By Jason Keidel
Impatience is the hallmark of the modern sports fan.
We need to know who will be the top pick months before NFL Draft actually begins. Then, once the draft is over, we need slap grades onto every team five months before their newly minted players play their first NFL game.
It’s almost all conjecture at this point. But based on some evidence, both the players picked and the teams that picked them, we can summon some sense of which teams looked good, bad, or ugly. There’s neither time nor space to assess every team, but we can upack the more notable moves.
New York Jets
Sometimes one pick makes it a good draft, and the Jets were lucky enough to grab the highest-rated QB, Sam Darnold, out of USC. Sure, there’s a haunted history of USC QBs bombing in the NFL — including the Jets’ very own Mark Sanchez — but Darnold was the safest pick at No. 3. With the right coaching and tweaking of his mechanics, Darnold could become Gang Green’s first franchise QB since Joe Namath.
The Jets also drafted two defensive linemen — Nathan Shepherd and Folorunso Fatukasi — to fill in for departed Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, a cornerback (Parry Nickerson) and a much-needed tight end (Christopher Herndon). It’s a rare April moment for a most forlorn franchise still looking for their first Super Bowl since Broadway Joe.
Thanks to the ineptitude of the Browns, who could have had the best bookend pass rushers in the sport, that handle now belongs to the Broncos, who will line up Super Bowl MVP Von Miller with Bradley Chubb, who miraculously fell into Denver’s lap. Most great players make lousy coaches and even worse personnel men. But not John Elway, who has kept his Broncos alive and lucid and Super Bowl-ready for years.
Like the Jets, who elbowed up a few spots to get their man, the Cardinals inched up to the 10th spot to draft the best QB coming out of college this year, Josh Rosen. So much was made about Rosen’s rebellious ways, the loudmouth Millennial who questions play calls and play-callers, who sees the world beyond the gridiron, and doesn’t need to play football to eat.
So what? Rosen’s IQ is deep into triple-digits, and he is by far the best natural passer in this draft. And for all the murmurs about his attitude, you don’t hear one of his teammates question his devotion or work ethic. Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson — who won titles in college and the pros — says he only requires two things of his players. Are they smart? Do they love football? Check. Check. Cardinals get high grades with Chosen Rosen.
Again, one great pick makes the day. The Monsters of the Midway, renowned for a long lineage of linebackers, just got a great one in Georgia’s Roquan Smith. The SEC Defensive Player of the year at just 20 years old, Smith was also the MVP of the SEC title game and was utterly unstoppable against Alabama in the national title game, with 11 tackles, double that of any other Bulldog. His work ethic, instincts, talent, and temerity are unquestioned. He is the perfect progeny for a team with an unprecedented line of lions at LB. Indeed, it feels fitting for Butkus, Singletary, and Urlacher to hand the LB baton to Smith, who should play in the next nine Pro Bowls.
New England Patriots
Shocking. The most competent team, with eight trips to the Super Bowl and five Lombardi Trophies just in this young century, has a keen eye for college talent. It starts with a pair of Georgia Bulldogs — OT Isaiah Wynn and RB Sony Michel — with Michel being exactly the kind of running/receiving threat that melts flawlessly into the Patriots’ mutating offense.
New England is one of only three teams — next to the Titans and Broncos — that NFL.com gave an A Grade for every pick, which now makes them the Vegas favorites to win the most games in 2018. Both are hardly shocking. Once again, the Pats are the talk and chalk of the NFL.
Not so good…
The envy of every team, armed with the first and fourth selections in the first round, literally had the pick of the litter. And still messed it up. There’s a reason they’ve gone 1-31 over the last two seasons, including a pristine 0-16 last year. They used the top pick to grab Baker Mayfield, he of the viral arrest video and penchant for plucking his privates on the sideline. There are varying views on the former Oklahoma QB, but almost no pundit had him as the top QB in the draft, yet the Browns think he is.
Then they doubled-down on the head-scratchers by snatching Ohio State CB Denzel Ward. While no one doubts Ward was a first-round talent and arguably the best cornerback on the board, the Browns could have taken NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb. Along with last year’s top pick, Miles Garrett, the Browns could have had the best bookend pass rushers in the NFL, crushing opposing QBs for a decade. If the Browns did one thing right, they got the other Chubb — Nick — in the second round, securing a high-end running back at great draft value.
New York Giants
Big Apple football fans are giddy over G-Men snagging the highest-rated player in the draft — Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. But it says here that Big Blue blew it. Once the Browns took Mayfield the Giants had Darnold or Josh Rosen fall into their laps, with either making a fine successor to the 37-year-old Eli Manning. But rather than look two moves ahead, they looked only at this year, with visions of Barkley rampaging through opposing defenses. Though Barkley has a fine future, there’s endless evidence to suggest you can pick an All-Pro running back — like Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt — well after the first round.
The media and masses all but booked Super Bowl tickets, laminated in silver and black, the moment we heard Jon Gruden was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders… again.
There’s the narrative, and then there’s the reality. It takes a lot for NFL.com to give bad grades to any team in the football fraternity, but it’s too obvious that the Raiders got it wrong. With oodles of defensive studs still on the board, Oakland went with the wholly mediocre OT Kolton Miller. They took a player out of Sam Houston State (DT PJ Hall) in the second round, when most had him as a fourth-round talent. Oakland rolled the dice in the third round on LSU DE Arden Key, who is a total variable. On day three they took their best player, Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, who, sadly, has a heart condition.
In typically Raiders fashion, their best move on draft day wasn’t a draft pick. They may have saved face by dealing a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for mercurial WR Martavis Bryant, who comes with more luggage than Kennedy Airport, but is exactly the kind of gifted deep-threat that Oakland has adored for decades. At least they have a QB (Derek Carr) who can get it to Bryant.
Fans are frothing over Buffalo’s aggression in this draft, leapfrogging several clubs on draft day to snare Josh Allen at No. 7. Though we can all applaud the focus and fervor, the natives will soon find more jeers than cheers for the Wyoming QB. First of all, Tyrod Taylor got a bad rap and rep in Buffalo. Taylor is at least a starting NFL quarterback, if not a darn good one. Second, Allen was a bad choice. And not because of those incredibly questionable Tweets he belched in high school, replete with N-Bombs and other dubious remarks. Even if he had a pristine Twitter account, Allen is a project at QB. He’s an unusually large man with unusually small hands for someone his size. He also completed just 56 percent of his passes his last year in college, which obliterates the argument that he’s the perfect cold-weather QB for a cold-weather town.
The worst part is, the Bills took Allen when the other, way more talented Josh — Rosen — was still on the board. Allen wowed the combine gurus in shorts and a t-shirt, throwing the pigskin 80 yards. Won’t mean much if he throws it into that frigid November wind, or to the other team. Maybe they get a bump for grabbing a Clemson WR in the sixth round named Ray-Ray. The world can always use a Ray-Ray.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.