The consensus among teams I have chatted with is that there are around 16 players who are definitely worthy of a first-round grade in this draft. As we all know, 32 will be selected tonight.
The exact list of those 15-17 players varies by the team, in order and constitution, but I keep hearing 16 – half of the round – carry those grades. So who are the sure-fire first-round picks? Who could you absolutely say will hear their name called Thursday night, barring any sort of freak accident or social-media disaster or arrest or whatever? How many do I see, based on evaluations, need, and how locked-in certain teams are on certain players?
Honestly, it's probably fewer than I would have listed most years, for various reasons, many of them pandemic-related. The flow of information has been different, the evaluation process has been different and the amount of universal medical data and testing date is simply not the norm. But I will take a stab at identifying those I believe are absolutes, anyway. Because, why not?
This is usually one of my final exercises in trying to concoct a mock draft that isn't total garbage. Most years I fare pretty well … but most years I also feel a little more strongly about what I am hearing. It's easy to talk yourself into and out of a lot of things in this climate. I'm probably being a little more aggressive than I should be here, but as Day 1 nears, here are my first-round locks.
Nothing to see here. Been the first-overall pick for a long time.
Won't have to wait long.
Kyle Shanahan's remarks this week have me and many others thinking this is the third-overall pick. Either way, his stock is high enough that someone else grabs him in the top 10 if the 49ers pass.
Looking like a prime trade-up prospect very early in the draft.
I still don't think he gets outside the top 10. If Carolina can't trade down and he is there at No. 8, that seems like something owner David Tepper would be in favor of.
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Running Back (1)
I could see three teams – Miami, Pittsburgh and Buffalo – taking a running back, depending how the board falls, but regardless I don't see this one making it to Day Two. If the Bills stay at 30, then there is a very good chance Travis Etienne is the pick, and if the board falls the right way, the Steelers could grab Javonte Williams there.
Tight End (1)
Could he be the best player in this entire draft? Not a crazy question to ask, even with Lawrence in it. Not a very deep or star-studded group behind him, however, though a few will be sprinkled in the second round.
Wide Receiver (4)
Won't get beyond the first six picks.
A possible trade-up prospect as well, who is very hot as we approach the draft. Quarterback trades could push him down a smidge but he's going in the top third of the round.
A top-three WR in this draft who is going by the early teens, if not at No. 7 to Detroit.
With some teams showing some concern with Terrace Marshall, Jr. due to medicals, and with the size of Kadarius Toney more of an issue for some teams than others, Bateman is the safest of the bunch to pencil in. Ultimately, five receivers may go, with a late rush, but that deep in the round there are a lot of mitigating factors and several of the teams looking hard at WRs (like Baltimore and New Orleans) will also be heavily weighing moving down.
Offensive Line (5)
Could go as high as fifth, and I guess as low as 10th. But that's the likely floor.
Some think he is the best tackle in the draft, and he is gone by 13 I believe.
Will be part of the run of offensive linemen in the early teens, and I don't see him slipping past Washington, depending how the board falls.
Minnesota at 14 could be his sweet spot, and if that doesn't materialize, he will be gone within the next six picks.
Plug-and-play right tackle at a time when several teams picking in the second half of the first round could use one. I could see center Creed Humphrey or multi-position lineman Landon Dickerson slipping into the first round as well, but it will be touch-and-go.
Too many people see him as the best prospect of this group, although this group has its issues. Could go as high as 11 to the Giants, but can't imagine he falls behind the mid-20s at the absolute latest.
The injuries, and concussions in particular, are a serious issue, but at 6-6, 260, with that quick first step, I have a hard time seeing 32 picks made before him. Now, it could be that Jayson Oweh or Carlos Basham or someone else gets in here, but there is so much variance and so many variables that it's tough to nail down.
Defensive Line (0)
Christian Barmore and Levi Onwuzurike are certainly options, but can't call either an absolute at this point.
Could see him going at 9 to Denver or 11 to the Giants, and even if he slips due to some significant character concerns, I cannot see him slipping out of the first round.
Coveted by several teams in the teens and have heard him linked to Arizona at 16 for weeks.
Teams love him more than Mock Draft Nation did through much of this process, but it will all come out in the wash Thursday.
Not sure what position he plays at the next level and how much toggling he does between safety and linebacker. Won't be everyone's cup of tea, but enough coordinators will see him as a weapon to get him taken at some point Thursday night, I reckon. Another linebacker could go Thursday, with many of the off-ball 'backers being seen as safer than some other position groups.
Too much centerfield possibility for him to get to Friday. I see the mid-teens being his calling – the Raiders and WFT are among those very high on him. This position group has a spectrum of body types and abilities after him, and I could see one more getting nabbed late Thursday, but overall not nearly as top-heavy a position as many others.
Patrick Surtain II
A top talent quite likely selected in the top 10 picks. Or quite close to it.
Too many evaluators I trust have told me he is going quite high for me to think there is any chance he slips to the 20s, let alone out of this round.
Yes, there are concerns about his health as well, but he has the ability to be the best corner int his draft and provide top-10 value somewhere well beyond that. Eventually, that will be too much for some GM Thursday night to resist. I could very well see either Georgia corner going Thursday or Greg Newsome II, or perhaps one or two others, but these three are the safest bets in my estimation.