- QB Joe Burrow, LSU – All indication is that this is the pick, though I disagree that it should be. Certainty is value, and past performance is a major factor in determining certainty. Tua Tagovaioloa showed consistent past perfromance in the SEC. Joe Burrow had one stellar year, but he required innovative offensive coordinator Joe Brady (who was subsequently hired by the Carolina Panthers). Without that offense and a stable of WR that outplayed the opponent on every snap, will he be the same player? Tagovailoa consistently showed the ability to see “NFL open” receivers (open by a yard and a half) and hit them. Burrow’s pre-draft comments should also leave everyone wondering if he will be happy as a Bengal. I’m not saying Burrow won’t eventually be a good player, he is just a riskier option.
2. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama – I have the Dolphins trading the 5 and 18 picks to jump to number 2 in order to get their QB. I think they will anticipate the Chargers trying to make a play for Detroit’s number 3 pick to scoop up Tua, and they will pull the trigger to get their man. The Dolphins managed a surprisingly successful season when everyone expected them to tank. I think this coaching staff has a good idea how to build a team, and they filled most of their other needs in free agency taking a CB (Byron Jones), ILB (Kyle Van Noy), and DEs (Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah). This is no longer a “quantity” draft for them, they need high-quality pieces in the right positions, and they need to be willing to give up draft capital to get it.
3. CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio St. – The lions desperately need to improve their secondary. Offensive line is also an option here, but the value just is not there. I could see them trading back, but the only other team desperate enough to fill a hole that could trade up would be the Charges, who need to replace Rivers at QB. I think the Chargers will gamble that the other QB-needy teams simply aren’t willing to trade their draft for Herbert or Love. Okudah is your classic shut-down CB with the measurables and the performance history you want to see in such a high pick. His ceiling and floor are both high, and he reminds most analysts of Patrick Peterson.
4. DE Chase Young, Ohio St. – The Giants will run to the podium to turn in their draft card. Young is the best player in the draft (taking account potential and certainty), and they get him at 4. The Giants could ransom this pick to a DE-needy team, but I don’t think they get that cute. Young did not run at the combine but he did not have to, his tape speaks for itself. He looks like a muscular WR, until you see that he is 6’5 and 264 pounds. His pass rush repertoire is still growing, but the physical tools, quick twitch and fluidity have people seeing Julius Peppers.
5. OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville – This is where the plot thickens. Washington could go any number of directions here, after having traded back. Washington desperately needs an OT after the Trent Williams fiasco last year, especially since they burned a first-round pick on QB Haskins last year. There are four OT that could feasibly go here, and most prospect rankings would have Beckton as the last of those. However, he is a massive human being at 6;7 364. He may not have the athleticism that Tristan Wirfs has, but he has enough. More importantly, the DE haunting the redskins is Demarcus Lawrence, who makes his money using heavy hands (not by explosive/flexible speed rush moves). The Redskins surely know they need someone with mass to stop that freight train.
6. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon – The chargers get their man without having to trade up. Whether or not he is the right man is questionable. The athleticism, size and arm strength are undeniable. He ran a 4.68 in the 40 and showed that playing speed while at Oregon. However, the ball placement and touch are not there. His flat throws often found linebackers and he somehow has trouble with pressure even with all that athleticism. He is my “Jack Locker” watch for this draft class. If, however, the Chargers can put him in the same sort of zone-read friendly offense that Baltimore put Lamar Jackson into, they may similarly find lightning in a bottle.
7. OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia – There are a lot of teams with need at tackle, and I foresee a run on them early in the first round. Look, Cam Newton fell apart because the Panters could not protect him. They spent $63 million over three years signing Teddy Bridgewater, and the draft knock on him was that his knees were skinny so he was suspectible to injury. If offensive tackle is not the pick here, you can almost write off the Bridgewater era. Thomas lacks ideal size and build, but he mauled defensive lines in the SEC for three years, and that is about as close to “certainty” as someone can hope for out of a college player. He also played both tackle spots, so he gives some flexibility. Wirfs or Willis could easily end up in this spot.
8. OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa – The cardinals could/should go with Isaiah Simmons here, but they need to protect undersized QB Murray. They invested in that offense with the DeAndre Hopkins trade, and gave Kenyan Drake more money, but what they have is a Ferrari with three-wheels. It is useless unless you buy it that 4th wheel, and this offense needs OTs for all that skill-talent to flourish. Besides, HC Kinsbury was hired on to improve the offense. He might retain his job even if the defense craters, but he knows heads will roll if that offense doesn’t get dynamic ASAP.
9. DT Derrick Brown, Auburn – Forget the combine numbers, just watch the tape. This guy knives through everyone. Pressure off the edge is nice, but pressure right up the middle leaves a QB with no place to run, and is even better if it was done through a double team. Yes he tested poorly (5.16 forty, 8.22 three-cone), but he is a player not a combine warrior. The Jags lost Calais Campbell and are pissing away their relationship with Ngakoue. That defensive front was what carried them to the playoffs in 2018, and this is a step in getting back to that.
10. LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson – The Browns thank the Lord for this gift falling into their lap. Simmons is 238 and ran a shocking 4.39 forty. For purposes of comparison, C.J. Henderson’s draft stock has risen because he ran a 4.39, as a CB. Simmons is more of a cover linebacker, but he sheds tacklers easily with athleticism, rather than power and covers runs sideline-to-sideline. Besides, he is the rare 3-down linebacker in this day and age that can make sure you don’t run into matchup problems against 3-WR sets, when you go into nickel. Even the browns can’t mess up this pick.
11. CB C.J. Henderson, Florida – Mocks a month ago would barely have put Henderson in the first round, then he ran a 4.39 forty. The first tier of CB is Okudah, and I think Henderson is a tier by himself after that. His athleticism shown through in his tape, and he looks to be a man/press CB you can put on an island for the next decade.
12. WR C.D. Lamb, Oklahoma – The raiders could go any number of directions here. WR is their biggest hole, and I am sure they would love to look like they got the better of the Amari Cooper trade. Lamb is not a burner, but he is the best route runner in the draft and DeAndre Hopkins has put a spotlight on that trait again in the NFL. We could see this being Henry Ruggs, and we could see the raiders foregoing WR for Jordan Love (as the coaching staff has long been rumored to disfavor David Carr. This is the deepest WR class in decades, so it is difficult to guess how far teams will deprioritize the WR position.
13. DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina – The last time someone dominated the offensive lineman at the senior bowl the way Kinglaw did, it was a kid named Aaron Donald. People let him slip in the draft because he did not have ideal size, but Kinlaw is 6’ 324, with a burst. His tape shows him almost getting a sack repeatedly but juuuust lacking that closing speed to finish it off. If his secondary could hold for a split second longer, he could turn in shocking sack totals from an interior lineman. The 49ers lost Armstead in FA, and they have shown a commitment to having a dominant offensive line that can apply pressure without blitzing. They also lost WR Sanders, so they could be in the market for a WR, but Deebo Samuel was a revelation, Marquiste Goodwin still has Olympic sprinter speed and they have Travis Benjamin as well as Dante Pettis in the depth chart. Again, the depth of this WR class makes it hard to mock a lot of high first round WR.
14. OT Jedrick Willis Jr., Alabama – Keep. Tom. Brady. Alive. You have tools on defense, and the skill position is stocked on offense. Just, keep Brady upright. Willis drops because he does not have ideal length, size or athleticism. What he does have is a history of production in the SEC, and a knock for well-timed punches to counter pass rush moves, and short-range twitch.
15. LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma – This is a bit high for Murray, but there are a lot of teams with needs at LB coming up behind the Broncos. Their highest needs are at WR and OT, but the WR class is deep and the top-tier OT are off the board. The best value/need combination is to fill their hole at LB. He ran a 4.5 forty at the combine, which matches the good playing speed he showed on tape. In a division with Travis Kelce, the Broncos need a playmaking LB that doesn’t have to come off the field on passing downs.
16. LB Patrick Queen, LSU – The LBs continue. The falcons need a DT, but the value is not there with Kinlaw off the board. We could also see them going with one of the remaining CB to replace Desmon Trufant (Fulton, Terrell or Diggs), but one of those DBs will likely still be there at their next pick at 47. What will not be there, is a LB with 4.5 speed that can match up with TE. He lacks ideal size (229 pounds), but the days of your bruising linebacker are gone.
17. DE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU – I have Seattle trading with the Cowboys here. Both need a DE, but reports out of Arlington are that they are not enamored with Chaisson. Seattle gets a high-ceiling low-floor DE that is your classic explosive speed rusher. He lacks size at 6’3 250, and he does not have a long history of production, due to injuries. But, when healthy, he flashed enough to get comparisons to Aldon Smith, but with high-character.
18. S Grant Delpit , LSU – The third tiger in a row, as the Redskins use the additional pick from the Dolphins to shore up a weak secondary. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the opposite is also true. Delpit has been on everyone’s radar so long, that the draftnics have picked him apart, often over emphasizing his missed tackles. This is a throwing league, and the ability to make plays on the ball takes precedence at the safety position now. Delpit is just a flat out playmaker.
19. QB Jordan Love, Utah – We always see the Patriots trading down. We will finally see if their personnel staff had been propped up by the greatness of Tom Brady all this time, and simply lived off having the luxury of being conservative. QB is a problem, and Love is probably in the running for the second-best QB in the draft. I think ultimately, the Patriots system shows through. They will see the Jaguars waiting for a franchise QB at 20, and the Pats trade up to beat them to the punch.
20. OT Josh Jones, Houston – Having just been snubbed by the Patriots trade, the Jaguars look to fill their next biggest hole. Jones is the first of the second-tier OT. The Jaguars offense is a joke, and it starts with the QB but is followed immediately by the line. Jones is a raw tackle that showed athleticism and steady improvement. There are a few positions teams tend to reach for when desperate, and tackle is one of those positions. The Jaguars have shown a propensity to reach.
21. WR Henry Ruggs, Alabama – This is the best need/value fit for the Eagles, who sorely need an infusion of playmaking ability on that offense. Ruggs ran a blistering 4.27 forty. His route running needs refining, but he draws comparisons to Tyreek Hill. With the Cowboys losing Byron Jones to free agency, the Eagles look to capitalize on their division nemesis’ biggest Achilles heel.
22. WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama – The more productive of the two Alabama WR, Jeudy is a crisp route runner. He does not have Ruggs’ Olympic speed, but his 4.45 forty is plenty fast enough to stretch defenses. Having lost Stefon Diggs, the Vikings look to infuse some life back into this offense.
23. CB Jeff Gladney, TCU – If Gladney was 6 feet tall, he would not be here. He is a bulldog that fights tooth and nail with any WR, having gotten the better out of many of the WR we mock at the top of this draft class.
24. CB Christian Fulton, LSU – We have him as the 24th ranked overall player, so this is a perfect fit. The Saints need CB and interior offensive line, but no players fit the need at the line here. He has above average size and speed, and shows well-above-average press instincts.
25. CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama – The Vikings filled their hole at WR earlier, and there are no OT worth taking in this spot. The lost Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes, so Diggs is a good value pick that fills a need.
26. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin – The Dolphins need OT help, but the value is not there, and there will be some decent 2nd round options available for them. They signed Jordan Howard, but he is so pedestrian he comes with a crossing guard. Taylor ran a 4.39 and was insanely productive in college. He is a shorter, faster Ezekiel Elliott. Even in this current trend of avoiding first-round RBs, you cannot ignore someone that can shake the first tackler and house it.
27. CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson – The Cowboys desperately need a CB, after losing Byron Jones, and having their two remaining starters on one-year contracts. They re-signed Anthony Brown, who showed flashes, but was hurt all of last year. They have a gaping hole at LE, but are hoping that Randy Gregory and/or Alden Smith will be reinstated and come back to form. The trade back here gives them their CB, and an additional 2nd round pick (where DE Curtis Weaver or Julian Okwara will be available).
28. WR Justin Jefferson, LSU – That offense was dynamic until it wasn’t. Their playoff loss showed them that if a team commits to stopping the run, the passing game is simply insufficient to get them over the hump. They look for more juice with Jefferson, who runs a 4.43. More importantly, he has a wide catch radius and good ball skills, which will help Lamar Jackson’s less-than-precision passing attack.
29. DE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn St. – The Titans need an edge rusher, and Gross-Matos fits the bill, even if he is more of an “edge” guy than a traditional DE. He has ideal size, and fluidity if not explosiveness. He is rangier but will need to develop his use of hands in order to live up to this high draft slot.
30. LB Zack Baun, Wisconsin – I promise I didn’t just slot the Wisconsin grad to Green Bay. The packers have a need at LB where the cupboard is empty. He is twitchy, having run a 4.65 but lacks ideal size to be an edge guy. Still, he projects to fill the slot that Clay Matthews held down for so long.
31. S Xavier McKinney, Alabama – The Bears trade pick 43 and 50 for pick 31 and a late rounder, to get their safety. Having lost Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Adrian Amos, the Bears defense desperately needs a safety. There are intriguing possibilities for them if they stay at 43, like Jeremy Chinn, Ashtyn Davis and Antoine Winfield. When you have a glaring hole, you don’t go for “intriguing” though, you go for a sure thing.
OL Cesar Ruiz, Michigan – It is not exciting but it fills one of their few holes. We could also see them trading back, as their cap situation is already top heavy, so they would love an influx of cheap labor.