It's NFL combine weekend, and all eyes were on the quarterbacks earlier in the week. Their interviews, media sessions, measurements, testing, and on-field drills will all be taken into account when teams are evaluating whether or not to invest first-round draft capital on them.
It only takes one franchise to fall in love with a prospect for that player to go in the first round, and that's what plays out in this mock draft. Five signal-callers go within the top 32 picks, which matches 2021 and 2018 as the most first-round signal-callers in a single draft in the past two decades. The lack of high-end talent at the position this year makes this proposition seem preposterous, I know. But there's never been a bigger emphasis on finding a franchise quarterback, and there are A LOT of teams searching for long-term solutions. Now let's get started!
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Round 1 - Pick 1
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Soph • 6'7" / 350 lbs
GM Trent Baalke said the Jaguars are "open for business" when it comes to the No. 1 overall pick, but there won't be any takers. Instead, Jacksonville invests in protection for Trevor Lawrence with the selection of Neal, a 6-foot-7, 340 pounds behemoth who moves as though he's 75 pounds lighter.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Ikem Ekwonu OL
NC State • Soph • 6'4" / 320 lbs
Whether the Texans decide to trade or keep two-time Pro Bowler Laremy Tunsil, they need much more talent along an offensive line that finished the 2021 season 27th in ESPN's pass block win rate. Ekwonu will help immediately in that regard while consistently pile driving defenders in the run game.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Notre Dame • Soph • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Hamilton is a much different player than Jamal Adams; Jets fans need to understand that when reacting to the possibility of their team taking the jack-of-all-trades prospect out of Notre Dame. New York finished dead last in total defense a year ago, and Hamilton is a player who can boost every level of the unit.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Pittsburgh • Soph • 6'3" / 220 lbs
All anyone wants to talk about at the combine is Pickett's 8.5-inch hands, which will be the smallest in the NFL once he's drafted in late April. It's not insignificant, but Pickett's leadership, experience, and overall skill set will overshadow his hand size.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
Excellent haul for the Giants, who pair a potential cornerstone offensive tackle with a potential cornerstone edge rusher. Thibodeaux has all the physical tools to wreak havoc off the edge.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
Derek Stingley Jr. enthusiasts talk at length about his dominant 2019 campaign, but "Sauce" Gardner locked it down for his entire career at Cincinnati. (He did not allow a TD in 1,000 snaps in coverage, according to PFF.) Combine that elite production with his aggressiveness and confidence on the outside, and that's why the Falcons make Gardner the first cornerback off the board.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Soph • 6'1" / 219 lbs
He's not there yet, but it wouldn't be surprising if Willis ended the draft process as the consensus top quarterback prospect. His physical traits are undeniable, and there have been numerous reports about him blowing teams away with his football intelligence during interviews. He's not ready to start right away, but the Broncos get an exciting talent who could end up being better than all of this year's free agent quarterbacks.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 192 lbs
Let's assume the Jets address their interior offensive line issues in free agency. If that's the case, they'll most likely have their pick of the litter at wide receiver. Wilson would help Zach Wilson immensely right away while alleviating pressure on New York's other young skill players (Michael Carter, Elijah Moore, etc.).
Round 1 - Pick 11
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 207 lbs
Washington has reportedly contacted every team about quarterback availability, but the reality is that the biggest names don't look like they'll be traded and the free agent class is mostly uninspiring. Ridder is a proven leader and winner who just dominated the testing portion of the NFL combine and can orchestrate an offense with the right pieces around him. He'd endear himself to Ron Rivera and the coaching staff quickly.
Round 1 - Pick 12
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
The Vikings halt the fall of Stingley, who was once considered the consensus No. 1 cornerback but has since fallen back with the likes of "Sauce" Gardner, Trent McDuffie and others. Stingley could still wind up on top once all of their careers progress, and recapturing the magic of his freshman campaign at LSU would be a good place to start.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Georgia • Soph • 6'5" / 272 lbs
After adding some offensive firepower in free agency, the Browns address the defensive line in Round 1 since Myles Garrett is the only starter under contract in 2022. Luckily, Walker can play inside and out, providing Cleveland with a valuable commodity as it attempts to slow down Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow in the AFC North.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Iowa • Soph • 6'2" / 305 lbs
If history repeats itself, the Ravens will move on from Bradley Bozeman. And if that's the case, center becomes an immediate need. It just so happens that at the combine, general manager Eric DeCosta said Linderbaum shares a lot of the same qualities with former Iowa and longtime Raven Marshal Yanda. Linderbaum could be the Ravens' next great interior offensive lineman.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 15
From Indianapolis Colts
Round 1 - Pick 16
David Ojabo EDGE
Michigan • Soph • 6'4" / 265 lbs
Ojabo's run defending needs plenty of work, but the out-of-nowhere pass-rushing prowess he showed at Michigan this past season should be enough for NFL teams to jump at the opportunity to draft him. He could turn into the most productive pass-rusher in this class when it's all said and done.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Jordan Davis DL
Georgia • Soph • 6'6" / 336 lbs
In this scenario, the Chargers franchise tag Mike Williams and instead bolster what was one of the league's worst run defense in 2021. Good luck to Javonte Williams, Josh Jacobs and Clyde Edwards-Helaire as they try to find running lanes between the tackles with the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis occupying the middle.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Arkansas • Soph • 6'2" / 225 lbs
Burks said at the combine that he tries to mimic his game after 49ers weapon Deebo Samuel, which should be music to the ears of the Eagles coaches and talent evaluators. Their run-heavy attack would be that much more dangerous with the threat of Burks being used in unconventional ways, not to mention he's a run-after-catch machine who would complement DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Matt Corral QB
Ole Miss • Soph • 6'2" / 205 lbs
The Steelers avoid having to trade up to get Corral, who must improve his field awareness and decision making but will have the luxury of a quality supporting cast of skill players in Pittsburgh.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Soph • 6'3" / 235 lbs
The Patriots would be wise to take Lloyd if he falls outside the top 20. He excels in every facet of the position -- just look up his stats from this past season at Utah -- and would fit right in with the Patriots' aggressive and physical defense.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Nakobe Dean LB
Georgia • Soph • 5'11" / 231 lbs
Every defensive coordinator wants a linebacker who will elevate the entire defense, and that's what new DC Patrick Graham would get in Dean. The leader of perhaps the greatest defense in college football history would quickly become Las Vegas' leading tackler while making sure everyone is on the same page.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Jermaine Johnson II EDGE
Florida State • Soph • 6'5" / 262 lbs
In a division with Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson, plus the increasing likelihood of having to defend the dynamic Trey Lance, the Cardinals need to do a better job getting after the quarterback. Drafting Johnson will go a long way toward accomplishing that.
Round 1 - Pick 24
George Karlaftis EDGE
Purdue • Soph • 6'4" / 263 lbs
If the Cowboys part ways with Demarcus Lawrence or Randy Gregory this offseason, getting Karlaftis at this point in the draft would be a success. He has a lot of Ryan Kerrigan in his game, and Dallas is familiar with what Kerrigan was able to do while with Washington.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Northern Iowa • Soph • 6'7" / 325 lbs
Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold are both on the wrong side of 30, and their combined cap number is a whopping $27.5 million for 2022. If the Titans decide to go younger and more cost effective, they'll love Penning's physical traits and nasty playing mentality.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Kenyon Green OL
Texas A&M • Soph • 6'4" / 323 lbs
This just makes too much sense with the surprising retirement of Pro Bowler Ali Marpet. Green played four of the five offensive line positions in college, but he's best suited at the spot Marpet just vacated.
From San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 - Pick 29
Central Michigan • Soph • 6'6" / 303 lbs
The Austria native has only played tackle for two seasons after transitioning from tight end, which means he'll have plenty of room to grow for a team that must protect Tua Tagovailoa at all costs.
Round 1 - Pick 30
General manager Brett Veach said at the combine that the Chiefs are looking to get a deal done with Tyrann Mathieu. Even if that happens, drafting the versatile Hill would help the Kansas City secondary in a variety of ways.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Zion Johnson OL
Boston College • Soph • 6'3" / 316 lbs
The Bengals badly need offensive line help, and there should be plenty of quality options at this point in the draft. In this case, they go with Johnson, who has moved up draft boards after a standout Senior Bowl week.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 32
Sam Howell QB
North Carolina • Soph • 6'1" / 220 lbs
Goff doesn't seem to be the long-term solution in Detroit, even if the Lions are paying him like one after taking on his contract from Los Angeles. Howell can sit behind Goff for a year and hopefully develop to the point where the Lions feel confident with him as the starter in 2023.