Even less than 24 hours from the start of the 2020 NFL draft, completing a first-round projection with any degree of certainty is a nearly impossible task.
Sure, the first two selections seem like mortal locks. But as draft day arrives, talk of trades and possible surprise picks should leave anyone attempting a mock draft second-guessing themselves. One unexpected move, of course, can set the rest of the order on a completely new course. Last year, for example, I correctly projected five of the first six selections. The one I missed — the Raiders’ stunning choice of Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 — had a ripple effect on the rest of the first round, much like the Steelers’ move up to No. 10 for Devin Bush did.
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With that in mind, here’s my final first-round mock draft:
1. Bengals — Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: What is there left to say about a player who has been the clear choice for No. 1 since January? The record-setting Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t really been the talk of this draft, but the lack of buzz only stems from the certainty of his destination. Burrow and the Bengals haven’t gone into detail about their expected pairing thus far, so it bears watching how each side speaks about the other once the coronation becomes official.
2. Redskins — Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: Don’t confuse Washington’s willingness to listen to trade offers for an actual interest in moving this pick. Coach Ron Rivera’s first selection with the franchise should be simple, as Young can change the landscape of an entire defensive unit with his ability to harass quarterbacks and find his way into the backfield on any play.
3. Lions — Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: Not since Shawn Springs in 1997 has a cornerback landed in the first three picks of the draft. Okudah is a sensible candidate to end that drought, especially for a Lions team whose secondary is in a perilous state.
4. Giants — Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson:Barring a trade, it might come down to the multitalented defender or an offensive tackle for Big Blue. As much as GM Dave Gettleman might be enticed by securing a top-tier blocker to aid quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, Simmons should have substantial pull for a defense in dire need of playmakers.
5. Dolphins — Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: Are the rumblings about Miami looking at either Justin Herbert or an offensive tackle a smokescreen or a true indication of what’s to come? The Dolphins, who have a league-high 14 selections and three in the first round, have unparalleled control to shape this draft, and it all starts with this pick, which could be moved in a trade. A different route is entirely possible, but it’s still hard to shake the idea of the team passing up on Tagovailoa.
6. Chargers — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: While there’s been rampant speculation he could be Miami’s preference at quarterback, Herbert might be better off in Los Angeles. The 6-6, 236-pound passer has work to do to become an efficient passer when circumstances aren’t in his favor, and the Chargers offer a supporting cast capable of boosting Herbert. It doesn’t hurt that the Bolts also have a veteran quarterback in Tyrod Taylor to hold down the starting job until Herbert is ready.
7. Panthers — Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: There’s a chance Brown could draw the eye of the Lions or the Giants, particularly if either team moves back a few spots. He shouldn’t fall much further than the first eight picks, though, with Carolina standing out as a particularly fitting landing spot given its tenuous outlook on the defensive line.
8. Cardinals — Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: Arizona is putting the pieces together for quarterback Kyler Murray to have a breakout sophomore campaign. Adding Wills, a bulldozer in the run game who nevertheless has the agility to be a standout pass protector, would further the Cardinals’ cause.
9. Jaguars — C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: Casting off Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye left Jacksonville’s pass defense in dire straits. With a complete coverage package in Henderson available at this slot, the Jaguars shouldn’t wait until their second first-round pick to address the deficiency.
10. Browns — Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: GM Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski are creating a culture of steadiness that’s long been absent in Cleveland. Choosing Thomas, a powerful and savvy blocker with experience at both tackle spots, would continue that effort.
11. Jets — Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: Gang Green might grow nervous if offensive tackles fly off the board in the top 10, though a pass catcher is also a possibility. The powerful and astonishingly athletic Wirfs could help GM Joe Douglas fulfill his promise to safeguard quarterback Sam Darnold.
12. Raiders — CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: It’s high time to find the No. 1 receiver deserving of Las Vegas’ stage. Lamb and breakout tight end Darren Waller would give the Raiders one of the best run-after-catch tandems in the league.
13. 49ers (from Colts) — Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: Deebo Samuel helped put San Francisco’s receiving corps on the right track, but an outside threat is needed. Jeudy has all of the makings of a go-to target and could make life easier for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo due to his knack for creating easy separation.
14. Buccaneers — Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: There’s a palpable excitement growing in Tampa, Florida, where tight end Rob Gronkowski is set to join an already fearsome arsenal of weapons for quarterback Tom Brady. The 6-7, 364-pound Becton could make a big difference at right tackle, which sticks out as the weak link up front for the Buccaneers.
15. Broncos — Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: GM John Elway isn’t hiding his interest in a receiver, saying this week that the position is a point of interest in the draft. Ruggs’ 4.27-second 40-yard dash speed would be put to quick use by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who wants to ramp up the attack’s aggressiveness.
16. Falcons — Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: Multiple reports have pegged Atlanta as a team to watch for a possible move up in the first round. In this scenario, however, a premier pass rusher in Kinlaw falls into the Falcons’ lap.
17. Cowboys — K’Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: Coach Mike McCarthy said Dallas’ 4-3 defense will be flexible in its approach to generating a pass rush. Chaisson, a raw but explosive threat off the edge, is the kind of talent who could thrive under that mindset.
18. Dolphins (from Steelers) — Austin Jackson, OT, Southern California: Miami has taken the long view in its approach to rebuilding, and 20-year-old Jackson offers considerable upside as a potential starting left tackle, albeit one who requires refinement.
19. Raiders (from Bears) — A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson: GM Mike Mayock might be developing a pipeline from Clemson to Las Vegas, as Terrell could follow three former teammates drafted by the Raiders last year in donning the Silver and Black.
20. Jaguars (from Rams) — Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: If Jacksonville is going to stand by Gardner Minshew as its starting signal-caller, it ought to give him a reliable target, which describes Jefferson to a T.
21. Eagles — Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor: With the speed to stretch defenses and the jump-ball prowess to be a red-zone threat, Mims can add new dimensions to Philadelphia’s passing game if he works on the finer points of his position.
22. Vikings (from Bills) — Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah: Minnesota can’t allow its undermanned cornerback group to get pushed around, and Johnson doesn’t concede space to receivers at the line of scrimmage or at the catch point.
23. Patriots — Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin: A quarterback might be in the cards at some point in the draft, but coach Bill Belichick might have a hard time passing up on Baun, a versatile defender who can surge and bend past blockers despite his smaller stature.
24. Saints — Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma: A search-and-destroy defender, Murray would stand out in New Orleans as a defender capable of corralling ball carriers all around the field.
25. Vikings — Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State: Minnesota took a liking three years ago to a similarly fleet-footed offensive tackle in Brian O’Neill, and Cleveland could provide a long-term solution on quarterback Kirk Cousins’ blind side.
26. Dolphins (from Texans) — Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State: Ramping up the pass rush should be a priority for GM Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores, making an athletic edge defender like Gross-Matos an attractive option for the team’s final first-round pick.
27. Seahawks — Josh Jones, OT, Houston: Seattle seems like a leading candidate to trade back, but GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll might be intrigued by Jones, an ascendant protector.
28. Ravens — Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: Bringing on Queen, perhaps this class’ best coverage linebacker, would be an impressive finishing touch to the defense’s offseason upgrade.
29. Titans — Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU: His pesky style of play should make him a quick favorite of coach Mike Vrabel, who knows the importance of building up his team’s coverage capabilities after being burned by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the AFC championship game.
30. Packers — Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU: Primarily a deep threat at this point, Reagor can add a degree of explosiveness to Green Bay’s aerial attack, particularly if he diversifies his skill set.
31. 49ers — Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ brother sizes up as a fine partner for Richard Sherman in a secondary due for another smothering presence.
32. Chiefs — Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan: Stability has been the prevailing theme of the defending champions’ offseason, and Ruiz would further solidify the interior of the line.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.