As the curtain falls on 2020 people are likely taking stock of where they are in life. The same process is underway for all 32 NFL teams.
While draft season probably began for a few fan bases before Halloween (glances at the Jets and the Jaguars) for 18 NFL teams the season is over and the evaluation process must begin. So it is time for the first Touchdown Wire Mock Draft. The thinking here is primarily a predictive mock draft, trying to guess at what teams will do. Since there is going to be free agency and turnover, the best way to view this is perhaps more of a look at each team’s potential needs more than anything else, as yes, we have a long way to go…
Since only the Jets and the Jaguars are locked into their position, this order will likely change come Monday. The draft order was determined for using the teams’ current records and their Super Bowl odds. So if your favorite team is a Super Bowl favorite in your mind and is picking before 32, take it up with Vegas.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
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The Jacksonville Jaguars need a quarterback. Trevor Lawrence has been destined for the first-overall selection since almost his first start for the Clemson Tigers. Do not over think this Jacksonville. Sure, over the next few weeks people will start to pick Lawrence's game apart. Such is the life cycle of a draft quarterback. But if you are looking for a solid a quarterback prospect as you can find, and one that is schematically-diverse, Lawrence is your guy.
New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
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A year ago, it was the rise of Joe Burrow. This season, it is BYU passer Zach Wilson who is rocketing up boards. With his combination of arm talent, ability outside the pocket, athleticism and competitive toughness, Wilson has overtaken Ohio State's Justin Fields in the eyes of many evaluators. Now, the New York Jets do not need to force a quarterback pick here, and could go in a number of different directions. They could trade out and get an absolute haul in return, given the number of teams that will be clamoring to get to the top of the board to pick a quarterback. They could stay put and pick the best player available. Imagine pairing Penei Sewell at one tackle spot with Mekhi Becton? If they go quarterback, however, Wilson is the pick.
Miami Dolphins (via the Houston Texans): Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
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After helping LSU secure a national championship, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase decided to opt-out of the 2020 college football season and focus on getting ready for the NFL draft. But during that run to a title, Chase put up huge numbers for the LSU Tigers. In 2019 Chase caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he did that on a loaded offense with Justin Jefferson across from him. DeVonta Smith might be the most productive receiver in the college game from this past season, but Chase is a great NFL prospect. Some might think the Miami Dolphins could consider a quarterback here given uncertainty around Tua Tagovailoa, but getting him a true weapon is a much smarter move.
Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
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The Atlanta Falcons are in a fascinating position. They can try and immediately retool around players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and make a run at the playoffs in 2021, or they can focus more on life after those two cornerstone pieces. When an organization has the chance to make a top-five pick, sometimes it makes the most sense to grab a quarterback for the future, even if you do not intend on playing him right away. You hope to never be back picking here, so it makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity. Fields is likely the player who is hurt the most by the rise of Zach Wilson, as that has led to a corresponding slide from the Ohio State passer from QB2 to QB3 on some boards. Some might even point to a rather dismal record of Ohio State quarterbacks in the NFL as a reason to avoid drafting him, but Fields has the athleticism necessary to succeed as a quarterback in the modern NFL. When he's ready, Atlanta will be glad they made him the selection.
Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
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The Cincinnati Bengals made Joe Burrow the face and the future of their franchise last season. But they could not protect him. So it makes a great deal of sense to find someone who can. Even though a few recent wins have the Bengals sliding down a few spots in the draft, with the way the board falls they still see the top tackle in this class drop into their lap. They should run to the podium in this scenario.
Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
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I was tempted to put a quarterback in this spot, given that Philadelphia is the "QB Factory" after all... but I restrained myself. The Eagles have pressing needs at two levels defensively: Linebacker and cornerback. Micah Parsons would be a tremendous pick for them, but something tells me that Howie Roseman might not pay a premium (in terms of draft capital) for an off-ball linebacker. So they look to find a cornerback to put opposite Darius Slay. That leads them to Tuscaloosa, and Patrick Surtain II. The Alabama cornerback has started for the Crimson Tide since his freshman season, when he was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and a Freshman All-American. A sticky man coverage cornerback could be the missing ingredient to the Philadelphia secondary.
Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
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If you are going to break the mold in the Top Ten of the NFL draft, you better do it for a complete game-changer. DeVonta Smith is that type of player. Smith is undersized for the wide receiver position by many standards, as he is listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, and as you can tell from the above picture, he is what some might consider "slender" for the NFL. But Smith makes up for that with game-breaking ability as a receiver. Last year he was playing in the shadow of Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy - as well as current teammate Jayden Waddle - but this year was his breakout campaign as he caught 17 touchdowns and 98 passes in the regular season alone. With the Lions facing decisions on Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, Smith is a nice find in the first round.
New York Giants: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
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The New York Giants put together a solid defense this season, aided by Patrick Graham's creativity. This season the Giants were able to use some sub-packages, combined with some athleticism on the second- and third-levels, to get pressure at times on opposing quarterbacks. But they lack the premier EDGE player that can simply win in a one-on-one situation or command double-teams from the opposition. They can get that in Gregory Rousseau. After a monster season in 2019 where he posted 15.5 sacks many expected Rousseau to take a huge leap forward in 2020. But he chose to opt-out of the season and focus on the NFL draft. Despite the time off, the production and the raw traits make him a solid option off the edge for the Giants.
Carolina Panthers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
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The Carolina Panthers could go in a number of different directions with this pick. Many anticipate that they look to bring in another option at quarterback, given that Teddy Bridgewater was a sericable option this season but with a pick inside the top ten this is the time to strike at QB. They could also address linebacker, or offensive line. Another position they can address is cornerback. For most of the season the Panthers were somewhat stagnant schematically, using a lot of zone coverage looks. Adding a man coverage corner to give them versatility in the secondary would be huge for 2021, and they'll get that in Caleb Farley. He has the length and the coverage skills to be a lockdown player in the NFL.
Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
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With the jury still out on Drew Lock, John Elway can secure quite the Plan B if he turns in a card with Trey Lance's name on it. As a freshman two seasons ago Lance turned in a near-flawless season for the North Dakota State Bison, throwing for 28 touchdown without an interception. He had a single showcase game this fall against Central Arkansas that produced mixed results, but the traits will cause teams to fall for him. He checks the arm and athleticism boxes that NFL teams are looking for in today's NFL. He also checks some of the boxes that more old-school evaluators will look for, as the NDSU offense puts its quarterback under center and asks him to work through some progression reads on those play-action drops with the back turned to the secondary for a moment or two. Scouts love to see that, and something tells me Elway will too.
Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
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The Micah Parsons discussion is going to be fascinating this draft cycle. The Penn State linebacker checks every box you want to see from an off-ball linebacker. He has the size, instincts and explosiveness to be an impact player on the second level, and has also shown some pass rushing ability that makes him an option to stay on the field on third downs in the NFL. Yet, off-ball linebackers often do not rise to the top of draft boards. The Dallas Cowboys do have a glaring need at the position, as their linebacker unit struggled this year with injuries and inconsistency. Parsons would be a huge boost to a defense that needs an injection of talent.
Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
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One of the players that truly helped himself this season is Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. He was a starter almost immediately upon arriving at Blacksburg, and has shown technical and physical growth during his entire time on campus. He was dominant at times in 2020 and showed true improvement in his pass protection skills. The Los Angeles Chargers have their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert. Now they have to be sure to protect him. Darrisaw is a big part of that process.
Minnesota Vikings: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
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Another team that needs help along the offensive line is the Minnesota Vikings. They drafted Ezra Cleveland last year in the second round and move him inside, and he has been starting at right guard since Week 6. With Cleveland now on the inside they can address offensive tackle again with a versatile player that has seen time on both the right and the left edges. Rashawn Slater was the right tackle for Northwestern his first two years on campus, but then kicked to the left side in 2019 and showed great potential on that side. Slater opted-out of the 2020 season but that has not stopped him from remaining near the top of the offensive tackle class. For some, Slater is perhaps the second-best tackle in the group. The Vikings get great value with this pick.
New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
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Tight end is becoming one of the toughest positions for rookies to learn in the NFL. Players are used in completely different ways in the college game than they are in the professional game, and it often takes a season or more for a tight end to make their impact. Kyle Pitts has the potential to buck that trend in the right offense. New England can be that system. An offense that looks to create and then exploit mismatches gets the supreme mismatch weapon perhaps in the entire class. Pitts is a tight end in name only, as you might as often see him aligned in the slot or along the boundary. Sure, many Patriots fans are looking for a quarterback but perhaps a quarterback's best friend is just as good an option.
San Francisco 49ers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
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Obviously a huge questions facing John Lynch is what to do at the quarterback position. Even if the board fell this way, with the "big four" quarterbacks already selected, you can imagine Kyle Shanahan making some noise for Mac Jones, as the Alabama passer seems like someone the head coach will love. But cornerback is another area of need, and the San Francisco 49ers address that position with a name rising a bit as draft season approaches. Jaycee Horn is a strong and long corner with some press coverage chops who began his college career playing inside before shifting to the boundary. Before his decision to opt-out after playing in six games this season, Horn flashed some ball skills that you want to see in a cornerback. This pick gives San Francisco some flexibility in how to handle the CB room now and in the future.
Las Vegas Raiders: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
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The Las Vegas Raiders have needs at almost every level of their defense. Now they add a player that came play at almost every level of their defense. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was asked to do a lot in Notre Dame's defense, from playing in space to playing in the box and even on the edge. He is athletic enough to handle man coverage responsibilities and can even be an effective pass rusher on blitzes and as an edge player. Some might be wary of his side if they view him as a traditional off-ball linebacker, but his athleticism and versatility makes him a fit for modern NFL thinking on the defensive side of the ball.
Arizona Cardinals: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
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Vance Joseph used some creativity this season to generate pressure on opposing passers, and confuse them in the process. Using some different sub packages up front the Arizona Cardinals relied on athleticism and movement to get after the quarterback. But they face some questions about the future of their defensive front. Markus Golden and Haason Reddick are upcoming free agents and they lost Chandler Jones for most of the season with a biceps tear. Adding another versatile, athletic player up front will give them another injection of talent to that group. Kwity Paye fits that bill. Long, explosive and aggressive, he is a great fit with what Arizona is doing defensively.
Indianapolis Colts: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
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The Indianapolis Colts could go in a number of different directions with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. They could address cornerback, they could add another offensive weapons, or they could even look at quarterback. Whether they look at QB might hinge on how they feel about Philip Rivers and last year's quarterback selection Jacob Eason. Offensive tackle is another spot the Colts could address. Anthony Castonzo came back for another year but has dealt with an MCL injury suffered in Week 12 and his season ended this week as he faces ankle surgery. Given this, grabbing Samuel Cosmi is a good fit for their needs. The Texas tackle has the athleticism and foot speed to be solid in pass protection as well as handle some of the zone blocking designs the Colts implement.
Washington Football Team: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
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There is going to be a fifth quarterback off the board, and from where I sit, that player might just be Mac Jones, the Alabama quarterback. Washington needs to address the position, as quarterback is likely their biggest question mark heading into 2021. Jones feels like a player Ron Rivera would love at the position. Jones has enough mobility to move around and create space as a passer, he is clean mechanically and is accurate in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. Washington needs stability and consistency at the position, and Jones offers that and more.
Chicago Bears: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
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While Mac Jones might be the kind of quarterback the Chicago Bears are looking for, with him coming off the board one pick before they are on the clock the organization is forced into a different direction. Now perhaps Chicago is really going to run it back with Mitchell Trubisky - and if they do a more viable Plan B behind him would be a wise investment - but they also need to address the offensive line. Jalen Mayfield missed time this season due to an ankle injury and only has 15 college starts to his resume, but the talent is there. You saw some of that on display two seasons ago when he matched up with Chase Young in Michigan's loss to Ohio State.
Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
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They added their quarterback, now the Jacksonville Jaguars add a weapon to go with him. Taking advantage of a bit of a slide the Jaguars swoop in and select Jaylen Waddle, a talented wideout from Alabama. Waddle's season ended early due to a fractured ankle against Tennessee but that should not scare teams away from him. He can operate out of the slot and along the boundary, and when paired with D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. he gives the Jaguars three versatile and explosive weapons on the outside.
Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
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Versatility is critical for today's NFL defenders, and if the Cleveland Browns are looking to add a versatile defender on their second-level that they can play all over the field, they should stop after watching Zaven Collins. Tulsa asks a ton of Collins in their defense, and he almost always answers the call. Jordan Reid, who covers the NFL and the NFL Draft for The Draft Network, has done a lot of work on Collins and loves what he sees:
One of the best aspects about Collins' game is his ability to play on both the strong and weak side, but he’s also capable of providing pressure off of the edge as a defensive end and blitzer in interior gaps. In a league that asks a lot from second-level defenders, he’s more than serviceable at multiple spots. This has been seen often throughout the season as the Golden Hurricanes defense deploys him from a multitude of platforms.
This in particular is a great example of his versatility: https://twitter.com/Jordan_Reid/status/1331422711256674304 That would be a huge addition to the Browns' defense.
Miami Dolphins: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
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Dylan Moses has dealt with injury issues during his time at Alabama, but there is no denying his talent and athletic ability. Alabama has used him in a number of different roles during his time on campus, from serving as an MLB in the heart of their defense, to a player on the edge, to even an "Apex" defender in Nick Saban's coverage schemes out in space. Brian Flores and Josh Boyer are building a fast, aggressive defense that relies on versatility and players serving in different roles. Moses would be a great linebacker to pair with Kyle Van Noy as you can move both of those players around and utilize them in complementary roles. This seems like an ideal fit.
Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
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Despite their run of solid play down the stretch something still seems missing from the Baltimore Ravens, and in particular their passing game. Lamar Jackson seems hesitant to push the ball downfield for some reason, and whether that is due to a lack of confidence or something else, helping the downfield passing game should be a priority for the Ravens this draft season. They'll get that help with Rashod Bateman. While many were watching the Golden Gophers two seasons ago for Tyler Johnson, Bateman is the cleaner NFL prospect. He has a variety of route-running skills and handles the downfield passing elements of the position quite well. He'd be an ideal fit in Baltimore's passing attack.
Tennesse Titans: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
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There were few bright spots for the LSU Tigers this season. After reaching the summit of the college football world two seasons ago the Tigers limped to a 5-5 record and self-imposed sanctions on themselves from appearing in a bowl game due to Odell Beckham Jr.'s decision to hand out cash to players after the championship game. Perhaps one of the few positives from the Tigers this year was the play of wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. With Justin Jefferson in the NFL and Ja'Marr Chase opting-out Marshall got the chance to shine for the Tigers' passing game. Playing in just seven games, Marhsall set career-high marks in receptions and yards, and caught ten touchdowns. He can play on the inside and on the outside, has ideal size and technical skills, and his versatility makes him a fit in almost any offense. The Tennessee Titans have some decisions to make about Corey Davis, but adding Marshall to their receiver room makes this offense more dangerous in the passing game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be one of the more dangerous teams in the NFC right now, and a true threat to the Green Bay Packers atop the conference. But looking to 2021, they might want to upgrade their defensive line, particularly at edge. That leads them to Joseph Ossai from Texas. Ossai is a bit of a raw prospect, who has seen time both on the edge and as a weak-side linebacker. He's best when asked to put his hand in the dirt, attack off the edge and get after the quarterback. Todd Bowles can use him immediately as a pass-rusher, and then fill in some of the rest of his game around what he offers on Day One in terms of attacking the passer. His length, athleticism and explosiveness is something any defense can use.
New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
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As the Jacksonville Jaguars did, so too do the New York Jets. With Zach Wilson coming to the Big Apple as the new face of the franchise Joe Douglas gives him a weapon in Chris Olave from Ohio State. Olave moves very well and does a good job working in the intermediate area of the field. He also displays good feel for finding soft spots against zone coverage, or getting into a defender's blind spot when facing man. Pairing him with Denzel Mims gives the Jets a great 1-2 punch at the receiver spot. Mims can be the traditional X receiver, working along the boundary and in the vertical passing game while Olave gives New York that Z role, working in the intermediate area of the field and between the numbers. Add tight end Christopher Herndon into the mix and you're cooking with gas.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
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Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers might be thinking quarterback in this draft, given that Ben Roethlisberger does seem to be nearing the end of his career. But barring a move to the top of the board somehow, protecting the passer might be another route they can take. Alejandro Villanueva has been solid at left tackle but a few weeks ago Carl Lawson did rough him up a bit, so that is something to note. On the right side Zach Banner won the RT spot in training camp but suffered a season-ending injury early, forcing the Steelers to turn to Chukwuma Okorafor. In Alex Leatherwood Pittsburgh gets a tackle who did not allow a sack two seasons ago in the SEC, and has a ton of experience under his belt. Many consider him to be a potential guard in the NFL, but either way his experience and strength pairs well with what the Steelers do on offense and in the running game.
New Orleans Saints: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
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The New Orleans Saints have put together one of the league's best defenses this season, but this pick makes them even better on paper for 2021. Dennis Allen has relied on Chauncey Gardner-Johnson as their slot cornerback this season, and while he has played well, most of Gardner-Johnson's experience is at safety and cornerback during his college days. That is where Shaun Wade comes in. He has been used often in the slot for Ohio State, and his skills working underneath and against slot receivers translates perfectly to the NFL game. Adding him to this defense allows Allen to play some more matchups and to move Gardner-Johnson around to different spots based on opponent and scheme.
Buffalo Bills: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
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We all know that Tre'Davious White is one of the league's best cornerbacks. Opposite him this season has been more of a question mark. The Buffalo Bills have used Levi Wallace in that role, but Wallace is probably best suited to slide inside to the slot. To do that you need a sticky, man-coverage cornerback with press coverage skills. Buffalo gets that in Eric Stokes. The Bulldogs ask him to implement press coverage, which is a critical skill for cornerbacks to have when they transition to the pro game. He moves well with solid change-of-direction skills, and his combination of size and length will make him a factor down in the red zone and on critical passing downs.
Green Bay Packers: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
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Last draft cycle everyone under the sun predicted that the Green Bay Packers would add a wide receiver to their offense, another weapon for Aaron Rodgers to utilize in the passing game. This year they'll actually do it. Davante Adams has joined the elite tier of wide receivers in the NFL with his play in 2020 - if he had not already - but you can always have more weapons in the passing game. Amon-Ra St. Brown caught some national attention with a huge game against Washington State, but it is his skill-set that will make him attractive to the Packers. The Trojans use him mostly as a slot receiver, but his quickness and change-of-direction skills enable him to align from a number of different spots on the field. He is not a slot receiver only, but with Green Bay's reliance on heavier personnel packages he would often align in the slot due to 12 and even 21 personnel packages. Plus, his ability after the catch makes him another dangerous threat in the Packers offense. Oh, and he'll see a familiar face on the first day of practice, as his brother Equanimeous is a wide receiver with the Packers already.
Kansas City Chiefs: Wyatt Davis, IOL, Ohio State
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Last season the Kansas City Chiefs took advantage of a running back sliding down the board, likely due to positional value. This year they do something similar, and with interior offensive lineman Wyatt Davis sliding the Chiefs pounce to close out the first round. Davis is a powerful blocker with some grinder to him, and projects as a Day One starter at guard in the NFL. He might be best suited for teams that are heavy gap/power offenses with inside zone mixed in, but really his abilities translate to any NFL offense. Given the variety in what the Chiefs do offensively, Davis is an immediate fit.