This early in the offseason—before the NFL’s March free-agency free-for-all shakes up rosters and the impending veteran quarterback carousel changes the complexion of the league—it’s impossible to identify teams’ actual needs for the upcoming draft on April 25. That’s why the focus of my first mock draft this year won’t be as much on addressing roster holes and filling out depth charts as it will be on finding the best player-team fits available in the first round. With that in mind, here’s mock draft 1.0:
1. Arizona Cardinals: DL Quinnen Williams, Alabama
Who should go no. 1? Very little separates the consensus top-two defenders in this class, Alabama’s Williams and Ohio State’s Nick Bosa: Both are dominant, unblockable pass rushers and both look ready to make a big impact from day one. For the Cardinals, it just depends on the type and style of player they’re looking to add. Bosa is a prototypical defensive end prospect who comes with the potential to dominate off the edge, getting after quarterbacks from the outside while turning runs back to the inside. Williams, on the other hand, is an interior force, a player who can slice through the offensive line, collapse the pocket from the inside, and blow up run plays to the middle. What’s more valuable? What’s more important to Arizona’s long-term plans? There’s really no clear, obvious answer.
In this case, Williams gets the nod at no. 1 because of his utility for the Cardinals in their return to an aggressive 3-4 scheme. He can blow up opponents’ plans by creating havoc from multiple interior alignments, whether that’s rushing off the nose tackle spot, the 5-technique, the 3-technique, or other spots—and a duo of edge rusher Chandler Jones and Williams would allow Arizona to dominate from both the outside and interior.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Edge Nick Bosa, Ohio State
Bosa is tailor-made to play the edge in 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. He’d be dropped into essentially the same system his brother Joey plays in for the Chargers (another Seahawks-style defense under another Pete Carroll disciple, Gus Bradley), and there’s little doubt the results would be similar: The younger Bosa combines explosiveness, power, and size, and would give San Francisco the type of edge presence it’s been looking to pair with star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
3. New York Jets: OT Jonah Williams, Alabama
When under pressure in 2018, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold completed a meager 42.7 percent of his passes, threw just two touchdowns to seven picks, and compiled a 64.1 percent passer rating—which ranked 38th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks, per Pro Football Focus. Darnold’s rookie numbers when not under pressure, on the other hand, weren’t exactly elite, but they were a whole lot better: 15 touchdowns, eight interceptions, a 64 percent completion rate, and a 93.9 passer rating (26th leaguewide). The absolute best thing the Jets can do to develop their young franchise quarterback is to give him quality protection up front, and Williams is a plug-and-play starter capable of playing multiple spots on the line. He’s a technician in pass protection, and his ability to keep Darnold clean would make an immediate and potentially major impact on the Jets offense.
4. Oakland Raiders: DL Ed Oliver, Houston
Kentucky edge Josh Allen could be an option at this spot, but here the Raiders opt for Oliver, an explosive defensive tackle who could provide a huge boost to Oakland’s pass rush group. The undersized but extraordinarily athletic bowling ball of a lineman could play a variety of roles in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s 4-3 scheme, which, per Sports Illustrated, features 14 different defensive line fronts, 14 stunts and twists, 20 even-front blitzes, and 19 odd-front blitzes. Hell, Oliver is so athletic he might even see some reps on the edge. In any case, Oakland adds exactly what its needs: a quick-twitch, disruptive pocket destroyer who could change the complexion of the defense.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Josh Allen, Kentucky
The versatile Allen is a perfect fit for the Buccaneers’ new hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense under coordinator Todd Bowles. In the team’s blitz-heavy scheme, Bowles would have no problem deploying Allen in variety of roles, rushing him off the edge at times while dropping him back into coverage to disrupt passing lanes at others. He can do it all.
6. New York Giants: CB Andraez “Greedy” Williams, LSU
The Giants could select a quarterback here, but in this scenario, the team kicks that can down the road for the second straight year and again rolls with Eli Manning. Instead, they add a playmaking corner: Williams has length, ball skills, and an aggressive playing demeanor. He could be a foundational player in a New York secondary with plenty of question marks heading into 2019.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
The Jags desperately need to extricate themselves from quarterback purgatory, and Haskins gives them that opportunity. The former Buckeyes signal-caller has prototypical size, a big arm, and the playmaking talent to help turn the Jacksonville offense around. He’s raw, with just one year of starting experience under his belt, but as the point guard in Jacksonville’s balanced, run-heavy system, all he would have to do is distribute the ball to his playmakers and avoid back-breaking turnovers—something his predecessor failed to accomplish.
8. Detroit Lions: Edge Rashan Gary, Michigan
The Lions need to add some oomph to their pass-rushing front, and Gary could be just the type of versatile, über-athletic lineman that head coach Matt Patricia is looking for. The former Wolverine combines an explosive first step with plenty of power, and has the size to play all over the Detroit front. He’ll need to add some moves to his pass rush repertoire and refine his technique, but Gary has all the athletic traits to become a disruptive front line presence.
9. Buffalo Bills: OT Jawaan Taylor, Florida
Quarterback Josh Allen was pressured on 43.4 percent of his dropbacks as a rookie, second most among qualifying passers, and his numbers in those situations weren’t pretty: five touchdowns, five picks, a 47.4 passer rating, and a league-worst 28.3 percent completion rate, per PFF. Twenty-eight-point-three percent! That is untenable. It’s critical for the Bills to figure out how to give their young passer more time in the pocket, and grabbing a big, powerful right tackle like Taylor would go a long way toward that goal. He has day-one starter potential opposite left tackle Dion Dawkins, plus he has the run-blocking chops to help the Bills on the ground, too.
10. Denver Broncos: QB Drew Lock, Missouri
Let’s all say this together: Joe Flacco is not the long-term answer at quarterback in Denver. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the future: Lock is anything but a perfect prospect, but he fits the mold for the type of play-action-and-bootleg-heavy offense I’d expect the Broncos to implement under Kyle Shanahan discipline Rich Scangarello. Lock can chuck it deep with ease, has the mobility and arm talent to throw on the run, and boasts prototypical size at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. With Flacco as a bridge, Denver can bring Lock along slowly and try to iron out some of the issues in his game, including a propensity to force throws from off-balance platforms.
11. Cincinnati Bengals: LB Devin White, LSU
In a division with the smashmouth Ravens and a pair of potentially explosive passing offenses in the Browns and Steelers, the Bengals could use a versatile three-down linebacker like White. He can come downhill to attack the run game and drop back to defend the pass with equal skill, boasting a combination of sideline-to-sideline speed, coverage chops, and a physical playing style. White would be a day-one impact player in the middle of the field for Cincinnati.
12. Green Bay Packers: Edge Jachai Polite, Florida
Polite is a perfect fit for Mike Pettine’s 3-4 scheme. He’s capable of creating havoc behind the line of scrimmage because of his explosive first step, plenty of bend to turn the corner, and an assortment of pass-rush moves. The athletic 6-foot-2, 242-pound former Gator could be a foundational piece of the Packers’ pass rush for years.
13. Miami Dolphins: QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Ryan Tannehill’s future in Miami is up in the air, as a new staff under new head coach Brian Flores might want to go in a different direction at quarterback. Insert Murray: The former Heisman winner will have to prove that his 5-foot-9ish, 190-or-so-pound frame can handle the rigors of the pro game, but he’s got an accurate arm, plenty of dynamic playmaking talent, and incredible explosiveness as a runner. With Murray taking snaps at QB and distributing to Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Mike Gesicki, Kenyan Drake, and Kalen Ballage, the Dolphins would have speed to burn at every ballhandling position on offense.
14. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
Ferrell would be a plug-and-play defensive end in Dan Quinn’s 4-3 defense, a three-down lineman capable of playing either the weak or strong side against both the run and the pass. With a quick first step, long arms, and power in his lower half, he has plenty of ways to beat opposing linemen and get to the quarterback.
15. Washington Redskins: WR D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss
Alex Smith’s status for next season is uncertain, so the Redskins have to figure out what to do at quarterback. But with the three top signal-callers off the board at this spot, the next best option is to upgrade an offensive skill position group that lacked difference-making talent last year. Boasting an incredible combination of size and speed, Metcalf has the talent to quickly become a big-play threat deep down the field, a factor in the underneath zones on third downs, and a weapon in the red zone.
16. Carolina Panthers: Edge Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Sweat offers a scintillating mix of speed and length off the edge. He may not be the bendiest athlete in this draft (he’s a bit upright and stiff as a rusher), but he’s got a longer wingspan than just about anyone on the field—and he knows how to use it to his advantage. A quick stiff-arm punch to the chest can put an offensive lineman on skates, helping Sweat get to the edge or bull-rush his opponent right back into the pocket. That length also helps him avoid blocks in the run game. He’d be a big addition to a hard-nosed Panthers front that’s gotten a bit long in the tooth over the past few years.
17. Cleveland Browns: OT Andre Dillard, Washington State
Adding Dillard would give Cleveland a chance to install a pass-blocking savant at the left tackle spot. The former Cougars lineman combines nimble feet with balance and top-tier mirroring skills to keep opposing rushers at bay. He’d provide a big boost to quarterback Baker Mayfield’s ongoing development.
18. Minnesota Vikings: OT Dalton Risner, Kansas State
The Vikings have issues on the offensive line, and that’s being kind. Risner makes tons of sense at this spot because the versatile tackle offers plenty of positional interchangeability: The barrel-chested blocker could provide an immediate upgrade in both the run and passing game wherever he’s needed, whether it’s at right tackle, center, or either guard spot.
19. Tennessee Titans: Edge Brian Burns, Florida State
Listed pre-combine at just 235 pounds, Burns will likely need to put on about 15 pounds or so at the next level. The good news, though, is that he has explosiveness to burn―and packing on weight isn’t likely to sap him of much of his speed. Burns is lightning-quick out of his stance, flexible enough to bend around the corner, and has all the length he needs. For a Titans pass-rush group that’s currently in flux, he’d be a smart addition, capable of lining up at multiple spots and rushing both from a two- and three-point stance. Pair him with 2018 second-rounder Harold Landry, who had 4.5 sacks as a rookie, and let him go to work.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Devin Bush, Michigan
The Steelers defense hasn’t been the same without spark-plug linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a severe spine injury in Week 13 of the 2017 season. Bush might not run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash like Shazier did at his pro day back in 2014, but the Wolverines star is certainly field fast, and regularly showcased sideline-to-sideline speed chasing down outside runs or matching tight ends and backs in coverage. Bush is like a heat-seeking missile in the middle of the field, and would be the perfect fit for a Pittsburgh D.
21. Seattle Seahawks: OT Cody Ford, Oklahoma
The Seahawks offense will go as far as Russell Wilson can carry them, but over the years the dynamic signal-caller has rarely gotten much help from Seattle’s typically porous offensive lines. Things improved a bit last season under new offensive line coach Mike Solari, and Wilson’s efficiency exploded; plug in another mountainous pass-blocking offensive lineman like Ford, who could help give Wilson another beat or two with which to throw, and there’s no telling what kinds of numbers the diminutive QB could produce. Of course, Seattle wants to run the ball a bunch too, and Ford’s the type of people-mover Solari could use.
22. Baltimore Ravens: WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Now that the Ravens offense is officially in Lamar Jackson’s hands, it’s time for the team to surround him with some weapons in the passing game. Brown, a big, physical target out of the slot, could be just what Jackson needs to take a big step in Year 2: He is adept at running the types of quick, in-breaking routes that Jackson was comfortable with as a rookie, plus offers intriguing run-after-the-catch ability. It doesn’t hurt either that at 230 pounds, Brown is a willing blocker who could dominate corners in the team’s run-heavy game plan.
23. Houston Texans: CB Deandre Baker, Georgia
Offensive line is clearly a need for the Texans, but with five tackles already off the board, Houston can add a blue-chip cornerback instead. Baker’s a pro-ready prospect with top-tier coverage skills and the ability to make plays on the ball. He’s ultra competitive, confident, and can play in any scheme, whether it’s press-man or off coverage.
24. Oakland Raiders (From Bears): CB Byron Murphy, Washington
After taking a big difference-maker up front in Oliver with his first pick, new Raiders GM Mike Mayock looks to add talent to the back end. Murphy’s an ultra-instinctive, quick-reacting corner who’s best in bail technique, keeping his eyes on the quarterback so he can break on the ball and knock passes down or intercept them. He’d give Oakland some much-needed ball skills in the secondary.
25. Philadelphia Eagles: DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson
The heart and soul of the Eagles defense over the past couple of seasons has been its deep and versatile defensive line. Wilkins would be a perfect addition to that group: Capable of lining up on the inside or on the edge in a pinch, the athletic, high-motor pass rusher just seems to have a nose for the ball.
26. Indianapolis Colts: WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
What’s better than one T.Y. Hilton? Two T.Y. Hiltons. OK, Brown’s not quite the same player as Indy’s go-to guy, but he’s got the same take-the-top-off-a-defense speed as Hilton and would give Andrew Luck another big-play threat to work with. Brown also knows how to use the cushions that defenders tend to give him, taking quick passes and making hay as a surprisingly physical and elusive runner after the catch. He needs to prove that his skinny frame can hold up to NFL hits, but Brown is a touchdown threat every time he lines up on offense, and could be a big addition to a Colts receiving corps that struggled at times in 2018.
27. Oakland Raiders (From Cowboys): WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
With its third pick in the round, Oakland finds a talented Amari Cooper replacement for Derek Carr. Harry’s not a burner, but would give Carr the type of big, physical target the team lacks. Carr’s a true West Coast offense quarterback who is more comfortable with shorter, horizontal passes than he is with vertical throws, and Harry has the skill set to quickly become a much-needed chains-mover in the short and intermediate zones and a touchdown-maker in the red zone. Harry runs crisp routes, uses his frame to box out defenders, and has strong, reliable hands to come down with passes in traffic.
28. Los Angeles Chargers: OT Greg Little, Ole Miss
Little’s a massive tackle prospect with light feet and a penchant for pass blocking, a skill that any lineman’s going to need playing in the AFC West against the likes of Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and more. Give Philip Rivers some time, and he’ll pick apart a defense; Little could provide a boost on the right side of the line for L.A. in the short term, then take over on the blind side down the line.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Julian Love, Notre Dame
Though this mock isn’t primarily focused on team needs, this pick certainly addresses one of Kansas City’s biggest holes. Love’s a talented cover corner with instincts and versatility, capable of playing on the inside or in the slot in both man and zone coverages. He showed off an innate nose for the ball for the Golden Domers, racking up four picks, 36 passes defensed, and three fumble recoveries in the past two seasons. That type of production fits in any defense.
30. Green Bay Packers (From Saints): OG Chris Lindstrom, Boston College
After addressing its pass rush earlier in the round, Green Bay uses its second first-rounder to bolster the offensive line. Lindstrom’s the type of athletic, dependable lineman that Aaron Rodgers desperately needs protecting him up front. The Boston College standout could start on day one at right guard and could be dropped in at right tackle, left guard, or center in a pinch.
31. Los Angeles Rams: OC Garrett Bradbury, NC State
Bradbury’s ability to move laterally at the snap to quickly reach and seal a nose tackle or defensive tackle to the play side in the run game makes him a perfect fit for the outside-zone-running Rams. He could start out at guard early in his career, but has all the tools to be a longtime pivot for L.A.
32. New England Patriots: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Whether Rob Gronkowski retires or not, New England loves versatile, hard-nosed playmakers like Hockenson. He’s a force as a blocker in the run game and athletic as a route runner and pass catcher in the air attack. Line him up anywhere in your offense and he’ll get the job done. Sounds like a Patriot to me.