15 unusual NFL Draft winners and losers
Enough with the draft grades — what teams, players, and intangibles really won and lost on Draft Day?
The best non-sports sports weekend of the year is in the books after 256 picks and 7,382 arguments between Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, Jr. And thus ends the 2018 NFL Draft, from Cleveland’s surprisingly solid pick of Baker Mayfield at 1 right down to Mr. Irrelevant Trey Quinn at the conclusion. It was a wild first round, with 16 of the 32 original picks exchanging hands and four potential franchise quarterbacks going in the top ten picks.
You’ve already read a hundred draft reviews and grades with obvious winners like the Broncos for landing Bradley Chubb, the Packers for grabbing a future pick, and the Browns for sucking so bad they had too many picks to miss on all of them. You don’t need yet another article to tell you the Rams were dumb to trade away their top two picks this year for Brandin Cooks and Sammy Watkins.
So let’s dig a little deeper. What teams and players really won on draft day? What intangibles stood out among the crowd? And who — or what — were the NFL’s biggest losers on NFL Draft weekend 2018?
Let’s pick 15 winners and losers …
Winner — Texans and 49ers, even without high picks
A lot of critics will give poor or incomplete grades to Houston and San Francisco, but these teams already won the draft before it even started by trading picks for Deshaun Watson and Jimmy Garoppolo. Those two look worth an entire slate of draft picks. That the 49ers grabbed the draft’s top tackle and the Texans added three third-round picks is just icing on the cake. Everything starts with the quarterback. Watson and Jimmy G make the Niners and Texans the draft’s biggest winners.
Loser — The value of trading down
NFL teams are getting smarter, at least most of them. Those days of giving up picks left and right to move up for a guy may be behind us. Teams are finally starting to notice the Patriots of the world stockpiling picks to throw at the draft dartboard, and that means fewer teams than ever are willing to pay a windfall to move up. The Colts moved down three spots from 3 and got a trio of seconds. The Browns couldn’t find a taker to move down from 4. The Bucs and Raiders traded out of the top ten with teams making a move for a franchise QB and still couldn’t finagle a future first. Trading down is not what it used to be.
Winner — The big Jets pre-draft gamble
New York made the biggest trade of the draft two weeks before draft day, giving up a trio of seconds to move up three spots without even knowing who would be there at 3. The gamble paid off when they sat tight and presumed #1 pick Sam Darnold fall right into their laps. Darnold is just what the Jets needed, and the already steep price tag would have almost certainly turned into another first-round pick if New York had waited til draft day to deal.
Loser — New Orleans going all-in on a raw pass rusher
Remember how no one pays a premium to trade up anymore? The Saints are the exception to the rule. They traded two firsts for a raw pass rusher from UTSA, even throwing in a bonus fifth like the Chicago Bulls just because they could. The Saints had an all-time draft in 2017 and look poised for a Super Bowl run, but they may not have added a single immediate impact player while mortgaging a future that’s already shaky with no Brees replacement. New Orleans has done this for years, locking in on one guy and paying way too much to get him. If Marcus Davenport is the missing piece, nothing else matters. But they’re all in on him now.
Winner — Arizona fans getting used to hearing Rosen-to-Kirk
Cardinals fans have watched Larry Fitzgerald stave off Father Time for years now while seeing guys like Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer (and Sam Bradford soon) fail to do so. Finally, they get a fresh start. Josh Rosen could easily have been the #1 pick. Arizona got him for 15 and two mid-round picks, then added the best college receiver in slot man Christian Kirk. Cards fans could be hearing “Rosen-to-Kirk!” for the next decade.
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Loser — That brief period of Buffalo Bills relevance
The Bills made two huge first-round trades for talented but raw players, grabbing Wyoming QB Josh Allen and Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds. Buffalo threw picks around like they had draft stock to burn (they don’t), and Allen walks into the worst quarterback situation in the league. He’s behind A.J. McCarron and fans will clamor for him immediately even though he needs a year or two to become more than dude with a cannon arm. Buffalo said Allen was one of four quarterbacks they liked and talked about his big hands and ability to play in bad weather. That’s not the sort of thing you say about the guy that’s supposed to change everything. Hope Bills fans enjoyed their playoff appearance. They may long for a playoff field goal after this.
Winner — Patriots ahead of the learning curve as always
New England was stockpiling picks before it was cool. They still do a bit of that, but lately they’ve found other uses for picks, trading many away for veterans they can plug and play. They landed starting offensive lineman Trent Brown for a third, picked up stud kick returner Cordarelle Patterson to drop from a fifth to a sixth, then swapped that for corner Jason McCourty. Remember the Jimmy Garoppolo pick? A few trades later, they left with second-round corner Duke Dawson plus second- and third-rounders next year. They also added versatile running back Sony Michel on a cheap first-round contract, zigging again while the rest of the league zags and avoids early runners, and they’ll get to play four games against rookies Josh Allen and Josh Rosen in the division. The Patriots win again. They always do.
Loser — Oakland’s complete lack of direction
The Raiders might be the most clueless NFL franchise. They already backed up the Brinks truck for Jon Gruden’s outdated coaching, and apparently the front office has no idea what it wants either. Oakland traded down from both its top two picks without getting any real premium, then made huge reaches on Kolton Miller and P.J. Hall, the latter taken a full 100 spots ahead of his ESPN draft projection. Then the Raiders gave up a third for Pittsburgh castoff Martavis Bryant and used a fifth on a punter after cutting one of the league’s best at the position just to make a point. This could get ugly.
Winner — Ravens fans with something to get excited for
How many Ravens offensive players have you been excited to watch in your lifetime? There was the Steve Smith year and the Steve McNair year. Ray Rice was fun, until he wasn’t. Jamal Lewis ran hard. Derrick Mason and Todd Heap were the definition of vanilla. Honestly, the most exciting Ravens all-time may be kick returners Jermaine Lewis and Jacoby Jones. Not anymore. Enter Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, who Baltimore stole for a pair of mid seconds and locked in on the league’s cheapest possible rookie contract for five years. Ravens fans have never had a player like this. I was watching the draft with a diehard Baltimore fan, and it was like the veil had been lifted. Ravens fans… you’re free.
Loser — Seattle still trying to be the smartest guy in the room
Pete Carroll and this franchise always think themselves the smartest in the NFL. Seattle took small-school running back Rashad Penny in the first round well ahead of value, and they couldn’t use their second on him because they already traded it last fall for Sheldon Richardson for a playoff run that never happened. Another draft gone by without Seattle addressing its horrible offensive line, and now the secondary is down for the count too. You don’t always have to try to outsmart everyone else.
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Winner — Gus Bradley’s new Chargers toys
The Chargers allowed the fourth most points in the NFL in 2016. They allowed the third fewest last year under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, and now they just gave him three shiny new toys. Derwin James was a steal at 17, a better version of Bradley’s Seattle safety Kam Chancellor. Los Angeles (yep, still weird) also added pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu and nose tackle Justin Jones to a defense that could be nasty. Don’t look now, but the Chargers could be New England’s top competitor.
Winner — Calvin Ridley
Life’s not fair. Ridley was the top receiver in his high school class, then got to play with an NFL defense and run game in Alabama. Now he slid just far enough in the draft to join an elite Atlanta offense where he still won’t have to be the go-to guy. Instead he can run second fiddle behind Crimson Tide alum Julio Jones and catch passes from recent MVP Matt Ryan while Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman open everything up underneath. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect situation for a receiver to step into.
Loser — Tyrod Taylor
The poor guy just can’t find a team that wants him. TyGod is a legitimately good NFL quarterback. He led a depleted Bills roster to the playoffs for the first time in two decades, then got run out of town. He’s probably the best quarterback Cleveland’s had in just as long, and now fans will only want to see him benched for Baker Mayfield. Maybe someday Taylor will play for a team that actually appreciates him.
Winner — Kyle Lauletta’s chance to make good on Saquon Barkley
Everyone panned the Giants for taking Barkley at 2. No matter how good a running back is, teams just don’t take runners in the top-five anymore, especially teams without a future at QB. But New York snagged Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round, a small-school guy that drew comparisons to Jimmy Garoppolo, right down to the handsomeness. If Lauletta can develop into a future franchise QB over the next couple years like Garoppolo, the Barkley pick can still be a slam dunk.
Loser — The NFL for its Ryan Shazier display
The NFL tried to have its cake and eat it too when they had Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier walk out onto the stage near the end of opening night, an inspirational sight for a player many of us wondered if he would ever walk again after a brutal hit last fall. But is it really a feel-good moment if it also serves as a stark reminder of exactly what we’re subjecting these 256 kids to going forward? I’m happy for Shazier but it was an uncomfortable moment.