It is finished. The first-ever virtual NFL Draft is in the books – and I think in the circumstances it can be considered a great success. All picks were made without a technical hitch and we were able to see, perhaps better than in any other year, the real humanity of the draft with live reactions in the selected players homes sharing the joy with family and friends. We also got a sneak peek at the makeshift team war rooms with GM’s and Head Coaches making the picks with their families, and dogs, next to them. It was unique but I do wonder if some elements of this format will be carried through to next year. Will Roger Goodell think – “I don’t even have to leave my basement to do this!”.
Let’s get into the picks with my ten takeaways on the talking points from the 2020 NFL Draft. So much went on it could have been 100!
1. Lucky Jerry
Without a doubt one of the biggest surprises on opening night was CeeDee Lamb falling to the Cowboys at pick #17. Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy could not believe their luck. One of the top, if not the top, prospects at wideout had slipped as the Jets focused on tackle, the Raiders took Henry Ruggs III, the 49ers went for a straight replacement for DeForest Buckner (Javon Kinlaw), and the Broncos took Jerry Jeudy. The Cowboys must also have been aware that divisional rivals the Philadelphia Eagles were lurking at #21, in need of a top receiver. What better than to take a guy you never thought would fall to you and to spite a rival at the same time!
2. You sure you took the right one?
The names and careers of Jordyn Brooks and Patrick Queen are now linked, whether they or the teams they were drafted by (Brooks – Seahawks, Queen – Ravens) like it or not. Now both are great players and I would say that, ultimately, both are team fits but Brooks felt like a reach at #27. The Seahawks are known for taking athletic, instinctive players with an aggressive approach to their play. They feel they can take the more raw prospect and coach them up – hence the Brooks pick. However, with Queen still on the board (a 1-year starter so some raw aspects to his game too) he felt like the safer prospect. The Ravens, at next pick up, could not believe their luck.
Earlier in the round the Philadelphia Eagles, desperate for a top wide receiver at #21, still had premier route runner Justin Jefferson on the board but they took the speedster from TCU, Jalen Reagor. The Eagles organisation may say Reagor’s skill set better suited the need and that is true. They were crying out for someone who can help stretch the field but Reagor was beset by inconsistencies last year and as such had a solid day 2 grade against him going in to the draft. It suggested the Eagles wanted Henry Ruggs and once he was gone they switched to Reagor rather than going “best player available”. Justin Jefferson was taken the very next pick by the Minnesota Vikings. Again, two players whose production will no doubt be compared in the years to come.
3. Dolphins big night
If you have 3 picks in the first round you need to nail them, and the Dolphins are in full roster reset so opening night was of huge significance. The pick of Tua at #5 should (injuries permitting) see them as a competitive force in the years to come but their subsequent picks felt like reaches. Austin Jackson will be a great offensive tackle but to take him at #18 they must have identified him as ‘their guy’ and have had concerns about the first round run on tackles. However, looking at how it panned out, with the Arizona Cardinals able to sweep up Josh Jones in round 3, it feels like the Dolphins could have looked at another position group. Then the trade down to #30 and the selection of CB Noah Igbinoghene again felt rich. The Vikings took Jeff Gladney one spot back, and Jaylon Johnson and Trevon Diggs were both on the board. Igbinoghene is a natural athlete, with amazing family pedigree, but he is the very definition of raw talent. The Dolphins must be content that their veteran cornerback group, including newly acquired Byron Jones, will be the best teachers for their new team-mate.
4. Day 2 proves great value
The list here goes on and on: Xavier McKinney to the Giants (#36), Yetur Gross-Matos to the Panthers (#38), Josh Jones to the Cardinals (#72), Lloyd Cushenberry to the Broncos (#83), there were many examples of absolute steals during day 2.
In the years to come comparisons will be drawn between some of the reaches during day 1 versus the players taken on day 2. As an example, the Raiders selected Damon Arnette at pick #19 which felt like a switch following the Falcons taking AJ Terrell three picks earlier. I think the Raiders wanted Terrell because of the Clemson connection (they already have fellow CB Travyon Mullen on the books) and knowing they were not selecting until picks #80 and #81 they felt they had to take a cornerback. Arnette is a good prospect, but was the pick better value than Jaylon Johnson (#50 to the Bears), Trevon Diggs (#51 to the Cowboys) or Kristian Fulton (#61 to the Titans after being consistently put forward as a first round pick).
5. Quarterbacks of the future
It was noticeable that the first five QBs off the board (Burrow, Tua, Herbert, Love and Hurts) were all dual-threat, mobile, players. Any one of them has the ability to tuck it and run if needs be. The pure passers such as Jacob Eason had to sit and wait for day 3.
The two most noted selections were Jordan Love to the Packers in the first round and Jalen Hurts to the Eagles in the second round. You can only guess the reaction of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, who may have been hoping (or expecting) his side to provide him with new receivers to throw to, in order to maximise these latter stages of his career. Instead the Packers signalled that the future is very much in their minds with Love followed up by AJ Dillon (great running back but not one for high volume catches out of the backfield) in round 2 as other sides took receivers (11 across day 2).
Jalen Hurts to the Eagles in round 2 made more sense. Carson Wentz appears to be one of those injury-prone QBs who cannot complete a 16-game season fully fit. Hurts is an intriguing prospect who is perhaps the best dual-threat QB as a strong runner. I can see the possibility next season of Hurts getting some reps in games (possibly in a similar way to Taysom Hill in New Orleans). Finally it could be viewed that the best situation is for Jacob Eason with the Colts. Eason is a gunslinger with a cannon of an arm and who better to sit behind for at least 1-year than Phil Rivers. That could work out really well for Indianapolis in the long run.
6. Patriots rebuild has begun
The New England Patriots made some great picks on day 2 after trading back out of their day 1 spot. This enabled them to get the following haul: Kyle Dugger (S), Josh Uche (LB), Anfernee Jennings (EDGE) and two tight ends (Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene). This was a tremendous return. Dugger is a small School prospect from Lenoir-Rhyme. He has the elite size, speed and production you would expect to find from a more high level College team. Uche and Jennings will add firepower to the pass rush, and Asiasi and Keene are very versatile players with lots to offer. Yes, they took a kicker in round 5 but you know what, this being the Patriots, Justin Rohrwasser probably turns out to be the next Stephen Gostkowski.
7. The rich get richer
Three teams who dominated the 2019 season continued to add quality to their rosters through this draft. The Baltimore Ravens picked up linebacker Patrick Queen in round 1, running back JK Dobbins in round 2 and then their FOUR round 3 picks added depth at various positions (Justin Madibuke – DT, Devin Duvernay – WR, Malik Harrison – LB and Tyre Phillips – G). They were even able to sweep up a quality slot receiver in James Proche on day 3.
The 49ers have a magician for a General Manager. John Lynch somehow persuaded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to trade up one spot on day 1, pick up a 4th rounder in the process and still took their guy (Javon Kinlaw), a direct replacement for the loss of DeForest Buckner in free agency. In trading up to take Brandon Aiyuk at #25 Lynch has gifted Kyle Shanahan with another exciting talent on offense. Then came the cherry on the top as it emerged Lynch was able to deal with the Washington Redskins to trade for offensive tackle Trent Williams, just as veteran Joe Staley was announcing his retirement. The cost was only a 2020 5th rounder and a 2021 3rd rounder.
The current Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, took running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick of the 1st round. In doing so the Chiefs built strength on strength. The only chink in their dynamic offense last year was a top 3-down back, equally dangerous catching out of the backfield as running the rock. Later in the draft they picked up useful depth on defense (most notably linebacker Willie Gay JR and versatile defensive back L’Jarius Sneed) and a developmental tackle with an NFL-ready frame, Lucas Niang.
8. The AFC West is the one to watch
The first step to a run at a Super Bowl is to win your division. Nowhere was that more evident in this year’s draft than for the Chiefs’ AFC West Divisional rivals. It looks as though to win a divisional game next year you may need to score 40 points! All three took consecutive turns in taking dynamic offensive talent in order to be in a position to try and match Mahomes and company.
The Denver Broncos took wide receivers back to back across the first two rounds (Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler) and the Raiders beat that with 3 wideouts in their first 4 picks (Henry Ruggs, Lynn Bowden and Bryan Edwards). Meanwhile the Los Angeles Chargers were a little more balanced with their new future franchise QB, Justin Herbert and a running back in round 3 (Joshua Kelley) before turning to the receivers – slot receiver KJ Hill in round 7 could be an absolute steal.
9. Bucs are all in
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all in on a run at the Super Bowl in 2020. Fresh from securing Tom Brady and the second coming of Gronk, they concentrated early picks on either protecting him or adding to the players at his disposal. Tristan Wirfs has the versatility to play at tackle or guard and 3rd round running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn will keep opposition defenses honest. Tyler Johnson in round 5 was also a nice late pickup, to add to an already loaded wide receiver corps. Over to you Tom!
10. Finally notable mentions
It’s impossible to cover everything but here are some quickfire thoughts on a few other teams who could be on the up following the draft.
- Cincinnati Bengals – followed up the Burrow pick nicely with Tee Higgins then good help on the defense (particularly at linebacker with Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither).
- New York Giants – concentrated on some of the glaring weaknesses with 3 offensive lineman and 2 defensive backs in first 5 picks (Xavier McKinney falling to round 2 another steal).
- Arizona Cardinals – a team to watch next season. Isaiah Simmons fell into their lap on day 1 and Josh Jones at pick #72 may be the best value in the draft, although taking running back Eno Benjamin in round 7 may challenge that. An all-round great draft for them.
- Cleveland Browns – a really solid draft for them this year. Nothing flashy, concentrated on need and took some players from well-renowned College programs (Alabama and LSU). Should help steady the ship.
- Carolina Panthers – all 7 picks on defense, so its clear where Matt Rhule wanted to focus his attention. The top 3 picks: Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jeremy Chinn will become cornerstones of the Rhule Panthers. Let’s hope his confidence in the offense already on the roster is well-founded.
Hope is high again for all 32 teams following the Draft and the subsequent selections of underrated free agents. We can only trust now that over the coming weeks and months the global situation improves and the league is able to confirm the arrangements for the upcoming 2020 season, so we can see this rookie class in action!