FMIA: 2020 Draft Rounds Into Focus

FMIA: 2020 Draft Rounds Into Focus

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Story Originally Published on Profootballtalk.NBCSports.com (4/13)

Ten days till the strangest draft in NFL history kicks off, and there’s some interesting news coming later in the column. (For instance: Roger Goodell will announce the first-round picks from his basement in Westchester County, N.Y.) But for the first time this crazy spring, let’s focus on round one of the NFL draft rumors, and what I know.

The full mock draft lands next Monday. For now, I wish I could tell you something of value on all 32 picks, but I’ll only use what my late-week fact-finding ferreted out. Let’s go:

1. CINCINNATI. So there’s little chance the Bengals will trade out of this pick. LSU’s Joe Burrow makes too much sense for the long-term best interests of the franchise. But Cincinnati trading out of the top spot is not unprecedented for the Brown family. After Steve Young signed with the USFL’s L.A. Express in March 1984, they Bengals dealt the top overall pick to New England. The Pats dealt first, first, fifth and 10th-round picks (that’s how long ago it was; there were 12 rounds in ’84) to be able to snag wideout Irving Fryar first overall. The Bengals got shafted, essentially; they picked a pretty good guard (Brian Blados) and got nothing else of substance out of the deal. But the Bengals never would have made the trade had Young been there for them. With Burrow, an Ohioan, on the board, the Bengals should probably sit and take him.

2. WASHINGTON. No one in my sphere thinks Ron Rivera will do anything but log on to the NFL’s secure Microsoft Teams draft channel when Washington is on the clock and enter Chase Young, Ohio State.

3. DETROIT. Defensive player or trade down. Lions would love to find a partner to supply them with a fifth pick in the top 90 of a top-heavy draft. Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah or Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown would be Matt Patricia types. But how about this counter-culture idea from one smart GM on Saturday: “I bet 40 percent of the teams in the league have C.J. Henderson higher on their boards than Okudah. Better cover guy.” Hmmmm. Even a trade down for slightly less value would be smart for Lions GM Bob Quinn.

4. NEW YORK GIANTS. Hard to see Dave Gettleman go anywhere but tackle in this urgent draft for the G-men. Gettleman shocked the world with Daniel Jones at six last year, but the meat-and-potatoes GM is likely to go meat-and-potatoes this year with a tackle. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Alabama’s Jedrick Wills are 1-2 or 2-1 on many draft boards.

5. MIAMI. In free agency 14 years ago, the most fateful decision in the NFL was quarterback-desperate Miami bypassing Drew Brees because of a major shoulder injury in favor of Daunte Culpepper. That, of course, changed the course of pro football history. In the draft this year, the most fateful decision will be another medical one, and it’s in quarterback-desperate Miami’s hands again: to draft Tua Tagovailoa with his injury history, or to pass him by.

Interesting to note that Chris Grier, the current GM, was a Miami national scout in 2006 and watched the organization make the safer, and ultimately dead-wrong, call. Interesting, too, that Grier was Miami’s director of college scouting under football boss Bill Parcells from 2008 to 2010—and one of Parcells’ favorite bromides is, “The most important part of ability is availability.” Tough call for Grier.

I do hear that he and coach Brian Flores are very much against trading the farm to move up to get Burrow—which some in the organization want to do. I doubt owner Stephen Ross will pull the owner card and force a mega-offer to try to move up to number one, but we’ll see. “You can’t say anything with certainty on Tua,” Mel Kiper says.

One last point, and I can’t take credit for it; a smart GM told me this Saturday. Imagine the buzzkill if the Dolphins take Tagovailoa, and there’s a huge virtual celebration, and Adam Schefter or Chris Mortensen take the TV throw from Trey Wingo and say: “Trey, I’ve been told that more than one NFL team gave Tua Tagovailoa a failing grade on his physical exam.” Welcome to Miami, kid.

6. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS. Top-five GM poker-player in the league: Tom Telesco. (So you ask: Who is the top one? Easy. Jacksonville’s Dave Caldwell, who keeps the Jags’ picks from his wife.) A quarterback or long-term tackle makes the most sense; a GM friend of Telesco’s thinks he’s very high on Justin Herbert. But head coach Anthony Lynn is legitimately bullish on Tyrod Taylor, and maybe for more than one year. Talked to Telesco on my podcast this week, and he said the final board gets made, virtually, this week by video conference.

9. JACKSONVILLE. Not a quarterback, I hear. “They really want to give Gardner Minshew a real shot,” one FOC (Friend of Caldwell) says. Defensive impact player like Swiss-Army-knifish Isaiah Simmons makes sense. Biggest question for Jags on draft weekend revolves around the latest really good cornerstone player who wants out, Yannick Ngakoue. Can Caldwell find a fair deal for the defensive end?

10. CLEVELAND. New GM Andrew Berry:

• Is a good friend of Joe Thomas and saw his value in his previous Cleveland tenure;

• Was most recently schooled in the Eagles’ ethos of when-in-doubt-take-an-offensive-lineman;

• Sees a tackle position on the Browns in tatters;

• Watches 2019 Browns tape and sees Baker Mayfield running for his life.

I mean, how does Berry not take one of the four hot-prospect tackles right here? “I agree,” one Browns-watcher on another team said Saturday. “But they love that Boise tackle, and maybe they think they can get him in the second round.” What an apt pick: With the 41st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Browns select Ezra Cleveland, tackle, Boise State.

11. NEW YORK JETS. Big needs are tackle, wide receiver and pass-rusher. Joe Douglas, the GM with a six-year contract, knows there isn’t a pass-rusher worthy of the pick here, and knows he can get a first-round-caliber wideout at pick 48 in the second round, and sees the best value by far here at tackle. If a value player like Louisville’s Mekhi Becton or Andrew Thomas of Georgia is still on the board, I’m betting tackle here.

12. LAS VEGAS. Jon Gruden’s been grousing that he’s got no home-run playmakers at wideout. Mike Mayock wants clean character guys. Ceedee Lamb seems pretty logical.

13. SAN FRANCISCO. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Another defensive lineman in the first round?!! This sounds crazy, and maybe it is, after all the first-round defensive-line capital the Niners have used up. (Consider Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Nick Bosa in the last five drafts.) But I hear the Niners are desperate for a space-eating defensive tackle who can threaten the pocket, and that’s what the 315-pound and athletic Kinlaw does.

16. ATLANTA. Falcons fan? NFL fan? Click on the video on top of this column to see what I’m guessing will be the coolest draft-weekend setup any GM in the NFL will have. Thomas Dimitroff did my podcast Saturday, and it’s a video pod, and he was good enough to show me the draft lair he’s set up in his Atlanta home. You’ll love it.

Desperate for some edge presence, Atlanta signed Dante Fowler (Rams, 2019: 11.5 sacks) in free agency. Dimitroff could double-dip with the second-best edge rusher in the draft: LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson.

17. DALLAS. “It’s too high for a center,” said one personnel wag, “but they love the Michigan center (Cesar Ruiz), and they could trade down a few spots and still be sure of getting him.” Interesting: a plug-and-play heir to Travis Frederick.

19. LAS VEGAS. Mike Mayock won’t be able to pass on Florida corner C.J. Henderson if he’s here (and I wouldn’t be surprised at a Raider tradeup for him), not after formerly Raider-bound Eli Apple failed his physical and the Raiders got outbid on Byron Jones. Of course, they could go Henderson at 11 and an excellent wideout at 19 too.

21. PHILADELPHIA. The Eagles, understandably, didn’t want to give up the 53rd overall pick for Brandin Cooks. Mocks from Caribou to Carlsbad will give Philly a wide receiver, and I probably will too, a week from today. Give me some time on that one.

23. NEW ENGLAND. “They love Justin Herbert, but enough to trade up for him?” one rival GM said. Pats do have 12 picks—second-most in the draft—for ammo, but only one of those comes in the top 85. If they want Herbert, they’d likely have to be willing to part with the 2021 first-rounder in a trove of picks. After losing out on Hayden Hurst in their latest hunt for a tight end, no way the Pats could reach for versatile Notre Damer Cole Kmet here to solve the tight end problem, is there?

27. SEATTLE. Best quote that I mined this week, from an AFC GM: “Only two sure things in this draft: Joe Borrow to the Bengals and John Schneider trades down in the first round.” In the eight drafts since 2012, Schneider has traded his first-round pick every year . . . and twice in 2017 and 2019. Eight first rounds, 10 trades. Whatever happens on draft weekend, my money is on Schneider to add a pass-rusher, probably Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen, in the next two weeks.

One last note, from a GM who has been in the quarterback market, on the number four QB in the draft: “Jordan Love’s a polarizing player. He’s the most exciting quarterback in the draft. He’s not Mahomes, but coached well, he could become a really good player.”

My lone mock of the year will be out next Monday, and I’m going to turn it into a video production as well, hosted by NBC’s Paul Burmeister. More information on that next Monday in FMIA.

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