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Top storylines for the 2020 NFL Draft

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The all-virtual 2020 NFL Draft is nearing. It’s going to be one heck of an interesting event. Are teams equipped to handle the changing dynamic? What about new general managers? They seem to be behind the proverbial eight ball.

In terms of how the draft might play out, there are a lot of stories to focus on. Among them, how many quarterbacks will go within the top-10 picks? Will former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa could see a dramatic drop down the board?

These are among the top-10 storylines heading into the 2020 NFL Draft next week.

Tua Tagovailoa dynamic

At this point, there’s no telling where Tua will go after he suffered a serious hip injury during his final season with Alabama. Previous suggestions suggested that the dynamic young signal caller would likely land with the Miami Dolphins at No. 3 in a trade-up scenario. Given that the Dolphins seem to be higher on another quarterback leading up the draft, that might no longer be the case.

Could Tua fall to the bottom half of the top 10 our outside of the top-10 selections altogether? It’s a possibility given that at least one high-profile NFL person believes Tagovailoa will have to undergo hip replacement surgery. Either way, where Tua lands in the 2020 NFL Draft will have wide-ranging ramifications.

The all-virtual draft

For the first time in NFL history, the draft will be held completely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a less-than-ideal scenario for certain teams with new front offices and coaching staffs. How the communication works will be the big story here and will decide which teams whiff on their draft selections.

I’m also intrigued to see how the NFL Network and ESPN will handle their simulcast. That’s also a first in the modern history of an event that has taken on new life in recent years. What was supposed to be a grand annual event in Las Vegas is now completely virtual. All teams will hold it in quarantine. Could this impact some squads? What about the broadcast? Heck, will trades be held up? It’s a major storyline to pay attention to.

Run of offensive linemen in the top 10

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that at least four offensive tackles will go within the top-10 picks come Thursday night. Welcome to the new NFL, where blindside protectors are of utmost value in the pass-first league. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills from Alabama, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and the massive Mekhi Becton are almost guaranteed to be top-10 picks. Meanwhile, USC’s Austin Jackson is gaining traction and moving up the draft boards.

Again, this is in no way a surprise. Starting with the New York Giants, there’s a number of rebuilding squads in need of potential franchise bookends. New York has most recently been linked to Thomas. Wills translates best to the left side, which means the Carolina Panthers could target him at seventh overall. Either way, expect a run of tackles early Thursday evening.

Risers and fallers

As noted before, offensive tackles are going to go off the board early and often. This should be great news for lesser-known tackles such as USC’s Austin Jackson, Houston’s Josh Jones and Ezra Cleveland from Boise State. Specifically, Jackson is getting some top-16 play recently. On the other side of the ball, former Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson could very well be a top-10 pick. He’s seen as the clear No. 2 corner in the draft class. I’d also be remiss to ignore Denzel Mims’ ascension up the draft board. The former Baylor receiver could end up going in the top 12.

On the other side of the ledger, Tagovailoa could see a dramatic drop in Round 1 come Thursday evening. He’s joined by former Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who had a disastrous NFL Scouting Combine performance. Meanwhile, Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk just underwent surgery and could drop out of the top 32.

How the receiver situation plays out

This is among the top stories heading into the draft, and it’s not necessarily that close. In no particular order, Alabama teammates Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs as well as Oklahoma star CeeDee Lamb represent the top-three players. Each should go within the first half of Day 1. Though, there’s something to be said about teams waiting for value at wide receiver and going in another direction early.

We’re talking about an historically deep draft class at this position. In a normal year, LSU’s Justin Jefferson would be considered a top-10 pick. USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. is a favorite in draft circles, and could be had in the second round. This doesn’t even take into account potential No. 1 receiver in that of Denzel Mims, who is climbing up draft boards in recent days. Jalen Reagor (Texas Christian), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State) and Tee Higgins (Clemson) are also all high-upside receivers to keep an eye on. This should be fun.

Teams to get value at running back

Over the course of the past four drafts, only four running backs have gone within the top-20 picks. This includes generational prospects in that of Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott. While there’s no one of that ilk in the 2020 NFL Draft, multiple running backs can be viewed as elite talents.

It starts with record-breaking former Wisconsin back Jonathan Taylor, who dominated during the combine earlier this year. He’s joined by fellow Big 10 alum, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, as the top backs in the class. The ceiling for each player is at the bottom of the first round. Though, both should be available on Day 2. This will give running back-needy teams tremendous value while pushing the likes of LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and promising Florida State back Cam Akers further down the draft board.

Potential blockbuster trades

The top of the 2020 NFL Draft will likely be filled with some blockbuster trades. Selecting No. 3 overall, the Detroit Lions are more than likely to trade down with a quarterback-needy team. Among those interested, the Las Vegas Raiders have the draft picks to make a move up the board. Meanwhile, the New York Giants are also potentially looking to trade down. They have not been quiet about this.

It’s also almost a foregone conclusion that multiple star veterans will be dealt Thursday evening. The Dallas Cowboys are making a renewed play for New York Jets All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, hoping the star’s push for a contract extension will force his way out of New York. Jacksonville Jaguars Pro Bowl edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is also likely to be dealt. These are just two of several big-name players who could be on the move come draft day.

Jordan Love’s ceiling and floor

Perhaps the most divisive player in the 2020 NFL Draft, this Utah State product has drawn some comparisons to Super Bowl winner Patrick Mahomes. That’s about as foolish as it gets given Love’s body of work in college compared to his MVP counterpart. The dude put up 20 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions last year, drawing other comparisons to former first-round bust Blake Bortles in the process.

Some don’t even view Love as someone who should be selected in the top-three rounds. Others believe he will come off the board within the top-16 picks. From a pure talent standpoint, there’s a lot to like. The 6-foot-4 signal caller boasts a rifle of an arm and is your prototypical drop-back passer. That should be enticing enough for a team to take a chance on Love in Round 1.

Teams with multiple first-round picks

A total of five teams have multiple picks in the first round. That’s headed by the Miami Dolphins, who have their original pick (fifth overall) as well as the 18th and 26th selections. Miami could very well decide to trade up from the fifth spot with Detroit to land a top quarterback. It could also see how things play out by staying put and taking the best player available.

The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers now boast two first-round picks after acquiring the 13th overall selection in the DeForest Buckner trade. The expectation here is that general manager John Lynch and Co. will move down from either the 13th or 31st pick. I am also highly intrigued to see what the Las Vegas Raiders do with the 12th and 19th selections. They have been linked to at least one big-name quarterback. Either way, these five teams will help dictate how the first round of the NFL Draft goes Thursday evening.

Reaching for a quarterback

I already focused on Jordan Love. There’s no reason to beat a dead horse on that front. Rather, it’s becoming increasingly clear that former Georgia and Washington quarterback Jacob Eason will go in the first round. He lost his starting job with the Bulldogs before transferring to Seattle. Sure Eason’s prototypical frame should interest teams, but the dude can’t hit the back end of a barn from three feet out.

There’s also a chance that Eason’s former teammate with Georgia, Jake Fromm, will go much higher than expected. He struggled with an elite supporting cast in Athens last season and is much more of a project than most believe. Any team reaching for him, likely in Round 2, will rue the day.