“I do this for a living, and my mock draft will be no more accurate than yours. We all think that we know, but we really don’t.”
–One NFL GM in a text to me last week.
I would disagree with this executive. I don’t think I know. Actually, I know I don’t know.
Let me tell you about a GM with a pick in the top 10 for the second straight year. “Last year, I was 90 percent sure of our pick before the draft,” he said. “This year, I’m 25 percent sure.”
There are a couple of reasons this draft is so in flux. Nine of the top 11 teams have a prime football person—coach or GM—in the seat of power for either the first or second year. So there’s not much of a book on many teams. Teams picking one through four have new head coaches, while GMs picking at major pivot points at three (Monti Ossenfort, Arizona) and 11 (Ran Carthon, Tennessee) are running their first drafts.
Then there’s the quarterback mystery. A month ago, C.J. Stroud was the odds-on favorite to be the first pick in the draft. Today, it’s no lock he goes in the top seven, which seems (and is) insane. Will Levis was an afterthought in many draft rooms as this month dawned; now he might be the fourth overall pick. Eleven years after an accomplished 5-10 3/4 quarterback, Russell Wilson, was picked 75th overall, an accomplished quarterback half-an-inch shorter, Bryce Young, is projected to go first overall.
I can never tell anymore if the cacophony of voices around a dominant story is real, or if the cacophony constitutes an echo chamber. So many people “cover” the draft, and there is so much information boomeranging around the internet and in NFL offices where info is king. Twice over the weekend, I asked coaches who said they “heard” Stroud was dropping: Without naming names, could you be specific? Because sometimes they might be hearing from coaches or personnel people employed by the teams involved in scouting the quarterbacks, which is valuable. Sometimes they might be hearing from people who are not involved in the decision-making. Or from people who saw Bob McGinn of Tyler Dunne’s “Go Long” Substack report that Stroud bombed the S2 cognitive test increasingly trusted by teams as a key part of their scouting regimen. The S2 test measures how fast a player can process information and make decisions; Bryce Young, McGinn reported, got the best score of quarterbacks at 98 on a 100-point scale. Stroud, per McGinn, got an 18.
I don’t think anything should be ignored. The S2 test is a key piece of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. But what about the corner pieces of the puzzle for Stroud, the ones that really matter? Nov. 20, 2021, Columbus: 32-of-35 passing, 432 yards, six TDs in a win over Michigan State. Oct. 29, 2022, State College: 26-of-33 passing for 354 yards in a win over Penn State. And his last, and biggest, game as a collegian, the college football playoff semifinal four months ago against mighty Georgia: 23-of-34, 348 yards, four TDs, zero picks, 41 points engineered.
How do you unsee what Stroud did in that game? How do you minimize seeing Stroud evade two Georgia rushers in the pocket, move to his right with his eyes fixed downfield, and with an onrushing linebacker in his face, three-quarters zing a touchdown strike 29 yards in the air to a diving Marvin Harrison Jr.?
Nothing against Will Levis, who is a fine prospect. But he was at Penn State for three years and couldn’t beat out Sean Clifford, who Dane Brugler rates as a priority free agent in this class and the fifth-best draft-eligible QB in the Big Ten. He played well at Kentucky in two seasons, but threw twice as many interceptions in two years (25) as Stroud did in his last two years (12).
One last thing about the draft. When Roger Goodell announced he was moving the draft to Chicago in 2014 and left open the possibility that it would move around as a traveling circus, I thought it was crazy. Players loved walking the red carpet at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Why fix something that absolutely was not broken?
Because it could make the league more money by moving it, and because it could be a bigger tentpole event by making it a big Americana party each year. The helicopter shots of 250,000 fans in Philadelphia in 2017, then the incredible throng of 600,000 in Nashville, proved Goodell was right. And I expect Kansas City, site of this year’s draft, will be similarly cuckoo starting Thursday night. “It was great in New York,” said Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network, “but now the interest seems to have increased tenfold.”
“Teams and cities have started bidding on it like it’s the Super Bowl,” said Charlie Yook, who’s producing the draft for NFL Network. “The host city wraps its arms around the draft like it’s a Super Bowl, the move to prime time on-site makes it feel bigger, and there’s this feeling that—you don’t who it is—but somebody who gets picked is going to lead his team to the Super Bowl.”
As usual, the draft is on ESPN, ABC and NFL Network with different crews Thursday at 8 p.m. ET for round one, Friday at 7 p.m. for rounds two and three, and Saturday at noon for rounds four through seven.
The mystery starts at pick two, and I’m not sure I’m going to remove much of that here. But here we go with the annual exercise in futility, my only mock draft of the 31-pick first round.
1. CAROLINA: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama.
The number, rightfully, that has been an obsession for draftniks—and for teams—is 5-10. That’s Young’s height, and it says so much about the state of football in 2023 that an NFL team would have the audacity to make a 5-10 quarterback with an average NFL arm the first pick in the draft. I would counter by saying this number should be just as important: two. Young threw 380 passes in 12 games for Alabama last fall, and two were batted down or deflected at the line of scrimmage. The 6-6 Justin Herbert threw 699 passes last year, and had 23 batted down or deflected at the line. Every player is a risk, and the bust factor among quarterbacks is high, and Young, two inches shorter than Drew Brees and a half-inch shorter than Russell Wilson, told me at the Combine the height thing hasn’t gotten in the way during his young life. “I definitely didn’t shrink any time recently,” Young said. “I’m comfortable with myself. I’m confident in my abilities.” I think Carolina’s making the right call here. Young showed consistently on tape (and on the newly important S2 processing test) that his quick-twitch decision-making is the best in this QB class. He gets high marks for leadership and ability to shine under pressure. I understand those who would say it’s a reach by the Panthers, because he’ll be playing in the land of the giants every week. But Carolina needs a franchise quarterback. You don’t get to pick which year you’ll have the top pick or be able to trade for the top pick. It’s right here, right now for the Panthers, and Young is the best candidate for the pick. Carolina should attach the uber-positive and experienced Josh McCown, the new quarterbacks coach, to the hip of Young and get him ready to play opening day—a new day in the history of the Panthers.
2. HOUSTON: Tyree Wilson, edge rusher, Texas Tech.
I’ve gone back and forth, forth and back, on this pick and this slot. In the end, I think two things: One, GM Nick Caserio trained under Bill Belichick and learned that just because you have a crying need at a position, you don’t force yourself to choose a player you don’t love in order to fill that hole, because you may end up needing to fill the same hole again two years down the road. Two: The Texans might see Wilson filling the mold of Nick Bosa, a difference-making quick-twitch rusher, more than Will Anderson. Coach DeMeco Ryans loved the impact of Bosa in San Francisco and knows that, aside from quarterback, the hugest hole on his team is at pass-rusher. The rush depth chart for the Texans is putrid. But obviously this pick would be a vote against C.J. Stroud as much as a vote for Wilson. Things to watch for here: Is there a team, even with all the smoke about Stroud, that would want to trade up for him with Houston or Arizona? And would the Texans risk passing on a quarterback here or with their second pick in the round (12th)? Seems incredible to think Houston might exit the top 10 without a quarterback, flawed though they are. One other point to make here is that Anderson would win over Wilson—who also is recovering from a foot injury—in a vote of 31 GMs if the question was, Who’s the better pro prospect—Anderson or Wilson?
3. TENNESSEE (trade with Arizona): C.J. Stroud, quarterback, Ohio State.
How cool would it be if the two rookie GMs in the first round combined to shake it up? This trade and pick makes sense, but honestly, I have no idea if it’ll happen. It would serve Arizona’s purpose of getting significant draft capital—trading down eight spots for either a one next year or maybe three picks in the top 75 over this draft and 2024. And the Titans, who I hear have lost faith in Malik Willis, might be in a unique position here. Coach Mike Vrabel is tight with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. Vrabel will get the real about Stroud from Day, and I think that real will be mostly positive. And Vrabel will be a good coach for Stroud. That plus the fact that Ryan Tannehill would be able to give Stroud time to adjust to the pro game. One thing re: the sudden knocks about Stroud, which absolutely should not be ignored but absolutely should be put into perspective – This from one exec of a team, a winning team, that respects the S2 athlete-processing test that, per McGinn, had Stroud grade very low: “All of a sudden the S2 test is the Bible. Why? It’s a smart test. But how did the guy play? How was his tape?” I would like this deal for Tennessee, and for Arizona.
4. INDIANAPOLIS: Will Levis, quarterback, Kentucky.
I don’t believe the Colts will trade to two, so let’s put a kibosh on that. This one has risen up over the last week or so, and I’ve heard so much here that I’m not sure at all what to believe. Seems way too high for Levis, and I will not be stunned if Roger Goodell announces Anthony Richardson here. Levis’ IQ and football IQ are both strong, and that appeals to the Colts. He’s a favorite of the Mannings, and that appeals to the Colts (though an overrated factor in the public’s mind). And the Colts, it seems, have to pick Levis or Richardson to get off the quarterback-a-year merry-go-round. It wouldn’t surprise me if coach Shane Steichen leaned Richardson and used Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles as the 2023 interim while getting Richardson ready for 2024. This will be an interesting pivot point of the draft, and Levis going here would leave Seattle and Detroit smiling widely at picks five and six.
5. SEATTLE: Jalen Carter, defensive tackle, Georgia.
If it falls this way, I think it’d be a tough call—Jalen Carter or Will Anderson, the cleanest player in the draft, or long-term QB prospect Anthony Richardson, or the best cornerback in the draft, Devon Witherspoon. They’re all cleaner than Carter. But one of the things I like about the way Seattle does business is the Seahawks view their business model as being designed to handle all kinds of players, the model citizens and those with checkered pasts. They don’t shy away from very talented players because of sketchy resumes; they figure their coaching staff and behind-the-scenes player-development staff will find a way to put players in the best position to win. This is GM John Schneider’s 14th draft in Seattle, and he’s never had a top-five pick. The bonus for Schneider is he also picks at 20—and only four times has he had a top-20 pick. Such is the reign of success for Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll. I don’t discount the impact of the last problem defensive tackle the Seahawks drafted—Malik McDowell early in the second round of 2017. He never played a down for the Seahawks after having a host of off-field problems. And the red flags around Carter certainly are notable. Two other things, as a person with a team that’s done a lot of work on Carter told me: Seattle defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt will be firm and demanding with Carter; he’s an old-school coach who won’t take passive effort. And Seattle is the franchise that gets Carter furthest away from his comfort zones—Athens, Ga., and his hometown of Apopka, Fla. Apopka to Seattle: 3,073 miles. This is a bit of a roll of the dice. If it happens, you know Schneider’s done a ton of homework on Carter.
6. DETROIT: Will Anderson, edge rusher, Alabama.
Well now. How about the Lions getting the top edge-rush prospects (on many boards) in two successive drafts—Aidan Hutchinson and Anderson? Most interesting quote from a GM in the market for an edge rusher: “Tyree Wilson’s a swing for the fences. Will Anderson’s a solid double.” This pick also fits the Lions—right now—because of the gambling suspensions they were hit with last week. It’s a tough call here, with cornerback also being a long-term need and every corner left on the board—including Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, who’s the kind of uber-physical hitter who’d fit in well with the tough-guy coaching staff of Dan Campbell. But Anderson’s a solid, positive pick, another brick in the wall for GM Brad Holmes in his attempt to build a division champion, and more, in no-longer-woebegone Detroit.
7. LAS VEGAS: Devon Witherspoon, cornerback, Illinois.
I never saw the Raiders as eager QB-seekers in this draft after signing Jimmy Garoppolo. Though I’m not certain they won’t go QB, I think GM Dave Ziegler views his roster as having more important needs. Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, I believe, would relish this scenario, with every corner and every offensive lineman on the board still—two position groups that must be addressed in this draft. Witherspoon is a tenacious and versatile player, and that versatility drives him to the top of the cornerback class. He’s played outside corner and slot corner, and he’s played man and zone. He was the best tackler on Illinois’ defense in 2022. On a corner-needy defense, it’d be a surprise if Witherspoon wasn’t a day-one starter.
8. ATLANTA: Bijan Robinson, running back, Texas.
This is too high to pick Robinson, of course. I do know the Falcons really want to trade down, and I do know they like Robinson (who doesn’t?) because he’s the best running back in the draft and has the rare ability to segue into receiver mode with great hands and strong slot capabilities. Of course they’d want to trade down, because taking Robinson at eight would be leaving draft capital on the table. But if they take Robinson, here or lower, imagine the investment in young offensive weapons if this comes true. Round one, fourth pick, 2021: tight end Kyle Pitts … Round one, eighth pick, 2022: wide receiver Drake London … Round one, eighth pick, 2023: running back/slot receiver Bijan Robinson. Add 1,000-yard rookie running back Tyler Allgeier from the fifth round in 2022, tight end Jonnu Smith in free agency this year, and maybe one more profitable year from runner/receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson and tell me—would there be a team in the NFC South that’s better in in-prime offensive weaponry than Atlanta?
9. CHICAGO: Paris Johnson Jr., tackle, Ohio State.
If you’re GM Ryan Poles, you’ve solved a few problems already with offseason acquisitions at receiver (D.J. Moore) and linebacker (T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds) and guard (Nate Davis). This is the next one—the rock at tackle Poles hopes Johnson can be. Johnson’s stock rose this offseason and he should be immediate help for a line that allowed an unacceptable 58 sacks last year.
10. PHILADELPHIA: Nolan Smith, edge rusher, Georgia.
Came very close to giving the Eagles Peter Skoronski here, but two things happened Sunday. A GM who’s always smart when I do this exercise told me he knew the Eagles love Smith. And someone else told me Skoronski’s very likely to play guard, and check out where the Eagles have drafted starting guards, or guards-to-be. Okay. Cam Jurgens, Landon Dickerson, Isaac Seumalo went 51st, 37th and 79th overall, respectively. And then I looked at the ages of the Eagles’ four most prominent ends or edge players: Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat average 29 years, 7 months old as of September. Okay. I talked myself into a 238-pound edge player who runs a 4.39 40-yard dash.
11. ARIZONA (trade with Tennessee): Christian Gonzalez, cornerback, Oregon.
Word of caution here: If I kept the Cards at three, I would have roiled the first round. I’d have given them Paris Johnson, the Ohio State tackle, and not edge rusher Will Anderson. Anyway … with Gonzalez, the Cards get the current NFL prototype corner for the big receivers running roughshod over defenses. Gonzalez is 6-1 ½, runs a 4.38 40-yard dash, and played two years at Colorado and one at Oregon before leaving Eugene early for the draft. Pro scouts think he’s fluid, tenacious and could stand to add bulk to tackle better. Now, Arizona needs quality volume out of this draft, with the neediest roster in the league and some of the best players wanting to abandon ship. Not-so-fun fact for GM Monti Ossenfort and new coach Jonathan Gannon: The Cards were the NFC’s top seed entering week 14 in 2021. Since then, they’ve got the worst winning percentage in the NFL, playoffs included (Arizona 5-18, .217; Chicago 5-17, .227; Houston 5-16-1, .238). So Ossenfort’s goal must be to improve the overall talent. I think an important thing for the Cardinals is to be willing to take a lesser deal than the trade chart says if it means bringing in one or two more picks in the first three rounds.
12. HOUSTON: Hendon Hooker, quarterback, Tennessee.
Guess which AFC South team has been doing work on Hooker in the last week or so? A clue: It’s the team that’s passing on C.J. Stroud. Houston has a surplus of picks and no long-term quarterback, and the Texans simply couldn’t come out of having seven picks in the top 50 of the ’22 and ’23 drafts without one of them being a quarterback. Imagine the draft actually falls this way. The AFC South would have four quarterbacks picked in the top 12 (Trevor Lawrence, Stroud, Levis, Hooker) of recent drafts, and all under 26. For the Texans, DeMeco Ryans prided himself on adding teachers to his coaching staff, and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and QB coach Jerrod Johnson will be assigned their most important student, as he rehabs for part or most of this season from a 2022 ACL injury, if this pick goes down.
13. N.Y. JETS: Broderick Jones, tackle, Georgia.
I’m pretty lukewarm here. Mekhi Becton has played one of the last 34 games for the Jets, and they don’t know what they have in him after three seasons. The Jets need a rock-solid long-term starter here, and Jones was not a starter at Georgia until his last of three seasons in Athens. He can play either tackle, but I’d ask this: Would the Jets be better suited with the more experienced Darnell Wright of Tennessee (27 starts at right tackle, 13 at left tackle, two at right guard)? Wright did not allow a sack in 13 games at right tackle last year, including a standout game against Will Anderson and Alabama. This will be a comparison to watch over the next few years: Jones versus Wright.
14. NEW ENGLAND: Peter Skoronski, tackle/guard, Northwestern.
Skoronski could be a plug-and-play guard wherever he goes. I considered him for the Eagles, replacing the departed Isaac Seumalo. Skoronski started 33 games at left tackle for Northwestern and was a unanimous first-team all-American. But his arm length is about three inches short for ideal NFL tackle size, so the Patriots could move him inside. If I’m New England, I’m thrilled Skoronski lasted this long, and I grab him to start a decade for the franchise somewhere on the line.
15. GREEN BAY: Dalton Kincaid, tight end, Utah.
When you’re in the middle of the first round, and the best position group of the entire draft is tight end, and your projected incumbent tight end on the roster is named Josiah Deguara, and you need a tight end to troll the middle of the field for a new quarterback who is a first-year NFL starter, and you’ve got a guy who started 35 college games and scored 35 touchdowns, well, I think this is a pretty good option for Jordan Love and the Packers.
16. WASHINGTON: Brian Branch, safety, Alabama.
The Commanders could eschew a front-seven player like edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, or the best receiver in the class in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, because their needs are not pronounced in either spot. A safety in the middle of the first round doesn’t seem logical, but this safety will be the kind of versatile player a defense needs on all three downs.
17. PITTSBURGH: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver, Ohio State.
This is about where the receivers will start getting picked, and I’d be surprised if the Steelers weren’t seriously considering one to pair long-term with George Pickens. Corner’s another position the Steelers could favor here, and watch for Maryland’s Deonte Banks if that’s the call.
18. DETROIT: Deonte Banks, cornerback, Maryland.
Storyline I would urge you NOT to buy: With the gambling suspension of Jameson Williams, look for the Lions to consider seriously a dive into the receiver market here. Nope. Once the Lions found out the ban would be for six weeks, they figured they wouldn’t upset their draft plans and take a wideout early. After jettisoning Jeff Okudah to Atlanta pre-draft, the rising Banks is a strong candidate here.
19. TAMPA BAY: Darnell Wright, tackle, Tennessee.
The Bucs need young replenishments all over the field. This is probably a year too early for a quarterback, so getting a tackle to pair for the next few years with Tristan Wirfs makes sense for GM Jason Licht.
20. SEATTLE: Zay Flowers, wide receiver, Boston College.
Flowers is a popular player on the pre-draft circuit. His 200 catches for a toothless offensive team at BC, and the fact that he stayed at the program for four years despite having options elsewhere in the portal makes Flowers even more desirable. Position versatility helps too.
21. L.A. CHARGERS: Jordan Addison, wide receiver, USC.
The East Coast kid strayed from his comfort zone in 2022, transferring to USC after winning the Biletnikoff Award (best receiver in college football) at Pitt in 2021, catching 100 balls. Then, with a ton of attention on him at USC, he caught 59 balls in a totally different offense. Mentally and physically tough, and versatile; played 60 percent in the slot and the rest outside in three college seasons.
22. BALTIMORE: Emmanuel Forbes, cornerback, Mississippi State.
I’ve thought receiver for the last month, even after Odell Beckham Jr. signed with the Ravens. But Forbes is the imperfect candidate in a wholly imperfect draft, and I think he’s going in the first round. There is so much to like with the 6-0 ¾, 168-pound corner, the most productive defensive back in this draft. The only thing not to like is his rail-thin physique. But how about missing one of 37 college games with injury, returning six interceptions for touchdowns (an NCAA record), and having 30 interceptions in his past six seasons (16 in high school, 14 in college)? You want this man on your team. The Ravens would figure out how to maximize his instinctive play.
23. MINNESOTA: Anthony Richardson, quarterback, Florida.
Easily could go earlier—as high as four to Indianapolis. But the Vikings would be an intriguing spot for the raw Richardson. Kirk Cousins has one playoff win in five Vikings seasons. The math is not in Cousins’ favor. This is year six. He’ll have made $185 million as a Viking, and will be seeking $45 million-plus to re-sign after this season to be sure, guaranteed. Who would be surprised if the Vikings wanted to start fresh in 2024 if this is another one of those years?
24. JACKSONVILLE: Lukas Van Ness, edge rusher, Iowa.
The interesting thing when considering a pick for the Jags is that they’ve got a good roster, maybe the best all-around in the AFC South. There’s no urgent need. Tight end Michael Mayer’s a strong consideration here, but Doug Pederson seems to have unlocked the potential of Evan Engram, so I’m going with a player GM Trent Baalke will like because of his fierce competitiveness and pass-rush traits. Odd career. He started zero games at Iowa but played the most snaps of any outside rusher in the last two years.
25. N.Y. GIANTS: Michael Mayer, tight end, Notre Dame.
Six years ago, the Giants took tight end Evan Engram 23rd overall, and Engram never matched the lofty draft status. In Mayer, New York hopes to find a consistent weapon for Daniel Jones—to pair with Darren Waller at first, then to shine when Waller, entering his age-31 season, is done. Mayer, of course, could go higher—anywhere from 15 to 24. The Giants would be comfortable with a corner if Joey Porter Jr. or Deonte Banks is there, a wideout if Jordan Addison or another outside receiver is there, and maybe even an interior lineman. It’s a longshot, but the talent of Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs also might tempt GM Joe Schoen, with the long-term uncertainty of Saquon Barkley hanging over the franchise. I’d love to go receiver here. But adding Isaiah Hodgins, Wan’Dale Robinson (slot) and Parris Campbell in the last year makes receiver still a group of need but not a must-pick here. Interesting thing about Mayer is the book on him: He caught at least one pass in every one of his 36 games at Notre Dame, is the all-time leading tight end in receptions in the rich tradition of Irish football, might be a better blocker than pass-catcher, and missed just one game (groin strain) due to injury in three years. Daniel Jones could use a security blanket in the short and intermediate areas, and Waller and Mayer would give him two.
26. DALLAS: Joey Porter Jr., cornerback, Penn State.
When the offseason began, I expected Porter—son the of the ferocious former Steeler linebacker—to go somewhere in the teens, latest. But some evaluators think he’s not the physical presence his size (6-2 ½, 193 pounds) would portend, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he fell out of the first round.
27. BUFFALO: Josh Downs, wide receiver, North Carolina.
Getting picked ahead of Quentin Johnston of TCU and Jalin Hyatt of Tennessee would be an upset, and I can’t predict with certainty this happens. But I know the Bills like him, and scouts think he can be a day-one starter in the slot, which would fit with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis outside. Imagine this production over the last two seasons in a per-game average: 8.1 receptions, 98.5 yards, 0.7 TDs. That’ll play in a Buffalo offense that fizzled toward the end of the 2022 season.
28. CINCINNATI: Luke Musgrave, tight end, Oregon State.
Odd in such a great class for tight ends that a guy with 1.4 catches per game in his college career, with just 633 yards receiving and two receiving touchdowns in four seasons, would be a first-round candidate. Musgrave excelled at the Senior Bowl and has been a popular pre-draft riser.
29. NEW ORLEANS: Myles Murphy, defensive end, Clemson.
Thought this was cool in Jeff Legwold’s annual rankings of the top 100 players entering the draft: 8) Bryce Young; 9) Myles Murphy. “One of the best effort players in the draft,” one GM said.
30. PHILADELPHIA: Jahmyr Gibbs, running back, Alabama.
Might not be just the poor man’s Bijan Robinson. With 195 touches in his one year at Alabama, Gibbs averaged 6.1 yards per rush and 10.1 yards per catch, never fumbling. As good as Robinson was as a collegian, Gibbs has a few teams in this draft that liked him over Robinson for the NFL.
31. KANSAS CITY: O’Cyrus Torrence, guard, Florida.
Andy Reid always wants to take care of both lines, and with Joe Thuney entering his age-31 season, the best guard in the class makes sense here. If you consider Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski a tackle/guard, that’s what Torrence is: the top guard in this class. At 330 pounds, he’s got the reach and wingspan of a tackle, and just ask Jalen Carter his toughest foe this year. I bet he says Torrence.
One niblet from each of the teams without a first-round pick:
L.A. Rams: Picking at 36 with so many holes on the roster, I sense the Rams wouldn’t like to pick at 36. They’d like to turn their three picks in the top 150 into six, in an ideal world.
Miami: The Dolphins don’t pick till 51st overall, but if there was some way to climb into the twenties to nab explosive back Jahmyr Gibbs, coach Mike McDaniel would love to do it.
Denver: The Broncos pick 67 and 68 to start. I don’t expect them to trade a receiver, and I do expect them, on day three, to sniff around Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell.
Cleveland: Browns don’t pick till 74. A brawling, versatile offensive lineman like North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch would be a good fit for depth.
San Francisco: The Niners pick at 99, 101 and 102 thanks to the God of Compensatory Picks, or sooner if they deal Trey Lance. I’d say the chances of a Lance trade are about 7.86 percent. You’d think the Texans or Colts would at least show some interest in Lance, and maybe they will. But so far, crickets. Of course, it’s impossible to know what Lance is right now. He’s thrown a total of 420 passes in the five years since leaving high school. Sounds incredible, but you can look it up.
Quotes of the Week
I died on national TV in front of the whole world.
–Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin, who hopes to author the comeback story of 2023, going from cardiac arrest on the field on Jan. 2 to the Bills’ opening-day roster on Sept. 11.
Am I going to give you guys any answers today? No. Not even a little bit.
–Eagles GM Howie Roseman, at his pre-draft press availability on Thursday.
I don’t want to be overly harsh, but I think they have the worst roster in the league.
–NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, on the Arizona Cardinals.
I considered it for a time. Really, it would be hard for me to walk away from this game with how old I am, with my son. I always dreamed of playing as long as I could to where my son knew exactly what his dad [did] … It’s my health, it’s my body. I feel this is what’s best for me and my family. I love the game of football.
–Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, on briefly pondering retirement this offseason but deciding to come back.
He represents loyalty and commitment in a day and age in college football when those are rare. I know for a fact there were some big schools that I know very well who they were and how much they were offering him. He came to me and told me he didn’t want to leave, which is hard for a kid to turn down. And now in return he’s going to make more money because of it, because every head coach that I talk to wants a loyal guy, wants a guy they know they can count on.
–Boston College coach Jeff Hafley, to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe, on first-round wide-receiver prospect Zay Flowers, who caught 200 balls at struggling BC over four seasons, despite having a chance to leave for a better program.
I feel sort of like Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’ I’m not leaving.
–Houston GM Nick Caserio, responding to rumors he might depart the Texans after the draft.
The 49ers are living with the consequences of dealing three first-round picks and one third-rounder for Trey Lance in 2021. Luckily for them, the NFL’s special compensatory picks for equal opportunity were invented in 2020, as a way to encourage teams to hire, develop and promote minority coaches and scouts so they will become candidates for head coach and GM jobs. The Niners, since 2020, have paved the way for minority candidates Robert Saleh, Mike McDaniel and DeMeco Ryans to be hired elsewhere as head coaches, and for Martin Mayhew and Ran Carthon to move on as general managers.
The way the system works: A team that loses a minority GM or coach will get compensatory picks at the end of the next two third rounds. A team that loses a minority GM and coach in the same year will get three third-round picks over the next two drafts. So the losses of Saleh/Mayhew early in 2021 meant the 49ers would get picks at the end of the third round in 2021, ’22 and ’23. Losing McDaniel to Miami as a head coach last year gave the Niners third-rounders in 2022 and ’23. And the Carthon/Ryans losses brought in third-rounders in ’23, ’24 and ’25. That’s eight picks total.
The Niners needed it especially this year, because in terms of regular picks, San Francisco would have been without picks in the first four rounds. But the compensatory picks allow the Niners to pick at 99, 101 and 102 overall.
The Niners’ roster of special compensatory picks between 2021 and 2025:
As of today, none of the other 31 NFL teams has more than two special comp picks.
The last pick in the 2022 draft, 6-1 Brock Purdy from power-five school Iowa State, started 46 college games, with a TD-to-interception ratio of plus-39 in his final three seasons.
A day-three prospect in the 2023 draft, 6-2 Dorian Thompson-Robinson from power-five school UCLA, started 47 college games, with a TD-to-interception ratio of plus-40 in his final three seasons.
It’s interesting enough that three Mannings were picked two, one and one in the 1972, 1998 and 2004 drafts. You know a lot about Peyton going first in 1998 and Eli going first in 2004. But Archie’s draft experience, 52 years ago this spring, was slightly different.
At the Manning Passing Academy, where hundreds of youth quarterbacks gather each summer to be tutored by Archie, Peyton, Eli and college QB counselors, kids find out the old man of the group was actually an NFL quarterback once, out of Ole Miss. Kids say things to Archie like, What was your draft experience like? Was the draft in New York?
“I was married the week before the draft,” Archie recalled. “I went back to school, I think the day before the draft (which was Jan. 28 and 29, 1971) and the PR guy for the athletic department called me that night and said, ‘Hey, the NFL Draft is tomorrow, and I think New England, New Orleans and Houston might be looking for you. (Those teams held the top three picks.) Could you come over to my office in the morning?’ So I went over. The Patriots took Jim Plunkett right at 9 o’clock. About 9:15, the Saints picked me. The owner, GM and coach all talked to me for a couple of minutes. Somebody took a picture of me, and that was it. I had a 10 o’clock class, economics, so I just went to class.”
The NFL’s 88th draft starts Thursday night in a plaza at Union Station in Kansas City. The first draft, on Feb. 8, 1936, was held in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. In the 1936 draft, notable picks included Bill Shakespeare, a back from Notre Dame, who went third overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Bob ‘Choo Choo’ Train, who was picked 80th overall by the Detroit Lions. You may have heard of the 31st overall pick, an end from Alabama chosen by the Brooklyn Dodgers:
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He’s tired of the hype. From Scott Kohl, of St. George, Kans.: “I suspect I’m not the only one that dislikes the NFL delaying the draft until the end of April. I’ve read so many articles about my team, who they might draft, if they might trade up, if they might trade down, rumors, lies for the sake of misdirection, mock drafts from people I’ve never heard of, and general malarkey that I’m bored with it. Enough is enough. Draft already! Let’s start talking about all the infinite possibilities of what the teams will actually do with the new players they actually have.”
Scott, excellent point. Teams have almost as much time between the draft and the start of the regular season (19 weeks) as they have between the end of the previous regular season and the draft (15.5 weeks). Seems like needy teams could spend their time a lot more efficiently if they had the ability to work with these new, valuable players longer—or even if the players could just have their playbooks a month earlier.
WWHD? From Steven, of Philadelphia: “With two first-round picks (again) and an extra second-rounder next year, do you see Howie Roseman having any A.J. Brown-like trades up his sleeve? Who are some big-name players who could realistically be available on draft night (for the Eagles or anyone else)? I think trading back is more likely than trading up or acquiring a veteran, but I’d be a very rich man if I could predict what Howie does.”
Good question, Steven, and my antennae are up on the Eagles. Don’t be surprised if Roseman makes two or three draft-weekend deals, but I’d bet they’d be for picks. I’m dubious that he’d trade for another big-ticket veteran. He’s taken on some big cap contracts lately, the most recent of course being Jalen Hurts.
I get a lot of questions about the Lions, which I really like. From Dave: “Is the talk about the Lions taking a quarterback at 6 real, or is this just a smokescreen? Jared Goff was very good last year and still young, but an extension would be pricy.”
You know what I love about this question, and the seven or eight other Lions questions that came in the past few days? Interest in the Lions is up. That’s so cool. I can’t see the Lions taking a quarterback at six or 18. One of the great things about the resurgent season of Goff last fall is it should allow GM Brad Holmes to continue the makeover of an increasingly talented roster.
Down on YouTube. From Adam Davis: “I’m also rather disgusted by the pricing model here. If you’re in Europe, you can purchase NFL Game Pass for under $200 per year. That’s not the same Game Pass offering that you get in the US. In Europe, for less than $200, you can see every single NFL game live. That includes all of the preseason games and all of the playoffs. You also get Red Zone. But if you’re in the U.S., you need to pay YouTube $389/year and that does not give you the preseason games, or the Thursday/Sunday/Monday night games, or any of the playoff games, or Red Zone. It’s a horrible deal.”
Adam, thanks a lot for pointing this out. It’s clear that YouTube is counting on the desperation of American fans to have Sunday Ticket. We’ll see if the company is correct, but I do think they’ll have problems getting the same numbers at that rate.
Brian is not happy with me. From Brian Switzer: “You have become lazier and provide far less information of actual substance than you used to. You have become far more dismissive of other’s ideas/questions/opinions, far more political and overly defensive of your opinions—and you are nasty about it. You carry water for/drool over Adam Schefter, Dan Orlovsky, Chris Simms. You repeated the same stories multiple times about Jalen Carter, Bijan Robinson, Dan Snyder, and others in this recent column. Multiple digs at Elon Musk. You post and respond to mailbag questions that seem to be a perfect choice for you to basically lecture someone about why their opinion is wrong or why you will write whatever you want. Your crybaby, privileged stories about a minor travel inconvenience or a coffee not being to your standards have gotten so much more out of touch and insufferable.”
Okay. From Todd Smith: “Please keep writing as you have for the last two and half decades and share with us the thoughts and conversations that make FMIA what is has become: the Monday water cooler.”
Also noted. Thanks, Todd.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think there will be a cool moment Friday night at the draft. Fifty years after the United States ceased involvement in the Vietnam War, the NFL will honor those who served in the unpopular war. Retired Col. Lynn W. Rolf Jr., 74, will represent those who served in Vietnam. He’ll be recognized for his two years as an Army platoon leader in Vietnam (1971-’72), and, as someone who grew up rooting for the Bengals in southeast Indiana, will announce Cincinnati’s third-round pick, 92nd overall. “It’s a pretty humbling feeling,” Rolf said the other day. “I’m sitting here with my brother, who’s also a Vietnam vet, and I’ve got tears in my eyes thinking about it.” The league recognizing the service of Vietnam vets makes Rolf the happiest, because for years those who served in the war never felt appreciated when they came home. “The NFL doing this makes me very happy,” Rolf said. “When I came home, we weren’t appreciated. We were spat on. Called baby-killers. So this is something I really appreciate.”
Kudos to Rolf for continuing to live a life of service. Now living in Kansas, in his retirement, he has devoted his life to getting a $50-million skilled nursing facility built in northeastern Kansas, where there isn’t a place for medical care or rehab for the area’s vets. “When people see this old vet hobbling across the stage,” Rolf said, “I would like people to know that service doesn’t stop when you take the uniform off. Being a good American means giving back your whole life.”
2. I think there is something quite stark about comparing the biggest contracts in football, exactly one decade apart:
April 24, 2013: Joe Flacco, $20.1 million per year average.
April 24, 2023: Jalen Hurts, $51 million per year average.
Increase: Hurts’ contract is a 153.7-percent increase over Flacco’s.
3. I think as insane as the rocketing increases might seem, consider it this way: The salary cap has increased $102 million (from $123 million in 2013 to $224.8 million in 2023). I didn’t study the contracts leaguewide between 2013 and 2023. But even if the contracts of the premier starting quarterbacks account for one-third of the increase, is that really outrageous? Everything is relative. Quarterbacks are the big stars of the game.
4. I think the best things I can say about Hurts’ $255-million deal are that he has earned it, and that the Eagles will never regret it for one day. I remember being at the Jags-Eagles game last fall, and after the game Nick Sirianni telling me Hurts was still in the practice facility the previous Tuesday night—the players’ day off—at 9 p.m. getting a head start on the gameplan. And we all saw the Super Bowl. Hurts going toe to toe with Patrick Mahomes and earning the respect of any football fan who didn’t already think he was legit. Good deal for both sides.
5. I think the logical question is where this deal leaves Lamar Jackson. And if I’m Jackson, this deal is not good news. Depending on how you view it, the Hurts guarantee is either $153 million or $179.3 million, the latter of which is the one most widely reported. Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com says as of now he believes the real guarantee is more likely $153 million. So there’s an asterisk there, for now. But either way, I present the guarantees of the 10 quarterback contracts signed since Jan. 1, 2022 that have a value of at least $20 million per year. See if you notice a trend in the percent of each contract guaranteed—and I have asterisked Hurts’ deal because it’s either 60-percent or 70.3-percent guaranteed:
One of 10 contracts is fully guaranteed. How would Watson’s deal not be considered an outlier? Lamar Jackson, it seems to me, has to accept the fact he’s probably not getting a four- or five-year deal from the Ravens with a full guarantee. Maybe he can get one for two or three years. But if the guy who has missed four games due to injury over two years (Hurts) signs for either 60- or 70-percent guaranteed, how can Jackson, who has missed 10 games due to injury over the past two years, expect a long-term deal fully guaranteed?
6. I think it sounds like Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton aren’t going anywhere, unless a team blows Denver away with an offer for one of them. I don’t expect that to happen.
7. I think sometimes you know it’s time to go, and it felt like that for Matt Patricia. He landed in a good spot as a senior defensive assistant, Philadelphia, with a very good defense and an excellent staff.
8. I think today is day 40 since Aaron Rodgers said, “my intention was to play for the Jets.” No trade yet. I won’t be concerned until we get to the end of day 44—Friday, when rounds two and three are staged, and when the Jets have two second-round picks that could be used in a potential deal for the Green Bay quarterback—and no deal has been done. That’s when I’d be concerned.
9. I think I don’t get the rumors of Rodgers to the Niners. At all. It sounds nonsensical to me. The Niners, with no picks in the top 60 a year ago, got zip out of their draft last year except Brock Purdy with the last pick of the draft. This year, they don’t pick till 99th At some point, you’ve got to stop borrowing from the future year after year, and that time is now.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. My life is incomplete. I have no blue check mark anymore. How will I go on?
b. I am bummed about the dissolution of pro sports in Oakland, now that the A’s announced their intention to move to Vegas. Five years ago, in a complex in Oakland with great highway access, the Raiders, A’s and Warriors played. Now the Warriors are in San Francisco, the Raiders in Las Vegas, and the A’s are apparently headed there as well. I’ve been to so many games in the old Coliseum, and it was our connection to Vida Blue and John Madden, and I realize time marches on, but I’ll miss that dump by the side of I-880.
c. I read everything about the Max Scherzer 10-game ban, and I have no idea what he could be upset about. Had multiple chances to get it fixed and pitch with no sticky substance.
d. Health Story of the Week: Dani Blum of The New York Times, on the importance of a consistent sleep schedule to long-term health.
e. Of course it’s common sense, and you know you feel better when you get consistent sleep, and you know in a crazy world with some inconsistent work plans and family plans, it’s easy to say, hard to do.
f. Wrote Blum:
A 2020 study found that people ages 45 to 84 with erratic sleep schedules were nearly twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those with more regular sleep patterns. An analysis of over 90,000 people linked circadian rhythm disruptions with a greater risk of mood disorders. Researchers have even tied irregular sleeping patterns to high cholesterol and hypertension.
And a mounting body of research shows that catching up on your sleep during the weekends can’t compensate for staying up during the week …
People often think that sleeping in after several nights of limited sleep or insomnia will make them feel better, said Dr. Marri Horvat, a sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, “but it usually doesn’t help,” she said. “Keeping a regular, set schedule is more likely to put your body in a place where it needs to be to get a full night’s sleep going forward.”
g. Smart Media Idea of the Week: WHYY, the public radio outlet in Philadelphia, has a gun-violence-prevention reporter, Sammy Caiola. In a city that’s regularly torn apart by shootings, credit to WHYY for devoting the resources to a full-time reporter covering the unending gun crimes that plague a great American city.
h. Caiola reports that 217 children were shot in 2022 in Philadelphia, which was more than in New York City—a city five times bigger than Philly. So the school district there started a program to work on keeping students safe when school lets out, a time when problems often start. The school district established a program called Safe Path, putting trained adults on the perimeter of six city high schools to break up fights and arguments before they get too serious.
i. An excerpt from the story:
CAIOLA: “Safe Path is modeled after a similar program in Chicago serving elementary, middle and high schools. Their version has reduced violent crime in the areas around those schools by 14% since it started in 2012. That’s according to an analysis of Chicago Police Department data. In Philadelphia, the district hasn’t released numbers on whether there have been fewer shootings around Safe Path schools since the pilot began. But they’re expanding it to 12 more schools, including Dobbins Technical High School. It’s in North Philadelphia, one of the city’s gun violence hot spots, where cracked sidewalks connect vacant lots, boarded up homes and corner liquor stores. Seventeen-year-old Taahzje Ellis is a student at Dobbins. He and his friend, Synceir Thorton, are both part of an after-school media program … They’ve been working on a film about what it’s like to grow up around gun violence.”
TAAHZJE ELLIS: “I live so close to it that it can just affect me at any time. Like, I can just be walking down the street and get caught up in it. And that’s something that you kind of have to think about a lot.”
j. Pensive Story of the Week With a Scary Subhead: Demetria Gallegos of The Wall Street Journal on retirement.
k. The headline: “When Will I Retire?” The subhead: “For many people, the idea of stopping work is a nonstarter—an inevitable path to boredom, ill health and a life devoid of meaning.”
m. Gallegos found a few people who seem deathly afraid of the R word, including Robert Green, 61, of St. Augustine, Fla. Green said:
Retire? Why in the world would I do that to myself? Why would anyone?
As humans, our self-worth is defined by the things we do and the impacts we have on others. As biological machines we must keep moving and learning to maintain our brain and body. As spiritual beings we only flourish when we’re engaged with others. Whether our continued movement, learning and engagement comes from staying at our regular job, changing career tracks entirely, starting a new business, teaching or doing nonprofit work matters not. All that matters is that we keep pushing ourselves with the same zeal and purpose we’ve always shown in our earlier work life.
My father retired, and then sat down in front of the TV and watched his health decline as he became detached from the world. Contrast his experience with those who stayed in the game and remained actively engaged as they aged. Which path will you choose? Which path will give you the most enjoyment from the life you have left?
So, while I may change what I do (and worry less about money as I do so), there’s no way I’ll ever retire. I’ve got too much left to contribute to even think about it.
n. I get that, and I respect anyone who wants to work for years past 61, or 65. But to be incredulous that anyone would want to retire and do something else in life—well, I don’t get that.
o. Why would anyone want to retire? That’s a bizarre question. Isn’t it just as logical to ask: Why would anyone want to keep working till death? To each his own.
p. Cold Case Story of the Week: Chelsia Rose Marcius of The New York Times on the murder case, finally solved, of six-months-pregnant Jasmine Porter.
q. It’s the details that make this story. Marcius, who covered the murder a quarter-century ago, covered the solving of it now.
r. Details like these, starting with Jasmine Porter’s 4-year-old son trying to wake her: “[Police] estimated the boy had been with her at least 24 hours before they arrived. He had used an ice cube to try to wake her.” And this: “One detective delayed retirement to work on the case.” And a dogged detective from the Bronx Homicide Squad, Robert Klein, specializing in cold cases, taking on an ice-cold case. Wrote Marcius:
He chooses the cases he wants to pursue. No one in the Police Department demands updates; in fact, no one expects him to solve them at all. But he expects it of himself, and he starts with a straightforward approach: See what evidence still exists and what has been left undone.
This often begins, as it did in Ms. Porter’s murder, with a hunt for a file folder.
In January 2021, about a month after Detective Klein received the prosecutor’s call, he searched through stacks of cardboard boxes in the musty basement of the 46th Precinct, which covers the area where Ms. Porter was killed. No luck.
There were interview notes, forensic biology reports and autopsy findings that showed she had been six months pregnant. One report that said clippings of Ms. Porter’s fingernails were “retained but not tested.”
Detective Klein paused. Ms. Porter must have scratched her assailant. If he could find the clippings, he thought, perhaps DNA on them could lead to the killer.
Two days later, he called the city medical examiner. Officials there said it could take months to locate the clippings, if they could find them at all. In the spring, the medical examiner located Ms. Porter’s nail clippings. By Thanksgiving, they had a hit.
The DNA matched a genetic profile in the state database. It belonged to a man named Gregory Fleetwood.
s. This final detail, after the conviction of Fleetwood, made the story. Wrote Marcius: “Seven months later, at Peter Pan Diner on Sunrise Highway on Long Island, Detective Klein met the boy with the ice cube. Jeremy Porter is now 32.”
t. Terrific reporting. Terrific detective work.
u. Man, the Rangers play at a different speed than the Devils.
v. Thanks to so many people for supporting the fundraiser Wednesday night at Torch & Crown Brewing in Manhattan, benefiting middle-school literacy program Write on Sports. Thanks to a great place, Torch & Crown, for being so hospitable and welcoming. Thanks to Ivan Maisel and Steve Serby for entertaining an enthusiastic crowd. Serby needs his own late-night show. Maisel’s knowledge about college players and programs wowed everyone. So appreciative for the support from readers and just plain football fans. A really cool night.
w. Beernerdness: Tenement Pilsner, from Torch & Crown, was my pre-program beer. Hoppier than most pilsners with a smooth taste, this was a perfect way to start the night. Thanks again to the great people at Torch & Crown.
The Adieu Haiku40
What did the league expect? There’s
more where that came from.