Matt Rhule's tenure in Carolina hasn't gone according to plan; in two seasons, Rhule has gone 5-11 and 5-12, and midway through the 2021 campaign he fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady. It's hard to put all the blame on Brady, though; it's clear that neither Sam Darnold nor Cam Newton are long-term answers and the Panthers absolutely have to upgrade the position this offseason.
The problem, however, is that the offensive line is in worse shape than quarterback. Compounding matters: Carolina has the No. 6 overall pick, and then aren't on the clock again until the fourth round (pick 105). There's free agency, of course, but the Panthers are currently 20th in available salary-cap space, according to Spotrac.
Put another way: We fully support the notion of fixing the offensive line but we're not convinced owner David Tepper shares that mindset. He doesn't strike us as a patient man, especially when it comes to his football team.
In other news, two other quarterbacks go in Round 1, though that could change as we get into free agency (what happens with Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers) and the pre-draft process (particularly if QBs like Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder and Carson Strong ball out at the Senior Bowl, the combine and their pro days).
Keep reading to see where the three quarterbacks land, and how the entire first round unfolds.
Round 1 - Pick 1
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. The Jags have taken an edge rusher in the first round in two of the last three drafts, but we don't expect there to be teams clamoring to trade up to the top pick in this draft and Jacksonville may be stuck here.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
The Lions would probably love to trade down because for as good as Thibodeaux has been, he won't be the final piece to turning things around in Detroit. But since there are no trades in this mock draft, and there may end up being no team moving up this high for, say, a QB in the actual draft, the Oregon pass-rusher remains the choice here.
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, the Texans will need first to find a head coach. 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
Ikem Ekwonu OT
NC State • Soph • 6'4" / 320 lbs
The Jets have to protect Zach Wilson, and this should be the mantra to begin every draft meeting the team has. Ekwonu is one of our favorite players in this draft class. There's talk that he may have to move inside to guard but when you watch him play, he's perfectly suited to be a dominant tackle, which is exactly what the Jets need, despite taking Alijah Vera-Tucker and Mekhi Becton in recent drafts.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Soph • 6'7" / 350 lbs
This feels like best-case scenario for the Giants, another team looking for a head coach and general manager. Of course, we're presuming that whomever succeeds Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman will move forward with Daniel Jones, but that could certainly change. Either way, 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
Matt Corral QB
Ole Miss • Soph • 6'2" / 205 lbs
Matt Corral suffered a scare in his bowl game but he remains our QB1. And, yes, we know: the Panthers desperately need to fix their offensive line, and it's clear that neither Sam Darnold nor Cam Newton are the answer at quarterback. But we keep coming back to this: owner David Tepper is not a patient man and if he falls in love with one of these passers, well, it probably means Carolina is drafting one of these passers. Meanwhile, Matt Rhule will be coaching for his job in '22, and if the team doesn't land a big-name QB in free agency, his best chance at success might rest on the shoulders of a rookie passer.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Iowa • Soph • 6'2" / 305 lbs
Linderbaum, who left Iowa's bowl game with a lower-body injury, is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. And although a center hasn't gone higher than No. 18 in the last dozen drafts, a) Linderbaum is that good, b) the Giants need to solidify the interior O-line.
Round 1 - Pick 8
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
Former first-rounder AJ Terrell is having a great season, and Isaiah Oliver, who has also been good in coverage, is in the final year of his contract. After that, there's not much depth and if the best CB in the draft is on the board here, it'll be hard to pass on Stingley. The other option, of course, is targeting a quarterback here.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Pittsburgh • Soph • 6'3" / 220 lbs
There will be plenty of teams talking themselves into QBs in this draft and the Broncos (along with Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, WFT, Pittsburgh and Detroit) will be in the running in a decidedly weak class. Pickett had a great 2021 season for Pitt and he'll have several opportunities during the pre-draft process, starting with the Senior Bowl, to prove he's QB1. For now, we'll wait to see if any of those Rodgers-to-Denver rumors from last offseason materialize in the coming weeks and months.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
Clemson • Soph • 6'0" / 194 lbs
The Jets already addressed the offensive line so here they take one of the best defensive players in this class. Booth has all the athleticism and tools to be special, and he balled out for Clemson this season.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Soph • 6'1" / 219 lbs
Willis checks every box when it comes to arm strength, athleticism and playmaking ability, he's just raw, and didn't have a lot of help around him at Liberty. The math for QB-needy NFL teams: How will Willis' skills translate to the next level? Clubs that love him will take him in this range; others may wait to see if he slips into Round 2. Either way, WFT needs to find a long-term answer to its quarterback plans.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 192 lbs
Add the Vikings to the list of teams searching for a new GM and coach. They could go QB here or they could target a cornerback. Instead, we have them going with wideout. Yes, Justin Jefferson is one of the best players in the league but Adam Thielen will be 32 next season -- and more importantly, there's not much depth behind those two among the wideouts.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Nakobe Dean LB
Georgia • Soph • 5'11" / 231 lbs
Dean played in 2021 with the type of urgency and physicality that made him one of the best players in college football, and he would be yet another young playmaker on this Browns defense that was really good at times this season. And though Dean played on the best defense in the country, don't get it twisted -- he didn't ride on the coattails of a dominant defensive line -- he was a huge reason for their success. The thought of Dean and JOK on the field at the same time would create a lot of headaches for the rest of the AFC North.
Round 1 - Pick 14
David Ojabo LB
Michigan • Soph • 6'4" / 255 lbs
Prior to the semifinal loss to Georgia, David Ojabo was a lot of fun to watch this season, where he took advantage of every opportunity playing opposite Aidan Hutchinson. But don't get it confused -- he's a twitchy edge rusher who will only get better with experience. In Baltimore, he'll join another athletic marvel, 2021 first-round edge rusher Odafe Oweh, who has had some jaw-dropping plays as a rookie.
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 the 3, 4 or 5-tech and that versatility, coupled with his nonstop 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
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Soph • 6'3" / 235 lbs
Lloyd is a twitched up, sideline-to-sideline player who fits the mold of off-ball linebackers we've seen coming into the league over the last decade. The Eagles might not have a history of taking off-ball linebackers in the first round but that doesn't mean they shouldn't consider it here.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Mississippi State • Soph • 6'5" / 311 lbs
Rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater was brilliant this season but Bryan Bulaga, who has one year left on his deal, only played in one game in '21, and Storm Norton, who'll be a free agent in a few weeks, struggled in his place. It's been a recurring theme in these mock drafts but to repeat: You have to protect your franchise QB. Cross is a high-upside athletic offensive tackle who had a strong season for Mississippi State.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Alabama • Soph • 6'2" / 189 lbs
Quarterback will obviously be a consideration here but only wide receivers Michael Thomas, Marquez Callaway and Tre'quan Smith are under contract, and there's no guarantee Thomas will be back. Williams, who had to transfer from Ohio State to Alabama to see the field, is a legit first-round talent.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Auburn • Soph • 5'11" / 190 lbs
McCreary was the most consistent cornerback in college football this fall, and that's all you want from that position, so while he lacks the high-end athleticism of some of the other names often mentioned as first-round talents, he's rarely out of position and almost always making positive plays for his team.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Kenyon Green OL
Texas A&M • Soph • 6'4" / 323 lbs
This isn't a particularly sexy pick, but with the post-Big Ben Steelers looking like they may turn to Mason Rudolph (or possibly Dwayne Haskins), upgrading the offensive line is near the top of the to-do list. Green can play either tackle or guard and he has the ability to be a Day 1 starter.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Purdue • Soph • 6'4" / 263 lbs
Matt Judon had a strong Year 1 in New England but Karlaftis would add another dimension to the defensive line. Injuries and the pandemic saw him play limited snaps in '20 but Karlaftis was nearly impossible to stop in '19 when he recorded 17 TFLs and had 7.5 sacks, and in 12 games this past season he logged 10 TFLs, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Kaiir Elam CB
Florida • Soph • 6'1" / 191 lbs
The Raiders' secondary had some bright spot among its 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. Meanwhile, it was a forgettable season for the Gators but Elam's talents were hard to miss. He has the size (6-foot-2, 190) and athleticism to be one of the best draft-eligible corners in '21.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Chris Olave WR
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 187 lbs
Olave is one of the best route runners in this class. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have DeAndre Hopkins (whose season is over because of injury) and Rondale Moore but Christian Kirk is in the final year of his deal, and Arizona can move on from A.J. Green after the season, if they so choose.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Washington • Soph • 5'11" / 193 lbs
Even though McDuffie balled out on the outside for the Huskies this season, we get Tyrann Mathieu vibes when we watch him. We love him as a slot corner who serves as an enforcer in run support and locks down short and intermediate routes. The Dallas defense gets another young star in the making, even if defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could get a head-coaching gig elsewhere in '22.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Jordan Davis DL
Georgia • Soph • 6'6" / 336 lbs
Cincy could certainly use Davis as it heads to the divisional round -- the Bengals suffered some injuries in their wild card win over the Raiders -- but even at full health, there isn't much depth behind D.J. Reader, especially with Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill set to hit free agency.
From San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 - Pick 26
Kentucky • Soph • 6'5" / 322 lbs
Kinnard is a mauler who plays with an edge and he can wreak havoc as both a run- and pass-blocker. He may have to kick inside at the next level but his ability to open holes in the running game makes him an immediate asset for the Dolphins' offense, which has tried to address the O-line in recent drafts but not with the success it was hoping for.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
Levi Wallace is in the final year of his deal and Dane Jackson has been serviceable as his playing time increased following Tre White's season-ending injury. That said, beefing up the secondary would be reasonable here. Sauce Gardner is a long, press corner, who would have a chance to play immediately in Buffalo.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 28
Arkansas • Soph • 6'2" / 225 lbs
By the time we get to the actual draft, we'll much more clarity on what the Lions' QB plans might look like, though it feels like Jared Goff's job in '22. With its second first-rounder, we have Detroit adding Burks. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Burks has all the tools to eventually be WR1, as was evidenced just about every week in the fall.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Georgia • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
Kendrick is a first-round pick all day long, and he proved that again this season with Georgia after transferring from Clemson. The biggest issue for NFL teams will be off-field issues; if Kendrick has matured since his time with the Tigers, he'll be worthy of a top 32 selection.
Round 1 - Pick 30
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 31
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, Hall, follows a similar path. He was unblockable at times this season and at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, he can line up just about anywhere.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Drake London WR
USC • Soph • 6'4" / 213 lbs
London, was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing USC season. And while he won't run a 4.3 when healthy, London is a high-point-catch machine who can take over games, which sounds like something both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams would appreciate in Green Bay.