Truest statement about the 2022 NFL Draft, from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: “If this draft was an emoji, it’d be 🤷♂️.”
I have Bernhard Reimann and Arnold Ebiketie going in the first round, and Malik Willis not. I don’t have a quarterback going till the 20th pick. I have Kayvon Thibodeaux, the first pick in mockland last Thanksgiving, going 13th. I have teams fighting over a player out for the year with an Achilles injury.
It’s a strange year. I promise only one thing: We’ll forget about all these bad picks (at least I hope so) by midnight Thursday, when the real first round, live from Las Vegas, will be in the books.
This year’s mock:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, defensive lineman, Georgia
Expect a surprise, I heard out of Jacksonville recently. Hmmm. That would eliminate Aidan Hutchinson here. The trendy pick after that has been Walker, so that really wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Ikem Ekwonu, perhaps? I’ll go with the one-year-college-start upside guy, Walker.
It’s risky, and I’m as skeptical of one-year wonders as the next mock-drafter, but it falls into GM Trent Baalke’s history of taking the athletic playmakers. I’ve got a video to show you about Walker.
Tremendous effort by DL Travon Walker #44. If he doesn’t make this play, it might be a TD and Alabama has the lead going into halftime.
275-pounders shouldn’t be able to move like #44. 1st round talent, 1st round effort. pic.twitter.com/R8mRX7xJNs
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 11, 2022
You want to know why people around the NFL are smitten with Walker? The effort on this play—in the biggest game of his career, with other guys on his defense not selling out the way Walker was—is a big thing to football people. The troubling part for Walker and his 9.5 career sacks in 29 games is that if he’s the pick, the comparisons to Hutchinson will be forever. That’s something Baalke had better factor in.
2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, edge, Michigan
“A real Dan Campbell player,” one NFL GM told me about the steadiest player in this draft. Campbell got a lot of people to chuckle when he talked about wanting players who want to bite kneecaps. It was his way of saying he wants guys who love football, who don’t take off plays, who won’t allow the Lions to be downtrodden anymore. Ask scouts about Hutchinson and they’ll tell you that’s how he played every one of his 43 career games in Ann Arbor.
Hutchinson is a different cat. He’s been journaling—hand-writing, not typing—since he was 4. Some days he writes what he wants to be, he told me. “Just telling myself that I’m limitless,” he said. “I have an infinite mindset. I have no boundaries. There’s no mountain that I can’t reach. That’s how I view myself and me playing football.” Tell me Dan Campbell’s not going to froth at the mouth if GM Brad Holmes has the chance to draft this 6-6, 260-pound 10-year starter.
Final note: Some late buzz about the Lions being smitten with Kayvon Thibodeaux and strongly considering him here. I just can’t see them passing on Hutchinson.
3. Houston Texans: Ikem Ekwonu, offensive tackle, North Carolina State
If you’re the Texans, you’re really drafting for 2024. GM Nick Caserio’s got to be thinking of the long haul, and the long haul probably doesn’t consist of Laremy Tunsil and Brandin Cooks, both of whom will be 30 on opening-day 2024. So if you’re smart, and you’ve seen the top two edge guys go 1-2, you draft into the strength of this crop, tackle and wideout. Ekwonu is versatile and athletic, not the mauler that the other two top tackles are, but a cornerstone and smart lineman who should be the long-time leader of a currently lousy group.
4. New York Jets: Sauce Gardner, cornerback, Cincinnati
I know lots of people I like and trust are going Kayvon Thibodeaux here, but I’m leery. (By the way, notice the trend of the 2022 first round? “I wouldn’t rule out Kayvon Thibodeaux here,” 614 GMs and other football people said in the last week. I know, I know.) Jets GM Joe Douglas loves safe, and he especially loves safe when the stud (or so we thought) first-round pick of 2020, tackle Mekhi Becton, has struggled and has a major question mark over his head entering this season. Gardner might not have the feet or hips of Derek Stingley, but he has the consistent production, is highly competitive, and in a division with Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs (and Gabriel Davis), and whatever Bill Belichick has in store for the Jets, that’s six games a year when a top corner will be invaluable. And the Jets don’t have one.
5. New York Giants: Charles Cross, offensive tackle, Mississippi State
Lots of spy versus spy here. By that I mean, at first blush, it’s logical to think GM Joe Schoen would want the best available right tackle here, with Andrew Thomas set on the left side. And because Cross was consistently on the left side in college, and Evan Neal started a season each at left tackle and right tackle, Neal’s a better fit here. And it may be Neal. Who wouldn’t want a 40-game starter at a great program in the SEC? But what many don’t know is the Giants put Cross through some work to judge whether he’d be a good right-tackle candidate and came away happy that he would be. Cross, one GM told me, is the best pass-protector of the three top tackles, a power-forward type (6-7 ½, 335) who will be competitive on day one against good edge rushers. If the Giants are comfortable enough with his ability to play the right side, this is a solid pick.
6. Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, offensive tackle, Alabama
I don’t know what Carolina will do. The Panthers could go Kenny Pickett here, because unless they trade their first-round pick next year to move into position to acquire another high pick, they won’t pick again till day three of the draft; they don’t have a second- or third-rounder currently. I know what they should do, and that’s take Neal if he’s there. The Panthers are as needy on the line as they are at quarterback, and there’s definitely not a sure long-term QB in this draft. Neal started 15 games at left tackle, 12 at right tackle and 13 at left guard in his three Alabama seasons. There’s been some chatter about teams downgrading him because of medical issues, but I’m told at least three-quarters of the teams in the league are good with his health. I won’t be shocked if they go Pickett or Malik Willis here, but the smarter play is getting a solution with versatility at a major need area.
7. New York Giants: Kyle Hamilton, safety, Notre Dame
Just a warning: Don’t be shocked if the Giants go Thibodeaux here. Lots of stuff out in the ether right now about the Giants being down on Thibodeaux, but I can tell you they’re interested and have done a ton of work on him since his Pro Day. Also, the Giants would love to deal this pick and recoup a 2023 first-round pick and go down, say, 10 to 12 spots so they still could get a strong prospect plus be in prime position in the ’23 first round.
So the call here is Hamilton, despite the fact the Giants have a good young third-year safety in Xavier McKinney. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves versatile safeties, which is precisely what Hamilton is. He’s huge (6-4, 220) and instinctive, and can blitz, play sideline to sideline and play down in the box as an extra linebacker. This pick would make the Giants’ secondary tough to game plan against because of the versatility of McKinney and Hamilton.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Drake London, wide receiver, USC
Kind of the first “they could do five things here” pick. I’m going with the receiver I hear they love. Some teams knocked London for not running a 40 in the runup to the draft after a late-October broken ankle caused him to miss USC’s last four games; he’s estimated at about 4.5, which is not top-end speed. Everything else about his game is top-end. His average game in 2021 (15 targets, 11 catches, 136 yards, one TD) was notable. Everyone knew the ball was coming to him, and his competitiveness in multiple coverages caught eyes. To keep up that level of production game after game is something that separates London from the other receivers in this crop. As for the Falcons’ need at wideout: When the guys in three-receiver formations look to be Olamide Zaccheaus, Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd … I rest my case.
*9. Houston Texans: Garrett Wilson, wide receiver, Ohio State
*Projected Trade: Texans trade the 13th pick overall and an early third-round pick, 68th overall, to the Seahawks for the 9th selection.
And so here comes the run on receivers. Houston leapfrogs the Jets to get the franchise receiver for Davis Mills (who has a chance this year to win this job) or whoever the Texans pick next year to be the franchise passer. There’s a lot of love for Wilson in the league, even though he never led Ohio State in receiving in any of his three years and he’s a lean (6-0, 183) receiver who probably won’t play much heavier. He played the slot in 2020 and outside last year, so teams have plenty of tape to see him play all over the field in different offenses. Team like his ability to get open and to make things happen after the catch.
I look at Houston’s draft this way. Post-Watson, the Texans need some franchise players. If they come out of this draft with a long-term left tackle and a top receiver who can be counted on for the next five to eight years, it’s a profitable draft. Plus: GM Nick Caserio has the 37th overall pick, and he could use that on a second-level cornerback (Washington’s Kyler Gordon?) to attack another need area.
10. New York Jets: Jameson Williams, wide receiver, Alabama
The luxury for the constantly rebuilding Jets in taking a guy coming off a Jan. 10 ACL injury is that they don’t need to be in a hurry, and Williams, to many, was the draft’s top wideout before the injury. So whether he plays in late October or by Dec. 1 is not a make-or-break factor in what they do. Williams will be the number one receiver Zach Wilson needs to have a chance to be a good long-term quarterback. However the receivers line up on GM Joe Douglas’ board, getting one of the top three wideouts and Sauce Gardner in the first round would be a win for a franchise that hasn’t had enough of them.
11. Washington Commanders: Chris Olave, wide receiver, Ohio State
How cool would it be if it fell Wilson-Williams-Olave … teammates at Ohio State in 2019 and 2020 before Williams transferred to Alabama? They combined for 40 touchdowns last season in Columbus and Tuscaloosa. I wish I could figure a way for Olave to fall to Green Bay, because with his precision route-running and vaunted football smarts, he’d be a perfect 2022 fit for Aaron Rodgers. But I can’t see him lasting to the twenties. The fourth of four straight wideouts makes too much sense for Washington, which I think loves Drake London but will be thrilled with the sub-4.4 speed and top football IQ of Olave.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Stingley, cornerback, LSU
There are good fits, and there is Stingley in Minnesota, where he’d be coached by his old defensive coordinator at LSU, secondary coach Daronte Jones, and he’d be mentored by former Tiger corner Patrick Peterson. This is a dream scenario for the Vikings. Stingley’s career fell off a cliff after a strong 2019 season, the same way the LSU program fell off a cliff in the last two years of Ed Orgeron. In ’19, Stingley battled in practice with J’Marr Chase and played high-level in games; some scouts thought he was the best corner in the country as a true freshman. Fate smiles on rookie Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah on his first NFL draft choice—if indeed he can pick Stingley. “I think he was the best NFL prospect in the country as a freshman,” one GM told me, “and his workout this spring showed a lot of [Darrelle] Revis to me.”
*13. Seattle Seahawks: Kayvon Thibodeaux, edge, Oregon
*Projected Trade: Texans trade the 13th pick overall and an early third-round pick, 68th overall, to the Seahawks for the 9th selection.
Perfect Pete Carroll pick. Thibodeaux’s an LA kid, he’ll be supremely ticked off at not being the first edge off the board and falling this far, and Carroll knows how to feed into the mental game that fuels players. That, plus Thibodeaux would be the kind of top talent that the Seahawks never get to pick in the draft because they’re always picking at the bottom of the round, or later. Thibodeaux, if he works out, would be a good pick for a team devoid of a top-end pass-rusher, in a division with some serious passing games.
I’d like this pick, in this spot, for Seattle. I’m not alone. “Thibodeaux at 13 would be a coup for Seattle,” one GM told me Sunday when I apprised him of my diabolical plan to send the Oregon edge down the draft board.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Trevor Penning, offensive tackle, Northern Iowa
Kudos to Good Morning Football’s Peter Schrager for IDing Penning to the Ravens. The fourth tackle, clearly, on boards around the league would be a very good fit in Baltimore, where there’s a hole at right tackle (31-year-old Morgan Moses due to fill it as of today) and where left tackle Ronnie Stanley has struggled to stay healthy. Penning started 31 games at left tackle for Northern Iowa, and his size (6-7, 325) would play well on either side. I think the Ravens feel good enough about Stanley’s future to not be forced into taking a tackle here. Picking a corner (Trent McDuffie would be very good value) will not surprise me.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Davis, defensive tackle, Georgia
Flip a coin here. Davis or Trent McDuffie. (And won’t WIP have a good laugh at my expense when the pick is neither guy.) But I’ll go with Davis because of his freakish athleticism at 335, his ability to impact the game all over the defensive front, and the prospect that he can succeed Fletcher Cox (32 in December) as the toughest guy to block on the Philadelphia defensive front.
The best thing I heard about Davis after his 4.78-second dash at the combine (at 341 pounds) was from one coach who thought Davis could play nose on first down and three-technique (the interior rush player) on second and third downs. That’s not common. He didn’t have great college production—19.5 tackles behind the line in 47 games at Georgia—and that would be a big concern to me. But someone will take him in the middle of the round, because he’s got such great potential.
16. New Orleans: Treylon Burks, wide receiver, Arkansas
He’d be the physical presence to play opposite the returning Michael Thomas in the Saints’ attack, which is desperate for a receiver. A few words about the Saints’ intentions here, in the wake of their trade with Philadelphia two weeks ago leaving them with 16 and 19, then 49 in round two. New Orleans was chided for adding a mid-first-round pick this year, with the feeling that this wasn’t a good year to have a second pick in the middle of a mediocre round. But the way the Saints look at is different. The Saints think they’re better than Tampa Bay, and winning the four regular-season matchups against Tom Brady by 11, 35, 9 and 9 points would buttress that argument. The Saints have had a top-five scoring defense two years in a row. They need another weapon on offense.
There’s also the feeling around the NFL that after losing Drew Brees one year and Sean Payton the next, the Saints are due to slip back. That is decidedly not the feeling in the building, nor with new coach Dennis Allen. Saints GM Mickey Loomis wants to give Allen the chance to be an impact playoff team with two or three big contributors in 2022. I cannot argue with that logic.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Trent McDuffie, cornerback, Washington
If Jordan Davis is here, I bet the Chargers are tempted. Brandon Staley loves very big, very athletic people on his front seven. But the third corner off the board would be more valuable to the Chargers, I think, and give them a formidable threesome (J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., McDuffie) to attack the Mahomes/Wilson/Carr trio of top QBs on the Chargers’ schedule every year.
I looked into the buzz that the Chargers would try to move up to get a Trevor Penning, a long-term bookend for Rashawn Slater to protect Justin Herbert. It’s possible, because the Ravens are always amenable to dealing down when there’s not one player they’re desperate for.
*18. Green Bay Packers: Jahan Dotson, wide receiver, Penn State
*Projected Trade: Eagles trade the 18th pick to the Packers for the 22nd pick and a late third-round pick, 92nd overall.
Surprising for the sixth receiver in the round, if this is how it goes. Dotson is a better version of Randall Cobb, with maybe the best hands in the draft. Started 38 games and had 183 catches at Penn State. The knock on Dotson is he’s not as physically strong as his peers, and he’ll need to be feistier and a little bulkier to be a consistent weapon for Aaron Rodgers.
All along, I tried everything I could to get Chris Olave to the Packers. Barring a huge tradeup that might cost Brian Gutekunst next year’s first-round pick, it’s hard to see one of the top four receivers landing in Green Bay. Dotson’s a good alternative. He’s just not Olave.
19. New Orleans Saints: Devonte Wyatt, defensive tackle, Georgia
It’s either reach for CB4 or take one of the best two defensive tackles in the class and get the corner in the middle of the second round. This is what I’d do. Wyatt is probably the best three-technique in this class, and, like Travon Walker, was a versatile fit on the Georgia front. I bet Cam Jordan would lead the parade for Wyatt, knowing that attention Wyatt would draw in the middle of the line would give Jordan more chances to impact the game on the edge. Amazing: Georgia could have three defensive front players (Walker, Davis, Wyatt) get drafted in the top 20, three players who played a lot on the interior. I’d love to know if that ever happened before.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett, quarterback, Pitt
Upset special: Pickett over Malik Willis—and it’s a gut feeling more than anything else. How cool would it be if the Steelers, who passed on Pitt’s Dan Marino is 1983 when a successor to Terry Bradshaw was desperately needed (they picked Gabe Rivera) would 39 years later take Pitt’s Pickett to be the long-term sub for Ben Roethlisberger? Pretty cool to think Pickett, who for the entirety of his college career has walked into the door to the right of the Steelers/Pitt complex on the South side of the gritty city, might walk into the left door as a pro now.
We’ve gotten so used to excoriating any team that would even think of drafting a quarterback high this year that we haven’t just sat back and considered, “Maybe Kenny Pickett is actually, you know, good.” It’s true that you can find two or three throws that any quarterback makes to make him seem really good or really bad. But you’ve got to have some level of talent to make the first throw on this Greg Cosell analysis of Pickett:
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) April 20, 2022
That ball traveled 39 yards in the air, was a perfect strike, and came with Pickett under pressure and on the run. A big-time NFL throw. Could it be Willis here? Yes, it could. I wouldn’t he surprised. But I’ve heard the Steelers think Pickett’s more likely to succeed as a pro.
21. New England Patriots: Bernhard Raimann, offensive tackle, Central Michigan
Toyed with Nakobe Dean. Toyed with Devin Lloyd. Toyed with Jermaine Johnson. Toyed with Lewis Cine, who is Bill Belichick’s kind of player. Even toyed with the corner who might go around 45th overall, Kyler Gordon. But the secondary tackle market is better than the secondary edge or corner market, for sure.
Raimann is one of the best stories in this draft, by far. Austrian kid who first played football on a club team in Vienna at 14. As a high school exchange student, he played receiver on his Michigan high school team for a year. Back to Austria to finish high school. Bitten by the football bug. Committed to Central Michigan for the 2017 season—but had to fulfill a six-month Austrian military commitment, so he didn’t start working with the team till 2018. Tight end for two years. Then the pandemic. When football practice began again, Raimann was moved to tackle as a 290-pound player, and he started 18 games at left tackle in the last 1.5 seasons.
Big, big upside—and the Patriots can likely use 2022 as a developmental year if they pick him. Great point by Daniel Jeremiah: “Reminds me of the Sebastian Vollmer pick.” The native of Germany played college football at Houston, and was a second-round pick of the Pats in 2009—and played on two Super Bowl-winning teams. The Patriots would take a replay of that, as would Mac Jones.
*22. Philadelphia Eagles: Devin Lloyd, linebacker, Utah
*Projected Trade: Eagles trade the 18th pick to the Packers for the 22nd pick and a late third-round pick, 92nd overall.
Dart throw. Howie Roseman could trade down again here. The receiver and corner markets, both of which he needs to hit before the end of day two, don’t align with what’s left on the board in this mock. Lloyd had experience doing everything in 32 starts over three Utah seasons. His 43 career tackles for loss show he’s a play-wrecker in the run game too.
One other point about Lloyd, wherever he goes: NFL Network will have an emotional feature story Thursday night about the two Utah players lost to gun violence in 2021. I’m told Lloyd’s words will be emotional and heavy in the piece—he was the Utah captain who had a huge burden on his shoulders helping his teammates get through the double-ordeal.
23. Arizona Cardinals: Jermaine Johnson, edge, Florida State
I think the Cards would love to get another weapon for Kyler Murray, and if I were GM Steve Keim I’d define that weapon differently. I’d be looking just as fervently at the offensive line that put Murray under so much pressure last season; fixing his protection is as important as getting him a home-run threat—especially when there are no more home-run threats left now the way I mock it.
So why Johnson here? Because of the big need to find a pass-rusher two years after the departure of Haason Reddick and a month after the loss of Chandler Jones. I understand the pick, but I’d probably pick Zion Johnson instead.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Tyler Linderbaum, center, Iowa
Tea leaves pick, because of Dallas’ love of building the offensive line (Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith); because of high regard for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz; and because Linderbaum is rated consistently the best center and a top-20 overall prospect on many boards. Which, for a guy who plays only one position, is saying something. Linderbaum is a rock-solid center, with 35 starts at the position over the past three years. He’s a little undersized for NFL center (6-2, 298) and doesn’t have position versatility—at least not yet. But he’s a physical, competitive player with the Ferentz pedigree. Iowa turns out terrific offensive linemen.
25. Buffalo Bills: Zion Johnson, offensive lineman, Boston College
One of the very few issues that Buffalo has is at guard where Rodger Saffold is due to start at right guard this year at age 34 and the undrafted Ryan Bates is the likely left guard. To me, Johnson’s the perfect call here because even if Saffold and Bates turn out great in 2022, it seems a short-term fix. In five college seasons—two years at Davidson, one at BC after transferring—Johnson started 49 games. Give me a guy with 36 starts at guard and 13 at left tackle (in the ACC). Give me a guy who was a two-year captain after transferring. Give me a guy who never missed a game in five college seasons due to injury (58 games played in all). He’s a likely interior lineman, which lessens his value slightly. But his intelligence, football acumen and experience gives NFL GMs confidence Johnson can be a starter in 2022.
26. Tennessee Titans: Tyler Smith, offensive tackle, Tulsa
I chickened out. Originally I penciled in: Malik Willis, quarterback, Liberty. Thought process: Titans earn top seed in AFC playoffs. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill throws three picks in the first playoff game, including one in the final minute that allows Cincinnati to kick a field goal and knock Tennessee out of the playoffs. Coach, GM sign extensions. Building has hard time getting over toothless loss to Cincinnati. Tannehill, because of onerous contract cap number in 2022, has to be kept for this season but if he is mediocre, Titans can move on next March. If he is mediocre, maybe Titans can get a rookie ready to play by Thanksgiving this year.
As you can see, some real science was used to make that choice. But the Titans have not been front and center at the QB workouts this spring. And with left tackle Taylor Lewan turning 31 in July, it’s time to invest in the tackle market—particularly after the Isaiah Wilson first-round debacle of two years ago. They’ve got to feel Smith is a sure thing here.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: David Ojabo, edge, Michigan
Ojabo tore his Achilles at the Michigan Pro Day and likely will not play football in 2022. Before the injury, he was considered a prospect to go somewhere between seven and 15. I don’t know that he’ll get picked in the first, but I do know four teams are intently interested in him. One is having some significant medical tests done on him in the next two days, to see how his recovery is progressing and to judge whether he can play maybe very late this season or, if not, how healthy he will be a year from now.
Ojabo was the complement to Aidan Hutchinson on the Michigan defensive front, and his will and tenacity are much admired. If you’re the Bucs, you might not need the edge play of Ojabo this year. But with veteran rusher Shaq Barrett due to be 31 next year and the unsigned Jason Pierre Paul likely a one-year play this year if that, a duo of Ojabo and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka for the future is something the Bucs would love to have going forward.
28. Green Bay Packers: Arnold Ebiketie, edge, Penn State
This has shades of a late-first-round Penn State riser at edge from last year, Odafe Oweh. Ebiketie, a native of Cameroon, moved to the Washington area when his dad got a job at the Cameroon Embassy. Ebiketie fell in love with football. And now, with the Pack having lost Za’Darius Smith to the casualties of the cap, a promising edge player would fit well.
I do make this proviso: The Packers may need this pick, or one of two in the second round, to move up significantly to take a receiver to replace Davante Adams. This pick could be one of the most interesting in the round because of all the directions GM Brian Gutekunst could go. He could move way up to target a Chris Olave around 10th, or he could (as I predict) move up a lesser number of spots to take a lesser receiver. Green Bay’s a fascinating team in round 1.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Christian Watson, wide receiver, North Dakota State
I am going to have Kansas City keep both picks here, 29 and 30, because I don’t have a great idea of what to do with them … unless GM Brett Veach gets very bold and uses both and maybe something more to move up in range to get one of the best receivers in the draft. Kansas City lost Tyreek Hill and replaced him with lesser free agents; Green Bay lost Davante Adams and replaced him with no one except Sammy Watkins. Both teams are likely to try to make a score in the draft at receiver.
If the Chiefs don’t put a ransom together to move up to the eight-to-12 area of the first round, I think the 6-4 and blossoming Watson is a strong play here. He runs sub-4.4, he’s played in significant bad weather, and he averaged a huge 20.4 yards per catch against lesser competition. He could be the kind of receiver Andy Reid lets learn and play a small role this year, while getting him ready for 2023. The reward could be good.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Lewis Cine, safety, Georgia
One of the great stories in this draft, and one of the players scouts like the most. Cine (pronounced “Seen”) was born in Haiti to a 16-year-old mom; it’s why he wore “16” at Georgia. His early life was split between Haiti and Florida, and he moved to Massachusetts to be with his dad for a few years, then finished high school in Dallas. That’s where he was tutored by Deion Sanders as a player and became a big-time recruit. At 6-2 ¼ and 200 pounds, he runs a 4.37 40-yard dash and hits like a strong safety. “What a lot of us like about him is he’s a natural leader, and he played his best in the biggest games,” said one GM. That includes being the defensive MVP in the national championship game against Alabama. Kansas City would be a good spot for him, and he could make a 2022 impact.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Trey McBride, tight end, Colorado State
Warning: The Bengals will have options to trade out of this pick, and they’re a more willing trade team on draft weekend than they used to be. This is a golden spot to trade up and get the fifth-year luxury that a late first-round pick would provide, particularly with a team seeing quarterbacks remaining on the board. (First-round picks are in team control pre-free-agency for five years; second-rounders, four years.)
As for the tight end need, the Bengals are still in mourning after losing valuable starter C.J. Uzomah and his 965 snaps last year to the Jets in free agency. The Bengals did sign Hayden Hurst, but the former first-round Raven will be playing for his third team in four years; I doubt he’s the every-down tight end Cincinnati lost in Uzomah. McBride’s a versatile player with an excellent résumé at Colorado State as an inline blocker and a possession receiver. He caught a team-high 90 balls last year in a run-first offense. “McBride would be a classic Mike Brown pick,” one veteran GM told me. “He likes to use draft choices to fill holes.”
*32. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Corral, quarterback, Ole Miss
*Projected Trade: Lions trade the 32nd pick to the Falcons for a second-round pick this year (43rd overall) and a second-round pick in 2023.
This is all about a team, Atlanta, believing in a quarterback this year, and investing a chunk of draft capital in him that isn’t cost-prohibitive. (I hear the Falcons like Corral.) If you think you might have a long-term quarterback and it costs you two second-round picks, is that really a major cost? No, it’s not. This pick is not something I’m convinced about. It’s more about the concept of it. If a team wants a quarterback but isn’t positive about this group, it can still invest in one. It’s a conservative investment, keeping in mind that quarterbacks don’t come cheap. If you really want Corral or Malik Willis or Desmond Ridder, wouldn’t you think a price of two second-round picks would be worth the risk?