Hello, readers. If you are not in the mood for a mock draft, I will not take it personally. If you are looking for a distraction, go ahead and pick it apart. Mock drafts are largely an exercise in futility—though last year I did win a bottle of rose wine courtesy of Albert Breer for blindly throwing a few darts into the bullseye, so I can’t say this annual ritual is all bad.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Other teams around the league have the sense that the Bengals are locked in on Joe Burrow, and vice versa. It’s not entirely out of the question that, if the Dolphins saw Burrow as far and away the best passer in this class, that they would want to use some of their bountiful draft capital to make a play for the No. 1 pick. But that also requires the Bengals being willing to move. “If you ask people around the league, for the most part, everybody would say, Cincinnati, they are not going to move,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout, said in a recent phone call, “that this is a conservative franchise, and Joe Burrow is the consensus top QB … and you’re putting it right in the middle of the fairway. That, to me, seems like more of a Cincinnati Bengals decision.”
2. Washington: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Ron Rivera said last week that, in the case of an abbreviated training camp or other changes that significantly condense the football calendar during this pandemic, Kyle Allen would “have a leg up” on earning the starting job over Dwayne Haskins. At the least, it signaled that the new coaching staff isn’t sure about last year’s first-round pick. Even so, that doesn’t mean Rivera would take a QB here, especially as he seems comfortable with having Allen start if need be. Rivera’s peers around the league can’t see him passing up on a uniquely talented edge rusher like Young, who could have a Nick Bosa-like impact on Washington’s front when paired with former first-rounders Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat.
3. Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
The Lions are a prime trade-down candidate (an effort they may have been trying to grease the wheels of with the news of their pre-draft teleconferences with QBs). If they stay put, I’ll join the chorus of mock drafts linking them to Okudah, a complete corner who is both good in coverage and a willing tackler, and who also fills an acute need for Matt Patricia’s defense after the Darius Slay trade.
4. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* Los Angeles Chargers (from New York Giants): Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Like Weak-Side Podcast co-host Conor Orr, I’m also projecting Herbert to be the second QB off the board. If Tua Tagovailoa were not coming off a hip surgery during a global pandemic that led to the cancellation of pre-draft visits and the combine medical re-check, maybe that would not have been the case. But even beyond Tua’s most recent operation is an injury history that raises valid durability questions. This is why I have a team trading up for Herbert instead of Tua. Both the Dolphins and Chargers could be in play to do so, but don't underestimate how motivated the Chargers are to find their next franchise QB after they passed up on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, and struggled through the 2019 season with an aged Philip Rivers. Tyrod Taylor is a perfect bridge QB, someone they trust so that they don’t have to reach for a QB or play a rookie right away. But if there is a QB in this class they like, Taylor’s presence doesn’t preclude them for going to get him. And there is a lot to like about Herbert, who is big, athletic and has a strong arm.
5. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
After a season of “Tank for Tua” chants, imagine if the Dolphins get him at No. 5 this year. While Tagovailoa’s durability concerns require the team picking him to take something of a gamble, the other side of the coin is that it could be getting great value. “If you're at 5 and you're Miami, you could always say, 'Well, we wouldn't have had a chance to get Tua if it weren't for the injury. We would've had to trade up to get him and give up some of these valuable draft picks. But he fell to us at 5, and we'll take that leap of faith and hope for the best.’” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., said last week. “Reconcile it that way.” As a side note, there is a rich irony to the Dolphins, presumably, having to call Nick Saban for his take on a QB’s injury history.
6. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* New York Giants (from L.A. Chargers): Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
It’s a bit painful for a team in desperate need of defensive players not to take Isaiah Simmons here, but the priority is protecting last year’s No. 6 pick, Daniel Jones. Plus, any pain in missing a talent like Simmons is offset by the amount of joy hog mollies spark in Dave Gettleman. The Giants GM telegraphed the Saquon Barkley pick in his pre-draft press conference two years ago, and he may very well have done the same thing this year when he said they didn’t sign a top tackle in free agency because they had an eye on the draft. The question is, which tackle? There is consensus on the top four tackles in this year’s class, but not the order in which they are ranked. Here, I like Wirfs, who comes from a school that reliably produces top OL talent and was the first tackle to start as a true freshman under Kirk Ferentz, but also has the flexibility to kick inside to guard.
7. Carolina Panthers: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
It would be a steal if the Panthers were able to land Simmons here. New head coach Matt Rhule has talked about his “positionless” approach to building his defense, and perhaps no one embodies that more than Simmons, who can line up at outside linebacker, inside linebacker, safety or cornerback. He would be a play-making presence for a defense that lost Luke Kuechly to retirement in January.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Jedrick Wills, Jr., OT, Alabama
The next tackle off the board is all about fit: Wills is a right tackle, and the Cardinals need a right tackle. Kyler Murray was sacked 48 times last season, tied for the most in the league, and though Pro Football Focus attributed 23 of those sacks to Murray himself the Cardinals are in need of a long-term upgrade at the RT position.
9. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Jacksonville): Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
The Bucs need to protect their 42 ½-year old QB, and there’s a decent chance they would miss out on all four of the top tackles if they stayed at pick No. 14. Thomas was an All-American at right tackle his freshman year, then moved to left tackle for the rest of his college career. He could start immediately at RT, where the Bucs have a hole.
10. Cleveland Browns: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
An offensive tackle makes a lot of sense here, too. But if by some chance Brown slipped to the Browns at No. 10, he’d be hard to pass up. Last year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year is a force as both a pass rusher and a run-stuffer and would elevate a defensive line that performed below expectations last season.
11. New York Jets: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
It would be tempting for the Jets to pick one of the top receivers here, especially after losing Robby Anderson in free agency, but the offensive line position was so neglected by former GM Mike Maccagnan that the Jets still have a great need here even after adding a few linemen in free agency. Becton showed impressive speed for being the largest player at the combine (364 pounds) though keeping his weight down will be key to his continued success.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Evaluators are split on which receiver they like better: Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb. We’ll give the nod here to Jeudy, an exceptional route-runner who fills the void the Raiders have had since they ended the Antonio Brown saga last summer.
13. San Francisco 49ers (via Indianapolis): CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Like the Raiders, the Niners have needs at both receiver and corner. They’re in good position to nab one of the top two receivers here to replace half-season rental Emmanuel Sanders. Lamb can line up all over the field and has a knack for YAC.
14. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Jacksonville Jaguars (from Tampa Bay): Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
I have the Jaguars moving down because they’re in rebuilding mode and can still get a very good player here. Kinlaw ranks just behind Brown at the defensive tackle position. He’d help fortify the Jaguars’ bottom-five run defense, and pairing him with last year’s first-round pick, edge rusher Josh Allen, would be a good start toward rebuilding the team’s defensive front.
15. Denver Broncos: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
John Elway is not in the QB market, but he’s in the market for targets for Drew Lock. Ruggs, who ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the Combine, would bring game-breaking speed to a Broncos offense in desperate need of playmakers.
16. Atlanta Falcons: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
The Falcons have needs at all three levels of their defense, and either cornerback or edge rusher would make sense here. Henderson could replace top corner Desmond Trufant (cut this offseason), and perhaps GM Thomas Dimitroff would consider trading up to get him. Henderson has a rap of not being eager in run support, but he’s an excellent cover guy—and as former Browns GM John Dorsey said last year, “corners are paid to cover.”
17. Dallas Cowboys: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
Corner is another consideration here, after losing Byron Jones in free agency to the Dolphins. But the line took a big hit, too—Robert Quinn to Chicago and Maliek Collins to Las Vegas—and another edge rusher to complement DeMarcus Lawrence makes sense.
18. Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh): Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
Brian Flores received an offseason influx of talent to his defense, including Kyle Van Noy and the aforementioned Byron Jones, but there’s still a big hole at safety. Ironically, this is the pick the Fins netted by trading another Alabama safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick. Flores can use him all over the secondary, like he’d hoped to do with Fitzpatrick.
19. *PROJECTED TRADE UP* Philadelphia Eagles (from Chicago via Las Vegas): Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
The Eagles can’t wait anymore to get Carson Wentz someone to throw to and leap in front of Jacksonville to nab Jefferson, who is viewed as the next receiver in this year’s class after Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs. Jefferson was extremely prolific in the slot last season for LSU (111 catches, 1,540 receiving yards, 18 TDs).
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
After trading away Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in the last six months, it makes sense to use this pick on another corner. After Okudah and Henderson, evaluators have varying opinions on how they rank the next tier of cornerbacks. The big, physical Diggs would be a good fit for the Jaguars’ cover-3 scheme.
21. *PROJECTED TRADE DOWN* Las Vegas Raiders (from Philadelphia): Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
Once Henderson is off the board in this mock draft, the Raiders trade down two spots, confident they’ll still be able to get a cornerback they like from the next tier. The Raiders missed on Byron Jones and their deal with Eli Apple fell through, so look for them to address cornerback with one of their two first-round picks.
22. Minnesota Vikings (via Buffalo): Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
A run on corners in our mock. After losing Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, their top three corners, the Vikings have to address this position in the draft. Gladney is a bit undersized but is a versatile player who can be used both outside and in the slot.
23. New England Patriots: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
We are resisting the urge to assign a QB to the Patriots here and instead are going with a pick that feels very much in the B.B. wheelhouse: Epenesa is from a program led by a close Belichick friend, Kirk Ferentz; he pops on tape but didn’t wow at the Combine; and plugs in nicely to the Patriots’ scheme as a 5-technique.
24. New Orleans Saints: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
And, our fourth QB! The Saints clearly value Taysom Hill, to whom they awarded a first-round RFA tender. But it’s a big leap from his complementary role to a starting one, and remember that their No. 2 QB last year was Teddy Bridgewater, who left in free agency. Sean Payton has said that the Saints were prepared to draft Patrick Mahomes if he got to pick No. 11 in 2017, so they’ve been poking around for a few years. With Brees likely having signed his last contract, Payton could seize the chance to begin developing a raw QB with unusual arm talent.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
I thought about going receiver here, since after the Stefon Diggs trade, the Vikings are threadbare at the position behind Adam Thielen. But, their recent history with first-round receivers has been regrettable (see: Laquon Treadwell, Cordarrelle Patterson), and since this is a deep class, they could address that position in a later round. Another pressing need is the sagging offensive line.
26. Miami Dolphins (via Houston): Joshua Jones, OT, Houston
The Dolphins got this pick as part of the Laremy Tunsil trade, and while it seems too simple to slot it in here, they need a left tackle. Jones started 45 games at left tackle for Houston.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
The Seahawks need a productive edge rusher, especially as the Jadeveon Clowney situation oddly hangs in limbo. The former Nittany Lion is a productive edge rusher (9.5 sacks during his junior season) with the length and wingspan Pete Carroll loves to see.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
After Derrick Henry ran over the Ravens in the divisional playoff round, it makes sense for them to fill the void in the middle of their defense left by C.J. Mosley’s departure in free agency a year ago. Queen is a three-down, sideline-to-sideline linebacker. The other option at the position would be Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray.
29. Tennessee Titans: Marlon Davidson, EDGE, Auburn
The Titans signed Vic Beasley to a one-year deal but lost Jurrell Casey and others on the defensive line. Davidson was a versatile player in Auburn’s front seven.
30. Green Bay Packers: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
Shenault lined up all over the field for Colorado (even Wildcat QB, which we imagine wouldn’t go over so well with Aaron Rodgers). He’s a big-bodied receiver whose versatility would open the door to a lot of creativity in Matt LaFleur’s offense.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
After this pick, the 49ers aren’t scheduled to go on the clock again until the fifth round, so they are another prime trade-down candidate. Regardless of when they pick, it will make sense for them to add some young talent to the secondary.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
I resolved to go cornerback for the Chiefs, with the versatile Kendall Fuller gone from the secondary, but they could not pass up Murray if he is available here (which I am skeptical will happen, despite my leaving him on the board in a mock draft that I control entirely). Adding an explosive, playmaking young linebacker to the middle of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense would lift the whole unit.
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