One to 32, here’s my best guess what teams from Tempe to Foxboro are thinking—and who they should be targeting in the first round.
1. Arizona: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma. I wouldn’t even consider offers, unless they’re ridiculously excessive. Picking Murray here just makes too much sense, with Kingsbury in love with him. GM Steve Keim has to figure, If I hired this offensive innovator as coach, and he wants Murray badly, why would we not give him what he wants? Even with a devalued Rosen going east (Washington and the Giants lead in the clubhouse, as I explain below), this is a move Arizona has to make.
2. San Francisco: Nick Bosa, edge rusher, Ohio State. Big pressure on the Niners to finally draft a pressure player on the line, after taking defensive linemen with their top picks in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and hitting big only on DeForest Buckner in ’16. Buckner, in 2018, was the first Niner to have a double-digit sack season in six years. Bosa’s been injured seriously in two of his last four football seasons, so he doesn’t come without risk. But he’s the right pick here.
3. New York Jets: Trade down. Multiple teams lust after Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, and if I had to bet, I’d put my money on GM Mike Maccagnan picking him here. He’s the cleanest prospect in this draft, and I think if the Jets auction the pick, they’d get three premier picks in return. I’d rather have the three picks—maybe two in the top 45 this year and another high pick next year—to get Sam Darnold a top receiver or tight end plus a building-block offensive lineman (Kansas State’s Dalton Risner?), at least, this year.
4. Oakland: Josh Allen, edge rusher, Kentucky. Jon Gruden picks Khalil Mack II, he hopes, and pays 30 cents on the Mack dollar for him. The best two edge players in the draft this year should be gone in the top four.
5. Tampa Bay: Trade down. That’s a strength of GM Jason Licht, who has done it two of the last three years. And because they don’t seem inclined to sign defensive tackle Gerald McCoy long-term (the Bucs have cap issues), and they could trade him, and they need multiple picks at reasonable prices. If they could deal down to a QB-craving team (Miami at 13?), Houston’s Ed Oliver or Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell could buttress a needy defensive front.
6. New York Giants: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri. Doubt GM Dave Gettleman will do this, or take any quarterback here. (In fact, I keep hearing Dwayne Haskins is sinking, and may be the fourth passer picked in this draft.) Gettleman seems to have more of a mind to fix his lines in this draft. But a franchise passer trumps all. Lock or Haskins should be the pick here—unless the Giants think it’s a lock that Lock will be there at 17.
7. Jacksonville: Jawaan Taylor, T, Florida. “I’ll be shocked if the Jaguars don’t go tackle here,” said one respected GM. Seems like Taylor is the most prepared to be a first-year starter, and could be plug-and-play at right tackle over Will Richardson, last year’s fourth-round pick.
8. Detroit: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa. Hmmm. Even after raiding Jesse James from the Steelers in free agency? Yes. Hockenson’s one the best blocking/receiving tight ends—and he’s passionate about the game—to come out of college football in years. Time for Matthew Stafford to have some easy completions.
9. Buffalo: Jonah Williams, T, Alabama. Odd. Bills haven’t taken a tackle in the last four drafts, and the last one they took high in a draft with an Alabama guy, the failed Cyrus Kouandjio, five years ago in round two. But they band-aided the wideout need in free agency (John Brown, Cole Beasley), and long-term tackle is still a major need position.
10. Denver: Devin White, LB, LSU. Vic Fangio froths at putting the best linebacker and a sure, physical tackler between Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Keep hearing Denver and a quarterback here, but it’s not what I’d do this year, this high.
11. Cincinnati: Multiple choice. I’d love to know what new coach Zac Taylor really thinks of Andy Dalton, and whether he believes one of these passers this year is a better option. Assuming Taylor is okay with Dalton, there’s a desperate need at tackle. I’d go Cody Ford, the Oklahoma tackle. Too high for him, but the need is acute.
12. Green Bay: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi. Pack should be able to scotch-tape tight end in 2019 with Jimmy Graham/Marcedes Lewis combo platter, so I’d go with a monster receiver Aaron Rodgers might actually learn to trust opposite Davante Adams. This is not the Green Bay way—the Pack traditionally waits to get a wideout down the line. Metcalf could break that mold.
13. Miami: Quarterback or edge rusher. Maybe new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea and GM Chris Grier have fallen in love with one of the passers. I’d lean that way if I were the Dolphins. But pass-rush is a major need, so I could see Montez Sweat or Brian Burns too. Either would be good here.
14. Atlanta: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston. Pair Oliver with Grady Jarrett, and Dan Quinn, finally, could have the kind of interior terrorism he’s yearned for since arriving in Atlanta. I understand they are mirror players. I also understand how difficult it would be for an interior offensive line to block these two.
15. Washington: Tackle or edge rusher or corner. Imagine being midway through the first round and having your pick of the corner market. Washington could have that, but the corner market is deeper than tackle, and thus a decent corner could be had on day two. If Dillard or Ford is on the board, I’d pick either. Keep in mind that Washington’s my favorite in the clubhouse to deal for Josh Rosen if the Arizona QB is traded.
16. Carolina: Montez Sweat, edge rusher, Mississippi State. The Usain Bolt of defensive linemen could well be gone by now, but he could drop a bit because of inconsistent college play, his minor heart condition, and the fact he’s a little stiff as a rusher. But post-Julius Peppers, Carolina should run this card to the podium in Nashville if Sweat is there midway through the round.
17. New York Giants: Depends on the first pick. If the Giants didn’t take a quarterback at six and Drew Lock is here, he’s the guy. If so, best available offensive or defensive lineman, such as guard/center Garrett Bradbury, who could compete to play opening day at a need position, center.
18. Minnesota: One of a number of offensive linemen, like Dalton Risner, T, Kansas State, or Erik McCoy, C, Texas A&M. If they don’t take the best available protector, I’ll be stunned. The line’s a major need. It got coordinator John DeFilippo fired last year.
20. Pittsburgh: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan. When the Steelers lost Ryan Shazier to a spinal injury 16 months ago, they lost the heart of the defense. Bush isn’t Shazier, but he’d give Mike Tomlin the closest thing to Shazier they’ve had.
21. Seattle: Trade down. If the Seahawks hold the pick, it should be for a year-one starter on the offensive line like Bradbury, the center-guard. As it stands … Team most likely to trade down in round one: Seattle. Team with most urgency to trade down in round one: Seattle. GM John Schneider would rather trade on draft day than breathe, and he has but two picks in the top 120: this one and the 84th overall. Over-under on Schneider’s trade-downs on draft weekend: four.
22. Baltimore: Trade down. In Eric DeCosta’s first draft as GM, the safe thing to do—with just two picks in the top 100—is what is in DeCosta’s blood: Trade. If not, and if an explosive wideout like D.K. Metcalf is gone, the smart pick here would be a 10-year center—Erik McCoy of Texas A&M.
23. Houston: The best tackle. I don’t care who it is. The Texans have to get two good tackles in this draft. Andre Dillard, Cody Ford, Dalton Risner … one should still be here. If not, GM Brian Gaine’s got to trade down for value.
24. Oakland: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama. It’s a great story, Marshawn Lynch being the billboard for his hometown Raiders. Rebel, rebel. Guess how many carries Lynch has had in the last four NFL seasons? It’s 408. Guess who turns 33 two weeks from today? Time marches on, and a guy who’s averaged 102 carries a year in the last four and who is ancient by running-back standards is maybe a complementary player this year. Raiders need a stud back, and I hear they love Jacobs.
25. Philadelphia: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma. Incredible how similar picks 24 and 25 are. Eagles trading for DeSean Jackson, who will be 33 this year, and he starts a second act in Philly, like Lynch has done in Oakland. Jackson is the same height (5-10) and six pounds heavier at 175 than Brown, who should become the long-term deep threat for Carson Wentz.
26. Indianapolis: Best available front-seven player. Brian Burns still there? Good; he can learn from Justin Houston. Clelin Ferrell? Likely gone. Christian Wilkins? Excellent choice—a 315-pound space-eater who could free Darius Leonard to make even more plays in 2019.
27. Oakland: Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware, or Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame. I tend to think Adderley, because he’s a versatile player (three-year CB, one-year safety) who could fill the hole at safety next to Karl Joseph or plug at corner or nickel as well. Good weapon for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The luxury of extra picks might make defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons tempting. He’d have been a top 10 pick were it not for his torn ACL in February.
28. Los Angeles Chargers: Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State. Derwin James and Abram in the back end for the next eight years? Sign me up for that.
29. Kansas City: Rashan Gary, edge rusher, Michigan, or best edge player available. Chiefs have gotten rid of their best three pass-rushers in the last 13 months—Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dee Ford. If there’s one left in the round who can walk, chew gum, and get around tackles at the same time, GM Brett Veach will nab him.
30. Green Bay: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa, or best available offensive lineman. Keep hearing Fant was a distant second to Hockenson among the football people at Iowa, so that could give the Packers pause. They need a long-term tight end, and this could be a good spot to get one.
31. Los Angeles Rams: Best available offensive lineman … Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College, or Elgton Jenkins, C, Mississippi State. The Rams have major long-term issues on their offensive line. The 2018 starters from center to left tackle—John Sullivan, Rodger Saffold and Andrew Whitworth—will likely all be gone by opening day 2020. Reinforcements must come.
32. New England: Best corner, edge player or receiver. I’d take Greedy Williams, the corner from LSU. Serious top 10 prospect in October, and nothing happened to knock him down other than the fact that so many other corners are close to him in ability. Pats can dip into deep wideout/tight end market at 56, 64 or 73 overall, or with a trade. The tight end who might fit well is Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger—if the Patriots think he can block well enough in their scheme. He can stretch a defense.
The one trend I hear, talking to people around the league, backs up what Gil Brandt said at the top of this column: There is no chalk. Teams will understand the strength at edge rusher is very early, the strength at tackle is from 7 to 30, the strength at cornerback and receiver is 25 to 70, the strength at quarterback after Kyler Murray is in the eye of the beholder, and so that will affect when teams with major needs at those spots pick their guys.
I can see once-beloved players like tight Noah Fant, wide receiver A.J. Brown, defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons, corners Byron Murphy and DeAndre Baker, and defensive end Jachai Polite fall to the second round. I hear Dwayne Haskins could plummet, but that could be late-prep lying too.
It’s going to be fun. I say this every year: The NFL does a good job of building the suspense leading into the draft, and the NFL does a bad job helping teams prepare for the season. There are 115 days between the last day of the regular season and the first day of the draft. There are 90 days between the end of the draft and the start of most teams’ training camps. The NFL could easily cut out three to four weeks of draft prep (which is draft over-prep) and give teams more time with their draft choices, helping their readiness for the season. But you know why the league does this. It’s all about the hype machine. With ABC, ESPN and NFL Network doing the draft live this year, networks are paying for programming. Well-hyped programming, with some mystique. And that is what they shall get.