The 2020 NFL draft commences Thursday night, to be staged in a virtual environment necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. It promises to be one of the wildest drafts in decades given all the variables and unknowns.
Given that backdrop, here are 32 things I’ve learned heading into the league’s 85th annual “Player Selection Meeting”:
1. Pretty much from the moment the Cincinnati Bengals locked into the No. 1 slot, everyone in the football world has linked them to Heisman Trophy-winning LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, an Ohio native. Yet Burrow may be destined to follow in the path of Carson Palmer, drafted No. 1 overall by Cincy in 2003, who redshirted his rookie year. With Andy Dalton under contract for 2020, Burrow could start out on clipboard duty himself.
1a. Burrow will become only the fourth LSU quarterback tabbed in the first round, joining JaMarcus Russell (2007), Bert Jones (1973) and Y.A. Tittle (1948).
1b. Amazingly, David Woodley is the only former Bayou Bengal quarterback to win an NFL postseason game.
2. The most scrutinized player in this draft is clearly Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. Had he not dislocated his hip last season, Tagovailoa would likely be fighting Burrow for the top spot. However the uncertainty about his medical outlook – names like Bo Jackson and Dennis Pitta aren’t helping Tagovailoa’s case – threatens to drop him out of the top five and maybe even into the latter half of the first round.
2a. Tagovailoa will likely become only the fourth Alabama quarterback tabbed in the first round, joining Richard Todd (1976), Joe Namath (1965) and Harry Gilmer (1948).
2b. Amazingly, no former Crimson Tide quarterback has won an NFL postseason game since Todd helped notch two victories for the Jets in the 1982 playoffs.
2c. Of course, it must be mentioned that ex-‘Bama stars Bart Starr and Namath combined to win the first three Super Bowl MVP awards. Take that, LSU.
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3. Oregon’s Justin Herbert is positioned to challenge Tagovailoa as the second quarterback off the board. Good luck finding anyone who believes Herbert is the playmaker Tagovailoa is, but the Ducks star has a clean medical history and was impressive at both the Senior Bowl and scouting combine. His supporters will note he didn’t have nearly as good a college supporting cast as Tagovailoa while detractors knock Herbert’s quiet demeanor. But the Tua/Herbert debate is increasingly shaping up as a coin flip, one the Miami Dolphins – who hold the fifth overall pick – might have to make.
3a. Herbert would actually become the sixth Oregon quarterback tabbed in the first round, joining Marcus Mariota (2015), Joey Harrington (2002), Akili Smith (1999), Chris Miller (1987) and George Shaw (1955).
3b. No ex-Ducks passers have guided an NFL team to a Lombardi Trophy, however Dan Fouts and Norm Van Brocklin – he did take the Eagles to the 1960 NFL crown – are both in the Hall of Fame.
4. Utah State QB Jordan Love could also hear his name called in Round 1. Consistency has been an issue, but some see a Patrick Mahomes-like skill set here.
4a. Bill Munson, in 1964, is currently the lone Utah State passer to be a first-rounder.
4b. Eric Hipple, who spent the 1980s with the Detroit Lions, is the only former Aggie to start a playoff game under center, doing so in a losing effort after the 1982 season.
5. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, who transferred after getting bumped by Tagovailoa in Tuscaloosa, probably shouldn’t expect a call Thursday – though his stock does seem to be surging. But if he goes in Round 1, Hurts would give the Sooners a first-round QB in three successive drafts, following Baker Mayfield (2018) and Kyler Murray (2019).
6. The most talented player in this draft? Probably Ohio State DE Chase Young, who had a school record 16½ sacks last season despite a two-game suspension from the NCAA.
6a. Almost universally pegged to Washington with the second overall pick, Young will almost surely become the third Buckeyes pass rusher in the past five drafts to be a top-three pick. He would join brothers Joey (2016) and Nick Bosa (2019).
6b. Beginning with Joey Bosa in 2016, at least one defensive end has been a top-five pick in every draft since.
7. With Burrow to the Bengals and Young to the ‘Skins near surefire locks, the draft’s first real pivot point could be at No. 3, a selection owned by Detroit. GM Bob Quinn has acknowledged his phone has been ringing.
8. With 14 total picks, including three in Round 1, the Dolphins own the most selections in this draft.
8a. After spending nearly $250 million in free agent commitments so far, no team is bound to look more different in 2020 than the ‘Fins.
9. With just five total picks apiece, the New Orleans Saints and Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have the fewest in the draft.
10. The Dolphins, Jaguars, Raiders, Vikings and 49ers all have multiple first-round picks.
11. The Bills, Steelers, Texans, Colts, Bears and Rams don’t have any first-round picks.
12. The New England Patriots bid adieu to TB12. However they own 12 selections, including a trio in the third round but none in Round 2. Hard to believe they’ll target a quarterback at No. 23 overall to replace Tom Brady given all the holes that popped up in last year’s top-ranked defense during free agency.
13. The Texans’ Bill O’Brien is about to oversee his first draft as a general manager after Brian Gaine was fired last June. Billy O. has spent a lot of time making questionable trades over the past year – and is now defending the offload of WR DeAndre Hopkins – as he tries to bolster a team that’s quietly won the AFC South four of the past five seasons.
14. The Jets’ Joe Douglas is about to oversee his first draft as a general manager after Mike Maccagnan was fired last May. Unlike his predecessor, Douglas was conservative in free agency but is poised to help QB Sam Darnold with the probable addition of a big-time tackle and/or receiver early in this draft.
15. Hired before his 33rd birthday, new Browns personnel boss Andrew Berry recently became the youngest general manager in league history. After making solid pick-ups in free agency (including OT Jack Conklin, TE Austin Hooper and backup QB Case Keenum), it will be interesting to see what Berry does in his debut draft, set to begin with pick No. 10.
16. Is this the year the Saints finally draft an heir apparent for QB Drew Brees, who could retire quite soon with his new NBC gig awaiting him? Currently selecting 24th, GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton don’t have any other obvious needs.
17. Elsewhere in the NFC South, with the Buccaneers bringing Brady aboard, what’s the next move in “Tompa Bay”? (Yes, that’s really a thing.) GM Jason Licht should be fine – as long as he doesn’t pick a kicker – but if he’s taking recommendations, how about a left tackle at No. 14 (Georgia’s Andrew Thomas?) and pass-catching back at No. 45, say LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire?
18. What will the Dallas Cowboys do? Well, despite their highly parsed interview with Hurts – you watching, Dak? – it would be borderline insane for them to use one of their first two picks on a passer given the financial resources headed Prescott’s way … not to mention the holes that have sprung up at center, corner and pass rusher.
18a. In case you were wondering, the last time the Cowboys drafted a QB as high as Round 2 was 2001 … when they picked Quincy Carter 53rd overall.
COVID-19: The novel coronavirus promises to have so many draft ramifications, some we surely haven’t pondered yet.
COVID-19a: Fifty-eight draft prospects (roughly double the amount invited most years) will virtually participate as part of the draft coverage on NFL Network, ESPN and ABC. Nice consolation, but still a bummer for these kids who were looking forward to a red carpet moment in Las Vegas.
COVID-19b: The draft broadcast will be simulcast on NFL Network and ESPN, which will also share talent resources, most of those analysts scheduled to be piped in remotely while the Worldwide Leader’s Trey Wingo anchors the telecast from Bristol, Connecticut.
COVID-19c: We know Commissioner Roger Goodell will be announcing picks from his suburban New York City homestead … but will we get to see the Bill Belichick dartboard that’s surely hanging in his basement?
COVID-19d: Will this draft feature more trades as teams try to maneuver for “known commodities?” Or perhaps fewer ones given the potential technical difficulties of trying to put together deals in this environment?
COVID-19e: And could 2022 draft picks potentially be in higher demand than 2021 picks given how jeopardized the 2020 college football season already appears to be?
COVID-19f: And what will the impact be on all those players who weren’t invited to the scouting combine or couldn’t work out in Indianapolis, not to mention those who were relying on pro days to get noticed by NFL scouts? Could be harder than ever for fringe prospects and small school players to get the draft call they so badly covet.
COVID-19g: Kudos to the NFL for running a “Draft-A-Thon” as part of the event, an initiative designed to raise money for the American Red Cross; CDC Foundation’s All of Us: Combat Coronavirus Campaign; Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund; Meals on Wheels America’s COVID-19 Response Fund; Salvation Army and United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. It’s a great way to use the platform in a bid to also combat coronavirus.
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20. If Burrow goes No. 1 overall, as expected, this will mark the first time that a Heisman Trophy winner has been the first pick in three consecutive years after Mayfield (2018) and Murray (2019) led off their respective drafts.
20a. Burrow could also join Cam Newton (2011) as the only players in the common draft era (since 1967) to go No. 1 after winning the Heisman and a national championship in their final college season.
21. The reigning NFC champion 49ers pick 13th and 31st in the first round … and then not again until Round 5. Expect GM John Lynch to wheel and deal his way into the middle rounds.
22. The wide receiver class is generally viewed as the position’s deepest in years. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb will likely vie to be the first pass catcher picked, though it’s unlikely any will go in the top 10. If you’re looking for loose comparisons, Jeudy could be the next Marvin Harrison, Ruggs could be the next DeSean Jackson and Lamb might be the next Hopkins.
22a. Since the common draft began, the most wide receivers selected in Round 1 was seven in 2004. Six were taken in 1988, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2015. The depth of this year’s group – meaning so many quality prospects can be had in Rounds 2 and 3 – makes it unlikely the 2004 standard will be bested.
22b. If Jeudy and Ruggs are both top-15 choices – certainly viable given the receiver-needy teams in that range – it would mark the first time wideouts who were college teammates were both taken that high in the same draft.
23. Assuming Tagovailoa, Jeudy, Ruggs and highly regarded OT Jedrick Wills are all first-rounders, Alabama would join the 1968 USC Trojans as the only schools to have four Round 1 offensive players in one draft.
24. Given the bounty of receivers available, the Buffalo brain trust better be right about surrendering pick No. 22 and three additional mid-rounders to get Stefon Diggs from Minnesota.
25. The Rams haven’t made a first-round pick since 2016, when they took QB Jared Goff No. 1 overall. Barring a trade, that streak will extend.
26. Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah could be the third overall pick, especially if the Lions don’t trade it. A corner has never been drafter earlier than No. 3.
26a. Okudah will become the fifth Buckeyes corner in the last five years to be a first-rounder. Take that, LSU … a.k.a. “DBU.”
26b. FWIW, LSU has had five defensive backs called in Round 1 since 2011, two of them safeties. CB Kristian Fulton and/or S Grant Delpit could improve that figure.
27. Since taking over the franchise in 2010, coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have transformed the Seattle Seahawks into an NFC powerhouse. Yet as proficient as they are at finding gems in the middle rounds, the duo isn’t so good at nailing first-round picks. Since enlisting LT Russell Okung and S Earl Thomas in Round 1 of their maiden draft, Carroll and Schneider haven’t picked a single first-rounder who’s reached the Pro Bowl.
28. No running back was picked in the first round in 2013 or 2014. That hasn’t happened in any year since, but rushers may well get shut out this year, too. Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Edwards-Helaire are impressive prospects, yet it would be shocking if any was a top-20 selection. And given the way team needs line up, it would hardly be stunning if no back is picked Thursday … though Swift could be especially hard to pass up.
29. Tight ends will almost surely be sheltering in place Thursday. Three were first-round picks in 2017, and three more were picked in Round 1 over the course of the next two drafts. But from 2011 to 2016, only two heard their names called so early. Barring a team falling for Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet … seems that trend will resurface.
30. It probably comes as no surprise that Alabama had the most players picked in each of the past two drafts, sending 12 players to the NFL in 2018 and 10 last year. However the Tide have led the way in draftees just one other time – 2011, when DT Marcell Dareus and WR Julio Jones were both top-10 choices.
31. Since 1967, Southern California has the most first-round picks (70). However, Ohio State, which has 68 in that span, could match or overtake the Trojans on Thursday.
32. It’s already been eight years since Andrew Luck was the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford. He may be long gone, but in these uncertain times, it’s reassuring to know that his alter ego – @CaptAndrewLuck – advises us anew.
Dear sir, we accept your anxious missive with utmost gratitude. Please limit one vessel of squirrel oil per trip to the general store. Godspeed.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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