The NFL draft will commence, virtually, next Thursday. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly has scouting reports on the top prospects in his NFL Draft Guide, but we wanted to know which teams will be the most interesting to monitor during the first round, so we asked Ringer NFL writers for their picks.
No. 2 pick
It is widely assumed that the Redskins will pick Chase Young, but let’s pretend for the moment like they won’t. If Joe Burrow goes no. 1 to the Bengals, as is widely forecast, Washington will sit at no. 2 with plenty of options that go beyond just taking Young. They can change the trajectory of the draft depending on their decision.
Anytime a team without a desperate need for a quarterback picks around the top five, there will be calls for it to trade down. The logic is always the same: A team picking that high has plenty of holes, and one player can’t fill all of them. Not all recent trade-downs have worked out—just look at the Titans and Browns, who traded with the Rams and Eagles, respectively, when Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were on the board in 2016. Neither has as much to show for it as the two teams that traded up. Still, the idea of stocking up on multiple highly regarded rookies is tempting for a team going through a full-blown rebuild, and it’s an option Washington should strongly consider before turning in a draft card for Young.
Washington can also do something drastic, like take Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Last year’s first-round pick, Dwayne Haskins, was mediocre as a rookie, and the franchise overturned its decision-making personnel this offseason, replacing longtime general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jay Gruden. Now Ron Rivera pulls the strings in Washington, and if he decides that playing with Haskins won’t work, gambling on Tua could make sense.
Tagovailoa’s extraordinary college career makes him look like a can’t-miss quarterback prospect. His injury history also makes him the draft’s biggest question mark. No prospect has such a wide gap between their ceiling and their floor—but that isn’t so bad. The Cardinals just showed that a team can cut bait on a rookie QB after only one season and not really miss a beat. Young, talented QBs are the best commodity in football—hell, in all of sports—and it’s better to be overly aggressive in trying to find one than to let a potential franchise passer just roll on by. It’d be a gamble, sure, but not necessarily a worse one than taking Young would be, given Tua’s astronomical potential.
Still, the Redskins seem likely to take Young. The Ohio State star would make the Washington defensive line monstrous, reminiscent of San Francisco’s last season. It’s the most straightforward and likely outcome on draft night, but it’s also worth remembering that a team with a brand-new front office will hold all the cards for a few minutes—no one should be too sure of what they’ll do. —Riley McAtee
No. 3 pick
The Lions are bad and, I’m sorry to say, the type of bad that is rarely interesting. But they are interesting heading into next week’s draft. If conventional wisdom holds, they’ll control the top of the draft. Joe Burrow will go no. 1 to Cincinnati. Washington hasn’t entertained trading out of the no. 2 pick because it apparently wants Chase Young quite badly. Then comes Detroit at no. 3, facing the most interesting conundrum at the top of the draft: The Lions can trade down, accumulate more picks to fill their considerable needs, and hope to get a defensive stud later in the top 10; they can take a quarterback and stick him alongside Matthew Stafford; they can trade Stafford (something they’ve previously shot down); or they can take a defensive star like Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah at no. 3 and be done with it. The draft starts with this selection.
The Lions have needs, and quarterback is not one of them. That hasn’t stopped them from meeting (virtually) with Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, according to the NFL Network. GM Bob Quinn called rumors that Stafford could be traded this offseason “comical,” so the team’s interest in Herbert and Tagovailoa is either bait to get QB-needy teams to trade a haul of picks, or part of a plan to develop a young, cheap quarterback alongside Stafford, who has a cap hit of $21 million this year and $33 million in 2021. The former plan makes much more sense than the latter, particularly since Stafford looked good before a back injury last season, and because the Lions have a lot of needs. They traded star corner Darius Slay to the Eagles (Slay severely dislikes head coach Matt Patricia). They also need more pass rushers even after signing former Patriots star Jamie Collins.
The Lions do not have very many good players, and their coaching has not made that group of players any better than they should be. They did not win a game after October 27 last season. They surrendered the most passing yards of any defense in the league. Any elite defensive talent would be a crucial addition, and that’s what makes the Lions’ choice so fascinating: They need to drop down to get more picks, but they need a defensive difference-maker in this draft, so they can’t drop too far. Miami (no. 5) and the Chargers (no. 6) are the most likely candidates for the Lions to auction their pick and still get some talent. They probably need Okudah, who likely won’t last past the top six picks. Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, in theory, would be a luxury pick after adding Collins and Duron Harmon this offseason. The Lions just need good players—in short, they need to do something. —Kevin Clark
Nos. 5, 18, 26 picks
The Dolphins showed some surprising signs of life in what was supposed to be their tear-it-all-down-and-rebuild season in 2019, and there were moments when, despite a clear lack of talent, the team rallied around first-year coach Brian Flores and played with impressive swagger and confidence. That alone would make Miami an intriguing squad for 2020, but when paired with the fact the Dolphins have an absolute treasure trove of draft picks to work with―including three first-rounders, four selections in the first 39 picks, and 14 total picks―this plucky Miami squad easily tops my list for most interesting teams to watch in next week’s draft.
Miami is one of a handful of teams that are very likely to grab a quarterback in the early part of Round 1, and they’ve been heavily connected to both Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Both quarterbacks make a ton of sense for the Dolphins, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick there as a bridge to the future, the team would be positioning itself really well at the most important position in sports, while also not needing to rush either signal-caller into action until they’re ready; Tua may need some time to continue to rehab his injured hip, and Herbert some time to acclimate to the pro level. In either case―I’d personally go with Tua, but Herbert has the tools teams covet, too―Miami has a chance to use the fifth pick to change the entire direction and complexion of the franchise.
Past that first pick, the team will have the opportunity to load up on some blue-chip players at other key spots, as well. With basically every position outside of cornerback realistically considered a “need,” Miami can go with a true “best pick available” mode to stock the shelves with potential long-term, foundational players. In a very metal version of a team-needs breakdown, I threw out a scenario in which the Dolphins walk away from their first four picks with Tagovailoa at no. 5, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at no. 18, LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson at no. 26, and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor at no. 39. That’d be an absolute haul! Even a more conservative guess at what Miami might come away with on the first two days―say, Tua or Herbert at no. 5, Iowa pass rusher A.J. Epenesa at no. 18, Wisconsin edge rusher Zack Baun at no. 26, and Georgia running back D’Andre Swift at no. 39―would make them an intriguing team to watch in 2020.
As the roster stands now, the Dolphins are likely still a year or two away from true contender status. But with Tom Brady out of the division and a veritable smorgasbord of picks awaiting them, Miami’s ascension in the AFC East might be coming sooner than we think. —Danny Kelly
Los Angeles Chargers
No. 6 pick
Every draft contains a set of major pivot points. This year, there are some obvious candidates for the teams that will significantly impact how the draft shakes out. This year, some of those teams are obvious. The Lions could cause the first ripples by trading out of the no. 3 slot. The quarterback-needy Dolphins have the draft capital and the motivation to make a big splash. But even if some shuffling occurs, most people expect two quarterbacks, Chase Young, and two other players to come off the board in the top five—in some order. What happens next is anyone’s guess, and no team has more say in that outcome than the Chargers.
A disappointing 2019 season left the Chargers with the sixth pick in this year’s draft. In some ways, this is a team in transition. Following 14 seasons as the team’s starting quarterback, Philip Rivers left this spring. Quarterback changes are often a sign of rebuilding, but the Chargers’ offseason moves indicate they have no intention of fully starting over. Veteran additions like Bryan Bulaga, Chris Harris, Trai Turner, and Linval Joseph have fortified a roster already lined with considerable homegrown talent. With a couple of breaks, the Chargers could emerge as contenders in a watered-down and top-heavy AFC. The question now facing general manager Tom Telesco is which route he follows to get there.
Bad teams in need of a quarterback rarely have the infrastructure in place for that QB to succeed immediately, which puts the Chargers in a rare and enviable position for a team drafting in the top 10. If Telesco goes with a quarterback at no. 6, that player will walk into a pretty hospitable environment. Bulaga and Turner have solidified the right side of the Chargers’ offensive line for the first time in years. By extending pass catching marvel Austin Ekeler and slapping the franchise tag on tight end Hunter Henry, the Chargers kept a talented and diverse pass catching group intact. If the Chargers decide that now is the time to draft their QB of the future, someone like Justin Herbert would start his career on better footing than the pair of guys likely drafted ahead of him. And if Herbert is a hit, the Chargers could be ready for liftoff.
Given the makeup of the Chargers’ roster, that feels like the most likely outcome. And if the draft does unfold that way, it would have ramifications for the rest of the first rounds. Teams that were hoping both Herbert and Jordan Love would be available beyond the top 10 would potentially have their options cut in half, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone make a bold trade up the board to make sure they nabbed their guy. With so many free-agent options available this spring, there aren’t many teams out there desperate for a QB, but there’s no way to know how a club like the Patriots or Panthers sees this year’s class.
If the Chargers like Herbert and he’s available at no. 6, there’s no reason to bypass QB until next season, but at this point, the connection between the two parties is mere speculation. It’s possible that the Chargers’ brass hasn’t been swayed by anyone in this class, and if that’s the case, an entirely new set of circumstances starts to unfold. Tyrod Taylor is a serviceable starter who could keep the Chargers afloat this fall. But with Cam Newton still on the market, the options aren’t limited to Taylor or an unproven rookie. A healthy Newton would instantly elevate the Chargers to the upper echelon of the AFC, and even if there are lingering doubts about his shoulder and foot, his future isn’t any murkier than that of a first-year QB.
Passing up Herbert would cause a collective gasp from everyone huddled around their laptops on draft night. It would also start a scramble for the strongest position in the first round. Wide receiver may be the deepest position in this class, but offensive tackle might have a claim as the best. Four OTs (Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr.) in this year’s group have All-Pro potential, and if the Chargers decide to go that direction at no. 6, it could start a run that impacts the rest of the top 10. Adding Newton and a stalwart left tackle could be the final pieces that the Chargers need to take their offense to the next level. I have no idea what Telesco plans to do next week, but his decision is going to impact the 2020 season in more ways than most people have considered. —Robert Mays
New York Giants
No. 4 pick
Dave Gettleman is about to make the most important decision of his life, and my guess is that he’s currently struggling to figure out his home’s Wi-Fi password. The Giants have the fourth pick in the draft, which has the potential to be the first wild card on the board, and nobody in the NFL plays his cards more wildly than Gettleman. In his first year on the job, he used the second pick in the draft on a running back. In his second year, he used the sixth pick on a player The Ringer had ranked as the 100th-best prospect in the draft. The team has sputtered to a 9-23 tenure under his watch, and his job is widely considered to be on the line if he can’t turn things around this year. He must hit on this no. 4 pick.
And he’ll have to make that pick while trapped at home with his greatest enemy: technology. Gettleman famously mocked those who use advanced metrics to make football decisions by acting like “using a computer” is the craziest thing in the world. With most of the predraft process taking place remotely this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gettleman must now rely on one of these newfangled internet boxes. He’s not happy about it. “We have the visual touchpoint,” Gettleman said about this year’s draft process, “but we’re really missing out on the personal touchpoint, when you can smell or feel a guy.” Yes, Gettleman apparently relies partly on smell to scout prospects. Perhaps Gettleman got hooked on Daniel Jones because he emits powerful pheromones.
There is no way of knowing what Gettleman will do. The defense needs help on all three levels; the offensive line needs a stud (they’re currently beholden to the ill-conceived contract Gettleman gave to left tackle Nate Solder in 2018, but he could play on the right side); Gettleman used his first two picks on skill-position players, and the Giants have a hole at wide receiver after he traded away Odell Beckham Jr. Complicating matters is the presence of new head coach Joe Judge, whose philosophy we know nothing about after he spent the past decade working almost exclusively on special teams under Bill Belichick.
Anything could happen with the Giants. This draft could be a disaster for New York, as their general manager spends most of the team’s time on the clock figuring out how to use Zoom. On the other hand, it could be their best draft in years—now that Gettleman has to use “game tape” and “statistics” to make a pick instead of picking the player with the most alluring musk, he might actually draft somebody good. —Rodger Sherman