By Lenn Robbins
A LIVE SPORTING EVENT!
O.K. it’s not a game or even a preseason game or even an exhibition, but Thursday night sports fans hungering for a live sporting event will be sated by the NFL Draft.
It may not be the Super Bowl but the draft is arguably the most important day of the year in a franchise’s fortunes. The undisputed winners will be ESPN/ABC and the companies that locked in ads long before COVID-19 decimated the sports landscape.
The ESPN/ABC family of networks televised the draft last season, posting a record 47.5 million viewers. The price for a 30-second ad cost in the mid $100,000. With no other game in town, last year’s record could be shattered.
If you haven’t been invited to a remote draft party, you will be. Or host your own. Start a pool in which everyone picks the first round and the most accurate prognosticators take home prize money. You’ll just have to use Venmo.
As for the draft itself, there could be a lot of trade action as quarterback hungry teams jockey to secure the rights of Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love.
The Chargers, Dolphins, Raiders, Patriots and Saints all are in the market for their quarterback of the future. The Bears should be. The Titans need a backup to Ryan Tannehill.
A live sporting event is just 10 days away! Here’s our mock draft cheat sheet. Stay safe.
- Bengals – Joe Burrows, QB, LSU – In a draft riddled with questions: Who’s the best WR? Who’s the best OT? Who’s the second-best cornerback? The question of who’s the best QB prospect is not up for debate. The Andy Dalton era ends and Burrows era begins; forget hand size.
2. Redskins – Chase Young, DE, Ohio State – The Redskins need a lot of help but unless they get a trade offer they can’t pass up, Ron Rivera sticks with his defensive roots. Washington’s offense doesn’t have enough to compete. But a defense with Young and Ryan Kerrigan might steal a game or two.
3. Lions – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State – As with the Redskins, the Lions are fielding offers like bees to honey. Okudah is one of the most college corners we’ve seen. There’s a significant drop off at cornerback after Okudah.
4. Raiders (from Giants) – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama – Stunning trades and out-of-the box No.1 picks are part of the Raiders’ DNA. The franchise doubles down on its move to Vegas. They send the Giants their two, first-round picks – 12 and 19 – to the Giants, even though trading down is not in GM Dave Gettleman’s DNA.
5. Dolphins – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon – The Dolphins reportedly have been flipping coins between Tagovailoa and Herbert. By sitting tight, they don’t have to gamble on Tagovailoa’s health. Herbert is one of the smartest players in the draft and he answered a lot of questions through the predraft process.
6. Chargers – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State – The Chargers know exactly what they have without Phillip Rivers and with Tyrod Taylor – no future at football’s most important position. Chargers fans need a reason to make the trek up I-5 to the new stadium they’ll share with the Rams. Terrible.
7. Panthers – Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson – Tough call for Carolina. They lost Gerald McCoy and Luke Kuechly. Derrick Brown could be a 10-year plug on the DL but Simmons can change a game with his ridiculous skill set. Can’t see the Panthers not finding that irresistible.
8. Cardinals – Meckhi Becton, OT, Louisville – Anyone claiming they know which of the four elite tackles will be selected first is not being honest. Becton is the biggest of the bunch and he possesses amazing athleticism (5.2 40 time) for a man listed at 6-7, 364-pounds.
9. Jaguars – Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn – Just a few short years ago the Jaguars had one of the elite, young defenses in the NFL. Gone are Patrick Ramsey, Marcell Dareus, and Calais Campbell (Ok, not so young). We believe in building from the inside out.
10. Cardinals – Jedrick Wills, Jr., OT, Alabama – They have their QB in Khyler Murray and a great new target in D’Andre Hopkins (still find this hard to fathom). Time to make sure this connection stays healthy. Wills is a Day 1 starter.
11. Jets – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa – If this comes to fruition, Jets fans have reason to hope their luck is turning (finally!). Wirfs was coached at Iowa by Kirk Ferentz, a former longtime offensive line coach who has built a tradition of producing technically sound, tough O-linemen.
12. Giants (from Raiders) – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia – If this comes to fruition, Giants fan have reason to hope their luck is turning. The Giants trade down and still get a starting OT. Next pick is just six spots away when Big Blue. Can they get another starter, on the other side of the ball?
13. 49ers – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama – Frankly we like CeeDee Lamb a tad more than Jeudy, but it’s impossible to argue against Jeudy’s 4.45 speed, broad jump of 10 feet, vertical jump of 35 inches and magnificent route running. He teams with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle to give Jimmy Garoppolo a terrific trio of targets.
14. Cowboys (from Bucs) – C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida – The win-now Cowboys need to replace Byron Jones. Knowing the Falcons at No. 16 are in the CB market, Dallas trades up with Tampa Bay. Henderson has the speed and athleticism but he needs to hone his tackling.
15. Broncos – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma – Courtland Sutton, a 6-4 target and ball snatcher broke out last season. Team him with Lamb, last year’s no.1 pick TE Noah Fant, and Melvin Gordon, and Drew Lock just might take the next step, ending John Elway’s QB curse. Lamb is our favorite receiver in this WR-rich draft.
16. Falcons – K’Lavon Chaisson, OLB, LSU – Atlanta has a tough choice here between addressing the defensive backfield and edge rusher. When you’re in a division that now has Tom Brady and Drew Brees, you better be able to get pressure.
17. Bucs – Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan – Every move the Bucs make must consider how it will maximize Tom Brady’s ability to excel. Jameis Winston was sacked 47 times. He also led the league with 677 drop-backs. And he is more mobile than Brady. Ruiz plays with tenacity and technique and he can play center or guard. Bucs mandate: Protect Tomba.
18. Dolphins – Josh Jones, OT, Houston – Just as the Bucs are all about Brady, the Fish are all about Herbert. Jones allowed just one sack and four pressures his senior season. If you think it was because he didn’t face elite competition at Houston, he was voted the top offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl.
19. Giants – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina – After trading down for the first time, Gettleman thinks, “This isn’t a bad way to go!” If getting Thomas at No.12 wasn’t good fortune, getting Kinlaw here sure is. He’s a better rusher than Brown and more athletic.
20. Jaguars – Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama – I’m still not sold on the Jaguars being sold on Gardner Minshew II, III, or IV. But even if this turns out to be a one-season audition, get the man the fastest receiver in the draft. Ruggs, seen as a Tyreek Hill-like weapon, certainly could be off the board by this point.
21. Eagles – Josh Jefferson, WR, LSU – And so begins the run on WRs. A healthy Carson Wentz can be as effective as almost any QB in the NFL, if he has legitimate targets. No receiver in this draft wins contested balls like Jefferson. He can play all three wide receiver positions.
22. Vikings – Brandon Aiyuk, WR, – The loss of Stefon Diggs hurts. He’s is an upper echelon WR and keeps Adam Thielen from facing constant double teams. Denzel Mims, Baylor is bigger. Jalen Reagor, TCU is the most explosive. Any of the three could go here.
23. Patriots – Zach Baun, OLB/DE, Wisconsin – The focus in New England and throughout the NFL is Tom Brady’s change of address. But this defense lost Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton. Baun is a smart, versatile defender. In other words, he’s a Belichick player.
24. Saints – Kenneth Murray, ILB, Oklahoma – The Saints need to do everything they can to give Drew Brees his best chance at one last Super Bowl before he heads to the broadcast booth. We know the Saints can score. The defense was solid if unspectacular last season. Murray, who plays nasty, becomes an anchor in the middle.
25. Vikings – A..J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa – Everson Griffen is gone. The Vikes face two terrific passers – Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford – twice each season. With Epenesa, who has a great motor, on one side and Daniel Hunter on the other, the Vikes should be able to get pressure.
26. Dolphins – D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia – Georgia has become Running Back U and Swift carries on that tradition. In addition to his speed, vision and ability to make defenders miss, Swift will stick his nose in on pass protection. He gives Herbert a serious upgrade over Jordan Howard.
27. Seahawks – Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State – The $17-18 million question is whether or not Jadaveon Clowney returns. The thinking here is that he heads to Cleveland, leaving a neglected defense with a major hole. Gross-Matos is one of the DE’s that is also good against the run.
28. Ravens – Patrick Queen, ILB, LSU – LSU has replaced Miami as my favorite college for NFL talent. The Tigers, especially on the defensive side, play with a speed and tenacity that football purist’s joy to watch. Queen fits the mold. The Ravens have tried to cover up the loss of C.J. Mosley but it’s time to address this second level of defense.
29. Titans – Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State – Boise State doesn’t send a lot of players to the league in comparison to Bama, Ohio State, etc. But the ones that come off the blue turf have excellent success – DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, Matt Paradis, Alexander Mattison. The Titans offense is focused on Derrick Henry. Cleveland wowed in pre-draft workouts.
30. Packers – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson – After Devante Adams there is a significant drop off at the WR spot. With a QB such Aaron Rodgers, not having another top target on the opposite side is a waste of talent. Higgins is a step slower than the WRs that already have gone but at 6-4, he’s a red zone ball winner.
31. 49ers – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama – All any 49ers fan needs to do to find the No.1 position of need is to cue up a replay of the Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs. Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill combined for 13 catches for 203 yards. Richard Sherman is still a quality corner but he’s 32. McKinney can play either safety spot.
32. Chiefs – Antoine Winfield, S/CB, Minnesota – This is my favorite player in the draft because of the way he plays. Yes, he’s only 5-foot-9, 203 pounds but he hits like a man constantly in a bad mood. He’s instinctual, versatile and has great bloodlines. Only concern is that he hits so hard he hurts himself.