Well, free agency ahead of the NFL draft is going according to plan for everyone, right?
The first round of signings has gone through, giving teams a better picture for their future endeavors. Some players will still look for a new home while others will be gearing up for the season ahead.
Teams who are done fishing for players off the market will turn their attention to the draft. Needs that could have been met in April were filled a month early, leading to other positions to become a focal point when they’re on the clock. Players could see their stock drop but potentially land on a team where they will shine. Others will be overdrafted before a run of talent is off the board.
Then, some players fit a need and will make an impact for a team right out of the gate. They will be the future for the organization and should be a part of the solution for a franchise during their rebuild or chasing title moments.
The first round is where most fans pay attention, so let’s take a look at several players who automatically fit the bill come that Thursday night in April.
Detroit Lions: CB Jeffery Okudah
Let’s get right to the point with this one. Detroit traded away their top cover corner in Darius Slay. Despite adding Desmond Trufant, the Lions will need to pair him with a running mate.
Joe Burrow is going to be the first player selected in the 2020 NFL draft. Barring no trades, expect Chase Young to be the second. Okudah is perhaps a more polished NFL defender than both Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore.
Not sure any corners tackle better than Jeffery Okudah. pic.twitter.com/iJ6b3gs9KZ
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 28, 2019
This is going to be the pick to salvage Matt Patrica’s tenure as the head coach in the Motor City. Perhaps Okudah will respect him more than Slay ever did?
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Tua Tagovailoa
The Chargers made it abundantly clear that they would trust Tyrod Taylor to lead the offense for 2020. Sure, that could work as the former Bills and Ravens quarterback was a starter before, but should that backfire, they need a face for the franchise that could replace Philip Rivers.
After a legendary career with Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa announces he will enter the 2020 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/xsE34IGJlf
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 6, 2020
After signing Bryan Bulaga to a three-year deal, the focus turns to the quarterback. With Tom Telesco adamant of giving Taylor a crack and the Dolphins potentially looking to move up for Joe Burrow, the focus shifts to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The Hawaiian sensation was a star for the Crimson Tide, helping the team make two National Championship while setting records in Tuscaloosa.
Tagovailoa’s hip injury will likely have him holding a clipboard early in 2020. That said, the junior has all the mechanics and upside to be the top quarterback from this class when we look back on it in 15 years or so. If Miami moves up in the NFL draft, Cincinnati would likely consider Justin Herbert as their future after working with him in Mobile.
Telesco keeps his promise but also addresses the need under center for his future to go along with a sound free agency. That’s a win for all involved.
Carolina Panthers: LB Isaiah Simmons
The Panthers won’t be in the market for a future quarterback after signing Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million deal this week. With Cam Newton out and Bridgewater in, the attention will turn to either the offensive line or defense.
With the sudden departure of Luke Keuchly, Carolina will need a leader in the middle. Will the team trust Shaq Thompson to produce similar numbers to the All-Pro? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. All that in mind, perhaps the Panthers pull a Jacksonville and find their multi-purpose weapon at No.7 with Isaiah Simmons.
Isaiah Simmons by alignment for Clemson in 2019:
* Safety: 218 snaps
* Slot CB: 286 snaps
* OLB: 160 snaps
* ILB/MLB: 120 snaps
* Perimeter CB: 17 snaps
He rushed the passer 71 times and had *7* sacks.
The most versatile player in the 2020 NFL Draft.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 18, 2020
Simmons doesn’t have a set position in the NFL. That could be a good thing for Carolina. While the team brought back Tre Boston as a rangy safety, they also released Eric Reid earlier this month. Simmons played a majority of his snaps from either the safety or slot corner position, lining up at the second level to defend the run or man inside.
The Clemson product could find a home at linebacker. Should he struggle in the middle, a move to safety could help his career flourish. Carolina has needs at both positions, so why not grab the “tweener” and let him make a name for himself in the Queen City?
Cleveland Browns: OT Andrew Thomas
Andrew Berry said he was going to change the culture for the Browns when he was named the GM. A week into free agency and he’s lived up to that promise.
— Jake Rowe (@Rowe247) November 21, 2017
With the signings of Jack Conklin, and Austin Hooper, plus the tender tag on Kareem Hunt, Baker Mayfield’s offense should rapidly improve. There’s a glaring need at left tackle, however, and if the team doesn’t add Trent Williams via trade, they’ll likely add a veteran or head to the NFL draft. If so, Thomas should be the sure-fire pick to close out the top 10 load of picks.
A three-year starter in the SEC, Thomas has gone up against some of the best of up and coming pass rushers in the NFL. Josh Allen, Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons are a few to name. Thomas has the ability to play both sides of the ball and allowed five sacks at the left tackle spot.
This should be a natural choice for Berry and the Browns should he be on the clock.
Denver Broncos: WR Henry Ruggs III
This was a fit before the start of free agency. It’s still a fit after the Broncos closed out free agency with the signing of Melvin Gordon.
Ruggs was a star for Alabama, even if his stat line says otherwise. His speed allowed defenders to cover him downfield and opened the doors for fellow wideouts in the tremulous Alabama offense succeed. Even as the fourth option, Ruggs posted nearly 100 receptions for almost 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Alabama's opponent: "Don't let Jerry Jeudy beat us!"
Alabama: "Allow us to introduce you to Henry Ruggs III."
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 7, 2019
The Broncos have done their diligence to help Drew Lock improve in his second season. The run game should be a focal point with Philip Lindsay and Gordon, while the upgrade from Connor McGovern will be taken over by Graham Glasgow. The team will need a speed threat to open the doors for Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton across the middle while also showing off Lock’s pure strength downfield.
If he’s there, this is the pick. Write it down, Broncos fans.
Atlanta Falcons: CB CJ Henderson
As we head into the offseason, the pass rush was the top priority for Atlanta. That was potentially fixed with the addition of the 11.5 sack artist known Dante Fowler Jr. In return, the team, unfortunately, needed to open some cap space and released their top corner, Desmond Trufant.
The Falcons will need to add a top corner to pair with an eventual promising Isaiah Oliver hopefully – and that’s a big question still. In step CJ Henderson from Florida who, outside of perhaps top cover man Jeffery Okudah, is the next NFL ready defender at the position. Henderson excelled for two seasons as a starter with the Gators, finding his niche as a man coverage player.
One of CJ Henderson’s best plays as a Gator pic.twitter.com/nt9GpJ30nw
— Ryan (@Ryanmcc09) March 2, 2020
This is the second-ranked man cover corner in the class. The Falcons will need someone to cover the likes of Michael Thomas, Emanuel Sanders, DJ Moore, and the duo in Tampa. If Henderson is still on the board, sign him up for a date in the NFC South.
Las Vegas Raiders: LB Patrick Queen
Much like Ruggs to the Broncos, this is a need after free agency. While it’s nice to see the Raiders finally addressing their linebacker woes, they still have some work to do.
Corey Littleton should fill the hole as the team’s middle linebacker while Nick Kwiatowski could be the team’s starting SAM. The Raiders still will need another backer to play the WILL spot, and Queen is the King at that position. For LSU, the top linebacker prospect is a solidified wrap-up tackler while working well against tight ends in coverage.
Big reason you see LSU LB Patrick Queen as the 16th overall player on @MoveTheSticks Big Board – his ability to cover
Instincts + burst are top notch! And a finisher once he arrives!
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 23, 2020
The Raiders are one of the biggest winners from the 2020 free agency. They could be in the running for a seventh wild card spot even in an ever-growing talented AFC West. With the 12th NFL draft pick, Las Vegas would likely address the need for a wide receiver. At 19, linebacker should be the option.
Queen is the ace in the hole for Las Vegas to make a splash in Sin City year one.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson
The Vikings traded away Stefon Diggs for an extra first-round NFL draft pick. Not only is that a better deal than the Houston Texans, but the team can find his replacement early. Whether it be at 22 or 25, expect Minnesota to pick up a receiver.
82.8% of passes targeting Justin Jefferson are completed.
Highest rate in college football. pic.twitter.com/PJeB8RaoyY
— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 17, 2020
Look no further than Justin Jefferson to be the guy as Diggs’ long-term replacement.
Much like the now Bills’ top target, Jefferson is at his best from the slot. Kirk Cousins has always relied on his top weapon inside, connecting with Jameson Crowder and Jordan Reed in Washington. Fabulous instincts and the ability to catch balls outside his reach, the LSU star should find a home early for any happy pass team.
Minnesota could still contend in 2020 despite trading away their top offensive player. Jefferson would be a direct plug and play weapon for Cousins and Gary Kubiak in the land of 10,000 lakes. Pencil this up as the move at either pick.
Baltimore Ravens: LB Kenneth Murray
Las Vegas still needs a linebacker despite adding a pair. Baltimore might be the only team that needs another one.
The Ravens watched CJ Mosley walk away in free agency, and they might see it again with Patrick Onwuasor. Should he leave, the team will need a leader up the middle for the future. Murray should fit the bill.
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) December 23, 2019
Murray was a complete tackler for the Sooners in his final year. Great speed and the ability to guess well in gaps, the junior has thrived as the leading man in Norman. He still is a work in progress, but the Ravens defense is a linebacker away from being a special unit.
Baltimore let Mosley walk out of their hands. They can’t afford to do that with Murray.