Questioning the Cowboys’ Plan, the Weirdness of Laremy Tunsil and More From A Silly, Crazy Draft
1. It’s Christmas morning. You open a gift to reveal that frickin’ sweet GoBot you’ve been wanting. Dive-Dive, the submarine guy (yeah, there was a GoBot named Dive-Dive, they weren’t so good at naming stuff).
As you excitedly rip open the packaging, your mother stands over you and says, “In five years, you’re going to think that is a piece of crap.”
And that is the post-draft pushback we NFL draft dorks face every year. Some smug turd on Twitter (I know, redundant) will point out that it’s stupid to get excited, or upset, or to judge your team’s draft, or to grade a draft, or to make a mock draft, or to enjoy the draft in any way. It’s all “hot takes,” they say. (And you know who was into hot takes? Adolf Hitler. Probably.)
Well, I’m here to tell you differently. Go ahead little bird, spread your wings and fly. Go wild. Get excited. Get mad. Draw conclusions about your team’s picks way too early and based on far too little information. Because it’s fun. And why be a football fan if you can’t have some fun?
(And, for the record, to this day Dive-Dive is still frickin’ sweet. Thanks Mom and Dad!)
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2. With that first note in mind, I’d like to take a moment to overreact to the Cowboys’ draft. I do not like it. Not at all.
Dallas had already poured so many resources into the offensive side of the ball, specifically on an offensive line that is the NFL’s best. Darren McFadden rushed for nearly 1,100 yards last year despite the fact that opponents consistently put 18 or so men in the box with Tony Romo out of the lineup. Ezekiel Elliott is going to be a very good player, but you don’t need a star back to provide a star performance behind that line (see Murray, DeMarco). The gap between what they will get in the ground game with Elliott, or what they would have gotten in the ground game with Derrick Henry (yes, I know Elliott carries more value in the passing game), or Devontae Booker, or Kenneth Dixon, or Alex Collins, or Jordan Howard… it’s not a big difference. Dallas had a chance to get a premium player at a premium position on a defense that is bereft of playmakers, namely Jalen Ramsey (or maybe DeForest Buckner, who I think is versatile enough to do a variety of things in Rod Marinelli’s front four). They passed on it for a luxury pick.
Then in the second: Jaylon Smith. It was a wonderful moment, and their doctors must have come back with a positive report. But he’s not going to contribute in 2016. The Tony Romo window is closing. They don’t have their next quarterback in place, and if they’re assuming they’re just going to come up with one in the next three years… well, remember those five seasons between Aikman and Romo? The Cowboys get to play a fourth-place schedule this year, and with a healthy Romo they are favorites in the NFC East with a real chance at getting a top-two seed in the NFC. There should be an urgency to win this season, but this past weekend they did little very little to improve this team in the short-term.
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3. The Laremy Tunsil takes were strong all weekend. To steal a line from our Andrew Brandt, let’s examine…
a. The “hey old man, legalize weed” crowd was out in spades. I’m in that crowd! I just don’t feel the need to vocalize it, because the vast majority of logical people think that marijuana should be legalized, and certainly not a banned substance in the NFL. I hesitate to speak for all 32 teams, but I’ve never heard of a single team that is scared away by a prospect smoking weed. However, the impression I (and I’m sure many teams) got from the leaked Tunsil video was: Huh, smoking weed out of a customized gas mask bong… that dude really likes weed. I mean, he’s REALLY into weed. Perhaps a little TOO into weed.
Now, that might be an unfair characterization of Tunsil, but there wasn’t a whole lot of time to get his explanation (and convincing me, at least, that that a guy smoking weed out of a gas mask isn’t really enthusiastic about marijuana would be an uphill battle). And if you are under the impression that this guy is very passionate about marijuana and the creative ways by which he can smoke it, it’s perfectly reasonable to be hesitant about investing a top-10 pick in him. While smoking marijuana every now and then doesn’t carry significant side effects, I’m not sure I’m trusting the guy who’s really into weed to stay in peak physical and mental condition over the course of a decade or so. Not to mention, the aforementioned “banned substance” list and the fact that he's potentially one positive test away from a suspension.
b. As for Tunsil’s “slide”… he was not going to come off the board in the top four. And he probably wasn’t getting taken fifth once Jalen Ramsey fell into Jacksonville’s lap. Maybe the Ravens are not being entirely truthful when they say they had Ronnie Stanley ranked higher all along, and maybe the Niners go for Tunsil instead of DeForest Buckner (but, c’mon, Chip Kelly passing on an Oregon guy?). I do think the Titans take Tunsil instead of Jack Conklin once they trade up to eight if not for the video. So Tunsil slipped from the six-to-eight range, to 13th. That’s unfortunate, but let’s not paint this as La’el Collins, Part II.
c. I appreciate Mike Mayock back-tracking on his originally harsh words for Tunsil (that he didn’t feel sorry for Tunsil because it was self-inflicted). It was an avalanche of bizarre info coming in all at once, and Mayock quickly realized he had been too harsh (or, someone quickly made him realize it.)
d. I had NFL Network on the TV and ESPN on the iPad Thursday night (with sound going on both, which was a simply terrible idea). I was zeroed in on NFLN when the Tunsil drama was unfolding, so I’m not sure exactly how ESPN handled it. I did find Todd McShay’s late Thursday comments, in which he was a little too aggressive in painting the Ole Miss program as a victim, to be odd at best, off-putting at worst.
However, Deadspin’s “ESPN's Todd McShay Believes Laremy Tunsil Telling The Truth Is A Sign Of Immaturity” headline is a bit disingenuous. Tunsil, for a large portion of draft season, was projected as the No. 1 overall pick. He was presumably subjected to some kind of media training. There’s a time and a place to open up, and a draft-site press conference, with your college coach in attendance, is not it. One “I’m not going to talk about it right now” is all he needed.
As a journalist, I’m not a fan of media coaching. But from a player’s and an organization’s standpoint, it’s necessary. Maybe “immaturity” isn’t the right word, and it’s understandable that Tunsil would be flustered by the events of the evening, but jeez, he was stunningly unprepared for and overwhelmed by that press conference. He’s 21 and a professional athlete. That misstep is a minor one, but he should have been better, and while McShay’s motivation is odd I think it’s within reason to call Tunsil out for that portion of the night.
e. One day, we’ll look back at the NCAA’s era of enforced “amateurism” and laugh at how backwards the sports world once was. (Well, at least those of us who weren’t exploited by that system will laugh.)
f. Roger Goodell’s “part of what makes the draft so exciting” comments were tone-deaf, but again, let’s not act like this was Laremy Tunsil’s funeral. What should have been a pleasant night for him certainly turned sour. But he’ll have a decade in the league to change the narrative.
g. One last thing: Someone was out to get Tunsil, and that sucks. But whomever took that video (presumably a friend) is just as awful.
If you are the guy who, late-night, when things get crazy at the bar or at the party, has the instinct to take out your phone and photograph or record your friends, stop it. You’re a bad person and you shouldn’t have friends.
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4a. Speaking of Ole Miss players who struggle to handle the media, I insist that Robert Nkemdiche at the combine still stands as this draft season’s worst press conference performance.
On the scrutiny he faced after getting suspended for his final game at Ole Miss after getting drunk and falling out of a hotel room window: “The media has done a tarnish to my name.”
Well, unless Diane Sawyer set up that beer bong, and Bob Woodward dared you to go out on the window ledge, and the ghost of Walter Cronkite appeared on that ledge, startling you and causing you to lose your balance and fall off the ledge, you “did a tarnish” to your own name.
In the future, the correct answer would be “Yeah, I got way too drunk and did something really dumb. I don’t plan on doing it again.”
We get it. Most of us were once 21 and dumb (well, maybe not that dumb, but you get the point).
4b. Arizona is a great landing spot for Nkemdiche. If any franchise can save that knucklehead from himself, it’s the Cardinals.
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5. Paxton Lynch reminds me of Cam Newton in this way: They both look like they’re playing on a miniaturized field.
It’s the equivalent of us wannabe athletes playing dunk hoops, or home run derby on a little league field. Lynch, like Newton, has the ability to stand flat-footed and whip it 40 yards downfield on a frozen rope.
Like Newton five years ago, Lynch has a long way to go as a passer. If the Broncos are going to develop him the right way, they’ll keep him on the bench for at least a year if not two. But they have a right to be excited about Lynch’s long-term outlook.
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6. I’ve written highly of Sam Bradford multiple times in this space (most recently, here). But even as his (reluctant) biggest cheerleader, and someone who thinks Bradford is still a quality starting quarterback, I am going to quietly slink out of his corner right... now.
So Bradford doesn’t like the fact that the Eagles invested elsewhere for their quarterback of the future. Given his track record, I don’t know how he could blame them. And you’d like to think that he would be a pro and maybe even be motivated to have a career year, a la Drew Brees after the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers, instead of demanding a trade and reportedly blocking that trade to some of the very few teams that might be interested.
But all that aside, the Eagles signed him to a heavily front-loaded two-year deal just two months ago. How could any rational human being look at that contract and think, Yup, they’ve invested in me for the long haul. Either Bradford didn’t look at the contract he signed, or he has some inside info about an impending apocalypse in 2018, leading him to believe that a maybe-two-year deal is a long-term commitment.
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7. I really like that the Chargers took Joey Bosa. For about 12 minutes, before the Cowboys picked and I saw the Tunsil gas mark video for the 53rd time, everything made sense with this draft. Bosa, an edge guy who will play the run well and will be decent if not very good rushing the passer from a variety of spots, is exactly what the Chargers needed.
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8. On Friday night, anyone on Twitter when Christian Hackenberg was picked likely lost 10 points off their IQ.
I love Pro Football Focus, and the least knowledgeable employee there still probably does talent evaluation better than me. But I’m not on board with the way they grade a quarterback’s snaps in a vacuum. With the exception of maybe Tom Brady, any quarterback on the planet is going to suffer in the accuracy department if he’s not comfortable, whether it’s a system they don’t believe in or a shaky supporting cast. (See Aaron Rodgers, 2015.)
And maybe I'm being too sensitive, but there’s an off-putting amount of arrogance in claiming that Hackenberg is “undraftable,” as if simply charting and grading all his snaps on tape makes you as intimately familiar with a prospect as the team drafting him is. There will be NFL-caliber coaches charged with developing him over the next two or three seasons. That’s what position coaches do with talented but flawed young players. Past performance matters, and the grades handed out by PFF are a legitimate part of the equation. They’re just not the equation itself. Physical skill set matters too. You can make a player better.
Hackenberg was on pace to be a top-five pick after his freshman year. Along with impressive physical traits, he had shown a command of a pro style offense. Perhaps if Bill O’Brien stayed, Hackenberg wouldn’t have regressed like he did and would have developed into a top-five pick. He clearly wasn’t comfortable in the offense he ran the last two years. And he clearly didn’t have a supporting case typical of a Penn State team.
If I had to guess, I’d put the odds of Hackenberg becoming a serviceable NFL starting quarterback one day at, oh, 38%. My gut feeling is that his accuracy problems are past the point of no return. But I also think he has star potential if the Jets can successfully reprogram him. That’s, you know, risk and reward. I have no problem with any team taking him in the second round, and working under Chan Gailey gives Hackenberg a realistic chance to reach his ceiling.
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9a. For me, the Steelers had… not the best, or the worst, but the most interesting draft weekend.
The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t draft cornerbacks high. Kevin Colbert, who has been in that war room since 2000, had never drafted a cornerback in the first round until Thursday night, when Pittsburgh took Miami (Fla., not his quarterback’s alma mater) corner Artie Burns.
I’ve been wondering if the Steelers will one day soon go away from that zone blitz scheme they ran under Dick LeBeau for so many years. Yes, I know Keith Butler is a LeBeau disciple. But Mike Tomlin was a Tampa 2 guy before he got the Steelers job; he can adapt. And with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark gone, can the complex zone blitz scheme still be effective with younger and… shall we say “less savvy” safeties? (Granted, it was the season opener, but I still have the image of a panicked Pittsburgh secondary forgetting to cover Rob Gronkowski on Opening Night last September.)
The Burns pick and the second-round selection of safety Sean Davis, a pure height/weight/speed guy, makes me think that maybe, just maybe, a change could be coming to that classic Steelers D.
9b. I have a lot of Steelers fans in my family. Their reaction to the Burns pick…
I also have an idea for what Artie Burns should use as an alias when he checks into hotels…
I enjoy old episodes of The Simpsons. So here’s another Burns-centric clip…
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10. I think, in no particular order, these are the picks I really, really liked. I’m not saying they’re can’t-miss stars or sleepers or steals or whatever, they’re just dudes I got excited about…
Sterling Shepard, WR, N.Y. Giants: This is, quite literally, my favorite player in this draft. I thought he was the second-best receiver in this class after Corey Coleman, but unlike Coleman, Shepard can make an immediate impact.
His floor is very good slot receiver, but I think he can survive outside the numbers. He’s not only quick in and out of cuts, but he has an exceptional feel for setting up routes. And those hands! For a little guy, he does that thing where instead of “digging out” low throws he just reaches down and clutches it like the ball came in chest high. I'm not sure why that makes me so giddy, but it does.
Roberto Aguayo, K, Tampa Bay: Aguayo will not only upgrade their placekicking, but he’s a field-position weapon with the new touchback-to-the-25 rule. As read in Jenny Vrentas’s phenomenal profile, FSU often had Aguayo hang kickoffs high and near the goal line.
(I was so excited to see a kicker drafted in the second that I shouted at my wife who was trying to quietly read a book on the other side of the living room, then sent Jenny an ALL CAPS text even though I knew she was working.)
Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Green Bay: I thought there was a chance Fackrell would sneak into the back of the first round. He’s not overly explosive, but he’s long, flexible and instinctive, a natural as a 3-4 OLB. And on top of that, I think he’ll be better than he was a year ago when he was working his way back from a torn ACL.
Su’a Cravens, OLB, Washington: The position-less revolution is here. Cravens is an athletic LB/S tweener in all the good ways. He is going to be on the field constantly in nickel packages.
Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta: I was pleasantly surprised he climbed into the first. I know Neal can fill against the run, but I think he’s underrated in coverage. That Kam Chancellor role under Dan Quinn should be perfect for him.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR/CB, New England: The Patriots announced him as a wide receiver, and I think (if healthy, and without medical concerns I think he was a top-40 talent) he’s as good as any wide receiver on that roster not named Julian. He has that stop-start quickness to thrive in the slot, but unlike a lot of slot guys he has enough length (6-0, with 32 5/8 arms) and speed (4.45) to be a true vertical threat. Personally, I would love to see him get a shot to play cornerback (hey, if Troy Brown and Julian Edelman did it...). Mostly, everything I’ve heard about Mitchell, as well as our brief interactions with him at The MMQB, lead me to think he’s just a really good dude worth rooting for.
Mackenzie Alexander, CB, Minnesota: I get it, he’s on the small side. But Alexander is Velcro in coverage, you can play him inside or out, and he has such a great demeanor for a cornerback: competitive, confident, brash, (and, if you’re an opponent, so obnoxious.
Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland: Steve Smith Jr. Well, not Steve Smith Jr. as in Steve Smith Sr.’s two-year-old son, but a guy who plays a lot like that really good receiver for the Ravens and formerly for the Panthers.
Jerald Hawkins, OL, Pittsburgh: Just a gut feeling. I really liked Hawkins at right tackle for LSU in 2014, and thought an ankle injury hampered him after moving to the left side last year. I think, at worst, he’s a good starter on the right side, with a chance to become a serviceable option on the left side.
Alex Collins, RB, Seattle: Because it gave the Seahawks a chance to tweet out this clip of Collins Irish dancing with our very own Kalyn Kahler.
Moritz Boehringer, WR, Minnesota: I’ve always been fascinated by the internationalization of the American football, which is really in its infancy. The NBA became a much better product due in large part to the influx of international talent. But most of all, Boehringer’s is just a really cool story, the next frontier of NFL prospecting.
Plus, it gives me an excuse to end the column with another Simpsons clip: