NFL beat writer mock draft 2.0: Vikings, Broncos trade up into top 10 to grab QBs – The Athletic

The Athletic NFL StaffMar 21, 2024

The 2024 NFL Draft is just five weeks away, and the jockeying for the top quarterbacks remains this year’s buzziest topic.

Once again, we gathered our NFL reporters for a virtual mock draft, with each representing the team they cover. And once again, teams in need of a quarterback were willing to pay a huge price. Two of our GMs traded up into the top 10 to grab their quarterbacks of the future, while another team moved back up into the late first round to go after its own. (Our beat writers’ trades are noted with an asterisk.)

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Here’s how it all went down:

1. Chicago Bears (from CAR): Caleb Williams, QB, USC

The Justin Fields trade was inevitable, but it officially puts the Bears in position to draft a quarterback. While anything could happen between now and the draft, starting with Wednesday’s USC pro day and Williams’ visit to Halas Hall, nothing has changed the near-consensus evaluation that Williams is the most talented player in the draft. He’ll take over an offense that now features Keenan Allen, DJ Moore and Cole Kmet, along with free-agent additions D’Andre Swift and Gerald Everett. It’s hard to find a better situation, personnel-wise, for a rookie quarterback. — Kevin Fishbain

2. Washington Commanders: Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

This is the conventional plan for the quarterback-needy Commanders, who traded 2024 starter Sam Howell to the Seahawks and signed free agent Marcus Mariota. Significant negotiations were had with other teams about moving down (the Vikings are dead to me). There was even talk of a three-way deal involving the Chargers and Raiders. In each case, the goal involved adding more picks for a Commanders team with numerous long-term holes but also leaving them in a position to draft a QB. The reigning Heisman winner is an exciting prospect, but there’s no public or private consensus on whether Daniels or Drake Maye is the better prospect (and some see J.J. McCarthy as having joined that tier). Moving down has its merits. But not getting a QB would be a tough sell for fans, and that’s a factor for a franchise trying to win back its supporters. — Ben Standig

3. Minnesota Vikings (from NE*): Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

*Trade: Vikings trade No. 11, No. 23, a first-round pick in 2025 and a second-round pick in 2026 to the Patriots for No. 3.

Look, climbing this high and parting with three first-rounders is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re going to swing, why not swing big? The Vikings’ connection to Maye is well-known: Quarterbacks coach Josh McCown coached him at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, N.C. But even before McCown, Vikings scouts had eyed Maye for several years. He may need some time to develop, but that might align perfectly with head coach Kevin O’Connell’s views on what a young quarterback needs to become successful. Minnesota has an experienced QB room and loads of skill players. Now’s the time to try to find its quarterback of the future. — Alec Lewis

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4. Arizona Cardinals: Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

The great (and newly retired) Peter King recently noted that since trading Tyreek Hill two years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs have won two Super Bowls and averaged 25.6 points a game without a 1,000-yard wide receiver. That brings to mind two points: (1) Anything is possible with a great quarterback (obviously), and (2) any receiver selected this high in the draft better be special. On the latter note, Harrison is that guy. The Cardinals have several needs, some of which they have plugged through free agency — but Kyler Murray needs playmakers. Grabbing the best in the draft accelerates Arizona’s rebuild, which may not take as long as previously thought. — Doug Haller 

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5. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

The Chargers had the framework of a deal in place with the Raiders to trade down to No. 13, but that fell through when the Vikings moved up to No. 3. The Chargers continued to discuss plans with the Raiders, even adding the Commanders into the equation — the Chargers would have moved to No. 13, the Raiders to No. 2 and the Commanders to No. 5. But the three sides could not work out a return that landed the Chargers a 2025 first-round pick. (The only option offered was a 2026 first-round pick.) So, the Chargers stayed at 5 and took Nabers, a potentially game-breaking receiver who will fill a big need with the departures of Keenan Allen (traded to the Bears) and Mike Williams (cap casualty). — Daniel Popper

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6. New York Giants: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

Ah, quarterback or wide receiver? Wide receiver or quarterback? That is the dilemma. After a run on QBs, the Giants debated a few different situations. We could’ve gone with McCarthy or Odunze. And there was also a trade proposal from Joe Schoen’s old friend, Brandon Beane, which would have sent the No. 6 pick to Buffalo for Nos. 28, 128, 160 and a 2025 first-rounder. As tempting as it was to pick up more assets, the Giants felt it was important to take advantage of drafting high enough to get value at a top position. While the jury is still out on their quarterback plan, the Giants went with the guy they hope can be their No. 1 wideout of the future. — Charlotte Carroll

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7. Tennessee Titans: Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

Once the Falcons signed Kirk Cousins, the Titans’ chances of moving back so a team that wanted a quarterback could pluck one right in front of Atlanta decreased. But this board played perfectly for what the Titans need — the next long-term left tackle, after two seasons of wandering in the quarterback-endangering wilderness. The choice was Alt, narrowly, over Penn State’s Olu Fashanu. Alt is 6-foot-9, 321 pounds, athletic, the son of a former great NFL tackle and so on. Combined with the signings of Calvin Ridley and Lloyd Cushenberry, he fortifies a much-improved group around Will Levis. — Joe Rexrode

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8. Denver Broncos (from ATL*):  J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

*Trade: Broncos trade No. 12, No. 76 and a second-round pick in 2025 to the Falcons for No. 8.

In our first mock draft, the Broncos were able to get McCarthy at No. 9 by trading No. 12, No. 76 and a 2025 fourth-round pick to the Bears. With more competition this time around, Denver had to go to No. 8 and upgrade that 2025 pick to a second-rounder. In the end, Sean Payton gets a national champion quarterback he can build around without relinquishing a future first-rounder. The two picks the Broncos acquired by trading wide receiver Jerry Jeudy earlier this month made climbing for a QB a more digestible move. — Nick Kosmider

9. Chicago Bears: Dallas Turner, Edge, Alabama

With the three top receivers off the board, the Bears hoped to move back — but the Falcons succeeded in doing so one spot earlier, and apparently no one wanted to trade up for Michael Penix Jr. The consolation prize is the best defensive player in the draft, which would have to delight head coach (and defensive play caller) Matt Eberflus. Despite the addition of Montez Sweat, the Bears finished 32nd in the league last season in sacks per pass attempt. Enter Turner, the SEC’s 2024 sacks leader. An outstanding athlete, Turner would be a nice complement to Sweat. — Fishbain

10. New York Jets: Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

The Jets were hoping one of the top wide receivers would fall to them, but when that didn’t happen, their options narrowed to Bowers or an offensive lineman. They have their starting five locked in, after adding LT Tyron Smith, LG John Simpson and RT Morgan Moses this offseason. Smith is injury-prone, though, and neither he nor Moses is under contract beyond this year — so an O-line pick can’t be ruled out. But the Jets need more weapons, and Bowers was the best one on the board. He’s more than just a tight end and would pair nicely with Tyler Conklin. Aaron Rodgers would be happy, too. — Zack Rosenblatt

11. New England Patriots (from MIN*): Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State

In real life, the Patriots plan to hold firm and take a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. But plans can change, and the offer the Vikings made in this mock draft was enough for me to change course. The Patriots’ roster needs to improve so much that the new goal is to build up the rest of that roster and use our (now) two 2025 first-round picks to get a quarterback next year. To start that rebuild, we landed Fashanu, who would drop right in as the starting left tackle. This Patriots team doesn’t have a clear starter at the position, and they would love someone who could solidify the offensive line and be a piece to build around in the coming years. — Chad Graff

Penn State lineman Olu Fashanu was a consensus All-American at 6-foot-6, 312 pounds. (Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

12. Atlanta Falcons (from DEN*): Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

One of the reasons the Falcons were so motivated to sign Cousins was to stay out of a spot in which they were chasing a quarterback at No. 8. With Cousins in the fold, Atlanta can be a seller with its top-10 pick, and both the Broncos and Raiders were aggressive in trying to get it. As a result, the Falcons dealt No. 8 — and ended up with a player at 12 they’d have been happy to take at 8. The versatile Mitchell (6-1, 199) will step in immediately at outside corner opposite A.J. Terrell, allowing Clark Phillips III and Dee Alford to contend for the nickel spot. — Josh Kendall

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13. Las Vegas Raiders: Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

The Raiders tried their hardest to land a quarterback at the top of this draft. Really. They explored a three-team trade for the No. 2 pick with Daniels in mind, attempted to move up to No. 3 for Maye and even considered jumping to No. 8 for McCarthy — but Washington held onto its pick, and other teams outbid the Raiders for the other two slots. In the end, they stayed put and took Arnold. The Alabama standout has all of the makings of a Day 1 starter at cornerback, which isn’t the worst consolation prize in the world. He’d complete a formidable secondary (on paper) with Jack Jones filling the other cornerback role, Nate Hobbs at nickelback, Tre’von Moehrig at free safety and Marcus Epps at strong safety. — Tashan Reed

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14. New Orleans Saints: JC Latham, OT, Alabama

“There will be so many good offensive line prospects lurking when the Saints pick that they can’t mess this up, right?” says the team that swung and missed by selecting Trevor Penning in the first round two years ago. This pick has to make up for that mistake. There won’t be a question about the level of competition with Latham, given his time at Alabama. And this isn’t simply a fill-in at left tackle, because the status of Ryan Ramczyk’s knee also presents concerns at right tackle. So selecting Latham seems all too easy. (A disclaimer that I pondered taking LSU wideout Brian Thomas Jr. here, as well. Had Latham been off the board, I probably would’ve turned to Thomas.) — Larry Holder

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15. Indianapolis Colts: Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

The Colts will go as far as second-year quarterback Anthony Richardson takes them, so giving him another dynamic playmaker to (hopefully) expedite his development makes a ton of sense. Thomas is one of the most explosive wideouts in this year’s class, as evidenced by his FBS-high 17 receiving TDs in 2024. Colts GM Chris Ballard noted that his team needed to add more depth at wide receiver this year, but Thomas wouldn’t just be a depth piece alongside Michael Pittman Jr., Josh Downs and Alec Pierce. He has the potential to be a No. 2 or even No. 1 option down the line, especially with innovative Colts coach Shane Steichen designing and calling plays. — James Boyd

16. Seattle Seahawks: Troy Fautanu, OL, Washington

Last week, Seahawks general manager John Schneider lamented the lack of depth and talent at offensive guard across all levels of football and claimed that guards are being overdrafted and overpaid. He may be right, but Seattle’s projected starters at that position are 2024 fourth-round pick Anthony Bradford and career backup Tremayne Anchrum Jr. The Seahawks needed to alter their thinking so they could reunite Fautanu with his college OC (Ryan Grubb) and position coach (Scott Huff). Fautanu is a great athlete with quick feet, good length and positional versatility; he can be Seattle’s starting guard or tackle. — Michael-Shawn Dugar

17. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jared Verse, Edge, Florida State

Verse was the best pass rusher on the board at this spot, and he won’t be traveling far from Tallahassee to give the Jaguars some help in a key area. Verse had 18 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in 25 games at Florida State. Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ 40 sacks last season were the eighth fewest in the NFL — and that was only a slight improvement from 2022, when their 35 sacks were the seventh fewest. Josh Allen (17.5 sacks) and Travon Walker (10 sacks) were terrific last season, but they can’t do it all — not with C.J. Stroud in the division. — Jeff Howe

18. Cincinnati Bengals: Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

This was a stunningly difficult decision since I didn’t expect both Fuaga and Byron Murphy II to be available. It was a battle of top options at the team’s two top positional priorities. I opted for Fuaga, because he’s just too perfect of a stylistic fit as a powerful, nasty presence on the line. His inside-outside versatility — along with that of new OT Trent Brown — would allow the Bengals to withstand injuries up front in a win-now year and plug a long-term solution at RT down the line. Had any other offensive lineman fallen, Murphy would have been the easy pick. — Paul Dehner

19. Los Angeles Rams: Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas

You may have heard that future Hall of Fame defensive lineman Aaron Donald retired last week. Even though there’s no replacing Donald, there are huge holes along the defensive line (inside and outside) that need to be filled. I like the idea of pairing Murphy with second-year rising starter Kobie Turner to give the Rams two dynamic players on the inside. They would still need another outside linebacker, and could add a cornerback and receiver, as well. Consideration of rising DL and pass-rusher contracts in tandem with a fifth-year option makes picking either of those positions here more enticing. — Ken Bradley

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

The Steelers selected raw, yet huge Georgia tackle Broderick Jones last year, and adding an even bigger Bulldogs tackle this year is on top of their list. Mims is 6-7 and 340 pounds but started only eight games in his collegiate career. He did not allow a sack or pressure in more than 400 pass-blocking snaps, though, and his tangibles are off the board — starting with the 5.07-second 40-yard dash he posted at the combine. Mims’ ceiling is unlimited, but there is a bit of risk given his lack of playing time. That could prove to be good for the Steelers, as he might fall to them because of it. With the Steelers making it known that they want to build out their offensive line, and with starting tackle Dan Moore Jr. entering the final year of his contract, Mims made perfect sense at this spot. And, oh yeah, Mike Tomlin loves Georgia players. — Mark Kaboly

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21. Las Vegas Raiders (from MIA*): Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

*Trade: Raiders trade No. 44, No. 77 and No. 112 to the Dolphins for No. 21 and No. 158. 

The Raiders already have two quarterbacks who started double-digit games last year in Gardner Minshew and Aidan O’Connell, but it’s unlikely the team views either as the long-term answer. With that in mind, the Raiders got aggressive and traded up to land Penix. The 6-2, 216-pound quarterback blossomed into a star at Washington in 2022 and 2024, following four injury-plagued seasons at Indiana. He has a cannon for an arm and all the right intangibles, like leadership, perseverance and competitiveness. His injury history and lack of mobility are concerns, but the good outweighs the bad. He’ll be 24 as a rookie, but he can still improve with proper development. Nothing would be handed to him, but ideally he’d win a competition with Minshew and O’Connell to become the Raiders’ starting quarterback in 2024. — Reed

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22. Philadelphia Eagles: Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa

Cornerback remains the only major need the Eagles have not addressed in free agency. A flush market for the position group moved quicker in Mock 2.0, and Philadelphia’s decision-maker briefly entertained trade-back offers before ultimately snagging one of the most versatile defensive backs in the draft. The Eagles surrendered the second-most passing yards in 2024. James Bradberry regressed, and Darius Slay, 33, has two years left on his contract. DeJean could supply immediate competition at the position while also factoring into the defense’s vacancy at nickel. The All-American, who can also play safety, would allow an Eagles secondary that just signed C.J. Gardner-Johnson to field its best possible lineup. — Brooks Kubena

Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean will be a hot name among teams in the back half of the first round. (Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)

23. New England Patriots (from CLE via HOU and MIN*): Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas

After trading back, we weren’t considering quarterbacks — just trying to fill holes this year so there’s a better roster in place for a rookie QB next year. Mitchell goes a long way in accomplishing that goal. He’s uber-talented and put on a show at the combine. Patriots de facto general manager Eliot Wolf is eyeing a major influx of talent, and that screams Mitchell, who would have a chance of being the team’s No. 1 receiver, even as a rookie. — Graff

24. Dallas Cowboys: Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma

My first instinct was to work the lines for a trade down. When I couldn’t find a dance partner, it came down to a center (Jackson Powers-Johnson) or a tackle (Guyton). This draft is rich with centers, so a starting-caliber player may be had in the second or third round. The Cowboys also have a gaping hole at left tackle following Tyron Smith’s departure. Though Guyton needs some polishing, “his tools and upside make (him) worthy of a top-20 pick,” per draft expert Dane Brugler, so getting him at No. 24 seems solid. It would also allow the Cowboys to keep Tyler Smith at left guard. — Saad Yousuf

25. Green Bay Packers: Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson

I stuck with the same player I chose for the Packers in our last beat-writer mock draft. Green Bay might want a better starting outside cornerback opposite Jaire Alexander for new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, though Carrington Valentine held his own as a rookie seventh-round pick in 2024. Brian Gutekunst has twice picked cornerbacks in the first round during his six drafts in charge. Wiggins stands 6-2, 185, so he fits the Packers’ physical requirements for the position. According to Brugler, Wiggins “moves with quiet, controlled feet/hips to seamlessly transition out of breaks and accelerate to top gear.” At the very least, the Packers probably need another body at the position, especially if they don’t feel they can count on Eric Stokes’ health holding up. — Matt Schneidman

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

The trade of Carlton Davis leaves a void at cornerback for the Bucs. The team is hoping third-year corner Zyon McCollum (who has 4.33 speed but limited experience) steps up, but even if he does, the depth is questionable. McKinstry, a versatile cover man who played a lot at Alabama, could play quickly and fit well in Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme. He also could give the Bucs an option in the return game. — Dan Pompei

27. Arizona Cardinals (from HOU): Laiatu Latu, Edge, UCLA

The free-agent acquisitions of defensive linemen Bilal Nichols and Justin Jones give Arizona flexibility. They could still go D-line here. They could go corner. They could go offensive line. But the Cardinals struggled to impact the passer last season. This is a need that must be addressed, and Latu is among the more skilled pass rushers in the draft. His medical history is a concern, but GM Monti Ossenfort showed last year he’s not afraid to look past previous issues and gamble on upside. Latu is worth the risk. — Haller

28. Buffalo Bills: Darius Robinson, Edge, Missouri

The Bills tried to move up to get one of the top four receivers, but once that didn’t work, they had a deal in place to move down … that also fell through. Moving down would be preferred if the board played out this way. But with the depth of the receiver class, there is no reason to force the pick and take someone who doesn’t fit what the Bills need in an X receiver with speed to get over the top. Instead, they used their pick on another premium position and landed a long, versatile defensive lineman — a selection that had Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane written all over it. The vision is to eventually use Robinson as a starting defensive lineman who can play on either edge or inside at defensive tackle, depending on the situation. As a prospect, Robinson has been compared to Arik Armstead, whom the Bills were in on as a free agent. — Joe Buscaglia

29. Detroit Lions: Jackson Powers-Johnson, C, Oregon

The Lions don’t have a ton of glaring needs, which is what happens when you build a strong core through the draft and supplement your roster in free agency. GM Brad Holmes could go a number of different ways if the board played out like this, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take Powers-Johnson — one of my favorite prospects in the class. The Lions want to keep their offensive line elite, and Powers-Johnson happened to be one of the best players available at 29. With RG Kevin Zeitler on a one-year deal and Frank Ragnow’s injury history to consider, the Lions could have Powers-Johnson learn from vets as a rookie and take over as a starting guard in 2025, before eventually sliding over to center whenever Ragnow calls it quits. There’s a ton to like about his game and makeup. He fits what the Lions look for. — Colton Pouncy

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30. Baltimore RavensJordan Morgan, OL, Arizona

Brugler has Morgan as his No. 32-ranked player, so it’s not like taking him here is a huge reach. However, it does feel a bit like the Ravens prioritized need over “best player available,” which they traditionally don’t do. That’s what happens, though, when you have to replace three starters up front and don’t necessarily have the salary cap space to do it in free agency. That’s also what happens when you try and trade out of the first round, but there are no suitors. Morgan could immediately plug in at right tackle, replacing Morgan Moses, who was traded to the Jets. He also played a lot of left tackle at Arizona, so he’d be an option to shift to Lamar Jackson’s blind side if Ronnie Stanley departs after the 2024 season. — Jeff Zrebiec

31. San Francisco 49ers: Graham Barton, OL, Duke

Barton finished his college career at left tackle, thanks in large part to the fact that he was Duke’s best offensive lineman. He’s likely better suited for the interior at the NFL level, but college success on the exterior shouldn’t be discounted, because versatility is an increasingly valuable commodity on the offensive line. Barton has a lot of that adaptability, as he also started at center and guard. The 49ers’ biggest statistical weakness last season came in pass protection and major change should soon be afoot along their front, even though they’re currently set to bring back all five 2024 starters. Left tackle Trent Williams will be 36 next season, left guard Aaron Banks is entering the final season of his rookie deal and all three other positions — from center to right tackle — can use upgrades. That’s why Barton would bring tremendous value to the 49ers late in the first round. He’s athletic with a strong base — just the ingredients San Francisco could work with to mold a rookie who’d contribute where needed in 2024. — David Lombardi

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU

At this point in the draft, Suamataia could be the best candidate to be a plug-and-play left tackle. The Chiefs still have Wanya Morris, a second-year player, but general manager Brett Veach is always in favor of creating competition at premium positions, especially when it comes to protecting Patrick Mahomes’ blind side. The Chiefs could still be interested in acquiring a receiver at the end of the first round, but the free-agent addition of Marquise Brown makes left tackle the biggest priority for the offense. — Nate Taylor

BYU offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia (6-6, 325 pounds) impressed at the Senior Bowl and combine and could sneak in toward the end of the first round. (Vasha Hunt / USA Today)

Teams without Round 1 picks

33. Carolina Panthers: Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia

The Panthers’ roster has undergone a lot of change since our last mock draft. One constant: the need to give Bryce Young more playmakers. Our choice for Carolina at 33, McConkey has done nothing but improve his draft stock in the month since our initial mock, running a 4.39 40 at the combine and impressing at Georgia’s pro day. As Brugler noted, McConkey’s 3.97-second short shuttle would have been the best time among all positions at the combine, and his 6.72-second three-cone would have ranked in the top five. Though McConkey’s size and injury history might raise concerns, his burst and ability to separate would help a Panthers receiving corps that has already added Diontae Johnson via trade. — Joseph Person

42. Houston Texans (from MIN): Troy Franklin, WR, Oregon

Arming Stroud with another weapon should rank among the Texans’ priorities. Franklin, who had 81 catches for 1,383 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior at Oregon, would give him another speedy receiver (4.41 40) who is a precise route runner and possesses good size at 6-2, 176. — Mike Jones

44. Miami Dolphins (from LV*): Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas

Once Murphy, who would have been a nice replacement for Christian Wilkins in the middle of the Dolphins’ defense, came off the board, trading back became much easier. This roster has a lot of expensive players on it, and that will continue to be the case as Miami looks to extend quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, among others. If the Dolphins hope to remain competitive without getting too top-heavy, they need to inject the roster with cheap, young talent. In this sense, quantity became a little more important than quality. So with the first of their now two second-round selections, the Dolphins selected a wide receiver who fits their offensive philosophy perfectly. Worthy is an absolute burner who would join Hill, Waddle and De’Von Achane in tormenting defenses with their blazing speed. Brugler says Worthy “tracks the ball well but won’t win many 50-50 situations and needs space at the catch point to be effective.” He’d find plenty of space in Miami. — Jim Ayello

54. Cleveland Browns: Mike Hall Jr., DT, Ohio State

I believe the Browns ultimately will trade out of this pick, because they currently own just five selections (and their first on Day 3 doesn’t come until the fifth round). But Hall would fit for several reasons, not just because he grew up 10 minutes south of the Browns’ stadium. He’s an upfield defensive tackle who doesn’t turn 21 until June, and the Browns are positioned to be able to draft for the future. They’re not stuck needing to target one position, but defensive tackle could use a youth infusion. Even if the Browns trade down, this is a name to know. — Zac Jackson

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(Top illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Ryan Kang, Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire and Alika Jenner / Getty Images)

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