5 Burning Questions for the 2020 NFL Draft
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The NFL Draft is closing in on us, and that’s whether NFL teams want it to or not. Since it’s crunch time, I wanted to take some time to answer some hot questions about the Draft that have been popping up lately and give my thoughts on each. Let’s not waste any more time and dive into them!
Question 1: How is the NFL Draft going to operate this year?
For starters, the NFL Draft will maintain its original dates of April 23- 25. The date has been a huge focus of front offices as they have pushed for a delay in the start date because of how much the quarantine situation has affected normal draft operations. While the dates will stay the same, not much else will. With the “stay at home” orders still in effect, teams have not been able to gather in their facilities and will not be allowed to do so during the draft.
This has led the NFL to tell teams that they will have to run their operations virtually. A broad overview of what teams can expect was explained in a memo sent out by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
An excerpt from that memo states “Because of these circumstances, Clubs have been advised to prepare to conduct the 2020 Draft entirely outside of their facilities and in a fully virtual format, with club personnel in separate locations and able to communicate with one another and Draft headquarters by phone or internet”. The memo in its entirety can be read here.
This decision was made to ensure that certain teams weren’t able to have the competitive advantage of meeting in person in their facilities while others weren’t able to do so.
This will definitely be one of the most interesting aspects of draft weekend, as the 2020 NFL Draft will become more like a fantasy draft than the actual NFL Draft. We will have to continue tracking what else changes with the new draft — I believe many more could occur (such as longer pick times) to accommodate social distancing.
Question 2: How many quarterbacks will get selected in round one?
The quarterback position is always the hot ticket item in each draft. “How many will be drafted? Who is going to what team? What are your quarterback rankings?” are all popular topics. Let’s dive into the question of how many quarterbacks will go in the first round.
First, we’ll want to identify the quarterbacks guaranteed to go in the first. Based on my grading system, Joe Burrow out of LSU and Tua Tagovailoa out of Alabama both grade out as top-15 players overall. When you add in the importance of their position, they look like guarantees to go in the first round. From there, the gap opens up.
My next guy up is Justin Herbert. Overall, he ranks in the mid-30s among players. His final grade correlates to a quarterback who can step in and be a win-with option within the first year or two. He won’t be the reason teams win, but he won’t hurt his team either. At this point, I am confident that he will be selected in the first round by a quarterback-needy team.
Jordan Love, my QB4, is where it gets slightly more interesting. He has the best arm traits overall, but he also had the most alarming 2019 season of the top quarterbacks. I don’t see Love getting selected in the top half of the first round, but in the back half, there are tons of teams that could draft and develop him. I could see him going to the Raiders, Saints, Patriots, or Packers to name a few teams, and in the end, I do think a team pulls the trigger and selects him round one.
The last quarterback I can see going round one is Jacob Eason. He is another raw traits guy who has a good amount of developing left to do. It is because of that development and lack of experience that I believe he will not go round one, but he could cause a day two early trade up. So that leaves us with my final prediction of four quarterbacks being selected in round one: Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jordan Love.
Question 3: How will not having medical re-checks affect the draft?
This is an important topic that needs to be considered when predicting where players end up in the draft. The most important ability is availability. If a team can’t count on a player to be able to play week-in and week-out for years to come, then it will be hard for them to invest a lot of capital into that player. Of course, you can’t predict future injuries, but it’s important to know if a player has a history of missing games due to injuries on a consistent basis, or if they have suffered a severe injury in the past.
First, let’s take a deeper look into the medical check process performed by the NFL overall and individual teams. The first time players are checked out is during the NFL Scouting Combine. During that time, each player gets checked over thoroughly, and players with past injuries will be checked over even further. The process can include x-rays and MRIs to ensure that past injuries have fully healed and healed correctly. When teams come across a player that is still in the healing process, they will flag them as a player they want re-checked in early April. However, with the coronavirus changes, that re-check isn’t available.
It’s because of that issue that teams can’t get a final evaluation of the injuries that they flagged during the combine. So they need to go through this weird cycle with injury questions surrounding more players than usual. An example of this is the hip injury for Tua Tagovailoa. During the combine, it was reported that his hip was healing well, but it wasn’t fully healed, and he wasn’t cleared for activity at the time. And without April follow-ups, no team has been able to further examine him as the draft approaches.
Tua has managed his situation well, however. He released a video of himself working out, and he also had a third-party doctor check his hip out and give him the all-clear. That is good to hear, but it won’t surprise me if teams still don’t trust the third party re-check because it isn’t their personal doctors.
So in the end, if a player can’t get his injury red flags cleared, the odds of them falling in the draft drastically increases.
Question 4: What are the deepest positions in the draft this year?
I’ll answer this question with what I have as my three deepest positions in the draft: wide receiver, running back, and cornerback. Ahead, I’ll give a quick overview of each position to illustrate just how deep they are.
The wide receiver class is the deepest group in this year’s draft, and it is the deepest receiver class I have ever scouted. During most drafts, teams can find solid starting receivers through the second round, and they may get lucky in the third round. This year I fully expect starting receivers to get drafted through day two of the draft, with teams having a chance to find gold in the early fourth round on day three. At the top of the receiver rankings, there are elite-level prospects in Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Henry Ruggs III. Most years, teams would target these levels of athletes in the top 10. However, because the class is so deep, I expect to see a slide by those players into the 10-20 overall pick range in the first, as teams focus on more shallow positions instead of just grabbing the top talent early.
The running back class is my second-deepest class this year, and it’s the reason that I predict no running back will go in the first round. During most drafts, there are three to four rushers who look like they can handle a full workload or the majority share of a split backfield. This year, that number is seven for me, including three running backs in my top-32 overall players. Similar to receivers, this will cause teams to hold off on the position and focus more on the shallow positions as well as positions that hold more positional value — despite what we think as fantasy football players, wide receiver and running back are not high on the list of most important positions.
The third-deepest position is cornerback. Unlike the first two positions, I think that positional value will cause a run on this position starting in the second half of the first round, after two to three go in the first half of round one. Based on my final grades, I have nine to ten corners who I see as having the traits to be full-time starters within the first couple of years in the league. With the importance now placed on stopping the pass in today’s NFL, look for these possibly ten corners to all be selected before the end of round two.
Question 5: What are the shallowest positions in the draft this year?
I wanted to list my three shallowest positions, but I feel the two shallowest are so far below the rest of the classes that I will just focus on them instead. Those two positions are the off-ball linebacker and interior offensive line classes.
First up, let’s look at the off-ball linebacker position. According to my rankings, the off-ball linebackers are my second shallowest class this draft season. The reason they do keep from being the shallowest is they do have very intriguing top-end prospects in Isaiah Simmons (I had to put him somewhere), Kenneth Murray, and Patrick Queen. However, it’s a big drop from there to my next pure off-ball linebacker, Malik Harrison. That drop is from Queen at 18th overall down to Harrison at 58th overall. Essentially, if teams don’t get one of the studs at the top, they either need to look elsewhere like (think a trade or remaining free agents), or teams will have to select several pieces that specialize in certain areas and develop a situational rotation. Unfortunately for that idea, a lot of the remaining off-ball linebackers only fit as weakside guys who often drop into coverage.
Finally, we end this article with what is clearly my shallowest position group of the draft — the interior offensive linemen. The first red flag for this position is that I have just one member of the group ranked inside my top-50 overall players. That is Matt Hennessy from Temple. After that, the next player I have is Tyler Biadasz at 57 overall. The only part of the group that saves them from being a complete wash of a class from there is that while there is not much of any top-flight talent, there is a decent amount of depth around Biadasz. I have several IOL ranked right near each other, like Cesar Ruiz and Lloyd Cushenberry. However, once you get outside that group, there is virtually nothing left to go after.