Originally posted: April 30, 2017
Everybody’s mock draft was dead by 8:15 ET on Thursday night, which is fine. As it should be, really. Mock drafts are fun things we do to pass the time in the months ahead of the actual draft. And as Thursday night showed, the actual draft is a heck of a lot more entertaining.
Not even the mock draft of San Francisco 49ers brain trust John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s wildest dreams featured the Chicago Bears trading them three picks to move up one spot so they could take North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. That move was a no-brainer for the 49ers, who weren’t going to take Trubisky and were happy to get Solomon Thomas one spot later and about $900,000 cheaper. And the rookie GM and head coach spun the deal into more gold a few hours later, using Chicago’s 2017 fourth-rounder to trade back into the first round and take a player at No. 31 (Reuben Foster) they’d considered taking at No. 2.
“This isn’t that hard!” Shanahan and Lynch may have said, for all we know, as they benefited from the Bears’ stunning largesse. But while the 49ers’ front office was high-fiving, the rest of us were scratching our heads. And not for the final time. Our list of first-day draft head-scratchers starts in Chicago.
What were the Bears thinking?
The short and obvious answer is that the Bears were convinced (A) that Trubisky is a franchise quarterback and (B) that some other team was going to trade with the 49ers and take him if they didn’t. That’s the only way it makes sense to trade four picks for a guy who started 13 college games and lost to Duke and North Carolina State in two of them. Trubisky needs to be Eli Manning or better to justify this move, which means he needs to unseat Bears free-agent signee Mike Glennon before too long. Meantime, I know the draft is about more than one year, but it’s not as if Chicago’s roster couldn’t have used help elsewhere with those extra midround picks. No pressure, Mitch.
Did everyone go cuckoo for quarterbacks again?
Was this a repeat of 2011, when Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker all went in the top 12? It’s possible. Kansas City spent two first-rounders and a third-rounder to move up and take Patrick Mahomes at No. 10, and Houston spent this year’s and next year’s first-rounders to go up to 12 and get Deshaun Watson. Is one of those guys Locker? Is one of those guys Gabbert? All we heard for months was that the quarterbacks in this year’s draft need time to develop. Mahomes should get that behind Alex Smith and under Andy Reid, but the win-now pressure in Houston is going to put a spotlight on Watson from the get-go. Watson doesn’t scare easily, but developing in the spotlight is a tough way to go.
What happened to the defense-heavy draft?
So much talk about how deep and strong this draft was on the defensive side of the ball, and then eight of the first 12 picks are offensive skill-position players. The three quarterbacks we’ve already discussed, three wide receivers and two running backs. No offensive linemen, no tight ends. This is a collection of dudes who are going to show up in your preseason fantasy rankings in a couple of weeks, and the order of the day seemed to be “get the quarterback some help.”
Christian McCaffrey will do a million different things for Cam Newton in Carolina’s offense, but it was still weird to see Dave Gettleman pass on all those defensive linemen who were there when he picked at No. 8. John Ross joining A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert in the Bengals’ passing game is a dream for Andy Dalton, but that Cincy front seven isn’t getting any younger. It was fun to see some conservative front offices get a little fantasy-crazy, but you wonder if some of them might regret not selecting some larger gentlemen in the top 10.
Why did all the Alabama guys fall?
The Crimson Tide was a trickle by the time it reached the shore. Some thought six or seven Alabama players would go in the first round. Four did, which isn’t bad, but the first one didn’t go off the board until No. 16, when teenage cancer survivor TJ Onwuanibe fist-pumped his way through the announcement of cornerback Marlon Humphrey to the Ravens. That set off a bit of an Alabama run, with Jonathan Allen going to Washington at No. 17 and O.J. Howard to the Bucs at 19. And Foster sneaked in at the end of the round when the Niners came back in to get him. Not a bad haul for the Tide, but not as brilliant as was expected. I’d expect Cam Robinson, Ryan Anderson and maybe Tim Williams to add to the ranks of newly minted Bama pros in the second round Friday night. Still, Thursday’s little group tumble makes you wonder if there’s something to this idea that NFL teams worry Nick Saban maybe grinds these guys down a bit.
Is Cleveland really going to go with Brock Osweiler after all?
I still don’t think so, but the Browns managed to make three picks in Thursday’s first round and still not come away with a quarterback. They appear to have come away with three very exciting players — stud Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett, do-everything Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers and dazzling Miami tight end David Njoku. And they picked up the Texans’ 2018 first-round pick in the deal that landed Watson in Houston. But … Watson is in Houston, Trubisky is in Chicago, Mahomes is in Kansas City. If Cleveland’s plan still is to dump Osweiler and add a leftover veteran, the Browns conceivably could head to camp with a Colin Kaepernick-Cody Kessler quarterback competition. Too late to get that on “Hard Knocks”? Trading down and amassing picks is, in general, the best way to draft. But at some point, the Browns are going to need a real quarterback. If one of the three guys who went Thursday does anything like Carson Wentz did last year, the ridicule will only ratchet up.
So much for dropping due to off-field issues.
Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley spent the 48 hours before the draft trying to convince teams of his innocence of a rape allegation that surfaced Tuesday. It worked. The Raiders took him at No. 24. Peppers and Foster, we learned in the past week, both tested positive for dilute samples at the combine and will enter the league in Stage 1 of the drug program. The Browns took Peppers at 25 and the Niners took Foster at 31. These are incredibly talented players, and these three teams decided they were worth whatever risk they brought. The Conley pick is the riskiest, but if he ends up proved innocent he’s one of the steals of the first round. And while Foster’s fall surely had something to do with concerns over his shoulder as well as the combine drug test, he could end up being an even greater bargain. Just goes to show the influence of short-term thinking on these big decisions. These kids get four-year contracts that are longer than the average tenure of a coach or GM. The Raiders have only two more years to win a title in Oakland. And when you work for the Browns, how can you possibly know how much time you’ll get to deliver a winner. More and more, it seems time is short and risks are worth taking.
The NFL’s 2017 draft produced another eventful night Friday. Let’s get right to the highlights.
1. Historic run on defensive backs
The Green Bay Packers opened the night by drafting Washington cornerback Kevin King, rekindling a run of defensive backs that did not end until a total of 11 had come off the board by the end of the second round. In all, there were 19 cornerbacks or safeties selected in the first two rounds of this draft, the most in the common draft era dating to 1967. (The previous high had been 16, in 2005 and 2006.)
By the end of three rounds, that total had swelled to 29 — 18 cornerbacks and 11 safeties — and helped push the number of defensive players selected over that span to 63. That’s also a record in the common draft era.
Friday, the Packers took NC State safety Josh Jones later in the round to pair with King. The New York Jets drafted safeties at No. 6 overall (LSU’s Jamal Adams) and No. 39 (Florida’s Marcus Maye). Both Florida and Washington had three defensive backs selected in the second round, a day after Ohio State had three defensive backs taken in Round 1.
What’s with the emphasis on the back end? Mostly, it was a matter of talent. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. included a total of 19 defensive backs among his top 70 draft prospects: 11 cornerbacks and eight safeties. It was a good year to need high-end help at those positions.
2. Helping Cam
Cam Newton has won the league’s MVP award and taken the Carolina Panthers to a Super Bowl during his first six NFL seasons. Along the way, he has been one of the NFL’s least accurate passers — a well-known deficiency that the Panthers addressed in a nuanced way in this draft.
Newton’s career completion percentage is 58.4 percent, ranking No. 33 of 35 qualified passers over that span. He’s not much better on short passes, having completed only 60.9 percent of throws that travel less than 10 yards in the air. That ranks No. 34 (of 35) in the NFL, and it’s a terrible efficiency on what should be the easiest pass a quarterback throws. You would hope the Panthers’ top two picks can help improve those numbers in a big way.
Running backs Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel — taken in Round 1 and Round 2, respectively — both are excellent receivers. Ideally, they can help Newton turn more of those shorter passes into receptions and in turn big gains.
Samuel caught 74 passes in 2016 for Ohio State. McCaffrey caught 37 last season for Stanford, 45 the year before and displayed receiver-like hands and route running at the February scouting combine. The Panthers would be well advised to weave both players into their short passing game, as they undoubtedly are planning already, and maximize their natural skills.
3. Browns get their QB
Cleveland fans got after me Thursday night and Friday morning when I pointed out the Browns’ two-year aversion to seeking out a high-end quarterback.
Even after expertly accumulating additional draft assets, the Browns stayed out of the scramble for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in 2016. Then, they stood by this year as other teams maneuvered for Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes II.
To their credit, the Browns finally drafted a promising — albeit raw — quarterback Friday night. Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer was the best quarterback available when their second-round pick came up at No. 52 overall.
An optimist would say the Browns’ patience was rewarded. After all, they did not need to use a first-round pick or trade up to get a talented passer who was regarded well enough to be invited to attend the draft as a possible first-round selection.
A pessimist — and I would never dispute that label — might suggest the Browns took a passive approach to a position of outsized importance. They sat, waited and will have to accept the limitations of a player whom the league collectively considered the fourth best of the top four prospects.
Kizer showed promise at Notre Dame, but his inconsistency was evident, most notably in his accuracy numbers. He completed 67.3 percent of throws that traveled 10 or fewer yards in the air, ranking No. 42 among Power 5 quarterbacks. He also was judged to be off target, by ESPN Stats & Information video analysis, on 9.2 percent of those throws — the second-worst rate among qualified Power 5 passers.
There are no perfect prospects, whether at No. 1 overall or No. 52. And in truth, it’s tough to argue that Trubisky unequivocally will be a better pro than Kizer. So I’ll say this: The Browns were down to their final strike, at least for 2017, before they took a swing at a quarterback they could credibly claim to be a developmental starter. It was about time.
4. Cook, Mixon find homes
Two talented running backs were snapped up in the first 16 picks Friday night after each fell out of the first round. The Minnesota Vikings took Florida State’s Dalvin Cook at No. 41, pegging him as the long-term replacement for Adrian Peterson, and the Cincinnati Bengals added Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon to their lively locker room at No. 48.
The Vikings said they were satisfied after researching Cook’s off-field issues in college; he was charged with criminal mischief in 2014 and completed pretrial intervention and was acquitted of misdemeanor battery after an alleged incident outside a bar in 2015.
But the Vikings’ decision to trade up for Cook suggested they did not plan to draft Mixon if he was available. Mixon punched a woman in 2014, breaking four bones in her face, and accepted a plea deal. Oklahoma suspended him for the 2014 season. The video of the incident was released in December, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, only four of the league’s 32 teams were willing to draft Mixon.
You could have gotten good odds that one would be the Bengals, who often embrace players with sketchy on- and off-field histories. They’ve continued to stand by cornerback Adam Jones and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, for example, and on Mixon, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said: “I don’t know who isn’t disgusted with what they saw. But that’s one day in a young man’s life and he’s had to live that since then and he will continue to have to live that. He gets an opportunity to move forward and write his script from then on.”
Mixon will be by far the most scrutinized rookie in the NFL this season, and for better or worse, he has gone to a franchise with plenty of experience — and some success — in handling those situations.
5. Pearson for (draft) commissioner!
Hopefully you caught Hall of Fame receiver Drew Pearson’s introduction of the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round selection, which turned out to be Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. Pearson turned in a rousing riff amid the requisite booing from fans in Philadelphia. He thanked the NFC East rival Eagles for “allowing me to have a career” in the NFL and threw further shade by noting he had played for the “five-time world champion Dallas Cowboys.” (The Eagles have not won a Super Bowl.)
The scene was all the proof we need to shove commissioner Roger Goodell away from the podium on a permanent basis. And if you didn’t think so at that moment, you were probably convinced when Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos gave a high-energy welcome to Eagles third-round pick Rasul Douglas, a cornerback from West Virginia.
The annual boos Goodell absorbs were a cute shtick at first, but now they’re just predictable and not even that cathartic. How about going full WWE and allow the former players, celebrities and other notables to turn it up a few notches? More fun. Less boos. (See, I’m not always pessimistic!)
The NFL can and should file this suggestion as priority 1,567 in a busy offseason. But I can’t imagine a single objection emerging among draft fans. Let’s gooooooooo!
And that’s a wrap! The 2017 NFL draft concluded Saturday with all 32 teams getting better, no one drafting a player that wasn’t at the top of its board and everyone wishing the 2018 draft started tomorrow.
Well, it kind of does. The first 2018 mocks are in production as we speak.
1. Skip the bowl game!
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: Well-regarded prospects have nothing to gain from a professional standpoint and everything to lose by playing in an otherwise meaningless college bowl game. Participation in the bowl game can cost a player millions of dollars. The 2017 draft provides a succinct explanation.
Running backs Leonard Fournette (LSU) and Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) both skipped their final college games to preserve their health. Did NFL teams question their commitment or love for the game? Hardly. They were among the first eight players drafted, to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, respectively.
On the other hand, is the case of Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl. Before the injury, you could quite comfortably call him a top-50 prospect, meaning he could have been drafted in the first round but no later than the middle of the second. Based on 2016’s rookie scale, Butt would have been guaranteed about $2.8 million if he had been drafted at No. 50 overall.
The ACL injury knocked him down to Saturday’s fifth round, where he was selected at No. 145. Based on last season’s scale, he can expect guarantees of around $260,000. So even after collecting on an insurance policy ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported would bring him $543,000, he is still roughly $2 million short of where he would have been.
In truth, the only time a bowl game is important to a player’s evaluation is when it represents a rare chance to see him play against better competition or a bigger conference. Otherwise, it is a financial risk absorbed by the player for the benefit of his school’s coffers.
To be clear, this applies mostly to sure-fire, high-end prospects. By the end of the college regular season, most players and their advisers should know if they are in that group.
And, of course, finances are not the only factor involved in deciding whether to play in a bowl game. Some players consider it part of their scholarship commitment. Fine. Others want one final celebration in their college uniform. No problem. A few might succumb to pressure from coaches, fans or both. It’s not great, but it happens.
But almost none of them should feel it will affect their NFL future. The benefits of a stellar bowl game performance don’t come close to outweighing the financial risk for these players. It would not be at all surprising to see more players follow in the footsteps of Fournette and McCaffrey next season.
2. Record trade totals
This draft stood out in several ways but most notably when it came to trades and defensive backs. There were a record 38 exchanges of draft picks, eclipsing the previous high of 34 set in 2008, in part because this was the first year the NFL allowed teams to trade compensatory picks. It added a bit of a frenetic pace to what can descend into a monotonous few hours, particularly on Day 3, and ultimately allowed more teams to maneuver for the specific player they wanted. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Meanwhile, a total of 57 cornerbacks or safeties were drafted as teams escalated their annual efforts to fight the ever-rising efficiency of the passing games. That was a record for the first seven rounds of a draft in the common era, dating to 1967.
The only teams that didn’t draft at least one defensive back were the New England Patriots and New York Giants. (The Patriots had only four selections, tied for the fewest ever by a defending Super Bowl champion.)
Finally, what was billed as a defensive draft fell just short of a record over the first seven rounds of a draft in the common era. There were 132 defensive players selected, four short of the 136 selected in 2010.
3. Minimal immediate impact from QBs
Now that we know where the 2017 quarterback class has landed, we can conclude that most of its members will open the season on the sideline. The informed guess here is that no more than one rookie quarterback will be his team’s Week 1 starter, barring an injury to an incumbent.
The likeliest candidate is the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who at this point needs only to beat out Tom Savage to play in Week 1 against the Jaguars. The rest of the class has promise but is decidedly green.
It’s difficult to imagine the Chicago Bears paying free-agent pickup Mike Glennon $19 million this season to back up No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, who started 13 college games. It’s true that in 2012, then-Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson beat out Matt Flynn, who had received $10 million guaranteed to sign. But let’s remember that Wilson transferred to Wisconsin as a senior to play out his maximum eligibility.
Likewise, it doesn’t appear the Kansas City Chiefs have any intentions other than to spend the next year or two developing Patrick Mahomes II behind starter Alex Smith. In fact, the second-most-likely Week 1 starter might be the Cleveland Browns’ Deshone Kizer. It’s true that Kizer is inexperienced enough that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said publicly he should have stayed in college. But the Browns’ depth chart isn’t that intimidating, with Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler (for now) ahead of him.
Finally, let’s not spend too much time dreaming about developing a future starter among quarterbacks drafted after the second round. We all love to cite the example of Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2000. Saturday, it was noted by more than a few observers that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs at the same spot (No. 135) as the Dallas Cowboys got Dak Prescott last year.
However, Prescott is a decided exception to the rule. Of the 135 quarterbacks drafted after the second round from 2001 through 2016, only 11 became starters of any degree of longevity. For every Brady, Wilson or Prescott, there are 10 Matt Barkleys.
4. Character concerns affect draft position but not draft status
This draft was a sobering reminder of a reliable axiom: If your football résumé is strong enough, nothing short of active incarceration will keep you out of the NFL. You might be drafted later than expected if you’ve encountered off-field trouble, but you’ll probably get drafted. If not, there will be teams ready to take you on as an undrafted free agent.
Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, under investigation after a rape allegation earlier this month, slipped perhaps 10 spots before the Oakland Raiders took him at No. 24. (Conley said he passed a polygraph test.) Oklahoma tailback Joe Mixon, whose 2014 punch of a woman was caught on videotape, dropped from a possible first-round selection to the second round. And Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, once considered a second-day pick, lasted until the sixth round because he was charged with misdemeanor simple battery after he allegedly struck a woman and knocked her unconscious.
Browns executive vice president Sashi Brown later told reporters the team might rescind Brantley’s rights based on further details about the incident, an approach that quite literally suggests the team drafted first and will ask questions later.
There is certainly a strong argument to be made about second chances. But it’s important to remember how it worked out for the 2017 “character” class when considering future hysterics about players ruining their chances of getting into the NFL. Talent trumps character questions except in extreme situations.
5. Adrenaline rush at the draft site
The draft escalated this year into a full-on offseason pep rally, the likes of which are unseen in any other professional sport. Nearly 250,000 fans showed up in downtown Philadelphia, a record according to the NFL, to watch what turned into much more than a mere recitation of names. About 50,000 of that total were in attendance Saturday even though the names were being announced off-site.
Philadelphia fans got after commissioner Roger Goodell louder than ever. Former Dallas receiver Drew Pearson later taunted them about the Cowboys’ five Super Bowl championships. Saturday, former Eagles players Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins revisited Pearson’s words and the intensity was palpable even through the television.
Representatives of nearly half of the NFL’s cities were in attendance to prepare bids for future drafts. When the NFL first took the event on the road, the presumption was that it would eventually migrate to the new Los Angeles stadium and assume a Grammy Awards-like vibe. But given the success in Philadelphia and the intense interest nationwide in hosting the event, the draft seems likely to continue as a traveling show for some time.
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