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Mia’s Mock Draft Monday 4.0

todayApril 24, 2023

Background

Mia O’Brien’s Mock Draft Mondays are powered each Monday in the month of April by The Yass Method for Pain-Free Movement. Say YES to YASS! 

 

As we’ve gone through three weeks of this exercise (and the exhaustive lead-up to the NFL Draft), one common trend has emerged: the Jacksonville Jaguars will be going DB-OT-Edge rusher in some order through their first three picks of this week’s NFL Draft. In Mia’s Mock Draft Monday’s alone, we’ve gone OT-Edge-DB, DB-OT-TE-Edge, and Edge-OL-DB. 

This week, we go for the one combination we haven’t tried yet: defense in both the first and second round, before waiting to address the offensive line in the third-round (and without any trades).

 

Round 1, Pick 24

Brian Branch, S, Alabama

 

One of the most popular names mocked to the Jaguars over the final few weeks leading into the NFL Draft, Branch’s third and final season in college was the most productive statistically speaking, even if there were questions about his coverage ability. He racked up 90 tackles (14.0 TFL!!!), broke up seven passes, had three sacks and picked off two passes. Branch began his career at safety before primarily handling nickel coverage duties. While Branch isn’t massive (6’0’’, 190 lbs), he matched up well with bigger receivers and tight ends at the collegiate level. Depending on if you are in the camp that the Jaguars should be drafting a true nickel corner vs. someone who can play nickel now and eventually succeed Darious Williams: this may be very appealing.

Some of my colleagues at 1010XL (plug for you Draft pundits to listen to our Pre-Draft Roundtable, available on Monday, April 24, on YouTube and wherever you get your podcasts), including Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes, believe the Crimson Tide’s defense improved as the 2022 season progressed not because of Branch – but because of the emergence of LSU transfer Eli Ricks. Moreover, give Nick Saban’s background as a defensive backs coach (and the trajectory or lack thereof of most Alabama defensive backs once they get to the NFL), some question if Branch has hit his ceiling. The most notable Alabama defensive back that blossomed in the NFL is Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, and, as luck would have it, Fitzpatrick is Lance Zierlein of NFL.com’s player comp for Branch. Zierlein believes Branch is among “the safest picks in the Draft.” An AFC personnel executive also told NFL.com that Branch is “way stronger than you expect. He could come in and be a top player quickly.” Regardless of if it’s Branch of another player: the Jaguars need instant impact from their first-round pick, something they haven’t gotten outside of Trevor Lawrence since Josh Allen’s rookie campaign in 2019. 

 

Round 2, Pick 56

Tuli Tuipulotu, EDGE, USC

 

Maybe it’s the East Coast bias. Maybe it’s that some speculate Tuipulotu’s break-out, 2022 season was an outlier. Either way: if only in terms of sheer production, I believe Tuli Tuipulotu is the impact EDGE rusher no one is talking about almost universally in 2023. So does one AFC Director of Scouting, who told NFL.com: “He’s kind of flying under the radar, but I think he’s a really good player. If you like strong and athletic (players), then you will like him.” 

In 14 games last fall, Tuipulotu racked up 46 tackles (22.0 TFL), 13.5 sacks, three pass break-up’s and two forced fumbles. In 12 games in the previous season, he had 48 tackles, but just 7.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks (he did have two PBUs and two forced fumbles as well). Was that spike in production merely circumstance? Or did Tuipulotu start getting home more because of overall development and growth?

Tuipulotu’s scheme versatility and ability to play both inside and outside would immediately fill the voids left by Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot. At 6’3’’, 266 lbs, he’s slightly shorter than Key but overall has larger measurables than both players. Tuipulotu can play with a hand in the ground or not; and his position flexibility would allow for the Jaguars to continue to play Travon Walker both inside and outside, too. NFL.com’s comp for Tuipulotu is George Karlaftis, who had 8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, seven PBUs and two fumble recoveries his rookie season with Kansas City. Any and every Jaguars fan would sign up immediately for that sort of production. 

 

Round 3, Pick 88

Carter Warren, OT, Pitt 

 

If the Jaguars pass on offensive tackle with their first two picks, they’re essentially signaling that they are okay with taking time to develop their rookie project – who inevitably becomes the swing tackle – vs a full-blown competition with Cam Robinson and Walker Little. Warren is a mountain of a man: in addition to a 7-foot wingspan, he clocks in at nearly 6’6’’, 311 lbs and arms that are more than 35-inches long. He is coming off a season-ending injury (Baalke hurt guy!) that limited his final collegiate season to just four games. Warren has almost exclusively played left tackle. 

Unlike the upper-tiers of offensive tackles, Warren still has several areas he needs to improve upon (i.e. footwork, playing too upright) and his run-blocking needs work. Jaguars offensive line coach Phil Rauscher was in attendance for Warren’s Pro Day, however, and the New Jersey native also was brought in on a Top-30 visit. I see Warren as the pick here if there’s an early run on offensive tackles – and the Jaguars chose to spend their earlier picks on players at other positions that slip because of the OT run.  

 

Round 4, Pick 121

Cameron Latu, TE, Alabama

 

If last week’s Mock Draft Monday was about creating the “Clemson Jaguars,” this week it’s all about the “Alabama Jaguars.” 

In this scenario, the Jaguars pass on the upper-tier of tight ends, but still find themselves in need of Chris Manhertz’s replacement on Day 3. Latu is a high IQ, inline tight end who would come to the Jaguars with a far-more nuanced resume as a pass-catcher than Luke Farrell did in 2021. Originally arriving in Tuscaloosa as a defensive end, Latu caught eight and four touchdowns each of the last two years, respectively, averaging more than 14 yards per catch. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination nor is he a finished product as a run-blocker. But he did score a 98 out of 100 on the S2 Cognitive test (the same score as his now-former quarterback, Bryce Young), which, unlike its predecessor, the Wonderlic, moreso evaluates decision-making in pressure situations than overall IQ. Latu wouldn’t be called upon to be “the” guy in Jacksonville so long as Evan Engram is around, but this S2 test score would suggest that he’s a willing developmental project. 

 

Round 4, Pick 127

Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia

 

In the sake of full transparency: I originally had the Jaguars selecting another offensive lineman in this spot. But with Wicks earning a Top-30 visit with the Jaguars – one of just two wide receivers they brought in for visits – and knowing his track record as a “hurt” guy with room to grow, the smoke signals keep going off with this one.

Wicks didn’t live up to the hype in his final season of college ball (30 catches, 430 yards, three touchdowns in eight games), but his redshirt sophomore year offers glimpses of what he could be. In 12 games in 2021, Wicks caught 57 passes (including nine touchdowns) for 1,203 yards and an eye-popping 21.1 yards-per-catch average. At 6’1’’, 206 lbs, Wicks would have a larger frame than every wide receiver currently on the Jaguars roster save Seth Williams. Wicks consistently wins deep. He jumped an eye-popping 10’10’’ broad jump during Draft testing. He’s also just 21 years old and has 10-inch hands. Those measurables can’t be taught, and the same can be said for Wicks’ ability to make contested grabs in the endzone (peep him out-jumping two defenders) and along the sideline (watch him walk the tight rope and then scoot through five Notre Dame defenders). 

Barring injury, the Jaguars wide receiver room is pretty much set at the top, with Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Jamal Agnew. WR5 and WR6 will most likely come down to the incumbent Tim Jones, Kendric Pryor, former UDFA Kevin Austin, and whatever drafted and undrafted rookies the Jaguars decide to take a flyer on. Wicks is more than worthy of taking such a chance, even at a semi-premium spot in the Draft. 

 

Round 6, Pick 185

Anthony Johnson, S, Iowa State

 

I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and say: I probably should’ve featured more defensive backs in previous installments of “Mia’s Mock Draft Monday.” Trent Baalke has taken at least two in each of his previous NFL Drafts as Jaguars GM; he drafted three defensive backs in a single Draft in three of his NFL Drafts as 49ers GM. As was evident by the Jaguars releasing Malcolm Brown and cutting former fourth-round pick Jay Tufele last August (and keeping six cornerbacks and five safeties), Jacksonville truly believes the spread offense is the way of the future in the NFL – and the only way to combat it is by assembling a stable of defensive backs. 

Johnson transitioned from cornerback to safety over the course of his five seasons in Ames, offering position flexibility at the next level. He’s a hard-nosed hitter at 6’0’’, 205 lbs, and he isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the fray at the line of scrimmage. His 31 ¼’’ arms and 8 ¾’’ hands match those of upper-tier cornerbacks in the class like Devon Witherspoon, Kelee Ringo, and Emmanuel Forbes. That’s great “value” (a Baalke buzz word) in the sixth-round. 

What’s fascinating about Johnson’s ceiling and position versatility: despite drafting Brian Branch in the first-round in this scenario, Johnson very well could man the nickel for the Jaguars long-term, if Branch eventually moves to safety. Or it could end up being vice versa. Either way: both moves speak to fortifying the defensive back room and improving the Jaguars’ third-down coverage. 

 

Round 6, Pick 202

Karl Brooks, DT, Bowling Green

 

Brooks is a polarizing prospect among NFL Draft pundits. Some wonder if his crazy production (46.0 TFL, 27.5 sacks in 49 career games) is a by-product of the level of competition Bowling Green plays against. Others believe his first-step quickness, motor, and position versatility could push him to a fringe Day 2 pick. 

Either way: Brooks would provide value and position flexibility for a Jaguars team that covets both. At 6’3’’, 303 lbs, Brooks figures to begin his career at the three-technique, but he also proved in his senior season that he can win off the edge. A Senior Bowl invitee, Brooks has a much-more refined pass-rush palette than you’d expect from a 300-pounder at a Group of Five school. Considering the Jaguars’ staff is still developing former No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker’s pass rush repertoire: “the best ability is availability.” Brooks and his flurry of moves should be available here. 

 

Round 6, Pick 208

Keaton Mitchell, RB, East Carolina

 

As of this writing, the Jaguars have reportedly met with six different running backs. While Mitchell isn’t one of them, the writing is on the wall: the Jaguars will be in the market for adding to their RB Room. 

In the past two Mock Draft Monday’s, I’ve mocked “bowling ball,” inline runners to the Jaguars in Chris Rodriguez (Kentucky) and Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota). I believe the Jaguars need that type of runner to help alleviate some potential wear and tear on Travis Etienne. Mitchell is the opposite of that. He ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, weighs just 179 lbs, and will take a beating within the tackles. With that said, as we saw last year, Doug Pederson runs a pass-first offense. And his running back room is built off finesse and getting running backs to the perimeter via Phil Rauscher’s zone-blocking scheme. 

Etienne also had 35 catches on 45 targets in the receiving game in 2022, while JaMycal Hasty added 20 catches on 26 targets. Mitchell had 20+ catches each of the last two seasons. After re-signing Hasty and adding D’Ernest Johnson: do the Jaguars need Mitchell? Perhaps not. But until Snoop Conner proves he can provide something different in the run game, the Jaguars could lean all into “small but speedy” and hope their re-tooled offensive line provides their backs room to work with. 

 

Round 7, Pick 226

Cam Brown, CB, Ohio State

 

Remember what I said about Trent Baalke drafting three defensive backs in several of his NFL Drafts as 49ers GM? Here ya go!

A former four-star recruit, Brown was effective for the Buckeyes when healthy, but he was plagued by injuries. He suffered a season-ending leg injury in 2018; a season-ending Achilles injury in 2020; and then fought through knee injuries in 2022. When he was for his 27 career games, Brown demonstrated understanding and comfortability in both press-man and zone coverage. He, too, is not afraid to mix it up at the line of scrimmage, and the Jaguars have shown in Mike Caldwell’s one year as defensive coordinator that their defensive backs need to be willing in run support and designated blitzes. 

Given his size (6’0’’, 199 lbs, 9’’ hands), Brown figures to at least be the type of specimen a special teams coordinator like Heath Farwell could mold – and who could eventually become a depth corner on the defensive side of the ball. It will be curious to see if the Jaguars really do go defensive back-heavy in this month’s NFL Draft, as it could signal their confidence in their sixth and seventh round picks from a year ago, Gregory Junior and Montaric Brown. 

Written by: Mia O'Brien


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