By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With the NFL Combine (and all of its rumors) out of the way, the early elements of April’s NFL Draft are starting to take shape. In that spirit, it’s time for the first mock draft of the year.
There is still one major hurdle to cross before we can get into full-on draft mode, and that’s free agency which kicks off in two weeks. Without knowing the fates of key players, some educated guesses were made in putting together this mock. There will be another updated edition after free agency once we know for sure where guys are going to end up.
I will also be adding a seven-round Patriots-only mock draft to the back end of this when the NFL releases this year’s compensatory picks.
But until then, enjoy our first official mock draft of the offseason:
1. Bengals: QB Joe Burrow, LSU
No-brainer. Burrow projects as the most pro-ready quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2012. It doesn’t mean the Bengals won’t ruin him, but if they take anybody else they deserve to be relegated to the XFL.
2. Redskins: EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
The Redskins could trade down to a quarterback-needy team here, but if they do they’ll lose their shot to draft Young. Ohio State’s defensive standout looks like he could be a game-changing player at the next level, and if Dwayne Haskins can put things together they’ll have young elite talent on both sides of the ball. Plus, a team that’s in desperate need of good PR could use the boost of taking a local kid (Young is from Upper Marlboro, Md. which is about 20 minutes away from FedEx Field).
3. Chargers*: QB Jordan Love, Utah State
I tried not to include any trades here because things get too messy, but his pick is definitely getting moved for a quarterback. I don’t think Brian Flores will get fooled into overpaying, knowing he can get one of the two second-tier quarterbacks, so the Chargers jump the Dolphins. All Anthony Lynn has talked about since the season ended is getting a mobile quarterback with a big arm, and that’s Jordan Love. Not saying it’s the right pick to go with him over Tua, but not every team gets the draft right.
*Chargers trade with Lions, move up from six to three.
4. Giants: OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama
The Giants had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year, and after investing highly in a quarterback, it’s time they invest highly in some protection. There are four tackles who could be first off the board, but the Giants go with Wills’ raw ability. Having Nate Solder on the roster allows them to ease the transition from the right side to the left.
5. Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
This was supposed to be the 1/1 pairing entering the year. But a few Dolphins wins and Tua injuries later, they meet up four picks later. Tua has passed every check related to his hip injury recovery, as of now there’s no reason to think he falls beyond this spot.
6. Lions*: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
All reports right now indicate the Lions are holding on to Matthew Stafford this season, and while a developmental QB pick is a real reality later on, they’re not using a top-10 pick on a guy who won’t play this season. Instead, Matt Patricia uses this pick to get himself a versatile defensive lineman to pair with Trey Flowers.
*Lions trade with Chargers, move down from three to six.
7. Panthers: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
As long as the Panthers are sticking with Cam Newton, they need to maximize his abilities. Their offense has never had a true number one threat since Steve Smith retired. Losing Greg Olsen doesn’t help. Offensive minded Matt Rhule gets himself a true weapon.
8. Cardinals: CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
The Cardinals need, well, everything on defense. At this point, Jeff Okudah is the best defensive player left on the board. Arizona found themselves in a number of shootouts last year, getting Kyler Murray some help on the other side of the ball could go a long way.
9. Jaguars: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
That defense that carried the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game in 2017 feels a lot more like ancient history than just two years ago. Their young offense showed promise last year, so expect the Jags to add on the defensive side of the ball with a dynamic edge player.
10. Browns: OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
2019 saw the Browns offensive line take a step back, and now pending free agent Greg Robinson could be facing jail time, ruling him out of their future plans. Both Wirfs and Mekhi Becton impressed at the combine, but Wirfs agility makes him a better fit for an offense that hinges on Baker Mayfield’s ability to get creative outside of the pocket and make plays.
11. Jets: OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
Kelvin Beachum was a bright spot on an otherwise pitiful Jets offensive line last season, but is that enough for the Jets to open up the checkbook in March? Given the depth of this tackle in this class and Beachum being on the wrong side of 30, the Jets instead opt to find an affordable blindside protector for Sam Darnold who could potentially become an offensive cornerstone.
12. Raiders: WR Henry Ruggs, Alabama
The Raiders love taking the fastest player in the draft. Whether their quarterback is Derek Carr or somebody else, they’ll need help. Henry Ruggs checks all the boxes for Vegas.
13. Colts: EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
While their offense admitidaly faltered down the stretch, the Colts defense ultimately let them down allowing 30-plus points in four of their last five games. Chaisson is raw but has tremendous upside, projecting to be the kind of pass rusher a team can construct a defense around. Indy hasn’t had one of those since Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis, look for them to reload up front here. Have to love a kid with this kind of attitude:
14. Buccaneers: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
Bruce Arians doesn’t seem thrilled with the idea of Jameis Winston coming back in 2020. Enter Justin Herbert, who is a similar profile quarterback to Winston without the baggage of a 30/30 season. It’s rare for a team to bring in a new quarterback without having to make major changes to the playbook, but Herberts’ big arm and athletic ability would fit well in Arians current offense.
15. Broncos: OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
It’s starting to look like 2017 first-round pick Garett Bolles may be a bust, and like many of the other teams in the league with a young quarterback (Drew Lock), the Broncos must now figure out how to protect him. Thomas can play both tackles, meaning the Broncos could ease him in on the right side while giving Bolles one more shot, then flip him to left tackle when the time is right.
16. Falcons: EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
The Falcons had the fourth fewest sacks in the NFL last year, and their top pass rusher Vic Beasley is set to leave in free agency. Epenesa is a high-floor, lower-ceiling guy who can come in and help a team in win-now mode right away.
17. Cowboys: WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
It doesn’t seem realistic that the Cowboys could/would pay Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper this spring. Things always favor the quarterback in the NFL, so expect Jerry Jones to give Dak the bag and use this draft pick to replace Cooper with another dynamic playmaker in CeeDee Lamb. This pairing (Lamb and the Cowboys) has the potential to be one of the biggest home runs in this draft.
18. Dolphins: CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
The Dolphins fall into the category of teams who need a new left tackle to protect their young quarterback, but they still have another first-round pick coming. In the meantime, Brian Flores gets a potential No. corner who can play the Stephon Gilmore role in his defense.
19. Raiders: CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
Vegas’ second first-round pick is on the defensive side of the ball. Jon Gruden has himself some promising young pass rushers, but still needs a corner to line up opposite last year’s second-round pick Treyvon Mullen. Having two versatile corners like Henderson and Mullen would be a huge boost for a team that is competing in the AFC West and has to play the Chiefs twice a year.
20. Jaguars: DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
More help for the Jaguars up-front with their second first-round pick. This time they go to the interior with Javon Kinlaw. The Jags were among the league’s worst teams against the run last year, and that just won’t fly in a division with the Titans and Colts.
21. Eagles: WR Laviska Shenault, Colorado
By the end of the year, even Carson Wentz had never heard of the guys he was throwing to. The offense will be getting Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson back, albeit as major ‘what ifs’. Shenault’s versatility would be a great fit in the Eagles creative offense and his ability to catch the deep ball will help take pressure off Zach Ertz.
22. Bills: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Josh Allen can only do so much, and the only way the Bills are going to return to the playoffs is to strengthen their identity as a run-first team. Devin Singletary had a promising rookie year but he’s not built to be an NFL bell cow back. Taylor gives them an added physical edge as a runner who can chew up yards and eat clock. D’Andre Swift could be a fit here too but Taylor set himself apart at the Combine.
23. Patriots: S Xavier McKinney, Alabama
First things first, this is working under the assumption Brady comes back. Yes, it’s not a wide receiver. But in such a deep class, first round caliber wide receivers will be available on Day 2. Expect Bill Belichick to be aware of this reality and get himself a future secondary leader on defense. At some point in the near future the Patriots will need to replace both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and McKinney could slide into either role. This word gets thrown around a lot, but he has the versatility that Belichick and the Patriots covet.
24. Saints: WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
New Orleans is getting Drew Brees back, and they need to capitalize on the few years he has left. The best way to do that is get a legitimate threat to line up opposite Mike Thomas. Jefferson is a ‘big slot’ type of receiver that would add a red zone threat, and more importantly and short and intermediate threat when Thomas takes the top off the defense. A route running technician, he’ll see a lot of one-on-one coverage as team’s focus on Thomas and be able to take advantage of that.
25. Vikings: OT Lucas Niang, TCU
PFF ranked the Vikings offensive line 27th in the league last year when it came to pass protection. Kirk Cousins doesn’t handle pressure well, so the Vikings need to keep him protected. Niang is also a strong run blocker, which will help as Minnesota continues to establish Dalvin Cook as a focal point of their offense.
26. Dolphins: OT Josh Jones, Houston
Now the Dolphins get their blindeside protector. Josh Jones is still a raw prospect, but his ability to move around will be invaluable as Tua runs around and extends plays.
27. Seahawks: EDGE Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Braun is a high-IQ pass rusher, the kind of player who has thrived in Seattle before. As Pete Carroll looks to rebuild his defense, expect him to start up front following the departures of Jadeveon Clowney and others.
28. Ravens: LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
The Ravens struggled to stop the run at times last year, including in their divisional-round loss to the Titans. Having a strong, rangy tackler like Murray would go a long way to fixing that. Coming out of the Big 12 he also has plenty of coverage experience, which will come in handy as teams try to mount comebacks against Baltimore.
29. Titans: CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama
With Logan Ryan hitting the open market and Malcolm Butler suffering from a case of major regression, the Titans need another corner to pair with Adoree Jackson. Enter Trevon Diggs, who’s big frame and physical nature match the type of guy Mike Vrabel has seemed to target on the outside.
30. Packers: WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
Similar to the Saints, the Packers need to capitalize on Aaron Rogers who is somehow now on the wrong side of 35. Higgins would be a great fit for their offense especially when paired with Davante Adams. Most defenses don’t have the necessary personnel to run with both receivers, while it would open things up wide underneath for the backs.
31. 49ers: S Grant Delpit, LSU
The Niners may have had the most complete roster in football last year, and most of them remain under contract for 2020. While adding a wide receiver could be helpful (especially if they lose Emanuel Sanders), expect them to address what was ultimately their downfall in the Super Bowl and get help over the top.
32. Chiefs: EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
Terrell Suggs presence was a massive game-changer for the Chiefs defense last year. They’ll need to replace his production. Gross-Matos is explosive and will help them in the run game as well. The Penn State product would have time to grow with Frank Clark serving as the team’s primary pass rusher.