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The Five Most Revealing Strategies of the 2020 NFL Draft

While we’ll have to wait a few years to determine which teams won the draft, the Eagles, Packers, Broncos, Raiders, and Panthers tipped their hands and showed how they’re trying to build their rosters

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It will take years before we know which teams won the 2020 NFL draft, but we don’t have to wait that long to determine the blueprints franchises are using. Every draft provides insight into team-building plans across the league, as organizations take on new identities and showcase the directions they’re trying to go. So let’s take a look at five teams whose 2020 draft hauls revealed their thinking for this season and beyond.

1. The Eagles aren’t afraid to stockpile quarterbacks.

There’s a lot to unpack with Philly’s decision to draft Jalen Hurts in the second round. It seemed unthinkable that the Eagles would spend the 53rd pick on a QB less than a year after signing Carson Wentz to an extension worth $108 million guaranteed—but if one franchise would make that type of investment at the position, it’s this one.

The Eagles front office has a history of covering its bases at QB. Less than two months before trading up in the 2016 draft for Carson Wentz, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman shelled out $34 million guaranteed for Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. That logjam was eventually resolved after Wentz won the starting job in training camp and Bradford was dealt to the Vikings. The Eagles know that nothing else matters if you don’t have a quarterback, and because of that, they’ve never been afraid to pump resources into the position. Even so, this move feels different.

Hoarding quarterbacks makes sense when you don’t already have a quality starter. But after handing your QB $30 million a year, it becomes harder to understand. Roseman made clear this weekend that adding Hurts doesn’t change the franchise’s commitment to Wentz. If that’s the case, though, the next question is this: How will Philly recoup second-round value out of a backup quarterback?

That calculus likely starts with Wentz’s injury history. It’s no secret that the Eagles starter has struggled to stay on the field. He famously tore his ACL in the midst of an MVP campaign in 2017, and followed that up with a season-ending back injury in 2018. If you include his concussion in last year’s playoff loss to Seattle, Wentz has finished the Eagles’ last three seasons on the sideline. After watching Nick Foles win a title, Roseman has firsthand knowledge of how a high-level backup can salvage a season. Should Wentz miss extended time—either this season or in the future—Hurts will probably have a better chance of keeping the Eagles afloat than a forgettable option like Nate Sudfeld. It’s possible that after considering their board, Philly’s front office decided that the potential impact of a reserve quarterback was more valuable than whatever returns they’d get with a linebacker, complementary receiver, or secondary depth.

If Wentz does stay healthy, Hurts also has a skill set that the Eagles can deploy in a variety of ways. As both a dangerous runner and developing passer, Hurts could play in packages like the ones the Ravens drew up for Lamar Jackson his rookie season. Baltimore’s offensive coordinator that year, Marty Mornhinweg, is now a senior assistant on the Eagles staff and should have some ready-made ideas. And he’s not the only Eagles assistant with unconventional notions about how to use modern-day QBs. Last summer, Eagles passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor told reporters that he thought teams could eventually start using packages with two passers on the field at one time. We’ll see how far Philly takes that idea, but considering what they spent to draft Hurts, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles develop a more advanced version of the package that New Orleans has created with Taysom Hill.

Plenty of Eagles fans are probably rolling their eyes right about now, and I don’t blame them. Spending this type of draft capital on a no. 2 quarterback when there are roster holes elsewhere is tough to justify. There are also more intangible factors to consider, like what drafting a second-round QB says to the rest of the locker room—a locker room that Wentz had reportedly been slow to win over before this happened. But the draft is about opportunity cost, and it’s fair to wonder what Philly really lost by drafting an insurance policy—and a potential multipurpose weapon—at quarterback. The Eagles’ top priority heading into the draft was to find a big-play receiver, and they accomplished that by snagging rocket-powered TCU wideout Jalen Reagor with the 21st pick. Two rounds later, Roseman addressed his need at linebacker by grabbing ultra-athletic Colorado prospect Davion Taylor. And Roseman later added more speed to his receiving corps by trading for former Niners burner Marquise Goodwin.

After watching the Eagles’ passing game limp through the 2019 season, it’s easy to empathize with fans who were clamoring for more explosive playmakers on offense. But Philly’s current crop of pass catchers now includes Reagor, Goodwin, DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert. There are legitimate experience- and health-related questions about that group, but if the goal was to get more dynamic in 2020, the Eagles are well on their way. And the scattered chunk play from Hurts should only add to that equation. Plenty of people around Philadelphia are going to see the Hurts pick as another instance of overthinking by a progressive front office, but considering the overall strength of the Eagles roster, it’s possible that Hurts gives this team more—both in 2020 and beyond—than any other player could have at that spot.

2. A Hall of Fame quarterback won’t stop the Packers from building around their running game.

This year’s draft seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Packers to load up for one more run with Aaron Rodgers. From the outside, it seemed like Green Bay’s biggest need was at wide receiver, and the 2020 class figured to provide general manager Brian Gutekunst with a litany of options to choose from. Well, so much for that. Thirty-six receivers were drafted this weekend, which tied an NFL record. The Packers selected zero of them. After shocking the football world by trading up for Jordan Love in the first round, Green Bay continued its run of baffling decisions by completely ignoring a historically talented group of receivers.

Beyond antagonizing their two-time MVP quarterback, the Packers’ decision to forgo the receiver position offers some insight into how Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur want to build this offense. Gutekunst made quite the statement by snagging Boston College running back AJ Dillon in the second round. At 247 pounds, Dillon is a sledgehammer of a human being—quite the contrast from Green Bay’s no. 1 back, Aaron Jones, who’s on the smaller side at 5-foot-9 and 208 pounds. Dillon gives the Packers a bruising option that the roster lacked. And Gutekunst wasn’t done adding bulk to his skill-position group. In the third round, Green Bay nabbed multifaceted Cincinnati tight end Josiah Deguara. If you’ve never heard that name before this weekend, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Deguara was ranked no. 191 on the Pro Football Focus draft board.

It’s possible, as Gutekunst says, that Dillon and Deguara were the highest players on Green Bay’s board at the time they were picked. But those valuations were quite different from those of many analysts. Part of that chasm likely has to deal with shifting ideas about positional value. As teams around the NFL have transitioned to more pass-happy offenses, lumbering backs and multipurpose H backs have been marginalized. But if the Packers’ draft is any indication, LaFleur is ready to bring them back. Green Bay seems committed to an approach that utilizes play-action passes as an extension of a run-heavy system. That sounds good in theory, but take a look at other teams that run a similar scheme. Coaches like Kyle Shanahan and Gary Kubiak made a point to add dynamic pass catchers in this draft to pair with guys like Deebo Samuel and Adam Thielen. The Packers apparently want to win ugly, and at this point, they might have to.

3. The Broncos wanted to get fast—in a hurry.

There’s no way to misinterpret Denver’s approach to the 2020 draft. Even with budding star Courtland Sutton and 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant in place, the Broncos still needed to add some pass-catching talent. After stumbling into Alabama superstar Jerry Jeudy at no. 15, Denver double-dipped at wide receiver by grabbing Penn State burner KJ Hamler in the second round. If that wasn’t enough, the Broncos added tight end Albert Okwuegbunam—who ripped off a 4.49 40 at the combine—in the fourth round. It seems that John Elway is trying to take a page out of the Chiefs’ playbook—put as many explosive pass catchers on the field as possible and dare defenses to stop them.

A starting quartet of Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler, and Fant could be the speediest group of receivers in football. Last season, Sutton finished with 427 yards on passes of 20-plus air yards—the sixth-highest mark in the league. Fant struggled on throws down the field (catching just one of his eight deep targets on the season), but Denver clearly plans on using his seam-stretching ability in coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense. Jeudy has been lauded for his route-running ability, but he’s still good for plenty of big plays. And outside of former Jeudy teammate Henry Ruggs III, Hamler might have the best top-end speed of any receiver in the draft. It’s fair to question whether second-year QB Drew Lock is the right guy to take advantage of all this offensive artillery, but he’ll have no shortage of vertical options.

4. Jon Gruden knew his offense needed some firepower.

Gruden’s offense was quietly impressive in 2019. The Raiders finished ninth in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, thanks in large part to an efficient ball-control passing game and the occasional chunk gain from breakout tight end Darren Waller. It felt like Gruden had a promising system in place, but without many playmakers, he lacked the proper talent to really take advantage. Enter the Raiders’ 2020 draft class.

No one was surprised when Las Vegas used its first-round pick on a receiver. But not many expected that player to be Henry Ruggs III. With 4.27 speed, Ruggs was easily the fastest player in the draft. There might have been more polished, versatile pass-catching options available with the 12th pick, but Ruggs should change the entire makeup of the Raiders’ passing game.

Adding Ruggs would be a huge upgrade on its own, but the Raiders followed up that selection by adding two more receivers in the third round. Kentucky product Lynn Bowden Jr. is a former dual-threat QB and multipurpose receiver, and it will be fascinating to see how Gruden will use him in this offense. Bowden projects best as a slot option who can attack the middle of the field, but the Raiders will likely find all kinds of ways to get the ball in his hands and let him go to work. One pick after grabbing Bowden, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock took South Carolina receiver Bryan Edwards—a 6-foot-3 vertical threat who should give the Raiders a big-bodied option on the outside. It’s hard to know how the snaps will eventually shake out among Bowden, Edwards, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Renfrow, but the Raiders’ stable of pass-catching options is significantly more versatile than it was before the draft. They should be able to manufacture yards through the air in plenty of different ways this season, no matter who’s playing quarterback.

5. The Panthers are betting on athleticism.

Since Matt Rhule was hired as the Panthers’ head coach in January, the team has reached a crossroads. Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton are no longer on the roster, which means Carolina is down leaders on both sides of the ball. Heading into the offseason, Rhule and the Panthers’ reworked front office could have taken the roster in any direction. Early signings like wide receiver Robby Anderson indicated that speed and athleticism would be a priority (much like they were for Rhule at Baylor), and Carolina’s draft haul further proved that point.

After taking Auburn wrecking ball Derrick Brown with the seventh pick, the Panthers used their next three selections on twitched-up defenders Yetur Gross-Matos, Jeremy Chinn, and Troy Pride Jr. Gross-Matos finished in the 87th percentile in the broad jump at the combine, and the former Penn State defensive end should provide some pass-rushing pop opposite 2019 first-round pick Brian Burns. Chinn, a small-school product out of Southern Illinois, absolutely blew up the combine. The 221-pound safety ripped off a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash and posted a ridiculous 41-inch vertical leap. Pride came into the draft with questions about his instincts as a cornerback, but his 4.4 speed gives him the burst to stick with any receiver on vertical routes. We’ll have to see how the plan will play out, but it’s clear that Rhule’s regime is betting on explosive traits from the start.