It's draft week! Almost Christmas! Are you counting down the hours?
Of course you are. Why wouldn't you be? It's also a week of great derision and scorn for those of us in the NFL Football Media, as we publish in many cases final mock drafts … and in some cases, one-and-only mock drafts. I fall into that category. We do it once and then we live with the consequences forever. And it's almost time to publish the annual exercise in (mostly) futility -- that'll happen Thursday morning.
I kind of workshop my way through this each spring with a series of rituals devised in an attempt to help formalize my actual mock. Often it merely sends me careening in one or more ways that serves to derail me more than anything us. But, alas, I suppose it's become part of my backwards "process" at this point, so indulge me if you will. It's top 10 time.
I have gone through some notebooks and churned out myriad iterations of this top 10, but I guess it's time to share a prototype. As a disclaimer, I have far less conviction in this list than most I publish this time of year. In many a year past, I would have felt quite strong about not only the players listed, but the order. But now, with so much uncertainty with the top overall pick, and so many teams in desperate need of quarterback help, and so many teams holding multiple picks within the first round – and the top 10, itself – this feels as complicated and convoluted as ever. And it just might be.
Anyway, here goes. My best shot at the top 10 as we enter the actual week of the draft.
1. Jaguars – Travon Walker
I'm going to go ahead and buy the line of thinking that GM Trent Baalke just might be too cute for his own good, again. If they were locked in on Aidan Hutchinson they have a funny way of showing it. Walker's athleticism is heralded in this team's analytics department and they won't flinch as an organization about doing their own thing in the top 10. Heck, they've done plenty of this before.
2. Lions – Aidan Hutchinson
I have them taking Liberty QB Malik Willis in many prior versions of this exercise and they have gone so out of their way to try to dimmish their intent to take a QB at 2 – or even their need at QB – that I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them actually grab one here. However, they grab the local product in this top 10, and league sources have continued to indicate to me that it is more likely the Lions snag a QB at pick 32, or move up a bit from there to do so.
3. Texans – Evan Neal
I have heard them connected to Neal dating back to the end of the college football season. GM Nick Caserio comes from the Patriots, who have very strong ties to Alabama. If you think this kid is a pure left tackle with legit upside, and the best OL in the draft, then you take him. Smells to me like the kind of fundamental building block you take when undergoing the kind of massive overhaul the Texans are in.
4. Jets – Sauce Gardner
GM Joe Douglas spent much of his professional life with the Baltimore Ravens, who have always prized shutdown corners and who currently have basically all of their assets on defense on the back end. This kid has all the makings and moxie of the kind of a corner the Ravens would covet. And with two picks in the top 10, the Jets can take a shot at pass rush later if the board falls that way.
5. Giants – Kayvon Thibodeaux
They could go OL here. Would not surprise me at all. And I'll tell you in a minute who I think they target if they do go in that order … But too many people have told me that this pass rusher is going in the top five for me to think the Giants – once a beacon of pass-rush ferocity and now an also-ran – would pass on that much talent here. They need to add bite.
6. Panthers – Kenny Pickett
From what I hear, owner David Tepper loves the kid. And if you pay attention to these parts, I have been telling you that since the end of the college football season. Tepper is a huge Pitt booster. You think he is willing to see a Pitt QB shine somewhere else when he had a chance to grab him first? After all of Carolina's many misfires at the QB position, you think this billionaire if gonna listen to scouts or "football people" making a pitch for Malik Willis? I don't.
7. Giants - Charles Cross
I hear they love this kid. I've heard it from too many people I trust with too many teams to slough it off at this point. So I'm buying it. They think he is the best OL in the draft, and they get to grab him with their second pick.
8. Falcons – Malik Willis
Would they really make their second-year head coach Arthur Smith – a quarterback guru – wait until Year 3 to actually make a move to land a potential QB of the future? I don't think so. Willis has Mike Vick vibes in the best way possible, they need a face of the franchise to sell some tickets and create some verve and no one wants to see Marcus Mariota start games for long at this point. Willis will aid their run game immensely from Day One. He has a magnetic personality. If they don't go QB here, I hear they love Desmond Ridder, and them making a move to grab him later it he draft would not surprise me in the least if they go CB or pass rush here.
9. Seahawks – Ikem Ekwonu
The Seahawks just traded a generational quarterback in part because he wanted out (in part) due to an inability to construct a decent offensive line. And now they no longer have an elite QB, and the run game has been suspect, and, yeah you'd best grab one of the top 3 OL in the draft right here. Yes, corner and pass rush make a lot of sense here, too, but this team needs to start getting back to building from the inside out and they do it with some of the haul they got for Russell Wilson.
10. Jets – Garrett Wilson
They probably think Jameson Williams is the best WR in the draft. And they should. But owner Woody Johnson didn't hire these guys and he has an itchy trigger finger and drafting a top 10 kid who might not play until November might not be the best play as they try to prop up QB Zach Wilson. So Williams won't have to wait much longer, but I suspect they go with a safer choice and grab Wilson here.
11. Commanders – Kyle Hamilton
Okay, it's a bonus pick and outside of the top 10, but if this falls remotely in this way, and Washington can't find a trade out because someone wants to jump the Vikings for a corner – because the Vikings want a corner – or if no one wants to move up for a QB or a pass rusher here, then I see the team formerly known as WFT grabbing the Notre Dame safety.