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 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 third capsule projection of Round 1, which will occur virtually on April 23 (sorry, Las Vegas party planners).
One last note: At this point, we’re only forecasting one definitive trade for Round 1: Miami moves two spots higher to No. 3 … and surrenders three top-40 picks to Detroit (5th, 26th, 39th).
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 and athleticism to be a prototypical quarterback at the highest level. He’s also coming off perhaps the greatest offensive season in collegiate history (5,671 yards passing, 65 total TDs, national champion).
Now for the fun part: There are whispers of the Dolphins, who possess four of the first 39 picks (5th, 18th, 26th, 39th) and two first-rounders in 2021, favoring Burrow for their own long-term plan; and as such, Miami might be willing to surrender four first-rounders (all three this year and one next year) … for the right to move up to No. 1 overall.
If it’s a legitimate rumor, then the Bengals should sprint to the virtual podium to accept the trade. They could land a top-3 quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert) and get significantly better on the back end of Round 1.
For the time being, however, we’re sticking with Burrow at the top spot.
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 JUSTIN HERBERT, OREGON (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?
Within that rationale, expect Detroit general manager Bob Quinn to auction this pick to the highest bidder, eventually 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 Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa serving as the club’s primary wish, in the event of a blockbuster swap with the Lions.
For now, we’re drinking the Kool-Aid on Herbert being the favored choice, given his NFL size, pocket durability, surprising scrambling abilities and prodigious throwing arm.
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 glowing need at cornerback, thanks to their aggressive ‘press’ schemes on defense and the 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 TUA TAGOVAILOA, ALABAMA
SKINNY: Our mock draft currently includes just one cemented trade — the Lions and Dolphins swapping the third and fifth choices (among other considerations).
However, don’t be surprised 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 Tagovailoa’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 Tagovailoa at No. 6.
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.
However, there’s an undeniable fit with Tagovailoa playing in Los Angeles. He’s the ideal long-term project for that region and a media-friendly frontman for the franchise’s new era in ultra-modern SoFi Stadium.
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 MEKHI BECTON, LOUISVILLE
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 left tackle. Enter Becton, who possesses incredible size, power and agility in tight spaces, running opposite to free-agent acquisition Jack Conklin (played right tackle with the Titans last year).
For what it’s worth, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. affectionately likens Becton to a ‘dancing bear’ when grappling with opposing linemen.
JETS — DL JAVON KINLAW, SOUTH CAROLINA
SKINNY: The Jets require a tangible upgrade at wideout — no argument there.
However, given the glut of blue-chip receiving prospects still available in the draft, New York could opt for the palatable Plan B of first reshaping the defensive line (ranked 28th in sacks last season) … and then landing a quality receiver in the second round (48th overall pick).
So, let’s roll with Kinlaw for the second and third mocks. Bottom line: You can never have enough high-end prospects in the trenches.
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).
49ERS — WR JUSTIN JEFFERSON, LSU
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, CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims and Jefferson, the lightning-fast asset who posted staggering numbers with LSU last year (111 catches/1,540 yards, 18 TDs).
BUCCANEERS — OT JEDRICK WILLIS JR., ALABAMA
SKINNY: Willis (could potentially handle either tackle slot in Year 1) enters a high-profile situation with the Buccaneers, the new darlings for TV networks — thanks to the arrival of quarterback Tom Brady.
Tampa Bay ranked third in scoring last year, so another top-5 finish certainly has merit.
At the very least, the Bucs will surrender fewer interceptions — and by proxy, fewer points — with Brady, and not Jameis Winston, running the offense.
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 two 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).
FALCONS — LB PATRICK QUEEN, LSU
SKINNY: Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift would have been a major consideration here, prior to NFL free agency; but the short-term acquisition of Todd Gurley buys the Falcons time with the running game.
Enter the newfound interest in Queen (NFL comp: former All-Pro Lavonte David), who launches a run of ball-hawking LSU defenders for Rounds 1 and 2.
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 — CB C.J. HENDERSON, FLORIDA
SKINNY: We initially flirted with the Raiders drafting Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb in the first round — in hopes of thrilling the novice Las Vegas fan base to unprecedented levels.
However, common sense eventually prevailed here.
Bottom line: You can never have enough highly regarded cornerbacks in a division which features Patrick Mahomes. This exercise aside, Henderson might possess the talents of a top-12 pick.
JAGUARS — WR CEEDEE LAMB, OKLAHOMA
SKINNY: It’s worth noting: I have Lamb being slotted lower than a number of national draft pundits … which speaks to the great depth of the 2020 wideout class.
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 complement (or possibly surpass) DJ Chark in the Jaguars’ passing offense.
And frankly, it’s about time Jacksonville (just one top-10 scoring finish since 2009) had an offense which scared the you-know-what out of opposing defenses.
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 bolstering 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 begin to 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 Clemson wideout Tee Higgins, who evokes physical comparisons to Bengals star A.J. Green.
NOTE: Don’t be surprised if the Eagles leapfrog the Jaguars (20th pick), via trade, in hopes of corralling Oklahoma’s Lamb.
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 asset left on the board.
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 — LB KENNETH MURRAY, OKLAHOMA
SKINNY: Consider Murray to be an Isaiah Simmons Lite for the Patriots, whose speed, athleticism and high football I.Q. would presumably mesh well with New England’s complex defensive schemes.
SAINTS — S XAVIER MCKINNEY, ALABAMA
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 fortifying a secondary that will encounter Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady (twice), Matt Ryan (twice), Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo this season.
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 scenario.
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 — S ANTOINE WINFIELD JR., MINNESOTA
SKINNY: The Seahawks have invested just one Round-3-or-higher pick on O-line since 2015 (guard Germain Ifedi).
In the first two mock drafts, the above statement motivated us to favor USC O-tackle Austin Jackson, who has the requisite size and athleticism to warrant a first-round projection.
On the flip side, Winfield has the ball-hawking skills of his dad (former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield), and his playmaking acumen would be a necessity with a loaded NFC West that now features DeAndre Hopkins, George Kittle, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Deebo Samuel and Christian Kirk as pass-catching dynamos.
RAVENS — DE YETUR GROSS-MATOS, PENN STATE
SKINNY: The Ravens’ front office has a solid 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.
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 possibly 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.