Cote on the clock! Miami Herald’s 33rd annual NFL mock draft: Dolphins pick, whole 1st round | Opinion

By the numbers, this week marks the 89th NFL Draft, the 59th for the Miami Dolphins and my 33nd annual official Miami Herald mock draft. I did not invent the mock draft -- gridiron historians credit the late super-nerd Joel Buchsbaum for doing that circa late 1970s -- but I was on the front end.

Thursday night’s first round will see the Miami Dolphins’ first 1R pick in three years. Two years ago it was traded away to get Tyreek Hill. Last year it was lost because Fins owner Stephen Ross tried to woo quarterback Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton (both under contract elsewhere at the time) and did it so ham-handedly he got his team stripped of its top pick for violating NFL tampering and integrity rules.

The past seven years my mock drafts have had 40 bull’s-eyes or exactos: Exact player to exact team or in exact draft order, including five last year. tracks mock results nationally every year and had me upper-half in 2023, 78th of 172 with 133 overall points by its methodology. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. was one ahead with 134 points.

Notable professional guessers whose mocks ranked below mine included Peter King, Mike Florio, Chris Simms and Todd McShay.

Overall last year I correctly had 25 of 31 first-round selections, and my six misses includes four of the first five picks in the second round.

I like to compare my results with King Kiper’s for laughs because Junior makes it a year-round endeavor with extensive research and film study, while, for me, it’s a swoop-in guess-bomb — a mock-ery! My idea of film study this month was binge-watching the last season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I do one mock draft only, do not try to predict draft-night trades and leave the tortured over-analysis to others. I simply cross-reference each team’s needs with best available players and let the darts fly.

Suoer Bonus Draft Facts are interspersed as always.

OK, ready? Let’s mock!

1. Chicago Bears (from Carolina): Caleb Williams, QB, Southern Cal -- A guaranteed Exacto! As certain as Caitlin Clark was going first overall in the recent WNBA Draft. Williams is not flawless (fumble issue, deep accuracy a question), but he’s draft’s consensus top QB. If the Bears’ getting rid of Justin Fields and their lust for Williams has been a false smokescreen and the NFL literati has been duped, immediately abolish all future mock drafts.

2. Washington Commanders: Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU -- With 40 TD passes vs. four picks as Heisman Trophy winner, Daniels is draft’s best dual-threat QB, and grades just a shade below Williams overall. Thank you for keeping the seat warm, Marcus Mariota, but Comms think they have their franchise guy.

3. New England Patriots: Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina -- No Bill Belichick for first time in eons and greater Robert Kraft influence muddy this pick, as do rumors Patriots may trade down. But now is the time and this is the draft to find Tom Brady’s legit heir. Maye has the physique and arm strength.

4. Arizona Cardinals: Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State -- If Pats don’t deal at 3, ‘Zona is open for business and could start the expected flurry of first-round trades. It better take a windfall offer, though, because Harrison is this draft’s No. 1 overall prospect on many boards, and would breathe needed fresh life into Kyler Murray’s career.

5. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU -- Another possible trade spot. There also is a crazy-talk rumor Bolts may trade Justin Herbert so Jim Harbaugh can draft his old Wolverine QB, J.J. McCarthy, here. Don’t buy it! This is a receiver-rich draft, and Nabers would be a major gift Herbert could really use.

6. New York Giants: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington -- Tempting as it might be for the Biggies to select J.J. McCarthy with Daniel Jones a continuing lame duck, and with Malik Nabers gone, NYG takes draft’s best available wideout. Odunze is a game-breaker to help jolt to life a flat-lining offense.

(*) Super Bonus Draft Fact: This year’s draft is being held in Detroit, which was awarded the event in honor of the Lions no longer being awful for the first time since winning their most recent league championship in 1957. To put that in perspective, anything pre-Super Bowl, to the NFL, is prehistoric times, while Merriam-Webster defines ancient history as “anything occurring so long ago not even Greg Cote can recall it.”

7. Tennessee Titans: Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame -- The easiest pick of the draft, other than Caleb Williams at No. 1 ... assuming Alt lasts this long. The pro-ready, 6-8 1/2 behemoth is the year’s highest-rated tackle, and the position is Tennessee’s clear priority and greatest need.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama -- Finally, a defensive player! Falcons need edge-rush help, and Turner had 23 1/2 sack and 33 1/.2 tackles-for-loss for Nick Saban’s last Tide teams. His strength and vertical jump are top-notch, and he has the 40-speed (4.46) to equal many wide receivers.

9. Chicago Bears: Brian Thomas, WR, LSU -- Bears gift top pick Caleb Williams with a receiver. Would love Rome Odunze to fall to them but get best available WR in Thomas. He’s bit of a reach here and was overshadowed by teammate Malik Nabers at LSU, but led nation with 17 TD catches.

10. New York Jets: Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia -- Planes will be tempted to draft blocking help for Aaron Rodgers to keep him upright, but Bowers, the draft’s lone 1R-graded tight end, will please the veteran QB just as much. Scored 26 TDs and averaged 14.5 per catch for Bulldogs.

11. Minnesota Vikings: J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan -- Passer-hunting Vikes a prime candidate to trade up and may be lucky if McCarthy isn’t gobbled up by Giants at 6. But if they stay put and he’s there, McCarthy could be an able heir to Kirk Cousins -- though he may need a season to fully develop.

12. Denver Broncos: Bo Nix, QB, Oregon -- Run on QBs continues as Denver reeaaches for a guy with huge upside but who some analysts saw lasting into the second round. This will be a desperate need-pick if Broncos fail to trade up. Nix has the experience to suit Sean Payton, though his accuracy was inflated by a ton of short throws in Ducks offense.

13. Las Vegas Raiders: Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama -- Best corner in the draft (by consensus if not unanimity) at a position of clear need. Fellow available CBs such as speedy Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean may be considered, but Arnold fits the mold of NFL-ready DBs out of ‘Bama.

(*) Super Bonus Draft Fact: The Miami Dolphins are asking for media decorum at this week’s draft after a fight ensued last year when a producer for Miami sports radio station 560-WQAM and an editor for the Miami Herald came to blows arguing whether terrestrial radio or newspapers were the more desperate industry.

14. New Orleans Saints: Olumuyiwa Fashanu, OT, Penn State -- Strong draft for tackles and Saints will have their choice of a few other 1R-grade OTs left on the board, but the 6-6 Fashanu did not allow a single sack in college across more than 700 pass plays in 29 starts.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo -- A corner from the smaller Mid-American Conference may give some teams pause, but Mitchell excelled at the Senior Bowl, is an excellent tackler with 4.33 speed, and had 37 passed defensed over past two seasons.

16. Seattle Seahawks: Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas -- Here’s a guy who might interest Miami for the space vacated by departed Christian Wilkins if he falls to 21. Murphy is a versatile three-down player who can line up across the D-front and had five sacks and 8 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars: J.C. Latham, OT, Alabama -- By consensus the draft’s second-best OT after Joe Alt, Latham is a shade under 6-6 and 342 pounds, with the strength to have recorded 41 knockdown blocks in 13 games last season. Jags also could opt for a cornerback here.

18. Cincinnati Bengals: Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State -- Joe Burrow’s fitness is essential after last year’s wrist injury, and Fuaga started 25 games at right tackle the past two seasons. Some pro scouts envision him moving to guard, but his pass protection skills will demand a long look on the outside.

19. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Verse, DE, Florida State -- Liked Byron Murphy to replace retired Aaron Donald, but he went 16th, so Rams opt for edge help with Verse, who had 18 sacks for FSU past two years. Could also stay closer to home with UCLA OLB Laiatu Latu, but his spinal fusion surgery may give some teams pause.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Fautanu, OT/OG, Washington -- Steelers need help at tackle and interior-OL, and Fautanu could help at either or both. Very physical with a touch of speed (5.01) for his size. Duke center/guard Graham Barton could also tempt here.

(*) Super Bonus Draft Fact: Aaron Rodgers’ Jets base salary last year was an incredibly low $1,838,888. And yet he made $459,722 per snap in a season that totaled four plays.

21. MIAMI DOLPHINS: GRAHAM BARTON, C, DUKE -- Barton projects as this draft’s top center and would be a plug-in replacement for departed Connor Williams. Started 34 games at left tackle past three seasons at Duke and also could adapt to guard, so the versatility to play all five OL spots is a plus. Was limited by shoulder injury at Combine and his pro day but earns raves for technique, high-effort physicality and adeptness at both pass protection and run blocking. Other possibilities if Fins stay at 21 include UCLA OLB/DE Laiatu Latu (a steal here if deemed healthy), Oklahoma OT Tyler Guyton, Illinois DT Jer-Zhan Newton or -- if he lasts -- FSU DE Jared Verse. Also a distinct (!) possibility: Miami trades down from 21 to garner an additional couple of picks and uses their lower first round pick or second round choice on Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson. The way the trade-value charts work, if Fins traded down even five or six spots in first round, they’d get that team’s lower 1R pick in the swap plus equivalent of an added early- to mid-second rounder.

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa -- DeJean returned three of seven college interceptions for touchdowns and also was among nation’s best punt returners. Suffered fractured lower leg in November but has been cleared for full football activity. Eagles also could opt for an OT such as Georgia’s Amarius Mims here.

23. Minnesota Vikings (from Cleveland via Houston): Laiatu Latu, OLB, UCLA -- Latu could be a first-round steal at 23 presuming he cleared all medical concerns after having spinal fusion surgery when at Washington and once was told to not play football again. He had zero problems with Bruins past two years, totaling 23 sacks.

24. Dallas Cowboys: Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia -- Only had six starts in his Bulldogs career but showed 1R chops vs. tough SEC competition, and has an arm span of 86 3/4 inches that gave him biggest reach at the Combine. Dallas also may consider Oklahoma OT Tyler Guyton here.

25. Green Bay Packers: Dareius Robinson, DT/DE/OLB, Missouri -- DT and edge rush are major Packers needs, and Robinson has the versatility to check those boxes. He played mostly edge last season and cashed 14 sacks. An OT like Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton also could tempt here.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chop Robinson, OLB, Penn State -- Pick fills a need for edge rush, although Robinson is seen as a raw, work-in-progress type. Could be why he lasted this long despite being draft’s third-ranked OLB via ESPN. Duke center Graham Barton (if available) or Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson are other possibilities here.

(*) Super Bonus Draft Fact: The 50-year run is officially over. This the first time since the 1974 Draft that Bill Belichick has not been associated with an NFL team. Asked how Belichick is feeling about that, a source described him as, “Deflated.”

27. Arizona Cardinals (from Houston): Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson -- ‘Zona filled its WR need at 4 so looks to solve another pressing hole with this pick. Wiggins is one of the fastest players in the draft with a 4.28 40 (the kind of speed the Dolphins have a habit of loving). The knock is his attention to run defense, which is why he lasted this long despite his speed.

28. Buffalo Bills: Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas -- Departure of Stefon Diggs leaves a crater of a hole, so this pick makes need-sense. Mitchell has great speed and had two TD catches against Alabama’s NFL-ready secondary. The knocks is inconsistency and winning balls in tight spaces. Texas WR Xavier Worthy and Georgia WR Ladd McConkey also fit here.

29. Detroit Lions: Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama -- This guy deserves to be drafted for his name alone. (And yes he did. He did have an N.I.L. deal with Kool-Aid.) Lions need secondary help and McKinstry is top-rated CB left on board, though a right foot injury may linger into training camp..

30. Baltimore Ravens: Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU -- Pegged a second-round pick, but Baltimore is smarter than most teams, so that makes it this a stealth-steal, not a reach. Besides, I always like to sneak at least one head-scratcher in my first round.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Jackson Powers-Johnson, C, Oregon -- This is a guy Miami has its eyes on. San Fran wants interior O-line help, and JP-J won the 2023 Rimington Award as the nation’s best center. What do we think of people with hyphenated last names, by the way? Pick one, right?

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia -- Various injuries plagued and limited his 2023 season and dropped his draft stock, but McConkey has top-end speed, and K.C. has yet to adequately replace Tyreek Hill. Besides, keeping Patrick Mahomes Ma-happy is paramount.

Note: Carolina, Cleveland and Houston are the only teams without a first-round pick Thursday. Each was lost to online scammers. (You’d have thought that would have been a bigger story.)