Hello all, and merry Draftmas Eve. For my first and only published mock of the year I will be making the first 32 selections of the first round with no trades. This will proceed my free solo 2 round mock, with trades, that I will complete in podcast form tomorrow morning. Hope you all enjoy!

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence QB Clemson;  No surprises here as Jacksonville goes chalk with the best quarterback prospect we’ve seen in quite some time. Lawrence has dominated at every level and possesses an extremely high floor and ceiling, with all the intangibles you could want for a franchise quarterback. Lawrence developing under Urban Myer’s tutelage is a mouthwatering proposition for Jags nation.

2. New York Jets – Zach Wilson QB BYU; I’ll be the first to admit, Zach Wilson is a high risk high reward proposition. His tape this past fall shows me an explosive arm with a quick release who routinely exhibits his ability to complete sublime off-platform throws, as well as every other throw in the book. His possible downsides are legit, he rarely threw under any pressure and competed against a group of five schedule this past year. That being said, the anticipation and arm talent is there, which leads me to believe with proper progression and coaching, Zach Wilson has elite franchise potential.

3. San Fransisco 49rs – Justin Fields QB Ohio State; Fields is a slightly safer prospect than Wilson and offers a similar ceiling mostly due to the elite athleticism he possesses at the quarterback position. His slight deficiencies as a passer will be significantly curbed in Kyle Shanahan’s system, and his rushing upside will give the rest of the league fits. 

4. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts TE Florida; Being that this is a no trade mock, Kyle Pitts is the stick and pick for Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith. While Patrick Surtain would fill more of a need, adding an elite upper echelon offensive weapon like Kyle Pitts to this offense would give Matt Ryan the best chance of immediate success. Pitts is truly an offensive weapon,  who will create mismatches and give defenses nightmares from week 1.

5.Cincinnati Bengals –  Jamar Chase WR LSU; Who helps Joe Burrow more? Jamar Chase or Penei Sewell? After much internal and external debate with my colleagues here at the BackJudge, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jamar Chase should be the pick at five. Chase and Burrow were a special duo in their 2019 championship run, combining for 84 receptions on 121 targets for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Yes the offensive line is abysmal, but while Penei Sewell is a fantastic step, he will not change that. Jamar Chase is your wide receiver one from day one, and makes a solid receiving core great, which I believe Burrow his best chance at success.

Kyle Pitts is a Unicorn

6. Miami Dolphins –  Penei Sewell OT Oregon; At the risk of a perceived contradiction here, allow me to justify why Penei Sewell should be the pick here over Jaylen Waddle or Devonta Smith. The Dolphins really are a left tackle away from having an solid, well above average offensive line. Their receiving talent, is quite impressive now that Will Fuller has been added to Devante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Jakeem Grant, and Preston Williams.  Adding an elite prospect like Sewell at left tackle allows Austin Jackson to shift to right tackle, pushing Robert Hunt to the inside, a position that much more suits him (This also holds true if the Dolphins prefer Sewell to play right tackle, protecting Tua’s blindside.)

7. Detroit Lions – Trey Lance QB North Dakota State; If you follow our podcast this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Detroit has needs virtually everywhere, but quarterback seems chief among them. Jared Goff isn’t the answer in Detroit, something that will become quite evident this fall. Detroit is stocked with draft capital in 2022 and 2023 to continue to fill out this roster. In adding Lance, Detroit could have an elite quarterback in three to five years, his physical talent and upside is that good. Lance is an elite athlete much like Fields, and possess rocket arm strength. However, Lance has only played for one year and has 318 passing attempts to his name. In Detroit, Lance is perfectly situated to take a redshirt year and start in 2022 with hopefully a better roster surrounding him. 

8. Carolina Panthers – Jaylen Waddle WR Alabama; Carolina finds themselves in a similar spot as Cincinnati and Miami, weighing the opportunity cost of offensive line vs. receiver for their young quarterback in Sam Darnold. For me this came down to Waddle or Smith, rather than Slater or Darrisaw. As my wide receiver two, Waddle’s ceiling was too much to pass up on. Waddle is the closest thing to Tyreek Hill the NFL has seen since tore up the league as  a rookie in 2016. Waddle has legit 4.2/4.3 speed with an explosive twitch skill set that makes his an absolute nightmare after the catch. He also is a complete receiver who has great ball skills, giving me confidence he can thrive both on the outside and the slot. Waddle/Anderson/Moore gives Joe Brady and Sam Darnold an explosive, versatile trio to expand the passing game. 

9. Denver Broncos – Mac Jones QB Alabama; This is probably a little too sweet for Mac Jones but I don’t think the Broncos have much of a choice, they need to upgrade from Drew Lock. Jones is that upgrade, a high floor, limited ceiling quarterback prospect that will be able to make the most of Denver’s electrifying receiving weapons. Jones just needs to be a point guard and help this offense reach it’s ceiling, in order to justify this pick. 

10. Dallas Cowboys – Patrick Surtain II CB Alabama; The Cowboys need help on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the secondary. Patrick Surtain is a scheme diverse prospect who offers the highest floor in this cornerback class. Simply put I would be shocked if Surtian is a below average starter at corner. This is what a win now team like Dallas needs, an instant impact starter as the CB1 in Big D.

Surtain II will be very good for a very long time

11. New York Giants – Devonta Smith WR Alabama; A continuing theme at the top half of the draft continues with the Giants, adding elite receiving prospects to help our quarterback on his rookie deal. Adding Kenny Golladay was a nice move by Dave Gentleman, adding Devonta Smith on top of that would be fantastic. Sterling Shepard is a good slot and would be a great wide receiver 3 here, as would Darius Slayton as your wide receiver 4 and deep threat. Giving Daniel Jones a healthy Saquon Barkley, these four receivers plus Evan Engram would allow the front office to properly evaluate Daniel Jones as his fifth year option looms. 

12. Philadelphia Eagles – Jaycee Horn CB South Carolina; With the elite receivers off the board, I think the Eagles have to address their defense. This came down to Jaycee Horn or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for me, and with the scarcity and positional value present with corner, as opposed to linebacker, I went with Horn. It’s hard not to love Jaycee Horn’s tape, he’s long, physical, an elite athlete, with that dawg mentality to boot. Horn is in a perfect spot to learn opposite Darius Slay, and eventually grow into one of the leagues best man to man corners. 

13. Los Angeles Chargers – Rashawn Slater OL Northwestern; The Chargers need a Left Tackle to fully complete their offensive line infront of Justin Herbert. This came down to Rashawn Slater or Christian Darrisaw, with Slater getting the nod because I think he has a higher floor while offering a similar ceiling. It’s tough to poke holes in Slater’s game, he’s a freak athlete for the position who can play all five positions across the offensive line. I’m not going to put being an elite left tackle past him, and if I’m wrong he can be an elite guard for the future in Los Angeles. 

14. Minnesota Vikings – Christian Darrisaw OT Virginia Tech; Both Jaelan Phillips and Kwity Paye were enticing here, but I’m not counting on Rashod Hill or Ezra Cleveland to protect Kirk Cousins blindside. The Vikings were abysmal in the trenches last year, Darrisaw has elite tools and will be a mauler in the run game from day one who can grow into a special player.

15. New England Patriots – Micah Parsons LB Penn State; While Parsons is a 1B to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in my LB rankings, I love the fit and potential of Parsons in New England. Parsons is right up Bill Belichick’s alley as a gab shooting linebacker who can be the heir apparent to D’onta Hightower, while playing meaningful, impactful snaps from week 1. Parsons is an special athlete and talent for the postion who can grow into a franchise center piece in New England under Belichick’s tutelage. 

16. Arizona Cardinals – Asante Samuel Jr. CB Florida State; I’ve firmly planted my flag on Asante island. Samuel is an instinctual, fluid corner with plenty of ball production throughout his time in Tallahassee. Samuels only real con is his size at 5’10 180, however I’m not betting against Samuel to be an absolute stud on the outside from day 1 across from Byron Murphy.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah LB Notre Dame; Addressing the offensive line seems to be chalk at this point for the Raiders but JOK is too talented to pass up on. Vegas needs major help with regards to their pass defense, and Owusu-Koramoah will do wonders for this need. Owusu-Koramoah is a true unicorn chess piece who can be used in multiple roles across the defense. The Raiders can address the OL on day two and three. 

Make it happen Mayock

18. Miami Dolphins – Jaelan Phillips EDGE Miami; I was fully prepared to take Rashod Bateman here but Phillips upside is too much to pass up on. Phillips is the best EDGE in this class and will fill a top need on this already imposing Brian Flores defense. Miami still has two picks in round 2 to address the offense, and adding pass rusher of his potential would give this defense a threat it sorely lacks.

19. Washington Football Team – Rashod Bateman WR Minnesota; Out of the quarterback market here, I like Washington to continue to add to the receiving core with Rashod Bateman. Bateman is a NFL ready outside receiver who has fantastic release packages and route running ability allowing him to separate with ease. Pairing Bateman with the already elite Terry McLaurin and matchup nightmare Curtis Samuel, Washington will have a dynamic receiver trio for years to come. 

20. Chicago Bears – Greg Newsome II CB Northwestern; The Bears are the toughest team to mock for, having a glaring need at QB, but taking a shot on Kellen Mond or Davis Mills seems rich to me here. Instead I attacked perhaps the seconds biggest need on their roster, cornerback. Greg Newsome isn’t the same prospect that Caleb Farley is, but his lack of significant medical risk makes him the selection. Newsome is a fluid athlete with impressive change of direction, a scheme diverse prospect with pro bowl caliber upside who can slot right across from last years second round pick, Jaylon Johnson. 

21. Indianapolis Colts – Alijah Vera-Tucker OL USC; With the acquisition of Carson Went and the retirement of Anthony Costanzo, the Colts top priority should be left tackle. Vera-Tucker was a standout at left tackle for the Trojans this past fall, who perhaps projects more as a guard at the next level. That being said, Vera-Tucker is fundamentally clean and while not being an elite athlete for the position, has the looks of a rock steady LT at the next level at the very least. 

22. Tennesse Titans – Caleb Farley CB Virginia Tech; The Titans have a host of needs despite being a division winner in 2020. Cornerback is their biggest need in my opinion, and in Caleb Farley the Titans get a truly special athlete who can step in from day 1 and help keep the Titans in their competitive window. The elephant in the room of course is the medicals, Farley just underwent his second back surgery, a micro-discectomy, which should have him ready to suit up week 1. The question remains though, how will Farley’s back hold up over multiple NFL seasons at a position that is often put through intense contact. 

23. New York Jets – Kwity Paye EDGE Michigan; While I’d love to continue to add to the offense and aide Zach Wilson’s development, getting Robert Saleh a edge rusher with the talent of Paye is too much to pass up. Adding Paye to Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers, gives Saleh the type of depth at the position he had in San Francisco. On top of the positional need, Paye has sky high potential due to his truly rare burst and change of direction ability. 

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Tevin Jenkins OT Oklahoma State; While the masses shout for Najee Harris here, Pittsburgh will stay heady and take an instant impact player to slot in at right tackle. Jenkins is a entertaining watch, a mean people mover who thrives in the run game. He has room to grow as a pass protector but is no slouch by any means. With Jenkins in the fold, Pittsburg can address RB in the later rounds with a the requisite pieces in place on the offensive line. 

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevon Moehrig S TCU; Jacksonville’s second selection is an interesting one, much like the Jets the have a host of needs on both sides of the ball. I opted for Trevon Moehrig over Azeez Ojulari to help round out this Jaguars secondary. Moehrig is a versatile defensive back who can play all over the backfield from day one at a high level. While he might not have the highest of ceilings, his high floor ability from both the safety, box, and nickel role should be felt in Jacksonville. 

26. Cleveland Browns – Zaven Collins LB Tulsa; The once lowly Browns have dominated this offseason behind Andrew Berry, making their roster arguably the best in the NFL. Off-ball linebacker is their biggest remaining need and Zaven Collins is a perfect fit here. Collins is an absolute freak, he is a weapon both as a gap shooting blitzer and also shows good coverage ability for a 270 pound man. Getting a player like Collins would give Cleveland an impact player at every level of their defense. 

27. Baltimore Ravens – Azeez Ojulari EDGE Georgia; With the departure of Matt Judon, Baltimore is ripe to select his replacement in Ojulari. Ojulari is right up Baltimores alley, laden with upside but also presents an impact starter from day one. Ojulari has great cornering ability and has a great first step. Baltimore is back picking at 31 to help out Lamar Jackson and the offense.

28. New Orleans Saints – Rondale Moore WR Purdue; Rondale Moore is a difference maker plain and simple. He is a dynamic playmaker who reminds be a lot of Percy Harvin. Moore has had some issues staying healthy and was really an offensive weapon at Purdue, lacking a real route tree or defined role. Giving him to an offensive guru like Sean Payton, gives Moore the best chance of eclipsing his ceiling. Pairing Rondale with Michael Thomas would give New Orleans an electric, creative pass catching duo that would terrorize the rest of the league. 

BigEasy Baller

29. Green Bay Packers – Elijah Moore WR Ole Miss; Much like Rondale, Elijah Moore is a difference maker who will improve the offense of what ever team is blessed to draft him. Unlike Rondale, Elijah has a refined receiver skill set, is a nuanced route runner, and was used in a more projectable role at Ole Miss. While he’s not as explosive as Rondale, few are, and Elijah still has great athletic testing, posting a 4.35 40 and a 6.66 three cone. The Packers are firmly in their championship window, and while Devante Adams has been able to dominate without any real help around him, adding a weapon like Moore would continue to make Green Bay an elite offense for the rest of Rodgers career.  

30. Buffalo Bills – Christian Barmore DL Alabama; Buffalo has greater needs at corner and edge, but is solid enough to take a chance on Barmore who’s high end is greater than any other in this interior defensive class. I’m lower on Barmore than most due to his inconsistencies throughout last year, but theres no denying the impact he makes on a game as a do-it-all defensive tackle when he’s on. If Buffalo can get the player we saw throughout the CFB playoff, their interior duo of Barmore and Oliver will reek havoc on the AFC.

31. Baltimore Ravens – Kadarius Toney WR Florida; The Ravens could use more of a outside bigger body receiver, but I couldn’t let a talent like Toney slip past them. Kadarius has unteachable, perhaps even unprecedented elusiveness. He can attack the middle of the field alongside Mark Andrews, playing into Lamar Jackson’s strengths.  While his receiving skill set is raw, his upside as a weapon and go to guy for Lamar is too much for me to pass on at 31.

Cole Beasley + Lamar Jackson = Kadarius Toney

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Kellen Mond QB Texas A&M; This isn’t a move to help Tampa Bay win another championship in 2021, however, getting a first round talent in Mond at the quarterback position to sit behind Tom Brady is something I like the potential of. By the Brady retires Mond could have 2 to 3 years in the system already, and has all the tools to be a good starting quarterback. Mond had no NFL level weapons during his time in College Station and would instantly be thrust into a fantastic system with Bruce Arians.

John Gooch 2021 Predictive Mock Draft

this is me attempting to predict this years draft as accurately as possible…enjoy.

1.Jaguars- Trevor Lawrence QB Clemson

2.Jets- Zach Wilson QB BYU

3.49ers- Mac Jones QB Alabama

4.Falcons- Trey Lance QB North Dakota State

5.Bengals- J’Marr Chase WR LSU

6.Dolphins- Kyle Pitts WR/TE Florida

7.Patriots- Justin Fields QB Ohio State (Lions trade 1.7 to Patriots for 1.15, 3.96, 5.177 and 2022 1st)

8.Panthers- Penei Sewell OL Oregon

9.Eagles- Jaylen Waddle WR Alabama (Broncos trade 1.9 to Eagles for 1.12, 3.70)

10.Cowboys- Patrick Surtain CB Alabama

11.Giants- DeVonta Smith WR Alabama

12.Broncos- Micah Parsons LB Penn State

13.Chargers- Jaycee Horn CB South Carolina

14.Vikings- Rashawn Slater OL Northwestern

15.Lions- Zaven Collins LB Tulsa

16.Saints- Caleb Farley CB Virginia Tech (Cardinals trade 1.16 to Saints for 1.28, 3.98, 3.105 and 2022 5th)

17.Raiders- Christian Barmore iDL Alabama

18.Dolphins- Alijah Vera-Tucker OL USC

19.Football Team- Jamin Davis LB Kentucky

20.Bears- Christian Darrisaw OT Virginia Tech

21.Bills- Jaelen Phillips EDGE Miami (Colts trade 1.21 to Bills for 1.30, 3.93)

22.Titans- Elijah Moore WR Ole Miss

23.Jets- Travis Etienne RB Clemson

24.Steelers- Najee Harris RB Alabama

25.Jaguars- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah LB Notre Dame

26.Browns- Eric Stokes CB Georgia

27.Ravens- Trevon Moehrig S TCU

28.Cardinals- Greg Newsome CB Northwestern

29.Packers- Rashod Bateman WR Minnesota

30.Colts- Liam Eichenberg OL Notre Dame

31.Ravens- Kwity Paye EDGE Michigan

32.Buccaneers- Azeez Ojulari EDGE Georgia

2021 3 Round Divisional Mock : NFC WEST

To kick off our Divisional Mock Draft series we head out to the NFC West, arguably the leagues best division. With all four of these teams in their respective Super Bowl windows, let’s see if we can find some fits for teams that are all expecting playoff seasons come this fall. There are no trades allowed in this exercise, so each team will be make their selections as they stand here in early April.

San Fransisco 49rs:

Round 1 Pick 3 – Justin Fields QB Ohio State

While I’ve been the BackJudge’s most vocal proponent of Zach Wilson and his ceiling, I also love the NFL prospects of Justin Fields. Fields is a superb athlete with arm strength and accuracy to boot. In two years of starting at Ohio State, Fields has demonstrated leadership, moxy, and some great tape against the nations top competition. Like Wilson, where Fields gets into some trouble is with his decision making and occasionally the ability to properly read the defense leading to some poor decisions and ugly turnovers. Enter Kyle Shanahan and his offense in San Fransisco, a system that I’ve long loved and consider to be elite. Shanahan’s system will be able to make Fields’ transition to pro game as seamless as possible while curbing some of the issues Fields has shown to have with going through his progressions. Despite my endless adoration for Kyle Shanahan and more broadly the San Fransisco organization, I will be disappointed if they pass on Fields, and to a lesser extent Trey Lance, for Mac Jones. 

Round 2 Pick 43 – Asante Samuel Jr. CB Florida State

Perhaps I’m just higher on Samuel than most, who’s lack of size will likely push him to day 2. Samuel’s lack of ideal size and physicality can lead to him getting bullied a bit by bigger, more physical receivers. However, he checks are the requisite athletic boxes to play the position at a high level and has multiple impressive moments of feel and instinct littered all over this tape. I think he’s a high floor, scheme diverse player, who at the very least can be a starting slot corner in the NFL. 

Round 3 Pick 102 – Jaelon Darden WR North Texas 

Despite having two young studs in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, receiver is still a sneaky position of need for the 49rs. While it seems prudent to bring in a receiver who fits, the recently departed, Kendrick Bourne’s mold, adding another RAC freak to Samuel and Aiyuk is too juicy for me to pass up. Darden has been a popular draft sleeper for good reason, he’s a twitched up jitterbug, who’s change of direction and make you miss ability is as elite as it gets. At 5’8 174 pounds, Darden will likely be restricted to the slot and gadget plays, but who better to give a weapon like this to than Kyle Shanahan. The idea of Justin Fields throwing to Kittle, Samuel, Aiyuk, and Darden already has me wanting to gobble up all the San Fransisco futures I can find. 

Asante Samuel Jr. will be a steal on Day 2

Arizona Cardinals:

Round 1 Pick 16 – Jaycee Horn CB South Carolina 

Despite being a well documented Kyler Murray fan and believer, I’m still hesitant too fully buy into the 2021 Arizona Cardinals. While most of this caution is due to my lukewarm opinion of Kliff Kingsbury, also a lot of my reservation stems with this defense. JJ Watt is no doubt a great piece to add the trenches and help free up Chandler Jones. Buddha Baker is an elite safety and Isiah Simmons should continue to develop towards being a high end starter. While Byron Murphy has justified my CB1 grade on him coming out in 2019, the rest of the corner room is a mess; enter Jaycee Horn. Horn is the modern cornerback prototype; 6’1 205 with 4.39 speed and a 42” vertical. On top of the measurables and projections, Horn’s tape is also impressive. He’s got that dawg mentality, he competes every snap and backs up his talk. While his tackling ability leaves a lot left to be desired, his coverage floor and upside gives him a firm round 1 grade. 

Round 2 Pick 49 – Joseph Ossai EDGE Texas 

Behind Chandler Jones there isn’t a lot of quality depth in the EDGE room. Joseph Ossai is a high floor edge who lacks the physical traits of the names we see more frequently mentioned in this EDGE class. He still however is a impressive athlete for this position positing a 4.65 40 yard dash and a 42” vertical. Ossai has a tremendous motor, which lead to so much of his production at Texas. While he may never become an elite pass rusher, he has the tools to be productive and should be plus as a run defender. I think he offers a higher ceiling than Markus Golden and Devon Kennard and should have a solid role from day 1. 

Jaycee Horn has that dawg mentality

Seattle Seahawks:

Round 2 Pick 56 – Walker Little OT Stanford 

As a result of “Organization Hubris,” (insert:BJP Trademark) Seattle has stripped themselves of their draft capital. Their seemingly harmonious marriage with Russell Wilson showed some deep seeded resentment and tension this offseason; supposedly stemming from philosophical differences between Wilson and Pete Carrol, on top of continued porous play from the offensive line. If Seattle has any interest in repairing their fractured relationship with their elite QB, it should start in the trenches come day 2. Walker Little is a former five-star recruit who was the ninth-best overall recruit in 2017. He has an impressive build at 6’8 313 pounds and has the potential to grow into a starting NFL left tackle. The concerns with Little come from the fact that he hasn’t played in two years, opting out this past year and tearing his ACL week 1 of 2019. Little played 783 snaps in 2018, impressing in pass pro while struggling a bit in the run game. While there is considerable risk with Little, the Seahawks should be enamored by his upside. 

Walker Little is a mountain of a man with upside for days

Los Angeles Rams:

Round 2 Pick 57 – Jevon Holland DB Oregon

Like the Seahawks, the Rams have also sacrificed major draft capital with their past acquisitions, most notably Jalen Ramsey. Unlike the Seahawks, the Rams have very few glaring needs on their roster. The biggest hole is currently the free safety position, the departure of John Johnson hurts and leaves a hole across from Taylor Rapp. Jevon Holland is one of my dudes in this draft class. Another 2020 opt out, Holland’s 2018 and 2019 tape shows a high floor, immediate contributor, who has positional versatility playing both slot corner and free safety. Holland excels in coverage, racking up 20 interceptions and pass breakups through his two years as a starter in Eugene. Paired with his coverage ability, he is a willing and sure tackler in run support who absolutely sells out to make tackles in space. If Holland were to fall to late round 2, I think he’d be an excellent Johnson replacement and an immediate starter in Los Angeles’ vaunted secondary. 

Round 3 Pick 88 – Jamin Davis LB Kentucky 

Another position of need for the Rams is off ball linebacker, as Micah Kiser and Kenny Young are serviceable, yet replacement level starters. Insert Adam Klepp’s boy Jamin Davis; Davis likely wont fall to pick 88 after destroying his pro day’ measuring 6’3 234 with a 4.41 40 yard dash and a 42 inch vertical. However, in this simulation Davis falls to the needy Rams, who could use a high ceiling off ball linebacker. Davis is a bit raw but has the tools to develop into an absolute stud at the second level for a team that is currently in their Super Bowl window. 

Round 3 Pick 103 – Kendrick Green iOL Illinois 

Guard is another position that could use a influx of depth and upside, Kenrick Green screams both those things. A three year starter in Champaigne, Green has consistently improved, playing both guard and center. He thrives in the run game and is a adequate pass blocker. His athletic testing is obscene too; 6’2 305, 4.85s 40 yard dash (99th%) and a 36” vertical (99th%). Green is a certified freak who has a high ceiling because of these traits, which are so rare for guards. Green is more than worth a shot at the end of round 3 for a team who has replacement level players starting across their interior offensive line. 

Jevon Holland; Elite Aesthetic meets Elite Ability

Now What?

I lay out what’s next for the Lions.

On Saturday, November 28th, Matt Patricia was fired as Head Coach of the Detroit Lions, and Bob Quinn was fired as General Manager.

There’s plenty to say there, but not much of it would be stuff you haven’t heard before. In the end, 2018-2020 will be looked back at as an especially dark period of professional football in Detroit.

Patricia and Quinn are gone, which deserves to be celebrated. But the mess they left behind is still here, and will take multiple years to clean up. Lions owner Shelia Ford Hamp and team President Rod Wood, along with assistance from Chirs Spielman and others have begun a GM and Head Coach search, and who they hire will direct the future of the team.

I’m not here to tell you who they should hire, because honestly I have no clue. But here are some sobering observations. There could be as many as 8 openings for a GM and coach in the NFL come January, and the Lions’ candidate pool will likely not include hot NFL names like Eric Bieniemy, or college coaches like Matt Campbell and Lincoln Riley. The roster is a total teardown without many trade-worthy assets, and they don’t have a ton of draft capital. The opening in Houston with Deshaun Watson, and the likely openings with the Chargers with Justin Herbert, or the Jaguars and Jets with high draft picks will be more attractive. It’s worth noting that Matt Patricia was considered one of the top candidates in 2018, he had his pick between the Giants and the Lions, so just because you don’t get a ‘top candidate’ doesn’t mean you’re doomed.

With that said, there’s plenty of reasons to believe that Sheila Ford Hamp and Rod Wood don’t know how to make the right decision, and starting off with limited options makes things more difficult. Sheila only owns the team because she was born into it, not to mention she was also part of the decision to keep Quinn and Patricia going into 2020. Rod has been with the Ford family business a long time, then became Lions President in 2015. In his introductory press conference he said he was “not a football guy”, which is him freely admitting that he would have no idea how to pick a GM or a Head Coach. On top of that, with the Lions still having to pay Patricia and Quinn through 2022, I’m not sure Sheila would be willing to write a blank check to lure a top choice away from a better situation. Chris Spielman will likely be deciding who the next GM is based on what he hears from an x’s and o’s standpoint. Spielman is on the Lions Mount Rushmore and understands the pain of this fanbase. While he’s better than the Erinie Accorsi led search which gave us Bob Quinn, he’s also on record in 2019 with tweets supporting Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia, saying “but blowing it up is not the answer”.

So that’s that. Unless the organization goes completely senile and hires a Bill O’Brien, a Mike Pettine, or a Marvin Lewis, I won’t have much of an opinion on who they choose. What I will have opinions on is the decisions that the people who are hired make. So let’s fast forward to 2021, and the Lions have named their next GM and Head Coach. Now what?

Matthew Stafford

The first big decision the next men in charge of the Lions will have to make is what to do with Matthew Stafford. Stafford was the 1st overall pick by the Lions in the 2009 draft, and has been the Week 1 starter ever since. He owns practically all the Lions passing records, even interceptions, as he just passed Bobby Layne for that honor in Week 13. I suppose you really do die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

In my mind, the new leadership has three different routes they can take with #9.

Option #1: They decide to keep him as the franchise QB, and run the rebuild around him.

Some GMs, look no further than Chicago’s Ryan Pace, can be fired for never finding the right QB, despite building a solid roster everywhere else. Stafford is an immensely talented player who will be 33 at the start of next season, which means he could play in the NFL for 6-7 more years. The next GM may view Stafford as a QB capable of winning a Super Bowl, and that the past regimes simply haven’t done enough to build the right team around him.

This would still be a rebuild, and Stafford’s willingness to be part of it would absolutely figure into this scenario. But it’s possible the next GM and Coach would rather stick with a proven player rather than to jump into the pool of rookie QBs. Also consider that the Lions will not have a top selection in the 2021 draft, where it’s likely top options Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields will go in the first two picks.

Staying with Stafford and not using the team’s already limited pick supply on a position where you already have a starter could seem like the most logical option, assuming Stafford’s willingness to be part of the process. The roster has plenty of holes elsewhere, and swinging and missing on a QB with a high pick will only make the rebuild more difficult.

Option #2: Keep Stafford, but draft his replacement.

In 2017 the Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick, and sat him behind established veteran Alex Smith for a whole season. The strategy has paid off big time, and whoever takes over in Detroit may want to follow the exact model.

As I mentioned above, the Lions will be unable to select from the top tier of QB prospects due to the fact they have five wins already. With three games left to play a lot can happen in the draft order, but more than likely they will be jockeying for position with other QB needy teams who aren’t putting on the tank shows happening with the Jets and Jaguars.

The Lions will be looking at more un-polished prospects such as Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Kyle Trask, and others. If selected, they may not be ready to start Week 1. With an established starter they can learn from in place already, the pressure to immediately contribute many rookies face would be non-existent. Then in 2022, Stafford would be cut or traded and they would take over.

Again, this situation would require Stafford’s willingness to be a mentor. Alex Smith notoriously was more than gracious with Mahomes, but other QBs put in similar situations like Favre, Roethlisberger, or Eli Manning have been far less interested in playing the Mr. Miyagi role. However with 3 years still left on his deal, Stafford may not necessarily be given a choice if this is the direction the new leadership wishes to go.

Option #3 Trade Stafford this offseason.

The third option would be to cut ties with Stafford completely and make it a true tear-down rebuild. Trade rumors have been with Stafford for the past 2 off-seasons, but this is the first year in which it’s realistic, as there would not be a crippling dead-money cap hit if he was sent to another team.

I believe Stafford could reasonably net a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft. There are enough teams who will be in the market for a QB who would likely rather not go the rookie route. San Francisco, Denver, and Cleveland immediately come to mind, but others like the Patriots, Saints, Giants, and Washington could all be potential suitors.

Stafford is one of two players (I’ll get to Golladay next) on the roster that are real assets other teams would be interested in. If the next GM wants to do a total tear-down, he will have to build through the draft. The Lions don’t have extra picks, and with the draft being hard enough as it is, the next GM will want as many swings as possible to build a contender.

If some of the intrigue on the rookie QBs outside of Lawrence and Fields cools down, and there’s enough interest in Stafford, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for the Lions to get a late 1st round pick for him. Especially for teams like the Saints or Browns who will be in the playoffs, they may decide getting a quarterback who can get them over the top is more important than some position player they can get in the 20s.

This move would allow both sides to go their separate ways, which may be best as Dan Orlovsky hinted on Twitter.

As for me, I think it’s most likely Stafford is somewhere else in 2021. Stafford is a great quarterback, a great teammate, and a great face of the franchise. Yet, in over a decade, for all the numbers he has put up, you have 0 NFC North titles and 0 wins in 3 Wild Card playoff games. As some injuries and spotty play has piled up over the last three seasons, even by keeping him a season to mentor a rookie, you risk losing trade value if Stafford gets hurt or plays poorly in 2021.

To me, this thing needs a full reboot. Stafford has been the focus of two separate front office teams and three separate coaching staffs, and it hasn’t worked out. Stafford can get traded to a team who views him as the missing piece, and the Lions can get some solid draft value while they still can. While it’s hard to move on, I think it’s the best way to move forward.

Kenny Golladay

Whatever the decision is with Stafford, it will likely impact the fate of Kenny Golladay.

Golladay’s agent had been negotiating with Bob Quinn on an extension for the star receiver, however nothing ever came to fruition. It’s unclear how close to an agreement they got, but with Quinn gone now, all bets are off.

Golladay is one of the few bright spots on the roster, as well as one of Quinn’s best picks as GM. The wide receiver depth behind him is awful, which has shown itself as Golladay has been injured on and off this entire season. Put simply, it’s a different offense when he plays.

Where we had three options with Stafford, the new regime has four with Golladay. So as I slowly turn into Charlie looking for Pepe Silvia, let’s break it down.

Option #1: Let Golladay walk, get a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2022.

In the NFL, if you lose a player who signs a big money deal with another team, and you don’t make a big signing yourself in the same offseason, you receive a ‘compensatory’ selection in the next year’s draft.

As I don’t expect the Lions to be in the market for a high-priced free agent in March, and find it unlikely many players will want to come to Detroit, the Lions would reasonably be in line for a 3rd round pick in 2022 if they let Golladay leave.

I expect Golladay to get anywhere from $18-22 million a year when he signs his first big long-term deal, whenever that eventually happens. The next GM knows Golladay is a great player, and a #1 receiver, but there are reasons to hesitate on giving him big money. Golladay is 27, old for a guy getting his first real contract. He has also only played 16 games once in four years, and it’s looking more and more like he will only play 5 times in 2020. While he is talented, paying a wideout near $20 million a year while beginning a complete re-boot may not in the best interest of the team.

By letting Golladay go, you open up money for others in the future when the team is theoretically closer to contending, and add a day 2 pick for next year’s draft.

Option #2: Sign Golladay to a long-term contract.

As I said, Kenny Golladay is a great receiver who changes the offense when he is on the field. No matter who the QB is, rookie or Stafford, you still need weapons for them to throw to. With it being unlikely that Marvin Jones or Danny Amendola will be part of the future, you’re really looking at nothing in the receiver room if you let Golladay walk out the door.

While I do think the move with Stafford will have an impact on Golladay, the next GM may think that moving on from Stafford makes it even more important to keep Golladay in the fold. Part of the reason Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow have had successful rookie seasons is because they’re surrounded with talented skill position players. While Tua Tagovailoa has has had his moments, he hasn’t played as well and has considerably worse weapons around him.

Also look at Sam Darnold. Widely considered to be the most talented QB in the 2018 draft, his career has been torpedoed due to a dearth of talent surrounding him. By keeping Golladay, you ensure that if you do eventually start a young QB, he will have weapons to utilize on the outside.

Golladay is a #1 receiver right now, and while that comes at a price, the team will be worse without him, and there’s no guarantee future picks or signings will replace what he brings on Sundays.

Option #3: Franchise Tag Golladay.

The tag number for wide receivers in 2021 is going to be around $16 million. The new GM could simply kick the can down the road and tag Golladay, keeping him in the fold for the upcoming season, but not committing anything long-term considering some of the bloated contracts that already exist on the team.

The kicker to this would obviously be Golladay refusing to play without long-term guarantees, which he would be well within his right to. $16 million would likely be lower than the annual number he would like for a long-term deal. Golladay also continued to play into the final year of his rookie deal, which some players of Golladay’s level choose not to do anyways without a new contract.

If the next GM tagged Golladay, barring injury or a severe drop off in play, his price in the 2022 offseason would likely rise again. You could let him walk then, but then you also risk another injury or a drop in production, which would change the value you could get for a compensatory pick.

This option would be an easy fix for the new GM in the short-term, but one that could cost him in the future. However, with so many other roster decisions looming, taking the easy way out in 2021 could be the best way to move forward.

Option #4: Tag, then trade Golladay.

Since Golladay is on an expiring contract, the Lions can no longer trade him. Therefore, the only way to get picks for him in this year’s draft would be to franchise tag him, then trade him to a team before the draft.

This is the only way to get immediate compensation for losing Golladay, and the pick you get from a tag and trade could be used to add young receiver depth for this year. The money you saved from not signing him long-term or tagging him could also be used on a free agent receiver who costs far less.

This scenario would be a big risk though, as the team who traded for Golladay would then be signing him to a long-term contract. Golladay is a great receiver, but teams may not be willing to give up more than a day 3 pick knowing they have to sign him to a contract as well. Tagging him eliminates any opportunity to get a compensatory pick in 2022, and if no team wants to trade for him, then you franchise tagged a player you never wanted to keep in the first place.

Personally, I let Golladay walk, and collect my 3rd round pick for him in 2022. It’s tough letting good players walk out the door, but this move correlates with my belief that Detroit needs a full tear down.

Realistically, if you hit on a quarterback in the next two years, this team still wont be a contender for 4-5 years, if everything goes well. Golladay’s timeline doesn’t fit in that window to me, as he would be signing a contract for 4-5 years. As I said before, he’s a great player, and a number one receiver. But he is not on the level of a Devante Adams, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill, or DeAndre Hopkins.

Instead of signing him, you get cheap free-agent placeholders, and draft young receivers that you hopefully can develop. It’s a risk, and there’s no telling who is on the other side, but this thing is going to take time. Golladay and Stafford are the only two players on the team who you can easily get assets for, so it’s best to take the draft pick and move on from a talented player who’s timeline unfortunately did not match up with the team’s.

The Rest of the Roster

Once you get past the looming decisions with Stafford and Golladay, the rest of the roster remains. As it stands now, to me there are 4 categories that players on this roster fit into.

Category #1

Players brought in by Quinn and Patricia who need to be gone in 2021.

Let’s start with the massacre, shall we? And for good measure, I’ll start on defense.

The first thing the next GM needs to do is load the off the ball linebacker room into a rocket ship and shoot them into the sun. Unfortunately Jamie Collins’s contract makes him immovable for now (I’ll get to that category in a moment), but Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai, Christian Jones, and Reggie Ragland all need to go. Davis and Ragland are both free agents in 2021, and they can just walk out the door. Tavai and Jones will need to be released from their contracts, but the team will not incur massive cap hits by doing so. The forgotten man in all this is Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who has remained in Detroit due to his special teams play. He is a free agent in 2021, and the next GM can sign him to a low money deal for special teams value, or let him walk. Either choice is fine.

Now to the defensive line. Danny Shelton and Nick Williams should get cut to make room for other younger players, and Everson Griffen can walk out the door as a free agent in 2021. The next Lions GM has a decision to make with Romeo Okwara, the only effective Lions pass rusher this year. He is 25 and a free agent in 2021, I expect he will get contract offers somewhere in the range of $8-12 million per year. Signing him may not be the worst move, but I’d be inclined to just let him walk in the hopes of maybe even collecting a later compensatory pick. Keep in mind, if you let Golladay walk, and sign Okwara, you likely miss out on a compensatory 3rd round pick in 2022.

In the secondary, cutting Desmond Trufant is a must. It’ll trigger a cap hit of six million which isn’t great, but you simply need to have a full season with Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah at corner to see what you have there. Will Harris is one of the worst picks of the Quinn era and should be cut immediately. Duron Harmon is a free agent in 2021 and he can be shown the door. Jayron Kearse is a free agent in 2021 and I like him a little just because of his size and physicality, I would not be against bringing him back on a cheap deal, but if he left it would not really matter.

Should the Detroit Lions keep playing Will Harris? - Pride Of Detroit
Will Harris once returned a fumble for a touchdown in the preseason against the Texans and I thought he might be good. Turns out he stinks.

On offense I’ll start at receiver. Marvin Jones has been a very solid Lion, but on an expiring contract at the age of 30 with slowly declining play, it’s time to move on. Danny Amendola should not be brought back, and obviously Mohammed Sanu should not be part of any long-term plans in Detroit. Jamal Agnew can stay or go if he wants to, I wouldn’t pay him over $1 million a year. He has speed and return game value, but that’s about it. So far he has failed to carve out a role on defense, and the wide receiver experiment has failed.

I don’t have too much to say about the O-Line in this category (trust me, I’ll get to Big V), other than that Oday Aboushi can stay or go as a free agent in 2021.

At tight end Jesse James should absolutely get cut, and Issac Nauta was already cut after Quinn left. At running back Adrian Peterson should be sent to go vulture carries from younger, more talented backs somewhere else. Kerryon has been a bust but he’s here through 2022 and with his pass protecting value there’s no real reason to cut him this year, but he is not part of the future.

At QB, much will depend on what happens with #9, but David Blough should probably call a realtor.

On to the next one.

Category #2

Will be in Detroit due to their contracts, but are not part of the future.

Unfortunately there will be remnants of the Quinntricia era in Detroit for years to come, as there are certain players who I wish the team could part ways with in 2021, but it would be too costly to do so.

The first of these players is Big V, brought in by Quinn to replace Graham Glasgow. He’s constantly hurt, can’t start over Oday Aboushi, and so out of shape that he missed significant time in the Jacksonville game because he needed oxygen. Unfortunately he’s under contract for 4 more seasons, and while he can be cut in year 3 or 4 of his deal, the next GM is stuck with him for now.

Lions place OL Hal Vaitai on IR, add WR Mohamad Sanu to 53-man roster
Vaitai is a 5 year 50 million dollar mistake.

Trey Flowers was always going to end up being overpaid as an end rusher due to his lack of sack production, but now it’s going to get real ugly. Quinn backloaded his deal, and for the next two years Flowers would carry a cap hit of $26 and $11 million if cut. In the final year of his contract, the cap hit would be $5 million, which isn’t as bad but still not great. While Flowers is a good player, and a good guy in the locker room, he’s nothing special. Unfortunately he will be overpaid in Detroit for at least the next two seasons.

Justin Coleman may get cut in the offseason, but that would carry a cap hit of $6 million. I just don’t see it happening after likely taking on Trufant’s cap hit, which is also $6 million. Coleman has been another disappointment, a Quinn signing that is paying elite money for the position for a middling player. The one caveat to this is that if the next defensive scheme brought in features more zone coverage, Coleman’s play could improve. He was brought in from a heavy zone scheme in Seattle, and Quinn seemingly tried to fit a square peg in a round hole by forcing him into Patricia’s man-heavy play calling. However even if he does improve, Coleman will be in his 30s once this team is a couple years into the new regime, and likely not part of the future.

As mentioned above, Jamie Collins will be on the roster again next year, as cutting him would incur a cap hit of $11 million. He’s not as bad as the other linebackers, but that’s not saying much. Collins is only on a three year deal and he can be cut for minimal losses in 2022, so he is on one of the least damaging Quinn contracts. Still, Collins is proof that keeping Quinn and Patricia in 2020 only made the hole for the next regime a deeper one to climb out of.

Category #3

Could be part of the future and will be evaluated by the new leadership for future contracts.

Starting on defense, Tracy Walker will have one more season to show he can be a starting safety in the NFL. I will give him the benefit of the doubt for now and say his up and down play was due to Patricia’s dumb scheme and idiotic safety rotation, but Walker needs to show some consistent playmaking ability in 2021 if he wants a good second contract in Detroit.

Amani Oruwariye has developed into a nice player for a 5th round pick, and I look forward to seeing a full season next year with him and Okudah starting. Oruwariye has shown some good playmaking ability and has great size and speed for a corner, but definitely has looked lost against top tier receivers. I put him in the same category as Walker, and would love to see what he can do on a defense that doesn’t only run man and can actually pressure the QB.

Detroit Lions News: Amani Oruwariye deserves a bigger piece of pie
I gave Oruwariye a 2nd round grade in 2019 and Quinn got him in the 5th, one of the few day 3 picks he hit on.

Da’Shawn Hand and Austin Bryant have flashed on the d-line but neither have flourished, mainly due to injury issues. If they can put together a full offseason and stay healthy in 2021, they have a chance to get signed to second contracts by the next GM, but I wouldn’t count on them going forward.

On offense, T.J. Hockenson is one of the league’s better tight ends. He isn’t worth the 8th overall pick, but it’s not his fault he was taken there. I’d like to see him become a better threat in the red zone and become a more effective blocker, but he likely will get his first Pro Bowl invite this year and is one of the few young players on the team that is a surefire starter going forward.

From a pure football standpoint, Frank Ragnow is probably the best player Quinn drafted. The guy is tough as nails, and is able to bottle up the stronger interior lineman in the NFC North like Akiem Hicks and Kenny Clark. Ragnow is controlled for the next three years on his rookie deal, and I would hope he is signed long term after that.

As for the rest of the offensive line, Joe Dahl and Tyrell Crosby are under contract next year and are good backups who have seen a lot of playing time due to injured starters. Despite all the injuries and mistakes by Bob Quinn, the o-line has played well given the circumstances, and I give a lot of credit to Hank Fraley the o-line coach for that. Whoever the next coach is, I would like to see Fraley stay on the staff if possible.

Not include in this list is the 2020 rookie class. With them under contract going forward, guys like Okudah, Penisini, Okwara, Swift, Jackson, Cephus, and Stenberg figure to be part of the future, but it’s difficult to judge them off of a season where they had no real offseason with COVID and got drafted by a GM played for a coach who got fired midseason. Swift has shown the most promise out of all them, guys like Okudah, Owkara, Jackson, and Stenberg becoming solid starters could speed up the rebuild process.

Category #4

Part of the future and already signed to long-term deals.

Taylor Decker.

That is the list.

Decker was Quinn’s first ever pick and he signed him to a long-term deal before the 2020 season started. Decker is a very solid left tackle and is having a career year this season. Having him on the blind-side for years to come is a huge help to the next GM, as left tackle is one of the 3 most important positions on a football team.

Will the Lions make Taylor Decker the NFL's highest paid left tackle?
Decker is the only player who is good locked up for the long term. With the receiver room in potential shambles next year, maybe he could split out wide a couple times too.

For now, this is what awaits the next GM and Head Coach of the Detroit Lions. Whoever it is will be the 7th GM and 18th Head Coach of the Super Bowl era. Will they break the mold and bring success to Detroit, or fall by the wayside along with all the others who have called the shots and roamed the sidelines in Honolulu Blue?

Forward down the field.