OWINGS MILLS, Md. — “We’re on the clock,” Ravens GM Eric DeCosta said to the 36 scouts, coaches, analytics staffers and club officials in the Baltimore draft room at 12:16 p.m. Saturday. Day three, round four of the 2022 NFL Draft was four picks deep, with the 110th overall selection upcoming. “We’ll wait till there’s three minutes left—just to make sure.”
Round four. The golden round for Baltimore in an odd draft season. No team in draft history has had as many picks in a round as the six the Ravens had in this one, and it was by design. Because a slew of draft prospects stayed in school a year longer than projected after the Covid-wracked 2020 college season, the talent in the ’22 draft would be deeper than normal, even if the first round or so was just okay. “We thought this pool would be rich and fertile,” said DeCosta, 51, in his office before the round began. He wore a sweatshirt that read: ANALYZE MORE. NEVER GUESS. “We wanted as many third- and fourth-round picks as possible.”
One fourth-rounder was Baltimore’s pick, three came in trades, two came as Compensatory picks for lost free agents. Consciously accumulated for just this strange year when, to the Ravens, the fourth round had extra value. Would DeCosta be right? Would this jackpot of depth pay off in a rebound from an 8-9 season? No one can know today, but a long-haul franchise like Baltimore had used this round to pick Dennis Pitta (114th), Kyle Juszczyk (130th) and Za’Darius Smith (122nd) in recent years.
As the clock wound down for the 110th pick, no team called trying to trade for the pick. With three minutes left, DeCosta picked up the phone and called mountainous Minnesota tackle Daniel Faalele, an Aussie who didn’t play football till age 16.
“You’re gonna be a Baltimore Raven,” DeCosta said. “We love big guys like you. You’ve had a remarkable voyage, and this is just the beginning.” Coach John Harbaugh and team president Sashi Brown took turns welcoming the 384-pound Faalele.
“All right guys,” DeCosta said to the room. “We’re off and running.”
The next pick, 119th overall, was nine slots away, and there was an Alabama corner to procure. Then 128, 130, 139 and 141. Five more chances to get pieces of a 53-man puzzle. Of the 29 prospects they were choosing from in this area of the draft, the Ravens would focus on an injured corner, the Academic Heisman winner, a punter to replace aging Sam Koch. They’d get gut-punched by their arch-rivals for a player they wanted—and needed. They’d get nine phone calls, three from the Jaguars, about trades, and they’d make none.
The trades had been made. Now it was time to cash in the picks. These six men, these six decisions, would be big factors for the future of the Ravens, good or bad.
Not sure what was weirder about the Vegas draft, but this definitely was not a staid affair. An illusionist kicked off day two by extricating himself from a straitjacket while dangling and spinning over the crowd. Michael Irvin kissed Donny Osmond. YouTuber Dr. DisRespect announced the Niners’ third-round pick, and I have no idea why. “I wish Mayock was here,” Rich Eisen said when Blue Man Group invaded the NFL Network set and leaf-blew streamers in the middle of the 127th pick. (Mike Mayock lived for Vegasy things like that.) You want weird, though? Cole Strange, first-round pick, Patriots. Viva Los Belichick.
Atypical draft. First 70 picks: one quarterback, 14 receivers.
Atypical story. I’ve got to make you want to read about a team’s fourth round. Here’s the pitch: The Ravens have made the playoffs 13 times and won two Super Bowls since 2000, and they’ve done it by zigging when others zag. They’ve had more Compensatory Picks than any team; they’re fine with letting big-money players walk, because they figure they can find good (and cheaper) replacements. After the abridged 2020 college season and the runup to the ’21 draft, they saw a market inefficiency coming—more good players in the ’22 middle class—and so they let go two big free-agents (Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue) for Comp Picks, and they made two 2021 trades that netted fourth-round picks, and one more trade in round one, moving from 23 to 25 with Buffalo to pick up the sixth fourth-round pick.
I was in the Ravens’ draft room for the fourth round. What I found interesting was the calm, even when the Steelers threw a stunning changeup at them moments before the Ravens were going to address a need. Halfway through my 100 minutes in the room, I wrote in my notebook, They’ve done this before—no surprises.
Part of what’s interesting to me is the kind of new knowledge the team seeks. DeCosta has formed a bond with the former NASA engineer and ex-Astros analytics guru Sig Mejdal, now the Orioles assistant GM. “Eric’s a football expert,” Mejdal said at Camden Yards on Friday, “but he’s also a guy who continually searches for ways to improve.”
In the previous 15 drafts, I’d categorize 24 of the Ravens’ 76 picks in rounds three through five as successes—meaning they became starting players for Baltimore for a time. From guard Marshal Yanda in the third round of 2007 to safety Brandon Stephens (third round, 2021), the Ravens have drafted, developed and started their middle class. In this draft, as of Saturday morning, Baltimore had about 31 of its top 115 players left on the board. An hour before starting round four, DeCosta laid out his top priority: “I’d like to get the corner from Alabama [Jalyn Armour-Davis] if we can. He’s good. He’d help us.”
Entering round four, in order, the Ravens prioritized three players: Faalele, Armour-Davis and Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar. But it wasn’t that easy. DeCosta was torn entering the room. Armour-Davis was more of a need, and even though the grade on Faalele was higher, the GM felt a run at cornerback coming.
DeCosta believes that being a general manager is not simply about reading the grades and picking by them. There has to be a feel involved. They prioritized Faalele because he had a slightly higher grade; he and North Carolina QB Sam Howell were the highest-graded position players for Baltimore at the start of round four. (The Ravens don’t need a quarterback, so they wouldn’t have taken Howell.) For DeCosta, Armour-Davis was key because you can’t have enough corners, and he was their best corner left.
After Denver picked at 116, owner Steve Bisciotti, a huge draftnik, wondered what DeCosta’s next move was if Armour-Davis was gone. Another target for Baltimore was Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar. “Eric,” Bisciotti said, “Kolar if you lose Armor-Davis? He’s the Academic Heisman guy.”
“Yeah,” DeCosta said. “Kolar wrote me a note, a hand-written note, after we met with him [at the combine], thanking me. Good kid. Good player.”
117: Jets take Michael Clemons, defensive end, Texas A&M.
“Guys,” DeCosta said to the room, “we’re taking the Alabama corner if he’s there.”
118: Vikings take Akayleb Evans, cornerback, Missouri.
119: Jalyn Armour-Davis, cornerback, Alabama.
Applause in the room. “Jalyn,” DeCosta said over the phone after introducing himself, “how much do you know about the Ravens?” He quizzed him on Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey, from Alabama, and about ex-Crimson Tide tight end Ozzie Newsome. Then DeCosta handed the phone to Newsome. “Jalyn?” Newsome said. “Roll Tide.”
The list of Ravens’ favorites dwindled. At 122 and 123, the Raiders and Chargers took two of Baltimore’s preferred backs, Zamir White and Isaiah Spiller. But then four straight players who weren’t Raven targets went. Vegas called, wanting the 128th pick. Nope. The Ravens wanted Kolar, he of the 3.99 GPA in mechanical engineering and the 64-catch season in Ames last fall.
Bisciotti was excited. “Finally,” the owner said, “I’ll have someone to converse with.”
Not a bad line. The room broke up.
On the live speaker from the draft, a tinny voice called out: “At 127, the Patriots take running back Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State.”
“Yesssss,” DeCosta said.
128: Charlie Kolar, tight end, Iowa State.
On the phone, DeCosta told Kolar, “You’re going to have the chance to play with Mark Andrews, and to catch passes from Lamar Jackson. We’re excited.” Harbaugh took the phone. “Hey Charlie! We’ve been holding our breath here!”
Kolar, in fact, was a good example of the player who went back to school after the Covid season. “I thought long and hard about coming out in 2021,” Kolar said Sunday. “But I had sports hernia surgery [in early 2021], and obviously when you’re getting ready for the NFL you want to put your best foot forward. Theoretically, even if I’d been a third-round pick last year versus a fourth-round pick this year—and there’s no guarantee of that, obviously—I knew I’d be a better player if I stayed in school one more year. To me, the draft is just the beginning of the journey. Staying in helped me.”
Now a short turnaround to the next pick.
130: Jordan Stout, punter, Penn State.
The Ravens needed a speed receiver to replace Hollywood Brown, who they traded to Arizona during Thursday’s first round. But they had a one-punter prospect class (“Stout was the only one we would have drafted,” DeCosta said) with Koch nearing his end in Baltimore. So Stout was the pick.
DeCosta allows his special-teams coach, Randy Brown, to lead analysis on kickers and punters. Brown loved Stout. Koch has had a 16-year run in Baltimore. Justin Tucker is entering his 11th season as kicker. It’s hard to know when it’s smart to take a punter; the Bucs took the second of the draft just three picks later. But DeCosta knew the expiration date was coming due on Koch, knew he needed a punter, and knew if he lost out on the chance to get a 10-year punter he’d be kicking himself.
“We think you’re one of the best punters to come out in years,” DeCosta told Stout on the phone.
He’d better be.
Now the calls started coming for the last two fourth-rounders, 139th and 141st overall. Five teams called in 20 minutes. One NFC team offered two sixth-round picks for either 139 or 141. “I don’t think so,” DeCosta told one of the GMs who called. “We’re gonna pick.”
137: Patriots take Bailey Zappe, quarterback Western Kentucky.
A middle-round receiver, Calvin Austin III of Memphis, a smurfy guy who runs a 4.32 40, was Baltimore’s target here. Guess who else runs a 4.32? Hollywood Brown. Though Austin’s a small guy, he was durable at Memphis, playing 49 games in four years and averaging 16.3 yards per catch. Baltimore’s not a deep-throwing team—thus Brown’s frustration, leading to his trade request, and the trade to Arizona—but the Ravens could use speed depth.
Austin wasn’t a must-have. But he was the next target. He was Baltimore’s guy.
Then, over the tinny speaker, news that the Steelers were picking wide receiver Calvin Austin, Memphis.
“Gotta be kidding me,” someone blurted out as the Ravens began to process it.
Ravens on the clock … 4:40 4:35 … DeCosta had to think now. He had open trade offers with Kansas City and Jacksonville, and he could pull the trigger on either. He didn’t love his options here. But his expression didn’t change. Harbaugh’s expression didn’t change, nor did Newsome’s. These things happen in the draft. They pondered alternatives. They had two linebackers and one slower receiver with good grades left, but didn’t love any of them.
There was a tight end rated very close to Kolar, Isaiah Likely of Coastal Carolina, one of the best offensive tight ends in the college game last year. The Ravens thought he might be able to do some receiver things—lining up in the slot and outside—as well as playing inline tight end.
“How about Likely?” Harbaugh said to offensive coordinator Greg Roman. “Find a spot for him?” Roman liked him.
With about a minute left on the clock, the decision was made.
139: Isaiah Likely, tight end, Coastal Carolina.
“Isaiah, hi. Eric DeCosta, GM of the Baltimore Ravens,” the GM said, giving him the news. “You’re from Boston, huh? You a Celtics fan?”
Later, I asked DeCosta about losing Austin. DeCosta said, “That’s the draft.”
“We gambled on the punter, and we’re glad we got him,” DeCosta said. “To us, Stout was the only one we’d have taken. These are the kinds of decisions you make every year in the draft. You never get everyone you want.”
There was one other part of the equation, a part of the job DeCosta didn’t want to discuss openly. A good general manager can sniff around his area of the draft and see if a player he likes a lot is in danger of being picked by another team. And here, the Bucs picking 133rd and the Bengals picking 136th were sniffing around punters. He heard one of them liked Stout. “If you have a chance to fix a position for 10 years with a punter about to be 40, you’ve got to consider that strongly,” DeCosta said. Thus the punter at 130.
141: Damarion Williams, cornerback, Houston.
Now you’re looking for traits, particularly at important positions. Williams started 33 games in three years at Houston, played all over the secondary, two-year captain, highly competitive, highly recommended by his coaches. At this point, 141 picks into the draft, you’re not drafting Revises. You drafting 5-10 corners who run 4.5 and who have traits, and who your scouts love.
One of the Ravens’ most trusted scouts, David Blackburn, advocated hard for Williams with DeCosta. That means something to DeCosta. “I want those guys to know their voice counts with me,” DeCosta said.
In the room now, with time left on the clock before the 141st pick, Bisciotti said: “You see one of these corners we have left making our team?”
DeCosta said he did, then addressed Blackburn. “David, you like Williams, right?” They talked for a moment, and then DeCosta said, “We’re gonna pick the corner.”
Then two teams called, and DeCosta told both no thanks, they had a player to pick. He dialed the number he had for Williams … and the agent picked up. “I gotta get a hold of him or I’m not drafting him,” DeCosta said. Crisis averted: The agent gave DeCosta the number where Williams was, and GM told player he was a Raven. “One of our scouts, David Blackburn, really campaigned for you,” DeCosta told Williams. He handed the phone to Blackburn, so they could talk. Cool move.
At 1:51 p.m., THE PICK IS IN flashed on the TV screen in the draft room, the sixth of six fourth-round picks. Damarion Williams, CB, Houston.
In the first two days of the draft, the Ravens picked four players they fully expect to turn into starters by opening day 2023: safety Kyle Hamilton, center Tyler Linderbaum, edge rusher David Ojabo (who will rehab a torn Achilles in 2022) and defensive tackle Travis Jones.
In 95 minutes on day three of the draft, the Ravens picked six players they hope will turn into valuable puzzle pieces to a championship team.
One of the lessons Mejdal, the baseball analytics trailblazer, imparted to DeCosta was not to think of a group of players in one round in a clump. Don’t think, History says we’ll hit on two or three of these, so just understand we’ll probably miss on three or four. “Why can’t they all make it and be good players for you?” Mejdal said. “Once they’re drafted, they’re thrown onto a team, into practice, and soon you forget where they were drafted. Each player is an independent story.”
So 32 percent of the third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks over the past 15 years contributed significantly to the Ravens. DeCosta took Mejdal’s thoughts and expanded his percentages. Damarion Williams is an example. His 4.52-second 40 time is poor by NFL standards for a corner. But there’s another recent corner with a poor 40 time who will be discussed for the Hall of Fame in a few years. Richard Sherman ran a 4.56 40 at the 2011 combine. He has one thing Williams doesn’t: size. He’s four inches taller that Williams. Otherwise, their traits—feistiness, competitiveness, leadership—are similar. Williams is a corner you have to believe in because you’ve seen him play football.
“We feel great,” DeCosta said Sunday night. “We addressed a lot of concerns in that fourth round. Being totally honest, I think we’ll have three eventual starters, and three guys who will be quality depth for us.”
History says going six-for-six doesn’t happen. It probably won’t here either. But don’t tell that to the Ravens this morning. In the Baltimore draft room, in the corner, is a stuffed giraffe, maybe five feet tall. DeCosta’s son got it for a gift when he was a child, and DeCosta brought it into the room. There are few things in a draft room that can look more out of place than a stuffed giraffe that belongs in your kid’s nursery.
But it is there for a reason.
“Stick your neck out,” DeCosta said. “I want guys in here who aren’t afraid to tell me what they think, always.”
As the rest of the league roiled over the weekend …
The A.J. Brown Saga
PHILADELPHIA — There was something very cool, and something very sad, about the Eagles’ trade for A.J. Brown. Cool: Brown and quarterback Jalen Hurts are tight from the days when Hurts tried to recruit Brown to play at Alabama; Brown picked Ole Miss instead. So close, in fact, that last weekend, pre-trade, Hurts was at the birthday party for Brown’s toddler daughter. Sad: The Titans drafted Brown in the second round three years ago, developed him and he turned into a cornerstone player, averaging 62 catches, 998 yards and eight TD catches in his three seasons. Popular player. Friend of mine said there are more A.J. Brown jerseys at Titans games than anyone maybe but Derrick Henry. He’s 24. These are the players you strive to keep, not trade. The landscape of the NFL, particularly with wide receivers, is great for the players because the money is exploding. But it’s bad for fans who love these guys. Deebo Samuel might be next. Heartache by the Bay.
For today, it’s good news for the Eagles. GM Howie Roseman is very good at getting what he wants. In this case, as he told me after the first round near midnight Thursday, “A.J. was a DNA match with us. He was exactly what we were looking for in a receiver, and he matched out culture.” Competitive, feisty, physical, totally unafraid of a street fight. Very Philly. Roseman had to get the compensation right with Tennessee GM Jon Robinson before moving on to do a contract. That compensation was first- and third-round picks (18th and 101st overall) for Brown. Clean. They agreed at midday Thursday, and then the Eagles engaged Brown’s agents.
“In this case, a deadline really helped,” Roseman said. The four-year, $100-million extension is very good money, obviously, for Brown. But what Roseman meant about the deadline helping is that if Brown didn’t agree to whatever the Eagles were offering, he’d either have had to take a lot less in Tennessee or not played this year. If Tennessee traded him after the draft, where’s the Titans’ motivation? So by doing the deal this year, Tennessee at least got back rookie wideout Treylon Burks, and Brown gets an average of $21 million a year over the next five years.
Roseman has a knack for doing something most GMs don’t do. When he really wants something, he figures a way to go get it. The Eagles were in the gutter after giving up on Carson Wentz and firing Doug Pederson in early 2021. But look at the results. The Wentz trade netted the Eagles the mid-first-round draft capital they needed, plus a third-rounder, to land Brown. Will Hurts win the job for good this year? Maybe, but if he doesn’t, Philly has two first-round picks next year to be in position in a potentially strong QB draft season to move around to get a quarterback.
The momentum swing in Philadelphia in 16 months for Roseman has been incredible. After the dismantling of the Super Bowl team was complete 15 months ago, he was reviled. But when I was checking out of my Rittenhouse Square hotel Friday morning, I got into a conversation with my bellman in which he spoke these words: “Man, Howie’s doing a great job.” For the moment, that’s undeniable.
So I asked Pickett the most important question Saturday: Is it going to be hard, after five years of going through the door to the right, getting used to going through the door to the left?
On the South Side of Pittsburgh is a football complex—offices for the Steelers and for the Pitt football team, with a separated locker room for each team inside, with a separate weight room for each, and, out the back door, practice fields that each team uses separately.
The front doors to the facility are 12 feet apart. To the left, the Steelers. To the right, the Pitt Panthers. And for five years, four playing seasons and one redshirt year, Kenny Pickett walked only through the door on the right.
“Every time I’d walk into the Pitt side, I’d always glance over at the left and kinda envision one day walking over to my left, through the other door,” Pickett told me Saturday, his third day of walking through the left side. “Now that that’s happening, it’s pretty awesome.”
Pickett told me he got to know Mike Tomlin a bit from passing by him to and from the practice field, and walking in and out of the buildings. He never got the chance to talk ball with Ben Roethlisberger—which seems odd to me, to never chat with Roethlisberger in five years—but he did watch Steelers practice a lot. “As the year went on,” Pickett said, “my family and my coaches talked about how awesome it was if I could just walk next door for my pro career. It’s funny. I’m basically doing job interviews and putting my game out there for all 32 teams but some places are more intriguing, more attractive, than others. The Steelers were definitely at the top of my list. The culture they’ve built, playing with an edge. That’s how I play. That’s why I think this will be a good fit for me.”
The Steelers needed a quarterback who could throw from the pocket and throw on the move, and who also had the experience to step in early and play. Pickett doesn’t have an elite arm and he fumbled 38 times in 52 career games. But with 49 starts at a high collegiate level, Pickett was the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. He’ll challenge Mitchell Trubisky for the job immediately—but don’t think that means he’ll win the job immediately. Tomlin will play the best guy. That’s his history, and it’s right.
More Draft Opinions
1. The Packers should have been more aggressive. I do like Christian Watson, the wideout GM Brian Gutekunst picked in the second round. But I do not like the Green Bay process. There are times, with ammo, that a GM needs to be aggressive and to go for it, and this was one of those times for Gutekunst to go get a wide receiver for Aaron Rodgers. Maybe Rodgers has two years left. Maybe three. But maybe one. And this was the best position Green Bay had been in entering a draft (two first-round picks, two second-rounders) in years. What’d they do? They took two first-round front-seven players, Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt; Wyatt has a history at Georgia of domestic violence episodes. Then they traded both second-round picks to move to 34 to take Watson. Meanwhile, the Saints moved up five slots to draft Chris Olave at 11; he was a player I heard Green Bay liked. Detroit moved up 20 slots to take Jameson Williams at 12. And the Packers burned both second-round picks to take a player who may need some developmental time. I’d have rather traded 22 (Quay Walker pick), 29 (Wyatt) and a lower pick to move to 11 and take Olave, then have the second-rounders to lift the defense.
2. I don’t get New England. Picking Cole Strange, a decent prospect from Tennessee-Chattanooga, 29th overall was a naïve move by Bill Belichick. There was no indication he’d have gotten picked before New England’s next pick at 54; even if he was picked before then, so what? Look at the 76th pick in the draft, Travis Jones, handle Strange, the 29th pick, at the Senior Bowl:
Here’s new Ravens third-round pick Travis Jones at the Senior Bowl going up against Patriots first-rounder Cole Strange pic.twitter.com/XmdbMXJtEv
— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) April 30, 2022
3. Love what Detroit did. The night before the draft, in Vegas, Aidan Hutchinson’s sister, Aria, said as the pre-draft pressure was getting to everyone in the family: “Please, please, please let him get picked by Detroit!” Think of that. When’s the last time someone has wanted a loved one to go to the Detroit Lions? Night Train Lane? Joe Schmidt? The Hutchinsons live near Ford Field and are close, granted. But if they didn’t believe that the Lions had a chance to escape their hellhole, they’d never have been begging for Aidan to land there. The Lions felt similarly. After the Jaguars picked Travon Walker number one, the Lions told the league the pick was in, and it was Hutchinson—within a minute of the Walker pick. “We turned the card in so fast the league got mad at us,” said one Lion official.
4. Did it seem like Travon Walker was invisible on draft night? I was in Philadelphia and didn’t monitor the first pick closely, but it looked like we got 45 seconds of Walker on his family couch, rejoicing in the pick, and then everything just moved on. Folks, first pick in the draft. Anyway … this pick reminds me a bit of the Courtney Brown pick. Soft-spoken guy, big program, talented, but who knows. Most of those I’ve spoken with love his tools but don’t think he’s done enough to be a no-doubt NFL impact player. We’ll see. But 9.5 sacks in 32 college games, surrounded by greatness all over the defense. That’s a sketchy résumé for a first pick in the the NFL draft.
5. I like New York, New York, but … This is not a knock on any of the picks either team made, but a simple observation about the state of football today. The Giants are not better than Dallas or Philadelphia, and probably not better than Washington. The Jets are still likely the fourth-best team in the AFC East. Both teams got better, significantly better, on Thursday night—particularly if Kayvon Thibodeaux is a consistently hard-trying player for four quarters. But this is a quarterback’s game. And both teams need young quarterbacks to take big jumps for .500 to be more than a dream.
6. Rookies of the Weekend. Offensive: Chris Olave, New Orleans. Love the pick, love the player. Precise route-runner, going to a team that wants to throw a lot and he’ll be ready to go opening day. Defensive: Derek Stingley, Houston. In five years, we’ll look back at this draft and think Stingley was the best pick of all.
7. State of Baker Mayfield. Odd that no one wants a guy who was a top-12 quarterback in 2020 and gutted out an injured season last year. He doesn’t fit Seattle, and he’d muck up the Carolina situation, with the Panthers wanting to see if Sam Darnold has a prayer of being the guy. I really have no clue where he’s going—though I now am dubious of the pre-draft thought that if he was on the street the Steelers would grab him. Why, exactly, would Pittsburgh do that now? I think if I were the Browns, I’d try to get a 2023 seventh-round pick from Carolina and pay 90 percent of his salary, just to get him out of the Cleveland consciousness.
8. On Hollywood Brown. This I know: He didn’t want to be in Baltimore anymore. He didn’t like the offense—too conservative; not enough big-strike opportunities—and he welcomes a reunion with his college quarterback, Kyler Murray. We’re in a different time in football, and probably in sports. When a smart team like Baltimore sees a dysfunctional situation like Brown in that offense, it doesn’t do what a team would have done 30 years ago, which would have been to tell the guy to suck it up, you’re not going anywhere. A smart team looks to move him before the situation gets out of hand in a game where the players have more power than ever. The Hollywood trade was the best for both teams. He’ll have a chance to be the deep threat he never could be in Baltimore.
On The TV Front
[Editor’s Note: Edited Monday night] There will be no Black Friday game on Amazon Prime this season. Stay tuned for the league to start that game in 2023 on Amazon Prime, but this year, with the USA-England World Cup game scheduled the same afternoon as a day-after-Thanksgiving game would have been played, the league felt the viewership probably would not have merited a special game … The NFL will announce the five-game international schedule this week. These things I know:
• Arizona will host the first game in Mexico since 2019 on Monday night, Nov. 21, at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. It will likely be against one of the eight other teams that have international marketing right in Mexico. The Raiders, Rams or Niners look logical to me.
• The London games will be hosted by Green Bay and New Orleans at Tottenham Stadium, and by Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium. These games will be played in close proximity, likely between Weeks 5 and 8, on Sundays. Crazy to think about this, but I hear the Rams have told the league they wouldn’t mind being the Packers’ foe in London … if the league planned to put the Rams in Lambeau Field late in the season. Might make sense, to both neutralize the Pack’s home-field edge and to neutralize possible foul weather.
• Tampa Bay will host the first-ever regular-season game in Germany on Nov. 13, the Sunday of Week 10.
• The league will try to make teams with the extra home games in the 17-game schedule era be home teams internationally. (Jacksonville is the exception, because the Jags have a separate deal to play at least one game a year in London.) Sensible, because it leaves every team but Jacksonville with eight home games every year.
“Not as long as I’m head coach.”
—Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, to Rich Eisen on April 7, asked if A.J. Brown was on the trading block. Twenty-one days later, Brown was traded.
“SAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE! You were always the one, man.”
—Jets coach Robert Saleh, greeting first-round pick Sauce Gardner—the first of three first-round picks for the team—in a phone call after the choice was made.
“I’m hungry, and I feel like New York is the pinnacle of the dog-eat-dog world.”
—New Giant Kayvon Thibodeaux.
“And we wasted our time watching him, thinking he could be there at 104!!”
—Rams coach Sean McVay, blurting out the first thing that came to his mind when the Patriots drafted Tennessee-Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange in the first round.
“Ain’t no feeling like it coach. We’re pinching ourselves. Thanks for bringing me home.”
—Dallas first-round lineman Tyler Smith, from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, gathered with his family and getting the news from coach Mike McCarthy on the Cowboys drafting him 24th overall.
“I’m very blessed to have them as my parents.”
—Colorado State tight end Trey McBride, selected by the Cardinals, to Melissa Stark of ABC. McBride was born into a family with two mothers and no father.
Very nice job by ABC to show the world of McBride.
“I had a Frenchie that passed recently.”
—Former Seattle Seahawk Shaquem Griffin, being interviewed by Laura Rutledge on ABC Friday night. Griffin wore a shirt with a French bulldog on it while announcing the Seahawks’ third-round pick.
Not to over-report Baltimore or anything, but …
First round, 2019, 25th pick overall: Ravens select wideout Hollywood Brown. Brown catches 195 passes with 21 touchdowns in three seasons in Baltimore.
On Thursday, Ravens traded Brown and a late third-rounder to Arizona for a first-round pick. That set up this:
First round, 2022, 25th pick overall: Ravens select center Tyler Linderbaum.
Some bad, some good, some major misses in my annual mock draft. Each year, I grade myself, and this year was slightly below last year’s production.
I had five direct hits in the correct slot to the correct team (Walker/Jags, Hutchinson/Lions, Gardner/Jets, London/Falcons, Pickett/Steelers), one on the correct slot to the wrong team (Olave to Saints, not Commanders, at 11) and one to correct team in a different slot (Davis to Eagles at 13 instead of 15). So, seven of 32 were correct either to team or slot … which, conversely, means 25 of 32 were bad.
Lowlights: Totally blew the Giants, missing on both Neal and Thibodeaux … Totally blew Stingley (had him 12th, he went third) and Thibodeaux (had him 13th, he went fifth) … Went 0-for-12 between 21 and 32 … Houston picked Kenyon Green 15th and I didn’t have him in the first round … I had Bernhard Raimann 21st overall, he went 77th, and he wasn’t even the first Central Michigan Chippewa offensive lineman picked.
Highlights: I had no QBs in the first 19 picks and Pickett the first one taken, by Pittsburgh at 20 … I had six receivers going between eight and 18: at eight, nine, 10, 11, 16, 18. Six receivers went between eight and 18: at eight, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18 … I had the three Ohio State receiver teammates from 2020—Wilson/Williams/Olave—in succession at 9-10-11. Wilson/Olave/Williams went 10-11-12.
Let the record show that Wayne Newton announced the first draft choice in the history of Josh McDaniels’ Raiders, and he announced it in Las Vegas.
Can’t praise Belichick for the many ways he creates small edges, and then ignore it when he pisses away value.
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) April 29, 2022
Thorman is an NFL analyst for Establish The Run.
What's that position called? You know the one — the guy who throws the football.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) April 30, 2022
Sam Farmer, NFL writer for the Los Angeles Times, after 65 picks of the draft, at which point one quarterback had been chosen.
That’s my grandma 😂😂 https://t.co/pNcD7uuSqz
— Malik Willis (@malikwillis) April 29, 2022
The quarterback for the Titans, on the night of the draft in Vegas, when NFL Network mis-identified his grandmother as his mother.
I will be reporting he's doing Fox NFL Sunday in 2037.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) April 29, 2022
Marchand, on the Giants’ pick of the effervescent Kayvon Thibodeaux, covers sports media for the New York Post.
We just showed multiple reps at the @seniorbowl of Travis Jones throwing 1st round picks out of the club.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) April 30, 2022
Siciliano is an NFL Network host.
Mock draft competitiveness. From Edward Norton: “Really enjoyed the draft. Had three or four mock drafts in front of me—yours, Chris Simms’, and a couple of others. You nailed it. A lot of your picks were spot on or within one or two. I really appreciated hearing you say the other day in response to the idea that ‘who cares what you predict’ that if you put your name on something it should be your best effort. Great reminder to us all.”
Good of you to notice, Ed. So I’m a competitive person—always have been—and the mock draft is an unfortunate byproduct of the way I am. My wife can tell you it’s one of her least-favorite weeks on the calendar, because I’m mono-focused for three or four days on it. This year it was tough because we were on the West Coast visiting our daughters and their families, and I wasn’t as attentive as I should be on those visits, which wasn’t altogether fair to the family. As you say, I am a believer in trying my best, even in these far more secretive times before the draft, to nail a few picks if I can.
One thing I regret about this year. On Sunday, the day before the mock was published, I heard a story that the Giants were a little down on Kayvon Thibodeaux. I wanted to check it out, and so I sniffed around and discovered that, in fact, GM Joe Schoen had spent 30 minutes reconnecting over Zoom with Thibodeaux on Saturday and was impressed. Maybe at one point they had some trepidation about him, but that’s why a GM has to do every bit of due diligence on the top guys. I was able to knock it down—the Giants were good with Thibodeaux. So I puzzled over this. I sat there for 20 or 30 minutes playing with the mock, with Thibodeaux replacing Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton at seven, seeing how it would impact the rest of the early round. I kept looking at team after team … what to do with Hamilton? I had a tradeup with Houston from 13 to 9, and I thought the Texas were a logical spot for Hamilton but not in a tradeup, so I thought, let me give Hamilton to Houston at 13. Then I thought: Kyle Hamilton is not lasting till the teens. I sat there, almost paralyzed by thought. And I just figured Joe Schoen was more likely to pick a clean guy, which Hamilton was, while some teams had a problem with Thibodeaux’s ego. Damn it, I decided … I’m not giving Thibodeaux to the Giants.
See? I overthought. I had a great clue and talked myself out of it. That is a constant thing in these mocks, which is why they take so long to do—at least the way I try to do them.
Writing slippage in my 60s. From Murray Zelmanovitz: “I was just curious: As someone who is essentially the same age as you (62), I wonder if you’ve noticed any slippage in your writing over the years. While I’m still effective in my job, I don’t feel quite as sharp as when I was in my 30s, for example. As a long-time reader of your column I haven’t noticed anything but I’m wondering if you feel your reporting is as sharp as ever.”
I’ll tell you the two things I notice about me and work and age, Murray: I do not function well without a 20- to 30-minute nap during the day. It never used to be that way for me, but now I find right around noon I need to lay down for a short spell. The second thing is I used to be fine powering through a Sunday night and writing till 4. No more. By 2:30 a.m.-ish, I am fried and not much good to anyone. Sometimes I don’t write about something, say, in the Sunday night game because I just don’t have time, or I don’t have the energy to keep going. As far as the writing, I’ve never been a Montville or a Reilly, and I’m more concerned with communicating ideas in plain sentences most often. I rarely spend 10 minutes trying to make a sentence sing.
I’ve always found that a good way to get one’s point across is to name-call and yell at someone. From Jim Seymour: “Are you a pimp for the print media? Why else would you continuously put your ‘stories of the week’ out to subscription papers? Gee, I would love to read about Steve McMichael however I MUST subscribe. Every week you do this. It’s a stain on an otherwise must-read column. Knock it off!”
So I shouldn’t write about something on Netflix because you can’t get that for free, I shouldn’t write about something on ESPN because you have to pay a fee to see that, I shouldn’t write about a good book I read because it costs $25.99 to buy it. The world has changed, Jim. You can’t get everything for free on the internet anymore. And if you can’t see the stories I highlight, there are plenty of things you can read for free. The story about McMichael, by Dan Pompei, was outstanding, and I’m not going to not write about it because it’s on a pay site. An excellent, worthy pay site in The Athletic. If this is a stain on my column, it shall continue.
1. I think it’s a sign of the times, of these modern NFL times, that the NFL till about five years ago wouldn’t even mention Las Vegas, or would recoil at the very mention of it. And now, after hosting the final regular-season game of the 2021 season with major playoff implications, after hosting the Pro Bowl, after hosting the draft, and now prepping to host a Super Bowl in 21 months, think of it: Las Vegas, gambling mecca, Sin City, is now a cornerstone market for the National Football League.
2. I think Dan Dierdorf once said this, but I’ll steal it: I’ve seen it all, Lord. Take me now.
3. I think for those who do draft grades, I will remind you of two things. The Raiders announced the other day they will not exercise fifth-year options on any of their three first-round picks in 2019—Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jocobs and Johnathan Abram. And after the 2019 draft, NFL.com gave the Raiders a B-plus grade, and Bleacher Report gave them an A. Hey, but go ahead and grade things before players ever take the field for their professional teams.
4. I think the coolest thing on draft weekend was a Bleacher Report video with Jason Kelce giving a scouting report on the player who is likely to succeed him in the middle of the Philadelphia line, Nebraska center Cam Jurgens, Philly’s second-round pick from Nebraska. “This is my favorite player in the draft,” Kelce said. “The Eagles have been using me to evaluate some of the centers coming out.” Wow. That’s my first reaction. The Eagle asked Kelce to help pick his replacements. “Of all the guys I compare most to myself, this guy is him. He is so athletic, so fast. He’s only been playing offensive line for two years. He is a freak athleticially. He has the best chance to be a difference-maker at the center position.” Great job by the Eagles to think of this, and great on Kelce to agree to pick the man who will be the new him.
“Out of all the guys that compare the most to myself, this guy is him.” @JasonKelce sees a lot of his qualities in Eagles pick Cam Jurgens
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) April 30, 2022
5. I think I asked three people who know way more than I do about the 2023 draft—and since I know nothing, it would not be hard—to give me a guess about the quarterbacks going in the first round and the overall pick. The consensus:
1st overall: Bryce Young, Alabama.
2nd: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State.
8th: Tyler Van Dyke, Miami.
15th-ish: Phil Jurkovec, Boston College.
Got a shot in the bottom third: Spencer Rattler, South Carolina; Anthony Richardson, Florida.
6. I think it would be a shame if draft weekend passed without a nod to retiring Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, who spent 22 years running football operation in Pittsburgh, helped the Steelers reach three Super Bowls, with two championships. He did it in a totally understated way, never seeking credit and in fact eschewing it and handing off credit to the players and to Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. I hope the Steelers keep him around in some sort of consulting role—and I say that in part because I know the last thing he’d want to do is to infringe on the authority of the next GM, and he won’t do that.
7. I think all draft analysts have takes they’d like to have back. Perhaps no more than this one from the estimable Pro Football Focus: “There’s been persistent buzz since the NFL Scouting Combine that Detroit could take a gamble and select Liberty’s Malik Willis at No. 2 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.” Yikes. Willis was the 86th pick in the draft.
8. I think Jameson Williams might be a quiet guy, a man of few words, as Melissa Stark said to him on NFL Network when he was altogether brief in his comments about Detroit trading up to pick him. He didn’t sound too happy to me.
9. I think I missed John Clayton this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one. Ran into Sal Paolantonio in Philadelphia, and he was talking about how often he’d talk to John, particularly in the leadup to the draft, and this year, after Clayton’s untimely death this spring, he missed those chats. Sad, too, that when John died, he just sort of disappeared from our thoughts after a few days. I realize that’s what happens when people die. But I wrote this because he was such a part of the media landscape and the NFL landscape. “I was reminded of John when I watched a move on Netflix, ‘The Adam Project,’ and there was a scene with Guy Lombardo, the bandleader, saying to his audience at the end of one of his performances, “Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” Fitting. Thanks too, to Chargers GM Tom Telesco for not forgetting Clayton. In remarks to local reporters after the Zion Johnson pick, Telesco said: “I know how much John loved the draft, and he was a big part of our NFL community too.” Good to remember John Clayton on this weekend, of all weekends.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. While we were sleeping … or at least while we were consumed with the draft … did you see this crazy story out of Miami by Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald?
b. NIL Gone Wild.
c. A player, holding a university’s basketball program hostage (and I’m not sure I blame him), says he’ll go pro unless some local booster ponies up more dough. Frightening and market-driven at the same time.
d. Fascinating Story of the Week: Zeninjor Enwemeka of NPR with a story I had no clue about: Some cities, Tulsa in this case, are paying people to move there.
e. Imagine paying people $10,000 to relocate there. In a new period of our history, with people able to work from home, cities are finding it’s worth it to entice people to come. “A recent report shows for every dollar spent relocating someone, the city got back $13 in new income, tax revenue and jobs,” Enwemeka reports.
f. The world keeps changing so fast. It’s hard to keep up.
g. Radio Story of the Week: Geoff Brumfiel of National Public Radio, on the fake stories that have turned so many people against Covid vaccines—and an illuminating story about one of the people who died believing the misinformation.
h. The amazing stat from Brumfiel: An estimated 230,000 in the United States have died. The family has come forward to tell the story of the death of the wife and mom, Stephanie (no last names here), hoping to get those who buy the conspiracy theories to reconsider.
i. As Brumfield reports: “Stephanie was practical when it came to her health. She went for regular checkups, and she was a big believer in vaccines. ‘She made sure I took the flu shots, we took the shingles shot, we took the pneumonia shot,’ husband Arnold recalls. ‘I mean, I was like a pincushion.’” More from Brumfiel:
Stephanie was 75 when she succumbed to COVID-19 this past December. But Laurie says it wasn’t just COVID that killed her mother. In the years leading up to her death, Stephanie had become embroiled in conspiracy theories. Her belief in those far-out ideas caused her to avoid vaccination and led her to delay and even refuse some of the most effective treatments after she got sick.
“I don’t believe she was supposed to die,” daughter Laurie says. “I blame the misinformation.”
Not everyone who refuses a vaccine believes in elaborate conspiracy theories, but many likely do. Anti-vaccine advocates have leveraged the pandemic to sow mistrust and fear about the vaccines.
… Stephanie absolutely refused to get a vaccine because she falsely thought the shots contained tiny microchips. Moreover, she began avoiding her daughters, who had gotten vaccinated, because she believed false information that the vaccines were being used to somehow spread COVID.
j. One day, when the history of this disease is written, I hope someone takes a long look at the spreaders of the BS and illuminates everything about them and their motives.
k. I am amazed how many people fiercely defended Mookie Betts when I dared compare his production since the trade from Boston to L.A. to Alex Verdugo’s.
l. You can always count on Sam Farmer for the Quirky Note of the Week, and he supplied this week’s from Las Vegas Friday:
How do they get the names on the No. 1 jerseys so quickly? Just off the stage is a room with at least five blank jerseys for every team. There’s also a nameplate for every player attending the draft and in the individual fonts of all 32 teams. The people in that room are told the pick just before it’s announced, then have less than two minutes to press a jersey. They have two machines so they can press a pair of jerseys, in case one nameplate is skewed or something. The jersey that isn’t used is chopped up and used for fabric in special Panini rookie cards.
m. Well, meow then. Very cool.
n. Holy cow. Boris Becker’s going to prison in Germany for 2.5 years.
o. If you’re of a certain age, or a bit younger even, you remember when Becker took the tennis world by storm. This is a wow.
p. Now listen to the judge admonish him, per the Daily Mail: “You have not shown remorse, acceptance of your guilt and have sought to distance yourself from your offending and your bankruptcy. While I accept your humiliation as part of the proceedings, there has been no humility.”
q. Favorite TV highlight package of the weekend: ABC’s Friday telecast showing Troy Andersen—the 58th overall pick, by Atlanta—playing quarterback, running back, linebacker and DB in college football. What a cool, versatile player. I couldn’t help thinking how apt it is that Andersen will be joining Cordarrelle Patterson, the versatile offense weapon for the Falcons.
r. The Cheeky Boyos … Lord. That was a debacle of debacles on the NFL Draft stage.
s. “Buck Showalter still looks like the best draft pick in New York,” is the best statement of the week, from columnist Ian O’Connor of the New York Post.
t. Very nice weekend wardrobe, Desmond Howard. Good depth of haberdashery.
u. Curious to know the answer to this: I drove through Randallstown, Md., to get to the Ravens complex on Saturday. I drove past Anne Hathaway Drive. I am dying to know why there is an Anne Hathaway Drive in the middle of Maryland. Anne Hathaway was born in Brooklyn, raised in Millburn, N.J. Wikipedia says nothing about Randallstown, Md., on her page. Maybe there’s another Anne Hathaway famous enough to have a street in Randallstown. Someone knows something. Tell me: firstname.lastname@example.org
v. Lots of baseball things I’m way late on, but a check of the standings Sunday night revealed the biggest story of the first month of the season: Cincinnati is 3-19.
It’s a brand new day.
Jets and Giants outdo Pats.
Dogs meow. Cats bark.