"T-Time” is a column by Trevor Denton about college and professional sports.
The virtual NFL draft is upon us, and I can’t wait. The draft has always been my favorite sporting event of the year. Hopefully, it will give sports fans a welcome three-day distraction from everything going on. I know it will for me. With the lack of in-person interviews, canceled pro-days and inevitable technical issues, this is sure to be one of the most unpredictable drafts in sports history. So naturally, I will try to predict the first ten picks. Here goes nothing.
No. 1: The Cincinnati Bengals select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow
Let’s not overthink this one. The Bengals will select Burrow, from nearby Athens, Ohio, to try and save the franchise from decades of mediocrity. Much has been made about Burrow’s lack of arm strength, but his quick decision-making and accuracy makes up for any physical deficiencies.
The Bengals’ roster is far from playoff-worthy, but they have plenty of offensive weapons including receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd and multi-dimensional running back Joe Mixon. People seem to forget that the Bengals ranked No. 12 in passing yards per game over the first eight games of 2019 before quarterback Andy Dalton went down with an injury. The offense is salvagable with the right signal-caller in place. Burrow is that guy. Here, the Bengals get their face of the franchise and they can focus on building an offensive line to protect him in later rounds.
No. 2: The Washington Redskins select Ohio State defensive end Chase Young
I’m tempted to have the Redskins taking Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa to compete with Dwayne Haskins at quarterback. Washington has a new head coach and general manager and they may want to put their own stamp on the franchise, like Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury did by taking quarterback Kyler Murray last year. However, I can’t see the defensive-minded Ron Rivera passing up on such a surefire edge rusher. Under defensive line coach Larry Johnson, Ohio State develops them better than anyone right now. In the past four drafts, they’ve had six defensive linemen drafted in Rounds 1 through 3. Young will join that list and contend for Defensive Rookie of the Year, just like the Bosa brothers did before him.
No. 3: The Detroit Lions select Tagovailoa
I know reports about Tagovailoa’s health are all over the place. I know the Lions are famously conservative when it comes to the draft. I know longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford still has some solid football left at age 32. But if the ownership really believes it has a playoff roster like it says it does, Detroit should go with the highest-ceiling player in the draft at No. 3. Of the Lions’ last 10 first-round picks, only one made a Pro Bowl appearance with the team. That is a historically bad streak after they made a series of great picks in the late 2000s. The Lions need to make a splash and they need to do it now. Tagovailoa has Hall of Fame potential. Players like that don’t fall below the first two picks often.
No. 4: The New York Giants select Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton
General manager Dave Gettleman loves to draft impressive physical specimens. That said, Clemson’s do-it-all linebacker Isaiah Simmons is a real possibility here. However, the offensive line is a bigger area of concern for the Giants, so Gettleman goes with the most physically imposing player in the graft. At 6 feet 7 inches and 364 pounds, Becton has 17% body fat, ran a 5.10 second 40-yard dash and can do a reverse slam dunk. He can also use his stature to protect quarterback Daniel Jones’ blindside. He was named the ACC’s best offensive lineman in 2019.
No. 5: The Miami Dolphins select Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert
After a year of “Tua to the Dolphins” rumors, Miami ends up with Herbert instead. He doesn’t have the same upside as the Hawaiian lefty, but he is an experienced, intelligent quarterback with all the physical tools to be successful. The looming question will be whether the supporting cast was to blame for Hebert’s inconsistency at Oregon. In college, he never even made an All Pac-12 team and only steadily improved from year-to-year. He will need to become spectacular in the NFL for the Dolphins to feel good about taking him at No. 5.
No. 6: The Los Angeles Chargers select Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons
In this hypothetical exercise, Tagovailoa is off the board so the Chargers go with the best player available. Simmons has drawn comparisons to Chargers safety Derwin James. They’re both freaks athletically and can play any position on the defense. So why not pair them together and create the most dynamic defense in the league?
No. 7: The Carolina Panthers select Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah
Shutdown corners like Okudah rarely last this long, so the Panthers turn this pick in as quickly as their Zoom connection allows. Okudah recently said he’s most excited to face the Saints’ Michael Thomas out of any receiver in the NFL. In this scenario, the former Buckeyes would meet twice a year. Hopefully, he’s equally excited to face Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, not to mention Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.
No. 8: The Arizona Cardinals select Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs
Wirfs competed in baseball, track and field, wrestling and football in high school. He’s the most athletic offensive lineman in this year’s draft class. He would fit in perfectly in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s wide-open air-raid offense, which now includes wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. All of the pieces are there except the offensive line, so Wirfs fills a big need.
No. 9: The Jacksonville Jaguars select Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown
Brown is the Paul Bunyan of this draft class. He once squatted a school-record 590 pounds. According to The Athletic, he took a taekwondo class at Auburn and learned to kick through boards while spinning in the air. He once noticed Auburn had 10 men on the field, so he sprinted into the action midplay and leveled an Ole Miss running back with a perfect tackle. The Jaguars have lost Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye in the last year, so Brown is poised to become the foundation of Jacksonville’s new-look defense.
No. 10: The Philadelphia Eagles trade up to select Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb
By the end of last season, the Eagles’ top receivers were Greg Ward Jr. and Deontay Burnett. No disrespect to those players — especially USC legend Burnett — but Carson Wentz needs some help. Here the Eagles go big and trade up for the Browns’ pick (giving up three high-round picks in the process) and jump ahead of the receiver-needy Jets and Raiders at No. 11 and No. 12. Lamb has drawn comparisons to Hopkins for his route-running ability and after-the-catch skills. You can go ahead and sign Wentz up.
No. 14: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers select offensive tackle Austin Jackson: Jackson ends up in the best possible destination, protecting Brady on the new-look Buccaneers offense. Jackson is still raw as a prospect but can move to the right side if needed. He can also contribute right away on special teams, having blocked two field goals for the Trojans.
No. 48: The New York Jets select wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.: Before coronavirus ruined everything, Pittman was training with former teammate Sam Darnold to prepare for the draft.
Given their relationship, this is, in the words of Michael Scott, a “win-win-win-win scenario”. The Jets can focus on other, more pressing needs in the first round. Darnold gets a much-needed outside target he’s already comfortable with. And Pittman gets a chance to make an impact from Day One on one of the most receiver-needy teams in the NFL. For the sake of all USC fans, please make this happen, Jets.
“T-Time” runs every other Wednesday.