INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL Scouting Combine isn't just about measuring and evaluating players. It is also the unofficial start to the NFL rumor season. Agents, coaches and general managers are in one location (oftentimes in a handful of bars and steakhouses lining Indy's streets) with offseason plans largely made.
Deals will be done here. Rumors will circulate through the assembled NFL media as reporters talk to the league's powerbrokers. And for the past three days, that has been my job—to stay out in the speakeasies and watering holes to find out information on as many teams and players as possible. My liver accepts your thoughts and prayers.
And with my cellphone notes app loaded with rumors, it's time to unload the notebook. Here's what we're hearing, team by team, in order of draft selection (and those without first-rounders are listed in the slot they traded away).
Cincinnati — LSU quarterback Joe Burrow didn't want to be presumptuous when talking about being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but everyone in the NFL right now believes he will be the pick. The excitement for Cincinnati starts in Round 2, where the team owns pick No. 33 overall. The buzz in Indianapolis is that the Bengals will be looking at wide receivers in a loaded draft class at the position.
Washington — There has been no shortage of speculation that the Redskins will trade this pick or draft a quarterback, with head coach Ron Rivera even telling reporters that the team will bring in Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa for meetings. However, sources with the Redskins told me they're excited to have the No. 2 pick and understand they have a chance to draft the best player in the class. That's Ohio State pass-rusher Chase Young, who should be considered a lock to be drafted here.
Detroit — A source with the Lions was ecstatic when talking about the team's fortunes at No. 3 overall. "Trade or draft, we're in a good position." The Lions can receive a plethora of draft picks if they decide to trade out of this spot and allow a team to come up for a healthy Tua Tagovailoa—and that's what the rest of the NFL thinks will happen. The Lions could slide back to No. 5 overall with Miami and still draft Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.
NY Giants — General manager Dave Gettleman is a wild card when it comes to predicting what the Giants will do, but his history suggests that offensive tackle and linebacker will be priorities in team building. That meshes well with the value on the board, as both Jedrick Wills Jr. (Alabama) and Isaiah Simmons (Clemson) are expected to be available at No. 4 overall.
Gettleman could also do something he's never done before as a GM—trade down in the first round. The Giants, like the Lions, could be in the market to move back and allow a team to come up for a quarterback. It's worth watching how free agency impacts the tackle and linebacker spots for the Giants, though, as they wouldn't want to trade back too far and miss out on an elite player.
Miami — You may have seen reports that the Miami Dolphins have concerns about Tua Tagovailoa. Don't believe those. One source I spoke with this week said "the Dolphins are going to get Tua" and mentioned it's classic smokescreen behavior to tell a team-friendly reporter they don't like Tua in hopes he falls to No. 5 overall. But I'm told the team is prepared to trade up for the Alabama quarterback, and owner Stephen Ross is fully on board with the selection.
L.A. Chargers — Quarterback is where rival executives think the Chargers go at No. 6 overall, but one AFC West scout actually pointed out that he thinks Tyrod Taylor will be their starter in 2020, so even a drafted quarterback might not play immediately. Two other areas the Chargers are expected to address are offensive tackle and linebacker. One scout reported hearing the Chargers liked USC's Austin Jackson at offensive tackle at the top of Round 2.
Carolina — You've probably seen mock drafts that don't feature a quarterback at No. 7 overall to the Carolina Panthers. That was the word before Ian Rapoport tweeted that the Panthers were moving ahead with Cam Newton at quarterback in 2020. The buzz surrounding Carolina is that the team knew it wasn't getting a top-tier quarterback in Round 1 and planned to move ahead with what it has. Auburn's Derrick Brown is a name often connected to Carolina by area scouts.
Arizona — After signing offensive tackle D.J. Humphries to a three-year extension, the Cardinals will not be pressured into drafting an offensive tackle at No. 8 overall. That doesn't mean they won't—Iowa's Tristan Wirfs is a popular name when talking to scouts about the Cardinals' plans—but the overwhelming consensus is that head coach Kliff Kingsbury will take the best wide receiver on the board. The big question comes down to who that is: Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs III? The Cardinals could be the first team to draft a receiver this year.
Jacksonville — With two selections in the first round thanks to the Jalen Ramsey trade, the Jaguars can be aggressive. The smart money is on the team walking out of the first night of the draft with a cornerback, offensive tackle or linebacker. No. 9 overall is probably too early for Florida cornerback CJ Henderson, so this could be a landing spot for Isaiah Simmons (Clemson) or Mekhi Becton (Louisville) to satisfy other needs before checking more boxes at No. 20 overall.
Cleveland — Another new general manager is in charge in Cleveland, and this time it's Andrew Berry who will be tasked with fixing the Browns. With a heavy background in analytics, Berry could look to trade back and acquire more picks, but at No. 10 overall, the league consensus is that an offensive tackle should be the pick. Protecting Baker Mayfield and opening rushing lanes for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are priorities. Georgia's Andrew Thomas is a name to remember here.
NY Jets — The New York Jets need a wide receiver, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a plugged-in evaluator who thinks general manager Joe Douglas will use the No. 11 pick on one. Instead, the Jets have to be hoping an offensive tackle will fall here.
Don't be surprised if the Jets start spreading rumors about how good this year's quarterback class is in an effort to get three or more drafted in the top 10 picks so a top-tier tackle falls to them.
Las Vegas — The Raiders own two selections in the first round, and lately there has been a lot of talk that they might target a quarterback. One source I spoke with doubted Jon Gruden would find a rookie he likes better than veteran Derek Carr but pointed out they could draft Jalen Hurts on Day 3 to have a developmental quarterback who can also play right away in creative offensive packages. Hurts in Las Vegas would definitely be a splash.
Indianapolis — The buzz in Indianapolis is all about Philip Rivers coming to the Colts in free agency. General manager Chris Ballard hasn't tipped his hand as far as the team's plans at the position and did praise incumbent Jacoby Brissett in a presser this week. In Round 1, many scouts believe a wide receiver is in play if left tackle Anthony Castonzo returns.
Tampa Bay — If anyone tells you they know what the Buccaneers are doing at quarterback, they are alone. No sources in Indianapolis are confident in their reading of the tea leaves for Tampa and free agent Jameis Winston. There is plenty of speculation that Jacob Eason or Jordan Love could be selected here, but until the team makes it known what it plans to do with Winston, it's all just speculation. There is considerable buzz that defensive end is a high priority for the team.
Denver — Two positions to keep an eye on for the Broncos: offensive tackle and wide receiver. There is talk about cornerback, too, but the scouts who know Denver well say John Elway is very connected to the tackles and receivers in the class. Henry Ruggs III is mentioned often here.
Atlanta — Pass-rusher is the name of the game for Atlanta in Round 1, but that seems well-known. I did hear from multiple agents that the Falcons have been contacting running backs who are expected to be Day 2 selections to set up workouts and meetings. With Devonta Freeman's future in question, this makes plenty of sense.
Dallas — Free agency is going to be huge for how Dallas moves forward this offseason with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Byron Jones all set to hit the market.
Cornerback is seen internally as a need—the team needs a big cornerback with the speed to play in man coverage—but filling out the defensive line is equally big. Cornerback and defensive tackle are early needs.
Pittsburgh — The Steelers don't have a first-rounder in this draft after trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick, but they still have needs. A team source said to keep a close eye on edge-rusher and running back in the middle rounds.
Chicago — The Bears are limited on picks thanks to the Khalil Mack trade but have plenty of needs to attack with their eight selections (including a projected compensatory pick) spread out between Days 2 and 3. Offensive tackle, cornerback and tight end are pressing needs, according to scouts internally and those who study the Bears as pro scouts.
L.A. Rams — The Rams are old on the offensive line and need major upgrades there. The team also needs to address defensive end and linebacker if Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton leave in free agency. The skill positions are mostly set, which will allow the front office to go after the offensive line and front seven on defense. That said, one rival GM did say he expects the Rams to be heavily involved in the trade market.
Philadelphia — It's very easy to say the Eagles need a wide receiver—they do. They also need upgrades in the secondary and will look for more weapons in the pass-rushing department, according to scouts who know the team. Henry Ruggs III and Brandon Aiyuk were mentioned as targets in Round 1.
Buffalo — Like the Eagles, the Bills need wide receivers. Tee Higgins would be a dream here to give Josh Allen a bigger target and someone to stretch the field vertically. In Round 3, if a receiver hasn't been drafted, big ones like Bryan Edwards and Donovan Peoples-Jones are names I've heard.
New England — A quarterback will be drafted by New England this year, according to one source within the team. Whether that's in Round 1 or later depends on Tom Brady's free-agency decision. League sources still believe Brady returns to the Patriots for 2020.
New Orleans — Wide receiver is a big point of emphasis in the draft class for the Saints, with one evaluator saying it might not be their first-round pick because of positional depth but that it will be addressed. Folks around the scouting world still believe Jordan Love is an option here as the team's quarterback of the future.
Minnesota — Addressing the offensive line is a need, but I'm told the team will do serious work on the quarterback class. Kirk Cousins is a free agent after the 2020 season, and the team has no young developmental quarterback on the roster behind him.
Houston — No first-rounder makes this team tough to nail down, but I'm told it would like to add another pass-rusher and improve the running back position. Carlos Hyde rushed for 1,000 yards last season, but the Texans want more of a pass-catching threat to work with Deshaun Watson.
Seattle — Edge-rusher is the top need with or without Jadeveon Clowney, but I'm told the team also likes the wide receiver class and would love to find another Round 2 steal like it did last year in DK Metcalf.
Baltimore — The Ravens need a middle linebacker, and they're hoping to land a playmaker with speed. Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray is a target here. The team also could look at pass-rushers early in this draft, according to sources within the organization.
Tennessee — A big pass-rusher to go opposite Harold Landry is wanted here and could be a Round 1 target, but so could running back if Derrick Henry leaves in free agency.
Mike Vrabel told me on Stick to Football this week that it's "unlikely" the team can keep all its top free agents. Henry could be the odd man out.
Green Bay — Another wide receiver is seen internally as a big need, but so is middle linebacker. Keep an eye on Patrick Queen from LSU here or his teammate Justin Jefferson if either slips to No. 30 overall in the first round.
San Francisco — Staffers in San Francisco believe the team will trade back to add more picks to a class that's very light after trades for Emmanuel Sanders and Dee Ford. With only six picks before compensatory selections are announced, the 49ers desperately need more swings of the bat in the middle rounds to fill out needs at wide receiver, interior offensive line and safety.
Kansas City — The Super Bowl champions are expected to target a running back late and a wide receiver or No. 2 tight end in the middle of the draft—and they have needs at cornerback. This could be a draft, with only five selections, where the Chiefs have to punt on needs at linebacker and interior offensive line.
5. The NFL has changed the combine schedule this year to put workouts in prime time and get more eyes on the event. That's good news for folks like myself who make a living covering the draft, and it's good news for fans who want to watch workouts at home and not have to use a sick day at work or school to see them.
However, as I tweeted earlier this week, top agents are holding their players out of the event. Joe Burrow and Chase Young are the top two players in the class and the two most popular of the healthy participants, but neither is working out here.
Agents and players are concerned about the new schedule and their unfamiliarity with it. Why risk running a slow 40 or bombing a workout because your player isn't prepared for the new times and the stress of working out at night versus the morning?
The NFL wants eyes on the combine, but for casual fans to tune in, the top players need to work out. Don't be surprised if there is a little behind-the-scenes talking this week about how to ease concerns and get the best players on the field working out again in 2021.
4. NFL teams love versatility, and 46 prospects were asked to show off their skills at other positions in this year's combine class. Notable names: Chase Claypool (Notre Dame, WR) asked to work out at tight end; Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU, RB) asked to run routes with wide receivers; and Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma, LB) asked to work out with the pass-rushers.
This number is a little misleading, though. Players listed at linebacker are being asked to work out as defensive linemen to show off pass-rushing skills, and vice versa with defensive linemen asked to work out at linebacker.
As the combine continues to grow and evolve, look for more diversity in how players are grouped within positions to truly show off their skill sets regardless of their base-defense alignment.
3. Big Board
In case you missed it in all the combine news, my latest NFL draft big board dropped this week with over 400 players graded and ranked. Check it out here.
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 in Indianapolis this week. We are hosting Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills), Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans) and Matt Bowen (ESPN) live from radio row.
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.