In this most unique of drafts, filled with technological concerns and even uncertainty when real football might return, there was one constant Thursday night: Joe Burrow.
For months, the national champion quarterback from LSU was linked with the Bengals. Cincinnati began the draft by sending the name of the Heisman Trophy winner to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the basement of his home.
This digital/remote/virtual draft – take your choice – was up and running. With no apparent glitches.
Of course, there were no fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip. No bear hug between Goodell and Burrow; the commissioner said he would miss those, even if his body wouldn’t. The most basic of selection meetings, organized in this manner due to the coronavirus pandemic, has team personnel making picks from their homes. And players learning their future employers in their homes.
The NFL canceled all draft activities in Las Vegas when the national shutdown of large gatherings began. The league had gone full-bore into free agency last month and, now, seven rounds of the draft through Saturday.
“I do believe this draft is going to be the most memorable we have ever had,” said Goodell, noting that it is accompanied by a “Draft-A-Thon” to benefit six organizations on the front lines battling the pandemic.
“I just believe that our job is to continue on and operate within whatever guidelines are necessary to keep our personnel safe, whether it’s players or coaches or their executives or league personnel. We need to make sure that we’re doing things safely and put public safety No. 1, but we also need to carry on. We need to move toward the future. We need to make sure that we’re prepared when we come out of this to be in a position to start our season on time and play our season. That’s our role.”
Normalcy, at least among the picks, was the order of the early evening, though.
First came Burrow: In his spectacular senior season, he threw for 60 – yes, 60 – touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Tigers beat six top-10 teams on their way to the national title.
“To jump up to No. 1 overall is crazy to me,” Burrow said. “But it’s a dream come true. I wasn’t very good my junior year. I worked really hard to get better, my guys worked really hard to get better, and we jelled as a team.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor was confident Burrow could turn the franchise around after a 2-14 season.
“We will never pick at No. 1 again,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to pick in the top 10 again. We’re looking at this as the only time you’re going to get this caliber player to add him to the program, so obviously, this is a big deal.”
The second overall selection, Ohio State All-America edge rusher Chase Young, also was predictable. Washington fielded several offers for that spot, but many scouts and personnel executives felt Young was the best player in this crop.
At 6-foot-5, 264 pounds, Young led the nation with 16 1/2 sacks and forced fumbles with six last season. The All-American won the prestigious Bednarik and Nagurski awards in 2019, leading the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title.
He joins a Redskins team that went 3-13 and allowed 435 points.
If not for the NFL’s obsession with finding the latest, greatest quarterback prospect, Young might have been the top overall selection. That QB infatuation saw three passers taken in the first six picks.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa went fifth to Miami, followed in the next spot by Oregon’s Justin Herbert to the Los Angeles Chargers. They were preceded by Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, the highest-rated cornerback, to Detroit, and Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas to the Giants.
Tagovailoa’s health issues didn’t turn off the Dolphins.
The Alabama quarterback went to a team that was accused going into last season of “Tanking for Tua.” Tagovailoa comes off major hip surgery, which made his landing a spot one of the first round’s biggest uncertainties.
“For me and my family, whoever decided to take a chance on us, that’s where I belonged,” Tagovailoa said. “My biggest thing is I’m trying to prove this was the right decision.”
One change he’ll need to make in Miami: No. 13 is not available. The Dolphins retired it for Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
“I understand No. 13 is retired, and it should be,” Tagovailoa said. “Whatever number I’m given by the organization, if it’s 78 or 99, I’ll wear it.”
Blessed with a quick release, excellent midrange accuracy and nimble feet, Tagovailoa threw 76 touchdown passes in 24 starts the past two seasons. He helped the Crimson Tide to the 2017 national title.
Herbert had a strong postseason, including a terrific Senior Bowl week that raised his stock. At 6-6, 236 pounds, he has the size the pros like, and he’s a good athlete. But he also is not as accurate at passing as he’ll need to be.
Los Angeles had a burning hole at quarterback after letting go of longtime starter Philip Rivers. Plus, the Chargers plan to move into a new stadium and could use someone to help sell tickets.
It took until the 13th spot before a trade was made: Tampa Bay moving up one spot to get tackle Tristan Wirfs of Iowa to help protect new/old QB Tom Brady. The Buccaneers got that pick from NFC champion San Francisco.
Wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft, but it took until the 12th selection for one to go. Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, perhaps the fastest man in this group (4.27 seconds in the 40-yard dash), was the first draftee in the history of the Las Vegas Raiders. Coach Jon Gruden loves speed, and he got a burner who scored 24 touchdowns among 98 career receptions.
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