It’s still more than three months until the 2020 NFL Draft kicks off in Las Vegas. A lot of opinions, perceptions, draft stocks and accepted notions are going to change between now than then. Here are my best bold guesses as to what will happen between now and then in the draft evaluation world, both from the media and NFL teams themselves.
Justin Herbert will rise above Tua Tagovailoa for many teams--and draft analysts
Right now the draft media is agog over the proclamation from Tagovailoa’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, that the Alabama QB will throw for teams before the draft and will be ready for action. Tagovailoa is recovering from hip surgery after he was injured late in the college season while already playing with a recurring high-ankle sprain that has required multiple surgeries.
It’s an optimistic take from a person with a vested interest in Tua being hyped up. But read that last sentence above carefully. You’d better believe NFL teams are going to not take Steinberg at his word. They’ll hope Tua is ready, but they’re also going to start seriously considering other options as teams in need for a 1st-round QB. That will lead them to Oregon and Justin Herbert.
My personal opinion after preliminary scouting, but with more to watch on both guys: Herbert isn’t close to Tagovailoa if Tua is healthy. It’s a bigger gulf than the distance between Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert back in 2011. But if teams aren’t sure of Tua’s troubling medical history, watch them talk themselves into Herbert as a viable top-5 overall option.
No RBs in the first round
This is more of a reflection on the laws of supply and demand than any criticism of what seems like a talented class. In talking with NFL scouts at various points throughout the last season, I got the distinct impression from multiple sources that the teams just don’t value the position that highly. Pair that with quite a few recent hits and an appealing free agent class, and I don’t believe (right now anyway) that we’ll hear J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Zach Moss or Travis Etienne (my current order of preference) before Friday night of draft weekend.
Expect a bitter divide over the top-3 offensive tackles
Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills and Andrew Thomas appear to be a clear-cut top 3 at the offensive tackle spot. Sorting out those top 3 tackles and who ranks above whom is going to be an intense debate in the draft media. Part of that is because there is not really a wrong answer: they’re all really impressive prospects worthy of top-15 overall status.
Where I’m at right now on the tackles: Wirfs is my personal favorite and I love that he’s a right tackle--which is the position where several teams (notably LAC, ARI and CLE) have the bigger OT need. Thomas has the highest ceiling and has the potential to be a dominant force, but he also doesn’t play to his peak level as often as the other two here. Wills also played right tackle but projects better at left tackle and is probably the safest of the three, though also with the most technical work needed.
Keep an eye out for Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, too. He’s got some Greg Robinson to him and that scares me, but he’s also got some prime Duane Brown to him and that gets me very excited.
Joe Burrow is going to get criticized a lot for his arm strength
Because we have to tear down everyone we build up…
Burrow will still be the No. 1 pick, barring some catastrophic red flag off the field. But the LSU quarterback is going to take some shots from evaluators that will try to knock him down from the lofty perch on which he sits after one of the greatest seasons in college football history.
That he only was so amazing for just one year will be a criticism. But expect to see some wondering aloud about Burrow’s arm strength. And relatively speaking, it’ll be justified; Burrow doesn’t have the Patrick Mahomes or Matthew Stafford rocket launcher of a right arm. He’s more in line with Matt Ryan or (not saying, just sayin’) Joe Montana. Accuracy, anticipation and decision-making all matter more than pure arm strength, and Burrow does those as well (in 2019 anyway) as any QB prospect I can recall.
Expect analysts from every team to try and work out hypothetical trades with the Miami Dolphins
Miami controls the first round with three picks, and they’re spaced out such that one of their selections (5, 18 and 26) is going to have considerable appeal to just about every other team. Fans of teams picking above No. 5 are going to presume the Dolphins will want to pair a couple of those picks to move up and ensure they get the player Miami covets the most. Fans of teams picking between the 1st and 2nd Miami choices, or 2nd and 3rd, will believe the prudent move is to cobble together a trade to move up.
The last of their three picks, acquired from the Texans, is going to be perceived to be in demand from teams looking to trade back into the first round to take a QB like Utah State’s Jordan Love or a WR like Clemson’s Tee Higgins. Those of us who cover other teams (I cover the Lions and Browns for USA TODAY’s Wire network) have at least some obligation to address those fan desires in print, whether they’re viable or not.