The Houston Texans traded Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for three first-round picks, including No. 13 overall, Friday. The decision comes after the Clemson quarterback had narrowed his suitors down to four: Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans and the eventual choice. Where does Houston go next? In today's thought exercise, I explore one potential path and dove deeper into the thought in a second article.
Without further ado, let's kick this thing off!
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Round 1 - Pick 1
Aidan Hutchinson EDGE
Michigan • 6'7" / 260 lbs
I am still not convinced that Jacksonville is totally out on taking an offensive lineman at No. 1 overall. The primary objective is to put the five best offensive linemen on the field. Evan Neal/Ikem Ekwonu, Cam Robinson and Brandon Scherff all starting is possible considering the flexibility of Neal having played right tackle and guard. However, I would be naive to ignore the momentum moving towards Hutchinson. It is a very real possibility that they just take the Wolverine.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Georgia • 6'5" / 275 lbs
If Hutchinson is the No. 1 overall pick, then Detroit gets complicated at No. 2 overall. They don't really need offensive tackle so that would typically lead me to Kyle Hamilton or one of those cornerbacks. Walker may physically remind John Dorsey of Myles Garrett and although he has a lot of work to do in order to become as skilled of a pass rusher, it is difficult to overlook the traits. I have heard Liberty quarterback Malik Willis could also be an option here but I am not buying it yet; that is too rich for my blood.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Round 1 - Pick 4
Ikem Ekwonu OL
NC State • 6'4" / 320 lbs
New York continues filling out its offensive line with the selection of Ekwonu. There is a lot of talk that the Jets are very interested in Ekwonu and that suggests they may already be done with Mekhi Becton, who has started 14 games total over the last two seasons.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Mississippi State • 6'5" / 311 lbs
The Giants have two picks in the span of three so they take the player more likely to be taken by Carolina at No. 6 overall. Cross gives New York bookend tackles for the next decade after signs of life from Andrew Thomas in 2021.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Cincinnati • 6'3" / 200 lbs
Carolina is likely to lose Stephon Gilmore in free agency and Jaycee Horn will be returning in free agency. The Panthers still have this pick under the assumption that they will miss out on Deshaun Watson so they upgrade the secondary with the offensive linemen off the board.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • 6'4" / 254 lbs
New York adds the pass rusher that they have been looking for over the past decade. Some may be turned off by the personality Thibodeaux has shown at times but let's not pretend he might be the first NFL player with an ego or to care about his personal brand. On-field success will directly fuel his aspirations off the field much like it did for Odell Beckham Jr.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Drake London WR
USC • 6'4" / 213 lbs
Atlanta needs wide receiver help with Russell Gage off to Tampa Bay and Calvin Ridley's suspension. Kyle Pitts is the Fresh Prince of Bel Air meme where Will Smith is looking around at an empty living room. London has some questions to answer at his Pro Day but his size alongside Pitts would give the Falcons two difficult playmakers to defend.
From Denver Broncos
Round 1 - Pick 9
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • 6'1" / 219 lbs
Seattle and Russell Wilson finally parted ways, which means the franchise is looking for a quarterback for the first time since he was drafted in 2012. Willis is a ball of clay but Seattle will give him time to develop as a team that wants to run the ball anyway.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
Ohio State • 6'0" / 192 lbs
General manager Joe Douglas has added a few tight ends in free agency and selected an offensive lineman with the team's first pick. Although I would personally go with defense, I can understand the train of thought to support Zach Wilson by giving him another outlet like Wilson, who has elite body control and balance.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Notre Dame • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Landon Collins is gone from the nation's capital and that leaves Washington in a position to capitalize on arguably the draft's top talent slipping to No. 11 overall. When you look at the contracts being handed out in free agency, most positions are ridiculous. Safety is not and that might be an indication of the league's outlook on the position. The selection of Hamilton would mean that Washington has used six of its last seven first round choices on defense.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Jermaine Johnson II EDGE
Florida State • 6'5" / 262 lbs
Minnesota could be facing a total overhaul of the edge rusher group as they look to clear salary cap space. LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. would make a lot of sense here but the Vikings will build from the front seven out with the selection of Johnson.
From Cleveland Browns
Round 1 - Pick 13
LSU • 6'1" / 195 lbs
Of the four teams that are in the mix for Deshaun Watson, Cleveland gives him the best chance to compete right now. Will he choose the Browns? Probably not, because then I would have to update this mock draft and we all know that is the most likely outcome. Houston uses one of the picks acquired on Stingley. (Updated the mock draft originally posted Thursday to reflect that Cleveland actually DID acquire Watson.)
Round 1 - Pick 14
Jordan Davis DL
Georgia • 6'6" / 336 lbs
Baltimore made a splash Wednesday with the signing of former Raven Za'Darius Smith. It is easy to see that defensive front coming together but Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell are still free agents. Davis would be the latest investment in that front seven.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • 6'3" / 235 lbs
Philadelphia was aggressive in signing Haason Reddick and that relieves some of the push to add an edge rusher. It would still make sense for the Eagles to supplement the linebacker room with a talent like Lloyd. He is the first of three first round picks for the NFC East franchise.
From Indianapolis Colts
Round 1 - Pick 16
Arkansas • 6'2" / 225 lbs
As currently constructed, Philadelphia is a team that is going to work horizontally in the pass game rather than vertically. Smith has the capability to be that deep threat when called upon but Burks gives the team another option in the short to intermediate to make plays after the catch. I also like him working on a vertical plane so that gives the offense some flexibility.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Northern Iowa • 6'7" / 332 lbs
As Los Angeles looks around the AFC West, they may notice something -- as the others are as well -- teams in their division are loading up on pass rushers. Denver has Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb. Las Vegas has Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby. Kansas City has Frank Clark and Chris Jones. The offensive lines better be prepared and the Chargers add a little fire of their own in the form of Penning.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Pittsburgh • 6'3" / 220 lbs
At least three teams are going to lose in their pursuit of Deshaun Watson, which means they will be left scrambling for quarterback help. New Orleans targets a long-term option with Pickett. It is an ideal situation for him considering the conversation around his lack of hand size. He gets to play in a dome for at least half of his games.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Georgia • 6'3" / 304 lbs
Philadelphia has already added Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd and Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks. They round out the first round haul with Wyatt, who serves as insurance in the event that the team trades Fletcher Cox.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Cincinnati • 6'3" / 207 lbs
Although Pittsburgh signed Mitchell Trubisky in free agency, the financial commitment suggests what most of us assumed -- they view him as a competent player capable of holding the position down in the present. His signing does not take them out of the quarterback market. Ridder is a good prospect to develop as Trubisky shoulders expectations.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Alabama • 6'1" / 179 lbs
Las Vegas has added speed to its defense through free agency and now adds speed to the offense. Williams is coming off a torn ACL injury but had an argument for the best wide receiver in the draft prior. His ability to take the top off defenses will keep the walls from closing in on Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller underneath.
Round 1 - Pick 24
George Karlaftis EDGE
Purdue • 6'4" / 275 lbs
As of Thursday morning, Dallas has lost out on Randy Gregory and Von Miller. Without a viable solution in place, it would make sense for them to capitalize on Karlaftis sliding. Michigan's David Ojabo could be another option at the position.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Michigan • 6'0" / 192 lbs
Buffalo has made it clear that they are bolstering the roster for a Super Bowl run. With Von Miller in tow, the Bills turn their attention to the secondary. Hill is a versatile player that can play in the slot or be the eventual replacement at safety.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Central Michigan • 6'6" / 303 lbs
Tennessee attempted to solve the right tackle issue a few years ago with the selection of Isaiah Wilson but that did not work out well. Right tackle remained unaddressed until now. Raimann has played left tackle but is uber athletic and capable of working in space for that run game.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Zion Johnson OL
Boston College • 6'3" / 316 lbs
Tampa Bay lost Ali Marpet to retirement and Alex Cappa signed with Cincinnati. The Buccaneers responded by trading a Day 3 pick to New England for Shaq Mason and now select Johnson to once again complete the offensive line.
Round 1 - Pick 28
North Dakota State • 6'5" / 208 lbs
I do not personally value Watson at this point in the draft but it feels like Green Bay will do everything in their power to appease Aaron Rodgers. For the first time since 2002, the Packers use a first round choice on a wide receiver to pair with Davante Adams.
Round 1 - Pick 30
David Ojabo EDGE
Michigan • 6'4" / 255 lbs
Kansas City has re-structured Frank Clark's deal to keep him in the fold but it would make sense for them to add someone long-term. Ojabo is raw in run defense but has as much natural pass rush skill as anyone in the class. He can be a situational player until he feels more comfortable in a more expanded role.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Kaiir Elam CB
Florida • 6'1" / 191 lbs
Cincinnati adds a big body at cornerback. They have done well to upgrade the offensive line through free agency so that allows them flexibility in the first round. The Bengals have cobbled together a cornerback room in recent years but Elam gives them a long-term presence.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 32
Georgia • 6'2" / 199 lbs
After his performance at the NFL Combine, Cine has emerged as a possible first round pick. His play on tape matches his athletic traits. With Detroit missing out on the top safeties in free agency, the Bulldog could be an option for the second first-round choice after selecting Travon Walker No. 2 overall.