It was a chalky first round for a while, but the second half brought enough twists and turns to keep both our fantasy and NFL brains busy with puzzles and open-ended questions for weeks or months to come. Rookie drafts and the destinies of many NFL franchises changed before our very eyes. Who were the biggest winners and losers of day one?
AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, WR, Joe Mixon, RB, CIN, Bengals Fanbase - All three get a potential upgrade in fantasy ceiling, assuming #1 pick Joe Burrow (LSU) is pro-ready and Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan can implement an offense closer to the Rams unstoppable 2018 unit that Taylor helped coach. The fanbase gets their franchise-altering quarterback, as the Bayou Bengal returns to his home state and becomes a Cincinnati Bengal in a poetic twist and continuation of a fairy tale storyline from the 2019 college football season.
Miami Dolphins, Devante Parker, Preston Williams, WR, Mike Gesicki, TE, MIA - Austin Jackson (LSU) was a risky boom/bust pick at tackle at 18 and a third corner in Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) isn’t that exciting at 30 and getting an extra fourth round pick this year in a trade down is a questionable move with not enough roster spots to keep all of your 14 draft picks going into the night, but none of that matters because the Dolphins got their quarterback without tanking or trading up. Tua Tagovailoa should keep Miami in the upper half of NFL pass offenses, and they can give him a redshirt year with Ryan Fitzpatrick minding the shop.
Sam Darnold, QB, NYJ, Tom Brady, QB, TB, Daniel Jones, QB, NYG, Baker Mayfield, QB, CLE - The left tackles started going off of the board early, but the top four lasted until the 13th pick, longer than expected. The Giants kicked things off taking high floor Andrew Thomas (Georgia) at 4, and the Browns surprisingly took the second one, another high floor pick Jedrick Wills (Alabama). The Jets weren’t assured of getting one of the top four, but high ceiling pick Mekhi Becton fell into their laps, and then the Bucs gave up their other fourth round pick (after trading one for Rob Gronkowski earlier in the week) to move up one pick for Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), hyperathletic, but still a little rough around the edges. Brady is the bigger winner with the problem right tackle spot addressed, but Darnold’s upgrade from George Fant on the left side and Mayfield and Jones getting solid players to bookend the line with established veterans are all gains.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, CAR - We didn’t have to wonder if the Panthers would take a quarterback when Justin Herbert (Oregon) went #6 to the Chargers. Maybe Carolina would have considered Herbert or Tagovailoa, but they were strongly linked to defensive tackle Derrick Brown (Auburn) throughout the draft process. Bridgewater will get a chance to pilot an offense designed by Joe Brady whose system helped vault Joe Burrow to being the #1 pick. Bridgewater also has three good receivers and he gained a strong left tackle in Russell Okung earlier in the offseason. Even if the Panthers would have taken a quarterback at 7, Bridgewater gets a whole season to prove himself before they have to make the decision again.
Gardner Minshew, QB, JAX - Like Bridgewater, Minshew gets to exhale knowing that he won’t be sharing the roster with a first round quarterback. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has elevated quarterback play in the past, so Minshew could establish himself with improvement, although the Jaguars will easily be considered the top “Tank for Trevor” candidate.
Baltimore Ravens - How do they do it every year? Somehow a team trades up for Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) and Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech) inexplicably goes one spot ahead of them, leaving Patrick Queen (LSU) there for the taking. Queen is an instant three-down starter at one of their weakest spots in the starting lineup and he should be a massive hit in IDP leagues, worth a pick in the first round of rookie drafts in some scoring systems. Queen couldn’t have landed in a better spot to see his career take off like a rocketship.
Drew Lock, QB, DEN, John Elway - The Raiders listened to the ghost of Al Davis and took speed (4.27 40 Henry Ruggs III III Alabama) when the draft gods smiled on them by giving them the pick of one of the best wide receiver classes in draft history. San Francisco traded down one pick, but they needed a wide receiver and still stood between Denver and their likely wide receiver pick. The Broncos took Jerry Jeudy, a precise route runner who is an ideal partner for Courtland Sutton and reliable third-down target for Drew Lock. Elway has two extra third round picks tomorrow and already looks like a genius for showing up and exercising a pick that any casual college football fan could have made with much thought. The Raiders and Chargers had two of the more dubious first rounds to help Elway and the Broncos in the division power rankings to boot.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, KC - Edwards-Helaire is in a perfect offense for an advanced pass catching running back. No rookie gained more value in round 1, and Edwards-Helaire should leapfrog at least 3-4 running backs after being RB5 in the consensus rookie rankings before the draft. You’ll need to use a top 3 pick to take him now.
Dak Prescott, QB, DAL, Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys got a lot of smart peoples’ #1 receiver in Ceedee Lamb (Oklahoma) and at #17. Prescott has an embarrassment of riches at wideout. He’s primed to lead an offense that will be difficult to defend, although the team does have some questions at center after Travis Frederick retired. They decided to wisely go best player available over Cesar Ruiz (Michigan) the top-rated center who later went to Saints at the 24th pick in a very smart pick to reinforce the offensive line and help the successor of Drew Brees while giving the team injury-proof depth at guard and center. I won’t list Michael Gallup as a loser as his arrow is still pointing way up and this pass offense should be very efficient. I’ll happily sit on him for two up and down years with Dallas because of their depth at receiver to watch where he lands on his second deal in 2022.
Jalen Reagor, WR, PHI - Reagor’s inconsistency bothers me and his game has holes. I still can’t deny that he’ll have a ton of opportunity in Philadelphia and he’s a better pick than JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He’ll probably go earlier than I would take him in my rookie drafts, but he’s moving up my rankings significantly.
Rick Spielman - Minnesota’s general manager had an outstanding night, getting a very good fit at wide receiver in Justin Jefferson (LSU) to replace Stefon Diggs with the pick that was the main piece in the trade of Diggs, and trading down with San Francisco to get an extra fourth and fifth round and still getting Jeff Gladney (TCU) a hard-nosed corner who should be able to start right away.
Arizona Cardinals - After getting significantly better by trading for DeAndre Hopkins earlier in the offseason, they get a player in Isaiah Simmons at #8 who can help them match up better against their varied offensive opponents in the NFC West. Simmons was one of the true marquee players in this class. Now it’s up to Vance Joseph to get the most out of his slot corner/edge rusher/linebacker/safety skillset combined with elite athleticism.
Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, QB, FA - Three the four most unsettled quarterback situations were filled with high first round rookie picks, leaving only New England as a possible landing spot for this once entrenched starting quarterbacks.
Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, QB - Rodgers is signed for four more years, and at reasonable prices in 2020 quarterback terms. Either there’s something we don’t know about Rodgers relationship with the brass or the Packers think Love is a franchise quarterback. Either way, it’s reasonable for Rodgers to seek a trade in the future. It’s eerie to see history repeat itself, but the symmetry is beautiful. Rodgers had to wait three years before getting his shot, so if the parallel storylines continue, Rodgers will start for a division rival (the Bears?) in 2023 and Love will take over. If Love doesn’t start before the end of his rookie deal, this is an absurdly terrible pick for a team that went to the NFC Championship last year. The Packers gave us the rush of adrenaline we were waiting for all night. The plate tectonics were in motion when the Packers moved up to take Love.
Seattle - Seahawks are gonna Seahawks during the draft. They’ll probably make one of two picks between now and the end of the draft to redeem it, but taking a probable two-down linebacker in the first round of the year 2020 is decidedly backward-looking. The 49ers are a good run team, but the Seahawks are solid at linebacker right now and Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech) ability to affect the game’s outcome is limited in a passing league.
Las Vegas Raiders - We knew they were likely to take a wide receiver and a cornerback. If you had told me that they would get their pick of the wide receivers, I would not have expected Henry Ruggs III III because their quarterbacks aren’t exactly aggressive downfield passers. Ruggs feels like a pick that will be difficult for the Raiders to get full value out of unless they find a new quarterback soon. Damon Arnette (Ohio State) was a second day cornerback on almost every media board, so they could have likely gotten him later and filled a hole left in their draft pick allotment until pick 80 by trading down like the Patriots did.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, LAC, Los Angeles Chargers - So much for Anthony Lynn seeing Taylor as more than a bridge quarterback. The fact remains that they can win with Taylor and #6 pick Justin Herbert (Oregon) might benefit from sitting, but at most Taylor will get a one-year audition to be a bridge quarterback for someone else. Herbert is a “parts are greater than the sum” quarterback prospect who is as likely to doom the team to quarterback purgatory as he is to get the most out of his talented teammates, and the team traded 37 and 71 to get Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) a seek and destroy weak side linebacker who might be exposed if he is asked to change directions or drop into coverage, so they can’t take a tackle to fill the hole on the right side from this quality class.
Amari Cooper, WR, DAL - Cooper is in his prime and the Cowboys just gave him a market-setting deal, but he wasn’t clearly ahead of Michael Gallup in the second half of the year and now he has to deal with Ceedee Lamb joining the offense. You should sell him if you can 80% of what he was worth before the draft.
San Francisco 49ers - Trading down one pick and still getting your target while adding a fourth-round pick was a shrewd move by John Lynch, but he got a vastly inferior replacement for DeForest Buckner who represented a big net loss in quality (with Kinlaw having a chance to develop and close the gap) even if it is a lot cheaper. The team then gave away the extra fourth and a fifth to move up for Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State) another receiver with some discrete strengths as a runner after the catch and moments as a route runner, but he still has holes in his game and might overlap with Deebo Samuel more than complement him.
NFC East Offensive Tackles - Good luck against Chase Young. Good luck against the Washington defensive line for that matter.
Not a Loser
Ceedee Lamb, WR, DAL - Let him fall out of the top five of rookie drafts and into your lap. He’s the best all-around receiver in this draft and he has a long and fruitful career ahead of him, even if a crowded wide receiver group will make it hard for him to have a WR1/WR2 level impact for a while.