The Primer: 2020 NFL Draft Edition
If you’ve been hanging around since the Super Bowl just waiting for the NFL Draft to come around to get back into football… well, you’ve come to the right place. While you’ve been thinking about other things, we’ve been preparing for the three-day extravaganza that’ll take place from April 23-25.
The purpose of this article is to give you a condensed overview of what I’ve learned over the last few months while studying the teams, prospects, and talk around the league. There are always going to be surprises, but we’re talking about the most likely scenarios here. In case you haven’t heard, we’re doing a LIVE broadcast during Day 1 of the NFL Draft, giving analysis on every pick, which will include tons of fantasy advice. Click here for the link for the broadcast.
Like most years, there are quarterbacks being discussed all over the top of the draft. It’s a foregone conclusion that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will be going to the Bengals with the No. 1 pick, and rightfully so after he just threw for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns, and just six interceptions through 15 games.
The only other quarterback who’d receive any consideration with the No. 1 pick is Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, though this draft process has to be interesting for someone like him coming off hip surgery, and his physicals were going to be huge in determining where teams would feel comfortable drafting him.
Outside of Burrow and Tagovailoa, the next tier of quarterbacks is Utah State’s Jordan Love, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm. It’s unlikely there are any other quarterbacks selected in the top three rounds. There was a ton of buzz surrounding Love at the NFL Combine, with some suggesting he could go in the top-10, though that buzz seems to have died down a bit. He may have upside with his big arm but there are tons of concerns about his mental processing. He’s not someone who should start immediately.
Every year, you hear analysts say there may not be a running back drafted in the first-round, but history tells us there are typically a few of them. The running backs who’ll be in contention this year include Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Georgia’s D’Andre Swift. After Taylor posted a great 40-time at the Combine, his stock seems to be the highest, though Swift is a complete three-down back.
The next tier of running backs that should go on Day 2 of the NFL Draft include LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ohio State’s JK Dobbins, Florida State’s Cam Akers, and maybe Utah’s Zack Moss. The running back pool is fairly deep and there aren’t a whole lot of vacant spots around the league, so running backs may fall further than expected. Edwards-Helaire is the one I believe would be the biggest steal, should he fall out of the second-round.
We’ve heard some crazy things surrounding the wide receiver position this year; things like “there will be 20 wide receivers selected in the first two rounds.” Let’s be clear: that’s not happening. Over the last four years, there were an average of 31.5 wide receivers selected in the entire draft, with just 7.6 of them coming over the first two rounds. To be fair, this wide receiver class is extremely good, so we should see more than usual, but I doubt we even reach a dozen of them in the first two rounds.
The wide receivers who are seemingly locks in the first-round include Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb. There have been reports that Ruggs may be the first one off the board, but no matter the case, it’s unlikely any of those from this trio make it out of the top-20. The others who may creep into that first-round conversation include LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Clemson’s Tee Higgins, TCU’s Jalen Reagor, and Baylor’s Denzel Mims, though it would be shocking if more than four or five receivers went in the first-round.
Day 2 of the draft should be one that’s littered with wide receivers, as there are more and more teams going with three- and four-wide receiver sets, making depth a valuable commodity. Some of the wide receivers above are surely going to fall into this territory, with the others being considered in the second round being Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, USC’s Michael Pittman, and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler.
There are many others who’ll be considered on Day 2, depending on what the team on the clock is looking for, as Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones is one of my favorites, particularly in the red zone, as he has an incredible wingspan and magnets for hands. Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus didn’t have the greatest Combine athletically, but he’s a baller who some team may value tape over measurables. Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden has No. 1 wide receiver upside but didn’t play the best competition. There will be some future superstar wide receivers who come off the board during Day 2.
This is by far one of the weakest tight end classes I’ve ever scouted, and consensus rankings back that up. You could talk to 10 different analysts and six of them would have a different No. 1 tight end on their board. There’s just no clear separation, though I’ll do my best to tell you who would be good at what for specific team needs.
If a team is looking for a ‘move’ tight end who’s more of a receiver than anything, Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins should top their list, as he moves incredibly well for a man of his size. Dayton’s Adam Trautman has been skyrocketing up draft boards as of late but is still learning the tight end position. Washington’s Hunter Bryant is of the smaller variety at 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, though many believe he can be a mismatch for linebackers. And then you have LSU’s Thaddeus Moss, son of Randy Moss, who would also play the move tight end role.
For those teams looking for the more traditional tight end, Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet is the one they’re looking for and could be the first tight end off the board, though it’s not likely until the second-round.
Lastly, if there’s a team looking for the complete package if he puts it all together, Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam presents the highest ceiling in this draft class. He ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which topped many running backs and wide receivers. He looked great with Drew Lock under center in 2018 but his 2019 tape was horrendous. He’s the ultimate boom-or-bust pick that I’m betting some team takes a shot on in Day 2.
This is a solid draft for teams who need an offensive tackle and are drafting inside the top half of the first-round. While my favorite tackle is Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, many have ranked Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs ahead of him. That just goes to show there’s talent to be had. Thomas is sturdy and safe, Becton is oozing with upside though a bit raw, Wills is a plug-and-play starter, and Wirfs is a fit at either right tackle or on the interior. It’s very unlikely that any of these prospects fall outside of the top 18 picks.
The next tier of tackles isn’t as good, though there’s some potential with a player like Houston’s Josh Jones. He’s 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, and projects as a left tackle, though he’s not someone who’d ideally start right away. USC’s Austin Jackson has gotten late first round buzz but isn’t someone I loved during the scouting process. The other tackle I like that can be had on Day 2 is Lucas Niang of TCU, as he should be able to play right tackle for a team very soon.
Interior Offensive Linemen
This is not a good draft for teams who are in need of interior linemen. There are some analysts around the industry who don’t expect one to come off the board in the first-round. Over the last four rounds, there have been an average of 2.0 interior linemen drafted in the first-round, with an average of 6.6 of them being taken on Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3). I highly doubt we get to those numbers.
This position is a lot like tight ends in that no ones draft board is the same and you might see five different linemen ranked in the top spot. The only players that I’m fairly confident come off the board by the end of the third-round are Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz, and LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry. You shouldn’t be overly rooting for your team to reach for an interior lineman in this draft.
Interior Defensive Linemen
This class isn’t nearly as strong as last year’s class that had six interior defensive linemen being drafted in the first round. Not that it’s a bad class, though. The clear-cut No. 1 tackle is Auburn’s Derrick Brown, who will most likely be selected inside the top-10, while South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw has made a move to the middle of the first-round, based on what we’re hearing. Those are the two surefire first-rounders.
The next tier of tackles includes Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, TCU’s Ross Blacklock, Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore, and Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike. My favorite of the bunch is Davis, who should be able to walk in and contribute from day one.
We typically see a handful of edge rushers come off the board in the first round, though this year could be an exception. Ohio State’s Chase Young will be off the board in the top three picks, that much is certain. Outside of him, we don’t have another clear-cut surefire first-rounder among edge rushers.
The next tier of edge defenders includes Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, LSU’s K’Lavon Chiasson, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, and Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara. They all bring different skillsets to the table and some will fit defensive schemes better than others. Epenesa brings strength, Chiasson brings versatility, Gross-Matos fits perfectly in a 4-3, and Okwara is a well-rounded pass-rusher. If any of them were selected in the first-round, it’ll be due to scheme fit over the other options. All of them will be gone by the end of the second round.
There are some solid second- and third-tier options at edge rusher who come with upside, though there aren’t many sure things. Some of those who’ll likely fall into Day 2 that I like are Florida’s Jonathan Greenard and Boise State’s Curtis Weaver.
As is the case with most years, there are a few linebackers who stand out head and shoulders above the rest. This year, the clear-cut No. 1 option is Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, who is, in my opinion, a once in a decade type player. To put it simply, he moves like Julio Jones would playing defense. He can play safety, linebacker, and even cornerback if you needed him to. He’s not making it outside the top-10 and might not make it out of the top-five.
There is a clear second tier of linebackers who have a good shot at going in the first round, too. Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen are both top-tier talents that should walk into the NFL and start right away. If you’re a fan of a team who needs a linebacker towards the end of the first round (looking at you, Ravens), you should be happy with either of these players.
Once you get outside those two tiers, there’s a bit more risk with the linebackers that’ll be considered in Rounds 2 and 3. It’s also where you’ll see a lot of lists differ, though many of them will include California’s Evan Weaver, Oregon’s Troy Dye, Ohio State’s Malik Harrison, Texas Tech’s Jordyn Brooks, and Wisconsin’s Zack Baun (who has gotten late first round buzz).
This should be considered an above-average draft for cornerbacks, as there are six cornerbacks who’ve been rumored to go inside the first round. The clear-cut No. 1 cornerback by consensus in this draft is Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, who’s expected to go inside the top five picks. A rock-solid Combine performance boosted Florida’s C.J. Henderson up into top-10 consideration. LSU’s Kristian Fulton and Clemson’s A.J. Terrell are other cornerbacks who should be a locked-in first round picks.
The next tier of cornerbacks can go in any order, depending on how teams feel about their fit in their defensive scheme. Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and TCU’s Jeff Gladney have all received first round buzz, though you can’t say with any certainty that they’ll be picked there.
The third tier of cornerbacks is still strong, as Virginia’s Bryce Hall would likely be a first-round pick if he didn’t have any injury concerns. Utah’s Jaylon Johnson has reportedly moved up boards, but he’s still a Day 2 pick. This tier also includes Ohio State’s Damon Arnette, Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler, and Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene.
This feels like a middle-of-the-pack draft for safeties, as there aren’t any who are locked-in as top-15 picks, so it lacks true studs, but there are plenty of starting caliber players. The two who are receiving the most first-round consideration include LSU’s Grant Delpit and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. Delpit is a strong safety type, while McKinney is more of a free safety who can play nickel cornerback, if needed. Team fit will come in to play with these two.
Once you get past those two, there’s a big tier of safeties who are likely to go on Day 2 of the draft. One of my favorites is Antoine Winfield Jr. out of Minnesota, as his effort is unmatched, and he’s not someone defenders want to see in the open field. The others include Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn, Clemson’s K’Von Wallace, California’s Ashtyn Davis, Texas’ Brandon Jones, and Lenoir-Ryne’s Kyle Dugger. There will be someone who falls in love with Dugger’s size, athleticism, and physicality. The issue is that he played for a small school and there are some teams who wonder how he’ll translate, and if he may be a better fit at linebacker.
This is a good draft class, though you must wonder just how things will shake out with the current state of the country. Players coming off injury are going to fall further than anticipated because teams haven’t had the chance to bring them in to test them out physically. Because of that, I believe you’re going to find more superstars later in the NFL Draft than usual.
If there’s one position that stands out, it’s wide receiver. This may be one of the deepest wide receiver classes I’ve ever seen, which could have wide receiver-needy teams to wait longer than fans anticipate, simply because if they miss out on their No. 5 wide receiver, they feel just fine moving forward with the No. 12 wide receiver on their board. If there’s one thing we can all agree on about this NFL Draft, it’s that it’ll be interesting.