I am, by nature, a hopeless optimist. (After you see my 2020 NFL Mock Draft 2020 below, you’d think the more apt description is hopeless masochist.) So I am glad the draft is going on despite the pandemic. It’s a pain for teams, of course, but competitively, it’s the same for everyone. The Chargers’ Tom Telesco will make the sixth pick in the first round from his dining-room table; Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Brett Veach will wheel and deal the 32nd pick up or down from their basements, connected by cell and text and email and videoconference. In the last 10 days, I have not heard a coach or GM, even off the record while gathering informational chum for my mock, complain about the inconvenience of drafting alone and from home. Veach shares his home with a wife, four kids and two Australian shepherds, and it might get loud sometime during the draft. “Eliminating the fighting and eliminating the dog-barking—I think those will be the biggest challenges,” he said the other day.
Sound familiar, work-from-home America?
Four or five coaches or team officials told me they considered themselves lucky to have a job today. That’s the right attitude to have, and the league would be wise this week to operate this draft humbly and with verve and some good humor, and to be a beacon for a wounded country. And the way this draft will be run, with hosts and reporters and players and coaches and GMs all virtual spokes to a studio wheel, should show that if this is the new normal, well, fine. Let’s get on with it.
“I believe,” commissioner Roger Goodell told me Saturday, “that this draft in particular is about hope. It restores hope for every fan, for every club, for the teams itself in the sense of, We have new players coming in. We have new hope. This can turn us around. This can be the answer to get us to the Super Bowl. Those things I think are really critical in our game, but beyond that I really believe that football does a great job of bringing communities back together again, and giving them a diversion at a time when people are really looking for something positive and looking toward the future, and looking to be inspired.”
After 9/11 and after Katrina, football teams in New York and Washington, and the football team in New Orleans, were very important in the comebacks of their cities. This crisis is different, because the virus is not an event that happened and went away and left a destructive wake. It’s an event that could linger and leave a destructive wake for months. We just don’t know. So this draft, with every other major sport shut down, is under a historic microscope.
“We do believe a lot of people are going to watch this, maybe more people than ever watched the draft before,” Goodell said. “But that’s not how we’re going to judge this. I think it’s going to be judged by, can we demonstrate that we adapted? We worked from home. We did something that was really important in the context of our preparation for the season by filling out rosters with draft-eligible players, and doing that in a way that also gave back to our communities through our Draft-A-Thon. And also highlighting some of the people who’ve been the real heroes in our communities.”
That’s the way it should be.
Different year for the mock draft. Even the well-connected guys are lost this year. One connected guy told me he thinks it’s because Pro Days are a fount of information exchange for sidling scouts and GMs and coaches each spring, and those mini-personnel conventions gut shut off by the league March 12. Too much other stuff happening to be concerned with chasing down Mike Mayock to compare notes on the receiver rankings.
Excuses are for losers, which I’ll be when my 2020 NFL mock draft is tallied late Thursday night. Here we go for the first round:
1. Cincinnati—Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
As Burrow whiled away the hours at home last week in southeast Ohio—throwing some to a couple of Athens tight-end buddies, watching “The Office” and playing video games—there didn’t seem to be much mystery about his fate. Coach Zac Taylor told Dan Patrick last week “it doesn’t look” like the Bengals will trade the pick. So look for Burrow to land with the home-state team.
Now the question: Will he be ready to play opening day, whenever that is? Well, the last time Burrow was in this situation, he transferred to LSU in the summer of 2018, reported to summer practice Aug. 4, and started the LSU opener four weeks later. He played all 28 LSU games in ’18 and ’19, and won the Heisman and the national title last season. So he’ll learn the Cincinnati offense virtually this spring—I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s started already—and may not even meet top targets A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd till August. Of course it’s not the best for Burrow or the Bengals. But Burrow spent the last year blowing away Louisiana, the SEC, the nation. Nothing much seems to bother him. My money’s on him starting from the jump in Cincinnati.
2. Washington—Chase Young, edge rusher, Ohio State
So after the national anthem and some (my best guess) canned booing of home-bound Roger Goodell live from his basement in New York, expect 20 minutes of zero drama. As much as Washington tried to create a market for the second pick in the draft, Tua Tagovailoa’s hip and the signing of Kyle Allen ruined that. Washington shan’t overthink. Building the NFC’s best pass-rush east of Santa Clara (Young, Montez Sweat and maybe vet Ryan Kerrigan) is the way to go for a team that needs to win back a royally ticked-off fan base.
3. Miami (trade with Detroit)—Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon
It’s funny. Whether Miami makes the trade or not, I think Miami and Detroit will make the same picks. I do think, for the peace of mind and to prevent anyone from leapfrogging them, the Dolphins would be smart to deal the 39th overall pick to Detroit to move up two slots here. Anyway, I don’t know if Herbert’s going to be Miami’s pick. My pick is based on Miami choosing to go conservative here instead of trying to hit a triple in the gap by picking Tua Tagovailoa. Because the Dolphins have done a good job hiding their intentions, I won’t be shocked either way—if they go the risky way with Tua, or if they repeat 2006 and make the safe call with Herbert. Daunte Culpepper, 2006; Herbert, 2020. And they’ll hope it’s a better result this time. My theory is that Tagovailoa would have been the pick had he not dislocated his hip last November. But if it is Herbert, he’ll get to sit behind a pro’s pro, Ryan Fitzpatrick, for a year or most of a year, and be in position to take over in a more normal 2021 season.
4. New York Giants—Tristan Wirfs, tackle, Iowa
I would bet there are 25 different rankings of the top five tackles on the 32 NFL draft boards—Wirfs, Jedrick Wills of Alabama, Mekhi Becton of Louisville, Andrew Thomas of Georgia, Josh Jones of Houston. The Giants, by the way, would trade down for a good offer; Dave Gettleman has said no to draft trades for so long, but this year those in the top 10 tell me he’d definitely do it. I don’t think there’s a great demand to move up. The Giants need a lot of help on defense, and you probably could defend an Isaiah Simmons pick here. But these are Gettleman’s own words from Friday: “You know my theory. It’s very, very difficult for Saquon [Barkley] to run the ball if he doesn’t have holes. It’s going to be difficult for Daniel [Jones] to throw the ball when he’s on his back. We’ll continue to build the offense line.” Cam Fleming is the band aid right tackle for New York, but he’s more likely a swing tackle and insurance policy, with 26 starts in six years. Wirfs or Jerrick Wills of Alabama would likely play right away at right tackle for New York.
5. Detroit (trade with Miami)—Jeff Okudah, cornerback, Ohio State
Not sure of the return for Detroit, but let’s say Lions GM Bob Quinn deals the third overall pick for the fifth and 39th. Most Lions’ fans will scream and say, “Quinn should have gotten one of the other Miami first-rounders, either at 18 or 26.” I’m going to ask you this, Lions fans: If I told you before the draft that you could exit the weekend with CB1 on your first pick (Okudah), RB3 (Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor) on the second and G1 (Louisiana’s Robert Hunt) on the third, would you be doing cartwheels about that? Acquiring the 39th overall pick while still ensuring you’d get the corner you want would likely allow that.
One last thing: In the first draft in Carolina Panthers history, GM Bill Polian traded down with Cincinnati from one to five in the first round and acquired the 36th pick (only) in return. Polian didn’t have another trade option, and he didn’t want to pay the player he really wanted, quarterback Kerry Collins, first-pick money. So he picked the player he’d have taken at one, Collins, fifth, and had a bonus second-round pick. The point is, sometimes you take a deal even if it’s not the one the trade chart says you should make, because you’re going to improve your team by doing it.
6. Los Angeles Chargers—Andrew Thomas, tackle, Georgia
For four days, until 4 p.m. Sunday, I had Tua Tagovailoa in this spot. I truly don’t know if GM Tom Telesco loves the well-scarred Tagovailoa enough to take him. He might, and it would make sense. The Chargers are in a megastar market, and they do not have one on the roster, and Tua would immediately become the billboard on the 405 owner Dean Spanos would love.
But I made the switch for a couple of reasons. Anthony Lynn doesn’t view—at least now—Tyrod Taylor as a bridge quarterback. He thinks he can be a good NFL starter. And with the business side of football so up in the air in 2020 because of the pandemic, I think it’s more important to build the best football team rather than have the best marketing plan. The Chargers have 31-year-old Bryan Bulaga—who has missed 13 games in the last three years—at one of the tackles, and no other solid guy on the roster. I hear the Chargers are planning to use Bulaga at right tackle. So they’re absolutely denuded on the left side of the line, and here’s the first-team all-American left tackle from the SEC sitting there for them. A Telesco team to be so bereft of building blocks at tackle is not good. And the Chargers have loved Thomas, a legit two-year left tackle at Georgia against the highest level of competition in the college game, throughout the fall and winter.
If it goes this way, this is the kind of decision that defines careers—Telesco and Thomas . . . and even Tua.
7. Carolina—Derrick Brown, defensive tackle, Auburn
Man. Would the Panthers pass on Tua? I’m saying yes, because they’d have to take a $20-million cap hit to dump Teddy Bridgewater next offseason . . . and they really like Bridgewater. Plus, the Panthers have a slew of major needs on defense. They could take C.J. Henderson here and be happy because of a desperate corner need. But this team is dying on the interior defensive line, and all you have to do is watch a few Derrick Brown plays to know what a crucial addition he’d be. There’s one play where he man-against-boys an LSU guard and Joe Burrow is so flustered by the specter of Brown that he falls down before Brown makes it to him in the backfield.
So a few people in the league would say they’re a little down on Brown because of a so-so combine performance. But I don’t see that stopping a smart team in the top 10 from making him a defensive centerpiece for six or eight years. Panthers also love Isaiah Simmons.
8. Arizona—Isaiah Simmons, defensive player, Clemson
This is a first in Peter King Mock Draft History. I’ve never before labeled a player “defensive player.” Simmons has played strong safety, cornerback, slot corner, inside linebacker and outside linebacker, and he’s likely going to be a hybrid safety/linebacker/edge player in the NFL. Could be an instinctive pass-rusher too, which the Cardinals lack in a big way; he had 23 pressures on 70 pass-rushes. Now, the Cards have other needs, and Simmons doesn’t have a singular position. But he was a great and instinctive college player.
I believe GM Steve Keim just might look at this pick and remember the 2007 draft. Keim, the director of college scouting in Arizona at the time, reportedly wanted Adrian Peterson when the Cards picked at number five in the first round. But the Arizona pick ended up being a tackle, Levi Brown, and Peterson came off the board two slots later, to Minnesota. Brown was an abject disaster with Arizona. Peterson is, well, the best back of the past 15 years. I’ve always seen Keim as a pick-the-best-player guy. And with the multiple defensive gifts of Simmons, he’d qualify as that if there at eight.
9. Jacksonville—C.J. Henderson, cornerback, Florida
Not sure if the Jags will do it, but I hear they’ve been talking about trading up—and I assume it’s for one of the two corners at the top of the CB market. This would be a solid pick for the Jacksonville rebuild. They’ve lost nearly every defensive player of value except Myles Jack in recent months (with franchised defensive end Yannick Ngakoue being shopped this week too), and adding Henderson would give them a potential premier player at each level of the defense—pass-rusher Josh Allen, linebacker Jack, and Henderson in the back end. Who knows if GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone will be around to oversee the remaking of the Jags, but someone’s got to do it.
10. Cleveland—Jedrick Wills, tackle, Alabama
Andrew Thomas is the preferred player here, and the Browns have been actively trying to trade down, which they could do. That’s the thing about the Browns: They crave picks, and if, say, Miami wants come up from 18 because of the major need at tackle, I could see the Browns being happy to move down eight slots and find some equitable value from the Miami treasure trove of high picks (26, 39, 56, 70, plus two first and two second-round picks in 2021).
Wills is a more natural right tackle as opposed to Thomas being a two-year left tackle at Georgia. There are some teams that have Wills the top-rated tackle in a good class of them, so if Cleveland gets him, it’s a good pick. He allowed one sack over the past two seasons at Alabama.
11. New York Jets—Mekhi Becton, tackle, Louisville
And the run on tackles ends after 11 picks, right about where the football world thinks it will—with GM Joe Douglas’ first draft choice as Jets GM. Becton is 6-7 ½ and 365 pounds. He will be the Andre the Giant of the AFC East. “The most impressive thing about him,” his former college coach at Louisville, Bobby Petrino, said, “is he can reverse-dunk.” Yikes. I do believe that Sam Darnold would find the most impressive thing about his left tackle for the next eight years would be keeping him clean 16 Sundays each fall. This would be a solid pick for Douglas, and not just because Becton can block out the sun. He’s competitive and feisty.
12. Las Vegas—CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver, Oklahoma
Maybe the toughest call I had to make Sunday evening, having the Raiders bypass Tua Tagovailoa for Lamb. I did it because I keep hearing both Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden are intrigued with new backup Marcus Mariota; adding Tagovailoa might be the best thing for 2023, but it’s not so great for 2020. But they could do it. As for Lamb: Mayock loves him, thinks he’s the most complete receiver in the draft, and even though I think Gruden likely would prefer the take-the-top-off speed of Henry Ruggs, he’s happy to have a true number one receiver who can win consistently against NFL-caliber corners.
13. New England (trade with San Francisco)—Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Alabama
So Tagovailoa could drop, and Bill Belichick really doesn’t want to take a quarterback now, with one draft pick in the top 85 this year and needs all over his roster. And truly: I have no indication, no inside information, that says he’d do this. It’s simply a guess. But think if you’re Belichick. Because your team never finishes 3-13, you never have a chance to get one of the best quarterbacks in the college game. Until Tagovailoa’s hip popped out of the socket last November, forcing immediate and urgent surgery, he was 1/1A with the transcendent Joe Burrow to be the first pick in this draft. And you don’t want to pillage the lone first or lone second-round pick from next year’s draft. But do you do it for a great but pockmarked talent such as Tagovailoa five months after major hip surgery? I do know Belichick would have confidence in his player-procurement skills.
I also don’t know what the New England orthopods will say about him. I do know one respected team doctor for an NFL team who gave Tagovailoa the once-over at the combine, and I asked him what he thought about Tagovailoa’s propensity for injury while at Alabama—a broken hand, two high-ankle sprains, and a hip dislocation most recently. This is what this doctor—whose team is not in the market for a first-round quarterback—told me Thursday:
“These contact injuries are part of the game. You ask yourself, ‘Is this guy injury-prone, or does he have a bullseye on him because he’s a crucial player on his team?’ I’ve seen a few of the hip dislocations in football, and my experience is that if you lose blood supply to the hip for a long-enough period of time, you’re in trouble. I don’t think that was the case here. As I see it, the effects of the dislocation might show up when he’s 35, but not when he’s 25.”
Cautiously optimistic then. Tough call for a franchise, but when would the Patriots ever get a shot at a potential superstar quarterback? Even if they had to throw in next year’s first-rounder, I think this would be a risk worth taking for the Patriots.
14. Tampa Bay—Javon Kinlaw, defensive tackle, South Carolina
Heard a few things here—that Tampa would love to get a complete running back who can catch to complement Tom Brady, and that they’re jonesing for a top corner. With Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh big bodies on the defensive front, they’re not desperate for a disruptive defensive tackle here, but the value is excellent. I can also tell you that if Kinlaw is around at 14, Tampa will get some calls from teams—and not just for Kinlaw, but for Jerry Jeudy and maybe Henry Ruggs. One of the things the Bucs would love about adding an impact player along the front seven: Suh is 33 and Jason Pierre-Paul is 31, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is very big on disrupting the pocket. You can’t have enough impact players up front.
15. Denver—Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama
John Elway looks around his living room in Cherry Hills Village a few spirals from the Broncos complex, and says to the scouts and coaches tethered to him via teleconference: “Are you freakin’ kidding me? Jeudy falls to us at 15?” It’s a gift, he thinks, and it takes him a minute to type in Jeudy and send it on the Microsoft Teams channel to draft central. Sometimes the draft falls weird, and the incredible excess at receiver in this draft makes so many teams with wideout needs say they’ll wait till the second and third rounds. Elway could sit back after a pick like this and think about Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jeudy and Phillip Lindsay: I’ve got a quarterback I feel pretty good about, two top-20 NFL receivers, a 1,000-yard back, and none are 26 years old yet. We’re pretty good at the explosive offensive positions.
16. Atlanta—K’Lavon Chaisson, edge rusher, LSU
Worst-kept secret in draft rooms around the league: GM Thomas Dimitroff wants to trade up for one of the two top corners in the draft, Jeff Okudah or C.J. Henderson. He just might. He knows his secondary has to do better than allow 66 percent completions, 28 touchdowns and 7.7 yards per pass play. But if it goes this way, he’d likely get a second-tier corner with the 47th overall pick, and hope Chaisson and Dante Fowler can provide the sort of consistent edge presence his pass rush has been missing.
17. Dallas—Xavier McKinney, safety, Alabama
Trading down low into the round, or even high into round two, and taking Michigan center Cesar Ruiz as a long-term replacement for the retired Travis Frederick wouldn’t surprise me. But there’s a big hole at safety that must be filled, and McKinney’s the top safety on most boards (apologies, Grant Delpit). McKinney is a sure tackler, proficient in coverage and a very smart player. He’s the type of back-end player who could be the leader of a needy secondary for five or six years.
18. Miami—A.J. Epenesa, edge rusher, Iowa
Might be a bit of reach for the one-year Iowa starter, but this is a big need position, and Epenesa is a solid person and productive player, with 22 sacks and 31 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. You’d like to see him faster than 5.04-seconds in the 40, but such is the story of this year’s edge-rush crowd. It’s just okay. He’d be well-coached in Brian Flores’ scheme, and he’d have a very good mentor in Kyle Van Noy.
19. Las Vegas—Kristian Fulton, cornerback, LSU
After the first two corners go, the rest are in a hug mosh pit. Fulton is a PFF darling, rated the 12th-best player in the draft—ahead of C.J. Henderson, Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw—and trailing only Jeff Okudah in the cornerback class. He falls into the class of player GM Mike Mayock loves: big-time player in a national championship program, though some have been down on him for cheating on a drug test, which led to a one-year ban in 2017. He’d be the kind of competitive and tested player Jon Gruden loves.
20. Jacksonville—Justin Jefferson, wide receiver, LSU
When you ask about Jefferson, you hear lots of NFL people talk about his elite mechanics and route-running. “His speed is good enough, he runs a 12-yard out at exactly 12 yards, and he’s got pro tools,” said a coach who loves him. A playoff team in the twenties is calculating whether to move up to the teens to get him—and to bypass Henry Ruggs to do so. He’s fearless too, the kind of building-block player a good offense should froth over. Jefferson’s going to have a good pro career, and he’d be the kind of alternative to deep-threat D.J. Chark the Jaguars could feature, regardless of the coach or quarterback, for five or six years.
21. Philadelphia—Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver, Alabama
Maybe Eagles GM Howie Roseman will find a taker for Alshon Jeffery and his hefty salary (maybe by paying a good chunk of it), or maybe the Eagles have to play with Jeffery and his injury bug for one more season; when he’s on the field he’s effective if not a star. But the thing I heard about the Eagles in the last few days is, Henry Ruggs will not get past 21. So here we are. Ruggs and his 4.27 40-speed are obviously tempting, and 24 touchdowns on only 98 career catches is explosive stuff. But a couple of things make me wonder. Three years, 41 games, 2.4 catches per game, 41.9 receiving yards per game. The most dangerous weapon in your offense gets 42 yards a game? The other side of that is some very smart offensive minds—Sean Payton, Andy Reid—love Ruggs. He’s competitive, and he doesn’t drop many. If he goes to Philadelphia, he’ll be the deep weapon Carson Wentz has imagined with DeSean Jackson.
22. Minnesota—Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Alabama
The type of big cornerback GMs crave these days to face the bigger receivers colleges are churning out. With only Mike Hughes left in a once-rich secondary, the Vikings have no choice but to use first-round replenishment on a corner. This might be overthinking, but I wonder if being Stefon Diggs’ younger brother would bug GM Rick Spielman or coach Mike Zimmer. It certainly would be the first question I’d ask at the post-draft press conference.
23. San Francisco (trade with New England)—Josh Jones, offensive tackle, Houston
In this projection, I’d have the Niners moving to 23 and getting New England’s first-round pick in 2021. Good value, but it won’t help John Lynch trying to get a pick or two in the two-day gulf between picks 31 and 156. So I think the Niners look to trade one of their two first-rounders again, so they can add an extra pick in round two or three. If they stay here, tackle’s the right call. With Joe Staley having either one year or zero years left, it’s a good time to pick a long-term tackle. Jones started for four years at left tackle—45 games—and that’s not something you can say for many collegiate tackles these days.
24. New Orleans—A.J. Terrell, cornerback, Clemson
I think defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s going to love the maturity and competitiveness of his defensive backfield, with Malcolm Jenkins—one of the smartest and most mature players in football—added to Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Terrell, if he’s the pick. I like the fit with the Saints because Terrell is a good competitor and very coachable. When you start 30 straight games in a program like Clemson, you’re ready to take the next step.
25. Minnesota—Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Clemson
Most receiving touchdowns in Clemson history: Higgins 27, DeAndre Hopkins 27, Sammy Watkins 27. Higgins needs to get stronger (6-3 ½, 216), but he’s the kind of receivers scouts think will improve at the 50-50 balls when he learns to be more physical. At 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, he’s no burner, but with a career average of 18.1 yards per catch, he’s got the kind of run-after-the-catch instincts that will serve him well at the pro level.
26. Miami—Austin Jackson, offensive tackle, USC
The Dolphins could trade out to the thirties here, and maybe get Boise’s Ezra Cleveland (three years, 40 starts at left tackle) to be their Laremy Tunsil heir. But Jackson, 6-5 and 325 pounds, has basketball-type quickness and the ability to project as an NFL left tackle. If the Dolphins love a tackle here, they’ve got so many picks they’re wise to just sit and select.
27. Seattle—Yetur Gross-Matos, defensive end, Penn State
There’s not much of a chance Seattle sits and makes this pick, honestly; GM John Schneider has traded down in the first round eight straight years. I still think he could deal down, particularly if there’s a lesser-light big corner he likes available high in the second round. But I couldn’t find a logical dance partner for the Seahawks. My feeling is Seattle is doling out hope for Jadeveon Clowney in the $15-million-a-year range, or maybe Everson Griffen; they’re the kind of veteran rushers Seattle thinks are necessary in a high-powered NFC West. But Gross-Matos is a good alternative as a backfield disruptor.
28. Baltimore—Kenneth Murray, linebacker, Oklahoma
My bet is the Ravens might try to move up a few slots to steal Murray; he’s the best pure linebacker in the draft, a sideline to sideline menace, and would be a godsend for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to use as a chess piece. He’s also a future NFL Man of the Year, a totally too-good-to-be-true guy who helps his parents raise three siblings with special needs. Murray to the Ravens is a football match made in heaven. I’d love to see it happen.
29. Tennessee—Isaiah Wilson, tackle, Georgia
Imagine that: two Georgia tackles in the first round. The difference is that Andrew Thomas will be counted on as plug-and-play, and Wilson could take a year of grooming, particularly in a year with a weird offseason program like this one. The natural inclination will be to expect Wilson to step in for the departed Jack Conklin, and he may. Wilson’s the kind of edgy, angry player who will fit well on the feisty Titans line. I’m just not sure that fit will begin in 2020.
30. Green Bay—Michael Pittman Jr., wide receiver, USC
Professional receiver. Most have him in the second round. But the Packers don’t pick again till 62, and they see a solid but unspectacular disciplined route-runner and competitive 50-50-ball player. “He’s so reliable,” one coach told me Saturday. “He might get lost in a crop of receivers this good, but he shouldn’t. He’ll be a good receiver in the league for a long time.” Speaking of competitive receivers who were a quarterback’s best friend: Jordy Nelson, 6-3, 220 — Michael Pittman, 6-4, 222.
31. Dallas (trade with San Francisco)—Cesar Ruiz, center, Michigan
I said at pick 18 that the Cowboys wanted to replace Travis Frederick with a solid rock in this draft, and it could well be that he’d be on the board midway through the second round with the 51st overall pick. But the Cowboys surrender their third-round pick (82 overall) to move up for a long-term center. The Niners wanted two picks—possibly one for a big-body plugger in the middle of the defensive line, one for a receiver—and this deal does the trick.
32. Kansas City—Jeff Gladney, cornerback, TCU
Craziest rumor of the first round: Chiefs want to trade up for Henry Ruggs if he falls into the twenties. Insane. Do they want every sub 4.35 guy in the National Football League? A couple of theories: There are only two very good cover corners in this draft, Okudah and Henderson, and they’d be long gone by the time the Chiefs could make a reasonable offer. Sammy Watkins is a short-termer, probably only one more year in KC, so another quick-twitch guy would fit either this year or next. Finally, fast guys with slight builds who collide with defenders tend to get hurt, so Ruggs would be good insurance for that in 2020 and a stalwart beyond that.
Anyhoo, the Chiefs’ biggest position of need right now is corner, and Gladney is a competitive and tough player who would fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme.
A few final notes:
• Teams that could take quarterback Jordan Love: Green Bay (62), Pittsburgh (49).
• Teams that could take quarterback Jalen Hurts: Baltimore (55), Atlanta (47).
• Best player I don’t have in round one: Wisconsin LB Zack Baun (32 sacks/TFLs in 2019).
• Players likely to get traded during the draft, in order: Washington T Trent Williams, Jacksonville DE Yannick Ngakoue, New England G Joe Thuney, Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton, Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette, Philadelphia WR Alshon Jeffery.
• For the record, last year I hit on 26 of 32 first-rounders (meh), had nine players picked by the right team (good), and nailed the slot of eight players (good). I’d sign for those results any year.
The open. When the draft telecast kicks off Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, you’ll hear from a familiar person: Peyton Manning. On both of the two telecasts, ABC and ESPN/NFL Network, Manning will voice a two-and-a-half-minute piece paying tribute to those on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, and on football and its place in the country in these times. I’m told it’ll hit a range of emotions and end in hope.
The boos. “I guess you’re going to have to show up and watch,” Goodell said when I asked how he was going to replicate the cacophonous boos he gets at every draft venue. “But I will say this: It’s a big part of the draft. I personally love the engagement with our fans. That [booing] is included. For us, we had to think through, ‘How are we going to bring the fans into the event? How are we going to allow the boo to be a part of the event as it has been in the past?’ ” How indeed. Last week I reported there will be a screen of fans from each team behind Goodell when he announces the pick. Could they boo? Stay tuned.
The ratings. They could be through the roof, obviously. To give some perspective, last year, the average viewership per minute on the combined platforms of ESPN, NFL Network and ABC was 6.1 million, the highest ever. That’s half the average number of a “Monday Night Football” telecast in 2019. This year? No one knows. But I have a feeling—with no March Madness, no Final Four, no Masters, no early NBA and NHL playoffs, no five baseball games per night—the ratings for a unique draft could be insane.
“The norms are all out the window,” said Cary Meyers, ESPN’s VP for Research and Insights. “People have been forced to quit sports cold turkey. They’re jonesing for any sports content, and for the NFL.”
Meyers noted that the average American is watching one hour more of TV per day (surprised it’s not more) since most states have instituted stay-home orders. Not sure how many folks will stick with the draft when the lesser lights are coming off the board Friday night and Saturday, but the Thursday night round-one numbers, with zero sports competition, could be the numbers you’d normally see for a playoff game.
Don’t be surprised . . . if you see on day two or three (or both) some of the heroes of the coronavirus fight—a doctor, a nurse, an EMT, a nursing-home worker, a Food Bank volunteer—introducing a pick or three on national TV. I really don’t know if it’ll happen, but it makes too much sense for it not to. When I mentioned my gut to Goodell on Saturday, he said: “I would tell you that we’re going to use our platform to thank the heroes that have really given back to us. We’re going to be creative about we do that without interrupting the important work that they’re doing.”
The virtual remote sites. On Friday, Goodell and the NFL’s IT boss, Chief Information Officer Michelle McKenna, divided up the 58 draft prospects who were sent the gear that would put them all on TV during the draft into five or six smaller groups and got on videoconference sessions with them, one after the other. In groups of eight to 12, they went over the technology that would make remote sites out of 58 private homes—two light stands with strong illumination, two Verizon cell phones to act as cameras (one that would be on throughout the draft), a sensitive mic, and Bose QC-20 earphones.
“I was with the draft-eligible players,” Goodell told me. “I said, ‘Listen, we would all love to be in Las Vegas under normal circumstances. That’s not the case. But I don’t want you to think in your home with just a few family members, and not in Las Vegas, that the world’s not watching—and that you can’t have an impact on your community, because you will.’ “
McKenna said a big advantage in making 58 young people de facto camera/audio/lighting experts for a national TV telecast sent to millions is that, well, they’re young people. “I didn’t have to tell any of them how to turn on the camera or how to mute the sound,” McKenna said. “They’re used to using equipment like this.”
There will be a total of more than 130 of these portable studios (adding in the 32 GMs and 32 coaches) in living rooms and dining rooms and basements around the country; that content will stream into host AWS, which will manage those feeds in conjunction with ESPN, and filtered feeds will come into the ESPN control room (it would be impossible for ESPN to monitor 130 feeds in real time) in Bristol, Conn., beginning Thursday night. “Streaming’s been happening for years,” said McKenna, “but I’m pretty sure having 100-plus feeds being filtered in real time into one live TV show has never happened.”
The changing times. Funny how you can adapt to a new normal when your future’s on the line. A bunch of set-in-their-way NFL people, over the past month, have had a Who Moved My Cheese? experience, collectively. “It usually takes months or years for people to change their process,” McKenna said. “But in the course of one month, [the coaches and GMs] have basically gone from, ‘We’re not doing that,’ to ‘We’ll do this our own way if we have to’ to ‘There’s no way we could do in time for the draft,’ to ‘Okay, we’re on board.’ “
Five weeks ago, most football people hadn’t heard of Zoom, the exploding videoconference business, but by necessity—to easily run meetings, to get several team members in the same sphere with a prospect for an interview—now they’re all Zoom experts. They’ve also become conversant in Microsoft Teams, another video-conference service that will be a communications staple this weekend; not only is Microsoft a league partner, but many in the league are more comfortable with Microsoft’s encryption.
You’ll like this. So many people around the NFL are giving money to coronavirus causes. All deserve credit. I love this one: The general managers in the league agreed to give $1,000 per pick ($256,000, based on 255 picks plus one Supplemental Pick last summer) to the league’s Draft-A-Thon fundraiser, which is divvying up all donations during the draft to six worthy causes. To make it equitable, each GM is donating $8,000. I was told by a league official that Eagles GM Howie Roseman spearheaded the cause, and that it has extended to the head coaches too. By late Saturday, all 32 GMs and three-quarters coaches had agreed, and there was confidence the rest would this week. The GMs and coaches (if all are in) will give a combined $512,000 to Draft-A-Thon. That’s a good start for the pot.
Draft-A-Thon. We thought Rich Eisen would be doing some form of combo-hosting the draft on ESPN/NFL Network, but instead he’s going to be the host for the COVID-19 relief arm of draft weekend. The NFL will have Eisen doing the Draft-A-Thon in an exclusive stream on all the league social channels: Twitter, Instagram, NFL.com plus team sites, YouTube, Facebook and Twitch, interviewing show-biz and NFL names while pushing charity to the six beneficiaries of the weekend fundraising. Such a strange year, and a different gig Eisen never though he’d be honchoing a month ago. But he seemed happy about it Sunday. “It’s another in a long line of planting flags for the NFL,” Eisen said.
The future. One thing I like that the league is doing right now: Though there’s little question that people inside the league have begun to investigate what fan-less games would be like, you don’t hear leaks speculating on how that would work, or how there could be enough testing and caretaking of players if games were played before there was a vaccine for the virus—or even if it’s possible to play the games at all, fans or not. Though it’s very likely NFL schedulers are preparing contingent 12 or 14-game schedules (or both) per team, you don’t hear leaks about them. (You might have read me throwing darts about it, but that’s me throwing some educated darts, not reporting the league is absolutely doing it.)
Those who have described Goodell’s stance on preparing and planning in these odd times says his attitude in meetings and internal talks is twofold: Hope is not a strategy; plan for all alternatives and Don’t make decisions till you have to. Don’t set false deadlines. Let things play out. Of course, the NFL has the benefit of time. Opening day is in 20 weeks, and we can barely predict what the country will look like in 20 days. I do think if the league decides it can ensure the safety of players, all essential team staffers and in-stadium TV personnel (all of which is no lock), it would play games in empty stadiums. But it’s pretty hard to predict anything right now, which is why Goodell’s current approach seems like the right one.
I thought it would be fun to show you where all the key people of a team will be located Thursday night. So here are the key Giants for draft weekend, and where they’ll be connecting from. (Note: It’s unknown as of this morning whether coach Joe Judge will be at his family home in North Attleborough, Mass., or somewhere in New Jersey drafting. Because he was in North Attleborough last week, I used that.)
I’m going to be hosting a fun event Tuesday afternoon via Zoom video conference to help fight hunger in the Midwest and to support needy causes in greater New York. I’d love you to be a part of it. The details:
The event: Draft Chat For Dollars, a Zoom video conference benefit breaking down the 2020 NFL Draft.
Hosts: Peter King and Chris Simms, NBC Sports; Peter Schrager, FOX Sports and NFL Network.
When: Tuesday, 4:30-5:30 p.m. ET (We might spill over a few minutes.)
Details: You must have a ticket to gain admission to the videoconference. Tickets are $25, minimum, but you’re free to pay more for a ticket if you are so inclined. Every person who signs up for the event will be able to ask a question to any of the three hosts during the show. The event will be aired as “The Peter King Podcast” wherever you get your podcasts, and will be available Wednesday morning.
Donations: May be made on the EventBrite page, even if you cannot attend. Click the button for “tickets,” enter a donation amount, and then click “checkout,” and fill in your information, enter “donation only” in the designated area, then click “place order.” (Sorry it’s so complicated.)
The event benefits: Two causes: Midwest Food Bank, which serves 72 counties in urban, suburban and rural areas of Indiana. This food bank normally serves 90,000 people throughout Indiana; starting early this month, that number shot up to 180,000 people in 72 counties. “We’ve never seen this before,” said John Whitaker, the executive director of Midwest Food Bank. “Usually we get all our food contributed. Now we have to purchase about 55 percent of it.” . . . New York Community Trust Emergency Fund, which aids New York-area health-care and hunger non-profits in the COVID-19 crisis. This primarily helps those newly unemployed and those hit hardest by the pandemic in and around New York City.
The most interesting part of this draft, to personnel people, is what will happen when round seven is over. Every year, after the seventh round, scouts and coaches from the 32 NFL teams spend about the next two hours bartering with agents of undrafted players and with the undrafted player, trying to buy them cheap (2019 Pro Bowl running back Austin Ekeler cost $500 to sign as a UDFA in 2018) and do it while competing with 31 other buyers. But usually everyone’s in the same room doing it, or in rooms very close to the draft room so they can report when they land a player—or lose one. By the time the night’s over, more than 500 players will have NFL teams. Think of it: Almost double the number of players will get signed in two hours than get drafted over three long days.
This year? Scouts and coaches on cell-phone and video-conference chats, tethered to the main office by another video-conference feed, mentally sprinting to keep track of players who fly off the board.
“Chaos,” said Rams southeast scout Michael Pierce. “Controlled chaos when you’re in one building together. But this year, set apart, it could be crazier.”
“You hit the real story behind the draft,” Chiefs GM Brett Veach said last week. “The biggest challenge for most staff this year will not be in the draft, but [in undrafted] free agency . . . It’ll certainly be a story for years to come for all draft rooms, how it all went down.”
To see how a team will handle the UDFA planning and madness, look at the Rams. Most Rams scouts are given a college position group to follow each fall, and that scout is paired with the Rams position coach to work the group together. Pierce and Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown take the backs, and they begin to work on a condensed version of the prospect list for backs after the season. Once the draft is winding down, in the sixth and seventh rounds, Pierce and Brown will start calling agents for the best backs on their list who they believe won’t get drafted and try to sell them on signing with the Rams. Maybe there will be four or five prime candidates, and Pierce and Brown will call the players and the agents to give them the recruiting pitch. “As a scout,” said Pierce, “that pursuit is really one of the fun parts of the game.” This year, the Rams, with only one sure-thing back (2019 third-rounder Darrell Henderson) on the roster, could need one of the Pierce/Brown products to make their roster.
Rams GM Les Snead admitted it will be impossible to have the same supervisory capability with scouts and coaches in different places—in this case Pierce in Daphne, Ala., and Brown in Los Angeles, connected by video conference. Said Snead: “You give them ownership to make the call and close the sale.”
“Because of the separation of scouts and teams,” said former NFL GM Scott Pioli, “there’s probably going to be some balls dropped unintentionally this year. The process will naturally take longer.” Pioli says he think the Panthers could have an edge in the UDFA market. “It’s be interesting to see how many players [new Carolina coach and ex-Baylor boss] Matt Rhule gets who he knows . . . because he and the Baylor guys on his staff have recruited some of these guys out of high school. He’ll know some of the moms, I bet. And this very often is a recruiting game.”
“We knew we had to go forward. The only way to really do that was on a totally virtual way. It means we have to adapt. The league has to adapt. Clubs have to adapt. If you’re not going to be comfortable in your facility, we knew we weren’t going to be able to do that any time in the very near future. This was the alternative. Everyone seems to be adapting really well. Once you realize this is how we’re all going to operate—and that’s another key point. It’s the equity rule, all 32 teams operating the same way.”
—Roger Goodell, on deciding to keep the 85th annual NFL Draft on its original dates, to me.
“Nope. I haven’t forgot.”
—Tom Brady, posting on Instagram a list of the quarterbacks picked ahead of him in 2000, when he was the 199th pick in the draft.
“There’s a way of doing that. Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [players and coaches and staff] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled … But have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”
—Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House’s coronavirus team, on Snapchat last week, asked about the feasibility of football being played in empty stadiums this fall.
“The idea that we would take away from that core at this moment just does not make a whole lot of sense and is really not something that we are exploring at all. It is completely false.”
—Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, on the report from WFAN in New York that the Browns were discussing trading Odell Beckham Jr., to Minnesota for second and fifth-round picks.
“It’s an advantage that we unfortunately earned. But it is an advantage.”
—Cincinnati director of player personnel Duke Tobin, to Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer, on a unique edge the Bengals have in this draft. The Bengals have the first pick in all seven rounds of draft, which means three of their picks will come with almost limitless time to choose. Bengal overall picks 1, 33 and 107 will be the first choices on Thursday (round one), Friday (round two) and Saturday (round four).
So they’ve had months to noodle over the first pick. They’ll have about 18 or so hours to debate pick 33, and about 13 hours to consider what to do with pick 107. The other four picks will be relative sprints.
Serious question: Why would you take a receiver high in this draft when the depth is so good, and when recent history argues vehemently against the first-round wideout?
This is neither foolproof nor conclusive, but GMs who do not pay attention to history might be condemned to repeat it. Could happen in this week’s draft, when three red-hot receivers—CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs—will tempt general managers and coaches to pick them in the top 20 of the first round.
In the past four drafts, teams have picked 11 wide receivers in the first round and 19 in the second round. The production of the second-round picks, clearly and without ambiguity, has been superior to the first-rounders. I totaled the 30 combined seasons of the first-round receivers and plotted the average season, and then did the same with the 40 combined seasons of second-round wideouts. The numbers:
Average season of 1st-round WRs, 2016-19: 32.8 receptions, 450.1 yards, 13.7 yards per catch
Average season of 2nd-round WRs, 2016-19: 52.8 receptions, 681.8 yards, 12.9 yards per catch
I have a theory about why the lesser picks have been better. But first, further proof of the superiority of the second-round picks. Eleven receivers drafted either in the first or second round since 2016 have averaged 50 receptions or more per season as pros. Nine were drafted in round two. The numbers:
My personal ranking of the top five receivers of the 30 picked in the first or second round since 2016: Michael Thomas, A.J. Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, D.J. Moore, Courtland Sutton/Deebo Samuel (tie). Five of the top six: second-rounders.
This would give me pause in maybe the deepest draft in NFL history for receivers. Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta says you can get starting receivers through the first five rounds; Mel Kiper says it’s probably the deepest wideout class ever, and he has 33 receivers with grades in the first four rounds. So should wideout-needy teams like the Jets or Raiders stock up early . . . or wait for a Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman or K.J. Hamler in round two or early three? At the very least, the caution flag should be up. The last time NFL teams picked three receivers in the top 20—as is the forecast this year—the receivers were Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross, picked 5-7-9 in 2017. None is a star. None is close.
Let’s look at what three teams have done in recent drafts. The Saints don’t need burners, particularly now that Drew Brees is more of an underneath and intermediate thrower; they like their receivers to be ultra-competitive and great after the catch. All of that defines Michael Thomas, whose 4.55 40-yard dash didn’t turn off the Saints, but allowed him to last till midway through round two in 2016. Thomas consistently turns 50-50 balls into 70-30 balls in his favor. The Niners value speed, hands and run-after-catch ability; they tried with Dante Pettis, who’s been just okay. But Deebo Samuel is perfect, and helps in the jet-sweep game too. The Super Bowl showed that. The Chiefs, with Tyreek Hill’s availability up in the air a year, reached for Mecole Hardman (60 catches in three Georgia seasons) in the second round last year because of his 4.33 speed. He’s a Swiss Army Knife offensive threat for them, as is Hill.
Successful teams often eschew star wideouts with more complete games for trait receivers able to be had in the second and third (Terry McLaurin, 2019) rounds. In in the last four years, it’s paid off handsomely. Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs will try to break the mold this week. I’m skeptical.
Josh Rosen, entering his third year as an NFL quarterback (wherever that may be), is two months younger than Joe Burrow.
Interesting to see the tributary of the 55th pick in this draft.
Oct. 22, 2019: New England trades the 55th pick in the 2020 draft to Atlanta for WR Mohamed Sanu.
March 16, 2020: Atlanta trades the 55th pick plus a fifth-round pick to Baltimore for TE Hayden Hurst plus a fourth-round pick.
March 19, 2020: Baltimore trades Atlanta’s fifth-round pick to Jacksonville for DL Calais Campbell.
New England with Sanu, 30, who has one year left on his contract.
Atlanta with Hurst, 26, who has two years left on his contract, plus the 134th pick in this draft.
Baltimore with the 55th pick in this draft plus Campbell, 33, who has two years left on his contract.
The results entering this weekend:
Sanu, playing at less than 100 percent last year for the Patriots, was a major disappointment . . . Hurst, picked seven slots ahead of Lamar Jackson in 2018, has underachieved but could be in for a rebound in a Falcons Offense that lost Austin Hooper—and that loves the tight end . . . Campbell, the 2019 NFL Man of the Year, was PFF’s top-rated 3-4 defensive end in the league last year. So the Ravens got a strong starter plus, with the 55th pick, a potential second starter, perhaps from a rich wideout crop in this draft.
I believe we'll see less groupthink in the draft this year. At pro days, coaches & scouts (from diff teams) spend so much time around each other & they end up forming a consensus on players. Not the case this year. Some will be shocked at how high/low these guys go.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 17, 2020
Jeremiah is a draft analyst for NFL Network.
Joe Judge says he has a golden retriever who sits on the couch next to him in the basement “about 15 hours a day.”
“Right now she could probably tell you more about who we’re going to draft than anybody else.”
— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) April 15, 2020
Vacchiano covers the NFL for SNY in New York.
In recent weeks:
* Boston-area at-home deaths up 20%
* Detroit dead-body calls up 275%
* NYC daily home deaths up 471%
— Jack Gillum (@jackgillum) April 15, 2020
Gillum is a Pro Publica senior reporter.
We just need to get into coronavirus’s bullpen.
— Andrew Massey (@A_Mass2) March 29, 2020
Massey is a former college baseball player.
The NFL shouldn’t play without a vaccine. From Karl, of Fallbrook, Calif.: “I don’t understand how two NFL teams can play in an empty stadium if there isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19. Even if there is, how do you insure everyone associated with the game is vaccinated without causing cries of favoritism among the general population when football players get the injection first? If you work backwards on a timeline from the game itself, how do you check the health and risk of exposure for some 100-plus employees and players per team—not counting refs and game day sidelines folks, the media in attendance, security, etc.? The public interactions of all those people prior to the game with potential disease carriers in the general population is enormous. The game itself would be like a petri dish full of potentially infected carriers.”
Good points, Karl. I think, as I wrote higher in the column, that a lot of this will become evident over the next two or three months. If there’s a way to play the games safely without fans and without being an unwanted drain on society’s efforts to be safe from the pandemic, then the league will probably play. But so much is uncertain right now, and I don’t think anyone knows how all of those factors will look on July 1 or Aug. 1. On the vaccines: Because it’s unlikely that there will be one by the fall, I think the league has to see if it can put in enough safeguards to be able to play. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how that lands in the next few months.
Ed didn’t like the Colts’ trade. From Ed F., of Dayton, Ohio: “So, as the mock drafts are in full swing, it appears in almost every one that Javon Kinlaw, defensive tackle, South Carolina, is available at the 13th pick. The Colts traded that pick, and then paid top free-agent money to another defensive tackle, DeForest Buckner. If there is a guy likely available at your slot (13), why pay top FA money to Buckner?”
Simple: It’s because Buckner is a top-three defensive tackle in football, the kind of active space-eater in the middle of the defensive line the Colts haven’t had. And the Colts had more than $90-million in cap room and could afford to pay for a premier player at a need position. I like Kinlaw too, but he’s unproven.
I am a shell of myself. From Chris Ferrera: “Lately you have gone off the rails. You’re a shell of yourself as a reporter. Your articles are nothing more than sticking your chest out to say, ‘Look at me. I’m Peter King and you’re not.’ You continuously prop up your GM friends like Chris Ballard, the GM from San Diego, the GM from Philadelphia. But now you actually think your readers care about your political views and today you went after Clay Travis. Did you feel proud of yourself to go after Clay? Did your ego feel better just because someone has a different opinion from yours? Here is a piece of advice: Nobody cares what you think.”
Chris, I’m sorry you think I practice favoritism. I am sure I do have some teams and people in the column more than others. I try to do my job the best way I can, and some people like it and some don’t. It’s good to live in this country, where I can do my job the way I see fit, and you can call me a hack.
Good point from an elementary-school expert. From Ken Anstead: “One thing jumped out at me when you talked about Bill Gates saying that kids going back to school may be possible because they are younger. The story of the wonderful teacher losing her life because of the virus shows why it is not the kids who are in danger. She, and the other teachers who lost their lives, were in the high-risk group. So are many of the support staff in a school, plus parents at home. As a former elementary teacher I know how kids can carry stuff and barely be affected by it. I would be really worried for many friends if this is not taken into consideration. There are so many moving parts when it comes to opening things that I hope they are getting written down and discussed.”
Superb point, Ken. Thanks.
In praise of teachers. From Derek Johannsen, of Olathe, Kan.: “Thank you for continuing to attempt, to the best of your ability, to put out content and the thorough FMIA articles we are all accustomed to in a non-Covid world. It brings a semblance of normalcy which is missing these days. I have two elementary aged boys (8 and 6). My youngest is a kindergartner at Walnut Grove Elementary in Olathe. His teacher, Sarahann Soto, has gone above and beyond in trying to help kids and make their everyday lives a little more structured. Kansas was the first state to cancel school for the remainder of the term. Thus, the teachers were having to adjust on the fly sooner than many others. Mrs. Soto has conducted, every single weekday, a noon Zoom call for the class wherein she will teach, communicate with the kids and give them a small sense of normalcy. She has also recorded herself, every day, reading to the children and encouraging group reading that she then posts in a classroom program to keep the kids engaged. My 6-year-old looks forward to the noon Zoom calls every day and it has helped him stay in touch with his classmates, continue to learn, and keep a slight sense of normalcy. It’s a big part of his world. We are all looking for a bit of normalcy, be it for adults or children.”
Derek, this email means a lot to me. I hope one of the things that comes out of this trying time in America is that we appreciate teachers more, and, when the economy gets back to something near normal, we pay them the sort of salaries that would show that appreciation.
1. I think Jeff Legwold’s annual top 100 draft prospects—a tiring but joyful exercise for Legwold, with contributions from GMs, scouts and coaches—is as great as always this year. See for yourself. The notable items from his top 100:
a. He’s got the Swiss Army Knife, Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons, number one. That’s a wow.
b. Tua Tagovailoa, number nine. Injury concerns.
c. Justin Herbert, 38th. “Lack of anticipation with his throws, especially between the numbers in the short and intermediate areas of the field,” Legwold says.
d. Jalen Hurts, QB3, at number 32. Whoa. But I think in making Hurts rise, Legwold is going in the right direction.
e. Thirteen receivers in the top two rounds. Sounds about right. Not that 13 will be picked in the top two rounds, but 13 having grades in top two rounds seems spot-on to me.
2. I think I could find a team in the first round, or a team high in the second that might want to trade up, to slot in Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in my mock first round. Three of the most logical ones—New England, New Orleans, Indianapolis—don’t seem hot on his trail. I won’t be surprised if he goes between 35 and 60. Interesting that the Pro Football Focus big board has Love as he 76th-rated player in the draft, and behind Jalen Hurts and Jake Fromm.
3. I think the best story I’ve heard in the draft is for a likely day-three pick, instinctive Alabama edge-rusher/linebacker Anfernee Jennings, who had eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss for the Tide last year. Two-plus years ago, in Alabama’s Sugar Bowl victory over Clemson, Jennings got caught in a scrum and his left leg hyperextended horribly. After the game, Jennings got tagged in a Twitter post from a fan, with an image that surprised him—the left leg bending at a more unnatural angle than he’d thought. He showed the image to team medics, and they decided to do a CAT scan the next day when the team got back to Tuscaloosa. By that time, there was only a faint pulse in his lower left leg and his left foot was getting numb. After the exam showed damage to the artery behind the left knee, Jennings was rushed to a hospital in Birmingham and vascular surgeon Dr. Will Harvey prepped him for surgery. Jennings, in pain and worried, heard one doctor say they couldn’t wait to do the surgery for fear of losing the leg. “The amputation risk was not insignificant,” Harvey said. So around 11 p.m., just 24 hours after he’d been hurt on the field in New Orleans, Jennings got wheeled in for surgery to save his left leg. Harvey found the damaged artery behind the left knee, took a three-inch piece of vein from near Jennings’ groin, and transplanted it as the new and healthy piece of artery. “Once you get that graft,” Harvey said, “it will last a lifetime.”
Two amazing things: Jennings, after the arterial graft and knee repair, didn’t miss a game the following season, and played two years at a high level for the Alabama defense. And he never missed a practice after his knee got fixed. “My leg is fantastic,” Jennings told me last week. “My doctors think I can have a Tom Brady career. I owe the doctors so much.” A long NFL life, he meant.
I talked to Harvey last week, and told him the difference he’d made in one person’s life—his surgery repaired a vital artery and allowed Jennings to be on the verge of being drafted by an NFL team this week. “Awesome! Just awesome!” Harvey said. “That is the gratification for any doctor after a surgery like that—to see your patient go on to live the life he’s dreamed of.” Recently, Jennings and Harvey spoke on the phone, and Harvey wished him well in the NFL. “Let me know when you want tickets to a game,” Jennings told him. Music to the ears of both men.
4. I think for those who think the Panthers’ signing of Christian McCaffrey to the highest per-season average contract in NFL history for running backs is profligate and unwise:
• McCaffrey is 23 years old. He signed for $16 million a year in new money; Le’Veon Bell signed for $13-million a year in new money at age 27.
• He is the unquestioned face of the franchise, and will be at least till the Panthers get their long-term quarterback. (We don’t know if that’s Teddy Bridgewater yet.)
• McCaffrey will be 29 when the contract expires. That is when the question should be asked about whether to pay a running back, not now.
• McCaffrey has missed zero games of Carolina’s 49 since being drafted, and averaged 113.5 scrimmage yards per game. As a contrast, Le’Veon Bell missed 21 games in his five Pittsburgh seasons. Bell’s average yards per game: 120.0.
5. I think I get the sense Dak Prescott does not want to leave the Cowboys, regardless how ugly and drawn-out his contract situation gets.
6. I think I get the sense Jamal Adams does want to leave the Jets, and his long-term future will be ugly and drawn-out, unless the Jets quickly really overpay him. It’s just another reason why first-year GM Joe Douglas deserved the six-year contract he got from the organization. He’s used to working in places where players are eager to play, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Jets might become one of those places, but they’ve got to win some games first.
7. I think if I were Jacksonville, I’d offer my fourth-round pick, 116 overall, to Miami to send Josh Rosen up I-95 to be a Gardner Minshew safety net. Two reasons: As the Washington head coach last year, Jay Gruden was bullish on acquiring Rosen from Arizona; Gruden’s the offensive coordinator for the Jags now. And no matter how confident the Jags are in Minshew, they certainly can’t be positive that he’s the long-term solution at quarterback. There’s no good reason why Jacksonville shouldn’t spend a minimal amount on an insurance policy who’s never had the kind of chance the 10th pick in the draft should have had.
8. I think, regarding the projected Green Bay over/under 8.5-win total for 2020 I saw the other day, I would just ask this one question: Did I miss the retirement of Aaron Rodgers?
9. I think April is not the time for a 13,000-word column, but here we are.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Most important thing I read last week: Time Magazine, April 20, page 31. “Heroes of the Front Lines” Special report. The widow of the COVID-19-infected Detroit bus driver who died after being coughed on by a passenger, Desha Johnson-Hargrove, on the death of her husband Jason:
When he got home from work on March 21, Jason was livid. There had been a lady coughing on the bus and not even bothering to cover her mouth. He posted on Facebook about it. He was fearful for himself and other passengers. Two days later he started feeling sick, and a week after that, he was dead. It took him so quickly that I’m still in disbelief.
This man had a big personality that would just light up a room—any room. You can interview a thousand people, and I don’t think you’re going to come across anybody who would tell you, “That Jason Hargrove guy? I didn’t like him.” He stood up for what was right.
Some people, they look down at being a bus driver like it’s nothing. But Jason felt like he had the top man’s job. He acted like he was the president. That’s how he felt every day, putting on that uniform, leaving the house in the early-morning hours: 3, 4, 5 a.m. Proudly. We often talked about how he felt bus drivers were overlooked in the coronavirus crisis, that they’re not seen as important as the first responders. He was like, “We are the first responders.” He was proud to be out there.
b. What a moving tribute.
c. This section of the magazine . . . so touching. The cardiologist from Brooklyn, Sara Rosanel, writing about how her family begged her not to go to the hospital. She wrote: “But it felt like a moral duty to go. I love my children more than anything in the world, I love my husband, but I explained to them that this is the job. This is who I am. I’m a fighter. This is not the day I am going to give up.”
d. We should ALL go to the window, wherever we are, at 7 p.m. daily, and applaud for every one of those wonderful people in service to us all.
e. COVID-related Sports Story of the Week: Alex Speier of the Boston Globe with a smart deep dive down the rabbit hole of what a sports event in the near future could look like for teams and fans—if there will be any fans at games. Writes Speier:
Decontamination of stands will have to become a staple of stadium operations. Hand sanitizer will become omnipresent in concourses. Cleaning staffs would have to be vigilant about the “high-touch” areas of facilities — including railings (both in stands and on escalators) and elevator buttons. Might there be a requirement for spectators to wear masks? If so, masks with team logos might replace caps or jerseys as the most frequently seen form of team apparel. With diminished crowds, it’s possible some of the standard issues at sporting events of overcrowded restrooms would be resolved. Still, teams might restrict the number of people in a restroom at any given time.
It’s a quintessential part of the stadium experience: A hot dog passed from vendor to fan to fan to fan, with cash flowing back in the other direction. In all likelihood, that familiar ritual will be gone. “They’ll have to have no stadium vendors,” said [Smith College economics professor Andrew] Zimbalist. “They’re not going to have people passing hot dogs down or passing anything down. That has to stop.”
Enormous bottlenecks form after games as people try to rush home, which could create considerable stresses on the public health infrastructure — not only for the sports venue, but also for surrounding neighborhoods and public transportation systems. It’s possible those bottlenecks would be resolved by a diminished number of fans attending events, as well as by self-policing habits. Facilities might also need to control the pace of departures from each zone of the park.
f. Amazing to think of all the alternatives . . . which is why we’re facing a period of time, to be sure, if/when games will be played it will almost surely be without fans in the stands.
g. Dr. Phil. Dr. Oz. Man, I know who I want my medical and life advice from, and it’s not them.
h. For all the shots he’s been taking, and with a couple of missteps along the way (not hard to fathom given he’s not used to be interviewed for four or five hours almost every day, and that’s been happening now for a month), Dr. Fauci is an eminently trustworthy national voice on the virus.
i. I don’t even have to criticize the state of Florida for its decision to label professional wrestling an “essential business.” That one writes itself.
j. Hmmmm Story of the Week: On how you should dress when you’re alone at home and working, basically.
k. Who cares, Adam Tschorn of the Los Angeles Times? A dress code for conference calls and video conferences? You really want that? Seems like the Nannification of the Pandemic.
l. We concern ourselves way too much with over-buying toilet paper and what people should wear on videoconferences.
m. We concern ourselves way too little with respecting social distance in grocery stores and dropping used disposable gloves and masks on sidewalks.
n. Hockey Story of the Week: Emily Kaplan, my old friend from The MMQB, now of ESPN, on what hockey coaches are doing with no hockey to coach.
o. What a cool concept, a goaltending coach doing an online session and 600 coaches around the world watching. I’ve seen former college basketball coach Fran Fraschilla doing the same thing.
p. Kudos to the Wilf family for their generous help to pandemic causes in the three areas they live and do business—New Jersey, Minnesota and New York. The Vikings owners, with philanthropy exceeding $5 million, will help vital causes in all three places. And good on you, Jay Feely, for starting a Go Fund Me campaign for the restaurants and hospitals in the Phoenix area. He’s raised nearly $21,000 to buy meals at hurting restaurants and deliver them to essential workers health-care workers fighting he pandemic. As of midweek last week, Feely and his family had ordered and delivered 760 meals to five places with workers on the front lines. “So many restaurants are getting crushed, through no fault of their owner,” Feely, the former kicker and current CBS analyst, told me. “We brought 200 meals to an ER the other night, and the gratitude from both the restaurant and the health-care workers was great. But there’s another benefit. To my son and daughter, it drives home the point that we need to help others in times like this.”
q. Thank you, Stephen Holder.
r. Coffeenerdness: You’ll be happy to know that Gran Caffe de Martini is open for takeout coffee Friday through Monday in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Come and say hi to Stefano and Camilla, cheerfully trying to make a go of it in this hard world.
s. Beernerdness: You know you’ve been hunkered down for too long (36 days, as of this morning, stapled to the apartment in Brooklyn) when it’s a cause for celebration that there’s a 6-pack of Peroni in the grocery store up the street.
t. Holy crap! You think I put out a lot of words this week? This column is nothing compared to the 36,000 words Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield mustered on the top 50 prospects, with Jordan Love 50. Seems to be a trend here.
u. RIP, Tarvaris Jackson, a car-crash victim in Alabama last week. He was a better player than he got credit, and a gold-medal person. The Giants were on their way to winning the Super Bowl in 2007; Jackson and the Vikings went to Meadowlands in November and stoned Eli Manning and the Giants 41-17. In his last month as a Seahawk starter—December 2011, five months before Russell Wilson was drafted—Jackson beat the Eagles, Rams and Bears in succession. Jackson, in good times and bad, was a standup guy, answering every last question, and was loved by his teammates. Such a shame.
v. “Fire Fauci.” Gathering in close spaces in public, protesting those trying to keep citizens safe. “LIBERATE” states. Discrediting Bill Gates. What exactly are we doing in this country?
w. I am empathetic to those struggling as they never have. The economy is crushing so many very good people in America, and it hurts to see it. But we cannot shout down this virus. We can’t protest this virus. We have to look at the virus scientifically and without emotion, and win with science and education and resolve. Right now, we seem to want to beat it by standing up for our “liberty” and re-opening our world before it’s safe to do so. Not a good idea.
Pats? Taking Tua?
Wouldn’t bet it in Vegas.
But I could see it.