The NFL combine begins in roughly 48 hours. Ahead of the week-long set of skills and aptitude tests for this year’s draft class, scouting reports of NFL prospects, mock drafts have been flying around infinitum. Certain players already have fixed spots, while others won’t even participate. Everyone is looking for the most valuable NFL Draft Sleepers.
There have been situations where incredible performances at the combine, both good and bad, have affected a player’s draft position. Some have rocketed up the draft board, while others have plummeted after a poor showing at the combine.
Combine performance aside, each team has a wish list of needs they want to fill to make their teams more competitive. Rookies don’t always change fortunes in a season, but there are dozens of examples of teams being dramatically improved on draft day.
Without putting weight on possible the effects of how players show at the combine, here’s how we think the first 32 picks will play out in this year’s NFL Draft.
Many projection analysts may have spent far too much time over thinking this first pick. There have been the Ely Manning rumors about Joe Burrows stonewalling Cincinnati into trading the pick. Those are not true.
There has been discussion of Burrows hand size, but they talked that same topic before Patrick Mahomes was drafted. As we inch towards over-analyzing who the first name off the board will be, we’ll stop. Cincinnati needs a quarterback to sell tickets, and that quarterback will be an Ohio-born Buckeye product. Joe Burrow wears tiger stripes.
Projection – Joe Burrow QB to Cincinnati
There has been little discussion about what the Washington Redskins will do with the second pick in the draft. Like taking the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback with the first pick, it’s probably because it should be a lock talent wise.
Chase Young is as tenacious a pass rusher as there is on the big board. The Skins need an edge rusher in the worst way. For Ohio State star Chase Young’s name will be called by the Redskins.
Projection – Chase Young Edge to Washington
Things could begin to shift as early as this third selection. Detroit is in need of help on defense in a bad way. The most glaring weakness is trying to cover the other team’s pass catchers, all of them. The Motor City Kitties could also use help stopping opposing running backs.
If you scan mock draft boards here, either Auburn DT Derrick Brown or Buckeye cover-corner Jeffery Okudah would fit the Lions’ needs list. However, before you get too comfortable with this progression of events, there is some rumor the LA Chargers may want to trade up to guarantee they get Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Projection – Jeffery Okudah CB to Detroit
Fourth on the call list will be the New York Giants. The Giants need to find someone to block for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. They made a lot of effort to get these two players paired as their offense of the future. New York would prefer keeping them healthy and productive.
To accomplish that, you have to block people. The Giants have not done that well recently. Even if either of the previously mentioned defensive talents is available, we think good commonsense will prevail. If that happens, New York will take one of two massive offensive tackles, Jedrick Wills Jr or Tristan Wirfs.
Projection – Jedrick Wills OT to New York Giants
The Miami Dolphins have been on the proverbial clock ever since rumors they had questions about Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s health. Was this just a smokescreen to generate trade interest from other teams?
Other than the Chargers having been rumored to have an interest in Tagovailoa, Miami should have their eyes dead set on targeting a quarterback. However, there are a lot of indications they may be now leaning towards former Oregon Duck Justin Herbert. Miami has multiple needs, but unless someone offers the farm in trade, look for them to take one of these QBs.
Projection – Justin Herbert QB to Miami
If our projection for the previous pick turns out to be accurate, there will be a huge grown from the audience on day one of the draft. This will throw things into a free-for-all to nab a player many had projected as the number one pick until Tagovailoa went down with a hip injury.
However, if no one has blown up their box of draft picks ahead of Miami’s number-five choice, the LA Chargers will invariably take whichever QB the Fins leave on the board. While the Chargers should be satisfied with either, there is still that floating rumor they want the former Crimson Tide product.
Projection – Tua Tagovailoa QB to Los Angeles Chargers
Now, here is where things get even more interesting, at least as far as the rumor mill goes leading up to next month’s draft day. Carolina has hired a new coach with a new philosophy. There are connections now in Charlotte with Joe Burrow. The Panthers’ owner has a penchant for over-spending if it fits his fancy.
We’d bank on a phone conversation between Charlotte and Cincinnati has either happened or will happen. What the result is will be anyone’s guess. All odds point to Cincinnati’s asking price for the top pick to be exorbitant. The most probable scenario has the Panthers taking the most talented player on the board that makes their defense immediately better.
Projection – Isaiah Simmons LB to Carolina
Next up after Carolina will be the Arizona Cardinals. They snagged their quarterback of the future with last year’s number one pick Kyler Murrary. Arizona needs someone to haul in his passes. Most draft charts point to Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to be the top pass catcher on the board.
However, depending on how fast one of his teammates in college turns out to be at the combine, a different former Tide WR could be headed for the desert. Henry Ruggs III has blistering speed, but Jeudy has shown to be a better route runner. This could be another pick that turns a few heads, but in all likelihood Arizona sticks to their plan.
Projection – Jerry Jeudy WR to Arizona
The Jacksonville Jaguars had one of the best defenses in the league over the last half-dozen seasons, but they slipped slightly. They may also lose some beef in the interior of their defensive line to free agency. Most indications point to them getting the best defensive lineman on the board.
The Jags would reinforce their defensive front with either a tackle or edge rusher. Javon Kinlaw is an intriguing pick having played close to the Jacksonville area for the South Carolina Gamecocks. A lot will depend on the picks ahead of them, but if Derrick Brown is still available, he will be a Jaguar.
Projection – Derrick Brown DL to Jacksonville
Last season was a disappointment for Cleveland fans. During preseason camp, they were the darling pick to bust out of their proverbial slump and make the playoffs. Ultimately, the Browns turned back into the old Browns and missed out. One huge problem was an inability to block for their cast of talented skill-position players.
They seem to have all the pieces of a solid offense, if they can move defenders out of the way. There’s a trio of massive tackles available. Cleveland will take one of them, but the question will be which one. We think this pick could be another head turner, with Cleveland unable to pass up the physical impressiveness of Mekhi Becton out of Louisville.
Projection – Mekhi Becton OT to Cleveland
The Philadelphia Eagles need help at both linebacker and in their defensive backfield. If there is any sort of big shakeup ahead of them at pick number eleven, and Brown or Okudah are magically still available, they will pick one of them.
However, the likelihood of that is slim. So, the next best option for the Eagles is to get the most talented pass catcher still available to them. Most boards say that’s CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma, but the name Henry Ruggs III will be tossed around as well.
Projection – CeeDee Lamb WR to Philadelphia
All indications point to the Raiders, yes the Las Vegas Raiders, to be after a quarterback. Jon Gruden likes quarterbacks, and Chucky runs this Vegas show. If by some miracle either Herbert or Tagovailoa are still around, the will get the call from the Silver and Black.
But, if they aren’t already snatched up in the first seven phone calls, Gruden will probably go after a Patrick Mahomes look-a-like. Utah State’s Jordan Love has a very similar skill set, and as we said, Jon Gruden likes quarterbacks. Despite some other glaring weaknesses, Vegas should take a QB at number eleven.
Projection – Jordan Love QB to Las Vegas
As we drift down the draft order, much of what we project will depend on the events that transpire in the previous picks. The one thing that will throw everything into chaos will be trades leading up to draft day. They happen, and this year may be no exception.
Ironically, it might appear that the Colts own a decent stable of pass receivers. However, most mock draft projections have them scooping up another. Jaelon Reagor is a tremendous route-runner with good hands, but he’s small. The name Henry Ruggs III may surface again as well.
Projection – Henry Ruggs III WR to Indianapolis
Tampa Bay had one of the best pass defensive units in all of professional football. The Bucs run defense did not generate the same cozy feelings. In fact, they were one of the worst at stopping running backs. Tampa Bay needs a lot of stuff, and one of those needs might be a quarterback.
The likelihood of any of the big three QBs to still be around is slim. If that’s the case, the Buccaneers will beef up their defensive line. Javon Kinlaw would be the logical choice, but at One Buc Place, sometimes the logical turns illogical. Kinlaw should get the call, but edge rusher AJ Epenesa has been generating conversation as a very talented and very smart football player.
Projection – Javon Kinlaw DT to Tampa Bay
The Broncos will pick after the Bucs, if John Elway doesn’t elect to move up. There isn’t much stability in Denver behind center, but the price for the Broncos to go after one of the better QBs seems too high a price for the frugal Elway to pay.
Denver needs help blocking people on their offensive line. Wirfs, Wills Jr and Becton are the three most likely targets for the Broncos, but Josh Jones out of Houston is also a strong candidate. Look for Denver to take the best of the best when their turn comes around to block.
Projection – Tristan Wirfs OT to Denver
Dan Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons are another team desperately seeking help on the defensive side of the ball. They will look deeper in the draft for help at running back, but look for them to snatch up the best defensive lineman on the board.
Tampa Bay may thwart the Falcons’ best laid plans by taking Epenesa. If that’s the case, Derrick Brown could be that one player who slides the farthest down the board on draft day. Atlanta won’t mind if that were to happen. However, they’ll be equally pleased to add Epenesa.
Projection – AJ Epenesa Edge to Atlanta
Most analytical types deem the Cowboys to possibly have the most talent on offense of any team in the NFL. That isn’t quite the same feeling on defense. Dallas could use some help at linebacker, but the most glaring need is covering pass catchers effectively.
Very few teams seem to have LSU Tiger cornerback Kristian Fulton on their radar. There could be enough movement ahead of the Cowboys to make trading up for Okudah a possibility. However, that would require a lot of change ahead of the draft. In all likelihood Dallas gets a cornerback, and it’s Fulton.
Projection – Kristian Fulton CB to Dallas
The Dolphins will get to pick again at number 18. The combination of these two picks is one aspect of the draft day order that has generated possibly the most side talk. Miami could package these two picks, and that is a definite possibility.
In lieu of a trade, Miami could either fill a hole on either of their front lines. They need help on both. Another Defending BCS Champion LSU Tiger might be the most logical. K’Lavon Chaisson is proclaiming himself to be the pick everyone wishes they would have taken. We think the Dolphins might be listening.
Projection – K’Lavon Chaisson Edge to Miami
At number 19, here comes the Silver and Black again. Jon Gruden needs defensive help, but that is just not in his normal bag of wish-list players. He likes offense, and Chucky likes to get his way as much as he likes offense. We’re back to the Henry Ruggs III discussion, again.
Gruden loves fast pass catchers and Ruggs III is just that, fast. We’ve already pulled him off the board, so most likely Vegas will need to look elsewhere for WR help. Laviska Shenault Jr is actually rated higher than Ruggs III, he just doesn’t have that same flash of blazing speed.
Projection – Laviska Shenault Jr WR to Las Vegas
Jacksonville will be back on the clock for the second time in round one. That will be the third team with multiple selections out of the first 20. There could well be some movement by any of these three teams, but that is still conjecture.
All trade conjecture aside, the Jaguars want to boost the strength of their defense in this draft, but they also need blocking help on offense. If any of the three previous tackles slip through the cracks, they’ll be heading to north Florida. Otherwise, Andrew Thomas is big, fast, plus he can block.
Projection – Andrew Thomas OL to Jacksonville
As we creep down the draft board, this is where things could change dramatically if anyone in the top-20 decides to make a blockbuster readjustment of their priorities. For projection purposes, we’ll have to assume that projections continue as projected.
The Eagles were the only team to have previously maneuvered themselves as a playoff team into the top-20. At pick number 21, the Jets are the last non-playoff team to draft. New York had a poor blocker rating, so an offensive lineman is on order. They will take the best that’s left.
Projection – Josh Jones OL to New York Jets
One of last season’s more pleasant surprises could be seen as the Buffalo Bills. They played well on defense and have seemingly settled on their quarterback of the future in Josh Allen. Allen could use some hands to throw at, but we feel the top-four pass catchers will be spoken for. That leaves Buffalo in the unenviable position of next-best-talent-up.
That could be any one of the previous players, if they slide down past their projected spots. However, in lieu of that happening, the Bills would take an edge or defensive lineman. Again, here is the name of Henry Ruggs III. If the Colts pass up Ruggs, he’ll go to Buffalo. If not, Buffalo will forego defensive help for Jalen Raegor out of TCU, another burner with the speed to blow past coverage.
Projection – Jalen Raegor WR to Buffalo
Picking outside of the bottom three choices is a rare phenomenon for Bill Belichik’s Patriots. Will Tom continue playing, or will Brady retire? The football world will be shocked if Tom Brady is not the New England quarterback when next season opens. So, that means we’ll scratch the idea that New England takes Georgia QB Jake Fromm.
How the previous wide receivers play out will impact the Patriot’s first pick. They need a WR. However, they are also strong on picking the most talented player available. Following the course we’ve charted with the first 22 picks, that means safety Grant Delpit gets his name called.
Projection – Grant Delpit S to New England
All indications seem to point to New Orleans adding more wide receivers to their bevy of pass catchers. As with other possibilities, things will need to play out on draft day. It seems the best wide receivers may be spoken for, so look for New Orleans possibly to break out of a one-size-fits-all draft mold.
JK Dobbins and D’Andre Swift are two running backs that rank in the top-25 for raw talent. While it seems doubtful that the Saints will select a runner at number 24, Sean Payton also has a tendency to break that mold. Any of the previously mentioned WRs would be gone in a flash, but if not, New Orleans may snag athletic cover-corner CJ Henderson out of Florida.
Projection – CJ Henderson CB to New Orleans
Shifting down the board to the Minnesota Vikings’ pick at number 25, we’re looking at a team who could need to fill important free agency departures on defense. If that’s the case, Minnesota will look at the most talented edge or defensive back available. Most feel Stefon Diggs has played his last game in purple.
Wide receiver will also be an immediate need as well. There is some indication that quantity could help Minnesota on defense as much as quality. If that proves to be their mindset at pick 25, they may forego defense until later rounds. That makes Brandon Aiyuk a very appealing target for Kirk Cousins’ accurate spirals.
Projection – Brandon Aiyuk WR to Minnesota
Next up in round one is a familiar name. On the clock will be the Miami Dolphins. This will be their third selection in the first round. Packaging all three of these picks is an option for Miami, but we’re also talking about a team that one player will not fix. They need lots of help in lots of places.
For their third pick of the first round, Miami will take any of the above mentioned offensive lineman who slips down the board. If not, they may be overwhelmed by the skill set Curtis Weaver brings to play on defense. He is a speed rusher that Miami could use.
Projection – Curtis Weaver Edge to Miami
Depending on who Miami takes at number 26, if they keep that pick at all, Seattle will be next up. The Seahawks want help in their defensive backfield. Delpit’s name would be called in probably seconds if he slips down that far.
With Henderson and Delpit off the board, Seattle will target a lockdown type of man-to-man cover corner that fits into their defensive scheme. We all know what they did with Richard Sherman. Trevon Diggs has that same type of in-your-face tenacity. He’d look good in Seahawk colors.
Projection – Trevon Diggs CB to Seattle
Baltimore might have been one of the bigger playoff disappointments of last season. They were surprisingly knocked off by Tennessee, everyone anticipating a showdown with the eventual Super Bowl winning Chiefs.
The Ravens had a good defense, but there are a few holes on offense, namely pass catchers. However, all indications point towards edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos being available. Multiple mock drafts have him headed for Baltimore. We won’t buck that trend here.
Projection – Yetur Gross-Matos Edge to Baltimore
Now we slip to the final four teams who made up last season’s conference championship round. First up will be the surprising Tennessee Titans. There is some talk they may be targeting a late first round QB. That would surprise Ryan Tannehill the most.
There probably won’t be a quarterback, strong enough to lure the Titans into moving up, or taking one with this pick. They did have a weakness at linebacker, and a couple of talented players should be there when their name is called. AJ Epenesa would go in a heartbeat, but Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun seems more likely.
Projection – Zack Baun LB to Tennessee
Which player Green Bay covets the most is one of this year’s biggest draft mysteries. Some think they’ll go for a wide receiver, others pinpoint an offensive lineman, while a third camp screams defense.
We have Ross Blacklock still on the board when the Packers get to select. He is an athletic specimen, with the raw talent to wreak havoc for opposing offenses. While certain scenarios could have Green Bay looking a different direction, Blacklock is the next-best-man-up.
Projection – Ross Blacklock DL to Green Bay
San Francisco had an excellent defense last year. It was a strength that helped them make it to the ultimate game. It also turned out to have a couple weaknesses that cost them an NFL title.
The 49ers clearly need a boost in their secondary. They could take any of the aforementioned wide receivers, but they will in all likelihood be gone. That leaves a good safety on their priority wish list. Alabama’s Xavier McKinney has both the pedigree and the talent.
Projection – Xavier McKinney S to San Francisco
Kansas City has the best offense if pro football. They proved that by winning the Super Bowl with a tremendous offensive comeback. That said, they may be inclined to make that aspect of their championship team even better with the first pick.
The Chiefs will fill defensive weaknesses as the draft unfolds into later rounds, but most think Clemson WR Tee Higgins will be around at the end of round one. If that’s the case, he’ll be the newest weapon for Patrick Mahomes. If not, see the list of defensive linemen projected as early second round picks.
Projection – Tee Higgins WR to Kansas City
This is our general take on round one of the NFL draft. We all know things change in an instant when someone goes in a totally unpredictable direction. Trade rumors are flying around, and some players are building their draft-day stock at the NFL Combine. If nothing changes, then teams will follow a progression pretty similar to what we’ve envisioned.