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What to know about the 2020 NFL draft



One of the biggest winners was Commissioner Roger Goodell. One of the least-liked figures in sports came across, maybe for the first time, as likable. He leaned into the cheesiness of exhorting fans on a screen to boo him. He changed outfits on Day 1. He leaned back in a leather chair. His stiffness as an emcee and complete failure at attempts at humor somehow made him relatable. We learned that he for some odd reason shelves cookbooks in his basement. He has spent his public life as a haircut and a suit. This week, he seemed human.

The NFL pulled it off, which meant the focus could be on football, both how teams improved and what the draft revealed about the league itself. With that, the story line of the draft is how it revealed the extent to which the NFL revolves around the passing game. It isn’t just a passing league. It’s nearly a seven-on-seven league.

Look at the first round: Teams selected four quarterbacks, six wide receivers, six cornerbacks and six offensive tackles. That’s 22 of 32 picks who throw passes, catch passes, cover receivers or protect the quarterback.

In the first two rounds, teams used 22 picks — more than a third — on wide receivers and cornerbacks. In that same 64-pick span, teams took two interior linemen and three inside linebackers. Teams selected six running backs, the first two of whom — Clyde Edwards-Helaire and D’Andre Swift — are regarded for their pass-catching ability.

The positional preference leveled off as the draft wore on, but teams still loaded up on athletes who line up outside. After four rounds, 19 wide receivers and 17 cornerbacks had come off the board, representing nearly a quarter of all picks.

Offenses are putting more speed on the field, and defenses have to find a way to counter it. That was the simple, primary driver of how teams allocated their picks, with the NFL only leaning more heavily into passing.

Here is what else there is to know from the 2020 draft:

The NFL has a quarterback glut. For years, it was conventional wisdom that the NFL was facing a quarterback crisis, that the league could not find 32 players capable of starting-level competence. Teams were desperate for quarterbacks. Those days are over.

Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm slid into the third day of the draft while Cam Newton and Jameis Winston remain free agents and Andy Dalton remains available in a trade. There are now more quarterbacks capable of starting than there are teams.

The league arrived at this point through an evolution at both ends of quarterbacks’ career arcs. Coaches have fully embraced college offensive concepts and rule changes have made it easier to adjust, so young quarterbacks can succeed right away. Quarterbacks take fewer hits and nutrition and conditioning has advanced, so older ones can play longer. More able quarterbacks are entering the league, and fewer of them are leaving.

A great quarterback still matters as much as ever, especially when he is on a rookie contract, so four of them went in the first round, which gives teams a fifth-year contract option. But most teams are otherwise content with their quarterback situation, which couldn’t be said until recently.

Rivals aren’t even trying to stop Patrick Mahomes. They’re trying to outscore the Kansas City Chiefs instead — and that may be the smartest strategy.

Every AFC West rival took an offensive skill player with its first pick — quarterback Justin Herbert to the Los Angeles Chargers, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III to the Las Vegas Raiders and wideout Jerry Jeudy to the Denver Broncos. Denver loaded up with another wide receiver (Penn State speedster KJ Hamler) in the second round and a pass-catching tight end (Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam) in the fourth. The Raiders added two more receivers after taking Ruggs. The Chargers went offense — a running back and a wide receiver — with two of their three picks after Herbert.

It may be reaching to draw a conclusion from how those teams picked. Every team loved the receivers in this draft, after all. But their choices suggested the way to match Kansas City’s explosiveness is to find your own explosive players. Given the improbability of slowing Mahomes and the constellation of speed around him, it’s not a bad strategy.

The Jalen Hurts pick didn’t make any sense. And that’s not a downgrade of Hurts, whose leadership, athleticism and college production all point toward a strong possibility of NFL success.

For starters, the Philadelphia Eagles failed to read the board when they took Hurts 52nd overall. The willingness of the rest of the league to wait on quarterbacks suggests the Eagles could have grabbed Hurts much later and used that pick on another area of need, such as cornerback.

Hurts also doesn’t fit Philadelphia’s roster. The Eagles know better than any franchise how valuable a backup quarterback can be — theirs was the Super Bowl MVP a few years ago. But they have a 27-year-old starter who just signed a massive contract extension. Hurts may be a great insurance policy behind Carson Wentz, but using a second-round pick on a backup is a waste.

Hurts has the athleticism to play in creative packages; many have made the point that he could be Doug Pederson’s version of Taysom Hill. Hill is a cool and exciting football player, but he plays special teams and lines up on offense for about 10 snaps, often at H back. That is not what second-round picks are for.

The 49ers set themselves up for another Super Bowl run. After winning the NFC and nearly claiming their sixth Lombardi Trophy, San Francisco has had a killer offseason. The 49ers couldn’t afford to keep both DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, key cogs in a bedrock defensive line. So they traded Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th pick and took Javon Kinlaw, a beastly defensive lineman whom evaluators compare to Kansas City’s Chris Jones.

The 49ers also added late-round draft capital by dealing excess skill players Matt Breida and Marquise Goodwin. But they added three crucial players who will help right away. Their path will not get any easier, especially after the excellent additions that NFC West rival Arizona has made. But they’ve got the roster for another January run.

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