Whenever I’m asked I always say there are two trade down scenarios that would be no brainers for me in the 2020 NFL Draft. One of those is getting picks Nos. 12 and 19 from the Las Vegas Raiders for No. 4. The other is getting picks 9 and 20 from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Well, when I was messing around with the ‘Fanspeak’ simulator this week I was offered Nos. 9 and 20 by the Jaguars. For full disclosure, I was also offered picks 13, 31 and a pair of fifth-round selections by the San Francisco 49ers.
I chose the Jaguars’ offer. To be honest, the ninth and 20th picks meant more to me than 13 and 31, and I really don’t care about adding two fifth-rounders. Up to you to decide if I made the right call.
Anyway, here’s how it turned out.
Round 1 (No. 9) — Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Weirdly, the only offensive lineman off the board in the first eight picks was Tristan Wirfs of Iowa. For reference, here is how the top eight selections went.
With CeeDee Lamb, Javon Kinlaw and Jerry Jeudy among the first eight picks I know this isn’t completely realistic. What I do think I know is that the Giants can drop all the way to No. 9 and still get an offensive tackle if that is what they want to do.
In this unlikely scenario, cornerback Jeffrey Okudah and defensive player Isaiah Simmons were both available. To be honest, sitting at No. 4 I would choose the best offensive lineman available over either of those players. So, sitting at No. 9 I made the same decision.
Round 1 (No. 20) — A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
There are questions about Epenesa’s athleticism, but he is the best edge defender/pass rusher on the board. This guy feels like a Giants/Joe Judge/Dave Gettleman kind of player, so given the opportunity I took the plunge.
Here is part of what former NFL defensive lineman Stephen White wrote for SB Nation regarding Epenesa:
I definitely believe Epenesa is worth a first-round pick, even if he isn’t the best athlete testing-wise. He has legit pass-rush moves and a plan that will work on the next level as long as he continues to improve. If he goes in the first round, it will likely be because the team that took him largely ignored the testing stuff and focused on the film, which I personally would encourage.
I don’t think he’s a finished product anyway, but his floor as a prospect is just too good to ignore.
With the way he plays, I can see Epenesa starting off slowly until he gets a feel for the quicker speed of the game in the NFL. However, a few years down the road, I can also see him being a double-digit sack guy in the right system. That will be especially true if he is comfortable playing on the left side already and won’t have to adjust to that in the league.
I will note, again, that he has excellent potential as an interior pass rusher.
If a team needs a guy to come in and be a “savior” for their defensive line right away, I’d probably advise against taking Epenesa. But if there is a team with some talent up front and is just looking to add to it, then I think most could do a lot worse than drafting Epenesa this year.
But I do think there will be enough conflict between where different teams see his value that he could drop to late in the first round, or out of the first round altogether.
Always remember, it’s not where you start, but where you finish. Barring injury, I believe Epenesa is going to be a hell of a player no matter where he is ultimately drafted. At the same time, he may be one of those guys who is perpetually underrated because he makes a lot of plays without being that flashy.
That’s OK, though — flash doesn’t win games, production does. And Epenesa should have plenty of the latter by the time his career is all said and done.
Round 2 (No. 4/36) — Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan
The player most analysts consider the best center in the draft at No. 36? Yes, please.
Joe Marino of The Draft Network writes:
A blend of size, power, mobility and technique, Ruiz projects favorably to any interior spot along the offensive line at the next level. For such a massive man, Ruiz displays outstanding mobility and he is highly effective working laterally and in space. His versatility extends beyond just the ability to play any spot along the interior, he has the attributes needed to thrive in both gap and zone blocking run schemes. Ruiz does have room to grow with some timing elements in pass protection and he could benefit from dropping some bad weight on his frame. Ruiz projects as an early impact starter in the NFL with the upside to become the pillar of an NFL offensive line for years to come.
Round 3 (No. 35/99) — Amik Robertson, CB, Louisiana Tech
The way this draft worked out there wasn’t a “bang the table because I have to have that guy” player sitting at No. 99. Why did I choose Robertson? There are a couple of reasons.
One is because of the Giants’ need, as I ran this simulation, for a pure slot corner. Grant Haley is a try-hard guy who is an excellent run defender. Problem is, he can’t cover anybody. Corey Ballentine is an athletic outside cornerback miscast in the slot.
Right now, the Giants don’t appear to have a reliable answer in the slot. The 5-foot-9, 172-pound Robertson is a pure slot.
The other is because, to be honest, I can’t simply pick the same players every week. One of my goals is to offer scenarios and create discussion. This is a player at a position of need that we really haven’t discussed.
The Draft Network’s Marino writes:
Amik Robertson has many of the attributes needed to shine as a starting nickel corner in the NFL where his feisty competitive demeanor, anticipation, physicality, run defense and ball skills would truly shine and his lack of size won’t be an issue. Robertson offers versatility in man and zone coverage but there are size and speed restrictions that present some matchup challenges if tasked with tight ends or bigger slots. Robertson has that junkyard dog mentality when competing and his ball skills are outstanding, making his tape is easy to love. His style of play could lead to some injury issues but he should carve out a prominent slot role early in his career.
Round 4 (No. 4/110) — Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn
I couldn’t help myself. It seems like whenever Tega Wanogho is available this deep into a mock draft simulation, I jump. Why wouldn’t I for a potential 2021 replacement for Nate Solder?
Round 5 (No. 4/150) — Quintez Cephus, WR, Wisconsin
Remember what I said about wanting to give you different names to discuss? Well, that’s a big part of the reason for the Cephus selection here. I was hoping to coming out of the draft with a wide receiver, and Cephus was in range here. Talent-wise, this pick is justifiable. There are off-the-field concerns, though, and again in an effort to highlight and give you a chance to discuss different players I selected Cephus here.
Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs writes:
Quintez Cephus is one of the more undervalued receivers in the class of 2020. Cephus can win from the outside, he can win from the slot and if he played in about 100 other offenses in college football he’d have had drastically better production. Significant off-field allegations (since cleared) kept him off the field in 2018 but Cephus bounced back with a strong 2019 campaign, showing effective releases, strong hands and an assertive mentality with the ball in the air. Potential starter.
With a rookie head coach, would you gamble on a player with an off-the-field red flag?