There are few occasions in sport like the NFL Draft; the hope, the projection, the sense of what could be. On early Friday morning, 32 players will hear their names called in Nashville, Tennessee, by commissioner Roger Goodell in the first round of seven, the crème de la crème of college football prospects. Who will go where? No one knows, but with some educated guesses and a couple of hunches here are my predictions for how round one will unfold, including the now customary appearance from Sussex and England cricketer Tymal Mills, an Oakland Raiders fan who steps into the shoes of general manager Mike Mayock for the 24th and 27th picks of the first round.
- Kyler Murray (QB) – Arizona Cardinals
Despite drafting Josh Rosen in the first round last year, Arizona are in the market for a new QB due to the fact that they’re under new stewardship in the form of former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. While coaching in college, Kingsbury went on record saying that he “would draft Murray number one” if he was an NFL head coach. Well, now he is, and wouldn’t you know it, Murray has visited Arizona for a private workout with the team. Josh Rosen hasn’t featured at all in any 2019 season Cardinals propaganda so it seems fairly clear cut that he’s not long for the desert, with the diminutive yet dynamic Murray set to take over from week one.
- Nick Bosa (EDGE) – San Francisco 49ers
This pick is a trade possibility should the 49ers wish to accumulate more picks later in the draft, however with no elite QB prospects left on the board it seems fairly unlikely a team would trade up all the way to #2 to select one. Bosa, younger brother of Chargers star Joey, is an elite edge prospect who is the consensus best player in the 2019 draft, regardless of position. San Fran are in need of some juice on the edge and it makes too much sense for them not to select the guy who could lead their defensive line for years to come.
- Josh Allen (EDGE) – New York Jets
Another pick that makes almost too much sense, with New York in dire need of pass rush help and Allen the 1B to Bosa’s 1A in this class. Quinnen Williams is another consideration here, but ultimately edge rushers are far more valuable than defensive tackles so Kentucky alum Allen is the choice here for Gang Green.
- Rashan Gary (EDGE) – Oakland Raiders
Following the Khalil Mack trade from last year, and Jon Gruden amusingly lamenting his lack of pass rush thereafter, Oakland lands the first “surprise” pick of the 2019 draft with edge rusher Rashan Gary, a product of Michigan. Gary projects well but he’s just that – an unpolished project who notched just 9.5 sacks while at college. Gruden doesn’t bother himself with production, however, and favours potential as evidenced by his drafting of Kolton Miller in the first round a year ago. While Gruden appears to be enamoured with Kyler Murray, in this scenario the QB is off the board and the former Buccaneers coach has shown a propensity for favouring veteran signal callers throughout his career, ruling out the likes of Dwayne Haskins.
- Quinnen Williams (DT) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The way this mock falls, Tampa Bay would be thrilled to land Williams, an elite prospect who could conceivably go as high as two overall based on his sheer talent level. The main reason he could drop this far is because he plays a non-premium position, at least compared to edge rusher and quarterback. Williams attended college at Alabama so his pedigree is unquestionable, and in 2018 he earned unanimous All-American honours after posting 10 sacks (eight in 2017). Explosive off the line, Williams has the potential to immediately make an impact for a Tampa Bay team who have struggled on both lines for a number of years now.
- Devin White (LB) – New York Giants
Will the Giants finally draft a quarterback to replace the aging, and increasingly ineffective, Eli Manning? Probably not at number six, especially if you give credence to GM David Gettleman’s recent comments about the position. Gettleman was adamant he wouldn’t go QB in the 2018 draft, which would seem to suggest you can take him at his word and expect him to address another position of need – which at this stage could be any area of the defence. With the very top tier of defensive lineman all off the board Gettleman could pivot and pick up White, a physical, playmaking linebacker who could make the same type of impact Darius Leonard did for the Indianapolis Colts after being drafted last year. Why White over fellow LB Devin Bush? White has the size advantage and made more plays (tackles for loss, forced fumbles) during his last season in college, in a tougher conference (SEC versus the Big Ten).
- Jawaan Taylor (OT) – Jacksonville Jaguars
With Nick Foles now under centre the Jaguars can focus on building an offense around him. Jacksonville has some talent at the skill positions, so although tight end T.J Hockenson could be in play Taylor could be the pick here to protect Foles and pave the way for the Jags rushing attack. Taylor projects better at tackle than fellow prospect Jonah Williams, thanks to his longer arms and greater size. The tape isn’t quite as good as Williams’, however Taylor’s status as a better run blocker should give him the edge in Jacksonville’s ground and pound system.
- Montez Sweat (EDGE) – Detroit Lions
Matt Patricia adds another impact pass rusher in this scenario, after bolstering his defensive line in free agency with the addition of former Patriot Trey Flowers. Sweat had a scare when a heart condition was detected prior to the combine, however that isn’t expected to be serious and as a result it would be an upset if he made it outside of the top ten. Sweat totalled 22 sacks in his final two college seasons, enormous production that is almost as enticing as his impressive measurables, including a 4.41 time in the 40-yard dash.
- Devin Bush (LB) – Buffalo Bills
Bills coach Sean McDermott gets his Luke Kuechly clone in the form of Michigan linebacker Bush, who some evaluators rank on a par with fellow linebacker White. Bush has slightly less bulk than White, however he flies to the ball and shows tremendous football instincts, understandable given his father won a Superbowl with the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season. McDermott is keen to continue building a stout defence in a similar mould to the unit he ran in Carolina as defensive coordinator, although it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see Buffalo add an offensive weapon to aid the development of second year QB Josh Allen. However, outside of tight end T.J Hockenson the offensive skill positions are devoid of top ten talent in the class of 2019.
- Jonah Williams (OT/OG) – Denver Broncos
Denver needs help on the offensive line, particularly inside, and Alabama product Williams fits the bill perfectly. A college tackle, Williams had outstanding production and ticks all the boxes, with the exception of less than ideal size and short arms, a big no-no for NFL offensive tackles. Luckily for Williams, his exceptional skill levels should enable him to seamlessly transition inside for a Broncos team that is lacking quality at centre and both guard spots, helping to protect new quarterback Joe Flacco, who John Elway clearly believes can help Denver win now.
- Brian Burns (EDGE) – Cincinnati Bengals
After finally moving on from Marvin Lewis following another disappointing season, Cincinnati, along with Denver before them, are one of the more likely teams to select a quarterback in the first half of the first round. However, edge rusher is a bigger immediate need and with Florida State’s Burns sitting here it’d be incredibly difficult to pass on an elite talent at a premium position. Burns notched 10 sacks in his final season at college, and his explosiveness immediately stands out, making him a top ten talent – even if he goes at 11 in this particular mock.
- J Hockenson (TE) – Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers gets a new toy and Green Bay bolsters the tight end position after the failed Jimmy Graham experiment in 2018, adding the top all around tight end in college football. Hockenson not only totalled 760 receiving yards last year (at 15.5 yards per catch), but also features well above average blocking ability for a tight end. Hockenson can break tackles and his history as a basketball player at high school make him a dangerous threat and a possible replacement in the NFL for the recently retired Rob Gronkowski. That’s the kind of upside whoever drafts him will be getting.
- Ed Oliver (DT) – Miami Dolphins
Miami would be absolutely thrilled in this scenario if Oliver falls to #13, as they’d pick up on of arguably the top five prospects in the entire draft. Oliver’s problem is he’s very scheme dependant as a fairly small defensive tackle, ruling out every team that plays a 3-4 in addition to teams who prefer elite size from their linemen. At just over six feet tall and weighing 281 lbs, Oliver was still able to earn All-American honours in each of his three college seasons, and new Dolphins coach Brian Flores would delight at the ability to add a stud player without having to move up in the draft should Oliver fall this far.
- Christian Wilkins (DT) – Atlanta Falcons
The mini run on defensive tackles continues with Clemson star Wilkins, who was a major factor in the school winning two of the past three National Championships. Slightly older (he’ll turn 24 during the 2019 season), Wilkins is a three time All-American who should prove plenty disruptive as a penetrative pass rusher within a 4-3 base, making him the perfect fit for Dan Quinn’s Falcons who tend not to blitz and require the front four to provide the pass rush on its own. This is one of those rare cases where talent matches need – Atlanta, like Miami before them, would be thrilled to land Wilkins without having to manoeuvre themselves into a higher pick.
- Dwayne Haskins (QB) – Washington Redskins
Although there are plenty of teams who, in theory, need a quarterback, there aren’t many who are convinced they need to take one in the first round of the draft this year. While some of that is down to the fact that there are no truly elite prospects in this class, teams such as Denver and New York seem happy to roll with veterans for the upcoming season while waiting for more star-studded signal callers to graduate in 2020 and 2021. Washington aren’t quite as well off due to the injury to Alex Smith, and although they brought Case Keenum in to hold the fort they surely know he isn’t anyone’s idea of a long-term answer under centre. Haskins has impressed teams with his intelligence and he has the natural arm talent to make it in the NFL, although as a one-year starter in college he’s a slightly unrefined diamond. That shouldn’t be an issue for the Redskins, who aren’t in win-now mode and can afford for Haskins to learn on the bench for a year.
- Andre Dillard (OT) – Carolina Panthers
Carolina needs offensive line help in the worst way, with Cam Newton continuing to play banged up after taking a pounding behind below average o-line play. Dillard is the top remaining tackle on the board at this point and deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the other top prospects at his position. A better pass protector than run blocker at Washington State, Dillard has the build to play either tackle spot in the big league and fills an immediate need for the Panthers, who continue to lean towards a pass heavy offense with receiving back Christian McCaffrey more suited to catching passes than running between the tackles.
- Cody Ford (OT/OG) – New York Giants
After addressing the defence earlier in the round, New York picks up a much needed recruit for the offensive line in the form of Ford, a product of Oklahoma who is versatile enough to play tackle or guard, as he did in college. Ford is a huge 329 lbs and would be an asset both protecting Eli Manning and opening holes for stud running back Saquon Barkley. With this selection Gettleman once again ignores the quarterback position, although with Haskins off the board it’s probably for the best as there is a severe drop off at the position once the top two are gone.
- Clelin Ferrell (EDGE) – Minnesota Vikings
Things fall poorly for Minnesota in this mock, with the o-line needy Vikings cruelly denied the chance to pick either Dillard or Ford. Consequently, they’d have to choose between dipping into the second tier of linemen or turn their attention towards a defence which regressed in 2018, which they may well do with a talent such as Ferrell still available. Ferrell would be the second Clemson d-lineman picked after Christian Wilkins, and can quench head coach Mike Zimmer’s thirst for a pass rusher to take the heat off an aging secondary. Ferrell notched 11.5 sacks in 2018, forced three fumbles and earned All-American honours. It speaks volumes for the depth of pass rushers in this class that he’d still be available at 18 in this mock, but Minnesota would be the last ones to complain.
- Dexter Lawrence (DT) – Tennessee Titans
Back to back Clemson Tigers! Lawrence is the third, and least heralded, defensive lineman from the National Champions who could hear his name called on Thursday night, and he’d fit well for a Titans team who are led by a defensive minded coach in Mike Vrabel, who knows from his time as a Patriot that a stout, run stuffing presence in the middle of the D can help free up the rest of the front seven to make plays. Lawrence didn’t post the gaudy numbers of Wilkins or Ferrell at college but that wasn’t his role – as a 342 lb nose tackle he does more damage than meets the eye by occupying blockers and clogging up rushing lanes.
- Byron Murphy (CB) – Pittsburgh Steelers
The general consensus as the top cornerback on the board, Murphy could step in and play from day one for a Steelers team that has an immediate need in the secondary. Murphy does everything well, from playing the ball to tackling, and enters the draft as the most pro ready prospect at the position. Pittsburgh could also look to add Iowa tight end Noah Fant here, but cornerback is a more premium position and if Murphy is available at #20 it would be hard for the Steelers to pass.
- Rock Ya-Sin (CB) – Seattle Seahawks
Ya-Sin is a fascinating prospect, originally an FCS prospect who transferred to Temple for his senior season and immediately impressed draft evaluators with his toughness and ball skills, similar attributes to former Seahawks star Richard Sherman. Similarly to Sherman, Ya-Sin projects best in a zone system, which Seattle plays, and the corner didn’t allow a reception over 20 yards in his singular season with the Owls. While Ya-Sin may not be your traditional prospect, he offers plenty of upside and is good value for a team picking in the second half of round one.
- Josh Jacobs (RB) – Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens historically run-orientated offense needs a running mate, and Jacobs fits the bill as undoubtedly the best RB prospect in the class. Although he didn’t start until his junior season, that was more to do with the enormous amount of talent at Alabama as opposed to Jacobs own shortcomings. Jacobs possesses the talent to make a difference as a ball carrier, pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield, and there’s no team in the NFL who needs a bell-cow running back more than Baltimore. Added bonus: Jacobs only had 252 carries during his college career, which should help him endure longer in the pros.
- Garrett Bradbury (C) – Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson needs better protection. Bradbury is the best offensive lineman remaining in this mock, and the best centre in the draft, bar none. It’s an easy pick for Houston to make as they look to protect the face of their franchise, who was hit more than any other QB in the NFL last season. Centre may not be a glamorous position but with the top tackles off the board Texans fans won’t be disappointed to see the line addressed with the team’s first round pick.
- Noah Fant (TE) – Oakland Raiders *Pick made by Tymal Mills*
The Raiders are back on the clock for the second of three picks in the first round, and after going defence at #4 Jon Gruden turns his attention to the offense. With all wide receivers still available the silver and black would be taking a long, hard look at prospects such as NFL combine superstar D.K Metcalf or speedster Marquise Brown from Oklahoma to compliment Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams. With this selection however they go a slightly different path, snapping up Iowa tight end Fant. Fant would immediately replace Jared Cook, who led Oakland in receiving yards last season, and provide Derek Carr with a big target across the middle of the field and help to open up the rushing attack.
- Marquise Brown (WR) – Philadelphia Eagles
Ideally, Philly would like to add a pass rusher to compliment Brandon Graham before eventually replacing him, but in this scenario all of the top defensive linemen are off the board while the wide receiver position is yet to be tapped into. As a result, Howie Roseman could choose to give Carson Wentz another weapon to work with. Although Desean Jackson was added via trade he’s up there in age (32) and Nelson Agholor is due to hit free agency at the end of next season. Brown is a speedster who mirrors Jackson when he first entered the league, with questions about his durability but no doubting his talent and, most importantly, his speed.
- Greedy Williams (CB) – Indianapolis Colts
Indy could go cornerback or receiver in this spot, but corner is a more pressing need and it was highlighted in the harshest possible way when Kansas City shredded the Colts D through the air in the playoffs to the tune of 31 points. Williams is considered an elite prospect as far as man coverage in concerned, although he lacks physicality and may struggle in the run game at the NFL level. Nonetheless, Williams is certainly a first round talent and makes an already improved defence that much better heading into the 2019 campaign.
- D.K Metcalf (WR) – Oakland Raiders *Pick made by Tymal Mills*
Gruden passed on the physical specimen at #24 in favour of filling a bigger need but he won’t be able to resist twice. Metcalf blew up the combine when he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, dropped 27 reps on the bench, before leaping 40.5” on the vertical and 11ft 2” in the broad jump, all whilst checking in at 6’3 and 228 lbs. His agility drills at the combine weren’t nearly as impressive but the Raiders can scheme to Metcalf’s strengths with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams in the fold. Back on the clock at #35, Oakland can address other needs, including guard and cornerback, on day two. Combined with Rashan Gary and Noah Fant, Metcalf represents a nice haul for the silver and black.
- Drew Lock (QB) – Los Angeles Chargers
Lock would land in an ideal situation should he get the call from Los Angeles on draft night, able to sit behind future hall of famer Phillip Rivers while he learns his craft. Although Lock enjoyed a fruitful college career, including 99 touchdown passes, he also threw 39 interceptions and fumbled eight times in 2018. Lock has a high ceiling but he’s a very raw prospect – should a team snag him earlier than the Chargers and expect him to start on day one they might wish they hadn’t. However, if this is how the dominoes fall then Lock could one day reach his potential.
- Erik McCoy (C/OG) – Seattle Seahawks (from Kansas City)
Seattle has had a need on their offensive line seemingly since the beginning of time, and McCoy helps scratch that itch with their second of two first round picks, this one acquired from Kansas City in the Frank Clark trade. McCoy started for three years at Texas A & M, playing in a tough conference against elite opposition week in, week out. McCoy and Rock Ya-Sin would be a nice haul for the Seahawks at two positions of need, with McCoy in particular helping to protect their investment in superstar QB Russell Wilson.
- Greg Little (OT) – Green Bay Packers
Similarly to how Seattle must protect Russell Wilson better, Green Bay needs to keep Aaron Rodgers upright if they’re to rebound after a difficult campaign a year ago. Little may not be in the same class as the other tackles taken ahead of him, but he’s a tempting prospect who was second team All-American in 2018. Although he has his warts, offensive tackle is arguably the second most important position on the field and if Little can come even close to reaching his ceiling this will have been a great pick.
- Jerry Tillery (DT) – Los Angeles Rams
It’s been a while since the Rams have had a first round pick following the bounty they paid to move into position to select Jared Goff in 2016, and this selection comes just at the right time with Ndamukong Suh having departed for pastures new following their Superbowl loss to New England. Tillery racked up eight sacks for Notre Dame in 2018, and although his dedication to football has occasionally been questioned he possesses very impressive athletic attributes, including a long wing span which helped him block two kicks last season. This is exactly the type of high upside play late in the first round which could pay long term dividends for LA, and Tillery would find himself in the perfect spot next to the almost always double teamed Aaron Donald.
- Chris Lindstrom (OG) – New England Patriots
Boston College product Lindstrom gets to stay in the greater Boston area after being selected by the hometown Patriots, who are more than likely used to picking 32nd following their unprecedented run of success since the turn of the century. Lindtrom is a solid if unspectacular prospect, who has four years of starting experience under his belt, albeit in the inferior ACC conference. A second team All-American in 2018, Lindstrom will, among other things, help to account for the loss of Trent Brown in free agency.