13. 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.