The Daily Briefing Friday, April 28, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
A couple of tweets from Thursday night from ESPN:
This is the 1st time that 3 different teams traded up to get a QB in the first round on draft day
This marks the first time in the Common Draft Era that an offensive lineman has not been selected within the first 15 picks.
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Steven Ruiz of USAToday.com says NFL front offices drafted in direct contravention of the truths laid down by the elite draft experts:
Remember all that time you spent the last four months devouring mock drafts? Yeah, that was a bigger waste than the $72 million contract the Texans gave Brock Osweiler.
No one was going to come close to accurately predicting the craziness that was the first round of the 2017 NFL draft and here’s why: Mock drafts are typically based on reason. And, as we learned Thursday night, NFL front offices are NOT governed by reason.
No real first-round talents at the quarterback position? That didn’t stop the Bears, Chiefs and Texans trading away a boatload of picks tin order to move to grab one.
Chicago gave up three mid-round picks to move up one spot to take Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback with 13 college starts — a quarterback no other team was going to take in the top-five. Kansas City gave up a first-rounder Patrick Mahomes, an Air Raid quarterback with Manziel-level pocket presence and serious mechanical issues. The Texans traded away a first-round pick for Deshaun Watson, a quarterback who can’t hit a deep ball.
Even the Browns know this is a bad qb class.
The NFL’s desperation for quarterback will never stop giving us terrible trades to make fun of for years. We should all be thankful.
The quarterbacks weren’t the only shocking picks. We also had three receivers going in the top-10. Mike Williams going to the Chargers wasn’t a surprise. Corey Davis going fifth overall to the Titans, on the other hand, was a big one. This was a player who was supposedly sliding on draft boards just a few weeks ago.
John Ross was also supposed to slide in the first round due to concerns about his knees. The Washington product has already torn an ACL, a meniscus and had microfracture surgery. Derrick Rose wouldn’t trade knees with Ross, but that didn’t stop the Bengals from making him a top-10 pick.
Remember when NFL teams just stopped drafting running backs in the first round? Those days appear to be over, as two went in this year’s top-eight. Leonard Fournette makes sense at No. 4. The Jaguars are getting a rare combo of power and speed. It wasn’t a great pick but an understandable one.
The Panthers taking Christian McCaffrey at No. 8 is going to require an explanation from GM David Gettleman. He’s a third-down back. He’s Reggie Bush but not as talented. He is not worth a top-10 pick … in any draft. But especially not in a draft with a strong running back class.
If Ezekiel Elliott’s 2016 has rekindled the NFL’s love of first-round backs, then Jordan Howard’s 2016 season should have reminded them why they fell out of love in the first place. Howard, a fifth-round pick by the Bears last year, basically put up the same numbers as Elliott with a far worse offensive line — more proof you can find great value at the running back position beyond Day 1 or even Day 2.
This class of defensive players was billed as one of the best in years, so it only makes sense that NFL teams decided to spend most of the top picks on offensive players.
Best defensive draft in years. And eight of the first 12 picks are offensive players. Value in the teens = 💰💰💰.
Alabama was hit hardest by this strange twist. Not one player from the school was taken in top-14 picks.
At pick 15, three Alabama players – Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, OJ Howard – still on the board.
At one point during draft season, all three of those guys were projected as top-10 picks. Allen was seen as the second-best prospect in this class by majority of draftniks; the Redskins got him at No. 17. Ohio State’s Malik Hooker was mocked as high as No. 2 and didn’t hear his name called until pick No. 14. His teammate, Marshon Lattimore, was also a projected top-5 pick at one point. He went 11th to the Saints.
Offensive linemen were not expected to go high in this draft. It was a weak class, but it’s still odd that none were drafted in the top-half of the draft. That rarely happens.
First time since 2005 there were no offensive linemen in the Top 12. That year Jammal Brown went 13 to NO. More often 3 taken by now.
It was a bizarre first round, even by the NFL’s standards. This is why we spend hours watching what amounts to a super rich dude announcing the names of soon-to-be rich dudes.
Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report also saw plenty of risky picks:
As the craziness of the night unfolded, and the trades flew, and the insanity grew, and the pockmarked players were picked early and often, a general manager provided the perfect phrase for the draft.
“This is the Red Flag Draft,” he texted.
This wasn’t a description just about players and their off-field issues. Though that will certainly be a part of this draft’s lore. The Red Flag Draft encompasses everything: medical issues, experience questions, among others.
In fact, it’s likely when we look back at this draft that we will see it as one with more questionable picks than maybe any other we’ve seen. After just the first round, this was already likely the most risk-filled draft in recent league history.
None of this means these players won’t succeed. It’s that we’ve never seen teams take not just so many risks, but so many dramatic ones.
It starts at the top. The Browns picked Myles Garrett, an explosive and potentially franchise-changing player. But even the top pick in the draft has some significant questions. Namely, team executives question if he can provide consistent effort.
All picks, even top ones, have question marks. But questions about a player’s heart go to that player’s core. But this is an unusual draft.
Then there was the insanity of the Bears. They swapped places with the 49ers, moving from third to second, but gave up a staggering payment in addition to that third pick: third- and fourth-round picks in this draft, and a third-round selection in 2018. All that to get North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky.
One AFC general manager called this move “one of the more desperate I’ve ever seen.”
Trubisky started just 13 games at North Carolina, and several teams told me late Thursday night the main problem with Trubisky is he rarely elevated the level of play of North Carolina. Doing so in Chicago will be a hundred times more difficult.
These team officials said that in a less desperate and insane draft, a player like Trubisky would have gone late in the first round and maybe even early in the second.
On and on went the Red Flag Draft. The Chiefs moved from 27th to 10th to get Patrick Mahomes, giving up a third-rounder this year and a first-rounder in 2018—a remarkable bounty for a quarterback who at times plays reckless.
Malik Hooker was the 15th pick, to Indianapolis, and while talented, his tackling skills are awful for a player going that high. He’s also fought injuries.
Washington picked Jonathan Allen, a defensive lineman out of Alabama—a top-five talent who slid to 17 because of shoulder surgeries. One AFC team told me its medical staff was “significantly more concerned” about Allen’s shoulder than Washington’s medical staff was.
The Broncos took Utah offensive lineman Garett Bolles at 20. In coverage of the draft, he was turned into an inspirational story by ESPN and others (and he is), but Bolles was kicked out of five schools and had legal issues.
One of the most controversial players in the draft is Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, who this week was accused of sexual assault. The Raiders picked him 24th, but he was potentially a top-10 pick.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that Conley personally spoke to at least 24 teams and declared his innocence to all of them. I’ve been told by several team executives that number increased by at least three more teams. And several franchises had multiple conversations with Conley.
Two of those teams, both in the NFC, relayed a part of their discussion to me. Conley told one team: “I didn’t do it. It’s a lie.” He told the second team: “I’m going to be proven innocent.”
This doesn’t mean he is or isn’t. The two teams I spoke to said they believed Conley. It appears the Raiders did as well.
The Browns used the 25th pick on Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. His combine urine test was diluted. Diluted pee is almost a metaphor for this draft.
Speaking of pee, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster also had a diluted urine sample at the combine. He was also sent home for screaming at a combine medical worker. He was drafted by the 49ers with the 31st pick. Not only did they pick him, the 49ers traded a second- and fourth-round pick to Seattle to move into that spot.
Of course, not every pick in the first round was insane. The Texans moved up to get Deshaun Watson, one of the smartest and most dedicated players in the draft. The Buccaneers added tight end O.J. Howard to a rapidly improving offense.
What makes this draft so volatile won’t be just the first round. It will be the entirety of it. It was a wild night that ended with six rounds still to come.
Joe Mixon might get picked on Friday night. He was caught on video assaulting a woman. Alabama offensive lineman Cam Robinson was charged with felony possession of stolen firearms (he was never prosecuted). Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley is accused of knocking a woman unconscious.
We’ve watched teams take risks in the draft since there was a draft. This draft is different. Teams are taking risks, earlier and more often than ever before.
Because this is the Red Flag Draft.
Freeman just scratched the surface with WRs JOHN ROSS and COREY DAVIS going high despite injury concerns, the Texans trading up for DeSHAUN WATSON, another polarizing talent, the Chiefs trading up for PATRICK MAHOMES, the drafting of running backs LEONARD FOURNETTE and CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY in the top ten, etc.
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Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com breaks down why the three teams (Bears, Chiefs, Texans) had to give up so much to get their QBs:
No player in the NFL is creating more surplus value for his team than Dak Prescott, who appears to be an above-average quarterback in line to make less than $2 million combined over the next three years. Not far behind him is Carson Wentz, who should still be a massive bargain despite being guaranteed $21.8 million over the next three seasons (with a fifth-year option to come). When you consider that the free market guaranteed Brock Osweiler two years at an average of $14 million per year and Mike Glennon $18.5 million for one season, even the $7.3 million Wentz is going to earn is a relative pittance.
Teams know how valuable a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal can be, and on Thursday night, they put their draft picks where their mouths were. In a defense-heavy draft that purportedly didn’t have a single surefire performer among the QBs, three teams traded up to grab quarterbacks within the top 12 selections. And they all paid a hefty price. Two of those organizations — the Chiefs and Texans — were 2016 playoff teams who dealt away their 2018 first-round picks to try to find their long-term solution under center. Each of their moves are risky for different reasons.
The biggest trade of the night was the deal pushing the Bears from No. 3 to No. 2, taking them to the head of the line for North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The 49ers didn’t appear to be interested in Trubisky, given they passed up their opportunity to draft the 22-year-old, but rookie general manager John Lynch successfully convinced the Bears that there was a trade market forming for Trubisky ahead of them at No. 3. Given how much interest there was in the other quarterbacks, the 49ers probably weren’t bluffing. (I wrote about that right here.)
The most unexpected deal was the second quarterback trade of the night. Fitting his stewardship in Green Bay under Ted Thompson, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey has generally hoarded his draft picks and gone out of his way to gather extra selections in Kansas City. There were rumors the Chiefs were both interested in trading up and drafting Patrick Mahomes, and they pulled off both in one fell swoop by swapping first-rounders with the Bills.
The Chiefs sent the 27th and 91st overall picks in this year’s draft to the Bills, but crucially, they were forced to throw in their 2018 first-round pick to seal the deal. That’s an enormous haul for Buffalo. Given the Chiefs have consistently been a playoff contender under Andy Reid, let’s be conservative and treat that future first-rounder like it’s equivalent to the 24th selection in the draft. By the traditional Jimmy Johnson chart, the Chiefs sent 1,556 points of draft capital to the Bills, which is somewhere between the sixth and seventh picks. By Chase Stuart’s draft value chart, though, the 33.9 points Kansas City sent to Buffalo are closer to the value of the first overall pick (34.6 points).
Stuart’s estimate suggests the Bills were paid $1.70 on the dollar for this deal. From Buffalo’s perspective, this was a trade it absolutely had to make. The Bills have hemorrhaged picks in recent years in ill-fated trade-ups, sending a first-rounder away in the Sammy Watkins trade before giving away a pair of fourth-rounders in the Reggie Ragland swap last year. This was a much-needed opportunity to start atoning for those past mistakes. The Bills need to keep adding selections to replenish their roster.
The Chiefs chose a player who might be even more polarizing than Trubisky in adding Mahomes. It’s fascinating to see them draft a quarterback who, in many ways, is the polar opposite of their current quarterback. Alex Smith is a high-floor, low-ceiling quarterback who relies upon avoiding turnovers while keeping his offense on schedule to succeed. Mahomes was a big-play magnate at Texas Tech, even (and perhaps often) at the expense of making safer plays and wise decisions. Fans in Kansas City who wanted a quarterback capable of stretching the field and generating excitement have to be thrilled.
Mahomes needs work. His target date as a starter might be 2018 or even 2019, which eliminates a huge chunk of the surplus value he offers as a rookie quarterback, given that he could spend a couple of years on the bench behind Smith. He’s about as high-risk of a quarterback as anyone has taken in this draft in years, although the Texas Tech product also obviously offers enormous upside. Drafting him incurs the opportunity cost of not upgrading with a wide receiver or a cornerback for a team that could be very close to competing for a Super Bowl right now.
The good news, if you’re Mahomes or somebody who wants to see him succeed, is that Andy Reid has done incredible work with just about every quarterback he has touched during his time as a head coach. ESPN’s Jon Gruden gave Reid a lot of credit for molding Brett Favre while they were both in Green Bay during Favre’s formative years as a pro, but even if you don’t want to assign Reid a ton of the credit there, he has either had an incredible run of luck with passers or knows exactly what he’s doing. Reid has gotten the most out of everyone from Smith to Donovan McNabb to A.J. Feeley to Michael Vick during his time as a coach; the only players who got meaningful reps under Reid and performed better under another coach were Kevin Kolb and Nick Foles, the latter of whom had a career year under Chip Kelly.
McNabb, the last quarterback on whom Reid placed a similar sort of bet, was hardly a guaranteed success when Philadelphia took him with the second overall pick in 1999. Eagles fans memorably booed the pick, preferring Ricky Williams to the Syracuse quarterback. Like Mahomes, McNabb needed to adapt to a pro-style offense, although modern offenses look far more like college attacks than they did 17 years ago. If Mahomes is going to succeed anywhere, it seems safe to say he’ll do so in Kansas City.
Two picks later, the Texans completed the quarterback trades by making their second swap with the Browns in a matter of months. Houston sent the 25th pick and their 2018 first-round selection to the Browns to move up to the 12th slot of the first round and take Deshaun Watson. I’d be a little more cautious in valuing that 2018 first-rounder as a playoff pick for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. If we treat it like the 20th pick, the Texans sent 1,570 points of draft capital to the Browns by the Johnson chart, which is right in line with what the Chiefs sent for the 10th pick. By the Stuart chart, though, Houston sent 29.6 points, which is just below the value of the second overall pick (30.2).
Think about that: In a draft that wasn’t supposed to have any surefire quarterbacks, teams traded up and valued quarterbacks as being worth in excess of the first overall pick (Trubisky) and just below the values of the first overall pick (Mahomes) and second pick (Watson).
The Browns may take flak for not coming away with a quarterback, but if they didn’t think that any of the quarterbacks available were worth paying a premium to grab, they did the right thing. They will run the 2018 draft, given that they now have two first-round picks, three second-rounders and two fourth-round choices. If the Texans bomb, the Browns will be in incredible shape, given that they have both Houston’s first- and second-round picks.
A note from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
In Week 13, the Bears beat the 49ers in a game that seemed utterly meaningless: Chicago entered the game 2-9, San Francisco entered the game 1-10, and neither team had anything to play for.
But it turned out to be a very meaningful game: The 49ers finished the season 2-14 and had the second overall pick in the draft, while the Bears finished the season 3-13 and had the third overall pick. If the 49ers had beaten the Bears, those records and draft orders would be reversed. And the Bears’ trade up from No. 3 to No. 2 for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky never would have happened.
As it turned out, the Bears sent their third-round pick this year, their fourth-round pick this year and their third-round pick next year to San Francisco just to move up to a draft spot that would have belonged to the Bears if only the Bears hadn’t beaten the 49ers in Week 13.
GM Ryan Pace’s explanation for the Bears big move:
As we talked at the end of the season, I stressed the importance of the quarterback position and the importance of getting that right, how critical that position is for our long-term success. Obviously excited to add a quarterback of this caliber. The only chance you get to add quarterbacks like this is when you’re picking this high in the draft and taking advantage of it. As an organization, we had conviction on this quarterback and his special attributes, and we did what we had to do to get him. His potential to be a championship quarterback…is all we focused on in this move. We feel we have the perfect environment for his development.
In regards to Mike Glennon, Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback. There’s no quarterback competition when Mitch gets here. Glennon is our starting quarterback. We’ll focus on Mitch’s development and Mike Glennon winning games for the Chicago Bears. I talked to Mike tonight. He understands the competitiveness of our business at every single position. Mike also understands he’s our starting quarterback. Mike’s been here working hard all the time, already developing leadership with his teammates. I’m extremely excited about Mike Glennon this season, and I’m extremely excited about adding Mitch to our roster.
What made Mitch more attractive than the other quarterbacks in the draft?
As I studied all these quarterbacks, his accuracy jumps out right away. His ability to process and see the whole field jumps out right away. He’s very athletic. He can extend the play. And one trait you’ll notice, as quarterbacks are extending the play, the ability to move around and keep his eyes downfield still looking for open targets instead of just tucking the ball and wanting to run. So, very good on third down. Very good completion percentage with pressure in his face. Just a lot of traits that he has that translate well to the NFL game.
How would you describe the level of risk this represents? Moving up and then taking a quarterback this high?
If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands. There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here; I want to be great. And these are the moves you have to make.
How confident for you that there was competition for the second pick? And in the end, did it even matter?
You always feel like there’s competition. So when you have conviction on something — you never know half the time. It’s like in free agency when the agent tells you he’s got three other teams he’s working with. You never really know. You’ve just got to trust your conviction on it, and if you want a player you aggressively go get him.
What led you to believe that a trade was necessary to go get him?
Just in my talks. We have a lot of feelers out there, and you’re kind of feeling the situation out, and I didn’t want to sit on our hands and have some team jump us or not work out when we were this close, within reach of a player that we all really valued. I didn’t want to sit on our hands and risk not getting that player.
One of the more interesting selections in the draft was Carolina’s choice of RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY. His skill set has most often been compared to Darin Sproles or Brian Westbrook (both outstanding players, neither a first round pick). Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:
Cam Newton will have a fun new toy to ride sidecar in Carolina’s offense.
The Panthers selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
After breaking Hall of Famer Barry Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards, McCaffrey was the Heisman runner-up in 2015.
His stock rose through the roof after he turned in an NFL Scouting Combine performance that one NFL general manager described to ESPN’s Adam Schefter as the best he’s ever seen.
“Have you ever seen a guy catch the ball that good?” another scout said to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “He’s a mismatch guy, and when they get in the league they make hay. … The other thing is, you don’t have to worry about that kid. He has been prepared for the NFL since he was born. When you get guys with dads that played in the league, they’ve been told all their lives to compete.”
McCaffrey’s father, Ed, won three Super Bowls as a wide receiver with the 49ers and Broncos.
Viewed as a premier receiver in addition to an elusive tailback, McCaffrey is one of the most versatile offensive weapons to enter the league in years. As a runner, he flashes a patient style similar to Le’Veon Bell’s. As a receiver, he’s a natural fit in the slot. As a return specialist, he’s a threat to take it to the house on every kick.
The Panthers offense desperately needed an injection of speed and playmaking ability to complement Newton, declining power back Jonathan Stewart and a trio of physical receivers. They found the perfect fit in McCaffrey.
Frank Schwab at YahooSports.com on the selection of TE O.J. HOWARD:
Jameis Winston always seems to be smiling. Imagine how wide his smile got on Thursday night.
There’s no way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers woke up on Thursday thinking they’d have a shot to draft Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the 19th pick of the draft. Some thought Howard might go in the top five.
There wasn’t much hesitation when the Buccaneers went on the clock and Howard was still on the board. Right after the Tennessee Titans – who also would have been a fun landing spot for Howard, too – took USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, reporters on Twitter almost immediately said the Bucs had decided to take Howard.
Winston was already developing very well, but the Buccaneers have helped him out this offseason. DeSean Jackson was signed, giving the Bucs a much-needed deep threat to go with Mike Evans. Tampa Bay had the capable Cameron Brate at tight end, but now the Bucs can create matchup headaches with a pair of talented tight ends. Howard in particular will be tough to match up against.
Howard didn’t produce a ton at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide has a run-first offense and used a freshman quarterback last season. Howard is one of the best athletes at tight end in recent years, and he’s not a bad blocker either. He should immediately make an impact for a Buccaneers team that will be a popular pick to breakthrough in 2017.
And the happiest guy in Florida on Thursday night might have been Winston. He’s going to put up some huge numbers in his third season with those new weapons.
The 49ers are feeling good about Thursday, thanks to the very high grade they had on LB REUBEN FOSTER. Matt Maiocco at CSNBayArea.com:
The 49ers began Thursday with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
When his first day as 49ers general manager reached its conclusion, John Lynch had selected two of the three top players on his draft board and picked up additional third-round picks for this year and next year.
After Myles Garrett, the 49ers’ top-rated prospect, was the Cleveland Browns’ selection at No. 1 overall, the 49ers traded back one spot with the Chicago Bears. The 49ers still got their No. 2-rated prospect, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
The 49ers started making calls to teams with selections in the teens, according to coach Kyle Shanahan, to inquire about trading up for Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. The 49ers finally worked a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to move up three spots to No. 31.
All they gave up was a fourth-round pick acquired from the Bears earlier in the day.
“In terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players,” Lynch said. “We’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic. I think these guys have traits that encompass what we want to be about as a football organization.”
Lynch said he began speaking with Bears general manager Ryan Pace more than a week ago. Because the 49ers had picks scheduled next to the Bears in every round, Pace suggested to Lynch that the two teams should be willing to work with each other throughout the draft.
The 49ers had other offers for the No. 2 pick, Lynch said. A source told NBC Sports Bay Area just prior to the start of the draft that the 49ers had fielded three solid offers.
The team’s chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe worked out the details to finalize the trade with the Bears.
The 49ers did not know which player the Bears were targeting at No. 2, but Shanahan voiced his opinion while the trade was going down.
“This guy is a pretty bright,” Lynch said of Shanahan. “He said, ‘That’s not for a defensive lineman. That’s for a quarterback.’ And he was right.”
The Bears made the trade to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick. In order for the Bears to trade up one spot, they delivered the 49ers a third-round pick (No. 67), a fourth-round pick (No. 111) and a third-round pick next year.
Jacksonville executive Tom Coughlin, whose team held the No. 4 pick, watched and admired the 49ers’ move from afar.
“To get what you had in mind right off the bat and pick up those extra picks? Pretty nice deal,” Coughlin told Jacksonville reporters. “I’ve never seen one of those. . . Oh, my gosh. Nothing like that has ever come my way.”
When asked if the 49ers would have selected Foster if the Bears selected Thomas, Lynch said, “Perhaps. It was very likely.”
Instead, the 49ers waited and waited and waited before finding a trade partner in an unlikely place. The 49ers made a deal with Seattle, giving up the 111th pick obtained from Chicago, to select Foster. The Saints had already told Foster he would be the pick one spot later.
“He’s my kind of player,” Lynch said of Foster. “He plays sideline to sideline, and he’ll hit anything that moves. I think that’s contagious for teammates.”
Foster is recovering from shoulder surgery and his stock was negatively affected by character concerns. He was sent home from the NFL scouting combine after an argument with a hospital worker during his medical check. He also had a positive drug test due to a diluted urine sample.
Lynch spent a lot of time with Foster during his visit to Santa Clara, as well as a meeting him at the combine. Both Lynch and Shanahan spoke regularly with Foster on the phone and on FaceTime in the past few weeks.
The 49ers also dispatched vice president of football affairs Keena Turner and team chaplain Earl Smith to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to meet with Foster for two days. The team will have a plan in place to help guide Foster as he transitions to professional football, Lynch said.
“I would tell you that his character is what drew us to him,” Lynch said. “When you start talking football with this young man, he lights up a room. He’s a good kid. I believe in the kid. I think he’ll be a great player for this organization for a long time.”
There is an amazing connection between Lynch and his first draft pick. They took an undergraduate class together and were project partners. More from Maiocco:
Leading up to Stanford’s bowl game, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was mostly an under-the-radar draft prospect.
John Lynch had known all about him for a few years. He even called some NFL teams to give them a heads-up to watch No. 90 — long before he was hired to run the 49ers’ personnel department.
After trading back one spot with the Chicago Bears, Lynch made Thomas his first selection as 49ers general manager. The 49ers drafted Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick.
“I want to make it the best draft pick he has,” Thomas said on Thursday.
Thomas first met Lynch during his freshman year at Stanford. Lynch returned to Stanford to finish his degree. They took a class together: Management Science and Engineering.
According to MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas, they even collaborated on a project of whether the NFL’s Washington team should change its mascot name.
“I remember I was star-stuck the first day of class,” Thomas said.
Thomas said they did not talk much in the following years, but Thomas reached out to Lynch for advice before Stanford’s game against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.
Said Thomas, “In the pre-draft process before the North Carolina game, he told me: ‘Don’t worry about the external stuff going on. Worry about yourself and your team. The best thing you can do is have the best bowl game possible and show you’re unstoppable and unblockable.”
That is exactly what Thomas did in Stanford’s 25-23 victory over Mitchell Trubisky’s team. Thomas recorded seven tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage, and a sack.
A month later, Lynch was hired as 49ers general manager and Thomas first began to think about the possibility of being drafted by his former classmate.
“I thought it was definitely a possibility,” Thomas said. “People really hadn’t watched my film yet, so I didn’t know if I’d go that high.”
Thomas was routinely matched with the 49ers in mock drafts in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s first round. The 49ers swapped their second pick with the Chicago Bears, who moved up to select Trubisky.
All along, Thomas said he wanted the 49ers to draft him.
“In my head I thought, ‘I love that, but I can’t ride the rollercoaster and believe that stuff or I’m going to get my heart broken.’ I kept my mind open and came in blind and tried to be happy for any team to draft me,” Thomas said. “But the best team for me drafted me and the best team I wanted to draft me drafted me.
“I love John Lynch. I love the way he played the mentality that he’s going to bring to the team. Coach (Kyle) Shanahan seems like an amazing man and an amazing coach.”
So John Elway is heading towards the end of his contract. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Is Broncos General Manager John Elway conducting his last draft in Denver?
Elway, whose contract expires after the upcoming season, declined to answer when asked following the first round of the draft what his own contract status is.
“We’re not going to talk about that now. We’re in the middle of this. We’re trying to get better as a football team. We’ll talk about that later. We’re going to be fine. I’m not worried about that,” Elway said.
Elway took no further questions after that. According to USA Today, the Broncos originally left that portion of the press conference off the video and transcript that the team posted online, although it was later added.
From all indications the 56-year-old Elway is happy in Denver and eager to build another Super Bowl winner, but until a new contract is in place, it’s an open question just how long a future he has with the Broncos.
Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star on the big, splashy move made by the Chiefs in trading up a long way to land QB PATRICK MAHOMES:
The Chiefs’ most important draft pick in a generation won’t play for at least a year, and that’s if things go right — and only part of why it’s a smart pick.
These are strange times we live in. In the last two years, we have seen the Royals win the World Series, and now the Chiefs draft a quarterback in the first round. Aliens could land on Bartle Hall, turn us all into vegetarians, and maybe we’d shrug.
Bury the line about Todd Blackledge (who was the last quarterback the Chiefs used a first-round pick on, in 1983) and the glass ceiling that has trapped the Chiefs for the last generation as general manager after coach after general manager has trusted football’s most important position to a long line of guys who weren’t good enough for their last team.
Patrick Mahomes II is unlike any quarterback Kansas City has seen, perhaps ever. Arm talent is the term of the moment for quarterbacks, and Mahomes has more of it than anyone who’s worn a Chiefs jersey in quite some time.
The Chiefs traded three picks including next year’s first-rounder to select him at No. 10 overall, a decision that will define the franchise’s next decade — good or bad. For decades, and by its own actions across different leadership groups, the Chiefs have branded themselves a singles hitter. They just took a home run swing.
“If you have a guy you like,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “you go get him.”
Alex Smith remains the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. He’s helped them into the playoffs three times in four years, and deserves that much. Mahomes needs at least a year to be ready for the NFL, and maybe more. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was in Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers took three years, and then began what will certainly be a Hall of Fame career.
This fits Dorsey’s tendency to address needs at least a year early, and gives the Chiefs their best chance to upgrade from solid to great at the one position that impacts more than any other. A year from now, if the Chiefs are confident in Mahomes, they can save $17 million in cap space by cutting Smith. If not, they can renegotiate Smith’s deal.
It’s a risk, but that’s true of any pick. This is an aggressive risk, taking the guy they like more than the national champion Deshaun Watson, the one move that provides more potential profit for the Chiefs than anything else they could have done on Thursday.
If you watch his college games, you will see him make virtually every throw possible. Fifty yards downfield off his back foot, over the linebacker but under the safety and somehow on a line, rolling left and throwing right across the field. Some of the decisions are terrible. Others look terrible, until he makes the play.
He is the son of a professional athlete, and the godson of another. He grew up in locker rooms, specifically baseball locker rooms, and he was a pretty good baseball player until he quit to focus on football.
“I didn’t know what love was until I played football,” he has said many times.
This is part of what the Chiefs are betting on. Reid will not give his offense to the current version of Mahomes. But Reid is comfortable trading away part of his franchise’s future for what he believes will be the future version of Mahomes.
This is an important point. Quarterbacks from spread offenses have an awful track record in the NFL, and Mahomes must learn the complicated verbiage and reads that come with football’s highest level. Often, his footwork is atrocious. Reid talked of Mahomes’ need to synch his feet to the routes and the coverage on any particular play.
Coach out Mahomes’ rough edges, alter the offense to bring out his best, and he could be one of the league’s best quarterbacks — the kind capable of playing deep into the playoffs. If not, there will be a day when Chiefs fans long for another 49ers backup.
This is Reid believing in his ability to coach up quarterbacks, Dorsey believing in his ability to identify talent, and each believing in the other to do his job. The Chiefs still have enough picks to fill holes with the rest of this year’s draft, and part of their calculus surely included the expectation that next year’s first-round pick will be No. 25 or later.
So this becomes a test of Reid and Dorsey as much as Mahomes. Because if this flops, Dorsey will be the one who passed on Watson and Reid will be the supposed quarterback guru who couldn’t make it work with his highest drafted quarterback since Donovan McNabb.
Kansas City Chiefs fans were thrilled the team traded up from the 27th spot to the 10th pick to draft Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes spoke to the sports media via conference call shortly after being selected by the Chiefs.
David Eulitt The Kansas City Star
It is a spectacular risk, but one done in the most friendly context. The Chiefs know they can win with Smith, whose history in San Francisco included a final season in which he actively worked to help Colin Kaepernick when doing so may have been against his own self interests.
Mahomes will not — and should not — be expected to play right away, instead given time to learn behind a veteran quarterback and proven coaches. Change is constant in the NFL, but if Mahomes plays in 2018 it will likely be with a good offensive line, explosive playmakers on offense, and a very good defense.
The easy thing would’ve been to sit, keep the picks, and take a run stuffer or edge rusher at No. 27. Maybe history will prove that would’ve been the smarter move.
But here, the Chiefs have dared to be great. They’ve taken a smart and considered risk that, if it works out, could set them up for a decade or more.
And when’s the last time you could’ve said that about them?
CB GAREON CONLEY was accused of “sexual assault” by a woman in Cleveland just before the draft, but the Raiders, believing his passionate pleas, the witnesses he provided and his stellar character reputation, went ahead and drafted him in the first round anyway. Lindsay Jones of USA TODAY:
The Oakland Raiders did “miles and miles” of research before drafting Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the No. 24 pick, general manager Reggie McKenzie said Thursday night, despite a still unresolved sexual assault accusation.
Conley faces an open investigation though he has not been arrested or charged. He issued a statement Wednesday denying the allegations made against by a woman who met Conley in an elevator at a Cleveland hotel. According to a police report, she alleged that after leaving her friends to join Conley in his hotel room, he pulled down her pants and began to have sex with her, and she told him, “no stop, it hurts!”
Two witnesses in the hotel room, which was in Conley’s name, told police that an assault did not occur.
McKenzie declined to detail the type of research the Raiders did in recent days, but said the team was “confident in all the information we gathered.” NFL Network reported Thursday night that Conley took a polygraph, though that team was not the Raiders.
McKenzie said owner Mark Davis was consulted on the selection, as he is with all picks.
Conley is scheduled to speak with Cleveland police on Monday and provide a DNA sample.
“Bottom line, we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were,” McKenzie said.
Hue Jackson is looking forward to using JABRILL PEPPERS on both sides of the ball.
In the final weeks before the draft, there was some speculation that Jabrill Peppers would fall out of the first round because of concerns about a diluted urine sample at the Scouting Combine and uncertainty about what position he’ll play in the NFL.
The Browns weren’t concerned enough to pass up Peppers at No. 25 and they made it clear that they see Peppers’ versatility as an asset when discussing the pick. While they plan to play him primarily at strong safety, coach Hue Jackson also said he sees Peppers playing a role in the return game and that they plan to figure out a way for him to contribute on offense as well.
“He is a football player, a very dynamic player,” Jackson said, via the Detroit Free Press. “Obviously, he’s going to play defense for us, but we’ll find a role for him over there on offense. No question. … Again, when you have guys that have ability to make plays, you do anything and everything you can to put them in an environment so they can showcase their talent and ability. We will do that, but first we are bringing him in here to play defense and play special teams.”
Peppers had 45 carries and 10 catches over the last two years at Michigan, but the vast majority of his work came on the defensive side of the ball. That should be the case in Cleveland and his play in the secondary will decide whether this pick goes down as a success or not.
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The Browns may not be done with their pursuit of QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The Browns didn’t land Mitch Trubisky or Jimmy Garoppolo on the first day of the draft, but it’s not over yet for the latter.
Browns head of football operations Sashi acknowledged that the Browns will leave no stone unturned in trying to find a franchise QB, and he admitted he could still try to trad for a veteran.
What’s more, he’s now got even more ammunition to pull it off. The Browns acquired an extra first-round pick in 2018 in a trade down from 12 to 25 with the Texans, and now have two first-rounders in 2018 — and three second-rounders. The Texans, meanwhile, selected Deshaun Watson at No. 12, marking the second time in two years the Browns may have traded away from a potential franchise quarterback.
Last year, it was Carson Wentz, whom they traded away from at No. 2.
But now, they’re sitting on a gold mine from the Wentz trade that keeps on giving, and they’ve either tried to swing a deal with the Patriots already, or they will.
The Browns might also make a pitch for Bengals backup QB AJ McCarron, who wants to be traded and whom Hue Jackson likes.
“We won’t rest until we solidify that position,” Brown said. “It’s not solidified right now, so we know we need the guys here to work their tails off and Hue is going to develop them as much as possible and push them to be their best and we also know that until we get it solidified, we’re going to continue looking for players all over the league and in college.
“That may be in next year’s draft, it may be in free agency, it may be via trade. So But again, Brock (Osweiler), Cody (Kessler), and Kevin (Hogan) are here working hard and we’re going to support them as best we can.”
Does Brown leave Berea on Thursday night looking for a veteran QB?
“Every day until we solidify the position we leave this building thinking about what opportunities might be out there, so absolutely,” he said.
It’s a dramatic departure from last week, when he was asked if he’ll trade for a veteran QB and he said, “no.”
Now, he’s acknowledging that a veteran signal-caller is a distinct possibility — either this year or next.
He did, however, shoot down the NFL Network report that the Browns were trying to trade for Redskins QB Kirk Cousins during the first round, attributing it to “bad reporting.”
The Bears traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 to take Trubisky, the Chiefs traded up to 10 with the Bills to draft Patrick Mahomes and the Texans traded up with the Browns to draft Deshaun Watson. In the case of the first two teams, they likely knew they had to jump in front of the Browns.
“We just thought that the better opportunity for us was to trade back. Hue and I, we’ve spent some time with all of the quarterbacks that were taken this evening. We did like all of them at certain places. For us, in terms of our plan and building the roster, we felt like it was just better to move back. That shouldn’t be a take against Deshaun, a great young man. We’ll root for him to have a great career.”
Can the Browns still find a starting quarterback in this draft? Some left on the board are Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Cal’s Davis Webb, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs and Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman.
“You never know, but we’ll see what happens,” said Brown. “I wouldn’t want to telegraph too much.”
Jackson admitted that the Browns tried to land their man on Thursday. He wasn’t specific, but it’s no secret they liked Trubisky and hoped they could draft him either at 12 or by trading up. They also liked Mahomes but the Chiefs jumped them.
“We didn’t know who would be the first quarterback off,” said Brown. “We didn’t know if the quarterbacks might fall out of the top 10 and maybe be there at 12.”
When will they get their first-round QB? Next year’s draft is supposedly full of premier prospects, including USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
“Soon,” said Jackson. “When it’s time for us to get one. Obviously, it didn’t happen today, but it’s not like we didn’t try. I guarantee you that. But I think that time’s coming, and it will be here. We’re going to continue as Sashi said, to do anything and everything we can to get this position better as we continue to move forward.”
Patriots sources continue to tell reporters that they’re not parting with Garoppolo, who’s set to be a free agent after next season.
“For us, it is just about making sure that when we get the quarterback, it is someone that we all believe in and can get behind and move forward,” said Brown.
The Browns select Myles Garrett No. 1.
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on the cost to the Texans of refurbishing the quarterback position, to the benefit of the Browns:
Houston has been a quarterback away from being a serious contender for about the last five years, since Matt Schaub lost his mojo. They’ve been able to maintain a level of success by having everything else in place.
Now they have their quarterback of the future by making a move for Deshaun Watson, but they don’t have much ability to add nice things for him to play with after all their deals with Cleveland.
Coupled with the salary dump of quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Texans have sent the Browns their 2017 first-rounder (25th overall) and their 2018 first- and second-rounders. They did get Cleveland’s fourth-round comp pick this year (142nd overall) as part of the Osweiler deal, but had to give up a sixth-rounder (188th) to balance the scales.
Getting out from under the awful Osweiler contract was the key, of course, and the financial flexibility in the future will help with some looming free agency purchases.
The next order of business will be doing an extension for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, so his fellow Clemson man Watson will have someone to throw to. That’s going to cost them, as will an eventual deal for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, whose 2018 option they just picked up. Those are some big-ticket items on the horizon, and you’d ordinarily like to be able to balance the ledger with relatively cheap drafted players. But the Texans won’t pick until the third round next year, making it more difficult to reload with the kind of players who can make instant impacts.
If the Texans continue to be a playoff team this year (turning the Browns picks into late 20s and late 50s), and Watson develops into something more than the average-or-less guys they’ve been trotting out there, they will accept the risk.
But if they falter this year under the (presumed temporary) guidance of Tom Savage, they might have just gifted the Browns a pair of very high picks in 2018, which will make it harder for Watson to push them past their current good-not-great level.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com has some critiques of the Texans move:
Just as his head coach might be the best argument in favor of Mahomes succeeding, it’s fair to wonder whether Watson’s new head coach might get in the way of his success at the professional level. Bill O’Brien has a sterling reputation with quarterbacks after spending time with Tom Brady and getting the most out of Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg at Penn State, but his work with quarterbacks as Texans head coach has left much to be desired.
O’Brien pieced together a competent season from journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2014, albeit one not as impressive as the one he would post with the New York Jets under Chan Gailey the following year. In 2015, O’Brien oscillated between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, eventually settling on Hoyer, who self-destructed in the playoffs. The Texans let him leave in free agency and targeted Osweiler, and you know how that went. Hoyer was the far better quarterback in Chicago. Houston also sprinkled in Tom Savage, who has shown little aptitude for the position since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.
Watson has been a team leader and a winner at Clemson and may very well have the most upside of any of the quarterbacks O’Brien has been given access to, although I suspect the Texans thought Osweiler was a franchise signal-caller this time last year. Watson also struggled with his accuracy throwing downfield, lacked consistency, and made too many poor decisions that led to interceptions. Those are problems each of O’Brien’s previous Houston quarterbacks have had, and the former Patriots coach hasn’t been able to fix their issues. It’s very fair to be skeptical he can do the same for Watson.
The other argument surrounding this trade is that the Texans might be one quarterback away from taking a huge leap forward and making the Super Bowl. I can’t, in good conscience, go along with that logic. The Texans did go 9-7 and win a playoff game last season, but a closer look suggests they were one of the luckiest teams in the league. Houston went a staggering 8-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer, with its only win by more than a touchdown coming by a mere nine points in the season opener at home against the lowly Bears. They had the point differential of a 6.5-win team, which is historically a better predictor of their future win-loss record than their actual win-loss record from the previous season. They were a brutally low 29th in DVOA, finishing between the 49ers and Rams.
You can make a case that the Texans should improve in some ways in 2017. They were 32nd in special teams DVOA, and special teams tends to be more inconsistent from year to year than offense or defense. They spent virtually the entire season without J.J. Watt, and the future Hall of Famer should return in 2017 to form a terrifying pass rush with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. The Texans also were so bad at quarterback with Osweiler and Savage under center that even a mediocre rookie season from Watson could be an improvement. The Texans could look like the 2009 Jets, who rode their luck and a dominant defense while overcoming a mistake-filled rookie season from Mark Sanchez to make it to the AFC Championship Game.
All of those factors are true, but fans who start with the Texans in their heads as a 9-7 team and then apply those arguments to push them into the 11-win sphere are fooling themselves. It’s far more likely that the Texans are a 7-win team getting the benefit of those improvements, and they’re doing so in a division that should be better in 2017. The Titans outplayed Houston by advanced metrics and supplemented their roster with two first-round picks. The Jaguars grossly underperformed their point differential, going 3-13 with a 5.9-win Pythagorean expectation, and made massive upgrades in free agency. Even the Colts managed to invest in their defense as part of the transition from Ryan Grigson to Chris Ballard, and they still have the best quarterback in the division.
Nine wins might not be enough to win the AFC South next season, and Watson might not even be enough to get the Texans there. You can’t blame Houston general manager Rick Smith for throwing resources at what continues to be his team’s biggest problem, and Watson could very well end up as the next Marcus Mariota, but the Texans themselves might be their own worst enemy. They’ll need to defy the history of teams who dominate in close games and O’Brien’s recent track record of developing quarterbacks to keep Watson playing for championships in the years to come.
THIS AND THAT
The Packers sit atop the second round, and Adam Schefter says Green Bay is getting calls from teams looking to move up.
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Lance Zierlein of NFL.com Mocks the second round in the wake of Thursday’s first round.
33 GREEN BAY
Tyus Bowser – LB Houston
Bowser gives the Packers an explosive edge option.
Forrest Lamp – G Western Kentucky
Outstanding guard prospect is still on the board and the Seahawks benefit.
Cam Robinson – OT Alabama
Robinson would be a dream come true for a tackle-hungry team like the Jaguars.
Chidobe Awuzie – CB Colorado
Physical cornerback who can compete for playing time early and help on special teams coverage.
37 L.A. RAMS
Jordan Willis – DE Kansas State
Productive rusher off the edge with a plus motor.
38 L.A. CHARGERS
Marcus Williams – S Utah
Centerfielder with great ball production helps the Chargers pass defense.
39 N.Y. JETS
Dalvin Cook – RB Florida State
The fall ends with Cook headed to the Big Apple.
Dede Westbrook – WR Oklahoma
Smooth, vertical threat is yet another playmaking option for the Panthers’ offense.
Joe Mixon – RB Oklahoma
The Bengals get a running back who can play all three downs, but will come with baggage.
42 NEW ORLEANS
Josh Jones – S N.C. State
Heavy hitter with outstanding physical traits continues the Saints’ defensive revamp.
Quincy Wilson – CB Florida
Eagles need a cornerback badly and get a solid option here.
Zay Jones – WR
School: East Carolina. Jones runs good routes and has great hands. He could find early playing time.
Budda Baker – S Washington
Electric and urgent in his play, Baker can play safety or nickel cornerback.
Malik McDowell – DT
School: Michigan State. McDowell has first-round talent but not first-round work ethic. Boom or bust pick here.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – WR USC
His comparison is Anquan Boldin, which is fitting considering the team.
Dion Dawkins – OL Temple
Dawkins has experience at both tackle and guard. He could find early playing time here.
Alvin Kamara – RB Tennessee
Talented running back who lacks the production totals of the top four running backs.
50 TAMPA BAY
Obi Melifonwu – S Connecticut
Physical freak can play safety or cornerback. Tampa adds to the defense here.
Zach Cunningham – LB Vanderbilt
Three-down linebacker with monster production.
Kevin King – CB Washington
Long-limbed cornerback with size and ball skills. Could be a steal here.
Chris Wormley – DT Michigan
Wormley looks the part, but needs to crank it up on every snap.
Curtis Samuel – RB Ohio State
He does a little of everything and adds another explosive option to the Dolphins offense.
55 N.Y. GIANTS
Antonio Garcia – OT Troy
He’s a little light and lacks long arms, but Garcia offers competition at tackle and might play guard.
Gerald Everett – TE South Alabama
Ultra competitive with the ball in his hands, Everett could vault the Raider offense to the next level.
D’Onta Foreman – RB Texas
The Texans add even more juice to the RB position and look to win on the ground.
Daeshon Hall – DE Texas A&M
Hall can be a base defensive end who rushes inside on passing downs.
59 KANSAS CITY
Alex Anzalone – LB Florida
Really athletic and talented three-down linebacker, but durability is a major concern.
Rasul Douglas – CB West Virginia
Long and productive. His speed is average but he fits Rod Marinelli’s defense.
61 GREEN BAY
Dan Feeney – G Indiana
Solid guard with the ability to play inside and outside zone effectively. Solid NFL starter.
DeShone Kizer – QB Notre Dame
Kizer comes off the board as the heir apparent for Big Ben.
Marcus Maye – S Florida
Rock solid safety with good instincts. Atlanta pairs Maye with his Florida teammate, Keanu Neal.
David Sharpe – OT Florida
Big with powerful hands, Sharpe is better in pass protection than expected.