Every year, each NFL Draft pick has to earn their way onto a new roster. Each prospect brings questions with them about their adjustments from college to the pros. The more questions, the more projection-based their NFL stardom becomes. For some guys, it clicks right away. For others, these questions take longer to get answered (or simply don’t get answered at all). Earlier this week, I asked the biggest questions for first-round picks in the NFC. Now, what are the most pressing questions surrounding each 2020 first-round pick in the AFC?
Baltimore Ravens: Can Patrick Queen continue the list of great Raven LBs?
In a surprise, Queen was the third linebacker off the board, despite being the top linebacker for many analysts. For the Ravens, this was an easy decision, as their linebacker room has taken a hit in the last few years with the departures of CJ Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, and Kenny Young. The Ravens front seven needed a new play-maker, and they may have hit on one with Patrick Queen.
Queen wasn’t a perfect linebacker prospect coming out, as he struggled to get off of blocks and needs to improve his awareness in coverage. However, Queen has landed in a fantastic landing spot with Baltimore’s coaching staff. Don Martindale has worked with Ray Lewis, Zachary Orr, and CJ Mosley over his years and has over a decade of experience. Queen will be a starter right away for Baltimore with high expectations placed upon him. If he can continue the streak of elite Ravens linebackers, this first-round pick at 28th overall will be a massive steal.
Cincinnati Bengals: How quickly can Joe Burrow adapt?
To say that Burrow might downgrade coming from college to the NFL is often hyperbolic, but not so much in this case. LSU had at least one player drafted at every position on offense and defense. Every eligible offensive player from LSU is on an NFL roster. Burrow’s coming from the innovative offense of Joe Brady to Cincinnati – who hasn’t figured out how to get Joe Mixon heavily involved in the receiving game.
Burrow has a mountain of expectations placed upon him. He’s expected to play well right away – which is a little unrealistic. How will Burrow react with a supporting cast which, relative to the competition, is far inferior to what he had at LSU? How quickly can he catch up to the speed of the NFL with practices being virtual?
Cleveland Browns: How well does Jedrick Wills adjust flipping from right to left tackle?
Wills was an elite offensive tackle prospect and one of the top players in the 2020 NFL Draft. In Cleveland, he’ll be asked to flip from the right side, where he played at Alabama, to the left. Wills hasn’t played at left tackle in his career, as he was asked to play right tackle to protect Tua Tagovailoa‘s blindside. There’s no indication on film that says Wills can’t play left tackle at a high-NFL level, but with the uncertainty about training camps and practices, how quickly can he get up to speed with this adjustment? Wills will be aided in this endeavor by future NFL Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, who was the best left tackle in the NFL practically since he stepped onto the field as a rookie.
Miami Dolphins: How do they keep Tua Tagovailoa healthy? Can they fix Austin Jackson? How impactful will Noah Igbinoghene be to justify the pick?
Tagovailoa’s health concerns are legitimate and certainly added some uncertainty to his evaluation. Keeping your quarterback on the field is the most important thing in football, as losing your starting quarterback generally dooms your season. Miami allowed 3.6 sacks per game last season, which was dead last in the NFL. The offensive line took some steps forward, but it is far from being completely fixed. Tua was well-protected at Alabama and still had injuries. How quickly they can complete the overhaul of the offensive line fixed will be critical for Tagovailoa’s success and longevity in the NFL.
The Dolphins started to fix these issues by drafting offensive tackle Austin Jackson from USC. Jackson has plenty of technical issues in his own right but his physical tools were near the top of this draft class. With the offseason in turmoil, Jackson’s development hits a snag on working directly with coaches in practice -something that is critical for offensive linemen. New offensive line coach Steve Marshall has several decades of coaching experience. Jackson is a project that will take time to develop – time that they might not be able to afford if they want to keep Tagovailoa upright.
Igbinoghene was a bit of a surprise first-round pick. Many thought that the Dolphins would take perhaps another offensive lineman or a pass-rusher. After making Byron Jones the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL to pair with Xavien Howard, cornerback wasn’t viewed as a first-round priority for Miami by outsiders. Anyhow, Miami got a quality inside/outside CB3 with the 30th overall pick, helping their depth in the defensive backfield.
With no safeties taken off the board yet, Miami could have found a full-time starter there at 30 or boosted their pass rush in some form. CB depth is critical, but first-rounders are rarely just for depth/partial playing time as nickel. Igbinoghene has to play a significant amount of time and play well to justify the pick.
New York Jets: Can they fully develop Mekhi Becton to reach his potential?
It’s no secret that the Jets offensive line play has been poor for several seasons. The Jets had to improve the protection up front for Sam Darnold, and they took a big step forward in doing so by selecting the behemoth from Louisville. Becton is a pure physical specimen. He was one of the best pound-for-pound athletes out of every AFC first-round pick.
However, the Jets have had a less than stellar track record with developing offensive linemen. They made a big change in this regard by hiring Frank Pollack as their new offensive line coach, who was notable for coaching the Dallas Cowboys offensive line from 2013-2017. If Becton can develop and use his physical gifts to their full advantage at the NFL level, this will be a home-run pick for the Jets through the next decade. The coaching staff has to prove they can develop him to realize his full potential.
Make sure to check out the rest of the AFC question marks on the next page.