- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The NFL draft is officially a week away.

This year’s show will be different because of the coronavirus pandemic — from commissioner Roger Goodell announcing calls from his basement in his New York home to an NFL Network-ESPN joint broadcast featuring many virtual appearances. But one thing is more than likely: There still will be the intrigue and drama that comes with the NFL draft every year.

Here’s how The Washington Times sees the first round playing out, with sportswriter Matthew Paras making the even-numbered selections and his colleague Adam Zielonka doing the odds. Keep in mind that this mock draft doesn’t include trades.

1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

Zielonka: Carson Palmer is on the record saying the Bengals, his former team, never try all that hard to win a Super Bowl. Burrow trains with Palmer’s brother Jordan. Coincidence? Yes. Burrow might seem reluctant to go to Cincinnati, but there’s nothing the Heisman winner can do to change his future as the No. 1 pick.

2. Washington Redskins: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

Paras: This seems like an increasingly sure thing by the day. Young led the nation in sacks last year with 16 ½ and has been hailed as a once-in-a-generation pass-rushing prospect. This is an easy choice for the Redskins.

3. Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State

Zielonka: A first-team All-American, Okudah had three interceptions, nine passes defended and two forced fumbles in 2019. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein called him a “dream prospect” due to his physical abilities and character. But watch for a team hunting for a quarterback to try to trade with Detroit and move up to No. 3.

4. New York Giants: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

Paras: Perhaps the Giants will take a tackle to protect quarterback Daniel Jones. But New York desperately needs playmakers on its defense, which ranked 27th in defensive DVOA (efficiency) last season. In Simmons, the Giants would gain an explosive, multi-positional athlete who was a star at Clemson.

5. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Zielonka: Miami should have its choice between Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, who is rivaling Tagovailoa in recent mock drafts due to the Alabama star’s uncertain health. If the Dolphins want a splashy new quarterback of the future to woo fans, Tagovailoa likely would sell more tickets.

6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Paras: The Chargers have said they’re comfortable with Tyrod Taylor as their starter for 2020, but in Herbert, they’ll get a player who can become the face of the franchise. Herbert has rocketed up draft boards this past month and despite accuracy concerns, experts are high on his overall talent.

7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

Zielonka: The Panthers have their offense all set with newly-signed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and newly-paid running back Christian McCaffrey. What they need now is defense, after middle linebacker Luke Kuechly retired and two quality defensive tackles also departed.

8. Arizona Cardinals: Tristan Wirfs, T, Iowa

Paras: Wirfs is regarded as the best tackle in the draft and Arizona needs someone who can protect quarterback Kyler Murray. The Cardinals gave up 50 sacks last season — tied for fifth-most in the NFL.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina

Zielonka: The Jaguars can go a number of routes here, but defense makes the most sense. What was a fearsome defense just three short years ago has hemorrhaged almost all its impact players, most recently with the trade of defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

10. Cleveland Browns: Mekhi Becton, T, Louisville

Paras: The Browns were another team that had trouble protecting the quarterback, though admittedly, Baker Mayfield didn’t do his line any favors by holding on the ball for too long. Still, the Browns haven’t had a stellar left tackle since future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas retired in 2018. That hopefully changes with Becton.

11. New York Jets: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

Zielonka: Whether they take a true No. 1 weapon for Sam Darnold or a new starting left tackle, the Jets will draft offense in the first round after 10 of their last 11 first-round picks were defensive players. Alabama tackle Jedrick Wills is still on the board, but it’s hard to pass up his teammate, the explosive Jeudy.

12. Las Vegas Raiders: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Paras: Antonio Brown was a bust for the Raiders — forcing his way out before he ever played a game for the Silver and Black. By drafting Lamb, the Raiders figure to get a true No. 1 receiver with star potential. Lamb averaged 21.4 yards per catch during his final year at Oklahoma.

13. San Francisco 49ers: Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama

Zielonka: It’s officially a run on receivers here. San Francisco has few needs coming off its Super Bowl berth, but another weapon for Jimmy Garoppolo is high up on that list.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jedrick Wills, T, Alabama

Paras: Tampa Bay could use someone to better protect Tom Brady’s blindside. The Buccaneers will be expected to win now with Brady arriving and Wills has experience in big moments at Alabama.

15. Denver Broncos: K’Lavon Chaisson, DE, LSU

Zielonka: We didn’t save any of the top three receivers for the Broncos, who are needy at the position. Lucky for Denver, that position is still well-stocked in the second round, so let’s go against the grain here and give them a replacement for Derek Wolfe.

16. Atlanta Falcons: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama

Paras: The Falcons pick at No. 16, but will it stay that way on draft night? The NFL Network reported Atlanta has “made some noise” in terms of wanting to move up in the draft. For now, let’s pencil in Diggs, a lengthy cornerback who has drawn comparisons to Aqib Talib.

17. Dallas Cowboys: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

Zielonka: The Cowboys had a pretty stellar pass defense last year, but No. 1 cornerback Byron Jones headed to Miami in free agency. Dallas reportedly has had a video-conference interview with Henderson recently.

18. Miami Dolphins: Andrew Thomas, T, Georgia

Paras: The Dolphins traded away star left tackle Laremy Tunsil prior to the 2019 season, receiving two first-round picks in return. While pick No. 18 comes from dealing safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, they can get their Tunsil replacement in Thomas, a prospect who was once considered a top-five pick but has fallen due to inconsistent technique.

19. Las Vegas Raiders: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

Zielonka: Terrell has said he wants to reunite with former Clemson teammate Trayvon Mullen in the Raiders’ secondary. Consider it done. The Raiders gave up 33 passing touchdowns last year, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

Paras: The Jaguars have many needs, but they could use a boost at receiver for quarterback Gardner Minshew. D.J. Chark has developed into a nice player and Jefferson’s speed from the slot should pair nicely with him.

21. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State

Zielonka: In a crowded wide receiver class, Aiyuk is a late riser on experts’ boards. He recently had surgery for a core muscle injury, but when healthy he’s a dynamic receiver and kick returner and Philadelphia was incredibly thin at wideout last year.

22. Minnesota Vikings: Austin Jackson, T, USC

Paras: The Vikings have been floated as a potential landing spot for Redskins tackle Trent Williams, given his history of protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins. But Jackson, a 6-foot-6 tackle from USC, would be the cheaper option.

23. New England Patriots: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

Zielonka: Are we doing this? Let’s do this. If the Patriots truly believe Jarrett Stidham is the heir apparent to Tom Brady, more power to them, but several NFL teams love Love. New England has reportedly done its homework on the combine’s biggest riser.

24. New Orleans Saints: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

Paras: The Saints don’t have many needs, but Queen would boost their linebacking corps and carries a local connection. NFL.com projects Queen to have a “sky-high ceiling,” noting his athleticism and ability to diagnose plays quickly.

25. Minnesota Vikings: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Zielonka: No more Stefon Diggs? No problem. Because Minnesota still has Adam Thielen, there wouldn’t be pressure on Higgins to be a big contributor his rookie year, but he can develop into a No. 2 threat in time.

26. Miami Dolphins: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Paras: After taking two offensive players in the first round, Miami needs someone who can help its defense. Murray ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and was a playmaker for the Sooners.

27. Seattle Seahawks: Cesar Ruiz, G/C, Michigan

Zielonka: Ruiz is every evaluator’s top-ranked interior lineman of the class. The Seahawks were No. 4 in rushing offense last year, yet they don’t have many healthy, talented inside blockers, particularly at center.

28. Baltimore Ravens: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa

Paras: The Ravens used the franchise tag on Matthew Judon, so they could use a fallback option if they can’t re-sign him to a longterm deal. A.J. Epenesa has a wide variety of pass-rushing moves, leading Iowa with 10 ½ sacks in 2019.

29. Tennessee Titans: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State

Zielonka: The Titans have a good, young core in their front seven, and they added veteran edge rusher Vic Beasley this offseason, but throw Gross-Matos in the mix and Tennessee could be in position to prove last year’s AFC title game run wasn’t a fluke.

30. Green Bay Packers: Josh Jones, T, Houston

Paras: The Packers signed former Lions right tackle Rick Wagner this offseason to replace starter Bryan Bulaga. By drafting Jones, the Packers can get a developmental tackle prospect, one who could possibly replace Wagner down the line.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

Zielonka: In all likelihood, McKinney won’t drop this far, but you never know — we found better fits for the several teams ahead of San Francisco who might consider McKinney. The top safety in the class would also be the best available player for the 49ers here.

32. Kansas City Chiefs: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Paras: Yes, running backs can be found in the later rounds, but Dobbins would be a great fit for the Chiefs’ offense. Dobbins was third in rushing last season in the NCAA, running for more than 2,000 yards. The Chiefs have an explosive offense already with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, and Dobbins would provide a nice change of pace.

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