The NFL draft will be here before you know it, which means it’s already time to look ahead to which college stars will make up the next class of potential pro standouts. Hence, my first mock draft of the year.
Given how far away from the draft we are, though, there’s a still a lot that can change. Prospects are going to rise and fall after the scouting combine later this month, then team needs could change drastically after free agency begins on March 18 with the new league year.
With that all in mind, this year’s mock draft 1.0 is based on team needs they currently stand. Additionally, the 580 Sports Talk composite big board is the basis for player rankings in this mock and can generally be used to explain why one player was taken above another at the same position.
Now, the first round:
It doesn’t get more obvious than this. It’s a tired cliche, but Burrow has “it.” His ability to make tough throws with touch and accuracy, his pocket awareness and competitive edge have separated him not just from the other quarterbacks but from every other draft prospect as the obvious No. 1 pick. The Bengals have a lot of work to do to help him, but Burrow has a great shot to be a star in the NFL.
Almost unanimously ranked as the top player in this class, Young is just as obviously the first non-quarterback choice as Burrow is the No. 1 overall pick. He’s the total package, with elite production that matches his excellent physical traits. You could tell watching any Ohio State game over the past several years that he’s a game wrecker, which is a perfect fit for Washington’s defense, which desperately needs more help on the edge.
Okudah is the best cover corner in this draft, a huge need for a Lions defense that was bad last year despite having a defensive-minded coach. Even if Detroit brings back veteran Darius Slay on the outside, Okudah has the kind of skills that you can’t pass up in this spot. Not only is he a need, but he’s the best player available. If the Lions keep the pick, he’s the easy choice.
This is the first selection with some real intrigue attached. The Giants have several major needs, especially on defense in the front seven, but they need to protect quarterback Daniel Jones at all costs. He’s already going to be in a tough situation with a second offensive system in as many years, so New York can’t afford to neglect the offensive line for another year. Thus, it takes the best tackle available.
The 2019 NFL season started with the Dolphins looking like they had the worst roster in the league and not-so-secretly following the “Tank for Tua” slogan. Things weren’t quite as dire as that for Miami, but the combination of still being bad and Tagovailoa’s major hip injury should allow the Dolphins to get their guy. As long as he’s healthy, he has a chance to be a franchise QB, something the Dolphins haven’t had for far too long.
You’ll see this pick a lot, and it makes sense given the Chargers’ need for a quarterback of the future. That said, there are concerns about Herbert’s ability and the decision to put any quarterback behind L.A.’s rough offensive line. Picking a lineman is tempting, but the Chargers may not get another chance to pick a potential starter in this draft, so this seems like a risk worth taking.
Frankly, this is not an exciting pick given Carolina’s high-profile addition of Joe Brady as offensive coordinator. If one of the top three quarterbacks slips (Nos. 2 and 3, anyway) they could be in play, but Brown is a highly touted interior prospect who will shore up a front seven that has a ton of players heading to free agency.
Jeudy over CeeDee Lamb is just a matter of who you prefer as a prospect, and the composite big board still gives Jeudy a slight edge. He’s a stellar route runner with strong hands and should work in seamlessly with Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense in the desert. This another team that could use an offensive lineman early, but it’s hard to pass up getting Kyler Murray a great weapon with good value.
Simmons could have gone to multiple teams in the top 10. He’s a remarkable athlete who can tell, run sideline to sideline and cover well. The Jaguars are reloading their defense with a ton of young talent in the front seven, and Simmons is a perfect piece to continue the restructure. He’s one of the most gifted all-around players in this draft and even at No. 9 is an excellent value.
This is a simple pick. Cleveland needs to take the best offensive tackle available, and that’s Thomas. The Browns had a lot of problems this season, but the biggest one was their inability to protect Baker Mayfield. If they can’t keep Mayfield upright then 2020 will be another lost season, so they need to address the line as quickly as possible with the best talent available.
Adding a bona fide pass rusher is in play here, as is getting Sam Darnold another receiver. It’s more important to protect Darnold, though, which is why the Jets should run to the podium for the next best tackle after the Browns make their pick. Wirfs has both great size and athleticism and will help rebuild an offensive line that had the third-worst pass blocking in the league this season (per Football Outsiders).
Hands, routes, burst, Lamb is the total package as a receiver and, as explained above, could go in the top 10. The Raiders did a good job of finding their defensive cornerstones in the draft last year, so now it’s time to strengthen the offense. Derek Carr needs help, and getting a true No. 1 receiver to add to a dangerous running back and top-flight tight end gives him a dangerous group.
Utah State quarterback Jordan Love has been tied to the Colts constantly, and while a QB of the future is a major need in Indianapolis I’m not sold on him as being worth a top-15 pick right now. Kinlaw is a far safer selection who balled out at the Senior Bowl and can be a Day 1 starter in a 4-3 front like Indy’s. It may not be as sexy or exciting, but Kinlaw instantly makes the Colts better.
The Buccaneers’ quarterback situation is in flux, and there are several prospects that seem like potential fits for Bruce Arians’ offense. Jameis Winston could still return, too. What’s not up in the air, though, is Tampa Bay’s excruciating need for offensive line help. Becton is a little reach based on the composite big board, but he’s moving up boards quickly and is a major need, so he’s the pick.
Courtland Sutton is a stud for the Broncos, but DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick don’t inspire nearly as much confidence in the Denver receiving corps. Enter Ruggs, a true burner with a knack for making tough catches. Some evaluators even like Ruggs more than Jeudy, which says a lot about his potential. That sounds like a great fit for young quarterback Drew Lock, who didn’t have many reliable targets in his few 2019 starts.
This is another one of those easy selections that just depends on who is available. The Falcons are terrible on the edge and need to address that as quickly as they can. Enter Epenesa, who’s been close to the consensus EDGE2 through the draft process so far. With Vic Beasley on the way out Epenesa can step right in as a starter at defensive end for Dan Quinn’s 4-3 front. This pick is a good mix of need and value.
There’s a good chance free agent cornerback Byron Jones is done in Dallas, which means that the Cowboys will need a starting cornerback next to Chidobe Awuzie. Enter Fulton, the next best cornerback on the board. Fulton’s LSU teammate, Grant Delpit, is also an option here, but corner is likely a more pressing need in Dallas. Adding a player this skilled in man coverage is good move.
The Dolphins fill one of their biggest needs in the middle of the first round thanks to the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. Chaisson has the athleticism and traits to play the edge in any alignment, but he’s probably best suited right now for a 3-4, which makes him a perfect fit for Miami. He’s got room to grow but is already a good run stopper with the ceiling of a top-end pass rusher.
Murray is a tackling machine who can cover and run sideline to sideline. He’s got a high motor and was always around the ball for Oklahoma. The Raiders could lose most of their contributing linebackers due to free agency or cap casualties, increasing the need for an instant playmaker in the middle of the field. Murray should be a Day 1 starter.
Delpit was a productive player throughout his college career and won the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award, though you could argue that he earned it as a career achievement honor. Even so, he’s a good athlete with promising traits, which can help improve a weak safeties group in Jacksonville.
If the Eagles are adding a wide receiver, it’s a good pick. They were playing with no names down the stretch in 2019, and even before going through a dearth of injuries at receiver the corps was hardly sensational. Shenault has speed and athleticism that will be frustrating opponents for years to come, plus he can play out of the backfield and return kicks. Injuries are a red flag, but if he’s on the field he’ll be a menace.
This pick is similar to Denver’s in that the Bills need to get their young, big-armed quarterback some more reliable targets. John Brown was fantastic for Buffalo this season, but Josh Allen needs someone else he can consistently trust to make a play downfield. Enter Higgins, someone I would argue may be one of the most slept on wide receiver prospects in a deep receiver class (which says a lot given that he’s still a first rounder).
This pick is arguably a stretch. For one, if any team is going to pick best player available over need, it would be the Patriots, and there are both injury and measurables concerns for Lewis. He’s not even the best EDGE on the board, technically. He is the best EDGE fit for a 3-4 base, though, and a player who is good at a lot but doesn’t have a defined top trait sounds like the kind of player Bill Belichick often gets the most out of.
New Orleans’ wide receivers not named Michael Thomas at the end of the season included the likes of Ted Ginn Jr., Tre’Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood. Drew Brees was able to make it work, but that’s hardly a murderer’s row. Reagor, though, is a multipurpose player with great speed and is an explosive play waiting to happen, who’s only going to drop because he played with terrible quarterbacks at TCU in 2019.
Xavier Rhodes went from one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL to one of the league’s worst starters frighteningly quick, and Minnesota needs to address the coverage guys in the secondary now. The Vikings took Mike Hughes in last year’s draft and he had an up-and-down rookie campaign. Putting Diggs, the best player available at a position of need, next to him is almost a necessity.
The Dolphins traded Laremy Tunsil to the Texans and are going to use part of the return to draft his replacement. Jackson has slid a bit on more recent draft boards and is one of the more raw tackle prospects, but he’s a good athlete and has a high ceiling and can develop under a well-regarded offensive line coach in Steve Marshall. Picking Jackson here means Miami would have addressed its three biggest needs in one round.
Whether or not Jadeveon Clowney leaves in free agency, the Seahawks need help on the edge. After an unproductive year Ziggy Ansah is a free agent too, and L.J. Collier, who was drafted last year, did not play well as a rookie. Gross-Matos fits best in a 4-3 base defense like Seattle’s and will get a chance to start immediately. Athleticism is considered his best trait, and the Seahawks need athletes up front.
The Ravens run the ball more than anyone and love their tight ends, but adding another quality wide receiver who’s already shown the ability to produce big numbers will make passing even easier for MVP Lamar Jackson. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown contributed instantly as a rookie, and adding Jefferson would give Baltimore a formidable one-two punch of young receivers with a far higher ceiling than the likes of Willie Snead and Seth Roberts.
Tennessee addressed the defensive line last year when it picked Jeffery Simmons and it already has Jurrell Casey on the line, who’s one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen. Gallimore was a productive player on an improved Oklahoma defense in 2019 and can provide more help in the middle of the defensive line as a 1-technique player.
This is a slight reach based on the composite big board, but Aiyuk has been shooting up draft boards and fills the Packers’ biggest need. Outside of Davante Adams Green Bay doesn’t have a true No. 2 receiver and barely has any reliable receiving targets at all (Allen Lazard is the closest thing). He’s a big-play threat who works well in the open field and has solid hands. Those are all a marked improvement over what the Packers have currently behind Adams.
Richard Sherman was an All-Pro this season and will be a stalwart of the San Francisco defense again next year, but with questions and lacking depth at the other corner spot(s) it’s worth taking a high-upside player like Henderson. He’s a bigger corner but not a willing tackler, but his ceiling is enough to warrant an early pick. The Niners need to get it right early because they don’t (currently) have any picks in Rounds 2-4.
The Super Bowl champions have a lot of key pieces under contract heading into 2020, but with a couple mega contracts coming (Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones) and a lot of playing time open in the secondary with pending free agents, corner is the biggest need for Kansas City in terms of immediate playing time and value. Gladney is an older player (redshirt senior) with good ball skills, who Joe Marino of TheDraftNetwork compared to Jaire Alexander. That’s high praise for a cornerback.