The back end of the first round of the NFL Draft is always a crapshoot.
In any given draft there are 15, 18, maybe 20 players who are considered bonafide first-round talents, more or less. It varies some by the year, but the overall concept is the same. This year, with some of the limitations on travel and unusual circumstances with the inability to get medical teams around players, things are a bit more murky than some others in the past.
Every year around this time I try to come up with the names of players who I cannot imagine are not drafted in the first 32 picks. It's part of the process that results in my mock draft. In the past I have probably been a little too liberal with how I defined this and how deep I was willing to go with certain position groups. This year, I went in thinking it highly doubtful any more than 20 players would fit this criteria … and I ended up with precisely that number.
Again, the idea is – which players could not possibly fall out of the first round? No matter what transpires, and how many crazy trades or controversial picks are made, there is just to much value here for Thursday night to pass without these guys hearing their names called. No matter how wild the scenarios get, it's difficult to concoct one in which these players are not a part of the first round. Someone would grab any of them in the final few picks, even if there wasn't a remote need, because the value would be simply too high.
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Here's the list:
QB: Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love
Not too controversial here. The big three are all probably gone by the sixth pick. Maybe the Dolphins get cute and pass on a quarterback with their first pick and then make something happen in the teens with a trade up or whatever. Regardless, I don't see Love not going in the first round, somewhere, even if it was a team moving into the late 20s to get the fifth-year option on him. I don't think it will come to that, but ultimately he was the last of these 20 guys to get on the list.
Sorry. Too much value and too many names and no real "it" guy. There will be a long run on them, and receivers, in Round 2.
Not a great list, overall, and I've heard no first-round buzz about any of them. Maybe one sneaks in – though I doubt it – but even then, there would be a few names in the mix and no one set tight end.
WR: CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Justin Jefferson
Look, maybe there are eight of these cats drafted in the first 32. It wouldn't shock me …. but I also can't bank on it and a lot of smart teams are giving me the feeling they will be content to wait for Day 2 to address their receiver needs. So many options abound and such a variety, as well, that I think it works against them. These four are the top tier, as best I have been able to tell. I could list, literally, at least six other kids who at least some teams believe are a first-round talent. But I couldn't make all of them locks, depending on what else was left on the board.
OL: Tristan Wirfs, Andre Thomas, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton
Don't get me wrong, there will be more than four of these dudes selected. But things get very murky once all of these guys are gone by, at least, the first 14 picks. I strongly believe tackles Austin Jackson and Ezra Cleveland have a good shot to go in the first round – but the teams most likely to take them could go in another direction. If I was doing a mock right now, interior OL Cesar Ruiz and Robert Hunt would be in strong contention in the latter few picks. But I couldn't clump them with this group of four who are deadest locks for selection.
EDGE: Chase Young, K'Lavon Chaisson
Again, more than these two will go, but that depends on a wide variety of factors. A.J. Epenesa, Zach Baun, Terrell Lewis and Yetur Gross-Matos are all intriguing prospects, but to call them can't miss first-round picks, based on my reporting to this point, would be a stretch.
DL: Derrick Brown, Javon Kinlaw
Both of these guys should be off the board relatively quickly. Some evaluators I know well prefer Kinlaw's upside. I know some teams that are giddy over the scheme flexibility and versatility of Marlon Davidson and some teams have more medical concerns about Ross Blacklock than others, and Neville Gallimore will be a consideration for some teams in the back end of the first round. But it's far from a certainty they do not end up all going near the top of Round 2.
LB: Isaiah Simmons, Patrick Queen
This is a very tough position to sort through. At least two and quite possibly four will go among the top 32 picks. Jordyn Brooks and Kenneth Murray are clustered right there with Queen, but I gave Queen the nod here based on a hunch or two and a little bit of what I have heard. I will admit there is more guess work going on at this position. Some like Murray more than Queen, but if you are making me vouch for one LB who definitely goes Thursday, I am leaning Queen.
CB: Jeff Okudah, CJ Henderson
It may end up coming as a surprise which corner goes first should the Lions trade down, or opt not to take Okudah with the third-overall pick. Regardless, these two are gone by no lower than the 16th pick. And at least 3-4 more corners will get drafted, but this is another position where evaluations vary quite a bit. Jaylon Johnson is rising based off strong recent medical reports. Trevon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, A.J. Terrell and Noah Igbinoghene are all in this mix. But if a few teams lean to receiver or tackle late in the round – and several teams have similar needs in that group – then some corners will slide.
Just have not heard enough to indicate to me there is one safety that absolutely gets picked in Round 1. Xavier McKinney might. Jeremy Chinn might. But they also might not.