The New York media has been reporting that Giants GM Dave Gettleman has fallen in love with Iowa tackle Trista Wirfs. Shortly after the Combine, I had written, “Wirfs showed enough athletic ability at the Combine for the Giants to feel comfortable moving him to the left side.” I’ll stand on that.
5. Miami Dolphins: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
With five picks in the first two rounds, Miami can load up in this draft. They have several options with this pick, including a quarterback, but they will most likely upgrade their offensive and defensive fronts as the rebuild continues.
Miami plays it safe, grabbing the top proven left tackle in the class. Thomas has long arms, a high football IQ, and rarely gets beat.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Herbert had a very good Senior Bowl, followed by an excellent Combine. For those that questioned his leadership, Herbert really helped himself by returning to school and leading his team to No. 6 in the rankings. He’s got prototypical size, good pre-snap read, and has a strong arm.
7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Carolina has a new head coach, Matt Rhule; and a new offensive coordinator, Joe Brady (of LSU fame). One would think that Rhule and Brady would be eager to starting adding additional weapons their offense right off the bat. However, Carolina had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Brown was the winner of the 2019 Lott IMPACT Trophy.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
Arizona has needs on both lines. Protecting last year’s number one overall pick, QB Kyler Murray, would seem to be a priority in this offseason. Wills is an excellent run blocker and an improving pass protector. He should continue to improve with good coaching.
The Jags need help on the defensive side of the ball. They could go for a corner here, but linebacker is also a need for Jacksonville. Losing Telvin Smith (retirement) and Myles Jack (season-ending injury) last year really hurt this team. Simmons’ leadership and high character will be welcomed, along with his exceptional athletic ability.
Baker Mayfield, much like Kyler Murray, has found out he’s not in Oklahoma anymore. These guys are running for their lives play-after-play. Since Cleveland needs help all across the line, they’ll certainly find the best spot to plug the raw Becton into.
11. New York Jets: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
The Jets finished 26th in the league in sacks per attempt, Epenesa would be a great addition. One way to improve that number is to improve coverage down the field. Henderson had an excellent Combine and keeps moving up the boards because of his excellent playing speed.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Las Vegas needs a No. 1 receiver, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy can do all the little things you want in a receiver. He seems to glide across the turf; has deceptive speed; shows excellent nuanced route running; possesses terrific hands; and remarkable body control. I like Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, a lot, too. I just think Jeudy is more ready to step in and be a No. 1 receiver.
13. San Francisco 49ers (from Indy): Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
The Indianapolis Colts sent the No. 13 overall selection to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
I had Ruggs going to Indy with this pick prior to the trade. The question seems is it possible Ruggs could go before Lamb? 4.27 speed can do that.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K’lavon Chaisson, OLB, LSU
Almost all other mock drafts have Tampa Bay taking an offensive tackle. However, in this draft, the top four are already off the board. That leaves Tampa in a position where they could trade down for Josh Jones.
I would be inclined to think they’d take a DE/OLB hybrid like K’lavon Chaisson. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has his defense going in the right direction and expects a leap from year one to year two. Chaisson has a lot of upside, and could learn a lot from Shaq Barrett and JPP.
15. Denver Broncos: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Denver would be thrilled to land a potential top ten pick at fifteen. Lamb has exceptional body control, strong hands, and good long speed. Lamb also takes pride in his run blocking. Denver, much like Tampa, would like to grab a tackle here. So that’s still a possibility.
16. Atlanta Falcons: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
The Falcons are getting some pressure upfront with Jarrett, McKinley, and Beasley, but not enough. They finished 28th in the league in sacks. Getting some help along the defensive line should be a priority. Gross-Matos has prototypical build with long arms, quickness, and bend.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
Dallas needs a stud upfront. We know that Kinlaw visited Dallas back at the end of February. Kinlaw is strong, athletic, and a known disruptor.
18. Miami Dolphins (from Pitt): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Playing it safe, Miami finds their quarterback still on the board at No. 18. While Tua was cleared medically at the Scouting Combine, however, team’s would prefer their own doctor’s take a look before investing too much. I think Tua will be here at No. 18, other’s think he’ll be off the board by No. 5. We’ll see. It’ll be fun to watch!
19. Las Vegas Raiders (from Chi): Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Las Vegas GM Mike Mayock went to Alabama for his first pick and grabbed Crimson Tide WR Jerry Jeudy. With their second first round pick, the Raiders grab Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs. Diggs has a great combination of size, speed, and agility. He’s not a finished product, so he’s got the potential to get better.
Jacksonville looks to rebuild the backend of their defense. McKinney gets after the ball, either in the air or on the ground. He’s got a good football IQ and takes good angles to the ball. His coverage skills make him a full time player.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
The Eagles will look to bolster their defense. LSU has been putting quality linebackers in the NFL for a number of years now. Queen can blitz, is fluid in coverage, and has shown excellent sideline-to-sideline range. He can give the Eagles a powerful presence in the middle.
22. Minnesota Vikings (from Buf): Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
Buffalo sent the 22nd overall pick, along with a fifth-round pick (No. 155 overall) and a sixth-round pick (No. 201 overall) in 2020, along with a 2021 fourth-round selection to Minnesota for WR Stefon Diggs.
The Vikings need to get better in their run defense. While Blacklock isn’t a stout anchor, he’s a quick-footed 3-tech that knows how to get in the backfield and disrupt the action.
23. New England Patriots: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
On draft day, Bill Belichick rarely does what you expect him to. What we do know is that the Patriots have a history of successfully utilizing versatile linebackers in their scheme. Baun fits that mold. He can rush the passer as easily as he can smother a tight end in coverage. He looks like a potential good fit here.
24. New Orleans Saints: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
I originally had New Orleans taking a quarterback with their first round pick: Drew Brees can’t play forever. After re-assessing their roster though I realized they don’t have an legitimate deep threat receiver on the roster, so they could so with Mims or Hamler. Higgins though would be too good to pass up here.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Antoine Winfield, S, Minnesota
Could Winfield be drafted before LSU’s Grant Delpit? It only takes one team to fall in love with a player. The Golden Gopher has a knack for always being around the ball. He understands his position and is a solid wrap up tackler. Winfield’s father, Antoine Sr., played nine seasons for the Vikings.
If the Dolphins are able to get LB Isaiah Simmons; QB Tua Tagovailoa; and RB D’Andre Swift out of this draft, they would really improve their team. Even if Tua sits on the bench for a year while he learns the in’s and out’s of being an NFL quarterback, it’d still be a good haul.
I like Swift here over Taylor or Edwards-Helaire, I think he fits better with Miami’s conservative philosophy than the other two.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
I heard Peter King say the other day that Seattle has traded their first pick eight years in a row. Sounds like there’s a trend. However, I’m not doing trades, so…
Seattle needs line help on both sides of the ball. Jackson has quick feet, good balance, and has excellent upside.
A quick, slippery, linebacker that plays fast and plays downfield. Gets good drop in coverage, closes quickly on the ball.
29. Tennessee Titans: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
Epenesa’s game is predicated on size and power. His stock dropped a little after a lack-luster Combine. Epenesa isn’t the flashiest, but he’s a dependable lunch bucket kind of player who is capable of putting up 10-12 sacks a year.
30. Green Bay Packers: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
The Packers took Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage in the first round in an attempt to shore up their defense. They could use someone to challenge for the corner spot opposite Jaire Alexander. In his three years on the field Fulton has shown he has enough talent to start at the next level.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
After getting beat by Kansas City’s speed, John Lynch adds an ultra-fast speedster to his defense. Igbinoghene is the son of two Olympic athletes and possesses his own sprinter’s speed.
With a lack of picks, San Francisco is expected to trade out of this spot.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
The rich get richer. Kansas City could go defense with this pick. But when you have a 4.38 speedster sitting there, why not give Mahomes just one more target?
The talent in this game is top notch. Each team has 7-9 players that will get serious consideration in the April draft.
Overall, Clemson has better talent on the offensive side of the ball; however, statistically, LSU has slightly out performed Clemson in 2019. A key to this game is that, between the two Tigers, Clemson has better run-pass balance. Getting the run game going for either team will be crucial for success.
On the other side of the ball, LSU has better overall talent, but statistically, Clemson has easily out performed LSU. Clemson’s defense is ranked second in the nation, only behind Ohio State. LSU’s defense is ranked 29 overall.
Amazingly, teamrankings.com, ranks Clemson seventh in terms of strength of schedule as of Jan. 9, 2020. Clemson has beaten three ranked teams: No. 12 Texas A&M in week two; No. 22 Virginia in the ACC Championship game; and No. 2 Ohio State in the CFP Playoff game.
LSU is ranked second, behind Ohio State, in strength of schedule. LSU has taken down six ranked teams: No. 9 Texas in week two; No. 7 Florida in week seven; No. 9 Auburn in week nine; No. 3 Alabama in week 11; No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship game; and No. 4 Oklahoma in the CFP Playoff game.
This is a game that should come down to basics. The team that doesn’t turn the ball over; the team than can run the ball; and the coaching staff that makes the best adjustments at halftime will win this game.
Burrow has had a magical season and nothing would be nicer than to see this young man win a championship, however, I’m going with Clemson 34-28.
Coach: Dabo Swinney
Clemson Players to watch:
**Sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence (6-5/205)
Five-star QB Trevor Lawrence is 25-0 since taking the reigns at Clemson. He won a National Championship at a true freshman.
There’s been a lot written about Lawrence’s “sophomore slump.” But, I have to tell you, it’s been hard to see. His completion percentage is up (from 65.2 to 67.5); his yardage is up (from 3,280 to 3.431); his yards per attempt are up (from 9.3 to 10.2); his touchdown passes are up (from 30 to 36); and his QB rating has also improved from last year (from 157.6 to 173.2).
*Junior RB Travis Etienne (5-10/210)
In his three years at Clemson, Etienne has averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 503 carries. He’s just 40 yards shy of 4,000 for his career. He’s also punched the ball into the endzone 61 times (six of those being on receptions).
Look for Etienne to declare for the draft sometime after the Championship game. While some have called him a scatback (in the mold of, say, Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings) with one cut shiftiness. Etienne has good vision, hits the hold extremely hard, has good acceleration thought the hole, and has shown plenty of speed in the open field.
**Sophomore CB Derion Kendrick (6-1/195)
Kendrick will be key factor in trying to slow down LSU’s red hot passing attack. He moved from wide receiver to cornerback this season and performed very well. He’s got two picks and five passes defended and has helped Clemson lead the nation in pass defense. Still, looks for LSU to try to take advantage of Kendrick’s lack of experience.
Senior MLB Isaiah Simmons (6-2/230)
How Clemson decides to use Simmons will be another key to victory. If they can keep Burrow guessing, they might be able to force a turnover or two. From his middle linebacker position, Simmons can pressure Burrow up the middle or he can drop back into zone coverage and try to disrupt the passing lanes. The consensus All-American leads Clemson in tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks. He also has three interceptions, six passes defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
*Junior WR Tee Higgins (6-4/210)
Higgins, Clemson’s big play receiver, is listed as Questionable heading into the weekend prior to the game. Media outlets report that Higgins is dealing with a head injury, and it is unknown if he will be available for the CFP National Championship against Louisiana State.
Higgins has 56 catches for 1,115 yards. He has an outstanding 19.9 yards per reception with 13 touchdowns.
Coach: Ed Orgeron
LSU Players to watch:
Senior QB Joe Burrow (6-1/216)
Just a year ago, Tua Tagovailoa was the talk of the college football world. It was a season where Tua seemed to do everything right, except win the Heisman or a National Championship.
This year, Joe Burrow is the darling of the football world. He’s won every major post-season award, including the Heisman Trophy. He’s obliterated Tua’s 2018 numbers by passing for 1,242 more yards; thrown for 12 more touchdowns; and has a passer efficiency rating of 204.60. If you recall, Tua ended the 2018 season with an outstanding efficiency rating of 199.4.
Now, all that Joe needs to do to make his season truly historic is to beat Clemson and bring a National Championship back to Baton Rouge.
Senior LB Michael Divinity (6-2/238)
Divinity has missed nine games this season with injuries and suspensions, including the last six straight on suspension for team drug policy violations. He returns to the lineup for one last game.
No one is happier about Divinity’s return than fellow linebacker K’lavon Chaisson. “So, you’ve got two great pass rushers now,” Chaisson told the media. “And even if we’re not rushing, people have got to account for us, and probably send some other players. Then watch us drop.”
“I don’t really have to worry about too much pressure on me, or worry about chip blocks,” Chaisson said. “If they chip me, then Divinity’s going to win his one-on-one regardless. I feel like he’s going to win nine times out of 10. Even though he hasn’t been in games, he’s been working and practicing.”
**Sophomore WR Ja’Marr Chase (6-1/205)
Chase won the 2019 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. Chase has 1,559 yards, which is second in the FBS, and 18 touchdowns. His counterpart, Justin Jefferson ranks third in the FBS with 1,434 yards. Jefferson also has 18 touchdown receptions. Chase is the only WR with over 100 targets to average 20 yards per reception this season.
Senior DE Rashad Lawrence (6-3/317)
LSU is tied for ninth in the nation in third down defense. That stout defense is led by senior defensive end Rashad Lawrence. LSU plays a 3-4 and likes to stack the line with 300 pounders. A key to victory for LSU will be getting off the field on third down. If they can limit Etienne and the Clemson running game they could win this game.
Senior OG Damien Lewis (6-3/322)
Lewis sustained a leg injury in the CFP games against Oklahoma, and it is unknown if he will play against Clemson in the CFP National Championship. Adrian Magee, who moved from left guard to right guard after Lewis’ injury, continued to work with the first-team at right guard during Wednesday’s drills.
2020 National Championship Game #3 Clemson vs. #1 Louisiana State University 8 p.m. ET, ESPN Mercedes-Benz Superdome New Orleans, Louisiana
College Football Playoff National Championship results:
Coming off a bye, Clemson will not overlook instate rival South Carolina on road to playoffs.
Coach: Dabo Swinney
Clemson Players to watch
*Junior RB Travis Etienne (5-10/200)
Earlier this month, Etienne broke C.J. Spiller’s record for career touchdowns (51). Currently, Etienne has 51 touchdowns on the ground and four receiving. With two more rushing touchdowns, Etienne would break (Pitt) James Conner’s ACC record for most career rushing touchdowns in conference history. Look for HC Dabo Swinney to get his playmaker the record.
Last week against Wake Forest, Etienne rushed 16 times for 121 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 37 yards. With his sixth straight 100-yard rushing performance, he took sole possession of the school record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games, surpassing five-game streaks by Kenny Flowers (1985) and Raymond Priester (1996-97). Following his performance, Etienne was named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award.
Senior OG John Simpson (6-4/330)
Simpson was recently named one of six semifinalists for the 2019 Outland Trophy. The Outland Trophy is awarded annually to the nation’s best college interior lineman on offense or defense.
Simpson has been a regular in the ACC weekly honor roll with three Offensive Lineman of the Week awards, the latest coming Nov. 11 after grading at 90 percent with four knockdowns in a 55-10 win over N.C. State. Clemson’s offense is averaging 543.1 yards per game, third nationally. It has reached 50 points in a fourth straight game for the first time in program history.
As for pass protection, Simpson is part of a line that has allowed only 12 sacks in its last 19 games. He became the first Clemson offensive lineman to score a touchdown since 2011 with a one-yard plunge against N.C. State. His senior class at Clemson is 52-3 overall the past four seasons. The Tigers have never had an Outland winner but had two semifinalists last year (defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt).
In high school, Simpson led Fort Dorchester to its first football state championship in 2015. The following winter, Simpson won the Class AAAA wrestling state championship in the 285-pound weight class.
*Junior WR Tee Higgins (6-4/210)
Higgins is one of the many potential first round picks on the Clemson Tigers offense. Heading into the final game of the regular season, Higgins has recorded 40 receptions for 799 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games. The year before, he had 59 receptions for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Higgins’ production at Clemson should come as no surprise. Physically, he is able to extend his catch radius like few others. He’s big, fast, and athletic. Averaging over 20 yards per catch, he has routinely scorched defenses with speed, acceleration, and great angles.
*Junior SLB Isaiah Simmons (6-2/230)
Simmons has been named one of five finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. The award goes to the best defensive player in college football as voted on by the FWAA All-American Committee.
One of the nation’s top linebackers and Clemson’s most prolific tacklers (74 on the season), Simmons leads the Tigers in sacks (6.0) and tackles for loss (12.0) with five pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble and one recovery. To date Simmons is one of only five FBS players credited with at least 65 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.0 sacks this season. He has had five games of eight tackles or more. No one has been on the field at Clemson more than Simmons; his 536 snaps played is 69 more (13 percent) than fellow linebacker James Skalski. Simmons is Clemson’s fourth finalist of the last five seasons and its sixth overall. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2010.
**Sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence (6-6/215)
Lawrence has exceptional arm strength, surprising mobility, and could be the number one overall draft pick in next year. The Georgia native has thrown for at least three touchdowns in six consecutive games, becoming the first player in school history to accomplish that feat.
“He’s been playing well… If I had to guess and just give my analysis of it, he’s found out how to block out the noise like he did last year. He’s not worried about what people are saying. He’s not letting anybody get inside his head,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He’s just going to work every single day and not trying to do too much, understanding that he’s got a ton of weapons around him. He’s got a lot of support, that he doesn’t have to do everything by himself. I think that’s just allowed him to go out and play with the cool and calmness that we’re used to.”
Coach: Will Muschamp
South Carolina Players to watch:
Senior DT Javon Kinlaw (6-6/302)
“Play by play; that’s all I try to do. I just try to do my job and that’s about it. (The Georgia game) was a confidence boost. We knew we could play.”
Kinlaw, a 6-6, 310-pound senior, has filled up the stat line with 31 tackles including 6.0 sacks, tied for fourth in the SEC, three quarterback hurries, a pair of fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. Kinlaw, who some NFL experts have labeled a first-round NFL draft pick, was the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance at Georgia, and was a midseason All-American by both the AP (first team) and The Athletic (second team).
“We had a big offseason with our strength coach,” Kinlaw said. “(Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning) Coach (Mark) Campbell, he really tested us mentally. More mentally than physically. He would do things to try to get us uncomfortable. He really broke us down and rebuilt us and reshaped us, especially me.”
Senior RB Tavien Feaster (5-11/221)
Former Clemson running back Tavien Feaster will get a shot against his former team, assuming he is back from a groin injury that has sidelined him since early November. Feaster transferred to South Carolina during the summer in search of more playing time and has rushed for 625 yards while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Clemson players and coaches said at the time of Feaster’s decision and again leading up to this game that they understood why Feaster left and they have nothing but respect for him.
The South Carolina running back has been invited to the East-West Shrine bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida and has accepted the invitation. That game is set for January 18, 2020.
Senior MLB T.J. Brunson (6-1/235)
In 2018, Brunson was named as one of four permanent team captains. With his athleticism to play the run, cover receivers and running backs and also get after the quarterback, it is no surprise his teammates look up to him.
Brunson was recognized by his peers with four postseason defensive awards: he shared the Joe Morrison Award as the MVP with Javon Kinlaw; he was one of three Unselfish Teammate Award winners; he garnered the Leadership Award; and he shared the Most Productive Player Award with Jaycee Horn. Brunson also received the Nutrition Award from the coaches. On the field, he led the team with a career-high 106 tackles and tied for seventh in the SEC averaging 8.2 tackles per game.
“Being healthy makes a huge difference,” he said earlier this year. “And just understanding angles and everything. Just the preparation that we’ve put in for it, I think that will all come into play and it will all mold into one. I think that will be the biggest improvement from last year.”
*Junior DE Aaron Sterling (6-1/246)
Many would call Sterling undersized, yet he’s racked up six sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss on the season. “He’s slippery. That’s what he does. He’ll be finessing them guys out there,” South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw said of Sterling. “He’s doing his thing. People always try to knock him because of his size, but his heart, he got a heart of a giant.”
“I’m just trying to help my team win, and I know getting to the quarterback can win you games,” Sterling said. “If the quarterback can’t really throw the ball and he can be affected the whole game, it’s hard for him to throw accurately.”
Senior WR Bryan Edwards (6-3/215)
Muschamp said he expects most of his injured players back for the Clemson game. That might not include star receiver Bryan Edwards, who is doubtful after a knee scope, Muschamp said. Edwards missed the Texas A&M game with swelling around a sprained meniscus.
Edwards leads the SEC with 7.1 receptions per game; and is fifth with 81.6 receiving yards per contest.
Williams-Brice Stadium –Grass Nov. 30 | Columbia, South Carolina