In what was supposed to be a bizarre 2020 NFL Draft, things felt pretty normal. Through the first 12 picks, at least.
Then things started to get a little weird. Tampa Bay made the first trade of the night to go get a blocker for Tom Brady. Some teams that were expected to take a wide receiver in the first round didn’t. Some teams that we didn’t expect to take a wide receiver in the first round did.
The back half of the first round was filled with trades and some questionable selections. At least that’s how they look initially. And that is why we’re here with some instant, premature grades.
These grades are based on a combination of factors starting with player value. After that, filling need and personnel fit are considered. Of course, these are way too early. We’ll revisit them in a few years to see the true value.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Burrow becomes the 15th quarterback since 2000 to be taken first in the draft. Many of those picks — like David Carr, JaMarcus Russell, and Jameis Winston — haven’t worked out. Obviously the hope is that Burrow does. He’s the best quarterback in the draft and goes to a team that badly needs one.
2. Washington: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Washington doesn’t really need Young. The team has taken defensive linemen in the first round in three consecutive drafts, most recently Montez Sweat last year. If the team has a strength, that is it. Still, Young is overwhelmingly the best player in the draft. He has every trait you want in a 4-3 defensive end, from length to an incredibly fast first move.
3. Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
After considering a trade down, the Lions stood pat to take the best cornerback in the draft. It’s a pick that makes sense. No team in the NFL gave up more passing yards per game than Detroit last season, so it needs Okudah. In the Ohio State product, the Lions get a man-coverage corner with excellent athleticism for the game. He’s a day one starter. This grade would be higher if the Lions didn’t force themselves into this pick by disenfranchising, and ultimately trading, Darius Slay.
4. New York Giants: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
The expectation was the Giants would take an offensive tackle here. But did they take the right one? Thomas is considered to be the classic “high-floor, low ceiling” type of prospect. That’s in part because he played a ton of games at Georgia. As it has been stated throughout this draft process, the top four offensive tackles could come off the board in a random order. That’s what this represents.
5. Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
This is a gamble, but it could pay off huge. Tagovailoa had numerous injuries in college, the last being a fractured hip. But when Tagovailoa was healthy, he was arguably the best quarterback in this draft. Tagovailoa is a magician in the pocket with his ability to move around. But sometimes he moves around a little too much and he’ll put himself in danger. The question now becomes about how soon Miami will put Tagovailoa on the field. In the end, the Dolphins did tank for Tua.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The Chargers badly needed to land a quarterback in the first round, and they didn’t have to trade up to get one. Despite what head coach Anthony Lynn said, it was impossible to see his team banking on Tyrod Taylor, a quarterback who has started just 46 games in nine seasons. Which Herbert are the Chargers getting, though? Is it the one who holds on to the ball too long or the big-armed 6’6 athlete? Are they getting Cam Newton or Paxton Lynch?
7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
This pick either had to be Brown or Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. Carolina’s run defense last season was abysmal, and only got worse when Luke Kuechly surprised everyone and retired. Not only that, but the Panthers lost Vernon Butler and Gerald McCoy on the defensive line this offseason.
Brown is a monster of a defensive tackle. To me, he’s the new version of Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown is hard to move off the spot and can collapse the pocket with his power. The only issue is how well his pass rush game will translate to the NFL. If it does, Brown should be a superstar in the NFL.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
From a best player available standpoint, Simmons is a slam dunk of a pick for the Cardinals. Given general manager Steve Keim’s drafting history, he tends to like defensive players who are versatile. Sometimes it works out (Tyrann Mathieu) and sometimes it doesn’t (Hassan Reddick). The problem with this pick is Simmons can’t block for Kyler Murray on offense. Which is maybe the one thing Simmons can’t do. This pick is akin to Derwin James falling to the Chargers in 2018.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
This was one of the first surprises of the first round, and it was only a mild surprise. Jacksonville’s secondary is a barren wasteland after the Jaguars moved on from Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. They needed to make this pick to help rebuild a defense that has fallen apart in the last two years.
10. Cleveland Browns: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
The Browns needed a left tackle in a bad way. They signed Jack Conklin in free agency, so the choice of a tackle was pretty telegraphed. There is some projection with this pick, though. Wills played the majority of his snaps at right tackle in college. The assumption is he’ll be able to effortlessly move sides because of his ability to pass block. We’ll see how well that goes.
11. New York Jets: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
This was a smart move by the Jets. They could have taken a wide receiver here, but decided it was more important to block for young franchise quarterback Sam Darnold. Becton is a physical specimen who moves around with ease despite being 360 pounds. The Jets can find receivers later in the draft. They can’t find a blocker like Becton.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Al Davis has risen to make the pick of a speed-first receiver over Ruggs’ teammate Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb. Ruggs is a deep threat, sure, but he’s also a run-and-catch receiver who can line up on the outside or in the slot. Ruggs should be a playmaker for the Raiders. That’s what you expect out of a wide receiver who runs a 4.27-second 40-yard dash. But he seems much riskier than Jeudy or Lamb.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
The Buccaneers moved up a spot in an effort to get the blocker they need at right tackle. With Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to go with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, suddenly the Buccaneers appear to have one of the NFL’s best offenses. It only got better with the addition of Wirfs, who I rated as the top offensive tackle in the draft this year.
14. San Francisco 49ers: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
The 49ers made the right move, making a no-risk trade with the Buccaneers to drop down a pick and get a fourth-round selection (No. 117) in return. Then they took a defensive lineman over a wide receiver. The 49ers originally got the 13th pick from the Colts for DeForest Buckner. Kinlaw is the closest comparison to Buckner in this draft. So basically they got a cheaper player to do the same thing.
15. Denver Broncos: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
This pick was a steal for the Broncos. Jeudy was the best wide receiver in the draft, and he shouldn’t have lasted until the 15th pick. Jeudy is excellent on routes and runs crisp, smooth patterns. He can play on the outside or in the slot for the Broncos, and he has good speed too. Jeudy has very few flaws in his game.
16. Atlanta Falcons: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
When Henderson went ninth overall, the Falcons taking Terrell seemed more likely. Terrell was widely considered the third-best cornerback in the draft, and he fills a big hole for the Falcons. Terrell is a willing press-coverage cornerback, with the speed to make up space. He just has to get a little better down the field at the catch point and with his tackling. His skill level is high, though.
17. Dallas Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
This pick was a little strange given the Cowboys just gave Amari Cooper a five-year, $100 million contract. Also consider that Michael Gallup is a solid No. 2 receiver who had 113 targets last season. And that running back Ezekiel Elliott is on a six-year, $90 million contract. Lamb is unquestionably a great player. But how much is he going to see the ball on this offense?
18. Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh Steelers): Austin Jackson, OT, USC
After taking Tagovailoa at No. 5, it was evident the Dolphins had to get an offensive tackle here. The choices were between Jackson and Josh Jones of Houston. Look, Miami is still rebuilding, which makes it perfectly fine to take the player with more perceived upside in Jackson. It was a surprise to see him go pro because a lot of people thought he could be a top-10 pick in 2021. Jackson is a true left tackle with good athleticism, especially out on the second level.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State
This is a risky pick for the Raiders. Few thought Arnette would be a first-round player. He nearly bolted from Ohio State after the 2018 season but was convinced to return to Columbus. Arnette is a physically gifted cornerback who defends receivers throughout their routes. That could lead to him being a penalty magnet in the NFL. He also enters the NFL as an older prospect. By the time Arnette gets to his second contract, he’ll be 29.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars: K’Lavon Chaisson, Edge, LSU
When the Cowboys took Lamb instead of Chaisson, it seemed apparent this would be the pick for the Jaguars. Chaisson is a special athlete for a pass-rushing edge player. He’s a player who can stand up or rush with his hand down. Pairing Chaisson with Josh Allen gives the Jaguars two bookend edge players.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Like the top offensive tackles, the way the wide receivers came off the board was going to be different from what most expected. That was evidenced in this pick over Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State, Justin Jefferson of LSU, and Denzel Mims of Baylor. The Eagles obviously had to get a wide receiver with their first pick. You just have to wonder if they could have traded down and still gotten Reagor.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
This might be my favorite pick of the first round. Some thought Jefferson could go as high as the 14th pick. For whatever reason, he slipped to 22nd. He torched defenses from the slot last year at LSU to the tune of 111 receptions for 1,540 yards. It’s true, the Vikings have Adam Thielen in the slot. But Jefferson’s game lends itself to playing more on the outside than he did in college.
23. Los Angeles Chargers: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Los Angeles moved its second- and third-round picks to get back into the first round to take Murray ahead of the Saints. Murray is a three-down linebacker who can make plays all over the field. He comes down against the run in a hurry and he can move sideline-to-sideline. There’s a risk trading up, but the linebacker class this year is suspect. Having Murray and Derwin James on the field at the same time makes the Chargers’ defense a lot of fun.
24. New Orleans Saints: Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan
If the Saints truly view the 2020 season as their all-in year, it’s understandable why they would pick Ruiz. You have to think the Saints wanted Murray, which is why the Chargers jumped to No. 23 to snag him. Ruiz is a plug-and-play interior offensive lineman who can play center or guard in New Orleans.
25. San Francisco 49ers: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
On a team light on draft picks, the 49ers gave up pick Nos. 31, 117, and 176 to move up six slots. That’s a big gamble for the 49ers. While they don’t have a ton of needs, the back of the first round is deep in wide receivers. Even though there’s something to say about getting the player you covet, the only picks the 49ers have left are Nos. 156, 210, and 217.
In regard to the pick itself, this is the type of wide receiver the 49ers needed to get. Aiyuk is an explosive playmaker who can make defenders miss after the catch.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
This is the single most stunning selection in the first round by a long shot. The Packers traded into this pick, and the thought was that it would be for a wide receiver for Aaron Rodgers. Instead, they picked the veteran’s successor.
This pick could pay off big down the road. A quarterback on a rookie contract is almost priceless in today’s NFL. And Love is a player who needs to sit at least a year to fix some of his flaws. But with Rodgers, the Packers should push to win now.
Aaron Rodgers in March on the possibility of the Packers drafting a quarterback: "No matter who you bring in, they're not going to be able to beat me out anytime soon."— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 24, 2020
27. Seattle Seahawks: Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech
Just about every Seahawks fan was certain Seattle would trade down and out of the first round. It’s a staple of general manager John Schneider. Then Schneider didn’t and took a player most thought would be there in the second round. Other than trading down, going against the grain is Schneider’s specialty. That’s why prematurely grading Seattle’s picks are the hardest of any team. It doesn’t help that Seahawks fans keep receipts, either.
At any rate, Brooks gives the Seahawks a hard-hitting linebacker with excellent football IQ. Brooks is arguably the best tackling linebacker in the draft, and made a ton of plays in 2019, when he had 20 tackles for loss.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
This was the pick the Ravens needed to make. He is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker with a high motor. Queen can patrol the middle of the field for the Ravens and make a ton of plays. His comparison for me was C.J. Mosley. After building out their defensive line this offseason, Queen is a great fit for the Ravens, and he was the best player available.
29. Tennessee Titans: Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia
Sometimes picks that are even in the back of the first round are obvious. That was the case with Wilson and the Titans. You could see this one coming from a mile away if you thought about it a little bit. Wilson, one of the youngest players in the draft, excels as a run blocker on the right side. That’s exactly what Tennessee, a run-first team, needs to replace Jack Conklin. You can quibble about the value of taking Wilson here — the knock is his uneven pass blocking — but you can’t argue about his system fit.
30. Miami Dolphins: Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
The odd thing about this pick is that the Dolphins just gave a huge contract to Byron Jones this offseason. They also still have Xavien Howard and a big need at safety. They could have had Xavier McKinney of Alabama with this pick, for instance. Igbinoghene is a wide receiver turned cornerback who has speed on top of speed. It’s true, NFL teams need three good cornerbacks. But the Dolphins could have found a slot cornerback later in the draft.
31. Minnesota Vikings: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
This is a perfect fit for Mike Zimmer’s defense. Gladney is a nasty cornerback who will get physical with wide receivers. He’s aggressive coming up to play the run, and knows how to get off a block.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
This is another tremendous team fit. There was plenty of speculation leading up to the draft that the Chiefs could be a team that takes a running back in the first round. Edwards-Helaire is an excellent runner who stays low to the ground. But his real value at the position is as a receiver. He’s going to catch a ton of passes in Kansas City’s offense. The only issue is the positional value of a running back in the first round.