Different year for the 2020 NFL mock draft. Even the well-connected guys are lost this year. One connected guy told me he thinks it’s because Pro Days are a fount of information exchange for sidling scouts and GMs and coaches each spring, and those mini-personnel conventions gut shut off by the league March 12. Too much other stuff happening to be concerned with chasing down Mike Mayock to compare notes on the receiver rankings.
Excuses are for losers, which I’ll be when my 2020 NFL mock draft is tallied late Thursday night. Here we go for the first round:
1. Cincinnati—Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
As Burrow whiled away the hours at home last week in southeast Ohio—throwing some to a couple of Athens tight-end buddies, watching “The Office” and playing video games—there didn’t seem to be much mystery about his fate. Coach Zac Taylor told Dan Patrick last week “it doesn’t look” like the Bengals will trade the pick. So look for Burrow to land with the home-state team.
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Now the question: Will he be ready to play opening day, whenever that is? Well, the last time Burrow was in this situation, he transferred to LSU in the summer of 2018, reported to summer practice Aug. 4, and started the LSU opener four weeks later. He played all 28 LSU games in ’18 and ’19, and won the Heisman and the national title last season. So he’ll learn the Cincinnati offense virtually this spring—I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s started already—and may not even meet top targets A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd till August. Of course it’s not the best for Burrow or the Bengals. But Burrow spent the last year blowing away Louisiana, the SEC, the nation. Nothing much seems to bother him. My money’s on him starting from the jump in Cincinnati.
2. Washington—Chase Young, edge rusher, Ohio State
So after the national anthem and some (my best guess) canned booing of home-bound Roger Goodell live from his basement in New York, expect 20 minutes of zero drama. As much as Washington tried to create a market for the second pick in the draft, Tua Tagovailoa’s hip and the signing of Kyle Allen ruined that. Washington shan’t overthink. Building the NFC’s best pass-rush east of Santa Clara (Young, Montez Sweat and maybe vet Ryan Kerrigan) is the way to go for a team that needs to win back a royally ticked-off fan base.
3. Miami (trade with Detroit)—Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon
It’s funny. Whether Miami makes the trade or not, I think Miami and Detroit will make the same picks. I do think, for the peace of mind and to prevent anyone from leapfrogging them, the Dolphins would be smart to deal the 39th overall pick to Detroit to move up two slots here. Anyway, I don’t know if Herbert’s going to be Miami’s pick. My pick is based on Miami choosing to go conservative here instead of trying to hit a triple in the gap by picking Tua Tagovailoa. Because the Dolphins have done a good job hiding their intentions, I won’t be shocked either way—if they go the risky way with Tua, or if they repeat 2006 and make the safe call with Herbert. Daunte Culpepper, 2006; Herbert, 2020. And they’ll hope it’s a better result this time. My theory is that Tagovailoa would have been the pick had he not dislocated his hip last November. But if it is Herbert, he’ll get to sit behind a pro’s pro, Ryan Fitzpatrick, for a year or most of a year, and be in position to take over in a more normal 2021 season.
4. New York Giants—Tristan Wirfs, tackle, Iowa
I would bet there are 25 different rankings of the top five tackles on the 32 NFL draft boards—Wirfs, Jedrick Wills of Alabama, Mekhi Becton of Louisville, Andrew Thomas of Georgia, Josh Jones of Houston. The Giants, by the way, would trade down for a good offer; Dave Gettleman has said no to draft trades for so long, but this year those in the top 10 tell me he’d definitely do it. I don’t think there’s a great demand to move up. The Giants need a lot of help on defense, and you probably could defend an Isaiah Simmons pick here. But these are Gettleman’s own words from Friday: “You know my theory. It’s very, very difficult for Saquon [Barkley] to run the ball if he doesn’t have holes. It’s going to be difficult for Daniel [Jones] to throw the ball when he’s on his back. We’ll continue to build the offense line.” Cam Fleming is the band aid right tackle for New York, but he’s more likely a swing tackle and insurance policy, with 26 starts in six years. Wirfs or Jerrick Wills of Alabama would likely play right away at right tackle for New York.
5. Detroit (trade with Miami)—Jeff Okudah, cornerback, Ohio State
Not sure of the return for Detroit, but let’s say Lions GM Bob Quinn deals the third overall pick for the fifth and 39th. Most Lions’ fans will scream and say, “Quinn should have gotten one of the other Miami first-rounders, either at 18 or 26.” I’m going to ask you this, Lions fans: If I told you before the draft that you could exit the weekend with CB1 on your first pick (Okudah), RB3 (Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor) on the second and G1 (Louisiana’s Robert Hunt) on the third, would you be doing cartwheels about that? Acquiring the 39th overall pick while still ensuring you’d get the corner you want would likely allow that.
One last thing: In the first draft in Carolina Panthers history, GM Bill Polian traded down with Cincinnati from one to five in the first round and acquired the 36th pick (only) in return. Polian didn’t have another trade option, and he didn’t want to pay the player he really wanted, quarterback Kerry Collins, first-pick money. So he picked the player he’d have taken at one, Collins, fifth, and had a bonus second-round pick. The point is, sometimes you take a deal even if it’s not the one the trade chart says you should make, because you’re going to improve your team by doing it.
6. Los Angeles Chargers—Andrew Thomas, tackle, Georgia
For four days, until 4 p.m. Sunday, I had Tua Tagovailoa in this spot. I truly don’t know if GM Tom Telesco loves the well-scarred Tagovailoa enough to take him. He might, and it would make sense. The Chargers are in a megastar market, and they do not have one on the roster, and Tua would immediately become the billboard on the 405 owner Dean Spanos would love.
But I made the switch for a couple of reasons. Anthony Lynn doesn’t view—at least now—Tyrod Taylor as a bridge quarterback. He thinks he can be a good NFL starter. And with the business side of football so up in the air in 2020 because of the pandemic, I think it’s more important to build the best football team rather than have the best marketing plan. The Chargers have 31-year-old Bryan Bulaga—who has missed 13 games in the last three years—at one of the tackles, and no other solid guy on the roster. I hear the Chargers are planning to use Bulaga at right tackle. So they’re absolutely denuded on the left side of the line, and here’s the first-team all-American left tackle from the SEC sitting there for them. A Telesco team to be so bereft of building blocks at tackle is not good. And the Chargers have loved Thomas, a legit two-year left tackle at Georgia against the highest level of competition in the college game, throughout the fall and winter.
If it goes this way, this is the kind of decision that defines careers—Telesco and Thomas . . . and even Tua.
7. Carolina—Derrick Brown, defensive tackle, Auburn
Man. Would the Panthers pass on Tua? I’m saying yes, because they’d have to take a $20-million cap hit to dump Teddy Bridgewater next offseason . . . and they really like Bridgewater. Plus, the Panthers have a slew of major needs on defense. They could take C.J. Henderson here and be happy because of a desperate corner need. But this team is dying on the interior defensive line, and all you have to do is watch a few Derrick Brown plays to know what a crucial addition he’d be. There’s one play where he man-against-boys an LSU guard and Joe Burrow is so flustered by the specter of Brown that he falls down before Brown makes it to him in the backfield.
So a few people in the league would say they’re a little down on Brown because of a so-so combine performance. But I don’t see that stopping a smart team in the top 10 from making him a defensive centerpiece for six or eight years. Panthers also love Isaiah Simmons.
8. Arizona—Isaiah Simmons, defensive player, Clemson
This is a first in Peter King Mock Draft History. I’ve never before labeled a player “defensive player.” Simmons has played strong safety, cornerback, slot corner, inside linebacker and outside linebacker, and he’s likely going to be a hybrid safety/linebacker/edge player in the NFL. Could be an instinctive pass-rusher too, which the Cardinals lack in a big way; he had 23 pressures on 70 pass-rushes. Now, the Cards have other needs, and Simmons doesn’t have a singular position. But he was a great and instinctive college player.
I believe GM Steve Keim just might look at this pick and remember the 2007 draft. Keim, the director of college scouting in Arizona at the time, reportedly wanted Adrian Peterson when the Cards picked at number five in the first round. But the Arizona pick ended up being a tackle, Levi Brown, and Peterson came off the board two slots later, to Minnesota. Brown was an abject disaster with Arizona. Peterson is, well, the best back of the past 15 years. I’ve always seen Keim as a pick-the-best-player guy. And with the multiple defensive gifts of Simmons, he’d qualify as that if there at eight.
9. Jacksonville—C.J. Henderson, cornerback, Florida
Not sure if the Jags will do it, but I hear they’ve been talking about trading up—and I assume it’s for one of the two corners at the top of the CB market. This would be a solid pick for the Jacksonville rebuild. They’ve lost nearly every defensive player of value except Myles Jack in recent months (with franchised defensive end Yannick Ngakoue being shopped this week too), and adding Henderson would give them a potential premier player at each level of the defense—pass-rusher Josh Allen, linebacker Jack, and Henderson in the back end. Who knows if GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone will be around to oversee the remaking of the Jags, but someone’s got to do it.
10. Cleveland—Jedrick Wills, tackle, Alabama
Andrew Thomas is the preferred player here, and the Browns have been actively trying to trade down, which they could do. That’s the thing about the Browns: They crave picks, and if, say, Miami wants come up from 18 because of the major need at tackle, I could see the Browns being happy to move down eight slots and find some equitable value from the Miami treasure trove of high picks (26, 39, 56, 70, plus two first and two second-round picks in 2021).
Wills is a more natural right tackle as opposed to Thomas being a two-year left tackle at Georgia. There are some teams that have Wills the top-rated tackle in a good class of them, so if Cleveland gets him, it’s a good pick. He allowed one sack over the past two seasons at Alabama.
11. New York Jets—Mekhi Becton, tackle, Louisville
And the run on tackles ends after 11 picks, right about where the football world thinks it will—with GM Joe Douglas’ first draft choice as Jets GM. Becton is 6-7 ½ and 365 pounds. He will be the Andre the Giant of the AFC East. “The most impressive thing about him,” his former college coach at Louisville, Bobby Petrino, said, “is he can reverse-dunk.” Yikes. I do believe that Sam Darnold would find the most impressive thing about his left tackle for the next eight years would be keeping him clean 16 Sundays each fall. This would be a solid pick for Douglas, and not just because Becton can block out the sun. He’s competitive and feisty.
12. Las Vegas—CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Oklahoma
Maybe the toughest call I had to make Sunday evening, having the Raiders bypass Tua Tagovailoa for Lamb. I did it because I keep hearing both Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden are intrigued with new backup Marcus Mariota; adding Tagovailoa might be the best thing for 2023, but it’s not so great for 2020. But they could do it. As for Lamb: Mayock loves him, thinks he’s the most complete receiver in the draft, and even though I think Gruden likely would prefer the take-the-top-off speed of Henry Ruggs, he’s happy to have a true number one receiver who can win consistently against NFL-caliber corners.
13. New England (trade with San Francisco)—Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Alabama
So Tagovailoa could drop, and Bill Belichick really doesn’t want to take a quarterback now, with one draft pick in the top 85 this year and needs all over his roster. And truly: I have no indication, no inside information, that says he’d do this. It’s simply a guess. But think if you’re Belichick. Because your team never finishes 3-13, you never have a chance to get one of the best quarterbacks in the college game. Until Tagovailoa’s hip popped out of the socket last November, forcing immediate and urgent surgery, he was 1/1A with the transcendent Joe Burrow to be the first pick in this draft. And you don’t want to pillage the lone first or lone second-round pick from next year’s draft. But do you do it for a great but pockmarked talent such as Tagovailoa five months after major hip surgery? I do know Belichick would have confidence in his player-procurement skills.
I also don’t know what the New England orthopods will say about him. I do know one respected team doctor for an NFL team who gave Tagovailoa the once-over at the combine, and I asked him what he thought about Tagovailoa’s propensity for injury while at Alabama—a broken hand, two high-ankle sprains, and a hip dislocation most recently. This is what this doctor—whose team is not in the market for a first-round quarterback—told me Thursday:
“These contact injuries are part of the game. You ask yourself, ‘Is this guy injury-prone, or does he have a bullseye on him because he’s a crucial player on his team?’ I’ve seen a few of the hip dislocations in football, and my experience is that if you lose blood supply to the hip for a long-enough period of time, you’re in trouble. I don’t think that was the case here. As I see it, the effects of the dislocation might show up when he’s 35, but not when he’s 25.”
Cautiously optimistic then. Tough call for a franchise, but when would the Patriots ever get a shot at a potential superstar quarterback? Even if they had to throw in next year’s first-rounder, I think this would be a risk worth taking for the Patriots.
14. Tampa Bay—Javon Kinlaw, defensive tackle, South Carolina
Heard a few things here—that Tampa would love to get a complete running back who can catch to complement Tom Brady, and that they’re jonesing for a top corner. With Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh big bodies on the defensive front, they’re not desperate for a disruptive defensive tackle here, but the value is excellent. I can also tell you that if Kinlaw is around at 14, Tampa will get some calls from teams—and not just for Kinlaw, but for Jerry Jeudy and maybe Henry Ruggs. One of the things the Bucs would love about adding an impact player along the front seven: Suh is 33 and Jason Pierre-Paul is 31, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is very big on disrupting the pocket. You can’t have enough impact players up front.
15. Denver—Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama
John Elway looks around his living room in Cherry Hills Village a few spirals from the Broncos complex, and says to the scouts and coaches tethered to him via teleconference: “Are you freakin’ kidding me? Jeudy falls to us at 15?” It’s a gift, he thinks, and it takes him a minute to type in Jeudy and send it on the Microsoft Teams channel to draft central. Sometimes the draft falls weird, and the incredible excess at receiver in this draft makes so many teams with wideout needs say they’ll wait till the second and third rounds. Elway could sit back after a pick like this and think about Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jeudy and Phillip Lindsay: I’ve got a quarterback I feel pretty good about, two top-20 NFL receivers, a 1,000-yard back, and none are 26 years old yet. We’re pretty good at the explosive offensive positions.
16. Atlanta—K’Lavon Chaisson, edge rusher, LSU
Worst-kept secret in draft rooms around the league: GM Thomas Dimitroff wants to trade up for one of the two top corners in the draft, Jeff Okudah or C.J. Henderson. He just might. He knows his secondary has to do better than allow 66 percent completions, 28 touchdowns and 7.7 yards per pass play. But if it goes this way, he’d likely get a second-tier corner with the 47th overall pick, and hope Chaisson and Dante Fowler can provide the sort of consistent edge presence his pass rush has been missing.
17. Dallas—Xavier McKinney, safety, Alabama
Trading down low into the round, or even high into round two, and taking Michigan center Cesar Ruiz as a long-term replacement for the retired Travis Frederick wouldn’t surprise me. But there’s a big hole at safety that must be filled, and McKinney’s the top safety on most boards (apologies, Grant Delpit). McKinney is a sure tackler, proficient in coverage and a very smart player. He’s the type of back-end player who could be the leader of a needy secondary for five or six years.
18. Miami—A.J. Epenesa, edge rusher, Iowa
Might be a bit of reach for the one-year Iowa starter, but this is a big need position, and Epenesa is a solid person and productive player, with 22 sacks and 31 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. You’d like to see him faster than 5.04-seconds in the 40, but such is the story of this year’s edge-rush crowd. It’s just okay. He’d be well-coached in Brian Flores’ scheme, and he’d have a very good mentor in Kyle Van Noy.
19. Las Vegas—Kristian Fulton, cornerback, LSU
After the first two corners go, the rest are in a hug mosh pit. Fulton is a PFF darling, rated the 12th-best player in the draft—ahead of C.J. Henderson, Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw—and trailing only Jeff Okudah in the cornerback class. He falls into the class of player GM Mike Mayock loves: big-time player in a national championship program, though some have been down on him for cheating on a drug test, which led to a one-year ban in 2017. He’d be the kind of competitive and tested player Jon Gruden loves.
20. Jacksonville—Justin Jefferson, wide receiver, LSU
When you ask about Jefferson, you hear lots of NFL people talk about his elite mechanics and route-running. “His speed is good enough, he runs a 12-yard out at exactly 12 yards, and he’s got pro tools,” said a coach who loves him. A playoff team in the twenties is calculating whether to move up to the teens to get him—and to bypass Henry Ruggs to do so. He’s fearless too, the kind of building-block player a good offense should froth over. Jefferson’s going to have a good pro career, and he’d be the kind of alternative to deep-threat D.J. Chark the Jaguars could feature, regardless of the coach or quarterback, for five or six years.
21. Philadelphia—Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver, Alabama
Maybe Eagles GM Howie Roseman will find a taker for Alshon Jeffery and his hefty salary (maybe by paying a good chunk of it), or maybe the Eagles have to play with Jeffery and his injury bug for one more season; when he’s on the field he’s effective if not a star. But the thing I heard about the Eagles in the last few days is, Henry Ruggs will not get past 21. So here we are. Ruggs and his 4.27 40-speed are obviously tempting, and 24 touchdowns on only 98 career catches is explosive stuff. But a couple of things make me wonder. Three years, 41 games, 2.4 catches per game, 41.9 receiving yards per game. The most dangerous weapon in your offense gets 42 yards a game? The other side of that is some very smart offensive minds—Sean Payton, Andy Reid—love Ruggs. He’s competitive, and he doesn’t drop many. If he goes to Philadelphia, he’ll be the deep weapon Carson Wentz has imagined with DeSean Jackson.
22. Minnesota—Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Alabama
The type of big cornerback GMs crave these days to face the bigger receivers colleges are churning out. With only Mike Hughes left in a once-rich secondary, the Vikings have no choice but to use first-round replenishment on a corner. This might be overthinking, but I wonder if being Stefon Diggs’ younger brother would bug GM Rick Spielman or coach Mike Zimmer. It certainly would be the first question I’d ask at the post-draft press conference.
23. San Francisco (trade with New England)—Josh Jones, offensive tackle, Houston
In this projection, I’d have the Niners moving to 23 and getting New England’s first-round pick in 2021. Good value, but it won’t help John Lynch trying to get a pick or two in the two-day gulf between picks 31 and 156. So I think the Niners look to trade one of their two first-rounders again, so they can add an extra pick in round two or three. If they stay here, tackle’s the right call. With Joe Staley having either one year or zero years left, it’s a good time to pick a long-term tackle. Jones started for four years at left tackle—45 games—and that’s not something you can say for many collegiate tackles these days.
24. New Orleans—A.J. Terrell, cornerback, Clemson
I think defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s going to love the maturity and competitiveness of his defensive backfield, with Malcolm Jenkins—one of the smartest and most mature players in football—added to Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Wilson, and Terrell, if he’s the pick. I like the fit with the Saints because Terrell is a good competitor and very coachable. When you start 30 straight games in a program like Clemson, you’re ready to take the next step.
25. Minnesota—Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Clemson
Most receiving touchdowns in Clemson history: Higgins 27, DeAndre Hopkins 27, Sammy Watkins 27. Higgins needs to get stronger (6-3 ½, 216), but he’s the kind of receivers scouts think will improve at the 50-50 balls when he learns to be more physical. At 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, he’s no burner, but with a career average of 18.1 yards per catch, he’s got the kind of run-after-the-catch instincts that will serve him well at the pro level.
26. Miami—Austin Jackson, offensive tackle, USC
The Dolphins could trade out to the thirties here, and maybe get Boise’s Ezra Cleveland (three years, 40 starts at left tackle) to be their Laremy Tunsil heir. But Jackson, 6-5 and 325 pounds, has basketball-type quickness and the ability to project as an NFL left tackle. If the Dolphins love a tackle here, they’ve got so many picks they’re wise to just sit and select.
27. Seattle—Yetur Gross-Matos, defensive end, Penn State
There’s not much of a chance Seattle sits and makes this pick, honestly; GM John Schneider has traded down in the first round eight straight years. I still think he could deal down, particularly if there’s a lesser-light big corner he likes available high in the second round. But I couldn’t find a logical dance partner for the Seahawks. My feeling is Seattle is doling out hope for Jadeveon Clowney in the $15-million-a-year range, or maybe Everson Griffen; they’re the kind of veteran rushers Seattle thinks are necessary in a high-powered NFC West. But Gross-Matos is a good alternative as a backfield disruptor.
28. Baltimore—Kenneth Murray, linebacker, Oklahoma
My bet is the Ravens might try to move up a few slots to steal Murray; he’s the best pure linebacker in the draft, a sideline to sideline menace, and would be a godsend for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to use as a chess piece. He’s also a future NFL Man of the Year, a totally too-good-to-be-true guy who helps his parents raise three siblings with special needs. Murray to the Ravens is a football match made in heaven. I’d love to see it happen.
29. Tennessee—Isaiah Wilson, tackle, Georgia
Imagine that: two Georgia tackles in the first round. The difference is that Andrew Thomas will be counted on as plug-and-play, and Wilson could take a year of grooming, particularly in a year with a weird offseason program like this one. The natural inclination will be to expect Wilson to step in for the departed Jack Conklin, and he may. Wilson’s the kind of edgy, angry player who will fit well on the feisty Titans line. I’m just not sure that fit will begin in 2020.
30. Green Bay—Michael Pittman Jr., wide receiver, USC
Professional receiver. Most have him in the second round. But the Packers don’t pick again till 62, and they see a solid but unspectacular disciplined route-runner and competitive 50-50-ball player. “He’s so reliable,” one coach told me Saturday. “He might get lost in a crop of receivers this good, but he shouldn’t. He’ll be a good receiver in the league for a long time.” Speaking of competitive receivers who were a quarterback’s best friend: Jordy Nelson, 6-3, 220 — Michael Pittman, 6-4, 222.
31. Dallas (trade with San Francisco)—Cesar Ruiz, center, Michigan
I said at pick 18 that the Cowboys wanted to replace Travis Frederick with a solid rock in this draft, and it could well be that he’d be on the board midway through the second round with the 51st overall pick. But the Cowboys surrender their third-round pick (82 overall) to move up for a long-term center. The Niners wanted two picks—possibly one for a big-body plugger in the middle of the defensive line, one for a receiver—and this deal does the trick.
32. Kansas City—Jeff Gladney, cornerback, TCU
Craziest rumor of the first round: Chiefs want to trade up for Henry Ruggs if he falls into the twenties. Insane. Do they want every sub 4.35 guy in the National Football League? A couple of theories: There are only two very good cover corners in this draft, Okudah and Henderson, and they’d be long gone by the time the Chiefs could make a reasonable offer. Sammy Watkins is a short-termer, probably only one more year in KC, so another quick-twitch guy would fit either this year or next. Finally, fast guys with slight builds who collide with defenders tend to get hurt, so Ruggs would be good insurance for that in 2020 and a stalwart beyond that.
Anyhoo, the Chiefs’ biggest position of need right now is corner, and Gladney is a competitive and tough player who would fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme.