It’s a new offseason Sunday tradition in these parts. Your questions submitted via Twitter, with the best 10 of them answered here.
So here we go, with a post-draft edition of the mailbag. Featuring 10 carefully harvested questions. Or, as the case may be, the first 10 that I happened to notice while scrolling through them.
From @gpromise3: “Grade the Dolphins’ draft.”
Seriously, I mean it. No.
The process of grading draft picks is stupid. Anyone who gets it, knows it. Despite hearing the on-air draft analysts offer up reasons why every single player picked can become a solid contributor in the NFL, it’s all a guessing game, for everyone. And there’s no way of knowing where a given player’s football ceiling resides until he’s competing against (and being physically assaulted by) grown-ass men at the next level.
Roughly half of the first-round picks in any given year become busts. Yet you’ll never hear that mentioned during the coverage of the draft.
They don’t mention it for two reasons. First, that kind of transparency undermines the effort to sell hope to fans of every team, fans who are led to believe that their favorite team is one draft away from launching a dynasty. Second, if any of the on-air draft analysts were to say, “You know, half of these guys are going to stink,” plenty of fans may say in response, “Which ones?”
To which the analysts would say, “We don’t know.”
To which the fans would say, “Then why are we listening to you?”
Listening to draft grades is even more stupid, because no one knows who will and won’t thrive at the next level. But at least the grading process entails something other than an “everything is awesome” vibe, forcing on-air draft analysts to attach letters that could end up making them look stupid later.
From @deanosborn42: “What’s really going on with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers? Are they trying to ease him gently out the door?”
On Saturday, we took at stab at making sense of Green Bay’s strategy for the first two nights of the draft, which resulted in the first-round pick and fourth-round pick being devoted to Rodgers’ potential successor and the second- and third-round picks being invested in the running game.
There’s a sudden and palpable sense that the Packers are planning for life without Rodgers, but the cap consequences make it impossible to trade him before June 1, difficult (but not impossible) to trade him after June 1, difficult (but not impossible) to trade him before next June 1 of next year, challenging (but much easier) to trade him after June 1 of next year, and likely that he’ll be traded in 2022.
So it looks like the Packers are planning for two more years with Rodgers, with the possibility that he’ll convince them to extend it to a third year, based on his play. The question becomes what does Rodgers want? With the writing now on the wall, Rodgers may want to take a sledgehammer to it.
Again, it will be hard for the Packers to do anything about that before next June. Until it ends, whenever it ends, the dynamics between Rodgers and the Packers will be fascinating to monitor between now and then.
From @richardeid: “Belichick said not drafting a QB wasn’t ‘by design.’ Is that a big flashing light that says [Jarrett] Stidham isn’t the guy?”
Not necessarily. If Belichick had hoped to take a quarterback in the first few rounds but couldn’t make it work based on the complex balancing process of need and availability and position played by the various available prospects, that’s not good news for Stidham. If Belichick were merely planning to take a late-round prospect for developmental purposes, that wouldn’t have mattered to Stidham’s prospects, at all.
Given the public praise heaped on the second-year fourth-rounder from New England veterans like Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater, it’s safe to say the locker room believes in Stidham. Which makes it more likely that the coaching staff believes.
So even if Belichick’s failure to draft a quarterback wasn’t by design, Stidham continues to be the best option — and barring a future transaction he’ll be the most likely successor to Tom Brady.
From @GearsofTed: “Which of the big 3 WRs (Lamb, Ruggs, Jeudy) will be the best?”
Yes, I’ve already said that no one knows how anyone will do at the next level until they do it, or don’t. Until that happens, there are plausible reasons for making a preliminary ranking of the likely performances of Henry Ruggs III (12th overall to the Raiders), Jerry Jeudy (15th to the Broncos), and CeeDee Lamb (17th to the Cowboys).
I’d currently rank their expected performance, at least in the early years of their careers, in the opposite order in which they were drafted: Lamb, Jeudy, Ruggs.
Lamb lands in a spot with the best quarterback, running back, and offensive line of the three teams. Also, with Amari Cooper the No. 1 wideout in Dallas, Lamb won’t have to worry about being double-teamed unless and until he make a Randy Moss-style splash.
Then there’s the chip-on-the-shoulder factor. He believes he should have gone higher than No. 17, he’ll be pissed off that he didn’t, and that will give him extra motivation to get the most out of his abilities. Put simply, Lamb has a chance to explode in Dallas.
Jeudy has great weapons around him, too, along with a great defense. And Broncos quarterback Drew Lock showed star potential in limited time as a rookie. Jeudy, like Lamb, will have a chance to build confidence via one-on-one matchups, generate stats, and become a quality player, right out of the gates.
Ruggs, in contracts, steps onto a team with no No. 1 wideout, a quarterback who has by all appearances hit his ceiling, the highest expectations of any receiver because he was the first one picked, and the ball-and-chain that comes with generating a ridiculously fast time in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. Plenty of guys who have great unencumbered, straight-line speed can’t adapt to the broken-field impediments to running fast (starting with getting jammed at the line), the expectation to stop and start and change directions smoothly, and the question of whether, ultimately, the player can reliably catch the ball.
Ruggs also may face double teams right out of the gate, making it even more of a challenge to become the best of the first three receivers taken.
From @lenberkowitz: “Does this tank job by the Jags qualify as earliest tank job ever in the NFL?”
The Jaguars are not tanking. They aren’t even rebuilding. They’re retooling on the fly, changing the culture and swapping out players with name recognition for unproven players without name recognition who could prove to be better than expected.
Gardner Minshew II, a steal in round six last year, will get a chance to show that he’s the guy. The offense, under new coordinator Jay Gruden, likely will be redesigned to enhance Minshew’s chances.
The team’s goal this offseason was to get the salary-cap situation under control, and to make free-agency and draft decisions aimed at adding to and enhancing a quality core of players. First-round cornerback C.J. Henderson and first-round pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson definitely have the potential to beef up the defense, and second-round receiver Laviska Shenault adds to a quietly potent receiving corps that includes D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole.
And here’s the best reason for thinking the Jags aren’t tanking — owner Shad Khan has made it clear that coach Doug Marrone and G.M. Dave Caldwell are under the gun. So they’re trying to put together a team that will competitive in 2020, not position themselves to be able to pick Trevor Lawrence in 2021. If the Jaguars are in position to pick Lawrence next year, neither Marrone nor Caldwell will be employed by the team.
From @trmullen: “Greetings from the uk!! Are you surprised [Jameis] Winston is signing with Saints? And where do you think Cam Newton ends up Chicago or New England or elsewhere?”
From the moment Winston didn’t find a starting job, the Saints made the most sense. He can be the new Teddy Bridgewater, and if given a chance to play, Winston can set himself up for a starting job elsewhere in 2021.
Things could get even more interesting if coach Sean Payton sees enough in Winston to make him the starter in 2021 over Taysom Hill, who currently is the presumed successor to Drew Brees and who now has a two-year, $21 million deal. For now, though, Winston and the Saints would be (if the deal happens) a one-year arrangement aimed at helping both sides.
As to Newton, who knows? His best play at this point may be to wait for someone’s starter to get injured, or possibly to show up for training camp in horrible shape, thanks to months of not doing nearly enough to stay ready.
From @TeGentzler14: “Did the Eagles draft Jalen Hurts to combat the exact situation that happened to them against Seattle in the playoffs last year? With the ‘gadget plays’ being secondary?”
Every team needs a quality backup quarterback, especially when the starter has a history of getting banged up. Indeed, once Carson Wentz exited the playoff game against the Seahawks after a hit that should have resulted in a flag and a fine for Jadeveon Clowney, it was over for the Eagles.
Hurts, ideally, gives the Eagles for the next four years a better option behind Wentz, along with someone who could be used from time to time in different roles. It’s the best of both worlds for the Eagles, giving them a backup who can run the base offense and a utility player who can enhance it, when Wentz is playing.
Then there’s the coronavirus angle, which at least one reporter has mentioned (and which at least one other reported privately has mocked). If the NFL plays this year, and unless the players are quarantined from their families and/or society, any player could test positive, at any time. If it’s the starting quarterback who gets abruptly shut down for several weeks, it makes more sense than ever to have a replacement ready to go.
From @TheLaughingMan5: “Is there a reason Jake Fromm fell as far as he did? Usually we hear why people are falling down the board, but I felt there was a lot less of that this year.”
Sometimes, there’s a prospect who gets more hype than he deserves. Sometimes, that’s a result of the fact that he’s represented by an agency that also represents more than a few people who are in position to hype him in the media.
Sometimes, the evaluators fall for it. Sometimes, they don’t.
Sometimes, that’s all that needs to be said.
From @SkolVikings407: “As a Vikings fan myself. Chris Simms didn’t mention them as having a strong draft, what’s your opinion on how their draft went?”
Draft picks are scratch-off lottery tickets. And I’m always a fan of getting as many scratch-off lottery tickets as possible.
The Vikings emerged from the 2020 draft with 15 lottery tickets. So I like it.
The problem this year is that those young players will have reduced opportunities to catch the eye of the coaching staff, given the absence of a usual offseason program. Thus, plenty of those 15 players ultimately will get cut.
Before it’s time to cut those players, there undoubtedly will be a chance for them to prove that they belong. But they’ll have to do it quickly — especially the six who were taken in rounds six and seven.
From @dcowboy777: “If theres no season how do they do next year’s draft order?”
Dave Birkett recently wrote an article about the 2005 NHL draft, which happened after a season lost to a lockout. Hockey used a lottery with the number of balls tied to factors like playoff berths in the seasons preceding the draft and whether teams had the first overall pick in recent years.
If there’s no NFL season in 2020 — and despite stated plans and at-times blind optimism that possibility needs to be taken seriously — the league will have to come up with some way of crafting a draft order. Of course, if there’s no NFL season there definitely won’t be a college football season. Which will make the 2021 draft even more of a crapshoot than it was this year.
There will be various practical impediments to playing football, apart from the question of whether fans will be present. Most importantly, how can the NFL justify the widespread and continuous testing of its players, coaches, trainers, etc. if widespread testing still isn’t available to the general public?
Here’s the simple reality: If the NFL eventually has to craft a draft order without the benefit of a preceding season that naturally generates one, we’ll all have much bigger problems than pro football coming up with a process for selecting dibs on college football players who won’t have played in well over a year. So here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, for plenty of reasons other than the fact that it will be another problem for the NFL to solve.