The 2021-22 NFL season kicks off Thursday night between the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and the Cowboys. A mock draft process with several hypotheticals is made even more complicated by the ongoing quarterback controversies. If Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and/or Deshaun Watson are traded in the offseason, it is going to shake up everything from league and mock draft perspectives. Today's mock draft exercise does not assume that any player is traded someplace in particular.
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*The draft order below was determined using SportsLine's Super Bowl odds but in reverse order.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Nevada • 6'4" / 215 lbs
I am not particularly confident in any of these quarterback prospects, but Carson Strong has the most upside right now. He is a savvy player with a strong arm. The Texans are obviously moving on from Deshaun Watson and need to learn whether or not Davis Mills can be a part of the organization's future.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Notre Dame • Soph • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Detroit could go Derek Stingley Jr. or Kayvon Thibodeaux, but Kyle Hamilton is such a unique, special player. Ultimately, positional value would likely win out for Stingley or Thibodeaux here, but it is September.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
New York's defensive efforts were rattled by an injury to Carl Lawson during training camp. The Jets were not expected to compete with Lawson, so it does not affect the long-term timetable of a rebuild. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Lawson are a good pair around which general manager Joe Douglas can build.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Soph • 6'7" / 350 lbs
Jacksonville franchise tagged Cam Robinson and the argument was made that Trevor Lawrence would have a solid offensive line around him. I did not come to the same conclusion during the preseason and the team needs to address that issue for Lawrence to warrant a high level of confidence.
Round 1 - Pick 5
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 195 lbs
There might as well be an underground tunnel from Baton Rouge to Ohio's queen city at this point. First it was Joe Burrow, then Ja'Marr Chase and now Stingley. Cincinnati adds a foundational piece to its defense.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Texas A&M • Soph • 6'4" / 290 lbs
Philadelphia has always believed in building from the trenches out. DeMarvin Leal is a unique defensive player because, with his size, he can move around depending on the situation.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Kenyon Green OL
Texas A&M • Soph • 6'4" / 323 lbs
Will Dave Gettleman and his efforts to prop up Daniel Jones survive another season? If so, it is not hard to envision the team using more assets to bolster the offensive line. Kenyon Green has been moved to the edge this season, but his future is best served at guard.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Ohio State • Soph • 6'0" / 192 lbs
Traditional powerhouse? Check. The Raiders won't be hesitant to return to the Ohio State well after drafting Damon Arnette. Garrett Wilson is a really crisp player that can be a reliable outlet for Derek Carr.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Nick Broeker OL
Ole Miss • Sr • 6'4" / 305 lbs
The offensive tackle pecking order is still a work in progress. There are so many players with the size profile and/or elite traits that you look for in the position. Carolina has a real issue at left tackle right now.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Oklahoma • Jr • 6'1" / 215 lbs
Atlanta made a mistake by not taking Justin Fields. I said it then and I will say it now. It made no sense to seemingly double down on Matt Ryan and the present, then trade Julio Jones. I am not quite as sold on Spencer Rattler as others, but the reality is that quarterbacks are driven up the board.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Sam Howell QB
North Carolina • Soph • 6'1" / 220 lbs
Sam Howell had a rocky debut, no doubt. He has a lot to prove, but Ron Rivera could trust him to lead that team.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 12
Purdue • Soph • 6'4" / 263 lbs
George Karlaftis gives New York more depth along the defensive line and allows defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to move some pieces around.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Georgia • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson are gone. Joe Haden remains a big part of that secondary. Pittsburgh needs help at cornerback. If Derion Kendrick can avoid disciplinary issues in Athens, he should be a top pick.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Joseph Ngata WR
Clemson • Sr • 6'3" / 217 lbs
Joe Ngata was the only Clemson skill player able to accomplish anything against that vaunted Georgia defense. I highlighted him as a player expected to break out this season, and he is well on his way.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Soph • 6'1" / 219 lbs
Teddy Bridgewater might be a more reliable quarterback for Denver, but he limits their offensive potential. Malik Willis is a traitsy quarterback that could give them some hope down the road.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Clemson • Soph • 6'0" / 194 lbs
For a team that has invested so heavily in a potential Super Bowl run, Arizona is dangerously thin at cornerback. It could be a year too late, but Andrew Booth Jr. provides reinforcement.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Mississippi State • Soph • 6'5" / 311 lbs
Eric Fisher could theoretically offer Indianapolis a multi-year stopgap at left tackle, but Charles Cross should bring more stability long-term. Will the Colts be in the market for a quarterback again next offseason?
Round 1 - Pick 18
Noah Daniels CB
TCU • Sr • 6'0" / 210 lbs
Beat writers are more worried about the state of the cornerback room than a wide receiver room without Michael Thomas, which should tell you all that you need to know. Noah Daniels steps in to provide immediate impact.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Chris Olave WR
Ohio State • Soph • 6'1" / 189 lbs
I projected Chris Olave to New England multiple times last season because of my belief that Bill Belichick would want a player he could trust. The Patriots have a lot of names at wide receiver, but none inspire hope.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 20
Kentucky • Soph • 6'5" / 322 lbs
Philadelphia addressed the interior defensive line with the first of two picks. The second is used to address the interior offensive line. Darian Kinnard has played right tackle for the Wildcats but is destined to move inside.
Round 1 - Pick 21
USC • Soph • 6'4" / 273 lbs
*door opens and Melvin Ingram exits* *second door opens and Drake Jackson enters* Brandon Staley adds some juice to the defense opposite Joey Bosa.
Round 1 - Pick 22
DJ Dale DL
Alabama • Sr • 6'1" / 302 lbs
Dallas' defensive tackle rotation is suspect. DJ Dale does not have a first round grade but only three do for me right now. The Cowboys continue an investment into their defense.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Cincinnati • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
Tennessee drafted Caleb Farley in the first round, so they may not be interested in another cornerback. They could be a little gun shy to take an offensive tackle after the Isaiah Wilson incident as well. I went with Ahmad Gardner to solidify that secondary.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 24
Kaiir Elam CB
Florida • Soph • 6'1" / 191 lbs
The arrival board already has Kayvon Thibodeaux coming to the Big Apple, and now the J-E-T-S bring in Kaiir Elam to bolster a unit with several questions.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Georgia • Soph • 6'3" / 200 lbs
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. are scheduled to account for $31.5 million against the salary cap in 2022. It is difficult to envision any team investing that much into the wide receiver position. (They are the second and third-highest earners on the roster.) George Pickens is not an ideal choice for Cleveland, but it is more indicative of what they might be thinking in northeast Ohio.
From San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 - Pick 26
Alabama • Soph • 6'1" / 226 lbs
Miami made a commitment to Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, but Brian Flores is doing the grocery shopping this time around. He adds Christian Harris to the defense.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 27
Justyn Ross WR
Clemson • Soph • 6'4" / 205 lbs
I do not share the perspective that Justyn Ross is a surefire first-round pick, but he is a really good player and Detroit needs wide receiver help. They made it abundantly clear that Ja'Marr Chase was under heavy consideration if he had been on the board.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Iowa • Soph • 6'2" / 305 lbs
Baltimore's offensive line has been a work in progress, as it has lost Orlando Brown, Marshal Yanda and Ryan Jensen in the last five years. The hope is that Tyler Linderbaum can be one of those staples.
Round 1 - Pick 29
South Carolina • Soph • 6'4" / 258 lbs
Similar conversation to Cleveland investing in one position, as Green Bay has committed $48 million to Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith in 2022. At some point, the shoe is going to drop, and the addition of Kingsley Enagbare would allow them to make that difficult decision.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Texas A&M • Fr • 6'5" / 265 lbs
The rumors linking Zach Ertz and Rob Gronkowski to Buffalo have run rampant. Rather than taking a chance on a veteran, general manager Brandon Beane brings in Texas A&M tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who represents a physical mismatch and gives them a new dimension to that offense.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Arkansas • Sr • 6'3" / 306 lbs
The list of projected Buccaneers free agents in 2022 is absurd: Chris Godwin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ryan Jensen, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, O.J. Howard, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, Carlton Davis, Alex Cappa and Jordan Whitehead. They worked some salary cap gymnastics to retain their Super Bowl structure, but it will not be possible next year. They are going to have to make some tough choices, and that will create corresponding needs.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Soph • 6'3" / 235 lbs
Kansas City has bigger needs, but the board sets up in a way that makes Devin Lloyd irresistible.