The Senior Bowl is behind us, the Super Bowl is in the books and the combine is a week away. Free agency is also on the horizon and then, finally, the NFL draft will be here in just over two months. Which means that as we begin to settle into how the first 32 picks might shake out, there is still a ton of uncertainty.
Typically, that uncertainty is about the quarterback position. Not this year -- we've talked about it weekly for months now -- and while we could see a name (or even two) slip into the top 10, the reality is that you can pick a name in this group and they would've been the sixth QB selected a year ago. But demand at the position outstrips supply and we know how this ends: Some teams will talk themselves into over-drafting players because there's a chance, however slim, that they'll unearth the next Josh Allen.
We get it and, frankly, we don't blame teams for thinking that way. Because without a franchise quarterback, you're struggling to win from one week to the next, never mind consistently getting to the playoffs and making runs at the Lombardi Trophy.
All that said, we don't have a QB going off the board until pick No. 11. The next passer doesn't hear his name called until seven selections later, and then again 14 picks after that. Instead, teams at the top of the draft target positions that either get after the quarterback or protect the quarterback from those tasked with taking him down.
It's not until the 10th pick that the first skill position player comes off the board (and it's not a QB): the Jets get Zach Wilson a downfield weapon in Drake London, who in a few years' time might end up as the best wide receiver in this class.
OK, let's get to it. Keep reading to see who your team takes in this week's mock draft.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Ikem Ekwonu OL
NC State • Soph • 6'4" / 320 lbs
We've routinely had Ekwonu as out 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 • 6'6" / 265 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
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Soph • 6'7" / 350 lbs
The Texans appear set at quarterback with Davis Mills, who flashed at times as a rookie. They found their head coach in Lovie Smith, and protecting the young QB will be a priority, perhaps even with Kayvon Thibodeaux still on the board.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Mississippi State • Soph • 6'5" / 311 lbs
The Jets have to protect Zach Wilson, and this should be the mantra to begin every draft meeting the team has. Yes, this might feel like it's too high for Charles Cross, but we've regularly had him going inside the top 10 in previous mock drafts, he had a really strong showing in 2021, and he immediately upgrades New York's O-line.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
Thibodeaux might be one of the best two players in this draft class, but if there's a run on offensive tackles at the top and Aidan Hutchison is the first non-OL off the board, there's a realistic chance the Oregon standout could be here when the Giants go on the clock. It's not a bad consolation prize for not landing one of the top-three offensive linemen and Thibodeux gives New York a much-need upgrade off the edge.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Notre Dame • Soph • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Sean Chandler and Justin Burris were on the field for a combined 537 snaps last season and both are out of contract. Former second-rounder Jeremy Chinn was a bright spot in the secondary but he plays closer to the line of scrimmage. While the two biggest needs are offensive line and quarterback, the top three tackles are already off the board and there's no QB worth taking here (and perhaps Carolina gets its QB via free agency or trade). Instead, the team bolsters the safety position with one of the best players in the class, Kyle Hamilton.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
In most of our previous mock drafts we've had the Giants taking some combination of offensive lineman and edge rusher. Well, three OTs and two EDGEs are off the board (including Thibodeaux, whom New York selected fifth overall) and instead of reaching on a player the Giants take Sauce Gardner, who is coming off a great showing for the Bearcats in '21, to the point that he's now our CB1. Perhaps New York's best bet is to trade down from this spot, especially if there's a QB-willing team eager to move up.
Round 1 - Pick 8
David Ojabo EDGE
Michigan • Soph • 6'4" / 255 lbs
Dante Fowler led the team with 4.5 sacks in 2021. Last week, the Falcons released him, which means that two off-ball linebackers -- Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun -- are now the sack leaders with ... two apiece. Put another way: Atlanta desperately needs to upgrade its pass rushers, especially off the edge, and that's where Michigan's David Ojabo comes in. Ojabo isn't a finished product, and that's what makes him so exciting. He was incredibly disruptive last season and he's only going to get better at the next level.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Jermaine Johnson II EDGE
Florida State • Soph • 6'5" / 262 lbs
The Broncos have their new coach in Nathaniel Hackett who, incidentally, has ties to Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers isn't behind Door No. 2, Denver could certainly consider drafting a QB here but instead we have them taking one of the most athletic edge rushers in the class. 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 1st/2nd-rounder. He put any such doubts to rest with a dominating practice week in Mobile.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
Drake London WR
USC • Soph • 6'4" / 213 lbs
Will Drake London be the first WR off the board? Probably not, but he should be in consideration because he can do just about everything, from winning off the line of scrimmage to making high-point and contested catches to consistently creating separation downfield -- all things Zach Wilson lacked at times from his wide receivers corps in '21.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Matt Corral QB
Ole Miss • Soph • 6'2" / 205 lbs
Taylor Heinicke was good for much of the '21 season but you'd have to imagine Washington will think long and hard about a QB, especially if they're picking this high.
Round 1 - Pick 12
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
The Vikings parted ways with former first-rounder Jeff Gladney and Patrick Peterson is currently out of contract. And while Pat P. could return, why not bolster the unit with Stingley, widely considered CB1 coming into '21 (he played in just three games before shutting it down for '21). He's still an elite athlete with all the physical traits you want in an NFL CB.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 192 lbs
The Browns have needs at wide receiver for sure, but the talking points in the coming months will likely concern the QB position. We think Baker Mayfield is much better than he showed last season, in part because he wasn't healthy. Wilson is one of the the most dynamic players in college football and he'll give Mayfield another downfield option now that Odell Beckham Jr. is in L.A.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Iowa • Soph • 6'2" / 305 lbs
Bradley Bozeman was solid under center in '21, is out of contract and the offensive line is due some upgrades. Tyler Linderbaum is one of the best offensive linemen in this class and would fill an obvious need in Baltimore.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 15
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.
From Indianapolis Colts
Round 1 - Pick 16
Alabama • Soph • 6'2" / 189 lbs
Yes, the Eagles have used first-rounders on wide receivers the last two years, but they'll only have four wideouts under contract after the season, and that includes J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Williams tore his ACL in the national title game but he's still one of the best players in this draft class and should be ready to contribute next October.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Kenyon Green OL
Texas A&M • Soph • 6'4" / 323 lbs
Rashawn Slater was one of the best picks in last year's draft class and L.A. needs to continue to beef up the unit, especially with offensive linemen Michael Schofield, Oday Aboushi and Senio Kelemete (who totaled 1,300 snaps) all out of contract. Green 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.
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 of the team's success.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Nakobe Dean LB
Georgia • Soph • 5'11" / 231 lbs
This has been 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.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Soph • 6'3" / 235 lbs
The Steelers need a quarterback and offensive line help, but there were concerns last season that former first-rounder Devin Bush was regressing. The team added Joe Schobert before the '21 season but they could move on from him in the coming months. But with the hiring of Brian Flores to work with linebackers, the expectation is that Bush will improve (he'll also be nearly two years removed from an ACL injury) and that a playmaker like Lloyd to pair with him could make this defense look a lot like the units that dominated early in Mike Tomlin's tenure in Pittsburgh.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Washington • Soph • 5'11" / 193 lbs
J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills have seen the majority of snaps at cornerback for the Patriots. Jackson is currently out of contract, and he'll rightfully be looking to get paid in the offseason. If the Pats want to add depth in the secondary, targeting a CB here would make sense and McDuffie would end up being one of the best defensive backs in this draft class.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Zion Johnson OL
Boston College • Soph • 6'3" / 316 lbs
New coach Josh McDaniels is going to want to protect Derek Carr, and the interior OL was a problem at times in 2021. Meanwhile, 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 23
Central Michigan • Soph • 6'6" / 303 lbs
The Cardinals could end up looking for a QB (we don't think that'll happen but who knows ...) but assuming Kyler Murray returns, patching up the OL should be a priority. Raimann has only been playing left tackle for two years and before that he was a tight end, so he has the athleticism to play in space, and he made huge strides from 2020 to 2021 as a player.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Illinois • Soph • 6'1" / 200 lbs
Four Cowboys safeties are currently out of contract and while Donovan Wilson played 380 snaps last season Tyler Coyle was on the field for exactly 16 plays. 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 25
Hill is part of a Wolverines defense that could end up seeing three players go in Round 1 next spring. 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
Arkansas • Soph • 6'2" / 225 lbs
The Bucs could be looking to upgrade the QB position here, but they may be willing to re-sign Blaine Gabbert or see what Kyle Trask has. Whomever ends up under center, he'll need some weapons. Chris Godwin could hit free agency and currently only Mike Evans, Jaelon Dardon, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and Cyril Grayson are under contract -- not to mention that Rob Gronkowski could follow Tom Brady out the door. Burks, meanwhile, is a special talent who plays with the physicality of Anquan Boldin but has the wheels to outrun anyone down the field.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Clemson • Soph • 6'0" / 194 lbs
Andrew Booth had a strong '21 season for Clemson and he's only going to get better with experience. In Green Bay, Jaire Alexander is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and while Eric Stokes had a strong rookie campaign, you can never have enough good, young cornerbacks.
From San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 - Pick 29
Logan Hall DL
Houston • Soph • 6'6" / 283 lbs
Last spring, some people were surprised Payton Turner made his way into Round 1. Don't be shocked if his Houston teammate, Logan Hall, follows a similar path. He was unblockable at times last season and at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, he can line up just about anywhere. The Dolphins have depth along the defensive line but many of those contracts will be up after the '22 season. So while the team would love to continue to add offensive linemen or even a wide receiver, Hall isn't a reach and more importantly, he fills a need.
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, and if he can play with more consistency he could end up as a steal at this point in the draft process.
Round 1 - Pick 31
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. Plus, the Bengals offensive line, despite what Zac Taylor said after the Super Bowl, was a mess -- and if they love the edge with which Penning plays -- and it's hard not to -- he could be a natural fit here.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 32
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Soph • 6'1" / 219 lbs
This is probably more in line with where Willis should go off the board (we have a second-round grade on him) but that doesn't mean teams looking for a quarterback won't take one 15 to 30 picks before they should. If the Lions do target Willis here it has to be with the understanding that he'll be a backup in in '22 while Jared Goff continues to hold down the job. Willis has all the tools you look for in an athletic, strong-armed QB but he's also extremely raw. It would be reckless to throw him into the lineup as a rookie.