What’s one thing, Cal related or otherwise, that will define this draft?
Josh Yuen: A whole bunch of trades in the first round, and then fewer after that. Teams know where everyone is picking in the first round and as is the case every year, the phones are ringing as we speak. But with the draft being virtual and war rooms spread out, my guess is that in-draft trading will cease after the first round – they’ve known where folks are picking for months.
Shailin Singh: The whole virtual thing is worrisome. I will not be surprised at all if there are a slew of technical difficulties — including but not limited to hacking attempts, miscommunications, internet loss, etc. It was already reported that the NFL had issues during their mock test with the Bengals’ first overall pick. That’s not encouraging.
Emily Ohman: After the combine, nearly every sports-related activity was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has certainly been hard for fans but won’t make this draft easy for NFL teams either. Teams have much more limited knowledge of prospects’ athletic abilities than they would have if Cal Pro Day had happened.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: Offensive weapons. This draft has some great defensive playmakers, but there are a flush of teams with needs at quarterback and wide receiver. 2020 has first-round flavors of both. One team’s trade up could cause a domino effect which sees an elite defensive prospect slip outside of the top 10.
Now for the Cal news. When will Ashtyn Davis get drafted? Where could he end up?
JY: Early second round to the NFC East. The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants should have all been listed as targets in mock drafts for the former Cal walk-on. New York is the most likely to nab him in the late 30s or 40s, but if he falls due to the hype around Grant Delpit and Jeremy Chinn, Dallas or Philadelphia will lock onto him. While I’d love to see Davis land with his hometown team of San Francisco after the Niners trade back into the second or third round, a reunion with Patrick Laird and Gerald Alexander in South Beach is a great story as well.
SS: I see Davis as an early to mid-second rounder, as long as there are no injury concerns that we don’t know about. I’d love to see a reunion with Gerald Alexander in Miami, who desperately needs a permanent starter at free safety. The Dolphins pick at both 26 and 39, so it remains to be seen whether they think he will fall or not.
EO: Davis will probably go mid to late second round, which might land him somewhere on a Cowboys roster that desperately needs a high-impact safety. It’d be great to see him end up on the Dolphins, though — what Bears fan wouldn’t love a little Laird-Alexander-Davis reunion?
JKS: Most mock drafts have Davis slipping into the third round, despite his athleticism, intelligence and potential. Chicago has a need at the position and two selections in round two and could take the Cal standout if other top prospects are off the board. Even if he falls into round three, though, Davis won’t slide much further as Miami (No. 70 overall), Jacksonville (No. 73 overall) and Cleveland (No. 74 overall) all need help in the secondary.
When will Evan Weaver get drafted? Which NFL team is his best fit?
JY: I’m pegging Weaver as a fifth rounder on Saturday, specifically with either the Philadelphia Eagles or Green Bay Packers. My favorite scenario? Carolina, where the need for inside linebackers became all the more important with Luke Kuechly’s retirement, plus a potential reunion with Jordan Kunaszyk.
SS: Due to Weaver’s lack of speed and pass coverage ability, he will likely go around round four. I could see him ending up in Ohio, as both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns were horrible against the run last season and have a need at inside linebacker.
EO: The Bengals and Jaguars both have a glaring, potentially Weaver-shaped hole at the linebacker position that the tackling machine could provide a solution for, but Jacksonville might opt for a different sort of weapon, like Davis, in earlier rounds instead. It’d be very interesting to see Weaver go to the Raiders, a team whose defense has been steadily ticking upward but isn’t good enough to bench the former Bear.
JKS: Weaver could end up with the Browns, who have a need at the position, in round four, but I like him falling to one of the Carolina Panthers’ early fifth round picks. Carolina allowed the highest average yards per rush in 2019 and signed Weaver’s former teammate and Cal alumnus, linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, as an undrafted free agent last year.
Will Jaylinn Hawkins get drafted? Who would take him? Could he end up on an NFL team regardless?
JY: I hope a team takes a seventh round flier on Hawkins. But being undrafted might be a blessing in disguise, as Alexander and the Dolphins might be able to scoop him up on Saturday evening or Sunday morning via the undrafted free agent wire. Once we reach the final few picks, sometimes fit is better for a young player than if they end up being drafted. And we know Alexander loves long, aggressive defensive backs.
SS: I see Hawkins as a late sixth or seventh rounder. He would fit quite well with a team such as the Atlanta Falcons, who may want depth behind oft-injured box safety Keanu Neal. The two have very similar builds and play styles, so the pairing makes sense.
EO: Hopefully Hawkins goes sixth or seventh, but if not, I can see him getting picked up as a free agent with relative ease. The Steelers could use some bulk in their secondary, right alongside the Buccaneers, who have a deep pocket this offseason.
JKS: Hawkins could be a steal in the seventh round. His ball-hawking (pun fully intended) skills are underrated — the safety had 10 interceptions in just 39 starts. A more likely scenario is that Hawkins becomes an undrafted free agent. Alexander may convince the Dolphins to take a chance on his former player. The Philadelphia Eagles, who rarely spend resources in the secondary, could also give Hawkins a look.
Which of this trio — Traveon Beck, Jordan Duncan and Greg Thomas — has the best chance to make an NFL roster?
JY: Traveon Beck is a top-five nickel in this class and probably won’t get drafted. His short stature is made up for by his natural speed and good instincts. I’m fairly confident he’ll get his shot on the UFA market, even without much of a senior tape due to various injury ailments. His coaches will get his name out there enough to land him a shot at the NFL.
SS: Beck, in my opinion, is the only one who has any chance of making a 53-man roster as a rookie. He was one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the nation in 2018, and was solid aside from his injuries last season. Nickelbacks are becoming increasingly valued in the NFL, as they are constantly tasked with guarding versatile slot receivers. One comparable player that comes to mind is Brian Poole, a cornerback for the New York Jets who went undrafted before proving his worth as an undersized, but physical nickelback.
EO: I think Beck might get snapped up in free agency by the Lions, Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles or any other team that could use depth in the secondary but doesn’t necessarily need to shell out all their draft capital for a star prospect. He’s certainly got the best shot out of the trio of Bears for his clutch catches and speed.
JKS: Thomas’ field goal percentage doesn’t stand out, but the kicker has been clinical on PATs — he made 65 of 66 in his time at Cal and has been nothing but clutch. A game-tying, career long in the Big Game and a last second winner against Washington showed that Thomas can deal with all kinds of pressure, an essential for NFL kickers.
One hot take for the 2020 NFL draft:
JY: All of the hype surrounding Burrow is legit, but I’m not so sure about Herbert or Tagovailoa. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Tua slips out of the top 10 and potentially lands with Las Vegas or Jacksonville. It’ll take time for this one to play out, but I believe that at least two of Jordan Love, Jake Fromm, Jalen Hurts and Jacob Eason will have better careers than the former Oregon and Alabama signal callers.
SS: Someone in the top five is going to trade down. Don’t know who, but I have a feeling. Elite defensive prospects in Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Simmons and Chase Young don’t come around often, so I’m sure teams will be preparing massive offers to move up. Oh, and there’s a couple pretty good quarterbacks after Joe Burrow, too.
EO: May my Georgian, die-hard Bulldog fan of a mother never read this, but I think Jake Fromm will have a rough go of it in the NFL. The Georgia junior would have benefited from another year of racking up numbers and experience on the college gridiron and his NFL combine showing also wasn’t stellar — Fromm’s 40-yard dash was borderline abysmal, clocking in at 5.01 seconds. Even though he might be one of the highest picks in the draft this year, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to come into or hold his own on the NFL’s stage.
JKS: Teams will play it safe. This doesn’t scream “hot take,” but in light of the virtual circumstances and the global pandemic, there is less of an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate underrated talent or players who are returning from injury. I personally think Tagovailoa will be the best quarterback from this class, but his injury history may see him slip down the board as teams wait for day two talent like Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. Another prime example is former Bear Ashtyn Davis, whose surgery late last year could see him fall into the late second or third round.