At the NFL scouting combine, Washington head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that all options are on the table with the second overall pick, and that the team will bring in quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow for meetings and private workouts.
At the combine, Washington also formally interviewed Tagovailoa and Burrow, the presumed top pick in the draft. When asked if it was just due diligence, Rivera specifically shot down that suggestion. “No," the coach said. "Talking to Tua is you talk to Tua, which I’ve had an opportunity to."
Rivera’s public admission that the team is putting in work on quarterbacks introduced an important wrinkle to the 2020 draft. A year after taking Dwayne Haskins 15th overall, will Washington pull an Arizona Cardinals and draft another quarterback high in Round 1 because they have a new head coach in charge?
“I don’t think [Washington owner] Dan [Snyder] would want that,” says a source familiar with the organization’s thinking. “He wants to give Haskins the opportunity and I think Dan is infatuated with [Ohio State defensive end] Chase Young.”
When Washington selected Haskins last year, many in league circles viewed it as a pick orchestrated by Snyder, and this source says that characterization is not overblown. Snyder wanted Haskins as his team’s quarterback. The single-season starter from Ohio State is a Maryland native and went to the same private high school in Potomac as Snyder’s son. Last season as a rookie, Haskins showed growth despite Snyder firing head coach Jay Gruden after an 0-5 start.
Snyder bought the team in 1999, and since then the franchise has just six winning seasons. But with the firing of Gruden and team president Bruce Allen, Snyder has tried to change the perception that he is too involved and incapable of leading a successful organization. When Snyder introduced Rivera, he referenced the need for a “culture change” and presented a new power structure. The coach comes first, and decisions will no longer be made by owner, general manager or team president, suggesting that Snyder is taking a step back from decision-making.
“We’re going to have one voice and one voice alone, and that’s going to be the coach’s,” Snyder said.
Rivera also detailed the vision of “a coach-centered approach” where he will work alongside Kyle Smith, who was promoted to vice president of player personnel (the team does not have anyone in the traditional general manager role currently). But the source familiar with Snyder’s thinking is doubtful that this restructuring is for real.
“I don’t buy that,” the source says. “It makes for a nice offseason to just say, Hey, this is coach-centric and all that … I know that it is still Dan’s team. I know what he wanted to do with Haskins and I know what he wants to do with Young so I don't see that changing. I would be shocked if they did anything different at quarterback.”
Former Giants exec Marc Ross echoes that doubt. “We’ll see it when it really happens,” Ross says. “It’s one thing to talk about it, but how many times have we heard this? It’s the same thing with Cleveland. We rinse and repeat and it’s the same. I don’t think you can say that he is going to give up all his say and control.”
Young is potentially a generational talent, and if he’s available with the second pick he could have the type of influence on a team that is rarely seen outside of the quarterback position. Ross said Young would “give their defense a similar boost as Nick Bosa did to the 49ers. You already have a group of players there that can be playmaking-type players.”
So if Snyder really is locked in on Haskins, the team might just be covering their bases with Tagovailoa to make sure they know the ins and outs of all their options. They could also be trying to increase the value of the pick for trade purposes, or trying to send Haskins a message.
Haskins is active on social media, and he is not oblivious to the quarterback rumors surrounding his team. The interest in Tagovailoa and Burrow might serve as a motivational kick for the young quarterback. Rivera said Haskins has been in the building a lot offseason, and another source close to the team says Haskins is working hard and doing all the right things.
On the flip side, several scouts across the league said that they think Washington might really pick Tagovailoa, and they wouldn’t be surprised either way considering the precedent set when Arizona took Kyler Murray No. 1 overall just a year after drafting Josh Rosen 10th overall. Two scouts said they’d do the same thing if they were in Washington’s position because they view Tagovailoa as an upgrade over Haskins, even though Tagovailoa may not be a Day One starter because of his hip injury.
So far, all reports of Tagovailoa’s medical status have been positive. This week he was cleared for some football activity and he expects to hold a pro day for teams in April. Tagovailoa did not work out at the combine, but several scouts mentioned they were surprised by how spry he looked (they noticed him bouncing up the stairs en route to his weigh in).
Rivera has said some nice things about Haskins and his progression as he got more starting experience last season, but he hasn’t made any definitive statement that Haskins will be the team’s starter. Regardless of Rivera’s opinion, it seems like Haskins has the support of the owner, and the decision may come down to the function of the new power structure.
* * *
About that ‘sleeper’ tight end: I was at Northwestern Pro Day on Tuesday when ESPN reporter Adam Schefter sent a tweet about a sleeper tight end out of Southern Illinois, creating buzz among the scouts in attendance. That sleeper tight end, Nigel Kilby, was working out right in front of us, and one by one, scouts in Evanston started getting texts from bosses who had seen Schefter’s tweet and wanted to know more about Kilby.
Before Schefter sent his tweet, I’d asked around about Kilby, who at 6' 8" towered over every other prospect in attendance. I’d heard Kilby’s name as a possibility for our Prospect X series that chronicles the story of a prospect who is a combine and all-star game snub but has a good shot at being drafted. Kilby fits that first part of that bill, but all the scouts I spoke to—several of whom actually made the trip to Carbondale to scout Kilby in person—said they don’t consider him draftable because his film is nowhere near as good as his measurables. The general consensus among scouts who actually studied Kilby’s tape prior to his pro day: He’s a workout warrior.
Coronavirus and the draft: Draft season means a lot of traveling for prospects, scouts, personnel staff, general managers, and agents involved in the process. Most scouts I spoke with said their teams have not issued any travel ban or limited their travel yet, but at least one team, the Steelers, have taken it seriously enough to issue changes to protect employees. According to a team spokesperson, the Steelers have, “temporarily adjusted travel plans for our personnel department and coaching staff during pro days over the next several weeks, but we will still have a presence at many of the pre-determined pro days.” This adjustment includes limiting the amount of flying for team employees during this time while coronavirus is imminent.
Area scouts can typically drive throughout the majority of their region, so most have not been affected. One area scout I spoke to said, because of coronavirus, he has decided to make a seven-hour drive to a school rather than take the four flights (round trip) he typically would to get there.
Another scout brought up an interesting question. How will this affect top 30 visits? Each team can invite 30 prospects to the facility to meet with, and each of those prospects are flying all around the country in a short timeframe to meet with different teams and go inside their buildings, a situation that sounds like everything medical experts are warning not to do at the moment. But these visits are a crucial part of the draft process, because teams can really get to know a player in the full-day visit, and it’s particularly important for the medical component. If a player wasn’t invited to the combine but a team is interested in him, it’s important to get him in the building to get a medical evaluation.
• Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.