2020 NFL Draft Day 1 winners, losers: Miami up, Rodgers down
The last 16 months in Miami, many of them painful, paid off on Thursday night. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores unloaded many of their best players last year in a bid to build up draft capital, reset and finally find their quarterback. Flores was able to win five games with a decimated roster despite a ridiculously talent-poor offensive line and defense. That dropped the Dolphins to the No. 5 pick overall, but they landed the quarterback they were connected to all along, without having to deal away any of three first-round draft picks with which they entered the day. (They snapped up tackle Austin Jackson at No. 18 and traded down from No. 26 to select cornerback Noah Igbinoghene at No. 30 overall.) Tua Tagovailoa’s arrival kickstarts the first Dolphins rebuild since Jimmy Johnson that’s worth believing in.
When looking at the winners and losers from Night 1 of a draft unlike any other we’ve seen, there’s only one place to start.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier: Taking Tagovailoa wasn’t a risk. The risk would have been in passing on Tua and watching him play for another team for the next decade while wondering "what if." His injury history is well-documented, with his multiple ankle surgeries being as worrisome as his recent hip surgery. But quarterback prospects like Justin Herbert and Jordan Love come along in every draft, while Tagovailoa has rare abilities that translate to the next level.
Tua’s quick release, quick eyes, quick feet resetting in the pocket and quick decision-making make him look like a left-handed Drew Brees. More than a decade after Nick Saban passed on the chance to bring Brees to Miami because of injury concerns, Flores and Grier righted a wrong — and they may have just snapped the post-Dan Marino Dolphins quarterback curse.
Cincinnati Bengals fans: They deserve this. Sure, it hasn’t been that long since the franchise landed Carson Palmer first overall, but 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow is a swaggy Ohio product with just enough chutzpah to end the Bengals’ playoff woes. His arm strength may not match Palmer’s, but any worries that he’s a rich man’s Andy Dalton should be put aside. Burrow’s pocket movement, accuracy and ability to make plays on the run make him a perfect fit for Zac Taylor’s offense. At 23, Burrow will not be your average rookie quarterback, and the Bengals are not your average 2-14 roster. With receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon alongside him, this roster is ready to be competitive in 2020.
The Raiders Way: Somewhere, late owner Al Davis is smiling. Henry Ruggs from Alabama adds a speed dimension to the offense that will be difficult to deal with. But taking this class’ fastest receiver — who was the No. 3 option on his own college team — No. 12 overall as the first wideout in the entire draft is absolutely an Al Davis move. Ruggs has a little more boom or bust to him than wideouts like Jerry Jeudy, but GM Mike Mayock has shown he’ll stay true to his board. That held when Mayock selected Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette with the No. 19 overall pick, 40 spots ahead of where Daniel Jeremiah had him ranked on his board. NFL Network draft analyst fight!
Tom Brady and Bruce Arians: In the last month, Arians and Bucs GM Jason Licht have added the greatest quarterback of all time, the greatest tight end of all time and a tackle in Tristan Wirfs who may be the most pro-ready pass protector in this draft. (Licht said the plan is to use Wirfs at right tackle; Donovan Smith is currently holding down the left tackle position.) The Bucs gave up a fourth-round pick to slide up one spot and secure Wirfs at No. 13 overall, a move that makes a lot of sense for a team with a two-year window to make Brady’s guaranteed contract count.
Drew Lock and John Elway: Building on what’s already been a strong offseason, Elway snapped up Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy without having to move up from No. 15 overall. My favorite receiver in this draft, Jeudy has footwork that pops off the screen. He can line up anywhere, in any offense, with an ability to get open that is reminiscent of Antonio Brown. Pairing Jeudy with a bonafide No. 1 receiver in Courtland Sutton should make the Broncos awfully difficult to cover and will help quarterback Drew Lock’s chances to make a second-year jump. It feels like the Vance Joseph era happened a long time ago.
The Cowboys’ offense: Who needs defensive linemen or cornerbacks when Daniel Jeremiah’s top-ranked wide receiver falls to pick No. 17? Jerry Jones has consistently snapped up big-name players when they’ve fallen on draft day over the last three decades, usually to great results. CeeDee Lamb is a beast after the catch, and this addition gives Dak Prescott a wealth of options to throw to. Amari Cooper, Lamb and Michael Gallup could rival any top-three wideout combination in football.
Howie Roseman’s willingness to go for it: Everyone expected Philly to draft a receiver, but not sure how many Eagles fans thought it would be Jalen Reagor, especially with LSU’s Justin Jefferson still on the board. If you just lined up Reagor’s top 10 plays, he looks as explosive as any receiver in the draft. The TCU product’s return ability gives him an added dimension, like a DeSean Jackson clone with 30 extra pounds and the ability to catch jump balls. Still, Reagor had his share of drops and inconsistencies, making him one of the more difficult evaluations in the draft. This is a swing-for-the-fences type of selection for an offense that needs some juice.
Minnesota Vikings: GM Rick Spielman is quietly one of the better drafters in the business. In wide receiver Justin Jefferson (No. 22 overall) and cornerback Jeff Gladney (No. 31), he acquired two players ready to contribute right away. Jefferson is a slot maven who fits well with Kirk Cousins. Gladney has great instincts to play inside and out at cornerback and was taken after Spielman nabbed two extra mid-round picks to move down from No. 25 to No. 31 in the first round.
All that buzz about Tua falling in the draft: So much of the draft buzz surrounding Tua in the last two weeks was negative. There was belief for a while that the Dolphins might have preferred Justin Herbert over Tua, with Tua maybe falling straight out of the top 15 picks. There was word this week that the Dolphins were considering moving up to draft a tackle, though one now wonders if the team was trying to head-fake a competitor (like the Chargers?) out of trading up to No. 4 overall and snagging Tua ahead of Miami. No one will ever know if the Chargers were ready to make Tagovailoa the face of their franchise, but if the Dolphins were trying to sow confusion, it worked.
Herbert, taken sixth overall, is now the biggest swing of Chargers GM Tom Telesco’s career. (Telesco continued his aggressive night by trading back into the first round for off-ball linebacker Kenneth Murray at No. 23.) Herbert fits the profile of a lot of draft misses at quarterback, with his big arm, excellent athleticism, streaky accuracy and inconsistent decision-making. Herbert, who hopes to shine where former Oregon quarterbacks Joey Harrington, Akili Smith and Marcus Mariota struggled, may sit behind Tyrod Taylor early as a rookie. Still, it’s only a matter of time before he takes over. Unlike Philip Rivers, Herbert’s predecessor with the Chargers, there is some worry that Herbert doesn’t take enough chances.
NFC East quarterbacks: Chase Young cometh. The Washington defense has been an easy mark in recent years for Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, but the arrival of coach Ron Rivera and No. 2 overall pick Chase Young should complicate matters for opposing quarterbacks. Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat fit right in with some of the best defensive lines Rivera coached during his time in Carolina.
Sean McVay: Four years into his NFL career, McVay has yet to experience what it’s like to make a first-round draft pick. At least he has two picks in the second round and Jalen Ramsey waiting for him when the Rams return to the field.
Larry Warford’s future with the Saints: New Orleans surprised everyone by taking center Cesar Ruiz with the No. 24 overall pick. Considering that they just took a center last year (second-round pick Erik McCoy, who played well), there was immediate speculation among Saints reporters that they may release guard Larry Warford. (In that scenario, McCoy or Ruiz would move to guard.) A three-time Pro Bowler with the Saints, including last year, Warford struggled at times to keep Drew Brees’ pocket clean. Considering how well the Saints have drafted offensive linemen (in addition to McCoy, they landed Terron Armstead in the third round in 2013 and Ryan Ramczyk No. 32 overall in 2017), I’m not going to question anything they do up front.
Patriots fans expecting fireworks: Bill Belichick had his highest selection (No. 23) in years, causing many Patriots fans to hope for some fireworks with a quarterback or possibly a move up for a receiver. Instead, Belichick made the most Belichick move possible: He traded out of the round entirely, moving down to No. 37 overall in a swap with the Chargers. After picking up a high third-round pick in the deal, the Patriots now have four third-round picks.
Aaron Rodgers’ training camp mood: Perhaps Rodgers will learn from his awkward early seasons with Brett Favre and truly embrace being a mentor for quarterback Jordan Love, the Utah State product who was taken No. 26 overall on Thursday night. But the Packers’ decision to move up four spots to secure their QB of the future will inevitably lead to a lot of annoying questions for Rodgers over the next few years. Because of the guaranteed money in Rodgers’ contract, it’s hard to imagine the Packers moving on from him before 2022, when Rodgers will turn 39. That’s a fair guess for when Love could take over, if he develops under Packers coach Matt LaFleur.
Love was a fascinating prospect to evaluate. Perhaps the most talented quarterback in this class, his arm and movement ability reminds me more of Patrick Mahomes than anyone since Patrick Mahomes. It’s ideal that Love can sit on the bench for a few years to clean up his decision-making and mechanics, just like Rodgers once did in Green Bay. (Love was far less accurate and made worse decisions than Rodgers or Mahomes did in college.) It’s now up to Rodgers to make like Favre and make the decision as difficult as possible. This draft felt unlike anything we’ve seen before, but the selection of Love was a reminder that NFL time is a flat circle.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.
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