When writing up mock drafts before the NFL Scouting Combine, before free agency and the pro day circuit all kicks off, I like to do themes that I think could arise in the actual draft. This one explores the idea that a big run on offensive linemen dominates the top 15, with wide receivers, interior defensive linemen and running backs all taking back seats.
I threw a couple of potential trades into this edition.
As always, the picks here represent what I think the teams might do with the given picks. They do not represent the choices I would make with the same options and are no way indicative of my personal rankings. Because it’s still before free agency and the Combine, these are just ideas for the thought process.
1 Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU. Until told otherwise, this will be the No. 1 pick. Embrace it.
2. Los Angeles Chargers (trade with WAS): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. The Philip Rivers era appears over, and the Chargers get bold in search of a new franchise QB. Trading No. 6 overall and their 4th rounder this year, as well as next year’s 1st and 3rd, lands them the wildly talented but oft-injured Tagovailoa. Having Tyrod Taylor in place as a bridge helps ease the worry about playing Tua as a rookie.
3. Detroit Lions: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State. Lions fans--and I’m one of them--get their fantasy fulfilled. Young is the perfect player to fix Detroit’s biggest need, someone who can generate pass rush on his own and dictate blocking schemes.
4. New York Giants: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama. Alabama’s steadily dominant right tackle has the athleticism to play on either side of the OL and make life easier for young QB Daniel Jones. I expect major jockeying amongst the top tier of offensive tackles as we progress to April. Right now, Wills has the momentum.
5. Miami Dolphins: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon. The Dolphins stay patient and land the third QB in a 3-horse race. Herbert has the arm, the legs and the potential to be a long-term solution. I love the concept of bringing him along slowly behind one more season of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
6. Washington (trade with LAC): Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville. The behemoth left tackle was one of the most improved players in 2019, and his upward arc leads to a lofty talent ceiling. Trading back and landing Beckton also opens the door to trade Trent Williams for even more capital, should the new Skins regime choose...
7. Carolina Panthers: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State. It’s hard to envision any other CB being the top dog at the position. Okudah is a potential shutdown island CB to build a secondary around, something the rebuilding Panthers must consider.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama. Possibly a best-case scenario for the Cardinals, the speedy, polished Jeudy pairs with Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray to offer Arizona a dynamic young pitch-and-catch combination that will give defenses fits for years.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (trade with JAX): Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa. The Bucs desperately need OT help and jump ahead of the even thirstier Browns to land Wirfs, an instant starter at right tackle with immediate Pro Bowl potential. They give up their 2nd round pick this year and a 6th in 2021 to move from 14 to 9 to get their (hypothetical) guy.
10. Cleveland Browns: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia. Thomas was long projected as the top OT, but his 2019 season quietly underwhelmed. The potential is still there for a Duane Brown/Trent Williams type of career, something the Browns would happily take. Thomas would have handily been OT1 in 2019.
11. New York Jets: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma. Sam Darnold needs more weapons, and Lamb gives him one of the best playmakers in college football over the last two seasons.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Isaiah Simmons, DEF, Clemson. The positional designation with Simmons will vary from team to team, game to game and even snap to snap. That sort of wicked versatility makes him incredibly appealing but also difficult to peg as a prospect. The Raiders will try to find a way to best use him, drawing on their failed experiment with the similar -- but lower-end -- Obi Melifonwu to guide them.
13. Indianapolis Colts: Josh Jones, OT, Houston. With venerable left tackle Anthony Castonzo flirting with retirement, it’s a wakeup call to Indy to get a plan in place. Jones was the biggest winner of Senior Bowl week with his footwork and length.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars (via trade with TB): Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn. The Jaguars would almost certainly consider Brown at nine...if he even lasts that long. Snagging the big Tiger at 14 in this scenario is a huge win. His ability to disrupt from the inside would cause major problems for opposing offenses.
15. Denver Broncos: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina. Kinlaw is an attack dog on the defensive interior capable of playing anywhere in a 3-man front. This is a case where the talent is too tempting for the team to pass, and Denver could certainly use him anyway.
16. Atlanta Falcons: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa. Epenesa goes against type for Atlanta’s defense as someone who wins with power-to-speed, but that might be just what the doctor ordered for the Falcons’ anemic pass rush.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama. Speed on top of speed, but Ruggs is not a one-trick pony. He runs good routes and can work in tandem with other receivers. Hard to see Jerry Jones passing on his marvelous speed at a position of need and also Ruggs’ winning pedigree from Alabama.
18. Miami: Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama. It’s easy to see the allure of Lewis for Miami head coach Brian Flores. His football IQ, positional versatility and ability to finish what he starts are all things the Dolphins can use on a young defensive corps.
19. Las Vegas: K.J. Hamler, WR, Penn State. Instant acceleration and big-play ability are Hamler’s hallmarks. He is capable of turning a 3-step slant into six points with his game-breaking speed and vision. It’s a good fit for a Raiders team in need of some sizzle on the outside.
20. Jacksonville: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama. The third Crimson Tide player in four slots, McKinney is a rangy cover safety who can also play CB if necessary. With a secondary in flux, the Jaguars land a valuable building block in McKinney.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado. Big, fast and strong, Shenault gives off vibes of a faster Anquan Boldin. The Eagles are in desperate need of a reliable, versatile playmaker like Shenault to help Carson Wentz be all he can be.
22. Buffalo Bills: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU. He’s under the radar after dealing with an injury that cost him playing time. Expect that to change. Chaisson is a precocious pass rusher with high-end burst and movement skills. Too much potential for the Bills to bypass here.
23. New England Patriots: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota. Slightly bigger than his Pro Bowl CB father, Winfield Jr. was a dominant presence in the Golden Gophers strong defense in his healthy 2019. He has some durability concerns, but there might not be a better defensive back in this draft when he’s at full strength. Bet on Bill Belichick believing that too.
24. New Orleans Saints: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU. The Saints stay in-state to grab a worthy complement to superstar Michael Thomas. Jefferson’s smooth speed and big-play potential will ease the eventual transition from Drew Brees to another QB that might require someone better than Ted Ginn to be his longtime WR2.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Ashtyn Davis, S, California. The Vikings have free agency issues in the secondary, and adding a strong-tackling safety who can reliably handle his business in coverage like Davis might be more of a necessity than it appears. I expect Davis to rise up as more coaches get familiar with his NFL-ready game.
26. Indianapolis Colts (trade with MIA): Jordan Love, QB, Utah State. The Colts deal away their two second-round picks (they have their own at 44 plus Washington’s at 34) to jump into the first round and snag the enigmatic, high-ceiling/low-floor Love. Getting the fifth-year control on a QB is a very big deal for NFL teams.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M. An athletically gifted, gap-shooting DT with excellent college production, Madubuike improved his stoutness in 2019 and that puts him in the first-round conversation. Seattle’s defensive line could be ravaged by free agency, making his ability to play DT or heavy DE an even bigger asset.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU. With three starting LBs all hitting free agency, finding second-level help is an imperative for the Ravens. Queen has range, instincts and closing burst to the point of attack.
29. Tennessee Titans: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU. Fulton brings size, freaky fluidity and solid man-coverage instincts. Those are all appealing traits to Mike Vrabel’s defense that needs reinforcements.
30. Green Bay Packers: Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU. A speedy playmaker who has never played with stable QB play, Reagor could erupt as the vertical and improv weapon Aaron Rodgers sorely needs to keep the Packers atop the NFC North.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia. If he clears the health checks, Hall is a perfect fit for Robert Saleh’s defense. A ballhawk with length, smarts and an aggressive desire to attack in the run game, Hall naturally compares to Richard Sherman as a prospect.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn. One of the most impressive physical specimens in the draft, Igbinoghene figures to rise quickly once more folks check out his closing burst. The son of Olympic sprinters (plural), he’s still learning to play defense and he’s learning quickly. Just the type of prospect the defending champs can afford to bring along.
Next 11 picks
Bengals: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Dolphins (via above trade): Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Lions: Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
Giants: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Chargers: Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
Panthers: Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama
Dolphins: Lloyd Cushenberry, IOL, LSU
Cardinals: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
Browns: Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
Jaguars: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Bears: Cesar Ruiz, IOL, Michigan