THE NFL DRAFT HAS ALWAYS BEEN A SPORT UNTO ITSELF, and it’s become even more of a spectacle the past few years as the draft moved from New York to Chicago, Philadelphia, and Nashville. What was once one long day has moved to a two- and now three-day extravaganza. The 2020 NFL Draft was set to make its debut in Las Vegas this Thursday.
With the Raiders officially in Vegas now, a Sin City draft was certain to be a wild affair. Instead, we’ll have our first remote draft ever, with a whole new level of online drama set to unfold before our eyes.
More than anything else, the NFL Draft represents hope for all 32 teams and fan bases. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope of a superstar to come. The draft is the great unknown, and uncertainty begets hope. Maybe the next Browns pick won’t actually suck like the last 200. Maybe this one will be different.
No draft in recent memory has more uncertainty, so we’re in for a wild ride. Round 1 begins Thursday on ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network. Rounds 2 and 3 continue Friday, with Rounds 4 through 7 wrapping up Saturday.
Here at SportsRaid, we’ve got you covered with all the 2020 NFL Draft resources you need. Let’s run through our 2020 coverage and highlight 10 major story lines you need to know as you tune in Thursday night…
SPORTSRAID 2020 NFL DRAFT RESOURCES
Rajan Nanavati’s in-depth analysis of the top 50 prospects:
Get To Know The Top 50 Players In The 2020 NFL Draft
Individual player profiles and final Big Board for the Top 50…
Analyzing Burrow, Tagovailoa, Herbert, and the top-7 QBs:
Scouting the Top Seven Quarterback Prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft
Why Justin Herbert and Jordan Love look like names to avoid, while Jalen Hurts and Jake Fromm could be real sleepers…
Brandon Anderson’s 10 key non-QBs to watch as the draft unfolds:
10 Key Names to Watch in the 2020 NFL Draft
Isaiah Simmons: defensive weapon, CeeDee Lamb as the belle of the ball, and why two LSU players could be the steals of the draft…
10 THINGS TO WATCH AT THE 2020 NFL DRAFT
1. This year’s remote draft will be unlike any other.
There’s no way around it: we’ve never had an NFL Draft like this.
There will be no Roger Goodell on stage greeted by a constant barrage of boos. No ridiculous tailored suits. No wrong hats from players on teams they’ve already been traded from. No shots of angry Jets fans after every pick, and no gratuitous fourth-string running back from the 80s everyone forgot about announcing a team’s sixth-round pick.
Instead, we’ll get Goodell announcing picks at home from the safety of his quiet living room.
Interviews with freshly drafted prospects will come from home too, spotty WiFi and all, with grainy streams and players responding to every question three seconds late. Remember ESPN’s failed attempt at H-O-R-S-E last week? Think that, but for 100 NFL Draft picks.
Plus, think of all the ways this could go wrong.
Which GM will screw things up first?
Who will accidentally let us see their entire draft board live on national television? Which one will talk for 20 seconds on mute? Who won’t be wearing any pants? And why are all of them Dave Gettleman??
This could be the highest-rated NFL Draft ever, given how desperate the world is for sports. We’re not getting Vegas, but we may get the spectacle either way.
2. The draft effectively begins with the Detroit Lions at #3.
Barring some absolute shocker, the first two picks are set in stone. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is headed to Cincinnati at #1. Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young should go next to Washington. Burrow looks like a game-changing franchise QB, and Young might be the best player in the draft. We’ve known those picks since Week 17. Sorry to ruin the suspense.
That puts the Lions on the clock, where they have been already for months. Will any team be desperate enough to trade up for their non-Burrow quarterback of choice? Is there a player the Lions covet, like Isaiah Simmons or Jeff Okudah? Will Detroit look for a king’s ransom trading down?
You’ve read all the mock drafts, right? The draft starts at #3, and what Detroit does there has the potential to turn about 95% of mock drafts into immediate and complete garbage.
3. Tua Tagovailoa will be the big Round 1 story, for better or for worse.
Burrow will go #1, and Young is a sure thing, but Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa is going to be the story in Round 1.
Just how good is Tua? Injuries aside, Tua looks every bit the prospect Joe Burrow is. Many evaluators would even have Tagovailoa slightly ahead, potentially #1 in the draft.
The problem is there’s no world in which Tua’s injuries can just be put aside. He’s suffered a relatively significant injury in six of 24 college starts — that’s 25% of them! One of those injuries hampered the rest of his season. Another ended his college career.
This might be the worst possible year for Tagovailoa to come out. Who could have foreseen a worldwide pandemic that cut Tua off from all the team doctors who might normally have evaluated him and given a thumbs up or thumbs down to their team?
Instead, it’s entirely possible no one knows exactly how healthy Tagovailoa’s hip is — let alone all the other nagging injuries. The best ability is availability, and Tua is often unavailable to take the field. That would be a risk any year, but the risk is tenfold this spring when teams know so little.
The Dolphins (#5) and Chargers (#6) have been heavily rumored as Tua destinations. One of them could trade up and land him, or he could fall into their laps. Tua would be the likely target if a team moves up to #3 or #4.
But there’s another very real scenario in play. That’s the scenario where Oregon QB Justin Herbert has moved ahead of Tagovailoa for some teams, maybe even Utah State’s Jordan Love too. What if Tua falls past both the Dolphins and Chargers? Let’s say one of them takes Herbert and the other opts against a QB. Now what happens to Tua?
The reality (and irony?) is that he could slide, and slide hard. What happens if Tua is suddenly available at #10 or into the teens or later? If the teams at the top of the draft don’t know much about Tagovailoa’s health, think how little everyone else knows. How could you risk your first-round pick on such a big injury question mark if you didn’t even expect him to be available?
Tua will be the story of the draft Thursday night. Either he’s the guy someone stakes their franchise on trading up, or he’ll be the guy most snakebitten by this unusual Coronavirus draft, watching millions of dollars slip away from the green room of his own private home.
4. The Miami Dolphins will be a draft story early and often.
The Dolphins are a strong Tua possibility. They’ve been a rumored Tagovailoa destination since before the season started, when they traded away most of their team and tanked. The Fish Tank didn’t go exactly as planned, and the Dolphins ended up dropping to #5, but Tua may be there anyway. And if Miami doesn’t want to wait to find out, they have plenty of ammunition.
Thanks to all their trades, Miami has three first-round picks and six picks in the top 70. They’ll pick at 5, 18, 26, 39, 56, and 70, if things hold.
Miami has all the picks, and they have needs all over the roster. The Dolphins are the story of this draft. They have the ammo to go get pretty much anyone they want.
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5. It’s a loaded wide receiver draft, and just about everyone agrees on three names at the top.
If you’ve followed 2020 NFL Draft coverage at all, you already know this is an extremely WR-heavy draft. As many as 14 wide receivers could go in the first two rounds — that’s over 20% of the picks!
What’s interesting is that almost everyone agrees on the same three names at the top of the wide receiver class, in some order. And that’s fascinating because it’s a virtual lock that it won’t play out this way, in the end. Anytime everyone agrees three players are better than all the rest, at least one of those guys does not live up to billing.
In this case, those three receivers are Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
Lamb and Jeudy look worth the hype. Lamb has elite quickness and awesome hands, and he’s a YAC monster who will do a ton of damage in space. Jeudy is an incredible route runner who pops on film and just knows how to get open.
Ruggs is the guy that doesn’t measure up for me. He’s third on most evaluators’ top three, and that should be a red flag. So should the fact that Ruggs never even hit 750 yards in three college seasons — and sure, Alabama spread the ball around, but Ruggs also benefited from all that talent around him too, so that goes both ways.
Ruggs is an absolute burner, that much is obvious. But I worry about his ability to produce when he’s not playing with so much talent around him, to make contested catches, and frankly, to put up consistent numbers.
I don’t have Ruggs third on my WR board, or fourth for that matter. One of that top three will not live up to billing, and I think it’s him.
6. The real strength of the wide receiver class is its depth.
As exciting as this WR class is, it’s not that any of them look like absolute superstars — maybe not even Lamb or Jeudy — but that there are so many potential starters and difference makers.
After the top three, LSU’s Justin Jefferson looks like a surefire pick. I have Jefferson third on my WR board, just a good all-around producer that fits almost any team. Jefferson seems to be fourth or fifth on most boards and should go in the first round.
After that, it’s dealer’s choice, and they could go in any order.
My WR4 is Colorado’s Laviska Shenault. The guy just makes plays all over the field, wherever he touches the ball. He’ll be a gadget guy that fits the modern NFL, this year’s Deebo Samuel. I’m also in on TCU’s Jalen Reagor, a quick playmaker that returns punts and oozes upside. Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk is another great kick returner and looks like a great bubble screen and jet sweep guy.
If you’re looking for size, you’ve got options there, too. Baylor’s Denzel Mims has been rising up boards and appears to be a likely first rounder. He has size and speed and knows how to go up and get it. So does Clemson’s Tee Higgins. Both of them should be big red zone targets, but I fear the route running and separation skills in both cases, a la Kelvin Benjamin.
I’d rather take a chance on USC’s Michael Pittman or South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards, especially since both could be available a half or full round later. I’m also high on Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson as a late sleeper.
Every WR board looks different, and we’re probably going to end up with a shockingly ordered final board. Wildly varying skill sets make team fit absolutely vital. There are certain to be guys available at #50 or even #75 that turn out just as good as guys in the first. There’s big time WR value to be had for a team that’s patient and willing to work with what’s there.
7. Round 1 is all about the passing game.
We could see as many as 14 receivers go in the first two rounds, and half of them could easily sneak into round one.
Add in Alabama corner Jeff Okudah, Florida corner C.J. Henderson, Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, and a handful of other options — my favorite is Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. — and we could easily get something like 12 or 13 guys in the passing game in the first round. Every team can use another WR or someone to guard them.
Add in the four quarterbacks, and the passing game may well make up half the first round. It’s a passing league now, and we’re just living in it.
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8. Jacksonville, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Minnesota each have a pair of first-round picks.
Miami isn’t the only team that will be a big story in Round 1.
The Jaguars (9 and 20), Raiders (12 and 19), 49ers (13 and 31), and Vikings (22 and 25) each have a pair of first rounders too. All four got their extra pick by trading away a star — Jalen Ramsey, Khalil Mack, DeForest Buckner, and Stefon Diggs, respectively. That means all four have an obvious hole to fill.
It also makes these teams obvious trade partners. Jacksonville or Vegas (yep, still weird) could be candidates to trade up for a QB. The 49ers at #13 have been a popular trade-up destination if Tua slides. If any one of these teams locks onto a player — and when has Jon Gruden not?? — they have the ammo to go get them.
Don’t be surprised though, if several of these teams trade one of the picks back out of the first round. The 49ers and Raiders are both missing their second-round pick, and San Francisco doesn’t pick again until Round 5. Minnesota’s Rick Spielman loves to trade down and acquire picks, too.
9. We won’t hear from Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Buffalo, Houston, or the Los Angeles Rams in Round 1.
If you’re looking for teams that could be trade-up candidates, you might try one of the six that doesn’t currently have a first-round pick. These teams already got their prize… prizes like those four names above, or Minkah Fitzpatrick or Laremy Tunsil.
Still, teams like the Rams and Texans are built to win now, and they may not want to wait until the middle of the second round to make a pick. The Colts also pick at #34, just outside the first, so they’re an easy candidate to trade up a few picks into the first.
Those six teams may not have a first-round pick right now, but history says at least one of them will move into the bottom of the first. Keep an eye on Seattle’s pick and San Francisco’s #31 as potential targets.
10. This promises to be one of the wildest, most unpredictable drafts we’ve ever seen.
There’s just no way around it. This draft is gonna be weird.
Throw your mock draft out the window. Mock drafts are based on intel, and no one has any this year since all the insiders haven’t been able to hang around their sources and listen to scuttlebutt. That also means less groupthink than usual, which means wildly varying draft boards. Guys that look like third rounders will go Round 1, and presumed top-25 talents will fall outside the top 50 or further.
The draft could move at lightning speed. Teams are worried about technology fails, dropped calls, and clocks timing out. Rather than milking every second of that 10-minute timer, picks could come flying in. Be ready.
Will trades look like? That’s hard to say.
Some trades will likely be pre-planned and ready to go. It’s just too hard to wait til you’re on the clock when your five key decision makers are all in different states. Other trades could look laughable for the same reason. If your target is available and you’re a GM looking to make a big move, there may not be team for your team to talk you out of it.
And what about future picks? Could some teams trade away their picks this year for future picks with so much uncertainty on this year’s targets? Conversely, might some teams worry if we’ll even get a college season or draft next year and mortgage their future to get players they know now?
Anything is possible. It’s all in play.
A little tip though? GMs should go ahead and pick up the phone if the Texans, Giants, Falcons, or Browns are calling to offer a trade.
Buckle up. It’s gonna be wild. ■