The First Round of the 2017 NFL Draft is in the books and as usual, the only thing that was predictable was the first pick of the draft. After that, teams wheeled and dealt their way around the first round in an attempt to build a team that can compete for the Super Bowl this year and for years to come.
The reality of the situation is that no matter how savvy the teams looked, past drafts show us that two thirds of these players will not sign a second contract with the team that drafted them and only about four or five teams will have found a difference making player that changes their franchise. Furthermore, it does not matter which team reached for a player, as long as they found one of those difference makers, it is a successful draft.
A lot of people thought Washington made the right call to go with Baylor QB Robert Griffin III as the second pick in 2012 after QB Andrew Luck was taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Furthermore, a lot of people thought the Miami Dolphins reached with the eighth pick to take Ryan Tannehill. The fact is that Washington would have been way better off taking Tannehill and both Washington and Miami would have been better taking QB Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round. After the draft, nobody cares who was the value pick and who made sense and what spot, it is all about whether the player becomes a good football player.
Here are 10 thoughts I had about the first round and I look forward to some of the best players that will be available for Day 2.
1) Cleveland was the Winner of the First Round – It is hard not to be the winner of the first round when a team has two first round draft picks and 10 picks in the NFL Draft. Everyone said the Browns would control this draft and could move up and down at will and the Browns showed that they could find great prospects. They made the no-brainer pick of going with Texas A & M DE Myles Garrett with that top pick. They traded back from the 12th spot to the 25th spot to acquire Houston’s first round pick in 2018. They used that pick to select Michigan S Jabrill Peppers. He was the most versatile player in this draft, a player that can play both safety and linebacker, as well as wide receiver. Then they traded up a few spots from their first pick in the second round to the 29th pick to snag Miami TE David Njoku. He was one of the most physically gifted tight ends in this draft with a 4.64 40-yard dash and a 37.5” vertical jump. All three should be poised to be starters there in 2017.
The downside is they did not add a quarterback in the first round. The problem is that there was no quarterback that people were universally excited about. A team cannot pick the draft class, the draft class picks them and the Browns did not make a bad situation worse by reaching for a quarterback they did not believe in at the first or 12th pick. Instead, they added three quality players to compete for starting jobs in 2017, they accumulated another pick in the first round next year and the third round this year and they have the flexibility to either trade for a quarterback or take one in the second round this year. They have more than enough picks to move up in the second round if they decide there is someone they want to take today, otherwise, they will have to wait until the 2018 NFL Draft and hope they find someone more appealing. Overall, I think it was a good first round for them and Day 2 has the potential to be great too. They still need to find a quarterback for the future, I do no think the guys currently on their roster are adequate options.
2) San Francisco was a Close Second to Cleveland for a Great Draft – 49ers GM John Lynch is already showing that he has a keen understanding of how to maximize value in the NFL Draft by how he handled his first selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears loved North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky. San Francisco never intended to select him, but they must have been able to convince Chicago that the New York Jets or Cleveland Browns were going to trade up to take him. San Francisco swung a trade where they moved down only one spot and still picked Stanford DE / DT Solomon Thomas. The haul for moving from the second pick to the third pick was the 67th and 111th pick in this year’s draft plus a 2018 third-round selection. That is a huge haul for the 49ers that will aid in their rebuilding effort.
Because they acquired those picks, they were comfortable trading back into the first round to draft Alabama ILB Reuben Foster. Foster had the talent to be a Top-10 pick, but had off the field and health concerns that nearly caused him to fall out of the first round. That was a costly decision to be booted from the NFL Combine and fail a drug test there, one that will cost him millions. He also may require a future shoulder surgery. The 49ers though were able to add two potential impact defensive players to a defense that was 32nd in points scored and yards allowed and they added some more picks. That was a big first day for the 49ers and if Thomas and Foster go on to be cornerstones of this defense, Lynch will have had an all-time great NFL Draft in his first effort.
3) Chicago Bears are the Big Loser of the NFL Draft – We talked about what they gave up to draft Trubisky. Maybe they knew they could not wait, because the 49ers would trade out of that pick and they would lose their quarterback. Maybe the 49ers outplayed them in a game of poker. Trubisky had a great season last year; he passed for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns, six picks and completed 68.0 percent of his passes. If he ends up being an All-Pro quarterback, nobody will care about those third and fourth round picks. I have my doubts. He played almost exclusively in shotgun in college, so the Bears are going to have to teach him how to take the snap from under center. I do not think he is ready to have an impact for them in 2017.
Other than RB Jordan Howard, this team is lacking a weapon on offense and their best receiver is WR Cameron Meredith. They could go with a receiver in the second round, but that means the secondary is going to be a mess in 2017 and they did nothing to address that in this draft because of the decisions they made in the first round.
We will see how this works, but they gave up a ton of picks for a player that is not a slam-dunk prospect that has no weapons to help him in his rookie year. They are also likely to start QB Mike Glennon in Week 1, so this pick is probably not going to help him this year. I do not think Bears fans have much to be excited about this year and if Trubisky does not work out, they are going to be questioned for a long time about the wisdom of this move. Keep in mind; Trubisky could not beat out QB Marquise Williams in 2015. Now he is the second pick in the NFL Draft. He has a ton of pressure to live up to the hype; time will tell if he has the ability to be a great NFL quarterback.
4) Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans made Blockbuster Trades – The Chiefs and Texans were playoff teams last year, but they had issues at quarterback. The Chiefs are limited in what they can do with weak armed QB Alex Smith. The Texans traded a second round pick to the Cleveland Browns to rid themselves of free agent bust QB Brock Osweiler. They needed someone that could be ready to play this year, because their two quarterbacks are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden.
Both teams made deals to move up in the NFL Draft and take a quarterback. The Chiefs went with Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes II. It was a costly move, their first round pick will be in Buffalo next year, but Mahomes figured to need a year or two to develop and he will have that chance in Kansas City. Smith is a starter that has been to the playoffs in 2013, 2015 and 2016, so there is probably no reason that Mahomes would have to play this year. He needs to rework his mechanics and footwork after playing in an Air Raid system in college.
The Texans worked out a trade with Cleveland to move up and take Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. Both teams needed quarterbacks, but the Browns decided the value of having the Texans first round pick next year was greater than adding a quarterback that was not a slam-dunk. The Texans figured they have a playoff roster right now and all they are missing is a quarterback. Watson will have a chance to succeed early with WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Will Fuller and RB Lamar Miller there, along with one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Time will tell if these quarterbacks were worth first round picks next year, neither was a slam-dunk prospect, but both had first round grades. Both teams traded with quarterback needy teams, so if they do work out, fans in Cleveland and Buffalo will be disappointed about what could have been.
5) Why were Three Receivers taken in the Top-9 Picks? – This is pretty simple, there were only three receivers with a first round grade, Clemson WR Mike Williams, Western Michigan WR Corey Davis and Washington WR John Ross. After that, there are some good prospects, but no one with a first round grade. There were several teams that needed on in the Top 10 and did not think they could wait. They may have reached there, but that is what happens when the supply is low and the demand is high. Receivers were very expensive in this NFL Draft and when the run happened early, it snowballed and three receivers went in five picks.
The Tennessee Titans started things early by going with Davis at that fifth pick. He is a big receiver at 6’ 3” and 215 lb. He has very good speed and size and could be a franchise-changing receiver for a team in need of one. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has to be ecstatic with that pick. The same can be said for Los Angeles Chargers QB Philip Rivers. The Chargers added WR Mike Williams, which gives them another big target to pair with WR Tyrell Williams, WR Keenan Allen, TE Hunter Henry and TE Antonio Gates. This offense has the chance to be lights out in 2017.
I think the surprise was Ross going ninth to the Cincinnati Bengals. He was the fastest player in the history of the NFL Combine, but the Bengals were not a team that appeared to be in the market for a wide receiver. This team has the potential to be extremely dangerous in 2017. They can lineup WR A.J Green with Ross, TE Tyler Eifert and WR Tyler Boyd. That is going to be hard for opposing teams to account for all those weapons. QB Andy Dalton is a big winner in his draft. If his offensive line can give him time to throw the ball, he will have a great season.
6) The New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and Washington benefited from the chaos at quarterback and wide receiver? – Because three teams went receiver in the Top-10 and because teams traded up to take quarterbacks, these teams benefited. They did not need quarterbacks or receivers at that spot and it really gave them a chance to add defensive players that probably should have gone in the Top-10.
The Saints added the best cornerback prospect in the NFL Draft, Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore at the 11th pick. I thought he would have been off the board no later than sixth. Arizona was able to add Temple LB Haason Reddick, who was one of the fast pass rushers from the inside in this draft. The Eagles added Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, who broke DE Reggie White’s school sack record and was one of the best edge pass rushers in this draft. The Colts drafted Ohio State FS Malik Hooker, who was compared to former Baltimore Ravens FS Ed Reed. The Ravens found a potential shutdown cornerback in Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey. Washington was able to add Alabama DT Jonathan Allen, who was ranked in the Top-5 on many draft boards.
The problem is teams do not take the best available player on the media’s draft board. Each team has their own draft board and teams have to balance the desire to address areas of need with the need to take the best available football player. The San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals probably reached at wide receiver in those spots and the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs traded up to make sure they left the NFL Draft with a quarterback. The teams drafting at 11 and 13-17 really benefited, because they added very talented players without having to sacrifice draft picks to move up. I think all of these teams were winners on Draft Day.
7) This was the Worst Rated Offensive Line Class in NFL History – The last time an offensive lineman failed to go in the Top-10 was 2006 and the last time one was not taken until the 15th pick was 1987. This was the worst draft since the 1970 merger for offensive lineman; the first one went to the Denver Broncos at 20th, Utah T Garett Bolles. Only two linemen were taken in the first round, thanks to the New Orleans Saints going with Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk with the last pick.
We had figured this was going to happen, based on the massive contracts given to aging or average offensive lineman in free agency. That told us all we needed to know about the offensive line class, the NFL did not like what the NFL Draft had to offer. That does not mean these players will not work out, but there was nobody that the NFL liked in this draft as a slam-dunk first round prospect. It will be interesting to see in five years if that view was justified or if the NFL sold this offensive line class short.
8) Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants could be Devastating on Offense in 2017 – Tampa had a good tight end last year, but TE Cameron Brate does not keep up defensive coordinators at night. Alabama TE O.J. Howard has the chance to be that guy and when he is paired with WR Mike Evans and WR DeSean Jackson, there is a chance that Tampa Bay could score 500 points next year, especially if they draft a quality running back later in the NFL Draft. This team also benefited from the run on wide receivers and quarterbacks earlier in the NFL Draft. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston has no excuse to be outside of the Top-10 among fantasy quarterbacks this year.
The New York Giants are also looking dangerous. I thought they should have gone with Miami TE David Njoku, but they fell in love with the 4.42-second speed of Ole Miss TE Evan Engram. When you add him to the mix with WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Sterling Shepard and WR Brandon Marshall, this team is loaded all over the field. Similar to Tampa Bay, they need to add a running back in a very deep running back class. The difference between the teams is that Winston is a young quarterback on the rise; Giants QB Eli Manning is a veteran QB on the decline. It will be interesting to see if Marshall and Engram turn his fortunes around, but if his play continues to slip, the Giants will be looking to move on from Manning in 2018. He is under a ton of pressure to play well this year.
9) I was surprised Ohio State CB Gareon Conley did not fall out of the first round – Anytime a player is accused of rape on the eve of the NFL Draft, there is the potential that the player could go undrafted. There was speculation that could happen to Conley this year, but I think a couple things happened. One, he did not give a statement that said he could not comment on the situation under advice of his attorney. He strongly denied the allegations and said they were completely false. Also, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport reported that a team that was interested in Conley in the first round asked him to submit to a polygraph by a certified administrator and that he passed. That also helped his cause, because had he failed that test, he probably would have gone undrafted or unsigned. That was a big risk for him, probably one he would not have taken if he had done something wrong.
The problem is that lie detector tests are not admissible in court for a reason. Guilty people pass them and innocent people fail them, it is not a perfect exam. Conley could be a guilty person that is good at faking the lie detector test and if that is the case, the Raiders first round pick could have the distraction of a rape case against him his entire rookie season. It is hard to tell what is going on in this situation, and the way this has played out early suggests that the Raiders found a terrific cornerback. Pro Football Focus College credited Conley with a nation-best 14.0 passer rating allowed in 2016. That definitely could help their secondary.
It appears he was the victim of a bogus accusation on the eve of the NFL Draft designed to hurt his value in the NFL Draft. However, until all the facts come in, we do not know that with 100% certainty and we want to make sure that the alleged victim has a chance for her story to be heard. It is easy to become occupied with this being a football story and forget that the people involved in this story are real and that should trump the football aspect. The Raiders took a big gamble using a first round pick on a player with that type of accusation leveled against him with no time to determine if this story accusation has any legs beyond the initial accusation. The lie detector test was a creative way to make a decision on short notice with limited information, but that decision could come back to bite them, depending on the facts of the situation.
10) Best Players Available for Round 2 – I am a little surprised that Florida State RB Dalvin Cook fell out of the first round, I thought that the stories of his fall may have been a smokescreen by a team that liked him, but he is a terrific player that could help a NFL team with a need at running back. I think Washington CB Kevin King and Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu were hurt by how deep the cornerback class is this year, expect a run on that position in Round 2 and Round 3. Western Kentucky G Forrest Lamp and Alabama T Cam Robinson should find homes in Round 2. There are too many good names left on the board to list everyone that could help a NFL team this year or for years to come.
The thing to remember is that the first round is the round that everyone cares about, but Day 2 and Day 3 are where teams build Super Bowl rosters. There are 128 FBS schools that offer 85 scholarship players per roster. That means there were over 10,000 players on scholarship last year and that does not count the non FBS schools that sometimes see players drafted. Only 32 players can go in the first round, being a second, third fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh round pick is still an impressive accomplishment. Day 1 was just the beginning, there is so much more to look forward to as teams look to build a roster that will compete for future Super Bowls.