We've been doing mock drafts every week dating back to the start of the 2019 college football season. And in that time, a lot has changed -- Joe Burrow came out of nowhere to be the consensus No. 1 pick, and players like Dylan Moses, Creed Humphrey and Paulson Adebo returned to school -- and a lot has stayed the same -- Chase Young is a top-five talent, and Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert are still considered first-round picks, as are Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb.
But what are some potential surprises we could see once the actual draft gets under way on Thursday? Here are our five biggest surprise predictions ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft.
1. Jordan Love is drafted before Justin Herbert
Here's what we know (with near certainty): The Bengals are taking Joe Burrow No. 1 overall. After that, everything's on the table. If the Dolphins aren't convinced that Tua Tagovailoa can stay healthy, they could pass on him at No. 5. And while there have been reports that they like Justin Herbert a lot, the reality is that taking Herbert with a top-10 pick would be overdrafting him. His measurables are off the charts, unquestionably, but those physical attributes didn't always align with the player we saw on Saturdays.
Not only that, but Herbert has spent his entire life in Eugene, Oregon and wherever he lands, it will be the first time he's away from home. That's not necessarily a big concern, but Herbert told us at the Senior Bowl that the one thing NFL teams wanted to see from him is leadership. Starting over in an unfamiliar city with the expectations that comes with being a top-10 pick, and having immediate success could be too much to ask.
Realistically, it could be too much to ask of Love as well. But unlike Herbert, Love has had to deal with adversity -- for the entirety of the 2019 season, in fact -- and while we only saw glimpses of his potential last year, his 2018 campaign was good enough to put him in the first-round conversation heading into last fall. Both Love and Herbert need to sit for a year but Love's upside is better, and we suspect several NFL teams agree. And they may agree enough to draft Love while Herbert is still on the board.
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2. C.J. Henderson is a top-10 pick
Ohio State's Jeff Okudah is the best cornerback in this class and it's not really close. He's the total package when it comes to what NFL teams are looking for, and he reminds us of a slightly more physical Marshon Lattimore, who also played for the Buckeyes and also was a first-rounder.
But C.J. Henderson is the No.2 cornerback in this class ... and that's not really close either. In terms of height/weight/speed, he checks every box. He showed up at the combine and ran a sub-4.4 40, and most importantly, his 2019 tape was impressive. The biggest knock against Henderson is that he needs to improve his tackling (a lot) but his coverage skills aren't in question, and he did it at a high level each week against some of the best players in the country.
In terms of him going in the top 10, the Jaguars would be a natural landing spot at No. 9, especially if they decide to address offensive line with their second first-rounder (No. 20 overall). The Panthers could also take Henderson at No. 7 if Derrick Brown if off the board. We could even see the Chargers pulling the trigger on Henderson at No. 6 if they're not targeting a quarterback there. Another possibility: A team like the Raiders trades up from No. 12 to grab Henderson; a year ago, they took Trayvon Mullen in Round 2 and given that they play in the AFC West, they need to continue to improve the secondary. Henderson accomplishes that.
Which brings us to this ...
3. Chargers don't take a QB in Round 1
This seems preposterous because the Chargers parted ways with Philip Rivers in the offseason and the current plan involves Tyrod Taylor. The good: Taylor doesn't turn the ball over, something that plagued Rivers and this offense a year ago. The bad: Taylor rarely takes risks, which means that L.A. will have to win by featuring a ball-control offense, one that relies on Taylor completing high-percentage throws and, more importantly, the running game.
If any head coach truly were bullish on Tyrod Taylor, it'd be Anthony Lynn. Lynn is a tremendous run game mind and knows all the dimension a mobile QB can give an offense.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) April 13, 2020
Let's just assume that Lynn is, in fact, all in on Taylor. Why not use that No. 6 pick on a player that helps the Chargers immediately? That's not Tagovailoa or Herbert or Love but someone like Isaiah Simmons or Okudah or Henderson. Imagine a defense that currently includes Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram rushing the passer, coupled with a secondary that includes just-signed Chris Harris, Casey Hayward, Desmond King, 2019 second-rounder Nasir Adderley, and Derwin James. Simmons would give the Chargers a presence in the middle of the defense -- either at linebacker or safety -- and Okudah or Henderson would make the secondary arguably the NFL's best, all in an effort to combat Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes twice a year.
4. Michael Pittman will go on Day 2 but outplay some Day 1 WRs
Here are our top 10 wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft:
1. CeeDee Lamb
2. Jerry Jeudy
3. Henry Ruggs
4. Justin Jefferson
5. Denzel Mims
6. Brandon Aiyuk
7. Jalen Reagor
8. Laviska Shenault
9. KJ Hamler
10. Michael Pittman
Pittman rounds out our top 10 but a year from now we could be talking about him in the same way we talked about Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf after the 2019 season. None were first-round picks, but they all outplayed Marquise Brown and N'Keal Harry, the two first-rounders from the '19 class.
Pittman, who could last until the third round, would've been one of the first wideouts drafted a year ago. At 6-foot-4, he's a contested-catch machine who high-points the ball as well as anyone in college football. He also ran a 4.5 at the combine, and while he didn't regularly run away from defenders, he regularly made plays, from the routine to the acrobatic. Pittman can line up outside or in the slot, and he'll immediately upgrade special teams, too.
The right fit in the NFL will play a large part of any success, but remember: McLaurin went to the Redskins and set the league on fire. The Colts, Buccaneers and Steelers could be possible Day 2 destinations, and Pittman would flourish in those systems, perhaps more so than, say, Jeudy in New York with the Jets or Ruggs in Las Vegas.
5. Cesar Ruiz doesn't get past No. 17
The Cowboys have a lot of needs, and almost all of them are on defense. That's why we've consistently had them targeting a cornerback or edge rusher at No. 17 (Henderson and K'Lavon Chaisson have been our two most popular players to land there). But with Travis Frederick's retirement, there's now a need at center too. Yes, Joe Looney and Connor McGovern could be in line to replace Frederick, but if the Cowboys love Ruiz as much as we do, they could give serious consideration to taking him in the middle of Round 1.
Back in 2013, Dallas selected Frederick at No. 3, much to the consternation of some Cowboys fans. Turned out, it was the right call. Same holds for 2014, when the Cowboys passed on Johnny Manziel at No. 16 to take offensive lineman Zack Martin. Again: no-brainer. Dallas has picks in every round but the sixth (they have two fifth-rounders), so they could address center in Rounds 2 or 3 with, say, Lloyd Cushenberry or Matt Hennessy, but Ruiz is the best pass-blocking interior lineman in this draft class and he'd be a Day 1 starter. Plus, the Cowboys could still find difference-makers at cornerback and edge rushers in Rounds 2 and 3.