A new champion has been crowned, which means it’s time to officially move onto next season in the NFL.
While free agency is up first, the league’s calendar has always been a little goofy. The next big event is the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 25 in Indianapolis. All 32 teams gather to evaluate the top college players eligible for April’s draft. In between, free agency takes place, which has a big impact on each team’s draft needs.
Thus, at this point in the offseason, mock drafts should be viewed as works in progress.
With that in mind, here is The Buffalo News’ first projection of Round 1:
1. Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU. This is the equivalent of the free space on the bingo card. There is no chance Burrow falls out of the top spot.
2. Washington Redskins. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State. Like last year, the consensus best player in the draft falls to No. 2 behind a quarterback-needy team. The 49ers benefited in a big way when that happened, scooping up Ohio State’s Nick Bosa in 2019. This year, the Redskins get Bosa’s Buckeyes teammate who is coming off a season with 16.5 sacks.
3. Detroit Lions. Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State. I fully expect a team (Miami) will aggressively trade up to this spot for a quarterback, but this particular mock draft won’t project trades. That means the Lions land some help for a secondary that gave up the most passing yards per game in 2019.
4. New York Giants. Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville. Becton is – get this – 6-foot-7 and 369 pounds! He can move, though, so he should provide help for quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.
5. Miami Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. The biggest question heading into this year’s draft deals with Tagovailoa’s health. If he’s medically cleared, he’s a top-five pick. This would be a dream scenario for the Dolphins, but as mentioned above, they (or another team) would likely target the No. 3 pick in a move to get him.
6. Los Angeles Chargers. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon. Herbert looked good during Senior Bowl week, but he had a questionable final season with the Ducks. Nevertheless, the Chargers have an obvious need, having moved on from Philip Rivers. Herbert could sit behind Tyrod Taylor for a season.
7. Carolina Panthers. Derrick Brown, DL, Alabama. The Panthers were abysmal against the run last season, allowing 5.2 yards per carry and 32 touchdowns. That was with linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has since retired. Reinforcements are needed.
8. Arizona Cardinals. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Louisville. How is this for versatility? Simmons played more than 100 snaps at defensive line, box linebacker, slot cornerback and free safety, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. He finished with 104 tackles, eight sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2019. The Cardinals could use help everywhere on defense.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars. Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina. A first-team All-American, Kinlaw had six sacks in 2019. He’ll also help a run defense that finished 28th in the NFL.
10. Cleveland Browns. Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama. The Browns are in a good spot, with a big need along the offensive line and three or four players expected to be top-10 picks at the position. Wills could play on the right or left side.
11. New York Jets. Andrew Thomas, OL, Georgia. The Jets are another team with a young starting quarterback in need of better protection.
12. Las Vegas Raiders. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma. A move to Vegas necessitates adding some flash. Few players in this year’s class have more than Lamb, who put up huge numbers with the Sooners with 1,327 yards, 14 touchdowns and an average of 21.4 yards per catch.
13. Indianapolis Colts. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama. Jeudy’s 2019 season didn’t quite live up to expectations, which is why he ends up being the second receiver chosen. Still, he caught 159 passes for 2,742 yards and 26 touchdowns in 42 career games. He’d pair nicely with T.Y. Hilton, who is entering the final year of his contract.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tristan Wirfs, OL, Iowa. The Buccaneers’ needs could change if quarterback Jameis Winston or pass rusher Shaquil Barrett leave, but for now we’ll focus on beefing up the offensive line. Wirfs would replace Demar Dotson as the starter at right tackle, provided Dotson does not re-sign as a free agent.
15. Denver Broncos. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado. This will disappoint some Bills fans, who have been angling for Shenault at No. 22. Instead, the Broncos stay in state to get some help for young quarterback Drew Lock.
16. Atlanta Falcons. A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa. Only the Dolphins (23) had fewer sacks than Atlanta (28) in 2019. Epenesa had eight sacks and four forced fumbles over the final five games of 2019.
17. Dallas Cowboys. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU. The Cowboys might have a tough time re-signing Byron Jones because of salary-cap concerns. If Jones does walk, finding a replacement becomes a top priority. Fulton fits.
18. Miami Dolphins (from Pittsburgh). Grant Delpit, S, LSU. Back-to-back members of the Tigers’ secondary come off the board, as Delpit becomes the replacement for Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was traded to the Steelers for this pick.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (from Chicago). Jordan Love, QB, Utah St. After getting a wide receiver earlier, why not go after a quarterback of the future? Coach Jon Gruden seems ready to move on from Derek Carr. Love could sit for a year before that happens.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from L.A. Rams). Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama. D.J. Chark made the Pro Bowl for the Jaguars at wide receiver, but Ruggs’ explosiveness would be a nice addition on the other side.
21. Philadelphia Eagles. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida. Receiver is a need, but with the way they’ve come off the board in the first 20 picks, the Eagles elect to take Henderson. With the exception of Avonte Maddox, all the Eagles’ cornerbacks will be free agents either this offseason or next.
22. Buffalo Bills. K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU. Yes, the Bills need a wide receiver, and there are some attractive options still on the board in this scenario. My expectation, though, is that a player the Bills like at receiver will be available on the second day of the draft, so my preference is to wait. Chaisson is just 20 years old, but the Bills showed when they drafted Tremaine Edmunds as a 19-year-old that they’re not worried about age. Chaisson had 60 tackles (13.5 of which were for a loss) and 6.5 sacks in 13 games during the Tigers’ national championship season. He led LSU in tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hurries (six) in 2019. Here is how NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah summarizes Chaisson’s game: “Overall, Chaisson is more athlete than football player right now, but he has all of the raw tools to be a dominant force at the next level.” With Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson (assuming he re-signs), the Bills can bring Chaisson along slowly, taking advantage of his athleticism on obvious passing downs while giving him time to learn the nuances of the game.
23. New England Patriots. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU. I’m assuming Tom Brady comes back. If so, he needs more help, which means New England drafts a wide receiver in the first round for the second consecutive year. Jefferson broke the LSU record for catches in 2019, finishing with 111 that went for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds, he has ideal size.
24. New Orleans Saints. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona St. I’m assuming Drew Brees also comes back. If so, he also needs more help. The Saints don’t have a reliable second option at wide receiver behind Michael Thomas. Aiyuk would fill that void nicely.
25. Minnesota Vikings. Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah. The Vikings could lose Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes this offseason at cornerback, so replacements are needed.
26. Miami Dolphins (from Houston). D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia. This one is simple: The Dolphins’ running game was atrocious last season. Swift ran for 1,218 yards and was tied for 10th in the nation with seven rushing touchdowns.
27. Seattle Seahawks. Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama. The Seahawks’ defense is always at its best with great play from its safeties.
28. Baltimore Ravens. Patrick Queen, LB, LSU. The Ravens might lose linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor in free agency a year after losing C.J. Mosley at the position.
29. Tennessee Titans. Marlon Davidson, EDGE, Auburn. The Titans could use another pass rusher opposite Harold Landry. Davidson had 7.5 sacks last season.
30. Green Bay Packers. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma. Did you see the Packers’ run defense in the NFC Championship Game?
31. San Francisco 49ers. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU. Six of the 49ers’ cornerbacks will be free agents either this year or next, making it a position of need moving forward. Gladney had five interceptions and 26 passes defensed over the past two seasons.
32. Kansas City Chiefs. Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU. The Chiefs will probably find a way to bring Chris Jones back, but if not, Blacklock would fill a big need on defense.
Story topics: 2020 NFL Draft