From the moment the clock’s struck triple zeroes on Superbowl Sunday the attention of the entire NFL World and “Twittersphere” turned to the draft. Mock drafts and evaluations flooded our timelines; Interviews and workouts were scrutinized beyond belief and of course, everyone ran a 4.3 forty time. The yearly hoopla was in full flow and by the time the first round began just about everyone had become a draft “expert”.
The draft stage, which sat in the shadow of the Brown’s First Energy Stadium, backed onto the shores of Lake Erie. Its size and grandeur appropriate for the nature of the event. The bright lights pierced the dimming evening light and shone bright into the night sky – setting the stage for a night of thrills and spills.
In a year like no other, the rumour mill was working overtime late into the night. Just ten minutes before the Draft commenced, Twitter was alite with speculation that reigning League MVP Aaron Rodgers could be on the move to the Denver Broncos. A storyline which would act as a burning undertone for the entire first round.
The ringing chorus of fans booing the NFL Commissioner filled the draft theatre as he took to the stage (A sound so dearly missed last year). In a rather dragged-out start including what felt like a feature length concert from Kings of Leon, Mr. Goodell got proceedings underway and the Jaguars were on the clock.
In true first overall pick fashion, the Jaguars milked the clock to the last few minutes before ringing in Trevor Lawrence as the number one overall selection. A decision made almost a year ago after Joe Burrow’s selection at the same position and one of the biggest no-brainers in recent years. Following Lawrence was Zach Wilson, who went second off the board to the New York Jets in what was another widely assumed pick. Wilson was in attendance and graced the stage to meet the commissioner with his boyband style hair and posed with his new gang-green jersey.
The first “up in the air” pick of the night came with the San Francisco 49ers at the third overall pick. One of the most heavily speculated picks in recent years went in the favour of Trey Lance of North Dakota State University. The niners had gave up a lot to come up this far and get their guy but kept the cards extremely close to their chest with reports suggesting none of the coaches knew who they were selecting until it was announced.
With the first three picks seeing Quarterbacks of the future get drafted it was the turn of the Atlanta Falcons to grab a piece of history. With the fourth overall they selected Kyle Pitts, the Tight End from Florida who becomes the highest selected TE in NFL History. Pitts joins an already elite offense and Matt Ryan can breathe a sigh of relief that a first round QB hasn’t been drafted to come and hunt down his job. Defenses of the NFC South and beyond should be fearful of the potential of the Atlanta offense.
The following couple of picks saw wide receivers go back-to-back. The Bengals gifted Joe Burrow with his former college teammate Ja’Marr Chase as they attempt to build a new offense centered around speed and youth. The Dolphins were up next and although they may have wanted Chase they were forced to settle (If settle is a fair word) for Alabama wideout Jaylen Waddle. The speedster came under some scrutiny in the run up to the draft as questions surrounding his size threatened to hinder his draft stock. This proved no issue to the Dolphins who get second year QB Tua Tagovailoa a valuable weapon as they look to build the offense down at south beach and put pressure on the Bills in the AFC East.
As so often does happen in the draft a player falls into the lap of a team who did not expect him to be there for them. This year it was the turn of the Lions who were delighted to see Offensive Lineman Penei Sewell was there for the taking. The new regime in Detroit starting strong by adding some much-needed protection for Jared Goff.
In a surprising twist, picks eight and nine were defensive backs – a few picks higher than most expected. First was Jaycee Horn who will be taking his talents to Carolina as second year Head Coach Matt Rhule looks to build a commanding defense to compliment Sam Darnold and the elusive offense that is brewing in Carolina. The second was Patrick Surtain who goes to Denver. An interesting move from the new GM George Paton who passes on the opportunity to draft a QB to enter a camp battle alongside Lock and Bridgewater. The already good defense in Denver just got a little bit stronger.
And then came the trades…
The NFC East went into a bit of a trade frenzy. The Cowboys moved back from tenth overall as the Eagles came up from twelfth and snagged Devonta Smith, the other wide receiver out of Alabama. Sandwiched in between the Eagles and Cowboys were the New York Giants. With needs across the o-line and on defense Dave Gettleman decided otherwise and, for the first time in his career, moved back. The Chicago Bears came calling and for an exchange of picks, plus an extra first and fourth next year the Bears moved up and selected Ohio State Quarterback Justin Fields. Fields, who was many people’s number two QB only a short month ago falls far enough for the Chicago front office to pull the trigger and come up and get their leader for the future. Learning under the tutelage of Andy Dalton, Fields will have tremendous potential as the Bears fight to be the best in the NFC North. Rounding off the NFC East trade triangle was the Dallas Cowboys who selected Micah Parsons and instantly plug the gap from Sean Lee’s replacement.
The Los Angeles Chargers got themselves a key piece for the offense line, adding Rashawn Slater to provide some much-welcomed protection for Justin Herbert who will be entering his second year as a starting QB in the NFL. A sensible and smart move from the Chargers front office – aiming to keep their star man upright in a division with some fierce defenses.
In a surprising move, the New York Jets traded back up the board – moving from #23 to #14 in a deal done with the Minnesota Vikings. With their pick the Jets selected Offensive Lineman Elijah Vera-Tucker, immediately providing some up-front protection for new boy Zach Wilson.
And so, in what seems like the most typical outcome in true Bill Belichick fashion, everything perfectly falls into place without trouble or inconvenience. The New England Patriots selected Mac Jones, QB from Alabama. Often criticized for his lack of athleticism and non-six pack body, Jones makes up for his lack of looks in the way he plays. The prototypical Patriots Quarterback – accurate and smart with reads, Jones will now move to learn the terminology and ways of the pro-game as he aims to take over the reigns from Cam Newton at what will be assumed to be the first available opportunity. Belichick making a strong statement that the Patriots aren’t going anywhere and the AFC East QB Battles of the future will be ones to watch.
With all the drama seemingly finished and no more “contentious” picks left on the draft board there was a run of rather underwhelming picks. It seems disrespectful to describe a young man realizing his lifelong dream as underwhelming but when the picks from the Cardinals and Raiders produce crickets from the audience, you know that the big names are off the board. The Cardinals went with linebacker Zaven Collins to add to the defensive side of the ball and the Las Vegas Raiders selected Offensive Tackle, Alex Leatherwood – two picks described as “reaches” will have some work to do to prove their worth in the new season.
With most pundits and experts now in “mock draft purgatory”, the remaining picks were quite literally anyone’s guess. There were still a few teams left to pick who needed to address certain positions but for the most part, a lot of teams were picking the best player available. The Miami Dolphins selected Jalen Phillips, Defensive Edge Rusher – a smart pick from Brian Flores and co. The Washington Football Team, with an already stacked defense added Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis for depth and plug and play ability. The New York Giants, who traded back to the twentieth spot added wide receiver Kadarius Toney in what was a surprise pick to some. Toney was the fourth receiver off the board and joins an excellent supporting cast in New York alongside Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and more. An excellent landing spot for Toney who can develop his game behind some great players but may struggle to get reps early in his career.
Kwity Paye came off the board to Indianapolis at pick #21 before Caleb Farley finally got selected by the Tennessee Titans. Farley’s draft stock had fallen due to injury concerns but with Malcom Butler out the door in Nashville, the Titans pulled the trigger to find a replacement. Now, whether or not he starts immediately remains to be seen, but if he can stay healthy this will be one of the steals of the entire draft, not just the first round. The Minnesota Vikings bolstered their offensive line by selecting Christian Derrisaw from the #23 spot – the pick they moved back to in the trade with the New York Jets.
In a much-assumed pick, the first running back off the board was Najee Harris to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A pick many people saw coming a mile away, it was an obvious move for Pittsburgh as they will immediately plug the gap left by James Conner who was shipped to Arizona earlier in the off season. A chance for Harris to make a name for himself straight away in the league as he joins a team with youth at the skill positions. Fans didn’t have long to wait for the second running back to be taken as with the very next pick and their second selection in the first round, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson back Travis Etienne. Another pairing between college teammates back in the pros.
The hometown Browns took cornerback Greg Newsome to pad out their secondary – a relief for visiting Browns fans that their front office didn’t trade the pick away as some thought might happen. Their divisional rivals, the Baltimore Ravens took wide receiver Rashod Bateman adding some much-needed help for Lamar Jackson on the outside.
Pick #28 was the turn of the New Orleans Saints who are crying out for help at cornerback, so naturally… they took a defensive end. Payton Turner from Houston was their choice who joins a fierce d-line in NOLA but a defense that still needs help on the outside.
Another team with glaring needs across the board yet choosing to ignore them was the Green Bay Packers. With the Aaron Rodgers situation seemingly at boiling point the Pack went with Eric Stokes, cornerback. If last years Rodgers was “angry prove it” Rodgers then one must wonder what version we will get this year, if one at all in Green Bay. A huge talking point from day one and a story to watch over the summer.
Rounding off the first round was a trio of Defensive Ends being selected. At pick #30 the Buffalo Bills selected Gregory Rousseau from Miami adding some welcomed help to the Bills defence. The penultimate pick came from the Baltimore Ravens, who were picking for the second time in just four picks. This pick was acquired in the Orlando Brown trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and was used to select Jayson Oweh from Penn State. The #32 and final pick of the night was that of the Superbowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With all 22 starters from the superbowl returned for this year, plus Antonio Brown, the world champions were afforded the luxury of picking just about anybody they wanted. The pick, regardless of who it would be, will be surplus to requirements for the coming season. Joe Tryon was the selection and he will now enjoy the benefits of learning behind a world champion defence whilst likely picking up some reps himself during defensive rotations.
On a night where it felt like just about anything was possible, the Draft once again provided entertainment until the very end. A much longer and more drawn out event compared to last year's virtual affair as it felt like the NFL were attempting to milk just about every minute of stage time they were allowed. With plenty of talent still left on the board, day two with rounds two and three will prove to be just as entertaining as teams seek to build their rosters and work towards hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Los Angeles next February.