Nearly every time I do a mock draft, it’s my attempt at projecting what the NFL teams will do in the given situations. Not this one. This time it’s all about what I would do if I was the GM for each team.
This is not a predictive mock in any sense of the word. I’ll restate it to make it clear: I’m not telling you what I think will happen on April 23-25. I’m telling you what would happen with the picks if I were making them instead of the NFL GMs. Don’t like it? Don’t worry, it’s not going to happen in real life. That’s not the point of this mock.
No trades because that’s cheating in this format. As a general draft philosophy, I value impact talent at impact positions (QB, OT, CB, EDGE). I’m timider than most when it comes to drafting players with injury histories. My “need” window tends to be broader than many others, too; I’m looking at future holes as well as present ones.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU. Okay, this one will happen. As it should. The Bengals land their potential new franchise QB in a guy who can sell tickets and inspire fans. For Cincinnati, that’s almost as important as winning games with his considerable athletic talents.
2. Washington: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State. Buckeyes teammate Chase Young is the better prospect, but the Skins need another first-round defensive lineman (Young will make four in a row) like I need another nipple. But they don’t have a single NFL starting-worthy outside CB on the roster. Okudah solves that problem instantly. He’s a better, more reliable and sturdier prospect than another ex-Buckeye, Denzel Ward, who went No. 4 overall in 2018 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
3. Detroit Lions: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State. It didn’t hurt this scenario that I’m a Lions fan (the long-suffering is a given), and I will be perfectly happy when they select Okudah here in reality. But if I had my way and it fell like this, Young is the perfect blend of impact talent and position of dire need for the NFL’s softest defense a year ago.
4. New York Giants: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa. The last two top-10 picks the Giants have taken are RB Saquon Barkley and QB Daniel Jones. But until the Giants improve the offensive line, they won’t get their maximum return on those investments. Wirfs can play either OT spot and thrive, helping the premium players around him thrive too.
5. Miami Dolphins: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama. What, no QB? That’s right. I don’t think this highly of Justin Herbert, and without being able to poke and prod Tua Tagovailoa with my own doctors, there’s not a chance in the world I’m taking him this high. So I’ll do the next best thing and get whomever will be the long-term QB a superstar WR in the making in Jeudy.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia. There is risk here after Thomas underwhelmed in 2019, but the Bulldog still has outstanding traits and showed why he earned comparisons to Jason Peters in the fall. I trust my coaching staff to coax that out of Thomas more consistently. He helps the QB a lot, be it Tyrod Taylor or someone drafted later on.
7. Carolina Panthers: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina. New coaching staff in charge of a team that has lost stalwart leaders from both sides of the ball. It’s a great time to go after someone like Kinlaw, a charismatic guy who also happens to be the best interior pass-rushing prospect in this class. He has a lower floor and more questions than Derrick Brown, but I’m gunning for the ceiling with my first pick of the regime.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville. Another case of taking a bit more of a risk for the potential payoff. I feel contractually obligated to refer to Becton as a “behemoth”, but a light-footed one with outstanding agility for a 365-pound man. The Cardinals play in a defensive-front dominant division and building up the OL to protect Kyler Murray makes sense now that they’ve stolen DeAndre Hopkins from Houston.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn. I’m looking for stability in Duval, and Brown is the kind of no-nonsense, high-floor instant starter that can shore up the middle-of-field defense. He should make prized free agent Joe Schobert so much better behind him at LB. The Jaguars don’t need a home run/strikeout guy. They need a high OBP contact hitter with power to the gaps. That’s Brown as a DT.
10. Cleveland Browns: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson. This pick drove some intense personal debate inside my head. The two players I want most here for Cleveland, Wirfs and Kinlaw, are gone. Jedrick Wills is the best OT on the board but I’m not crazy about his scheme fit. None of the other LT prospects are anywhere close here for me. I’m not the biggest Simmons fan out there but the Browns happen to have a hole exactly where he fits best--coverage LB that can also attack downhill vs. the run.
11. New York Jets: Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama. There might not be a team with a more dire need at any spot than the New York Jets and wide receiver. Looking at their WR depth chart makes me sing “Little Shop of Horrors”. Sam Darnold needs help. Ruggs is the fastest help and most dynamic playmaker available. This was a sprint to the (virtual) podium pick.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU. Twitchy, aggressive cornerback with outstanding ball skills and the confidence to be a No. 1 CB even if his game doesn’t always match that level. Given the receivers in the division and how the team aggressively addressed pass rush last year, building up the secondary is the top defensive priority. The rest of the draft will lean heavily on offense for Las Vegas.
13. San Francisco 49ers: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama. Joe Staley (probably) cannot play forever, and the overall depth on the 49ers offensive line is about as thick as Justin Beiber’s voice. Wills has some traits that bug me at times (he’s often a “catch” blocker), but I like a lot of what he does too. If I did trades in this draft, this spot would be for sale.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU. With all the NFL-ready tackles gone (deep sigh), the sights turn to juicing up the pass rush. Chaisson has all the tools to become an elite stand-up EDGE, and the Bucs don’t have anyone at that spot long-term. I’ll roll the dice on Day 2 with a high-floor OT in the quest to win in the 1-2 year window with Tom Brady and make my pass defense that much better in the process.
15. Denver Broncos: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU. I’m a big fan of how Jefferson sets up routes and works in tandem with his receiving mates. He’s great in the slot and up the seam, which can work quite nicely with Courtland Sutton in giving Drew Lock the best chance to succeed. Jefferson can start from Day 1 and make plays at all levels of the defense.
16. Atlanta Falcons: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa. Not gonna lie, I really wanted Chaisson here. Epenesa is a very different type of pass rusher on the edge, a bigger, power-to-speed guy. His advanced use of hand/shoulder technique is going to be trouble for tackles accustomed to trying to stop speed. In a division with Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, Epenesa’s strong outside-in run defense is a smart fit too.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama. Diggs can thrive in man or zone coverage, he’s got length, closing burst and quick route/assignment recognition. There’s a lot of very good things to work with. Cowboys fans will harp on the admittedly high number of great plays he “almost” makes, alas. I’ve been advised by Cowboys fans on Twitter that any position outside of EDGE or CB will result in Armageddon, so I’m throwing y’all a bone. Don’t choke on it.
18. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. This is a more prudent range to risk a “bonus” pick on Tua and hope he can be the long-term solution at QB. Tagovailoa is a tremendous passing prospect and has some mobility. The durability question is legit and must be taken seriously. Otherwise he’s a top-3 talent. May the force be with Tua medically.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma. Lamb’s ability to transition from receiver to runner is spectacular, a boon to a Raiders offense that can use some dynamism. To address why I’m lower than most on Lamb, I have concerns about how he handled more physical and attentive man coverage in college (TCU, West Virginia). That doesn’t mean I think he’s not a great prospect with high-end potential with his physicality for his size. Yeah, I watched the Texas game too...that’s the Lamb that makes him going this low look absurd.
20: Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Jones, OT, Houston. My wife likes to call me “aggressively passive-aggressive” and in football terms, one of the ways that comes out is with traded picks. I love the concept of using an acquired pick to draft a player the team originally holding the pick would covet at the spot. This pick comes from the Rams, who are apparently banking on Andrew Whitworth playing until he’s 47 at left tackle. Jones isn’t ready to be great just yet but I buy the upside and the attitude. Think Kolton Miller, a first-round project for the Raiders who stunk as a rookie but showed marked improvement at LT in his second season. The Jaguars are building for the long-term and Jones can be a piece of that.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State. I often compare Aiyuk to Golden Tate, a player this team traded for in 2018 and missed last season after letting him walk. Based on my overall board this is a reach, but there are times when specific players fit for a team so well that I push the override button and make it happen. I really like Aiyuk as a motion receiver who can operate inside or outside, to quell the loud debate amongst Eagles fans who cannot see the forest for the trees.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama. I’ll come right out and say it--if local product Antoine Winfield Jr. didn’t have an injury history that takes more than one paragraph to list, he’d be the home run choice here. But I just can’t take that risk in the first round. McKinney is no slouch as a Plan B, a versatile safety at best in coverage and keeping the play in front of him. The more I watched McKinney, the more I appreciated his all-around game. The Vikings cannot afford a swing and a miss here, and I think McKinney is a safe bet at a position where they desperately need both short- and long-term help.
23. New England Patriots: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin. But he’s too small, they’ll say. But he doesn’t have a real position, they’ll say. And in 3 years, you’ll hear “dang we really undersold Zack Baun” even though both those first statements are true. Whip smart, versatile, high-effort, highly athletic and high-character defender. Yeah, I’m letting Belichick work with that and putting my Super Bowl rings in my ears, Patrick Roy-style, with the middle finger extended.
24. New Orleans Saints: Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah. Another player whose skills grew on me the more I watched, I like Johnson’s savvy cover skills with the ball in the air. He’s also a hammer of a tackler for his weight. The Saints are drafting for longer-term needs than any immediate hole, but Johnson can step in and contribute right away. He’s got the ability to emerge as a viable No. 1 CB in a year or two.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State. Looks and moves like a basketball power forward. I’ve often wondered why the NFL is obsessed with turning those basketballers into tight ends and not defensive ends, but I digress...Gross-Matos can be the Everson Griffen replacement if he can develop some consistency and better countermoves.
26. Miami Dolphins: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU. Longtime readers know I listen to music while studying a prospect. It helps my sense memory recall. I randomly wound up with Montrose’s Rock Candy as Fulton’s theme song. He’s hot, sweet and sticky as a cover corner. The Dolphins can use some sugar on the back end of the defense.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M. It’s not the Seahawks’ biggest need right now, but the depth at DT is unimpressive and overplaying guys like Poona Ford and Jarran Reed is counterproductive. Madubuike is a great scheme fit and a player with impact in both the run and pass game.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor. I love the concept of a big, physical receiver on the outside to help Lamar Jackson become even more dangerous as a passer. Equating Mims with Baylor receivers of past vintages is like lumping Russell Wilson with all his Wisconsin QB predecessors. Maybe…regardless, I like the fit and the player here.
29. Tennessee Titans: Marlon Davidson, DT, Auburn. Davidson can play all over the line and injects energy, quickness and a great punch that seizes the advantage from the blocker quite well. He blends nicely with an underappreciated defensive front in Nashville that can use some reinforcement. Very nimble for a 300-pound hombre.
30. Green Bay Packers: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado. A healthy Shenault moving all over the formation with Aaron Rodgers as his QB is almost unfair. He’s too physical for safeties over the middle, too nifty for LBs in space. Shenault is a matchup dictator. That maximizes Rodgers as he ages. Even though the LB corps is embarrassing, what Shenault offers here is too tempting.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn. Igbinoghene is as raw as his name is difficult to pronounce before you’ve heard it said. He holds too much, doesn’t anticipate throws well and often reminds you he’s played defense for just three years. He probably shouldn’t be more than a No. 4 CB as a rookie. But his growth arc is impressive, he’s an athletic marvel and he gets to learn from Richard Sherman for a year or two. I’ll take that as a lottery ticket with Sherman drawing the numbers...
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Cesar Ruiz, G/C, Michigan. Two guys who got cut from the winless Browns in 2018 are currently projected starters on the Chiefs interior OL. Suboptimal. Ruiz is better at center but can easily start at left guard right away. High-floor player with a pretty lofty ceiling, too.
33. Bengals: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
34. Colts: Michael Pittman, WR, USC. Win-now time with Philip Rivers and his short shelf life, plus the Jaguars in disarray and the Texans somehow still letting Bill O’Brien make personnel decisions leaves the AFC South wide open for the Colts to thrive. Pittman is ready as a big-bodied target right away.
35. Lions: Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
36. Giants: Josh Uche, OLB, Michigan
37. Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
38. Panthers: Antoine WInfield Jr, S, Minnesota
39. Dolphins: JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
40. Texans: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
41. Browns: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
42. Jaguars: Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
43. Bears: K.J. Hamler, WR, Penn State. The Bears’ first pick has to be on offense. Finding the best blend of value and fit is not easy here. Hamler’s pure speed and ability to get open quickly are major assets that can only help Chicago’s largely punchless offense.
44. Colts: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
45. Bucs: Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
46. Broncos: Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
47. Falcons: Amik Robertson, CB, Louisiana Tech
48. Jets: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
49. Steelers: Lloyd Cushenberry, C/G, LSU. The Steeler need to get some youth and eventual starters into the OL pipeline. Cushenberry can come in and be the top reserve IOL right away and start in a year, though I’d bet on him beating out Stefen Wisniewski for a starting spot as a rookie.
50. Bears: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
51. Cowboys: Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
52. Rams: Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
53. Eagles: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
54. Bills: Van Jefferson, WR, Florida. What do you get a QB who is a spectacular runner but a below-average passer, like Josh Allen? A wideout with sure hands, a huge catch radius and one who blocks like a tight end. That’s Jefferson. Boom.
55. Ravens: Matt Hennessey, C, Temple
56. Dolphins: Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
57. Rams: Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State
58. Vikings: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
59. Seahawks: Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
60. Ravens: Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
61. Titans: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
62. Packers: Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech
63. Chiefs: D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
64. Seahawks: Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame