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2020 NFL mock draft: Where a running back makes sense in the first round

Georgia’s D’Andre Swift is the only ball carrier worth a first-round pick.

Artwork of NFL Draft RB prospect D’Andre Swift carrying the ball at Georgia, superimposed on a white background with “mock draft” in blue letters
D’Andre Swift is RB most likely to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The 2020 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away. And it can’t get here soon enough.

The weekly mock drafts are driving me to delirium. How so, you ask? This week’s mock draft features a running back in the first round. The nerve.

But seriously, a lot of the first round feels firmed up. That might be the case because less news than ever is getting out following the cancellation of pro day visits.

Of course, that all means nothing is firmed up. Well, except the top two picks. Here’s this week’s look at how things could shake out:

1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

Burrow’s home in Athens County, Ohio, is about three hours from Cincinnati. That means he is essentially going home to Cincinnati, making it almost a Hollywood script.

“If I happen to be the first pick this year, I’m coming back home,” Burrow recently said on Shaquille O’Neal’s The Big Podcast. “And I think that’ll make a lot of people feel a lot better.”

2. Washington: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

There was a report recently that teams picking outside the top three haven’t even bothered to reach out to Young. It makes sense considering there isn’t a chance he falls outside the top three. In fact, it would be a shock to see him not go to Washington. The jerseys should already be printed up.

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

Is this selection starting to be locked in as much as the first two picks? Unless Detroit trades down to a team wanting a quarterback, it kinda feels that way. Okudah is the consensus best cornerback in the draft, and one of the top five prospects available. Not only does he start immediately on a Detroit team desperate for secondary help, but he should enter the season as the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite.

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

Should the Giants take an offensive tackle or Clemson super defender Isaiah Simmons? I’m still stuck on an offensive tackle for the Giants. Wirfs is a player who could get looked at for either side of the line in New York and start wherever he fits best.

5. Miami Dolphins: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

We’ll see what happens over the next two weeks, but it seems like more people have the Dolphins taking Herbert than Tua Tagovailoa at this point. It’s one of the more fascinating late developments in this draft season and will likely go down to the wire.

6. Los Angeles Chargers: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa had yet another round of positive injury reports recently, but teams still have to be worried a little bit. They may not be concerned enough to knock Tagovailoa out of the top 10, though they could cause him to be the third quarterback drafted.

7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

For much of this draft process, the Panthers have been associated with Brown. For good reason, too. The Panthers last season finished 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, and last in rushing yards per attempt. Add the loss of linebacker Luke Kuechly onto that, and Carolina has a big problem. Brown could remedy the team’s run defense issues, and give Carolina a player who can create pressure up the middle. That’s why he gets the nod over Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. For now.

8. Arizona Cardinals: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama

In our SB Nation NFL writers’ mock draft, this pick ended up being Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. While there are fun built-in storylines of Lamb playing with former college teammate Kyler Murray, a blocker with this pick just makes more sense to me. Wills locked the right tackle spot down for Alabama the past two seasons and is NFL ready, particularly in terms of run blocking. He needs to fix up little parts of his game — namely, blocking inside rush moves — but he can help keep Murray’s pocket clean.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

Do the Jaguars actually need Simmons after signing former Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert to a five-year deal? Sort of. Don’t forget, Simmons is a positionally vague player. He’s just as effective dropping in coverage as he is coming up and stopping the run. When Jacksonville took defensive end Josh Allen in last year’s draft, they proved they’re willing to go best player available over needs. This year’s version could be Simmons.

10. Cleveland Browns: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville

I would say this is a “run to the podium” pick for the Browns, but there will be no podiums this year. Maybe general manager Andrew Berry will break his keyboard after typing M-E-K-H-I B-E-C-T-O-N so fast. Still, I can’t shake the notion the Browns might want to trade down for some reason.

11. New York Jets: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia

The ongoing question about the Jets continues: wide receiver or offensive tackle? Offensive tackle or wide receiver? My choice is always the offensive tackle. We all know by now how deep the wide receiver class is this year. The Jets can still get a starting wide receiver with the 48th pick. The same usually can’t be said for an offensive tackle.

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

“We don’t have enough outside speed,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said at the Senior Bowl this year. He also added, generally, that the wide receiver position has to get better for the Raiders. Lamb doesn’t have the pure speed like Henry Ruggs III of Alabama, but it’s more than good enough when you combine it with his ability to slip out of tackles.

13. San Francisco 49ers (via Indianapolis Colts): Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

TERRIBLE SPORTS WRITING ALERT: Things went pretty well for the 49ers the last time they took a Jerry in the draft. The year was 1985, and the player was Jerry Rice. I think you know the rest of this story, nyuk nyuk nyuk.

Someone, please, fast forward life to April 23 already.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Jones, OT, Houston

Yes, this is the fifth offensive tackle off the board within the first 14 picks. But offensive tackle is a position we’ve seen overdrafted in the past. Remember last year when the Texans used the 23rd pick on Tytus Howard of Alabama State? Or the Raiders in 2018 taking Kolton Miller 15th? Hopefully Jones works out if he’s drafted this highly — and his athletic profile suggests he might — but getting protection for Tom Brady is critical.

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

Ruggs has been the pick for the Broncos countless times at this point. He was even the pick by Scotty Payne of Mile High Report in the writers’ mock draft. I sort of want to spend the next week poking holes in the Ruggs to Denver connection.

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

The Falcons would be ecstatic to see Kinlaw still available with the No. 16 pick. Arguably one of the draft’s 10 best players, Kinlaw is a physical freak who can be used to rush the passer from the inside. He has length to bat down passes and enough athleticism to kick outside at times.

17. Dallas Cowboys: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

The Dallas secondary needs some help. That’s why McKinney gets the nod over a pass rusher. McKinney can play safety and cornerback, and is comfortable doing both. Starting two years at Alabama, McKinney should be able to adjust quickly to the NFL. While he can play single- or two-high safety, he works in the box and will cover the slot.

18. Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh Steelers): K’Lavon Chaisson, Edge, LSU

Ever since the Dolphins wasted a first-round pick on Charles Harris in 2017, the team has been lacking an outside pass rusher. Bringing in Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah was smart, but the Dolphins could still use a rush specialist like Chaisson.

19. Las Vegas Raiders (via Chicago Bears): CJ Henderson, CB, Florida

Should the Raiders land a wide receiver with their first pick, they should not hesitate to use the 19th selection on a cornerback. That’s especially true if Henderson is available. Unquestionably the No. 2 cornerback in this draft, Henderson is a natural pass defender who knows how to time routes and can stick with all varieties of receiver.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars: (via Los Angeles Rams): Yetur Gross-Matos, Edge, Penn State

The Yannick Ngakoue rumor mill has begun to start spinning wildly as he continually talks about departing Jacksonville despite getting a franchise tag designation. If the Jaguars want to replace him, Gross-Matos is a solid option as an outside player. Gross-Matos had 17.5 sacks over his final two seasons at Penn State, and knows how to use his length and quickness to beat blockers. Sure, he has to get better against the run, but so did Ngakoue coming out of Maryland.

21. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

If they wanted, the Eagles probably could have gone after free agent receivers Robby Anderson, Randall Cobb, Breshad Perriman, or Emmanuel Sanders. But they didn’t and all four signed elsewhere. That leaves the Eagles to the draft, and potentially Jefferson. He had 111 receptions for LSU last season, and anything close to that production in the NFL would be well worth the 21st pick.

22. Minnesota Vikings (via Buffalo Bills): Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

It would be easy to see Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer falling in love with Gladney. The aggressive TCU cornerback is exactly what the Vikings need in their secondary. Gladney is a tone setter at cornerback who can lock down a team’s lead receiver. As the Vikings continue to have problems at the position, Gladney can be their solution.

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

Yep, I’m back on Love to the Patriots. For starters, I don’t see him falling out of the first round. And if he’s there when New England picks, Bill Belichick might have a hard time passing up on Love’s pure talent.

24. New Orleans Saints: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Although the Saints have All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis, their other linebackers — specifically Alex Anzalone and Kiko Alonso — have battled numerous injuries. Plus, Davis is a free agent after this season. Murray would give the Saints a young, athletic talent at the position, and the team could start to focus on building up the defense as quarterback Drew Brees’ career winds down.

25. Minnesota Vikings: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor

I’m back on this pick for the Vikings at No. 25. As the draft gets closer, it seems like Mims is going to be a first-round pick. That means he leapfrogs receivers like Tee Higgins of Clemson and Jalen Reagor of TCU. Part of the reason could be recency bias. Mims had a stellar Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. In this bizarre year, the mark Mims has left could matter more than ever.

26. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

If there is one team that could take a running back in the first round of the draft, it is the Dolphins. And if there is one running back who should go in the first round of the draft this year, it is Swift. The Georgia product is like a combination of former Bulldog running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Swift’s vision is exactly what you want in a running back, and he is special as a pass catcher. He’s the kind of back who can be kicked out into the slot and generate a mismatch for the offense. You can argue the value of a first-round running back all you want. But it’s hard to see Swift failing in the NFL.

27. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Jackson, OT, USC

This isn’t a corny Pete Carroll/USC pick. This is more of a high-ceiling gamble on Jackson for the Seahawks. Coming into the year, many thought Jackson had top-10 talent. That type of player is still in there if he gets the proper coaching. Jackson’s foot quickness is impressive, and he can handle speed rushers well.

28. Baltimore Ravens: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

At some point early in this draft, the Ravens have to address the middle linebacker position. Why not in the first round with Queen? Both Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor left Baltimore this offseason, and the position is clearly an issue.

29. Tennessee Titans: Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia

This is the late first-round pick I’ve really fallen in love with the last couple weeks. Wilson is a mountain at 6’6 and 350 pounds, and he could still be growing after turning just 21 in February. Wilson’s standout ability right now is as a run blocker. Tennessee was third in the NFL in rushing last season and could continue that trend with Wilson replacing Jack Conklin.

30. Green Bay Packers: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State

Green Bay’s need for a wide receiver has been obvious for quite some time. The players the Packers have currently have been inconsistent, besides Davante Adams. Green Bay never properly replaced Randall Cobb after the 2018 season, either. Aiyuk can be the dependable No. 2 receiver the Packers have needed.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

The 49ers will need help in the secondary sooner rather than later, and Fulton could be their next lead cornerback. Fulton may not create a lot of interceptions (he had just two at LSU), but he knows how to break up passes thanks to his instincts and timing.

32. Kansas City Chiefs: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa

The Chiefs would probably love to see Murray or Queen available here, but they’re both gone. If that’s the case and the Chiefs don’t trade down, they could target a defensive lineman like Epenesa. He would give the Chiefs a good player opposite Frank Clark, and one who has the ability to work outside and inside.