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Justin Hayworth/Associated Press
The show must go on.
The NFL chose to conduct its yearly draft through virtual platforms spread across the homes of hundreds of league officials, owners, general managers and front office personnel with nary a fan in sight.
The setup was…odd. Yet, Thursday’s first round arrived with gusto.
How could it be so?
A global pandemic hadn’t stopped the league’s version of Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
It came without boats! It came without pomp!
It came without circumstances, ceremonies or a boisterous romp!
The draft will continue evermore.
Though this year, the event meant just a little bit more.
The draft has always been romanticized because it inspires hope. A little Suessian-style whimsy and plenty of ingenuity made everything a little more interesting.
Bleacher Report’s team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Mike Freeman and Mike Tanier—tried to make sense of the nonsensical regarding Day 1’s biggest happenings.
Our 2020 NFL Draft Show continues through Saturday with live, in-depth analysis as the picks are being made. No fluff, no B.S. Download the B/R app and watch.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
A draft “reach” is a relative term based on general perception. However, all team boards differ, and not all of them have the same prospects depending on system fit, injury history and/or character concerns.
Even so, the old definition of knowing what something is when you see it definitely fits in this instance. Certain talents simply aren’t on the same level as others.
Who did B/R’s team of NFL writers deem this year’s biggest first-round reaches?
Mike Freeman: Jordan Love to the Green Bay Packers
Trading up to get a quarterback when you have Aaron Rodgers, and need receivers, is remarkably stupid.
Mike Tanier: Damon Arnette to the Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders always outsmart themselves with early-round defensive backs: Gareon Conley, D.J. Hayden, Obi Melifonwu and now Damon Arnette. I think Arnette will max out as a decent No. 2 cornerback. That’s not the upside you want from the 19th pick.
Brent Sobleski: A.J. Terrell to the Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons’ decision to select Terrell screams of reaching for need. Prior to the draft, the Falcons were expected to push for a trade up and make a play for one of the top two corners. Instead, they didn’t get a deal done and selected a prospect—who was probably more of a second-round possibility—over other corners like Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, TCU’s Jeff Gladney and Ohio State’s Damon Arnette.
Brad Gagnon: Damon Arnette to the Las Vegas Raiders
I’m really starting to think Mike Mayock and/or Jon Gruden are over-thinking these first-round picks. It would make sense considering Mayock’s background as a draft expert. Nobody had Arnette in this range. That doesn’t mean he won’t pan out, but they very likely could have gotten him a lot later.
Gary Davenport: Damon Arnette to the Las Vegas Raiders
On a night when there weren’t many head-scratchers, the Raiders easily made the biggest reach of Round 1. Arnette is a smart, physical cornerback, but he’s just not a first-round talent. The Raiders spent the two first-rounders they got for dealing Khalil Mack on a tailback and a hyper-extension in the secondary. That’s not a great use of draft capital.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
The wide receiver class defined the 2020 draft before the event actually began. The position group was viewed as the best in recent memory, with multiple first-round targets expected to come off the board within the first 20 selections.
“Deepest I’ve ever seen,” a 20-year scouting veteran told The Athletic’s Bob McGinn. “I like so many of them, and for different reasons.”
Ultimately, six receivers came off the board during the opening frame. Which of these targets ended up in the best situation to thrive?
Mike Freeman: CeeDee Lamb to the Dallas Cowboys
Lamb goes to a team with a good quarterback, and there’s no pressure to be a star.
Mike Tanier: Brandon Aiyuk to the San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk will be a cog in a well-oiled machine for the 49ers. They will use him in the role Emmanuel Sanders filled in for the second half of last year, and he’s going to scare defenses that are worried about the 49ers running game, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and so forth. Expectations of production will be rather low, which is always good for a young receiver.
Brent Sobleski: Jerry Jeudy to the Denver Broncos
Jeudy was my top-rated wide receiver because of his ability to run precise routes, create separation and do both without decelerating. His skill set translates, and it will do so in Denver where he’s a nice complementary piece instead of being asked to take over as WR1 from Day 1, like Henry Ruggs III for the Las Vegas Raiders, or serve as a third option, like CeeDee Lamb for the Dallas Cowboys.
Brad Gagnon: Justin Jefferson to the Minnesota Vikings
Not sure I trust Derek Carr to consistently find Henry Ruggs III for big plays, CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk are joining large crowds, and Jerry Jeudy might have to wait out some Drew Lock growing pains. So it’s either Jefferson or Jalen Reagor, and the path is a little clearer for Jefferson following the Stefon Diggs trade.
Gary Davenport: Brandon Aiyuk to the San Francisco 49ers
I was originally going to include Jalen Reagor here, as he could easily lead all Eagles wide receivers in targets during the 2020 campaign. But Aiyuk wound up in an even better spot after the reigning NFC champs slid up to No. 25 to nab him. The Arizona State standout gets to start his pro career out on a great team playing for one of the best offensive minds in the game, and the road to plenty of playing time (and looks in the passing game) is wide open.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Some picks are simply better than others. Cases can be made for a team that lands a player who perfectly fits a need area or seems to be a great value.
The draft rarely unfolds the way most suspect, so prospects land in expected places. This is where great choices tend to emerge. This year’s first round ran chalk for a large portion, especially among the top 10 selections. But it eventually unraveled.
Did one of the teams at the top with an expected choice or another with a surprising decision make the best overall pick in this year’s first round?
Mike Freeman: Tua Tagovailoa to the Miami Dolphins
Tagovailoa might end up being the best player from this draft.
Mike Tanier: Tristan Wirfs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I think Wirfs is the best offensive line prospect to EVER come out of Iowa’s offensive line factory. It was a coup to land a player of his talent as Tom Brady’s right tackle, even if they had to move up a spot to land him.
Brent Sobleski: Tristan Wirfs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers hit yet another home run this offseason by trading up one spot to secure Wirfs. The Iowa product was arguably the best tackle prospect in this class. His athletic profile and on-field play portend All-Pro potential. Plus, the Buccaneers addressed their biggest need to protect Brady.
Brad Gagnon: Isaiah Simmons to the Arizona Cardinals
Tremendous value for the second-best defensive player in the draft, and it really should help a defensive front that needed more support for Chandler Jones.
Gary Davenport: Isaiah Simmons to the Arizona Cardinals
Linebacker wasn’t close to the biggest need on Arizona’s roster, but Simmons is a difference-maker on defense whose versatility is tailor-made for the 21st-century NFL. The Cardinals have had arguably the best offseason of any team in the league, and the NFC West is going to be brutal in 2020.
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Branddon Wade/Associated Press
A draft surprise doesn’t necessarily need to be an unexpected choice. How a team maneuvers through the process plays a part, too.
Maybe the most surprising aspect Thursday became the lack of movement, with only four first-round trades.
What ended up being the biggest surprise of the night?
Mike Freeman: Lack of trades
Some teams thought there would be some big ones, and they strongly believed the New England Patriots were going to make a big move.
Mike Tanier: Green Bay Packers trading up for Jordan Love
Is anyone NOT picking Love? Frankly, if someone stuck a camera in the Packers quarterback room once everyone returns to work and Aaron Rodgers, Love and Matt LaFleur start meeting face to face, it will make Tiger King look like NPR.
Brent Sobleski: Green Bay Packers trading up for Jordan Love
The fact that the Packers selected Love to be Rodgers’ heir apparent shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, the organization trading up to do so is highly questionable. The New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints already passed on an opportunity to select Love. There really wasn’t any obstacle from that point until the Packers picked with the 30th overall selection. Yet, Green Bay still felt the need to move up for Love.
Brad Gagnon: Los Angeles Chargers’ approach
I really thought the Chargers would stay away from Herbert and eventually sign Cam Newton, and I’m shocked they decided to essentially use two valuable Day 2 picks on an off-ball linebacker. Disappointing more than surprising, I guess, but for some reason I had high hopes they’d get this right.
Gary Davenport: Green Bay Packers trading up for Jordan Love
The Packers are coming off a trip to the NFC title game and have clear weaknesses at a few positions. Rather than addressing the short term by adding a weapon for Rodgers, they traded up to select his potential successor in the Utah State quarterback. It’s 2005 all over again, when the Packers drafted Rodgers with Brett Favre on the roster. On a night that was short on surprises, this was a huge one.
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Vasha Hunt/Associated Press
Every team expects to get better during the draft. After all, hope springs eternal.
But varying degrees of actual improvement can be seen. Some organizations will address specific need areas. Others will take the best player available no matter what. Then, there are those franchises who like to work the system and find the best way to position themselves for specific talents.
Twenty-five of the league’s 32 teams made first-round selections Thursday. Which squad accomplished the most?
Mike Freeman: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals didn’t trade the No. 1 pick despite teams tempting them to do so.
Mike Tanier: Los Angeles Chargers
The 49ers had a strong first round, but I am intrigued by the Chargers, who added both quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Kenneth Murray. They charted a new course for the organization AND added yet another fast, dynamic player to a defense teeming with them.
Brent Sobleski: San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers successfully manipulated the draft to their liking twice while essentially giving up a fifth-round pick to obtain two perfect schematic fits. Javon Kinlaw has a chance to be better than Derrick Brown thanks to the 14th overall pick’s natural pass-rushing skills and the 49ers’ loaded defensive front. Brandon Aiyuk, meanwhile, is another outstanding receiving threat who consistently creates after the catch.
Brad Gagnon: Miami Dolphins
I think Tua will be a star and they bolstered his protection with offensive tackle Austin Jackson. Three picks basically gets you this crown by default, but the first two were good ones.
Gary Davenport: Baltimore Ravens
Good teams stay good by consistently making excellent use of late first-round picks. The Ravens are as good at doing that as any club, and general manager Eric DeCosta did it again Thursday with the selection of a rangy, athletic young linebacker in LSU’s Patrick Queen. It’s an immediate and substantial upgrade at Baltimore’s biggest area of need on defense.
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Barry Reeger/Associated Press
No two draft boards are alike. Certain players will come off a team’s board much earlier than expected, while supposed first-round talents tumble into later rounds.
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For example, DK Metcalf was often seen as a first-round talent in last year’s draft class only to be selected 64th overall by the Seattle Seahawks. Metcalf rewarded his squad by playing like the first-round talent many projected him to be.
Who is this year’s Metcalf? Who is the best available talent before the Cincinnati Bengals go on the clock with the 33rd overall pick?
Mike Freeman: Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos
Gross-Matos will be a fierce talent in the NFL and he’ll be a bargain.
Mike Tanier: Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa
I remain a big Epenesa fan despite his workout results. He’s the kind of player who will glue an NFL defensive line together.
Brent Sobleski: Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones
Once the initial four offensive tackle prospects came off the board, a surprising group of second-tier blockers heard their names called. Houston’s Josh Jones was consistently one of the best linemen during the past season and possesses excellent movement skills. Yet, he remains available, while developmental prospects Austin Jackson and Isaiah Wilson came off the board during the opening frame.
Brad Gagnon: Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos
I think Gross-Matos has a superstar ceiling.
Gary Davenport: Alabama safety Xavier McKinney
Yes, McKinney ran a poor (4.63) 40 at the combine, but pop in McKinney’s game tape and you’ll see the Alabama safety isn’t slow. McKinney has the ability to play both safety spots and man the slot—a trait that’s usually coveted by NFL teams. Between the draft’s best pure safety and most of the running backs still being on the board, there are going to be a bunch of teams looking to trade up in Round 2. That puts Cincinnati in great position, which is not a phrase that gets written much. Or ever.
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