Peter King’s final 2021 NFL mock draft

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Dart-throwing, mostly, in a mysterious first round:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars—Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson 

Wonderful day in Duuuuuuu-val, but history throws a caution flag. Since 2010, here are the eight quarterbacks who went first overall: Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis WinstonJared GoffBaker MayfieldKyler MurrayJoe Burrow. A nice collection, and the jury is still out on a few, of course. But five are gone from their original teams. Those eight players, collectively, are a cautionary tale on drinking till dawn Thursday night in Jacksonville.

Trevor Lawrence, like his coach, will have to be mindful of three things as his career dawns. One: patience; he will likely lose more games in his first month or so than he lost in his three-year college career—two. Two: focus on the long-term goal, which is steady development, knowing there will be some awful days. Three: Don’t be a hero. Lawrence had great talent around him and lesser teams on his schedule, and neither of those will be true in Jacksonville, at least early. Get rid of the ball. Nothing wrong with punting. Lawrence strikes me as a guy who gets all this, but he’ll be tested when he’s down 33-10 late in the third quarter at Indianapolis.

2. New York Jets—Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young 

This occurred to me when thinking about the adjustment of a suburban Utah kid who went to college at BYU and now will be moving into the shadows of the big city. Wilson is Mormon. When a Mormon kid wins the starting quarterback job at Brigham Young, it’s a big deal, and the mantel of BYU QB lays heavy on a Mormon kid, especially one who was only moderately recruited. I am not saying playing quarterback in Provo, Utah is the same as playing quarterback for the New York Jets, because of course it isn’t. But Wilson has had a little bit of pressure on him already—and also had the pressure of a player who a year ago was in a three-way battle for the starting job at BYU and proceeded to knock it out of the park. I doubt he’s ready, as a pristine 21-year-old, for the challenge of being the next Namath. But who would be? Who would be ready for the screaming BROADWAY ZACH back-page headlines that await him?

More important than the cultural challenge will be what GM Joe Douglas does with his four additional picks in the top 90 this year, and his four picks in the top two round next year. The supporting cast will be at least as important to Wilson’s success as Wilson himself will be.

3. San Francisco 49ers (from Miami via Houston)—Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Hearing it’s a two-horse race with Trey Lance. Quite a few of the experts will faint if this pick happens, and then outrage will ensue, and how-could-they-pass-on-Fields-and-Lance hot takes will flood the earth. GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan—with contracts that run through 2024 and 2025, respectively—do not care. They have not cared about public sentiment since taking these jobs, and this is their fifth draft. In their first, 2017, I was in the room as it happened, and these were the top three players on the board: 1 Myles Garrett, 2 Solomon Thomas, 3 Reuben Foster. With the third pick, they were sure to get one of those. But Foster? Really? No one had him that high. Lynch: “Had Solomon been gone, we’d have taken Foster. And been happy.” My point: Shanahan and Lynch won’t care what order the draftniks have the quarterbacks, or any position.

Shanahan believes Jones is the accurate coach-on-the-field type he craves. As one coach in QB-prospecting mode told me this spring: “Jones has elite NFL traits. He’s a natural thrower, is technically very sound, very accurate and throws a catchable ball. His base and mechanics are excellent.” He’s not the athlete a Lance or Fields is, but he doesn’t have feet of stone. I’ll be fascinated—we all will—if Jones is the pick. And I can see it happening.

4. Atlanta Falcons—Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Golden spot of the draft. I like how thorough new GM Terry Fontenot has been about the pick and about his entire roster through this process. One of his new peers in the league told me building the roster has nothing to do with sentimentality for Fontenot and all to do with the current reality of the tight cap. Next year’s NFL cap also will likely be less than the 2019 cap figure of $198 million, and three Falcons (Matt RyanGrady Jarrett and Jake Matthews) are slated to count for half of it, insanely—about $96 million. Some great options here, obviously. The fourth quarterback available—who knows?—might be the second or third QB on Atlanta’s board, and I could see Fontenot and Arthur Smith ensuring the Falcons’ future there. I could see them taking a generational tight end, or their choice of three top wideout prospect.

What I think Atlanta would love, even at the expense of losing out on all of those possibilities, is a trade-down. It’s certainly possible, but I’m leaning against the reality of it. Denver going from nine to four makes the most sense—but Broncos GM George Paton comes from the draft-and-develop-and-acquire-picks school. The cost for New England, Washington or Chicago seems monstrous. Any of those could happen, but I think it’s more likely Fontenot sits and picks a great player.

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

For a long time, I’ve thought—even railed about it in this space—that the Bengals should just sit here and pick the best tackle in the draft, Penei Sewell. And if they do, good for them. But this exercise is trying to project what I think they will do, not should do. And I’m getting to the point where I am relying on history and this particularly board in projecting something like for the Bengals:

Round 1, pick 5: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Round 2, pick 38: Liam Eichenberg, T, Notre Dame
Round 3, pick 69: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State

The point: In the scouting community, the quality of wideout, after the top three, has a steep dropoff. The dropoff at tackle is less, and you can find respectable starters, at tackle and guard, from 30 to 75.

One more point, and it involves Bengals history. You might say, They’re fine at wideout with Tyler Boyd and Tee HigginsThey are, but the Bengals have always prioritized receivers, and this is still Mike Brown’s team. 1981: David Verser and Cris Collinsworth, rounds one and two . . . 1985-’86: Eddie Brown and Tim McGee in back-to-back first rounds . . . 2000-’01: Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson in back-to-to drafts . . . 2016-’17: Tyler Boyd (second round), John Ross (first round). So they used a high two on Higgins last year. It’s not going to prevent them from putting another great receiver prospect in stripes again.

6. Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia)—Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama 

Amazing, really, to see the incredible receiver depth at Alabama in the last three years. Waddle started nine games in three years at ‘Bama—and I’m projecting him sixth overall in the draft. Over a two-year period, history will show four Alabama receivers picked in the top 15: Henry Ruggs (12), Jerry Jeudy (15), Waddle and DeVonta Smith. Nick Saban compares Waddle’s competitiveness to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and that is music to the ears of feisty Brian Flores. This pick is about not only adding a top receiver to a group with Will Fuller IV, Preston Williams and DeVante Parker, but giving Tua Tagovailoa a truly fair chance to show he’s the franchise’s long-term quarterback in 2021. It’s a common-sense pick, unless GM Chris Grier believes Penei Sewell is a generational tackle and he’s sitting there at six.

7. Detroit Lions—Penei Sewell, T, Oregon 

First line out of rookie GM Brad Holmes’ mouth if it falls this way: No way we thought Sewell would be there at seven. Tyler Decker is solid on the left side for Detroit but Tyrell Crosby, PFF’s 66th-rated tackle last year, seems like a place-holder on the right side. No question in my mind Holmes hopes the Patriots (15) will want to pay a ransom to move from 15 to 7 and pick their QB of the future, and the way New England’s uncharacteristic offseason has gone, you can’t eliminate that as a possibility. But if the Lions stay, one of the top tackles or DeVonta Smith seems the most logical way to go . . . unless the Chris Spielman influence reverberates through the building and the best linebacker in the draft, Micah Parsons, has the Lions smitten.

8. Carolina Panthers—Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State 

Tiniest of all tiny clues: Interesting that the Panthers have yet to say (though many in the media have, including me) that Sam Darnold will have his fifth-year option—his 2022 contract—exercised and guaranteed by Carolina. They won’t do it, either, till at least after the draft. Count the Panthers as another team that would love to take a passel of picks from New England or Washington to move down. As I wrote last week, Carolina hates the fact that the franchise has averaged 6.2 picks per draft in the last eight years when the average team has 8.1. I’m not sure at all they’d use the pick here on Fields, because they’re truly optimistic about Sam Darnold. But owner David Tepper has made no secret that finding a franchise quarterback has to be job one, two, three and four for the team. Fields falling to them makes sense—even if it would crush the new incumbent QB.

9. Denver Broncos—Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Very nearly had a trade here—Denver dealing its first and second-round picks (9 and 40) to Detroit for the seventh pick, to take Lance. Denver GM George Paton still may do it, but I’m dubious the Lions will get anyone between 10 and 15 leapfrogging the two QB spots—Carolina and Denver—to take one of the quarterbacks. We’ll see. Paton is a lover of picks, so I’m not sure he’d surrender a starting player with the 40th pick to ensure getting Lance. In an ideal world, Lance goes somewhere like Atlanta to learn behind a good vet for a year or two, but in this case he’d probably challenge Drew Lock for the starting job by Halloween.

So many people are in love with Lance the prospect and it’s easy to see why. Excellent arm, good mobility, precocious player and leader. The one thing to keep in mind with Denver: Paton’s not going to go nuts for a quarterback; he’s okay with giving Lock first dibs here. However, Paton also understands he may not be in a power position to get the next quarterback like the one he would have if this scenario plays out.

10. Dallas Cowboys—Patrick Surtain II, cornerback, Alabama

I am not signing on to the Jerry’s-moving-up-for-Kyle-Pitts storyline. I saw Jerry Jones passionately push to try to trade for Paxton Lynch five years ago and, though he has the juice to do what he wants, not overrule his football people when they said the Cowboys should not up the offer to be able to trade for Lynch. Good thing, obviously. So I doubt Jones this year will trade next year’s one, or a passel of picks, to move up to number four to be able to take the talented Florida tight end.

Picking Surtain is smarter. Dallas gave up 29.6 points per game last year, and allowed a ghastly 34 touchdown passes. (Previous five years, on average: 23 per season.) The Cowboys, as my friend Rick Gosselin has preached for years, have to spend more time tending to the defense in the high rounds, and Surtain would be a good add to a beleaguered defense. 

11. New York Giants—Micah Parsons, OLB, Penn State

Last Giants’ first-round linebacker: Carl Banks, 1983. Okay, so once every 38 years a linebacker comes out who’s worth it. The Giants always do a good job disguising their intentions, and this year they’ve been particularly good. Three things I’ve heard: Joe Judge loves DeVonta Smith; the organization likes cornerback Jaycee Horn a lot; and Dave Gettleman loves Parsons. If you can get past some of the immature pockmarks on his résumé, there is so much to love. Easily the best linebacker in the draft, with the ability to be a top edge player and double as a sideline-to-sideline presence. Now, he’s only a one-year starter, didn’t play football last year, and the Giants will have to be comfortable with the fact he’s had maturity issues. Smith or Horn could easily be the pick here—Parsons is my best guess—but 4.36-in-the-40 linebackers are quite rare.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami, via San Francisco)—Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina 

I think when the Eagles moved from 6 to 12 on March 29 in the trade with Miami, they hoped for three things: their choice of a top receiver, Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, and one of the top two corners in the draft. By this mock, they’re all there. Nothing would surprise me—include a shallow trade-down, say, to New England at 15 if the Patriots are smitten with DeVonta Smith. Horn is my pick here because corner’s a significant need; the Eagles’ best (and priciest) corner, Darius Slay, gave up 77-percent completions last year, per Pro Football Focus, and there’s no other long-term solutions, at least not one who has played to that level, on the roster now. Horn’s a three-year starter in a throwing league, and the book on him is he’s uber-competitive and feisty. Sounds like a Philly guy already.

13. Los Angeles Chargers—Rashawn Slater, T, Northwestern

Surprised if Slater falls to 13. He’s what you want in a modern tackle, after 26 starts at right tackle and 11 at left tackle in the Big Ten, including a shutout of Chase Young in their 2019 Northwestern-Ohio State matchup. Didn’t play in 2020, but he’s athletic and could very well go much higher. The Chargers, with 32-year-old Bryan Bulaga at one tackle and likely place-holder Trey Pipkins at the other, need a long-term solution at the position. Even though Tom Telesco’s highest-picked tackle in the last seven drafts has been Pipkins, at 91 in 2019, I think the talent here trumps recent history. Part of me, though, wonders if the Chargers will be smitten enough with DeVonta Smith or one of the receivers if they’re still around at 13.

14. Minnesota Vikings—Alijah Vera-Tucker, G-T, USC

I believe I lead the Vikings’ chunk of my mock annually with this sentence: GM Rick Spielman really wants to trade down. Nothing new this year. Maybe he’ll find an aggressive taker if one of the receivers is still on the board. I had Jaelan Phillips here until making the switch Sunday mid-day. Lots of times, in mock-scienceville, you’re influenced by the last voice you hear. So I had Phillips until the last three people I texted with Sunday told me the need is too great on the Minnesota offensive line, and Vera-Tucker the person and prospect just too solid, and Phillips the person and prospect a little risky, and so I hit the delete button. Vera-Tucker, with 13 starts at guard and six at tackle, and was voted the top offensive lineman in the conference by his foes last year. Seems a very safe pick.

15. New England Patriots—DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama 

So many options for New England on draft weekend, and you know most of them. You know the option I just don’t see? Bill Belichick trading a gold mine to move up eight or 11 spots to get the quarterback of the future. I think he’s much more likely to deal for Jimmy Garoppolo (but not with a first-round pick), or to draft a Kyle Trask in the second or third round, or play it out with Cam Newton this year and then see what happens next offseason. Maybe Garoppolo’s on the street by then, or maybe Matt Ryan is.

The draft capital needed to move up to seven (never mind four) would likely include next year’s first-round pick and something else, and I can’t see Belichick loving Lance or Fields enough to do that. What good fortune for New England if it plays out this way, getting a competitive game-breaker at 15.

Quote of the Mock Process: One GM who loves Smith told me, “Have you heard his nickname? I love it. It’s so true. ‘The Slim Reaper.’ “

16. Arizona Cardinals—Greg Newsome II, cornerback, Northwestern 

Lots of different opinions about Newsome. One GM with a cornerback need is wary because of his nagging injury history at Northwestern; he missed eight, three and four games due to injury in his three starting seasons. So a team will have to be comfortable with his long-term fitness, obviously, and this is a particularly concern this year because so many shortcuts have been taken medically with no combine and few chances for team medics to put their hands on prospects. Per Dane Brugler, Newsome had 25 passes defensed in 21 college games, and he runs a 4.38 40, and he’s exceedingly fluid.

Also, a note about Arizona options. Peter Schrager, whose mock I sincerely respect, had the Cards trading up from 16 to 7 to take Jaylen Waddle. Kliff Kingsbury, it seems, is smitten with getting more firepower for Kyler Murray. Okay. In the last three years, Arizona’s used two second-round picks on receivers, made a mega-trade-and-signing for DeAndre Hopkins, and bought A.J. Green in free agency. Time to address other needs.

17. Las Vegas Raiders—Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech 

Farley, despite not playing a football game for 508 days and despite coming off disk surgery that will affect him through July, has been a very popular man this offseason with many teams. That happens because Farley’s 6-2, has been strong in man coverage, loves football, and apparently will be okay for the long term once his current back malady heals. Arizona (16), Washington (19), Chicago (20) and Pittsburgh (24) have spent lots of Zoom time with Farley this spring.

The Raiders, 26th in passing yards allowed and 30th in third-down conversions allowed, haven’t drafted well recently at corner. (Join the club.) Their projected 2021 starters at corner, Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette, were 82nd and 116th, respectively, in PFF’s 2020 cornerback ratings. Not good, considering 121 cornerbacks were rated. Farley, in a division with a quarter of the games annually coming against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, would be a welcome/essential add. 

18. Miami Dolphins—Jaelan Phillips, edge-rusher, Miami

A complicated case here. Phillips once quit football after a spate of injuries at UCLA, and transferred to Miami where he had a great 2020 season (23.5 sacks/tackles for loss). He loves music; some scouts think it’s his passion more than football. But his quickness and power around the edge have seduced some evaluators. “He’s the best defensive player in this draft,” one GM told me. With Emmanuel Ogbah (coming off a nine-sack season at 27), Phillips could be the kind of difference-maker Brian Flores needs on his defensive front. But there’s no guarantee with Phillips—if there was, he wouldn’t be on the board at 18.

Two other edge notes: Ask 10 GMs their top four edge-rushers and it’s likely none has the same order. Regarding Phillips: My opinion after talking to a few people who know him is that he and Chip Kelly were so oil-and-water at UCLA that it affected his love of the game, and that’s been rekindled in spades at Miami. I don’t think this is going to be a kid who wakes up in three years and questions his affection for the game.  

19. Washington Football Team—Christian Darrisaw, T, Virginia Tech 

Admirable story. As the 171st-rated offensive tackle coming out of high school, Darrisaw got one major-school offer (Virginia Tech) and took it . . . and started 35 of 36 games in his three-year career with the Hokies, all at left tackle. At 6-5 and 322, Darrisaw is a feisty and battle-tested player who could play in year one on a line that got overrun for 50 sacks in 2020. The left-tackle position allowed 38 sacks/pressures for WFT last year, and with a stationary quarterback for at least one more year in Washington in Ryan Fitzpatrick, the immediate need is there to do better than, say, Cornelius Lucas at left tackle.

20. Chicago Bears—Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota 

Getting to the throw-a-dart area of the first round. Better yet, the crowd-sourcing area of the first round. What is weird about a pass offense with Allen Robinson, Darnell Moody and Anthony Miller is this stat from 2020: They combined to catch 212 balls—but for only 11.2 yards per catch. With a 4.38 darter in Moody to change the pace, that yards-per-catch number is just not good enough. So here comes Andy Dalton, and the Bears have multiple needs, but another plug-and-play receiver would help, particularly now that Miller’s Chicago future is cloudy after three low-impact years.

Trade: Indianapolis trades 21st pick to Cleveland for the 26th pick and a third-round choice, 91st overall.

21. Cleveland Browns—Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame 

So everyone wants to sideline-to-sideling playmaking ability of Devin White. Owusu-Koramoah isn’t Devin White (15 pounds lighter), but he has some of White’s traits. The Golden-Domer is rangy (he played a rover position in the Irish D) and made first-team all-America last season, dropping in coverage, rushing and being a complete playmaker at the second level on defense. This is right about the area of the draft that he should be picked, and I could see others (Green Bay, New York Jets) being interested around here. I think playing behind Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and the Browns’ interior front, Owusu-Koramoah should be free to roam and be a playmaker in year one.

Trade: Tennessee trades 22nd pick to Baltimore for the 27th pick and a third-round choice, 94th overall.

22. Baltimore Ravens—Kwity Paye, edge-rusher, Michigan 

Love this pick for the Ravens. There might not be a more hungry, coachable and talented player in this draft. Paye’s story is incredible. For the Paye family, America has been the true land of opportunity, and Baltimore could be the team of opportunity for an eager 22-year-old pass-rusher with great upside. Paye was born in a refugee camp on the west coast of Africa in 1998, and dispatched at 6 months old with a brother to live with his uncle in Rhode Island. Not a lot of football prospects in Rhode Island, but Paye become a big one, then excelled at Michigan, playing 38 games in four seasons mostly as a 4-3 end.

In the NFL, the 6-2, 260-pound Paye likely will be moved around to find his ideal spot, but Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is very good at blending disparate ingredients to make a top defense. With just 11.5 sacks in 38 college games, Paye will need to develop more pass-rush moves to be an NFL success. (I do not see, by the way, the Ravens picking LSU receiver Terrace Marshall.)

23. New York Jets (from Seattle)—Gregory Rousseau, edge-rusher, Miami 

So no one knows which edge rusher is going to be very good. The Jets want one. I think they might take Paye if available, and they might also trade up for one. They also could roll the dice on Azeez Ojulari, the highly rated rusher from Georgia who could slip because some teams are worried about his knee issues. Rousseau is an interesting story. Medical redshirt as a 2018 Miami frosh, huge season (35 sacks/TFLs) in 2019 as a rush end, opted out in 2020. So teams have seen him in all of seven starts and one season as a rusher. “Such a tough evaluation,” one GM told me. “But I can’t unsee what I saw in 2019. He was a man that year.”

In many ways, Rousseau is the perfect illustration of the 2020 draft prospect: Tantalizing, touch of mystery, not enough on tape to totally trust. The one reason NOT to give him to the Jets is New York cannot afford to bust on first-round picks—the Jets have too much recent history of that. If Joe Douglas makes this pick, it’ll be because he’s swinging for a home run, not a gap double.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers—Najee Harris, running back, Alabama 

It’s been 13 years since the Steelers took a back in the first round (Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois, 23rd pick, 2008), and I think they’d consider the speedy Travis Etienne here also. They could go Teven Jenkins or Sam Cosmi here because of major tackle need, but alarm bells must be clanging in the head of draft czar Kevin Colbert after the miserable time Pittsburgh had in the run game last year. In seven of their last 11 games, the Steelers managed less than 55 rushing yards, and their season fell off a cliff.

The all-time leading Alabama rusher and touchdown-scorer, Harris isn’t the home-rush threat of Etienne, but he doesn’t shy from contact, runs between the tackles fluidly, and is the kind of bellcow back the Steelers have been seeking since Le’Veon Bell left. I’m not a big fan of running backs in the first round, and if the Steelers go tackle here, that’s fine. But spending big on a big need would be smart, which is why I like Harris here.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from L.A. Rams)—Jayson Oweh, edge-rusher, Penn State 

Okay. This starts a vital time in franchise history, and I’m not being dramatic. Jags pick 25th, 33rd, 45th,, 65th and know they’ve got to hit on picks in the sweet spot of the draft. They had the first pick of day one, and will have the first pick of days two (33rd) and three (65th) as well. So this is where four Jacksonville coaches—recent college coaches Urban Meyer, Charlie Strong, Chris Ash and Anthony Schlegel—can really pay off. They should be able to pick up the phone and call their friends in the college coaching business and get the kind of inside information that the college-heavy staff of Jimmy Johnson got in the first three or four seasons of the Dallas makeover three decades ago. Schlegel, particularly, should be a boon. The former assistant director of sports performance at Ohio State should be able to get the straight dope from strength and conditioning coaches across the country. That’s a tight circle of coaches, and my experience is they would not lie to each other.

That brings us to the second pick of the first round, with well-trusted defensive coordinator Joe Cullen weighing heavily on the decision. A tackle like Christian Barmore wouldn’t surprise me here; he’s the best of a bad DT crop. Oweh is pretty raw, with only eight college starts and needing to develop better pass-rush moves. But his upside is good.

26. Indianapolis Colts (from Cleveland)—Samuel Cosmi, T, Texas

Tackle Liam Eichenberg of Notre Dame is possible (Colts GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich were at his Pro Day, for what that’s worth), because he’s a steady-Eddie guy, reliable like the retired Anthony Castonzo. But Cosmi’s upside is probably higher. Cosmi started 34 games at tackle for Texas—21 at left tackle, 13 at right—and at 6-6 and 315 pounds had an NFL frame with the ability to get a little bigger.

One other thing about this pick: I could see the Colts trade down again to pick up another third or fourth-round pick, or a pick next year, because they figure they can get a tackle around 35 anyway. One of the things I expect to see, particularly lower in the round, will be for teams to look for 2022 picks either instead of or in addition to a 2021 pick. That’s because teams trust the 2022 draft more than this year’s. There will be a full season, most likely, with a regular combine.

27. Tennessee Titans (from Baltimore)—Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi 

After losing receiving targets Corey Davis (free agency, Jets) and Jonnu Smith (free-agency, Patriots), the only star available for Ryan Tannehill is A.J. Brown, a true difference-maker. I think GM Jon Robinson might have to take two wideouts, or a wideout and a tight end, in the first three rounds of this draft. Moore was good in college, but as one draft-watcher told me, he should be a better pro. He has 4.35 speed, and there’s no way a player with that speed should be a 12.9-yards-per-catch guy, which Moore was in three seasons in Oxford. Tannehill’s become a good deep-ball thrower, and he would be better with Moore streaking off the line.

28. New Orleans Saints—Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia 

Every year, I like to put at least one “Who!!!” in my first round. So in my calls over the last few days, I’ve asked most of my football contacts who they’d put in the first round that no one has there. One GM practically blurted “That Georgia corner, Tyson Campbell. He’s big and fast and had lots of experience in a passing conference.” A high-school teammate of Patrick Surtain II in Florida, Campbell went on to play 33 games with 24 starts in three seasons at Georgia. At 6-1 with 4.36 speed, he’s got perfect NFL tools, but his game is raw and, per Dane Brugler of The Athletic, he was suspect in covering receivers out of their breaks and easy to get off-balance. Coaches with confidence will look at what he CAN do and figure they can teach him what he doesn’t do well. Dennis Allen, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, is one of those confident coaches. Plus, there’s a big need in New Orleans at the position. I like this semi-risky pick here for the Saints.

29. Green Bay Packers—Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

It’s the annual Green Bay game of How can we avoid taking a receiver in the first round again? Kadarius Toney would seem logical here. But if I’m GM Brian Gutekunst, I might go best player on the board here, then receiver in the second round (Rondale Moore? Dyami Brown?) because, in my draft scenario, lots of the good wideouts are gone. Davis is perhaps the fastest-rising defensive player in the crop over the last three months. After starting only 11 games at Kentucky, NFL teams studying his tape found the rangy sideline-to-sideline playmaker they’re valuing in linebackers these days. “Very instinctive for a guy who hasn’t played much,” one GM said. If the Packers zero in on linebackers, they may like Zaven Collins of Tulsa, but those I spoke to like Davis more.

30. Buffalo Bills—Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson 

Now that the Bills have one of the most dangerous receiver corps in the league, time to inject some life into the run game. Etienne would be a great puzzle piece in an offense that craves speed in the backfield. Etienne doesn’t have the speed of some of the fleet backs or wideouts who run Jet sweeps (he’s a 4.44 guy), but the book on him is he cuts and fakes at top speed, which can make up for the fact that he has good but not transcendent speed. Plus, Etienne is very good in the screen game. He had 22 plays of 40 yards or more at Clemson, with a ridiculous 78 touchdowns in four seasons.

I’m not a huge fan of rushers in the first round, but the Bills are in top-off mode: What player can they use to make a very good roster a tick better? And Etienne, combined with the great weapons already on the offense, would be a pretty great add to an offense that averaged 31.3 points a game last year. He’d be an extra headache for defensive coordinators to solve.

31. Baltimore Ravens (from Kansas City)—Landon Dickerson, C-G, Alabama 

Polarizing prospect around the NFL, and I don’t think Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta would pull the trigger on this first-round bonus pick (acquired from Kansas City for Orlando Brown on Friday) without having a pick earlier in the round. Dickerson is a clear medical risk, and there are those in the NFL who think he’s just been too beat up by his college experience to count on him for a long NFL career. He’s had two torns ACL and two major ankle injuries, and he won’t be medically cleared till August or September this year, most likely. Dickerson’s résumé (three years at Florida State, two at Alabama) is incredible: He started games at every position on the offensive line in his five seasons: 20 at center, 11 at right guard, four at left guard, one at left tackle, one at right tackle. (Has that ever happened before?) Played in the NCAA title game despite knowing he had a torn ACL and would soon have surgery.

So Dickerson is the risk of risks in this draft. But I would say this: The Ravens are notoriously tough medical-graders, with lots of failed-physicals every year with draft prospects. If this is the pick, some demanding Baltimore docs would have given Dickerson a clean bill. “Might be the best leader in the draft,” one GM said. “It’s a risk, but I’d take it.”

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers— Christian Barmore, DT, Tampa Bay 

What gift do you get for the team that has everything? How about the best defensive tackle in the draft? (A low bar, granted; this tackle crop stinks.) But Vita Vea missed 13 games, including playoffs, last year and his absence was felt. Barmore would give the Bucs a good relief presence at the tackle spot, and could be a good heir to Ndamukong Suh whenever the trusty vet walks away.

The great thing for Tampa Bay here is GM Jason Licht can truly go best player available and be fine. Maybe he likes one of the backs (Javonte Adams?) or a high-value linebacker like Zaven Collins, or the best safety in the draft, Trevon Moehrig. It’s nice to win a Super Bowl, get every key player back, and look at the draft to simply make your team better, not be desperate to import a need player.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.

Conference Championship week awards: Reddick wrecks SF

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Offensive player of the week

Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. Dealing with a high ankle sprain and missing multiple receivers, Mahomes did what he’s done over and over again in his remarkable NFL career: He excelled, innovated and propelled Kansas City to the win. Mahomes went 29 for 43 for 326 yards and two touchdowns and showed poise and mobility despite the injury, as on his perfectly-placed 19-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the third and his end-of-game scramble for the first down that positioned the Chiefs for the winning field goal (with the help of some unnecessary roughness). In Mahomes’ career as the starter, Kansas City has never exited the playoffs before the Conference Championships, and now they’re headed to their third Super Bowl appearance in the last four seasons.

Defensive players of the week

Haason Reddick, linebacker, Philadelphia. In the first 11 minutes of the NFC game, Reddick wrecked it. Eight minutes in, Reddick steamed in on Brock Purdy and hit his arm just as he began the act of throwing; it was ruled an incomplete pass and changed to a sack, forced fumble and turnover upon review. That play knocked Purdy from the game with what appeared to be an elbow injury. On the second play of the next series, with backup Josh Johnson in the game, an unblocked Reddick smothered Johnson for a nine-yard loss, and the Niners had to punt two plays later. So, early on, Reddick, the Temple product playing on his home college field, spoiled the first two 49er drives and drove the starting quarterback from the game. That’s one heck of an impact game for the first-year Eagle.

Haason Reddick celebrates after recovering a fumble against the 49ers in the second quarter. (Getty Images/Tim Nwachukwu)

Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City. In his seven-season career, Chris Jones had never tallied a postseason sack entering Sunday night’s game. In the electric atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium, he took down Burrow not once but twice, including a sack on third and eight in the final minute of the fourth quarter that ended the Bengals’ shot at a go-ahead scoring drive and got the Chiefs the ball back for the game-winning field goal. Jones was a powerhouse all night, a difference-maker in a close game. Not hard to argue that KC isn’t headed to the Super Bowl without him.

 

Special teams player of the week

Harrison Butker, kicker, Kansas City. His 45-yard field goal, fighting through the Arrowhead Stadium wind, made it by four or five yards and dropped on the ground with three seconds left, giving Kansas City a 23-20 win over the Bengals. Kick of his career. 

 

Coach of the week

Nick Sirianni, head coach, Philadelphia. His decision to go for it twice on fourth down in the first half helped the Eagles score touchdowns on each. On fourth-and-three from the Niners’ 35-yard line, with the Eagles in long field-goal range, Sirianni called a pass play and Jalen Hurts hit DeVonta Smith for 29 yards (although a closer look might have found the pass incomplete); the Eagles scored their first TD two plays later. On fourth-and-one from the Philly 34 with the game tied at 7, Sirianni chose to go for it, and Hurts sneaked for two … and five minutes later, the Eagles scored to go up 14-0. A good day at the controls for the coach in his first conference title game.

 

Goats of the week

Joseph Ossai, defensive end, Cincinnati. His clear late hit on Patrick Mahomes out of bounds with eight seconds left in a 20-20 tie merited a 15-yard flag and advanced the ball from the Bengals’ 42-yard line to the 27-yard line and turned a 60-yard field-goal try for Harrison Butker into a 45-yarder. Just a terrible mistake at the worst time for Cincinnati.

Replay assist, Replay official/New York officiating command center, NFC Championship Game. “Replay assist” is in its second season of use in the NFL. The replay official in the stadium—Jamie Nicholson in this case—or NFL senior VP of officiating Walt Anderson, working from New York, can see an error on the field and call down to the ear of ref John Hussey and tell him the call on the field is wrong. Twice in the first quarter, replay assist likely had enough evidence to fix plays without a coach throwing a challenge flag. The first one was huge—a fourth-and-three pass play from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith for 29 yards that, on further review, appeared clearly to be a trapped or compromised catch by Smith. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t challenge it; it very likely would have been overturned, and the NFL’s sophisticated Hawkeye replay system would have caught it quickly. Same with the second call, an Eagles-challenged incomplete pass by Brock Purdy that turned into a strip-sack instead. The system installed is only as good as the people using it, and it’s clear that at least the Smith play could have been seen and fixed in real time by the replay assist system.

 

Hidden person of the week

Isaac Seumalo, right guard, Philadelphia. On the Eagles’ first series of the NFC title game, Seumalo sealed off 319-pound San Francisco tackle Javon Kinlaw (with help from center Jason Kelce), opening a wide hole for Miles Sanders to sprint six yards in the space formerly occupied by Kinlaw. Just another example of why the Eagles’ offensive line is the NFL’s best: On the first drive of the biggest game of the year, the line helped pave the way for an 11-play, 66-yard TD drive, ending in a display of power that bruising games like this one require.

 

The Jason Jenkins Award

Jeff Kamis, former director of media relations, Tampa Bay. Kamis was one of my favorite PR people in the time I’ve covered the NFL. Thorough, professional, and helpful, he was the PR chief when the Gruden Bucs won their first Super Bowl. But now, tragedy has entered his life. Kamis’ 16-year-old son Jacob, a star student and aspiring pilot, took his own life seven months ago. He suffered from severe depression. In the midst of their grief, Jeff Kamis and Jacob’s mother Katherine turned their attention to helping other young people suffering from the debilitating disease, as described in this piece done by the Tampa ABC affiliate:

Jeff helped organize a three-day event in Tampa last week called “Lifting the Cloud: A focus on teen mental health.” And in the TV story, he talked about his son nobly: “He didn’t let the illness define who he was as a person. He fought it. He did everything he could to do everything he could to find out why it was happening and to figure out how to get better. I mean, he was sick. I’ll always be so proud of him for being a fighter.”

I spoke to Jeff Kamis Sunday morning, sending along my sympathy for this impossible situation. He said, “Every morning when I wake up, I think, ‘What would Jacob tell me to do?’“

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Eagles dominate both sides of the ball in NFC Championship

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What a lead balloon of a football game. The most important player in it, Brock Purdy, got hurt in the first quarter, and it was only a matter of a time before the better team began the rout. (Not saying Purdy is better than Jalen Hurts. He isn’t. But the drop-off from Purdy to backup Josh Johnson is like an Acapulco cliff-dive. The drop-off from Hurts to Gardner Minshew is not nearly as steep—Minshew can play.)

So the Eagles go into the Super Bowl on one of the best runs in recent history: 16-3 overall, with two of the losses coming in games Hurts didn’t start because of a bum shoulder. The Eagles are 16-1 with Hurts playing—including 38-7 and 31-7 playoff steamrolling’s of the Giants and 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field in the last two weekends. Make no mistake: These Eagles are deep and dangerous, and it will take the best game of their season by the Kansas City Chiefs to beat them in Super Bowl LVII in 13 days.

What was most interesting Sunday—echoing the rout of the Giants—was the dominance of Philadelphia on both sides of the ball. Remember last week, after the win over the Giants, when I witnessed this in the post-game scrum inside the Eagles’ inner sanctum:

“My dad’s here tonight,” Sirianni said after the game, nodding in the direction of his father, “and the first thing he told me when I got into coaching was, ‘It’s always about the O-line and the D-line.’”

Just then, the architect of the two lines and the rest of the roster, GM Howie Roseman, walked by to congratulate Sirianni.

“Howie!” Sirianni yelled. “All about the O-line, D-line, baby!”

“All about the O-line, D-line!” Roseman said.


Think of all the big plays in this game, and the big players, for the newly crowned NFC champions. The GM, Roseman, is linked to most of them. Namely:

1. Jalen Hurts. The quarterback who was widely derided when selected 53rd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft proved what a smart pick it was by leading the Eagles’ drive to their second Super Bowl in five years. Hurts didn’t turn it over, bulled for an insurance TD, and extended a first-quarter drive with a deep throw to DeVonta Smith. Seems so long ago that picking Hurts immediately wounded the psyche of shaky incumbent Carson Wentz. But remember the truth. Roseman didn’t pick Hurts to replace Wentz; he picked him because Wentz was hurt a lot and the Eagles didn’t want to pay the backup QB $7 million, and because Hurts was a fascinating prospect. One more point: Roseman did due diligence on Deshaun Watson when he was a free agent a year ago, but wisely, for many reasons, chose to stick with Hurts.

Jalen Hurts runs the ball in the third quarter in the NFC Championship Game. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

2. Haason Reddick. Great value signing in free agency for the former Cards and Panthers linebacker (three years, $45 million, cap numbers of $3.9 million and 7.0 million in the first two years), with production far beyond his contract. After finishing second in the NFL with 16 sacks in the regular season and first with five forced fumbles, he was the most important defensive player on the field Sunday. He strip-sacked Purdy and forced him from the game, then sacked Johnson on a drive-crippling play, and then recovered a Johnson fumble late in the half, prompting a late first-half TD. Huge producer when it’s counted for Philadelphia.

3. The corners. Roseman traded third- and fifth-round picks in 2020 to Detroit for Darius Slay, and signed James Bradberry as a salary-cap casualty from the Giants last offseason. Slay and Bradberry have keyed a secondary that—understanding the quality of the passing games the Eagles have faced in the playoffs has been weak—gave up 192 net yards passing and zero TD passes in eight quarters. Slay and Bradberry erased the opposition.

4. DeVonta Smith. Picked 10th overall by Roseman in the ’21 draft, Smith has been the deep threat the Eagles hoped for. He was credited with the most important offensive play for the Eagles Sunday, the 29-yard completion on fourth-and-three that led to the opening Philly touchdown.

5. Nick Sirianni. An offensive coach in Frank Reich’s shadow, and a coach who wasn’t going to call offensive plays because he wanted to be the coach of the whole team still got the nod over the more experienced Josh McDaniels. Remember Sirianni’s disastrous opening press conference? Yikes. But the Eagles do marathon interviews with their coaching candidates, and Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie were convinced they saw an underrated leader who wouldn’t be cowed by the local fans or press in tough times, and who would build an excellent offense and coach a complete team. It’s all come true.

“We’re only as good as the staff we have,” Lurie said after the game. “In a way, that’s the secret sauce—the culture and the staff.”

And the personnel staff, led by Roseman. After the last Super Bowl team dissolved into mayhem in less than three years, the fans wanted Roseman out too. But Lurie knew he had a strong GM who deserved a chance to rebuild a team in the dumps. He did—and that’s one of the things that led Roseman to Reddick.


The legacy of Andy Reid in Philadelphia, in part, is what Sirianni and Roseman exulted about last week. Always concentrate on the lines. Philadelphia rotates eight defensive linemen; each plays a dozen snaps or more per game. Keeping them fresh has allowed Reddick the freedom to be a pass-rush marauder, moving inside and outside at will with the offensive line so concerned with the defensive front.

Against the Niners, he was matched against tight end Tyler Kroft on the first series of the game. Later, Reddick was asked what he was thinking when he saw only Kroft between him and Brock Purdy. “Oh man,” Reddick said. “Really bad things.” Reddick beat Kroft easily and steamed toward Purdy, ripping into his right arm—and the ball—just as Purdy tried to throw.

This was the turning point of the game. “I was yelling to coach Nick, ‘Throw the flag!’” Reddick said. The challenge flag, he meant. “I knew that was a sack fumble, cuz I got my hand on the ball.”

Sirianni threw the flag. Meanwhile, Purdy felt a bad sensation. “Shocks all over, from my elbow down to my wrist,” Purdy said. Whatever the replay decided, Purdy was done, at least for a while. And the replay confirmed Reddick’s gut feeling: the fumble, Purdy’s first in the last nine games, gave the Eagles the ball at their own 44. They couldn’t do anything with it, but then Reddick ruined the next drive by sacking Josh Johnson for a loss of 10 on the second play.

As crazy as it sounds, just watching the game, it seemed impossible that the 49ers would be able to stay with Philadelphia. Even though the Niners tied it at 7 on a ridiculously wonderful 23-yard TD run by Christian McCaffrey midway through the second quarter, keeping up with the Eagles would be out of the question with Johnson playing. And it got worse when he had to leave with concussion symptoms early in the third quarter. Purdy re-entered a 21-7 game, but with an apparent elbow injury preventing him from being able to throw, this game became an exercise in just-get-it-over-with, not a true contest of the two best teams in the NFC. “I couldn’t throw more than five, 10 yards,” Purdy said.

As tight end George Kittle said with stark realism after the game: “You’re down to two quarterbacks and neither one of them can throw and neither one of them is really available. It kind of limits what you can do as an offense, kind of limits our playbook to, like, 15 plays.”

So now the Eagles move on. They have many strengths, as winning 16 of 17 with the starting quarterback in the lineup would illustrate. But now, fortunately for them, the Eagles will face one of the game’s best passers—maybe THE best in Arizona with a scary pass-rush. Philadelphia had but 29 sacks last year, and Reddick’s addition blasted that up to 69 this year. Reddick, with 19.5 sacks in 19 games, can win with speed on the outside, and he has enough strength in inside rushes to power through inside gaps.

Amazing to think this, after the Eagles won their first Super Bowl five years ago with an explosive performance against the best team of the era, New England. But this Philadelphia team has fewer weaknesses than the one that beat Brady and Belichick. Thanks to Roseman filling so many holes with high-quality players—and one smart coach—the Eagles won’t be satisfied with anything short of a second Lombardi.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column