About a month ago, I detailed where I think teams were leaning in a post-combine mock draft. As the first night of the draft approaches, the locations where players will most likely land is beginning to crystallize. There are still four days for a Deebo Samuel to the Jets trade to be announced, but here are 5 things I’m thinking as I sip my Monday morning coffee.
1. Travon Walker going 1st overall is a mistake that the Jaguars are poised to make. This pick will create a domino effect, as with the Jags taking Walker, the Detroit Lions will be free to take hometown boy Aidan Hutchinson. With the Lions taking Hutchinson, it means the Houston Texans have their pick of any offensive lineman on the board, or a wild card like CB Derek Stingley, Jr. or S Kyle Hamilton. Walker is settling around the 50th ranked player on my big board: no, that’s not a typo, as I am pretty sure I’ll have 49 guys ahead of him and really think taking him first overall because you’re banking on a ridiculous ceiling isn’t the kind of move a team with a rookie QB should make. However, Trent Baalke has banked on upside in the past, and this is no different. Plus, he’s never drafted a Michigan player since he and Jim Harbaugh began their blood feud, so Walker at 1 feels like a lock the Jaguars will regret.
2. Chris Olave is going to be the most productive rookie WR in year one because of how he’s being underrated and where he will end up being drafted because of it. Olave had a really good shortened season at Ohio State and would’ve been one of the first WRs taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he opted to go back and essentially replicate his standout sophomore season. His teammate Garrett Wilson got all the attention, but Olave’s game is just as polished as Wilson’s, and you have the benefit of Olave producing each year versus stellar competition. He will most likely go after Wilson, Drake London, Jameson Williams, and Treylon Burks, which means he will probably wind up in a situation with a veteran QB (Aaron Rodgers?). This one feels like an easy prediction.
3. Breece Hall will be the best running back from this class. He’s a modern NFL back and, as teams go to more position-less offenses, can play in any offense even if he might be better suited for more of a wide zone. He won’t go Round 1 because running backs don’t go in the first anymore, but if a team like the Jets adds him in R2 to pair with 2nd year player Michael Carter? That’s suddenly infinitely better than the rushing attack they have now. He will outproduce his draft slot.
4. Dax Hill is a better prospect than Kyle Hamilton, will go lower, and be an All-Pro sooner. I mentioned position-less football: defenses have adjusted to the spread offenses that offenses are using by making Nickel their base defenses. The next adjustment was drafting safeties/Uber-athletes to play closer to the ball as de-facto linebackers. Kudos if you were a unicorn like Isaiah Simmons! Kyle Hamilton is the natural evolution of that position, but given Dax Hill’s versatility in coverage (particularly his ability to play man and zone effectively) he is the better value pick. Hamilton will, if he goes to Houston, be typecast as a free safety and be used away from the line of scrimmage. A smart defensive coordinator wouldn’t do that, instead utilizing him like the Seahawks use Jamal Adams. Dax Hill won’t have those issues.
5. Two big trades will occur, and the order we have now won’t be where we end up on Thursday. Teams have been more likely to move off guys these past off-seasons, choosing to find the replacements in the draft. Stefan Diggs to Justin Jefferson and Deforest Buckner for Javon Kinlaw are two of the most recent high-profile moves, and with Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown, Terry McClaurin, and DK Metcalf reportedly available to some degree, we could see a flurry of action this weekend. I think we get two big moves: one, the Deebo trade, is kind of expected, but one, maybe Terry McClaurin, will be unexpected. Buckle up, football fans.