If you're ever wondering what those who call the shots in the NFL consider to be the most important positions on the field, you can always just look to the draft.
Quarterback, edge rusher, offensive tackle – that's your top three. Over the last 20 years, 21 of the 60 players drafted with top-three picks have been quarterbacks. Another 11 have been defensive ends-slash-edge rushers and another seven have been offensive tackles. Altogether, those three positions have accounted for 39 of the 60 players picked with a top-three selection, or a whopping 65% of them.
Guess what? You won't see any deviation from that pattern this year. The two positions with the most high-end talent this year are clearly offensive tackle and edge rusher. That's not the case for quarterback, but that only illustrates the point even better. In a year where it's hard to find a consensus on who the best or even second-best quarterback prospect is, you'll still probably see at least one if not two go in the top 10.
This is reflected in my latest first-round mock effort found below. With a respectful nod to Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, who some consider the overall best prospect in this draft, eight of my top 10 picks are either tackles, edge rushers or quarterbacks. I have the first QB off the board with the second pick and four offensive tackles coming off the board very quickly. None of this means I will be proven right by the real NFL Draft later this month, but I'd be willing to bet that those three positions, in some way or another, or going to completely dominate the top 10.
As for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they are far from that range, picking at number 27 after tying for the NFL's best record and advancing to the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season. That makes their pick significantly more difficult to predict, but somehow this exercise ended in a familiar way. Read on to find out what I mean.
We've put up a mock draft every week since mid-February, some of them (like this one) the usual attempt to predict the 32 picks in the first round. We've also tried some other gimmicks to mix things up every other week. If you care to check out any of those previous efforts, here are the links:
Mock Draft 1.0 (Carmen Vitali's final contribution.)
Mock Draft 2.0 (My first attempt, without trades.)
Mock Draft 3.0 (A mock dedicated solely to the Bucs' 2022 draft picks)
Mock Draft 4.0 (My second straight mock, still without trades.)
Mock Draft 5.0 (In which I am required to make at least six trades.)
Mock Draft 6.0 (Another straight first round, but with trades allowed.)
Mock Draft 7.0 (Predicting the second round based on the first round from 6.0.)
Alright, load up the Green Room with tackles and edge rushers, and let's get started…
After this mock draft was complete and loaded into the system, the Eagles and Saints announced a big swap of draft picks that greatly affects the middle of the first round. There's a lot to the deal, and I'll let other pundits break down each team's reasoning, but the parts that matter here are the Saints getting picks 16 and 19 and the Eagles taking over pick 18. That forced a number of picks from #15 on to change, as there was a bit of a domino effect. But it's all good now, so I say again, let's get started…
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
There's not much more to say here since I've mocked Hutchinson here three times in a row now. Other than Kyle Hamilton, the best prospects at the top of this draft are linemen on both sides, and the Jaguars don't have a pressing need for an offensive tackle. As the top-rated EDGE rusher, Hutchinson just makes too much sense to bother switching this pick.
**TRADE ALERT**: Atlanta trades pick #8, 2022 second and third-round picks (#58 and #82) and a 2023 first-round pick to Detroit for pick #2.
2. Atlanta Falcons (from Detroit): QB Malik Willis, Liberty
First, the trade details. A move from eight up to two is always going to be tricky, but luckily I had an exact blueprint from which to work. In 2016, Philadelphia made this exact move in a trade with Cleveland in order to get Carson Wentz. In addition to the swap of first-rounders, Philly sent the Browns third and fourth-round picks that year, a first in 2017 and a second in 2018. The Eagles got back a fourth in 2017, so those two fourths essentially cancel each other out in my equation here. It's a lot, but Atlanta can afford it; they have extra picks in both the second and third-round this year. Besides these kind of draft investments in quarterbacks have become relatively routine at this point. Atlanta mostly wants to get ahead of Carolina, or any other team that might be trying to trade up for a passer.
Now, the pick. I believe Willis is close to becoming the consensus top quarterback, especially after his well-received Pro Day performances. The Falcons need to steer fully into a post-Matt Ryan Era rebuild, with Marcus Mariota around as a one-year bridge to Willis. Ideally for Atlanta, they could turn the reins over to Willis in 2023 and have a four-year window in which they have a plus starting quarterback on a cost-effective first contract. That's the most valuable asset in the NFL.
3. Houston Texans: EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia
Walker's stock is on a meteoric rise since the Combine, and his versatility to play all over the line makes him more than just an edge rusher, providing value beyond just sacks. Walker is insanely athletic and could be just what the Texans need to rebuild their defense around. The Texans are in a great spot here, as they could also help themselves greatly with Kyle Hamilton or one of the tackles.
4. New York Jets: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
The last time I mocked the first round, I had Hamilton going to the Texans at the third spot and I said I thought the Jets would have jumped at the Notre Dame safety had he made it to four. I guess I have to stick to my guns now that Hamilton is available. I wouldn't do this if the Jets didn't have another pick in the top 10 and therefore another chance to get a much-needed offensive tackle.
5. New York Giants: T Evan Neal, Alabama
This time around, the Giants have their pick between Neal and NC State's Ikem Ekwonu, who was already off the board in my last mock. So why have Neal go before Ekwonu if they're both available. Well, as we saw in 2020 (and which worked out marvelously for the Buccaneers), the Giants aren't necessarily going to follow the consensus at the tackle position if indeed Ekwonu emerges as the top-rated one. In any case, the Giants taking a tackle here seems like a stone-cold lock.
6. Carolina Panthers: T Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
Last week, Panthers' GM Scott Fitterer acknowledged that the Panthers need a quarterback and "have to take a shot" at some point, which could be right here. But he also said that he would "hate to force it," and I'm going with the guess that he isn't sold on Kenny Pickett. If Malik Willis is here, maybe. Fitterer said the best players on the board at this point would be offensive tackles, and I just don't think he'll be able to pass on Ekwonu, a top-five talent at a position of extreme need.
7. New York Giants (from Chicago): EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
If Thibodeaux is right that it is "ridiculous" to consider anyone but him as the best player in this draft and that there is no reason to question his down-by-down effort level, than the Giants could end up with a steal here. For weeks I resisted moving Thibodeaux down the board but the critical buzz has only grown and I can't ignore it any longer. Perhaps a bit of a slide will create a chip on Thibodeaux's shoulder that will help him get the most out of his talents in the NFL.
8. Detroit Lions (from Atlanta): CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
The Lions were willing to move down (and gather a king's ransom that will help greatly in their rebuilding efforts) because they didn't really need an offensive tackle and there were several different defensive positions, or even receiver, that they could credibly consider their top need. One of those is definitely cornerback, and by taking one here they can have the top one on their board. And, spoiler alert: They manage to address edge rusher before this round is over, too.
9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver): T Charles Cross, Mississippi State
During a recent radio interview Hawks Head Coach Pete Carroll conceded that, for his team, offensive tackle is "a spot that is really of concern." I'd say so. The depth chart on Seattle's own website still lists Duane Brown and Brandon Shell as the starting tackles, but both remain unsigned free agents. The only other tackles on the roster are Jake Curhan, Stone Forsythe and Jamarco Jones, and Jake Curhan, who have a combined 12 NFL starts. The last time Seattle spent a top-10 pick on an offensive tackle was in 2010, on Russell Okung. It's time to do so again.
10. N.Y. Jets (from Seattle): T Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
The Jets' decision to go with Hamilton at pick number four looks good if Penning, whose stock has apparently risen over the last month or so, is truly worth of a top-10 pick. If not, missing out on the Neal-Ekwonu-Cross trio could sting. Perhaps this particular mock draft effort by yours truly is in fact a cautionary tale not to stray from the big three positions in the top five when there's real talent there. Or maybe this works out perfectly and Penning becomes a 10-year starter.
11. Washington Commanders: WR Drake London, USC
Here's another team getting to break the seal on a position that is clearly one of need for them. Terry McLaurin is great on one side, but he's a smaller receiver who creates a lot of yards after the catch. London would be a great complement to that, a big-bodied guy who is great at contested catches but also has some burst and is a reliable route-runner. The Carson Wentz trade was a bold move and the Commanders need to increase the odds that it works out by giving the beleaguered quarterback another elite weapon.
12. Minnesota Vikings: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Other than Hutchinson and Neal, this is the first pick that's the same as my last mock draft. However, it's worth asking if I should have stuck with this one. Since my last first-round mock, the Vikings have re-signed Patrick Peterson and picked up former Packer Chandon Sullivan in free agency. I'm not sold just yet, however. Peterson is getting pretty advanced in age and Sullivan has been decent but not spectacular over the last two years in Green Bay, with a total of 10 pass breakups in 33 games and 20 starts. In any case, it's still not a position of long-term strength for the Vikings and they can change that here.
13. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
If the top 10 of this draft is going to be dominated by tackles and edge rushers, the middle part is going to be a multi-team dance around the five or six best receiver prospects. There are quite a few receiver-needy teams, which Buccaneer fans should feel grateful their team is not. Houston's receiver depth chart is Brandin Cooks and a lot of those guys – Philip Dorsett, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, DaeSean Hamilton, etc. Wilson might be the most complete receiver among the top prospects, not huge (6-0, 183) but quick and fast, a great route-runner and a good runner after the catch.
14. Baltimore Ravens: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Death, taxes and me using a "death, taxes and…" joke to introduce the 100th time in a row that I have shipped Linderbaum to the Ravens. Linderbaum is all over the board in mock drafts because the center position is not one that usually places players in the top half of the first round and because, despite that, Linderbaum is an outstanding prospect. Two or three years from now, the Ravens and their fans aren't going to care whether their stud center was drafted 14th or 20th or 27th. This fit is perfect and I'm sticking with it unless and until Eric DeCosta releases an official statement saying the Ravens will under no circumstances draft Tyler Linderbaum.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami): CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
This isn't technically a repeat pick from the last first-round mock because in that one I had the Eagles taking McDuffie with the 16th pick. That's not an option anymore after Monday's trade. With three picks, I've usually had the Eagles coming out of the round with a cornerback, a receiver and a front-seven defender, either a linebacker or an edge rusher. Now they can only get two of those three and I think they'll try to get one player for each side of the ball.
16. New Orleans Saints (from Indianapolis through Philadelphia): QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
I have been resisting the idea that the Saints would be hunting for a quarterback in this draft, believing they would see how it goes with Jameis Winston and then either stick with him for multiple years or get back into the market in 2022. After this trade, I guess I have to concede that they could actually be looking to land a passer. They've given themselves the assets to trade up if necessary, but at this point I have them sitting tight and believing that a quarterback they like will fall to them. They still could have done that at pick 18, but now they can get the quarterback of the future and a much-needed new pass-catching weapon to help him out at 19.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DL Jordan Davis, Georgia
In two different mock drafts I've had the Chargers trading up to get Davis, whose stock sky-rocketed after an insane NFL Scouting Combine performance. Full disclosure: Despite being a St. Louis kid I grew up loving the Chargers because I only understood quarterbacks and receivers (Air Coryell days) and their uniforms were and remain the best. So I want them to have nice things. And a defensive front that includes Davis, Joey Bosa, Jerry Tillery and recent acquisitions Khalil Mack (!) and Sebastian Joseph-Day is a very nice thing indeed. That they get Davis here without having to trade up is a bonus.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints): WR Treylon Burks
I like that the Eagles are fully committing to Jalen Hurts for 2022, whether or not they might have tried to get Russell Wilson. I don't know if it's going to work out, but I think he has shown enough that it's worth giving him the shot. Head Coach Nick Sirianni said at the NFL's recent Annual Meeting that the Eagles are going to demonstrate their commitment to Hurts "with our actions day-in and day-out." Drafting Burks, who would be a bigger and more physical complement to DeVonta Smith, would be a good what to show that.
19. New Orleans Saints (from Philadelphia): WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Saints would have liked a replacement for departed left tackle Terron Armstead, but the early run on that position made that a less optimal proposition. Instead, they find themselves in the sweet spot for receivers, and that's a serious position of need, too. Like Buckeyes teammate Garrett Wilson, Olave is a well-rounded prospect who does just about everything well and helped himself by running a sub-4.4 40 at the Combine.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
Before the big trade on Monday, I had the Steelers landing Pickett here, but now the Pitt product will have to move down South. The Steelers could pivot to another quarterback, like Matt Corral, but I'm guessing they were specifically in on Pickett and won't find another quarterback they like enough to take here. Maybe they can do a little maneuvering in the second round. Anyway, the player who shook loose from the changes in picks caused by the Eagles' trade is Johnson, and the Steelers are more than happy to pick him instead. Pittsburgh will appreciate that the 6-5, 270-pound Johnson is a good run-stopper along with a speedy presence off the edge to take advantage of T.J. Watt double-teams.
21. New England Patriots: CB Andrew Booth, Jr. Clemson
The Patriots are in a good spot here (boo). They could have the first guard off the board to replace the traded Shaq Mason (welcome to Tampa!) or they could hit a position of glaring need with what could be, depending upon your feelings about Roger McCreary and Kaiir Elam, the last blue-chip cornerback prospect on the board. Oh, and they could draft a receiver, but they did just trade for DeVante Parker. I think they go cornerback, as the Patriots have always put a high value on defensive backs.
22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas): WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
I simply cannot imagine the Packers, whose receiver depth chart is a tumbleweed gif, not drafting a pass-catcher here. Williams is coming off an ACL tear but might end up being the best receiver out of this draft. He's incredibly fast and his pre-injury production at Alabama was ridiculous. Is he really "ahead of schedule" in his rehab? Who knows. But modern science works wonders.
23. Arizona Cardinals: EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
There's a universe out there in which Karlaftis ends up being the most productive pass-rusher in this (loaded) draft. This is something Arizona needs very badly, especially with Chandler Jones now in Sin City.
24. Dallas Cowboys: ILB Devin Lloyd, Utah
Since my last first-round mock, in which I paired the Cowboys with safety Daxton Hill, Dallas has re-signed Jayron Kearse and not landed off-ball linebacker Bobby Wagner, who got a big deal from the Rams instead. So I think the Cowboys' focus shifts now back to the middle of the defense, with an all-over-the-field playmaker who can step right in and allow Dallas to continue to use the incredible Micah Parsons as a hybrid linebacker and edge rusher.
25. Buffalo Bills: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
If quarterback, edge rusher and offensive tackle are the three premium positions, cornerback might be fourth, and that isn't helping the Bills here. I had them landing Booth two weeks ago, but now he's off the board. So they turn to Elam, who helped himself quite a bit at the Combine and has a nice size-speed profile that could promise big things.
26. Tennessee Titans: ILB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
It's kinda weird to end up with the same pick at number 26 as two weeks ago, but here we are. So instead of re-inventing the wheel, here's what I said then and still believe: "I considered an offensive tackle here, but Tennessee invested a pretty high pick in Dillon Radunz last year and might be ready to see if he is the answer opposite Taylor Lewan. Meanwhile, the off-ball linebacker spot was a revolving door last year and both Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown may not return." (Note: Brown is definitely not returning, having signed with the Raiders.)
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DL Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
In my heart, I feel like Wyatt is going to be gone before this pick, but I make these predictions in good faith and let the pieces fall where they may, and for the second time in a row Wyatt is on the board for the Buccaneers. Ndamukong Suh fired off a tweet last week that could be construed as a hint at his potential return, and that would be great news. I do not think it would make the Bucs back off of Wyatt here, however. The athletic Georgia interior pass rusher could still work his way into the rotation and help keep that whole group fresh. Besides, both Suh and the recently-returned Will Gholston are closer to the end of their playing days than the beginning, Gholston is on a one-year deal and Suh probably would be, too. The Bucs could use a talented big body to pair with Vita Vea for the long run.
28. Green Bay Packers: G Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Elgton Jenkins, one of the best players in the NFL that you probably don't hear much about, gives the Packers some valuable flexibility at this point in the draft. They could use a new right tackle after letting Billy Turner go (and probably even before Turner left), but if they don't like what's available at that position at this point in the draft they can draft a guard instead and flex Jenkins out to tackle. He's going to dominate at whatever position he occupies. Meanwhile, Green can step in and be a Day One starter on the interior.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (from San Francisco via Miami): CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
Gordon might need to polish his game a bit to be an above average cornerback in the NFL, but he has the athleticism and the attitude to develop into just that. The Chiefs have rounded out their safety position with the signings of Justin Reid and Deon Bush but lost Charvarius Ward to free agency and are a bit thin at cornerback. The AFC is a turning into a shootout of elite quarterbacks and every defense in the conference needs to load up on coverage men.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: WR George Pickens, Georgia
The Chiefs felt the Tyreek Hill trade was necessary to build up cap space and draft assets, but it obviously creates a big hole to fill. They surely don't expect to find a one-for-one replacement for Hill's unique talents, so they will be taking more of a volume approach to filling the void. The team has signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling but is almost surely not done revamping the receiver room.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: DL Travis Jones, Connecticut
The Bengals got their right tackle with La'el Collins, so unless they want to upgrade at center and put newcomer Ted Karras at guard, I think they're moving away from the offensive line early in this draft. Maybe if Linderbaum falls this far that's an option, but otherwise they can address center later in the proceedings. Meanwhile, Larry Ogunjobi is still out there after his signing with the Bears was called off due to a failed physical. Head Coach Zac Johnson didn't make it sound like a Bengals-Ogunjobi reunion was all that likely when discussing it at the recent league meetings, so the Bengals could use another interior lineman to rotate with B.J. Hill and D.J. Reader.
32. Detroit Lions (from L.A. Rams): EDGE Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Mafe had a really nice week at the Senior Bowl and his tape shows a defender who gets off the line very quickly and already has an impressive array of pass rush moves. Detroit had the NFL's sixth-worst sack rate last season, and that was with Charles Harris surprisingly recorded more sacks (7.5) in 2021 than he had in his first four NFL seasons combined.