By Ella Papanek, Reid Piercy, Charles Hua, Lev Cohen, and Danny Blumenthal
The NFL Draft is almost here, so it’s time for our bold predictions for Thursday night. Check out which players HSAC thinks will rise up in the draft, and which ones may slide down the board.
1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB (LSU)
Joe Burrow is the consensus number one pick for a reason. He had one of the best college seasons of any quarterback ever this past year, throwing 60 touchdowns and completing more than 75% of his passes in leading LSU to a national championship. This is Cincinnati’s chance to get the franchise QB they need and there is no reason to pass up the opportunity to be set at the game’s most important position.
2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, DE (Ohio State)
Regarded by many as the top defensive end prospect ever, Chase Young is the type of explosive player that is desperately needed in Washington. Despite being suspended for two games last year, Young still managed to lead all of college football with 16.5 sacks. The Redskins ranked 27th in total defense last season and could really use a playmaker like Young.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Detroit) – Tua Tagovailoa, QB (Alabama)
The Lions seem set on trading back in the draft here. They have their franchise quarterback already with Matthew Stafford, and since they should be able to get the corner they desire at 5, it makes sense to acquire more assets here. For Miami, it ends up just being too risky not to trade up. They have three first round picks, so they have the draft capital to be able to move up (in this case giving up the 26th pick in the draft), and if they love Tua Tagovailoa they may have to move up to prevent someone else from stealing him away. Tagovailoa could have been the first player selected in this draft had he not gotten hurt, as he excelled when he was on the field (87 touchdowns passes). He has all of the skills necessary to be a franchise quarterback for years, and comes in pro-ready from Alabama. He is just too good for Miami to let get away, so they trade up to three and take him here.
4. New York Giants – Isaiah Simmons, LB (Clemson)
While GM Dave Gettleman has recently insinuated that the Giants are looking to trade down and acquire an offensive tackle, they have expressed consistent interest in Isaiah Simmons. Simmons is undisputedly the top linebacker in the draft, receiving the Butkus Award for his performance in 2019 at Clemson. Along with recent acquisition Blake Martinez, Simmons has the potential to mitigate a severely depleted Giants’ secondary with his speed and versatility.
5. Detroit Lions (from Miami) – Jeffrey Okudah, CB (OSU)
The Lions were able to obtain an extra first round pick by trading back to the 5th pick and they still get the guy they would likely take at three in Jeffrey Okudah. Okudah is easily the best corner in this draft, as the consensus All-American led the nation’s top defense a year ago. He has a chance to immediately step in for Darius Slay and be the top corner in Detroit. The Lions, who had the NFL’s worst pass defense last year, desperately need to improve their secondary and this pick should help them do just that.
6. Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert, QB (Oregon)
The Chargers have been saying that Tyrod Taylor is going to start the season as their QB, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t draft another one here who can take the reins in the future. Justin Herbert has a big arm and all the tools that a franchise quarterback needs. While he needs some coaching to become a prototypical pro passer, he should have time to do that while sitting behind Taylor for a year. By following the Mahomes model from Kansas City, the Chargers can hope for similar results from their new QB prospect.
7. Carolina Panthers – Derrick Brown, DT (Auburn)
Last season, the Panthers gave up the most yards per carry and second most points per game in the NFL. Then, they proceeded to lose 8 out of 11 of their defensive starters in the offseason, including seven-time Pro-Bowler Luke Kuechly. With Simmons and Okudah off the board, reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brown is someone that can be plugged in immediately to help relieve Carolina’s defensive woes.
8. Arizona Cardinals – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT (Alabama)
After drafting Josh Rosen 10th overall in 2018, and then choosing Kyler Murray with the first pick last year, Arizona became just the third team in the last 55 years to select a quarterback in the first round of consecutive drafts. With Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray now running the show, the Cardinals cannot afford to have their #1 pick be the third-most sacked player in the NFL. After resigning left tackle D. J. Humphries for three more years, protection for Kyler Murray is needed at right tackle. With a tackle yet to be taken, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills Jr., and Mekhi Becton are all viable options for the Cardinals. Unlike the other prospects, however, Wills already has two years of starting experience protecting Tua Tagovailoa (Murray’s Heisman runner-up) at right tackle, so defending another Heisman-caliber quarterback is no new challenge.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars – CJ Henderson, CB (Florida)
After trading away Jalen Ramsey to the Rams last season, the Jaguars are looking to fill a hole at corner. CJ Henderson recorded a 4.39 on his 40 at the combine and is known for his ability to match receivers move-for-move. He is flexible and can perform at a high level in a wide variety of coverages, something that will prove valuable among the diverse offensive schemes of the AFC South. While he regressed a little after a standout sophomore year, his athleticism can help him shutdown the top receivers in the division.
10. Cleveland Browns – Tristan Wirfs, OT (Iowa)
Cleveland finds themselves in a position very similar to that of the Cardinals just two picks earlier. The Browns also managed to sign a tackle to a three-year deal in Jack Conklin, but still need protection on the other end of the line. Tristan Wirfs broke Scouting Combine offensive line records in vertical jump and broad jump and also ran a 4.85 40-yard dash, the fastest ever for a 320-plus-pound prospect. His insane athleticism combined with his position flexibility along the line will be eagerly welcomed by Baker Mayfield.
11. New York Jets – CeeDee Lamb, WR (Oklahoma)
With free agent Robby Anderson’s departure to Carolina, the Jets desperately need some depth at wideout. Known for his controlled ball skills, CeeDee Lamb is a natural fit for Adam Gase’s offense and a much needed target for QB Sam Darnold. In conjunction with an offensive line upgraded through free agency, Lamb’s blocking ability has the potential to significantly increase the value of RB Le’Veon Bell. Through his three years at Oklahoma, CeeDee Lamb has put up continually increasing numbers and will likely become a critical part of this Jets’ offense.
12. Las Vegas Raiders – Henry Ruggs III, WR (Alabama)
Henry Ruggs dominated the NFL Combine in February, running the event’s fastest 40-yard dash (4.27 seconds) and posting the 2nd-highest vertical jump of all wide receivers. Ruggs’ breathtaking speed has the potential to open up opportunities underneath for a Raiders receiving corps which finished 30th in catches last year. In addition, his sure hands (only 1 drop all of last year) will provide a massive upgrade for Las Vegas, as Raiders receivers had the league’s highest drop rate a year ago. Overall though, HSAC analyses have found that combine performance is not at all predictive of future success for wide receivers – so Ruggs may not be a top-tier receiver right away.
13. San Francisco 49ers – Jerry Jeudy, WR (Alabama)
With the Jets and Raiders choosing sure hands and speed, the 49ers see someone who could be the best receiver in the draft fall right into their laps. Jerry Jeudy is widely regarded as the most polished wide receiver in the draft, racking up over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his previous two seasons at Alabama. Jeudy is also a talented deep-ball receiver, as he demonstrated with an 85-yard touchdown catch in last year’s bowl game against Michigan. His ability to stretch the field will be a major asset for a San Francisco offense that heavily favored the run in 2019 (averaging 32.1 rushing attempts per game, behind only Baltimore).
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Andrew Thomas, OT (Georgia)
With Tom Brady’s age-43 season rapidly approaching, the Buccaneers are definitely in “Win Now” mode. They need help protecting their new star and the stacked incoming class of offensive tackles seems to offer the perfect remedy. In addition, previous HSAC studies have shown that offensive linemen are the safest players to select in the opening round. With three seasons of starting experience in the SEC, Andrew Thomas is the most NFL-ready tackle still available, and thus makes the most sense here for the Bucs.
15. Denver Broncos – Mekhi Becton, OT (Louisville)
In order for Drew Lock to thrive, the Broncos will need to provide him with additional targets and an improved offensive line. With the top receivers off the board, Mekhi Becton is a logical pick here. With experience at both right and left tackle, Becton would most likely be used to replace LT Garett Bolles, who has committed 32 penalties since being chosen in the first round in 2017. Becton’s size is his biggest strength and will be a major asset to an offensive line that was one of the worst at preventing sacks.
16. Atlanta Falcons – Javon Kinlaw, DT (South Carolina)
The Falcons have holes all over their defense. They had 28 sacks last year (2nd-worst in the NFL), and only the Dolphins allowed scores on a higher percentage of their defensive drives. Javon Kinlaw could provide a big boost, as this rising star has the explosiveness to shoot through gaps and the strength to shove blockers out of the way with elite push-pull techniques. In addition, his 18.1% pass rush win rate ranked second out of all collegiate defensive tackles. With a defense reliant on getting pressure with the front four, pairing Kinlaw with elite defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (7.5 sacks) and new addition Dante Fowler Jr. (11.5 sacks) could pay significant dividends for the Falcons.
17. Dallas Cowboys – Kristian Fulton, CB (LSU)
After finishing tied for last in interceptions last year, Dallas then lost premier corner Byron Jones and starting safety Jeff Heath in free agency. Therefore, the Cowboys will probably try to upgrade their secondary with this pick. Kristian Fulton could be a good selection here, as his physical press coverage style replicates Jones’ skillset well. In addition, PFF’s analysis placed him first in college football with 20 forced incompletions a year ago. Look for Kristian Fulton to maintain LSU’s grip on the title of DBU.
18. Miami Dolphins – Josh Jones, OT (Houston)
Dolphins passers were sacked 58 times last year, matching a franchise worst. In addition, Miami had the fewest rushing yards of any team in more than a decade. As a result, many expect them to choose a lineman, such as Josh Jones, early in the draft. Over the course of his college career, Jones demonstrated significant growth as both a pass- and run-blocker. This culminated in a strong senior season in which he only allowed a single sack and finished as PFF’s #1 offensive tackle. He then dominated the Senior Bowl, and has the potential to protect the Dolphins’ new franchise QB for years to come.
19. Minnesota Vikings (from Las Vegas) – K’Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB (LSU)
With Jacksonville also looking for an edge rusher after trading away Calais Campbell, the Vikings trade up to get one of the best players available. K’Lavon Chaisson was a leader for LSU’s title-winning defense and paced the team in both sacks and tackles for loss. He is an outstanding athlete and also boasts loads of potential as one of the draft’s youngest players. Although neither player’s numbers in college would blow people away, Chaisson could follow former Tiger Danielle Hunter’s footsteps in the long line of elite Vikings pass rushers.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars – A.J. Epenesa, DE (Iowa)
The Jaguars will suffer a major loss to their defense when their star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue is inevitably traded, a situation that has escalated this week after Ngakoue publicly lashed out at team ownership. With Ngakoue on his way out, the Jaguars’ pass rush group becomes substantially more precarious, leaving Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot as the primary options at defensive end. While the Jaguars already expended a first-round pick on a defensive lineman last year in Allen, they do so again here, snagging Epenesa. Iowa has a knack for producing hard-nosed defensive linemen, such as Mike Daniels and Adrian Clayborn. Epenesa is no exception, racking up 22 sacks and 8 forced fumbles over his last two seasons with the Hawkeyes. Picking Epenesa will fill the void that the Ngakoue situation has created.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – Justin Jefferson, WR (LSU)
The Eagles are in desperate need of a playmaker at the wide receiver position. No wideout finished higher than fourth place on the team in receiving yards, with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and running back Miles Sanders outpacing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery’s 490 yards. Meanwhile, Justin Jefferson finished the 2019 season with a blistering 1,540 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Selecting one of the primary playmakers in LSU’s record-breaking offense would provide an instant spark to the Eagles offense and rejuvenate their push for another Super Bowl run.
22. Las Vegas Raiders (from Minnesota) – Trevon Diggs, CB (Alabama)
The Raiders’ secondary struggled mightily a year ago, allowing the most yards per attempt and giving up the most yards on deep passes of any team. Meanwhile, Trevon Diggs was a strong corner in college, only conceding a single touchdown all of last season. In addition, he showed promise with his zone technique, which complements the Raiders’ philosophy under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The Raiders love lengthy, aggressive cornerbacks, and Diggs’ size and physicality matches that desire well.
23. New England Patriots – Grant Delpit, S (LSU)
It would be tempting for the Patriots to take Jordan Love here, and a lot of people think they will if Love is still available. However, Bill Belichick rarely does what people expect, and the Patriots seem happy with the progression of Jarrett Stidham. The Patriots could also trade down from this spot since they don’t have a second rounder, but there isn’t an obvious trade partner here. The Patriots could use a playmaker on defense, especially as the core of the team gets older. At 32, Devin McCourty is getting towards the back end of his career, and Delpit could be the Patriots’ next Pro Bowl safety. He is elite in coverage from the back-end and has shown the instincts to be a true difference maker for years to come.
24. New Orleans Saints – Jordan Love, QB (Utah State)
The Saints have Drew Brees coming back for one more year, so they certainly don’t need to press for a quarterback. However, if the Patriots decide that they are confident in Stidham, it may be hard for New Orleans to pass on the potential of Jordan Love here. Having Love sit behind Brees for a year could be a huge benefit for his development and make the transition that much easier come next year. While Love regressed after an outstanding sophomore season, the multitude of weapons in New Orleans could enable him to grow quickly. Love is a prototypical pocket passer with a quick release who should be able to slide into the Saints system perfectly.
25. Minnesota Vikings – A.J. Terrell, CB (Clemson)
Minnesota lost 3 key contributors to its secondary this offseason, so the Vikings should seek out a replacement here. A.J. Terrell had a strong performance at the NFL Combine, finishing among the top five corners in both the 40-yard dash and the broad jump. When HSAC alumnus Bill Lotter analyzed combine performance, he found that corners who excel in these workouts perform significantly better in the NFL. Terrell succeeded in games as well, using his physicality to lead Clemson to top-five finishes in both scoring and pass defense.
26.Detroit Lions (from Miami) – Patrick Queen, LB (LSU)
After trading back from three to five, the Lions have gained another 1st round pick. Matt Patricia had a great SEC linebacker leading his defense in New England (Dont’a Hightower), and now he has the opportunity to get another one in Detroit. Queen is an elite coverage linebacker with great instincts and the physical tools to make plays at the NFL level. In addition, his leadership could be crucial for a team that was one of the most-penalized in the league last year. Queen has the ability to be a mainstay for Patricia in the middle of the Lions defense for years to come.
27. Seattle Seahawks – D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia)
Bringing back a player several years out of retirement is usually not a good sign for any team. Yet the Seahawks faced little choice in re-signing Marshawn Lynch, due to injuries that ravaged the Seahawks’ already-limited depth at the running back position. While they return Chris Carson, who has provided stability at the position over the past two years, Carson’s rookie contract expires at the end of the year. The Seahawks would be severely restricted if Carson were to suffer another injury or if he were to walk away. Enter D’Andre Swift, whose strong production in college (2,267 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns over the final two years of his college career) and combine performance (displaying a 40-yard dash time of 4.48) make him a highly appealing option as a first-round-caliber running back.
28. Baltimore Ravens – Kenneth Murray, LB (Oklahoma)
While Baltimore doesn’t have many holes, the Ravens could upgrade their linebacker corps. Their current quartet of starting linebackers combined for just 130 tackles in 2019. Meanwhile, Kenneth Murray remains one of the most intriguing linebacker options outside of Isaiah Simmons. Murray was all over the field in college, racking up 334 tackles and 9.5 sacks in college. In addition, he is highly durable, starting all 42 games during his career at Oklahoma. Murray would provide instant relief to a weak linebacker group and bolster the Ravens defense as they look to make another run towards the Super Bowl.
29. Tennessee Titans – Yetur Gross-Matos, DE (Penn State)
Despite finishing the regular season at 9-7 for the fourth straight year, the Ryan Tannehill-led Titans snuck into last year’s postseason and upset both the Patriots and Ravens en route to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Tennessee re-signed their Comeback Player of the Year QB for four more years and applied the franchise tag to workhorse Derrick Henry. As a result, only defensive holes remain. Yetur Gross-Matos recorded 9 sacks last year and collected 34.5 tackles for loss over his last two seasons, which makes him a great defensive addition for the Titans.
30. Green Bay Packers – Tee Higgins, WR (Clemson)
The Packers haven’t taken a wide receiver in the first round since 2002, when they selected Javon Walker. However, many signs point to 2020 being the year in which the Packers buck this trend and select a wideout. Aaron Rodgers is not getting any younger, and the Packers’ wide receiver group lacks playmakers outside of Davante Adams. Clemson has been known for producing quality wide receivers, such as Deandre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, and Tee Higgins is no exception. Higgins led the Tigers with 1,167 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last year. While the Packers could also opt for a defensive back or offensive lineman at this position, the instant spark that Higgins can provide to the Packers’ offense may prove to be too much to pass up.
31. Chicago Bears (from San Francisco) – Xavier McKinney, S (Alabama)
The Bears trade up from the second round to secure their safety of the future. With McKinney dropping to the bottom of the first round in the HSAC mock draft, the Bears feel little choice but to address one of their top positional needs with a dynamic, disruptive playmaker like McKinney. He showed versatility during his time at Alabama, playing both in the box and as a deep center fielder. While he doesn’t have the surest hands, McKinney is a strong tackler and led the Crimson Tide with 95 tackles a year ago.
32. Kansas City Chiefs – Zach Baun, LB (Wisconsin)
As the reigning champion, Kansas City does not have many holes. Their biggest deficiency is at linebacker, where they currently struggle to contain the opposing run game. In 2019, they ranked 26th in the league at rushing yards allowed, giving up an average of 128.2 yards per game. Zach Baun is frequently placed within the top four linebackers in this draft class and would be a solid fit given the 19.5 tackles for lost yardage he recorded last year. In addition to his ability to span the field and consistently rack up tackles, he produced 12.5 sacks and two forced fumbles as a senior and would certainly bolster the Chiefs’ pass rush.
Second Round Sleepers
While these players were not selected in our mock draft, we still think that they could make a difference next year. They each have significant potential, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they snuck into the first round on Thursday night.
Jonathan Taylor, RB (Wisconsin)
Taylor was historically productive in college, becoming the first player in FBS history to run for over 1,900 yards in three consecutive seasons. Each of those years, he finished in the top 10 in the Heisman voting. Taylor boasts elite breakaway speed, as evidenced by his 4.39 40-yard dash, and improved as a pass-catcher in his senior year. While he was incredibly durable in college, all of those carries and hits can add up over time. If Taylor was chosen by a team with a strong offense but a hole at running back, such as the Buccaneers at #45 or the Rams at #52, he could be very successful.
Austin Jackson, OT (USC)
While Austin Jackson may be less polished than some of the tackles chosen in the first round, that can be attributed in part to age. Jackson is one of the youngest players in the draft, and his athleticism and high ceiling could be attractive to teams with a longer-term focus. Several such teams pick early in the second round, including the Giants (#36), Chargers (#37), and Jets (#48), and each of these teams could use an upgrade at offensive tackle.
Denzel Mims, WR (Baylor)
Mims was one of this year’s workout warriors, as his 4.38 40-yard dash time trailed only Henry Ruggs III among the top-10 wide receivers. On the field, he ranked second in the Big 12 with 12 touchdown receptions. Thanks to his size and wide catch radius, that red zone efficiency can translate to the next level and help teams in need of a strong outside receiver. Mims has a high upside, and he should not fall too far outside of the first round.
Ross Blacklock, DT (TCU)
Blacklock has shown success in both the run- and pass-game. As a freshman, he tallied 6.5 tackles for loss and was named to the Freshman All-American team. While he missed all of his sophomore season with an Achilles injury, he bounced back immediately with a dominant junior year, being named first-team All-Big 12. He boasted one of the nation’s top run-defense grades per PFF, and helped TCU become the top defense in the conference. As he showed at the combine, Blacklock is extremely athletic. His speed and explosiveness could help teams in need of an interior pass rusher, such as Houston (#40) or Pittsburgh (#49).
Do you agree with our selections? Do you think someone was drafted too high or too low? Let us know in the comments below!