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MATT SANTOLERI'S FIRST ROUND GRADES

By Matt Santoleri


LSU All American quarterback Joe Burrow was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Photo by Tammy Anthony Baker

Mock drafts are like the beginning of the baseball season in spring when all you have is hope and aspirations that maybe this year might be the one.

This is the year your favorite team doesn’t reach for a prospect that could be had several picks later or figure out a reason to pass on incredible “best player available” value like so many teams did in the first round last year with DE Brian Burns and the year previous with safety Derwin James.

For some teams, they really knocked this one out of the park and for others, they left a lot to be desired.

I am going to give out my draft grades for every pick made in the first round and hand out winner awards to three teams and loser awards to three more.

No. 1 – Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow – QB – LSU Grade A+

The only thing the Bengals had to do is not let their computer system crash during this virtual mock draft to do the right thing and take the best chance in revitalizing their franchise. No-brainer pick and one that hopefully pulls them out of the AFC North basement.

No. 2 – Washington Redskins – Chase Young – EDGE- Ohio State Grade A+

Early in the night we heard that the Redskins were not moving off this pick and that made perfect sense, because the best overall player in the draft was in their lap. Young is dynamic and as pro ready as any prospect in the draft...which is dangerous on a line already filled with loads of young talent.

No. 3 – Detroit Lions – Jefferey Okudah – CB – Ohio State Grade A+

The Lions had an abysmal secondary last season and then were put in a tough position to deal their No. 1 corner in Darius Slay to Philadelphia. Cornerback was always going to be the need they needed to fill, and they got the best CB prospect since Jalen Ramsey to try and rebuild the back end of that defense.

No. 4 – New York Giants – Andrew Thomas – OT – Georgia Grade A

Hard to ding GM Dave Gettleman for drafting the safest of the tackle prospects in this year’s draft at No. 4 to help kickstart Barkley’s running attack and keep Daniel Jones upright. I wish they would have taken Wills or Wirfs who have higher ceilings, but Thomas is ready to contribute and could have been looked at as OT No. 1 on lots of boards.

No. 5 – Miami Dolphins – Tua Tagovalio – QB - Alabama Grade A

The health concerns are not to be minimized as its not just a hip issue but a track record of injuries across his career up until this point, but this is what made the tank in the 1st half of 2019 worth it. They stood pat without giving up any assets while picking their guy to be the franchise QB. Right decisions all the way around for Miami.

No. 6 – Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert – QB – Oregon Grade B+

Herbert was the third best QB prospect in this draft but I had several players on the board that were better overall prospects for the Chargers here at 6. Still, you can’t fault a team for drafting a guy they believe in at QB and with Tyrod Taylor in the fold, Herbert should be given an opportunity to learn before being thrown to the fire. Ideal situation for a player who needs a bit more developing in order to reach his potential.

No. 7 – Carolina Panthers - Derrick Brown – IDL – Auburn Grade A

Brown was my number 1 overall prospect coming into this season based off his 2018 tape and because of a run on QB’s and some lack luster testing numbers, not indictive of his skill set, Matt Rhule gets a steal at #7. If Brown reaches his full potential, then the rest of the NFC South better look out.

No. 8 – Arizona Cardinals – Isiah Simmons – LB/S – Clemson Grade A+

Isiah Simmons was my No. 4 overall prospect on the board this year and number 3 not including QBs so at 8, the Cardinals must be ecstatic. He’s the exact chess piece that defenses are looking for to guard RB’s out of the backfield, TE’s in space, and spy mobile QB’s. Love everything about this pick for Arizona even though it probably pained them to not go OT.

No. 9 – Jacksonville Jaguars – CJ Henderson – CB – Florida Grade Grade C+

The Jaguars seemed like they could have been a perfect trade back candidate here at 9 once Simmons came off the board, but they stood pat and took a prospect that has lots of question marks. Henderson has the ideal frame and athleticism to play the position at the next level, but does he have the toughness to improve on his poor tackling ability shown in college? Very high ceiling with the developable ball skills, but I have my reservations as a top 10 guy.

No. 10 – Cleveland Browns – Jedrick Wills – OT – Alabama Grade A+

Wills was my highest rated OT prospect in a class where literally any of the top 4 could be your favorite option as OT No. 1. For the Browns he gives them plug and play ability and versatility to play both LT and RT make him an obvious choice at 10.

No. 11 – New York Jets - Mehki Becton – OT- Louisville Grade A

At 6’7 and over 360 pounds Becton ran an absurdly fast 40 yd dash at 5.1 secs in February. With the athletic profile of a Jonathan Ogden, Becton has an extremely high ceiling but probably the lowest floor of any of the tackle prospects. GM Joe Douglas knows what it takes in the trenches to win a SB however and a piece to keep Darnold healthy, was top priority.

No. 12 – Las Vegas Raiders – Henry Ruggs III – WR – Alabama Grade A-

The Raiders came into the draft with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL and are walking out with a tantalizing prospect who ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any combine participant. Al Davis is somewhere smiling wide, and the team gets a player who could be the shot in the arm for the passing game they need. Questions about his down field threat projections do exist however as he wasn’t that type of weapon for the Crimson Tide in college finishing 4th for Alabama in deep targets.

No. 13 – Tampa Bay Buccaners – Tristian Wirfs – OT – Iowa Grade A+

Tampa Bay has one goal going into this draft and that was finding players to build out on this line to protect free agent addition, Tom Brady. Wirfs was my No. 2 OT in this class and here he comes off the board at 13 to the Bucs who give modest compensation to make sure they nail the draft. Great on field fit for Tampa and excellent value for GM Jason Licht.

No. 14 – San Francisco 49ers – Javon Kinlaw – DT – South Carolina Grade A

The Niners trade back a spot, collecting an extra asset in a draft in which they had a 4-round gap between picks, and still land the best player available. He’s an excellent replacement for Deforest Buckner who they traded to get this extra 1st Rd pick and will fit in nicely on that incredible defensive front. Wonder if Jeudy ever crossed their mind but still addressing WR later, we’ll get to that, gives me the confidence in loving this pick.

No. 15 – Denver Broncos – Jerry Jeudy – WR – Alabama Grade A

The Broncos, like the Browns with Wills, sit back and get an every more optimal option fall into their laps at their biggest position of need. Jeudy is the smoothest route runner of this group and presents QB Drew Lock with an exciting tandem between him and Courtland Sutton at WR, not to mention 1st Rd pick from 2019, TE Noah Fant.

No. 16 – Atlanta Falcons – AJ Terrell – CB – Clemson Grade B

They had a shot a K’Lavon Chaisson and decided to still go CB which was their biggest need going into the draft. My problem is with the prospect, as Terrell is a top 5 guy for me at CB, but the options they seemingly had to choose between. Think he could be a real difference maker for the Falcons sooner rather than later.

No. 17 – Dallas Cowboys – CeeDee Lamb – WR – Oklahoma Grade A

Like the Falcons, its tough to ignore the Cowboys passing up on a quality talent at a potentially bigger area of need but Lamb failing to 17 to begin with was dream scenario for Jerry and the Cowboys. You could see the smile on Jones’s face on the telecast at how excited he is pairing Lamb up with Cooper, Gallup, and Zeke to challenge the Eagles for the East title. Dak should have no issues earning that big contract if all parties stay healthy.

No. 18 – Miami Dolphins – Austin Jackson – OT – USC Grade C

The options here at OT for Miami were always going to be a drop off once those top 4 guys were off the board, but this felt like a bigger reach than even expected. He’s a pure LT who has developable skills to grow into something worth while but after moving Laremy Tunsil to Houston last season, this feels like a longer-term project before he’s ready to be one of Tua’s main protectors.

No. 19 – Las Vegas Raiders – Damon Arnette – CB – Ohio State Grade B

The Raiders practically nailed their biggest weaknesses this offseason with a stud WR and CB prospect to go along with a completely rebuilt LB core from Free Agency. Arnette may not be most people’s CB #4, but he was mine, and I love the competitive toughness he brings to every snap. Most people had him pegged in the 2nd Rd, but he’s got 1st Rd tape so the only reason I dinged them was Fulton and Gladney still being on the board.

No. 20 – Jacksonville Jaguars - K'Lavon Chaisson – EDGE – LSU Grade A

I love absolutely everything about this pick for the Jaguars as they seem like locks to move DE Yannick Ngakoue before the season starts. This addresses a need for the now and future while grabbing BPA at a premium position without having to trade up. Him and last years 1st Rd pick, Josh Allen, could become the leagues next dynamic pass rushing duo after Allen recorded 10.5 sacks as a rookie.

No. 21 – Philadelphia Eagles – Jalen Reagor – WR – TCU Grade B+

The draft community was more split than usual when it came to ranking and evaluating the WR talent after the Big 3 in Ruggs, Jeudy, and Lamb would leave the board. This has led many people to pan this pick wanting the safety of a prospect like Justin Jefferson or Howie to have been more aggressive in getting a failing Lamb.

I find myself in between that criticism as I would have wanted Howie to be more aggressive once the cost looked to lower for Lamb but perfectly happy with the high ceiling prospect, they choose to build Wentz’s toy chest with.

He is a burner who can take the top off the defense and has shown great development in getting quick separation and fighting through the catch point. Lamb and Jefferson will end up being very good players, but I believe Reagor will too and the fit is perfect for his potential to be reached.

No. 22 – Minnesota Vikings – Justin Jefferson – WR – LSU Grade A

After being forced to move an unhappy Stefon Diggs, the Vikings were always going to be looking WR at one of their two picks. Here at 22 they get who a lot of experts had pegged as the 4th best WR overall without moving up. Concerns about him winning against press man on the outside are valid, but he still has all the tools to be a high-quality slot WR at the very least.

No. 23 – Los Angeles Chargers – Kenneth Murray – LB – Oklahoma Grade C+

The Patriots who were the original owners of this pick collect an early 2nd and 3rd pick from the Chargers helping bride the gap between their selections. There are always guys who the majority of draft analysts fall in love with that I just don’t get all the hype with and Murray is that for me. When firing forward to stuff the run or blitz the passer Murray has shown lots of upside but he still has slower play recognition than you would want and lack of coverage ability for modern LB position that in trending in that direction. To give up that many assets instead of just taking Willie Gay Jr, Logan Wilson, or Malik Harrison at one of those picks seems rich.

No. 24 – New Orleans Saints – Caesar Ruiz – IOL- Michigan Grade B+

I’ve got zero issues with where Ruiz comes off the board as I had him likely pegged to New England if they didn’t trade back, but with a dynamic LB like Patrick Queen starring them, in the face, they went elsewhere. The Saints have never taken a LSU kid in the 1st Rd and that didn’t change here. Ruiz is the best interior lineman in the draft though so its tough to fault them too much.

No. 25 – San Francisco 49ers – Brandon Ayiuk – WR – Iowa State Grade B

With an opportunity to grab one of the top 3 WR’s in this class early on the Niners opted to take BPA with Kinlaw. While the drop off from a Jeudy to Ayiuk is steep, the cost benefit seems to have paid off for San Fran. Ayiuk could be a stud in Shanahan’s offense as he was a player with vertical ability and a RAC machine, but I just loved the fit of a bigger receiver in Denzel Mims or Tee Higgins a bit more for the Niners.

No. 26 – Green Bay Packers - Jordan Love – QB – Utah State Grade C-

Even though the Packers only gave up an additional 4th Rd pick to move up 4 spots for Love it just screams bad decision to me. Love is a polarizing prospect and at his young age and skill level having him develop behind a proven starter is the best way to reach his potential. The problem I have with this pick is the Packers just went 13-3 and the QB openly was asking for help in the skill position category. To draft his heir apparent instead just seems like a cold move which I’m sure Brett Farve would agree with.

No. 27 – Seattle Seahawks - Jordyn Brooks – LB – Texas Tech Grade D+

This was probably the biggest reach of the draft as it came with Patrick Queen still sitting there at LB and in a spot which Seattle likely could have traded back and still got their man. He’s got a solid athletic profile with an ability to attack downhill but questions about his coverage abilities at the next level with him really doing anything but attacking up on the LOS in college.

No. 28 – Baltimore Ravens – Patrick Queen – LB – LSU Grade A

How on Earth did the NFL allow the Ravens to once again knock their pick out of the park and hand the best LB not named Isiah Simmons to them at 28? Underrated pass rusher with legit 3 down abilities and range in coverage to match his instincts in the run game. Best case scenario for Baltimore and they leave the first round very happy.

No. 29 – Tennessee Titans – Isiah Wilson – OT – Georgia Grade C

The Titians probably should have addressed other areas of need here like EDGE, with Epenesa and Baun on the board but they decided to get competition in for Dennis Kelly and that RT spot. Wilson is a fine prospect but when a guy with the ceiling of Josh Jones or ready to play ability of Lucas Niang is available, he seems a bit of a reach.

No. 30 – Miami Dolphins – Noah Igbinoghene – CB – Auburn Grade C

The raw talent is surely there with Igbinoghene and if there is a fit for him to be able to learn from some of the best it surely is the Dolphins with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Really solid man defender who specialized in press man coverage. He also has some of the highest bust potential of any of the CBs taken so there is some risk in him over Fulton or Gladney.

No. 31 – Minnesota Vikings – Jeff Gladney – CB – TCU Grade B+

The Vikings had their chance to take him at 25 and even with a trade back see the best fit at CB for them on the board still. Vikings take Gladney because of their dire need at the position and his ability to play man coverage, even against bigger guys. He doesn’t shy away from contact and plays with an edge that is sure to endear him to Vikings fans very quickly.

No. 32 – Kansas City Chiefs - Clyde Edwards-Helaire – RB – LSU Grade A-

Usually I am the type to be out of RBs in the 1st Rd but at the back half of the draft with it being one of their biggest needs, how can you been upset with them attacking the position with CEH? He’s a good receiver who is more polished in his route running then you would expect and possess excellent contact balance in the run game. This surprised me to see him go as RB 1 but as my favorite RB prospect, I am nothing but happy for CEH and anxious to see how well they use him. *

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Winners: Buccaneers, Ravens, Cowboys.

Losers: Titans, Seahawks, Aaron Rogers.

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