Teams aren’t often honest with those of us outside of the league. But free agency and the NFL draft forces them to clarify their plan - what positions are priorities and ones that remain on the “to-do” list. Keep in mind teams do not draft with only 2020 in mind. One goal of this process is to replace expensive, declining players. Their understudy might take their job in 2021.
A quick note: This is clearly a draft process unlike any other. We will have limited athletic testing for prospects, which is a significant portion of my evaluations for offensive linemen and defensive linemen, as well as locating late round targets. Teams do the same, and not possessing the ability to host prospects on visits and private workouts could separate front offices across the league.
As always, this mock is a guess as to what will happen, not what I think should happen.
1. CINCINNATI BENGALS – QB JOE BURROW, LSU
Burrow should enter the NFL surrounded by nice skill position players - Joe Mixon finished the year as one of the best backs in the league, A.J. Green has been underappreciated for a decade, Tyler Boyd is an ideal slot receiver ... but Burrow will be protected by a line full of question marks. Can the Bengals ever change the perception of their franchise?
2. WASHINGTON REDSKINS – EDGE CHASE YOUNG, OHIO STATE
Young is an easy evaluation. You can see how he won in college translating to the NFL. There’s a strong chance the Redskins receive incredible offers for this pick, so they must ask themselves if Young impacts the team to the degree of quality present and future picks teams might be willing to trade. Note: If the new influences in Washington’s building (read Ron Rivera) fall in love with Tua’s evaluation, nothing should prevent them from drafting the quarterback.
3. DETROIT LIONS – CB JEFFREY OKUDAH, OHIO STATE
Based on Darius Slay’s comments, Matt Patricia seems to be having a difficult time connecting with his top players. With Slay’s departure, the Lions might prioritize landing Okudah to pair with Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman. We see Brian Flores, another Belichick disciple, prioritizing secondary talent in Miami. Might Patricia do the same? This is another pick that might heat up with trade interest.
4. NEW YORK GIANTS – OT MEKHI BECTON, LOUISVILLE
Planet Theory, a phrase uttered by Bill Parcells simply to say “There are a limited number of enormous human beings in the world with legitimate athleticism, so when you find one, acquire him.”
Dave Gettleman has his own term for this: hogmollies. Becton absolutely fits, with his effortless 1.77 10-yard split and 5.10 40-time at 364 pounds. In his previous stop, Gettleman constantly referred to “tackle feet,” players with the athleticism and size to hold up on an island. How could he resist? My major reservation with Becton is we didn’t seem him block in true, one-on-one pass sets often compared to his peers - 73 according to PFF.
5. MIAMI DOLPHINS – QB Tua Tagovailoa, ALABAMA
Before diving in, let’s talk about Tua’s medicals. I am no doctor and multiple reports emerged during Combine week that Tua was cleared by teams. I don’t doubt that, but just from observing the league it becomes clear every year that clubs hate taking risks during the draft process. They consistently hate being first to step onto the invisible bridge. This isn’t a shoulder or a knee that teams see every year. It’s a hip, and I could totally see numerous teams avoiding the unknown.
We saw the Dolphins fully commit to a Patriots-style defense in free agency - prioritize the secondary, sign numerous front seven players who can rotate in and disrupt in waves. Attacking offense early in the draft makes the most sense. Question is if they can wait until No. 5 for the second quarterback off the board.
6. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS – QB JUSTIN HERBERT, OREGON
Kim Jones’ report during Combine activities still rings in my head every time I see Herbert’s name - that one team views Herbert as the most talented quarterback in 2020 and 2019. I recall Tom Telesco saying he’d wanted to draft Joey Bosa for two years before having that chance at No. 3. Maybe he’s the one that feels the same about Herbert? With the Chargers not attacking the quarterback market in free agency, it’s easy to see them selecting one early in April.
7. CAROLINA PANTHERS – LB ISAIAH SIMMONS, CLEMSON
Players like Simmons aren’t common. He fluidly flips from rushing the passer on one play to working as a single high safety the next. Versatility is only real if the player wins from each spot - otherwise he’s just losing from multiple alignments. Simmons is versatile. Because a player like Simmons is rare, it is fair to wonder if most teams can really be creative enough to maximizes his skills.
The Panthers are in a bit of a difficult spot here. There’s a massive hole at one outside corner spot. Kawann Short is getting older and is the lone, disruptive defensive tackle. Is an off-ball hybrid player in a bad defense really going to move the needle for the Panthers in the short term, even if he is a quality prospect who fits their multiple identity? Personally, I’d continue to build the offensive line.
8. ARIZONA CARDINALS – OL TRISTAN WIRFS, IOWA
Don’t stop investing in the offense. With DeAndre Hopkins in the fold, it’s time to fix the right side of the Cardinals offensive line. Enter Wirfs, who has played on both sides of the line thanks to the Hawkeyes flipping their blockers. Wirfs needs coaching, as his balance wavers in every game that I watched - surprising for a player with an athletic profile in the 99th percentile. But he’s a great fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s running scheme and has the talent to hold up on those island blocks.
9. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – DT DERRICK BROWN, AUBURN
The Jaguars are down Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus this offseason. Brown might lack the “juice” of other interior disruptors we’ve seen in recent years, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ultimately be knocked for it due to the lack of athletic testing in this draft process.
10. CLEVELAND BROWNS – OT ANDREW THOMAS, GEORGIA
While the Browns have strengths on their roster - offensive tackle surely wasn’t one entering the offseason. We saw the Browns prioritize Jack Conklin on the right side. Now fix the left. I loved watching Thomas - fluid yet aggressive. He’s nasty. While the offensive line and playcalling were both issues last season, Baker Mayfield didn’t help his cause when the situation around him played at a winning level.
11. NEW YORK JETS – WR CeeDee Lamb, OKLAHOMA
The longer Robby Anderson stays a free agent, the likelier it seems he returns. Joe Douglas’ top priority is to surround Sam Darnold with an environment he can win in. Numerous offensive linemen in free agency point to that. So if Darnold can stay on script more thanks to blocking, he needs better outside receivers to make plays. Lamb’s game is very reminiscent of DeAndre Hopkins.
12. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS – WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
The Raiders targeted multiple areas of need in free agency … except wide receiver. Gruden and Mayock have to be looking at the board at No. 12 thinking a great talent falls to them, and Jeudy is that. He’s on the Stefon Diggs - Calvin Ridley spectrum: winning with separation at multiple alignments. The difference between the two is notable: One can be the primary for a team.
13. San Francisco 49ers – DL JAVON KINLAW, SOUTH CAROLINA
DeForest Buckner was traded for this pick, so why not attempt to replace some of the disruption with another interior lineman. The 49ers didn’t trade Buckner because they didn’t need him - it was for long-term cap reasons. Kinlaw is the type of interior lineman who records four or five snaps of absolutely wrecking an offense’s plan, and that impact trickles down to all levels of the team’s defense.
14. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – OT JEDRICK WILLS, ALABAMA
Tom Brady is best inside of structure. He needs it now. On script decisions based on pre- and post-snap tells. Add Wills, who locked down the right side of Alabama’s front five.
15. DENVER BRONCOS – WR Henry Ruggs, ALABAMA
Imagine pairing the speed of Ruggs with the talent of Courtland Sutton. With the Broncos adding a corner, lineman, running back and interior disruptor in free agency, targeting another offensive playmaker in the draft is likely a priority.
16. ATLANTA FALCONS – EDGE K’LAVON CHAISSON, LSU
The Falcons have a type. Explosiveness along the defensive front with an aggressive mentality to get to the quarterback or ball carrier. Unfortunately, that has not resulted in an abundance of success in Vic Beasley or Takk McKinley. Chaisson’s flexibility always gives him a chance to win a one on one matchup, and would relieve Grady Jarrett from having to carry that entire pass rushing front. Yes, the team added Dante Fowler this offseason but teams trying to build a legitimate pass rush don’t stop there. Corner was certainly a consideration.
17. DALLAS COWBOYS – CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
Losing Byron Jones stings. A long-term answer at defensive tackle would be ideal, but the board doesn't fall that way. Next is identifying a starting-caliber corner who can contribute immediately.
18. MIAMI DOLPHINS (VIA STEELERS) – OT Josh Jones, Houston
With quarterback taken care of, the next concern is the offensive line, namely at tackle. Offenses need to have at least one tackle they can trust to leave in isolation. Hopefully Jones can be that.
19. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (VIA CHI) – CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
As discussed, the Raiders aimed to fix a number of holes in free agency. Eli Apple isn’t a long-term play at corner. I was very tempted to double up at receiver for the Raiders in round one. If there was ever a year to do it...
20. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (VIA LAR) – CB Trevon Diggs, Bama
Tackle was a possibility, but I assume the Jaguars are happy with Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor at either end. As was interior line. But with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye gone the team definitely need another outside corner opposite Darqueze Dennard, who they reportedly want to play on the perimeter.
21. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – WR Jalen Reagor, TCU
That one game with DeSean Jackson was really fun, Philadelphia. The plan with the veteran vertical threat was clear - but unfortunately all of the eggs went into one basket. The Eagles acknowledged a need at corner but have deferred at receiver - so far. Reagor’s athletic profile is quite similar to D.K. Metcalf’s (minus a few inches): straight-line explosion with iffy agility scores.
22. Minnesota Vikings (via BUF) – CB Jaylon Johnson, Utah
Mike Zimmer loves drafting corners and it’s one of the team’s biggest needs as we exit free agency. Johnson has ball skills, which I interpret as the game slowing down for him in areas where other corners panic.
23. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn
I can’t wait to see how the greatest coach of my lifetime handles the most important position in the sport. I don’t expect him to take immediate risks. He will be methodical. But low key the Patriots have lost a lot of important defensive pieces. While the secondary remains intact, the team could use a player like Davidson who lines up outside and inside and reportedly produced great Combine interviews.
24. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – QB Jordan Love, Utah State
The Saints likely trade out of this selection as they possess just five picks in the entire draft. But let’s have some fun. Sean Payton was infatuated with Patrick Mahomes. Not to call Love Mahomes, he’s not, but he might scratch the out of structure, off script itch teams will be looking for.
25. MINNESOTA VIKINGS – OT Austin Jackson, USC
Plenty of reports suggest the Vikings could be moving Riley Reiff to guard. Either way, moving on from Reiff now or next season saves quite a bit of cap money. So while this might not fill an immediate need, teams often look at the future with tackle picks. The Eagles with Andre Dillard last year is the latest example.
26. MIAMI DOLPHINS (VIA HOU) – S Xavier McKinney, Alabama
Surely many Dolphins fans will have their eye on Isaiah Simmons early in the first round. I’m here to tell you that McKinney can fill a very similar role for a defense at a discount. While the Dolphins plucked many Patriots, they still could be looking for their own version of Patrick Chung. McKinney connected to Brian Flores would be a lot of fun.
27. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – DL Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
The Seahawks continue to need defensive line help, even if a name like Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffin is on the roster in the next few weeks. Gross-Matos did not workout at the Combine, but I’m certain he would have drawn eyeballs if so. Plus, he has a tremendous story of conquering unfathomable obstacles during his life, something the Seahawks cite after selecting prospects every single year. Conquering adversity.
28. BALTIMORE RAVENS – LB Patrick Queen, LSU
The Ravens have routinely built through the inside-out. That changed a bit defensively last year. We saw the reaction - losing to the Titans and immediately adding names like Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers. Adding a rangy linebacker at the second level is an injection of talent the team could use.
29. TENNESSEE TITANS – OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State
With the Titans running it back with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, maintaining a strong front five blockers is paramount. Cleveland hit the short shuttle threshold that consistently projects success based on a single athletic test and could now find his way into the first round.
30. GREEN BAY PACKERS – WR Denzel Mims, BAYLOR
It was a clear mistake to not attempt to elevate the receiver talent around Davante Adams prior to last season. Mims’ draft process has been perfect thus far, recently capping it with an athletic profile in the 93rd percentile at 6-foot-3. That’s not to say he is perfect - Mims’ route tree was fairly limited (not as limited as previous Baylor wideouts), but already showed a natural feel to separate one on one during Senior Bowl practice tape I reviewed. If a quality offensive tackle is on the board it would not be surprising to see the Packers prioritize that over a receiver.
31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
I’d expect the 49ers to trade back from one of their first-round picks, but in this “no trade” mock draft exercise, here we go. While Sanders posted just two games of 100-plus receiving yards with the 49ers, including a total of 71 yards in three postseason games, his addition was a clear indication that Kyle Shanahan wanted more from his receivers not named Deebo Samuel. Maybe Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd return to make an impact, but Aiyuk possesses a big frame who also won after the catch with the Sun Devils.
32. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
It’s difficult to know what the Chiefs want to add. Pass rushing help? Another corner? Offensive line depth? A receiver once the team eventually moves on from Sammy Watkins? I’ll go with Murray as he helps as a traditional linebacker while also maximizing one on one matchups when blitzing off the edge.