With the national title game in the rearview mirror, we officially can put a bow on the 2019 college football season.
For the NFL draft enthusiasts, it’s a fun time over the next two months — the Senior Bowl, NFL scouting combine and college pro days will help us sharpen the picture of which prospects belong in what ranges and how NFL teams’ needs will change once the free-agency period begins in March.
We have enough information now to start making more accurate dart throws at our 2020 draft projections, making it an ideal time for our third mock draft for this cycle.
1. Cincinnati Bengals — LSU QB Joe Burrow
We’ll spend the next few months examining scenarios in which the Bengals might not use this pick on Burrow. It will be very entertaining and liberating for all involved. And then our final mocks will have Burrow’s name here. Figure we just skip to that point now.
Burrow could get dinged by a few for not possessing elite physical traits, but we’ll let those contrarians have their say and move right along. Even if the Bengals can’t lure him to the Senior Bowl, there are enough connections with him to hand over the keys to the franchise to the Ohio-born star.
2. Washington Redskins — Ohio State EDGE Chase Young
Ditto above. People will point to the Redskins not being smart as their reasoning. They’ll mention the possibility of being blown away for a trade offer. That’s possible, but a blow-away return would be for a quarterback, not for Young, as great as he is. If they stay put, Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio add a game-changing defender.
3. Detroit Lions — Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah
The Lions could be in a great spot here if Tua Tagovailoa rehabs well and receives good news about his hip. This might be where the trade activity kicks off. Detroit has a lot of needs to fill, and it’s seeking instant contributors, one might safely assume. With Darius Slay’s future a bit unclear (and with a need at corner anyway), we’ll go with Okudah, our highest-rated DB in this class.
4. New York Giants — Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs
Our highest-graded tackle just formally declared for the draft. We could see the old-school Dave Gettleman being enamored by Wirfs while the analytics folks also approve of him with what’s expected to be eye-popping strength and good overall testing numbers.
Wirfs has excelled at left and right tackle, and could be a huge Day 1 improvement for the protection of Daniel Jones and the blocking to open holes for Saquon Barkley.
5. Miami Dolphins — Alabama OT Jedrick Wills Jr.
If you want to flip-flop these next two picks, be my guest. Any speculation on what the Dolphins’ plans are at quarterback feels wildly premature anyway. But I do suspect there’s ample room for Miami to take a hard-nosed, battle-tested blocker and leader here such as Wills.
The Dolphins are going to spend in free agency at multiple spots, so their needs here could change accordingly. But Wills fits the mold of what head coach Brian Flores wants in his players: intelligence, toughness and an ornery football temperament.
6. Los Angeles Chargers — Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
Expect the Chargers to scour the QB options this offseason extensively, with an eye on finding their starter for the next decade. Tua would be a great fit with the Chargers with great options at wide receiver, tight end and running back, but upgrading the line in front of him would be paramount. He’d also potentially be a big boost toward ticket sales for a franchise badly in need of hype.
Assuming the Philip Rivers era is over, Tyrod Taylor could be the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency starter if Tagovailoa’s health delays his entrance on the field. The results of his medical reports could be the difference between Tagovailoa going in the top five or perhaps even dropping out of Round 1. We simply don’t know yet and likely won’t for at least a month.
7. Carolina Panthers — Auburn DT Derrick Brown
Matt Rhule’s first recruit after taking the Baylor job was defensive tackle James Lynch, as Rhule knows how important controlling the line of scrimmage is. With Gerald McCoy and Vernon Butler set to be free agents, Kawann Short returning from injury and Dontari Poe entering a contract season in 2020, the need up front is clear.
Brown is one of our favorite players to watch and likely will end up as one of my top-five overall prospects, so it’s great value here.
8. Arizona Cardinals — Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
I get the desire for a receiver here, I really do. But with the rare depth of this WR class, the Cardinals could gamble that a commensurate talent at the position might be available in Round 2. I’m lower on Thomas than others might be and think he could require some time to develop. But his athleticism and intangibles are strong enough to get him into the top 10 for the right team. Kliff Kingsbury will be on the hunt for this type of blocker.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars — Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
It was hard not to notice Simmons flying around the field in the national title game, but really, that is what he has been doing for more than a year now. He’s a special, do-it-all talent who can be unleashed in multiple ways.
Derwin James, Kyle Van Noy, Darius Leonard, Jamal Adams ... compare Simmons to whomever you’d like. He has elements of all these players’ games, and if an NFL team can’t find a way to use him, then it’s being closed-minded about his fascinating upside.
10. Cleveland Browns — Louisville OT Mekhi Becton
This might be higher than he’s placed in other mock drafts, but we frankly don’t care. Becton is a superior talent who is scratching the surface of what he can be, so expect him to be a major riser the next few months. There will be plenty of Trent Brown comps between now and the draft, especially after Becton measures and works out at the combine.
The Browns could use this type of enforcer up front. Few men north of 350 pounds can move the way he does. We have Becton rated above Thomas, for what it’s worth.
11. New York Jets — Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
With our top four offensive tackles gone, this is a pretty darned good fallback option. If the Jets are prepared to let Robby Anderson walk, perhaps they could upgrade with a more competitive version of that in Jeudy’s Crimson Tide teammate, Henry Ruggs III.
Here, we believe Jeudy can emerge as a Sam Darnold favorite with his route diversity and crisp route running. He’s not our favorite receiver in this class, but Jeudy has a chance to be a really good pro.
12. Las Vegas Raiders — Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
Our highest-rated receiver falls in a nearly perfect spot, with the Raiders needing to add juice to their passing game. Lamb possesses great ball skills, downfield ability and can separate with savvy as well as physical skill. His football temperament also likely fits the Venn diagram between Jon Gruden’s and Mike Mayock’s checklists. This would make for a terrific pick to kick off the Vegas era.
13. Indianapolis Colts — South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw
The Colts are a QB-needy team whose needs could change in the draft if GM Chris Ballard can’t secure the proper veteran option. So assuming they don’t go that route here, we easily could see an interior pass rusher and disruptor such as Kinlaw being high on their list. He’s one of those tough, instinctive, high-motor players. Outside of Justin Houston, the Colts’ defensive linemen had only 18 sacks among six other players.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — USC OT Austin Jackson
I have a second-round grade on Jackson, so pulling the trigger here was tough, but the need up front is strong enough where they could consider it. The defensive front and QB are realistic options, too, pending on what happens with Jameis Winston and their four other big free agents: Shaquille Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib and Ndamukong Suh. Jackson has great upside but was beaten too much in conference play.
15. Denver Broncos — Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III
I’m trying to imagine a scenario where Ruggs runs in the 4.3-second range in his combine 40 and not going in the top half of Round 1, and I just can’t right now. The Broncos were in the bottom third of the NFL in receptions of 20 yards and longer, and adding a huge burst of speed opposite Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant would be huge for QB Drew Lock.
16. Atlanta Falcons — Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa
The Falcons had 28 sacks, with 16 of them coming in only three games. Their pressure rate was among the lowest in the NFL. Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn are free agents, and Takk McKinley is at a bit of a career crossroads. The Falcons need more rush help up front. Epenesa started the season slowly but came on down the stretch and could develop into a very good power rusher.
17. Dallas Cowboys— Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
If the Cowboys lose Byron Jones in free agency, adding a longer, highly athletic corner could be a big need. Diggs was mostly terrific this season — outside of a tough game against LSU. Expected to run a sub-4.5 and test well across the board, he could be the kind of long-levered DB the Cowboys seem to highly value.
18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers) — Oregon QB Justin Herbert
Could Herbert go higher than this? Surely. Might the Dolphins be more likely to take a QB above this spot? It’s possible. The Senior Bowl could be a great proving ground for Herbert, but for him it will be all about the right team fit.
This is a potential match of physical skills and intelligence for a team that will value those qualities highly, and we’ve heard that the Dolphins have done as much work on Herbert as any team out there.
19. Raiders (from Chicago Bears) — Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
The Raiders have lacked an impact off-the-ball linebacker such as Murray for a while, so it fits a need at a position whose talent appears to drop off significantly after the early Round 2 range. Murray isn’t a perfect technician, but his high-energy, impactful style likely would be a big hit in Vegas. He could emerge as a defensive captain there relatively quickly.
20. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) — Clemson WR Tee Higgins
D.J. Chark is a fine young receiver, but there might not be many other true difference makers at the position in Jacksonville. We could surely see the desire to land OL or DL help here, and tight end remains a gaping hole, too. But to land a long, nimble-footed target with underrated toughness here would be a fine score for the Jaguars.
21. Philadelphia Eagles — LSU S Grant Delpit
The Eagles badly need separators at receiver, but safety could be a need depending on whether Malcolm Jenkins gets the deal he wants or whether Rodney McLeod returns. Delpit spent time in several spots the past few seasons and could be penciled in as the deep safety or more up in the box if that’s not the role earmarked for Jenkins. Tackling was a problem at times for Delpit this season as he played hurt, but the Eagles need versatile defenders to stop the talented young QBs and runners in the NFC East.
22. Buffalo Bills — Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
The Bills upgraded their offense a year ago with the additions of John Brown, Cole Beasley, Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox, but more is needed. Adding a receiver such as Shenault, with a long wingspan and great YAC potential, could do wonders for Josh Allen.
Shenault might not be a true home-run hitter, but he showed — even in an injury-plagued season — that he has unique skills that can be used in this type of offense.
23. New England Patriots — Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet
There’s no Gronkowski-esque prospect in this TE class, but Kmet might be the best fit for New England’s glaring needs at the position. He remains a work in progress, with less than a full season’s worth of starting experience but possesses the upside as a blocker and seam receiver to be considered here.
Or maybe a trade down? The Patriots currently have no pick in Round 2 from the Mohamed Sanu trade (ouch), and even with two more high third-round compensatory picks likely coming their way, they also could lose a selection (or two) if they’re docked for filming the Bengals’ sideline in December.
24. New Orleans Saints — LSU CB Kristian Fulton
When it’s all said and done, Fulton could go higher than this, even after a national title game in which he was picked on repeatedly in the first half. But in this early simulation, this is just how the chips fell. The Saints and LSU have a close working relationship, so there’s plenty of familiarity there. And Fulton would help a big need at corner, which was exposed at times this season.
25. Minnesota Vikings — Florida CB CJ Henderson
The Vikings have a few big holes to fill, including on the offensive line, but Henderson’s length and press-man skills would fit what Mike Zimmer seeks in a corner. Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has raved about Henderson, calling him the best cornerback he has ever coached, even if his tackling can be inconsistent.
26. Dolphins (from Houston Texans) — Alabama S Xavier McKinney
Let’s say the Dolphins use a big chunk of their $100 million in salary-cap space on OL and pass-rush help. In that situation, we could see Brian Flores wanting a young captain in his secondary such as McKinney who can cover the back half, walk out to the slot, blitz and help stop the run.
The Dolphins could move on from safety Reshad Jones, and McKinney can help replace what they lost in trading Minkah Fitzpatrick.
27. Seattle Seahawks — LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson
Once we get into the full swing, Chaisson might soon find himself going higher than this in projections, and it wouldn’t be a surprise. He won’t be a perfect fit in every scheme, but his bend, reach and athleticism are perfect fits for a defense that still needs more disruption up front.
The Seahawks annually are a tricky team to peg for prospects, as they often have a smaller (and different) draft board than other teams, but it certainly works for them as they’ve remained a playoff-caliber team despite sweeping changes the past few years.
28. Baltimore Ravens — Alabama EDGE Terrell Lewis
Landing Lamar Jackson more sure-handed targets has to be on the offseason wish list, but the Ravens also need — and highly value — pass rushers. The intriguing Lewis would fit their needs nicely, and he comes from a Bama program the Ravens know very well. The depth of the WR class also could allow them to slow-play that position and find talent later on.
29 Tennessee Titans* — Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
The run on edge rushers is in full swing. Gross-Matos has some critics who wonder if he can consistently set the edge as a run defender, but he has natural pass-rush gifts that are starting to flourish. Gross-Matos also plays with a hot motor, which certainly will endear himself to Mike Vrabel. With Harold Landry on one side and Gross-Matos on the other, the Titans would have a more diverse pass-rush attack.
30. Green Bay Packers* — Utah State QB Jordan Love
Whoa, now, easy does it ... let’s talk through this pick slowly, shall we?
No, I am not kicking Aaron Rodgers to the curb. He’s great! But Rodgers will turn 37 in December, and the team took a good, long (and late) look at Drew Lock one year ago. Had Lock slipped a few more picks in Round 2, I suspect he would have been a Packer. Love possesses similar skills as Lock, and perhaps even with a higher ceiling if he’s cultivated correctly.
With Packers rookies Rashan Gary and Jace Sternberger essentially enduring redshirt-type seasons, and more expected from both in Year 2, it would make sense if the Packers convinced themselves that they don’t need a Day 1 contributor here.
Right now, prior to his all-important Senior Bowl week, this is about the range of the draft where I place Love’s value, so if it’s not Green Bay who takes him, it could be another team trading up into this area for Love.
31. Kansas City Chiefs* — Ohio State RB JK Dobbins
This would almost be unfair, giving Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes a runner of Dobbins’ quality. Does this offense really need more help? Well, we do feel the Chiefs could use a multi-tool runner and receiver such as Dobbins, even if history suggests this pairing is unlikely.
Why? Reid has never used a first-round pick on a running back. There are folks who believe he simply doesn’t value the position as a first-round possibility. The highest selection Reid has ever used on a back was 53rd (LeSean McCoy), so this Dobbins pick would buck a nearly two-decades-long trend.
If the Chiefs go elsewhere here, cornerback and edge rusher are two big defensive needs, and the offensive line could use some help.
32 San Francisco 49ers* — Ohio State CB Damon Arnette
Richard Sherman remains a standout in the secondary, but the glaring need opposite him remains an issue. Ahkello Witherspoon hasn’t developed as hoped, so adding a competitive, more mature talent such as Arnette could be exactly what the Niners need outside. Arnette came back to school last year, and it was a terrific decision for his development.
* — order subject to change based on postseason outcome
Teams without first-round picks
43. Bears (from Raiders) — Georgia QB Jake Fromm
The most likely option for the Bears might be to borrow a page from the Titans’ playbook and rescue a Ryan Tannehill-ish QB on an expiring contract with the hopes that they can find an unpolished diamond to compete with Mitchell Trubisky. Other veteran options might include Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota or perhaps Alex Smith.
If they go with a rookie there, Fromm is the type of smart, experienced prospect who can be ready for action soon. As a passer and processor, he’s similar to Smith, with whom Bears head coach Matt Nagy worked well in Kansas City.
49. Steelers — Florida EDGE Jonathan Greenard
Tough and feisty, Greenard appears to fit the Steelers’ mold at a need position. Pittsburgh might have to guard against the loss of Bud Dupree, so adding an edge rusher opposite T.J. Watt makes sense. There could be a few in this range for them to choose from, including Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor and Utah’s Bradlee Anae.
52. Rams — Auburn OT Prince Tega Wonogho
Sean McVay seemed frustrated he couldn’t crank up his bread-and-butter outside-zone runs for big gains, even with some modest improvement — especially against stacked fronts — late in the season. Wonogho moves very well and could be tried at tackle or guard as the Rams figure to break in more young OL talent this offseason. The draft talent at this spot starts to thin around here, so getting a lineman at this spot might be necessary.
57. Texans — Clemson RB Travis Etienne
They badly need a cornerback, but there were none in my simulated Round 2 projection who warranted a pick this high. Instead, we give them Etienne, who could add a needed burst in the backfield if they move on from Lamar Miller, let Carlos Hyde walk (or re-sign him to a short deal) and keep Duke Johnson in the third-down role.
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