While the NFL Mock Draft schedule never sleeps, this is the time of year when it gets a lot more fun to do mock drafts. The draft is only a few weeks away, and we have so much more information available to us. We've been through the combine and the first wave of free agency, all of which gives us a better idea of the players who will be the most desirable and where the teams believe they can improve in the draft.
While it's never easy to do a mock, things get slightly easier at this point. This will be my fifth mock of the season, but the first four were more "exploratory" than anything. It was a combination of deciphering team needs and evaluating the players on my own hoping to determine the best fits. This mock includes more "intel" than any of the previous. It's not as much "what I think should happen" as it's "here's what I think is going to happen."
Of course, it can all change in the next three weeks, and you never know who's blowing smoke up your you-know-what, but this is my best guess as to what the future holds.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Aidan Hutchinson EDGE
Michigan • Soph • 6'7" / 268 lbs
While he's not my top-rated edge rusher in this class, it's not as if there's some giant chasm between him and Kayvon Thibodeaux. Hutchinson has plenty of natural talent and has improved every season. The closer we get to the draft, the more people who seem to be convinced this will be the pick.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
Thibodeaux is still my No. 1 player in the draft class. He's capable of doing things that others in this class aren't, and while some teams have concerns about his "love of football," I think we sometimes overthink things. Get him in your locker room and let him go to work. You won't be disappointed.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
The Texans can go any direction here, but Gardner strikes me as the kind of player new coach Lovie Smith will fall in love with. He has everything that Smith has looked for in his cornerbacks throughout his coaching career. When you have as many needs as Houston, go with the best player available, and Gardner is it.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Soph • 6'7" / 350 lbs
Neal makes a lot of sense for the Jets. If they're no longer confident in Mekhi Becton, Neal is his replacement. If Becton holds onto the job, Neal is just as capable of playing on the right side of the line. Either way, you're improving your offensive line and helping the QB you used an early pick on last year.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Ikem Ekwonu OL
NC State • Soph • 6'4" / 320 lbs
Ekwonu is my favorite offensive lineman in the class, and he'll give the Giants something they need. Whether Daniel Jones is the long-term QB or it's somebody else, Ekwonu can be counted on to protect them for the next decade.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Pittsburgh • Soph • 6'3" / 220 lbs
The Panthers were probably hoping that the QB market would shake out differently this offseason and allow them to address another need with this pick. But it didn't, and Pickett is the best fit for what the Panthers need if they want to compete for a playoff spot in 2022.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Georgia • Soph • 6'5" / 272 lbs
Walker has been rocketing up draft boards and mock drafts in recent weeks, and I understand why. He's an intriguing talent at a valuable position, but while I like him, I'm not sure I'd be taking him this high. He's likely going to need further development as a pass-rusher to be worthy of this selection, but I wouldn't blame the Giants or anybody for betting on his ability to do so.
Round 1 - Pick 8
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
Derek Stingley Jr. has nearly everything you want in a corner, but teams are understandably hesitant. When you watch the tape, he's brilliant but showed too much inconsistency the last couple of seasons. That said, life at LSU has been inconsistent for everybody the last two years. Get him into a professional environment, and he could revert to the player we saw his freshman season.
From Denver Broncos
Round 1 - Pick 9
Mississippi State • Soph • 6'5" / 311 lbs
Some think the Seahawks will take a QB here, but a part of me wonders if the Seahawks aren't relieved to move on from Russell Wilson because there won't be as much external pressure to throw the ball as much. Drew Lock lets Pete Carroll be the run the dang ball and play good defense coach he's always loved being. So I can see the Seahawks addressing needs on the offensive line here. Cross didn't do a lot of run-blocking last season, but that was the offense he was playing in more than his ability to do so.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 192 lbs
It might not be Wilson, but I'm confident the Jets will go for a WR here. Drafting an OT and a WR in the top-10 is the definition of helping out your young QB, and Wilson is terrific after the catch. He also does an excellent job of using his body and catch radius to make contested grabs.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Soph • 6'3" / 235 lbs
Lloyd is the kind of linebacker that is becoming more and more important to have in the NFL. He can play on early and passing downs, and he has more than straight-line speed. He needs to improve his tackling technique, but given his frame and strength, I'm not worried about his ability to do so.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Washington • Soph • 5'11" / 193 lbs
I've talked to some people who believe McDuffie is the best corner in this class. I'm not willing to go that far, but he's an outstanding prospect that can be used in a variety of ways. He'd be an immediate boost to the Minnesota defense.
From Cleveland Browns
Round 1 - Pick 13
Jermaine Johnson II EDGE
Florida State • Soph • 6'5" / 262 lbs
Outside the top edge rushers in this class, Johnson is my favorite. I don't think he'll become an all-world pass-rusher, but I'm more confident he'll be reliable for 7-10 sacks per year than I am the other remaining options on the board.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Jordan Davis DL
Georgia • Soph • 6'6" / 336 lbs
I've talked to people far more intelligent than I am who are becoming more and more convinced this will be the pick for the Ravens if Davis is on the board. If Davis can become a consistent three-down player who develops as a pass-rusher, he could be unlike anything we've ever seen before. If he doesn't, he will still be a reliable cog in the middle of your defensive front.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 15
Drake London WR
USC • Soph • 6'4" / 213 lbs
London reminds me of Mike Evans from both his frame and ability. He's not a burner, but he's a fluid athlete who will dominate smaller defensive backs. He could quickly become Jalen Hurts' go-to target.
From Philadelphia Eagles
Round 1 - Pick 16
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Soph • 6'1" / 219 lbs
Malik Willis has a chance to be a tremendous professional QB, but being drafted into a situation where he's asked to play right away won't do him any favors. New Orleans is an excellent place for him because he'll be able to develop on the bench behind Jameis Winston for at least a year before being asked to take on the starting role.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Central Michigan • Soph • 6'6" / 303 lbs
Raimann is a tremendous athlete for a player of his size but could afford to put on more weight if he's going to hold up at left tackle in the NFL. For somebody who doesn't have a lengthy history of playing the position (he's only played there two seasons), he's shown to be a natural.
From New Orleans Saints
Round 1 - Pick 18
Georgia • Soph • 6'3" / 304 lbs
I've given up tilting at windmills trying to convince the Eagles to draft Nakobe Dean. They have their drafting philosophy, and I'm going to respect it. So, instead of Dean, they take a Georgia defender at a position they're willing to use a first-rounder on. Wyatt wasn't the best player on Georgia's defensive line last season, but that's more about how ridiculous Georgia's defensive line was than Wyatt.
From Philadelphia Eagles
Round 1 - Pick 19
Chris Olave WR
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 187 lbs
There are concerns about Olave's size and his ability to withstand hits at the NFL level, but he's a terrific receiver who will stretch the field vertically for this Saints offense. Olave over the top with a healthy Michael Thomas beneath will give defensive coordinators a headache.
Mock Trade from Pittsburgh Steelers
Round 1 - Pick 20
Arkansas • Soph • 6'2" / 225 lbs
The Packers trade up a couple of spots to ensure they get the receiver they want as they look to replace Davante Adams and give Aaron Rodgers another weapon. I can see Burks being used in many of the same ways the Packers had been using Adams. He has good hands and is tremendous after the catch. His route running could use some refining, though.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Notre Dame • Soph • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Teams have been scared off Hamilton a bit in recent weeks because of his 40 times, but he's an intelligent defender who can be used in different ways. In other words, he's the kind of defensive back that Bill Belichick would happily snap up if he falls this far.
Mock Trade from Green Bay Packers
Round 1 - Pick 22
Northern Iowa • Soph • 6'7" / 325 lbs
I think Penning is a right tackle at the NFL level, but the Steelers can use upgrades on their offensive line, and Penning has the kind of demeanor that will quickly endear him to the hometown faithful.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Kaiir Elam CB
Florida • Soph • 6'1" / 191 lbs
I've mentioned it in previous mocks, but Elam is the one corner in this class I'm surprised hasn't received more hype. He's long, fast and has an excellent knack for making plays on the football. He's going to be a steal for somebody.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Nakobe Dean LB
Georgia • Soph • 5'11" / 231 lbs
Frankly, it's not fair that the Cowboys had Micah Parsons fall to them last season and then have Dean fall to them in this mock draft. Good luck to any offense that tries to do anything horizontally if this happens.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Alabama • Soph • 6'1" / 180 lbs
Williams is likely to miss the start of the season as he recovers from an ACL injury, but no receiver in this class has his speed. He ran away from people you shouldn't be able to run away from last season. Imagine a guy who can run past everybody playing with a QB who can throw it over everybody. Could be pretty fun, no?
Round 1 - Pick 26
Round 1 - Pick 27
Zion Johnson OL
Boston College • Soph • 6'3" / 316 lbs
The Bucs have done a good job addressing needs in free agency this offseason, so they could go a multitude of directions here. Still, I think Johnson could be an excellent long-term fit on the interior of their offensive line while also contributing right away.
Round 1 - Pick 28
The Packers could afford to add more depth to their secondary, and Hill is a versatile playmaker. He's shown an ability to play safety as well as the slot. If you're looking for a Tyrann Mathieu-type player but unable to sign the actual one, Hill is your guy.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 29
Clemson • Soph • 6'0" / 194 lbs
Booth has only been a full-time corner for one season, so it's hard to know how good he can be. Clearly, he's already doing pretty well if we're mocking him in the first round of the draft. With his ceiling, he's the kind of late-first round pick well worth taking a shot on.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Jahan Dotson WR
Penn State • Soph • 5'11" / 182 lbs
While he's not Tyreek Hill, Dotson is an excellent deep threat that should pair well with what the Chiefs do on offense. He doesn't have top-end speed but changes direction quickly without losing his top speed. I think he has a chance to be a Pro Bowler out of the slot.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Iowa • Soph • 6'2" / 305 lbs
If you're the Bengals, you need to continue improving your offensive line, so why not draft the best center in this class? I don't know if Linderbaum will go on to an All-Pro NFL career, but I'm extremely confident he's going to be a good player at his position for a long time.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 32
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 207 lbs
Getting a QB at No. 32 to get the fifth-year option on the contract just makes too much sense for the Lions not to do it. Jared Goff is not the answer, but Desmond Ridder could be, and it's not like there's a lot of pressure on the Lions to "win now." It's a gamble worth taking, whether it's Ridder or the top QB on Detroit's board.