Ahhh, it’s that time of year again. Can you hear the sounds of the offseason approaching? That is, talk show take-quakes about everything from player arrests to head coaching hires, the steady churn of free agency rankings articles, and of course the annual awakening of the NFL Draft industrial complex.
While all of them are getting their start now, it’s that last one that gets me the most excited by far. Nothing causes hope to spring eternal in football (and maybe in sports) than the annual amateur player selection process that kicks off hundreds of young guys’ NFL careers, and the entire overarching (somewhat ridiculous) process that surrounds them getting to that point.
Millions of sets of eyes, both trained and untrained, are about to feast their eyes on footage of these players over the next several months (whether that footage is via officially sanctioned school-provided tape, or poorly put together “highlight tapes” with licensed music overlaying it) to determine how things are going to shake out for them in their jump to the league. And while I open this article with a little bit of a derisive tone towards it all, I’m just as guilty of getting totally sucked into it all as you guys are.
To help scratch my itch for the event that’s several months away and figures to be especially awesome this time around (swan boats, in Vegas baby... sick!), I’m going to kick my annual first round mock draft series off today. With the combine just about to kick off, I figured this would be the perfect time for it.
Either way, I hope you guys enjoy this first of many round 1 mock. Here we go!
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
When’s the last time a quarterback was so clearly solidified as the number one pick before the college season was even wrapped up? Andrew Luck comes to mind, but RG3 was at least seen as a worthy challenger by some back in 2012.
Regardless, it feels like it’s been #burrowForBurrow in Cincy stretching back several months at this point, and that it would take either a disastrous offseason by the Heisman winner, or a Godfather offer by a team desperate for a franchise QB to move up to the Bengals spot to change the reality that he’ll suiting up in orange and black in 2020.
Who could some of those potential teams be? With the Dolphins war chest of picks and their proximity to number one (plus some rumors indicating their interest in Burrow) they seem to make the most sense. It’s also been floated that the Bengals are keeping their options open, but while a trade is still on the table, I just can’t see Zac Taylor passing up an opportunity to grab a new face of the franchise to build the team in his image.
2. Washington Redskins: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Another pick, another player that feels like a virtual lock to the team in that spot. Young is the best overall player in the draft and is yet another franchise changer for an organization that could desperately use it.
The Redskins could look to try and trade here, but if the right offer doesn’t come in, they should draft Young and never look back. Dwayne Haskins is going to have to show a bit more next year for me to be confident that this team can contend anytime soon, but Ron Rivera has shown he can win with great defense and competent QB play before.
Washington is already talented in the front seven, and Young could be the missing piece to an elite unit on that side of the ball. A bit more juice on offense and this team could be on their way to copying that Carolina model under Riverboat Ron sooner rather than later.
3. Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Ohio State figures to be well represented in the draft as they always are, and they’re off to a good start with Young and Okudah both going in the top three here. While it’s tough to tell what the Lions plan to do moving forward, they have a Quandre Diggs sized hole in their secondary after they shipped the standout corner to Seattle mid-season.
He’s flourished with the Hawks, and Detroit has struggled in the secondary since, so this feels like the perfect fit. Some of the more successful modern teams have also begun to emphasize the secondary (an analytics tenet) so this would help bring an organization that’s been criticized for being a bit too mom-and-pop style into the modern era.
4. TRADE: Miami Dolphins (via NYG): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
I know what you’re thinking: the Dolphins are literally next on the clock, why would they move up just one spot to grab Tua? Well, there are a couple of reasons, with the first one being that it’s been pretty widely reported that they attempted to tank for him this past season.
And so the Dolphins add former Buccaneers’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick for 2019, with eyes on Alabama QB Tua Tagovaiola for 2020.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2019
While that didn’t quite work out as they won too many games (go figure), they’ll still have a pretty decent shot at landing him. “Pretty decent” isn’t 100% though, and I’m expecting them to make some sort of move to secure their investment; whether it’s by jumping up to three where the Lions pick, or simply swapping with the Giants like I’m predicting here, Miami has more than enough ammo to ensure that nobody gets up in front of them for the kid they’ve had eyes for all along.
It could be the Chargers or Panthers right behind them, or a team much further back who throws caution to the wind and gets up in front of the Fins to snatch him away from their waiting arms. I don’t see them allowing that though, and a move with New York is simply too easy and low-risk to pass up on to make sure they get their guy.
5. New York Giants: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Speaking of securing your investments, the Giants swung pretty big on one last Spring in Daniel Jones, and would be wise to do everything they can to ensure long term success for him after all the controversy that surrounded their belief in him. He had an up and down rookie year, and would be well served with some improvement along the offensive line, a problem area for Big Blue for pretty much a decade at this point.
Thomas has long been seen as one of, if not the top option at offensive tackle, and he’d be a perfect replacement for Nate Solder who hasn’t quite worked out after signing there for big money. A swap with Miami to supplement late picks and a move to snag up Thomas would be a bang up job by the oft criticized Dave Gettleman to open things up in the 2020 draft.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Philip Rivers and this organization owe a lot to one another, but after over fifteen years together, things are set to come to an end as soon as free agency opens. This is a franchise that badly needs a shot of excitement to the arm as they’ve been unable to even fill a soccer stadium since their move, and are having trouble selling PSLs in their new joint stadium with the Rams. Nothing spells excitement quite like a young QB, and while some people have their questions about Herbert’s transition to the pros, he’d at least give some hope to a front office that’s currently watching it’s franchise begin to circle the drain.
7. Carolina Panthers: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Matt Rhule was brought into Carolina to rebuild the team in his vision, so this pick is going to be pretty dependent on what he thinks this team needs moving forward. The other main variable, and elephant in the room, is the quarterback situation in the Queen city.
Cam Newton’s status as the franchise QB is very much up in the air right now, so this pick could go in that direction, but with three of the top guys already off the board I have them grabbing the best playmaking option at receiver for whoever will be passing the ball for them in 2020. Jeudy has drawn Odell Beckham comparisons and would slide into a starting role for the Panthers on day one.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
The Cardinal remains a Cardinal - Arizona needs to get some more help (especially up front) for Kyler Murray as the potential superstar dual threat was running for his life at times last season. Enter Bechton, the 6-8, 330 pounder to lock down a tackle spot and add some much needed toughness into Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
I’d certainly keep an eye on Arizona as a candidate to trade out of this spot as well, but with a good option to upgrade at a position of need, I have them staying put and doing so. With Nick Bosa lining it up against you twice a year, it’s probably a pretty good choice.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
The Jags are in a very strange spot heading into 2020; Nick Foles was a massive free agent flop at quarterback who will likely remain in the picture, while their sixth round rookie Gardner Minshew oscillated between being the talk of the league, to benched for Foles, and then back into the starting role. Doug Marrone was reported to have been fired, only to ultimately remain in the picture, and he’s kicked off the offseason by bringing Jay Gruden in to coordinate their offense next year.
This is an overall pretty talented roster, and receiver isn’t necessarily an exception to that, although they lack a true alpha dog at the position. To find one (and get some help for the developing Minshew), I have them grabbing the physically imposing CeeDee Lamb who AFC South defensive coordinators are going to have to start gameplanning for as soon as this pick is announced - whoever is starting at QB for them in week 1 will be throwing this dude’s way A LOT.
10. Cleveland Browns: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
Sports naturally lends itself to disappointment, and there was perhaps no bigger disappointment in the NFL last season than the Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield. The potential for a bust of a season from them was overlooked because of some of the shiny new toys they brought in at the skill positions, which masked the fact that they had some losses along the offensive line.
As a result, Baker struggled against pressure, and couldn’t get the ball deep to Odell Beckham and the rest of his merry band of receivers. There’s no doubt that they need to get back to basics, and Wills comes in with a good pedigree from a great program to provide the long needed replacement for Joe Thomas.
11. TRADE: Indianapolis Colts (via NYJ): Jordan Love, QB, Utah States
Love has all the makings of a late riser in the draft process at QB: Size, intangibles, arm strength, and an impressive start to his week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. It happened with Patrick Mahomes a few years ago, and Carson Wentz a year before that (which is probably a more apt comparison due to Wentz having a down final season similar to Love in 2019).
As for the Colts, their roster is ready to go to the Super Bowl, and they might’ve done so (or gotten much closer) prior to the Andrew Luck bombshell farewell left them in the lurch. It’s too early to kick Jacoby Brissett to the curb, but based on what we saw from Brian Hoyer last year, he needs a much more serious challenger at the position this year if things start to go south for whatever reason.
Jumping up two spots shouldn’t be too hard for Indy to pull off here, and there’s no doubt Joe Douglas will want to start stockpiling picks to begin rebuilding the Jets. This would allow the Colts to leapfrog the Raiders and Jon Gruden who very well could be looking for some fresh blood at QB as they get off to a fresh start in Vegas.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
One of the better players in the entire draft falls all the way to number 12 in this offensive heavy scenario, and Mike Mayock jumps out of his seat to go and grab him. This may not be the biggest need for Vegas (that’s weird to type), but Brown embodies what Mayock and Gruden have been trying to do with this roster since they took over: make it tougher.
Like I touched on with the Love pick, I think the Silver and Black are in the QB market this offseason, but with four off the board already, BPA is the approach here. Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, and now Brown would be an intimating trio up front.
13. New York Jets (via IND): A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
The Jets desperately need to get some more receiving help for Sam Darnold, but with their top two options already gone, they look to address their other huge need: Pass rush. The Jachai Polite pick in the third round was an absolute disaster last year as he failed to even make the team, and now Joe Douglas is left to pick up the pieces.
The reserved Iowa standout who’s drawn some J.J. Watt comparisons projects as almost the exact opposite of what we’ve seen from Polite thus far, and fits in as a potential culture changer a-la Quinnen Williams. The Jets and Adam Gase’s collective Q rating is at an all time low right now, but a pick like Epenesa has the potential to help begin repairing it.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Isaiah Simmons, S, Clemson
The Bucs are another team in the QB market, but Bruce Arians may look for a more established option via trade or free agency to challenge Jameis Winston in 2020 (presuming he’s even back). In the meantime, they need serious help on defense, and Simmons would give it to them on day one.
A hybrid safety/linebacker from one of the best programs in the country, Simmons is another defensive tone setter that they could pair with Devin White to accelerate a much needed defensive renaissance. Enjoy, Todd Bowles.
15. Denver Broncos: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Jerry Jeudy gets a lot of deserved hype as one of the main pistons of this prolific Bama attack, but Ruggs is very much a beast in his own right. Speed kills, speed thrills, and he’ll certainly do both next to Courtland Sutton in this Denver offense.
Drew Lock is looking like a promising young QB, but for John Elway to finally claim he’s found the answer at that position, he’ll need to invest in it big time. That means more help for Lock up front, and a speed demon to take advantage of his howitzer for an arm. For that? Enter Ruggs.
16. Atlanta Falcons: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
The Falcons continue to need help on defense, and in this scenario I have them adding some more teeth into the jaws of it. Kinlaw is an athletic freak who had a great week at the Senior Bowl, and would be a great addition to a D-Line that already has Grady Jarrett locked up.
Former D-Coordinator Dan Quinn is sticking around for another year, and despite some real athleticism and talent, his defenses have underperformed for the most part. That needs to change to grant himself a new lease on time as Atlanta’s top man, but the clock is ticking; the rebuild starts with top tier talent up front.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
DBU does it again - Delpit was once thought of as a top five player in this class, but struggles with injury and some poor play (possibly as a result of them) have caused his stock to dip a bit ahead of the draft process. Maybe a good showing in the coming few months will repair his prospects and cause him to jump back up the boards, but for now, he finds himself in the middle of round 1.
As for the Cowboys, another year of 8-8 means Jason Garrett has finally been shown the door. They have talent, but a culture change is needed, and from everything you hear about Delpit’s work ethic (plus how great of a player he’s been) there’s a very good chance he could be the face of it.
18. Miami Dolphins: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
LSU is going to be well represented in this mock, and for good reason. Don’t let the team’s success take away from a great player like Chaisson though; he’s a do it all EDGE with a high motor and great athletic tools that are waiting to be refined by somebody like Brian Flores.
While I’d expect the Dolphins to eventually go all in on Tua, he’ll be spending some time on the bench while he’s on the mend. With several of the top receivers gone, it’d come down to Chaisson and some of the O-Line prospects still available - in this scenario, I think they keep building up the D.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: Tristan Wirfs, G, Iowa
Trenches, trenches, trenches. Like I mentioned earlier with Mayock and Gruden, toughness seems to be a key element in what they’re trying to instill and build in their new home of Sin City.
Similar to Derrick Brown, Wirfs is another great line player (this time on the offensive side) who’s fallen due to a run on skill guys and quarterbacks. If there’s any position I trust Kirk Ferentz developed to be pro ready other than tight end, it’d be offensive line, and the Raiders need some help on the interior O-Line leading to another steal for the Silver and Black in round 1.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
The Jags already invested into offense by grabbing Lamb earlier on, and they circle back to do so once again with Jackson at OT. He’s a bit raw and may need some time to refine his technique, but with the way the league is going, valuing young athletic beasts along the line may soon be a trend that we’re talking about.
Cornerback is also a huge need for Jacksonville so I considered some of the options there, but something about me felt dirty in using a first round pick at the position to replace Jalen Ramsey who they just shipped off a few months ago. Who knows though, maybe that will end up being their strategy after all?
21. Philadelphia Eagles: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
It feels like the Eagles have a perpetual need at cornerback, with injuries and poor depth just ravaging them at that position over the last few years. It’s time for Howie Roseman to look at his analytically minded principles again and begin to rebuild his defense from the secondary down.
Henderson has been a ball hawk since his early days suiting up for the Gators and would add some intimidation factor into an Eagles defense that was getting shredded by the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick at one point in 2019. Wide receiver is another (pretty obvious) need here, but Henderson lines up as the best option currently available in my book.
22. Buffalo Bills: D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
The Bills need some more explosiveness on offense, and receiver is a huge need for them. The board hasn’t totally fallen that way though, and so I have them snapping up the best running back in the class in Swift out of Georgia.
With Devin Singletary already in the picture this isn’t the biggest need, but the bottom line is that Josh Allen needs some more help around him on offense to make it further than they did in 2019. A dynamic backfield that isn’t as reliant on Frank Gore is a good start for them moving forward.
23. New England Patriots: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
While you won’t find much first round buzz on Fromm these days, I’m fairly confident he’ll work his way into it when it’s all said and done. The premium on quarterbacks is simply too high for a guy with his resume to remain on the fringe, and while I have my own personal questions about his transition to the pros, I think his leadership skills and football IQ are strong enough to wow some teams in combine meetings and individual visits.
It’s undoubtedly going to be tough to do so with a guy like Bill Belichick, but they took a chance on Jimmy G in the second round a few years back with a similar build from a smaller school (albeit with more athleticism than Fromm). In that sense, I think Tom Brady’s quest to ward off another young challenger for his spot begins again in 2020.
24. New Orleans Saints: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
Another pick, another Tiger. This time an LSU boy remains on the bayou to head a city over and join the Saints in the pros.
Based on what I’ve read about and seen from Queen, a lack of experience and inability to run certain defensive concepts will hinder him as a pro player early on. Rawness hasn’t really been something to ward off the Saints though (see: Davenport, Marcus), and with the right development he could be a really nice addition to their front seven.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Mike Zimmer is a defensive minded guy who loves to load up on cornerbacks, just like most smart coaches do this day and age during the new passing boom. Coincidentally, they have several players at the position set to hit free agency, so a reload may not be the worst idea.
Diggs is seen by some as a second round projection currently, but strikes me as a guy who will have a late rise into the first. This is due to the fact that he’s mainly projected outside of the first due to health concerns - if he can alleviate those, his play on the field will speak for itself.
This pick would also be cool as it would reunite him with his older brother Stefon... maybe. The status of the Vikings star receiver could maybe come into play here at some point as well.
26. Miami Dolphins (via HOU): Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
Based on what we saw from the draft last year, and the way things played out on the field, Brian Flores loves high character, big school guys who can come in and help his football team right away. Based on the way the board has fallen, McKinney is the perfect guy to take here in that respect.
Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t want to be there after a shambolic start to 2019, so I have the Dolphins taking the next great Crimson Tide safety to come in and take his place. The rebuild in South Beach is off to a tremendous start.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the Seahawks need to do a better job of surrounding Russell Wilson with the right pieces, and protecting him up front. Biadasz won’t be an exciting pick for a playmaker starved offense, but getting bigger in the middle to help both run the ball and keep Wilson upright should be a priority at this point with the way the board has fallen.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
Ravens fans reading this may be a bit skeptical here, and rightfully so. A physical freak with all the tools but some necessary refinements to be made will no doubt be flashing back to the name “Breshad Perriman” being read out by Roger Goodell five years ago... but fear not.
Shenault is a more complete receiver than Perriman ever was, and is built more like an NFL player heading into the league. To be fair though, overly refined route running is not his game, so what he needs to do is take some time to get healthy, and then wind up with an offensive coordinator who knows how to use him; after what we saw from Hollywood Brown in 2019 Greg Roman can be that guy in my opinion, and the idea of those two lining it up together with Lamar Jackson pulling the trigger is a very exciting thought.
29. Tennessee Titans: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Even after a miraculous playoff run in which they gunned down some of the league’s big heavies, the Titans could use some help on the edge. Gross-Matos is a big name big school guy who Mike Vrabel will love from day one. He’s a complete player with a nice skillset both against the run and getting after the passer, and would hopefully thrive in whatever scheme they choose to run after the departure of Dean Pees.
30. Green Bay Packers: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
For an offense that was once as high flying as any in the NFL, the slight dip in the ability of Aaron Rodgers has put playmakers at a premium for Brian Gutekunst. Jefferson has the size and athleticism to slide right into the slot for them from his first day, and provides a perfect complement to the boundary prowess provided by Davante Adams.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Emmanuel Sanders is set to depart in free agency, and didn’t make a huge impact in the Super Bowl, at least compared to the electrifying Deebo Samuel. Higgins isn’t an immediate transition to a starting receiver in my opinion, but if he hits, he could make a huge impact within a Kyle Shanahan offense.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin
The Chiefs won the Super Bowl because of the magic of Patrick Mahomes, not the completeness of their roster. The fact is, they still have a good bit of needs they have to address.
Chris Jones may be set to depart in free agency soon, so bulking up in the front seven could be a good way to do so. Baun is an athletic freak from Wisconsin who can do several different things for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, and would be a nice addition to a team who has the very good problem of picking at 32.