The first wave is over and the next few weeks of NFL free agency leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft will likely include value signings and one-year prove-it contracts. Oh, and of course, there is the topic of Jadeveon Clowney's free agency -- or lack thereof -- but he will likely fall into the category of one-year deals at this point. If NFL general managers are doing it right, they have used free agency to address glaring roster needs so they can use the draft to select prospects based on grabbing the best value. This is the tried and true way of building out a roster, but it's easier said than done for teams swimming to stay afloat on the roster needs spectrum.
This is my first mock of draft season and I'm excited about it. Before we jump into it, let's set some ground rules. This mock draft will be based on what I think each general manager will do and not based on what I would do if I were in their position. Each general manager's track record will be factored in.
Without further ado, let's dive right in.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Joe Burrow QB
LSU • 6'4" / 221 lbs
Although this has become a popular comparison now, I've been saying for a while how Burrow reminds me of Tony Romo minus the ball security concerns and with more upside as a straight-line runner. With Burrow, what makes him special is his arm talent and not arm strength. Burrow has the ability to change the trajectory of the football, throw from any arm slot, and still maintain his trademark touch and ball placement.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Chase Young EDGE
Ohio State • 6'5" / 264 lbs
With a brand new regime in Washington, all options are on the table -- including drafting Tua Tagovailoa, trading the pick to a team who wants him, or staying put at No. 2 and selecting Chase Young. I would be surprised if Washington does anything other than take the best prospect in the class. Adding Nick Bosa to a stout interior defensive front took the 49ers from near-worst to first on defense and the Redskins already have the interior set.
Mock Trade from Detroit Lions
Round 1 - Pick 3
Alabama • Soph • 6'1" / 217 lbs
The Tua-Dolphins connection dates back over a full calendar year and their decision to bypass the surprisingly abundant free agent QB class (in addition to the 2019 quarterback class) speaks volumes to me. Miami has the ammo to go get their quarterback and they've done their best to rebuild a defense around him via free agency.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Clemson • 6'4" / 238 lbs
If Detroit stayed at No. 3 and took Okudah, I really do feel like GM Dave Gettleman would've traded back for the first time in his career. Instead, the Giants take the highest-graded player on their board. While offensive tackle is arguably their greatest need, they can also use a defender to match up against tight ends/big slot receivers on key third downs, blitz (both off the edge and through the A gap), and one who can play the deep-half (as a safety) in coverage. Simmons can do all of those things. You can't just take an OT just to take one and Gettleman has never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman.
Mock Trade from Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 5
Jeff Okudah CB
Ohio State • Soph • 6'1" / 202 lbs
Detroit was probably hoping Simmons fell to them (perfect piece for the Patricia defensive system), but they're happy with this consolation prize. I'm not supporting this decision, but everything the Lions have done this offseason shows they're looking to win games in the short term even if it compromises the long-term health of the roster. Okudah fills an immediate need left by trading CB Darius Slay.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Oregon • 6'6" / 236 lbs
I view Herbert as a Josh Allen-esque prospect with a lot more upside as a passer and less aggressive style as a runner. There is nothing about Herbert's game that suggests an NFL team can't build a similar system around him to the one the Bills have built around Allen. And they've found a lot of success doing so. Herbert's inconsistencies as a passer were evident in 2019, but there is a case to be made that he was held back by an Oregon offensive system that didn't fit his skill set.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Auburn • Soph • 6'5" / 320 lbs
The Panthers have created a nice core on offense with the exception of the offensive guard and tight end positions, but the defense needs an immediate boost. I think CB CJ Henderson could be in play for them if they trade down, but in the end, sticking at No. 7 allows them to improve in the trenches and get more physical (something new HC Matt Rhule wants to be). Brown is a player who will look much better on game tape than what fans think of him after a somewhat disappointing combine.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Alabama • Soph • 6'4" / 307 lbs
The Cardinals offensive line finished in the bottom-third (per Football Outsiders) in both pass protection and run blocking, so their decision to re-sign OT DJ Humphries won't be the end of their efforts to improve the offensive line. I think back to a quote from first-year HC Kliff Kingsbury about not being able to fully deploy his offensive system and maximize Kyler Murray's deep ball accuracy in 2019, so they look to fix that by adding a prospect who has separated himself as the OT for me. Wills' pass sets, balance and IQ in pass protection are underrated as most focus on his nastiness in the run game.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Georgia • 6'5" / 315 lbs
If you leverage the PFF grades, Thomas is the OT1, but I worry that his pass protection could fail to translate to the next level (hidden by Georgia's play-action heavy system and subpar athletic testing in the drills that count most for offensive tackles). He's OT4 for me. Regardless, the Jaguars need to upgrade at offensive tackle after trying and failing to upgrade the position for several years now if they want to find out if Gardner Minshew is their QB1.
Round 1 - Pick 10
LSU • 6'0" / 232 lbs
Everyone is mocking an OT to the Browns, and I get it, but I think Thomas is the only one who would've fit following their decision to sign right tackle Jack Conklin. Instead, the Browns upgrade an inside LB group that looks barren (filled with mid-to-late round recent draft picks) after losing Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey in free agency. Queen isn't often mocked in the top-10, but he should be. Queen can do it all as a three-down linebacker with blitzing capabilities who is best used as an off-ball LB.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Mekhi Becton OL
Louisville • Soph • 6'7" / 363 lbs
It would almost be malpractice for Jets GM Joe Douglas to not draft one of the "big four" OTs if/when one falls to him after how few prime assets New York has invested in the offensive line since drafting Sam Darnold. The Jets have a choice of two here and go with the highest-upside OT in the class. Becton has some technical issues in pass protection, but so did Bryant McKinnie when he entered the NFL and it never mattered -- prospect like Becton and McKinnie make up for technical flaws with quick feet, sheer size/length, and athleticism.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Jerry Jeudy WR
Alabama • Soph • 6'1" / 193 lbs
The Raiders have made it clear this offseason they want to upgrade their WR position, referencing the Antonio Brown debacle, and while Jeudy may only be the WR1 on half of all draft boards, he should be the WR1 for Vegas in Jon Gruden's offensive system. The best natural separator in the draft class is a perfect fit for Gruden.
From Indianapolis Colts
Round 1 - Pick 13
Florida • 6'1" / 204 lbs
The 49ers use the first-round pick acquired via the Colts for Buckner on the last CB in this draft class that I feel comfortable operating on an island, on the boundary, in man coverage, in year one for a roster preparing for another Super Bowl run. Henderson has some issues in the run game, but a scout once told me the key is to focus on what prospects can do exceptionally well and coverage is his forte. Unlike 2019 first-round CB Deandre Baker who dominated the SEC but struggled in year one, Henderson has the straight-line speed (4.39) to translate right away.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Iowa • 6'5" / 320 lbs
The Bucs nearly panicked and traded up but instead were rewarded for waiting with the last of the "big four" OTs and a perfect fit to replace their glaring need at right tackle. Wirfs has more issues than people realize in pass protection, but with the right coaching, he certainly has the athletic gifts and mental toughness to fix those fast. There is no greater need than at OT for a Bucs team that just added an aging pocket passer.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Alabama • 6'0" / 190 lbs
Denver continues to attempt patching up their offensive line via free agency, and after adding OL Graham Glasgow to a massive four-year deal, something tells me they will shift their focus to building around second-year QB Drew Lock via the skill positions. Ruggs' raw speed should be an excellent fit with Lock's arm talent and raw arm strength. He also fits in well with the bigger-bodied WRs Denver already has at the position.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Javon Kinlaw DL
South Carolina • 6'5" / 319 lbs
Atlanta can't be foolish enough to think they don't need to immediately improve their defense after investing so heavily in the offense (three straight first-round picks) so they grab the best defensive player on their board -- by a considerable margin. Kinlaw and Grady Jarrett will provide an awesome interior push on passing downs.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Alabama • 6'0" / 201 lbs
Everyone is mocking a cornerback to the Cowboys here, but instead of reaching for Diggs or Fulton, they take the best defensive back left on the board. McKinney has the range to play the deep half, but he's best when attacking downhill. Regardless, his versatility will be welcomed in any secondary. Clinton-Dix's one-year prove-it contract won't stop them from drafting for value here.
From Pittsburgh Steelers
Round 1 - Pick 18
CeeDee Lamb WR
Oklahoma • Soph • 6'2" / 197 lbs
It would have been fun if Jeudy or Ruggs was on the board to reunite one of them with Tua, but instead, the Dolphins take my No. 1 contested-catch WR in this draft class to pair with DeVante Parker. Lamb doesn't just win in contested-catch situations -- he's nearly as exceptional at creating yards after the catch. My NFL comp has been and still is DeAndre Hopkins.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 19
Utah • 6'0" / 195 lbs
The Raiders have made quick work of rebuilding their defensive front, they used 2020 free agency to rebuild their off-ball LB corps, and now they can shift focus to the secondary. Johnson may not be getting much first-round buzz just yet, but his size/speed combination will be very enticing for GM Mike Mayock. Johnson is physical against the run and in press-man and has the versatility (and experience) covering the slot.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 20
LSU • 5'11" / 197 lbs
The Jaguars boasted the best CB tandem in the NFL as recently as the 2017 season and now both of those players are gone. Jacksonville needs to replenish in the secondary and Fulton is very fluid and nuanced in pass coverage. He's an excellent fit for a team in need of CB help right away.
Round 1 - Pick 21
LSU • Soph • 6'1" / 195 lbs
The Eagles are rewarded by staying patient with a prospect who really should be a top-15 pick overall but not in a WR class this loaded. Jefferson is at his best in the slot but can also win on the boundary -- he might be the smoothest route runner in the entire class. Elite straight-line speed might be the only thing missing in Jefferson's game, but he more than makes up for it everywhere else.
From Buffalo Bills
Round 1 - Pick 22
K'Lavon Chaisson EDGE
LSU • Soph • 6'3" / 245 lbs
Although they didn't have to use a first-round pick to do it, the Vikings struck gold when they drafted a pass rusher with a freakish athletic profile at No. 88 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft (Danielle Hunter). Chaisson reminds me a lot of Hunter coming out and Minnesota trusts its coaching staff (and rightfully so) to develop a prospect like Chaisson. You can never have too many pass rushers.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Oklahoma • Soph • 6'2" / 241 lbs
Murray is the perfect fit for a Patriots off-ball LB group that just saw nearly their entire core leave for greener (literally) pastures in free agency. Not only is this a slam-dunk pick on the field, but Murray fits exactly into the culture New England wants off the field.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Denzel Mims WR
Baylor • 6'3" / 207 lbs
The Saints are in win-now mode (front-loading more cap space for the final Drew Brees years) and drafting Mims gives them the best chance to land an immediate contributor. The Saints have found success drafting bigger-bodied WRs (Marques Colston, Michael Thomas) and Mims offers size (6-3, 207) and excellent body control. He also has blazing speed (4.38) which will help fill a major need for any Sean Payton offense (the knife in the secondary -- pulling safeties over the top and opening up the middle of the field in the passing game).
Round 1 - Pick 25
A.J. Terrell CB
Clemson • 6'1" / 195 lbs
The decision to add years on to Kirk Cousins' contract confirms to me Minnesota won't be looking for his successor in the first round of this draft class, so they instead fill a major need left by the departure of Trae Waynes (and Xavier Rhodes to some extent) in free agency. Terrell is a strong fit for the style of defense the Vikings like to play in the secondary on the boundary.
From Houston Texans
Round 1 - Pick 26
Josh Jones OL
Houston • Soph • 6'7" / 310 lbs
The Dolphins need to complete their flurry of first-round picks with an OL, preferably an OT, and Jones is the OT5 on my board. Jones dominated at a lower level of competition which is somewhat concerning, but when you watch how fluidly he moves for a player of his size -- and when you read about how well he performed against a high level of competition during the Senior Bowl week, it's easy to see why Miami would go in this direction.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Yetur Gross-Matos EDGE
Penn State • 6'5" / 265 lbs
Gross-Matos has flashed at times but is more of a ball of clay with freakish athletic gifts and under GM John Schneider's tenure, these are the types of prospects Seattle has been attracted to.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Zack Baun LB
Wisconsin • 6'3" / 225 lbs
Baun is one of the most underrated prospects in this draft class. While some will wonder if he can win on the EDGE, or has to be moved to off-ball LB, his production in the Big Ten as an EDGE cannot be denied. Baun is the type of versatile LB who will thrive in Baltimore's defense.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Trevon Diggs CB
Alabama • Soph • 6'1" / 204 lbs
The Titans need help at CB and Stefon Diggs' brother is one of the best athletes in the class at his position. He also has the production to back it up and the ball skills that make him a nice fit for the opportunistic style of defense that the Titans play.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Colorado • Soph • 6'1" / 220 lbs
An injury slowed him at the combine, but throw on Shenault's game tape and you'll see an explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands in space. Shenault consistently creates yards after contact and forces missed tackles which makes him an excellent fit for Matt LaFleur's system. The Packers can incorporate jet sweep concepts immediately with Shenault and this will help keep defenses off guard.
Round 1 - Pick 31
TCU • Soph • 6'3" / 290 lbs
The 49ers find a replacement for recently-traded Deforest Buckner in Blalock. If not for the fact that he was an interior defensive lineman and didn't have the best of combines, Blalock would be long off the board. He's the best player available at this point and he fits a need.
Round 1 - Pick 32
LSU • Soph • 6'3" / 208 lbs
After flashing elite potential during the 2018 season, Delpit struggled with missed tackles (among other things) in 2019. However, how much of that was due to him battling through nagging injuries? A safety tandem of Delpit and Tyrann Mathieu sounds pretty dangerous.