MLB

2022-2023 Top 30 MLB Free Agent Predictions

With the Hot Stove turned on, I’m jumping right into my team and contract predictions for the top free agents on the MLB market. I did intentionally rank these players but their number ranking isn’t worth obsessing over; like, I don’t know if I would pay Taijuan Walker over Josh Bell. There is more intention behind the tiers of these players, all of whom I deemed worthy of inclusion either because they are obvious cases for a Top 30 list or because they are interesting enough to merit input. 30 is somewhat of an arbitrary number for this list, but with this being baseball I’ll aim to accurately guess the destinations of 9+ of these players and bat .300 in the process. To make this exercise harder on myself, I excluded these softball qualifiers:

  • Already accepted offers: Edwin Diaz (NYM), Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
  • Qualifying Offer recipients who might accept it: Tyler Anderson (LAD), Martin Perez (TEX), Nathan Eovaldi (BOS), Joc Pederson (SFG)

I’m also doing myself a favor by skipping mid-inning relievers altogether and fringe guys with some of the more boring or weirder profiles on the market (i.e. Joey Gallo, Andrew Heaney). We’ll kick it off with the same guy who’d be in the top spot if this was listed by height and weight…

(Not predicting option years in contracts to avoid over-complicating this.) 

THE CROWN JEWEL

  1. Aaron Judge

Prediction: San Francisco Giants, 9yr/$360mil

I went into greater detail on this outcome in my recent blog on the Yankees offseason, but in short it boils down to a combination of… 1) Judge harboring animosity towards the Yankees for “low-balling” him before the season and essentially bragging about the offer and 2) the Giants being at an organizational crossroads with a largely anonymous roster, an agitated fan base and the power gap between them and the archrival Dodgers growing exponentially. I expect Judge to head home and I think the contract predictions that I’ve read are too low; he’s going to net a stunning amount with likely MVP-esque production in the short term (11.4 WAR in 2022 was the highest since Barry Bonds) coupled with his massive presence on and off the field.

FRANCHISE SHORTSTOPS

  1. Trea Turner

Prediction: Chicago Cubs, 8yr/$280mil

Turner, unlike his two fellow shortstops listed behind him, has a good chance to finish his impending mega-deal while still manning the shortstop position. He’s smooth, durable and flat-out one of the best athletes in the sport. I figure the Dodgers will make at least a decent push to retain Turner’s services, but the time has come for Trea to become the guy on his team after sharing a dugout with Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, etc. over the first half of his career. The Cubs, following two mediocre seasons, should be ready to cast their line for a big fish after multiple offseasons of mid-tier moves and bargain hunting. Nico Hoerner has developed into a really fine player, but he can easily slide over to 2B and form one of the league’s elite double-play combos with Turner. The all-time list of MLB players with 2,500 hits and 500 steals is a short one and Turner has the potential to join that club.

  1. Xander Bogaerts

Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies, 7yr/$210mil

When the Red Sox opted against trading away Bogaerts midway through a lost season in 2022, it seemed as if he was destined to become a lifer in Boston. However, it sounds like that is no longer the case as the Red Sox prioritize ironing out a long-term extension with Rafael Devers before he heads into his contract year. (If Boston insists that they have to pick between the two, then they are making the right decision.) Bogaerts is a curious case in that he is on the wrong side of 30 and has seen his power dip over four consecutive seasons, but he also just posted the highest WAR of his career in 2022 and turned back the clock with his defense at shortstop. He might no longer bat .300 with his BABIP likely falling south of .340 without assistance from the Green Monster, but this is still one of the best pure hitters in the game who you can set-and-forget in the 2 hole in your lineup. For the Phillies, Dave Dombrowski knows first-hand what Bogaerts can do to propel a team to a championship – imagine Bogaerts in that Philly lineup instead of Jean Segura. Bogaerts would only need to stay at shortstop for a year or two before sliding to 2B or 3B when Alec Bohm is inevitably moved off the hot corner.

  1. Carlos Correa

Prediction: Minnesota Twins, 3yr/$120mil

Not long before this I wrote that I wouldn’t clarify option years in this exercise, though in this case it feels worthwhile to note that this contract would include player opt-outs after each season. It’s essentially the deal that Correa signed with the Twins last year all over again, just this time with a $5mil raise after he posted a strong season of .291/.366/.467 across nearly 600 plate appearances. It’s evident that Correa is anxious for his version of the Corey Seager contract that I also projected for Trea Turner above, but he’ll have to keep waiting. One, this free agent shortstop class is probably even better than the Class of 2022 that Correa chose to avoid, and with the Cubs and Phillies choosing other options here I’m not positive what other clubs are open to long-term shortstop deals this offseason. Two, I’m just not sure that Correa is a true superstar – hence his No. 4 ranking. He’s not a model of durability, his career high for homers is 26, and his defense isn’t consistently great. There is little doubt that he’s a great player though and to Minnesota he probably is that superstar, so I’m calling for him to stay in the Twin Cities – which he reportedly loves – for at least one more season. Fortunately for Correa, the free agent shortstop Class of 2024 looks TERRIBLE.

ACES

  1. Jacob deGrom

Prediction: New York Yankees, 2yr/$100mil

I covered this prediction in my recent Yankees blog as well, so I’ll only elaborate briefly with a couple of thoughts. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Jacob deGrom will leave Queens; that was probably settled once the Mets guaranteed Max Scherzer $130mil in deGrom’s opt-out year. I also think the ‘Steve Cohen vs. Hal Steinbrenner’ spending battle is a fake narrative spun by the Jon Heyman types of the baseball media, but the Yankees are one of the select few teams that can afford deGrom’s price tag and I do think they would take some pleasure in relocating deGrom to the Bronx.

  1. Justin Verlander

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers, 3yr/$105mil

I’m unsure if Dodgers fans have stopped whining about the new playoff format that they blame for the team’s NLDS exit despite winning 111 games in the regular season, but once they do they might start to realize it had more to do with Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson starting games for them with the season on the line. Gonsolin and Anderson are solid pitchers, but this is a juggernaut team in need of another dominant presence atop the rotation. Enter Verlander, who at 40 years old will likely ink the final contract of his career this offseason. He’s about to win the Cy Young Award, though Verlander isn’t exactly at the same level as his 2011 form or even 2018 form. Still, he’s throwing with as much velocity as ever and can be counted on to lead a staff from wire-to-wire across the season. He wouldn’t be my first pick to start a Game 7, but Verlander remains one of the five best starters in the league and the Dodgers can add him for only money.

  1. Carlos Rodon

Prediction: San Francisco Giants, 5yr/$150mil

Carlos Rodon is an awesome story, going from a guy who was 98% on his way to becoming a castoff and all-time MLB Draft bust to a guy who is now instead a top-shelf starter in line for a nine-figure deal in his near future. Rodon was spectacular in his lone season with the Giants, finishing third in MLB with 237 K’s to go along with a 2.88 ERA – with even better underlying stats. Perhaps more importantly, Rodon started 31 games across 178 innings. He’s not totally out of the woods with injury concerns so no 7-year offers should be anticipated despite Rodon’s recent dominance, but he’ll have multiple teams offering him big money. I’m calling for San Fran and their clean payroll books to pony up to continue their work with Rodon as he gets closer to becoming one of the game’s truly elite pitchers. 

ALL STAR BATS

  1. Dansby Swanson

Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals, 5yr/$130mil

The Braves have done an unbelievable job of locking up their young talent to build a core that will remain in place for 5+ years, but the writing is on the wall that Swanson is the odd man out despite being the hometown kid and a key member of their 2021 championship team. Aside from Austin Riley, Atlanta has specialized in getting players to agree to long-term deals early in their careers, yet Swanson is closer to the mold of Freddie Freeman in that he is entering his Age 29 season and peaked in a major way in his contract year. His 2022 WAR of 6.4 was nearly double his previous career high and it was largely buoyed by his defensive performance, which especially at shortstop is subject to year-to-year volatility. There is a bit of buyer beware here given that Swanson’s power is good (52 homers over 2021-2022) but not great enough to ignore that he strikes out more than average with pedestrian on-base percentages. I still expect him to land a deal in the range of Javy Baez and Trevor Story from last offseason, and the Cardinals feel like the right fit to buy into his charismatic, plays-the-game-the-right-way persona. 

  1. Willson Contreras

Prediction: Boston Red Sox, 4yr/$80mil

Contreras is a unique case in that he’s essentially a catcher/DH hybrid at this stage of his career and he’ll likely only consider playing for contenders. That only leaves a couple of teams – the Astros and Padres would qualify – but I think Contreras meshes best with the Red Sox. They don’t have much behind the plate on the depth chart beyond a potential platoon option in Reese McGuire and Contreras could fill the role of a fastball-mashing DH vacated by JD Martinez. Contreras hits the ball as hard as anyone in the game, and in 2022 he cut way down on his strikeouts while pulling the ball more than ever in his career. The Green Monster could quickly become Contreras’ best friend. 

  1. Brandon Nimmo

Prediction: Seattle Mariners, 6yr/$120mil

Jerry Dipoto has built quite the foundation in Seattle and it makes sense for him to make one more big move this offseason as a potential final piece to their puzzle. The Mariners’ core might not rival what Alex Anthopoulos has assembled in Atlanta, but Seattle has about a dozen key players locked down for 5+ years. Nimmo could step right into the centerfield job for the Mariners; Julio Rodriguez held his own there last season but better fits the profile of a rightfielder and the Mariners need to do everything they can to protect their best asset. I wouldn’t necessarily want my team to be on the giving end of this contract from either a length or value standpoint, but Nimmo does one thing extremely well: he gets on base. Nimmo’s OBP of .387 since his first full season in 2017 ranks *seventh* in MLB, ahead of names like Paul Goldschmidt and Mookie Betts. That remarkable plate discipline mixed with good athleticism makes Nimmo one of the better leadoff men in the game right now. His 102 runs were good for sixth in MLB in 2022, and the Mariners would be making an understandable bet that he can repeat that feat for a few more years while batting in front of Rodriguez and Ty France.

  1. Anthony Rizzo

Prediction: New York Yankees, 3yr/$60mil

Yet another item I covered in my recent Yankees blog, it feels like a foregone conclusion that Rizzo will return but I wouldn’t put the odds at 100%. Rizzo made a good bet on himself last offseason by posting a 132 wRC+ and tying his career-high with 32 homers. Somehow still only 33 years old, he’ll top his 2yr/$32mil contract from one year ago and there should be multiple suitors – especially with the impending shift ban that will be a godsend for Rizzo’s profile as a lefty pull hitter. Maybe the Cubs will make a play to bring back Rizzo too, but at the end of the day I still think he irons out a reunion with the Yankees.

SOLID MID-ROTATION STARTERS

  1. Chris Bassitt

Prediction: New York Mets, 3yr/$60mil

The Mets come into this offseason with somewhere in between millions and billions of roster holes. Perhaps that’s a tad of an exaggeration – particularly with plenty of those holes in the bullpen –  but the Mets will surely make free agent additions all over the roster. They have an ace in Max Scherzer, a wild card in Tylor Megill and two good depth guys in Carlos Corrasco and David Peterson, but they are missing their hypothetical Game 2 starter. They shouldn’t need to look too far past their No. 3 starter from a year ago, as Bassitt was one of the best No. 3 arms in the league. He continued exactly what he had done in Oakland for the Mets, eating a bunch of innings with an ERA closer to 3.00 than 4.00. He’s not exactly a doppelganger for deGrom, but Bassitt’s velocity has remained consistent and he actually set a career-high for groundball rate in 2022. There will be a ton of interest in him and it would behoove the Mets to scoop Bassitt up quickly.

  1. Jameson Taillon

Prediction: Texas Rangers, 4yr/$70mil

Taillon is good – covered in more statistical detail here. It came as a bit of a shock to me that Taillon didn’t receive the $19.5mil qualifying offer from the Yankees. Given that his multi-year AAV will likely fall in the $15-20mil range, it’s now evident that the Yankees won’t be among the top bidders for Taillon’s services. Texas, despite committing half a billion dollars to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last offseason, isn’t close to completing their rebuild. They’ll likely proceed with multiple mid-tier signings instead of more splash moves, and Taillon – a Texas native – fits that bill. The Rangers, despite their recent struggles, have excelled at getting the most out of their starting pitchers, particularly those with good fastballs like Taillon. This is close to the same deal that Texas gave to Jon Gray one year ago, another former high draft pick that flashed his talent but also struggled with injuries and inconsistency upon his time of signing.

  1. Taijuan Walker

Prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks, 4yr/$60mil

These contract predictions for Taillon and now Walker might come as a shock, but that’s likely what it will take to acquire a good, reliable pitcher without giving up anything in return. Walker, like Taillon, was not given a qualifying offer, so teams will aggressively court him without fear of losing a draft pick for signing him. The Mets bought fairly low on Walker with a 2yr/$20mil contract and he outperformed that, declining his player option to become a free agent. He wasn’t spectacular or anything, but Walker will give your rotation 150+ innings with a mid-3’s ERA. Walker does have talent and improved in 2022 at keeping the ball on the ground and inside the ballpark, so that’s not to say that he comes without upside. That, in combination with his age of 30 and being years removed from Tommy John surgery, should set up Walker for a long-term offer. Arizona makes sense as the team to do so, given that they have an exciting young core in place that should be a contender towards the end of a four-year pact for Walker. Walker’s best season prior to 2022 was also in 2017 for the…Diamondbacks.

PROFESSIONAL HITTERS

  1. Josh Bell

Prediction: Cleveland Guardians, 4yr/$50mil

It might be strange to find the Guardians on this list that is based on spending, let alone in the middle of it, but I think Bell’s free agency is a fortuitous combination of timing and need for Cleveland. The Guardians enjoyed a Cinderella 2022 season that ended in Game 5 of the ALDS, but that performance should be attributed less to good luck and more to that this is a supremely well-built team with a clear identity and a Hall of Fame manager who holds it all together. Still, they were undone at the end of the day for the primary reason that people doubted this team in the first place: a weak lineup. Outside of Jose Ramirez, this team didn’t have one batter who hit over 20 homers; only 3 hit 12! This is a good team desperately in need of a middle-of-the-lineup presence within their price range. Bell, despite his enormous stature, isn’t one of the top power sources in the league but he’d come to Cleveland with more than enough pop for them. The Guardians damn near refuse to strike out as a team, and Bell is one of the dozen hitters across the league with 40+ homers from 2021-2022 to strike out as seldom as he does. This move would only require Cleveland to spend more like the 25th highest payroll in the league instead of the 30th.

  1. Jose Abreu

Prediction: Houston Astros, 2yr/$40mil

A move that would terrify fans of other AL teams that also feels more probable than possible, Abreu would fit like a glove in the Astros lineup and into the role that Yuli Gurriel has filled for years. Gurriel, also a free agent, has been an incredibly reliable and clutch player for Houston during this pseudo dynasty of theirs, but his age has started to show and the time has come for an upgrade. Abreu, while 36 himself, has yet to show his age. His power did dip in 2022 with only 15 homers across a full season, but he batted .304 with batted ball data that backs up that number. Abreu will almost surely leave the South Side and seek out a contender; he shouldn’t have to look far beyond the reigning champs for a fair deal.

  1. Andrew Benintendi

Prediction: Texas Rangers, 6yr/$90mil

This is a bit of a gut call but I think Benintendi will land one of the most head-turning deals of the offseason. He’s still only 28 years old, so a long-term deal should be in play, and he’s coming off his best season since he played a key role on the World Series winning 2018 Red Sox. There aren’t many players who bat .300 anymore and even fewer of them have a good ability to draw walks too, but Benintendi fits that mold. He’s also one of maybe ten everyday leftfielders in the game and many teams are in the market for one, including some contenders like Houston, Atlanta and the Yankees. This is a player who has hit 35 home runs combined since 2019 though, and he’s more of a reliable fielder and baserunner than a good one. I would be terrified to invest in a guy who’s already slugging under .400 but someone will do it for Benintendi’s pedigree, and the Rangers could very well be that team. They have absolutely nobody on the roster equipped to handle LF right now and they could use another veteran bat in front of Semien & Seager too.

  1. Mitch Haniger

Prediction: New York Mets, 3yr/$45mil

Another prediction here that could be described as bold…I think Haniger lands a deal beyond his expected price. His perceived market is driven down by his long stints on the injured list in recent years, but his last two periods away from the Mariners were due to a sprained ankle and a ruptured testicle. I don’t think suitors should be too afraid of recurrence with those. You aren’t betting on better health with Haniger though; you are buying into the power. Haniger finished 22nd out of 100 qualifiers for at bats per home run in 2021, and it’s a real who’s who of hitters in front of him on that list. There is obviously some baked-in risk, but bats with this much pop don’t hit the open market too often. The Mets went 2-for-2 in mid-tier outfielder signings last offseason with Starling Marte and Mark Canha, so why not try to keep that streak alive with Haniger?

  1. JD Martinez

Prediction: Baltimore Orioles, 3yr/$40mil

We’re probably still a year removed from Baltimore officially shedding its “rebuilding” label and spending closer to the middle of the pack than the bottom of it, but the O’s were too solid in 2022 and have way too much young talent on the major league roster for them to sit out yet another offseason. Baltimore is one of only a few teams, especially among postseason hopefuls, that has a true hole at DH, and that is JD Martinez’s only market at this point of his career. It could make more sense and would certainly be more fun for the Orioles to pursue team legend Trey Mancini for that role instead – more on him soon below – but Martinez is just the better hitter. His power is starting to wane but JD still hit for a 119 wRC+ in 2022 and his batted ball data corroborates that solid offensive output. Martinez is one of the smarter and more innovative hitters in the league, so the relocation from the Green Monster to Camden Yards’ newly cavernous leftfield dimensions could actually help in his transformation from a pull power hitter to an all-fields line drive hitter.

  1. Michael Brantley

Prediction: Toronto Blue Jays, 2yr/$35mil

The “professional hitter” of all professional hitters, Houston has swiped Brantley on 2yr/$32mil deals TWICE over the last five years and he has proceeded to remain a firmly above-average hitter for every single season with the Astros. The league isn’t going to sit idly by for a third time and let him go back to Texas without a fight. Brantley did injure his shoulder and missed a long period of time due to injury for his first time since 2017, but he was still so damn good with the bat in 2022 that I don’t think some teams will be scared away. Toronto, coming off a disappointing season relative to expectations, could desperately use Brantley in their lineup. Their current projected order is ENTIRELY right-handed and they have DH flexibility. It’s such a perfect fit that they should really up their offer to whatever it monetarily takes.

  1. Brandon Drury

Prediction: San Diego Padres, 3yr/$30mil

Drury was one of the better surprises of the 2022 season, coming out of nowhere to hit 28 homers with a .812 OPS across a full season with the Reds and Padres. He doesn’t have the best eye at the plate and there has to be some concern that his 2022 performance was a one-year wonder, but Drury is a veteran who chooses his spots to take hacks wisely and barrels the ball with good regularity. He doesn’t necessarily have a true defensive position either, but in the case of the Padres that could be a blessing in disguise. Sure, he could slot in as their primary first baseman, but he’s probably more valuable as a chess piece that can hold his own at 2B or 3B too. On a team with Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis, San Diego needs one or two more guys like Drury too.

  1. Trey Mancini

Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays, 2yr/$20mil

Midway through the season it appeared that Mancini could have been batting cleanup for the Orioles in an October baseball game with a big contract coming his way in free agency shortly afterward. Well, that’s not how it went. Baltimore chose to trust the process over the goodwill of their 2022 club and dealt Mancini to the Astros, where he proceeded to bat just .176 and lose his DH job in the postseason. Still, I expect Mancini to have a decent market. Players slump after midseason trades every year and Mancini, at only 31 years old, should be in the prime of his career. He’s still pummeling the ball and can play a little first base if needed. The Camden Yards expansion depressed his home run total to 18 when it likely should have fallen more in the 25-30 range, and sharp teams – like Houston did – will surely take notice of that. The Rays are a sharp team. Shouldn’t take too much convincing to sell Mancini, a Central Florida native, on calling The Trop his new home.

EITHER A NO. 2 OR NO. 5 PITCHER

  1. Kodai Senga

Prediction: San Diego Padres, 4yr/$45mil

I won’t pretend to know much about Senga, one of the better pitchers in Japan. I haven’t seen him pitch, but I’ll rely on the scouting community in that he’s got a high-velocity arm with some risk in how it translates to the MLB. I do have a good idea which MLB teams are shopping in this general price range for a back-end starter with upside though, and the Padres fit that description. Darvish/Musgrove/Snell is a terrific Top 3 but there isn’t much in place for San Diego after that with Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea hitting free agency and none of their other internal options stepping up in 2022. The Padres are also one of the more active teams in signing pro players from the Asian leagues, so this makes enough sense for me.

  1. Sean Manaea

Prediction: Baltimore Orioles, 2yr/$30mil

Speaking of Manaea, he isn’t hitting free agency at the best point of his career. Things generally went well for the 2022 Padres but Manaea bombed in his lone season in San Diego. He pitched to a 4.96 ERA across 28 regular season starts and then was skipped over for postseason starts. Not good. Still, he’s only 30 and one year removed from his 2021 season where he sported a much better 3.91 ERA and above-average strikeout and walk rates. Manaea has never had overpowering stuff, but he gets better extension than any pitcher in the game with his massive frame and can get whiffs at the top of the zone when he’s on. He should seek out a pitcher’s park on a deal that will allow him to reset then retest the market in a year or two. Baltimore, who has a bunch of young talented pitchers but nobody resembling an Opening Day starter for 2023, should be interested in that arrangement.

A GOOD CLOSER

  1. Kenley Jansen

Prediction: Boston Red Sox, 2yr/$30mil

With Edwin Diaz, Rafael Montero and Robert Suarez all returning to their teams before bidding even opened, this is shaping up as one of the weakest classes of free agent relievers in recent memory. Jansen is practically the only true closer option too, unless you’re interested in Craig Kimbrel – who posted a 4.04 xFIP and lost the closer job for the Dodgers heading into October. It was a mistake for the Dodgers to let Jansen walk, as he had 41 saves for the Braves (2nd in MLB). Jansen’s ERA did rise a bit to 3.38, but his control improved and his underlying stats were as good as they’ve been since he was the best closer in baseball during the mid-2010s. Jansen is closer to the 10th best closer than the best closer heading into 2023, but that position has been a mess for Boston for years so they’d be more than fine with that. Given the aforementioned lack of bullpen talent in the market, Jansen shouldn’t have an issue getting a two-year commitment.

A GOOD CATCHER

  1. Christian Vazquez

Prediction: Pittsburgh Pirates, 3yr/$30mil

In a vacuum, Vazquez might be my personal favorite value on the free agent market this offseason. Catchers who can hit are valued at a premium and yet it sounds like Vasquez might not be too hot of a commodity this offseason. Looking around, most sites have him ranked near the bottom of their Top 50 Free Agents lists or off those lists altogether. Vazquez, like what I wrote about Trey Mancini earlier, struggled offensively following a midseason trade to Houston. Before that trade though, he had a .282 average and 109 OPS+ for Boston, in line with his positive offensive production for the Sox from 2019-2020. He’s excellent defensively too; the eye test backs up his 11 defensive runs saved that tied for 4th in MLB among all catchers. At only 32 years old, there SHOULD be a bidding war for Vazquez but that might not be the case. The Pirates surely aren’t the typical player in free agency, but Ben Cherington knows Vazquez well from Boston and should get the ownership approval on a $10mil AAV for a good catcher. Pittsburgh has two elite catching prospects in Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez, but Davis isn’t that close yet and Rodriguez is a catching prospect in the same way that Kyle Schwarber was. Vazquez would have a clear path to the primary catcher job for at least two years in Pittsburgh.

DICE ROLLS

  1. Noah Syndergaard

Prediction: Houston Astros, 1yr/$15mil

This final tier is dedicated to big names who should sign boom-or-bust one-year contracts. In the case of the other players, they will likely only get offered one-year deals, but my opinion is that Syndergaard should seek one out. Syndergaard has long been a misunderstood pitcher; he was a flamethrower deserving of the “Thor” moniker when he broke onto the MLB scene, but even when he was still a good pitcher for the Mets from 2018-2019 he wasn’t tallying too many strikeouts. He was still throwing gas then, sure, but he was pounding the zone for routinely weak contact. His fastball looks much weaker now post-Tommy John surgery – very few starting pitchers had a worse strikeout rate than Syndergaard in 2022 – but he still had a decent season with a 3.94 ERA in 135 innings. Syndergaard still knows how to get outs on his own, but the Astros pitching factory could do him some good – especially if he gains another tick or two on his fastball further removed from surgery. He could cash in for 2024 with a better year in Houston.

  1. Corey Kluber

Prediction: Cleveland Guardians, 1yr/$10mil

I wouldn’t blame you for missing that Corey Kluber stayed healthy for the 2022 Rays and pitched a 3.0 WAR season, because I missed it myself! Kluber’s command was as immaculate as ever, walking only 21 batters in 164 innings, and he notched an adequate strikeout total too. Still, those strikeouts were down compared to even his 2021 season with the Yankees, and Kluber’s average fastball now sits below 90 MPH. The end is near for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, but he could still have one more respectable season in that right arm. It would be really cool for Kluber to spend his final season back in Cleveland as the elder statesman of that young staff.

  1. Mike Clevinger

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels, 1yr/$10mil

I don’t have too much to write about Clevinger mostly because he was mediocre for the Padres in 2022 and admittedly just isn’t someone I like. It’s unclear whether or not he’s still got it and comes along with injury and off-field question marks too, but he’s a well-known commodity with data that doesn’t lie about how flat-out good he was not too long ago. Clevinger threw 200 innings for Cleveland in 2018 and then looked even more dominant in 2019 before arm injuries began to set in. I’m skeptical if that version of Clevinger is ever coming back, but the Angels can afford the risk/reward game of any one-year deal with Shohei Ohtani entering his final year in Anaheim. 

  1. Michael Conforto

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels, 1yr/$15mil

I meant it when I said ANY one-year deal for the Angels. Michael Conforto makes Clevinger look like a run-of-the-mill free agent. At one point not too long ago, Conforto was a 27 year old former All Star coming off a (shortened) 2020 season where he hit .322/.412/.515 for the Mets. He turned down a nine-figure offer from the team and, while that is painful on his behalf to look back on now, it was an understandable decision at the time. Conforto then proceeded to have a disappointing 2021 season, received and rejected the qualifying offer from the Mets, then suspiciously opted to have shoulder surgery just around the same time as no market materialized for him with the draft pick compensation attached to his free agency. Now that Conforto is finally free and reportedly healthy, he can sign anywhere he wants. The question is…who will want Conforto now? Unless he had the greatest shoulder surgery in the history of orthopedics, he probably isn’t going to hit for much power and I’m not sure if any team would feel good about penciling him in as their Opening Day rightfielder. That brings us back to the Angels, who currently have Mickey Moniak atop the depth chart in LF. At that point, why not?

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @Real_Peej

Advertisement
MLB

Yankees Offseason Wish List: 2022-2023 Edition

The New York Yankees, once again, have been eliminated from postseason play. This elimination, once again, has come at the hands of the Houston Astros. I somberly placed my pinstripes back in the closet until next April like every other sad Yankee fan, but I won’t take a pass at ethering the team here or writing up a post mortem on the 2022 Yankees. Instead, I’ll share a proposed plan to realistically reshape the team in a way that could get them over the hump in 2023. (Though, if you must know…Cashman = Keep. Boone = Fire.)

I usually go about this blog deeper into the offseason once the scab has healed and when my mind is probably working more rationally – 2021 version – but I’m knocking this version out as some sort of sick and public therapy while the wound is still open. 2023 Opening Day roster, 13 hitters and 13 pitchers. Let’s start with the locks.

Rostered Hitters, Not Going Anywhere (5)

  1. Jose Trevino

Trevino faded with his bat and didn’t hit a lick in the playoffs, but don’t let that shroud how great of a story and general addition he’s been for the Yankees. On the team almost by accident – thanks again for trying to lift too much, Ben Rortvedt – Trevino became one of the most unlikely All Stars in recent Yankees history and has a legitimate case to win the Platinum Glove as the best defender in the American League at any position. (His 21 defensive runs saved tied for first in the AL with Steven Kwan.) 

  1. DJ LeMahieu

DJLM’s late season toe injury robbed him of what could have rivaled 2019 as his best full-season campaign with the Yankees. His plate discipline is somehow even better than ever, he started barreling balls at a higher rate again, and he flashed plus defense at THREE positions. (His defense at 3B, in particular, is an extremely welcome sight for Yankee fans.) Nobody on this entire team is more trustworthy than DJ.

  1. Harrison Bader

It took Bader – what, two weeks? – to evolve from “the asshole in the walking boot who’s NOT Jordan Montgomery” to a Bronx folk hero. Starting to think that the Yankees fan base might be a bit rash! But seriously, I loved this trade from the minute it happened and that was when I expected Bader to bat like .250 and maybe do some pinch running in October 2022. He hit 5 homers in 9 games. Getting back to why I loved the trade though, even as a long-time defender of Monty in New York, I think it’s lost on many regular baseball fans how much of a unicorn a ballplayer is in the modern age who can play a good centerfield with an adequate bat. Just wait and see how much Brandon Nimmo gets paid in free agency. The list is easily short of 10 guys, and Bader is one of them. If you’re calling for Cashman’s head, don’t take moves like this one for granted.

  1. Giancarlo Stanton

Not too much to write about Stanton. He’s overpaid, sure, but the contract looks less bad with each season that passes and he’s still a presence that 30/30 MLB teams crave in their lineup. Stanton has probably been the Yankees’ best postseason performer over the last half-decade, and he was well on his way to one of his best regular seasons with the team (24 homers, .835 OPS in 1st Half) before an Achilles injury sapped him of his power. Which leads me to my final point on Giancarlo…his innings playing LF in the All Star Game should be subject to far greater New York-based controversy, no? 

  1. Oswaldo Cabrera

Even if far too high of expectations were placed on Oswaldo’s shoulders solely for being a Yankee who played with a heartbeat in the final stretch of the regular season, this kid did seriously impress. He never looked overmatched at the plate and posted a 111 wRC+, but more impressively he was a plus defender at literally every single position the Yankees threw him into. Cabrera barely had any professional experience playing in the outfield and went onto have 9 defensive runs saved in just over 200 innings played out there. That’s remarkably impressive and speaks to Oswaldo’s athleticism and energy. Fittingly as Marwin Gonzalez exits the Yankee clubhouse hopefully forever, that is a good projection for the type of career that Oswaldo is capable of.

Rostered Pitchers, Not Going Anywhere (7)

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Nestor Cortes

All Stars under contract together through 2025. Next.

  1. Luis Severino

Picking up Severino’s $15mil club option will be the easiest decision that Brian Cashman has to make this offseason, and not just because Sevy is now the longest tenured Yankee. He looked brilliant in his first season with regular mound appearances since 2018…his expected ERA of 2.94 was good for 7th in the AL. Perhaps more importantly, after all of that time on the shelf Severino didn’t lose any of his bulldog demeanor that has endeared him so much to Yankee fans. No workload restrictions, no fake IL stints…let Sevy off the leash in 2023.

  1. Frankie Montas

I know, I know…Montas’ half-season debut in the Bronx was a total dud after the Yankees made him their biggest splash of the trade deadline. I do think that Frankie’s stuff mostly looked good and that he suffered from bad luck in a fairly small sample size pitching for the Yankees, but Matt Blake and the pitching factory were also tweaking his pitch arsenal on the fly to those iffy results. If they let Montas get back to his regular pitch mix with heavy splitter usage, or at least figure out a happy medium in the offseason, then with a rested shoulder I expect results next season that are closer to expectations. (On the subject of his shoulder…in hindsight that’s probably the reason Montas went for half the cost of Luis Castillo despite having very similar profiles to that point.)

  1. Wandy Peralta

The brightest takeaway of this otherwise depressing postseason is that Wandy has tiger blood running through his veins. Even with a bullpen at full strength, there isn’t another Yankee reliever right now that I’d rather see emerge from behind the bullpen doors in a high leverage spot. Lethal against lefties but also capable of sitting down anybody with his sinker/changeup mix, Wandy has been nothing short of a stud for the Yankees since he was acquired via trade for Mike Tauchman – currently playing in Korea. I’ll ask again: are you sure you want to fire Brian Cashman?

  1. Michael King

With recency bias, it’s easy to forget how utterly dominant and integral to the Yankees’ early season success Michael King was before fracturing his throwing elbow. It was a brutal injury, both physically and emotionally, but King does not need Tommy John surgery and can hopefully return for next season. I don’t know if he’ll come back in the same form of a 2.29 ERA with multi-inning magical escapes every other night, but King is a weapon and one of the best developmental outcomes for this organization lately.

  1. Lou Trivino

Trivino isn’t anything special – see his season ERA of 4.53 across 64 appearances – but he’s an experienced and perfectly solid mid-inning reliever who had a 1.66 ERA for the Yankees after coming over as part of the Frankie Montas trade package. Let’s just use him for more clean 6th and 7th innings and less ‘bases loaded, nobody out vs. the Astros in October’ situations – ok, Aaron Boone?

Let the Kids Play (2)

  1. Oswald Peraza

Frustrated by the Astros flexing on their recent dominance by adding a superstar rookie shortstop in Jeremy Pena as soon as they lost Carlos Correa? Or how about the Braves seemingly having a never-ending pipeline of young talent that instantly produces in the big leagues? What if I told you that the Yankees might have one of those in Oswald Peraza but we still aren’t sure enough after what should have been his rookie year? Peraza, already a certified Top 100 prospect in the game coming into 2022, hit 19 homers with 33 steals in 99 Triple-A games and then batted .306 with a .404 OBP across 57 major league plate appearances – a small sample size but not an insignificant one. The kid could be something special, and I haven’t even mentioned that he’s a glove-first prospect who, all jinxes aside, should step in and provide the best shortstop defense the Yankees have seen in the 21st century. The only problem was the man in his way who was a problem in more ways than just this one: Isiah Kiner-Falefa. There isn’t a chance that IKF is a better player right now than Peraza and there isn’t one that he’ll be next year either. We know this AND the Yankees know this, but they are stubborn and care about prospect service time despite playing in New York City and not Pittsburgh. Enough of the BS; start Oswald at SS on Opening Day.

  1. Ron Marinaccio

I won’t act like I knew a ton about Marinaccio before this past season, not too surprising given that he was a 26 year-old rookie who was taken in the 19th round of the MLB Draft out of University of Delaware. But now? I would take a bullet, maybe two, for the pride of Toms River, NJ. Marinaccio was one of the best surprises of 2022, pitching in 40 games to a 2.05 ERA behind an absolutely filthy changeup. He’s only listed here because he still has minor league options and the Yankees are afraid to DFA fringe players. They have already once thrown Ron into the Triple-A dungeon for a few weeks so they wouldn’t have to cut Albert Abreu, and both of them – plus Lucas Luetge – are under contract for 2023 with Marinaccio being the only one of the three who can start the season in the minors. I will say it again: enough of the BS. The AL East is too competitive every year to get cute out of the gate. Aim to have your best bullpen for 162 games, and Marinaccio is part of that best bullpen.

Here, but We’ll Listen to Trade Offers (3)

  1. Gleyber Torres

I won’t lie; in the first iteration of this exercise, I did not have Gleyber as part of it. He returned to form as an above-average second baseman both at the plate and in the field in 2022, and he always seems to come up with a bunch of clutch hits for the Yankees on an annual basis. With two more years of team control remaining on his deal, the opportunity to sell high on Gleyber stands out as the best option to me though. One year ago to date, we would have been pleased with just about any prospect in return for Gleyber following his brutal stretch from 2020-2021. He’s a good, homegrown, and often very fun player, but watching Gleyber day-in and day-out comes along with some really frustrating lapses in approach and judgment. It’s also pretty clear that he’s not ever going to become the Cano-esque prospect that he was once touted as. Still, he can pop 30 homers from the 2B spot and should have more freedom to be aggressive at the plate in a deeper Yankee lineup, so I wouldn’t endorse selling him for 75 cents on the dollar.

  1. Clay Holmes
  2. Jonathan Loaisiga

I certainly do not want, honestly nor expect, the Yankees to trade Holmes or Loaisiga. As the roster currently exists, they are likely the two best relievers on the team and each have two more years of team control remaining. Why are they listed in this section then? If the Yankees are going to make a key acquisition via trade – and the majority of the players on the Yankees roster and there by way of trade – then without taking on an undesirable contract or sacrificing a top prospect the Yankees would likely have to pick from their stash of right-handed relievers. Rookies and prospects aside, a case can be made that Holmes, Loaisiga, King, Marinaccio, and Scott Effross (missing 2023 due to Tommy John) are the five best trade chips in the organization. While I do have Holmes and Johnny Lasagna included within the final roster projection here, these are the guys worth keeping in mind when you realize that you have to give something to get something.

Retained Free Agents (2)

  1. Anthony Rizzo (Contract Projection: 3yr/$60mil, 2025 club option)

It’s pretty cool how quickly Rizzo has ingrained himself within the fabric of the Yankees. Major Tino Martinez vibes. Rizzo, coming off his best regular season in years with a postseason performance that was even better, has put himself in a position where he’ll make some extra coin by exercising his opt-out clause while knowing that the Yankees can’t afford to let him walk. I have Rizzo basically doubling down on the same contract from one year ago but with an extra guaranteed year and $4mil AAV raise, and for those bumps the Yankees get the option in the next go-around.

  1. Jameson Taillon (Contract Projection: 1yr/$19.5mil – Qualifying Offer)

I think Taillon is a good case-in-point for how Yankee fans have become a tad spoiled by the recent strength of our starting pitching. Is he Whitey Ford? No. (And he certainly isn’t a 10th inning guy either.) Jamo is a rock-solid and suddenly durable starter though, and I’d contend that he pitched at his base-level in 2022 and that there’s room for growth ahead. He’s got a deep pitch mix with good spin and command on all of his offerings; he just needs to work on finding the best formula. But still, even if we get more of the same from Taillon moving forward, I’d welcome that with open arms. He was 1 of 7 pitchers last year who threw 175 innings with a sub-4 ERA, a 20% strikeout rate, and a walk rate beneath 5% (Verlander, Fried, Bieber, Darvish, Nola, Montgomery). Taillon is good.

External Free Agents (2)

  1. Jacob deGrom (Contract Projection: 2yr/$100mil, 2024 player option)

You might be thinking…”well that’s a funny way to spell Aaron Judge.” And yeah, I want the best homegrown Yankee since Jeter who’s coming off the greatest modern offensive season – ever? – and staring down team captaincy in the face to spend the remainder of his career in pinstripes. But more than anything with this blog, I am shooting to stay realistic and deep down I do not expect Judge to come back. Part of the reason for letting the impending MVP leave town obviously has to be somewhat baseball related, so I’ll concede that there’s a good chance that 2022 is far and away the best season of Judge’s career – even if he hit say, 57 bombs, instead of the record 62. It’s buying into an asset at its absolute highest point, and in Judge’s case he isn’t young, his body is historically huge, and there’s reason for pause to think about the type of player he becomes once his bat speed starts to go. Still, he’s freaking Aaron Judge, so of course the Yankees should go to extreme lengths to retain his services. Unfortunately for the Bombers though, Judge is hitting the open market at the worst time with the San Francisco Giants ready to spend and spend big. The Giants, fresh off a disappointing .500 season, have about as much payroll flexibility as possible these days for a major market team with about $100mil to spare before they hit even the first luxury tax threshold. They are also desperate for a billboard player in this post-Posey era, and their current 2023 outfield situation is dismal. It shouldn’t take too much emotional convincing to sell Judge, a Bay Area native who worshiped Barry Bonds, on a westward move. I’d bet that he still harbors some animosity towards the Yankees for Brian Cashman’s public shaming of Judge’s decline on their 7yr/$213mil preseason offer, which was beyond fair at the time prior to Judge making the best bet on himself in sports history. Even if the Yankees up the terms to something in the ballpark of 8yr/$300mil, I bet San Fran blows that out of the water. I expect them to win Judge and win him very early to the tune of closer to 9yr/$360mil.

So, where do you pivot after losing Aaron Judge? I would typically suggest staying in the free agent pool of hitters, but that’s a more shallow pool than in most offseasons – especially with Nolan Arenado’s confounding decision to opt into the remainder of his Cardinals contract. The LAST thing the Yankees should do is give a huge chunk of the money budgeted for Judge to a different player…hello Jacoby Ellsbury, who was NOT Robinson Cano! In this outcome, the Yankees should swallow defeat and change course, and I’m suggesting a course that fills multiple lineup holes with midrange contracts and one short-term yet titanic contract to the best pitcher on the planet: Jacob deGrom. Though injuries have limited deGrom to just 156 combined innings over the past two seasons, he remains atop the mountaintop on what he can do with a baseball in his right hand. His xFIP from 2021-2022 is 1.58; in second place among starters is Corbin Burnes at 2.60. That gap of 1.02 is the same between Burnes and 37th place. He’s the biggest cheat code, non-Ohtani division, in baseball. Would I rather the Yankees spend big on offense over pitching? Absolutely. But you have to play with the cards that are dealt and the truth of the matter is that the Yankees aren’t that much all-in for 2023. Yes, they should explore all avenues to get better for next season, but this team is just as set up for success in 2025. Make deGrom the first $50mil man in baseball history and try turning a team strength into an all-time strength.

  1. Joc Pederson (Contract Projection: 3yr/$45mil)

Even with deGrom as the gem of the free agent class, the Yankees would need to spend towards someone to help replace Judge’s production. Let’s use the projected contracts above to outline how the Yankees could do that with self-awareness that Judge is likely impossible to replace with one other outfielder.

Scenario A: deGrom opts OUT following 2023

Judge 2023-2024: $80mil

Yankees 2023-2024: $50mil for deGrom, $30mil for hitter(s)

Scenario B: deGrom opts IN following 2023

Judge 2023-2025: $120mil

Yankees 2023-2025: $100mil for deGrom, $20mil for hitter(s)

The Yankees come out financially clean in both scenarios, and that’s without even mentioning the 6+ other seasons where Judge is on the books for another $40mil. For the three-year window ahead, the Yankees could pair a hitter in the $10-15mil AAV range with deGrom for practically the same cost. Now, I would suggest that the Yankees could make ALL of these moves behind a revenue machine unlike any other MLB club, but we just saw the 2022 Yanks trot out EIGHT regular players with a wRC+ beneath 100. (The Dodgers, meanwhile, had four.) This regime under this ownership will accept mediocrity around the diamond with expensive pieces in place elsewhere, so strategizing in the aggregate is key even if the 2023 Yankees aren’t exactly the 2002 A’s.

Enter Joc Pederson, still only 30 years old and fresh off the best season of his career with the Giants. He posted an slash line of .274/.353./521, all while displaying his consistently excellent plate discipline. Yes, Joc is a bad defensive player, but he can play the corner outfield and his bat more than makes up for his shortcomings with the glove. (Look no further than the Phillies in the World Series with Schwarber and Castellanos manning the corners.) Joc particularly mashes vs. righties, and in a league where nearly three-quarters of starters are RHP, that’ll play. Judge’s OPS of 1.142 vs. RHH was the tops in baseball by a laughable margin this past season, but Joc’s mark of .894 placed him 14th out of 305 hitters. Rizzo/Stanton/Joc wouldn’t exactly compare to Ruth/Gehrig/Meusel, but that heart of the lineup would feature 3 of MLB’s Top 12 hitters by ISO rating (how often a player hits for extra bases) in 2022. No other team has more than 1.

Trades (4)

  1. Christian Yelich
  2. Devin Williams
  3. Luis Urias

Yankees Trade: Josh Donaldson, Clarke Schmidt, Kyle Higashioka, Trey Sweeney

Brewers Trade: Christian Yelich + $60mil, Devin Williams, Luis Urias

Credit to BaseballTradeValues.com for player values.

There are enough factors in play here that I’ll summarize this proposed mega-deal with quick hitters in the form of bullet points:

  • Christian Yelich: From a value standpoint, Yelich is my top acquisition target for the Yankees this offseason. It’s probable that the Yankees splurge on a lefty outfielder in free agency, with the rumors already underway for Andrew Benintendi and Brandon Nimmo. I would prefer Yelich to those two purely as a ballplayer, AND you’d get him for about the same cost WHILE collecting a ton more from Milwaukee. Yelich’s remaining contract of 6yr/$156mil is threatening enough to take the small-market Brewers under water. Even paying him down $10mil per year, like I propose here, would bring Yelich to 6yr/$96mil – AKA still the second largest contract in Brewers history. The contract is a massive outlier and liability for a team like Milwaukee, and David Stearns, the architect of that deal, just stepped down as the President of Baseball Ops. Clearing Yelich from the books would allow the new regime to reset in an incomparable way to any other move on the table for them. As for the Yankees, it’s a perfect fit and the framework is a near carbon copy of the Robinson Cano trade between the Mariners and Mets that sent Edwin Diaz to NY and top prospect Jarred Kelenic along with Jay Bruce’s contract to Seattle. Unlike Bruce though, I’m bullish on Yelich moving forward and I’d liken the move to how the Yankees bought low on DJ LeMahieu in 2019. (I tweeted about that in more detail here.)
  • Devin Williams: Forget Edwin Diaz for $100mil; THIS is the way. Williams, nicknamed “Airbender” for his changeup that literally might be the single nastiest pitch in baseball, has completely reasserted the dominance that he broke onto the scene with during his Rookie of the Year 2020 campaign. Even in his “down” 2021 season, Williams had the 4th best strikeout rate among relievers and finished with a 2.50 ERA. It was WILLIAMS, not even Diaz in his all-time season, who posted the lowest expected slugging percentage in baseball last year (.199). Milwaukee would be hesitant to deal Williams – especially after the ill-fated Josh Hader trade to San Diego – but the sharpest small market teams stay on top by dealing relievers at peak value right as they are due more money. They also have a deep rotation at the moment and could slot talented rookie Aaron Ashby into the closer role. Three years of arbitration salaries would be notable for the Brewers but would come as a total bargain to the Yankees.
  • Luis Urias: Urias has become a nice player in Milwaukee, even if he didn’t live up to the Jose Altuve comparisons from his time as a blue-chip prospect. He has a good glove around the infield, great plate discipline, and a surprising amount of pop (39 homers from 2021-2022). Still, he never seized the 2B or 3B job for the Brewers and now his arbitration salaries are starting to kick in. With top prospect Brice Turang big-league ready and fitting a similar utility profile as Urias, it would make sense for them to put Urias on the trade block now.
  • Josh Donaldson: Honestly, for 95% of the season I wasn’t really bothered by Donaldson unlike the majority of Yankee fans. Yeah, he’s a tough person to root for and his at bats were commonly best described as grotesque, but he played a sparkling third base with adequate offensive production so I didn’t think much about his salary. Then came the playoffs and now I stand with the mob. We cannot run this guy back out there…it could get ugly. Donaldson is trying to account for his lost bat speed with a guessing game at the plate that has produced literal montages of his down-the-middle strikeouts, and I get the sense that things probably weren’t as rosy with him in the clubhouse as the team let on. This trade turned sour for Brian Cashman and it’s on him to undo it before next Opening Day.
  • Clarke Schmidt: Schmidt has lost some shine after spending years on prospect lists, sure, but this wouldn’t exactly be a sell-low given his strong showing across 60 big league innings and utter dominance as a starter in Triple-A last season. As things stand, it’s hard to see how Schmidt fits into the picture for the Yankees. Are we supposed to believe that Schmidt, 27 years old by Opening Day, is going to start another year in Triple-A? Or is our top young arm seriously going to have the role of the bullpen long man until something breaks his way?
  • Kyle Higashioka: Higgy is in an awkward middle ground of “probably too good to be a backup catcher” and “not good enough to be the primary catcher on a contending team.” He’s a plus defender who batted .287/.317/.470 from July 1 through the end of the season – good for a 122 wRC+. The Brewers are looking down a total black hole at the catcher position right now, so they’d likely value Higgy and his two years of cheap control quite highly.
  • Trey Sweeney: Sweeney was the Yankees first round pick in the 2021 Draft and has an enviable combination of power, speed, and a good eye at the plate. As a left-handed batter who’s currently listed as a shortstop, he’s a fringe Top 100 prospect in the game. Still, he’s likelier to end up at 3B and might not ever hit for average, and he hasn’t displayed enough upside yet for the Yankees to write him into their future plans with Sharpie. For the Brewers though, he makes far more sense as the 3B of the future once they are done with Donaldson.
  1. Lane Thomas

Yankees Trade: Domingo German, Lucas Luetge, Aaron Hicks + $18mil

Nationals Trade: Lane Thomas

  • Aaron Hicks: I’ll start with Hicks here because the primary motivation of this trade is to get his contract off the books. In order to do so, the Yankees will need to eat a substantial portion – here I have them swallowing $6mil/year, giving him to the Nationals on a 3yr/$12mil deal. Hicks has become increasingly frustrating to roster as he gets older and the time has come for the Yankees to cut bait and give his spot to someone who can meaningfully contribute in a way beyond pinch hitting to draw a walk. Still, he’s a veteran presence who isn’t quite yet a replacement-level player (1.5 WAR in 2022). That’ll work for the rebuilding Nats, especially as he’d come along with some other players.
  • Domingo German: I spent years calling for the Yankees to release German, so I’ll concede that he was far better in his 2022 return to the team than I expected. He doesn’t strike out many guys or get many ground balls, a recipe for disaster with underlying stats, but German is efficient and just an all-around decent starting pitcher. That would be a godsend for these Nationals, and he has two more years of team control.
  • Lucas Luetge: Luetge is a good bullpen arm, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (with even better numbers against lefties) in 50 games last season. Still, he doesn’t fit into this bullpen of death that I’m assembling for the Yankees, so the Nationals are the team taking advantage of the Yankees’ surplus. Washington actually has a fine backend of their bullpen for a team that just finished with the league’s worst record, but it’s entirely right-handed and they have little depth.
  • Lane Thomas: With the Yankees hypothetically adding Joc Pederson, best described as a OF/DH hybrid with extreme righty/lefty splits at the plate, I followed that up by searching for an attainable player who crushes lefties and can also line up anywhere in the outfield. Hello, Lane Thomas! He’s not a particularly great player – he actually had a lower WAR than Hicks on the season – but he’s batted .285/.357/.482 vs. LHH since 2021. He’s also low-key one of the toolsiest dudes in the sport; using Statcast parameters Thomas is only 1 of 8 players to rank in the upper echelons of exit velocity, arm strength and sprint speed between 2021-2022: the others being 4 stars (Acuna, Buxton, Tatis, Trout), 2 freak show rookies (Oneil Cruz & Julio Rodriguez) and 1 bust (Bradley Zimmer). Thomas is cheap and reportedly still has a minor league option remaining, so he’d make for an athletic OF4 and platoon option.

Call-Ups (1)

  1. Ben Rortvedt

With Kyle Higashioka included in the above Brewers trade, that would create an opening at backup catcher. Jose Trevino’s defense is too valuable to evenly split reps, so I would be fine with the Yankees simply promoting Rortvedt to fill that job. Rortvedt, the forgotten man in the Donaldson/IKF trade with the Twins, is a good framer who hits lefty. He hasn’t shown much with the bat as a pro, but even if he produces at a more “fine” than “bad” level then it would be a win for the Yankees. And if not, they could explore a midseason trade for an improvement.

Non-Tender/DFA List

  • Isiah Kiner-Falefa (please, for the love of god, just cut him)
  • Tim Locastro
  • Estevan Florial (can probably trade him for a younger prospect)
  • Albert Abreu
  • Deivi Garcia (what a sad fall…)

For those who care, by my rough estimation (using the FanGraphs Roster Resource tool) this plan would place the Yankees’ Opening Day payroll in the $270-275mil range. For reference, their payroll last year was closer to $250mil.

Opening Day Roster

Catcher (2)

  1. Jose Trevino
  2. Ben Rortvedt

Infield (5)

  1. Anthony Rizzo
  2. Gleyber Torres
  3. Oswald Peraza
  4. DJ LeMahieu
  5. Luis Urias

Outfield (3)

  1. Christian Yelich
  2. Harrison Bader
  3. Lane Thomas 

Outfield/DH (2)

  1. Giancarlo Stanton
  2. Joc Pederson

Utility (1)

  1. Oswaldo Cabrera

Starting Pitchers (6)

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Jacob deGrom
  3. Nestor Cortes
  4. Luis Severino
  5. Frankie Montas
  6. Jameson Taillon

Relief Pitchers (7)

  1. Devin Williams
  2. Clay Holmes
  3. Jonathan Loaisiga
  4. Michael King
  5. Wandy Peralta
  6. Ron Marinaccio
  7. Lou Trivino

Opening Day Lineup

  1. Christian Yelich (7)
  2. DJ LeMahieu (5)
  3. Anthony Rizzo (3)
  4. Giancarlo Stanton (9)
  5. Joc Pederson (DH)
  6. Gleyber Torres (4)
  7. Harrison Bader (8)
  8. Oswald Peraza (6)
  9. Jose Trevino (2)

Thanks for reading! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej

MLB

24 Trades for the MLB Trade Deadline (featuring Every MLB Team)

The humidity of Washington, D.C. is ruining shirts of mine with sweat during quick walks around my neighborhood so that can only mean one thing: summer is here and the MLB Trade Deadline is near. This beloved day for some baseball fans – bittersweet for others – falls on August 2 this year. Sometimes the Trade Deadline is a dud, sometimes Max Scherzer and Trea Turner get dealt. I cannot tell you which fortune the 2022 version will bring, but I will do my best here to outline some possible trades involving the trendiest candidates. These frameworks are somewhere in between trades that I would agree to as the GM of both involved teams and trades that I could see occurring in actuality over the weeks ahead. (Shoutout to Baseball Trade Values for the backup on player value beyond my own opinions.) While I’ll work my way through this exercise mainly by the prominence of the players getting hypothetically traded, I will kick it off with four trades involving one particular team sitting atop the AL East…

Yankees Trade: Joey Gallo

Padres Trade: Ha-Seong Kim

I’ll do the word count of this blog a favor and spare readers my full thoughts on Joey Gallo. TL;DR: they aren’t good. Just do a quick search for “Gallo” on my Twitter and you’ll get the picture. Instead, I’ll focus mostly on the Padres here. For a club that is safely in the playoff picture as of this writing, San Diego’s team offense is pretty bad. They rank 25th in baseball in home runs and Gallo would rank second on the team with his 10 homers despite his current role as a No. 9 platoon hitter who can’t get his bat around on any upper half fastball over 95 MPH. With Nomar Mazara as the current everyday RF and Wil Myers likely done for good, it’s easy to understand why the Padres could buy low on Gallo for a change of scenery with the Texas version of him in mind.

While the Yankees would preferably take back a prospect for Gallo…1) that likely isn’t happening with how badly things have gone for him in NY and 2) nobody is going to consider taking on Gallo without saving or shedding salary in return. Ha-Seong Kim is due $7mil over both 2023 and 2024, and despite the fanfare that came along with his signing the Padres would probably take a do-over on that move. He’s evolved into a fine player mostly on the strength of his glove, but it was hard to see how he fit into San Diego’s plans when they signed him and that remains the case today. Kim has received regular at bats so far in 2022, but that will end once Fernando Tatis returns and I don’t buy the reports that the Padres are considering moving him to CF in Year 2 of 13 on his deal. With the Yankees, Kim would be somewhat redundant with Isiah Kiner-Falefa this season – albeit with a semblance of potential in his bat – but would set them up with the opportunity to non-tender IKF ahead of next season while granting Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe enough patience to seize the starting SS job in the bigs.

Yankees Trade: Miguel Andujar, Alexander Vargas

Diamondbacks Trade: David Peralta

Personally I’d like to see the Yankees aim higher in their inevitable outcome of trading for an upgrade in the outfield, but Peralta just makes too much sense on paper. Long an underrated player, the 2022 version of Peralta remains his consistently good self with the glove in LF (1st in OOA among LFs since start of 2021) though he has reinvented himself at the plate as he reaches his mid-30s. Peralta has fully #EmbracedTheLaunch, increasing his launch angle about 3x over his career norm. The results are clear, even if his batting average has dipped a bit and his strikeouts are up: he’s crushing the ball and has actually been quite unlucky despite a .474 SLG and 114 wRC+. As a veteran presence who is the type of lefty hitter that actually crushes right-handed pitching, I’m not sure Brian Cashman will be able to resist adding Peralta despite the payroll approaching the likely off-limits next luxury tax threshold. Peralta is on the final year of a team-friendly deal though, so this could work out financially. Very similar circumstances to the trade for Anthony Rizzo last year.

As for Andujar, it would make for a really unfortunate ending to his Yankees career, but the team does owe him a trade that allows him a full-time opportunity and they must know it. (Doesn’t hurt that Andujar has already entered his arbitration years.) With Vargas, he was once the gem of a Yankees’ international signing class but has seen his shine diminish a bit since then. Still, he’s a plus athlete who is years away from the majors. Arizona has the patience, and they’d hope that they’re rewarded for trading away a long-time team fixture for a young talent in the same way it appears the Cubs have been rewarded by trading Rizzo for Kevin Alcantara – already a Top 100 prospect now.

Yankees Trade: Domingo German, Oswaldo Cabrera

Athletics Trade: Lou Trivino, 2022 Draft Pick (Competitive Balance Round B)

There is no place for Domingo German on the Yankees’ 40 man roster, in the starting rotation, or in the clubhouse of a winning team. Good riddance, though good riddance to a legitimate major league arm that comes cheaply for at least 1.5 more years. Oakland will almost certainly deal Trivino, and multiple teams will be interested despite his current 6.94 ERA. His velocity and batted ball rates are normal and he’s actually missing far more bats than ever before in his career; he’s just on the wrong end of some AWFUL luck. Going back at least 10 seasons, no reliever with 20+ innings pitched has ever had a BABIP worse than Trivino’s current mark of .485. The Yankees will surely notice and he’d fit like a glove into the role vacated by Chad Green. Cabrera is a decent prospect who is probably too valuable to loop into a trade that is nearly even between German and Trivino alone, but it’s hard to get Oakland to take back any veteran contracts and I’m not sure Cabrera could crack the Yankees active roster any time soon.

Yankees Trade: Aroldis Chapman, Cash

Rangers Trade: AJ Alexy

Chapman lost his closer job to Clay Holmes and it feels like an obvious on-field/off-field lose/lose to keep him in the bullpen as a spot reliever. I’m not sure that I’d advise Texas to buy at the deadline, but I have a feeling that they will and if they do go that route then they will surely need to address their bullpen. If the Yankees eat 50-75% of Chapman’s remaining money, they should be able to get back a fringe prospect while saving a couple of million dollars. Alexy didn’t impress in his 2021 MLB debut and has been terrible as a starter in AAA this year, but he has a fastball with life that ranked in the 95th percentile for rise in 2021. He has MiLB options remaining so the Yankees pitching factory could work with him down there. Odd to mention Chad Green twice already in this blog, but this trade would be reminiscent of when the Yankees scooped him up for Justin Wilson.

Cubs Trade: Willson Contreras, David Robertson

Mets Trade: James McCann, JD Davis, Ronny Mauricio

There likely isn’t a better player who will get traded before the deadline than Contreras. Even if he is a rental, a veteran catcher in his prime with a .900 OPS is rightfully going to cost a lot. Some catcher-needy teams might opt against paying the premium for half a season of Contreras because he’s generally better with the bat than behind the plate, but Contreras isn’t exactly a slouch with the pads on. If he’s traded to a team with an experienced staff like the Mets, I especially think he’ll be just fine defensively. As for Robertson, he’s in the midst of a renaissance year and would immediately slot in as the Mets’ primary setup man.

The proposed package going back to the Cubs here is a bit odd but I think they’d go for it. McCann is on a bad contract with $12mil owed for both 2023 and 2024, but he could still play regularly for a rebuilding Cubs team and they should be willing to eat the cost for Mauricio. If Mauricio isn’t a blue-chip prospect then he’s close to it, but he does come along with a good amount of variance and shortstop is blocked at the major league level for the Mets for the next decade. Chicago has shown a recent willingness to pay for prospects and Mauricio has the toolkit to be their next Javy Baez. If you are wondering why the Mets wouldn’t just keep McCann with their moneybags owner, they are dangerously close to the $290mil luxury tax threshold that no team has touched before and I don’t think even Steve Cohen is hoping to go there.

Giants Trade: Carlos Rodon

Cardinals Trade: Matthew Liberatore

The Giants are probably the single hardest team to pinpoint a few weeks away from the trade deadline; I could completely see them buying and/or selling. I’ll forecast that they lean sellers though, and not just because they are 4-14 over their last 18 games and play in a division with the Dodgers and Padres. This is a front office with vision under Farhan Zaidi, and while Giants fans are understandably disillusioned with the team right now, I think they are largely forgetting how much of a mess this regime inherited a few years ago and missing how anomalous their 107-55 season was last year. That’s not to say that I advise them to totally throw in the towel with a .500 record currently and an extra Wild Card spot, but I do agree with any larger decision to prioritize 2024 over 2022 for this team. It’s worth acknowledging that the Giants are a major market club with a payroll that will be much cleaner going into 2023 and almost completely clean by 2024. There is a certain 6’7” 280lb slugger from the Bay Area hitting free agency following this season, and then there is a certain Japanese hitter/pitcher hybrid who’s insistent on playing on the West Coast hitting free agency following next season. If you catch my drift… 

Shortly off defending the San Fran front office, I will admit that they had a mostly bad offseason, but signing Carlos Rodon was one of the best moves made by any team. Rodon has been one of the top pitchers in baseball by almost any metric, great enough where – barring injury – he’ll certainly exercise his player option and bypass a $22mil salary in 2023 to hit the free agent market again. That outcome won’t come as a surprise to the Giants so they’ll treat his contract as a rental, and holding a front-line starter on a rental deal would suddenly give them one of the better cards at the table. I really like the idea of them flipping Rodon for Liberatore. He’s been pretty bad for the Cardinals across 6 starts and has slightly faded as a prospect by the year since getting drafted in the first round out of high school, but he remains a promising 22 year old lefty arm who should have a long career ahead of him. He could immediately join the Giants rotation in place of Rodon and, while that would be a drop-off, this team isn’t winning anything meaningful this year without much more offense anyway. And guess what? If the Giants love Rodon so much, they could always push to sign him back next year.

Padres Trade: Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Luis Campusano, Adrian Morejon

Mariners Trade: Kyle Lewis, Paul Sewald

Watching trade negotiations between AJ Preller and Jerry Dipoto must be like two babysitters watching toddlers play in the sandbox at the park. Snell certainly hasn’t been at his best in San Diego – more on that in a second – but trading him would be mostly a byproduct of the documented mandate for Preller to get under the luxury tax threshold for this season after the Padres were offenders last year. Snell carries a $13mil cap hit this year, plus a $16mil cap hit next year, so if the Padres are able to ship him then they could take a deep sigh of relief and forget about the luxury tax in one deal. As for Snell beyond his contract, his fit with the Padres was bad from the start – and I’m not just saying that because of his 5.13 ERA. It’s a common baseball saying that you can never have enough starting pitching, but in the case of the 2022 Padres, maybe you can. It’s hard to imagine any outcome where Snell would start a game for the Padres in a 7-game playoff series, and the appeal in having Snell isn’t durability or consistency. He can shut down any lineup across 6 innings when he’s on, but if he’s not a big game starter for San Diego then that’s really a moot point. A team like the Mariners would be a much better fit for Snell, the Seattle native. Should the Mariners grab one of the final Wild Card spots, a three-man rotation of him, Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert would be tough to beat. Add George Kirby and Matt Brash into the stable for 2023 with Marco Gonzalez and Chris Flexen on the back end, and suddenly the Mariners might have the league’s most intriguing rotation.

As for the other Padres here, Lamet and Morejon are violent arms that have mostly flatlined in San Diego, with some fault due to the Padres and some due to injuries. Lamet would be a total salary dump onto the Mariners, who have plenty of cap space, though there is some upside he could become an impact bullpen arm in new digs; at worst, they can get out of his contract after this season. The Padres have floated Luis Campusano in trade talks for some time now, to the point where he’s been rumored enough that it’s easy to forget that he remains a great prospect. Despite having a solid young catcher in Cal Raleigh already, the Mariners would be smart here to take advantage of San Diego’s dire financial situation by scooping Campusano along with undesirable contracts.

I’m not sure a player has ever fallen off the radar less than two years removed from winning Rookie of the Year more than Lewis, who has still looked good in the big leagues when he’s able to stay on the field. That durability has become the story though, along with the fact that Lewis might now be third on the Mariners depth chart for CF behind Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic – who I imagine they still value more highly than Lewis despite his early struggles. San Diego badly needs another CF option aside from Trent Grisham, and they could use a back-end bullpen arm alongside Taylor Rogers too. Sewald has been terrific since arriving in Seattle, but Dipoto knows to sell high on relievers like he did with Kendall Graveman last year despite his players’ tears over the matter. Also, it’s time for Seattle to give that closer job to Andres Munoz and not look back.

White Sox Trade: Eloy Jimenez, Adam Engel

Marlins Trade: Jesus Sanchez, Brian Anderson

At most trade deadlines, there is a player traded that truly nobody expected. And I’m not talking about players included in “wild card candidates” articles or anything like that – where the previously mentioned Blake Snell would qualify. I mean more like Trea Turner at last year’s deadline, and my prediction for this year – likely wrong just by the nature of this game – is Eloy Jimenez. The timing alone of trading Eloy would be shocking, given that he was just activated off the 60-day IL and homered in his first game back with the White Sox. But the problems of this 39-43 White Sox team go beyond having a man from the Greatest Generation submitting their lineup cards; they are victims of bad roster construction in a few different areas. For starters, they are so predominantly right-handed. Their only typical impact players who can swing lefty are Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal, who both have battled injuries this season and have been sub-replacement level players while on the field. The White Sox also have arguably the worst corner outfield situation in the league, where AJ Pollock hasn’t helped at all. Eloy and Andrew Vaughn can play LF but both are more DH/1B types, and this is a team with Jose Abreu already on it. Abreu’s contract does technically end following this season, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down and I’d be stunned if Jerry Reinsdorf allowed him to leave Chicago. Vaughn absolutely isn’t going anywhere, so that leaves Eloy as the odd man out. It wasn’t long ago that South Side fans thought Eloy would become their next Frank Thomas, and it would have been hard to blame them following 31 homers in his rookie season and then a Silver Slugger in his sophomore season. But Eloy’s size and inability to stay on the field have to be wearing thin on a White Sox front office that is ready to win now, though a Marlins team that has sought a true cleanup hitter since trading away Miguel Cabrera wouldn’t care about that. While the cheapest years of Eloy’s contract are soon over, he’s still on a reasonable and most importantly cost-controlled deal through 2026.

That was a lot of words on Eloy, so I’ll go rapid fire for the other three players. Anderson is a rock solid player with IF/OF versatility, though he’s also had a tough time staying healthy lately and Miami might seek to avoid paying his final arbitration salary in 2023. Joey Wendle has been good at 3B for the also heavily right-handed Marlins too. Sanchez not long ago was one of the toolsiest players in the minors though he’s not a good fit with this Marlins team. They have tried to pigeonhole him into CF and he has only a 90 wRC+ through nearly 300 plate appearances this season. Sanchez, though, is already a strong hitter against righties (11 HRs, 113 wRC+) and could become a Gold Glove caliber player in RF (5 DRS in just 344 innings in 2021). Any team in mind for whom a player like that sounds like a great fit for?! He’s also under team control through 2027, and the White Sox have minimal homegrown help coming any time soon so they need all of the young and cheap talent that they can get. Engel is a pretty bad hitter but could provide the Fish and their great pitching with a big defensive upgrade in CF through 2023.

Reds Trade: Luis Castillo, Mike Moustakas

Angels Trade: Jo Adell

What do you do when you have two generational players, arguably the league’s worst roster besides those two players, and one of the worst farm systems? Yeah, I’m not really sure to be honest. I do know that the Angels need to stop trading ascendant prospects for quick returns, but I also recognize that they have truly the most valuable contract…ever?…in Shohei Ohtani for only 1.5 more years. That leaves Jo Adell, whose current value is about as up in the air as the Angels organization is directionally. Adell is only 2-3 years removed from being the top prospect in baseball according to some experts, but he’s been horrific across each of his three short stints in the big leagues – including with the glove, which is almost more concerning than his bad plate discipline.

Castillo is the top player available at this trade deadline according to some followers, though I see him as more in the 4-5 range. He’s a good pitcher theoretically in his prime with 1.5 years of control, and whoever trades for him is fair to believe that he can get handed the ball for Game 2 of a playoff series. I just see some Jose Berrios here, who has been a major disappointment since the Blue Jays traded for him at last year’s deadline. Still, his contractual timeline lines up perfectly for the Angels, and I could see them being buyers despite their current place in the standings. While Adell remains a mega talent, things have gone poorly enough that his trade value has likely depressed to the degree where the Angels would need to offer more to acquire Castillo. Like I said, they need to stop trading the few good prospects that they have, so instead of their farm system taking a hit I’m proposing that Arte Moreno’s wallet takes (another) hit. Moustakas is a bad player at this point of his career with an even worse contract – he’s owed another $22mil beyond 2022 – but the Angels supporting cast is SO bad that he would justifiably be an everyday player for them. It might be a disappointing idea for Reds fans to include a bad contract as the team finally trades Castillo, but Adell is promising enough and Moustakas’ contract is bad enough where I’d advise all southwestern Ohio fans against shattering any TVs in this outcome. This deal basically asks the question: would the Angels sign Castillo to a 1.5yr/$37mil contract to maximize the Trout/Ohtani window that likely closes for good post-2023?

Athletics Trade: Frankie Montas

Dodgers Trade: Miguel Vargas, Landon Knack

One of the certainties of this trade deadline is that the Dodgers will not stand pat, nor should they with a record 25 games over .500 despite having some tough injury luck so far this season. Walker Buehler’s forearm injury is a particularly tough blow, and even if he does recover in enough time to pitch in October I’m not sure the Dodgers should bank on anything else from him in 2022. Their starting rotation is still in decent shape without him, but I can’t imagine that LA wants to hand the ball to Tyler Anderson for a playoff start regardless of how nicely he’s pitched for them. Enter Montas, the most ace-like arm surely available at this deadline with his ability to miss bats and go deep into games. I don’t think his shoulder inflammation is much of a big deal, and it’s not like the Dodgers can’t afford the risk – especially with Montas signed through 2023. Vargas has raked at every level of the minors, hitting himself all the way into Top 100 prospect status, but he’s probably a 1B and Freddie Freeman has that job for the foreseeable future. The Dodgers have a couple of pitching prospects ranked above Knack, but he’s near the big leagues and the A’s should value him. (Spoiler alert: this isn’t the last you’ll hear about Oakland.)

Pirates Trade: David Bednar, Ben Gamel

Dodgers Trade: Andy Pages, Ryan Pepiot

It’s an odd place that LA finds themselves in after a decade with Kenley Jansen that their biggest team need going into the trade deadline is closer. Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been a disaster for them or anything, but he also hasn’t been sharp enough to give the Dodgers confidence to hand him the ball in the 9th inning of one-run playoff games. Bednar is the top available reliever in this market by a wide margin, good and cheap enough that it would take a ton to land him – even from Pittsburgh. Hell, at this point Bednar is just one of the best relievers in baseball period. His 2.31 ERA is backed up by a good mix of control and stuff, and by fWAR he’s been the 15th most valuable reliever in MLB since 2021. He’s under team control until 2026, so this would be more of LA paying a premium to lock in their closer of the future than pushing their chips in to win this season. It should take multiple top prospects for the Pirates to trade Bednar so early in his career, and this package of Pages and Pepiot would suffice. It feels like a near certainty that Pepiot will get traded, since his stuff – particularly a changeup that gets top scouting grades – warrants a look from every team across the league. He just doesn’t have the command to start for a team as good as the Dodgers yet, and Pepiot is turning 25 this season so he deserves that shot elsewhere. Pages reminds of fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes with his freakishly powerful tools, and he’s murdered the ball in each of his stops across the early minors. He’d be a great get for the Pirates, but at the same time the Dodgers could stand to lose a few top prospects for Montas, Bednar and Gamel while still protecting their three best prospects. 

Reds Trade: Tyler Mahle, Tommy Pham, Brandon Drury

Rangers Trade: Ezequiel Duran, Aaron Zavala

Like I said earlier in the proposed Aroldis Chapman trade: I’m not sure I’d advise Texas to buy at this trade deadline, but this is one of my favorite win/win frameworks of this entire exercise. I really like Tyler Mahle; for the associated cost, he’d be my top starting pitcher target openly available in this market. He posted a 4 WAR season in 2021 across 180 innings, and after a shaky start to the season (like many pitchers without a real Spring Training), Mahle has looked better by the month (6.45 ERA in April, 4.88 in May, 2.94 in June). Texas has become the destination for pitchers to become something out of nothing, like Martin Perez this year. Mahle certainly isn’t “nothing” but he could plausibly make the jump from good to great with the Rangers, and he’s under contract through 2023. With similarly high fastball usage, think Lance Lynn. I didn’t put much value behind Pham or Drury because of their rental statuses, even though both are having good years at the plate. Rangers ownership is willing to spend and both Pham and Drury would clearly be immediate starters for this team. Their lineup would actually look pretty solid all of a sudden with them in it.

Though he’s a certified Top 100 prospect across all sources now, I actually didn’t place too high of a premium on Duran in this trade either. It’s nothing personal against him; he just doesn’t fit well into the Rangers’ plan, even if they did unlock something with Duran by shifting him from 2B to 3B. Four of the Rangers’ top prospects are near-MLB ready infielders – including arguably the top 3B prospect in the minors in Josh Jung – and this is a team that just signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for basically forever. Every team should know that Duran is available. Zavala is more of a commodity even if he doesn’t rank as highly as Duran. If things go right for him, he could become a Michael Brantley type of player.

Nationals Trade: Josh Bell, Erick Fedde, Tanner Rainey

Red Sox Trade: Jeter Downs, Jay Groome

Boston’s June surge has them back in the thick of the postseason hunt but they remain a team with a gaping hole at 1B, a decimated starting rotation, and a mediocre bullpen from top to bottom. The crown jewel of this trade is Bell despite his rental status because he has been THAT good in 2022. You can count the number of batters on one hand with a more impressive line than Bell’s of .311/.393/.502. These two teams linked up midseason last year in the Kyle Schwarber deal, which worked out very well for Boston. Bell could have a similar impact, or honestly even a bigger one. Fedde is as boring as it gets for a major league pitcher but this team just needs innings until Chris Sale/Nathan Eovaldi/Rich Hill/James Paxton return from injury. Rainey can be a roller coaster on the mound but it’s well documented that Chaim Bloom seeks velocity from his relievers and Rainey is a flamethrower. The Nationals return is two post-prime prospects; Downs has mostly struggled in AAA – .217 AVG, though with 16 HR and 18 SB – and might not ever get the needed long leash in the majors with the Red Sox having Trevor Story signed long term, and Bloom’s regime inherited Groome in the minors and they might not love his makeup.

Tigers Trade: Gregory Soto

Red Sox Trade: Bobby Dalbec, Blaze Jordan, Gilberto Jimenez

Like I said: the Red Sox bullpen is mediocre from top to bottom. In the previous trade I had them picking up Tanner Rainey as more of a middle inning relief arm, but Soto would be the true anchor at the back of the bullpen for Boston. Soto averages 99MPH with his fastball and is in the midst of an All Star caliber season, plus the arbitration years on his contract haven’t even kicked in yet, so he’s not going to come cheaply. It’s hard to say what the Tigers will do organizationally after one of the worst offseasons in recent memory, but I do know that they have a surprisingly stacked bullpen and need all of the offensive help they can get. I’m sure the Red Sox would hate to sell low on a 27 year old who slugged .494 in his first full MLB season, but Dalbec is having a dreadful season and he’s primed to lose any shot at winning back Boston’s 1B job in the short and long terms. It’s hard to say if Dalbec is a full-time DH in waiting, but he’s a good athlete for his size and Detroit could give him more of a chance to improve in the field than basically any other team. Jordan and Jimenez are both low minors prospects with elite tools (Jordan’s power, Jimenez’s speed), but I’m telling you that Soto would cost a ton.

Athletics Trade: Sean Murphy

Guardians Trade: Tyler Freeman, George Valera, Gavin Williams

If you had to guess the person with the highest trade value according to Baseball Trade Values’ formula of all the players and prospects included in this blog, would you have guessed Murphy? That might be hard to believe given that he plays in relative anonymity and has been a league-average hitter across 2021 and 2022, but it otherwise makes total sense. Murphy was an elite prospect who showed great offensive potential in smallish sample sizes from 2019-2020, so it’s fair to label him as a high floor/high ceiling hitter. He’s even better with his glove, arm and ability to work with pitchers though; he’s the reigning AL Gold Glove winner and it likely won’t be the last one of his career. More than anything though, Murphy’s value is directly correlated to his contract, where he’s currently playing for the league minimum with his first arbitration year in 2023. That price tag means that any team, regardless of market size, can enter the sweepstakes for Murphy. Hello, Cleveland! So, given all of that, why would Oakland trade him, especially now? Well, their farm system is in far worse shape than it ought to be for a team with the worst record in baseball. (Drafting a NFL quarterback with a Top 10 pick will do that.) Also, their top two prospects are both catchers, including Shea Langeliers, who they acquired in the Matt Olson trade and is MLB ready. Trading Murphy alone would be powerful enough to jump Oakland up multiple spots in the farm system rankings.

Cleveland is the perfect landing spot for Murphy. One, they can obviously afford him now, and despite their frugal nature the Guardians prioritize defensively sound catchers and have never been hesitant to pay them. Austin Hedges has the fifth highest salary on the team and he’s long been one of the worst hitters in baseball. Two, some baseball fans might have been caught off guard by Cleveland’s early success, but with Murphy in the lineup instead of Luke Maile or Sandy Leon this would suddenly be a pretty complete roster that would shed any fluke status. And three, Cleveland has one of the richer farm systems – especially near the top. Steven Kwan and Nolan Jones have paid immediate dividends with the big league club, and between AA and AAA the Guardians have an embarrassment of riches: at least five Top 100 prospects, including arguably the best pitching prospect in the minors in Daniel Espino. I have Cleveland parting ways with Freeman/Valera/Williams, because Espino is trade-proof and the A’s will likely prioritize quantity and quality – as they should. Freeman was once found higher on prospect lists and likely will get traded before the deadline, even if not in return for Murphy. He could probably bat .280 in the majors starting tomorrow, but he’s a 2B/3B only with minimal power. In the best of developments, he’d become a Luis Urias type. Valera would be a great get for Oakland; he’s a high power, high on-base lefty hitter with solid athleticism. Jones might be Cleveland’s RF of the future though, and based on their history I have a sense they’d rather keep both of their SS prospects in Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio over Valera. Williams is a power arm that Cleveland just drafted in the first round last year, but it’s becoming increasingly common to see teams quickly deal college arms while the shine is still on them.

Cubs Trade: Ian Happ, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens

Blue Jays Trade: Jordan Groshans, Ricky Tiedemann

Toronto’s lineup looks tremendous on paper, and while it has been good it hasn’t exactly lived up to preseason expectations thus far. They already have 8 above average bats entrenched into the lineup, and with Happ they would reach 9/9 while activating the best version of themselves defensively with Teoscar Hernandez moving to full-time DH and Cavan Biggio to a bench utility role. Those aforementioned 8 bats are also all righties, so beyond his .830 OPS and 1.5 years of control Happ would also balance out the lineup quite a bit. Martin and Givens are included to bolster the depth of a shaky Toronto bullpen while saving the Cubs some money. (Martin, in particular, is having a great year.) Toronto’s farm system is thinning quickly so it would hurt them to trade 2 of their Top 5 prospects, but a team this young, deep, and affordable needs to stay aggressive when a non-rental player like Happ becomes attainable.

Royals Trade: Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield, Brad Keller

Phillies Trade: Matt Vierling, Johan Rojas

On one hand, this isn’t the blockbuster trade that it might look like upon first glance because Benintendi and Merrifield both have decorated resumes but are more solid than anything now. But on the other hand, I’m going to propose very few other trades that would net a team three immediate impact players like this one would for the Phillies. I’m lower on Benintendi’s value than most because his weak batted ball data corroborates his power outage at the plate and I think that any value associated with his defense could disappear with a shift from LF to RF, but this is a dude batting .316 with a .387 OBP. And even if my hypothesis on Benintendi’s corner outfield defense is correct, he would absolutely be an upgrade over Nick Castellanos in Bryce Harper’s absence. Also, it’s not exactly like Kyle Schwarber is Roberto Clemente in the field either. Merrifield is having the worst season of his career as it stands, but he’s heating up lately, has one of the most team-friendly contracts in MLB, and could slot right into 2B in place of Bryson Stott, who probably should be back in AAA. Keller has 1.5 years of control and is a perfectly fine back-of-rotation starter.

There were a few things that were inexplicable about Philly’s offseason approach, one of which is that they blocked Vierling just as he became ready for a starting job. They’ve tried forcing his puzzle piece into the CF hole that they have continuously struggled to fill but that’s not where he belongs. He’s a talented bat who they probably should trade at this point after experimenting enough with him; Vierling is 1 of only 8 true outfielders with 3+ HRs, a walk rate > 10% and a strikeout rate < 20%. Rojas is a total lottery ticket of a CF prospect with some of the best wheels in the minors; he has 38 steals through 77 games this year. Ironically, right now he projects as a Michael A Taylor type of player, but he could become more than that if he progresses at the dish.

Athletics Trade: Ramon Laureano

Brewers Trade: Keston Hiura, Jackson Chourio, Ethan Small

Outside of perhaps Willson Contreras, Josh Bell or Carlos Rodon, I’ll plant my flag on the take that there isn’t another player in these trades who will make a bigger 2022 impact for his new team than Laureano. (Selfishly, I want the Yankees to trade for him.) Laureano hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire this season, but he’s been plenty good with 6 HRs, 8 SBs and a 120 wRC+ across just over 200 plate appearances – including a sizzling .936 OPS start to July. And that’s his performance coming off an 80-game suspension on a team that’s actively tanking. I think he’ll stay hot for whoever trades for him, while bringing along an infusion of energy and production in CF that’s rare to find at the trade deadline. Not so coincidentally, this opportunity reminds me of Milwaukee trading for Willy Adames last year and the elite level of play they received from him shortly after. Laureano comes with 3.5 years of team control too.

For anyone who follows prospects, it might come as a surprise to see Chourio included in this trade – let alone for a pro who has never made an All Star team. In Single-A, Chourio has a 160 wRC+ through 55 games as an 18 year old. That puts him in some rare company. There are probably better prospects going to Oakland in this blog than Chourio right now, but if they are to find their version of Julio Rodriguez in this massive sell-off, it’s probably him. Still, I think Milwaukee would consider floating him in trade talks at the right price. As more of a reason than the cost for Laureano, I’d like to believe the Brewers recognize the incredible window of opportunity that they are in. They sit atop an NL Central division that will soon feature three teams officially tanking for the rest of the season, and they are getting otherworldly performances out of Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader and Devin Williams. At best, this loveable Brew Crew core sticks together through 2023, and it wouldn’t even shock me if this year is the last real chance for this group. It also bears consideration that David Stearns, the architect of this team, could leave for one of the top jobs in baseball any year now. So, besides holding our horses on crowning a teenage player years away from the majors, that’s why Chourio goes to Oakland here. If you ask me why this Brewers team with Laureano in CF and Hunter Renfroe soon recapturing his job in RF shouldn’t win the World Series, I wouldn’t have a good answer for you.

One line on Hiura: striking out 40% of the time without a set position can’t fly on a team as good as the Brewers, but I’d love to see if he could realize his 35+ homer potential playing every day for the A’s.

Orioles Trade: Anthony Santander, Jorge Lopez, Dillon Tate

Twins Trade: Austin Martin

The Twins are leading the AL Central and figure to make the playoffs living in that terrible division, but this is more of an opportunistic than win-now trade for them. All three of these Orioles players are currently underpaid and have over two years of team control remaining on their contracts. Santander could occupy a corner OF spot from Day 1 and free up Minnesota’s starting lineup logjam and finally give them some flexibility, then Lopez and Tate would step right into the 7th and 8th inning roles in front of rookie sensation Jhoan Duran. Opposing teams would need to bring extra bats to Minnesota facing that bullpen trio. If anything, this is a more aggressive trade on the part of the Orioles. Martin was a college superstar at Vanderbilt who remains a better prospect than one might think for somebody potentially traded twice before reaching the majors, but the Twins organization didn’t make the most sense for him from the get go. Royce Lewis is the better prospect with essentially the same profile and the Twins just inked both Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa. It remains to be seen what position Martin ends up at professionally and his total absence of power in the minors is alarming, but he has the very realistic potential to steal 30+ bags with a .350 OBP annually. Baltimore would be the perfect organization to commit his development; just imagine this 2024 Orioles lineup:

C – Rutschman

1B – Mountcastle

2B – Martin

SS – Henderson

3B – Mayo

LF – Hays

CF – Mullins

RF – Cowser

Rockies Trade: Charlie Blackmon, Daniel Bard, Cash

Braves Trade: Huascar Ynoa, Alan Rangel

The Rockies have become infamous for paying to trade away franchise icons, though in Blackmon’s case it would be more justified than previous instances. Blackmon is having a good season at the plate and would be an awesome presence and rotating DH/OF lefty option for the Braves, but he can really only play defense in spurts now and his $18mil player option for 2023 is brutal. Blackmon is certain to pick that up, so in this case Colorado could put together some sort of framework where they get off the financial hook for 2022 (around $10mil) but pay his 2023 salary. The Braves have a fairly big payroll but still have leeway before approaching the luxury tax, so they could go for that. Plus, Marcell Ozuna might low-key be in DFA territory for them as early as next season, so the thought of having a free season of Blackmon must be appealing to Alex Anthopoulos. Bard might make the All Star team and, assuming Kenley Jansen is ok, could make Atlanta the most terrifying bullpen to face in October. The return here is minimal since this trade mostly operates as a salary dump. Ynoa looked really promising as a rookie in 2021 but is having a totally lost season in 2022, and Rangel is likely a Quadruple-A type who is included here as a 40 man roster casualty.

Blue Jays Trade: Danny Jansen

Pirates Trade: Mitch Keller, Jose Quintana

I would stop far short of labeling the Pirates as buyers at this trade deadline, but the best small market teams know when to pounce when opportunity strikes. Toronto has arguably both the best U25 catcher in the majors in Alejandro Kirk and the best catcher prospect in Gabriel Moreno, so as great as depth is they have minimal reason to hold onto Danny Jansen while his value is high. Jansen might not be an All Star but he’s a really solid catcher with 2.5 years remaining of modestly priced control – a perfect timeline for Pittsburgh with 2021 first overall pick Henry Davis in the minors. I really like how the Pirates are going about their rebuild; you’ll notice that Bryan Reynolds isn’t included in this blog. Especially with Jansen, I think they could be a frisky team in 2023 and a flat-out good team by 2024.

For the Blue Jays, Quintana is the exact kind of rental arm that they need to tread water in a playoff position until October. Keller is the real return here, though I’m pessimistic that he’ll ever pan out as a starter. While the Pirates surely have a history of minimizing the potential of homegrown pitchers, I don’t think they got anything wrong with Keller; he just doesn’t have the necessary pitch mix to start and his four-seamer is horrible. He has, however, ventured into the land of the sinker and the early returns are promising. If he can dial up that pitch out of the bullpen, then we could see a career revival for Keller similar to the one that Jorge Lopez is experiencing in Baltimore.

Nationals Trade: Nelson Cruz, Carl Edwards Jr, Cash

Rays Trade: Greg Jones

Tampa deserves a ton of credit for being in a playoff position because their injured list would legitimately make a good MLB roster. The Rays are always deep, but that depth is getting tested to its limits – nowhere more than in the power department with Brandon Lowe on the 60-day IL and in the bullpen with five key relievers on the 60-day IL. Cruz’s power numbers are down by his lofty standards (8 HR, .125 ISO) but he still hits the ball with well above average exit velocity and barrel rate. With his familiarity with Tropicana Field and motivation for what are presumably the final months of his career, I’d expect better results for Cruz down the stretch. Tampa, aside from trading for Cruz nearly 365 days ago, is one of the few good fits for his DH-only profile too. Edwards has kickstarted the back half of his career with the Nats this year, with higher velocity leading to an enviable combination of whiffs and ground balls. Jones might feel like too rich of a return for this package, but if there is anywhere deeper than the Rays’ major league roster, it’s the Rays’ minor league system – particularly with infielders. Jones is arguably Tampa’s fourth best infield prospect, and that’s behind the best young pro shortstop arguably since Derek Jeter in Wander Franco signed until 2033. He’s also 24 years old and doing more fine than well in AA, so despite his 20/20 potential from shortstop I have to think the Rays would entertain trading him. Also, no team cares less about consensus prospect rankings than Tampa. Just last year they traded Joe Ryan to the Twins for…Nelson Cruz. Trading a guy they could move before the next Rule 5 Draft anyway to get Cruz at 25% of his season salary and a reliever who started in the minors with another organization? That also sounds like the Rays.

Tigers Trade: Michael Fulmer

Astros Trade: David Hensley

There are many other decent players with expiring contracts on bad teams who are certain to get traded before the deadline, but I didn’t feel the need to write about them at length. To be honest, I’d probably have skipped over Fulmer, but I’m including at least one trade involving every team and I had to come up with something that made sense for the Astros. As much as it pains me to write, Houston probably has the most complete roster in MLB. They are offensively challenged at catcher and CF but they organizationally prefer defense at those positions. Their bullpen ERA has been the best in the majors to date, though in crunch time I’m sure they’d prefer another reliable option beyond retreads Rafael Montero, Hector Neris and Ryne Stanek. I don’t buy that Fulmer is as dominant as his 1.97 ERA suggests, but he’s certainly good enough to make a strength of the Astros even stronger. Hensley is a 26 year old who’s yet to graduate from the minors, but he hit .327 at A+, .293 at AA, and now is hitting .297 at AAA. Doesn’t sound so bad for these Tigers.

Athletics Trade: Paul Blackburn, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Piscotty

Cardinals Trade: Paul DeJong, Alec Burleson

This is an odd trade to close this out, but I want to summarize what I just proposed in full for Oakland…

Out: Frankie Montas, Sean Murphy, Ramon Laureano, Lou Trivino, Paul Blackburn, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Piscotty

In: Keston Hiura, Paul DeJong, Domingo German, Tyler Freeman, George Valera, Gavin Williams, Jackson Chourio, Ethan Small, Miguel Vargas, Landon Knack, Oswaldo Cabrera, Alec Burleson

This would lead to some of the worst baseball we’ve ever seen from the remaining 2022 A’s games and a team payroll under $30 million dollars. Any noise about John Fisher’s ownership and potential franchise relocation would get much louder, and rightfully so. But if there was ever proof that Billy Beane is still running the show and that Moneyball isn’t dead, this would be it. If the A’s currently have about the 25th best farm system, this series of events would leap them to around the 5th best. They would be so, so bad in 2023 – granted with a few new major leaguers in the fold – but they could be fun again by 2024.

As for the trade itself, Blackburn is such a Cardinal that I’m surprised he’s not a Cardinal yet. His stuff isn’t any good but he generates grounders and keeps the ball in the park, and he’s under contract through 2025. If Carlos Rodon would be the perfect front-end starter for the Cardinals, Blackburn would be the perfect back-end starter. Burleson is destroying AAA pitching to the tune of a .336/.380/.558 line, but he’s not much in the field and St. Louis has had almost too many young bats come through their system at once. The inclusion of Andrus, Piscotty and DeJong might seem weird – three bad but soon-expiring contracts – but Andrus and Piscotty would both be bench upgrades for the Cardinals for a combined ~$7mil while DeJong could get a second chance in Oakland for ~$14mil over the next year and a half. I’m beating around the bush though: this would basically be Oakland buying Burleson for the $7mil difference.

Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter @Real_Peej 

NFL

2022 NFL Mock Draft – “What COULD Happen”

On the flip side of the Mock Draft that I dropped yesterday, in this version I am going to take stabs at how the events of Thursday/Friday nights could actually unfold – 2nd round picks included this time too!

I want to make clear that I am not shooting for a perfect score here. Will I gloat if I snipe a late pick or two? Inevitably. But there are a billion mock drafts across the Internet where you can find 64 picks of chalk if you so desire. Here, my goal is to outline conceivable outcomes across the board, but with some picks and trades mixed in that deviate from expectations.

ICYMI: Top 50 Big Board

Round 1

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

I am well aware that Travon Walker has moved into the driver’s seat as the favorite to first walk onto the podium. With the betting markets now reflecting that shift, we are well beyond the point of Walker to Jacksonville as a smokescreen. Still, I keep Hutchinson here for a few reasons. One, he’s the consensus better prospect. Two, as a Dave Gettleman survivor, I am sympathetic towards the victims in waiting of a senile GM who escapes retirement to torpedo a franchise into a 20-year deep hole, so I am hopeful for Jags fans that Doug Pederson and the coaching staff’s calmer and saner heads prevail over Trent Baalke. Three, I just think the first round will be more fun if Hutch goes 1 and Detroit becomes a total mystery at 2. And in that scenario…

  1. New York Jets – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

TRADE: DET trades 1/2 to NYJ for 1/4, 2/38

…the Lions don’t even pick at 2! I think they will try to get the hell outta this spot if Hutchinson is off the board – assuming they don’t culturally vibe with Kayvon Thibodeaux. According to draft value charts, the Lions would actually be selling Pick 2 at a discount here, but without blue-chip QBs in this draft it should be deemed as acceptable value. 

For the Jets, they use the extra 2nd rounder acquired from the Sam Darnold trade to guarantee that they leave Vegas with Ekwonu – who I have a hunch is the top player on their draft board. I know many Jets fans don’t identify OT as a team need compared to WR/EDGE/CB, but I’m with Joe Douglas and the front office on this one. Take a deep breath and put aside Mekhi Becton’s 13 rookie starts to acknowledge that this is a kid who can barely stay on the field, reportedly was tipping the scales closer to 400lbs than 350lbs, the coaching staff has basically openly revolted against, and now is a no-show at voluntary minicamp. Even if you’re a Jets fan who does envision Becton as part of the future, you think that George Fant on a 1yr/$11mil deal is a good reason to pass on an blue-chip prospect at arguably the second most important position in football? Ickey would be a dream fit in the LaFleur style offense.

  1. Houston Texans – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia

I see this spot as Travon Walker’s floor. You hesitate to compare any prospects to Hall of Famers, let alone a prospect with a good amount of baked-in projection like Walker, but it’s not crazy for the Texans to look at Walker’s traits and compare him to another freaky and versatile Georgia Bulldog alum in Richard Seymour, who was drafted sixth overall en route to becoming a key figure in the Patriots dynasty.

  1. Detroit Lions – Drake London, WR, USC

If there is a kneecap-biter of a player at WR, it’s London. Beyond appealing to Dan Campbell, you have the SoCal connection with GM Brad Holmes, and just listen to this recent quote from Receivers Coach Antwaan Randel El: “I’m trying to draft two and bring in one. We throwing to him, we don’t care who is covering what, we know he can go up and get that. My guys know we haven’t had that guy yet.”

  1. New York Giants – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Joe Schoen’s tenure a couple of months into the Giants GM job has been defined by pay cuts and back-roster moves. He hasn’t made his first landmark move yet, and I do think that’s a notably important thing to get right. By drafting Neal to jump right in at right tackle, this pick would send a message of stability to the fanbase while providing a good combination of safeness and upside on the field.

  1. San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Hamilton, SAF, Notre Dame

TRADE: CAR trades 1/6, Sam Darnold to SF for 2/61, 3/105, 2023 R2, Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel

OH YES. I wrote in yesterday’s mock draft that Carolina should be trying like hell to get out of this pick, and I do expect them to pull it off by the time they are on the clock. Now, do they foresee themselves dropping all the way to 61 for their first pick, especially with Scott Fitterer and Matt Rhule on hot seats? No, but I do think it’s likely that they view Jimmy G as their best available QB option for 2022 contention, and one of their biggest roster holes is slot receiver: hello, Mr. Samuel. Deebo is from the Carolinas…the Panthers have the most cap space in the league…see where I’m going here? I have read the reports that Jimmy G isn’t expected to get traded before the draft and that John Lynch doesn’t want to trade Deebo, so I don’t expect this to actually go down – but these stars do align!

For the 49ers, the logic is easy. They are good enough to win a Super Bowl now, and Kyle Hamilton would make their defense that much better. You don’t have to squint too hard to see shades of Ronnie Lott’s game in Hamilton, and the guy who submits the draft card for San Fran is…John Lynch. For the trade framework, I used the Julio Jones 2011 NFL Draft trade:

Pick 27 = Deebo

Pick 59 = Pick 61

Pick 124 = Pick 105

Future R1 = Jimmy G + Future R2

Future R4 = Taking on Darnold’s $18mil

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

TRADE: NYG trades 1/7 to PIT for 1/20, 3/84, 2023 R1

Rooney Mara tells her uncles to get on the line and work out a deal. Even if that’s not exactly how it goes down, the Giants have leaked it far and wide that they would like to trade back for a future pick(s), and I’m honestly pretty confident that Pittsburgh is going to make a big move for a QB on Thursday night. The outbound GM who decides to stick around for one last year might be the scariest thing in sports, especially when Kevin Colbert watched Ozzie Newsome depart Baltimore with Lamar Jackson as his final first round pick and will look to pull off the same type of legacy move with Willis.

  1. Minnesota Vikings – Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU

TRADE: ATL trades 1/8, 4/114 to MIN for 1/12, 2/46

Apologies for any confusion with the trade-a-palooza here, but the Falcons like the Panthers are in a pretty gross place organizationally and will likely field calls for this pick to get more help elsewhere. I also have a tough time envisioning the Vikings not leaving this draft with Stingley, and they have a gauntlet of CB-needy teams slated before them in SEA/NYJ/WAS. Beyond having an obvious positional need and just wanting to keep Justin Jefferson happy, Minnesota brought back Patrick Peterson in a pretty clear mentorship role and hired LSU’s DC as their DBs Coach. Bettors: it’s absolutely possible that Sauce goes Top 7, but I would endorse sprinkling some action on Stingley as First CB Drafted for this scenario.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Have a best coach in mind for an uber-talented LA kid with a bold personality? I buy that a lot of decision makers around the league believe the Thibodeaux crap but he’s not making it beyond Pete Carroll.

  1. New York Jets – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

The Sauce Slide™ ends at 10. I’m sure the Jets war room ran many internal mock drafts where they were satisfied with the final outcome of sticking at 4 and taking Sauce there.

  1. Washington Commanders – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Washington isn’t keeping their cards too close to the chest in that they want a WR and preferably one of the Ohio State boys. I’d imagine they lean Wilson at this much of a premium.

  1. Atlanta Falcons – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Until I see otherwise, I don’t trust the Falcons front office to look past the shiniest toy on the board after the Kyle Pitts pick. This would actually be a pretty solid outcome for Atlanta though, picking up an extra 2nd rounder to still land Williams, who’s a decent bet to end up as the best long-term outcome in this WR class. 

  1. New Orleans Saints – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

TRADE: HOU trades 1/13 to NO for 1/16, 3/98

You’re telling me that Mickey Loomis is going to sit on his hands until Pick 16 as Charles Cross tumbles down the board? This is the same guy who traded a future 1st rounder to move up for Marcus Davenport.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State

Baltimore loves length and burst at EDGE, and while I have reservations about Johnson’s college production – just like I did with Odafe Oweh last year – there is no doubt that Johnson has those traits. Even if Johnson doesn’t pan out as a pass rusher, he would make the Ravens even that much harder to run on.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

Howie Roseman has a few disciples running teams around the NFL, one of whom is Andrew Berry in Cleveland. Berry has formed the league’s best CB duo moving forward in Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome; here are their Combine measurables:

Ward: 5’11, 183 lbs, 31.25” arm length

Newsome: 6’0, 192 lbs, 31” arm length

Not exactly hulks out there. Nobody questions that McDuffie can play, and I don’t think Philly will overthink his size either. (Avonte Maddox has Bottom 10 wingspan for CBs in Combine history.)

  1. Houston Texans – Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

I wrote earlier that Houston can convince themselves that they are nabbing a Richard Seymour clone in Travon Walker. Well, now they do the same for Vince Wilfork with Jordan Davis. Re-pairing the Georgia big boys is sound strategy early into a complete roster overhaul.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers – Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

Not gonna lie…I have NO idea what direction the Chargers go with this pick. Their roster is one of the league’s more complete and their official prospect visits have largely been with Day 2-3 guys. I can’t sell myself on them taking a WR3 or reaching for a RT at this pick either. And I’m not sure who would trade up for who at this spot. So – and I swear if you read my previous Mock Draft that had Walker going highly too that the Walker Family is not paying me – I have them going with the Michigan State RB. Fellow progressive teams like the Browns and Packers have invested in two-man backfields, and the Chargers have swung-and-missed on late round picks recently to share the workload with Austin Ekeler. The Athletic’s Consensus Big Board has Breece Hall ranked 36th and Walker ranked 40th, and I think Walker as the superior runner makes better sense for LA with Ekeler already locking up third downs. Tom Telesco took Melvin Gordon 15th overall so this isn’t out of character for him.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

There is a negative percent chance that the Eagles leave this draft without at least 1/2 first rounders used in the trenches. Karlaftis fits the Eagles benchmarks for defensive linemen to a T with his size, power and hand strength. Bringing back Derek Barnett on a 2yr/$7mil for the primary purpose of negating void years wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of his services, so Karlaftis would join the Eagles in a top reserve role with the hope that he’d naturally replace Brandon Graham down the line.

  1. New Orleans Saints – Lewis Cine, SAF, Georgia

I reject the narrative that the Saints flipped picks with the Eagles for an additional first rounder this year so they can lump them together to make a mega-trade up; I just think they believe that they are two impact players away from contention. Considering they went 9-8 last year with 10 games started by Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, and Ian Book, maybe it’s not the worst thought. Unless you think they hosted Tyrann Mathieu on a free agent visit as a courtesy and are comfortable with Daniel Sorenson as a starting safety, I’m going to guess that’s the position after OT they have in mind. The Saints gave a big contract to Marcus Maye, who is best aligned as a deep safety, so Cine would have the freedom to do what he does best closer to the line of scrimmage.

  1. New York Giants – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

This is another safe pick for the Giants, who currently have Blake Martinez fresh off an ACL tear at one ILB spot and Tae Crowder at the other. While I do not expect much early movement on the linebacker class with the amount of decent prospects at the position, the league collectively sounds much higher on Lloyd than the rest of the group.

  1. New England Patriots – Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

The Patriots need a cornerback and Gordon has the best remaining combination of size and athleticism. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

  1. Green Bay Packers – Tyler Smith, OT/OG, Tulsa

The Packers love themselves a good reach for extremely young and extremely athletic prospects, and more often than not it works out for them so they probably aren’t going to buck that trend now. Smith just turned 21 this month but has the power of a fully developed NFL veteran. Between him, Elgton Jenkins, and Jon Runyan, Green Bay can deploy those three versatile players at LG/RG/RT in any order and it will probably work out.

  1. Arizona Cardinals – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Kyler Murray publicly cries for better protection via cryptic Instagram posts and typo-filled press releases from his agent and in return he gets…a 187lb wide receiver. As annoying as Kyler is and as bad as Steve Keim is at his job, this would actually be a pretty great pick. The Cardinals have managed to assemble the slowest offense humanly possible, so Olave would tilt the field for them. His floor is basically the peak production of Christian Kirk.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M

Even with Zion Johnson still on the board, I have a feeling that the league values Kenyon Green much higher than the media. I would believe that Dallas is particularly higher on his youth and power with the way they team-build and run their offense. The whole in-state thing doesn’t hurt either.

  1. Buffalo Bills – Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College

What a win this would be for Buffalo. The Bills have low-key had pretty bad offensive lines over the past couple of seasons, and they lost some guys this offseason too. Zion could show up and immediately become their best offensive lineman. He’s a Top 10 player on my Board.

  1. Tennessee Titans – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

If you have read all of my NFL Draft content up until this point, well, first, thank you. You also might have noticed that I haven’t once written Penning’s name, and that is because I do not think he is a good football player. Having the lack of composure and technique that he did at 22 years old at the FCS level was enough for him not to crack my Top 60, but I do think he still gets picked in the first round with his size and speed. Mike Vrabel would likely welcome his nastiness.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia

Wyatt feels like one of the top candidates to surprisingly drop out of the first round altogether, but Tampa wouldn’t be scared off by his age (24) and he could become an instant full-time starter on their defensive line at 3-tech lined up next to Vita Vea.

  1. Green Bay Packers – Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State

Watson leaves the frigid temperatures of North Dakota and his green and yellow uniform behind for…ah, crap. I do think the Packers not only take a WR in the first round for the first time in 20 years, but I think they’ll take a second one by the end of the next round too. If they plausibly pair a lottery ticket with more of a sure-handed guy, you might as well start with Watson coming off arguably the greatest Combine ever by a WR. Some work is needed with him, but he’s explosive enough to probably step right into Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s role without much more coaching.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – Daxton Hill, CB/SAF, Michigan

Hill will likely go in the first round with his weird combination of quickness and wingspan, and the Chiefs would throw him right into the Honey Badger joker role. While I might not be the biggest endorser of Hill, Steve Spagnuolo would have some ideas for what to do with him.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota

There are a few places the Chiefs could go with their second of back-to-back picks, but I have them taking Mafe. Although he’s already 23, Mafe is still coming into his own as a pass rusher. That level of intrigue mixed with the fact that Mafe could contribute SOMETHING in 2022 to the Chiefs barren EDGE group gives him the advantage over a couple of other guys.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

TRADE: CIN trades 1/31 to SEA for 2/40, 2023 R2 (Denver)

Seattle moves back into the first round and turns the two 2nd rounders acquired in the Russell Wilson trade into the QB that could become Wilson’s long-term replacement. Ridder is a mature and composed QB, basically the Dr. Jekyll to Drew Lock’s Mr. Hyde. I do not think it’s a smokescreen that Ridder was the only QB invited to Seattle for an official pre-draft visit. All indicators are that the Seahawks are looking to offensively revert back to their more run-heavy days, and Ridder has the 4.52 speed and game management experience to helm that offense.

  1. Detroit Lions – Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

I have slowly bought into the idea that Detroit will take a QB at this spot. (It would make things a whole lot easier for them to also have the extra second round pick that they gained earlier in this mock draft.) Howell would not put any extraordinary pressure on Jared Goff – though it’s not like he doesn’t deserve it – and could ride the bench for weeks while working on his mechanics with NFL coaches. It’s a similar circumstance to what I wrote while mocking Howell to Washington in my previous version: either Goff reverts to form and he’s still under contract, Howell looks better than expected and seizes the job, or neither impress and Detroit still has two first rounders next year to pick a better QB prospect. For the short term, it’s also worth noting that Detroit’s current backup QB is Tim Boyle.

Round 2

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa
  2. Detroit Lions – Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
  3. New York Jets – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
  4. New York Giants – Travis Jones, DT, UConn
  5. Houston Texans – Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
  6. Detroit Lions (TRADE w/ NYJ) – Jaquan Brisker, SAF, Penn State
  7. Chicago Bears – Logan Hall, DT, Houston
  8. Cincinnati Bengals (TRADE w/ SEA) – Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
  9. Seattle Seahawks – Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State
  10. Indianapolis Colts – Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
  11. Atlanta Falcons – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
  12. Cleveland Browns – Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
  13. Baltimore Ravens – Jalen Pitre, CB/SAF, Baylor
  14. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE w/ MIN) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
  15. Washington Commanders – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
  16. Chicago Bears – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
  17. New Orleans Saints – Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming
  18. Kansas City Chiefs – Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
  19. Philadelphia Eagles – Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
  20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan
  21. Green Bay Packers – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
  22. New England Patriots – John Metchie, WR, Alabama
  23. Arizona Cardinals – Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
  24. Dallas Cowboys – DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
  25. Buffalo Bills – Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M
  26. Atlanta Falcons – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
  27. Green Bay Packers – David Bell, WR, Purdue
  28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
  29. Carolina Panthers (TRADE w/ SF) Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State
  30. Kansas City Chiefs – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
  31. Cincinnati Bengals – Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
  32. Denver Broncos – Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma



If you made it this far, I sincerely appreciate it. Follow along on draft night and beyond on Twitter @Real_Peej

NFL

2022 NFL Mock Draft – “What SHOULD Happen”

In this Version 1/2 of mock drafts that I’ll release within the next 48 hours, I am playing GM for each NFL team. I am not aiming for prediction accuracy whatsoever here; simply what I, PJ Moran, believe would be the best use of draft capital for each team.

ICYMI: Top 50 Big Board

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Thibodeaux is the top player in the class by my estimation, and he fits a need for the Jags nicely even after their shopping spree in free agency. Thibodeaux and Josh Allen are actually pretty similar profiles, so having those two to bookend the defensive line will allow the Jags DC to place his focus elsewhere.

  1. Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

Completely natural fit that Dan Campbell & Co. must be dreaming becomes a reality on Thursday night.

  1. Houston Texans – Kyle Hamilton, SAF, Notre Dame

Bit of a wild card here, which makes it perfectly Texans. Where do you go with a roster that needs literally everything? Personally, I’d seek a potential culture changer at an up-the-middle position. Safety might not be that position that first comes to mind, but Lovie Smith could see Hamilton as his next Brian Urlacher, Nick Caserio could see him as his next Rodney Harrison, and Jack Easterby could see him as his next Bible study group member. (Jumping to some Notre Dame conclusions with that one.) Anyway, Texans also pick again at 13, so they should swing for the fences with this pick.

  1. New York Jets – Drake London, WR, USC

Some might think this is a bit rich for London, but I do not. He would be the long-term solution at the X-WR spot where the Jets have been missing a target-hog for years. This selection would be a massive step in creating the best possible surroundings for Zach Wilson.

  1. New York Giants – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

The Giants would welcome this scenario of zero drafted OTs and CBs with open arms. With everyone at those positions available, I lean Neal. The RT position has plagued the Giants for nearly a decade now – from Bobby Hart to Nate Solder – and Neal is the perfect fit to end that suffering. With him and Andrew Thomas anchoring the offensive line, the new front office could move forward with rebuilding the rest of the organization.

  1. Buffalo Bills – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

TRADE: CAR trades 1/6 to BUF for 1/25, 2/57, 4/130, 2023 R1, 2023 R4

Without another pick in this draft until 137(!!!), the Panthers should be doing everything in their power to get out of this spot for more picks. It might be tough to find a buyer, especially one at this steep of a price, but I am giving my stamp of approval for Buffalo to throw more chips into the middle of the poker table for a player of Sauce’s caliber. The Bills are ready to win now and Sauce teamed up with Tre White and Buffalo’s Pro Bowl safety duo would make them nearly impossible to throw on.

  1. New York Giants – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

The Giants would probably be pretty devastated with this outcome of getting jumped for Sauce, but in that event McDuffie should not be viewed as a consolation prize. Forget the history of Wink Martindale and longer cornerbacks; the Giants should absolutely not pass on the best player available at a position of need – and I do have McDuffie ranked slightly ahead of Derek Stingley (also short-armed) – for the schematic preference of a new 58 year old DC who just got fired by the Ravens. 

  1. Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

TRADE: ATL trades 1/8 to BAL for 1/14, 2/45, 4/119

Atlanta suddenly finds itself with arguably the league’s worst roster – Jacksonville, Detroit, and Houston included – so they too should be looking to trade out of the Top 10 to stockpile more picks. The Ravens being the Ravens have FIVE 4th round picks at the moment and usually don’t pick in the top half of the draft, so look for them to get aggressive for a premier player. Enjoy trying to run on Calais Campbell, Michael Pierce, and Jordan Davis.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU

This is another stinky roster with holes everywhere, but arguably none more glaring than cornerback. Seattle currently does not have an NFL caliber CB1 or CB2…I’m sure that does not sit well with Pete Carroll. It’s nearly universally agreed upon that there is a Top 3 group at cornerback in this year’s draft class with a sharp fall-off after them, so Seattle grabs the last of the bunch with back-to-back 2nd rounders still in hand to address deeper positions.

  1. New York Jets – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

Ideally I would have taken a defensive player here after mocking Drake London to the Jets at 4, but with both Kyle Hamilton and the Top 3 CBs off the board I avoided reaching and went back to the offensive side of the ball. I’ll go deeper into the Jets/Ekwonu pairing in my upcoming predictive mock draft – spoiler alert – but for now I’ll just say that this is a pick that Jets fans would be happy with in 3 years, and maybe even by the end of next year.

  1. Washington Commanders – Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

Washington is stuck in the purgatory of not drafting poorly enough and not spending foolishly enough to avoid being among the league’s worst teams but constantly among the league’s most mediocre teams. It feels like they pick between 10-15 EVERY year, and besides ownership the primary reason behind this organizational quicksand is the 21st Century revolving door at QB. Now, while I hate how Washington acquired Carson Wentz, I can get behind bringing him into the building. I can REALLY get behind it if they supplement that trade with a QB pick at 11. Remember in 2016 when Dallas drafted Dak Prescott without much fanfare and then it became immediately apparent by the preseason that he could play? Does that outcome sound so bad to Washington fans?

  1. Minnesota Vikings – Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College

If you are going to commit to Kirk Cousins like the Vikings did this offseason, you better beef up the running game with Dalvin Cook as much as possible. Minnesota with Zion would suddenly have one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league.

  1. Houston Texans – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia

There is a non-zero chance that Houston leaves Picks 3&13 with Hamilton and Walker…but in reverse order. Walker at 3 would be rich for my liking, but at this spot he would be a great building block for the Texans.

  1. Atlanta Falcons – Travis Jones, DT, UConn

After picking up extra 2nd and 4th rounders by trading down into this spot, Atlanta takes a mulligan on the decision to draft a tight end with the fourth overall pick last year and this time kickstarts a rebuild in the trenches like they should. The Falcons have the worst WR room in the league and it isn’t close, but I can’t talk myself into grabbing one here with the draft class depth at that position and the clear regression that Calvin Ridley experienced in Arthur Smith’s offense last year.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Jaquan Brisker, SAF, Penn State

Wideout is an obvious option here, but I don’t like the ideas of 1) using mid-first rounders on non-alpha WRs (see: Jalen Reagor) or 2) using first rounders on the same position three years in a row regardless of how badly the previous picks might have turned out (see: Jalen Reagor). Philly should remain in playoff contention next season and Brisker would be an immediate starter. He would remind Eagles fans of Malcolm Jenkins.

  1. New Orleans Saints – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

I have Cross graded a tier(s) below Neal and Ekwonu, but he’s still a young, talented, and likely ascendent prospect. LT is clearly the Saints biggest roster need, and with them perpetually in win-now mode this pick is a rare case of drafting for both the short and long terms.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

TRADE: LAC trades 1/17 to DAL for 1/24, 2/56

Chargers get back the 2nd rounder that they gave up for Khalil Mack, and the Cowboys jump a handful of teams to take one of the last available first-round caliber EDGE prospects. After getting left at the altar by Randy Gregory, Karlaftis would fit like a glove on the Dallas defensive line opposite Demarcus Lawrence – see the comp for Karlaftis on my Top 50 board.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

There is a 0% chance that this pick occurs on Thursday night, and I’m sure that even the notion of it elicits a lukewarm reaction at best from Eagles fans. But man, I think it’s a match made in heaven. If Miles Sanders was ever meant to be an NFL lead back – I’ll allow anyone to first watch a montage of him trying to anticipate run lanes before answering that question – then it definitely was not meant to take place in the power running offense that Philly has unleashed with Jalen Hurts under center. Enter Walker, who runs with controlled fury and has the size to take on 200+ carries immediately. With an extra 1st round pick, why not use it on a player who could make your team 2-3 wins better right away?

  1. New Orleans Saints – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Olave to New Orleans at this spot would be an excellent marriage of value and positional need. Besides the obvious match of Olave’s speed on the Superdome turf, I really like the idea of his refinement in that offense that has so desperately lacked it at WR whenever Michael Thomas has been unavailable.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

This is an uncomfortable reach, especially when Ridder isn’t even the highest ranked QB available on my board (Malik Willis), but this is just how things fell for the Steelers and I do think Ridder is the best choice to step right into a starting QB job for a team with plenty of the pieces in place. I would trust him to admirably navigate Pittsburgh’s shambly offensive line and get the ball out to Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in space. By no means would I compare Ridder to Russell Wilson, but this hypothetical outcome of Ridder batting with Mitch Trubisky reminds of when Seattle paid Matt Flynn in the offseason just for Russ to win the starting job by Week 1.

  1. New England Patriots – Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State

New England has a glaring need at cornerback, but it’s too much of a burden to place on the 21st overall pick to expect him to immediately flourish in that role in a Bill Belichick defense. The Patriots have had success at finding late round gems at CB, but also don’t be surprised if they trade up or make a move for a veteran on the block (cough, cough: James Bradberry). Instead, they take Ebiketie, who is NFL ready and could take some of the pass rush load off Matt Judon.

  1. Green Bay Packers – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

I know, I know: it’s not wide receiver. I have been clamoring for Green Bay to take one for years like actual Packers fans, but in this situation I’d advise that they stay patient and first address one of the few other roster weaknesses with a potentially elite prospect in Lloyd. After years of linebacker instability, the Packers suddenly would have both of the ILB spots in their 3-4 base defense solidified for the next half-decade.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa

TRADE: ARZ trades 1/23 to JAX for 2/33, 3/65

For a team picking in the back-half of the first round, I really do not care for the Cardinals roster. There isn’t remotely one player still on the board for them who would make me feel better about their organizational direction. On top of that, they don’t have picks in Rounds 4 or 5, so I chose to slide back 10 slots and turn one pick into two. For the Jags, it’s obvious: take this seriously for Trevor Lawrence. I love the idea of young QB/OC pairings, and Doug Pederson can attest to the impact a mobile center can have on an offense after years of coaching Jason Kelce. They also have an extra 3rd rounder to burn after picking one up in the CJ Henderson trade.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

When a team has nearly everything and a QB on a rookie contract, you turn your plus into a plus-plus. Williams would bring an infusion of speed into the Chargers WR room, and it would be a hell of a show to watch Justin Herbert do his best to try to overthrow him.

  1. Carolina Panthers – Logan Hall, DT, Houston

My brain and my heart are a house divided in this scenario for the Panthers. Malik Willis is staring me in the face and the value here would be solid, but I just cannot get myself to place him on an offense led by Matt Rhule, Ben McAdoo, Robby Anderson, Christian McCaffrey at $64mil, and Cam Erving as the current starting LT on the depth chart. I really think this regime deserves to reap what they have sown on the offensive side of the ball, so instead of Willis the defense is rewarded with Hall, who needs some time to reach his full potential but until then would contribute towards a nice DT rotation of Derrick Brown/Matt Ioannidis/Bravvion Roy.

  1. Tennessee Titans – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Tennessee is at an interesting crossroads coming into this NFL Draft. Is 2022 the last hurrah for the Titans built around Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry? Or is that year…already a thing in the past after their 2021 first round playoff exit? It’s really hard to say as a neutral observer and I’m not decided on which way I personally lean. Players like Willis and Tyler Smith are intriguing from a developmental perspective, but I’ll give Tannehill some credit and instead go with Garrett Wilson, who would nicely complement the play styles of AJ Brown and Robert Woods.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

TRADE: TB trades 1/27 to SEA for 2/40, 3/72, 5/145

What difference does a fifth-year option make when your team is anchored by a 45 year old QB? Tampa only has four picks in the Top 240 as it stands, so for me it’s a no-brainer to triple the pick volume for players who can chip in right away in 2022 with Brady still in town. While not a pick that I would make at 9 – clearly by nature of this exercise – Seattle taking Willis that early wouldn’t be all that outrageous. They get him much later now while still holding a good amount of draft capital via the Russell Wilson trade.

  1. Green Bay Packers – David Bell, WR, Purdue

Packers fans wait 20 years for a first-round receiver and when they finally get one it’s a guy who ran a 4.65 40! This would play out as a joke on Twitter but I would freaking love this fit for Green Bay. They take pride in WR size and physicality and Bell has it. Obviously no rookie is going to step right into Davante Adams’ cleats, but there isn’t a guy in this class who I’d pick to do a better impression of Adams over Bell.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – Jalen Pitre, CB/SAF, Baylor

I’m not sure that any match of first round prospect and team would be more beautiful than this one. Pitre was born to play in Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive and blitz-happy defense. I can already hear Jim Nantz yelling “PITRE!” when he makes a huge play in a January playoff game at Arrowhead.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan

I considered a pass-catcher here, but I really don’t think the group of Kelce/JuJu/Valdes-Scantling is as bad as the heat it’s taking. No, those WRs aren’t good, but the Chiefs also have two picks in each Round 1-4. The Veach/Reid/Mahomes leadership trinity gives the Chiefs more flexibility to plan for the future than any other team, and they cash in on that security by drafting Ojabo fresh off his Achilles tear.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

CB2 is the only need that truly jumps out to me on the Bengals depth chart, and Gordon is still here for the taking. Bengals live in a press-zone scheme that Gordon has familiarity with from college. “No questions asked, hand in the card” type of pick here.

  1. Detroit Lions – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

It’s tempting to place a QB here for fifth-year option purposes, but I’m not moving mountains for Matt Corral or Kenny Pickett and I don’t like either of them in Detroit either. Also, let’s not forget that other positions are expensive too, notably WR as of late, so the fifth-year option can come in handy elsewhere. Like I said in my writeup for Burks, I project him as an X-WR in the NFL – which is where the Lions are crying for help. Burks/DJ Chark/Amon-Ra St. Brown all of a sudden would be a respectable WR corps.


Thanks for reading! Within the next 48 hours: “What COULD Happen” version of a mock draft. Follow me on Twitter @Real_Peej

NFL

2022 NFL Draft – Top 50 Board

88 NFL Draft prospects evaluated this year; here are the Top 50 in my eyes. Methodology: I’ll watch a highlight reel to get the gist of the player, do some background reading, and then watch 3-6 full games of tape – amount of time depends on the consensus caliber and position of the prospect, and I usually try to watch at least one game from a previous season too. 

Positional value is weighed but not ultimately the final factor in my rankings. For example, I would not endorse drafting Kenneth Walker 11th overall, but I also do not think there are 10 players in this draft better at their position than Kenneth Walker. Hopefully that makes sense!

New for 2022: I spent a lot of time mapping out NFL pro comparisons for each prospect, so I hope you enjoy them. I haphazardly threw out player comps in years past (shoutout Justin Herbert to Josh Freeman) but this year I put much more intentionality behind them because NFL Draft scouting is supposed to be fun, and I also do see the value in having players in mind for readers who don’t spend days of time crunching amateur footage on YouTube like me. For the player comps, my intention is not to predict that the prospect will be as good as the selected comparison. Still, I did do my best to land in the general area of NFL impact that I think the prospect could have, though at the end of the day the comparisons are more about play style and measurables.

  1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Even without a perfect grade, KT is no slouch as top dog. Freaky athlete with raw power and explosive burst around the edge. Can be moved around with his length and IQ and will immediately impact vs run in NFL. Arrow pointing up w/ pass rush skills. No attitude concern from me.

Pro Comparison: Khalil Mack

  1. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Sauce is the cleanest prospect in this draft. His length is obvious, but he also brings elite quickness, positioning, and physicality to the table. Rare mind at CB who will live in press man coverage. 2021 production was nearly perfect. Only depends how highly you value CBs.

Pro Comparison: Troy Vincent

  1. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: The consensus top prospect, Hutch is a relentless pass rusher with elite movement and hands. Like he did at Michigan, he’ll convert pressures into sacks. Short-armed without much bend, so there’s a chance he banks on effort over skill wins. But his floor is like Trey Hendrickson.

Pro Comparison: TJ Watt

  1. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: A mammoth who moves like he’s 30 pounds lighter, Neal won’t get mistaken for Jon Ogden or Orlando Pace for his finish or solo protection. But he’s plenty long and strong, plays clean, and works well on the line. Has flashed dominance and could unlock it staying at one position.

Pro Comparison: Andrew Whitworth

  1. Drake London, WR, USC (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Psycho competitor at WR whose high point catches and body control make his basketball background clear. London is a rare separator for his size with good YAC ability. Some of the most dominant WR tape you’ll ever see. No, he’s not fast, but stick him outside and forget about it.

Pro Comparison: Mike Evans

  1. Kyle Hamilton, SAF, Notre Dame (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Neither a Derwin James style CB/S hybrid nor a Jamal Adams style LB/S hybrid, Hamilton is in desperate need of a rebrand. Perfect mold for the modern NFL safety but just…bigger. Incredibly rare instincts with the hard hits, TE coverage, and recovery you’d want from any safety.

Pro Comparison: Harrison Smith

  1. Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: All-time specimen whose tape backs up his legendary Combine. Davis is both an immovable double team eater and a sudden force who can swim or rip by any IOL. Would like to see less finesse, but Davis should be a run stuffer and TFL machine – especially if he sticks around 340lbs.

Pro Comparison: Haloti Ngata

  1. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Tough as hell with clear football IQ, McDuffie will make any team better. Played mostly zone at UW but is also sticky in man coverage with quick hips and feet. Has plenty of speed and physicality. Teams stopped throwing at him. Won’t be a high count INT guy, but he’s a baller.

Pro Comparison: Denzel Ward

  1. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Olave is as smooth as savvy as it gets at WR, and he’s coming down with any ball thrown near him. Has a mix of releases to fool DBs off the line, and he can also cook them with speed that might be better than his 4.39 40. He’s skinny and has no YAC boost, but Olave just produces.

Pro Comparison: Calvin Ridley

  1. Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Quick and flexible, earns leverage then drives or turns DTs. High connect rate at second level that modern NFL OCs crave, but also the old school strong base and finishing mentality. Aware, active, and holds his own. 22 y/o OG isn’t flashy but Zion could be in Pro Bowl next year.

Pro Comparison: David DeCastro

  1. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Highest graded RB in my 3 years of prep. Full package as a runner. Excellent vision and burst, can run around you or through you. Home run hitter who also moves the chains. Elite production on a bad MSU offense. Inexperienced route runner and bad pass blocker, but Walker can RUN.

Pro Comparison: Dalvin Cook

  1. Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Freakishly built with play style at UGA that was freakishly ordinary. Versatile, hard edge setter, gap filler. Lethal speed/power combo flashes, but Walker’s general pass rush execution isn’t there and he’s better with a hand in the dirt. NFL teams: don’t screw him up; he’s good.

Pro Comparison: Jadeveon Clowney

  1. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Ferocious puncher, easy mover, makes watching the OL fun. Ickey is a compact body-tosser with a mean streak who’s perfect for a zone rushing attack. Technique in pass protection needs to improve: oversets, hand timing, using his length. But he’s trending upward at a key position.

Pro Comparison: La’el Collins

  1. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Williams has another gear that 99% of WRs don’t, but he’s no one-trick pony. Strong-handed alpha type who’s not afraid to go over the middle. Good catch radius and can JUMP. One-year wonder body catcher who struggles with feel and physical separation is scary, but he’s that fast.

Pro Comparison: Will Fuller

  1. Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Elite athlete, lightning in his breaks, and at his best 1v1. Ball skills were on full display during LSU title season. But in 2019, Stingley took his lumps too: got turned around, opened shoulders early, and just outmuscled. Limited tape since but I think he’ll be more than fine.

Pro Comparison: Chris Gamble

  1. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Deep ball thrower who looks his best in the pocket but proved in 2021 he can run well when needed. Poised, tough, and smart. Howell has top-heavy mechanics and too much trust in his NFL-average attributes. But he’s young and improving with his footwork, timing, and progressions.

Pro Comparison: Dak Prescott

  1. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Charged up bull rusher with athleticism matched by his brute strength. Karlaftis put on 3 years of tape of wrecking pockets and winning with quick and powerful hands. He does have stiff ankles and can play out of balance, which shows up vs the run. But he’s an NFL built 4-3 DE.

Pro Comparison: Demarcus Lawrence

  1. Travis Jones, DT, UConn (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Explosive 330 pounder, wins leverage, tosses linemen with ease. Performance vs Clemson put any strength-of-competition concerns to rest. Also had silly reps at Senior Bowl. Right now, wins just by being fast and strong. Won’t work in NFL. If his technique is unlocked, watch out.

Pro Comparison: Akiem Hicks

  1. Jaquan Brisker, SAF, Penn State (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Equal player high and low, Brisker has good deep instincts and range and also looks like a small LB playing in the box. Lowers his shoulder and hits hard. Incredible recognition. Angles need work and probably won’t make many plays on the ball, but he’s a fan-favorite in waiting.

Pro Comparison: John Johnson III

  1. David Bell, WR, Purdue (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Over-ranked relative to other boards, love this profile and love Bell. Has the size, hands, and route-running precision. Excellent possession WR, sneaky shift, hard to tackle. Yes, he tested poorly. But Bell is an athlete, just more with body control and hand-eye coordination.

Pro Comparison: Robert Woods

  1. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State (Redshirt Sophomore)

Tweet-Length Review: Patient and uses hands well to mirror and neutralize. Cross is very athletic for OT, gets upfield fast, and flashes insane recovery ability. Just so damn young. Gives up ground and gets beat by advanced moves, holds too much, not enough run reps. Get the hype but pump the brakes.

Pro Comparison: Jake Matthews

  1. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Always works towards ball and won’t come off the field. Lloyd is patient, long and smooth. Moves well in all directions and can flip hips and run in coverage. Don’t buy him as EDGE/LB hybrid like Utah used him, especially at 23 y/o in Pac12. Not a burner or thumper but just good.

Pro Comparison: De’Vondre Campbell

  1. Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Enigma of the draft cycle, Burks is a YAC beast bigger than everyone with nimble feet. Could have lined up in backfield then caught 50/50 ball on the next play. Ton of talent but also telegraphs routes, has tight hips and a short stride. Gotta find right role; I think it’s X-WR.

Pro Comparison: Dez Bryant

  1. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: If there’s an eval that will age poorly, might be here. Wilson has special body control, agility, concentration and tempo. Highlight reel routes and catches on tape. But his frame is really small and he plays like it. Worry he needs scheme help or will just get bullied in NFL.

Pro Comparison: Santonio Holmes

  1. Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Possibly the best bender in this class, Ebiketie works OT’s outside shoulders like a pro. Couple of go-to moves already under his belt too. NFL long and strong. Grad transfer production is concerning and he’s not a freak, but I’m betting he was just late to put it all together.

Pro Comparison: Josh Sweat

  1. Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa (Redshirt Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Center is low on positional value chart, but also don’t see Linderbaum as this generational OC prospect. Like him quite a bit; crazy strength, cuts off linemen quickly, wins the pad level battle, centers his punch. But also tiny-armed and more of a wrestler than blocker/helper.

Pro Comparison: Corey Linsley

  1. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Even if the Internet lied to you that he’s Josh Allen x Lamar Jackson, Willis has a live arm and strong legs. Can throw with touch then uncork it 60 yards. Still, BAD pocket tendencies and iffy ball placement. Inconsistent and got picked on at times. But he’s got some stones.

Pro Comparison: Jalen Hurts

  1. Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington (Redshirt Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Gordon has the size and raw athleticism needed to play press zone in the NFL. Good tackler, competes hard, and got better by the game. There’s plenty of technique to clean up: staying lighter on his feet, turning his head earlier, etc. Already like him though; think NFL will too.

Pro Comparison: Chidobe Awuzie

  1. Jalen Pitre, CB/SAF, Baylor (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Pitre lived in the slot at Baylor and caused chaos behind the LOS. Plenty of traits to love: contact balance, uncanny timing, patience in coverage. Also red flags: age, undersized, and mainly no clear NFL role. But good things happen when he’s around the ball and he’s got JUICE.

Pro Comparison: Micah Hyde

  1. Logan Hall, DT, Houston (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Tall, twitched up, quick handed with power to piledrive OGs. Sounds good? Well, Hall doesn’t know what he’s doing yet. Tweener who played situationally at UH. Needs to master his niche and learn to play with control. By adding 20lbs, off to good start to become a force at 4-3 DT.

Pro Comparison: Arik Armstead

  1. Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Well-known field general of UGA defense, Dean is twitchy with great burst. Finds the hole and hits it hard. Just so wary of undersized LBs, especially one who skips testing. Issues with tape too: not the cleanest tackler, impatient, coverage might be limited to RBs. We’ll see.

Pro Comparison: Jordan Hicks

  1. Tyler Smith, OT/OG, Tulsa (Redshirt Sophomore)

Tweet-Length Review: BIG boy who pancakes religiously. Basically lesser Ikem Ekwonu. Smith is athletic with good nastiness. Quick to engage, held his own vs good teams. Just a total mess in protection right now; some fixable, some not. Unsure if he’ll evolve from OG to OT in NFL, but he has time.

Pro Comparison: Robert Hunt

  1. Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Tough, quick, and shifty craftsman at WR who looked like the best player on the field at every BSU game. Best out of slot but can hang on the outside too. Runs full route tree. Shakir has average size and T-Rex arms, and he won’t stack or survive press. He’ll catch EVERYTHING.

Pro Comparison: Amon-Ra St. Brown

  1. Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Most NFL ready QB in the class, Ridder is plug-and-play with developed anticipation, timing, and pocket mobility. Hits targets in stride. Deep passing stinks, arm is ok, generally inaccurate, not a pretty ball. Awesome athlete but see him more as a game manager than creator.

Pro Comparison: Alex Smith

  1. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (Redshirt Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Quick strike QB with plus arm. Can throw to anywhere on the field. Corral is a twitchy scrambler who climbs the pocket and leaves it out on the field. Have doubts his small stature + reckless play style will survive NFL without Lane Kiffin’s RPO offense to help, but he’s tough.

Pro Comparison: Jeff Garcia

  1. David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan (Redshirt Sophomore)

Tweet-Length Review: Line up Ojabo as far outside as possible and let him cook. Has more rush chops than credited for and a rare knack to force fumbles. More of a speed rush specialist right now though, which is not the best role for an Achilles tear! Would have ranked 10-15 spots higher pre-injury.

Pro Comparison: Yannick Ngakoue

  1. Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Awesome line-mate with raw power and grip strength. Green sustains well in run game and is dominant at times. One of least athletic top prospects and it shows. A&M took advantage of his size and willingness; will flourish at OG in NFL. Gonna be HUGE, 325lbs and just turned 21.

Pro Comparison: Gabe Jackson

  1. Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Wyatt is a quick power generator who looks shot out of a cannon when he’s on. Pain in the ass of a blocking assignment, can blow up any play. I’m skeptical though: played at 23 y/o and don’t buy he’ll stick at Combine weight of 305lbs. More of a wrecking ball than disciplined DT.

Pro Comparison: Daron Payne

  1. Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Before breakout Senior Bowl and Combine, Watson was the guy who ran down Trey Lance’s deep balls. Absurd downfield separation, legit speed. Hate “raw” label but it applies to Watson. Needs to better attack ball and learn creativity in routes. Probably worth the coaching needed.

Pro Comparison: Tim Patrick

  1. Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Case of “tape don’t lie” because Spiller’s testing sucked. Not great for RB! Productive three-down back, very good receiver. Decisive one-cut runner who can get dirty yards up middle or turn corner. Not a home run hitter or TD machine. Young, mainly needs confidence and patience.

Pro Comparison: Joe Mixon

  1. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Perfect sized RB, can get small AND falls forward. Hall cuts upfield but creative/instinctive running is his calling card. Massive Combine caught me off guard; only “good” athlete on tape. No truck stick and not too sudden. Possible fantasy RB1, but possible 5 year career too.

Pro Comparison: David Johnson

  1. Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Odd man out in UGA’s LB corps, Tindall was most explosive of the bunch. Plays low to the ground and meets RBs in the hole with impact. Good athlete who soars into the backfield. Limited reps but has some coverage skills too. Might get stuck in the box in NFL but dude’s a missile.

Pro Comparison: Devin Bush

  1. Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Ladder-climber who plays taller and wider than his already big frame. Tolbert is smooth with good breakaway speed and downfield separation. Wins 50/50 balls and has experience winning in space. Older prospect who lacks precision and great ball skills, but he should hold his own.

Pro Comparison: Corey Davis

  1. Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Ultra competitive CB, crashes down on plays at LOS like his life depends on it. Not many guys this athletic and physical, Booth looks can’t-miss at his peak. Plays at one speed, which isn’t a good thing in his case. Will lose assignments and balance flying around. Needs to chill.

Pro Comparison: Trae Waynes

  1. Lewis Cine, SAF, Georgia (Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Tone setter, great speed, checks the physical boxes. Cine has shown he’s instinctual near LOS. Just a total freelancer of a safety. Lots of inexplicable moments on tape, whether it’s crashing box too early or abandoning his zone. Range isn’t much, might cash checks as an enforcer.

Pro Comparison: Brandon Meriweather

  1. Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Dulcich has the wingspan, hands, and speed to be a total mismatch. Releases, route tree, and YAC ability are solid too. Won’t ever pass protect and his run blocking needs work. Might not ever make it into heavy personnel in NFL or rack up double-digit TDs, but he’s a ball-winner.

Pro Comparison: Dawson Knox

  1. Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State (Redshirt Junior)

Tweet-Length Review: Yes, I watched the OSU/Mich game. Petit-Frere got his ass kicked by Hutchinson. He struggled with that burst and unraveled, and his lack of explosion accounts for that. But NPF is a very good run blocker who has a solid base and quick hands. Maybe a low ceiling, but NFL-ready OT.

Pro Comparison: Morgan Moses

  1. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Probably best college QB in 2021, Pickett looks the part. Mostly accurate, can throw on the run, has zip and touch. West Coast fit. But it is what it is with a 23 y/o breakout in the ACC. Ugly pocket tendencies and arm is NFL subpar. Iffy decision maker, sack count will be HIGH.

Pro Comparison: David Carr

  1. Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State (Redshirt Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: High energy, strong arms, lower body torque. Johnson does his job holding down the edge. I am stunned by his momentum. Old one-year wonder with production that’s nearly all based in effort. Very little nuance, finesse, or counter. Best chance is to get bigger and land on good DL.

Pro Comparison: Whitney Mercilus

  1. Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan (Senior)

Tweet-Length Review: Body that suits a former TE, Raimann is light on feet and positions himself nicely. Mostly held his own vs LSU. Stuck at OT forever at his smaller size/length, and gets driven by bigger EDGEs. Maybe a nice player, but at his age (25 in Sept) gotta wonder how much growth is left.

Pro Comparison: Joe Haeg

Next Ten Out (In No Order): Romeo Doubs (WR, Nevada), Abraham Lucas (OT, Washington State), Daniel Faalele (OT, Minnesota), Boye Mafe (EDGE, Minnesota), Chad Muma (LB, Wyoming), Christian Harris (LB, Alabama), Leo Chenal (LB, Wisconsin), Kaiir Elam (CB, Florida), Roger McCreary (CB, Auburn), Daxton Hill (SAF, Michigan)

NFL

BLOWING IT UP…NEW YORK GIANTS EDITION

The New York Giants are an abomination. They are barreling towards a 4-13 finish that would bring them to a 22-59 record over the last five seasons. John Mara’s vision for a football team that could pass as a polo club has not come to fruition, believe it or not. Within the last four years alone since Dave Gettleman became the GM to the surprise of everyone – including Dave Gettleman – the team has “rebuilt” for two of those non-consecutive years and has “gone all in” for the other two non-consecutive years. It’s fraudulent and malpractice, and even though the fans and select media know it, nothing has changed because the luxury suites at MetLife Stadium are still stocked and sold. It’s painful for one of the historically proudest American sports franchises that now sincerely belongs in the depths with the likes of Washington and Jacksonville.

I know these things for certain: there are going to be countless articles like this one written in the coming months, Dave Gettleman will be allowed to retire on his own terms following the season, and the Mara Family will own the team for the rest of our lives. There is nothing the fans can do to force a sale of the team, and there is probably nothing we can do to influence the next GM selection either. So instead of making unbearably sad predictions about what will actually happen with the future of the front office of the Giants, I am going to lay out what I would do with control of the personnel of the Giants. You know, a Giants team that actually reestablishes themselves with the class of the league instead of one that takes pride in combover haircut quarterbacks and good effort so long as it isn’t intentional tanking.

I have STRONG thoughts on the GM and Head Coach processes, but for the sake of this blog I’m going to focus on the players. Quick on those topics though: it absolutely sucks that we are pigeonholing ourselves with GM candidates only to make sure that he is aligned with our NYPD cosplayer of a head coach. Like, why does Joe Judge have any sway…at all? He has been objectively bad through a not-so-small sample size any longer. He brings nothing to the table with game strategy and for a tough guy the team has lacked discipline under his watch. I could actually appreciate honesty and a behind-the-scenes culture change after the slimy tenures of Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur (though Judge too is now on liar watch after his bizarre post-game tirade in Chicago), but the most important fact of the matter is that he has been a net negative on the field and has not proved anyone wrong in that regard as someone who was hired as a young Special Teams Coordinator. Possibly the most hair-ripping-out element of it all is that the Giants DO have a potential Bill Belichick offspring on the coaching staff in the impressive Patrick Graham, but he doesn’t look the part for the Maras so the Giants will probably let him walk to another team who acknowledges his potential or just let Graham stick around so long as Judge is the one making the final decisions. But alas, this blog is still about the players!

My general philosophies as an Internet GM with 300 Twitter followers is to 1) rebuild for real where it will take multiple years to meaningfully contend but the fans have a clear picture into the long-term vision and 2) avoid outright tanking because it’s lame and football is a vicious sport where that isn’t really possible to ask grown men to do over the course of a season. So I’m shooting for a 2024 contending Giants team here with 2022-2023 seasons that aren’t glory years but not depressing to watch. 

A few rules of this game:

1. We are abiding by salary cap projections, per OverTheCap.com. The Giants 2022 cap situation is dismal for any team, let alone a bad team, currently sitting at 29th in the league with -$16mil of effective space. So just to sign a draft class and operate in 2022 with some breathing room, by the end of this exercise we need to clear $21mil off the 2022 books.

2. We are also abiding by roster rules. Fortunately, this is pretty easy for the Giants, since they currently have 41 players contracted for 2022 and 11 picks in the upcoming draft. I’ll be reinforcing the draft stock throughout the words ahead, so assuming they sign most of their draft picks, what we need to do here is basically add a player for every player subtracted to finish at a full roster. I’m only going for a Week 1 active roster…look elsewhere for practice squad projections.

3. We care about compensatory picks for the next two years while this team actually rebuilds, so putting it out there now that I’m opting to have the Giants avoid splurging in free agency so we can recoup some value for solid players when they decide to leave this miserable franchise.

THE QUARTERBACK CONUNDRUM 

While not the natural starting point of this exercise, I am going to kick this off with a focus on Daniel Jones because he’s at the center of everything. Now, if I had to guess, Jones will return to the Giants for a fourth year starting under center but he’ll do so without his fifth-year option exercised. (Even for a team as delusional as the Giants, I don’t know how you could guarantee Jones’ fifth year based on his play and neck injury.) But still, the whole point of this is to see what would happen if I ran the circus, and putting any disdain that I have for Jones aside (which I do), it is imperative to cut the cord with him if the Giants are going to truly rebuild and evolve beyond the Gettleman Era.

I will give Jones this much: he’s not horrible and he did prove some haters wrong in being a legitimate NFL quarterback, as ridiculous as that is to say about the sixth overall pick in a draft. Like, he probably was the second best QB in that 2019 class. But still, he’s just not good despite whatever manipulated deep ball or clean pocket stats his supporters will throw at you to show that he’s a victim of circumstances. Jones has received all of the organizational support in the world even if he’s had to deal with unfortunate offensive lines and playcallers. He didn’t prove anyone wrong with his talent or natural ability as a quarterback. While he looks the part and is a good athlete, he has no elite traits whatsoever and he really doesn’t have the grasp of the offense that you’d expect for the “first one in, last one out” type and his Duke pedigree. There is just no reason to believe that Jones is a winning quarterback with a sample size that has grown quite large, and all of the investment into surrounding him with better pieces did not nearly amount to the success it would have taken to justify extending Jones. The Giants tried to turn someone who kinda looks like Eli Manning into Eli Manning and it didn’t work.

While not my preference – see below for that – if Jones stuck around for another year without any guaranteed contract beyond that it might not be the worst thing. Like I said, he’s a legitimate NFL quarterback and he’s young, so some team would give him a contract if he hit the open market. The Titans got a 5th round comp pick when Marcus Mariota left town and that’s a possible outcome here. But that would require Jones having his best year yet because he isn’t as talented as Mariota. If we got more of the same from Jones, he could sign elsewhere and return more like a 7th round comp pick like the Bears are about to get for Mitch Trubisky. At that point, you count that as a loss.

Again, I know this is the Giants front office that I’m talking about, but I just don’t understand what future they see with Danny as the QB of the Giants through their warped old man glasses? Let’s say he stays healthy enough next year, plays at a league-average level (which would be an improvement) then is given a middle-class QB extension – which I think is John Mara’s dream here. The best recent comparison to this is when the Dolphins extended Ryan Tannehill going into his fourth season. Even though some people like to compare Jones to Tannehill in that they predict he will blossom into a good QB once he joins a new team like Tannehill has in Tennessee, that comparison simultaneously doesn’t really work and isn’t even promising in the first place. Tannehill through three years was better than Jones by record, stats, arm talent, eye test and health, and even then locking up Tannehill contributed towards the Dolphins being so trapped in mediocrity that they eventually salary dumped him off the team. And like I said, Tannehill was actually a promising young QB at the time of his extension. Jones is not one. The last time a team was rewarded in blind faith towards a highly drafted QB? I think it was the 49ers with Alex Smith? And that’s Alex Smith who was a first overall pick. Even then, Smith turned out to have a great career but he’s the same guy who was dumped TWICE by great coaches for a more talented replacement (decisions that both paid off for those coaches). So like I said…what are we doing here with Jones?

We could go into 2022 and just mope about Jones one last go-around until the Giants inevitably finish with a 5-12 record, but there are definitely ways for the Giants to proactively address the QB situation even with a shot salary cap for 2022 and a “bad QB draft class” (I only put that in quotations because I haven’t personally watched prospects yet and those pre-determinations can often turn out to be bogus). They could simply draft a QB this year to compete with Jones with one of their multiple high draft picks. They also should have the ammo to go trade for an established quarterback. The trendy rumor is Russell Wilson, and yes he would provide a massive immediate upgrade and a likely return to credibility as a franchise. They should definitely engage with Seattle to gauge the asking price, and they should dial up a team like the Raiders too if they are floating Derek Carr. Still, I don’t think a quick-fix is the real solution here. By mortgaging draft capital – Seattle might want three first-round picks – the Giants would box themselves in with this crappy roster that might only get worse following 2022 without more investment into young difference makers. Take Wilson…is he seriously good enough to turn THIS Giants team into contenders next year? And if not – which is my response – then shouldn’t the Giants choose to improve the roster and the salary cap THEN get aggressive in the QB trade market or free agency if that is the intention? Yes, another team could pounce on Russ but we are entering an NFL age where there will always be good QBs looking for a change. As lowly as things are for the Giants, they should aim to avoid shortcuts.

Therefore, that is why it is my official suggestion for the Giants to eat the trash here. Dig that hole. *Joe Judge fake Southern accent voice* “Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward.” I want the Giants to play some Moneyball at QB for 2022. Trade Daniel Jones for the reduced but real value that he still has, take back an awful contract in the process, then reap the rewards via draft compensation that comes along with it. If this sounds familiar, it was what the Browns did with Brock Osweiler’s Texans contract that got them a 2nd round pick that turned into Nick Chubb. Now, like I said though, I don’t want the Giants to outright tank next year and that is what the Browns did in that situation. So I am not endorsing that they go out and seek a QB as bad as Osweiler, who the Browns did not even entertain playing and cut before the season. I think the only pricy 2022 QB who fits that mold is Sam Darnold, who probably wouldn’t be allowed to swipe back into MetLife Stadium anyway so cross him off the list. Then there is Baker Mayfield, who has trapped the Browns by flashing enough to kickstart extension discussions but has also been untrustworthy enough for them to halt those discussions. You gotta think Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, neither of whom decided to draft Baker first overall, are desperate to make an upgrade despite Baker’s fifth year already being guaranteed. Before Daniel Jones’ neck injury, I could have written a convincing argument for the Giants and Browns as QB trade partners. I could see the appeal for Cleveland in Jones, who has cut back on turnovers, in the Browns run-heavy offense at a total bargain that would allow them to continue beefing up an already great roster. But with Jones’ injury removing the realistic option to trade for Jones on a 2 year/$25mil contract with his exercised option, it would suddenly represent a gamble for the Browns for a QB that hasn’t shown nearly enough to bank on him getting them over the hump in one year. If the Browns do choose to make a change at QB, expect them to aim higher. That leaves us with our final QB on a bad contract who I think fits the bill here perfectly: Jared Goff.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade Daniel Jones, 2022 5th Round Pick, 2022 6th Round Pick to Lions for Jared Goff, 2022 2nd Round Pick, 2023 4th Round Pick

No way around it: Goff is no longer the good, young QB that took the Rams to the Super Bowl. He got banished by Sean McVay and hasn’t exactly proven anyone wrong in Detroit for the two-win Lions. His 6.5 yards/attempt is abysmal, and while QBR is a flawed stat Goff currently ranks 24th out of 31 qualifiers – which sounds about right. (Jones, for the record, is 23rd.) Goff’s contract is even worse than his recent performance too, with enough guaranteed to basically make him cut-proof for 2022 with at least a $26mil cap hit. The Lions pretty inexplicably doubled down on Goff too following the trade by massively restructuring his contract to a point where they’d absorb a $15mil dead cap hit by trading him away. So how does this make any on-field or business sense for either team?

I’ll start with Detroit. They almost need to make a QB change next year with Dan Campbell in charge. His emotional approach actually seems to be working in terms of on-field effort and attitude for a hapless team, but I don’t know how much longer that could last if they trot out Goff again and basically waive the white flag on the season in the process. Now, they could draft a QB with one of their three picks currently within the Top 35, but it’s extremely unlikely they will draft one in the Top 2 and they should be much more inclined to make their big move using their own pick with the Rams first-rounder that could be better in 2023 (maybe even much better if Matt Stafford gets hurt) for Bryce Young or CJ Stroud.

Would Lions fans who have watched their team win 7 combined games over the last two seasons want to see their team part ways with a nearly first round pick? Of course not, but there could be a lot to be gained in this move that would make the team better. Jones would come extremely cheap as a viable one-year bridge QB at $4mil for a trading team, and maybe he’d actually show that improvement that everyone has been waiting for behind an offensive line that might be the league’s best moving forward. On that note, for a team that didn’t win a game until Week 13, the Lions roster isn’t THAT bad. Their wide receivers are dreadful, but they have many solid pieces in place elsewhere – and that’s not even including the likely edge rusher they’ll add in the Top 2 in the draft. Detroit also only has 6 picks in the 2022 Draft with none in Rounds 4 and 5, so despite the big move back from Round 2 to Round 5 they would pick up an additional pick in this process. The Lions would save $12mil in 2022 alone on this trade with at minimum another $10mil off the books beyond that. To put that into real terms, they could potentially upgrade at QB in Jones, sign a free agent receiver along the likes of Christian Kirk almost exclusively with the profits gained in that upgrade, and then still use their other first round pick on either another receiver, linebacker, or whatever they choose.

As for the Giants, well it’s some reverse logic but Goff could potentially provide them with a short-term upgrade too. It feels like ages since Goff made back-to-back Pro Bowls but he undoubtedly has a better arm than Jones and is still only 27 years old. Even the 2019-2020 regressed version of Goff would be a welcomed sight for Giants fans, and Goff has plenty of experience in distributing the ball to skilled offensive weapons. The Giants would need big upgrades to both the offensive line and the playcalling to make this work, but I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the Giants offense looking more credible with Goff at all. He’ll finish close to as many TD passes in one year with the Lions as Jones had in his past two years with the Giants, after all.

The business of it all is honestly harder to justify for the Giants, but mainly for a draft pick that currently sits at 34th overall this would be worth it. For the team with arguably the worst 2022 cap situation to take on arguably the worst contract in football, it stretches the limits of financial possibility even in the NFL, but it could be done with corresponding moves – see the rest of this blog! And with Goff’s contract, the guarantees stop after 2022 so should his right arm appear cooked they could cut him scot-free following the season. If you think that $22mil is a lot to pay for a second round pick, well you’d be correct but this is the type of aggressive move that could lead to real change. John Mara owes us this much. Think about how few foundational players are on the Giants current roster: Andrew Thomas, Xavier McKinney, Azeez Ojulari…and that’s it? Any coincidence that those are 3/4 guys taken in the first two rounds over the last two drafts? Not at all. Giants fans should know how valuable the top of the 2nd round is. Landon Collins was the 33rd pick. Sterling Shepard was 40th. McKinney was 36th. This presents a real scenario where the Giants could draft two offensive linemen, an edge rusher, and a linebacker ALL in the Top 40 picks. And shit, maybe they even take a falling QB with that inherited pick atop the second round instead? This is how the Giants can create their own luck instead of praying that someone new buys the team.

TOTAL 2022 CAP HIT: $22mil

THE OBVIOUS CUTS 

All of these players are signed to play for the 2022 Giants. None of these players should play for the 2022 Giants.

  • Kyle Rudolph ($5mil savings) – Predictably a titanic waste of money and roster spot for this current team, Rudolph has been a non-factor despite the pretty big need at the TE2 position. He looks slow, washed up, and generally disinterested and I cannot wait for him to no longer wear blue.
  • Riley Dixon ($2.8mil savings) – A bad punter who can save your team nearly three million dollars? Uhhh yeah.
  • Oshane Ximenes ($1mil savings) – HAS to be one of the worst players in the league. His career probably ends here…Giants desperately needed him to step up and he can’t even crack the active roster nowadays.
  • Kaden Smith ($1mil savings) – He has actually looked ok when given the chance but it’s a bad sign that the team paid Rudolph to supplant him when he plays for so cheap.
  • Ben Bredeson and Wes Martin ($1.9 savings combined) – Two dart throws at the board when Nick Gates shattered his leg to fill in at offensive guard. Welp, neither stuck.
  • Gary Brightwell, Raymond Johnson III, Carter Coughlin, Justin Hilliard, TJ Brunson, Rysen John ($4.8mil savings combined) – Random depth guys who should be replaced with rookies drafted/signed by a more competent front office.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $16.5mil

TOUGH GOODBYES

Guys we actually like who just are on the wrong end of difficult decisions necessitated by the salary cap situation. AKA, you can thank Gettleman and Co. for losing these guys.

  • James Bradberry/Trade ($12mil savings) – Bradberry is set to have the second highest cap hit on the 2022 Giants at nearly $22mil, and yet going into this I fully planned to keep him around for his final year under contract. While he definitely is not playing as well as he did in 2020, just because Bradberry is no longer an All-Pro candidate doesn’t mean that he isn’t still a good cornerback who is asked to do a ton on this defense. Fans have given him way too hard of a time for his play this season. He is always on the field and has made a ton of huge plays in just two years, and in a better situation he would have earned the right to finish out his contract. Plus, he’d return a nice comp pick to the 2023 Giants barring a fall off a cliff next year. But being that Bradberry is in the final year of a hefty deal, getting rid of him would save $12mil that would go a long way towards these other rebuilding moves. Secondary is also a rare area of strength on this Giants roster, and Bradberry is one of the very few Giants players that is tradeable.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade James Bradberry to Colts for 2022 4th Round Pick

This is a fairly easy hypothetical. In 2020, Denver traded a 4th round pick for AJ Bouye on a similar deal with similar recent production. The Colts are among the best at finding value in veteran players – think Xavier Rhodes – and they might be able to get that fourth-rounder back as a comp pick in 2023 if Bradberry played well for them.

  • Sterling Shepard/Release ($4.5mil savings) – This one hurts a lot, especially since Shep is a good player and great teammate who is just cursed by a body that cannot hang with his talent. Somehow now the longest tenured Giant, he signed a team-friendly contract that as recently as a couple of weeks ago was worth either trading or keeping on the books as a valuable WR3. With the recent news that he tore his Achilles though, that injury should lead to a painful farewell for a dude who relies on his quickness and is going into his age-29 season. It’s reminiscent of the Victor Cruz injury; Shepard deserves so much better but the NFL can be a bitch sometimes.
  • Nick Gates/Release ($2.5mil savings) – Gates looked like he was going to become the rare win of Gettleman’s “hog mollies” moves. The Giants brought him in as a UDFA and he quickly became a serviceable guard/center hybrid who defied any defensive player to mess with his quarterback. His injury this year against Washington was SO bad though that we can’t be sure that he’ll ever come back the same and the Giants can’t take that bet for a guy who would make a meaningful financial contribution with his release.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $19mil

EASY GOODBYES

  • Saquon Barkley/Trade ($7mil savings) – I – *clears throat* – cannot stand Saquon Barkley and wish him off my team for just about anything. He is a self-centered prima donna who has made nothing better since we made the regrettable decision to draft him second overall. He is a direct contributor to the total nonsense narrative that he is a chosen-one player, and on the field Saquon has been overrated from the jump and now has fallen to the depths of a straight-up bad running back still on his rookie deal. He looks for home runs on every snap regardless of situation and almost never hits them but we pretend not to care because of random highlights along the way. He is laughably mediocre as a receiver even though we were spoon-fed this idea that he’s Marshall Faulk 2.0, and his pass blocking remains so bad that he comes off the field entirely on third downs for Devontae Booker. And as for the “bad luck” and “impossible roster” that many have claimed to hold Saquon back, give me a freaking break. Look, the sprained ankle against the Cowboys this year was a random occurrence but I’m not going to weep for a running back getting hurt in any context, let alone one who gallops around like he’s Gale Sayers with a lower body so disproportionate that he looks like an action figure. And yes, the Giants have been bad for the entirety of Saquon’s career and a large part of that failure stems to the offensive line, but it’s now IMPOSSIBLE to avoid putting together that Wayne Gallman and Booker have steamed ahead on this team while Saquon and his army of defenders continue to look anywhere for someone or something to blame besides Saquon himself. If the Giants were to actually extend Saquon long-term, I would question my fandom in the team.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade Saquon Barkley to Dolphins for Myles Gaskin, 2022 6th Round Pick and 2023 3rd Round Pick

So, with that glowing endorsement why would anyone trade for this guy? Well, star power at the running back position still matters. We are not that long removed from Le’Veon Bell getting $35mil guaranteed. Also, while I am inclined to believe that the majority of the league has caught onto Saquon’s stink, there are always a couple of desperate teams out there who might try to recapture his rookie form two years removed from his ACL tear. The funny thing about Saquon’s contract is that the logic of taking a running back second overall is so broken that he’s actually making less money on his fifth-year option. It’s still a decent chunk of change for a running back in $7mil, but that’s doable for one year. There aren’t too many eligible teams for Saquon: I guess I could see Washington, Seattle, Kansas City or the Jets trading for him. The best fit though is the Dolphins, who have some desperation to win soon and simultaneously have the most cap space going into 2022 and the league’s worst running back committee. I also think they have Hulu and Progressive in Miami?

There isn’t much of a precedent to compare a trade of Saquon to, especially since the league has mostly figured out running back value since the turn of the century. Besides Bill O’Brien dealing a third-rounder for Duke Johnson and the infamous Trent Richardson trade, you have to go all the way back to 2004 for the last time a running back was traded for a third-rounder or better. But still, I think this is valid, especially since it would be devalued by the Dolphins regime with it coming one year later in 2023 when they might not even be in power any longer if they miss the playoffs again. I have the Giants getting Myles Gaskin in addition to draft compensation in the trade. Gaskin had a bad 2021 season almost any way you slice it, currently dead last among 42 qualifying RBs in rushing DVOA. But he’s so cheap that he’s worth taking a flier on behind a new line that isn’t the worst in the league. Gaskin did lead all running backs in receiving DVOA as a rookie, and a good pass-catching RB has been a recent void for the Giants. Sean McVay traded a 6th and a future 4th for Sony Michel; proposing a 6th and a future 3rd with Gaskin, who is near losing his job with the Dolphins anyway, is fine for someone of Saquon’s presence – as ridiculous as it might be.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $6mil

FREE AGENTS TO LET WALK

Current Giants players who are set to hit free agency next offseason that the team should make no effort or next-to-no effort to bring back.

  • Evan Engram – Prototype example of an overvalued player who made it through his rookie deal that can still turn into fools’ gold via the comp pick system – something the Giants have continuously gotten wrong that the smarter teams leverage year after year for bonus draft picks. I don’t see Engram as a talented player that multiple Giants coaching staffs got wrong…I just don’t think he’s good. His hands are famously bad, he doesn’t inline block, and he never found consistency running anything besides underneath routes. A lot of teams will shy away, especially in a strong tight end free agent market, but it only takes one buyer to return value to the Giants.
  • Jabrill Peppers – Bummer that Peppers’ Giants tenure will end with a torn ACL, but the truth is that he probably would’ve been dealt at the trade deadline anyway if not for the injury. After two good years following the trade over from the Browns, Peppers seemingly lost his ability to cover overnight and thereby lost his regular role in Patrick Graham’s defense. Still, he’s only 26 and an excellent athlete, and there should be a few strong offers out there for Peppers for a team that wants to use him more heavily blitzing and around the line of scrimmage.
  • Nate Solder – Solder’s ill-fated contract is finally over, but not before counting $4mil against the 2022 cap in dead money. He’ll probably choose to retire, but if Solder does want to keep playing then the Giants should offer him nothing more than a veteran minimum salary to be the swing tackle and a leader for a young positional group. I can’t imagine that sounds all too appealing to him.
  • Will Hernandez – Sheesh, good riddance. Just a bad player who got so many chances to live up to his basically first-round draft position. He’ll get a surprising deal in free agency and the Giants need to just bite their tongues as it happens.
  • Austin Johnson – Decent rotational player who got paid like one. Johnson got asked to do too much this year following the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson though and he didn’t really deliver. Giants just need to aim a bit higher here.
  • Billy Price – A player like BJ Hill on the Bengals is a great example of somebody who could one-up Austin Johnson. Think we could have traded Price for him? Price wasn’t a disaster or anything for the Giants given that he stayed healthy all year for cheap and never completely imploded the line, but he continued to be the mediocre center that the Bengals gave up on. Price actually could turn into a solid comp pick for the Giants given his former first-rounder status.
  • John Ross – More of the same for Ross…made some exciting plays, splashed his talent, couldn’t stay on the field and when he did, he wasn’t impactful from drive to drive.
  • Mike Glennon – Think the time is up for one of the higher-paid frauds in NFL history. Just a putrid QB who I cannot imagine gets another primary backup gig. Fitting that the Giants were the last team to give him that shot.
  • Danny Shelton – I actually liked this signing at the time since the front office underestimated Dalvin Tomlinson’s impact and Shelton had good experience stopping the run, but he was just ineffective from the get-go.
  • Reggie Ragland and Bernardrick McKinney – They were both actually serviceable, but the Giants need to make a serious change in the linebacker room in a serious way. Should they strike out or should Blake Martinez not look the same coming back from injury, players like Ragland and McKinney are clearly available as midseason pickups anyway.
  • Jaylon Smith – Smith has shown a spark in his brief stint with the Giants and reminded why he was once one of the higher paid linebackers in the league. But if Smith continues to look rejuvenated, I BEG that another team besides the Giants gives him guaranteed money off a three-game end-of-year sample size after Smith was cut twice by two of the smarter teams in the league who each got up-close and extended looks at this version of him.
  • Isaiah Wilson – Some fans need to grow up with this one. Wilson can’t get off the practice squad for a team that I think would give ME a tryout on the offensive line. He’s not part of the plan.

FREE AGENTS TO RETAIN

Current Giants players who could also leave town, but in this case the team should fight to keep them around at the right cost.

  • Lorenzo Carter – This is almost certainly an unpopular opinion amongst Giants fans, but I’d prefer that we bring Carter back. I just think he’s a solid and versatile role player who is always in the right spot and can make impact plays from time to time. He looked like a well-spent third-round pick coming off his second season before he blew out his Achilles in Year 3 and then the fanbase either forgot or soured on him. Carter has started to regain some juice in the second half of this season, and he’ll still only be 26 next year. Even if he would become more of a revolving linebacker who shifts between pass rushing and off-ball, I think we and more importantly Patrick Graham would miss Carter if we did what’s expected and let him walk.

Fair Contract Prediction: 3 years, $10mil ($2mil cap hit for 2022, $4mil for 2023 and 2024)

  • Eli Penny – Fullbacks matter and Penny is a good and familiar one. Simple as that…give him the same contract again.

Fair Contract Prediction: 2 years, $2.7mil ($1mil cap hit for 2022, $1.7mil for 2023)

  • Matt Skura – Giants need to go into the 2022 Draft with ANYONE besides just the fifth-rounder coming off a knee injury (Shane Lemieux) in the interior offensive line unit, and Skura has been more dependable than Bredeson or Martin. It helps that Skura has pro experience starting at both guard and center.

Fair Contract Prediction: 2 years, $3mil ($1mil cap hit for 2022, $2mil for 2023)

  • Casey Kreiter – Every team needs a long snapper and Kreiter hasn’t screwed up for the Giants.

Fair Contract Prediction: 1 year, $1mil

  • Jake Fromm – I know, I know. Fromm looked unplayable against the Eagles, so bad that he got benched for Mike Glennon in a game that basically only existed for the Giants to test out Fromm. Still, he’s clearly got some fire and grabbed control of the offense pretty quickly. There isn’t much talent to work with here, but Fromm was a good four-year starter at a major college program and deserves an NFL job – for now. The next Colt McCoy has to come from somewhere and in theory it could be Fromm.

Fair Contract Prediction: 1 year, $900k

  • Jarren Williams – Nothing too exciting here; Williams has been a solid injury replacement in the secondary and you can never have enough cornerback depth.

Fair Contract Prediction: 1 year, $900k

TOTAL 2022 CAP HIT: $7mil

FREE AGENTS TO SIGN

As previously stated, I am going to ignore any itching desire for the Giants to splurge in free agency for outside players over the next two years. But still, it’s pretty impossible to field a roster without some participation in free agency. I’m going to split this up into two sub-sections: 1) 2022 free agents with names who will receive meaningful contracts and 2) 2022 free agents without names who will get paid very little to fill the final roster spots vacated by the players cut earlier in this exercise.

FREE AGENTS WITH NAMES

  • David Njoku – For those keeping score, with the departures of Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith, that leaves the 2022 Giants with…zero tight ends on the roster! While the Giants will definitely address the position with one of their Day 2 draft picks, they should turn to free agency for a fresh start at the position with a veteran/rookie combo. The great news for the Giants is that this is a deep and diverse tight end free agent class, with basically multiple options for any flavor. Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz will likely pace the market outside of the Giants price range around $12-15mil AAV (if either of them even leave their current teams). There are older veteran options in Zach Ertz and Jared Cook and bargain-bin options like Robert Tonyan or Tyler Conklin, but given the state of the roster and the weirdness of tight end contracts this is where the new GM can get bold right away. The Giants should be thinking long-term with upside here, even if that naturally comes along with some risk. Ironically, many teams will see that as a perfect description for Engram, but there are new options for the Giants in Njoku and OJ Howard in the $10mil AAV range or somebody more like CJ Uzomah and Gerald Everett in the $6mil AAV range. I’m going with the Jersey boy in Njoku, who definitely has seen more career drama than you’d like for a 25 year old but comes along with more of a traditional tight end skillset and gamebreaking ability than Engram. While a good player on the Browns, it never worked out in Cleveland and they have his replacements already rostered. I’d bet on a realization of potential with a change of scenery for Njoku.

Fair Contract Prediction: 4 years, $40mil ($4mil cap hit for 2022, $12mil cap hits for 2023-2025)

  • Tim Settle – Defensive tackle is also one of the stronger positional groups in next offseason’s free agent pool, and the Giants find themselves in need of another beefy guy who puts his hands in the dirt. Despite Gettleman’s infatuation with the position, it’s really down to only Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence on the depth chart, and Settle would be an intriguing option to round out that group given he has the size at 335 pounds to hang at nose tackle but enough pass rush savvy to rotate with Lawrence in his designated gaps. Settle will hit free agency at only 24 years old, and he never really got a chance to shine as part of Washington’s insanely deep defensive line. This would involve more projection that you’d typically like for a long-term deal but I do think Settle should be good with more playing time and would make for an excellent fit with the Giants.

Fair Contract Prediction: 4 years, $24mil ($3mil cap hit for 2022, $7mil cap hits for 2023-2025)

FREE AGENTS WITHOUT NAMES

  • Offensive Tackle (1 year, $2mil budget) – Only necessitated by Matt Peart’s ACL tear, since the team needs someone behind Andrew Thomas and the right tackle that the Giants presumably take with a high draft pick.
  • Wide Receiver (1 year, $1.5mil budget) – Like the John Ross deal again, but just not Ross this time.
  • Tight End (1 year, $1mil budget) – Only here to block.

TOTAL 2022 CAP HIT: $11.5mil

For comp picks, it’s a guess but I’d imagine the Giants would land something like two 2023 Draft picks in the Rounds 5-7 range for Peppers/Johnson/Price with Engram/Njoku negating and Hernandez/Settle negating.

PLAYERS TO RESTRUCTURE

Restructuring contracts, for those who hear that thrown around a lot as some magic device for making salary cap problems go away, is largely bad. It is the primary reason that the Giants find themselves in their current financial predicament. In the simplest terms, restructuring is taking a chunk of a player’s base salary for the current season then splitting it evenly as a signing bonus over the course of ALL seasons under contract. Players never say no to it because it is guaranteed money upfront, and GMs commonly use it to kick the can of big contracts to either their future selves or the GM that replaces them. Still, it has a place in the league. A lot of the smartest teams heavily restructure deals. If you have confidence that the player will be on your team in those future years, then it’s a fine thing to do so long as you have future cap flexibility – like the Giants do in 2023.

  • Leonard Williams ($18mil, $9mil savings) – This deal doomed the future Giants from the moment the ink hit the paper, even if Williams is arguably the best player on the team. It’s just far too much money for a defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald let alone Chris Jones or Jon Allen, and in this situation the contract is only going to become more laughable in its final year. Like I previously wrote, we are eating the trash here. This would give Leo a cap hit of $35mil in 2023, basically paying him like he’s a Top 10 quarterback. But still, so long as the vision remains clear, you accept good yet wildly overpriced play from Williams in 2023 then let him walk for a top comp pick.
  • Adoree’ Jackson ($8mil, $4mil savings) – Restructuring is a good way to turn bargain free agent contracts into no-longer bargain free agent contracts…see above for James Bradberry. The Giants seem to have connected on Jackson, who looked great for the bulk of the season. He will still be 26 years old in Week 1 next season, so even with a $21mil cap hit in 2023 I wouldn’t be worried about it. He is a solid candidate to receive an extension if he looks just as good next season.
  • Kenny Golladay ($8mil, $6mil savings) – I didn’t want to have to touch Golladay’s contract with his massively disappointing season occurring in Year 1/4 on his deal, but with the deal so stretched out (including a 2025 void year) this wouldn’t really make much of a difference in any decisions made on Golladay’s future. The truth of the matter is that he will be on the 2022 and 2023 Giants, and if things are still bad by 2024 they’ll cut him anyway even if it costs another $4mil to do so. Notably, I still believe in Golladay too even if his contract sucks. He has been good when given opportunities, and I’d rather bet on him moving forward via a restructure than Goff or Logan Ryan.
  • Julian Love (2 years/$8mil, $1mil savings) – This is actually an extension, not a restructure, but it’s a similar idea here. Love isn’t anything special and hasn’t succeeded much when thrust into a starting role, but he’s a versatile defensive back who has a good understanding of Patrick Graham’s complex defensive scheme. The Giants have not been good about keeping players around for low-cost veteran deals in recent years, and Love is a good candidate for one – especially since Logan Ryan is a likely cut candidate following next season.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $20mil

2022 GIANTS DRAFT PICKS

We did it! We have cleared enough cap room to assemble a roster and sign a draft class. Here is where all of the above moves would leave the Giants in the 2022 Draft. This would be TASTY, with two picks in every Round 1-4. Picks in normal font are real, those with strikethrough are real but traded in this blog, and those in italics are acquired as written in this blog.

It is easy to say a rebuilding team like the Giants should always defer to the best player available when on the clock in the draft, and sometimes I agree but this team in particular has so many damn needs at key positions. In the roster section below, I included rookies at positions that I feel like the Giants just need to address in the upcoming draft. Don’t worry…I left two open rookie spaces too for the team to get nuts.

  1. Round 1 / Pick 5
  2. Round 1 / Pick 8 (Chicago Pick)
  3. Round 2 / Pick 34 (Goff Trade)
  4. Round 2 / Pick 36
  5. Round 3
  6. Round 3 (Miami Pick)
  7. Round 4
  8. Round 4 (Bradberry Trade)
  9. Round 5
  10. Round 5
  11. Round 6
  12. Round 6 (Saquon Trade)
  13. Round 7
  14. Round 7

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Part of the goal of a rebuild is a rebrand. The Giants are a clown show organization, regardless of what Joe Judge says. It’s beyond the point of embarrassment in being a rational Giants fan; it’s become funny to laugh at their misery. We had a good run of gaffes, but it’s about time for fans to wear their Giants jerseys in public un-ironically again. The Giants clearly have so many issues, and a big one is how they don’t really have any great players. Like, I’m not sure that one Top 100 player in the league is on the roster. Zero guys made the Pro Bowl. We have plenty of good players for a terrible team, including some who might be considered great soon, but none as of right now and that’s a problem. Like, who is our billboard player? I think it’s Leonard Williams? Does any team outside of the Texans have a more embarrassing selection?

I am about to propose a big trade for the Giants to make, and rest assured it is not purely for better marketing along the New Jersey Turnpike. But I do genuinely think the Giants would benefit from a star player who won’t be 23 years old in 2024 as part of this rebuild, and they have enough capital to pull it off without mortgaging the future. Maybe the solution here is a quarterback, but the Giants shouldn’t limit themselves to that position with huge holes at other crucial positions on the roster. Look no further than EDGE, where I am calling for the Giants to make an aggressive move for Jacksonville’s Josh Allen.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade 2022 1st Round Pick (Chicago Pick) to Jaguars for Josh Allen

Boom! This idea rightfully should raise a lot of questions and doubts, and honestly if the Giants simply decided to draft an EDGE in the Top 10 I’d be cool with it. But I really do prefer this route. It’s creative and opportunistic and something that smart teams around the league have pulled off in recent years. Rookie deals are among the most important commodities in the NFL, yes, but if you can extend a Pro Bowl caliber player on top of his rookie deal, that can lead to a team-friendly contract in that player’s prime. In this case, it is a bit of a buy-low on Allen too. Allen is only 24, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with 10.5 sacks and currently has a great PFF grade of 79, but yet there is little buzz on him in his third year. Part of that is because the Jaguars are such a mess, but Allen does only have 5.5 sacks and 12 QB hits this season. Allen can surely use more refinement rushing the quarterback, but I think this is more of a circumstantial instance than one of production. Jacksonville shifted from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 this year, arguably a better long-term fit for a toolsy player like Allen, but something new for him to adapt to on top of what has definitely been terrible coaching this year. Part of this is also surely because Allen has been banged up since a mid-season hot streak and his snaps have been limited due to that and the Jags season going to total crap. PFF grades should be taken with more context, but in this case I do think it tells the story of Allen playing well even if his traditional defensive end stats don’t reflect it. The advanced stats back up that the talent is still bigly there. He’s just caught in a bad spot on a team that is going to pick first in the draft again, and the Giants should pounce.

Allen would fit like a glove into the Giants defense and would undoubtedly bring a jolt to the franchise. The economics of it make total sense too. By trading for Allen in the final year of his standard rookie deal, the 2022 dollars are basically a wash for whoever the team would have drafted in that Pick 8-10 spot. This would be a full-measure trade where the Giants lock up Allen before he plays a snap, something the team totally whiffed on with Leonard Williams that ended up biting them. I think an extension in the ballpark of 5 years, $100mil would get it done for both parties. That would make Allen safely a Top 10 paid EDGE by both total dollars and AAV, even if he isn’t quite one yet. For the Giants, that’s a completely reasonable bet to make that Allen gets there during that contract, and if so he’d be a steal effectively making $17.5mil/year until 2027.

I think both teams would go for this! Jacksonville is picking at the top of the draft and the consensus Top 2 players, Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux, are both EDGEs. In this scenario, they could completely reboot their defense and still leave the Top 10 of the draft with a left tackle – probably their biggest team need. 

In nature of the player, it’s extremely similar to when the Steelers came out of nowhere with the 18th overall pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick as his situation deteriorated in Miami. And with the financials, the Colts basically followed this structure by giving up the 13th overall pick to land DeForest Buckner and sign him to an expensive but ultimately fair extension. Is part of this suggestion a karma-based do-over for the Giants passing on Allen in the draft for Daniel Jones? Perhaps…but it’s also just a great idea.

2022 GIANTS WEEK 1 ROSTER

QB (2): Jared Goff, Jake Fromm

RB (3): Devontae Booker, Myles Gaskin, Rookie

FB (1): Eli Penny

WR (5): Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton, Free Agent Veteran, Collin Johnson

TE (3): David Njoku, Rookie, Free Agent Veteran

OT (3): Andrew Thomas, Rookie, Free Agent Veteran

IOL (4): Rookie, Rookie, Matt Skura, Shane Lemieux

IDL (4): Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Tim Settle, Rookie

EDGE (5): Josh Allen, Azeez Ojulari, Lorenzo Carter, Quincy Roche, Elerson Smith

LB (4): Blake Martinez, Rookie, Tae Crowder, Cam Brown

CB (5): Adoree Jackson, Aaron Robinson, Darnay Holmes, Jarren Williams, Rodarius Williams

S (3): Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan, Julian Love

ST (3): Graham Gano, Rookie, Casey Kreiter

Unassigned Rookie (2)

FINAL OUTLOOK

  • 2023 Extra Draft Picks: 3rd Round (Miami), 4th Round (Detroit), 5th Round (Comp), 7th Round (Comp)
  • 2023 Players to Extend: Andrew Thomas, Xavier McKinney and Josh Allen. Depending on 2022 play, Blake Martinez and Adoree’ Jackson would be candidates too.
  • 2023 Salary Cap: Building the above roster would definitely place some strain on the 2023 cap. It would drop the Giants from an ok 2023 cap situation to a pretty bad one, but a lot of money would be eligible to come off the books and the Giants could still pursue a QB without pulling strings like I had to do for Goff here. And I’ll say it one more time…the goal here is 2024, where the financials would be left in a solid place after all of this.

Would the roster constructed above be a good team in 2022? No, but again that’s part of the point. It’s a three-year plan where each year things start to look up more and more. I actually do think this team without Super Bowl aspirations would be better than any of the teams that Dave Gettleman built out of desperation to save his job, though. I think it would look something like this year’s Broncos or Steelers. It was obvious that neither of those teams had real chances this year with mediocre offenses behind mediocre quarterbacks, but they both were competitive with good defenses and finished around .500 with quality wins. Like the Broncos and Steelers this upcoming offseason, more importantly these Giants would be positioned to make a play for a quarterback to push them over the top if the opportunity presented itself, only with a much improved roster over the current one. If the Giants are back to respectability in 2022 with a brighter future ahead, then it’s mission accomplished.

Thank you for reading! Follow along on Twitter for more Giants rambling at @Real_Peej.

NFL

2021 NFL Mock Draft – The “What I Think Will Happen” Version

“It’s Draft Day. – Kevin Costner in the 2014 film, Draft Day.

Whether he actually said that in that movie, I’m not sure, but I do know that I promised another mock draft and I will deliver in the same way that the Giants surely will not tonight. REALLY quick hitters here; just calling the shots as I see them, and I don’t know any more about the teams’ plans than the people reading this. For some spots I’ll just write the mock pick, and I might include a line or two for others where I have not already written about the player this week or if the thought process deserves brief explanation. Please make sure to check out my deeper dives from earlier this week if you have not already:

TOP 50 BOARD

“WHAT I WOULD DO” MOCK DRAFT

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
  1. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
  1. San Francisco 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Yes, I heard the reports that San Fran has narrowed their decision to Mac Jones and Trey Lance. How a report like that would leak in the first place is totally beyond me, beyond me to the point that I’m inclined to think that the guy who has been “eliminated as an option” in this “last minute decision” is actually the pick. It definitely could be Lance, but until they read the card I refuse to believe that the 49ers gave up three first round picks for Jones.

  1. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

I think the rumors that Atlanta would take a QB have been a bluff all along, and I don’t think any team would give up extra draft capital to get to Pick 4 when they can likely take the same QB at Pick 7. So Atlanta stays put for the most common choice as best player available after Trevor Lawrence, and Pitts would fit in nicely into Arthur Smith’s offense.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

I expect the Chase vs. Sewell debate to end with Joe Burrow getting his way with his former LSU teammate. The Bengals do need another receiver on the outside, but how the franchise that drafted Anthony Munoz, Willie Anderson and Andrew Whitworth and witnessed Carson Palmer and Burrow suffer devastating knee injuries at the expense of their offensive lines could then pass on line here is tough to understand.

  1. Miami Dolphins – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Miami would probably be pretty devastated in this scenario, because I figure they moved back up from 12 to 6 to land either Chase or Pitts. I fully endorsed the selection of Tua last year, but besides that this Dolphins regime has shown a head-scratching fondness for projects in the draft. Waddle isn’t objectively a project, but at sixth overall he would qualify as one.

  1. *TRADE* New England Patriots – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

I would be pretty stunned if Detroit actually picks in this slot. They are at the earliest stage in a total rebuild and should look to accumulate as many picks as possible. The Patriots are on the other end of the phone, jumping into the same pick where Josh Allen was taken. New England could place their future on Lance having a similar effect by his third season.

  1. Carolina Panthers – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
  1. Denver Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

For how badly the Broncos need a long-term solution at quarterback, I don’t think the new regime in Denver will kick off their tenure by placing their reputation on the fifth QB off the board.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

There is just so much buzz around Horn, enough where I think he has supplanted Patrick Surtain II in the home stretch as the first cornerback off the board.

  1. New York Giants – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Please, God. Please.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Eagles fans should hope that someone has communicated to Howie Roseman to do the exact opposite of what he has done in previous drafts. In that case, Surtain would make good sense.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
  1. Minnesota Vikings – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
  1. *TRADE* Detroit Lions – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
  1. Arizona Cardinals – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
  1. Las Vegas Raiders – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

These Raiders love drafting from the blue bloods – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State – and I think they might go back to the well. After big games in both rounds of the College Football Playoff, Barmore declared for the draft as a true sophomore. Barmore’s stock reminds me of Patrick Queen’s from last year, where in those spotlighted games they looked like can’t-miss prospects but when you look into the microscope for regular season tape you find a much different player. Barmore way too often is driven backwards right off the snap, especially in the run and sometimes against lower competition. Barmore isn’t an exceptional athlete like Quinnen Williams, but he was a productive pass rusher in his one season starting at Alabama with 8 sacks from the interior and has the size and burst to get on guards’ outside shoulders and wreck plays. It’s just that you see it in flashes when you’d like to see it with consistency. 

  1. *TRADE* Chicago Bears – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

I am going back and forth on whether Washington would take a QB if one fell to them at 19. My gut is that they would take Lance or Fields, but I’m not sure that Dan Snyder would unilaterally make the call for Jones after the Dwayne Haskins fiasco. I have the Bears jumping them just in case, because they definitely will take a QB if they can.

  1. Washington Football Team – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
  1. *TRADE* Miami Dolphins – Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

I expect Oweh to go in the first round following what literally might have been the greatest pre-draft workout of all time, but of the 150+ players that I have evaluated over the last two years Oweh is my single least favorite relative to expected draft position. I would go nowhere near this guy over the first two rounds of the draft, and I’m not even worried about this aging poorly. There are freakish players without much college production who do figure it out in the NFL, but I saw it too often that Oweh lacks much discipline or competitive drive, and for a guy who ran a 4.37 I have no reason to believe based on tape that he could succeed without a hand in the ground. I was ready to look past the fact that he had no sacks in 7 games as a junior because sacks don’t tell the full story for EDGE, but in this case it basically does tell the story of Oweh’s level of disruption. I am looking for one specific on-field trait to justify taking a beast like Oweh with DK Metcalf’s regrettable draft slide in mind, but I’ve got nothing. Some teams will argue that he just needs more coaching and refinement, but after two full years at Penn State I just don’t think Oweh is a good football player.

  1. Indianapolis Colts – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
  1. Tennessee Titans – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
  1. New York Jets – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
  1. Pittsburgh Steelers – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Would I recommend drafting a running back without multiple pieces on the offensive line in place in order to reestablish the running game? No, no I would not. But alas, the Steelers are old school, and I can see them using their first pick on a tone setter in the backfield like Harris. I don’t have much to say about Harris besides that I think he’ll be perfectly solid running back? He’s obviously got the size, but he doesn’t run anything like Derrick Henry even if they were doppelgangers in their Alabama jerseys. Harris has good speed and good patience and good tackle-breaking ability – but none of it is great. He doesn’t really ever create something out of nothing, often leaving a few yards on the table either by nature of indecisiveness or a lack of creativity. Harris has reliable hands but I think his ability in the passing game has been overblown. At the end of the day, I think Harris can have a fairly long career of 800-1,000 yard rushing seasons. That’s a fine player, but it’s not a first rounder.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington

Tryon was not included in my first mock draft or even my Top 50 board for that matter – I see him as a Round 3 type. His length is his defining trait, with tree trunks for arms that he consistently uses to push offensive tackles off balance. He’s strong too, and there is tape that he can penetrate the backfield against the run and overwhelm interior linemen on inside rushes. Tryon has almost no twitch though and way too many of his pass rush wins came by nature of size mismatches vs. Pac-12 tackles. At the moment, I see Tryon as a rotational pass rusher who requires major development with his hands and plan at attack. Granted, I am projecting a first round pick here, but Tryon really could have boosted his stock by playing in 2020.

  1. Cleveland Browns – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
  1. Baltimore Ravens – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia

I could be off but I’m getting the sense that Ojulari might slip, and if so then any team that gets him around here is making one of the best picks of the draft.

  1. New Orleans Saints – Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
  1. Green Bay Packers – Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Against my better judgment, I actually like Davis a little bit – he cracked my Top 50 board at No. 46. Just on paper, there is a lot not to like here, given that Davis is a one-year wonder inside linebacker who will be drafted highly largely on his tools over his production. If that sounds like an oddly specific player description, there is legitimately one of this type of player drafted highly basically every year and outside of Deion Jones I cannot think of an example of it working out. Still, I really enjoyed watching the juice that Davis plays with. “Sideline to sideline” gets thrown around too much but Davis really does fly all over the field, and he’s a decent tackler. He certainly has the speed to be a plus player in coverage, and his instincts in limited tape seem good too. There is just no getting around how undersized Davis is and how much it does show up taking on blockers. I like the way Davis plays and there is real upside but he is just so novice and it cannot be overstated how often players of his profile flame out in the NFL.

  1. Buffalo Bills – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
  1. Baltimore Ravens – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

I almost feel bad for Rousseau, because if he was somehow able to enter the 2020 NFL Draft following his redshirt freshman season then he likely would have been a Top 10 pick. Now, I honestly think I might be too generous projecting him in the first round, even at its final pick. Rousseau was second in the nation with 15.5 sacks that season, only behind Chase Young. If you are wondering if you can fake your way to 15.5 sacks in 13 games – you can. A staggering amount of Rousseau’s sacks and QB hits came by the way of mop up sacks, coverage sacks, or simply being in the right place at the right time. He rarely actually won his pass rush reps, which at 19 years old would have been understandable, but he’s also not a particularly good athlete for the position either. Rousseau isn’t explosive or quick at all, and he’s not too strong yet either. This will sound like a joke but I earnestly mean that his best skill is his height, which at 6’7 is a real strength that he knows how to utilize. Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season and just turned 21 this month so it’s certainly believable that there is projectable growth remaining for him, but that will require a deep roster since I really don’t know if you can put Rousseau on an NFL field as things stand. 

Thank you all for reading. Follow along during the draft tonight on Twitter @Real_Peej for pick grades and pro comparisons!

NFL

2021 NFL Mock Draft – The “What I Would Do” Version

I’m going to share two mock drafts this week leading into the draft. In this version, I am drafting based on what I would do in each spot. I’ll focus more on the players and my evaluations of them here, with the other mock draft flat out guessing what I think will happen based on team fit and expectations.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

I really tried hard to go into this scouting cycle with a mentally clean slate, meaning that I watched Trevor Lawrence without the “chosen one” narrative that’s been on display for the last three years in the back of my mind. If anything, my unintentional bias could have been a bit negatively skewed since his last college game against Ohio State was far from his best performance. With all of that said, Lawrence came out of this with just about the highest grade I can give a quarterback. He was excellent for all three years at Clemson, consistently displaying his otherworldly talent and making incremental improvements each year. On top of that, his supporting cast at Clemson got significantly worse each year and I never felt that Clemson built the proper offensive scheme for Lawrence – but he just kept winning anyway. His arm talent is special, he runs well, and his processing is off the charts. Lawrence can trust his arm a little bit too much at times, and it is a scary combination when a skinny QB goes to an unstable situation by nature of the draft, but the hype around Lawrence is totally justified. He’s what you dream of picking first overall.

  1. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

If Lawrence is the cleanest QB prospect in this draft, then Wilson is the most tantalizing. By my estimation, Wilson was the best quarterback in the country in 2020 with his ability to attack downfield while remaining incredibly efficient. His play style is built for the highlight reel, yet in watching all of his games I was amazed by the frequency Wilson made jaw-dropping throws all over the field. While it is true that Wilson was afforded plenty of time behind BYU’s offensive line and that he faced an inconsistent strength of schedule, that does not provide the explanation on how Wilson truly is able to throw any receiver open (BYU had some slow ones!) anywhere on the field. Wilson shares the same concern as Lawrence with his skinnier frame, and the biggest on-field knock on Wilson is that he can be too quick to break the pocket to play out of structure. Still, I’m not too worried about it. His feet are so quick navigating the pocket and he keeps his head up while doing it. He officially weighed in at 215 pounds; on the smaller side, sure, but not unheard of. Physically, he looks so much like Aaron Rodgers when he came into the league. Speaking of Rodgers, that’s the type of realistic ceiling that we’re talking about with Wilson, and with a floor that I would contend is still a decent starting quarterback.

  1. San Francisco 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Ok, I’m cheating on the exercise a bit here. Trey Lance is ranked above Fields on my board, and I do prefer Lance as a prospect to Fields. However, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers present such a specific instance of a particular scheme matched with Super Bowl readiness that I see this as a coin flip decision between the two QBs, so I’ll lean in the direction of the one that I actually see them taking. The biggest selling point for Fields is that he is the most accurate passer in this class, whether standing still in the pocket or on the run. He is absolutely dynamite to the intermediate level of the field, which defines the best passing attacks across the NFL. Fields pairs that up with good arm strength, mobility, and toughness – so why has he become such a polarizing prospect with those traits and elite college production? Ohio State does run an offense with long-developing and receiver-friendly routes that can make Fields’ processing look worse than it is, but the truth of the matter is that Fields has troubling pocket tendencies and has been tripped up by different defensive looks from good opponents. There is no hiding from his performance against Northwestern, which was easily the worst game played among the Big 5 QB prospects in 2020. (The Indiana game wasn’t much better.) Now, there is laziness and some uglier factors at play when pundits chalk up Fields as a quarterback who can’t read the field. While I do have reservations about Fields, he is still a surefire lottery pick talent and potentially much more if he can consistently play like he did against Clemson.

  1. *TRADE* Minnesota Vikings – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Fake trades!!! (This is the only one I will project.) There is a high likelihood that a team will trade into the Top 10 for a quarterback(s) that slips out of the first three picks, and the Falcons should want to move out of this spot with how incongruent their immediate team needs are with the high end of this prospect pool. That said, they should still want to leave this draft with a blue-chip prospect, so they probably would only entertain moving back 10 or so spots. Though not commonly discussed as a trade-up option, I have the Vikings as the winning bidders – and not just because Lance is a Minnesota kid. It has become apparently clear that the Vikings have a harsh limit on their team upside with Kirk Cousins’ contract, so instead of letting it expire and then bottoming out, they proactively nab the QB who could take them to places that Cousins has not and cannot. (If the Vikings situation sounds similar to you to the Falcons situation, I get that, but I personally prefer Matt Ryan to Cousins and think the Falcons could be good with him in the next 1-3 years. Plus they are the ones getting draft capital in this scenario.)

I am all-in on Lance being the real deal. He has the strongest arm in this draft – true “60 yard flick of the wrist” type of stuff. While comparably fast to Fields, Lance is the clear best runner of the QB prospects in this draft too with his bulk and shiftiness. The main thing though is that Lance’s poise is so impressive for his age (20 years old) and so much better than he gets credit for. Outside of Lawrence and maybe Mac Jones, nobody was entrusted to do more pre-play, line of scrimmage stuff than Lance in NDSU’s pro style offense. There is plenty of tape of him calling out coverages and changing protections before the snap, and don’t let anyone fool you that this is somehow less impressive because he played in the FCS. I do agree that Lance could stand to sit a year, but not necessarily because he couldn’t mentally handle starting in the NFL yet. I see it as more of a Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours thing where Lance just literally hasn’t thrown enough footballs yet with his age and NDSU’s run-heavy offense. With more experience, I think his accuracy will improve and Lance could be an All-Pro level quarterback.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Sewell is my top non-QB in the entire draft class, and the Bengals should be honored if they have the chance to take him as Joe Burrow’s future blindside protector with the fifth pick in the draft. Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, but he was the best offensive lineman in the country as a true sophomore in 2019 in front of Justin Herbert. What is scarier? The fact that Sewell did not allow a sack the entire season when he was probably even better as a run blocker? The fact that Sewell still has a lot of room for improvement with his technique? Or the fact that he played that entire season at 19 years old? Sewell will STILL be 20 years old by Week 1 of the 2021 regular season, and he should plug in as a good left tackle right away with All-Pro potential while still on his rookie contract.

  1. Miami Dolphins – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The Dolphins obviously traded back into the Top 10 to leave this draft with an elite weapon, and in this scenario they leave with Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite college receiver. No, that is not a misprint: Smith was the best receiver on a 2019 Crimson Tide team that included first-round picks Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. Smith is an underrated athlete who thrives on the outside in the X receiver role, consistently working back to the ball as possibly the top “quarterback’s best friend” prospect ever. He also has the best catch radius of the top WR prospects in this draft, catching anything near him and over anybody with an uncanny ability to high-point the ball as if he was a half-foot taller than he actually is. Look, DeVonta weighing 170 pounds isn’t a good thing. It would basically be him and Marvin Harrison as the only #1 receivers to thrive in the NFL at that weight. But guess what? Not a lot of wide receivers won the Heisman Trophy either. Smith constantly mixed it up with bigger defenders and shook off big hits in the SEC, and I haven’t seen any actual evidence to support that he won’t do the same in the NFL.

  1. Detroit Lions – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

I push back on the claims that Chase is in the Calvin Johnson/Julio Jones class of receiver prospects. He quite simply isn’t as big as those guys, and I have slight concern that Chase could be immediately humbled by his “bully ball” style of play not working as well in the NFL. The optimal word there is “slight” though, because Chase is a badass and a freak athlete in his own right. He is a one-year wonder, but in that one year he was arguably better than teammate Justin Jefferson and then he backed up his athleticism by blowing the doors off his Pro Day. Chase is an elite downfield separator who claws for every ball thrown his way, and he should develop into a great YAC guy as he continues to progress with his routes and timing. He just turned 21 last month.

  1. Carolina Panthers – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

I’m not sure what is more bleak: the recent history of first-round tight ends or the recent history of Florida as an NFL pipeline. The fact that Pitts is in the center of that Venn diagram yet still finds himself in the Top 10 of this mock draft speaks to his rare skill set. While he can admirably run routes split outside or in the slot, don’t let all of the pre-draft takes turn him into something that he is not: Kyle Pitts is a tight end. And that’s a good thing! Pitts improved by leaps and bounds as an inline blocker from his sophomore year to his junior year, and also still only 20 years old with around 10-15 pounds to gain, he should only get better in that department. Pitts is excellent at breaking off the line while using his bend – he looks like a defensive end and played the position in high school – to quickly match himself up against linebackers that don’t stand a chance covering him. Pitts has the longest wingspan I have ever seen and uses every inch of it to his advantage. The man vacuums footballs – he made some catches that looked D.O.A. out of the quarterback’s hand. I am not positive what Pitts’ NFL future holds in store, and I don’t necessarily see the non-existence of an accurate player comparison for him as a good thing. I would be surprised if Pitts has a Travis Kelce type of effect; he only averaged 4.5 receptions per game across his two full college seasons. But if healthy, Pitts should block well while routinely converting third downs and scoring 10+ touchdowns per season, and there would be massive value in that.

  1. Denver Broncos – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame

Owusu-Koramoah might be the most electric prospect in the entire draft. JOK flies around the field with some of the best closing speed you have seen since Troy Polamalu. He is instinctive as hell and can set the tone with his hitting, and he does that while usually aligning in the slot covering tight ends and receivers. JOK is definitely a tweener; he has the strength to hang as an off-ball LB in a traditional base but I think he would be best as a rangy strong safety. His play style can be a little too chaotic at times, but in Vic Fangio’s defense with multiple good defensive staples already in place his playmaking could be on full display.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

I am going out on a ledge with this one and my evaluation as Newsome as the best cornerback prospect in this draft. Outside of Trevor Lawrence, there isn’t another prospect where I took note of less flaws. Newsome does have an injury history, though nothing there is recurring. He doesn’t have much tape in press coverage but besides that, like I guess I wish he converted more of his pass breakups into interceptions? Newsome is scheme versatile, extremely quick with good physicality, and is constantly around the ball while traveling with the other teams’ top receivers. There wasn’t any point of his (admittedly limited) 2020 season where he looked overmatched, and get this: he is also 20 years old! Newsome’s Pro Day put people on notice for his natural explosiveness and athleticism. The adjustment curve for rookie cornerbacks can be steep, but I see Newsome as a Pro Bowl caliber pro down the road.

  1. New York Giants – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia

I disagree with the narrative that the EDGE class in this draft is subpar, and a big reason behind that is that I see Ojulari as a legit EDGE1 prospect. He had excellent production in the SEC and against some of the best tackles in the country, with 9.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 10 games with a ton of pressure not reflected in those stats. And guess how old he was doing that? 20 years old! I’m aware that these below-drinking-age prospects are becoming a running joke in this blog, but in Ojulari’s case I find it especially important. Ojulari’s hand usage and arsenal of pass rush moves would be advanced for a redshirt senior, let alone a redshirt sophomore. He also has already put on 10 pounds from his 2020 playing weight, which at 240 pounds presented his biggest draft concern, and I think he can tack on 5-10 more pounds without losing his burst and bend. Ojulari has freaky arm length and play strength way better than his weight would suggest. Just watch the Alabama game: forget pancakes, those monsters barely even budged him. Ojulari is a pure three-down OLB in a 3-4 scheme, with a predictable future of setting a good edge with respectable flat coverage all while posting 8-12 sacks annually with near league-leading pressure rates.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

After three years of starting in Nick Saban’s defense, including a 2020 season where he might have been the best defensive player in the country, Surtain enters this draft as arguably its safest prospect. He has great size to go along with explosive measurables, on top of having All-Pro cornerback play born and raised into him. In a position that is generally brutal on rookies, Surtain should admirably hold down his side of the field from Week 1. (He can play the slot too.) There is obvious comfort for his drafting team in this level of safety and NFL readiness, but I also interpret that as somewhat of a weakness for Surtain too. He leaves college as only a true junior, but I’m not sure how much room left for growth there is for Surtain. Even his relatively average 40 time in this workout cycle of 4.46 seconds feels generous for Surtain – he doesn’t play all that fast. His level of physicality also too often doesn’t match up with his physical gifts. Still, Surtain is as smooth and technically sound as it gets for a cornerback prospect. Maybe he won’t be a great pro, but he definitely should be a good one.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers – Rashawn Slater, OT/OG, Northwestern

I find myself a tad lower on Slater than most; there might not be a prospect who benefited more from all of us just sitting around the house watching old game tape. Slater had an excellent 2019 season on a bad Northwestern team, even if his performance against Chase Young was pretty comicably overblown. Slater has proven that he can play tackle on both sides of the line with impeccable footwork and timing. He opted out of the 2020 season, and while that decision will likely turn out fine for him, it would have gone a long way to see some more footage of him locking down the blindside again on a better roster. Slater is quick and stout – he resembles Tristan Wirfs – and might mirror pass rushers better than anyone in this draft class. Still, he lacks Wirfs’ raw power and that combined with a real lack of length could be a detrimental combination. For that reason, while I generally hate projecting good offensive tackles to guards until they get a chance to play tackle, Slater really might end up more valuable at guard. I see versatile reliability as Slater’s defining quality over upside at any specific position on the line though, which would be a welcome addition for the Chargers. 

  1. *TRADE* Atlanta Falcons – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami

This would be a fantastic trade-down outcome for the Falcons, because Phillips has the talent and production to justify going as high as fourth overall yet Atlanta still hypothetically lands him here. Phillips’ concussion history might be the defining red flag of this NFL Draft; they were so severe during his time at UCLA that they forced him into medical retirement. There’s no getting around it being a concern, but I’m not here to pretend to be an online neurosurgeon. If the University of Miami and NFL doctors cleared him, then I am going to treat Phillips as a normal prospect. And as a normal prospect, Phillips – the former top high school recruit in the country – brings plus-plus traits to the edge. He was a terror at the U, dominating right tackles with twitchiness, length and power. Phillips is a pure pass rusher and a bit of a one-year wonder at that, but he has Jevon Kearse levels of potential to pace the league in sacks as a rookie.

  1. New England Patriots – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

A few of the internet’s most famous draft boards have joined the lovefest for Bateman – maybe not as a Top 10 player like mine! – but it’s a welcome sight after feeling like I was missing something for seeing Bateman as a future WR1 when I first watched his tape back in February. Clearly I have other players, including two receivers, ranked in front of Bateman, but his elite production at Minnesota happened by nature of the traits belonging to the current top tier of NFL receivers. Bateman’s releases are intentional and consistently dominant, whether he’s patient breaking inside or blowing past cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage, and he couples up a long reach with excellent hands. Bateman’s Pro Day was…weird. I don’t buy that he’s actually a 4.39 speed guy, but he also plays much taller than 6’0 and much stronger than 190 pounds. However Bateman actually does measure out in the NFL, I’d bet that he amounts to a receiver with 100+ reception/season promise.

  1. Arizona Cardinals – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC

Alijah Vera-Tucker played left tackle for USC last year, and for the most part he played it quite well. (Not so much vs. Oregon and future Top 10 pick Kayvon Thibodeaux.) Still, I am directly projecting AVT to guard, and I imagine that most if not all NFL teams will do the same. He was awesome at guard as a sophomore while 2020 first rounder Austin Jackson played tackle – much more awesome than Jackson in fact. AVT isn’t particularly long or fast which is what kicks him inside, but he centers his attack with strong hands and only gets better as he moves forward into the second level of the defense. He can occasionally get knocked backwards right off the snap, but Vera-Tucker is young and has already shown improvement in balance. I foresee him continuing that improvement, possibly all the way up to an All-Pro level at guard.

  1. Las Vegas Raiders – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

Cosmi is one of my favorite players in this draft. Even as a major defender of his, I can acknowledge that the linemen in front of him and a few ranked behind him will bring their drafting teams higher levels of technical readiness in Year 1. Cosmi’s rookie year might come with its challenges for that reason, but this kid is tough as nails and freakishly athletic for the position. He showed marked improvement from his sophomore to junior year, and I would bank that he has plenty of room left for growth in the pros too if his team provides him with the proper amount of patience. I don’t even think it will take too long; Cosmi was pretty damn good in 2020 and showed up against his toughest opponents. I’m not too sure what the Raiders are doing but Cosmi could develop into a Pro Bowl tackle for them.

  1. Miami Dolphins – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

I am not particularly high on Parsons, and that’s not even with consideration to his legitimately troubling character and maturity concerns. For the level of hype that Parsons is bringing into this draft, I was really surprised by how raw of a player he still is. Parsons is a great clean-up tackler when he stays patient, but far too often he finds himself overshooting gaps or taking bad angles and diving at the feet of ball carriers. He also is close to entirely untested in coverage, and the recent history of specimen linebacker prospects with coverage questions is…not good. Still, Parsons truly does bring along some of the rarest burst you’ll ever see from a linebacker, and I think Brian Flores would have a few ideas for what to do with it. Whether he’s blitzing off the edge or shooting a gap, you can blink and miss Parsons ending up in the backfield. He’s a playmaker in the mold of Devin White which naturally all front offices will covet now, but just be ready for the real chance that the complexity of the NFL overwhelms Parsons – if he can keep his head on straight enough in the first place.

  1. Washington Football Team – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Despite winning the Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in college football in 2020, Collins won’t be for everyone at a first round value strictly due to how unique of a prospect he is. Collins is a 270 pound linebacker who can hang around the line of scrimmage with his speed and bend but is much better playing off-ball as an inside linebacker. Don’t let Tulsa’s non-Power 5 status fool you; he was utterly dominant against better competition than you might expect. He has the best eyes of any linebacker that you will see coming out of college, naturally moving in step with quarterbacks without missing anything around him. At 6’5, he is constantly disrupting passing lanes too. Collins is pretty stiff and his upright play style can work against him versus the run, but he’s a good tackler with good pursuit. Still, instincts and coverage ability are the story with Collins. The Football Team doesn’t need more help getting after quarterbacks, and Collins would regularly find himself in the right place at the right time to capitalize on pressure-forced QB mistakes.

  1. Chicago Bears – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Waddle will in all likelihood get picked higher than this, yet this is basically the highest that I would consider drafting him. I have a late first-round grade on Waddle, but his speed and acceleration could wake up a Bears offense that has been asleep for years and only addressed so far this offseason by adding…Andy Dalton. Love or hate Waddle as a prospect, there is no doubt that the kid can absolutely fly. You have to respect his speed with deep coverage whenever he is on the field, and once he has the ball in his hands…watch out. That’s the thing, though. I think people are underestimating how difficult it might be to regularly get the ball into Waddle’s hands. He can sell double moves and run underneath routes, but Waddle has a ways to go in understanding the nuances of the receiver position. He is also really undersized, coming off a major injury, and it should not be ignored that he was the odd man out on the 2019 Alabama team with a healthy DeVonta/Jeudy/Ruggs corps – who are all about the same age as Waddle. Using a first round pick on Waddle is a major dice roll, with a floor about as low as it gets and the realistic ceiling of a 1,000 yard deep threat/slot hybrid who can also return kicks and punts.

  1. Indianapolis Colts – Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas

Ossai probably ends up as a Round 2 player, but I’m a fan of his and he’s the type of player that Indy could covet – and I mean that as a huge compliment. Ossai was very good as a sophomore at Texas as an off-ball linebacker – he intercepted Joe Burrow and his bowl game performance against Utah was the stuff of legend. At 6’4 and 255 pounds with long arms he switched positions to EDGE, and guess what? He was very good there too, as in AP All-American good. Ossai might be the most explosive rusher in this draft, constantly fighting his way into the backfield whether it’s defending the pass or run. He plays with one of the best motors in this draft, and his obsession with the game is apparent just watching his tape. He still has a ways to go towards becoming a consistent pass rusher. He could stand to play with more leverage and develop some moves – Teven Jenkins rudely reminded him of that on a few plays. But Ossai also straight up beat Jenkins, a likely first rounder, on multiple reps too, including a game-icing overtime sack against Oklahoma State. Considering he did that at 20 years old – he just turned 21 this month – and Ossai is one of the first “project” types that I’d bang the table for adding to a good roster with a 2-3 year leash for him to develop into a potential star.

  1. Tennessee Titans – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

This would be a home run for the Titans, and I say that with a grade on Horn lower than the consensus. Horn could go within the Top 10 on the back of his strong true junior season in the SEC followed up by a Pro Day with a 4.39 40 and insane jumping drills. I’m not surprised by Horn’s popularity. He has the size and speed to cover anyone and the on-field evidence to back it up, whether it’s a 6’4 receiver on the outside or a 5’9 receiver in the slot. He is a pure man coverage corner, getting his hands on receivers at the split second that he is legally allowed to. (I would put money on Horn leading the NFL in flags at least once in his career.) Horn is more fast in breaks than quick to flip his hips, and you don’t have to look much past his tape covering DeVonta Smith to worry about how he currently handles NFL caliber releases. And like I mentioned, you would basically be starting from scratch with him in zone schemes. I fear that Horn is going to have real growing pains early on in the league, but if his drafting team is patient enough with him then I have faith that Horn has the competitive streak and skill set to have a long career playing on the outside.

  1. New York Jets – Creed Humphrey, OC, Oklahoma

Ask me if I love the idea of drafting your quarterback and center of the future in tandem? I LOVE the idea of drafting your quarterback and center of the future in tandem. There aren’t five players in this draft that I have more confidence in them blossoming into good pros over Humphrey. He spent each of the past two seasons as one of the best offensive linemen in the Big 12 snapping the ball to Jalen Hurts and Spencer Rattler, with a keen sense of positioning paired up with an appropriately nasty play style. Humphrey also might be the best athlete specific to his position in this entire draft, which his 10.0/10.0 Relative Athletic Score backs up. There is some concern about Humphrey’s susceptibility to letting strong defensive tackles get underneath him, which is possibly the biggest dealbreaker for a center, but personally I find that in the realm of nitpicking. The real question here is if taking a center with the 23rd overall pick is justified, which I would answer with “hell yes” when you are drafting a rookie quarterback and have as dismal of an interior offensive line as the Jets.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

This will probably go down as my least favorite pick of this mock draft, given that Darrisaw is No. 32 on my board with two tackles ranked ahead of him still available. Still, both of those tackles (Liam Eichenberg and Teven Jenkins) have length questions that will likely keep them on the right side or kicked inside to guard. Darrisaw, on the other hand, has the textbook left tackle frame. He was a very good one at that in college, capping off his time at Virginia Tech with a dominant 2020 season from a grading perspective. Still, I’m pretty low on Darrisaw. He shouldn’t have any issue continuing to punch defenders into the dirt at will, but he was more unproven in pass protection than his high snap count would indicate in Virginia Tech’s quick release offense. He typically got by on his sheer size instead of his hands or feet, and his motor is pretty suspect. I don’t typically like drafting for immediate need, but I have never heard of the guy slated to start at left tackle for the Steelers and this aged Big Ben will need all of the time he can get.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

This is another case of a player getting mocked in just about the highest slot that I would be comfortable taking him, but in Moehrig’s case I have more confidence that he’ll at least be a solid contributor. And safety, possibly the Jags’ biggest positional need after quarterback, is a rough draft group this year, with Moehrig as the fairly clear top option in my opinion (not counting Owusu-Koromoah). Moehrig was incredibly productive in his two full seasons in the Horned Frogs defense, raising his play from All- Big 12 as a sophomore to the Thorpe Award winner (nation’s best DB) as a junior. His ball skills are tremendous, consistently taking advantage of quarterbacks staring down receivers with a good knack for timely pass breakups. Moehrig, while projecting as an average athlete for a starting NFL safety, has good length and quickness, even if his habit of baiting QBs into bad decisions won’t work nearly as well in the NFL as it did in the Big 12. I have concerns for Moehrig as a tackler because of his wiry build and inconsistent angles, and he certainly won’t remind anyone of Brian Dawkins with his ferocity or Earl Thomas with his range. But in this new era of safety play where Justin Simmons and Jessie Bates are among the league’s best by being able to play in two-high zone sets or man up near the line of scrimmage, Moehrig fits that bill.

  1. Cleveland Browns – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Paye is a good player, but a misunderstood one at that. He is commonly discussed as this raw and versatile edge rusher, but I’m pretty sure we already have a good sense of his skill set and that he is clearly a 4-3 defensive end. Paye is incredibly gifted: he placed in the top spot of Bruce Feldman’s freak list, and he made a play against Minnesota when he tackled a running back from the opposite side of the field behind the line of scrimmage on a simple outside zone run that was one of the most absurd that I witnessed in this entire film process. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think anyone would be talking about him as a project if he had a typical football backstory. The guy has been starting at Michigan since 2018, and that program has since graduated Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary into the NFL. Quite frankly, I just don’t think Paye is a very good pass rusher. He shows flashes of excellence, but too often he doesn’t have a plan off the line. Still, I have Paye as the best run defending edge in this class, and that’s not exactly a consolation prize. Paye shouldn’t ever have to come off the field, and playing on a line opposite a rusher like Myles Garrett would be perfect for a player like Paye who sets a hard edge and is never knocked over.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

As the best run blocker – non-Sewell division – in this draft, Jenkins going to Baltimore with one of their now two late first-round picks would be an awesome fit if he makes it that far. Jenkins is freaking mean, playing well beyond the whistle and injecting a real sense of attitude whenever he is on the field. Naturally there is concern when a college player has his true breakout season as a redshirt senior, but Jenkins has gotten out ahead of proving the naysayers wrong with an incredibly athletic display at his Pro Day. Jenkins is so strong and generates a lot of power with his legs – don’t be surprised when he flattens a nose tackle. But for a player of his size and strength, he ends up on the ground himself quite a bit, and his lack of length showed up as a problem at times. Maybe Jenkins could be a decent right tackle anywhere, but his best chance to reach his ceiling is clearly in a power run-heavy offense.

  1. New Orleans Saints – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Alright, here we go. The boy wonder of the draft cycle, the hype train himself: McCorkle Jones. Let’s start with the good. Jones isn’t in the conversation for the third overall pick because he won the national championship with some of the best single-season QB stats ever; it’s because he follows instruction on what to do and where to go with the football every down. He always gets the ball out on time, even when his first read isn’t immediately open or when he has to move around the pocket or take a hit. His one year leading the Tide offense lends at least some credence to the talking point that he’s the smartest QB prospect in this draft, even if I wholeheartedly reject how we ended up there and how we use certain adjectives to describe certain QB prospects. Jones displayed good short and intermediate accuracy as well.

Yeah, I’m going two paragraphs, because we really need to talk about Mac Jones. To put it bluntly with his traits, he is straight up a bad athlete with a bad body and a bad arm. It didn’t happen often in Alabama’s perfect surroundings, but the few times when something broke down and Jones had to make an athletic adjustment, he looked completely undraftable. Now, I know some of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks thrived playing in structure, but you want to take a guy in the first round who can do something outside of it. Do we have any reason to believe Jones can throw on the run, like at all? I need to drop at least one more line on his arm too, because it is astonishing how much talk there is around Jones and how little talk there is about his noodle. He’s really gotta load it up to throw with even NFL-average zip, and his good-on-paper deep ball stats are as fluky as it gets. He’s not going to have guys having already won their go routes at 10-15 yards in the NFL, and not being able to reach the sideline won’t work in the NFL either without first round receivers bailing him out against Mississippi State and Missouri on balls underthrown by 5+ yards inside. I’ll acknowledge that Jones was a 22 year old one-year wonder and that his “unreplicable” stats were basically repeated identically by Tua in 2019, and then I’ll stop there. Clearly I have major doubts on Jones, and I don’t buy for a second that he has a high floor. It is certainly the lowest of the five likely first round QBs to me – I’m talking (on-field) Dwayne Haskins level. But still, if he makes it this far to an offensive guru like Sean Payton, then yeah I’m fine with this pick with the first paragraph here in mind.

  1. Green Bay Packers – Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame

Not to oversimplify or be overdramatic here, but I genuinely do think the Packers would be at Pick 32 if they took a wide receiver in the first round last year instead of a backup quarterback. Sorry, I am focusing on the players here, but I just had to sneak that in. Anyway, Eichenberg isn’t a receiver either, but this would be an excellent pick for the Packers. Notre Dame’s offensive line has led to probably the best positional NFL pipeline over the last decade,  producing Quenton Nelson, Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey. While Eichenberg might not reach that echelon, I would bet that he has a good enough career at least warrant mention. As a redshirt senior who has probably played more snaps and in more big games – in which he played well – than any other top tackle in this class, Eichenberg knows who he is as an offensive tackle. He makes up for his short arms and slighter frame by quickly attacking in space and locking into edge rushers. He’s deceptively strong, and while the length issue is probably too real to ignore at left tackle I think he can prove people wrong by surviving at right tackle. He might not wow you, but Eichenberg is also the type of player that you don’t think about once all game, which is probably what you’re looking for with a late first-round offensive lineman. 

  1. Buffalo Bills – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

So, I hate running backs, and I REALLY hate first-round running backs…but man I love Travis Etienne. His acceleration is good enough to get you to stop what you are doing to watch Etienne run the football. If there is a window of daylight between the tackles, Etienne is going 0-to-60 through it in a flash. He is a willing north/south runner with home run ability, and he has already bulked up enough to assuage fears that he couldn’t take the NFL beating. Etienne’s legs are so strong, allowing him to do that thing that Alvin Kamara does where he doesn’t really make a move but defenders just bounce off him anyway. Etienne has also grown from a non-factor in the passing game (12 receptions in 15 games as a sophomore) to arguably the best receiver (588 yards in 12 games as a senior) among the backs near the top of this class. He doesn’t pack Saquon Barkley’s raw athleticism and people might notice that his yards/carry dwindled from 8.1 to 7.8 to 5.4 over his three starting seasons at Clemson, but he became a more complete running back over that time as Clemson lost its offensive mojo around him and Trevor Lawrence. So yeah, I really like Etienne – I am recommending that a team takes a running back in the first round for god’s sake.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – Terrace Marshall Jr, WR, LSU

I have a pretty firm second round grade on Marshall, but I also have watched 2+ years of Ravens games where Lamar Jackson doesn’t have any receiver over 6’0 to target so this would work! Marshall was a five-star recruit out of high school who posted two productive seasons at LSU, as the third option on the 2019 national championship team then as the go-to receiver last year before opting out. At 6’3, Marshall is the only tall receiver that will receive attention in the first two rounds of this draft. Marshall is only 20 years old but he already knows how to use his height to his advantage and has real spectacular catch ability. He has legit inside/outside versatility too, but I’m skeptical on how ball dominant he can be at the next level. Marshall is skinny and really does not play strong, so while he can certainly create mismatches the NFL’s best cover guys might eat him alive. Still, at a minimum I like Marshall as a gangly deep threat, and maybe with some more muscle in the right system he can evolve into a higher-volume version of one in the mold of Kenny Golladay.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

If not for concerns over a recent back surgery – not the first for Farley – then there would be zero chance of him slipping this far. It might not happen anyway, given that outside of maybe Kyle Pitts there isn’t a better size/speed combo guy with first round production in this entire draft. Farley has the look of Richard Sherman and could have actually clocked a 4.3 40 at the combine in a normal year. He is at his best when the ball is in the air, with incredible closing speed followed by a natural feel for ball tracking. Back injury aside, I didn’t see Farley as the clear-cut CB1 on tape though. Farley can too often rely on his physical gifts and get nonchalant, either losing sight of his man or letting guys get behind him to where even he can’t catch up – Chase Claypool made him pay for both. He is good in press when he gets his hands on receivers at the line, but it doesn’t happen as much as you’d like. I’m not sure what scheme fit would be best for Farley’s NFL future. He feels too gifted to not play in man, but with his back, inconsistent physicality, and a pre-play stance where he looks more like a safety than corner, maybe something zone heavy could end up better for his long-term prospects. Regardless, the Bucs have the secondary depth and roster strength to pick Farley’s upside and figure that out later. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Top 50 Big Board

COMING SOON: “What I Think Will Happen” Mock Draft

Follow along during the draft on Twitter @Real_Peej!

NFL

2021 NFL Draft – Top 50 Board

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
  2. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
  3. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
  4. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
  5. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
  6. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
  7. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
  8. Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
  9. Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
  10. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
  11. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
  12. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
  13. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
  14. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
  15. Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
  16. Rashawn Slater, OT/OG, Northwestern
  17. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
  18. Creed Humphrey, OC, Oklahoma
  19. Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
  20. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
  21. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  22. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
  23. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
  24. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
  25. Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
  26. Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
  27. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
  28. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
  29. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
  30. Landon Dickerson, OC, Alabama
  31. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  32. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
  33. Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
  34. Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
  35. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
  36. Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
  37. Terrace Marshall Jr, WR, LSU
  38. Carlos Basham Jr, EDGE, Wake Forest
  39. Jackson Carman, OT/OG, Clemson
  40. Asante Samuel Jr, CB, Florida State
  41. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
  42. Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
  43. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
  44. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
  45. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
  46. Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
  47. Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
  48. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
  49. Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
  50. Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

Unranked: QB Kellen Mond, QB Davis Mills, QB Kyle Trask, RB Kenneth Gainwell, RB Jaret Patterson, RB Michael Carter, WR Kadarius Toney, WR Dyami Brown, WR Elijah Moore, TE Pat Freiermuth, OT/OG Jalen Mayfield, OT Walker Little, OT Dillon Radunz, OG Wyatt Davis, EDGE Joe Tyron, EDGE Jayson Oweh, LB Baron Browning, LB Jabril Cox, LB Nick Bolton, CB Tyson Campbell, CB Aaron Robinson, CB/S Elijah Molden, S Jevon Holland, S Richie Grant

Coming Tuesday, 4/27: “What I Would Do” Mock Draft

Coming Thursday, 4/29: “What I Think Will Happen” Mock Draft

Follow along during the draft on Twitter @Real_Peej for instant analysis, pick grades, and pro comparisons.