Wading through dozens of trade scenarios that could happen during the first round of the NFL draft is an annual sign of spring, much like seeing the first robin bobbing along the greening grass.
Many of those deals could happen on Day 1, with both the Saints and Chiefs holding enough draft capital to climb up the board if they choose, while teams like the Falcons, Panthers and Seahawks could make a move for a quarterback. You can see how some of those possibilities play out in my previous mock drafts.
But what if we don’t see a ton of trades until later in the round — like in 2019 and 2020, when only one swap occurred in the top 20 on draft day?
This potential lack of movement could occur if quarterback-needy teams are content to select whichever young signal-callers are available at their assigned selections — much like when the Dolphins and Chargers stayed put for Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, respectively, in 2020. There is also so much depth at edge rusher, offensive tackle, cornerback and receiver that teams might just wait to see who falls into their lap instead of giving up draft assets to secure one of their favorites.
Although you won’t find many trades at the top of Round 1 in the mock below, there are four outside of the top 10, including two involving quarterbacks.
We’re less than a week away from the draft, and we still really don’t know who will be the No. 1 overall pick. If the Jags go edge rusher, I’ll stick with a proven commodity like Hutchinson over the exceptional athleticism and potential of Travon Walker. Hutchinson is the defensive equivalent of former No. 1 overall pick (and fellow Michigan alum) Jake Long: solid, intelligent and reliable. You can add explosive and relentless to Hutchinson’s long list of traits, as well.
Head coach Dan Campbell told local media earlier this month he wanted the Lions to get an immediate contributor with the No. 2 pick, while acknowledging GM Brad Holmes has a responsibility to look toward the future. Pickett can fit both of those descriptions, as his experience will allow him to play as a rookie if veteran starter Jared Goff is injured or ineffective. The former Pitt Panther’s athleticism adds an extra dimension to his game that will help him succeed in Detroit.
The Texans grab a force on the outside in Gardner, whose tenacious attitude and length are a rare combination. He always showed chase ability in college, but proving at the NFL Scouting Combine that he possesses elite speed (4.41 40-yard dash) puts him in the same class as recent top-five CB picks Jeff Okudah, Denzel Ward and Jalen Ramsey.
Walker’s a nice fit in Robert Saleh’s scheme, possessing the length and movement skills to play inside or outside like two defenders Saleh coached in San Francisco: Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. There is a risk in taking a player with minimal production over multiple years (at least in terms of the stat sheet), but Georgia’s defense was so talented that Jermaine Johnson II (selected ninth overall in this mock) had to transfer to Florida State to get playing time. Schemes and heavy rotations can hide a prospect’s potential.
Ekwonu will be Saquon Barkley‘s new best friend at right tackle, moving defenders out of the hole to aid the former Rookie of the Year’s bid at a bounce-back campaign. Defenders will also have a rough go at trying to break through Ickey’s wide frame and long arms to reach Daniel Jones in the pocket.
I’m assuming the Panthers work out a deal for a veteran quarterback (namely Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield) to compete with Sam Darnold, probably in exchange for future picks. Neal’s Adonis-like build and length solidifies the left tackle spot for the Panthers, benefitting whichever quarterback is leading the team in 2022.
The Giants find themselves a powerful rusher to pair with last year’s second-round selection, Azeez Ojulari. Thibodeaux can move in space and also kick inside in sub-packages, making him a valuable chess piece.
Willis falls into a great situation in Atlanta, learning the NFL game while working with consummate professional Marcus Mariota. I’m looking forward to seeing how Willis’ game grows over time — and watching defenses struggle with his playmaking ability inside and outside the pocket.
Seattle desperately needs pass rushers. Johnson chases quarterbacks and holds up his end in the run game — from both a two-point and three-point stance, which will be valued by new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt and longtime defensive guru Pete Carroll.
Wilson’s body control, strong hands and speed would make him a welcome addition to the Jets’ receiver room. A (Zach) Wilson-to-Wilson combination could pose plenty of problems for AFC East opponents going forward.
I hope that Hamilton’s film is not overshadowed by his average 40 time (4.59) and the idea that safety doesn’t have “premium positional value.” Washington’s pairing of Hamilton (roaming the back half with his exceptional football IQ and range) and Kamren Curl (working around the line of scrimmage) will give offenses fits.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Steelers jump ahead of potential quarterback-takers Houston, Philadelphia and New Orleans to lasso Corral. They send the Vikings the 20th overall pick, as well as 2023 first- and fourth-rounders, to move up eight spots, as GM Kevin Colbert sets the team up for future success before he departs. Most evaluate Corral based on the offense he ran at Ole Miss, but he’s not limited to the types of throws he was asked to make in that system. His quick release, mobility and toughness give him a chance to excel in a revamped offense brought to bear by Steelers coordinator Matt Canada in 2022.
Cross turns out to be this year’s Rashawn Slater/Tristan Wirfs, still on the board in the middle of the first round despite great potential as a pass protector. The Texans love seeing him available here. They slide Cross to right tackle to form a strong pair of bookends with Laremy Tunsil (to whom I would happily compare Cross).
Stingley’s injury history and drop-off from his stellar freshman season keep him on the board, and once again, Baltimore scores a huge first-round value. The Ravens need help at corner in both the short- and long-term due to free-agent losses and Marcus Peters turning 30 in January.
Not only does the Eagles’ rush defense immediately improve with Davis rotating in with Javon Hargrave (who could be gone after the 2022 season), but the former Bulldog’s length and ability to win a gap at 340 pounds will cause issues for quarterbacks. I suspect Davis’ presence will also help Fletcher Cox make the most of his remaining time with the club.
It’s hard to see the Saints passing on a quarterback, given the price they paid to add this selection. Ridder’s maturity, arm strength and athleticism give him a chance to be a very good starter down the road, and he’ll be ready to go in 2023 after veterans Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton pass the torch.
London, whose game is similar to that of current Chargers receiver Mike Williams, said in mid-April he’s nearly fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained last season. But in this scenario, London can take his time, not needing to be The Guy coming out of the gate with Williams and big slot Keenan Allen already in place. Justin Herbert will love having yet another strong option.
The Eagles take a receiver in the first round for the third straight year, though the speedy Williams may need a redshirt season as he works his way back from a knee injury suffered in the CFP national championship. His immense talent and stable leadership will surely be worth the wait.
New Orleans’ plan to find new future leaders on both sides of the ball in this draft pays off with the selections of Ridder and Lloyd. The former Ute can start at any of the Saints’ three linebacker spots because of his ability to rush the passer, cover tight ends and stick his nose into the run game.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Re-signing Patrick Peterson was a wise move, but the Vikings must still add youth to the secondary. Booth’s a physical player who has been unable to fully show off his athleticism during the pre-draft process due to nagging injuries. NFL offenses will see it soon enough, however.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Dallas looks to bolster its line by trading up for the aggressive and athletic future right tackle. Penning’s experience on the left side could help if Tyron Smith misses time again in 2022 (he hasn’t played a full season since 2015). The Cowboys swap 1s and send fourth- and fifth-round picks (Nos. 129 & 178) to New England to move ahead of Green Bay, Arizona and whoever else is calling Bill Belichick about trading into this spot.
Signing Sammy Watkins has no effect on Green Bay’s draft plans. Olave is a smooth receiver, gliding through his routes and possessing the speed to cover yardage after the catch. He played four years at Ohio State, which means he’s polished enough to be a good target for Aaron Rodgers right out of the chute.
Green’s powerful blocking could land him in the middle of the first round, but the Cardinals would love it if he fell to No. 23. Arizona could play him at guard or tackle (he started at both positions in 2021), depending on how the team plans to get its five best linemen on the field.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH DALLAS COWBOYS
The Patriots need help in the interior of their offensive line after trading Shaq Mason to Miami and losing Ted Karras in free agency. Johnson’s savvy play and mobility gives him the capability to step into the lineup right away, probably at guard for now and potentially at the pivot when David Andrews retires. The BC product also has experience at left tackle, which could come in handy if Isaiah Wynn misses time due to injury again.
The Bills get another bargain corner in McDuffie, just as they did when snapping up Tre’Davious White at No. 27 in 2017. Even though the former Washington star does not have the typical length and speed most teams prefer at the position, he’s too talented to fall out of the first round.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH TENNESSEE TITANS
Hill was called a safety at Michigan, but he has corner speed and change-of-direction skills. The Chiefs really need bodies on the outside, so Hill could play on the perimeter to start and potentially move around to nickel or safety depending on the formation or how the team uses its later selections. The Chiefs send the 30th overall pick and a third-rounder (No. 94) to the Titans, who return a fifth-round choice (No. 169) to balance the trade equation.
The Buccaneers struggled with depth in the secondary last year and face some tough decisions on whether to sign Sean Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards as free agents next year. Elam’s a physical corner who will take on all comers on the sideline regardless of size or speed.
Green Bay has a hole to fill at right tackle, and Lucas’ sturdy pass protection and excellent combine performance may be tough to ignore. There are always concerns about Air Raid tackles coming into the league, but I’m a big proponent of scouting the player, not the scheme. Lucas rarely was beat in pass pro and has the bulk to be an effective run blocker with more reps.
Pickens’ ACL injury from March 2021 is of no concern to the Chiefs. What sticks in scouts’ minds is the toughness he showed returning for Georgia’s title run, and the huge downfield catch he hauled in against Alabama. Given his size-speed combination and excellent hands and body control, Pickens would have tracked as a top-15 selection if fully healthy this past season.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Tennessee needs bodies at tight end. McBride would serve as a solid safety valve for Ryan Tannehill and a strong blocker for Derrick Henry from an H-back spot or on the line. That he only scored two touchdowns at Colorado State last year (one on a fake punt) wasn’t due to a deficiency in his game, but rather a product of the team’s run-based scheme. He’ll have no trouble finding the end zone on Sundays.
Assuming Larry Ogunjobi doesn’t re-sign with the team, the Bengals should add Winfrey. Strong interior pressure made Cincinnati’s defense dangerous during last year’s Super Bowl run, and the former Sooner flashed the ability to overwhelm interior offensive linemen with length and a quick first step in college.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH DETROIT LIONS
The Seahawks haven’t been a “trade-up team” in the past, but the Giants weren’t a “trade-down team” until the right situation arose last year. So even the strongest tendencies can change. Seattle needs more competition at quarterback beyond Drew Lock and Geno Smith. And if the ‘Hawks bypass a passer at No. 9 (as they do in this mock), then they give up the 40th overall pick and a fourth-rounder (No. 109) to jump back into Round 1 for the former Tar Heel. Howell’s delivery and competitive nature remind me of Russell Wilson.
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