Cynthia Frelund 2020 NFL mock draft: Who would analytics pick?

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Welcome to my first official Round 1 simulation of the 2020 draft season! My analytics-based mock is based solely on a contextual, data-driven model that aims to do one thing: maximize each team's potential to win as many games as possible in 2020. So, before you read any further, take note:

I am NOT attempting to predict or divine what teams will ACTUALLY DO on draft day.

Now, we're starting the process off a little earlier this year than last, when my one and only mock dropped in early April. So, for this particular file, the model considered current rosters and the overall market of potential free agents. How exactly? Well, here's how my mock works ...

I use my draft prospect model, explained at the top of the article linked here, to create a numerical value for each player. These ratings can be compared across years. Then I use my NFL model, which considers the market of potential free agents at each position, to create projected win-contribution metrics by player, position group and side of the ball. These get added up to forecast win totals for the season. (An example of these metrics for WRs can be found in the article linked here.) The results quantify strengths and weaknesses of current NFL rosters. My model also factors in as many known elements of coaching philosophies (of the current staffs) as possible, and of the 2020 opponents. Then my model "selects" the draft prospect that would yield the highest win total for each team in the coming season.

Here's the part that's extra: I have projections and results for all teams and the draft prospects they selected over the past 15 seasons. I examine each season's on-field results, objectively analyzing what happened while identifying the trends and strategies that led to success or failure. I also ask coaches, front office executives and even players to help me understand why results occurred. These subjective inputs help shape the results, meaning the model gets "smarter" each season.

Lastly, there are a lot of real-life efficiencies that could be realized via draft-pick trades. I can't help myself but to note them in certain cases. Still, for the sake of this particular mock, there are no trades considered. If I worked for an individual team, an analysis like this could aid in creating a strategy for identifying potential trade partners, as well as vulnerable spots where other teams are most likely to scoop up particular players.

And finally, one last last thing: I will be supplying another mock draft after the free agency frenzy, so stay tuned!

PICK

1

Chase Young - Edge

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

Due to multiple positional areas of concern, my models suggest that the fastest way for the Bengals to improve their win total in 2020 is to leverage a rich quarterback market in free agency and take the highest-rated player in the draft. Conventional statistics show that the defense allowed 6.1 yards per play last season (tied for dead last) and forced just 16 takeaways (tied for third-fewest). In terms of pressure, Cincy logged 31 sacks (tied for 26th), and only two teams ranked worse in percentage of passing plays where a defender got within a 5-foot halo of an opposing quarterback, with a disruption rate of just 19 percent. In order for presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow to add more wins than Young next season, the Bengals would have to significantly upgrade their O-line and address D-line woes, because a good defense is also a quarterback's best friend.

PICK

2

Isaiah Simmons - LB/S

School: Clemson | Year: Junior (RS)

To say that my model rates Simmons highly is a big understatement. Why? Because of his exceptional results in a wide range of situations. Simmons' versatile resume includes meaningful reps as a slot corner, safety, off-ball linebacker and edge defender, as well as some snaps as an outside corner. The Clemson product's 23 pressures on 70 pass rushes nets to a 32.9 percent pressure rate (highest in FBS last season, according to Pro Football Focus) and his 56.5 passer rating allowed in coverage was the best in the ACC amongst safeties (with at least 25 targets, per PFF). My models say Simmons would help Washington the most in terms of wins added in 2020. However, on some other teams, his win-share impact is even higher, meaning this could be an efficient trade target.

PICK

3

Derrick Brown - DT

School: Auburn | Year: Senior

The Lions' defensive front was often injured and the strategy for piecing together free agents only created the second-lowest disruption percentage (18.1) on passing plays last season. Under the assumption that high-priced edge rusher Trey Flowers will be healthy in 2020, it'd make sense to add an interior D-line presence like Brown, who projects to have an immediate impact against both the pass and run. His 35 QB pressures at Auburn last season represented the 14th-highest total among interior DL in the FBS, per Pro Football Focus.

PICK

4

Tristan Wirfs - OT

School: Iowa | Year: Junior

My model slots Wirfs as a right tackle on the Giants' roster, though he projects well on either side of the line (despite more college reps as an RT than LT). What stands out and drives his selection as my model's highest-rated offensive lineman? Wirfs combines a high probability of stopping edge pressure on passing downs and creating running-lane space on rushing downs from Day 1.

PICK

5

Joe Burrow - QB

School: LSU | Year: Senior (RS)

Burrow's film and quant profile is a ridiculous display of efficiency: most touchdown passes against the blitz last season (25) ... most TDs on deep passes (26) ... most TDs when targeting the slot (29). But my favorite note, in terms of predictive help in the context of the Dolphins? When under pressure, he averaged 11.7 yards per attempt and posted a 17:1 TD-to-INT ratio -- both tops in the FBS, per Pro Football Focus.

PICK

6

Tua Tagovailoa - QB

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

Tagovailoa's 2019 resume shows quick-pass mastery (11.4 yards per attempt on throws made in under 2.5 seconds, the best figure in the FBS) and a 15:0 TD-to-INT ratio on play-action passes (also tops in the FBS). Not to mention, over the past two seasons, he ranks first in the FBS in deep-passing efficiency (19.8 yards per attempt on throws of 20-plus air yards). The potential to optimize the use of Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler stands out, too -- pairing those two with this particular QB projects VERY well.

PICK

7

Jeff Okudah - CB

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

The Panthers have a number of defensive areas to address this offseason, but adding a corner with Okudah's profile gives them a big leg up. Last season, according to PFF, he allowed the eighth-fewest yards per target in the FBS (4.9). And over his three campaigns in Columbus, he yielded just two touchdowns on 118 targets. This will help increase the impact of second-year pass rusher Brian Burns, as well, because defensive backs and fronts work in unison.

PICK

8

CeeDee Lamb - WR

School: Oklahoma | Year: Junior

Systems and familiarity create measurable learning-curve reductions, which is why Lamb -- paired with Kyler Murray's arm and Kliff Kingsbury's game plan -- creates value that leapfrogs other significant needs. This pick suggests that the Cardinals will address their defense in free agency, since it doesn't need to become elite in order for their offense to win.

PICK

9

Javon Kinlaw - DT

School: South Carolina | Year: Senior

Adding an interior presence -- and reinforcing their fruitful 2019 first-round pick, Josh Allen -- to shore up their pressure front is the Jags' optimal win-share-earning strategy, given the team's current questions on defense. Yes, I know CB A.J. Bouye is heading to Denver. But shoring up the front at No. 9 with only one corner off the board creates the highest likelihood of addressing both needs with the highest quality picks at both positions.

PICK

10

Andrew Thomas - OT

School: Georgia | Year: Junior

In his 41 starts at Georgia, Thomas played 1,021 passing snaps and allowed just five total sacks (per PFF). I'm not going to say I spotlighted the offensive line as a problem area for the Browns ahead of last season, but if you remember me writing as much, then you aren't wrong.

PICK

11

Jedrick Wills - OT

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

This is a strong tackle class overall, as shown by the fact that this is now my third tackle off the board. In Wills' 29 starts at Alabama, PFF had him allowing just one sack. The Jets' O-line allowed 52 sacks last season (fourth-most).

PICK

12

Jerry Jeudy - WR

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

When I track Jeudy using computer vision, his route-running ability stands out the most in this entire class of exceptional receivers. Basically, when I track where he ran, it looks like it was drawn exactly from a playbook. Also, his game-speed tracking shows he can quickly navigate away from defenders when they come within 5 yards of him during his routes. To my model, his 4.45 40-yard dash is one of the more predictive figures in terms of verifying his already-high-ceiling resume, due to his game-measured speed.

PICK

13

Justin Herbert - QB

School: Oregon | Year: Senior

With the O-line and run-concept mastery the Colts already boast, the opportunity to draft a quarterback who profiles like Herbert creates more upside than downside. His 52:7 TD-to-INT ratio from a clean pocket since 2018 (PFF) sparkles. Herbert's film shows a lot of screen passes (1,213 yards since 2018, second-most among FBS quarterbacks) and attempts behind the line of scrimmage (114 in 2019, third-most in FBS). It also shows 32 drops by his receivers last season (sixth-most in FBS, per PFF). What's my main takeaway? The clean-pocket information helps show what the potential is, while the other notes give clues to the situation he was in at Oregon. And I should mention that his upside probability gets better if he doesn't need to start right away.

PICK

14

K'Lavon Chaisson - Edge

School: LSU | Year: Sophomore (RS)

No matter what happens with pending free agent Shaq Barrett, adding Chaisson to this Todd Bowles-led defense is the fastest road to wins added at pick No. 14.

PICK

15

Xavier McKinney - S

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

McKinney is multi-talented -- the type of safety who profiles well in a Vic Fangio defense that will require him to perform a number of roles. McKinney has experience playing nickel linebacker and is an effective blitzer.

PICK

16

Ross Blacklock - DT

School: TCU | Year: Junior (RS)

Contract uncertainty -- with Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn heading into free agency -- drives the bigger need here for defensive line, as opposed to corner.

PICK

17

Laviska Shenault - WR

School: Colorado | Year: Junior

With 1,060 yards after the catch since 2018 (most in the Pac-12), Shenault's ability to create first downs lands him here with Dak Prescott (and likely a veteran receiver who doesn't command a premium salary). If you want to know why my model likes him so much, go back and watch his 2018 film. This past season, nagging injuries and a new coaching staff sapped his production.

PICK

18

Mekhi Becton - OT

School: Louisville | Year: Junior

Protecting your QB assets with a 6-foot-7, 364-pounder -- who, it must be repeated, ran a 5.10 40-yard dash(!) -- is one of the better insurance policies around.

PICK

19

Patrick Queen - LB

School: LSU | Year: Junior

Addressing the middle of the defense is a quick-and-efficient way to improve a Raiders unit with a number of important needs. Queen's 4.50 speed showed up last season in the form of 12.5 tackles for loss (among other areas).

PICK

20

C.J. Henderson - CB

School: Florida | Year: Junior

Now that A.J. Bouye is on his way to Denver, Henderson would fill a huge need. The Jaguars only had 10 interceptions last season (tied for fifth-fewest).

PICK

21

Trevon Diggs - CB

School: Alabama | Year: Senior

I am sure I will hear from Eagles fans who desperately want a wide receiver here, but Diggs' size and versatility at the corner position create more wins for 2020. His 42.3 completion percentage allowed in coverage in 2019 was the second-lowest in a pass-happy SEC (according to Pro Football Focus).

PICK

22

A.J. Epenesa - Edge

School: Iowa | Year: Junior

No Big Ten pass rusher had more QB pressures in 2019 than Epenesa with 58, per PFF. Adding youth to this front creates the biggest uptick for Buffalo.

PICK

23

Henry Ruggs III - WR

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

With his 4.27 speed, Ruggs is blazing fast, even by NFL standards. This will spread out opposing defenses and significantly increase the space for shorter-depth targets to be caught, like by Julian Edelman.

PICK

24

Justin Jefferson - WR

School: LSU | Year: Junior

Despite accumulating most of his yards last season between the numbers, don't box Jefferson into being a slot receiver. He profiles to be used in many creative ways, and paired with Michael Thomas ... This could be pretty fun to watch. Jefferson had 13 touchdowns on passes of 10-plus air yards in 2019 (second-most in FBS).

PICK

25

Kristian Fulton - CB

School: LSU | Year: Senior

Addressing the back end of the defense is a key need for the Vikings. Fulton had 20 forced incompletions in 2019 at LSU (tied for most in the FBS, per PFF) and his 44.9 completion percentage allowed in coverage was a top-20 figure.

PICK

26

Yetur Gross-Matos - Edge

School: Penn State | Year: Junior

The Penn State edge rusher helps start to address a major inefficiency of the Dolphins, as they were the least disruptive defense against the pass last season, getting within a 5-foot halo of the opposing QB on just 17.6 percent of passing snaps.

PICK

27

A.J. Terrell - CB

School: Clemson | Year: Junior

Depending on how free agency nets out, the front of the defense could be a much stronger need -- or even shift things to make Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray a more optimal pick. The Seahawks tied for the second-fewest sacks last season (28) -- but remember, defensive fronts and backs win together.

PICK

28

D'Andre Swift - RB

School: Georgia | Year: Junior

The Ravens have a strong history of going "best player available," and I really like it when my model aligns with that. Baltimore relies on the ground game SO heavily -- I love the idea of reinforcing that strength by adding a truly gifted back like Swift to the RB stable.

PICK

29

Joshua Jones - OT

School: Houston | Year: Senior (RS)

Jack Conklin's probable replacement and a great value at 29th overall.

PICK

30

Brandon Aiyuk - WR

School: Arizona State | Year: Senior

Last season at Arizona State, Aiyuk racked up 710 yards after the catch (fifth-most among FBS receivers) and 378 yards after contact on receptions (second-most). Aaron Rodgers and the Packers certainly wouldn't mind adding a receiver with this kind of playmaking ability.

PICK

31

Tee Higgins - WR

School: Clemson | Year: Junior

And the award for Least Likely To Pick In Their Original Draft Slot goes to ... the Niners! San Francisco doesn't currently hold a pick in the second, third or fourth round, making this an obvious trade-down situation -- to spread out draft capital among more picks. But for the sake of this exercise, the 49ers select a receiver who can create space. Higgins' 3.7 receiving yards per route run ranked third in the FBS last season, per PFF, as did his 12 TD grabs on passes of 10-plus air yards.

PICK

32

Noah Igbinoghene - CB

School: Auburn | Year: Junior

The corner position is where my model suggests the Chiefs should focus. Picking at No. 32, it's possible that they can create more value in free agency and look elsewhere. However, with a Patrick Mahomes mega contract coming down the pike -- and given how expensive corners can be on the open market -- adding Igbinoghene could be a sound strategy. His value on special teams -- 44 kick returns for 1,199 yards and two TDs in three seasons at Auburn -- only adds to the resume.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter @cfrelund.

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