From the Bleachers: A Live Sporting Event, Finally

by Baily Deeter | 4/23/20 5:11pm

It’s been six weeks since the last professional sporting event took place and March Madness and The Masters were canceled. But starting tonight, however briefly, live sports are back.

This week has given sports fans some much-needed new content. It started on a positive note when the first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” a documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, were released. The episodes were exceptional, and I especially appreciated the reminder that Scottie Pippen grew six inches between his freshman and sophomore years of college. If I get that same growth spurt this summer, maybe I could grab a spot in Dartmouth’s starting five. But I digress. 

Even more exciting is this weekend’s NFL draft, which will give me another reason not to watch endless highlights of my Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 championship. There’s a lot to be excited about in this year’s class, and not just because it’s the only live sporting event that we’ll see for quite some time. 

We will almost certainly see the Cincinnati Bengals select Joe Burrow with the first overall pick tonight, marking this as the third straight year in which a quarterback will be the first player off the board. The last time a Louisiana State University quarterback was the top selection, it worked out nicely. That is, for the 31 teams who didn’t have to deal with JaMarcus Russell’s antics. I can say confidently that Burrow will be the best LSU quarterback ever picked first overall. Albeit with slightly less confidence, I can say that Burrow will start his career on a high note, especially with the likes of A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd on the receiving end of his passes.

The second pick appears to be almost as sure as the first one, with Washington selecting Ohio State University defensive end Chase Young. Just like last year, the exciting quarterback will go first, but the best player in the draft will go second. It may not lead to a Super Bowl appearance like it did for Nick Bosa and the San Francisco 49ers, but it’s the easy pick.

Next up are the Detroit Lions, and this is where it gets interesting. They are expected to take Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah, but, as always, there have been rumblings about trading the pick. The Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers currently own the fifth and sixth picks, and both are thought to be in pursuit of a quarterback. An article on the NFL’s website suggested that Miami may even move up to select an offensive tackle.

I personally expect the Lions to hold onto the pick and select Okudah, largely because it wouldn’t make any sense for Miami to move up for an offensive tackle. Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills Jr. and Tristan Wirfs are all comparable prospects, so it wouldn’t make sense to move up unless they like one significantly more than the other. If they want a quarterback, they’ll get their pick of the litter as long as another team doesn’t leapfrog them. 

Another interesting factor to consider is how the format of this year’s draft will affect the decisions teams make, especially in the context of trades. Broncos general manager John Elway believes that the virtual format will lead teams to make fewer trades, leading to a more predictable draft. This is purely speculation, but it’s a valid point. Working out the terms of a trade in the matter of minutes is no easy task, and it’ll be even harder under this year’s circumstances. 

Even if the Lions stand pat, there should be some trades later in the round. The New York Giants are expected to take one of the aforementioned offensive tackles, and my guess is that they go with the University of Iowa’s Wirfs. Even the best running back in football can’t do much without an offensive line, so the Big Blue will look to open up holes for Saquon Barkley.

With the fifth pick, the Dolphins will look to find their next Dan Marino. My guess is that they take Oregon’s Justin Herbert over Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, a move that would have been shocking a few months ago. But the concerns about Tua’s health are real. I have my concerns about Herbert, especially with his tendency to hold onto the ball too long and his inconsistency. But as the Ryan Tannehill experiment taught them, the Dolphins need a quarterback who can stay healthy. Herbert is their best bet.

If the top five plays out like this, the sixth pick has the potential to change the entire draft. The Los Angeles Chargers currently have Tyrod Taylor penciled in as their starting quarterback, which has led many to believe that they’ll take a quarterback. However, the Chargers have a talented roster, and head coach Anthony Lynn wants to win now instead of developing a quarterback for the future. My guess is that they shake up the entire round by selecting Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, leading to an Aaron Rodgers-esque slide for Tagovailoa.

I won’t go through the entire first round, but there are some key things to watch for. As a Broncos fan, I have my eyes on Jerry Jeudy, the most polished receiver in the draft class. Denver probably won’t get him if it stays put at 15, but with a trade into the top 10, the Broncos could get one of the smoothest route-runners I’ve ever seen. CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs are also exciting receiving prospects, and it will be intriguing to see where they land. Regardless, all three should be in play in next year’s fantasy drafts.

If Tagovailoa does fall, one team that should have its eyes on him is the New England Patriots. While any quarterback is set up for success in the Patriots’ offensive scheme, Tua is a perfect fit. He is an accurate short and intermediate passer who would thrive in a system that allows him to get rid of the ball quickly, minimizing the toll on his body in the process. Tagovailoa isn’t a transcendent talent who would thrive no matter where he goes, but if he ends up in the right situation, he could be something special. And maybe he’ll win Bill Belichick two more Super Bowls so he’ll have one for each finger (and thumb).

Regardless of who goes where, I’m just excited to have a live sporting event on TV. We’re all winners in this situation, but none as big as Roger Goodell, who can’t get booed in a virtual draft. Or can he?

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