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SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon connected with top wide receiver prospect CeeDee Lamb ahead of the NFL draft. He explained why he should be the first receiver off the board and what makes this class the deepest ever.

USA TODAY

The 2020 NFL draft is nearly here. Hopefully it will dually provide relief to sports fans starved for an event that often suggests your team’s future just got brighter while its “Draft-A-Thon” element supplies bona fide relief to organizations helping to battle the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences.

Even if there’s unlikely to be any drama surrounding the top two picks, holistically this draft seems guaranteed to be one of the most unforgettable – what happens when Giants GM Dave Gettleman’s Wi-Fi crashes and the “computer folks” have to spring into action? – “Player Selection Meetings” the league has ever orchestrated.

Here’s my final stab at projecting its outcome: 

1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: Basically a fait accompli ever since the record-breaking Heisman Trophy winner led the Bayou Bengals to a national championship in January. Burrow – he’s from Athens, Ohio – would truly earn “Geauxt” status if he can lead these Bengals to the promised land, too. But given the talent Cincinnati has retained and recruited in an unusually (for them) active free agent period – not to mention the presumed presence of veteran QB Andy Dalton as a mentor – maybe an eventual Lombardi breakthrough isn’t all that far-fetched. Elite from the neck up with his ability to dissect defenses and blessed with the accuracy and intelligence to instantly exploit schematic weaknesses, perhaps Burrow is the man who can finally make the Queen City the King City.

2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: As it pertains to non-quarterbacks, probably could’t find a much better cornerstone for a rebuilding effort than Young, widely considered the best overall prospect in this draft. Coming off a Buckeyes season-single record 16½ sacks in 2019, he could step in to anchor a defensive front reverting to a 4-3 base while elevating a unit already flush with first-round talent (Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne). Often mentioned in the same breath as OSU brethren Nick Bosa, Young could have a similar impact on Washington’s defense as Bosa did on San Francisco’s a year ago.

3. Detroit Lions – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: The best defenses Matt Patricia was involved with in New England had elite corners – Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Stephon Gilmore. Okudah could bring similar ability to Motown, possibly unlocking the potential of a unit that quietly ranked in the top 10 in 2018.

4. New York Giants – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: His ridiculously strong base sits atop nifty tackle feet. And this team desperately needs a foundational piece to protect QB Daniel Jones and provide daylight for RB Saquon Barkley.

5. Miami Dolphins – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: Surprise. Maybe the Fins pick a guy here who might become their franchise quarterback … and maybe they pick a bodyguard for their future face of the franchise – whenever he arrives. As for Thomas, he pretty clearly has the goods to significantly upgrade what was arguably the league’s worst front five a year ago.

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6. Los Angeles Chargers – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: His landing spot could be this draft’s most compelling subplot. Hard to imagine a better destination than a Hollywood team seeking star power – and one that wants a mobile quarterback to guide a relatively balanced offense. The presence of veteran QB Tyrod Taylor would permit Tagovailoa any time he needs to mentally and, more important, physically settle in.

7. Carolina Panthers – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: New coach Matt Rhule’s regime will emphasize speed. Simmons also brings exceptional versatility – he played 100+ snaps at five positions last year – yet might be the perfect candidate to replace the production lost after LB Luke Kuechly’s surprise retirement.

8. Arizona Cardinals – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: Whether he’s deployed on an edge or inside – the athletic show Wirfs put on at the combine suggests he’ll be just fine at tackle – the Cards could use a stud who can keep QB Kyler Murray upright while improving the efficiency of the Air Raid offense.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: They couldn’t stop the run before parting ways with DL Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus. Brown could instantly re-solidify the front while helping unleash Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue off the corners, assuming the latter remains in Duval County.

10. Cleveland Browns – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: Doesn’t help that he had a drug test flagged at the combine. But it does help that Cleveland still desperately needs the long-awaited successor to Joe Thomas on the blind side … assuming, of course, no deal for Trent Williams comes together first. The 6-7, 364-pound Becton, who’s also freakishly nimble, is arguably this draft’s most impressive physical specimen.

11. New York Jets – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: They’d surely prefer one of the top tackle prospects to safeguard QB Sam Darnold. The big-time blockers are gone in this scenario, making it more likely the Jets break the seal on a vaunted class of receivers. Lamb averaged 21.4 yards per catch in 2019 and score 14 TDs, making him the kind of red-zone target this offense hasn’t had since WRs Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker combined for 26 scores in 2015.

12. Las Vegas Raiders – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: He runs every route, boasts 4.4 speed and piles up points (26 TD grabs since 2018). Might be the ideal guy to galvanize a solid group of pass catchers lacking a No. 1 receiver.

13. New England Patriots (from Indianapolis Colts via San Francisco 49ers) – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: The Niners, who obtained this pick from Indy in the DeForest Buckner deal, need mid-round picks. The Patriots are flush with those, more so after dealing TE Rob Gronkowski on Tuesday, but might really need quarterbacking options beyond Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. So the teams that worked out the Jimmy Garoppolo swap get together again, enabling New England to add another smart, physically gifted passer.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: Even with Gronk joining the fold, QB Tom Brady might be rooting for a tackle, pass-catching back or slot receiver here. The Bucs could also use defensive back help. But Kinlaw is too good to pass up for a promising defense that still allowed the fourth-most points in the league last season.

15. Denver Broncos – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: What better way to supercharge a blossoming offense than by injecting a player with sub-4.3 40 speed who reached the end zone for the Crimson Tide one of every four times he touched the ball?

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16. Atlanta Falcons – C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida:GM Thomas Dimitroff’s apparent desire to move up the board is one this year’s hottest pre-draft rumors. But if he can land Henderson and his premier cover skills in this spot, no need to trade.

17. Dallas Cowboys – K’Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: DeMarcus Lawrence is this defense’s leading returning sack man … and he had a meager five in 2019. Chaisson may not be ready to contribute on every down, but he might have an instant impact as a pass rush specialist.

18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers) – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: His skill set is probably the most impressive among this year’s crop of QBs. For Love, the issues are consistency and decision-making … ironically, problems shared with current Miami QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen. Giving Love a year to develop while Miami continues to invest cap space and high picks in its roster could be a winning equation. And if this doesn’t pan out? Welp, the Dolphins have two more first-rounders in 2021.

19. Raiders (from Chicago Bears) – A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson: GM Mike Mayock is still making over his young defense, one that could still use corner help. Pairing Terrell with former college teammate Trayvon Mullen seems like a good match.

20. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) – Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: In one of the selections obtained last fall for Jalen Ramsey, the Jags begin restocking at corner themselves. Stefon Diggs’ younger brother provides nice size (6-1, 205) and ball skills … kinda like Ramsey did.

21. Philadelphia Eagles – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama: Much as Philly fans want a receiver, this team might be wise to first target a player who projects as a younger version of departed Malcolm Jenkins. McKinney’s leadership and versatility could fill a void.

22. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo Bills) – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: If WR Ja’Marr Chase is No. 1 at LSU, Jefferson was 1A … and would nicely slide into Diggs’ spot to reprise a similar role alongside Adam Thielen. Jefferson’s ability to operate from the slot could make him a high-volume option for QB Kirk Cousins.

23. 49ers (from Patriots) – Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU: He isn’t the caliber of Buckner – few players are – but his explosiveness would replenish the D-line, this club’s strength on its way to Super Bowl LIV. Unlikely to face double teams, Blacklock could flash as a rookie playing alongside so many exceptional pass rushers.

24. New Orleans Saints – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: The prototype of the modern NFL linebacker, he’d add a rangy presence to the second level of a defense that otherwise isn’t lacking much. 

25. Vikings –  Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah: A tough kid whom Minnesota needs to rebuild its corner depth after shedding Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.

26. Dolphins (from Houston Texans) – Kenneth Murray, LB Oklahoma: An alpha personality who can really move ought to provide a nice lift to a defense that surrendered the most points in the league last year.

27. Seattle Seahawks – Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State: Whether or not Jadeveon Clowney returns, this pass rush (NFC-low 28 sacks in 2019) needs more juice, and Gross-Matos looks capable of manning Pete Carroll’s “LEO” position.

28. Baltimore Ravens – Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn: Their deal for Michael Brockers fell through, but Davidson could be more than a consolation prize for a defense that got steamrolled in the playoffs. Davidson couldn’t ask for a better Day 1 mentor than Calais Campbell.

29. Tennessee Titans – Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame: The class of a weak positional group, Kmet should extend the Fighting Irish’s strong tight end lineage. He projects as a more productive and versatile option than Jonnu Smith.

30. Green Bay Packers – Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State: Excellent with the ball in his hands (18.3 yards per catch last year for the Sun Devils), he might be the optimal player to supplement QB Aaron Rodgers’ top target, Davante Adams, particularly when the three-time Pro Bowler is doubled.

31. 49ers – Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan: The NFC champs might be wise to reinvest in their interior O-line with a linchpin like Ruiz before tapping into a buyer’s market of receivers to replace Emmanuel Sanders with their newfound selections.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: DC Steve Spagnuolo wants to run those NASCAR packages from his front, and Epenesa might provide a Justin Tuck-level impact while rotating with the likes of Frank Clark and Chris Jones.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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