Final Mock Draft

Introduction

I waited all the way until a week or 2 before the draft to post my first and only official mock draft of 2019. These selections are made with the premise of me being the general manager for each of these teams and no trades will be present. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

1. Cincinnati Bengals- Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

The only smart pick. Burrow is the best quarterback in this class by a mile and a franchise-changing talent as well. I doubt Cincinnati is trading this pick away, as they would be very stupid to do so. The Bengals and their fans cannot stand another year of Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback, so Burrow just makes too much sense here. Consensus #1 overall pick, no doubt about it. Pen it in for Thursday night. Burrow’s going #1.

2. Washington Redskins- Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

Chase Young is the best player in this entire class. He’s probably the best pick for any team that doesn’t have a need at quarterback. There is no excuse for the Redskins to pass up on a talent of this caliber, as it completes the rebuild on their defensive line. Young’s the most dominant pass rusher to have entered the draft in a very long time, and the Redskins don’t have to resign Ryan Kerrigan with this pick. Take the Canton-bound edge rusher. Don’t even think about it.

3. Detroit Lions- Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

The first “shocker” of this mock draft is with the 3rd pick overall. Many are under the assumption that because Detroit traded away Darius Slay, Jeff Okudah has to be taken 3rd overall. However, that’s not at all the case. Detroit’s depth, or lack thereof, at defensive tackle is more alarming than their depth at cornerback. The Lions signed Desmond Trufant this offseason, who was once an elite corner but saw a sharp decline in play due to poor coaching and injury.

Furthermore, having Amani Oruwariye and Justin Coleman starting alongside Trufant lessens the burden of that secondary to perform, which they can with better coaching. Detroit doesn’t have a quality defensive tackle at all with the departures of A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison SR, so drafting Brown fills a major need that they should’ve prepared for by drafting Ed Oliver last season. The physically-imposing Brown can wreck the pocket on passing downs and is an incredibly powerful interior lineman who can disrupt the zone run that many of the NFC North offenses use so effectively.

4. New York Giants- Jedrick Wills Jr, OT, Alabama

Big Blue has to protect Daniel Jones. The rookie quarterback showed promise in his rookie season, but bad tackle play caused most of his 11 lost fumbles as well as hurried throws from the pocket, leading to interceptions. Many Giants fans want Isaiah Simmons with this pick, and it’s easy to see why. However, keeping Daniel Jones alive is the only way to build their team. Wills is a fantastic pass protector who can take over on either side of the line of scrimmage. Nate Solder was absolutely terrible in 2019, so the Giants need to replace him at all costs so Jones does not take too many hits.

Playing Wills on the left side of the Giants’ offensive line would make more sense for the benefit of the run game too. Will Hernandez is a very underrated left guard, so playing Wills outside of him creates a formidable wall on the left side of the offensive line for Saquon Barkley to run through. Because Jones is right-handed, protecting his blindside, or in other words, the pressure he doesn’t see coming, is a vital part of allowing him to develop as a passer. This pick would make Saquon very happy as well.

5. Miami Dolphins- Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Justin Herbert is underrated. 90% of the draft community has Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa pegged here, but that pick is far from a guarantee with Tua’s injury issues. Herbert doesn’t have durability concerns, but that’s not why Miami takes him. He has incredible arm talent and is accurate throwing at all levels. The Dolphins can start him from Day 1 knowing he’ll take their team to great heights. Herbert goes through his progressions, he identifies pressure, and he can make off-platform throws from awkward arm angles.

One way or another, Miami should take him just because he has more potential as a passer, and trial by fire wouldn’t be the worst idea for a player of his caliber. Surround him with talent, allow him to be comfortable within the offense, and most importantly, don’t hold him back like Oregon did. Surround Herbert with talent so he can help the team. In other words, help Herbert help the team.

6. Los Angeles Chargers- Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson

Good god, imagine if this happened on draft night. Simmons plays on the same defense as Derwin James Jr, arguably the best safety in the league, and the former Clemson star’s consensus pro comparison. Gus Bradley would go wild if Simmons was on the board as well because he fills the linebacker need they’ve had for ages. Simmons is an elite athlete and a very instinctual player who can cover any “mismatch” the opposing team has, whether that be Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or Noah Fant.

Tyrod Taylor is a good enough bridge quarterback, and the team can always draft Jordan Love or Jacob Eason in the 2nd round to fill that role. Simmons is the best player available, and because he’s here, the Chargers just cannot afford to pass up the chance to create the league’s best defense, all in one offseason.

7. Carolina Panthers- Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State

Best. Player. Available. The Panthers do need a linebacker, but there is no linebacker available who is worth this pick. However, with the departure of James Bradberry, their starting corner at the moment opposite Donte Jackson is Corn Elder, and that just won’t do for Phil Snow. Yes, Matt Rhule is known for coaching players up, but more importantly, his specialty is creating a locker room culture. Rhule’s the kind of coach who players would run through a wall for, so he needs guys who can establish a winning culture in their locker room.

He already has Christian McCaffrey and Shaq Thompson, but why not add another alpha who can serve as their CB1 for nearly a decade? Okudah is the best defensive back in this class and it’s not even close. It can be argued that Detroit should take him at 3 with the void they have at corner. Starting Okudah opposite Jackson would create a young corner tandem for the near future, and more importantly, getting a guy who can stop Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Michael Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders is beyond critical if the Panthers want a chance in the NFC South.

8. Arizona Cardinals- Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa

A perfect offseason. Arizona needs an offensive tackle more than anything, as for this new Air Raid offense to work, Kyler Murray needs time. He played really well last year en route to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but he needs protection. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Jadeveon Clowney (potentially) are no joke, so the Red Sea needs bodies to keep Murray safe.

Wirfs can play on both sides of the offensive line. While he is very raw, the upside is there, and with good coaching, he can become one of the best offensive linemen in the entire league. The Cardinals can go one of three ways here: start Wirfs immediately at right tackle, start Wirfs at right guard and move him out to right tackle when they decide to get rid of Marcus Gilbert, or start Wirfs at left tackle and move newly-signed D.J. Humphries to right tackle. Either way, at least one position of their offensive lines is improved as a result of this pick. Arizona has needed OT for some time, so this helps.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars- Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

“Pipe dream”, they said. Well, I guess my dreams do become reality. If this does happen on draft night, the city of Jacksonville should host an all-night party. This would be the most franchise-changing moment the city of Jacksonville has ever experienced, and they should thoroughly enjoy it. There’s no doubt that Tua is a better football player than Gardner Minshew. Minshew’s a great guy but was drafted in the 6th round and by no means is he a franchise quarterback.

However, what Minshew can do is serve as a bridge quarterback until Tua recovers from his injuries, which may take until Year 2. That year on the bench really allows Tua to get time in the film room and the meeting room so he can learn how to play within the Jaguars’ offense. Furthermore, rehabbing lets Tua gets stronger and more durable so he can take hits at the NFL level. If Tua indeed falls here, Jacksonville cannot mess this up. He has the potential to be the most talented player in the history of their franchise. Do not let him see the field at all in Year 1, and in the 2021 offseason, surround him with as much weaponry as possible for him to help the team.

Durability will always be a concern, but as long as Jacksonville can protect Tua, this pick can save Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell jobs they should’ve lost at the end of last season. Trading Leonard Fournette may not be the greatest option for the Jaguars as he was their entire offense last season, but if they can pay dividends with the capital they get by drafting some receivers and an offensive line, this pick can and will hit, as Tua is just that talented of a quarterback. It’s just a matter of when.

10. Cleveland Browns- Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia

2 franchise-caliber offensive tackles in a single offseason? Please. Cleveland signed Jack Conklin to protect their franchise quarterback on one side, but at the moment, they have nobody to protect Baker Mayfield’s blindside. Enter Andrew Thomas, one of the best offensive players in this class since before the 2019 season. Thomas’s stock has fallen a little due to the rise of Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills Jr, and Tristan Wirfs at the NFL Combine. Not that Thomas was bad, but the others performed incredibly well during the athletic testing.

He’s a very solid pass protector and an excellent run blocker, and if Kevin Stefanski really wants to run the ball until he’s forced to pass, Thomas is perfect for manhandling defenders in the hole and getting to the second level. Nick Chubb made the 2020 Pro Bowl after leading the league in rushing yards for most of the season, so John Dorsey has to pull the trigger here. Thomas’s floor is so high and because Cleveland can start him at left tackle from Day 1, this pick would make Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Kevin Stefanski very happy.

11. New York Jets- CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

The alpha of all alphas. Gang Green’s future. CeeDee Lamb is a perfect player for the Jets. Breshad Perriman can start at Z-receiver due to his unreal speed and freakish athleticism, Jamison Crowder can play from the slot with elite route-running, so all the Jets really need to finally get this offense going in 2020 is an X-receiver. Lamb fills that role from Day 1, and while he’s the best wide receiver in this entire class, he still has a ways to go when it comes to route-running. He didn’t face very much press at all in college, so getting separation against aggressive NFL corners will be a learning process.

However, his effort plays bring a lot to the locker room because he leaves his swagger on the field, and he’ll become Sam Darnold’s best friend from Day 1. Do I consider him a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year if this happens on Draft Night? No, but in 2 years, watch out for the New York Jets. Lamb is a physical YAC receiver who always knows when his quarterback is in trouble. Being able to serve as a valuable safety valve and as an explosive playmaker downfield makes this pick too easy. Draft CeeDee Lamb, Adam, and supercharge your offense. Please. Gang Green is tired of waiting.

12. Las Vegas Raiders- Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

Speed kills. No other pick makes sense for the Raiders. They need a guy who can stretch the field as a Z-receiver, and Ruggs is a lot more than speed. He runs unbelievable routes, dominates every coverage defenses throw at him, and he can beat you in every way. Whether that’s breaking a screen or a quick slant to the house, roasting terrified defenders with down-the-field routes, out jumping corner prospects much taller than him, or using his awareness of defensive leverage to break off routes and create easy separation, Ruggs is the total package.

Is his size somewhat of a limitation? Maybe. Would he fit the Raiders offense like a glove if he started as their Z-receiver? Absolutely. Tyrell Williams is their X-receiver of the future, Zay Jones and Hunter Renfrow are solid slot receivers, and with Ruggs, they complete the offense.

He can get Jon Gruden points in a hurry with his deep speed, and with how much attention NFL defenses will pay to an Olympian-level athlete, this makes Gruden’s run game much easier, setting up Derek Carr for more success from play-action. Ruggs is criminally viewed as just a speed guy, and that needs to stop. He has a complete route tree and was one of the most dangerous playmakers in all of college football, so there is no excuse for the Raiders to not make this pick. 3’s up.

13. San Francisco 49ers- Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina

Replace the talent you lose. Many 49ers fans want a wide receiver here, but quite honestly, with all of the defensive talent left on the board, replacing All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is a greater priority. As of right now, trading Buckner essentially means the team is starting Solomon Thomas at defensive tackle, and that just won’t cut it. Having incredible depth on the defensive line was what made the 49ers so dangerous, so they’ll need a guy who can provide the same impact Buckner did.

Enter Kinlaw, who’s the freakiest defensive tackle in this entire class. He is just so strong that he’ll push almost every NFL guard out of the way from Day 1, and that’s without a complete toolbox. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can turn Kinlaw into an All-Pro by teaching him how to incorporate a few more pass-rush moves into his arsenal.

Even from Day 1, if the 49ers are running stunts with Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, and Nick Bosa, imagine a guy like Kinlaw getting a 1-on-1 against some helpless NFC West guard. D.J. Fluker, Mike Iupati, Justin Pugh, JR Sweezy, Austin Corbett, and David Edwards won’t have a fun game when Kinlaw’s matched up 1-on-1 with them. If teams have to double Kinlaw, that just makes the lives of Bosa, Armstead, and Ford much easier. If the 49ers make this pick, Kinlaw has my early vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year. San Fran may have lost an All-Pro defensive tackle, but best bet they replace him with a future one.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville

Tampa is already rumored to trade up for an elite offensive tackle, but for the purpose of this mock, they draft Becton to protect Tom Brady’s blindside. A 43-year-old quarterback doesn’t have very much pocket mobility at all, so not protecting him asks for impending doom, especially against the likes of Cameron Jordan, Brian Burns, Dante Fowler Jr, and Marcus Davenport. Becton is a massive human being, no doubt about it. He weighs almost 364 pounds but has the strength of 10 elephants (watch the video of him pushing a truck with pumped brakes).

On top of that, he’s a very raw but freaky athlete. Becton needs technical development but can be one of the best assets in the Buccaneers’ run game. He can start anywhere on the offensive line, and with Joe Haeg penciled in to start at right tackle, that may be Becton’s best fit in Year 1 before switching over to left tackle. Donovan Smith played better nearing the end of last season and Ali Marpet is one of the best guards in the league. Ryan Jensen has also been fairly consistent, so if Alex Cappa shows some development in Year 3, Tampa could have one of the best lines in the entire league.

Becton can and will move people from Day 1. Establishing a run game with mauling offensive tackles is one way to let Tom Brady guide your team. Letting Tom Brady make methodical decisions without facing pressure is the most efficient way to unleash the elite weapons on their roster, so just take the best offensive tackle on the board, and even with all the defensive talent still on the board, this pick could be called a steal.

15. Denver Broncos- Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

No, Broncos fans, not drafting Henry Ruggs III isn’t ultimate doomsday for your offseason. A former Biletnikoff receiver isn’t the worst consolation for your oh-so-sad misfortunes. Jeudy is probably the best route runner in this class and can line up anywhere on the field, whether that’s as an X-receiver or in the slot or off the line of scrimmage as the Z. He’s not Ruggs-athletic, but he possesses good enough athleticism to succeed at the next level.

With Courtland Sutton as the team’s X-receiver, the Broncos face the same problem as the Raiders do. They need some speed at the wide receiver position. Jeudy will probably be the fastest receiver on the Broncos’ roster from Day 1, and his ability to roast opposing corners will be a solace to Drew Lock’s development.

The vertical threat still remains with Jeudy, by the way. If he’s not running past you, he’ll run an up-and-out that completely jukes a defender out of their socks. It’s Bombs Away in Denver, and even if Jeudy takes a tad longer to get open while suffering from concentration drops, his route-running is way too technically-refined and disciplined for the Broncos to pass up.

16. Atlanta Falcons- C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

A corner like C.J. Henderson should not be available in this stage of the draft, but with depth at so many integral positions, someone has to fall. Henderson is an elite corner prospect; if he wasn’t, certain teams wouldn’t have him over Jeff Okudah. Henderson’s a perfect fit for the Falcons’ zone defense, as he will replace the woeful Desmond Trufant while starting alongside 2018 2nd-round pick Isaiah Oliver.

Henderson’s athleticism is jaw-dropping. At the combine, he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, jumped to a height of 37.5 inches, and leaped 127 inches horizontally. This athleticism can be seen through his amazing recovery speed. Henderson plays with a lot of swagger and his athleticism just complements his technical prowess. He can match receivers step-for-step with ease, and he’s also very good with his physicality, jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage as well as making plays to dislodge the ball at the point of the catch.

Furthermore, he really attacks the football when he identifies where it’s going. If the ball is anywhere near his area, he will do whatever it takes to make a play on it. His three flaws are also really coachable. Henderson is a very poor tackler. When he recognizes what’s going on before the snap and then reacts, he can make a great tackle, but he’s so inconsistent that Dan Quinn needs to reteach it to him for him to be successful at the NFL level. Henderson’s eye discipline is also very poor. He sometimes gets caught staring in the backfield, which slows down his ability to change direction, making him susceptible to giving up position and leverage on inside-breaking routes.

Every corner has flaws, but how the coachability of those flaws really does play a role in their draft stock. While it’s arguable his 2019 tape was a little underwhelming, Henderson’s 2018 tape showed incredible potential as quarterbacks refused to throw the ball his way, and if he fixes those the aforementioned flaws, he can be one of the most versatile corners in the entire league, playing multiple types of coverages in a very struggling defense.

17. Dallas Cowboys- Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

Gladney to Dallas should be a dream scenario for all Cowboys fans. Imagine a player who brings so much swagger to a locker room in need, especially one who has the potential to be a team captain from Year 1. The TCU corner’s play speaks for itself. Gladney is the most physical cornerback in this entire class, no doubt about it. If he’s allowed to play press-man at the next level, forget good routes, as receivers won’t even be getting off of the line of scrimmage.

His physicality is an umbrella for his entire skillset, as he uses it throughout the play. His excellent feet and hips allow him to match receivers until the ball is thrown. If that ball is thrown, he fights for it until he knows the receiver isn’t making the catch. Whether that’s just using his arms to slap it away, ripping it out while the receiver tries to complete the process of the catch, or just having the instincts to plant and drive on a route concept he recognizes, his scrappiness doesn’t give an inch. The former Horned Frog can travel step-for-step with the opposing team’s best receiver without breaking a sweat, make no mistake.

Gladney’s frame is indeed small, but he doesn’t care. He plays like he’s 6″5 and 230 pounds. While yes, his overaggressiveness does sometimes get the better of him and he commits a lot of penalties as a result, the feistiness cannot be ignored here. This is a guy who can energize an entire locker room with one hit, one interception, one pass breakup, anything. Turning his head to track the ball is another one of his flaws, but similar to those of C.J. Henderson, Gladney’s flaws are also very coachable. If new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wants a player who can instantly give his defense an identity, this is most definitely the pick to make.

18. Miami Dolphins- Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

At the moment, Miami’s starting safeties are Eric Rowe and Adrian Colbert. The AFC East may have just lost the greatest quarterback of all time, but the development of Josh Allen and Sam Darnold forces the Dolphins to make this move. Secondary cannot become a liability for this team if they want to stop the passing games of either team in 2020, which will undoubtedly get better. McKinney is the best player available, and the fact that he’s a hybrid defensive back cements him as a franchise cornerstone on Brian Flores’ defense.

McKinney allows you to run whatever coverage you want. Whether that’s Cover 3 Buzz, Cover 1 Hole, or Cover 0 Blitz, he’s perfect as a strong safety in all of them. It’s not just that he’s one of the most effective box defenders in the league, but also that he can even rush the passer from any alignment. Furthermore, if Miami really wanted to play him as a nickel defender, he’d be just fine, but they would be wasting his potential if they did so.

Furthermore, McKinney’s tackling really shows up on tape. He’s not afraid to hit people at all, even with limited size and stature. Strong safety is the perfect role for him as long as Flores and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham can help be more instinctive and aware of his coverage responsibilities. He’s not going to be Derwin James from Day 1, but his ceiling is definitely that high. Former Patriots’ coaches have the tendency to turn any defensive back into fantastic coverage players, so McKinney will definitely be a great deep safety and a good box safety if need be. Best player available, make the pick.

19. Las Vegas Raiders- Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

New speed, new arm. The Raiders just drafted Henry Ruggs 12th overall, so they make sure that investment hits with the selection of a new franchise quarterback with tremendous upside. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have done a fantastic job building a roster around their future quarterback, and with this pick, they go all-in on finding who that quarterback is. The Derek Carr experiment hasn’t necessarily worked out, the team signed Marcus Mariota to try and resurrect his career, and now, they draft a quarterback with a very high ceiling.

Love isn’t close to a perfect prospect. In fact, it’s most likely he doesn’t outright win the starting job as a rookie. However, this wouldn’t be the worst idea, as he is a very raw talent who needs time to develop. This selection doesn’t necessarily commit to Love as the future starter, but the competition between Mariota and Carr does indeed serve as the fight for the backup role, assuming Love pans out. Better yet, if either quarterback beats out Love for the starting gig, they can just trade him, but I doubt the Raiders will be in that scenario.

If Love hits, watch out. His arm talent is comparable to that of Justin Herbert, Jacob Eason, and Joe Burrow. He can throw any depth of target, but his issue is his mental processor and his sloppy pocket mechanics. Those are fixable traits in the long-term, but Love would most likely be better off on the bench for a season so he can learn Gruden’s West Coast offense, and then compete for the job in 2021.

Gruden’s the perfect coach to develop Love’s mechanics and improve his progressions, and if Las Vegas wants their investment on Henry Ruggs to pay off the most (it’ll pay off either way), this team needs to draft a quarterback who can consistently throw the deep ball at an elite level, and believe Love can do just that.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars- K’Lavon Chaisson, LB, LSU

I initially had a wide receiver slotted at this pick but after a change in heart, addressing defense twice is a better plan because of the receiving depth in this class. Why reach on Justin Jefferson when you can snag Donovan Peoples-Jones in the 2nd round? If the Jaguars are fully committed to trading Yannick Ngakoue, they’ll get more picks back, which they can use to build around Tua. However, with this pick, Jacksonville needs to help Tua score more points by creating a pass-rush tandem that can wreck opposing pockets.

After drafting Josh Allen 7th overall last season, Jacksonville doubles back on another versatile edge defender. K’Lavon Chaisson wore #18 at LSU, and according to LSUSports.net, the number is a symbol of personal success both on and off-the-field as well as the true selflessness of an LSU Tiger. Jacksonville doesn’t just need players who’ll make an impact on the field, but also guys who’ll contribute just as equally in the locker room. Chaisson knows what it’s like to win at a collegiate level, and he’ll instantly be one of the many leaders of that Jacksonville locker room for a while.

On the field, Chaisson can serve as a SAM linebacker in Duval’s 4-3 base defense, but also as an edge rusher opposite Allen on 3rd downs. Myles Jack is currently JAX’s WILL linebacker and the newly-signed Joe Schobert will probably start at MIKE. Since the Jaguars don’t run a 3-4, there’s no JACK in this defense, so they just need someone not named Leon Jacobs starting at SAM linebacker, which Chaisson can do.

He can cover at the next level and can make a formidable pass-rush tandem with Allen if he develops a greater arsenal of pass-rush moves. If the Jaguars can hone in on this raw talent, he’ll not only be an instant contributor from the locker room but also be a franchise cornerstone on the field for a decade.

21. Philadelphia Eagles- Laviska Shenault Jr, WR, Colorado

Shenault is so underrated it’s crazy. Some people don’t have him in their top 10, let alone top 5. Laviska is easily worth a 1st round pick because he’s a game-breaker. This Philadelphia Eagles offense needs just that. Someone who can stretch the field with excellent route-running, someone who can contribute in the return game, someone who can provide as a safety valve if the quarterback is in trouble. Shenault does that and more.

His best trait is what he can do with the ball in his hands. The Colorado receiver is so slippery, making him very difficult to tackle. He’s literally the D’Andre Swift of the wide receiver position. Shenault’s kind of elusiveness is hard to pass up on, period. Having such a complete game at a collegiate level with Steven Montez as his quarterback makes Shenault’s potential downright scary in the NFL. 2019 2nd-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside didn’t exactly have a great rookie season, so the Eagles are definitely counting on some kind of development from him in Year 2.

However, if they don’t get the best version of Arcega-Whiteside in Year 2, Shenault’s the kind of receiver who can complement Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders by carrying Philly’s receiving core. This is the guy who’s going to get double-teamed if there’s no other receiver to key in on because he’s the only viable passing threat outside of Ertz and Sanders. The fact that Carson Wentz carried the Eagles to the playoffs in 2019 without a competent WR1 is stunning, and with the free-agent acquisitions this team has made, Shenault would be the cherry on top. If this is indeed the pick, don’t sleep on the Eagles.

22. Minnesota Vikings- Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The perfect WR2. When I was watching Justin Jefferson on film, the first thing I wrote in my notes was “better as a second option”. With Adam Thielen currently slated to be the team’s WR1 in 2020, the team needs a solid replacement for Stefon Diggs, even though they received a boatload of picks for him in that trade with Buffalo. Jefferson may have been the 2nd-best receiver on LSU in 2019, but his production was that of a WR1 at the NFL level.

Jefferson’s skillset at the next level also draws parallels to Tyler Boyd, another 2nd-option who could serve as a WR1 but is at his best when he’s allowed to work opposite of an X-receiver who takes a lot of pressure off of him. Furthermore, being only a 2-star recruit really puts an extra chip on his shoulder at the next level, and playing at LSU instantly makes him an elite culture-builder for their locker room. Diggs was an unbelievably talented receiver but created a lot of drama due to his frustration with the team. With Jefferson, Minnesota gets a similar skillset but passes entirely on the PR.

Like Diggs and Boyd, Jefferson’s route running is top-notch. He can get separation from slot defenders so easily at the next level to the extent where he eventually outproduces Thielen 2 years down the line. Slot receivers aren’t always the team’s go-to-option, but if Thielen draws more defensive attention than Jefferson, expect a lot of targets at the next level. With the underrated athleticism and explosive route-running in his skillset, he can easily match Tyler Boyd’s production and could potentially end up as Kirk Cousins’ favorite target in Minnesota. One could argue this pick is a steal, and rightfully so. Jefferson is the guy.

23. New England Patriots- Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

If the Patriots are likely committed to Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham as their starting quarterback in 2019, they’ll need to give their future quarterback a weapon on the outside who can separate. 2019 1st-rounder N’Keal Harry was overdrafted by a good bit and it showed. He couldn’t separate at all when he was on field and neither could most Patriots’ receivers. None of the Patriots’ receivers ranked in the top-100 for average separation yards per route.

If people wonder why Tom Brady left for Tampa, that’s exactly why. Outside of drama with Bill Belichick, Brady had to deal with Josh McDaniels’ lack of playcalling creativity, an inconsistent run game, and receivers who couldn’t get open. No wonder the offense didn’t play well.

Reagor, however, is a different beast when he’s on the field. Big-12 defenses were downright terrified of his athleticism because his speed and acceleration were just unreal. He used to run track in high school, so the speed is legitimately there. He was hand-timed at a 4.22 40-yard dash, which is faster than what Tyreek Hill ran in 2016. However, similar to Ruggs, Reagor isn’t John Ross. He still has a developing route tree, but when he goes deep, boy does he get open. His deep routes are very much on the same level as those of Ruggs, and one could argue he’s more dynamic in space than Ruggs is.

Reagor can fight for contested catches in the air, he can keep plays alive with his incredible lateral quickness and elusiveness, and he possesses decent size and strength for a Z-receiver. Furthermore, Reagor’s quarterback play in 2019 was absolutely dismal, so his potential is sky-high if New England signs a veteran like Cam Newton or drafts a rookie like Jacob Eason. Anything is better than what he had to deal with at TCU, making him the ultimate it-factor of this receiving crop. The combination of speed, overall athleticism, and explosive routes makes Reagor a candidate for 1,000 yards as a rookie, because he doesn’t need many catches to do so.

24. New Orleans Saints- Patrick Queen, MLB, LSU

Queen is by far the best linebacker in this class. While he doesn’t have the stature of his former teammate and Butkus Award winner Devin White, Queen just brings a lot to the table for a New Orleans defense that is devoid of linebacker depth. For starters, he fits the athletic stereotype for a WILL linebacker in 2020. He’s very instinctive, he can fill gaps correctly against the run (arguably better than Simmons can), he has sideline-to-sideline range, and he’s great at reading eyes in the passing game and making plays on the ball.

LSU predominantly used him to run all over the field and make tackles from sideline-to-sideline. On top of being instinctive, Queen is a very underrated blitzer. He shoots gaps like a missile and he’s fast enough to diagnose a developing play against the blitz. His best game by far was in the National Championship against Clemson’s offense. On every single Travis Etienne carry, he was almost always in the hole because he could read and recognize where the run would go, rather than just guessing for a highlight play.

Furthermore, Queen’s awareness is supercharged. Whether that’s carrying receivers who come out of the backfield late or blowing up run plays before they even begin to develop, Queen’s always in the right place at the right time. There was one screen pass against Clemson where LSU brought a 6-man pressure package and the playcall was a screen to Etienne. Queen, on a delayed blitz, saw the screen coming the entire time and made an incredible play to tackle Etienne for a 4-yard gain.

As the commentators said on live television, Etienne was gone if Queen didn’t make that play. What’s even more awesome is the fact that he recognized the screen pass multiple times in that game and just exploded to find the football. If there’s one thing about Queen that’ll make him a stud at the NFL level, it’s his nose for the football and how he uses his instincts to guide his athletic traits.

With first-team All-Pro linebacker DeMario Davis already on the team, the Saints can start Queen at WILL from Day 1 and move Davis to MIKE, forming one of the best linebacker tandems in the entire league. Saints fans still must be sour about Dalvin Cook running all over them in the playoffs, so the team’s front office has to throw assets at stopping Cook in the zone run game while completely eliminating his impact in the passing game. If there’s one college football player I’d count on to be an All-Pro as a rookie from this class, it’s Queen, and New Orleans really should consider this pick a gift.

25. Minnesota Vikings- Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State

With this pair of 1st-round picks, I wanted to accomplish 2 things as the general manager for the Vikings. Since the front office traded away Stefon Diggs, I used the Bills’ pick to replace the talent lost at wide receiver with Justin Jefferson. Because Minnesota also released Everson Griffen, I’m drafting Penn State edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos to replace the void left by Griffen’s departure.

Gross-Matos isn’t Chase Young by any means. However, he is undoubtedly the 2nd-best pass-rusher in this entire class. Griffen was very athletic and played with a lot of power as one of Minnesota’s cornerstone pass-rushers for nearly a decade. Because Gross-Matos has similar athletic traits and plays with similar power, this pick makes a lot of sense. However, Griffen also possessed unique technical prowess, but Gross-Matos doesn’t have that technical refinement as of yet.

In a way, Gross-Matos’s game can be summarized as such: “I’m going to power right through you or just get to the quarterback right around you”. While this may seem like the same story for every single pass rusher, Gross-Matos isn’t as much of a finesse player as Griffen ever was, no doubt about it. He wins the old-fashioned way because his arsenal of pass-rush moves, similar to that of many in this draft class, isn’t very diverse. However, learning from an All-Pro pass-rusher like Danielle Hunter doesn’t hurt. Hunter can win from any defensive alignment and his presence would really help Gross-Matos develop counter-moves and learn how to rush with a plan, rather than just overpowering offensive tackles with his athleticism.

There will be certain scenarios where he can just win with raw power, but NFL tackles are much more athletic than those in the Big Ten. Is Gross-Matos a raw pass-rusher? Sure, but once again, he’s a perfect fit to play edge rusher in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3. Consider that along with the fact that he won’t be the team’s primary source of pass-rush production, and you’ve just drafted a guy who can flash a lot of potential in Year 1 with the potential for significant development in the future. This pick would top off a crazy 1st-round haul for the Purple People Eaters.

26. Miami Dolphins- Josh Jones, OT, Houston

Speaking of topping off fantastic 1st-round hauls, drafting a franchise-caliber left tackle who can protect Justin Herbert in the near future is one way to build a solid core of future talent. The Dolphins signed Ereck Flowers and former Patriot Ted Karras to shore up their depth at offensive guard. However, what they really need is a blindside protector for whoever their future quarterback is. Many criticized Miami for trading Laremy Tunsil, who indeed had All-Pro potential, but in hindsight, they landed a lot more assets to help build their team, a perfect example of addition by subtraction.

Jones may not be as NFL-ready as Tunsil was in 2016, but he’s going to be a fixture on that Dolphins offensive line for years to come. He’s the kind of left tackle that goes to the Pro Bowl every single season but is never that First-Team All-Pro year-after-year. After a great Senior Bowl week, Jones is the perfect asset for the Dolphins to complete the beginning phase of their rebuild.

27. Seattle Seahawks- Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin

Many Seahawks fans want a franchise pass-rusher here, and that’s completely understandable. With the unlikely return of Jadeveon Clowney looming over Seattle, the team needs a player who can contribute to the defense in multiple ways. Enter Zack Baun, who primarily played 3-4 outside linebacker at Wisconsin. Also coming off a great Senior Bowl week, Baun in Seattle would play a similar role as Chaisson in Jacksonville: SAM linebacker.

The former Badger is a very disciplined pass rusher, and what Seattle needs more than anything is a player who adds creativity to their defense. The team sat in 4-3 base way too often last season and got picked apart by 3-WR sets. With their trade for Quinton Dunbar, the Seahawks now have more depth at cornerback and can now focus on improving the trenches.

Baun can play defensive end on passing downs and linebacker on early downs, even lining up as a linebacker just to blitz. Seattle needs hybrid players like Baun who can perform various roles for their defense so Bobby Wagner doesn’t have to carry every season like he usually ends up doing.With Mychal Kendricks coming off a major injury, the Seahawks are a little thin at linebacker with Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven currently at the top of their depth chart.

Baun would be the 2nd-best linebacker on the team from Day 1, and his positional versatility makes this an extremely easy pick. He may not provide 20 sacks a season, but when he provides 8-10 sacks at some point in his career while being a valuable contributor at linebacker, Seahawks fans will be thankful this pick was made.

28. Baltimore Ravens- Kenneth Murray Jr, MLB, Oklahoma

This is the definition of a Baltimore pick. The only sensation stuck in the heads of Ravens fans has to be Derrick Henry rushing for 195 yards against their backup linebackers. Even with the great season Lamar Jackson had in Year 2, the linebackers consistently failed the defense when Lamar couldn’t perform, leading to games such as the blowout loss to Tennessee.

Murray is a much rawer prospect than Queen without a doubt, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He was an incredible leader for Oklahoma’s newly-improved defense in 2019, and he’s shown the range to be a highly-talented WILL linebacker at the NFL level. That does beg the question: What’s the catch? If he has such great intangibles to go along with incredible athleticism, what’s stopping him from being a top-10 pick?

Well, the difference between Murray and Queen is what makes Queen the best linebacker in this class by a huge margin: instincts. For some reason, Kenneth Murray cannot fill gaps correctly due to a lack of awareness and recognition. Think of him like the Jordan Love of the linebacker position. He has all the traits to be a high-ceiling player, but like Love, his mental processor is so terrible that one cannot justify drafting him with anything higher than a late 1st-round pick. A draft analyst on Twitter named Betz said it best, “Kenneth Murray is blind.”

While this may be an overexaggeration, it’s entirely true. Murray’s ability, or lack thereof, to recognize and fill gaps has to drive NFL GMs nuts. He often gets caught in the wrong position on run plays, but when he guesses correctly without actually reading the play, it turns into a highlight. A lot of the draft community would consider this pick a reach, but considering how poor the Ravens’ linebackers were a season ago, this defensive coaching staff can definitely make him a fantastic linebacker.

29. Tennessee Titans- A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa

For a while, I had LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton locked into this pick. However, with the loss of Jurrell Casey on the defensive line (more like a fleecing), the Titans are in the same position they were a season ago. Helping the defensive front is once again a priority, and drafting a player like Epenesa does just that. The former Iowa standout is an underrated athlete (albeit not a very good one) whose stock has dropped severely after a poor 40 time. However, Epenesa isn’t a great athlete.

The combine just confirmed that. His game is entirely based on power, and that’s why he’s such a great fit at 5-technique defensive end in Tennessee’s 3-4. Harold Landry II needs help getting to the passer and Epenesa is the perfect prospect to play right between Landry and Jeffery Simmons. Those 3 talents rushing the passer from the same alignment is a sight to behold, and the Titans are apparently still in the sweepstakes for Jadeveon Clowney.

Think about that for a second. Jadeveon Clowney, Harold Landry II, A.J. Epenesa, and Jeffery Simmons all on the same defensive line. A combination like that would wreak havoc across opposing offensive lines throughout the league and could challenge the 49ers for the best defensive front in the entire league. Draft Epenesa because you can never have enough defensive linemen, and at the end of the day, he really could develop into a franchise-changing pass rusher.

30. Green Bay Packers- Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor

The Packers could go multiple ways here, but they finally get their #2 receiving option outside of Davante Adams. At the moment, their starting receiver opposite Adams is Marques Valdes-Scantling, who operates much better in the slot rather than as an outside receiver. Drafting Mims allows the Packers to move guys like MVS and Equanimeous St. Brown to compete in the slot with 2 very reliable outside receivers.

For starters, Mims is an elite athlete; he ran 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Furthermore, his frame serves as a replacement for Jimmy Graham’s red zone “potential”. Being 6″3 really helps when Aaron Rodgers wants to throw a goal-line fade after 2 runs can’t punch it in. Mims has the height and the hops to go up and contest for back-shoulder balls at the goal line, so expect the Packers to incorporate a lot more of that into their playbook.

If the Packers make this pick on Thursday night, think of Mims’ rookie season as similar to that of Mike Williams’ 2018 season: a very reliable 2nd-option who’ll contribute heavily in the red-zone with potential for double-digit touchdowns. However, because Mims can run everything in the route tree, his only issue in the NFL will be getting separation from defenders. That was by far his biggest weakness, but working with Davante Adams, whose release game was described by 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore as “the best”, will obviously help Mims improve.

He’s a guy who can help the Packers contend from Day 1 and he fills a need that’s been there for the Packers since the release of Jordy Nelson. If Mims is there when the Packers select 30th overall, expect he’ll be a cheesehead. He’s too good of a talent for them to pass up on.

31. San Francisco 49ers- Michael Pittman Jr, WR, USC

San Francisco finds their Emmanuel Sanders replacement. Pittman is an elite route-runner through and through, but he presents an extra variable Sanders never could: size. The 2019 Biletnikoff Award finalist towers at a height of 6″4 and weighs 223 pounds but isn’t the athlete you’d expect. Pittman leans more towards Michael Thomas than he does towards Julio Jones without a doubt.

His combine measurements were almost identical to those of Thomas in every single category: 40-Yard Dash (4.52 vs Thomas’ 4.57), Vertical Jump (36.5″ vs Thomas’ 35″), Broad Jump (121″ vs Thomas’ 126″), 3-Cone Drill (6.96 seconds vs Thomas’ 6.80), and 20-Yard Shuttle (4.14 seconds vs Thomas’ 4.13). A majority of his athletic traits rival those of Thomas, and to some extent, his playstyle does too.

Pittman is an elite route-runner in short and medium depths (another Michael Thomas quality). Elite honestly doesn’t do him justice because he gets so open on those kinds of throws. He destroyed Pac-12 competition at USC by roasting defenders and getting wide-open for big plays. That being said, those big plays were the aforementioned short to intermediate routes and Pittman just broke tackle after tackle in open space. If you asked me who the most pro-ready receiver in this entire class is, the answer hands-down is Michael Pittman.

Because he’s not an elite athlete, however, how much better he can get is still in question, but that really doesn’t matter. His floor is so high to the point where 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns every single season, starting from Year 1, isn’t out of the question at all. In San Francisco, he and Deebo Samuel would both be elite route-runners, but Pittman would present size that Samuel doesn’t have, while Samuel presents speed that Pittman doesn’t have. Either way, 2 elusive receivers who possess incredible lateral quickness and the ability to separate from defenders would truly allow San Francisco’s passing game to complement the effectiveness of Kyle Shanahan’s zone run.

32. Kansas City Chiefs- Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

When I watch Fulton on tape, there’s one only 1 word I can use to accurately describe the way he plays: gum. He sticks to receivers the way gum sticks to almost everything, meaning he’s almost always in a position to make a play on the ball. Throughout the offseason, the LSU corner has been labeled as “overrated” due to his tendency to allow big plays to happen. I’ll admit Fulton’s reaction speed sometimes causes him to mistrack the ball when it’s in the air, causing those big plays to happen. He also does get lost at times when he’s not on the line of scrimmage, as free releases do tend to give him a bit of trouble because he can’t dictate where the receiver’s going.

However, Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a corner who can play opposite Charvarius Ward in the long-term. Bashaud Breeland signed a 1-year deal to remain in KC for 2020, but he’ll hit the free agency market after this coming season. And Kendall Fuller signed a lucrative deal to return to the Washington Redskins, so Breeland is starting at the moment with 2019 rookie Rashad Fenton primarily serving as the team’s quality depth.

However, if the Chiefs play Fulton opposite Ward and then move Breeland to the slot for the time being, they can address the position later in the draft or even not have to worry about it until next season. One way or another, the mantra for this defense will be: Play Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, and Charvarius Ward in coverage while letting Chris Jones and Frank Clark get after the passer, and I think Fulton fits that mantra perfectly.

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