We’re still in the early stages of this year’s NFL draft season. The Senior Bowl is a month away, the combine won’t happen for another two months, and free agency in March could shake everything up. Some of the guys below may go back to school (Chase Young, if you’re reading this, please declare), and the overall draft order isn’t even set. Still, there’s no such thing as too early when it comes to mock drafts, and with that in mind, here’s this year’s version 1.0:
1. Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow, LSU
There are still over four months until the draft kicks off in late April, but the first pick already feels like a lock. Burrow set new benchmarks for college quarterback accuracy and efficiency in 2019, completing 77.9 percent of his passes for 4,715 yards, averaging 10.7 yards per attempt while tossing 48 touchdowns to just six picks. He did so against a gauntlet of top teams, too, showcasing time and again his playmaking talent and uncanny pocket poise. Burrow’s meteoric rise from QB afterthought to Heisman winner was no fluke―he’s elevated his game in LSU’s new offensive scheme this year, and laid waste to every challenger, hitting big-time throws every week while pushing the ball downfield aggressively. He’s also dangerous with his legs, adding 289 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He’s the type of quarterback the Bengals—or just about any team—can build around.
2. New York Giants: Edge Chase Young, Ohio State
It’s a slam dunk move for the Giants to stick here at no. 2 and take Young, who’s already cemented himself as the best nonquarterback in the class by a country mile. GM Dave Gettleman loves him some hog-mollies, and he would get an elite one in Young, who, like former teammate Nick Bosa, will bring double-digit sack potential in Year 1. Young has the talent to be a franchise cornerstone for New York, and it’d be fun to see him play next to 2019 first-rounder Dexter Lawrence.
3. Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tagovailoa’s devastating hip injury throws the superstar quarterback’s projected draft ceiling for a loop, but I still think he’s a lock for the top five. There’s enough time to rehab the injury before the draft, so teams should have enough information to make a determination on Tua’s long-term prognosis―and if his health checks out, he’s an absolute no-brainer for the quarterback-needy Dolphins. Tua is an incredibly quick processor behind center, bringing a strong arm, elite accuracy, and a preternatural feel for the pocket. He’s a game-changer when healthy and could be the key to the team’s rebuilding plans.
4. Washington Redskins: OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
Longtime stalwart Trent Williams will likely never play for the Redskins again, and the team’s backup plan at that spot, Donald Penn, is on a one-year deal. Wirfs would give Washington some stability at that crucial position and could play a key role in quarterback Dwayne Haskins’s ongoing development. The former Iowa lineman (and state champion wrestler) is a mountain of a man with top-tier length, athleticism, and power.
5. Detroit Lions: CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
The Lions could go in any number of directions at this spot, but the secondary was a big vulnerability for the team in 2019. Okudah is a big, fast, and technically sound cover corner who has the talent to start opposite Darius Slay as a rookie―then replace the veteran if Slay moves on after 2020. The Buckeyes defender notched three picks, seven passes defensed, and a forced fumble in 2019.
6. Arizona Cardinals: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Whether Larry Fitzgerald’s back in a Cardinals uniform or not next year, Arizona needs to add some playmaking talent to its wide receiver corps. Jeudy’s just the type of player who could elevate an already-ascending offense and boost Kyler Murray’s development: He’s quick off the line, elusive after the catch, and can operate at every level of the defense. He’d pair nicely with Christian Kirk, giving Kyler Murray a dangerous one-two punch on the outside.
7. New York Jets: OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
This is the chalk pick for the Jets in mock drafts right now, as New York desperately needs to upgrade the supporting cast around Sam Darnold. Giving their soon-to-be third-year quarterback a reliable, long-term blindside protector is a good start. The Jets’ offensive line has surrendered a league-high 70 hurries this season and rank third-worst in sacks allowed (48).
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
The Jaguars’ once-elite defense has fallen off a cliff this season, and the team needs to invest in the trenches to shore up a front that was far too leaky against the run. Brown gives the team the type of size and stopping power it needs to fix that issue, but the Auburn star also brings tantalizing pass-rush upside from the interior as well.
9. Los Angeles Chargers: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
Herbert’s not going to be for everyone; some teams will downgrade him for inconsistencies in accuracy and decision-making, while others―like, perhaps, the Chargers―will be unable to pass up the signal-caller’s scintillating combination of size and tools. Philip Rivers is set to be a free agent and may be back on a short-term deal in L.A., but even if the veteran quarterback returns, the team needs to start planning seriously for what comes next. Herbert might benefit from playing an understudy role in Year 1.
10. Carolina Panthers: Edge A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
The Panthers are coming to a franchise crossroads of sorts this offseason, so pretty much any position―including quarterback―is on the table for the team at this spot. I’ve got them going with a difference-making edge rusher for the second straight year here, though. Pairing the powerful and versatile Epenesa with Brian Burns could give the Panthers a young, dynamic pass-rushing duo for years.
11. Denver Broncos: WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
The Broncos have plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball, but John Elway can’t afford to waste any more time before fixing the team’s massive problems on offense. Quarterback Drew Lock, last year’s second-rounder, has flashed in spots over the past few weeks, but if he’s going to develop into a franchise-caliber quarterback, he’s going to need a strong support system around him. Grabbing Lamb here could provide a major boost: Paired with ascending superstar Courtland Sutton, the Broncos could field a pair of mismatch-creating, high-point-winning studs at receiver. Lamb has size, strong hands, and elite run-after-the-catch talent.
12. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Curtis Weaver, Boise State
With Vic Beasley headed to free agency this offseason and Takk McKinley not far behind (he’ll be a free agent in 2021), Atlanta needs to start rebuilding its pass-rush group. They could get off to a good start here: Weaver is athletic, versatile, and absolutely relentless as a pass rusher. The Boise State star can bring much-needed heat off the edge.
13. Oakland Raiders: LB/SS Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
The Raiders need another playmaker in the middle of their defense, and the überathletic and versatile Simmons could be the linchpin the group is missing. The former Clemson star is a hybrid between a safety and linebacker but has the sideline-to-sideline speed to do whatever the team asks him to. He’d be fun to watch playing alongside last year’s hard-hitting first-round safety, Johnathan Abram.
14. Indianapolis Colts: CB CJ Henderson, Florida
The Colts could go wide receiver or defensive tackle here―and they might even be in the market for a quarterback―but Henderson’s too good a talent to pass up at this spot. The Florida product is a sticky cover corner with ballhawking instincts. Starting corner Pierre Desir has struggled this year after signing a three-year extension over the offseason, and with zero guaranteed money on his deal in 2020 or beyond, Indianapolis could cut him and upgrade on the outside. Put Henderson opposite Rock Ya-Sin with Kenny Moore in the slot, and Indianapolis would have the makings of a strong cornerbacks group.
15. Cleveland Browns: OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
Chris Hubbard is not the answer at right tackle for the Browns, but Wills just might be. The Alabama star is a mauler in the run game and technically sound as a pass blocker. He’d provide some reliability on the right side of the line and perfectly fit the Browns’ balanced approach, keeping Baker Mayfield clean while opening up run lanes for Nick Chubb in 2020.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
This is already a popular mock-draft pairing and should get plenty of play in the coming months. The Eagles desperately need to add speed to their anemic passing game, and Philly clearly missed DeSean Jackson for most of the year. Ruggs is a big play waiting to happen, but is more than just a straight-line deep threat. He’d give Carson Wentz a playmaker who combines run-after-the-catch talent with field-tilting home-run speed.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: SS Grant Delpit, LSU
The Buccaneers’ young cornerbacks group of Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, M.J. Stewart, and Sean Murphy-Bunting made some promising gains toward the end of the season, but now Tampa Bay needs to add some talent to its safety group. Delpit’s perceived stock has dropped this season because of recurring tackling issues, but he’s a rangy playmaker with highly sought-after instincts in coverage.
18. Oakland Raiders (from Bears): WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
Higgins could be the spark to the passing game that Josh Jacobs provided for the team’s run game in 2019. The former Clemson star could give Derek Carr (or whoever’s the QB next year and beyond) a big outside target with great hands and the ability to win in contested catch situations.
19. Tennessee Titans: OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
Right tackle Jack Conklin will be a free agent in 2020 after the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option, and if Tennessee decides not to bring him back Leatherwood could be a great option in the first round. The versatile lineman played at both left tackle and guard for the Crimson Tide, and could slot in on the right tackle spot as a rookie.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama
After trading away superstar Jalen Ramsey, the Jags can turn around here and select their shutdown corner of the future. Diggs―the younger brother of NFL receiver Stefon―has great size and athletic fluidity, and is capable of being physical at the line and flipping his hips to run in coverage.
21. Dallas Cowboys: DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
The Cowboys roll with Kinlaw, a disruptive, penetrating interior defender with length and versatility. Long term, the former Gamecocks defender would pair nicely on the interior with the team’s second-rounder from last year, Trysten Hill.
22. Miami Dolphins (from Steelers): Edge K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
With their future franchise quarterback in the bag, the Dolphins turn to the defensive side of the ball with their second of three first-rounders. Chaisson is an athletic outside linebacker with an explosive first step and plenty of versatility. He’s a building-block piece for the Dolphins’ stripped-down defensive group.
23. Miami Dolphins (from Texans): RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
I was hesitant to give the Dolphins a running back at this spot considering the team has so many other needs, but then I looked at Miami’s rushing stats and noticed 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sitting at the top of that column with just 219 yards on the year. There’s no team in greater need at running back, and the explosive and versatile Swift is a playmaking mismatch creator in the passing game too. Miami has what could be a pretty talented core group of receivers to put around Tua, with DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and Albert Wilson leading the way, but Swift gives the team’s new quarterback an elusive backfield presence too.
24. Minnesota Vikings: CB Bryce Hall, Virginia
Vikings fans probably shudder at the thought of taking another corner in the first round, but with Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander both headed toward free agency and Xavier Rhodes struggling for much of the season, the team may need reinforcements. Hall missed most of 2019 with an ankle injury, but he’s long, instinctive in coverage, and aggressive as a tackler.
25. Buffalo Bills: WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
The Bills defense gives the team a chance to win every week, but quarterback Josh Allen needs a better, more dynamic support staff around him to take the next step in year three. Smith is probably the least-hyped member of the Crimson Tide pass-catching crew, but he’s a star in his own right. With suddenness off the line, wiggle in his routes, and the speed to get over the top of the defense, Smith would give Allen a playmaker both in the short area and deep down the field.
26. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
With Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, and Morris Claiborne all headed to free agency this offseason, the Chiefs need to add talent to their cornerbacks group. Wade played primarily in the slot for Ohio State, where he showcased good physicality in coverage, the quicks to read and react to option routes, and a willingness to tackle against the run.
27. Green Bay Packers: LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
Moses missed the 2019 season with an ACL tear, but should still head into the draft as one of the top linebacker prospects. The Crimson Tide product can play the run, has sideline-to-sideline speed in coverage, and can even get after the passer off the edge in certain situations. He’d be a nice boost to the middle of Green Bay’s defense.
28. San Francisco 49ers: FS Ashtyn Davis, Cal
With Jimmie Ward headed to free agency, the 49ers add another playmaker to their secondary. The former walk-on brings elite athleticism to the table; he made Bruce Feldman’s preseason Freaks list after earning first-team All-American honors as a hurdler, and is expected to run in the 4.3s this winter. Davis is just the type of rangy deep defender the 49ers can use.
29. New England Patriots: DT Raekwon Davis, Alabama
At 6-foot-6, 312 pounds, Davis has a rare combination of length, athleticism, power, and versatility. He’s capable of manning multiple gaps and can be deployed at multiple spots along the defensive line. That sounds a lot like a Patriots defender. The already-elite New England defense adds a war daddy to the middle of its front.
30. New Orleans Saints: WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
The Saints need to give Drew Brees someone not named Michael Thomas to throw to next year. With the future Hall of Famer showing few signs of slowing down, the team sinks its first-rounder into a playmaker who can boost an already strong offensive group. Shenault is as versatile as they come, capable of lining up outside, in the slot, or even in the backfield―giving Sean Payton another chess piece to move around the board.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Edge Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
With both Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah headed to free agency, Seattle needs to address an already-thin pass rush group. Gross-Matos is a Seahawks-style edge prospect: still raw, but possessing top-tier athletic talent and tantalizing potential.
32. Baltimore Ravens: C Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
The Ravens’ offensive foundation starts with an elite offensive line, but the team is thin at center with Matt Skura slated for free agency. Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz is an option here, too, but I’m going with Humphrey, a hard-nosed former wrestler with upper-body strength and a powerful lower half to move people in the run game.