The NFL combine kicks off this week, and the hype and scuttlebutt that comes out of the event is sure to create chaos on everyone’s mock drafts. We see it just about every year: Extraordinary testers will shoot up boards, others who disappoint will inevitably fall, and the rumors that start leaking out of the bars and steakhouses of Indianapolis are sure to create all kinds of movement. So, before the NFL world turns its focus to 40-yard dash times, vertical jumps, and which players met with which teams, here’s a pre-combine look at how the first round could unfold.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow, LSU
Whispers that Burrow may “pull an Eli Manning” and refuse to play in Cincinnati could increase in volume next week, but for now, this pairing still feels like a lock. Burrow put together one of the best single-season quarterback performances in college football history in 2019, completing 76.3 percent of his passes for 5,671 yards, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt while tossing 60 touchdowns and just six picks. His out-of-nowhere rise from QB afterthought to Heisman winner cemented his spot as the top pick, and nothing about that felt fluky. Burrow is the type of talent the Bengals can build around.
2. Washington Redskins: Edge Chase Young, Ohio State
The Redskins will have plenty of suitors should they look to trade down here, but I’m not going to fault them if they stand pat and take Young. The 6-foot-5, 266-pound pass rusher is the best non-quarterback in the class and it’s not particularly close. He brings the potential to give Washington the type of star-studded defensive line the 49ers fielded in 2019, joining recent first-rounders Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat in that group.
3. Detroit Lions: CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
With Darius Slay’s future in Detroit in doubt, the Lions have an easy option here to quickly replace the three-time Pro Bowler. Okudah has all the makings of the league’s next great shutdown cornerback, with size, athleticism, ball skills, and an aggressive demeanor. He’s a day-one starter who can help upgrade a unit that ranked 29th against the pass in DVOA last season.
4. New York Giants: OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
The Giants have a variety of blue-chip players to choose from at this spot, but GM Dave Gettleman is, and always will be, a sucker for building through the trenches. Wills combines incredible power with a glass-eater mentality and projects as a day-one starter at right tackle for the Giants. He’d be a welcome addition for still-developing quarterback Daniel Jones.
5. Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Medical checks at next week’s combine should give us new updates on the status of Tagovailoa’s injured hip, but for now, all signs point to a full recovery. If that ends up being the case, the Dolphins will be running to the podium to turn the card in for the former Crimson Tide signal-caller. Tua is a quick processor who throws a beautiful deep ball and adds value with his legs. He brings the ability to unlock Miami’s ascending pass catching group and turn the offense around.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
With Philip Rivers and the team parting ways, quarterback is an option here for Los Angeles. But if there’s one player-team pairing that I’d most love to see in this draft, this is it. Simmons is listed here as a linebacker but he’s an extraordinarily versatile, positionless playmaker who’s capable of lining up at safety, nickelback, linebacker, or even cornerback. He’d be an endlessly intriguing complement to a guy who fits the same mold in third-year pro Derwin James. With James and Simmons on the field together, the Chargers would have a near-limitless amount of options at their disposal for matching up with opposing teams’ top players.
7. Carolina Panthers: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
It remains unclear whether or not the Panthers have plans to move on from longtime franchise QB Cam Newton, but if they do, this is the place to grab his successor. Herbert is a tier below both Burrow and Tagovailoa, but he has all the physical tools to develop into a quality starter in Matt Rhule’s offense. Herbert has a strong arm and the athleticism to avoid pressure to keep plays alive, though he needs to refine his decision-making and play with more consistency.
8. Arizona Cardinals: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
The Cardinals have work to do on shoring up a defense that finished 23rd in DVOA in 2019. Brown brings the athleticism, length, and versatility to play multiple roles on Vance Joseph’s defensive front and gives the team a three-down stalwart to build around.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Edge K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
With Yannick Ngakoue slated for free agency and Calais Campbell heading into his age-34 season, the Jaguars should be on the hunt for a pass rusher to partner with Josh Allen, last year’s first-round pick. Chaisson’s explosive, bendy athletic profile reminds me a lot of Allen (who posted 10.5 sacks as a rookie), and while the former LSU star doesn’t bring the type of production Allen did into the pros (Chaisson posted just 9.5 sacks in 24 games for the Tigers), his best football may still be in front of him. Chaisson has the tools to develop into a top-tier edge rusher but he needs to be a more consistent finisher.
10. Cleveland Browns: OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
I love this pairing for the offensive line–needy Browns: Wirfs is a highly athletic and physical tackle prospect who fits in perfectly with new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s wide zone rushing offense. He’s got tree trunk legs but relatively quick feet and can block on the move. He’s a brick wall in pass protection, and would give Baker Mayfield the type of help he needs to produce a bounceback season.
11. New York Jets: OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
The Jets can’t waste any more time building a strong, lasting support system around Sam Darnold. Grabbing Becton here is a good way to start: The mountainous left tackle slots in as a day-one starter and while he’s still relatively raw, technique-wise, he makes up for it with pure power and extraordinary length. He’s a force in the ground game, too.
12. Las Vegas Raiders (from Bears): WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Jon Gruden’s offense was far better than I thought it’d be last season and while Derek Carr’s long-term future is still a big question mark heading into free agency, that group could make another big jump in 2020 with a few additional pieces of weaponry. Jeudy would give the Raiders a dynamic pass catching playmaker who can contribute from Day 1. He’s a shifty route runner, has the speed to get over the top of the defense, and makes hay after the catch.
13. Indianapolis Colts: WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
The Colts could go in any number of directions here, but Lamb’s rare upside is just too enticing to pass up. GM Chris Ballard noted recently that the team needs more “explosive elements” on offense and Lamb was one of the best big-play creators in college football last year, averaging 21.4 yards per catch (third among FBS players) while racking up 26 receptions of 20-plus yards (second only to LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase). He’s the total package as a receiver, a smooth route runner with top-tier contested-pass skills and elite run-after-the-catch elusiveness.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
With Ndamukong Suh, Beau Allen, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Shaquil Barrett all headed toward free agency, the Buccaneers look to bolster their defensive line with the former Gamecocks star. Kinlaw is a great fit for Todd Bowles’s scheme, capable of playing multiple spots on the line while consistently creating havoc in the backfield.
15. Denver Broncos: OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
The Broncos ranked 25th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack metric in 2019, surrendering 41 sacks. While left tackle Garett Bolles wasn’t the sole reason for the team’s struggles in that area, he stuck out as a problem, drawing 17 penalty flags, second most in the league. By grabbing the reliable Thomas here, Denver would shore up what’s been a shaky position for them for too long. Thomas would give GM John Elway and new offensive line coach Mike Munchak an anchor to build around and provide second-year quarterback Drew Lock with some much-needed consistency on his blind side.
16. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
The Falcons have already announced they won’t pursue a second contract with 2015 first-round defensive end Vic Beasley, and could follow the same path with 2017 first-rounder Takk McKinley after this season. Atlanta needs to add talent to its pass rush group and Gross-Matos is a good fit for Dan Quinn’s scheme. He’s got the length and size to play the run and the quick get-off to be a factor as a pass rusher early in his career.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Edge A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
With Robert Quinn and Michael Bennett both headed toward free agency, the Cowboys look to the defensive line here by grabbing Epenesa. The former Iowa star brings brute power and top-tier length to the Dallas line, and is capable of lining up on the strong side of the defense or bumping inside on obvious passing downs. He’s not the flashiest pass rusher in this class, but he’s as strong as an ox and plays with heavy hands.
18. Miami Dolphins (from Steelers): FS Xavier McKinney, Alabama
The Dolphins have needs at pretty much every spot and after taking Tagovailoa with their first of three first-rounders, they grab a quarterback for their defense with their second (with a pick they got in return for shipping Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh, by the way). McKinney is a rangy and versatile defender who can line up just about everywhere for Miami, giving head coach Brian Flores an interchangeable playmaker to plug into his scheme.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (from Bears): CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
After grabbing a dynamic wideout with their first pick of the round, the Raiders look to the defensive side of the ball here. Henderson is a talented, athletic cornerback with ball skills and a competitive nature who’d pair nicely with the team’s second-rounder from last season, Trayvon Mullen. The team is moving to Vegas but they’re not changing divisions, and Gruden and Co. will have to contend with Patrick Mahomes for the next decade. It’ll help to have some corners.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama
The Jags use one of the picks they got from the Rams in the Jalen Ramsey trade to fill that cornerback vacancy, grabbing the former Crimson Tide standout. Diggs, like Ramsey, has great size and elite athleticism—and the former receiver is still just scratching the surface of his potential. While they’re at it, maybe Jacksonville could figure out a way to bring Trevon’s possibly disgruntled brother Stefon to town, too.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Jalen Reagor, TCU
The Eagles need to add speed to their receiver corps and Reagor fits the bill. The former Horned Frogs star is more than just a deep threat, though, capable of operating at all three levels of the field while providing some juice on sweeps and end-arounds.
22. Buffalo Bills: WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
The Bills add a useful, versatile wideout to quarterback Josh Allen’s toolset here by picking Shenault. The Colorado star brings an incredible multi-purpose skill set to Buffalo: He’s a dangerous deep threat, which fits with Allen’s strong arm and aggressive style, and he’s an elusive run-after-the-catch playmaker, which should give the third-year quarterback an easy underneath option with some home run potential. Shenault is a lot like a supersized Deebo Samuel and should provide a day-one impact for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
23. New England Patriots: WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
It’s certainly not ideal for the Patriots to spend back-to-back first-rounders on receivers after taking N’Keal Harry with their top pick last season, but a thin free-agent class at the position could mean that the draft is the best place for Bill Belichick and Co. to bolster that position group. New England likely doesn’t want to spend half the season trying to find reliable playmakers for Tom Brady (and yes, for now, I’m expecting Brady back in New England), and Jefferson has the skill set to be an impact playmaker early in his career. He can separate over the middle of the field, is dangerous in the red zone, and excels in contested-catch situations.
24. New Orleans Saints: QB Jordan Love, Utah State
I’m not convinced the Saints truly see Taysom Hill as the heir apparent to Drew Brees, so I’ve got them taking their quarterback of the future here. Love has all the tools and athletic traits to develop into a good starter, but may need some time to iron out his issues with consistency and decision-making. With Brees back for another year (at least), New Orleans would give Love time to learn from one of the best.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Edge Terrell Lewis, Alabama
The Vikings struck gold when they took a then-raw but high-upside athletic marvel in edge rusher Danielle Hunter in the third round of the 2015 draft, and they’re hoping to do it again here with Lewis. The former Crimson Tide standout missed most of the 2017 season and all of the 2018 season to injury, but he has the length, athleticism, and first-step burst to develop into a star at the position. With veteran Everson Griffen headed into free agency, Lewis can bolster the team’s defensive line.
26. Miami Dolphins (from Texans): CB Jaylon Johnson, Utah
The Dolphins keep adding to their secondary here, bolstering the cornerbacks group with the stingy playmaker out of Utah. Johnson brings size, physicality, and schematic versatility―he sounds like the type of player that Flores is looking for on his defense. He’ll fit well opposite Xavien Howard.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Edge Zack Baun, Wisconsin
With Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, and Mychal Kendricks all set to hit free agency and K.J. Wright heading into the final year of his deal, Seattle needs to address both its linebacker and pass rush needs this offseason. This pick helps in both areas: Baun has explosive pass rushing traits and plenty of bend to get around the corner―and he’s also a natural playing off the line of scrimmage in coverage. He’d be an intriguing addition as a base strong-side or weak-side ‘backer in Pete Carroll’s defense and be a situational pass rusher on obvious passing downs.
28. Baltimore Ravens: SS Grant Delpit, LSU
The Ravens look to strengthen their safety position following Tony Jefferson’s release, and Delpit makes for an intriguing defensive-backfield partner to veteran Earl Thomas. The Jim Thorpe Award winner brings the versatility to line up at multiple spots in the formation and has incredible instincts, reading routes and the quarterback’s eyes to break on the ball or get himself in position to make a play. Delpit struggled as a tackler while fighting through a nagging ankle injury in 2019, but he’s a dynamic playmaker who should start early in his career.
29. Tennessee Titans: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
The Titans won’t go this route if they end up deciding to re-sign Derrick Henry to a long-term deal, but if they let Henry walk or use the franchise tag on him for 2020, Taylor makes a ton of sense as the long-term successor. Tennessee found an incredible balance last season by marrying its dominant run game with an explosive play-action passing attack, and Taylor―who has great size, lightning-quick feet, and breakaway open-field speed―could help the Titans reprise that strategy next season and beyond.
30. Green Bay Packers: WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
Clemson’s Tee Higgins could be another great option at this spot but the Packers opt for Ruggs and his pure, blazing speed instead. The type of field-tilting explosiveness that Ruggs brings to the Packers is a key attribute for some of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, whether we’re talking about the Chiefs (Tyreek Hill), Ravens (Marquise Brown), 49ers (Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida), Seahawks (DK Metcalf), or Texans (Will Fuller). Green Bay lacked game-breaking speed at receiver last season, and Ruggs has the ability to change the way defenses line up to try to stop Aaron Rodgers’s passing game.
31. San Francisco 49ers: CB Jeff Gladney, TCU
San Francisco found a gem in cornerback Emmanuel Moseley last year, but still needs to address the depth at the position for both the short and the long term. Richard Sherman is going into the last year of his deal and with Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson both heading to free agency, the 49ers could use some reinforcements at that spot. Gladney is one of my favorite players in this draft: He’s a wiry, slender defender with electric feet and an aggressive, physical presence on the outside.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Patrick Queen, LSU
The Chiefs defense found new life in the second half of the 2019 season in large part because of Tyrann Mathieu’s rangy playmaking energy. Queen brings the same type of big-hitting, sideline-to-sideline-running vibe to that group. He’s an ascending playmaker with explosive speed, incredible length, and instincts to fill gaps, jump into passing lanes, or sneak through the line on a blitz. Queen fills one of Kansas City’s biggest needs.