2023 NFL Mock Draft: How does the Panthers moving up to No. 1 impact the first round?

We have a new team picking first overall! The Bears and Panthers finalized a trade on Friday that sent the No. 1 pick to Carolina. Now the Panthers are on the clock. The move has massive implications for the rest of the league as well.

There were a few other trades that I decided to make for this mock, including some big-name quarterbacks changing teams. The following trades were made in this mock:

Las Vegas trades 1.7 to Green Bay for Aaron Rodgers, 4.117

Jets trade 1.13, 2024 1st to Baltimore for Lamar Jackson

Baltimore trades 1.13, 1.22 and 2024 2nd to Arizona for 1.3

Giants trade 1.26, 3.89, 5.160 to Tampa Bay for 1.19, 6.194

So Aaron Rodgers is a Raider, Lamar Jackson is a Jet and Ravens now have a top 3 selection. Is all of this likely? No, not particularly. But there is a real possibility these teams are all facing the prospect of not having a plan at quarterback heading in 2023. That usually leads to some moves we might not have expected. Plus, it is fun to explore the domino effect of different offseason moves.

Reminder, the first round is only 31 picks this year because the Dolphins were penalized their first-round selection for tampering. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my latest mock!

1. Carolina Panthers via Chicago Bears – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Carolina sold the farm to move up. You take the best quarterback on the board. That is Young for me. He has size limitations, but I love his game. I think he will translate very well to the NFL and benefit from playing under Frank Reich.

2. Houston Texans – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Nothing really changes for the Texans. They are still in position to land one of the top two quarterbacks in this draft class. I think there is a clear gap between Stroud and the other two QBs still on the board. He is accurate, precise and polished. Houston’s rebuild has to start somewhere. Might as well be with a potential franchise passer.

3. Baltimore Ravens via Arizona Cardinals – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Let’s get wild here. It is tough to figure out what the Ravens will do if Lamar Jackson does in fact leave. It feels unlikely, but in this mock, I have Jackson headed to the Jets. Baltimore has shown they can make it work with one project quarterback with elite running ability. Why not try that again? Richardson is very raw, but he could sit for a year behind Tyler Huntley before taking the reins in 2024.

4. Indianapolis Colts – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The Colts get the short end of the stick in terms of quarterbacks available. Levis is my QB4, narrowly behind Richardson. I still maintain Indianapolis should have moved up to No. 1. I think Levis has the tools to be successful at the next level, but he is a project with a lower ceiling than Richardson. Indy would still be in a bit of a rebuild after adding him.

5. Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos – Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
This would be a potential dream scenario for the Seahawks. Anderson would give them a bonafide franchise player to build around. Seattle can afford to spend more draft capital at the position as well with that second first-round selection.

6. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams – Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Dan Campbell will be salivating if Carter is on the board at pick six. I think he could be the right type of coach to help Carter straighten out a bit following his legal troubles. On the football field, the former Georgia star would be an instant impact player for a team in desperate need of a defensive upgrade.

7. Green Bay Packers via Las Vegas Raiders – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Green Bay is in an interesting spot here. I think they would wind up going best player available trying to retool a defense that disappointed a year ago. Wilson is long and disruptive off the edge. Pairing him with Devonte Wyatt and Kenny Clark would give the Packers a fearsome defensive line.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Atlanta’s pursuit of a pass rusher should finally come to an end in the 2023 draft. With two already off the board, I have them choosing a local product coming off a serious injury. Smith was a dynamic team leader at Georgia prior to the torn pectoral muscle. He showed at the combine why he should be in Top 10 consideration.

9. Chicago Bears via Carolina Panthers – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Bears clearly committed to Justin Fields. Now they need to build around him. Adding my top offensive tackle is a good place to start. Chicago’s offensive line has been bad for years. Johnson is a fluid mover with great size and length. He has starting experience at multiple spots on the offensive line. I like the idea of reuniting him with his former college teammate.

10. Philadelphia Eagles via New Orleans Saints – Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The run on quarterbacks and edge rushers pushes the corners down the board, but the Eagles will not mind. Amidst reports of a Darius Slay trade demand and James Bradberry headed for free agency, Philadelphia needs help on the outside. Witherspoon is a downhill type of player capable of setting the tone for a defense.

11. Tennessee Titans – Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
Rumors of a fire sale in Tennessee could shift the trajectory of this pick, but with no quarterback on the board worth taking, the front office has to go offensive line here. Skoronski is a talented player, but lacks the ideal length to start in the NFL. We have seen plenty of players overcome that issue before, but it could mean he winds up kicking inside. Not the best outcome, but the Titans could use help at pretty much every offensive line spot.

12. Houston Texans via Cleveland – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
If the Texans believe C.J. Stroud is their franchise quarterback, they will need to get him some receiver to target. Brandin Cooks is still seeking a trade and Houston does not have a whole lot that inspires confidence when it comes to the remaining receivers on the roster. Smith-Njigba was a nightmare for opposing defenses and showed just how explosive he could be at the combine. Don’t overthink the injuries. Go get a game-changing playmaker.

13. Arizona Cardinals via Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
This pick ultimately lands with the Cardinals after being sent to the Ravens by the Jets. I am cramming a lot into his mock draft. Arizona simply needs to start over on defense. Murphy is a quick-twitch athlete with tons of potential.

14. New England Patriots – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
New England’s secondary is headed for a massive makeover. Porter would provide a nice base layer. He is uncommonly long for a cornerback and uses that length to frustrate opposing receivers. He needs a bit of refining, but I trust Bill Belichick will give him all the coaching he needs to be great.

15. Green Bay Packers – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Green Bay cannot make the same mistake it did with Aaron Rodgers this time around with Jordan Love. Adding Addison, who tore up college football over the past two seasons, to a young receiver corps containing Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs would be a great way to set Love up for success.

16. Washington Commanders – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Washington could go a number of directions here, but I think taking Gonzalez would be a perfect example of where value meets need. Washington’s secondary has been the only weak point on an otherwise impressive defense. Gonzalez’ size and improving ball skills make me believe he could be a No. 1 corner.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Pittsburgh needs to protect Kenny Pickett. Plain and simple. Finding someone to open holes for Najee Harris would be nice, too. Jones is coming off a fantastic season with Georgia in which he did not allow a sack. He is still a bit inexperienced, but has the traits and intangibles to grow into the role.

18. Detroit Lions – Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
After nabbing a defensive lineman at No. 6, Detroit double dips on that side of the ball with Banks. The Lions desperately need improved cornerback play. Banks is an athletic phenom with all the tools to turn into a shutdown corner. It might not be immediate, but there is a lot to like down the line.

19. New York Giants via Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
New York paid big money to keep Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. Now they need to make that investment worth it. Trading up a few picks to grab a potential crucial puzzle piece feels like a logical move. Flowers is a bit undersized, but could thrive playing in the slot. The Giants desperately need someone to turn to on third downs.

20. Seattle Seahawks – Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Much like the Lions, the Seahawks also have the opportunity to double up on defense. Anderson is a stand up edge rusher in Seattle’s defensive scheme. Van Ness would likely be playing with his hand in the dirt. He has the play strength to kick inside and be effective. I think Pete Carroll and John Schneider would be happy to continue building in the trenches.

21. Los Angeles Chargers – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Los Angeles needs to find more pass-catching options and improve their blocking ability. Mayer checks both boxes. He is a pro-ready prospect with good college production. Add in good size and above average athleticism and you have a player that should make Justin Herbert’s life much easier.

22. Arizona Cardinals via Baltimore Ravens – Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
I felt a bit conflicted about this one, but the Cardinals desperately need help along the offensive line. Four of their five starters from 2022 are free agents. Wright would give Arizona solid bookends to the unit opposite D.J. Humphries. The former Tennessee tackle broke out in his senior season following a shift to the right side of the line.

23. Minnesota Vikings – Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
Turnover in Minnesota is coming. Adam Theilen is already gone. Dalvin Cook and Harrison Smith could potentially follow. There are a number of ways the Vikings could go, but improving a horrific defense should outweigh many other concerns. McDonald brings jobs of athleticism, good production and tons of experience to the table following five years with the Cyclones.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars – Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
I know I am higher on Brents than the consensus, but I have been blown away by his performances over the past two months. After tearing up the Senior Bowl, he crushed the combine. Couple that with great measurables and you have a player who should go in the top 31 picks (that feels weird to write). For Jacksonville, finding a corner to pair with Tyson Campbell should be a priority this offseason.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers via New York Giants – Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
Tampa Bay’s draft approach will largely be shaped by what they do in free agency, with so many key starters set to test the open market. As of now, defensive tackle is a clear need. Bresee has yet to fully recapture the form he flashed as a true freshman at Clemson. However, he had a solid season and looked sharp at the combine. He could be a Day 1 starter for the Bucs.

26. Dallas Cowboys – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
The Cowboys’ offense will look very different in 2023. Mike McCarthy is taking over as the playcaller. Zeke Elliott will likely be gone. And Dallas will almost definitely have a different receiver to pair with CeeDee Lamb. My vote at this stage would be Johnston, who is a jump ball threat with impressive long speed. I think Dak Prescott would benefit greatly from adding a player of Johnston’s caliber to his group of pass catchers.

27. Buffalo Bills – O’Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Florida
Buffalo’s interior of the offensive line has slowly decayed over the past few seasons. Without many reliable in-house solutions, the draft would be a logical spot to rebuild the unit. Torrence balled out in his lone year at Florida after following Billy Napier over from Louisiana. I like him as an immediate starter at the next level.

28. Cincinnati Bengals – Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
With Hayden Hurst headed for free agency, the Bengals could be in the market for a new tight end. Washington is a unique prospect given his combination of size and athleticism. Putting him in place to protect Joe Burrow, open up lanes for Joe Mixon and offer an additional target alongside Cincy’s outstanding trio feels like a slam dunk pick.

29. New Orleans Saints via San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos – Josh Downs, WR, UNC
Derek Carr is the new leader of the offense in New Orleans. As of now, it is not overly clear who he will be throwing to other than Chris Olave. Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry are free agents while Alvin Kamara is facing legal trouble. Downs is a silky smooth route runner with great hands. He looked fantastic at the combine and I think deserves to be in the Round 1 conversation.

30. Philadelphia Eagles – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Prepare to see this pick mocked a lot. There will certainly be a chance Robinson goes sooner given his talent, but the league has clearly devalued the position in a big way. For Philadelphia, Robinson would be a much cheaper and more talented option than bringing back Miles Sanders. Putting him and Jalen Hurts in the same backfield might be bordering on unfair for the rest of the league.

31. Kansas City Chiefs – Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
Kansas City is facing the possibility of needing to replace both offensive tackles this offseason. The Chiefs have learned from past mistakes and will certainly be spending draft capital and other resources to protect Patrick Mahomes. Jones could be part of that equation. He is a massive man with good functional athleticism for that size. I think he could be a quality starting right tackle down the line.

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Draft Season Never Ends: 2022 NFL Draft Reaction

New episodes dropping every Friday! The draft is finally here! With 262 picks all finalized and undrafted free agents signing, Chris breaks down his favorite and least favorite drafts and some of this favorite Day 2 and Day 3 picks in a special Monday episode.

You can find every episode on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you find your podcasts. As always, I appreciate reviews, feedback and when you hit that subscribe button.

2022 NFL Draft Day 3 Takeaways: Patriots continue to surprise, punters are popular picks and the Ravens plan at receiver

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

The Patriots drafted Mac Jones in the first round just a year ago. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interesting approach in New England continues
The Patriots have made headlines the past few days for shocking everyone with some of their early picks. Saturday didn’t generate any headlines, but it was still a surprising afternoon. New England took Bailey Zappe in the fourth round, ahead of Sam Howell. I supposed the Pats view Zappe, who broke several D-1 passing records at Western Kentucky, as a backup quarterback to Mac Jones. I definitely would have expected Bill Belichick to bring in a veteran to back up Jones. That pick was sandwiched by a pair of running backs. This made absolutely no sense to me. New England has Damien Harris and James White as veteran backs. Rhamondre Stevenson was a third-round selection last year. They also have depth with J.J. Taylor still on the roster. I can’t envision a scenario where the Patriots keep six running backs. White did miss most of this past season with a hip injury, so perhaps this is the end of his time in New England.

A run on punters
Well, that’s probably untrue. It wasn’t so much a run, as much as it was surprising to see two punters selected as early as they were. For the first time since 2007, two punters were selected in the first four rounds. Jordan Stout and Jake Camarda were joined later in the draft by Matt Araiza, the booming punter from San Diego State, and Trenton Gill. That made it the most punters taken in one draft since 2018. Not a huge storyline, but something draft nuts like me are interested in.

Speaking of punters
While the unexpected number of punters coming off the board in the fourth round was fun, it did raise some interesting questions in Baltimore. The Ravens traded away Marquise Brown on Thursday night to acquire a first-round pick, which eventually, following a trade down with the Bills, turned into Tyler Linderbaum. Lamar Jackson was notably unhappy with the decision to move on from Brown and he made it clear on Twitter.

Yeah, definitely not a good sign for the Ravens. Jackson and Brown were very close, so this was obviously tough to swallow. Baltimore could have made it a bit easier to swallow by finding a new receiver for Jackson. However, despite having seven Day 3 picks, including six in the fourth round, the Ravens did not draft a receiver. Before you panic, the Ravens are actually flush with young mid-round receivers. They have taken Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace and James Proche over the past two drafts. That is in addition to taking Rashod Bateman in the first round in 2021. It seems like they are counting on one of them to step up. There are also veterans receivers like Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton and Odell Beckham Jr. still available. I have a feeling that is how Baltimore plans to address the position.

Sam Howell has a chance to start sooner than you might think
The Commanders grabbed Sam Howell with the first pick of the fifth round, stopping the slide for a player that entered the college season as a projected first-round pick. Most quarterbacks taken in the fifth round are not taken with real hopes of starting in the NFL. Strange things happen though. Mike White, a fifth-round pick in 2018, started for the Jets this past season when injuries popped up. Gardner Minshew was a sixth-round pick in 2019. However, I think there is a chance Howell could be in contention to be Washington’s 2023 starter. First of all, he is reunited with one of his college wide outs in Dyami Brown. Second, the Commanders can release Carson Wentz after this season with ZERO dead money. It’s a move that would save the team about $26.1 million in cap space. Now, if Wentz is able to reclaim the form he showed early in his NFL career with the Eagles, this won’t even be a question. But if he struggles again like he did down the stretch with the Colts, this could get interesting, especially if Washington is not in a position to take one of the top quarterbacks in the 2023 draft. Just some food for thought regarding a quarterback I had an early third-round grade on. I think he has starter potential in the league.

Georgia sets a new benchmark
In 2020, 14 LSU players heard their name called, matching Ohio State in 2004 for the most players selected in a seven-round draft. Georgia surpassed that on Saturday. Derion Kendrick and John FitzPatrick went with back-to-back picks in the seventh round to set a new record with 15 players drafted from one school in a single draft. It underscores just how talented the Bulldogs were this season and how much Kirby Smart will have to replace this upcoming season. I have a feeling the Dawgs will be moving up in my Pro Potential Power Rankings.

The Steelers do it again
Pittsburgh made a sixth-round selection that probably didn’t turn too many heads, but continues a fun trend for this Steelers team. They selected Connor Heyward, a fullback out of Michigan State. He is the brother of Cam Heyward, the Steelers’ stalwart defensive tackle. It actually gives the team four sets of brothers on the roster. Just a fun nugget from today’s draft coverage that gives a bit more context and intrigue to the selection of a sixth-round fullback.

The Jets had a good draft
I want to close this out by talking about my team a bit. Part of the reason that I am such a huge fan of the NFL draft is because I’m a Jets fan. When your team is regularly not in the playoffs, you start to think about the future and what could be. Browns and Lions fans know what I’m talking about. There is always hope, followed by bitter disappointment. For the first time in a long time though, I think I might be willing to let myself be optimistic. The Jets crushed this draft on paper. They found value, filled needs and navigated the board with a veteran savvy that felt very out of place given how this team has been run for the past decade. I certainly don’t think the Jets are Super Bowl contenders, but they might actually be a year away from legitimately competing. They rounded out their draft by taking Max Mitchell from Louisiana and Micheal Clemons from Texas A&M. Mitchell has the potential to kick inside in the NFL, which would fill a need for the Jets. Meanwhile, Clemons brings some pass rushing depth to the roster.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

NFL Coaching Hot Seat Tracker: Preseason Preview

It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.

There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.

New York Jets – Robert Saleh
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A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.

New England Patriots – Bill Belichick
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Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.

Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott
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The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.

Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores
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Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.

Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich
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Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.

Houston Texans – David Culley
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If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.

Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel
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Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer
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It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin
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With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh
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A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.

Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski
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After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.

Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor
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Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid
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Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.

Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio
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Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.

Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley
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Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.

Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden
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At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.

New York Giants – Joe Judge
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Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.

Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni
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It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.

Dallas Cowboys – Mike McCarthy
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Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.

Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera
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Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.

Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith
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After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.

New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton
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It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians
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The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.

Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule
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2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.

Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell
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If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.

Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy
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Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.

Green Bay Packers – Matt LaFleur
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Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.

Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer
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Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.

Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
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An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.

Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury
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Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.

Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay
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While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan
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After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.

2021 NFL Draft: Day 2 Surprises and Best Players Available

If you thought Day 1 was wild, Day 2 went off the rails! Tampa, Minnesota and Houston all participated in a mini quarterback run. Dave Gettleman traded down, again! The Cowboys and Ravens took players that most draft fans have never even heard of. All in all, it was a lot to digest.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece, I will not be grading picks. I think it is premature to judge a team for selecting a player that has not taken an NFL snap yet, much less starting going through rookie OTAs.

That doesn’t mean we can’t react to all that unfolded on Day 2. Here are my biggest surprises from Friday night followed by my best players still on the board.

Houston’s first pick is a quarterback
There is a good chance we have already seen Deshaun Watson’s last game in a Texans uniform. Houston all but confirmed that by selecting Davis Mills with the 67th pick in the draft. The front office has refused to enter trade talks regarding Watson. His pending legal situation has scared off all potential suitors anyway. Mills is essentially an unknown in this draft class. He appeared in just 13 games during his college career. Injuries kept him from featuring more for the Cardinal. However, he was a five-star recruit and has some flashes of utter brilliance on his tape. With two veterans ahead of him in Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Finley, the Texans gave themselves a young quarterback to develop. It was a smart move all things considered, but definitely a bit unexpected given that it was their first selection of the draft.

Owusu-Koramoah kept on sliding
Clearly, the media was way higher on this guy than the NFL was. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fell all the way to No. 52, where the Browns traded up to select him. At first glance, Cleveland is crushing it. In my book, it landed a pair of first-round players. Just how wrong was everyone in the media? NFL Mock Draft Database had JOK at No. 19 on its consensus big board, which pulls from hundreds of rankings. The consensus draft slot for him was to the Raiders at No. 17. I talked about it in my first-round reaction, I think he is a perfect fit in the modern NFL. He is fast enough to line up all over the formation. Maybe Isaiah Simmons’ inability to make a seamless transition to the pros hurt his stock, but this is truly a mystery to me. Falling out of the first round is one thing. Falling into the middle of the second is another.

Raiders reverse course with second-round steal
Trevon Moehrig was viewed by many as the top safety in this class, myself included. He ended up being the third player selected at the position on Friday. What is really interesting about this is that no one would have batted an eye if the Raiders had flipped these two picks. I guess all is well that ends well. I still don’t fully understand the Alex Leatherwood pick at No. 17, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden made up for it in a big way by landing Moehrig, a Day 1 starting-caliber player.

Top interior linemen fall
Interior linemen were a hot commodity on Day 2. Landon Dickerson got things started, which made a ton of sense for an Eagles team in need of interior line help. What transpired afterward was unexpected. Jackson Carman, who played tackle in college but will likely kick inside for the Bengals, came off the board at 46. It was a bit early for my liking, but it filled a clear position of need. Even more shocking was San Francisco taking Aaron Banks two picks later. I didn’t have him in my top 100 as he was 10th-rated interior lineman. Green Bay piled on by taking Josh Myers at the end of the second. I had him 17th among interior linemen. Meanwhile, my first and second interior linemen, Wyatt Davis and Creed Humphrey respectively, were still on the board. Kansas City ended Humphrey’s fall in what looks like a great fit for their offense. Davis slid all the way to Round 3, landing in Minnesota.

Photo courtsey of TigerNet.com

Who needs blocking?
For three picks in a row, I felt like we could have seen any number of offensive linemen come off the board. Instead, Pittsburgh selected Pat Freiermuth, Seattle tabbed D’Wayne Eskridge, Los Angeles picked Tutu Atwell. All three of those teams need offensive line help. Creed Humphrey, Jalen Mayfield and Wyatt Davis were all on the board. The Steelers offensive line crumbled down the stretch, leading to an early exit in the playoffs. Russell Wilson told the Seahawks he wanted a better offensive line this offseason. Los Angeles has less of a need, but Andrew Whitworth turns 40 in December and Austin Blythe left in free agency. For Seattle especially, who only has two more picks in the draft, it was definitely questionable to ignore the offensive line. Pittsburgh finally took an offensive lineman in the third round.

What happened to Jabril Cox?
Coming into the draft, Cox was a fixture in the second round of mock drafts. He is by far my best player available. After years of feeling like the NFL was trending towards smaller, faster linebackers, it seems like the league is pushing back on that notion, at least a little bit. It’s not like linebackers were not being selected. Seven different off-ball linebackers came off the board between rounds two and three. Perhaps it was because teams did not get a chance to see Cox run at his pro day. I’m pretty much at a loss otherwise to explain why he is still on the board. Now, I just want the Jets to take him at 107.

Who are Brandon Stephens and Nahshon Wright?
There are usually a few players in every draft class that I have never heard of. They don’t usually come off the board in the third round. The Cowboys took Nahshon Wright from Oregon State 99th overall stunning pretty much everyone. He is incredibly long, standing 6’4″ with nearly 33-inch arms. NFL Mock Draft Database has his consensus ranking as the 294th prospect in this class. Reminder: there are only 259 picks. Maybe Dallas knows something we don’t, but this feels really early for a player that was likely not going before the sixth round. Baltimore followed it up by taking Brandon Stephens out of SMU. The database had him ranked 424th overall. These two guys came from way off the radar, but in a year when the whole scouting process has been disrupted, this was bound to happen.

Best Players Available

We still have more than half of the draft to go. 105 picks down means that there are still 145 still to go. Heading into Day 3, here are my top remaining prospects:

36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC (Third-round cut off)
92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

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