Melissa’s NFL Draft Musings: Baltimore Ravens Win Day 1

In my draft preview edition of The Football Girl Podcast, long-time scout turned analyst for the Dallas Cowboys, Bryan Broaddus, waxed poetic on how the draft has evolved. The notion of the draft, an event where no actual sport is played, being held in a stadium full of 100,000 rabid fans is surreal. But what unfolded during Thursday’s first round more than warranted the massive stage. From Cleveland’s stunning top pick to Ozzie Newsome’s last first round pick ever, here are my thoughts on the winners, losers, angst, emotion, and sheer silliness that was the first day of the 2018 NFL Draft…

Biggest winner: Baltimore Ravens

Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome was on wheeling and dealing overload Thursday. Had he just traded down six slots with the Bills and selected Lamar Jackson at 22, it would have been a successful night. Had Newsome taken Jackson when the Ravens moved from 22 to 25 in a trade with the Titans, it would have been a successful night.  But to select the top TE in the draft, Hayden Hurst, at 25 and then move up in a trade with the Eagles to nab Jackson at no. 32 is a drafting master class for Newsome in the  series finale of his storied history of first round gems. (Newsome announced he’s stepping down as general manager after his season.)

Hurst is a great pick alone, and plays a position the Ravens were desperate to address. But the Jackson pick could be the biggest steal in recent history.  Simply put, Jackson is the most explosive playmaker in this class. He keeps plays alive, yet can also throw downfield with accuracy, though could improve in this department. The potential with Jackson is sky high and fine-tuning some errant tendencies while under Joe Flacco’s tutelage is absolutely ideal. Love that the Ravens now have a full-fledged succession plan unlike some other teams (ahem, New England), especially as they’ve loaded up on offensive weapons.  Baltimore has signed WRs Willie Snead, John Brown and Michael Crabtree this offseason, and, of course, added Hurst.

The Ravens clearly took advantage of a disastrous evaluation season for Jackson. Some scouts and GMs wanted him to consider playing RB, an incredibly insulting notion if you’ve actually seen him play. Jackson declined to run the 40 at the combine so as not to perpetuate this rusher-first stigma, which in turn turned off evaluators who are too reliant of measurables.  The reality is that Jackson improved his command of the pocket over time all while running more complex concepts than several of the quarterbacks taken ahead of him. I just don’t see how any GM could sit back and decide to invest in Josh Allen, who was actually not good in college, over Jackson.

Bottom line is Jackson at 32 is the ultimate in low risk, high reward.  He’s supremely talented but no one will flinch if he doesn’t ultimately work out unlike some other quarterbacks, which leads me to…

Biggest loser: Cleveland Browns

While I love Baker Mayfield’s grit, success against top-flight talent in college, and mostly his recreation of Brett Favre’s famous draft photo, I ranked him behind Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Jackson. Mayfield’s size and lack of arm strength are key issues, especially for a franchise that desperately needs to win now. Mayfield is among the more NFL ready quarterbacks in this draft but he’s going to need some intense Favre-ian intangibles to have a long, All-Pro type career. Either way, don’t leave the jorts at home!

The Browns pick of CB Denzel Ward at no. 4 is also puzzling in its sheer lack of strategy. Ward is a stud corner who can play all over the field, and sure, everyone is looking for the next Marshon Lattimore. But the Browns could have traded down a few picks and almost definitely got Ward. Did they really not pursue this option?

The only saving grace is faith in the track record of shrewd draft consultant Scot McCloughan who is responsible for picks such as Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Earl Thomas, and Alex Smith. The Browns brought McCloughan on in February.

Perhaps the biggest winner in Cleveland is Hue Jackson. If reports are true and Jackson was not made aware of GM John Dorsey’s draft plan until two days ago, at least he can partially separate from the blame if all goes awry.

Smartest singular move: Jason Licht

The Bucs would have drafted DT Vita Vea at the no. 7 slot. But instead Licht took advantage of Buffalo’s quarterback desperation, traded down to 12, and still got Vea and two second rounders in the process.  Licht was worried about a couple of teams selecting him but  some smart scenario play led the Bucs to believe he would still be undrafted at 12. They were right and, that folks, is how you draft.

Biggest headscratcher: Josh Rosen’s fall

His perplexed face said it all. Mayfield, then Darnold, then Allen, while Rosen sat and waited. Many pundits, myself included, believe Rosen to be the best, most-NFL ready QB in this draft. That collective confidence in Rosen doesn’t come close to his own. “There were 9 mistakes ahead of me,” Rosen said after the Arizona Cardinals moved up to nab him at 10.

Rosen has been panned for his outspokenness on issues ranging from politics to simply preening that he wants to be the greatest to ever play football. I don’t get the issue. Don’t we want our quarterbacks to believe they can conquer the world?

Again, I don’t understand how any thinking human could value Allen over Rosen.

Best moment in NFL Draft history: #Shalieve

The next time I don’t feel like writing a column or running that last half-mile or doing the dishes, I’m going to watch this.

Adam Schefter tweeted that one of the best moments in NFL history was upcoming, and he actually didn’t oversell it.

Mock prediction everyone nailed: Goodell’s boo shower

Not even the presence of Cowboys’ greats Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Jason Witten could prevent the inevitable. The boo-birds for Roger Goodell were deafening which tends to happen when 100,000 people in the same location are unified over one thing.  The juxtaposition of excitement for attendance of this sporting event vs. sheer hatred toward the sport’s figureheard is staggering.

Best media trend: Live streams

From ESPN’s live Twitter show with Mina Kimes, Clinton Yates and Jason Fitzgerald to Yahoo’s live stream with Liz Loza, Brad Evans and Andy Behrens and many smaller productions in between, we saw an explosion of first round shows this year. Some were more produced then others but they provided the feeling that you had a lot of draft parties to attend.

Worst media trend: Tipping picks

The NFL’s broadcast partners finally clamped down on tipping from the Adam Schefters of the world but that didn’t stop members of other outlets from marring our experience. I’ve asked at least 100 people the point of tipping picks. No one has a viable answer. It sucks.  Please stop.

A few more quick hits:

  • I take the 49ers drafting a tackle (Mike McGlinchey out of Notre Dame) instead of a linebacker as a sign that the team believes embattled LB Reuben Foster will remain a 49er.
  • Love Saquon Barkley and agree with many other pundits who believe he’s the best running back since Adrian Peterson. Just hope they are ready to alter their offense to play to his strengths and deal with an extraordinarily confident locker room. Even with Odell Beckham sharing a field, Barkley could become the Giants’ top offensive weapon.
  • National anthems have no place before an NFL draft. It’s a draft, not an actual sporting event. Were they giving the prospects one last test of measurables: anthem body language?
  • This was clearly a QB heavy first round, but also LB and offensive line stacked. But still can’t believe a WR wasn’t taken until the 24thpick (D.J.Moore by Carolina) in this pass-first league.
  • Didn’t realize until tonight that the Cardinals’ fan base is called the Red Sea. Can’t wait to crack some Moses-Josh-Rosen passover jokes.
  • Bill Belichick drafting a RB in the first round is almost as strange as Bill Belichick trading away Tom Brady’s successor for a 2nd rounder.