To answer Hank Williams Jr., we’re all ready for some football.
The 2020 NFL Draft has been completed for a little while now, and with the recent schedule release of the NFL, fans have had the ability to digest the fact that a dream of theirs could soon be reality: a world with live sports being played. With the rest of the Big 4 sports still in limbo, having something to look forward to is more than a welcome sight. And as is usually the case in this period between the Draft and training camp, speculation is rampant about how teams will fare this season. As always, the rookies will be put under a microscope in this time as well.
Granted, how well a team did in the Draft won’t be answered until a few years down the line. Remember 2012, when the Seahawks were roasted for their first three picks of Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson (One Bleacher Report writer gave the Seahawks an F and declared the Wilson pick “by far the worst move of the draft”). Given the fact the Seahawks would win the Super Bowl three years after that infamous class, not every draft will live up to expectations, regardless of how high or low. Nothing’s wrong with having an initial thought about how well a team drafted, but cases likes the Seahawks show the value of patience when evaluating young players.
However, it’s one thing for experts to give their opinions, but what about fans? While some would criticize opinionated fans through the “armchair GM” label and accusing them of knowing more than the front office, I see them in a different perspective. Fans have their own unique ideas of what they want to see from their teams or others, sometimes not in lockstep with experts. Just like general managers and coaches, they know how their team works and, with some research, they can come up with a battle plan for the Draft that is actually rather plausible.
Over the last week or so, I have reached out to collect a few fan takes on the Draft. They responded with opinions of how they did, how other teams did, and how the Draft was done in general. Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic forcing the Draft to be done under unique circumstances, speculation is still going to center around these teams and how well they drafted. Let’s get to the fun!
“San Francisco 49ers had a great draft! Dallas as well, but we know their situation. Just wait and see.” -Ryan Jones Sr., 49ers fan and host of Raw Mind Sports
The 49ers were somewhere in the middle for me. On one hand, I liked how they took the pick they got from Indianapolis for DeForest Buckner to draft his replacement in Javon Kinlaw. On the other hand, I wasn’t too sure why they would trade up to land Brandon Aiyuk when picks were so scarce, especially as there were rumors of them trading down. That being said, any draft analysis for the Niners has to include Trent Williams, who the team landed from Washington to replace the retiring Joe Staley. This class, along with Williams, will allow the 49ers to have a seamless transition from pieces they lost in the offseason. Call it treading water if you want, but when you’re the defending NFC champions, sometimes keeping things together is the best strategy of all.
Dallas, on the other hand, was a unanimous winner in early draft grades. CeeDee Lamb wasn’t expected to fall to the Cowboys at 17, but they had to get him to pair with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup (also helps to make Dak Prescott happy, in this current time). They also replaced pieces they lost in free agency or retirement. Byron Jones is now Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II, Maliek Collins is Neville Gallimore, Robert Quinn is Bradlee Anae, and Travis Frederick is now Tyler Biadasz. While all of this is great, it is fair to address the situation that Ryan refers to. Due to the splashy nature of the Cowboys, it is easy to inflate the importance of this class and see them going further than they probably will. Again, the real impact of a rookie class won’t be felt until at least a few years, so the Cowboys need to give this some time. Let the newbies learn to walk before teaching them to run.
“Jordan Love will be great once he’s released behind Aaron Rodgers. Jalen Hurts might get a chance sooner than later due to [Carson] Wentz’s injury history. Tua [Tagovailoa] will be good in Miami. He gives me the Russell Wilson and Drew Brees vibe.” -Ryan
Every top quarterback outside of Burrow had some type of question mark around them. Not listed is new Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who faces some mechanical issues and Oregon’s track record of quarterbacks struggling at the NFL level. Similar to Herbert, though, all of these three will be given some time to develop. That said, there are some snap judgments that can be made about them.
If I were to describe Miami’s quest to tank for Tua, it would be this. The franchise quarterback they desired all along stumbled into their laps, but with one major red flag. His injury history is beginning to grow alarming, especially for a young player. Not to mention he’s leaving the cushy confines of Tuscaloosa for a clear rebuilding job in South Beach, so there’s that to look forward to. Chances are Tua will be asked to redshirt behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and possibly Josh Rosen in order to get healthy and learn the playbook. It would be wise to save him for when the Dolphins can prove they can be a competitive team.
Love and Hurts are interesting cases. Love came off of a down year at Utah State after a phenomenal 2019, while Hurts shined at Oklahoma under offensive-minded coaching prodigy Lincoln Riley. However, both of their selections drew more than a few eyebrow raises. Ironically, Love was drafted by Green Bay to eventually replace Aaron Rodgers, 15 years after Rodgers was drafted to replace another franchise icon in Brett Favre. Meanwhile, Hurts was drafted in the second round by Philadelphia to provide stability behind Carson Wentz. Quarterback wasn’t the biggest need for either team, but they invested early draft capital at the position anyway. It just came across as odd for two quarterbacks who, frankly, can be considered as disrespected.
All three quarterbacks have the potential to shine at the NFL level, without question. However, they each face adversity if they want to see such a bright future come to pass.
“Raiders had a subpar draft in my opinion. We needed to beef up our defense, not our WR core.” -Anthony Jones, Raiders fan
Admittedly, the Raiders did go overkill at the receiver position, even if Lynn Bowden is expected to be a utility player at the next level. I understand they were looking for a true top receiver after the Antonio Brown saga, but still. That said, there are a few questions that I feel the Raiders didn’t do enough to address.
It became clear that the Raiders were sticking to the core tenets of their drafting philosophy: speed and big-name programs. Speed was filled with the likes of Henry Ruggs and Bowden, as well as Amik Robertson. The Raiders also went back to the Clemson well, drafting Tanner Muse and John Simpson from the national runner-up.
It’s fair to wonder what the Raiders could have done differently. Ruggs was a fine pick, but I can’t help but think they would have been just as happy with CeeDee Lamb. Fellow first-rounder Damon Arnette was widely considered a reach, especially with other corners like Jaylon Johnson and Kristian Fulton still available. I did like the Simpson and Robertson picks, but I feel they could have traded down if they really wanted Muse. Maybe one of those picks for Bowden or Bryan Edwards should have been invested in a defensive lineman to help Maxx Crosby and Maurice Hurst out?
The Raiders may have a rough inaugural season in Las Vegas, with experts ranking them last in the AFC West. That said, we were expecting the same for that other team from Las Vegas. How did those guys do, anyway?
“I think Buffalo did really well despite not having a first rounder. Getting [A.J.] Epenesa as a mid second rounder is an absolute steal to add to an already stingy defense and pass rush, and I also love the Zack Moss pick in the third round to pair with [Devin] Singletary.” -Dan Spielvogel, Texans fan
Ironically, the Bills reminded me of the team who took their first-round pick in the Vikings back in 2017. They managed to land a first-round talent in the second round in Dalvin Cook, while managing to land solid players like Pat Elflein, Jaleel Johnson, and Ben Gedeon. It takes work to build a good class without a first-round pick, but give credit to Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane for helping their team out.
Epenesa and Moss both had relatively poor combines, but Moss at least made up for it with workouts prior to the COVID-19-induced lockdowns. Both slide into a decent situation in Buffalo. Epenesa replaces Shaq Lawson on the defensive line, while Moss will likely serve as a complement to Devin Singletary in the backfield. They’ll both have roles immediately, and both were decent values at where they were selected, so that’s a big deal.
What I will add to this is the selection of Jake Fromm in the fifth round. While some can question why Buffalo would draft a quarterback, the reasoning is actually quite simple. Josh Allen’s meltdown in the Wild Card game drew questions about his ceiling, and now it’s time for the final exam. The Bills are in a pivotal moment in their history with Tom Brady now out of the division, and they need to know if their quarterback is who they expect him to be. With a true top receiver in Stefon Diggs, a defense with the potential to be top-five in the NFL, and an improved team around him, there’s no more excuses for Allen. Step up or step out is what McDermott and Beane said with the Fromm pick, and that might be just what he needed.
“I loved the depth at both quarterback and wide receiver in this draft. I believe that teams may have found future starters at those positions as last as round four for quarterbacks and as late as round six for wide receivers.” -Kevin Bargender, Packers fan
Quarterback may be a bit difficult for me to get behind. I can see guys like James Morgan or Cole McDonald shining with proper development, but those will be in at least a couple years. This receiver class, however, was one of the most stacked in recent memory.
Here are some of the receivers that went on the third day of the draft. Antonio Gandy-Golden. Tyler Johnson. Isaiah Coulter. Donovan Peoples-Jones. James Proche. K.J. Hill. In a normal receiver class, all of these names are drafted at least two rounds before their real selection. All of these receivers outside of Hill were drafted by the round 6 cutoff point, but Hill has the tools to land a job as a slot receiver. This group has all the potential to provide value, which is what teams are looking for at this stage.
And if 2020 sounded stacked, just wait until 2021. The quarterback class, led by Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, is worthy of an article by itself. The receivers have more than a few productive names as well, with the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Justyn Ross, Rondale Moore, Tylan Wallace, and another pair of Alabama receivers in Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle leading the charge. For a pass-happy league like today’s NFL, this type of talent has to be a blessing.
“Going into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an opportunity to go from playoff hopefuls to Super Bowl contenders. They came out in the latter category…If Bruce Arians and his coaching staff are able to bring this team together quickly and they can hit the ground running, don’t be surprised to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers be the first team in NFL history have homefield advantage in the Super Bowl.” -Brandon Crotchett, Buccaneers fan
The Buccaneers going to Super Bowl is a debate for another day. That said, the team needed to make a splash in order to make good on their new championship window that Brady and Gronk helped open. With five primetime games this season, the league’s going to get a good look at the news and improved Bucs squad.
Trading up for Tristan Wirfs was a good move, especially now as the offensive line is tasked to protect arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Antoine Winfield Jr. was also a nice pickup to bolster a young and talented secondary, especially with the gauntlet that is NFC South quarterbacks. While I’m not too sure about how they handled the running game (Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais were both brought in), they did at least address the need. They also took two of my personal favorite sleepers in Tyler Johnson and Khalil Davis, who I wouldn’t be shocked to see outperform their draft spots in a year or two’s time.
Contending years are the years that a team has to nail a draft, and the Buccaneers did a fine job with it. Is it enough to win a stacked division and conference, though? That’s the million-dollar question.
“I’m extremely pleased with the 49ers draft. However, my pleasure stems from the overall events surrounding the draft and the team.” -Duane Gordin, 49ers fan
As mentioned with Ryan, any draft analysis has to take the Williams deal into account. In need of further draft capital, the 49ers decided to wheel and deal with their own players. In a draft where people were expecting the likes of Yannick Ngakoue and Leonard Fournette to move teams, it was actually a pair of San Francisco players that moved.
In a desire from the team to gain speed on the offensive side of the ball, Philadelphia decided to take Marquise Goodwin from the 49ers as a reclamation project. San Francisco did clear up a good chunk of cap space with the move, so it worked out better instead of a simple cut. The other trade was sending Matt Breida to Miami, and while losing the player is a bit of a tough blow, it is understandable. The 49ers had too many backs on the roster, and while the merits of Tevin Coleman or Jerick McKinnon could also have been discussed, San Francisco is happy to have one of their problems cleared up. They also drafted an offensive tackle in Colton McKivitz with the pick they got back, and you can never have too many good offensive linemen on the roster.
Despite having three rounds in between picks, give the 49ers credit for continuing to work to get talent and focus on their roster construction. That’s the kind of forward thinking that fans love to see.
“Overall, I thought it was a great draft that ran smoothly, but I hope we return to an in-person event next year!” -Kevin
“The 2020 draft approach should become the model for future drafts, regardless of a global pandemic. The NFL should endeavor to have live feeds into the homes of the top 200 players expected to be drafted.” -Duane
Dueling takes! And honestly, both arguments have their merits.
Admittedly, there is some type of sentimental value to an in-person setting. The tradition of booing Commissioner Roger Goodell (props on the #BooTheCommish fundraiser, by the way), picks walking across the stage to greet Goodell, Jets fans booing whoever they draft. It adds to the ambiance and environment you just can’t replicate in a virtual setting. That being said, keeping everyone together in a private setting could be useful. Even if the podium and press are still in play, keeping the players home could clear up any logistical issues with travel. It’s an intriguing idea.
Needless to say, any sign of normalcy in next year’s draft would be a welcome sign. Although we can ditch highlighting personal tragedies of many players on the happiest day of their lives so far. I know every prospect has a story, but the abundance of traumatic events would be a case of addition by subtraction.