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Thursday, June 30, 2022

The 2021 alligatorSports Mock Draft

For the second straight year, the alligatorSports staff took a shot at predicting the first 32 picks of the NFL Draft ahead of Thursday’s first round

<p>Tight end Kyle Pitts celebrates after catching a touchdown pass versus Kentucky Nov. 28. Pitts projects as a top-10 pick in Thursday&#x27;s NFL Draft.</p>

Tight end Kyle Pitts celebrates after catching a touchdown pass versus Kentucky Nov. 28. Pitts projects as a top-10 pick in Thursday's NFL Draft.

After months of speculation and projections, the NFL Draft finally gets underway Thursday night. The Alligator Sports staff writers, through a meeting of minds, divided the teams and took turns to create a mock draft of our own. Here’s what we expect each NFL team to do on opening night.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Michael Hull: The Jaguars locked in this pick the day Jets punter Braden Mann clinched the No. 1 pick for Jacksonville. Widely considered the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, Lawrence instantly becomes the face of the Jaguars.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Ryan Haley: Ever since Wilson’s pro day, the New York Jets’ infatuation with the BYU wonder boy persisted as one of the worst-kept secrets in the NFL. If Lawrence is the most sure-fire No. 1 pick in years, Wilson is one of the most consensus No. 2s. San Francisco is on the clock.

3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields, QB, OSU

Zachary Huber: San Francisco would be silly to spend the third overall pick on Trey Lance or Mac Jones. Justin Fields still stands as the third-best quarterback in this draft class. He completed almost 70% of his passes for over 5,000 yards and held a touchdown to interception ratio of 63-to-9. Dual-threat quarterbacks are all the rage in the modern-day NFL, which is why the 49ers snag Fields. 

4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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Jesse Richardson: Ready to kick off his professional career, the 6-foot-5-inch tight end already looks like a Madden cheat code.  The Falcons have a lot of needs to fill on the other side of the ball, but Kyle Pitts, a top prospect in 2021, seems almost impossible to pass on. At the Gators pro day, Pitts posted a remarkable 4.44u time in the 40-yard dash to make scouts salivate over the endless possibilities. Florida head coach Dan Mullen was never afraid to utilize Pitts as a slot receiver to burn past linebackers, and even sent the hybrid pass-catcher on fly routes to outmuscle any poor corner in his path. 

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Faith Buckley/River Wells: A lot of people suspect the Bengals are gonna end up with Ja’Marr Chase here, but that could be a big mistake. Quarterback Joe Burrow already tore an ACL a year ago. Despite efforts to shore up the Cincinnati offensive line, Sewell would be an immediate X-factor to protect him. Weapons are all nice and flashy, but wars are won in the trenches — and when in those wars, there’s no better soldier in this draft than Penei Sewell. The Bengals should go with the smart choice here.

6. Miami Dolphins: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Noah Ram: While the Bengals chose not to reconnect a college QB and WR, the Dolphins won’t make the same mistake. Smith won last season’s Heisman Trophy and put up a historic season, setting a new SEC record with 23 touchdown receptions. He became the first receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard in 1991 and the first wideout to ever win AP Player of the Year. No Dolphins receiver exceeded 800 yards in 2020, and with Sewell off the board, Miami had no choice but to go for a skill position. Most importantly, Smith should help kickstart quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s progression in year two.

7. Detroit Lions: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Hull: Noah made my life easy by selecting Smith. Chase instantly becomes the No. 1 wideout for a Detroit team that lost both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency. The LSU product opted out of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 but set multiple SEC records in 2019. He ran a blazing 4.38u 40-yard dash at his pro day to reassure the time off didn’t affect his game. Chase, if still on the board, should be a slam-dunk pick for Motor City.

8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

Haley: The Panthers are a prime candidate to trade back. I thought they might go quarterback before they traded for former Jet Sam Darnold, but now I think they’re in full rebuild and want to amass as many picks as possible. If they stay? They need a cornerback, but they won’t want to repeat the sins of the Jets before them with Darnold, their new quarterback of the (foreseeable) future. The Panthers haven’t had a linchpin tackle in years, and Slater provides an anchor on the edge.

9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Huber: The Bisons’ Trey Lance wouldn’t be the most ideal choice for John Elway, who prefers mountains that loom over the pocket. Lance’s upside, however, is well worth the investment at ninth overall. He starred for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State despite only playing one game this past season, and Lance’s former coaches raved about his football IQ and work ethic. Don’t be surprised to see Denver trade up to grab the quarterback it admires the most.

10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Richardson: Through the years, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has never been afraid to bolster the defense in the first round. Plagued by injury and free agency departures, the Cowboys seize the opportunity to draft the top cornerback prospect from the SEC and fill a weak spot within their secondary. Although Surtain II only nabbed a single interception in 2020, he still showed the ability to shut down top receivers in the conference.

11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Buckley/Wells: With both Smith and Chase gone in this draft, the next man up for a receiver-needy New York squad is Jaylen Waddle. It’s far from a bad pick: Waddle suffered from injuries in college, but he was almost a 1,000-yard receiver in 2018 and snagged seven touchdowns. Even while hurt, he managed just over 20 yards per catch last season. Once he’s paired with new weapons Kenny Golliday and Kyle Rudolph, the G-Men could find themselves with an electrifying offense — provided quarterback Daniel Jones plays well.

12. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Haley: Behind DeVonta Smith falling (one can dream), this is my dream scenario. Philadelphia needs quite a few things, and wide receiver comes to mind most frequently. But the Eagles haven’t had two good, or even average, defensive backs since the early 2000s. Darius Slay is still Darius Slay, but when he went down, the defense sprouted leaks. The wide receiver class is deep, the corner class isn’t and Horn is battle-tested through years in the SEC and ridiculously athletic. 

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

Hull: The Chargers drafted their future quarterback in Justin Herbert last season, but they still need to protect him. The Oregon product was sacked 32 times in 15 games. Enter Christian Darrisaw. The left tackle earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2020 and stands 6-feet-5-inches tall and 314 pounds. The former Hokie draws the task of protecting Herbert’s blindside for years to come.

14. Minnesota Vikings: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Ram: The Vikings biggest positional need lies on the offensive line, but with Darrisaw and Slater off the board, they don’t want to reach for a lineman. Instead, Minnesota tackled one of its other major needs: the secondary. Caleb Farley remains one of the biggest question marks of the draft due to a plaguing back injury the past two years, but if he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be the best corner in the draft.

15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Huber: I’m hesitant about Jones because Alabama coach Nick Saban armed him with weapons like Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, whom the Giants selected No. 11 overall in our mock. But New England is another team who could trade up on draft night. If the Patriots hold steady at No. 15, Jones presents a good value pick. He could sit a season behind current quarterback Cam Newton and learn how to be a successful professional quarterback. 

16. Arizona Cardinals: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

Richardson: Although he’s shown the ability to get away from heavy pressure and throw on the run, quarterback Kyler Murray needs the Cardinals’ front office to build him an offensive wall. In this scenario, with Penei Sewell, Rashwan Slater and Christian Darrisaw all off the board, the next best option is Jenkins, a 6-foot-6-inch powerhouse from Oklahoma State. First-round offensive linemen are irreplaceable, and the Cardinals can fulfill their other needs in later rounds.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

Buckley/Wells: The Raiders’ linebacking corps is lacking, to put it kindly. On top of that, the Raiders hired Gus Bradley to serve as their new defensive coordinator, and he’s a particularly big fan of playing Cover 3 zone defense. You need a fast linebacker to do that, and although Owusu-Koromoah sat out of the 40-yard dash during his pro-day, there’s no question he’s got the speed. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock add a playmaker to supplement Las Vegas’ new defensive scheme, and with 41 solo tackles and three forced fumbles in 2020, Owusu-Koromoah is no stranger to making plays.

18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami

Ram: Jaelen Phillips doesn’t have to travel far to his new home, as I have him staying in the Magic City. The Dolphins could use some help along the defensive line after trading Shaq Lawson and releasing Kyle Van Noy. Despite an excellent defensive performance in 2020, the Dolphins ranked in the middle-of-the-pack in shutting down the run. Phillips maintains a somewhat spotty medical record and quit football at one point, but he rebounded with a great 2020 at The U, finishing with 45 tackles and eight sacks. He is 6-feet-5-inches tall, freaky athletic and should inject some new life into a young Miami defensive front anchored by 2019 first round pick Christian Wilkins. 

19. Washington Football Team: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Hull: The rich get richer as Washington beefs up an already solid all-around defense. I thought about picking Florida’s Kadarius Toney here, but after signing wideout Curtis Samuel, the Football Team goes defense. Parsons represents a high-risk, high-reward selection. No one doubts his talent after he racked up 191 tackles in two seasons in Happy Valley. Parsons main concern lies off the field, where he’s been accused of violence and hazing while at Penn State. A team will pick Parsons due to his athletic ability and overlook his red flags, and I think that team is Washington.

20. Chicago Bears: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/OG, USC

Haley: The Bears likely won’t pick 20th on Thursday. They need a quarterback, unless they believe in Andy Dalton, but who does? No trades in this mock, though, so Chicago stays put. I debated receiver and cornerback, but I don’t think any of the prospects left on the board are good enough to ignore Vera-Tucker. He’s a tad undersized for an exterior NFL offensive lineman, but he played left tackle last season at USC and moved all over the line in his career. He’s athletic, smooth and gives Chicago a plug-and-play lineman at whichever position they see fit.

21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Huber: I finally got to select a non-quarterback. Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye would be an excellent choice for the Colts at 21 because he holds just as much power as Dragonite’s hyper beam. The former Michigan standout would make the perfect Robin to DeForest Buckner’s Batman. The Colts need a second pass rusher, and drafting Paye would reduce the need to resign veteran Justin Houston. The former Wolverine would vastly improve a unit that ranked 13th in sacks per game a year ago.

22. Tennessee Titans: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

Richardson: The Titans offense is more than fine with studs like Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown taking handoffs and catching passes from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (yes, he’s a stud, too). So, why not fill in an important need in the safety position with the top-ranked junior from TCU? I know Micheal was hoping the Jags would bring Moehrig to Duval, but I can’t see the Titans passing on an opportunity to fill a need early.

23. New York Jets: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Haley: One of the biggest risers of the last twelve months, Newsome wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar a year ago. Standing just over 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, Newsome excelled on the defensive perimeter for the Wildcats during their run to the Big Ten Championship this past season. According to PFF, he surrendered 12 catches for 93 yards in 2020. Yes, all season. He earned third-team All-American and first-team Big Ten honors. The Jets need everything, and Newsome gives them a quality prospect at an invaluable position.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Ram: Last season, the Steelers rushing attack was God-awful to put it lightly. Despite winning 12 games, Pittsburgh ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game with just 82.6. This season, it plans on rolling out Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. as its lead backs. YIKES. Entering what could be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, the Steelers need help, and Najee Harris provides that assistance. The first RB off the board was sensational last season at Alabama. He totaled nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns and graduated as the school’s all-time leader in rush yards and touchdowns. The Steelers spent late round picks on RBs for years, but they address the position early this time around.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

Hull: Jacksonville invested heavily in its defensive line this past offseason, adding free agents Jihad Ward and Roy Robertson-Harris and trading for Malcom Brown. However, new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen comes from a system in Baltimore built upon frequently rotating defensive linemen to keep them fresh. Barmore’s 311-pound frame effortlessly slides into this rotation as a big body in the trenches. analyst Lance Zierlein compared him to Marcell Dareus, a critical piece of the 2017 Jaguars defense that took them to the AFC Championship Game.

26. Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Haley: Collins is big, like 6 foot 5, 260 pounds big, and athletic as anyone in the draft. He played quarterback in high school and tight end his first year on campus. His first year playing linebacker, he amassed 85 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, and earned Freshman All-American honors. He won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in college football last year over earlier selections Surtain and Owusu-Koramoah. His 90.5 PFF grade ranked second among linebackers and he boasted an outstanding 93.0 coverage grade.

27. Baltimore Ravens: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia

Huber: Baltimore needs to replace former pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Jones, both of whom walked out this offseason. The Ravens fill that holl here by selecting Ojulari. He collected eight and a half sacks for the Bulldogs to go along with five forced fumbles and 22 tackles. A solid pick, Ojulari’s build presents loads of upside.

28. New Orleans Saints: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

Richardson: Alright, alright. Before the entirety of the Saints fan base slaughters me worse than a 2019 NFC Championship referee: hear me out. There’s a Super Bowl champion in Tampa Bay with an absolute killer offense led by Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin…. should I really keep going? The point is, the Saints defense could use all the help they can get. So in my humble opinion, use the first pick on a leftover corner prospect while they’re there. Even better, trade up for a talent like Jaycee Horn.

29. Green Bay Packers: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Buckley/Wells: Aaron Rodgers won’t be spurned twice. The Packers need a solid No. 2 wide receiver to play with the exceptional Davante Adams, and a guy like Toney can contribute that and more. Amassing over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns in 2020, Toney is a fantastic consolation prize for a receiver-needy team too low to hit on bigger names.  A weapon out of the backfield and out on the perimeter, Rodgers could well make use of Toney’s talents in an effort to get back to the NFC Championship, this time leaving with a win.

30. Buffalo Bills: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Ram: The Bills offense was dynamic in 2020, generating more yards than any team outside of the Chiefs. However, it ranked 20th in rush yards. Devin Singletary failed to live up to his lofty expectations with a sophomore slump, and the team decided not to address the need in free agency. Etienne, the two time All-American, set the ACC record for most career rushing yards. His speed and pass-catching ability offer multiple uses throughout the playbook and will be a welcome addition in Buffalo. The Bills may worry Etienne would be long gone by the 30th pick, but will gladly take him here without trepidation.

31. Baltimore Ravens: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

Huber: Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson loves this pick. He has a new left tackle to protect his blind side after Orlando Brown waltzed to the Chiefs in a trade. The former Crimson Tide offensive lineman offers natural ability as an offensive tackle. If he learns to finish blocks with authority, Leatherwood will morph into an All-Pro left tackle. 

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

Buckley/Wells: With all 22 Super Bowl starters and multiple depth pieces back to go for two in 2021, the Bucs couldn’t really go wrong here. They do need to think about the future, though. With guys like Ndamukang Suh and Steve McLendon likely not members of the franchise’s long-term plans, Onwuzurike would be a great long-term investment for Tampa. With 20 solo tackles and two sacks in 2019, Onwuzurike has the potential to mold into a solid presence on the interior defensive line. He’ll likely benefit from not starting immediately, too, making this pick a low risk, high reward prospect for Jason Licht’s squad.

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