The time has arrived. While it seems harder than ever to lock into the draft, 32 NFL teams are having to prepare for one of the league’s biggest and most important events amid the chaos. We’re right alongside them for the ride. It’s my first crack at a mock draft and I could see the board setting up for a few interesting runs on offensive tackles and wide receivers. Aside from the quarterbacks, they could end up being the stars of Round 1.
One note before we get into the nitty gritty: The advance stats I’ll reference here are from the excellent Sports Info Solutions rookie handbook, which does a great job of applying both an analytical and traditional scouting lens to the incoming class.
Without further ado, away we go …
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
If Tu’a Tagovailoa’s hip injury didn’t complicate the process, I think this would be a more interesting discussion. Burrow has the edge in accuracy, but Tagovailoa poses more threats to a defense on any given play. Burrow is built for an offense like Cincinnati has now; one that will force him to make quick and accurate decisions with the football in the face of an impending rush (the Bengals need more help up front than they can reasonably provide Burrow right away).
2. Washington: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Absent a solid trade offer here, which I would not rule out, Young gives Washington another building block in what could turn into an elite front. Young was causing legitimate problems for the opposing defense on one out of every five plays during his final year in college, which is stunning. His pass-rush repertoire is versatile and he’s fast enough to recover from trap plays that use his speed against him.
3. Detroit Lions: Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Let’s not overthink this. The gap between Okudah and the rest of the field is wide enough to legitimize this decision. The Lions got rid of Darius Slay and Matt Patricia’s defense is built on the ability to constantly complicate a quarterback’s decision making through coverage. Okudah played more man coverage in college but had a nice balance of responsibility. And ... he can hit. He checks a lot of boxes for Detroit here.
4. Miami Dolphins (projected trade up, via N.Y. Giants): Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The Dolphins are stuffed with draft capital, including three first-round picks, two second-round picks and three fifth-round picks. They could easily afford to move up one spot to ensure that the Chargers do not do the same thing. It is more than possible that the Chargers and Dolphins both covet the same player. It would not surprise me if that player is Herbert, and not Tagovailoa. Herbert has some rough edges but his functional mobility can get him out of jams. He can sit behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for a handful of games and embrace a Chan Gailey offense that will likely expand to meet Herbert halfway from his scheme at Oregon.
5. New York Giants (projected trade down, via Miami): Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
I think Simmons is the best player for the Giants. I also think that Dave Gettleman can do better, hence the trade. Gettleman has never traded down to accumulate more assets in his career as a general manager. He’s squandered draft assets and currently has Leonard Williams wrapped up on the franchise tag in order to protect himself from a disastrous trade.
If I were Gettleman, I would send a signal to ownership that I can deftly maneuver this board (unlike the last time he was in a similar power position, with the No. 2 pick in 2017). With both the Dolphins and Chargers theoretically in need of a QB sitting right behind them, plus the Raiders and Jaguars both potentially sniffing around with assets to spend, and both the Panthers and Patriots sitting out there, this is a position to wheel and deal. In the most basic sense, both the Dolphins and Chargers would want to make sure they get the quarterback they want without fear that the other would leapfrog them.
The true victory here would be nailing Simmons a few picks later with an additional high to mid-round pick in his pocket. Don’t be surprised, also, if Gettleman goes the safe route and shores up his offensive line here.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
A bit of kismet for the Chargers here, who fall into the quarterback with perhaps the biggest NFL upside. The team’s optimism surrounding Tyrod Taylor as a bridge starter will parlay nicely into an eventual transition of power to a big-named quarterback in a new stadium where the Chargers are trying to establish a footing. Tagovailoa adds more to the equation than any of the top three passers in this draft and will gel brilliantly with a sharp offensive mind like Anthony Lynn.
7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Matt Rhule’s first pick can significantly alter the draft from here. Brown is a safe choice and adds some pop to an increasingly punchless defense. Carolina can go a lot of directions here. They traded for Russell Okung but could always opt for a premium offensive line talent. They signed Teddy Bridgewater but could throw their hat into the ring for his eventual replacement. Brown can move across the defensive line, he makes plays behind the line of scrimmage and he logs hits on the quarterback. If Carolina is going to stay afloat in the NFC South—now the epicenter of savvy veteran quarterbacks with quick releases—Brown is good to have on board.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Here comes the run of premium offensive tackles. I like Becton here because of his very low Pass Block Blown %, which, according to SIS, was the third-best in the country. Becton did a ton of work off play-action at Louisville and, at least from a statistical standpoint, the run game was slightly better when working to his gap. This would seem to jibe well with what Kliff Kingsbury is trying to create in Arizona and provides Kyler Murray with a little more peace of mind in the pocket. Though, selfishly, I would love to see the Cardinals go wide receiver here and help us live out our ultimate Madden Fanboy Air Raid Fantasy™.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Doug Marrone made one smart move this offseason: calling Jay Gruden and asking him to become his offensive coordinator. The next step is getting Gruden—and Gardner Minshew—someone to throw to. I think the value skews a bit toward the offensive line here, though the Jaguars are actually fairly well-stocked in that department. Jeudy looks every bit the star on tape and can be moved anywhere within the offense to manipulate defenses.
10. Cleveland Browns: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Thomas is just an ass-kicker, straight up. The Browns are in an excellent position to fortify their offensive line after leaving it glaringly threadbare in 2019. The signing of Jack Conklin in free agency got them halfway there. Thomas gives them versatility in the running game and some clear lanes for Nick Chubb to run behind.
11. New York Jets: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Joe Douglas continues the Mike Maccagnan streak of luck, having star players fall to you in the draft. Wirfs could easily be the first offensive lineman off the board, but he fits in beautifully with a Jets team that is desperate for help up front. After whiffing on Jack Conklin to begin free agency, the Jets can pair Wirfs with George Fant on the edges, and at least work their way back to replacement-level as a unit.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
It was obviously part of Jon Gruden’s plan to pair Tyrell Williams with another dominant wide receiver. His choice of Antonio Brown was, unfortunately, doomed from the start. Enter Lamb, who makes more out of the catch than any receiver in the draft and finished 2019 by nabbing almost 90% of the catchable passes thrown in his direction. He is a game breaker for a Raiders team that could surprise some people in 2020.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (projected trade up, from Indianapolis via San Francisco): Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
With multiple fourth-round picks and some flexibility prior to that, the Eagles make an ideal trade partner for the 49ers, who could be looking to get more cracks at the top 100. The Eagles, meanwhile, may want to grab their man before the run on premium wide receiver talent dries up. Ruggs’s incredible speed gives the Eagles exactly what they were missing a year ago.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
Hey, Tom Brady, this is for you. Willis looks like your prototypical left tackle (or right tackle at Alabama, where a left-handed quarterback was behind center) and slides into a Buccaneers front five that is solid but needs to be pristine in order to maximize Brady’s first of two years in the system. He’s also well-versed. Per SIS, he split his time at Alabama between gap and zone style rushes and logged a positive EPA on run plays to his gap.
15. Denver Broncos: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Hey, Drew Lock, this is for you. The Broncos made a change at offensive coordinator and spent the offseason talking about circling the wagons around their second-round quarterback, who flashed encouraging play down the stretch in 2019. Jefferson is a great route runner who lives near the first down marker and catches most everything in his radius.
16. Atlanta Falcons: Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
The Falcons need help in their secondary, plain and simple. Their pass rush could also use some work. Johnson was versatile in college and despite favoring zone schemes, did play a substantial amount of man defense as well. Quarterbacks mustered a measly 49.8 rating when throwing in his direction in 2019.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
I could easily see Dallas padding their secondary here as well, though it’s probably hard for Jerry Jones and Co. to pass up a versatile pass rusher here. The Cowboys’ experimental signing of Aldon Smith shows where they are in terms of a desire to bolster the heat they get on quarterbacks. Kinlaw had 39 pressures in 2019 and was constantly in a position to alter the course of a play.
18. Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh): K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
Should the Dolphins stay here, this has a chance to be phase two of a transformative first round. Chaisson is enticing because there is so much room to grow. If put in the structure of a Patriot-type defense, he could be brought along slowly and utilized situationally. There aren’t many rushers with his skill set, and he can diversify a team’s coverage scheme.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (via Chicago): C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
A lot of options here for Oakland, including the search for more pass-rushing help, which would also make sense. Names like Yetur Gross-Matos and Terrell Lewis could also pop up here. Despite some effort in free agency, Oakland’s defensive backfield still isn’t maximized.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (via L.A. Rams): Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
After losing both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in cap-saving measures, the Jaguars would like to come out of the first round with another high-upside talent under cost control for the next four years. Diggs is aggressive, has great size and tracks the ball well on deep throws.
21. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade down, via Philadelphia): Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
The 49ers will either reload at wide receiver or defensive line here. Life is pretty good for Kyle Shanahan, who has one of the deepest rosters in football and a solid talent pool to pluck from in this year’s draft. With Deebo Samuel emerging as a No. 1 talent, he’ll need to weigh the advantages of more firepower against the benefits of stuffing the run. Blacklock, from a nose tackle position, contributed nearly a fifth of the Horned Frogs’ pressure. Pretty incredible.
22. Minnesota Vikings (via Buffalo): Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
A bit of obvious plug-and-play situation here. While the Vikings haven’t had the best luck with first-round wideouts of late, Higgins is an option to fill the void left behind following the Stefon Diggs trade. Minnesota could go in plenty of directions here, as the roster is looking seriously bare.
23. New England Patriots: Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame
How Belichickian! The entire world expects him to select a Tom Brady heir apparent and instead he takes a powerful tight end who can gobble footballs in the red zone. Kmet must improve as a run blocker in order to fit harmoniously into New England’s scheme, but the Patriots have the coaching talent to make that happen. I’m clearly higher on Kmet than many; someone like LSU linebacker Patrick Queen also makes some sense here.
24. Indianapolis Colts (projected trade up, via New Orleans): Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
The Saints need volume, the Colts need a developmental passer of the future to sit behind Philip Rivers. The Colts have two of the first 12 picks in the second round. It is hard to imagine Love slips here. There are teams interested in quarterbacks who have been lurking in the shadows at this point. Love is an exceptional player who, should he regain his 2018 form in which he was incredibly effective, can slide in when Rivers calls it quits.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
It may take some time to break Gross-Matos into a versatile rush/coverage option for Mike Zimmer, but the tools are there.
26. Miami Dolphins (via Houston): D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
The Dolphins cap off a solid first round with their quarterback of the future, a contributing edge rusher and Swift who, while entering the draft at a time when the running back position is feeling an immense squeeze, will find a home in a Dolphins offense that needs a lead back.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
An interesting note here: Jones had a 0.0% blown pass block rate this past season. Jones also comes from a zone-heavy system that could translate more easily into Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. The Seahawks need to get some young prospects into the pipeline.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
Smart, physical and position versatile, he would fit nicely into a Wink Martindale defense that prides itself on being hard to categorize.
29. Tennessee Titans: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
The Titans already have a Jack Conklin replacement for now in Dennis Kelly, which makes this a perfect spot for someone like Jackson. He can come in and further develop before sliding in on the right side.
30. Green Bay Packers: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
A pure playmaker befitting of a Packers offense that hopes to expand its repertoire in Year 2 of Matt LaFleur. Shenault is a blast to watch, piloted a WildCat look at Colorado, and is tough in traffic.
31. San Francisco 49ers: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
If the 49ers stay here, it would be a good idea to start grooming some replacements for the future of this great defense.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
The Super Bowl champions can layer their defense with the best player remaining at the end of Round 1.
• Question or comment? Email us.