Fun. Entertaining. Different. Exciting. Wild. Those were some of the adjectives that described the NFL's first virtual draft.
Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor and Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin received high marks across the board from draft analysts and the national media. Joe Burrow being selected No. 1 overall drew a heavy dose of praise, but the following selections of wide receiver Tee Higgins, edge rusher Khalid Kareem, offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji and linebackers Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey were equally as admired.
With the Bengals draft complete after making seven picks in three days, here are seven things learned from the draft.
1. The Burrow Excitement Is Real
When hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, known as "The Great One," messages you before the draft like he did with Burrow, you know there's something different about this year's Bengals first round pick. Just one look at the amount of positive coverage from the national media and social media posts show the Burrow selection generated an immense amount of buzz.
"We're looking at this as the only time you're ever going to get a player of this caliber and add him to the program," said Taylor. "That's a big deal. There's a lot of expectation that comes with that. We're going to challenge him just like the veterans, and just like the guys we pick the next two days. They're all on the same playing field, and they all have great expectations for themselves and the team. We will hold them to a high standard and make sure they're up to speed quickly."
2. Winning Pedigree
Along with most of the players selected being captains in college, another trait that was highly valued is a winning pedigree.
Burrow (LSU) and Higgins (Clemson) each won national championships in college.
Wilson was part of a turnaround where Wyoming won eight contests and made it two a bowl game in three of the last four seasons.
Davis-Gaither was part of just the fifth class in college football history to win five bowl games and four conference championships.
Kareem was a part of 37 victories and three bowl games for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Bailey was part of Purdue's revamped defense that helped the Boilermakers reach two bowl games after a four-year bowl hiatus.
3. Leadership Is Valued
One of the best stats that defined the Bengals draft class was six of the seven players selected were team captains in college.
Taylor has said repeatedly that he wants to hold everyone in the locker room to a high standard on-and-off the field. Leadership is one of the qualities his staff values as they turn the page to 2020.
4. A New Type Of Linebacker
It was the first time in 22 years the Bengals selected three linebackers in a draft. The group of Wilson, Davis-Gaither and Bailey is much different than the 2001 trio of Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons and Steve Foley. The 2020 group as a whole is smaller, but quicker with the ability to play side-to-side. Davis-Gaither is the exact model of an emerging class of defenders known as "position-less," because they play more spots than one. That versatility will allow defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to attack offenses with a variety of sub-packages and coverages.
"We didn't necessarily go into the day saying we had to draft three (linebackers), but the way it shook out, those guys are going to bring value to us and have a good chance to get on the field," Taylor said. "So we felt like (they were) too good to pass up."
5. No Going Back
With the depth of certain positions like linebacker and wide receiver, the Bengals did not make a trade up or down, sticking with their seven original selections. Last year the front office made three trades moving picks up and down to select multiple contributors like Ryan Finley, Renell Wren and Trayveon Williams.
Picking first in each round certainly was helpful as the draft board worked in their favor. Plus, the depth of the draft allowed the Bengals to fill areas of need without having to give up capital this year or next. As Taylor said after the team chose Wilson in round three, "We were certainly holding our breath there those last couple of picks, but ultimately he was there at 65, so we grabbed him, and we're very fired up about it."
6. Tight End is Set
Some thought the Bengals might snag a tight end in the draft after the loss of Tyler Eifert in free agency. Not drafting a tight end shows the team is confident rolling into next season with C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample leading the way.
Uzomah is a force as a receiving tight end, especially in the red zone and his blocking ability fits in well with the offensive scheme. Sample started to turn the corner with his play midway through the season before suffering an injury in Week 10. Add in Cethan Carter, Mason Schreck and Jordan Franks, and the depth is there at that position.
7. Virtual Was Different, But Fun
One of the Most Valuable Players in this year's draft goes to the Bengals Information Technology department for setting up the virtual draft in Taylor and Tobin's homes. Like every other NFL front office member, Taylor and Tobin never imagined conducting a draft while sitting at home. By all accounts everything went smoothly through the three-day event.
Even the news conferences where the Bengals draft picks were streamed online had a fun human element to them. Fans got to go inside the players and coaches homes and see them interact with the media. It was a different, but welcomed look compared to previous years when a draft pick would simply dial in on a conference call or go up on a podium in a suit with a draft cap on.