Has there ever been this much uncertainty surrounding an NFL draft? I know we say that almost every year, but this year it just seems different. As of this writing, we have no clue who is going to be the first pick. And it is a fantastic feeling… until you have to make a mock draft. I was tasked with predicting the entire first round and there’s only one thing that I’m certain about: I’m not certain about anything. All of these picks are based on scores of data, rumors, sources and tendency analysis. Yet, it’ll all surely be thrown out the window come draft day. Luckily, I was graciously granted the ability to edit my mock draft later in the week, so stay tuned for more updates and projections. And feel free to send all your complaints to my Twitter @ZachCohenFB. *prepares for battle*
With that said, let’s get the ball rolling.
- Jaguars: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Could it be? It’s not Aidan Hutchinson? Yep, this is the pick I’ve settled on. Walker got a significant bump in buzz a couple of weeks ago, whereas Hutchinson has just kind of been penciled in here. In all seriousness, Walker seems to fit the athletic profile General Manager Trent Baalke covets. And while Walker isn’t regarded as highly as Hutchinson (he’s TDN’s ‘EDGE4’), I can see Jacksonville falling in love with Walker’s upside. Unless I hear something different, this is who I’m rolling with for the first pick.
- Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Of the many uncertainties in this draft, I am relatively certain Hutchinson doesn’t fall past Detroit. I can’t see them committing to a quarterback with so many holes on the roster still. I imagine General Manager Brad Holmes and his staff realize how solid of a prospect Hutchinson is and what type of tone he can set for the defense. As a nice bonus, Hutchinson grew up just outside of Detroit. If Hutchinson does go first, then things will get weird because at the moment, I have no clue which edge rusher the Lions would take.
- Texans: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
I think the Texans realize how important the position is in Lovie Smith’s scheme, so I’m sticking with cornerback here. I’m just changing it to Stingley based on recent reports.
- Jets: Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State
It’s starting to seem like the New York teams aren’t too high on Thibodeaux. While I can still see Ikem Ekwonu as an option here, I think the Jets wanted Johnson all along and convince themselves to pull the trigger at No. 4.
- Giants: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
I can’t see the Giants leaving the top 10 without an offensive lineman. The catch here is that Andrew Thomas played surprisingly well toward the end of last season. Neal‘s versatility allows him to play right tackle, which I believe new General Manager Joe Schoen would want from Neal. Edge rusher is also a possibility, though I don’t think the Giants like Thibodeaux as much as some of the other teams picking in the top ten.
- Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
The Panthers are arguably the biggest wild card of the top 10 and trust me, there are MANY wild cards. Ultimately, I don’t think the Panthers want to tie themselves to a quarterback who they don’t trust. Instead, they may want to keep Ekwonu in the state of Carolina and help solidify one of their weakest positions. I do think Carolina will try to trade down but I just can’t see a team willing to move up to No. 6 yet. I think this selection will be offensive tackle unless a team (Pittsburgh?) falls in love with a quarterback.
- Giants: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Even if Johnson is still on the board, I think New York wants to find a new ‘CB1.’ Gardner’s been gaining a lot of steam with the Giants, though I’m not sure they’d take Stingley if he’s there, either.
- Falcons: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
I still think the Falcons go BPA (Best Player Available), though in this new scenario, Thibodeaux falls to Atlanta. I’m still ruling out a wide receiver, but I won’t rule out a trade down here, either. It seems like Philadelphia and Dallas could be interested in Thibodeaux if he falls.
- Saints: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
TRADE – SEA gets No. 16 & 49 for No. 9
What? The Saints moved up for an offensive tackle? Let me explain. I think the Saints think they have a good enough roster to win now. Jameis Winston isn’t a perfect quarterback, but re-signing him and adding Andy Dalton tells me the Saints are trying to compete. Cross fills a huge hole left by Terron Armstead. If I had to guess—and I did—New Orleans walks away with one of their top-rated offensive tackles and wide receivers from the first round. Based on General Manager Mickey Loomis’ draft history, I won’t be surprised if they make multiple deals to do so. As for the Seahawks, we all know how much the dynamic duo of General Manager John Schneider and Head Coach Pete Carroll love to move down. This deal just makes sense.
- Jets: Drake London, WR, USC
I’ve been a big advocate for the Jets to not draft a wide receiver here. I think the value is much better with their two second-round picks. However, the position seems to be a trendy pick for New York, and I can see why. For a team that has tried desperately to land a big-fish wide receiver, I think Douglas views London as a unicorn-esque game-changer that can bolster quarterback Zach Wilson’s development a la Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow. After all, it’s a copycat league. I will add this: don’t be surprised if Jameson Williams ends up being the first receiver taken. I just think the Jets would prefer London.
- Washington: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
If Ahmad Gardner is somehow here, he’s the pick. If Kyle Hamilton is here, I think he’d be the next choice. If both of them are gone but Drake London is here, I think he’s the choice. Clearly, Washington lucked out in this scenario. I can see the front office thinking they’re an offensive playmaker away from competing in the NFC East. I was torn between Wilson and Jameson Williams, so I went with Wilson because it seems like he’ll be going earlier per multiple experts and sportsbooks. I wouldn’t rule out Derek Stingley Jr., either. I also don’t think the Commanders love a quarterback enough to take one here. I still expect them to address the position, though…
- Vikings: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Woah! I was shocked to find just how possible this selection could be, but I wouldn’t put it past Minnesota to go BPA. I imagine the Vikings would especially covet Hamilton’s versatility.
- Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
TRADE – HOU gets No. 20 & 84 for No. 13
I’ve been riding this train for the longest time. It’s no secret the Steelers really like Willis. In General Manager Kevin Colbert’s last draft, I think he and his staff see a high-upside quarterback who can take time to develop behind Mitchell Trubisky. The one caveat to this is I think Pittsburgh can still get Willis at No. 20. But hey, if a team loves a player, what’s stopping them from guaranteeing their guy? If Houston stays at the selection, I expect them to go defense, though a wide receiver would not shock me.
- Ravens: Jordan Davis, IDL, Georgia
I’ve always associated Jordan Davis as a future Los Angeles Charger, but I just don’t think the Ravens let Davis get past them—unless Kyle Hamilton or Derek Stingley Jr. are on the board. I expect this selection to be defense. Davis is a true wildcard. I think the Ravens think Davis can succeed in their scheme, especially with their current personnel along the defensive line. It’s also the earliest I think Davis could go barring his selection by Houston the pick before.
- Eagles: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
I’ve been saying for a while now that the Eagles shouldn’t go wide receiver, but this is a predictive mock draft. This pick lines up with previous tendencies — Philadelphia has taken a wide receiver in the first round of each of the last two drafts — and recent reports linking Williams to Philly.
- Seahawks: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
This just all makes too much sense. Aside from the Seahawks’ affinity for trading first-round picks – Schneider has dealt all but one of their last 11 first-round picks – Penning fills an obvious need. I imagine Schneider and Carroll view Penning as their starting left tackle who can help anchor the run game. For some reason, this is the selection I feel the most confident about in the first round. And yet, there is still little confidence with this selection because it’s the Seahawks.
- Chargers: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
In my original mock draft, I said the Chargers got “royally screwed” because Williams doesn’t fill a huge need. In this scenario, McDuffie falls to Los Angeles. He’s not the biggest cornerback, but neither was Asante Samuel Jr. That’s turned out fine, right? I think the Chargers end up with Jordan Davis, Trevor Penning, McDuffie or Williams.
- Eagles: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Like I said earlier, I think the Eagles target an edge rusher. This is also about where Karlaftis is projected to go. Don’t be surprised if edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie sneaks up here, either. I’m sure Roseman would be thinking more long-term with Karlaftis considering the age of Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox along the defensive line. Still, Karlaftis seems like he can find a way to be an every-down edge rusher despite the defenders already there in Philadelphia. Keep an eye out for safety at this pick, too. Perhaps someone like Daxton Hill?
- Saints: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
I told you I think New Orleans walks away with one of their top wide receivers, and Olave seems like a perfect fit in the Saints’ offense. Somehow, Olave just seems like he’ll end up in New Orleans or Green Bay. As for the Saints, maybe they do pull the trigger on a quarterback like Kenny Pickett, who could easily fall in the first round. Still, New Orleans knows they need to upgrade their wide receivers and Olave brings an exciting skillset to pair with Winston.
- Texans: Devonte Wyatt, IDL, Georgia
After trading back from No. 13, I was torn between giving Houston Wyatt or an interior lineman like Zion Johnson. While offensive line is a glaring need, I think Cesario and Smith target a big, versatile defender who can slide into their 4-3 defense with ease. I’m willing to bet the Houston brass sorely misses an athletic pass-rushing presence. I can see them targeting defense with both of their first picks in an attempt to fix one of the NFL’s worst defenses from a year ago. While some people may think this may be too high for Wyatt, I actually think he goes higher than most people think. Either way, I can’t see Wyatt falling past No. 27 to Tampa Bay.
- Patriots: Zion Johnson, IOL, Boston College
Initially, I had New England taking Zion Johnson, but I switched it out for Devin Lloyd. I’m now reversing course again as I imagine Bill Belichick would covet Johnson’s versatility, especially with a hole at right guard.
- Packers: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
I was thiiiis close to replacing Mafe with Arnold Ebiketie, but ultimately, I think Green Bay bypasses a more long-term project in favor of filling a hole on a championship-caliber roster—or so they think.
- Cardinals: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
It seems very likely Arizona goes defense here. Cornerback and edge rusher are my best bets. Among the many uncertainties of this draft, I feel less uncertain about the Cardinals going cornerback here. That’s mostly because Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph loves man coverage. Therefore, I’d imagine the Cardinals look to upgrade their less-than-inspiring secondary. Cornerback Kaiir Elam seems to be a popular pick to reunite with former Florida teammate Marco Wilson, but corners McDuffie and Booth fit the scheme better. With McDuffie off the board, Booth can come in and rejuvenate a thin cornerback room. I considered Arnold Ebiketie here, too, as Arizona could use pass rush help
- Cowboys: Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M
Don’t be surprised if Dallas makes a pick seemingly out of left field. Either way, I feel like the Cowboys realize how important their offensive line is and will opt to patch up a hole at guard. This also seems to be Tyler Linderbaum’s ceiling.
- Bills: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
For the record, I think the Bills should seriously consider adding another wide receiver. But this is a predictive mock draft, not one where I’m the general manager. Therefore, I think Buffalo finally addresses secondary despite a recent track record of ignoring it. Since General Manager Brandon Beane came to town in 2017, the Bills have taken just two defensive backs before Round 5: Tre’Davious White (Round 1, 2017) and Taron Johnson (Round 4, 2018). I think Beane realizes that this may be the last big hole Buffalo needs to fill before making a Super Bowl run. It also helps to keep up with the new starpower infused into the AFC. I was torn between Elam and Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill. Ultimately, I went with Elam because I think Buffalo is more than fine running with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde at safety for at least one more season. And while Hill can play nickel, Elam’s a beautiful scheme fit for Head Coach Sean McDermott’s defense. Don’t rule out Kyler Gordon, either.
- Titans: Tyler Smith, IOL, Tulsa
I knew I needed to have one somewhat out-there prospect in the first round. That’s Smith. I still expect Tennessee to go offensive line, though I’m sure they’ll consider a quarterback to some degree.
- Buccaneers: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
Man, talk about a worst-case scenario. With Devonte Wyatt, Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green all gone, I think the Bucs just go with their highest-rated player. Remember, I’m just making predictions here. And I was beyond surprised to see how much buzz Cine is getting to Tampa Bay. It… kind of makes sense. The Bucs’ only signed safeties Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal to one-year deals and both are versatile enough to play elsewhere (nickel and linebacker, respectively). Cine’s aggression and physicality in the run game seem like a great pairing in Head Coach Todd Bowles’ scheme. If this is how the board falls, there could be some eyebrows raised throughout Tampa. But General Manager Jason Licht and Co. are no strangers to successfully ignoring national opinion.
- Packers: Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
The sole reason for replacing Pickens with Dotson is the recent rumor that teams think Pickens has too many red flags. While it could be completely false, I still think Green Bay will leave the first round with a wide receiver. And this is a natural pairing I’ve praised for some time.
- Chiefs: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
I fully expect Hill to go in the first round. Teams will covet his ability to play free safety and nickel. Count the Chiefs as one of those teams. I imagine the front office realizes they need to drastically upgrade their secondary. Don’t count out cornerbacks Kaiir Elam or Kyler Gordon here if they’re available, too. I can also see Kansas City opting to add more beef to their defensive line, too. As for wide receiver…
- Chiefs: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Here you go! Burks’ stock has been slipping, so he may not even be drafted until Day 2. Luckily for him, I can see Kansas City hoping to utilize his versatility and unreal size-speed combo in their offense. At minimum, Burks can thrive on manufactured touches like screens or fades. At best, look for the Chiefs to unlock Burks’ massive upside. The dream pick, though, has to be Jameson Williams. I’d be very surprised to see him still on the board here. I expect Kansas City to address wide receiver with one of their first-round picks, or perhaps trade up to take one.
- Bengals: Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa
I can totally see the Bengals look to address their secondary room by adding Kaiir Elam or Kyler Gordon, but every bone in my body tells me they won’t pass up Linderbaum. All offseason, the Bengals have prioritized upgrading their offensive line. While they added Ted Karras (29 years old) at center, I imagine Cincinnati prefers a younger option long-term. Linderbaum is the best player available at a position of need. This is roughly where he’s projected to go, and I understand why. The positional value of a top center isn’t as great as most other positions, so don’t expect Linderbaum to hear his name called in the first half of the draft. And if he slips to the second round, he shouldn’t last past Houston at No. 37.
- Washington: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
TRADE – Lions get No. 47, 2023 2nd Rounder for No. 32
I have more faith in Kenny Pickett being drafted in the spot than I do who actually picks him. I simply don’t believe the Lions are ready to make a commitment to a young quarterback. They seem content with riding out Jared Goff for another season. Since they’re on the board again in two selections, I have them trading back with a quarterback-needy team. Washington has more capital to offer than Carolina, though it isn’t a great amount, either. While the team invested a surprisingly hefty amount of draft capital into trading for Carson Wentz, I think the Commanders realize they may be a quarterback away from becoming a serious playoff contender. Pickett can start Week 1 if needed.
- Sep 24, 2023
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