One month ago, BATSBY Sports wasn’t planning to post semi-regular projections for the NFL draft’s opening round, given the editorial attention required for the NCAA tournament, The Masters and the launch of Major League Baseball’s 2020 campaign.
But here we are, operating in a Coronavirus world … with no mainstream sports taking place in America (sorry, homespun H-O-R-S-E competitions on TV don’t count, either.)
As such, we’re suddenly left with plenty of idle time to predict the actions of the 26 NFL teams which currently posses a Round 1 selection.
The franchises without a Day 1 pick: Texans, Colts, Bills, Rams, Steelers and Bears.
BATSBY Sports offers its fourth and final capsule projection of Round 1, which will occur virtually on April 23.
One last note: We’re forecasting two definitive trades for Round 1:
a) The Dolphins move up two spots higher to No. 3 … while surrendering three top-40 picks to the Lions (5th, 26th, 39th).
It’s worth noting: Earlier in the day, I reported the above Tweet, citing one of my well-plugged-in sources. However, at this time, he won’t reveal which team has curried Detroit’s ultimate favor.
So for now, we’ll just presume it’s the Dolphins … but without any hard evidence. (Stay tuned for updates on Twitter.)
b) The Falcons jump five spots in Round 1 (16 to 11); and in return, the Jets collect Atlanta’s second-round pick (47th overall).
NFL MOCK DRAFT — VERSION 3.0
BENGALS — QB JOE BURROW, LSU
SKINNY: The penny-wise Bengals traditionally have one of the NFL’s smallest scouting staffs, but this won’t be a problem for the No. 1 slot, since Burrow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, hails from Athens, Ohio.
At 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, Burrow has the ideal size, arm strength and athleticism to be a prototypical quarterback at the highest level. He’s also coming off the greatest offensive season in collegiate history (5,671 yards passing, 65 total TDs, national champion).
REDSKINS — DE CHASE YOUNG, OHIO STATE
SKINNY: There’s been a lot of (unsubstantiated) chatter of the Redskins being reluctant about Dwayne Haskins’ long-term viability at quarterback, creating an opening for Tagovailoa at No. 2.
Still, it’s hard to imagine new head coach Ron Rivera and Washington’s revamped front office bypassing Young (16.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss last year) — universally viewed as the draft’s most polished prospect.
DOLPHINS — QB TUA TAGOVAILOA, ALABAMA (VIA TRADE)
SKINNY: It makes zero sense to execute a mock draft here, without acknowledging the very-large elephant in the room:
With the Dolphins, Chargers, Jaguars and possibly Panthers (I’m not sold on Teddy Bridgewater for the long haul) needing a franchise-bearer at quarterback, what would be the Lions’ motivation for keeping the No. 3 choice?
Short answer: There … is … none.
Within that rationale, expect Detroit general manager Bob Quinn to auction this pick to the highest bidder, perhaps embracing Miami’s offer of two first-rounders (5th, 26th, but likely not the 18th selection) and its Round 2 choice at 39.
Factoring in the above trade, the Lions would then possess six picks in the first 85 selections (5th, 26th, 35th, 39th, 67th, 85th).
As for the Dolphins, we’ve been waffling between Justin Herbert and Tagovailoa serving as the club’s primary wish, in the event of a blockbuster swap with the Lions.
Which brings us to this …
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of left-handed quarterbacks, given the tricky ball spin that comes with nearly every pass exceeding 15 yards; and Tua’s injury history certainly doesn’t mesh well with every NFL front office being stuck at home for the time being.
However, there’s an undeniable fit with Tagovailoa playing in Miami. He’s the ideal long-term project for a franchise that’s still trying to move on from Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
GIANTS — LB ISAIAH SIMMONS, CLEMSON
SKINNY: Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Willis Jr. got the call here in the first mock draft; but we’ve encountered a sizable change of heart, due to recent rumblings of Giants GM Dave Gettleman seeking another playmaker for the club’s revamped defense (along with Leonard Williams, Lorenzo Carter, Deandre Baker, Jabrill Peppers).
Enter Simmons, who has the size, speed, grace, intelligence and leadership acumen to handle just about any slot or position in New York’s ball-hawking scheme.
LIONS — CB JEFF OKUDAH, OHIO STATE (VIA TRADE)
SKINNY: The Lions have a glaring need at cornerback, thanks to their aggressive ‘press’ schemes on defense and recent jettisoning of Pro Bowler Darius Slay (to Philadelphia).
All draft roads subsequently lead to Okudah, an athletic force who evokes cover-corner comparisons to Jalen Ramsey.
CHARGERS — QB JUSTIN HERBERT, OREGON
SKINNY: This mock draft includes just one cemented trade with the Lions — the 3-5 swap with the Dolphins (among other considerations).
However, don’t be shocked if Detroit leverages the crucial fifth selection into a second drop-back trade, believing the Chargers, Jaguars and Raiders could be drawn into a three-way battle for Herbert’s services.
Of course, being a former Lions employee and Michigan native (smack-dab between Detroit and the Ohio state line), we wouldn’t want to be accused of being homers for the team’s power duo of GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, in their quest to acquire a boatload of premium draft choices.
As such, we’ll merely embrace the conservative approach with the 5th and 6th slots, with the Lions grabbing Okudah and the Chargers lucking out with Herbert.
And we’ll happily drink the Kool-Aid on Herbert being the Chargers’ favored choice, given his NFL size, pocket durability, surprising scrambling abilities and prodigious throwing arm.
PANTHERS — OT ANDREW THOMAS, GEORGIA
SKINNY: This time last year, Thomas was being hailed as a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick, or at the very least, the first non-quarterback in the draft.
Of course, that hype preceded Chase Young’s absurd breakout at Ohio State, or Jeff Okudah and Isaiah Simmons becoming household names in college football circles.
Let’s stick with the (subjective) facts, though. The supremely athletic Thomas has the makings of a plug-and-play starting asset for the Panthers on Day 1, as new coach Matt Rhule builds his offensive vision from the ground up.
CARDINALS — OT TRISTAN WIRFS, IOWA
SKINNY: My Big Ten bias comes shining through with this selection. Wirfs has elite-level size and athleticism, and his character quotients are apparently off the charts.
And yet, there doesn’t seem to be much momentum for the Iowa standout landing in the top seven. Perhaps some scouts envision Wirfs as a long-term candidate at left guard.
Thankfully, the drop-off won’t be too severe, with the Cardinals smartly swooping in to grab a cornerstone O-lineman.
JAGUARS — DL DERRICK BROWN, AUBURN
SKINNY: The Jaguars could potentially have three quality chances at quarterback in the first two rounds.
Along those lines, it makes sense to momentarily look past the offense … and focus on a high-upside prospect in the trenches.
Brown (8.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss since 2018) could evolve into a perennial star in the pros, similar to Aaron Donald.
As an aside, I’ve heard the Lions have massive interest in landing Brown on Draft Night, presuming the club trades out of the the 3-slot.
In other words, the Jaguars could make for perfect secondary trade partners. Jacksonville (three of the first 42 picks) easily has sufficient ammo to move up four to six slots, if necessary.
BROWNS — OT JEDRICK WILLIS JR., ALABAMA
SKINNY: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Browns have been building a championship-level roster, and it’s only a matter of time before the franchise finally capitalizes on this absurd wealth of premium talent.
The only noticeable hole with Cleveland’s starting depth chart could be at tackle. Enter Willis, who possesses tangible size, power and agility in tight spaces, running opposite to free-agent acquisition Jack Conklin (played right tackle with the Titans last year).
Of course, if the Browns end up trading a second- or third-round selection for Redskins O-tackle Trent Williams, the Cleveland brass might feel compelled to trade down a few slots.
FALCONS — DL JAVON KINLAW, SOUTH CAROLINA (VIA TRADE)
SKINNY: The Falcons weren’t exactly super-secretive about wanting to trade up a few slots, as a means of landing a premium cornerback (Okudah, C.J. Henderson) or top-shelf defensive lineman.
As such, Kinlaw makes good sense for an Atlanta franchise that’s loaded with former first-rounders on offense (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jake Matthews, Todd Gurley, Calvin Ridley, etc.) … but could use a significant revamp on the defensive side.
RAIDERS — WR JERRY JEUDY, ALABAMA
SKINNY: Let’s begin with a major prediction, free of any caveats:
Jeudy (averaged 73 catches/1,239 yards/12 TDs in his final two seasons at Alabama) will become the most successful wide receiver of the 2020 class. Take it to the bank.
Why is that?
Very few NFL cornerbacks can match Jeudy’s combination of blinding speed and athletic explosion; and even fewer DBs can handle Jeudy’s route-running acumen.
(For what it’s worth, ESPN draft guru Todd McShay says Jeudy’s the best route runner he’s ever scouted.)
This pick represents a major coup for the Raiders offense, which now features potential superstars at receiver (Jeudy), tight end (Darren Waller) and running back (Josh Jacobs).
ONE FINAL NOTE: We’re not buying the Draft Eve chatter of Jeudy concealing a ‘lingering knee issue’ from teams. From our experience, this out-of-nowhere rumor will likely represent the sly work of a club that’s clamoring for Jeudy to fall into the late teens … or a rival agent trying to boost his/her client with some last-minute scuttlebutt.
49ERS — WR CEEDEE LAMB, OKLAHOMA
SKINNY: It’s time for the Niners to swallow their pride and place a greater emphasis on the receiver slots.
The only difficulty here: Choosing among the athletic likes of Henry Ruggs III, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims and Lamb, who draws scary-good comparisons to Saints wideout Michael Thomas.
Lamb has the measurables to be the first or second wideout off the board; and his capacity for expertly handling 50/50 balls could make him a Year 1 gem in red-zone situations (fantasy hunch).
Regardless of the ultimate landing spot, Lamb (back-to-back campaigns of 60-plus catches, 1,100-plus yards, double-digit TDs at Oklahoma) has the tools and star power to quickly usurp the WR1 role along the Niners’ depth chart.
BUCCANEERS — CB C.J. HENDERSON, FLORIDA
SKINNY: In the first three mock drafts, we had the Buccaneers grabbing an offensive tackle, in hopes of bolstering Tom Brady’s comfort level in the passing pocket. However, we’re a little concerned about Louisville O-tackle Mekhi Becton’s diluted test (‘flagged’ sample) from two months ago.
Will it be a round-killing slip-up with Becton? No … but it’ll certainly take a bite out of his rookie-scale contract.
As a Plan B, the Bucs channel their 1990s model of rebuilding the defense with game-changing prospects from Florida schools (Hall of Famers Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks) and roll with Henderson on the virtual draft card.
BRONCOS — WR HENRY RUGGS III, ALABAMA
SKINNY: Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery; and the Broncos favor the Chiefs’ pressure-tested model of hoarding high-end playmakers at every offensive slot.
Tailback extraordinaire Melvin Gordon officially signed with Denver three weeks ago, enabling the club to focus on landing a speedy, uber-athletic complement for receiver Courtland Sutton (72 catches/1,112 yards/6 TDs last season).
JETS — WR JUSTIN JEFFERSON, LSU (VIA TRADE)
SKINNY: The Jets’ calculated risk of falling back five slots pays off with the addition of the blazing-fast Jefferson, the Combine conqueror who posted staggering numbers with LSU last year (111 catches/1,540 yards, 18 TDs).
COWBOYS — CB KRISTIAN FULTON, LSU
SKINNY: Dan Matthews, my Atlanta-based, Texas-raised media colleague, would prefer the Cowboys to take another LSU secondary member — safety Grant Delpit.
But for me, cornerback is the more pressing need with Dallas, which lost Byron Jones to free agency and corralled only seven interceptions last season (tied for last in the NFL).
DOLPHINS — DT ROSS BLACKLOCK, TCU
SKINNY: Here’s a potential landing spot for running backs D’Andre Swift (Georgia), Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) or J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State).
However, with the Dolphins losing their third first-rounder in the Tua Tagovailoa/Lions trade, the club must reflexively infuse a defense which posted bottom-10 rankings with pass defense (24th) and rush defense (27th) last year.
RAIDERS — LB PATRICK QUEEN, LSU
SKINNY: The Raiders opted for the prodigious receiving talents of Jeudy with their initial first-rounder.
Now, it’s time to focus on fortifying a defense that ranked 28th in passing touchdowns allowed and 25th in passing yards surrendered last season.
Enter the newfound interest in Queen (NFL comp: former All-Pro Lavonte David), who extends the LSU run of ball-hawking defenders for Rounds 1 and 2.
JAGUARS — LB KENNETH MURRAY, OKLAHOMA
SKINNY: The Jaguars could have benefited from the recent run of uber-athletic receivers at the 20-spot. Instead, the club stealthily shifts its focus by riding the potential of Murray, who might have been an ideal choice for the Patriots (23rd slot).
Consider Murray to be an Isaiah Simmons Lite for the Jaguars, whose speed, athleticism and high football I.Q. would presumably mesh well with Jacksonville’s replenished pool of talented, versatile defenders (great complement to Josh Allen).
EAGLES — WR TEE HIGGINS, CLEMSON
SKINNY: In an idyllic world, the Eagles would snag wideout Brandon Aiyuk (65 catches/1,192 yards/8 TDs last year) and subsequently bathe in the afterglow of boosting a receiving corps that needs high-upside talent.
However, the Arizona State star’s recent decision to undergo core-muscle surgery puts Aiyuk’s Round 1 candidacy in jeopardy.
Of course, with no mini-camps taking place during the spring months (due to Coronavirus-related concerns), it’s entirely plausible that Aiyuk would be close to 100-percent healthy by early August, when training camps ramp up.
It’s a tough decision here, weighing Aiyuk’s short-term inaccessibility with his long-term potential in the Philly offense; and yet, we just can’t pull the trigger.
Instead, we’ll go with Higgins, who evokes physical comparisons to Bengals star A.J. Green.
VIKINGS — LB K’LAVON CHAISSON, LSU
SKINNY: I consult 10 mock drafts on a regular basis; and of these evolving documents, Chaisson consistently serves as the highest-ranked defensive asset on the board at 22.
This selection also represents a good culture fit for the Vikings, who are transitioning to a younger, more athletic cast of defensive playmakers. Rock-solid pick!
PATRIOTS — S XAVIER MCKINNEY, ALABAMA
SKINNY: Let’s start with this analogy:
You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning TWICE in the next eight hours … than the Patriots trading into the top 5 on Thursday night.
And yet, this hasn’t stopped many national pundits from predicting such lunacy, while conveniently ignoring how New England currently doesn’t have a second-round pick.
Would Bill Belichick like to find a high-profile successor to Tom Brady, sooner than later? Sure. But it’s also not his style to exhibit such desperation on Draft Night, considering how Jordan Love and Jacob Eason will likely be available at this slot.
On the plus side, the Patriots have the most picks of any club in this draft (12); so using that cachet to corral a second-round pick seems more plausible than Tua Tagovailoa ending up in Patriots garb.
For Round 1, though, let’s go with McKinney, the best defensive back on the board.
SAINTS — LB ZACK BAUN, WISCONSIN
SKINNY: Would the Saints really take the Nestea plunge on quarterbacks Jordan Love or Jacob Eason at this slot, knowing Drew Brees might retire after the 2020 season?
It certainly makes sense, when factoring in the franchise’s long-term growth potential.
However, the Saints are built to reach the Super Bowl now … and you can never go wrong with strengthening a defense that will encounter Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady (twice), Matt Ryan (twice), Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo this fall.
VIKINGS — CB JAYLON JOHNSON, UTAH
SKINNY: The Vikings defense has gotten tangibly more athletic in the last five picks — thanks to Chaisson and Johnson.
Johnson’s high-end coverage ability and physical prowess would have been well-suited for SEC and Big Ten competition; and as such, he might have been a top-15 pick under that hypothetical.
Instead, Johnson’s Pac-12 origins might contribute to him falling into the Vikings’ lap at 25. Still, a pretty good landing spot.
LIONS — DE A.J. EPENESA, IOWA
SKINNY: The Lions have many holes to fix on the defensive side. So when in doubt, let’s ride the talents of Epenesa, whose track record for rushing the quarterback (21.5 sacks since 2018), protecting the edge and stopping the run (30.5 tackles for loss since 2018) has had few peers in the last two collegiate seasons.
A potential Pro Bowler in the making … excellent value pick.
SEAHAWKS — OT MEKHI BECTON, LOUISVILLE
SKINNY: Our previous mocks consistently had Becton in the Tier I range of 10-14; but that speculation preceded the news of Becton’s flagged-sample test from the NFL combine.
The new landing spot comes at 27 … with a Seahawks club that has invested just one Round-3-or-higher pick on the offensive line since 2015 (guard Germain Ifedi).
Lifestyle concerns aside, Becton possesses incredible size, power and agility. Plus, he’s even tougher on helpless defenders at the proverbial second level.
In fact, on the podcasting side, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. affectionately likens Becton to a ‘dancing bear’ when grappling with opposing linemen.
Put it all together, and Becton takes the lessons from a very-public Day 1 drop, and converts that frustration into a solid NFL career in the trenches.
RAVENS — DE YETUR GROSS-MATOS, PENN STATE
SKINNY: The Ravens’ front office has a lengthy track record with defensive line prospects, and Gross-Matos (two-year totals: 17 sacks, 34.5 tackles for loss) would be considered a veritable steal at No. 28.
We’ve stuck to this player/team for all four mocks.
TITANS — TE COLE KMET, NOTRE DAME
SKINNY: The Titans couldn’t have asked for a better time to own the 29th pick. Kmet might not have the hype of Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson (last year’s No. 8 overall pick — Lions), but he certainly has prodigious size (6-5, 250 pounds), solid pass-catching skills and impressive physical upside.
What’s more, Kmet (43 catches/515 yards/6 TDs in 10 games last season) could be a plug-and-play starting asset for the Titans on Day 1.
PACKERS — S GRANT DELPIT, LSU
SKINNY: A number of Cheesehead-friendly blogs are advocating for the Packers to select a wide receiver, thus complementing the amazing skill set of Davante Adams (four-year average: 86 catches/1,066 yards/10 TDs).
However, given the glut of gifted wideouts for Rounds 2 and 3, we’ll lean heavily on the Jamal Adams-esque talents of Delpit … assuming NFL teams are giving more credence to Delpit’s tremendous 2018 campaign (five sacks, five interceptions, 9.5 tackles for loss), compared to the inconsistent 2019 tape.
49ERS — S JEREMY CHINN, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
SKINNY: The Niners are seemingly in a good spot to trade out of Round 1, creating a path for the Jaguars, Panthers or whomever to corral QBs Jordan Love or Jacob Eason.
Why is this relevant?
Under the recently extended Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can theoretically keep a first-round quarterback at a manageable salary for five years … and then slap the same passer with the franchise tag in Year 6, if necessary.
But for now, we’ll hold tight on any trades at 31, since Love and/or Eason could slip another 7-10 slots.
CHIEFS — RB D’ANDRE SWIFT, GEORGIA
SKINNY: It helps that both players were standouts at the University of Georgia, but I’ve always viewed Swift (two-year averages: 1,390 total yards, 10.5 TDs) as a doppelganger to Nick Chubb, a real-world and fantasy dynamo for the Browns.
Swift has good size, sublime field vision and an explosive kick at the second level.
In other words, he’s a perfect backfield asset for the high-octane Chiefs.