With just under one month to go before the 2020 NFL Draft kicks off and Rodger Goodell walks up to that podium... or webcam, and with the peak of free agency squarely in the rearview mirror, the Miami Dolphins roster for the 2020-2021 NFL season is beginning to take shape. General manager Chris Grier has done well to bring in blue chip talents and upgrades at several starting positions, but there is still plenty of work to be done, and the next step in Miami’s rebuilding process will come through the draft.
With that said, I’m taking my first shot at what’s become a must-write for every NFL pundit, analyst, and even fan leading up to the annual NFL Draft: a first-round mock. Feel free to leave your own insights and opinions on what’s bound to be a controversial mock draft (aren’t they all?). @HierJustin is the place. As esteemed NFL analyst Elliott Harrison says: let the dissension commence!
1. Cincinnati Bengals - QB Joe Burrow, LSU
I firmly believe there’s a real chance that Miami trades into this spot. The Dolphins are, as we all know, in desperate need of a quarterback, but Cincinnati would be foolish to trade out of this position barring a team offering a king’s ransom for the selection. I don’t think Miami provides such compensation. The Bengals stay put.
2. Washington Redskins - DE Chase Young, Ohio State
Just like with Cincinnati above, there’s no reason for Washington to complicate this pick. Young is the safest prospect in the draft (though, as everyone knows, no pick is safe) and should provide an instant boost to a lackluster Redskins defense.
3. Detroit Lions - CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
The Lions just traded Darius Slay and now grab his replacement within the top three. Okudah is worthy of such a selection. He projects to be a lockdown corner at the next level.
4. New York Giants - OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama
If Daniel Jones is to succeed in New York, he needs something that Eli Manning was severely lacking for the back-end of his career with the Giants: a fortified offensive line.
5. Miami Dolphins - QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Will the Dolphins trade up for Joe Burrow? Will the Chargers or Panthers trade up for Tua? Will the Lions steal Tua before he gets out of the top three? All are possibilities, but in this case, Tua’s injury history and teams’ inability to bring him into their facilities at this time causes a slide to five where Grier and head coach Brian Flores gladly scoop up their QB of the future. Tua will sit behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for a season and eventually take over the starting role.
6. Los Angeles Chargers - QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
In the right situation, Justin Herbert has all the attributes to be a top tier quarterback, and it’s clear he gets more flack than deserved for his perceived lack of extroverted leadership. Very few people outside of the Oregon locker room really know how Herbert was seen by teammates and few people have a bad thing to say about the guy. His arm, football IQ, and scrambling ability convince Los Angeles to pounce, especially since the team has Tyrod Taylor to play for the time being while Herbert adjusts.
7. Carolina Panthers - S/LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
With Luke Kuechly retired, the Panthers need a new face and voice of the team on defense. Simmons is versatile enough to both cover the pass and defend the run like Kuechly did each week for such a long time. Where the Panthers ultimately decide to place him will be the (multi-) million dollar question.
8. Arizona Cardinals - OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
From one Cardinals team to the next. Arizona’s offense is already SCARY with Kenyan Drake, DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald set to terrorize defenses. Now, it’s time to ensure Kyler Murray has enough seconds to get those players the ball. If D.J. Humphries continues to start on the left side, Kliff Kingsbury can find another place for the behemoth multi-year starter in Becton to play and learn the ropes. Becton has experience at both tackle positions.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars - DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
The Jaguars appear to be stripping the team’s roster just as Miami did last offseason in preparation for a complete rebuild (tank). It’s an odd path to take with head coach Doug Marrone still on the sideline. Marrone is probably the odds-on favorite to be the first head coach to lose his job next season. He’s been with the team through several unsuccessful seasons and will undoubtedly endure another one in 2020. In the meantime, why not try to re-tool a once-ferocious defense. Brown and sophomore pass rusher Josh Allen would be a strong foundation.
10. Cleveland Browns - OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
The Browns have so much potential, and newly minted head coach Kevin Stefanski might just be the guy to unleash it. For him to be successful, he’ll need to supply Baker Mayfield with ample time to get his many playmakers the ball. Adding Wirfs to an offensive line that struggled immensely last season would be a good start.
11. New York Jets - WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
The Jets front office decision-makers are absolutely ecstatic to have their pick of the litter at wide receiver as every pass catcher fell out of the top-10 in this mock. Lamb is the definition of a playmaker. He’s a game-wrecker with the ball in his hands and is dangerous at each level of the field. He’ll quickly become Sam Darnold’s favorite target.
12. Las Vegas Raiders - WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
The Raiders spent a first-round pick on a Crimson Tide offensive playmaker last April in Josh Jacobs and that turned out pretty well. General manager Mike Mayock dips into the same well once more hoping for similar results with Jeudy. Derek Carr would certainly be happy with this selection.
13. San Francisco 49ers - CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
San Francisco’s defense was loaded before. General manager John Lynch aims to take it from loaded to just plain unfair with this pick. Richard Sherman was fantastic last season, but he’s getting up there in age and Henderson can provide the 49ers with a top tier tandem for now until Henderson takes over #1 duties from Sherman down the road.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Tampa Tommy has plenty of weapons to throw to in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard. Now, he gets a backfield-mate in Swift to strike fear into the rest of the NFC South. With Bruce Arians at the helm, Tampa Bay’s offense is going to score quite a few points. Swift and Ronald Jones would be one the best backfield duos in football next year.
15. Denver Broncos - WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
The mid-first-round run on wide receivers continues with Ruggs. The Broncos are investing in Drew Lock to be the team’s quarterback of the future. Adding Ruggs to an offense already touting Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay, and Melvin Gordon gives Lock all the ammunition he needs to be successful.
16. Atlanta Falcons - DE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
Chaisson is the best edge rusher in this draft class outside of Chase Young. The Falcons have had problems pressuring the quarterback in recent years and hope Chaisson is the one to get them over top along the defensive front.
17. Dallas Cowboys - DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carlina
The Cowboys have been exploring options to improve the team’s interior defensive line during free agency. It’s clear head coach Mike McCarthy would like to see an upgrade in that positional group, and Kinlaw would provide Dallas with a physical force who excels at creating pressure up the middle.
18. Miami Dolphins - OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
It’s been written about 10,000 times over the past few weeks that the Dolphins need to prioritize rebuilding the offensive line to give any new quarterback a chance at success. After spending some money in free agency on the interior, Grier selects the team’s left tackle of the future in Thomas. Yes, Tagovailoa is left-handed, and his blindside is protected by his right tackle, but that doesn’t mean Grier should pass on an uber-talented and successful left tackle if one is sitting there at 18. Thomas was awarded first-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-SEC accolades in 2019 for playing on the left side of the line.
19. Las Vegas Raiders - CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
First offense, now defense. Mayock snags an underrated corner who has allowed a 40% completion rate since 2018. Fulton has the athleticism to match most wide receivers on the outside and will help to improve a defense that struggled against the pass a number of times last season.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars - CB Jeff Gladney, TCU
There’s quite a bit of drop off between the top four cornerbacks in this draft class and the rest of the pack, so Jacksonville swipes the last of the top-tier options in Gladney. After trading away both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in the span of a few months, the Jaguars begin to rebuild an ailing secondary.
21. Philadelphia Eagles - WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
After seeing Nelson Agholor depart in free agency, the Eagles give Carson Wentz a security blanket in the slot with Jefferson. Jefferson was one of Burrow’s favorite targets and was a key part of launching LSU to the top of the college football world last season. Wentz will be happy to have him around.
22. Minnesota Vikings - DL A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
With Everson Griffen no longer in purple and gold, the Vikings will be looking for another disruptive force off the edge. Epenesa isn’t quite ready to be a double-digit sack monster from the get-go, but there’s not doubt the potential is there for him to grow into one.
23. New England Patriots - LB Patrick Queen, LSU
Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts have fled for warmer weather in Miami, and the Patriots currently have just four pure linebackers rostered. Queen represents everything Bill Belichick loves in a defensive director: instincts, leadership, and ability. The McCourty brothers and Dont’a Hightower aren’t getting any younger. Queen will launch the next generation of the New England Patriots (at least on defense).
24. New Orleans Saints - LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
I was tempted to grab another wide receiver from this year’s deep class here, but New Orleans’ recent signing of Emmanuel Sanders swayed me to the defensive side of the ball. Murray has the athleticism and movement skills of a safety but tackles like a linebacker. The word versatile is often overused in prospect evaluations, but Murray fits the bill here. He’ll add another playmaking element to a Saints defense that has made strides in recent years.
25. Minnesota Vikings - WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
If Shenault had played at Oklahoma, Alabama, or LSU last season, I believe he’d be one of the first two wideouts taken off the board. With Stefon Diggs now in Buffalo, the Vikings get a chance to replace him without missing a beat (and at a much cheaper price).
26. Miami Dolphins - S Xavier McKinney, Alabama
The Dolphins double down on Crimson Tide stars in this mock and take one of the team’s leaders on the defensive side of the ball just 21 picks after taking Alabama’s superstar quarterback. In NFL.com’s draft profile of McKinney, analyst Lance Zierlein lists the defensive back’s top strength as “high football IQ and field toughness.” If that doesn’t scream Brian Flores, I don’t know what does.
Drafting McKinney will allow Bobby McCain to resume his role as the team’s primary nickel corner, a position that got McCain his big contract extension in the first place. Miami’s secondary would become downright scary with this pick. With Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, McKinney, McCain, and Eric Rowe roaming the defensive backfield, opposing quarterbacks will be better suited simply handing the ball off on every play.
27. Seattle Seahawks - EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
Seattle is thrilled to see Gross-Matos fall this far. The Penn State star has the perfect combination of size, athleticism, and production that scouts look for in an edge rusher. He also has a motor that never relents, and he rarely takes plays off. A few seasons under a quality coaching staff (which the Seahawks have) should unleash his potential.
28. Baltimore Ravens - EDGE Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Baltimore’s offense got all the attention from everyone in NFL circles last season thanks to the revelation that is Lamar Jackson. The team’s defense was no slouch though. Adding Baun to the mix will only help to capitalize on a defensive front that just added Calais Campbell through trade and retained Matthew Judon through the franchise tag.
29. Tennessee Titans - OT Josh Jones, Houston
Jones is by no means a polished tackle prospect, but his film shows plenty of potential, and he earned second-team all-conference honors after his senior year. Jones played left tackle for most of his career, but with Jack Conklin now in Cleveland, the Titans could experiment with kicking the former Houston Cougar over to the right side and see how he fares.
30. Green Bay Packers - QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Is it a mistake to believe Aaron Rodgers won’t keep dominating the league for years to come? Maybe. Would it be a mistake to completely discount the possibility that Green Bay may need a replacement at some point in the near future? Absolutely. The Packers take a strong-armed gunslinger in Love to sit and learn under one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. If Love’s tape from last season shows anything, it’s loads of potential that needs to be coached up. Drafting Love now to sit behind Rodgers provides the time the rookie will need to develop.
31. San Francisco 49ers - WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
The 49ers defense is loaded. The offense has plenty of playmakers. There aren’t many needs on this team, but with Emmanuel Sanders’ tenure in the Bay Area only lasting half a season, the team brings in Tee Higgins to add another weapon for Jimmy G to exploit.