By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk
From the record-breaking television ratings to the lack of technical issues, the NFL’s first virtual draft was an undoubted success (unless you’re a Green Bay fan). Like a bizarre episode of Through The Keyhole, we also saw inside the homes of the star players, and the makeshift war rooms of the general managers and coaches: Kliff Kingsbury’s huge villa, Dave Gettleman’s basement and Mike Vrabel’s total madhouse. As I alluded to earlier this week, some teams left us with more questions than answers but here’s a quick round-up on who ‘won’ the 2020 NFL draft.
Most analysts concur that Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh knocked this draft out of the ballpark, with A and A+ grades being handed out like candy. They made their 10 picks count with good value on both sides of the ball and didn’t seem to reach. Instead, they waited for the likes of LSU linebacker Patrick Queen (#28) to fall into their laps, as well as Ohio State running back JK Dobbins and speedster WR Devin Duvernay on Day 2.
Queen should make an impact in the heart of the defence with his sideline-to-sideline speed, especially after Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left in free agency. Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike also had many a pundit purring, with the defensive tackle getting snaffled at pick #71 despite being widely predicted to go in the 30s.
Alongside Mark Ingram, Dobbins should give yet more oomph to their league-leading rushing offense, while linebacker Malik Harrison and guard Ben Bredeson add depth across the board. Baltimore also picked up a couple of late steals, with receiver James Proche, who logged almost 4,000 receiving yards and 39 receiving touchdowns over four seasons at SMU, and Iowa safety Geno Stone, rated by both Move the Sticks’ Daniel Jeremiah and PFF’s Mike Renner as the best value pick of the final round.
Baltimore were exceptional last season and didn’t have many needs. But even so, they improved even more over the weekend, staying neck and neck with the Chiefs as the team to beat in the AFC Conference.
In short: they smashed it.
When drafting, the big question that faces every team now and again is whether you go for the best player available or fill your biggest need. The Cowboys entered the 2020 draft with the league’s top offense and obvious needs in defence, yet opted to spend their first-round pick on Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Bullseye.
Lounging around on his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar super-yacht, team owner/president Jerry Jones must have been laughing into his champagne cocktail when he picked Lamb at #17. Arguably the best receiver in this loaded class, there was no way he should have been the third off the board. With the ‘Boys having signed Amari Cooper to a $100 million extension, Lamb probably wasn’t on the radar but taking him was a no-brainer: Christmas came early in Texas. Preventing their receiver-needy rivals in Philadelphia from securing his run-after-catch abilities was just the icing on the cake.
Only then did Dallas move on to address their two main areas of need, cornerback and defensive tackle, and they did so with great value picks. Stefon’s lil’ brother Trevon Diggs, mocked by many to go (to Dallas, as it happens) on Day 1, landed in the second round to help fill the void left by CB Byron Jones. Oklahoma’s huge defensive lineman Neville Gallimore also came a day later than many expected. Steals? All three picks border on daylight robbery.
Rewriting the draft textbook, the Cowboys also picked up Utah edge rusher Bradlee Anae with pick #179 (90 picks later than predicted by Mel Kiper of EPSN). I saw a comparison with Maxx Crosby recently, which means he should be a viable replacement for the departed Robert Quinn. They also snatched up another corner in Reggie Robinson, adding depth in a weak spot, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, arguably this year’s top center. If he can stay healthy, he could step straight in for the retired Travis Frederick.
After a disappointing campaign in which they didn’t seem to want to win the NFC East, despite the stuttering Eagles handing them chance after chance, Dallas are shaping up nicely to boss the division in 2020. Jones can now start to focus on getting Dak Prescott’s deal inked. With a mouth-watering trio of targets at his disposal – Lamb, Cooper and Michael Gallup – it’s time to keep the franchise QB (and his bank manager) happy.
Vikes GM Rick Spielman is probably still resting up after selecting a massive 15 players in the 2020 NFL Draft, the biggest haul since the seven-round format was introduced in 1994.
He did a great job addressing the team’s needs, particularly in the first three rounds. To replace wide receiver Stefon Diggs, he used the 22nd pick to take LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Jefferson can play out wide or in the slot, and should give Kirk Cousins a tasty option alongside Adam Thielen, if his 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns last year are anything to go by.
They then moved down a few spots, giving #25 to the 49ers in return for the 31st and two later selections, but still found another would-be star in TCU corner Jeff Gladney. Minnesota then double-dipped to take Cameron Dantzler (#89) to boost a depleted cornerback room missing Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, while Ezra Cleveland should add useful depth at left tackle.
A total of 11 picks on Day 3 brought several more decent pick-ups, including James Lynch, a defensive tackle from Baylor, Oregon LB Troy Dye and defensive end Kenny Willekes.
Boom. Job done.
Who knows if any trade offers were received and rejected but with the first pick in the draft, the Bengals held fast to secure their quarterback of the future and their franchise poster boy.
Joe Burrow was the obvious choice, having just completed the best college football season by anyone, ever. He starts from the get-go as the incumbent QB, Andy Dalton, was finally released (while I was writing this article) after a lack of trade interest. If Burrow’s success at LSU is any guide, the 2019 Heisman winner could eventually end Cincy’s three-decade playoff win drought and have the Who Dey Nation eating out of his hands. I bet they’re already planning a statue outside Paul Brown Stadium.
After last season’s struggles, just picking the Ohio native makes Cincinnati a winner in this draft. Admittedly, he can’t reverse their fortunes alone, so it’s just as well de facto GM Duke Tobin and HC Zac Taylor kept their foot on the gas. Mirroring the 2011 draft when they picked AJ Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds, they paired Burrow with WR Tee Higgins with the first pick of Day 2. The 6’4” jump-ball specialist notched 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Clemson, and has been compared to Green, his new teammate (and favourite player). Higgins may even replace the franchise-tagged wideout in time.
With the only slight gripe being a (misguided) belief that their O-line didn’t need help, three of their five remaining selections were used to beef up their underperforming linebacker corps. Cincinnati opened Round 3 with Logan Wilson, who excels in pass coverage, while Akeem Davis-Gaither is a one-man highlight reel who might see some special teams action early doors. The Bengals chose a third linebacker in Purdue’s Markus Bailey with their final pick. Touted to break the Top 100 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last season, Bailey may yet prove to be a real find, if he can stay healthy.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Let’s face it. Before Cincinnati was even on the clock, Tampa had probably won the offseason, having replaced turnover merchant Jameis Winston with GOAT Tom Brady, and then enticed TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement for one last hurrah alongside his ol’ pal. But the Buccs complemented their trade prowess with a strong draft, focusing on giving their new (but old) QB some much-needed O-line help and more offensive weapons.
In Round 1, Tampa traded up one place to #13, coughing up their 14th and 117th picks to the 49ers, to ensure Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, arguably the draft’s top tackle, was theirs. He wasn’t expected to drop that far after storming the Combine, so I bet the Buccaneers did some last-minute big-board shuffling.
In the third round, they turned to skill positions, collaring Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (#76) to beef up their backfield before diving into the deep wide receiver class to come up with Tyler Johnson (#161). Johnson’s Minnesota teammate, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (#45), is a versatile ball hawk could yet turn out to be one of the best snares over the three days. For added spice, his dad was a Pro-Bowl defensive back who intercepted Brady in 2001 when playing for the Bills.
If Bruce Arians deploys the battle-weary Gronk sparingly, alongside his other tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers could be a team to watch next season.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS GM Chris Ballard filled a lot of needs, even without a first-round pick (traded for 49ers DT DeForest Buckner, which won’t do them any harm). Second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. from USC could become a top receiver, while explosive RB Jonathan Taylor – averaging 2,000 yards a year over three years – is a hot prospect, despite some concern about the tread left on his tyres after his heavy workload in Wisconsin. A day later than many predicted, the 6’6” Washington quarterback Jacob Eason got picked up in Day 3. The big-armed gunslinger won’t play next year but, under HC Frank Reich, he’ll be groomed to take over from Philip Rivers in due course.
The MIAMI DOLPHINS had 14 darts – including three first-rounders – and most hit the target (though they did use one on a long snapper). Despite some pre-draft smoke and mirrors, GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores selected Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa first. Who knows if his injury woes are behind him but the Dolphins had to take the risk on the most naturally talented QB out there. His hip injury was bad luck but it made him available at #5, an equivalent slice of good fortune after Miami didn’t quite #TankForTua. Tua will line up behind a shiny new offensive line including another Round 1 pick, tackle Austin Jackson, and while cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was one of Day 1’s biggest reaches, they got better value in later rounds with DE Jason Strowbridge and edge rusher Curtis Weaver. Outside the draft bubble, acquiring Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Byron Jones and Matt Breida only increases the sense that Miami will be much, much better next year.
Earlier this month, I suggested going best defensive player available for a few rounds might be a wise tactic for the CAROLINA PANTHERS. Well, whaddya know? Despite having a new offensively minded Head Coach in Matt Rhule, GM Marty Hurney used all seven of his picks on defence, including a big ol’ run stuffer in Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown (#7) and athletic Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#38). Later on, they traded up to the last pick in Round 2 to get safety Jeremy Chinn, while cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was also good value in the fourth. The moves they made in free agency – replacing Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater and adding Jets receiver Robbie Anderson – should also reinvigorate the team’s offence, making the Panthers a contender again.
I also liked the high-risk, high-reward approach of the ARIZONA CARDINALS. Picking at #8, GM Steve Keim somehow ignored the team’s needs at offensive tackle and went for Clemson linebacker/safety hybrid Isiah Simmons. It might have been a risk (especially having shipped out their second-round pick in the DeAndre Hopkins trade) but 63 picks later, the ace in the pack came up when they snaffled Houston left tackle Josh Jones. After standing out at the Senior Bowl, there was some Day 1 hype about him but he fell… and fell… and fell. Apparently, Kliff Kingsbury even called Jones’ college coaches to ask if there was something he ought to know about. Some steals feel like pick-pocketing but getting Jones in Round 3 was a ram-raid.