Griffith's Got Stats: NFL Draft
Following the end of college basketball season, the NFL Draft has come and gone, giving sports pundits something else to talk about for the next few weeks. This year’s installation of the draft featured a lot of firsts, such as the first draft held at an NFL stadium, the first draft since 1999 to have five quarterbacks taken in the first round (Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen) and the first draft to feature two brothers taken in the first round (Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds of Virginia Tech).
Speaking of quarterbacks, this year’s draft was expected to feature a good amount of them taken in the first round, as there were a lot of teams that needed them. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. threw around the idea that if some teams traded up, four quarterbacks could have been taken in the first five picks. Every quarterback had his set of baggage as well. Darnold was seen as the “safe” pick, but his turnover problems increased in the season before the draft. Scouts saw Rosen as the intelligent quarterback, but his injury history, particularly his recent concussions, was worrisome. Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, had some character concerns and was shorter than ideal at 6 feet 1 inch. Allen was tall at 6 feet 5 inches and had a cannon of an arm, but his accuracy concerns against lesser competition (Allen played at the University of Wyoming) concerned some. Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, was more of a running quarterback, totaling 69 passing touchdowns and 50 rushing touchdowns during his career at the University of Louisville, but scouts questioned his ability to play quarterback, with some rumored to have had him run wide receiver drills during workouts.
The allure of draft day was when each of these quarterbacks would go and to which team. The first overall pick belonged to the Cleveland Browns, who drafted Mayfield. Mayfield is expected to sit for some time behind former Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, for whom Cleveland traded in the offseason. Darnold would be picked third overall by the New York Jets. The Jets needed to get a quarterback in case 38-year-old Josh McCown retired. The next one to go was Allen, who went to the Bills after the team traded up from the 12th spot to the seventh spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rosen would go next at number 10 to the Arizona Cardinals, who traded up from 15 with the Oakland Raiders. The two most recent Heisman Trophy winners would poetically bookend the first round of the draft, after the Baltimore Ravens traded up to the 32nd pick with the Philadelphia Eagles to grab Lamar Jackson.
So which teams did well? Even though the team traded up to get a quarterback, I thought the Arizona Cardinals had a very successful draft. The trade up to get Josh Rosen only required the Cardinals to also give up a third-round and a fifth-round pick, which is a steal to get an eventual franchise quarterback. With the second and third round picks the Cardinals retained, the team immediately addressed the offense to help its starting quarterback, whether that be Rosen or the newly acquired Sam Bradford. The Cardinals drafted wide receiver Christian Kirk out of Texas A&M University in the second round to give the offense a weapon outside of Larry Fitzgerald and drafted offensive lineman Mason Cole out of the University of Michigan in the third round, adding some nice offensive line depth to protect the team’s quarterback.
In addition to the Cardinals, I really liked the Denver Broncos’ draft. The Broncos picked fifth and got the best edge rusher in the draft in North Carolina State University’s Bradley Chubb. Chubb finished his college career with 54.5 tackles for loss, with 10 sacks in each of his past two seasons. This addition makes Denver’s defensive line one of the scariest in the league. Chubb will be paired up with former second overall pick Von Miller. The addition of Chubb will free Miller from double teams, and the return of Shane Ray from injury will give opposing teams trouble figuring out who to defend. The Broncos also added some much-needed depth throughout the offense with the additions of Southern Methodist University wide receiver Courtland Sutton in the second round, University of Oregon running back Royce Freeman in the third, Pennsylvania State University wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton in the fourth and University of Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli in the fifth. This young crop of offensive players will give new quarterback Case Keenum some help on his new team.
As for the teams that didn’t do so well, many analysts are saying the Oakland Raiders had a bad draft. As a Raiders fan myself, I wasn’t thrilled with the draft, but I see why the front office made the picks it did and I have reasons to be excited. Analysts point to Oakland’s defense as the worst aspect of the roster in the past few years, with glaring holes at linebacker. So naturally, Oakland picked Kolton Miller, an offensive tackle from the University of California, Los Angeles, with its first pick. The reasoning behind this pick may be because the AFC West is becoming a hotbed for pass-rushers, and general manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Jon Gruden want to protect their quarterback Derek Carr. The draft had a very old-school Raiders feel to it, with the team taking chances on small school prospects (defensive tackle PJ Hall out of Sam Houston State University and offensive tackle Brandon Parker out of North Carolina A&T University) and high-talent players with big question marks (defensive end Arden Key checked himself into rehab for marijuana issues and put on weight before his last season, and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst fell in the draft due to a heart issue; he has since been cleared). Even though the Raiders didn’t take a linebacker until the sixth round, when they picked Azeem Victor from the University of Washington, the team is building from the trenches. With a brand-new coaching staff under Gruden, Oakland may make some noise again before moving to Las Vegas in a few years.