No surefire quarterbacks. A bunch of explosive edge rushers but not a clear-cut favorite. Excellent wide receivers, but not necessarily a dominant one. A couple of great corners, but just how great?
Put it all together, and this figures to be one of the most unpredictable NFL drafts. Not great news for those in the business of doing mock drafts, but here goes our annual mini-mock of the first 10 picks, with the full mock set for Thursday:
Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan. Plenty of debate about whether the Jaguars take Hutchinson or Georgia’s Travon Walker. But if you’re talking about the higher-graded lineman, it’s Hutchinson, who dominated last season for the Wolverines.
Lions: Travon Walker: DL, Georgia. The Lions need help everywhere, and if the Jaguars opt for Walker at No. 1, they’ll take Hutchinson in a nanosecond. Detroit fans familiar with his work at Michigan will be ecstatic if that’s how it ends up.
Texans: Ickey Ekwonu, T, North Carolina State. The Texans still have former first-round pick Laremy Tunsil, but adding Ekwonu with an eye toward the future is a sound play, especially with the team committed to second-year quarterback Davis Mills.
Jets: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon. The Jets haven’t drafted a quality edge rusher since John Abraham in 2000. Thibodeaux would be a terrific fit in Robert Saleh’s attacking defense, adding to a defense that hopes to get Carl Lawson back from an Achilles injury.
Giants: Evan Neal, T, Alabama. He’s as good a tackle prospect as there is in the draft, and his pedigree at Alabama can only help a durable and reliable blocker. Add him to a team with Andrew Thomas, and the Giants’ offensive line just got a lot better.
Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh. OK, here’s where things get interesting. Pickett may not be the sixth-best player in the draft, and the Panthers might try and trade down to take him. But the confluence of a team in need of a quarterback and a top prospect available makes it a more realistic scenario.
Giants: Derek Stingley, CB, LSU. The Giants are still trying to unload James Bradberry for salary cap considerations, meaning there’s a big need at the position. Stingley and Sauce Gardner are still available in this scenario, and the Giants may also consider an edge rusher like Jermaine Johnson II.
Falcons: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama. Julio Jones is long gone, and the Falcons swung and missed on Calvin Ridley, who is suspended for the entire season for gambling. Williams is a burner who can take the top off a defense. The Falcons may be tempted by Johnson on defense, but Williams may be too good to pass up.
Seahawks: Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati. Some scouts have Gardner as the top corner prospect, and he could go higher. But if he’s here when the Seahawks pick, Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider won’t find a better player to fill a glaring need.
Jets: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State. Joe Douglas made it clear he would love to add top-end speed to the receiving game with his pursuit of Tyreek Hill, who went to Miami in a blockbuster trade. Wilson is another burner who can become a unique target for Zach Wilson and add some much-needed explosiveness to the offense.
Are Becton and Toney making a mistake?
The Jets would prefer that third-year offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, who is rehabbing from a knee injury last season, participate in the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program. Especially given how dependent the team could be on his return.
And Becton has drawn criticism from some fans and media for remaining in Dallas, where he is working with his personal trainer and whose girlfriend is awaiting the birth of the couple’s first child.
To which we say: It’s a voluntary program, and that means it’s the player’s choice. Becton is familiar enough with the playbook, and he’s certainly not the only player in recent years to work out on his own during the offseason. At this point, it’s a non-issue, and the only time you have to start worrying about his situation is if he’s not progressing far enough once training camp begins over the summer.
As for former Giants first-round pick Kadarius Toney, the second-year receiver who missed plenty of time last year with injuries? Different story. He’s staying away from the team, but his situation is simply not the same as Becton. Toney is coming off a sub-par rookie season. Not only that, but the Giants have a new coaching staff with Brian Daboll, and Toney can’t even get his playbook until he shows up. That time may not come until he’s required to be at the team’s mandatory mini-camp in June.
If it gets that far. There’s now speculation the Giants are looking into trading Toney. And even if he’s not dealt, it’s anyone’s guess whether he can ever fulfill his potential in a Giants’ uniform.
Emmitt's advice for Jets RB
Jets second-year running back Michael Carter lists Emmitt Smith as one of the players he looks up to most, in part because Carter grew up near Smith’s hometown of Pensacola, Fla. And Smith would like nothing more than to see Carter succeed at the NFL as Smith once did during his Hall of Fame career with the Cowboys.
Any advice for Carter, a 2021 fourth-round pick?
“Begin with the end in mind,” Smith said. “What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? Who have you modeled your gme after? What do you have to do in order to achieve the things you need to accomplish? That means work ethic, that means eating right, focus, discipline, sleeping, doing all the things you need to do to give yourself the best opportunity to be the best version of yourself. If you have to do work on certain things, certain skills, do it. If that means studying more tape so you understand the offense, do it.”
Life after Hill
Kansas City received a king’s ransom for 28-year-old wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Dolphins in exchange for first-, second- and fourth-round picks this year and fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2023. And while one of the league’s best offenses will be without a gifted wide receiver whose speed and quickness were key to a Super Bowl championship after the 2019 season, coach Andy Reid thinks he may have a reasonable facsimile to Hill already on his roster.
Mecole Hardman, a fourth-year receiver, doesn’t have quite the burst of Hill, but is sneaky good and will no doubt become more of a focal point in the offense.
“The one nice thing is we know what Mecole can do,” Reid said earlier in the week. “We have a lot of confidence in what he can do. Mecole has the speed like a Tyreek had. He gives you a nice skillset there with the speed and quickness and ability to run when the ball is in his hands.”
Hardman has averaged 14.2 yards per catch over his career, which is higher than Hill’s 13.8-yard average. And at 24 years old, he goes into a contract year with plenty of motivation and with a quarterback for the ages in Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City bolstered its receiving corps through free agency as well, signing former Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster and former Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Will Kaepernick ever get another shot?
He hasn’t played since the 2016 season, but former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to take a knee during the national anthem contributed to his ouster from the NFL, still wants a chance to resume his career. And he’s willing to prove his worth as a backup quarterback if that’s what it takes.
“I know I have to find my way back in, so, if I have to come in as a backup, that’s fine,” Kaepernick told former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall this week on his “I Am Athlete” podcast. “But that’s not where I’m staying, and when I prove that I’m a starter, I want to be able to step on the field as such. I just need that opportunity to walk through the door.”
That opportunity is unlikely to happen.
Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season and was considered one of the NFL’s most promising young quarterbacks. But after being released by the 49ers following the 2016 season, he hasn’t so much as gotten a workout with another team. Despite the NFL’s embrace of fighting against the issues of racial injustice that Kaepernick raised by taking a knee during the anthem, there is clearly a concern among owners of potential fan backlash were he to play again. That and the fact that Kaepernick sued the league alleging collusion over his inability to get another job, a suit that was eventually settled.
At 34, time is running out. And for all practice purposes, given how polarizing his situation had become, it may have already run out.
No excuses for Bills
Love the mindset in Buffalo this offseason, especially with general manager Brandon Beane setting the tone about not looking back on last year’s painful overtime loss to Kansas City in the AFC divisional playoffs. Even if the NFL changed the overtime rules in large part because of the game’s outcome.
“We could’ve done things in the game to not let it get to a coin flip,” Beane said during his pre-draft news conference.
The NFL amended its overtime rules last month, requiring that both teams get a possession in overtime, even if the team with the ball first scores a touchdown. Under the previous rule, a team scoring a touchdown on its first possession wins the game.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is look at yourself. I go back and look at what could I have done with the roster better,” Beane said. “And I’m sure, as great as [quarterback] Josh [Allen] played, there’s things he goes, ‘Maybe if I had done this.’ Or somebody on defense, or a coach, or whoever. We all just, that’s how we’re wired.”
The Carolina conundrum
The Giants have the fifth and seventh overall picks, but it’s the team with the sixth pick that has first-year general manager Joe Schoen concerned about which direction to proceed.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about that several times,” he said. “What are they doing, trying to figure out what position they might go. That will make a difference in what you do. If you're sitting there at five, there's somebody you really like, there's two other players that may be at the same position you like as well, or just two players in general that you're happy with regardless of position, that can also factor into who you take at number five.”
What does he think the Panthers will do?
“If you have a crystal ball, I'd love to see it,” Schoen said.