Rare is the moment in the lead up to the NFL Draft where you are struck by the level-headedness of what you hear. Usually it’s all noise and anonymous-source conjecture around this time. Which is why my conversation with Washington DT Elijah Qualls was so incredible. A 22-year-old seemed to have the most sensibility in this hurricane of zaniness.
Qualls grew up in a tough part of California, just north of the Bay Area. He had a disjointed homelife, his mother battled alcoholism, and his friends were selling drugs. “I said, ‘This isn’t what I want to do. This isn’t what I want to be. I can’t be average.’ Ever since I was young, my biggest fear was just being an average person. I don’t care (about) being a famous person or super popular, but I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to do something more than having a desk job and being in a cubicle for eight hours a day and just being locked up from the world and things like that.”
Too bad there’s so many average opinions and voices out there leading up to this draft. Warren Sapp has never been known as a particularly insightful person. He was a Hall of Fame player, but a boob as an analyst and in trouble for domestic battery, soliciting a prostitute, and bankruptcy (the golden trifecta). He created his own newscycle by saying the presumed top pick in the draft, Myles Garrett, was undeserving and worse than enormous bust Courtney Brown. Sapp called him “lazy,” and said that he “disappears.” But Sapp’s best comparison is to a guy that was drafted 17 years ago (way to be up-to-date)? Plus, how much tape is Sapp really watching? Is he just floating through a few YouTube montages or did he sit home on a Saturday in November and watch Texas A&M battle Mississippi State? Judging from some of the other moronic opinions he served up as a commentator, I think I know the answer.
On the flip side, Qualls gives me hope when it comes to the next generation. He said he wants to work with youth centers in the future. “Kids are one of my favorite things to work with. They’re just peer-minded, all they want to do is have fun, they’re happy all the time, they’re entirely honest, and in all honesty, I’m so jealous of kids because I feel we should live more like them. We live so stressed out. We live so fast that we get upset over so much stuff and hold onto things. I feel like later on in life, I can start working with kids and do things like that and help them develop their paths to whatever they want to be successful in and give them all the tools they need to be great and fulfill their potential.”
One can only hope Qualls gets to mentor a future Sapp to steer him away from being a clown. Which is the same description you can use for the NFL exec that said Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon is the best player in the draft. Mixon has plenty of natural talent, and his stock is hurt for a non-football reason (caught on film punching a young woman). But even without that baggage there’s no way you can watch Mixon and Leonard Fournette and think the Sooners back is better. Fournette has a chance to be the single most destructive force in this class. He has the size, strength and ferocity that resembles a suped-up Earl Campbell. There are no guarantees, but Fournette is the only back in this draft that can have a seismic impact on the league. Mixon’s not in that stratosphere.
It’s not just opinion-makers or execs that have lost their minds, coaches have as well. Dabo Swinney says passing on DeShaun Watson is like passing on Michael Jordan. We all understand why coaches promote their players. Swinney has even more reason to laud Watson considering the quarterback helped elevate his salary to more than $5M a year while leading Clemson to consecutive national championship games. But Watson is far from a surefire star, let alone the greatest player to ever lace them up, and that’s coming from someone who really likes Watson at the next level. The Tigers signal caller has arm strength, accuracy, a pocket presence, the ability to make things happen with his legs, and an inarguable “Big Game Factor.” The larger the stakes the better he was. And had Alabama held onto a 14-point lead in January we’d be talking about this Tide defense as one of the greatest historically. Instead Watson sauteed ’em, and I believe he’s the best quarterback in this draft. But he’s not the next Jordan, and it’s completely ridiculous to suggest there’s a parallel.
But why would we stop with coaches saying hyperbolic things about players? How about players doing it to themselves? Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer says he combines the intellect of Tom Brady with the body of Cam Newton. This is certainly an intriguing combo, except that Kizer helped lead the Irish to one of their worst seasons in program history, was yanked in and out of the lineup, and no player with Brady’s brain would need to return to school for more football like his own coach, Brian Kelly, has stated.
We also have Bama LB Rueben Foster who got kicked out of the combine for an altercation with medical staff. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers tested positive for a diluted urine sample. Florida DT Caleb Brantley just got nabbed for hitting a woman in the face and knocking her unconscious days before the draft. It’s been a season of silliness in the run up to Thursday night, which may be perfect considering how ridiculous the NFL is anyway. So I’ll lean on Qualls who is a cut above all of this nonsense. “I just looked at it as I’m going to do the opposite of what everybody else does. Who people become or what people end up doing is the result of the actions that they do… I don’t want to sound in a negative way, but I truly do believe I was put on the earth for great things – not just football.”
By doing the opposite of these other guys, it’s a great head start.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.