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NFL mock draft 2019: Justin Melo’s Pre-combine edition

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Massachusetts v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

With the NFL Scouting Combine just days away, I thought now would be a great time to release my second mock draft of the season (read the first here). This is the time of year where we start to see risers and fallers based on their athletic testing, so let’s take one final look at how Round 1 may play out before things get crazy.

  1. Arizona Cardinals | Quinnen Williams | DT | Alabama

I’m switching things up from my first mock draft where I gave the Cardinals Nick Bosa. I can see a scenario where Williams is the first player off the board. He was definitely the best player in college football throughout the 2018 season as we watched him dominate offensive linemen on a weekly basis.

Although the Cardinals have bigger holes on their roster such as OL & WR, but there isn’t a player from either of those position groups worth taking No. 1 overall. Williams plays the game with a ton of power. He’ll be a load to handle at the next level thanks to his excellent hand placement and ability to control the line of scrimmage. If Williams ends up in the NFC West, put Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo on notice.

2. San Francisco 49ers | Nick Bosa | EDGE | Ohio State

The 49ers are in a great spot here. Most of their needs are on the defensive side of the ball and that also happens to be the strong suit of this draft, especially at the top. They’ll likely take the best defensive player available here, and in this scenario, that’s Bosa. Despite playing just three games in 2018, Bosa’s combination of length, size and athleticism makes him worth an early selection in April. I also expect him to test exceptionally well at the combine, cementing the likelihood that he’s one of the first two players off the board.

3. New York Jets | Josh Allen | EDGE | Kentucky

The Jets can go in a few different directions with this selection. They need to surround franchise quarterback Sam Darnold with two things — more weapons at the skill positions and better protection up front. New head coach Adam Gase will certainly obsess over making sure those two things get accomplished this off season. Perhaps the only need bigger than that comes at EDGE rusher, and they fill that need in this scenario with one of the best pass rushers in the draft. It’s been awesome to watch how Allen has completely transformed himself throughout his time at Kentucky. The speed he flashed off the edge in 2018 will have teams jockeying for position to select him in the top five.

4. Oakland Raiders | Ed Oliver | DT | Houston

Four defensive players in a row? Bingo. The Raiders need play makers up front that can get to the quarterback. After trading Khalil Mack last off season (I still don’t understand why), Gruden’s defense finished with a league low 13 sacks. That was 17 less than the Giants, who finished second last. That means the margin of difference between the Raiders and the next worst team was larger than the amount of sacks the Raiders actually finished with. Wow. Enter Oliver, an interior defensive linemen with incredible movement skills for his size. Oliver’s snap anticipation and suddenness will give opposing quarterbacks fits at the next level.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Cody Ford | OT | Oklahoma

The Buccaneers have a lot of needs on the defensive side of the ball, and I do mean a lot. But new head coach Bruce Arians is an offensive guy, and Jameis Winston may be on his last chance to prove that he’s their quarterback of the future. That means the Bucs front office is likely to try everything they can to help Winston succeed. Despite how frustrating he’s been as a pro both on and off the field, the best thing for them would be for Winston to prove he’s the guy going forward. He needs better protection up front If he’s going to have any chance at doing that. Ford can be the long term answer they’re looking for with his combination of size and toughness.

6. New York Giants | Jonah Williams | OT | Alabama

I fully expect the Giants to pass on a quarterback here. While the need for a long term answer at signal caller is glaring, I don’t believe Giants general manager Dave Gettleman will hitch his wagon to any of the quarterbacks in this class. Instead, I have them addressing another long term need. Signing Nate Solder and drafting Will Hernandez last year was a solid start to improving a porous offensive line, but there’s still more work to be done if the likes of Saquon Barkley are going to have any time and space to make things happen in 2019. Williams is a polished prospect who plays with great leverage and heavy hands. He immediately makes the Giants a better team on offense.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars | Kyler Murray | QB | Oklahoma

With Murray recently announcing that he’s fully committed to pursuing a football career, I believe the path for him to end up as the QB1 of this class is being laid down. In what’s a pretty weak quarterback class overall, I believe a team picking as high as the Jaguars (or even higher) will be willing to overlook Murray’s size deficiencies. The Jaguars have a massive need at quarterback as they’re (finally) ready to move on from Blake Bortles. Murray may be tiny, but he’s an easy thrower of the football and has arm strength to spare. His composure under pressure is incredibly impressive, and he has the tools to be a franchise signal caller at the next level.

8. Detroit Lions | Jachai Polite | EDGE | Florida

The Lions can go in a number of directions with this pick. If they’re going to improve in 2019, they may wanna think about getting aging quarterback Matthew Stafford another option in the passing game. Trading Golden Tate at last year’s trade deadline created a gaping hole at receiver. But with Ezekiel Ansah possibly hitting free agency in a few week’s time, I believe they’ll use this pick to address their need at EDGE rusher. Polite possesses the deadly first step today’s NFL highly covets in a pass rusher. His pass rush arsenal is diverse and well developed. Polite has all the tools to give opposing offensive coordinators headaches on Sunday’s.

9. Buffalo Bills | Jawaan Taylor | OT | Florida

The Bills need to continue surrounding Josh Allen with help, both on the offensive line and at the skill positions. Allen was running for his life far too often during his rookie campaign. Taylor has the size and frame to really impress scouts and general managers alike throughout this process. The placement of his punch needs to be more consistent and his foot speed may come into question, but I believe Taylor will meet all challenges and answer all questions at the combine, leading him to being selected in the top 10.

10. Denver Broncos | Drew Lock | QB | Missouri

Despite trading for Joe Flacco, I still believe that John Elway is infatuated with Lock. While Flacco may be a solid bridge option at this point, Elway must still find a long term answer at the most important position on the field — one that has been quite elusive in Denver as of late. Lock was the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl, where he showcased the physical tools and intangibles that will make him an early pick. Lock will have to do a better job of going through his progressions in the NFL, but his gunslinger mentality and personality will impress throughout this process.

11. Cincinnati Bengals | T.J. Hockenson | TE | Iowa

The Bengals went off the rails in 2018 and it finally lead to a change at head coach. They finished 6-10 despite getting off to a strong start that saw them win four of their first five games, and it cost Marvin Lewis his job. After sticking with the status quo for so long, they decided to go in a completely different direction by hiring Zac Taylor, a 35 year old quarterback coach who of course, knows Sean McVay. Despite having multiple needs on the defensive side of the ball, Tayor was hired for his prowess as an offensive guru. Hockenson is the most versatile tight end prospect I’ve scouted in years. He has all the tools to be a big time pass catching weapon at the next level, but he’ll also block you into the sun.

12. Green Bay Packers | Clelin Ferrell | EDGE | Clemson

Regardless of what happens with Clay Matthews this off season, the Packers need to find their pass rusher of the future. They haven’t had quality production out of that spot in a long time, and it’s too important of a position to continue to neglect. Ferrell has been dominating college football since 2016, and his combination of strength and athleticism projects well to the next level. Ferrell is a proven winner and was a staple on the Tigers defensive line for the past three seasons. I think he’d be a great fit in Green Bay’s locker room and would quickly adapt to their winning culture.

13. Miami Dolphins | Dwyane Haskins | QB | Ohio State

The first order of business for new head coach Brian Flores will be to find his quarterback. Flores deserved to land a head coaching gig after he helped lead the Patriots defense to an excellent performance in SB LIII. But by taking the Miami job, he has a lot more to worry about than just defense. He can no longer count on the stability of having Tom Brady as his quarterback. This is a big decision for Flores and company, and I can see a scenario where they feel Haskins is the guy to lead their franchise going forward. Haskins is a well developed prospect who did a good job of operating Ryan Day’s offense in 2018. He’s ready to start immediately.

14. Atlanta Falcons | Christian Wilkins | DT | Clemson

Injuries to a number (and I do mean a number) of key players quickly ruined the Falcons 2018 campaign. If they get everyone back healthy, they can quickly return to the form that saw them reach Super Bowl LI. The main goal for the Falcons this off season should be to improve their play in the trenches. Wilkins would be a great fit here with his advanced hand usage that allowed him get after the quarterback on a consistent basis throughout his time as a Tiger. Wilkins gets off the ball in a hurry and has the closing speed to quickly reach the ball carrier. I feel he’d be a great fit in Atlanta.

15. Washington Redskins | Garrett Bradbury | C | NC State

No matter who the quarterback is for the Redskins in 2019, they desperately need to add some talent on offense, specifically on their offensive line. Bradbury is incredibly advanced for a player his age. A true technician, Bradbury’s play in 2018 was as solid as any offensive linemen in this class. He immediately makes the Redskins offense better in 2019, with or without Alex Smith under center.

16. Carolina Panthers | Dalton Risner | OT | Kansas State

I mocked Ford here previously and I still see offensive tackle as a massive need for the Panthers. Like most teams, the Panthers don’t stand a chance at success if they can’t keep their franchise quarterback healthy. Cam Newton is one of the biggest, toughest signal callers around the league but even he couldn’t handle the amount of abuse the Panthers offensive line allowed in 2018. Risner is a hard nosed prospect who checks a lot of boxes. Risner consistently fights for positioning at the point of attack and creates a ton of movement up front. He’d be a great get for Carolina.

17. Cleveland Browns | D.K. Metcalf | WR | Ole Miss

Browns fans have plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2019 campaign. They’ve finally found the answer at quarterback in the form of Baker Mayfield and they’ve saddled him with a great offensive mind in Freddie Kitchens. But if the Browns want to take the next step on offense, finding more play makers on the outside is a must. Their backfield is solidified with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Duke Johnson, so it’s time to turn their attention to wide receiver. Metcalf possesses the footwork and acceleration to be a load for defensive backs at the next level. Mayfield to Metcalf? Sign me up.

18. Minnesota Vikings | Yodny Cajuste | OT | West Virginia

I had previously mocked Risner here, and mocking an offensive linemen to the Vikings is a theme you’ll likely find throughout most of my mock drafts leading up to April. The Vikings front five simply didn’t generate enough of a push in 2018, and it severely handicapped the entire offense as a result. Currently listed somewhere in the range of 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Cajuste has the size and length that general managers look for in a starting offensive tackle. Cajuste plays the game with a ton of strength, and he’s a better athlete than you’d guess.

19. Tennessee Titans | Montez Sweat | EDGE | Mississippi State

I had Jeffery Simmons here in my last mock. That’s obviously not going to happen now that Simmons has unfortunately suffered a torn ACL. The Titans can go in a number of directions here. They need to surround Marcus Mariota with more weapons on the outside and better protection up front if he’s to stay healthy in 2019 and prove he’s worthy of a contract extension that would surely come with a lot of zero’s attached to it. Regardless of where you stand on the Mariota debate, it’s obvious that the best thing for the franchise would be for him to prove that he is in fact their quarterback of the future. That’s partly why I think the team will look for some immediate help for him in the form of veteran wide receivers and offensive linemen, not rookies that would need time to develop.

Another position that the Titans desperately need help at is on the EDGE. WIth Brian Orakpo and retiring and Derrick Morgan hitting free agency at the age of 30, the Titans badly need some long term answers here. Getting Harold Landry in the second round last year was an excellent start, but they need someone opposite him as well. Sweat is a lengthy pass rusher with an excellent first step. He’s also incredibly powerful, and may be the best run stopper of any edge player in this class. His strength and ability to set the edge on a consistent basis would make him an excellent piece opposite the speedy and bendy Landry.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers | Devin White | LB | LSU

The Steelers continue to dominate headlines this off season for all the wrong reasons. From Antonio Brown taking to social media to demand a trade and poke holes in the credibility of Ben Roethlisberger to the Le’Veon Bell storyline still marinating, the Steelers could really use a day off.

Despite likely losing Brown and Bell this off season, they still have some great weapons on offense, enough where I think they can focus on their terrible defense with this pick. White has the range to cover a ton of ground. A physical tackler that arrives with great force, White would look great in black and yellow.

21. Seattle Seahawks | Chris Lindstrom | OG | Boston College

The Seahawks offensive line continues to be a big need for the team and they currently have more questions than answers with J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker set to hit free agency. Russell Wilson has spent enough time running for his life in Seattle, and it’s about time that they try to patch up this front five. Lindstrom is a tough and smart guard prospect who handles power well. The Seahawks were surprisingly more of a run first offense in 2018, and Lindstrom would go a long way in allowing them to take another step forward in that area in 2019 and beyond.

22. Baltimore Ravens | Mack Wilson | LB | Alabama

My last mock saw the Ravens land another weapon for Lamar Jackson in the form of Kelvin Harmon, but I’m starting to rethink my stance of offense for their first round pick. Despite being the league’s best defense in 2018, the Ravens actually have some question marks that need immediate addressing on that side of the ball. Terrell Suggs isn’t getting any younger and C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith appear prime to land big paydays elsewhere in free agency. Wilson is someone who just screams Baltimore Ravens to me. He’s tough, he’s mean and he doesn’t back down from a fight. Wilson’s processing skills need improving, but he plays the game with a ton of aggression and his motor always runs hot. He’s the prototypical Ravens defender.

23. Houston Texans | Andre Dillard | OT | Washington State

Priority number one for the Texans this off season is to ensure that DeShaun Watson gets hit less in 2019 than he did in 2018. The Texans allowed an astounding 62 sacks in 2018. They can’t expect Watson to stay healthy in 2019 if history repeats itself. Dillard is an offensive tackle propsect that’s starting to gain some steam. He’s pretty clean from a mechanics standpoint, but I do have some questions about his length that need answering at the combine if he’s to go this high. I think the Texans would prefer to land a Risner, Taylor or Cajuste here, but would be perfectly fine adding Dillard as well.

24. Oakland Raiders | Deionte Thompson | SAF | Alabama

The Raiders need a ton of help on defense. The lack of sacks dominates the story for this unit, but they need help in the secondary as well. Thompson is a versatile defensive back that can step into a starting role immediately. He has the ability to play single-high or man coverage, while possessing the speed and range to make opposing quarterbacks think twice about throwing in his vicinity. His value took a bit of a hit with a string of poor performances down the stretch and the fact that he’ll be missing combine due to a wrist injury, but he’s still in play here in my eyes.

25. Philadelphia Eagles | Greedy Williams | CB | LSU

The Eagles secondary was absolutely decimated with injury throughout the 2018 campaign. They simply needed bodies down the stretch just to get through the season. It’s likely that the front office will recognize this as a huge need this off season. Williams possesses the length, size, athleticism and ball skills to be a difference maker at the next level. His draft stock will be one of the most fascinating storylines to monitor throughout this process.

26. Indianapolis Colts | Brian Burns | EDGE | Florida State

It pains me to say this, but the Colts are one of the more attractive teams heading into this off season. They had a surprisingly successful 2018 season on the back of their Comeback Player of the Year winner Andrew Luck, and have a ton of cap space to work with. Despite their successful campaign, they’d be wise to attack this off season aggressively as they search for more weapons on offense and help in their defensive front seven. They need to improve on the 38 sacks they totaled in 2018, and Burns would go a long way in potentially accomplishing that. Burns is a lengthy and speedy pass rusher who possesses the bend that general managers look for in a sack artist. His ability to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt is something that will serve him well at the next level.

27. Oakland Raiders | Rashan Gary | DL | Michigan

Yes, the Raiders need this much help on defense. With their third pick of the first round, I’ve decided to mock yet another defensive player. I’ve touched on their baffling lack of sacks with my selection of Oliver earlier, but it’s going to take more than one guy to improve a unit that poor. Gary moved all over the defensive line for Michigan, often lining up on the edge but I believe his abilities would best be utilized from the 3-technique. Gary is a powerful prospect with a lot of quickness for a man his size.

28. Los Angeles Chargers | Gerald Willis | DT | Miami

The Chargers need an injection of youth on the interior of their defensive line. A trio of defensive tackles are set to hit free agency for them, including Brandon Mebane. Willis is an explosive prospect who wins with a combination of burst and strength. I found his tape to be maddingly inconsistent, but he’s one of those prospects that’s going to be a load to handle if he ever puts it all together.

29. Kansas City Chiefs | Byron Murphy | CB | Washington

Anytime you allow an average of 35.3 points per game, a number that was by far the worst in the league, it’s safe to say that you need a lot of help on defense. For me, The Chiefs need to begin the process of improving this unit by improving their secondary. Turnovers are king in today’s NFL, and Murphy is an explosive play maker that loves to gamble. He has the ball skills to quickly make an impact at the next level.

30. Green Bay Packers | Noah Fant | TE | Iowa

Whether or not the Packers decide to move on from Jimmy Graham this off season doesn’t change the fact that they need to get more production out of the tight end position. With an aging Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers should continue to surround him with as many weapons as possible as they chase another Super Bowl title. Fant is simply put a freak of nature. His combination of size and speed will make him an incredibly tough cover at the next level.

31. Los Angeles Rams | Johnathan Abram | SAF | Mississippi State

The Rams have a trio of defensive play makers set to hit free agency — Ndamukong Suh, Lamarcus Joyner and Dante Folwer. Of those 3, Joyner is least likeliest to return in my opinion. That means Wade Phillips will be looking for a new toy he can utilize on the back end of his secondary. Abram plays with some inconsistencies such as his tendency to bite hard, but it’s that same agression that could make him worth gambling on here. Abram is physical and plays fast, two things that could impress Sean Mcvay and Phillips throughout this process.

32. New England Patriots | N’Keal Harry | WR | Arizona State

The Patriots are entering the off season with a ton of question marks surrounding their pass catchers. With Rob Gronkowski potentially contemplating retirement and the trio of Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson set to hit free agency, the Patriots should be in the market for a receiver or two. I believe the thinking when they acquired Josh Gordon in the middle of 2018 was to add a big bodied receiver that could win down field. With Gordon no longer in the fold, Harry is someone who can step in and immediately fill that need. Harry has the size, strength and hands to consistently win at the catch point. He’s also a nightmare in the open field and routinely made jaw dropping plays after the catch.