Reflecting on my Monday thru Friday in Indianapolis and what I saw, heard and gleaned from covering the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine…

Joe Burrow will be the No. 1 pick by the Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow will be a Bengal, period. As much as the major networks try to sell the drama, there is no drama. He’s more of a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick than Donald Trump is to be the Republican nominee for president in 2020.

His press conference, while not worded specifically or as clean as hoped, dispelled any notion Burrow wouldn’t play for Cincinnati. The Bengals staff did very little either public or private to indicate they’re considering other options. That’s not a diss against Tua Tagovailoa or Chase Young, it’s Cincinnati’s overriding belief that the Athens wunderkind by way of LSU is The Chosen One.

Washington really could take Tua at No. 2

I stood in front of new Skins head coach Ron Rivera at his press conference on Wednesday and I watched him carefully. Rivera was quick--and correct--to point out the real progress Dwayne Haskins made during his rocky rookie season as the team’s QB. I believe him and the general feel was the room did too. I believe Rivera and the Skins would be fine rolling forward with their first-round pick from last season.

I also genuinely believe Rivera really likes Tua Tagovailoa. He spoke of the Alabama QB very highly, and the (relatively) clean bill of health on his freakishly injured hip really helped Tagovaiola’s case to be a top 3 pick. Tua has a higher ceiling than Haskins with his superior running ability and bigger arm down the field. If the Skins are smitten, now is the time to make the bold move and deal Haskins for more help to surround Tua. Will they do it? We’ll find out in April but I absolutely believe it’s a very real possibility and I’m not alone in that belief. Not at all... 

Matthew Stafford will be the Detroit Lions QB in 2020

Those of us who cover the Lions (I’m the managing editor for USA Today’s Lions Wire and Lions analyst for the ESPN Radio affiliate in Grand Rapids) have known this already and tried to educate the masses. Yet the masses still don’t want to listen. Sigh. 

Detroit GM Bob Quinn lambasted the national media wonks trying to fabricate rumors that the Lions are shopping their longtime franchise QB. So did head coach Matt Patricia. So did Stafford’s agent, Tom Condon, when a national reporter efforted to make up lies that Stafford himself wanted out of Detroit. Off the record, Lions staff members are even more sold on Stafford in 2020 than the public face of unwavering support.  

If you’re looking for the controversy angle to play up, it’s after 2020. Do the Lions like Tua and will they consider him (if he’s there) at No. 3 overall? Yes to both. But that is a separate and independent thought from Stafford in 2020. Don’t confuse or misconstrue it as anything else but a look at a possible life after Stafford in 2021 or later. 

The Giants are going offensive tackle if they stay at 4

It’s not absolute, obviously. But I feel very confident that the Giants are zeroed in on the awesome offensive tackle class with their first pick at No. 4. Aside from my appearance on Big Blue TV, the Giants’ in-house broadcast, where the New York-related questions were almost exclusively OT-related, I talked to a representative of one of the top tackle prospects this week. He advised me the Giants have frequented the training facility, probed deep into the work ethic and background and asked for technique video from the facility. That’s above and beyond what most teams have asked, he advised me. GM Dave Gettleman is one of the easier personnel people to predict for a reason…

The top 4 OTs will be ranked differently by every team

In alphabetical order, the top four tackles are Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs. All four are better than any OT prospect in 2019 or 2018, something I heard several times this week, including from the aforementioned OL trainer. 

Sorting the quartet out beyond alphabetically will be very subjective and vary from team to team. And rightly so, because schematically some fit better than others. One team might have Becton No. 1, and after his impressive Combine workout at 370 pounds it’s an easy sell to fans. Another will prefer Wirfs, whose record-setting vertical and broad jumps and freakishly fast 40 for a man of 320 pounds is catnip for teams that trust their OL coach or value metrical analytics in prospect evaluation. Thomas and Wills were no slouches either, and both have the experience and depth of game tape to merit top billing. 

My personal overall rankings: Wirfs, Becton, Thomas and Wills. And I might have 1-2 others above Wills. Stay tuned… 

No workout, no (real) problem

Many prospects elected to not work out at the Combine, notably Chase Young. There is some consternation amongst media and fans that it’s a negative for players to eschew the public workout. And I understand the line of thought--let’s see the athletes compete, let’s see the desire to prove they’re the best. 

For a prospect like Young, that’s simply not an issue. Several NFL team sources told me (and others) that they had no problem with Young skipping the workouts. It’s a different story for prospects who project as Day 3 talents (hello Tee Higgins, victim of terrible advice!) but even then, it’s not a fatal blow. The growing consensus is that the spectacle of the workout has far surpassed the importance of the workout itself. 

Miami would be happy taking Justin Herbert at No. 5

The Dolphins need a quarterback. With their cache of draft picks the Dolphins are often projected to be the team that would trade up to 2 or 3 to snag Tua. To quote Lee Corso, not so fast my friend…

Two people I trust told me in Indy the Dolphins as a team are big fans of Oregon QB Justin Herbert. As in, big enough fans that MIami “would be perfectly content to wait” and land him at No. 5. No trade up. One Miami-based reporter told me he believes the Dolphins prefer Herbert to Tua. 

That’s hearsay from analysts and reporters, not from the team. I cannot stress that enough. While it’s not gospel, it’s worth at least considering that Herbert at 5 to Miami is a very real possibility and one the Dolphins would enthusiastically embrace while they keep their picks and fill the myriad other holes on the roster. I buy it enough that (Spoiler Alert!) it will be the pick in my post-Combine mock draft, which should be published Tuesday. 

Expect the Combine to move after 2021

This was a hot topic of conversation amongst the locals in attendance. The Combine has a long and successful tradition of being in Indianapolis, but that appears to be coming to an end. Soon.

I’ll paraphrase Peter King from his gathering at Sun King Brewing on Wednesday night, though King is far from the only national media member to echo this sentiment:

The NFL is constructing a massive campus in Los Angeles around the Chargers and Rams new stadium. Everything they need to run the Combine--the medical evaluations, the interviews, the training facility, the hotels, the infrastructure--will be right there. As King noted, it’s going to be bigger than the University of Oregon’s entire campus.And it will need tenants and events to operate profitably. To think that the NFL would construct all that and then not host one of its own events there is Mr. Magoo-level nearsighted. 

Talk of the new CBA negotiations has pushed back the clock on free agent “tampering”

Normally the Combine is where those of us in the media start to get a pretty good idea of what free agent/team marriages are on the immediate horizon. All the agens, owners and GMs are in Indianapolis and their discreet meetings often help germinate the seeds into free agent blossoms. 

That has not been the case this year. GMs have been less available than normal due to the scheduling changes to the workouts and interviews. They’ve also been hamstrung by the uncertainty of the salary cap for 2020 and beyond. Agents have been lobbying their players to support their positions on the CBA proposal from owners, as well as having their own highly contentious meeting in Indy.  

As a result, the normal pre-free agency tampering that takes place has been definitively back-burnered. While franchise tag choices (Kansas City and Chris Jones prominently) leaked out, even getting light whispers about who a team might be pursuing in free agency was very difficult.