LOS ANGELES — The first round of the 2020 National Football League Draft was not the most exciting, the most historical, or even the most crazy experience. One day, however, fans may number this NFL Draft 2020 as among the most important.
Drafting players in the Plague Year
America and the world has been physically and psychologically decimated by the COVID-19 Corona virus. Life has ground to a standstill. Sports are not being played. The NBA and NHL have seen their playoffs postponed and perhaps even canceled. MLB has seen the start of their season delayed. The only major sport that may escape the cancellation carnage is the NFL. Regular season games do not begin until September. That gives the league time to figure out a ton of logistical issues.
What’s different about NFL Draft 2020?
We have no real offseason in the NFL. That may be one of the big reasons the NFL Draft has in recent years become a bigger sporting event than other leagues playing actual games. For NFL Draft 2020, the league expected between 200,000 and 500,000 people to descend on Las Vegas to watch billionaires making telephone calls and millionaire sports analysts speculate what the billionaires were talking about on the phone. Even more intriguing, Las Vegas is the new home of the Raiders, who played in Oakland, moved to Los Angeles, moved back to Oakland, and and then relocated to Sin City. Yet there would be no Raider Nation gathering this year, either.
For the very first time, the league conducted its current NFL Draft 2020 virtually. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the draft picks from his basement. Before the draft even started, the NFL offered fans some poignant moments regarding the struggle with the Corona virus.
Give Goodell credit. Every year he gets mercilessly booed by the fans. This year he turned that into a positive. With Bud Light offering the hashtag #BooTheCommish, Anheuser-Busch donated one dollar every time someone Twitter typed in that hashtag. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning narrated a meaningful video about hope. Godell returned and reminded everyone watching to go to nfl.com/relief to help with efforts to combat the Corona virus. Harry Connick Jr. played the National Anthem on his piano from his home. A brief moment of levity noted that crying NFL draftees were really just “flexing cryceps.” Dr. Anthony Fauci offered some serious remarks about moving forward with football while adhering to public safety and health.
Getting down to the particulars: Bengals and Redskins
After 15 minutes of emotionally wrenching buildup, finally it was time for football. Or at least telephone calls and conversations dealing with football. Commissioner Goodell offered the NFL equivalent of NASCAR’s “Start your engines” with “The Cincinnati Bengals are on the clock.”
As expected, the Bengals selected Louisiana State quarterback Joe Burrow with the top pick. Had they picked anyone else, their fans may have violated social distancing orders to burn team headquarters. Like Lebron James going to the Cleveland Cavaliers, this was the case of an Ohio kid making good. Burrow is very proud to be from Southeastern Ohio. In his Heisman Trophy speech, he let the audience know of the deep poverty of his beloved Athens County. The Bengals have a blue chip prospect who is proud to be from Ohio.
The Washington Redskins took defensive end Chase Young of Ohio State with the second pick. The Redskins have long been a doormat, but that appears on the verge of changing. Young was the consensus best player in the Draft, and he could not ask for a better coach to teach him. Ron Rivera is a widely respected leader of men with a background on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps because of logistics or by coincidence, there were very few trades. But one gamble.
The Detroit Lions were expected to trade out of the third spot but could not reach an agreement on compensation with the Miami Dolphins. The Lions settled on defensive back Jeff Okudah, Chase Young’s Ohio state teammate. The New York Giants continued their tradition of three yards and a cloud of dust by going with a big wedge of beef. Despite a Draft deep with offensive tackles, the Giants went with Andrew Thomas of Georgia. Thomas was not among the top three tackles on most Draft boards, so this may have been a reach.
While Burrow was the consensus top quarterback hands down, the real quarterback debate centered on who was runner-up. The most polarizing player in the Draft was Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama. His talents are undeniable, but he has battled numerous injuries in the last two years. In November of 2019, his most recent injury was to his hip. The safer, more conventional pick would have been Justin Herbert for Oregon.
But luckily for Tagovailoa, the team with the fifth pick was the Miami Dolphins. They have not had a true long-term leader at quarterback this century. Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season. Since then, attempts to find the team’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” successor has failed worse than “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.” Miami has been haunted by the decision to pass up Drew Brees in 2005 due to concerns over his recovering shoulder. Over his 14 years thus far and counting, Brees rewrote the record books for the New Orleans Saints. This time the Dolphins gambled, and selected Tagovailoa.
One spot later, the San Diego Chargers of Los Angeles went with Justin Herbert. With Philip Rivers gone, Herbert could be starting sooner rather than later. At least Tagovailoa can watch and learn from Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magic beard.
NFL Draft 2020 Defense vs. Offense
After the flurry of three quarterbacks in the first six picks came a run on the people to stop them as the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars all went defense. Then came the run on people to stop the stoppers as offensive tackles raced off the Draft board. Three of the next four teams, the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all went for offensive lunch bucket buys in the trenches. In a remarkable turn of events, the normally surly Jets fans cheered rather than booed their pick. Both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold now have guys to help them stay upright.
For the suddenly revitalized Buccaneers, Pewter Power is as strong as any time since 2002. Yet that was “Buc Ball” built on defense. The 2020 Buccaneers now have quarterback Tom Brady and hit security blanket tight end Rob Gronkowski. After years playing for defensive guru Bill Belichick in New England, Brady and Gronk now get to have fun airing it out for offensive mastermind Bruce Arians. Brady may throw the ball on every play, and another offensive lineman for him is wise.
Anybody want a receiver?
After 11 picks, no wide receivers had been picked. The Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders of Las Vegas were ready to make their first selection as a Nevada football team. The entire football world expected the Raiders to take a receiver, and they did. Yet these are the Raiders. Al Davis has been dead for nearly a decade, but it felt like he was still drafting the first round players. CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy were the two most heralded wide receivers. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden knew this. Yet the ghost of Al Davis selected Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs has blazing speed, and Davis always loved the fastest guys. Ruggs immediately showed the world that he was a throwback who would remind people of the Raiders of the 1970s. He was shown at his Draft party wearing a bathrobe.
The floodgates soon opened on the wide receivers who Ruggs would forever be compared to. Three picks after the Raiders, their archrival Denver Broncos went with Jeudy. Two picks after that Lamb went to the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones was drafting from his living room that resembled a futuristic spaceship. Jerrah did not have his team to restrain him, so there was zero chance he would go with a boring player in the trenches. Jones loves glitz and glamour, and Lamb will give Dak Prescott a complement to Amari Cooper. With Ezekiel Emanuel taken care of, the Cowboys have their stars on offense. Jones is thinking Super Bowl, although to be fair he thinks that every year. Coach Mike McCarthy is a calm, steady guy who can balance the egos of Jones’s superstars.
Raiders, Dolphins and Packers
The Raiders had two picks in the first round due to the Khalil Mack trade with the Chicago Bears. Everyone expected them to shore up a weakened secondary and this time there were no surprises. Ohio State Cornerback Damon Arnette has a history with the Raiders in a roundabout way. In high school he played for the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders.
The Dolphins had three picks in the first round, and they continued to build from the ground up. Along with their new quarterback, they gave him a helping hand. Or two, actually. They did so by picking an offensive lineman for protection and a ballhawk cornerback to get him back on the field. Noah Igbinoghene of Auburn is pedigree stock. Both of his parents were champion Olympic sprinters.
The Green Bay Packers brought everything full circle. 15 years ago they shocked Brett Favre by drafting Aaron Rodgers. Now with Rodgers leading the team to the NFC Title Game, the team picked his future successor in Jordan Love. This was a surprise move, given how close the Packers were to the Super Bowl last year. Rodgers is every bit as fierce a competitor as Favre, which means Rodgers will teach Love how to hold a clipboard for a few years. It is even possible that Love could finish his rookie season without starting a game.
After 31 picks, not a single running back had been taken. With pass-happy Walrus Andy Reid and his Hawaiian shirt on the clock, running backs appeared to be shut out. But for Reid, running backs are just receivers anyway. The Super Bowl champions took running back Louisiana State running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick of the first round.
Bell rings for Round 1
After four exhausting hours on top of the 15 minute buildup, Round 1 of NFL Draft 2020 was now in the books. Commissioner Goodell gave the world a piece of most welcome good news that it desperately needed. The league announced it raised 85 million dollars to date for Corona virus relief.
Cleveland is next up for hosting the 2021 NFL Draft. But Goodell offered good news to Las Vegas. After having their 2020 Draft extravaganza plans ruined, Las Vegas will get to host the Draft in 2022.
Missing from the first round was Evil Hoodie Bill Belichick. He traded out of the first round and continues to stock picks to reload his team. The New England Patriots will be featured in the second and third rounds, so the drama of the NFL’s first virtual Draft has only just begun.
Sadly for one NFL star, real matters of life and death came just as the Draft was ending. News that quarterback Dak Prescott’s brother suddenly passed away rocked the entire NFL and especially the Cowboys. Jace Prescott was just 31 years old.
— Headline image: NFL Draft 2020 official logo. Copyright: NFL. Fair use for related article.