Yes, come for the draft prospects but stay for the dad jokes — it’s our first mock of the season and we couldn’t be more jacked. We’re six months away from April, which means we can let loose with a mock that, well, yes you’ll be able to mock quite freely. There’s at least some more clarity with the 2020 NFL draft prospects and how the first round could shake out at the quarter pole of the season.
The aim here is to connect prospects as closely as possible to the teams that could use their services but also to land players in the general range of where they might be taken if the draft were tomorrow. So don’t worry if player, team and need don’t exactly synch up — this is a broad-spectrum view of where we stand now within the draft landscape.
The big news here is that we have six quarterbacks landing in Round 1, which would tie the all-time mark set in the legendary John Elway-Jim Kelly-Dan Marino draft of 1983. Whether this QB class stacks up to that one remains a big stretch, and six is admittedly a bigger number than you’ll see in other mocks now. Passers tend to see their values bumped up by a round or more come draft time, so it’s not a complete farce to think it could play out this way.
A caveat: I was unable to find homes in the first 32 picks for some very talented football players. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor headlines that list, although Clemson WR Tee Higgins, Washington OT Trey Adams (who is playing great but has serious medical concerns), Clemson CB A.J. Terrell, Florida State DT Marvin Wilson and a few others could vie for first-round standing.
To determine the draft order, we used the inverse of Frank Schwab’s power rankings from this week, so all complaints about which teams are picking where can be sent directly to his personal email account. Please and thanks.
1. Miami Dolphins
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
The Dolphins are months away from setting their 2020 draft board. There are still miles to go before they settle on a quarterback. However, if I had to guess today, Tagovailoa is the pick. I haven’t loved the way he has played in some bigger games, but you also have to factor in injuries, too.
Tagovailoa will check off a majority of the boxes that general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores will seek in their next franchise QB, assuming they still are in power. For all we know, team owner Stephen Ross could make sweeping changes following a drastic season. For now we’ll go with a quarterback who might not be the most physically impressive but who has a sterling 23-0 TD-INT ratio this season and 77-8 for his career.
We’ve never seen numbers like that before, and Tua is doing it against high-level competition more games than not.
2. Washington Redskins
Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
Trent Williams will be 32 next year, and his relationship with the franchise doesn’t appear to be getting better. Finding his replacement and giving Dwayne Haskins Jr. a stronger support staff feel like smart moves for whoever the head coach and GM might be in the spring. I love Thomas’ light feet in pass protection and his outstanding athleticism that translate in the run game as well.
With the futures of Williams and Brandon Scherff (a free agent-to-be who might command $13 million per year or more) up in the air long term, the Redskins must be prepared to find other building blocks up front.
I’d take Chase Young here. Even with the Redskins still having Ryan Kerrigan under contract through 2020 and the team having traded up to draft Montez Sweat this year. Young is that good, and you can never have too many disruptors. But I see how Thomas might be the pick here.
3. New York Jets
Ohio State EDGE Chase Young
I don’t know how GM Joe Douglas could go elsewhere in this scenario. Adding Young to a defense that features Jamal Adams, C.J. Mosley and Quinnen Williams, among others, could help boost the Jets into one of the more fearsome defenses.
Chase Young's 2019 season numbers are just ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/UUG9h3TIxH— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 3, 2019
We sure would like to find a player to help Sam Darnold out here, and an offensive tackle would be a great place to start. But in a choice between Andrew Thomas or Tristan Wifs (or whomever) and Young, I am taking the latter eight days a week. A true defensive terror off the edge who one day could lead the NFL in sacks.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Oregon QB Justin Herbert
Andy Dalton is not a terrible quarterback, per se, but if he was the long-term answer we would have known that before now. Dalton is a free agent after the 2020 season, and the Bengals could keep him on next year at a relatively cheap $17.7 million salary-cap hit while breaking Herbert in.
Or they could start immediately fresh with the talented Ducks passer. Like Matthew Stafford at Georgia, Herbert has been one of the few recent highly touted college quarterbacks who dramatically improved his passing accuracy over the course of a college career. He might not be perfect and will need some time to develop his skills, but Herbert would be a good fit in Cincinnati, which wouldn’t have the spotlight glare of some bigger NFL markets.
5. Arizona Cardinals
Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah
Okudah is not a playmaker, I saw someone say a few weeks ago on Twitter. Huh. In the past two games, all the Buckeyes corner has done is make three interceptions — including one from his tail against Nebraska:
Jeffrey Okudah is so talented he can intercept passes while laying down. NFL ball skills. pic.twitter.com/USxuONGrg6— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) September 29, 2019
He’s my CB1 right now. Ohio State has been a veritable DB factory in recent years, producing a whopping 10 draft picks since 2014. (Even LeBron James has noticed.) There are at least four Buckeyes in the secondary who figure to add to that total in the next year or two: Okudah, Shaun Wade, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller. Plus likely a few more youngsters who can’t crack the lineup in Columbus but could start at 90 percent of the schools around the country.
6. Denver Broncos
Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III
Heresy, you say, mocking Ruggs ahead of Jerry Jeudy? Hey, I get it. Right now, Jeudy is a more polished, refined receiver than Ruggs, and there’s a hot-and-cold element to Ruggs’ game that must be factored in. But he possesses rare, field-tilting speed and could be exactly what the Broncos need. Emmanuel Sanders is still doing things, but he’s turning 33 in March and could be a trade option this season as the Broncos (0-4) find themselves out of contention again.
Ruggs might break John Ross’ 4.22-second 40-yard dash mark at the NFL scouting combine and is averaging a touchdown every 3.6 touches, which is ridiculous. Don’t be shocked if Ruggs goes ahead of Jeudy when it’s all said and done, even if Jeudy might be viewed as the safer choice.
Would it stun anyone if the Broncos tried their damnedest to get into the Tua-Herbert range? In that scenario, they’d dangle Drew Lock and yet again switch gears at QB. It has become a time-honored hallmark of the John Elway era.
7. Atlanta Falcons
Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa
It has been a strange start to the season for Epenesa, who recorded 10.5 sacks as a non-starter in 2018. He has a mere one sack this season in a featured role. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz felt like a man who was slowing the Epenesa hype train when we spoke to him this summer, and the start to the season appears to back that up.
But Epenesa had created multiple pressures in the first three games of the season (prior to a so-so performance against Middle Tennessee) and still possesses great upside with an NFL-caliber frame at 6-foot-5 and 277 pounds. Expect his production to tick up in the coming weeks.
We don’t know what direction the Falcons’ franchise is headed, with questions about the futures of the coaching staff and the front office lingering, but finding an edge rusher would appear to be a need-filling move for whoever is in charge of this roster. Vic Beasley is a free agent at season’s end, and the Falcons should maybe let someone else overpay him.
8. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers)
Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
If the Dolphins are tanking for Tua, wouldn’t it be extra fun if they were simultaneously “junking for Jeudy?” For the uninitiated, that’s a Pete Thamel-ism from this gem of a video we taped in the spring:
Jeudy might not be the world beater some want to make him out to be, but there’s a heck of a lot to like in his game — and pairing him again with Tagovailoa would be a near-dream scenario for a feckless offense. (This is the pick the Dolphins are getting in the trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick, which makes the Bama connections almost dizzying here.)
The Dolphins had four good seasons from Jarvis Landry and two from Brandon Marshall, but goodness … how bad have their wideouts been since, oh, Chris Chambers’ prime? Jeudy would change that.
9. New York Giants
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs
This would accomplish a few things. First, Wirfs could step in as the Day 1 right tackle for Mike Remmers, a 2020 free agent. Second, Wirfs could represent an eventual replacement at left tackle for Nate Solder, who hasn’t proven worth the money. Since the Giants drafted Daniel Jones, they need to keep fortifying the front.
Wirfs started the past few seasons at right tackle, but his transition to left tackle (in place of an injured Alaric Jackson) has shown NFL scouts all they need. Wirfs can handle both sides, which makes him even more valuable. At this rate, I doubt he gets out of the top 10, although he’s right on the edge here in this scenario.
10. Oakland Raiders
Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
A pedestrian 40-yard dash might unfairly hurt Lamb’s draft stock come February or March, but luckily we’re not at that point. So far this season, the 6-1, 192-pound Lamb has averaged nearly 26 yards a catch, which suggests that his athleticism shouldn’t be an issue.
A top three at receiver of Lamb, Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow, plus Darren Waller and Foster Moreau at tight end, would round this pass-catching group into form.
11. Tennessee Titans
Washington QB Jacob Eason
Yes, we know that the Titans once drafted another former Huskies QB (Jake Locker) in a similar range, which didn’t work out too well. But Eason is not like Locker in many respects, and the lockout year basically forced the Titans to reach for a QB, not knowing whether they could land one via trade or through free agency.
Eason is a fast riser in draft circles, although there’s still a bit of a wait-and-see after his good start to the season, which also included a sub-par performance against a good Cal defense. Possessing all the characteristics of a franchise QB, Eason absolutely could rise to the mid-Round 1 area, but he’s still got some work to do, which makes this pick and even bigger projection than many other names on this early list.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
LSU S Grant Delpit
I am a Delpit fan, I truly am. But I can’t justifiably place him in the top 10 at this moment, not with Delpit’s recent tackling concerns. He’s versatile, intelligent and a budding leader of an NFL secondary. But he needs to clean up these elements of his game if he wants to be a game-changer. Delpit certainly possesses that ability, and here he would pair well with Ronnie Harrison in what could be a rebuilt secondary in Jacksonville next season.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
This could end up being a tad high for Gross-Matos, who is an ascending player but one who might be a season or two away from realizing his potential. We love his overall profile and believe the best is in front of him, but it’s not as if Gross-Matos is struggling. He’s leading the Nittany Lions with 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks through four games and clearly is one of the difference makers for a good defense up front.
With Shaq Barrett’s price going up by the day as he stands to hit free agency in the spring and Jason Pierre-Paul’s long-term forecast in doubt, the Bucs could stand to develop another edge stud.
14. Indianapolis Colts
Auburn DT Derrick Brown
The Colts have a mishmash of defenders in the interior who classify more as lunch-bucket types: Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, Grover Stewart and Jihad Ward. Autry really has been a terrific value for Indianapolis, but he could use a more stout running mate to help plug holes and free up the pass rushers more. Enter Brown, who is massive and powerful.
Realistically in this scenario, the Colts might seek to move up if Grant Delpit would linger close to their pick. Colts GM Chris Ballard has moved back far more than up in his three drafts, but for the right player I think he would pounce. The Colts had so many needs, so acquiring more picks was the right move then. As they get closer to contending, watch for Ballard to be more aggressive in the future.
15. Detroit Lions
Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
A multi-role standout, Simmons could be to the defense what T.J. Hockenson is to the offense, if you’re willing to go with me on this. Simmons will play off the ball, blitz, cover the slot, line up as a safety and factors on four special-teams units. Even Hockenson isn’t that versatile. The Lions have used some high picks on linebackers in recent years, which is the one thing that gives me a little pause here. But it’s not as if Matt Patricia wouldn’t want another valuable piece to that unit who can do so many things.
16. Dolphins (from Houston Texans)
Georgia RB D’Andre Swift
Three offensive skill players in the first round for one team feels a tad excessive. But the Dolphins could use injections of life and playmaking ability to a unit that could finish this season as one of the statistically worst in recent history. Adding Tagovailoa, Jeudy and Swift would do that immediately.
I thought about Jonathan Taylor here, but he fumbled again Saturday — the 13th of his career — which could be one of the few knocks against him come draft time. I think Swift and Taylor are both first-round talents, but placing them both in the top 32 right now is tough. Who is willing to take a running back that high though? The list of teams could be pretty short, I think, especially the way this order comes out now.
17. Baltimore Ravens
Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey
The Ravens know that Marshal Yanda has flirted openly with retirement the past few seasons, so the offensive line is a position they easily could target early. They’re fine at tackle but could upgrade inside. If they like Matt Skura, he could move to guard where he played two seasons ago.
Humphrey is a perfect addition to the Lamar Jackson-fueled offense, having come from a Sooners system that has some real carryover to what the Ravens do with their run and pass games. He’s a redshirt sophomore, but Humphrey just acts and plays like a veteran Ravens offensive lineman. The Norman-to-Baltimore pipeline continues after the team has added ex-Sooners Mark Andrews, Orlando Brown Jr., Marquise Brown and Ben Powers the past two draft cycles.
18. Los Angeles Chargers
Georgia QB Jake Fromm
The grades and opinions on Fromm are all over the map in NFL circles. We’re hearing everything from “no-brainer future starter” to “starter smarts and toughness but backup skill set.” That said, there are a handful of teams that absolutely will consider him in Round 1, depending on need and how the board falls. It only takes one team, and the smart-drafting Chargers always seem to be ahead of the game on filling holes.
He’ll emerge from his junior season with more than 40 college starts under his belt if he remains healthy, making Fromm a great choice to one day supplant Philip Rivers. What we love about Fromm are his anticipation, leadership, touch and intelligence, and the people who really like Fromm have even invoked the name Drew Brees when comparing him.
19. Carolina Panthers
Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood
Bama’s potential OL concerns lie on the inside, as Leatherwood has done an excellent job stepping in for Jonah Williams and anchored the left tackle spot for the Crimson Tide. I’m just not a big fan of Taylor Moton or Daryl Williams, so Leatherwood would be an upgrade in time, even if Greg Little likely deserves a chance to start outside at some point. Leatherwood also can play right tackle, which we think he could do. He’s bounced between left tackle and right guard the past few seasons and handled both with aplomb.
20. Minnesota Vikings
Utah State QB Jordan Love
Ideally, Love would be afforded the same incubation time that Patrick Mahomes received: a token start at the end of a redshirt season as some team’s No. 1-in-waiting. We’re excited to see if Love can bounce back after a tough game against Colorado State, and a good game at LSU this weekend would wipe out some of those concerns.
The question I have here is … can the Vikings afford to wait that long for Love? Kirk Cousins isn’t failing the team by himself, but he certainly is a big part of the issues there. It’s hard right now to envision him being the full-season option next season in Minnesota, but there’s also no real way to see how they can get out of $31 million in dead money if they cut him.
You also could mock Love to the Chargers (he’s an L.A. kid, by the way) and Fromm to the Vikings, and we certainly could get behind that idea, too.
21. Cleveland Browns
Alabama DL Raekwon Davis
The Browns have a nice pair up front in Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson but little beyond that. Davis is a seasoned disruptor who made a tough but good decision, we believe, to go back to school another year. So far this season, the 6-foot-6, 315-pound enforcer has appeared to take his game up a notch and he’d provide really great length inside.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
Our sixth Bama player in Round 1, which would tie the 2004 Miami Hurricanes for most players from one school going in the first round in a single draft. Diggs is long, instinctive and experienced, which would make him a nice fit in a Philly secondary that still needs some sorting out. Perhaps the Eagles trade for Jalen Ramsey and render this pick moot. But those are the pitfalls of writing an October mock. We’re OK with that.
23. Buffalo Bills
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
I just love this potential fit. The Bills have a slew of undersized wide receivers, with none topping the 200-pound threshold. They could use another big, physical target to pair with TE Dawson Knox, and Shenault would fit that role perfectly. Having a QB such as Josh Allen means you must pair him with receivers who can catch balls outside of their frame, which fits Shenault to a tee.
I honestly would have been shocked to see him slip this far based on my summer evaluation of him looking more like a top-15 or 20 selection. But injuries (including an undisclosed one right now) have slowed him thus far this season, and it’s one of the deepest receiver crops for the coming draft cycle that we’ve seen in a few years at the very least.
24. Seattle Seahawks
South Carolina DL Javon Kinlaw
A long, rangy and freakish athlete — exactly the kind the Seahawks seem drawn to. Kinlaw had a big game against Alabama a few weeks ago and was a menace the following week against Missouri, displaying the kind of game-wrecking ability he has once he learns how to harness and maximize his ability.
Maybe it’s overkill, but a front featuring Jadeveon Clowney, Jarran Reed, L.J. Collier, Quinton Jefferson, Poona Ford and Kinlaw would be an absolute gas to watch.
25. Raiders (from Chicago Bears)
Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara
Jon Gruden’s name has been attached to Notre Dame for years, and GM Mike Mayock remains very well connected to the school, so we’ll connect everything here via Oakland’s second first-rounder.
We’ve been a bit ambivalent about Okwara this season, but his excellent performance Saturday against Virginia shows just how much disruptive talent he possesses. His character should receive high marks, too, from a franchise that appeared to place a high value in that in the 2019 draft. (No, we’re not talking about the Raiders’ free-agent decisions this past offseason, which seemed to be more driven by Gruden and less by Mayock.)
But just a thought: Are CeeDee Lamb and Okwara eventual upgrades over Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack? It’s hard to say yes to that one, and yet it’s absolutely fair to ask that given the way the team shuttled out two defined stars.
26. San Francisco 49ers
TCU OT Lucas Niang
Niang belies his size (6-6, 336 pounds) with excellent movement skills, which would fit Kyle Shanahan’s system. We could see Joe Staley move on next year, so the 49ers would need to keep adding reinforcements up front in our minds. Another player who could fit that mass-meets-athleticism mold: Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, a rising prospect who could crack our next mock if he keeps playing as well as he has.
27. Green Bay Packers
Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney
Matt LaFleur seems to love his two-TE packages, but they probably can’t go another season giving a combined 65-70 snaps a game to Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, who will be 33 and 36 years old, respectively, next season. Adding a more consistent seam and red-zone threat figures to be an offseason initiative. This might seem high for Pinkney, but GM Brian Gutekunst trusts his board and won’t pass on a player they like because of perceived league value.
Pinkney is valued for his balanced skill set and would be a valuable asset. He can line up inline, in the slot and even has been split out wide. We think Pinkney’s blocking is merely so-so by NFL standards at this point — this is something we noticed while attending the Purdue game a few weeks back — but there’s room for growth in that area. While not possessing elite physical traits, Pinkney has great size (6-5, 255) and length and is a smart route runner. His intangibles also have been readily praised.
28. Dallas Cowboys
California S Ashtyn Davis
Davis just feels like a player who will endear himself to the Cowboys’ scouting staff, which is one of the best in the NFL in our view. They rarely whiff on first-round picks (Taco Charlton a notable exception) and typically seek smart, highly athletic prospects, which makes Davis a nice fit at a spot of need.
Xavier Woods is a solid, little player, but it always feels like he’s getting hurt. Jeff Heath is what he is. The Cowboys could use a center fielder to patrol the next few seasons of matchups against young division QBs Carson Wentz, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins. Davis could be a really nice playmaker in time as a rangy ballhawk, even though he can be caught biting hard on plays at times.
29. Los Angeles Rams
Florida CB CJ Henderson
The Rams have both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib hitting free agency, and they might have to prioritize their efforts on re-signing Dante Fowler this offseason. Henderson fits the Peters mold a bit at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, along with mid-4.4 speed. He got hurt vs. Tennessee-Martin (after a so-so season debut vs. Miami) but is expected to be back somewhere close to full strength in this weekend’s showdown against No. 7 Auburn. If he can string together good performances here against SEC competition, Henderson surely can re-emerge in the first-round mix.
30. New Orleans Saints
LSU QB Joe Burrow
The LSU-Saints connections are stronger than just geographical. The Tigers’ hiring of assistant coach Joe Brady, who spent years on Sean Payton’s staff learning his offense, has been a seismic one. Few could picture LSU being a fast-paced, foot-on-the-pedal passing game, but here we are.
The emergence of Burrow after a strong finish last season makes this projection a very realistic one in our minds. Payton has to know that Drew Brees is on borrowed time, and Teddy Bridgewater has led three TD drives in 26 possessions this season (not counting kneeldowns). Burrow could be the successor in New Orleans.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
LSU CB Kristian Fulton
This feels like too low a placement for him right now, but Fulton has been good — not great — in the early going this season. He certainly hasn’t played to the level he did pre-injury last season when Fulton reached a higher level of performance than 2019 second-rounder Greedy Williams.
Some tackling issues against Vandy and some coverage lapses vs. Texas show that Fulton has room for improvement, but we like his total package as a confident cover man. The Tigers are experimenting with Fulton as a nickel safety now, which also could add some value to his stock even if it seems the move is being made somewhat out of need because of defensive injuries.
32. New England Patriots
Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts
Oh, are you paying attention now? Bill Belichick drafted a receiver in Round 1 last year, which was his first since Derrick Alexander in 1994. In 2018, Belichick took a running back in the first, which was only the second time he did that in 19 drafts with New England. The one position Belichick has yet to draft in Round 1? Yep, you guessed it … quarterback.
Why not Hurts? He’ll receive gold-seal approval from old pal Nick Saban, he has been steeped in maybe the most innovative modern college offense going, he’ll arrive with elite intangibles on Day 1, and he’ll have time to develop. Knowing Belichick, he could use Hurts and his special athleticism in a jack-of-all-trades role along the way.
Yes, I know all about Jarrett Stidham, New England’s fourth-rounder this year. I am not casting him aside. But at this phase of Belichick’s career, he can draft special players he wants to work with and not receive much in the way of reasonable backlash. Besides, whoever replaces Tom Brady must possess rare mental toughness and work ethic. Those are among Hurts’ greatest strengths, just ahead of his athletic traits and football character, even if he’s still developing as a passer.
And our view is that if you’re going to have to replace Brady eventually, you might as well do it with a completely different style of player who checks those critical boxes in dark, black ink.
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