The first round of the most anticipated draft of the decade didn’t disappoint. From a No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Baker Mayfield that no one projected last week to the Ravens taking the draft’s most electric player in Lamar Jackson at No. 32, virtually nothing turned out as expected. Here’s a look at our initial winners and losers:
Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan: It was a night for new eras and instant hope in the five cities that drafted quarterbacks in the first round. But no one should be happier than Maccagnan, and no fanbase should be more thrilled than the always hopeful supporters of Gang Green. When #ScamforSam first caught fire more than a year ago, Jets fans imagined going 2-14 in 2017, grabbing the No. 1 overall pick and ending up with Darnold.
The path to landing him wound up being far different, including a costly and risky trade by Maccagnan with the Colts to move into the third overall slot. But the ends justify the means. The Christian Hackenberg error will be forgotten quickly if Darnold, the top quarterback on many draft boards, turns into the player many predict. Darnold is the third-youngest quarterback drafted in the first round since the 1970 NFL merger and has the temperament and skill set to survive in New York. This was the type of trade and pick by Maccagnan, helped out by a little luck, that could pay for a new mortgage.
Baker Mayfield and new NFL thinking: It’s hard to view a Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma as an underdog, but it is truly remarkable that a former walk-on who isn’t quite 6-foot-1 was just drafted No. 1 overall. Time will tell if the Browns made the right choice, but Mayfield’s accuracy is a sight to behold when he is throwing in rhythm.
I appreciate the Browns’ willingness to ignore old NFL precepts about height and college quarterbacks from spread offenses. Cleveland saw a quarterback whose skill set fits perfectly in this new league based on tempo, spacing and spreading out defenses. They also saw a player who would not be cowed by the challenge of turning the Browns franchise around. Mayfield is already operating outside the NFL norm, with his selection being revealed on his Instagram Live feed. Get ready for a lot more time in Baker’s world.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome: What a swan-song performance from the Hall of Famer in his final draft running the Ravens. Newsome traded down in the first round twice before taking Hayden Hurst at No. 25 overall, the first tight end off the board. Then, the Ravens used some of that draft capital to move back into the first round to select Jackson at No. 32 overall.
I contend there’s never been an NFL player quite like Jackson. It will take some time and creativity for the Ravens to eventually transition their offense away from Joe Flacco to their new first-round QB, but that’s not a transition that has to happen this season. Talent rises in the NFL, and no player drafted on Thursday night has the potential to routinely embarrass opponents like Jackson. Much of Newsome’s tenure in Baltimore was spent trying to fix a sluggish offense. With Jackson, Newsome has a chance to burnish his legacy for years to come.
Eli Manning and Case Keenum: Giants brass has spent the entire offseason saying how much they believe Manning can play at a high level for years to come. They backed it up by passing on Darnold and Josh Rosen in favor of running back Saquon Barkley, who should make Manning’s life much easier.
This will be a pick debated in New York for years to come, especially if Manning can’t deliver any more playoff appearances for the Giants.
“If you have to make yourself fall in love with a guy, you’re making a mistake,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman said in defense of passing on the quarterbacks.
It will be hard to criticize Gettleman for his decision if Barkley starts racking up seasons with 2,000 yards from scrimmage like a new-school version of LaDainian Tomlinson. The Giants have a dynamic group of playmakers to help Manning, with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram all in the mix. Now they just need a young quarterback, but that will have to wait.
Keenum is another veteran QB who should be celebrating his team’s first pick. With Josh Rosen and Josh Allen still on the board, the Broncos showed some faith in Keenum by selecting defensive end Bradley Chubb. Von Miller and Chubb have a chance to form one of the best pass rushing duos in football. While many folks said something similar when Elway drafted Shane Ray a few years back, Chubb is the type of high-motor, well-rounded player who appears to have very low bust potential.
The Arizona Cardinals: General manager Steve Keim has admitted that he coveted Patrick Mahomes a year ago, only to be caught flat-footed when the Chiefs traded ahead of the Cards to make Mahomes their quarterback of the future. Arizona made sure that didn’t happen this time around, moving up five spots to No. 10 to draft Josh Rosen.
There was a crazy disconnect among draft analysts about Rosen. So many of them called him the best pure passer in the draft, yet few of them ranked him as the best quarterback. His timing, anticipation and ability to make plays under duress translates so well to the NFL level. Rosen is perhaps the most pro-ready quarterback in the class, though he won’t be under pressure to play right away with Sam Bradford in town. (Backup Mike Glennon, incidentally, saw a quarterback get drafted to take his job for a second straight year.) Rosen says he knows his place.
“I’m not going to come in and be an a—— and think that my s— don’t stink,” Rosen told reporters Thursday. “I understand the situation. I’m going to come in and I’m going to be respectful.”
Keim and all Cardinals fans have to be thrilled. They wound up with my favorite quarterback in this class, and it didn’t cost much to get him.
Los Angeles Chargers: Florida State safety Derwin James is the type of do-it-all player at the position that every team craves, especially a Chargers squad that had a huge need at the position. That James fell all the way to No. 17 overall is a huge steal for the Bolts.
Packers GM Brian Gutekunst: The Packers made a pair of moves Thursday night, trading down to No. 27 and then back up to No. 18, where they selected Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander. They essentially moved down four spots to get the cornerback they wanted, picking up the Saints’ 2019 first-round pick and their 2018 fifth-round pick (and a Seahawks seventh-rounder) in exchange for a third- and a sixth-round pick in the process. That’s incredible value and a strong opening statement by Ted Thompson’s replacement.
All Over the Place
Oakland Raiders: I initially had the Raiders in the category below after drafting UCLA tackle Kolton Miller at No. 15, following a trade down in the round. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock noted on air that the Raiders were highly interested in tackle Mike McGlinchey, who was taken one spot before Oakland’s pick by the crosstown rival 49ers. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie quickly pivoted, trading with the Cardinals to move back five spots, where, at 15, the Miller pick still felt like settling and reaching for a need.
I don't trust Tom Cable to develop Kolton Miller. Not at all.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) April 27, 2018
That was a rough start to the night for the Raiders, but McKenzie added serious juice to the offense when they used the third-round pick acquired in the trade with Arizona to acquire wide receiver Martavis Bryant from the Steelers. Bryant is an exceptional vertical talent who seems like a natural in Silver and Black. The Jon Gruden Raiders will not be boring!
Buffalo Bills: The Bills traded out of their No. 10 overall pick a year ago, passing on the chance to draft Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson in favor of amassing draft capital. This season, the Bills used significant draft capital to trade up for quarterback Josh Allen (moving from 12th overall to seventh). The kids would call that hustling backward, especially when Allen has an uphill climb just to surpass previous Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s level of production.
Bills fans will point to this being the first draft for GM Brandon Beane, who was hired last May, but that only emphasizes how tricky it is to come up with a cohesive roster when the GM and coach are always in flux. Allen could prove his skeptics wrong, and his athleticism is unquestionable, but Josh Rosen has clearly displayed a more obvious NFL skill set. Allen is reminiscent of a souped-up version of another Bills first-round quarterback: J.P. Losman, a player with accuracy issues who was a star in the pre-draft season because of his measurables. Losman was taken 22nd overall in the 2004 NFL Draft and proceeded to compile a 10-23 record in Buffalo.
Give Beane some credit for his conviction in Allen and talented all-around linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (taken by the Bills at No. 16 overall), who should be a tackle machine in coach Sean McDermott’s system. I hope I’m wrong about Allen, because a happy Bills fanbase makes for a better NFL.
New Orleans Saints fans: One of the most tense moments on Thursday night came just after the NFL announced the Saints had traded a first- and a fifth-round pick in 2018 and a 2019 first-round pick to the Packers just to move up 13 spots in the first round (from 27 to 14). In the minutes that followed, it was hard not to imagine a future in New Orleans that included Sean Payton breaking the brains of opposing defenses for the next decade with Lamar Jackson throwing the ball to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas.
Instead, the Saints gave up all that draft capital to grab a pass-rushing project in UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport. Considering the Saints’ incredible draft haul a year ago (which included Kamara, plus Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ryan Ramczyk and safety Marcus Williams), perhaps New Orleans should get the benefit of the doubt. But the team’s track record under GM Mickey Loomis has a lot more misses than hits when it comes to the search for pass-rush help. This smells like a “one more piece away” type of move from a team that’s trying to win it all while the franchise quarterback (Drew Brees) is still able. Those moves rarely work out.
Miami Dolphins: While safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely turn out to be a fine pick at No. 11 overall, Dolphins fans who saw Rosen sitting on the board until No. 10 have to be let down. Given that it feels like this team is stuck in quicksand, an indefinite future with Ryan Tannehill as the quarterback is hard to get excited about.
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