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Pre-Free Agency Mock Draft

Free agency always has drastic implications on what a team decides to do in the NFL Draft. It could be a team making a move to fill a smaller hole making a different need more necessary to fill. It could be a team needing to cut players because of a salary cap casualty. It could be a team filling in as many holes as they can, allowing them to take the best player available (BPA). This mock draft was created a few days before the beginning of free agency, so things are bound to change over the next couple weeks. 

Note: I chose not to create trades in this mock. Those will come as we get closer to April 29.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson – Lawrence, on the majority of boards, is the best quarterback prospect to enter the draft since Andrew Luck came out of Stanford in 2012. His combination of size, athleticism, arm strength, smarts, and big game experience is very difficult to surpass. There’s a reason Urban Meyer chose the Jaguars to make his NFL coaching debut with. Lawrence is it.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) makes a pass during an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU – There is a major debate as to whom the QB2 is in this class. Draft Twitter seems to love Justin Fields. But from everything I hear, the NFL has an affinity for Wilson. Wilson showed the ability to deliver the ball on-time to all three levels of the field with timing and precision. While he’s still a raw player, he’s had a similar season-long rise up boards to Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. The Jets will make a trade. We just don’t know yet if it will be trading this pick because they believe in Sam Darnold, or if they trade Darnold for more draft assets. 

3. Miami Dolphins (from Hou): Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU – The Dolphins are in a great spot to take a team that just missed the playoffs in 2020 and become a legit threat in the AFC. They can use their draft capital to acquire a Deshaun Watson. They can use this pick as bait for another team looking to trade up for a quarterback. Or they can stay and pick an elite football player. It happens to be that their two biggest needs are the two deepest position groups this year; wide receiver and offensive tackle. I actually like the group of OT’s at 18 or 36 more than the WR’s, so I have them taking the dynamic Bayou Bengal.

4. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State – The Georgia boy returns home to be the heir to Matt Ryan’s throne. The Falcons are in a weird spot. On paper, they’re not close to being a team that should be selecting 4th overall. They also don’t expect to be here in the near future. So the opportunity to draft an elite talent at the quarterback position may not come around very soon. That’s why they take their QB of the future. Matt Ryan will be 36 when he takes the field in 2021. Fields has the it-factor. He needs to improve on his progressions, but there isn’t much he can’t do.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon – This is a best-case scenario for the Bengals. Sewell is #2 on many big boards, and he plays a position that they are in dire need of betterment. Some will look at Jonah Williams and say they are okay at left tackle. I really like Williams. I think he’s a good left tackle, but he would be an elite right tackle. Sewell has a chance to be an elite left tackle. So that’s improving two spots on your line with one pick. That should make the Joe Burrow recovery efforts a little smoother. 

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida – Even with Dallas Goedert in place at tight end (and Zach Ertz all but gone), Pitts would be an immediate impact player in the City Of Brotherly Love. He won’t be utilized as a prototypical tight end in the NFL. He’ll be used outside, inside, and in the backfield. He will usually be either bigger or faster, or both, than any defender trying to cover him.

7. Detroit Lions: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama – The Lions seem like a team that is almost assuredly in the trade market. They could look to trade up to take the eventual Jared Goff replacement. They could also trade down and acquire more assets, as this is a team with plenty of holes to fill. If they’re unable to do either, they need to make a splash. Trey Lance could be that splash, but they’ll be in the hunt for one of the top quarterbacks in the 2022 Draft. Smith had one of the, if not the best season we’ve seen from a college wide receiver. His slight frame may scare some teams off.

8. Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State – It’s difficult at any level, even FCS, for a quarterback to have a season-long line like Lance had for the Bison in 2019. 67% completion percentage, just under 10 yards per attempt, and the absurd 28 TD – 0 INT ratio. Did I forget to mention he added 1100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground? If he had played at a Power 5 school, we could be talking about him up there with Lawrence. But his level of competition, and the fact that he wasn’t able to play in 2020 due to the FCS not playing fall football, have him knocked down a few pegs. His biggest obstacle is that he only has 17 games started in his career throwing the ball only 317 times in those starts.

9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech – I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that the Broncos could be in the quarterback market should one of the top four guys fall to them. I wouldn’t rule out them trading up for one either. But here I have them taking the high upside Farley over the high floor Surtain II. His physical traits have Top 5 cornerback written all over them. 

10. Dallas Cowboys: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern – While defense seems to be the side of the ball the Cowboys need to fix most, their priority should be to build that offensive line back to what it used to be, and protect their $160 million quarterback. Slater has the nastiness the Cowboys have coveted in their linemen and his technique is nearly flawless.

11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama – There is a lot of talk about the Giants being in the market for one of the big free agent wide receivers, especially Kenny Golladay. I just don’t see them being able to outbid other teams who have a need at the position and much more cap space. So I have them building through the draft. It wasn’t long ago that Waddle was considered a potential top 5 pick, and the best of the Alabama pass catchers. Though he lacks ideal “X receiver” size, his speed and route running make up for that ten-fold. 

12. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama – The rumor mill is buzzing about the potential of the 49ers looking to make a change at the quarterback position. With Cam Newton re-upping in New England, the most likely destination could be off the table. The Niners are losing Richard Sherman and most likely moving on from oft-injured Jason Verrett, so a need has arisen at cornerback. Enter Patrick Surtain II. He may not have the raw physical skills Farley possesses, he is never out of position and rarely is beaten over the top.

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech – Size, strength, mobility, ability. These are four reasons why Darrisaw has risen up draft boards. Darrisaw started 35 out of 36 games in his three year career in Blacksburg, including 12 out of 13 as a freshman despite the Hokies being the only D-1 team to offer him a scholarship.

14. Minnesota Vikings: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas – The somewhat surprising release of starting left tackle Riley Reiff leaves a gaping hole on the Minnesota offensive line. What better way to fill it than with a 6’7” 310lb athletic monster. Cosmi will need to have good coaching at the next level because he plays at all 6’7”. He needs to learn to lower his center of gravity better, but if he gets better at that, he can be a 10+ year starter. 

15. New England Patriots: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State – Parsons was once considered a lock Top 10 pick. His decision to opt out of the 2020 season may be the reason he has slipped. But he feels like a perfect fit for a New England defense, very similar to many linebackers they’ve had during the Belichick era.

16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina – Horn, son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn, made a name for himself with a dominant performance on nation television vs Auburn, where he received a defensive player of the week nod. He earned All-SEC honors as a freshman, but has been somewhat inconsistent ever since. He also decided to opt out after 7 games following the firing of the head coach. The NFL loves cornerbacks who are big and physical, and at 6’1” 205lbs, he’s got that, plus some great bloodlines.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan – The Raiders need to get this pick right. They’ve had plenty of opportunities over the past couple years to turn their defense into an elite group, but have failed at that. Inconsistent play out of Clelin Ferrell and Jonathan Abrams, among others, has led to a delay in the improvement on defense. Paye was moved all around the defense in Ann Arbour, which led to him not being able to do what he does best; get after the quarterback.

18. Miami Dolphins: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame – Owusu-Koramoah is one of the most versatile linebackers in the draft over the last decade. Often compared to Isaiah Simmons, he offers explosive play in the box plus top notch pass coverage. With Miami moving on from Kyle Van Noy, Owusu-Koramoah will fit right into that vacated spot.

19. Washington Football Team: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – Though he was a starter for one year plus two games in 2019, Jones certainly opened eyes with some very impressive stats while leading the Crimson Tide to a National Championship. Not blessed with an above average arm or great athleticism, he is a smart quarterback with terrific ball placement. He may not have the same long-term success potential as some of the other QBs in the class, he may be the most ready to start in the NFL, outside of Lawrence. 

20. Chicago Bears: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC – I have a feeling the Bears will fix the quarterback issue during free agency or via trade. They have too many holes to fill to trade extra picks to move up for one. Their next biggest need is along the offensive line. Vera-Tucker played left tackle for most of the 2020 season, but may fit in the NFL more as a guard. But his versatility will be welcomed to a team with multiple needs along the line.

21. Indianapolis Colts: Tevin Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State – If the Colts don’t sure up the vacancy at left tackle left by the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, they’ll look at a deep tackle class in the draft. Another versatile guy, can play left or right, and even inside if you need him.

22. Tennessee Titans: Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami – A lot of people have boosted fellow Hurricane pass rusher Jaelan Phillips ahead of Rousseau. Phillips is a high floor guy, very similar to current Titan, Harold Landry. They need someone with huge upside, and that’s Rousseau. He only has one year of tape, 2019, because he opted out of the 2020 season. Blessed with raw physical gifts, he needs a lot of work on his overall game. In 2019, he erupted for 15.5 sacks.

23. New York Jets (from SEA): Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami – Back to back Hurricane pass rushers go off the board. The Jets have been in need of a consistent pass rusher for quite some time now. Phillips has been one of this year’s biggest risers.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – Harris is a very Steelers pick. Not a blazing speed guy, but he can run inside and outside, and could very well be the best pass catcher of all running backs in the class. With James Conner on his way out, Harris will allow the Steelers to get back to the type of offense they’ve had so much success running.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR): Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern – With a pick the Jaguars received in the Jalen Ramsey trade, they take the future at the cornerback position. Newsome has even said that he tries to emulate Ramsey, along with Jaire Alexander and Richard Sherman. Another long corner, Newsome needs to break the habit of being thought of as injury prone if he wants to have a long career.

26. Cleveland Browns: Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia – This is another pick that will be greatly determined by what the team does in free agency. There are a lot of players that the Browns, who have a lot of cap space, can bring in to play opposite Myles Garrett. If they don’t look to fill it through free agency, they could be in play to move up for someone like Paye, Rousseau, or Phillips, or they can take Ojulari. His Pro Day on March 17 will be very telling as what he measures at is still pretty unknown.

27. Baltimore Ravens: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU – The Ravens could be in the Kenny Golladay sweepstakes, which would change the course of this pick. Marshall is the prototypical outside possession receiver. His body frame is perfect for someone like a Lamar Jackson, who doesn’t always have the greatest ball placement.

28. New Orleans Saints: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota – I’ve seen Bateman go anywhere from mid-teens to early 2nd round. His biggest issue could be the overall depth of the wide receiver class, and that other teams could think they’d get better value later in the draft. This kid is a playmaker, and with the Saints cutting ties with Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, and Josh Hill already, a need has arisen for a dynamic pass catcher.

29: Green Bay Packers: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – Barmore is one of the biggest enigmas in this draft to me. He doesn’t have a lot of snaps logged compared to others at the position, but that’s because the defensive line at Alabama is so stacked, it wasn’t always easy to get him on the field. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been outstanding. Green Bay had a horrendous season defending the run in 2020.

30. Buffalo Bills: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson – The Bills quietly have one of the more complete rosters in the NFL. That allows them to take a position that doesn’t necessarily have great positional value, but you get a star at a position of need. Etienne has been talked about as a 1st round pick for almost 3 years now. He can do everything the Bills have wanted out of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss.

31. Kansas City Chiefs: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame – The Chiefs let go of both of their injured starting offensive tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, on the same day. They knew the depth of this year’s tackle class. Most years, Eichenberg would be a lock Top 15 pick. A technician at his craft, Eichenberg comes from a long line of recently successful Irish offensive linemen.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joseph Ossai, Edge, Texas – With Tampa placing the franchise tag on Chris Godwin and already signing Lavonte David, there may not be enough money to hand out to Shaq Barrett. Ossai, a consensus All-American, is one of the more explosive players in the draft.

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