This year’s NFL Draft will be like none that have come before it, as COVID-19 restrictions move the annual rookie event into an online-only affair. But what can you expect to see once the moves start being made on Thursday night?
Barring any last-minute trade dealings, the Cincinnati Bengals will use the first pick of the draft to acquire LSU’s star quarterback Joe Burrow as the new centerpiece of their offense.
The 23-year-old Heisman Trophy winner has been ordained by NFL scouts as the next true franchise quarterback and will be tasked with turning around a Bengals offense that has stuttered in recent seasons.
Incumbent QB Andy Dalton will likely be moved on unless he decides he’s happy to back up a new signal-caller who is nine years his junior, but the hope is that Burrow’s outstanding arm will provide Cincinnati with the playoff win that eluded Dalton during his time in the AFC North.
Just a pic from something my friends and I did a while back
The addition of Burrow alone likely won’t be enough to alter the franchise’s fortunes too drastically for the upcoming season, but the Bengals aren’t necessarily in position that you might expect of other teams who have had the first pick in the past.
The hope, if you’re a Bengals fan, is that Burrow provides a foundation on which the team can build over the course of the next decade, while giving the team a fighting chance in a division that also contains highly-regarded quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger.
What was originally intended to be a fan-friendly festival in Las Vegas has devolved into an online-only operation, as coronavirus restrictions dictate that the traditional “war rooms” of the past – where a team’s scouts and management conspire in real time to make the best picks for their franchise – will instead be conducted over videoconferencing platforms.
The NFL held a mock draft with all 32 teams this past Monday, and it wasn’t without its technical hitches, as rumors were rampant that at least one team experienced internet outage problems that almost resulted in them missing their turn in selection.
It remains to be seen if these kinks have been adequately ironed out, or if there will be one or two gremlins during the process which will make headlines on Friday morning.
Remember, the first player taken off the board isn’t necessarily the best player available. Joe Burrow’s incredible season for LSU, along with the fact that he is a quarterback, practically guarantee that he will be selected with the first pick, but NFL talent evaluators have landed on a handful of other names when asked to identify the best pure athlete available.
Ohio State’s powerful edge rusher Chase Young is a nailed-on Pro Bowler and is tipped to land in Washington when they announce the second pick of the draft. His collegiate career is littered with honors. His 30.5 sacks is good for the second-best career in his position in his school’s history, meaning that Young is very much a plug-n-play candidate ahead of his rookie year.
Chase Young is Todd McShay’s highest-graded defensive prospect since Von Miller.Good luck, NFL QBs ? ( ? @Lowes) pic.twitter.com/19UFZNrrMp
Another outstanding prospect is Clemson’s all-round defensive mastermind Isaiah Simmons. The 21-year-old is a very adaptable player capable of filling holes in the safety or linebacker position, as well as being a very capable edge rusher in his own right.
Simmons’ prospects might well be hampered by his versatility, in that teams have struggled to identify his best position. This seems like an entirely counter-productive argument given his excellence in several positions but some mock drafts have had him falling as low as the 10th pick – which would be a very welcome sight for teams picking around that mark.
As ever, there will be a run on quarterbacks. In addition to Burrow, there are a handful of other prospects that NFL teams have run the rule over with Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Jordan Love, but the eventual destination of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa will perhaps be one of the most interesting stories to come from the draft.
This time a year ago, Tagovailoa was considered to be the consensus top prospect in the draft but a gruesome hip injury suffered during his final college season has been a source of concern for college talent evaluators. The arm talent is unquestionably there, but his hip situation – along with other major injuries suffered in college – has exacerbated fears of his ability to stay healthy and cope with the demands of an NFL season.
As one unnamed AFC general manager suggested to US media, can you really take this big a chance on a small, left-handed quarterback with a questionable injury history? Fortune, as they say, favors the brave. But who’ll be bravest on draft night?
Elsewhere, this is a particularly strong class of wide receivers. College standouts Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III are all positioned to be taken in the first round – and those first two names are tipped to have outstanding, pro bowl level careers in the pros.
Finally, this is also an historically robust year for offensive tackles with as many as five, or even six, expected to be selected in the first round. The ‘big four’, so to speak, are Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Becton. Wills and Thomas are potentially going to be the first two selected, but keep an eye on Becton after his frankly ridiculously athletic showing at the NFL Combine.
It wouldn’t be a true NFL Draft without a few surprise moves along the way. The Detroit Lions are rumored to be shopping their third pick to teams hoping to snag Tagovailoa from under the noses of long-time suitors Miami (who have the fifth pick), while several other teams are sure to contemplate trade options as their draft boards tick over.
The Cleveland Browns have been suggested as a team who may deal their tenth pick to another team and fill the need they have at left tackle by engineering a deal for the Redskins’ Trent Williams (and bypassing the rookie tackles available) while the Patriots’ Bill Belichick can never be discounted from making some eyebrow-raising moves.
The draft never fails to provide a few surprises along the way (look at Daniel Jones’ selection by the New York Giants a year ago) and you can expect to see more than a few questionable calls made by NFL GMs on Thursday night – so long as they have paid their internet bill, that is.