MIAMI — Back in the Dark Ages (meaning, like, 2017), the NFL world’s attention began turning to the upcoming draft about this time of year.
But nowadays? Folks were already trying to figure out whom the Detroit Lions might be targeting with the third overall pick of the 2020 draft weeks before the confetti dropped on the Chiefs at Super Bowl LIV.
What should be an especially wild offseason is now officially upon us, so what better time to take my first crack at a mock draft this year?
1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: Heisman Trophy winner. National champion. Proud Ohio native. Thrower of FBS record 60 TD passes. Tremendously accurate (76.3% completion rate in 2019) with few mistakes (6 INTs). And he could even take the Carson Palmer route and redshirt in 2020 if the Bengals keep longtime QB Andy Dalton for the final year of his contract … which they typically do. About the only red-ish flag attached to Burrow right now is his disdain for the Queen City’s beloved Skyline Chili.
2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: Widely perceived to be this draft’s top overall prospect, the Maryland native is also a natural fit for the ‘Skins. Young compiled an Ohio State single-season record 16½ sacks in 2019 (in just 12 games) and should nicely man one of the edges as Washington switches to a 4-3 defensive front under new coach Ron Rivera.
3. Detroit Lions – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: The draft might really start here as it’s easy to envision other teams inquiring about this selection. But let’s save the trade speculation until this whole process unfolds at least a bit more. Okudah would clearly bolster the league’s worst pass defense, one that’s set to lose Pro Bowl CB Darius Slay to free agency a year from now.
4. New York Giants – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: By now you know that GM Dave Gettleman values the big boys (Wills is about 6-5, 320). More importantly, the G-Men need to continue upgrading the blocking in front of QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley, especially with starting RT Mike Remmers about to go free. Wills could plug into the right side immediately but maybe supplant LT Nate Solder in the near future, too.
5. Miami Dolphins – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: Might have been the top pick if not for his surgically repaired hip, which was dislocated and fractured in November. Tagovailoa has talked of winning the scouting combine from a medical recovery standpoint. But he might also win by going to Miami, where Ryan Fitzpatrick will return in 2020 and might prove the better choice to start even if Tagovailoa was fully healthy.
6. Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: With free agent QB Philip Rivers uprooting his family, speculation is already running amok as to who might be taking snaps for a talented Bolts roster in 2020. Yet even if an established veteran – Tom Brady? – signs here, still a case to be made that Herbert, who just won Senior Bowl MVP honors, would make sense as an heir apparent after a sterling career with the Ducks. He’s certainly got the arm to take advantage of targets like WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
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7. Carolina Panthers – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: He’s not a Luke Kuechly clone, but Simmons might be the best player on the board in this scenario and would certainly be an asset for a team that faces three prolific passing teams in the NFC South. Another team that will be fascinating to monitor, though, given the uncertainty around QB Cam Newton and obvious link football observers want to make between new OC Joe Brady and Burrow.
8. Arizona Cardinals – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: The “Air Raid” offense could use some upgrades in terms of protection around QB Kyler Murray, especially with LT D.J. Humphries about to go free.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: Freakish strength and quickness for a man who’s roughly 6-4, 325. And with DT Marcell Dareus a likely cap casualty, adding another big body to what could once again become a formidable line certainly makes sense – especially if Derrick Henry returns to plague the AFC South.
10. Cleveland Browns – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: A remarkable (and athletic) specimen at 6-7 and 369 pounds, he could solidify the O-line’s interior if he’s not quite ready to upgrade one of Cleveland’s shaky tackle posts.
11. New York Jets – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: QB Sam Darnold could use a new receiver to replace Robby Anderson. But in a draft full of capable wideouts, it might be smarter to focus on the O-line first, both as it pertains to protecting Darnold as well as making life easier for RB Le’Veon Bell.
12. Las Vegas Raiders – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: A team that’s failed to effectively replace Amari Cooper since trading him in 2018 might be wise to go back to the ‘Bama well for a wideout who possesses a very similar skill set.
13. Indianapolis Colts – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: Another Senior Bowl standout, Kinlaw might be too good for GM Chris Ballard to pass up here – especially given the Colts’ need to create more disruption up the middle.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – K’Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: He’d be an excellent complement (or replacement?) for league sack king Shaq Barrett as the Bucs continue their transition to a 3-4 base defense, one that’s likely to lose a lot of bodies that didn’t fit well anyway to free agency.
15. Denver Broncos – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: As much as coach Vic Fangio might want to bolster his beloved defense, probably wiser to give second-year QB Drew Lock another target to supplement Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton.
16. Atlanta Falcons – D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia: It’s time to move on from Devonta Freeman, and the short but stout Swift (5-9, 215), who averaged 6.6 yards per carry during his three years with the Dawgs, might be just the multi-pronged shot in the arm this offense needs.
17. Dallas Cowboys – Grant Delpit, S, LSU: No need to give up the ship for Jamal Adams when you can enlist another highly capable Bayou Bengal in Delpit, last season’s Jim Thorpe Award winner, to shore up the back line.
18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers) – A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: No team finished with fewer sacks in 2019 than the Dolphins’ 23. Epenesa notched 22 over his last two seasons with the Hawkeyes.
19. Raiders (from Chicago Bears) – C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: Las Vegas needs more from its cover guys, especially in a division ruled by Patrick Mahomes and his plethora of game-breaking receivers.
20. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) – Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: With a pick acquired for Jalen Ramsey … they may as well attempt to replace Jalen Ramsey.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: His speed would be made to order for an offense that relies so much on its tight ends underneath and has WR Alshon Jeffery (when healthy) available to body defenders. No Philly wideout eclipsed 500 yards in 2019, and aging deep threat DeSean Jackson just can’t stay healthy.
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 – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama: The obsession regarding Tom Brady’s future has masked the pending departure of longtime S Devin McCourty, 32. McKinney has the diversified skills to fill McCourty’s spot in the lineup … if not his estimable shoes.
24. New Orleans Saints – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: A lot of dominoes yet to fall in the Big Easy, where QBs Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and a large chunk of the secondary are unsigned. But no matter how the quarterback situation shakes out, Brees will need a successor sooner or later.
25. Minnesota Vikings – A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson: Burrow didn’t help Terrell’s stock in the national championship game. Nevertheless, it seems like the Vikes draft a DB high every year, and they’ll likely need to restock a secondary that may also jettison CB Xavier Rhodes.
26. Dolphins (from Houston Texans) – Josh Jones, OT, Houston: Whether it’s Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa or someone else slinging it in 2020, Miami needs to start rebuilding its front five. This pick was acquired for former LT Laremy Tunsil.
27. Seattle Seahawks – Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State: Free agency figures to decimate Seattle’s D-line, which needs to be deep and non-reliant on blitz help to make this scheme work.
28. Baltimore Ravens – Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma: The AFC North champs may soon find themselves shopping for linebackers, and Murray could fill the hole left when C.J. Mosley left last year.
29. Tennessee Titans – Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn: Their AFC championship game loss probably confirmed that this defense needs one more versatile difference maker.
30. Green Bay Packers – Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado: Memo to GM Brian Gutekunst … WR Davante Adams can’t do it by himself.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU: If Arik Armstead doesn’t return, would certainly make sense for Niners to stock their D-line with yet another multi-talented prospect.
32. Kansas City Chiefs – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: This defense could use more athleticism at the second level, and Queen provides that in spades.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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