THE 2020 NFL DRAFT IS IN THE BOOKS, and the league’s first remote draft went off without much of a hitch. Instead of forced handshakes with Roger Goodell, we got real meaningful hugs with mom and dad at home. There were memorable live shots into coach and GM war rooms, and more time for analysis between picks too. The 2020 Draft was good, actually.
Of course, it was better for some teams than others. Grading the NFL Draft is tired, though everyone does it. Most of the time it’s just a regurgitation of a pre-draft rankings. But it’s not enough to just land one really good player. Draft evaluation is about how teams played the board and how well they did with the assets allotted them. It’s not enough to just give out A’s to the teams at the top and the ones with the most picks. How did they use them?
The truth is we don’t know enough to grade these drafts yet — but that won’t stop us from trying. Most teams end up with a B or C, hard to distinguish from one another.
Instead, let’s focus on the eight teams at the top and the eight at the bottom, broken into nice easy chunks. These are the four drafts I loved, liked, disliked, and hated from the 2020 NFL Draft…
FOUR DRAFTS I HATE
Green Bay Packers
As a lifelong Vikings fan, it brings me immense joy to inform you that the Green Bay Packers completely screwed the pooch on the 2020 draft. They were so unanimously the worst that 11 of 13 draft experts (see below) gave the Packers their lowest grade. Well, make it 12 of 14.
Three months after making the NFC Championship with a QB rapidly aging out of his prime, Green Bay used its top four picks on players that almost certainly will not impact the team this year. The first of those was on Jordan Love, a high-upside lottery ticket that almost certainly will not pay out — and even if he does pay out, it will be years down the road, after the Rodgers era.
The only thing Love does now is undermine Packers chemistry and cost them a chance to add win-now talent. He also cost a fourth-round pick since Green Bay was so unwilling to risk missing Love that they traded up four spots to secure him. This was not a spur-of-the-moment holy-cow-Love-fell-now-what decision. This was premeditated. It was a premeditated and cold-blooded murder of the tail end of Aaron Rodgers’s career in Green Bay.
Rodgers and the Packers badly needed a receiver in the most WR-rich draft in a decade, and the team took a guy they hope won’t see the field the next two seasons. Then in the second, they reached three rounds on slow, plodding RB A.J. Dillon, pissing off their other talented Aaron (Jones). In fact, Green Bay didn’t take a single wide receiver all draft.
A complete and unmitigated disaster. I absolutely loved it.
New Orleans Saints
Speaking of blowing a big draft with a Hall of Fame quarterback on his last legs! The Saints might have the most complete roster in the NFL, and no one would have blamed them for going all-in on one last Brees run. Of course, the Saints go all-in every draft. They find two or three guys they absolutely love and then mortgage the future to get them.
This year, they put the entire draft on three guys, two of whom may not even play this year. One was C Cesar Ruiz in the first. The Saints already have the NFL’s best line, in part because of C Erik McCoy. They traded up for McCoy in the second last year. That cost them this year’s second, which means the Saints have now invested a 1 and two 2s in consecutive drafts on centers.
Since the Saints didn’t have a second rounder thanks to last year’s trade up, they overpaid to move up in the third, giving up next year’s third to move up for LB Zach Baun. Baun failed a drug test and slid to a value spot, and he’s the one New Orleans pick that should definitely play this year. But he cost two 3s.
Of course, now the Saints didn’t have a late third, so they promptly traded their 4, 5, 6, and 7 to move up for Dayton TE Adam Trautman, who would’ve been there later anyway and who looks like New Orleans’s fourth-string TE.
That left New Orleans without a single pick Saturday, so they sat that one out… until 20 minutes left when they traded a future sixth to move in for Taysom-Hill-wannabe Tommy Stevens, a player exactly no one else wanted. On Sunday, the Saints extended Hill with $16 million in guarantees, right after pushing him back to third string behind new signee Jameis Winston.
So New Orleans got a backup C for its expensive C, a backup wildcat QB for its expensive wildcat QB, a fourth-string TE, and that’s just about it from an entire draft — and they’re already down two picks next year. Woof.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock flunked their first draft last year, constantly drafting prospects way too high, thinking they were the smartest guys in the room. They were back for more in 2020.
First, it was Henry Ruggs, a classic lightning bolt Raider that was somehow the first receiver off the board in a loaded WR draft, despite never catching 750 yards in a season. Ruggs is a nice enough player but people are underrating just how ludicrous it was to take him ahead of Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb.
Seven picks later, it was Ohio State CB Damon Arnette, giving the Raiders the most shocking first-round pick a second straight year. Arnette was outside the top 75 on most boards. Vegas’s next pick, Lynn Bowden in the third, is much more of a gimmick than a football player. And remember, the Raiders only had so many picks because they traded away their best player, Khalil Mack, two years ago. Arnette and Bowden were their prize, though they at least got RB Josh Jacobs last year too.
Los Angeles Chargers
I hate spending the #6 pick on Justin Herbert, who just seems remarkably unremarkable. I don’t know that I prefer him by any significant margin over Jake Fromm, who went in the fifth round. In a way, I’m almost underwhelmed even further that the Chargers didn’t like Herbert enough to trade up for him. Now they’ve hitched their wagon to him for the next three or four years, mostly because he’s tall and handsome and has a rocket arm.
Of course, they apparently liked LB Kenneth Murray enough. They overpaid mightily for him, trading a second and a third in a super deep draft, to move up for a player at a non-premium position. It will be very hard for Murray to be worth that price. Joshua Kelley and Joe Reed came off the board in the fourth and fifth, and they might just as well have gone undrafted.
FOUR DRAFTS I DISLIKE
Like the Saints and Raiders, the Seahawks have been drafting like they’re the smartest guys in the room for years, too. The difference is that they often are.
LB Jordyn Brooks and EDGE Darrell Taylor were massive, huge reaches in the top 50, based on every draft board and bit of intel out there which pointed to both being available 50+ picks later. Even worse, they gave up a third to move up to secure Taylor. Honestly, I could’ve put Seattle in the HATE group, but they always find something in these guys that works.
This draft was what Miami blew up its team for. Context always matters in draft grades. The Dolphins only had six picks in the top 70 because they traded away Minkah Fitzpatrick and Laremy Tunsil, their two best players.
And with all those extra picks, Miami repeatedly reached on developmental players. The first was OT Austin Jackson taken too high at 18. Only one other tackle went in the next 40 picks, and Miami basically traded Fitzpatrick straight up for Jackson. Then it was CB Noah Igbinoghene, anther reach, at the end of the first. That was the prize for Tunsil (though Houston still owes its top two picks to Miami next year too, BOB wyd). The three third-round picks were all significant reaches too.
Miami left the draft with lots of high draft picks, but if you took away the pick numbers, would you really think this was a team that entered with such an overwhelming amount of draft capital? It’s mostly a pretty standard haul.
Of course, the only name that really matters is Tua Tagovailoa. Miami didn’t have to trade up for him and got him anyway, and if he hits, it will all have been worth it. But if he doesn’t, they might have blown up the entire team and walked away with precious little to show for it.
Like Miami, if Joe Burrow is as good as expected, not much else from this draft will matter. And I certainly don’t dislike the Burrow pick.
I’m just underwhelmed with everything else. Remember, the Bengals picked first in every round. They means they basically got #1 overall plus a first, second, third, etc, with essentially a free trade-up in every round. They’re supposed to come away with an overwhelming franchise-changing draft. Instead, other than Burrow… meh.
I hated the Tee Higgins pick at the top of the second. Higgins was falling hard and was one of five super talented WRs left. Cincinnati had all day to trade the first Friday pick and might have landed Higgins on a trade down anyway but did nothing. The same thing happened Saturday. Cincinnati had the top pick of the day but turned away all trade offers. They didn’t make a single trade all draft and didn’t walk away with a very inspiring haul outside of Burrow.
I’m torn on Philly’s draft. I like most of the players they got, and I like the draft theory — it’s just how the process turned out that leaves me puzzled.
Jalen Reagor was one of my favorite WRs outside the top four, and he’s an excellent fit. The problem was how close Philadelphia got to landing CeeDee Lamb (four picks) and the fact that they passed on Justin Jefferson to take Reagor. If the Eagles had missed on those two, traded down 10 or 15 spots, and grabbed Reagor, I would’ve loved it. Instead, the pick leaves me cold.
But not as cold as Jalen Hurts. Hurts was my favorite QB sleeper and QB3 on my board, so he’s worth the #53 pick, but this team already has a $128-million franchise QB. I don’t buy that this is a Taysom Hill gadget play. I think it’s just an investment in depth, like in fantasy football when you spend an uncomfortably high pick on a handcuff for your star. No QB was drafted for 69 picks after Hurts. If the Eagles needed a backup QB, they could’ve gotten one later or traded down. Instead, they spent a second on a guy they hope never plays for the duration of his rookie contract. They could’ve packaged that pick to move up in the first and snag CeeDee Lamb. Instead they got a much worse WR and a guy that won’t play.
I like both Reagor and Hurts, and I like what Philly did the rest of their draft. They stockpiled picks and took multiple chances at adding speedy receivers, including Marquise Goodwin in a trade. This could still be a pretty good draft. I just can’t shake the feeling that it could’ve been much better.
HALFTIME!! — GRADING THE DRAFT GRADERS
HATE: Chad Reuter, NFL.com
I mean, what are we even doing here? Reuter gave out 11 straight A’s and 9 more A-, a total of 20 A’s out of 32, an absurd 63%. Only four teams in the entire NFL got a B or lower, and not a single team got even a C. What kind of a ridiculous grading curve is this? Man up, Reuter.
DISLIKE: Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN
ESPN’s expert obviously doesn’t want to anger his sources. A full 23 teams got a B, B-, or C+ for Mel, who basically threw everyone into the upper middle tier together. With two Cs at the bottom, Kiper is one of only two to not even venture into C- territory. These grades tell us nothing.
LIKE: Nate Davis, USA Today
Davis actually thought for himself! He gave the Steelers an A-, the highest grade on the board, and he was lowest of anyone on the Texans, Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks. I like a man willing to put himself out there.
LOVE: Thor Nystrom, Rotoworld
Now we’re talking! Two A+ at the top and, even more importantly, two of the three F’s on the entire board means Nystrom isn’t afraid show his true feelings. I also love that he went low on the 49ers when everyone else blindly gave them good grades for having multiple firsts, and he was quite unique on both Pennsylvania teams, too. Way to use the whole grading scale!
FOUR DRAFTS I LIKE
The Colts didn’t have a first, but that’s because they already added the star of their draft, veteran DT DeForest Buckner. The nice thing is that you look at the draft haul without the numbers and it still looks like a complete draft.
Michael Pittman Jr. was a nice value at the top of the second, and he should help the receiving corp right away. I don’t love Jonathan Taylor, but he’s a speed demon who will have a lot of room to run behind this line. Those two should help Philip Rivers right away, and Jacob Eason could replace him in a couple years. I don’t like Eason, but you can’t argue with him at #122. Throw in bespectacled kicker Rodrigo Blankenship after the draft for good measure.
Like the Colts, the Bills didn’t have a first because of the Stefon Diggs trade, and like Indianapolis, they still came away with a well-rounded draft effort.
Buffalo didn’t pick until #54 but landed a perfect fit anyway in DE A.J. Epenesa, a guy in the first round of almost every mock draft and exactly what the Bills needed. RB Zack Moss was a nice pickup in the third and should contribute right away, and I love the Bills stealing Jake Fromm in the fifth. Fromm entered the season as a first-round pick. Don’t be surprised if he pushes Josh Allen for his starting job at some point.
The Browns didn’t have any slam dunks, but they made a lot of layups all draft long. Jedrick Wills is exactly what the team needed in the first. He and free agent signing Jack Conklin totally remake this line. Grant Delpit was one of my 10 favorite prospects and has a chance to give this defense a real playmaker. Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones were high-upside offensive picks on Day 3.
The best pick of all may have been DL Jordan Elliott in the third. Elliott is a potential first-round talent, and the Browns got him after trading down in the third, picking up a 2021 third in the process. Add in Wills and Delpit, and Cleveland might well have come away with three first-round prospects.
I only liked the Cardinals’ first two picks, and they still almost made my LOVE section. I certainly love Isaiah Simmons. Vance Joseph is going to have a lot of fun moving Simmons all over the field on defense. He’s the sort of guy that can transform an entire unit. OT Josh Jones is an analytics darling (they have those for offensive linemen too?) and got a first-round grade on some boards. Those two could be franchise building blocks for a decade to come.
Jones fell to #72, so he was a real value. The Cardinals had to wait on him because they didn’t have a second — they already traded it for DeAndre Hopkins. Let’s just say I like that move too. Hopkins and Jones should make Arizona a top-10 offense if Kyler Murray continues to improve. If Simmons is as good as I think, the Cardinals could contend for the playoffs this year.
FOUR DRAFTS I LOVE
The Ravens know what they’re doing, and they nailed this draft from top to bottom. Baltimore is built differently than any other NFL team, and that gives them a distinct advantage in a draft because it makes particular players more valuable at a value price. Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins fit the bill. Queen is an undersized linebacker but he’ll have a ton of space to run and make tackles on this team, and Dobbins is a downhill bruiser who landed on the perfect team, the best running offense in NFL history. Dobbins was a freebie too, recouped from a Hayden Hurst trade.
Baltimore’s actual second was traded to New England for a pair of 3s, where they landed two perfect Ravens defenders in DT Justin Madubuike and LB Malik Harrison. You know a draft is good when you beat Bill Belichick in a trade. Add in WRs Devin Duvernay and James Proche later in the draft as nice fits, and this is a draft that could impact the entire Ravens roster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I wrote last week about my 10 favorite prospects in the draft, and then the Bucs went out and took three of them, so, yeah…
Tampa landed my #1 OL in Tristan Wirfs, and he was well worth a fourth-round pick to move up to secure him. The Bucs apparently spent a lot of time scouting the University of Minnesota too, because they landed two Golden Gophers at huge values, S Antoine Winfield Jr. at #45 and WR Tyler Johnson in the fifth. I had them as first- and second-round values, respectively.
The Bucs also signed Oklahoma CB Parnell Motley, perhaps the best undrafted player, and don’t forget they already landed Rob Gronkowski in this “draft” too, trading a fourth for him. This draft should pay immediate dividends in the Tom Brady era as well as in the years to come.
The Vikings made more draft picks (15) than any team in the modern era, repeatedly trading down to stockpile picks. Minnesota moved down in the first for a 4 and a 5 and got CB Jeff Gladney anyway. They hung tight in the second and landed OT Ezra Cleveland, a guy they strongly considered before trading down in the first. At the end of the third, they traded the penultimate Friday pick for a 4, 5, 6, and 7, then used that fourth on Baylor DT James Lynch, a perfect fit and maybe the best value pick on all of Day 3.
On top of all that, Minnesota landed a potential star WR in Justin Jefferson even without trading up in the first — and they were trying to move up to land him. The Vikings hoped to walk away with two of Jefferson, Gladney, and Cleveland in Round 1. Instead they somehow got all three and even traded down in the process. They also traded out several of those stockpiled picks later and already have 12 picks lined up in next year’s draft. Rick Spielman played the draft board beautifully and hit every team need. An A+ draft.
And still, the Dallas Cowboys had the best draft of them all.
All the draft strategy in the world doesn’t match a star falling right into your lap, like WR CeeDee Lamb did at #17. Lamb can be a star, and he along with Dak, Zeke, and Amari should make this offense formidable this fall. Jerry Jones has long been a believer in taking the best player available, and that could pay off beautifully here.
Of course, that only works if you fill team needs later, and Dallas did that too. Many mock drafts had the Cowboys taking a center in the first. Instead they got a stud receiver and then landed Wisconsin C Tyler Biadasz in the fourth. They also picked up big time talents in CB Trevon Diggs and DT Neville Gallimore on Day 2. They might have walked away with three top-50 players and a fourth starter in Biadasz.
Considering the Vikings tried to trade up for both Lamb and Gallimore and ended up with an A+ draft anyway, where does that leave Dallas?
At the head of the class, that’s where. Maybe at the top of the NFC, too. ■