HENDERSON, Nev.—Just before noon on Thursday, hours before the start of the NFL Draft, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels popped into GM Dave Ziegler’s office for one last bit of strategy talk. The team’s draft board had been set with finality Wednesday, after three months of debate. The Raiders, after conversations with teams above them about trading up from number seven in the first round, decided to stay in their slot, barring a surprise.
“What we need is for three quarterbacks to go before we pick,” McDaniels said.
It seemed logical, with Carolina going Bryce Young at number one and then Houston at two and Indianapolis at four and Seattle at five all in the QB market. But nothing in this draft after Carolina was a sure thing. All McDaniels and Ziegler knew was that these four non-QBs sat at the top of their board a short spiral away, graded closely:
JOHNSON, Paris OT
ANDERSON, Will OLB
WITHERSPOON, Devon CB
WILSON, Tyree OLB
But as Ziegler and McDaniels hashed it out, and McDaniels talked about the latest intel he’d heard about the top six (“I hope I’ll have something coming in on Houston at two, but Nick’s tight,” he said, referring to Texans GM/CIA agent Nick Caserio), they realized they were just like the rest of America: They doubted Houston would pick a quarterback at two, they didn’t know which GM was fixing to pay a ransom to trade up with Arizona at three, they didn’t know which quarterback Indianapolis would choose at four, and they didn’t know if Seattle would go QB or best defensive weapon at five.
No surprise, all this mystery. This is the modern draft, where lips are no longer loose, where mock drafts are a mockery of reality. It sounds counterintuitive, but in the hours before the NFL Draft, the people running drafts for $6 billion franchises didn’t know much more than the rest of us. Ziegler and McDaniels did know by staying put—and they would get a phone call that surprised and tempted them minutes before their pick—they were not in control of their fate. They needed help. The Raiders needed two teams post-Carolina to pick passers in the next five picks. Likely. Not certain.
At 4:43 p.m. Pacific Time, Ziegler was on his way into the draft room, a large square conference room on the third floor of the Raiders’ facility six miles west of the Vegas Strip. He stopped by the floor-to-ceiling photograph of the man who lords over this franchise 12 years after his death, and Ziegler patted the photograph of Al Davis.
“Goosebumps,” Ziegler said. “I feel his presence every day.”
Then Ziegler—47, in gray suit, black Oxford shirt, no tie, white and black sneakers—entered the draft room, where 13 scouts, personnel people, one coach and one owner would plot the immediate future of Al Davis’ team. At 4:59 p.m., 11 minutes before the draft kicked off, owner Mark Davis slipped into the room, in his white satin Raiders jacket and stonewashed faded jeans.
“Gameday, baby!” Son of Al announced to the room.
Monti Ossenfort aced his first test in Arizona, and boy, did the Cards need that.
Don’t take my word for the Arizona greatness over the weekend. PFF thinks the Cards could have the first two picks in the draft next year.
Houston GM Nick Caserio paid franchise-QB draft capital for Will Anderson, which puts the Alabama edge-rusher under pressure early.
Please read the grace and perspective of C.J. Stroud, below. What totally embarrassed him will only make him stronger.
Lukas Van Ness makes history. From non-starter to the first round. Even he is stunned.
Deuce Vaughn makes us cry. Man, I hope the Dallas sixth-round pick can play.
Eagles-Giants on Black Friday, anyone? Spitballing, but it makes sense to me.
Love what Seattle did. How often does a team get the best player on its board at two vital positions?
“Best player available” is a crock. Those days are over.
My mock was a crock as well.
Lamar Jackson was never going to be Curt Flood. He made a mature decision to take a 71-percent-guaranteed contract.
“Where I come from, Lamar Jackson’s a legend.” Welcome to Baltimore, Zay Flowers.
History says Aaron Rodgers will thrive as a Jet, but he’ll have to overcome the best QB Depth Chart a conference has ever had. (And the Jets desperately need him to play in 2024.) And good for Rodgers, leaving Joe Willie’s number alone.
The loneliness of the Super Bowl III trophy. Rodgers noticed.
I’ll withhold judgment on the Jalen Carter pick. But credit to Howie Roseman for having the stones to make it.
What if I told you that 25 of the 32 players in round one, 2020, were somewhere between solid starters and total flops? Would you be less inclined to treat the first round like the franchise-saving national holiday it’s become?
Chris Ballard, with perspective of the week.
“I’m watching this kid in practice, and I’m drooling.” Who said that, and about whom?
Brian Gutekunst, prophet. Even if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t see it.
Aidan O’Connell’s my favorite note of the week. Of course, you might not know who he is, but read on.
ADAM, LOSE MY NUMBER.
RIP, Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer. (Among other titles.)
Karen Guregian and Herbie Teope, thank you for years and years of knowledge. Good luck in what’s next.
My weekend: From Wrigley Field to an In-N-Out in Vegas to a C.J. Stroud meetup to a Kyle Schwarber big fly to Quinoa Pilaf to my Brooklyn home office to download a jam-packed three days. You must be shocked, just shocked, that baseball was involved.
Gameday, as Mark Davis said. “We’re still undefeated!” Davis said as Roger Goodell kicked off the draft. One wall taken up entirely with the draft board, ranking the players by position from top to bottom, on magnetic cards, the old-school way. One wall, controlled by pro personnel director Dwayne Joseph, with pick-by-pick order and team-by-team needs that change with every pick. One wall, which McDaniels, Ziegler, assistant GM Champ Kelly and Davis face, with three things: a big TV tuned to the draft, computerized pick-by-pick directly from the league, so it’s faster than what you see on TV, and a constantly updated list of trade discussions with draft-trade charts showing trade proposals broken down by a value chart.
Kelly, Ziegler (cell phone to his ear at least half of the evening), McDaniels, Davis, left to right in front of the room, in swivel chairs, able to look ahead at trade possibilities or back at the state of the draft board. Ziegler flitted from senior personnel adviser Shaun Herock to McDaniels to Davis to Kelly to director of football analytics David Christoff to senior national scouts DuJuan Daniels, Andy Dengler and Lenny McGill, having mostly hushed conversations.
5:18 p.m. PT: Panthers picked Young. “This is where the draft starts,” Ziegler, stating the obvious, said.
Four minutes later, the tinny voice from draft headquarters said, “Houston has made its pick. Arizona now on the clock.” All eyes turn to the board where the pick will show up first. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State popped onto the screen. “Oooooh,” someone in the room said. Seven minutes passed. Arizona traded down to 12 with Houston. Big compensation: For this pick and a fourth- this year, the Texans gave Arizona the 12th and 33rd overall picks this year and their first- and third-round picks next year.
5:32 p.m.: Will Anderson to Houston at three. One Vegas target down.
5:33 p.m.: Ziegler on his cell, briefly. Ziegler to McDaniels in a hushed tone: “Arizona wants to trade back up.”
Ziegler and McDaniels stared at the trade-value board in the back of the room, analyzing trade possibilities—the values, plus or minus for the Raiders, based on the numerical values Ziegler assigns to each pick:
1-7 down to 1-12
+177 ARI sends 2-33, LV gives back 4th (109)
+68 ARI sends 2-33 and 6-213, LV gives back 3-100 and 4-109
+30 ARI sends 2-33, LV gives back 3-70
At 5:37 p.m., Anthony Richardson, the Florida quarterback, got picked by the Colts. The third quarterback was off the board. McDaniels beamed. He and Ziegler slapped hands. Now the Raiders were sure to get one of their four guys.
5:42 p.m.: Cards GM Monti Ossenfort called Ziegler. Hushed discussion, presumably exchanging potential offers for the pick. Then Ziegler and McDaniels huddled. Having the 12th and 33rd overall picks, to go along with the Raiders’ 38th choice, would be tempting. “We could get [Oklahoma tackle Anton] Harrison at 12,” McDaniels said. The Raiders loved Harrison—not as much as Johnson, but enough maybe to lose the fourth non-QB they love in order to pick up the 33rd pick. They mulled.
The phone went cold for a few minutes. Seemed obvious Ossenfort wanted Paris Johnson. He had to be dealing with Detroit, trying to get ahead of Vegas to ensure getting Johnson. Smart move by Ossenfort, choosing not to close a deal for the seventh pick and instead dealing for the sixth–ensuring that the Cards would get the tackle they wanted.
5:47 p.m.: Witherspoon to Seattle at five. Detroit up. No action on Ziegler’s phone. Not surprising. Arizona was targeting Johnson.
5:50 p.m.: Tinny voice from Draft HQ: “Detroit has traded its pick to Arizona. Arizona is on the clock.” For Vegas, there goes day-one starting right tackle Paris Johnson.
5:54 p.m. Paris Johnson to Arizona. “Las Vegas is on the clock,” tinny voice says.
So no real drama. The plan was preordained. There was no real debate now, no discussion about moving. Only this:
5:58 p.m.: “Tyree, this is coach McDaniels. We’re gonna turn the pick in here, and you’re gonna be a Raider.”
In a lull in front of the room, McDaniels said quietly: “Our board was right. We needed three quarterbacks to go, and we’re so happy we got one of the four non-quarterbacks who were our top-rated guys on the board. Look, we gotta rush the passer. We gotta go get [Patrick] Mahomes and [Justin] Herbert. That’s four games a year for the next few years against these great young quarterbacks. And the AFC is full of these great young quarterbacks. This is a great outcome for us.”
This is the draft. The Raiders needed long-term help opposite Maxx Crosby (edge player Chandler Jones is 33), and Anderson or Wilson would have been great. Witherspoon would have been great to add to a needy secondary. Johnson would have been great to bookend Kolton Miller. It’s capricious. The choice wasn’t up to Ziegler; other teams decided for him. But the vibe in the room, the smiles, showed this staff loves Wilson, even with the foot injury that made him an iffy candidate to some teams.
In his office 20 minutes later, McDaniels waited to be connected to Wilson to converse. “I mean, hallelujah,” McDaniels said. “His motivation, his drive, how he handles adversity … off the charts. We value the TAP test (a test in the pre-draft process that measures mental toughness, drive and composure under pressure), and Tyree got one of the highest grades on it, a Green plus-plus. He’ll fit in great here.”
McDaniels’ football ops guy, Tom Jones, walked in with a phone. Wilson. “Tyree, welcome to the nation,” McDaniels said. “Dude, I am so excited you’re a Raider. I know you’re gonna help us win a lot of games. So, just wanted to touch base on a few things. You’re gonna talk to the media here in a bit. Wanted to give you a few points. Be humble, which you are. Stay away from predictions—that way, you won’t have to eat them later. Don’t talk about timelines with your foot. You don’t want your draft story to be all about your foot. Now, you got a fan base that’s second to none. They’re gonna love you. Just express how excited you—which I know you are.”
Back in the draft room, after pick 19, Ziegler said, “Josh, you wanna look at trades?” On the board were four players with similar grades: Georgia defensive end Nolan Smith, Maryland corner Deonte Banks, Harrison the Oklahoma tackle, and Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders. Close to them: Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.
But there wasn’t much enthusiasm to deal after Banks and Harrison went off the board. Ziegler made a couple of calls about moving up to fill a hole left by the trade of tight end Darren Waller with Mayer, but never got far—or appeared enthusiastic to do it.
7:36 p.m.: Crosby sent a video message to Wilson, and in the draft room, Ziegler had it and he showed it to McDaniels and Davis on his phone. The tenor of the message: Congrats, Tyree. Now, time to go work, son. “Love it,” McDaniels said.
There are lulls in all drafts, and after Banks and Harrison went at 24 and 27, this was the Raider lull. Davis kept things interesting. When the TV showed a crestfallen Will Levis, undrafted, still in the green room in Kansas City, he said: “Someone should tell him careers are not made on draft day. Tell him this happened to Aaron Rodgers too.” And when he looked up and saw speedy Jalin Hyatt, the wide receiver, still on the board with a high Raider grade, Davis said to McDaniels: “Too bad we don’t have a need at receiver. Can he run?”
“Like the wind,” McDaniels said.
Davis started laughing, like he could sense Ziegler and McDaniels did not want him to start lobbying for the best speed receiver in the draft.
“It’s part of my DNA,” Davis said. “I see a fast receiver, I want him. I can’t help it.” Spoken like his father’s son.
As the round wound down, quietly, I asked Davis what he thought of Ziegler and McDaniels, the ex-Pats, entering year two of their regime. “I like ‘em,” he said. “When we hired them, everybody thought we were trying to re-create the Patriots. That wasn’t it. I was trying to find two great football men. Now, this is their chance to build something. They’re young, they love football, and I’m thrilled with them. It’s a huge weekend for them.
“My dad’s drafts were different—a lot more tense.”
“The tense conversations were already had,” McDaniels said later. “We had them in the last six weeks. We ended up with the board where we all felt it needed to be.”
8:30 p.m.: Two picks left, including Kansas City at 31. Mayer on the mind in the draft room. “If KC comes back to us,” Ziegler said, “wanna do it?”
“Yes,” said McDaniels.
“Best tight end in the draft,” Kelly said.
Short conversation with KC. “Not gonna work,” Ziegler said. KC would have given 31 and 217 (sixth round) for 38 and 70, a net on the points chart of minus-147. “Too many players we like,” Ziegler said. (Ziegler, on Friday, traded from 38 to 35 with the Colts to snag Mayer, the tight end Vegas wanted above all.)
An hour after the round ended, McDaniels and Ziegler unwound in the draft room. Wilson underwent surgery by the top athletic foot surgeon in the field, Dr. Robert Anderson, to repair a fracture last Nov. 21. Six weeks ago, Anderson sent a letter to each team, saying Wilson has responded “extremely well” to surgery. The Raiders expect Wilson to be ready to play this season on schedule. “Our doctors ultimately felt like it was something that we were going to be okay with,” Ziegler said. “If we wouldn’t have felt comfortable with it, we wouldn’t have [picked Wilson].”
In all, the needy Raiders, trying to rebound from a few years of failed top picks, got two likely starters out of the draft—Wilson and Mayer. After that, it’s up in the air, as all drafts are. The Raiders got their presumptive backup to Jimmy Garoppolo, Aidan O’Connell, in the middle of the fourth round—about two rounds earlier than the consensus of where he deserved to go. They got a speed cornerback, Banks’ teammate Jakorian Bennett, with pick 104, and the Raiders hope he plays early.
Mel Kiper, for one, liked the first two picks but the others, not so much. After the top two, Kiper said, “I don’t see value with the rest of this class.”
That’s why they play the games. In three years, we’ll see if Ziegler picked right in the NFL’s 88th draft.
The Stroud Mentality
HOUSTON—Two big stories here when I landed from Vegas:
- Drafting a franchise quarterback.
- Paying franchise-quarterback draft capital to draft a defensive end.
There’s no other way to put it: After picking C.J. Stroud second overall, the Texans traded up nine slots, from 12 to three in the first round, to take Alabama defensive end Will Anderson. Houston GM Nick Caserio traded 12 and 34 this year and first- and third-round picks next year to just barely squeeze the trade into the NFL’s 10-minute window for the third pick. As I explain in the next item about Arizona’s draft, Houston could be picking very early next year—which will put a white hot spotlight of pressure on Anderson.
Caserio told me at NRG Stadium that Stroud was clearly the team’s target at two. He’d had some discussions with Cards GM Monti Ossenfort about possibly moving from 12 to three. “Then,” Caserio said, “it happened pretty quickly when they were on the clock.”
The deal got done and all parties notified, he said, with “close to a minute” left. So the Texans got a player they hope will be their franchise QB, and they got the best defensive player on their board. That is one heck of a night’s work. The price, of course, is denuding the 2024 draft when the Texans might wish they had two first-round picks and four in the first three rounds—instead of now just one first-round pick, one second- and one third- (a pick acquired from the Eagles for a fourth-rounder this year).
But – and there is a big but – you should have been at the Texans’ facility in the basement of NRG Stadium late Friday afternoon, when Stroud and Anderson put on a show of humility and team-firstness that had to make Texans fans so weary of losing (a league-worst 11-38-1 in the last three years) happy for the first time since the Wild Card win over Buffalo three years ago.
Stroud and Anderson came with their families and made it clear they were all-in on going to a losing team after years of nothing but winning in college. Afterward, Stroud told me: “That’s what life is about, working to build something good. That’s what I’m here to help this team do. I’m ready for it.”
The Texans have asked Stroud to let the S-2 Test controversy go, but he got a couple last licks in on it. A player who played the way Stroud did—particularly in putting up 41 points in his superb final college game in the playoff against Georgia—is not a player who can’t process, or can’t ID a defense. I understand using every tool in the bag to analyze players before the draft, and I’d check out why Stroud scored low on the test. But to think it’s a good indicator of future failure—I mean, watch the games he’s played.
We stood in a hallway just off the Texans’ locker room for 12 minutes and I asked him about what he’s learned from the last three months.
“Humility is something I’m not afraid of,” he said. “It’s something I’m accustomed to. This was all probably just a humble moment God wanted me to go through.
“A lot of people haven’t played the sport, and I mean critics are gonna critique. For me I know the film speaks for itself. Everything that I’ve done in college, I’ve been very consistent. I think I’ve been one of the most consistent players in college football for the last two years. If you turn on the tape, you can see, you can answer the questions. But those who don’t understand tape might want to go to other things and analyze other things. They’re more than welcome to do such. But the people who are making the choices and the picks, they knew what I can do. They understood the IQ that I do have.
“I have a great memory when it comes to football. I feel like there’s different ways to be geniuses. You don’t just have to be book smart. You can be analytics smart. You can be numbers smart. You can be football smart. I really think that there’s different types of ways to be smart. That’s something that I pride myself on. And I am book smart. I did have over a 3.0 in college. I had over a 3.0 in high school. I know that I can think. I can process very, very fast. The film, you can see me going from first option to second and then back to one and then to three to four if I have to. I can check down. I can use my feet.
“But, you know, everything happens for a reason. I’m not upset. I’m actually blessed, I’m super blessed to be a Texan. Number two overall pick in the NFL draft, man. A little kid from the [California] Inland Empire. All smiles, man. I ain’t tripping about this.”
Good attitude to have. But at the same time, I could feel it: C.J. Stroud will remember this pre-draft process. And for the Texans, that bit of motivation will be a very good thing.
Arizona Owns 202420
The new Arizona GM, Monti Ossenfort, got off to an inauspicious start Thursday, having to admit he erred by making a phone call to Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon outside the permitted time for contacting coaching candidates during the postseason. The Cardinals paid a 28-slot penalty in round three, moving down from 66 to 94 with Philadelphia as part of Ossenfort’s penance. “I made a mistake. I own that,” he said. After that, he had a strong weekend.
Ossenfort, with more holes to plug than any GM in football, made three trades in the first 34 picks—with Houston, Detroit and Tennessee. The upshot: Ossenfort traded the third overall pick, plus picks in the second, fourth and fifth rounds. In return, he got pick six (tackle Paris Johnson), pick 41 (linebacker BJ Ojulari) and pick 72 (cornerback Garrett Williams), plus a first-round pick in 2024 and two third-round picks in 2024.
The Cardinals now are scheduled to own a league-high six picks in the first three rounds next year, and the first-rounders could be pure gold. PFF data analyst Timo Riske reported that after simulating the 2023 season 10,000 times, Arizona and Houston were favored to be the two worst teams in the NFL this season. Each team, PFF said, has a 46 percent chance to have a top-five pick in the draft next year—which would mean, of course, that Arizona would have two of the top five picks in the draft next year.
Think what that could mean. Clearly, it would leave Arizona as the leader in the clubhouse for the top pick in the draft, or the ability to deal for the top pick, which could be a great quarterback—maybe Caleb Williams of USC or North Carolina’s Drake Maye. That, of course, puts pressure on Kyler Murray with a new coaching staff and administration and coming off knee surgery, to show he’s a premier player when he returns sometime this fall.
Ossenfort told me Saturday night he didn’t go into the draft with a plan to deal for so much 2024 draft currency—that’s just the way the trades fell. He did admit he made the first deal with Houston with the idea of trading back up. “It was important with that first trade to retain the option to move back up,” he said. And that, of course, was for Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson, the best tackle in the draft. The Cardinals got him at six, just ahead of the Raiders, who may have taken Johnson at seven.
One more point. If Arizona, Houston and Tennessee all struggle next year and all finish below .500, the Cardinals would have six picks in the top 75, including two early in the first round. Ossenfort may not have gone into this draft with an intention of owning the 2024 draft, but that’s exactly how it turned out.
Reasons for Richardson
Colts GM Chris Ballard told me he’s known he was going to take green Florida QB Anthony Richardson for about a month. He understands the risks involved—Richardson started 13 college games, won six, had some dreadful days (nine of 27 versus Florida State)—but he and his staff could not unsee what the tape and workouts showed them.
I thought this was the most interesting thing Ballard said as he drove home Saturday night: “I would rather take the risk, the risk that he might fail, than pass on him and see him become a star somewhere else. We’re taking a guy not only for what he can do today but for what he can become tomorrow. I’ve told our guys here: Anthony might have some games where he’s nine of 22 for 105 yards—but in the game he’ll run 10 times for 115 yards. It just might look different for a while.”
The excitement, though, is palpable in Indy. Zak Keefer of The Athletic interviewed owner Jim Irsay at the draft and Irsay told a story about meeting with Richardson. As relayed by Keefer, Irsay told Richardson: “You play 12 or 14 years in this league and you’re an outstanding quarterback, you’re gonna make a billion dollars. A billion. A billion.”
Well, that would mean after Richardson’s rookie contract expires, Irsay would be paying him $950 million or so for the rest of his career. That’s one heck of a projection, but the future is a wild place for phenom quarterbacks, I guess.
The debate, of course, is whether Richardson should play or not play this year—some or all of this year. I’ve heard so many people, including almost everyone on TV, say you’ve got to play Richardson because he’s so inexperienced. But you can’t make the decision until you see how ready (or not ready) Richardson is. How’d playing early work out for 2022 second overall pick Zach Wilson, also inexperienced coming out of college? Not good. How did sitting most of his rookie year work out for Patrick Mahomes? Great.
So be careful what you wish for. You don’t want to rush a guy who’s not ready. Which is why it’s not a call you can make today.
“We gotta get him in here and see where he is,” Ballard said. “We don’t know. He turns 21 this month—he’s so young still. Let us figure out what he can handle before making any decisions. But there’s not many people who can do what he does. When [Colts chief personnel executive] Morocco Brown watched him, he came back and told me: ‘I’m watching this kid in practice, and I’m drooling.’”
I’ve already got one training-camp stop marked off—in pen—this summer. Two days at Colts camp to watch Anthony Richardson.
Nuggets of the week30
Ten of them.
A very weird first. The day before the draft, Sean Payton asked me: “Something’s going to happen in this draft that’s never happened before. Can you guess what it is?” I was stumped. “Lukas Van Ness is going to be the first player ever picked in the first round who never started a game in college.” There aren’t records kept for such things, but longtime league historian Joel Bussert said that yes, Van Ness is believed to be the first college player ever drafted in the first round without starting a college game. Van Ness was taken aback when I told him Saturday. “That’s a great piece of history,” said Van Ness, drafted 14th overall by Green Bay. Van Ness played for two seasons at Iowa, a program that rewards seniority, and played off the bench in all 27 games of his college career. John Waggoner and Joe Evans started at defensive end for Iowa, but Van Ness played more snaps. His relentless style appealed to scouts. Three questions for Van Ness:
FMIA: This was the 88th NFL draft, and you’re the first, apparently, to never start a college game and go in the first round. Surprised?
Van Ness: “That’s been a big part of the conversation leading up to the draft, but I had no idea I’d be the first one. It’s pretty amazing.”
FMIA: How’d it all happen?
Van Ness: “I played hockey all my life growing up. I’m a big guy, so I was a [Zdeno] Chara fan. I was relatively new to football in high school, but I got into it. I went to the Iowa camp after my junior year and got offered and I accepted. I always appreciated how honest Iowa was. Coach [Kirk] Ferentz said to me: ‘Lukas, we’re a developmental program. We prepare you to be a successful player in the Big 10. But it’s a process.’ I respected it, understood it. I came in as a 6-5, 220-pound D-lineman. Redshirted my first year (2020). Got into nutrition, the weight room, learned all the positions in the defensive scheme. John and Joe, two really good players at defensive end, earned those spots. I respected the coaches’ decision, and respected the coaches knew what they were doing. But it did light a fire in me, because I knew I had to earn every snap. I fully believe in the process. I fully believe I would not be here in this position today if I went anyplace else and didn’t go through the development I had at Iowa.”
FMIA: You grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and now you go and play for the hated Packers. Is that weird for you?
Van Ness: “I was a lot more of a Blackhawks fan growing up. But I’m a Midwest boy. Grew up in Chicago, went to school at Iowa, now playing in Wisconsin. It feels right. I appreciate the culture and history of the Packers. My girlfriend is the sister of the Bears’ tight end (Cole Kmet). I’ve thought about playing against him. We have a good relationship. It’ll be a friendly competition, but we’ll compete.”
The draft is about supply and demand. Will Levis didn’t go 33rd instead of 11th or fourth because he stinks. It’s mostly because the teams between four and 33 didn’t have an essential need for a quarterback who’s not a sure thing. Seattle and Vegas have signed vets to manage in the short-term, Washington and Atlanta have committed to give young kids a legit chance, and Tampa Bay had many bigger needs than replacing Baker Mayfield. Plus, you heard so much about how great the tight end class was. But there was only one tight end picked in the first round because, of course, the supply was so deep. Levis didn’t sink like a stone. He was the fourth-most-desired quarterback in a year when the vast majority of teams had bigger needs.
I thought Seattle used its rare position of strength well. This was GM John Schneider’s 14th draft in Seattle, and the fifth pick overall is the highest one he’s ever had. I’m sure he considered Jalen Carter, and I wonder what he’d have done if Anthony Richardson fell to him. No matter. What would you say are the most important position groups in the pro game? Quarterback, for one. Edge rusher, two. Cornerback, three. Tackle, four. Wide receiver, five. We could argue and put the final four in a different order, but those are the five big ones. In this draft, the two positions with the most draftees were cornerback (36 picks) and wide receiver (33). Schneider got the best corner on most boards, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, at five, and the best receiver on many boards, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, at 20. That’s a rare feat, particularly getting maybe the top receiver at 20. I like what Seattle did early, a lot. The Niners are still the kings of the NFC West, but the Seahawks closed the gap this weekend.
Underrated trade of the weekend. The Rams, without a fourth-round pick entering the draft, sent a third-rounder, 73rd overall, to the Giants for picks 89 and 128. It’s number 128 that was the reason, but all were significant. At 73, the Giants took the fastest good receiver in the draft, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt, after missing out on wideouts in round one. At 89, the Rams began to replenish their depleted stock of defensive linemen, taking PFF darling Kobie Turner from Wake Forest. Turner modeled his game after Aaron Donald, who texted his approval to Ram personnel people after the pick. At 128, GM Les Snead’s private passion player in this draft, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett, was the pick. The Rams expect the two-time national-champ QB to earn the backup job to Matthew Stafford in camp. Stafford’s missed 16 starts in the last four seasons, so a solid backup for low money is a big piece—and a backup who’s won the biggest games in college football is a bonus, even at 5-11.
This is how you maximize resources. Jacksonville GM Trent Baalke read the first round well late Thursday night. The Jags moved from 24 to 25 with the Giants for fifth- and seventh-round picks, then moved from 25 to 27 with the Bills for a fourth-round pick. Baalke got Anton Harrison—the last of the highly regarded tackles and the player he likely would have picked at 24—at 27, and picked up the 130th, 160th and 240th picks in the draft. Sometimes you have to take a calculated risk to move ahead, and Baalke collected three more lottery tickets while still getting a player at a premium-need position.
The South’s remodeled. Over the past two years, since the ’21 draft, the AFC South has completely overhauled the most important position in the game—to the point that, sometime this year, there’s a good chance that all of the quarterbacks in the division will be 24 or younger: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville (24 this year), Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis (21), C.J. Stroud, Houston (22) and Will Levis, Tennessee (24). Now, Levis may get a redshirt year if the Titans keep Ryan Tannehill or Malik Willis as starter, but I’d expect him to start sometime this year in Nashville.
Story of the weekend, really. Cowboys scout Chris Vaughn was given the assignment of calling the team’s sixth-round pick, a running back from Kansas State, to welcome him to the Cowboys. A team video crew captured one of the coolest moments in this or any draft:
#CowboysNation, get your tissues ready 🤧
Chris Vaughn of the scouting department made the call to his son, @C_Vaughn22, to tell him he’s officially a member of the #DallasCowboys 📞#CowboysDraft | @ATT pic.twitter.com/MszgQpRmhl
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) April 30, 2023
I think “take the best player available” has become a crock. It’s been trending this way for years, but teams now almost always take the best player at a position of need, particularly high in the draft. Example: At the end of the first round, Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt was one of the two or three highest-rated players left for the Raiders. But they didn’t have a receiver need, and so even meat-and-potatoes football guys like GM Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels didn’t take Hyatt at 35 or 70 when they had the chance. They picked for need, filling holes at tight end and defensive tackle. I just don’t believe it anymore when GMs say they’ll take the best player available, regardless of position.
All the draft graders with over-the-top praise for the Jalen Carter pick … please. I like where the Georgia defensive tackle was picked—ninth overall. He would have gone higher, obviously, if not for his involvement in a tragic car accident, and if not for the criticism over his practice and game effort. And I agree with Eagles GM Howie Roseman about so many players in the draft. They’re young. They’re not finished products. “When we got to know Jalen, we just felt like here’s a kid that does love football, and we felt like we have really good people in this building. We have a really good support staff,” Roseman said. Pairing Carter and Jordan Davis in the middle of the Philly line will be a nightmare for offensive coordinators league-wide. If Carter works out. If being the operative word. Teams that need dominating defensive tackles—Seattle, Detroit, Las Vegas—passed on Carter for a reason. Roseman was in a strong position to take him, and good for the Eagles. But it’s hard to be ga-ga over the pick, because no rational person knows how this will work out.
Thank you, Chris Ballard. I’m going to play cranky old sportswriter here. But I hate how this draft was semi-hijacked by a pre-draft test that virtually all of us had never heard of two months ago. That’s the eight-year-old S2 Cognition Test, which measures how quickly and accurately athletes process information, used by 14 NFL teams. The idea is great—giving teams one more metric to help judge which players will succeed and which won’t. And the early evidence is that fast-processing players (Brock Purdy had the best QB score among the 2022 draft class) play better in the NFL. My problem is this test became a be-all, end-all when discussing C.J. Stroud, who scored poorly on it. If he can’t process information well, the storyline went, he won’t be a good pro quarterback. And my problem with that was, did you watch Stroud’s last college game? Did you watch the decisions he made under pressure when he riddled the best defense in the country for 348 passing yards, four TDs and 41 points? This test should be a piece of the puzzle, not the answer to the puzzle. “Do we use the test?” Indy GM Chris Ballard told me. “Yes. We like it. But there’s not enough data to base your decisions on it.” Right on.
On Lamar Jackson
Amazing how this all worked out and all parties got what they wanted when a tumultuous off-season turned into a dream week for the Ravens. When Zay Flowers—the first-round receiver GM Eric DeCosta had targeted all along—hung up the phone with the Ravens after being told they were picking him 22nd overall, he said, “This is the best day of my life.” Yes, this all was a happy ending, and Flowers even wore a Lamar Jackson jersey to his south Florida draft party Saturday.
Zay Flowers rocking the Lamar Jackson jersey 🔥 pic.twitter.com/TpVkWTBo2x
— The Ravens Realm (@RealmRavens) April 29, 2023
I really applaud Jackson here, and not only for the five-year, $260-million contract he’s agreed to. I applaud him because for months, his union pushed for him to get a fully-guaranteed contract. Veteran player leaders wanted that too. But Jackson simply wasn’t this football generation’s Curt Flood. (Flood was the baseball player who fought for free agency a half-century ago—and though he didn’t win his case, he set the stage for free-agency to happen.) Jackson wasn’t the right person for a fully guaranteed long-term deal because he’d missed so much time with injuries—34 percent of the offensive snaps—in the last two Ravens’ seasons. Jackson read the landscape right. After Hurts’ deal got done, Jackson hopscotched it. Now he has the richest deal ever, by $5 million total in injury guarantees ($185 million for Jackson, $180 million for Hurts). I applaud the Ravens for holding firm against the full guarantee and doing the common-sense thing. In the end, Jackson got a contract 71 percent guaranteed for injury, and 51 percent ($135 million) guaranteed at signing. It’s fair to both sides.
It takes a smart person to realize: I can either dig my heels in and be stubborn and never back down, or I can do what’s best for me and find a middle ground. Jackson saw what was being built around him, with a major boost at receiver in this off-season. I would expect the receiver group of Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr., and Rashod Bateman to be a big positive for a team that needed to upgrade out wide. Now Jackson should have a legitimate five-year run at trying to win the Super Bowl.
On Aaron Rodgers40
- The trade was Rodgers and the 15th pick in the first round this year to the Jets, in exchange for the 13th and 43rd picks this year and a second-rounder next year that becomes a first-rounder if Rodgers plays 65 percent of the Jets’ offensive plays this year. So, very likely it’s Rodgers for a one, a two and a flop of ones this year in Green Bay’s favor. The only way this is a justifiable risk for the Jets is if Rodgers plays at least two years in New Jersey, or if he plays one and the Jets win the Super Bowl. End of story.
- As for Green Bay: This whole saga reinforces my admiration for the way they do business, as the franchise has for the last 30 years. GM Ron Wolf eternally and intelligently put the team first, then Ted Thompson did, and now Brian Gutekunst has. They are general managers who have understood that pro football teams—at least pro football teams that are run well—are continuums, and life moves on and you have to make some tough decisions but if you do it with the team moving forward in mind, you’ll be fine. Drafting Jordan Love in 2020 was risky for Gutekunst, but Rodgers responded with two MVP seasons and then a lesser year, and the Packers figured it was time, entering Rodgers’ age-40 season, to move on. And it is time. It’s the right call to give Love the reins for a year or two, or maybe 12 to 15. But it’s his time. (More thoughts on the Packers and Love in next week’s column.)
- Did the flop of picks cost the Jets the player they wanted in the first round? Georgia tackle Broderick Jones was a Jets favorite, and several GMs around the league believed that’s who Joe Douglas was going to pick at 13. With the Jets at 15, Pittsburgh traded up to the 14th slot and grabbed Jones. Bad look for the Jets, who didn’t address a big need, tackle, till day three.
- I assume from what Rodgers said at his press conference that he’s hoping to play a little while longer. “This isn’t one and done, in my mind,” he said, though he wouldn’t say definitively whether he’ll play in 2024. It’s probably smart that, six weeks after saying he was 90 percent sure he was going to retire, Rodgers commits to nothing beyond this year. But it’ll be a bitter pill for the Jets if this is his last season.
- I expect Rodgers to be driven by the Packers’ willingness to let him walk. He is coming off an atypically blah season for him, turns 40 in December and hears every single slight of him—from Manitowoc to Mamaroneck.
- Look at the franchise quarterbacks, dating back 35 years, who got reborn in twilight. They’ve been driven by one of two things: rejuvenation or revenge … or both. The fab five of recent late-career itinerants:
Joe Montana. At 37 in 1993, exiled to Kansas City and very unhappy about it, Montana led KC to some thrilling wins (including a clutch Monday-nighter over John Elway) and to the AFC Championship Game in his first of two seasons there.
Brett Favre. At 39, after feeling rushed into retirement by the Packers, Favre led the Jets to an 8-3 record before tearing the biceps in his throwing arm. The next year, in Minnesota, he passed the Vikings to the NFC title game.
Philip Rivers. At 39, after a 20-interception season, the Chargers let him hit free agency and he went to the Colts, the team hopeful he’d be a two-year bridge from Andrew Luck to the future. But he played one, ending in a playoff loss at Buffalo.
Tom Brady. In his age-43 season, feeling nudged out the door by Bill Belichick after the 2019 season, Brady signed with the forlorn Bucs and led them to an unlikely Super Bowl win in his first season in Tampa.
Matthew Stafford. At 33 and tired of losing, he asked for a trade from the Lions in 2021, got it, and led the Rams to a Super Bowl win.
Look at it this way: At the average age of 38 years and 7 months, four of the five quarterbacks—Montana, Favre, Brady and Stafford—had new teams in a conference championship in their first, second, first and first seasons away from their long-term teams. Rodgers is a year older than that and probably more fit than he was 10 years ago. So what stands in the way of a deep run in the playoffs for the Jets? Competition, mostly. The AFC in 2023 might be the deepest quarterback conference ever, with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Trevor Lawrence. (The late-eighties AFC, with Marino, Elway, Kelly, Esiason, Moon and Kosar was close, but probably not as deep.)
Ready for a cautionary tale? Look at the first round of the 2020 Draft, which is in the news after Washington decided to not exercise the fifth-year option on 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young. This draft is not exactly the Land of Misfit Toys, but it is a perfect illustration of how it’s fun to get excited about first-round picks, while the reality is significantly more sobering.
One note of perspective: This was the Covid draft year, with teams doing most of their prospect fact-finding via phone and Zoom. In 2020, for instance, the Eagles wouldn’t have been able to dive as deep into Jalen Carter as they did this year, and wouldn’t have been able to have him visit their facility. So who knows if that would have affected where he got picked.
How the first round from just three years ago looks today, with the overall pick and player in each category:
1. QB Joe Burrow. Joey Franchise for the Bengals.
4. T Andrew Thomas. Giant fixture. One of few wins for Dave Gettleman.
6. QB Justin Herbert. Worthy Charger heir to Fouts and Rivers.
7. DT Derrick Brown. Cornerstone player for Panthers.
13. T Tristan Wirfs. Franchise tackle and building block for Bucs.
16. CB AJ Terrell. Dependable, sturdy starter at important position.
17. WR CeeDee Lamb. Average season: 87 catches, 1,132 yards.
22. WR Justin Jefferson. Best non-QB in this draft.
5. QB Tua Tagovailoa. If he stays healthy, he becomes a big hit.
8. LB Isaiah Simmons. Nice player, not versatile megastar Cards hoped for.
24. OL Cesar Ruiz. Useable right guard starter for Saints.
25. WR Brandon Aiyuk. Slow start, but coming on as major SF factor.
27. LB Jordyn Brooks. Averaged 134 tackles a year for Seahawks.
28. LB Patrick Queen. Has started all 51 Ravens games since being drafted.
Up in the air
2. Edge Chase Young. One very good year, two invisible ones.
9. CB C.J. Henderson. Better on his second team (Panthers) than first (Jags).
10. T Jedrick Wills. 10th overall pick should be better-than-average starter.
14. DT Javon Kinlaw. Done almost nothing to merit mid-first-round status.
15. WR Jerry Jeudy. Averaged 52 receptions, 3 TDs per year.
18. T Austin Jackson. A meh starter due to open at right tackle in Miami in ’23.
23. LB Kenneth Murray. Low-impact inside ‘backer.
26. QB Jordan Love. It’s your time, kid.
On the field
3. CB Jeff Okudah. Will try to save his career in Atlanta.
11. T Mekhi Becton. Last NY chance for guy who’s played one game since rookie year.
19. CB Damon Arnette. A disaster from the jump.
20. LB K’Lavon Chaisson. Eleven starts, low impact for Jags.
21. WR Jalen Reagor. Will go down as the wideout picked before Justin Jefferson.
29. T Isaiah Wilson. One of the worst first-round picks ever.
30. CB Noah Igbinoghene. Three years, five starts, 603 defensive snaps.
32. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Not egregious, but beaten out by a seventh-rounder in ’22.
Off the field
12. WR Henry Ruggs. The fatal car accident Ruggs caused ruined his career.
31. CB Jeff Gladney. Killed in 2022 car wreck.
Thirty-two picks, eight franchise players. And 18 of 32 have been, at best, just average players through three years.
As we saw Thursday night, the first round is really fun. But the 2020 draft shows the first round is not always a transcendent, positive event for many teams.
Quotes of the Week50
Family is never easy.
–Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta, after months of haggling with quarterback Lamar Jackson finally resulted in a five-year agreement with the quarterback Thursday.
We thought this guy had the highest probability of winning Super Bowls.
–Carolina owner David Tepper, on drafting Alabama QB Bryce Young first overall.
I didn’t know I would get picked as high as I did because running backs don’t really get picked this high in this new-age era of the NFL Draft. It was pretty shocking for me, but I’m grateful.
—Jahmyr Gibbs, the running back from Alabama, on being picked 12th overall by the Lions.
I told myself I wouldn’t fall in love with anybody throughout this process because I knew I really didn’t have a say in the matter. But if there was one team I did, it was definitely Tennessee.
–Titans second-round pick Will Levis.
That Super Bowl III trophy is looking a little lonely.
—Aaron Rodgers, in his introductory Jets press conference, noting that the 53-year-old championship trophy in the lobby of the Jets offices is an orphan.
ADAM, LOSE MY NUMBER
–Sign behind the ESPN draft set in Kansas City on Saturday.
Clever. Hope everyone gets it.
Fifty-three weeks ago, the Eagles had no players on their roster from the University of Georgia. Today they have six.
In 2019, New England, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, drafted 6-2 ½ quarterback Jarrett Stidham 133rd overall on day three of the draft.
In 2023, Las Vegas, with head coach Josh McDaniels, drafted 6-3 quarterback Aidan O’Connell 135th overall on day three of the draft.
Stidham started for two full seasons at Auburn. He compiled a plus-35 touchdown-to-interception differential for his full college career.
O’Connell started for two full seasons at Purdue. He compiled a plus-35 touchdown-to-interception differential for his full college career.
Stidham left in free agency for Denver, where he’s favored to back up Russell Wilson.
O’Connell landed in Las Vegas, where he’s favored to back up Jimmy Garoppolo.
Closing the circle: To draft O’Connell, Las Vegas traded up nine spots, from 144 to 135. With New England.
King of the Road
Observations on a crisscrossing of America on draft weekend:
Wednesday, 6:40 p.m. CT. Even on a breezy 42-degree evening, Wrigley Field with a 20-ounce draft and bag of peanuts simply cannot be beat. Pads in town. Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Nelson Cruz, Jake Cronenworth … How is this team 14-14?
Thursday, 9:33 a.m. CT. Woman next to me on the United flight, Chicago to Vegas, is on her seventh mimosa two hours into the flight. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a person have seven alcoholic drinks before brunch.
Thursday, 1 p.m. PT. Stopped by the Raiders facility in Henderson, just outside Vegas, to get the lay of the land for being in the draft room that evening. Fast food America is on a main drag on the way back to the hotel (my first Tru by Hilton experience—clean and fine), and when I’m out west, my mental GPS always finds the In-N-Out Burger. The cheeseburger is very good, the fries better.
Friday, 8:46 a.m. MT. Connecting in Salt Lake City (Vegas to Salt Lake to Houston), I walk by a spot in the terminal where there’s a piano, open for anyone to play. How absolutely human. A little girl there, maybe 7, plays a lovely tune. The airport’s beautiful, and it’s jammed with business travelers and getaway folk. I’m reminded of what John Madden told me a long time ago, on his bus, driving through Nebraska on I-80. It’s so great how the whole thing works, he said (meaning the country); maybe you or I wouldn’t choose to live in Nebraska, but look at all the people who do and who love it. Madden wouldn’t have loved flying, but he would have loved the little girl playing the piano in Salt Lake City, with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Friday, noon CT. The Utah basketball coach, Craig Smith, says hi in the Houston airport. Huge draft fan. I tell him I don’t know how he builds a team with NIL and the transfer portal controlling the game. He’s on the way to a basketball tournament to recruit. Go Utes.
Friday, 9:30 p.m. CT. After sneaking in four innings of Phils-‘Stros at Minute Maid (what a moonshot that was, Kyle Schwarber), I watch the third round in my downtown Houston hotel. It always amazes me when a pick’s about to come in and the cameras focus on a cadre of fans waiting for the pick, and no matter who it is, the people go nuts. Like: “With the 91st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select Dorian Williams, linebacker, Tulane,” and the face-painted, wide-eyed Bills fan on camera pauses for a minute, having no idea who Dorian Williams is, half-a-country away from western New York, and then just whoops it up, all excited. That’s the draft, in a nutshell.
Saturday, 6:16 a.m. CT. Airport, Houston, waiting to board my Delta flight back to New York. At the gate across from ours, the agent says this is the “last and final” boarding call for Atlanta. A minute later, she says this is “last and final” boarding call. Two minutes later, she says this is the “last and final” boarding call. Apparently, it was not the last and final boarding call the first time she said it was the last and final boarding call, nor the second time she said it was the last and final boarding call. Third time was the charm.
Saturday, 11:35 a.m. ET. Landed back in New York, at LaGuardia. I knew exactly where I was when I passed the upscale grab-and-go food place in the Delta terminal and saw the Quinoa Pilaf.
Reach me at email@example.com.
On the Lamar deal. From Greg Fuhrman: “My first thought on the Lamar Jackson contract was how much money he saved by NOT having an agent. Here’s the math: $260 million contract times 3% (the max NFL agent commission) equals $7.8 million in savings. He pays tax on that $7.8 million at the federal rate of 37%, or $2.9 million. Before state taxes, Lamar saved himself $4.9 million by negotiating his own contract. Do you see this as a new trend, an outlier, or something to watch with players seeking contracts north of $100 million?”
Good question. That could happen, but remember a couple of things. If Jackson had an agent, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have played five seasons on his rookie contract—an agent likely would not have allowed his client, after winning the MVP in year two, to play for $1.77 million in year four. So there is money Jackson never made that he could have/would have made with a smart agent. Agents often are buffers, and players who can write off the 3 percent fee see them as problem-solvers and opportunity-seekers.
He certainly has a Hall of Fame bouffant. From Eric Voellings, of Northbridge, Mass.: “Mel Kiper Jr. just covered his 40th draft. I don’t recall watching a draft without him and his coiffed hair. He is synonymous with the NFL draft. Any chance he gets consideration to enter Canton as a contributor to the game?”
That’s an interesting point. My first reaction is Kiper would be a very good candidate for the Hall’s Pete Rozelle Radio-TV Award, given annually “for longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.” Execs like Dick Ebersol have won it, as have reporters/anchors/TV personalities like Jim Nantz, Al Michaels and Andrea Kremer. As far as getting a bronze bust and being in the room with George Halas and Joe Montana, I’m dubious of his chances, but he is the person above all others who has made the draft an American holiday.
Love you Glenn! From Glenn Frost, of Amherst, N.Y.: “You stink (man, I wish I had your job) as does your column (I’ve read it for 30 years and will continue to do so). No one cares about your family (that Freddy sounds like quite a character), your travel stories (although some are pretty funny), or your favorite beer (Allagash White). I’m done reading about your politics (I wonder if you’ll ever reinstate tweets of the week), I come to your column to read about sports (I can’t wait for your Father’s Day book recommendations). In conclusion, please cancel my subscription (I’ll be here Monday morning to read what you have to say about the draft).”
You’re a genius, Glenn. A genius!
Ummmmm. From John Lewis: “I’ve recently retired and every Monday morning I sit on my couch, read your article and prepare for ‘the count.’ It’s my weekly tally of the number of syllables in The Adieu Haiku. Every week, I count the number of syllables in the haiku. I never expected you to be wrong, until you were. From almost every source I could find, the word ‘real’ is actually 2 syllables, making your haiku April 17th [incorrect].”
Whoa, John. A haiku fact-checker! You are a dedicated dude. Thanks. Keep counting.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think every piece of good news from the weekend pales after hearing the news that Shaq Barrett’s 2-year-old daughter Arrayah drowned Sunday morning in the pool at the family home in Tampa. Man, just heartbreaking. Hearts out to the Barrett family.
2. I think I know the logistics are awful, but I really want to see the draft in Green Bay one of these years. There could be events in Milwaukee and Madison the week of the draft, then the world could be bused to Lambeau the days of the draft.
3. I think, with the schedule due to be announced the second week of May—in other words, next week—this is the column, maybe nine or 10 days out, when I usually have a good feeling about some of the tentpole games. This year, I have no gut feeling about any of them, except maybe the Black Friday game. The first game ever on Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving is a very big deal for Amazon on the biggest shopping day of the year. I think the leader in the clubhouse for that game is Eagles-Giants. Absolutely not set in stone, though. As for the other biggies, the three primetime games in week one, I don’t know KC’s foe on the opening Thursday night at Arrowhead. I think, and this is based only on logic, that Aaron Rodgers and the Jets will play Sunday night on NBC or Monday night on ESPN, but I can’t tell you the opponent. And for the two doubleheader games (Fox, CBS) in the week one 4:25 p.m. window, I don’t have any feel there either. As far as the opener, the biggest point is that a competitive game is probably more important than the opponent; the NFL needs to find an opponent that keeps the game close into the fourth quarter. But the ratings will be good in any game featuring Patrick Mahomes.
4. I think this was my worst mock draft ever. Not even close. I stunk. I got only 23 first-rounders in-round, two direct hits (Bryce Young, Bijan Robinson), and a third player to team (Nolan Smith to Philly). Yikes. Just awful. I could have made zero phone calls and done better. Instead, I obsessed about it for a week and came up with such genius picks as Will Levis fourth overall and Hendon Hooker 12th. Put me in the Dr. Z Hall of Mock Draft Shame for this one, people.
5. I think, however, that I still believe Tennessee was talking to the Cardinals about moving from 11 in the first round to three to draft C.J. Stroud. There’s a reason I put that in my mock draft last Monday, and as it got close to round one kicking off, I believed there was a good chance of it happening. But then Stroud got picked second overall, and there went that possibility, and Houston made the Cards an offer they couldn’t refuse to move from 12 to three.
6. I think I didn’t hear much of the first two rounds on TV. But these were my three favorite lines from commentators, particularly on Saturday, re: players who slipped to lower in the draft than the experts thought:
- “I never thought he’d still be available.”
- “Amazing that he’s still on the board this late.”
- “I was sure this guy was going on day two.”
7. I think even though it makes sense financially to not guarantee the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year $17 million in a fifth-year option, it was still stunning to see Washington deciding to not exercise the option on Chase Young’s fifth season. So his contract will expire now at the end of the 2023 season. Young missed 22 of Washington’s 34 games due to injury in the last two seasons and he was poor when he did play—1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 12 games. Chase Young defines how the NFL should stand for “Not For Long.”
8. I think this is one of my favorite stories from the Sports Illustrated days, and it reminds me what an incredible drafting team Pittsburgh was, how ahead of the times the Rooneys and Chuck Noll and Bill Nunn were.
9. I think one of my fondest memories of that story is working with the Steelers to try to contact every single key Steeler decision-maker or player, and really wanting Jack Lambert. He was a loner, and after his career became a forest ranger in rural northwestern Pennsylvania. I was skeptical he’d make himself available for the story of the 20-year anniversary of the draft pick that changed it all—Terry Bradshaw in 1970, a pick enabled by the Steelers winning a coin flip for it with the Bears. But he walked into Three Rivers Stadium in his work clothes—a dark green forest-service uniform—and talked to me for 20 or 30 minutes. “I never realized how great we were until I got out of the game,” Lambert told me. Cool story from him:
“In the back of our old locker room, we had a sauna. We’d go back there after every game and have a couple of glasses of, uh, milk, and usually guys from the other team would come in and sit down and have a couple of glasses of milk with us. One time, Ken Anderson came in and sat down with us. I remember exactly what he said: ‘God, you guys are awesome.’ We didn’t have to say anything.”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week (shortened, and I am sorry for this, but it was a busy weekend):
a. My gosh. RIP, Jerry Springer. I remember him more as the mayor of Cincinnati (when I was a summer intern at the Cincinnati Enquirer in the late seventies) than the mayor of mayhem. Without question it’s one of the most incongruous career switches in American history.
b. This memory from Chicago talk-show host Chris Rongey: “I was on the elevator with Springer one time at NBC Tower. He looked exhausted, rubbing his eyes under his glasses. Me: ‘Long day today?’ Jerry: ‘Yeah. We’ve got two more of these shows to do today—and they are SO stupid.’”
c. You mean showing a woman who sawed off both legs because she said she didn’t like them is weird?
d. RIP Mike Shannon, Mr. St. Louis. Fine ballplayer, and a voice of summers for so many Cardinal fans.
e. And RIP Dick Groat, the Pittsburgh legend, the 1960 National League MVP who gave up his favorite sport to play baseball because he could make a better living on the diamond.
f. “I’m remembered as a baseball player and not for the sport I played best,” Groat once said. Playing basketball at Duke, he set the then-NCAA season scoring record, later playing briefly in the NBA for the Fort Wayne Pistons (now in Detroit). He once scored 23 points for the Pistons in a game against the Knicks. A cool life, and beloved in Pittsburgh.
g. Story of the Week: Homeless in the City Where He was Once Mayor, by Mike Baker of The New York Times.
h. Startling final sentence of a great story. I shall not give it away.
i. Craig Coyner, from a cornerstone family in Bend, Ore., became one of its leading citizens, “a mayor who helped turn the town into one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities,” and then it all fell apart. Wrote Baker:
Now, at age 75, Mr. Coyner was occupying a bed at the shelter on Second Street, his house lost to foreclosure, his toes gnarled by frostbite, his belongings limited to a tub of tattered clothing and books on the floor next to his bed.
Mr. Coyner had been pulled through a vortex of the same crises that were churning through many boom towns across the West: untreated mental illness, widespread addiction, soaring housing costs and a waning sense of community. After a life spent as a pillar of Bend’s civic life, Mr. Coyner had somehow reached a point of near total destitution, surrounded by the prosperity he had helped create.
j. His daughter decried the lack of a viable local safety net for people like her father, and told Baker that if Craig Coyner had been a dog, someone would have rescued him.
k. It’s a powerful story.
l. I wouldn’t want to have a teammate like Dillon Brooks.
m. Maybe I made a mistake picking Jacob deGrom so high in my rotisseries draft.
n. Lo and behold, though, the Montclair Pedroias end the first month of the season in first place in the New Jersey Suburban League. Thank you, Cedric Mullins and Jarred Kelenic and George Kirby and Freddy Peralta.
o. I bet when Steph Curry retires, he will say that one of the five greatest games of his NBA career was scoring 50 in a Game 7 at upstart Sacramento to win a playoff series. What a game.
p. My apologies for the abbreviated section of Ten Things number 10 this week. The draft took up a bit of time.
q. Happy trails, Herbie Teope (Kansas City Star) and Karen Guregian (Boston Herald) as you leave your papers. You’ve both taught me a lot about the game, and about the teams you’ve covered. Best of luck in life and next chapters.
The Adieu Haiku20
Mock drafts, in ruins.
That, though, won’t stop silly floods
of them next season.