This year’s draft is weird. The only consensus top players at positions, Tyler Linderbaum and Kyle Hamilton are falling down draft boards. In 10 years, this draft class will be an interesting case study into how high ceiling prospects can pan out on the next level. Today, I wanted to address some basic things as to what I feel may happen next Thursday night and what I still am not sure of. Let’s get into it!
What’s Going to Happen
The Fate of Sauce Gardner
We know that Sauce Gardner is very likely to be the first corner and defensive back off the board. However, for a while, I have questioned to which team. However, as more and more rumors come out and the public can see the top thirty visits, it seems to me that Sauce is destined to head to the Big Apple. Now that only narrows it down slightly, both the Giants and Jets have the potential to take him, but if we read a little further into it, the answer looks quite clear.
The Jets are picking at four and ten while the Giants sit at five and seven. I don’t think Sauce will make it to ten so that potential spot can be eliminated. The Jets are also picking at four. However, with the talent at more premium positions such as edge and tackle, which also happen to be areas of need for the Jets, I don’t think he will be the pick at four. They are rumored to like Kayvon Thibodeaux or Ikem Ekwonu there. So that leaves us with the Giants as his definitive landing spot. The question becomes five or seven. Seven is the very obvious choice with Carolina sitting below the Giants in need of a tackle, another position of need for Big Blue. So to me, it seems way too logical to slot Sauce Gardner into the 7th overall selection and if you want to make one lock in the top ten, it is hard to argue with that one.
The Trenches Will Be Built
Rumors are the best part of the NFL Draft process as it keeps everyone on their toes before the event. And this year is no different. The rumors are flying and it can be hard to distinguish wrong from right, legitimate from illegitimate. But the major consensus seems to be that we will see four edges and three offensive tackles go top ten. Now, that is a little rich and with players like Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, and potentially Jameson Williams receiving top ten consideration that leaves someone to fall.
Looking at the top five, I think it is safe to slot Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson in with the top three selections. Hutch is sure to go top two and Walker could go anywhere in that top-three span. And in the event, that the Jaguars take Walker 1st overall and the Lions follow up with Hutchinson, we could also see Kayvon Thibodeaux pop into the top three as well. From there, the Jets would be looking at Ikem Ekwonu in all likelihood, but don’t rule out Jermaine Johnson. If Johnson doesn’t go four, he’d likely go tenth or elsewhere in the top 12-15. So that is four edge rushers slated to go early. I don’t love the value of Jermaine Johnson or Travon Walker in the top ten, but that seems to be how the league feels. Looking at tackles, Evan Neal is a great fit for the Giants at five or the Panthers at six. I like Ekwonu with any OL needy teams and Cross looks to have a ceiling at five and floor at nine to Seattle. However it may fall, we will see our fair share of trench players in the top ten.
The Wide Receiver Emphasis
This Draft is certainly more concentrated in a few positions than others namely edge rusher, cornerback, and wide receiver. Specifically, at the wide receiver spot, we could see as many as five or six go on night one. In my opinion, we’ll see Garrett Wilson, Drake London, Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, George Pickens, and Skyy Moore all go round one with the potential that Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson, and Christian Watson go round one too. That is nine total receivers! Who are the teams that might be in the market? It all starts with Atlanta at eight. The loss of Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage hurts and they certainly need to add. Then look at the New York Jets at ten, Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers at either of their picks and Kansas City Chiefs as all likely WR picks. The Eagles, Texans, and maybe the Chargers are all in the mix as well. In a time when guys like Christian Kirk are getting P-A-I-D, teams will want to invest in cheaper labor and this is certainly that draft.
“Teams Suck at This”
I often use the phrase “teams suck at this” when I discuss draft strategy. And I wholeheartedly believe that. Especially this year. There is no reason Nakobe Dean and Tyler Linderbaum should be second-round selections. However, teams are too worried about their natural traits and how they will fit and are disregarding the high quality of play each put on tape this year. The same can be said for guys like Kyle Hamilton who is dropping despite having elite talent. There are guys all over my board like Travis Jones, George Karlaftis, Kenyon Green, and Andrew Booth who are dropping for whatever reason over guys like Zion Johnson, Jordan Davis, and Boye Mafe. Nothing against Johnson, Davis, and Mafe, but the players that seem to be dropping are much more valuable to me than them. Every year we see dumb draft picks, but the way the rumors are shaping up, this draft seems to be on a different level. Be ready to laugh because some teams may certainly have us doing that.
What Will Change Everything
The Carolina Panthers
The draft usually has a few locks at the top such as Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow both being guaranteed 1st overall selections. That usually means there is a point at which “The Draft Starts”. We don’t have any locks, but most can agree on a basic mix of players that will go in the top five. However, the big question mark right now is the Carolina Panthers. There has been tons of talk about who they will select at 6th overall. Will it be a quarterback like Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis or will they build up their offensive line with one of the three highly regarded tackles in this class? We’ve seen a variety of reports that suggest either scenario is possible.
However, to me, when a team brings their head coach, general manager, and entire front office to pro days for quarterbacks, I think that is a pretty tell-tale sign that Carolina is targeting a quarterback. A tackle would be a great pick, even the preferred one in my mind, but there is too much smoke around the Panthers going QB to be ignored and I think it will likely be Malik Willis if he is there. If not Kenny Pickett will likely end up a Panther. However, if a player like Evan Neal falls, I wouldn’t be shocked if they take him over a guy like Pickett and work to get Matt Corral later. Either way, Carolina controls the draft and has a big impact on what happens after them.
The Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are the next point of interest in the class. They have needs all across the board and project to be one of the worst teams in the league next year. But what do they address first? Certainly, the most pressing area for concern is wide receiver. They are without a true WR1 and that is pressingly concerning. However, their pass rush is also god awful. Jermaine Johnson could be there at eight if the Jets don’t take him fourth. However, Garrett Wilson is almost too good of a receiver to pass up on. He is super consistent and has the quickness and route-running ability to be that true WR1. Or they could take Jameson Williams. This would be probably the worst option for them as I view Williams as a fairly one-dimensional threat and a good compliment to a WR1, but not necessarily a true WR1. The nature of this class makes things so hard to project. Normally, Garrett Wilson would be the sure-fire pick at eight, but with how teams are valuing the more athletic, upside-based players, there is a likely scenario where Garrett Wilson falls past eighth overall.
The quarterback class is such a fluid piece to this draft class. We know it isn’t an amazing class. But, it is also important to remember how the position is viewed. If one of these guys hit and a GM had the opportunity to take him and didn’t, their job is at risk. This year, I don’t think we will see teams take a ton in the top half. The Broncos, Commanders, and Colts going all-in on suring up the position with offseason moves show us how the league views the QB class. However, by the 20th pick, I am confident that Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett will be off the board. The Lions, Panthers, and Saints should all be in the running for a quarterback in that span.
After the 20th pick though, I envision some deals being made. If Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral, and Sam Howell are all still available, I could see teams in the second like the Seahawks, Falcons, and maybe the Colts moving into the back half of the round to secure their QB. This ensures if one of these players does hit, they have five years on a rookie deal. I feel very confident that one of those teams will move up, likely the Seahawks. However, teams like the Steelers, Titans, and Lions could all stick where they are and take a quarterback if they are available. So in short, this group will be a big deciding factor in this draft.
NOLA…What’s Your Angle?
The NFC South is a real enigma this year. We’ve previously discussed the Panthers and Falcons, but now let’s talk about the Saints. A couple of weeks ago they traded the 18th pick and their 2023 first-round pick to the Eagles for the 16th and 19th picks and a bit more. Normally when you see teams amassing draft capital like this shortly before the draft, it is a sign that whatever team is looking to trade up. However, we haven’t seen a big-time trade to move into the top ten made by the Saints yet. I am still confident that they are looking to move up for a quarterback, but then there are also reports coming out that they are going to stick in the teens and take more players. So I ask, what is the Saints’ angle. Do they believe they are close and need a couple more players offensively to figure things out, or do they intend to put the chips on the table to make a big-time move? Whatever, New Orleans does, or doesn’t for that matter, will massively impact the draft.
Of course, that is not all. These are just some major points. On draft night, every viewer is prone to surprises. This draft is no different which is part of the reason why the event is so fun and captivating. Make sure to follow @gdn_scouting on Instagram so you don’t miss a thing during the draft week!