We're now counting down the days instead of the weeks until the 2020 NFL Draft, which means there's only time for a couple hundred more mock drafts. The real thing starts at 8:00 p.m. ET on Thursday night and we'll soon find out which predictions were on the money and which were far off base.
As those answers are revealed so will be the major storylines that eventually define the first couple rounds of the draft. And how some of those storylines develop could end up having major implications on what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers choose to do with the 14th overall pick on Thursday night, and perhaps some of their selections in subsequent rounds as well. Let's take a look at a few.
View photos from Scotty Miller and Mike Edwards's trip to ZooTampa. (All footage was taken prior to social distancing guidelines)
1. Which way will the Giants go at Number Four?
It would not be surprising if the majority of draft analysts correctly predict the first three picks. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to Cincinnati seems like a lock to get the evening started, and the Ohio State duo of edge rusher Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah appear to be the cream of the crop for teams not hunting quarterbacks. Barring Washington cutting bait on Dwayne Haskins or Detroit making good on last month's Matthew Stafford trade rumors (which the Lions have stridently denied), it seems highly plausible that Young and Okudah will go second and third, putting the New York Giants on the clock at pick number four.
And that's when it gets interesting. As we noted on Friday, the predictions for the Giants seem to have crystallized into a binary choice between taking the top offensive tackle on their board or grabbing a potential star for their defense in Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons. Either pick would address a significant need for the Giants, but this decision will also likely be the first one to knock down a line of draft-night dominoes.
If the Giants go defense with the first pick and the Dolphins and Chargers take the next two quarterbacks, as many expect, that would delay the inevitable run on what is widely considered the top tier of available tackles. The first one might not come off the board until the eighth pick, where Arizona is stationed, or perhaps even to Cleveland at number 10. That delayed start to the run would increase the chances that one of those four – Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Alabama's Jedrick Wills and Iowa's Tristan Wirfs – would still be available at pick number 14, should the Bucs be interested in going in that direction. That is certainly the prevailing wisdom of the mock drafters, almost all of which are now pairing the Bucs with a tackle, sometimes even if those four are off the board.
If the Giants pick, say, Wirfs or Wills, with the fourth pick, this would obviously start the tackle run sooner and might prompt some tackle-needy teams to trade up in order to get one. In our latest mock draft, we even had the Buccaneers doing exactly that, and that was without the Giants taking a tackle. This was, of course, an exercise by staff writers, not Jason Licht or Bruce Arians. Still, the situation for teams targeting the top tackles would have been even more acute if New York had started the run at number four.
2. Speaking of which, in what order will the top offensive tackles come off the board?
Here's a single page with the mock drafts of three different experts on the CBS Sports website (Ryan Wilson, Chris Trapasso and Pete Prisco), and here are separate links to the predictive efforts of fellow CBS Sports analysts Josh Edwards and Will Brinson. You can check out all five drafts if you want but I'll play spoiler with my main point: All five of those analysts have the top four tackles coming off the board in different orders.
Wilson puts them in this order: Wills, Wirfs, Becton, Thomas. Trapasso goes with Wirfs, Becton, Thomas, Wills. In Prisco's draft Wills comes off first but is then followed by Becton, Thomas and Wirfs. Edwards takes Wirfs off the board followed by Wills, Thomas and Becton. And Brinson starts with Thomas and then goes Becton, Wirfs and Wills. All of these drafts were posted within the last two weeks.
If you're simply trying to match the Buccaneers up with any top-rated tackle, the order doesn't really matter that much. Whichever one is left (and there are rarely two left by the 14th pick in recent mock drafts), that's who you slot in to Tampa Bay at 14. However, in real life it likely isn't that simple. We don't know how Licht and his staff have ordered the tackles on the Buccaneers' actual draft board, or how much separation there is between the four. It's possible that Tampa Bay has one or two of the players ranked notably higher than the others. In that case, how they come off the board will become very important for the Bucs…if, again, they really are focused on getting one of those four.
3. Will there be moves targeting the top three quarterbacks?
Above we suggested that Young to the Redskins and Okudah to the Lions seemed like easy, logical picks. However, both of those teams have another option that could be even more attractive: Looking for a trade partner. And if a team is going to trade up to the second or third pick, it will almost certainly be to draft a quarterback, possibly Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon's Justin Herbert.
In the last five drafts there have been four instances of a team trading up to one of the top three spots in the first round, and all were done in order to draft a quarterback (Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz). The last time a team traded up that high to take any player other than a quarterback was 2013, when the Dolphins moved up from 12th to third and took edge rusher Dion Jordan. And that did not go well. (The Rams got the second-overall pick in 2014 in a trade, but it wasn't a trade up but rather some of the spoils from when Washington traded up in 2012 to get Robert Griffin III.
If you draw up a mock draft right now, you can easily see how the Dolphins and Chargers could stay put at the fifth and sixth picks and have Tagovailoa and Herbert fall to them (in some order). Few expect Washington, Detroit or the Giants to take a quarterback after the presumptive first choice of Burrow by the Bengals. But for the Dolphins and Chargers, if they are indeed intent on landing a quarterback, the problem isn't those three teams but the other clubs that might try to jump ahead of them. Could the Jaguars, with the ninth pick, be not as sold on Gardner Minshew as some believe? Could Matt Rhule in Carolina, picking seventh, want to get a rookie to develop while Teddy Bridgewater serves us a very aptly-named QB bridge? Or might the Dolphins and Chargers be worried about each other cutting to the front of the line?
Since there are a lot of different permutations of how such trades could fall out, it's not clear how such moves would affect the Buccaneers at number 14. Generally speaking, however, it's a good thing for teams not hunting a quarterback to have other teams make a run on them. Which brings us to…
4. Will Jordan Love be a first-round pick?
It's nearly immutable law of NFL Drafts: Quarterbacks rise. Daniel Jones went sixth last year when most analysts thought the Giants would wait and use their later first-round pick on the Duke passer. Josh Rosen went 10th in 2018 and was the fourth quarterback off the board. As noted above, the Bears felt it was necessary to trade up one spot from third to second to ensure the pick of Trubisky in 2017. Patrick Mahomes would go first if that draft was run again now, but at the time the 10th spot seemed aggressive by the Chiefs, who traded up 17 spots to make the pick. Blake Bortles went third in 2014, Ryan Tannehill eighth in 2012, Jake Locker eighth in 2011. All of those picks were higher than most analysts expected during the run-up to each draft.
Which brings us to Jordan Love, this year's most divisive quarterback prospect. The Utah State passer had a superb 2018 season to get on the NFL's radar but regressed, at least statistically, in 2019, most notably indicated by an underwhelming 20-17 touchdown-interception ratio. But he has a big arm, prototypical size and tons of athleticism, and he made a good impression at the NFL Scouting Combine. There will be teams interested in a quarterback to develop (Raiders? Patriots? Saints? Jaguars?) who are not able to get in on the early run of the three first-round locks. How do they feel about Love and how soon will they think they have to pull the trigger.
Check out those five CBS Sports mock drafts again, or just read on for the spoiler: Love's predicted landing spot is all over the board. Edwards has Love as high as sixth and Wilson puts him 12th. He's 19th in Prisco's draft, 22nd in Brinson's and 23rd in Trapasso's. You can also find a collection of nine NFL.com analysts' mock drafts here, and again there are wildly divergent opinions. Four of those nine don't even have Love in the first round, four others have him drafted between the 20th and 30th picks and one has him as high as 10th.
If you're a Bucs fan, you want that immutable law of rising quarterbacks to hold. Whether it's Carolina or Jacksonville or some team trading up to get their quarterback of the future, if Love comes off the board before the 14th pick that's good news for Tampa Bay. Any quarterback drafted in the top 13 pushes another non-quarterback whom the Bucs might be interested down another spot.
The Buccaneers have a new look in 2020 - take a look at pictures of their new uniforms!
5. Will any teams move up to get the top receivers?
While the potential for top-five picks changing hands in a quarterback frenzy would be the biggest news on Thursday night, there are sure to be a handful of trades further down in the first round, too. And while we've mentioned the idea of tackle-hungry teams trying to move up, the receiver position could create some movement, as well.
This year's pool of receiver prospects is thought to be the best and deepest in quite some time. There are some high-end targets who have the potential to be superstars but there is also a lot of depth, meaning teams will have a shot at getting an impact pass-catcher in the second and third rounds.
The curious thing about the receivers in this year's mock drafts, however, is that they are often not coming off the board within the top-10 picks. Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and the Alabama duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs could all be described as top-10 talent, but the predicted runs on quarterbacks and tackles and the presence of three or four very highly-regarded defenders means that those pass-catchers could slide a bit. Check out those nine NFL.com mock drafts again – every single one of them has the first receiver being drafted either 11th or 12th.
That's potentially great news for the Jets (11th) and Raiders (12th) if it holds, but it could also be enticing to teams picking behind the Buccaneers, such as the Eagles or Vikings. Though the top receivers are dropping out of the top 10 in most mocks, once they start to come off the board it generally starts a run. The Eagles and Vikings pick 21st and 22nd, respectively and could likely stay put and get a receiver like LSU's Justin Jefferson, Clemson's Tee Higgins or Baylor's Denzel Mims. However, if they thought that Lamb or Jeudy or Ruggs was clearly a better prospect, they might be willing to move up a bit to land one. And a team like San Francisco, picking 13th after the DeForest Buckner trade but overall lacking in draft capital, might be willing to move down.
Whether it's the 13th pick, the 12th or the 11th, any team trading in front of Tampa Bay to pick a receiver would affect the availability for at least one other prospect at number 14. Of course, the Buccaneers might actually be targeting one of those receivers themselves, but if they're not they would welcome such a deal.
6. Will any more veteran players be traded before the draft?
The 49ers added a second first-round pick through their surprising Buckner deal with Indianapolis, which in the long run will probably change the identity of the player drafted right before the Bucs' 14th pick. The Vikings got a first-round pick from the Bills for wideout Stefon Diggs, and though at 22 it falls after Tampa Bay's pick it could still conceivably affect the situation before 14. The Vikings now have the 22nd and 25th picks, which in theory at least gives them more flexibility for a potential trade up.
Will the draft be further affected by deals like these in these last couple days before the clock starts on Thursday night? They may be unconfirmed rumors, but there are reports of the Jaguars looking for a trade partner to move running back Leonard Fournette, and the Vikings considering a swap for Browns receiver Odell Beckham. Last-minute deals like these could affect Tampa Bay's draft in a couple different ways.
Most obviously, if any of the teams picking before the Buccaneers give up a first-rounder for a veteran player, that would probably change how the draft fell before the 14th pick. However, such a deal is probably unlikely. The more likely manner in which such a trade would affect the Buccaneers would be in the way it satisfies what had previously been another team's draft needs. And this affect might be seen more on Day Two.
For example, if the Buccaneers were hoping to land a running back in the second round, as many analysts (including our own Bucs-only mock draft) have suggested, they might have a better shot if another running back-needy team trades for Fournette or another veteran instead. The same logic would apply to the receiver position if there is a Beckham trade or another deal involving an established pass-catcher.
All of this is obviously speculation, but soon we won't have to speculate anymore. The real thing starts on Thursday night and pretty soon the storylines that will most affect Tampa Bay's draft efforts will make themselves evident.