This is the most fun piece for me to write every year. It also takes the longest and involves the most extensive use of the backspace and delete keys, because I change my mind frequently in deciding what player I want the most for each pick in the draft.
This draft is all about what I would do, not what the NFL teams will do later this month. These are the choices I would make for each specific team at each spot based on the players available.
I cannot stress this enough: THIS IS NOT A PREDICTIVE MOCK DRAFT. Before you comment on the ridiculousness of the picks the team of your fandom is making as incredible or wonder why a player who will be taken in the top 15 overall (Duke QB Daniel Jones) in the actual draft doesn’t appear in the three rounds here, it’s because these are MY choices. I don’t expect teams to follow my choices, nor should you.
For fun, here is last year’s version.
My general philosophy on the draft: for the first 20 or so picks is to take the top talent available at a position where the team either has an immediate need or will likely have one in the near future. After that, I favor players who fit scheme and guys I believe will click with or benefit from the coaching staff and surrounding cast.
Injuries scare me much more than they seem to scare most draft analysts; Marquise Brown is a top-50 talent for most, but you will not find him here because of his Lisfranc surgery. I’m also not a huge believer in raw athletic ability that needs coaching and development because the NFL has progressed further away from having teaching coaches and the patience for those things yearly.
1. Arizona Cardinals: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama. My top-rated player in the draft, Williams doesn’t fill the biggest needs. I believe he can impact the game from the inside of the defense enough that the rebuilding Cardinals would regret passing on him for any other player. I’m not in the camp who believes Josh Rosen must be replaced already.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky. Allen brings pass rush sizzle off the edge, but he also plays the run in space quite well. The 49ers have invested heavily on the defensive line, which should help Allen see less blocking attention and more chances to shine right away.
3. New York Jets: Ed Oliver, DL, Houston. There is simply too much athletic potential to overlook with Oliver, who produced despite playing out of position for the Cougars. He can be a star in New York with his potential to disrupt from all over the defensive line. The Jets are already strong along the DL but Oliver is too tempting to pass up.
4. Oakland Raiders: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State. He’ll be the No. 1 player on most boards, but I do worry about his durability enough to keep him available for the Raiders. While a different type of player, Bosa’s power-to-speed rushing ability can replace the massive void created by the Khalil Mack trade.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan. Sideline-to-sideline playmaker with serious thump to his game, there is nothing a team will ask of their LBs that Bush cannot do at a high level. He’s a perfect fit in the middle of the Bucs defense replacing Kwon Alexander. This was one of the easiest choices of the entire round.
6. New York Giants: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma. There are serious risks in taking Murray, some of which I wrote about earlier this winter. But after dumping Odell Beckham, Olivier Vernon and Landon Collins, the concept of winning with what’s left of Eli Manning is like asking Canada to pay for the U.S. wall with Mexico. It’s time to move on, and Murray’s incredible blend of arm strength, touch and mobility give him an upside few QBs in recent times can match.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss. I know, I know...he missed time with a neck injury and has other durability concerns. He’s too over-muscled for any sort of finesse at a position which often requires it. There is a major bust risk with Metcalf and his inexperience, no question about it. But he’s also got the potential to be a bigger Julio Jones or a slightly stiffer Calvin Johnson. A team as devoid of playmaking weapons as this needs to load up and take the risk if they want to have any hope of making the Nick Foles experiment at QB work out.
8. Detroit Lions: Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State. Detroit’s biggest need is a speed rusher who can create pressure off the edge. Burns can do that reliably with his great upfield burst and speed around the tackle. Paired with newcomer Trey Flowers, Burns’ fluidity and sizzle off the edge suddenly wakes up a sleepy Lions pass rush.
9. Buffalo Bills: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa. In building an offense around Josh Allen at QB, the Bills need to upgrade the reliability of weaponry and add versatility at tight end. Hockenson is a very good blocker with great hands and upside as a receiver at all levels of the field. This is higher than I prefer to take a TE but he’s the best fit for what they need to make it work with Allen’s particular set of skills.
10. Denver Broncos: Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame. Tillery has the size, power and attacking mentality to dominate as a 3T/4T tackle with enough sand in the pants to anchor and be an asset in the run game as well as the pass rush. I saw him in person vs. Michigan and Tillery was the best player on the field that night, and I can’t help but think Broncos coach Vic Fangio would be able to do wondrous things with a player of his physical talents.
11. Cincinnati Bengals: Garrett Bradbury, G/C, North Carolina State. Several options here, and I had both Byron Murphy and Devin White here at times, but Bradbury’s blend of technical prowess and finishing skill as an interior force make him too good to pass up for a team that is desperate enough to pay Bobby Hart $21M to remain as the league’s worst tackle.
12. Green Bay Packers: Devin White, LB, LSU. White’s range, coverage ability and physical style are great fits in the middle of the Packers’ rebuilt linebacking corps. I value his power and run blitz fits quite a bit inside of the newcomer Smiths, Za’Darius and Preston. White is much higher-end than Oren Burks and Blake Martinez.
13. Miami Dolphins: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State. Miami’s need for a viable long-term quarterback trumps everything else. I do have some questions about Haskins’ lack of experience and need for clean room with his feet, but his ability to place the ball exactly when and where it needs to be is the best in this class. He reminds me of a less caffeinated Philip Rivers, and that’s better than anything Miami has had at QB in a long time.
14. Atlanta Falcons: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington. Even after an underwhelming workout season, Murphy is still firmly atop my cornerback big board. He can play outside or in the slot and has the instincts and toughness to match up with anyone. I had both OL and DT here at times but Murphy is the top remaining player and he fits too.
15. Washington: Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina. A versatile playmaker in the slot or outside, Samuel has the game of a thicker Golden Tate. Durability is definitely a concern, but Washington must give whoever winds up playing QB better weapons and Samuel is the best one on the board.
16. Carolina Panthers: Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State. Sweat brings power-to-speed off the edge and serious athletic upside. Everything he lacks right now--hand usage, countermoves--can be coached up. He brings a new and missing element to the Panthers defense.
17. New York Giants (from CLE): Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson. Wilkins was a very effective rusher and run stuffer at Clemson, and he flashed both the ability and the athleticism to become a better pro than collegian. His quickness, leverage and finishing power allow him to play all over a Giants defensive line that needs help in a lot of places. Edged out choices at CB and EDGE here.
18. Minnesota Vikings: Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College. Minnesota ideally needs upgrades at four OL spots; might as well start off right away. Lindstrom is a physical tone-setter with range and power. High-floor player at a position where the Vikings need someone who can contribute right away.
19. Tennessee Titans: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa. The Titans passing game can use more sizzle, and Fant is the guy who can put some steak with it too. Effectively a supersized wide receiver, Fant runs great routes and stresses the defense in the middle of the field and seams. He has the playmaking potential to lead the team in TDs as a rookie.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson. Ferrell’s understated game gets overlooked and poo-pooed too readily by many analysts. His strong all-around game and ability to win as a pass rusher with both speed and power make him a great fit for a talented but thin Steelers defense that desperately needs reinforcements all over the front.
21. Seattle Seahawks: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida. Taylor’s growth as a pass blocker should continue, and that bodes well for the Seahawks. His punch and power make him an immediate starter at right tackle with the potential to be one of the very best at that position, soon. He’s a player who really grew on me the more I watched Taylor.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Jeffery Simmons, DE, Mississippi State. Not gonna lie, this pick was a struggle. In the end, the long-term potential of Simmons as a bedrock presence on the defensive front outweighs the very real probability he won’t play as a rookie as he recovers from a torn ACL. I really wanted to address the massive hole at wide receiver here but I don’t have any WRs rated within 15 spots of here, so I begrudgingly passed the buck to Day 2.
23. Houston Texans: Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State. No returning playoff team has a bigger need than the Texans do at cornerback. The Texans offensive line also fits that bill, but GM Brian Gaine only has one first-round pick. Oruwariye is a big, physical corner with a game similar to freshly departed Kareem Jackson some 10 drafts ago. That worked out well for Houston and this pick should too.
24. Oakland Raiders (from CHI): Greedy Williams, CB, LSU. Greedy has some holes to his game, but the long CB is a genuine playmaker for a defense sorely lacking impact talents. Williams brings energy and swagger to the Raiders, i.e. exactly what their fans demand. He and Gareon Conley could make a great 1-2 punch at CB.
25. Philadelphia Eagles: Darnell Savage, S, Maryland. Savage brings speed, explosive athleticism and surprisingly polished coverage skills and instincts as a safety who can also kick up to playing slot CB. I’d eye him as a CB convert. His open-field dash vs. Michigan was the fastest I saw any college player move all year. His coverage versatility fits an Eagles defense that struggled to cover anyone last year.
26. Indianapolis Colts: A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss. This is about 10 spots higher than I have Brown ranked, but his smooth physicality and ability to work both outside and in the slot could very well pay off. The Colts were desperate enough at WR to pay Devin Funchess like he’s Larry Fitzgerald; why not go after a player who can be the next Anquan Boldin?
27. Oakland Raiders (from DAL): Erik McCoy, G/C, Texas A&M. An experienced center with both excellent footwork and brute power, McCoy also can handily slide to guard. He’s both high-ceiling and high-floor and underappreciated by the national draft media. That’s the kind of guy Jon Gruden will love to coach.
28. L.A. Chargers: Cody Ford, G, Oklahoma. He held his own at tackle in 2018, but Ford projects much better inside at guard in the NFL. His power and ability to quickly reset for a big man is impressive. The Chargers are loaded but Ford can step right in as the 6th lineman and emerge as a starter down the road.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan. Finding a pass rush is at a premium for the Chiefs. Winovich brings hirsute flair and nonstop aggression from a wide alignment, and his backside game against the run is arguably the best in class. Very good scheme fit in KC.
30. Green Bay Packers (from NO): Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan. Gary has proven himself to be a very good athlete and stalwart run defender on the edge, but his pass rush remains a work in progress. He’s a good fit at end in Mike Pettine’s scheme and won’t be rushed to produce right away with the Packers relative depth up front.
31. L.A. Rams: Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State. There is zero depth up front for the Rams and Andrew Whitworth can’t play forever. Risner is a natural right-sider but has enough technique to move to left tackle or kick inside. He’s the best finisher of blocks in this class.
32. New England Patriots: Dawson Knox, TE, Ole Miss. Ignore the meager college production. Knox played with two WRs already off the board here, diminishing his opportunities. When he did get looks, he thrived in both the short and long passing game. His blocking is a lot better than you would expect of a converted QB. In case you haven’t heard, the Patriots have a massive hole to fill at TE…
Commentary now limited to teams making their initial selections…
33. Cardinals: Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama
34. Colts (from NYJ): Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State
35. Raiders: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Florida
36. 49ers: Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
37. Giants: N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
38. Jaguars: David Long, CB, Michigan
39. Buccaneers: Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia
40. Bills: Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame
41. Broncos: Nasir Adderly, S, Delaware
42. Bengals: Blake Cashman, LB, Minnesota
43. Lions: Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State
44. Packers: Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State
45. Falcons: Elgton Jenkins, G/C, Mississippi State
46. Washington: D’Andre Walker, EDGE, Georgia
47. Panthers: Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State
48. Dolphins: Zach Allen, EDGE, Boston College
49. Cleveland Browns: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State. A pass blocking specialist with great athletic potential, Dillard needs technical refinement. He would get that with the Browns, who have Greg Robinson at LT for a year and zero depth.
50. Vikings: Michael Deiter, OL, Wisconsin
51. Titans: Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois
52. Steelers: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
53. Eagles (from BAL): Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
54. Texans (from SEA): Juan Thornhill, DB, Virginia
55. Texans: Tytus Howard, OT, Alabama State
56. Patriots (from CHI): Jalen Hurd, WR, Baylor
57. Eagles: Jahlani Tavai, LB, Hawaii
58. Dallas Cowboys: Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State. A tone-setting thumper on the back end, Abram might be the best box safety in the class. Coverage is not his forte but he offers LB-like skills and enough athleticism to at least get by in running with TEs.
59. Colts: Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State
60. Chargers: Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama
61. Chiefs: Isaiah Johnson, CB, Houston
62. New Orleans Saints: Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M. Sternberger wasn’t even considered a prospect until a breakout 2018, when he led the Aggies in receiving and yards while showing legit downfield playmaking ability from the TE spot. If his arrow continues to point up, the Saints land a seam-stretching weapon with blocking upside.
63. Chiefs (from LAR): Lonnie Johnson, CB, Kentucky
64. Patriots: Michael Dogbe, DT, Temple
65. Cardinals: Mecole Hardman, WR/RS, Georgia
66. Steelers (from OAK): Chuma Edoga, OT, USC
67. 49ers: Stanley Morgan, WR, Nebraska
68. Jets: Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan
69. Jaguars: Dru Samia, OG, Oklahoma
70. Buccaneers: Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M
Giants--used in supplemental draft on CB Sam Beal
71. Broncos: Saivion Smith, CB, Alabama
72. Bengals: Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo
73. Patriots (from DET): Anthony Nelson, DE, Iowa
74. Bills: Charles Omenihu, DT, Texas
75. Packers: Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State
76. Washington: Nate Davis, OG, Charlotte
77. Panthers: Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
78. Dolphins: Sione Takitaki, LB, BYU
79. Falcons: Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida
80. Browns: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
81. Vikings: Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
82. Titans: Daniel Wise, DT, Kansas
83. Steelers: Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State
84. Seahawks: Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
85. Ravens: Amani Hooker, S, Iowa
86. Texans: Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
87. Chicago Bears: Max Scharping, OT, Northern Illinois. Chicago taps nearby ground with its first pick, bringing in the solid Scharping. He instantly becomes the 6th lineman for a Bears line with no depth at tackle or guard, and he has potential to start at tackle in a year or two.
88. Lions (from PHI): Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State
89. Colts: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
90. Cowboys: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
91. Chargers: Cortez Broughton, DL, Cincinnati
92. Chiefs: Joe Giles-Harris, LB, Duke
93. Jets (from NO): Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington
94. Rams: Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
95. Giants (from NE): Lamont Gaillard, G/C, Georgia
96. Washington: DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss
97. Patriots: Jimmy Moreland, CB, James Madison
98. Jaguars (from LAR): Maxx Crosby, EDGE, Eastern Michigan
99. Rams: Emeke Egbule, LB, Houston
100. Panthers: Terrill Hanks, LB, New Mexico State
101. Patriots: Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt
102. Ravens: Christian Miller, LB, Alabama