My advice to all of those professional and fan forecasters of the 2018 NFL draft in the hours leading up to the first round on Thursday: Be careful with the absolute statements. Three of the first four picks are controlled by two men (Cleveland GM John Dorsey at one and four, GM Dave Gettleman of the Giants at two) who could work for the CIA. There’s an inordinate number of teams very high that I believe will want to trade down, and perhaps for only moderate value because of the strength of the second and third rounds and the thinness of the first round.
“This year it seems like there’s no normal,” San Francisco GM John Lynch said on Saturday. The Niners pick ninth in the first round. “I’m having our analytics guys go over every scenario we could face at nine, and there could be 50 of ’em.”
And so this year’s mock first round is a dart-throw if there ever was one. Wish me luck. Trades (and wild guesses) included.
1. Cleveland—Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Though half the free world has Josh Allen to the Browns, it’d still be a risk because he didn’t dominate mid-level competition. Dorsey is a measurables guy, and Allen is THE measurable quarterback here (6'5", 237 pounds, 4.79 in the 40). But a couple of factors influenced my call here. One is Mike Mayock. The NFL Network conscience has a way of cutting through the gorgonzola and stating reality. He said the Browns have made too many mistakes on quarterbacks, and they can’t go risky here. It made a lot of sense—and Mayock is a guy who loves the long-term Josh Allen. And we’re all prisoners of the people we know in this league. And someone I trust, who is very often right and is very well-connected, told me Sunday it’s not Allen. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Science of the Mock. Darnold is safe, with strong potential, and most NFL folks think he can turn around the turnover bug (37 career turnovers in 26 USC games). Darnold’s a jock who wants to be a great football player. And at 8:46 p.m. Sunday, that’s where I am. All I can say is, good luck to anyone who bets on the first pick in the draft based on my waffling logic.
2. New York Giants—Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Just seems logical. No inside dope here—though I did hear Sunday that Darnold is the Giants’ guy if they choose a quarterback. Gettleman did draft Christian McCaffrey eighth overall last year for the runner-needy Panthers. The Giants haven’t had a great back in 12 years, since Tiki Barber retired. The consistency of Barkley—three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons at a high level of competition, rushing averages of 5.9, 5.5 and 5.9 yards per rush—has to attract the Giants, as would the thought of Barkley, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and left tackle Nate Solder to take the pressure off 37-year-old Eli Manning.
3. New York Jets—Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Could be Baker Mayfield, easily. And there have been times in this process when I was sure it would be Mayfield. But I give the Jets the surest QB thing in this draft, as long as you can live with the specter of his two documented concussions and all the noise (which I consider total bullcrap) about Rosen’s life of other interests. The Jets need a player who can be suave, sophisticated and ready for Broadway, and this quarterback is as ready as any since Namath.
4. Cleveland—Bradley Chubb, Edge, N.C. State
I spent most of Saturday trying to figure a way to give the Browns the heir to Joe Thomas in tackle Mike McGlinchey, and just couldn’t make it work with a trade-down. Nice consolation prize here. Chubb’s had two straight years of 10 sacks and 20 tackles-for-loss, and is easily the best front-seven disrupter in a weak class of them. But Dorsey will have multiple options here if he wants to move.
5. Arizona (from Denver)—Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Call this hunch the Won’t Get Fooled Again Pick. I’ve always thought a segment of the Cardinals had regrets over the 2017 draft when, with a 37-year-old quarterback (Carson Palmer) possibly in his last year, they were leap-frogged by teams that took Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson one and three picks ahead of them. Plus, the Cardinals don’t like Baker Mayfield. They love him. That’s a good thing, because John Elway likes him a lot too. Interesting strange-bedfellows scene at the Broncos’ cafeteria during Mayfield’s on-campus visit. Elway sat alone at one table with Mayfield, conversing. Walking through the salad bar at the time: Case Keenum.
6. Buffalo (from Indianapolis)—Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
While we’re hung up on finding a landing spot for all the quarterbacks, I’d remind you of four things at this pick: A) I don’t know if Buffalo loves Allen; B) but I hear they love his ability to throw it through the lake effect winds and snow; C) Allen is a garrulous, genial version of Jim Kelly, a rifle-armed work in progress the fans in western New York will love; and D) I think this trade fits both teams because I’m not sure the Colts would demand both Bills’ first-round picks in return. In fact, because of the strength of the second round, I could see Colts GM Chris Ballard valuing the 53rd and 56th picks collectively higher than the 22nd pick in this draft. So, 12, 53, 56 and, say, 96 for six? Could be equitable. It would leave the Bills with their second of two first-rounders.
7. Tampa Bay—Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
No end to the love for the versatile Fitzpatrick, who can play either safety, either corner, the slot, or, in a pinch, as an in-the-box linebacker. And he’s done it for three full seasons at the highest level of college football, which NFL people love. Denzel Ward could go here too, but my bet’s on the valued Fitzpatrick. Late note: One or two teams who are sniffing around this area of the draft love Fitzpatrick.
8. Chicago—Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
If this doesn’t happen, every mock drafter in America will be proven to be the frauds we all are. I mean, usually there’s some universal agreement on something at the top of the draft. This year, it’s universal agreement on the man Notre Dame line-coach-turned-new-Bears line coach Harry Hiestand coached in his college career, Nelson. And it fits what new coach Matt Nagy wants—a mauler who will help Nagy build the run game and protective front wall to give Mitchell Trubisky the space and time he needs in up-the-middle protection. Smart pick.
9. San Francisco—Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
As a sideline-to-sideline playmaker in this draft, Smith has no peer. I gave McGlinchey and cornerback Denzel Ward serious consideration here too—as are the Niners. But I passed on McGlinchey because of the Niners’ belief that Joe Staley, who will be 34 in August, can play two more seasons at a good level. And the need for Smith, particularly with the uncertain future of linebacker Reuben Foster, could be great in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme, where athletic playmakers are a must at linebacker.
10. Oakland—Mike McGlinchey, T, Notre Dame
The Raiders have multiple needs, and Denzel Ward and Derwin James fit perfectly here too, with a scotch-taped secondary (only Gareon Conley is solid at corner; free safety Reggie Nelson turns 35 in September) in place for new coordinator Paul Guenther. But left tackle Donald Penn (35 on Friday) has maybe a year or two left, and a franchise quarterback stays a franchise quarterback in part because of how he’s protected. Derek Carr would vote for this pick.
11. Miami—Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The New Suh. This pick is notable more for what the Dolphins aren’t doing. Like everyone else, I was pretty sure Miami would be among the cadre of teams looking to trade up for a quarterback. The splash move has been an MO of club architect Mike Tannenbaum over his career. And maybe it happens. But more recently I’ve started to think, through what I’ve heard in the pre-draft process, that Miami is more likely to stick with Ryan Tannehill (who has missed the last 19 games with injury) and continue the progress he was making with Adam Gase in the 2016 season. We’ll see. One word of caution with Vea: He’s got to manage his weight if he wants to be more than a two-down player.
12. Indy (from Buffalo)—Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech
A note about what the Colts have done, if I’m right here (and I have my doubts) about Indy dealing the sixth pick to Buffalo for a first, two mid-seconds, and a low-third-round pick. In January, Colts GM Chris Ballard owned picks in rounds one, two and three—3, 36 and 67 overall. With this second trade-down of the first-rounder, the Colts would have 12, 36, 37, 49, 53, 56, 67 and 96 this year … plus the Jets’ second-round pick in 2019. With all the holes Ballard has to fill, Edmunds is a very good start. Raw but fast (4.54 in the 40) and physical. Big need for the Colts’ D.
13. Washington—Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
He’s got the speed and the hands to anchor a needy Washington secondary for years, and he’d go higher if he had a bigger body. One other knock is that he had only two interceptions in two-plus seasons for the Buckeyes, but Jalen Ramsey hadn’t been a productive picker either when Jacksonville got him in 2016. Washington needs edge help too, so I can see Marcus Davenport in play here.
14. Green Bay—Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
For a team that’s spent so much draft capital on the secondary recently (five defensive backs picked in the top two rounds in the last four drafts), the Packers sure need a cornerback for new coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme. Tramon Williams, at 35, could start at corner for Green Bay this fall. The big knock on Jackson is his 4.54 speed in the 40, and that’s a legitimate worry. But his eight picks last year in the Big Ten caught scouts’ eyes, and some think he could be Richard Sherman. He’s tall (6'1"), instinctive, a former wideout like Sherman, and, like Sherman, has a frame that can add some strength. Marcus Peters doesn’t have the great speed either, but he’s proven that smarts and instincts win in the NFL too.
15. Denver (from Arizona)—Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
Hughes has some personal concerns that could push him down the board, so this is as fungible a pick as I could make; it’s a need pick for the Broncos, who I believe will deal down with a few positions of great need and go for the corner. Watch for interior lineman James Daniels of Iowa here too. Broncos have need in both spots. And, of course, Elway will be torn about staying and picking Baker Mayfield in this scenario. Tough call for him, but he doesn’t want to throw away Paxton Lynch just yet. What sold Elway on this theoretical trade was Arizona’s No. 1 in 2019, which could be a top-10 pick if the Cards are the worst team in the NFC West.
16. Baltimore—Derwin James, S, Florida State
Ravens love his instincts, his love of football and his position versatility. He might end up as a Will linebacker and a sideline-to-sideline chaser and hitter. Watch for defensive end Marcus Davenport here if James is gone. Lamar Jackson’s a possibility, but I see Baltimore filling a bigger need and giving Joe Flacco this season to solidify his future in Baltimore long-term.
17. Los Angeles Chargers—Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
Boom or bust guy for a lot of people in this draft. Need pick for the Chargers. Strange that with such a good back, Melvin Gordon, the Chargers struggled so much on the ground last year; they were 32nd in the league in rushing. More importantly, the Chargers need some long-term answers on what’s been a patchwork unit for a few years. They may have to be patient with this one-year starter.
18. Seattle—Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio
You know how we always say, This team never thought Player X would be there? This is the first example of that in the first round. Davenport could go 10 to Oakland, and in a few spots between. I believe GM John Schneider thought it smart at this point to deal this pick down, and he very well would have if a good falling player was not available. Good for the Seahawks—who have had some rotten luck in recent drafts (particularly with Malik McDowell)—to be able stay put and get a guy who looks like the second-best edge-rush prospect in this draft.
19. Dallas—D.J. Moore, WR-KR, Maryland
What, no Calvin Ridley? The Alabama wideout seemed so natural here, as did Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, at a position (sideline-to-sideline linebacker) of major need for Dallas. But Moore, a fast riser with return ability, could solve two issues for Dallas, and the Cowboys want to find a long-term receiver to be what Dez Bryant failed to be since signing a huge deal in 2015. It's a risky venture, though, based on the recent performance of so many failed number one picks.
20. Detroit—Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
This is an Albert Breer special. I stole it from him, and I’m not ashamed to say it. Payne is the kind of versatile, big-bodied interior lineman who will be a Matt Patricia staple in the next three years as he builds a stout front. Payne is 311 pounds, a bit of a Malcom Brown type, and he’s just 20, with lots of time to be sculpted into a classic two and three-down player to disrupt the interior in the NFC North.
21. Cincinnati—Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Brown family has a shake-it-up history at quarterback dating back to Boomer Esiason in round two of 1984, and this would certainly shake up the locker room and the draft. So many reliable draftniks (Mayock, McShay, etc.) think Jackson has the potential to be the most exciting and productive quarterback in this crop—but you’ll have to cater your offense to him. Isn’t that what good coaches do? Get very good players and cater their schemes to fit the players? I like this pick for the Bengals, even if it could push Andy Dalton (five of seven starting seasons with a sub-90 passer rating) out of town in 2019.
22. Buffalo—James Daniels, G-C, Iowa
Need pick. Smart of the Bills to insist in their dealings and offers to various teams that they’d have to keep this pick to buttress a part of their team buffeted by a wild offseason. Gone: center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito (retired) and tackle Cordy Glenn (traded). If you’d told anyone in the Bills front office that they’d exit day one of the draft with a quarterback of the future and the second-best interior lineman in the draft with lots of experience playing pro-style football, they’d have been very happy.
23. New England—Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The Patriots are the chameleon of the first round. As of this morning, I cannot see them trading into the top of the draft for a quarterback. But I can see them doing something else big—I just don’t know what it is. Trading next year’s one? Dealing Gronk? Packaging a lot of picks to go after a beloved played like Bradley Chubb? Mostly, I think the Patriots will stock up on the long-term future. With Evans playing in tandem (at least early) with fellow Tide alum Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots would have a force at linebacker in the next couple years.
24. Carolina—Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
There aren’t many national championship-caliber wideouts in an era of plummeting production of first-round receivers in the draft that show the potential of Ridley. Alabama’s not a bombs-away offense, and in his three seasons there, Ridley caught 89, 72 and 63 balls. But he’s not a great deep threat, which is why he’s still hanging around here at 24. Still, the Panthers’ need at the position is huge, and Ridley’s slide past mid-round is a gift for Cam Newton.
25. Tennessee—Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
The Titans would match need with good fortune if Landry is still on the board after 75 percent of the first round. A year ago, after Landry’s 16.5-sack season in 2016, he decided to return to BC, and he was projected in some preseason mocks as the first pick of 2018. But an ankle injury stunted his production, and now some team will be taking him on the come. The Titans desperately need Landry’s help on the edge, and new coach Mike Vrabel will make sure he gets enough chances to show his burst around end.
26. Atlanta—Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Some scouts think Bryan, at 291 pounds with a sub-5.0 40 time, will be a better pro than collegian. He had only 16 tackles behind the line in three NCAA seasons, and playing next to Grady Jarrett, he should do better than that. Atlanta needs depth along the defensive front, and even if Bryan is only a 35-snaps-per-game player, it’s a need that cries out to be addressed.
27. New Orleans—Frank Ragnow, C-G, Arkansas
My surprise of the first round. The Saints could use a center with some position versatility. Max Unger is 32. The Saints are in an interesting position. They for once have no crying need entering the draft and can afford to draft, say, a sixth offensive lineman who could start in 2019 or 2020 at guard or center. Ragnow has had time in the strong SEC at both center and guard, and the Saints think he’s the kind of brute-force player (with some athleticism) who could start for them for a few years.
28. Pittsburgh—Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Oh, how wonderful it would have been if the draft fell just right to the Steelers and they could take an all-field playmaker to replace the fallen Ryan Shazier. That playmaker, Leighton Vander Esch, could be available at 28 … but he’s got a cervical issue that is causing some to steer clear of him this week. In Alexander, the Steelers could get a 4.38 cover guy who’s shown eagerness to tackle and be a physical player in run support. He’d be a good fit for Mike Tomlin.
29. Jacksonville—Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Jags can’t love any of the wideouts left, but they’ve got a need, and Kirk was hugely productive as a college player if not particularly explosive. He had 80, 83 and 71 catches, with 26 total touchdowns, in his three collegiate seasons, and the Jaguars need a producer right now after the offseason losses of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Things turn over quickly in Jacksonville, and Kirk will have to produce right away.
30. Minnesota—Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
The Vikings can plug holes here rather than seek the best available player, regardless of position. The guard group for Minnesota is its biggest weakness (possible starters: Nick Easton, Tom Compton), and Hernandez, many scouts think, is a plug-and-play day one starter with the kind of mean streak in the running game that will make him an immediate favorite of the pugnacious Mike Zimmer. I love this pick for them.
31. New England—Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
I realize the Patriots need long-term players, and Vander Esch has worried some teams in the league with cervical issues at Boise, and he has but one very good season on his résumé. Cool story. He played eight-man football in high school in Idaho, and just recently emerged as a strong bottom-of-the-first-round candidate. Some teams have marked him down because of his neck issues, and there’s a strong chance the Patriots will be too worried about it to pick him here. We’ll see.
32. Philadelphia—Connor Williams, G-T, Texas
But I think the Eagles are much more likely to deal this pick; I just don’t know to whom. They’re seeking a trade—that I can tell you. Philadelphia has no pick in rounds two or three, and the Eagles don’t pick until the end of round four. So as of now, they go from 33 to 129 without a pick. That’s why they’ll be trying to deal all night Thursday. If they stick … The Eagles have a 35-year-old left tackle, Jason Peters, coming off major injury, and starting guards (Stefan Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks) who will be 29 this season. Connor’s the perfect pick for them, in the unlikely event they stick.
A few more draft-related notes:
• Denzel Ward has earned my respect. The Ohio State cornerback had a tweaked ankle at the combine and left without doing some of the traditional athletic drills, including the 20-yard short shuttle. One team wanted that short shuttle. This team told Ward it needed the shuttle to complete its evaluation. A rep of the team told Ward he could even just find a friend to take a cellphone video of Ward doing the shuttle, and send it to the team. The team heard nothing back. Finally, on Saturday, the coach for this team got a ping on his smart phone. It was from Ward, with a slightly shaky video of him doing the short shuttle on an empty field somewhere. I doubt this team picks him, but it says something about Ward completing this task that’s impressive.
• The final word on the quarterbacks. I asked one longtime and well-connected scout about what he’s hearing regarding the order of top quarterbacks in this draft. In other words, if teams with a quarterback need could show their boards, what order would they go in? “Allen one, very slightly ahead of Darnold. Then Mayfield. But the people who like Mayfield love Mayfield.” Watch for Arizona trading up on Mayfield if he gets past the Jets and Broncos.
• There will be some trades in this draft that might seem one-sided. Several team officials told me in the past few days that they value Day 2 picks (rounds two and three) so highly that they’d be willing to take slightly less in compensation to move down. Where could this come into play? Cleveland (four), Indianapolis (six), Baltimore (16), Seattle (18), New England (23, 31), New Orleans (27), Philadelphia (32). “This is not your typical draft,” said one veteran club official Sunday. “The second, third and even fourth rounds are gold. You can take less than the trade-value chart says and still make a very good trade if you get multiple picks in those rounds.”
• The draft was more fun then. In the 17th and final round of the 1972 draft, GM Joe Thomas of the Baltimore Colts turned to 32-year-old PR guy Ernie Accorsi and said: “I am exhausted. You make the pick.” The 17th-round picks, in those days, were training-camp bodies, with long odds to ever make an NFL roster. The draft wasn’t televised in 1972, and the later rounds were a just-get-it-done affair. Accorsi gave him this name: Tim Berra, wide receiver/kick returner, UMass. How cool. Yogi Berra’s son, drafted into the NFL. “And he made the team!” Accorsi said. “He returned a kick for a touchdown for us in an exhibition game, and he made our roster for the ’74 season.”
• Hall of Fame Factoid I Have Used Before But Never Gets Old. In 1964, these were consecutive picks:
Round 7, 88th Overall, to Dallas: Bob Hayes, WR, Florida A&M
Round 7, 89th Overall, to Detroit: Bill Parcells, OT, Wichita State
Parcells was picked 21 spots ahead of Leroy Kelly and 40 ahead of Roger Staubach.
Calling all schedule nerds!
If you’re bored by the process of making the NFL schedule, please skip this section. It’s straight from Schedule Nerdland. But I like it, and it’s a cool example of how the sausage gets made.
Sometimes in the process of gathering information for my annual how-the-NFL-made-this-year’s-schedule story, I hear interesting stories about things pertaining to the schedule, often from people around the league, sometimes from people inside the Val Pinchbeck Room, where over four months of digital trial-and-error, four NFL employees get the 256 regular-season games arranged.
This year the story is about the Rams-Chiefs game in Mexico City. Do you see the photo above? It’s a stack of “dead schedules,” those that looked very promising and passed muster enough to get hard looks from the master of the schedule, Howard Katz. After I left the Pinchbeck Room on Thursday evening, I made a few calls to see how the schedule was playing out in the league (favorably in most precincts, I heard). And a couple people were talking about Rams-Chiefs, and how that become one of the really attractive games in the league this year. They wondered how ESPN got it—and whether CBS or FOX (for a Thursday nighter) or NBC (Sunday night) was in the mix.
The answer, as it turns out, is they all were.
Think of the game: Two division champs, each likely to be very good in 2018, exporting the game to a place sure to draw 100,000, in what is likely to be a frenzied atmosphere. There was the added zest of the Chiefs trading one of the best young corners, Marcus Peters, to the Rams this year, and Peters wanted to exact revenge on the Chiefs.
The league pegged the game for Week 11. Apparently the schedule-makers, Katz and Mike North particularly, originally preferred the game to be on Thursday night. Rams COO Kevin Demoff told me yes, this was the case, and the urging to make this a showcase game began at the Super Bowl. For two reasons: The league wanted to reward FOX for rescuing it by bidding up the Thursday night rights fees—now $660 million for the 11-game package, an increase of 30 percent from 2017—and simply for a potential huge rating for a package of games that needed the boost based on falling 2017 Thursday viewership. Plus, it was likely to be a really fun game, and the bigger the audience, the better for the NFL.
A couple of problems. The league couldn’t bring two teams to Mexico City on a short week unless they had their byes the week before. And no team wants a Thursday night game coming off the bye, because that likely would mean the team would have to return to work on the Saturday before the game, cutting a couple of days from the players’ time off. For players, that’s a taboo. In addition, there was problem for the Rams: Customs at Los Angeles International Airport closes at 12:30 a.m. daily. The Rams likely would have to stay overnight in Mexico City and leave the next day to account for that. Teams hate staying on the road after road games.
It was the Rams giving up the home game to make the Mexico game a reality, so the league had to make it right for them. Demoff said North worked on him during Super Bowl week about playing on Thursday night in Mexico. “But we were adamant that it could not happen,” Demoff said. “Especially on a Thursday, with the bye issue. And for any prime-time games, we’d have the Customs issue at LAX. We thought this game should be a Sunday afternoon doubleheader game.”
Early Sunday was out, because the Rams would push back against a 10:05 a.m. PT game; West Coast teams hate the early-body-clock games. The Sunday doubleheader was interesting … but what would happen if the scheduled Sunday night game ended up having to be flexed out, and the league wanted to put Chiefs-Rams in there? Tough to flex to a game in Mexico, and say to NBC: You’ve got to do an international game in 13 days. Similarly, if the league made it a Sunday night game, what if the Chiefs or Rams stunk and the league had to flex out of the game? Tough to tell CBS to get a crew into Mexico that fast.
As for Monday night, the Customs issue was real for the Rams. What, the schedulers thought, could happen if we gave the Chiefs and Rams their bye in Week 12—Thanksgiving Week? That week traditionally doesn’t have byes, because it’s tough to build a good Sunday schedule when three Thursday games are removed for Thanksgiving and there’s both a Sunday and Monday nighter. Giving two teams byes would mean a thin 10-game daylight slate for Sunday.
But the NFL saw it could build a decent schedule and still give the Chiefs and Rams byes. Pats-Jets plus a Jags-Bills playoff rematch in the early CBS window; Giants-Eagles and Russell Wilson-Cam Newton in the early FOX window; Steelers-Broncos as the CBS doubleheader game; the Packers-Vikings rivalry on Sunday night; Deshaun Watson-Marcus Mariota on Monday night. Not the best Sunday of the season, but not bad either.
And so it happened. The bye is late, but for two teams hoping to make the playoffs, look at it this way: Two teams (Washington and Carolina) have byes in Week 4, which means they’ll play three games, have a bye, then play 13 straight weeks. Now two teams have the bye in Week 12, which mean they’ll play 11 straight weeks to start the season, have a bye, then play five games at a time of the year when the bye is likely needed more than Washington and Carolina needed in Week 4.
That’s where this photo of the pile of schedules comes in. I’m told some of them died because of the Rams-Chiefs kerfuffle. But it got solved, without much attention. And now you know how problems get worked out with the schedule, and why, in part, it takes four people four months to do.
Some perspective, from North: “The incredible thing is not even that we get through half a million schedule possibilities now … The miracle is Val Pinchbeck used to build this thing by hand. One game at a time. Not even being able to consider things like rest disparity, travel, stadium blocks, not even being able to think about, oh, so-and-so caught a three-game road trip last year so it shouldn’t happen to him again. We can be really discerning now.”
In the end, the NFL considered 59,031 schedules, including some of the dead schedules that had Rams-Chiefs in all different windows. That’s something, very likely, Pinchbeck’s schedule could never have contemplated.
Quotes of the Week
“I really believe—and this is Mike Mayock talking, not [Cleveland GM] John Dorsey, I have no inside knowledge—my gut tells me that, if you're choosing between the two, Josh Allen might have the higher ceiling, but you've swung and missed so many times in Cleveland at quarterback, can you afford another one with your first pick? Your first pick has got to set the tone, and I think at the end of the day it will be Sam Darnold, and he's got a little Brett Favre in him, which I think John likes. John likes a little swagger. [Darnold will] make some mistakes and turn the ball over, but at the end of the day, that's what my gut tells me.”
—NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft media call Friday.
I am skeptical of virtually all mocks these days—including my own. But I will be watching Mayock’s on Wednesday night (NFL Network, 8 p.m. ET) and divining his picks—and his clues.
“Eric introducing me for this prestigious award brings me great joy. But I am also pained by the fact that his taking a knee, and demonstrating courage to protect the rights of black and brown people in America, has also led to his ostracization from the NFL.”
—The similarly ostracized Colin Kaepernick, on unemployed safety Eric Reid, in remarks quote by The New York Times, as Kaepernick received a prestigious award Saturday night from Amnesty International.
“We all know that the elements in Cleveland play a role. I think hand size is important. With that being said, hand size in November and December in the elements when it is snowing, when it is raining, it is muddy, the hand size … That is what you were talking about in terms of the fumbles of [Sam] Darnold. You are worried about that sometimes. So, hand size.”
—Cleveland GM John Dorsey, in discussing the quarterback-preference factors at his draft news conference last Thursday.
Josh Allen’s hand size is the biggest among the top prospects, at 10 1/8 inches. Sam Darnold’s: 9 3/8.
“Does he win? Does he have accuracy? Does he have a strong arm? Can he throw the ball in the red zone and in tight windows? Can he drive the ball? At the end of the game, does he win? That is kind of what I look for.”
—Cleveland GM John Dorsey, in discussing the quarterback-preference factors at his draft news conference Tuesday.
Darnold was 20-4 as a college starter, Allen 16-9 (at a lower level of competition).
My point: Look for clues in what Dorsey says during press conferences at your own risk.
“Really, the process couldn’t be more boring. But there’s such an incredible fascination with the end result.”
—NFL schedule-maker Howard Katz, who works with a four-person team for four months to come up with the schedule each year. I wrote about it last Thursday night—the process of 1,000 computers spitting out 59,031 possible schedules, quoting Katz and longtime aide Mike North about the process.
Said Katz: “Mike is trying to get the computer to think the way I’m thinking.”
Stats of the Week
So when the draft kicks off on Thursday night, one team’s fans are going to have to be patient. Like, ridiculously patient.
The Rams’ first pick is the 87th overall choice, barring a trade. That’s two-thirds of the way down into the third round. Los Angeles will not have a pick Thursday night for the approximately three-and-a-half-hour first round. Los Angeles will not have a pick for the approximately two-and-a-half-hour second round. Los Angeles will not have a pick for about the first 70 minutes of Round 3. In total, that’s seven hours of dead time for Rams fans.
Thursday’s draft coverage starts at 8 p.m. ET. Nothing for the Rams that night.
Friday’s draft coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET. Nothing for the Rams that night, if the timing is approximately what it was last year, until about 10:38 p.m. ET.
Then nothing until late in Round 4, the 35th pick of day three.
That better be one heck of a draft party, with lots of free booze, for the Rams in Los Angeles this weekend.
Two hitters in Red Sox history have three home runs in a game three times.
Ted Williams hit three home runs in one game at age 27, 38 and 38.
Mookie Betts has done it at 23, 23 and 25.
Tweets of the Week
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
• This week’s conversation, as a precursor to the quarterback-rich 2018 draft, is a piece of living history with former Baltimore Colts and New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, recounting his role in the notable 1983 and 2004 quarterback drafts. In 2004, the Chargers were scheduled to pick first and Accorsi’s Giants fourth, and Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were the first three passers slated to go. The Giants wanted Manning. I called Accorsi the Friday night before the draft and said I heard he’d be getting a call from Chargers GM A.J. Smith about a deal when the Giants were on the clock. San Diego picked Manning one, and Accorsi picked up the story when the fourth overall picks approached.
“A.J. had said, ‘We'll talk Friday. I'll call you Friday.’ I wasn’t going to call him because I knew if I was going to chase him, I had no chance. I never heard from him Friday, and that’s also the day Cleveland [picking seventh and offering a second-round pick for the Giants to move from four to seven] called. I was tempted by that, because we had heard that Roethlisberger might slip, but what stopped me very late in those negotiations was, what if I go to seven and lose him now? And I’m not going to forgive myself. There are other good players there, but you know how I felt about the quarterback, so I backed out at the last second.
“I usually picked right away. I wanted to be decisive. Let’s get the guy. I might have done it because I will tell you, not hearing from him on Friday, not hearing from him on Saturday morning, I had pretty much given up hope that we were going to be able to make this trade. But that call from you gave me pause. I was sitting there … at the seven-minute mark of the 15-minute interval, my secretary said, ‘A.J. is on the phone.’
“A.J. said, I’ll never forget this, ‘Do you want Eli?’ I said, ‘Yeah, A.J., I want Eli. He said, well, you got ’em, but I have to have [young Giants defensive end Osi] Umenyiora.’ I said, ‘Look, I told you six weeks ago, I’m not trading Umenyiora. That’s a deal breaker.’ He said, ‘Will you give me next year's No. 1, among other picks?' I said, ‘Yes, I will.’”
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
The Bills cut linebacker Nordly “Cap” Capi the other day.
Cap Capi was due to make $555,000 this season, with no pro-rated signing bonus to add to Cap Capi’s cap charge, so the Bills’ cap savings for cutting Cap Capi is $555,000. Cap Capi carries no future cap charge, so Cap Capi’s 2018 cap charge is the only relevant cap consequence for Buffalo cutting Cap Capi, according to cap site Over The Cap. Should Cap Capi sign with another team, Cap Capi’s cap charge in 2018 would likely be equal to what Cap Capi’s cap charge in Buffalo would have been.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I hope the 32 NFL owners saw Colin Kaepernick get the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award in Amsterdam on Saturday night. An internationally noted citizen cannot find employment in the NFL. If that’s not a damning indictment of the NFL, I don’t know what is.
2. I think this would earn a disapproving stare from Houston coach Bill O’Brien:
a. The Texans played the Patriots in Foxboro on Sept. 22, 2016.
b. The Texans played the Patriots in Foxboro on Sept. 24, 2017.
c. The Texans will play the Patriots in Foxboro on Sept. 9, 2018.
3. I think this is the definition of fan loyalty: Since midseason 2016, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are 6-12, including losses of 62-3, 56-14, 54-21 and 56-14. On Saturday, they drew 86,818 paying customers to see their spring game.
4. I think, if you want to know why we are buried in a hillock of mock drafts today, read this story by The MMQB’s Tim Rohan. And read Bill Belichick talk about the godfather of mocks and of scouting college players for every team as a hobby, the late Joel Buchsbaum. What a relationship Belichick and Buchsbaum had. As relayed by Hub Arkush, Belichick once said: “Joel was one of my best friends.”
5. I think I am one person, flailing against the gigantic windmill that is NFL Draftmania, which is so loved by the NFL because it keeps NFL beat people and draftnik sites in full-draft-promotion mode for four full months, further bolstering the prospect for higher ratings on the three-day draft weekend. It is absurd that the NFL draft begins 108 days after the college football season ends, and 152 days after the last big Saturday of the college football season. There is no good reason for the draft to be so late, and to add to the already mountainous degree of difficulty for these college players by preventing them from working with their teams until May.
6. I think bigger isn’t always better, but you’d never know that by covering the National Football League.
7. I think I appreciate Awful Announcing’sMatt Yoder drawing attention to the bloated draft coverage by pointing to a passage in a Sporting Newsstory about the NFL’s draft plans for the Dallas area this weekend, and the TV plans therein:
“And as the annual football festival grows in popularity, some league executives envision the draft potentially becoming the sports equivalent of a U.S. presidential election—a sports event televised simultaneously across most or all of the national broadcast networks: NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN’s sister Disney network ABC. This year’s event will be televised by a record six TV entities, including two broadcast channels (Fox and ABC) and four cable networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and NFL Network). ABC will simulcast ESPN’s coverage of Rounds 4-7 on Saturday. That means all seven rounds will air on broadcast television for the first time.
“That’s one of the key provisos, said sources. If the league’s other broadcast partners eventually want the draft, they would likely have to televise it on their main broadcast channels, not their smaller sports cable networks. In other words, NBC Sports would have to show it on NBC, not NBCSN, and so forth. Fox is airing it this year on so-called ‘big Fox’ rather than its FS1/FS2 cable channels.”
Writes Yoder: “I can think of few things further detached from reality than the NFL actually envisioning the draft (again, not the Super Bowl, not even a game, but the draft) being on the same level as the presidential election.”
8. I think the best football news of the week, other than the fact that we’ve got only three days of hype yet before round one, is that the Monday night games will (should) be over before Colbert every week now. The new start time: 8:15 p.m. ET, 15 minutes earlier than the old time.
9. I think congrats are in order for Chris Palmer, the first head coach in the revitalized history (1999-today) of the Cleveland Browns. He’s now the athletics director at the University of New Haven, the place that gave him his first football head-coaching job in 1986. Talked to Palmer the other day, and he’s happy living a totally different life at a small liberal-arts college, giving back for what became his good fortune a long time ago.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by Yuki Naguchi of National Public Radio, bringing home the story of opioid addiction to middle America. It’s a touching piece from Muncie, Ind., with a hopeful girl dead a year after thinking she’d beaten it, and parents who bled savings and retirement income to try to save her life.
b. I listened to that three times. It left me incredibly sad. But it’s something we’ve got to face as a country. We've got to address this scourge.
c. Excellent job by the Pulitzer Committee, on this same subject, recognizing the Cincinnati Enquirer for its project on the scourge of heroin on greater Cincinnati, spending a week in the area documenting the crisis. In that week, 18 local residents died of heroin use, and there at least 180 heroin overdoses. One week, one metro area, one medium-sized city, one substance, 18 needless deaths.
d. College Football Story of the Week: by Paul Myerberg of USA Today, on the quarterback recruit, Brevin White from California, who chose Princeton over Alabama. Cool tale.
e. Pro Football Story of the Week: by Greg Bishop of SI, on why Jake Locker walked away to a monk’s life in rural Washington.
f. Good lesson there. One of the things about studying players during the draft is judging love of the game. From what I’m told, no one in the NFL questioned the desire of Locker entering the 2011 draft. And there he was, less than four years later, saying he had no desire to play the game.
g. The interview on “HBO Real Sports” between Bryant Gumbel and Derek Jeter ought to be interesting. Saw some quotes from it Saturday night. Gumbel asked Jeter pointedly about tanking. Jeter denied tanking. Gumbel pressed him. Jeter said, “You’re mentally weak.”
h. Beernerdness: Okay, okay. It’s not sober April anymore, not with this weekend’s trip to San Francisco. Just too much good beer here. Rain check. When my daughter Laura saw the logo on this bottle—The Penske File American Pale Ale (Faction Brewing, Alameda, Calif.)—she knew she had to get it for me. (Google “Seinfeld Penske File,” kids.) Delicious, with just the right hoppy bite.
i. RIP Gil Santos, the 36-year radio voice of the Patriots. For many New Englanders, Santos was the lifeline to a young team fighting for respect and attention in the late ’60s during the AFL days. More recently, until his retirement in 2012, Santos was as respected a play-by-play voice as there was in the NFL for his even-handed approach to a team exploding in popularity.
j. RIP Harry Anderson, the best understated comedic TV actor of a great sitcom era.
k. RIP Bruno Sammartino. For a very short time in my adolescent life, I watched phony wrestling on snowy over-the-air TV on a Springfield, Mass., station, and Sammartino was my colorful favorite.
l. RIP Barbara Bush, one of the classiest, most forthright women of our lives. Great story told by her husband. When their son, George W. Bush, was visiting his parents during his presidency, he put his feet up on a coffee table at their home, and his mom sternly told him: “George, get your feet off my table!” George Bush the elder said: “The guy is president of the United States! Give him a break!” She said, “No! He knows better!”
m. RIP Earle Bruce, the successor to Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Coached the Buckeyes in the best college football game I covered way back in the day—John Elway-led Stanford 23, Ohio State 20. A good man.
n. I wish I could watch Andrelton Simmons play shortstop a few times a week. He is an amazing glove man. The diving double play he started against the Red Sox the other day was absolutely nuts.
o. Congrats to Oakland’s Sean Manaea for no-hitting the best team in baseball, and doing it decisively. A gem. Ten strikeouts against a team hitting as well as the Red Sox, and no truly loud outs. I watched a lot of the game on TV, and what was notable—and to Manaea’s credit—was his ability to make good hitters chase a bunch of bad pitches.
p. Ninth inning Manaea thoughts: “My heart was beating out of my chest.”
q. Two hours and 16 minutes! What was this, a 1936 no-hitter?
r. Manaea did get some help along the way, on Andrew Benintendi being called for running out of the baseline with two out in the sixth on a play at first base. Benintendi might have been out of the baseline, but the play was pretty close, and as he said, it’s likely not a call in a run-of-the-mill game that’s not a no-hitter in progress: "I think if we have 10 hits at that point, that’s a single.”
The Adieu Haiku
One more Josh Allen
rumination? I dare you.
One more, and I'll puke.
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