4 big changes in Mel Kiper’s latest NFL mock draft

Alabama v Mississippi StatePhoto by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

If the Dolphins want Tua, they may have to trade up from the No. 5 pick.

Mel Kiper knows the 2020 NFL Draft really starts with the Detroit Lions.

Barring a major upset, the Bengals will select quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick. Washington will follow with can’t-miss pass rusher Chase Young at No. 2. Then? That’s where things get interesting.

Kiper’s latest mock draft has the Lions shaking up the draft order and stealing the apple of the Dolphins’ eye by making Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa the third overall pick of 2020. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be playing in Detroit, though. Here’s what Kiper had to say about how this year’s draft is shaping up.

The Lions have a ton of Tua leverage with the No. 3 pick

It might be hard to justify the Lions selecting Tagovailoa in 2020. Detroit could draft the Alabama QB and work to trade Matthew Stafford — a strategy general manager Bob Quinn denies is on his agenda — but Stafford’s massive dead cap hit ($33 million) will make that a tough pill to swallow. The Lions could also opt to keep both on the roster and bring Tagovailoa along slowly behind him before handing him the reins in 2021.

The Lions have several needs to address in this year’s draft, and quarterback isn’t really one of them. Instead, Detroit could shore up the roster elsewhere by driving up a bidding war as teams look to trade up the draft board for a quarterback.

The Chargers could move up from the sixth pick to find their Philip Rivers replacement. The Panthers could shut the door on the Cam Newton era by moving up from the No. 7 slot. The Colts could push their way to the top of the draft if they believe Jacoby Brissett’s season-ending slump was more indicative of his ceiling as a passer. Even the Dolphins could ship off second-round picks to move up from fifth to third and prevent other teams from cutting the line and drafting their guy.

All this has Kiper convinced Tagovailoa — who Kiper had previously slotted in as the fifth pick — won’t last to No. 4. That could be a boon for the Giants, who would get potential lockdown cornerback Jeff Okudah to star in their secondary.

This differs from SB Nation draft expert Dan Kadar’s mock, where Okudah goes to the Lions at No. 3 and Tagovailoa is left waiting for the Dolphins two picks later.

Kiper projects four first-round QBs in 2020 — but no Jordan Love

Burrow and Tagovailoa are both top-three picks in Kiper’s estimation, but Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert won’t be far behind. Kiper has Miami finish off Herbert’s impressive pre-draft rise by making him the fifth pick of 2020 (Kadar has him on the board slightly longer, going sixth to the Chargers). He’ll have the chance to learn the ropes under veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick before ostensibly becoming head coach Brian Flores’ top option in 2021.

That run on quarterbacks hits a dry patch from picks 6-22 before Kiper turns to the Patriots. He’s got Washington signal caller Jacob Eason as Tom Brady’s heir apparent in New England (though he’d have to beat out 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham). Eason could wind up filling an immediate role in Foxborough — the Patriots will know whether Brady is returning for a 21st season as a Patriot or departing in free agency well before the draft takes place.

That’s it for Kiper’s first-round QBs, which means mercurial Utah State passer Jordan Love would have to wait until Day 2 to hear his name called. Love had been previously slotted in at the 24th pick to the Saints in Kiper’s Jan. 24 mock and has been a regular prediction in Kadar’s drafts.

The ESPN scribe has New Orleans selecting Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene instead, but his post went live before Drew Brees made his 2020 return official. The Saints could be in the market for a franchise quarterback to develop behind him as he ventures further into his 40s.

The Vikings get a legacy pick

Minneapolis is familiar territory for the Winfield family. Antoine Winfield was a three-time Pro Bowler in nine seasons with the Vikings. His son, Antoine Winfield, Jr., was an All-Big Ten defensive back at the University of Minnesota. If Kiper’s prediction is correct, he won’t have to move very far to start his pro career.

Kiper’s mock draft slots Winfield to Minnesota with the 25th pick of the draft, revamping the Vikings’ pass defense with a versatile safety who can excel in every phase of the game. That would be a boon for a club in need of immediate, low-cost help in the face of a foreboding salary cap situation that threatens to strip Minnesota of several impact veterans.

Winfield would be the fifth defensive back off the board in Kiper’s scenario, and one of seven taken on Day 1 this spring.

Kiper thinks Justin Madubuike will be 2020’s fastest pre-draft riser

The Texas A&M defensive lineman had been a rock in the middle of the Aggie defense the last two seasons, generating 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 24 games. At 6’4 and 305 pounds, he brings good size for his position and is explosive enough to blast his way into the backfield and stop runs behind the line of scrimmage.

Despite all that, Madubuike hasn’t been much of a name in the mock draft horizon this winter. Kadar doesn’t have him as a first-rounder in his latest draft. Kiper colleague Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft also leaves him out.

Kiper believes that will change during the pre-draft process. He expects Madubuike to have a solid NFL Combine and pro day performance that would vault him into the 27th pick for a Seahawks team in need of pass-rushing help. Madubuike could either help replace Jadeveon Clowney should he leave as a free agent, or team up with the former No. 1 overall pick to help rebuild a once-fearsome defense in Seattle.