The Cincinnati Bengals own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft and have numerous strong options for how to use the selection, but sources connected to both college football and the NFL say the team has already decided who the pick will be.
LSU's Joe Burrow.
Over the last two weeks in various conversations with coaches at LSU, scouts, decision-makers across the NFL and agents who represent top quarterbacks, it has become quite clear that Burrow will be the selection.
"Barring some kind of Ricky Williams trade up the board, they're taking [Burrow]," is how one coach put it in a text this week. Others will tell you this has been known since the Bengals secured the No. 1 overall pick. So why are there rumors that Cincinnati and Burrow aren't a fit?
One former general manager told me that's by design. "If you're Burrow, you probably don't love the idea of being a Bengal, but you're too good of a kid to ever say that. So you just sit and let the rumors happen, and maybe someone like Carolina or Miami trades everything they have to come get you. It's not the worst move ever."
The Bengals, though, are not expected to bite. According to a coach who worked with Burrow in college, Cincinnati has clearly signaled the former LSU quarterback is its choice without coming out and saying it. And that's how the NFL wants it. There is an unwritten rule that teams not tip their hands as far as the top pick, as the league wants the drama and excitement of the selection's announcement on live television.
Many will ask if Burrow is worth it. The Bengals had a solid quarterback in Andy Dalton and couldn't get a playoff win. He is.
The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback led LSU to an undefeated season while having one of the best years any evaluator has ever seen from both a statistical and impact perspective. Burrow's 60 touchdown passes and paltry six interceptions alongside his 76.3 percent completion rate were ridiculous. Add his five rushing touchdowns, and it's easy to see why Burrow took home the Heisman—he was quite simply better than anyone else in college football in 2019.
The Bengals took notice and are in the driver's seat for the next 10 weeks as the April 23 draft nears. But like when Kyler Murray went to the Cardinals last year, it's considered a done deal in league circles that Burrow will be the pick.
The Scout's Report
—NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted this week that the CT scan done on former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's injured hip was "as positive as possible," with "the hip and range of motion" looking good. Rapoport noted it will likely be another month before Tua is cleared for football activities.
—While expected, this is great news for Tua and the NFL. In a draft that features many teams looking to restart at quarterback, a healthy Tua is a value as a top-five selection. It's easy to forget, but before his hip injury, it was a debate whether Tagovailoa was the top quarterback in this class. His injury opened the door for Burrow (who was QB1 before Tua's hip setback on my board) to run away with the top spot.
A healthy Tagovailoa will have the Detroit Lions considering their future at quarterback, as well as opening the phone lines for what should be a lucrative trade market for the No. 3 pick.
—Speaking of the quarterback market, one veteran pro scout opined this week that it may be slow moving because Tom Brady is a free agent. As he put it, Brady is the prize of the free-agent class, and if he takes his time to make a decision when the market opens March 18, the rest of the quarterbacks could be put in a holding pattern—especially those on the move, such as Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater and potentially Jameis Winston.
Of course, if Brady returns to New England as expected, it'll all fall into place relatively quickly.
—The interior defensive line group hasn't received a ton of mentions this year, but you probably know about Derrick Brown (Auburn) and Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) as top-10 players. You might not know yet about the next tier of prospects, but it's a very good group.
Ross Blacklock (TCU), Marlon Davidson (Auburn), Jordan Elliott (Missouri), Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M) and Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma) all grade out as top-50 players—with Blacklock and Davidson potential first-rounders.
It's a good year to have a late-first- or early-second-round need at defensive tackle.
The Mock Draft
The Miami Dolphins own the 2020 draft board with a projected 13 selections when compensatory picks are factored in. Here's how the Dolphins draft could look without trades.
1.5: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
1.18: OT Josh Jones, Houston
1.26: RB D'Andre Swift, Georgia
2.39: EDGE Bradlee Anae, Utah
2.56: CB Stanford Samuels III, FSU
3.70: S Ashtyn Davis, California
4.142: WR K.J. Hill, Ohio State
5.163: IOL Jonah Jackson, Ohio State
5.166: IDL Nick Coe, Auburn
6.186: LB Davion Taylor, Colorado
6.198: EDGE Carter Coughlin, Minnesota
7.246: OT Jack Driscoll, Auburn
7.251: CB Trajan Bandy, Miami
6. The NFL announced dates for its regional combine this week with an added change: There will be the regional invitational and a historically black colleges and universities combine.
The HBCU will be in Miami on March 27-28, with the RCI combine taking place at the same location on March 28-29.
The RCI is for players not invited to the NFL combine but carries similar qualifications—you must have played college football the previous season, have run out of college eligibility and be draft eligible. The players go through the same medical, psychological and on-field testing as the top-tier performers will in Indianapolis.
5. Stock Down
As our NFL Draft 400 project seriously gets underway, I'm spending my days watching 2019 game tape that was slow to come in during the season. Up first this week was LSU—a team with so many prospects that there is a backlog to watch the same game multiple times for each player.
Kristian Fulton was touted early in the process as a Round 1 cornerback, and he might be once we get through testing and interviews, but on tape there are enough concerns to bump him out of my top 32 players.
Fulton likes to play physical football at the top of a receiver's route stem, but he's too handsy there because of a lack of recovery speed. He was often playing banged up in 2019, which could contribute to his lack of burst, but Fulton could be knocked if he performs poorly in agility and speed drills at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month.
With the cornerback class solid at the top and then featuring a cluster of Tier 2 players, Fulton is fighting for positioning with guys like Jeff Gladney (TCU), Jaylon Johnson (Utah), A.J. Terrell (Clemson), Stanford Samuels III (FSU), Trevon Diggs (Alabama), Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) and Cameron Dantzler (Miss. State).
4. Stock Up
As the NFL embraces the power running game again, one player who stands to benefit is Mississippi State's Tyre Phillips.
A tackle for the Bulldogs, Phillips has the power to play either the right side on a run-heavy team or own the interior. He would be a right tackle fit for the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans, for example, but other teams will love his physicality in the tight spaces of the interior line.
Phillips is a 6'5", 345-pound piledriver with a Round 3 grade on my updated big board.
3. Sleeper of the Week
The 2020 safety class is really good, which means it's easy to overlook or not discuss every player to the extent they deserve. I believe that's the case with Maryland's Antoine Brooks Jr.
A 5'11", 215-pound senior, Brooks has range but also heady tackling skills that project him as a starter-level player with further development of his instincts and diagnosis skills. He's versatile in that he can walk up into the box or play back in the defensive backfield, but that could lead teams to wonder where his true fit is. That's why development might be needed, but once Brooks finds a home, he could provide a legitimate impact at strong safety.
2. Tailgate Tour
Come hang out with Mello, Connor and me on Tailgate Tour throughout the 2020 draft process. Here are the details:
- TwoDeep Brewing Co. in Indianapolis on February 29 at 2:00 p.m.
- HoneyFire BBQ in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 13 at noon
1. Stick to Football is back in studio this week, fixing the Carolina Panthers, examining the future of the Los Angeles Chargers and playing Cash or Trash with NFL free-agent rumors.
Check out all our podcast episodes, which are also available on YouTube as a video series, and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.