Lawrence, the No. 1 recruit nationally in 2018, embodied the hype with school records for average passing yards (315.3) and completion percentage (69.2%) in his final year with the Tigers as an undeniable generational talent. His career 6.6 rush attempts per game keep him in the mix as a fringe QB1 for fantasy while engineering OC Darrell Bevell’s blitzkrieg blueprint.
Wilson’s dynamic arm and vision check all the boxes for #TeamWatchTheTape as he completed 20-of-27 attempts 30-plus yards downfield this past year. The concern? He’s far from battle-tested, peering through lanes a semi could drive through while facing a cupcake schedule of just four total defenses in the top-20 of Bill Connelly’s defensive SP+ metric the last two seasons. The 7.0 carries (and 15 rushing scores) he averaged in 30 career starts with Brigham Young will still keep him afloat as an unquestioned 17-game starter and viable late-round QB2 for best-ball leagues this year.
I hope I’m wrong.
4. Atlanta Falcons – TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
Adding Pitts opposite Hayden Hurst and into the slot, where he ran 21% of his routes from with Florida the past two years, should keep Matt Ryan elevated as a long-shot MVP candidate in the short-term. Note that Pitts will quietly be 20 years old in Week 1.
Reuniting Joe Burrow, who has reportedly lobbied for Chase to Cincinnati’s front office, with his former collegiate teammate would not only appease the face of the franchise but give GM Mike Brown another chance to rectify the draft capital wasted the last time he attempted to make a splash at wide receiver (John Ross) inside the top 10. Chase sat out the entire 2020 season but, prior to that, averaged 21.2 yards per reception with 20 touchdowns and the most deep catches (24) Pro Football Focus charted in any collegiate season at 19 years old. Could arguably lead the Bengals in targets as a rookie given his alpha (and differing) archetype compared to that of slot WR Tyler Boyd and sophomore Tee Higgins.
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Most front offices reportedly view Waddle > Devonta Smith for the former’s field-flipping explosiveness and experience on special teams in averaging a career 19.3 yards per punt return. Whether it’s Waddle or Smith, though, it’s Tua who remains undervalued as Underdog’s QB21 for Best-Ball leagues since Miami has clearly prioritized maximizing his rookie deal.
7. Detroit Lions – LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
A new regime with no history of past decisions and a plethora of needs qualifies Detroit as the Wild Card of the first round. But ask anyone who covers the team and “getting faster on defense” is an antecedent that always crops up. The Lions can do that here by ignoring Parsons’ off-field issues and asking him to bite kneecaps across their front-seven, as he did with snaps inside the box (590), at slot corner (72), with his hand in the ground (59), and along the boundary as a hybrid corner/safety (9) in 2019, his final year of tape before opting out.
8. Carolina Panthers – OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
Carolina isn’t worried so much about setting Sam Darnold up for success as they are ensuring his successor, whomever that may be, is comfortable for the foreseeable future. Sewell is the ideal player to have in their corner when the front office swings for the fences under center next offseason.
9. Denver Broncos – OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
Threatening a starting quarterback with legitimate competition is an unwritten no-no in NFL locker rooms, so adding another signal-caller behind Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater seems unlikely. George Paton can instead opt to keep either comfortable in the pocket by replacing OT Ja’Wuan James with Slater (or sliding the latter inside).
10. Dallas Cowboys – CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
Dallas’ front office is reportedly split on Alabama CB Patrick Surtain and Horn, which makes it optimal from a game theory standpoint in any mock competitions to fade the chalk (Surtain) and be right/wrong on an island with the latter. Horn has obvious ties to the team’s coaching staff since DC Dan Quinn has a strong relationship with Gamecocks HC Will Muschamp. Horn’s father Joe also played under Mike McCarthy in New Orleans.
11. New York Giants – CB Patrick Surtain, Alabama
Alabama’s receivers have been commonly mocked here but I don’t buy it after the team signed both Kenny Golladay (four-year, $72 million) and John Ross in free agency. Dave Gettleman is reportedly leaning on his coaching staff’s collegiate ties to connect the dots at No. 11 and Joe Judge’s history with Alabama will help bring this one home.
12. Philadelphia Eagles – WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Philadelphia reportedly traded down from No. 6 because GM Howie Roseman assumed Ja’Marr Chase wouldn’t be available, which suggests the team will be prioritizing a wide receiver with its first pick. Smith’s presence also gives Jalen Hurts the best chance to succeed in his one-year tryout before the front office decides whether to move on with one of its two first-round picks in 2022.
13. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
The Chargers have emphasized protecting Justin Herbert at all costs and sliding Darrisaw on the former’s blindside next to C Corey Linsley, OG Matt Feiler, and RT Bryan Bulaga continues that offseason approach. This selection would not only heighten Herbert’s outlook, but Austin Ekeler’s as a low-end RB1 with salivating uspide in fantasy this year.
14. Minnesota Vikings – iOL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
Vikings can address any need in the trenches with this pick since Vera-Tucker proved to be interchangeable as USC’s left guard in 2018, being awarded OL of the Year over eventual first-round OT Austin Jackson, and at left tackle as last year’s Morris Trophy winner (top Pac-12 offensive lineman) as voted on by the conference’s defensive linemen.
15. New England Patriots – QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
I find it hard to believe the Patriots are interested in trading up for Fields, but slotting him here provides insurance just in case Bill Belichick does unload the clip for that position. Another reasonable outlook is to assume that Jimmy Garoppolo is already en route to New England, allowing the team to stay put and add a versatile playmaker (Devonta Smith, Kadarius Toney, etc.) with this pick.
16. Arizona Cardinals – LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa
This is where #NajeeHarrisWatch begins as the Cardinals have been heavily linked to one of the top-three running backs (Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams, Harris) with their first pick. I still believe DC Vance Joseph lands Collins, who has a tantalizing combination of size (6’4/259) and speed (4.66 40) with lengthy 33 5/8″ arms, to help captain Arizona’s Cover 1 blitz-heavy scheme over the middle of the field.
17. Las Vegas Raiders – LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
Five of Las Vegas’ eight free agent additions were inked on the defensive side of the ball (and rightfully so). Owusu-Koramoah, who primarily lined up against receivers from the slot at Notre Dame, provides immediate help as a Swiss Army knife in DC Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 plan.
18. Miami Dolphins – EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
Miami EDGE Jaelan Phillips is certainly in play here, but the Dolphins, ordinarily tight-lipped about these matters, could opt for the safer pick in Paye given the former’s red flags. That would also mean the organization fills RT Ereck Flowers‘ spot with a free agent or day two selection.
19. Washington Football Team – QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
This is merely a player-to-team fit since Washington could pick up their phones the moment Mac Jones (presumably) lands with San Francisco. The organization is also reportedly high on Kentucky LB Jamin Davis but would obviously try and swing a deal with Detroit, Carolina, or Denver if Lance continues to fall.
20. Chicago Bears – CB Greg Newsome, Northwestern
LT Charles Leno, RG Germain Ifedi, and LG James Daniels are all entering the final year of their contracts, but I’m not sure Ryan Pace is even aware of that. Newsome can step in immediately as Kyle Fuller’s replacement across from Jaylon Johnson.
21. Indianapolis Colts – OT Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
If the Saints are in fact trying to jump the line for CB Caleb Farley, this would be the spot to try and do so since the Colts know they can move down and still have their choice of premier available tackles. Both Chris Ballard and Frank Reich reportedly attended Notre Dame’s pro day specifically to watch Eichenburg, who didn’t allow a single sack as the Fighting Irish’s starting left tackle the past two seasons.
22. Tennessee Titans – WR Elijah Moore, Titans
With Greg Newsome off the board and Caleb Farley being flagged for medical issues, Titans opt to reunite A.J. Brown with his former college teammate and address the blackhole that is the team’s No. 2 receiver spot. While he was only used out wide on 147 (8.4%) career snaps, Moore’s elite 4.35 40-time, flat 4.0-second shuttle, and 91st percentile 3-cone at 6.67 seconds suggests he’s a pure athlete who can succeed from anywhere on the field.
23. New York Jets – EDGE Joe Tryon, Washington
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Najee Harris, Alabama
An inevitable pairing.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars – S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Baltimore’s defense was fast and adaptable under DC Joe Cullen, and there’s no better player to ‘hide’ across the formation than Moehrig, last year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He led all safeties in pass breakups (20) the past two seasons, per PFF, and is more than capable of playing nickel between C.J. Henderson and Shaquil Griffin.
26. Cleveland Browns – LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky
DC Joe Woods’ ideal defense features three corners and three safeties, which logically undervalues off-ball linebackers to the front office. It’s still unlikely Cleveland enters the regular season with only Anthony Walker, signed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract in free agency, atop a gaggle of unproven backers behind him.
27. Baltimore Ravens – OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
Jenkins has experience at both left (483 snaps) and right tackle (1,844) with Oklahoma State, permitting two sacks across 1,207 pass-blocking snaps the past three years (and none in the last two).
28. New Orleans Saints – CB Eric Stokes, Georgia
Would New Orleans ignore Caleb Farley‘s medical issues to secure a position of need with a player they’re reportedly high on? Who knows. As Nick Underhill notes, though, the front office has prioritized athletic specimens in the first round since 2015 and Stokes, who blazed an unofficial 4.25 40-time as an 86th percentile athlete at Georgia’s pro day, fits that mold.
29. Green Bay Packers – WR Rashod Bateman
Packers don’t have a single receiver behind Davante Adams under contract beyond the 2021 season, TE Robert Tonyan included. Bateman led the country in Yards Per Route Run from the boundary as a sophomore but was concertedly moved into the slot for a career-high 61% of his snaps in 2020 to be schemed more targets — proof he can do both.
30. Buffalo Bills – RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
All signs point to Buffalo either jumping the Steelers or staying put specifically for Etienne. And while that approach (if true) should be universally rebuked as a significant waste of resources, the 22-year-old’s nation-high 588 receiving yards among running backs last year proves he’s another explosive player OC Brian Daboll would be more than happy to scheme around out of the backfield.
31. Baltimore Ravens – EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
An edge rusher remains high among Baltimore’s priorities after losing 12 combined sacks between Yannick Ngakoue, Matt Judon, and Jihad Ward. This selection is interchangeable with Alabama DT Christian Barmore.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
Medical and character concerns could cause Phillips to fall, but the Bucs can afford to ignore those blemishes, as they did with Antonio Brown, since all 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl return for another run. Phillips could easily provide a pass rush in a pinch as a rotational player since he notched a ridiculous eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in just 10 games last year.