It is this kind of draft season for NFL teams: Clubs wouldn’t be faulted if they spent all week plotting ways to acquire more picks outside the first round (depth at several positions) instead of trying to move into the top 10 or 15 picks. The lack of star power at quarterback has made Thursday’s first round totally unpredictable. Nonetheless, here is my first and last opening-round mock draft:
1. Jacksonville: DE/OLB Travon Walker, Georgia. The Jaguars are overthinking this, drafting on potential rather than known production. Walker had 10 1/2 sacks in 36 games.
2. Detroit: DE/OLB Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan. The only reason the Lions should wait out the clock is to see if they get a beaucoup offer to move down. Hutchinson had 14 sacks in 14 games last year.
3. Houston: OT Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State. I’d pick Ekwonu first if running the Jaguars. This starts a run on offensive tackles. A 31-game starter at left tackle, he allowed only two sacks in 2021.
4. N.Y. Jets: DE/OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon. The edge-rushing class is deep, but the Jets will believe there is a fall off after the top half-dozen. Thibodeaux had 16 sacks in two full college seasons (2019 and ’21).
5. N.Y. Giants: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State. I assigned Cross to the Giants instead of Evan Neal because he has more experience playing left tackle (32 starts).
6. Carolina: OT Evan Neal, Alabama. The Panthers have gone through left tackles like the Broncos have gone through quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. Neal started one year apiece at left guard, right tackle and left tackle.
7. N.Y. Giants (from Chicago): CB Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati. Look for veteran cornerback James Bradberry to be traded this weekend, creating an instant starting spot for Gardner, who had nine interceptions at Cincinnati.
8. Atlanta: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State. Cue the run on receivers. Wilson, who can play outside or in the slot and had 23 career touchdowns, and second-year tight end Kyle Pitts — not a bad 1-2 punch.
9. Seattle (from Broncos): DE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State. How good was Georgia’s defense? Johnson couldn’t find playing time so he transferred and had 12 sacks for the Seminoles.
10. N.Y. Jets (from Seattle): WR Drake London, USC. The Jets get a receiver after trying to acquire Tyreek Hill last month. London is nearly 6-foot-4 and had 15 touchdown catches for the Trojans.
11. Washington: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame. Gone is veteran Landon Collins, who was released after declining a pay cut. A knee injury limited Hamilton to seven games last year.
12. Minnesota: CB Derek Stingley, Jr., LSU. Two years ago, the Vikings got a steal in LSU WR Justin Jefferson. His college teammate could emerge as the draft’s best corner. Stingley had six interceptions as a freshman in ’19.
13. Houston (from Cleveland): WR Jameson Williams, Alabama. This move has gained momentum over the last week. The Texans take the elite Williams, who tore his ACL in January or would have been the top receiver drafted.
14. Baltimore: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington. In a division with Deshaun Watson and Joe Burrow, the Ravens go with McDuffie, who had only two college interceptions.
15. TRADE Pittsburgh (from Philadelphia): QB Malik Willis, Liberty. Three months after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers add his post-Mitchell Trubisky Era successor. Willis went 17-6 as a starter.
Jacob Kupferman, The Associated Press
Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) runs with the ball against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C.
16. New Orleans (from Philadelphia): QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh. Jameis Winston is on a two-year deal, but the Saints find their passer of the near future. Pickett was 32-17 as the Panthers’ starter.
17. L.A. Chargers: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa. The board falls perfectly for the Bolts, who add Penning to play right tackle opposite 2022 first-round left tackle Rashawn Slater.
18. Philadelphia (from New Orleans): DT Jordan Davis, Georgia. I would expect the Eagles to be open to trading down to a team that potentially wants a receiver or linebacker Devin Lloyd. Davis will help the rush defense.
19. TRADE Kansas City (from New Orleans): WR Chris Olave, Ohio State. The Chiefs move up 11 spots to draft Olave (36 touchdowns in 38 games) and complete their rebuilding of the receiver position.
20. TRADE Philadelphia (from Pittsburgh): LB Devin Lloyd, Utah. Our first inside linebacker selected and he will be an immediate every-down player. He had 22 tackles for lost yardage and four interceptions last year.
21. New England: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida. I’m always wary of mocking Gators in the first round (too many busts), but the Patriots need cornerback help after trading Stephon Gilmore last season and losing J.C. Jackson in free agency last month.
22. Green Bay (from Las Vegas): WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas. Probably the easiest match of position-to-player, right? The Packers add Burks to help replace the production of Davante Adams. The 6-foot-3 Burks averaged 16.4 yards per catch in college.
23. Arizona: CB Kyler Gordon, Washington. The Cardinals’ current outside cornerbacks are Jeff Gladney and 2021 fourth-round pick Marco Wilson. Gordon (two interceptions in 37 games) fills a need for old friend Vance Joseph’s defense.
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24. Dallas: G Zion Johnson, Boston College. Left guard Connor Williams signed with Miami in free agency so this is a draft-and-start move. He began his career at FCS Davidson and ended as three-year starter for B.C.
25. Buffalo: CB Andrew Booth, Clemson. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is recovering from a torn ACL sustained last November and Levi Wallace signed with Pittsburgh. The Bills’ roster is so good, that they can draft for need.
26. Tennessee: G Kenyon Green, Texas A&M. Like the Cowboys, the Titans need to add a Day 1 left guard; they released Rodger Saffold in March. Just last year, Green started games at right tackle, left tackle, right guard and left guard.
27. Tampa Bay: DT Devonte Wyatt, Georgia. Veteran Ndamukong Suh remains unsigned and the Buccaneers will line up Wyatt next to Vita Vea on the defensive line.
28. Green Bay: DE George Karlaftis, Purdue. The Packers make the smart move and don’t double up on first-round receivers. Karlaftis (12 1/2 sacks in 27 games) will boost the pass rush.
29. Kansas City (from Miami): DE/OLB Boye Mafe, Minnesota. The Chiefs are another trade-down candidate after using resources to move up. Mafe had 15 sacks in 42 games.
30. TRADE: New Orleans (from Kansas City): WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State. The Saints would have taken a receiver at 19 and they still get a good one at 30 with Dotson, who caught 91 passes (12 touchdowns) last year.
31. TRADE Seattle (from Cincinnati): QB Matt Corral, Mississippi. The Seahawks move up nine spots to draft Corral to eventually replace Drew Lock, who is a free agent after the season.
32. Detroit (from L.A. Rams): QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati. The Lions use a pick acquired in the Matthew Stafford deal to draft Ridder, who started 48 games for the Bearcats.