Teams can not lie during the draft. They can lie before the draft and after the draft, but their picks and draft day trades are a revealing pullback of the veil around their evaluation process and outcomes of college prospects and their own players, their valuation of draft assets, their team blueprint and the clarity of fits in roles in that blueprint, and a very straightforward answer to “how we win”.
This aspect of the draft becomes even more interesting when we focus on the teams with new regimes and teams at critical points. Which teams will reveal the most about their present and future with their draft picks?
Buffalo - The Bills don’t have a first round pick but they do have a hole in the backfield to complement Devin Singletary. That could be filled by a trade with Jacksonville for Leonard Fournette, a second day pick (not great for Singletary), or a third day pick (good for Singletary)
New York Jets - Let’s see what Joe Douglas can do in his first draft as Jets GM. They are rumored to want to trade down from 11 and already have an extra early third from the Leonard Williams trade, so they could easily walk away with 4-5 potential long term starters. Will they take the successor to Le'Veon Bell, who is likely to be gone in 2021? Which wide receiver(s) will they take to help Sam Darnold, who saw his #1 (Robby Anderson) leave for Carolina in free agency?
Tennessee - A pick of a running back anywhere but the very late rounds might signal a belief inside the organization that they won’t or can’t sign Derrick Henry to a long-term deal.
Baltimore - There’s no change in the blueprint or decision-makers, but the Ravens have an extra second, third, and fourth round pick to move up in the first for a big name if they want or otherwise maneuver on the second day to get immediate contributors at the weak spots of edge rusher, wide receiver, and interior offensive line.
Philadelphia - The Eagles love 2019 second-rounder Miles Sanders, but would they prefer to bring in a quality back to complement him or ride with mighty mite Boston Scott in that role? They don’t seem to love 2019 second-round JJ Arcega-Whiteside and if they hadn’t guaranteed Alshon Jeffery’s salary this year, he probably wouldn’t be on the team (they’ll try to deal him during the draft, but likely to no avail). Injury-prone Desean Jackson rounds out the team’s top names at wide receiver, which cries out for action in this draft.
Washington - The #2 is going to be Chase Young and the team doesn’t have a second round pick (sent to the Colts in a trade up for Montez Sweat last year), but this draft should still give us some insight into the mindset of Ron Rivera and VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith (son of AJ)’s first draft, with hopefully little to no interference from Dan Snyder and no Bruce Allen factor.
Detroit - The Lions have more than enough picks to take a co-lead back to pair with Kerryon Johnson and select a wide receiver to be an heir to Marvin Jones Jr spot, expect both positions to be addressed in the draft.
Atlanta - Dan Quinn was a dead man walking at the middle of the 2019 season and Thomas Dimitroff’s condition was in need of a checkup. Both are back for another season, but they have to know that success this year is a must. The Falcons have been rumored to want to trade up for a corner, will they give up picks from 2021 to do it knowing that they might not be around to feel the pain if they fall short of expectations this year?
San Francisco - The 49ers got a big asset for one of the elite interior defensive linemen when DeForest Buckner was sent to the Colts for #13. Will the 49ers trade down from that pick or their natural pick at 31 to fill in the three-round hole on their draft board? Or will they focus on replacing Buckner, upgrading at wide receiver, or otherwise concentrating their draft assets on players that they think could put them over the top after leading the Super Bowl going into the fourth quarter?
The 10 Most Revealing Drafts of 2020
10. New York Giants - The first round pick could tell us a lot about whether this is a Gettleman war room or a Judge war room. A trade down or Isaiah Simmons points to Judge, an offensive tackle or Derrick Brown points to Gettleman. We will know more when we hear the post-draft comments, but Giants fans have to be hoping that Gettleman’s influence is at least balanced by Judge.
9. Indianapolis - Even after trading away their first round pick, the question remains - to pick a quarterback or not to pick at quarterback? With two picks in the first half of the second round, the Colts remain the most likely team to trade back into the first for a falling quarterback, most likely boom/bust toolsy prospect Jordan Love out of Utah State, who the team has been linked to for months. Philip Rivers is only on a one year deal, although the use of #13 (and some of the copious cap room) to get Buckner indicates that the team is focused on the now with Rivers giving the team a better shot at making and going deep into the playoffs.
8. Los Angeles Chargers - Like the Colts, the interest here revolves around the team’s plans at quarterback. The recent uptick in “Anthony Lynn sees Tyrod Taylor as a bridge quarterback” items could easily be an indicator of just the opposite - that the Chargers want to influence the Dolphins (and any other potential quarterback hunting team) that they aren’t a threat to trade up to 3 or 4 to make sure they get “their guy”, whether that’s Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The Chargers also have a very interesting fantasy question in their backfield as trading for Trai Turner, putting Taylor as starter and Lynn’s comments all point to a run-heavy, conservative offense. Will the Chargers take a bruising back on the second day to complement Austin Ekeler? The team only has Ekeler and Justin Jackson on the roster at running back. Passing on the position until the third day should be seen as an endorsement of Jackson.
7. New England - Hoodie already pulled off a magic trick turning a seventh round pick and Rob Gronkowski into a fourth round pick, so what does he have in store for his next act? Will this team really roll into the season with Jarrett Stidham as the starting quarterback? New England could be the beneficiary of one of the top three quarterbacks falling. The Patriots also pick only once in the first 87 selections, so what will Belichick do about that? Most of all, what is his blueprint/vision on the offensive side of the ball without Tom Brady? The team needs help at wide receiver and tight end and the types of players they choose should tell us whether and how the approach on offense will change post-Brady.
6. Tampa Bay - Think of Tampa as the inverse of New England. They have a limited window to maximize with Tom Brady. Jason Licht has already given up a fourth round pick to get Rob Gronkowski to unretire. The team needs help for Brady on the offensive line (another trade for a veteran in the works? Trent Williams? Jason Peters?) and they need a third down back. Will they use draft picks to get players who can help them for the long haul or choose to trade more picks for short-term solutions?
5. Las Vegas - The last of the bounty from the Khalil Mack trade is on the clock at #19. Save for the Clelin Ferrell pick, Gruden/Mayock crushed their first draft, and they could easily double up on Clemson players in the first round this year. They do have a big hole on their board in the second round, created by the Mack trade, so they could trade down in the first to get more swings at the pinata on the second and third days, when they added Trayvon Mullen, Maxx Crosby, Foster Moreau, and Hunter Renfrow last year. Wide receiver and cornerback are obvious needs and we shouldn’t be surprised if those are the two positions selected in the first, but the team has made solid moves in the last two offseason to shore up just about everywhere else on the depth chart. No one did better between the second and fifth round last year, so we should pay close attention to the Raiders picks after the first round.
4. Jacksonville - The Jaguars are on the same trajectory as Miami was last year, basically selling off everything they can to get draft assets. As a result, they got an extra first (#20) and a bunch of picks on the first half of the first day. There’s no new regime to make the picks unless you count Jay Gruden’s influence on the offense, but perhaps the addition by subtraction of deposing Tom Coughlin will free David Caldwell up to make moves more in his own image, including dealing Leonard Fournette for yet another third-day pick? What kinds of players will the Jaguars add now that they are out of the gravitational field of Coughlin? Will they take a top three quarterback if one falls to 9 or 20? What will they do about running back now that they have telegraphed their intentions with Fournette? How about wide receiver with only DJ Chark under contract in 2021 of the top four receivers? Tight end isn’t exactly solved either, but 2019 third-rounder Josh Oliver is still waiting in the wings.
3. Cleveland - Another year, another big change in Cleveland. Now the team has alignment between the general manager (Andrew Berry) and head coach (Kevin Stefanski) and John DePodesta. What will that yield in the draft? What will the team do to fill the hole at left tackle? Safety? Linebacker? What patterns will we be able to discern across the picks to deduce the new regime’s philosophy of draft prospect evaluation?
2. Carolina - Marty Hurney is still around but judging by the number of players acquired who formerly played under new head coach Matt Rhule (WR Robby Anderson, WR Keith Kirkwood, LB Tahir Whitehead, QB PJ Walker), Rhule is in charge of personnel moves. Denzel Mims is unlikely to follow Rhule to Carolina from Baylor, but DL James Lynch is a name to remember and maybe even RB JaMycal Hasty as a late round pick or UDFA. The acquisition of Anderson also foreshadows more three-wide sets. What else will the Panthers use of draft picks tell us about the new direction of the team? Oh and what about quarterback? Teddy Bridgewater can be moved on from next year without a lot of financial pain, so what do the Panthers do if a top three quarterback is available at #7?
1. Miami - The Dolphins pick one of out every 10 picks in the first 39 selections of the draft. That is ridiculous power. They have a lot of holes, but they can fill them with players that match the Grier/Flores regimes values and team blueprint, and they can also trade down as much as they want to push some of the capital back, although they still have Houston’s first and second pick this year, so they might as well stock up this year. Will they take a quarterback at 5? Move up for one? Just pass on quarterback at five and see if one falls knowing that they will have ample ammo to move up for one next year? The combinations are limitless and if you pretend you have these picks to shape your team in the flow of a mock draft, it will excite you.