It’s overreaction season, with scouts nitpicking the incoming rookie class into oblivion, searching high and low for any flaw that could possibly be perceived as a red flag. The dissection of draft hopefuls can be dehumanizing at times, with NFL decision-makers quick to make mountains out of molehills, judging players down to the millimeter (for instance, Kenny Pickett’s hand size fueled an entire news cycle last month).
You can understand wanting to dot every I and cross every T because, at the end of the day, teams are businesses and players are their investments. Draft busts are a dime a dozen with horror stories galore (Johnny Manziel, Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, to name a few). But the level of pearl-clutching surrounding Oregon standout Kayvon Thibodeaux, once touted as the likely top pick in this year’s draft, is astounding, even by melodramatic NFL standards.
Thibodeaux’s stock has plummeted since his appearance at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, declining to participate in drills after clocking an impressive 4.58 in the 40-yard dash. That decision was poorly received, earning harsh rebukes from draft experts Daniel Jeremiah and Todd McShay, furthering the narrative Thibodeaux doesn’t have the drive or determination to be an NFL difference-maker. Others questioned why Thibodeaux would willingly compare himself to former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, an underachiever—at least relative to expectations—who faced similar criticism coming out of South Carolina.
Drawing conclusions about a 21-year-old’s character because he skipped some drills at a voluntary workout, preferring to save some bullets for his Oregon Pro Day, seems more than a little shortsighted. It’s also lazy analysis, condensing a player’s entire body of work into a single lapse in judgment, if you could even call it that. Pre-draft evaluations can often be an exercise in confirmation bias, which is why it’s important to take them with a grain of salt, knowing that you’re only getting part of the story.
With that in mind, here is my latest mock draft with full analysis for all 32 first-round picks. Again, this is a highly fluid situation, so don’t be surprised if my next mock in two weeks looks drastically different, accounting for any rumors, injuries or last-minute trades that could shake up the pre-draft landscape.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
2. Detroit Lions: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
3. Houston Texans: Ikem Ekwonu, T, NC State
4. New York Jets: Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
5. New York Giants: Evan Neal, T, Alabama
It took months to get here, but the mock community finally seems to be aligned on the No. 1 pick. With Jacksonville assigning the franchise tag to left tackle Cam Robinson, the Jags’ focus should be on improving a comically inept defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in virtually every category last season. Hutchinson, a unanimous All-American and runner-up to Bryce Young for the 2021 Heisman Trophy, won’t fix all that ails Jacksonville, but he’s a good starting point for a team looking to wipe the slate clean after last year’s Urban Meyer debacle. After having essentially no pass-rushing presence a year ago (only the Falcons and Eagles registered fewer sacks), the Lions won’t be able to resist Walker’s rare combination of size (6’5”/272) and speed (4.51). Armed with an additional first-round pick (acquired from Cleveland as part of last month’s Deshaun Watson trade), the Texans have the luxury of being able to draft the best player available. That happens to be Ekwonu, a ferocious blindside blocker capable of playing guard in a pinch (the latter may be his clearest path to rookie-year playing time with Pro Bowler Laremy Tunsil entrenched at left tackle). Will Gardner still be on the board for the Jets when they step to the podium later in the first round (10th overall)? Maybe, but if he’s their guy (the Jets’ infatuation with “Sauce” is one of the draft’s worst-kept secrets), why chance it?
6. Carolina Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt
7. New York Giants (via Chicago): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
8. Atlanta Falcons: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
9. Seattle Seahawks (via Denver): Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
10. New York Jets (via Seattle): Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Panthers coach Matt Rhule has long coveted Kenny Pickett, recruiting him to Temple years earlier, though the Oakhurst, New Jersey native would later decommit, choosing to play at Pittsburgh instead. Coming off an ankle injury that limited him to just seven games in 2021, Hamilton shouldn’t fall too far, even after underwhelming with a 4.59 forty (42nd percentile among safeties) at last month’s Combine. After all, 6’4,” 220-pound DBs don’t exactly grow on trees. Restless from years of futility, fans in the Motor City are clamoring for the Lions to draft Malik Willis, though I suspect they’ll address quarterback at a later juncture, perhaps with their other Day-1 pick (No. 32) or early in the second round (No. 34). Instead, I have Willis falling to his hometown Falcons as the successor to former MVP Matt Ryan, Atlanta’s franchise leader in both passing yards (59,735) and career touchdown passes (367). Marcus Mariota is obviously a favorite of coach Arthur Smith (his former Titans offensive coordinator), but anyone who thinks he’s the Falcons’ long-term solution at quarterback is living in 2015. If Willis comes off the board earlier (Detroit or Carolina would be the likely culprits in that scenario), one could easily envision Atlanta pivoting to receiver following Russell Gage’s departure in free agency and Calvin Ridley’s yearlong suspension for betting on games. The Jets haven’t been particularly discreet in masking their desire for a high-end wide receiver, entering the Tyreek Hill sweepstakes while also showing interest in Skittles enthusiast DK Metcalf. In New York, Wilson would presumably occupy the slot role vacated by Jamison Crowder, now of the Buffalo Bills.
11. Washington Commanders: Drake London, WR, USC
12. Minnesota Vikings: Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State
13. Houston Texans (via Cleveland): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
14. Baltimore Ravens: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Will we see Chris Olave reunite with his former college teammate and fellow wide receiver Terry McLaurin in Washington? Not if Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Drake London is there for the taking at No. 11. Houston hasn’t had a shutdown corner since Johnathan Joseph. Derek Stingley Jr., a first-team All-SEC selection and key contributor to LSU’s National Championship team in 2019, could be the player to finally end that dry spell. Speaking of National Champs, we could see as many as four Georgia Bulldogs selected in the first round, led by reigning Chuck Bednarik Award winner Jordan Davis, a 341-pound force of nature and arguably the top interior defender in his class. In an impressive sleight of hand by GM Howie Roseman, Philadelphia leveraged its surplus of first-rounders into an even bigger haul, fleecing New Orleans while continuing to stockpile future assets. With the Saints all but certain of drafting a receiver now that they have two first-round picks, look for the Eagles to strike first, planting their flag in Olave, who paced all Big Ten receivers with 13 touchdowns a year ago.
16. New Orleans Saints (via Philadelphia and Indianapolis): Charles Cross, T, Mississippi State
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Trevor Penning, T, Northern Iowa
18. Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans): Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
19. New Orleans Saints (via Philadelphia): Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
The Saints’ need for a tackle intensified with Terron Armstead’s departure in free agency last month. Cross, a monster athlete with SEC pedigree, should help New Orleans turn the page. Williams is precisely the kind of explosive vertical threat that would thrive in a Jameis Winston-led offense. Reports on Williams’ recovery from ACL surgery have been largely encouraging with optimism he could be ready for training camp this summer. The Bolts struck first-round gold with Rashawn Slater, a Pro Bowl starter and second-team All-Pro as a rookie, and could go back to that well by drafting another tackle in 2022. With Justin Herbert quickly emerging as one of the game’s elite starting quarterbacks, Los Angeles needs to protect him at all costs. The Steelers are said to be enamored with Malik Willis, though, at this point, it would take a miracle for him to fall to them at No. 20. Howell could be this year’s Davis Mills—a toolsy prospect who underachieved in college before having a light bulb go on in the pros. The Steelers have options with Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph both under contract, but you know what they say—if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.
21. New England Patriots: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
22. Green Bay Packers (via Las Vegas): Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
23. Arizona Cardinals: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
24. Dallas Cowboys: Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
25. Buffalo Bills: Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
Receiver and cornerback will both be considerations for the Patriots at 21, though perhaps less so following their recent acquisitions of DeVante Parker and old friend Malcolm Butler, best known for his star turn in Super Bowl XLIX. Lloyd gives New England an off-ball linebacker to pair with Matthew Judon, a role previously belonging to Dont’a Hightower, who remains a free agent. With two first-round picks and a barren receiving corps gutted by offseason losses (Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling among them), the Packers have no excuse to skimp on receiver this time around, particularly after rolling out the red carpet for reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, recent recipient of a mammoth, three-year, $150-million extension. Karlaftis should fill the pass-rushing void left by perennial Pro Bowler Chandler Jones, who the Cardinals made little effort to retain in free agency. The Cowboys find themselves in much the same boat, still reeling from Randy Gregory leaving them at the altar in a stunning turn of events last month. Kansas City exposed Buffalo’s secondary in the postseason, necessitating improvement in that area.
26. Tennessee Titans: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Zion Johnson, G, Boston College
28. Green Bay Packers: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
29. Kansas City Chiefs (via Miami and San Francisco): David Ojabo, DE, Michigan
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
32. Detroit Lions (via L.A. Rams): Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
After drafting a receiver to appease Rodgers, the Packers can cross another item off their draft checklist with Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean bolstering a linebacking corps weakened by the loss of cap casualty Za’Darius Smith. Having back-to-back picks gives the Chiefs some flexibility, allowing them to stash David Ojabo, who was trending toward top-15 status before suffering a torn Achilles at his Pro Day. The Chiefs could be tempted to draft a receiver after moving on from Tyreek Hill, though the arrivals of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster could also satisfy that need. Instead, look for Kansas City to make it a Michigan double dip, drafting Odabo’s Wolverine teammate Daxton Hill to replace Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu at safety. No quarterback clocked a faster 40 time at the Combine than Ridder (4.52), who threw for a school-record 87 touchdowns at Cincinnati while leading the Bearcats to their first college playoff appearance this past season.