What I’m Hearing: Dan Wolken was on hand at a Monday morning news conference following Super Bowl LIII and here’s what he heard in regards to last night’s MVP Julian Edelman.
Now that Super Bowl LIII is wrapped up, the full order for the first round of the NFL draft officially has been set. And while free agency is still more than a month away and will greatly reshape teams’ needs ahead of the draft, the NFL scouting combine is just weeks away from kicking off in Indianapolis.
With less than three months until the first round begins in Nashville, here’s our latest projection for the first round:
1. Cardinals — Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Arizona is returning to a 3-4 scheme under new coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but the shift shouldn’t alter the team’s view of Bosa. Like his older brother Joey of the Los Angeles Chargers, the two-time consensus All-American offers the athleticism and well-rounded skill set to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks no matter where he’s deployed. As they build up a talent-bereft roster, the Cardinals should only consider passing on Bosa if they can swing a suitable trade for this pick.
2. 49ers — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: When general manager John Lynch held the No. 2 overall selection in 2017, an arms race for quarterbacks helped him swing a deal with Chicago to move back one slot and bolster his draft capital. A similar bidding war this year for passers might be beneficial for San Francisco, as the defense has several areas that need to be addressed. Should the 49ers stay put, their best move might be to grab Williams, who built a strong case for the title of college football’s most dominant defender last year with his formidable strength and surprising quickness.
3. Jets — Josh Allen, DE/OLB, Kentucky: No one will confuse the current iteration of the Jets with the New York Sack Exchange, but it’s time this defense at least got back into the market. Flexible and fluid in his pursuit of the quarterback, Allen has already shown the ability to translate his considerable athleticism into production by utilizing more than pure speed in his rush.
4. Raiders — Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: With three first-round selections and a litany of needs, coach Jon Gruden and first-year general manager Mike Mayock could go in any number of directions at this juncture. Though his athletic profile might not measure up with other pass rushers in this class, Ferrell can overwhelm blockers with his length, power and hand usage to consistently get into the backfield. He could make a quick impact on a Raiders defense that mustered just 13 sacks last year.
5. Buccaneers — Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: Only three cornerbacks have been selected in the top five picks in the last 10 years, and Murphy might seem like an unlikely candidate to be the fourth given his size (5-11, 182 pounds). But he never let his frame hold him back in college, and essentially all of his other traits are those of a top-notch cover man. Opposing passers posted an NFL-high 110.9 quarterback rating against Tampa Bay, and Murphy is the kind of instinctive defender needed to counteract high-powered NFC South passing attacks.
6. Giants — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Until general manager David Gettleman gives Eli Manning the commitment he would not provide at the end of the season, speculation on the long-time starter’s successor will abound. A fitting player for the transition might be Haskins, a high-upside option who could sit behind Manning as he refines his footwork and mechanics to become a more reliable downfield thrower.
7. Jaguars — Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: Drafting a rookie passer might seem like a dangerous move for a team that was put on notice at the end of last season by owner Shad Khan. Short of finding an affordable yet reliable starter in free agency or via trade, however, scooping up a quarterback early in the draft might be Jacksonville’s most sensible route. Lock’s athleticism and playmaking ability could help awaken a dormant attack, though he’ll have to dial back his devil-may-care approach.
8. Lions — Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Although defensive end looks to be the primary position of need for Detroit, general manager Bob Quinn has repeatedly trumpeted his belief in taking the best player available. Williams has the physical makeup to blanket receivers downfield and patch up a secondary that too often sprang leaks last season.
9. Bills — Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: With a 52.8 percent completion rate and just 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie, Josh Allen often looked lost and in need of a better supporting cast. Williams is a polished blocker who could afford the developing quarterback some all-important comfort in the pocket.
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10. Broncos — Daniel Jones, QB, Duke: Amid a thus unfruitful search for a reliable quarterback to lead Denver in the post-Peyton Manning era, perhaps John Elway will look to a player with a link to the future Hall of Famer. Jones was coached by David Cutcliffe, who was Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee, and has drawn some unfair comparisons to the retired signal caller. Though boasting impressive mobility and a 6-5, 220-pound build, Jones has built his passing skill set on touch and anticipation ahead of physical ability, as his arm strength is pedestrian. For Denver, that profile might be enough to warrant serious consideration as an eventual replacement for Case Keenum.
11. Bengals — Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma: Four years after using their first- and second-round picks on offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, respectively, the Bengals have to replenish their front after neither player panned out. Ford exhibits an aggressive mindset and finishing touch that have been missing from this offense.
12. Packers — Jachai Polite, DE/OLB, Florida: No position in Green Bay sparks more uncertainty than outside linebacker, where Clay Matthews is set to become a free agent and Nick Perry could be a cap casualty after yet another injury-plagued year. Picking up Polite, who combines an explosive burst with an impressive toolkit of moves, could revitalize the edge rush.
13. Dolphins — Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan: Though Miami is one of several teams who could be pondering a quarterback in the early rounds, general manager Chris Grier might opt against pushing all his chips in on a passer this early in his tenure. With the potential to play either inside or outside, Gary sizes up as intriguing option for a defensive line that has gotten little production outside of Cameron Wake, who turned 37 and isn’t signed for 2019.
14. Falcons — Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: A two-time All-American, Oliver brings an NFL-level prowess for penetrating opposing offensive lines, even if he lacks the prototypical heft for his position. Dan Quinn’s defenses have been adaptive to talent, and another undersized but productive interior presence in Grady Jarrett will become a free agent absent an extension.
15. Redskins — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: With Alex Smith’s status for 2019 still unclear after multiple surgeries to take care of a broken leg, Washington could find itself in a bind this offseason as the team ponders both its short- and long-term plans. Murray’s future is similarly uncertain as he continues to weigh pursuing football over baseball, but he might be the Redskins’ ticket to pushing through to a new era rather than being mired in quarterback purgatory.
16. Panthers — Montez Sweat, DE/OLB, Mississippi State: Julius Peppers’ retirement signals a new era for Carolina’s pass rush, which will need more than Mario Addison to get by in 2019. Sweat put his strength and know-how on display with a strong week of Senior Bowl practices, which further built his case as one of the draft’s most polished defenders.
17. Browns — D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi: What better way to kick off Year 2 for Baker Mayfield than by adding the big-bodied downfield threat he lacked as a rookie? Metcalf was recently cleared for all football activity after undergoing neck surgery in October, and the 6-4, 230-pound target possesses the deep speed and catch radius to capitalize on Mayfield’s daring throws.
18. Vikings — Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: Sheldon Richardson and backup Tom Johnson are set to hit the open market, which could leave Minnesota with a hole in the middle. According to NFL Network, Simmons has not been invited to the NFL scouting combine due to an incident in which he hit a woman while in high school, for which he later pleaded no contest to simple assault and was found guilty of malicious mischief. But few defensive players can match his overall proclivity for disrupting plays in the backfield.
19. Titans — Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State: Tennessee’s pass rush could be headed for a youth movement, as Brian Orakpo is retiring and Derrick Morgan is an impending free agent. In pairing the bendy Burns with Harold Landry, last year’s promising second-round pick, Mike Vrabel would field a tandem with a knack for getting to the quarterback.
20. Steelers — Devin White, LB, LSU: Ryan Shazier’s absence has left a hole in the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense that the unit has been unable to fill. Landing White, who quickly closes in on his targets both when in coverage and in pursuit as a run stopper, would be a huge step toward addressing that deficiency.
21. Seahawks — Zach Allen, DE, Boston College: Seattle likely will have to pony up to retain Frank Clark after a breakout season in which he posted 14 sacks, but another edge presence likely would be of interest to Pete Carroll even if the Pro Bowl selection returns. Though Allen doesn’t boast the traits of a defensive end who would post double-digit sacks, his run-stopping ability and persistent motor could make him a pest for opponents.
22. Ravens — Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Now that Baltimore has undergone a transformation with Lamar Jackson’s ascension at quarterback, it’s time to give the dynamic dual-threat a pass-catcher who can create his own separation as the developing passer works on his anticipation. By going to “Hollywood,” the Ravens would form a big-play connection capable of putting on quite the show.
23. Texans — Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: After allowing an NFL-worst 62 sacks on quarterback Deshaun Watson, Houston should be intent on grabbing the top-rated offensive linemen on its board. Taylor is surprisingly fleet-footed and should only improve as he learns to maintain his balance against crafty defensive linemen.
24. Raiders — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa: In their previous lives as broadcasters, Gruden and Mayock would have heaped praise on the Mackey Award winner. Finding a trusted target for Derek Carr should be a top priority, and Hockenson’s well-rounded skill set elevates him above the other pass-catching options whom Oakland could consider.
25. Eagles — Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: For all of the hand-wringing over Philadelphia’s secondary, the once-dominant defensive line didn’t create the same kind of havoc it did in the 2017 Super Bowl campaign. At 6-4 and 340 pounds, the massive Lawrence can help dissuade opponents from double-teaming Fletcher Cox regularly while he plugs the middle.
26. Colts — Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State: If the Colts are to break into the upper echelon of the AFC, Andrew Luck is going to need more than T.Y. Hilton’s heroics and a career renaissance from Eric Ebron. Demonstrating a comfort both in his routes and in attacking the ball, Harmon seems like a natural fit for the culture being implemented by general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich.
27. Raiders — Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia: Oakland would be wise to use one of its trio of first-day picks to address a secondary that allowed a league-worst 36 touchdown passes. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme could help maximize the talents of Baker, whose knack for jamming receivers and recognizing routes help compensate for his so-so measurables and ball skills.
28. Chargers — Devin Bush, LB, Michigan: General manager Tom Telesco said linebacker was the one position Los Angeles needs to “focus pretty heavily on in the offseason.” Despite having a build more befitting of a safety (5-11, 222 pounds), Bush can still fire past blockers with his quickness and stick with running backs and tight ends downfield.
29. Chiefs — Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware: As Steve Spagnuolo takes over a defense that gave up a league-worst 65 passing plays of 20 yards or more, it’s clear more help is needed on the back end. Adderley’s range in coverage would be an asset for the blitz-heavy scheme Spagnuolo is known for.
30. Packers — Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: Jimmy Graham’s expected return shouldn’t preclude Green Bay from investing at tight end. With a proven ability to stretch defenses down the seam and pile up yards after the catch, Fant can create the kind of mismatches Graham was expected to generate.
31. Rams — Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama: Lamarcus Joyner hasn’t played up to his franchise tag status, so Los Angeles might be better off letting him walk and plugging in Thompson, an aggressive hitter who can match up with tight ends and slot receivers.
32. Patriots — Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: Versatile and savvy, Wilkins is the kind of defensive lineman that the Patriots prize. With Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown unsigned, New England could look to add a more dynamic interior presence next to run stuffer Lawrence Guy.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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