With bowl season coming to an end and many collegiate football stars declaring for the draft, NFL teams are beginning to have a clear idea of who they should target to improve their rosters. This pre-combine mock will be one of many in-depth breakdowns of who each team could take in this year’s draft.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (2–14): Joe Burrow, Quarterback, LSU
After the Bengals made it public that they are not willing to trade away their first overall pick, drafting Joe Burrow seems like a no brainer here. Cincinnati is at a point where it makes sense to move on from Andy Dalton, and their young offensive minded coach, Zac Taylor, looks to have the tools to help a young quarterback flourish. The Ohio native was the best quarterback in the country this season, which makes this pick that much easier.
2. Washington Redskins (3–13): Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Chase Young seems to be the unanimous “best player available” in this year’s draft, where any team that is not looking for a quarterback has him at the top of their draft board. Even with a two game suspension, Young led the nation with 16.5 sacks this season. Although Washington has many other needs, Chase Young can provide an immediate impact and has the capability to be a cornerstone pass-rusher for this struggling franchise.
3. Detroit Lions (3–12–1): Jeff Okudah, Cornerback, Ohio State
The second Buckeye to be drafted thus far, Okudah is the best corner in this year’s class. After Detroit traded defensive back Quandre Diggs to Seattle earlier in the season, it is evident that head coach Matt Patricia is set on drafting and grooming his own talent. Okudah will be an immediate factor lining up next to star cornerback, Darius Slay.
4. New York Giants (4–12): Andrew Thomas, Tackle, Georgia
Although there are many top tier offensive tackles entering this draft, I believe that Thomas is the most talented. One could argue that the Giants go with a defensive player with this pick, but New York’s offensive line has not been stellar thus far. If young quarterback Daniel Jones wants to take the next step in his development, it is integral to have a reliable left tackle to keep him protected.
5. Miami Dolphins (5–11): Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, Alabama
Months ago, it seemed as if Tua Tagovailoa was the unanimous first pick in the draft. He unfortunately suffered a season ending hip injury, which allowed Joe Burrow’s historic performance to propel him to that top spot. Four picks later, Miami still gets the guy they wanted all along. If healthy, Tua can add a heightened level of quarterback play to one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (5–11): Justin Herbert, Quarterback, Oregon
Sixth overall is very high for a raw prospect like Herbert, but the Chargers must capitalize when they can. With Phillip Rivers gone, it has been commonly speculated that LA will pursue a quarterback early in the draft. Herbert is a west coast kid, and is the last of the “top-tier” quarterbacks worth taking in the first round. Herbert finished the year with a 156.8 passer rating and proved that he can grind out meaningful wins with victories over Utah and Wisconsin. He will need a year or two to learn and develop, but when he’s comfortable, the guy can sling it.
7. Carolina Panthers (5–11): Isaiah Simmons, Linebacker, Clemson
Luke Kuechly’s sudden retirement leaves a wide open void in Carolina’s defense that is going to be tough to address. Simmons played linebacker, safety, corner, defensive end, and even nose tackle last season at Clemson and will bring a level of versatility to a Panthers defense that allowed the tenth most yards per game (374.5) this past season.
8. Arizona Cardinals (5–10–1): Jedrick Wills, Tackle, Alabama
Another year, another highly sought after Alabama lineman. The Cardinals’ offensive line allowed the elusive Kyler Murray to be sacked a whopping 48 times this past season, the most in the NFL. Wills played almost exclusively at right tackle while at Alabama, but his biggest strength was in pass protection, indicating that he should be able to transition to left tackle rather easily if he is asked to. The only question left to be answered is whether or not Kyler Murray will be able to see over the 6’5 behemoth.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (6–10): Grant Delpit, Safety, LSU
Delpit has the skill set to be a top five pick in the draft, yet many of the teams with those picks have more addressable needs that outweigh the safety position. This bodes well for Jacksonville, who recently traded away their star defensive back, Jalen Ramsey. Ninth overall is a steal for a player like Delpit, who should start right away for the Jags.
10. Cleveland Browns (6–10): Tristan Wirfs, Tackle, Iowa
The third offensive lineman taken in the top ten, Wirfs is versatile enough to play both right and left tackle positions. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was the sixth most sacked passer in the league last year, and Cleveland’s O-line has been the weakest link in that high profile offense as of late. Wirfs faced a multitude of elite edge rushers while playing in the Big-10 such as Chase Young, Carter Coughlin, and Kenny Willekes, as well as having to lineup across from teammate, A.J. Epenesa, every day at practice.
11. New York Jets (7–9): Jerry Jeudy, Wide Receiver, Alabama
With the top three tackles off the board, the Jets turn to another position of need. Robby Anderson could very well leave in free agency, Quincy Enunwa can’t seem to stay healthy, and Demaryius Thomas is a shell of his old self. Jeudy has what it takes to be an elite NFL receiver and will give Sam Darnold the clear cut, number one option that he’s been waiting for.
12. Las Vegas Raiders (7–9): CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
Though this is one of the deeper receiver classes we’ve seen in recent years, CeeDee Lamb is more than worthy of the twelfth pick. Similar to the Jets, Oakl… I mean Las Vegas, does not have a clear and concise number one receiving option. Tyrell Williams had a strong performance this season but cannot be relied on to show up every week. Lamb’s ability to create big plays after the catch should help him be the star of the show in Las Vegas.
13. Indianapolis Colts (7–9): Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Brown is an explosive, pass rushing lineman that has shown that he can play just about every position on the defensive line. Indy’s defense has been very inconsistent recently, but their 4–3 defensive scheme would give Brown the opportunity to bounce around to a few different interior line positions and create havoc from all directions. Arguably the best D-tackle in the draft, it’s hard to pass up on a guy of his caliber.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7–9): Kristian Fulton, Cornerback, LSU
After cutting former first round pick Vernon Hargreaves earlier in the season, it is clear that the Bucs are looking to overhaul their secondary. Fulton faced six different top ten ranked opponents this season at LSU, recording the eighth most passes defended in the country. This national champion has what it takes to be an airtight corner at the next level.
15. Denver Broncos (7–9): Trevon Diggs, Cornerback, Alabama
With Okudah and Fulton off the board, Diggs is the best candidate available to provide a spark to a Denver defense that is looking to regain its identity. A former wide receiver, Diggs brings an elite level of zone coverage and ball skills that is ideal for forcing turnovers. If he can improve his man coverage abilities, he will be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
16. Atlanta Falcons (7–9): A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Atlanta’s defense this season was atrocious to say the least. With needs at nearly every defensive position group, Epenesa is the best player available and will fit in well with Dan Quinn’s 4–3 defense that substitutes pass rushers regularly. Epenesa was a menace in opposing team’s backfields, all while winning most of his match-ups against some of the Big-10’s top linemen.
17. Dallas Cowboys (8–8): Henry Ruggs III, Wide Receiver, Alabama
With Dallas struggling to pay all of their top offensive talents, it looks as if Amari Cooper might be the odd man out and will leave via free agency. This leaves a hole to be filled in Dallas’ receiving corps. While Mike Gallup is a talented number two option and Randall Cobb is a dependable slot receiver, adding Ruggs will provide that number one threat that can take the top off of a defense. Ruggs’ ability to create separation with his unmatched speed is the reason why he averaged nearly 20 yards per reception this season at Alabama.
18. Miami Dolphins (via 8–8 PIT): K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
Using the pick they received from Pittsburgh in the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, Miami adds an elite edge rusher from that championship winning LSU defense. As previously noted, LSU’s defense went toe-to-toe with and beat six different top ten offenses this season, with help in part from Chaisson’s 60 tackles.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (via 8–8 CHI): Javon Kinlaw, Defensive Tackle, South Carolina
Behind Derrick Brown, Kinlaw is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the nation. With Chicago’s pick, the Raiders will look to add this 6’6, 310 pound athlete to a group of young and improving defensive lineman. The Raiders are not as far away from being contenders as people may think, and adding Kinlaw to bolster down that defensive front is a step in the right direction.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (via 9–7 LAR): Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Defense, defense, defense. That has been Jacksonville’s bread and butter for years and they are not steering away from that mindset. Using the capital they’ve acquired from trading Jalen Ramsey to the Rams, the Jags add another edge rusher to improve that pass defense. YGM played most of his snaps at defensive end while at Penn State, but has shown the athleticism and versatility to be able to play stand-up outside linebacker when asked to. This allows defensive coordinator Todd Wash to add more creative schemes to his defense.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7): Xavier McKinney, Safety, Alabama
Though everyone knows that Philly has a large addressable need at wide receiver, the remaining first round talents do not fit their offensive scheme. With a receiver class as deep as this one, the Eagles are able to wait until later rounds to draft one and can attempt to fix their secondary; another position of need. Philly’s defensive backs were absolutely manhandled this season, allowing the second most plays of forty yards or more (15) in the league. As a safety, McKinney recorded 95 tackles for Alabama this year, proving that he can be reliable a factor in containing those big yardage plays.
22. Buffalo Bills (10–6): Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
With Josh Allen, John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Devin Singletary, the Bills are only a piece or two away from making a deep playoff run. Higgins is a 6’4, big framed receiver with abnormal speed for his size. He showed the world that he is poised for the NFL this season by scoring fourteen touchdowns and averaging 19.8 yards per reception. Josh Allen finally has his guy that can go up and fight for those contested passes.
23. New England Patriots (12–4): Kenneth Murray, Linebacker, Oklahoma
Only the second true linebacker taken so far, Murray’s speed and open field tackling ability makes him a must watch player whenever he’s in the game. Many believe that Murray is an early second round talent, but with New England’s need at the linebacker position I see him going here at pick twenty-three. His raw athleticism is perfect for Bill Belichick and the Patriot’s coaching staff to groom him into a household name.
24. New Orleans Saints (13–3): C.J. Henderson, Cornerback, Florida
The only thing keeping Henderson from going higher than this is his undeveloped frame. He’s 6’1, 200 pounds but is very lanky and could afford to gain a few pounds of muscle mass. Other than that, his length allows him to play very physical and break up passes that many smaller corners can’t do. His instincts are that of a seasoned pro and New Orleans is a great system for a young defensive back to grow and develop.
25. Minnesota Vikings (10–6): Neville Gallimore, Defensive Tackle, Oklahoma
Neville Gallimore is a bit of a raw prospect that does not have many stats to justify just how dominant he can be. He is a quick defensive tackle with an excellent level of competitive toughness that will help him contribute immediately to an already dominant Minnesota defensive front. With Linval Josesph being in his 30’s, Gallimore can learn from the best and eventually succeed him as the anchor of the Viking’s interior line.
26. Miami Dolphins (via 10–6 HOU): D’Andre Swift, Running Back, Georgia
Finally a running back! Miami traded away their best rusher last season in Kenyan Drake and will need someone young and talented to take over in their backfield. Swift’s name is quite indicative of how he plays; Instinctive, explosive, and of course, swift on his feet. His short and stout frame allows him to use his speed to dodge defenders and create plays in open space. This creates an opportunity for him to catch passes out of the backfield as well, which is crucial to the development of any young quarterback Miami decides to roll with.
27. Seattle Seahawks (11–5): Mekhi Becton, Tackle, Louisville
Seattle is still trying to solve their offensive line woes and Becton is a great addition to fix that. The first tackle taken since pick ten, Mekhi Becton is a perfect replacement for aging tackle, Duane Brown. Measuring in at an insane 6’7, 370 pounds, Becton is one of the quickest linemen in the draft. His size alone can intimidate opposing defenders before the play even begins.
28. Baltimore Ravens (14–2): Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
The Ravens were near perfect during the second half of last season, defense included. That being said, they ended the regular season twenty-first in sack totals (37). At Boise State, Weaver finished the year tied for fifth in the country with 13.5 sacks and can use his repertoire of speed and a low center of gravity to attack quarterbacks at the next level. Weighing in at about 265 pounds, Weaver has the capability to play outside linebacker as well; similar to Terrell Suggs.
29. Tennessee Titans (9–7): Bryce Hall, Cornerback, Virginia
Hall has been climbing up many draft boards and may have been ranked even higher if his season wasn’t cut short in October with an ankle injury. He is a highly intelligent corner and excels in man coverage. With Tennessee’s defensive coordinator Dean Pees retiring, Hall’s high IQ and awareness should help him ingest any unfamiliar schemes that a new and innovative defensive coordinator may throw his way.
30. Green Bay Packers (13–3): Laviska Shenault, Wide Receiver, Colorado
Aside from Devante Adams, the Packers’ receivers are pretty lackluster. Shenault is a large framed receiver with the quickness to play in the slot if need be, but thrives on the outside. With Aaron Rodgers not getting any younger, he is going to need to lean on his receivers more and more if the Packers want to remain contenders. Shenault is the guy to make that possible.
31. San Francisco 49ers (13–3): Tyler Biadasz, Center, Wisconsin
Biadasz is your prototypical, country-strong, Wisconsin lineman that has the physicality that you cannot teach. His level of intensity is perfect for San Fran’s zone run scheme. His blocking techniques are far from perfect, but that can be corrected and paired with his gritty nature to create one of the most dominant run blockers in the game.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (12–4): Jonathan Taylor, Running Back, Wisconsin
Kansas City has their fair share of defensive gaps to fill, but when a guy like Taylor is still on the board you take him. Taylor was a bell cow at Wisconsin, averaging over 2,000 yards per season during his time there. Everyone saw how dominant the Chiefs were when they had a reliable, every down back in Kareem Hunt, and Jonathan Taylor should provide the same level of dynamic play.