2020 Mock Draft: Mike Tanier's Final Predictions
Welcome to draft week! B/R is kicking it off with another mock draft, and this one is full of surprises, including:
• Lots of Dolphins trades
• The Giants not drafting a hogmolly
• An early run on wide receivers
• Utah State quarterback Jordan Love slipping to an unexpected team
• The Patriots being conventionally unconventional
...plus some typical mock draft selections, like the Eagles getting their wide receiver, the Falcons their edge-rusher, the Buccaneers their protection for Tom Brady and the Vikings a pair of replacements for all the guys they lost in the offseason.
Enjoy the picks, analysis, jokes and Bill O'Brien cameos. It should be just enough to tide you over for a few days until the real thing.
Tune in to our 2020 NFL Draft Show for live, in-depth analysis on what each pick means for your team, with hosts Adam Lefkoe, Matt Miller and Connor Rogers. No fluff, no B.S. Download the B/R app and watch starting Thursday, April 23, at 8 p.m. ET.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, Quarterback, LSU
It's not just that the Bengals have been bad for the past four years. It's that they've been boring.
Organizations like the Jets, Jaguars and Browns can be awful for years in compelling Netflix-documentary ways, entertaining us like soap operas if not as football teams. But not the Bengals. They've spent the past four years locked in their bedroom listening to moody music and wearing sadness sweaters, giving fans nothing to talk about except bland coaches, invisible executives and a roster full of aging semistars, holdovers from a "contender" that never really contended for anything.
The Bengals became so dreary that some of us speculated that the Ohio-raised Joe Burrow would refuse to play for them if drafted and would demand a trade the way Eli Manning and John Elway did to the teams that drafted them (Chargers and Colts, respectively) in decades past. It was nothing but idle gossip-mongering, but it's better to be bad than to be boring, at least for us media types.
Burrow is almost certainly heading to Cincinnati, and he should make the Bengals competitive again sometime soon. Despite the franchise's dismal history, it's had its share of successful quarterbacks: Kenny Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Carson Palmer and, yes, Andy Dalton, who led them to the playoffs five straight times. Burrow is as solid a prospect as Palmer was when he left USC, making him as close to "can't miss" as can be.
The Bengals themselves have emerged from Sweatertown to make some upgrades on defense, adding D.J. Reader and others in free agency. They are rebuilding, and their habit of avoiding drama will help them in that department. As will Burrow.
But more importantly, he will make the Bengals interesting again—give football fans outside of the 513 area code a reason to watch.
2. Washington Redskins: Chase Young, Edge-Rusher, Ohio State
Let's run through Washington's options with this pick:
Option A) Draft Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert
Advantages: New head coach Ron Rivera gets to start his regime off with a handpicked quarterback of the future instead of Dwayne Haskins, who was the choice (maybe?) of the last regime.
Disadvantages: Quarterback controversies in Washington turn into epic sagas, which inevitably end in double knockouts.
Option B) Trade the pick to a team that wants to draft Tua or Herbert
Advantages: Extra picks!
Disadvantages: Washington's front office is a hodgepodge of holdovers from the Bruce Allen era and execs who came from Carolina with Rivera. That's not the sort of structure that lends itself well to outside-the-box decisions.
Option C) Draft Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah
Advantages: Okudah is great. There's also an analytics school of thought that believes the secondary is more important than the pass rush in some statistically subtle way.
Disadvantages: Nick Bosa changed the whole complexion of the 49ers defense immediately, helping turn them from also-rans into conference champions. Chase Young is similar to Bosa. Can you remember the last cornerback to have that sort of instant impact?
Option D) Dan Snyder wild card!
Advantages: He's the boss, so if he just read an article about "positionless defenders" while sunbathing on his yacht and decided he wants Isaiah Simmons, he can overrule everyone and do it.
Disadvantages: Washington is an organization built out of Dan Snyder wild cards, which is why it is picking second in the draft.
Option E) Draft Chase Young
Advantages: Young is a safe pick with amazing upside and minimal risk. He joins a talented front seven, giving Rivera an area of strength around which he can build the rest of his roster and system.
Disadvantages: Everyone expects Washington to do this, meaning that the mock draft analysis of the pick is rather boring, unless someone puts a little creativity into it. :)
3. Trade! Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, Alabama
A transcript of the Zoom trade talk between former longtime Patriots coworkers Brian Flores (now the Dolphins head coach) and Matt Patricia (Lions) from their home offices somewhere in Florida and Michigan this week:
Flores: Hey Matt, old buddy! I'm calling to see if we can climb up a few slots to make sure we can draft Tua. Chris would have contacted Bob*, but I don't think either of them know how to use Zoom.
(*Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and Lions general manager Bob Quinn, two executives too boring to appear in this segment)
Patricia: Trade down? Great idea! The guys on the board don't fit my winning culture anyway.
Flores: Which guys?
Patricia: All of them.
Patricia: Absolutely. All these millennials have Twitter and stuff. And sometimes they say nice things about opponents. There's no place in my winning culture for a bunch of fluffernutters.
Flores: OK. Well, we have three first-round picks and will trade you No. 39 overall to move up from No. 5 to No. 3.
Patricia: Oh no you don't! That will only force me to draft two people who don't fit my winning culture.
Flores: I see. Well, is there anyone we can offer who does meet your mysterious standards?
Patricia: Elandon Roberts? Kyle Van Noy?
Flores: We just signed them. We aren't going to trade them. Matt, is there anyone you want to coach who was not a member of the 2016 Patriots?
Patricia: (Long pause) No.
(A new face appears on the teleconference.)
Bill O'Brien: Sorry to interrupt, guys. Hey Brian, Laremy Tunsil expects me to pay him. How am I supposed to build my winning culture with guys who value money more than the fulfilling experience of playing for me? Any chance we can call takesy-backsies on last year's trade?
Patricia: Not so fast, Billy Boy. Brian's trading with me. OK. Let's do No. 3 for Nos. 5 and 39. You get a potential franchise quarterback who needs a redshirt year but could have as much upside as Joe Burrow. I'll search the internet for players who aren't on the internet that I can draft!
Flores: Works for me!
(All three end the conference call, leaving one silent, secret participant in Foxborough who long ago installed spyware on all of his assistants' computers and chuckles to himself before leaving to inspect his subterranean Brady Cloning Vats.)
4. New York Giants: Henry Ruggs III, Wide Receiver, Alabama
Dave Gettleman sure does love his Hogmollies, Big Uglies and Chunk Thumpies! ("Chunk Thumpies" aren't really a thing, but neither are "Hogmollies.") So many mock drafters are just inserting the first 300-pound hunk of muscle that comes to mind—Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton, Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown, etc.—pointing out that it will make Gettleman happy while filling a need on a roster of nothing but needs and perhaps cracking a joke about how Gettleman's microphone will be on mute when he tries to make the selection from home.
Not so fast. Gettleman also drafted Christian McCaffrey and Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of past Panthers drafts, not to mention Curtis Samuel and Devin Funchess in second rounds, and of course Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones at the top of his two Giants drafts. Gettleman loves huge, powerful linemen, but he also loves skill position players with elite traits. And Henry Ruggs III certainly has elite traits.
Most mock drafts have teams grabbing quarterbacks and addressing needs until about the middle of the first round, when the Jets and Raiders start dipping into one of the deepest receiving pools in history. But my gut tells me that some teams won't draft for need at offensive tackle or on the defensive line when there are instant-upgrade receivers on the board. And while Ruggs' teammate Jerry Jeudy is the top receiver on my list, Ruggs has the potential to function like a healthy, focused version of Odell Beckham Jr. in the Giants offense.
Gettleman is reportedly in "Win Soon" mode. Jones needs to kick his development into the next gear. Ruggs' ability to turn screens into touchdowns and make room for Evan Engram, Barkley and Sterling Shepard to operate will help meet both objectives. And Uncle Dave can load up on hogmollies in later rounds.
5. Trade! Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah, Cornerback, Ohio State
If the Lions were a well-run organization, Jeff Okudah would join Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker and Tavon Wilson to form one of the NFL's deepest, most formidable secondaries.
Unfortunately, the Lions are run by Patriots cosplayers, and Diggs and Slay were traded over the past eight months for not passing their snap locker cleanliness inspections or something. So Okudah, who has Pro Bowl-caliber size, athleticism and demeanor, joins Walker, oft-injured Desmond Trufant, Justin Coleman and maybe the still-unsigned Wilson instead to form a secondary that should still be very good but won't make the Lions playoff contenders.
Successful organizations draft for future needs. Unsuccessful ones draft to fill immediate needs. Spectacularly unsuccessful ones draft to fill immediate needs that they purposely created for themselves, endlessly spinning their wheels in the mud.
It's pretty clear these days which category the Lions fall into.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, Quarterback, Oregon
Here's a list of every quarterback who started a game for the Chargers since the turn of the millennium:
Philip Rivers: A possible future Hall of Famer who has started every game since 2006, when you may have still had a dial-up modem and low-def television and/or were still in middle school.
Drew Brees: A definite future Hall of Famer, though the Chargers suffered through his inexperienced and injury-prone early career.
Doug Flutie: A college football Hall of Famer, Canadian Football Hall of Famer, folk hero and quite possibly your father-in-law's favorite player ever.
Ryan Leaf, Jim Harbaugh and Moses Moreno: The walking embodiment of a 30 for 30 documentary, General Khakislacks and the Devlin Hodges of the Y2K era shared quarterback chores for the Chargers during the 2000 season.
It's been 20 years since the Chargers have faced instability at quarterback. The organization obviously doesn't want to go back to the chaos of the Ryan Leaf era (who would?), and it doesn't appear to be interested in the Cam Newton-Jameis Winston reclamation option on the free-agent market. That leaves starting over with its own reclamation project—last season's backup, Tyrod Taylor—plus the best available quarterback in the draft.
Herbert's status as a prospect became a little shaky last autumn, when he had a few performances that looked better on the stat sheet than they did on the field. But he ended the season with gutsy wins in the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl and then performed well at Senior Bowl week and in the combine, answering a few questions about his accuracy, decision-making and intangibles. In some circles, Herbert is now in Tua Tagovailoa's class as a prospect, and the Chargers could end up with Tua in this slot instead of Herbert. They will not be displeased if that happens.
Herbert probably isn't a Rivers or a Brees. But he's definitely no Leaf. And he'll join a Chargers team with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Sometimes, it pays to be the third quarterback drafted instead of the first, because the third quarterback is likely to land in a much better situation.
7. Carolina Panthers: Isaiah Simmons, LB-DB, Clemson
Attention, readers! Per internet law, Bleacher Report is required to publish a long diatribe about the evolution of NFL strategy and the rise of "positionless defenders" every time Isaiah Simmons is mentioned. So let's turn things over to our X's and O's compliance officer: Coach Pappy Thornwiggle, retired.
Coach Thornwiggle: (Blows whistle) Listen up! Back when we were allowed to hold three-a-day practices and the treatment for an ACL tear was a slug of whiskey, everybody on the defense had a set position and role: strongside linebacker, free safety, strong safety, left cornerback and so forth.
Bleacher Report: That was 40 years ago, Coach.
Coach: Then those daggum offensive coordinators started throwing the ball when it wasn't 3rd-and-20. Before you know it, the nickelback—we called him that because we used to throw nickels at him while he carried our shoulder pads back to the locker room after practice—was practically a starter!
B/R: We're pretty sure that's not the origin of the term "nickelback"...
Coach: And that nickelback couldn't just be some skinny kid we promoted from the JV, either. He had to be able to defend the run, cover tight ends and rush the passer, too. Otherwise, we'd put him on the field to cover Julian Edelman and he'd end up getting blocked by Rob Gronkowski!
B/R: We know all this. We've known all of this for years.
Coach: Well, it wasn't long before us gritty defensive coaches started using this situation to our advantage by grooming "heavy nickel" players. Problem was, there just weren't too many athletes who could do the job. Then one day, Tyrann Mathieu appeared in a dream to Les Miles...
B/R: Look, we need to speed this up. You're saying that Simmons is a matchup defender in roughly the same category as the Honey Badger, Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick. And while we don't know what Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow have planned for the Panthers defense—all they've done so far this offseason is show veterans the door and sign Teddy Bridgewater and a bunch of 2015 Temple Owls—they can obviously find a few roles for someone of Simmons' enormous talent, potential and versatility.
Coach: Son, you need to cut the sass and stick your nose in the playbook. Now drop and give me 50!
8. Arizona Cardinals: Tristan Wirfs, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
Kyler Murray took 48 sacks last season. Murray created plenty of problems for himself with his rookie streetball style, and Kliff Kingsbury's play calling sometimes took a wishful-thinking approach to pass protection (it works in the Big 12, after all), but the Cardinals offensive line still needs an influx of talent. Kingsbury is still going to want to spread the field with four receivers as often as possible, and Murray will still want to run around while DeAndre Hopkins gets open behind the neighbor's Buick.
Tristan Wirfs is the best overall athlete among this year's talented class of tackles, and 33 starts in Iowa's offensive lineman factory make him NFL-ready. He may start his career at guard, but he'll eventually either replace Marcus Gilbert on the right side or D.J. Humphries on the left. In the meantime, short quarterbacks like Murray need outstanding guards (see: Drew Brees' entire career), and Wirfs has the potential to be outstanding.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
Let's consult the Jaguars' Random Decision-Making Chart to determine what they do with this selection. The options are:
1. Overspend for players coming off career years.
2. Cut all the players you overspent on when they were coming off career years.
3. Alienate your best player until he demands a trade.
4. Retain your ineffective head coach/general manager for one to six more seasons because you don't want to appear impatient.
5. More London games!
6. Draft the best available player and then congratulate yourself for doing the obviously smart thing for once.
Looks like we rolled a "6"!
Most mock drafts we peeked at have the Jaguars selecting an offensive or defensive lineman. But Leonard Fournette led the Jaguars with 76 receptions last year, and no one would mistake Fournette for Alvin Kamara in the passing game. If the Jaguars are committed to developing Gardner Minshew II (deluding themselves at quarterback will be added in the Random Decision-Making Chart expansion pack), they'll need more than DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook at wide receiver. CeeDee Lamb is the type of receiver Conley and Westbrook aspire to be. He can turn any screen pass or reverse into a touchdown.
Don't despair if you think the Jaguars need to draft someone in the trenches; they'll reappear later in this mock draft, thanks to that time last year when they rolled a "3" with Jalen Ramsey.
10. Cleveland Browns: Mekhi Becton, Offensive Tackle, Louisville
It's been a strangely mundane offseason for the Browns. Sure, the Moneyball faction of the front office regained control of the organization, but they didn't do anything radical like declare another three-year tanking program and/or trade all the veterans for draft picks. And offensive tackle Greg Robinson was caught by border patrol allegedly with almost enough marijuana to build a slot receiver out of, but every team deals with an off-field issue now and then. The Browns made logical free-agent moves that immediately upgraded the team, including the addition of right tackle Jack Conklin. They were all moves that can be explained without consulting a philosophical treatise or Michael Lewis bestseller. The new normal for the Browns may actually be "normal" for a change.
Conklin's arrival, coupled with the addition of fullback Andy Janovich and tight end Austin Hooper, suggests that new coach Kevin Stefanski plans to install the run-heavy, Gary Kubiak-flavored scheme he (and Kubiak) used in Minnesota. That will require as many road graders as possible on the offensive line. Mekhi Becton is roughly the size of a hillock, is surprisingly quick and just loves flattening defenders. He and Conklin will make a nasty tackle tandem that paves the way for Nick Chubb and keeps Baker Mayfield upright so he can find Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
That offense sounds pretty great, doesn't it? Yes, it sounded great last April, too. Let's see what they are capable of with a big upgrade on the offensive line and an even bigger reduction in drama and self-outsmarting.
11. New York Jets: Jedrick Wills Jr., Offensive Tackle, Alabama
The Jets have not selected an offensive lineman in the first or second round of the draft since they took Vlad Ducasse in the second round in 2010. Of all the inexplicable Jets decisions of the last decade, that's the most inexplicably Jets-ish. It's the equivalent of homeowners watching their roof slowly collapse, with rain water leaking in and shorting out their HDTV and snow coating their children while they sleep in the wintertime, and thinking, "Eh, we don't need to buy any shingles just yet."
The Jets did add George Fant and others to their offensive line in free agency. Past decision-makers might be satisfied with inserting the Seahawks' sixth offensive lineman at left tackle and rushing off to draft a linebacker. But general manager Joe Douglas comes from the Eagles school of roster construction. That means he wants to acquire quality offensive linemen, not just available ones. Jedrick Wills Jr. is athletic, ornery and NFL-ready. He's a better option than Fant (not a very high bar), and he can provide peace of mind for Sam Darnold for years.
All of this assumes that Douglas, not Adam Gase, is in charge of the draft board. If Gase has final say, anything can happen. And when the roof collapses, he'll swear it wasn't his fault.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Jerry Jeudy, Wide Receiver, Alabama
The Raiders receiving corps last season:
Darren Waller: Ravens reclamation project who had a career year. Waller is a fine tight end and a remarkable story, but he's the most likely player in the NFL to get drafted eight rounds too early in your fantasy league before being traded in October for a kicker.
Hunter Renfrow: The third-best receiver on the 2018 Clemson Tigers and lead singer of the West Coast's most popular Julian Edelman tribute band.
Tyrell Williams: There's a picture of him in the dictionary next to the entry for "one-dimensional deep threat."
Antonio Brown: This space intentionally left blank.
Zay Jones, Keelan Doss, etc.: A bunch of guys who couldn't get targets in a passing game that featured Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow.
Derek Carr somehow completed 70.4 percent of his passes to this collection of castoffs and role players. He deserved a medal. Instead, he got a competition with Marcus Mariota.
Anyway, Jerry Jeudy is the most complete receiver in this draft, as opposed to Henry Ruggs III and CeeDee Lamb (see the Giants and Jaguars), who are the most explosive playmakers. Pencil Jeudy in as the No. 1 receiver, and suddenly Williams is just the bomb guy, Renfrow and newcomer Nelson Agholor can compete for slot roles, and Waller can become a reliable underneath target instead of a go-to guy.
That's an across-the-board upgrade that will make Carr—or Mariota—look like a much better quarterback in 2020.
13. San Francisco 49ers: Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Brown slips in this mock draft because the run on wide receivers starts earlier than it does in other mocks. But that doesn't mean that plenty of teams that drafted in the first dozen slots won't have interest in Brown. For example:
• The Raiders could fall in love with Brown because he's the type of defender who can grab a blocker and throw him at Joe Burrow.
• The Jaguars could fall in love with Brown because he's the type of defender who can grab a blocker and throw him at Joe Burrow.
• The Cardinals, Panthers, Dolphins or Lions could fall in love with Brown because he's the type of defender who can grab a blocker and throw him at Joe Burrow.
• The Giants could fall in love with Brown because he's the type of defender who can grab a blocker and throw him at Joe Burrow. Like, literally: Brown might have already blocked Dave Gettleman's number on his phone.
You get the idea.
The 49ers acquired this pick from the Colts in exchange for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Brown would be a one-for-one substitution for Buckner on the 49ers' Super Bowl-caliber defensive line while also saving the team millions of dollars in cash and cap space over the next few years. It's not a flashy upgrade, but it's a way of avoiding a downgrade, and the 49ers can seek help at other positions with the 31st pick.
Also, the 49ers might simply fall in love with Brown because he's the type of defender who can grab a blocker and throw him at Joe Burrow.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Andrew Thomas, Offensive Tackle, Georgia
Contrary to popular belief, the Buccaneers have a pretty good offensive line. Left tackle Donovan Smith, center Ryan Jensen and guard Ali Marpet are all solid, particularly in pass protection.
The line's bad reputation comes because the Bucs are the only team in the NFL incapable of finding replacement-caliber running backs, and because we assume that a quarterback's protection must have been terrible when he throws 30 interceptions in a year, not that he thinks underneath zone defenders don't really exist.
Of course, no team signs 43-year old Tom Brady and thinks: "Yep, our line is good enough. No need to protect our investment at all!" And the Bucs appear to be moving on from the aging Demar Dotson, leaving a huge hole at right tackle. Andrew Thomas is the smoothest and most fundamentally sound of this year's top tackles. He should be able to step right in and provide both Brady and Bruce Arians a little peace of mind.
15. Trade! Miami Dolphins: Javon Kinlaw, Defensive Tackle, South Carolina
Transcript of the Zoom trade talk between Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and Broncos emperor John Elway from their home offices in Miami and Denver:
Elway: Well, Chris, now that I no longer run the draft by pulling random names out of my old helmet, I'm in a bit of a pickle. We really need a wide receiver to complement Courtland Sutton, but the top three receivers are off the board. And we really need help at offensive tackle, but the top four tackles are off the board too! And Javon Kinlaw is the best player available, but we just signed Jurrell Casey, so he may not be the best selection for us right now.
Grier: So you remembered that the Dolphins have about 300 extra draft picks and called to see if I was interested in trading up.
Elway: (Pause) Actually, I was calling to ask you what I should do. But, yes, a trade sounds good, too.
Grier: OK, well, we're in the process of fleecing Matt Patricia and the Lions, so the 39th overall pick is not available. But we ended up with the 56th overall pick somehow. I'm not sure how. Last year was a real blur.
Elway: So will you trade the 18th and 56th picks for this one?
Grier: Sure. Kinlaw is perfect for our rebuilding program: disruptive in the middle, tough as nails, a perfect locker room fit. We're coming out of this first round with a franchise quarterback and a blue chip on defense. And we still have lots of extra picks!
Elway: And I get extra draft picks that I shall no longer squander. A win-win!
(A new face appears on the screen.)
Bill O'Brien: Guys? Guys? I have lots of veterans I am ticked off at. Anyone want to help me get back into this draft somehow?
Grier: Sorry, Bill, you're all glitchy.
Elway: Zoom malfunction! Rebooting! Rebooting!
(Both general managers then have their assistants close their browser windows for them so they can return to playing Minesweeper.)
16. Atlanta Falcons: K'Lavon Chaisson, Edge-Rusher, LSU
This is a common selection for the Falcons in many mock drafts. Not only does it fill a need—they recorded just 28 sacks last year—but they love drafting toolsy edge-rushers: Vic Beasley in 2015, Takkarist McKinley in 2017.
Hmm, perhaps if a team keeps selecting the same type of edge-rusher in the first round every few years, yet still keeps finishing in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks, it is not selecting the right sort of of edge-rushers. But let's not worry about that right now.
K'Lavon Chaisson has excellent tools and an impressive sizzle reel, but he will also spend long stretches of games crashing at full speed into his blocker without a pass-rush plan. He will probably be productive when the defense around him is strong, and may have a great season or two when everything goes just right, but he will also be frustrating at times, leaving the team that drafts him a little disappointed. Just like Beasley.
If the Falcons pass on Chaisson, he won't slide much further. The Cowboys also love toolsy edge-rushers. And they pick next.
17. Dallas Cowboys: A.J. Epenesa, Defensive End, Iowa
Let's count down the Cowboys' list of biggest needs:
5. Center: Travis Frederick's retirement opens a huge hole in the middle of the Cowboys line, but it's a little early for them to select a top center like Michigan's Cesar Ruiz or LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry. We said the same thing about Frederick back in 2013, but this time we mean it.
4. Wide receiver depth: Amari Cooper is back, and Michael Gallup is pretty darn good, but there is little behind them. If one of the top three receivers drops, Jerry Jones will naturally scoop him up. But those receivers won't drop this far.
3. Cornerback: Florida's CJ Henderson would be a fine pick here, but he wouldn't be a splashy choice. And Jerry likes to make a splash.
2. To stop procrastinating and sign Dak Prescott: Well, there's not much the Cowboys can do about that during the draft, is there?
1. To make Jerry Jones feel smarter than everyone else: Ding! Ding! Ding!
A.J. Epenesa is a hard-nosed defensive end who was incredibly productive at Iowa, with 22 sacks and 30.5 tackles for a loss in the last two seasons. But he produced some sluggish workout results at the combine. Jerry loves workout warriors, but he also loves giving the impression that he looked past the numbers and picked up a bargain on an old-fashioned, no-nonsense defender.
And maybe this is just that: Epenesa would look great on a defensive line that also features Tank Lawrence, Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. We can chuckle at Jerry's seat-of-the-pants thought process, but it often leads him to darn fine football players.
18. Trade! Denver Broncos: Josh Jones, Offensive Tackle, Houston
This selection is a mild reach, but the Broncos slid down a few slots to make it in our mock, and it fills an immediate need.
Elijah Wilkinson was overmatched at right tackle last season, Ja'Wuan James cannot be counted on to stay healthy and productive, and left tackle Garett Bolles is prone to quarterback-mutilating slumps. Josh Jones is unpolished compared to the tackles selected earlier, but he's one heck of an athlete: 319 pounds of superhero CGI, with the quickness and agility of a king-sized tight end. Stash Jones on the bench for a year, and then pencil him in at either tackle spot, and he'll be ready to protect Drew Lock by the time Lock is ready to start leading the Broncos on real playoff runs.
Speaking of Lock, he still needs a weapon at receiver besides Courtland Sutton, and the Broncos picked up a second-round selection from the Dolphins by trading down in this mock draft. So let's bundle Jones with Colorado all-purpose receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who can do Deebo Samuel-type stuff (screens, reverses, shallow crosses) while Sutton catches jump balls along the sideline.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: Patrick Queen, Linebacker, LSU
The Raiders linebacking corps last season:
Tahir Whitehead: Aging Detroit Lions castoff. Now part of the Temple University Alumni Reunion in Charlotte.
Will Compton: Aging Washington castoff. Currently a free agent.
Vontaze Burfict: Aging Cincinnati Bengals castoff and occasional Wolverine comic book villain. Recently reinstated after a 12-game suspension. Currently a free agent.
Nicholas Morrow: Undrafted free agent the old Jack Del Rio regime fell in love with. Would make a great special teams captain and sixth linebacker.
Yep, this is a position of need. And Patrick Queen is a safe pick: incredibly rangy, quick and aggressive, with some pop when he tackles. He'll immediately become the Raiders' best linebacker. And once he corrects some mental errors in coverage, he could develop into a Pro Bowler.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ross Blacklock, Defensive Tackle, TCU
A fun game to play when trying to mock-draft for (or otherwise make sense of) the Jaguars is "Where Did All the Assets Go?" For example, the Jaguars defensive line during their 2017 playoff season consisted of Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Abry Jones and Dante Fowler. Without searching the internet, do you know where all of those quality players went?
Answers: Campbell was traded to the Ravens in a cap-savings move in March. Fowler took the Jaguars-to-Rams express two years ago, saving a seat for fellow top-five draft pick Jalen Ramsey. Jackson left for Philly last year in a cap-savings move. Ngakoue is franchise-tagged while the Jaguars try to trade him, because the team thinks it's worth having a miserable reputation among agents and players if it means wresting a mid-round pick away from some team like the Giants. Jones is still in Jacksonville, but he's also the only guy on the list whose name you did not immediately recognize.
The current Jaguars defensive front consists of Jones, Josh Allen, Taven Bryan, Dawuane Smoot, some journeymen and a sign on Ngakoue's chair. That's not exactly a star-studded group, though Allen certainly has upside. Few teams can go from having so much to so little as quickly as the Jaguars can. And they somehow manage to do it at almost every position.
Anyway, Ross Blacklock may be a slight reach here, but he has Chandler Jones-level potential as a multipurpose defensive lineman if he can stay healthy (he missed the 2018 season with a torn Achilles). Blacklock and Allen could form the nucleus of a defensive line that someday rises to 2017 levels. And hopefully, that line won't be sold for scrap immediately after one playoff appearance.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
The Eagles receiving corps last year:
Alshon Jeffery: Rarely healthy. Frequently dissatisfied. Otherwise, a heck of a ball player.
DeSean Jackson: Played only three games because of injury and was only visible in one of them. A unanimous selection to the NFL's One of These Years He Will Put It All Together and Be Dominant Team of the 2010s.
Nelson Agholor: Became a meme and a member of the Oakland Raiders, in that order.
Greg Ward: Perennial OTA superstar. Finally got a chance to play when everyone was hurt and turned out to be pretty good.
Mack Hollins: The only wide receiver in NFL history who wasn't really into getting open and catching footballs.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: A rookie that the draftniks were gaga over. Might still make an impact someday.
Jordan Matthews: Will someone please deactivate his key fob so he stops sneaking into the facility every October?
LSU's Justin Jefferson is ahead of Denzel Mims on most draft boards. But Mims had an outstanding Senior Bowl week and combine, and he combines the best attributes of Jeffery (hands, tough-catch capability) with Jackson (the speed to get deep).
Mims will become Carson Wentz's favorite receiver. All he will need after that are second- and third-favorite wide receivers.
22. Minnesota Vikings: CJ Henderson, Cornerback, Florida
The Vikings spent this offseason trading or letting go veteran starters (Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Stefon Diggs) for cap purposes, letting some cornerbacks go (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes) to reduce the team's fire insurance premiums and restructuring Kirk Cousins' contract to free up cap space so they can have the same sort of offseason next year. In other words, the Vikings are heading in the wrong direction, and they are left with two choices: blow everything up and start over, or desperately try to bail the boat.
Grab your buckets, Vikings fans.
CJ Henderson is the perfect replacement for Rhodes. Like Rhodes, he has all the tools to be an All-Pro cornerback. And also like Rhodes, he could go from superstar to fire hazard in the course of a handful of snaps. Henderson will blanket top receivers all game and then get hypnotized by a play-action fake and forget about his receiver until it's too late. It's a habit that coaches should be able to correct, allowing Henderson to fill one of the ever-increasing holes opening up in the Vikings roster.
We'll continue this semi-depressing conversation about the Vikings in just a few selections.
23. New England Patriots: Jeremy Chinn, Safety, Southern Illinois
In the old days—like, from about 2005 through last April—the Patriots' selection in the first round of any mock draft would be a chance for a little performance art. We'd have them trade up or down, select someone you have never heard of, wax philosophically about how they never draft for need, make an Evil Empire joke* and so on.
(*Yes, we did a Bill Belichick "Evil Empire" bit at the end of the Lions' pick. Stop nitpicking.)
But times have changed. The Patriots are legitimately needy at several positions. This is no time for Belichick to listen to the music of the spheres and draft some combination linebacker-fullback-slot receiver from the Merchant Marine Academy. For the first time in a generation, the Patriots must think inside the box.
They need a safety to replace Duron Harmon, who is now (where else?) in Detroit. Alabama's Xavier McKinney and LSU's Grant Delpit are the top safeties on most boards, but Jeremy Chinn was a combine superstar and has the versatility to slide from deep safety to the slot to the edge. Think of him as a less-heralded version of Isaiah Simmons.
A multiposition sleeper from a midmajor program? The Patriots may need to get more conventional. But let's not make them too conventional.
24. New Orleans Saints: Kenneth Murray, Linebacker, Oklahoma
The Saints roster is absolutely stacked! Their offensive line might as well be the NFC Pro Bowl line! They even managed to add Super Bowl-tested veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency to upgrade both sides of the ball! It's hard to find a weakness anywhere!
Wait, is that Kiko Alonso atop the middle linebacker depth chart? Alonso is still in the NFL and not, like, Chip Kelly's assistant defensive coordinator at UCLA?
Looks like there is one position where the Saints are in serious need of reinforcements.
Kenneth Murray has incredible open-field range, diagnoses plays quickly and tackles with authority. The biggest knock on him is that he's mistake-prone in man coverage, but he has the tools to improve, and he's very instinctive in zone, where he's less likely to bite on every little head fake.
The Saints have been a few plays away from the Super Bowl for three years. Adding Murray, Sanders and Jenkins could finally be what it takes to take their fate into their own hands.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Yetur Gross-Matos, Edge-Rusher, Penn State
When we last left the Vikings with the 22nd selection, they were using the draft pick they acquired from the Bills in exchange for Stefon Diggs to select a replacement for Xavier Rhodes (Florida cornerback CJ Henderson). Now, they must use their own first-round pick to find a replacement for Everson Griffen. How the Little Dutch Boys will replace Diggs is anyone's guess.
Yetur Gross-Matos is a low-risk selection who should develop quickly into an every-down starter and a complement on the defensive line to Danielle Hunter. He would be a fine selection, but it's hard to get too excited about this team in its current predicament.
Maybe the Vikings will surprise us and do something bold to break out of their rut, like trade their two first-round picks to move up and select one of the top three receivers. But that would leave them incapable of filling their holes on defense. And the Vikings are in this mess because their idea of doing something bold is investing tens of millions of dollars in Kirk Cousins.
26. Trade! Detroit Lions: Jordan Love, Quarterback, Utah State
Matt Patricia has accomplished so much in so little time as the Lions head coach.
His roster is now so stacked with ex-Patriots—Trey Flowers, Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Danny Amendola—that it's practically a parody. The rest of the roster is a hodgepodge, but it's his hodgepodge, with very few holdovers from the Jim Caldwell regime.
The problem, Patricia must realize as he now takes stock of it all (replacing the work pencil behind his ear with his contemplation pencil), is that he's now very short of the one commodity a mediocre head coach cannot afford to be without: an excuse for when everything goes wrong again.
There's probably only one viable excuse left: Matthew Stafford, the expensive franchise quarterback coming off an injury. Stafford, with over a decade's worth of failures clinging to him, is still the face of the franchise's futility—and, to Patricia, he is inevitably the lone reason the Lions are not transforming very literally into the 2016 Patriots.
But Patricia cannot pin the Lions' failures on Stafford without providing an alternative. That's where Jordan Love comes in.
Love is bootleg-brand Patrick Mahomes: talented enough to make fans eager to see what he can do but raw enough to not be perceived as an immediate threat to Stafford. And his long development curve could buy Patricia two or three seasons, if he plays it right. Perhaps by then, his veterans will have transformed the team culture through their pure Patriots-ness. Assuming a few of them have not retired by then.
If the Lions don't select Love, some team will by this point in the draft. And if Patricia does pursue a quarterback of the future, it probably won't be for nefarious reasons. These mock draft segments are meant to be in good fun. NFL head coaches don't really consciously think in terms of making excuses for their failures instead of trying to build toward success.
But if they did, some of their decisions would make much more sense.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Trevon Diggs, Cornerback, Alabama
It's hard to pick for the Seahawks because their roster appears to be exactly the way they want it. That doesn't mean it's Super Bowl-caliber, but that the Seahawks bake weaknesses directly into their team-building plan. Their offensive line is cobbled together from failed prospects and retreads, but the team likes providing Russell Wilson with extra challenges. The receiving corps is a little thin, but that just gives them an excuse to hand off on 2nd-and-10. The back end of the defense is populated by no-names, but the Legion of Boom started out as a bunch of no-names (except for Earl Thomas), and the Seahawks appear content to just hope to recapture that lightning in a bottle.
So let's just fill a need and move on. Cornerback Tre Flowers had a rough 2019 campaign. Diggs, the younger brother of Stefon Diggs, is your typical NFL-ready Alabama cornerback with good eyes and great feet. He's also 6'1", the perfect height for a Seahawks cornerback.
Later in the draft, look for the Seahawks to select at least three safeties, a hard-nosed running back with fumbling issues (let's just pencil in Eno Benjamin), two offensive linemen who were converted tight ends or small forwards and either a kicker or a long snapper. Because that's how they like to do it.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Grant Delpit, Safety, LSU
Fun fact: The Ravens have never drafted a player from LSU.
Former general manager Ozzie Newsome was an Alabama alum, of course, and he had an overblown reputation for rolling with the Tide in the draft: The Ravens only drafted 11 Alabama players in his 23 years as the team's top exec. But Ozzie drew the line at Bayou Bengals. He also selected just one Auburn player: guard Ben Grubbs, a future two-time Pro Bowler who must have been too good to pass up.
Former Newsome lieutenant Eric DeCosta now runs the Ravens, which means any unofficial LSU moratoriums are lifted. Safety isn't a position of need, but the Ravens rarely draft for need. Delpit is the best player available: fast, experienced, instinctive and physical. The knock on him is that he's a dive-and-miss tackler. But Delpit played through an ankle injury last year, which may have hindered his ability to plant and drive when tackling.
And if Delpit really does have any technical tackling flaws, there's a fellow named Earl Thomas in Baltimore who can help him straighten them out.
29. Tennessee Titans: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
Heaven help the team that sneaks into the playoffs at 9-7, gets hot and ends up picking 29th in the draft.
The Titans were deeply flawed at the start of the offseason, and their effort to keep their playoff nucleus together by franchise-tagging Derrick Henry and signing Ryan Tannehill to a long-term deal came at the expense of stalwart defender Jurrell Casey (now in Denver) and right tackle Jack Conklin (Cleveland). The Titans now have holes on the offensive and defensive lines, question marks throughout the defensive back seven and depth issues everywhere. But they're picking too late in the draft to net a replacement for Conklin, grab a sure thing in the secondary or do something daring like turbocharge the passing game with an elite receiver.
Zack Baun is the best player on the board if the Titans seek an immediate upgrade. He's a versatile linebacker and pass-rusher who could play the edge or move inside, allowing Mike Vrabel (who was once a pretty versatile linebacker himself) an opportunity to deploy multiple fronts. Harold Landry III, newcomer Vic Beasley and Baun would give the Titans an all-angles pass rush that can cover up for other deficiencies on defense. That could go a long way toward keeping the Titans in the playoff picture.
30. Green Bay Packers: Justin Jefferson, Wide Receiver, LSU
You know this selection is a sham, Packers fans. The Packers aren't really drafting Justin Jefferson, Denzel Mims or any other first-round wide receiver. They don't spend early-round picks on receivers because they cannot bear the thought of Aaron Rodgers sneering after the top pick runs a slightly incorrect route in practice, unfriending that receiver forever on Facebook and ignoring him when he's wide-open on a shallow cross in a real game so he can dance around the pocket gesturing for Allen Lazard to go even deeper. We just mock receivers to the Packers every year because it's fun to talk about and we think it's what fans want.
Justin Jefferson would be a fine addition to the Packers receiving corps, though: big target, great hands, fine routes, runs like an angry tight end with the ball in his hands. Selecting him would make perfect sense. But enjoy your developmental tackle or safety-cornerback tweener, Packers fans. Your team will be sure to address its receiving corps in the fourth round. That way, it won't sting as much when Rodgers rejects their choice.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Isaiah Wilson, Tackle, Georgia
The 49ers went through a lot of bodies at tackle because of injuries during their Super Bowl season: Starters Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey and backups Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule all started multiple games. The reserves handled themselves well, but Staley will be 36 years old this season, and the 49ers need reinforcements.
Isaiah Wilson played right tackle for the Bulldogs, and he looks like a right tackle. He's a mauler who is at his best when firing straight off the ball at the nearest defender. But Wilson is also polished and quick-footed in pass protection. It might be a stretch to put him on the left side, but he could anchor right tackle for years if McGlinchey eventually moves over to replace Staley. In the meantime, he'll make sure the 49ers running game doesn't suffer during an offensive line injury rash.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
The defending champions could use a running back to rotate with Damien Williams and give opposing defenses yet another unsolvable problem. And since so few teams draft running backs in the first round, they should have their pick of an impressive class. Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins were collegiate 2,000-yard rushers who can grind out yardage between the tackles and break some big runs when opponents are chasing Tyreek Hill around. Georgia's D'Andre Swift is a home-run threat every time he breaks through the line of scrimmage.
But why would the Chiefs want a workhorse when they are likely to throw 50 passes per game and split their carries among two or three backs? What they want is an all-purpose back, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the best one in this class. He can play both running back and the slot, and he's electrifying after the catch. Put him on the same field with Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins, and the opposing defense might as well surrender.
Edwards-Helaire can do many of the things in Andy Reid's offense that Brian Westbrook used to do for Reid's Eagles. Giving Big Red and Patrick Mahomes another weapon like Westbrook would almost be unfair.
[kssshhhhhhhht] Signal intercepted [fwzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz] Interrupting feed [bzzzzzzzt]
Texans head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien: I did it! I hacked the mainframe!
Rams head coach Sean McVay: Actually, that's '90s cyberpunk gibberish. I did all the technical work. You were just twisting the knobs on a toaster oven.
O'Brien: Hush, Haircut. Greetings, Bleacher Report readers! Me and my buddies who don't have any first-round picks are crashing the mock draft to make our voices heard.
McVay: I'm pretty sure they did a similar bit in Gridiron Heights two weeks ago, only much better.
O'Brien: Shaddup! Colts, you guys are on the clock!
Colts owner Jim Irsay: (Plucking a poorly tuned guitar that probably once belonged to someone like George Harrison) Well here I am, on the clock again. And there I am, up on the stage, and here I go, drafting Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. And there it is: Colts fans are enraged!
O'Brien: Wow, that was...just terrible. Now it's my turn. With the 40th overall pick, which I shrewdly acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for a receiver who averaged a mere 11.2 yards per reception in 2019, my Texans select Alex Highsmith, edge-rusher, Charlotte. You're up, Bears.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace: Huh?
O'Brien: You're up big guy. Remember? You got the 43rd pick in this year's draft back as part of the loose change of the Khalil Mack trade.
Pace: That doesn't sound like something I would do. But, whatever. Adam Trautman, tight end, Dayton.
O'Brien: You just can't get enough of small-school tight ends named Adam, can you? And now over to the boy genius.
McVay: The Rams select Boise State left tackle Ezra Cleveland with the 52nd pick in the draft so we have someone ready to replace Andrew Whitworth before his 52nd birthday.
O'Brien: Great stuff. Welp, I traded next year's first round pick, too, so I'll see everyone after next year's mock draft!
McVay: Me too!
Pace: What's going on?