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NFL mock draft: Caleb Williams joined by elite receiver in ideal first round

The 2024 NFL free agency period began this week, and many organizations wasted little time vying for experienced talent to fill roster holes and specific team needs.

The open market can be a boon for some free agents or a capricious dose of reality for unsigned players. Nevertheless, these moves help clarify organizational decisions for the upcoming NFL Draft.

This week’s mock takes another peek behind the curtain to see which prospects fit best into the first round.

1. Chicago Bears (via Carolina): QB – Caleb Williams, USC

To date, nothing substantial indicates Bears’ general manager, Ryan Poles, won’t select a quarterback with the initial overall pick. Many media members, scouts and fans seem convinced Williams (2022 Heisman Trophy) will be chosen first on April 25th.

Locally, however, there is a toxic divisiveness amongst Bears fans between retaining incumbent signal caller Justin Fields or trading him away to make room for Williams. The longer Fields remains on the roster, the more contentious these debates may spread throughout the fanbase.

Learn more about Caleb Williams here: Players that Bear watching: USC QB Caleb Williams

2. Washington Commanders: QB – Jayden Daniels, LSU

The Commanders addressed various areas of need by liberally doling out copious amounts of free agent money. By the end of March 13th, Washington successfully signed 11 free agents. It’s possible the Commanders are accumulating talent to package with draft spots in an attempt to trade for Chicago’s top pick. However, it’s more likely Washington will remain patient and draft Daniels as a dynamic quarterback with Heisman credentials (2023 Heisman Trophy).

3. New England Patriots: QB – Drake Maye, North Carolina

It’s possible the Patriots entertain the idea of drafting wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. with the third overall pick. Unfortunately for New England, they don’t currently employ a highly regarded quarterback to throw to him. So, the Patriots may decide pragmatically to select Maye, an athletic six-foot-four, 223-pound passer with elite talent.

Learn more about Drake Maye here: Players that Bear watching: North Carolina QB Drake Maye

4. Arizona Cardinals: WR – Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

The Cardinals’ patience could be rewarded if Harrison is the player they coveted throughout the drafting process. Targeting Marvin Harrison, an elite can’t-miss prospect, and pairing him with starting quarterback Kyler Murray could expedite Arizona’s designs to be Super Bowl-worthy.

Learn more about Marvin Harrison Jr. here: Players that Bear watching: Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

5. Los Angeles Chargers: WR – Malik Nabers, LSU

Los Angeles released oft-injured wideout Mike Williams and may be looking to replace him with the multifaceted Nabers. He consistently exploits defensive backs with precise angled cuts, making him a reliable option for third-down conversions. Nabers is arguably the most efficient route-runner in this extremely deep and talented draft class.

6. New York Giants: QB – J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

New York decision-makers might see taking McCarthy as an opportunity to upgrade and acquire a more effective and efficient quarterback. McCarthy led the Michigan Wolverines to an undefeated National Championship while personally completing a college career with a 27-1 record as a starter.

7. Tennessee Titans: OT – Joe Alt, Notre Dame

The Titans hired former Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan to be their new head coach. Tennessee just signed veteran wideout Calvin Ridley to a four-year 92 million dollar deal. So, targeting Alt might coincide with providing valuable protection in order to pass to the Titans’ talented trio of receivers. According to PFF, the massive Alt (6-8, 322 lbs) earned a pass-blocking grade of 90.7.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Edge – Dallas Turner, Alabama

Having signed former Vikings’ triggerman Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million deal, the Falcons might turn their attention to the position that chases quarterbacks. Turner is a quick-twitch athlete whose hyper-athleticism makes him extremely difficult to block when rushing the passer.

9. Chicago Bears: WR – Rome Odunze, Washington

Although Chicago owns two picks in the top 10 of this draft, its next chance to select a prospect is in the third round at number 75. Trading down is a viable option if the Bears can find a trade partner. Since this draft class is especially deep at premium positions (receiver, edge rusher, offensive linemen, cornerbacks, and quarterbacks), teams may be willing to wait for prospects to fall to them. If Chicago doesn’t trade down, targeting an elite wideout like Odunze would certainly help the Bears’ thin receivers’ room.

Learn more about Rome Odunze here: Players that Bear watching: Washington WR Rome Odunze

10. New York Jets: OL – Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State

Fuaga is a bullish blocker with nimble feet and balanced footwork that makes him difficult to out leverage. Extremely strong from his stout anchored base, plus an above-average core strength, his ability to move grown men where he chooses is impressive.

11. Minnesota Vikings: Edge – Jared Verse, Florida State

Once Danielle Hunter, the Vikings former star edge rusher, left the team via free agency, Minnesota’s need to fill his void was magnified. Verse represents a younger, more athletic alternative to Hunter, while his initial burst and closing speed denote how special he could become in clutch moments. Over the past two seasons, Verse registered 29.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks.

12. Denver Broncos: CB – Terrion Arnold, Alabama

If the Broncos miss out on drafting either Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, or J.J. McCarthy, Denver may shift focus toward its defensive secondary unit. Targeting talented cover corners like Arnold (63 tackles / 12 passes defended / five interceptions) should highlight the top of their list for April’s NFL Draft.

13. Las Vegas Raiders: CB – Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo

Many scouts and draft analysts believe Mitchell, wherever he’s taken, could be the steal of the draft. A virtual unknown to most college football fans, Mitchell exploded onto pundits’ draft boards with exceptional performances at the Senior Bowl and the league combine. A two-time first-team All MAC defender, Mitchell’s ability to drive toward passes and disrupt them is top-notch NFL quality.

14. New Orleans Saints: DL – Jer’ Zhan Newton, Illinois

The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is a reliable presence along the defensive line. His alignment versatility, tenacity, advanced level of moves, and countermeasures make him a viable day-one starter in September. His relentlessness on the field should translate well at the NFL level.

15. Indianapolis Colts: TE – Brock Bowers, Georgia

Bowers exudes top-five talent potential, and should he last into the mid-first round, the Colts might pounce on the opportunity to draft him. Arguably, he is the most difficult offensive skill player to prepare for from this draft class. A player with explosive playmaking ability, Bowers is athletic enough to run around defenders, speed past them or power through their arm tackles.

16. Seattle Seahawks: OT – Olu Fashanu, Penn State

At the start of the 2023 college football season, Fashanu was considered a certifiable top-ten selection with the possibility of ascending even higher. Taking Fashanu might hint at a “drafting the best player available” strategy instead of addressing one specific area of need. His athleticism, easy knee bend, and consistent footwork create enough flexibility to play either on the interior or exterior of the offensive line.

Learn more about Olu Fashanu here: Players that Bear watching: Penn State OT Olumuyiwa “Olu” Fashanu

17. Jacksonville Jaguars: DL – Byron Murphy II, Texas

Potentially drafting Murphy replenishes the Jaguars defensive interior while providing depth against the run. The Jaguars finished bottom 10 in rushing scores allowed (15) and might need to shore up their short-yardage defense. Murphy is a resourceful interior defender with exceptional quickness, great spatial awareness, and tenacious physicality.

18. Cincinnati Bengals: OL – J.C. Latham, Alabama

Franchise quarterback Joe Burrow suffered two season-ending injuries in the four years he’s been in the league. Protecting him is paramount to the Bengals’ present and long-term success. Latham allowed only one sack and nine hurries this season and performed at an above-average blocking rate (80.7), according to PFF.

19. Los Angeles Rams: Edge – Laiatu Latu, UCLA

Essentially, the Rams would be dipping into their own backyard for a quality pass rusher if they selected Latu. An athletic force multiplier, the six-foot-four, 265 pound Latu is a tremendous pass rusher with good acceleration and closing speed. He finished the 2023 campaign as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, having generated 21.5 tackles for loss along with 13 sacks.

Learn more about Laiatu Latu here: Players that Bear watching: UCLA Edge Laiatu Latu

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR – Brian Thomas Jr., LSU

Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers’ front office traded away their talented and longest-tenured receiver, Diontae Johnson, to the Carolina Panthers. Pittsburgh may choose to fill Johnson’s former role on the team by selecting Thomas, a prolific receiver with tremendous upside. Last season, Thomas caught 68 passes for 1177 yards and 17 aerial scores.

21. Miami Dolphins: OL – Troy Fautanu, Washington

Fautanu’s burst, agility, and overall quickness enhance his ability to block inside as a guard or effectively on the edge as a tackle. His rugged physicality and relentless motor skills make him ideal for most pro schemes.

22, Philadelphia Eagles: CB – Nate Wiggins, Clemson

The Eagles are extremely talented throughout their roster, yet inconsistencies in the secondary may indicate the need for more high-end talent in the defensive backfield. Wiggins’ length, sinewy strength, and football IQ make him a viable target for Philadelphia’s future defensive designs.

23. Houston (via Cleveland): OL – Tyler Guyton, Oklahoma

Guyton tested impressively at the NFL Combine and may have solidified his status as a first-round prospect. Measured at six-foot-eight and 322 pounds, Guyton’s agility and suddenness for a man his size is astounding. He can provide the physicality that was missing in Houston’s rushing attack last season.

24, Dallas Cowboys: C – Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon

The Cowboys made some tough financial decisions and let a couple of offensive linemen depart via free agency. Losing their center (Tyler Biadaze), created literally and figuratively a hole in Dallas’ vaunted offensive line. Acquiring Power-Johnson might be a serendipitous result that could provide more power to the Cowboys’ inconsistent running attack.

25. Green Bay Packers: DB – Cooper DeJean, Iowa

Extremely versatile and skilled, DeJean is an athletic defensive back who could literally play any secondary position and be a difference-maker (7 career interceptions). Green Bay’s skill and depth in its secondary, especially the cornerback position, needs an upgrade to seriously compete against the improving receiving talent in the NFC.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OL – Graham Barton, Duke

The interior of the Buccaneers offensive line struggled last year, executing inefficiently against physical and experienced defensive lines. Barton’s versatility as an adept blocker makes him viable in either the guard or center position. An intelligent processor of information, Barton quickly adapts to defensive shifts and varied pass-rushing tactics.

27. Arizona Cardinals (via Houston): CB – Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama

McKinstry’s Jones fracture injury, which was discovered at the NFL Combine, may drop him into the second round. However, Arizona’s wealth of draft picks (13) affords it an opportunity to take calculated risks that may pay off down the line. Before the injury, McKinstry rated as a solid first round asset, so selecting him in the first round gives the Cardinals a fifth-year team option on his rookie contract.

28. Buffalo Bills: WR – Adonai Mitchell, Texas

Buffalo team evaluators may have liked former wideout Gabriel Davis, but letting the 24-year-old receiver walk via free agency strongly indicated they didn’t “love” him. Mitchell is basically the same size as Davis, but discernibly more explosive, displaying an ability to maintain top speed for longer distances. Matching Mitchell’s speed to quarterback Josh Allen’s passing velocity could threaten to score from anywhere on the gridiron.

29. Detroit Lions: Edge – Demeioun “Chop” Robinson, Penn State

The Lions struggled closing out teams on defense last season, and their lack of a pass rushing complement to Aidan Hutchinson meant he faced constant double teams. Robinson attacks with cobra-like quickness and pliable body contortions that confound blockers unaccustomed to his unique athleticism.

30. Baltimore Ravens: WR – Troy Franklin, Oregon

Baltimore should pursue drafting more difference-making receivers, and continue evolving from having been just an elite running team. However, more than just a deep threat (17.1 yards per reception in 2023), Franklin is also a dependable target, averaging approximately five (5.4) receptions a contest over the past two seasons.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Edge/DE – Darius Robinson, Missouri

A disruptive element along the line of scrimmage, Robinson’s alignment versatility is a key factor in his ascension up draft boards. His length and hand strength help him power past most blockers. Robinson can overwhelm less athletic linemen at the point of contact, and his alignment versatility creates mismatches along the line of scrimmage.

32. Kansas City Chiefs: OT – Jordan Morgan, Arizona

Despite incurring a torn ACL injury in 2022, Morgan regained the flexibility, fluidity, and bendability that set him apart from many of his peers. A solid technician, his blocking style could seamlessly complement the offensive schemes Kansas City employed on a weekly basis.

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