Speculation season has already started for the NFL draft, but the annual scouting combine will only heighten the intrigue.
Regardless of how much the revelations from next week’s event in Indianapolis actually reshape teams’ opinions on various prospects, the various media interviews and televised on-field testing are bound to cause a stir.
Before the overreactions start flying, here’s USA TODAY Sports’ pre-combine mock draft of the first round:
1. Bengals — Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: The record-setting passer has kept a low profile since capping his Heisman Trophy-winning season with a national championship campaign. Burrow will face plenty of questions when he takes the podium in Indianapolis, with a bulk of them likely to center on his expected selection by the Bengals. Given his standing, there’s little reason for him to participate in any of the on-field workouts at the combine.
2. Redskins — Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: It’s only February and it’s already difficult to find new ways to talk about the seemingly inevitable pairing of Washington and Young. Any other outcome would rank as perhaps the most stunning development of the draft.
3. Lions — Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: With Matthew Stafford trade speculation summarily dismissed by GM Bob Quinn, the most pressing question of Detroit’s offseason still hinges on whether a quarterback-hungry team will offer a bounty for this selection — and whether the Lions would accept such a package. Part of that equation should entail weighing the risk of losing out on Okudah, who has a good case to trail only his ex-Buckeye teammate Young among this draft’s premiere defensive talents.
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4. Giants — Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: For all of the talk about this draft beginning with the Lions’ pick, the Giants are the more difficult team to pin down given their swath of issues on both sides of the ball. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, however, if GM Dave Gettleman can’t pull himself away from Wills, who is the kind of smooth-moving yet powerful blocker both Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley need.
5. Dolphins — Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: It likely will be at least a month before Tagovailoa is back in action, as his agent, Leigh Steinberg, said the quarterback would throw for teams in March or April after taking more time to recover from hip surgery. Thing seem to be trending in his favor, though, as NFL Network reported that the results of a CT scan were “as positive as possible.” Miami stands out as a natural landing spot, especially given the significant draft capital in hand should the Dolphins feel compelled to move up for him.
6. Chargers — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon:Philip Rivers’ reign in Southern California is officially over, with the franchise ready to identify a successor at quarterback after 16 years. Tyrod Taylor shouldn’t be ruled out as a potential Week 1 starter, but Herbert could be hard to pass up — unless Tom Brady or another marquee free agent passer signs.
7. Panthers — Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: Even if Carolina parts with Cam Newton, rushing a quarterback investment in coach Matt Rhule’s first year wouldn’t be in keeping with the long-term mentality owner David Tepper looks to be embracing. That dynamic points toward someone like Brown, whose overpowering nature in the middle could have a ripple effect on the rest of the defense.
8. Cardinals — Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: With GM Steve Keim saying last week he hopes to re-sign left tackle D.J. Humphries, Arizona might look beyond its offensive front with this selection. Expect Simmons to post some of the most impressive testing numbers at the combine and further build his case for the top 10.
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9. Jaguars — Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: After hitting it big with Josh Allen in the first round last year, Jacksonville should once again use its top pick to scoop up a disruptive force along the front four. Kinlaw wowed in a mere two days of Senior Bowl practices and routinely overwhelms blockers with his sheer power and quickness.
10. Browns — Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: New coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry look to be in lockstep in their early priorities, with reversing Baker Mayfield’s trajectory and instituting a run-first attack among the top items on their to-do list. Nabbing Thomas should help address both matters.
11. Jets — Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: When Becton is described as a big mover, it’s not just due to a 6-7, 369-pound build that would make him one of the NFL’s heaviest players. He now has a chance to be taken among the class’ top pass protectors and sizes up as an attractive option for the Jets, whose primary concern this offseason should be safeguarding Sam Darnold.
12. Raiders — Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: It would be fitting for the Las Vegas-hosted draft to provide a little bit of hometown luck in this fashion, as the Raiders are starved for a true No. 1 receiver. Even in what could be a historic group at the position, Jeudy stands out as the most complete package of any pass catcher.
13. Colts — CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: GM Chris Ballard’s draft plans should become somewhat clearer once he’s indicated how Indianapolis will utilize more than $86 million in available cap space. Given the Colts’ lackluster receiving corps beyond T.Y. Hilton and the underwhelming free agent options, Lamb is a fitting option to bring the “explosive elements” Ballard said he’s hunting for.
14. Buccaneers — Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: Another situation worth revisiting after free agency’s first wave, as Tampa Bay’s outlook could shift significantly with a change at quarterback or the loss of pass rusher Shaquil Barrett. For now, though, Wirfs has a beguiling set of physical tools that could allow him to become a high-end starter with more polish.
15. Broncos — Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: No other player will be more closely monitored during the 40-yard dash at the combine than Ruggs, who could challenge John Ross’ record of 4.22 seconds after teammates said he was timed at 4.25 last year. Regardless of his mark, the speedster would unlock the big-play potential offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur seeks from his passing attack.
16. Falcons — K’Lavon Chaisson, OLB/DE, LSU: After its investment in Vic Beasley went bust, Atlanta might be reticent to use another top pick on a pass rusher so reliant on his speed. But next to Young, Chaisson might have the highest upside of any player at his position.
17. Cowboys — Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: Byron Jones is poised to command a sum the Cowboys might find too immense to match should he reach free agency, an increasingly likely outcome as Dallas remains in a stalemate with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. A fitting replacement might await in Diggs, another big corner with head-turning athleticism.
18. Dolphins (from Steelers) — Josh Jones, OT, Houston: Though he might lack the name recognition of the four offensive tackles projected to go earlier in the first round, Jones is an ascendant talent who could be a building block for a ramshackle Dolphins line.
19. Raiders (from Bears) — Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma: There’s a black hole in the middle of the Raiders’ defense for coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock to address before settling in Las Vegas. Murray offers enticing speed and playmaking ability, though his recognition skills are lagging.
20. Jaguars (from Rams) — C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: The next phase in Jacksonville’s defensive rebirth should entail investing in a top corner, particularly if A.J. Bouye is cut loose.
21. Eagles — Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson: Philadelphia’s stagnant deep passing game should be reinvigorated by the addition of a 6-4, 215-pound target who averaged 19.8 yards per catch last year.
22. Bills — Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado: Dynamic and powerful after the catch, Shenault checks off a lot of boxes for Josh Allen and Buffalo’s offense.
23. Patriots — A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: Another value-based win for Bill Belichick, who would bolster his front seven with a massive edge defender from a Hawkeye program for which the coach has expressed his admiration.
24. Saints — Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State: The former Sun Devil is a speed demon, and his big-play prowess would be tantalizing for New Orleans’ offense.
25. Vikings — Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: Minnesota’s salary cap crunch could force some sacrifices in the secondary, necessitating some cheaper reinforcements, such as the physical Fulton.
26. Dolphins (from Texans) — Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin: Despite lacking the build and length many teams seek from premier pass rushers, Baun nevertheless is explosive off the edge and displays a relentless edge that would win over coach Brian Flores.
27. Seahawks — Grant Delpit, S, LSU: He’s not the next Earl Thomas — who is? — but Delpit would be a tantalizing option for coach Pete Caroll and GM John Schneider if he’s still on the board here.
28. Ravens — Terrell Lewis, OLB/DE, Alabama: This selection seems bound for a front seven that lacks any first-round players, and Lewis is brimming with potential as a lengthy pass rusher.
29. Titans — Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State: The AFC title game should serve as a reminder that it’s never a bad idea to load up on talented corners, especially with Logan Ryan set to hit the market.
30. Packers — Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: Blake Martinez proved to be an insufficient presence in the middle, and a linebacker with Queen’s range would address one of Green Bay’s most significant shortcomings.
31. 49ers — Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama: If San Francisco is unable to retain Jimmie Ward with its limited cap space, McKinney could slide in as a replacement capable of handling a wide range of coverage assignments.
32. Chiefs — Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia: Adding an imposing corner such as Hall would help Kansas City continue its defensive development.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.