Projecting 2nd half of NFL draft's Round 1

By Bruce Marshall  () 

Here is Part II of my mock draft. Part I is posted at

17. DALLAS COWBOYS: Reluctantly turning the page from the Jason Garrett era, Jerry Jones has had other things to worry about besides hiring ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy to succeed Garrett. Without a ton of cap room, Jones had to let two key defensive pieces, CB Byron Jones and DE Robert Quinn, walk while committing extra resources to keep WR Amari Cooper and QB Dak Prescott satisfied and making sure veteran LB Sean Lee stayed in the fold. Cooper was re-signed and Prescott got a pricey franchise tag as Jones continues to work on an extension for the quarterback, all as a growing number of Dallas backers wonder if Prescott really is the guy to lead the Cowboys. Is this roster as close to Super Bowl quality as Jones believes? He restocked his defense with some team-friendly deals that landed a couple of Panthers DTs, Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, plus S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from the Bears. But his best offseason addition might be ex-Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who could solve a major problem. Upgrades are still necessary on the defensive edge and on the corners, so Jones is likely to do some serious shopping in the early rounds of the draft. Projected pick: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama

18. MIAMI DOLPHINS (from Pittsburgh): Getting their second swing in the first round, the Dolphins are a prime candidate to shuffle some picks. So we suspect a good chance that some other team will be queued up at No. 18 after Miami nabs a QB earlier in the round. After an active first round of free agency, among the many areas the Dolphins are still looking for help is along the OL, and at LT in particular after the Laremy Tunsil trade last season. Whoever is taking snaps in the fall might appreciate extra attention being paid to Tunsil’s old position. This pick comes via the Steelers as a result of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade last season. Projected pick: Austin Jackson, OT, USC


19. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (from Chicago): With five of the Raiders’ seven free-agent additions to date on the defensive side, it’s clear Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden believe their stop unit requires attention. But the one signing that got away, CB Eli Apple, likely will influence Vegas’ decisions in the early rounds. We expect Mayock and Gruden to address CB as well as WR in the early going. This pick, along with an extra third-rounder, are the final installments of the Khalil Mack trade with the Bears in 2018.  Projected pick: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU


20. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (from L.A. Rams): Some AFC South observers think the Jaguars might still be in the market for a QB, with ex-Steeler Joshua Dobbs the only backup to Gardner Minshew after the Nick Foles trade to the Bears. If GM David Caldwell looks for reinforcements in the draft rather than the remaining free-agent or thinned trade markets, however, it might come in later rounds. The Jags have lost some star power on the stop end in recent years and could be looking for the edge presence they have lacked since dealing Dante Fowler in 2018. This pick is courtesy of a deal with the Rams that involved CB Jalen Ramsey last season. Projected pick: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa


21. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Injuries decimated the Eagles’ receiving corps last season. And even though ex-U. of Houston QB Greg Ward was serviceably heroic when filling in during the playoff drive last December, it is imperative for GM Howie Roseman to find some upgraded targets for Prince Harry lookalike QB Carson Wentz, who is thankfully unencumbered by Meghan-like distractions. With aging and injury-prone primary targets for Wentz and having missed out on DeAndre Hopkins in the trade market, many NFC East observers believe Roseman has been focusing on the draft and a deep collection of rookie wideouts for needed upgrades in the aerial game after no receiver caught more than 500 yards of passes last year. Another area requiring immediate attention was addressed in free agency by the additions of CBs Darius Slay in a trade with the Lions and former Rams free agent Nickell Robey-Coleman as well as former Broncos free-agent S Will Parks. Projected pick: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado


22. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (from Buffalo): This is the first of a pair of later first-round selections for the Vikings, who have the necessary capital to negotiate a higher slot if they wish. The objective is likely to be acquiring defensive reinforcements after age and salary constraints resulted in significant culling on the stop end. But if GM Rick Spielman retains both picks in the opening round, he could be tempted to look for a quality wideout opposite Adam Thielen after trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills, who returned this draft spot in compensation. While defense figures to be the focus of much of the Minnesota draft, finding a bit of extra help for QB Kirk Cousins could prove a parallel objective. Projected pick: Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama


23. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: After two decades, the post-Tom Brady era begins in Foxborough, where the Patriots have been involved in much predraft speculation. Among the chatter is whether Bill Belichick is really ready to commit to ex-Auburn and Baylor second-year man Jarrett Stidham as the new QB and whether the Pats might be serious about moving up in the first round to identify a non-Stidham Brady successor. One of the more intriguing rumors has Belichick angling for a chance to draft Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa after consulting with old chum Nick Saban, who apparently has given his former QB the thumbs-up. It seems as if Belichick is likely to make some sort of QB move after the release of Cody Kessler, which has left Stidham and recently signed Brian Hoyer as the only quarterbacks on the roster. The rumor mill also suggests possible interest in Cam Newton, maybe not as far-fetched as some would believe, as the Pats have taken their chances with numerous diva types in the past. Others believe Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton could be in play, though the Bengals have yet to release him as they apparently seek a trade. While the post-Brady situation at QB generates the headlines, Belichick’s offense also badly missed Rob Gronkowski and is in the market for an upgrade at TE. Projected pick: Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame


24. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: After cornering the market on gut-wrenching playoff exits the last three seasons, the Saints appear to be gearing up for one more run with most of the same group that forged back-to-back 13-3 records, especially with QB Drew Brees back. As usual, GM Mickey Loomis has had to get creative with limited cap space, restructuring several contracts and backloading cap costs on several new deals. But Loomis had enough room to add WR Emmanuel Sanders, who had a positive impact with the 49ers last fall after a decorated career with the Broncos. Sanders looks like a proper diversion for All-Pro Michael Thomas, the only Saints WR with more than 30 catches a year ago. Swapping out S Vonn Bell for veteran Eagles free agent Malcolm Jenkins could be an upgrade. Loomis has been doing all this juggling while realizing he will soon have to address contract extensions for CB Marshon Lattimore, RB Alvin Kamara and OT Ryan Ramczyk. With Brees now a year-to-year proposition and Teddy Bridgewater gone to Carolina, Loomis and coach Sean Payton could also be looking for a developmental project at QB — Utah State’s Jordan Love, perhaps? — with Taysom Hill the only cover behind Brees. Meanwhile, Dennis Allen’s defense has some depth issues at LB that can likely be addressed in the draft, with a focus on the inside. Projected pick: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma


25. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Though GM Rick Spielman might be tempted to go for an offensive weapon with one of his first-round picks, as we suggested at No. 22, the bulk of the Vikings’ draft is likely to emphasize defense after shedding so much salary on that side. Among them were DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, CBs Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes and S Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo. If Spielman can at least identify a suitable draft replacement for Griffen, the long-serving key cog, coach Mike Zimmer would be most appreciative before attention turns to restocking the secondary. Projected pick: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State


26. MIAMI DOLPHINS (from Houston): The Dolphins are flush in the draft, with three first-round picks among 14 overall selections, and have already made several apparent free-agent upgrades, especially on the defensive side. With a new QB likely to have already been identified, GM Chris Grier might be tempted to bolster a suspect RB corps that has added only Eagles free agent Jordan Howard after missing out on Todd Gurley. Though it has become almost taboo to nab a runner in the first round, Grier is likely to have his pick of the litter among them here. Plenty of Georgia RBs such as D’Andre Swift have proven valuable NFL contributors in the past. This selection comes courtesy of the Texans after the Laremy Tunsil/Kenny Stills trade last August. Projected pick: D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia


27. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: With DE Jadeveon Clowney still on the free-agent market, the Seahawks could re-sign him and reduce the need to look for help on the defensive edge in the draft. But even with Clowney for much of last season, Seattle finished with only 28 sacks, tied for second fewest in the league. GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll were active in free agency and took advantage of some legit cap space for the first time since coming out of the Legion of Boom era, with ex-Panthers TE Greg Olsen the highest-profile addition. A bit under the radar were several apparently useful signings to retool an OL that required much cap maneuvering, and trading for ex-Redskins CB Quinton Dunbar addressed another need. Even if Clowney re-signs, however, it would be no surprise if the Hawks focus on more presence on the defensive edge. Projected pick: Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn


28. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Lost amid the post-Super Bowl Chiefs hysteria was the fact the Ravens were the buzz team entering the playoffs with the top seed in the AFC before getting rudely upended by the Titans in the divisional round. After leaks on the stop end were exposed by Derrick Henry and friends, upgrades along the defensive front have been addressed by GM Eric DeCosta, who added DE Calais Campbell in a trade with the Jaguars and signed free-agent DT Derek Wolfe from the Broncos. Campbell could come in particularly handy for a pass rush that generated a league-low nine sacks from a four-man rush last fall. Franchising breakout OLB Matt Judon, who had a team-best 9½ sacks last year, and re-signing veteran CB Jimmy Smith kept a couple of key defensive cogs in the fold. While upgrading Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast remains a draft objective, plugging in an extra key piece for the defense to prevent another Henry-like trampling could command early-round attention. Projected pick: Patrick Queen, MLB, LSU


29. TENNESSEE TITANS: After being included in the Tom Brady rumor mill thanks to the connection with former teammate and current Titans coach Mike Vrabel, GM Jon Robinson decided he had seen enough of Ryan Tannehill at QB down the stretch and deep into the playoffs to warrant a longer-term commitment while also making sure to secure RB Derrick Henry’s future in Nashville. Henry’s new deal was expected, but time will tell if such an investment in Tannehill is good business after a bit more than a half-season of work. To re-sign both, however, Robinson had to shed some salary, which mostly came from a defense now without three key cogs. DT Jurrell Casey was traded to the Broncos, and LB Wesley Woodyard and CB Logan Ryan are on the free-agent market. Somewhat limited in free agency by the dollars committed to Tannehill and Henry, Robinson’s main addition was edge rusher Vic Beasley from the Falcons. More reinforcements are likely to be identified on the stop end, where  seeking a replacement for Casey appears a priority. Projected pick: Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU


30. GREEN BAY PACKERS: With an eye toward contract extensions next offseason for many potential free agents, including RB Aaron Jones, GM Brian Gutekunst sought less expensive FA options at OT and ILB. The Packers lost Bryan Bulaga to the Chargers and Blake Martinez to the Giants in big-money deals on the open market. So adding ex-Lions RT Ricky Wagner and ex-Browns ILB Christian Kirksey as replacements on more team-friendly deals could be good business. What Gutekunst was unable to do, however, was provide extra weapons for Aaron Rodgers, who coexisted much more peacefully with new coach Matt LaFleur last season than he did with predecessor Mike McCarthy. To stay on the good side of Rodgers might require adding another receiving target to take some pressure off Davante Adams. Projected pick: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor


31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The Niners are in an enviable position with a pair of first-round picks after a Super Bowl visit. They ought to be able to address their most significant departures after trading DT DeForest Buckner to the Colts, which returned the 13th selection in this draft, and losing WR Emmanuel Sanders to the Saints in free agency. A deep crop of incoming wideouts should provide intriguing alternatives to fill Sanders’ role. Identifying reinforcements on the corner are likely to be addressed in the draft, with Richard Sherman entering the final season of his deal and Ahkello Witherspoon due to hit the market next year. Meanwhile, GM John Lynch ponders a contract extension for George Kittle, who could reset the market at TE. Projected pick: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson


32. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Why change a winning formula? After their first Super Bowl win in 50 years, the Chiefs decided to try to keep the band together as much as possible. GM Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid mostly sat out free agency, with much of the available money committed to the franchise tag on DT Chris Jones and keeping WR Sammy Watkins for $21 million rather than taking a cap hit in the range of $7 million. Releasing Watkins and allowing Jones to test the market could save about $30 million, but after the highest-profile FAs have already moved, Veach and Reid are likely to do further additions via the draft after signing only a handful of low-cost options in free agency. One position that might require some extra attention is on the corner, where Bashaud Breeland, who performed well in the Super Bowl drive, has opted to test the market. Projected pick: Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah



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