2020 NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Patriots hold off on a Gronkowski replacement
Need help offensively come the spring? Do we have the draft for you. At this point — and it's early — it doesn't look like a first-round crop that's loaded with quarterbacks or tight ends. (Figured you might be wondering, Patriots fans.) But it is well-stocked with receiving help and offensive linemen. There are plenty of defensive backs who look like first-rounders, as well.
So where will the Patriots be looking? Given their ineffectiveness on offense in 2019, and given their average age on defense, it looks like they'll be free to take the best player available — almost regardless of position. The player we gave them looks like a no-doubt-about-it Prototypical Patriot. And he fills a need. But you'll have to read on to find out exactly who we chose.
Here it is, our first 2020 mock draft, helping you to ring in the New Year.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
You can quibble with his arm strength all you want, but this year's Heisman Trophy winner has enough in that department. More importantly, he's accurate and he makes good decisions. Those things helped him connect on 69 percent of his passes under pressure this year, per Pro Football Focus, with 15 touchdowns and a yards per attempt figure of 12.3.
2. Washington Redskins
Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Washington could use help just about everywhere. Taking the best defensive player in the draft — at a premium position, no less — should help them get at least a little more competitive immediately. Young posted 16.5 sacks in 11 games in 2019 and 30.5 sacks in 33 games in his career.
3. Detroit Lions
A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Epenesa is a Prototypical Patriot in terms of his build and his pedigree. The Iowa product should fit in at Patriots Midwest just fine opposite Trey Flowers. The Lions and Matt Patricia had one of the worst pass-rushing units in football this season.
4. Miami Dolphins
Tristan Wirfs, Iowa, OT
Miami is obviously in need of a quarterback, but Brian Flores and his staff could choose to skip the quarterback position here. They have two more picks later in the first round, and maybe by late April they'll have a veteran free-agent quarterback — maybe someone from New England whose contract ends after this year? — that allows them to go elsewhere with their first pick. Wirfs will be 21 on draft night, but he's been a man among boys in the college game. A true-freshman starter two years ago, Wirfs set a school record for power cleaning 450 pounds for four reps back in March.
5. New York Giants
Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
The Giants need to protect their franchise quarterback with reinforcements up front. They could use an immediate starter at right tackle, and they have the ability to get out from under Nate Solder's contract after this season. Thomas is arguably the best tackle in the best conference in the country.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The argument has been made that because the Chargers are set to move into a new stadium, they could use a new face of the franchise to help increase interest. The reality is, new stadium or not, they're as in need of a new quarterback as any team in the draft. Herbert has the size, the arm and the athleticism to provide all kinds of promise for Bolts fans in L.A. He has plenty in his game to clean up to become more consistent, but the Chargers can't pass up an opportunity at a potential long-term starter.
7. Carolina Panthers
Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder is a physical force who has shown the ability to play in all situations in the SEC. For a Panthers team that's looking for a new head coach and is solidly in rebuild mode, Brown would provide them a foundational piece for their defense for years to come.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
Eight picks in, and we're finally seeing the player from Alabama off the board. And we're about to see a wave of Crimson Tide the first half of the first round. Wills has been a late-riser among draft experts, but he's polished as both a run-blocker and pass-protector, and he'll fit in well in front of Kyler Murray in Arizona.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama, WR
Whether it's Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew taking snaps for the Jaguars in 2020, the quarterback is going to need more in the way of weapons. They were 21st in yards per pass attempt this year, but with Jeudy added to the mix they'll have an explosive threat who might be the best separator in the class.
10. Cleveland Browns
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
The Browns have talent all over their offense. Time to add some high-end skill to the second level of their defense where 2016 fourth-rounder Joe Schobert and 2018 fifth-rounder Mack Wilson have played more snaps than anyone else. Simmons has a 40-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump, according to Feldman. He should run a 40 in the 4.4-second range. Oh, and he was one of the best players on one of the best defenses in the country the past two seasons.
11. New York Jets
Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama
Another 'Bama receiver here. Ruggs is the fastest of the bunch and could end up going higher should he blow away the combine the way many expect. According to Bruce Feldman of the Athletic, Ruggs landed on his annual "Freaks List" thanks in part to the 40-yard dash time he ran during Alabama's junior pro day last offseason. It supposedly landed on some stopwatches in the 4.2-second range. Sheesh.
12. Oakland Raiders
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Jon Gruden will be licking his chops to get Reagor halfway through the first round. His track speed makes him an explosive play waiting to happen. The Raiders will figure out ways to get the ball in his hands, and he'll reward them with chunk gain after chunk gain.
13. Indianapolis Colts
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
If Jacoby Brissett's second-half struggles can be attributed to the knee injury he suffered earlier this season, that's one thing. But if the Colts feel as though what Brissett has given them over the course of the last six weeks — 57.5 completion percentage, a 75.8 quarterback rating — is more in line with who he is, then they should look to make an addition here. Brissett is still under contract for 2020 at a relatively low cost, making him an ideal fit for a team bringing in a promising rookie who'll need time before he's prepared for the starter's gig.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Would you look at that? Alabama again. Leatherwood might be the second Crimson Tide tackle taken, but he'd be a No. 1 just about anywhere else. Per PFF, he's allowed only 10 pressures this season.
15. Denver Broncos
Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
The Broncos could lose veteran corner Chris Harris to free-agency this offseason, but adding the draft's top corner could help an up-and-coming secondary under Vic Fangio take yet another step. Okudah may not last this long given just how much value good corners (especially good corners on rookie deals) provide NFL defenses.
16. Atlanta Falcons
Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
We've got a mini-run on corners here. Stefon Diggs' brother is widely considered among the elite at this position, and he'll be highly coveted by one of the most popular defensive schemes in the NFL. The Seattle-style Cover 3 can be found all over the league, and Diggs' size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) would be a perfect fit with Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Even if Quinn isn't around for 2020, the Falcons could use some talent in their secondary.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Byron Jones is going to be the odd man out in Dallas, in all likelihood, as the Cowboys have to find a way to try to pay both Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper after giving a running back a lot of money before the start of the season. In order to keep the defense viable, adding a sticky cover corner like Fulton is critical.
18. Miami Dolphins (via Steelers)
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Miami stays away from quarterback here with their second first-round choice, but they're still adding to the offense. And why not? This receiver class is incredibly deep, and the Dolphins land yet another future star there with Lamb. He might not be the fastest in the class, or the most nuanced route-runner, but he has length (6-foot-2, 189 pounds) and he'll serve as a difficult-to-handle complement opposite DeVante Parker.
19. Oakland Raiders (via Bears)
Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
For a franchise that wants to send its roster back in time to a certain extent, Kinlaw fits the mold for Gruden and Mike Mayock. His size (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) make him an intimidating presence on the interior. Should also help him push the pocket for young edge rushers Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams)
Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
Yet another Seattle-style defense in need of corner help. The Jags miss out on Diggs here as the Jalen Ramsey replacement, but Hall will work within their scheme at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. An ankle injury kept Hall to just six games played this season, but that'll only make him a value pick for someone picking at this stage of the first round.
21. Philadelphia Eagles
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
This could depend heavily on just how fast Higgins is. The Eagles probably wouldn't want to have multiple big-bodied (Higgins is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds) receivers who have trouble separating; they drafted JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the second round last year, and he has 10 catches on 19 targets despite playing almost 500 snaps. But there's no doubt the Eagles need receiving help. Alshon Jeffery and Desean Jackson were banged up this season, leaving Carson Wentz throwing to receivers signed off the street for much of the season. Can't let that happen again.
22. Buffalo Bills
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
About time we got an Alabama guy on here. Though slight (6-foot-1, 175 pounds), Smith gives the Bills some variety to their passing game. John Brown is the top-off-the-defense burner. Cole Beasley is the slot option. Smith fits in as the technically-sound route runner who understands how to get open by using his instincts and short-area quickness.
23. New England Patriots
Xavier McKinney, DB, Alabama
The Patriots have so many avenues to pursue come draft weekend. Quarterback? Sure, if Jarrett Stidham (who has impressed behind the scenes) isn't ready to take the reigns and if Tom Brady is out. Tight end? Of course, though there don't appear to be any surefire first-rounders there this spring. How about safety?
That's where I could envision McKinney (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) sliding in. He's a do-it-all type for the Crimson Tide. He plays in the box. He blitzes. He covers tight ends, which has been a problem for the Patriots at times this year. He led Alabama in tackles this year, forced four fumbles, picked off three passes and broke up five more. With Patrick Chung closer to the end than the beginning, perhaps McKinney could someday fill that type of role. A versatile, tough, consistently-productive two-year starter and first-team SEC defensive back who studied under Nick Saban? That'd be worth a first-round choice for Bill Belichick.
24. New Orleans Saints
CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
Looking for size, speed and someone who can change direction with ease? Henderson is that guy. The Eli Apple Experiment is just about over in New Orleans. Their corner room would improve with this selection.
25. Tennessee Titans
Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Cameron Wake is the best Titans pass-rusher. He's 37. All the credit in the world to him being able to perform as he has at this stage of his career, but Tennessee's pressure packages need a real boost, and Gross-Matos is the man for the job. At 6-foot-5, 264 pounds, he has an NFL-ready frame. Mike Vrabel will be able to help him fill out his pass-rush plans.
26. Minnesota Vikings
Austin Jackson, OT, USC
This 6-foot-6, 310 offensive tackle could help the Vikings finish up their years-long rebuild along the offensive line. Brian O'Neill has been solid on the right side in his second season, but Minnesota needs a Riley Reiff replacement. Jackson has started every game at left tackle the last two seasons and has the athleticism to man that spot at the next level.
27. Miami Dolphins (via Texans)
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Finally, with their third pick, the Dolphins nab the player many of their fans hoped they'd land before the season began. But now Miami has won more games than people expected, they're picking lower, and Tagovailoa suffered a potentially-devastating hip injury. If the medicals are scary enough to allow the 'Bama quarterback to slide, it'd make all kinds of sense for the Dolphins to take him late. Give him a year behind whatever veteran they sign in free agency. Have him ready to go in 2021 or 2022.
28. Seattle Seahawks
Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
If Okwara puts together the kind of combine some are expecting, there's a chance he doesn't last this long. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has been clocked by Notre Dame, according to Feldman, at 21 mph. (For reference, 190-pound Patriots safety Devin McCourty was clocked at 22 mph during an interception return for a touchdown last season.) Despite trading for Jadeveon Clowney before the season, Seattle is still in desperate need for pass-rush help.
29. Green Bay Packers
Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
A do-it-all type to support Aaron Rodgers, Shenault can play inside and out. He's taken hand-offs and is a factor on trick plays. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he's the rare receiver who has enough speed to win downfield and enough size to catch it behind the line, making someone miss and creating a chunk play that way.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Not necessarily a Patriots fit at linebacker at about 230 pounds. They typically like their 'backers bigger. But for the 4-3 scheme the Chiefs now employ, having an athlete like Murray gives them a tackling machine to run sideline to sideline.
31. San Francisco 49ers
Grant Delpit, S, LSU
One of the top safety prospects in this year's class, Delpit is a well-rounded talent who can make impact plays against the run and the pass. He hasn't always been the best tackler at that position this season, but he'd make an immediate impact. Niners safety Jimmie Ward is in a contract year and this could be his replacement.
32. Baltimore Ravens
D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
Why not build on what's already a strength? Swift would give the Ravens an added dimension to their complex running game as a low-to-the-ground, make-you-miss back to pair with Lamar Jackson. Mark Ingram can run you over. Swift can juke you. Jackson can run by you. It'd be a headache to defend.