SportsPulse: The first night of the NFL's virtual draft went off without a hitch and Mackenzie Salmon is here to break down the nights biggest winners and losers. USA TODAY
The 2020 NFL draft, i.e. the league's 85th annual "Player Selection Meeting," arrives at a time when Americans generally (and sports fans specifically) are thirsting for welcome distractions with the nation plunged into the 24-7 reality of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The NFL views this most unique of drafts as an opportunity to not only provide entertainment relief but as a vehicle to provide actual relief to those battling COVID-19 and its aftermath by generating donations through a “Draft-A-Thon” taking place in parallel with the main event. (You can donate here.)
Otherwise, should be an interesting three days as all 32 teams tackle the challenges of operating virtually while the prospects – 58 of them actively (but remotely) participating with the league after the opportunity for a Las Vegas vacation went by the boards – await their big moment.
NFL DRAFT: Team-by-team look at every pick
On to the picks, which will be announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from his suburban New York City home:
2020 NFL draft tracker: First-round picks
1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: What's been inevitable in the four months since Cincy locked into the No. 1 pick is officially reality. Burrow – he hails from Athens, Ohio and proudly champions his underdog hometown – is now tasked with taking the lowly Bengals to the promised land after more than five decades of championship futility.
The record-setting (60 TD passes for the national champions in 2019!!) Heisman Trophy winner – this is the third consecutive draft kicked off by the reigning Heisman recipient – told me this week that he'd be perfectly happy to play near home and would even be fine carrying a clipboard behind incumbent Andy Dalton ... provided Dalton beats him out for the starting job.
And don't be surprised if this club, which played very hard in 2019 and was generally more competitive than its 2-14 record suggests, becomes instantly relevant. The offensive supporting cast includes 1,000-yard WRs A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, 1,000-yard rusher Joe Mixon and OT Jonah Williams, a first-rounder in 2019 who didn't play because of injury. Then blend in a defense bolstered by a rare infusion of free agent money? Don't be shocked if they're in the wild-card mix in 2020's expanded playoff field. Elite from the neck up with his ability to dissect defenses and blessed with the accuracy and intelligence to instantly exploit schematic weaknesses, Burrow might not need long to become a Tiger King (again).
2. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: Fat chance trying to pry this pick from new coach Ron Rivera in his first 'Skins draft. Widely regarded as the best overall player in this draft, Young could have a similar impact on this defense as Buckeyes predecessor Nick Bosa did on San Francisco's last year. Young, who posted a school record 16½ sacks in 2019 despite a two-game suspension from the NCAA, will give Washington five first-rounders in a front reverting to a 4-3 base, joining Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne. Every reason to believe he could come out of the chute with double-digit sacks in his rookie campaign. At 6-5 and 264 pounds, we could be looking at the next Julius Peppers.
3. Detroit Lions – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State: Athleticism. Size. Ball skills. Pretty much everything you'd want in a No. 1 corner, not to mention his pedigree from THE Ohio State – a DB factory nonpareil. Sub 4.5 speed, sweet feet and a 6-1, 205-pound frame are going to instantly make Okudah quite a match for most NFL wideouts. He also fills a void in Motown following the trade of Pro Bowler Darius Slay to Philadelphia. The best defenses Detroit coach Matt Patricia was involved with in New England had elite corners – Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Stephon Gilmore – and it appears he's trying to now build something similar here.
4. New York Giants – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: Good to see the "computer folks" have enabled old-school GM Dave Gettleman to make his first virtual pick without a hitch. Thomas, an All-American in 2019, becomes the first tackle off the board in what projects as a strong crop at the position. Gettleman has clearly opted to go with a beloved "Hog Molly" to stabilize a sub-par O-line which needs to better protect new franchise QB Daniel Jones while providing sufficient daylight for dynamic RB Saquon Barkley.
5. Miami Dolphins – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: And perhaps this draft's most compelling question is answered. Whether or not the Fins "tanked for Tua," he's now the guy charged with the unenviable task of filling Dan Marino's long-vacant cleats. At No. 5, the Dolphins' brain trust obviously decided it was comfortable rolling the dice on Tagovailoa, who might have been the No.1 overall pick had he not suffered a dislocated hip with a fracture to his posterior wall in November. He joins a quickly reloading team which has the option of redshirting him behind Ryan Fitzpatrick (and maybe Josh Rosen) as long as medically and developmentally necessary. When Tagovailoa is between the lines, what a player. If he's the next Drew Brees or Russell Wilson (or some combination thereof), Miami will be more than thrilled. Over the past two seasons, Tagovailoa completed 70% of his passes, posting 76 TD passes against just nine INTs – nearly Burrow-esque numbers.
6. Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: Projected as a top-five pick in 2019, he instead returned to Eugene for his senior season – which culminated with a Rose Bowl win. Over the past two years, Herbert has compiled 61 TD passes against 14 INTs, connecting on 63.2% of his passes. He's highly cerebral if perhaps a touch conservative and, at times, inaccurate even on what should be lay-up completions. There have also been questions about whether he's a vocal enough leader. But Herbert seemed to answer many of his detractors with a strong showing at both the Senior Bowl and scouting combine. A good athlete who can sling it deep, he'll be donning the Bolts' sweet new uniforms, sure to soon be a marquee attraction for a team moving into a new stadium. However Herbert could sit early if he can't displace veteran QB Tyrod Taylor, who's been endlessly praised by team brass ever since Philip Rivers' departure.
7. Carolina Panthers – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: The first pick of the Matt Rhule era is the SEC's reigning defensive player of the year. Brown won't wow you with statistical production (33 tackles for loss and 12½ sacks in four seasons), but the 6-5, 326-pounder is massive, strong, quick, relentless and scheme diverse. He's an immediate upgrade to a defense that allowed the second-most points in the league a year ago (the 470 were the most allowed in franchise history) .
8. Arizona Cardinals – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: The main question about Simmons, who played 100+ snaps at five positions last year, is whether he's a man with multiple positions or one who may not have mastered any. At 6-4 and 238 pounds, can he really hold up as a slot corner or deep safety in the NFL? Regardless, Simmons has amazing speed (4.39 in the 40) for a man his size and may wind up being a Kam Chancellor-type enforcer or Derrick Brooks-level off-ball linebacker ... if the Cards are right. Tantalizing prospect, no doubt, and one who has the opportunity to flash with a group featuring Pro Bowlers like Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones and Budda Baker.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars – C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: A team that's parted with CBs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye since October opts for an excellent cover man. The 6-foot, 204-pound Henderson will need to polish his tackling skills as a pro, but the Jags will be paying him to discourage opposing passers from even throwing his way.
10. Cleveland Browns – Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama: His ridiculously strong 6-4, 312-pound base sits atop nifty feet. Wills manned the right side in Tuscaloosa (Tagovailoa's blind side) but will be on the left in Cleveland, a problem area ever since Joe Thomas played his final game in 2017. With free agent Jack Conklin locking down the right side, the protection for QB Baker Mayfield (40 sacks in 2019) looks infinitely better heading into 2020.
11. New York Jets – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: The first selection of GM Joe Douglas' tenure helps fulfill his promise to Sam Darnold's parents that he'd look after the third-year passer. The 6-7, 364-pound Becton, who's also freakishly nimble, is arguably this draft's most impressive physical specimen and should be a fine long-term bodyguard. Expect him to block out the sun for Darnold while grading plenty of lanes for RB Le'Veon Bell and a run game that ranked next to last in 2019.
12. Las Vegas Raiders – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: The fastest player in this draft also becomes the first in league history to begin his career as a Las Vegas Raider. And Al Davis would be proud of GM Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden for selecting a player with sub-4.3 40 speed. Ruggs reached the end zone for the Crimson Tide one of every four times he touched the ball, meaning 25 TDs on 100 touches. But make no mistake, he's also got excellent hands. Perhaps the next DeSean Jackson, Ruggs should also loosen defenses for RB Josh Jacobs, his former teammate at Alabama. Ruggs, TE Darren Waller and WRs Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams should provide QB Derek Carr quite a diverse group of pass catchers.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Indianapolis Colts via San Francisco 49ers) –Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: In the first draft-day trade, this pick changes hands yet again, originally dealt by the Colts to the Niners for DT DeForest Buckner. But Wirfs compelled the Bucs to rise one spot, obviously stirring their interest as a guy who can safeguard QB Tom Brady, who will be 43 this season. One of the combine's stars, Wirfs' broad (10-1) and vertical jumps (36½ inches) are all-time event standards for offensive linemen ... so, exceptional athlete for a big man (6-5, 320). Expect him to plug in at right tackle, though he could eventually supplant pedestrian LT Donovan Smith.
14. San Francisco 49ers (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: GM John Lynch picks up a much-needed fourth-round selection – the Niners previously had no selections in Rounds 2, 3 or 4 – to move back one slot for a player he likely would've taken anyway at No. 13 (flashes of 2017?). Kinlaw immediately assuages the departure of Buckner and should thrive inside amid the Niners' deep and fleet defensive line. At 6-5, 324 pounds, he had six sacks for the Gamecocks in 2019. Kinlaw has also shown great personal determination in his lifetime, overcoming homelessness as a young boy.
15. Denver Broncos – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: The latest addition to an offense that showed significant signs of life late in 2019, following the promotion of rookie QB Drew Lock. Jeudy runs every route, boasts 4.4 speed and piles up points (24 TD grabs since 2018). Over the past two seasons, he's compiled 145 grabs for 2,478 yards. He should become a popular target in an attack that features big-bodied Pro Bowl WR Courtland Sutton, swift TE Noah Fant and newly signed RB Melvin Gordon.
16. Atlanta Falcons – A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson: GM Thomas Dimitroff failed in his apparent bid to move up, including a reported offer for Washington's No. 2 overall pick. But by staying put, the Falcons come away with Terrell, who will likely slide into the job vacated by Desmond Trufant. Terrell notably struggled in Clemson's national championship roasting at the hands of Burrow and LSU, but his performance in that game was probably overblown. His overall résumé is impressive ... but will quickly get tested by Drew Brees, Brady and others.
17. Dallas Cowboys – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: Whoa. Maybe coupling Lamb with Amari Cooper will entice QB Dak Prescott to quickly sign an extension. (And maybe not.) But wow, teaming Cooper with a player widely compared to DeAndre Hopkins should give Dallas one of the most explosive attacks in the league and clearly the preeminent one in the NFC East. And with Michael Gallup blossoming in 2019, potential for this offense to feature three 1,000-yard receivers. On top of 14 TD catches last year (and 25 since 2018), Lamb snagged 62 passes for 1,327 yards – a gaudy 21.4 yards per catch. And with 4.5 speed and the ability to outmuscle defensive backs for contested balls? Good luck picking your poison if you're facing America's team in 2020.
18. Miami Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers) – Austin Jackson, OT, USC: This was the pick obtained in last year's Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. But Jackson effectively replaces LT Laremy Tunsil, who was also swapped for a first-rounder prior to the 2019 season. Jackson is perhaps best known for donating bone marrow to his sister. But the 6-5, 322-pounder is also one heck of a prospect, one who won't be 21 until May. Nice pick-up for an offense that suffered from terrible blocking last year but must now protect Tagovailoa.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (from Chicago Bears) – Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State: The Silver and Black's final bounty from the Khalil Mack deal, Mayock and Gruden opt for Arnette in a surprise move. Arnette played opposite Okudah in Columbus and had a 96-yard pick-six in 2019. He joins a secondary that needed reinforcements and might start opposite Trayvon Mullen, a second-round pick in 2019. Hopefully Arnette – a 6-foot, 195-pounder with 4.5 speed – works out better than Gareon Conley, the Raiders' first-round corner selection from Ohio State three years ago ... and now a member of the Texans.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) – K'Lavon Chaisson, DE/OLB, LSU: The Jags continue to load up on pass rush after picking Josh Allen seventh overall a year ago. Chaisson had a modest 6½ sacks in 2019 but also totaled 13½ TFLs. At 6-3, 254 pounds, he might need to add some weight if he's going to thrive as a three-down player as a pro.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU: The son of former NFL DL Montae Reagor, Jalen is an elite deep threat – though he ran a disappointing 4.47 at the combine – who solidifies a receiving corps that collapsed in 2019. He also returned two punts for TDs last season, so look for a special teams boost, too. Notable that Philly opts for Reagor over LSU's prolific Justin Jefferson here.
22. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo Bills) – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: In a selection acquired for WR Stefon Diggs, the Vikes pounce for his replacement. If WR Ja'Marr Chase is No. 1 at LSU, Jefferson was 1A in 2019, piling up sublime numbers (111 grabs for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs). He should nicely slide into Diggs' spot to reprise a similar role alongside Adam Thielen. The ability of Jefferson, who also features 4.4 speed, to operate from the slot could make him a high-volume option for QB Kirk Cousins.
23. Los Angeles Chargers (from New England Patriots) – Kenneth Murray, LB Oklahoma: The Bolts surrender a second- and third-round pick to New England in order to climb back into Round 1 for Murray, a rangy defender who covers the field with 4.5 speed. Expect Murray to quickly assume the leadership reins for a defense that's starting to look quite scary. He joins a group already featuring DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, S Derwin James and a solid group of corners.
24. New Orleans Saints – Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan: The first interior O-lineman off the board, it's an interesting selection considering New Orleans took C Erik McCoy in the second round last year. But the Saints have always valued guards and centers who can extend the pocket for vertically challenged QB Drew Brees. LG Andrus Peat has struggled in recent seasons but just signed a five-year, $57.5 million extension, while RG Larry Warford has been a Pro Bowler three years running.
25. San Francisco 49ers (from Minnesota Vikings) – Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State: The Niners, who lost WR Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, jump up six spots for a player whose game resembles last year's splashy rookie, WR Deebo Samuel. Aiyuk is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, averaging 18.3 yards per catch while collecting 65 receptions in 2019. He underwent core-muscle surgery earlier this month, obviously no deterrent to Niners brass.
26. Green Bay Packers (from Houston Texans via Miami Dolphins) – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: Miami, which imported this choice in the aforementioned 2019 deal for Tunsil, flips it to the Pack for No. 30 and a fourth-rounder. Interesting to note that Aaron Rodgers, 36, is now older than Brett Favre was when Rodgers was stunningly drafted as his heir apparent in 2005. Love is likely to sit behind A-Rod for a few years (maybe one year?), developmental time he pretty obviously needs given his sometimes suspect decision-making. However considering Love's skill set has been loosely compared to Patrick Mahomes', this is going to create quite a compelling conversation in the land of Cheeseheads.
27. Seattle Seahawks – Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech: Despite the narrative they always trade out of Round 1, GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll make a first-round pick for the third consecutive year and fourth in five (all with mixed results – at best – to date). Enter Brooks, an under-the-radar choice, but a swift backer who likely projects as a near-term replacement for aging veteran K.J. Wright. With 4.5 speed, Brooks could eventually form a nice every-down tandem alongside Bobby Wagner for a 26th-ranked D that needed reinforcement.
28. Baltimore Ravens – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU: Another beauty of a pick by this franchise, which really needed to upgrade at the second level. At 6-feet, 229 pounds Queen is hardly the second coming of Ray Lewis. But he's going to provide the sideline-to-sideline coverage modern backers need in a league where the passing game has become so prevalent.
29. Tennessee Titans – Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia: The AFC runners-up in 2019 take no time filling the spot opened by Conklin's defection to Cleveland. The 6-6, 350-pound Wilson, a redshirt sophomore and the second Dawg blocker taken in Round 1, should blow open plenty of holes for last year's NFL rushing champ, Derrick Henry.
30. Miami Dolphins (from Green Bay Packers) – Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn: The Fins invest further into a corner group that's already highly paid with starters Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. But again, one tenet of the Patriot Way as it pertains to defense seems to be building back to front. Be interesting to see how long coach Brian Flores, formerly New England's defensive coordinator, and GM Chris Grier wait to address a pass rush that easily had the fewest sacks (23) in the NFL last year.
31. Minnesota Vikings (from San Francisco 49ers) – Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU: The corner run continues for a team that desperately needed to replenish the position after parting with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander last month. Gladney's physical style should mesh well with coach Mike Zimmer's philosophy. Expect him to start Day 1.
32. Kansas City Chiefs – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU: A first round that began with an LSU star also concludes with one. And the rich get richer as the Super Bowl champs add a championship back from the Tigers' backfield, one who's an every-down player who can run the ball, catch it and block. As well as RB Damien Williams has done in Kansas City, especially in postseason, his starting job is officially on notice.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders. Do the right thing, sign up now!