Guest column by Benjamin Robinson
Isn't it ironic? As someone who collects mock drafts and aggregates them for my Grinding the Mocks project, I have never done my own mock draft. Don't get me wrong, I have spent many a lunch break sitting in front of (insert favorite mock draft simulator here). In the lead up to the 2019 NFL draft, I posted my top 32 ranked players by Expected Draft Position (EDP), but this year I will attempt to get down in the weeds a little bit with all the tape-grinders out there.
However, the main thing that will make my mock draft different is that it will be informed entirely by data from my Grinding the Mocks project -- namely which teams and players and positions are mocked the most to each team and by that player's EDP. (If you want to read more about Grinding the Mocks and EDP, you can read my Football Outsiders guest column The Value of Mock Drafts.)
A couple of quick rules: I'm not projecting any trades. I know that's kind of a cop-out, but we've got enough problems predicting the draft as it is. Given the current situation with COVID-19, it will be interesting to see if there are fewer or more trades than in recent drafts. With the lack of pro days, top-30 prospect visits, and NFL combine medical re-checks, teams are operating with less information than they are used to when making decisions in the draft. There have been six first-round draft-day trades in each of the past three seasons, so there's a clear trend in terms of how many deals we can expect on Thursday.
If I had to guess, there will probably be at least one trade up for a quarterback in the top 10, given that neither the Detroit Lions nor the New York Giants (who pick third and fourth, respectively) will likely be in a position to draft Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who is widely considered the top overall prospect in this class; nor is either team expected to draft a quarterback. A trade down by the Giants would be a first for a David Gettleman-led team while the Dolphins have the draft picks to engineer a trade up. The top 10 will be fun to watch for that alone!
Keep in mind that it shouldn't be too surprising if a lot of this mock draft seems pretty conventional. Think of this mock draft as an exercise in what a relatively "chalky" mock draft might look like. It may seem pretty bland, but these are mostly the favorites appearing for the team in each selection given a little bit of what their prior drafting behavior looks like. While EDP alone explains about 80% of the variation in actual draft position, we should not be a slave to this metric, which is why I'm not just posting a list of the top 32 players by EDP. The main goal of EDP is to give a player a range of possible outcomes and hopefully have him selected within that range.
Combining the wisdom of crowds with aggregated mock draft data seems like a solid place to start when making a mock draft. With that, let's get into it!
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Joe Burrow is a tiger again and back in Ohio too! Another year, another transfer quarterback is picked No. 1 overall. Could it be four years in a row in 2021?
2. Washington Redskins: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Another DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) native returns to the area, just like Chase Young's Ohio State teammate Dwayne Haskins did last year, as a member of the Burgundy and Gold.
3. Detroit Lions: Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
This pick could be the first point when we see a trade involving a team interested in the second quarterback in the draft. However, in a world where there are zero draft-day trades, cornerback is by far the position most mocked to the Lions, and that cornerback is Ohio State's Jeffrey Okudah.
4. New York Giants: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Offensive tackle is the position most mocked to the New York Giants by experts in Grinding the Mocks data. At the offensive tackle position, Iowa's Tristan Wirfs is also quickly becoming the most common player mocked to the Giants at pick No. 4. A big winner at this year's NFL combine, Wirfs could come in and start opposite Nate Solder and protect last year's top selection, Daniel Jones. This is another potential trade spot too!
5. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
I believe that Tua Tagovailoa will probably go higher than this due to a trade, which happens fairly often for first-round quarterbacks. The Dolphins may not be in this position next year, so it makes the most sense to get a quarterback while they can. There are plenty of rumors swaying around Justin Herbert being the selection here due to Tagovailoa's history with injuries, but I still feel that fundamentally the Dolphins will trust their process and select the left-handed Hawaiian quarterback from Alabama.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The Chargers were pretty unlucky last year. They had 7.8 Pythagorean wins, but they won only five games. Given the release of Philip Rivers, their quarterback of the last 15 seasons, quarterback is the logical choice given that L.A. might not be picking this high in the 2021 draft. It also happens to be the most mocked position for the Chargers, and Oregon's Justin Herbert is that guy. Like I said, chalky.
7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown is the most-mocked player to the Panthers in the first round, at their most mocked position by quite a bit. And with an EDP of 8.6, which ranks eighth overall in the class, this pick aligns pretty closely with expectation.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
The No. 1 player mocked to the Cardinals at pick 8 has been Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. However, given the team's big dip into the wide receiver market in last year's draft and their recent trade with the Houston Texans for DeAndre Hopkins, I'm discounting that insight a little bit. Instead I'm going with Alabama's Jedrick Wills at offensive tackle, the Cardinals' second-most mocked position. Wills is the ninth-ranked player and second-ranked offensive tackle by EDP.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
This would be a decent fall for Clemson's Isaiah Simmons, the all-everything player who has been referred to as a "defensive weapon," from his EDP. The Jaguars love to let talented players fall to them; last year they selected Kentucky edge defender Josh Allen after he fell to them at the seventh overall pick, then took Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor at 37 after he fell into the second round due to injury concerns. This year is no different. Simmons is the highest-ranked prospect left by EDP.
10. Cleveland Browns: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Offensive tackle has far and away been the position most mocked to the Browns with their first-round pick. In fact, the top four most-mocked players to the Browns in the first round are all offensive tackles. With Wirfs and Wills already drafted at the fourth and eighth picks, that leaves Georgia's Andrew Thomas and Louisville's Mekhi Becton as the choices here. In the last two years of Grinding the Mocks data, the John Dorsey-led Browns were one of the top teams in the league at drafting players earlier than their EDP. Even with Andrew Berry's return to the Browns as general manager, I think there's a decent chance that they value the productive Thomas over the athletic Becton here.
11. New York Jets: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
This pick is the first real quandary of this mock draft. Offensive tackle is the position of choice in most mock drafts, and Louisville's Mekhi Becton is still on the board. However, Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the player most mocked to the Jets. Ultimately, I'll be going with Becton here. Wide receivers tend to be a bit overvalued in mocks when it comes to Draft Surplus Value (the difference between EDP and actual draft position) while tackles are more predictable in the draft.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama
The first domino at wide receiver falls. I can't overstate how close the EDP difference is between Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Alabama's Jerry Jeudy (it's a difference of a tenth of a point), but the Raiders tend to draft against the grain pretty often. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the pick was Lamb here or even Jeudy, who was Rugg's more productive teammate at Alabama.
13. San Francisco 49ers (from Indianapolis Colts): Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The trade the 49ers made with the Colts earlier this offseason that sent interior defensive lineman DeForrest Buckner to Indianapolis yields immediate results with the selection of Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy is truly the 1B to CeeDee Lamb's 1A at the wide receiver position in this draft and could have been the Jets' selection at the 11th overall pick, but he falls to the 49ers at 13 instead.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
The most common position mocked to the Buccaneers is offensive tackle, but this is probably too high for Houston's Josh Jones. The second-most common position is quarterback, a relic of the time before the team signed Tom Brady in free agency. The third-most is defensive tackle, which is where the EDP aligns most at this point in the draft. South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw has an EDP of 13.6, which puts him in play for the 49ers at 13 but also makes him enticing for the Buccaneers given that the top four offensive tackles are already gone.
15. Denver Broncos: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Wide receiver and Alabama's Henry Ruggs have been the most mocked position and player to the Broncos at the 15th overall pick. However, Ruggs is no longer an option given what the Raiders did at pick 12. The Broncos are a team that has tended to draft players later than their EDP ,and while Lamb isn't far off slot here, they love the value of getting the first-ranked wide receiver in their offense.
16. Atlanta Falcons: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
This selection for the Falcons is a choice between the best edge defender (LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson) or cornerback (Florida's C.J. Henderson) available. At the moment, Chaisson's stock is flattening out, while Henderson's is skyrocketing upward, so I project Henderson as the pick. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Falcons trade up to select Henderson earlier than his EDP given their status as a bottom-five surplus value drafting team over the past two years.
17. Dallas Cowboys: K'Lavon Chaisson, LB, LSU
The Cowboys have generally let highly regarded players fall to them at around or over expectation in the last two drafts (with the main exception being their second-round pick in 2019, Central Florida defensive tackle Trysten Hill), and 2020 is no exception as I have the Cowboys selecting edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson from LSU. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney could also be the selection here since safety has often been mocked to the Cowboys, but 17 is a tiny bit outside his EDP range, and the Cowboys' tendency to select players earlier than their EDP makes me lean Chaisson.
18. Miami Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers): Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
If 17 is too early for him, 18 feels just about right for Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. He profiles similarly to Minkah Fitzpatrick, whom the Dolphins drafted out of Alabama right around expectation with the 11th overall pick in 2018 (when he was the 12th-ranked player by EDP), and then traded last season to the Steelers for this specific pick. Isn't it funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself?
19. Las Vegas Raiders (from Chicago Bears): Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
This pick is where I decided to shake up the first round a bit. The Raiders do not have an aversion to drafting players earlier than expected, especially with their high draft picks. That includes the selection of Clelin Ferrell in 2019, and also of UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller earlier than his EDP in 2018. Despite bringing in Marcus Mariota in free agency and having Derek Carr on the roster, I think Oakland (or another team, via trade) could select Utah State's Jordan Love here at 19. Because of the quarterbacks on the roster, Love would not have to play right away, and this is actually not far off from his 20th-ranked EDP in the class, although experts have a much lower opinion of Love than the broader mock draft community.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams): Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
With their final selection of the first round in this mock draft, Jacksonville decides to focus their attention on the offensive side of the ball. The draft surplus value for a cornerback is a bit too much for a team like the Jaguars that likes to accrue draft surplus value, and LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson fits the bill of an excellent athlete that might get drafted later than his EDP, which is around 18. The main concern about Jefferson is that he is a slot receiver, which could suppress his actual draft position.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
The Eagles have stark needs at wide receiver and cornerback, but they decide to address receiver first with Baylor's Denzel Mims. With LSU's Justin Jefferson (the most frequently mocked player to the Eagles) off the board, the Eagles decide to take the chance that a cornerback they like might be available at their second-round selection at pick 53, where Ohio State's Damon Arnette (the 52nd-ranked player by EDP ) could still be available.
22. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo Bills): Josh Jones, OT, Houston
This is the first of two first-round picks for the Vikings, with this being one they received from the Bills in the Stefon Diggs trade. Over the past two years, the Vikings have been pretty good at drafting players later than their EDP. Given that, this year's deep wide receiver class, and Minnesota's second pick in the first round at 25, and drafting Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones here represents great value.
23. New England Patriots: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
The Patriots have not been strangers to taking players earlier than their EDP in the past two drafts, selecting Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel in the first round in 2018 and Arizona State's N'Keal Harry in 2019. They return to the defensive side of the ball in this mock draft by taking Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, whom experts seem to be higher on than the general draft community.
24. New Orleans Saints: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
While they didn't draft at all in the first round in 2019 because of the trade they made with the Green Bay Packers in 2018 to select Marcus Davenport, the Saints have been one of the top teams in the NFL the past two years at picking players later than their EDP. This year's pick continues that pattern with the selection of Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray, whose EDP rank of 22 helps him fit the bill.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
You didn't think I'd let the Vikings leave the first round without addressing cornerback, their most-mocked position, did you? LSU's Kristian Fulton is the best available cornerback and is the pick in this position. The Vikings will just have to wait for a wide receiver.
26. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans): Austin Jackson, OT, USC
The Dolphins make their final of their three first-round draft picks and address the position second-most mocked to them, outside of quarterback, by selecting the best available offensive tackle by EDP, USC's Austin Jackson.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
The Seahawks are a tough nut to crack when it comes to the draft. They rank near the bottom of NFL teams in terms of draft surplus value, selecting running back Rashaad Penny earlier than his EDP in the first round in 2018 and defensive end L.J. Collier earlier than his EDP in 2019. They have also been known to trade down to acquire more picks later in the draft. With that being said, the position most mocked to the Seahawks has been defensive end/edge rusher, and the best one of those left by EDP is Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos so he's the pick.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
History has shown that in the NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens love to go after value picks (they're one of the top teams in terms of generating positive draft surplus value), and the best available player by EDP happens to be a linebacker, the position most mocked to the Ravens: LSU's Patrick Queen.
29. Tennessee Titans: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
The Titans' No 1-most mocked position is edge rusher, but the most mocked player, Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos, was selected at pick 27 by the Seattle Seahawks. What to do? The Titans are also one of the top teams in the NFL in terms of positive draft surplus value. Drafting Wisconsin's Zack Baun, the next best player at that position by EDP, shouldn't mess with their status in that regard!
30. Green Bay Packers: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
If you had asked me a month ago if I thought Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk would be a first-round pick, I don't think I would have believed you. As the great economist John Maynard Keynes said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" In this case, I have changed my mind because of Aiyuk's rising EDP (while his competitors' EDP has either fallen or held steady). It also helps that the most-mocked position for the Packers is wide receiver by a large margin!
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
Having used their first of two first-round draft picks on Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, the 49ers can now focus their attention on another position. This could be another prime trade-out spot as the 49ers only have seven draft selections, none of them coming in the valuable second and third rounds. Additionally, the 49ers are near the bottom of the NFL in terms of draft surplus value, so drafting Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson -- who has an early-second-round EDP but could see himself working his way into the late first round -- isn't out of the realm of possibility.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
The defending Super Bowl champions have plenty to celebrate and they can add to that by picking a ... running back? Mock drafts have long had the Chiefs eyeing Georgia running back D'Andre Swift. However, not only do I think the Chiefs will avoid a first-round running back, but in a limited sample size they also tend to draft players earlier than their EDP. Their second-most-mocked position is cornerback, and I think last year's selection of Juan Thornhill in the second round (later than his EDP) could indicate that they'll draft Clemson's A.J. Terrell to close out the first round.
A quick breakdown of the first round by position:
|2020 NFL Mock Draft Results|
|Position||Players||Draft Surplus Value
(as of 4/19/2020)
|WR (6)||Henry Ruggs (Pick 12, EDP 16)
Jerry Jeudy (Pick 13, EDP 12)
CeeDee Lamb (Pick 15, EDP 13)
Justin Jefferson (Pick 20, EDP 18)
Denzel Mims (Pick 21, EDP 29)
Brandon Aiyuk (Pick 30, EDP 38)
|OT (6)||Tristan Wirfs (Pick 4, EDP 7)
Jedrick Wills (Pick 8, EDP 9)
Andrew Thomas (Pick 10, EDP 11)
Mekhi Becton (Pick 11, EDP 10)
Josh Jones (Pick 22, EDP 19)
Austin Jackson (Pick 26, EDP 28)
|CB (5)||Jeffrey Okudah (Pick 3, EDP 3)
C.J. Henderson (Pick 16, EDP 14)
Kristian Fulton (Pick 25, EDP 24)
Jaylon Johnson (Pick 31, EDP 39)
A.J. Terrell (Pick 32, EDP 27)
|EDGE (5)||Chase Young (Pick 2, EDP 2)
K'Lavon Chaisson (Pick 17, EDP 17)
A.J. Epenesa (Pick 23, EDP 26)
Yetur Gross-Matos (Pick 27, EDP 25)
Zack Baun (Pick 29, EDP 32)
|QB (4)||Joe Burrow (Pick 1, EDP 1)
Tua Tagovailoa (Pick 5, EDP 4)
Justin Herbert (Pick 6, EDP 6)
Jordan Love (Pick 19, EDP 20)
|LB (3)||Isaiah Simmons (Pick 9, EDP 5)
Kenneth Murray (Pick 24, EDP 22)
Patrick Queen (Pick 28, EDP 23)
|DT (2)||Derrick Brown (Pick 7, EDP 8)
Javon Kinlaw (Pick 14, EDP 15)
|S (1)||Xavier McKinney (Pick 18, EDP 21)||-3|
Benjamin Robinson is a data scientist living in Washington, DC and the creator of Grinding the Mocks, a project that tracks how NFL prospects fare in mock drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @benj_robinson and find the Grinding the Mocks project at grindingthemocks.com.