It’s time for the final version of my mock NFL draft for this year. We have had 3 incarnations so far, 2 serious versions and 1 foolish one. We have tried drafting the players by name only and looking at what teams are likely to make a trade with their early picks. Now, with the draft coming tomorrow, we have one final version where we put together all of the info that we have available, and throw in lots of invalid speculation. I’m still not interested in predicting trades in my mock draft, because that is a fool’s errand. I’m more interested in what teams are looking for and what players can fill that need where they are at. Obviously (despite my jokey click-bait title) there is no way most of these will end up being right. Even on a good year, draft gurus like Mel Kiper or David Jeremiah might get 8-10 first round picks right (last year Kiper got 6). At this point, I am also ignoring “rumors” about what teams will do, as 99 percent of that info is lies spread by teams and agents to smokescreen others. Here is the perfect example of it, in one tweet.
Here we have several layers of lying. On one level, we have Drew Rosenhaus telling everyone there is a ton of demand for his player Greg Rousseau (who is very good, and may very well go in the first round). Why would he say that if it isn’t true? To create a false sense of demand. This way, a team like the Dolphins, Jets or Jaguars would use their first round pick rather than their early second, believing he will be gone if they wait. But if this is true, would teams lie to a player agent and pretend to be interested in their player? YES. For one thing, buttering up a player agent can have benefits (for example, if you wanted to sign all of his clients like the Patriots did this summer). For another, to create a false sense of demand, to drive another team to use their pick on that player, rather than the player the lying team actually wants. Finally, teams know that player agents leak like the Titanic after it got hit by an iceberg. If you want to create a false narrative for your team’s intentions positionally, this is the fastest way to do it. There are at least 3 potential lies in this tweet (I am counting Drew claiming there has been “media speculation” about Greg Rousseau as one since I haven’t seen any significant speculating about him). So don’t take too seriously anything a “team”, “NFL Insider”, or “agent” says in the next 72 hours. With that in mind, you should listen to what I have to say, since I only lie to be funny. Let's cut through the smoke.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence QB Clemson
This is an easy one. He is really good at football. Don’t listen to the recent brouhaha about his “motivation” after the SI article. He will be great in the NFL (barring injury of course). He has been the best player at every level he has ever played at. If you think this means the Jaguars will be great too, however, you are probably mistaken. The last number 1 pick QB to win a Super Bowl with the team that originally had the number one pick was… Peyton Manning. He was drafted in 1998. He won one time with the Colts. In fact, in my lifetime there is only one other player who meets this criteria… Troy Aikman (Eli Manning was taken number 1, but then immediately traded to the Giants). If you are bad enough to get the number 1 pick, it is tough to ever be good enough to win the Super Bowl.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Captain Andrew Luck
New York Jets - Zach Wilson QB BYU
Zach Wilson has become the presumptive second pick, and there has been zero buzz about anyone else being an option. This player would seem to fit the Jets model for QBs, as he is more of a thrower than a runner (although he is still very athletic). Wilson is a one-year wonder, so the pressure will be on right out of the gate to prove his junior year wasn’t a fluke. Also, everything I just said about the Jaguars should be repeated about the Jets. After last year the Jets fit right in at the deuce.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Ryan Tannehill (Titans version)
San Francisco 49ers - Mac Jones QB Alabama
This pick is really based on speculation, namely from Chris Simms, the only media member for the NFL with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s initials tattooed on them (no seriously). I am confident that Kyle wouldn’t put his job in jeopardy by telling a media member who they are picking, but that doesn’t mean Chris doesn’t know the type of player he prefers. In previous mock draft versions, I noted how Jones fits the profile of quarterbacks that Shanahan has worked with before (Hoyer, Ryan, Garoppolo) and Trey Lance/Justin Fields are closer to one player he didn’t have success with, Robert Griffin III. He seems to prefer QBs who get the ball out fast, and don’t try to run with it much. So, Mac Jones makes the most sense, despite being the least mobile of the big 5 QBs by far.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts TE Florida
I still think that Atlanta will trade down from this pick. I think the hold up, is that teams are not sure exactly what the 49ers are going to do at 3. Depending on who they take, my guess is the Falcons will choose from one of several possible prearranged deals based on who those teams covet. I think either Justin Fields or Trey Lance will go here. BUT… if the Falcons do pick, I think it will be Kyle Pitts. He is a special talent, who is being talked about like a Hall of Fame tight end before his first snap. That is a stretch, but pairing him with Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones sounds absolutely overwhelming. He didn’t play with players like that on the outside in Florida.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Darren Waller
Cincinnati Bengals - Ja’Marr Chase WR Florida
I have waivered back and forth on Chase vs. Penei Sewell for this pick. I think, in my final guess, they decide to re-unite Chase and Burrow. I think they can talk themselves and Burrow into thinking they solved the offensive line problems with the one guy they signed in the off-season. I think the drop off from Chase to the second round WRs is farther than the gap between Sewell and the second round offensive linemen. I also think the Bengals want to spark something with their pick to get everyone buying those meh new uniforms they unveiled. Sewell doesn’t sell jerseys. Chase does.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Odell Beckham Jr.
Miami Dolphins - Devonta Smith WR Alabama
I think the Dolphins value Devonta Smith more than most teams for several reasons. First, the Dolphins seem to deeply value a team culture that is focused exclusively on football and fitting in. They sent Minkah Fitzpatrick packing for questioning his role and have had no trouble unloading veterans like Kyle Von Noy, Laremy Tunsil, and challenging the status quo with their QB rotation. The Dolphins as currently constructed seem to love Alabama players, and I am guessing it is for this reason (see also their upcoming second pick). Alabama players are very team centric, with Nick Saban being an unquestioned demigod who demands it. Devonta Smith is a player obsessed with football, who transformed what seems like a small, frail body, into a superstar through mostly technique and skill. His connection with Tua is the cherry on top. With Chase and Pitts gone, I think that Smith ends up going to the Dolphins. I also think the Dolphins planned for this, as they knew trading down to 6 might cost them both Pitts and Chase. I think they are comfortable with Smith here and wouldn’t trade down again. Don’t rule out Jaylen Waddle here either.
Optimistic Pro comparison - skinny Calvin Ridley (in the past, Isaac Bruce/Marvin Harrison is perfect)
Detroit Lions - Penei Sewell OT Oregon
A great starter piece for a team that desperately needs to be able to move the ball on the ground this season, with nothing at WR and a quarterback who has long been play-action dependent. Sewell is a good building block at a premium position. This is also a very possible trade down candidate, as they need a lot, and more picks would really help. If they get a king’s ransom for Lance or Fields, they should take it. I am looking at Carolina, Denver, New England and Chicago here.
Optimistic Pro comparison - David Bakhtiari
Carolina Panthers - Trey Lance QB North Dakota State
I don’t think the Panthers are done at quarterback. I think getting Sam Darnold is nice, and it gives them a plug and play option in week one, I also don’t think they would pass on Lance or Fields here. Lance in particular has a very high long term potential, and Sam Darnold would make for a nice bridge to that this year. If Darnold has a good year, you simply send him along for picks, and pick up with Lance in 2022.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Josh Allen
Denver Broncos - Justin Fields QB Ohio State
A lot of the “last in first out” rhetoric has died down around Fields, and I don’t think he is going to slip out of the top 10 any more. I think his throwing stats were some of the best in the nation against strong competition, and his athleticism is the top for this class. So why is he the fifth choice? It’s hard to change a lot of NFL scouts approach to drafting players. Lamar Jackson was very similar in terms of talent, and he almost made it to the second round, because teams and scouts are set in their ways. Meanwhile, the more traditional QBs taken ahead of him, have not surpassed him to this point. Fields should go higher than this, but I don’t think he will.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Lamar Jackson
Dallas Cowboys - Patrick Surtain II CB Alabama
The Cowboys need so much help defensively. As I noted in the last mock draft, I think they need to address the secondary first. With their big offense, I think they can keep teams from running, just by scoring. What they need to be able to do is slow other teams’ passing games. Surtain is a great choice here, and the first defensive player off the board. Watch out for the Falcons trading back and getting him, but if they don’t I think the Cowboys strike. There just isn’t a great defensive edge piece worth taking this high. They should trade down, but I honestly believe Jerry Jones has no idea what that is or how that would work.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Richard Sherman
New York Giants - Jaylen Waddle WR Alabama
While this isn’t exactly a need pick, I don’t think the Giants can allow Waddle to go through them to Philadelphia. He is too talented to let go, and he provides another big time weapon for Daniel Jones to overthrow. Waddle’s speed, elusiveness, and disposition set him apart and make him a perfect complement to Kenny Golladay. There are other picks they need more here, but the talent is too much to pass up. Dave Gettleman has never once traded down with any pick in his time with the Giants, so we can rule that out. One time, he took a running back number 2, just to avoid trading down.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Tyreek Hill
Philadelphia Eagles - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah LB Notre Dame
Their brand new coach Nick Whatever (I’m not learning his name because he will be fired in a year) recently reported with delight that he played rock-paper-scissors with potential draftees in order to determine who was the most competitive. This is almost as unbearably stupid as his initial press conference, but it makes me think that the Eagles will try to snag one of the most competitive, hardest-hitting guys available in Koramoah, instead of getting what they actually need, which is offensive line help. Given how hard he hits, I assume he would pick rock every time on principle, and I am sure Nick Whatever assumed that rock beats everything, so he saw that as competitive.
Optimistic Pro comparison - heavier Jamal Adams
Los Angeles Chargers: Jaycee Horn CB South Carolina
The Chargers need a lot of help in the secondary defensively, and their new coach is a defensive mind who watched Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald dominate last year. There is no Aaron Donald available this year (or any year), so I am guessing he will try to improve the defense by going for a Jalen Ramsey like player. He won’t be Jalen Ramsey, but just being really good would be a big help here. Horn has great cover instincts without the medical concerns of Caleb Farley.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Stephon Gilmore
Minnesota Vikings - Rashawn Slater OT Northwestern
Slater is a great tackle option, and the Vikings really need O-line help. Plus, he already looks good in purple (a tragically rare sports color). With Riley Reiff off to the Bengals, they need to fill in the gaps. This team relies on it’s run game to keep Kirk Cousins from being all out bad. They also need help on the edge and in the secondary, but I just don’t see much in the way of elite players left in those two spots. They might reach for an edge rusher here if they fall in love with someone, but I doubt it. This year’s edge crop is more of 3 years of dating and maybe you get used to them crop.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Zach Martin
New England Patriots - Alijah Vera-Tucker OT-OG USC
The Patriots would love to see a QB fall to them, and they may ultimately decide to move up. If they don’t, however, solving the hole that opened up when Joe Thuney left would be a good start toward making the pieces around a future QB better. It’s hard to read the Patriots minds, because they often make unexpected choices (lately, that hasn’t been a compliment). They could decide to end the Micah Parsons slide, although I am not sure Parsons is Bill’s sort of guy. Vera-Tucker is probably the player who most fills a need, even if the Patriots don’t really draft that way.
Optimistic Pro comparison - La’el Collins
Arizona Cardinals - Caleb Farley CB Virginia Tech
Farley had some injury concerns come up during the evaluation process, but talent-wise, he is right there with Horn and Surtain II. The Cardinals need help at both cornerback, with Patrick Peterson gone, and edge, with the loss of Haasan Reddick. I think, Farley is a better prospect than the edge players (all of whom have talent or medical questions). Farley’s injury issue is minor, compared to a player like Jaelen Phillips. He is more ready to contribute to a team in win now mode than Greg Rousseau or Kwity Paye.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Byron Jones
Las Vegas Raiders - Micah Parsons LB Penn State
Parsons has been dropping in recent mock drafts. Questions about his character and maturity have hurt him, and he didn’t play this year. He has the raw talent to be great, but teams are rightfully wondering how much of that talent he will fill out. The Raiders have never been a team to let character get in the way of a draft pick, however, and I think they will be happy to scoop him up here. He would be a good fit on a defense that needs help all over.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Jaylon Smith
Miami Dolphins - Najee Harris RB Alabama
There is a lot of smoke around this one, as the Dolphins have been linked a great deal with Harris at 18. I hate this pick, as I think any running back taken this early is a bad choice, no matter how good they are (Saquon Barkley was one of the most talented backs I have seen in the draft, and was a disaster as a number 2 pick and would have been a disaster as any first round pick). Running backs simply don’t return the full value of any first round pick, even if they are good. I will talk more about this after the draft, when I savage whichever team was stupid enough to do this.
Optimistic Player comparison - LeVeon Bell
Washington Football Team - Zaven Collins LB Tulsa
This is still a pick that makes a ton of sense to me. Ron Rivera loves linebackers who can cover in space. Collins is a physical marvel who can play somewhere between a 3-4 defensive end and a box safety. This is like Ant Man fitting into the Hulk mysterious shape shifting pants. This should be physically impossible, but it isn’t for him. He has been rising up draft boards, although I still have him going higher than most. The WFT is building something special on defense. This would fill one of the few gaps they have.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Jaime Collins
Chicago Bears - Greg Newsome CB Northwestern
Newsome has been climbing up draft boards. With no good QB or skill position players available, I think the Bears have to address the hole in their secondary they created to sign a player that played a few games at QB for a 6-10 team last year. Newsome is not going to move the needle for their fans, but the need here is strong. The Bears strike me a team likely to trade up for a QB or CB with more elite tools, if for no other reason than the slow the steady mutiny of their fan base.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Marcus Peters
Indianapolis Colts -Christian Darrisaw OT Virginia Tech
Darrisaw is a great option to have fall to them at this point, and a good value. I think the Colts will focus on the offensive line because we saw how painfully ineffective Wentz was without strong line play. Few players are as line dependent as him. The Colts have one of the best lines in football, but the retirement of their best tackle leads to an opening they can fill here. As the team I have anointed the most boring team in football to talk about, this selection is a nice, yawn-inducing 45 yard field goal of a pick.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Russell Okung
Tennessee Titans - Kwity Paye EDGE Michigan
Paye has more physical talent than most of the other edge rusher options. While he lacks in technique and has only played the position for a year, he fits the profile of a player like Jadaveon Clowney, who the Titans had in their defense last year. I think he can be a similar toolsy athlete who will get by at a minimum on his physical traits. They could also use secondary help, and Trevon Moehrig is a possible option too. Ultimately, though, they have got to generate a pass rush, which they simply did not do last year. No cornerback can stay with a guy for 5 seconds.
Optimistic Pro Comparison - Jadaveon Clowney
New York Jets - Trevon Moehrig S TCU
The Jets can do anything they want with this pick, other than take another QB. They have holes across every level of both sides of the ball. They should just take the best player available. Here, I have them taking a very talented safety, to replace Jamal Adams, who they traded to get this pick. I like the symmetry of that, and if Moehrig ends up being just as good, the GM will look like a genius, and you know the GM would like that.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Kenny Vaccaro
Pittsburgh Steelers - Azeez Ojulari EDGE Georgia
Ojulari is a perfect 3-4 end, and that is what the Steelers need with Bud Dupree’s departure. They also need help at running back, although with Harris off the board and Etienne not being a great fit for their offense, I think they will wait. If Harris is here, I would bet he ends up being the pick. Otherwise, Ojulari fits exactly what they want to do and has good numbers, skill set, and a lack of medical concerns.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Robert Mathis
Jacksonville Jaguars - Greg Rousseau EDGE Miami
The Jags have a similar situation to the Jets where they can take any player. Here I have them strengthening their defensive line, which was a disaster last year. Really, plenty of options are here for them, and I could see them going with the skill of Etienne, the raw talent of Jalen Phillips, or the interior presence of Christian Barmore. The Jags have plenty of time to let Rousseau develop, and he will need it. He is still fairly raw and needs to get back into prime playing condition after missing last year.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Calais Campbell
Cleveland Browns - Jaelen Phillips EDGE Miami
The Browns can do whatever they want here for the opposite reason of the Jets and Jaguars. They filled their desperate needs in free agency, so they simply don’t have one area of strong need. Phillips would be a good pick, because he has a lot of potential, and while he has a shady medical history, they can roll the dice with him being good from day one. He has top 15 talent. He would be a nice replacement for Clowney after his one year deal runs out (or he gets hurt 4 games into the season). They also might consider receiver with Odell Beckham Jr. coming off a major injury and Jarvis Landry starting to show his age a little.
Optimistic Pro comparison - TJ Watt
Baltimore Ravens - Rashod Bateman WR Minnesota
The Ravens snagged a second first round pick (coming up in 4 picks) from the Chiefs in exchange for the Pro-Bowl tackle the Chiefs needed. While they opened up a spot on their offensive line, the word on the street is they plan to fill that spot with Alejandro Villanueva. That makes me think they plan on addressing their other biggest opening here, by snagging a large-bodied possession option to pair with the Hollywood Brown speed threat. Bateman offers the size and hands to be a red zone threat, which they sorely need.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Keenan Allen
New Orleans Saints - Kadarius Toney WR Florida
Here is a very dynamic player, headed to a very dynamic offense. He has a great ability to stretch the field horizontally, which the Saints need in order to pair with Michael Thomas. Giving either of their QBs better open short throws will help this offense get in gear. This would be like giving Sean Payton a Ferrari to go with his Lamborghini.
Optimistic Pro Comparison - Golden Tate
Green Bay Packers - Elijah Molden CB Washington
The Packers biggest hole is second CB, and Molden could come in and start day one for them. Molden has some holes in his game with size and speed being a little light, but he has the skills to cover number 2 WRs and the slot. This team got crushed in the number 2/slot roles and could really use an upgrade there. They could also use a more talented WRs, but something tells me I will be hired as their GM before they draft a first round WR again. They could definitely use Elijah Moore however, so, what I am saying is, they are going to take an Elijah.
Optimistic Pro Comparison - Desmond King II
Buffalo Bills - Christian Barmore DT Alabama
The Bills don’t have any obvious needs. They need help in the running game, but they also shouldn’t waste a 1st round pick on a running back. I think their front office is smarter than this. Travis Etienne doesn’t fit their style and Javonte Williams is a reach here. Barmore can help lock down the center of the line, where they had a little trouble at times last year. They haven’t had an elite DT since Kyle Williams left, and Barmore would be a great get at this point in the draft.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Chris Jones
Baltimore Ravens - Creed Humphrey C Oklahoma
The Ravens desperately need a center. They would be better suited trading down into the early second round for this, but here, I have them taking the most day 1 ready center available. Landon Dickerson and Quinn Meinerz both have question marks about their ability to play right away. Humphrey is a seasoned player who has no real injury concerns. He could step in right away. They also desperately need help with edge rusher, tackle and pass catcher (they literally need more people who can catch, adding one isn’t enough). None of that matters, however, if you can’t get the ball from the center to the QB to start the play.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Jason Kelce
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Asante Samuel Jr. CB Florida State
They don’t have much in the way of holes. I have a hunch here though. They found a lot of success last year taking the very talented son of a former star NFL defensive player in Antoine Winfield Jr. Why not repeat that same strategy again? Asante Samuel Jr. has the same qualifications. Likely to fall into the second round. Super positionally sound, but small for the position. Great bloodlines. I think Samuel will have very similar success to Winfield Jr. The Bucs just saw how nice that is to have, and I bet they double dip. They got cooked by the pass at times last year as well, so this would help their one semi-weakness.
Optimistic Pro comparison - Tyrann Mathieu