It’s that time of year again.
NFL Draft prep season is underway, and the official start is the NFL Combine next week. So, ahead of that joyous occasion, here’s my first mock draft of the year. Enjoy!
1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Burrow was the clear Heisman winner last season, and he should be the clear #1 overall pick in the draft. Although his dominance only lasted one season, what he showed in this sample size was extraordinary. He threw for 60 TDs and just 6 INT along with over 6,000 yards of total offense. On top of that, he won the national championship with a 15-0 record. It’s time for the Bengals to move on from Andy Dalton, and Burrow is the clear successor.
2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
If Burrow is the best offensive prospect, Young is easily the best defensive prospect. As is the case with Burrow, Young’s numbers speak for themselves. He was suspended for two games, but still managed to lead the NCAA in sacks with 16.5. On top of that, he had 21 tackles for loss (TFL) and 7 forced fumbles (FF). He has all of the physical traits of a top edge rusher in the NFL. The new Ron Rivera Regime of Washington could use a defensive X-Factor like him. Consider Chase Young a lock to be a top-2 selection.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Detroit Lions) – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Rumors that the Dolphins will trade up to grab Tua have been floating around, and I believe ‘em. Miami has the assets and the need for a franchise QB. In my first mock trade, the Dolphins send the Lions picks #5 and #26 in exchange for this selection. Tua had a great college career at ‘Bama, which included a national championship. However, the red flag here is Tua’s durability. He went down with a hip injury last season, which will limit him in pre-draft workouts. Still, Tagovailoa’s talent is undeniable. His accuracy is only matched by Burrow, as Tua had a 69.3% completion percentage throughout his college career. Despite injury concerns, expect Tua to be called early come April.
4. New York Giants – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson
Isaiah Simmons is the swiss army knife of this draft class. He can play on the edge, at ILB, at slot corner, or even at safety. Don’t believe me? Take a look at his incredible stat line. He racked up 104 total tackles, 8.0 sacks, and 16.5 TFL. In coverage, he totaled 3 INT and 8 passes deflections (PD). The Giants literally have needs at every position on their defense, so why not give them a guy who can do it all?
5. Detroit Lions (from Miami Dolphins) – Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
How ‘bout this? The Lions trade down and still get the guy they were targeting. Okudah is a true lockdown corner, which is something Detroit could use. According to Pro Football Focus, Okudah never gave up more than 50 receiving yards in his last two seasons as a Buckeye. On top of that he commits little to no penalties. After Darius Slay, the Lions had no difference makers in their secondary last season. So, a pairing of these two would be great for Matt Patricia’s defense.
6. Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The Philip Rivers Era in LA is over. He’ll hit the open market in March, so the Chargers need a new QB. They could sign a new signal-caller in free agency, but until we see that happen, Herbert is a good pick. Herbert came back to school for a year and improved his numbers drastically. His completion percentage went from 59.4% to 66.8%, and he leveled up in passing TDs and yards while decreasing his interceptions. Plus, his physical traits are the best in the class. He’s 6’6” with plenty of arm strength to build upon. If he keeps improving his decision-making and accuracy, he’ll be a starter in the NFL for a long time.
7. Carolina Panthers – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama
In a stacked class of O-Linemen, it seems that Wills is the best. He’s incredibly sturdy and athletic. He only got better as the season went on, too. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just four pressures in his final six games. As for Carolina, they need many things, but a top need is protection for their QB. Whether that’s Cam Newton or someone else, their current O-Line won’t cut it. The Panthers have Taylor Moton at right tackle, so sliding Wills right into the left tackle slot is a real possibility. We’ll see if Wills can keep the top tackle spot, but for now, he has it all to himself.
8. Arizona Cardinals – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Andrew Thomas is the next stud of this packed OT group. He is very polished in the pass block, which makes sense since he started in all three of his years at Georgia. Not only that, but he did so in the SEC. Thomas is ready for the NFL, and the Cards would need him to be. Their O-Line was among the worst in the NFL. Kyler Murray was sacked 48 times, a mark tied for first in the NFL. They need to protect their young QB sooner rather than later. While options like Murray’s old buddy, CeeDee Lamb, will be intriguing, their priority has to be on the O-Line, even after re-signing D.J. Humphries.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
The Jags are in a bit of a bind this off-season. They currently have the second least amount of cap space, but they finished just 6-10 last season. Obviously, changes must be made, and those changes will extend to their D-Line the most. Star edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is likely to leave and Marcell Dareus and Calais Campbell could be cut. Insert top interior lineman Derrick Brown on a team-friendly rookie deal. He was the 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, as he racked up 4.0 sacks, 11.5 TFL, and 2 FF. At a whopping 6’5”, 318 lbs, he eats up blockers, which would give edge rusher Josh Allen plenty of room to work with. If the Jags keep more of their D-Line, this may not make sense, but I foresee a lot of change up front for Jacksonville.
10. Cleveland Browns – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Out of all of these O-Linemen, Becton has the most potential. He’s a massive 6’7”, 369 lbs. He’s great in the run game, and he’s no short obstacle for edge rushers to get by in the pass rush. However, he’s raw and will need to manage his weight at the next level. If he can brush up his game and keep his weight in check, he’ll be a force to reckon with, and exactly what the Browns need. He would be Baker Mayfield’s blindside protector of the future. He sorely needed that this year, as he threw 21 picks. Becton will probably need a few weeks to adjust in any NFL system, but the sky’s the limit for this big dude.
11. New York Jets – Tristan Wirfs, OT/OG, Iowa
In any other year, Wirfs would be the top tackle. However, this isn’t any ordinary year. Wirfs’ power and consistency will make him a bona fide top-15 pick, though. The fact that he can play guard will also help his case. That’s the type of versatility the Jets need. It’s no secret the Jet’s O-Line was horrible last season. Sam Darnold had no time, and Le’Veon Bell couldn’t work his magic behind that front. Wirfs would do wonder for New York’s entire offense.
12. Las Vegas Raiders – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Many analysts say Jerry Jeudy is the best route-runner they’ve seen in years. The debate as to whether Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb deserves to be the top receiver taken is ongoing. I personally like Jeudy right now because of his versatility. Jeudy can be used anywhere on the field, and he doesn’t get enough credit for his down field abilities. He averaged 17.2 yards per catch in his college career. He also found the end zone at a steady clip of once every 6.1 receptions.
13. Indianapolis Colts – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Jacoby Brissett started last season off well, but declined as the year went on. It’s clear he isn’t the Colt’s long term QB. They have him under contract for another year, though, so they can give a new quarterback a year to grow. I think Jordan Love will be that young QB. He has a great arm, mobility, and loads of talent to work with. He’s similar to Justin Herbert in that his decision-making could use some improvement, but with Indy’s solid coaching staff, that shouldn’t be a problem. If I were the GM of the Colts, I would draft Love, let him develop for a year, get him some receivers, and roll with him as my franchise QB.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
This is an ideal fit for Tampa. It’s likely that Ndamukong Suh will leave, so the Bucs will need to replenish their D-Line. The Buc’s secondary is on the rise, but still inexperienced. Why not grab an interior lineman who is elite in the pass rush? He racked up 0.5 sacks per game last season, which is pretty impressive for an inside lineman. He’s explosive, and he’s exactly what the Bucs defense needs.
15. Denver Broncos – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Outside of Courtland Sutton, the Broncos have little to no options for young QB Drew Lock, so this is a great pick for Denver. Lamb would take some heat off of Sutton and give Lock a true downfield menace. He had 800+ receiving yards and 7+ TDs in each of his three seasons at Oklahoma, including 1,327 yards and 14 TDs in 2019. He averaged a whopping 21.4 yards per reception. Whether it’s a screen or a go route, Lamb can take it to the house. After the combine, I wouldn’t be surprised if he vaulted up draft boards, but for now, he’s safe in Denver.
16. Atlanta Falcons – A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa
Epenesa is the definition of a power rusher. He’s a huge man, at 6’6”, 280 lbs. Over the past two seasons at Iowa, he racked up 30.5 TFL, 22.0 sacks, and 8 FF. The Falcons need an edge rusher of his caliber, especially since Vic Beasley will likely leave Atlanta. He’s not the prototypical speed rusher of the modern day NFL, but Epenesa still will get the job done at the next level.
17. Dallas Cowboys – Xavier McKinney, S/CB, Alabama
McKinney is a stat sheet-stuffer. He’s quick, rangy, and can do it all, the perfect strong safety for today’s NFL. He had 95 tackles last season. Over the past two seasons, he had 6.0 sacks, 11.5 TFL, 5 INT, 15 PD, and 6 FF. That’s 11 takeaways in two years, plus many more plays on the ball. This is the type of player the Cowboys need. They tried to trade for Jamal Adams, but McKinney is a much cheaper option who won’t require any extra draft capital to get. Dallas has a close to complete team, but their secondary is what needs work. McKinney is just the playmaker that secondary needs.
18. Miami Dolphins – Josh Jones, OT, Houston
Jones isn’t the most polished prospect, but he has some of the best physical traits. Outside of Mekhi Becton, I’d say Jones has the most room to grow in this class. His technique will need some reworking at the next level, but I have faith in the culture Brian Flores has installed in Miami. Jones will need some time to become a full-time starter, but so will Tua Tagovailoa. So, while Tua heals up, Jones can work out the kinks in his game and in 2021, he can become Tagovailoa’s main man in protection.
19. Las Vegas Raiders – Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Murray is the top ILB of this draft class by a landslide. In 2018, he racked up 155 tackles, with 102 tackles last season. Over those two seasons, he had 29.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks. Based on his stats, he doesn’t do a ton in pass coverage, but he’s extremely effective in run defense and in the pass rush. He’s the explosive player that the Raiders need at the heart of their defense. Las Vegas lacks depth at LB, so Murray could start right away for Jon Gruden.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars – Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Fulton may not be the most athletic corner in this class, but he’s one of the smartest. He’s great in coverage, as he had 14 PD last season. After the loss of Jalen Ramsey, the Jags need cornerbacks who can cover. Will Fulton be the next Ramsey? Probably not. However, he has the chance to be a very good CB in the NFL.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
Taking a glance at Henderson’s stats shows how opposing QBs viewed him over the years. Freshman year, Henderson had 4 picks. Sophomore year he had 2. Junior year he had 0. Over time, quarterbacks learned that Henderson is one of the best man corners of this class. That doesn’t mean he didn’t get to make plays on the ball, though. He had 11 PD last season. According to Pro Football Focus, over the past two seasons, Henderson allowed just 28 first-downs on 637 coverage snaps. The Eagles need all the secondary help they can get. They’re a good team, but their secondary and receiving core need some work. Free agency will largely determine what they do here, but for now, Henderson seems like a solid fit.
22. Buffalo Bills – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
At the NFL Combine in about a week, you’ll see that Ruggs is the fastest man in this draft class. Not just in the receiver class, but in the entire class. He’s a speed demon who averaged 18.7 yards per catch last season. The Bills need receivers, and they’d gladly take the third best WR in the class. Bills receiver John Brown, another speedster, would set a perfect example for Ruggs, who would also give Josh Allen another key downfield target.
23. New England Patriots – Yetur Gross-Matos, Edge, Penn State
The Patriots defense was dominant last season, but that dominance was primarily displayed by the secondary. New England’s run defense was lacking. For instance, Derrick Henry stomped the Pats for 182 yards in the Wild Card round. If the Pats wanna contend with teams like the Titans and the Ravens, they need a better run D. Gross-Matos would provide just that. He’s a 6’5”, 264 lb monster who mixes his speed and power to get into the opposing team’s backfield. He had 34.5 TFL and 17.0 sacks over his last two seasons at PSU. After Trey Flowers left, the Pats went without an elite DE last season. Let’s change that right here.
24. New Orleans Saints – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
We all know about the historic season that Michael Thomas had in 2019. He had a single-season NFL record of 149 receptions. The question is, what other receivers do the Saints have to draw coverage off of Thomas? Drew Brees can throw to Mike a lot, but not every time. That’s where Higgins comes into play. He’s a great red zone target, as he hauled in 25 TDs in the past two seasons. That makes sense since he’s 6’4”, 215 lbs. Most guys of his size are pure downfield targets, but he’s also a polished route runner. If he runs a fast 40 at the Combine, he could vault even farther up draft boards.
25. Minnesota Vikings – Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
Gallimore is a somewhat puzzling prospect. The numbers weren’t there last season, but in the video I’ve watched, he has looked great. He also impressed execs at the Senior Bowl. He has the potential to be a great player. He’s especially good at pressuring the QB from his role as an interior lineman. The Vikes need an inside guy like Gallimore. As the 49ers proved, the way to get a top tier defense is to have a top tier front 7. Having Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, and then Gallimore up front would mean the world to Minnesota.
26. Detroit Lions (from Miami Dolphins) – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
In this mock, the Lions are clear winners. They net the top CB in the draft, and then fill one of their biggest needs at LB with a solid player. Queen was a key part of LSU’s postseason run. He has great instincts in run defense. In fact, he’s very similar to the top LB in this class, Kenneth Murray. Like Neville Gallimore, Queen’s stats don’t do all the talking. However, the potential is clearly there, and his draft stock will hinge on his performance at the NFL Combine.
27. Seattle Seahawks – Terrell Lewis, Edge, Alabama
The Seahawks have a problem on the edge. They traded for Jadeveon Clowney last year, but there’s a solid chance he leaves in free agency. And even if Clowney decides to stay, Seattle put up just 28 sacks last season, good for 29th in the league. So, especially if Clowney leaves, you can safely say an edge rusher will go here. Lewis is long, with loads of potential. He faced injuries his entire college career, but it seems like he’s healthy for the time being. The injuries are a legitimate concern, but the risk will be worth it for the Seahawks.
28. Baltimore Ravens – Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
Shenault is a do-it-all type receiver. He’s a 6’2”, 220lb tank who can be a downfield threat, slot guy, or he can even run the ball. That’s right. Over the past two seasons, he ran for 276 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and 7 TDs. His usage wasn’t there in 2019, but he still managed 13.6 yards per catch. That’s a good thing because in the Raven’s offense, he probably wouldn’t get a lot of usage. John Harbaugh loves guys he can get the ball to in multiple ways (like RGIII), so Shenault would fit right in.
29. Tennessee Titans – K’Lavon Chaisson, Edge, LSU
Chaisson is another prospect whose production represents a round 2-3 guy, but his ceiling warrants a higher selection. For a guy who’s 6’4”, 250lbs, he’s extremely athletic. I expect him to test off the charts at the Combine. The Titans need a guy like him to compliment Harold Landry on the opposite side. Tennessee’s defense would be pretty much complete with another premiere pass rusher.
30. Green Bay Packers – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Like Laviska Shenault, Jefferson is someone who can change games in multiple ways. He led the NCAA in receptions last season with 111. On top of that, he had 1,540 yards and 18 TDs. Obviously, in LSU’s revamped offense, his stats were boosted. However, he still has all the tools to become a solid player in the NFL. He’s tall (6’3”), but also speedy. On the Packers, he’d get similar usage alongside Davante Adams, similar to how he played alongside Ja’Marr Chase in college. I’m not saying he’ll get 111 receptions, but he would get his fair share of targets in Green Bay. Whether the Packers take Jefferson, Jalen Reagor, K.J. Hamler, or anyone else, one thing’s for sure. They can’t leave this draft without new receivers.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Delpit was one of the top prospects going into the 2019 season, but his production dropped last year. His 2018 stats were impressive, but he was unable to match those numbers, partly because of lingering injuries. However, there’s no doubt that Delpit is a first round talent. This is probably about the lowest you’ll see him go right now. He’s still a ballhawk with incredible range. As a result of his ball skills, he’ll likely settle into a free safety role somewhere. The Niners could use his range in their secondary, as the Chiefs burnt them in the Super Bowl multiple times. If Delpit reaches his potential in San Francisco, that defense will easily be the best in the league.
32. Kansas City Chiefs – Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Three of the Chief’s top four cornerbacks are set to hit free agency this off-season. They can’t keep all of them, and their secondary was already thin. So, with the last pick of this mock, KC gets their corner of the future. Diggs has the size and length that should make him a successful NFL player. According to Pro Football Focus, Diggs allowed just a 44.5 passer rating against himself. Diggs is the type of defensive piece the Chiefs will need to keep competing for championships out of the AFC.
As you can see, it’s gonna be an eventful few months. Free agency will undoubtedly shake up the league, and the draft will follow in all its glory. For now, let’s turn our attention to the Combine because that should shake up my board drastically.