In just over two weeks NFL teams will begin selecting players from the living rooms of general managers across the country. The strangest pre-draft season in league history will have come to a close, with uncertainty about the future still reigning over the sport.
No one knows when these teams will even be able to begin to welcoming these players into their new headquarters. No one knows if there will be an offseason training program of any sort. No one knows if there will even be a single mini camp before training camps launch. No one knows how long those training camps will be, thought here is a heavy expectation among team execs I have chatted with that camp will be truncated – significantly if necessary – to facilitate as lengthy of a regular season as possible.
There is less consensus than normal about how this first round will transpire for some obvious reasons, with these rookies perhaps getting no learning curve whatsoever before being thrust into the deep end of professional football. Less time with the prospects themselves. No private visits or workouts or trips. Just a lot of tape to watch. Over and over again.
As always, I will not be doing a full mock draft until the day of the first round. But I am starting to get deeper into my research and reporting. And here is an early sense of how I believe the top 10 could unfold:
1. Bengals – QB Joe Burrow
Nothing to see here. The dye has been cast on this pick since really before last season ended. With Tua being hurt and the Bengals being all about a new QB after benching Andy Dalton midseason, this is the biggest no brainer in the draft. Mike Brown drafts an Ohio kid.
2. Redskins – EDGE Chase Young
Almost as obvious as the first pick in the draft. Okay, actually it is just as obvious, except the Skins are more open to trading out of this pick than the Bengals are theirs. Barring someone blowing them away with an offer – in which case Washington would target LB Isaiah Simmons with a trade down – they take Young and bank on having an elite pass rusher from Day 1.
3. Lions – CB Jeff Okudah
They have a gaping hole at corner and traded way an elite shadow corner a few weeks back for two mid-round picks. Sometimes it just is what it is. This regime is trying to win right now to save jobs and there isn't anything left at CB in free agency. Sure, Simmons would make a lot of sense here, among others, but I think they take someone to solidify the back end in a throw-first league.
4. Giants – OT Mekhi Becton
Dave Gettleman loves his hog mollies, and he is dangerously thin with them. I hear they love Simmons and Derrick Brown … but the OL is still a mess and Daniel Jones was a fumbling machine last year. They need to protect him. I am taking Becton over Tristin Wirfs or Jedrick Wills on a hunch. That massive frame and freakish athleticism will call Gettleman's name, I believe.
5. Dolphins – QB Tua Tagovailoa
They didn't spent 18 months tearing their roster down not to get one of the two best QBs in this draft. Hip is healing. Most years you would need to be at second overall to get a talent like that. … And maybe you still will need to be when it's all said and done. But I am giving Miami the choice of any QB in this draft not named Burrow here, and I suspect they rely on the film and Tua's years of success to nab him over Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. Could they trade back and nab another QB? I guess so. But they also could find themselves in quite a mess if they do.
6. Chargers – QB Justin Herbert
They have a massive need at this position. They are ignoring guys like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston on the free agent market. They have to take a QB here, and they had great success out of Oregon 45 years ago. Huge arm. Perfect physical gifts. High-end upside, though with some concerns about consistency and productivity in college. Has a great cast around him and with no offseason, Tyrod Taylor can hold the reigns to start the season.
7. Panthers – DL Derrick Brown
As safe and clean a pick as you could imagine. Carolina needs big help on the defensive side of the ball. And while Simmons or an OT would make plenty of sense here as well, Brown looks the part of a transformational disrupter from the inside. Marty Hurney will be hard pressed to pass on a blue chipper here to bolster his team at the point of attack where it badly needs assistance.
8. Cardinals – OL Tristan Wirfs
Should be an immediate stud to help incubate last year's top overall pick, QB Kyler Murray. OL is still a concern for Arizona, as it seemingly always has been. Could play guard or tackle as needed with All-Pro potential. No need to overthink this. They could easily go with Wills here too. Either way, in whatever order, three OL are going in the top 10.
9. Jaguars – LB Isaiah Simmons
A year ago they had Josh Allen fall into their laps when most did not expect it. With that defense being torn down and so many needs, why not break this fall and add the new brain and central nervous system to a revamped defense? Is he the best LB in the draft? Is he the best safety? Use him how you like but this is the type of versatile piece this rebuilding franchise should covet.
10. Browns – OT Jedrick Wills
They have constructed a football team without a left tackle. The roster has a huge hole there. It is year 3 for Baker Mayfield after taking a huge step back in year 2. They are taking a tackle; just a matter of which two are already gone. Could be Becton here or Wirfs. The rest of their draft might be on the other side of the ball, but no way they can come out of the first round without a top tackle prospect. Should they trade for Trent Williams, perhaps they alter from this plan. But for now this would be the pick under these circumstances.