NFL mock draft 2019: Former Iowa TE Noah Fant moves up in latest projection
Tomorrow. Finally. We'll get the answers we've been so breathlessly awaiting when the Arizona Cardinals officially go on the clock to kick off the 2019 NFL draft in Nashville.
And this isn't to suggest more news won't break over the next 24-plus hours that could further alter projections as all 32 teams jockey for position and the players they hope to snatch — and perhaps that even includes some current league veterans (a Seattle Sayonara to you, Frank Clark) filling out change of address forms.
But ... for now ... here's my best guess at how the first round will unfold Thursday night:
1. Cardinals — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: New Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury claimed Tuesday that "I wouldn't say the hay is in the barn," when asked for the umpteenth time if the team had decided whom to take. Sure, Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams would be prime assets for the Cards D, but it's just hard to believe that the club isn't trying to add a little more value to incumbent QB Josh Rosen, last year's first-round pick, before dealing him to clear the way for the Heisman Trophy winner, who appears like the model conductor for Kingsbury's Air Raid attack. Sometimes, where there's smoke, there's merely somebody blowing it up your you-know-what.
2. 49ers — Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Like his older brother Joey, a budding star for the Chargers, he is an excellent technician who should excel both as a pass rusher and functional run stopper. Teaming him with Dee Ford should give the Niners a great way to combat divisional QBs Russell Wilson and Jared Goff ... and, perhaps, Murray.
3. Jets — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: Might be the best player in this draft, and GM Mike Maccagnan has had Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold fall into his lap over the years. No reason to overthink this, especially given that teaming the Williamses inside should create rush lanes no matter who's manning the edges in Gregg Williams' defense. And, yes, Maccagnan would probably take the opportunity to trade out, but hard to find a team or player that would cause another club to pay the requisite freight to climb this high.
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4. Raiders — Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: He's not a Khalil Mack clone but could be just as disruptive, whether lining up inside or out. Regardless, Oliver can be the defensive centerpiece Oakland currently lacks.
5. Buccaneers — Josh Allen, OLB/DE, Kentucky: Highly productive in college football's top conference with 17 sacks in 2018 — when Allen was SEC defensive player of the year — and 31 since 2016. With Tampa Bay moving to a 3-4 front under new coordinator Todd Bowles, Allen also checks a box, fitting the scheme better than incumbents Jason Pierre-Paul and Gerald McCoy.
6. Giants — Devin White, ILB, LSU: Most of the chatter in New York has centered on the quarterback, when to replace Eli Manning and with whom — and maybe whether it's a year overdue given GM Dave Gettleman could have had Darnold, Rosen or Josh Allen in 2018. But expect him to adhere to his board, as he invariably does, and that means taking a quarterback for the defense — White in this scenario. And after running Carolina for four years, who knows better than Gettleman the value of a player who might be the next coming of Luke Kuechly?
7. Jaguars — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa: New QB Nick Foles got used to having a plethora of weapons in Philadelphia, a luxury he doesn't currently have. Hockenson would not only split the seams for first downs, he can also be a factor as a blocker in the running game for a team that wants to be balanced and physical.
TRADE 8. Redskins (from Lions) — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Washington needs a franchise quarterback and might be wise to get ahead of teams like Denver, Cincinnati and Miami. Detroit wants to trade out. Boom — and the 'Skins could get this done by surrendering the 15th pick and their second rounder while probably expecting to get a mid-rounder in return. Not only does Haskins fill a need in the nation's capital, it's becoming an immediate one with both Alex Smith and Colt McCoy currently out of commission with leg injuries. Coach Jay Gruden could still bring Haskins, who threw a Big Ten-record 50 TD passes in 2018 (his only season as the Buckeyes' starter), along slowly behind Case Keenum while allowing him to soak up knowledge from three veteran mentors.
9. Bills — Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: Allen, Buffalo's second-year quarterback, suffered from a dearth of weapons during his rookie year. Fant, a flex tight end, can get downfield and take advantage of Allen's arm while potentially becoming the most targeted member of this passing game and a guy who gets 80 to 90 catches annually. The most recent mock draft from USA TODAY had Fant being picked 12th.
10. Broncos — Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan: New coach Vic Fangio has become accustomed to stellar linebacker play over the years — Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis and, last year, Chicago first rounder Roquan Smith all played for him. Bush doesn't deserve those comparisons, but he is the type of rangy player Fangio's scheme demands.
11. Bengals — Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State: If new coach Zac Taylor's team is going to throw as much and as effectively as his former one, the Rams, it will need better O-line play, particularly as it pertains to pass blocking. Dillard could plug in as the new blind side tackle, let Cordy Glenn move to the right side, then let the other pieces fall into place.
TRADE 12. Giants (from Packers) — Daniel Jones, QB, Duke: Now Gettleman comes up, sending Green Bay No. 17 and next year's second rounder, for the Blue Devils star and New York's long-awaited successor to Manning. Jones is a polarizing player, but he wouldn't have to play immediately and maybe does derive benefit from the mutual connection he and Manning share to coach David Cutcliffe. Jones brings more athleticism to the position than Manning but would have to prove he's not another of these hot QB prospects who gets overdrafted based on need and potential.
13. Dolphins — Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: A winner. Versatile. High character. Team captain. Sounds like a Patriot — and, in case you didn't know, Miami is now run by ex-Pats. Wilkins would bolster Miami's AFC-worst run defense while helping establish the new culture that's needed in South Florida.
14. Falcons — Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: Atlanta QB Matt Ryan was on his back way too often in 2018, and the running game was out of gear ... way too often. Taylor should alleviate both issues while anchoring the right side for a decade.
TRADE 15. Lions (from Redskins) — Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan: The Wolverines star moves down the road to line up opposite newly signed pass rusher Trey Flowers before taking aim at Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins et al. Gary has top-10 talent, but a lack of production in college and lingering shoulder injury seem to be depressing his stock.
16. Panthers — Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: Like Wilkins, his Tigers teammate, Ferrell is a valuable player on and off the field. He may not be as explosive player as, say, Mississippi State's Montez Sweat but doesn't have his medical concerns, either. Carolina needs edge help after losing Julius Peppers to retirement and will potentially say goodbye to Mario Addison in free agency next year.
TRADE 17. Packers (from Browns via Giants) — Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: Whether as a tackle or guard (maybe even a center), he should be a stellar plug-and-play option, perhaps a successor to oft-injured RT Bryan Bulaga, whose contract expires after this season.
18. Vikings — Chris Lindstrom, OL, Boston College: Maybe he's a guard, maybe he's a tackle. Either way, his athleticism makes him a good fit for a substandard line that will need players who can execute the zone-blocking schemes new assistant Gary Kubiak favors.
19. Titans — Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma: Another blocker who could line up in multiple spots. Ford seems like a better fit at guard, and that's where he'd play in Tennessee, which wants to establish a physical ground attack spearheaded by Derrick Henry.
20. Steelers — Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: Probably the draft's most complete corner, he can cover — a trait Pittsburgh's defense desperately needs — but seems willing enough as a tackler, something he'll need to do against a run-heavy division opponent like Baltimore.
21. Seahawks — Brian Burns, OLB/DE, Florida State: Tuesday's trade of franchise pass rusher Clark to Kansas City creates an immediate need for Seattle's defense. Burns' 6-5, 249-pound frame will need to fill out, but he's an exceptional athlete with the potential to bring more to this role than Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril or even Clark did.
22. Ravens — Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: It's tempting to slot an O-lineman here and even more tempting to project a patented Baltimore trade given new GM Eric DeCosta doesn't have a second rounder. But, despite the franchise's odious reputation when picking receivers high, Brown could be too good to pass up. His game-breaking ability would be an asset to second-year QB Lamar Jackson through the air yet could also improve the ground game by forcing defenses to account for him. (And wouldn't it be fun for Brown to take aim twice a year at the team which used to employ his cousin, ex-Steelers star Antonio Brown?)
23. Texans — Erik McCoy, C/G, Texas A&M: Drop him into the middle of Houston's line and watch the grass stains steadily disappear from QB Deshaun Watson's uniform while holes for the running backs steadily widen.
24. Raiders (from Bears) — Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: New GM Mike Mayock is all about value, and Simmons — perhaps a top-10 talent in this draft based solely on ability — could have too much to bypass here. Mayock also knows that if he waits until No. 27, Philly is also the type of team that would likely pounce on Simmons. The ACL he tore while training in February might force him to redshirt in 2019, but he's probably worth the investment, especially since he seems to have matured greatly since pleading no contest to simple assault in high school after infamously slugging a woman.
25. Eagles — Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple: How well would a "Temple TUFF" player be received at Lincoln Financial Field? Ya-Sin has athleticism, ball skills and would provide insurance at corner given Jalen Mills is entering the walk year of his deal.
26. Colts — Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State: A very mature dude and ferocious hitter who can be a tone setter, he'd likely remind the Indy faithful of Bob Sanders while forming quite a safety tandem with center fielder Malik Hooker.
27. Raiders (from Cowboys) — Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama: He can block, he can catch, he can be a downfield threat after averaging 16.1 yards per catch for the Crimson Tide last season. Should be an upgrade over Derek Carr's preferred receiver in 2018, departed TE Jared Cook.
28. Chargers — Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: He's a 6-4, 342-pound load who would add a significant roadblock to the middle of the Bolts' defense. And if he lands here and gets flanked by pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, opponents will immediately find themselves in a pick-your-poison dilemma on passing downs, where Lawrence may be underrated.
29. Seahawks (from Chiefs) — Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia: Last year's Jim Thorpe Award recipient as college football's premier defensive back, he was highly effective against elite SEC competition. He'd provide an injection of swagger as Seattle enters the post-LOB era.
30. Packers (from Saints) — A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi: He's not the physical marvel that Ole Miss teammate D.K. Metcalf is, but Brown is a better receiver (160 grabs for more than 2,500 yards over the last two years) and could be a physical mismatch while running all manner of routes from the slot position recently vacated by Randall Cobb.
31. Rams — Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State: The NFC champs need to restock Goff's protection after parting with C John Sullivan and G Rodger Saffold. Bradbury is a sharp, mobile blocker who should be a Day 1 starter at center, able to mitigate the loss of cerebral Sullivan.
TRADE 32. Bengals (from Patriots) — Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: If you want a quarterback, always makes sense to get him with that final first-round selection in order to secure the valuable fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Cincinnati probably needs to move beyond Andy Dalton soon, and this move for New England's pick probably wouldn't cost much more than this year's second-round pick and a third in 2020. Lock is a tantalizing prospect with lots of experience, a huge arm and an SEC single-season record 44 TD passes in 2017. And though he gets knocked for lapses with accuracy, his completion percentage steadily rose throughout his college career, peaking at a respectable 62.9% rate during his senior season. Coach Zac Taylor might be able to mold him into something special without having to rush him into the fray.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis