- From John Dorsey and Steve Keim to Joe Flacco and Jon Gruden, we take stock of NFL draft weekend and see who emerged on top and who did not.
While the truth won’t be revealed for years to come, there are some immediate beneficiaries of the 2018 draft. Like any seismic NFL event, the tea leaves start to develop, giving us a glimpse into the future.
With that in mind, here are some winners and losers off this past weekend’s draft festivities:
John Dorsey: I’ve written this exact thing in previous draft grade-type posts about the Sashi Brown regime, so take this for what it’s worth. That being said, I think the Browns’ organization displayed a sheen of professionalism this past weekend, making two top-five picks with conviction and little chaos. John Dorsey reportedly kept the pick secret, and the organization seemingly engaged in a bit of subterfuge heading into the draft—a rarity for the normally pinballing franchise that, around this time every year, does its best to combat a series of damaging leaks that depict an organization rife with inner turmoil. Dorsey’s great challenge is preventing Cleveland from continuously playing catch up. This draft—which netted them a quarterback who can operate in the same system as their projected starter Tyrod Taylor, and a defensive back that joins their budding and eclectic secondary—could finally help them bridge the gap.
Steve Keim: Amid the hysteria, Keim lands one of the big five quarterbacks, and he didn’t have to give up an additional first-round pick and suddenly has a glut of starting-eligible quarterbacks on his roster. When the training camp injury wave inevitably hits, Keim will be in a position of strength, especially during a time when the Cardinals are theoretically rebuilding. Sam Bradford or Mike Glennon could get traded without hesitation, allowing Rosen to step in and learn on the fly. Keim was getting roundly destroyed for his offseason and hesitance on trading into the top five. As it turns out, he played the board perfectly. As one analyst told me heading into the draft, Rosen may have had the best grip on NFL style playbooks and concepts of any prospective quarterback this year.
Jets fans: They’ve been here before, of course. But Sam Darnold nets them a win and sends Jets fans into their first fat-and-happy offseason at the quarterback position in years. Assuming Teddy Bridgewater displays some health in training camp, GM Mike Maccagnan has a pair of flippable assets in Bridgewater and Bryce Petty. This may be the most optimism surrounding a quarterback room (projecting Josh McCown and Darnold to make the final roster) since the 2010–11 offseason—the year Mark Sanchez played a series of unflappable playoff games and finished his regular season with more yards and touchdowns and with fewer interceptions. That’s not a high bar, but in Florham Park, it’s something.
Ozzie Newsome: The Ravens quietly had the best draft this past weekend, and it may not end up being close. No general manager was allowed to pepper his current roster and future roster with talent quite like Newsome, who leaves a stellar legacy behind after 27 years in personnel and two Super Bowl titles. While teams like the Giants remain bonded to their declining franchise quarterbacks, Newsome has been able to reconfigure a dynamic offense of the future that could be ready as soon as Joe Flacco putters out.
Calvin Ridley: As I wrote in the SI Draft Column a few weeks ago, there is a brewing crisis at the wide receiver position. The main culprit? College offenses that simplify schemes for speed and convenience at the NFL’s expense, and position coaches who take shortcuts in the teaching process when it comes to route running. Enter Ridley, who now gets to play for a former Alabama offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian. It’s not everything—Ridley still faces an uphill climb at the NFL level, but does so with a coach who can serve as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, and a No. 1 wide receiver in Julio Jones who will ensure plenty of single coverage.
Eli Manning: The NFL’s Prince William gets the royal treatment befitting of an untouchable end-of-career Manning. Instead of the Giants realistically rebuilding and nabbing one of the core four quarterbacks in this year’s draft, general manager Dave Gettleman bets on the Ezekiel Elliott theory. Maybe a dynamic running back can inject new life into the end of Manning’s career, and the Giants’ stellar second round pick of Will Hernandez further supports that sentiment. Either way, Manning, who got to pick his NFL team as a rookie without any scrutiny, now gets to have his golden years tailored to him. Ah, the gilded life.
The draft machine: The NFL is incapable of handling certain situations responsibly. Case in point: The Josh Allen reports in the days leading up to the draft.
First, as Adam Schefter reported, there are those in the NFL who believe a team floated Allen’s racially insensitive tweets ahead of the draft in order to harm his stock and cause him to fall to them. Think about that for a minute. If that’s true, a team unearthed these tweets in the research process, decided that they were fine with whatever he said and that their fan base would be OK with it, but that it was also horrible enough to cause other teams to pass on him. There is a callous underworld of the NFL, one that we’ll never be able to fully comprehend. It’s also one that the league has been consistently unable to control with their vast media presence, whether it’s issues of blind racism, grotesque injury or callous greed.
Predictably, the NFL tried to just sweep this matter into their Draft Variety Hour, which made the whole charade appear as tone-deaf as expected. Let’s have him interviewed on the red carpet, and then by the venerable, Walter Kronkite-esque Deion Sanders after the biggest moment of his life. Sanders, by the way, called what Allen had gone through “adversity." Adversity!
Giants fans: There is obviously a portion of the Giants’ fan base that resembles the post-Garcia deadheads. Despite the show being over, they still come hoping to hear the same tunes (Manning to Plax over the shoulder! Manning to Cruz on the quick slant!). They reared their heads last year, pushing the eventual Ben McAdoo firing to an in-season affair after McAdoo’s inability to handle the justifiable Manning benching. Now, they cheer the idea that Saquon Barkley will resurrect his career. However, there is a higher-minded contingent of Giants fans who recognize that this team, as presently constructed, is probably not good enough to win the NFC East over the next two years and would be better off pivoting toward a rebuild. They wisely fear the day when Manning turns 39, wobbles around in the pocket without any ammunition, and there’s no realistic heir on the horizon.
Analytics: First off, good for PFF’s Steve Palazzolo, who was on the Baker-Mayfield-to-Browns train from the beginning. Mayfield was far and away PFF’s top quarterback, at a time when many mainstream analysts were disagreeing. If nothing else, it helps legitimize their process, which is admittedly a work in progress. Not all NFL teams, however, seemed to be making the kind of suave, next-generation moves befitting of the analytic wave. Gettleman, for one, hands a heap of guaranteed money to the least reliable position in the NFL—a person who will almost certainly exit his athletic prime by the end of this rookie deal. Sean Payton gave up a future first-rounder to move up for a defensive end. The Bills took a quarterback described this way by Football Outsiders:
Last year, Wyoming finished 119th in passing S&P+ out of 130 teams in FBS. That will be the lowest rank ever for a quarterback chosen in the top 100 picks of the NFL draft. Yes, I know, Allen wasn’t playing with a bunch of NFL-bound talent around him. He also wasn’t facing a lot of NFL-bound talent on defense. The average opponent faced by Wyoming ranked just 83.5 in pass defense S&P+. Allen’s performance against top opponents was brutal. He threw two picks with no touchdowns against Iowa, with just 4.35 yards per attempt. He completed just 9-of-24 passes with 64 yards and a pick against Oregon. He completed 44 percent of passes with two picks and only 131 yards against Boise State.
Joe Flacco: Hard to think time isn’t ticking for the Ravens quarterback, although, like a former president, he’ll enter a very lucrative post-career line of work. Flacco can be a premium spot starter for the remainder of his career, plucking off high-end, one-year deals like cabernet grapes in the fall. It’s good work if you can get it. However, if the Ravens offense continues to flounder in the mud, he’ll have to confront the reality that his current situation has reached its logical conclusion. This is harder for Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks than one might imagine.
Jon Gruden: Maybe, like any good Las Vegas magician, Gruden’s grand reveal is still to come. But for so many teams with new coaches, an a-ha moment arrives via the draft; a clue as to what the plan might be. The Raiders took a left tackle of the future after trading down with the Cardinals in exchange for a pocket full of change. While no one is going to complain about strengthening the core of your offensive line, Derek Carr is in his prime and has a current weapon set of Amari Cooper and a 32-year-old Jordy Nelson. Luckily, they also have a mercurial 32-year-old running back to anchor their ground game. What could go wrong? Also, Oakland’s fifth-round punter selection just cemented the ridiculousness that was cutting Marquette King because he wasn’t a Gruden Grinder. It just feels difficult, given what Oakland has done so far, to see them quickly legitimizing the new regime.