NASHVILLE — Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we absorb an eventful and defensive-minded first round of the 2019 NFL Draft from a soggy Music City….
* The Giants were sold on Duke quarterback Daniel Jones in part because they believed he could handle the pressure that comes with playing quarterback in the league’s biggest market. Jones is mature, even-headed and doesn’t rattle under duress. Those traits will surely serve him well in New York, but there better be more than that he brings to the table.
According to those who know him best, Jones has a lot of both Manning brothers in him, and that had to weigh first and foremost in the minds of the Giants. And you can’t possibly underestimate the role played by Jones having learned the quarterback position at the hands of Duke coach David Cutcliffe, the longtime Manning quarterback whisperer.
We know this much: Eli and Jones won’t make for an awkward fit in the quarterbacks room. They’ve known each other for years, since Jones attended the annual Manning summer passing camp, and the Cutcliffe connection is a strong one.
With Jones going to New York at No. 6 and Washington selecting Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins at No. 15, the comparisons of those two young franchise passers in the NFC East should rage for the foreseeable future. Mix in Carson Wentz in Philadelphia and Dak Prescott and the NFC East is suddenly Young Arm Central. It could be fun.
* Sadly no one can really say when Washington quarterback Alex Smith will be healthy and ready to return from the gruesome broken leg he suffered last year at mid-season. But he’s clearly no longer the future in D.C., with Washington drafting Haskins as their new franchise passer at No. 15.
I feel for Smith, who’s a darn good quarterback and a great, standup dude. He’s been replaced and lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco in 2012, to Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City in 2018, and now Haskins in Washington, whenever it occurs. If Smith ever plays again, the team he takes the field for is sure to draft his young replacement soon thereafter.
* Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell was probably the biggest surprise of the first round, going No. 4 to Oakland — about a half a round earlier than many draft observers thought he’d go. I had him slotted to Seattle at No. 21, and he was a popular pick for No. 18 Baltimore and No. 19 Tennessee.
At least the Raiders didn’t harken back to their Al Davis draft tendency and take an over-rated speedster. Ferrell is a very skilled pass rusher who may have not gotten all the acclaim he deserved, given how much talent that Clemson defensive line featured. Some NFL decision-makers thought Ferrell’s decision to not run for teams would hurt his draft stock and drop him into the late teens or early 20s. Guess not.
Oakland was desperate for pass rush. With no Khalil Mack in its lineup, the Raiders finished with a league-worst 13 sacks last season, far fewer than the next worst team. But with Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Florida State’s Brian Burns available, Ferrell was a somewhat outside the box pick. And with that, Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have shown themselves willing to gamble in Oakland. Not that it’s surprising in the least.
With the Raiders taking Alabama running back Josh Jacobs at No. 24 and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram at No. 27, the early reviews of Oakland’s three-pick first round were pretty positive. But let’s not kid ourselves, Ferrell has to add real and early pass-rush impact at No. 4 or the Raiders’ spotlight moment in this round may not be remembered fondly.
* Kyler Murray’s anticipated but still somewhat suspenseful selection makes it 16 times in the past 21 years a quarterback has been drafted first overall. That trend was started by the Colts taking Peyton Manning at No. 1 in 1998, and it’s now our fault if we fail to trust it and pencil in a quarterback at the top of every mock draft.
Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa could be great NFL pros with long Hall of Fame careers. But I left the NFL Scouting Combine in early March believing the Cardinals were taking Murray, and nothing in the ensuing seven-plus weeks changed my mind.
Channeling the mantra of the 1992 Clinton campaign: “It’s the quarterback, stupid!’’ Let’s all remember that going forward.
* I’ve expressed this before and I’ll express it again now: Picking Murray was the wise move, because after the success of Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield last season, could the Cardinals really risk missing out on a passer who came out of the same or at least similar offensive system in college, posting great production early on in the NFL?
Nope. The huge impact of Mahomes and Mayfield in 2018 — not to mention Russell Wilson for the past seven years — are the reason Arizona had to take Murray and bet on his talent successfully translating to the NFL. Lack of prototypical quarterback height or not. Josh Rosen might still be a quality quarterback in the league, but Murray had the stamp of potential superstardom and the Cardinals couldn’t pass that up.
* I don’t believe for a minute that Arizona will wind up keeping Josh Rosen on its roster, as some have speculated. You don’t ask or expect a second-year quarterback who went in the top 10 last year to come back and play the good solider, playing behind Murray and helping mentor the rookie. Doesn’t work that way. Especially for a player who is as proud, intelligent and outspoken as Rosen. It wouldn’t work and I’m guessing the Cardinals know it. It might make for a toxic locker room environment.
Miami still makes the most sense to me as Rosen’s next destination, although the Chargers can’t be ruled out either. Somebody’s going to get a nice bargain and a passer with plenty of upside, who happens to have a very reasonable contract and is under team control for another four seasons. Go get him, Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Rosen at least gives Miami respectability at the position in 2019.
* Everybody knew for weeks the Jets were trying to trade out of the No. 3 slot. They practically begged some team to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. But it’s a good thing New York didn’t have any success, because not trading the rights to select Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams will wind up being filed under the category of the best trades are sometimes the ones you don’t make.
Williams was considered the bluest of the blue-chip prospects in this draft, and he’s a beast of a player who can do it all from wherever you put him on the defensive line. I fell for the idea that the Jets were targeting Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver at No. 3, but New York general manager Mike Maccagnan made the right choice.
These aren’t words I’ve often typed, but…. well done, Jets. Well done.
* We had been led to believe there were four quarterbacks who were virtual first-round locks, but as it turns out, Lock wasn’t a lock. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, that is. Lock wasn’t selected Thursday, and that fit with late reports that teams were somewhat skeptical of his accuracy.
Only three quarterbacks went, and they were all gone by pick No. 15: Murray, Jones and Haskins. There were five first-round arms last year, and that tied with 1999 for second most, trailing only the epic six-quarterback class of 1983’s first round.
The other “big’’ name taking a hit Thursday night was sizable Mississippi receiver D.K. Metcalf, who also went unselected after being mocked as high as the top 10 at times this draft season. Metcalf is a physical specimen to be sure, but clubs weren’t sure he ran sophisticated enough route trees in college, and may not be polished enough to make an early impact in the NFL.
Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown (No. 25 Baltimore) and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry were the only first-round drafted receivers, and when the Patriots went for Harry at No. 32, another big receiver, it underlined how much Metcalf’s stock might have slipped in recent weeks.
Other highly-regarded prospects who won’t be taken by a team until Friday night’s second round at the earliest include Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor, who was thought to be headed to No. 7 Jacksonville for weeks and weeks, as well as LSU cornerback Greedy Williams and Oklahoma offensive tackle Cody Ford.
* Buck up, Patriots interior offensive linemen. Your job got tougher with Thursday night’s developments. With the Jets adding disruptive Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams at No. 3, Buffalo drafting Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver at No. 9, and Miami picking up Clemson’s Christian Wilkins at No. 13, the AFC East just got a little more interesting. That’s the three best defensive tackle prospects in the draft all joining the division, and three of the best players overall in this year’s draft.
* From the you really can’t make this stuff up department: Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson loves the movie, “Lion King.’’ He even wore Lion King “King of the Jungle’’ socks to the draft Thursday night, and then naturally got selected by the Detroit Lions at No. 8.
Life imitating art once again.
* Strange draft. No cornerbacks selected in the top 29 speaks to how average this class of cover men was regarded, and how many great front seven defenders there were in this year’s first round. It had been since 1974 since no cornerbacks were taken in the opening 25 picks of a draft.
Running backs weren’t heard from until Alabama’s Josh Jacobs went 24th to Oakland, as expected. And there were no receivers taken until No. 25 Baltimore turned in the card for Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown — although both highly-rated Iowa tight ends were gone in the top 20.
Brown, the cousin of ex-Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, finds himself in the AFC North. How perfect is that? Antonio Brown left Pittsburgh amid acrimony this offseason, and now Marquise Brown may help beat the Steelers in the division on behalf of Pittsburgh’s most bitter rival.
* Death, taxes and the Seahawks trading their first-round pick. That’s all we can count on in life. Seattle decided it wanted to move out of its assigned first-round slot for a mind-boggling eighth year in a row, dealing the 21st pick to Green Bay. Seattle, which picked up the No. 29 slot in the Frank Clark deal earlier this week, got the Packers’ 30th spot and more in the trade.
Green Bay paid the price of two fourth-round selections — No. 114 and 118 — in order to move up nine spots and take hard-hitting Maryland safety Darnell Savage, a name few mockers had in the first round. As for Seattle, it took a Michael Bennett clone named L.J. Collier, a defensive end from TCU, with its No. 29 pick, and then dealt the No. 30 pick it got from Green Bay to the Giants for even more draft capital. New York used its third pick of the first round on Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker, putting an exclamation point on the Giants’ big night.
We can’t say yet how New York general manager Dave Gettleman’s work will turn out, but he was definitely bold in his choices. Taking Jones at No. 6 ahead of Haskins, going for Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence at No. 17 (the Odell Beckham trade pick from Cleveland) and moving back into the round for Baker showed me Gettleman knows the urgency of his situation. New York has made the playoffs once since winning the Super Bowl in the 2011 season, with zero postseason wins.
* I can’t wait to see Houston’s first-round pick in action. It’s not every day you watch a 322-pound former quarterback play. The Texans at No. 23 seemed in line to jump on highly-regarded pass blocker Washington State Andre Dillard, but the Eagles out-maneuvered them to trade up with No. 22 Baltimore and select him instead (which is a very quality development for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and his health).
So Houston responded by staying at offensive tackle, picking Alabama State’s Tytus Howard, who started his football career as a high school quarterback. He began his college career as a tight end, but he kept growing and became a very athletic big man playing tackle. Howard ran a 5.05 40-yard dash and still was strong enough to do 21 reps at the bench press.
* For a while there I thought this first round was going to be trade-less, which would have bucked recent history, when the round usually turned into a bit of a trade-fest. But then the Steelers made a logical move, jumping up 10 spots to No. 10 in a deal with Denver.
Pittsburgh coveted an impact outside linebacker to help ease the void left when Ryan Shazier suffered that devastating spinal cord injury late in the 2017 season, and the Steelers saw the opportunity to land Michigan’s Devin Bush, a sideline to sideline performer.
It was a nice decision by Pittsburgh, which had to have more defense to try and stay close to the likes of New England, Kansas City, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Houston and the Chargers in the AFC. The cost wasn’t cheap. The Steelers gave up their second rounder this year (No. 52) and a third-round selection in 2020. But this is a huge, potentially decisive season in Pittsburgh, so why not go all-in on winning when that’s the reality of the situation.
* I guess we can now consider the No. 7 pick of the first round the Josh Allen slot, because for the second year in a row, a guy with that name got selected there. Bills quarterback Josh Allen went seventh to Buffalo last season, and Jacksonville took Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen at No. 7 this time around.
This year’s Allen wasn’t expected to wait as long as he had to, but he got to No. 7 because the Raiders pulled a stunner by taking Clelin Ferrell in the fourth spot and the Giants pulled the trigger on quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 4.
Everyone thought Jacksonville was in the market for an offensive tackle like Jawaan Taylor of Florida, all the better to protect new quarterback Nick Foles. Or a tight end like Iowa’s versatile T.J. Hockenson, all the better to make the most of the Foles signing. But I think old-school Jaguars football czar Tom Coughlin knows this much about the NFL: You never, ever pass on an elite pass rusher.
So it was Allen to Jacksonville, and yet another AFC defensive line got an upgrade Thursday night.
* Five teams didn’t own a first-round pick entering Thursday night, all due to trades made: Chicago and Dallas, which dealt with Oakland last season for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, respectively; New Orleans, which sent its pick to Green Bay last year to take defensive end Marcus Davenport last year; Cleveland, which picked up a player named Odell Beckham Jr. in that blockbuster deal with the Giants; and Kansas City, which traded for Seattle pass-rusher Frank Clark earlier this week.
We’ll have to wait and see how the Browns and Chiefs fare with their bold trades this season, but you’d have to say the Bears and Cowboys clearly both benefited greatly from their 2018 deals, making the playoffs last season. As for the Saints, the jury is clearly still out on Davenport, who had a low-impact rookie season despite New Orleans going all the way to the NFC title game last year.
* It would not shock me if we’ve seen the last of Tyreek Hill in the NFL. For the Chiefs ultra-talented receiver-return man, the surfacing of an 11-minute audio tape accusing him of domestic violence against his 3-year-old son could be the equivalent of the Ray Rice elevator video in 2014. A career-ender. Case closed.
The NFL will likely feel forced to suspend Hill indefinitely at the very least under the terms of its personal conduct policy, and soon. It could also take the even harsher step of making his banishment for life if the public outcry over his son suffering a broken arm grows exponentially. Furthermore Hill could face legal punishment that could complicate any potential comeback he might mount.
The new, sickening development in Hill’s case should make teams even more wary of drafting prospects who have documented past character issues, as Hill did entering league. Some might have thought Hill’s story dampened and overshadowed one of the NFL’s biggest celebratory nights of the year. But it may have been the ideal night for this development to unfold, given that it offers a cautionary tale to NFL teams and reminds them the risks of gambling on players who have these sorts of red flags on their resumes.