Unlike most NFL drafts, there’s some legitimate intrigue hovering over this year’s event. Tough to tell who will wind up as the top pick, much less how the dominoes will fall in the top 10.
The only real guarantee? The string of quarterbacks taken with the first overall pick is about to be broken. This class just doesn’t measure up.
As for the Patriots, they could trade out, trade up, or if they make a pick, go in any number of directions, be it offensive line, cornerback, linebacker, and possibly even receiver.
So with that as a backdrop, here’s my first round mock draft, minus trades.
1. Jaguars: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
It’s quite possible all the talk about Walker overtaking Aiden Hutchinson was nothing more than a smokescreen. Ditto whispers of Ickey Ekwonu possibly landing in the top spot. When in doubt, go with eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
2. Lions: Aiden Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
This is the dream scenario for Lions head coach Dan Campbell, getting the home-town kid who’ll help him “bite off the kneecaps” of opponents.
3. Texans: Ickey Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Nick Caserio understands the importance of protecting the quarterback. It’s just a matter of which tackle he likes best. Evan Neal might be the guy, but Ekwonu gets the nod because he’s arguably the best in the draft and a cornerstone piece for any offensive line.
4. NY Jets: Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Huge position of need for Gang Green especially if they want to hang in against all the receiving talent in the AFC East, not to mention AFC. Kayvon Thibodeaux is another possibility. But we’ll keep the Sauce, hold the edge rusher.
5. NY Giants: Charlie Cross, OT, Mississippi State
If GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll want to give Daniel Jones a legitimate shot, they know they have to protect him so Cross heads to the Big Apple. He’s the choice over Evan Neal.
6. Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Yes, they need a quarterback. Either Kenny PIckett or Malik Willis could go here for sure. But they are desperate for a left tackle. They’ve been a revolving door at the position for the past decade. The buck stops with Neal.
7. NY Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
He’s the best pass rusher in the draft. And the G-men need an edge rusher with his ability, even if he has a few red flags on the resume. Daboll should be up to the task of managing him.
8. Atlanta: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
They traded Julio Jones in 2021. They lost Russell Gage in free agency, and Calvin Ridley is suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games. So you better believe they’re going to take a receiver here. Wilson is a YAC monster.
9. Seahawks: Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State
Prior to free agency, Pete Carroll talked about finding edge-rushing help, and how essential that was for his team. They grabbed Uchenna Nwosu in free agency, but need more. While there’s a temptation to put Derek Stingley in this spot, Johnson also makes sense.
10. NY Jets: Drake London, WR, USC
They want to help Zach Wilson make a Year 2 leap. They made a bid for Tyreek Hill, but lost out to the Dolphins, so they go with London, one of the top downfield threats. Jameson Williams is also a possibility in this spot.
11. Commanders: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
He’s the best safety, and one of the best players overall, in the draft. The Commanders might go for a receiver here, but Hamilton will be a fixture in their secondary for many years to come.
12. Vikings: Derek Stingley, BC, LSU
They certainly have a need for a corner, and Stingley, who missed the end of the 2021 season with a Lisfranc injury, is a great fit. He’d be coached by Daronte Jones, his former defensive coordinator at LSU, and be mentored by former Tiger Patrick Peterson.
13. Texans: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
He’s coming back from ACL surgery, but has looked good at all of his test points. He might not be ready at the start of the season, but Caserio won’t shy away, especially with an offense in desperate need of a playmaker.
14. Ravens: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
If the Ravens don’t take Davis here, there’s a ton of teams lined up to grab the mammoth nose tackle. Talk about impact players, Davis is a dominant force in the run game. He doesn’t allow runners any daylight up the middle. John Harbaugh won’t pass that up.
15. Eagles: Trent McDuffie, BC, Washington
Cornerback is one of their primary needs. Chris Olave is a possibility in this spot, but it’s hard to go wrong with McDuffie, one of the top-rated coverage corners in the draft who can play both man and zone.
16. Saints: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
One of their top priorities was replacing left tackle Terron Armstead, who left in free agency. Penning fits the bill. His nasty streak and “take no prisoners” style should work well to bolster the Saints line.
17. LA Chargers: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
They want offensive line help, but can’t resist when Buckeyes star wideout Olave is still on the board. He’s the smoothest, best route-runner in the draft. Justin Herbert will love this pick.
18. Eagles: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Collectively, the Eagles linebackers ranked among the league’s worst in both run defense and coverage. So they get help by grabbing Lloyd, the best all-round linebacker in the draft.
19. Saints: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
This is a spot they’ll go with the best available quarterback. The assumption is that’s Pickett, although it’s possible they might like Matt Corral better.
20. Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
They might have to move up to get him, but one way or the other, he’s the Steelers future at quarterback. Does anyone really think Mitch Trubisky’s their man?
21. Patriots: Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
The case for Walker? The entire Pats braintrust was at Georgia’s Pro Day. Matt Patricia is tight with Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart, a disciple of Nick Saban. Call me crazy, but this linebacker makes sense if you connect all the dots. He’ll provide the desired speed, coverage skills and playmaking ability the team desperately needs.
22. Packers: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Packers have to rebuild their receiving corps after trading Davante Adams — not to mention keep Aaron Rodgers happy — and Burks is one of the most physical and athletic receivers in the draft.
23. Cardinals: Johan Dotson, WR, Penn State
With Chandler Jones gone, edge rusher is a possibility with George Karlaftis still available. Just doubt they’ll be able to resist grabbing Dotson, especially after losing Christian Kirk in free agency.
24. Cowboys: Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
They need receiver help with Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson gone. But the offensive line also needs to be addressed. Connor Williams left in free agency and Green could walk in and be a day one starter.
25. Bills: Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
They need a running back, but it might be too early to pull the trigger on Breece Hall. With corner help also at the top of the list, they take Booth. Kyler Gordon and Daxton Hill are also possible here. Booth just seems like a better fit for Sean McDermott.
26. Titans: Zion Johnson, OL, Boston College
The BC lineman might not fall this far, but the Titans have the need, and Mike Vrabel is certainly up on BC’s linemen, given his son Tyler played on the Eagles O-line with Johnson.
27 Buccaneers: Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
Wyatt, who stood out at the Senior Bowl, is basically a younger version of Ndamukong Suh, who has yet to be re-signed. He could easily plug in next to Vita Vea and terrorize quarterbacks.
28. Packers: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
They need impact players on the defensive line, and Karlaftis is the best available. He’s a tone-setter and a playmaker, which should help the Packers up front.
29. Chiefs: Daxton Hill, S, Mich.
They lost Charvarius Ward in free agency, so they need help defending all the big-time QBs now in the conference. Hill is listed as a safety, but with his coverage skills, can be used anywhere in the secondary.
30. Chiefs: Boye Mafe, OLB, Minnesota
The Chiefs had trouble getting to the quarterback, and Mafe will certainly help a KC pass rush that finished 29th in sacks and did nothing to unsettle either Josh Allen or Joe Burrow during the playoffs.
31. Bengals: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
While they did sign Ted Karras to presumably play center, Linderbaum, who is an absolute stud, could be Joe Burrow’s front man for many years to come. Karras could then easily move to one of the starting guard spots.
32. Lions: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
They could nab a quarterback with Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell still available. Cine just might be too good for Campbell to pass up. He’s the biggest hitter in the class.