The draft has officially started. Day one, the first round is over. And while it is far to early to tell which teams have really won and lost, that will never stop us from speculating about which teams have come up trumps, and which have made an error of monumental proportions. Join us as we look at the winners, and losers from day one of the draft.
Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon Prove RB’s Still Valued in NFL.
For all of the talk of the de-valuation of the running back in todays NFL, Gurley and Gordon were nonetheless hot commodities. While both were considered first round talent, few expected either man to go off the board until the late-teens or early-20’s. Instead, Gurley became a top-10 pick when the St. Louis Rams selected him at number 10, and Gordon didn’t have to wait much longer, when the Chargers selected him just five picks later.
This is an unusually deep draft at running back, which many thought would negatively impact on the value of the top picks, however their early selection could mean that there is a run on running backs early on day two, with Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and British born Jay Ajayi both projected to go off the board before the end of the night.
The New York Jets: First Year GM Gets Lucky Break.
For a new general manager, especially one in the New York market, there is no room for a bad pick. Your first pick, in your first draft will often set the bar for the remainder of your tenure. So when Mike Maccagnan realised that USC DT Leonard Williams had fallen into his lap, he almost certainly breathed a sigh of relief. Barring a complete failure in the latter rounds, Maccagnan can now safely consider this draft a success, just as his free agency period has been.
In Williams, the Jets get, probably, the best overall player in this years draft, and the safest possible pick. Williams was considered by most to be the third or fourth player to go off the board, and few considered he would fall as far as the Jets at 6th.
He is exactly the sort of player who will excel in new head coach Todd Bowles’ high octane defence, which is already looking like it is going to be potent after a successful free agency period. The Maccagnan/Bowles era was already off to a great start, and things just seem to keep getting better for the pair.
Danny Shelton wins the draft.
Yes, other players were picked before him, and yes, some will make a bigger impact when they finally take the field, but on the night, there was only one winner, and that man was Danny Shelton.
After being selected by the Cleveland Browns, the 6’2″, 339 LB nose tackle was so overjoyed, that the traditional “bro hug” between players and the commissioner, Roger Goodell, was out of the window in favour of a big bear hug, lifting the 56-year-old into the air.
Between the bear hug, his unique attire—a lava-lava and ula fala, traditional Samoan attire—and even his attempted “fresh prince” hand shake, it was clear that Shelton would feature prominently in any coverage of this draft.
All of that is not to detract from the pick, of course. Shelton is a great pick for the Browns, one of two first round picks which are both generally considered wins for a team in rebuilding. Shelton will be a week one starter, for a team in desperate need of help at his position, and will make his presence known in the league for a long time to come.
Shaq Thompson, Linebacker/Safety/Running Back Stock Rockets.
Coming into the draft, Shaq Thompson was generally valued as a second to third round pick. He is uniquely versatile, playing on both offence and defence at multiple positions, but as a result, he is unpolished at all the positions he has played, and most teams simply did not know how best to use him.
Most teams, that is, except for the Carolina Panthers, who selected Thompson with the 25h overall pick.
No-one is entirely sure how the Panthers intend to use Thompson, though it is clear that they could find ways for him to contribute at all three positions, as well as on special teams. But it is clear that they overpaid for him, given that they could almost certainly have secured his services with their second round pick.
However, Thompson gets a significantly larger payday than he was expected, and joins a team who made the playoffs last season, and will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact year one, whichever position, or positions they choose to use him at.
It’s a win for the player, because, based on raw talent and potential, Thompson does deserve to be a first round pick. It is simply his lack of focus and commitment to one position—or even one sport, he also played MLB after being drafted by the Red Sox out of high school in 2012—that caused many to view him as a second or third rounder, so it is good for him that the Panthers see the potential in him.
The Carolina Panthers; Caught Flat-Footed and Panicked.
However good the pick was for Thompson, it’s hard to see his selection as a win for the Panthers.
Picking at 25, the Panthers must have been salivating at the possibility of D.J. Humphreys falling into their laps. Humphreys would have not only addressed a real need, but also represented tremendous value for the team—some consider him the best athlete at his position, and one of a very small number who can contribute at left tackle from day one.
However, the Arizona Cardinals spoiled their party taking Humphreys one pick before them, forcing the team to panic, and taking a player who is neither the best player available, nor one who addresses a real need.
Thompson is officially listed as an OLB, though it is not a position the team currently need to fill—though they certainly will need a project to step in once Thomas Davis either hangs up his cleats, or moves on from the team. The team could attempt to slide him inside, or use him as a safety, and some even feel he projects best as an RB. But he is unpolished at all positions.
If the team view him as an eventual replacement for Davis, a project to sit back and learn, then 25th overall is far to early to select him, and if they want him as a safety or running back, there are simply more polished options available. If they intend to carve out a unique role for him, a hybrid LB/S role until they are clearer on Davis future, even this seems an odd decision—allowing him to continue to hedge his bets about which position he wants to play ultimately hampers his development at both.
Put simply, it’s a tough pick to figure out, though in reality, that’s exactly what was said about Davis, and that turned out pretty well for them.
Still, whether drafting for need, or for the best player available, there were better options, and his selection comes off as a real panic move.
La’el Collins, Randy Gregory: Off-Field Issues Trump Talent (Sometimes).
For some players, off-field issues are easy to look past. Jameis Winston was still the first overall pick, in spite of a few minor indiscretions during his college years, and Shane Ray was valued highly enough that the Denver Broncos even traded up to get him, in spite of his citation for cannabis possession just over a week ago.
For others, however, off-field and character concerns are not so easily overlooked. For Randy Gregory, who was widely considered a top-ten talent before failing a drugs test for marijuana at the combine, he has seen his stock plummet in recent weeks over concerns about his maturity and emotional stability have been brought to the fore. According to multiple reports, Gregory is considered undraftable by several teams, and those who are willing to take a chance on him have drastically reduced his valuation—as evidenced by his slide out of the first round.
For La’el Collins, things are even worse. First, he was sought for questioning in regards to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Then he left the draft to meet with police in Louisiana, only to be told that they are not ready to speak to him yet. He believes he has an alibi, and the police do not currently consider him a suspect, but teams won’t touch him while information is so limited.
He asked the league to remove him from the draft, and allow him to enter the supplemental draft, but his request was denied, meaning that he will possibly certainly slide out of the draft altogether, or even worse, be picked up in the latter rounds, possibly even during the final few picks of the draft, locking him into a low-value rookie contract.
If, as Collins claims, he has no links to the murder, then this will represent a great injustice to a player who, by all rights, should have been one of the first offensive linemen selected, but no matter what happens, this is just a terrible situation for the young man, the league and everyone involved to have to go through.
The Eagles, The Titans and Marcus Mariota.
When it comes to Marcus Mariota, no-one really comes out as a winner.
Yes, Mariota was selected second overall, which is evidence of the fact that the NFL put too much value in quarterbacks, and yes, he will receive a salary to match, but otherwise, everyone involved loses.
Mariota could one day develop into a pro-style quarterback. He could be successful in the NFL, but he is a long way from a sure thing. He is a system quarterback, playing for a team, and a head coach, with no history utilising his particular system.
He joins one of the worst teams in the NFL, with the unenviable task of being their saviour. The Titans have already indicated that they want him to be a week one starter.
He will play for a head coach who has been notoriously bad at standing by his young prospects—for the Cardinals, for example, he struggled to ever commit to Matt Leinart, John Skelton or Max Hall for long enough to see what they could develop into.
Leinart, in particular, was drafted with similarly high hopes in Arizona, and like Mariota, was a system QB in college that coach Ken Whisenhunt simply never attempted to implement, instead forcing him to play in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable system.
None of that is to say that Mariota can’t succeed for the Titans of course, but it’s hard to see it as an ideal landing spot for him.
For their part, the Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, who recruited and coached Mariota at Oregon, wanted to bring him to the Eagles to help implement the Ducks style offence he is so desperately trying to force to work in the NFL.
They were reportedly willing to bet the farm to move up and pick Mariota. According to some reports during the draft, they offered two first round picks, a third round pick, defensive end Fletcher Cox, defensive back Brandon Boykin and linebacker Mychal Kendricks, as well as Sam Bradford, who they acquired in a trade earlier in the season.
And while Chip Kelly was quick to deny that any such offer was ever made, he also denied having any interest in leaving the Oregon Ducks just days before signing with the Eagles, so it’s hard to take his denials seriously.
In Mariota, the Eagles would have had a huge upgrade at quarterback, at least in terms of his ability to run the type of playbook Kelly wants to bring in. The Eagles would also have a quarterback, and head coach with history and experience together, and who are pulling in the same direction, towards the same goals, as opposed to an injury prone QB, like Sam Bradford, who has a history of not getting on the same page as his coaches.
And of course, for the Titans, they apparently passed up on multiple first round picks, multiple additional picks later, and a bevy of proven stars to help them rebuild and transition to Whisenhunt’s ultimate vision, to get a possible franchise QB who has equally as much chance of being a draft bust.
Looking back, all of these things may be the right decisions, but, at least here and now, it’s hard to see anyone as a real winner here.
Head Scratchers—You’ll Have to Wait and See How These Pan Out
The Arizona Cardinals Resolute Commitment To The Best Player Available..
The Arizona Cardinals, especially under Steve Keim, have been praised year in, year out, for trusting their draft board, taking the best player available, and not reaching for players just because they play at positions of need.
It has worked pretty well for them, but there are times when, perhaps, weighting rankings based on need can perhaps have upside. 2015 could be one of those years.
Make no mistake, getting a player like D.J. Humphreys at 24th represents unbelievable value for the team, and they will find a way to make sure he contributes from week one. But after multiple years of having one of the weakest offensive lines in football, the Cardinals already appeared to have one of the strongest units coming into the draft, and taking another tackle this early may not be in their best interest, especially given the perceived depth available at the position
Humphreys has played his entire career at left tackle, a position the Cardinals addressed last season by adding Jared Veldheer in free agency. Veldheer allowed just a single sack last season, and appears to have the position locked up, barring injury, so the Cardinals are clearly hoping that Humphreys can make the transition to right tackle. Given his physical gifts, and playing style, this is a relatively safe gamble, but it is a gamble nonetheless, and one that the Cardinals didn’t have to make.
Humphreys was, by some distance, the best single player still available—the Cardinals reportedly had him as their 13th best player overall, which seems to be the consensus of most draft analysts. However the question marks about his ability to shift position, and the unlikelihood of him beating out the Cardinals current left tackle if he can’t mean that perhaps the Cardinals could have looked elsewhere, or looked to trade back and add additional picks later in the draft.
Although Humphreys has every possibility of developing into an elite RT in the NFL, one has to wonder if he would have had a better chance of doing so with another team, and, moreover, if the Cardinals would have been in a better position in 2015 had they selected a pass rusher, cornerback, or even traded back to give themselves a chance of picking both positions later on.
We shall see.
The Redskins Pass On Leonard Williams.
Leonard Williams should have been, by all rights, the third player selected in the draft. The Jaguars passed on Williams in place of Dante Fowler Jr. It was a somewhat surprising call, but but that isn’t the head scratcher here. The Jaguars are a team with a very strong defensive identity, and while Williams would certainly have improved whichever team he joined, and is, as we have already mentioned, probably the best single athlete in the draft, Fowler is very much a player in Gus Bradley’s mould, and is probably a better fit for the team.
Nor can we really fault the Oakland Raiders for passing on him at fourth overall—they are in desperate need for help on offence, and while Amari Cooper is a slight reach at this point, the chances of a receiver who can make a similar impact being available by the time they pick in the second round was far from a guarantee.
However, for the Redskins to pass on Williams is a real head scratcher. With Williams seemingly having fallen into their laps, the Redskins—with their first first-round pick since they mortgaged their future to move up and get RGIII—somehow whiffed on the obvious pick, and selected Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff.
Let’s be clear, Scherff is not a bad pick at all. He is a solid player, a day one starter who immediately improves the Redskins at a position of need. He has the potential even to develop into a franchise player, a so called “10 year guy”. But taking a right tackle at fifth overall was always going to feel like a little bit of a reach, and doing so when a legitimate superstar still on the board, at another key position of need, really is a head scratcher.
The Redskins need to improve their defensive line. Their defensive push was virtually non-existent all season last year. Put simply, they need a player like Williams. And while finding a starting right tackle in later rounds is seen as a relatively straightforward task, even if it means double-dipping to make sure you find a starter, finding an elite defensive end like Williams, even at number 5 overall, is no guarantee.
Like with the Cardinals selection, it’s not that it’s a bad pick. It is just a hard one to wrap your head around. It may pay off, and certainly improves their team, you just have to wonder if it does them as much good as the other options would have.
In the 2007 draft, the Arizona Cardinals found themselves in a similar position with Adrian Peterson still on the board, and decided on taking Levi Brown to address a position of need. Fans have never let them forget it.
Lets hope Scherff is not the next Levi Brown.