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NFL Draft Day 1 Draft Grades

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Some teams picked premier talent. Others? Well...

Alabama Spring Game
How good is Jerry Jeudy? He’s the best separator I’ve ever scouted.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With day one in the books, it’s time to look at who made the most of their opportunities in the NFL Draft. Now obviously a draft grade is a bit of a fool’s errand this close to the thing because some players could vastly outperform expectations while others will fail for some unforeseen reason. That said, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to look at who appeared to make a pick that made sense, how it could fit, and take into consideration the opportunity cost.

Some teams got better last night. Others just got a player.

1. Cincinnati Bengals - Joe Burrow, QB

As is the case most years, it was no mystery who the pick would be. It was good to see the Bengals didn’t bungle it. Burrow’s been analyzed to the point where people were questioning his upside, but if the 23-year old can reach something close to his 2019 form in the NFL he’ll be a top tier QB.

Joe’s Grade: A

2. Washington - Chase Young, ED

Another chalk pick that made almost too much sense. The only other acceptable move here would have been grabbing Tua to unseat Dwayne Haskins. With that off the table, little would have made sense to pass up Young unless the haul was ridiculous. Since it wasn’t, Ron Rivera gets to a young cornerstone to the scariest front seven east of California.

Joe’s Grade: A

3. Detroit Lions - Jeffrey Okudah, CB

There’s been a lot of talk in recent days how Bob Quinn wanted to trade down, or take Derrick Brown, or even move way back to get K’Lavon Chaisson. In the end he stayed home and took the player I’ve expected for months. Some will knock this pick because Detroit essentially skipped out on paying Darius Slay for a younger corner. The truth is Okudah looks like a much cleaner fit for the kind of press man heavy type of coverage that Matt Patricia favors. It’s just a shame the Lions couldn’t find a way to net any other capital.

Joe’s Grade: B+

4. New York Giants - Andrew Thomas, OT

This surprised me, as I expected the Giants to be laser focused on Jedrick Wills’ 2019 tape or Tristan Wirfs’ upside. Instead they went with the rock solid Thomas, who has been a reliable bookend in the SEC for his entire career. He started at right tackle before moving to the blindside as a sophomore, and that flexibility may be underrated with both Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming already under contract. While Thomas wasn’t the first tackle on my Broncos’ big board, it’s easy to see why his reliability could appeal to Gettleman.

Joe’s Grade: B+

5. Miami Dolphins - Tua Tagovailoa, QB

I never bought into all of the rumors about Miami cooling on Tua. They tried desperately to get him in for a workout right before the Pro Days were cancelled. While his injury history is scary enough that it can’t be ignored, what’s even scarier is the chasm between the Southpaw and every other rookie passer. Loved this pick.

Joe’s Grade: A

6. Los Angeles Chargers - Justin Herbert, QB

I’m not nearly as low on Herbert as places like PFF are. Even still, I love this pick for the Chargers. Herbert’s a project in a similar way that Drew Lock was last year. He needs to get better at processing information, throwing with anticipation, and his accuracy comes and goes.

When I dug into his 2018 game last spring I came away pretty stumped. He’ll have a really impressive play and follow it up badly missing an easy 10-yard completion. Nothing I’ve seen since hints that much has changed. Maybe some time behind Tyrod Taylor helps him unlock his potential, but it’s a pretty expensive gamble, especially when players like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are sitting in free agency and the defense is built to win now.

Joe’s Grade: C

7. Carolina Panthers - Derrick Brown, DL

Talk for a week or two has been that the NFL was much higher on Brown than the analytics community was. The divide centers on what Brown does well vs what he’s merely “good enough” at.

Brown is perhaps one of the safest players in this class so long as he can stay healthy because he should be a near elite run defender out the gate. He’s just a monstrously powerful player who can destroy rushing lanes. His ceiling is something akin to Akiem Hicks, but the Combine workout alerted many to the fact that Hicks is a really rare big man who’s both 350+ lbs and agile. Brown is more likely to be an Eddie Goldman type, just good enough as a pass rusher to contribute.

I’ve gone back and forth on him because I like the player a lot. In the end, it comes down to opportunity cost. The Panthers are a couple of stupid free agent signings away from being able to tank because their roster is so bad, and Brown won’t close the gap in the NFC South. If he had fallen to 15 or the Panthers could have moved back a little to get him I would have liked this pick more.

Joe’s Grade: C+

8. Arizona Cardinals - Isaiah Simmons, Hybrid

There was some snickering in corners of Broncos’ Country after this pick because Vance Joseph was a pretty disappointing head coach. I get that, but Simmons is actually a perfect fit for a number of reasons.

On the one hand, Joseph likes to stay in base personnel more than most defensive coordinators in the league. That means it’s on his linebackers to cover receivers and slots in man coverage quite a bit.

On the other hand it only takes looking back to Will Parks’ role on the Broncos’ 2018 defense with the Broncos to see how he’ll be able to find a role for Simmons early. That’s important because for how versatile the former Clemson Tiger is, he’ll need to find a niche to acclimate as he grows into all of his talents at the NFL level.

Joe’s Grade: A+

9. Jacksonville Jaguars - C.J. Henderson, CB

There’s two competing thoughts I’m going through for picks like the Jaguars’. Doug Marrone runs a good bit of Cover 1 and Cover 3, and so Henderson should be able to hit the ground running early and be pretty successful. He has the tools to be a top tier man coverage corner who can follow assignments around the formation.

Where my concern comes in is the reality that unless Jacksonville surprises people this year, chances are Henderson will have a new head coach in 2021. He has a long way to go to be more than a huge liability in anything but one on one matchup coverage. That’s a really valuable trait which helps his grade, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to go from promising rookie to awful sophomore down the road.

Joe’s Grade: B-

10. Cleveland Browns - Jedrick Wills, OT

I thought it’d be Tristan Wirfs, but I love this pick and think Wills will be a great pick for them. My one question is I got a vibe that the former Alabama right tackle would be most comfortable staying on the strong side. After all, he never played a single game snap anywhere else with the Tide. Now he’ll be a day one starter on the left.

Joe’s Grade: A-

11. New York Jets - Mekhi Becton, OT

The biggest reason I liked this pick is it eliminated Becton from the pool so I didn’t have to worry about Denver taking him. He’s a high ceiling, low floor type of player I wanted no part of. What’s rather scary for him with New York is there’s a pretty good chance Adam Gase makes things all sorts of dysfunctional on his way out the door this season.

Joe’s Grade: C

12. Las Vegas Raiders - Henry Ruggs, WR

I liked Ruggs enough to have him as my WR2 for Denver, but there’s a number of reasons I’m happy Gruden grabbed him. The biggest one is that Derek Carr isn’t a real deep passer, and while Ruggs is versatile enough to be a dangerous weapon after the catch taking a decoy deep threat over Lamb and Jeudy is rich. Maybe Marcus Mariota or the next QB can maximize his talents.

Joe’s Grade: B-

T13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Tristan Wirfs, OT

While I’m generally opposed to trade ups, the Tompa Bay Gronkaneers have one or maybe two years to chase a title.

Joe’s Grade: A

T14. San Francisco 49ers - Javon Kinlaw, DL

John Lynch got the cheap years out of the DeForest Buckner contract and turned him into another really athletic big man. There will be some arguments in corners that they should have gone after Jeudy or Lamb, but keep in mind they still have last year’s third round pick Jalen Hurd coming back and this class is far deeper at receiver than defensive line. My one concern is Kinlaw’s knees, but it’s hard to grade too harshly there.

Joe’s Grade: B+

15. Denver Broncos - Jerry Jeudy

I’ll wind up writing a lot more about this pick once we get out of the draft. For now, I hope it’s enough to say I had Jeudy as my WR1 for the better part of the entire draft season. Before Rich Scangarello was fired I went back and forth on him and Lamb every other hour. Since I studied the Pat Shurmur offense he’s been locked in and even slid up to #5 on my final big board.

He’s the best separator I’ve ever seen from a collegiate prospect and is a far better athlete than his workout numbers suggest. He’s also versatile enough to win from inside or outside, which means the Broncos will have options for building their 3-WR sets and it should help them maximize the return if they want to grab another receiver in the draft.

In short: I love this pick. Love it.

Joe’s Grade: A+

16. Atlanta Falcons - A.J. Terrell, CB

Multiple insiders mentioned how NFL teams had the second wave of this corner class in all manner of orders. So while I have Jeff Gladney and Kristian Fulton a lot higher on my board than Terrell, I can see where the Falcons are coming from. With Desmond Trufant a Lion and a win now roster desperately in need of corner help, a battle tested Tiger makes sense. Now they just need to hope he does a better job at catch points in the NFL.

Joe’s Grade: B

17. Dallas Cowboys - CeeDee Lamb, WR

I got to give it to Jerry Jones. When I saw the tweet that he was going to be making the calls without any input from scouts I thought it’d turn into a disaster. Instead he went BPA over a need and took the 8th best player on my board. It’s also a bit overstated to suggest the Cowboy’s don’t need a receiver because in today’s NFL it’s pretty hard to have too many. If there’s one concern, it’s that Lamb’s role is going to have a little overlap with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup’s, but I’m probably picking nits.

Joe’s Grade: A

18. Miami Dolphins - Austin Jackson, OT

Thanks to my faith in Mike Munchak, I’ve been high on Jackson for a good while now. His footwork and lateral mobility are special. Unfortunately, he desperately needs an overhaul from a technical standpoint, needs to get stronger, and his eyes and mental processing need to season.

I don’t have near as much faith in Steve Marshall as I do Munchak, but I hope Jackson pans out. The league is better with good tackles in it.

Joe’s Grade: C+

19. Las Vegas Raiders - Damon Arnette, CB

If you watched Jeff Essary and my livestream on Twitch you’ll know how I laughed out loud about this pick. Arnette comes from the same scheme that helps Okudah look like an easy projection into an NFL defense and should be able to help early in his career. Where I take issue is that he wasn’t near as impressive at Ohio State and there were multiple reports that question his character, specifically that he was more interested in the things being a Buckeye got him than maximizing his talent.

I had him as my CB14 in this class. Mayock could have done better here.

Joe’s Grade: D-

20. Jacksonville Jaguars - K’Lavon Chaisson, ED

The Yannick Ngakoue replacement pick to pair with the Jalen Ramsey replacement pick. Chaisson is intriguing with wicked athleticism, but he’s also a short armed pass rusher who’s had significant medical questions. It’s a bet on trait and upside.

Joe’s Grade: C

21. Philadelphia Eagles - Jalen Reagor, WR

Back at the Combine there was plenty of talk in Broncos’ Country that Reagor would be a worthwhile option if Ruggs wasn’t on the board at 15. It made sense. Reagor is the closest thing the 2020 Draft had to Henry Ruggs after Henry Ruggs. Philly wanted speed and they should get it in this Horned Frog.

Joe’s Grade: A+

22. Minnesota Vikings - Justin Jefferson, WR

Boil it down and this pick is a pretty simple fit. After trading Stefon Diggs, the Vikings’ receiving corps was Adam Thielen and some flotsam. Unfortunately when a layer or two is added trouble emerges. Thielen is at his best as an intermediate threat playing out of the slot. Guess where Jefferson played the vast majority of his snaps in 2019?

Kirk Cousins should be able to make it work, but I do suspect if Minny could have they’d have grabbed Reagor here.

Joe’s Grade: B

T23. Los Angeles Chargers - Kenneth Murray, LB

LA sold their day two picks to grab a linebacker I considered a day two linebacker. You love to see it.

Joe’s Grade: D

24. New Orleans Saints - Cesar Ruiz, iOL

With perhaps the best roster in football, the Saints surprised me by not trading up to chase after an instant impact type of player. What they got at 24 may be anything but an early contributor. After drafting Erik McCoy a year ago and paying Andrus Peat, Ruiz’ road to playing time could be a bumpy one during the Drew Brees’ era. On the plus side, Taysom Hill should have a rock solid group up front in ‘21 or ‘22.

Joe’s Grade: B

T25. San Francisco 49ers - Brandon Aiyuk, WR

While I do believe Aiyuk brings some risks to the table that players like Jeudy don’t, it’s hard to ignore how exciting the fit is here. The Sun Devil is a receiver who may need some time to master the nuances to creating separation for himself and beating press coverage, but he goes to the best play caller in the league at scheming players open. Add to that his ability to go from 0 to 60 at the drop of a hat and he should help the Niner offense in a similar way to what Emmanuel Sanders did a year ago.

Joe’s Grade: B+

T26. Green Bay Packers - Jordan Love, QB

So I’m about to finish school on the eastern border of Packerland, which means I know a lot of cheeseheads. Most of them were in shock over this one, and a few thought it stunk like some bad Limburger. I saw two lines of thought at play, and neither were particularly comforting for them.

A. Management saw last year as the 36-year old Aaron Rodgers’ last real shot at a Super Bowl. With a glass ceiling settling in, it was time to bring in an heir to sit and learn while they crank out something a bit better than mediocrity.

B. Last year’s roster had so few needs they could afford to take an enigmatic project with traits and iffy production.

Joe’s Grade: F

27. Seattle Seahawks - Jordyn Brooks, LB

Meet the poor man’s Kenneth Murray. The Red Raider is a more instinctive run defender than Murray with 90ish% of the range. Where he struggles is in coverage, which is a big reason why I had him as a Day 3 pick on my Broncos’ big board. Makes all the sense in the world for a GM who tore down his wall for bandwidth.

Joe’s Grade: F

28. Baltimore Ravens - Patrick Queen, LB

The Ravens do this every year. They wait while stupid picks happen in front of them and clean up on a player that’s well regarded who somehow slips for some reason. Quick tangent, but I found it really intriguing that the Broncos were reportedly in on Queen if he slid to 29.

Joe’s Grade: A

29. Tennessee Titans - Isaiah Wilson, OT

Many considered Wilson a third round type of talent who could have polished his way into the 2021 first round, so it’s not a huge surprise a team took him a year early over gambling on him sliding. Wilson seemingly fits a move to a more gap based running scheme in time, but he’ll need notable work on his feet and hands to grow into more than a liability.

Joe’s Grade: C

T30. Miami Dolphins - Noah Igbinoghene, CB

The Auburn Tiger is rather inexperienced but offers some real potential. Miami wasn’t screwing around with their first round picks taking three players who could wind up as three All Pros if things fall their way, but could wind up out of the league in three years.

Joe’s Grade: B-

T31. Minnesota Vikings - Jeff Gladney, CB

Hated this pick because I had a small hope he’d slide, but I much prefer Gladney in Minnesota to Missouri. He’s a bit on the small side, but feisty as all get out with the kind of click and close to really thrive in the Mike Zimmer scheme.

Joe’s Grade: A

32. Kansas City Chiefs - Clyde Edwards-Helaire

If you didn’t already know, I hate player comparisons. So it should speak to how much I like this Tiger that I have one. CEH has been my RB1 for months, and watching him play I couldn’t help but see bits and pieces of Brian Westbrook’s game in him. He’s a bit sturdier with a little less longspeed, but the receiving chops and phone booth quickness were very similar.

For those reasons, I hate this pick. He’s the one running back that really compliments Patrick Mahomes rather than just take the ball out of his hands. On the other side of it, I love this pick because Andy Reid could have grabbed a number of more valuable players:

  • Denzel Mims
  • Kristian Fulton
  • Jaylon Johnson
  • Laviska Shenault
  • Michael Pittman
  • Lloyd Cushenberry
  • Akeem Davis-Gaither

You get the idea.

Joe’s Grade: B