Little-known fact: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never executed the 27th overall pick in the NFL draft.
Barring a trade, that will happen this year as the Buccaneers' loss in the Divisional Round of the 2021 playoffs to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Rams slotted them near but not quite at the bottom of the first round. A year ago, the Bucs were thrilled to be picking 32nd after winning Super Bowl LV; this year, the 27th spot doesn't have as much meaning but at least has a novelty factor for the franchise.
If the Buccaneers do stay in their current spot in the first round, I can make this bold prediction: The prospect they select will be the best 27th-overall pick in team history. Can I predict who that player is going to be? Well, that's the idea but few mock drafters have much success late in the first round of their projections. As you can see, I'm getting my excuses lined up.
Staff Writer Carmen Vitali kicked off Mock Draft Season here on Buccaneers.com last week, and now I get my first crack at it. Each Tuesday over the next 10 weeks we will be mocking up the first round of the draft until the real thing arrives on April 28. Carmen and I will be taking turns from week to week to give you a couple different perspectives. As was the case in Carmen's 1.0 version, I will not be making any trade projections in my first mock draft. Let's get started!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: T Evan Neal, Alabama
There's a long way to go and I have a sneaking suspicion that North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu will eventually pass Neal on the consensus draft board. But right now Neal is widely seen as the top tackle, and the Jaguars need help up front (and a lot of other places, too). Here they choose protection for Trevor Lawrence over a pass-rushing bookend for Josh Allen.
2. Detroit Lions: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
This is too perfect not to happen. If Jacksonville passes on Hutchinson the Michigan berserker joins Dan Campbell's dogs in Detroit. The Lions were third from the bottom in sacks last year with just 30, and I'm not sure we can even count on Charles Harris to duplicate his team-leading 7.5. Edge rusher might not be the Lions' absolute biggest need but the positional value here is too great.
3. Houston Texans: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
As soon as trades are allowed, I'm dropping Houston out of this spot. The Texans need a little bit of everything and more picks would help. Plus, I had a really hard time here choosing between Hamilton, Ekwonu, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Derek Stingley, Jr. In the end, I'm (tenuously) thinking the Texans want an upgrade over Justin Reid and help for a pass defense that struggled in 2021.
4. New York Jets: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
I'm a little baffled by Thibodeaux sliding down some draft boards? Football isn't important enough to him? Please. Maybe his interviews at the Combine will kill that story. Anyway, the Jets haven't picked a defensive end our outside linebacker in the first round since 2015 and they were tied for 25th with 33 sacks last year. They did give Carl Lawson a big deal in free agency last year…and he subsequently tore an Achilles tendon in training camp. Getting Lawson back and adding Thibodeaux could juice up the Jets' pass rush in a hurry.
5. New York Giants: T Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
I think the Giants would have been all over Thibodeaux had the Jets passed, but instead they flip to the other line and get a replacement for Nate Solder, who is a free agent and really didn't live up to his big contract anyway. Dave Gettleman is gone but the Giants are still prioritizing hog mollies.
6. Carolina Panthers: QB Malik Willis, Liberty
Willis isn't currently at the top of many QB draft boards, but I'm guessing he rises in the months to come. He's obviously not as NFL-ready as, say, Kenny Pickett, but the Panthers buy in to his rocket arm and incredible rushing threat. They still have Sam Darnold and could roll with him a while longer (sorry Panthers fans) or sign a different bridge quarterback until Willis is ready. Carolina seems like another candidate to trade down, in which case they could go either quarterback or offensive line. This is not considered a strong quarterback class, but we all know QBs tend to rise from February to April. I'm just skipping that step.
7. New York Giants (from Chicago): EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
Karlaftis fell to the Buccaneers in Carmen's Mock Draft 1.0 but I'll have to go in another direction in 2.0. The Giants could also use a center and Tyler Linderbaum is special, but I can't see them going O-Line twice in the same top 10. I also think it's too high for linebacker Devin Bush. Can we get the Giants a third pick in this round, please, preferably somewhere in the middle?
8. Atlanta Falcons: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Here we go! We finally have a Matt Ryan succession plan. After all these years with Ryan, the Falcons want another quarterback with pinpoint accuracy, and this one even has a little bit of mobility that would be a plus…after all these years with Ryan.
9. Denver Broncos: EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan
Stingley is very tempting, especially with Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan headed to free agency, but the Broncos took Patrick Surtain last year (coincidentally ninth overall) and he looks like a budding star. Maybe they double-dip and lock down the position for years, but we must also remember that Von Miller is gone and Bradley Chubb has had some injury issues. The Broncos have a good defense but were just middle-of-the-pack in sacks last year. I expect Ojabo's stock to rise after the Combine.
10. New York Jets (from Seattle): CB Derek Stingley, Jr., LSU
What an outstanding result for the Jets. They passed on a big position of need to get Thibodeaux, and now still end up with their pick of the cornerback crop.
11. Washington Commanders: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Would Washington have gone QB if Pickett or Willis made it this far? Maaaybe, but I'm of the opinion they will go the veteran route there before the draft. Instead, they beef up the offense with a complement for Terry McLaurin. Whoever is under center for the Commanders can now toss it around to McLaurin, Burks, tight end Logan Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic. That's pretty good! Ohio State's Garrett Wilson is the top-rated receiver on a lot of boards but he is similar in size and style to McLaurin. Washington opts for the bigger, more physical pass-catcher who can still get downfield.
12. Minnesota Vikings: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Cornerback is clearly at or near the top of the Vikings' list of needs, particularly with Mackensie Alexander and Patrick Peterson possibly departing in free agency. Gardner has the potential to develop into a shutdown corner. That's well worth a top-12 pick.
13. Cleveland Browns: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
The Browns were perfectly fine with Washington going with Burks over Wilson. They'll welcome the instate star to a receiving corps that – as you may or may not have heard – doesn't have Odell Beckham, Jr. anymore. Baker Mayfield needs a receiver that can get more out of catches than Jarvis Landry's 11.0-per, and nobody in that offense even had 600 receiving yards in 2021.
14. Baltimore Ravens: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
This is usually a bit high for a center but Linderbaum is a top-10 talent. Sometimes there are exceptions to the usual position-value consensus if we're talking about a player who looks like a perennial Pro Bowler in the making. Think of the Colts taking guard Quenton Nelson sixth overall. Incumbent center Bradley Bozeman is an impending free agent and I think the Ravens will let him walk to a team that's going to pay a premium salary, just as they did with Ryan Jensen. Linderbaum steps right in from Day One.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami): EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia
Spoiler alert: Philly has three of the next five picks and I'm going to go defense with all three. It's time – their last eight first and second-round picks have all been on offense. The Eagles need to prioritize the order of those three picks, and to me the pass-rusher should come first. Philadelphia sneakily finished second-to-last in sacks last year, which is not what you expect from an Eagles front that has been star-studded for years. Walker is big and fast and still has plenty of room for development.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (from Indianapolis): CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
Next, Philadelphia goes cornerback because there is some reason to believe that the Chargers are targeting one with the next pick. The Eagles could lose Steven Nelson in free agency and while Darius Slay was really good in 2021 he's also 31 and could possibly start to slow down in the coming seasons. The 5-11 McDuffie isn't that big but he's a big-time playmaker.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DL Jordan Davis, Georgia
Last year, the Chargers were one of the easiest teams to mock for as they clearly needed help on the offensive line to protect prized young quarterback Justin Herbert. They seem just as easy this year and that's why I'm far from alone in pairing Davis with the Chargers. L.A. is an intriguing team for 2022 but one thing they were very bad at in 2021 was stopping the run. This should help.
18. New Orleans Saints: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
With Drew Brees and Sean Payton both now gone, it's time for the Saints to reset. They still have a great defense and should be getting Michael Thomas back, so it's reasonable for them to still consider themselves contenders, but star left tackle Terron Armstead could be on the way out, as could safety Marcus Williams. Still, they can thread the needle, try to compete one more time with Taysom Hill as the starter and let Ridder develop his considerable set of skills.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Linebacker was arguably the weak link on the Eagles' defense last year so it's nice that they hit edge and cornerback first and still got the first 'backer off the board. I've seen Dean compared to fellow former Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, and if he develops into a player even close to that this will be a home run of a pick.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: DL Marvin Leal, Texas A&M
Like Washington, I think Pittsburgh sits out this class of QBs and goes the veteran route for a team that in a lot of other ways is ready to win right now. Interior offensive line is arguably a bigger need but with Linderbaum gone I don't like the value at this point in the draft. Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green is a thought but I'm going with a different Aggie to help a defensive front that is getting a bit long in the tooth and could lose Tyson Alualu. The Steelers usually do a really good job of drafting at this position and they have a good chance of hitting again with Leal, who is a good fit as a 3-4 end with some inside-outside flexibility.
21. New England Patriots: WR Drake London, USC
People like to make jokes every time the idea of the Patriots drafting a receiver in the first round comes up, but you can't deny it makes sense here. It looks like they hit on Mac Jones, so let's get him some more to work with. Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne actually weren't too shabby last year but I don't think either one is a number-one receiver. Drop the 6-4, 210-pound London into that group and it starts to look pretty good.
22. Las Vegas Raiders: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
The Raiders always get starry-eyed over really fast receivers, and Williams is really fast. A torn ACL in the championship game will obviously keep him from running at the Combine or Alabama's Pro Day but he was widely expected to run the 40 in the 4.3 range. (Not sure how that works, but there's plenty of tape showing his excellent game speed.
23. Arizona Cardinals: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
Well, we officially have a run on receivers. If the Cardinals are trying to make up with Kyler Murray, this would be a nice little springtime gift. DeAndre Hopkins should be back to full speed next year but A.J. Green probably won't be back and Christian Kirk could leave, too.
24. Dallas Cowboys: LB Devin Lloyd
The Cowboys' defense took a big step forward in 2021, in no small part due to the drafting of eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons. But Dallas faces some possible defections from the linebacker room, and they could choose to continue using Parsons in largely pass-rushing role. If so, there's a need in the middle of the defense and Lloyd is both fast and instinctive. He could help Dallas keep its defensive arrow pointed up.
25. Buffalo Bills: CB Andrew Booth, Clemson
Full disclosure: I was hoping Booth would fall to the Bucs at number 27. But I'm not going to force it and after looking over the Bills' (relatively small) list of pressing needs, this seems like their best choice right here. Levi Wallace could command around $10 million on the open market but the Bills could decline that idea and just plug in Booth. Every other spot in the secondary, including nickel back Taron Johnson and star corner Tre'Davious White, is in good hands.
26. Tennessee Titans: TE Trey McBride, Colorado State
To me, this comes down to whether or not the Titans think 2021 second-round pick Dillon Radunz can play right tackle in place of the probably-departing David Quessenberry. Radunz did not have a promising rookie season, so the Titans could go with Charles Cross or Trevor Penning here. But I'm guessing they give Radunz a shot and use this to add what could be a hard-to-find three-down tight end. The Titans are still going to pound away with Derrick Henry, obviously, and McBride can help with the blocking and also be a great play-action target.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
I already revealed that I would have taken Booth if he was here. Carlton Davis is a pending free agent and both Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting have just one year left on their rookie deals. At this point, though, I'd rather wait until the second round to address that position. The free agency outcomes for Leonard Fournette and Chris Godwin could make the Bucs consider the likes of Penn State WR Jahan Dotson or Iowa State RB Breece Hall, but for now I'm going to go in a direction similar to what Carmen did in her 1.0 version and take the best edge rusher on the board. In this case, that's Johnson, who was a standout at the recent Senior Bowl and who had 12 sacks in his final year as a Seminole.
28. Green Bay Packers: T Charles Cross, Mississippi State
This is purely a value pick. Cross is seen in some circles as a potential top-10 pick, and if that proves to be true than this is a huge whiff in my first mock draft. He certainly was sticking out on my list when I got to this point. David Bakhtiari finally made it back into the lineup late in the season but the Packers were still running out Billy Turner and Dennis Kelly at right tackle and I think they can do better. Elgton Jenkins, another Mississippi State product, could easily handle that spot but he can also literally play anywhere on the line so if Cross can handle that spot that unit gets better across the board.
29. Miami Dolphins (from San Francisco): T Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
Iowa State running back Breece Hall would be a fun pick here and would take some pressure off Tua Tagovailoa, but the Dolphins' top concern is literally keeping pressure off Tagovailoa. Despite a number of high draft picks spent on offensive linemen in recent years, that unit is coming off a disastrous season. Dolphins fans probably don't want to hear about another high pick going to an offensive lineman, but it needs to be done.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
I would rather pick an interior defensive lineman here but I'm not seeing the value. The Chiefs could lose Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes to free agency so we'll go in that direction over yet another receiver.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: G Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
First-round offensive line picks rarely rev up the hometown fans but they're might be a riot in Cincinnati if the Bengals don't address that position in this year's draft. They can use help at guard or tackle, but Cross and Penning just came off the board so we'll move inside with this pick. Actually, Green, who is both huge and surprisingly nimble, has seen extensive action at both guard and tackle and could potentially work out at either on the NFL level. That versatility will help as Cincy tries to rebuild their line in front of Joe Burrow.
32. Detroit Lions (from L.A. Rams): QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
I'm not really a huge believer in Corral and might go with Sam Howell here instead, but either way this seems like a good opportunity for Detroit to take a crack at a long-term answer at quarterback in the post-Matthew Stafford era. With a pick obtained in the trade of Matthew Stafford. I certainly think Dan Campbell will like Corral's toughness.