We’ve routinely had Ekwonu as our top offensive linemen for more than a month, and we’ve finally talked ourselves into the Jags taking him first overall. Yes, Aidan Hutchinson is probably the safest pick in the entire class, but unless he can play offensive line, too, he’s not a huge need for Trevor Lawrence and new coach Doug Pederson.
Hutchinson is a great example of a player who got better each and every season, and instead of coming out early he stayed in school, balled out as a senior, and made himself into arguably the best player — on either side of the ball — in the country during the 2021 college football season. This will be the easiest pick in the draft for any team.
The Texans appear set at quarterback with Davis Mills, who flashed at times as a rookie, but they still need a head coach. Whoever ends up in the job, it doesn’t change the fact that protecting the young QB will be a priority, perhaps even with Kayvon Thibodeaux still on the board.
The Jets would desperately love to get either Ekwonu or Neal here, but with both off the board and Thibodeaux just sitting there, it will be hard for Robert Saleh to pass on the Oregon pass rusher, especially in a deep offensive line class where the Jets also have picks 10, 35, 38 and 69.
New GM Joe Schoen and new head coach Brian Daboll are moving forward with Daniel Jones, and if that’s the case — and stop us if this sounds familiar — they’re going to need to protect him. Cross is coming off a strong season for Mississippi State. He’s not yet a finished product, which means he has plenty of room to improve in the coming years.
This isn’t worst-case scenario because the Panthers are filling a big need with a special talent, but Hamilton doesn’t play offensive line, which is a priority for a team that will also be in the market for a quarterback this offseason. Hamilton has special skills and Carolina does lack depth in the secondary, but we can’t imagine the team going into the 2022 season with Sam Darnold under center.
To continue the theme of many of these top-10 selections, offensive line is a priority, even if, in the Giants case, that means using two top-10 picks on such players. Linderbaum is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. And although a center hasn’t gone higher than No. 18 in the last dozen drafts, Linderbaum is so good that it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ended up going seventh overall.
We wanted to see “Sauce” Gardner be a little more physical in 2021, and he was that and then some to the point that he has made a legit case as the best cornerback in this class. He’s long, athletic, sticky in coverage, and was rarely out of position during Cincinnati’s impressive season. In Atlanta, the Falcons have a lot of needs, but it could stand to freshen up the secondary, as former first-rounder A.J. Terrell has been great but there are plenty of questions otherwise.
The Broncos have their new coach in Nathaniel Hackett who, incidentally, has ties to Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers isn’t behind Door No. 2, Denver could certainly consider drafting a QB here. Instead, we have them taking one of the most athletic edge rushers in the class. Ojabo is still raw, but he has the tools to be special.
Yes, the Jets have two picks in the top 10 and don’t come away with an offensive lineman. We get it, that’s crazy talk since the No. 1 priority for months now has been adding more pieces to the offensive line. Zach Wilson routinely spent his Sundays picking himself off the turf, but it’s hard to pass on Thibodeaux and Stingley here when this O-line draft class is deep.
Willis improved his draft stock at the Senior Bowl, to the point that he could conceivably be the first QB off the board. There is no clear-cut No. 1 QB, so it will all come down to personal preference, but Willis checks just about every box for what the NFL quarterback has evolved into.
The Vikings have their GM, and while the team could choose to move on from Kirk Cousins, he also feels like the type of QB new coach Kevin O’Connell could work — and more importantly, win — with, at least for another year. If so, why not give Cousins another weapon opposite Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, who turns 32 next season. Burks is a contested and high-point-catch machine who can also outrun defensive backs to the end zone.
The Browns have needs at wide receiver, for sure, but the talking points in the coming months will likely concern the QB position. We think Baker Mayfield is much better than he showed last season, in part because he wasn’t healthy. Wilson is one of the the most dynamic players in college football, and he’ll give Mayfield another downfield option now that Odell Beckham Jr. is in LA.
No one had a better Senior Bowl week than Johnson. We liked his 2021 tape a lot, but thought of him as a fringe first/second-rounder. He put any such doubts to rest with a dominating practice week in Mobile.
This has been a popular pairing in our weekly mocks, partly because the Eagles could use Dean in the middle of their D (even if, historically, they don’t draft off-ball linebackers in Round 1), and in part because Dean was so dominant during the 2021 season. And while he played on the best defense in the country, don’t be fooled — he didn’t ride on the coattails of a dominant Georgia defensive line — Dean was a huge reason for its success. There are questions about his size and how that translates to the NFL, but his tape tells a different story.
Walker is something of a tweener, which is odd to say about someone who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 275 pounds. But he can line up as the 3, 4 or 5-tech, and that versatility, coupled with his non-stop motor and consistent playmaking ability, makes him an attractive option for several teams in this range looking to bolster their defensive line.
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Karlaftis adds another dimension to the defensive line. He bounced back this past season after injuries and the pandemic limited his snaps in 2020, but it was in 2019 when he really showcased his potential, as he was nearly impossible to stop en route to recording 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. In LA, he’ll line up opposite Joey Bosa a year after the team struggled to replace Melvin Ingram.
Corral has been our QB1 going back to the fall, and we’re not yet willing to come off that, even after Willis’ Senior Bowl week. But again, with all these QBs so close, there will be a lot of variation in how NFL teams grade these passers. The Saints may be without Sean Payton, but they still have that offensive line, Alvin Kamara (maybe), Michael Thomas and one of the league’s best defenses. There are worse landing spots for a rookie QB.
This likely won’t be a popular pick because the Eagles have used first-rounders on wide receivers the last two years, but they’ll only have four wideouts under contract after the season, and that includes J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Williams tore his ACL in the national title game, but he’s still one of the best players in this draft class and should be ready to contribute by next October.
Kenny Pickett is still on the board, and the Steelers may very well end up drafting him, but Zion Johnson is another player who came to the Senior Bowl and proved he was worthy of first-round consideration. He played left tackle at Boston College and worked at guard and center in Mobile. He’s a Day 1 starter and would improve an offensive line that struggled in 2021.
In many of our mock drafts we’ve had Booth closer to the top 10 than the bottom third, and he’s done nothing to change that. It’s just that as we get through more players the board will evolve. To put it another way: the Pats are getting a really good cornerback at No. 21.
The Raiders secondary had some bright spots among its young players — namely rookies Trevon Moehrig and Nate Hobbs — but the team also cut 2020 first-rounder Damon Arnette this season and could lose several veterans to free agency. McDuffie was consistently good for the Huskies, and while he played primarily on the outside, he has the skillset to line up anywhere in the secondary.
Last spring, some people were surprised Payton Turner made his way into Round 1. Don’t be shocked if his Houston teammate, Logan Hall, follows a similar path. He was unblockable at times last season — and frequently during Senior Bowl practices — and at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, he can line up just about anywhere.
Lloyd is a twitchy, sideline-to-sideline player who fits the mold of off-ball linebackers we’ve seen coming into the league over the last decade. You might note that the Cowboys just drafted Micah Parsons, who excelled as an off-ball linebacker at Penn State but has emerged as one of the most explosive edge rushers in the NFL. Adding Lloyd can take a suddenly good defense and make them great.
McCreary may not run in the 4.3s, and he may have short arms for the position, but he was one of the most consistent cornerbacks in college football. We saw that on a weekly basis vs. SEC opponents, and again during Senior Bowl week where he remained as advertised. Ultimately, he may not go in Round 1, but in a few years we may look back and wonder why.
Raimann is originally from Austria and moved from tight end to left tackle after the 2019 season, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him play. He might be the most athletic O-lineman in the entire class, he’s just scratching the surface of his abilities, and the Titans’ O-line struggled to keep Ryan Tannehill upright for much of this season.
Chris Godwin, who was on the franchise tag, tore his ACL last month, and while the Bucs can still franchise him, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and Jaelon Darden are the other wideouts currently on the roster. Now in a post-Tom Brady world, whoever ends up under center in 2022 could use another weapon. And Olave, one of the best route runners in college football last season, is exactly that.
London was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing USC season. And while he won’t run a 4.3 when healthy, he is a high-point-catch machine who can take over games, which sounds like something both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams would appreciate in Green Bay (assuming, of course, that one — or both — return in 2022).
Faalele measured 6-foot-8, 387 pounds at the Senior Bowl, and depending on which scout you speak to, he’s anywhere from a high-upside first-rounder to a late-Day 2 project. His physical tools are undeniable, and he’s new to the position (and football). Once he puts it altogether he could be special.
Hill is part of a Wolverines defense that could end up seeing three players go in Round 1 next spring. He’s underrated nationally, but watch him play and it becomes clear pretty quickly that he’s in the running for one of the best defensive backs in this class. He’s listed as a safety but can line up anywhere, and in Kansas City, the only defensive backs with experience under contract for next season are Juan Thornhill, Rashad Fenton and L’Jarius Sneed.
The Bengals opted to take Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell and it was the right move, even though Sewell played well in Detroit. But they still need to make protecting Joe Burrow a priority. Green can play either tackle or guard and has the ability to be a Day 1 starter.
Pickett, who had a good Senior Bowl week, could end up being the first quarterback drafted or could be the third or fourth. There’s that much variability in this group. He’s the most ready to play, and the Lions, who have two first-rounders, will likely be looking for a passer to replace Jared Goff after the 2022 campaign.
Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1
What to Know
The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.
A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.
Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.
Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.
How To Watch
When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
TV: ESPN Plus
Online streaming:fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.
The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.
Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.
Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.
Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0
What to Know
The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.
The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.
Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.
The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.
How To Watch
When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Online streaming:fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)