Mock Draft No. 1: Defense Rules Supreme in Fletcher’s First Mock Draft

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. While the NBA and NHL seasons have been put on hold, the NFL is about to be in mid-offseason form. The NFL combine is over, free agency starts on March 18 and smokescreen season is back and better than ever. With all that, comes one of my favorite past times: making NFL Mock Drafts because I have a lot of time on my hands, and my passion for the NFL Draft has yet to wane. 

Even though free agency will undoubtedly disprove a lot of my predictions on this particular mock, I think it’s the perfect time to start breaking down team needs and see where some players out of this incredibly loaded draft might end up. 

So, let’s kick it off in style with a quarterback prospect that everyone and their grandma has essentially nominated as the golden boy of the 2020 NFL Draft: Joe Burrow. 

No. 1 Pick: Cincinnati Bengals

QB Joe Burrow, LSU

This is a no-brainer selection for the Bengals, assuming Burrow doesn’t pull an Eli Manning. The Bengals have finally decided to rid themselves of the consistently mediocre Andy Dalton, and there’s no better way to start a new era of Bengals football than with the quarterback who put together one of the most dominant season in college football history. 

With a style that feels like a mix of Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers, Burrow’s got just about everything you could want in a quarterback prospect. He’s accurate the down the field, he’s got enough mobility to keep defenses on their feet and he throws the ball well under pressure. This should be an obvious choice at No. 1 for the Bengals. 

No. 2 Pick: Washington Redskins

EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State 

Again, this should be an easy decision. There shouldn’t be any hesitation from Ron Rivera to go with easily the best player in this draft. I haven’t convinced myself of a sure-thing at this position since Khalil Mack in 2014. I think he’s that good. 

There are so many ways that Young can beat linemen off the snap it’s ridiculous. His ability to win with both speed around the edge and with power at a lineman’s base is really something incredible to watch. Not only that, but his lightning-quick first-step alone is good enough to beat linemen before they even have a chance to react. With an already budding front seven built through the draft, Young will be the missing piece on the edge that can take this group into elite status as early as next season. 

No. 3 Pick: Detroit Lions 

CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State 

The Lions have a lot of options with this pick, with a trade down maybe being the best move, but settling down at No. 3 and getting a player like Jeff Okudah is still a great Plan B. Plus with a potential move to deal Darius Slay gaining some traction, Okudah also fills an area of need in the secondary. 

Okudah is far and away the best cornerback prospect in this draft, following the trend headlined by Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple of Ohio State cornerbacks being taken high in the first round. Compared to those guys, I think higher of Okudah as a prospect than I did Lattimore or Apple at the time. He’s a versatile, explosive athlete that can fit in any scheme in the league, and has the size/speed combination to guard any receiver in the league. This would be a home run selection for Matt Patricia’s defense. 

No. 4 Pick: New York Giants

OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa

New York has a chance at fulfilling either its need on the offensive line or at the edge rusher position (which could be an even bigger need if Markus Golden leaves in free agency), but I think the team goes the safe route here by helping out their new franchise quarterback in Daniel Jones. Sure, Wirfs isn’t a sexy pick like Isaiah Simmons, but he sure is a monster on the line. 

Arguably making the best case for best OT after his impressive combine performance, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Iowa-standout is surprisingly agile for his size, and has proven to be a dominant blocker in both the run and pass-game. If the Giants want to build around their young quarterback, getting a guy like Wirfs wouldn’t be a bad start. 

No. 5 Pick: Miami Dolphins 

QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

After all the talk of Tua to Miami that started as early as last offseason, it looks like it will finally become a reality. Sure, we all expected this to be the first pick of this year’s draft, but fifth overall is close enough. Really, Miami couldn’t ask for a better situation. With three picks in the first round, they get to kick off this dream scenario with the quarterback they wanted all along while also being able to address other needs on the same night. 

Tagovailoa is a unique prospect in that his tape is pretty close to perfect, but the questions surrounding him still make him an interesting boom-or-bust type of prospect. Will the durability issues be a concern? Will he be able to play with the same consistency that he had when he was surrounded by an absolutely stacked group of athletes at Alabama? It’s hard to say, but just by watching his on-field performance, you can see why the hype train is so large. He’s got a beautiful deep ball, he rarely commits mental mistakes and he gets the ball out quick and hits his receivers exactly where they need it. This should be an interesting story to follow as we get closer to the draft. 

No. 6 Pick: Los Angeles Chargers

QB Justin Herbert, Oregon 

Another quarterback in the top-10! Yes, that’s right, I went for it. It’s hard to tell if the Chargers are looking for a fresh face or an experienced vet to throw under center before free agency starts, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they want a fresh start at that position in the form of a rookie. They’ve talked a pretty good game by putting faith into backup Tyrod Taylor, but I think Herbert’s impressive senior year combined with a strong combine and senior bowl is enough to convince the team to go with him. 

While I’m not the biggest Herbert supporter out there, I do like what I’ve seen from him as of late. His Rose Bowl performance was impressive, and he threw a clean ball in shorts at the combine,  so I think I understand why people like the guy. I will say that I didn’t see enough progress from last year to this year in his game, which tells me that he may not have a huge ceiling, but for what he is, I can see him being at least a serviceable young quarterback to build around. The Chargers certainly have a solid enough supporting cast headlined by newly-signed Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to give him a chance to find his footing as a rookie starter. 

No. 7 Pick: Carolina Panthers 

LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

It feels almost wrong to have a player as talented as Simmons all the way down to No. 7, but it appears that’s the way the cookie crumbles this time around (Side note: You came here for the draft predictions, but stayed for the Bruce Almighty references, right? Let’s keep going with this mock draft.) Simmons can pretty much do anything on the defensive side of the ball, but I think Carolina will look for him to fill the hole left by Luke Kuechly’s retirement at inside linebacker. 

Simmons is the most versatile player in this draft; the ultimate tweener if you will. But where the phrase “tweener” is mostly given a bad connotation, in this case, it’s a blessing. Simmons looks like he could be a Pro Bowl-caliber player regardless of where he’s lined up on the field, and for newly-appointed head coach Matt Rhule, that might be the best way to kickoff a new era of Panthers football. 

No. 8 Pick: Arizona Cardinals

OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama 

Arizona has a few glaring needs on both sides of the ball, but I think the best move is upgrading the offensive line to help Kyler Murray, who was sacked 48 times last season (Arizona ranked 26th in sacks allowed last year). 

Wills may not have the size and frame of someone like Mekhi Becton or Andrew Thomas, but he’s just as tenacious in the trenches. Wills is a mauler as an offensive tackle, who displays good athleticism and a strong track record that should convince the Cardinals to go for him at No. 8.

No. 9 Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars

DT Derrick Brown, Auburn 

Jacksonville has a few places it can go with this pick, and I think they’ll look hard at the numerous wide receiver options as well, but I see Brown fitting a bigger need and representing the best value at No. 9. 

It wasn’t that long ago that this was one of the best defensive groups in the league, but last year they were an absolute mess, especially against the run. Finishing 28th in the league against the run, they’ll look for Brown to come in and immediately anchor the interior run defense and boy will he. The six-foot-five, 326-lb. Brown is an absolute monster on the inside, using his strength and ginormous frame to bully lineman at the point of attack. Brown looked unblockable at times this year, and I expect that to carry over into the NFL as well. 

No. 10 Pick: Cleveland Browns 

OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia 

The run on linemen continues with the Georgia-standout Andrew Thomas. While I sort of expect Cleveland to address this need in free agency or even through trade (See: Trent Williams), as of right now, I would say that this is perhaps the team’s biggest area of need, and Thomas represents a great way to address that need. 

For much of the season, Thomas was considered the top offensive lineman in this draft before guys like Mehki Becton and Tristan Wirfs stood out during the senior bowl and combine. Being the third tackle taken shouldn’t take away just how good Thomas was this season though. His ability to play at both tackle positions is huge, and his 41 career starts shows that he can be a plug-and-play starter as soon as he gets off the podium. On paper, Cleveland still has a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but as this season proved, they aren’t going anywhere without a decent offensive line. 

No. 11 Pick: New York Jets

WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma 

Fun fact: the last non-quarterback offensive player drafted in the first round by the Jets was tight end Dustin Keller in 2008. Crazy right? And also, sort of fitting for this franchise. Let’s change that up, and finally get a wide receiver up on here (I can guarantee you this will be the big thing people mention if they read this mock draft. “Where are the wide receivers, man? How are there not any receivers in the top-10, man.”) 

But back to the point, the Jets’ receiving core is quite uninspiring and will probably be even more uninspiring if Robby Anderson bolts in free agency. Enter CeeDee Lamb, who I think is the best receiver in this draft. Drawing comparisons to Deandre Hopkins, Lamb is an exceptional No. 1 target with long limbs, breathtaking home run speed and an impressive ability to high-point 50-50 balls in tight coverage. Just him being on the field makes a team look better, and the Jets would be foolish not to take him at No. 11. If I were them, I’d be hustling to that podium. 

No. 12 Pick: Las Vegas Raiders 

WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama 

Would you look at that, ANOTHER wide receiver? Boy things are certainly heating up in this mock draft. Somehow, someway, the Raiders managed to get some pretty decent production out of a ragtag group of receivers consisting of Tyrell Willams, Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller. And that’s all well and good, but this group just does not strike fear in a defense at all. That’s were Jerry Jeudy comes in. 

The drop from Lamb to Jeudy is so incredibly minor, that you could make the argument that the Raiders are getting the best wide receiver in this draft with the 12th pick in the draft. And I would be fine with that opinion, there’s a lot to like about Jeudy’s game. His quick-twitch jump off the line, his crisp route-running, oh, and his gaudy statlines the last two seasons. This guy is a proven commodity, and should make an immediate impact in Las Vegas. 

No. 13 Pick: Indianapolis Colts 

DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina 

A popular prediction has been the Colts going with a quarterback like Jordan Love with this pick, and while I think they aren’t necessarily sold on Jacoby Brissett as a long-term QB1, I do think they’ll give him at least another year. That doesn’t mean they don’t draft a quarterback on Day 2 though. 

The way I see it, Kinlaw is exactly the kind of player the Colts need. Besides Justin Houston’s 11-sack season, no player recorded more than five sacks last year, and that’s a pretty big problem. Kinlaw wreaks havoc on the inside, and works well as a 3-technique as well. Though he only recorded six sacks last year, he was fantastic at generating pressure and just causing a disruption whenever he was on the field. 

No. 14 Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville 

Some might want Tampa to go with Jonathan Taylor here, but I think the offensive line is of far greater concern for this team. Becton did himself a ton of favors by just showing up to the Senior Bowl, and the 364-pound behemoth proved that he’s not just a big body. For his size, he moves rather smoothly, and his ability to dominate in the run-game will be huge for a Bucs team that’s looking for any signs of development from former second-round pick Ronald Jones.  

No. 15 Pick: Denver Broncos 

CB Jeff Gladney, TCU

With Chris Harris presumably leaving in free agency, the Broncos will have a huge void to fill at the cornerback position. And if Justin Simmons leaves, that leaves an equally large void in the secondary. So that leaves Denver with a few options. There’s Gladney, C.J. Henderson from Florida, Grant Delpit from LSU and Xavier McKinney from Alabama. 

I think Gladney fits the best here as of right now although I can see Henderson working here as well. I like his physicality in the run game, the big build and his scrappy coverage style. I think he’d fit in Denver quite nicely. 

No. 16 Pick: Atlanta Falcons

EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU

With Vic Beasley and De’Vondre Campbell both scheduled to head towards free agency, adding help on defense is an absolute necessity for Dan Quinn. Specifically, in the pass rush department. This team was tied for second last in the NFL for sacks with just 28 (Beasley accounted for eight of those). 

Chaisson recorded just six sacks last year at LSU, but he ended the season on quite the hot streak, and proved that, with a little refinement, he could become a legitimate star at the next level.  

No. 17 Pick: Dallas Cowboys

S Grant Delpit, LSU 

This is sort of a toss-up between Delpit and Xavier McKinney, both of whom demonstrated the unique ability to play single-high or even in the box as a safety, but I see Delpit being the pick here. 

There’s a lot to like about Delpit, and it helps that he has two years worth of tape that proves just how good he is. He may need to clean up his tackling, but as far as his coverage ability is concerned, he is a fantastic option in the middle of the first round. 

No. 18 Pick: Miami Dolphins

RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin 

Yeah, a solid running back seems like a pretty massive need for Miami after last year’s group performance. Sitting dead-last in the NFL with just 72.3 yards per game, the Dolphins were led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (RYAN FITZPATRICK, people) in rushing yards which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the logistics of this pick.

While some people may point at the long-term durability of Taylor, who finished his career at Wisconsin with 926 carries to his name, I say to those people, it doesn’t matter. Taylor left with no injury concerns, and consistent production thanks to a steady blend of breakaway speed and between-the-tackles toughness. While I don’t see Taylor turning into an All-Pro, I do see a very strong and perhaps very long career ahead of Taylor. That should be enough for Miami. 

No. 19 Pick: Las Vegas Raiders

CB C.J. Henderson, Florida 

With their second pick, the Raiders shore up their secondary with one of the best defensive players available. For a team that was 25th in passing yards allowed and 28th in passing touchdowns allowed per game, this is a great middle-of-the-first selection.

Despite a lackluster statline (no interceptions this season), Henderson has drawn comparisons to Marcus Peters for his tenacious and aggressive coverage style and the swagger that comes with that. Seems perfect for Las Vegas. 

No. 20 Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars 

ILB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma 

I have Jacksonville going with another defensive player at No. 20, setting them up nicely with two marquee talents. 

Murray is a terrific ILB, with strong sideline-to-sideline speed and strong coverage skills. He’s the type of player that can make plays all over the field. After running a 4.5 40-time at the combine, Murray solidified himself as a can’t-miss linebacker in this draft. 

No. 21 Pick: Philadelphia Eagles 

WR Henry Ruggs, Alabama 

This seems like the pick most Philly fans want, which makes a lot of sense. A breakup with Alshon Jeffrey seems likely, and the team was so demolished by injuries at the position last year, that it only makes sense that they would go this route in the first round. 

Ruggs could be best suited lining up as a slot receiver, but it really doesn’t matter (I refuse to let this bit die). Wherever he lines up, he’s going to make a difference. He’s a dynamic, Percy Harvin-esque playmaker that can just about score on any given play. I’m sure Carson Wentz would just love to have a guy like this. 

No. 22 Pick: Buffalo Bills

OLB Patrick Queen, LSU

Despite a fantastic year defensively, the Bills have a few holes to fill along the front-seven after Lorenzo Alexander’s retirement and Shaq Lawson presumably leaving in free agency. Patrick Queen is a phenomenal choice here to cover those loses. 

Queen’s got exceptional athleticism and the run-stopping ability that can only aid an already stellar group. His instincts are great, and his ability to read and react is a joy to watch. This feels like one of those cases were the rich get richer. 

No. 23 Pick: New England Patriots

EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa 

First off, wow. It’s not often New England has a pick in the low-20s that is their pick. What a crazy thought. Second, doesn’t Epenesa just seem like a player Belichick would just love? He seems like such a New England guy. It also fulfills a need which is important too. 

Despite not having a great combine, Epenesa was pretty spectacular during the season. I’d probably go with the tape over the measurables with a guy like this. He’s not incredibly quick off the snap, but his motor is unmatched and the effort he puts in turns into production. What he lacks in speed he more than makes up for in power, and I think the Patriots can definitely use that skillset to their advantage. 

No. 24 Pick: New Orleans Saints 

WR Justin Jefferson, LSU

There was a massive drop-off in production from the Saints’ receiving core beyond Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, and while they probably could look to shore up their cornerback depth here, I think Justin Jefferson is the right pick. 

I think, of the receivers available, Jefferson perhaps compliments Michael Thomas the most. With good six-foot-one size and a slot-receiver frame, Jefferson beat defenders with shifty jukes and “basketball-like” athleticism. Jefferson’s unique speed and after-the-catch playmaking should make this already loaded offense a lot more dynamic. 

No. 25 Pick: Minnesota Vikings 

Safety Xavier McKinney, Alabama 

Minnesota is going to have one messy offseason. With Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes and Marcus Sherels all slated to hit free agency and Xavier Rhodes being released, this team’s going to have to do a lot to build that secondary back up. Jaylon Johnson from Utah or Trevon Diggs from Alabama could be good picks here, but McKinney is probably the best player of the three.

McKinney has the range and skillset that allows him to effectively play single-high, in the box or in the slot. His versatility is pretty crucial for a team that might struggle retaining a lot of key players. 

No. 26 Pick: Miami Dolphins 

OT Josh Jones, Houston 

With their third and final pick in the first round, I think Miami completes the Offensive Triumvirate by building up the offensive line with Josh Jones. It makes sense to protect your new quarterback/running back tandem right?

Jones’ got the quick feet and strong hands to become an immediate starter on the left side. In just nine games this season, Jones allowed only one sack. That’s pretty good if you ask me (Note: you probably did not ask me). 

No. 27 Pick: Seattle Seahawks 

EDGE Zach Baun, Wisconsin 

Even if they bring back Jadeveon Clowney, I still see this as a major need for Seattle. With one of the worst pass-rushing units in the league, a proven pass-rush specialist like Baun would be a major jolt of adrenaline for the Seahawks. 

After recording 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last season, Baun jumped up draft boards due to his nice size-speed balance that’s drawn comparisons to Kyle Van Noy. That’s some high praise. Baun may have only given us one year of quality tape to go off of, but that one year should be enough for the Seahawks to take a flyer here. 

No. 28 Pick: Baltimore Ravens 

EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State

With Matthew Judon getting just the franchise tag, Baltimore has to go for a new high-end edge rusher in this draft. Gross-Matos would be a strong start in replacing an impact player like Judon if he leaves after this season. 

With a build similar to 2019 first round pick Montez Sweat, Gross-Matos uses his long limbs and exceptional athletics to win around the edges. His bend and explosiveness off the snap helps him consistently get to the quarterback (9.5 sacks this season), and he’s only just starting to play to his potential. If he develops like I think he will, Baltimore will have gotten itself a potentially huge steal late in the first round. It’ll certainly help that he won’t be rushed into too large a role with Judon back for another year. 

No. 29 Pick: Tennessee Titans 

CB Jaylon Johnson, Utah 

Tennessee has the luxury of not having many glaring needs, but an upgrade at cornerback could be useful since Logan Ryan turns 29 and Malcolm Butler suffered a drop-off in production this season. Johnson would be a strong add. He’s a physical press-corner with good tackling ability; he should fit in nicely in Vrabel’s system. 

No. 30 Pick: Green Bay Packers

WR Tee Higgins, Clemson

Steal of the first round? Maybe. Higgins is a great prospect because of his size, his large catch radius and his ability to adjust to the pass. He’d make a great compliment to Davante Adams, and I’m sure he’ll develop just fine with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. The big concern with Higgins? Does he have the speed to create separation at the next level. 

No. 31 Pick: San Francisco 49ers 

WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State 

I’m not anticipating Emmanuel Sanders returning to San Francisco despite a pretty good, albeit short, tenure. That leaves the 49ers once again looking for answers at a position that wasn’t in amazing shape before the trade for Sanders. I think Aiyuk’s got some strong potential and at this point in the draft, he’d present pretty good value. 

Aiyuk is at his best across the middle, with electrifying speed that makes him a threat anytime he’s on the field. Despite just one season of solid college production, Aiyuk’s got loads of raw talent that Kyle Shanahan would probably love to add into the mix. 

No. 32 Pick: Kansas City Chiefs

CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama 

The Chiefs could potentially lose both Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller this offseason, so this seems like a pretty easy choice. Diggs, the brother Stefon Diggs, has the frame and athleticism you want in a cover corner, but he is still a work in progress after switching to cornerback from wide receiver in his sophomore year. 

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