Mock Draft: Where I expect SEC’s 13 best players to go in first round
The 2019 NFL Draft starts Thursday night, and for football junkies, there are few greater times of the year. It’s an event celebrated by both pro fans – who want to see the the new foundation of their team – and college fans – who finally see the culmination of the college careers for guys they’ve been following since high school – and literally everyone in between.
Naturally, given that the SEC is the most talented conference each and every year, they produce the most first-round picks and draft picks overall – quantity and quality from the boys down south.
┻┳| •.•) One week til the NFL Draft
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 18, 2019
As usual, the SEC is sending an absolutely loaded draft class to the NFL ranks, and should once again produce double digits 1st-round draft picks. In fact, they could set a record for most 1st=round picks by a conference in a single year with 13, breaking the record of 12 they set in 2013 and 2017 (tied with the ACC class of 2006).
Here’s a mock of which 13 SEC players have a chance of going in the 1st round, and a prediction of where (and when) they’ll land.
No. 1. Arizona Cardinals: Quinnen Williams, IDL, Alabama
I’m one of the few NFL Draft scouts who don’t believe the Cards are completely sold on taking Kyler Murray No. 1 overall, and instead think they want to trade out of the first pick to stockpile draft capital. Assuming they stick at 1 and keep Josh Rosen (who they traded up to No. 10 for last year), then they should go ahead and make the wise choice by picking the best player in the draft in Quinnen Williams. They’ll look long and hard at Joey Bosa here, as well, but interior pass rushers have become more valuable in today’s game than edge rushers with quarterbacks getting the ball out quicker.
No. 3. New York Jets: Josh Allen, Edge, Kentucky
The Jets need to add more bite to their lackluster pass rush, and it’s hard not to like Allen, who enjoyed a remarkably productive college career (31 sacks over his last 39 games). New coordinator Gregg Williams, who historically runs an aggressive 4-3 front, has indicated he’ll keep the Jets’ longtime 3-4 scheme, but don’t be surprised if he slowly starts mixing in his desired front. Allen has the versatility to play OLB or DE, making him an ideal fit for Williams to use as he varies the fronts and looks of the defense.
No. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Devin White, LB, LSU
The Bucs weren’t planning on losing Kwon Alexander (LSU) in free agency, and if we’re being honest, other than Lavonte David, they don’t have any quality starters, and certainly no building blocks. The need at LB was made even more paramount with the news that 2017 3rd-round pick Kendell Beckwith (LSU), who had a promising rookie season, will likely miss yet another season as he continues to recover from a fractured ankle. White can give the Bucs the centerpiece to their front seven, with ideal leadership qualities and the ability to play all 3 downs, affecting both the run and the pass.
No. 6. New York Giants: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
The Giants need a QB, and virtually everyone has them taking Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) or Daniel Jones (Duke). And they should. But this is the Giants, and the day they use a 1st-round pick on Eli Manning’s replacement is the day I’ll believe it, because I think they’re still hell-bent on trying to squeeze out one more title from the future Hall of Famer. They added their workhorse tailback at No. 2 last year (passing on 4 other 1st-round QBs) and will now solidify the last weak link in their offensive line with Taylor, a powerful run blocker who has the feet to eventually slide over to LT when they inevitably deem Nate Solder too expensive (possibly after this year).
No. 7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonah Williams, T/G, Alabama
It’s abundantly clear that the Jaguars under Tom Coughlin want a physical team that can control the clock with a powerful run game that in turn opens up play-action shots downfield. Well, they have their RB (we think) in Leonard Fournette, their freshly signed QB in Nick Foles and a few offensive linemen up front who fit the mold of what they’re looking for in T Cam Robinson (Alabama), LG Andrew Norwell and C Brandon Linder.
They could look for a vertical threat like WR D.K. Metcalf, but Coughlin would prefer instead to shore up the other tackle spot, going for one of the safest prospects in the 2019 draft class with Jonah Williams. If I were Doug Marrone, I’d slide Robinson over to RT and give Williams a chance to win the LT job. If it turns out he’s not suited for OT, slide him inside where he could be an All-Pro OG. Win-win.
No. 9. Buffalo Bills: Montez Sweat, Edge, Mississippi State
The Bills were 26th in the NFL in sacks last year (36), and Lorenzo Alexander (who was second on the team with 6.5 sacks) is about to turn 36, and Kyle Williams (who was 3rd with 5) has retired. Returning DE’s Trent Murphy doesn’t have a long-term future in Buffalo and 2016 1st-round pick Shaq Lawson has 10 career sacks, so it’s easy to see the Bills hungrily eyeing up a freakishly long and athletic edge rusher like Montez Sweat.
Guys who are 6-6, 260 don’t often run 4.41 40s or 7.0 3-cone drills, yet Sweat does. And before you simply label him a workout warrior, the man has produced 22.5 sacks over the past 26 games, 17.5 coming against Power 5 teams. Proven production combined with freakish athleticism and upside? Um, yes, please.
No. 12. Green Bay Packers: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
Normally, when you have a franchise QB, you do everything you can to surround him with elite weapons to help maximize his ability to win games. The Packers have had one of the most talented quarterbacks in NFL history for them the past 10 years, and they haven’t drafted a receiver before the 3rd round since 2014 (and that guy is now a RB for the Jets, so …).
Time to give Aaron Rodgers the elite vertical and red zone threat he’s so desperately desired the past few years with Metcalf, a 6-3.5, 230-pound monster who can run a 4.33 and leap 40.5 inches. His lateral quickness and route running isn’t ideal, but new HC Matt LaFleur doesn’t need to overthink how he uses Metcalf, who could be an ideal complement to Davante Adams.
No. 15. Washington Redskins: Drew Lock, QB, Mizzou
The Redskins have started 21 QBs over the past 20 years and are set to open the 2019 season with their third opening week starter in as many years after acquiring Case Keenum from Denver. Keenum isn’t the long-term answer, and he’s not the kind of guy who will a championship in the short-term, either. Simply put, they need a franchise building block (again) under center, and it’s easy to see them falling in love with a big, strong, athletic and charismatic guy like Lock, who has as much natural arm talent as any QB in this draft class. He’s a nice project for Jay Gruden to groom while Keenum serves as placeholder.
No. 18. Minnesota Vikings: Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
Is Mike Zimmer still coaching the Vikes? Then of course, they’ll go with a corner in round 1. In all seriousness, despite the quantity of draft capital they’ve invested in the position, it is somewhat of a need. Xavier Rhodes had his worst season as a pro last year and will likely be cut after this year due to salary constraints. Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are entering the last year of their rookie deals. Mike Hughes, a 1st-rounder last year, is coming off a torn ACL and undrafted free agent steal Holton Hill will miss the first 4 games for a failed drug test.
Baker might not have the size or ceiling of Greedy Williams, but he’s more in line with what Zimmer looks for in DBs – physical, scrappy, strong in press and likes to tackle and play the run.
No. 20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Like the Vikings, the Steelers have sunk a lot of draft capital in their secondary the past few years, though with dramatically different results, because they still don’t have any difference-makers in their back end.
Free agent signee Steven Nelson is a short-term solution (and overrated, if we’re honest), Joe Haden is entering the last year of his deal, 2016 1st-round pick Artie Burns is a bust and Mike Hilton is best suited in the slot.
Williams has prototypical length (6-2), speed (4.37) and playmaking ability (combined 8 INTs in 2017 and 2018), with the potential to be a lockdown No. 1 cover corner.
No. 25. Philadelphia Eagles: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
Whoever picks Simmons obviously knows he’ll have to take a redshirt year while recovering from a torn ACL, which is why he’ll likely drop toward the back half of round 1, despite being a top-5 player overall.
The Eagles make sense, too, because not only are they unafraid to take guys who will be unavailable their rookie year (like picking Sidney Jones in 2017), but they have their starting DT duo already set with Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson. Simmons, when healthy, is a dynamic and disruptive interior presence who can consistently make plays in the backfield. The idea of him playing alongside fellow Bulldog alum Fletcher Cox in 2020 is tantalizing.
No. 31. Los Angeles Rams: Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State
The Rams lost jack-of-all-trades S Lamarcus Joyner in free agency to the Raiders and replacement Eric Weddle is obviously a short-term fix given he’s 34. Abram is one of my favorite players in the draft with his physical playmaking style and leadership traits. He’s still coming along in in coverage but the skill set is there to replace Weddle at FS or Nickell Robey-Coleman at NB (who could be a cap casualty). Coordinator Wade Phillips can be creative with the many ways he can use Abram.
32. New England Patriots: Irv Smith, TE, Alabama
It’s no secret that with the recent retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have a desperate need at TE. Sure, they added Austin Seferian-Jenkins in free agency, but let’s be real, it’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Truth be told, I’d be surprised if Smith lasted this far in the draft, but if he does, it’d be shocking to see the Pats pass on an athletic pass catcher like Smith, who can both stretch the seams and provide a safety valve on 3rd downs and the red zone.