SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon sat down with D'Andre Swift, the top running back prospect in the draft, to see how he's preparing for the draft during the pandemic. We also asked what it would be like to team up with Tom Brady and the Bucs. USA TODAY
There might be an even bigger mystery surrounding the 2020 NFL draft than the picks themselves.
As the league forges ahead with the annual event amid the coronavirus pandemic, coaches and general managers will face an unfamiliar format as they prepare to make their picks from home in what the NFL is calling a "fully virtual" draft. With that setup established, the burden now shifts to the teams to hammer out a plan to deal with the new landscape.
Here's the latest USA TODAY first-round projection, which includes an intriguing spot for former Iowa lineman Tristan Wirfs and an equally noteworthy absence of defensive end A.J. Epenesa:
1. Bengals — Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: While an 11th-hour shift is still within the realm of possibility, there doesn't appear to be anything standing between Burrow and his expected coronation as the top selection. All that's left is the actual pick and subsequent flood of Bengals-themed "Tiger King" and "Joe Exotic" paraphernalia. The Heisman Trophy winner is hard to find fault with as a prospect, and his phenomenal accuracy and pocket presence should help ease a transition that seems on track to be disrupted by potential offseason schedule changes.
2. Redskins — Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: Smokescreen season just isn't the same this spring. In another year, there might be more speculation that Washington could draft a quarterback in this spot. But with Ron Rivera at the helm, the Redskins don't appear to be engaged in any shenanigans as they follow the obvious path to Young, a dominant force off the edge.
3. Lions — Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: It's little wonder that most of the discussion about this pick has been centered on a hypothetical trade given that there's little to talk about if one doesn't materialize. Okudah not only checks nearly every box for a cornerback prospect, but he also steps into a massive void left by the trade sending three-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay to Philadelphia. Ultimately, there may be no compelling alternative for embattled GM Bob Quinn as he tries to make his team as competitive as possible for 2020.
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4. Giants — Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Giants: Putting Simmons into perspective in this class is difficult, as his versatility makes him a player without peer. Giants GM Dave Gettleman ultimately will have to decide how the defensive shapeshifter measures up against the first tier of offensive tackles, but Simmons possesses plenty of skills that are in short supply in New York.
5. Dolphins — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: Several selections in the top five could be described as a fait accompli, but this one might not be in that same category. The Dolphins have made their draft intentions fairly inscrutable, so maybe Tua Tagovailoa isn't a sure thing here. Though Herbert being the second quarterback taken would be the biggest stunner of the draft, it's not unfathomable that Miami would fall in love with a 6-6, 236-pound passer with a tremendously strong arm and good athleticism.
6. Chargers — Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: The sun shines on Los Angeles in this scenario. So long as the Chargers are comfortable with his medical outlook, Tagovailoa gives the franchise the rare opportunity to transition from one mainstay behind center to potentially another. And veteran Tyrod Taylor, whom the team has touted throughout the offseason, could even hold down the starting role for a while until the organization is ready to hands the reins to the rookie.
7. Panthers — Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: Assuming Simmons is off the board, it's a good bet that Carolina looks to its fronts with this pick. Brown could be a foundational piece for a defense, giving blockers fits as he creates havoc and frees up opportunities for teammates.
8. Cardinals — Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: Yes, a defense that ranked last in total yards allowed still needs reinforcements. But in sheer value, Wills provides a return that's as good or better of any option here, as his remarkable agility and sheer force are evident in almost every block.
9. Jaguars — Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: With Yannick Ngakoue still in a stalemate with Jacksonville after receiving the franchise tag, it's unclear whether this defense is facing even more change. Regardless of whether the disgruntled pass rusher is kept, Kinlaw is in line to be a disruptive presence who could help the Jaguars reload.
10. Browns — Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: Emphasizing stability over flash, Cleveland's new regime has made it clear it wants to employ a steady approach toward building its roster and supporting Baker Mayfield. That might lead them to Thomas, an experienced blocker who has already handled an assortment of pro-level pass rushers.
11. Jets — Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: How's this for a big splash along the offensive line? The 6-7, 364-pound Becton affords Sam Darnold some much-needed protection, though free-agent signing George Fant made it clear he joined Gang Green to play left tackle.
12. Raiders — CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: While Mike Mayock's analysis would have been particularly compelling this year given the circumstances surrounding the draft, the former NFL Network analyst and current Raiders GM will still provide plenty of insight with his first pick. While there's no clear pecking order for the top receivers, Lamb is the kind of compete player and aggressive competitor to whom Mayock would be drawn.
13. 49ers (from Colts) — Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: Kyle Shanahan's pre-San Francisco offenses typically featured a No. 1 wideout who was fed heavily. Grabbing Jeudy, a polished yet explosive pass catcher, would give the 49ers the go-to outside threat that has long been missing.
14. Buccaneers — Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: Tampa Bay still has plenty of work to do in order to buoy Tom Brady, so installing Wirfs as a staple at right tackle is a sensible starting point.
15. Broncos — Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: While hitching its wagon to second-year quarterback Drew Lock, Denver has quietly assembled the makings of an explosive offense. A fitting final touch would be bringing on Ruggs, whose big-play ability shines through on run-after-catch opportunities and deep throws alike.
16. Falcons — C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: All those first-round picks on offense can only do so much to cover for a secondary in disrepair. Henderson has the coverage skills and playmaking ability to be a high-level starter.
17. Cowboys — Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: A well-built, instinctive cornerback who can be a little stiff but can check bigger receivers downfield. Sound familiar? Diggs isn't in Byron Jones' class when it comes to overall athleticism, but he still could be a salve for the sting of the veteran's departure.
18. Dolphins (from Steelers) — Josh Jones, OT, Houston: Miami took an aggressive tack in free agency, spending big to bolster some of its problem areas. The outlook at left tackle, however, remains inauspicious, and Jones has the tools to be a fixture for years to come.
19. Raiders (from Bears) — Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: After Eli Apple's deal fell apart, the Raiders have been left to find a contingency plan at cornerback. Battle-tested and steady, Fulton sizes up as someone who could step into a starting role in short order.
20. Jaguars (from Rams) — Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: Time for Jacksonville to get realistic about its rebuild. Much as the returning regime might like to spur a quick turnaround by using this pick to address one of the organization's many defensive deficiencies, quick fixes won't be readily available. A talented but erratic passer, Love is worth the risk for a Jaguars team that can't be certain Gardner Minshew is its quarterback of the future.
21. Eagles — Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor: For as much confidence as executive vice president Howie Roseman has expressed in the receiving corps, hard to believe Philadelphia truly prepared to stand pat and pass up a dynamic deep target in Mims.
22. Vikings (from Bills) — K'Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: Though not as obvious of a concern as other areas on Minnesota's roster, defensive end is still a spot that warrants an early investment for the Vikings after the split with Everson Griffen.
23. Patriots — Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: Selecting a receiver in the first round in consecutive drafts would be a decidedly atypical move for Bill Belichick, who went nearly two decades in New England before breaking the seal with N'Keal Harry last year. In lieu of landing a Day 1 starter at quarterback, however, the Patriots would be wise to secure some assistance for Brady's successor.
24. Saints — Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: Even though they won't be able to convene at Dixie Brewery as planned, the Saints' decision-makers might be inclined to crack a beer from their own homes if they get to go local with Queen, an explosive force whose feel for the position should only improve with experience.
25. Vikings — A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson: Faced with a cornerback reset, Minnesota has plenty of use for Terrell, whose aggressiveness and savvy should win over Mike Zimmer.
26. Dolphins (from Texans) — Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama: Versatility is in vogue in Miami, making the multitalented McKinney a good fit for a defense due for a safety upgrade.
27. Seahawks — Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State: Still waiting on Jadeveon Clowney to decide whether he'll return next year, Seattle will need a long-term solution for its pass rush regardless of where the three-time Pro Bowler ends up.
28. Ravens — Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma: Consider this a sizable victory for Baltimore, which can take another significant step in the fortification of its front seven by bringing on a rangy tackler.
29. Titans — Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin: A Patriots-esque defender due to his versatility, Baun no doubt would come in handy to Mike Vrabel and a pass rush with room to grow.
30. Packers — Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State: Bringing on a run-after-catch dynamo in Aiyuk might provide a spark for a stagnant Green Bay receiving corps.
31. 49ers — Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU: San Francisco was too often victimized last season by poor cornerback play opposite Richard Sherman, and Gladney could help curtail the big plays.
32. Chiefs — Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn: A late bloomer, Igbinoghene stands to be the beneficiary of a heavy demand for cornerbacks among teams in the late first and early second rounds.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.