NFL mock draft 2020: Several players rise in first round after combine

INDIANAPOLIS – The 2020 NFL scouting combine is complete, but unlike last year – when Kyler Murray emerged as the obvious front-runner atop the 2019 draft – this event mostly served to underscore the quality and depth of talent that will be available in April’s draft.

“The wide receivers and defensive backs are strong,” said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. “It is an unusually strong class for outside linebackers.

“And then offensive tackles, it is a very strong draft for them as well.”

The guys who pass and run are pretty good, too, Kev.

It feels like mock projections could shift significantly in the coming weeks – we’re still waiting to see many LSU and Ohio State players who skipped combine workouts while waiting for a concrete update on the hip of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa – but here’s the newest forecast, partially based on what happened in Indy.

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1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: He didn’t perform at the combine though did seem to toss cold water onto the notion he wouldn’t be willing to play in Cincy. Scenarios suggesting the Bengals should take Tagovailoa or Ohio State’s Chase Young are sure to emerge as pro days and free agency unfold. But at this point, it’s hard to see them bypassing Burrow, the record-setting, national champion Heisman Trophy winner and native Ohioan – especially as Andy Dalton trade rumors gain steam. If Burrow’s greatest attribute is playing the game beautifully from the neck up, he could be a slam-dunk of a pick … if Cincinnati manages to continue upgrading what would be his supporting cast – especially as it pertains to blocking up front.

2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: Generally viewed as this draft’s most talented prospect, the Maryland native grew up a ‘Skins fan. Young’s physical gifts, mental makeup and intangibles all point to superstardom, so Washington – even if the team’s new brass favors Tagovailoa over last year’s Round 1 pick, QB Dwayne Haskins – would need to make quite a persuasive case internally to trade down or otherwise forgo the Buckeyes’ latest stud pass rusher. Young could immediately spark what has the makings of a burgeoning defense.

3. Detroit Lions – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: The Lions are going to have a lot of interesting options, including their own case for Tagovailoa, possibly Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah and, perhaps most compelling, the opportunity to deal out of what appears to be this draft’s first legitimate pivot point. But also a good argument here for Brown, a freakishly talented Southeastern Conference game-wrecker who has been compared to Ndamukong Suh and potentially ideal for a team set to hemorrhage bodies from its D-line.

4. New York Giants – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: Despite being 6-7, 364 pounds, he’s not only a remarkable athlete – he managed a 5.1 40-yard dash – but also a mauler with experience at both tackle spots. GM Dave Gettleman said at the combine the Giants are “open for business” at No. 4, yet they might be pretty hard to surrender the opportunity to enlist a player who could both protect QB Daniel Jones and blow open holes for RB Saquon Barkley. We all know Gettleman loves nothing more than a “hog molly” … and Becton projects as Hogzilla.

5. Miami Dolphins – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: It sounds like his surgically repaired hip is on track. Tagovailoa expects to be cleared for football activities next week and plans to hold his own pro day April 9. If not for the injury, he might very well be regarded as this draft’s jewel. No matter how rosy his prognosis might be, the Fins wouldn’t have to rush Tagovailoa into action even as they employ their haul of draft picks to improve the roster elsewhere.

6. Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: The Bolts have bid adieu to Philip Rivers and could certainly target a free agent passer (Tom Brady?) in order to stabilize what’s arguably a Super Bowl-caliber roster. The acquisition of a veteran notwithstanding – and as much as GM Tom Telesco and coach Anthony Lynn want to talk up nominal starter Tyrod Taylor, who’s 30 and only under contract one more season – a long-term plan under center is an obvious issue. Herbert, the Senior Bowl MVP, continued a strong pre-draft ascent with a great showing on and off the field at the combine and, like Rivers so many years ago, wouldn’t have to play immediately.

7. Carolina Panthers – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: This team is pretty obviously in rebuild mode. Barring a scenario that would reunite new OC Joe Brady with Burrow, whom he coached to unfathomable heights at LSU in 2019, Carolina just needs to find talent. Simmons, fresh off a 4.39 40-yard dash at 6-4 and 238 pounds, is a special athlete and a versatile player who claims his position is “defense.” But he’s ideally suited to linebacker and, though he’s probably not optimally deployed inside, would replenish a group that just lost star MLB Luke Kuechly to a surprise retirement. A short move from Clemson to Charlotte might also be welcome as Carolina identifies fresh faces for a reboot.

8. Arizona Cardinals – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: The recent extension given to LT D.J. Humphries opens up more possibilities for the Air Raid offense. One might be reuniting newly minted offensive rookie of the year Murray with Lamb, his former Sooners teammate. Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald, even as he fades, are nice players, but adding someone like Lamb, who’s been likened to DeAndre Hopkins, might really allow Kliff Kingsbury’s offense to take off in Year 2. Lamb has 25 TD catches over the past two years.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: If he somehow drops this far, the Jags would land in net gain territory after Jalen Ramsey forced his way out of town last year. Teaming Okudah with A.J. Bouye would again lay the groundwork for a topflight defense while allowing Jacksonville to address other areas with the picks acquired from the Rams in the Ramsey deal.

10. Cleveland Browns – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: Perhaps he’s the long-sought successor to legendary LT Joe Thomas. Among QB Baker Mayfield’s numerous problems in a lost sophomore campaign were the 40 sacks he suffered. Wills didn’t blow away the combine in the manner some of his peers did, but his film is awfully clean and suggests he might solve any concerns on Mayfield’s blind side for years to come.

11. New York Jets – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: He did blow up the combine, posting broad (10-1) and vertical jumps (36½ inches) never exceeded by any other O-lineman in the event’s history. More important, Wirfs’ athleticism suggests a move to guard in the pros won’t be necessary. Regardless, the former wrestler is made to order for a team that might be looking to replace four starters in the trenches in front of QB Sam Darnold.

12. Las Vegas Raiders – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: They have never really managed to backfill Amari Cooper’s production at wideout but could do so with a precise route runner who followed Cooper to Tuscaloosa. And Jeudy’s 4.45 speed makes him plenty explosive, too.

13. Indianapolis Colts – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: As if his production wasn’t intriguing enough – 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs while teamed with Burrow in 2019 – his 4.43 40 in Indy also answered any questions about his ability to break games open. No matter who’s throwing passes for the Colts in 2020, they need somebody to pair with T.Y. Hilton outside – though Jefferson can also operate from the slot.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: With QB Jameis Winston and 2019 sack champion Shaquil Barrett poised to hit free agency, the Bucs are currently one of the hardest teams to figure. But Kinlaw would be quite an addition to DC Todd Bowles’ three-man front, which stands to lose Suh to the open market.

15. Denver Broncos – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: A team facing an overhaul of its defensive line would probably love to get its hooks into Kinlaw. Yet Ruggs and his combine-best 4.27 speed would hardly be a consolation prize, potentially a seamless fit to an offense that boasts big-bodied WR Courtland Sutton and mobile TE Noah Fant.

16. Atlanta Falcons – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama: This team could go in any number of directions. But McKinney might check the “best available player” box at this point and would make sense given Keanu Neal has missed 28 games over the past two seasons and is trying to come back from an Achilles tear. McKinney is smart and talented and could revitalize a unit that’s fallen off the last two years.

17. Dallas Cowboys – C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: America’s Team is probably going to need secondary help, possibly in multiple forms. But if Byron Jones isn’t re-signed, corner might trump safety on Jerry Jones’ list of priorities. Henderson is a great athlete who can play press coverage or off the ball.

18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers) – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: If you buy into the assumption they’ll target Tagovailoa first, step two should be fortifying the protection for him – or whoever is taking the snaps here. Addressing the O-line would also bolster the league’s least effective run game in 2019.

19. Raiders (from Chicago Bears) – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: GM Mike Mayock admitted linebacker is as big an issue as receiver for this team after the Vontaze Burfict signing failed to pan out in 2019. Swift and athletic, Queen is hardly a Burfict clone but would bring a dynamic element to the second level of a defense that needs it.

20. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) – A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: You can’t ever have enough pass rushers. And with Calais Campbell turning 34 before next season starts and Yannick Ngakoue looking for a way out of Jacksonville, pairing Epenesa with Josh Allen for the long term makes plenty of sense.

21. Philadelphia Eagles – Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado: He is dynamic with the ball in his hands and would be a nice weapon for a Philly receiving corps depleted by injuries in 2019. Naturally, Shenault needs surgery to address a core muscle problem but should be ready long before training camp. And he ran at the combine anyway, so people in the City of Brotherly Love would love his toughness.

22. Buffalo Bills – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson: This offense has the slot guy (Cole Beasley) and the speed guy (Smokey Brown) but could really use the big guy – Higgins is 6-4, 215 – to help provide sometimes scattershot QB Josh Allen a target with a large catch radius.

23. New England Patriots – Grant Delpit, S, LSU: Even if Brady re-signs, the Pats could be a team transformed by free agency – which could even mean the departure of longtime S Devin McCourty. Delpit is the versatile type of weapon Bill Belichick loves, and his teammates praised him at the combine for playing through a high ankle sprain during the Tigers’ run to college football’s 2019 title.

24. New Orleans Saints – Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: In three years with the Badgers, he averaged more than 2,000 rushing yards per season. Then he flashed at the combine, blazing the fastest 40 (4.39 seconds) for any back and displaying nice receiving skills. Alvin Kamara is only under contract through 2020 and didn’t fare well as a lead back in 2019. Teaming him with Taylor, though, might be another way to help QB Drew Brees make one more run at another Super Bowl.

25. Minnesota Vikings – Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: Sure, it’s fun to think about Diggs playing on the same team with his brother, Stefon. But the Vikes have put a premium on corners in recent years and might need to restock the position anyway.

26. Dolphins (from Houston Texans) – D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia: Ryan Fitzpatrick led Miami with 243 rushing yards in 2019. Probably enough said, but Swift – widely regarded as the draft’s top back – would be a steal here in any circumstance.

27. Seattle Seahawks – Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU: Good chance he’s a better prospect than former Horned Frogs teammate L.J. Collier, Seattle’s top pick last year. Regardless, looks like the Seahawks will likely be in dire need of D-line reinforcements.

28. Baltimore Ravens – K’Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: If OLB Matt Judon hits free agency, Baltimore won’t return a player who had more than five sacks in 2019. Chaisson probably needs a bit more time to develop into an elite pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme but has the tools to get there.

29. Tennessee Titans – Austin Jackson, OT, Southern California: With so much focus on pending free agents Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, the potential defection of RT Jack Conklin isn’t receiving ample notice outside Nashville.

30. Green Bay Packers – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: Aaron Rodgers, 36, is actually older now than Brett Favre was when the Pack drafted Rodgers in 2005. Food for thought … especially given what a tantalizing prospect Love is, though perhaps one who could use multiple redshirt years.

31. San Francisco 49ers – Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State: With WR Emmanuel Sanders no lock to re-sign in 2020, Aiyuk would be a nice fallback if the Niners want to at keep their offensive formula essentially intact.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: Be fun to add one more weapon – imagine teaming RB Damien Williams with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But the champs are poised to lose three unsigned corners, and Fulton is too talented to overlook given what looms as an area of need.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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