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2020 NFL mock draft: Cornerbacks can help shape the 1st round

There’s much more to this draft than Jeff Okudah in pass coverage. Here are a few other corners who could come off the board early.

An illustration of NFL Draft CB prospects Trevon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, CJ Henderson superimposed on a blue background with a blue star border and the words “mock draft”
Cornerbacks Trevon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, and CJ Henderson are all possible first-round picks in 2020.

In the past week, a lot has changed in the NFL world. Of course, many players have signed with new teams. But there have also been some blockbuster trades involving first-round picks that shake up the 2020 NFL Draft.

Namely, the 49ers acquired the 13th overall pick by trading defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. Minnesota turned wide receiver Stefon Diggs into the 22nd pick overall. Strangely, though, the Houston Texans are still without a first-round pick because they didn’t get one for star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

The moves in free agency have filled holes on rosters and opened new ones. The cornerback market has been strong at the top, with four cornerbacks getting contracts of at least $40 million — Byron Jones, James Bradberry, Trae Waynes, and Kendall Fuller all cashed in.

But plenty of teams still need good cornerbacks. In today’s NFL, a complete roster should have three quality cornerbacks. Few actually do. This week’s mock draft features five cornerbacks in the first round. The last time that happened was the 2017 draft, which featured Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Adoree’ Jackson, Gareon Conley, and Tre’Davious White in the first round.

This year’s group could be just as influential. Here’s a look at where they land:

1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

A recent mock draft by NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein floated the wild idea of the Bengals trading out of the No. 1 pick. In the theoretical deal, the Bengals got pick Nos. 5 and 18, and a second-rounder from the Miami Dolphins. On a rebuilding team, that makes some sense. But passing on Burrow could come back to haunt Cincinnati.

2. Washington: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

If we’re being honest, Washington doesn’t really need Young. The team is loaded up front with pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat, and Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne on the defensive line. But when a player of Young’s caliber is available, he’s impossible to pass on.

3. Detroit Lions: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

The Lions have spent the offseason acquiring as many former New England Patriots as possible, including outside linebacker Jamie Collins. That shouldn’t impact the fit of Simmons, though.

4. New York Giants: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa

In free agency, the Giants swapped out Mike Remmers for Cameron Fleming, a player familiar with the team’s new coaching staff. But it would be unwise to simply hand a starting tackle spot to him. A player like Wirfs could push for a starting spot at multiple positions on the line. The only thing that should keep the Giants from taking him is a trade back or Simmons being available.

5. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

The plan for Tagovailoa is to still have a personal pro day on April 9 and he’ll send the tape out to teams. But the greater issue is health and the concern of re-injuring himself. I’m keeping him either at this pick or to the Chargers, but his situation still deserves monitoring.

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

The Chargers made a push to sign Tom Brady, but it was unsuccessful. After that, they aren’t expected to sign a veteran quarterback. That would lead you to believe they’re going to take a quarterback in the first round this year.

7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

By signing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers are clearly starting a new chapter. That also includes a rebuilt left side of their offensive line, which now features Russell Okung and John Miller. On defense, the Panthers still need help. Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah could be considered, but the Panthers have to get better up the middle. Brown is a force on the inside who can improve Carolina’s run defense.

8. Arizona Cardinals: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama

After performing highway robbery acquiring Hopkins, that leaves offensive tackle as the obvious move for the Cardinals. Although Louisville’s Mekhi Becton is the better player, he and Wills grade out pretty similarly. Wills could get the nod because the Cardinals need a right tackle, and that’s where he predominantly played at Alabama.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State

Cornerback Darqueze Dennard was a decent pickup on a three-year deal, but at $13.5 million total, Jacksonville isn’t exactly paying him to be a starter. If Okudah is still around with the ninth pick, he’s an easy choice for the Jaguars.

10. Cleveland Browns: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville

The loser of the Hopkins trade, besides Houston, was Cleveland. It all but assures the Cardinals taking one of the offensive tackles off the board. After handing out a huge deal to right tackle Jack Conklin, the Browns will be after the best left tackle available with the No. 10 pick. That could be Becton or Georgia’s Andrew Thomas.

11. New York Jets: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

The Jets gave big money to offensive tackle George Fant, which should be an indicator of their plans for him. That could lead New York to take the first wide receiver in the draft. Lamb would give Sam Darnold a game-breaking target who can make a play after the catch.

12. Las Vegas Raiders: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

Almost all of Las Vegas’ additions this offseason have been on defense. The Raiders could be waiting for the draft to snag a No. 1 receiver. The issue here is about which Alabama player they prefer. Jeudy gets the nod this week. He’s more of a sure thing than teammate Henry Ruggs III.

13. San Francisco 49ers (via Indianapolis Colts): CJ Henderson, CB, Florida

There has been talk since the NFL Scouting Combine that Henderson would be a top-15 pick. Now that the 49ers hold the 13th selection, they could be the team to make that come true. After this season, defensive backs Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Wuan Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon are all unrestricted free agents. That could lead the 49ers to future-proofing their defense with a player like Henderson.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia

The Buccaneers have Tom Brady, and now they have to protect him. The interior of Tampa’s line is good with Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet. However, the tackles leave plenty to be desired. Thomas saw a lot of snaps at Georgia and is the type of rookie who should be able to start straight away. That’s what the Buccaneers need.

15. Denver Broncos: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

One of the better moves of this offseason has been the Broncos trading for defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. That helps negate the loss of Derek Wolfe. If they don’t want South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, the Broncos could find a partner for wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Ruggs, Sutton, and second-year tight end Noah Fant would give the Broncos an impressive group of receiving options for Drew Lock.

16. Atlanta Falcons: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina

The Falcons locked up pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. on a three-year deal, but that shouldn’t stop them from taking a defensive lineman. In last year’s draft, the Falcons used their first two picks on offensive linemen, so general manager Thomas Dimitroff won’t shy away from doubling down on a need. Kinlaw could be what the Falcons were hoping to get in Ra’Shede Hageman in 2014.

17. Dallas Cowboys: Yetur Gross-Matos, Edge, Penn State

While the Cowboys are still trying to figure out a contract for quarterback Dak Prescott, they’ve made some big-name moves. They gave $100 million to wide receiver Amari Cooper and added Gerald McCoy and HaHa Clinton-Dix on defense. The Cowboys still need pass rush help, and could nab Gross-Matos to play opposite DeMarcus Lawrence.

18. Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh Steelers): Austin Jackson, OT, USC

The Dolphins have made several moves to fix their defense in free agency, bringing in Byron Jones, Shaq Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Kyle Van Noy. Their moves on offense, though, are lacking. That’s why I’m sticking with Jackson to Miami with the No. 18 pick.

19. Las Vegas Raiders (via Chicago Bears): Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama

Linebacker was obviously a big offseason priority for the Raiders, as they went out and signed Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton. Adding two starters might mean waiting on the position until later in the draft. Instead, they could address cornerback with Diggs.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars: (via Los Angeles Rams): K’Lavon Chaisson, Edge, LSU

With Yannick Ngakoue wanting out of Jacksonville, his replacement could be found in Chaisson. While the LSU product will need to be developed, he has a quick burst off the line of scrimmage and knows how to create pressure.

21. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

After adding four defensive backs in free agency, that need is no longer as pressing for the Eagles. That’s why I’m holding with Jefferson here. Jefferson would give the Eagles a dangerous deep-ball target for Carson Wentz.

22. Minnesota Vikings (via Buffalo Bills): Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Minnesota’s cornerback play last season was a mess. Now with two first-round picks, the Vikings can address the position. Henderson or Diggs would be the preference, but Fulton is a good fit in Mike Zimmer’s defense.

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

It’s hard to believe the Patriots will go into next season with either Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer as their starting quarterback. A lot of work needs to be done to develop Love, but his tools are outstanding.

24. New Orleans Saints: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado

New Orleans smartly brought in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and he is a good contrast to Michael Thomas. Now imagine a wide receiver group with those two and Shenault, a player Sean Payton can line up all over the place on offense.

25. Minnesota Vikings: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are locked up for the next few years, but the Vikings could use another linebacker. Ben Gedeon has been an underwhelming fourth-round pick. Queen’s ability to chase down the ball would give the Vikings a good young linebacker to complete that unit.

26. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

Putting McKinney on a defense that is being rebuilt would give head coach Brian Flores a versatile secondary player. McKinney can play single-high safety or in the slot. A secondary with Jones, McKinney, and Xavien Howard is suddenly one of the better groups in the NFL.

27. Seattle Seahawks: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa

Epenesa isn’t what the Seahawks usually look for in a defensive end — he really doesn’t fit the Leo position Pete Carroll utilizes. But this is the same team that took L.J. Collier in the first round last year, so maybe their blueprint up front has changed.

28. Baltimore Ravens: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

The Ravens added some beef on the defensive line, acquiring Michael Brockers and Calais Campbell. That should help fix the team’s run defense. Adding a linebacker like Murray could finish off the front seven.

29. Tennessee Titans: Terrell Lewis, Edge, Alabama

The Titans brought in Vic Beasley on a one-year prove it deal, so they’re not set longterm at pass rusher. Lewis could be a good rotational piece with Beasley and Harold Landry. That would help them stay fresh and give the Titans some options.

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

After losing Bryan Bulaga in free agency, as expected, the Packers signed free agent Rick Wagner. Unfortunately, he never lived up to a big contract in Detroit and shouldn’t just be the assumed starter on the right side. If Jones slides, the Packers shouldn’t hesitate taking him. He’s an athletic blocker with enough power to push for a starting job as a rookie.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

The 49ers swung and missed on Dante Pettis, their second-round pick in the 2018 draft. They swung and hit a home run in the second round last year with Deebo Samuel. In this loaded class of wide receivers, the 49ers could take one more swing with a big receiver like Higgins. He’s a good outside target who will go up and get the ball. He’s not the fastest wide receiver, but the 49ers have plenty of speed.

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

The Super Bowl champions have been one of the quietest teams in free agency, doing little more than put the franchise tag on defensive lineman Chris Jones. The team’s needs are relatively the same, and they start at cornerback. Even if Gladney isn’t the biggest cornerback, he’s aggressive and coaches will love his style of play.