NFL mock draft 2020: Patriots land Tom Brady's replacement at QB after free agency, trades shake up first round
Attempting to compile a mock draft amid the start of free agency in the NFL is a bit like building a house of cards while staring down the barrel of a leaf blower. Neither exercise lends itself to a final product with much staying power.
But with a flurry of trades and signings reshaping the NFL landscape, the outlook for the first round has shifted dramatically in the last few days. Two teams — the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills — have already parted with their top picks in order to obtain high-end veteran talent.
Yet Tom Brady's agreement to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was not only the biggest news of the week but also the move that sent the most ripples through the top of the draft order. That, along with many other agreements, helped provide a degree of clarity on where several teams stand after the marquee players found their landing spots.
Here's our latest first-round projection for the 2020 NFL draft, with notes on free agency's effects (or, in some cases, lack thereof) on each pick:
1. Bengals — Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: Maybe a tiger can change its stripes, as the Bengals actually paid up in the first wave of free agency. Signing nose tackle D.J. Reader and cornerback Trae Waynes might seem of little import to Burrow, but Cincinnati has to make sure the Heisman Trophy winner isn't under pressure to engineer the 40-point games he routinely manufactured at LSU. And retaining A.J. Green ensures the No. 1 pick will have a go-to target from the outset.
2. Redskins — Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: The new era in Washington was never more evident than this week, when the franchise showed atypical restraint in free agency. Still, there was no deal that should have shifted the course for Young, the havoc-wreaking hometown hero. Landing him without paying big money or parting with other picks will be the true signature move of the offseason.
3. Lions — Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay got his wish to be sent out of Detroit, as the Lions moved him early on Thursday in a trade to the Philadelphia Eagles. With his departure, the Lions' need for a cornerback to join free agent signing Desmond Trufant is more pressing than ever. Good thing Okudah, one of the best players at his position in several years, is waiting in the draft.
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4. Giants — Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: Having spent big to retain defensive lineman Leonard Williams and reel in cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez, general manager Dave Gettleman might be drawn to one of his beloved "hog mollies" with this pick. As much as quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley would benefit from such an addition along the offensive line, Simmons has a strong case as the most valuable option for Big Blue. Defenders with his versatility and range don't come around often, and he could prove to be the catalyst the Giants have been lacking.
5. Dolphins — Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: Hard to say what the NFL's moratorium on pro days and in-person visits means for Tagovailoa, who had planned to work out for teams April 9 in his first action since undergoing hip surgery last November. Convincing evaluators he not only has no medical obstacles but also can stay on the field in the NFL remains his most crucial task in maintaining his draft stock. Barring any negative feedback on those fronts, however, the Dolphins — who didn't hold back in the early going of free agency — should have no reason to doubt he's the passer for whom they've been waiting.
6. Chargers — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: Missing out on Brady seems to leave the Bolts' quarterback options to be unearthed in the draft, barring a later acquisition of Cam Newton. Los Angeles should be seen as a potential threat to leapfrog the Dolphins in order to grab Tagovailoa, but there's plenty to like about Herbert's potential if the Chargers stay put. Whether he waits behind Tyrod Taylor or ends up the Day 1 starter, the 6-6, 236-pound signal-caller has the arm strength and attacking mentality to get the most out of wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
7. Panthers — Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: The succession plan at quarterback was by no means clean, as Teddy Bridgewater arrives amid Newton pushing back on the team saying it would allow him to pursue a trade. Yet the move confirmed that Carolina is taking the middle road between competing now and enduring a full rebuild. Accordingly, Brown should firm up their defensive front for some time.
8. Cardinals — Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: Landing wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and unloading running back David Johnson's contract in the same trade constitutes a major coup. For Kliff Kingsbury to unleash his offense's true potential, however, the line should be upgraded. A potential fixture for any front, Wills is adept in both the pass and run games.
9. Jaguars — Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: Amid a puzzling franchise reset, Jacksonville astonished many by trading defensive end Calais Campbell, the reigning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award winner, to the Ravens for a fifth-round pick. The upheaval might not end there, as franchise-tagged pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue made it clear he's not eager to continue his career with the organization. Kinlaw is the kind of disruptive force who, along with 2019 rookie dynamo Josh Allen, can help the Jaguars start the actual building part of the rebuilding process.
10. Browns — Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: With right tackle Jack Conklin coming aboard, Cleveland has completed a significant part of its protection plan for Baker Mayfield. While the 6-7, 364-pound Becton isn't the kind of blocker one would typically peg for a zone-blocking scheme, he's astoundingly athletic and would help GM Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski finish the job up front.
11. Jets — Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: Whatever free agency splash GM Joe Douglas was expected to make on the offensive line actually amounted to a belly flop. Left tackle George Fant and center Connor McGovern provide some assistance, but it's clear there's more work to be done. Wirfs can step in at right tackle and give Sam Darnold a little more reason to breathe easy.
12. Raiders — CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: One of the safer bets to make in Las Vegas would be on GM Mike Mayock using his top selection on a wide receiver after focusing on defense during free agency. Of all the first-tier pass catchers available, Lamb is perhaps the most rugged and multi-skilled, traits that could make him the front-runner to be the Silver and Black's new top target.
13. 49ers (from Colts) — Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: Netting this pick from the Colts in exchange for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner puts San Francisco squarely in the mix for one of this year's best wide receivers. Ruggs, the draft's foremost big-play threat, would unlock new opportunities for Jimmy Garoppolo as a downfield target while still breaking big gains on screens.
14. Buccaneers — Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia:There likely are still forthcoming changes to be made for Tampa Bay to meld its offense into an outfit comfortable for Brady. A good starting point is upgrading the line, and the steady Thomas is likely the most pro-ready of his peers.
15. Broncos — Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: Denver still looks primed to look to the draft for a speedy target to complement the big-bodied Courtland Sutton. Jeudy's speed and savvy would make him a fast favorite of second-year quarterback Drew Lock.
16. Falcons — K'Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: Given their wide-ranging defensive shortcomings, the Falcons can let their board point them to the top talent on that side of the ball. In this case, it's Chaisson, who sizes up as an intriguing edge rusher to pair with new signing Dante Fowler Jr.
17. Cowboys — C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: Though Byron Jones' departure was expected, his signing with the Dolphins might take the biggest toll of any of Dallas' defensive defections. An ace cover man who nevertheless must account for his play slipping last season, Henderson strikes the perfect balance between value and need at this spot.
18. Dolphins (from Steelers) — Austin Jackson, OT, USC: A tumble down the draft board by one of the top four offensive tackles would behoove Miami greatly, but the Dolphins might have to move up if they want to get within reach of any of them. Jackson is still a project but one who could pay off with patience.
19. Raiders (from Bears) — Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma: Securing Cory Littleton was a nice start toward overhauling the linebacker corps, but the rangy Murray could help complete the mission.
20. Jaguars (from Rams) — Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: Trading away both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will become more tolerable if Jacksonville identifies someone who also can one day perform at a Pro Bowl level. That's a high bar for Diggs, but still one the tremendously talented corner can clear with some refinement.
21. Eagles — Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama: Even with the addition of Slay, Philadelphia is short on reliability in its secondary, making it only natural for the team to gravitate toward McKinney, one of the most dependable players in this class.
22. Vikings (from Bills) — Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: Reinforcements at wide receiver are in order after Minnesota dealt Stefon Diggs to Buffalo for this pick, and Jefferson's penchant for boxing out players in the short-to-intermediate game should help him earn Kirk Cousins' trust.
23. Patriots — Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: Jarrett Stidham or a forthcoming trade option (Andy Dalton?) seem like more reasonable successors to Brady than any rookie. Yet Bill Belichick might have a difficult time bypassing a passer with Love's considerable gifts if the quarterback were to fall to this point. With easy arm strength to attack downfield and mobility to throw defenses off balance, the 6-4, 224-pound signal-caller would open up a new world of possibilities for Belichick following the many years of Brady's quick-trigger approach.
24. Saints — Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: A playmaker on the rise after just one year as a starter, Queen is too tantalizing for his home-state team to pass up while New Orleans prepares to defend its NFC South supremacy against Brady and the Buccaneers' challenge.
25. Vikings — Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: Its starting cornerbacks cut (Xavier Rhodes) and signed elsewhere (Waynes), Minnesota would be wise to take advantage of a deep class at the position, particularly if someone as polished as Fulton is available at this juncture.
26. Dolphins (from Texans) — Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin: In bringing on former Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy as well as edge rushers Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, Miami is once again taking a page from Belichick to boost its league-low 23 sacks in 2019. Baun knows how to get to the quarterback and aligns well with a defense rooted in the "Patriot Way" of versatility.
27. Seahawks — Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State: Regardless of whether Jadeveon Clowney re-signs or bolts, Seattle's pass rush could stand for an infusion of speed even after Bruce Irvin's return.
28. Ravens — Terrell Lewis, OLB, Alabama: Inside linebacker is a spot to invest in after Baltimore beefed up its defensive line with Campbell and Michael Brockers, but there's no one worthy of this spot if Murray and Queen are off the board. The Ravens could still trade franchise-tagged pass rusher Matthew Judon, in which case they would need an athletic replacement like Lewis.
29. Titans — A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: After dumping five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey in a trade to the Broncos, Tennessee can replenish its front by adding Epenesa, whose power and length make him an intriguing option in Mike Vrabel's versatile 3-4 defense.
30. Packers — Josh Jones, OT, Houston: Lions castoff Rick Wagner seems better fitted for a backup role, and the ascendant Jones makes for an attractive long-term solution at right tackle.
31. 49ers — Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU: Slippery and agile, Blacklock would give San Francisco a disruptive interior presence to replace Buckner. Without picks in the second, third and fourth rounds, the 49ers might be motivated to move back in a trade with any team hoping to leap into the first.
32. Chiefs — Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU: A quiet beginning to free agency likely bodes well for the defending champions' young core, which no doubt has a role for Gladney given his knack for sticking by receivers downfield.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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