News & Analysis

Most improved team in each division after the 2020 NFL Draft

Mere weeks after the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft, we don’t know which players will pan out and which will flop. Just this week, four of the first five picks in the 2017 NFL Draft didn't get their fifth-year options picked up. That doesn’t mean predicting which teams brought in the most impactful class is without value, though.

Using PFF’s Big Board and the projected impact from the rookie class, these are the eight teams — one from each division — that improved the most over the course of the 255 selections in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals

While you must factor in a team’s draft capital to judge how well they drafted, the pure impact of a class largely comes down to having more swings of the bat at premium positions. In drafting Joe Burrow, the Bengals added the best player in the draft — a player coming off the best season PFF has seen at quarterback since 2014 — at the league’s most important position. Putting up a 94.2 passing grade (led all FBS quarterbacks) and delivering passes with accuracy 71.5% of the time (also led all FBS quarterbacks) in the SEC is bordering on alien. There will likely be growing pains, but Burrow instantly makes that offense more viable.

Jan 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) looks to pass the ball during the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There is much to like about what the Bengals did with their remaining picks, as well. Tee Higgins slotted in at 25th on the PFF Big Board, so we view getting him at No. 33 as solid value despite others in the industry being a little lower on him. He gives Burrow another weapon downfield, evidenced by the big-time catch radius and after-the-catch ability he showed at Clemson. It’s also easy to like the way the Bengals attacked a need at off-ball linebacker. They didn’t spend their premium first- and second-round picks on the position, but they attacked solid players on Day 2 and 3 in Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey, which creates an interesting competition on what should be an improved defense after free agency.

Honorable Mention: Cleveland Browns

The Browns had one of our favorite drafts overall, landing three players among PFF’s top 25 prospects. It’s just hard to compete with the kind of impact that Burrow projects to have in Cincinnati.

AFC East – Miami Dolphins

Like the Bengals with Burrow, the Dolphins secured what we view as a legitimate franchise quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who is coming off back-to-back 90.0-plus overall grades at Alabama. He didn’t even look out of place as a true freshman coming onto the biggest of stages in the National Championship game. We don’t know for certain that we’ll see Tagovailoa play a down in 2020, but the Dolphins standing pat and securing him at fifth overall is one of the bigger wins of the draft. He elevates both the floor and ceiling for their offense.

There are plenty of other players who we can be fairly certain will play a significant role on the team next season. Here at PFF, we may not be high on all of the Dolphins' selections being strong contributors out of the gate (see: Austin Jackson), but there is reason to be excited for guys like Noah Igbinoghene, Robert Hunt and Curtis Weaver to play a role in 2020. Even someone like Brandon Jones, who was much lower on the PFF Big Board than where he was selected, could provide solid play in a role closer to the line of scrimmage in Brian Flores’ defense.

AFC South – Jacksonville Jaguars

PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner labeled the Jaguars’ draft class as one with a theme of toolsy projects. Athletically and from a physical tools standpoint, C.J. Henderson, K’Lavon Chaisson and Laviska Shenault Jr. are all elite, but there are some questions. With Henderson, it’s consistency. For Chaisson, it’s a lack of dominant tape over the course of a game, let alone an entire season. And for Shenault, it’s his raw route-running and propensity for injuries. The ceiling is very high for this class, though, and if used correctly, all three of those players could have early impacts.

Nov 23, 2019; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (2) catches a touchdown reception against Washington Huskies defensive back Trent McDuffie (22) in the second quarter at Folsom Field. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville also made some nice selections later in the draft. Davon Hamilton will have a run-stuffing role on the interior defensive line. Division III product Ben Bartch was one of our favorite tackle prospects beyond the group at the top after holding his own against tougher competition at the Senior Bowl. Josiah Scott projects as one of the better slot cornerbacks in the class. Jacksonville's draft class may take a bit to truly take shape, but there are some players who can really improve this team next season.

AFC West – Denver Broncos

The Broncos had a clear plan of attack with this draft: get Drew Lock help on offense. Mission accomplished. Jerry Jeudy gives them the top wide receiver in one of the best wideout classes in recent memory. He is a true No. 1 option in the passing game, joining Courtland Sutton, who also showed he could win in that role last season. K.J. Hamler — a dynamic slot weapon with game-breaking speed — and Albert Okwuegbunam (4.49-second 40-yard dash) only add to the speed of this group.

Denver was also able to pick up PFF’s IOL1 in the sixth round. Netane Muti was always going to fall due to injuries and a subsequent small sample of play in college, but he has some of the most impressive reps on tape you’re going to see, going toe to toe with Ed Oliver as a freshman at Fresno State. The draft is just the latest pin in what has been a tremendous offseason for John Elway and company. They have a roster built to contend next season if Lock is up to the task.

NFC North – Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings needed to have a good draft after what has transpired over the past several months. They lost nearly all of their starting experience at cornerback, traded away Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, and parted ways with two long-time standouts on the defensive line in Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen. From an instant reaction standpoint, it looks like they did a pretty good job of reloading in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Justin Jefferson figures to play a large role early next to Adam Thielen after torching college football last season for over 1,500 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns. The Vikings also attacked their need at cornerback early and well with Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, two players who should see significant playing time. The other big area of need, offensive line, was addressed with Ezra Cleveland at solid value in the back end of Round 2 — a potential starter as a rookie at either tackle or guard. That’s before you even get to the Vikings' sea of Day 3 picks, which included good value with players such as Troy Dye and Kenny Willekes. The Vikings’ roster is certainly in better shape now than it was before the draft.

NFC East – Dallas Cowboys

It’s difficult to find anyone who thought Jerry Jones — holed up in his yacht — didn’t have a good draft. There is a strong chance that the Cowboys found three quality starters in CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs and Neville Gallimore — all of whom were significant value picks based on the PFF Big Board.

Player Pick Number PFF Big Board Rank
CeeDee Lamb 17 6
Trevon Diggs 51 31
Neville Gallimore 82 51

Lamb adds to a versatile group at wide receiver, joining Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. At times, all of them can serve as true primary options in the passing game. Diggs is still relatively new to the cornerback position, but from a talent standpoint, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about his fit in a Cowboys’ scheme that will play to some of his strengths. Lastly, Gallimore offers viable youth to turn to on the interior defensive line after Dallas brought in Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe this offseason.

That’s a quality haul for a team talented enough to get back to the postseason in 2020.

NFC South – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers being able to snag Tristan Wirfs, even with trading up to No. 13, was just about the best-case scenario given that a starting right tackle appeared to be priority number one heading into the draft. Wirfs has absurd athleticism for the position and is coming off a 2019 season at Iowa where he earned grades north of 88.0 as both a pass-protector and run-blocker. It’s hard to see a situation where he isn’t helping to protect Tom Brady in Week 1.

Sep 14, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs (74) blocks Iowa State Cyclones defensive end JaQuan Bailey (3) at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa beat Iowa State 18-17. Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay made a few more moves that we at PFF liked, selecting Antoine Winfield Jr. to solidify the safety position and Tyler Johnson to potentially pick up slot opportunities early despite being a fifth-round pick. Winfield has some of the best instincts in the class, and Johnson is far more talented than his draft position might suggest. He can separate with the best of them as a route-runner, and it led to a 91.8 PFF grade at Minnesota that ranked first in the FBS last season.

NFC West – Arizona Cardinals

Many thought the Cardinals would take an offensive tackle at the eighth overall pick, but they opted for defensive chess piece Isaiah Simmons, instead. Simmons should certainly help their coverage over the middle of the field, regardless of where he lines up. In 2019, the Cardinals allowed a 125.1 passer rating to opposing tight ends and slot receivers (highest in the NFL). Simmons should be patrolling that area of the field, and if he's used well, it’s an area he should thrive in.

The decision to take Simmons in the first round was only made better by the fact that the steal of the draft fell into the Cardinals' lap in the third round. Josh Jones was the 14th-ranked player on PFF’s Big Board — a player whose 93.4 grade last season at Houston led all draft-eligible tackles — and the Cardinals took him at 72nd overall. There is no reason Jones can’t step in as a starting tackle on Day 1. That’s not something you can typically expect from a third-round offensive lineman.

Those two picks alone give the Cardinals the most impactful class in the NFC West in our eyes, with their Day 3 picks serving as the potential icing on the cake.

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