Photo courtesy of Northwestern athletics
Don’t look now, but the NFL Draft is coming and it’s coming fast.
Less than a week currently separates teams from meeting their newest members. In what will be a 3-part series, we’ll be putting together a mock draft for the first round.
The 3-part series wraps up with the final 10 picks of the first round:
23. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL, USC
After adding the new face of their franchise with the No. 2 overall pick, the New York Jets now have to protect Zach Wilson. Alijah Vera-Tucker is the perfect candidate to start immediately on the interior of the Jets’ offensive line. Vera-Tucker played left tackle in 2020 and is capable of playing outside. With Mekhi Becton already anchoring the left side, Vera-Tucker will slide inside. He may go earlier in the draft, but is an absolute steal for the Jets if he’s available here. He could easily be an All-Pro and Pro Bowl guard for the Jets for years to come.
24. New Orleans Saints (from Pittsburgh Steelers) – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
MOCK TRADE: The New Orleans Saints trade two 2021 picks (Round 1, pick 28, and Round 3, pick 98) for the 24th overall pick in 2021.
The Saints move up four picks, so that they can jump the cornerback-needy Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns and snag the final day one lockdown cornerback in the draft. Greg Newsome II has elite speed. He also has the strength to press in man coverage. Newsome can be a little grabby at times, with seven pass interference penalties in his last 14 games; however, this is an aspect of his game that Newsome is working on. He will start opposite Marshon Lattimore and will have his hands full with some of the No. 2 receivers in the NFC South (Chris Godwin, Robby Anderson, and Calvin Ridley).
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) – Alex Leatherwood, LT, Alabama
Even though they were targeting Greg Newsome II, the Jaguars switch gears and add to their offensive line. Cam Robinson is on the franchise tag, so Alex Leatherwood can start his pro career on the interior, but will be capable of switching over to left tackle if a long-term deal is not reached with Robinson. Leatherwood has the size and athleticism to excel in the NFL, and if he makes the move to left tackle, he will earn himself a lot of money in his second contract. Drafting Leatherwood will go a long way to ensure Trevor Lawrence’s health over the next decade.
26. Cleveland Browns – Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
The Browns need an outside cornerback to start on the opposite side of Denzel Ward, and if the board falls this way, Asante Samuel Jr. will be their guy. Some analysts think that he will have difficulty staying outside, but those analysts said the exact same thing about Ward a few years ago. Samuel has been playing outside his whole career, and he plays much larger than he is. The ability to learn from Ward, a player who faces a similar weakness, cannot be underestimated. Samuel also has the versatility to move to safety or nickel if the need arose. He has the ability to call up a Super Bowl champion, All-Pro cornerback father if he ever needs advice. Make no mistake: Samuel will succeed in the NFL.
27. Baltimore Ravens – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The Ravens will have a tough, but good choice to make here. Two of the top three edge rushers are still on the board. Many analysts rate Michigan’s Kwity Paye higher than Ojulari, but Ojulari will be the Ravens’ draft pick. Over the last decade, the Ravens have frequently drafted SEC players with their first draft choice (Patrick Queen, Hayden Hurst, Marlon Humphrey, C.J. Mosley, Matt Elam and Courtney Upshaw). Ojulari had a lot of production against the highest level of college football competition, leading the SEC with 8.5 sacks in 2020. Azeez has a fantastic blend of size, speed, and skill, and is more pro ready than Paye. After losing Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon to free agency, the Baltimore Ravens need to add a pass rusher. Ojulari is will be their guy.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers (from the New Orleans Saints) – Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
MOCK TRADE: The Steelers trade one 2021 pick (Round 1, pick 24) for the 28th overall pick and the 98th overall pick in 2021.
Replacing Maurkice Pouncey is no easy task, but the Steelers look to the top center in 2021 to do the job. Landon Dickerson is a beast on the field. He has the frame and strength to anchor the Steelers’ offensive line. Dickerson is also a phenomenal teammate. He was well-beloved by his teammates in Alabama. Despite an ACL tear, Dickerson would start right away in Pittsburgh, and it won’t be long before he is a fan favorite and a team captain.
29. Green Bay Packers – Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
The Packers are difficult to predict, but it’s hard to imagine them breaking their streak of not drafting Aaron Rodgers a first-round receiver. If they did, Terrace Marshall Jr. could be the pick. Instead, they fix the opposite side of the field that Jaire Alexander is not covering. Kevin King got absolutely burnt against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship. Drafting Stokes will help boost the Packers’ secondary and their pursuit a Super Bowl.
30. Buffalo Bills – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
The Bills have to get younger on the edge, because Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are 32 and 33 years old, respectively. The Bills hope AJ Epenesa takes a big leap, after a disappointing rookie year, but the Bills don’t have time to wait. They are in win-now mode. When Kwity Paye is available at 30, the Bills will be thrilled to take him. Paye is extremely athletic and explosive coming off the edge. He needs to add some pass-rushing tools and techniques to his game. You can teach moves, but you can’t athleticism. Paye will have some time to learn from Addison and Hughes before taking over as the pass rusher of the future in Buffalo.
31. Baltimore Ravens (from the Kansas City Chiefs) – Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
The Ravens acquired this pick on Friday in the deal that sent right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. The Baltimore Ravens may use this pick to get his immediate replacement. Liam Eichenberg is ready to start on day one for the Ravens and is capable of replacing Brown. He is 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, and he moves really well for his size. Some evaluators are questioning his athleticism, but Eichenberg is capable of matching up with many NFL defensive ends. While on his rookie contract, the Ravens will have one of the most expensive positions in football locked down for cheap, which will be important when they extend quarterback Lamar Jackson to a mega-deal. He played left tackle for much of his time at Notre Dame, but he is capable of switching to the right side for Baltimore. He may not be as good as Orlando Brown Jr. right now, but he is a better prospect than Brown was coming out of Oklahoma. The Ravens have a chance to develop Eichenberg into an elite right tackle.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The rich get richer. The reigning Super Bowl champions add the best defensive tackle in the draft. There is a good chance that Christian Barmore is taken earlier in the draft, but if he is available at the Bucs’ pick, they won’t pass on him. They have the freedom to draft the best player available, which Barmore would be. The Buccaneers add depth to the interior of an already stout defensive line and look to protect their title.