The NFL scouting combine has a way of changing the draft landscape, but perhaps not in the way you might assume.
Yes, the workouts matter. But they’re only one quarter of the event’s evaluation elements, along with the medical testing, interviews and the positional workouts.
We’ll be rolling out our combine positional previews soon, which will detail how players can help or hurt their stocks at the combine.
A lot of information will leak out into media circles starting on Feb. 24, when the first of the 300-plus NFL prospects start arriving in Indianapolis for the event. And year after year, that information gathered at the combine has tended to be more accurate about teams’ draft intentions than most of what funnels out later in March and into April.
But here’s how we could view the first two rounds shaking out prior to the big event, without projecting trades and prior to the open of free agency and veteran player movement.
At this point, we’re trying our best to project players who could fit with certain teams, but we also are trying to place prospects in the general range in where they could be drafted.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
LSU QB Joe Burrow
The whispers coming out of Burrow’s camp might be concerning, as they appear to toe the line of suggesting that he might favor playing elsewhere. The Bengals should stuff their ears with plugs and pick him anyway. Barring some motherlode trade offer, this is the pick. But we’ll admit to being less sure about this pairing now than we were a few weeks ago.
2. Washington Redskins
Ohio State EDGE Chase Young
Another team that theoretically could kick the tires on a trade down, and you just never know with them. Still, suggesting Young is a luxury pick because pass rusher isn’t one of the team’s biggest immediate needs is just fools’ talk. He’s a special talent who can transform this to a very good front seven for Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio.
3. Detroit Lions
Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah
How about that? Three picks, three straight members of the 2017 Buckeyes.
In our previous mock, we had Auburn DT Derrick Brown at this spot. Our estimation is that the Lions have three options right now: trade down (for a Tua team), or stay put and take either Okudah or Brown. And depending on how far they move down, the Lions might be able to have their cake and eat it, too.
But in this scenario, the Lions nab the best cover man in the draft. With Darius Slay’s future in Detroit unclear, it would make a lot of sense.
4. New York Giants
Alabama OT Jedrick Wills Jr.
Here’s where it gets interesting. I strongly considered Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons here but couldn’t quite pull the trigger. GM Dave Gettleman has never traded down in running seven drafts for two teams, so there’s no reason to expect that to happen here either.
And in taking Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones in this range the past two seasons, Gettleman has cast his die. For those two players to be effective, the Giants need more effective blocking. Wills could play either tackle spot or at guard, and the Giants can use help at both, but they’re especially needy at tackle.
5. Miami Dolphins
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
Last mock, I gave the Dolphins a different QB and heard about it from the angry south Florida militia. Just here to make you guys happy!
Actually, those folks do have a point: If Tagovailoa tests out well medically in Indy, he’s a prime target of the Dolphins — and no team is in better position to go up and get him. But there persists talk of the Dolphins exploring veteran QB possibilities, including some big names, and owner Stephen Ross even admitted that Tua’s health is a worry in his mind. That matters.
Stephen Ross today on Tua: “I’ve been down there to see him. He’s a great player. I just worry about his health... The coaches (and GM) make the decision on the draft choices. We’ll have to look at what his health is and everything else and see what the alternatives are.”— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) January 31, 2020
6. Los Angeles Chargers
Oregon QB Justin Herbert
For now, we’re giving them a college QB, assuming Philip Rivers’ days there are done and that they can’t lure Tom Brady to move west. Of course, that could change dramatically if the Chargers land Brady or one of the other fascinating veteran options at the position this offseason.
Herbert would be a safe fallback, able to battle with Tyrod Taylor for the Opening Day job. With 43 college starts and a good head on his shoulders, Herbert would come in prepared. But will he ever be great?
7. Carolina Panthers
Auburn DT Derrick Brown
Lot of trade-down chatter with the Panthers. Also some suggestions they could be gearing up for a move to land either Burrow or Tagovailoa. And we still don’t know what the team’s intentions are with Cam Newton.
So this one is hard to peg right now, even though this smells like a rebuild in Carolina. With as much as we know to this point, Brown would make a lot of sense for a team that needs help up front. New head coach Matt Rhule is a “trenches” guy who will prioritize reinforcing the offensive and defensive lines this year and next.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
The Cardinals allowed 96 catches (on 127 targets) for 1,148 yards and 16 (!) TDs to tight ends in 2019. Consider that only two tight ends — Baltimore’s Mark Andrews (10) and New Orleans’ Jared Cook (nine) — had more than seven TD catches last season. And Kansas City’s Travis Kelce was the only tight end (97 catches for 1,229 yards) to surpass those catch and yard marks.
They need a defensive eraser to stop that position. They’re different players, but Simmons could be to Arizona what Derwin James is to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Cardinals can wait for an offensive tackle or receiver, but there’s no other Simmons clone in this draft.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw
Admittedly, this wouldn’t be ideal for them. The three players that make the most sense for them — Okudah, Brown and Simmons — are off the board. But in our minds, Kinlaw is not a big step down at all from Brown and could help shore up the interior. Others will scream receiver or cornerback, but don’t forget they have another first-rounder and an early second to fill more needs.
10. Cleveland Browns
Louisville OT Mehki Becton
With the new analytics-driven front office running the ship, it’s tough to know exactly which direction the Browns will go. But I do think offensive line help is a must at multiple spots, and new OL coach Bill Callahan loves players who can engage power. So while I could easily see Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs here, I also couldn’t resist pairing up the powerful, nasty and surprisingly agile (for a 350-pounder) Becton.
11. New York Jets
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs
GM Joe Douglas is expected to canvass the OL market in free agency, so it’s possible that this need isn’t quite as big come draft time. But the Jets also could use upgrades at multiple OL spots. The appeal of Wirfs is that he’s technically sound, athletic, strong and experienced (and effective) at both left and right tackle. Some teams also like him at guard. A safe, smart pick to kick off Douglas’s draft tenure with the team and help out QB Sam Darnold.
12. Oakland Raiders
Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
I’ve routinely penciled in Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb in this spot in recent mocks, but I am starting to think Jeudy might be a stronger possibility here. His game mirrors more of Antonio Brown, the would-be centerpiece of the 2019 Raiders’ offense, than Lamb’s game does.
The Raiders only really have Tyrell Williams and Hunter Refrow locked in for WR spots next year, and Jeudy’s inside-outside flexibility and separation ability make him a great fit. Really, he and Lamb both look like ideal No. 1s-in-waiting, but they just win in different ways.
13. Indianapolis Colts
Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
I thought about a quarterback here. A trade down also fits the pattern of GM Chris Ballard, too.
But in the end, the need to add explosiveness to the offense is too glaring. Perhaps they achieve this in free agency, with a boatload of dollars to spend, but grabbing Lamb in addition to free-agent help at receiver wouldn’t be bad at all.
One potential worry: There have been whispers about left tackle Anthony Castonzo possibly retiring. If he’s not back for 2020, the Colts’ needs change in a big way.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
There’s an eventual drop-off at tackle shortly after this spot, so there’s no guarantee the Bucs can find a starting-caliber blocker in Round 2 or later. Personally, I have Thomas rated a bit lower than this, but I could see teams considering him starting in this range.
Although he played left tackle the past two seasons, Thomas was the Bulldogs’ right tackle in their run to the title game in the 2017 season. We imagine him being an immediate upgrade over 34-year-old Demar Dotson.
15. Denver Broncos
Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III
We first mocked Ruggs to Denver back in October, and it makes even more sense to us now. New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has had success working with fast receivers in the recent past, and Ruggs’ strong football temperament will go over well with head coach Vic Fangio. Ruggs, Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant would be an excellent top three targets for QB Drew Lock.
16. Atlanta Falcons
Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa
The Falcons were improved defensively in the second half of the season, but their 28 sacks (16 of which came in three games) remain an issue. Epenesa won’t win much with speed, but he brings power, heavy hands and high effort to the job and would be a good tone setter for Dan Quinn’s defense.
If he turns into Cameron Jordan Lite, it’ll be worth drafting Epenesa this high, but some teams rate him a bit lower than this, we’ve found.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Alabama S Xavier McKinney
McKinney might not be a pure Minkah Fitzpatrick clone, but Nick Saban trusted McKinney in the same “Star” role Fitzpatrick played and could be a nice fit in a Dallas secondary that likely will have some holes to fill.
The Cowboys had only seven interceptions last season, five by DBs. And of their 10 forced fumbles, only three came from the secondary. McKinney is a good enough playmaker to change that, and he can help cover tight ends, who stung Dallas for a league-worst 104 catches last season.
18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers)
LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson
A big need for Miami, which had Pro Football Focus’ lowest-rated pass rush of any team in 2019. Brian Flores comes from the Bill Belichick system that favors this type of springy, juicy pass rusher with a frame to grow and get stronger for a “30” front — think Jamie Collins.
Drafting Chaisson a few slots ahead of the Patriots (who are said to be fans) is an added bonus. Some think he’ll go even higher than this, perhaps to the Jets at 11.
19. Raiders (from Chicago Bears)
Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
This could be a shade high to us for Murray, but I believe the formula GM Mike Mayock used successfully in his maiden draft will carry over to 2020: take high-character, high-energy players at positions of need.
Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther brought in Vontaze Burfict to be the defense’s tone setter last season, but now Murray gets a shot in that role. He’s fast, hyper-competitive and could develop into a Pro Bowler in time.
The Raiders also could try to slide back a few spots ... maybe to a team targeting QB Jordan Love?
20. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
I’ve pegged them a receiver here in prior mocks, but I am starting to think they might wait there. Instead, they can grab a long corner with elite physical traits — Diggs might run in the 4.4 range in Indy — with the pick they traded for Jalen Ramsey. The Jags’ coverage was atrocious at times down the stretch.
21. Philadelphia Eagles
Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk
The need for (receiver) speed is real. I thought about a corner here, with the Eagles smelling a possible run at that position. But I believe they could be smitten with the vertical ability of Aiyuk, who also earned the apt nickname of “Ai-YAC.”
Why? Well, a shocking 710 of his 1,192 receiving yards last season came after the catch, and Aiyuk is expected to run one of the fastest WR 40s at the combine. He also has return ability.
22. Buffalo Bills
Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
This team easily could take a receiver here, although I suspect they could seek to address another need — edge rusher — first. Gross-Matos’ production was a bit scattershot this season, and he could be more consistent setting hard edges. But his traits are undeniable.
We expect his athleticism to be on full display in Indy, and his wingspan makes him attractive to a Bills team that appears to value shot blockers up front. They also need to guard against Shaq Lawson hitting free agency and Jerry Hughes getting up there in age.
23. New England Patriots
TCU DT Ross Blacklock
No clue what happens with Tom Brady. But watching Bill Belichick park himself directly in front of the defensive linemen for two days at the Senior Bowl makes us think he didn’t much enjoyed watching his vaunted defense get gashed by the run in the playoff loss to the Titans.
Blacklock is a typical Patriots lineman: heavy-handed, versatile and nasty. He wrecked blocking schemes and looked to have spring back in his step following a 2018 Achilles injury.
24. New Orleans Saints
Utah State QB Jordan Love
Sean Payton was said to be enamored by Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL draft, and yet he was swooped up one pick ahead of New Orleans. Imagine what might have been. With the uncertainty of Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater’s deal up, we could see the Saints targeting a QB such as Love, who has some Mahomesian skills but a lot more questions and need for refinement.
A one-year apprenticeship under Brees (assuming he doesn’t retire) would be ideal for Love’s development, although we easily could see him going higher than this the closer we get to April.
25. Minnesota Vikings
Houston OT Josh Jones
Jones could be this year’s Andre Dillard — the Senior Bowl attendee whose evaluation takes a jump and lands him in the later portion of Round 1. Jones has the physical tools and enough nasty for the Vikings to consider having him replace Riley Reiff at left tackle eventually. Once Jones gets stronger and cleans up his pass sets a bit, he could be a force.
26. Dolphins (from Houston Texans)
USC OT Austin Jackson
From a traits perspective, it’s easy to see why Jackson might go this high. He evokes shades of Greg Little, the Panthers’ high second-rounder a year ago (37th overall).
But Jackson also is going to earn a second-round grade from me because, like Little, he needs polish and refinement. Still, the Dolphins have a ton of early draft capital, and they need to use some to upgrade an unsatisfactory offensive line.
We could also envision them taking the first running back of the draft here, if there’s one they like enough. This pick also could be used as trade bait to land a QB.
27. Seattle Seahawks
Alabama EDGE Terrell Lewis
Trading back is always an option, as the Seahawks often have from this range in the past. But if they stay here, Lewis is a player who I think could intrigue them. He’s long, explosive and sudden — Lewis just feels like the kind of traits-ish player they covet. The Seattle pass rush needs a boost, whether or not Jadeveon Clowney is back.
28. Baltimore Ravens
Wisconsin LB Zack Baun
The Ravens need LB help and pass-rush help. Baun can help with both. He played with his hand in the dirt in college but looked very natural dropping into space and playing the run in a two-point stance at the Senior Bowl. It could take some time, but Baun is a smart player. He also showed some hustle on special teams in the Senior Bowl game; it didn’t go unnoticed.
29. Tennessee Titans
Michigan EDGE Josh Uche
Why the heck not? This might feel high to some, and having two light ends in Uche and Harold Landry would leave the Titans a bit susceptible. But that’s basically what the Titans did this past season anyway.
Uche could be an upgrade in time over Kamalei Correa, who essentially the same size. For the questions about Uche’s ability to stack and set the edge, there’s little question he can rush, and Michigan moved him around quite a bit. So in time we feel he can be a very good all-around player.
30. Green Bay Packers
LSU LB Patrick Queen
There’s a lot to like about Queen, who doesn’t turn 21 years old until training camp. He kept getting better as the season wore on, starting with a dominant performance against Utah State, while playing the same spot in the LSU defense that Devin White manned in 2018.
Queen, however, is still a developing player in coverage — Alabama and Clemson tried to go after him there — and will require some patience. He’s a converted running back who is still learning the finer points of the position.
31. San Francisco 49ers
LSU S Grant Delpit
A value pick, but also a need. Delpit’s tackling concerns are real, and they’ve been discussed ad nauseum. But what you can’t overlook is that Delpit’s range and instincts are still rare. He’d be valuable as a back-half defender who could replace Jimmie Ward, who is a free agent. Entering last season, Delpit was projected to go far higher than this.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
LSU CB Kristian Fulton
Three straight Tigers go off the board, and it would be a steal for the world champs. Fulton deserves to go higher than this and very likely could. He’s earned high marks for his play on the field, along with his work ethic and toughness.
With the Tigers’ season lasting as long as it did, and with Fulton tending to a family illness, he was forced to pull out of the Senior Bowl. But anyone reviewing last season’s tape can see just how strong Fulton is in coverage.
We provided pick analysis for the teams that don’t have a selection in Round 1.
Clemson WR Tee Higgins
34. Colts (from Redskins)
Washington QB Jacob Eason
Georgia RB D’Andre Swift
Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver
Michigan C Cesar Ruiz
Florida CB C.J. Henderson
Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins
Connecticut OT Matthew Peart
Minnesota S Antoine Winfield Jr.
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
43. Bears (from Raiders)
Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet
The Bears got next to nothing in the passing game from tight ends last year and need that to change. The 6-6, 258-pound Kmet is still raw, but the Chicago-area native has fascinating upside and could be a very good red-zone target. His blocking needs refinement for sure, but the potential is there.
We expect the Bears to sign one free-agent tight end and draft another. They were handcuffed by the position last season.
Texas A&M DT Justin Madubuike
Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore
TCU CB Jeff Gladney
Ohio State CB Damon Arnette
Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara
Florida EDGE Jonathan Greenard
Even if Bud Dupree is back, it could be on the franchise tag. The Steelers had a terrific defense last season, but they need to protect against Dupree’s eventual loss and give T.J. Watt a running mate. Greenard was great for the Gators after transferring from Louisville, outshining Jabari Zuniga as Florida’s best pass rusher. If there’s a pass rusher in this range who fits the Steelers’ mold, it’s Greenard.
Auburn OT Prince Tega Wanogho
LSU WR Justin Jefferson
Ohio State LB Malik Harrison
With Andrew Whitworth apparently giving it another go, the Rams might have enough options on the offensive line to avoid having to take one here. But they could lose Cory Littleton in free agency if they can’t clear enough cap space, and Harrison would be a solid replacement.
New defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has spent the past three years learning from Vic Fangio, whose system requires strong off-the-ball LB play. Harrison is a high-school QB who has good instincts, is very good in the run game and has the skills to continue to develop in coverage.
Clemson CB A.J. Terrell
USC WR Michael Pittman Jr.
55. Falcons (from Patriots)
Georgia QB Jake Fromm
56. Dolphins (from Saints)
Alabama DL Raekwon Davis
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
This would be a bit of a surprising tumble for Taylor, who is a first-rate prospect in a lot of ways. But his fumbling (six last season, 17 in three years) is an issue for some evaluators, as is his limited work in the passing game, which could get him lost in the deep RB shuffle a bit.
But Bill O’Brien would love to land a bell-cow back with A-plus character, very good speed and terrific contact balance to boost his offense that has relied too much on the magic of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. Carlos Hyde is a free agent, and as well as Hyde played at times, Taylor would be an upgrade.
Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene
TCU OT Lucas Niang
Louisiana-Lafayette OG Robert Hunt
Utah CB Jaylon Johnson
TCU WR Jalen Reagor
63. Chiefs (from 49ers)
LSU C Lloyd Cushenberry III
64. Seahawks (from Chiefs)
Penn State WR K.J. Hamler
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