Final wrap-up after the 2019 NFL Draft
And now, NFL fans, we enter the abyss: almost two full months of virtually nothing noteworthy taking place in the ream of professional football.
As the proverbial dust settles on the 2019 NFL Draft, and as the media types are quickly assigning (ultimately pointless) draft grades that are sure to get fans all hot and bothered (for no good reasons), allow me to empty my virtual notebook of final thoughts, musings, and reflections in the twilight of this most recent National Football League Player Selection Meeting.
David Gettleman isn’t fooling anyone, except maybe himself
I touched on it before, but it bears repeating: the New York Giants’ selection of Daniel Jones with the 6th overall pick might’ve overshadowed the Arizona Cardinals taking Kyler Murray (and trading away Josh Rosen) as the biggest headline of this draft, thanks to the pick being so groin-grabbingly hilarious in general.
Even if David Gettleman wants to convince us that his affection for Daniel Jones wasn’t cemented by a three-quarters-of-the-way-to-brain-dead rationale long before the NFL Draft took place, everyone knows that he’s — very publicly — lying about how there were other teams who viewed Jones as favorably as he did.
In fact, I have it on very good authority — let’s just say my source was sitting only a few feet away from many members of media crew — that, off camera, the folks on the ESPN set were absolutely ripping the Giants selection of Daniel Jones.
Even Rex Ryan — who made waves for trying to defend the Giants’ selection of Jones — admitted (off camera) that, while he was a little higher on Jones than others, he didn’t believe Jones was worthy of the #6 pick. For what it’s worth, I heard that Ryan compared Jones to Mark Sanchez, in that he thinks Jones has talent if cultivated properly, but wasn’t nearly worthy of a top 10 pick, and the primary driver for the pick was to sell “hope” to the fans. But again, he acknowledged that Jones, like Sanchez, was a reach.
It’s no secret that, as a consensus, the national media thinks that the Giants did a piss-poor job, if not the worst job in the NFL, in this year’s draft. Ironically, in Gettleman’s defense, I thought he did a fine job with all the picks he had after the Jones’ pick. I’m higher on Dexter Lawrence than most (but I’m one of the few people left in the world who truly loves the mammoth probably-good-for-two-downs-only defensive tackles), Deandre Baker and Julian Love were to of my favorite cornerbacks in the draft, and most people believed that Oshane Ximenes was a top-60 talent.
But New York’s selection of Jones has all the makings of a certified fiasco, and as someone who greatly relishes any schadenfreude involving the New York Giants, I couldn’t be any more pleased by this situation.
Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t have many friends in Bristol
I have it on the same very good authority that certain members of ESPN’s college football crew weren’t exactly optimistic when discussing the Kliff Kingsbury era in Arizona. Again, off camera, one person on said crew — who, by his own admission, was a big fan of Kyler Murray, and his selection at #1 overall — actually used the word “shit show” to describe what he thought the culture/locker-room/overall team operations would be under Kingsbury.
Take that for what it’s worth; after all, few things said by the talking heads in Bristol should be taken as an accurate prognostication, let alone some sort of football gospel.
But the hiring of Kingsbury by the Cardinals was a curious one at the time, and that sentiment hasn’t changed. I do believe that if Kingsbury was hired as an NFL offensive coordinator instead of a head coach, allowing him to install another variant of the “Air Raid” offense (whose variants are starting to take an increasing hold in the NFL), the narrative on him would be a lot different. But having him jump straight from a middling Big 12 program, at which he had two seasons with a winning record out of six, is a rather suspect set of circumstances.
“Winners” of the 2019 NFL Draft
I’ve also professed having nothing but disdain for the practice of assigning grades to draft classes in a matter of hours after they’re complete.
That being said, I will highlight seven teams who walked out with (what I think to be) good-to-outstanding draft classes, in order of preference:
#7: Indianapolis — I’d be remiss not to include them, because General Manager Chris Ballard 1) might already be one of the five savviest GMs in the NFL; 2) especially considering the manner in which he runs his pro & college scouting personnel department(s) is right up there with the best in the league; and 3) the fact that he’s managed to get crazy-ass owner Jim Irsay to stop meddling in personnel decisions might be his most noteworthy accomplishment overall.
While I’m not necessarily in love with some of their picks (I thought defensive end Ben Banogu, linebacker Bobby Okereke, and safety Khari Willis were reaches), they clearly drafted with a plan in mind, and Ballard & co. have a lot better track record with this stuff than an idiot like me.
#6: Tennessee — Their draft class won’t win a ton of points in terms of “sex appeal,” but Tennesee did a near-flawless job of perfectly blending the “best player available” and “draft to fill needs” concepts.
They used two of their top three picks on two of their biggest areas of need (interiors of the defensive line and offensive line), while snagging a top 10 (at minimum) player in Jeffery Simmons at #18 overall. Wide receiver AJ Brown (their 2nd round pick) could be a perfect compliment to Corey Davis. Amani Hooker either provides depth at safety behind Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro, or could be used as a “big nickel”-type player in the box. University of Georgia D’Andre Walker is the perfect “gamble on the athleticism” type of player teams look for in the 5th round and onwards.
This might not be a ‘trajectory-changing’ draft for Tennessee, but it absolutely made their roster deeper and stronger.
#5: Denver — During John Elway’s reign as Denver’s Grand Poobah of Player Picking, referring to his NFL Draft track as record “wretched” might not be doing full justice to its rancidity. Want proof? Of the last 48 players selected in the NFL Draft by Elway and the Broncos over the last six years (prior to 2019), exactly zero have made the Pro Bowl. ZERO. They’re 0 for 48.
But given what Denver did this past weekend, Elway and company might’ve finally bucked the trend of god-awful picks. The Broncos walked out of the first two days of the draft with four players ranked among my top 60 guys; you can’t really do much better than that.
In a 24-hour span, they snagged my favorite tight end in the Draft (hot take: I think Noah Fant is going to be a better pro than TJ Hockensen), their quarterback of the future (getting Drew Lock in the 2nd round —after so many assumed would be taken by Denver at #10 overall — was one of the best picks of the draft), and two versatile players to help fortify their offensive and defensive lines (Dalton Risner and Dre’Mont Jones). Even their 5th round pick (linebacker Justin Hollins) was a borderline top 100 guy, and Denver got him at pick #156 overall.
#4: Philadelphia — Can I tell you how much it chaps my ass to watch the Philadelphia Eagles make smart decision after smart decision over the last few seasons? (Hint: it’s a lot).
Let’s start with the fact that the Eagles walked out with one of the two best offensive tackles and running backs in the draft (Andre Dillard and Miles Sanders). So not only are the Eagles fully ready to pass the proverbial torch at left tackle from Jason Peters to Dillard, but they’ve turned their PuPu platter of running backs last year to Jordan Howard (whom the Bears egregiously traded for a 6th round draft pick in 2020) and Sanders (a slicer of a runnner who is a damn-near-perfect compliment to the the thumper that is Howard). Wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside gives them their third receiver standing 6'2 or taller (along with Alshon Jeffrey and Mack Hollins), just in case anyone wanted things to be slightly easier for Carson Wentz. And that’s not even mentioning quarterback Clayton Thorson from Northwestern, a perfect developmental-type quarterback who feels very well suited for Doug Pederson’s scheme.
Once again: I hate how much I like this group.
#3: Arizona — the aforementioned “shit show” (and my personal questions about Kyler Murray) aside, General Manager Steve Keim — who deserves a lot of the criticism levied his way — totally rocked it this weekend.
I’m a big fan of throwing multiple draft assets at one position, and they did so at a one of their two biggest areas of need in wide receiver. Adding Hakeem Butler (a monstrously talented receiver if he can learn how to run routes) and Andy Isabella (a hybrid of a smaller Julian Edelman and a homeless man’s Tyreek Hill) to Christian Kirk and Chad Williams, should at least give Murray some tools to work with. That’s not even mentioning those guys will (hopefully) get to play in Kingsbury’s wide-receiver-friendly offense, while getting the added benefits of one final year of tutelage from Larry Fitzgerald.
Cornerback Byron Murphy (their 2nd round pick) was my favorite player at his position in this draft class, defensive end Zach Allen (their 3rd round pick) is a relentless and uber-productive player who’ll provide positional depth as a pass rusher at worst, and I still say safety Deionte Thompson (their 5th round pick) was being undervalued, to the point where he could be one of the true steals of this draft.
#2: Washington — In my life, I’ve been called many things. The vast majority of them are true. But the one thing I’ve never wanted to be called is a “homer.”
And with that in mind, it’s still really hard for me not to toot my horn about the job done by my beloved Washington Redskins (even if they didn’t walk out of the draft with the quarterback apple of my eye in Josh Rosen).
I haven’t exactly been bashful about my thoughts regarding the selection of quarterback Dwayne Haskins. But, he’s the Redskins’ quarterback of the (foreseeable) future, so he’s the guy I gotta get behind for said (foreseeable) future.
Trepidation regarding Haskins aside, I absolutely love what the Redskins did with the rest of their draft class. We’ll start with Washington stealing Montez Sweat in the bottom of the first round of the draft, giving the Redskins their first true “blue chip talent” pass rusher in years. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin is an off-the-charts character guy who ran the 40-yard dash under 4.4 seconds and runs routes with a professorial level of detail (which is quickly going to endear him to head coach Jay Gruden).
Running back Bryce Love was a Day 2 talent prior to his knee injury, and can (or will) make Derrius Guice that much better by allowing the two of them to play in a rotation. Wes Martin and Ross Pierschbacher are seasoned and super-intelligent guys who can immediately contribute as reserve offensive linemen. And wide receiver Kelvin Harmon was a big, strong, smart, and super-productive receiver at NC State that played with an alpha dog mentality, shining his brightest in the biggest games (and to reiterate: I love Washington also devoting multiple draft resources to a position of need).
This level of success looks hilariously ironic, considering the level of grief and and ridicule hurled upon the Redskins amidst the reports that owner Daniel Snyder pulled a coup d’etat with the draft process. Except in reality, Snyder presided over the selection of Haskins, and then left the rest of the draft to Director of College Personnel Kyle Smith, a rising star in his domain.
My reservations with Haskins — in large part because of his father, who gives off a “football’s version of LaVar Ball” vibe that should really worry a lot more fans of this team (case in point: Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2) — are the only reason the Redskins don’t get the top spot on my list.
#1: New England — The best metaphor I can use for the New England Patriots’ draft class was the Donald Trump-driven Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017: the filthy-rich got richer, and everyone else is screwed.
Watching the Patriots’ draft unfold, it made me think of a statement that former NFL General Manager Michael Lombardi — a long time colleague of Belichick and former special assistant on the Patriots before retiring — would often say on the various podcasts on which he’s appeared: bad teams plug holes, and good teams add strengths to strengths.
Yes, the Patriots plugged glaring holes at wide receiver with their selection of N’Keal Harry from Arizona State, and at edge rusher with defensive end Chase Winovich from Michigan (two “contribute immediately” type players, no less).
But New England — very quietly — is morphing into a team that wants to “ugly up the game,” grinding things out on offense with their running game (they ran the football the 3rd-most times in the NFL last year) and limit opposing teams from making big plays (the Patriots’ secondary was the best part of their defense, evidenced by ranking #13 in the league in passing defense DVOA).
Their picks just reinforce that modus operandi. On defense, cornerback Joejuan Williams (their 2nd round pick) fills the role previously played by Eric Rowe: the tall, long cornerback who can cover the bigger, freakshow receivers featured by NFL offenses. On offense, linemen Yodny Cajuste and Hjalte Froholdt (taken in the 3rd and 4th round) are two versatile, “toolsy” balls of clay which the Patriots can mold as they see fit, and running back Damien Harris (a 3rd round pick) is the perfect stiff jab to pair with Sony Michel as the swift cross, in a 1–2 punch at running back (and that’s not even mentioning James White and Rex Burkhead).
As if their haul wasn’t unfair enough, New England went and snagged quarterback Jarrett Stidham late in the 4th round of the draft as well.
I had Stidham as my QB5 in this draft, and you can make a compelling argument that if he didn’t play in an offensive scheme that literally hindered his development as a quarterback (like the one he played in at Auburn), he’s as physically gifted as any of the prospects at the position in the draft (how many people realize that, in the 2015 high school football recruiting rankings, Stidham was just behind some dude named Kyler Murray as the top quarterback prospect in the nation?).
But far more importantly than that, Stidham is the perfect quarterback to groom behind Tom Brady: has the physical tools and talent to be an NFL quarterback, but needs multiple years of seasoning before he’s ready.
So if you’re keeping score, New England used their first 6 picks to fill a couple of needs, reinforce the strongest part of their defense, and double-down on an offensive identity that will very well prolong the career of the GOAT at quarterback.
It’s like Bill Belichick looked at what the rest of the teams in the league were doing, and — borrowing from Dr. Dre — loudly declared: “ [people] try to be the king but the ace is back.”