As we hit the midway point of January, we’re entering a critical juncture on the NFL calendar. We’ve moved on from the Divisional Round to the conference championship games in the playoffs and the early entry deadline has come and gone for underclassmen. College football has wrapped up and both prospects and scouts are packing up for the various draft stops like the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
In short, it won’t be too long before the commissioner will be trotting to the stage in Nashville for the 2019 NFL Draft.
As a result, it’s never too early to examine team needs, player fits and how it all might play out in a mock draft. Factoring in underclassmen decisions to stay or go and who could be fast risers throughout the process, here’s a look at how picks 1-32 could play out in late April.
Draft order is based on current NFL standings prior to the AFC/NFC championship games:
1. Arizona Cardinals — Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The Cardinals figure to load up in this draft on offensive weapons for new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and young QB Josh Rosen but if they stay put atop the draft, they’ll address their glaring need for a pass rusher by snagging Bosa. The former Buckeye will be a great fit with new coordinator Vance Joseph and provide somebody who can chase after Jared Goff, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo twice a year.
2. San Francisco 49ers — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
The franchise has spent a ton of draft capital along the defensive line without the kind of return you would expect but Williams is in a different category given his ability to take up space and create disruption up the middle. You can see the impact an All-Pro-caliber lineman like Aaron Donald has had in the division and adding the Crimson Tide star to the mix in the Bay Area would be a simple case of picking the best player available regardless of position.
3. New York Jets — Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss
The Jets need plenty of help on both sides of the ball but you can bet new head coach Adam Gase will make protecting and helping QB Sam Darnold priority No. 1 in the draft. That starts along the offensive line with Little, who is more athletic and has a greater ceiling than somebody like Jonah Williams. A trade back for some QB-needy team could be an option too.
4. Oakland Raiders — Josh Allen, LB/DE, Kentucky
New Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was often fond of "height/weight/speed" guys from his days at the NFL Network. Allen ticks all those boxes as one of the best edge guys in the draft. He’ll be able to line up in a number of different spots and become a player Oakland/Las Vegas/wherever can build around on the defensive side going forward.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama
The front office could go 100 different ways with this pick but it’s been made clear that Bruce Arians and the new coaching staff’s top priority is to get the most out of Jameis Winston while he’s still on his rookie deal. Williams is already polished enough to take over as a rookie and should slot in for free agent Donovan Smith, who was questionable at best last season at left tackle.
6. New York Giants — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Yes, Eli Manning is likely to be the Giants' starter for most of 2019 but they can’t pass up the opportunity to draft his successor. In fact, they might even have to trade up in order to secure Haskins even though none of the teams ahead of them are in need of a QB. Either way, the Buckeyes’ signal-caller is too good to pass on at this point in the draft.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
The Jaguars are probably bummed Haskins is already off the board but moving on from Blake Bortles is a given this offseason and, if they don’t land somebody like Nick Foles in free agency, somebody like Lock makes a ton of sense as the QB of the future. He’s got the required size and arm strength to be a top-10 pick and will be too enticing for the front office to pass up in the top 10.
8. Detroit Lions — Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
Ezekiel Ansah appears to be on his way to free agency so there’s a glaring need for a team that has gotten little to no pressure off the edge in recent years. Gary starred up the road with the Wolverines but he’s no sentimental pick, he’ll wow a ton of folks with his athleticism at the Scouting Combine and has everything you’re looking for in terms of size, speed and get-off.
9. Buffalo Bills — Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma
The Bills need a wide receiver in the worst way and also have to find a replacement for recently retired Kyle Williams in the middle of their defense. It’s a good year for both positions later on in the draft so the Bills will opt instead to go with somebody who can protect young QB Josh Allen and knows a thing or two about playing with a guy who can take off from the pocket. Ford’s versatility in being able to play guard early or right tackle will help enhance his profile.
10. Denver Broncos — Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
John Elway can’t believe his luck that Williams is available because he’s a top-five talent and certainly the top corner available on most boards. It’s imperative that the Broncos find their next corner to shore up the back end, which will trump selecting the quarterback of the future with this pick given the options.
11. Cincinnati Bengals — Devin White, LB, LSU
Tigers go back-to-back as they finally begin their defensive rebuild. Yes this is a prime spot where a QB like Kyler Murray could go but even with a new offensive-minded coaching staff, the front office has to start re-tooling their linebacking corps and White is as good as they come from sideline-to-sideline.
12. Green Bay Packers — Brian Burns, DE/LB, Florida State
Clay Matthews’ tenure is probably over and the team not only needs a replacement but also somebody to take the load off Nick Perry too. Burns has as much upside as anybody coming off the edge and has athleticism for days. He’s not quite fully polished but the potential is there to be a Pro Bowler with a full array of pass rush moves.
13. Miami Dolphins — Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
It goes without saying that the franchise needs to find a QB of the future and even if they bring in somebody like Teddy Bridgewater to be a short-term fix, drafting somebody like Jones is the avenue to stability under center. He ticks off every box in terms of athleticism, arm strength, and the chalkboard, plus he’ll get a ringing endorsement from QB-whisperer David Cutcliffe.
14. Atlanta Falcons — Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
The Falcons' front office has no issue grabbing freakishly athletic interior linemen in the past and Lawrence, despite his recent suspension for the Tigers’ national title run, might be the king of those types given his size and ability. Grady Jarrett was great in 2018 but getting him a running mate with even more potential would be fulfilling a dream for Dan Quinn in terms of solidifying the spine of his defense.
15. Washington Redskins — Jachai Polite, DE/LB, Florida
Another potential landing spot for Kyler Murray given Alex Smith’s injury and Dan Snyder’s penchant for wanting to make a splash but MLB leverage makes that an unlikely pick. Instead, the front office will get enamored with Polite, who had 11 sacks in his final year with the Gators and has plenty of speed to chase after QBs. Given how thin the team is coming off the edge (and Ryan Kerrigan isn’t getting any younger…), Polite appears tailor-made for Washington.
16. Carolina Panthers — Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
Deionte Thompson will get a lot of play here for the Panthers too but Murphy is too good to pass up given what he brings to the table and his ability to step in as a starter right away. He attacks the ball whenever it’s in the air and is perhaps the most polished defensive back in this draft class with his ability to read and react.
17. Cleveland Browns — Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State
It’s a bit strange to see the Browns this low in the draft with their own pick but that doesn’t mean they can’t land an impact player. Simmons can spell Larry Ogunjobi or line up beside him to instantly help boost the defensive line and has the upside to turn into a monster alongside Myles Garrett. There are a few concerns about Simmons off the field that could push him down the board but general manager John Dorsey has proven he just wants the best player available.
18. Minnesota Vikings — Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State
Kirk Cousins may have taken plenty of the blame for this season not going the way many expected but the biggest culprit was probably his offensive line. Risner could be a right tackle or kick inside to guard and brings plenty of toughness that the Vikings need up front. If Mike Zimmer really wants to boost the run game, the K-State product will certainly help in the trenches.
19. Tennessee Titans — Montez Sweat, DE/LB, Mississippi State
Sweat has positional flexibility but can really get after the quarterback coming off the edge, something that this team sorely needs with Brian Orakpo retiring and the team likely moving on from Derrick Morgan (who is hitting free agency). Teaming Sweat with Harold Landry is a heck of a one-two punch for Mike Vrabel to build his defense around.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers — Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
If the team does end up trading away Antonio Brown, they could turn to another Brown to fill his spot in the offense as the explosive playmaker has speed to burn and loves to make circus catches. A linebacker like Devin Bush also makes plenty of sense but the front office clearly wants to keep this title window open and could trot out the fastest WR corps in the league with this pick.
21. Seattle Seahawks — Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
The Legion of Boom was dismantled and pass rush remains a big concern for the Seattle front office going forward with Frank Clark possibly on the way out but Thompson would be a building block on the defensive side of the ball for the Seahawks. Pete Carroll will probably fall in love with his range and the way Thompson plays the ball. Nick Saban’s recommendation doesn’t hurt either.
22. Baltimore Ravens — Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Ferrell has been a huge difference-maker in the Tigers’ run to a pair of national titles and he’s ready-made to step into the lineup in Baltimore, which has a number of decisions to make about getting younger on defense while still maintaining a pass rush. While others might have slightly more upside than Ferrell, the first post-Ozzie Newsome pick for the Ravens will play it a bit safer and get somebody who can help out right away and fit in perfectly into the locker room.
23. Houston Texans — Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
The Texans probably need to move up quite a bit in the first round to land an impact offensive lineman but can address another pressing need by having the Thorpe Award winner land in their lap to help shore up the secondary. Baker might not test as well as others at his position but he’s as reliable as they come and has terrific instincts.
24. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago) — D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
The Rebels star is still a bit raw but he’s a fairly prototypical Raiders receiver: fast, huge and strong. Both Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have no issue taking a chance on a guy like this, as he’d add a new explosive element to the offense and has a ton of highlight-reel catches to his name already.
25. Philadelphia Eagles — Yodny Cajuste, OL, West Virginia
Even if Jason Peters returns, he’s approaching 40 and can’t be counted on to protect an already banged-up Carson Wentz for a full season. Enter Cajuste, who could be a plug-and-play guy all along the offensive line before taking over at either tackle spot long term.
26. Indianapolis Colts — Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
There are other pressing needs but it’s rare for the Colts to find somebody of Oliver’s pedigree and talent at this point in the draft. While his ability to rush the passer is called into question by scouts at time; there’s no denying that he’s one of the best defenders against the run in the country and his presence shoring up the middle of the defense will help fellow youngsters like Darius Leonard continue to bloom.
27. Oakland Raiders (from Dallas) — Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock need all the football guys they can get their hands on and Rapp certainly qualifies. Though he has as good of range as anybody at this position, his ability to play the slot like an All-Pro while delivering some vicious hits makes him a potential star with the Raiders. His football IQ alone will get the front office enamored with him.
28. Los Angeles Chargers — Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State
The team can find help at guard and other positions on Day 2 and will have a hard time passing up on Jones to team up with fellow Buckeye Joey Bosa along the line. Brandon Mebane and Darius Philon both could be departing as free agents and the ability to plug in Jones for either guy makes a lot of sense for Gus Bradley’s defense.
29. New England Patriots — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
The Patriots were heavily connected to Lamar Jackson in last year’s draft process and you can bet Bill Belichick won’t let the opportunity to pick Tom Brady’s successor pass him by again. Murray has the arm talent to be a top-10 pick and is one of the best deep ball throwers to come in the draft in years. The front office won’t care about his height and will delight in adapting to the modern NFL game with the Heisman Trophy winner leading the way.
30. Los Angeles Rams — Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
Aaron Donald gets all the attention for the Rams but he still needs upgrades around him in order for the defense to be at the level to match their powerful offense. Bush is a tad undersized but he’s so good tracking the ball down and will be able to boost the pass rush a bit shooting the gap.
31. Kansas City Chiefs — Jaylon Ferguson, DL, Louisiana Tech
Every year there’s a surprise or two at the end of the first round and Ferguson might qualify but he’s got the measurables coming off the edge and the production (he broke Terrell Suggs’ FBS sack record). Whether Chris Jones gets his big pay day in Kansas City or elsewhere, Ferguson will be able to come in and help rush the passer from all over.
32. Green Bay Packers (from New Orleans) — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Quite the nice bonus for Matt LaFleur to have a pick like this at the end of the first round, where Hockenson could quickly become Aaron Rodgers' new best friend in the offense. The Iowa star doesn’t get mentioned as much as his teammate Noah Fant but he’s a top-notch pass catcher and a better blocker than given credit for.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.