The football world has been in stasis with huge question marks surrounding the upcoming NFL season. Because of COVID-19, this year’s NFL Draft was the first one held online via videoconferencing. With the first pick, the Cincinnati Bengals took quarterback Joe Burrow. The Heisman-winner from LSU had a season for the ages logging 5,671 passing yards and 60 touchdowns. Experts see Burrow as a potential franchise cornerstone, pointing to his poise and leadership in big moments. The Bengals expect him to make them competitive in the immediate future.
The Washington Redskins followed by picking the stud defensive end Chase Young, the Detroit Lions reached for CB Jeff Okudah at pick number three, and the Giants grabbed tackle Andrew Thomas at four. With the fifth pick the Miami Dolphins took Alabama QB and Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa. Despite skepticism regarding his health, (both ankles, hip) and height (standing at 6-feet even) scouts praised his throwing talent and ability to read coverages.
The Seahawks were far less fortunate in terms of draft picks, but still had needs to fill, namely in pass protection, a defensive secondary and, given the contract negotiations with Jadeveon Clowney, the pass rush. With their first pick at 27 they drafted inside linebacker Jordan Brooks. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Brooks’ speed and instincts draw comparisons to Bobby Wagner. The GM-Coach tandem of Jon Schneider and Pete Carroll tried to kill two birds with one stone in drafting tight ends Colby Parkinson and Stephen Sullivan. Surprisingly, no offensive linemen were taken. This offseason, the ‘Hawks released D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt and didn’t re-sign Germain Ifedi. Last season, Russell Wilson was the second-most sacked QB in the league with 54, led only by Houston’s DeShaun Watson at 55. The ‘Hawks addressed this with Tennessee guard Damien Lewis in the second round. He’ll be playing behind Mike Iuipati, as the veteran guard has dealt with injuries in the last couple of seasons.
Through a trade with the NY Jets, Seattle used their 48th pick to select another Tennessee volunteer in Darrell Taylor. In 2019 he led Tennessee in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (8.5). Despite the redshirt senior being a tad raw in his development, he has the tools to be a solid starter on the roster. Overall, the lack of offensive linemen drafted might be a real concern for the ‘Hawks in the near future.
Across the division, rival teams also made moves during draft weekend. The Arizona Cardinals focused heavily on building around their young QB Kyler Murray. Their draft class included Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons and Arizona State Eno Benjamin. While Simmons is listed as a linebacker in college, his versatility was a selling point as a prospect, playing multiple roles on defense including safety, corner, and even edge rusher. Running back Eno Benjamin is a very explosive runner that can catch in the backfield and make people miss. In 2019 he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and could be a power halfback to compliment Kenyan Drake. Along with their acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals have a chance in competing for the division title next year.
San Francisco probably had the most ambitious draft weekend. While they traded away DeForest Buckner, with the 14th pick they took DT Travis Kinlaw from South Carolina. Kinlaw clocks in at 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds with a quick first step. Addressing their losses of WR’s Marquise Goodwin (traded by Philly) and Emmanuel Sanders (signed with New Orleans), they picked up Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk. The Niners also beefed up their offensive line in picking up Washington tackle Trent Williams.
The NFC West is running away with the title of toughest division in football. The Cardinals, 49ers, and Seahawks all look like legitimate contenders, with the Rams still having the talent to shock the standings. This will truly be the hardest test the Seahawks have had to face in recent years, and they answered with a draft viewed negatively by a lot of critics. Still, these same critics called Russell Wilson one of the worst picks in the 2012 draft, so I bet Seattle is just dying to prove them wrong again.