Welcome to the 2020 NFL draft season—no longer just for the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins. Now the focus for 20 teams (soon to be 24) turns from winning football games to evaluating prospects before the key moments of the offseason.
By January 20, all underclassmen (redshirt sophomores or juniors) who want to enter the 2020 class must submit their names to the league. That same day, evaluators from every NFL team will land in Mobile, Alabama, to kick off the Reese's Senior Bowl. The two events are both huge on the league offseason calendar.
What are teams doing between now and then? Working on the seniors in the 2020 class before dispersing to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles and East-West Shrine Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida, next week. This means scouting staffs are getting together to compare notes from the last four months on the road. Area scouts are presenting their findings to the larger scouting staff, and a rough board is formed for most teams.
When teams get together, scouts talk not only to each other but to media members as well. Leaks begin to happen as teams start working on free-agency and draft plans, which makes this a perfect time to go team-by-team and look at what I'm hearing from scouting sources around the league.
The Scout's Report
Cincinnati Bengals — "It's Joe Burrow," a scout texted me. And that's the expectation around the NFL right now. Burrow should be the pick barring an unexpected predraft process. The Bengals need a quarterback, he's had a historical season some are calling the best ever for a college quarterback, and he's a local-ish guy who attended high school in Ohio. Don't overthink this one.
Washington Redskins — The hire of new head coach Ron Rivera and the exit of general manager Bruce Allen has the front office structure changing, so it's tough to get a read on the Redskins. That might matter if they weren't in the driver's seat to select Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. It would be the biggest surprise in NFL draft history if Young wasn't the pick here.
Detroit Lions — The draft starts at No. 3 overall. Sources around the league are projecting the Lions to look heavily at Jeff Okudah (CB, Ohio State) and Derrick Brown (DL, Auburn) but also point to the team being a strong trade-back spot for teams like the Dolphins, Chargers and Panthers, who could be trying to come up for a quarterback.
New York Giants —There are many jokes around the league scouting circles that GM Dave Gettleman, who traded for Leonard Williams and took Dexter Lawrence in Round 1 last year, will draft yet another defensive tackle here, but the real expectation from those inside the Giants' building and outside it is that the Giants will look at edge-rushers, left tackles and wide receivers. Said one scout who worked with Gettleman previously, "He can't help himself with linemen, so slot your top-rated offensive tackle there." The new head coach will have plenty of sway here, though, which will make the Giants interesting.
Miami Dolphins — With three selections in Round 1, the Dolphins can do some serious damage. A quarterback will be selected, but after that, look for offensive tackle, edge-rusher and running back to be seriously considered, according to sources with the team's scouting staff. As for quarterback, one high-level source told me no team has done more work on Oregon's Justin Herbert than the Dolphins.
Los Angeles Chargers — For the first time since drafting Philip Rivers in 2004, there is a belief the Chargers will draft a quarterback early. If Justin Herbert or Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa are on the board, they could be in play here. Other needs are expected to center around the offensive line.
Carolina Panthers — Quarterback is seen as a big need here, but hiring a head coach has to come first. Whoever is holding that title will have major say in the team's draft direction. Other areas of need the staff sees are offensive tackle and interior defensive line. The Panthers are in a good position to select a tackle on the offensive or defensive line if they don't zero in on a quarterback.
Arizona Cardinals — The same source who told me last January that Kyler Murray would be the Cardinals' selection at No. 1 overall is jumping up and down for Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, but there is a belief internally that offensive line is too big of a need to overlook.
Jacksonville Jaguars — The Jaguars own two selections in the first round and are expected to go heavy on defense this year. Offensive tackle would be a dream pick, but that will depend on how the board falls. "Expect a bit more BPA [best player available] under [general manager] Dave Caldwell, which could mean interior defensive line or offensive tackle," said one scout who previously worked with Jacksonville. Later in Round 1, with the pick from the L.A. Rams, linebacker or cornerback are targets.
Cleveland Browns — The entire structure in Cleveland is up in the air right now, so there aren't reliable sources in terms of the team's draft plans; those will have to wait for a general manager and head coach to come on board. Before John Dorsey and the team parted ways, the staff believed they would draft an offensive tackle in this spot.
New York Jets — The Jets will sit and wait to see if the offensive tackle-needy teams ahead of them start a run on the position, but those around the league who know general manager Joe Douglas firmly expect him to draft a tackle or an edge-rusher here. The team needs a wide receiver and is preparing to lose free agent Robby Anderson, but the belief internally is that it'll look to add one in Rounds 2 or 3.
Las Vegas Raiders — The Raiders have two selections in Round 1 and will go defense and wide receiver. The belief is that the team will go linebacker or wide receiver first and then circle back with a cornerback or wide receiver with the pick from Chicago. GM Mike Mayock had a great first draft in 2019, so it'll be fun to watch the Raiders' evaluation this year. Everything I've heard says quarterback Derek Carr is safe for 2020.
Indianapolis Colts — Colts fans want a quarterback to replace Jacoby Brissett, but the feeling around the league is that general manager Chris Ballard is in no rush to replace the veteran. That could change as the staff evaluates the 2020 quarterback crop, but the belief right now is a wide receiver or pass-rusher are the priorities.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Much like the Colts, there is a chance the Buccaneers fall in love with a quarterback during the predraft process and pull the trigger on someone like Jordan Love (Utah State) or Jacob Eason (Washington). But right now the feeling internally and around the league is that Jameis Winston will be back for at least 2020. That frees the Bucs up to draft a defensive player—edge-rusher or safety—in this spot.
Denver Broncos — The Broncos have a quarterback and wide receiver they are very excited about in Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton. The team wants to improve the offensive line, but there is a feeling around the league that none of the top three tackles will be available at No. 15 overall. With Chris Harris Jr. becoming a free agent, cornerback becomes a very real possibility.
Atlanta Falcons — Pass-rusher Vic Beasley is entering free agency, and the team is getting older at cornerback. Both positions have been mentioned as areas of need, but one scout said not to rule out running back with Devonta Freeman getting older and the Falcons not having a clear-cut option behind him.
Dallas Cowboys — The front office is currently wrapped up in figuring out who the head coach will be, but the word on the scouting streets is that Dallas is eyeing safeties and defensive tackles with pick No. 17. Said one scout who works in the area but not for the Cowboys, "Don't be surprised if they're a trade-back team since they really don't have a ton of needs."
Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers don't own a first-round pick after trading for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and will instead select at No. 49 overall. Sources within the front office said it's early but to think running back, cornerback and tight end as the team's biggest needs.
Chicago Bears — The Bears don't own a first-rounder after trading for linebacker Khalil Mack in 2018 but do have two selections in the second round: picks No. 43 and 50 overall. Tight end, offensive line and cornerback were listed as the team's biggest needs from a scouting source with the club. Quarterback was not mentioned as a priority.
Los Angeles Rams — The Rams don't have a first-rounder thanks to the Jalen Ramsey trade and own only six selections in the entire draft before compensatory selections are awarded. "It's hard to project a trade back from where they are [No. 52 overall], but you have to think they'd try to move back and start stuffing the war chest for all the needs they have," said a West Coast scout when projecting the Rams' draft plans. Offensive line and linebacker are the team's two biggest needs.
Philadelphia Eagles — It's no secret around the league that the Eagles are all over this year's cornerback and wide receiver classes. Both groups have excellent depth and should offer viable starting prospects on the board no matter where the Eagles land after the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans — Ryan Tannehill is expected to be re-signed after the season, solving the team's quarterback situation at least for the interim. In the draft, sources on the team pointed to edge-rusher, wide receiver and potentially a running back early on if Derrick Henry isn't re-signed. On the Henry front, I'm told there have been no talks surrounding a long-term deal.
Buffalo Bills — Wide receiver is such a clear-cut need in Buffalo that the Bills are already worrying about teams trading ahead of them in the first round, according to sources within the front office. The Bills own nine selections in the draft and are expected to hold on to those in an effort to bolster their depth.
Minnesota Vikings — Expect the Vikings to be major players in the cornerback market, either in free agency or the draft. A source within the team's scouting staff also mentioned offensive linemen if there wasn't a run on them early in the draft, but right now, the expectation league-wide is that the offensive tackles come off the board very early.
Houston Texans — The Texans own just one pick in the first 100 (No. 57 overall) and have big needs to address. A scouting source said to expect a guard, safety or tight end as a priority selection. The biggest goal internally will be re-signing offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Seattle Seahawks — Figuring out how to keep defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is step No. 1 in the Seahawks' offseason. After that, sources expect the team to look once again at offensive line or an edge-rusher if Clowney leaves. Cornerback is considered a potential Day 2 area of need.
New England Patriots — The Patriots are always a hard team to get dirt on, but no league or team sources believe they're heavily invested in drafting a quarterback early in this class. Tight end and defensive end were listed as the team's biggest needs, but with Bill Belichick, we should expect surprises.
Green Bay Packers — The draft plan in Green Bay will be to get Aaron Rodgers more help offensively. That means wide receiver, tight end or getting younger on the offensive line are all in play with the Packers' nine selections in the 2020 class.
Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs have a sneaky number of needs to address in the 2020 offseason. Interior offensive line, another wide receiver, cornerback and middle linebacker all come up when talking to team sources. Also, don't rule out a running back and second tight end if one falls.
New Orleans Saints — Saints front office members believe both Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater could come back for 2020 if the team doesn't win a Super Bowl. If they do win, Brees could retire, but right now the focus is on adding a second wide receiver and depth in the pass-rush unit for next season.
San Francisco 49ers — Free agency will severely shape the 49ers' draft plans with defensive end Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward both hitting the market this offseason. Safety is an obvious need early, but so is interior offensive line. Sources on the staff believe a trade back is very likely given the team only owns six total selections and none in Rounds 2-4.
Baltimore Ravens — As shared here last week, the Ravens are expected to go after pass-rushers who can attack the opposing offense once Lamar Jackson and Co. build a lead. That's the plan here. Another wide receiver and depth at running back could come later.
The Mock Draft
1. Cincinnati Bengals — QB Joe Burrow, LSU
2. Washington Redskins — EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
3. Detroit Lions — CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
4. New York Giants — WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
5. Miami Dolphins — QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
6. Los Angeles Chargers — QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
7. Carolina Panthers — OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
8. Arizona Cardinals — WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
9. Jacksonville Jaguars — DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
10. Cleveland Browns — OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
11. New York Jets — OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
12. Las Vegas Raiders — LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
13. Indianapolis Colts — EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
15. Denver Broncos — CB CJ Henderson, Florida
16. Atlanta Falcons — CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford
17. Dallas Cowboys — S Grant Delpit, LSU
18. Dolphins (from Pittsburgh) — CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
19. Raiders (from Chicago) — WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
20. Jaguars (from L.A. Rams) — LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
21. Philadelphia Eagles — WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
22. Tennessee Titans — EDGE Terrell Lewis, Alabama
23. Buffalo Bills — WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
24. Minnesota Vikings — CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama
25. Dolphins (from Houston) — RB D'Andre Swift, Georgia
26. Seattle Seahawks — EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
27. New England Patriots — TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
28. Green Bay Packers — WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
29. Kansas City Chiefs — CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
30. New Orleans Saints — EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
31. San Francisco 49ers — S Xavier McKinney, Alabama
32. Baltimore Ravens — EDGE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
8. Alabama player decisions
Nick Saban is one hell of a recruiter, and his best work this season may be internally. Already Saban has convinced offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood to return to school and had, at least temporarily, talked linebacker Dylan Moses into a potential return before Moses released a statement saying he was re-evaluating his decision.
And that might not be all. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be announcing his plans on January 6, and there is a lot of buzz in the scouting community that he could return to Tuscaloosa. The same goes for wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith.
If Saban can convince Tua and two of his top receivers to return for 2020, Alabama will open ranked No. 1 or No. 2 overall with definite national title expectations.
7. Justin Herbert's Rose Bowl
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert's Rose Bowl performance is exactly what NFL scouts have seen for the past four seasons: moments of brilliance combined with head-scratching plays that leave you wondering about his ability to get to second and third reads or quickly process what he's seeing.
That said, Herbert will be a top-10 selection in this draft based on everything I'm hearing. Maybe he shouldn't be, but that's a separate argument. Like Daniel Jones last year, someone will fall in love with Herbert, and he will be drafted higher than his ranking (No. 28 overall currently on my board). It's a tale as old as the game itself. The need at quarterback will push players up the board, especially mobile, 6'6" quarterbacks with a strong right arm.
Herbert is a tough evaluation. He has all the traits and rarely turned the ball over, but he also missed too many open throws and passed up too many chances by not getting to his secondary reads. A team will undoubtedly think it can fix him, and his success in the NFL will be dictated by his ability to learn on the job.
6. The Jan. 20 deadline for underclassmen to submit their names for the NFL draft feels far away, but players are already announcing their intentions on Twitter and Instagram.
Here's an unofficial list of the players who have announced they intend to enter the draft:
- Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans
- Arizona RB J.J. Taylor
- Arizona State RB Eno Benjamin
- Arkansas S Kamren Curl
- Auburn EDGE Nick Coe
- Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland
- Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver
- Boston College RB AJ Dillon
- Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
- Florida CB CJ Henderson
- Florida State RB Cam Akers
- Florida State CB Stanford Samuels III
- Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
- Georgia OT Isaiah Wilson
- Kentucky WR Lynn Bowden Jr.
- Louisiana Tech CB Amik Robertson
- Louisville OT Mekhi Becton
- Maryland RB Javon Leake
- Maryland RB Anthony McFarland Jr.
- Miami CB Trajan Bandy
- Miami RB DeeJay Dallas
- Miami WR Jeff Thomas
- Michigan EDGE Josh Uche
- Michigan State CB Josiah Scott
- Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler
- Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill
- Missouri OT Trystan Colon-Castillo
- Missouri DL Jordan Elliott
- Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam
- Notre Dame S Alohi Gilman
- Notre Dame RB Tony Jones Jr.
- Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet
- Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins
- Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah
- Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
- Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
- Oregon State WR Isaiah Hodgins
- Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
- Penn State WR K.J. Hamler
- San Diego State IOL Keith Ismael
- South Carolina TE Kyle Markway
- Stanford TE Colby Parkinson
- Syracuse WR Trishton Jackson
- TCU DL Ross Blacklock
- TCU WR Jalen Reagor
- Temple IOL Matt Hennessy
- Texas A&M WR Quartney Davis
- Texas A&M DL Justin Madubuike
- Utah CB Jaylon Johnson
- Utah State QB Jordan Love
- Utah State LB David Woodward
- UCF WR Gabriel Davis
- Washington TE Hunter Bryant
- Washington QB Jacob Eason
5. Stock Down
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor ended his college career with over 6,000 rushing yards...but he also ended it with 18 fumbles on over 900 carries. Add in catches, and Taylor touched the ball 968 times in college. That is a lot of wear-and-tear for a big back.
Taylor does have breakaway speed that you don't expect from his 225-pound frame, and he's shown excellent vision at Wisconsin, but a player who has taken that many hits and fumbled that many times will draw fair criticism from NFL scouting departments.
You might think rushing for 6,000 yards would guarantee a first-round selection, but Taylor's workload in college could push him outside the top 32.
4. Stock Up
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins has been a hot name all season long and may seem like an obvious stock-up guy, but his play in the loss to Clemson has to be mentioned too. Dobbins showed off his power, burst, vision and ability as a pass-catcher in his final game as a Buckeye, and that performance should put him in the national conversation as the best running back in the 2020 draft class. It had him off the board as RB1 in my latest mock draft.
3. Sleeper of the Week
When creating a Big Board, you're often staring at the rankings wondering how a player you really like is ranked so low—which generally results in them moving up the board. That's the case for Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun, who is a rare sleeper that could be drafted in the first round.
Baun is an excellent three-down player with the body type to rush off the edge, but he has experience playing linebacker in space. He's a lot like the Vikings' Anthony Barr, with some even comparing him to former Badger T.J. Watt in terms of what he can become down the road.
The 2020 edge-rusher class is a little light on top-end talent, but Baun deserves to be mentioned alongside Yetur Gross-Matos and K'Lavon Chaisson in the first round.
2. The NFL announced that the 2020 Senior Bowl will be coached by personnel from the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions. This is great news for both staffs, but particularly the Bengals.
The Bengals will have a chance to personally work with and evaluate many of the top quarterbacks in the class—potentially even Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert—while also working with the top wide receivers and defensive linemen. You can look at the 2019 Oakland Raiders draft after working the Senior Bowl as evidence of how this boosts a team's success rate in the offseason.
1. Stick to Football is back in-house this week, with our podcast episodes also available on YouTube as a video series. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Salary-cap numbers courtesy of Spotrac unless otherwise noted. Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.