There is a line in the movie ”Moneyball” meant to highlight the absurd and arbitrary concepts that scouts and front offices latch onto. In it, a group of scouts discuss a prospect and one comments that he doesn’t have a ”good face” while another chimes in that the prospect ”lacks confidence because his girlfriend is ugly.” It would be folly to think that NFL decision makers are significantly more evolved. Therein lies the flaw in the mock draft exercise. Even if you correctly determine each team’s needs and the top prospects to fill them, it is impossible to know the silly idiosyncrasies governing the decision makers. Still, they have value in the aggregate, in establishing a rough approximation as to where each prospect should go, and giving fans a baseline understanding of the market value of each prospect. This is not a list of who each team should pick, but who I think they willl.
Pick 1 Jaguars – Edge: Travon Walker, Georgia
Having spent a boatload on offensive line in the offseason, the clearest unaddressed need (which is also a premium draft position) is edge rusher. The most productive edge is Michigan’s Aiden Hutchinson. His high floor is thought to accompany a low ceiling, because evaluators have mis-identified the combination and ratio of physical traits that makes a successful pass rusher. Jaguars PR has worked overtime the past few weeks reminding people that GM Trent Baalke loves to bet on upside. Normally, that would wreak of a smoke screen but there is no point for those games, given they have the first pick. The highest upside is Travon Walker, who has no sack production but boasts unreal testing numbers to go with elite size. This is a bit like betting on a big-armed QB who hasn’t displayed accuracy, but this is why they pick in the top 5 each year.
Pick 2 Lions – Edge: Aiden Hutchinson,Michigan
Coach Dan Campbell likes a certain type of player, and Hutchinson is that type. Offensive tackle might be a consideration, but there is no franchise QB to protect. Detroit takes a guy who will play the run, end in the top 20 in sacks each year and may finish in the top 5.
Pick 3 – Texans: Offensive Tackle: Evan Neal, Alabama
Anything is possible, with the possible exception of QB. You like to draft high surplus-value positions at this stage, meaning OT, Edge, CB and WR. Sauce Gardner is a possibility, but coach Lovie Smith’s scheme does not require his traits, and you don’t want to overpay for traits you don’t need. Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux is not a culture fit, which leaves OT. Charles Cross and Neal are the best pass protectors, and Neal has more size. The Texans start surrounding QB Davis Mills with viable talent to see if he really is their QB of the future.
Pick 4 – Jets: Offensive Tackle: Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The Jets have spent a long time trying to find their franchise QB, and drafted Zach Wilson in 2021. They can’t figure out if he is the guy, if he is on the ground. Mekhi Becton is trending towards ”bust” and Cross is the last ”polished” pass protector with rare athletic traits left on the board. Edge and corner will be discussed, but ”figuring out your QB” outweighs every other personnel consideration.
Pick 5 – Giants: Offensive Tackle Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
The Giants need pass rushers, but front offices are put off by Thibodeaux because he plays chess and astutely markets himself. This is the NFL version of ”has a good face”, but these are the realities we deal with. So, the Giants go with the last premium position prospect in the top tier of prospects. Ewkonu is a mauler who is a bit undersized as a pass protector and must refine his technique.
Pick 6 – Panthers: Offensive Tackle, Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
This is a reach, and a low-percentage guess on my part. However, there are curveballs thrown in the draft every year, and desperation is a common cause of crazy picks. Head coach Matt Rhule is on the hot seat and nobody in the front office should feel comfortable. What they really need is a franchise QB, but there simply is no immediate savior in this draft. We used to think that simply drafting a QB could buy you time, but that is no longer the case. They have young edge rushers, wide receivers and defensive line. The only premium position player that could immediately help is Penning, who combines a 6’7 frame with impressive quickness. It is very likely that they take QB Pickett here, but I think the best ”win now” strategy would be to trade for an established QB like Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyler Murray, or even Jordan Love. There is no ”future” for this staff, so I see them being willing to heavily leverage future picks for an instant upgrade. They will try to protect that upgrade and rely on their young picks for the rest.
Pick 7 – Giants: Cornerback, Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
The Giants continue the rebuild with the best cover corner in the draft. He has not allowed a touchdown in college, and is a true press shutdown. The Giants are in cap hell, but many of those will expire next season. For now, they forego the temptation to draft a QB and roll with the Daniel Jones experience for another year in order to stockpile top end talent.
Pick 8 – Falcons: Quarterback, Malik Willis, Liberty
…And things get crazy. The falcons are, realistically, years away from being contenders. The fact that Willis is not ready to start won’t really hurt their team building schedule. this is a reach, but Quarterbacks tend to be drafted half a round early. Last year’s pick, Kyle Pitts is needing a QB that is willing to take deep shots to unlock his unique skill set. At very least, this will bring excitement to a franchise that is otherwise on life support for the foreseeable future.
Pick 9 – Seahawks: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
The Seahawks a rebuilding team that does not appear to know they are rebuilding. They are in desperate need for a QB and OT, but OT has been tapped and I do not believe they think that the remaining QBs are worth this high a pick. This is another team that I think will try to trade for an established QB after the draft. Their glory days were founded in rushing the passer and a Legion of Boom back-end of the defense. With Thibodeaux, they begin to rebuild that model with an edge that has Jadeveon Clowny traits, but with advanced handfighting capable of actually unlocking that speed and power.
Pick 10 – Jets: Edge, Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
The Jets absolutely love Johnson, and it would not be surprising if they take Johnson at 4. However, edge is a deeper position and their needs at OT are real. Johnson had an insane win rate in college and absolutely balled out in the senior bowl. He flashed high straight line speed at the combine and reportedly has the mentality that Robert Saleh loves.
Pick 11 – Commanders, WR, Garret Wilson, Ohio State
The Commanders need a long term answer at QB, but they acquired Carson Wentz in hopes of solving their issues. They need offensive tackles, but that cupboard emptied fast. I believe that the volume of NFL-ready receivers each year will begin pushing them down the draft board, which is the only reason that Wilson wasn’t picked until 11. He has everything you want except for exception height, and still high points the ball well enough that it does not particularly matter. They have a talented defense and decent skill players. If their OT situation can keep Wentz upright, they are hoping Wilson puts them in front of the quickly-disintegrating Cowboys.
Pick 12 – Vikings, Cornerback, Derek Stingley, LSU
The Vikings have Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler, but need a long-term replacement for Peterson. Stingley could also take nickelback duties in the meantime. They have no other glaring needs unless you count right tackle, but I do not think they are in the Bernard Raimann sweepstakes here. Instead, they find perhaps the best CB in the draft.
Pick 13 – Texans: WR, Jameson Williams, Alabama
The Texans continue to build around Davis Mills to see if he is the real deal. Williams is my favorite WR and has the potential to bring a ”Tyreek Hill” explosion to any offense. He may miss time from his ACL injury, but the Texans are not in any hurry.
Pick 14 – Ravens: WR, Drake London, USC
Everyone wants to give the Ravens Jordan Davis because he feels right for a team that was at their best with Haloti Ngata jamming up the middle of the defensive line. However, I think they have figured out that they need more success in the passing game if they ever want to transfer their regular-season success to the playoffs. They have Hollywood Brown and Devin Duvernay, but Lamar Jackson’s passing strength is not in hitting small, agile receivers that use quick cuts to gain separation. He likes big targets with a catch radius that is more forgiving to mediocre accuracy. In comes London. Traylon Burks could also be in play, with his Deebo-esque abilities on end arounds and short screens, but I think the Ravens finally stop messing around and try to get the pocket throwing game in order.
Pick 15 – Eagles: WR, Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Eagles, devoid of receiving talent for so long, double-dip on the position to finally see if Jalen Hurts is their guy before next year’s QB rich draft. His skill set would appear to be redundant of Devonta Smith, but its hard to get too much of ”open downfield.”
Pick 16 – Saints: Quarterback, Kenny Pickett, Pitt
The Saints do not need a QB with a big arm. They have done well with a QB with good vision, who delivers an accurate ball on time. This is Pickett’s strength. This is the only landing spot I see where Pickett projects as ”our franchise QB”, so there is a realistic chance that Pickett lasts until this spot in the draft.
Pick 17 – Chargers: Safety, Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Safety is not a significant need, with James and Adderly, but the value here is just impossible to ignore. The Chargers could use an upgrade at right tackle, but the remaining tackles do not warrant this draft position. They could upgrade at guard, so Johnson/Green are possibilities here. However, Hamilton would add an element that Adderly does not give them. With a play-making back and and great pass rush, this defense could become an absolute force.
Pick 18 – Eagles: DT, Travis Jones, Connecticut
Jordan Davis, with his insane 4.78 forty is the odds on favorite to be the first DT taken. However, he has no history pass rush, and was taken off the field on third downs. Devonte Wyatt is the odds on favorite to be the second pick. However, Jones has the combination of lateral and turning quickness at a size that makes him a potential pass-rushing replacement for aging Fletcher Cox.
Pick 19: Saints, DT, Jordan Davis, Georgia
The Saints could use a receiver, but Traylon Burks is not the ”refined route runner separator” that they prefer. They already have long receivers, so they go for the BPA on their board in the hope that their defense can keep them in games while their offense rebuilds.
Pick 20: Steelers, QB, Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
I honestly do not know if the Steelers like Ridder, but their biggest need is QB and they tend to be drafted a half-round high. Ridder sees the whole field, has WR-like athleticism, underrated arm strength and leadership qualities. His tape has occasional moments of wild inaccuracy, but they usually occur as under throws that rarely hurt him.
Pick 21: Patriots, CB, Trent McDuffie
The Patriots moved on from J.C. Jackson, and have a huge need at corner. McDuffie does not have ideal measureables, just production. Predictability might actually put him above Stingley on some boards.
Pick 22: Packers, Edge, George Karlaftis
You’ve heard this before…Aaron Rogers is running out of time, and he lost his most trusted WR, so the Packers have a massive hole at WR….so they draft….NOT a WR. They take a productive edge rusher with great film and mediocre measurables because their goal every year in the draft is to make Rogers contemplate why he hasn’t retired.
Pick 23: Cardinals, CB, Kaiir Elam, Florida
The Cardinals need a WR, but Burks is not the crisp route runner needed for the air raid offense. They also need an edge rusher, but they cannot wait on David Ojabo, and the dropoff is steep. Andrew Booth is thought to be the next best CB, but there is a lot of talk about Elam being favored.
Pick 24: Cowboys, IOL, Zion Johnson, Boston College
With Arkansas alum Traylon Burks available, the entire front office has to hold Jerry Jones at gunpoint to keep him from making that pick because they know that they have spent a top pick and significant FA money at WR, and because they know that the reason they lost in the playoffs was their inability to run at a 4-man box. Kenyon Green is the mauler but OL coach Joe Philbin hated Connor McGovern because of his lack of movement, regardless of his play strength. Johnson has movement better than Ali Marpet, and the length to some day become the heir to LT.
Pick 25: Bills, WR, Traylon Burks, Arkansas
Burks finds the perfect landing spot. The Bills already have their route-runner and speed guy. Burks will simply be asked to do what he does best: break short throws open, body up on deep throws, and line up in the backfield occasionally for handoffs.
Pick 26: Titans, IOL, Kenyon Green
The mauler goes to the maulers. The Titans bolster the heart of their line to squeeze a little more life out of Derrick Henry, and hope they can simply bludgeon everyone to death.
Pick 27: Buccaneers, DT, Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
The Bucs fill the hole in the middle of their defensive line with the penetrating 3-technique in the best front 7 in college football, hoping for a Warren Sapp redux.
Pick 28: Packers, WR, George Pickens, Georgia
Rogers busts into the war room holding a baseball bat, drunk and visibly sweating and demands, for the love of God, that the Packers prioritize WR for him so that he doesn’t have to throw to rookies and scrap heaps.
Pick 29, Chiefs, OT, Bernard Raimann, Central Michigan
Need matches draft slot value, as the chiefs fill their hole at tackle with a small school prospect that passes the eye test and has good film against the competition he faces.
Pick 30, Chiefs, WR, Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Dotson is not Tyreek Hill. However, he is a diminutive WR that separates with quickness and crisp route running. The Mahomes contract finally starts to weight down the Chiefs, and they start to see if his transcendent talent can elevate his receivers.
Pick 31: Bengals, CB, Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
The Bengals snag a playmaking CB and continue to build a roster with talent while their star QB’s rookie deal affords them a superbowl window.
Pick 32: Lions, QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
You know he isn’t a franchise QB, I know he isn’t a franchise QB, that’s how we know the Lions will draft him in the first round. He is exciting, and will be a Campbell kind of guy.