2020 NFL Draft

Steelers GM Pushing For Three Extra NFL Draft Rounds

The coronavirus has radically changed the NFL Draft process and Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has offered up one proposal to help teams adjust to the lack of workouts and Pro Days. Colbert has asked league officials to add an additional three rounds to this year’s draft, bringing the total number of rounds to ten, as Manish Mehta of the Daily News writes. 

In lieu of drills and auditions, teams are permitted to hold up to three hour-long video conferences per week with any prospect. Still, coaches and executives like Colbert feel like they are flying blind. The draft is already wildly unpredictable; now teams have less intel than ever before. Because there are bound to be many misfires, Colbert believes the Steelers (and other clubs) can offset things a bit with a greater margin for error.

It’s not immediately clear whether the league is giving real consideration to Colbert’s idea, but anything is possible given these unprecedented conditions. This year’s draft will be “fully virtual” with executives conducting their business in separate locations, rather than the initial plan of allowing teams to gather their front office officials in one room.

The league has done its best to adjust. For example, Tua Tagovailoa recently underwent a voluntary medical re-check via the league’s combine committee. Ordinarily, his surgically-repaired hip would have been examined by scores of team doctors in separate exams, Instead, every team was allowed to request specific tests and the results were then shared with all 32 clubs.

Core Surgery For Brandon Aiyuk

Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk underwent core muscle surgery this morning, as Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. The potential first-round pick has been dealing with the issue for some time and decided to have the operation since offseason activities are likely to be postponed. 

[RELATED: NFL Draft To Be “Fully Virtual”]

It’s a bit surprising to hear that Aiyuk was able to get the operation since elective surgeries have been put on hold in most parts of the country. Still, the protocol varies from state to state and Aiyuk was able to get his surgery out of the way.

In most drafts, Aiyuk would be a shoe-in first-round pick. This year, due to the wealth of talent at the position, he’s considered to be a borderline candidate for the top 32. Regardless of where he goes, Aiyuk appears to have serious pro potential – his ability to line up outside or in the slot is also a big plus for teams.

The Nevada native transferred from Sierra College to Arizona State in 2018 and put himself on the national radar with a huge 2019. Last year, he led the Sun Devils with 65 catches for 1,192 yards, good for an average of 18.3 yards per reception, plus eight touchdowns. He also impressed in the return game by averaging 16.1 yards per punt return and 31.9 yards per kickoff return.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft To Be “Fully Virtual”

On Monday, the NFL informed clubs that this year’s draft will be conducted with a “fully virtual format.” The memo from commissioner Roger Goodell lays out some of the basics for what will be the most unique NFL Draft in league history.

[RELATED: FIU QB James Morgan Drawing Interest]

The draft, which is still set to commence on April 23rd through April 25th, will go on with club personnel operating separately from their homes. Early on, there was some thought to executives gathering in their respective war rooms, but that possibility has been ruled out with more and more shelter-in-place orders throughout the United States.

We have made this decision for several reasons,” the memo states. “All clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way. Moreover, we want all NFL personnel to comply with the government directives and to model safe and appropriate health practices. Our staff will carry out its responsibilities in the same way, operating in separate locations outside of our offices.”

Meanwhile, this year’s draft evaluation process is tricky, especially when it comes to prospects with past medical trouble. Coaches, GMs, and other executives will be flying blind when it comes to many players, though some have gone through voluntary exams conducted by the league. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, for example, had a recheck recently and reportedly passed with flying colors.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Eagles Notes: Draft, Ngakoue, LB

The Eagles could use some help at wide receiver. Fortunately for them, this year’s draft is positively loaded with talent at the position. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have 20 teams picking ahead of them in the first round and a run on WRs could leave them without their preferred targets (whoever they may be) by the time they step to the virtual podium.

If that’s the case, Eliot Shorr-Parks of WIP has some thoughts on who they could pivot to. Their best bet, he says, would be Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who tallied 17.5 sacks and 37 hurries over the last two seasons. He was also a stout defender against the run with 34.5 tackles for a loss over that same span. There are a lot of mixed opinions on Gross-Matos and his ability to adjust to the pro game, but the potential is there and it might be too strong for Howie Roseman to pass up.

Other candidates in Shorr-Parks’ view include LSU safety Grant Delpit, Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson, LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, and Iowa defensive end A.J.Epenesa.

Here’s more on the Birds:

  • More from Shorr-Parks, who explores the possibility of a trade for Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The Eagles now have close to $30MM in cap space, but their future cap crunch could rule out the possibility of another big-ticket contract in 2021. In ’21, the Eagles are projected to be $25MM over the cap. Roseman, well aware of the situation, hasn’t signed any free agents to expensive long-term deals except for Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave. The Eagles will surely add committments for ’21 and beyond between now and the start of this season, but it’s a longshot that they’ll trade for someone like Ngakoue and give him a deal commensurate with his performance and age.
  • Historically, the Eagles have not prioritized the linebacker position. Still, they’re looking pretty bare at the group even by their standards, as Zach Berman of The Athletic notes. As of this writing, the depth chart features Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards, Jatavis Brown, Duke Riley, and Alex Singleton. They haven’t drafted a linebacker in the top four rounds since 2015, but Berman expects that to change this year as they look to fortify the position.

FIU QB James Morgan Drawing Interest

FIU quarterback James Morgan is starting to generate some buzz as we get closer to draft day, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. Morgan made his way onto our site for the first time today, when we wrote that the Patriots have shown some interest, and New England is not the only team sniffing around.

Per Wilson, a number of clubs are closely vetting Morgan, though COVID-19 restrictions obviously mean that he can’t visit teams or work out privately for them. Wilson’s sources say that in addition to the Patriots, the Packers, Bears, Colts, Raiders, Giants, Bills, Jets, and Dolphins are among the teams intrigued by Morgan.

It is not surprising to see most of the teams on that list. New England, of course, is in the market for a collegiate passer after watching Tom Brady sign with the Buccaneers, and the Dolphins have long been connected to this year’s top rookie QBs. The Raiders, Bears, and Colts have varying degrees of long-term uncertainty at the quarterback position, and the Packers had planned to host the best QB prospects before pre-draft visits were cancelled (Morgan is actually a Green Bay native, and the Packers may be starting to prepare for life without Aaron Rodgers).

Meanwhile, all three New York outfits seem to have a long-term solution under center already, although none of their incumbents are sure things at the moment. And given that Morgan is a mid- to late-round prospect, it couldn’t hurt for those teams to at least have a look.

Morgan performed well at this year’s scouting combine and at the East-West Shrine Game, and a Southeast Area NFL scout said Morgan has one of the three strongest arms in the draft, along with the intelligence and leadership qualities that teams covet. After an uneven tenure at Bowling Green, Morgan transferred to FIU in 2018 and earned Conference USA Newcomer of the Year honors by completing over 65% of his passes for 26 TDs and seven interceptions.

His 2019 effort was not quite as strong, but he has put together enough quality tape to start rising up draft boards.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Tua, Pats, Diggs

Though Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa has most commonly been connected to the division-rival Dolphins, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe believes the stars are aligning for the Patriots to make a play for the southpaw passer. The Lions — and all of their New England connections — hold the No. 3 overall pick and will have a major impact on how the quarterback dominoes fall in this year’s draft. If Detroit trades down, as many expect, Volin suggests that New England’s No. 23 overall pick along with a mid-rounder and a veteran player like Julian Edelman could be enough to get a deal done. The Patriots’ ties with Alabama head coach Nick Saban would also help give the team a little more insight into Tagovailoa as a player and as a person.

Let’s round up a few more AFC East rumors on another stay-at-home Sunday:

  • Volin’s proposal may be a little far-fetched, but if Tagovailoa starts to slide on draft day — after all, the Dolphins may not be entirely sold on him, and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report says the 2018 Heisman runner-up is the No. 3 or 4 QB on some teams’ boards even if he is completely healthy — then the Patriots could be in play, per Doug Kyed of NESN.com.
  • One way or another, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says the Patriots will draft a rookie signal-caller. While he does not rule out a dramatic move for a player like Tagovailoa, he also says the team could once again target a mid-round prospect and is eyeing FIU passer James Morgan.
  • WR Stefon Diggs sounded like a man who wanted out of Minnesota for awhile, and he finally got his wish when he got traded to the Bills in March. However, his displeasure with the Vikings had more to do with his role in the offense than his contract; he signed a five-year, $72MM extension last summer, and he still has another four years to go on that pact. Still, the contract looks fairly team-friendly in the current market, so Buffalo GM Brandon Beane was recently asked if Diggs is content with his deal. Beane side-stepped the issue, saying simply that Diggs is “happy to be in Buffalo” (Twitter link via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News). It would indeed be rather surprising to see the Bills rework a contract that has four years remaining.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPN.com confirms that Jets guard Brian Winters, who was presumed to be a cap casualty not that long ago, will remain with the Jets and will compete for a job in training camp. Cimini says that if Winters does not win a starting role, he will likely be asked to take a pay cut.

Extra Points: Draft, Bills, Williams, Manusky

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting everything in the sports world, including the NFL draft. The draft being in Las Vegas has already been scrapped for a while, but now it appears teams won’t even be gathering in their respective buildings. In an unprecedented situation, multiple high-level officials will conduct the draft from their homes, sources told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. The pre-draft preparation will be more important than ever, as it will likely be more difficult for teams to coordinate internally while the draft is going on. It’ll be very interesting to see how this impacts draft-day trades, among other logistical issues.

Here’s more from around the league on a quiet Saturday night:

  • The Bills signed offensive lineman Daryl Williams a couple weeks ago, and now we have the details on his contract. Williams got a one-year deal worth $2.25MM from Buffalo with only $250K guaranteed, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets. As Pelissero points out the two sides are very familiar with one another since a lot of Buffalo’s brass, including head coach Sean McDermott, used to be with the Panthers. Williams started all 16 games at right tackle for Carolina in 2017 and played very well, but missed almost all of 2018 with a knee injury. He signed a one-year deal with the Panthers worth $7MM last year and started 12 games, a few each at left tackle, right guard, and left guard. Pelissero adds that Buffalo plans to move him back to the right side.
  • Greg Manusky spent the last three years as the Redskins’ defensive coordinator, but he got bounced last year after head coach Jay Gruden got the axe. Manusky has a new job now, and it’s a big step down the coaching ranks. The former 49ers, Chargers, and Colts defensive coordinator has accepted a position as a defensive quality control assistant with the University of Kentucky, according to JP Finlay of NBC Sports. It’s an unusual move for such a grizzled veteran, but it’s possible he decided to take this gig as a temporary stopgap before emerging with a more prominent role in 2021. Quality control coaches are often young guys on one of their first jobs, but nonetheless Manusky will be serving on Mark Stoops’ staff this fall.

NFL Issues Memo On Draft Sites

As you probably know by now, the 2020 NFL Draft is proceeding as scheduled and will take place from April 23-25. However, it’s going to look and feel a lot different than it normally does, and the league has issued a memo on that front. The entire memo can be found here, courtesy of Albert Breer of SI.com (via Twitter).

Essentially, teams can conduct the draft in one of two ways. They can conduct them at their facilities, though they would obviously be subject to all applicable health and safety guidelines (including a limit on the number of personnel that can be at the facility and rigorous cleaning requirements). Or, they can conduct them totally remotely from the personal residences of their staff, though there would certainly be a limit on the number of personnel that could be present at any one residence.

The memo went on to say that a team can choose to draft from remote sites even if other teams choose to operate from their facilities. On the other hand, if any one team’s state prohibits that team from using its home facility, then all teams will be so prohibited and must conduct the draft remotely. Although the league has drawn plenty of criticism for pressing forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is at least trying to maintain some semblance of fairness in the way clubs can handle their business.

It seems that at least one team will be in a state that prohibits a gathering of personnel in a war room setting at a team facility, so it presently sounds as though execs and coaches from around the league should start preparing to select their collegiate prospects from their living rooms. The NFL’s IT department is working to make that process as seamless as possible.

Tua Tagovailoa: “I Feel 100%”

After receiving good news on his voluntary medical re-check, Tua Tagovailoa says his surgically-repaired hip is completely healed, as NFL.com’s Steve Wyche writes. 

I feel 100 percent,” the Alabama quarterback said. “I feel like if there was a game today, I’d be able to go out and perform the same way I was able to perform in previous years. I feel as mobile as possible. I feel 100 percent.”

Tagovailoa’s reps have echoed similar sentiments in recent days. They say that Tagovailoa is looking strong despite the devastating injury and grueling rehab he’s been through. So far, NFL teams seem to agree, and that could pave the way for him to be one of the top picks in the April draft.

For months, Tagovailoa has been linked to the Dolphins, who hold the No. 5 overall pick. That may represent his floor in the draft, but it’s also possible that another team could leapfrog the ‘Fins to take the Alabama star, who was once projected to be the No. 1 overall pick. It seems unlikely that the Bengals will pass up the opportunity to take Joe Burrow No. 1 overall, or that the Redskins would trade the No. 2 pick and lose out on a generational talent in Chase Young, but the Lions could theoretically move out of the No. 3 pick and try to snag Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah – their rumored target – further down the board. The Giants, who hold the No. 4 pick, are also a candidate to trade back.

As a fully healthy sophomore, Tagovailoa had scouts drooling as he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 43 touchdowns against only six interceptions. In that season, he was the runner-up for the Heisman trophy behind Kyler Murray.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tua Tagovailoa Undergoes Medical Re-Check

Earlier today, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa underwent a voluntary medical re-check facilitated by the league office and an independent doctor. The results were “overwhelmingly positive,” according to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (on Twitter).

[RELATED: Latest On NFL Draft]

All 32 of the NFL’s team doctors and trainers were allowed to provide input on what exams they wanted to see conducted and those suggestions were blended to create a comprehensive exam for Tagovailoa, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Now that the results have been shared every team in the league, Tua’s reps say that the QB has tackled all of his medical obligations.

Many see the Dolphins at No. 5 overall as Tagovailoa’s floor. If he slips past the ‘Fins, he probably won’t fall too much further, especially after today’s thumbs-up medical.

Before Tagovailoa’s devastating hip injury and subsequent surgery, he was widely regarded as the most promising QB in the 2020 class. He’s no longer in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick – that mantle almost certainly belongs to LSU’s Joe Burrow – but his future remains bright.

“He’s moving really, really well,” Chris Cabott, co-agent to the QB, said recently. “To this point, we don’t have any medical concerns. Obviously in any given situation, it’s a day-by-day situation, but his road to return has not been interrupted.” 

Meanwhile, theTagovailoa has remained focus on the road to recovery.

My main goal is not to win the 40, not to win the bench press, but to win my medical,” Tagovailoa said earlier this year. “I’m going to go over there looking to win my medical and then go in and interview with the teams. That’s pretty much what I’m going to do. And then hopefully there’s a pro day down the line, either late March or early April.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.