256-pound Ebiketie racked up eight sacks and 52 pressures in his lone season at Penn State after transferring from Temple, beating blockers with flexibility and excellent hands.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
After quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked 19 times during a stunning Super Bowl run, the Bengals’ draft strategy should be pretty simple: “best offensive lineman available.” The 6-4, 325-pound Green projects as a standout guard, but he could fill in at tackle for a team that desperately needs to fix the right side of its line.
32. Detroit Lions (vis Los Angeles Rams): Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
There are still some big-name quarterbacks on the board like Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral and Sam Howell, but the Lions are more than a quarterback away from contending. Adding a playmaking safety like the 6-1, 200-pound Brisker would help fix a leaky secondary that could lose one of its only bright spots, safety Tracy Walker, in free agency.