Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of the Sports Editor and not of The Belton Journal newspaper.
The 2020 National Football League Draft will be an event like no one has seen in some time.
The event was set to be held in Las Vegas starting on Thursday. However, the iconic Strip has been shut down for over a month. That has shifted the draft to video conferencing.
Since the shift, all sorts of banter has come about different team’s needs and draft positioning on the board. Especially within the first 10 picks.
Here are my predictions on how the 2020 NFL Draft will pan out in the first round (listed by pick number, team, player, position and college):
1). Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, quarterback, LSU.
Burrow has the uncanny ability to shine in clutch situations. He has the leadership and swagger, along with a high football IQ and ability to read defenses. The only downtick to Burrow’s game is arm-strength. A transfer from Ohio St., Burrow threw for 8,852 yards, the majority in his final season at LSU. He tossed 78 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He averaged 13.6 yards per completion.
2). Washington Redskins: Chase Young, defensive lineman, Ohio State.
A 6-5, 265-pound defensive end, Young is a dynamic rush end with plenty of upside. He had 98 tackles (68 solos) and 30 ½ sacks. He is freakishly quick and strong.
3). Los Angeles Chargers (by way of trade with Detroit Lions): Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon.
The Chargers traded their 2020 first round (No. 6 overall), second round (No. 37) and fourth round (No. 114) picks to the Lions for their first-round pick (No. 3 overall) and fifth-round pick (149th overall).
It is a pick that was highly-touted and targeted by both LAC and Jacksonville.
One of the ever-present conversations in the pre-draft analysis has been “Tua or Justin” for the Chargers? While Tua Tagovailoa is starting to really regain form after hip surgery, Herbert is an NFL-ready quarterback right now.
Herbert completed 64 percent of his throws for 10,541 yards (12.7 yards per completion), 95 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He also had 13 rushing touchdowns.
4). Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Alabama.
Tua has really inspired athletes with his comeback from a catastrophic hip injury on Nov. 16 that would have destroyed most careers.
Having burst on the scene in 2017, Tua completed 69.3 percent of his passes, had 7,442 passing yards (15.7 yards per completion), 87 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also had nine rushing touchdowns.
The biggest question will be Tua’s endurance and a team risk tolerance when it comes to injuries.
5). New York Giants: Isaiah Simmons, defensive end, Clemson.
Simmons graded out as one of the top athletes in the draft. In four years, Simmons collected 239 career tackles (150 solos), 20 pass defenses, 9 ½ sacks, four interceptions and one return touchdown.
6). Jacksonville Jaguars (by way of trade with Detroit Lions): C.J. Henderson, cornerback, Florida.
The Jaguars trades their 2020 first-round pick (No. 9 overall), second-round pick (42nd overall), and outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue for the Lions’ first-round pick (No. 6 overall) and third-round pick (73rd overall).
The Lions are trying to shake the reputation as being soft defensively and had the draft positioning to trade back for value.
Henderson is the cornerback in the mold of past Jaguar secondary members Donavin Darius, Rashean Mathis and Jalen Ramsey. In three years, Henderson had 93 tackles (66 solos), six interceptions (two touchdown returns), four sacks and 20 pass defenses. He has amazing upside to become one of the next elite cornerbacks in the NFL.
7). Carolina Panthers: Javon Kinlaw, defensive lineman, South Carolina.
Kinlaw is one of the best defensive tackles in the country and, also, is one of the tops in the draft.
In three seasons at South Carolina, Kinlaw has 93 tackles (48 solos), 10 passes defended and 10 1.2 sacks. He is excellent against the pass and the run. With the retirement of Luke Kuechly and hiring of former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers’ defense could certainly add to their strength with this pick.
8). Arizona Cardinals: Mekhi Becton, offensive lineman, Louisville.
Marked as the best offensive lineman on the board, Becton’s size cannot be ignored. At 6-7 and 365 pounds, Becton’s 5.11 40-yard dash at the NFL combine turned all sorts of heads. Blocking in college for Lamar Jackson, Becton could fill a strong need for pass blocking for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ rushing game.
9). Detroit Lions (by way of trade with Los Angeles Chargers): Jeff Okudah, cornerback, Ohio St.
The Lions have been a disappointment over the past two years under Matt Patricia (9-22-1) following Jim Caldwell’s four-year tenure of 36-28. The pass defense has been much maligned during Patricia’s time with the Lions after spending the first part of his coaching career under Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick.
Grand Prairie native Okudah was a game-changer for the Buckeyes in the final two years in Columbus. He had 84 tackles (65 solos), had 18 pass defenses and three interceptions.
With the thin Lions secondary, Okudah would provide Detroit a much-needed boost in the defensive backfield in a rugged NFC North.
10). Dallas Cowboys (by trade with the Cleveland Browns): Jaylon Johnson, cornerback, Utah.
The Cowboys trade their 2020 first round (No. 17 overall), third pick (No. 82 overall), and 2021 second-round pick for Cleveland’s first-round pick (No. 10 overall) and fourth-round pick (115th overall).
Johnson had 102 career tackles (88 solos), 21 pass defenses, one sack, seven interceptions, 165 return years and two touchdown returns in three seasons in Utah.
11). New York Jets: Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama.
Jeudy is one of the best receivers in the draft and had the honor of having Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Mac Jones throw him during his time with the Crimson Tide.
In three seasons, Jeudy had 159 career receptions for 2,742 yards (17.2 yards per reception) and 26 touchdowns. He is a dynamic receiver with electric speed (4.45 40-yard dash time) and a 35-inch vertical jump. His speed could work well with Sam Darnold and the Jets’ offense.
12). Las Vegas Raiders: CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Oklahoma.
Lamb has the shine and the moves to make things happen in Vegas. Having quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield and Jalen Hurts to throw to him in his time in Norman, the Richmond Foster alumnus had 173 career catches for 3,292 receiving yards (19 yards per catch), 32 receiving touchdowns and one rushing score.
Lamb also was critical in the Sooners’ punt return game, with 56 career returns for 475 yards (8.5 yards per return).
With Raiders making the move to Las Vegas, Lamb gives the Raiders a big target in the passing game.
13) San Francisco 49ers (by way of trade with Indianapolis Colts): Yetur Gross-Matos, defensive lineman, Penn St.
Another solid defensive end in this year’s draft. Playing for the Nittany Lions, Gross-Matos had 111 career tackles (65 solos) and 19 sacks (17 ½ sacks in his last two years). He is a handful to deal with off of the edge and would give the 49ers a solid presence in the trenches.
14) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tristan Wirfs, offensive lineman, Iowa.
There will be a ton of watchful eyes on the Buccaneers this season.
With the departure of Jameis Winston, signing of Tom Brady and trade for Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs will need to invest in protecting their prized signing.
Wirfs is a talented tackle at 6-5 and 322 pounds. He ran a 4.85 40-yard dash and had a 36 ½ vertical jump at the combines.
15). Denver Broncos: Andrew Thomas, offensive lineman, Georgia.
An extremely agile offensive tackle in Athens, Thomas is another offensive lineman that a team can build around.
He ran a 5.22 40-yard dash and is another huge body at 6-5 and 315 pounds.
16). Atlanta Falcons: Zack Baun, linebacker, Wisconsin.
Baun is another linebacker talent in the long, storied history of Badger defenses.
Baun had 143 career tackles (99 solos), 15 sacks (12 ½ in 2019) and two interceptions. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, his agility on rush defense is uncanny and is needed against NFC South run-happy offenses.
17). Cleveland Browns (by way of trade with Dallas Cowboys): Jedrick Wills, offensive lineman, Alabama.
Coming out of the football powerhouse at Alabama, Wills pedigree of blocking for the Crimson Tide cannot be ignored.
Wills (6-5, 320 pounds) ran a 5.05 40-yard dash and has a 34 ½ inch vertical jump. He helped make the Crimson Tide a nightmare in both the rushing and passing facets of Nick Saban’s offense.
18). Miami Dolphins (by way of trade with Pittsburgh Steelers): Justin Jefferson, Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver, Alabama.
The Steelers have just one pick in the first 100 picks, the least in the league.
Ruggs had the quickest 40-yard time in the combine (4.27). However, there is far more to his value.
Ruggs had 98 career receptions for 1,716 yards (17.5 yards per catch) and 24 receiving touchdowns, He also had a 75-yard rushing score in 2019. He had 25 kickoff returns for 525 yards (21 yards per return) and returned eight punts for 46 yards. Breakaway speed in the flat is his calling card. A potential pairing with Tua in Miami could help the Dolphins out of the cellar in the AFC East.
19). Las Vegas Raiders (by way of trade with Chicago Bears): Jeff Gladney, cornerback, TCU.
The Raiders acquired this pick from the Bears via the trade that sent Kahlil Mack to the Windy City.
While the Raiders look to build their secondary, Gladney could provide them solid coverage in the passing game.
The New Boston native made 146 career tackles (107 solos), had 38 pass defenses, five interceptions and 128 return yards.
He is lightning quick (4.48, 40-yard dash) and has a solid vertical leap (37 ½).
20) Jacksonville Jaguars (by way of trade with Los Angeles Rams): Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Alabama.
Diggs is the replacement in the Jaguars’ secondary that they have been seeking since they traded Jalen Ramsey away.
He is a physical cornerback that provides Jacksonville a ball-hawking presence.
21) Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Queen, linebacker, LSU.
When it comes to run-stuffing linebackers in the draft, one of the best in the country is Queen.
He came up big in his final two years for the Tigers, with 125 tackles (57 solos), four sacks, two pass defenses and an interception.
Queen could provide the Eagles a much-needed run-stopper.
22). Minnesota Vikings (by way of trade with Buffalo Bills): Laviska Shenault, Jr., wide receiver, Colorado.
Shenault (6-1, 230, 4.58 40-yard dash) provided the Buffaloes offense plenty of excitement in the past two seasons, including a 1,011-yard receiving season in 2018.
The De Soto product had 139 career receptions for 1,943 yards (14 yards per reception), 10 receiving touchdowns, 42 rushes for 280 yards (6.7 yards per carry), seven rushing touchdowns, a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown in 2017 and a 54-yard kickoff return in 2019.
23). New England Patriots: Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Oklahoma.
Are you surprised? You should not be. Someone will need to push Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer in camp. Hurts won at Alabama and Oklahoma. His stock rose at the NFL combines and his attitude has been incredible.
The 2019 Heisman Trophy runner-up is toughness personified. He can extend plays behind the line and is smart with the football.
Hurts completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 9,477 yards (13.9 yards per completion), threw 80 touchdowns and had just 20 career interceptions. He also had 3,274 yards rushing and 43 rushing touchdowns.
24). New Orleans Saints: Terrell Lewis, linebacker, Alabama.
A big, tall linebacker (6-5, 252 pounds), Lewis’ numbers will not jump off the page at you. In three years in Tuscaloosa, Lewis had 58 tackles (38 solos), three pass defenses, eight sacks (six in 2019).
He was huge in rush stopping with his large frame and intimidating presence, which will make him a mainstay in New Orleans.
25). Minnesota Vikings: Antoine Winfield, Jr., cornerback, Minnesota.
A product of The Woodlands, Winfield is the son of longtime Buffalo and Minnesota great Antoine Winfield.
Playing in the tough Big 10 Conference, Winfield had 174 career tackles (85 in 2019, 62 solos), six pass defenses, four sacks, two forced fumbles, nine interceptions for 193 yards and two interception returned for touchdowns.
When called upon for punt returns in 2018, Winfield was up for the challenge. He had three punt returns for 110 yards, which included a 76-yard touchdown.
26). Miami Dolphins (by way of trade with Houston Texans): D’Andre Swift, running back, Georgia.
Swift is the latest in a long line of talented Bulldog running backs.
A bruising 5-9, 215-pound talent, Swift had 440 rushes for 2,885 yards (6.6 yards per carry), 20 rushing touchdowns, 73 catches for 666 yards (9.1 yards per catch) and five receiving touchdowns.
He would provide the Dolphins another solid running back to support the building of their offense.
27). Seattle Seahawks: Ross Blacklock, defensive lineman, TCU.
Blacklock, the son of a former Harlem Globetrotter, has made his living on the gridiron and was a huge part of the Horned Frogs defense.
Only playing his redshirt freshman and junior seasons (injury claimed his sophomore season), Blacklock had 67 tackles (39 solos), and 5 ½ sacks. He was a Football Writer’s of American Freshman All-American.
The Seahawks could use the bruising Fort Bend Elkins product (6-4, 305) a big presence on the defensive interior.
28). Baltimore Ravens: Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Clemson.
Higgins’ coming-out party came in 2018 as part of the Clemson Tigers. In the past two seasons, Higgins caught 59 passes in each campaign.
In his three seasons at Clemson, Higgins caught 135 passes for 2,448 yards (18.1 yards per catch), 27 receiving touchdowns and had a 36-yard touchdown run in 2019.
Higgins’ speed and agility makes him a fit in all three receiver slots that the Ravens employ in their offense.
29). Tennessee Titans: K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker, LSU.
Chaisson is coming out after a solid redshirt sophomore season with the National Champs.
In three seasons in Baton Rouge, the Houston native had 92 tackles (60 in 2019), 9 ½ sacks and four pass defenses.
Chaisson has the potential to give the Titans a good inside presence (6-4, 250) on defense and add another piece to a stellar run defense.
30). Green Bay Packers: Jordan Love, quarterback, Utah State.
Again: are you surprised? You should not be. Aaron Rodgers is not getting any younger. Tim Boyle and Manny Wilkins may be options, but you cannot pass up a talent like Love.
The 6-4, 225-pound frame makes Love a prototypical quarterback from a size aspect. In three seasons for the Aggies, Love had 689 completions for 8,600 yards, 60 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions. He completed 61.2 percent of his passes and averaged 12.5 yards per completion.
31). San Francisco 49ers: Michael Pittman, wide receiver, USC.
Pittman was one of four receivers in Division I in 2019 with 100 catches (SMU’s James Proche had 111, LSU’s Justin Jefferson had 111, Texas’ Devin Duvernay had 106, Pittman had 101).
For his career at Southern Cal, Pittman had 171 catches for 2,519 yards (14.7 yards per catch), and 19 receiving touchdowns. He also had six career punt returns for 166 yards and one touchdown.
Pittman’s speed (4.52) and vertical (36 ½ inches) makes him a highly-touted draft prospect.
32). Kansas City Chiefs: A.J. Terrell, cornerback, Clemson.
The Atlanta native was a key component of the Tigers the past two seasons.
In three seasons, Terrell had 102 tackles (73 solos), 11 pass defenses, six interceptions for 160 yards and a touchdown and two forced fumbles.
The World Champions are loaded on both sides of the ball, which will allow Terrell plenty of room for growth and competition.
Tony’s stunner signing: Dallas would be wise to take out an insurance policy if Dak Prescott’s situation is not resolved. Cooper Rush is a solid quarterback. However, why not add free agent Jameis Winston? Winston may have had a 30-touchdown/30-interception season. If the Cowboys are without Prescott for any amount of time, then Winston has starting quarterback capabilities. Laugh at this if you want, but Winston would be a valuable insurance policy as a one-year or two-year fill if needed. Plus, if Prescott gets the deal that he is seeking and Winston rebounds in Cowboy Nation, Winston could provide Dallas a valuable trade commodity at the 2021 or 2022 drafts. Plus, increased trade value and marketability could set the free-agency market up for an interesting rush for his services.
Where will Zach Shackelford go? While the Belton alumnus had an outstanding career for the Tigers and the University of Texas, it is anyone’s guess where he will land. Obviously, he is smart, has great lateral mobility, has respectable character, is tough as nails and has excellent awareness. His injuries might have hindered him a bit in college. However, it is hard to believe that an NFL team would pass on Shack (6-4, 305) at center in the middle to late rounds.
“Shack is one of the most physical linemen that I have ever coached,” Belton Athletic Director Sam Skidmore said. Skidmore was Shackelford’s Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach.