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2023 NFL Mock Draft: B/R NFL Scouting Dept.’s Post-Combine Predictions



2023 NFL Mock Draft: B/R NFL Scouting Dept.’s Post-Combine Predictions

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    One of the most exciting NFL combine experiences ever took place this past weekend, with numerous aspiring professional athletes blowing the doors off Lucas Oil Stadium.

    Everywhere you looked, another positional record fell. It’s easy to get caught up in physical testing, though, and overlook the big picture aspect of evaluations.

    While combine workouts should not be deciding factors in how a prospect is viewed, they do serve as confirmation based on what’s been seen and the potential upside found in each participant.

    Every step of the predraft process adds to an ever-evolving assessment. What happens in Indianapolis shouldn’t be completely dismissed. Instead, it’s part of the a much larger pie that started to bake in August.

    These efforts only help build (or hurt) the argument for individuals, as projections start to take shape based on what’s been seen so far and how teams are looking at each.

    Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department of Brandon Thorn, Brent Sobleski, Cory Giddings, Derrik Klassen and Matt Holder sat down together in Indy and pieced together their latest mock draft, with the added components of official workout numbers and some buzz heard during the weeklong event.

1. Indianapolis Colts (from Chicago): QB Anthony Richardson, Florida

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 04: Quarterback Anthony Richardson of Florida participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 04, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Long-term upside and situation matter when projecting Florida’s Anthony Richardson to the No. 1 overall pick.

    This selection is clearly for sale, and the Indianapolis Colts remain the most likely trade partner for the Chicago Bears. In this scenario, Colts general manager Chris Ballard pulls the trigger. It’s important to keep that in mind, because Ballard emphasizes high-end traits when it comes to his department’s evaluations.

    Furthermore, new head coach Shane Steichen already made the argument to those at the combine that accuracy can be increased through improved mechanics and play calls.

    “C.J .Stroud is still our top-rated quarterback,” Klassen said, “but it’s not hard to imagine a QB-desperate team like the Colts swinging for the fences after Richardson’s combine performance.

    “With a 4.43 40-yard dash, 40.5-inch vertical jump and 129-inch broad jump at 6’4” and 244 pounds, Richardson has arguably the best athletic profile at the position since the televised combine era began.

    “Richardson isn’t just an athlete, though. His pocket presence, baseline processing skills and ability outside the pocket provide a good foundation. Richardson just needs to clean up the accuracy, which looked improved during the throwing session in Indy.”

    To be clear, this slotting isn’t an immediate reaction to Saturday’s workout. It certainly helps. But Richardson has been slowly climbing up B/R’s rankings since he declared based on those traits that translate when it comes to seeing the field, knowing where to go with the football and setting protections/plays.

    More importantly, he crushed it during teams interviews, according to ESPN’s Matt Miller. His understanding of the game and athletic potential far exceed his actual numbers this past season.

2. Houston Texans: QB Bryce Young, Alabama

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: Quarterback Bryce Young of Alabama speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Alabama’s Bryce Young took a business-like approach. He knew that everyone outside the Crimson Tide program wondered about his actual size.

    Ultimately, he measured at just over 5’10” and 204 pounds. Both are solid numbers, even if they’re still on the low end of the position’s preferred physical spectrum.

    Unlike the draft class’ other top quarterback prospects, Young chose not to participate in any of the on-field events or throwing session. In some ways, this decision may not have helped, since C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis dazzled.

    His standing as a top prospect isn’t in question, but the previous concerns aren’t going away entirely.

    “Same as it ever was, it’s all about size with Young,” Klassen reiterated. “Though he measured in at 204 pounds, the fact that he didn’t work out or throw suggests he isn’t ready to play at that weight. Who knows if he ever will be?

    “For as long as Young’s body holds up, he’ll give the Houston Texans an accurate, creative playmaker. Young excels amid chaos—sometimes by his own design—and has that special eye for making plays on the move. For a franchise desperately needing a spark of life, Young can be that sooner rather than later.”

3. Arizona Cardinals: Edge Will Anderson Jr., Alabama

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 01: Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 1, 2023, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    This particular pairing is about as simple as it gets. Top team not in need of a quarterback lands top-ranked position player.

    “The Arizona Cardinals don’t need a quarterback so they get the benefit of taking Bleacher Report’s highest overall graded player in Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr.,” Holder said. “They could also use a lot of help on their defensive front, so this is a great scenario for Arizona.

    “Markus Golden turns 32 years old next week, thus adding another young pass-rusher to pair with second-year OLB Myjai Sanders is a smart plan for the Red Birds.”

    Even with the promising starts with Sanders’ and Cameron Thomas’ rookie campaigns, the Cardinals still finished among the league’s bottom 10 with 36 total sacks. To make matters worse, J.J. Watt was the only member of the team to manage more than 5.5 sacks and he retired this offseason.

    Anderson gives the Cardinals a true game-wrecker the likes of which they lacked last season after Chandler Jones left in free agency to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders. The two-time Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner is both a load at the point of attack and a dynamic pass-rusher capable of beating offensive line through multiple different means.

    The third overall pick is a great place for new Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon and his team to be.

4. Chicago Bears (from Indianapolis): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 02: Jalen Carter of Georgia looks on during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 02, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Jalen Carter‘s arrest on two misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in connection to January’s fatal crash—in which former teammate Devin Willock and a Georgia staffer died—dominated the discussion in Indianapolis.

    The defensive lineman left the event to turn himself in, only to be released on bond and return the following day. Carter didn’t participate in any of the workouts.

    Some will think the arrest will affect Carter’s NFL draft stock. While tragic, it probably won’t have a dramatic impact on how NFL teams see him as a prospect.

    Carter is a special talent and a rare game-changer along the defensive interior. As such, he’s still included among these top four selections and remains the favorite to be selected by the Chicago Bears.

    “Obviously, Carter’s arrest could eventually throw a wrinkle into things,” Holder conceded. “But more information needs to come out as he’s only facing misdemeanor charges. Carter is one of the best players in this draft class and would be the start of a great foundation for Chicago’s defensive rebuild.”

5. Carolina Panthers (from SEA via DEN): QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

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    Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

    AP Photo/Darron Cummings

    With the Seattle Seahawks agreeing to a three-year, $102 million contract extension with quarterback Geno Smith, the organization now holds leverage with this selection.

    Bleacher Report’s top-ranked quarterback remains on the board, and multiple QB-needy teams should be desperate to trade up for Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. The Carolina Panthers are clearly the most desperate after missing out on opportunity after opportunity to truly upgrade the game’s most important position, then settling on half-measures to address it.

    The chance to jump in front of the Las Vegas Raiders and Atlanta Falcons to get Stroud is a strong play by general manager Scott Fitterer. With the team’s quarterback now set, the Panthers complete their roster to build toward becoming a long-term contender.

    “Stroud plays with A-level arm strength and excellent ball placement to every level of the field,” Klassen said. “There’s a rhythm to his game that the rest of this year’s QB class just doesn’t have.

    “Additionally, Stroud stepped up towards the end of his junior season and proved himself as someone capable of making spectacular plays outside the pocket—the biggest criticism of his game throughout most of his career. HIs performance against Georgia might have been the best individual effort by any prospect this past season.

    “Whether Stroud gets to sit or start right away, expect competent quarterback play and a mid-sized fireworks show if things break in the Panthers’ favor.”

6. Detroit Lions (from LA Rams): QB Will Levis, Kentucky

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 04: Quarterback Will Levis of Kentucky participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 04, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The Detroit Lions are another squad with competent-to-good quarterback play yet should still consider eventually moving on from their current starter.

    Jared Goff has done quite well while wearing Honolulu blue. He’s certainly played better than expected. But the same concerns that existed with the Los Angeles Rams haven’t gone away completely.

    Goff thrives when he’s working within a system and getting support from a strong surrounding cast. He’s never going to be the guy who creates something out of nothing and truly elevates those around him. As such, the Lions should take a swing on a far more physically gifted option in Kentucky’s Will Levis.

    “Levis—alongside Anthony Richardson—is a long-term potential play,” Klassen said. “Levis sports a bazooka for a right arm, and his 6’4”, 229-pound frame is NFL-ready.

    “At his best, the 23-year-old prospect rips throws into tight windows, even when he needs to take a shot to the chest to do so. Levis’ footwork and lack of consistency within his decision-making will need to be cleaned up, which will fix some of his accuracy concerns. But he’ll have the time to work on those concerns, assuming he gets to sit behind Goff for a season.”

    The Lions can release Goff after the 2023 campaign and save $26.7 million toward the ’24 salary cap.

7. Las Vegas Raiders: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 01: Clemson defensive lineman Myles Murphy answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 1, 2023, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Las Vegas Raiders should be vying to trade into the top-three picks to land one of this year’s quarterback prospects. Although, veteran Jimmy Garoppolo remains a viable alternative. If the Raiders are forced to go with the latter, more investments in the defense should be forthcoming.

    “With none of the top quarterbacks left on the board, the Raiders opt to improve their defense and get Maxx Crosby some help on the defensive line,” Holder said. “Chandler Jones will be the other starting edge defender next season, but the 11-year veteran just turned 33 and Las Vegas can get out of his contract at the end of the year.

    “Clemson’s Myles Murphy is also big (6’5″, 268 lbs.) and strong enough to take some reps along the interior, too. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will love that versatility.”

    Murphy entered the Tigers program as a heralded 5-star recruit yet never quite lived up to those expectations with 18.5 sacks in three seasons. But the physical tools are obvious for him to eventually develop into a premium pass-rusher, with enough athleticism to work off the edge and enough size, length and strength to win along the interior in certain sub-packages.

    A year under the tutelage of Jones is the ideal situation for Murphy to learn how to use his gifts and realize his full potential.

8. Atlanta Falcons: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Penn State defensive back Joey Porter Jr. answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 2, 2023, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons continue to miss out on top quarterback prospects, but the organization can’t be overly disappointed when landing the top talent at another premium position.

    Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. had the NFL world buzzing based purely on how long he is for a cornerback. His 34-inch arms are the length of a starting NFL left tackle (and longer than some of them, too). For comparison, Porter is a half-inch shorter (6’2½”) than Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, yet his arms are a half-inch longer and his hands are bigger. They both have 4.4-second 40-yard-dash speed.

    Obviously, measurements are only part of the equation. Gardner went on to be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Pro. Porter has similar capabilities to go along with his length and physicality at the position.

    “Porter presents a great blend of length and athleticism that allows him to excel in coverage at the line of scrimmage and downfield,” Giddings noted. “He had a very good showing at the NFL combine with his explosiveness by running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and posting a 10’9″ broad jump. Porter can immediately compete for a starting position in the Falcons’ secondary while providing size and versatility to the room.”

    Porter and A.J. Terrell are foundational building blocks to help slow opposing pass games.

9. Seattle Seahawks (from Las Vegas): Edge Nolan Smith, Georgia

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    Georgia defensive lineman Nolan Smith runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

    AP Photo/Darron Cummings

    With quarterback settled and drafts assets added with a short trade-down, the Seattle Seahawks can continue to build the rest of the roster. Last year, the team did a spectacular job drafting and found multiple long-term contributors on both sides of the ball.

    Defensively, the unit received significant boosts in the secondary with the additions of Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant. General manager John Schneider can now turn his attention to the the front seven, where Bruce Irvin can finally be replaced.

    Georgia’s Nolan Smith scorched Lucas Oil Stadium with a mesmerizing 4.39-second 40-yard dash. He’s undersized at 6’2″ and 238 pounds. That’s OK. His quickness and athleticism will make up for any shortcomings.

    “Smith became one of the big winners from the combine after posting a sub-4.4 40-yard dash time and jumping through the roof with a 41.5″ vertical and 10’8″ broad jump,” Holder said. “He’s also a physical player, who’s stronger than his 238-pound frame suggests. The edge defender likely would have posted an impressive bench-press number had he not been recovering from a torn pectoral muscle and opted to sit out of the event in Indianapolis.

    Some combination of Uchenna Nwosu, Darrell Taylor, Boye Mafe and Smith will provide significant flexibility and explosivity for the Seahawks’ pressure packages. What better way to attack the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray and either of the San Francisco 49ers’ young quarterbacks?

10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans): DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson

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    Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

    AP Photo/Michael Conroy

    When in doubt, go with a defensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles.

    “The Eagles and a first-round defensive lineman go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Holder said. “Clemson’s Brian Bresee can help fill the void left by Javon Hargrave and/or Fletcher Cox—assuming one or both walk in free agency.

    “Bresee also drew plenty of attention this past weekend with an impressive 4.86-second 40-yard dash time.”

    The defensive tackle’s abilities and athleticism have never been in question. When Bresee is on the field, he shows why he’s special. Unfortunately, he basically played only one full season as a member of the Tigers. In 2021, the defensive lineman suffered a torn ACL. Last season, he dealt with a kidney infection.

    The 298-pound defender shows good burst with the ability to play up and down the defensive front. He’s a good fit in Philadelphia where he won’t be immediately forced to serve as the focal point of the defensive line.

    The Eagles like to come at opposing quarterbacks in waves, though it’ll be more difficult to do so if Hargrave, Cox, Brandon Graham, Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh all leave.

    Eventually, Bresee at 3-technique alongside nose tackle Jordan Davis would give the Eagles a supremely talented interior duo.

11. Tennessee Titans: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

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    COLLEGE PARK, MD - OCTOBER 22: Northwestern guard Peter Skoronski (77) pass blocks during the Northwestern Wildcats versus Maryland Terrapins game on October 22, 2022 at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium in College Park, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Tennessee Titans are essentially entering a rebuilding phase. The organization won’t frame it as such, but all of the signs are there.

    Last year, the team chose not to pay A.J. Brown a hefty contract extension. Instead, the Titans traded their top receiver. Longtime left tackle Taylor Lewan has already been released this offseason. In a special to Bally Sports, Michael Silver reported that all-everything running back Derrick Henry is now on the trade block, too.

    The Titans are clearing salary-cap space by shedding overpriced veteran contracts. This is the exact first step of every rebuild. The team can restart its plans by making sure it has a strong foundation.

    Enter the class’ top-rated offensive line prospect, Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski.

    “Tennessee is without a left tackle or left guard and could upgrade either by adding Skoronski,” Thorn said. “Skoronski checked all the necessary boxes at the combine both in the athletic testing and drill portion of the event.

    “One big question remains with his arm length being far below average for a starting tackle (32¼ inches), which could lead to a move inside. Everything else about his profile signals a high-end starter inside with a shot at playing tackle.

    “For the Titans, Skoronski is exactly the sort of player they need for a line devoid of quality starters.”

12. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): WR Quentin Johnston, TCU

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    TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) runs a route against Texas during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman)

    AP Photo/Stephen Spillman

    Once the Houston Texans select their quarterback with the second overall pick—which seems inevitable—the next step is building around the new face of the franchise.

    The Texans already have plenty of talent along their offensive line. So, the skill positions are the next priority.

    Aside from Brandin Cooks, no other wide receiver on last season’s roster managed more than 548 receiving yards. Granted, Nico Collins played in only 10 games, and the hope is that last year’s second-round draft pick, John Metchie III, will be healthy and cleared to play football this fall.

    Even if everything works out in the team’s favor, the idea of surrounding Bryce Young with more talent isn’t a bad one. Enter WR1.

    “TCU’s Quentin Johnston can fill the void left by DeAndre Hopkins long ago as Houston’s explosive No. 1 receiver with ridiculously long arms,” Klassen said. “Johnston measured with 34⅝-inch arms at the NFL Combine and jumped out of the stadium in both the vertical (40.5″) and broad jumps (11’2”).

    “Johnston’s route running and route tree may need development, but he brings a tantalizing combination of field-stretching speed and physical YAC skills. The combination makes him a threat to take one to the house at any time. By pairing him with a rookie quarterback, the Texans will have put the young duo in great spot to develop together.”

13. New York Jets: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia

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    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 09: Broderick Jones #59 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates after a touchdown in the second quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship game at SoFi Stadium on January 09, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    The New York Jets are still scrambling to find a starting veteran quarterback option after Derek Carr chose to join the New Orleans Saints. The situation will continue to play itself out over the coming weeks. Whoever steps behind center better do so behind a reworked offensive front.

    Mekhi Becton’s up-and-down performance during his first three seasons (including missing the 2022 season with a knee injury) hasn’t been inspiring in the least. George Fant, meanwhile, is a pending free agent. Offensive tackle could once again use an upgrade, even with Duane Brown deciding to return for another season.

    Georgia’s Broderick Jones presents as much raw potential and athleticism as any offensive line prospect in this year’s class.

    “The Jets land arguably the most physically gifted tackle in the class in Broderick Jones,” Thorn said. “He provides insurance at a premium position.

    “Jones fits the mold of the powerful, strong and physical tackles that general manager Joe Douglas has coveted during his tenure. This selection also provides New York with a very young player whose skill set requires a significant runway to add much-needed polish before likely turning into a plus-starter at a premium position.”

    Even with Becton and Brown on the roster, Jones may be far too talented for Douglas not to strongly consider.

14. New England Patriots: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State

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    Ohio State offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. (77) looks for someone to block against Penn State during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

    AP Photo/Barry Reeger

    Five years ago, the New England Patriots invested a first-round pick in left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Despite a promising start to his career, Wynn isn’t expected back next season. Instead, the Patriots are looking toward upgrading their offensive front.

    “New England is going in a very different direction from its last first-round selection at tackle in the undersized Wynn to the prototypical Paris Johnson Jr.,” Thorn noted.

    “With ideal size (6’6″, 313 lbs), athletic ability and movement skills, Johnson looks and moves like a franchise left tackle, while also bringing advanced skills as a run-blocker and excellent competitive toughness. The Patriots need to replace Wynn with a quality starter, which should be Johnson’s floor as a pro.”

    Johnson has been a highly regarded blocker since he stepped onto Ohio State’s campus. The former 5-start recruit began his career at guard before bumping back to his natural position of left tackle last season.

    New England is set at guard with the combination of Michael Onwenu and Cole Strange, so the team won’t need to undertake that same process. Besides, Johnson has the natural talent to immediately protect Mac Jones’ blind side. His length (36⅛-inch arms) and lateral agility are top notch.

15. Green Bay Packers: DL Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech

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    Texas Tech linebacker Tyree Wilson (19) is seen during an NCAA football game against TCU on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 34-24. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

    AP Photo/Brandon Wade

    The Green Bay Packers love their defenders to be big, long and athletic. Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson fits the bill.

    “Green Bay could opt for an offensive weapon here,” Holder said. “With Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs heading into their second seasons, they can afford to wait until Round 2 to grab a wide receiver or tight end. Besides, Wilson is far too talented to pass up since he can play multiple spots along the defensive line.

    “He has a similar body type as Preston Smith, who turns 31 in November. Jarran Reed is also set to hit free agency, while Rashan Gary enters a contract year. Thus an investment in a versatile defensive lineman is prudent.”

    The first-team All-American is 6’6″ and 271 pounds with a pterodactyl-like 86-inch wingspan.

    Much like Gary’s selection four years ago, the Packers don’t have a driving need to address their defensive front. However, Wilson is the type of physically-gifted prospect who tends to go higher in the process. The fact he’s still available at this juncture is too good of a value to overlook talent for need.

    Besides, defensive coordinator Joe Barry can flex the trio of Smith, Gary and Wilson all over his front to create mismatches and favorable one-on-one matchups.

16. Washington Commanders: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

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    CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 15: Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Devon Witherspoon (31) defends as Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Daniel Jackson (9) runs a route during the college football game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Illinois Fighting Illini on October 15, 2022, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    When looking at the Washington Commanders’ roster, two glaring liabilities can be found.

    Obviously, quarterback remains in question. Yes, the team continues to say publicly that Sam Howell is QB1 going into the year. But he’s a former fifth-round pick who shouldn’t be handed anything. In this particular setup, the Commanders aren’t in a position to draft a signal-caller.

    Instead, the franchise turns its attention to its secondary. Outside of Kendall Fuller, who’s a free agent after the 2023 campaign, the Commanders don’t have an above-average cornerback on the roster. Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon instantly changes that perception.

    “Witherspoon is an instinctive corner who possesses a high football IQ and anticipation in coverage,” Giddings wrote. “He’s also a versatile defender with the ability to play in both man- and zone-heavy schemes.

    “Though the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year didn’t work out at the combine due to a hamstring injury, he previously showed great movement skills on tape and will look to confirm his speed at his pro day. Witherspoon is yet another incoming cornerback who will look to compete for early playing time.”

    Giddings’ final point is important. Witherspoon has the skill set and competitiveness to immediately match up with an opposing offense’s top wide receiver.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: DL Lukas Van Ness, Iowa

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    IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Iowa left defensive tackle Lukas Van Ness (91)gets ready to sack Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) during a college football game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Iowa Hawkeyes on November 20, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA.  (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

    Icon Sportswire

    The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front is getting old, and it’s filled with holes.

    Cameron Heyward is still counted among the league’s best interior defenders, but he turns 34 shortly after this year’s NFL draft. Tyson Alualu turns 36 a few days later and is a pending free agent. Larry Ogunjobi and Chris Wormley are no longer under contract.

    Furthermore, Alex Highsmith may not be in the organization’s long-term plans as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and will probably demand a significant contract once it ends.

    Reinforcements are necessary, and Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness presents the type of skill set needed to help all over Pittsburgh’s defensive front.

    The 6’5″, 272-pound Van Ness originally started his collegiate career at defensive tackle before bumping outside to end. He has rare power in his hands to overwhelm blockers with his bull rush. He also posted an outstanding relative athletic score, according to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte.

    “Van Ness’ draft stock has steadily been on the rise over the last several months and continued through the combine,” Holder said. “He is an absolute bear in the trenches who can win with power as a pass-rusher and be a disrupter as a run defender. “

    The 21-year-old prospect didn’t start a game at the college level, though. A proven system with veterans around Van Ness will be the best situation for his development.

18. Detroit Lions: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

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    Oregon defensive back Christian Gonzalez (0) avoids a block by California tight end Jermaine Terry II (4) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

    AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez

    Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez has continually built momentum throughout the draft process after being an early entrant to this year’s class.

    The underclassman does have concerns within his game, particularly how fluid he is with his change of direction and being overly grabby down the field. However, teams can’t overlook just how physically gifted the cornerback is overall.

    “Gonzalez brings excellent size (6’1″, 197 lbs.) and length (32-inch arms) to the table,” Giddings said. “Considering his size, he showed great speed with a 4.38-second effort in the 40-yard dash.

    “The underclassman has very good ball skills and shows top-notch timing when playing the ball in the air. The Lions have had their fair share of issues in the cornerback room and hope that Gonzalez ends that run.”

    Last season, Detroit finished 30th in pass defense, with Amani Oruwariye and Mike Hughes about to enter free agency. Plus, the team still doesn’t quite know what it has in Jeff Okudah.

    The Lions built a solid foundation under head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes. Their offensive line is one of the league’s best. They’re more talented at the skill positions than they have been in a long time. Aidan Hutchinson’s addition a year ago gave the defense a difference-maker.

    By addressing two premium positions with Levis earlier and Gonzalez here, the leap from upstart to contender could start to materialize.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Anton Harrison, Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma offensive lineman Anton Harrison (71) looks to block during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Ames, Iowa. Oklahoma won 27-13. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

    AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

    Tom Brady finally calling it quits created quite the ripple effect for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the team’s Super Bowl window now slammed shut, difficult decisions had to be made.

    General manager Jason Licht is already planning to move on from running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Cameron Brate and offensive tackle Donovan Smith. Of the three, Smith will be the most difficult to replace simply because he plays a premium position, with 124 career starts after being a second-round pick in the 2015 draft class.

    Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison is a significant athletic upgrade, though.

    “Harrison checked all of the expected athletic and measurement boxes at the combine while being one of the youngest prospects in the entire draft,” Thorn said of the 21-year-old blocker. “The first-team All-Big 12 performer will have a learning curve in pass protection after playing in an RPO-heavy scheme against a lot of odd fronts in the Big 12 Conference.

    “But Harrison has the necessary quickness, length and flashes of skill to play at a solid level early in his career as he gains comfort and confidence playing on an island. Harrison will also add power and a tone-setting demeanor to replace what Donovan Smith brought to the team while adding better movement skills as a lead blocker in space.”

20. Seattle Seahawks: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia

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    Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (0) catches a short pass against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

    AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

    Big, physical football screams Pete Carroll and how the Seattle Seahawks head coach wants to play football. There aren’t many in this class bigger, more physical and more naturally gifted than Georgia tight end Darnell Washington.

    “The 2023 season is a chance for the Seahawks to reset their franchise and their offense,” Klassen said. “Few players can do that like a 6’7”, 274-pound tight end who tested off the charts.

    “Besides the vertical jump, Washington crushed the NFL combine process, including the media interview sessions. Washington’s rare size and athletic combination make him a unique weapon, as the type of player who can both out-muscle and out-athlete his opponents on a consistent basis.

    “The 21-year-old is a violent blocker, too, which fits Carroll’s overall attitude to a tee.”

    With DK Metcalf at wide receiver, Kenneth Walker III in the backfield and Washington joining the fray, Seattle can field an intimidating set of skill position players.

    The approach also places the Seahawks at the forefront of the league’s newest trend by playing a far more physical brand of football that leans on a strong ground game to offset smaller defenders continually asked to drop into space.

21. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jordan Addison, USC

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: USC Trojans wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) runs after a catch during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans on November 26, 2022, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    At this point, the biggest concern from within the Los Angeles Chargers organization is making sure the team maximizes the potential found in Justin Herbert, who’s already a top-five quarterback.

    The team may not be quite ready to move on from long-term top target Keenan Allen, but the 10-year veteran turns 31 later this year and has never been the most explosive threat. Meanwhile, Mike Williams’ injury history is always a little concerning.

    A little more juice to the wide receiver corps would be a welcome addition. USC’s Jordan Addison can create separation unlike any other in this year’s draft class.

    “The Chargers desperately need a pass-catcher who can just make a play, and Addison fits the bill,” Klassen said. “Though he weighed in at concerningly small at 173 pounds during the NFL combine, Addison boasts a blend of quickness, route-running flare, and adequate speed to be an explosive play threat from anywhere on the field.

    “The Biletnikoff Award winner is especially lethal in the mid-range area, where his snappy routes and elusiveness as a ball-carrier can really shine.”

    Considering Allen’s age and the fact Williams turns 29 this year with previous back injuries, Addison enters the pipeline as the next long-term target for Herbert.

22. Baltimore Ravens: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College

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    Boston, MA - October 8: Boston College Eagles WR Zay Flowers runs for a short gain after catching a 1st quarter pass. BC lost to Clemson, 31-3. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

    John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    Rashod Bateman’s social media meltdown on Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta shows how frustrated the entire offense has been in recent years. Clearly, quarterback Lamar Jackson wants a more wide-open approach. The receivers are sick of taking the blame for the scheme’s inadequacies. Yet both need more help.

    Boston College’s Zay Flowers may be another undersized option (5’9″, 182 lbs.), but he’s instant offense any time he touches the ball.

    “Regardless of who is throwing the ball, the Ravens need speed at wide receiver,” Klassen said while alluding to the possibility Baltimore and Jackson may not find a common ground on a contract extension. “Flowers is the perfect man for the job.

    “The two-time, first-team All-ACC performer clocked a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and there’s plenty of evidence of speed on his film. Moreover, Flowers is exceptionally twitchy in the short area, which enables him to thrive as both a route-runner and ankle-breaking ball-carrier.

    “His slight frame and average ability to attack the ball will limit his overall usage, but Flowers has the goods to serve as a speed-centric No. 2 receiver opposite Bateman.”

    The Ravens need weapons beyond their tight ends. If they don’t add more, they’re never going to keep Jackson happy or have enough to compete with the AFC’s best.

23. Minnesota Vikings: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

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    PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: Jaxon Smith-Njigba #11 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to the bench during a 48-45 win over the Utah Utes at Rose Bowl on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Harry How/Getty Images

    Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba emerged as a big winner during the NFL combine after missing the majority of the 2022 campaign with a lingering hamstring injury.

    Smith-Njigba didn’t participate in the 40-yard dash, though he thrived in change-of-direction drills. The slot receiver finished first in both the short shuttle (3.93 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.57 seconds)—the former is fourth all-time among wide receivers since the NFL began revealing the numbers—then drew rave reviews from those around the league with his workout.

    The effort served as a reminder of why Smith-Njigba has been considered a top prospect all along despite the aforementioned injury. For the Minnesota Vikings, they found the ideal replacement for Adam Thielen, if the two sides can’t come to an agreement on a reworked contract.

    “The Vikings may be better served with a true outside receiver to match with Justin Jefferson,” Klassen wrote. “But Smith-Njigba was the best receiver on the board by far and more than talented enough to warrant this selection.

    “Smith-Njigba impressed in Indianapolis. His smooth yet explosive style was on full display during athletic testing and route-running drills. The 6’1″, 196-pound target still lacks the top-end speed of a true game-breaker, but he’s got everything else you want from a wide receiver prospect.”

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee

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    American offensive lineman Darnell Wright of Tennessee (58) during the first half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

    AP Photo/Butch Dill

    The Jacksonville Jaguars faced a difficult decision and made an interesting choice.

    The team had two major pending free agents in tight end Evan Engram and right tackle Jawaan Taylor. They’ll likely pay both. But we know that Engram will be with the team this fall after the organization announced it placed the franchise tag on its third-leading receiver.

    Taylor will be a top free agent once the new league year officially begins. There’s no reason for him not to see what the market dictates. The Jaguars, meanwhile, can look elsewhere to address the position. Maybe Walker Little will take over the spot. Or, the team can invest in the class’ top-ranked right tackle prospect in Tennessee’s Darnell Wright.

    “If the Jaguars want a bigger, more powerful option than Little, Wright is the right choice,” Thorn posited. “At 6’5″, 333 pounds, Wright has good movement skills and immense power that would pair exceptionally well with right guard Brandon Scherff, thus giving Jacksonville a dynamic duo on the right side in the running game and an ultra-physical presence in pass protection.”

    The decision comes down to identity. Jacksonville already has some of the pieces in place to consistently control the point of attack. Wright could be the piece to complete the puzzle.

25. New York Giants: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson

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    TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 15: Clemson Tigers linebacker Trenton Simpson (22) in pass defense during the Clemson Tigers game against the Florida State Seminoles on October 15, 2022, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. (Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The New York Giants have little to nothing at linebacker. Why not address the position with the class’ top-rated prospect?

    “With three veteran linebackers—Jarrad Davis, Jaylon Smith and Landon Collins—set to hit free agency, the Giants desperately need help,” Holder wrote. “Defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale loves athletic backers. That’s exactly what Clemson’s Trenton Simpson is.

    “Simpson scored the second-fastest time among his the position group in the 40-yard dash with 4.43-second effort, then hit 25 reps on the bench press.”

    The 6’2″, 235-pound underclassman is an ideal hybrid defender in today’s game. He’s athletic and fast enough to play in space, defend the pass and run down ball-carriers. Yet he’s an explosive downhill defender depending on how he’s used. He thrived as the Sam linebacker in Clemson’s scheme.

    Simpson next to Micah McFadden gives the Giants contrasting skill sets to complement one another along the second line of defense. McFadden did manage 59 total tackles and six tackles for loss (tied for third on the team) during his rookie campaign.

    Considering the duo gets to play behind Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, the two can rack up tackles and make many free runs toward those with the ball.

26. Dallas Cowboys: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

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    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Michael Mayer #87 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball after making a catch against the Navy Midshipmen at M&T Bank Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Basically, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took the time to meet with the media in Indianapolis and blamed Dak Prescott’s fair market contract as the reason why it’s more difficult today to build the team’s roster.

    Despite the owner not taking the blame for how he’s allocated money at other positions, the reality is Dallas will likely be forced to move on from talented options for financial reasons. They already did so a year ago with Amari Cooper.

    Ezekiel Elliott could very well be on the chopping block thanks to this year’s $16.7 million salary-cap charge. Tight end Dalton Schultz is also a free agent after playing under the franchise tag last season.

    Schultz may be the most damaging loss since he averaged 96.5 targets over the last two seasons. With the addition of Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, the Cowboys can get cheaper, younger and even more athletic at a key position.

    “Mayer is a great addition for a Dallas offense that needs stability at tight end,” Klassen said. “Schultz offered flashes of explosive play, but Mayer is a floor-raiser.

    “B/R’s Scouting Department grades Mayer as a top-10 talent because he is a strong, fluid athlete who thrives working from 10 to 20 yards. Mayer is exceptionally comfortable sifting through traffic, boxing defenders away from the ball and making difficult catches. Combine those traits with his chops as a blocker, Dallas gets a perfect fit for its run-centric offense and someone who will complement Prescott quite well.”

27. Buffalo Bills: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Texas running back Bijan Robinson (5) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the game against the Baylor Bears on November 25, 2022, at Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX. (Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Bijan Robinson‘s pairing with the Buffalo Bills at this particular slot has become boring. Perfect pairings usually are. They’re so obvious that all of the excitement fades. However, Robinson actually playing in the Bills’ offense can be truly electric.

    “The Bills offense would benefit greatly from a real three-down back,” Klassen said. “As a runner, Robinson is special. He sports a thick yet flexible frame that allows him to bounce and weave through the line of scrimmage before brushing off tackles at the second level. He also has the speed to threaten the perimeter very effectively.

    “On passing downs, Robinson brings value both as a blocker and a receiver. He displays reliable hands and offers more receiving ability than simple check-downs. The Doak Walker Award winner is also as chippy as they come in pass pro.”

    Basically, quarterback Josh Allen has been the Bills’ primary running threat since he became the starter. But even a 6’5″, 237-pound quarterback doesn’t need to take the type of hits that Allen regularly does. Robinson makes Buffalo’s offense more complete by adding a true threat out of the backfield.

    Some may groan seeing the standout back slotted here yet again, but the general excitement he can create in an already top-shelf offense brings a potential Offensive Rookie of the Year impact.

28. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah

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    EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 19: Utah Utes tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) runs after the catch during a PAC-12 Conference football game between the Utah Utes and Oregon Ducks on November 19, 2022 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals can’t have enough good weapons. The offense already features Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, though the tight end position has been an afterthought since Joe Burrow became the starting quarterback. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid can add a different dynamic to the scheme.

    “Why not add another explosive weapon to one of the most explosive passing offenses in football?” Klassen said. “Kincaid may be slightly undersized [6’4”, 246 lbs], but he’d be fine in Cincinnati’s shotgun-based system.

    “Kincaid’s best traits are his open-field movement skills and ball tracking ability, which he complements with all the flexibility necessary to find the ball no matter where it is. With a quarterback such as Burrow, that’s a scary combination.”

    Kindcaid’s all-around skill set is arguably the best among his classmates.

    He isn’t as big and powerful as Darnell Washington or the same type of downfield threat as Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. Yet he displays very strong hands, extreme toughness when working over the middle of the field (as evidenced by his playing with a broken back in the Pac-12 Championship Game) and a strong willingness to block. That would really help a team that struggles to protect its quarterback.

29. New Orleans (from Denver): DL Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh

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    Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) plays against Miami during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

    AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

    The New Orleans Saints have already benefitted on two fronts this offseason.

    First, they landed a first-round pick when the Denver Broncos signed former head coach Sean Payton. Previously, New Orleans lacked draft capital, particularly in the first round, after it traded up last year for wide receiver Chris Olave.

    Secondly, Derek Carr’s addition after his release by the Las Vegas Raiders addressed the team’s biggest need. With quarterback now settled, the Saints can build the rest of the roster.

    The defensive front would be a good starting point.

    “The Saints have two very big needs heading into this draft: defensive line help and pass-rushers,” Holder said. “They can obtain both with one selection. Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey is one of the quickest and best pass-rushing tackles in the class. He even broke Aaron Donald’s record for the fastest 40-yard dash among defensive tackles at the combine with a blazing 4.67-second effort.”

    Despite his obvious upfield explosiveness and pass-rush potential, Kancey is severely undersized at 281 pounds with 30⅝-inch arms. He could struggle to hold the point of attack and become a three-down defender.

    In the short term, Kancey would help in sub-packages to take pressure off the team’s primary pass-rusher, Cameron Jordan.

30. Philadelphia Eagles: IOL O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida

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    American offensive lineman O'Cyrus Torrence of Florida (56) during the first half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

    AP Photo/Butch Dill

    The Philadelphia Eagles claim the league’s best front five, though a couple of pieces could come up missing this offseason.

    Right now, the organization doesn’t know whether starting center Jason Kelce and right guard Isaac Seumalo will be back next season.

    In one case, general manager Howie Roseman already prepared for the future by selecting Cam Jurgens in the second round of last year’s draft to eventually serve as Kelce’s replacement. The future at right guard isn’t as clear.

    “Seumalo has a chance at earning a huge payday in free agency,” Thorn said. “Given that he is the fifth-best starter along the Philly line, the Eagles should go younger and cheaper at the position.

    “Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence would be an upgrade in size [6’5″, 330 lbs vs. 6’4″, 303 lbs] and add a little more power to the running game while sacrificing some body control. Under renowned offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, Torrence would have the best possible chance of getting that issue corrected and maximizing his skill set.”

    The Eagles dominate at the point of attack. Torrence may not be as mobile as Seumalo, but his power could make an already fearsome unit into an even greater driving force for an exceptional offense.

31. Kansas City Chiefs: Edge Will McDonald IV, Iowa State

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    MOBILE, AL - FEBRUARY 02: American linebacker Will McDonald IV of Iowa State (9) during the Reese's Senior Bowl team practice session on February 2, 2023 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.  (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Kansas City Chiefs did a masterful job integrating last year’s rookie class into their Super Bowl championship run, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

    George Karlaftis, Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Bryan Cook all made significant contributions throughout the campaign. There’s no reason to stop there and think the unit doesn’t need more help, because it clearly does.

    “Kansas City’s No. 1 goal this offseason should be to get Chris Jones some pass rush help,” Holder said. “While Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV must add bulk to his 6’4″, 239-pound frame and strength to become an every-down player, he specializes in getting after the quarterback.

    “The good news for Chiefs fans is Karlaftis can handle the first- and second-down duties and then the Cyclone can come in on third downs to form a nice pass-rush trio.”

    The addition is also a necessity since Frank Clark’s $28.7 million salary-cap charge isn’t feasible and the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement on a reworked deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

    As the Chiefs continue to evolve, they must bring in the right talents at key spots to keep the machine going. McDonald is the perfect cog for the Kansas City defensive front to remain running smoothly.

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