Which teams had successful NFL drafts, and who could be struggling next season? Handing out grades for every team’s draft.
The 2020 NFL draft was like no other, with the commissioner and team evaluators (and their kids, and their dogs) checking in from their homes to make the 255 picks from Joe Burrow to Mr. Irrelevant, Tae Crowder.
Which teams fared the best over the past three days? Our draft grades below:
1 (8). Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
3 (72). Josh Jones, T, Houston
4 (114). Leki Fotu, DT, Utah
4 (131). Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
6 (202). Evan Weaver, LB, California
7 (222). Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
The Isaiah Simmons pick does not address a major need for Arizona, but it was a chance to add supreme, diverse talent. The question is, Where will he play? We know the uber-versatile Clemson star can operate at almost any position—that’s why he was drafted as high as he was. But in Arizona’s 3-4, one-gap-based scheme, will he be seen more as a cover linebacker or as a hard-hitting safety? The Cardinals themselves may not yet fully know (though they wouldn’t have drafted Simmons No. 8 overall if they didn’t at least have a hunch). Pairing him with Budda Baker gives Arizona two dynamic movable chess pieces, which will help a defense that has struggled mightily on third down.
Offensively, if we treat DeAndre Hopkins as Arizona’s second-round pick, that boosts their draft by a whole letter grade. And it shouldn’t be a bad grade to begin with considering they found a new right tackle in Josh Jones. The third round is much later than many expected the Houston product to go. With Marcus Gilbert being 32, having some injury history and entering the final year of his contract, Jones was a no-brainer selection for Cardinals GM Steve Keim.
It was also a no-brainer to restock Arizona’s defensive line depth, which Keim did in the fourth round, taking Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence.
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1 (16). A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
2 (47). Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn
3 (78). Matt Hennessy, C, Temple
4 (119). Mykal Walker, LB, Fresno State
4 (134). Jaylinn Hawkins, S, California
7 (228). Sterling Hofrichter, P, Syracuse
A.J. Terrell fits the long-bodied, rangy athletic profile of a cornerback in Dan Quinn’s Seahawks-style Cover 3 scheme. He changes directions soundly and can win through physicality or finesse. (In Atlanta, he’ll likely be encouraged to go with physicality.)
This selection could be viewed as a mild admission of underachievement from 2018 second-rounder Isaiah Oliver, who likely will now be cemented into the nickel outside corner role that he was demoted to down the stretch last season. Second-year pro Kendall Sheffield becomes the likely full-time slot defender. If all goes well, Atlanta will have three quality corners, which would allow them to maximize those Cover 3 zone concepts and continue to quietly dabble in more man-to-man than people realize.
Atlanta’s biggest need entering this draft was pass rusher—preferably an edge guy to align opposite free agent pickup Dante Fowler, which would enable Takk McKinley to slide inside. But this draft is light on ready-made first-round caliber pass rushers, and so Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff took the fuller value player. But they managed to find a defensive end they liked in the next round.
In some ways, Marlon Davidson—who played in Derrick Brown’s shadow at Auburn and was somewhat underappreciated—gives the Falcons another, more innately versatile version of Takk McKinley. He is a defensive end who has the tools to work off the edge or slide inside and play defensive tackle. That’s for 2020. For 2021 and beyond, Davidson potentially fills the role that the 2017 first-rounder McKinley, whose fifth-year option has not been picked up, has yet to fully maximize. After quietly going 6-2 in the second half of this season, this talented team is in “win now” mode. It needed more defensive line depth. A versatile player like Davidson can potentially solve multiple problems.
The other defensive picks—fourth-rounders Mykal Walker and Jaylinn Hawkins are here to add depth.
So is the first offensive choice, center Matt Hennessy, but just for now. Stud center Alex Mack has shown flickers of decline. He’ll be 35 at the end of this season and no longer under contract. And so Hennessy steps into an ideal scenario: a starting job waiting in the wings, with a chance first to learn as an understudy to one of the game’s great veterans.
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1 (28). Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
2 (55). J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
3 (71). Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M
3 (92). Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
3 (98). Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
3 (106). Tyre Phillips, G, Mississippi State
4 (143). Ben Bredeson, G, Michigan
5 (170). Broderick Washington Jr., DT, Texas Tech
6 (201). James Proche, WR, Southern Methodist
7 (219). Geno Stone, S, Iowa
The Ravens entered the draft with no starting-caliber linebackers on their roster. Now they found one who has the athleticism to play on passing downs. Problem solved. Or, at least, potentially solved. Patrick Queen only started one season at LSU and the Ravens have a complex matchup-zone scheme that requires middle-of-the-field players to make reads and adjustments on the fly. The Ravens are also a proudly physical team and some scouts don’t regard Queen as that style of player.
It’s an incredibly tall order for this particular linebacker to step in and contribute right away on a Super Bowl-ready team. But Queen is gifted, he improved noticeably over the course of 2019 and the Ravens have one of the best young assistant coaches in the league in linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. And because the Ravens so often play with dime personnel—meaning six defensive backs and just one linebacker—Macdonald can focus solely on Queen when he’s on the field in dime (which, this team hopes, will be on a majority of snaps).
It’s not out of the question that Baltimore will trot out two rookie linebackers on base downs in Week 1. Malik Harrison plays with more physicality than fellow rookie Queen but might not quite be an NFL cover linebacker.
Helping keep blockers off these two will be Justin Madubuike, though he’ll likely do so out of a backup role for at least the first few years. Baltimore is loaded along the D-line after acquiring ex-Bronco Derek Wolfe and ex-Jaguar Calais Campbell, but they needed more run-stuffing depth to pair with (and push) Justin Ellis.
On offense, the Ravens absolutely love incumbent veteran tailback Mark Ingram because he is a highly professional runner. He goes exactly where the play is designed to go, he gets there with just the right tempo and he consistently finishes with enough power and tenacity to muster an extra yard or two. When you have one of the best-designed ground games in football, that’s all you could want from a back. Almost certainly, the Ravens see J.K. Dobbins in a similar light as Ingram.
It’s a little surprising the Ravens did not address the wide receiver position earlier considering that their top target, Hollywood Brown, would be fantastic as a dynamic No. 2 option. As it stands, they don’t have a proven big-bodied X-receiver to align opposite Brown. Devin Duvernay will likely be lining up inside of Brown, as a slot weapon who possesses run-after-catch ability. It’s possible the plan is to let Willie Snead walk in free agency next year.
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2 (54). A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
3 (86). Zack Moss, RB, Utah
4 (128). Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF
5 (167). Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
6 (188). Tyler Bass, K, Georgia Southern
6 (207). Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Oregon State
7 (239). Dane Jackson, CB, Pittsburgh
It was a deep wide receiver class, yes, but trading a first-rounder for Stefon Diggs was still shrewd. The Bills were one quality receiver away from having an offense with no weakness. They’re coming off a playoff season and their division’s big bad monster might finally be weakened for the first time in two decades. Now is the time to go all-in. What you know for sure about Diggs that you can’t truly know for sure about any rookie wide receiver is that Diggs can be productive in the NFL.
So as not to ignore this draft’s talented receiver glass altogether, the Bills spent fourth-and sixth-round picks on Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins. Both give Buffalo’s receiving corps the one thing it was grossly lacking: size.
In the second round, the Bills went defense. You wonder if they might run into the same problem with A.J. Epenesa that they had with former first-rounder Shaq Lawson: a lack of top-flight explosiveness. Like Lawson, Epenesa does not quite wow you with his flexibility or second- and third-step burst. But Lawson’s downfall was he never became technically savvy enough to fully overcome his pass rushing limitations. Epenesa, on the other hand, has drawn praise for his technique. Still, with Buffalo’s one-gap attacking 4-3 scheme, this doesn’t appear to be an ideal player and scheme fit. But if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s Bills GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott. Their defense performed like one of the best-coached and constructed units in football last season.
The third-round selection of Zack Moss likely means the end for future Hall of Famer Frank Gore in Buffalo. Moss was a steady, workmanlike back at Utah and has even draw some comparisons to Gore (stylistically). He’s a smart investment by the Bills because their top running back, Devin Singletary, does not quite have the build to play more than 50 snaps week in and week out.
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1 (7). Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
2 (38). Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
2 (64). Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
4 (113). Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame
5 (152). Kenny Robinson Jr., S, West Virginia
6 (184). Bravvion Roy, DT, Baylor
7 (221). Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, CB, Florida International
The nice part about a full-scale rebuilding project is it gives you a lot of options in the draft. (Though it appears the Panthers may have only been aware of half of theirs, as they became the first team in modern history to take only defensive players in an entire draft.) Like in previous years, the Panthers, whose front office is still headed by GM Marty Hurney, laid their foundational blocks in the defensive trenches.
Derrick Brown has superb athleticism, given his thundering size. The question is if that athleticism extends far enough to make him a consistently high-level pass rusher. No matter how dominant he might be as a run defender, it’s hard to justify taking any defensive lineman in the top 10 in today’s NFL if he can’t get to the quarterback. But pairing Brown with Kawann Short will, at the very least, make the Panthers dominant inside and make life easier on Luke Kuechly’s replacement at middle linebacker.
They got physically stronger at the spot next to Brown, too, finding in Yetur Gross-Matos a classic, imposingly built 4-3 style defensive end who, thanks to the departure of veterans Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin, will likely assume a significant rotational role right away.
Behind them, at safety, free agent pickup Juston Burris quietly did some very nice things for Cleveland last year and deserves a chance to start alongside free safety Tre Boston, but it was wise of Carolina to invest in a third option, especially given that Burris is versatile and may wind up playing multiple positions in a “big nickel” or dime sub-package anyway. Of note: Jeremy Chinn played a lot of Quarters coverage at Southern Illinois. That matchup-zone coverage is one this Panthers secondary has played in recent years and one new defensive coordinator Phil Snow may put in the arsenal.
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2 (43). Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame
2 (50). Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
5 (155). Trevis Gipson, DE, Tulsa
5 (163). Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern
5 (173). Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane
7 (226). Arlington Hambright, G, Colorado
7 (227). Lachavious Simmons, G, Tennessee State
A variety of trades (including the one two years ago for Khalil Mack) left the Bears with just two irrefutably consequential picks, both in the second.
Regarding Cole Kmet: In part due to injuries, things never fully worked out with intriguing 2018 free agent signing Trey Burton, who was recently released. And ’17 second-rounder Adam Shaheen officially became a bust last season when he too often failed to get on the field ahead of low-pedigreed, workman tight ends like Ben Braunecker and J.P. Holtz. Kmet is as classic a tight end as you’ll see, which allows recently signed veteran Jimmy Graham to play more of a receiving role. And don’t be surprised if the Bears go with more three-tight end sets this season. Creative offensive architect Matt Nagy understands that those packages make a defense slower and more predictable, and with ex-Chief Demetrius Harris already aboard, Kmet now gives this team three tight ends who can align almost anywhere as receivers.
As for Jaylon Johnson: defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano likes to bring pressure and/or employ Cover 4, where each defensive back plays match-zone in a deep quarter of the field. Those match-zones require sound man coverage technique, and most blitzes, because of how quickly they force the ball out, demand straight man coverage on the back end. And so it was critical that Chicago find a talented specimen to slide into the right corner spot that was vacated by Prince Amukamara’s release. Johnson has the assertive, physical press coverage acumen to fill the role nicely.
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1 (1). Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
2 (33). Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
3 (65). Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
4 (107). Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State
5 (147). Khalid Kareem, DE, Notre Dame
6 (180). Hakeem Adeniji, G, Kansas
7 (215). Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
By all appearances, Cincinnati’s commitment to Joe Burrow has been strong and steady from the start. The only reasonable knock on LSU’s 2019 breakout star is his lack of top-level arm strength, but that’s not to say Burrow can’t still make every throw. What sets him apart is how he gets to those throws. He sees and exploits the entire width of the field; he moves calmly, courageously and craftily within the pocket, and has good enough wheels to make plays outside of it. There’s no task in Zac Taylor’s zone-based, play-action-oriented offense that Burrow can’t perform.
Getting Burrow to quickly maximize the potential of those tasks will require better play at offensive line and wide receiver, areas the Bengals could address later in this draft but will also improve by default with wide receiver A.J. Green and 2019 first-round left tackle Jonah Williams returning to health. This can be a whole different Bengals offense in 2020, especially if second-round pick, Tee Higgins, builds on the drastic growth he showed from 2018 to ’19 at Clemson and carves out a meaningful role as a rookie in 2020. His college improvements were especially poignant inside—a significant note given that in Taylor’s play-action heavy offense the receivers often align in tight splits, working the middle of the field.
Higgins’s presence speaks to the Bengals’ concerns about incumbent wide receivers John Ross and especially A.J. Green staying healthy. They made this pick before addressing glaring needs on defense. Higgins, with his 6′ 4″ frame, wide catch radius and perimeter ball-attacking ability, is much more similar to Green, who will be 32 come Week 1 and is coming off a season-long foot injury in 2019 after missing seven games the previous year.
As for that defense, which was improved with mid-round picks… there were some who thought Logan Wilson was almost on LSU first-round linebacker Patrick Queen’s level in terms of pass-coverage potential. If the Wyoming product pans out, he gives the Bengals the top-flight coverage prowess that they were hoping to get from third-rounder Germaine Pratt last year. Pratt played a much more prominent role in the second half of last season and will have every opportunity to take a big step forward in 2020. If Wilson can, too, the Bengals will be very comfortable playing nickel defense. And to pad their options here, the Bengals spent the first pick in Round 4 on linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither—another linebacker whose physical traits offer value on passing downs.
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1 (10). Jedrick Wills Jr., T, Alabama
2 (44). Grant Delpit, S, LSU
3 (88). Jordan Elliott, DT, Missouri
3 (97). Jacob Phillips, LB, LSU
4 (115). Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
5 (160). Nick Harris, C, Washington
6 (187). Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
The Browns must have been thrilled: The Giants’ surprising selection of Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and the top three quarterbacks getting snatched up in the first six picks left the man they likely had at the top of their board still available at pick No. 10. Jedrick Wills played right tackle at Alabama but has the light feet and athleticism to transition smoothly to the left side. That would allow expensive free agent pickup Jack Conklin to stay at right tackle, where it took him four years to locate a comfortable set of mechanics as a Titan. In today’s NFL, the delineation between left and right tackles means very little (if anything), so the Browns can base these decisions strictly on what’s best for their two players.
If Wills pans out quickly, this Browns offense could suddenly meet the expectations that were placed on it a year ago. Quarterback Baker Mayfield will have the protection he lacked last season and he’ll be playing in a smart, QB-friendly scheme under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, throwing to a more familiar Odell Beckham Jr. and working with a balanced run game headed by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. That’s a 25-point-per-game type lineup.
On defense, the Browns signed ex-Raider Karl Joseph and ex-Viking Andrew Sendejo in free agency, but only because they wanted to be sure to have a couple of hard-hitting veterans who can immediately patrol the alleys against the run and play match-zone coverage out of the Cover 4-heavy scheme that this new coaching is likely to install. Both Joseph and Sendejo are on one-year deals and it’s likely at least one will be allowed to walk in 2021, given that Grant Delpit is expected to be a full-fledged starter by then (if not sooner). Delpit is rangy and athletically diverse. His draft stock tumbled from a high first-round projection last season after missing too many tackles and taking too many poor angles in run defense. Such mistakes are especially problematic in Cover 4, where the safeties are often solely responsible for a run gap along the edges.
Up front, Jordan Elliott intrigues with his potential as a pass rusher, where scouts believe his development hinges on whether he can continue to build on his effective hand usage. One concern: The Browns don’t have a lot of gap-penetrating depth at D-tackle, and Elliott might not have the initial quickness to change that.
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1 (17). CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
2 (51). Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
3 (82). Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
4 (123). Reggie Robinson II, CB, Tulsa
4 (146). Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
5 (179). Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah
7 (231). Ben DiNucci, QB, James Madison
With Randall Cobb joining Houston, the Cowboys needed a new slot receiver. What they smartly realized is if they found one who could also play the “Z” position, going in motion and aligning outside, that would allow them to slide pricey star Amari Cooper into the slot, where he’s guaranteed to avoid the press-jam coverage that sometimes gives him trouble. Even better is that CeeDee Lamb himself can also play significant snaps inside, affording offensive coordinator Kellen Moore the ultimate flexibility with his first-round wide receivers. Expect to see even more of the creative pre-snap motioning and stack-release tactics from Moore this season.
Having Lamb and Cooper together almost assures that Michael Gallup, who is quietly developing into a nice “X” receiver, will often face one-on-one coverage. And in that same vein, it could mean lighter run boxes for Ezekiel Elliott. This is a quality pick with a potentially significant domino effect.
Right corner Byron Jones departed in free agency this year, and next year the Cowboys face losing left corner Chidobe Awuzie and/or slot/utility corner Jourdan Lewis, as both are finishing up their rookie deals. Don’t be surprised if Awuzie is retained and Lewis walks. But even if both return, an immediate and direct replacement for Jones is prudent, since it would allow Lewis to keep providing valuable, versatile depth on the back end. Trevon Diggs is a long-armed, physical corner and is stepping into a Mike Nolan-led scheme that, thanks to its expected emphasis on blitzing, will feature press-man on the outside. Dallas hit another home run in this draft, filling an important, specific need with a top-level talent at a later-than-expected draft slot. And in case they wind up losing both Awuzie and Lewis, they got a jump on replenishing their depth by also drafting Reggie Robinson in Round 4.
Up front, Neville Gallimore was yet another Cowboys selection whom many expected to be taken a lot higher. He is not a particularly large or long-limbed man, and so quickness and mechanics are key to his success. He showed those traits at Oklahoma; if he plays with more consistent leverage, he has a chance to be a contributing pass rusher.
Lastly, the Cowboys in Round 4 went after another Wisconsin center, Tyler Biadasz, after their previous one, Travis Frederick retired suddenly earlier this offseason. Biadasz was a three-year starter in a Badgers offense that had a dominant run game.
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1 (15). Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
2 (46). KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State
3 (77). Michael Ojemudia, CB, Iowa
3 (83). Lloyd Cushenberry III, C, LSU
3 (95). McTelvin Agim, DT, Arkansas
4 (118). Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
5 (178). Justin Strnad, LB, Wake Forest
6 (181). Netane Muti, G, Fresno State
7 (252). Tyrie Cleveland, WR, Florida
7 (254). Derrek Tuszka, DE, North Dakota State
The Broncos have a budding star in “X” receiver Courtland Sutton, who can consistently win one-on-one downfield on the perimeter and hurt teams with in-breaking routes. But for their optimism in 2019 second-round quarterback Drew Lock to be fully realized, they needed a “Z” receiver—that guy who can go in motion, run every route at every level and contribute via yards-after-catch. Some feel that Jerry Jeudy is the best route runner coming out of college in this era. The Broncos addressed a glaring need with a stylistically perfect prospect, and they didn’t have to trade up to do it.
After rounding out the outside spots in their receiving corps, the Broncos added a prototypical super-shifty weapon inside, in slot receiver KJ Hamler. It won’t be hard to predict where Denver’s wide receivers will line up on any given play, but with three players so perfectly suited for their roles, it will be hard to stop them.
After finding weapons for Lock, they also gave him some protection in Lloyd Cushenberry. Given that they signed sig ex-Lion Graham Glasgow in free agency, so it’s possible they see Cushenberry as a right guard, where he’d compete with converted tackle Elijah Wilkinson (though Glasgow can also play guard). However it shakes out, another weakness on offense has been addressed.
Defensively, Denver’s No. 2 corner position was a revolving door all season last year; it’s possible Michael Ojemudia was selected to be a potential starter sometime in the near future. One thing about Vic Fangio’s scheme: with all of its blurry two-deep safety looks, it does a lot to help and hide cornerbacks.
Up front, McTelvin Agim moved from defensive end to defensive tackle last year; it will be interesting to see where he plays in Denver. He might have an opportunity to develop through trial and error, as last year’s third-round pick, Dre’Mont Jones (and, likely, DeMarcus Walker), will be ahead of him in the rotation.
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1 (3). Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
2 (35). D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
3 (67). Julian Okwara, LB, Notre Dame
3 (75). Jonah Jackson, G, Ohio State
4 (121). Logan Stenberg, G, Kentucky
5 (166). Quintez Cephus, WR, Wisconsin
5 (172). Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State
6 (197). John Penisini, DT, Utah
7 (235). Jashon Cornell, DT, Ohio State
No team played more man coverage than the Lions last season, which is a philosophy that head coach Matt Patricia brought over from New England. In that same vein, Patricia also puts a huge emphasis on matchups, having specific corners travel almost everywhere with specific receivers week after week. You must have a true No. 1 corner to consistently do this. What reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore has brought to New England, the Lions hope Jeff Okudah will bring to Detroit. He’s a slightly different style of corner than the physical Gilmore; what scouts liked most about Okudah is he has the agility to mirror wide receivers.
The Lions, who like to have multiple safeties helping in coverage, often instruct their corners to play in the low hip pocket of their man. Okudah shined with that at Ohio State. The only negative here is Detroit GM Bob Quinn probably felt he could get a quality corner a few picks later in the draft, but he did not get an enticing enough package to trade down. Okudah is the first corner drafted in the top three since Seattle took Shawn Springs third in 1997. He can slide right into the role previously filled by recently traded veteran Darius Slay.
The downfall of Detroit’s man coverage last season was it occurred behind an absolutely futile pass rush. Enter third-round pick Julian Okwara. Julian is a different style of defensive lineman than his older brother Romeo, with whom he’ll now be teammates in Detroit. While Romeo is a long and somewhat thick-bodied moderate NFL-caliber athlete who is highly dependent on his mechanics, Julian is more of a dynamic edge defender, with the length, burst and flexibility to turn the corner and reach the quarterback. Guys with those attributes are not usually available in Round 3. The Lions desperately needed to buttress their pass rush; you’ll likely see Julian Okwara in a passing down sub-package specialist role in 2020.
Offensively, the focus was on the running game. The Lions resumed their ongoing efforts to find Barry Sanders’s replacement. The latest swing here, D’Andre Swift, was a highly refined zone runner at Georgia and will operate mainly out of those designs in coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense. Swift has the lateral agility to create his own space, and his potential explosiveness as a receiver could do wonders for a Lions offense that must regain some aerial balance after becoming heavily skewed toward vertical throws in 2019. With sustaining third-year back Kerryon Johnson aboard, expect Swift to fill an Alvin Kamara type role.
To buttress the swift pick, Detroit added third-rounder Jonah Jackson, who has a chance to start immediately at right guard ahead of middling veterans Oday Aboushi and Kenny Wiggins (who has been a quality backup but turns 32 in August). And fortifying the Jackson selection, the Lions also pursued his likely backup in Logan Stenberg, a blue-collar scrapper who might even be able to compete for a starting job with Joe Dahl.
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GREEN BAY PACKERS
1 (26). Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
2 (62). AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
3 (94). Josiah Deguara, TE, Cincinnati
5 (175). Kamal Martin, LB, Minnesota
6 (192). Jon Runyan, G, Michigan
6 (208). Jake Hanson, C, Oregon
6 (209). Simon Stepaniak, G, Indiana
7 (236). Vernon Scott, S, TCU
7 (242). Jonathan Garvin, DE, Miami (FL)
The Packers spent six of their first seven picks on offensive players, and it’s possible none of them will play in 2020. This brings us to the age-old debate: should a team that was one game away from a Super Bowl draft for the present in hopes of getting over the hump? Or, should the team draft for the future in an effort to maintain its success long-term? There is no “one size fits all” answer. What’s clear is Packers GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur felt that this draft would be best spent investing in the future.
Obviously, the biggest move here (and of the entire draft), was trading up to get Love. Get ready for a whole offseason spent dissecting this from every angle, then get ready for another one or two years of it afterward—presumably, that’s how long the Packers plan for Jordan Love to sit behind Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers is notorious for remembering every slight, and by default, all the speculation about his and LaFleur’s relationship gets rejuvenated after it had been put to bed by this team’s success in 2019.
Let’s just focus on the “for now:” Rodgers is still elite. He might not have the dazzling playmaking ability that he possessed a few years ago (particularly when it comes to getting outside the pocket), but he is still one of the three or four best football throwers in the world, and he’s smart. He got better in LaFleur’s system last season, as both quarterback and head coach did a wonderful job adjusting to each other and meeting in the middle, with LaFleur rolling out his scheme gradually and Rodgers reigning in some of his off-beat style dropbacks in turn.
Love has first-round tools, but inconsistent mechanics plagued him at Utah State, as did bizarre bouts of poor field vision. The Packers feel they can clean that up. Mechanics rarely get corrected once a guy reaches the NFL, but one of LaFleur’s specialties and greatest passions is teaching the details of throwing mechanics, and Love is in the unusual position of a first-round quarterback being groomed behind a superstar QB who likely still has multiple years of greatness left in him.
So for now … it’s business as usual for the Packers. Just with some PR work to massage.
As for the next two offensive picks: The trend right now is to not pay a running back for a second contract unless he is truly special. Aaron Jones could be deemed worthy when his rookie deal expires after this season, but it’s unlikely his sidekick, Jamaal Williams, will also be. Hence the addition of AJ Dillon.
At tight end, Green Bay drafted Jace Sternberger in the third round last year, but considering that “12” personnel is a meaningful part of their offense, and that the recently resigned Marcedes Lewis is nearing his end, it makes sense to invest in depth at this position. And so they nabbed Josiah Deguara. Packer fans may not love this draft, but given it’s long-term investment slant, only time will tell how it went.
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2 (40). Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
3 (90). Jonathan Greenard, LB, Florida
4 (126). Charlie Heck, T, North Carolina
4 (141). John Reid, CB, Penn State
5 (171). Isaiah Coulter, WR, Rhode Island
Felling Houston down the stretch last season was a putrid pass rush that, at times when J.J. Watt was out, bordered on downright irrelevant. Some see Ross Blacklock as the best pure pass rushing defensive tackle in this draft. He aligned primarily over the center at TCU, both as a 0-tech (directly over the center) and 1-tech (shaded over the center’s shoulder). But elite athleticism—including much-coveted short-area lateral quickness—suggests he can play 3-tech in the NFL. Blacklock’s game is not built on power, so he himself won’t fill the void left by free agent D.J. Reader’s departure, but his presence allows Reader’s in-house replacement, Brandon Dunn, to focus almost solely on the nose position.
Speaking of focusing on a position, one of Jonathan Greenard’s biggest selling points was his ability to focus on many position. Versatility is an attribute the Texans usually put to good use in their interchangeable front seven. Don’t be surprised if Greenard plays multiple positions off the bench in his first couple of seasons.
As for the rest of this draft… Charlie Heck has a good chance to be the swing tackle given the inconsistencies of Roderick Johnson. John Reid and Isaiah Coulter might have trouble making the final roster considering Houston is already deep at cornerback and wide receiver.
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2 (34). Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC
2 (41). Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
3 (85). Julian Blackmon, S, Utah
4 (122). Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
5 (149). Danny Pinter, G, Ball State
6 (193). Robert Windsor, DT, Penn State
6 (211). Isaiah Rodgers, CB, Massachusetts
6 (212). Dezmon Patmon, WR, Washington State
6 (213). Jordan Glasgow, LB, Michigan
This has a chance to be a lucrative draft, especially if you consider (albeit expensive) ex-Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to be its de factor first-round pick.
After a mostly unsuccessful one-year stint with free agent Devin Funchess last season, the Colts took another stab at a long-bodied perimeter target. Michael Pittman Jr. gives them a nice stylistic complement to explosive movable chess piece T.Y. Hilton, who likely now will play full-time in the slot in three-receiver sets. (Hilton has seen plenty of action here in recent years already; third-year pro Zach Pascal is likely to continue getting opportunities as the other outside receiver.) Philip Rivers has thrown to big targets throughout his career: Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, etc. Pittman is a good stylistic fit.
In the backfield, NFL Films’s Greg Cosell has described Jonathan Taylor as an Ezekiel Elliott level of runner. Taylor weighs 225, runs a 4.39 in the 40 and is both efficient and explosive working downhill. He does not offer Elliott’s receiving prowess, but the Colts already have Nyheim Hines to handle their third down duties. Taylor may have just been too much value for the Colts not to pursue early in the second round, but also consider this: Marlon Mack is scheduled for free agency after this season. Colts head coach Frank Reich comes from the Eagles, a franchise that has prioritized having running backs on cheap rookie deals. If Mack departs in 2021, the Colts now have a ready-made starter in Taylor at an affordable rate for the next three years—maybe four, if Taylor performs really well. (And that’s not to say Taylor can’t contribute immediately in 2020.) At that point, the Colts could repeat the cycle all over again, drafting Taylor’s replacement and letting Taylor leave. Because the one blemish on the stud runner: He already has the tread of 926 carries from his time at Wisconsin.
Some might also cite the fourth-round selection of Jacob Eason as a possible starting quarterback for down the road. But this happens every year; the media conjures a story about some mid-round pick and tries to paint him as the next Tom Brady or Dak Prescott. Who knows, maybe Eason is. But if the Colts and 31 other teams truly thought he could be, his name would have been called a day earlier than it was.
On defense, there was no edge rusher added, but that was not a glaring need. Indy’s depth at safety is sound with George Odum operating behind strong safety Khari Willis and free safety Malik Hooker, but considering how much three-safety dime personnel coordinator Matt Eberflus employs, it’s important to be four-deep at this position, thus the addition of Julian Blackmon.
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1 (9). CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
1 (20). K’Lavon Chaisson, LB, LSU
2 (42). Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
3 (73). Davon Hamilton, DT, Ohio State
4 (116). Ben Bartch, T, St. John’s (MN)
4 (137). Josiah Scott, CB, Michigan State
4 (140). Shaquille Quarterman, LB, Miami (FL)
5 (157). Daniel Thomas, S, Auburn
5 (165). Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
6 (189). Jake Luton, QB, Oregon State
6 (206). Tyler Davis, TE, Georgia Tech
7 (223). Chris Claybrooks, CB, Memphis
The Jaguars spent this draft basically trying to make themselves back into what they were three years ago. They were strapped for cap space and had to get rid of expensive veteran A.J. Bouye and, before that, soon-to-be expensive superstar Jalen Ramsey. So they did, and to compensate, they drafted the man some see as the best corner in this year’s class in C.J. Henderson. One might argue that the Jags, who play a lot more Seahawks-style zone coverage than pure man-to-man, do not need to spend so heavily for a cornerback. But in that Seahawks-style scheme, the perimeter corners often have de facto man-to-man responsibilities. Henderson can perform those duties, via both press-man and mirror technique coverage. They also may have found a long-term slot corner to go with Henderson, in fourth-rounder Josiah Scott, who could supplant up-and-down veteran D.J. Hayden in 2021, when Hayden becomes a free agent.
Jacksonville’s second first-round pick (acquired from the Rams in the Ramsey trade) also filled a need that was brought about by a veteran departure. Or, an upcoming veteran departure, anyway. Frustrated franchise-tagged defensive end Yannick Ngakoue wants to get paid and has been very publicly campaigning for a trade. The Jags may not acquiesce in 2020, but it seems unlikely they’ll hold onto him long-term even though Ngakoue is an explosive, top-shelf edge-bender and Jacksonville’s Cover 3-based defensive scheme cannot work without a quality four-man pass rush.
K’Lavon Chaisson won’t even be 21 until July, and naturally, much of his game still needs to be developed. But his raw talent is eye-popping, and the Jags, amidst a roster overhaul, can afford to be patient here. And if last year’s first-round pick, Josh Allen, builds on his encouraging rookie season, this defense can look forward to having one of the league’s most dominant edge-rushing tandems.
If and when Chaisson makes it into the base package (don’t be surprised if he is a pass rushing specialist his first year or two), working inside of him will, the team hopes, will be Davon Hamilton, who projects as an athletic nose shade tackle, lining up over the shoulder of the center and playing either one or two gaps, depending on the situation. He can develop comfortably because the Jaguars still have Abry Jones for this role in 2020, as well as recently signed veteran Rodney Gunter. Jones will likely be allowed to walk in 2021, making room for Hamilton to join the back of the rotation.
Offensively, the Jags added some depth in the later rounds, but the only headlining move was Laviska Shenault—a pick that makes sense. D.J. Chark is on his way to becoming a No. 1 receiver, and now he may have an equally talented sidekick. Shenault wowed with his straight-line explosiveness and versatility at Colorado. And stylistically, he gives Jacksonville another big-bodied target after this offense has been stuck playing with mostly thinner-framed, finesse-oriented guys. It might take Shenault a year or two, though. One concern is he needs some polish and refinement. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s scheme is sharply built but dependent on smart, precise route running.
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
1 (32). Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
2 (63). Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State
3 (96). Lucas Niang, T, TCU
4 (138). L’Jarius Sneed, S, Louisiana Tech
5 (177). Michael Danna, DE, Michigan
7 (237). Bopete Keyes, CB, Tulane
It’s rare to win the Super Bowl and not lose a bunch of guys in free agency, but that’s the position the Chiefs are in. Which means they entered this draft able to (mostly) draft for luxury instead of need.
Few probably expected the short-but-not-small Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be the first running back taken. But the LSU product has the type of burst, lateral agility and quickness to create his own space as a runner, and he is a diverse weapon in the passing game.
A gripe with this pick is that you can almost always find a quality tailback in the middle rounds (yes, that old song) and there were good defensive backs still on the board. That includes Alabama’s Xavier McKinney, who would have been an excellent replacement (stylistically) for underappreciated departed free agent Kendall Fuller. But let’s remember: You don’t get the 32nd pick without doing a few things right as a franchise. It’ll be interesting to look back on this one a few years from now.
Blocking for Edwards-Helaire will be Lucas Niang (though hopefully not soon, since the Chiefs, if they stay healthy, are sound and deep up front, leaving him in a second-string for at least 2020). Scouts are intrigued by Niang’s athleticism as a run-blocker, but there are some concerns about his footwork and quickness as a pass-blocker. This makes him like a lot of mid-round right tackles.
Willie Gay has prototypical linebacker size but, more importantly, he plays with sideline-to-sideline speed, which is something Kansas City’s linebacking corps lacked last season. This pick was made with the hope that the Mississippi State product will eventually play all three downs. Don’t be surprised if that happens sooner than later.
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LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
1 (12). Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
1 (19). Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State
3 (80). Lynn Bowden Jr., WR, Kentucky
3 (81). Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina
3 (100). Tanner Muse, S, Clemson
4 (109). John Simpson, G, Clemson
4 (139). Amik Robertson, CB, Louisiana Tech
We learned last year that the Raiders badly want a stud wide receiver, and now they have one who can actually be counted on. Henry Ruggs III has effortless, jaw-dropping speed, and he can produce at all three levels. That’s notable because few offensive architects are as creative and diverse in three-level passing concepts as Jon Gruden. Ruggs also presents terrifying big-play potential on jet sweeps and quick screens.
Last season, the Raiders had far fewer 20-plus-yard air throws than most teams. That should change now—though to make the Ruggs pick fully worth it, you can bet Gruden will ride Derek Carr even harder about playing aggressively.
While Ruggs brings a speed dimension, Las Vegas’s third-round pick, Lynn Bowden, brings a gadgetry dimension. This pick was likely also made with the return game in mind, given that Las Vegas’s receiving corps is fully, and very clearly fledged out (Tyrell Williams is the X, Henry Ruggs the Z, Hunter Renfrow the slot and Zay Jones and Nelson Agholor the depth providers). The depth here also makes you scratch your head a bit about the selection of Bryan Edwards, who came immediately after Bowden.
On defense, even though coordinator Paul Guenther plays a lot of zone coverage with two safeties back deep, he has always prioritizing having talent at cornerback. Guenther coached a trio of first-round corners when he was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati (Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard), and now he has a 2020 first-round corner to pair opposite 2018 second-round corner Trayvon Mullen. (And Damon Arnette was only selected because a free agent deal with another former first-round corner that they had acquired, ex-Giant/Saint Eli Apple, fell through.)
“But just one problem,” the critics say. “Arnette is not really a first-round corner. Most mock drafts had him going in Round 2, maybe even 3.” Maybe that’s valid, and that’s certainly the type of thing that will ding Las Vegas’s draft grade. But GM Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden couldn’t care less, and they understand that to assume a guy will go later in the draft, you are—on some level—assuming you know 31 other teams’ draft boards. It’s not the worst thing to like a player (a lot, presumably) and pick that player.
Tanner Muse is a safety-linebacker hybrid player. The Raiders likely see him as a potentially dynamic special teamer early on given that they already spent big money on capable cover linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.
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LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
1 (6). Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
1 (23). Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
4 (112). Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
5 (151). Joe Reed, WR, Virginia
6 (186). Alohi Gilman, S, Notre Dame
7 (220). K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
Those around the NFL said the Chargers, who are well-stocked on defense, believe they will not have an opportunity to draft this high again anytime soon. And so they jumped at the franchise QB. Like predecessor Philip Rivers, Justin Herbert is a classic “big, strong pocket passer,” but unlike Rivers, he can also make plays with his legs. The big concern is whether Herbert can be consistently accurate enough. He has a fastball and can make throws that many starting NFL quarterbacks cannot, but he was wild at times as a Duck, not unlike how Cam Newton or Josh Allen can be. Quarterbacks like that are best suited for a downfield passing attack that is supported by a sound run game. The Chargers have good front line pieces here in wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, plus tight end Hunter Henry, but they still need more depth and run game weapons.
As for that well-stocked defense, its only weak spot was linebacker, which the Chargers, with few glaring needs to correct, could afford to trade their second-and third-rounders to New England in order to address at pick 23. Kenneth Murray, with his prototypical size, athleticism, speed and explosiveness, was widely regarded as the best stack linebacker in this class. The Chargers entered this draft with two-down linebacker Denzel Perryman and erratic ex-Bengal Nick Vigil penciled in atop their base package depth chart, and only 2019 fourth-rounder Drue Tranquill as a capable passing down linebacker. It’s a simple case of injecting talent where talent is needed, and it creates options for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who now has some depth and diversity to work with in the middle.
The only potential mark against this pick is that many see Murray’s blitzing prowess as a significant part of his value, and the Chargers are not a big blitzing defense. But maybe with Murray now paired with Derwin James, Bradley will get more aggressive.
Murray will have a chance to play significant snaps right away. So might fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley, if he can wedge out third-year pro Justin Jackson for 1 of the 2 backfield “punch” jobs alongside Austin Ekeler.
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LOS ANGELES RAMS
2 (52). Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
2 (57). Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
3 (84). Terrell Lewis, LB, Alabama
3 (104). Terrell Burgess, S, Utah
4 (136). Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
6 (199). Jordan Fuller, S, Ohio State
7 (234). Clay Johnston, LB, Baylor
7 (248). Sam Sloman, K, Miami (OH)
7 (250). Tremayne Anchrum, G, Clemson
With their first-round selection gone as part of the Jalen Ramsey trade, the Rams waited until Pick 52 to get a new player.
Explosive 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson still has much room to develop and may not be ready for a full-time role in 2020. Soon-to-be 27-year-old Malcolm Brown is a very serviceable rotational back but is in the final year of his contract. And so the Rams used their first pick on a more direct replacement for Todd Gurley, whom they likely expect to compete for a starting job right away. Cam Akers was a mature, gliding runner at Florida State, showing nuance and an understanding of how to read defensive fronts. If that translates to the NFL, he’ll be a perfect fit in Sean McVay’s outside zone running game.
They also found a receiver who fits the passing game. What many scouts like most about Van Jefferson is his route running prowess. Not coincidentally, that happens to be one of the traits L.A. values most in a wide receiver. Some see Jefferson more as a slot weapon, though it’s hard to envision the Rams moving Cooper Kupp out of that role. But remember, the slot designation does not matter quite as much in this scheme, as so many of its passes come on play-action and off route combinations that all originate from tight splits inside.
Defensively, there were plenty of spots to fill, starting up front, where they need a pass rushing boost. Terrell Lewis has a long body and the desired traits to be a quality NFL pass rusher. Injuries were a concern at Alabama, which is why the Rams are finding the talented specimen so late in the draft.
On the back end don’t be at all surprised if Terrell Burgess plays significant snaps right away. The Rams are very thin at linebacker and, in recent years, have preferred to play a three-safety dime package, keeping just one LB on the field. With Taylor Rapp being a dynamic box player, John Johnson being better down near that area as well and no proven depth behind those two, the runway is clear for Burgess to slide in as the centerfielder on passing downs.
Brycen Hopkins might be the replacement for Gerald Everett after his deal expires this year.
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1 (5). Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
1 (18). Austin Jackson, T, USC
1 (30). Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
2 (39). Robert Hunt, T, Louisiana
2 (56). Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama
3 (70). Brandon Jones, S, Texas
4 (111). Solomon Kindley, G, Georgia
5 (154). Jason Strowbridge, DE, North Carolina
5 (164). Curtis Weaver, DE, Boise State
6 (185). Blake Ferguson, C, LSU
7 (246). Malcolm Perry, WR, Navy
With four of this draft’s first 39 picks, this was a productive Step 2 in Miami’s multi-year rebuilding process. Step 1 was cleaning house and introducing a new coaching staff in 2019. Step 3 will be repeating Step 2, as the Dolphins have two first-rounders and two second-rounders in 2021.
At pick No. 5, the Tua Tagovailoa represents a perfect outcome for Stephen Ross’s team. 2019’s “Tanking for Tua” slogan proved false, but only because the Dolphins played so much better in the second half of the season and fell in the draft order. Tagovailoa’s late-season hip injury may have been a blessing in disguise, as none of the other QB-needy teams traded up to get him.
That hip is reportedly healed, and there is time for it to get even stronger as the Dolphins don’t need Tagovailoa to play right away. But it’d be a surprise if he’s not the starter come mid-November. The Dolphins are still in the early phases of a massive rebuild, and stopgap veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick can be counted on for at least a half-dozen of the type of head-scratching interceptions that get a quarterback benched.
Tagovailoa’s draft status also speaks to the expanding definition of an NFL quarterback. Ten years ago, a small-statured, good-but-not-great-armed QB would have never gone fifth overall. But football IQ, athleticism and intangibles have become even more valued at the position. Still, for Tagovailoa to succeed, the Dolphins must support him with a strong cast and crisply defined system. He projects to the NFL as more of a timing and rhythm passer than a Russell Wilson-style playmaker.
The Austin Jackson selection made sense, too. The Dolphins had just drafted a quarterback who must be protected. They had an extremely limited offensive line in 2019, and signing free agent left guard Ereck Flowers alone was not enough to change things in 2020. So, they used their next first-round pick on a left tackle. Jackson likely wasn’t atop their offensive tackle board (there were rumors that they were trying to trade for the No. 3 overall pick), but he is a long-bodied, flexible athlete who showed competitiveness at USC.
They also found a right tackle shortly after Jackson—another wise move. Miami entered this draft with glaring needs at both tackle spots, considering that young veterans Julie’n Davenport and Jesse Davis are both better suited for utility backup roles. Some had suggested Robert Hunt, who is a compact 6’5″, 323 with just 33.5-inch arm, might play guard in the NFL. But given that Ereck Flowers was just signed to a surprisingly expensive contract to play left guard, and Michael Deiter was drafted in the third round last year to play right guard, the plan at this point is likely for Hunt to be a right tackle.
Defensively, it was about finding players who fit head coach Brian Flores’s Patriots-style scheme. With just two years of cornerback experience, converted wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene is a gifted but raw prospect. The athleticism and competitiveness he showed at Auburn is mandatory in the man-to-man-intensive scheme that Miami is aggressively investing in. With pricey ex-Cowboy Byron Jones and pricey incumbent Xavien Howard on the roster, it’s possible the Dolphins plan on grooming Igbinoghene for a role in the slot. At 5′ 10″, 198 he has the measurables to play inside or outside. More likely, though, is the Dolphins just pounced on raw talent that they’d like to groom and figure they’ll decide on a long-term role later in the process.
Joining Igbinoghene in the secondary is the third-rounder Jones. Incumbents safeties. Adrian Colbert and Steven Parker were not bad down the stretch last season, but neither is a surefire starter (though Parker is young and worth monitoring). Expect Jones to get a long look in centerfield first and foremost.
Up front, Raekwon Davis is a somewhat less-heralded prospect, but he has potentially explosive trench-fighting traits and is built for the gritty, two-gap plugging tactics that Miami’s scheme often calls for on first and second down. Before the draft, the only real scheme fits in this sense on Miami’s roster were last year’s first-rounder Christian Wilkins and space-clogging nose tackle Davon Godchaux.
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1 (22). Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
1 (31). Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
2 (58). Ezra Cleveland, T, Boise State
3 (89). Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State
4 (117). D.J. Wonnum, LB, South Carolina
4 (130). James Lynch, DE, Baylor
4 (132). Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
5 (169). Harrison Hand, CB, Temple
5 (176). K.J. Osborn, WR, Miami (FL)
6 (203). Blake Brandel, G, Oregon State
6 (205). Josh Metellus, S, Michigan
7 (225). Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan State
7 (244). Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa
7 (249). Brian Cole II, S, Mississippi State
7 (253). Kyle Hinton, G, Washburn
This was a workmanlike job by the Vikings, filling their roster’s myriar holes one by one. Start with the one at wide receiver created by the Stefon Diggs trade. At first glance, Jefferson may not seem like an ideal style of replacement. At LSU, 109 of his 111 catches came from the slot. The Vikings, however, often play with just two wide receivers on the field (which usually means no slot position to fill) and likely see Justin Jefferson as an outside weapon. The 6′ 1″, 202-pounder played with polish and a sound sense of tempo in LSU’s offense and should transition effectively to a new role in a Vikings scheme that will make heavy use of in-breaking routes off play-action. He is not as explosive as predecessor Diggs, but he’ll likelier be a happier camper to deal with.
Worse than the hole at wide receiver was the hole at cornerback. Minnesota needed immediate help after losing Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander earlier this spring. They found it by trading back into the first round for likely slot corner Jeff Gladney and then tabbing Cameron Dantzler in Round 3.
Mike Zimmer historically prefers to develop cornerbacks from the bench in Year One, but with so few quality corners on the roster, don’t be surprised if Gladney starts in 2020—perhaps in a nickel slot role, which plays to his skill set. Zimmer’s corners are always sound tacklers. That, and blitzing, were two things Gladney did well at TCU. It’s possible Dantzler could see significant playing time in 2020, as well. Ideally, though, he’ll follow the traditional Zimmer route and develop from the bench early on, as his game needs some polish. Best case scenario in 2020 is he plays outside in nickel situations, where he is physical and competitive.
Minnesota’s four picks following Dantzler all went towards restocking the depleted depth on defense. The pick before Dantzler went towards hedging against an upcoming hole on offense, as it appears left tackle Riley Reiff is on his way out. The Vikings could dump his $13.2 million cap number this year at a cost of just $4.4 million in dead money. More likely, though, Reiff will be gone next year, when his cap number rises to almost $14 million and his dead money drops to just $2.2 million. His replacement, Ezra Cleveland, has many of the desired traits you look for in a left tackle, though some observers were concerned about what they perceive as his inconsistent competitiveness. But Cleveland’s high-level athleticism will fit well in a scheme that’s predicated on quickness and agility along the O-line.
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2 (37). Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
2 (60). Josh Uche, LB, Michigan
3 (87). Anfernee Jennings, LB, Alabama
3 (91). Devin Asiasi, TE, UCLA
3 (101). Dalton Keene, TE, Virginia Tech
5 (159). Justin Rohrwasser, K, Marshall
6 (182). Mike Onwenu, G, Michigan
6 (195). Justin Herron, G, Wake Forest
6 (204). Cassh Maluia, LB, Wyoming
7 (230). Dustin Woodard, C, Memphis
Incredibly, the Patriots are just one of two teams that have not drafted a single Pro Bowler in the last five years. (The other is Cincinnati.) Considering they are 2-1 in Super Bowls during that span, we can chalk this up as just a measly fun fact.
As usual, most of New England’s picks were spent with the future in mind. Kyle Dugger is a bit of a head-scratcher for the simple reason that the Patriots entered this draft with four quality safeties already: the recently re-signed Devin McCourty, do-it-all box player Patrick Chung, grossly underrated ex-Charger Adrian Phillips and the lesser-known Terrence Brooks, who performed nicely as Chung’s backup last season. Brooks is signed through 2020, while the other three are under contract through 2021. But few teams have made better use of diverse secondary talent, which is precisely what Dugger brings. He doesn’t fill a need, but there is no question he fits the scheme.
The Patriots have a sound front seven given the context of their scheme, but it could stand to have more athleticism on the edges. They made a similar pick to Josh Uche last year, taking his former teammate, Chase Winovich, in Round 3. Don’t be surprised if those two are both on the field in obvious passing situations down the stretch this season.
Just in Uche doesn’t deliver, there’s Jennings. You can afford to draft for depth when you have over a dozen picks. This particular pick is an excellent scheme fit; Anfernee Jennings’s sound technique has earned him comparisons to Kyle Van Noy.
On offense, to fill the still-enormous void left by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement (or his recent trade—either way), Bill Belichick drafted two tight ends just 10 picks apart, though the men could end up playing totally different roles. Though not quite possessing ideal length, Devin Asiasi intrigues as a route runner, particularly down the seams and on play-action—a tactic the Patriots, out of gap-scheme run looks, use a lot for feeding their tight end. Dalton Keane is known for his versatility, particularly as a movable chess piece.
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
1 (24). Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan
3 (74). Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
3 (105). Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
7 (240). Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State
Draft trades in past years left the Saints short on draft capital, and what capital they did have went towards filling roles that might not be recognized until 2021. That’s not the worst thing. Even though this is likely Drew Brees’s last season, and so one might think they’d be drafting for this year, the Saints are still set up for success down the road. Head coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis are keeping the big picture in perspective.
The two questions with Ruiz: When will he play? And where will he play? As far as the when: Right guard Larry Warford is in the final year of his contract and the team could actually save $8.5 million in cap space by cutting him now. That, however, would mean $5 million in dead money on the books, plus Warford is only 28 and is still playing at a high level. It’s entirely possible Ruiz could develop from the bench in Year One.
The where question is even more interesting. Left guard Andrus Peat was just signed to a big second contract and seems entrenched at that position, which means Ruiz will either play right guard or center. Ruiz says he is more comfortable at center but that’s the job held by 2019 second-rounder Erik McCoy (who also cost New Orleans this year’s second-round pick). McCoy is coming off a solid rookie season.
The only addition on defense was Zack Baun. He will likely play up on or near the line of scrimmage in New Orleans’s base defense. It’s a 4-3 scheme but the duties won’t be wildly different from what he did in Wisconsin’s 3-4. But really the intrigue here is in passing situations. Baun showed some pass rushing juice as a Badger, and the Saints like to play with two linebackers on all passing downs (even if they’re in dime defense, where they’ll go with just three D-linemen), and they often send one of them after the quarterback.
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NEW YORK GIANTS
1 (4). Andrew Thomas, T, Georgia
2 (36). Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
3 (99). Matt Peart, T, Connecticut
4 (110). Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA
5 (150). Shane Lemieux, G, Oregon
6 (183). Cam Brown, LB, Penn State
7 (218). Carter Coughlin, DE, Minnesota
7 (238). T.J. Brunson, LB, South Carolina
7 (247). Chris Williamson, CB, Minnesota
7 (255). Tae Crowder, LB, Georgia
No surprise the Giants took an offensive tackle, but there was plenty of surprise about which offensive tackle. Few expected the 6’5″, 320-pound Andrew Thomas to be the first offensive tackle taken. In a draft where so many teams need offensive tackle help and so many outstanding offensive tackle prospects are available, it’s surprising New York wasn’t able to trade down and get their guy later. GM Dave Gettleman does not have a history of trading down, but the Giants made it known that they were willing to deal.
Obviously, the right offer did not come along, and so the Giants took the guy they like best. What’s to admire about Thomas: 36-inch arms, standout competitiveness, sound pass-blocking mechanics and overall composure. It will be interesting to see if the Giants view Thomas as a right tackle (his likely position for 2020) or a left tackle (his possible position for 2021, when up-and-down veteran Nate Solder could be a cap casualty). Wherever Thomas plays, the hope is that late third-round pick Matt Peart can play the other side.
Defensively, consider Xavier McKinney a catch-all solution for a Giants secondary that is quietly better inside than people realize. Or, potentially better, since they’re counting on last year’s fourth-round free safety, Julian Love, to build on his intriguing rookie season, and on former Browns first-round strong safety Jabrill Peppers to perform at a star level. In today’s NFL you need three quality safeties, and it really helps if one of those safeties can play the slot, as that provides answers inside against both three-receiver and two-tight end personnel. McKinney offers diverse value.
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NEW YORK JETS
1 (11). Mekhi Becton, T, Louisville
2 (59). Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
3 (68). Ashtyn Davis, S, California
3 (79). Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida
4 (120). La’Mical Perine, RB, Florida
4 (125). James Morgan, QB, Florida International
4 (129). Cameron Clark, G, Charlotte
5 (158). Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
6 (191). Braden Mann, P, Texas A&M
By the end of last season, the Jets were playing with four backup offensive linemen, and that lineup actually played better than the starting unit had played. The point? They need more O-line talent. Mekhi Becton has that. He’s the largest man to enter the league since right tackle Trent Brown, who earned a $36.25 million guaranteed contract with the Raiders in 2019. He played left tackle at Louisville, and plugging him in there would let ex-Seahawk George Fant, who was signed for three years and $27.3 million ($8.85 million guaranteed), play right tackle, where he’s probably better suited. Becton might have some pass-blocking mechanics to clean up, but he should be a Day One starter.
So should wideout Denzel Mims. On the rare snaps where Adam Gase’s scheme did not look to deliberately help its receivers through design, New York’s lack of perimeter talent and depth at this position was grossly exposed. And that was with a quality “X” receiver in Robby Anderson. Now Anderson is a Panther, leaving New York in need of a pure outside weapon to pair with newcomer Breshad Perriman. Mims gives Sam Darnold a well-sized target, though in a perfect world, the Jets would have found one more receiver in the middle rounds. But that was undoable after addressing the need for a long-term backup QB (James Morgan) and running back depth to compensate for the departures of veterans Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery.
On defense, the Ashtyn Davis pick might add to the speculation that Jamal Adams will eventually be traded since it is hard to immediately decipher where, exactly, Davis will play in New York’s defense. Adams is a first-class strong safety and Marcus Maye is a quality free safety. But Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has never hesitated to put extra defensive backs on the field, and given his predilection for playing Cover 2 out of so many different formats and disguises, having a third dynamic safety could be of real value. It’s also possible that the Jets have decided they’ll let Maye hit free agency after this season. He fits the profile of the free agent who gets away, as he’s not quite good enough to franchise tag but too good to re-sign at a team-friendly price.
Up front, our friend Greg Cosell has cited Jabari Zuniga as a possible dark horse star. He played several positions at Florida, flashing terrific explosiveness both outside and inside, particularly as a pass rusher. Many (including yours truly) felt before the draft that New York’s biggest need on defense was cornerback. But with the amount of Cover 2 the Jets play, their corners often have help… just as long as the pass rush can get there. Zuniga aids that.
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1 (21). Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
2 (53). Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
3 (103). Davion Taylor, LB, Colorado
4 (127). K’Von Wallace, S, Clemson
4 (145). Jack Driscoll, T, Auburn
5 (168). John Hightower, WR, Boise State
6 (196). Shaun Bradley, LB, Temple
6 (200). Quez Watkins, WR, Southern Miss
6 (210). Prince Tega Wanogho, T, Auburn
7 (233). Casey Toohill, DE, Stanford
In critical pass situations last season, the Eagles often went to 12 personnel—two receivers and two tight ends. Yes, they have a pair of quality tight ends in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, but this personnel decision said more about what they had—or didn’t have—at wide receiver.
Jalen Reagor fills a gargantuan void. He was an explosive outside weapon at TCU who showed he can also move into the slot. While maybe not quite a pure burner through and through, he can still get vertical—a notable trait given that Carson Wentz is innately aggressive when it comes to pushing the ball downfield. Reagor also impressed scouts with some of his route running nuance—another notable trait given that Doug Pederson’s offense, when it’s functioning comfortably, is built on detailed route combinations.
Knowing that a lack of receiving speed was their downfall in 2019, the Eagles compensated very thoroughly by also drafting burner John Hightower in Round 5. With the two rookies aboard and veteran DeSean Jackson (hopefully) back healthy this year, Philly’s offense has simply gone from slow to fast.
It might also go from static to multiple if second-round quarterback Jalen Hurts was brought in to be a dynamic gadget weapon. And almost certainly, that’s the case. Carson Wentz has obviously been injury prone, but it’s highly unlikely that Philadelphia would spend a second-round pick on an insurance policy here, and it is inconceivable that they’d even contemplate replacing a 27-year-old QB who has superstar traits.
But even if Hurts’s gadgetry role is clearly defined, don’t make any Taysom Hill comparisons; Hurts is a dual-threat QB but not a blocker or receiver on top of that.
Defensively, Davion Taylor is perceived to be a raw but potentially explosive prospect. Such a project is probably not what linebacker-hungry Eagles fans want for 2020, but as we highlighted in Philadelphia’s “team needs” before the draft, the defensive staff has good reason to be comfortable with young incumbents T.J. Edwards and Nathan Gerry as their starting nickel options. And if they take the long view, the fans have plenty to look forward to given the upside that comes with having 4.39 speed. Worth noting: Taylor is the first linebacker GM Howie Roseman has drafted in the first three rounds since Mychal Kendricks in 2012. (Jordan Hicks in 2015 was a Chip Kelly pick.)
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2 (49). Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
3 (102). Alex Highsmith, LB, Charlotte
4 (124). Anthony McFarland Jr., RB, Maryland
4 (135). Kevin Dotson, G, Louisiana
6 (198). Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Maryland
7 (232). Carlos Davis, DT, Nebraska
Pittsburgh’s first-round pick is already a success considering it was dealt last year for Pro Bowl free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. That takes a bit of the sting out of the possibility that no one from this draft class will make major contributions in 2020.
The guy with the best chance to prove this wrong is Chase Claypool. Pittsburgh’s offense is heavy on isolation routes, which means it’s dependent on having wide receivers who can win. Right now, there’s really only one: JuJu Smith-Schuster. Last year’s third-rounder, Diontae Johnson, showed encouraging flashes as a rookie, and 2018 second-round speedster James Washington made far fewer of the mistakes that marred his rookie season, but neither guy is a sure thing No. 2 receiver. (Or even No. 3 receiver.) With a Super Bowl-caliber defense and 38-year-old quarterback, the Steelers need their young wideouts to make plays right away.
As for top defensive pick Alex Highsmith, with T.J. Watt aboard and Bud Dupree a somewhat surprising franchise tag recipient, it’s clear the Steelers are drafting for depth at outside linebacker, both now and for the future.
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
1 (14). Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
1 (25). Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
5 (153). Colton McKivitz, T, West Virginia
6 (190). Charlie Woerner, TE, Georgia
7 (217). Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee
In a technical sense, a variety of trades left the Niners with just two meaningful draft picks (both first rounders), but that’s not a bad thing when you’re a defending conference champion and do not have many weaknesses to correct. Plus, if you count ex-Washington left tackle Trent Williams as part of this class (he was acquired for a 2020 fifth-rounder and 2021 third-rounder, and will replace the retired Joe Staley), it’s a top-heavy haul of talent.
Many expected the Niners to find a replacement for departed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders at Pick 14, when every wide receiver save for Henry Ruggs III was still on the board. But that’s not how this organization thinks. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch understand that as long as they have quality route runners on the field, Shanahan’s play designs can win. Quality route runners can be found in Rounds 2-4. (Plus, the Niners are said to love 2019 third-rounder Jalen Hurd, who missed his rookie season with a stress fracture in his low back.)
The fact that the Niners traded up in the late first round to get Brandon Aiyuk says they must be smitten with the Arizona State star. Stylistically, he first their offense. Scouts liked Aiyuk’s effectiveness operating on the move, which is a key characteristic in Shanahan’s timing-based offense. He also has shown he can align in a variety of positions.
As for how San Fran used that No. 14 pick … what Shanahan and Lynch understand is that, while their offensive system is not player-dependent, their defensive system is. Coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme is predicated on having a potent four-man pass rush. The Niners rode that to a Super Bowl appearance last year. After financial constraints forced them to trade DeForest Buckner to the Colts, they needed to restock for this year. NFL draft expert Greg Cosell has said that Javon Kinlaw is not a flawless prospect, but his best-case scenario is to develop into a Chris Jones type of force. That’s a helluva best-case scenario, and the Niners believe they have one of the NFL’s best defensive line coaches in Kris Kocurek.
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1 (27). Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech
2 (48). Darrell Taylor, DE, Tennessee
3 (69). Damien Lewis, G, LSU
4 (133). Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
4 (144). DeeJay Dallas, RB, Miami (FL)
5 (148). Alton Robinson, DE, Syracuse
6 (214). Freddie Swain, WR, Florida
7 (251). Stephen Sullivan, TE, LSU
The Seahawks have a history of drafting players with not this upcoming season, but the following season, in mind. That appears to be the formula GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll followed again this year.
After being unable to trade down in the first round, they took Jordyn Brooks. It’s a puzzle, figuring out exactly why. Perennially underappreciated star veteran K.J. Wright is in the final year of his contract. Though he showed little sign of decline last year, it stands to reason the Seahawks might be willing to move on once his deal expires. (That’s largely how Seattle has approached 30-plus-year-old star defenders in the past.)
Bobby Wagner might seem old because he has been playing at such a high level for so long, but he doesn’t turn 30 until June and his contract runs through 2022. There is an opt-out after 2020, but it’s hard to fathom Seattle planning to go that route at this point. Wagner has shown no sign of decline on film. (Though remember, teams often start seeing a player’s decline up close in practice before that decline makes its way to the playing field.)
The Seahawks also drafted a future starting linebacker last year in Cody Barton, who has the coverage skills to maybe even push for all-important nickel snaps this season. So it’s not like things were looking bereft at linebacker for 2021 and beyond. So why take Brooks in the first round?
Recall that last season the Seahawks often played base 4-3 personnel, even against three-receiver sets. It was a highly unusual move in a nickel-heavy league, but it worked well, in part because Seattle is so comfortable playing zone. (4-3 vs. 3 WRs does not work well in man-to-man.) We assumed the 4-3 move was in part because Seattle did not have any great options at slot corner. But at pick No. 27, there were decent slot corner prospects on the board. And yet they still took Brooks. Is Pete Carroll planning to commit to the 4-3 approach long-term? This will be a fascinating scenario to watch play out.
As for second-rounder Darrell Taylor, the Seahawks think highly of defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and are giving him a talented but unrefined specimen to develop. Hurtt best get results sooner than later; Seattle’s four-man rush—which is vital in their zone scheme—was nowhere near good enough last season and has since said goodbye to its top force, Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney remains unsigned, in part, because he’s not a truly bendable edge player. Taylor, on the other hand, has those traits in spades. But they must be honed.
At first glance, third-round pick Damien Lewis might look like an unofficial admission that 2017 second-round pick Ethan Pocic has not fully panned out – and maybe it is. But more likely this pick is a response to veteran guards Mike Iupati and D.J. Fluker being in contract years. At 6′ 2″, 327 pounds, Lewis, though not quite as big as Iupati or Fluker, has the sheer bulk that Seattle has come to value at guard.
In the middle rounds, investing in running back depth made sense given the questions about Rashaad Penny’s healthy. Investing at tight end was a little surprising considering the team is at least three-deep, if not four-deep at that position. But then again, starter Greg Olsen likely won’t be around for long.
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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
1 (13). Tristan Wirfs, T, Iowa
2 (45). Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
3 (76). Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt
5 (161). Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
6 (194). Khalil Davis, DT, Nebraska
7 (241). Chapelle Russell, LB, Temple
7 (245). Raymond Calais, RB, Louisiana
If you’re going to invest in a 42-year-old Tom Brady, you need to fill your glaring hole at right tackle. Insert Tristan Wirfs, who was an efficient, compact starting right tackle for three years at Iowa. Though his measurables are mostly normal—he’s nearly 6′ 5″ and has 34-inch arms—some feel that Wirfs’s playing style is better suited for the guard position. That’s an unlikely move for the Bucs, who have a quality left guard in Ali Marpet and spent a third-rounder on right guard Alex Cappa in 2018. Consider this a straightforward, value-needed selection.
It was a little surprising the Bucs did not look for wide receiver depth until the fifth round (Tyler Johnson), which suggests they must really like third-round back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. He was a straightforward, one-path runner at Vanderbilt, which means the Bucs see him as a base down player. Is he here to add backfield depth? Or does Tampa Bay’s brass envision Vaughn challenging Ronald Jones?
The defense did not have many needs, but Antoine Winfield Jr. was a good pick. Safeties are important in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’s scheme. Incumbent 2017 second-rounder Justin Evans flashed decent range in 2018 but spent last season on IR. Versatile 2019 third-round pick Mike Edwards is intriguing, but was taken off the field at times in passing situations. Jordan Whitehead, a fourth-rounder in 2018, has some coverage versatility and at times flashes good closing speed, but he can’t quite be viewed as a cornerstone starter at this point. By drafting Winfield, the Bucs—theoretically—stabilize one safety spot, which, given their decent options in the players outlined above, makes it easier to stabilize the other safety spot.
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1 (29). Isaiah Wilson, T, Georgia
2 (61). Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
3 (93). Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State
5 (174). Larrell Murchison, DT, N.C. State
7 (224). Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii
7 (243). Chris Jackson, S, Marshall
It’s straightforward: When you’re a run-heavy team and you just lost your quality right tackle in free agency, it’s imperative you find a new quality right tackle. Quality offensive tackles require an early-round pick. Especially when that tackle weighs 350 and is athletic.
What’ll be interesting is to see if Isaiah Wilson, at his size, can play at the NFL level with the needed quickness and mobility for Tennessee’s wide-zone blocking scheme. He wouldn’t be here if the Titans had many doubts that he could.
Adding a run-blocker makes even more sense if you add a dynamic runner later. Third-rounder Darrynton Evans has big-time home-run hitting ability, and Tennessee’s wide-zone rushing attack presents opportunities for him to find space on the perimeter. He’ll fill departed veteran Dion Lewis’s old role and, given Derrick Henry’s passing game limitations, likely get every chance to earn the third-down duties.
There were some concerns about Kristian Fulton’s inconsistent balance and technique at LSU, but he often compensated with his late recovery ability. Those recovery skills may not transfer cleanly to the much more competitive NFL, but the good news is Fulton steps into a scheme that features a lot of disguised zone coverage, including heavy doses of Cover 2. That can hide some of his warts.
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1 (2). Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
3 (66). Antonio Gibson, WR, Memphis
4 (108). Saahdiq Charles, T, LSU
4 (142). Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
5 (156). Keith Ismael, C, San Diego State
5 (162). Khaleke Hudson, LB, Michigan
7 (216). Kamren Curl, S, Arkansas
7 (229). James Smith-Williams, DE, N.C. State
Washington entered this draft with many needs, and pass rusher was not one of them. Tenth-year veteran Ryan Kerrigan still offers quality burst and bendability, and the team spent a first-round pick last season on Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat. Inside, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis is coming off a quietly strong 2019 season, and alongside him are relatively recent first-round picks Jonathan Allen (2017) and Da’Ron Payne (’18). So no, Washington did not need Chase Young, but that doesn’t make them wrong for taking him. Sometimes talent is too immense to pass up. Many scouts see Young as the type of explosive difference-maker who only comes along once every few years.
No team has ever rued having too many quality pass rushers, especially not if that team runs a 4-3 gap-based, zone-oriented scheme like new head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are expected to install.
With Washington’s second-round pick being sacrificed in last year’s trade up to get Montez Sweat, Rivera’s next move was not until early in the third-round. He took Memphis tailback Antonio Gibson. Why? When healthy, you can argue that scat back Chris Thompson has been one of Washington’s three most valuable offensive players. The problem is Thompson has not been healthy nearly often enough, missing at least five games in each of the last three seasons. So, Washington drafted a younger version of Thompson; a dynamic receiving back can be a good friend for a young pocket passer like Dwayne Haskins.
So can a sound offensive line, which Washington is trying to piece together after their trade of Trent Williams to the 49ers officially leaves them with one of the least steady left side O-line situations in the league. It’s not inconceivable that mid-round selections OT Saahdiq Charles and even C Keith Ismael could see playing time as rookies, especially considering they’re both capable of lining up at guard.
Source: Sports Illustrated Tennis news