10 Things I’m Hearing Going into Draft Day
The draft creeps mercifully closer ... but first, this, from one NFL GM on Wednesday afternoon, with the start of the first round 31 hours away: “This feels like you’ve got a Monday night game, and you have to sit around all day Sunday and then all day Monday before your game. It’s awful.” You echo America, and America’s sports media, Mr. GM.
1. I am skeptical San Diego will trade down. The Chargers really have the first pick in the draft, because the Rams and Eagles, at 1 and 2, will take the quarterbacks to start the proceedings tonight. The Chargers had a slew of phone calls from teams trying to move up for the third pick before last week’s Browns-Eagles trade that netted Philadelphia the second pick. But the trade market has dried up since then, and I believe it’s unlikely some team will blow the Chargers away with an offer before GM Tom Telesco has to make the pick. “The premium is so high to move up,” said one GM with a pick in the top 20, “that you almost have to be trading for a quarterback to make it worth while.” I think San Diego sits and makes a pick. Throughout the league on Wednesday, particularly with teams choosing in the top 10, football people were talking about Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley here … not the more noted tackle, Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss. Telesco earned his stripes under former Colts GM Bill Polian, and one thing he learned is to never be afraid to stick your neck out and make a pick that will surprise some people. No one has had Stanley this high until the last day or two. Telesco will be fine with that, if Stanley is the top guy on his board.
2. Stanley is the hot name in the draft this morning. I’m hearing he’s the No. 1 tackle on the Jags’ board too—and though Jacksonville selects fifth, it’s more likely GM Dave Caldwell goes with a front-seven player or a trade down. Why Stanley? Two things I heard on Wednesday: reliability on the field, and a spotless record off it.
3. I haven’t changed my opinion about the Cowboys from my mock draft on Monday. With the fourth pick, Dallas could choose to trade down, which the Cowboys would consider for major value. Or they could take Jalen Ramsey, who’d be a boon to this group of cornerbacks. But I gave Dallas Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott in the mock draft, despite the adequate backfield situation now (Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Alfred Morris), because I thought on Monday (and still do) that Elliott could be the kind of boost to Tony Romo’s career that Romo needs. I believe the Cowboys will fill their defensive line needs in later rounds.
4. Why the hesitation on Jalen Ramsey? Two teams mentioned to me either Ramsey’s lack of productivity or his lack of plays made at Florida State, where he had just two interceptions in his final 40 college games. And one team—which admittedly loves Ramsey—told me its biggest hesitation is that shutdown corners get some interceptions and don’t get shuttled back to safety (Ramsey started games at safety for FSU). In my opinion, teams are overthinking Ramsey, something that happens when you have forever to prepare for the draft. He’s a very good tackler, a good physical corner at the line, and big enough at 6-1¼ to line up against the big receivers almost every team has.
5. Trading partners. It was a pretty quiet day around the league on Wednesday, according to the several NFL people with whom I spoke. Some calls will be made today, to feel out trade possibilities. How that works, theoretically: If the guy we want is there at your spot, would you take our pick plus an X-rounder for your pick? I expect Baltimore (sixth pick) to be fact-finding today. I expect Tennessee GM Jon Robinson (at 15), who already has been on the phone in the top 10 assessing his chance to move up for a tackle, to be active today. I expect Miami (at 13) to try to move up for Ezekiel Elliott if the Cowboys don’t take him. And I expect Jacksonville (at 5) and Cleveland (at 8) to aggressively try to move down.
6. I don’t think the Jets or Browns will take Paxton Lynch. They’ve been mentioned often (and in my mock I had Lynch to Cleveland late in the first round after a projected trade) as landing spots for the Memphis QB. But I don’t think either team will use a first-round pick on Lynch. Who will? I know there’s interest, and I keep hearing the Saints (at 12) are fascinated with Lynch. But if New Orleans doesn’t draft Lynch as the heir to Drew Brees, I don’t know who will.
7. Best guesses on Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith. Jack: top 15; I’m sticking with the Giants at 10. There’s been so much conflicting medical information about his knee, and whether he’ll need microfracture surgery, which the UCLA linebacker admitted on Wednesday is possible. A team will have to be comfortable with the risk of taking him with a first-round pick. Smith: New England at 96. He’s the first-round pick they didn’t have this year, assuming the Notre Dame linebacker ever comes back from the nerve damage in his knee stemming from his Fiesta Bowl injury. The Pats can justify it because of their multiple selections in this area—60, 61, 91 and 96.
8. Alabama center Ryan Kelly is a hot guy in the second half of the first round. “No way he gets past 20 or so,” said one glum scout who works for a team drafting in the bottom third of the first round. “He could go to the Colts at 18. Perfect fit for Andrew Luck for the next 10 years.” I mock-drafted Kelly to Arizona at 29, but I don’t believe the Cardinals think they’ll have a chance at him then.
• TEAM NEEDS, BEST FITS: The NFC
9. The quarterbacks are men of mystery. No one I spoke to on Wednesday thinks either Connor Cook or Christian Hackenberg is going in the first round. So watch: Now they’ll probably both go there.
10. The Steelers’ love of corners. “Pittsburgh’s taking a corner. Promise,” one GM said. “They were at every corner workout this year—and not just a scout. I’m talking Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert.” Artie Burns from Miami, perhaps, at 25?
And one more thought:
11. You’ll see a pretty cool commercial tonight. It’s not often that you see two-minute commercials these days, particularly on sports broadcasts. But you’ll see one tonight during the telecast of the NFL draft, produced by Gatorade as a tribute to the retiring Peyton Manning. The former quarterback is a famous letter-writer, to teammates and coaches and friends and those who’ve inspired him for any reason. Gatorade filmed a selection of recipients—Derek Jeter and Tony Dungy; the mother of Tyler Frenzel, a young Colts fan with cancer whom Manning had gotten to know; Jeff Saturday and Demaryius Thomas and others—reading letters they received from Manning over the years. One of the most touching spots, I thought, was with Chris Mortensen, the ESPN reporter who is battling cancer and who is a friend of Manning. Mortensen reads his letter and at the end stares into the camera with this advice from Manning: “Keep grinding!”
The #DearPeyton commercial:
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