Stream of pre-draft consciousness, 17 days before the first round kicks off before 75,000 fans in Jerryworld:
It’s Gil Brandt’s world, and we’re all living in it
Sixty years ago, Brandt, then 25 and a baby photographer, was hired as a full-time scout for the San Francisco 49ers. Two years later he moved to the expansion Dallas Cowboys as their chief scout. He’s lived in Dallas ever since, and this will be the first time in his life that the draft is a home game for him. Now he’s the NFL draft shepherd, going to almost every pro day, keeping tabs on the prospects, wooing the top ones to come to the first round, working for the league and helping organize the football side of the draft. We caught up late Saturday, and I tried to denude Brandt of everything he knows about the 2018 crop.
• On what makes this draft different: “This is going to be the most talked-about draft in history. And not just because quarterbacks could go one through four, or four of the top five picks. But this will be an incredible extravaganza. For years to come, people will compare every draft to Dallas. The saying Everything’s bigger in Texas will definitely apply. We’ll have sections all over the stadium for all 32 teams, and it’ll be like a competition between all the teams and their fans. Twelve big-time college coaches will be there—Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Chris Petersen, others. Day two’s going to have the same excitement.”
• On the walkup to the draft: “There’s been more activity than I ever remember at all these pro days. More coaches, more assistant coaches. South Dakota State had their pro day last week, and there were six NFL tight-end coaches there to see their guy [Dallas Goedert]. But he didn’t run the 40. Hasn’t run it yet. He could go anywhere from low first to the third, but it’s hard to know because teams don’t know his speed.”
• Quality of the draft: “This is a draft where 13 to 17 guys I could point to and say for sure, This guy’s a first-round pick. After that, there’s a lot of starting-type players who could go anywhere. Let me put it to you this way: My guy who I have 21st overall on my list could go 64th. The guy I rank 47th could go 19th. So the Patriots, with their needs and their two first-round picks, should be able to get a tackle to replace Nate Solder. They need the tackle from UCLA, Kolton Miller. He’s Nate Solder, is what he is … 6'8", 310 pounds, unbelievable 10-yard speed, which is what you need for a tackle. Needs development. But [offensive line coach] Dante Scarnecchia can develop a guy like that as well as anyone.”
• His order of the quarterbacks: “Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield, Allen, Jackson.”
• Top of the draft: “Here’s what it looks like: The running back from Penn State [Saquon Barkley] has all the characteristics needed to be an All-Pro player and could go anywhere in there. Nothing would surprise me. Let’s go to the quarterbacks. Josh Allen has everything you need to be a franchise QB, but he lacks accuracy, and you can’t complete 56 percent in the NFL. Now Sam Darnold, he’s got great mechanics and the right attitude and approach to be great. But he throws interceptions. This is where you have to grade him—was the interception his fault? Josh Rosen started as a true freshman at UCLA. Never happened before. Started 5-0 or something like that as an 18-year-old. [Actually 4-0, and he won seven of his first nine starts]. You want to be the surest that you won’t be laughed at five years down the line with one of these quarterbacks? Pick Rosen. He’s a player. Lamar Jackson, immense talent, immense upside. Baker Mayfield is a guy like Drew Brees. He’s got velocity, good accuracy. We all undervalued Drew. But what you don’t know about anyone is which quarterbacks are gonna work like Drew Brees. Drew’s gonna work his ass off. His agent could get a call during the season from a car company saying, ‘We got a $200,000 commercial for you to tape on Tuesday.’ And Drew would say, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that on Tuesday. That’s my day to work on the next opponent.’ Your job if you’re going to draft one of these guys is to figure out who’s like Drew Brees.”
• Josh Rosen and the questions surrounding his desire: “I have zero questions about Josh Rosen. I have no problems with him at all.”
• Biggest surprise in the top 10: “My biggest surprise would be to see [Notre Dame] tackle Mike McGlinchey going in the top 10. I think he’ll be in the first round, but probably in the mid-20s.”
• Player who will go higher than everyone thinks: “Will Hernandez, guard, UTEP. Reminds me of Mike Iupati—both drafted higher than anyone thought.”
• Draft invitee who fascinates Brandt: “Leighton Vander Esch, the Boise State linebacker. He’ll be the first man ever invited to the draft who played eight-man football in high school. He’s from Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho. A true rising star.”
• The Super Bowl champions’ plans: “I don’t know what [the Eagles] are going to do, but I have been amazed at their presence everywhere at these pro days. I told [general manager] Howie Roseman, ‘You must have an unlimited scouting budget—and I think you’ve exceeded it.’ They’ve had coaches and scouts everywhere. They don’t act like they just won the Super Bowl. They act like they’re dying just to make the playoffs.”
• Happiest draft invitee: “We’ve got 22 guys coming in, and maybe the happiest is a guy who won’t be picked in the first round: Shaquem Griffin [the UCF linebacker who lost his left hand because of a birth defect at age 4]. When I called his mother to invite them, she started crying because of how much this means to the family.”
Rosen has a friend in Aaron Rodgers
Interesting week for the UCLA quarterback, deciding how to respond to his former coach’s comments in this column a week ago and ultimately settling on one word on Twitter:
Rosen is mentally and physically spent from the pre-draft pushing and pulling, and he has four on-campus visits left: Giants today, Jets on Tuesday, Bills on Wednesday and Chargers, back home in southern California, late this week. Then he’ll disappear and work out and veg out for a week or so before going to Dallas for the draft.
He’s developed a relationship with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had some advice to Rosen about putting his best feet forward in every visit with a team. (At least I think that’s what his message to his mentee was.)
“The road is long,” Rodgers texted. “The time is short.”
Wise old owl, that Rodgers.
An interesting critique of Josh Allen from Dan Orlovsky
I had the former Lions, Bucs, Texans and Rams backup on my podcast this week. Orlovsky has become a must-follow on Twitter for his quarterback insight, breaking down plays of the top prospects and giving pointed critiques of what he sees. I found his take on what he considers two glaring weaknesses in Allen’s game interesting:
“The two things for me that are like major red flags … There’s a couple of times on tape in a game where he’ll get up to the line of scrimmage and he'll communicate with his offensive line. It looks like he's changing your protection or setting your protection one way … There’s a clip against Iowa where he changes a protection. The Will linebacker blitzes and everybody runs hot, and Josh Allen does not move until his third step of the drop. What were you thinking? What was going on? And that shows up way too much for me. And again, that stuff is not fixable. You think Dick LeBeau is easier to do it against? When he’s got Star Wars on the back end going on? … When the ball is snapped it's almost like, I don't know what's going on … It seems like he doesn't have a plan and a process, and to get to the NFL level and to not be able to do the little things—if you can't do the little things, you can't do the big things. The little things are your plan and your process. The big things are executing against what happens. And so it just seems like he doesn't have that as part of his DNA, as part of his quarterbacking. And that for me I go, Well, what does it matter how big he is, how athletic he is, if you could throw it to the moon, the field’s a hundred yards. To not be able to adjust or react to a Will linebacker blitzing is alarming to me. Alarming.
“And then the second thing—I saw this at the combine, and it made me go watch all his tape again. But when he was throwing at the combine, he was staring at his receivers. And I was like, well, that’s a bad habit, and it’s a habit you can create just trying to be better at accuracy. So, I watched all his tape, and that showed up on tape a bunch where he would just stare at receivers when he catches the snap … And so for me those are things that are really hard to change. You got to change years and years of having those bad habits.”
On Saturday, I read Orlovsky’s criticism of Allen to one draft-day decider (on a team that is studying quarterbacks for this draft and could pick one) and asked if he agreed with Orlovsky.
“I’d say it’s true,” the NFL person said. “If people see Carson Wentz when they look at Josh Allen because they’re both big guys, they are making a massive mistake. Wentz was so ready mentally for the pro game. Allen needs a lot of work there. If you pick Josh, you are taking a raw, talented kid and banking the future on your coaches being able to take that raw talent and turn him into a great player. It’s a gamble for sure.”
Josh Allen spent Friday in Augusta, watching the Masters
I like that. All preparation and no play makes Josh a dull boy.
On Saturday, the fledgling league The Alliance of American Football announced the first of eight franchise cities, Orlando. The league said 72-year-old Steve Spurrier would coach the team.
This will be the first pro football coaching job by Spurrier since 2003. Spurrier’s embarrassing 12-20 two-year run in Washington ended on Dec. 27, 2003, with a 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Here’s the quiz:
Who was Spurrier’s starting quarterback in the last game he coached in the NFL?
Here’s the bonus quiz:
Who was the replay official in the press box for the last game Spurrier coached in the NFL?
Answers in number 8 of Ten Things I Think.
There are no words
But I’ll try.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has 12 teams playing through the winter, stretching from Estevan in the southern edge of the province, just above North Dakota, 500 miles north to Flin Flon; and 300 miles from the eastern part of the province in Yorkton to Kindersley in the west. The players are between 16 and 21 years old. You’ve doubtless heard in the last couple of days how many of the greats, from Gretzky to McDavid, have spent much of their teen years on buses traveling six, eight, 10 hours from one town to another, in pursuit of the dream. For some, the dream is the NHL. For others, like almost all of the players in the SJHL, the lottery is the NHL—and the dream is a college scholarship or playing for town pride, many of the kids Saskatchewan natives who grew up idolizing players in towns like Humboldt, population 5,800.
On Wednesday, for game four of the best-of-seven SJHL playoff semifinals between Humboldt and the Nipawin Hawks, 1,900 fans filled the local arena. Humboldt trailed in the series 2-1, but the Broncos roared into the lead in the second period. When one of the team’s stars, Conner Lukan, scored late in the second, Humboldt took a 5-3 lead into intermission, and the cheering locals could feel a tied series. But Nipowin scored twice midway through the third, pushing the game to overtime.
No score in the first overtime.
No score in the second overtime.
Finally, five minutes into the third overtime, 105 minutes into the game, Nipawin scored the winner. The dejected Humboldt team trudged off the ice after one of the great games in recent league annals. Now the Broncos would have to win three straight to take the series, starting Friday night in Nipawin.
“Such an incredible game,” said the radio colorman for Nipawin, Dan Ukrainetz, on Saturday from Saskatchewan. “To play a game like that, everyone there, the players and the fans, they knew every player left it all out on the ice.”
On Friday night, a packed house of 1,100 in Nipawin was set to welcome the teams for game five of the series; that crowd included Ukrainetz’s mom and dad. They’ve had season tickets in the same seats since 1986, sitting next to the same family, remarkably enough, for all 32 of those years. “I was getting my coat on to go over to do the game,” said Ukrainetz. “Everybody in town was excited—this was going to be a great, great game between two great teams. Then I got the news. The play-by-play guy called. The game was canceled. There’d been an accident with the Humboldt bus.”
Twenty minutes or so outside of town, on the equivalent of a U.S. county highway, the Humboldt bus, carrying 29 players, staff and a driver, was traveling north on a main road without a stop sign. A semitrailer was traveling west on a road with a stop sign at the intersection of the highway. There is no word on what happened yet, but the truck, with a load of Canadian peat, hit the bus and tore it apart.
When word came of the accident and the canceled game, Ukrainetz’s mom went to the place where parents and kin of the Humboldt players—many of whom had traveled to the game in their own cars—were waiting. “That’s the one thing I thought of right away—the families,” said Dan Ukrainetz. “There’s so many long miles families drive. They get to the arena, they look for the bus, the bus isn’t there, and of course they start wondering: ‘What’s happened to our son?’ Or brother, or nephew.”
Fifteen of the 29 on the Broncos’ bus died in the wreck. All weekend, support came in on a GoFundMe page, via Twitter (from Gretzky, the Canadian prime minister, hockey people everywhere), from NHL teams wearing BRONCOS in the place of the names on their jerseys. On “Hockey Night in Canada,” Don Cherry asked for the country to pray. We’re fortunate to have such a caring, cohesive country to our north, and it showed all weekend. Oh Canada, we admire how you’ve handled the worst day in so many of your citizens’ lives.
“The hockey rink is the gathering place for our people throughout Canada,” Ukrainetz said. “You want to know what’s going on in town? Go to the rink. We’ve got no movie theater in Nipawin, no casino. We’ve got a hockey rink. That’s how so much of Canada is. That’s why this hits us so hard.”
Quotes of the Week
“Everyone told me growing up I was a football player who plays baseball. As a pitcher, I wasn't as concerned about throwing strikes as I was lighting up radar guns. When I would get mad, I'd try to throw even harder. And that doesn't correlate to success. In football, there is a mental side to the game, which is huge. But there is also that raw aggression. If I get pissed off, I can put my face mask in this guy's chin. That's where a lot of my success comes from, that pent-up aggression from baseball.”
—South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst, to Dan Pompei in an insightful story for Bleacher Report. Hurst, as a Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league pitcher throwing in the mid-90s, got the yips and had to quit baseball. That forced him to try football, and now he could be a first-round pick this month.
“Every single person. Everyone in hockey. That’s exactly why it hits home, because everyone has been on the bus before.”
—Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid, who rode buses in junior hockey, on the crash involving the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League that killed 15 team members.
“It’s gotta rip the heart out of your chest.”
—Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who is from Saskatchewan, breaking up while speaking to reporters Saturday.
“The defensive coordinator has more swag than all of ’em, so we’ll be in good shape.”
—Rams coach Sean McVay, on the big stars the Rams have added to the defense (Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh), and how he thinks 71-year-old Wade Phillips will coach them up.
Stats of the Week
The Denver Broncos lucked into a top-five punter for very good value last week, signing Jon Gruden-reject Marquette King for three years and $7 million, making him approximately the 12th-highest-paid punter (in average cap value) in the NFL. Not bad for King, who finished second in the league in punting average in 2016 and third in 2017, and who is 29 years old.
When the Broncos signed King on Thursday, he was positively giddy about getting to punt in altitude for half his games over the next three years. “Denver’s a punter’s paradise,” King said. “The ball definitely travels a lot further. I’ve always enjoyed punting out here in the altitude just because the ball travels further.”
The evidence in his five seasons is significant, if limited. King’s numbers in Colorado versus all other places:
The Broncos are going to have to work with King specifically on placement on inside-the-20 kicks—kicking as he did for Oakland could result in too many into the end zone.
Rams receiver Brandin Cooks, 24, is a mere 16 months older than the top receiver prospect in the draft, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, 23. Ridley will turn 24 in his rookie season. Cooks leads Ridley in NFL games played, 61-0.
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Rams GM Les Snead and Dan Orlovsky, the former NFL backup quarterback and current NFL analyst.
• Snead on his willingness to trade more than his predecessors, and on the willingness of a cadre of young GMs to do the same: “You know, that’s an interesting question, and to start with, I don't think you can ever be reckless because—let's go way back to 2012. You know we traded the No. 2 pick overall to the Redskins that ended up being known as the RG3 [Robert Griffin III] deal, but the whole purpose of that was to acquire as many draft picks as possible. We got to build a young core because at that point it’s nearly, let’s call it 26 players of the 53 who finished on that 2011 Rams team never played in the NFL again, so you knew we had we had to replenish this with a good core, and over the years you draft it, but last year we tipped into let's call it being a ‘legit contender.’ So at that point, you’re well aware, wait a minute, we want to sustain this, we want to keep contending. And, I’ll always say this, I got a simple rule: You can't be scared in this league. Look at Doug Pederson this year and, it wasn't reckless but it took courage and guess what? They won a Super Bowl on some of those fourth-down plays. So you try to do that as a general manager, but I also think, and this is long-winded answer, some of the analytics that you have now to really look at what historically draft picks bring you in reality over time …”
Me: “You’ve basically looked at draft choices as tools in the toolbox. That's how I kind of look at your thing: You’re not wedded to your draft picks.”
Snead: “Right. You should be my interpreter.”
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
Curly Lambeau was born 120 years ago today in Green Bay.
Curly Lambeau played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame 100 years ago this year.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who, if healthy, will break the NFL’s all-time scoring record with his 58th point this season, missed more field goals in the second game of his career (three, in 1996) with New England than he missed in full seasons with the Colts in 2014 (one) or 2015 (two). Not bad, considering he turned 42 and 43 in those two seasons in Indianapolis.
The Detroit Tigers have to have the worst schedule in major league history. How could it be any worse than every one of the first 25 games on the schedule being played (or having a projected temperature) in weather never warmer than 48 degrees, with the majority of the games at 40 degrees or lower?
That, of course, is accounting for the weather in Detroit’s eight games so far—never warmer than 43 degrees—and the long-range forecast for the next week, with seven games in Cleveland and Detroit, and the temperature in those seven games predicted to be 36, 35, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 46.
MLB scheduled Detroit’s first seven series, covering 25 games, for Detroit, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Will the next three series (in Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City) be better weather-wise? Let us pray. But it’s incredible that Major League Baseball scheduled every one of the first 35 games of the season for the Tigers in places where weather can be awful through early May.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Last week I received and used an email in my Wednesday mailbag column from Jens Andrias Vinther, a partner in the Hansen Thomassen Vinther law firm of Tórshavn, a town in the Faroe Islands (population 50,000). The Faroes are a small island chain 200 miles north of Scotland in the north Atlantic. I looked up the islands on Wikipedia and found that it’s a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. I was surprised by three things:
• That a lawyer from the Faroe Islands would write to me.
• That the lawyer would postulate that the Browns should take quarterbacks with the first and fourth overall picks in the draft, theorizing that since the washout factor for the first-round quarterback is so high, it stands to reason that if you take two, at least one should become a good NFL player.
• That the lawyer would know who the Cleveland Browns are.