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Outside the Hashes: A pleasant surprise



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Welcome to another edition of Outside the Hashes. It has been a busy start to the year for myself which has included a lot of changes to my everyday life, but I have learned to embrace the change. 

Like the great Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

A lot has passed in the football world since I last wrote a column as NFL draft season is approaching us, one of my favorite times of the year. With the NFL Combine going on at the conclusion of February, I thought it would be a great time to include my first mock draft of the off-season. 

But before we get into the mock, it would be disrespectful to all football fans to not mention the new league that is generating some buzz. 

Same Song, Different Dance?

Super Bowl LIV is officially far enough in the rearview mirror, but minutes after the game came to an end, the XFL Twitter account declared it was their time to shine.

Last spring, the AAF gave us football fans something to pass the time during the early parts of NFL off-season. I enjoyed watching the games when they were on, but in eight weeks, the league folded.

Football remains one of the nation’s most popular sports, however, no other professional league outside of the NFL has had success in sustaining a popular league that football fans can get behind.

The Arena Football League (AFL) managed to sustain intact from 1987 through 2019 but they had their bumps and bruises along the way. As of October 2019, the league discontinued their team operations and filed for bankruptcy. 

If you were alive during the 1980s, you probably recall the USFL that lasted for three seasons from 1983-1985. It eventually led to the expansion team Jacksonville Jaguars but had a little lasting impact.

More recently, there was the United Football League (2009-2012) and the XFL’s first launch in 2001 that folded after just one season.

So prior to this XFL season, I had very little expectations of the league believing that it would not succeed like the many others before it. But to my surprise, the league has gotten off to a tremendously good start.

In-game attendance has risen each of the first three weeks of the XFL season. TV ratings have been on the decline since opening weekend, but the league is being talked about all over social media as well as sports radio and television shows. 

The new rules and in-game features such as the interviews bring a new twist to the sport everyone knows and loves. While it’s still too early to tell, the XFL may have what it takes to sustain for years to come and give us football fans something to cheer for during the NFL off-season. 

Mock Draft 1.0

I plan on doing plenty of mocks this off-season but this will be the one that kicks it off. Enjoy.

national championship, xfl
Head coach Ed Orgeron celebrates with quarterback Joe Burrow after winning the national championship against Clemson. Getty
  1. Cincinnati Bengals – QB Joe Burrow, LSU

This pick makes too much sense. The Ohio native can stay close to home after putting a historic year at LSU last season winning the Heisman and National Championship. His pocket awareness and ability to deliver an accurate ball while under pressure is what makes Burrow elite. Don’t overthink this one Bengals.

2. Washington – Edge Chase Young, Ohio State

While edge isn’t one of Washington’s biggest needs, Young is a generational talent. He stands at 6’5” 265 pounds, has an explosive first step and uses his hands effectively when rushing the quarterback. If it wasn’t for Burrow, we could easily be talking about Young being the number one overall pick.

3. Detroit Lions – CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State

Detroit is looking to move on from Darius Slay this off-season and if Okudah falls to them in the draft, they won’t miss a beat defensively. The cornerback is as smooth as butter when it comes to footwork and hip flexibility. Plus he’s 6’1” with long arms; corners like this don’t come around very often. Okudah has all the makings to be a shut down boundary corner in the NFL. 

4. New York Giants – OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama

The Giants have their superstar running back in Saquon Barkley, their franchise quarterback in Daniel Jones and now they can get both of them some help up front. Wills was a tremendous pass blocker at Alabama thanks to great technique, powerful hands and his athleticism. He’s great at run blocker too, a total package that can play either tackle spot right away. This one is a no brainer.

5. Miami Dolphins – QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Before Tagovailoa’s injury and Burrow’s rise to stardom, many of us had penciled in the Alabama quarterback to be the #1 overall pick. Yes the injury concerns are a red flag, but Tagovailoa’s accuracy and football IQ make him worthy of a top 10 pick. Miami may have to trade up to get their guy on draft day but it will be more than worth it. 

XFL, mock draft
Oregon’s Justin Herbert makes a pass. Getty

6. Los Angeles Chargers – QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

No more Antonio Gates. No moreSan Diego. Shoot, no more Philip Rivers even. It’s a new era for the Chargers and they’re going to need a quarterback to fill some seats at their new stadium. They have talented pieces in the offense in Keenan Allen, Austin Eckler and Mike Williams, which should make the transition easier if Herbert is asked to start right away. 

7. Carolina Panthers – LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

Luke Kuechly’s retirement surprised many fans around the league and I’m sure it caught the Panthers organization off guard too. That leaves a huge hole at the second level and Simmons would be the best prospect in this year’s draft to fill that void. While he may not necessarily play middle linebacker in the NFL, he’s capable of playing nearly everything else in the back seven. At Clemson, he lined up at safety, outside linebacker, nickel and even some boundary corner. The Panthers are going to need a playmaker like Simmons on their defense with Kuechly gone. 

8. Arizona Cardinals – OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville

6’7” 369 pounds isn’t supposed to move this well but Becton is an anomaly. Kyler Murray was the third most sacked quarterback last season getting dropped 48 times. If the Cardinals wish to see Murray take this offense to the level Kliff Kingsbury has imagined, they’re going to need better protection and Becton would be a great fit

9. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Derrick Brown, Auburn

The Jaguars announced that they will not pick up Marcell Dareus’ option this year leaving a need for a disruptive defensive tackle. If Brown is on the board still, this would be an ideal fit. He beat offensive linemen with his explosiveness, his technique and sometimes just his high motor. He’s versatile enough to play in different spots across the D-line too. 

10. Cleveland Browns – OT Tristian Wirfs, Iowa

Baker Mayfield was sacked 40 times last year and was one of the most pressured quarterbacks in the NFL last year. The Browns have to prioritize getting him protection this off-season and Wirfs is the next best available guy. He has great athleticism and awareness playing the offensive tackle position. Wirfs is also a mauler in the run game and does great in space which will open up holes and the screen game for Nick Chubb and others. 

11. New York Jets – WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

The Jets offense needs help in many different areas but the receiving corps desperately needs an upgrade. Jeudy is the complete package as a receiver; he can line up in the slot, on the outside, run every route in the book and can make the contested catches in traffic. New York, do yourself a favor and get Sam Darnold some help.

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Jerry Jeudy runs for a touchdown for Alabama. Getty

12. Oakland Raiders – WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

While he may not be the fastest receiver, Lamb possesses every other quality you want in a number one receiver. He makes contested catches look easy, he’ll run over weak tacklers in the open field and he’s a willing blocker. This is a guy that will make Mike Mayock and John Gruden very happy.

13. Indianapolis Colts – DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

Outside of Justin Houston (11.5 sacks), the Colts defensive line struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks last year. Kinlaw has tremendous power and uses that to wreak havoc on opposing offensive linemen. Plug him in the Colts defense and watch their unit improve in all facets of the game. 

14. Tampa Buccaneers – OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia

Jameis Winston was sacked 47 times last year, which was fourth most in the NFL. Whether or not they bring him back doesn’t matter, they have to protect whoever their starting quarterback is better. There is no quarterback worth taking this early but Thomas would be a nice fit in their offensive line. He run blocks better than he pass blocks but he has the tools to become a solid all-around offensive tackle. 

15. Denver Broncos – WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

Being that he played college ball in the same state, the Broncos should have gotten a lot of looks at Shenault. Don’t let his lack of production fool you, Shenault has all the tools to be a game breaker in the NFL. Considering that the league is trending more to speedy receivers that can line up anywhere and score from anywhere, Shenault would open the Broncos offense up a ton. Give Drew Lock some more weapons alongside Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton.

xfl, mock draft
After scoring for Colorado, Laviska Shemault Jr. stares into the crowd. Getty

16. Atlanta Falcons – Edge K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU

Wearing number 18 for LSU is a good indicator that you’re an exceptional football player. Chaisson was the latest Tiger to wear the jersey and is a natural bender off the edge. He’s still raw as far as technique goes but he plays with an extremely high motor. The Falcons have been needing a boost in the pass rush and Chaisson will bring immediate help. 

17. Dallas Cowboys – Edge AJ Epenesa, Iowa

The Cowboys don’t have a lot of pressing needs but could benefit from adding defensive line depth. Robert Quinn is set to hit free agency and after leading the team with 11.5 sacks, he may be too expensive for the Cowboys to keep. Epenesa has great technique and power when stopping the run. His pass rush could use some work but playing opposite of Demarcus Lawrence will get him plenty of one-on-one looks. 

18. Miami Dolphins – CB CJ Henderson, Florida

Not a far trip from Gainesville to Miami. Henderson is smooth in coverage regardless if it’s zone or man. He has great ball skills and has the length to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins need a defensive back to wreak havoc in the secondary. 

19. Oakland Raiders – CB Kristian Fulton, LSU

The Raiders parted ways with Gareon Conley last season which left a big need for a boundary cornerback. Fulton has the ideal length and aggressiveness to be a shutdown press cornerback in the NFL which will help the Raiders pass defense improve.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars – LB Patrick Queen, LSU

Queen has been one of the highest risers in this year’s draft. He has an exceptional nose for finding the football and has the speed to cover sideline to sideline. With Telvin Smith’s status still in the air, the Jags have a need at the linebacker and Queen would fit right in to that defense.

21. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

This would be a dream scenario for the Eagles if Ruggs falls to them. Philadelphia desperately needs a receiver that can take the top off of a defense and more importantly, stay healthy. Ruggs might be the fastest receiver in this year’s class and had 40 plus catches each of the past two seasons in a crowded receiver group at Alabama. 

22. Buffalo Bills – WR Justin Jefferson, LSU

The Bills offense took a large step forward last season but they still lack a true number one receiver for quarterback Josh Allen. While Jefferson may not be that right away, he has a great opportunity to develop into one. He has tremendously good hands and is a savvy route runner which allows him to beat defenders deep or short despite not being the fastest guy on the field. Jefferson in the Bills offense would be a problem for defenses.

23. New England Patriots – QB Jordan Love, BYU

No, Love shouldn’t start next year if Tom Brady leaves, but I think he could develop into something special. Whether or not the Patriots re-sign Brady, they need to take a hard look at who will be the quarterback of the future. Love is a natural talent with great pocket presence, a big arm and has good mobility in and out of the pocket; sound familiar? But Love is not a year one starter. He would benefit from sitting a year or two behind a starting caliber quarterback to clean up his decision making and accuracy. 

xfl, mock draft
The Sooners’ Kenneth Murray gets ready on the line. Getty

24. New Orleans Saints – LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

Both AJ Klein and Manti Te’o are set to be free agents, Kiko Alonso tore his ACL in their playoff loss to Minnesota and Alex Anzalone is coming off his second season injury in three seasons. Linebacker is a sneaky need for the Saints and with a thin draft class why not take one of the better linebackers in the draft. Murray finished with 257 tackles and 8.5 sacks in his final two years at Oklahoma. He’s athletic enough to range all over the field and is great at beating blockers to the whole allowing him to make tackles for loss or minimal gain.

25. Minnesota Vikings – CB Jeff Gladney, TCU

Xavier Rhodes looked like a player who had his talents taken away by the Monstars last year opening up a huge need for a cornerback. Gladney can play both man and zone at a very high level and has a high football IQ which will get him on the field plenty in his first year. 

26. Miami Dolphins – RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia

Ryan Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher last year for the Dolphins, yes, the quarterback. This roster desperately needs a dynamic back and Swift is that guy. While he’s smaller than other backs, he runs with power and has the ability to catch out of the backfield really well. 

27. Seattle Seahawks – WR Jalen Reagor, TCU

There is not an offensive linemen worth reaching for at this point of the draft so why not get Russell Wilson another receiver to throw to. Reagor is an extremely quick and fast receiver capable of making defenders miss in the open field and blowing past coverages on vertical routes. Him and D.K. Metcalf together would be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

28. Baltimore Ravens – Edge Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State

Matthew Judon’s future with the team is still up in the air and if the team decides to move on, Gross-Matos would be a great replacement. He is a stout run defender and uses his explosiveness to get to the quarterback. After allowing Derrick Henry to run all over them in the playoffs, Gross-Matos could immediately improve that run defense next season. 

29. Tennessee Titans – Edge/LB Zack Baun, Wisconsin

Baun is a bit undersized to be an edge all three downs in the NFL but he’s versatile, has a high football IQ, plays with a high motor and is great in space. With Mike Vrabel as head coach, I believe he’ll find a spot to best utilize Baun’s talent playing on and off-Ball linebacker for Tennessee’s defense. 

xfl, mock draft
Tee Higgins celebrates after scoring a big touchdown for Clemson in the championship. Getty

30. Green Bay Packers – WR Tee Higgins, Clemson

Outside of Davante Adams, the Packers don’t have a receiver who can be a game breaker late in the game. Higgins has that big-play potential despite not being the quickest or cleanest route runner. He high points the ball well, makes contested catches consistently and uses his strides to beat defenders on vertical routes. Higgins would be a great piece for Aaron’s Rodgers and the Packers offense. 

31. San Francisco 49ers – S Xavier McKinney, Alabama

Not a lot of pressing needs for this 49ers team but safety is a position they could upgrade. Jimmie Ward had a solid season last year but is set to be a free agent and may get some big offers. If the 49ers choose to move on, McKinney would be a safe and cheaper option. He showed a lot of versatility while at Alabama blitzing from the secondary, tackling in space, roaming in cover three or cover two zone which would allow him to be a plug and play starter for the 49ers defense.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – IOL Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU 

Even coming off a Super Bowl victory, there are still some holes on this Chiefs roster. No need to reach for a linebacker here when you can upgrade the offensive line. Cushenberry is a great pass blocker thanks to his length, flexibility and footwork. The guard play from the Chiefs last year was below average to say the least.  The Chiefs can better protect their star in Patrick Mahomes by drafting Cushenberry. He started at center for the Tigers but is versatile enough to play either guard and provides depth on the offensive line at the same time. 

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