Day 43 without sports 😭: 10 twists that could create chaos in 2020 NFL draft’s first round
Note: With the 2020 NFL draft starting Thursday, USA TODAY Sports is breaking from its traditional "day without sports" format to put the spotlight on the proceedings.
One of the most-hyped events in sports is about to seize the spotlight in unprecedented fashion.
The NFL draft has become its own ecosystem, with fans following the trajectory of prospects and teams throughout the year. "Mock draft Monday" has become a staple of every offseason, as simulated first rounds try to tease out the various possible outcomes.
But what do we know for certain about this year's class? Not much.
While there doesn't appear to be much drama around the first couple of selections, a variety of scenarios could play out in the ensuing picks. These 10 unexpected developments could throw a wrench into the first round, which starts at 8 p.m. ET.
The unfamiliar setup of this year's remote draft, made necessary by restrictions implemented by the league and state governments, already has raised questions about how coaches and general managers will handle their duties from home. Ultimately, though, the paranoia might be overblown.
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NFL DRAFT: Five big-name players who could fall out of first round
Yes, the league-wide mock draft this week did begin with what Broncos GM John Elway called a "hiccup" due to a technical difficulty, but he and other participants said the session otherwise went smoothly. In anticipation of potential problems, the NFL has informed teams that the clock will be stopped if any such issues arise in real time. Unless the league encounters security issues or a large-scale tech meltdown, the roadblocks might be relatively minor.
The Lions and/or Giants trade back
In the top two slots, there doesn't seem to be anything that would stop the Bengals from taking LSU quarterback Joe Burrow or the Redskins from grabbing Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. The real intrigue starts with the next two teams.
Lions GM Bob Quinn and Giants GM Dave Gettleman have broadcast their interest in fielding offers to move back from the No. 3 or 4 positions, respectively. If any team is desperate to jump up the board, either franchise could field some significant help on Day 2, which would be crucial given both rosters have pressing needs in multiple areas. The Lions and the Giants could still land a top-tier talent in such a swap, but any potential exchange could still have a significant fallout early in the first round. There might not be much down-to-the-wire drama, though. Quinn and Gettleman made it known they'd like to have any potential deal done by the time they're on the clock.
The Dolphins take Justin Herbert ahead of Tua Tagovailoa
This scenario might not even seem so far-fetched anymore. Herbert is now the betting favorite to be the second quarterback selected, according to BetMGM. Still, if the Dolphins opt for the Oregon signal-caller rather than Tagovailoa, the former Alabama star whose 2019 season was cut short by a dislocated hip, the pick could define the franchise for years to come.
While injury questions are no doubt integral to Tagovailoa's projection, there's little doubt the former Heisman Trophy runner-up was the more accomplished and refined of the two passers in college, albeit with a superior supporting cast. At 6-6 and 236 pounds, Herbert offers plenty of promise, but his erratic play has left many to wonder if he can be a consistent starter in the NFL. No matter the outcome, Tagovailoa's and Herbert's careers are likely to be intertwined for some time.
The Dolphins or Chargers bypass a QB with their top pick
Investing in a young signal-caller seems like an obligatory step in the rebuild process for Miami and Los Angeles, so using the fifth and sixth overall selections on any other position would be surprising. It's within the realm of possibility, though, that the team could use the picks in a different fashion and find a passer elsewhere.
The Dolphins boast a league-high 14 selections, including two more in the first round at No. 18 and 26, which leaves them with plenty of opportunities to invest in a quarterback. Instead, they could use their top choice on an offensive tackle, as USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis projected in his final mock draft.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport also reported Wednesday that the Dolphins were weighing a trade up to fortify their front. The Chargers, meanwhile, have been talking up veteran Tyrod Taylor as a potential starter. Though the split from Philip Rivers and move into the new stadium have created significant pressure to make a big swing for a quarterback, the Bolts could consider looking to the position on Day 2. These scenarios likely hinge on the teams having a particular distaste for Herbert and Tagovailoa, but maybe they can envision a different solution to their problems behind center.
Tagovailoa falls out of the top six
Could "Tank for Tua" give way to "Tagovailoa tumbles"? It's difficult to imagine a quarterback once viewed as the front-runner for the No. 1 selection enduring a draft-day fall, but if he slips past the Chargers, there will be plenty of uncertainty for the quarterback.
At No. 9, the Jaguars might make for the next sensible landing spot. Jacksonville's returning regime, however, might be inclined to fill various holes on defense first and roll with Gardner Minshew for another year. Should Tagovailoa last beyond that point, all eyes will turn to the Patriots and whether they would make an aggressive move to grab him as an immediate successor to Tom Brady.
A win-now team makes a big trade
Not since 2015 have the first 10 picks in any draft gone untouched by trades. And while six first-day selections have already been swapped, more could be packaged this week.
The Broncos (picking No. 15) and the Eagles (No. 21) both would stand to benefit from adding a speedy receiver, and they could be tempted to make a play for CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma), Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III (both of Alabama) before a potential run on pass catchers at 11 or 12. Similarly, the Falcons might be tempted to pursue a sought-after defender unlikely to be on the board at No. 16, where they're currently set to select. Any significant shake-up in the order would have an undeniable ripple effect on the rest of the round.
Jordan Love lands in the top 10 — or falls out of the first round entirely
There might not be a player facing a more volatile range of outcomes Thursday than Love. The 6-4, 223-pound quarterback from Utah State has tantalizing deep-throwing ability and athleticism, but his FBS-worst 17 interceptions in 2019 reinforced concerns about his decision-making.
Whether it's securing a spot in the top 10 or fitting in as a potential replacement to an established quarterback, such as the Saints' Drew Brees or the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, Love's draft position is sure to surprise many. And there's a distinct possibility he has to wait until Day 2 to learn his fate.
The Patriots get aggressive for a QB
Is Bill Belichick really prepared to go into a landmark season with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer as his quarterback options? The notion of starting a rookie might be discomforting to the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach, but with only two signal-callers on the roster, it sure looks as if there's another piece to be added here.
Picking at No. 23, New England might not have a wealth of options for adding a passer. Even if Tagovailoa or Herbert falls, the Patriots don't have a significant amount of draft capital after parting with their second-round selection in the Mohamed Sanu trade. If neither one is within reach, Belichick could look to Love or wait until Day 2, when the likes of Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts, Washington's Jacob Eason and Georgia's Jake Fromm are expected to be taken.
Veteran players are sent off in trades
The NFL draft isn't merely a forum for determining new teams for rookies. Established starters are often dealt in trade packages, and there are plenty of veterans who could be on the block this year.
Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the organization and its decision to issue him the franchise tag. Jacksonville's opportunity to maximize any return on him, or running back Leonard Fournette, likely would be in the early stages of the draft, when it could try to collect more picks and stockpile talent after shedding a handful of marquee players in the last year. Several other veterans — including Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams, Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton — also face uncertain outlooks.
Teams try to collect 2021 picks
It's never too early to look ahead. The Jaguars and the Dolphins have already acquired additional first-round selections for next year, and other teams willing to take a long view might try to follow a similar path by stockpiling future assets. Given that this year's evaluations were disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, including the shuttering of pro days and in-person visits, fewer teams might be in a typical position of confidence during the middle and later rounds.
Though there's nothing guaranteed about next year's class — highlighted by the expected presence of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields — amid a lack of clarity on the upcoming college football season, several franchises might be inclined to start building their war chests early.
Sports video of the day
While we're breaking our traditional format (if you can call 42 days a tradition), we do want to include one staple from our previous "Day Without Sports" posts. And since NFL draft day wouldn't be complete without making fun of the New York Jets …
So to all you Jets fans, we're sorry for your (many) losses. For fans of all of the other teams … we're not laughing with the Jets. We're laughing at them.
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Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
Contributing: Steve Gardner
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