I’m going to do a mock draft with a difference here. In this first round mock I will look at some dilemmas and decisions that NFL front office personnel could be faced with when they’re on the clock in April. Obviously this is only from my perspective, taking into account free agency and how depth charts currently stand within the league. With thanks for Ourlads.com (for their depth charts) and The Draft Network’s mock draft machine (for simulating the picks).
I’ve really tried to limit the amount of times I refer to a franchise having to decide on whether to trade down or not given that the majority of teams picking in the early stages of the first round could do with adding multiple difference makers.
Find the first 14 picks here, before moving onto the second half of the first round.
15) Denver Broncos
Henry Ruggs III or Kristian Fulton?
The loss of Chris Harris Jr in free agency opens up a vacancy in the defensive backfield. The days of the No Fly Zone secondary are long gone. The Broncos imported A.J. Bouye this offseason and will hope he returns to the dominant play of his late Texans/early Jaguars career. Despite this, John Elway will need to add more effective corners with Kareem Jackson moving to safety and Bryce Callahan primarily a slot cornerback.
On offence, Ruggs would be a nice complement to Courtland Sutton, who is more of a big bodied receiver, and would provide a big play threat to an offense that already has possession receivers in Sutton and tight end Noah Fant. If Denver feel they have found their quarterback of the future in Drew Lock then they need to provide weapons to aid in his development.
Choice: Henry Ruggs III (WR)
16) Atlanta Falcons
Kristian Fulton or Javon Kinlaw?
The Falcons offence is already loaded at the skill positions, and they spent two first round picks on the O-line last year. Instead this franchise needs investment on the other side of the ball. Whilst they would probably love to add Kinlaw alongside Grady Jarrett, the signing of Dante Fowler Jr will hopefully provide increased sack production for the Falcons front four.
However an absolute dearth of talent at the cornerback position, which was worsened by the offseason departure of Desmond Trufant, makes the Fulton pick more of a necessity at this point.
Choice: Kristian Fulton (CB)
17) Dallas Cowboys
Javon Kinlaw or Jeff Gladney?
The Cowboys had a significant number of its defensive linemen hit free agency this year. In addition it has been reported that they’re looking to add more bulk at the defensive tackle position under new coordinator Mike Nolan. Does that mean Kinlaw fits as he is more of a pass rusher than a space eater? In addition, the front office has added veterans Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, who they hope will take on blockers and create more one on one opportunities for DeMarcus Lawrence.
However, cornerback just like for Atlanta, is a major area of need. Byron Jones signed with the Dolphins in free agency, with the Cowboys choosing to let him walk and again need to add a player with starting ability, or at least starting potential, in the draft.
Choice: Jeff Gladney (CB)
18) Miami Dolphins
Xavier McKinney or Jedrick Wills?
The Dolphins definitely have a need at safety that they have to fill following the release of Reshad Jones. McKinney’s versatility will certainly be attractive to head coach Brian Flores as well, even though that same trait was what ultimately led to the separation of the ‘Fins and their previous safety from Alabama: Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Quite frankly though, if Wills falls this far it’s the Tide’s O-lineman whose name should be likely to be called. If Miami has already taken Tagavailoa they need to protect their franchise quarterback, and Wills immediately upgrades the right side of the line.
Choice: Jedrick Wills (OT)
Justin Jefferson or Denzel Mims?
The Raiders desperately need to add a receiver, despite the addition of Nelson Agholor this offseason. The receivers currently on the roster are either mainly slot guys (Hunter Renfrow, Agholor) or deep threats (Tyrell Williams). Mims would be the big bodied receiver the Raiders don’t have.
Choice: Denzel Mims (WR)
Xavier McKinney or Javon Kinlaw?
The Jaguars have spent a lot of their recent draft resources on the D-line, with the selections of Taven Bryan and Josh Allen. They may well be looking to replace the production of Calais Campbell, but I feel slightly better about their defensive tackle situation, than I do their safety group.
McKinney can also help out at slot cornerback too, which may persuade Dave Caldwell to make him the choice here.
Choice: Xavier McKinney (S)
Justin Jefferson or Kenneth Murray?
The Eagles need to add playmaking wideouts in a big way. Alshon Jeffrey hasn’t been released yet and rumours of him being cut seem to have settled down. Nonetheless, Philly was clearly hampered by a dearth of talent and availability at the position last season.
Linebacker is also a key need with the release of Nigel Bradham, but Howie Roseman may like his chances of landing a starting LB via trade rather than a dynamic wide receiver. Let’s not forget the Eagles need to make sure their investment in Carson Wentz pays off, and one way to do that is by giving him more weapons.
Choice: Justin Jefferson (WR)
Javon Kinlaw or A.J. Epenesa?
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman would undoubtedly be disappointed to reach this point and see the top cornerback options off the board.
However, one way to help out whoever ends up manning the secondary would be to add more push up front. Whilst the team added Michael Pierce in free agency, they also let pass rusher Everson Griffen leave. Kinlaw may provide the same sort of threat on passing downs, but from the inside. That wont bother Mike Zimmer who was happy to move his defensive ends to the interior when necessary during last season’s playoffs. Kinlaw also represents better value here for the Vikes.
Choice: Javon Kinlaw (DT)
A.J. Epenesa or Tee Higgins?
We all know that New England needs some re-tooling on offence, particularly at wide receiver and tight end. It’s more of a Belichick move though to try and fix that with other teams cast offs, whilst they may well want to see how last year’s first rounder N’Keal Harry performs with an injury free offseason under his belt.
New England has suffered a number of losses at the linebacker position with Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins all leaving town. Selecting Epenesa here would allow Belichick to move John Simon to an OLB role, whilst also offering more value than Kenneth Murray with this pick.
Choice: A.J. Epenesa (Edge)
Kenneth Murray or Jordan Love?
The Saints starting lineup is actually in pretty good shape on paper. They may want to address their depth at the cornerback position, or outside linebacker here. On the other hand, it seems like for the past few years analysts have been projecting NOLA to select Drew Brees’ heir, and maybe this year could be the time for that. The Saints lost Teddy Bridgewater as their backup (and potential future) quarterback in free agency and really may want to start looking into grooming a signal caller to take over from the franchise legend. Whilst Love isn’t going to be an immediate starter, Sean Payton gets time to work with him, whilst New Orleans continues in its quest for Brees’ elusive second Lombardi Trophy.
Choice: Jordan Love (QB)
25) Minnesota Vikings
Trevon Diggs or Tee Higgins?
This could be the point at which the Vikings choose to address the cornerback position. Again though, they have a significant hole at the wide receiver position following the trade of Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Both positions are ones that Minnesota absolutely have to address during the draft, and that could result in them looking to trade back and accrue extra picks at the end of the first or start of the second round where the value lies in a cornerback.
As I’ve eliminated trade scenarios from this mock however, at this point the Vikings select a starting wideout in Tee Higgins who gives them the deep threat they’ve lost in Diggs, but also height and physicality.
Choice: Tee Higgins (WR)
26) Miami Dolphins
Grant Delpit or D’Andre Swift?
This is a real dilemma given the depreciation in the value of running backs via the draft. Swift would certainly add a dynamic weapon to the Dolphins backfield, though as noted earlier safety is still a position of need for Miami.
I agonised over this decision perhaps more than any other selection at this point but ultimately went with safety, given that Miami already has an adequate one-two punch in Jordan Howard and Kalen Ballage at running back. Howard lost a lot of touches to Miles Sanders in Philly last year, but has proven he can carry the load on a rebuilding franchise, as he did in Chicago. For now, the duo can hold the fort. Who knows, Swift could still be available in the second round…
Choice: Grant Delpit (S)
27) Seattle Seahawks
Josh Jones or Yetur Gross-Matos?
Seattle tends to take two routes during the first day of the draft: trading out of the first round altogether, or selecting a prospect most analysts anticipated would be available in the second round. As it stands currently, with Jadeveon Clowney still a free agent, edge rusher is a need. But given how the market hasn’t quite materialised for the former South Carolina defensive end, its entirely possible he ends back in the Pacific Northwest.
The Seahawks haven’t really placed a premium on offensive linemen in recent years, and have struggled to develop them, but with the identity of the franchise moving away from dominant defense and to quarterback Russell Wilson, protecting the Pro Bowler should be a priority. Especially considering the losses of Germain Ifedi and George Fant, there is a hole at tackle that needs filling.
Choice: Josh Jones (OT)
28) Baltimore Ravens
Patrick Queen or Laviska Shenault Jr?
This is a pretty easy decision to make. Whilst GM Eric DeCosta’s head may be turned by the combination of Shenault’s size and speed, the weakest position on the Ravens roster currently is inside linebacker. Baltimore can continue to rely on its tight end heavy, run-centric offence under the control of last year’s MVP Lamar Jackson, but it needs talent in a bad way in the middle of its defence.
Choice: Patrick Queen (LB)
29) Tennessee Titans
Neville Gallimore or Zack Baun?
I think Tennessee could be badly hit by some of the departures it has seen over the offseason. The trade of DT Jurrell Casey for a seventh rounder may have been necessary for salary cap purposes, but it creates another need on a team which had already lost a starting CB (Logan Ryan), RT (Jack Conklin), ILB (Wesley Woodyard), as well as pass rushing options in Cameron Wake and Kamalei Correa.
I normally wouldn’t double down by going with a defensive lineman in the first round for a second year in a row (Tennessee selecting DT Jeffrey Simmons in last year’s draft), but again value has to take consideration here. Replicating Casey’s production and impact on the team wont be possible, but it’s a role that has to be filled and the value of Gallimore matches with need here.
Choice: Neville Gallimore (DT)
Jalen Reagor or Laviska Shenault Jr?
If the Packers are going to maximise the remainder of Aaron Rodgers’ tenure with the franchise, they absolutely have to add more options for him in the passing game. Ideally an athletic pass catching tight end would be their first choice perhaps, but that need can be addressed in subsequent rounds.
The decision to make here is whether to go with Reagor’s speed and deep ball ability, or Shenault’s bigger frame. Personally I think Shenault offers a more diverse skill set, making him the pick here.
Choice: Laviska Shenault Jr (WR)
Ross Blacklock or Trevon Diggs?
The surprising trade away of DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, created a vacancy up front on the Niners vaunted defensive line. That line was crucial to San Francisco’s success on defense last year, though the franchise would also like to upgrade at cornerback.
Richard Sherman isn’t getting any younger and the drop off for cornerbacks can be sudden and dramatic. Adding Diggs allows the Alabama alum to learn from the founding member of the Legion of Boom before taking on a starting role of his own.
Choice: Trevon Diggs (CB)
A.J. Terrell or D’Andre Swift?
The Chiefs’ pass defense did much better than I anticipated under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last season though it has been hit by the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. Upgradng the talent level in the secondary is an absolute necessity if the Chiefs want to repeat as Super Bowl champs. Whilst Patrick Mahomes may be able to score 40 plus points per game, its unsustainable for the offense to have to put up that level of production to compensate for a leaky defensive backfield.
Meanwhile, adding an exciting talent at running back would make an already (near) unstoppable offense, into even more of a juggernaut. Remember when Kareem Hunt was in the backfield and the Chiefs could beat you through the air OR on the ground? Selecting Swift could rejuvenate the running game in that way.
Choice: A.J. Terrell (CB)