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Snap Judgments: NFL Draft Round 1

ARLINGTON, Tex. - Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we digest the wildly entertaining and absorbing first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, held in the Taj Mahal of football, AT&T Stadium (aka Jerry World)...

  • We knew it was an arms race, this 2018 draft. And with four quarterbacks selected in the top 10 for the first time ever, this year’s much-ballyhooed passer class didn’t disappoint. At least not yet. That’ll likely come this fall, at least in some cases.

Throw former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson into the mix, after he went to Baltimore with the final pick, and the first round saw a whopping five quarterbacks fly off the shelves, nearly tying the record six that went in the epic opening round of 1983.

Quick takeaways on the four quarterbacks who came off the board at No. 1 to Cleveland, No. 3 to the Jets, No. 7 to the trading up (as expected) Bills, and No. 10 to the also-on-the-move Cardinals:

  • The AFC East got considerably more interesting with half the division adding a new fresh-faced franchise quarterback. The Jets found themselves in a great spot at No. 3, turning in the card for Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold, a prospect who was considered my many teams the top-rated passer in the draft. (And they shall call him The Sam-chise).

Buffalo got its man as well, moving up from No. 12 — it’s second trade up in the first round — to No. 7 to select Wyoming’s Josh Allen, who had the most tumultuous draft-day experience of any player. Allen has boom-bust potential, but if he’s a boom, the Bills might finally in time have their heir to the big arm of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.

  • The Jets big trade to get from No. 6 to No. 3 was very costly at three second-round picks, but it might well pay off handsomely with Darnold falling to them. New York was pretty locked in on Rosen, believing Darnold wouldn’t last past the No. 1 Browns or No. 2 Giants. But last he did, and New York hopes its long national nightmare at quarterback has ended.
  • Things are hopeful in Cleveland with the Browns landing Baker Mayfield, and I do like the moxie the pick showed. He’s accurate, a winner and has that innate leadership bravado that your need your quarterback to have. But this is the Browns we’re talking about, and even if they’re vastly improved this season, it’s not going to be an easy road for Mayfield. Will he have the patience and the temperament to handle losing, if it comes in large doses? Stay tuned on that front. Cleveland and quarterbacks have not mixed well in the past two decades.
  • Arizona wisely moved from No. 15 to 10th to take Rosen, who was tumbling a bit after an eventful draft-scouting season. I love the move, and in the long run, Rosen could be the best of this bunch, with the added bonus of going to a team that’s not saddled with a recent legacy of losing, a’la the Browns, Jets or Bills. Rosen might actually wind up being the big winner among this class’s big four passers, even though he went last in the group.

He’s playing in a dome setting, before a fairly patient fan base, and won’t have quite so much savior pressure placed on his shoulders. As the most pro-ready of the quarterback prospects, Rosen might get on the field and add impact before any other of the rookie passers in 2018. He’s certainly ultra motivated, telling Westwood One that he was “pissed off’’ to be the fourth passer selected. That’s the spirit.

  • I’m not among the crowd that says it’s foolish to take a running back at No. 2, even if he’s an elite-level player. And Barkley could be a beast in the NFC East, making that division much tighter for the depending champion Eagles. But what if Darnold turns into a superstar for the next-door Jets over the next decade-plus? Eli Manning’s playing career will be just a memory by then, and Giants general manager Dave Gettleman might have defend his choice to bypass the franchise quarterback for a very long time to come.
  • Baltimore was said to be interested in the electrifying Jackson, and while it didn’t use its first first-rounder on him, the Ravens made an aggressive move to get back into the round to scoop him up at No. 32.

This isn’t likely a move about 2018 in Baltimore, where Joe Flacco will remain the Ravens starter. But Flacco is facing a get-it-done or get-gone season with the Ravens, and Jackson now signals a significant shift for Baltimore in the not-too-distant future.

If Flacco didn’t know the urgency of his situation before, he certainly understands it now. I like Baltimore’s move in Jackson’s direction, even though it might take some time to bear fruit. This should buy Jackson at least a year of watching and learning the NFL quarterbacking game.

  • It was beyond surprising to see the Browns bypass North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb in favor of Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward at No. 4. I thought elite pass rushers win out almost every time when it comes to positional value. Ward is a very good prospect, but Chubb is supposedly special and the best defender in this year’s class. His bookend pairing with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, defensive end Myles Garrett, was supposed to create nightmares for opposing AFC North quarterbacks for years to come.
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The Browns were reportedly leaning strongly toward Chubb earlier Thursday, according to Pro Football Talk, but instead changed their mind and headed in Ward’s direction. I’m thinking there’s a story there worth hearing, and wonder if there was something late-developing in term’s of Chubb’s can’t-miss label.

  • Not that it’s a shocker, but what a sobering night it was the for the newly acquired Bridge Quarterback crowd. Cleveland started it off, drafting Tyrod Taylor’s replacement in Mayfield. Then Buffalo followed suit, trading up from No. 12 to No. 7 with Tampa Bay to pounce on Wyoming’s Josh Allen, thereby assuring that the just-arrived A.J. McCarron is a short-term starting option.

Next came the Cardinals, who swung a deal with the No. 10 Oakland Raiders, moving up from 15 to essentially replace new projected starter Sam Bradford. Arizona tabbed UCLA’s Josh Rosen as their franchise quarterback of the future.

No one should feel sorry for Bradford, who has made a mint in the NFL despite his many injuries and ups-and-downs on the field. And McCarron and Taylor knew they were going to teams that were intent on drafting first-round quarterbacks. But still, it’s a tough gig to be a bridge quarterback, and have your tenure so short-circuited even before it really begins.

And no, I don’t quite put the Jets’ veteran QB contingent of Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Hackenberg in the same crowd, because none of them had any assurance of being New York’s guy in 2018.

  • On the flip side, Denver’s Case Keenum and the Giants’ Eli Manning were  big winners Thursday night, with the Broncos and New York both passing on selecting first-round quarterbacks in favor of defensive end Bradley Chubb and running back Saquon Barkley, respectively. No. 11 Miami missed out on the top four highest-rated quarterbacks as well, giving starter Ryan Tannehill a reprieve of sorts this season.
  • The Saints made a bold (read risky) move up from 27th to 14th to select University of Texas-San Antonio edge rusher Marcus Davenport, and gave up a ton in the process, essentially spending two first-round picks plus a fifth-rounder for a player who best be the finishing piece of the puzzle on defense.

Green Bay was the Saints’ trade partner, and in picking up New Orleans’ 2019 first-round selection the Packers faced an offer they couldn’t refuse. Davenport better offer an effective bookend pass rush to go with Cam Jordan right away as a rookie, or the price the Saints paid will look exorbitant come next April.

The move obviously says New Orleans feels it’s a Super Bowl-or-bust team with this one more shot to win a ring in the long and distinguished Drew Brees era.

  • Letting some of the first-round picks sink in for all of 60 seconds or so, I really like Denver opting for pass rush with the draft’s most elite defensive end in North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb. If Denver’s defense can improve and reverse its recent slide in 2018, and veteran free-agent quarterback Case Keenum can reproduce something close to his magical season in Minnesota of last year, the Broncos may be more competitive in the AFC West than expected.

Another instant winner I’m ready to declare? The Colts going for practically perfect Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson at No. 6. Repeat after me, Indianapolis needs to add as many quality players as possible, and it needs to protect the oft-injured Andrew Luck. Nelson accomplishes both goals in one fell swoop. Luck’s shoulder is probably feeling better already.

The Bears were also smart to snatch up Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith at No. 8. He’s a tackling machine and he’s got a chance to be the next in the Bears’ pantheon of great, impact inside linebackers. Very quietly, the Bears have been adding some very nice pieces this offseason, and Smith might be their best move yet.

  • For all its problems and issues, the NFL does some things very, very well. Having injured Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier walk out to announce Pittsburgh’s No. 28 pick in the first round was a moving and uplifting big-stage moment on a night that is often over-stated and over-done. The Steelers selected Virginia Tech defensive back Terrell Edmunds, the brother of Hokies linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who went to Buffalo at No. 16. 
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Shazier and his fiance came out to thunderous cheers and more than few tears. His spinal cord injury was perhaps the darkest moment of the 2017 NFL season, but his appearance Thursday night was this offseason’s high point. Let’s hope the positive trend line continues for Shazier in 2018.

  • If this is to be his last year running the Ravens draft, trade-happy Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome went out with a bang in the first round, dealing down twice from No. 16, to No. 25. In the process, the Ravens essentially transformed a fifth-round pick into the opening selection of the third round, then somehow flipped a sixth-rounder into a fourth-rounder.

All for moving back just nine spots. With the No. 25 slot, the Ravens took the tight end they need, taking South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst.

And just to prove he’s still got it, Newsome then dealt the Ravens back into the very bottom of the first round, picking up the Eagles’ No. 32 selection and using it to take Jackson.

That means both Cleveland and Baltimore in the AFC North had a pair of first-rounders come aboard Thursday night, with both taking potential franchise quarterbacks.

  • Okay, Washington, we see what you’re up to. Adding as many Alabama defensive stars as possible appears to be the plan in the nation’s capital. Jonathan Allen last year in the first round, and Da’Ron Payne this time around, at No. 13. Both play defensive tackle, and run-stuffers are probably wise choices in a division that now features both Saquon Barkley with the Giants and Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys. And the Eagles have been known to run the ball a little bit, too, with Jay Ajayi and Co.
  • Some of the bigger surprises of the first round were the absences of such players such as Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry, UTEP guard Will Hernandez and LSU running back Derrius Guice. Seattle shook up the running back class at No. 27, taking San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, whom few pundits and analysts had making the first round.

Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson is another prospect who should go early in round two Friday night, and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph should be the first passer off the board in the second round.

  • I have no problem with either of the Patriots’ two first-round picks, because the Georgia duo of tackle-guard Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel both add quality to the roster and fill needs. But I have to admit I didn’t see New England going offense-offense with its selections, after watching its defense get torched in the Super Bowl loss.

Pretty sure Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans would have been the choice at No. 23 for the Patriots, if that sneaky Mike Vrabel in Tennessee hadn’t dealt up just ahead of New England to take him at No. 22.

Well played, young Mr. Vrabel. Well played. But Patriots fans are going to love the versatile and elusive Michel, who’s instantly one of the favorites for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

  • You may or may not like or believe in him as a quarterback or the potential face of a franchise, but how can anyone not instantly deify Mayfield for that exquisite recreation of Brett Favre’s memorable 1991 draft night photo, right down to the Jorts and the homemade family T-shirts? Masterful work, and such attention to detail. (Like, where’d you get that late ‘80s portable phone for the shot, at least since Radio Shack went out of business?)

Mayfield didn’t attend the draft, but if we got that classic homage to Favre out of the deal, his absence will be well worth it. I think if the Browns were on the fence at all about Mayfield, that photo alone should have proven to be the clear-cut tiebreaker in his favor. It was Hall of Fame material.

  • It seems it wouldn’t be an NFL Draft any more without seeing one highly-ranked first-round prospect take a severe hit to his image on the cusp of the draft. From La’el Collins in 2015 to Laremy Tunsil in 2016 and now there’s the Josh Allen cautionary tale to consider. Allen’s ill-advised social media musings as a teenager aren’t a death knell to his NFL career, but the timing of their release couldn’t have been much worse, and they’re a bad look no matter how you cut it.

Allen’s unearthed comments on Twitter gave the league pause on Thursday, and anything that makes an NFL team think twice about a prospect is a potential problem. It may wind up in the long run being just a footnote in Allen’s NFL story, but it created another hurdle he had to clear on draft day, in a process that’s grueling enough in its own right. Especially for a potential franchise quarterback selection.

But I really don’t get all the angst about whether or not he deleted the offending tweets or not in January, before his draft-season drive began. Whether he wiped them off his Twitter account or not, what does that really matter? He still admits to — and apologizes for — the thoughts behind them and that’s the crux of the matter. Not whether he or his agents did thorough cover-up work.

  • Taken on its face, I accept and understand Shad Khan’s point that his proposed purchase of London’s Wembley Stadium is a move that helps solidify the standing of his Jaguars in their home market of Jacksonville, given the team’s commitment to play games at Wembley at least through the 2020 season makes up part of its financial standing.

But the potential for things to get complicated and perhaps messy at some point between Khan, Jacksonville and London is obvious. Once Khan’s purchase of the historic London venue is approved, he’ll hold a pretty huge bargaining chip of leverage over Jacksonville if anything ever goes sideways in their relationship, or the Jaguars start positioning themselves for an upgrade(s) to EverBank Field.

The city, of course, could remind Khan that since he already owns an NFL-quality stadium, why should it ever help him finance either a new stadium in Jacksonville or further upgrades to the existing structure? Stay tuned for developments on this front, even if they might take quite a while to, you know, develop.

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