The NFL combine is this week, which means the four-plus months of the college football season will soon be rendered moot because of how more than 300 players, decked out in shorts and T-shirts, work out against air inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
That's an exaggeration, of course, but it is true that teams will be swayed by 40 times and 3-cone drills and bench presses more than perhaps they should because, well, sometimes it's hard not to be. Humans were not meant to do the things we're about to witness in Indy.
Put another way: Don't be surprised if we see some changes in next week's mock draft solely as an overreaction to what unfolds in the coming days.
For now, however, let's get to it: This week, we have Malik Willis as the first quarterback off the board. Matt Corral remains our QB1, but the reality is that Willis is the highest-upside QB in what feels like a pretty average class. And if there is, say, a 25 percent chance he approaches Josh Allen-level productivity then you absolutely have to take him, even in the top 10. Because without a franchise QB, even if the other 21 positions are Pro Bowlers, your team is perpetually flirting with .500 football.
OK, let's get to it. Keep reading to see where Willis lands, where the other QBs go in Round 1, as well as how the other 28 picks play out.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Ikem Ekwonu OL
NC State • Soph • 6'4" / 320 lbs
We've routinely had Ekwonu as our top offensive linemen for more than a month and we've finally talked ourselves into the Jags taking him first overall. Yes, Aidan Hutchinson is probably the safest pick in the entire class but unless he can play offensive line too, he's not a huge need for Trevor Lawrence and new coach, Doug Pederson.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Aidan Hutchinson EDGE
Michigan • Soph • 6'7" / 268 lbs
Hutchinson is a great example of a player who got better each and every season, and instead of coming out early he stayed in school, balled out as a senior, and made himself into arguably the best player -- on either side of the ball -- in the country during the '21 college football season. This will be the easiest pick in the draft for any team.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Notre Dame • Soph • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Justin Reid is in the final year of his deal for Houston, and while the team could certainly look to bolster the offensive line, or perhaps be in the market for a QB, they'll have a new head coach in Lovie Smith. Hamilton meanwhile, is coming off a spectacular season for the Fighting Irish where he was routinely the best player on the field.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
Is offensive line a need? Yeah, of course, but here's the thing: If Mekhi Becton is healthy, and Alijah Vera-Tucker builds on a strong rookie season, and George Fant plays like he did in '21, the O-line may not be priority No. 1. Plus, Thibodeaux with just sitting there, it may be hard for Robert Saleh to pass on the Oregon pass rusher, especially in a deep offensive line class where the Jets also have picks 10, 35, 38 and 69.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Soph • 6'7" / 350 lbs
This feels like best-case scenario for the Giants (though we heard zero complaints from Giants fans when they had Kayvon Thibodeaux fall in their lap last week), who now have a new GM and head coach, and appear fully committed to Daniel Jones. Neal is one of the best offensive linemen in this class, and should Jones return, the Giant have to protect him.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Mississippi State • Soph • 6'5" / 311 lbs
Quarterback makes all the sense in the world here, but it's important to remember these two words: Fit matters. Put Mac Jones on the the Jets and he probably looks a lot more like Zach Wilson than a legit Rookie of the Year candidate. So knowing that, the Panthers bolster the offensive line and perhaps find their next franchise QB via free agency or a trade. Cross is a high-upside athletic offensive tackle who had a strong season for Mississippi State.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Soph • 6'3" / 235 lbs
The Giants could target edge rusher here, but Lloyd is a special talent. We were impressed by him during the '21 season and have been watching more of him ahead of the combine and we're somehow more impressed. He's the prototypical off-ball linebacker in today's NFL and it's like he was built in a lab. This may seem high but, well, it's not.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Soph • 6'1" / 219 lbs
We've been upfront about Willis. We have a second-round grade on him based on his body of work in college, but that doesn't mean teams looking for a quarterback won't take one a round or so before they should. In Atlanta, it's best-case scenario for Willis because he'll spend the year sitting behind Matt Ryan, and in 2023, Arthur Smith will have his next franchise QB, one who does just about everything you want in a modern-day signal caller.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
A year ago the Broncos took Patrick Surtain in this range and now they double down with Sauce Gardner, who is coming off a great showing for the Bearcats. Drafting CBs with back-to-back first-round picks might seem like overkill, but Denver will lose some members of its secondary to free agency, and more than that, they play in a division that includes Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
The Jets bolstered the pass rush at No. 4 and here they take one of the best CBs in this class. Stingley missed the final half of the season because of injury but that shouldn't have a major impact on his draft stock.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 192 lbs
We'll see if Washington makes any moves in free agency to address the QB position because, ultimately, that will inform who they'll target in the draft. This week, we have them beefing up the wide receiver corps; Terry McLaurin is one of the best young player in the league but he's also in the final year of his rookie deal. And while Curtis Samuel is entering Year 2, he didn't exactly set the world on fire in '21. Wilson, meanwhile, is one of the the most dynamic players in college football and his game in many ways reminds us of Odell Beckham Jr.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Arkansas • Soph • 6'2" / 225 lbs
The Vikings have their GM and their coach, and if Kirk Cousins is hanging around for another year the team might as well give him another weapon opposite Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, who turns 32 next season. Burks is a contested and high-point catch machine who can also outrun defensive backs to the end zone. The scariest part of his game is that he's not even close to his ceiling yet.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Jermaine Johnson II EDGE
Florida State • Soph • 6'5" / 262 lbs
Cleveland's defensive line, especially on the edge, is incredibly thin after Myles Garrett, and while the Browns could go in many directions here, with two top-flight edge rushers still on the board they grab one. No one had a better Senior Bowl week than Jermaine Johnson. We liked his 2021 tape a lot, but thought of him as a fringe first/second-rounder. He put any such doubts to rest with a dominating practice week in Mobile.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Kenyon Green OL
Texas A&M • Soph • 6'4" / 323 lbs
Green plays angry, which immediately makes him a good fit in Baltimore. He can plays outside or inside and at Texas A&M he lined up against some of the best defensive linemen and edge rushers in the country. The Ravens need help at offensive tackle and Green, who may ultimately play inside in the NFL, provides the unit with some versatility.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 15
Nakobe Dean LB
Georgia • Soph • 5'11" / 231 lbs
This continues to be a popular pairing in our weekly mocks, partly because the Eagles could use Dean in the middle of their 'D' (even if, historically, they don't draft off-ball linebackers in Round 1), and in part because Dean was so dominant during the '21 season. And while he played on the best defense in the country, don't be fooled -- he didn't ride on the coattails of a dominant Georgia defensive line; Dean was a huge reason for their success. There are questions about his size and how that translates to the NFL but his tape tells a different story.
From Indianapolis Colts
Round 1 - Pick 16
Round 1 - Pick 17
Georgia • Soph • 6'5" / 272 lbs
Walker is something of a tweener, which is odd to say about someone who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 275 pounds. But he can line up as a 3, 4 or 5-tech and that versatility, coupled with his non-stop motor and consistent playmaking ability, makes him an attractive option for several teams in this range looking to bolster their defensive line. And this may be the last time you see him in the middle of Round 1 because he's expected to light it up at the combine and see his draft stock skyrocket in the process.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Pittsburgh • Soph • 6'3" / 220 lbs
Admittedly, we've been all over the board with where Pickett might end up. And the truth is that we love what he accomplished last season, and New Orleans feels like a perfect fit for just about any young quarterback -- the Saints have a good O-line and defense -- and the offensive firepower to again be in the playoff mix in '22. The only "but" is a big one: Sean Payton is taking some time off and he was a huge part or the team's success.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Washington • Soph • 5'11" / 193 lbs
Even though McDuffie balled out on the outside for the Huskies this season, we get Tyrann Matthieu vibes when we watch him. He has the athleticism to line up anywhere and in Philly he'll join a secondary with Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox and not much else because of impending free agency or inexperience.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Matt Corral QB
Ole Miss • Soph • 6'2" / 205 lbs
Mike Tomlin hasn't hidden the fact that he's on the lookout for a mobile QB and while Matt Corral is our QB1 that doesn't mean all 32 teams agree with us. So if he happens to be sitting here, even with much-needed O-line help still on the board, you have to imagine the Steelers are thinking long and hard about it.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Drake London WR
USC • Soph • 6'4" / 213 lbs
At 6-foot-5, London was a high-point-catch machine before his '21 season ended prematurely due to an ankle injury. He has all the tools to eventually be WR1, and in New England he'd be a welcome addition to a Pats offense that appears to have found its next franchise QB in Mac Jones.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Clemson • Soph • 6'0" / 194 lbs
The Raiders secondary had some bright spot among their young players -- rookies Trevon Moehrig and Nate Hobbs flashed -- but the team also cut 2020 first-rounder Damon Arnette this season and could lose several veterans to free agency. Booth had a fantastic '22 season and he could go even higher than this.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Zion Johnson OL
Boston College • Soph • 6'3" / 316 lbs
It appears Kyler Murray and the Cards will patch up whatever social-media-manufactured issues remain between them, and patching up the OL should be No. 2 on the to-do list. Zion Johnson is another player who went to the Senior Bowl and proved he was worthy of first-round consideration. He played left tackle at Boston College and worked at guard and center in Mobile. He's a Day 1 starter at several positions.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Iowa • Soph • 6'2" / 305 lbs
Tyler Biadasz was good at times last season but there's certainly room for upgrading the interior OL. And if Tyler Linderbaum is still on the board, this is a layup for the front office. Linderbaum is one of the best offensive linemen, even at center, and he could certainly go much higher than this.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Hill was part of a Wolverines defense that could end up seeing three players go in Round 1. He's underrated nationally but watch him play and it becomes clear pretty quickly that he's in the running for one of the best defensive backs in this class. He's listed as a safety but he can line up anywhere.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Minnesota • Soph • 6'8" / 380 lbs
Faalele measured 6-foot-8, 387 pounds at the Senior Bowl, and depending on which scout you speak to, he's anywhere from a high-upside first-rounder to a late-Day 2 project. His physical tools are undeniable and he's new to the position (and football), and once he puts it altogether he could be special.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Illinois • Soph • 6'1" / 203 lbs
Everyone in the Bucs' secondary other than Antoine Winfield is either entering free agency or has one year left on their deal. Which brings us to Kerby Joseph, who flew under the radar for much of the fall because he was playing for the Illini. But he might be one of the most dynamic safeties in this class -- he covers huge swaths of real estate in centerfield and has the anticipation skills to consistently make plays coming downhill.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Alabama • Soph • 6'1" / 180 lbs
If not for an ACL suffered in the national title game, Williams could be long gone. This could be a nice present for Aaron Rodgers -- assuming he returns in '22 -- or for QB-in-waiting Jordan Love.
From San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 - Pick 29
Northern Iowa • Soph • 6'7" / 325 lbs
We're not as high on Penning as others in the draft-media community, but that doesn't mean he didn't have a strong season and a dominant-at-times Senior Bowl week. He plays with an edge, something the Dolphins O-line could use as the embark on the Mike McDaniel era.
Round 1 - Pick 30
George Karlaftis EDGE
Purdue • Soph • 6'4" / 263 lbs
The defense got better over the course of the season but the Chiefs need to do a better job getting after the quarterback. Karlaftis looks the part, and flashed at times last season for Purdue. If he can play with more consistency he could end up as a steal at this point in the draft.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Central Michigan • Soph • 6'6" / 303 lbs
The Bengals need O-line help -- this isn't news. Raimann is raw, and perhaps not a Day 1 answer to the O-line woes, but, man, he has the potential to be really, really good. Originally from Austria, Raimann is a former tight end who has only played the position for a couple years. But he made a big leap from from Year 1 to Year 2 and there's no reason to think he won't continue to grow into the position.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 32
Chris Olave WR
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 187 lbs
Only Amon-Ra St. Brown, who had a fantastic rookie campaign, and Quintez Cephus are experienced receivers under contract for the Lions, so at the bottom of Round 1 they add Olave, who might be the best route runner in this group. He isn't as explosive as former teammate Garrett Wilson but he does a lot of things well and would be an immediate contributor in Detroit.