2016 NFL Draft, instant reaction: Best and most worrisome picks – NFL.com
You can’t make this stuff up.
As if the Chicago nights weren’t frigid enough during the 2016 NFL Draft, nothing was as cold as the apparent attempted social-media takedown of Laremy Tunsil on Day 1, or the freefall of arguably the most talented defensive prospect clear into Day 2, or, as one of my colleagues put it, “the cool waters of [Draft] grades.”
The reactions I present here are not grades. And forget about giving these prospects the requisite three years to fully evaluate them — in assembling this armchair analysis, I’m not even giving it three hours. Yes, in the time between the end of Round 7 and the publication of this instant draft retrospective, you could sleep through the first 5 minutes of “Waterworld” … and that’s it. Speaking of Kevin Costner, all those people who criticized “Draft Day” as entirely unbelievable should take a step back and think about what went down Thursday night.
Below are my thoughts on the best and most worrisome picks from this year’s NFL draft, from both an individual and organizational standpoint. Feel free to share your take on the takes below; @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let’s dive in!
Best Pick, Day 1
Paxton Lynch, QB, drafted 26th overall by the Denver Broncos. Thought 26th overall sounded perfect for Lynch. Did Denver overpay for him, based on what they could’ve gotten by going BPA? Maybe. But teams always overpay for quarterbacks. Does anyone think first overall pick Jared Goff was the top player in the draft? No. He probably wasn’t even in the top five, at least when you look at talent and ignore position. Broncos general manager John Elway simply and smartly acquired a tall, inexperienced Slim Jim of a QB for a fraction of the price he would’ve paid to keep the tall, slightly more experienced Slim Jim of a QB who now plays in Houston.
Best Pick, Day 2
Myles Jack, OLB, drafted 36th overall (Round 2) by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Who wouldn’t be happy for Jack? And I’m happy for the Jaguars, too. Because even if he didn’t fill a huge need (and he did), many draft analysts think of Jack as the second-most talented defensive player in this class, behind only defensive back Jalen Ramsey … who is also a Jag now. The dreaded word when it comes to Jack is “microfracture,” as in, the type of procedure that may or may not be coming down the pike for Jack, whose final college season was ended prematurely by a knee injury. Think of 2014 first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who underwent microfracture surgery on his knee following his rookie season, and whose career is off to a plodding start in Houston. That said, we don’t know for sure the same fate will befall Jack. And, frankly, there weren’t any players like Jack available on Thursday, much less during Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday. Meaning, despite the risk, the reward for Jacksonville could be tremendous. Here’s hoping he plays a 16-game season and notches 100 tackles.
Best Pick, Day 3 (for multiple reasons)
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, drafted 112th overall (Round 4) by the New England Patriots. Impossible not to root for this guy. From a football standpoint, a knee injury and perhaps Georgia’s offense kept Mitchell from going higher, so it was a solid value pick for the Patriots. On a human level, every fan should get familiar with Mitchell’s story. He applied himself to reading better after being frustrated that he could only read at a junior-high level upon entering college. Mitchell merely went on to write his own children’s book, while joining a book club with women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. (Side note: I signed up for a writing class full of women 20 years my senior immediately after moving to Los Angeles — one of the best decisions I ever made.) Check out Tom Brady‘s newest toy in his other natural habitat.
Other picks I liked
Jack Conklin, OT, drafted eighth overall (Round 1) by the Tennessee Titans. I spoke to Jack about a month ago, and I can tell you this kid is ready to go. He’s mature, smart and obviously one of the top tackle prospects in the draft. Titans GM Jon Robinson took a little guff for moving up to get him. I wondered aloud on Twitter about it myself. Then I remembered two things:
1) The old Bill Walsh axiom that goes something like this: If he helps your football team, who cares if you took him a little higher than expected?
2) Paul Dottino, a.k.a. Paulie D, who covers the Giants for WFAN in New York, told me that Big Blue was strongly considering Conklin at 10th overall, thus forcing Robinson’s hand.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, drafted 29th overall (Round 1) by the Arizona Cardinals. If any team can afford to take a chance on a talent who concerns some in the scouting world, it’s the Cardinals. They have the head coach, locker room and overall winning culture for Nkemdiche to succeed. Arizona needed help in its front seven this offseason. Bruce Arians got the pass-rush need filled through the acquisition of Chandler Jones. In Nkemdiche, Arizona has someone who can play inside or outside up front. Drafting a guy with top-10 talent at the bottom of the first round, with a coach known for getting the most out of his players, on a team that was in the NFC Championship Game last January? Win, win, win.
Sterling Shepard, WR, drafted 40th overall (Round 2) by the New York Giants. Shepard is a good story, with scouts raving about his intangibles. His father, Derrick Shepard, passed away when Shepard was only 6 and, like his son, was a very good wide receiver. Growing up in Dallas, I remember the senior Shepard playing with the Cowboys right before they became one of the best teams of all time in the early 1990s. Fast-forward 25 years from that point, and the younger Shepard is considered to be a masterful route runner who is quick out of his breaks and rarely drops the ball. The book on him includes getting squeezed up against the sideline, particularly against corners that are physical enough to jam him. Fine, but that doesn’t come into play as much for a slot receiver, which is precisely how the Giants should use him.
Austin Johnson, NT, drafted 43rd overall (Round 2) by the Tennessee Titans. Loved this pick by the Titans. Thought the Texans might grab him, with Vince Wilfork turning 35 this season, but they never had the chance in the second round. This is a country-strong DT who is productive. Love the fact this guy made 78 tackles in 13 games at 314 pounds.
Miles Killebrew, S, drafted 111th overall (Round 4) by the Detroit Lions. Watch some footage of this guy when you get a chance. Holy cow. The Lions found themselves a physical player, to say the least.
De’Vondre Campbell, OLB, drafted 115th overall (Round 4) by the Atlanta Falcons. This former Golden Gopher linebacker took a circuitous path to the NFL; he didn’t play anywhere following high school, before competing at Hutchinson Community College. His teammates there were two former high draft picks, Cordarrelle Patterson (picked 29th overall in 2013 by the Vikings) and Markus Golden (picked 58th overall in 2015 by the Cardinals). Campbell is speedy (he clocked a 4.58-second 40-yard dash) and has the athleticism to contribute with the right coaching. He might be a project, but he is a project who chases runners down, as evidenced by his 92 tackles last season. He could contribute on special teams immediately.
Tyler Ervin, RB, drafted 119th overall (Round 4) by the Houston Texans. Love this pick. Met Ervin a month ago and was so impressed with his attitude. The Texans can use him as a change-of-pace running back as well as in the return game.
Moritz Boehringer, WR, drafted 180th overall (Round 6) by the Minnesota Vikings. Hearing Mike Zimmer talk about drafting the German wide receiver prospect was cool. It was obvious Zim was thrilled to give Boehringer a unique opportunity. The German football league star runs a 4.43 40 at nearly 6-4, piquing the interest of scouts at Florida Atlantic’s pro day. Even more amazing is that Boehringer’s interest in pro football came after watching his soon-to-be teammate Adrian Peterson rip big highlight runs on YouTube.
Keenan Reynolds, RB, drafted 182nd overall (Round 6) by the Baltimore Ravens. Whether he plays running back or slot receiver, Reynolds’ character is a huge reason the Ravens took a chance on him in the sixth round. The former Naval Academy star faces a mountain to climb as a pro, especially lacking a couple of the typical measurables many of the prospects selected ahead of him possess. Our NFL draft analysts speak long and loud about his leadership, which should fit snugly in the culture GM Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have developed in Baltimore.
a) Whoever apparently hacked Laremy Tunsil’s Twitter and Instagram accounts needs to seriously get a life. People who spread negative energy generally harm an unintended target: themselves.
b) Though it might have been the least-buzzy top-10 pick, the Bears trading up to take linebacker Leonard Floyd at No. 9 overall made a heckuva lot of sense. GM Ryan Pace is slowly building a defense in Chicago that can stop Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson consistently. While we’re at it, I liked the Eddie Goldman selection (in the second round) last year, as well.
c) Those criticizing the Cowboys for passing on Jalen Ramsey at No. 4 overall in order to call dibs on running back Ezekiel Elliott when the defense clearly needs help should try to remember that the Dallas D was actually quite competitive last year … that is, until wearing down in the fourth quarter of contests in which the Brandon Weeden– and Matt Cassel-led offense went three-and-out most of the game. As far as signing veteran back Alfred Morris, that wasn’t a wasted move, either. What if the Cowboys had received a sweetheart offer for their first-rounder? Having Morris would have made the decision to trade down — and potentially miss on Elliott — easier. Not to mention, but we’ll mention, the Browns still owned the second overall selection in this draft back when the Cowboys inked Morris. What if Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, the running back whisperer, wanted Elliott at No. 2? Again, Dallas would’ve needed Morris.
d) Saw the picture of Johnny Manziel watching the draft. Sad. Hope he gets his life in order.
e) I have no idea why the Jets took quarterback Christian Hackenberg in Round 2. I get it; they really like him. But does that mean team brass has already giving up on Bryce Petty, drafted early in Round 4 in 2015, after one year? If the Jets re-up veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, that would give them four quarterbacks, counting 2013 second-rounder Geno Smith. The old John Madden adage was, If you have two quarterbacks, you have none. What does it mean if you have four?
f) The Seahawks got a talented tight end in Nick Vannett (No. 32 overall, Round 3). His former head coach at Ohio State, Urban Meyer, says he’s “a made player.” Aside from New England (Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett), is any team more loaded at tight end than Seattle, which adds Vannett to a depth chart including Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson? (No.)
g) Paxton Lynch taking in Day 1 at a bowling alley with family and friends was awesome. Thought I saw Galaga and Dig Dug in the background.
h) It’s darn exciting what the Browns are doing. No one wants them to suck anymore. But they have to hit with all these extra picks. That’s the bottom line. Let’s hope Corey Coleman (No. 15 overall) makes up for many first-round flubs over recent drafts.
i) Feel for guard Nick Martin, the Texans‘ second-round pick, who has much to live up to as he follows his brother, much-heralded All-Pro Cowboys O-lineman (and fellow Notre Dame product) Zack, to the NFL. Bill O’Brien’s offense has received a Texas-sized makeover this offseason, adding a new QB, RB, WR2, WR3 and C.
j) While Sam Bradford and Colin Kaepernick presumably stew over their respective situations in Philadelphia and San Francisco, Andrew Luck must have been jumping for joy over the Colts‘ first-round pick, center Ryan Kelly (No. 18 overall). Let’s just hope he didn’t rupture anything doing it.
k) So the Raiders drafted serious trade capital in the fourth round, i.e., quarterback Connor Cook. Such a smart move by the NFL’s most up-and-coming organization.
l) Chicago is cold.
Drafts I liked
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags got a player they coveted for head coach Gus Bradley in defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who is long and more athletic than perhaps anyone he had while serving as defensive coordinator in Seattle. Then Jacksonville swung around and selected linebacker Myles Jack. Granted, it’s a medical risk for a team that lost 2015 first-rounder Dante Fowler Jr. — another linebacker — in his very first practice last spring. Still, to get arguably the two top defensive prospects in the draft? Third-rounder Yannick Ngakoue was deemed a “chess piece” by NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock. I love that analogy. Situational pass rushers are always en vogue. Don’t forget about DT Sheldon Day on Day 3, either.
Tennessee Titans: I’m beginning to think the Titans can compete for the AFC South title in 2016. First-rounder Jack Conklin will start on the line in Week 1. Running back Derrick Henry (No. 45 overall, Round 2) will eventually beat out DeMarco Murray; although their dimensions are similar, Henry can be more explosive, with ample blocking (hello, 2014 first-rounder Taylor Lewan and Conklin on the edges). Lastly, with Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan in the fold, the team doesn’t have to rush 33rd overall pick Kevin Dodd out of Clemson, who should be a rotational edge rusher in the early going.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills drafted two players who can make a difference on Day 1 of the 2016 season in defensive end Shaq Lawson (19th overall pick) and linebacker Reggie Ragland (41st overall). The latter was a high-value pick, going where he went. Defensive tackle Adolphus Washington carries a couple of question marks, including off the field, but it seems everyone agrees he’s tough to block, man-on-man. Coach Rex Ryan isn’t playing around with his defense anymore. I don’t mind the Bills taking a flier on quarterback Cardale Jones with the very last pick of the fourth round, which was a compensatory selection to boot.
Drafts that have me worried
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers appeared on this list last year … and 2015 selection Shaq Thompson turned into a regular starter, while Devin Funchess had his moments. So perhaps trusting GM Dave Gettleman would be apropos. The issue here is that Carolina needed pass-rush help to team with third-year pro Kony Ealy. Veteran Charles Johnson (29) is coming off an injury-marred season that saw him garner one sack in nine games. Taking defensive tackle Vernon Butler in the first round didn’t hurt, but DT is a position of strength. Meanwhile, corners James Bradberry (No. 62 overall, Round 2) and Daryl Worley (No. 77 overall, in Round 3) both went higher than expected, particularly the latter; NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein had Worley being drafted in the fifth round, and Bradberry is considered a developmental prospect. Given that the defending NFC champs are looking to go back to the Super Bowl without departed cornerback Josh Norman, the Samford product must develop quickly.
Miami Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil (No. 13 overall) could end up being an All-Pro, and I think he handled the adversity of draft day very well. But boy is he already under an industrial-sized microscope. He’s a small part of the worry over the Dolphins‘ picks only if more off-field junk comes to pass. More of my concern stems from what Miami did on Day 2. The Dolphins took a running back in Kenyan Drake (No. 73 overall, Round 3) whose ceiling might only be that of a part-time player. That’s fine and all, but new head coach Adam Gase has questions at that position following Lamar Miller‘s departure in free agency, Jay Ajayi notwithstanding. Views differ on cornerback Xavien Howard (No. 38 overall, Round 2), who was drafted one round ahead of Drake. I definitely like his size (6-foot, 201 pounds), but generally, you want high-second-round picks by 6-10 teams to be capable of starting right away. Perhaps Howard can on this defense, but I raised an eyebrow when Mayock said some of his tape was really bad.
Trading up to select receiver Leonte Carroo No. 86 overall didn’t make sense from a blueprint perspective. Miami took a wideout in the first round last year (DeVante Parker) and in the second round in 2014 (Jarvis Landry). The Dolphins own plenty of more needs that could have been filled by a third-round choice.
On the fence …
Cincinnati Bengals: I caught up with NFL Media’s Chad Reuter on Saturday regarding the Bengals, and we both wondered aloud about the shape of their draft class as a whole. Cornerback William Jackson III (No. 24 overall) is a solid prospect, but it felt a little as though Cincinnati was stuck making this choice given the run on wideouts before their pick. Sometimes the draft dominoes fall your way, and other times they don’t. Reuter considered ILB Nick Vigil (No. 87 overall, Round 3) a reach. The real gravy to me is whether or not Tyler Boyd (No. 55 overall, Round 2) can be a strong WR2 out of the gate. He’ll have to do it more in the possession manner, as he won’t be blowing by anybody. That said, Boyd caught 254 passes in three years without top-level quarterbacks at Pittsburgh. He will be key for a team built to win now. Nose tackle Andrew Billings is a solid value at 122nd overall.
Dallas Cowboys: Yes, while I understand the logic and like the pick on an individual level, drafting Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall with Jalen Ramsey sitting there was a risk, given that the Cowboys are counting on veteran Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne (who has struggled) and Orlando Scandrick (who is coming off a major knee injury) sans an imposing pass rush. Then the Jaylon Smith pick (No. 34 overall, Round 2) came, which was an emotional moment, but does not help them in the short term; that move would have been safer had Dallas gone with someone who can contribute to the D immediately in Round 1.
With the Tony Romo window slowly closing, and with two pass rushers (Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence) who have been hit with four-game suspensions to start the season, taking a swing for the fences on the future leaves the present bereft of defensive playmakers. That said, look out in 2017. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins (No. 67 overall, Round 3) can contribute quickly. Obtaining Romo insurance in quarterback Dak Prescott (No. 135, Round 4) was necessary.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Vernon Hargreaves pick (11th overall) gives the Bucs a starting-caliber corner in a secondary that also includes Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes. Defensive end Noah Spence (No. 39 overall, Round 2) clearly fills a need in the all-important area of pass rush. Yet, some teams stayed away from him, likely because of off-field issues. And while I love teams picking kickers on Day 2, given how much they impact the outcome in today’s era, I don’t feel Tampa Bay needed to trade up to get Roberto Aguayo at No. 59 overall. Hmm. Yep, definitely on the fence with the Bucs’ draft haul. Will say that all three players could impact the product on the field this year. Oh, and it’s worth noting that my colleague Daniel Jeremiah is high on cornerback Ryan Smith (No. 108 overall, Round 4).
And that’s all I got … 3,000 words later. Until next year!
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.