Thor Nystrom Mock Draft: Day 1

Thor Nystrom
Rotoworld

It's a special mock week here on the Rotoworld NFL Draft section. Below is my Day 1 mock-up. Look for Day 2 on Tuesday, and a complete team-by-team analysis and breakdown to follow on Thursday. Enjoy!

1. Bengals – LSU QB Joe Burrow

We’ve never seen anything like Burrow’s 2019 ascendance. We’ve also never seen a better season from a college QB (5,671 passing yards 76.3% completions, 60/6 TD/INT). The local kid is either going to turn into Tony Romo-plus or become the single biggest one-year wonder cautionary tale in the history of the NFL Draft. 

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I can’t wait to see how this plays out. We’ve literally never seen one-year improvement like this. Romo might be the stylistic comp. But as far as quarterbacks entering the process, Burrow is a datapoint unto his own, something completely new, an alien. 

2. Redskins – Ohio State EDGE Chase Young

A slam dunk pick – but Washington is going to have to turn down some mighty attractive trade offers before turning in a card with Young’s name on it. 

And realistically, if Miami (or LAC, or a mystery team) is going to back up the Brinks truck to guarantee they leave Thursday night with Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, I’d encourage Washington to take the offer.  The Redskins have Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan coming off the edge and numerous roster holes elsewhere.  

But to trade out, the Redskins will have to turn down the opportunity to take one of the best young edge rushers to enter the process in the last few years and watch as Detroit’s brass celebrates the unexpected coup in their war room. Being in a position to draft guys like Young is a unique opportunity. You can argue it both ways.

 

3. Lions – Clemson DW Isaiah Simmons 

I refuse to list Simmons as a linebacker – he’s a defensive weapon. You don’t draft him to play a traditional off-ball role. You draft him to move him all over the place, erase opponents, and tick off opposing offensive coordinators. 

The Lions are no doubt hoping Chase Young falls, e.g., that another team will trade up into Washington’s 1.2 slot. If that doesn’t happen, Detroit itself should take Miami’s Tua offer (or whoever has decided to buck up). Because the Lions don’t have one defensive need, they have a pride of them. 

You wouldn’t argue with Jeffrey Okudah here, but Simmons’ ability to be deployed off-ball, on the edge, in the slot, and at safety feels like a better fit in a two-for-one special kind of way. That was the thinking with T.J. Hockenson last year. Let’s find trump cards.

 

4. Giants – Iowa T Tristan Wirfs

We know a few things about Dave Gettleman at this point. We know that he fetishizes big uglies. That he wants to build from the lines out. 

We know that he falls in love with a player during the pre-draft process and has a very hard time keeping that love to himself. You could call him media friendly. The Giants labored to plug organizational leaks heading into last year’s draft. They just ended up being the mystery team that egregiously over-drafted Daniel Jones.

This year, barring the heavens opening up and EDGE Chase Young dropping – which is, granted, a theoretical if remote possibility; it would require two teams trading up to 1.2/1.3 to select QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert – the Giants must take an offensive linemen here. Everything we know about Gettleman suggests he’s beyond giddy to do so.

And for the sake of Daniel Jones’ sanity, we should hope so. Jones has been playing behind shoddy offensive lines since he began appearing on television. Jones played through a broken collarbone for most of his senior season at Duke behind a five-orange-cone offensive line before getting thrown to the wolves last year. 

You can’t exactly write the book on Jones until he’s been given a season to, you know, drop back and survey his options like everyone else. And Gettleman isn’t going to. Gettleman could take a more traditional left tackle like Andrew Thomas here. Or he could take flavor of the week Jedrick Wills. But rumors early in the process already have him drawn to Tristan Wirfs

And that makes sense. Wirfs – a colossus and athletic freak with supreme position versatility – isn’t going to play left tackle in the NFL, but he offers Pro Bowl upside at either guard spot or right tackle. Heading into last year, Wirfs was a raw collection of insane athletic traits, an all-time Bruce Feldman Freak-lister.

But last year, Wirfs utterly dominated on the field for the Hawkeyes. I don’t think you can scoff at a top-5 selection anymore. And Gettleman is the kind of cat that doesn’t care if you do, anyway. He has multiple holes on the line. Bring Wirfs to camp, see where you most need immediate help, and plug him in there. Year 2, you can always move him. 

Iowa shifted Wirfs to LT no problem in-season last year to cover for LT Alaric Jackson’s injury before shifting Wirfs back to RT. Kirk Ferentz, in fact, said Wirfs only spent most of his career at RT because Jackson happened to get installed at LT first. But keep in mind that Wirfs was the first true freshman to ever start at tackle for Ferentz. Brandon Scherff, Riley Reiff, Bryan Bulaga and Robert Gallery didn’t.

“He can do both,” Ferentz said of Wirfs. “I think you could play him probably anywhere but center, and he probably could do that if you gave him some time. You play a guy like that inside, he’s basically going to kill guys. He’s a dominant player that way. Me personally, I would play him at tackle if I was still in the NFL. Maybe that’s why I’m not. But anyway, that’s where I’d play him. Tackles are such a valuable commodity in the NFL — any level.”

This slot may seem steep for Wirfs until the NFL Combine. Wirfs is going to destroy it in Indy.

 

5. Dolphins – Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa

I’m not convinced that Tua isn’t the best player in this draft. If he fell to five, it would be due to a confluence of injury concerns and the unwillingness of the three teams above to move down. 

And boy would that be a coup for the Fins. Miami led the league in sacks allowed last year while posting the fewest QB takedowns in the NFL. You could make a compelling argument that the team should go OL or DL, start Chosen Rosen for 16 games next fall, and either take Trevor Lawrence in 2021 if Rosen is what he’s shown the past two years or in essence find a quarterback for free if he proves to be more. 

On the other hand ... Tua will be special if his body doesn’t betray him. A left-handed Drew Brees with better wheels is the ceiling. And that’s not a ceiling, it’s an atrium.

 

6. Chargers – Oregon QB Justin Herbert

Once the Chargers parted ways with Phil Rivers, Herbert became the heavy favorite for this slot. Herbert’s bazooka will harken days of Air Coryell if this marriage comes to fruition. 

Criticisms of Herbert’s game are valid. But I don’t think people consider the lack of skill talent he played with at Oregon enough when they evaluate him. His intermediate game in college underwhelmed, but it’s not like he was throwing to Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. Context matters.

 

7. Panthers – Alabama T Jedrick Wills 

Taking Derrick Brown or Javon Kinlaw are both scenarios that will be scrutinized closely, but Carolina simply can’t go forward with the kind of offensive line play we saw last year.

OC Joe Brady is a whiz kid, but his system isn’t going to work if pockets are being caved in like crushed Pepsi cans. I understand the impetus to take a defender here – that’s HC Matt Rhule’s calling card – but I don’t see how you can eschew the offensive line if you intend to keep Newton. And even if Carolina has traded Newton, if three quarterbacks are already off the board, it’s not like the Panthers can throw up their hands and pop Jordan Love. The value isn’t there.

Carolina finished No. 22 in PFF’s pass-block grading last year. LSU’s pyrotechnic offense last year owed a heckuva lot more to its Joe Moore-winning offensive line (e.g., best in the nation) than the public realized. 

The Panthers spent a Round 2 pick on Greg Little last year, and injuries forced Round 6 pick Dennis Daley into the starting lineup for nine games. So at least you have youngsters on the developmental continuum already on the perimeter. The Panthers’ have a more glaring need on the interior, and they may prefer Wills to Andrew Thomas in part because of that. 

Wills has a very clean projection to either guard or right tackle in the NFL, with the power of a snowplow and the feet of a 4-wheeler. He’s going to be a plus-plus run blocker from Day 1. 

 

8. Cardinals - Auburn DT Derrick Brown

The Cardinals have big needs along the offensive line, and HC Kliff Kingsbury will have to be subdued and dragged from the war room to be prevented from phoning in a pick of Jerry Jeudy.

But I’m wondering why we keep talking about Arizona’s offense when the defense ranked No. 31 in efficiency last fall. The offense finished No. 13. Almost every mock draft I have seen has the Cardinals going offense in Round 1. 

Arizona’s brass would be wise to learn from history vis-a-vi why things went south for Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. Psst. It’s because he recruited and coached like I do when I play NCAA 2014 on PS3. Last year, he unloaded a clip of draft capital at that side of the ball. It’s time to address the other side.

 

9. Jaguars – Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah

What a steal! The Jags need a lockdown corner, and Okudah is the best this class has to offer. Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy would be tough to pass on. But if Okudah somehow drops, you sort of have to submit a card with his name on it.

 

10. Browns – Georgia T Andrew Thomas

The Browns are praying that one of Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills or Thomas drops down the board. Thomas might be Cleveland’s best-case scenario.

For a player who has dominated in the SEC since his true freshman season, Andrew Thomas has curiously seen his stock – at least as measured by mock drafts and media discussion in early February – stagnate a bit as newer, fresher names have arrived on the scene. But let’s not forget that this kid posted a dominant 92.4 PFF grade and allowed only six pressures last fall. 

Andrew Thomas is the Justin Herbert of this tackle class. We’ve been talking about Thomas so long that we’ve moved past the effusive praise cycle that a guy like Mekhi Becton is enjoying right now into nitpicky stuff. Careful. Thomas outplayed Becton his entire career against superior competition.

 

11. Jets – Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy 

The Jets are in a position where they’re likely to go best available at either WR, OT or EDGE. In this scenario, the class’ three-best tackles have all flown off the board, but you’ve got your pick of the receivers in a top-heavy class.

Darnold hasn’t gotten to work with many top-notch receivers going back to his college days. He got one year with JuJu Smith-Schuster his first year as a starter. In his second – his last – Deontay Burnett easily led USC in catches. The rest of the receiving corps was very young. Michael Pittman, who shows up on Day 2 in this mock draft, was a sophomore on that team who had 23 catches.

It would be nice to see Darnold with a true No. 1. And Jeudy is a true-blue No. 1. Killer blend of rocket propulsion movement, Ferrari body control, and pool shark feet. Jeudy is going to be a Freddy Krueger presence for NFL corners for years to come.

 

12. Raiders – Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb

Lamb doesn’t have the break-the-Matrix explosive element to his game that Jeudy does. But he runs divine routes, making him impossible to stick to. When the ball is in the air, he’s a basketball leaper with insane body control and vice-grip hands. 

He’s one of those high-volume receivers who could potentially lead the NFL in receptions multiple times. I’m not convinced that Lamb isn’t WR1 in this class.

 

13. Colts – South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw

If you’ve read me for a bit, you know I’m a Kinlaw fanboy. He’s always been a physical freak, and the rapid developmental progression he’s shown over the past few years ought to have NFL teams thinking long and hard about exactly where the ceiling ends. 

 

14. Buccaneers – Louisville T Mekhi Becton

I hate to rain on the Mekhi Becton hype parade, but his collegiate portfolio probably doesn’t justify a top-15 pick. 

Prior to last year, he had a couple of decent developmental seasons before improving to a solid 81.3 PFF grade, just south of 80.0 as both a run and pass blocker. And yes, I get that he’s 6’7/370 and that his highlight reel features clips of atrocities against smaller men.

But keep in mind that Becton’s three-worst graded games last year came against Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Miami. He played passable against Clemson, nothing special. The rest of the schedule featured games against two directional Kentucky teams, Boston College, Syracuse, Willie Taggart’s dead-on-arrival FSU team... you get the idea.

Wirfs, Thomas and Wills have all proven far more. Against his level of competition, you would have liked to have seen Becton utterly dominate. He didn’t.

 

15. Broncos – Colorado WR Laviska Shenault

Too perfect for the Broncos to import the local product over from Boulder. He wasn’t done any favors by his offensive situation, his quarterback, or his health at CU. And on the health front: You try staying healthy when your team needs to force-feed you the ball every play to win.

But I think Shenault is a pretty safe bet to turn into a guy who’ll evoke a mishmash of Sammy Watkins and Anquan Boldin. Shenault is a fortified 225-pounder who’s hell to bring down. He’s not just a tough-guy, though, you can use him in a myriad of ways. Colorado lined him up all over the place, including at Wildcat QB.

 

16. Falcons – LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson

A freaky athlete who came on like a lightning bolt at the end of LSU’s dominant run to the national title, Chaisson is another player whose developmental arrow is shooting straight up. The Falcons must use this pick to address its defense. Must.

 

17. Cowboys – LSU S Grant Delpit

The Cowboys badly need a safety, and they’re sitting pretty at 1.17. There’s a decent chance that they’ll have their pick of the class’ two best, either Delpit or Alabama's Xavier McKinney

The Cowboys will no doubt spend the next few months parsing between the two, while also diving into the corner class for alternate options in case they plug the safety need in free agency.

 

18. Dolphins – Iowa EDGE AJ Epenesa

The prevailing wisdom on Epenesa is that he’s a “safe” mid-first rounder who doesn’t have the highest ceiling due to athletic limitations. 

Two things on that. One, his power is a special trait. It’ll be a trump card against NFL linemen same as it was against college ones. Two, while I think he projects best to remain at DE, Epenesa has the versatility (for a 4-3 team) to kick inside to DT situationally on third downs because he’ll be able to knock heads inside as well. That gives his NFL team an edge enforcer on early downs against both the run and pass, and on passing downs, you kick Epenesa inside, and bring an extra pass rusher off the bench to bring extra mayhem.

Situational versatility is a superpower unto itself. Ask Bill Belichick. If I can always line you up across from a guy that you can take advantage of, we increase your odds of success, and we increase our leverage points as a unit against the opponent. 

Epenesa will allow his NFL team to do things along the front that they are currently not doing. That’s value added. I think it’s a disservice to call him “safe” rather than “versatile” and “unique.” 

 

19. Raiders – LSU CB Kristian Fulton

The Raiders popped Oklahoma superstar WR CeeDee Lamb with their first first-round pick. Now that wide receiver is crossed off the shopping list, Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, who would type “proven commodities from blueblood programs” into the NFL Draft Amazon search bar if it existed, head to the cornerback aisle.

Luckily, there’s a national champion Kristian Fulton still in stock. 

Fulton is a LifeLock corner, the kind of dude who is covering you in man on the tarmac off the airplane. Las Vegas had the league’s worst defensive unit by efficiency last season. They could sure use a guy like this that they can sic on an opponent’s No. 1 outside receiver.  

 

20. Jaguars – Alabama WR Henry Ruggs

This is pretty close to a grand slam Round 1 scenario for the Jaguars. If I’m Jacksonville, I want to use my two first-rounders much like I’d want to use them if I was Las Vegas... on huge needs at receiver at corner. Assuming the value is there, each team would do well to come out of Thursday night with one player at each position.

Well, the Jaguars were fortunate enough to see Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah fall to 1.9 earlier in the evening. That’s a scenario that’s in play on the following conditions: 1) At least two QBs go in the top-8 (probable), 2) At least two OTs go in the top-8 (coin flip?), 3) And Isaiah Simmons and one of the DTs go in the top-8, or is replaced by a wild card player (not outlandish?).

And what truly isn’t outlandish is the idea that a really good wide receiver is going to fall to 1.20. That’s just going to happen, because this class is really top-heavy in compelling prospects at the position.

Ruggs in a nutshell: Explosion explosion explosion. 

 

21. Eagles – Alabama CB Trevon Diggs

The Eagles badly need a receiver, and they would have opted for Ruggs had he lasted, but since he didn’t, Philly is going to address its other primary need of corner and defer the receiver need until Friday evening.

This corner class has offerings for many different tastes once you get past Okudah and Fulton. Diggs is sort of the best of both worlds, a guy from NFL bloodlines with an ideal build whose game is ascending at the right time. The brother of Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, Diggs is long (6’2) with an eagle’s wingspan. 

 

22. Bills – Clemson WR Tee Higgins

Josh Allen’s game might not be the best fit for a guy like Henry Ruggs, but man, could he and Tee Higgins have some fun. Higgins is the downfield jump-ball specialist Allen has been waiting for. This is a perfect fit.

 

23. Patriots – Houston T Josh Jones

The Pats could use a tight end, but this TE class is garbage. Might I suggest Jones? A four-year starter in the G5 who quietly developed into one of the country’s best tackles, Jones figures to be a riser during the draft process. 

 

24. Saints – Utah State QB Jordan Love

In my first mock, I didn’t have Love going in the first round. As I wrote in my Senior Bowl quarterback scouting preview column, I don’t see Jordan Love as a first-rounder (I have a Round 2 grade on him).

But I did write the following caveat on the Saints pick: “If Brees ultimately retires, go ahead and change the pick to Love.” Brees’ status remains up in the air, as does Cam Newton’s, and by this point, we know that the Chargers don’t have a choice but to take a quarterback (or to make a trade that would have the effect of putting the other team, such as the Panthers, into the same mode). 

All of which is to say that the Round 1 Jordan Love meter is currently teetering just over halfway into “likely” territory. Let’s say 53.5%. But this kid’s stock could go either way. 

It’s a wonky profile you can either talk yourself into or walk away from, and there are a small handful of franchises who could secure their short-term quarterback future or say “screw it” and put themselves in a position to shoot the moon by over-drafting Love by 20 slots and praying.

 

25. Vikings – Florida CB C.J. Henderson 

The Vikings are once again going to be shopping for offensive line help – especially if Riley Reiff is on the way out – but Trae Waynes is an unrestricted free agent and Xavier Rhodes is an overpaid cut candidate on a team that badly needs to free up cap space. 

Oh, and Rick Spielman loves drafting corners as much as Gettleman loves drafting offensive linemen.

Henderson may fall 10 slots or so because he battled injuries and accompanying inconsistencies last year (62.6 PFF grade over 492 snaps). But if you trust his 2018 work, a season in which he was disruptive all over the field, he remains a surefire Round 1 prospect (80.9 PFF grade over 706 snaps).

 

26. Dolphins – USC T Austin Jackson

The Dolphins, using a pick they acquired in the Laremy Tunsil deal, continue to methodically plug major roster holes. 

They began Thursday night by taking franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. But this was a team that finished dead last in the NFL in both sacks and sacks allowed. The pass rush was addressed in the late-teens with Iowa madman EDGE A.J. Epenesa.

Now it’s time to get Tua, whose biggest question mark is durability, some protection. Jackson’s calling card is athleticism. He isn’t much of a run blocker, but he’s a nifty mover on the edge who was one of the Pac-12’s best tackles in pass pro last year. If there’s one team that has the luxury to gamble on potential, it’s Miami with all these picks. 

 

27. Seahawks – Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver

Weaver has been one of the nation’s most disruptive edge rushers since stepping on the blue turf. Been under-appreciated for a few years now and figures to get under-drafted.

The Seahawks have recently been known to throw curveballs at us early. This is one I would stand up and applaud. PFF graded Weaver over 92.0 in pass-rushing in each of the past two years, with exactly 31 hurries in each campaign. That’s serious heat off the edge.

 

28. Ravens – TCU WR Jalen Reagor

How fun would this be?

Reagor is getting slept on because he suffered through some rough quarterback play in college. A guy with this much juice will level up in the NFL with a quarterback who can facilitate space.

With Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst acting as Lamar Jackson’s big targets, Hollywood Brown and Reagor acting as his uber-explosive ones, and Miles Boykin acting as something in between, Baltimore, with this pick, would fully weaponize itself with one of the league’s most diverse young receiving corps to go with one of the most explosive young quarterbacks in the history of the league.

If Reagor had gone to Alabama, he’d be viewed completely differently. TCU’s quarterbacks did him no favors. He’s a blur. We need to get him with someone who can get him the ball. 

 

29. Titans – TCU iDL Ross Blacklock

Back-to-back Horned Frogs!

Blacklock is something of a mystery box prospect after missing the 2018 season with a torn ACL. He played only a little over 1,000 snaps total in college. But boy was he disruptive in 2019, with a PFF run defense grade just south of 90.0 (elite territory) and 24 hurries in only 323 pass rushing snaps. 

He’s raw, but the tools and tape are exciting for a team willing to roll the dice late in Round 1 on flashes.

 

30. Packers – Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray

The Packers could really use another outside weapon for Aaron Rodgers, but I wonder if there’s an enormous qualitative difference between what they could get here and what they could get at pick 2.62. That’s the kind of thing the team’s brass will think long and hard about when deciding whether or not to defer the WR need.

In this scenario, you have your pick between Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen. Thirty-two picks from now, the off-ball linebacking crop is going to be picked over, not ideal if you’re needing to plug in a starter to replace Blake Martinez

 

31. 49ers – Alabama S Xavier McKinney

The 49ers are sitting pretty here. The NFC champs need secondary help – either at CB or S, they won’t be picky – and there’s at least a coin flip’s chance that one of Grant Delpit or McKinney are going to drop to 1.31. 

If one doesn’t, there are a grab bag of corners who are worthy of going in this slot. San Fran can either stay put, or, ideally, try to trade back seven or eight slots with one of those teams desperate enough to get back into the first round that it’ll overpay through the teeth to get it done late Thursday night, drunk on ambition. Bill Belichick created draft equity from nothing year after year in just such a way.  

 

32. Chiefs – Utah CB Jaylon Johnson

Johnson is getting overlooked. On 52 targets thrown his way last year, he allowed only 23 catches. I tend to find criticisms of his game overly nitpicky.

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