NFL free agency starts next week and four free-agent quarterbacks—two future Hall-of-Famers, the 2019 passing yardage leader and the reigning Comeback Player of the Year—could all wear different uniforms in 2020. While Drew Brees has announced his intention to play (at least) one more season (only with the Saints) and the Cowboys will undoubtedly use their franchise tag on Dak Prescott absent a new deal, this year’s crop of free-agent quarterbacks offers more intrigue than any in recent memory.
At this point, it seems as likely that Tom Brady will end his career outside of Foxboro as it is that he will retire a Patriot. Then again, “nobody knows anything.” When it comes to Philip Rivers, we know that he will play elsewhere in 2020 and Indianapolis seems like an ideal fit given his connections to head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston led the NFL in passing yardage (5,109) in 2019, while also having the first 30/30 season in league history—in touchdowns and interceptions. Even if Winston is under center for the Bucs in 2020, the commitment is unlikely to be long-term.
Winning NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.62) and finished second to Lamar Jackson in passer rating (119.6) from Week 7 (when he became Tennessee’s starter) through the end of the season. Re-signing with Tennessee makes the most sense, but will the Titans go the safer route by tagging him after only a half-season of elite production?
In addition, Cam Newton’s future in Carolina remains uncertain and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has been the subject of some offseason trade speculation, although his contract makes such a trade unlikely. Given all of this, the free-agent quarterback landscape will certainly impact the landing spots for this year’s top quarterback prospects, especially those going outside the top five.
While Mock 9.0 featured five first-round trades, this iteration doesn’t project any trades. Based on what we know at the moment, here is my latest projection for the 2020 NFL draft:
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
With Andy Dalton set to join the list of starting quarterbacks to get a new start elsewhere, it’s a virtual lock that Cincinnati will make the reigning Heisman Trophy winner the face of the franchise. Described as “the real deal” by Bengals sources to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Burrow accounted for 65 touchdowns—60 passing and five rushing— and made it look easy at times, despite facing seven top-10 opponents en route to an undefeated season.
2. Washington: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Could Ron Rivera throw the draft’s first curveball and select Tua Tagovailoa? As Peter King said on the Dan Patrick Show, “I can't see it in a million years.” But one scout told Albert Breer they actually could. Barring a team offering an amount of draft capital that Washington can’t refuse, they would get the most talented prospect in this year’s draft class at the second-most important position. Closing his true sophomore season with six sacks in the final four games, Young built upon his 2018 end-of-season momentum to set an Ohio State record with an FBS-high 16.5 sacks in 2019.
3. Detroit Lions: Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
The Lions are in an ideal spot to acquire more draft capital and still get a blue-chip prospect at a position of need as quarterback-needy teams attempt to move up for Tua Tagovailoa. Not only is Darius Slay entering a contract year, the Lions have spoken to several teams about a potential trade for the veteran cornerback. With an ideal combination of size, length, athleticism and competitiveness, Okudah is a complete corner with the ability to develop into one of the league’s top corners early in his career.
4. New York Giants: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
This pick would benefit both Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, as the Giants need one—maybe even two—tackle(s). Right tackle Mike Remmers will be a free agent and left tackle Nate Solder has not lived up to the expectations of his massive contract. A two-year starter at right tackle for the Tide, Wills is dominant as a run blocker and his outstanding movement skills should allow him to play either tackle spot.
5. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Throughout the pre-draft process, news on Tagovailoa’s hip injury has been “as positive as possible” and the junior quarterback will hold a personal pro day on April 9. Provided that Miami’s medical staff feels comfortable with his rehab progress and long-term outlook, the Dolphins will likely need to move up to prevent another team from leapfrogging them for Tua’s services. With a quick delivery, Tagovailoa throws with elite accuracy and anticipation and has the leadership and intangibles to develop into the franchise quarterback the team has sought since Dan Marino retired.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
As the Chargers move into the post-Philip Rivers era, only Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick are currently under contract at QB. While he needs to improve his consistency, Herbert has across-the-board plus traits—size, arm strength, mobility and intelligence. Meanwhile, the Senior Bowl’s Jim Nagy called concerns about his quiet leadership style a “false narrative” and said Herbert has “far more charisma than many NFL starters we’ve been around.”
7. Carolina Panthers: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
The converted safety won the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top collegiate linebacker, but the do-it-all junior is a defensive chess piece that has lined up nearly everywhere. As expected, Simmons tested off the charts at the combine by running a 4.39 in the 40, to go along with explosive jumps at 238 pounds. With sideline-to-sideline range and playmaking ability, Simmons ended 2019 with 104 tackles, eight sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
The Cardinals re-signed D.J. Humphries to a three-year deal, but they could use an upgrade at right tackle even though Justin Murray played better as the season progressed. Wirfs was the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle during the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa and possesses freakish athleticism for his size. Not only did lead all offensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (4.85), vertical jump (36.5") and broad jump (10' 1") at the combine, but he looked incredibly smooth and fluid during on-field drills.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
Perhaps this might seem high for Henderson, but the Jags are in the market for two starting-caliber outside corners after trading Jalen Ramsey last season and A.J. Bouye earlier this month. Critics will be quick to point to Henderson’s inconsistency as a tackler, but the former Gator has ideal size and length and is extremely sticky in coverage due to his fluid movement skills and recovery speed.
10. Cleveland Browns: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Cleveland could be in the market to upgrade both tackle spots. Benched midseason and arrested this offseason, left tackle Greg Robinson is a free agent. Meanwhile, right tackle Chris Hubbard graded out as PFF's 76th-best offensive tackle (among 81 qualifiers) last season. A mountain of a man at 6' 7" and 364 pounds with vines for arms (35 5/8"), the 20-year-old Becton has work to do on technique, but he has rare movement skills for a man his size.
11. New York Jets: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
It’s been a decade since the Jets used a first- or second-round pick on an offensive lineman (Vlad Ducasse, 61st pick in 2010). The Jets may land their 2020 starter at left tackle via trade, as they are one of the favorites for the services of veteran left tackle Trent Williams. Bottom-three in Football Outsiders offensive line rankings in both run blocking (31st) and pass blocking (30th) in 2019, the Jets could use upgrades at both tackle spots and Thomas was a three-year starter at Georgia with experience on both the left and right side.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
While there is growing buzz that Love could be a top-10 pick, the trio of teams picking in the 12-to-14 range could all be intrigued by the quarterback that one NFL head coach called a “poor man's [Patrick] Mahomes.” Throwing nearly as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (20) as a junior is obviously a huge concern, but part of his regression can be attributed to the offseason coaching change and lack of talent with only one other returning offensive starter. Given his live arm, plus mobility and improvisational skills, will the Raiders hit the jackpot with Love?
13. Indianapolis Colts: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Injuries limited the trio of T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell to 18 combined games in 2019. Funchess is an impending free agent and the 30-year-old Hilton is entering the final year of his contract. Given the incredible depth in this year’s wide receiver class, some teams may wait on the position as the Colts get their choice of receivers. Scoring 26 touchdowns in 27 games over the past two seasons, Lamb isn't a burner, but he has outstanding hands, body control and run-after-catch ability.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derrick Brown, IDL, Auburn
Often slotted to the Panthers (seventh) or Jaguars (ninth) in the previous versions of my mock as both of those teams have struggled against the run, Brown is a dominant run defender. While the Bucs have a dominant run defense, Ndamukong Suh, a player to whom Brown is often compared, is an impending free agent and Brown is the best player available at this juncture.
15. Denver Broncos: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Not only did quarterback Drew Lock and tight end Noah Fant show promise in their rookie seasons, but Courtland Sutton had a breakout sophomore campaign with 1,112 yards. The Broncos could use an upgrade opposite Sutton, however, as no other returning wide receiver reached the 300-yard mark in 2019. Ending his collegiate career on a high note (6/204/1 vs. Michigan), Jeudy is a polished route-runner that could develop into the team’s long-term WR1.
16. Atlanta Falcons: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
Not only did the Falcons finish with the second fewest sacks (28) in 2019, but Vic Beasley (team-high eight sacks) will play elsewhere in 2020 and Adrian Clayborn (four sacks) is an impending free agent as well. The 20-year-old has elite speed off the edge and came on late—4.5 sacks in final four games—to lead LSU in sacks, tackles for loss and QB hurries in 2019.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Javon Kinlaw, IDL, South Carolina
Perhaps Kinlaw will be off the board by this point, as he has been in all previous iterations of my mock draft. If he is still available here, however, it’s possible that he’s the best player available on the Cowboys’ draft board. Kinlaw has a rare blend of size, length, strength and quickness. Despite consistently facing double teams, Kinlaw generated 10 sacks over the past two seasons.
18. Miami Dolphins (via PIT): Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
With so many needs, the Dolphins can go in a number of different directions. After acquiring this pick in the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, here Miami uses it to draft a replacement from his alma mater. Intelligent, instinctual and versatile, McKinney has experience at both safety spots as well as nickel and tied for the team lead in interceptions (three) for the Crimson Tide in 2019.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (via CHI): Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama
Darren Waller had a breakout season (90/1,145/3), but Mike Mayock’s trade for Antonio Brown turned out to be a failed experiment. Earlier this year, Mayock told the Las Vegas Review Journal that “we don’t have enough outside speed.” That would change in a hurry with Ruggs, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.27) at the combine. A threat to score any time he touches the ball, Ruggs scored on one of four touches over his Alabama career.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (via LAR): Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
One of the youngest prospects in the draft (he turns 21 in August), Queen played his best football down the stretch of LSU’s title run. While he’s a bit undersized, Queen is a three-down linebacker with outstanding speed that excels in coverage.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Carson Wentz became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards without a 500-yard wide receiver as the team's wide receiver corps was decimated by injuries. The trio of Alshon Jeffery (10), DeSean Jackson (three) and Nelson Agholor (11) played only 24 games in 2019. Jefferson has outstanding hands, ran a better-than-expected 40-yard dash (4.43) and is coming off a prolific season (111/1,540/18) for the national champions.
22. Buffalo Bills: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
The Bills signed a pair of smaller receivers—John Brown and Cole Beasley—last offseason and the duo was highly productive in their first season in Buffalo, as they combined for 139 catches for 1,838 yards and 12 touchdowns. Complementing Brown and Beasley well, Higgins has strong hands and a large catch radius while also winning as a vertical receiver.
23. New England Patriots: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Epenesa isn't a speed rusher, but he could remind Bill Belichick of one of his former players (Trey Flowers). The former Hawkeye wins with a blend of power, length, technique and heavy hands and has the versatility to rush from the inside as well. While he started the 2019 season slowly, Epenesa closed the season strong with eight sacks and four forced fumbles over his final five games.
24. New Orleans Saints: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Safety Vonn Bell will be a free agent later this month and Marcus Williams is entering a contract year. While it was a down year for the Jim Thorpe recipient, Delpit is a rangy playmaker with eight interceptions and 24 passes defended over his three seasons at LSU.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Both Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are scheduled to become free agents, and the play of Xavier Rhodes has regressed significantly despite making the Pro Bowl. In fact, Rhodes will likely be a cap casualty this offseason for the salary cap-strapped Vikings. The younger brother of Stefon Diggs, (Trevon) Diggs has ideal length for the position, outstanding ball skills and led Alabama in pass breakups (eight) last season.
26. Miami Dolphins (via HOU): Josh Jones, OT, Houston
Not only do the Dolphins need to fill the void left behind when they traded away Laremy Tunsil, but the team could benefit from multiple upgrades to their line, which finished last in Football Outsiders 2019 offensive line rankings. A four-year starter at Houston, Jones has the length, quick feet and movement skills coveted in a left tackle.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
No Seahawk had more than four sacks (Rasheem Green) in 2019 and several front-seven players including edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah are scheduled to become free agents. Gross-Matos has ideal length, a non-stop motor and quick first step and has recorded 34.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over the past two seasons combined.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
After losing C.J. Mosley in free agency last offseason, both Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor are free agents in 2020. A tackling machine for the Sooners, Murray has the non-stop motor and sideline-to-sideline range to become an impact defender in the middle of the Ravens defense.
29. Tennessee Titans: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
General manager Jon Robinson has said that the Titans will do “everything we can to try to keep” running back Derrick Henry. With both Henry and Ryan Tannehill set to hit free agency, it’s possible that the Titans use the franchise tag on Tannehill and are unable to work out a long-term deal with Henry. Rushing for more than 6,000 yards for Wisconsin, Taylor has rare speed (sub-4.4) for his size (226 pounds) and has proven he has the ability to handle a heavy workload.
30. Green Bay Packers: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
Outside of Davante Adams, Green Bay has struggled to find consistent production from its wide receiver corps. Coming off a breakout campaign (65/1,192/8), Aiyuk has the speed and open-field ability to turn any short pass into a big play.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
With no picks in Rounds 2 to 4, the 49ers will likely look to trade back from this spot to acquire more picks. If they don't trade back, finding a long-term replacement for Joe Staley makes sense even though John Lynch expects him to return for one more season. Jackson is an athletic left tackle prospect that would fit well with what Kyle Shanahan wants from his offensive linemen.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Several of the Chiefs’ cornerbacks—Kendall Fuller, Morris Claiborne, Bashaud Breeland and Keith Reaser—are scheduled to become free agents later this month. Per PFF, Fulton is tied for the most forced incompletions over the past two seasons.
Kevin Hanson joins SI for the 2020 NFL Draft season. His NFL Mock Drafts have graded as the most accurate over the past five years, per The Huddle Report. His 2015 NFL mock draft graded as the most accurate and his 2019 NFL mock draft was the second-most accurate out of 101 draft analysts.