The NFL recently welcomed 32 new first-round selections, each representing optimism for franchises that, hopefully, acquired a talented prospect who can become a foundational piece of their rosters for years to come.
Months go into evaluating the players and uncovering every possible detail to help make the decision as to who will be each teams' top pick.
The recent deadline to pick up fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2017 draft just passed, and it served as a sobering reminder that not every selection works out as planned. Of the 32 first-round selections from 2017, 14 did not have their fifth-year option exercised — the same amount from 2016. When looking at those two drafts, 2016 and ‘17, 28 of the 63 — there were only 31 first-round picks in 2016 — or 44% of the options were declined.
There’s no reason to think the 2020 draft is the exception. The reality is that we will look back at this class in three years and a fair amount of players won’t pan out.
These three worry me.
No. 6: Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
I like Justin Herbert and believe he has a legitimate chance to be the answer for the Chargers at quarterback. He's got the size, athleticism and arm talent to be a dynamic passer in the NFL, and I like how he fits into Los Angeles’ offense. He is surrounded by proven weapons and a reasonable offensive line with an outstanding veteran in Tyrod Taylor to assist in his acclimation.
But there are reasons to be concerned about Herbert at the next level. He showed a lack of comfort when his first read isn’t available, often locking in and tardy when working through his progressions. His accuracy has exciting moments but his ball placement has plenty of inconsistency. Herbert struggles under pressure and doesn’t appear to have a natural sense of where his protection is light and speeding up his process. For a player who has such an exciting physical skill set, he doesn’t find much success working off-script and throwing on the move.
The Chargers can certainly scheme around those deficiencies early on with spacing, run-pass-options, timing and horizontal passes; but there is considerable growth needed for Herbert to become the catalyst for success in Los Angeles.
No. 27: Jordyn Brooks, LB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have done a poor job with first-round selections. Since fifth-year options were implemented for the 2011 draft, Seattle has never picked up one. Part of that problem is the Seahawks don’t often pick in the first round, and there have only been three players eligible for the option: James Carpenter (drafted in 2011), Bruce Irvin (2012) and Germain Ifedi (2016).
Seattle traded its 2013 and 2015 first-round picks for Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham, respectively. In 2014 and 2017, the Seahawks traded out of the first round completely and ended up with Paul Richardson, Malik McDowell, Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson, Chris Carson and Cassius Marsh to show for it. Things don’t currently look promising for Rashaad Penny or L.J. Collier, who Seattle picked in the first round in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The Seahawks are in a class of their own when it comes to failing to find value with first-round picks. Jordyn Brooks is the latest opportunity for them to turn the corner but the pick was met with plenty of criticism and rightfully so given their resume.
Brooks is a big, physical and athletic linebacker, but it’s hard to watch his game tape and come away believing he is worth a first-round investment. His coverage skills are severely underdeveloped and Texas Tech rarely tasked him with much real estate to defend. Brooks is a slow processor that is more of a see-and-chase defender than a sharp read-and-react processor. Navigating through traffic is a struggle and taking on blocks is a challenge for him.
Brooks had plenty of appeal as a Day 2 pick, but for all the draft day trades Seattle normally likes to execute, Brooks was a major surprise in the first round and he needs a good bit of development for the Seahawks to hit on the pick.
No. 29 Isaiah Wilson, OT, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee is the perfect landing spot for Isaiah Wilson, who is an absolute mauler in the run game. With Jack Conklin’s departure in free agency, Wilson’s ability to create push when run blocking is perfect for the Titans’ run-heavy, power-run scheme.
Wilson, at 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds with 35.5-inch arms, is a massive man that can blast open holes for Derrick Henry.
While there is little concern for what Wilson can accomplish as a run blocker, he needs plenty of technical work in pass protection. His footwork is not consistent and reaching his set points is a struggle, his punch is tardy and his pass sets are tall. In addition, his feet are slow and he labors to move laterally. His size and length are a lot for pass rushers to get around but his technique needs a total overhaul for him to be a reliable pass blocker.
Wilson underachieved at Georgia and he might not be a plug and play option given the development needed.