With the surreal backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NFL draft will take place Thursday night, offering extraordinary bounties at offensive tackle, wide receiver and cornerback. The talent at these positions should steal the spotlight from the quarterbacks and pass rushers, though they – as always – will kick off the festivities.
That may be where the predictability ends, however, with league sources telling me the unexpected is the expected this year.
Here is my best, final projection of what will take place over the first 32 picks of the 2020 NFL draft. Enjoy!
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
The Heisman Trophy winner lacks elite arm strength but his ability to decipher defenses at the line of scrimmage and precise ball placement are a perfect match in Zac Taylor’s offense.
2. Washington Redskins
Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Like the 49ers a year ago, Washington won’t overthink things here, selecting the best player in the draft at No. 2 and creating one of the league’s most formidable pass rushes.
3. Detroit Lions
Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Given that the secondary is looking to replace Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs, adding a plug and play Pro Bowl caliber player like Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okuda makes a lot of sense and is the nearly consensus choice for Detroit. Brown is similarly talented and plays a more impactful position. With nine draft picks and excellent depth at cornerback this year, the Lions may start the surprises of the 2020 NFL draft at No. 3 overall.
4. New York Giants
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Argue all you’d like with the notion that a right tackle is not worthy of this pick. Dave Gettleman ignored the criticism with his past selections of Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones and he will love the relative “safe” and ease of fit factor that Wirfs also provides.
5. Miami Dolphins
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
With an NFL-high three first round picks at their disposal, the Dolphins can do whatever they’d like in this draft, including sending a massive haul to Cincinnati for the opportunity to draft Joe Burrow. Standing pat, I believe Herbert falls into their lap, and I love the upside of his mobility in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s scheme. Physically gifted with elite intangibles, Herbert has a chance to be the star Miami has lacked at the position since Dan Marino.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
I believe the Chargers would select Herbert if he was available but I am not as convinced they will take Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa due to the medical concerns. Every team should be so lucky to have the best left tackle in the class be a consolation prize, especially given LA’s massive need at the position.
7. Carolina Panthers
Jeff Okuda, CB, Ohio State
One of the true blue chip talents in this draft, Okuda could nevertheless slip slightly as teams snatch up players at shallower positions. He would be a steal at this point for Carolina, which, of course, already to defend some of the NFL’s most dominant receivers in the NFC South division and now have Tom Brady to contend with, as well.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson
The Cardinals will be looking at some enticing options at tackle and receiver with this pick but with better-than-normal depth at those positions this year, the Cardinals can instead take advantage of Simmons, a blue-chip talent, falling into their lap. The Cardinals have more playmakers on defense than their last place finish in total defense suggests. Inserting a versatile playmaker like Simmons might very well be the spark the unit needs.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
The Jaguars currently have just Gardner Minshew and Joshua Dobbs on the roster so it isn’t a matter of when they select a quarterback in the 2020 draft but when. The medical red-flags could push Tagovailoa down the board, though when healthy, he’s the most effortless passer in this class with a quick mind and delivery with the accuracy to all levels of the field to become a franchise cornerstone… if he can stay healthy.
10. Cleveland Browns
Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Protecting the investment made in Baker Mayfield with pricey free agent right tackle Jack Conklin and the wonderfully gifted Bekton eliminates any more excuses. Mayfield and the Browns must deliver in 2020.
11. New York Jets
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Given the investment made in Sam Darnold, the Jets cannot afford to let one of the richest receiver corps in history fly by and not take full advantage. Lamb has the playmaking skills and confidence to thrive in the Big Apple.
12. Las Vegas Raiders
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
It took awhile for the download but the Raiders replace former Alabama Biletnikoff Award winner Amari Cooper with the newest version.
13. San Francisco 49ers (from Indianapolis)
Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
This selection could easily be the third consecutive receiver off the board but the presence of Kinlaw could force GM John Lynch to think twice. The 6-5, 315 pound Kinlaw can be a DeForest Buckner-like disruptor at a much cheaper price.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jedrick Wills, OL, Alabama
Tampa’s magical offseason continues with Wills, a plug and play right tackle filling a significant area of need, falling right into their lap.
15. Denver Broncos
Kenneth Murray, ILB, Oklahoma
Allowed to choose between a playmaking receiver for strong-armed sophomore Drew Lock and the heat-seeking missile missing from the middle of Vic Fangio’s defense, former Hall of Fame QB John Elway checks to his head coach, pulling one of the draft’s first surprises.
16. Atlanta Falcons
C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
The Falcons are rumored to be targeting Henderson, a long-armed and highly athletic corner perfectly suited to Dan Quinn’s defensive philosophies and a plug and play replacement for former first round pick Desmond Trufant. The Falcons have been rumored to be considering a trade up for Henderson but possess just six picks… this year.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Assuming some kind of agreement is ultimately struck with Dak Prescott, the Cowboys deserve kudos for retaining many of their top players while boosting their defensive line with high profile veterans. The secondary needs boosting after the loss of Byron Jones, however. Diggs has a similar blend of size and athleticism as Jones, with his best football still ahead of him.
18. Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh)
K’Lavon Chaisson, DE, LSU
The Dolphins have invested big dollars into their secondary but currently lack a dynamic rush threat. Chaisson would check that box quicker than opposing quarterbacks can say “hike.”
19. Las Vegas Raiders (via Chicago)
Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Every secondary in the AFC West forced to deal with Kansas City’s video game-like offense twice a year had better have plenty of speed and scrappiness. That suits Gladney, a light-footed, battle-tested cover corner who plays bigger than he looks.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams)
A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
Parting ways with both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye leaves the Jaguars a bit toothless in the secondary. Adding a toolsy talent like Terrell would help. *One caveat, should the Jaguars trade away disgruntled DE Yannick Ngakoue or RB Leonard Fournette, watch out for a replacement pick with this selection.
21. Philadelphia Eagles
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
The Eagles’ receiving corps were tough to watch, at times, last season. LSU’s Jordan Jefferson might be the better fit in this offense but Ruggs’ straight-line speed offers more big play potential – at least in theory.
22. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo)
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer may see shades of Danielle Hunter coming out of LSU in the raw but talented Gross-Matos. The former Nittany Lion has the length, burst and power to grow into a star and would help fill the gap left with long-time standout Everson Griffen no longer on the roster.
23. New England Patriots
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Full disclosure, I gave Love a third round grade. That said, I do believe he will be drafted in the first round, quite possibly with this pick, although not necessarily by the Patriots. Let’s stick with New England rather than forecasting a trade, mostly because the Patriots already have 11 other draft picks this year, already. With only journeyman Brian Hoyer and last year’s fourth round pick Jarrett Stidham currently on the roster, the Patriots will add a quarterback before next season. While quite raw, Love would be an upgrade from a pure talent standpoint, giving Josh McDaniels more of a gunslinger to work with.
24. New Orleans Saints
Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
The Saints’ current linebacker corps don’t lack for talent, they just can’t stay healthy and with the entire starting corps entering the final year of their respective contracts, New Orleans could find the perfect bridge to the future with a popular home-grown product.
25. Minnesota Vikings
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
At least part of the reason why GM Rick Spielman felt comfortable in trading away a gamebreaker like Stefon Diggs is that this draft offers younger, cheaper replacements. Reagor isn’t as much of a true vertical burner as Diggs but he’s more physical after the catch, better complementing Kirk Cousins’ accuracy on short and intermediate throws.
26. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)
Austin Jackson, OT, Southern California
With projected “gutsy” selections with their first two picks, the Dolphins may opt to take the relatively safe route with a star running back like D’Andre Swift here, just as the Raiders did with Josh Jacobs in a similar position a year ago. A bolder strategy might be to make the investment now in the left tackle, giving Miami an awful lot of inexpensive, high-end talent at the critical (and expensive) QB-edge rusher-LT positions to develop together just from the first round of their 2020 draft class.
27. Seattle Seahawks
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
The Seahawks primary need is at pass rusher and with the top defensive linemen long gone, John Schneider will likely look to trade back, as he has done with his last eight first round selections. Taylor is a 5-10, 226 pound freight train with 4.39 speed, however, who fits perfectly in the run-heavy scheme Schneider and Pete Carroll have preferred.
28. Baltimore Ravens
D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
I mean, can you just imagine the combination of Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram and this bolt of lightning? Yeah, so can John Harbaugh. Swift is an Alvin Kamara-like weapon who would might take Baltimore’s top-ranked running game and launch it into the stratosphere.
29. Tennessee Titans
Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia
Needing a replacement for burly departed free agent right tackle Jack Conklin, the Titans turn to one of the biggest blockers in the draft.
30. Green Bay Packers
Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn
The Packers currently only have seven defensive linemen on their roster. Built like a defensive tackle with enough burst to harass off the edge, Davidson could fill multiple roles.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
With a 125 pick gap between this selection and the 49ers’ next one (No. 156 overall and the 11 pick in the fifth round), don’t be surprised if John Lynch trades out. He could be tempted by Mims, whose size, speed and physicality would complement the 49ers’ run-heavy offense as well as the receivers already on the roster.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
Given that opponents have no choice but to attack in the hopes of keeping up with Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs would be wise to add playmakers to their secondary. With a tip of the cap to safeties Xavier McKinney and Grant Delpit, I think the best fit still on the board is Johnson, a playmaker who returned two of his seven career interceptions back for touchdowns.