Draft Days Are Here
By John Ventola
The annual three-day National Football League (NFL) draft gets underway tonight in Philadelphia. Two hundred fifty-three names will be called before the event concludes Saturday afternoon. Thirty-two league franchises, each hoping to improve their team’s talent pool, will make choices to either correct a position deficiency, or select the best player available (according to their talent evaluations) at the time of their pick.
Collegiate athletes from across the country have been timed, measured, interviewed, and tested, both physically and psychologically. After all, this is the big-time, and there
is a lot at stake. Some of tonight’s selections will become professional stars. A few will go on to have decent careers. However, the biggest percentage will fall into the NFL subsidiary group, Not For Long. Brief professional exposure, multiple team cuts, injuries, and finally the realization that their time at the top level of their chosen profession is over.
I am not being negative, or pessimistic, that is the nature of the beast when it comes to performing as a professional football player. Money is nice in most cases, but longevity in the league is fleeting.
While some teams do well gathering players in free agency or by trades, the draft has proven to be the key factor in successful franchises through the years. The unbeaten Miami Dolphins of the ‘70s, the championship Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the Terry Bradshaw era, Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys, Bill Walsh’s outstanding San Francisco teams, and most recently, the dominant New England Patriots of Bill Belichick/Tom Brady, were/are draft choice driven.
Free agent pickups and trade acquisitions supplement and strengthen, but make no mistake, having a high percentage of a franchise’s draft picks succeed makes teams perennial contenders.
The NFL’s draft selection process tries to level the proverbial playing field, assigning the teams numbers based on how they finished in the prior season. Example, Cleveland
had the worst record in the league in 2016 thus they will select first; New England won the Super Bowl so will select thirty-second (although they have already traded that pick).
With that in mind, it should take an unsuccessful franchise like Cleveland just a couple of solid drafts to get top level talent and get back into its conference race. Additionally, the draft position of the Patriots should put them at a disadvantage, particularly when they have been making their selections at, or near, the bottom of the draft’s first-round because of their outstanding play for the past decade. Does not work that way, so many variables play a part in success and failure in the NFL.
That brings us to the next three days. Three years ago, Cleveland gambled on talented (although there were questions about his arm strength) Johnny Manziel. The immature Manziel fizzled horribly, and the Browns’ front office did further damage by picking up another Heisman Trophy quarterback, Robert Griffin III, from Washington. Pardon the Browns, they may be a little QB-shy with that No. 1 pick tonight.
So called draft experts (think that really does not exist), predict defensive end Myles
Garrett of Texas A & M, 6-4, 270 pounds, will be the first pick of the night. Hope the Browns have better luck with this Aggie after the Manziel fiasco. Garrett had 32.5 sacks in his three-year career in College Station, sixth all-time in SEC history. He has the technique, speed, agility, and strength to be a productive player in the NFL for years.
As usual it will be a night where athletic dreams are fulfilled, particularly for the first rounders, who will be rewarded handsomely with lucrative contracts before they even compete professionally. Thirty-two names will be called tonight, the second and third rounds will be held Friday night, and round 4 through 7 will start at 11 CST Saturday.
Personally, I enjoy each year’s NFL draft. This year LSU has three talented athletes (Jamal Adams, Leonard Fournette, Travarius White) that could be selected in the first round. Very unusual for any school, but not surprising considering the number of athletes the Tigers had on NFL rosters in September of last season. LSU had the most
of any collegiate program at that time, 50. Florida had 48, Alabama 46, Ohio State and Florida State 45, Georgia, 41, and Clemson and Auburn each had 38.
One thing for sure. Les Miles can never claim he did not have enough talent during his tenure in Baton Rouge.
Garrett will probably be the first to walk on stage, but LSU safety Jamal Adams should be close behind, possibly going as early as the second pick. No. 33 made a name for himself as a ball-hawking defender who likes to hit. I watched a replay of last October’s Ole Miss game in Baton Rouge (guess I really did not believe the performances I saw that night by Adams and running back Leonard Fournette) recently. Adams was all over the field, laying out ball carriers and defenders. On a third quarter punt return by White, Adams dropped back on the return and took out two Rebel defenders with a crunching block.
Fournette? Well, he gained an LSU single-game record 284 yards rushing that night, gathering almost 190 yards of that total on three lengthy touchdown jaunts. Missing most of the season with ankle problems, the former St. Augustine Knight, only carried
the ball 129 times in 2016 for 843 yards. However, he showed plenty during his time in Tigertown and he will make an owner, GM, and head coach very pleased with his bruising runs.
Adams, a Hebron High (Carrollton, Texas) grad, possesses Richard-Sherman-like skills and should be an immediate contributor on whatever team selects him. He, and a group of Ohio State defensive backs, lead the most talented position in the draft. Analysts think there will be as many as 20 defensive backs taken in the early rounds.
Offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, tight ends, will all be called, depending on a team’s need, but the “glamour” positions (quarterback and running back) will generate the most buzz tonight. Three quarterbacks and three running backs could be first rounders.
While talented quarterbacks have always held priority in the draft, running backs went through a period three or four years ago where their importance seemed to be marginalized. The NFL’s emphasis on passing offenses, running game by committee, and career ending injuries probably all contributed to that thinking, but strategy changing runners capable of controlling games showed up last year (Ohio State’s Ezekial Elliott) and there will be three names called tonight (Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook) capable of matching Elliott stride for stride.
Two running backs that LSU fans are familiar with, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, tipped the financial scales with their potential in the 2015 draft, Gurley signed for $13.82 million while Gordon picked up $10.7 million to carry the ball that first season. Elliott, based on his outstanding career in Columbus, and his talent, garnered $24.96 million to team up with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and make the Dallas Cowboys relevant again.
Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards last season to earn his money. However, another rookie runner, Jordan Howard, drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears, ran for 1,313 yards for the paltry (by NFL standards) sum of $248,204. Interesting when one realizes that Howard made $24.7 million less than Elliott and only trailed him in rushing by 318 yards. That fact, and others, keeps front office personnel busy year-round as they evaluate athletes and try to come up with diamonds-in-the-rough like Howard.
Fournette, McCaffrey, and Cook will each be multi-millionaires in a matter of weeks. One of the big questions of the evening will be who will be selected first, Fournette or McCaffrey? Powerful, with a tremendous burst of speed, Fournette’s upright running style and penchant for delivering, as well as receiving, hits, may hold some teams off. McCaffrey is a multi-talented runner and receiver. He also returned kickoffs and punts at Stanford. Draft boards have either one going to Carolina with the eighth first round selection if no other team trades up to pick one or the other earlier.
Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon and Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara are two other highly regarded running backs. The selection of Mixon, who sat out a year at Oklahoma for punching a
woman, will be an interesting thing to watch at the draft. Because of that incident, he was not invited to Philadelphia.
Mixon has first or second round talent, but background checks, and information in his assault case, have some teams leery of using a high draft choice on him.
Deshaun Watson led Clemson to the last two national championship games and his last second touchdown pass sealed last year’s title for the Tigers. The Gainesville, Georgia native proved to be almost unstoppable during his last two seasons at Clemson, throwing for 76 touchdowns and completing 67 percent of his passes (721 total completions).
Use to the big stage and accolades, Watson has put off some pro football evaluators with his arrogance and outspokenness when it was bandied around that North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who only had 13 career starts in Chapel Hill, might go before him in the draft. The 6-3 Mentor, Ohio native passed for 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions with a less talented cast than Watson had at Clemson. Watson threw for 41 TDs last season, but had 17 interceptions.
Rifle armed Patrick Mahomes II impressed many teams at the NFL combine with his arm strength and agility and could be chosen before Watson or Trubisky.
To quote Cuba Gooding in ‘Jerry Maguire’, “show me the money”! Agents will do their negotiating based on potential, but if nothing else, the draft has shown that potential does not always guarantee success, Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and Manziel, who became the first freshman Heisman winner in 2012, both failed at the professional game (Griffin III did have a respectable rookie season). And then sometimes those diamonds come in from the rough (Aaron Rodgers, who slipped to the 24th first round pick in the 2005 draft).
Every now and then you have an athletic freak like Tom Brady who has gone on to quarterback the Patriots to seven Super Bowls (most by any quarterback in NFL history). Brady completed his fifteenth year with January’s Super Bowl comeback victory, his fifth title at the helm of New England. He was the Patriots’ sixth-round selection out of Michigan, and is the league’s poster boy for “The Diamond In The Rough”.
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