2022 NFL Mock Draft: Georgia and Alabama players dominate first round following national championship game

College football is officially in offseason mode. While it is obviously sad we won’t have college football to fill up our Saturdays anymore, it was a thrilling season, capped off with an exciting championship game. Now, we shift our focus even more so to the upcoming NFL draft, as many players who featured in Monday’s game expect to hear their names called early on draft night.

One of the unfortunate storylines of the night though was the non-contact knee injury suffered by Jameson Williams. This came just about a month after his partner in crime, John Metchie III, tore his ACL in the SEC title game. Both were potential top-50 picks, with Williams rising into the top 10 for several draft experts. With such a serious injury this late in the season, I wonder if he might not be better off returning to school for his senior year. Williams would still likely garner significant draft interest, but this likely hurts his stock. With so much uncertainty surrounding the situation right now, I left him out of the first round until I know more.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, 18 teams are officially in offseason mode as well, with the remaining 14 gearing up for the postseason. There are definitely some changes since my last mock draft as I’ve continued to sift through film and the draft order has changed based on the final few results of the NFL regular season.

We still have a long way to go until we reach the draft in Las Vegas, but the pre draft process is just beginning to heat up. Players are accepting Senior Bowl invites, which is coming up at the beginning of February in Mobile, Alabama. Plus, the East-West Shrine Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl are also just weeks away.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my first mock of 2022. The draft order is according to Tankathon.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville had a fun Week 18, stunning the Colts to keep them out of the playoffs and still holding onto the No. 1 pick. With that top selection, it is hard to overlook Aidan Hutchinson. This Jaguars defense, outside of a surprising six-sack showing to close the season, has struggled to generate pressure. Hutchinson will give the Jags a nightmarish duo with Josh Allen playing opposite him.

2. Detroit Lions (3-13-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (4-13) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Houston could head a number of directions here. I personally love Ahmad Gardner, who has the makings of a lockdown corner. I’ve talked about it before, but it is impossible to be a true No. 1 corner in the NFL without length. The threshold seems to be right around 5’11”. Gardner is 6’3″ and moves exceptionally well for someone that size. He will need some coaching to improve his man coverage technique, but already dominates as a zone corner. He would give the Texans a talented defensive back to rebuild the defense around.

4. New York Jets (4-13) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
While the Jets might have more pressing needs, Evan Neal is too big a talent to overlook. Literally. At 6’7″, 340 pounds, the Jets could potentially bookend their offensive line with massive tackles to protect Zach Wilson now and into the future. Neal played at right tackle prior to taking over at left tackle in 2021. With Morgan Moses and George Fant headed for free agency, this makes a ton of sense as well. If one or both of them is back, then that could reshuffle New York’s priorities in the draft.

5. New York Giants (4-13) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Dave Gettleman may have retired, but the Giants could take a page out of his book and do what he always promised: build an offensive line. Ikem Ekwonu is a nasty run blocker with impressive power. He has room for growth in pass protection, but all the physical tools to excel. Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones would both greatly benefit from his addition.

6. Carolina Panthers (5-12) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Carolina needs a quarterback, but I don’t have a first-round grade on any of the passers in this class at the moment. Instead, the Panthers can rebuild an offensive line that was among the worst in the league in 2021. Tyler Linderbaum is an athletic center who can get out in space to lead the way on outside runs and screen plays. That bodes well for a team with Christian McCaffrey. Make no mistake though, Linderbaum is still capable of putting defenders on their back if they aren’t careful.

7. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (6-11) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
New York continues to build in the trenches with their second pick in the top 10. George Karlaftis is not quite on the same level as the top two edge rushers in this class, but he has a great first step off the edge and some enticing physical tools. He has the versatility to play with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 alignment or stand up on the edge in sub packages. This would give the Giants an exciting pairing on the edge with Azeez Ojulari.

8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) – Drake London, WR, USC
Will Calvin Ridley return to the Falcons? We’ve not seen the former first-round pick since October as he stepped away from his mental health. Now, there is buzz that he could be traded. That would leave Atlanta desperately needing a new No. 1 receiver. I know Kyle Pitts is already in place, but he cannot do it alone, nor has he shown an ability to produce in the red zone. Drake London should help with that. He plays a lot like Mike Evans, using his massive frame and athleticism to high point the ball and catch it away from his body. London led the nation in receptions prior to a season-ending ankle injury.

9. Denver Broncos (7-10) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Denver traded away Von Miller this season and has two pending free agents for starting linebackers (when healthy). Nakobe Dean might actually find a way to fill all of those voids to a certain degree. He is an athletic linebacker with great range and some sneaky good pass rush ability. He will be a difference maker at the next level with his closing speed. He draws comparisons to Jonathan Vilma, which the Broncos could desperately use in the middle of their defense.

10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (7-10) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
New York’s secondary was bad in 2021. The Jets allowed the third most yards per attempt, yards per game and third-highest completion percentage in the league this season. Landing Derek Stingley Jr. here could be a coup. He was assumed to be CB1 heading into the season, but injuries and some inconsistent play since that dominant freshman year make his projection a bit more murky. I sincerely hope we get to see him at the combine.

11. Washington Football Team (7-10) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
This is still too early for a quarterback if you ask me. Instead, Washington can attempt to address its very underwhelming defense. Supposedly the strength of this team, Washington allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game this season. Landon Collins had a rough season at safety, but seemed to excel when he moved into a hybrid linebacker role. He could be a post-June 1 cut to save cap space as though. Kyle Hamilton is essentially a better, more well-rounded version of Collins. Adding him to save money and upgrade at the same time makes a ton of sense.

12. Minnesota Vikings (8-9) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Minnesota will be disappointed to see Hamilton off the board, but Andrew Booth Jr. is an excellent consolation prize. With Jeff Gladney gone and Patrick Peterson turning 32 in July, the Vikings need some new blood at corner. Yes, they have spent a number of premium draft picks at the position, but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Booth is a projectable starter in the NFL. I know it is important to scout the player, not the helmet, but the development of A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen in the NFL makes optimistic there is still untapped potential for Clemson’s No. 1 corner.

13. Cleveland Browns (8-9) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
There buzz continues that Baker Mayfield could be done in Cleveland, but this is not the draft to try to replace him. Instead, the Browns should put their former No. 1 pick in the best position to succeed. Adding Garrett Wilson would do just that. He is a proven playmaker with good hands, above average quickness and a nose for the end zone. Cleveland’s wide receiver room is fairly deep, but lacks a true No. 1 option. Wilson could develop into just that.

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-9) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
With the top three corners off the board and the Ravens set to get a number of key players back in the secondary from injury, I think they should target the defensive line. Jordan Davis is a disruptive people-mover and space eater. He is massive, listed at 6’6″, 340 pounds. Brandon Williams turns 33 in February and is a pending free agent. Davis would step into that run stuffing role with some added pass rushing ability.

15. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (9-8) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
I know, the Eagles don’t prioritize linebackers, but maybe they should. Avery Genard and Alex Singleton are both replaceable. Devin Lloyd is a dynamic off-ball linebacker who can rush the passer. He has the range to make plays sideline-to-sideline and hang with backs and tight ends in coverage. After a slow start to the season, he finished the year strong. There is room to improve as a block shedder, but I really like what he brings to the table.

16. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Might as well continue to retool that front seven. David Ojabo has an underwhelming performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but the upside he brings is still apparent. His athleticism pops off the charts. Still relatively new to the sport, he is just scratching the surface. He could contribute early on as a third-down sub package player as he continues to develop his technique as a pass rusher.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
The Chargers defensive line is in desperate need of a boost. DeMarvin Leal projects best as a three-technique tackle, but he has the versatility to kick outside as well. He flashes some exciting potential as a pass rusher, but disappeared at times as well. Playing alongside Joey Bosa should allow him to have a larger impact. He will be someone I am eager to see test in Indianapolis.

18. New Orleans Saints (9-8) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With Terron Armstead unlikely to be back in 2022, the Saints will have a huge hole at left tackle. Charles Cross is a good candidate to be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. There will be some growing pains with limit run snaps and some concerns about how grabby he is in pass protection. That being said, he is a fluid mover and anchors well against power rushers.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
After going defense with their first two picks, the Eagles turn to the offense to find another weapon for Jalen Hurts to work with. DeVonta Smith has proven himself thus far as a reliable target, but the rest of the receiving corps is a bit more suspect. Treylon Burks brings an exciting combination of size and speed. He was a bit inconsistent against some of the top teams he faced this year, but flashed the potential to be a quality receiver in the NFL.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Finally, we have a quarterback come off the board. The likelihood is that one will go before this point, but I don’t think any should. Pittsburgh unquestionably needs to find its quarterback of the future with Ben Roethlisberger headed for retirement. Kenny Pickett obviously gets to stay home, but he also has the best resume of any of the draft eligible quarterbacks. He has a live arm with impressive accuracy. He has enough athleticism to compete in the modern NFL, extending plays with his legs. His ceiling might be a bit lower than others in this class, with Pickett set to turn 24 in June, but that works well for a Steelers team that is otherwise ready to contend now.

21. New England Patriots (10-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
If Trent Brown returns, then there is no reason to target a tackle here, but if Brown leaves, then New England will need someone to take over at right tackle. Trevor Penning could be the perfect candidate. He is a large human being, measuring in at 6’7″ and 320 pounds. He moves really well for a player that size and shows a lot of requisite skills to succeed in pass protection in the NFL. There will unquestionably be a learning curve coming from the FCS level, but we’ve seen plenty of players make the jump in recent years.

22. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (10-7) – Nicolas Petit-FrΓ¨re, OT Ohio State
Miami’s offensive line is still a patchwork unit with a lot of holes. Maybe the Dolphins will give the young unit another year to gel, but they had the worst pass block win rate in the league this season. Reinforcements are likely needed. Perhaps a move in free agency will be required, but until then, Nicolas Petit-FrΓ¨re seems like a worthy option at this spot. He looked strong against George Karlaftis this year, which underlines his talent. He also struggled mightily against Aidan Hutchinson, which highlights areas for growth. Either way, he likely won’t be much worse than Miami’s current tackles.

23. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Unfortunately, Henry Ruggs is done in the NFL. That means the Raiders once again have a need for a receiver. Chris Olave can help fill the void. While he is not quite the speedster that Ruggs was, he does have some wheels. He is capable of stretching the field, can work the middle of the field on crossing concepts as well. Adding him alongside Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow would give Derek Carr a solid complement of weapons.

24. Arizona Cardinals (11-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Cardinals’ defense has stepped up in the second half of the season while the offense has slumped a bit. However, the loss to Seattle points to Arizona’s clear offseason needs in the secondary. Roger McCreary would give the Cards a long, rangy corner with the ability to develop into a true No. 1 option. He put together an impressive season against good competition.

25. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
While the Bengals feel good about drafting Ja’Marr Chase, the pressing need for offensive line help has not disappeared, especially on the interior. Kenyon Green has experience all over the line and should be a plug-and-play option to help protect Joe Burrow. He has plenty of reps against elite defenders playing in the SEC. Cincinnati gave up the third-most sacks in the league this season.

26. Buffalo Bills (11-6) – Sean Rhyan, OL, UCLA
As the season has worn on, it has become clear that Buffalo needs to revamp the interior of its offensive line. Sean Rhyan is your classic college tackle who might be better off playing guard in the NFL. He is a steady operator, but lacks the elite athleticism needed to contend on the outside with pro-caliber edge rushers. His history as a tackle likely boosts his value though because he could start there in a pinch.

27. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (12-5) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
While this is not a great quarterback class, the Lions can take a crack at the one with the highest upside. Malik Willis is cut from the same cloth as Lamar Jackson with his electric running ability in the open field and dazzling arm strength. However, Jackson was likely a bit further along in his development as a passer than Willis is at the moment. The Liberty star hangs onto the ball for way too long and tends to play hero ball. He struggles with accuracy. That being said, his upside is worth gambling on in this spot. If Detroit ends up with a top-five pick next season, they can always move Willis for additional draft capital and take a more proven prospect like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

28. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Dallas’ defense has been one of the most surprising stories of the year, but it is unlikely to sustain this success without reinforcements. Daxton Hill is a versatile safety who can line up in the slot. He has the speed to track down players on the boundary and the physicality to make plays in space. Given the Cowboys’ salary cap constraints, there is a good chance Damontae Kazee will not be back and Donovan Wilson is heading into a contract year.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Jahan Dotson has the explosive playmaking ability and proven production that puts him in the conversation to go in the first round. He has great hands and can separate from defenders. He is not the biggest receiver, but he is still capable of playing on the outside. While that might feel a bit redundant given Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman filling similar profiles, Dotson can operate as a bit more of a possession receiver than either of them.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Tampa continues to stay ahead of future needs by drafting for its front seven. While Vita Vea is locked in to a long-term deal, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston and Steve McClendon are all pending free agents. Devonte Wyatt cannot replace all of them, but he can soften the blow. Often overlooked, he has been one of the key contributors to this Georgia defense. He would help the Buccaneers continue to stay stout against the run and offer some interior pass rush ability as well.

31. Tennessee Titans (12-5) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
With Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans both headed for free agency, Tennessee has a need at linebacker. Christian Harris feels like great value to fill that need at the back end of the first round. Harris is a bit like an attack dog, when you let off the leash, he is capable of wreaking havoc. However, he also locks in sometimes and loses track of his assignment. There is also room for improvement when it comes to block shedding. That being said, his ability to shoot the gap and make a big play is enticing.

32. Green Bay Packers (13-4) – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Another Georgia defender in the first round. Travon Walker is built like Za’Darius and Preston Smith, Green Bay’s two current edge rushers who could both be cap casualties this offseason. Walker will help fill the void. He was a consistent performer on the Bulldogs’ championship-winning defense, producing six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2021. His versatility, lining up on the interior, on the edge or even as a stand up backer, would make him an intriguing chess piece for Joe Barry to deploy.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Panthers, Lions find QBs of the future and six WRs go in first round

There are still two weeks left in the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs to be played, but for a number of fans, the look ahead to 2022 has already started. At this time, eight teams have already been eliminated from playoff contention. More are sure to follow in Week 17.

That means it is time for mock draft season. This is already my third mock of the season and my final one of 2021. The draft order has changed quite a bit over the course of the season as Miami and Kansas City completely turned around early-season slumps. Meanwhile, Carolina and Washington have faded down the stretch to the point where they are picking in the top 10.

This is the most up-to-date draft order according to Tankathon through the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. The outcome of Dolphins-Saints on Monday night will likely see each team slide a couple spots in either direction. So much of the NFL is grouped around that .500 mark right now.

As I continue to dissect film during bowl season, my evaluations of players have definitely changed. I know that there will likely be more quarterbacks off the board in the first round, but this is how I grade them at this stage. With no trades allowed, this is how I see the first round shaking out as of right now.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville could head a number of directions with the first pick, but taking the dominant edge rusher out of Michigan to pair with Josh Allen feels like the best bet. Hutchinson finished as the runner up for the Heisman for a reason. He has a bit of J.J. Watt to his game, beating tackles with a combination of speed and power.

2. Detroit Lions (2-12-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EGDE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (3-12) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
This is a situation of the Texans simply going with the best player available. Laremy Tunsil remains well entrenched at left tackle, but Houston could use an upgrade on the right side. Neal would give Davis Mills a chance to prove himself at quarterback. If not Mills, then whoever replaces him would have one of the best tackle pairings in the league. Neal is a mountain disguised as an offensive tackle. He checks all the physical boxes and passes the eye test.

4. New York Jets (4-11) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Morgan Moses is on an expiring contract and Mekhi Becton has not shown he can stay healthy. That creaks the door open for the Jets to sure up their offensive line. The offensive lineman in Joe Douglas will not be able to resist taking Ekwonu either. This guy is nasty and brings power that teams crave. He is certainly a bit raw in terms of technique. He needs a bit of polish, but keeping Zach Wilson upright has to be the biggest priority of the offseason.

5. New York Giants (4-11) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Daniel Jones is coming back in 2022. At least that is the word out of East Rutherford. That opens the door for New York to go with the best player available and continue to overhaul its roster. Kyle Hamilton is a bit of a unicorn. He has the size of a linebacker, but lines up at safety. He has the coverage skills to be a centerfielder, but can drop down into the box as well. With Jabril Peppers out of a contract this season and Logan Ryan turning 31, there is some need for another safety in New York as well.

6. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (5-10) – Ahmed Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
When you start all first- and second-year players in the secondary, there are bound to be some growing pains. That said, New York clearly still has a need for a true No. 1 corner. The man they call “Sauce” absolutely fits the bill. He has yet to allow a touchdown in his three years as a starter at Cincinnati. He brings the requisite length needed to play on the outside in the NFL. The only question will likely be about his speed. Gardner will be one to watch at the combine.

7. Carolina Panthers (5-10) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Let’s make this clear, this is a reach! I like Pickett as a passer, but at 23 years old, it is safe to assume he is already pretty far along in his development as a quarterback. Read that as a potentially low ceiling. However, this feels like a really good landing spot for Pickett. There is a lot of talent on the defense and a solid receiving corps. If Christian McCaffrey can get healthy, he will have one of the best offensive weapons in the entire league. Carolina would need to bolster the offensive line to make this work, but there is potential for this to be a hit.

8. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (5-10) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The aforementioned Daniel Jones has had his struggles, but he has rarely been protected. Tyler Linderbaum will help change that. He is an incredibly agile center with good blocking angles and great open field speed. He should be an asset in the run game as well with his ability to pull outside and set the edge. Targeting offensive line help makes a ton of sense for the Giants. Saquon Barkley would probably appreciate the move as well, assuming he can get onto the field.

9. Washington Football Team (6-9) – Drake London, WR, USC
With Pickett off the board, there are no quarterbacks that I can justify going in the top 10. Instead, Washington addresses the massive issue facing its receiving corps. There is no size. Drake London would solve that immediately. He might not be the most explosive athlete, but he plays a lot like Mike Evans. His ability to catch the ball away from his body and make contested grabs makes him an excellent security blanket for any quarterback. Perhaps Washington could trade back into the end of the first to snag a rookie quarterback. If not, load up this roster and try to find a veteran who can lead you to the playoffs.

10. Atlanta Falcons (7-8) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
A perfect blend of need and value, Atlanta desperately needs someone with George Karlaftis’ skill set. There is definitely some cause for concern when you put on the Ohio State film and see him overmatched by a pair of quality tackles. However, Karlaftis’ upside and raw traits make him worth the gamble in this spot. The Falcons desperately need pass rushing help. They rank last in the NFL in sacks by a sizeble margin, totaling nine fewer than the Jaguars and Lions so far this season.

11. Denver Broncos (7-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Denver will be disappointed to see Karlaftis off the board, but will take the next best edge rusher on the board. That has to be David Ojabo after the breakout season he had across from Aidan Hutchinson. Ojabo is not nearly as polished as his partner in crime, but his traits are incredible. With Von Miller now in Los Angeles, the Broncos definitely need someone to pitch in across from Bradley Chubb. Ojabo has a long way to go in order to replicate Miller’s production, but he will help soften the blow nonetheless.

12. Minnesota Vikings (7-8) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Another mock, another corner to the Vikings. If it’s broken, keep trying to fix it. Minnesota ranks in the bottom 10 for passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed. The Vikings will be thrilled to see Singley still available. His stock has slipped following an injury-riddled season, but the physical ability and top-end potential is all still there. If he tests at the combine, there is a good chance he will not last this long on draft day.

13. Cleveland Browns (7-8) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield may well be the problem in Cleveland, but he could still definitely use an improved receivers room. Jarvis Landry is declining and Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Rashad Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones are excellent depth options, but the Browns need a new go-to playmaker. Enter Garrett Wilson. He is a silky smooth route runner with solid speed, good hands and a nose for the end zone. Keeping him in state would be a great move by the front office.

14. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (7-7) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Philadelphia has been a pleasant surprise in the second half of the year. While there are questions about Jalen Hurts as the long-term answer at quarterback, there is no one worth replacing him with in this spot. Instead, the Eagles finally address the shortcomings of their linebacker unit. Lloyd would be an upgrade over any of Philly’s current starters. He is very athletic with some ability to rush the passer. Feels like a slam dunk pick for this defense.

15. New Orleans Saints (7-7) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
While quarterback could certainly be in play, this is still much too early for QB2 on my board. Even if the Saints did take a quarterback, he would have no one to throw to. New Orleans’ group of receivers is on par with Detroit and the Jets when it comes to proven playmakers. If Michael Thomas returns, that could change things a bit, but there is still room for more additions at the position. Burks was a bit inconsistent this year, but showed flashes of elite ability. He lit up Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, but disappeared against LSU and Georgia. There is a lot to like about his upside.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Yes, the Steelers need a new quarterback. No, that does not mean they should reach for one in the middle of the first round. Pittsburgh has a host of other issues it still needs to address to get back into championship contention. The biggest being a porous offensive line. Cross lacks much experience as a run blocker, but has a lot of solid tape in pass protection. He is far from perfect, with several holding calls and uneven technique, but he anchors well and has the size to excel at the next level. He would be in the mix to start at left tackle from Day 1 in Pittsburgh.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Same old Chargers. Los Angeles has shown signs of progress this season, but it still cannot avoid the pitfalls. The Achilles heel has been the run defense. Only three teams are allowing more rushing yards per game or yards per attempt this season. Finding some help on the interior of the defense line is the key to turning things around. Leal is a talented pass rusher who can hold his own against the run. He has the versatility to flex out to the edge as well. Brandon Staley would have a lot of fun exploring the ways he could deploy Leal against opposing offenses.

18. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Las Vegas has room to improve in the trenches on both sides of the ball. It is hard to overlook Jordan Davis, both literally and figuratively. He is huge, listed at 6’6″ and 340 pounds. He definitely excels as a run stuffer, but shows flashes of pass-rush brilliances. He has a quick first step and rarely loses ground. He could help transform the Raiders defensive front. Davis, Max Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue is the beginnings of a scary unit.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
As great as Darius Slay has been this season, Philadelphia cannot continue to rely on him to do everything in their secondary. Clemson might have had a down year, but the struggles were all on the offense. Defensively, the Tigers were still stocked with future NFL players, led by Andrew Booth Jr. The rangy cornerback has good size and impeccable athleticism. He will need a bit of coaching to truly take the step in his development, but there is a lot to like about his potential fit in the NFL.

20. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Baltimore is tied for the most sacks allowed this season. Some of that is a byproduct of having mobile quarterbacks who hang onto the ball longer than he probably should, but most of it falls on underperforming tackles and injuries. Trevor Penning may face a bit of a learning curve arriving from FCS powerhouse UNI, but his intangibles point to a seamless transition. If he can protect Lamar Jackson, this will be a pick well spent.

21. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (8-7) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Miami is on an incredible run right now, winning six in a row heading into Monday Night Football. However, that should not erase the deficiencies that showed up during the first half of the season when the Dolphins were 1-7. Tua Tagovailoa’s protection has room for improvement. Kenyon Green has the potential to be a Day 1 starter at either guard spot, providing some much-needed stability. He has some experience at tackle as well, which only adds to his value.

22. New England Patriots (9-6) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
This may be my worst nightmare. Letting Bill Belichick get his hands on a playmaker like Dean is dangerous for the rest of the league. He is often compared to Jonathan Vilma between his size and downhill play style. Dont’a Hightower is turning 32 in March and will be a free agent after the season. Dean could help fill the void and eventually grow into a similar defensive leader.

23. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-6) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Might as well return to the well. Philadelphia seems to have hit big time with Devonta Smith, so it would be wise to find another Alabama receiver to play alongside him. While Smith is certainly capable of big plays, Williams excels at it. He would be what the team hoped to get in drafting Jalen Reagor. There are certainly some drops on his film, but most of them are avoidable. Coaching could solve that. It’s not something to ignore, but it is correctable. This sets up Jalen Hurts or whoever takes over at quarterback in the future for success.

24. Arizona Cardinals (10-5) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Arizona is once again fading in the second half of the season. While there are questions to ask of the offense, the secondary is getting torn to shreds. Adding a tall, long corner in Elam could change the trajectory of the unit entirely. Hopefully, that size will come into play in the red zone, where the Cardinals have been dreadful down the stretch.

25. Buffalo Bills (9-6) – Nicolas Petit-FrΓ¨re, OT, Ohio State
Buffalo needs to invest along the interior of its offensive line. While Petit-Frère is not an interior lineman, he could allow the Bills to kick Spencer Brown inside. If not, the Ohio State tackle could move to guard himself. He has shown the ability to handle top speed rushers on the outside with his play against George Karlaftis. On the other hand, he struggled against Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Either way, he should help keep Josh Allen clean now and into the future.

26. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
Cincinnati’s secondary has played surprisingly well this season, but lacks staying power. For one, the Bengals can get out from under Trae Waynes’ horrible contract this offseason. They also need Chidobe Awuzie to replicate a career year for this unit to have a chance in 2022. Adding the upside of McCreary gives them someone to develop into the future. He brings an exciting blend of athleticism and size that makes it easy to project him as an NFL starter.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Tampa Bay will be disappointed to see the top corners off the board by this stage and will simply turn to a best player available approach. With a number of key defensive players on expiring contracts, adding another player in the front seven could help ease the blow. Drake Jackson is a long edge rusher with solid production from his time at USC. Much of his stock is based on the projection of what he could become if he can marry his physical tools with improved technique and pass-rush planning at the next level.

28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (11-4) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
If there was ever a team that could afford to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward quarterback, it is the Detroit Lions. With the extra pick in the 2022 draft from the Matthew Stafford trade, the Lions could attempt to find his replacement. Willis brings incredible physical traits, namely blazing speed and a very strong arm. He needs a lot of refining though. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, often times misses reads and bails out of the pocket a bit too frequently. Selecting Willis does not prevent Detroit from taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2023 draft either if it ends up with a chance to take Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. This is just one shot at the dartboard with potential to net future draft capital if he is moved. What I love about this is that Jared Goff can start for one more season before his contract expires and the Lions can make a real run at turning the roster around.

29. Tennessee Titans (10-5) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Julio Jones has not been the reliable option across from A.J. Brown that the Titans were hoping for. Injuries have derailed most of his previous two seasons and he will turn 33 in February. Tennessee needs another receiver for Ryan Tannehill to turn to. Chris Olave could be the perfect complement to Brown. He is well-rounded and can generate separation. Not to mention good size at 6’1″. He would only open things up more for Derrick Henry as defenses had to respect his speed.

30. Dallas Cowboys (11-4) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
The turnaround by Dallas’ defense is truly remarkable. However, it is also benefiting from an unsustainable turnover rate. 33 forced turnovers in 15 games is impressive and hard to repeat. With the top corners off the board, the Cowboys grab a versatile safety with some slot corner experience in Hill. He has tons of athletic upside and regularly ends up around the football. The offense has had its struggles, but there is more than enough talent to see things stabilize. Now it is time to build a defense to match.

31. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Kansas City has evolved over the course of the season. Its defensive renaissance does not mean help on that side of the ball is no longer needed. That being said, it is hard to resist Jahan Dotson in this spot. He is a reliable target capable of making contested catches over the middle of the field. I think he could be a perfect fit for what the Chiefs need in this offense past Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. If Kansas City lands a defensive lineman or cornerback in the second round, this will feel like a really strong start to the draft.

32. Green Bay Packers (12-3) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Aaron Rodgers does not care about the wide receivers you would like to mock to Green Bay. Instead, the Packers continue to build in the trenches. Devonte Wyatt does not get the headlines of his more famous teammates like Nakobe Dean or Jordan Davis, but he should start soon. He is a violent game wrecker. He might not be quite as athletically gifted as those teammates and definitely needs to improve his gap discipline, but there is a lot to like about his tape. With a few potential cap casualties on defense this offseason, finding cost-effective defenders is a must. Don’t rule out a trade back with a quarterback needy team here. Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver could all move up to get a quarterback with that coveted fifth-year option.

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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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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
Heat Index: πŸ”₯
πŸ”₯
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
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

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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