NFL draft 2020 first-round winners, losers: Cowboys, Buccaneers make big strides on offense

The first round of the 2020 NFL draft is complete. And, yes, there may be six rounds yet to go, but opening night of the league’s annual “Player Selection Meeting,” inevitably leaves indelible impressions – many of which may prove unfair, inaccurate knee-jerk reactions in the days to come.

Regardless, Round 1 definitely seemed to produce a number of clear-cut outcomes likely to have positive – and maybe negative – staying power for a number of teams, players and other organizations.

So after an evening that (sort of) reminded us what it’s like to enjoy a major sporting event (sort of) on our entertainment calendar, let’s break down the draft’s initial batch of winners and losers.

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Southeastern Conference: College football’s premier league seeded nearly half the first round, its 15 chosen players setting a Round 1 record for any conference in a single draft. The SEC also landed six players in the top 10, yet another draft record.

IT guys: No apparent technology meltdowns in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the “computer folks” even ensuring tech neanderthals like Giants GM Dave Gettleman and Raiders GM Mike Mayock were sufficiently prepped to submit their selections.

Tom Brady: After reuniting with TE Rob Gronkowski earlier in the week, TB12 got another gift from Buccaneers GM Jason Licht, who secured the services of highly athletic Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs to safeguard the 43-year-old quarterback. Brady may not be following social distancing guidelines in his new home – or even know where his new home actually is – but things are otherwise shaping up nicely in “Tompa Bay.”

New York backfields: The Jets and Giants both picked left tackles, Mekhi Becton and Andrew Thomas, respectively. Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell, Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley can all rest just a bit easier.

LSU: The 2019 Bayou Bengals, sure to go down as one of the greatest teams in college football history, provided the first player picked (QB Joe Burrow), the final player selected (RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire) and three more in between. It marked the sixth time in draft history that a school placed five players in Round 1. The run should continue early on Friday with S Grant Delpit, CB Kristian Fulton and OL Lloyd Cushenberry among viable second-round candidates.

Ed Orgeron: Want to win a national title and still be a first-round pick? Pretty good recruiting pitch if you’re LSU’s gravelly-voiced coach.

Patrick Mahomes: Now he’s also got Edwards-Helaire in his quiver? “Greatest Show on Grass,” anyone?

Tua Tagovailoa: After months of rampant speculation about what the Alabama quarterback’s hip injury would do to his draft stock, he winds up being a top-five pick anyway, going fifth overall to Miami – the long telegraphed “Tank for Tua” destination. And it could be a near ideal one as Tagovailoa joins an organization that’s spent aggressively in free agency, owns multiple first-round picks this year and next, is led by a young coach in Brian Flores who’s quickly earned locker room respect (for not tanking) and has the luxury of redshirting him as long as necessary behind Ryan Fitzpatrick (and Josh Rosen?).

Justin Herbert: The sixth overall pick (by the Chargers), the Oregon star probably won’t be under the gun to play immediately, either, but will be surrounded by talent and wearing a gorgeous new uniform whenever the time comes for Tyrod Taylor to return to the pine.

Chargers: They dealt back into Round 1, ensuring they’d enlist both a quarterback for the offense (Herbert) and another for the defense (Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray).

Cowboys offense: At No. 17, they add Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb to last year’s top-ranked offense? NFC East rivals better be prepared to score 30+ if they’re going to beat Dallas in 2020.

Jarrett Stidham: Sure appears Brady’s former job is yours, dude, given the Patriots didn’t go after a quarterback Thursday and don’t realistically have the cap space to pursue Cam Newton or Jameis Winston. 

Heisman vibe: Burrow became the third consecutive reigning Heisman Trophy winner drafted first overall, a first in the common draft era, which dates to 1967.

Ohio State: The first three players off the board were Buckeyes. Burrow – yes, his college career began in Columbus – was followed by DE Chase Young and CB Jeff Okudah. CB Damon Arnette surprisingly heard his name called by the Raiders at No. 19, too. Even though Burrow doesn’t officially count in the tally, Ohio State managed to catch Southern California – which sent OT Austin Jackson to the Dolphins – for the most first-round picks, 71, in the common draft era. And with Young and Okudah joining CB Denzel Ward (2018) and DE Nick Bosa (2019), the Buckeyes program is the first to have a defender taken in the top five in three consecutive drafts.

Alabama WRs: Henry Ruggs (12th overall to Raiders) and Jerry Jeudy (15th to Broncos) are the fifth pair of wideout teammates to go in Round 1 during the common draft but the first to both be picked in the top 15.

ESPN/NFL Network broadcast: With sports networks desperate for live programming, the draft – even this strange iteration of it – is likely to be a ratings goldmine.


ESPN/NFL Network broadcast: This was always going to be challenging to execute given the social distancing requirements and so many remotely produced elements. But it felt like anchor Trey Wingo was having to incorporate too many voices as ESPN and NFL Network combined forces for the simulcast. And letting that “Monday Night Football” graphics crew into the sandbox with the Burrow animation … just, sigh. Worse, the telecast really didn’t do a very good job underscoring its “Draft-A-Thon” element, designed to funnel donations to organizations battling coronavirus. Worst of all, on a sadly serious note, bummer that longtime ESPN draft guru Todd McShay was unable to participate, revealing Thursday he’s waging his own battle with COVID-19. Get better soon, Todd.

Roger Goodell: We wouldn’t envy anyone trying to orchestrate an event as big as the NFL draft from their basement. But Rog seemed a little stiff, trying to loosen up by switching from a blazer to a sweater. And he re-awarded the 2020 draft to Las Vegas. Oops. (He meant 2022 draft … if it can indeed be staged in Sin City.) But how could he botch the pronunciation of “Tagovailoa” that badly … and five years after he couldn’t say “Mariota” correctly? Beware the Samoan community, Commish … they’re not gonna put up with this much longer. And get somebody to help you rehearse a bit more next time.

Aaron Rodgers: Fifteen years ago, you were the guy taken in the first round by the Green Bay Packers knowing you’d be expected to eventually replace living legend Brett Favre. Now it appears Rodgers, 36, is the one on borrowed time after the Pack moved up the board to secure Jordan Love with pick No. 26. Don’t fret too much, Aaron … just maintain your stellar level of play for two more years, then you can go replace Brady in Tampa.

Andy Dalton: You’ve done yeoman’s work in Cincinnati, but nobody there wants to see you do any more.

Thomas Dimitroff: Despite widespread reports the Falcons GM wanted to vault up the board as he did in 2011 for WR Julio Jones, it didn’t happen. No Chase Young in Atlanta, nor one of this year’s premier corners. But who knows … sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make, Tom.

Somebody on the Saints O-line: New Orleans selected Michigan C/G Cesar Ruiz 24th overall – a perfectly reasonably selection in a vacuum, but one sure to invite scrutiny upon further inspection. C Erik McCoy, a second-rounder last year, played very well as a rookie. RG Larry Warford has been a Pro Bowler each of the past three seasons, while injury-prone LG Andrus Peat just signed a five-year, $57.5 million extension. Even if Peat could move to tackle, he’s not good enough to displace Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead or all-pro RT Ryan Ramczyk. Still, somebody’s pretty clearly going to be the odd man out … and it won’t be Ruiz.

Tight ends: For the fifth time in the past 10 drafts, none were picked in Round 1.

Safeties: None of them were taken, either … unless Isaiah Simmons becomes one in Arizona. But this probably speaks to a weaker crop than any devaluation of the position.

Virtual boos: Meh. Forced. Maybe slightly tone deaf. Know when to cut bait when a tangential prop ain’t working. And surely a brand like Budweiser will do right anyway, trying to do its part in the coronavirus fight by making a generous donation.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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