O.K., who's ready for seven more rounds?
The 2019 NFL draft is over, and while some fans may still be processing the logic behind their teams' picks or up to their eyeballs in draft grades, the most impatient among us are already looking ahead to Las Vegas. A year from now we get to do this all over again—new prospects, new fashion trends, new hats. Sure, there may be 21 weeks of real football to take in first, but for many fans, no on-field success can compare to the high of pre-draft optimism.
Here comes the annual necessary caveat for the first mock draft of a new cycle: No one knows anything about what any team's needs will be next April. This time last year, after the Cardinals had taken Josh Rosen with the No. 10 pick, any way-too-early mock that had Arizona taking another quarterback in 2019—let alone with the first overall pick—would have been laughed off of the internet. Between breakout stars, career-altering injuries, salary cap shuffling and front office changes, everything about a team's long-term outlook can change in 12 months.
The order of selection below is also, obviously, subject to dramatic change. We worked backward from VegasInsider's early 2020 Super Bowl odds, sent Chicago’s pick to Vegas for the Khalil Mack trade and then made some tweaks to abide by the NFL's slotting rules. Take the selections below as viewing guidelines for the college football season ahead instead of perfect team/player/pick fits. (Unless I get everything right, of course.)
1. Miami Dolphins: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
If this is how the order shakes out, someone will come up to No. 1 for their choice of 2020's top quarterbacks. (Josh Rosen can't possibly have a front-row seat to his team using its top pick on his replacement two years in a row, can he? Well, Dolphins GM Chris Grier has already said that he could.) Herbert would have been the most complete QB prospect in this draft had he not decided to return to Eugene to play one final season for his hometown Ducks. He's 6'6" and 233 pounds, he's a legitimate threat with his legs and he was on pace for an absurd statistical campaign as a sophomore until a season-ending injury to his left tackle (Penei Sewell; put a pin in him until our 2021 mock) threw Oregon's offense off-balance. Watch him strafe Stanford's defense—in the first half of a mid-September game that Oregon would go on to choke away—and just imagine the possibilities.
2. Washington Redskins: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The temptation is strong to give the Redskins yet another Crimson Tide defensive lineman here, but after the selection of Montez Sweat this weekend, it's time to look away from the front seven...but not away from Tuscaloosa. Jeudy, who won the Biletnikoff Award on the strength of 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018, is the best of Alabama's stable of uncoverable wideouts, with Antonio Brown–level shiftiness and breakaway speed. I count as many as eight receivers with first-round potential in 2020, and Jeudy's the safest bet of the bunch.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
As a true freshman, Fromm replaced an injured Jacob Eason in Week 1 of the 2017 season. He hasn't let go of the job since, despite Eason's return to health (he has since transferred to Washington) and the arrival of five-star QB Justin Fields (who later transferred to Ohio State). Fromm took control of the team with an authority beyond his years, and has led the Bulldogs to two banner years dampened only by nail-biting losses to Alabama. His 67.3 completion percentage and 30–6 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a sophomore offer a glimpse of the damage he's set to do against a schedule that sets UGA up nicely for another College Football Playoff run. Andy Dalton is entering his ninth season in Cincinnati, and this draft order suggests it’ll be his fourth straight falling short of the playoffs. The Bengals took Ryan Finley in the fourth round this year, but it’s time to go after a true potential franchise QB.
4. New York Giants: Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
Here's that Alabama D-lineman we mentioned at No. 2. At 6'7" and 309 pounds, Davis cuts as imposing of a figure in the trenches as any Bama product in the past few years—now it's a question of him putting it all together as one of the leaders of Nick Saban's 2019 defense. Then let’s see him at the highest level, chasing around Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott and Dwayne Haskins.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Protection help is on the way for Kyler Murray in the form of Thomas, who started every game of his true freshman season at right tackle and moved over to the left side without incident last fall. The Bulldogs have finished each of the last two seasons with the SEC's top rushing attack in yards per game and seventh in the nation in yards per carry. The fact that the Cardinals took his linemate Lamont Gaillard in the sixth round this year indicates they think Georgia kids will be able to hang in Kliff Kingsbury's offense.
6. Buffalo Bills: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Clemson's national title run showcased the impossibly deep defensive line that just lost all four starters to the 2019 draft, as well as the freshman connection of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wideout Justyn Ross, who will both almost certainly be gone within the first 20 picks of the 2021 draft. But it was Higgins who was the Tigers' No. 1 target, and his 6'4", 200-pound frame is a nightmare for all but the nation's elite tier of defensive backs. The Bills kicked the tires on an Antonio Brown trade this offseason. Josh Allen gets a new future No. 1 target next spring.
7. Detroit Lions: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Auburn should have the best defensive line in the SEC this fall, with Brown and Marlon Davidson passing on this year's draft to rejoin Nick Coe, Big Kat Bryant and more for another year on the Plains. An explosive 6'5" and 315 pounds, Brown can take most interior linemen wherever he wants them to go.
8. Las Vegas Raiders: Walker Little, OL, Stanford
Two years ago, Little became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Stanford since 2000, and he has continued the Cardinal's tradition of ruthlessly productive offensive linemen. He could outshine the two tackle prospects the Raiders used first- and third-round picks on a year ago in short order. Let’s put a big boy next to Jon Gruden on the billboard and sell some season tickets.
9. Tennessee Titans: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
As Marcus Mariota enters the final year of his rookie deal with a track record of injuries and inconsistency, might the Titans try to push him by bringing on the Crimson Tide superstar who learned under and idolized Mariota at Saint Louis High in Honolulu? The 6'1" lefty offers a completely different look from Herbert's prototypical dual-threat QB game, but his historic numbers since coming off the bench to lead a second-half comeback in the national championship game against Georgia to cap his freshman year speak for themselves. He will be the No. 1 pick on more than one way-too-early mock draft, and with good reason, but Tagovailoa enters his junior season with first-world-problem questions to answer about his production against elite competition. His 69.0% completion rate was dragged down by poor performances against Mississippi State, Georgia and Clemson, which came as injuries limited his mobility down the stretch.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
After one year of 2019 first-round pick Devin White, the Bucs will be sprinting to the podium at this point to grab another leader on the Tigers' loaded defense. After a unanimous All-America season as a sophomore, Delpit will wear the prestigious No. 7 jersey awarded to LSU's go-to playmaker (think Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Leonard Fournette) as he builds off a season with five sacks, five picks and 14 passes defensed.
11. New York Jets: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
Henderson had two pick-sixes as a true freshman and last year led a Florida secondary that did its best work in the fourth quarter. From 2017 first-rounder Jamal Adams, to 2019 first-rounder Quinnen Williams, to linebackers C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson and Jordan Jenkins, to fellow Gators Marcus Maye and Jachai Polite, the Jets have preferred to pull from the SEC to build their defense.
12. Denver Broncos: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
It's no slight to Moses that he happens to be the fourth Crimson Tide player off the board in this mock. Alabama has become a safe bet to produce a sideline-to-sideline linebacker worthy of the first round in almost every season: Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster and Rashaan Evans have all been Round 1 picks this decade. After proving himself as a playmaker on the outside as an underclassman, Moses is next.
13. Carolina Panthers: Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
At 6'6" and 220 pounds, Johnson is a jump-ball nightmare matchup who should be Sam Ehlinger's top target this fall after the departure of the versatile Lil'Jordan Humphrey. He would give Panthers opponents a completely different look opposite the speedy D.J. Moore.
14. Houston Texans: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Don't let his placement here keep Young out of the top-five conversation. After leading the Buckeyes (once Nick Bosa's season ended in September) with 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in a breakthrough sophomore year, Young will be expected to remain a consistent threat even though he'll be getting the full attention of every O-line on Ohio State's schedule. If the Texans find Jadeveon Clowney's asking price too rich for their blood, or want some injury insurance for J.J. Watt's age-31 season, they won't be able to do better than this.
15. Seattle Seahawks: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
The younger brother of Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs was playing like the Tide's top cornerback until he broke his foot in early October. Fully healthy this spring, he has gotten some work in at slot corner and should hit 2020 draft season as one of the class's more versatile athletes. The Legion of Boom is now fully departed, and Pete Carroll would clearly be thrilled to have more difference-makers in his secondary.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
After leading the national champions in tackles and adding seven pass breakups and three forced fumbles, Simmons will have a lot on his shoulders as Clemson replaces its defensive line with highly-touted underclassmen in feature roles. NFL teams will probably look favorably upon his successful transition from oversized safety to rangy linebacker prior to the 2018 season.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trey Adams, OT, Washington
Preseason back surgery kept the 6'8" Adams off the field last season until mid-November, and his draft stock would benefit greatly if he were able to remain upright for the entirety of his final season in Seattle. If he stays healthy as a pro, he could team up with 2019 second-rounder Jawaan Taylor to stabilize the protection plan for new franchise QB Nick Foles.
18. Atlanta Falcons: Jabari Zuniga, DL, Florida
Former Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will probably be able to get a thorough scout on the Gators' leader in the trenches, who grew up in suburban Atlanta and has a knack for outworking larger blockers and shedding people at the line.
19. San Francisco 49ers: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Etienne averaged a whopping 8.1 yards per carry as the lead back in a Clemson offense where everyone gets to touch the ball, and he will enter the league with a much lower carry count than some of this class's other top backs, including Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor and Boston College's AJ Dillon. The Niners have a bit of a crowded depth chart right now, having signed Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman in consecutive free agencies. But after addressing wide receiver in this year’s draft, next year may bring fresh legs for the backfield. [Maybe this is on the hotter end of my free agency takes but if John Lynch thinks he's all set for Jimmy G's golden years with McKinnon, Coleman and Matt Brieda, then that's why he makes the big bucks. 49ers, man.]
20. Dallas Cowboys: Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
Even if Jason Witten's un-retirement lasts more than one season, the Cowboys would benefit greatly from an imposing target like "Albert O" to draw defenses' eyes toward the middle and away from Amari Cooper. A broken scapula ended his 2018 campaign nine games in, but he already had 43 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns by that point, after he got the nation's attention with 11 TDs as a redshirt freshman in 2017.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: DeMarkus Acy, CB/S, Missouri
Acy is a physical disruptor whose listed 6'2" frame should keep him top of mind for any DB-needy team in the back half of the first round. Under the direction of former Texas Tech DC David Gibbs, Acy will be pressed more than ever to up his takeaway totals after hauling in his first three picks in 2018.
22. Los Angeles Chargers: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Wallace emerged from relative obscurity to finish second in the nation with 1,491 receiving yards as a sophomore. He has explosive speed and plays more physically than his 6'0", 185-pound frame might let on. Putting him in L.A. could help Philip Rivers’s window stay open as he approaches his 40s.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
The Vikings took NC State star Garrett Bradbury with their first-round pick, but another lineman comfortable on the inside never hurt anyone. Leatherwood moved from tackle to right guard as a sophomore and shined on an Alabama line that rarely got itself into trouble.
24. Green Bay Packers: Liam Eichenberg, OL, Notre Dame
Eichenberg had big shoes to fill in his first season as a starter, but he did a perfectly fine Mike McGlinchey impersonation at left tackle for the playoff-bound Irish. A solid follow-up campaign could push him even higher than this.
25. Las Vegas Raiders (via Chicago): Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
After a prolonged fight for NCAA eligibility following his attempt to cheat an NCAA PED test as a freshman and was saddled with a two-year ban, Fulton finally made it onto the field and shined in the swaggering tradition of countless LSU cornerbacks before him. If he's fully recovered from his season-ending foot injury by the summer, his presence will steer a lot of balls toward five-star freshman Derek Stingley in Baton Rouge.
26. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
Utah is known for its big uglies and its defensive backs, and Johnson is the latter. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors with a four-pick 2018 and could emerge as the best defensive back in the western half of the United States if he takes the next step forward in '19—although Washington's versatile DB Myles Bryant may have something to say about that.
27. Indianapolis Colts: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Lamb has a more subdued personality than this year's first-round Sooners wideout Marquise Brown, but his knack for making impossible catches brings more than enough flash. If late second-rounder Parris Campbell struggles with drops again as he adjusts to a new level, Lamb could emerge as Andrew Luck's new favorite toy.
28. Cleveland Browns: Tyler Biadasz, OL, Wisconsin
Biadasz has started every game of the past two seasons in the middle for the Badgers' dominant line, taking an on-field leadership role in a group full of more senior players, and was rated the nation's top center in 2018 by Pro Football Focus.
29. New Orleans Saints: Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' new defense should make the most of Harrison's excellent range after he tied for the team lead in tackles as a junior. A former three-star recruit, his physical gifts will be maxed out this fall for all evaluators to see under the direction of some of the Michigan defensive assistants (Greg Mattison and Al Washington) who helped make Devin Bush this year's No. 10 pick.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
He fell behind Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs in the Crimson Tide's running back pecking order last year, but when Najee Harris touches the ball, you remember why he was the No. 1 running back prospect in the class of 2017. He doesn't move like you'd expect a 6'2", 230-pound player to move, and he has a chance to turn heads with more on his shoulders next fall.
31. Los Angeles Rams: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
Epenesa looked like he belonged in Big Ten trench battles straight out of high school, and he earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore by leading the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (10.5). In this spot, he would give L.A.'s defense another stellar pass rusher to mold.
32. New England Patriots Patriots: Raequan Williams, DT, Michigan State
Williams has become the anchor of the Spartans' defense during his current run of 29 consecutive starts, and he could be joined in the first round by edge threat Kenny Willekes, who led MSU with 20.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The inspiring story of his perseverance through personal tragedy and the immense physical gifts he has grown into indicate that Williams might be the kind of guy Bill Belichick zeroes in on.
Seven players who just missed the cut
K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford: I ran out of QB-needy teams, but Costello is, as scouts say, What They Look Like when it comes to pocket passers at 6'5" and 215 pounds. Keep an eye on whether his accuracy suffers without J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to save Stanford's offense.
Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn: Davidson got a second- to third-round grade from the College Advisory Committee and decided to come back to Auburn and continue to wreak havoc up front. He could rise much higher than this if more of the QB hurries he racks up (a team-high 11 in 2018) turn to sacks.
Julian Okwara, DL, Notre Dame: Another impact front seven player from the Fighting Irish, Okwara had seven sacks and led the 2018 team with 11.5 tackles for loss.
AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College: He's a big, brutal back who runs angry, but he has only eight receptions in two years, and the Eagles' offense has put a ton of mileage on him already.
Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado: An early-season sensation in Boulder before a foot injury sidelined him, Shenault lined up at almost every spot on the field for the Buffs. The NFL should love that kind of Swiss Army knife.
Jeremiah Holloman, WR, Georgia: There's more speculation behind this one than the others, but Holloman is crazy athletic and could be a fast riser as Fromm looks for trusted targets after losing his top three receivers from 2018.
Consider all of that a mere starting point for your 2020 NFL draft research. Based on the seven Alabama players I currently have ticketed for Round 1, and the numerous other SEC stars I expect to join them there, you'll be able to do a decent amount of prep just by setting your DVR for CBS at 3:30 p.m. ET every fall Saturday. But the deeper you dive, the more ready for next April you'll be. And, of course, you’ll probably read a few hundred more mock drafts between now and then.
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