NFL draft season is one of the best times of the year, and it must be extremely exciting to be a decision-maker for one of the league’s 32 teams this week. The draft is where great teams are typically built, but this year presents some big challenges due to COVID-19. This mock draft is based on what I would do if I was the general manager for each squad, not what I believe will happen tomorrow night. Trade possibilities are not included for this playing-GM mock.
1. JAX: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Lock this one in for just about everyone. Trevor Lawrence is one of the best quarterback prospects in NFL history, and I would be thrilled to have the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. I would not have tanked like some disappointingly called for teams to do during the 2020 season, but I would now be trying to trade up to No. 1 if I was another team.
2. NYJ: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
I probably would have approached this offseason a little differently if I were running the Jets. The turnovers for Sam Darnold are concerning, but New York could have gotten a massive return for the No. 2 pick, which is the route I would have taken to rebuild this team. But making the pick for the Jets, Zach Wilson is the guy given his upside and potential trajectory after a stellar 2020 season at BYU.
3. SF: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Same goes for the 49ers. While Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled to stay healthy, I still would have felt good about him as a long-term starter—while perhaps adding a veteran backup option—and would not have traded three first-round picks to move up to No. 3. But, now that we’re here, Mac Jones is the pick (though adding Kyle Pitts or one of the top receivers would be really fun). Jones is universally thought of as the guy Kyle Shanahan wants to run his offense, and you should defer to the offensive coach on the quarterback decision. I wrote about why Jones is worthy of a high selection here.
4. ATL: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
No matter the cap situation, trading future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones would not be in consideration unless the offer simply blows me away. So, while best player available is typically the way to go, and DeVonta Smith would be the likely pick for me in that case, it’s close enough between Smith and Kyle Pitts to go with the tight end given the presence of Jones and Calvin Ridley out wide. Pitts is an absolute stud, both as a pass catcher and as a run blocker.
5. CIN: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
It’s very tough to pass on reuniting Ja’Marr Chase with Joe Burrow (they had tremendous chemistry at LSU), but: 1) DeVonta Smith is higher on my board, and 2) so is Penei Sewell. The wall of an offensive tackle will help keep Burrow upright, which is critical with the second-year quarterback coming off a serious knee injury.
6. MIA: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Wide receiver isn’t a huge need for the Dolphins, but this mock—with three quarterbacks, Kyle Pitts, and Penei Sewell all going in the top five for particular reasons—has DeVonta Smith sitting here at No. 6. I’d run up the card to get the Heisman Trophy winner and reunite him with Tua Tagovailoa.
7. DET: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Dan Campbell’s Lions are going to be all about toughness, and it’d be fitting for their first pick to be an offensive tackle to help protect new franchise quarterback Jared Goff. Ja’Marr Chase would be in strong consideration, but protection is more important for Goff than another weapon, so Christian Darrisaw would be my pick here. If I were doing trades in this exercise, I would trade back and acquire more picks if I were Detroit (and would still be able to potentially get Darrisaw moving into the teens).
8. CAR: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Sam Darnold was already mentioned above, and I’m excited to see what he can do with Matt Rhule, Joe Brady, and the Panthers. However, Trey Lance has massive upside (and his football IQ is said to be off the charts) and is worth bringing in for an organization that wants to swing and take chances at finding a bona fide franchise quarterback. The dynamic dual threat would not be under pressure to play as a rookie: if he’s ready to play, that’s great; if not, he’s a guy that could sit and learn anyway.
9. DEN: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Melvin Gordon is an underrated back, but he’s entering a contract year, and Travis Etienne is clearly a top-tier draft prospect in my opinion. You can read more about Etienne’s ability here, but he’s a playmaker that can make a similar impact to the top two remaining receivers—and Denver is pretty much set there. One of the top two linebackers would also be in the discussion with Vic Fangio and company. Ideally, Denver will be able to trade back from No. 9.
10. DAL: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Perhaps the most talked about connection outside of the top five, Patrick Surtain II has been mocked to the Cowboys often because he’s a strong fit. Pairing Surtain with former Crimson Tide teammate Trevon Diggs would give Dallas an imposing long-term duo at cornerback to help combat some high-powered offenses in the NFC.
11. NYG: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Ja’Marr Chase going No. 11 seems crazy, but I just couldn’t find an ideal fit where I’d take him. The Cowboys almost make zero sense for another wide receiver, the Broncos are pretty set there as well as already mentioned, the Panthers are looking for a franchise quarterback, the Lions coaching staff probably wants to get stout up front, and I like DeVonta Smith over Chase overall. Adding him to the Giants offense, which already signed Kenny Golladay this offseason, would give Daniel Jones plenty to work with if the offensive line can hold up.
12. PHI: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
I would not have traded back from No. 6 (and the potential opportunity to draft DeVonta Smith) if I were the Eagles, and Jaylen Waddle isn’t a perfect fit with Jalen Reagor already on the roster; but the talent of the lightning quick Alabama receiver will bring more energy to an Eagles offense that could surprise people if the offensive line can stay healthy and protect Jalen Hurts.
13. LAC: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Jaycee Horn would’ve been a close runner-up for the pick in Philly, but I like him joining a talented Chargers defense here at No. 13. The South Carolina cornerback reminds me a little bit of Jalen Ramsey, who new Chargers head coach Brandon Staley just worked with as the defensive coordinator for the Rams.
14. MIN: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The two top linebackers in this year’s draft (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Micah Parsons) both certainly could have gone higher than before No. 14, especially after watching Devin White and Lavonte Davis wreak havoc during the Bucs’ Super Bowl run. Owusu-Koramoah as a versatile chess piece in Mike Zimmer’s defense could be an amazing match.
15. NE: Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
Linebacker would be in the mix here, and obviously I would go with whatever Bill Belichick says. But he might like adding a disruptive defensive lineman like Christian Barmore to a group that was beefed up during free agency. Barmore showed up in crunch time for Alabama last season, and I like him as a first rounder despite many being down on him as a prospect.
16. ARI: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The injuries are the concern for Caleb Farley, but this move would be in line with the aggressiveness the Cardinals have shown all offseason. If healthy, Farley will be a playmaking cornerback that would fit right in on a defense filled with guys that make plays.
17. LV: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Micah Parsons has impressive all-around talent and comes from a program that’s one of the top pipelines for highly successful NFL players. It’s easy to see Jon Gruden and Gus Bradley getting excited about adding him. Originally, I was going to pull the trigger on Parsons as the Broncos in the top ten. Ultimately, sitting out last season paired with some off-field concerns cause him to drop for me.
18. MIA: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Dolphins could target offensive line help (especially after trading Ereck Flowers) here, but Najee Harris is my best player on the board, and Miami should come away with a running back during Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft if it works out that way. Like Travis Etienne, Harris is a high-character player that does it all in the backfield.
19. WAS: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Washington added Ereck Flowers in that trade with Miami, and they might continue beefing up the offensive line in the draft. I like Rashawn Slater here to plug in as a rookie starter for what should be one of the best offensive lines in the league paving the way for Antonio Gibson to complement a top defense under Ron Rivera.
20. CHI: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Maybe Andy Dalton and the Bears will prove just about everyone wrong this year, but let me start by saying I do not understand what the Bears did at quarterback this offseason. Acquiring Dalton is fine, but to then assert he’s the clear starter just felt a bit strange. Anyway, I believe Justin Fields would be worth the selection here. Fields’ athleticism can help him get out of trouble if the Bears offensive line struggles. The upside is enticing for a big and athletic quarterback like Fields, but I think he’s somewhat of a boom/bust prospect.
21. IND: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
I like some of the receivers as we get into the 20s, but it’s not a pressing need compared to offensive tackle and pass rusher for Indy. If I was just in control of the Colts, Christian Darrisaw would be someone to make a move for if he gets into the teens. In this scenario, Azeez Ojulari is available as arguably the best EDGE in the draft. His progress and confidence increase from 2019 to 2020 makes him intriguing in the second half of Round 1.
22. TEN: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
One of the most surprising parts of the pre-draft process was the size Rashod Bateman measured at (a little over six-foot and 190 pounds). And unfortunately, a bout with COVID-19 made his 2020 season at Minnesota a challenge (he opted out midseason). What we saw from Bateman in 2019 is hopefully what we’ll see in the NFL. He’d be a solid No. 2 next to A.J. Brown.
23. NYJ: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
The Jets are almost certainly going to come away with a cornerback at some point this week, and Paulson Adebo would be a nice fit in Robert Saleh’s defense. The opt-out probably hurt, as Adebo isn’t getting much buzz as a first-rounder; his size and talent make him worth the selection at No. 23.
24. PIT: Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
This 24-32 range is the toughest area, as there are a few dozen prospects that have a case to be drafted toward the end of the first round. The Steelers lost Maurkice Pouney to retirement, and Landon Dickerson feels like a perfect fit to take over in Pittsburgh. In real life (i.e., not me making the selections for every team, causing some guys to go higher than they likely will), the Steelers might have a chance to take Travis Etienne or Najee Harris.
25. JAX: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
A trade (potentially acquiring a future first-round pick if a team is willing to give one up) might be the direction I’d go here. The Jaguars signed Marvin Jones and just drafted Laviska Shenault (likely to have a sizable role on offense) in the second-round last year, so the available receivers are difficult to go with here. Instead, Asante Samuel Jr. could be added to compete in a deep cornerback group; he’d be a potential turnover-forcer in the slot to start his career. As an extra note, I would be targeting Ohio State running back Trey Sermon in the second round. The Jaguars have James Robinson, but they’re going to want to run the ball, and you can seamlessly plug Sermon into Urban Meyer’s offense.
26. CLE: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
The medical situation is apparently a concern for Terrace Marshall Jr., but I’m assuming it isn’t a huge issue and would still take the risk on him in the first round. I like him being paired with Baker Mayfield as a potential top weapon in the red zone, with other receivers in Cleveland’s offense likely taking attention away and allowing for prime one-on-one opportunities.
27. BAL: Wyatt Davis, OL, Ohio State
After trading Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs for the No. 31 pick, the Ravens have a lot of flexibility on Thursday night. I think it would be a good idea to ensure you can keep that elite rushing attack going by ensuring superb play and depth up front. Wyatt Davis can help power the inside rushing attack in Baltimore, perhaps starting at left guard before moving to right guard in the future.
28. NO: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
These edge defenders are very tough to rank this year, but Kwity Paye would be a really good fit in the Saints defense. Paye might be the readiest to contribute among the top prospects at his position, and he’d be a guy that can make a huge Year 1 impact in a veteran New Orleans unit.
29. GB: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
One of the Georgia cornerbacks or one of the top remaining EDGE players could be in the mix here, but Rondale Moore is arguably the top player on the board and would fill a need by adding more electric ability at receiver for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers would be on board with the pick. Elijah Moore, Cornell Powell, and Kadarius Toney are among the other receivers that would get serious first-round consideration for me.
30. BUF: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
The opt out wasn’t ideal, but it’s difficult to argue with the production the last time Gregory Rousseau was on the field in 2019 (15.5 sacks). I’d be looking to move up for Travis Etienne or Najee Harris if just running the Bills and being able to make trades, but Rousseau can produce off the edge for a team looking to get past the Chiefs in the AFC. Rousseau’s teammate Jaelan Phillips is not included in the first round because of the talk about his potential lack of interest in football—he’d be someone decision-makers would benefit from interviewing.
31. BAL: Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
After taking Wyatt Davis, adding Spencer Brown to replace Orlando Brown Jr. would not be much fun for the left side defensive lines to go up against in the coming years. I like Sammy Watkins to elevate the receiving corps, and keeping the offensive line in excellent shape long-term would be a nice return for the Ravens in the first round of this draft.
32. TB: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
I like the idea of UCLA running back Demetric Felton playing with Tom Brady, but it sounds like he’s going to fall in the draft and can almost certainly be had quite a bit later than this. Jayson Oweh would be a high-ceiling selection, and it’s a bit of a luxury pick that can pay off down the line if he hits.