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Mailbag: NFL Draft, Booth Umpire and Coronavirus – Sports Illustrated

We’re a little over two weeks from Draft Day, and based on the questions I’ve gotten, it sure seems like you guys want to talk football. So let’s get right to those questions, and talk football in this week’s mailbag…

From sweethorn (@TablesTwoturn): All three guys are there, (CeeDee) Lamb, (Jerry) Jeudy and (Tristan) Wirfs … who do the Jets take?

Sweethorn, I mentioned on Monday that I believe teams looking to be more risk-averse will skew toward big men in this year’s draft. But there’s more to me thinking Wirfs would be the pick in this scenario for the Jets. One, it’s how GM Joe Douglas believes you build, as evidenced by the turnover on the offensive line this offseason. Two, the scarcity of tackles is much greater than that of receivers this year. Three, it’s a bigger need.

And that’s why, when you look at the Jets, they’re a really good example of a team in a position to game the draft. Let’s say their top three needs are tackle, corner, and receiver. The question then becomes this: How can we best fill all three? To get a Week 1 starting tackle, they’ll probably have to take one in the first round. There’s a bit more depth at corner, so they can probably wait and get one of the top six or seven guys at that position in the second round (48th overall).

Then, they could swing back and find a receiver (or even two) in third round, at 68 or 79, given the reality that there should be really solid wideouts deep into the draft’s second day. Would it be popular to wait on that spot until the third round after losing Robby Anderson? It would not be. But it’s not hard to see where that might be the right thing to do in a year where 20 or 25 receivers could go in top 100 picks.

From Charles M (@Charles30283333): Any chance the Dolphins could look for next year’s QBs and draft some great linemen and maybe a RB in the 1st?

Charles, I think the idea of waiting at year for a quarterback is a valid one.

My guess is most teams would have Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence as the top QB in this year’s class were he draft-eligible, and many would have Ohio State’s Justin Fields only behind Joe Burrow (and some might like him more than Burrow). That’s without even considering that Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Burrow weren’t even seen as first-rounders going into their final college seasons—which underscores the likelihood another joins the 2021 fray.

In the Dolphins’ case, because owner Steve Ross has given GM Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores time, there’s merit behind the idea. They could fill their offensive line need, further stock the defense, and they do have a competent quarterback for now in Ryan Fitzpatrick and a war chest of 2021 draft capital already (four picks in the first two rounds).

The problem? Well, the problem is you’re counting on being bad again to get a QB early. And Flores built a nice foundation last year. So I’m not sure the Dolphins’ plan is to be drafting as high next year as they are this year, and even this year they’re picking lower than most expected.

From Gary Shelton (@RealSheltonShow): Any idea where Trent Williams winds up?

Gary, no, I don’t right now. And I think Williams may have to wait until the draft for this one to come together. Yes, I’m sure Washington would like to have the second-round pick it lacks now—that one went to Indy in the trade up for Montez Sweat last April—and so it’s not like there’s no reason to believe Ron Rivera, Kyle Smith and Co. wouldn’t act now on the right offer.

I’m just not sure that offer comes along before the draft starts. Now, after the draft starts? Maybe. Both the Browns and Jets are on the fringe of the top 10, and the four tackles in that position’s upper tier (Louisville’s Mekhi Becton Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas) could go quickly. And it’s certainly possible that Andrew Berry or Joe Douglas (or both) aren’t wild about the ones that fall to 10 and 11.

That’s where the scenario might open up for Washington. In that spot, it’s certainly possible the Browns or Jets take care of another position, and then try to peddle a second-round pick to the D.C. brass. Or maybe a little more than that. So stay tuned.

From Wilfred Bergqvist (@Berqvi): Are the Giants leaning towards taking an OT (Wills, Wifs, Thomas, etc.) or Isaiah Simmons at 4? Any rumors of them trading down?

Wilfred, I don’t know what the Giants are going to do. But I can tell you that perception with other teams is that the pick will likely be Isaiah Simmons or one of the tackles. And the tackle many believe fits GM Dave Gettleman best is Becton, a hogmolly if there’s ever been one. The Giants could also afford to start Becton on the right side, and flip him over, eventually, to replace Nate Solder on the left.

All of that said, I believe the Giants will have a hard time passing on Simmons. He’s built like someone who was born to play in a multiple, Patriot-style defense, and Joe Judge hired coordinator Patrick Graham to install just that kind of defense. Add to that the fact that Gettleman certainly valued linebackers during his time in Charlotte (Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson) and I’ll make Simmons the leader in the clubhouse to go at 4.

From Pack on Top Podcast (@PackonTopPod): Packers have 2 holes at ILB and DT, which one do you think they address first in the draft?

Pack, it’s pretty tough to project that far down. The Packers pick 30th, meaning they’re largely at the mercy of the teams drafting in front of them. But yes, given the loss of Blake Martinez—and that Christian Kirksey’s the only impact veteran at the position coming into the fold—an off-ball linebacker would make sense. So then, you’d have to tell me if Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen make it to Green Bay’s pick (both would inject athleticism to the middle of Mike Pettine’s defense).

The defensive tackle question is a different one. Kenny Clark is a really nice piece there already. But failing the right linebacker or receiver being available, it’s not crazy to think the Packers swing on a D-tackle like TCU’s Ross Blacklock (who I believe would be a nice scheme fit) or Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore (less of a fit, but an absolute freak athlete).

From steven monteiro (@Steviefreshman): Perfect world—Who do the Cowboys draft in the first round?

Steven, perfect world? Chase Young. The real world? Lamb or Jeudy would be fun, but I think the corner need, with Byron Jones gone, and Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis in contract years, is the one to watch. And they should be able to get a good one—maybe Florida’s C.J. Henderson or LSU’s Kristian Fulton by sitting right where they are. Alabama’s Xavier McKinney is another to watch, given the team’s long-standing safety need.

What’s really interesting is that Dallas now has this hole at center. Will Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz or LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry make it to their pick at 51? I’d think those two would be names to watch considering Travis Frederick’s retirement, and the Joneses’ belief in building through the offensive line. And maybe this is where I mention getting Frederick was the result of a trade down that netted Dallas an extra third-rounder (that became a pretty serviceable receiver, in Terrance Williams.

From Tyler Himes (@T_Himes7): What will the Eagles do at WR?

I get the idea that Eagles fans are ready to burn the Linc to the ground if Philly doesn’t take one in the first round—given the inactivity in fixing that position this offseason, and awkward contractual spot they’re in with Alshon Jeffery. But I’m not totally convinced it happens. Why? Well, go back to what I said about how the Jets might approach the draft here, and you’ll see why gaming this in a different way might make sense.

Let’s say McKinney is there. Or K’Lavon Chaisson is there. Or Henderson is there and the value in pairing him with Darius Slay, and fixing the corner spot once and for all, is too great. And to further this, let’s say Lamb and Jeudy are gone. If Henry Ruggs is there, maybe you take him. Or maybe you think to yourself that taking one of the others makes sense, knowing a similar player, in K.J. Hamler, might be around in Round 2. If Ruggs is gone? Then, it’d seem, the value of the defensive guys may further outdistance, say, Justin Jefferson.

That’s how the depth of the receiver class might hurt some of the top guys. Too many teams are likely to look at the group and decide filling another need first, then circling back for a receiver, is the right play.

From Joel Espenshade (@JoelEspenshade): Which team in your opinion will end up being the MOST negatively affected by COVID-19? Who will be LEAST negatively affected?

Joel, I’d have to say the teams with new coaches would probably face the steepest learning curve. And if you have a new coach and a new quarterback, it might be even harder—that’s a category that only the Panthers are in (the Giants, Browns, Cowboys and Washington all bring back incumbent quarterbacks). So Year 1 for Matt Rhule (who I’ve long believed has star potential without question as an NFL coach) could be challenging.

That said, I’d consider the example of the 2011 49ers here too. They had Jim Harbaugh coming from the college (he only had a single year of NFL coaching experience before that, as a quality-control assistant), and the Niners, who hadn’t been to playoffs in nine years, found a way to go 13-3, win their division and make it to the NFC title game. And they did it because Harbaugh creatively used his experience from the college game to make up for all the lost time.

That summer at camp, the Niners would be basically running two practices at once to maximize reps—a creative solution Harbaugh, and a lot other college coaches used, to manage rosters of over 100 players under the constraints of the NCAA’s 40-hour rule. It worked to accelerate the acclimation period, and San Francisco won nine of its first 10 games, the lone loss coming in overtime in Week 2 to Dallas.

Rhule might have some of those sorts of tricks in his bag, and coaches are going to need them come summer, with this year promising to be even more challenging than 2011 was in that regard (given the restrictions under the new CBA, which include the limit for padded practices in camp being cut from 28 to 16).

As for teams with an advantage, you can flip that around and it works—teams with experienced, successful coaches that don’t have to sell established programs and have quarterbacks coming back should be in good shape. You can put Kansas City, San Francisco, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Philly right at the top of that list.

From Moose Block (@moose_block): What potential problems, if any, do you see with implementing the SkyJudge? Will the on-field officials conform to this change or will they resist?

The biggest problem I’ve heard cited is finding enough qualified officials that can be trusted to serve in that role. And I believe that’s a cop-out, as is the idea that it’ll slow the game down in any way.

As the Ravens/Chargers proposal for this goes (they actually call the official a “booth umpire”), the eighth official would be under the referee, and would not have the power to stop the game. The idea was to put the game back in the officiating crew’s hands—while providing the head referee with the technology and eyes on the action we all have.

The idea, and I agree with it, is that this would lead to improvement on in-game calls, eliminate unnecessary challenges, and better the credibility of officials in general (by keeping them off SportsCenter on Mondays). And there’s a belief that all of this would make the process more efficient and, in turn, actually speed up the game.

We don’t have to make this more complicated than it is. Put a guy up in the booth. Let him buzz down to the head referee if something’s blatantly wrong (“Pick up the flag!” or “Throw the flag!”), and have it all governed by the play clock (if it’s obvious, you’ll be able to see it within 40 seconds). So simple, it might just work!


From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Besides Tua, which players in the draft will be most impacted by not having their pro day?

Well, Matt, I can tell you it’ll have zero impact on LSU QB Joe Burrow or Ohio State DE Chase Young, and very little on the super elite in general. But there are guys in the tiers below that who could well feel the effects of not having another shot to showcase their skills.

Penn State WR K.J. Hamler, LSU DE K’Lavon Chaisson, Tennessee DE Darrell Taylor and Kentucky WR/everything Lynn Bowden are among those who are very intriguing as athletes but didn’t run in Indy. And in the case of a number of guys like that (Bowden among them), there are questions about how they fit on the field, questions that could’ve been answered to a reasonable degree through position drills at pro days and private workouts.

Then there are players like Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney and Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler, who ran poorly at the combine and could’ve used another shot at the 40. And players who were flagged injury-wise, like LSU TE Thaddeus Moss, who might’ve benefited from going to the annual medical recheck.

After that, you have all the non-combine guys who don’t have official times or physicals on the books, and in some of those cases you might have guys who’d go in the fifth or sixth round fall into the ranks of the undrafted, based on their individual circumstances. So yeah, it’s not just Tua.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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