In this most unique of drafts, filled with technological concerns and even uncertainty when real football might return, there was one constant Thursday night: Joe Burrow.
For months, the national champion quarterback from LSU was linked with the Bengals. Cincinnati began the draft by sending the name of the Heisman Trophy winner to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the basement of his home.
This digital/remote/virtual draft — take your choice — was up and running. With no apparent glitches.
Of course, there were no fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip. No bear hug between Goodell and Burrow; the commissioner said he would miss those, even if his body wouldn’t. The most basic of selection meetings, organized in this manner due to the coronavirus pandemic, has team personnel making picks from their homes. And players learning their future employers in their homes.
The NFL cancelled all draft activities in Las Vegas when the national shutdown of large gatherings began. The league had gone full-bore into free agency last month and, now, seven rounds of the draft through Saturday.
“I do believe this draft is going to be the most memorable we have ever had,” said Goodell, noting that it is accompanied by a “Draft-A-Thon” to benefit six organizations on the front lines battling the pandemic.
“I just believe that our job is to continue on and operate within whatever guidelines are necessary to keep our personnel safe, whether it’s players or coaches or their executives or league personnel. We need to make sure that we’re doing things safely and put public safety No. 1, but we also need to carry on. We need to move toward the future. We need to make sure that we’re prepared when we come out of this to be in a position to start our season on time and play our season. That’s our role.”
Normalcy, at least among the picks, was the order of the early evening, though.
First came Burrow: In his spectacular senior season, he threw for 60 — yes, 60 — touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Tigers beat six top 10 teams on their way to the national title.
“To jump up to No. 1 overall is crazy to me,” Burrow said. “But it’s a dream come true. I wasn’t very good my junior year. I worked really hard to get better, my guys worked really hard to get better, and we jelled as a team.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor was confident Burrow could turn the franchise around after a 2-14 season.
“We will never pick at No. 1 again,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to pick in the top 10 again. We’re looking at this as the only time you’re going to get this calibre player to add him to the program, so obviously this is a big deal.”
The second overall selection, Ohio State All-America edge rusher Chase Young, also was predictable. Washington fielded several offers for that spot, but many scouts and personnel executives felt Young was the best player in this crop.
At 6-foot-5, 264 pounds, Young led the nation with 16 1/2 sacks and forced fumbles with six last season. The All-American won the prestigious Bednarik and Nagurski awards in 2019, leading the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title.
He joins a Redskins team that went 3-13 and allowed 435 points.
If not for the NFL’s obsession with finding the latest, greatest quarterback prospect, Young might have been the top overall selection. That QB infatuation saw three passers taken in the first six picks.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa went fifth to Miami, followed in the next spot by Oregon’s Justin Herbert to the Los Angeles Chargers. They were preceded by Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, the highest-rated cornerback, to Detroit, and Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas to the Giants.
Tagovailoa’s health issues didn’t turn off the Dolphins.
The Alabama quarterback went to a team that was accused going into last season of “Tanking for Tua.” Tagovailoa comes off major hip surgery, which made his landing spot one of the first round’s biggest uncertainties.
Blessed with a quick release, excellent mid-range accuracy and nimble feet, Tagovailoa threw 76 touchdown passes in 24 starts the past two seasons. He helped the Crimson Tide to the 2017 national title.
Herbert had a strong post-season, including a terrific Senior Bowl week that raised his stock. At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, he has the size the pros like, and he’s a good athlete. But he also is not as accurate passing as he’ll need to be.
Los Angeles had a burning hole at quarterback after letting go of longtime starter Philip Rivers. Plus, the Chargers plan to move into a new stadium and could use someone to help sell tickets.
It took until the 13th spot before a trade was made: Tompa, oops, Tampa Bay moving up one spot to get tackle Tristan Wirfs of Iowa to help protect new/old QB Tom Brady. The Buccaneers got that pick from NFC champion San Francisco.
Wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft, but it took until the 12th selection for one to go. Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, perhaps the fastest man in this group (4.27 in the 40), was the first-ever draftee by the Las Vegas Raiders. Coach Jon Gruden loves speed, and he got a burner who scored 24 touchdowns among 98 career receptions.
Duhatschek Notebook: Expanded Hart field, dark horse Cup picks and more – The Athletic
NHL teams eliminated from 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs free to make trades – Fear the Fin
There’s still some doubt that the NHL’s 24-team playoff format will have enough time to play out, especially with the news today that training camps — Phase 3 of the league’s Return to Play Plan — would not begin before July 10, more than six weeks from now. But for seven teams (the Sharks included), there’s nothing left of the season whether the league returns to complete playoffs or not.
Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, Buffalo, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose are now free to make trades with each other, a league source confirmed to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic.
Though it may have been a larger and more diverse pool of teams eliminated, this is hardly different than the usual practice of allowing teams who do not qualify for playoffs to begin trading with each other once the regular season ends in April — though it’s not super common and generally the trades involve depth players. Mostly, the eliminated teams get a two-month head-start on setting price in the market before the draft.
But with the nebulous future of the season — despite being largely unaffected by the decision-making until it concerns the 2020-21 season — teams will probably be reluctant to pull the trigger. Salary cap uncertainty plays a roll, as well. With the cap unlikely to budge, it doesn’t seem advantageous to makes moves too quickly.
The other consideration is that the three California teams make up half of the available market and are unlikely to trade with each other. Notably, Doug Wilson went through the Boston Bruins to acquire Martin Jones from the Los Angeles Kings, a trade we all liked at the time and a reminder that no take can escape the bitter coldness of having aged.
Another player is the Ottawa Senators, and it might break Pierre Dorion’s brain if Doug Wilson swindles him a third time, so the market is pretty bare. If anything, the Buffalo Sabres organization appears to be having a difficult time right now and we’re living through a global pandemic, so anything is possible.
Ultimately, these seven teams didn’t make playoffs because they have incredible rosters, which is why this time typically only sees depth trades. If anything does pick up, I can’t imagine it would be before the play-in round for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happens, which might still be a matter of months.
Right now will likely involve a lot of talks that go nowhere and collegiate/European free agent signings. The most important head-start will be the extra resources and time available to focus on scouting and strategy for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
That said, Doug Wilson has also been known to scoop a good depth player, so if he wants to start working the phones, I’m good with that, too. I bet he could pay off the Red Wings to liberate one of the good prospects from the Kings. Just something to consider if you’re reading this, Doug.
Sabres' Krueger on Eichel: 'I like the anger' – TSN
Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said Friday he has no problem with captain Jack Eichel voicing his frustrations, but he hopes to use it in a constructive way.
“I like the anger,” Krueger said of Eichel’s comments. “I have no problem with people outing frustration on the past. But then let’s move that conversation forward, real quick, and let’s figure out what we’re going to do about it.”
Eichel said on Thursday that he was “fed up” with losing, two days it was announced the Sabres would be one of the seven teams not to qualify under the NHL’s Return to Play 24-team playoff format.
“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” Eichel said during a conference call with media. “You know, it’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years with where things have [gone]. I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I’m on the ice. I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season.”
The Sabres have missed out on the postseason in all five years of Eichel’s career and nine straight in total. The 23-year-old finished with a career-high 36 goals and 42 assists in 68 games this season, Krueger’s first with the team.
On Thursday, Eichel credited his continued development to Krueger, the third coach he has had in his short career.
“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not getting frustrated with where things are going and I think we took a step this year, but I will say it’s been a pleasure working with Ralph,” Eichel said. “He does so much for our group every day. There are tough times and he does an amazing job of…narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be mentally. And just the few times that I’ve spoken with him, you know, throughout this quarantine, whatever you want to call it, it’s been good.”
Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen also credited Krueger for helping him improve this season on Thursday, but noted that he could be traded if the team elects to make changes this off-season. Krueger, however, said Friday does not want to see the 25-year-old moved.
“I want to coach Risto next season,” Krueger said. “I would enjoy coaching Risto next season. … Risto was all-in.”
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