Draft season is upon us, and I have plenty of thoughts. So without further ado, here’s my first attempt at a mock draft.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow (LSU)
Don’t make this harder than it has to be. Burrow isn’t the top player on my unofficial big board, and there are mixed reports on whether he wants to go to Cincinnati, but he had a historic collegiate season and is the top available quarterback for a QB-needy team.
I’ll give the Sean McVay product — Zac Taylor — his likely franchise quarterback, let him take the field with A.J. Green (who is expected to receive the franchise tag), Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon and company and see if it makes the Bengals competitive in the AFC North again.
2. Washington Redskins: EDGE Chase Young (Ohio State)
Remember when I said Burrow wasn’t the best player in this draft? Chase Young is. As long as the Redskins keep this pick, I think there’s a 95 percent chance that they take Young, with the only other viable option being Tua Tagovailoa.
There’s a chance the Redskins take a quarterback, but the most likely way that happens is if they trade down, and that will require a hefty return. Assuming it doesn’t come, Young will become the star pass rusher that Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio would love to feature in a revamped Washington defense.
3. Detroit Lions: CB Jeffrey Okudah (Ohio State)
Assuming the top two picks go according to plan, Okudah appears to be the next best player available. The Lions likely aren’t seriously in the quarterback market, despite rumors that they could move on from Matthew Stafford. Like the Redskins, however, this could be territory where a team could look to trade up to grab Tua.
As far as this mock goes, which assumes no trade occurs, Matt Patricia would likely be more than content with Isaiah Simmons — who appears to be a higher-upside version of Jamie Collins, a member of his linebacker group in New England — but he also knows the value of a shutdown cornerback. In fact, Daniel Jeremiah recently compared Okudah to Stephon Gilmore — another one of Patricia’s former pupils. It’s an enviable position, but he’ll likely pick Okudah, line him up opposite of Darius Slay, and either have security in case the veteran leaves in free agency next offseason or have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league for years to come.
4. New York Giants: LB Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)
As long as they don’t trade down, I think this is close to a no-brainer. The Giants have made incremental strides along the offensive line, and the Sterling Shepard – Golden Tate III – Darius Slayton trio at wideout seems passable. They need a playmaker on defense — that’s what their championship teams have been built upon, and they’ve offloaded a few of their highest-upside defenders over the past couple years.
Rookie linebacker Devin Bush of the Steelers drew high praise this year. Simmons is a better version of Bush on multiple levels. Bush is fast, but Simmons is faster — he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. Bush can play near the line or in space, but Simmons played extensive reps at all three levels of Clemson’s defense — to the point that he’s often labeled as a “linebacker-slash-safety.” The best first draft pick Joe Judge could make as a head coach is Simmons.
5. Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
If reports are accurate, the Dolphins seem to be doing their due diligence instead of showing their hand, but it doesn’t mean Tua isn’t the apple of their eye, nor does it mean he isn’t the player they should take. I’d be shocked if they didn’t get Tua one way or another. The only debate is whether they’ll trade up to do so. Until there appears to be an competition, I’ll assume they don’t and simply select him at No. 5.
His medicals are a slight concern, but he appears to be recovering as quickly as anyone could’ve hoped he would. Even if he isn’t ready right away, Miami seemed to have committed to retaining Ryan Fitzpatrick when they hired Chan Gailey — Fitzpatrick’s old coach with both the Bills and Jets — as its offensive coordinator.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: QB Justin Herbert (Oregon)
This is the first tricky selection. The Chargers’ need for a quarterback — with Philip Rivers on the way out of town — is clear, but how they get one is much more murky. There are numerous veterans they could target — including but not limited to Tom Brady — or they could join the youth movement at QB in the AFC West. After all, they already have Tyrod Taylor, who could make the perfect short-term fix while a young arm develops.
The latter is the route I believe they should go, and Herbert would be the best quarterback on the board, so I suppose I can make Colin Cowherd happy this once. Not that it’s incredibly significant, but Herbert has west coast roots and similar measurables to Rivers — who was a reliable option for the franchise for more than a decade.
7. Carolina Panthers: DT Derrick Brown (Auburn)
The Panthers could be in the quarterback market, and that would likely require them trading up. However, it isn’t an absolute must, since they claim to be sticking with Cam Newton for the time being. The new coaching staff might also be able to save Kyle Allen and Will Grier — might; don’t twist my words.
The Panthers should stick to their — and Matt Rhule’s — roots: defense and running the ball. They have the running back, so how about beefing up the defense? If Brown is still on the board here, the Panthers should consider themselves lucky and take him.
8. Arizona Cardinals: WR CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)
There are actually a lot of directions the Cardinals could go with this pick. The roster has plenty of holes, but the quickest fix might be to find a star playmaker to compliment Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray and eventually replace Larry Fitzgerald. There just so happens to be a wideout who played with Murray in college who should be taken near this portion of the draft.
People say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In this case, it is broke, but Murray and Lamb were successful together in the past and appear to be the perfect fix. Lamb is also a proven air raid wide receiver, which is exactly the type of player Kliff Kingsbury is most comfortable with. And before you ask, yes, I’m aware that another wide receiver who many folks think is better than Lamb is still on the board. I don’t necessarily agree with that opinion.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Tristan Wirfs (Iowa)
Aside from maybe linebacker or cornerback, I think it’s pretty clear that offensive line help is a top need for Jacksonville. The team’s identity in 2018 was built upon defense and running the ball. To their credit, the Jaguars have improved their passing game, but they need to get Leonard Fournette back on track — and they also have to keep their passers healthy.
There must be some magic beans in the cornfields of Iowa, because Kirk Ferentz continuously pumps out productive offensive linemen to the NFL. Wirfs appears to be one of the best, and the Combine only boosted his draft stock. Doug Marrone — who is hanging onto his job by a thread — also has roots as an offensive line coach. The Jaguars could get the most out of a big man with Wirfs’ level of talent, it could save Marrone, and it could make a big difference for their offense.
10. Cleveland Browns: OT Mekhi Becton (Louisville)
The Browns were definitely in the Wirfs market. Short of moving on from Baker Mayfield — which might not even be the right move anyway — the only area that needs significant attention in Cleveland is the trenches on offense and defense.
If any lineman had a better Combine performance than Wirfs, it might be Becton. He measured at 6-foot-7 and 364 pounds and ran a 5.10-second 40-yard dash — a nearly historic pound-for-pound time. Kevin Stefanski’s play action pass-fueled offense depends upon a star left tackle. As a franchise that recently wasted an All-Pro left tackle — Joe Thomas — for over a decade, Becton would be perfect for the Browns.
11. New York Jets: OT Jedrick Wills Jr. (Alabama)
The Jets might be attacking the offensive line heavily in free agency. Frankly, I don’t care. They need a ton of help there, and they’re more solidified than you might think in most other areas. Grabbing a receiver or cornerback might not be a terrible idea, but the entire offense would benefit from an overhauled line — they are contractually obligated to build around Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell.
Wills has been a right tackle at the collegiate level. That might hurt him in the eyes of other teams, but not the Jets. He may be able to transition to left tackle anyway, but they need guys across the line.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: WR Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
Midseason in 2018, the Raiders traded a wide receiver out of Alabama — Amari Cooper — who was once considered one of the best route-runner prospects in the draft that the league had ever seen. Now they have a chance to get another one.
Jeudy might be the top receiver in this class, so taking him as anything less than that while also having as obvious a need at the position as the Raiders have is far too good to pass up on. With Jeudy, Jon Gruden would have two first-round skill position players from Alabama — with Josh Jacobs being the other — alongside Derek Carr, who was an MVP candidate the last time he had this strong of a supporting cast.
13. Indianapolis Colts: QB Jordan Love (Utah State)
Let’s set the record straight; the Colts have a good roster. They struggled last year primarily because all of their receivers got hurt. With that in mind, there aren’t many positions that truly need improvement, but one of them — long term — is quarterback.
Jacoby Brissett isn’t bad, but they could do better. He’s under contract for one more year before likely getting a bit of a pay day. Jordan Love looks immensely talented, but he’s underdeveloped and didn’t play at a Power 5 school. Sitting for a year could do him a lot of good, and he could become a better, much cheaper option under center than Brissett. Do you believe in Love? I do!
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina)
Tampa Bay intrigues me. Jameis Winston made that team worse than it actually was, and the defense has a lot of foundational pieces in place — including Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator. However, they are a bit light at 3-4 defensive end.
Insert Kinlaw, whose physical traits jump off the page. With the right coaching and supporting cast on the field, he could become a major difference maker up front. He’s not Warren Sapp, but he’s solid.
15. Denver Broncos: WR Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)
Denver was one of the best bad teams in 2019. The defense is solid, the offensive line isn’t bad, and they have young pieces at every skill position — most of whom improved significantly as the season wound down. The one thing they don’t have: a wideout to compliment Cortland Sutton.
The Broncos used to have Emmanuel Sanders as that No. 2 guy, and Demaryius Thomas used to be a deep threat for them. Neither of them offer the upside Ruggs provides. He has elite speed, and he’s more physical and all-around polished than he gets credit for. Cheap touchdowns via big plays are often the key to a successful offense, and that’s Ruggs’ specialty.
16. Atlanta Falcons: EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU)
The Falcons need an edge rusher. Plain and simple. Injuries aside, their roster is mostly strong, but they’ve been handcuffed by Vic Beasley for the better part of five years and rarely had another pass rusher alongside him.
Chaisson doesn’t rival Chase Young, but he’s probably the second-best edge rusher in this class. To my eye, he was more disruptive than productive — not that 13.5 tackles for loss in 13 games is bad. Anyone who garners comparisons to Aldon Smith — who had 33.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons before running into injuries and legal troubles — is well worth taking in the middle of the first round.
17. Dallas Cowboys: CB C.J. Henderson (Florida)
Byron Jones seems to be on his way out of Dallas as a free agent. That leaves a hole at the Cowboys’ top cornerback spot. Considering they don’t have many other holes — although wide receiver becomes one if Cooper leaves — that’s probably the spot to address.
Much like Jones, Henderson tested very well at the Combine — although not as freakishly. He’s quick, very technically sound, and has great recovery speed. He’s not a great tackler, but he has all the makings of a shutdown corner. That’s what you look for in a Byron Jones replacement.
18. Miami Dolphins: OT Andrew Thomas (Georgia)
The Dolphins remain essentially in best player available territory, but trading away Laremy Tunsil last preseason made left tackle a glaring hole. Miami also took an offensive player from the SEC with its first pick, but so be it; they’re elite programs. Plus, the most valuable position in football is quarterback, and the most important position towards keeping a quarterback on the field is left tackle.
Much like Iowa, Georgia has become a factory for offensive lineman, and Thomas is the latest star talent to come out of the school. In his third year as a starter, for much of 2019, Thomas was arguably the top lineman in this draft class. He didn’t necessarily underperform; others simply stood out. Sometimes there’s value in waiting for the consistently productive player instead of the one-year wonder.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: LB Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)
The Raiders aren’t particularly strong at linebacker. There are a lot of places where they aren’t particularly strong, but that is one of them.
Oklahoma’s defense wasn’t great, but Murray was virtually the entirety of it. He doesn’t have top tier consistency — part of why the Sooners’ defense wasn’t so great — but he has plenty of high-impact talent — not significantly less than Isaiah Simmons, who will be selected much higher, and with similar versatility. That’s definitely a flier worth taking for a team with two first-round picks.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Patrick Queen (LSU)
I mentioned linebacker as a need for the Jaguars at No. 9. Now they have a chance to address it. Queen is the latest in a long line of linebackers to come out of LSU and become early picks in the NFL Draft.
Much like Murray, Queen has some hit-or-miss tendencies. The talent is there, but he’s a one-year starter who had an incomplete season — even in that one year. On the other hand, his traits jump off the screen and he ended the season on a much better note than it started on. Also much like with Murray, this is Jacksonville’s second selection of the round. That’s a good spot in which to take a chance on a high risk, high reward player.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Justin Jefferson (LSU)
The Eagles need a wide receiver in a bad way. The biggest reason why winning the NFC East was such a chore last year was the fact that they didn’t have any good, healthy wide receivers by the end of the year. Frankly, even if their receivers were to stay healthy in 2020, they don’t have a great No. 1 guy and they don’t have great depth either.
In a perfect world for Philadelphia, Ruggs would’ve fallen into their laps. In this mock draft, that didn’t happen. Instead, they land a receiver with above-average speed, decent size, great ball skills, and elite 2019 production. He also excelled in the slot, where the Eagles are currently the weakest.
22. Buffalo Bills: DE A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
As good as the Bills’ defense is, their leader in sacks last season was Jordan Phillips — a defensive tackle — at 9.5. In terms of actual edge rushers, it was Shaq Lawson at 6.5. Imagine how good this defense could be if it had a pass rush presence.
Epenesa scares me a little bit as a prospect. He’s a bull-rusher more so than a speed rusher, but his 5.04 performance in the 40-yard dash is a bit of an eye sore. Even so, he always made a difference on the field — 30.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. I also think there’s a non-zero chance that he becomes a 4-3 defensive tackle, which would negate his lack of speed.
23. New England Patriots: S Grant Delpit (LSU)
The Patriots tried to address wide receiver by taking N’Keal Harry last year. Either you give him a chance to build on an incomplete 2019 or you treat this as evidence that drafting receivers high just doesn’t work for New England. In either case, it keeps you from drafting a receiver in this slot.
Delpit and the Patriots are a match made in heaven. Devin McCourty is a free agent and Patrick Chung is declining as he races past 30 years old — and he’s still not out of the weeds of his cocaine-related charges. Even if the veterans return, Delpit could get reps in their “big nickel” alignments. If either of them are gone, Delpit becomes a high-upside starter with versatility. Remember that he played through injury early in 2019. To drop some lazy comps that I typically hate, there are parallels to be drawn between him and fellow LSU products Jamal Adams and Tyrann Matthieu.
24. New Orleans Saints: CB Trevon Diggs (Alabama)
Two things have haunted the Saints over the last couple years: cornerback depth and Stefon Diggs — remember the Minneapolis Miracle? Drafting Trevon Diggs would take out two birds with one stone — not to mention the fact that it blocks the Vikings from reuniting the brothers.
Much like his brother, athleticism is a top trait for Trevon. He is also a former wide receiver and has noteworthy ball skills and route-mirroring ability. He will get caught ball hawking at times — and Ja’Marr Chase had his way with him this season, although that’s true for a lot of corners — but these are similar red flags to those of Marcus Peters, and he seems more developed in press coverage than Peters. He should be a solid compliment to Marcus Lattimore.
25. Minnesota Vikings: S Xavier McKinney (Alabama)
It feels weird to give the Vikings a safety here. Harrison Smith remains one of the better safeties in the league, and Anthony Harris just had six interceptions alongside him. However, Harris is a free agent — not that he couldn’t be re-signed — and McKinney has the ability to play in the slot, as well.
McKinney is in the same neighborhood as Delpit as a prospect, and if it hadn’t been for his struggles at the Combine, I may have projected him to be taken above his LSU counterpart. The Vikings should consider themselves lucky. McKinney becomes an insurance plan for Harris and Trae Waynes — Mike Hughes likely moves from the slot to the boundary if Waynes departs in free agency.
26. Miami Dolphins: RB D’Andre Swift (Georgia)
In case you forgot, the Dolphins had two prior picks in the first round. Tua was the first, followed by left tackle Andrew Thomas from Georgia. Here comes a third offensive player from the SEC — much in the mold of the Patriots in 2018, when they took left tackle Isaiah Wynn at No. 23 and running back Sony Michel at No. 31, both of whom were Georgia products.
I love how appropriate this player’s last name is. Swift isn’t overwhelmingly quick or explosive, but he isn’t a power runner either. He has all the swift traits of an ideal modern-day running. He’s shifty, has good vision, can win in space or traffic, and has to accounted for as a receiver. He’s everything Kenyan Drake was while also being many of the things he wasn’t.
27. Seattle Seahawks: DT Ross Blacklock (TCU)
Do the Seahawks need a defensive lineman? They don’t if Jadeveon Clowney comes back, but they do if he leaves. Either way, they aren’t great at defensive tackle.
Blacklock seems to pretty clearly be the third-best man along the interior, behind Brown and Kinlaw. His biggest concern is likely the Achilles injury that sidelined him in 2018, but he was the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year prior to the injury and first-team All-Big 12 following it. He’s great at shooting through gaps along the offensive line, and that’s precisely what Seattle tends to look for.
28. Baltimore Ravens: EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)
The Ravens’ pass rush this season was uncharacteristically lacking. They could use someone with Terrell Suggs potential, and Gross-Matos has some of those qualities.
The northern Virginia product has a tantalizing frame with speed and agility that could’ve made him a higher selection if his collegiate performance was more consistent. Nonetheless, he should grow into that frame at the next level, and that could make him the next star edge rusher.
29. Tennessee Titans: OT Josh Jones (Houston)
Right tackle Jack Conklin is expected to leave in free agency. The Titans have a ground-and-pound identity, and maintaining that should be a top priority.
Jones isn’t a finished product, but he showed improvement as a senior. He was named second-team All-AAC in his most recent season despite only playing nine games, and his length and athleticism make him an ideal prospect. It’ll require some work, but Tennessee has a tendency to make the most of these types.
30. Green Bay Packers: WR Tee Higgins (Clemson)
The Packers have lacked wide receiver depth for years. If anyone decent lined up opposite Davante Adams, they wouldn’t have been viewed as a weak 13–3 in 2019.
We could debate whether a duplicate Davante is the most optimal selection, but I’d challenge you to rethink what you just said. Sure, Higgins is much like Adams physically and in play style, but he also has similar talent, and that’s not something you pass up on simply because it creates a potential roster redundancy — especially since he’s arguably already slid further in the draft than he should have.
31. San Francisco 49ers: CB Kristian Fulton (LSU)
Richard Sherman won’t last forever, and the productivity of the 49ers’ other boundary cornerbacks has been mixed. The defensive line can only mask so much, especially against prolific offenses.
LSU has produced a lot of cornerbacks, and Fulton looks like another good one. Many experts have him ahead of Henderson and Diggs, but I won’t go that far. Even so, quarterbacks only completed 40 percent of passes in his direction over his last two seasons and he’s no stranger to press coverage. I tend to be pretty comfortable with players with that type of confidence — especially if someone like Sherman can take him under his wing.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: RB J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
Offense is by no means a concern for Andy Reid’s bunch, but the defense also isn’t as needy as it has been recently — Tyrann Mathieu had an outstanding season and Chris Jones is getting the franchise tag.
Whereas Damien Williams is more of a prototypical third-down back, Dobbins can be more of a thumper — not to say he isn’t also an every-down player and a threat as a receiver. He was extremely productive against top talent in 2019, and it seems likely that this would hold up in an offense that’s so explosive on the perimeter.