NFL mock draft: For first time in 42 years, Eagles take a 1st-round linebacker

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Eagles finally take a 1st-round linebacker in latest mock draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles have three first-round picks in this year's draft. How will they use them? Here's a brand new mock draft:

1. Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan: I moved Hutchinson ahead of Kayvon Thibodeaux immediately after watching him wreck stuff in Michigan’s upset win over Ohio State in November, and I don’t care how many mock drafts I do, I’m not moving him out of this spot. You can make a case for Evan Neal, but when it comes to elite defensive talent, Hutchinson is in a class of his own. The Jaguars need anything and everything but they’re desperate for pass rush. They can’t pass on Hutchinson.

2. Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon: But Thibodeaux is awfully good, too. The last time defensive linemen went 1 and 2 was 1972, with Walt Patulski out of Notre Dame going first to the Bills and Sherman White of Cal going No. 2 to the Bengals. But this is a unique draft, stronger up top on the lines than at quarterback. Thibodeaux stands 6-5, 260, with an explosive first step and is a relentless pass rusher. The Lions were 30th in the league in sacks and need help everywhere, but Thibodeaux is a good place to start.

3. Texans: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama: A 6-6, 360-pound dude with tremendous power and athleticism? Yeah, Neal is a flat-out stud. He’s got some technique stuff to clean up, especially in the run game, but whoever drafts him is going to get a ridiculous physical specimen who can play either LT or RT and projects as an opening-day starter. The Texans were 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed, and Neal will provide instant help.

4. Jets: Derek Stingley, CB, LSU: There’s only been one draft in the last 20 years where a quarterback didn’t go in the top four picks (that was 2013, when the first QB was E.J. Manuel at No. 16), but there isn’t a sure thing in the bunch this year, and the Jets need to get a stud in that secondary after allowing 259 passing yards per game this year, 30th in the league this past season. This is a terrific cornerback draft, but Stingley is the best of the bunch with his outstanding size (6-1, 195), speed, athleticism and coverage technique.

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5. Giants: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty: Auburn transfer had outstanding production at Liberty and while people will question the level of competition he faced, he showed all the tools NFL teams are looking for in a young quarterback – a big-time arm, terrific mobility, eye-popping athleticism. His numbers were good not great, but he also did not have the type of elite receivers most top QB prospects have. Not a finished product but the upside is huge. With a new coach and a new GM, Daniel Jones’ days are numbered. He may start the 2022 season but if they draft Willis I’d expect him to finish it.

6. Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State: Ekwonu won’t even have to get a new driver’s license. We have him remaining in North Carolina, just heading a couple hours west from Raleigh to Charlotte, and providing immediate and desperately needed help to that terrible Panthers offensive line. This is the Panthers’ only pick until the 4th round, so you wouldn’t blame them for trying to trade down and generate more picks. But the prospect of getting a big, nasty, powerful and polished left tackle prospect like Ekwonu is too much to pass up.

7. Giants [from Bears]: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa: The run on linemen continues with the fifth player in the top seven who’s either an offensive or defensive lineman. Linderbaum is one of the top center prospects coming out of college in years. He’s got off-the-charts strength and has that Jason Kelce brand of athleticism that allows him to make blocks way down the field. More than anything, he’s a superb run blocker, something the Giants clearly need after ranking 24th in rushing this year. You don’t see a lot of centers drafted in the top 10. The last one was Bob Johnson, who went No. 2 to the Bengals in 1968 (and had a very good 12-year career). Linderbaum has the measurables and intangibles to end that streak more than half a century later.

8. Falcons: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia: I tried to figure out a way for Dean to drop down to the Eagles, but I couldn’t make it happen. He’s just too good. And look, another player staying in the same state. Dean is a little under-sized at 6-0, 225, but he jumps out of the TV when you’re watching that incredible Georgia defense. He’s got that sideline-to-sideline speed that allows him to make plays all over the field, he’s terrific in coverage, he’s a sure tackler and he’s an elite blitzer. Dean can do it all.

9. Broncos: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt: There are some questions about Pickett. He turns 24 in June, which is old-ish for a top draft pick, and he really only had one elite year of college football. Before his 42-touchdown season this past fall, he never threw more than 13 touchdowns in a season. But he’s got a lot going for him. Good size at 6-3, 225, a live arm, terrific accuracy, good enough athleticism to allow him to make plays on the move, impressive toughness in the pocket and the kind of poise you’d expect from a 5th-year senior. He may be the safest QB prospect in the draft, and that’s why he’ll be Pitts’s first top-10 pick since Aaron Donald in 2014 and first top-10 QB since Dan Marino in 1983. Perfect match for the Broncos, who haven’t had an elite young QB since John Elway.

10. Jets [from Seahawks]: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame: The Jets continue to rebuild one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. Six picks after landing an elite corner, the Jets draft the best safety in the draft. When you only have seven interceptions in an entire season, you need playmakers in the secondary. Hamilton is one of the more versatile safety prospects you’ll find, with the ability to cover deep, come up and support the run, blitz, tackle, you name it. Hamilton would look awfully good in an Eagles uniform – and I mocked him to the Eagles in my first draft mock draft back in November, when they were projected to pick a lot higher. He’s not getting near where they pick now.

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11. Washington: Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi: Two NFC East teams, two new quarterbacks. Washington hasn’t had a quarterback win 10 games in a season since Brad Johnson in 1999, and they haven’t had a QB take them to the playoffs in consecutive seasons since Mark Rypien from 1990 through 1992. Other than a year of RG3, they haven’t had a promising young quarterback since … Rypien? There’s a reason they’ve won two playoff games since 1992 and none since 2005. Corral showed terrific growth from 2020 to 2021, reducing his interceptions from 14 to 5 and leading Ole Miss to a 10-3 record, their best since 2015. He’s a polished, NFL-ready passer after playing for Lane Kiffin and a great fit for Washington.

12. Vikings: Arnold Ebiketie, DE, Penn State: After three years at Temple, Ebiketie came into his own this fall in his one season in State College, piling up 18 tackles for loss and 9 ½ sacks. There are a lot of really promising edge rush prospects in this year’s draft, and Ebiketie is a late riser because he had some productive moments on Broad Street, he really wasn’t in the NFL draft picture until he transferred to Penn State, where he took his game to the next level. He’s got all the traits that make for an elite pass rusher – tremendous power and athleticism, a wide array of pass-rush moves, polished technique.

13. Browns: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State: The Giants have been trying to replace Odell Beckham Jr. since they got rid of him after the 2018 season, and Wilson could be the guy. You can’t go wrong with either Ohio State WR, but after a promising 2020 season Wilson really came into his own this year, with 70 catches for 1,058 yards, a 15.1 average and 12 touchdowns. He really finished strong, with 27 catches for 371 yards and six TDs in OSU’s last three games – against Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan (as well as a 51-yard TD run vs. Purdue). The Giants drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round last year, but he had a miserable, injury-plagued rookie season. The Giants need more, and with a young QB Wilson will be a huge upgrade.

14. Ravens: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson: The Ravens’ secondary is a mess, and Booth is a freakish athlete who has separated himself from most of the other corners in a strong CB draft because of his versatility and ability to play in any scheme as well as come up in run support. The Ravens had the NFL’s 32nd-ranked pass defense and fired defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, so they’re starting over on defense, and Booth gives John Harbaugh outstanding speed and playmaking ability in what’s sure to be a rebuilt secondary.

15. Eagles [from Dolphins]: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue: In my last mock, I had the Eagles taking a quarterback, a corner and an edge rusher. Sure sounds like they have no plans to draft a QB this year, so we’re going to load up on defense. Why not? They were just overmatched this year when it comes to impact talent on the defensive side of the ball. The defense trifecta starts with Karlaftis, who should help solve the Eagles’ long-standing pass-rush issues. The Eagles haven’t had an edge rusher with double-digit sacks since Connor Barwin playing in Bill Davis’s 3-4 in 2014, and they haven’t drafted a double-digit edge rusher since Trent Cole 17 years ago. Before that it was Clyde Simmons 36 years ago. You can’t compete in the NFL if you don’t pressure the quarterback, and a 34-year-old Brandon Graham coming off an Achilles and an inconsistent Josh Sweat aren’t nearly enough. Karlaftis is a pure power rusher but is also athletic enough to beat tackles with a variety moves. With the disappointing Derek Barnett not expected back, the Eagles have to address defensive end with one of these picks. At least one of them.

16. Eagles [from Colts]: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati: If edge rusher is Desperate Need No. 1 for the Eagles, cornerback is No. 2. Darius Slay is 30, Steve Nelson is slated to become a free agent, Avonte Maddox is a pure slot these days, and help is on the way in the form of Gardner, a tall, fast, aggressive and instinctive playmaker who will give the Eagles their first elite young corner since Lito and Sheldon two decades ago. Pressure and coverage. Coverage and pressure. Both were a huge problem for the Eagles this year, and with Karlaftis and Gardner the Eagles will be better equipped to defend the type of top-10 quarterbacks that tore them apart this year.

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17. Chargers: David Ojabo, DE, Michigan: With Uchenna Nwosu facing free agency, the Chargers have to be looking for pass-rush help. Even with Joey Bosa picking up his usual 10 ½ sacks, the Chargers ranked 24th in the league in sacks this year and they need someone opposite Bosa to occupy blockers and maybe even pick up an occasional double team. Ojabo could be in the mix for the Eagles, but I feel like Karlaftis is a safer pick, although Ojabo may have a higher ceiling. He’s still a raw prospect, didn’t play organized football till his junior year in high school and is still learning the game. He really only played one year at Michigan, picking up 12 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. A potential star but there is some risk involved in a guy with so little experience.

18. Saints: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State: At 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, Cross doesn’t have typical size or strength, but he’s hardly a midget, and he’s only 20 years old, so he’ll get bigger and stronger. What he does have is unusual athleticism and technique and he’s one of the best pass blockers in the draft, thanks to two years in Mike Leach’s Air Raid Offense. Predictably, he’s got work to do as a run blocker, but give him a year to get stronger and learn the NFL game and Cross has a chance to be an elite left tackle.

19. Eagles: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah: I know. Jerry Robinson in 1979. I know, I know. But that streak of 42 consecutive Eagles drafts without a 1st-round linebacker ends now. Why now? Because having three 1st-round picks changes all the rules for Howie Rosemand and gives him unprecedented flexibility. And because Lloyd is a flat-out stud and exactly the kind of player the Eagles need. How athletic is Lloyd? He was a safety and receiver in high school, so you know he can cover and he can run. And a linebacker who can rack up 7.0 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and six pass breakups in a season is a rarity. Lloyd was the first BCS player to do that since Kyle Van Noy of BYU in 2012. Lloyd is tough against the run, excellent in coverage as you’d expect, a capable blitzer – the sort of true playmaking every-down linebacker the Eagles desperately need.

20. Steelers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina: Howell has played at a consistently high level over the last three years, piling up 92 TDs, 23 INTs and a 64 percent completion percentage in the ACC. Howell got off to a bad start this past season and there was speculation he might drop out of the 1st round. But he finished strong, and he’s got the combination of arm strength, mobility, accuracy and experience that will be appealing to the Steelers, who are looking for a franchise quarterback for the first time since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

21. Patriots: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State: Bill Belichick doesn’t usually bother drafting skill guys in the first round. He’s only taken one WR and two RBs in the 1st round in his two decades in New England. The Patriots got OK production this year from Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, but Meyers is a free agent, and really a young QB like Mac Jones needs an elite prospect to throw it. Olave is just so steady, consistent and productive. He caught nearly 200 passes for the Buckeyes for close to 3,000 yards with 35 touchdowns. There are a handful of intriguing WRs on the board here, but Olave is so NFL-ready and that will appeal to Belichick as he tries to surround Jones with weapons.

22. Raiders: Drake London, WR, USC: The Raiders thought they had a long-term answer at WR when they drafted Henry Ruggs with the 12th pick last year. But now they’re back to square one as they look for an outside receiver to complement to slot Hunter Renfrow. London has great size at 6-5, 210, and while he’s not a burner he’s got good enough speed to work the mid-range and the toughness and wing span to haul in contested catches. That would make him a great fit for Derek Carr. London’s final season at USC ended with a broken ankle, but he had 88 catches for 1,084 yards and seven TDs in just eight games before he got hurt, and he should be fine in time for training camp. He just seems like a Raider.

23. Cards: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington: After a promising start, the Cards had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL over the second half of the season, and from Week 9 on, opposing QBs had a staggering 104.7 passer rating against the Cards, 2nd-worst in the NFL (behind the Bears). All you had to do was watch Matt Stafford chuck the ball up and down the field against them in the wild-card round to realize how much work they have to do on defense. Arizona hasn’t drafted a 1st-round corner since Patrick Peterson in 2011, and McDuffie is an intriguing prospect, unusually physical for a corner and just very solid in coverage, and he loves to mix it up in the run game as well. At 5-11 and with his physical traits may end up as an ideal slot.

24. Cowboys: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia: Even on that elite Georgia defense, Davis stands out at 6-6, 340 pounds. It’s going to be fun watching Davis at the Combine because he’s a tremendous athlete, and you know he’s going to put on a show. Davis is never going to be a big sack guy, but he is a flat-out immovable force who’s going to occupy blockers and train wreck offenses because of his sheer size and power. Georgia allowed opposing running backs to 2.6 yards per carry, 3rd-best in the nation (behind Wisconsin and Pitt), and Davis is the main reason why. You just can’t run on the guy. The Cowboys really let their d-line go in recent years. They’ve only drafted one defensive lineman in the 1st round since 2007 – that was Taco Charlton in 2017, which didn’t go so well. Davis is a heck of a starting point as they start to rebuild.

25. Bills: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida: The fifth corner off the board in a very strong cornerback draft, Elam is a big, tall, rangy, productive corner with excellent ball skills, very good speed and willingness to come up and support the run and tackle. The Bills will get all-pro Tre’Davious White back next year, but Levi Wallace is a free agent and CB2 is a huge need. Elam can play man or zone and has good size at 6-2, 195 pounds. The Bills sure could have used him Sunday night.

26. Titans: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama: Williams is the 4th WR off the board, and the Ohio State transfer means three of the first four WRs taken began their college career in Columbus. Williams had a monster season in his one year at Alabama, with 79 catches, 1,572 yards, 15 touchdowns and a 19.9 average. He became only the third BCS player in the last 20 years with 15 TD catches and an average over 19, along with Ashley Lelie of Hawaii in 2001 and Ja’Marr Chase of LSU in 2019. The Titans had a heck of a season, but they ranked 24th in the NFL in passing offense and A.J. Brown was their only WR who had 500 yards. They need some explosiveness, and Williams will definitely help in that area. The only thing dropping him this far down in the 1st round is the torn ACL he suffered against Georgia in the BCS Championship Game. But there’s no reason to think he won’t be 100 percent at some point early in the fall.

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27. Buccaneers: Travon Walker, DE/DT, Georgia: The real allure of Walker is that he’s powerful enough that he can be a force as a defensive tackle, but he’s athletic and quick enough that he can rush off the edge. Walker did both in Athens, and all you have to do to realize how much help the Cowboys need up front is watch that 49ers playoff game, when the 49ers gashed them for 169 rushing yards.

28. Packers: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa: You start with his size. Penning stands 6-foot-7, 340 pounds. He’s broken every school record in the weight room but he’s athletic enough that he expects to run sub-5 at the Combine. This is an athletic freak with a nasty streak who’s a monster pass blocker and a powerful run blocker. Now, Northern Iowa does not exactly play in the SEC so level of competition has to be considered, but with a solid Senior Bowl, pro day and combine, Penning will answer all those questions. If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t return to Green Bay, this pick could change.

29. Bengals: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M: Leal is another intriguing hybrid prospect, and at 6-4, 290 he’s got the ability to rush from the outside, although he’s best suited in the NFL as an interior lineman, stuffing the run and overpowering guards. Leal was crazy productive this past year for the Aggies, playing every position on the d-line and recording 12 ½ tackles for loss, 8 ½ sacks and even two pass breakups. The Bengals haven’t been great against the run lately – they’ve allowed 125 rushing yards per game the last seven weeks, including 140 in their playoff win over the Titans, and they’ve allowed 5.9 yards per carry in their two playoff wins so far. The Bengals have a terrific roster, but Davis would be a huge addition.

30. Dolphins [from 49ers]: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas: Burks was very good last year but really took his game to another level this year, with 66 catches for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns (and 8.0 yards per carry on 14 rushing attempts). Burks produced even though he was the Razorbacks’ only legit receiver – nobody else had 350 yards – and was constantly the focus of opposing defenses. The Dolphins picked Jaylen Waddle in the first round last year and although he caught 104 passes, he averaged 9.8 yards per catch – 9th-lowest in NFL history by a WR with 75 or more receptions. And Miami has nobody else. Waddle was their only receiver with 250 yards. The Dolphins need more explosion after ranking 26th in passing yards per play and 29th in offensive yards per play, and Burks can provide it.

31. Lions [from Rams]: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati: Ridder certainly has a lot going for him. He’s got great size at 6-4, 215 pounds, he’s a four-year starter, he’s got a big arm and terrific running ability, he’s a winner (44-6 record), and he’s improved every year. Although he’s got tons of upside, he’s still a project and has work to do when it comes to accuracy, mechanics and reading defenses. The Lions can run it back this year with Jared Goff, who’s on the books for over $30 million in dead money if he’s released, while grooming Ridder for 2023.

32. Chiefs: Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington: Big Red could use some help across the board on defense but in particular in the secondary. Gordon, who stands 6-foot, 200 pounds, has the speed and coverage ability to play outside but the toughness and physicality to play inside, and we know Andy Reid loves positional versatility. And he’s a smart and instinctive player, which is what Reid is always looking for. The Chiefs ranked 27th in total defense and 27th in pass defense this past year, and that doesn’t even include what Josh Allen did to them Sunday. The Chiefs need to be a lot better in the secondary. We all saw that.