This past weekend, the NFL Draft provided all of us with two necessary things during these trying times: hope and normalcy. During the widespread coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been longing for the typical daily schedules of our everyday lives. All of a sudden, the normalcy aspect of our lives is not there. Sports are off the air, concerts are cancelled, and gatherings of any kind are not permitted. The NFL Draft was a return to our “regularly scheduled programming,” even if it was only for a little while.
The NFL Draft also brought us hope. That hope also extends well beyond the affects of coronavirus. As fans, the NFL Draft is the moment where the previous season is in the past, and the new season is upon us. Each fan base believes that the players selected in the draft will help their team in future seasons and beyond.
As always, there were winners and losers from this weekend. Almost everyone is writing their own draft recap, and grading each selection in some way. However, the problem with that is your own bias of players and selections is unavoidable.
Therefore, the best way to grade a draft is to isolate how each player fits into the system they were selected to. Which player will succeed, despite being disliked by the draft media? Which player will fail, despite being a media darling for the majority of the draft process? Who had the deepest draft, who had the weakest draft, and what team was able to find their next superstar?
Part one of our eight part NFL Draft recap delves into the winners, losers, and bold predictions for the AFC East.
The Selections: A.J. Epenesa, Zack Moss, Gabriel Davis, Jake Fromm, Tyler Bass, Isaiah Hodgins, Dane Jackson
The Bills had one of the most impressive drafts in 2020. Despite not having a first round selection, Buffalo managed to grab an impact player in AJ Epenesa. While his athleticism as a straight edge player is questionable, Epenesa wins up front with technique. He can long arm opposing tackles when he’s at a five technique. When he kicks inside to a three technique, Epenesa has the quickness and power to rip past the interior offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback. Putting a player like Epenesa with a defensive guru like Head Coach Sean McDermott is a recipe for success.
Buffalo also nabbed two offensive skill position players that can make an impact quickly. Zack Moss is a powerful runner with excellent balance through contact. He will help take some of the heavy lifting away from Devin Singletary. Gabe Davis is a threat down the field. He does not have blazing speed, but his size, long strides, and ability at the catch point make him dangerous. Josh Allen will like having Davis as a deep threat.
Bold Prediction: Jake Fromm is Cut before his Rookie Deal Ends
Fromm really struggled during his final year at Georgia. His struggles directly correlated to the down year that the Bulldogs had offensively. Fromm lacks the necessary arm strength outside the numbers to be a starter at the next level. He also struggles to push the ball down the field and stretch the opposing defense over the top.
Having said that, many believe Fromm’s intelligence and ability to get the ball out quickly can make him a quality back up at the next level.
The problem is, Fromm is really a one-read thrower. When you combine that with someone who does not have the arm strength to fit the throws into the tight windows, you get a player that is going to struggle to succeed in the NFL. Even as a back up, it’s no longer enough to just “manage the game.” Game managers in the modern day NFL have to be able to hang 30 points on a defense once in a while. If you can’t take the top off of a defense, or hit the 15 yard out pattern with precision, you’re probably not even a quality backup nowadays.
Fromm may have the intelligence to stick around, but he lacks the necessary arm talent. He could improve in his ability to make the second and third read, which would help him stick around. Nevertheless, it’s more likely that a backup with more arm talent beats him out before his rookie deal comes to an end.
The Selections: Tua Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Robert Hunt, Raekwon Davis, Brandon Davis, Solomon Kindley, Jason Strowbridge, Curtis Weaver, Blake Ferguson, Malcolm Perry
General Manager Chris Grier had a clear game plan in mind for the 2020 NFL Draft; improve the team in the trenches. Miami used six of its first nine selections on the front seven and offensive line. However, Tua Tagovailoa is the prize of the draft class.
Early in the NFL season Dolphins fans had their eyes on the 2020 Draft, and more specifically, on Tua Tagovailoa. “Tank for Tua,” was the mindset that multiple fan bases embraced during the 2019 campaign, with Dolphins fans headlining the bandwagon. Following a surprisingly competitive five win season, the Dolphins hopes of drafting the former Alabama star seemed lost.
However, Grier played the mind games of the NFL Draft like an experienced poker player. For two months, Grier convinced everyone that Justin Herbert was the Dolphins top quarterback. He even made people believe that the Dolphins would pay any asking price to move up and land their desired quarterback.
When draft day rolled around, Grier cashed in on his mind games. He refused to overpay excess draft capital for no reason. Instead, Grier stayed at five, and selected the guy that Dolphins fans have wanted all along.
Bold Prediction: Tua Tagovailoa Does Not Earn a Second Contract With the Dolphins
Even though Tua, as he is commonly referred to, was the preseason number one overall pick, his play has some question marks. Tua has a cannon for an arm, but he struggles to make a secondary read. His delivery is a little long, which could be a concern for someone that hangs in the pocket as much as he does. While Tua is underrated in terms of his pocket presence, his mechanics do need to be cleaned up a bit.
The biggest concern with Tua is his injury history, which is highlighted by the hip injury he suffered last fall. For someone that makes plays with his legs, the amount of injuries that have piled up could change his game moving forward. Whether you like Tua’s pocket presence, or think he stays in the pocket too long, he has to be able to make plays on the move to be successful. Limitations in anyone’s game pose a problem for them moving forward. Tua is no different.
The other concern is the Dolphins weapons around him. It’s true that Ryan Fitzpatrick had this team looking very competent at times last season. However, Fitzpatrick is a veteran NFL quarterback. He has played in a number of different offenses, and been successful with multiple organizations. Tua is a rookie, and rookies normally need some help initially to get them to excel down the road. With the exception of DeVante Parker, the Dolphins simply do not have enough reliable playmakers on their roster.
Look, logic would dictate that this looks ridiculous if Tua Tagovailoa can stay healthy in the NFL. He has gifted arm ability, he’s precise when delivering timing routes, and his deep ball was the best in the 2020 draft class by far.
Despite all of his gifts, there is a chance Tua’s injury history is a sign of things to come. Not to mention, Alabama had so many NFL caliber weapons on their roster for Tua to throw to. It is a question whether Tua made the men, or the men made Tua.
When you put it all together, the chances of success for Tua Tagovailoa in the NFL are not as obvious as they may appear.
New England Patriots
The Selections: Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Justin Rohrwasser, Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron, Cassh Maluia, Dustin Woodard
New England made it their mission to address the holes in their defense during the 2020 NFL Draft. Head Coach and General Manager Bill Belichick took hard hitting safety Kyle Dugger with his first selection. He then followed it up with two pass rushers from the second level of the defense; Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.
All three players will play pivotal roles for the Patriots in 2020. Dugger will see a lot of time in the “big nickel,” role. Dugger will play close to the line of scrimmage, and make impact plays against the run. While he can drop into cover two at times, Belichick will ease him into a true safety role.
Uche and Jennings will be tasked with filling the void that Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy have left in the Patriots defense. Uche in particular will have to provide a punch in the run game, and a presence as a pass rusher.
Bold Prediction: Josh Uche is the Next Great Patriots Defender
In previous seasons, Belichick has excelled at taking linebackers with multiple skills, and turning them into full blown stars. Kyle Van Noy just cashed in on a massive contract thanks to the part he played in Belichick’s defense. No one in the NFL is better at maximizing the defensive talent on the field than Bill Belichick.
Uche will be no exception. At Michigan, Uche was a dynamic pass rusher. He showed the ability to long arm opposing tackles, despite his size. Uche can dip and bend around the edge as well. Also, his knowledge of setting up opposing tackles is impressive. He understands leverage and how to counterpunch, which makes him a very underrated player.
The problem Uche has at the next level is setting the edge. He struggles as a run defender because of his size. When tackles get their hands on him quickly, they can eliminate him from the play.
This is also why Belichick’s defense is the perfect landing spot for a player of Uche’s skill set. Belichick has succeeded with this kind of player before. He took Dont’a Hightower‘s strengths and made him an impact player on the second level of the defense. Uche is very similar. He has big time ability as a pass rusher, he has a good knowledge for the game, and he has the athleticism to do multiple things for a defense.
The Patriots draft may have some question marks, but Josh Uche was not one of them.
New York Jets
The Selections: Mekhi Becton, Denzel Mims, Ashtyn Davis, Jabari Zuniga, La’Mical Perine, James Morgan, Cameron Clark, Bryce Hall, Braden Mann
The Jets had… a great draft? What kind of alternative universe is this? General Manager Joe Douglas hit on almost every pick. The Jets grabbed the left tackle they needed at 11 in Mekhi Becton. Douglas then traded down in round two, acquiring assets for this draft and beyond. The kicker, is that Douglas managed to select the player he would have picked at 48, in Denzel Mims.
Where the Jets draft class gets impressive is in the later selections. Ashtyn Davis has the potential to replace Marcus Maye from day one as the Jets starting safety. At the very least, Davis will play nickel corner and cover two safety on passing downs. He also allows the Jets to play Jamal Adams close to the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.
Jabari Zuniga and La’Mical Perine both shined during their careers at the University for Florida. Zuniga is a quality athlete with the ability to run the arch successfully at the next level. While his technique as a rusher needs improving, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will love the attitude Zuniga plays with. Perine should help take the load off of Le’Veon Bell next season, particularly in short yardage situations. He runs hard every chance he gets, which will help him pick up tough yards at the next level.
Bold Prediction: Bryce Hall is Starting by the End of 2020
The best day three pick the Jets made was Bryce Hall. Hall was one of the top cornerbacks in the 2020 draft class until he broke his ankle midway through the 2019 season. The changes to the draft process for 2020 really hurt Hall’s draft stock.
With the affects of coronavirus sweeping the nation, teams could not do their own medical evaluations on each player. Instead, all they could go off of was the reports and medical evaluations from the combine. Had Hall been cleared by a number of NFL teams, there is a good chance that his talent would have made him a day two selection.
Hall is a very intelligent corner with good straight line speed. He understands route combinations, and reads plays well from off coverage. Hall’s first step out of his T-Step is lethal because of the intelligence he possesses. He’s also very physical. Hall is a willing tackler in the run game, and he’s adept at hand fighting with opposing receivers.
The concern is Hall’s short area quickness. He struggles to mirror shifty receivers because of his size. Bigger athletes give him trouble as well because Hall is not a quick twitch cornerback. When you combine that with the concerns about his ankle, you understand why he fell.
Nevertheless, Hall is without a doubt a victim of circumstance this year. Hall would have passed the medical evaluations at his pro day, and placed himself directly into the day two portion of the draft class. Now he finds himself competing with a cornerback group in New York that leaves a lot to be desired. Gregg Williams will love Hall’s intelligence and competitiveness. Williams uses a lot of different looks, and he adapts to the team he has. Hall’s ability in cover three should make him a favorite of Williams.
Somewhere down the line, Bryce Hall will be starting for the New York Jets. Assuming health, it could be as early as 2020.
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