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What if 2 tackles crack the top 5?

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NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Scouting Combine was buzzing with offensive line news on Friday, particularly in regards to Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Iowa’s Trsitan Wirfs. Already believed to be going in the top half of the first round prior to their combine showings, Becton and Wirfs could now make it the most top-heavy lineman draft since 2013, as Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills have also been projected for the top-10.

The difference being that 2013 was simply one of the worst drafts of all-time (those linemen were Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson, Jonathan Cooper, and Chance Warmack all going in the top 10) but 2020 is not expected to be like that. Not only do we now have four solid top-10 prospects for o-line, but an immovable QB at pick one, a pass rushing prospect who’d go first overall in many other years, and a cornerback who has a chance to be the first top-3 corner since Shawn Springs in 1997.

That goes without mentioning the two other quarterbacks competing for the top-10, a defensive tackle who some see as a future All-Pro, a versatile linebacker who some team will be very happy to land whenever he gets picked and wherever he plays, and a wide receiver class that is being called one of the best we’ve ever seen.

The 2020 NFL Draft has the potential to be one of the most fruitful first rounds in history and the LA Chargers pick sixth.

Many have been hoping to see the Chargers select a tackle and up until now, there seemed to be a good chance that they’d at least have the pick of the linemen. Given what I’ve experienced in 20 plus years of being in love with following the draft process (not from a scouting perspective mind you, I think the combine is actually a bit of a joke, but more on the narrative side of things) I now expect the real movement in projections begin to happen.

Mock drafts will start to move pawns around from the top-5 to the 20s, and from the 20s to the top-5. Experts will report how teams are now high on players and that they’ll be going much earlier than expected. Some of it will happen now. Much of it won’t happen until the day of the draft, when Mel Kiper has to burn his mocks and start reporting real news. But if it’s day one and the Detroit Lions are on the clock at three and we hear, “I’m hearing the Lions are very high on Tristan Wirfs,” I won’t be surprised.

I won’t even feign it.

The Lions have Taylor Decker and Ricky Wagner at the tackle spots, but Decker is going into his fifth-year option before his free agent opportunity approaches in 2021, and Wagner is a cap casualty candidate. An offensive tackle may not be Detroit’s biggest need, but when has that ever stopped them before?

Besides, there are few teams in the NFL that can claim they have absolutely no need for a premium, young, healthy, cheap left tackle, while the rise of interior pass rushers has increased the need for quality guards and centers. I’m not an economist, but in the world of supply and demand I do know that there’s a much greater demand for quality linemen than there is a supply. That’s why it won’t be surprising if all four of these players land in the top 10, even in a draft like this one.

Washington picks second and thought Trent Williams is reportedly open to playing for Ron Rivera and the new front office, he’s also 32, took a year off, and hasn’t played a full season since 2013. Their lock on Chase Young almost seems as much of a foregone conclusion as previous situations such as the one where the Houston Texans had the first overall pick in 2014 and nobody was being considered there except for Jadeveon Clowney. Didn’t seem to be a fit or a huge need, but everyone kept saying, “Yeah, but it’s Clowney.”

In either case of pick two or pick three, I think those two teams are more than open to taking phone calls. You’d assume that a trade up to two would be for Young, but Washington could still move down and take a tackle.

The New York Giants pick fourth and all opportunities are open. They have Nate Solder at left tackle but an immediate opening at right tackle and Solder is also 32, like Williams. He’d represent $14 million in savings against the cap if released in 2021, or the Giants could just have two good tackles like the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, or Philadelphia Eagles in recently successful seasons. No team is turning down the idea of two high quality tackles at this time.

Certainly not the Miami Dolphins, who traded Laremy Tunsil last year and have none.

The Dolphins are oft linked to a quarterback, such as Tua Tagovailoa, which narratives speak to me as a sure sign that they aren’t going to draft a quarterback. In four years as GM, Chris Grier has drafted one QB (Brandon Doughty, seventh round, 2016) and used second and fifth round picks to acquire Josh Rosen. If Brian Flores is bringing a Bill Belichick mentality to the building of Miami’s roster, then I don’t think he’d take a quarterback that early just for the sake of it. I personally don’t think Tua Tagovailoa will be worth an early draft pick and that’s another narrative (“Tua is ‘falling’ in the draft”) that I would not double-take about.

I would also not double-take if Tua goes in the top five.

But the Dolphins pick fifth, 18th, and 26th, in addition to 39th and 56th. You could argue that they could get the QB first and the tackle next because this seems to be a deep class, but I think the reality is that strong showings for the top-four tackles/guards means that you’re actually less likely to get one of the premium guys. It may instead push other prospects down — such as quarterbacks.

Consider a strong 2016 draft, where Tunsil’s gas mask scandal meant that Ronnie Stanley was the first tackle off the board at six, then Jack Conklin at eight, then Tunsil at 13 and Decker at 16. Most teams would be happy with any four of those players, but bypassing center Ryan Kelly at 18, the next linemen off the board were Joshua Garnett at 28 (out of the NFL) and Germain Ifedi at 31 (a disappointment to many Seattle Seahawks fans and the like).

You don’t get another tackle until Jason Spriggs at 48 (bad), then all the way down to Shon Coleman at 76 (bad), then Le’Raven Clark at 82 (bad).

After Decker at 16, the closest thing to a starting tackle in that draft was maybe Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a fifth round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles who has sat behind Jason Peters and Johnson for most of the last four years but could get a starting job this offseason. If any team in the top-15 passes on a potential NFL tackle, I think they take the risk of not coming away with an NFL tackle.

That’s as much of a consideration for what Miami decides to do as it is for what LA decides to do.

Let’s assess again where we may be at with the top five:

  • The Cincinnati Bengals are perfectly setup to draft Joe Burrow, my favorite QB prospect in quite some time. I think they’ve got enough pieces in place to guide Burrow towards a successful first season and there shouldn’t be anything between the Bengals and Burrow becoming an official pair in April.
  • If Washington really wants to draft Chase Young, I’d at least be considering what I can get in trade for one of the other defensive linemen of note on the roster who’d be in his way. “You can never have enough pass rushers” is not true. Like, 30 would be too many. You can’t build a full roster that way. If it were me, I’d be really interested in milking this draft position for all it’s worth and hoping a team overspends without having to move outside of the top eight. But even then, I think it is better to focus on a big picture than a single player. For the time being, we’ll say that Young goes to Washington.
  • At this point, all bets are off. The Lions, Giants, and Dolphins could go in any number of directions. While Detroit and New York don’t seem like immediate fits for a left tackle, they could easily make it work for the right left tackle. Or the right tackle that’s left. Or the ... I think it could happen. And trades are becoming maybe more of a probability than a possibility.

I see teams below the never-trading Chargers like the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders, and Indianapolis Colts. The most trading power belongs to Vegas and Indy, as the Raiders also have pick 19 and the Colts have picks 34 and 44. Vegas is one team we can absolutely write off drafting an offensive lineman, at least early on. With Indianapolis, it all depends on what happens with pending free agent Anthony Castonzo, but the Colts also have the most cap space in the NFL, or thereabouts. They have the buying power to avoid the tackle need early in the draft.

The Panthers didn’t get much out of Greg Little at tackle but he was only a second round rookie and Taylor Moton has been very good at what he does. I wouldn’t see Carolina trading up for a tackle. The Arizona Cardinals always seem in the market for offensive line help but just re-signed D.J. Humphries and wouldn’t feel pressure to trade up for a solution on the right side.

It’s hard to know where the Jaguars stand based on the maddening inconsistency of Cam Robinson, but GM Dave Caldwell says they intend to ride that cart again. Mark off Jacksonville. Leaving the Browns and Jets.

Cleveland GM Andrew Berry is 32 and therefore does not have much of anything in terms of a track record to go on, but he was picked in part because he will worth with Paul DePodesta, the chief strategy officer since 2016. In the last four years, the Browns have made a lot of trades. 41 to be exact. Many of these trades involved moving or receiving players and they’ve only once traded up in the first round: going from 33 to 29 in 2017 for tight end David Njoku.

DePodesta is looking for more picks, not less, but Cleveland is perhaps the most tackle desperate team in the league.

Incumbent Greg Robinson is not only a free agent, a recent arrest means he might not actually be free at all. And Chris Hubbard could be the worst starting right tackle of 2019. The team is picking 10th and at this moment it could be irresponsible to not give Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb a monumental upgrade. We believe that there could be four great linemen in the draft, but some teams will only think there are three. Some will only think there’s one. What if Berry and DePodesta believe that only Wirfs and Becton are the players worth taking that high? They now might not be available at 10.

Cleveland holds picks 10, 41, 72, and 88 on the first two days of the draft. They also have a propensity to deal players and I’ve evaluated at least a few interesting candidates. Can we imagine a scenario where the Browns trade picks 10, 41, and Jarvis Landry to the Giants for pick 4? The two sides came to an agreement on Odell Beckham, Jabrill Peppers, and picks once before and because of that New York has a wide receiver need maybe more than a left tackle need. What if Cleveland slides up to pick four and selects Andrew Thomas or Jedrick Wills or Wirfs or Becton?

A totally plausible top-5:

1. Cincinnati Bengals - Joe Burrow, QB

2. Washington - Chase Young, EDGE

3. Detroit Lions - Derrick Brown, DT

4. Cleveland Browns (via trade) - Andrew Thomas, OT

5. Miami Dolphins - Tristan Wirfs, OT/G

If tackles and/or guards end up taking over the top 10 of the draft, the Chargers options start to look a little different than simply “Justin Herbert???”

This board keeps Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah available, meaning that the secondary could add an elite prospect at another position that lacks supply for its demand.

It keeps both Herbert and Tagovailoa available, even though I wouldn’t personally recommend either at this spot.

It keeps Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons as an option. And we know that both Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills are still here. If you want to swap out Becton and Wills with Thomas and Wirfs, fine, but the point being that LA will have the opportunity to draft a well-regarded lineman no matter what happens ahead of them. That gives Tom Telesco options, including trading down — my favorite choice — because we can see a world where this draft has gifts all over the top 20.

But there’s the risk that Telesco will only see one or two premier tackle prospects in this draft and what if that player or two is gone by five? Anthony Lynn has said this team will go with a Best Player Available strategy at six, which may mean that it is Simmons. Or Okudah. Or Brown. Or Wirfs.

And before I skip the Jets as trade-up contenders, four of their five starting offensive linemen are free agents and they have a young quarterback and expensive running back that they aren’t doing much to help. Speaking of Sam Darnold, they traded up from six to three in 2018 for him, moving three second rounders in the process. That GM was since fired but the organization hasn’t shied from deals.

They hold an extra third round pick from the Leonard Williams-to-Giants trade and may need to dip into their 2021 draft capital, which is hardly unusual. So the Jets stand out as potential teams to move up, as do the Colts and Raiders, but not for tackles. Which could potentially still benefit the Chargers if it pushes another tackle down to six.

Or a QB...if you actually really want that.

Which may be fine! I can’t tell you any better than the next person can as far as who will be a successful professional football player and who won’t, but I do think that the picture is revealing even more tantalizing options than before.

Poll

If you HAD to choose one of these 3 options for the Chargers pick at 6

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Best available QB
    (54 votes)
  • 35%
    Best available OL
    (85 votes)
  • 41%
    Best available: All other positions
    (99 votes)
238 votes total Vote Now