This is a little tease of (just some) of what to expect on Episode 2 of the Thunder Down Under Chargers Podcast (dropping next week before the Draft). Again, if you haven't already you can follow us here on Twitter. And in case you missed Episode 1, it's available here on YouTube and wherever you like to download your favourite audio podcasts. As always, thanks to all of you who have supported us so far! The outpouring of support from BFTB has been truly remarkable. It will never be forgotten by Andy, Jack and me.
Now, with some self-promotion out of the way and without further ado, I bring to you my first (and only) - yes, I've promised my fiancée there will only be one - Mock Draft. Because, let's face it, if you don't put up a mock draft at this time of year, are you even allowed to call yourself an NFL podcast?
To set the scene, this is a "predictive" mock draft. That is, this is NOT what I would do on Draft Day, but what I expect to occur having regard to each team's roster needs, the history of their GM's drafting patterns, and drawing on all of my valuable NFL inside sources and little birdies (Confession: I have none....).
Let me know in the comments how you'll feel if Draft Day turns out this way for the Chargers, and if you think I'm too high (or low) on any particular prospects.
Let's begin shall we?
1. Jacksonville Jaguars select Evan Neal (Offensive Tackle, Alabama)
For weeks now Aidan Hutchinson has been the presumptive No 1 pick in the Draft and the most recent rumours are that Travon Walker is also in the mix. I'm not buying it. Although GM Trent Baalke has a history of selecting defensive players with his first round pick (from 2011-2016 as 49ers GM, he spent it on a defensive player each year), new HC Doug Pederson understands that making Trevor Lawrence comfortable is the organisation's key priority in 2022. The Jags pull the first mini-surprise of the Draft by taking the "forgotten man", Evan Neal, with pick 1 overall who, despite not working out at the Combine, possesses an alluring blend of talent, production and off-the-chart measurables.
2. Detroit Lions select Aidan Hutchinson (Edge, Michigan)
A dream scenario for the Lions at Pick 2. Dan Campbell gets his "lunch pail' guy. A hard-working 6 foot 7 inch, 260 pound edge rusher coming off a 14 sack (94.5 PFF grade) season for the Wolverines in 2021.
3. Houston Texans select Travon Walker (Edge, Georgia)
The Texans could use help at most spots on the roster. But what they need just as much as talent right now are "culture setters". In a move reminiscent of the Raiders' selection of Clelin Ferrell in 2019 (yes I still remember laughing when the Raiders made this head-scratching move), with Pick 3 GM Nick Caserio selects the consensus "winner" of the Combine and former Georgia Bulldog, Travon Walker. Under Lovie Smith's guidance, the Texans will be hoping that Walker pays dividends in a similar manner to Danielle Hunter in Minnesota.
4. New York Jets select Kayvon Thibodeaux (Edge, Oregon)
Edge, CB, WR, OL. These are the obvious choices for the Jets at Pick 4. HC Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas recently joked at the Owners Meeting that they would have a skirmish in the draft war room over "offensive or defensive line" with their first round picks this year. This gives us some indication as to what they're thinking with Picks 4 and 10. Everywhere that Saleh has been, he's built his defense from front to back. And I wouldn't want to say "No" to him, with arguably the most talented rusher in the class staring him in the face at Pick 4. Despite concerns about his off-field interests, there's no denying Thibodeaux's potential and with this pick, Kayvon will be plying his trade for Gang Green in the Big Apple. What could go wrong, right?
5. New York Giants select Ikem Ekwonu (Offensive Tackle, NC State)
It's possible (and perhaps even likely) that a team like the Steelers or Saints could trade into this pick to slot ahead of the Panthers and take their pick of the QB Class. But on paper the Giants have a lot of work to do this offseason under new GM Joe Schein and HC Brian Daboll and the prospect of upgrading a terrible O-Line with the talented "Ickey" here is too enticing for them to pass up in my opinion. Ekwonu is a 310 pound road-grader and will start at RT for Big Blue from Day 1.
6. Carolina Panthers select Kenny Pickett (Quarterback, Pittsburgh)
What a debacle for the Panthers. The Darnold (and other) diabolical roster moves mean that Carolina picks once before Round 4 in this Draft. This is therefore a potential trade-down spot. However, with a gaping hole at the position and HC Matt Rhule on the hot seat, GM Scott Fitterer selects a signal-caller here. The best fit in my view is Kenny Pickett, who was originally recruited by Matt Rhule at Temple, before choosing to play for Pittsburgh. That is, the same University of Pittsburgh that Panthers Owner David Tepper graduated from as a much younger man.
7. New York Giants select Ahmad Gardner (Cornerback, Cincinnati)
The Giants are hoping to offload James Bradberry via trade (who's under contract, but due $21.8m in 2022) and the cupboard is otherwise bare at cornerback. It makes too much sense here for the Giants to select "Sauce" Gardner, one of the safest prospects in the class. With prototypical size and speed, Gardner can develop into the shutdown corner that all teams are looking for in the modern-day game.
8. TRADE ALERT! – Pittsburgh Steelers trade Picks 20, 52 and a 2023 third round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for Pick 8. Pittsburgh Steelers select Malik Willis (Quarterback, Liberty)
A TRADE! The "bromance" between HC Mike Tomlin and QB Malik Willis is real. With the Seahawks lurking at Pick 9, GM Kelvin Colbert (in his last move as Steelers GM after more than a decade in charge) boldly climbs the board to take what Steelers Nation hopes will be their next franchise QB.
9. Seattle Seahawks select Charles Cross (Offensive Tackle, Mississippi State)
The Seahawks could use a cornerback after DJ Reed walked in FA. But the current starters at Offensive Tackle for the Seahawks are Greg Eiland and Jake Curhan. That will not do. At Pick 9, the Seahawks select Charles Cross, whose Combine performance and successful college career in the SEC leaves little doubt that he's the third best offensive tackle prospect in this class.
10. New York Jets select Drake London (Wide Receiver, USC)
Saleh might want Derek Stingley here. But now it's the offense's turn, and Mike LaFleur's scheme is perfect for the big-bodied, sure-handed pass catcher out of USC. Some teams are concerned about London's speed after he refused to run the 40 at the combine or his Pro Day, but if LaFleur can scheme up some "easy wins" for the 6"4 Trojan, he provides a much needed weapon in the passing game for second-year QB, Zach Wilson. Don't sleep on Jameson Williams at this spot either. The Jets were in on the Tyreek Hill sweepstakes and have a need for speed.
11. Washington Commanders select Garrett Wilson (Wide Receiver, Ohio State)
The first pick this team makes as the Commanders is a tough one. With Hamilton and Stingley still on the board, the temptation for Rivera to take a defensive playmaker will be felt powerfully. But the team has now made their investment in Carson Wentz (rightly or wrongly) and the receiver room could do with an upgrade. Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown are handy contributors, but pairing Terry McLaurin with the do-everything wideout Garrett Wilson, gives Wentz a chance to keep the chains moving in 2022.
12. Minnesota Vikings select Derek Stingley Jr. (Cornerback, LSU)
The first pick for the HC Kevin O'Connell/GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah regime is a roll of the dice on a player with All Pro upside. Who better for Stingley to learn how to play the position in the NFL from than fellow former LSU Tiger and long-time NFL superstar Patrick Peterson. As long as his accursed feet hold up under the rigours of higher-level competition, Stingley could be the steal of the Draft.
13. Houston Texans select Kyle Hamilton (Safety, Notre Dame)
The Texans land another dynamic playmaker whose maturity and incredible range make him another foundational piece to accompany Travon Walker on the Texans' defense. Some of the sheen has rubbed off Hamilton after some pedestrian athletic testing at the Combine and his Pro Day. However, there's no denying Hamilton's ranginess (see here for the most replayed College clip of the offseason) and ability to get his hands on the football. Lovie Smith will be licking his lips to deploy him to mass effect at NRG Stadium.
14. Baltimore Ravens select Jermaine Johnson II (Edge, Florida State)
New DC Mike McDonald may have been targeting his former Michigan standout, David Ojabo, before his untimely injury. Alas, the Ravens still need pass-rush help, and Jermaine Johnson's stock has risen like few other players this off-season, especially since his standout week of practice at the Senior Bowl. Johnson has the bend, play strength and tenacity to be a menace in Baltimore opposite second year rusher, Odafe Oweh. (Jordan Davis could also easily be the pick here. He just looks like a Raven, doesn't he?).
15. TRADE ALERT! – Kansas City Chiefs trade Picks 29, 50 and 121 to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Pick 15. Kansas City Chiefs select Jameson Williams (Wide receiver, Alabama)
A huge trade here sees the Eagles accumulate further draft capital, and the Chiefs jump ahead of the Saints to replace some of the pace that they'll desperately miss with Tyreek Hill's departure for warmer climes in Miami. This move will strike fear in the hearts of many an AFC foe and GM Brett Veach and HC Andy Reid continue to show that they're always one step ahead of the competition by selecting Jameson Williams, the speed freak from the Crimson Tide.
16. New Orleans Saints select Trevor Penning (Offensive Tackle, Northern Iowa)
With the loss of Terron Armstead likely to be felt hard, the Saints waste no time drafting his replacement with their first of two mid-round picks. Penning has the movement skills and frame to be a handful for defensive opponents in the running game early in his career. Whether the transition from Northern Iowa to the NFL will be as smooth when he's asked to protect Jameis Winston is an entirely different question.
17. TRADE ALERT! – Green Bay Packers trade Picks 22 and 53 to the Los Angeles Chargers for Pick 17 and a 2023 third round pick. Green Bay Packers select Chris Olave (Wide receiver, Ohio State)
Sorry to disappoint you here Chargers fans (especially those who skipped down the page without reading my earlier picks), but you'll have to wait a little longer. The Packers make a move up the board, and the Chargers slide back, in two moves both fan bases have been waiting more than a decade for. Needing weapons to satisfy the grumbling Aaron Rodgers, and with a host of teams with WR needs picking ahead of them, the Packers make this move to grab the smoothest receiver in the Draft: the Buckeyes' Chris Olave. Fans can expect an immediate return on this investment as Olave's skills should gel well with what A-Rod likes in a young receiver (savvy route running, body control and sure hands). (I could also see Treylon Burks being the pick for the Packers here or later in the Draft).
18. Philadelphia Eagles select Devonte Wyatt (Defensive Tackle, Georgia)
The second Bulldog is off the board as the Eagles look to secure their future Fletcher Cox replacement before it becomes a need. Wyatt plays with a "bull in a China shop" mentality, and his athletic testing at the Combine was through the roof.
EDIT: Since preparing this, it has surfaced that historical domestic violence issues may see Wyatt slide on Draft Day (see here)
19. New Orleans Saints select Desmond Ridder (Quarterback, Cincinnati)
I can't see the Saints trading next year's first rounder to Philadelphia without coming out of this Draft with a QB (even with the starter money they appear to be paying Jameis Winston). Ridder showed steady improvement in each season he started at Cincinnati and word from teams is that he's interviewed well and is a mature operator. Ridder's strong forty time at the Combine has seen his stock rise this month, and here the Saints take a flier on a guy they hope can become their QB of the future.
20. Atlanta Falcons select Treylon Burks (Wide receiver, Arkansas)
Slow(ish) testing at the Combine along with weight concerns have seen Burks become one of the losers of the off-season process. However, the Falcons wide receiver cupboard right now is as dry as the desert. Burks is a big play waiting to happen and Arthur Smith has shown he has the nous as a play-caller to manufacture touches for his offensive weapons. This addition should take some pressure off the double teams Kyle Pitts can expect to face in 2022.
21. New England Patriots select Trent McDuffie (Cornerback, Washington)
New England go with the best player available who also fits a need after JC Jackson departed in free agency. I expect McDuffie to go later than his talent warrants given concerns about his lack of height, arm length, and after running a slower forty time than many expected. But there's no denying McDuffie's heady playing style, and he looms as a solid fit in New England who traditionally ask a lot from their DBs.
22. Los Angeles Chargers select Jordan Davis (Defensive Tackle, Georgia)
The Chargers trade down but still find a number of enticing prospects awaiting them at Pick 22. No doubt HC Brandon Staley will feel the temptation here to take a defensive back with players like Booth, Elam, Hill and Pitre still on the board. But it's too convenient for fans to ignore the leaky ship that was the Chargers run defense in 2021. Although improvements have been made to the defensive tackle group through free agency, if Jordan Davis can unleash his gargantuan frame and potential in this scheme, it provides the depth Staley needs for years to come to run all the exotic coverages he wants to in the secondary and play a light box on early downs.
23. Arizona Cardinals select Zion Johnson (Offensive Guard, Boston College)
It's a choice here between a CB (to replace Marco Wilson as CB2) or interior offensive line, to appease the vocally displeased Kyler Murray. Anticipating the headaches associated with a likely contract holdout, the Cardinals brass choose the latter, and in Zion Johnson may land one of the safest prospects in the Draft. Johnson is a computer scientist, and it shows when he's asked to identify blocking assignments in space. He looms as a solid Day 1 starter.
24. Dallas Cowboys select Kenyon Green (Offensive Guard, Texas A&M)
6"4, 323 pounds. Experience playing at both guard spots and both tackle spots. Played college in the state of Texas and gave up 1 sack in 22 starts from 2020-21 for the Aggies. If the Cowboys want to maintain their reputation as a formidable offensive line unit, which has diminished in the past 2 years, they need to continue to add to the group. Kenyon Green does just that. (NB: If Green isn't the pick, I expect CB Andrew Booth to be given the recent off-field issues surrounding Kelvin Joseph)
25. Buffalo Bills select Andrew Booth Jr (Cornerback, Clemson)
CB2 might be the only hole remaining on this roster after Levi Wallace left in free agency for Pittsburgh. Enter Andrew Booth Jr. An experienced, ACC corner with the ball skills and eye-discipline to thrive in Sean McDermott's zone-heavy defence. Some concerns about Booth's knees might lead to a steeper fall on Draft Night than this, but his sure hands, athletic profile and general dependability might be too hard to pass up at this point in the Draft for GM Brandon Beane.
26. Tennessee Titans select George Karlaftis (Edge, Purdue)
Titans fans seem to want a wide receiver here as their selection. But with "the Big 5" off the Board, the right call at Pick 26 is Edge in my opinion, to add to a reasonably thin group (comprising Landry, Dupree, and Weaver). Karlaftis has the attitude and work-ethic that HC Mike Vrabel is likely to covet, and with this pick, the Titans continue to build a solid defense to support their run-first offensive mentality.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Kaiir Elam (Cornerback, Florida)
The Bucs are in the luxurious position where they can afford to take best player available with Pick 27. David Ojabo would be a possibility here if the "win now" window was not wide open with the return of Tom Brady. Elam, with his elite height and speed, adds to an already capable cornerback room and helps new HC Todd Bowles prepare for life after Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting who both hit free agency at the end of 2022.
28. Green Bay Packers select Lewis Cine (Safety, Georgia)
The Packers love what they have already at Safety in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. However, Amos is entering the last year of his deal and the Packers are a team that likes to get ahead of its needs (eg, drafting Rashon Gary while both Smiths were playing well). At 6"2, 200 pounds, Lewis Cine brings the boom but also offers enough flexibility in coverage (with a 81.4 PFF coverage grade in 2021) to be deployed strategically by DC Joe Barry, who likes to rotate his coverages post-snap.
29. Philadelphia Eagles select Christian Watson (Wide receiver, North Dakota State)
The Eagles round out their receiver room with Christian Watson from the North Dakota State Bison, a taller target for Jalen Hurts who can get open down-field and make explosive plays after the catch. Watson has some issues tracking the deep ball and with drops, but recent contracts handed out to NFL wide receivers show the value in taking them often and early in the Draft. GM Howie Roseman is a forward-thinker when it comes to drafting and will appreciate the complementary skillset Watson could bring to the table with Devona Smith's accomplished route-running already providing a useful asset for Hurts.
30. Kansas City Chiefs select David Ojabo (Edge, Michigan)
The Chiefs swing for the fences here despite still having Frank Clark in-house. The reality is that this team needs to improve its pass-rush and if Ojabo can recover swiftly from his recent Achilles injury, the Chiefs might exit the first round with two "blue chip" talents to catapult them into the future. If I were Ojabo, I'd be calling Cam Akers and listening very carefully to his advice.
31. TRADE ALERT! – Seattle Seahawks trade Picks 41 and 72 to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for Pick 31. Seattle Seahawks select Matt Corral (Quarterback, Ole Miss)
The appeal of the 5th year option prompts GM Jon Schneider to climb the board and take Matt Corral who, because of his Ole Miss ties to Coach Lane Kiffin is likely to be on HC Pete Carroll's radar. Kiffin's father, Monte Kiffin, originally hired a then-25 year old Carroll as a graduate assistant at Arkansas and the families are close. Corral is a developmental prospect with neat arm-talent, accuracy and athletic upside. It may take him a while to acclimate to a pro style offence, but the Seahawks would welcome his addition to an otherwise underwhelming QB room.
32. Detroit Lions select Devin Lloyd (Linebacker, Utah)
With the last selection of the first round, for the Lions it comes down to a choice between Sam Howell (who they can stash for 4-5 years here on a rookie deal) or another impact player on the defense. The Lions decide to add to their weakest position group and take the rangy Devin Lloyd, who flashes the ability to be a three-down LB with great length, some pass-rush ability, and the skill to make the occasional acrobatic interception (see here). With his sound off-field character and work ethic, Lloyd is likely to become a Dan Campbell favourite in Detroit in no time. (of course, this pick could also be Nakobe Dean who might be even more of a "Dan Campbell guy").
So there we have it folks, my first (and only) Mock Draft.
I hope you enjoyed it and I'll see you next time on the Thunder Down Under Chargers Podcast.