Monday Morning Draft – Week 12

Monday Morning Draft is back! This is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

Race for the No. 1 Pick:

Cincinnati Bengals:
The Bengals lost to the Steelers and are now 0-11 on the season. There is silver lining, however; Cincinnati has a strangle-hold on the No. 1-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft after the Redskins got their second win of the season. Now, the Bengals have a two-game lead on the Redskins and Dolphins with only five games left to play. Cincinnati could win a game and still land the No. 1 pick, so the team is in great position to land the future franchise quarterback of its choice. The Bengals have a new regime in place that will look to upgrade over Andy Dalton with the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. They still have some good talents on their offense and their defensive line, so they could turn things around quickly if their new quarterback hits the ground running.

Washington Redskins:
The Redskins improved to 2-9 with a win over the Lions. Washington now has little chance of landing the No. 1 pick as the Bengals are two games back with only five games remaining.

The Redskins already fired head coach Jay Gruden, but they have had some good drafts to form a core for the future with Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Dwayne Haskins, Montez Sweat, and Terry McLaurin. Thus, it would be a mistake for the organization to fire its roster-building brain trust of Bruce Allen, Doug Williams and Kyle Smith. With a top-three pick, Washington could trade down with a quarterback-needy team for a huge bounty of picks to build around Haskins.

Let’s Play Matchmaker:

This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.

Seattle Seahawks: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
The Seahawks’ secondary has struggled all year, and they need to find a true replacement for Earl Thomas. While they held the Eagles to nine points, they struggled with Zack Ertz, and safety issues have plagued them all season. Drafting a safety in the first round next April would make a lot of senes. Seattle won’t be picking high enough for LSU’s Grant Delpit, but the team could have a shot at McKinney.

McKinney is a versatile safety who can a do a lot of things for a defense. Against the pass, he can play zone in the middle of the field or rotate downfield as a free safety. This season, McKinney has shown man coverage as well. Additionally, he is a tough run defender who is fast and physical. McKinney also has an aggressive demeanor that lets him fit as the eighth man in the box. McKinney has 77 tackles with three interceptions, two sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defended in 2019. A defender like McKinney would be great for the Seahawks to improve their ability to cover in the middle of the field.

Tennessee Titans: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
The Titans could lose Jack Conklin in free agency, but even if he’s re-signed, the offensive line would be better if he moves inside to guard and they add a better edge protector. In the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Tennessee could add a tackle like Jones to provide a bookend to go with Taylor Lewan.

Jones (6-7, 310) has good size with length, athleticism and agility. He is not overpowering, but he has some functional strength to manipulate and lean on defenders. There are some parts of his technique that he could work to improve on for the pros, as sometimes he can bend a little at the waist, and in the NFL, it will hurt him to be sloppy by bending at the waist rather than the knee. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Jones looks like he could be a second-day pick. It might best for him to start out his career as a backup, but he could eventually work his way into being a starting left tackle. He has been a 4-year starter for Houston and is a well-rounded blocker.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
The Steelers have realized what we all knew before the 2018 NFL Draft: Mason Rudolph is not a capable NFL quarterback. While James Washington had a long touchdown, the receivers aside from JuJu Smith-Schuster have disappointed this year. Clearly, the receiving corps is down significantly from when the team had Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster. The 2020 NFL Draft is strong at receiver, and Pittsburgh could draft one in the second round to regain a lethal duo for 2020.

Jefferson has enjoyed a strong 2019 season, recording 75 catches for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns so far. The 6-foot-3, 192-pounder has length to go with some quickness and athleticism. He has enough speed to challenge defenses downfield and is very adept at making receptions over defenders. He is a mismatch problem and dangerous in the red zone. Jefferson has a lot of upside and looks like he is just scratching the surface of his talent. In 2018, he had 54 receptions for 875 yards and six scores. He would be a nice value pick for the Steelers in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Washington Redskins: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The Redskins beat the lowly Lions even though rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins struggled against Detroit. Terry McLaurin has been a phenomenal third-round pick, but Washington needs to get Haskins more receiving weapons. Jeudy would be a dream first-round pick for the Redskins because he could really invigorate their offense. Jeudy would give Haskins a true No. 1 receiver.

This season, Jeudy (6-1, 192) has shown he is a phenomenal route runner who consistently generates separation for his quarterback. With his superb feet, athleticism and suddenness, cornerbacks have a very difficult time running with Jeudy. The attention that Jeudy has drawn has opened things up for the other Alabama receivers to produce well for the Crimson Tide. In 2019, Jeudy has 66 receptions for 933 yards and nine touchdowns.

Chicago Bears: Shane Lemieux, G, Oregon
The Bears got a win over the struggling Giants, but Chicago continued to have issues on offense, with the run game struggling once again. David Montgomery had only 22 yards on 13 carries, with Tarik Cohen having 25 yards on six carries. Chicago’s offensive line needs to get bigger and add more size at the point of attack. This could be a plug-and-play starter with one of the Bears’ second-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Lemieux has been a solid starter at left guard for Oregon over the past few seasons, and on a line of future NFL competitors, some scouts like Lemieux the most. The 6-foot-4, 317-pounder has been a good left guard for Oregon over his career, having made 38 straight starts entering his senior year. He has been one of the top guards in the nation and Pac-12 during that time. In pass protection and run blocking, Lemieux is a well-balanced blocker who is productive in both phases with good technique. He redshirted as a freshman in 2015 prior to becoming a starter in 2016.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Solomon Kindley, G, Georgia
The Falcons were red hot going into the game against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs outplayed Atlanta with Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ defense combining to produce 35 points. The Buccaneers saw Winston produce his best season when he had a running game to support him, and in the offseason, they should add to their offensive line to provide better blocking at the point of attack. A road-grading guard like Kindley would open a lot of holes for Ronald Jones.

Kindley is having an excellent 2019 season and has a lot of buzz in the scouting community. Team sources rave about Kindley (6-4, 335), and he could end up being a special guard prospect. Kindley is a big blocker with a thick build, but area scouts are raving about the way Kindley can move and feel his movement skills alone could him a starter in the NFL. On top of Kindley being an easy mover in a big body, he has nastiness to him and really gets after defensive players. Kindley helped pave the way for D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield as Georgia’s starting left guard in 2018. He broke into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2017 and blocked well to help Georgia reach the National Championship. Kindley has talent around him and behind him to be a riser throughout the 2020 NFL Draft process. In the second round, Kindley would be a great value for Tampa Bay.

New Orleans Saints: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
The Saints were lucky that Panthers kicker Joey Slye missed multiple extra points and a chip shot field goal because Carolina outplayed New Orleans on Sunday. Kyle Allen and D.J. Moore had a lot of success against the Saints, who were without Marshon Lattimore. A corner to go across from Lattimore has been a need for New Orleans, and adding one in the first round next April would make sense.

Adebo has 33 tackles with four interceptions and 10 passes broken up in 2019. Against Northwestern in the 2019 season opener, he picked up where he left off in 2018, recording five tackles with two passes batted and an interception. However, he head an ugly game against Central Florida, getting roasted on some double moves. Adebo is an aggressive corner and will have to learn to play with more discipline. In 2018, he recorded 64 tackles with 20 passes broken up and four interceptions.

Adebo (6-1, 190) is a big corner who has cover skills and a tremendous ability to play the ball. He also has good instincts and technique. While Adebo has been superb for Stanford this season, the question for him will be if he can handle speed receivers at the next level.

Team Draft Report:

In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Cleveland Browns:
Entering the 2019 season, there was a lot of hype and excitement for the Browns to finally break out and become a playoff contender. While they have definitely upgraded their talent to become a quality NFL team, it was expecting too much too soon for them to be in the playoffs. Cleveland still has a very young team with a lot of new pieces who need time to develop, build continuity, and master the systems. Thus, the postseason breakthrough might come in 2020 or 2021.

In my latest mock 2020 NFL Draft, I have the Browns taking USC left tackle Austin Jackson, and he would be a dream pick for them. It never is easy to replace a Hall of Famer, and that is was what Cleveland is finding out in the years since losing Joe Thomas to retirement. The 2020 NFL Draft, however, could provide a solution as it looks like it will feature a strong class for offensive tackle talent. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas may not get to the Browns’ first-round pick, but Jackson could be in play along with some other options including Washington’s Trey Adams, Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Texas’ Sam Cosmi and possibly Houston’s Josh Jones. Jones might be more of a second-round option, but Cleveland could come away from 2020 with a franchise left tackle to protect Baker Mayfield.

Aside from offensive tackle, the Browns could consider taking a safety in the first round as Damarious Randall is nearing the end of his contract and Jabrill Peppers was traded away in the Odell Beckham Jr. acquisition. In the 2020 NFL Draft, there could be a some first-round safeties to consider in LSU’s Grant Delpit and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. On Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, one option could be small-school superstar Kyle Dugger from Lenoir-Rhyne. Dugger is getting a ton of love in the scouting community this fall and could be a riser after the Senior Bowl and combine as he is big and fast, so he should impress in the postseason workouts. California’s Ashtyn Davis could also figure into the equation of being a riser.

If there are’t good options available at offensive tackle or safety, the Browns could potentially address cornerback to give them a trio with Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah will probably be off the board when the Browns pick, but there could be other good options, including Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Florida’s C.J. Henderson and Stanford’s Paulson Adebo. Diggs and Adebo would be better fits given Henderson’s terrible tackling, which would not fit well for defending the Ravens, plus the Browns already have Williams, who is a tackling liability at defensive back.

While this year has been disappointing for some Browns fans dying to end their playoff drought, Cleveland is still a franchise that is headed in the right direction and the young players will get better as they gain experience. Another good draft could put the Browns in the playoffs come 2020 or 2021.

Houston Texans:
The Texans had one of the best scouting departments in the NFL under former general manager Rick Smith. They were the only team in the NFL over a 10-year span not to have a first-round pick go bust while finding some good players on Day 2 – Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham – and perhaps the two best undrafted free agents over the last decade in Arian Foster and A.J. Bouye. Smith and his scouting staff drafted a Hall of Famer in J.J. Watt outside of the top 10. They landed a franchise left tackle in Duane Brown and perhaps the best receiver in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins late in the first round. In their final draft, they acquired Deshaun Watson to give the Texans a Super Bowl window for many years to come.

Sources with the Texans told me that Bill O’Brien did not want to draft Deshaun Watson. O’Brien wanted Pat Mahomes, and if he didn’t get Mahomes, he wanted to draft Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson in the first round and go with Tom Savage as his starting quarterback in 2017. The draft room was dead silent when Smith announced he was making the deal with Cleveland to trade up for Watson. It turned out to be genius, and the Texans are very fortunate that Smith was in control at the time and not Bill O’Brien.

O’Brien won a power struggle, ousting Smith and all of the Texans’ best scouts after the 2017 season. The result has been that O’Brien is on a ego trip, managing to put the Texans in a bad hole for the next few years to come. Houston is in win-now mode with a young franchise quarterback, but O’Brien’s moves have fortified the offense and are going to lead to the Texans being in a bad position to rebuild a competent defense as they have to spend on keeping their offensive stars and don’t have picks or big money to devote to the defense.

The Texans traded their next two first-round picks for left tackle Laremy Tunsil, and that was a huge price to pay in terms of resources to rebuilding their defense. Jadeveon Clowney was a long-term piece who should have been held on to, but he was traded away. J.J. Watt is aging and prone to injury, ending up on injured reserve again to miss more than half the season for the third time in four years. Whitney Mercilus is also approaching 30 and entering free agency after this season. Tough nose tackle D.J. Reader is entering free agency, while the secondary is filled with a lot of first-round picks who were busts for the franchise that drafted them – Gareon Conley, Bradley Roby, Vernon Hargreaves. Cunningham, McKinney and safety Justin Reid are the only long term good long-term starters on the defense, and none of those three is at the most important positions of pass-rusher or cover corner.

Re-signing Mercilus, Reader and Cunningham is going to be problematic for Houston because the team has the extensions for Deshaun Watson and Tunsil looming. Obviously, the Texans have to re-sign both of them, and Watson could end up being the highest paid player in the NFL under his new contract. Tunsil will become the highest-paid left tackle, so the Texans may not have a lot of money left over to sign top free agents on defense. On top of Watson and Tunsil, the Texans are going to have make decisions on other players approaching free agency like Will Fuller, Carlos Hyde and Kenny Stills. Watt has two more years on his contract, including some expensive seasons at $15.5 and $17.5 million. That could be a difficult and painful situation for the Texans as the injuries and age could make Watt not worthy of that $33 million price tag.

In my latest mock 2020 NFL Draft, I have the Texans taking Notre Dame edge rusher Julian Okwara, and the pass rush is the biggest immediate need that will have to be addressed considering Clowney is gone, Mercilus may leave, and Watt’s age/durability issue. The pass rush and difference-makers on the defensive line is where Houston being without first-round picks for two years is really going to hurt. In the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Texans could target some players with edge-rush skills like Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara, Florida’s Jon Greenard and Florida’s Jabari Zuniga. All three of them have pass-rush potential, but they also have limitations that make them more candidates for Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft.

After a pass-rusher, running back could get consideration if Hyde is not re-signed. The 2020 NFL Draft is deep at running back, so there will be some options available for Houston with the likes of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, Florida State’s Cam Akers, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins. All of them would be scheme fits with potential three-down starting ability.

The Texans are going to be a fascinating team to watch over the next few years. They have the potential to be an elite offense given Smith’s drafting of Watson and Hopkins. However, the defense is aging and declining. O’Brien is one of the worst coaches in the NFL, so it seems very questionable that he can rebuild the team’s defense into being a unit good enough to beat the likes of the Patriots, Ravens, and Chiefs in the playoffs. Considering the lack of picks and money that the Texans will have at their disposal, they are going to have to find some diamonds in the rough to make their defense Super Bowl caliber.

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