Given that they're still alive in the 2023 NFL playoffs, the eight teams playing in the divisional round don't have many flaws. But what if, in an alternate universe, they were allowed to get some extra help in their respective attempts to move to the conference title games?
This article enters that alternate universe, and blends playoff football with the NFL Draft. There aren't many things better. Here, let's choose the perfect prospect who'd help all eight divisional-around teams the most this weekend. And to avoid just writing "Will Anderson" or "Jalen Carter" for every team, the prospect picked was one who feels at least somewhat likely to be available when each team will be on the clock in Round 1.
Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
The Jaguars have gotten tremendous return on investment in former undrafted free agent Tre Herndon, who's mostly manned the other outside corner spot opposite the blossoming Tyson Campbell. Despite the feel-good story, Herndon isn't a lockdown corner on the perimeter, and against the Chiefs, a defense can never have too many quality cornerbacks.
Smith is a long, nasty, in-your-face man-to-man corner with six interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his last three seasons as a full-time starter on South Carolina's defense. Teams started to avoid him in 2022 after the suffocating season he had the year before. Smith, being paired with the lengthy Campbell, would be the perfect addition to Jacksonville's defense ahead of a trip inside Arrowhead Stadium against Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.
Kansas City Chiefs
Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan
Chris Jones is ridiculously good. So disruptive. Registered 77 registered pressures during the regular season, the most among any defensive linemen -- not including edge rushers. He gets after it every snap and with his length, power, and athleticism, he can wreck a game plan.
He needs a running mate on the inside. Khalen Saunders has flashed in that role, and the Chiefs have decent outside complements to Jones in Mike Danna, Frank Clark, and rookie George Karlaftis. And they're facing Trevor Lawrence, who enters this game with a passer rating of 105.6 when kept clean this season and 55.2 when pressured (that's counting the wild-card win over the Chargers).
Smith is a 330-plus-pound explosive athlete who excels at pushing the pocket. And the two would play off each other extraordinarily well because -- who you double-teaming inside?
Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
The Giants' defensive prowess begins across the line of scrimmage. Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams set the tone every single time out. Kayvon Thibodeaux has advanced throughout his rookie season, and Azeez Ojulari is a fun outside speed rushing option opposite him. Behind the trench players, New York's secondary has quietly come together, with veterans Fabian Moreau and Adoree Jackson playing quality football and impressive youngsters dotted across the defensive backfield like Darnay Holmes, Julian Love and Dane Belton.
The weakness of the Giants' defense right now? Off-ball linebacker. Simpson is a long, dynamic athlete who soars all over the field tracking down running backs, and he has some outside pass-rushing juice to boot. Against the Eagles, a club that averaged the third-most rushing attempts per game during the regular season (32), New York's linebackers will be regularly tested. Simpson's large tackling radius and pure speed would give the Giants a massive boost.
Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
The Eagles' roster is bursting at the seams with top-tier talent, so even pinpointing a position that could use an upgrade was difficult. I went niche with Hyatt, as the take-the-lid-off-the-defense type at receiver. Yes, I'm fully aware of Quez Watkins at his sub 4.40 speed.
But the young wideout averaged less than 11 yards per reception during the regular season after a splashy rookie campaign. He did have three touchdowns on throws made over 20 yards down the field, yet altogether he had only four long-ball catches on the season on 11 targets. In a ridiculous season at Tennessee, Hyatt caught 13-of-23 targets of 20-plus yards downfield for 633 yards with eight touchdowns. GOODNESS.
He's a lanky pass catcher with sprinter strides who erupts on the vertical route tree and would add another element to the Eagles efficient passing attack. Hyatt would not only win downfield on deep shots, he'd draw plenty of attention away from the likes of A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith at the intermediate level and underneath against the Giants secondary.
Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
The position was obvious here -- the challenge was picking the prospect. I chose Harrison because his pass-protection ability has been showcased during his career at Oklahoma, and protecting Joe Burrow is of the utmost importance for the Bengals in their trip to Orchard Park, New York this weekend. Harrison allowed a minuscule nine pressures on 447 pass-blocking snaps in 2022.
Now, I will concede that at Oklahoma, Harrison faced many pass-rush attempts that were likely more "contain" rushes than your classic, hair-on-fire, up-the-field attacks on the quarterback, but from a traits perspective, he appears to be pretty close to being NFL-ready to deal with what most professional edge rushers present him in passing situations.
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
I almost went outside pass rusher here for the Bills. Instead I'll go with an electric slot receiver who's not only a nightmare to cover underneath, but a scary downfield weapon. Buffalo is getting healthier at the inside wideout position, as Jamison Crowder could return for this game against the Bengals, and Isaiah McKenzie, who missed the wild-card round, should also be available.
However, Flowers has the game-breaking speed Josh Allen would love throwing to him down the field and he has serious YAC talent, both of which would be welcomed additions to the Bills offense as secondary elements to Stefon Diggs. Flowers forced 15 missed tackles in 2022. In a game against Burrow and Co., the Bills need to set their sights on 30-plus points, and Flowers would help them reach that goal if he was available to be inserted to Buffalo's roster right now.
Moro Ojomo, DT, Texas
The Cowboys played a very clean game in the throttling of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the opening round of the playoffs, but I do notice a minor weakness. It's at defensive tackle, and that's even after acknowledging the emerging presence of youngster Osa Odighizuwa as a legitimate three-down player at the position.
Overall, the Cowboys' run defense was the weak point of that unit. Enter Moro Ojomo, who is a moose against the run. He's the ideal player to have when you face the 49ers; you must be prepared to get ultra physical in the trenches to limit Kyle Shanahan's diverse ground game. At 6-foot-3 and around 290 pounds, Ojomo is not just strong but a mobile defender who'd help close running lanes in the divisional round.
San Francisco 49ers
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
Finding a prospect who could help the 49ers look more impressive than they've been during their 11-game win streak was not easy. So I'm nitpicking here, but San Francisco could use more pass-rushing explosiveness from the interior of their defensive line.
Nick Bosa is a rock star. And it's not as if the 49ers have chumps along the interior. Charles Omenihu and Arik Armstead are unique and versatile defensive-line pieces. Kancey would stand out as a smaller, strictly upfield pass rusher who'd likely see plenty of one-on-ones given the presence of Bosa and others. In 2022, the Pittsburgh star generated 47 pressures on just 275 pass-rushing snaps. In an attempt to get Dak Prescott off his spot, Kancey would be a game-changer for San Francisco in the divisional round.