Here’s what you need to know:
- 32. Kansas City drafts Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the first round’s only running back.
- 31. Jeff Gladney adds toughness to the Vikings seecondary.
- 30. The Dolphins use their third Round 1 pick on a cornerback.
- 29. Titans add Isaiah Wilson to make way for the rush.
- 28. Patrick Queen adds to L.S.U. linebacker legacy with Ravens.
- 27. Seattle adds a tackler in Jordyn Brooks.
- 26. The Packers take a potential Aaron Rodgers replacement in Jordan Love.
32. Kansas City drafts Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the first round’s only running back.
The Kansas City Chiefs have retained much of its Super Bowl championship team. They re-signed cornerback Bashaud Breeland but lost Kendall Fuller in free agency to Washington, making cornerback a rare area of need.
Instead, they opted to bolster their sterling offense by picking running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from Louisiana State. The Chiefs’ leading rusher, Damien Williams, only rushed for 498 yards. But like most backs in Andy Reid’s offense, Edwards-Helaire will be asked to catch passes, too.
A big part of L.S.U.’s undefeated championship season, Edwards-Helaire rushed for 1,415 yards and 16 touchdowns, starting all but one of the teams’ games. He is also a versatile receiver, with 55 receptions last season, and a capable kick returner, helping him with all-SEC honors.
31. Jeff Gladney adds toughness to the Vikings seecondary.
Jeff Gladney probably won’t wow many draft pundits. But for a Vikings team with a depleted defensive backfield, having lost three cornerbacks, he’ll make any receiver he faces compete for the ball. According to Dane Brugler of The Athletic, Gladney defended more passes (43) than started games (42) during his stellar career at T.C.U. Playing in the Big 12, where defense is often just a rumor, Gladney hounded some of the conference’s best receivers; Denzel Mims of Baylor called him the toughest cornerback he faced all season.
Even if the 5-foot-10 Gladney doesn’t stick as a boundary corner because of his size, his coverage skills, tenacity and feistiness make him an ideal candidate to flourish in the slot.
30. The Dolphins use their third Round 1 pick on a cornerback.
Miami traded its 26th pick to the Packers, who offered the 30th pick in return. The Dolphins took a top shelf quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa) and one of the best offensive tackles available (Austin Jackson) with its first two picks.
So it made sense that the team focused on adding to the defense with its third first-round pick. In Noah Igbinoghene, a cornerback from Auburn, gives Miami a solid defensive backfield.
A coveted recruit at receiver, Igbinoghene moved to cornerback after his freshman year of college. He started his final two seasons, defending 19 passes and recording one interception. He started all 13 games (42 tackles, one for loss, seven pass break-ups) last year. He’s also a good kick returner, returning one of nine kickoff returns for a touchdown.
Noah Igbinoghene grew up in an athletic household — his mother, Faith, won a bronze medal for Nigeria in the 400-meter relay at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and his father, Festus, competed for Nigeria in triple jump at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Igbinoghene competed in both football and track and field at Auburn.
29. Titans add Isaiah Wilson to make way for the rush.
The team lost right tackle Jack Conklin in free agency, and they’ve replaced him with Isaiah Wilson, a tackle from Georgia.
Wilson started slow at Georgia but his size (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism paid dividends, as he started all 14 games at right tackle and earned freshman all-American honors. An ankle injury limited him to 11 games the following year, but still was named to the second-team Associated Press All-American. His play was at times uneven, particularly in pass protection, but he excelled in man-to-man blocks. He may need to improve his footwork to keep up in zone-blocking schemes.
The Brooklyn native has a fun streak, too. According to New York magazine, Wilson loves “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
28. Patrick Queen adds to L.S.U. linebacker legacy with Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens lost Marshal Yanda, perhaps the best guard in the league, to retirement, creating need on the interior of their offensive line. They will have to handle that later as they instead focused on linebacker to alleviate the stress on a defense that labored to generate pressure without a blitzing edge-rusher last season.
Patrick Queen from L.S.U. should help their needs. Quick and instinctive, Queen did not start at L.S.U. until last season, when he recorded 85 tackles — 12 for loss — and an interception, of Tua Tagovailoa, in the 46-41 victory over Alabama that powered the Tigers’ stampede to the national championship. In recent years, L.S.U. has produced a slew of great linebackers, from Kwon Alexander to Deion Jones to Devin White. Queen is poised to be the next in that lineage.
From an early age, Queen was so athletically proficient — he dribbled basketballs with both hands, blasted home runs, and hurt others while playing tackle football — that his parents, Mary Sue and Dwayne, who played cornerback at Nicholls State, had to show his birth certificate to prove his age. He remains a marvel.
27. Seattle adds a tackler in Jordyn Brooks.
The Seattle Seahawks, who are defensive minded but have slipped in recent years, chose Jordyn Brooks, a linebacker from Texas Tech. He led the team in tackles in three of his seasons at Tech. He also had 20 tackles for loss and three sacks last year, when he injured his shoulder.
Though the Legion of Boom is gone, Seattle still has a good core of linebackers including Bobby Wagner, one of the best tacklers in the game.
Brooks will probably be tested early and often because the Seahawks play in one of the most competitive divisions in the league, the N.F.C. West, which includes the 49ers and the Rams.
26. The Packers take a potential Aaron Rodgers replacement in Jordan Love.
Miami traded its third pick of the first round to the Green Bay Packers, who used it to choose Jordan Love, a quarterback from Utah State. This raises instant questions about whether he is being brought in to succeed Aaron Rodgers — now 36 — just as Rodgers arrived as Brett Favre’s replacement when he was 35.
Given that the Packers made it to the N.F.C. championship game last year, the team could have tried to find a few missing pieces to help Rodgers get back to the Super Bowl.
Instead, they put down a marker on the post-Rodgers era, whenever that begins. Despite throwing the most interceptions (17) in Division I in 2019, Love is the most tantalizing prospect since Patrick Mahomes, who, despite obvious bountiful physical ability, had to quell the perception that playing in an Air Raid offense at Texas Tech would hinder him in the N.F.L. (Spoiler alert: It hasn’t.)
From a strictly stylistic standpoint, Love resembles Mahomes. Love’s arm strength, coupled with a flair for extending plays, passing on the run and throwing from odd angles, produced a string of absurd highlights. His film — from last season, especially — also contains instances of lapsed mechanics, forced throws and shaky field vision. Like another former Mountain West quarterback, Josh Allen, whom the Buffalo Bills drafted No. 7 over all two years ago, Love excelled as a sophomore, when he was surrounded by strong personnel, then backslid when the quality around him diminished. Besides playing with nine new offensive starters last season, Love also acclimated to a new coaching staff and offense.
Jim Nagy, the 18-year N.F.L. scout who is now the executive director of the Senior Bowl, said Love has the potential to develop into the best quarterback taken this year but that, ideally, he will sit for a season. “In hindsight, we’re all saying, ‘How the heck did Patrick Mahomes last to 12?’” Nagy said, referencing the pick Kansas City used to draft him. “If Jordan gets to the right situation and everything clicks for him, we’re going to be sitting here in three or four years saying, ‘How did players X, Y and Z get drafted ahead of Jordan Love?’”
25. The 49ers get another tackle-breaker in WR Brandon Aiyuk.
The San Francisco 49ers acquired the Vikings’ pick at No. 25 and sent their 31st pick and two others in later rounds to Minnesota. With Deebo Samuel as their top receiver, they need to give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo another top target. So they chose Brandon Aiyuk, the speedster from Arizona State.
Aiyuk a junior college transfer excels in grabbing yardage after the catch. No, like, really excels. In mid-October, according a story by The Athletic, Aiyuk was averaging more yards after the catch (13.6) than Jerry Jeudy was averaging per catch. “My background is at running back,” Aiyuk said. “It’s like being a back again after the catch. I think it’s the strength of my game and it really makes a difference.” He finished with 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns last season in Tempe.
Aiyuk’s a stud kickoff and punt returner, which gives Kyle Shanahan, who loves versatile players, even more options.
24. Cesar Ruiz could be a new snapper for Drew Brees.
This is probably Drew Brees’s last season. He already has his next gig lined up, you know? But instead of loading up what just might be the N.F.C.’s best roster with a playmaking linebacker or a yards-after-the-catch receiving dynamo, the Saints fortified the interior of their offensive line with Cesar Ruiz (6-foot-3, 307 pounds).
The position has been a bit of a hole for the team after longtime center Max Unger retired before the 2019 season.
Ruiz was the top center prospect in the country out of high school. At Michigan, he started at right guard as a freshman, and steadily improved the next two seasons. Ruiz is considered athletic, aggressive and quick, and could start at guard or center, though he may be overmatched against larger defensive linemen.
23. The Chargers trade up for Kenneth Murray.
All of the intrigue surrounding the Patriots in their first draft without Tom Brady at quarterback — do they draft his replacement? A defensive lineman? A linebacker? — dissipated when they engaged in their favorite pastime, trading down to hoard more picks. The Chargers, seeking to bolster their defense, happily obliged, offering a second-rounder (37th overall) and a third-round selection (71st over all).
Los Angeles traded up to select Kenneth Murray, a sideline-to-sideline force at Oklahoma, where he had 36½ tackles for loss over his three seasons. And Murray (6-foot-2, 241 pounds) has a background as impressive as his football career. The son of a retired police officer, Dianna, and a pastor, Kenneth Sr., Murray has one biological sibling, a sister, and three adopted siblings, all of whom have a genetic disorder that has delayed their physical and mental development. They joined the family when Murray was 10, in fifth grade.
Murray said at the scouting combine that he has learned how to be “truly selfless” from them, and he is ever more cognizant of his responsibility to maximize his ability. “Every time I come home, they can’t talk but they know who I am and they know my voice, they know when I touch them,” Murray said.
Growing up, he would volunteer at a community center for underprivileged children, and there he learned C.P.R., training that proved critical last July. He and his girlfriend were returning from church in Norman, Okla., when they noticed a woman stricken on the ground at an intersection. He parked his car in the middle of the street, rushed over and was able to revive her.
22. The Vikings take wideout Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings lost not one, not two, but three cornerbacks (Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes). Considering the value elsewhere in the draft, the team might feel it can address that position at No. 25.
After trading Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, Minnesota needs a receiver to complement Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson does that.
Jefferson (6-foot-1, 202 pounds) starred in the slot at Louisiana State, where former offensive coach Joe Brady schemed him open for easy receptions off run-pass option plays, screens and downfield balls in the Tigers’ high-powered spread offense.
He had a monster junior year, catching an N.C.A.A.-best 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. Maybe he was destined to make it to the N.F.L., too: He placed third at the national Punt/Pass/Kick championship when he was 9 years old.
21. Jalen Reagor should help redeem the Eagles passing game.
Did you all see who Carson Wentz threw to last season? The Eagles’ receiver woes sparked a viral meme last season. Unlike in 2019, the team’s priority is surrounding Wentz with receiving talent and improving their team speed. Doing anything else with this pick would have been an extraordinarily unpopular decision in Philadelphia, and the Eagles mollified their fans by taking Jalen Reagor (5-foot-11, 206 pounds) of Texas Christian, an athletic marvel with a N.F.L. alum in the family: His father, Montae, a defensive lineman, played nine seasons with the Broncos, Colts and Eagles.
Jalen won the state long jump championship in Texas, where he played football for former N.F.L. quarterback Jon Kitna. He can squat 620 pounds, yet was among the fastest receivers in the Big 12. He was also a reliable kickoff and punt returner. Reagor, who led the Big 12 with 14 touchdown catches and averaged 21.4 yards per catch, has the potential to be a gadget star on the right offense and with the right coaching staff. At the combine, Reagor compared himself to the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel or Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill — whom he said he watched “every day” — while The Ringer’s draft guide likened him to Percy Harvin, which, minus the hip issues, wouldn’t be the worst thing.
20. LB K’Lavon Chaisson may be Jacksonville’s most valuable talker.
The Jaguars bolstered their outside pass-rush by taking K’Lavon Chaisson (6-foot-3, 254 pounds) of L.S.U., who was selected as the most valuable defensive player of the 2019 Peach Bowl after recording six tackles and two sacks against Oklahoma.
By the time he arrived at the league’s scouting combine seven weeks later, his confidence had only soared.
Asked what distinguished him from other defensive linemen, Chaisson said:“It’s obvious. I’m going to be honest. I’m actually the most valuable player in the draft, when it comes to it. We all know that. When you hire someone do you want to hire someone who speaks one language or do you want to hire someone that speaks three languages? I speak three languages. I do pass rush. I can drop in coverage and cover anybody you want me to cover. I can play the run. And no offensive lineman has ever just moved me off the ball, or bullied me. So I feel like that’s what makes me more dimensional. And a more valuable player than anybody else in the draft.”
There will be Vegas boat rides in 2022.
Las Vegas was supposed to host this year’s draft before the coronavirus pandemic forced the N.F.L. to move it all online. But Commissioner Goodell said on Thursday that the city will get a second chance to host the event, in 2022. (Next year, Cleveland is on the clock.)
So fans will get to head to the Strip to see their favorite college stars ride on a red carpet boat ride in the fountains at the Bellagio after all.
19. After a hard lesson, Damon Arnette is ready for the Raiders.
The Raiders, after failing to reach an agreement with the free agent Eli Apple, addressed their cornerback need with Damon Arnette (6-foot-0, 195 pounds).
Arnette was all set to declare for the draft last year — according to The Athletic, he had written up his announcement — before a conversation with a longtime family friend, the former N.F.L. receiver Cris Carter (also a former Buckeye), changed his mind.
Carter told Arnette that he wasn’t ready to play in the N.F.L. yet, and though his words stung, they were helpful.
“He has never really steered me wrong,” Arnette said at the scouting combine. “He’s always been there when it comes to making major decisions in my life. I respect him for that. I love him for that.” Arnette returned to Ohio State much improved, and as a senior he had eight passes defended and an interception, which he returned 96 yards for a touchdown against Indiana.
18. The Dolphins get a Tua-protector in Austin Jackson.
The Dolphins’ to-do list Thursday night entailed, above all, identifying their quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5. With that accomplished, Miami, with its second pick of the first round, proceeded to take someone who will protect him.
Austin Jackson (6-foot-5, 322 pounds), who is only 20, started all 13 games at left tackle and was selected first-team all-Pac 12 at Southern California, where his grandfather, Melvin, once played.
Jackson’s younger sister, Autumn, has a rare inherited type of anemia that prevents bone marrow from producing red blood cells. A 100 percent match, Jackson last summer donated his bone marrow to Autumn, who, he said at the combine, is making a full recovery in their hometown of Phoenix. “I’m glad I could do it,” Jackson said. “I feel like everybody would have done it for their little sister or sibling.”
He couldn’t train for three weeks after the procedure, which took place in his lower back. “I had to take the whole off-season to go home and be with her and train on my own. I couldn’t afford to get sick. Otherwise the procedure would have been prolonged. I battled back through fall camp and through the season to gain my strength back.”
17. Jerry Jones drafted CeeDee Lamb from a space-age lair.
The Cowboys’ decision hinged on the irreconcilable impulses of their owner, Jerry Jones, who was presented with an ideal, if unexpected, conundrum: Take the best receiver available or an edge-rushing bookend to complement DeMarcus Lawrence?
Dallas went for offense, grabbing CeeDee Lamb (6-foot-2, 198 pounds), who averaged 21.4 yards on his 62 receptions and 14 touchdowns last season at Oklahoma, to a receiving corps that already has Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
Jones had said before the draft that he was looking forward to selecting in quarantine, where no one would be able to talk him out of his pick. In typically flashy Jonesian fashion, the Cowboys team owner appeared onscreen to be holed up in some kind of futuristic holding area.
In addition to putting up nearly 3,300 receiving yards and 32 touchdown receptions in three college seasons, he was also the main punt returner for the Sooners. Lamb lived in New Orleans — “being a kid from Louisiana, that’s all we knew was Reggie Bush” — until Hurricane Katrina forced his family to move to Houston. Asked at the combine where his work ethic comes from, he said, “It’s kind of being in a dark place at a young age and not having everything that I wanted growing up. It pushes me a lot to get a lot of things that I want now, and it all comes with work. So why not work for what I want? I’d rather work than it just be given to me.”
16. A.J. Terrell should help the Falcons defend the pass.
The priority for the Atlanta Falcons is improving the defense — everywhere. No, really. Everywhere. They were 23rd in defense last season, allowing 24.9 points per game, and the team plays in a division with Drew Brees and the Saints as well as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, two teams that promise to score a lot of points this coming season.
To fend off those gunslingers, the Falcons took A.J. Terrell, a cornerback from Clemson. Terrell’s struggles toward the end of 2019 — Ja’Marr Chase of Louisiana State disassembled him during the national championship game — offset a strong career at Clemson, where he intercepted six passes and defended 11 more during his three seasons in the Tigers’ secondary.
His tackles, though, declined last season, a comedown from a superb second year. No doubt, Dan Quinn, a defensive minded head coach, will work on that.
15. The Broncos snag Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy.
After plucking Courtland Sutton in the second round last year, the Denver Broncos needed to complement him with another receiver, preferably one who can stretch the field now that Pro Bowl wideout Emmanuel Sanders has left for New Orleans.
Jerry Jeudy, a polished route-runner who can line up anywhere in a formation, fits that description. Jeudy was teammates with Henry Ruggs III at Alabama. They became the fifth pair of college receivers from the same school taken in the first round since 1967.
And it wasn’t the traditional handshake and hug that have come to mark N.F.L. draft picks, but Jeudy convinced Roger Goodell to perform the Toosie Slide dance with him on social media.
As a sophomore, Jeudy won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best college wide receiver in the country. He caught 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns that year. His numbers dipped a bit as a junior, when he caught 77 passes for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns, and was named to the all-SEC team for the second time.
Jeudy grew up in South Florida playing with Lamar Jackson, who, he said, taught him how to juke. His 7-year-old sister, Aaliyah — who lived her whole life with breathing tubes, according to reports — died while he played in a state playoff game as a high school senior in 2016 and he has since dedicated his career to her memory.
Before the draft, Jeudy showed up to a news conference at the combine in February wearing a Jewish star medallion. Asked about it, he said, “My last name, Jeudy, people sometimes call me Jeu (Jew?), like one Jew. So I got a Jewish star. I’m not Jewish though.” Thanks for clarifying, Jerry.
14. The 49ers trade down to pick DT Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina.
The San Francisco 49ers have two first-round selections, but none in Rounds 2 through 4. That means general manager John Lynch will want to quickly fill their biggest holes, including shoring up their interior defensive line after trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th pick in this year’s draft, which they swapped with Tampa Bay.
The 49ers took Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina, an outstanding pass rusher with long arms, to replace Buckner.
At the scouting combine, Kinlaw called himself “a boring person,” but he has neither lived a boring life, nor, as a pocket-collapsing, backfield-prowling defensive tackle, is he a boring player. As his mother labored to find contracting work throughout his childhood, Kinlaw and his two brothers bounced around dangerous areas of Washington, D.C. looking for shelter. Kinlaw regularly switched schools and in the ninth grade moved to South Carolina to live with his father, George. Kinlaw has said that felt so unsafe with George sometimes that he would look for somewhere else to stay.
Eventually, at Goose Creek High School, he befriended Timothy Davis, whose parents, Calvin and Monica, took him in. Kinlaw identified the turning point in his life as making it to college, first to junior college in Mississippi, then to South Carolina, where he became a first-team all-American. “Just having three meals,” Kinlaw said at the combine. “I always tell people I didn’t go to junior college for football, really. I just went because I had somewhere to sleep. I had free food. That’s really why I went. I didn’t go with the expectation that, ‘Man, I’m going to go to the SEC, I’m going to go to the league. I went because I had somewhere to sleep.’’’
13. The Buccaneers add Tristan Wirfs to Tom Brady-led offense.
Every move the Buccaneers make revolves around maximizing their window with a quarterback who turns 43 in August. Tampa Bay traded up one spot, taking the San Francisco 49ers’ pick, so they could draft an offensive lineman to help protect Tom Brady.
Tristan Wirfs should help. His diverse athletic background — his past in wrestling, in particular — informed his approach to playing offensive tackle. An absolute mauler in the run game and a reliable pass-blocker, Wirfs played mostly right tackle at Iowa and ceded only 40 quarterback pressures on 1,138 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa, according to Pro Football Focus.
“In wrestling, you need footwork, you need balance, awareness, body control — all that translates to offensive line,” Wirfs said in a recent interview. “You don’t get into big scrambles like you do in wrestling on the offensive line, but you still can get out of sorts and get your center of gravity off-kilter. To find that center of gravity and hopefully finish a block, it’s just like putting a guy on his back in wrestling.”
In a draft class loaded with premier offensive tackles, and playing a position reserved for the most powerful of dudes, Wirfs manages to stand out. He won three consecutive state titles in the discus, two in the shot put and one in wrestling, in the 285-pound weight class, in addition to playing football.
Wirfs’s mother, Sarah, raised him and his sister, Kaylia, rushing to their athletic pursuits after her shift at Target, where she has worked for 28 years (naturally, his favorite job of his mother’s was in the bakery, since she would bring home snacks). Just before the draft began, he invited Sarah to walk a makeshift red carpet in front of their home, to acknowledge her support.
12. The Las Vegas Raiders make Henry Ruggs III the first WR off the board.
For the Raiders, which open a new stadium in their new home of Las Vegas this season, the priority has to be upgrading the receiving talent around quarterback Derek Carr. Henry Ruggs III from Alabama fits the bill. Ruggs ran a 4.27, 40-yard dash at combine, the fastest of any position — and the third-fastest ever at the event since electronic timing was introduced in 1999.
At Alabama, he was more of a deep threat, averaging 17.5 yards a reception, as the speedy complement to Jerry Jeudy. Ruggs III was also a kick returner his freshman and junior years.
His mom, Nataki, ran track in Kansas, and she has said that she ran a 4.23 during a workout once.
“If you ask me, she never ran that time,” Ruggs said at the combine. “I knew she was pretty fast. She used to run in the neighborhood, run against guys all the time and beat them. And we used to race when I was young — but I was young. I was small, didn’t have long legs, didn’t really know too much about running. Her track background helped her out when we were racing to the car at the grocery store, stuff like that. But ultimately, she’ll tell you that she’s not faster than me. Maybe in her prime, she felt like it. But … no.”
11. The Jets nab ‘Mount Becton’ to shore up their offensive line.
Like the Giants, the Jets very much need an anchor at offensive tackle to protect their young quarterback, as well as pass-rush help. The Jets allowed 52 sacks last season, the fourth-most in the N.F.L.
Mekhi Becton should help. His large frame and consistent play at both right and left tackle made him a star at Louisville. He started 10 games at right tackle as a junior, 12 more as a sophomore, including 10 of them at left tackle. His junior season, he started 11 games at left tackle and was named first-team all-ACC. The Jets appear unconcerned about a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network who said Becton’s drug test at the combine was flagged, though it isn’t clear what rule he might have violated.
The son of a transportation supervisor and a caterer (“That’s why I’m so big,” he said at the scouting combine), Becton ran the fastest 40-yard dash (5.1) for a player his size since 2006. In ninth grade, he shot up five inches, to 6-foot-5, and when his doctor told his mother, Semone, that his growth plate was still open — he wasn’t done growing yet — she was stunned. The hardest part, she told the Louisville Courier-Journal, was buying him clothes: “Within a couple months, they’re high-waters. You buy these nice tennis shoes, then he skips a size and you have to pass them on to someone else.”
He does want to lose about 10-15 pounds, to play around 350-355, in the N.F.L., where his nimble feet and unadulterated power would allow him to play either tackle position. Also, he can dunk.
10. The Browns take Jedrick Wills Jr. to guard Baker Mayfield’s blind side.
The Browns use this opportunity to finally fill the left tackle spot that Joe Thomas vacated when he retired three years ago.
At Alabama, Jedrick Wills Jr. anchored the right side of the offensive line for two years, allowing only one sack and three-and-a-half quarterback hurries on 714 snaps last season.
He played in 11 games in his first season, then replaced Matt Womack at right tackle the following year, when he started all 15 games. His stature grew last season, when he was voted second-team all-American and first-team all-SEC while starting all 13 games at right tackle.
In Cleveland, he’ll likely switch to the left side to protect Baker Mayfield’s blind side. Jack Conklin will probably anchor the right side.
Born to a basketball family — his father coaches at his high school, in Lexington, Ky., and his mom played at Eastern Kentucky — Wills started walking at five months old, his mother once said. “He didn’t do a lot of crawling. He was big and strong and stout, and he just got up one day and took off.” Guess what? He’s still big and strong and stout.
9. Jacksonville stays local, taking Florida CB C.J. Henderson.
Was it just three seasons ago that the Jaguars, buoyed by a snarling defense, reached the A.F.C. championship game?
That defense is unrecognizable now, having been disassembled in fits and spurts, but especially this off-season, when cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all departed.
With edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue angling for a trade, the Jaguars focused on that side of the ball.
C.J. Henderson has the speed and anticipation to erase receivers all over the field, and his athleticism is absurd; according to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, Henderson bench presses 380 pounds and squats 545.
Henderson can play multiple techniques, man and off, and over the last two seasons, he yielded just 20 receptions, on 44 targets, in single coverage on the boundary, according to Pro Football Focus, making him a prime candidate to start there as a rookie.
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network’s draft honcho, said in a recent conference call that Henderson has more upside than the consensus top corner, Jeff Okudah of Ohio State, but he must improve his tackling and consistency playing the ball downfield.
8. Do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons heads to Arizona.
The Cardinals’ most obvious deficiency was along the offensive line, but then again, no team allowed more yards last season than they did, making overall defense a priority in this draft. Arizona shored up its defense by selecting Isaiah Simmons, who can play anywhere and everywhere on that side of the ball.
According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons, listed at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, played at least 100 snaps at five positions — slot cornerback, edge rusher, linebacker and both safety spots — and finished with 16½ tackles for a loss, eight sacks, eight pass deflections and three interceptions. “In a league that doesn’t have a lot of margin for error when it comes to roster management, I think you immediately get more than one person,” Brent Venables, his defensive coordinator at Clemson, said in a recent interview.
Simmons counterbalances the raft of hybridized offensive players permeating the N.F.L. He has the build, speed and length to counter players like San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who often cause mismatches. Modern defenses prioritize pressuring the quarterback and stopping the pass, and Simmons can do both.
7. Panthers take ‘Baby Barack,’ Auburn DT Derrick Brown.
Coming from the college ranks, new Panthers coach Matt Rhule, who was at Baylor, might have a slight advantage — but what is he looking for? As it happens, Rhule wanted the best defensive lineman in the Southeastern Conference, if not the country.
From his size to his post-football aspirations, there is nothing remotely tiny about Derrick Brown — nicknamed Baby Barack at Auburn. Brown measured 6-foot-5 and 326 pounds at the scouting combine in February. In college, he devoted himself to helping others, on campus and in the community, serving on leadership councils, building homes in the Dominican Republic and working at food banks. On the field, Brown thwarted triple-teams, mauled quarterbacks and stuffed running lanes.
Rodney Garner, who coaches Auburn’s defensive line, likened Brown to an amalgam of two N.F.L. stars he tutored at Georgia. Brown, he said, has the athleticism of Richard Seymour and the power of Marcus Stroud. “Coaching Derrick Brown was easy,” Garner said in a recent interview. “In my 31 years, I’ve coached some really good defensive linemen. It’s been a blessing. And he’s right there at the top of the list.”
The Panthers are in the midst of an organizational reboot under owner David A. Tepper, who took over the team in 2018. Gone are former league M.V.P. Cam Newton and the winningest coach in franchise history, Ron Rivera. And after losing stalwarts at all three levels of the defense — lineman Gerald McCoy, linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback James Bradberry — certainly need a talent infusion on defense. That begins with Brown.
6. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert selection makes it back-to-back QB picks.
The Los Angeles Chargers’ professed adoration for Tyrod Taylor as a possible long-term replacement for Philip Rivers was a total smokescreen.
As they enter the season with a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2005, there will be competition for the job between Taylor and Justin Herbert, who threw for more than 10,000 yards and scored more than 100 touchdowns at Oregon.
Standing 6-foot-6, 237 pounds, Herbert’s size and arm strength are consistent with a prototypical N.F.L. quarterback, and he led the Ducks to a Pac-12 championship and a victory at the Rose Bowl in January with not much talent at receiver.
The question is how this quiet kid who has spent his entire life in Eugene, Ore. and only recently opened a social media account will react to living in a big city with far more media attention. Herbert enters an excellent situation, with a shrewd coach, Anthony Lynn, and talent across the offense, from receiver Keenan Allen to tight end Hunter Henry.
5. Miami shows its faith in Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick.
The Dolphins didn’t spend the last season tanking — er, stripping their roster to stockpile draft capital — so they could be passive this weekend. They avenged the mistake of passing on free agent Drew Brees in 2006 by being aggressive and taking Tua Tagovailoa, whose season was derailed when he sustained a posterior wall fracture and dislocated hip in a game in November.
Instead of competing in the SEC, he had season-ending surgery. Instead of going No. 1 overall, he was surpassed by Burrow. The focus among scouts wasn’t about whether he was a good fit for an N.F.L. team’s offense, but whether he was durable enough to play well again. Tagovailoa was unable to hold his own pro day because of the coronavirus pandemic, so teams were unable to watch him throw live. Instead, he posted video of himself training on social media. Obviously, the Dolphins are comfortable with his health.
Their general manager, Chris Grier, was with the Dolphins (in a different capacity) in 2006, when the team opted for Daunte Culpepper, who wound up playing only one season in Miami. As for Brees, well, he won a Super Bowl in New Orleans and is an all-time great. Now the Dolphins hope that Tagovailoa redeems them.
4. Giants draft OT Andrew Thomas to help protect QB Daniel Jones.
General Manager Dave Gettleman swoons over “hog mollies” — his nomenclature for enormous offensive linemen — and that, no doubt, is a priority for him as he builds around quarterback Daniel Jones. In Andrew Thomas, the Giants have their hog molly. Thomas did nothing but perform at Georgia. He won freshman all-American honors after starting all 15 games at right tackle his first season. He shifted to left tackle his sophomore year and was named to the all-Southeastern Conference team. He started 13 games at left tackle and was named a first-team all-American this season.
He takes his inspiration from music, having grown up playing drums. As with music, where he gained confidence through thousands of repetitions, Thomas found comfort in the mundane. The more he practiced, he recognized, the better he would get.
On the precipice of his N.F.L. career, Thomas still draws on his musical background. “It’s the same thing in football,” he said. “Something may happen that’s unexpected, and how well you respond can change the end of the game.”
3. Detroit grabs CB Jeff Okudah.
As he established himself at Ohio State as the best cornerback in his draft class, Jeff Okudah found a role model in Darius Slay. In each of the last three seasons, Slay, who was traded to Philadelphia last month from Detroit, was selected to the Pro Bowl. Okudah, at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, will now replace him in Detroit, which had been rumored to be shopping the pick. Jeff Hafley, Okudah’s position coach at Ohio State, coached seven years in the N.F.L., and he said Okudah has exceptional size, speed, acceleration, instincts, inquisitiveness and competitiveness.
He started one year for the Buckeyes, who deployed him much like the Jets handled Darrelle Revis in his prime, lining him up alone in man-to-man coverage
Okudah projects as a marvelous fit with the Lions for a simple reason: What team wouldn’t want a shutdown cornerback?
2. The Redskins take Ohio State’s Chase Young.
Coach Ron Rivera was hired to restore pride and discipline (and winning seasons) to a decaying franchise, and for a defensive-minded coach, buttressing the pass rush with the best defensive end prospect in the class is a reasonable way to start. Chase Young, who led the F.B.S. last season with 16½ sacks, joins a reconfigured defensive front — Rivera switched to a 4-3 from a 3-4 — that will allow him, as well as other ends Ryan Kerrigan and the 2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat, to concentrate on doing what they do best: harass the quarterback.
At Ohio State, Young learned from the renowned defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., who also tutored, among others, Nick and Joey Bosa, Aaron Maybin, and Tamba Hali. Johnson challenged himself to find flaws in Young’s technique, analyzing film in slow motion, and together they produced what might be the best over all player in the draft.
That’s Young’s opinion, at least. “I definitely think I’m the best player in the draft,” Young said at the league’s scouting combine. “I think I showed it on my tape.”
1. QB Joe Burrow goes as expected to the Bengals.
The rebuilding Bengals needed a franchise cornerstone and — hey, look, it’s Joe Burrow!
As expected, Cincinnati chose the quarterback Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick, rewarding him for his superlative season at Louisiana State. It’s the first time since 2003, when it took Carson Palmer, that Cincinnati took a quarterback to begin the draft.
Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 5,671 yards and set a Football Bowl Subdivision record with 60 touchdown passes — the final 12 of which came in his last two games, blowouts over Oklahoma and Clemson, to propel L.S.U. to a national title. Only one other player won the Heisman and the national championship, and was chosen first over all, in the same year: Cam Newton, in 2011.
“To jump up to No. 1 overall is just crazy to me but it’s a dream come true,” Burrow said.
Quarterbacks drafted early often join teams bereft of, or at least lacking in, offensive talent. In that respect, the Bengals are an anomaly. Burrow enters a reasonably favorable situation, with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross at receiver and Joe Mixon at running back. Preparing for Burrow’s arrival, Cincinnati fortified its defense in free agency, signing cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, defensive lineman D.J. Reader and linebacker Josh Bynes.
No matter how well Burrow plays, the Bengals, in all likelihood, won’t be making the playoffs this season. But the team probably won’t be 2-14 like it was in 2019, and for the first time in a long time, they’ll be exciting, and interesting, again.
Roger Goodell will announce picks from his basement.
In keeping with the times, all team officials will work remotely from their homes and Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce their 32 picks from the basement of his house in Bronxville, N.Y. He showed fans a tour of his setup in a video posted to Twitter.
During the draft, fans will see 58 top prospects via remote video from their homes, after the league sent “technology kits” to them by mail. (They will have to hug Goodell at some other point.) Between picks, viewers will see telethon-style performances from celebrities, including the comedian Kevin Hart and the singer Harry Connick, Jr.
Team officials will have 10 minutes to make their first-round picks on Thursday, and less time for Rounds 2-7 on Friday and Saturday. General managers and coaches have been showing off their draft tech setups on social media, with the Giants Dave Gettleman showing off a relatively lo-fi home office, at least compared with that of Jaguars Coach Doug Marrone.
If there are technical glitches while a team is on the clock, the N.F.L. will have the option of extending the amount of time the team has to make a pick.
No one cares that Joe Burrow might have smallish hands.
No one in the N.F.L. knows how the draft will unfold. But the first two picks, which belong to the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, feel as certain as sunrise.
Who cares if Joe Burrow has 9-inch hands, as they were reportedly measured at the draft scouting combine in February? The Bengals certainly won’t. Burrow, the Louisiana State quarterback, won the Heisman Trophy last season. He also carried the Tigers to a national championship. A son of Ohio — he grew up in Athens, about 150 miles east of Cincinnati — Burrow returns to his home state to resurrect a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since January 1991, almost six years before he was born.
For the second consecutive year, a defensive end from Ohio State is primed to be taken at No. 2. It’s hard to fathom, given how well Nick Bosa played as a rookie for the 49ers, but Chase Young, who is likely bound for Washington, might wind up being better. Young had 16½ sacks last season, a single-season record for the Buckeyes. Across his two seasons at Ohio State, he had 27 total sacks and 35½ tackles for loss. As Washington rebuilds under a new coaching staff led by Ron Rivera, it can’t afford to waste its draft picks. It won’t with Young.
The Tua vs. Justin debate will get settled.
This draft is loaded with intrigue, but where Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gets picked Thursday night — and by whom — is the most fascinating story line. Once the presumptive No. 1 over all pick, Tagovailoa sustained a season-ending hip injury in November that shrouded his future.
His talent is unquestioned. But teams must consider both his present health and his history of injuries — a task complicated by the travel restrictions wrought by the pandemic, which prevents teams from evaluating him themselves.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert is expected to tempt the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers, who pick fifth and sixth and each need a passer. Herbert stands 6-foot-6, 237 pounds and is only the second Ducks quarterback to throw for over 10,000 yards and score more than 100 touchdowns (Marcus Mariota is the other), stats he put up without elite receivers.
We’re all in the dark about the Patriots.
One of the biggest variables in every draft is the trade deals that teams make to pick earlier or stockpile selections for later. In the past 20 years, the draft has featured an average of 13 trades in the first round. With facilities closed to most personnel and all travel banned, coaches and scouts have had fewer in-person interviews with prospects than in other years. The lack of information about players from smaller schools may make known quantities — free agents as well as college players who appeared in a lot of televised games — more valuable, leading teams to make more trades than in a typical year.
No team’s moves are more anticipated than those of the New England Patriots, which ended the 2019 season with an uncharacteristic playoff loss in the wild-card round, then subsequently let the franchise cornerstone quarterback Tom Brady walk in free agency and traded Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Jarrett Stidham, who has four career pass attempts (with one interception), and Brian Hoyer, a 34-year-old journeyman who has lost 12 of his last 13 starts, on the roster, New England seems poised to draft a quarterback at some point.
Bill Belichick has 12 picks, but only one, the 23rd overall, in the first round. Two points of history worth noting: Belichick is notorious for trading down, preferring to dig for gems in later rounds, and he has not often drafted impactful wide receivers, a position of depth in this year’s class.