The first round of the NFL’s 2020 draft is in the books and it certainly was a memorable one not just due to its virtual nature. After the first few selections, which all seemed to be set in stone before the event even began, the draft picked up steam due to trades, reaches and some intriguing decisions being made. From the the New England Patriots’ perspective it was a pretty straight-forward affair, meanwhile: the club decided to trade its 23rd overall selection to the Los Angeles Chargers and subsequently sat out Round One.
Please click here for a full pick-by-pick recap of Thursday’s action. In the meantime, let’s clean out the notebook from what happened over the course of the first 32 picks.
New England positions itself among the big players on Days Two and Three
The Patriots entered the draft with 12 selections in the fold, including four on the first two days. After the aforementioned trade-down in the first round, and the team the 37th and 71st overall picks along the way, New England now has 13 choices at its disposal heading into Friday — an enormous number, which leads the league ahead of the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings, who both have 12 picks available heading into Day Two.
Needless to say that the Patriots will be among the big players today. As Nick Caserio pointed out in his post-Round One media conference call, “flexibility” is the motto under which he and his team will operate moving forward. And this flexibility gives New England plenty of wiggle room to not just address the remaining needs on the roster but also to move around the board again to maximize value and take advantage of what is considered to be a generally deep draft.
The AFC East welcomes a new quarterback
Two teams in the Patriots’ division were considered as serious candidates to target a quarterback heading into Thursday. New England had, of course, lost Tom Brady in free agency and might be looking for a replacement or another passer to challenge second-year man Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer. Such a move could still happen on Day Two, but for the team being only one club in the AFC East did make a move at the most important spots in the sport: the Dolphins.
Miami made three total selections in Round One, and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the first of them at the fifth overall selection. Tagovailoa may lack the desired size and bring a considerable injury history to the table, but he can be an electrifying passer due to his accurate and natural arm in combination with a high football IQ. The latter two, plus the need at the position, sold the Dolphins and second-year head coach Brian Flores on the 22-year-old.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Tagovailoa will become the Day One starter — he is one of two quarterbacks in this year’s draft considered capable of doing so alongside first overall pick and new Cincinnati Bengal Joe Burrow — we do know three things for sure:
1.) Miami has found its franchise quarterback, which is a massive decision that will shape the team and its decision making for years to come.
2.) Miami becomes the third AFC East in the last two years to select a passer early in Round One: the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills drafted Sam Darnold and Josh Allen third and seventh overall in 2018, respectively.
3.) Miami backup quarterback Josh Rosen again sees a first-rounder jump ahead of him on the depth chart: Rosen was drafted 10th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in that 2018 draft, lost his job to first overall selection Kyler Murray the following year under a new regime, and was traded to a Dolphins team during last year’s draft that has now chosen Tagovailoa.
Las Vegas makes Al Davis proud
The late Raiders owner, Al Davis, was noted for his affinity for speed. In this sense his franchise, which relocated to Las Vegas this year, certainly made him proud when it picked the fastest wide receiver in this year’s class: Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama became the first player at the position to come off the board at No. 12 overall. Ruggs’ talents cannot be denied, and his straight-line speed — he ran a 4-27-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in February — is a big reason for why he has the potential to become a number one receiver at the next level.
The Packers hope they have found Aaron Rodgers’ heir
Few selections in Round One will be as hotly debated as Green Bay’s: the Packers traded their first- and fourth-round selections to the Dolphins to move up four spots from the 30th to the 26th overall pick. At 26, the team went after the fourth quarterback in this year’s class behind top-six selections Joe Burrow (Bengals), Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins) and Justin Herbert (Chargers), and made Jordan Love out of Utah State their selection.
Love, who was seen as a potential target for the Patriots as well, brings some exciting upside to the table due to his ability to make plays out of the pocket and the tape he put on in 2018. Unfortunately, his 2019 season was anything but impressive from a statistical perspective: Love led the nation with 17 interceptions and his numbers regressed in almost every category after his school fired its coaching staff heading into the year. This change could be a big reason for his development — at least that Green Bay has to feel confident in.
After all, picking Love at 26 overall means that the team sees him as a potential heir to future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. The 36-year-old is still among the better quarterbacks in the NFL, but has had some injuries and inconsistent play over the last few years. The Packers have to hope that Love can either succeed him one day, or at least have the same effect Jimmy Garoppolo had on Tom Brady after New England drafted him in the second round back in 2014: following the Garoppolo pick, Brady led his team to three championships over the next five years.
The edge class remains mostly intact
This year’s draft had some solid depth at the defensive front seven, and the edge class was no exception. And yet, only two of its members heard their names called on Thursday: Ohio State’s Chase Young, unsurprisingly, was taken second overall by the Washington Redskins; LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, meanwhile, was drafted with the 20th overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The rest of the position remains intact heading into Friday.
This means that front-seven-needy teams such as the Patriots could end up with one of the first-round talents that slid out of the top-32: Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos and Wisconsin’s Zack Baun are all still available. Considering that New England owns the 37th overall pick and has plenty of ammunition to move around the board, it would not be a surprise if one of them ended up with the club.
Offensive tackle and wide receiver were the most popular positions
Out of the 32 selections made in Round One, a combined 12 were spent on offensive tackles or wide receivers: the position groups saw six members each come off the board on Thursday. At tackle, Andrew Thomas went fourth overall to the Giants, Jedrick Wills Jr. and Mekhi Becton to the Browns and Jets, respectively, at picks number 10 and 11, Tristan Wirfs to Tampa Bay at 13, Austin Jackson at 18 to the Dolphins, and finally Isaiah Wilson to the Titans at 29.
The wide receiver spot had to wait longer for its first player to be called — the aforementioned Henry Ruggs, who went to the Raiders with the 12th overall selection — but saw a run over the second half of the round: Jerry Jeudy was picked by the Broncos at 15; CeeDee Lamb went to the Cowboys two spots later; the Eagles and Vikings went to the position back-to-back when they opted to go with Jalen Reagor and Justin Jefferson at 21 and 22; Brandon Aiyuk was picked by San Francisco at 25.
There were only a few reaches
The first round of the draft was mostly devoid of any major surprises, but some teams still reached for players. Cornerbacks A.J. Terrell (16th overall to Atlanta) and Darmon Arnette (19th overall to Las Vegas) both came off the board earlier than expected, as did defensive tackle Derrick Browns (7th to Carolina) and linebacker Jordyn Brooks (27th to Seattle). Both are very good players but considering the talent still available when the selections were made could be questioned.