The order of this mock draft was determined by Mike Clay's post-draft win projections released earlier this month. With one exception. I swapped the Dolphins and Raiders at the top of the board.
With Josh Rosen in town on an affordable rookie contract, I don't believe the Dolphins would take a quarterback 1.1, and I don't think they should. I also don't believe the Dolphins will finish with the league's worst record. Consider it a projected trade if you like.
1. Raiders - Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
I’m already tired of the arm strength narrative with Tua. Stop. When a quarterback prospect with elite-elite accuracy, top-notch mobility and a tantalizing dichotomy of composure and gamble enters the league, you don’t begin the conversation with “He doesn’t have a howitzer.” That would be like a music critic putting the sentence “She can’t freestyle” in a review of Adele’s first album.
This pick would give Jon Gruden the Steve Young-esque West Coast quarterback he prefers, allow Mike Mayock to choose the face of his franchise, seriously geek up the Las Vegas fanbase, give ESPN’s draft crew hours of talking points comparing Tagovailoa to the original left-handed dual-threat Alabama quarterback in Raiders lore, Ken Stabler*, and allow the Raiders to scoop up a draft pick by trading Derek Carr.
*If this happened, Tua would have to be given a nickname befitting of “The Snake.” You’ve got 11 months to improve on these ideas: "The Rake" (it’s Vegas, after all!), "The Serpent" or "The Fryin’ Hawaiian". And speaking of Vegas nicknames: If Vic Beasley needs a change of scenery next year, let’s bring him west with the moniker Vig Beasley. I don't ask for much.
2. Dolphins - Iowa EDGE AJ Epenesa
Believe the hype, folks. I’ve seen the monster. And the monster is real. As the NFL Draft media’s foremost consumer of Iowa football, I can tell you that the only complaint Hawkeyes fans have had about AJ Epenesa is that the coaching staff didn't use him more as a true freshman and sophomore.
A five-star recruit out of Illinois, Epenesa is the highest-rated prospect to sign with Iowa during Kirk Ferentz’s 20-year career (my dear friend Elliott, a pedantic editor who lives in Brooklyn, clarifies that technically OLB Kyle Williams in the 2004 class was rated slightly higher -- but Williams was ruled academically ineligible before his freshman season began, transferred to Purdue, and is currently in the middle of a 47-year prison sentence -- so, um, yeah... let's just give the title to Expenses!).
Epenesa earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year. He led the conference in sacks (10.5, the most by a Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn in 2009). He also led Iowa in TFL (16.5), and added four forced fumbles, four pass break-ups, and one fumble recovery.
Epenesa earned a 90.0+ (elite) PFF grade last year. He's collected a total of 80 pressures over two seasons in college. Despite all that, get this: Epenesa has NEVER started a game in his career! Like, ever! He's posted superior stats to Nick Bosa through two years on campus despite playing 159 fewer snaps alongside inferior talent (897 for Bosa, 738 for Epenesa).
Epenesa only played in 48-percent of Iowa’s defensive snaps last year. With standout veterans Anthony Nelson (fourth-round pick of the Bucs) and Parker Hesse (UDFA camp invite for the Chiefs) installed at end, Epenesa was forced to come in off the bench. Basically, Iowa wanted Hesse setting the edge against the run on early downs and for Epenesa to enter on passing downs, while sprinkling in breathers for Nelson.
There’s old-school, and then there’s Kirk Ferentz. But with Ferentz’s beloved vets off to the NFL, the time has come to greatly increase Epenesa's workload. The freak athlete is no longer a youngster. Now he’s the vet. Good luck trying to block him, Big 10!
Epenesa is a freak athlete who bends the edge and converts speed to power at an extremely advanced level for his age. Kid is strong as an ox (see below). But that's not what he's known for. What he's known for is his dog-on-a-bone relentlessness. Ace Iowa beat writer Scott Dochterman has compared Epenesa's no-kill-switch-pursuit style to former Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan, who famously played each down like it was his last.
When this conversation comes up, J.J. Watt's name is inevitably evoked. Epenesa had 3.5 more sacks as a two-year part-timer than Watt did in his two years as a starter at Wisconsin (Watt also had 36.5 TFL). I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
We already know that Epenesa is a touched-by-God's-hand pass-rusher. What we need for him to do next is improve against the run and prove that he can play the style he prefers to play (with his hair on fire) while out there on all three downs.
It's not that Epenesa struggles against the run -- it's just that our sample size with him in those situations is so small as to be worth discarding. We'll get a full verdict on that aspect of his game now that Hesse is gone. But Epenesa's country strength, athleticism and effort level all suggest he's gonna be just fine in that phase of the game, too.
And fun fact!: Epenesa’s dad — who grew up in American Samoa and played for Hayden Fry at Iowa, the primary reason his five-star son ended up a Hawkeye — is named Eppy Epenesa. Eppy is short for Epenesa. Fry called Epenesa Epenesa “Repeat.” Gotta love football coach humor. Dad humor with a splash of Tabasco and a pinch of tobacco.
3. Redskins - Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
How better to celebrate the one-year anniversary of drafting QB Dwayne Haskins than to go out and purchase him Odell Beckham 2.0? That comp has become so ubiquitous that I feel a knee-jerk reaction to want to disagree with it.
But when you see a sub-200 pound SEC receiver with high-octane athleticism, ludicrous body control (check out the video below) and polished ball skills, your mind really only goes one place. Jeudy probably has an inch on OBJ as well (he’s listed as 6’1 but will likely measure in around 6’0; Beckham is 5’11).
NFL fans who don’t watch much college football: I implore you, make an exception this year, if only for Alabama and Clemson. We’ve got a young Steve Young throwing to a young Odell Beckham, and the Crimson Tide also still have multiple running backs who were No. 1 in their recruiting classes in addition to a stupidly stocked receiver room.
Jeudy is the odds-on favorite to repeat as the Biletnikoff winner, but he’s going to have a fight on his hands. I don’t know that college football has ever boasted the receiving talent that we’re going to see next season.
4. Bucs - Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
A year from now, I’m not certain how the Bucs are going to look. But no matter what, I know that they’ll have use for an elite left tackle prospect. And that’s Thomas. A 320-pound stud athlete, Thomas has stood out each of the past two seasons on lines that also featured Lamont Gaillard and (in 2017) Isaiah Wynn.
Thomas kicked to left tackle to replace Wynn last year and acquitted himself quite well. His career progression has gone similarly to Jonah Williams. Thomas started at right tackle as a freshman before moving to the opposite side as a sophomore to take over for a player who’d moved on to the NFL (in Jonah’s case, that was Cam Robinson).
A consensus 2018 All-American, Thomas has started 28 of 29 career games, only missing one with a sprained knee. Thomas has Jonah beat in both length and athleticism, so he isn’t going to be followed by the same tired “he should move inside” narrative. And per PFF’s grades, Thomas (80.6) was better than Jonah (76.9) as a sophomore. Jonah’s grade jumped to 89.2 as a junior and a similar developmental leap is needed out of Thomas to make the top-five a reality.
5. Giants - Ohio State EDGE Chase Young
A five-star recruit and top-10 overall prospect in his class, Chase Young has lived up to the hype. When Ohio State unexpectedly lost Nick Bosa for the season last September, the Buckeyes desperately needed Young to not just have star potential, but to actually be a star.
And boy was he. Young wreaked havoc off the edge, posting 9.5 sacks and 14.5 TFL as a true sophomore. This year, even more is expected from the rangy 6-foot-5, 265-pounder. We can only pray we get to see more of him as a junior than we saw of Bosa last season.
Related fun fact: 2019 will be the first season the Buckeyes haven’t had a Bosa on the edge since 2012. I was living in China that year. A lifetime ago. We need Young to dominate so as not to be subjected to a deluge of cloying announcer jokes to the effect of, “Ohio State sure could use a Bosa this afternoon! — are there any more in the pipeline?!”
6. Broncos - Colorado WR Laviska Shenault
How fun is this?! And how perfect!
The Broncos had a secondary need of receiver that they didn’t address in last month’s draft until doing a favor to Shenault’s former teammate Juwann Winfree in the sixth-round. This time, let’s actually address the position.
I think the industry is still sleeping on Shenault a little. From the standpoint of utter on-field domination, size and dreadlocks, Shenault reminded me of Julio Jones from Alabama last year. That’s not a perfect comp, though, because Jones is faster and Shenault is probably stronger. Neither is LeBron James, the Shenault comp given by his QB Steven Montez.
Shenault is the guy you feed touches to as often as possible and in as many ways possible because he’s so difficult to tackle. He’s both a big-play maven and a high-volume playmaker. Two other comps that might fit a little better: Sammy Watkins (perhaps the most common in the industry right now) and Anquan Boldin. Boldin works better from a strength/toughness perspective.
I first saw the Boldin comp from, of all people, USC DC Clancy Pendergast, who was a DC for the Arizona Cardinals during Boldin’s time there. In the lead-up to last October's USC-Colorado game, Pendergast noted that Shenault “can really handle the ball in the open field but (he) also create[s] mismatches down the field.”
Though Shenault’s skill with the ball in his hands leads to plenty of passes caught around the line of scrimmage, he’s still the Pac-12’s leading returning receiver in yards per route run (3.44; the next highest is USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown with 2.65).
Shenault is so tricky to defend because he can pop the top off the defense whenever he's sent on a fly route, but you have to be cognizant of all the damage he can do around the line of scrimmage and in the intermediate sector. He's impossible for corners to tackle one-on-one on the perimeter.
Shenault is not only physically dominant -- legendary Colorado coach Gary Barnett said he’s the best player to play for the Buffaloes in the past 20 years -- but he's extremely versatile. Last year, Colorado lined up Shenault outside, in the slot, at tight end and as a Wildcat quarterback. When he has the ball in his hands, you hold your breath.
I’m not convinced that Jeudy is the best receiver in the 2020 class. I think it very well may be Shenault. Doesn't mean he'll get drafted first, though. Jeudy is going to blow the roof off at the NFL Combine, whereas Shenault is likely to test as “just” a “very-very-very good” athlete. I love his fit with Denver.
7. Bengals - Oregon QB Justin Herbert
Slotting Herbert this high is a bet that he’ll return to his 2017 form. Because make no mistake about it: He sharply — and shockingly — regressed in 2018.
There were games when he was the old Justin Herbert — he played great against Cal and Stanford, for instance, and had a solid showing against Michigan State’s awesome defense in the bowl game — but he also turned in some of the worst tape you’ll see out of a top-10 quarterback this side of Daniel Jones (I kid, Giants fans!).
The Arizona game was an assault on the eyes. Herbert was also terrible against lowly San Jose State and Oregon State, and against mighty Washington and the Fightin’ Herms of Arizona State. But man oh man is he dangerous when he's cooking.
Herbert’s size and athleticism are ideal, and when he’s on, he fires made-to-order bullets all over the field — no matter who he’s playing (the reason this isn’t a Drew Lock situation). But when he’s off, he’s downright bad. We need Good Justin to show up 11-12 times in 2019.
I believe in the kid. I don’t know what got into his Wheaties at certain points last year, but I give him all the credit in the world for returning to school. He’d be a New York Giant right now if he hadn’t, but taking his uncorrected flaws to the pros assuredly would have increased his odds of busting. Time to work.
8. 49ers - LSU S Grant Delpit
Delpit finished with five interceptions, five sacks, nine forced incompletions last year (No. 6 among safeties), and 13 pressures (No. 5). He’s extremely dangerous when allowed to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.
A high-end athlete, Delpit is also very gifted in coverage. He allowed a 57.3 passer rating against last year with only 0.64 yards allowed per cover snap, according to PFF.
Tackling is an area that needs improvement. Per PFF, Delpit missed 16 of 80 tackle attempts last season.
Range isn’t. The kid chews up grass in an instant to break up big plays. Once he cleans up his technique, he’s going to be a true monster. He’s already one of college football’s best defenders. Sky's the limit.
9. Cardinals - Stanford OT Walker Little
From the Cardinal to the Cardinals. I struggle with Little. An elite five-star recruit who was a top-10 overall prospect in his class, Little played heavy snaps early in his career for a school known for developing linemen (over 1,100 his first two years on campus). But he was part of a unit that regressed badly in 2018 -- and he's not free from culpability for that.
What Little has done in college is show great promise as a pass-blocker -- even as his run-blocking left Bryce Love a bit cold last fall. Little posted a decent-but-not-great 70.2 overall PFF grade last season. But that was with a strong 84.7 pass-blocking grade lifting up poor work in the running game. In pass pro, Little was lit up by Notre Dame and struggled against Oregon, but was otherwise close to flawless.
He needs to keep bulking up and working on his core strength, but the pass-pro chops alone make him extremely appealing to the NFL. And to Kliff Kingsbury and his beleaguered offensive line in particular.
I’ll leave you with a vid of Little taking on Epenesa in January 2017, the winter before their true freshman seasons. You’re gonna be seeing those two go at it plenty in the NFL. (And maybe the 2019 Rose Bowl?!).
10. Jaguars - Clemson WR Tee Higgins
Tee Higgins disappointed me earlier in his career after arriving on campus with a ludicrous amount of hype. But we must always keep context in mind when we talk about football players. This is a team sport, and every individual’s performance is in a multitude of ways tied to the performances of the coaches, play-callers and teammates around them.
Higgins, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder with a classic NFL WR1 build and game, didn’t post a PFF game grade of 70.0 or more in any of Clemson’s first five games last year after posting a 74.9 grade as a true freshman.
But accuracy-cursed QB Kelly Bryant started in 2017 and also in the first four games of 2018. Bryant was benched at that time and immediately left the program to facilitate the retention of a redshirt that'd allow him to transfer as a grad at season's end (he's now a fifth-year senior at Missouri). And then true freshman prodigy Trevor Lawrence got injured in his first start, the fifth game of last season (versus Syracuse, forcing Clemson to come-from-behind with their QB3).
From there on out, with Lawrence fully installed and healthy, Higgins was graded over 70.0 in nine of Clemson's last 10 games, over 75.0 in seven of 10, and 78.0 in five of 10.
Translation: Get this guy a quarterback who can get him the ball, and get out of his way. I think we're gonna see The Jump from Higgins in 2019, with a full season to work with Lawrence, the carve-it-in-stone 2021 1.1, who'll no doubt be taking a developmental leap forward himself.
(Side note: Clemson's offense is going to be beyond ridiculous this fall. WR Justyn Ross is also an assassin, and Travis Etienne is this class' RB1 heading into the year. Get your popcorn ready for Bama-Clemson IV in January.).
11. Bills - Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
I really liked Buffalo’s draft. But because of the way the board fell, they were unable to address their glaring need at receiver. I assume the organization was well aware of the fact that if they deferred the need to 2020, they’d be well-positioned to land a stud with their first-round pick — the 2020 receiver class is far superior to the 2019 one.
Lamb would give the Bills a worthy WR1 who’d allow the Zay Jones/John Brown/Clay Beasley troika to slot into their natural secondary and tertiary roles. I think Lamb’s a better prospect than Hollywood Brown.
Lamb’s hands are just stupid. The athleticism is a given. What gives this kid such a high ceiling is his skill on top of those gifts. In terms of body control, downfield tracking and hands made of glue, this kid is a SportsCenter Top-10 catch waiting to happen.
One thing to keep an eye on: Lamb had the pleasure of working with Heisman winners and 1.1 NFL picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the past two years. This time around, he’ll work with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, whose arm rarely impressed in Tuscaloosa. If nothing else, Lamb should get plenty of opportunities for the circus catches he’s become known for.
12. Panthers - Florida CB CJ Henderson
Let’s start here: Henderson is frighteningly fast.
He’s also very sticky in coverage. On 36 targets last year, Henderson allowed only 50% completions and less than 7.0 YPA while picking off two balls. He posted an 81.8 PFF coverage grade.
He has more utility than that, though. Henderson has shown to be extremely disruptive on the blitz. His PFF pressure grade of 94.1 in 2018 was out-of-this-world (with obvious sample size caveats).
I’m including this clip for entertainment purposes. Crazy play.
13. Seahawks - Washington OT Trey Adams
The Seahawks tapped the local school for LB Ben Burr-Kirven last month. Reuniting him with Adams would be a heckuva nice present for Russell Wilson. Seattle has eschewed its offensive line issues with too many premium picks. This would be a nice time to address it with a player who could anchor the blind side for the next decade.
I was happy that Adams elected to return to Washington for a final year. He’s absolutely a first-round talent, but Adams’ 2017 was wrecked by a torn ACL, and his 2018 was haunted by a serious back injury that kept him out of the starting lineup until the Pac-12 title game.
This is an aggressive slot for Adams. It supposes that he’ll stay healthy in 2019 and dominate on the field. I’m pretty confident about the latter item. We’ll see about the former.
14. Jets - Virginia CB Bryce Hall
In terms of pure coverage, Hall was one of the best corners in college football last year and objectively superior to Henderson. His 91.2 overall PFF grade and his 91.4 coverage grade were both elite.
Hall allowed only 1.06 yards per coverage snap while breaking up 18 balls (two INTS), ultimately forcing an incompletion on 31.6% of his snaps. That’s not incompletions — those are incompletions Hall actively had a part in creating. Hall led the FBS in breakups. He forced almost as many incompletions as Jarrett Stidham (I kid, Pats fans!).
He's a long, well-built corner who’s also very fluid. And because he’s coached by Bronco Mendenhall, you already know Hall’s knows how to play the game. Especially for a guy who came to Virginia as a receiver. Love the physical package, love the ball skills and love the production. I want to see Hall cut down on guessing with the ball in the air and I want to see him improve his tackling technique.
Outside of that, I’m standing by for his 40 time and the rest of his athletic profile. But man is this an intriguing package. He’s on the short list of guys who could be CB1 in April. Had Hall declared for this past draft, I think he’d have had a real good chance of being the first corner off the board.
15. Lions - Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
Gross-Matos is probably destined to be slightly overlooked heading into next year’s draft, as he’d a stud EDGE who happens to play in a conference boasting AJ Epenesa and Chase Young.
Gross-Matos served notice to the nation with a four TFL performance against Epenesa’s Iowa Hawkeyes in a nail-biting last-second win in the fall. In addition to production, YGM’s evaluation is made easier by his obvious athleticism and relentlessness.
He’s posted a confirmed 4.52 forty on campus (confirmed by Penn State anyway, lol). Nittany Lions DL coach Sean Spencer has alluded to YGM’s “sky-high” potential: "It's not just that he makes plays — it's his approach. His approach is full-speed go, all the time. What you guys see on game film and what that guy does in practice is the exact same thing."
16. Titans - LSU CB Kristian Fulton
Tennessee could also use a LB, making Isaiah Simmons an attractive option. But if Fulton takes another step forward this fall, he can’t fall much further than 1.16.
Fulton was better than Greedy Williams last year. He gave up only 17 completions, and he doesn’t come with similar tackling concerns. And that was his first year of action: Fulton was suspended for his freshman year for tampering with a urine sample (a situation that will be looked into by the NFL, obviously).
Fulton is a former five-star recruit and top-25 overall prospect who’s learned behind and beside guys like Greedy, Kevin Toliver, Tre'Davious White and Donte Jackson. Watching him in the same secondary as Grant Delpit on the college gridiron is #FootballPorn.
17. Ravens - Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
A new-age linebacker/safety hybrid, Simmons is an extremely intriguing prospect. If you follow my work as a college football writer/handicapper, you may recall that Simmons was the guy on the Clemson defense that I said was the biggest key heading into the title game against Alabama. I was all over him in the prop market heading into that game, as was my friend Adam Burke of Bang the Book Radio.
The reason was simple: Simmons’ diverse skillset and supreme athleticism made him the chess piece that Clemson would need to defend Alabama’s high-octane spread attack, which drowns defenses that don't have a few defenders who are skilled in space. Simmons is very, very skilled in space.
Simmons shined in the upset win over the Crimson Tide with nine tackles, one of which was a TFL. He contributed more than that, though, helping to slow down Alabama’s aerial attack in coverage. Dabo is going to use him as a trump card this fall, putting Simmons in as many high-leverage situations on the field as he can handle. Expect him to excel.
18. Texans - Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
The Texans are probably going to be shopping for OL and CB help in next year’s draft as well.
Diggs is something of a mystery box. The brother of Vikings WR Stefan Diggs (and also Vikings camp body WR Mar’Sean Diggs, a UAB product) Trevon is a high-end elite who came to college as a ballyhooed high-four-star athlete. He hasn’t always dominated on the field, and his 2018 season was cut in half by injury.
To go in the first-round in the spring, he’ll need to stay healthy and consistent throughout the 2018 season.
19. Falcons - Auburn DL Derrick Brown
If you’re thinking “Brown’s too low, Thor!”, I’m with you. But in mock drafts — and in particular too-early mock drafts, when you have no information from teams to go on — you just make isolated decisions for every team and see where the chips land. In this exercise, Mr. Brown falls to No. 19.
And what a coup that would be for the Falcons, who want a young interior stud to put next to Grady Jarrett. Brown would more than fit the bill. He was elite for Auburn last year — 90.4 PFF grade, 34 stops, 17 hurries — and was also a standout as a sophomore in 2017.
20. Vikings - Iowa T Alaric Jackson
When the media talks about Iowa tackles, Tristan Wirfs is the guy spoken about. Don’t forget about Jackson, who struggled against Penn State and Yatur-Matos in a wonky rain-soaked game but was otherwise superb in 2018.
Jackson is a long, athletic tackle whose calling card is pass pro. Iowa’s pro-style offense is going to give evaluators plenty of conventional looks from which to assess Jackson. Assuming another developmental gain in 2019, they’re going to like what they see. Jackson actually finished with a higher PFF grade at LT last year than Wirfs had at RT.
Jackson has already started 24 games over two active seasons. He was a Freshman All-American and Academic All-Big-10 selection as a freshman, and was named a Second-Team All-Big 10 tackle after last season. Jackson does well with power, and he has the necessary athleticism to deal with twitch.
Next step is to perfect his footwork, get better at recognizing exotic pass rushes and try to swap 10 more pounds of belly fat for 10 pounds of muscle. If he does those three things, the top-20 is certainly in play in the spring.
21. Steelers - Michigan State EDGE Kenny Willekes
In any other conference, Kenny Willekes would be talked about as one of the league's best defenders. In the Big 10, he’s chopped liver existing in the shadow of Epenesa, Young and Gross-Matos.
That’s perception. The reality is that Willekes is one of the nation’s most disruptive players. His stats last year were bonkers: 90.5 PFF grade, 40 hurries, 23 hits, 31 stops. He’s arguably the class’ best at setting the edge and doing his part to shut down the run. His next order of business will be to continue to work on pass-rushing technique and moves.
If Willekes is kept out of Round 1 in the spring, it’ll be because of athletic limitations. He’s a relentless effort player. But Willekes’ two-note pass-rush game (hands, quicks and pray for rain) can get stymied by skilled tackles. Especially if his athletic profile is lacking (this is postulation, we don’t have that information), it’s imperative for Willekes to become a technician. Effort will never be an issue.
22. Packers - Alabama DL Raekwon Davis
I was stunned when Raekwon came back. I thought Raekwon should have declared along with Quinnen, and that Mack Wilson should have returned. Alas!
Raekwon is the guy you target if you already have a disruptive three-tech. He’s the war-daddy who occupies blockers and blows up runs between the tackles. You want your other interior DL shooting gaps and creating havoc, and you want Raekwon knocking heads behind him.
It’s not the sexiest profile — he’s not going to be a top-15 pick unless he makes a leap as a pass-rusher this fall — but it plays. Raekwon has been one of the nation’s best interior linemen against the run for two years running. It’ll be interesting to see if Alabama unleashes him a bit more as a rusher this fall with Quinnen off to the NFL.
23. Cowboys - Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam
Jason Witten’s return is a cute story, but it’s time to get serious about taking care of this position long-term. Okwuegbunam made Drew Lock look quite good the past few years. In only 18 career games, he’s caught 17 TD (with 72 catches and 881 yards).
Okwuegbunam — call him Albert O or Aqua Man, it’s what the rest of us do — is very difficult to cover. He’s long, thick and fluid — and is hell to deal with down the seam. He’s not much of a blocker, but his one trick is pretty nice.
Albert O may not be Noah Fant’s equal as a athlete, but he’s better in traffic and in contested situations. What concerns is the stiffness is changing directions. In the fall, I’ll be trying to ascertain if he’s Fast with less athleticism and more skill, or Alize Mack with shoulder woes substituted for the concussions.
High-variance prospect at this time (which explains all the TEs in the 2020 class, if I’m being honest).
24. Browns - Wisconsin C Tyler Biadasz
With a first-round pick to play with after parting with last year’s for Odell Beckham, Cleveland grabs line help via arguably the class’ premier interior prospect.
Biadasz burst onto the scene with an incredible freshman year in 2017. He upped the ante with an 86.7 PFF grade last fall. Assuming his athletic profile checks out, Biadasz has a really good chance of cracking Round 1. We’ve already seen him handle multiple NFL interior linemen the past few years as a youngster.
25. Raiders - Alabama LB Dylan Moses
*Note: This pick comes courtesy of Chicago via the Khalil Mack trade
Picture the high comedy of Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock taking two Alabama prospects in Round 1 one year after taking two Clemson Tigers and a fellow Crimson Tide star in Josh Jacobs in the top-40 last year.
I have some reservations about Moses. He’s a talented kid with five-star pedigree, but at this time he’s more of a run game guy. He needs development as a pass rusher and in coverage both. Particularly coverage, where he got picked on a bit — Moses gave up a 24-229-2 line on only 38 targets (97.4 rating against).
He’s got the tools to get there, but he’s another guy I’d deem a high-variance prospect. Similar to Mack Wilson, who he should have been playing next to again this fall. Hopefully Moses can learn from Mack’s mistakes and shore up his weaknesses before leaving Tuscaloosa.
26. Chiefs - Utah CB Jaylon Johnson
You may not have heard much about Johnson yet, but he’s one of the nation’s top returning cover men. Because the Pac-12 is stocked with receiver talent this fall, we should get at least a few showcase matchups to pour over during evaluation season.
Circle Nov. 30 on your calendar. That day, the Utes host Colorado. Laviska Shenault vs. Jaylon Johnson is a heavyweight prospect matchup. Johnson has turned out the lights on some intriguing Pac-12 receivers.
In the 2018 matchup between the schools in November, Shenault posted an empty calorie 9-64-0 line in a 30-7 Utah win that turned into a laugher in the third quarter. The Buffs were amid an all-systems-shutdown cratering under a lame duck staff and Shenault was trying to play through a few nagging injuries he'd suffered earlier in the season under heavy, heavy usage.
Shenault wasn't himself, and neither was the Colorado offense as a whole. I’m far more interested in the 2019 matchup. That's gonna be must-watch TV.
27. Chargers - Iowa OL Tristan Wirfs
Wirfs is a mauling right tackle for the Hawkeyes. He projects smoothly to that side in the NFL. But he’s also going to be projected inside. I don’t think it much matters. He’s going to move men in the NFL. I feel good about him at three different spots on the line going forward. Pick one and let him to work.
Wirfs has some of the best reps of any linemen in this class. He also has some of the worst. This isn’t a talent thing — it’s a consistency thing. Clean that up and he could really take off this fall. He and Jackson are one of the most exciting tackle tandems we've seen in college over the past five years.
28. Colts - South Carolina DL Javon Kinlaw
Kinlaw isn’t getting enough ink right now.
On a per-snap basis, he was one of the country’s most disruptive pass-rushing interior linemen last year. He posted an 88.7 PFF pass-rushing grade with five sacks, 15 hurries and five batted balls. And that was while dealing with a torn hip labrum that kept him out of spring practice, dogged him all year, kept him out of the Belk Bowl, and then required postseason surgery!
The 6-foot-6, 302-pounder is long, athletic, and very aggressive. Fully healthy and featured in South Carolina’s defense, we may see a Jerry Tillery-like leap this fall. If that happens, Kinlaw will become the first Gamecock taken in the first round since Jadeveon Clowney was 1.1 in 2014.
29. Eagles - Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver
Weaver isn’t getting a lot of Round 1 buzz right now, but I think he’s got a real shot at crashing the party if he tests as an above-average athlete. He was ludicrously productive from the start of his freshman year on.
In fact, with only two years logged as part of a rotation, Weaver already ranks No. 6 on Boise State’s all-time sack list with 20.5. He’s also averaged more than one TFL per game played (28.0 in 27 career games). We should finally see him fully unleashed in 2019, ala Epenesa — Weaver has taken 960 career snaps.
With 47 hurries in 444 career pass-rushing snaps, he’s harassing quarterbacks on more than 10% of his snaps. He posted a 90.3 pass-rush grade last year and has even shown some coverage chops in a small sample. He also improved against the run last year. There’s a lot to get excited about, here.
Forgive me, I had to include this -- I love you, internet:
30. Saints - TCU WR Jalen Reagor
Reagor has sort of been lost in the shuffle among this high-wattage receiver class, in part because TCU’s bumbling quarterback corps didn’t help him out much last year.
Reagor ran a 4.32 in high school and was the Texas state long jump champion during his prep days. He has similar holy-cow athleticism to Jeudy.
If he played at Alabama, Reagor would be getting quite a bit more pub right now. Per PFF, Reagor actually received more downfield targets than Jeudy last year. TCU’s quarterbacks left a ton of yards on the field after Reagor had torched some hapless Big 12 corner.
31. Patriots - Georgia QB Jake Fromm
I really struggle with Fromm. In the first draft of this column, I had him omitted from the first round. I’m going to sneak him into the top stanza in a plausible landing spot (I believe not in Jarrett Stidham!).
But getting there is going to require a lights-out 2019 season. Fromm is short, and slight, and he’s neither a good athlete nor in possession of a big arm. I thought he was overrated heading into last year, and I believed Georgia should have considered playing Justin Fields over him. On both accounts, I was wrong. Fields ended up being the second five-star quarterback that Fromm chased out of Athens.
Fromm took a step forward on the field last fall, and he did it without his baby’s blankets Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. His YPA average remained a sterling 9.0 as he bumped his completion percentage from 62.2 to 67.4. You love the accuracy, you love the composure, and you love that Fromm manages to strain the defense down the field while rarely putting the ball in harm’s way. He’s a smooth operator who oozes confidence.
That probably isn’t a surprise from a guy who played in the Little League World Series as a kid and was a ballyhooed prep quarterback featured on the Netflix documentary “QB1: Beyond the Lights” who went on to unseat five-star Jacob Eason as a true freshman (Eason, who has a Round 1 arm, will resurface at Washington this fall intent on proving Georgia wrong).
I love the accuracy, I love the moxie, and I love that Fromm’s been battle tested from high-level athletic showcases over a period of years and years and years. What I want to see next year to feel good about him as a Round 1 pick is from him to plant his flag as one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the nation.
Fromm hasn’t yet thrown for 3,000 yards in a season. I want to see that along with his trademark pinpoint accuracy. I want to see him take more shots down the field while keeping his interceptions low. Without the ideal NFL frame or athleticism, and without a high-octane arm, he’s got to be dang near perfect. He’s got the stage. Now let’s see him make a run to the Heisman ceremony.
32. Rams - Oregon LB Troy Dye
The Rams, suffering from limited draft capital, failed to address their linebacking need until the seventh round, when they selected Dakota Allen. Dye will jump into Round 1 if he improves upon last year. He’s speedy and versatile, exactly what the NFL wants out of its linebacker prospects.
“Troy is special because he can do more than just make tackles,” nose tackle Jordon Scott said. “He can cover, he can rush the passer, he can fill a gap… Overall, he has control of our defense and that’s one thing that is intangible."
Last year, Dye became the first Duck since Michael Clay in 2011-2012 to have back-to-back 100 tackle seasons. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder is fluid and instinctual. He could stand to bulk up, one of the reasons he (smartly) returned to school. Oregon is going to be back in a big way in 2019. Dye will lead the charge on defense as Justin Herbert does his thing on offense.
I'll be back in June with my top-10 2020 NFL Draft rankings by position, as well as a preseason top-100 big board. In the meantime, I'll be dropping thoughts and videos on prospects throughout the summer on my Twitter feed (@thorku). Football season is only three months away! We'll get through this together.