This isn’t your regular edition of “What’s Causing All This,” because we don’t have our usual busy slate of spring sports to discuss.
While I’d love to be talking about Kilgore soccer headed to the state tournament – in stereo – or playoff runs by the baseball and softball teams, or which KHS and area athletes are going to the UIL state meet, I can’t do that. I still hope to do so, because I’m praying and holding out hope that life goes back to normal soon.
But what I can do is keep you guys entertained. I know everyone loves talking football, and that’s why I decided to take my (somewhat quiet) love for the NFL Draft public. I’m a draft nerd. I absolutely love the draft. The last couple of years, I think I’ve watched every pick that was made – yes, over all three days.
It’s where teams are built, fostered for years, a weekend where all 32 NFL teams have hope for the future. The liberal NFL writers did all they could to encourage the league to postpone the draft because it “wasn’t good optics” for the draft to go on during the coronavirus. That’s another topic entirely, but thank goodness that asinine idea wasn’t listened to, and the draft is next week: it’ll be live on ESPN, the NFL Network and ABC, starting with the first round on Thursday night.
Now, this pretty lengthy piece here is the result of a lot of research and work on my part, but I thought people out there that love football and the draft might be able to use this as an escape. Of course, I’m human, and I’d love to be right on some of these. But I just saw a lot of the other mock drafts, and I thought we might have some fun with it. It’s the first one I’ve ever officially done on the record, and I hope you get a kick out of it.
By the way: the mock draft here is what I think is a realistic opinion of how the first round could go. Below that, I’ll tell you some players I think can be very, very good that aren’t necessarily household names. And then, I’ll tell you what I would do if I was the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans.
Without further adieu, here we go…
The 2020 NFL (Mock) Draft, by Mitch Lucas
- Cincinnati Bengals: JOE BURROW, quarterback, LSU. OK, LSU fans, I’m not going to bash your boy. I’ve got him as the No. 1 pick for a reason, but the reason isn’t probably what you think. I think the Bengals are picking Burrow (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) because his best year was his most recent, but mainly because he’s an Ohio kid and someone that Ohioans will relate to. For the record, though, he started at Ohio State, couldn’t win the starting job, and didn’t have a great junior year at LSU (219-of-379 (57 percent completion rate) for 2,894 yards, 16 touchdowns, and five interceptions). He did have a fantastic senior year – 402-of-527, 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns and six interceptions. That’s like a video game. He won the Heisman Trophy and the national title. And he’s moving on to Cincinnati (get it?). The Bengals have a track record of being cheap. To win, they’re going to have to surround him with way more talent than what they’ve got now.
- Washington Redskins: CHASE YOUNG, defensive end, Ohio State. Ironically, the young man who’s arguably the best defensive player in the draft is also from Ohio State, and in spite of the fact that he had no sacks in his last three games, he’s still viewed as much of a can’t-miss product as anyone in the last 10 years. Young (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) had 46 total tackles this year, but 16 ½ sacks and six forced fumbles. In three seasons at Ohio State, he had 29 ½ sacks. He’s a game-changer even when he’s not hitting the quarterback, because he’s usually taking on a double team, freeing up another player to get into the backfield. He’s got an amazingly fast first step; as an old friend of mine was fond of saying, he’s not fast, he’s sudden. There was some talk that the Redskins might actually go quarterback with this pick, and that would be a surprise, although not completely, totally a shocker. I would say that Young to the Redskins is almost a sure thing.
- Detroit Lions: TRADE, with the L.A. CHARGERS, who select TUA TAGOVAILOA, quarterback, Alabama. This is the most talked-about player in this draft for a reason: Tua’s upside is phenomenal, one of the most accurate passers in NCAA history, with a flair for the dramatic: in his very first big college moment, he came off the bench as a freshman to lead Alabama to the national championship over Georgia. Alabama coach Nick Saban has raved about Tua’s leadership and has even called him Saban’s most important recruit ever in Tuscaloosa. In his injury-shortened junior season, Tua completed 180-of-252 passes for 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But the knocks on Tua are these: he’s been injury-prone at both high school and at Alabama (two ankle surgeries and a hip dislocation), and gets injured because of his refusal to give up on a play – that’s an admirable quality in a way, but it cost Tua greatly with the injuries. I’ve got the Chargers trading up here with the Lions because the Chargers don’t pick until six – Miami picks at five, and has been the NFL team most linked with Tua. The Lions give the Chargers the third pick, and Detroit moves down to six.
- New York Giants: TRISTAN WIRFS, offensive lineman, Iowa. This is completely, totally an investment by the Giants in one of the best offensive linemen in the draft in order to keep second-year quarterback Daniel Jones standing. Among the strengths of Wirfs (6-5, 322 pounds) are his bullish physical strength and athleticism for a big athlete (he had a faster time in the 40-yard dash than three tight ends at the NFL Combine). He had 14 pancake blocks in one game (against Nebraska). One note: first-year Giants coach Joe Judge is friends with Jedrick Wills, another highly-touted O-line prospect in this year’s draft. Wills could very well be the pick here instead.
- Miami Dolphins: JUSTIN HERBERT, quarterback, Oregon. Herbert (6-6, 237) was highly-touted for most of the 2019 season, and he did throw for 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions, completing 66 percent of his passes. He seemed, though, to wilt a bit against the big-time teams on the Ducks’ schedule. Still, he redeemed himself with a very good performance in the Senior Bowl. As an Alabama fan, I’d rather see Tua go here to Miami, but the Dolphins need their QB of the future, and Tua is already gone in this mock draft. Let’s see what happens for real next Thursday night.
- Detroit Lions: DERRICK BROWN, defensive tackle, Auburn. A lot of mock drafts have the Lions selecting a cornerback (Jeff Okudah from Ohio State) with this first-round pick, but if Brown (6-5, 318) is available, the Lions’ coach Matt Patricia likely won’t be able to resist drafting him here. Brown, like Chase Young, is a game-changer – think Aaron Donald of the L.A. Rams. Brown was disruptive at worst, a force at best, in his college career for the Tigers, and it wasn’t always obvious in the statistics. He finished his final year at Auburn with just 55 total tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. But when Brown was off the field at Auburn, teams averaged about 5 yards per carry on the Tigers. When Brown was on the field, they averaged 2 ½ yards a carry. Big, big difference.
- Carolina Panthers: ISAIAH SIMMONS, linebacker, Clemson. The biggest question about Simmons (6-3, 230) isn’t can he perform under pressure; rather, it’s where will he play? Simmons is the Swiss army knife of this year’s draft, who does a little bit of everything. The Panthers lost all-everything linebacker Luke Kuechly to retirement in the offseason, and need someone to eventually become the captain of coach Matt Rhule’s defense. Simmons could be that player. He was at Clemson, where he had 104 tackles (67 of them solo), and seven sacks. Carolina seems to be in a rebuilding mode, but taking Simmons would be a good start.
- Arizona Cardinals: JEDRICK WILLS, offensive lineman, Alabama. I addressed Wills (6-5, 320) earlier in the Giants’ pick, and while I think the Giants might very well pick him, if he’s still on the board when the Cardinals make their choice, it would be foolish not to pick him. The Cardinals’ offensive line in 2019 was just that – offensive – and a road grader like Wills would be a godsend. His natural position is right tackle, but most scouts agree he could play anywhere on the line, and help the Cardinals protect quarterback Kyler Murray.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: JERRY JEUDY, wide receiver, Alabama. If this draft didn’t have so many quarterbacks and offensive linemen up top, wide receiver would be the key feature in 2020. Jeudy (6-1, 192) has been touted as the best route-runner in what many NFL personnel seem to think is the best draft for receivers in 20 years. He had 77 catches for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior year alone, and finished his college career with 159 catches for 2,742 yards, and 26 touchdowns. Jeudy appears to be the most draft-ready of any of the receivers, and Jacksonville could go a myriad of directions here – the Jags also need help at cornerback and could even go quarterback.
- Cleveland Browns: ANDREW THOMAS, offensive lineman, Georgia. Thomas (6-5, 320) is the third offensive lineman I’ve got going in the top 10, and that’s not because I just love all three players – it’s because they’re all very good in a spot that will always be a position of need in the NFL. Thomas is thought by many to be the best of the group, and he’s only 21 years old. He started 41 games at Georgia, and didn’t allow more than two quarterback hurries a game in his last two full seasons. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield appeared to be running for his life last season. Things would likely change with big number 71 up front.
- New York Jets: MEKHI BECTON, offensive lineman, Louisville. Yes, the run on O-linemen continues here, as the Jets need someone to protect their investment in quarterback Sam Darnold. At 6-8, 368 pounds, Becton did something at the NFL Combine that no human that big should do: he ran the 40-yard-dash in 5.10 seconds, faster than some quarterbacks. Becton is likely the biggest person on either side of the football in this year’s draft, and while some draft reporters believe he could be a project and not an immediate starter, his size and athleticism may be too much for an NFL general manager to pass up.
- Las Vegas Raiders: TRADE, with the DALLAS COWBOYS, who select JEFF OKUDAH, cornerback, Ohio State. The Cowboys have several positions of need right now: defensive line, wide receiver, defensive secondary and tight end, among them. They see Okudah still there and can’t resist, moving up five spots from 17 to 12, and giving up picks next year to take him. Okudah (6-1, 200), a kid from Grand Prairie, gets to play for his childhood team and replace Byron Jones, who departed in free agency. The Cowboys get arguably the best cover-corner in this draft, and had to move up to get him because they figure the San Francisco 49ers would take him at 13 if he was still there.
- San Francisco 49ers: TRADE, with the Denver Broncos, who select HENRY RUGGS III, wide receiver, Alabama. Denver needs weapons for second-year starter Drew Lock, and for sure, Ruggs is that. He ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.27 seconds at the combine – that’s the second-fastest 40 time in the history of the combine – and more importantly, played very big at ‘Bama. Ruggs (6-0, 200) had 40 catches for 746 yards, seven touchdowns and an 18.6-yards-per-catch in his senior season, without a single drop (and all those passes weren’t from Tua, remember). As for the 49ers, they have no picks in the second, third, or fourth rounds, and needed to get a few, so they trade down just two spots and get a couple of extra picks here (Denver’s second-round pick, the 46th overall, and their third-round pick, the 83rd overall).
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: JOSH JONES, offensive lineman, Houston. Another darn offensive lineman. But this one for good reason: Tampa appears to have good offensive weapons. The Bucs have needs, but they also just invested in a two-year deal with some guy at quarterback named Tom Brady, and they’ll need to protect him. Jones (6-7, 310), who played all 26 games in his junior and senior seasons, can certainly do that. A true left tackle, Brady will enjoy having time to throw.
- San Francisco 49ers: C.J. HENDERSON, cornerback, Florida. As a 49ers fan, I’m not really happy about this move. I would rather them sit still at 13 and draft a playmaker at wide receiver in a draft full of them. But I do understand needing more second, third and fourth round picks, and Henderson (6-1, 202) was very good against SEC offenses, plus the 49ers need a reliable corner. Henderson had only six interceptions at Florida, but was very good in pass defense. The 49ers pick again at 31. Or do they?
- Atlanta Falcons: JAVON KINLAW, defensive tackle, South Carolina. Many mocks have Kinlaw (6-6, 310) going much higher than I do, and that certainly would not be a surprise. I just wasn’t impressed with his tackle total for a defensive tackle in his senior season (just 15 solo tackles). He did have six sacks, though, and is viewed as a good disruptor, much like Brown from Auburn that I have Detroit taking at six. Atlanta has quite a few needs, but this would fill one big one. It’s possible here they might ignore this notion and draft LSU’s edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson instead.
- Las Vegas Raiders: CEEDEE LAMB, wide receiver, Oklahoma. Slim in stature (just 191 pounds, even at 6-2) but a playmaker for the Sooners, Lamb turned heads in 2019. He had 62 catches for 1,327 yards and 14 scores last season. And Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who got his start as a wide receivers coach for the 49ers many years ago, loves some wide receiver speed. He’d have it with either Ruggs or Lamb. But Lamb may not fall to the Raiders in this spot. Rumor mill churning earlier this week said Cardinals’ quarterback Kyler Murray was calling on the team to draft his former teammate in Norma. But Murray just got DeAndre Hopkins in a trade with Houston, and probably needs an upgrade at the O-line more than he needs a buddy in Lamb.
- Miami Dolphins: K’LAVON CHAISSON, defensive end, LSU. If Chaisson falls this far, it might be a surprise. The former Tiger (6-4, 250) was a big reason his team won the national championship last year. He had 6 ½ sacks and put big pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Many people (conveyed in their drafts) feel Chaisson is the second-best pass rusher in the draft, behind only Chase Young. The Dallas Cowboys have been linked to him, among others.
- Las Vegas Raiders: ROSS BLACKLOCK, defensive tackle, TCU. Yes, the Raiders again already. We didn’t hear much from TCU last year, but that’s not Blaylock’s fault. The big man (6-4, 305) is a good run-stuffer, and would help the Raiders plug up the defensive middle – assuming they don’t use this pick to trade down.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: AUSTIN JACKSON, offensive lineman, Southern Cal. I’ve seen Jackson (6-6, 310) drafted all over the board in other mocks, from the later portion of the top 10 to the second round. But draft experts that I respect all agree that offensive line is a position of need for the Jaguars, and at this point in my draft, he’s the best one left on the board, so I’m going with him here.
- Philadelphia Eagles: JUSTIN JEFFERSON, wide receiver, LSU. A lot of the talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports believe the Eagles will never pick here, that they will trade up to get one of the big three receivers in this draft (Jeudy, Lamb or Ruggs III). I know Eagles GM Howie Roseman is known for moving up and down, and all around, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he does the Hokey Pokey on Thursday night, either. I do believe they’ll pick a receiver to give them another weapon (they don’t have many), and they could do a lot worse than Jefferson (6-3, 192), who had a huge year (111 catches, 1,540 yards, and 18 touchdowns) in 2019.
- Minnesota Vikings: TEE HIGGINS, wide receiver, Clemson. I don’t know that I ever remember this many receivers being drafted in the first round, but that’s how talented this class is. In a normal year, Higgins might go even higher than this. At 6-4, 215, is one of the biggest receivers physically in the draft and has the big-play capability you’d want; he caught 25 touchdowns the last two seasons. This would allow the Vikings to replace Stephon Diggs, whom they traded away to Buffalo for an extra first-round pick.
- New England Patriots: A.J. EPENESA, defensive end, Iowa. As much as I think a lot of us are intrigued by the Patriots drafting a quarterback here – one that would ultimately replace Tom Brady – I just don’t see it. Head coach Bill Belichick leads the Patriots’ drafts each year, and that would be very anti-Belichickian, if you will. After all, Brady was a sixth-round pick. It’s much more like Belichick, a defensive mastermind, to go with a game-changer on defense here, and one good one would be Epenesa (6-6, 280), a gritty defensive end who had 21 sacks and eight forced fumbles in the last two seasons for the Buckeyes. Don’t be surprised, though, if the Patriots take a quarterback later on.
- New Orleans Saints: GRANT DELPIT, safety, LSU. Yet another LSU player from a talented national title team, Delpit (6-3, 203) brings good size and a hard-hitting mentality, although he seems to have slipped down the draft board in a lot of mocks. I still like him, and what better spot for him to play his NFL career than Louisiana, where the Saints need another playmaker in the secondary?
- Minnesota Vikings: XAVIER McKINNEY, safety, Alabama. Another player that seems to have dropped, although not for his ability, but because of an expected run on offensive lineman, wide receivers and edge rushers early. Saban called McKinney Alabama’s “alpha dog” on defense, and at Alabama, that is quite a compliment. McKinney (6-1, 200) went from having five tackles in very little playing time in 2017 to 95 tackles and three interceptions a year ago. As went McKinney, so went the defense.
- Miami Dolphins: PATRICK QUEEN, linebacker, LSU. There are several plug-in-and-play, ready-to-go starters in this draft, maybe more in this draft than any in recent years. Here’s one of them, or appears to be. Queen (6-0 played in all 15 games of LSU’s national title season in ’19, racking up 85 tackles, about half of them solo, 12 for loss and an interception. He was one of the leaders of LSU’s defense, and Miami coach Brian Flores will be counting on him to do the same in South Florida.
- Seattle Seahawks: MARLON DAVIDSON, defensive end, Auburn. Because Derrick Brown got so much attention on the other side of him, Davidson (6-3, 278) had 30 solo tackles, 7 ½ sacks, and two forced fumbles. That Auburn defense was the only one all season to hold LSU down somewhat: LSU held off Auburn, 23-20, in Baton Rouge. Davidson will be looked at by the Seahawks as a possible replacement for JaDeveon Clowney, who has yet to re-sign with the team.
- Baltimore Ravens: YETUR GROSS-MATOS, defensive end, Penn State. Of all the edge rushers in this draft, Gross-Matos might be the most underrated, given that many mock drafts have him going well into the second round (not ESPN’s Mel Kiper; he had him as the third-best DE). He’s got good size (6-5, 264), and had a very good senior season that included 9 ½ sacks. In this case, the rich get richer, as the Ravens are one of the youngest, most talented teams in the league.
- Tennessee Titans: K.J. HAMLER, wide receiver, Penn State. It’s back-to-back Nittany Lions, courtesy of this pick of the speedy Hamler. I’m proud of this pick: I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else’s mock draft that actually had him in the first round. The knock on Hamler is his size: 5-9, 176 pounds, and that’s a real knock, because small normally equals injured in the NFL (see Griffin III, Robert). But few can dispute his talent. He had 56 catches for 904 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. He’s fast, but there was no pro day to prove it, and he didn’t run at the combine. So what did Hamler’s agents do? He wore a GPS tracking vest in his two seasons at Penn State, and it clocked his time. His top speed was a little more than 21 miles per hour – that would have made him about the 13th-fastest person in the NFL last season, so said the Los Angeles Times in a story on the GPS vest. The Titans need breakaway speed and a downfield threat, so opponents will respect the passing game and take some heat – and attention – of Derrick Henry out of the backfield.
- Green Bay Packers: DENZEL MIMS, wide receiver, Baylor. In a first round filled with wide receivers, why not one more for the road, this time for a team that needs one badly? Green Bay’s top receiver last year was Davante Adams, who had a pretty good year with 83 catches for 997 yards and five touchdowns. But no other receiver had more than 35 catches (running back Aaron Jones had 49). Mims had 66 catches for 1,020 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s from nearby Daingerfield, and is 6-3, 215 pounds, b ut still ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
- San Francisco 49ers: TRADE with PITTSBURGH STEELERS, who draft JALEN HURTS, quarterback, Oklahoma (and Alabama). The Steelers’ problems at quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger is getting older and missed all of last season – have been well-documented. Drafting Hurts (6-2, 219) would solve that problem, in my opinion. One of the best leaders I personally have ever watched on the football field, the former Crimson Tide and Sooners standout would fill the leadership void when Roethlisberger retires, and would just about command playing time on the field now. He was excellent as a leader at Alabama for three seasons, and then had a breakout year throwing the ball at OU last season: 237-of-340, 3,851 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and is quite a running threat, too: 1,298 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in his college career. Read more about Jalen Hurts in my Cowboys section, if that’s a hint.
- Kansas City Chiefs: KRISTIAN FULTON, cornerback, LSU. The final pick of the first round will go to the Super Bowl champs, who have so many offensive weapons, I couldn’t in good conscience pick them to have another. All kidding aside, the Chiefs do need help on defense, particularly in the secondary, and yet another LSU star is still on the board. Fulton (6-0, 200) doesn’t really have impressive stats, just one interception last year. But he does have good route-recognition ability, and does an excellent job in run support.