While our hands are as soapy as a ball thrown to any Eagles receiver last season and we continue to practice social distancing, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how clubs prepare for the NFL Draft, which will be held from April 23-25.
Player physicals have been put on hold, wiping pro days off the calendar, keeping coaches and scouts at home. The loss of workouts, medical examinations and pro days makes this an unprecedented Draft process.
Still, the TV audience will be huge, as will expectations. While NFL fans live by mock Drafts, they aren’t a perfect science. With that in mind, Lindy’s Sports UK editor Simon Milham offers his projections for the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
1: Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
It will be a surprise if Andy Dalton is still on the Bengals’ roster on March 23. New England may well see Dalton as a viable bridge passer now that Tom Brady has departed. Still, after leading LSU to a perfect season, the 6-3, 221lb Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is a lock to be top pick.
He has good pocket mobility, is accurate and is a strong character who has won on the big stage. Burrow was brilliant for LSU in 2019, completing 76% of his passes for 5,671 yards with 60 touchdowns and six interceptions, and notching 368 yards on the ground with five rushing TDs. Extremely accurate, he has superb anticipation and throws a very catchable ball, even if he does not have elite arm strength.
Is he a one-season wonder? Time will tell.
2: Washington Redskins: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
It seems unlikely the Redskins will pass on a game-changing defensive end who set an Ohio State record with 16.5 sacks in 2019, despite missing two games due to an NCAA suspension. A rare defensive prospect with an elite skillset, he is a dominating 4-3 end and arguably the best player in the Draft. The ‘skins could entertain a few trade enquiries, but ultimately the ransom would be too high. They could, of course, entertain the thought of taking Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (a certain top five pick) and that would be no surprise, either. The guess is they stand pat and if Washington don’t take Tua, things will get interesting.
3: Miami Dolphins (Trade with Detroit Lions): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
The Jaguars (picking at No.9) have purged expensive veterans for a lot of draft capital and they could package their two first-round picks, (or one plus Yannick Ngakoue) to beat both Miami and the L.A. Chargers to get to Tua Tagovailoa, who would be the top pick if he had not suffered a dislocated hip. Yet if they are as bad as their free agency purge suggests, they may get Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with the No.1 pick next season anyway. And Miami’s case is stronger.
The Dolphins have huge capital with 14 picks, six of which are in the top 70 (5th, 18th, 26th, 39th, 56th, and 70th), so they could trade up from their No.5 spot, but may have to overpay, offering pick No.39, plus a third- or fourth-rounder in 2021. Initial thoughts had the Dolphins staying put and picking Iowa OL Tristan Wirfs (please), but the fan-base will be angered if Tagovailoa is still in play and GM Chris Grier passes. The last time the Dolphins passed on a QB because of injury concerns, it ended up being Drew Brees.
While the Dolphins can still let the Draft come to them and get their man with the fifth pick, Tua would have gone No.1 had he not suffered two ankle injuries and a dislocated hip in the last two seasons. The concerns over Tua’s height – at 6-0 he is four inches shorter than Justin Herbert – and durability are valid. Yet he may be a better fit than Oregon passer Herbert, who would be more at home on the west coast, and the fins can afford to gamble.
Some Dolphins fans, like me, would see this as a huge risk and would prefer Herbert, Jordan Love, or possibly Jalen Hurts in the second/third round, but trading with the Lions to go and get their man makes sense, as they can sit Tua for a year and rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magic. The Lions still get a prize bull and a couple of extra picks.
4: New York Giants: Tristan Wirfs, OL, Iowa
With an immediate need at right tackle and with left tackle Nate Solder likely gone in 2021, replacing both tackles in the same season is not a plan that GM Dave Gettleman would entertain. Taking Wirfs now would secure one of the two tackle spots, although Auburn’s defensive lineman Derrick Brown or Clemson linebacker Isiah Simmons would also be sensible picks if still available. Wirfs is a freakishly good athlete and would give QB Daniel Jones some immediate help. Mekhi Beckton (Louisville) and Jedrick Wills Jr (Alabama) could be other offensive line options who will all be high picks, but Wirfs is the most natural fit.
5: Detroit Lions (Trade with Miami Dolphins): Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
While Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah would be the obvious pick after losing Darius Slay in free agency, they could throw a spanner in the works and select Brown. A shade under 6-5 and 325lb, Brown is arguably the best player remaining in the Draft and a disruptive interior force with a high motor, who could transform any team’s defense.
He is going to be a star wherever he ends up and he is a solid, old-school defensive lineman, a worker who would fit well with the fan base in the blue-collar motor city. He defends the run superbly well and such was his production at Auburn, you would not know he was double-teamed on most plays, as he still caused havoc. Yes, we have a monster-sized man-crush on Brown.
6: Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The Chargers are in a difficult spot. They need a starting left tackle after trading Russell Okung to Carolina and could trade down for Louisville’s Mekhi Becton if Washington take Tua and Miami take Justin Herbert.
But the guess is that the Oregon starter will be in play and this is the ideal spot for him. At 6-4, Herbert has the size, strength and accuracy the Chargers can work with. He may sit a season behind Tyrod Taylor, but that will give him the time to adjust to the NFL and from being outside of Oregon. His even-keel attitude to succeed in the NFL will also help his transition. Whoever picks Herbert gets a solid starter for years to come.
7: Carolina Panthers: Isiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
Luke Keuchly’s replacement will get plenty of headlines bringing down the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan in the NFC South. The 6-4 junior is a versatile playmaker in the mould of Tyrann Matthieu or Derwin James and he could easily go higher than this spot (Lions or Giants). He has the ability to transform a defense and with Derrick Brown off the board, Simmons makes logical sense.
8: Arizona Cardinals: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
As if crushing free agency wasn’t enough, the Cardinals get lucky in the Draft. No team had a worse defensive success rate (percentage of plays where they allowed positive expected points) than the Cardinals. Much of that was down to how bad they were in coverage and they have a glaring need at inside linebacker, so would love to take Simmons if still there.
They could also easily seek one of the premium OTs available like Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas or Mekhi Becton, for despite having inked a $45m three-year extension with left tackle D.J. Humphries and resigned right tackle Marcus Gilbert to a one-year deal, they still need help up front to protect Kyler Murray.
GM Steve Keim might also choose to look for aging receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s successor, or dangle their No.8 selection and trade down to collect picks, as they have only six – and it is possible Dallas could jump from spot No.17 to get Okudah if still on the board. Yet Keim puts a premium on decent cornerbacks and the technically sound Okudah may be too hard to ignore should he fall this far.
The Cardinals are well served with Patrick Peterson on one side, but Okudah would be an ideal replacement for veteran Robert Alford on the opposite side.
9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Trade with Jacksonville Jaguars), Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
Get set for a run on offensive linemen. The time for winning is now in Tampa and protecting QB Tom Brady is going to be a necessity for the Bucs, who could trade the 14th and 76th picks this year, plus a third-rounder in 2021, to the Jags and take Wills.
A star of the combine, Wills is big, strong, quick and athletic, and is more versatile than Louisville’s Makhi Becton, with the ability to play either side as a pro.
He also has the strength to open holes in the running game and could be too good to pass up with some teams needing offensive line game-changers above them in the Draft.
10: Cleveland Browns: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Arguably, Thomas is the most NFL-ready in a good crop of offensive tackles. A reliable pass protector and a good contributor in the ground game, at 6-5 and 315lb he can offer immediate help at either tackle position. While good at the right tackle spot, he has the versatility to play left tackle, which he prefers. Cleveland gets a mainstay of their line for years to come and just the player they wanted.
11: New York Jets: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
The Giants, Browns and Cardinals all have young quarterbacks and holes to fill at tackle, and while this is a very tempting spot to take the top wide receiver from what is expected to be a historically deep class, GM Joe Douglas knows the offensive line needs help, despite attacking this position in free agency.
The Jets have not taken an offensive lineman in the first round since 2006, when Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were selected. This time may be no different, as with three of the top four linemen gone, how does the fourth stack up on their Draft board?
Yet there is little doubt the Jets will fall in love with Becton, who stands 6-7 and 364lbs, and ran an impressive 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds at the combine. He sustains blocks well in the running game and moves well in space. Named the ACC’s best offensive lineman this season, he plays with quick feet, and although his technique could still use some work at the next level, he has tremendous upside.
12: Las Vegas Raiders: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The Raiders’ need for a top cornerback is essential after a deal with Eli Apple fell through. Florida’s C.J. Henderson would be an obvious target. Likewise adding depth to the interior of the offensive line would please GM Mike Mayock.
But the choice here is an easy one – a top receiver and the best fit for the scheme is Jeudy, who had 77 receptions for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019. At 6-1, he has big-play speed and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine, but he is also a good blocker and crisp route runner.
13: Minnesota Vikings (Trade with San Francisco 49ers via Indianapolis Colts): CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Emmanuel Sanders’ departure for the Saints was good business for the 49ers, who have the chance to fill the void with one of the Draft’s top receivers. Yet they currently don’t have a pick in rounds 2-4 and could build up some Draft capital by trading down, passing on Lamb.
Minnesota have plenty of holes to fill but have 12 Draft picks and could package pick No.25 with a couple more in later rounds to take Lamb, who is an ideal replacement for Stefon Diggs.
Lamb did not get as many targets in 2019 with Jalen Hurts at QB but is considered one of the safer picks in the Draft, in the mould of Devante Adams or DeAndre Hopkins. He has decent speed (4.50 at the combine) and size (6-2) and has good hands with excellent run-after-the-catch skills. He would be ideal for Kyle Shanahan’s scheme in San Francisco, but equally so in Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota attack.
14: Dallas Cowboys (Trade with Jacksonville Jaguars): C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
After allowing Byron Jones to leave for Miami, the Cowboys may not be able to resist jumping into the top 10 to grab Jeff Okudah, who is the best CB prospect in the Draft.
Should Arizona balk at any deal, the Cowboys won’t give up too much to climb three spots to get C.J. Henderson, ahead of the Falcons, who also need help in the secondary.
By taking the pick the Jags’ acquired in a trade with Tampa, they get a player who broke up 11 passes and made 33 tackles in 2019.
Henderson has excellent size at 6-1, has great instincts and reacts well to route recognition. He needs to improve his tackling ability, but is able to run with deep threats.
15: Denver Broncos: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Adding more speed opposite legitimate No.1 receiver Courtland Sutton could be ideal for big-armed, second-year starter Drew Lock. Ruggs has elite speed, and his ability to shift gears and stretch the field will be ideal for coordinator Pat Shurmur.
The Broncos also need a little more help on the interior of their offensive line and possibly more depth on Vic Fangio’s defense, so may look seriously at South Carolina’s DL Javon Kinlaw at this spot.
16: Atlanta Falcons: Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
While the Falcons still need to upgrades at center, slot receiver and running back, the needs on the defense are arguably more pressing. An edge rusher, such as LSU’s K’Clavon Chaisson, or a linebacker is in play here, and after cutting Desmond Trufant, there is a pressing need for secondary help.
Yet the best option, should he fall this far, is Kinlaw, who was superb for the Gamecocks last year, totalling 35 tackles and six sacks, and dominating at the point of attack. He is a Pro Bowl talent who overwhelms offensive linemen with speed and athleticism, and could easily go in the top 10.
17: Jacksonville Jaguars (Trade with Tampa Bay): K’Clavion Chaisson, DE, LSU
There’s plenty of attention needed on both sides of the ball and if the signals are correct, the Jaguars will be Lollygagging for Lawrence this year. So stockpiling picks is the right thing to do, and they have traded down twice from the No.9 spot and can make that pay.
Cornerback, defensive line, offensive line and running back are all needs for the rebuilding Jags, who may take the best edge rusher available in LSU’s K’Clavon Chaisson. Tall, athletic and fast, in 2019 he had 60 tackles and 6.5 sacks for the National Championship-winning Tigers, and his rare speed means he is able to run with receivers and tight ends in coverage.
He has better pass-coverage skills than most edge-rushers.
18: Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh Steelers): Austin Jackson, OT, USC
A selection acquired from the Steelers in the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade could go on either a QB (Jordan Love), an offensive lineman, a running back or a safety.
Much depends on whether the Dolphins stay in their No.5 position and risk losing Tua or Herbert, in which case they will likely take an offensive lineman (Wirfs) and fill their QB void with Love at this spot.
Left tackle is the biggest need and if they don’t land one at pick No.5, they may take the 6-5, 322lb Jackson, who has the skill set to be dominant.
He is a little raw from a fundamentals standpoint but makes up for it with athleticism, and while something of a reach at this spot (some have pegged Houston’s Josh Jones here), the upside is huge.
Safety is also a position to look at, with Alabama’s Xavier McKinney or LSU’s Grant Delpit possible targets.
19: Las Vegas Raiders (via Chicago Bears): Jordan Love, QB Utah State
While many see Love moving up the Draft ladder, the process has a way of silencing those who think they know everything (guilty as charged, m’lord).
Year three of the Jon Gruden era is possibly the right time to take his franchise QB, and while they have made moves to bring in Marcus Mariota to challenge Derek Carr and are in desperate need of a cornerback (LSU’s Kristian Fulton could be on the radar here), Love could develop into a premium passer, and the best CBs have gone at this point.
Love is the wildcard in the first round. He could go as high as No.14 if Tampa Bay stay put and see him as a successor to Brady. Likewise, he could easily drop out of the top 32. His strong arm and raw natural ability mean he is coachable and will be good in a system that places a premium on a vertical game. That is why he could appeal.
20: Green Bay Packers (Trade with Jacksonville Jaguars): Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
The Packers take no chances, moving up 10 spots to take the top-rated inside linebacker in Murray, who has good instincts and is quick to the point of attack. He is also excellent in coverage. They can still fill an area of need, taking take a decent wideout with pick 62 in the second round to give Aaron Rogers some much-needed help.
21: Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
The Eagles have eight Draft picks after acquiring CB Darius Slay from Detroit (trading picks No.85 and No 166 overall) and they could easily attempt to land one of the top receiver prospects by trading up.
If Henry Ruggs III does not fall past the Broncos at No.15, there is a chance that he may drop this far and if he does slip past Denver, the Eagles may still trade up to get him.
The birds could also do with some help on the edge, but Jefferson makes plenty of sense here. He has plenty of length to go with quickness and athleticism and has big upside.
His tape does not lie, as his 111 catches for 1,550 yards and 18 TDs for LSU attest. He is also a worker and fits the Eagles’ culture.
22: Baltimore Ravens (Trade with Minnesota Vikings): Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
While some feel the Ravens will use their top Draft pick on a defensive player – either a linebacker or pass rusher (and they might if LB Kenneth Murray is still in play) – others expect them to bolster their front seven at some point.
Yet wide receiver is also position to watch. Adding another playmaker would help MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, and at 6-4, 215lb Higgins adds the size head coach John Harbaugh craves.
He also has the physicality to be good in the blocking game, which will be needed for Baltimore’s run-heavy attack. Higgins had 59 catches for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, and Clemson also used him as a ballcarrier on reverses and inside tosses. He is good value at this point.
23: New England Patriots: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
Assuming the Patriots make a deal to bring in a QB such as Andy Dalton or Cam Newton, they may trade down and flip their first-round pick for multiple lower-round talent, as they don’t have any second-round picks at present.
But let’s assume they stay put. While Alabama safety Xavier McKinney is in play here, this is a deep class at that position and they could fill that need later.
Epenesa would be best playing end in a 3-4 system and proved he was a force in some big games against USC, Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State down the stretch. His work at the combine was not too impressive, but he is a gamer who had 49 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 2019.
He could slip to the second round, where he would be big value, but with need at the position, Bill Belichick may just stay put and pull the trigger.
24: New Orleans Saints: Patrick McQueen, LB, LSU
If you take Sean Peyton at his word, that he views Taysom Hill as a potential starting quarterback in the NFL, the Saints won’t be making a move for Jordan Love.
So, the 6-1, 227lb McQueen, who starred during his third and final season at LSU, averaging over five tackles per game (85 in total) and notching three sacks and an interception, would be a viable selection.
A smooth mover and a dangerous blitzer, he is a skilled zone coverage player, who can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. His sideline-to-sideline speed shuts down perimeter runs and he should develop into an asset in covering running backs and tight ends. He is raw but has plenty of upside.
25: San Francisco 49ers (via Indianapolis Colts, Trade with Minnesota Vikings): Josh Jones, OT, Houston
While most 49ers fans will think that an elite receiver would be the ideal choice, the most likely option is to take an offensive tackle. Before trading Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForrest Buckner to the Colts for pick No.13, the Niners had just six Draft picks and none from No.31 until the fifth round.
So, it is possible they could trade out of the first round altogether.
Still, they will soon need a replacement at left tackle for veteran Joe Staley and despite the fact that the premier offensive tackles will be gone by this point, it is a deep class. Jones is an offensive line coach’s dream, with tremendous upside.
He possesses the athletic ability to be a dominant pass blocker and will be weapon in the running game but is still very raw. While well-built and dense in the right spots, his footwork can let him down at times. Who better to teach him than Staley?
26: Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
While the Dolphins may trade back to replenish their second round stock after giving up pick 39 to the Lions in the Tua trade, they could see McKinney as the ideal replacement for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Alabama thumper is an elite nickel safety who had 95 tackles with three interceptions, three sacks, five passes defended and four forced fumbles in 2019. He is a swiss army knife, able to play good man coverage against tight ends and receivers and can play deep zone as a free safety. He won’t drop out of the first round and he may not even fall this far.
27: Seattle Seahawks: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
Though he did not impress at his combine workout, Gross-Matos recorded 40 tackles with 9.5 sacks at Penn State and Seattle’s need for an edge rusher could still be relevant should they not secure the services of Everson Griffen or Jadeveon Clowney in free agency.
Penn State played him out of position at nose tackle in 2019 and that hurt his sack tally, but showed his versatility. Gross-Matos is a good run defender, too.
Of course, they may flip the script if they get Griffen or Clowney and look to bolster the interior of their offensive line. If that is the case, look for Georgia’s OT Isiah Wilson to be an upgrade on the departed Germain Ifedi.
28: Minnesota Vikings (via Buffalo Bills, Trade with Baltimore Ravens): Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
The Vikings’ defense is in need of a rebuild after it was gutted in the offseason. Having traded away receiver Stefon Diggs, they will consider his younger brother, Alabama CB Trevon Diggs at this spot.
Losing three cornerbacks last month means this is a position of great need and while they could also consider Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler and Ohio State’s Damon Arnette – each of whom could be late first-round or early second-round selections – they plump for Fulton, who showed up well at the combine.
He had a good 2019, playing injured for much of it, and had 32 tackles and 13 passes defensed. Fulton, at 6-0, does a good job of running with receivers and preventing separation, but he needs to improve his discipline in some areas. He is evidently coachable.
29: Tennessee Titans: Terrell Lewis, DE, Alabama
The biggest loss in free agency was right tackle Jack Conklin (to Cleveland) but the Titans also need to replace defensive end Jurrell Casey and they may do that here. Terrell Lewis tallied 31 tackles, six sacks and two passes batted in 2019 and he was a dynamic edge rusher.
The 6-5, 262lb Lewis missed the 2018 season after suffering a torn ACL, so there are some slight injury concerns, and but for those, he would be taken much higher. He has speed, power, length and a great work ethic with some nifty change-of-direction moves that head coach Mike Vrabel desires, and he could be a steal at this spot.
30: Jacksonville Jaguars (via LA Rams, Trade with Green Bay Packers): Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
The Jaguars’ needs are many and trading back twice in this mock Draft means they can get a slew of high second and third rounders, where much of the value lies. They also get a chance to take one of the top, big, physical cornerbacks in Diggs, who is the younger brother of Buffalo receiver Stefon. A former receiver, he does need some development, but he is swift enough to stay with his man and could develop markedly.
31: Detroit Lions (Trade with San Francisco 49ers): Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
San Francisco may well trade this pick for a mid-second round pick and an early third rounder, having already collected some mid-round booty for the trade with Minnesota.
That is because the Lions, who now have No.39 (from the Dolphins) in this mock Draft and their own pick at 35, can trade into the first round to take their quarterback of the future.
Matt Stafford’s cap hit climbs to $33m in 2021 and so Eason can sit for a season and learn. He has a powerful arm, can stretch a team vertically and can make all the throws, especially into tight windows.
He stands tall in the pocket at 6-6 and while he perhaps needed to stay another year at Washington after sitting out the 2018 season when transferring out of Georgia, Eason has big potential.
32: Kansas City Chiefs: Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
Having parted company with Kendall Fuller and with Bashaud Breeland as yet unsigned, the Chiefs need a cornerback. Igbinoghene fits the bill, since he was the best CB on a team that played a tough SEC schedule. While a better athlete than a player at present, the former receiver is good against the run – something that will be a major plus to the Chiefs. Igninoghene had 42 tackles with seven passes broken up on the year and has plenty of upside.