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Every year, we need to remind ourselves: The NFL scouting combine matters.
No matter how foolish the TV track event — which feels more popular than actual track and field — might seem from a distance, on the ground in Indianapolis is the draft current. You can feel it: Scouts, coaches, execs and agents are cruising around the city, gossiping about the offseason to come.
And every year, information we gather in the Circle City, plus what we heard down at the Senior Bowl, is far more reliable and accurate than what leaks out in late March and early April.
So, we’re soaking up as much as we can from what we heard and saw at the combine and funneling it into our pre-free agency mock draft. Veteran moves will change teams’ needs and outlooks, but the prospects are starting to slot into their little corners of the draft picture.
Here’s where we are in what feels like draft preseason.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
LSU QB Joe Burrow
The speculation of Burrow not wanting to play for the Bengals appeared to cool as combine week went on. Everything points to this being the pick here, especially after the team franchised wideout A.J. Green. If Andy Dalton is traded before the draft, the likelihood of Burrow to Cincy would go from about 97 percent to roughly 99.
2. Washington Redskins
Ohio State EDGE Chase Young
It doesn’t feel like the Redskins are just playing footsie with Tua Tagovailoa for frivolous reasons. As we saw with the Arizona Cardinals and Josh Rosen, changing course on a first-round QB can happen with a coaching change. Until we get more clarity on the new Redskins regime's feelings for Dwayne Haskins, we’ll peg them to take a game-changing pass rusher. Not a terrible option.
3. Detroit Lions
Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah
Even if Darius Slay stays, adding Okudah — a prospect whom one scout we spoke with compared to Stephon Gilmore — makes total sense for a Lions defense that was dead last in pass yards allowed last season.
4. New York Giants
Louisville OT Mekhi Becton
The Giants bringing in former Patriots assistant Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator could mean they fall in love with Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, the ultimate chess piece for a defense. But general manager Dave Gettleman still rules this process, and seeing Becton — the Hog Mollie of all Hog Mollies — could give Gettleman the tingles.
“He can blahck out tha sun with his left ahm” ... we can foresee Gettleman saying on the night of April 23.
5. Miami Dolphins
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
The reports of Tagovailoa getting weird vibes in his Dolphins interview at the combine were interesting, but the more we checked with some people who would know, the feeling we got is that the team seems to be operating that way with other prospects, too. If the Dolphins feel good about Tagovailoa’s health, he is a strong possibility for Miami.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
Utah State QB Jordan Love
Our second big surprise after Becton. The Chargers are staying mum about their plans, and not everyone is convinced they’ll take a QB here. It would make sense to add a future starter — with a high ceiling — who can sit and learn behind noted INT hater Tyrod Taylor. Love has all the skills to be great, and he seems to fit what Anthony Lynn wants.
7. Carolina Panthers
Oregon QB Justin Herbert
More likely than not, the Panthers could entertain trade offers and add selections they’re lacking in what appears to be a rebuild. With that in mind, I could see a team trading up to this spot to get Herbert if he is still on the board.
Does Cam Newton want to stick around for what looks, sounds and smells like a reboot? Something to watch, even with Matt Rhule saying he wants to work with Newton.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
Cards general manager Steve Keim scouted Simmons twice in person this season and had to know that he was far better than anyone attempting to cover a tight end or running back for the Cardinals last season.
Arizona Cardinals pass defense last season, by position
Tight ends: 127 targets/96 catches/1,148 yards/16 TDs
RBs: 110 targets/93 catches/788 yards/5 TDs
WRs: 332 targets/224 catches/2,764 yards/16 TDs
pretty much gashed by every position group last year
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 3, 2020
We loved what Simmons had to say during his combine media session: “The game is evolving. The name of the game now is stopping tight ends. Something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there.”
There’s a Kittle in the NFC West. Plus a Higbee and an Olsen. Simmons’ job would be clear.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
Florida CB C.J. Henderson
Trading A.J. Bouye has made corner a more immediate need, and Henderson established himself as the CB2, many felt, with his smoking 40-yard dash (4.39 seconds) and pristine positional work. If you need a man corner, Henderson is your dude. The Jaguars need that — and yes, many other things.
10. Cleveland Browns
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs
The combine superstar (and darned good player) almost feels like too perfect a fit with the Browns’ new analytics-heavy front office. Plus, there’s a huge need for blocking help. The beautiful part is that Wirfs can play either left or right tackle (or guard), so it doesn’t matter if the Browns fill one spot with a free-agent addition up front. They need more than one.
11. New York Jets
Alabama OT Jedrick Wills Jr.
Jets GM Joe Douglas prefers to build teams from the inside out, and this also feels like a big need for Sam Darnold and the offense. Landing a tail kicker such as Wills here would be an outstanding first pick for Douglas.
12. Las Vegas Raiders
Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III
How fitting would it be to kick off the Raiders’ first draft pick in their new home city with the most Al Davis-esque prospect ever? This would not just be a nod to Davis; we suspect the Raiders’ brass will not only love Ruggs’ rare speed but also his high-level competitiveness and character.
Could Ruggs overtake Tyreek Hill as the fastest player in the division? That’s a race we’d pay to see.
13. Indianapolis Colts
Auburn DT Derrick Brown
Colts GM Chris Ballard was all but telling the media at the combine that they’re going to draft a defensive lineman. We didn’t expect it to play out quite like this, with a top-eight talent falling to this point. Perhaps Brown’s disappointing combine workout will benefit the Colts. They need more help up front, and Brown is the type of bull-strong, high-character, high-motor prospect Ballard drools over to build his roster.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
The Buccaneers have decisions to make at quarterback, which could change this forecast dramatically. Are they in the market for a win-now vet there? If so, they’ll need to keep adding layers to a flawed offensive line, and Thomas would be the last of the top-four offensive linemen before there’s a clear demarcation until the next tier. In fact, they might even have to trade up to ensure they get him.
15. Denver Broncos
Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
Missing out on Ruggs would be a bummer, but this is a decent consolation. Some teams’ WR1 can do a few things with the ball in his hands, too. Jeudy isn’t the same style of deep threat as Ruggs, his college teammate. But it’s easy to see how Jeudy also could add some reverb to the Broncos’ offense and make life easier for Drew Lock.
16. Atlanta Falcons
South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw
Edge rusher is a big need, but Kinlaw would be terrific value here, and they could use help inside as well. Pairing Kinlaw with Grady Jarrett would be a great combo. Kinlaw is a war daddy for a defense that badly needs a dose of that.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
Jerry Jones might be thinking about Dez Bryant in the shower, but the owner might drive the bus himself to Vegas and do a swan dive in the Bellagio pool if Lamb falls into his lap. I’ve been consistently mocking them defensive backs, but don’t overlook what a weapon like Lamb could do in this offense — especially if Amari Cooper leaves or plays on a one-year franchise tender.
18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers)
LSU EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson
If the Dolphins don’t have to move up for Tagovailoa, perhaps they could slide up from this pick into the top 10 — maybe ahead of the Browns and Jets — to draft one of the top OT prospects. If not, pass rusher looms as a major need. We could see the Dolphins liking Chaisson in a Jamie Collins-ish role, something this Patriots-steeped staff could unleash effectively.
19. Raiders (from Chicago Bears)
Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
In addition to testing extremely well at the combine, Murray also has good tape — even with a few things that need to be cleaned up. He fits the mold of players GM Mike Mayock targeted early in the 2019 NFL draft: tough, high character, instinctive and revved-up for action. That’s Murray in a nutshell.
20. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
LSU LB Patrick Queen
Two years ago, they had the makings of a terrific young LB corps. Now, they need almost a total makeover there. Queen needs work, and he doesn’t turn 21 until the preseason, but he could be a Pro Bowl defender in a few years.
The Jaguars are in a full rebuild and could be in the running for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State QB Justin Fields next year. Might as well take high-upside players who will be worth waiting for, right?
21. Philadelphia Eagles
Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk
I could see the Eagles trying to trade up to land Ruggs, as deep speed is a huge void in this offense. Aiyuk — even with a good-but-not-great 40 time of 4.5 — is a fascinating substitute. He could be tremendous on deep balls with his acceleration and outstanding length (a stunning 81-inch wingspan).
22. Buffalo Bills
LSU WR Justin Jefferson
Adding length to one of the shorter WR groups in the NFL is a requirement this offseason, and Jefferson checks those boxes as a 6-foot-1, 33-inch arm ball magnet who helped his cause with a great 40 time (4.43) at the combine.
23. New England Patriots
Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa
This feels like too perfect a marriage. Epenesa could slide farther than this point after some troubling testing numbers at the combine, but as Bill Belichick is fond of saying — we’re paraphrasing here — tell me what a guy can do, not what he can’t do.
Epenesa can fill the Trey Flowers role that seemed to be missing, even on a great defense. Belichick caught our eyes by spending two days camped out in front of the defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl. His relationship with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz makes for another clear connection.
24. New Orleans Saints
TCU WR Jalen Reagor
If this is Drew Brees’ final run for a title, he must have more options to throw to. As great as Michael Thomas is, the Saints had only one of Brees’ 33 pass attempts in the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings gain more than 20 yards.
Reagor looked a little too bulked up at the combine, but that quickness didn’t disappear. And he just might faint after his first practice seeing the accuracy of Brees compared to the scattershot passers he dealt with at TCU.
25. Minnesota Vikings
LSU CB Kristian Fulton
With Xavier Rhodes perhaps gone and Trae Waynes a free agent, this pick makes sense. Fulton’s length will be challenged against the bigger NFC North receivers, but he compensates with good press-man technique and enough recovery speed. Still, Fulton is a second-round prospect for a lot of teams.
26. Dolphins (from Houston Texans)
Houston OT Josh Jones
Jones is a tease as a prospect, displaying clear first-round traits at times but seldom dominating. There’s still a lot to like about him, and Jones could be a nice piece to a Dolphins unit in need of work at both tackle spots.
27. Seattle Seahawks
Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
The Seahawks have a 32-inch minimum for arm length in their outside cornerbacks, and Diggs is one of the few higher-end prospects to meet that threshold in this year’s class. Even with pass rusher a position they likely could address here, Diggs could be a good upgrade on the outside opposite Shaquill Griffin.
28. Baltimore Ravens
Michigan C Cesar Ruiz
From one Harbaugh to the next, Ruiz can fill a short-term need at center if Matt Skura is hurt or walks in free agency. The Ravens also must guard against the potential retirement next year of Marshal Yanda, and Ruiz has guard experience. He’s a classic Ravens pick. The pass rusher can come in Round 2.
29. Tennessee Titans
Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
Offensive line might also be a big need, but Gross-Matos has the kind of juice and motor the Titans need to boost the pass rush. He’s still a work in progress, needing to improve against the run, but Gross-Matos would be tough to pass at this point.
30. Green Bay Packers
Baylor WR Denzel Mims
I wavered here between Mims and Clemson’s Tee Higgins but settled on Mims for his downfield, high-point ability. Mims has helped himself as much as any prospect in the entire draft class over the past few months, even though his route running will need to sharpen in order to please — and earn the trust of — Aaron Rodgers.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Alabama S Xavier McKinney
The word around the combine campfire was that the 49ers were very much open to moving down from this spot and adding picks. If they stay here, adding a safety makes some sense. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are nice pieces but not irreplaceable. McKinney is versatile, smart and tough.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
Clemson CB A.J. Terrell
Terrell might not possess elite ball skills, but the Chiefs have plenty of playmakers in their secondary. What they lack is a good, long press corner who can help combat the Courtland Sutton/Tyrell Williams/Mike Williams types in the division. It’s a good secondary, but a few players shy of being a great one.
Wisconsin LB Zack Baun
Passing on Higgins (a Bengals fan growing up) would be tough, but landing a linebacker here would be smart.
34. Colts (from Redskins)
Clemson WR Tee Higgins
The Colts find another weapon with length and size to threaten the outside — and another great value pick.
Georgia RB D’Andre Swift
I’m not 100 percent sold they’ll go RB this high, but Swift would add a great dimension with his third-down ability.
Alabama EDGE Terrell Lewis
They can’t wait too much longer to grab a pass rusher. Lewis is fascinating, but he’s also an injury worry.
USC OL Austin Jackson
On the raw side, Jackson still could upgrade the competition at either tackle spot — and likely be far better in 2021.
TCU CB Jeff Gladney
A feisty, highly competitive corner who can be a tone setter for Rhule’s new culture.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
Exactly the kind of selfless, athletic workhorse I could see Brian Flores wanting to build his run game around.
Utah CB Jaylon Johnson
Has some size and ability to man up against bigger receivers. Johnson isn’t universally beloved but would help upgrade a brutal pass defense.
LSU S Grant Delpit
A bit of a surprising tumble, but for the second straight year, the Browns could take a talented LSU DB who fell from first-round grace — assuming they don’t sign a safety in free agency — after landing Greedy Williams one year ago.
Georgia OT Isaiah Wilson
The OL-needy Jags land a massive, athletic project here.
43. Bears (from Raiders)
Louisiana OG Robert Hunt
With new OL coach Juan Castillo taking over, look for the Bears to seek mean dudes who can maul up front. This fits Hunt’s game to a tee. He seeks to bury people, and the Bears don’t have enough of those. Assuming Hunt’s health isn’t an issue, he might be the perfect pet project for Castillo.
Is this too high for Hunt? Perhaps. But GM Ryan Pace has never seemed to let that slow him down in the past.
Washington QB Jacob Eason
Is he exactly what the Colts are seeking in a QB in the bullpen? That’s hard to say. But Eason should hear his name called somewhere in this vicinity.
Missouri DT Jordan Elliott
The buzz on him has been quiet, but NFL people like Elliott after his breakout 2019 season. The Bucs need DT reinforcements.
TCU DL Ross Blacklock
Enough length and penetration skill to make a pretty good 5-technique in Vic Fangio’s scheme.
LSU C Lloyd Cushenberry
Alex Mack is entering a contract year at age 34, and Cushenberry can play guard until he’s ready to take over at center.
Penn State WR KJ Hamler
If they pass on bringing Robby Anderson back, Hamler could be the home-run hitter this WR group needs.
USC WR Michael Pittman Jr.
Pittman’s game might overlap with what James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster do, but that trio could give them plenty of jump-ball options. Adding a tight end might make sense, but Pittman would give them enough length and size at receiver to be worth the selection here.
Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet
They might give Trey Burton one more chance as the “U” tight end, but Kmet should be a big upgrade over what they thought they could get out of Adam Shaheen. That experiment feels over, and Kmet — even for some rawness to his game — brings alluring traits to the position.
Minnesota S Antoine Winfield Jr.
Missing out on a DB in Round 1 doesn’t feel as bad now. Dallas could add a versatile, ball-hawking defender to a secondary that didn’t make big plays last season.
Syracuse EDGE Alton Robinson
The Rams seem to have a type in the edge rushers they seek, favoring twitchier rushers with burst and less concerned with other measurables, even if their track record there in recent years has been spotty. Robinson would be a risky pick at this spot, as his production was so-so last season and he has some character concerns that must be sorted through. But I could see them signing off on him with a drop-off in the edge-rush talent.
Auburn DT Marlon Davidson
The Eagles went through DTs last season like Spinal Tap went through drummers. They could use a young one to groom.
Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger
This might not feel like a huge need, but Jordan Poyer is entering the last year of his deal, and we were told that no team did more work in person on Dugger than the Bills.
55. Falcons (from Patriots)
Ohio State RB JK Dobbins
Terrific value for a back whom some rate as the best in the class. Day 1 starter and replacement for Devonta Freeman.
56. Dolphins (from Saints)
Ohio State CB Damon Arnette
The Dolphins might not use all of these picks in the first two rounds, but Arnette’s grit could fit a Flores-coached defense.
Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler
It’s too early to know if Dantzler’s combine 40 will sink his stock, but his confidence and skill are the kind of thing this Texans secondary could use. The additions of former first-round picks in Vernon Hargreaves and Gareon Conley were interesting, but Houston shouldn’t stop looking for more help.
Assuming Dantzler runs better at his pro day, which we expect, he’s too good to slip too much farther. He took on all comers against SEC receivers and fared pretty well.
Texas A&M DT Justin Madubuike
After going offense-heavy to start last year’s draft, Mike Zimmer’s D gets a reinforcement with a perfect third DT.
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
Almost pulled the trigger on Dayton TE Adam Trautman here as Greg Olsen’s understudy, but we could see them rolling the dice on Shenault’s unique skill set if he checks out medically.
Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver
The Ravens’ scouting philosophy is college sack production correlates to future NFL disruption. Weaver had 34 sacks in 40 college games.
Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene
Get out your pronunciation guides, Nashville. Adding a physical, explosive project such as IG-bin-OG-gah-nee could be important if Malcolm Butler ends up a cap casualty.
Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland
A linebacker would be nice, sure, but landing a potential Bryan Bulaga replacement also looms large.
63. Chiefs (from 49ers)
LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
This would be unfair. CEH’s open-field ability in this offense? Wow. Instant juice and a perfect fit.
64. Seahawks (from Chiefs)
Michigan EDGE Josh Uche
The Seahawks might value Uche’s intriguing skills for their pass-rush needs more than other teams.
Other prospects we considered in the top 64: Jake Fromm, Julian Okwara, Ashtyn Davis, Raekwon Davis, Hunter Bryant, Zack Moss, Bryce Hall, Jonathan Greenard, Neville Gallimore, Darrell Taylor.
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