2020 NFL mock draft: First-round projections

By Eddie Brown The San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS)

With five games remaining in the NFL’s regular season, here’s a breakdown of the race for the No. 1 overall selection in next April’s NFL draft:

— Cincinnati Bengals (0-11): Being winless certainly gives them the edge, but finishing 0 for 16 isn’t written in stone. That takes a special kind of bad and wins against the Jets (Week 13) and Dolphins (Week 16) wouldn’t shock me.

— New York Giants (2-9): The G-Men may not be able to catch Cincy, but they could certainly hold their current position by losing to the Dolphins (Week 15) and Redskins (Week 16).

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— Washington Redskins (2-9): They are most likely to lose out. Their last five games: at Panthers, at Packers, Eagles, Giants and at Cowboys. The only game that should be competitive is a rematch with the G-Men (they lost 24-3 in September).

— Miami Dolphins (2-9): Initially, this team appeared to be historically bad. Now, not so much. They’re just bad and undermanned. Beating either the Jets (Week 14), Giants (Week 15) or Bengals (Week 16) would doom their prospects of being first on the clock in Vegas.

The NFL draft has become a nice appetizer before our main course in September. A mock version of said draft is meant to educate, and even entertain. At very least, it helps you pass the time.

This is an early attempt at identifying the best players available in this season’s draft class, and which teams they match up well with considering the updated draft order (according to NFL.com).

The closer we get to draft day, the more I attempt to match what teams will actually do with their draft picks as opposed to what I believe they should do.

Last season, I was the fifth most accurate (out of 101) — most accurate in print — NFL draft prognosticator according to The Huddle Report. I’m 18th over the past five years.

Follow me on Twitter @UTEddieBrown so we can continue the conversation.

Here’s my updated 2020 NFL Mock Draft:

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FIRST ROUND

1. Cincinnati (0-11) — Joe Burrow, QB, LSU, Sr.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley wasn’t the answer so Andy Dalton will give it a go once more. Neither appear to be the future of this franchise. Burrow’s draft stock is powered by rocket fuel. He’s currently the Heisman front-runner with 41 touchdowns against only six interceptions and a QBR of 92.9 (third in the nation). He’s the type of quarterback that aces the intangible checklist, but doesn’t feature any physical qualities I’d consider elite. Top needs: QB, OL, LB

2. N.Y. Giants (2-9) — Chase Young, Edge, Ohio St., Jr.

The G-Men are always at their best when they have a dominant pass rush. Young is the best pass rusher in this draft class (he has 16.5 sacks in only nine games). He has seven of those sacks with four forced fumbles the past two games against Wisconsin and Penn State. Top needs: Edge, DB, WR

3. Washington (2-9) — Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia, Jr.

Seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams will certainly be traded in the off-season and need to be replaced. You’d get Thomas if you could Weird Science an offensive tackle. He’s a big, powerful, athletic lineman with springy footwork and quick hands who’s a dynamic closer in pass protection and the run game. Top needs: OT, WR, CB

4. Miami (2-9) — Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama, Jr.

This is probably too high for a banged-up Tua Tagovailoa or an inconsistent Justin Herbert. Both quarterbacks have a lot of work to do during the draft process to steady their draft stock. Jeudy’s the crown jewel of what is shaping up to be a special 2020 class of receivers. He’s the best prospect at the position in almost a decade. Top needs: QB, OT, Edge

5. Denver (3-8) — Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson, Jr.

Can you imagine what head coach Vic Fangio could do with Simmons? The Bednarik and Butkus Award finalist is an athletic unicorn (equally adept at safety or linebacker) with incredible range and instincts. Top needs: OT, DB, LB

6. Atlanta (3-8) — A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa, Jr.

The Falcons didn’t record a single sack on Drew Brees Thanksgiving night. Epenesa is fresh off a dominating performance (2.5 sacks and a forced fumble) in a big win over undefeated Minnesota and another five quarterback pressures in a victory over Illinois last week. Top needs: Edge, OG, LB

7. Detroit (3-7-1) — Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio St., Jr.

There’s a better than 50-50 chance the Lions trade two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay in the spring. Okudah is an elite athlete who has proven proficient in man coverage and is only scratching the surface of his potential. Top needs: DB, OL, RB

8. Arizona (3-7-1) — Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa, Jr.

It’s almost cliche for a team to draft a franchise offensive tackle or wide receiver the year after they draft a franchise quarterback. Happy quarterback, happy life. Is that the saying? Wirfs is the best pass protector in this class. Top needs: OL, Edge, CB

9. L.A. Chargers (4-7) — Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama, Jr.

Back-to-back seasons with an ankle injury and a dislocated hip will give us something to talk about until April (and the Bengals an excuse for passing on him). Mostly, because people will tire of talking about how prolific and precise the southpaw is. Some will try to compare Tagovailoa to Mike Vick, but he’s closer to a lefty (and taller) version of Russell Wilson. Top needs: OT, OG, QB

10. N.Y. Jets (4-7) — CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma, Jr.

I’m sure the Jets would consider either of the Hawkeyes (Epenesa or Wirfs), but they’re both off the board. They land Sam Darnold a No. 1 wide receiver instead. Lamb has elite hands and ball skills (he’s special with the ball in the air). He can also contribute as a blocker. Top needs: OT, WR, Edge

11. Jacksonville (4-7) — Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU, Sr.

It’s clear Tre Herndon isn’t a long-term replacement for Jalen Ramsey. Fulton is an elite athlete who was the top cornerback prospect coming out of high school in 2016. Top needs: CB, LB, OT

12. Tampa Bay (4-7) — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon, Sr.

I’d be surprised if the Jameis Winston era continues past 2019. Herbert has all the physical attributes (prototypical size and elite arm talent) coach Bruce Arians requires, but consistency has been his bane. Top needs: QB, OT, CB

13. Las Vegas from Chicago (5-6) — Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma, Jr.

The Raiders continue to build a talented front seven. Murray is an explosive athlete who has developed elite instincts during his three seasons in Norman. Top needs: WR, LB, CB

14. Carolina (5-6) — Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama, Jr.

Both James Bradberry and Tre Boston will be unrestricted free agents after this season. McKinney is an elite athlete who can play every position in the defensive backfield. Top needs: OG, C, DB

15. Philadelphia (5-6) — Grant Delpit, S, LSU, Jr.

A combination of sub-par performances and injuries have doomed the Eagles secondary once again. It’s in desperate need of playmakers. His first two seasons in Baton Rouge, Delpit had 134 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, six interceptions, five sacks and 17 passes defensed. He’s both a dangerous center fielder and capable blitzer. Top needs: DB, LB, OG

16. Cleveland (5-6) — Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin, Jr.

I expect GM John Dorsey to continue his pursuit of Trent Williams in the offseason to upgrade his offensive line as well. Biadasz, an interior mauler with very few flaws in his game, has been the heart and soul of one of the nation’s perennially top offensive lines. Top needs: OT, OG, LB

17. Tennessee (6-5) — Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn, Sr.

The Titans would be fortunate to land Brown here. He would have been a first-round selection had he left school last year. He’s the most talented interior defensive lineman in this draft class, by far. Top needs: DL, OG, QB

18. Indianapolis (6-5) — Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama, Jr.

Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton will be 30 years old next season and an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Ruggs is pure electricity with the football in his hands. He’s scored 24 total touchdowns on 91 touches in his Crimson Tide career. Top needs: DT, Edge, WR

19. Las Vegas (6-5) — Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson, Jr.

Antonio Brown’s preseason antics left a huge hole in the depth chart at wide receiver. Higgins is a big-play machine with elite size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and speed. He has an “above the rim” mentality as a former basketball player. Top needs: WR, LB, CB

20. Jacksonville from L.A. Rams (6-5) — Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn, Sr.

It has to be an offseason priority for the Jaguars to add talent to a mediocre offensive line. Wanogho is a giant ball of clay (he’s 6-foot-7, 305 pounds and relatively new to the game of football), but there’s plenty of natural ability to mold and he’s been very good in the SEC despite being so raw. Top needs: CB, LB, OT

21. Dallas (6-5) — Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina, Sr.

The Cowboys are only a few pieces away from fielding a top five defense. An interior wrecking ball like Kinlaw gets them pretty close. Top needs: S, DT, TE

22. Miami from Pittsburgh (6-5) — Yetur Gross-Matos, Edge, Penn St., Jr.

If the Dolphins pass on a quarterback with their first pick, they have options. Free agency (Teddy Bridgewater), trade (Cam Newton) or run it back and Tank for Trevor (Lawrence) in 2020. They address the pass rush here. Gross-Matos needs to add some strength to his frame, but he’s a gifted pass rusher with elite athleticism and a nose for the ball. Top needs: QB, OT, Edge

23. Miami from Houston (7-4) — D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia, Jr.

The Dolphins address wide receiver (Jeudy), the defensive line (Gross-Matos) and running back with their three first-round selections. Swift is a shifty back able to bounce it outside or handle the rigors of running between the tackles. He’s also a weapon out of the backfield (he had 32 receptions and three touchdowns as a sophomore). Top needs: QB, OT, Edge

24. Kansas City (7-4) — C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida, Jr.

Kendall Fuller is an unrestricted free agent after this season. It’s nitpicking to say Henderson is a shy tackler in the run game. Shutdown corners aren’t charged with shutting down running backs. They’re supposed to shutdown wide receivers and Henderson has no problem doing that. Top needs: OL, CB, RB

25. Buffalo (8-3) — Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado, Jr.

An offense featuring Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and Shenault could get really creative. His size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), speed (he could run a sub-4.4 40 at the combine) and nose for the end zone (he has 10 receiving and seven rushing touchdowns the past two seasons) could catapult him into the top-15 discussion. Top needs: WR, OG, Edge

26. Minnesota (8-3) — Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford, Jr.

Trae Waynes is a free agent after this season. Adebo is a former wide receiver with elite ball skills who plays with an intense physicality. Sounds like a perfect fit for the Vikings. Top needs: DT, CB, OG

27. Green Bay (8-3) — Curtis Weaver, Edge, Boise State, Jr.

The Packers continue to build an exciting front-seven. Weaver is a productive pass rusher (34 sacks in three seasons for the Broncos) who has also shown the ability to drop and play in space. Top needs: DE, LB, OG

28. Baltimore (9-2) — Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama, Jr.

The 2018 Butkus Award finalist suffered a torn ACL during an August practice. Moses will likely be a day two selection, but he would have been a top-fifteen pick had he not hurt himself and the Ravens are a team to watch when it comes to securing his services. Top needs: LB, SS, OG

29. New Orleans (9-2) — Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU, Jr.

The Saints add another dynamic playmaker to their offense. Reagor is one of the most impressive athletes at any position in this draft class. He’s special with the ball in his hands. Top needs: WR, LB, TE

30. Seattle (9-2) — Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama, Sr.

The Legion of Boom hasn’t been the same for a few years. Diggs (Stefon’s little brother) is still raw, but he features prototypical size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and elite athleticism. Top needs: CB, OG, TE

31. San Francisco (10-1) — Creed Humphrey, OG, Oklahoma, Soph.

The interior offensive line has surpassed expectations this season, but is still in need of a talent infusion. Humphrey’s wrestling background explains his mastery of leverage. Top needs: WR, OG, CB

32. New England (10-1) — Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama, Jr.

The offensive line will need a constant talent replenishment if Tom Brady insists on playing beyond his mid-life crisis. Leatherwood needs to sharpen his technique, but his elite athleticism and strength usually carries the day. The former five-star recruit is a natural left tackle who excelled at right guard his sophomore year. Top needs: OL, TE, LB

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