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Draft Day: A Data-Driven Look at Where Top Prospects Could Land

By: Stats Perform

Stats Perform’s simulation mock draft is unlike any of the traditional ones shown elsewhere.

Instead of attempting to predict each pick, we used a variety of metrics to choose players that each team should select. Instead of using NFL scouting combine results and medical records, we weighed individual performance statistics with current roster rankings to translate how a potential draft pick will fit with teams throughout the first round.

Additionally, we’ve implemented many of our advanced analytics such as those that quantify defenders’ performances at shedding blocks and disrupting the play design, as well as offensive linemen’s pass-blocking and run-blocking performances.

Well, the commissioner has popped on-screen and let us know that the 2020 NFL draft is underway:

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow

1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU, 6-4, 216, Sr.

Needs: QB, OG, MLB

This pick may as well have been set in stone since the end of the 2019 season ended – and for good reason. Burrow’s Well Thrown Rate of 82.4% was third in all of Power 5 and tops among any QBs with an average attempt of over 8.5 air yards. (Well Thrown Rate – the rate of balls being thrown accurately to total pass attempts) The Bengals get the best player at the most important position and expect him to start Week 1. Unfortunately for Burrow, their offensive line is projected to be last in the league in pass protection, but they could address their deficiencies at guard as early as Round 2 and they’ll get 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams back from injury.

2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State, 6-5, 265, Jr.

Needs: TE, OG, WR, CB

Another virtual lock for months, no player in college football had more than Young’s 57 total QB pressures despite missing two games in the regular season. His 36.3% Pressure Rate was topped by only one Power 5 player (who will be highlighted later in the draft). (Pressure Rate – pressures per pass rush opportunity) It’s not a position of need, but Young has the potential to jump in and be among the best defensive ends in the NFL in Year 1 – and you don’t pass on that. Washington plays in a division where all the teams have offensive lines in the top half of the league, so a defensive line featuring Young, Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Da’Ron Payne, Tim Settle, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan is enough to keep even the best offensive lines on their heels.

3. Detroit Lions – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State, 6-1, 200, Jr.

Needs: CB, EDGE, WR, RB, OG, QB

Okudah is clearly the most talented in a deep cornerback draft, but his numbers weren’t necessarily elite last season. He was comfortably above average in a number of categories (Burn%, Big Play%, Burn Yards Per Target), but his only elite numbers came in the form of passes defended, where he finished ninth among all Power 5 cornerbacks. The Lions were already thin at CB before trading Darius Slay and signing Desmond Trufant, so it’s a no-brainer getting the best corner in the draft at a position of need. They could trade down from this pick and get Okudah later, but in a mock without trades, they take him here.

4. New York Giants – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa, 6-5, 322, Jr.

Needs: C, OT, CB, EDGE

There’s a lot of debate on which offensive lineman will be first off the board, but our money is on Wirfs. Wirfs made waves with his absurd combine results, but his 3.6% Pressure Allowed Rate was tops among all right tackles and shows his skills translate to the field. (Pressure Allowed Rate – pressures allowed per pass blocking opportunity) Wirfs slots in immediately at right tackle, or he competes with Nate Solder at left tackle and the Giants use Nick Gates – who impressed in limited snaps in 2019 – on the right side. A right side of Wirfs and Kevin Zeitler would open up some gaping holes for Saquon Barkley.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13)

5. Miami Dolphins – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama, 6-1, 218, Jr.

Needs: QB, OT, OG, DT, S

The injury concerns are noted, but we just cannot ignore Tagovailoa’s on-field success in 2019. His ability to find open receivers downfield and reliably hit them on target led Tagovailoa to a second-best 74.2% xComp% among Power 5 quarterbacks. (xComp% – the expected rate of completing passes based on Well Thrown Rate and whether or not the passer is targeting open receivers) The Dolphins’ offensive line is currently projected for 30th in pass blocking by Stats Perform. But with two more first-rounders and a whopping 14 total picks, they should find a tackle and at least two interior offensive linemen to help out Tagovailoa.

6. Los Angeles Chargers – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia, 6-5, 320, Jr.

Needs: OT, QB, OG, DT, RB, WR

There is a lot of speculation that the Chargers will look for a QB here, but with Tagovailoa off the board, we think they are better off solidifying their offensive line. Thomas may not have the physical upside of someone like Mekhi Becton, but he brings consistent results. The Chargers have upgraded the offensive line with the additions of Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga, but their current starter at left tackle is projected to be Trent Scott – who was statistically abysmal in 2019. Some reliability on the blind side is much needed for whoever ends up starting for the Chargers in Week 1.

7. Carolina Panthers – Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson, 6-4, 230, Jr.

Needs: OG, CB, MLB, DT, S, EDGE

Simmons is the epitome of versatility. He’s listed as a linebacker but was one of six players in the country last season that played 100 or more snaps at four different positions (CB, FS, OLB, EDGE). He is an incredibly efficient tackler (only five missed tackles to his 99 total tackles) and very good in coverage (His 44.7 Burn Allow% ranked third among all LBs). (Burn Allow % – burns Allowed per defensive target) The Panthers lost a lot of quality players this offseason and have holes all over the defense. Simmons gives first-year head coach Matt Rhule a bevy of options on defense.

8. Arizona Cardinals – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama, 6-5, 320, Jr.

Needs: OT, EDGE, DT, C

Wills was the top right tackle in Power 5 in run blocking, giving up a disruption on only 2.9% of his 272 run snaps. His Pass Protection Win Rate of 92.2% isn’t as elite, but it is still well above average among right tackles. (Pass Protection Win Rate – pressures denied per pass blocking opportunity) The Cardinals’ offensive line was a huge weakness heading into 2019, and it remains an issue in 2020. Right tackle requires an immediate fix, and after filling their need for a receiver through the DeAndre Hopkins trade, the Cardinals can spend a pick on giving Kyler Murray more protection.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn, 6-5, 318, Sr.

Needs: CB, DT, OG, OT, WR, EDGE

With a disruption on almost 25% of run plays and a pressure on almost 20% of pass plays against the elite SEC, Brown has proven how disruptive he can be in any situation. (Run Disruption – disrupting the design of the run play by beating a blocker) After losing Marcell Dareus and Calais Campbell this offseason, the Jags’ defensive interior is rather thin. Brown is a difference-maker, and slotting him next to Taven Bryan gives the Jags an interior to build on.

10. Cleveland Browns – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville, 6-7, 369, Jr.

Needs: OT, CB, WR

Becton used his behemoth size to become a top-10 Power 5 left tackle in pass protection. His Run Block Win Rate was slightly below average in 2019, but he still brings the ability to deliver highlight block after highlight block at the next level. (Run Block Win Rate – measures ability to stop Run Disruptions) The Browns’ offensive line has three spots filled with good or great players, but left tackle is not one of them. Becton can move some bodies around, and adding him should shore up a great set of blockers for Nick Chubb.

Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (4)

11. New York Jets – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama, 6-1, 192, Jr.

Needs: OT, EDGE, WR

The first to go among an elite wide receiver class, Jeudy has the chance to be a true go-to receiver at the next level. He was fifth in Power 5 in his ability to get open (87% of targets), which made him the only player in the top 10 of that category to have an average target length over nine yards. By Stats Perform’s metrics, the Jets head into 2020 projected to have the fifth-worst receiving corps in the NFL. A healthy Quincy Enunwa would help, but so would adding our favorite receiver in this draft class.

12. Las Vegas Raiders – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma, 6-2, 189, Jr.

Needs: WR, DT, OT, EDGE

Lamb had an incredible season catching passes in his own right. His 17 Burn Yards Per Target (Burn – a productive play for the offense, regardless of QB accuracy) were the best among all draft-eligible receivers and his 17 Burn Adjusted TDs (Burns that are also TDs) were third best – and he did it all without dropping a single pass in 92 targets. The Raiders patched together a receivers group in 2019, but with a full season of Tyrell WiIlliams, Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller, Jason Witten and Lamb, the Raiders could have a top-10 group.

13. San Francisco 49ers – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina, 6-6, 310, Sr.

Needs: DT, OG, CB

Kinlaw was the fourth-most efficient pass rusher among interior linemen this past season, putting pressure on the quarterback on just under 20% of his pass rush attempts. After trading DeForest Buckner, the Niners draft his replacement using the pick they acquired. Their edge rush is set, and adding another pass-rush threat on the interior would be frightening for opposing quarterbacks.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Austin Jackson, OT, USC, 6-6, 310, Jr.

Needs: OT, S, RB

There are other quality tackles on the board for the Bucs at this spot, but no one outperformed Jackson in pass protection this past season. He allowed just five pressures in 306 pass snaps protecting his true freshman quarterback at USC. The Bucs would draft Jackson with an eye on moving him to right tackle. Not an easy transition, but it’s an area of need and he can sit behind Joe Haeg for a year while he fine-tunes his protection to NFL speed.

Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III

15. Denver Broncos – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama, 6-0, 190, Jr.  

Needs: WR, DT

The second Alabama wideout in the first 15 picks, Ruggs can bring big-play capabilities to Denver. His Burn Rate (58.3%) and his Burn Yards Per Target (16.8) were both in the top four among Power 5 receivers. The Broncos are missing a receiver who can outrun the defense, and Ruggs is that player. They have Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant, but neither is all that proficient at getting open, and both rely more on winning at the point of the catch than getting a few yards of distance between them and defenders. Ruggs would complete this receiving corps.

16. Atlanta Falcons – CJ Henderson, CB, Florida, 6-1, 202, Jr.

Needs: CB, OG, MLB, EDGE, DT

Despite playing in only nine games during his junior season due to an ankle injury, Henderson used his elite closing speed to lead the Gators in pass breakups. Dan Quinn likes big corners and a lot of speed on defense. Henderson checks both of those boxes, and he should get immediate snaps opposite Isaiah Oliver while Kendall Sheffield moves into the slot full time.

17. Dallas Cowboys – Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah, 6-0, 195, Jr.

Needs: DT, TE, C, CB, WR

The two-time first-team All-Pac-12 corner limited big plays at an elite level in 2019. Johnson’s 24.4% Big Play Allowed Rate was good enough for seventh among all Power 5 corners and second in the Pac-12. The Cowboys lost Byron Jones in free agency, but they’re still just one corner away from having a top pass defense again. Drafting Johnson allows Jourdan Lewis to move back into the slot, and his ability to prevent big plays fits in well with a team that will ask him to play a lot of single-high man coverage.

18. Miami Dolphins – Josh Jones, OT, Houston, 6-7, 310, Sr.

Needs: OT, OG, DT, S

Jones decided to play college football at local University of Houston, starting his team’s first nine games in 2019 before his season was ultimately cut short by a knee injury. Jones’ 96.8% Pass Protection Win Rate was second among all left tackles in the Group of Five conferences. The Dolphins head into 2020 with the fourth-worst projected offensive line, so they need an infusion of talent.

19. Las Vegas Raiders – Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU, 6-0, 200, Sr.

Needs: DT, OT, EDGE

Fulton played well as a starter for national champion LSU, garnering AP second-team All-SEC honors. Corner isn’t the biggest need for the Raiders, but they’ve rebuilt their defense into one projected to be in the top half of the league in 2020. Fulton has a few flaws in his game that were on display in the national championship, but he’s getting drafted into a system that can ease him into being a long-term starter opposite Trayvon Mullen.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama, 6-2, 207, Sr.

Needs: CB, OG, OT, WR

Using his elite size and athleticism, Diggs allowed open receivers at a rate 29% lower than the average Power 5 cornerback. The Jags’ depth chart at corner is pretty sad. D.J. Hayden is great as a slot corner, while the jury is still out on Tre Herndon on the outside. Diggs isn’t Jalen Ramsey, but he can play immediately on a team that needs him to.

LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2)

21. Philadelphia Eagles – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU, 6-3, 192, Jr.

Needs: WR, CB, OT

Jefferson led all Power 5 receivers in Big Plays (71.8) and Burns (100), and he finished second in Burn Adjusted Touchdowns (20) and Burn Yards (1,723.5). (TDs and passes of 19 or more yards are full Big Plays, Burns less than 20 yards are a sliding scale between 1 and 0) The Eagles head into 2020 with arguably the worst set of receivers in the NFL, but they get a good one here in Jefferson.

22. Minnesota Vikings – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson, 6-4, 215, Jr.

Needs: CB, WR, OG, EDGE, DT

In a stacked receiver class, Higgins performed comparably with the other four receivers we believe should be drafted in the first round. Higgins dominated ACC competition in Stats Perform’s receiver metrics, ranking No. 1 in Burn Adjusted Touchdowns (15), Big Play Rate (57.6%), Burn Yards Per Target (15.8) and Open Rate on intended targets (83.2%). (Open Rate – rate of being open on targeted passes) The Vikings get their replacement for Stefon Diggs, and Kirk Cousins gets a guy who can get himself open down the field on all those play-action passes.

23. New England Patriots – A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa, 6-6, 280, Jr.

Needs: EDGE, DT, TE, OT, WR, QB

The second-team AP All-American produced two straight seasons with double-digit sacks and was equally impressive against the run as he tied for fourth among Big Ten edge defenders in Run Disruptions with 23. Epenesa is a big defender who can play a multitude of roles in the defense. He can play outside on early downs and hold his own against the run, and then kick inside in sub-packages. The Pats haven’t found a replacement for Trey Flowers yet, but Epenesa could be that guy.

24. New Orleans Saints – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon, 6-6, 237, Sr.

Needs: QB, WR, S

The metrics don’t blow away the competition, but we felt that this pick was between Herbert and Jordan Love. Herbert outperformed Love in the majority of our passing metrics such as Well Thrown Rate, xComp% and Open Target Rate (rate of targeting an open receiver). Sean Payton has a lot of fun drawing up plays that tailor to Taysom Hill’s athleticism, and Herbert shares a lot of that athleticism. He won’t play special teams as Hill does, but he gets a chance to learn from Drew Brees for a few years before stepping in as his replacement – or at least competing with Hill for the job.

25. Minnesota Vikings – Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State, 6-5, 264, Jr.

Needs: CB, OG, EDGE, DT

Not only was Gross-Matos an effective pass rusher with 9.5 sacks in 2019, but he was also the best edge defender against the run in the Big Ten with a 16.1% Run Disruption Rate, which was a whole 1.7% higher than the next-best edge defender. The left side of the Vikings’ line is occupied by a top-20 edge player in Danielle Hunter, but the right side needs work now that Everson Griffen is gone. Gross-Matos is the big type of defensive end the Vikings love.

26. Miami Dolphins – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama, 6-1, 200, Jr.

Needs: OT, OG, DT, S

The first-team All-SEC selection ended 2019 as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back. Not only did he lead Alabama in tackles, but McKinney also limited the big play in coverage by allowing the fourth-fewest number of Burn Yards Per Target among all Power 5 free safeties (7.2). The Dolphins have overhauled their secondary in the last few years, but they’re still missing the safety that caps Brian Flores’ defense. They find him here, and the Dolphins’ secondary goes from being a laughing stock at the start of 2019 to a formidable unit heading into 2020.

Michigan linebacker Josh Uche (6)

27. Seattle Seahawks – Josh Uche, EDGE, Michigan, 6-2, 250, Sr.

Needs: EDGE, DT, OG

Uche’s 36.4% Pressure Rate ranked first among all Power 5 edge rushers in 2019. The highest projected pressure rate for the Seahawks’ current cast of edge rushers belongs to Shaquem Griffin at 12.3. After losing Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah, the pass rush is razor-thin, and while Uche is more of a situational pass rusher for now, he can learn from the ageless Bruce Irvin. The Seahawks get an explosive third-down weapon, with their eye on turning him into their next great strongside linebacker.

28. Baltimore Ravens – Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma, 6-2, 234, Jr.

Needs: MLB, EDGE, OG

Murray ranked first among all Power 5 linebackers in Run Disruption Rate (18%) in 2019. On a rebuilt Ravens defensive line, he’ll have ample opportunity to fly around and make tackles. Baltimore has a fairly complete roster, so filling one of its few needs with a playmaker is a classic Ravens pick.

29. Tennessee Titans – Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU, 6-0, 183, Sr.

Needs: EDGE, CB, DT, OT, RB

The second-team All-American stood atop almost every major statistical category among cornerbacks in the Big 12. Gladney ranked first in Big Play Allowed% (27.4), Burn Allowed% (35.7) and Open Allowed% (35.7), and second in Burn Yards Allowed Per Target (8.3). The Titans let Logan Ryan walk this offseason, and Gladney takes over for him right away. He’ll help a pass defense we currently project to be ranked 23rd in the NFL.

Missouri defensive lineman Jordan Elliott (1)

30. Green Bay Packers – Jordan Elliott, DT, Missouri, 6-4, 315, Jr.

Needs: OG, DT, WR, TE

One of Stats Perform’s top interior defenders, the second-team AP All-American defended the run and put pressure on the quarterback at elite levels in 2019. His 48 Run Disruptions and 28 QB pressures ranked second and third, respectively, among all Power 5 interior linemen. The Packers have one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the NFL, but their interior defenders not named Kenny Clark have been subpar. Slotting Elliott in next to Clark will give the Packers the weapons to create even more mismatches. A receiver or offensive lineman is another option here, but with the strength of those positions in the draft, there should be options when the Packers pick next.

31. San Francisco 49ers – Lloyd Cushenberry III, C, LSU, 6-4, 315, Jr.

Needs: OG, CB, DT

A stalwart of the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, Cushenberry earned first-team All-SEC honors during LSU’s’ 2019 national title run. His Run Blocking Win% of 94.9 ranked first among all SEC centers, and he should thrive on a team that likes to pound the ball. The 49ers are set at tackle, but their interior is thin, and selecting Cushenberry gives them a long-term solution at center.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama, 6-5, 252, Sr.

Needs: OT, OG, MLB, EDGE

After missing significant time with injuries in 2017 and 2018, Lewis finished his 2019 season on the coaches’ All-SEC second-team. His 31% Pressure Rate ranked third among all Power 5 edge rushers and No. 1 in the SEC. Like Uche, Lewis is a situational rusher at the moment, and the Chiefs found success in the past with another SEC pass-rush specialist when they took Dee Ford out of Auburn in the first round in 2014.

Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Stats Perform’s Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads.