With the 2019 NFL regular season coming to an end, the teams who did not make the postseason will begin turning their focus to April and the 2020 NFL Draft. For the purpose of this mock draft, I’m only going to take a look at the current locked spots as the final 12 spots will change in the coming weeks of the playoffs.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (2-14): Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Joe Burrow‘s final college season came as a complete shock to me throughout the year. Not only did he win the Heisman, the SEC, and the Peach Bowl, but an argument can be made that he had one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback ever. Even halfway through the season I still wasn’t sure that his skill would translate to the professional level. I was wrong.
Here’s the even more obvious: Andy Dalton is done in Cincinnati. He is not a franchise quarterback and will more than likely end with a career comparable to Ryan Fitzpatrick, which is not meant as a total slight. The time has come (long overdue) to press the reset button for the Bengals and that needs to start with the most important position on the field.
2. Washington Redskins (3-13): Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is filling the same role for the Washington Redskins. They also fired longtime front office member Bruce Allen (again, long overdue). Rivera is a defensive-minded coach so I would expect him to take Chase Young, the best player on defense (and best available) in the 2020 Draft. Although it should be noted that Young has not officially declared for the Draft.
3. Detroit Lions (3-12-1): Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
The Lions suffered greatly from the loss of quarterback Matthew Stafford missing half of the 2019 season due to injury. Regardless of anything that happened on offense for Detroit, they finished 28th in terms of defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders. They also finished 31st in sacks with 28 team sacks and allowed 4.1 yards per carry in 2019. Derrick Brown can help address both of these issues with the defensive line after finishing his senior season with four sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss on the interior line.
4. New York Giants (4-12): Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
After being mercilessly mocked following being drafted in the 2019 Draft, Daniel Jones proved himself (albeit shakily) to be the Giants quarterback for the forseeable future. However, he was sacked 38 times during his rookie season. Andrew Thomas is the best offensive lineman of this draft class and New York needs to help Jones continue to develop by limiting sacks and allowing more time to throw in the pocket.
5. Miami Dolphins (5-11): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
At the beginning of the 2019 season, I thought Tua Tagovailoa would be a lock to Miami. However I did think it would be sooner than the fifth overall pick. The Dolphins managed to win more games than expected (partially to the shegrin of their fans), but they can still draft their franchise quarterback at this spot. There are obviously major questions about Tua’s hip and overall ability to stay healthy, but the Dolphins need to take this risk. They really don’t have much to lose. They’ve been mostly irrelevant for the entire 21st century so even if Tua doesn’t pan out, it wouldn’t set them back anymore than where they were prior. There is too much to be gained from a talent like Tua not to take the risk.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11): Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Allow me to preface with the fact that I would not totally agree with this pick (not that it matters). The most that tends to be heard about Justin Herbert is that he is tall and has a big arm. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before. By no means do I think he will be a “bust.” I only believe that taking him this high would make less sense than addressing other issues across the field. Phillip Rivers’ time may be done in Los Angeles, but drafting a quarterback in the early second round or even trading up into the late first round would be the best move for the Chargers to find the next player to lead their team.
7. Carolina Panthers (5-11): A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
While the quarterback situation in Carolina is something that will need to be addressed this coming offseason, it is clear that the offense will continue to focus on running back Christian McCaffrey. This may be odd considering that the NFL continues to become an increasingly more pass-heavy league, but McCaffrey finished the 2019 season with 1,000 rushing and passing yards with a record-breaking 116 receptions for a running back. Although finishing second in total team sacks in 2019, they also finished 30th in rushing yards per attempt allowed. A. J. Epenesa can help both add to the sack total and improve their rush defense overall.
8. Arizona Cardinals (5-10-1): Jeff Okudah, DB, Ohio State
My gut tells me that Arizona would take the best available player in Jerry Jeudy. Howver, the Cardinals drafted three wide receivers in the 2019 so I can’t imagine they would draft another one with their only (for now, at least) first round pick. Patrick Peterson is an eight-time Pro Bowler and still fairly young, but the Cardinals still finished 27th in overall pass defense in 2019. Adding Jeff Okudah, a tough defensive back on the other side of Peterson, would help improve that number in 2020.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The Cardinals may very well end up regretting not taking Jerry Jeudy at number eight as he is a generational talent at his position. His combination of speed, route running, and separation in space has been jaw-dropping over the past few seasons. The only downside is his smaller frame, but that will more than likely be addressed by whichever team takes him. The Jaguars need to figure out what to do with Nick Foles as Gardner Minshew II seems to be the quarterback they will continue to start next season. Regardless, they need to add another weapon to their offense.
10. Cleveland Browns (6-10): Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
The Browns made their most important move following their season finale loss to Cincinnati: firing head coach Freddie Kitchens. Cleveland had incredibly high expectations coming into the season and fell flat on their faces. Most people (myself included) put a majority of that blame on Kitchens. The offense is rich with talent; they simply need to rework it going forward. Isaiah Simmons is a freak athlete that can help stop the run or drop back into pass coverage whenever needed.
11. New York Jets (7-9): CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Somehow, and without much explanation, the Jets finished with less than 10 losses. Even with Sam Darnold missing three games with mono, they managed to win seven games. The Jets are a bit lacking in terms of star power at the receiving position in Jamison Crowder, Robby Anderson, and Demaryius Thomas. If Anderson decides to test free agency this offseason, New York will have even more reason to find a star to pair with their young quarterback. CeeDee Lamb could easily become that star.
12. Oakland Raiders (7-9): Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
It would not surprise me in the least if Gruden wanted to take a quarterback in this spot. It would be extremely difficult to unload Derek Carr’s absurd contract, but stranger deals have been made. Assuming that it becomes an impossible task, Oakland should at least give Carr a better weapon to work with after the Antonio Brown debacle. Look for Henry Ruggs III here if he declares.
13. Indianapolis Colts (7-9): Bryce Hall, DB, Virginia
Assuming that the Colts really are planning on building around Jacoby Brissett (or at least giving him one more season), then they should go defense with this pick. Finishing 19th and 20th in pass and run defense respectively, it wouldn’t hurt to take the best available defensive player. Bryce Hall suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Miami in October, but that shouldn’t be a huge red flag to teams and he should be perfectly ready to go in 2020.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
There really is no good place to start with Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. As of now, Winston seems to be staying for another season. His 2019 season may be one of the most peculiar seasons by any quarterback after he threw for over 5,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, 30 interceptions, got two wide receivers into the Pro Bowl, and somehow managed to win seven games. Maybe Tampa Bay expects to tank next season and draft a quarterback early in 2021. Either way, it couldn’t hurt to draft a running back and address a different need on offense. D’Andre Swift is the most complete running back in this class that could be used bail Jameis out if things get uglier next season.
15. Denver Broncos (7-9): Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
The Broncos are another team in this odd list of 7-9 teams. After trading for Joe Flacco, they finished out the season starting rookie Drew Lock who finished with a 4-1 record. Courtland Sutton is a solid, young receiver, but Tee Higgins has proved himself to be on a different level and underrated in a class of talented receivers. He embarrased defenders in a powerful Clemson offense and could continue to use his size and speed to improve Denver’s offense.
16. Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Kristian Fulton, DB, LSU
Atlanta seemed destined for a top three pick after their 1-7 start to the season. After their week nine bye and an alleged pep talk from Julio Jones, the Falcons rattled off a 6-2 end to the season and saved head coach Dan Quinn’s job for another season. The Falcons have finished in the bottom quarter of pass defense for two straight years. While partially due to injury, it has been a constant issue for them. Kristian Fulton would bolster the defensive back unit, but it would not be surprising if they take safety Grant Delpit, another great LSU defensive back.
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Cowboys fans have expected to be in the Super Bowl since they last won it in 1996. With a very loud and large fanbase, it seems to have been the Cowboys vs. the world. After missing the playoffs for the seventh time this decade, head coach Jason Garrett seems to be all but gone. Dallas is also in trouble trying to sign the remaining two members of their “big three”, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Assuming that owner Jerry Jones only obliges the quarterback position, I can’t imagine Cooper gets the deal he’s seeking from the Cowboys. Adding Justin Jefferson alongside Michael Gallup would give Dallas two starting receivers on rookie deals and give them the space they desperately need. Jefferson made a strong case for himself in 2019, posting over 1,400 yards, 102 receptions, and 18 touchdowns.
18. Miami Dolphins (from Pittsburgh): Grant Delpit, DB, LSU
Pittsburgh looked foolish for offering a first round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, but he performed much stronger when playing for the Steelers (speculate as you will). With veteran Reshad Jones likely on his way out, the Dolphins desperately need to address the safety position this season. If they don’t draft a running back here, then a safety like Grant Delpit is an obvious second choice.
19. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago): Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
The Raiders are still pulling in the haul they received for All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack. It’s time that Oakland added to the defensive line that they took away from in 2018. Javon Kinlaw is a powerful lineman who posted six tackles for loss and sacks in 2019.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams): CJ Henderson, DB, Florida
After Jalen Ramsey’s departure to the Rams earlier this season, Jacksonville was left with little at the corner position. Although it ended up not being much of an upgrade for Ramsey, the Jaguars pass defense finished at 22nd in 2019. CJ Henderson is a tall, physical player who has been a solid shutdown corner and faced plenty of talented wide receivers in the SEC.