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The Winners and Losers of the 2020 NFL Draft’s First Round

Did the Dolphins get the steal of the draft with Tua Tagovailoa? Did the Packers just make a huge mistake? Why didn’t we see any technical errors in the remote draft?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The first round of the NFL draft is in the books! Which players will be superstars, and which will be busts? Hell, we don’t know. The draft happened hours ago, and we’re gonna need to see them play in the NFL first, to be honest. Anyway, here are some winners and losers.


Winner: The Miami Dolphins

It felt like the Dolphins had screwed up their tank. After starting last season 0-7 and trading away several of their top players for future draft picks, it was assumed that they were pulling off the most aggressive intentional losing scheme in NFL history. They were Tanking for Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s superstar quarterback.

But late in the year, Miami made the questionable decision to start winning football games, finishing the year a downright respectable 5-11. Not only did they miss out on the first pick in the draft, but their foolish successes saw them tumble all the way to fifth. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury, while LSU’s Joe Burrow put together the best passing season in college football history, locking in top-pick status en route to a Heisman Trophy and a national championship win. The Dolphins reportedly tried as hard as they could to trade with the Cincinnati Bengals for the no. 1 pick, but couldn’t get them to budge, as Cincinnati locked in on Burrow as its own franchise savior.

Somehow, everything worked out. Tagovailoa’s injuries scared off some teams, allowing him to fall to Miami. While some thought the Dolphins would pass on Tagovailoa in favor of Justin Herbert—a decision that would have been, in my opinion, very, very bad—they wound up getting the guy they supposedly tanked for. They didn’t have the top pick, but still wound up with the most efficient quarterback in college football history.

I believe a healthy Tagovailoa should have been considered for the no. 1 pick—and right now, it seems like Tagovailoa is healthy. Miami got its wins, and its quarterback, too.


Loser: The Packers

The most surprising pick of the night came from the Green Bay Packers, who selected quarterback Jordan Love even though they have one of the league’s superstars in Aaron Rodgers. The choice was stunningly similar to the franchise’s 2005 decision to draft Rodgers. Back then, the Packers had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at quarterback, but used the 24th pick in the draft to snag a potential replacement for the 35-year-old Favre. Rodgers is 36 years old, and the Packers used the 26th pick on Love.

However, there are some critical differences between the two choices. In 2005, Rodgers was a top-notch prospect some thought could be the no. 1 pick in the draft who inexplicably fell to the Packers late in the first round. This time around, the Packers traded up to snag one of the shakiest quarterbacks in the draft. Love checked in at no. 32 on Danny Kelly’s Big Board after a junior season in which he led all FBS quarterbacks with 17 interceptions despite the modest quality of play in the Mountain West conference; Rodgers threw a total of 13 interceptions in his two seasons at Cal. I don’t get why the Packers needed to trade up—they had the 30th pick, but gave up a fourth-rounder to bypass the Dolphins (who had already drafted Tagovailoa), the Seahawks (who have Russell Wilson), the Ravens (who have reigning MVP Lamar Jackson), and the Titans (who just gave a huge extension to Ryan Tannehill).

The choice is made stranger by the fact that the Packers are essentially incapable of moving on from Rodgers until 2022. He has cap hits of at least $30 million in each of the next two seasons, and Green Bay would have to eat that cap space if it traded or cut him. It’s also worth noting that Aaron Rodgers is one of the league’s premier grudge-holders. Hopefully he’s on board with the team’s decision to draft his successor!

The Packers had a chance to improve their roster in the waning years of Rodgers’s career; instead they gave up assets to make a questionable choice about his eventual replacement, knowing he likely won’t play for at least two seasons. They tried to re-create the magic of the Rodgers pick, but seem to have ignored all the reasons the Rodgers pick was impossible to re-create.

Winner: NFL General Manager Cribs

As you may have learned from ESPN’s commentators, every commercial during the broadcast, and, you know, your life experiences for the past month, we are Living Through Uncertain Times. Because of social distancing measures pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all elements of the draft were held remotely.

That means instead of live shots of team war rooms in draft headquarters, we got live shots of the homes of NFL general managers and coaches. And it was fascinating, easily the most interesting part of the NFL draft.

We learned that some NFL people know how to live. Kliff Kingsbury appears to live inside of the rich family’s house from Parasite, which is a great place to live if your home isn’t secretly home to subterranean members of the proletariat:

Jerry Jones took to the sea, drafting from his mega-million-dollar yacht:

While some executives installed dozens of screens in apocalypse-proof bunkers, Bruce Arians opted for a setup so casual that ESPN’s commentators incorrectly assumed that he was sitting on his porch:

Meanwhile, Dave Gettleman drafted in a room that could only be a basement:

Titans coach Mike Vrabel drafted from a pretty normal setup … which, at first, appeared to have someone pooping with the door open in the background:

But Vrabel explained that it was merely a trick of the eye:

Presumably, the remote draft was a onetime deal, as the world hopefully will return to normal over the next 12 months. But I kinda want the NFL to force its power brokers to continue drafting from their homes forever. I don’t think we’ll ever have questions about potential poopers in an NFL team’s actual headquarters.

Loser: Anybody Who Tuned in Hoping for Technical Issues

The NFL and its decision-makers were worried about the possibility of things going awry while drafting from home. Very worried—the Seahawks’ GM tore up his home trying to get a router in his workspace, the Lions stationed an IT guy in their GM’s driveway, and many executives complained about bandwidth issues. There were reports of a glitch-filled mock draft ruined by crosstalk from unmuted general managers. It was a disaster scenario for the draft—and honestly, one of the main reasons I wanted to watch.

Unfortunately, worries of a draft disaster were overhyped. There were no reported difficulties from any teams’ perspective, and only a handful of minor awkward moments during the television broadcast. (I remember at one point Trey Wingo promised an inspiring message 30 seconds too early, but that was just about it.) We tuned into this race for dramatic crashes, and instead watched a bunch of cars safely circle an oval for a few hours.

Everybody at the NFL and ESPN deserves applause for pulling together the first round of this draft and broadcast under incredibly strange circumstances. I’ll never forgive them.

Winner: Kliff Kingsbury

One of my favorite players in this year’s draft is Isaiah Simmons, a do-everything athlete who can make plays from virtually every position on the field. He was also one of the Carolina Panthers’ favorite players, apparently, but they chose not to draft him seventh because … well, I’ll just let you read this baffling explanation:

Let’s parse this: The Panthers supposedly thought Simmons was the best player available … but drafted Derrick Brown instead … because Simmons would make a bigger impact on a better team? Apparently, young teams don’t need versatile stars! You know it’s the NFL draft when a team talks itself out of a potential Pro Bowler due to tortured nonlogic that somehow argues that having a worse player is actually better.

Who benefited from the Panthers’ decision to pass on the best player available? The Cardinals, who drafted eighth, winding up with one of my favorite picks in the draft. When Arizona hired Kingsbury, I argued that he’d be a more successful pro coach than a college one, even though his Air Raid offense was most famous for its amateur applications. The Air Raid was designed to help less talented teams win with an aggressive and unusual style of play, but Air Raid coaches often racked up ugly records due to their complete inability to recruit defensive talent. After all, why would a talented defender choose to play for an offense-first coach? In the pros, though, coaches like Kingsbury can just draft great defenders. The Cardinals hadn’t done that thus far, instead grabbing the offensive weapons to help Kingsbury build the offense of his dreams—but now they have a spectacular talent who can fill the Cardinals’ many defensive holes.

Let’s look at Kingsbury’s house again:

Yeah, I’d say the Cardinals were winners in this draft.

Loser: Roger Goodell

The presentation of the draft highlighted that even famous NFL people are quarantining just like us, trying their best to live normal lives from their homes. This was awkward for Goodell, who does not have what you humans call a “home.” At night, when he’s done with his meetings and public appearances for the day, Goodell retires to an unlit closet, at which point an assistant powers down the commissioner’s main processing cores and plugs him into a power source. So helpers scrambled to assemble a stage that Goodell could pretend to be his basement, filling it with as many footballs as possible to convince the public that he enjoys football and the footballs with which it is played. In this video, Goodell highlights his array of NFL logo-branded gear and Microsoft and Bose products and repeatedly calls the room his “man cave” in a stilted voice that makes me believe he initially called it his “human cave.”

The evening got off to a good start as Goodell tolerated a joke at his expense—he acknowledged that fans typically boo him at drafts, and participated in a Bud Light–sponsored campaign urging fans at home to send in videos booing him.

Unfortunately, Goodell’s software permits him only one humorous moment per charging cycle. He spent the rest of the night awkwardly attempting to converse with images of fans that popped up on the screen behind him—it’s possible he’s incapable of differentiating between real humans and humans on TVs, much like my dog when a dog on TV barks. At one point, he changed clothes with no explanation, which leads me to believe he spilled something on himself:

And when it came time for Goodell to announce that Las Vegas would host the 2022 draft after missing out on this year’s event due to the pandemic, he somehow botched the location and the date: He instead said that Dallas would get to host the 2020 draft:

Luckily, Goodell typically doesn’t feature in days 2 and 3 of the draft, giving technicians nearly a full year to upgrade his technology to ensure a better performance next year.

Winner: Ohio State

The NFL draft sees colleges lose their best players, but it’s also a branding opportunity for schools to get more great players. This is why Oklahoma filled head coach Lincoln Riley’s TV room with a variety of trophies he wasn’t technically responsible for—Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray won those Heismans, not Riley, since coaches can’t win Heismans, and Riley played no part in Oklahoma’s 1999 national championship, because he was a child and not a football coach. But to any high-schooler watching, Riley is a guy with a Heisman table:

I don’t know whether Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s den already had a preexisting mural stating his offensive philosophy with a picture of him receiving a Gatorade bath while winning the national title, but it doesn’t hurt!

Ohio State let the draft do the talking for it. The second pick was Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young, just like former Buckeyes defensive end Nick Bosa last year. Next off the board after Young was Buckeyes cornerback Jeff Okudah. And the Bucks weren’t done for the night—Okudah’s secondary partner Damon Arnette went 19th. LSU and Alabama each had more overall picks, but that concentration of two top-three picks is pretty ridiculous.

But that’s not all! Burrow didn’t start his career at LSU—the Athens, Ohio, native spent three seasons playing for the Buckeyes, serving as a deep bench backup for Urban Meyer, eventually graduating and transferring to finish his career with the Tigers. Normally, this would be something a program would try to hide—why promote the fact that a player transferred out and became significantly better? Texas Tech and Texas A&M didn’t self-congratulate when Mayfield and Murray won those Heismans sitting on Riley’s table. But apparently, Ohio State is going to get credit for Burrow:

OSU head coach Ryan Day got a spot on ESPN during the draft to talk about his picks; LSU head coach Ed Orgeron did not get a chance to talk about Burrow. (Which is really disappointing, because I enjoy hearing Orgeron talk more than just about anything in the world.) Any high school blue chipper watching Thursday night’s draft would walk away convinced the Buckeyes are the only team worth considering if they want to be a top pick—and the Buckeyes didn’t even have to deck out a den with trophies.