NFL Draft Daily: How an injury helped Aidan Hutchinson make nearly $30 million

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 351 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Aidan Hutchinson’s 2020 season had barely gotten started when it abruptly ended. The junior outside linebacker suffered a broken ankle against Indiana that required surgery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten did not start its season until October after initially canceling it altogether. In the end, Hutchinson had appeared in just three games, recorded nine tackles, no sacks and no tackles for loss. For a player hoping to make the NFL leap, there was not much positive momentum.

Still, there was some draft buzz surrounding Hutchinson. If memory serves, he was projected to go somewhere in the mid-to-late second round. Perhaps if he hadn’t hurt his ankle, he would’ve finished a bit stronger. A chance to test at the combine could have secured himself in that middle part of the second round. Even with the injury, Jim Nagy thought he would have been a Day 2 pick in June of 2021.

At this point, we all know what happened instead. Hutchinson underwent surgery on his leg, returned to school and finished as the runner up for the Heisman as Michigan made its first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff. He posted 14 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He wound up being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft and will suit up for his hometown team this season.

We’ve seen it happen so many times before where a player is on the cusp of reaching the league, but an injury sends them back to school and their draft stock drops significantly. Hutchinson clearly bucked that trend, and that was not lost on him.

“I did have an opportunity to leave my junior year,” Hutchinson said in an interview with ESPN Radio’s Spain & Fitz. “That injury was the greatest blessing that happened to me in my life.”

It turned out that the injury ended up making Hutchinson about $30 million dollars. That’s right, the injury made him money, not lost him. It’s hard to know exactly where he would have been selected in 2021 had he come out, but make some assumptions and take a look at the finances.

Hutchinson helped lead Michigan to its first College Football Playoff appearance. (Wikimedia Commons)

If we assume that Nagy was right with his projected draft range, which he often is, Hutchinson could have come off the board instead of Dayo Odeyingbo in the second round. The Colts took the Vanderbilt defensive end coming off a torn Achilles, so I can’t imagine that a broken ankle alone would have prevented the front office from taking Hutchinson.

Odeyingbo signed a four-year deal worth roughly $6.17 million. According to Spotrac, about $2.8 million of that was guaranteed. Under the assumption above, that’s approximately what Hutchinson was in line for as far as contract compensation goes had he come out in 2021.

Instead, Hutchinson’s stellar senior season propelled him to the second pick in the draft and he cashed in. Hutchinson signed his rookie deal with the Lions on Monday for $35.7 million, including a $23.1 million signing bonus. By the way, that deal is fully guaranteed. That’s a difference of $29.5 million. He will be paid $23.8 million in cash this year, which is the second most in the entire league among defensive ends, second only to Travon Walker, who went No. 1 overall. Danielle Hunter is third at $19.7 million. Odeyingbo ranked 53rd among defensive ends last year. He ranks 106th this year.

That’s a staggering difference. And that’s just a rough estimate of the difference because Hutchinson could have slid even further if he was unable to participate fully in the pre draft process, including the combine and his pro day. Maybe teams would have knocked him for a lack of production. He only had 4.5 sacks during his 2019 season and didn’t record one in 2020 before he got injured.

It was a miraculous year for Hutchinson and I have no doubt his talent would have eventually won out. That being said, this is a truly unusual situation and it is nice to see an injury lead to something positive for once. Way too often, we see injuries derail careers. Hopefully, we will get more stories like Hutchinson’s in the future.

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NFL Draft Daily: Should teams consider waiting on quarterbacks in 2022?

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.

I cannot remember a time where this many teams had a need at quarterback at the same time in the NFL. The list of teams that could potentially have a new starter or spend a premium draft pick on a quarterback is long. The Steelers, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Eagles, Giants, Broncos, Texans, Lions, Seahawks and Washington are all facing questions about the future at the position. Maybe even the Raiders and Vikings belong in that conversation. Some have aging veterans to replace, some have recent draft picks that have not worked out and some have disgruntled stars who could be on the move.

Ben Roethlisberger is expected to retire at the end of the season. (Wikimedia Commons)

That puts a ton of focus on the upcoming NFL draft. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst quarterback classes in some time. That doesn’t mean none of these quarterbacks will be good. In fact, there is a surprising amount of depth to this quarterback class. However, there are no slam dunk picks in this draft class as of right now. Maybe someone will separate themselves during the pre-draft process, but we don’t have a Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence or Kyler Murray level prospect. Honestly, none of them even come close.

So that begs the question, should teams punt on this year’s quarterback class? There is not a one-size fits all answer, even though I am tempted to just say yes. For a team like the Lions, using the first-round pick they have from the Rams on a quarterback could make some sense, especially if it is someone like Malik Willis, who definitely needs some time on the bench to develop, but brings rare physical traits. Jared Goff is still under contract for 2022 and that team is nowhere near competing for a wildcard spot, much less a title. Taking Willis or grabbing someone like Sam Howell or Desmond Ridder at the top of the second round should not prevent Detroit from taking a top quarterback prospect if they end up in the top five again next season. Suddenly, those other players become valuable trade chips. Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen both netted second-round picks and they both looked awful leading up to that point.

On the other hand, for teams like the Texans or Giants. I don’t like the idea of drafting a quarterback in this class. Reaching to take Matt Corral or Kenny Pickett in the first round does not raise that team’s ceiling all that much. At this point, I would rather spend another year with Davis Mills or Daniel Jones while continuing to amass talent around the quarterback position.

Lawrence has thrown just one touchdown pass since the start of November. (Wikimedia Commons)

And this is the real crux of why I think it makes sense to wait on a quarterback: situation matters. Mac Jones is thriving in New England right now and may even win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Does that mean he is a better quarterback than Trevor Lawrence or that the Jaguars should have taken him No. 1 overall? Probably not. I have a feeling Lawrence would be crushing it in New England as well. The Patriots have a top-flight defense, the best coaching staff in the league and a strong running game to help Jones. Lawrence has none of those things in Jacksonville.

At this point, for teams that are not ready to challenge for division titles and playoff spots, it just doesn’t make sense to grab a quarterback and figure everything else out later. If one of the quarterbacks in this class slides to the Steelers and goes on to have a great career, will people point out that other teams could have drafted him? Yes, absolutely. However, it is incredibly unlikely that these players would find the same success because the support cast around them is so much worse.

The Giants will have to decide this offseason if they want to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option. (Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s use the Giants as an example. Fans are fed up with Daniel Jones, and for good reason. He has not shown much progress since his rookie season and is frustratingly inconsistent. However, if you put Corral behind that offensive line next season and expect him to fare much better, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you. New York has never been able to surround Jones with the right talent to succeed. Even when the front office has spent big, it has been on injury-prone stars who cannot stay on the field. At full strength, the Giants offense should be great, but we rarely ever see Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley on the field together. And even when they are, Jones rarely has enough time to get them the ball. Not to mention Jones has not had the best coaching in his career either.

If you’ve read this site long enough, you know I am a big proponent of investing in the offensive line. It is the key to being a successful football team. So if I am the Giants, Steelers, Texans, Panthers or Washington, I am investing in the offensive line in this draft class and waiting until 2023 to find my long-term answer at quarterback. Plus, veteran options like Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater will likely be available to help bridge the gap. I would rather wait until 2023, when players like Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud will headline the draft class. What’s more, this is a great draft for offensive linemen and defensive talent. Teams will regret reaching for quarterbacks and missing out on those elite prospects.

Rookie quarterbacks are one of the hottest commodities in all sports, especially first-rounders. When you have a young quarterback on a controlled salary, you create a five-year window where you can compete for a title and spend whatever money is needed to build a successful roster around that player. I would rather spend the money and draft capital ahead of time to create a situation where a rookie quarterback is capable of thriving. For those who are going to say any team built like that would be too good to draft a top quarterback, may I remind you that the Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes, the Texans traded up for Deshaun Watson, the Ravens traded back into the first round to grab Lamar Jackson at No. 32 and that Mac Jones fell into the Patriots’ laps at No. 15. You don’t always need to tank to find your quarterback of the future.

In short, I think it is time the NFL changes its roster-building technique. Teams who are consistently successful draft the best players available and find value in veteran contracts when it comes to free agency. New England went 7-9 before turning things around with a 9-4 record so far and that was after losing the greatest quarterback of all time. Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in his tenure as the Steelers head coach. Even if he does have one this year, Pittsburgh should still be in the mix to reach the playoffs in 2022 because the rest of the roster is still pretty talented, with the exception of the offensive line. Even the Saints, who have started three different quarterbacks this season due to injury, are only one game under .500. They have a really strong core, a good coaching staff and a front-office who, mostly, invests well in the draft.

I’m not saying that teams should stop drafting quarterbacks in the first-round, but let’s not force it when it isn’t there. This isn’t a good quarterback class. It pales in comparison to the 2021 group, but most would. I am looking forward to ranking all the quarterbacks from recent class when I am done grading this current group. I think that will be really eye-opening regarding its relative strength.

Until then, just build in the trenches and everything will be fine.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Eagles have three picks in top 10, three teams find new QBs

Prior to 2021, we would be reaching the halfway point of the NFL regular season right. With a 17th game, there is no clean midway point of the season, so this is still close enough. The league standings are starting to take shape and it is clear which teams should start thinking about which players they could draft come April.

I am so excited that mock draft season is heating up. With tons of college football action already in the books, we are starting to get a sense for who the top prospects in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft will be. We still have a long way to go though before final rankings are in or the draft order is even set, so this more about starting to familiarize ourselves with upcoming team needs on the NFL side and players to watch as the college season continues.

This is the most up-to-date draft order according to Tankathon through the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. The outcome of Chiefs-Giants on Monday night will likely see each team slide a couple spots in either direction.

With the trade deadline right around the corner, it will be interesting to see if any of these teams’ needs change, but for right now, this is which players I could see teams targeting when the draft rolls around.

1. Detroit Lions (0-8) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
It is hard to find much to be positive about following a 44-6 loss. However, it moves the Lions one step closer to landing an elite edge rusher in Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Oregon star has been incredibly disruptive this season, racking up sacks and tackles for loss while just generally wreaking havoc. He would immediately provide a boost to this overmatched Detroit defense. Dan Campbell will love his motor and his nose for the football.

2. Houston Texans (1-7) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Houston’s secondary is a mess. The trio of Desmond King, Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves do not inspire much confidence for the future, nor have they done much to deserve to stick on the roster past the 2021 season. Derek Stingley Jr. will have some questions to answer in the pre-draft process after missing much of this season due to injury. When healthy though, he is a sticky cover man with good physical traits and above average instincts. If he can return to the level he played at in 2019, when LSU won a national title, he will be a very good corner in the NFL.

3. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (1-7) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Miami is probably really regretting trading away their first-round pick right about now. Philadelphia will be happy to jump on an elite edge prospect who is drawing comparisons to J.J. Watt. He missed much of the 2020 season due to a broken leg and it might have been a really good thing for him. He has been on a tear in 2021, demonstrating good pass rush moves and overwhelming opposing offensive tackles. I would be surprised if he made it out of the top 10 with the production and tape he has put together this season.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
This is a perfect example of need meeting value and talent for the Jaguars. Evan Neal is built like a small mountain or a very large human being. Measuring in at 6’7″, 360 pounds, he checks all the physical boxes for a prototypical left tackle in the NFL. He also brings above average athleticism for the position, especially given his size. He brings a ton of experience going up against top-end competition in the SEC at both tackle spots in his college career. Trevor Lawrence needs to be protected and this is a smart move to accomplish that goal.

5. Washington Football Team (2-6) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Another week, another lackluster showing from the Washington offense. Taylor Heinicke is not the only reason for those struggles, with the offensive line and running game failing to provide much help, but it is clear Washington needs a new quarterback. Malik Willis brings the best physical tools of any quarterback in this class. He has a huge arm with impressive elusiveness and burst as a runner. There is no question he is a bit of a project at this point. He holds onto the ball for far too long in the pocket and needs to learn when to get rid of it. Given his running ability and the lack of talent around him, he rarely works through more than one or two reads. Given time though, Willis could end up being a high-end NFL starter.

6. New York Jets (2-5) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Despite another improbable victory, the Jets offensive is still a work in progress, especially along the interior. Greg Van Roten turns 32 this offseason and could be a cap casualty. Kenyon Green could step in and start from day 1 in his place. He has experience at both tackle and guard in his college career, which could come in handy given Mekhi Becton’s injury history. Zach Wilson has been one of the most pressured and hit quarterbacks in the league this year. Green could help solidify an improving unit.

7. New York Giants (2-5) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
The Giants will be disappointed Green lands with the team that shares their stadium, but it allows them to grab the electric George Karlaftis. He would be an excellent complement to Azeez Ojulari, giving New York an exciting young duo of pass rushers. So far this year, Joe Judge’s defense ranks 30th in pass-rush win rate. Karlaftis has a quick first step and some impressive pass rush moves. He has room for improvement in the run game, but is incredibly disruptive. Most of his reps come with his hand on the ground, but he could operate a standup rusher if needed.

8. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
A dynamic, ball-hawking safety would be a great addition to the Eagles secondary. Kyle Hamilton could very well be off the board before this spot, given his range and versatility in coverage schemes. He has already flashed his speed this season on a couple of remarkable plays. I am always a bit skeptical of drafting a safety this high given the positional value, but Hamilton is a complete package with the ability to drastically change the outlook of this defense. Philly definitely needs to rebuild the defense.

9. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (3-5) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Let’s keep rebuilding this defense. I expect that Philadelphia will likely trade one of these picks away, but I’m not ready to project mock draft trades in early November. Assuming they stay put, grabbing a toolsy linebacker to play at really any of their linebacker spots. I don’t think it is unfair to say that there is not an NFL starting-caliber linebacker on the Eagles’ roster right now. Devin Lloyd is one of my favorite prospects in this draft cycle. He is very aggressive and athletic. I expect him to be a playmaker at the next level with the speed to hang in coverage.

10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (3-5) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
After addressing the offensive line with their first pick of this draft, New York goes defense to find another corner to pair with Bryce Hall. There is still a chance one of their young defensive backs could develop, but Ahmad Gardner is a better prospect than anyone the Jets have in their secondary right now. He is big and long at 6’3″ with plus ball skills. He has been a major part of Cincinnati’s impressive season. While Robert Saleh’s scheme does not prioritize corners, finding two long, athletic corners to run the system with would only increase its effectiveness.

11. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (3-5) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Five of the first 11 picks belong to the Eagles, Jets and Giants right now. Fun time to be a scout in the tri-state area. New York grabs an edge rusher at No. 7, so this time they go to the other side of the line of scrimmage. With Nick Gates suffering a potentially career-ending injury earlier this year Dave Gettleman attempting to rebuild the interior of his offensive line with castoffs on the trade block, center feels like a big need. Tyler Linderbaum is one of the fastest interior linemen that I have ever watched. He is great as a pulling blocker and operates well in space. He would be a welcome addition to the offense for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.

12. Atlanta Falcons (3-4) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Unquestionably, Grady Jarrett needs some help along the Falcons defensive line. Atlanta struggles to rush the passer and has gotten very little production from anyone other than Jarrett. DeMarvin Leal is a talented defensive lineman who can play as a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle. He sets the edge well and shows a good initial punch at the point of attack. He would definitely command some attention, which would open things up more for Jarrett.

13. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (3-4) – Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA
There are a few directions the Dolphins could head here. I think the urge to move on from Tua Tagovailoa is fading slightly even though Miami continues to lose. Honestly, Tua seems to be very far from the problem right now. The Dolphins’ offensive line is the worst in the league in terms of pass-block win rate. That has to be the focal point in the draft and free agency. Sean Rhyan is an intriguing prospect with really impressive agility and technique. He keeps the play in front of him and understands blocking angles. He could potentially be Miami’s long-term answer at left tackle, Austin Jackson continues to struggle.

14. Minnesota Vikings (3-4) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
I know it is a running joke right now and fans will push back, but it is hard to see who else the Vikings truly trust at corner outside of Patrick Peterson. Neither Bashaud Breeland nor Mackensie Alexander has done much to indicate they have what it takes to start on the outside. Andrew Booth Jr. would give Minnesota a projectable starter in 2022 and beyond. Putting him in a position to learn from Peterson while he acclimates to the NFL would be a phenomenal situation for him. He checks all the boxes from a measurables standpoint as well.

15. Kansas City Chiefs (3-4) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
While the offense has not been good this season, the Chiefs defense might be the worst in the league. They lack playmakers at every level. Most notably, Kansas City ranks dead last in run-stop win rate this season. Bringing in Christian Harris should help get this defense back on track. He is incredibly athletic, flying around the field. 10 years ago, Harris likely would have been a safety in the NFL. He is one of those new-age linebackers that brings a ton of speed and coverage ability to the position. He has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to reading his keys and finishing tackles, but his athletic profile makes him an exciting prospect.

16. New England Patriots (3-4) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
It is a little too early for a safety and the top three corners are already off the board, so the Patriots opt to protect Mac Jones instead. Isaiah Wynn is playing well enough to keep his job, so Charles Cross could be in line to start at right tackle in 2022. Trent Brown has not played since the season opener and will be a free agent following the season. Neither Justin Herron nor Yasir Durant has done much to indicate they should be the long-term starter. Cross is one of the best run blockers in this draft with a lot to like in pass protection as well. He struggles when opponents work across his face, but he can anchor and stem pass rushing moves. With a bit of polishing, he could be a really strong starter.

17. Denver Broncos (3-4) – Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
I would be shocked if Denver went into 2022 with Teddy Bridgewater as the unquestioned starter. He has been serviceable, but far from impressive enough to indicate that he should be the starter long term. Matt Corral would be a fun prospect for the Broncos to work with. He has played at a high level in 2021, piloting a high-scoring Ole Miss offense. He is a dual threat player, scoring 23 touchdowns this season, including eight on the ground. He has cut down on the interceptions this year, which is a huge improvement, but there is still plenty of upside left for him to tap into.

18. Cleveland Browns (4-3) – Drake London, WR, USC
Two years ago, the idea of the Browns spending a first-round pick on a wide receiver would have seemed outlandish. However, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry continuing to show signs that their best football is behind them, Cleveland will be searching for Baker Mayfield’s new top target. Drake London is not for everyone, but he can be a game-changing player with his ability to adjust to balls in midair and make catches away from his body. If you throw it within his zip code, he has the size and ball skills to bring it in. There is room for improvement as a route runner, but he would be a very reliable option for Mayfield to work with in this offense.

19. Carolina Panthers (4-4) – Darian Kinnard, G, Kentucky
Quarterback is definitely a possibility here given Sam Darnold’s struggles this season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina targeted a veteran passer to fill the void. The team has been heavily linked to Deshaun Watson after all. No matter who is quarterback for the Panthers next year, he will need to have an improved offensive line front of him. Darian Kinnard is a vicious run blocker with plenty of power. He starts at right tackle for Kentucky, but his skill set definitely points towards him fitting best on the interior at the next level. Kinnard is a bit raw and will likely need some seasoning before he can truly contribute, but the upside given his physical traits is enormous.

20. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Los Angeles has struggled against the run this season. Linval Joseph is 33 and will be a free agent at the end of the season. Jordan Davis is more than capable of plugging the hole, literally and figuratively. He is a people mover with good athleticism for a man his size. He has been a menace this season in that Georgia defense. Every once in a while, he will simply bench press an opposing interior lineman to crash the pocket. That is something the Chargers desperately need.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) – Carson Strong, QB, Nevada
Ben Roethlisberger is doing just enough to keep the Steelers offense afloat. While Pittsburgh assuredly needs help along the offensive line, they also need a succession plan for their 39-year-old quarterback. If Mike Tomlin wants to keep a similar playstyle, Carson Strong is an excellent fit in this scheme. He is a big, strong-armed pocket passer who can hit the far hashes. He has work to do on his deep ball, but he has nice touch on his intermediate passes. Unfortunately, Strong brings little to the table with his legs, but he can move around the pocket to extend plays, keeping his eyes downfield whenever he does. He would slot into this offensive nicely.

22. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
While Cincinnati seems to have unearthed a diamond in the rough with Chidobe Awuzie, the rest of the cornerback room is subpar. As demonstrated on Sunday, when the Bengals surrendered more than 400 yards to Mike White, the pass defense is still a work in progress. Kaiir Elam would give Cincy a long corner with good speed to play on the outside. He still has some room for improvement in zone coverage, but his physical traits bode well for success in the NFL. If Awuzie can keep this up, the Bengals would suddenly have a pretty imposing cornerback duo.

23. New Orleans Saints (5-2) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Quarterback is a clear need, but I don’t have a first-round grade on anyone other than Willis, Strong or Corral right now. Instead of reaching for someone like Desmond Ridder, New Orleans can grab a talented receiver. As evidenced by Kevin White leading the team in receiving yards against the Buccaneers, the Saints need help at the position, even when Michael Thomas returns. Garrett Wilson is a smooth route runner with impressive production to match. He would be an interesting addition to a receiving corps that would feature Thomas, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris when healthy.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
Quickly rising up draft boards, Roger McCreary is playing some good football in 2021. In his latest outing, he had five tackles and two pass deflections against a talented Ole Miss offense. The six-foot tall senior is turning some heads with his athleticism and production on the outside playing against top competition in the SEC. With Tampa Bay’s defense struggling all year long, especially in the secondary, McCreary would be a welcome addition. With Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting still in place, McCreary would not have to start right away, but could provide some much-needed depth and develop into a starter down the line with both Dean and Murphy-Bunting set to hit free agency in 2023.

25. Buffalo Bills (5-2) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Buffalo already has a super reliable possession receiver capable of giving defensive backs nightmares with his route running ability. Why not add someone capable of taking the top off? That’s not to say Chris Olave isn’t also a good route runner in his own right. He is one of the more polished players in this year’s class, opting to return to school after drawing first-round consideration a year ago. Olave is not the most physically imposing receiver in this class, but he brings an exciting blend of size and speed that has led to a very productive college career. He could take over for Emmanuel Sanders, who will be out of contract after the season.

26. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) – Nicolas Petit-FrΓ¨re, OT, Ohio State
The Raiders have pieced together an impressive first half of the season despite having one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Las Vegas tore apart what had been a strong unit in 2020, trading away or cutting all five of its starters and drafting Alex Leatherwood in the first round. It remains to be seen if Leatherwood can really compete at tackle or if he might be best suited for a move inside. Meanwhile, Nicolas Petit-Frere has been crushing it for Ohio State in his first season at left tackle. His experience at right tackle only increases his value. With good size and ample experience, he could continue to move up draft boards.

27. Dallas Cowboys (6-1) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Dallas’ defense has been a revelation this year following a historically bad 2020 campaign. Still, there are definitely areas for improvement. The biggest one that stands out is safety. Donovan Wilson and Damontae Kazee are serviceable, but Daxton Hill has a much higher ceiling than either of those two players. He is the latest nickel corner-safety combo, showing an ability to disrupt plays in multiple roles. His versatility and athleticism would both be welcome in the Cowboys secondary.

28. Green Bay Packers (7-1) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Maybe I should learn my lesson and stop mocking receivers to the Packers in the first round. Aaron Rodgers showed on Thursday he can win with pretty much anyone catching passes. While Za’Darius Smith should return from injury soon, he is also a potential cap casualty this offseason, saving the team over $15 million in cap space if they cut or trade him. Keeping him at a $28 million cap hit feels untenable. That could put the Packers in the market for an edge rusher. Drake Jackson has the body type and quickness to excel as a standup pass rusher. He could help improve a Green Bay defense that ranks 22nd in pass-rush win rate.

29. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
After trading away Orlando Brown Jr. and seeing Ronnie Stanley suffer a second-straight season ending injury, tackle feels like a pressing need for the Ravens. Alejandro Villanueva is a stop-gap solution and he has had his fair share of struggles this season. Trevor Penning could be the long-term answer at right tackle with the experience to fill in for Stanley if he were to go down again. He is powerful and should fit well into Baltimore’s run-heavy approach. He might need a little bit of time to get up to speed coming from the FCS, but he handled himself well against Iowa State, which points to that being a shorter ramp up period than you might expect.

30. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (6-1) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
No team in the league needs receiver help more than the Lions. Detroit’s top two receivers this year are T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, neither of whom are wide receivers. I am a fan of Amon-Ra St. Brown long term, but Jared Goff needs someone to target now. It is hard to miss Treylon Burks at 6’3″. At that size, it would be easy to assume he was a possession or jump-ball receiver, but he has the athleticism to be a true No. 1 option. The biggest concern is how he fares against elite competition. Georgia’s defense held him to just three catches for 10 yards, but he was hardly the only Arkansas player to struggle in that game. It seems to be an outlier in what has otherwise been a stellar season.

31. Tennessee Titans (6-2) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Considering that the Titans are leading the AFC at the moment after wins over the Bills, Chiefs and Colts, this team does not have too many holes. However, linebacker is definitely one of them. Rashaan Evans has been very underwhelming this year and it simply feels unacceptable for a Mike Vrabel coached team to have subpar linebacker play. Adding Nakobe Dean would instantly change this defense. He is an effective blitzer with a nose for the football. He even flashed his coverage ability with a pick-six against Florida. Adding a dynamic player to the middle of this defense would help it take a step in the right direction.

32. Arizona Cardinals (7-1) – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The Cardinals are a miscommunicated route away from being 8-0 right now. While Arizona has been one of the more surprising teams this season, especially defensively, its secondary has some question marks. Robert Alford has played well, but he turns 33 today (Happy Birthday) and is set to be a free agent after the season. Meanwhile, Byron Murphy has yet to really live up to the hype. Arizona could opt to return for another Washington corner to continue building out this group. Trent McDuffie might not be the biggest player on the field, but he meets my threshold for size when it comes to scouting perimeter corners. He also flies around the field, blowing up plays with his incredible closing speed and explosiveness. He would be fun to watch in Vance Joseph’s defense.

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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.

Way-Too-Early 2022 NFL Mock Draft: Texans, Lions, Giants and Washington go quarterback in Round 1

Already thinking about 2022? That’s the Jets fan in me. Always getting ready for the next draft. Gives me something to talk about every December and January when New York is out of playoff contention.

Anyway, I am just starting the process of watching film of the class of 2022. A few players I am familiar with after scouting them prior to them deciding to return to school. Then of course, names like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal and Derek Stingley Jr. are known around college football because of their five-star status coming out of high school. Mix in a few quarterbacks and a bunch of receivers and we have an intriguing class.

The 2022 draft will likely look nothing like this. This is mostly just an exercise to identify some of the top players for next year and potential team needs on the NFL side. It’s also a lot of fun if you ask me. It makes it really interesting to go back and compare to the real draft a year later. I’ve been doing that with my first 2021 mock the past few days.

I did not decide the draft order. It is based on Super Bowl odds provided by William Hill. If you don’t like where your team is picking, take it up with them.

Without further ado, let’s dive into my first mock for the 2022 NFL draft.

1. Houston Texans (200-1) – Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Apologies to Davis Mills, but if the Texans are picking first overall, I don’t see them passing on a quarterback. Spencer Rattler is the latest Oklahoma quarterback to draw national attention. He is a front-runner for the Heisman and should have the Sooners in position to challenge for the College Football Playoff. A quick glance at his 2020 tape will show some inconsistent performances early in the season, but his arm talent is impressive. It is very early in the scouting process for 2022, but Rattler has the early lead for QB1.

2. Detroit Lions (150-1) – Sam Howell, QB, UNC
Detroit opted not to take one of the quarterbacks in the 2021 draft, passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones. If the Lions ended up with the second pick in the 2022 draft, you can bet that Jared Goff did not transition well to the Motor City. Sam Howell is a bit undersized, but has a live arm and is not afraid to air it out. It will be interesting to see how he fares with so much of his supporting cast now in the NFL. Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome all were drafted over the weekend.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (100-1) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Possibly the best cornerback prospect to come out since Jalen Ramsey, Derek Stingley Jr. is a reliable, sticky cover corner. He locates the ball well in coverage and does an excellent job pressing off the line. There are a few instances in his play where he grabs receivers after getting beat off the line, but overall, he is a great player. For Cincinnati, who lost William Jackson III in free agency this year, he would fill a huge need.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (100-1) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
When you have your franchise quarterback, it is best to invest in protecting him. Evan Neal is a mountain of a man who moves like someone 100 pounds lighter than him. He has yet to play left tackle at Alabama, but should take over the position this season with Alex Leatherwood heading to the NFL. Jacksonville can get by for a year with Cam Robinson playing on the franchise tag, but he will likely be gone next year, creating a huge opening on Trevor Lawrence’s blindside.

5. New York Jets (100-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Independent of position, Kayvon Thibodeaux is the top player in this class. After dominating his freshman season, Thibodeaux had a much more modest 2020, posting three sacks in seven games. His size and speed make him one of the most coveted prospects in this class. New York has been in search of a dominant pass rusher for well over a decade. Thibodeaux has the potential to wreak havoc in Robert Saleh’s scheme.

6. New York Giants (75-1) – Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
If the Giants are picking this high, Daniel Jones’ days in New York are likely numbered. Dave Gettleman has surrounded him with a lot of offensive talent, signing Kenny Golladay and drafting Kadarius Toney. There are no more excuses. Assuming New York is searching for a new quarterback, Kedon Slovis could be a great fit. He wowed as a freshman before turning in a rockier sophomore campaign. If he can cut down on his turnovers and regain his 2019 form, he will be challenging for the top quarterback spot in this class.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (75-1) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Philly missed out on the top corners in the 2021 draft. This team has a huge need across from Darius Slay. Kaiir Elam could be the perfect player to fill it. He is long at 6’2″ and has good speed in the open field. His eye discipline is impressive from the limited film I’ve watched so far. I’ve also appreciate his willingness to make contact as a tackler. He is not afraid to hit people.

8. Las Vegas Raiders (70-1) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
After cutting Maurice Hurst and ignoring the position in the draft, the Raiders have a massive need at defensive tackle. Enter DeMarvin Leal. He is built like a prototypical three-technique tackle. His first step is good and he has a nose for the football. Even if he doesn’t get home, his presence is felt as a pass rusher. Las Vegas would benefit big time from having him on the interior of its defensive line.

9. Carolina Panthers (60-1) – Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
I thought the Panthers might select an offensive tackle early in this past draft. They did grab Brady Christiansen in the third round, but that is not enough to make me think they couldn’t use more help. Zion Nelson worked his way into the starting left tackle role at Miami in 2020 and excelled. He brings all the size teams are looking for at the position and could be Carolina’s starting left tackle in 2022 in this scenario.

10. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (50-1) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
After selecting a quarterback, Dave Gettleman turns to the defense here. Christian Harris is a do-it-all playmaker. He can drop in coverage like a safety or make plays around the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. He already has two years of experience as a starter in Alabama’s defense under his belt. The Giants would benefit from his sideline-to-sideline range.

11. Atlanta Falcons (50-1) – Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State
I like what the Falcons did in the 2021 draft, but they still have yet to address their need on the edge. Zach Harrison has been used primarily as a situational rusher up to this point, but has the length to excel in a 4-3 defensive end role. He came on strong towards the end of the year for the Buckeyes and could be poised for a true breakout season in 2021.

12. Washington Football Team (50-1) – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Washington crushed the 2021 draft, at least on paper. They filled some needs and built quality depth across the roster. However, they still do not have a plan for the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke are currently the only two options on the roster. Desmond Ridder earned some late first-round love before opting to return to school. He is big and mobile. Without question, there are some mechanics you would like to see him improve, but he has enough tools to be in the first-round conversation.

13. Minnesota Vikings (40-1) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The last time Minnesota drafted a safety from Notre Dame in the first round worked out pretty well for them. Harrison Smith is now 32 though and Anthony Harris departed in free agency. Kyle Hamilton led the Irish in tackles this season. At 6’4″, 219 pounds, he could probably fit into a hybrid linebacker roll in today’s NFL. He started all year at safety for Notre Dame, but he can move around the formation and make plays. The Vikings will sign up for that.

14. Arizona Cardinals (40-1) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Arizona is relying on a number of veteran players to produce in pass rushing situations this year. J.J. Watt is 32 and Chandler Jones is 31. The team could use some youth on the outside. Drake Jackson had a quieter 2021 season after picking up 5.5 sacks as a freshman. He is a bit of a tweener, able to line up as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. His versatility could boost his draft stock as the year rolls on.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (35-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Few teams need offensive line help like the Steelers. Charles Cross started all 10 games at left tackle for Mississippi State in 2020. He checks all the boxes from a physical perspective and should be set for another year of facing elite competition in the SEC.

16. Los Angeles Chargers (35-1) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Chris Olave was a borderline first-round player before returning to school. He was Justin Fields’ favorite target and will form one of the nation’s best receiver duos with Garrett Wilson in 2021. It will be interesting to see if Olave can gel as quickly with Ohio State’s new starting quarterback.

17. Tennessee Titans (30-1) – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Tennessee built some quality depth with Senior Bowl standouts Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath in the 2021 draft. Maybe one of them will develop into a quality starter, but outside of A.J. Brown, this team is lacking in proven options. George Pickens is a bit of a question mark at the moment. He had surgery on a torn ACL in April and will likely miss most, if not all of the 2021 season. His game tape from the previous two years is impressive though and at 6’5″, he will have plenty of suitors in the NFL.

18. New England Patriots (30-1) – Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
Rumors continue to fly about the future of Stephon Gilmore. The team could be betting on the development of 2019 second-round pick Joejaun Williams, but I think corner will be one of the team’s top needs next year. Josh Jobe is a physical corner with good size. He will get a chance to be Alabama’s No. 1 option with Patrick Surtain II now in the NFL.

19. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (28-1) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
At 6’6″, 330 pounds, Jordan Davis is a problem. Philly can continue to rebuild its defense with a high-upside space eater. Davis is quicker than most people his size should be. He is routinely double teamed and does well at not allowing offensive linemen into his body. He could be in for a monster season at Georgia.

20. Dallas Cowboys (28-1) – Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
Dallas missed out on the top corners in this draft class, so I have to imagine they would target one next year if given the chance. Sevyn Banks is a long, fluid defensive back coming off a solid season at Ohio State. He needs to work on his open-field tackling. The effort and form is lacking right now. His coverage skills are well above average. I am looking forward to watching more of him.

21. New Orleans Saints (25-1) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Saints went heavy on defense in the draft, but they still need to find a receiver to complement Michael Thomas. Why not return to his alma mater? Garrett Wilson was arguably the better Ohio State receiver this past season. His production took a dive in the second half of the year though. If Wilson can replicate his hot start and this time maintain it, he will be in the conversation to be the first receiver selected.

22. Indianapolis Colts (25-1) – Thayer Munford, OT, Ohio State
Indy essentially passed on the offensive tackle class this year. I expect Chris Ballard will find a veteran stop-gap option, but a long-term solution is still needed. Thayer Munford enters his fifth season with the Buckeyes having already played in 46 collegiate games. He has been rock solid and should be among the top linemen selected next year.

23. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (25-1) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Building in the trenches is often a recipe for success. After grabbing the top edge rusher in the class, Joe Douglas grabs the top interior linemen. Kenyon Green has a mean streak and was an All-American in 2020. He certainly passes the eye test to be an NFL lineman and looks like a reliable pass blocker in the limited tape I’ve watched so far. He would continue to solidify the Jets offensive line in an effort to protect Zach Wilson.

24. Denver Broncos (20-1) – Perrion Winfrey, DL, Oklahoma
Anyone else surprised to see the Broncos picking this late? Who am I to doubt Vegas though. Denver’s biggest need is an edge rusher, but there aren’t any I think are worth going here that fits Vic Fangio’s scheme. Instead, they grab a versatile defensive lineman to prepare for the future. Perrion Winfrey picked up steam as the 2020 season rolled on. He finished the year with six tackles for loss and solidified himself in the starting lineup.

25. Cleveland Browns (18-1) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
It is hard to find many clear needs for this Browns team on paper. Jadeveon Clowney is on a one-year deal though, so finding a replacement would make sense. Aidan Hutchinson is a prototypical 4-3 end. He had his season cut short in 2020 due to injury, but should be ready to bounce back.

26. Green Bay Packers (16-1) – John Metchie, WR, Alabama
Another Alabama wide receiver goes in the first round. John Metchie will get his chance to shine after sitting behind an all-star group of receivers over the past two years. That’s not to say Metchie hasn’t made plays either. He finished 2020 with close to 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. This year, he will be “the guy” though in this offense. For Green Bay, he would be a great No. 2 option across from Davante Adams with every single receiver, other than recently-drafted Amari Rodgers, set to be a free agent next offseason.

27. Baltimore Ravens (14-1) – Cade Mays, G, Tennessee
The Ravens took big Ben Cleveland to develop along the interior of the offensive line. Kevin Zeitler is 31 and Bradley Bozeman is a free agent after the season, so this is still a potential need. Plus, building in the trenches is always smart. Cade Mays is a former five-star recruit with great size and tons of experience. He would be up for the task of keeping Lamar Jackson healthy.

28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams (14-1) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Detroit grabbed its quarterback of the future and now can find him a weapon to develop with. Treylon Burks was one of the top receivers in the SEC in 2020. He has a big frame with good run after the catch ability. He could be primed for a huge season and a rise up draft boards.

29. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (14-1) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
One of my favorite players in this draft class, I’ve been tracking Devin Lloyd since 2019. He is fast and diagnoses plays well. Utah moves him all over the formation to create confusion. He is best as an off-ball linebacker, but he has shown some ability to rush the passer as well. For Miami, I think Lloyd would challenge for a starting spot right away and that Brian Flores would get the most out of him.

30. Buffalo Bills (13-1) – Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M
Buffalo stacked up on defense in 2021, but still has a clear need at tight end. Jalen Wydermyer is the best one in the class and has the production to back it up. He would be another receiving option for Josh Allen and could cause headaches for opposing defenses with his size and speed.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-2) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Even after drafting Joe Tryon, Tampa could go edge rusher again to help lessen the blow of impending free agents. George Karlaftis had a truncated 2020 season between injury and COVID-19. However, he absolutely dominated in 2019, posting 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a true freshman. If he can get back to that type of disruptor in 2021, he will not still be on the board by pick 31.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (21-4) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Kansas City rebuilt its offensive line this offseason, which means it can turn its attention back to the defense. Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are both free agents after this season and the Chiefs do not have much proven depth. Andrew Booth Jr. could step in as a potential starter at one of those two corner spots. He is incredibly athletic and should have a chance to prove himself this year as Clemson’s top corner.

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