NFL Mock Draft 2022: Vikings trade up, Panthers acquire Mayfield, Samuel lands with Packers

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 3 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

At long last, it is draft week! The months of speculation are finally going to come to an end on Thursday, but until then, let’s keep speculating.

For the first time this year, I am allowing trades in my mock draft. The following trades were executed in this mock.

Minnesota trades 1.12, 2.44 to Carolina for 1.6, 5.144

Los Angeles trades 1.17, 3.79 and 6.195 to Baltimore for 1.17, 4.119

San Francisco trades Deebo Samuel, 6.221 to Green Bay for 1.22, 2.59

New York trades 2.35, 3.69 and 4.117 to Tennessee for 1.26, 3.90

Baltimore trades 2.45 and 4.141 to Indianapolis for 2.42

Carolina trades 2023 3rd-round pick, 6.199 to Cleveland for Baker Mayfield

As a reminder, these mocks are what I would do as a general manager, not necessarily what I think will happen on draft day. I will be releasing a predictive mock later this week.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my final non-predictive mock of the 2022 draft cycle.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
I have been saying this for a while and I stand by it: Neal is the best player in the draft and Jacksonville should invest in protecting Trevor Lawrence. Neal has the experience to kick inside for a year with Cam Robinson on the franchise tag. He will be the team’s long-term answer at left tackle.

2. Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
This is exactly what Detroit is hoping for on draft night. They want Hutchinson badly. I think finding a high-motor, polished edge rusher will give this defense a major boost. You can count on him being an impact starter from Day 1.

3. Houston Texans – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
There are a number of ways that this could go. I’m going with the highest-rated player left on my board in Gardner. He is a true shutdown corner with the size, speed and physicality you expect to see from top prospects. He would transform the Texans defense. In a deep edge class, count on them finding some help in the later rounds.

4. New York Jets – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
With Gardner off the board, I think this one is pretty clear cut. New York has lacked a pass rush for about 15 years. Carl Lawson is on the mend after tearing his Achilles last August, but he will need some help. Thibodeaux is the type of athletic pass rusher Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas love. Pairing him with Lawson would be an ideal scenario.

5. New York Giants – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
New York will be hoping one of the top two tackles is on the board when they pick at No. 5. Ekwonu is a mauler with plus athleticism. He has some room to clean up some technical aspects to his game, but I think he will translate well. Putting him on the right side across from Andrew Thomas would give the Giants talented bookends on their offensive line.

6. Minnesota Vikings via Carolina Panthers – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
With the board falling this way and Carolina acquiring Baker Mayfield from Cleveland, a trade down makes sense. Minnesota is more than happy to move up for the top corner on the board. The Vikings are willing to bet on Stingley returning to his 2019 form after showing out at his pro day. He could wind up being the best player in this draft class.

7. New York Giants via Chicago Bears – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
There is definitely a bit of projection involved with Walker, but I don’t think the Giants would mind gambling on his upside here. He has physical traits defensive coaches dream about. On top of that, he is incredibly scheme versatile and has the flexibility to line up in a few spots. I think New York will be able to find a good fit for him within their defense.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
This is a perfect situation for Willis. For one, it would be a return home after he started his high school career at Westlake High School in Atlanta. Additionally, Atlanta is in a rebuild and has a stop-gap solution at the position in Marcus Mariota. Willis has some enticing potential, but will need some time to get up to speed in the NFL. This would allow to sit on the bench for a year while the Falcons rebuild the roster around him.

9. Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos – Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
With Willis off the board, I think Seattle should address its defensive line. Johnson is an elite run stopper with room to grow as a pass rusher. He has three-down potential and some impressive tape. I really like his physicality. After moving on from Carlos Dunlap, this feels like a smart move to bolster the front seven.

10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks – Drake London, WR, USC
I considered Kyle Hamilton here, but I think the Jets need to focus on finding more weapons for Zach Wilson. London is my top receiver thanks to a great catch radius and an exciting blend of size and playmaking ability. He would be a nice complement to Elijah Moore and would give New York a true No. 1 receiver.

11. Washington Football Team – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Washington could absolutely go receiver here, but I think Hamilton should be the pick. He has incredible size for the position and would likely be gone even earlier if not for a poor 40-time at the combine. His instincts and versatility make him the top safety in the draft by a wide margin. Expect him to be a high-level starter for a long time in the league.

12. Carolina Panthers via Minnesota Vikings – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Carolina picks up some extra draft capital and still addresses its biggest need at offensive tackle. Cross is a well-tested pass blocker from his days at Mississippi State. He anchors well, but needs to improve on his technique and hand placement. The limited run blocking snaps is also a concern. In time, I think he could be a quality starter, which the Panthers desperately need.

13. Houston Texans via Cleveland Browns – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
With the top edge rushers off the board, I think Houston should target a receiver to give Davis Mills a chance to show that he is truly a franchise quarterback. Wilson and Brandin Cooks would give the Texans an exciting tandem. His speed and run-after-catch ability should provide a major boost.

14. Los Angeles Chargers via Baltimore Ravens – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Los Angeles can’t risk Penning not being there at No. 17 with a major need at right tackle. Upgrading along the offensive line has to be a huge priority in order to protect Justin Herbert. Penning definitely has some refining to do once he reaches the NFL, but the intangibles and physicality make me believe he has a lot of untapped potential.

15. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Why not grab another Alabama receiver. Williams actually never shared the field with DeVonta Smith because he spent his first two seasons at Ohio State. Unfortunately, Williams likely will miss the beginning of the season as he continues to rehab the torn ACL he suffered in the National Championship Game. Once he is healthy though, he could be a game-changer in this offense.

16. New Orleans Saints via Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
New Orleans does not want to miss out on the top receivers in this draft. Adding another Buckeye to this offense would do wonders for its potential. I think Olave, who has great straight-line speed and solid separation skills, would excel playing with a strong-armed quarterback like Jameis Winston. If Michael Thomas can finally get back on the field, the Saints would have a very talented tandem to rely on.

17. Baltimore Ravens via Los Angeles Chargers – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Picking up another mid-round pick is something the Ravens love doing. Adding a long, athletic corner also seems to fit their MO. Booth is recovering from offseason surgery, so we did not get a chance to see him test, but I believe he is the best of this second tier of corners after Gardner and Stingley. After injuries ravaged their secondary a year ago, Baltimore will be all in on finding more depth.

18. Philadelphia Eagles via New Orleans Saints – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Philly will be disappointed to see Booth go off the board just before their pick, but McDuffie is a heck of a consolation prize. He lacks elite size, but he plays bigger than he is listed. He would be a great pairing with Darius Slay to help reshape the secondary. Adding talent on the boundaries is never a bad idea.

19. New Orleans Saints via Philadelphia Eagles – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Ideally, there would be an offensive tackle here, but alas, the top four prospects are all off the board. Instead, New Orleans turns to the other side of the trenches to find someone to pair with David Onyemata, who is entering a contract year. The Saints could also trade down from here or go quarterback, but I think they are planning to ride with Winston for this year, especially after signing Andy Dalton as a backup.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Another example of a team drafting a local kid. No, this doesn’t make up for them passing on Dan Marino, but it should give them a bit of stability at the quarterback position. Pickett is pro ready and has above average mobility, something the Steelers offense has desperately lacked in Ben Roethlisberger’s final years. He should be a solid NFL starter, even if he seems to lack the upside to become a star.

21. New England Patriots – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
There are a couple directions I think the Patriots could head, but I think Lloyd makes the most sense. He is a top-10 player on my board. He drops this far because of positional value, but I could see him being a perennial Pro Bowler under Bill Belichick. His versatility and athleticism makes him a really solid value in this spot.

22. San Francisco 49ers via Green Bay Packers and Las Vegas Raiders – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
San Francisco looks to address some glaring needs with the picks acquired in the Deebo Samuel trade. Green is the top offensive player available at this point and helps soften the blow of losing Laken Tomlinson and Tom Compton this offseason. Regardless of who is starting at quarterback this season, they need to be upright.

23. Arizona Cardinals – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
This is great value for Davis, who I have as a top-15 player. That being said, he projects best as a two-down run stuffer, with the potential to improve as a pass rusher. There are some concerns with his weight, but his speed is off the charts for a man his size. Putting him between J.J. Watt and Zach Allen sounds very appealing.

24. Dallas Cowboys – Zion Nelson, OL, Boston College
I considered an edge rusher here, but instead, I’m opting for Nelson. Dallas’ offensive line took some major hits this offseason. Nelson has the versatility to line up at either guard spot or center. Keeping Dak Prescott healthy should be a huge priority after the string of injuries he has dealt with over the past two seasons.

25. Buffalo Bills – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
For a team that has Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, this might feel like an odd pick, but I think Buffalo wants to do whatever it can to push this offense over the top. Burks is a tough evaluation, but the film shows a player capable of taking over a game. If he can consistently perform in the NFL, he will be an absolute steal in this spot.

26. New York Jets via Tennessee Titans – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
New York gets aggressive with a ton of draft picks to utilize. With Hill still on the board, they jump at the opportunity to add a dynamic defensive back. Hill can line up at slot corner or either safety spot. He is a sure tackler in the open field and has impressive speed. After losing Marcus Maye, the Jets need to shore up the backend of the defense.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
There is no question that Karlaftis is a bit of a project, but the Buccaneers have a good track record of developing front seven players. Todd Bowles will love adding another pass rusher to his defense. Karlaftis needs to drastically improve as a run defender to get on the field on every down, but should be a situational pass rushing option from Day 1.

28. Green Bay Packers – Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
If you have been reading my content regularly, you know I am a big fan of McBride. I think Aaron Rodgers could be too if Green Bay selects him. McBride posted a ridiculous 90-catch, 1,100-yard season en route to the Mackey Award. He is pro ready and fairly well-rounded. Adding him and Deebo Samuel to the offense would transform the outlook for 2022 and beyond.

29. Kansas City Chiefs via Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Kansas City has put off meaningfully addressing the cornerback position for a few years now. In a defense that loves to get after the passer, Elam is a perfect fit. He is long and fast, excelling in press-man coverage. There is a bit to be desired when it comes to his understanding of zone concepts and open-field tackling, but those are skills that can be improved with coaching. He would allow Steve Spagnuolo to dial up pressure, especially once their next pick gets on the field.

30. Kansas City Chiefs – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Prior to tearing his Achilles at his pro day, Ojabo was on the trajectory to go in the Top-10 of this draft. The Chiefs will gladly grab a player capable of having that type of impact on the defense when he is healthy. His long-term upside and immediate pass-rushing ability make him a great value at this spot.

31. Cincinnati Bengals – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Sometimes, the best thing to do is continue to address the offensive line. Linderbaum slid during the pre draft process after measuring in much smaller than teams had hoped for. There are definitely some limitations to his game, but he looked like a baller at Iowa. His athleticism and ability to finish blocks should keep him in the first round.

32. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles – Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
Another one of my favorite prospects in this draft class, Walker is a big, rangy linebacker who can do just about anything you ask of him. He is a capable blitzer, solid in coverage and a decent tackler. The biggest test for him will likely be playing in a defense where not everyone is a superstar. He is the fourth Georgia defender I have coming off the board in the first round.

33. Jacksonville Jaguars – Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
After addressing the offensive line at No. 1, Jacksonville finds an edge rusher to pair with Josh Allen. Ebiketie put together a great season with Penn State after transferring from Temple.

34. Detroit Lions – Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
Another Penn State defender as Detroit continues to revamp that side of the ball. Brisker would compete for the starting job right away.

35. Tennessee Titans via New York Jets – Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
Tennessee adds some more draft capital after initially entering the draft without a second-round pick. Raimann is a developing tackle who could compete for the starting spot on the right side immediately.

36. New York Giants – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
New York needs to rebuild its cornerback room with rumors that James Bradberry could be traded. McCreary lacks elite length, but put together some impressive tape against SEC competition.

37. Houston Texans – Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota
One of the most toolsy edge rushers in this class, Mafe is a popular prospect with teams that love “height, weight, speed” players. His physicality and speed makes up below average length off the edge.

38. New York Jets via Carolina Panthers – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Jets grab another defensive playmaker to plug into Robert Saleh’s defense. Dean is undersized, which I think will drop him out of the first-round, but excels when allowed to play downhill.

39. Chicago Bears – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Make that six Georgia players and counting. Chicago grabs a high-upside receiver to pair with Darnell Mooney. Pickens barely played this season after tearing his ACL in spring ball, but he has the physical traits to develop into a No. 1 option.

40. Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Seattle finds a mobile quarterback with great leadership skills. No, he won’t replace Russell Wilson, but he gives them someone else to compete for the starting job with more upside than Drew Lock or Geno Smith.

41. Seattle Seahawks – Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
The Seahawks lost D.J. Reed this offseason and don’t have much in the way of proven talent at corner right now. Gordon checks all the physical boxes you want in a starting corner and would give Seattle some much-needed size at the position.

42. Baltimore Ravens via Indianapolis Colts and Washington Commanders – Cameron Thomas, EDGE, San Diego State
Baltimore has a ton of mid-round picks to use, so moving up to address a big need makes sense. Thomas is a strong edge defender with really good production. I think he would fit well across from Odafe Oweh.

43. Atlanta Falcons – Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State
Another receiver off the board, Watson is an exciting blend of speed and size. At just over 6’4″, he ran a 4.36 40 at the combine. He needs to improve his hands, but I think he can be an instant impact player.

44. Cleveland Browns – Travis Jones, DL, UConn
The Browns first pick of the draft will likely be on defense after trading for Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper this offseason. Jones is rising up draft boards after a good pre draft process. Cleveland’s interior defensive line is very unproven as well, so this fills a need.

45. Indianapolis Colts via Baltimore Ravens – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Indy has a lot of needs and not a ton of draft capital after trading a number of picks to acquire Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan in successive offseasons. Sliding down and finding a playmaker to boost this offense accomplishes two goals. Dotson has great hands and has a good understanding of how to beat zone coverage.

46. Carolina Panthers via Minnesota Vikings – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
Harris brings plenty of speed to the table and plays akin to a box safety. He is good in coverage as well. Carolina could use an injection of youth at linebacker.

47. Washington Commanders via Indianapolis Colts – Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati
After going defense with its first pick, Washington goes offense here. I’m staying away from quarterback to give Carson Wentz some confidence. Instead, I think grabbing a receiver for him to work will go a long way. Pierce put up elite testing numbers and some solid tape at Cincinnati. He would pair nicely with Terry McLaurin.

48. Chicago Bears via Los Angeles Chargers – Sean Rhyan, OL, UCLA
Chicago needs to protect Justin Fields in the worst way. Rhyan is a college tackle that seems destined to kick inside. Still, that experience at tackle makes him even more valuable.

49. New Orleans Saints – Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa
With Terron Armstead now in Miami, the Saints are searching for a new left tackle. Smith is a bit of a tweener, with scouts split on where he fits best at the next level. Worst-case scenario, he competes with Cesar Ruiz, who had a rough 2021 season.

50. Kansas City Chiefs via Miami Dolphins – John Metchie III, Alabama
After going defense in the first round, Kansas City opts for an offensive weapon in the second. Metchie likely would be off the board by now if it was not for the fact that he is coming off a major injury. Assuming he returns to full health, he would be a solid addition to the Chiefs receiver room.

51. Philadelphia Eagles – Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
The Eagles need more playmakers in the secondary. Safety is definitely a weak spot. Cine put on a show in the National Championship Game, showcasing his speed and instincts.

52. Pittsburgh Steelers – Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA
Another “draft crush” for me, Woolen is a bit raw, but has outstanding intangibles. Finding corners who are 6’4″ and run a sub 4.3 40 is nearly impossible. On top of that, he has a 42-inch vertical. Bet on the upside and hope Mike Tomlin and company can develop him.

53. Green Bay Packers via Las Vegas Raiders – Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State
Green Bay’s offensive line has been a weak point of late with injuries really taking a toll on the unit. Lucas has a ton of starts under his belt and looked solid at the Senior Bowl. He could probably start at either tackle spot in the NFL.

54. New England Patriots – Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky
New England traded away Shaq Mason this offseason, creating a hole at guard. Kinnard played tackle in college and has long arms to contend on the outside. However, his play style is best suited to be on the interior. He could bring some nastiness to the Patriots run game.

55. Arizona Cardinals – Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
With the loss of Chandler Jones this offseason, Arizona needs to find some pass rushing help. Bonitto is a good athlete with 16 sacks in his final two seasons at Oklahoma.

56. Dallas Cowboys – Amare Barno, EDGE, Virginia Tech
Another team in need of an edge rusher following a free-agent departure, Dallas hopes Barno can provide a boost. He tested out of his mind at the combine, which points to a lot of untapped potential.

57. Buffalo Bills – Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
At long last, the first running back comes off the board. Hall is an all-around back with solid hands and impressive speed. I might be sleeping on these backs a bit, but this would be a great fit for him in Buffalo.

58. Atlanta Falcons via Tennessee Titans – Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State
The best way to take the pressure off a young quarterback is to give him a running game. Walker is a downhill runner with good speed. He hits the hole with authority and should give the Falcons offense a reliable back.

59. San Francisco 49ers via Green Bay Packers – Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan
With Samuel gone in this mock, San Francisco goes after a potential replacement. Moore is not the same type of player as Deebo, but he can still be a fun chess piece for Kyle Shanahan to move around.

60. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Cole Strange, OL, Chattanooga
Tampa Bay lost both its starting guards from a year ago. They already filled one spot by trading for Shaq Mason. The other is still up for grabs. Strange has the skills to compete for the job and the versatility to play any spot on the interior of the offensive line. I considered quarterback here, but I think going all in with Brady makes more sense.

61. San Francisco 49ers – Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor
George Odum is a special teams ace who is better off playing in a rotational role on defense, so safety is definitely a need. Pitre had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and looks like a future starter.

62. Kansas City Chiefs – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Leal did not have the same kind of season many were expecting of him, but he has position versatility at edge or defensive tackle. Building in the trenches, especially on defense, feels like a smart move for Kansas City.

63. Cincinnati Bengals – Cade Otton, TE, Washington
Here is a player that I think is being slept on big time. Otton is a fantastic blocker with upside as a pass catcher. After losing C.J. Uzomah, I think the Bengals need to address the tight end position beyond signing Hayden Hurst.

64. Denver Broncos via Los Angeles Rams – Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming
Denver does not have a ton of clear needs, the Broncos can go with the best player available here. Muma has the makings of a sideline-to-sideline off-ball linebacker. He tested well at the combine and looks the part on tape.

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NFL Draft Daily: What the Deshaun Watson trade says about Baker Mayfield, the 2022 NFL draft and the value of quarterbacks

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 38 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

The Browns sent a seismic shock through the NFL as they sent three first-round picks to the Texans to acquire Deshaun Watson. Watson, who is facing civil lawsuits from 22 women alleging sexual assault and harassment, has not played since 2020. He demanded a trade from the Texans prior to the 2021 season. He sat out the entire season once the allegations about his misconduct surfaced. Now, he is poised to be the franchise quarterback in Cleveland for at least the next five years after signing a full-guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract.

I wrote Friday about stunning this decision is given the pending lawsuits against Watson. For the sake of not repeating myself, I won’t completely rehash my feelings on this situation. In short, it is risky, despicable and disheartening that Cleveland was willing to overlook the allegations of 22 different women against Watson.

There are three clear messages the Browns sent by making this move. The first is that they simply do not view these allegations as serious and are much more infatuated with Watson’s ability on the football field. Quarterback is the most important position in football, particularly in the NFL. Cleveland already had Baker Mayfield, whom they drafted No. 1 overall one year after passing on Watson, twice. While Mayfield certainly has his drawbacks, he did lead the Browns to their first playoff victory since 1994. An injury-plagued season saw him fall out of favor with the front office. Cleveland viewed Watson as such an improvement over Mayfield, it was willing to tank Mayfield’s trade value by acquiring Watson before moving him. The Browns also paid a price rarely seen in terms of draft capital to acquire Watson. You can only imagine what the asking price for him might have been if he was not potentially a sexual predator. The bottom line: upgrading at the quarterback position is worth whatever price must be paid.

The second message is also pretty obvious: the Browns do not believe in Baker Mayfield long term. After four seasons, Cleveland was willing to move on from the former Heisman winner. Mayfield’s career numbers aren’t bad. He has averaged 23 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions and roughly 3,500 passing yards per season. Those are figures many NFL teams would be happy with, but pale in comparison to the league’s elite.

It is hard to argue if Mayfield is truly to blame. After all, he joined the Browns following an 0-16 season. He also played four four different head coaches, including one interim, in his four seasons. Not exactly the stability most teams desire when looking to develop a young quarterback. We’ve also seen that the latest iteration of the Browns offense might not be the most pass-friendly. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were both run out of town because they could not perform in it. At a certain point, you have to wonder about who really deserves the blame for Mayfield falling short of expectations. That being said, Mayfield will almost definitely have an opportunity to start somewhere this season.

Finally, this whole process speaks volumes about how the Browns viewed the other quarterbacks available this season, in free agency, on the trade market and, most importantly, in the NFL draft. How this Watson trade played out gives us a really interesting glimpse into how the Browns felt about Mayfield in comparison to other available quarterbacks. Mayfield requested a trade even after it initially looked like Cleveland’s pursuit of Watson did not pan out. Reports then surfaced that the Browns were not willing to grant that request in hopes of mending the relationship with Mayfield.

What this tells us is that the front office was comfortable sticking with Mayfield if it could not land Watson (or perhaps Aaron Rodgers, had he become available). They viewed him as a better option than Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo or any of the prospects in this draft class. Whether or not the rest of the league agrees with that is unclear, but take a moment to think about the teams that have been linked to Watson or other quarterback moves made this offseason. Washington was in position to draft a quarterback, but opted for Wentz. Carolina could have its pick of the group, but wanted Watson, Russell Wilson or pretty much anyone else. Same can be said for Denver, who landed Wilson. New Orleans just re-signed Winston.

It seems like no teams are interested in this 2022 quarterback class. I have to imagine Seattle, Carolina and Indianapolis will be prime suitors for Mayfield and Garoppolo. That being said, one of them is going to be left without a clear starting option. At that point, the Seahawks might entertain signing Colin Kaepernick, who has not played in the league since 2016, over drafted a rookie to start this season.

Don’t get me wrong, some of these guys will get drafted early. Detroit is rumored to like Malik Willis a lot and has the perfect situation for him to essentially redshirt a year before taking over as the starter. The Steelers and Falcons will be searching for long-term solutions at the position. I don’t think Atlanta takes one at No. 8, but perhaps it could trade back into the end of the first round.

We’ve long known this is not a popular quarterback class in the league or in the media. I think we are now starting to understand just how little teams think of this crop of prospects. April is going to be very interesting.

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Browns acquire Deshaun Watson in a shocking, questionable move

What in the world??? There has never been a week in the NFL like this before and there might never be a week like it ever again. The greatest quarterback of all time unretired just 40 days after hanging up his cleats. Then, the Broncos sent a huge haul to Seattle to land Russell Wilson as their new quarterback. Aaron Rodgers then signed the richest contract in NFL history on an annual salary basis to stay with the Packers. A couple of blockbuster trades saw Khalil Mack join the Chargers and Davante Adams land in Las Vegas. Oh, and Carson Wentz is in Washington now. To cap off this whirlwind of a week, the Browns traded three first-round picks as part of a package to land Deshaun Watson. Simply stunning.

Watson now has the most guaranteed money in NFL history. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Watson sweepstakes have been long and complicated. Watson announced that he wanted to be traded last year, but the Texans showed no signs of agreeing. It appeared to set up a standoff between team and player until the news about Watson’s off-the-field actions broke. He sat out all of 2021 as the investigation into allegations of sexual assault took place. Interestingly, the NFL never put Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list despite the ongoing situation. On March 11, just one week before Watson was ultimately traded, a grand jury declined to indict the then Texans quarterback on charges stemming from lawsuits filed by 22 women alleging harassment and sexual assault. That opened the floodgates for a return to the field.

Now, Watson is still facing 22 civil lawsuits and will likely be disciplined by the league. This situation is far from being resolved. Clearly the Browns, whether right or wrong, felt comfortable bringing Watson into the fold. While there is a lot of football implications to discuss with this move, it is really important not to lose sight of the significance of these allegations and what it will mean if it comes out that Watson is in fact a sex offender. As of now, we don’t know if he is one way or the other. I hope the legal system leads to justice, but I also know that too often, that isn’t the case.

What’s more, this past week alone has been truly bizarre. From reports out of the Browns front office stating they want “an adult” at quarterback to reports that Watson had informed Cleveland he would not play for them, this saga is astounding. For the Browns, it is hard to imagine how acquiring a player in the midst of a sexual assault scandal gives you an adult at the position. For Watson, I can understand the about face when there is $230 million in GUARANTEED money on the table. Still, it is staggering that the Browns would be willing to do this given Watson’s deplorable off-the-field behavior and the pending consequences.

There is no easy way to transition to the football side of things, but this does greatly impact the NFL as a whole. Baker Mayfield will now certainly be the subject of trade offers. I wrote about where he could land yesterday. Plus, the draft just became way more interesting.

It appears like the Texans will give Davis Mills the opportunity to start at quarterback this season. With two too-15 selections, Houston can now fill some of the major holes on its offense, namely on the offensive line and at receiver. This also gives the Texans all the draft capital needed in order to move up for the top prospect in next year’s draft or to acquire a veteran via trade if Mills does not look like the long-term answer. In short, Houston actually seems poised to properly rebuild.

On Cleveland’s side of things, they will hope to recoup a few draft picks in exchange for Mayfield. Even after acquiring Amari Cooper, the Browns need another receiver. Plus, they have an opening at center after releasing J.C. Tretter. They have way less premium draft capital to address those positions, but the Browns should be able to attract whatever remaining free agents they want after this move. That is, assuming players don’t have an issue with Watson.

From a football perspective, there is no doubt the Browns got better. Cleveland just better hope it is ready to handle the media firestorm that is bound to follow this decision. There will be intense scrutiny and criticism of the Browns and Watson each step of the way. Forget whatever media attention Mayfield drew, Cleveland now has a target on its back.

Where will Baker Mayfield land?

It is hard to believe that one year after Baker Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff win since 1994 he will now be searching for a new home. Tom Pelissero reported Thursday that Mayfield has requested a trade following Cleveland’s pursuit of Deshaun Watson.

An injury-riddled, disappointing 2021 season soured the relationship between the team and the former No. 1 pick. Cleveland had already opted against offering Mayfield an extension, instead allowing him to play out the final year of his rookie contract.

Mayfield threw for 92 touchdowns and 56 interceptions in four seasons with Cleveland. (Wikimedia Commons)

Mayfield posted a goodbye to Browns fans on social media earlier this week following the team’s interest in Texans quarterback Watson. The writing was on the wall then, but it is still a shocking development considering the Browns entered the season with legitimate title aspirations.

So what happens now for Mayfield? There is no shortage of suitors for the 26-year-old quarterback this offseason. Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans are all in on landing Watson, but two of those teams will still need a long-term answer at quarterback after a deal goes down. Beyond those three, the Colts, Giants and Seahawks are all kicking the tires on prospective quarterbacks. New York did just sign Tyrod Taylor to backup Daniel Jones, but if there is interest in Mayfield, I don’t think that will stop them from making a move. What makes this complicated is that the Browns do not seem inclined to trade Mayfield. Jake Trotter tweeted shortly after the news broke that Cleveland denied his request.

The teams that stand out to me are Indianapolis, Carolina and Seattle. The latter two allow the Browns to move Mayfield out of the conference and both teams have major question marks at quarterback with hopes of being much more competitive in 2022. However, Cleveland might receive the best offer from Indy. After trading away Carson Wentz and without a first-round pick in 2022, it is hard to figure out who the Colts will start at quarterback this season. Let’s go team by team.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have several starting quarterback options, which is to say they have no idea who will start for them this season. Sam Darnold, who was selected two picks after Mayfield in 2018, is still under contract for 2022. He had an up-and-down year that ended prematurely due to an injury. Then there is Cam Newton. Super Cam arrived halfway through the 2021 season and immediately breathed some new life into the Panthers offense. The spark was short-lived though as Carolina went 0-5 in games Newton started. The former MVP also threw just four touchdowns and five interceptions in eight appearances. There is no question the Panthers need a long-term solution at quarterback.

Should they make the call?: Absolutely not. What is the point in adding a second quarterback from the 2018 draft coming off an injury. Mayfield would be an upgrade over both Darnold and Newton, but this does not provide the stability the Panthers need.

Seattle Seahawks

Now that Russell Wilson is donning Broncos orange, Seattle desperately needs to find its next quarterback. The combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith does not inspire much confidence for long-term success. Lock is heading into his fourth season, but has struggled with consistency and health. Smith is a career backup who can step in for an injured starter. Neither is going to be the starting quarterback by the time 2023 rolls around. In fact, both could not be on the roster by that point. The question is not if Seattle needs help, it is if this is the right move.

Should they make the call?: I personally would love to see Colin Kaepernick get a second chance by landing with the Seahawks. Pete Carroll revealed this week that he has been in touch with the former 49ers quarterback. Kap is also working out with Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett after he posted a video lamenting his lack of throwing partners. That being said, Mayfield is a much safer bet than Kaepernick, who has not taken a snap in the NFL since 2016. If Cleveland is willing to move Mayfield for a Day 2 and a Day 3 pick, I would strongly consider it.

Indianapolis Colts

Once again, the Colts find themselves in desperate need of a quarterback. Last year, that led Indianapolis acquiring Carson Wentz from the Eagles. Colts general manager Chris Ballard already flipped Wentz to Washington for pennies on the dollar, so this team is short on draft capital and high on needing a solution. With the right quarterback, this team has the talent to make a real run at winning the AFC South and maybe winning a playoff game or two. Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan are the only quarterbacks on the Colts roster at the moment. Maybe Indy will give Ehlinger a chance to compete for the job, but it also needs to find a veteran to be in the mix.

Should they make the call?: I don’t think so. To be honest, I think the Colts have missed their Super Bowl window. They have holes at wide receiver, left tackle, left guard, cornerback and safety. They have big contracts on board already for players like DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and now Yannick Ngakoue. They still need to pay Quenton Nelson as well. I just think Indianapolis has too many holes and not enough resources to fill them all and become a true contender with this current roster. This core could still win a title, but it looks like it will be a year or two before they are ready to compete. If I’m Ballard, I pass on Mayfield and go sign Jameis Winston while I retool the rest of my roster.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are clearly banking on landing Watson. After rolling with the combination of Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book in 2022, the Texans quarterback could offer some much needed stability. You know, as soon as he is done serving the suspension that is likely coming for his off-the-field behavior. Still, if Watson winds up in Carolina or Atlanta, New Orleans will still need a quarterback. Winston and Siemian are free agents, Hill is a gadget player and Book looks like an overmatched backup quarterback. With Michael Thomas hopefully coming back from injury and Alvin Kamara facing legal trouble himself, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this Saints offense.

Should they make the call?: Assuming they don’t land Watson, I say yes. Contingent on the asking price of course. If the Saints can land Mayfield for a mid-round selection and a future Day 3 pick, I think that is worth doing in this case. Mayfield is still 26 and has shown the potential to be a solid starter in the NFL. He won’t be a superstar, but the Saints can work to build more around him. They already have some great playmakers and a solid offensive line in place. That sounds like a recipe for success for Mayfield.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How about a wild card to throw into the mix? Tom Brady is returning for another season, but his contract is up following 2022. Not to mention that he could always retire again. Rumors put Brady in San Francisco for 2023 with a chance to finish his career in his hometown. Speculation about Brady aside, it feels like Tampa has one more year with the seven-time Super Bowl champion. What remains behind Brady is far from reassuring as Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask will compete to be his backup.

Should they make the call?: I say yes. I just don’t think Cleveland would do the deal. Tampa could probably offer some more draft capital if the Browns would be willing to eat at least part of Mayfield’s cap hit for 2022. It would give Bruce Arians a year to evaluate Mayfield and let him learn from the greatest to ever play the position. Mayfield will certainly have opportunities to start elsewhere, but that does not mean he should take them right away. If he has another tumultuous year, it is hard to envision him landing a starting job anywhere beyond 2022. He has to pick his next destination carefully.

NFL Draft Daily: Can Lincoln Riley fix USC’s NFL QB problem?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Lincoln Riley rocked the college football world when he left Oklahoma to become the new head coach at USC. With rumors swirling that Riley could be headed for Baton Rouge, his move to SoCal came as a shock. Before too long though, I began to wonder how this will impact the NFL draft.

I am fascinated by the draft and I always like to explore the ripple effects of moves like this. There is the obvious that Oklahoma is likely going to suffer a short-term setback while USC’s ceiling is raised substantially. How about the implications for USC’s quarterback production at the next level?

Riley is known as a quarterback guru, and for good reason. In a three-year span, Oklahoma produced two Heisman winners, a Heisman runner up, two No. 1 overall picks and a second-round pick. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts are all starting quarterbacks in the NFL. It is very early in all of their careers, but it is safe to say Riley turned a lot of heads with his ability to make OU a quarterback factory.

Riley went 55-10 in five seasons at Oklahoma. (Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, there is a lot of chatter about USC’s inability to produce NFL-caliber quarterbacks. Not in the draft process, several USC quarterbacks have been first-round selections over the past decade, but when it comes to actually achieving success in the pros, the Trojans are surprisingly lacking.

Since 2000, USC has produced a long list of quarterbacks that played in the NFL. Most have failed to live up to high expectations. Carson Palmer remains the most successful of the group, and he graduated in 2002. Mark Sanchez is still the last USC quarterback to win a playoff game, and that was in 2010.

A closer look sees a list that includes Matt Leinart, who only started 18 games in his pro career. He was a top-10 selection. So was Sanchez, who won a ton of games early in his career behind an incredible offensive line, an elite defense and a reliable run game. He hung around a while and managed to finish his career with a winning record as a starter. However, he also threw three more interceptions than he did touchdowns coupled with a career completion percentage of 56.6.

Matt Barkley followed Sanchez. He seemed poised to be a top-15 pick in 2012, but chose to return to school, had a horrible senior year and fell into the fourth round. He started seven games in six seasons in the NFL. Cody Kessler was next and never wowed scouts. A third-round selection, no one expected him to be a Hall of Famer, but three years split between the Browns and Jaguars ensured that his NFL career never got going. He appeared in nine games during Cleveland’s winless 2016 season as a rookie.

Darnold struggled with turnovers, committing 76 in 47 games. (Wikimedia Commons)

After that was Sam Darnold. The No. 3 pick in 2018, he went two picks after Mayfield, which was a bit of surprise at the time. Darnold has shown flashes in his four-year career, but the Jets cut bait after three seasons and shipped him to Carolina. After a strong start with the Panthers, his production fell off a cliff as he reverted to his interception-happy ways, tossing 11 in nine games. He was eventually benched a few times before suffering a season-ending injury. Carolina will be searching for a new starter in 2022 despite having Darnold under contract for another season for about $19 million.

Needless to say, USC quarterbacks have earned a reputation among draft evaluators. The old adage insists we scout the player, not the helmet. However, I am starting to believe in scouting the coach, if that makes sense. Certain schools have a good reputation for producing good players at certain positions. LSU, Ohio State and Alabama all excel at producing defensive backs that succeed in the NFL. Penn State was known for a long time for producing excellent linebackers. Most of the Big Ten is synonymous with elite offensive line play.

It does not mean that other schools are incapable of producing elite prospects at that position or that any players who goes through these programs are immediately going to be better in the NFL, but we can usually point to certain coaches for being able to recruit and develop well at different positions. There is a reason Alabama dominates the early rounds of every draft. Nick Saban knows how to recruit and develop. Same can be said for Kirby Smart on the defensive side of the ball. Kirk Ferentz has a penchant for producing NFL-caliber tight ends at Iowa.

Bottom line, something has to give. USC has struggled to produce quality NFL quarterbacks, but Riley is known for doing just that. It might be a bit premature to truly award him that recognition given that his three notable quarterbacks are still just getting started in the NFL. Riley’s most recent project was also a failure. Spencer Rattler lost his starting job in October despite entering the year as the Heisman favorite. He will be looking to transfer.

However, there is no doubt that Mayfield, Murray and maybe even Hurts are better NFL quarterbacks than anyone USC has produced this side of Palmer. Caleb Williams also flashed some incredible physical traits and won a lot of games for Oklahoma as a true freshman in relief of Rattler. Early returns indicate that Riley is in fact the real deal.

Slovis is rumored to be considering declaring for the NFL draft. (Wikimedia Commons)

So how soon could Riley snap this streak? Kedon Slovis entered the season as a potential first-round pick. By the end of the year, he went the way of Rattler and lost his job to a talented freshman. That freshman, Jaxson Dart, could be Riley’s first protégé in L.A. If not, Miller Moss, who stepped in for an injured Dart to finish the season against Cal, could be in line for that role. Dart and Moss were four-star recruits, ranking 10th and 12th respectively, in the 2021 recruiting class, according to 24/7 Sports.

What is more likely is that it will take a few seasons before we really see the Lincoln Riley effect take hold at USC. The Trojans do not have any quarterbacks currently committed for 2022. However, 2023 five-star recruit Malachi Nelson has already flipped his commitment from Oklahoma to USC to follow Riley. Nelson feels like the first quarterback that will truly be Riley’s handpicked option. He won’t be draft eligible until 2026 though.

So, it might take a while, but keep in mind that Mayfield, Murray and Hurts were all transfers to Oklahoma. It is very possible that Riley goes that route again. Former five-star Quinn Ewers announced he is transferring from Ohio State. Texas is believed to be the favorite to land Ewers, bringing him back to the Lone Star state, but could Riley lure him to USC? This is not to say Riley will bail on Dart and Moss, but he also did not recruit them.

My guess is that Riley will ride with either Dart or Moss for 2022 before giving Nelson a real chance to compete for the starting job when he arrives in 2023. It might not be immediate, but it feels like USC is finally in line to change the narrative around their quarterback prospects at the NFL level.

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