The 2017 NFL Draft is now in the books. It was an action-packed three-day event in Philadelphia, one that saw the league’s 32 teams attempt to build for the future. There’s surely a lot to focus on here as we recap the events.
From quarterbacks finding themselves valued at an all-time high clip to running backs making a return to relevancy, there’s a ton we can take away from the skill positions.
Though, there’s a lot more to focus on. Did the New York Jets fail to begin its rebuild project by taking two very similar players at the same position with their first two picks? How did first-year general manager John Lynch navigate through his first draft with the San Francisco 49ers? Did the Cleveland Browns finally turn the corner after struggling on draft day for so many years?
These are among the top-10 takeaways from the 2017 NFL Draft.
Quarterback value at an all-time high
We entered the 2017 NFL Draft with the belief that it was one of the weakest at quarterback in recent league history. That entire idea was pretty much thrown out the window within the first dozen picks.
It started at No. 2 overall, where the Chicago Bears exhausted a huge capital to move up just one spot for North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. All said, Chicago yielded two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick in the trade. It was met with some rather harsh reactions.
But the reality of the situation is that Chicago saw a potential franchise quarterback in the inexperienced Trubisky and went after it. That’s the way you’re supposed to do it.
Then later in the top 10, Kansas City found a potential heir-apparent to Alex Smith in the form of former Texas Tech standout Pat Mahomes. It cost Andy Reid and Co. there first-round pick (27th overall), a third-round pick and the team’s first rounder in 2018. Again, that’s a mighty high price to pay. And again, the Chiefs proved that quarterback value is at an all-time high.
It didn’t stop here. Considered by some to be the top quarterback in the class, Deshaun Watson was still on the board when the Browns were on the clock at 12. Seemingly not valuing Watson at the same clip as other teams, Cleveland moved down to the 25th pick with Houston, who then found both their quarterback of the today and tomorrow in Watson (more on that here).
Houston, having already given up a second-round pick in 2018 to Cleveland in the Brock Osweiler trade, dealt away its first rounder in that draft to the Browns in order to move up for Watson.
Onlookers were absolutely shocked to see what transpired within the first 12 picks on Thursday, but it has been a continual theme throughout the recent past. Remember, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles moved up to the top two picks last year to select Jared Goff and Carson Wentz respectively. Neither was seen as even a top-five player in the 2016 NFL Draft. This appears to be the new normal.
Browns ace the draft
That’s not a sentence we’ve typed in the recent history of the NFL Draft. But we have to give credit where it’s due. Cleveland made the obvious decision to pick up the consensus top player in the draft in the form of Myles Garrett No. 1 overall. We can’t give GM Sashi Brown and Co. too much credit for that.
It’s what the Browns did later in the first round and moving forward to Friday that should have fans of the long downtrodden franchise excited.
Cleveland moved out of the 12th pick with Houston, adding the Texans first rounder in 2018 in the process. It then used the Texans’ original first-round pick (25th overall) for the ultra-athletic Jabrill Peppers. Sure there are concerns about where Peppers might play at the next level. A diluted drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine also concerned teams. But he’s among the most-dynamic athletes in the entire draft. He can play strong safety and linebacker. Heck, here’s a dude that can rush the passer.
Following the pick, Browns head coach Hue Jackson also indicated that the team plans to use Peppers on offense at times. That added more upper-level talent to an offense that lacks much of it at the skill positions. Peppers is a football player. And if utilized correctly, will have a strong NFL career.
Then, tripling down in the first round, Cleveland moved up to the 29th pick to get whoever is under center a potential dominating tight end in David Njoku. At 6-foot-4 and 246, the Miami (F) product will be a massive target in between the hashes. He’s also someone that boasts a huge catch radius and can be physically dominating against smaller defensive backs. It’s a perfect fit for a team that will likely be relying on a young quarterback here soon.
Speaking of young quarterbacks, Cleveland used its second-round pick on former Notre Dame signal caller DeShone Kizer. Long bandied about as a potential first-round pick, Kizer fell to Day 2 following a bad performance at the combine. But make no mistake about it, he’s an elite-level talent with tremendous upside. While Kizer will likely have to wait a year or two to see the field, he could very well end up being Cleveland’s franchise quarterback.
The Browns were able to add all this tremendous talent while picking up another first-round pick in 2018. Here’s a team that now boasts five picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft. It’s going to be a long-term rebuilding process for the Browns, but they expedited it to an extent over the course of the three-day event in Philadelphia.
Patriots still do their thing
The defending champs did not have a selection in the first two rounds after picking up some tremendous veteran talent in trades earlier in the offseason. But true to Patriots form, Bill Belichick and Co. absolutely aced the picks they had.
It started with former Youngstown State star Derek Rivers in the third round. Here’s a player I had mocked to Atlanta in the first round. At 6-foot-4 and 248, he’s a massive option out on the edge. Rivers fits the Patriots’ hybrid defensive front to a T. He can play out on the edge in passing situations and can move inside in sub packages. It’s the type of flexibility New England has valued during its championship run.
Staying true to form when it comes to both value and need, New England then added former Troy guard Antonio Garcia in a trade later in the third round. A left tackle by trade, Garcia was bandied about as a potential second-round pick as the draft approached. Despite less-than-stellar competition in college, he translates extremely well to the pros. In fact, Garcia could start his career at right tackle before eventually moving to Tom Brady’s blindside. That’s great value late in Day 2.
Questions continue to arise about the Jets’ plan
With needs clear across the board, the New York Jets exhausted their first two picks on players at the same position. After adding an elite-level safety in Jamal Adams with the sixth overall pick, New York doubled down on Friday by selecting fellow safety Marcus Maye in the second round.
There’s surely a lot to process here. If the Jets had gone with a natural free safety like Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, then added Maye in the second round, it would have made sense. But both Adams and Maye fit more as in-the-box safeties. Neither is one of those players you want to put out there as your last line of defense.
New York arguably had needs at quarterback, tight end, offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback following a five-win 2016 season. Instead of addressing these needs early, the team doubled down on the same position. It really was odd to see.
We do like what New York did later in the draft to add talent at this skill positions. It picked up talented wide receivers ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen later in the draft while opting for former Clemson star tight end Jordan Leggett in the fifth round. These were really solid value picks at positions of need.
Nonetheless, we’re still thrown for a loop after GM Mike Maccagnan shocked the football world with two safeties in the team’s first two picks.
No reason to worry about John Lynch’s inexperience
Lynch was an absolute master moving up and down the draft board in his first experience as an NFL GM during the event. It started with his 49ers trading down one spot, from No. 2 overall to the third pick. In the process, San Francisco picked up a third-round pick and fourth-round pick this year as well as a third-round pick next year. Talk about hitting gold.
Interestingly enough, San Francisco ended up selecting the player it was going to pick with that second selection. It came in the form of Stanford defensive lineman and former Lynch classmate Solomon Thomas, one of the top-rated overall players in the draft.
Then, as the NFL world watched former Alabama All-American linebacker Reuben Foster tumble on Day 1, San Francisco used the fourth it acquired from Chicago to move up into the bottom of Round 1 for Foster. Prior to an incident at the combine and a diluted urine sample, Foster was considered the second-best defensive player in the draft behind Myles Garrett.
These two players add to a defensive front seven that already boasts talented youngsters DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead as well as All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Talk about expediting the rebuild process.
Without a second-round pick after moving that in the trade up for Foster, San Francisco then dealt the third-round pick it acquired in the Bears trade to New Orleans for the Saints’ seventh-round pick in 2017 and second-round pick in 2018. It was one of six trades Lynch made in his first draft as the team’s GM.
Despite reaching for former Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard in the third round, the 49ers were able to add talent to their skill-position group. They picked up running back Joe Williams in the fourth round and tight end George Kittle in the fifth round. Both boast tremendous upside as core players on a talent-stricken 49ers offense. Oh, did we mention San Francisco also swung a deal for Denver Broncos running back Kapri Bibbs?
We can’t say for sure that the 49ers’ draft class will be among the best in the NFL. What we do know is that Lynch was definitely not in over his head in his first draft as a GM. That has to be music to the ears of 49ers fans the world over.
Packers address needs, get some solid value
Green Bay entered the draft in immediate need of help on defense in order to keep its championship window open. After trading out of the first round completely, the Packers found that and a whole lot more.
They picked up former Washington cornerback Kevin King with the first pick in the second round. How good is King? He was the only player invited to the draft that decided to return to the green room after falling out of the first round. At 6-foot-3, King is tall by cornerback standards. But he is an in your face press guy. That’s what Green Bay needed on the outside.
Speaking of need, the Packers then went with one of the top cover safeties in the draft in North Carolina State’s Josh Jones with their other second-round pick. Jones can take over as a single-high safety and could be pushed into starter duty early in his career.
If this wasn’t enough, Green Bay also addressed needs along the defensive line and linebacker with the consecutive selections of Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel. These were tremendous depth picks and both players boast starter qualities. That’s big for a Packers squad that lacks talent in the front seven.
Character concerns weren’t that big of a deal
Joe Mixon to the Cincinnati Bengals. It was almost too perfect. A team that has not placed much importance on character taking a young adult that was shown punching a woman on video a couple years back. Mixon’s draft stock was a topic of debate leading up to the draft with some concluding that he would end up falling out of the draft completely.
Eventually, Mixon landed with one of the four teams that decided he was worth a draft pick. This will obviously lead to questions about the Bengals’ priorities, especially with the likes of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones already on the roster.
A day prior, the Oakland Raiders picked up former Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round. A top-end corner on the field, Conley was just recently accused of a felony. Though, charges have not been filed and Conley himself passed a team-orchestrated lie detector test leading up to the draft. Still, there is an ongoing investigation here. That should have been a pretty big red flag.
It really didn’t stop there. Dede Westbrook was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round. Just watch this clip to understand what those around the NFL think about the former Oklahoma wide receiver.
ESPN went in on Dede Westbrook after he was drafted pic.twitter.com/FJZTujamQY
— The Spun (@TheSpun) April 29, 2017
Then, in the sixth round, Cleveland added former Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley. It came about a week after Brantley himself was charged with knocking a woman unconscious during a fight earlier in the month. Heck, the Browns might have admitted they made a mistake within minutes of selecting the defensive lineman.
#Browns Sashi Brown on Caleb Brantley: "Facts may come up that may prevent us from keeping him on our roster''
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) April 29, 2017
This just goes to show us how little character itself matters to NFL teams. That should be a concern for those looking at the league re-branding itself after a span of ugly off-field incidents.
Teams find potential replacements for Pro Bowl quarterbacks
Eli Manning has never really had a backup quarterback to groom. We’re not going to count Ryan Nassib here, either. That changed on Friday night when the New York Giants added former CAL quarterback Davis Webb with its third-round pick.
Webb is seen as a project after excelling in Sonny Dykes’ spread offense at Berkeley. Though, he had received first-round buzz heading into the draft. This gives New York a clear line of line of succession for when Manning ultimately decides to hang them up.
Alex Smith might not make the decision to retire here soon, but the Chiefs found his successor after trading up for Pat Mahomes in the first round on Friday. Most of this will depend on Mahomes’ progression under center and his ability to go away form questionable techniques, but it would not be a surprise if Smith’s last season as the Chiefs’ starter was in 2017.
Kansas City yielded a first and third-round pick to move up for Webb. You don’t exhaust that capital without planning on starting the player in the near future.
It’s a little bit of a different situation in Pittsburgh. It was bandied about that Ben Roethlisberger might retire this offseason. Ultimately, the former Super Bowl quarterback decided to return for another season. How much longer Big Ben plays is anyone’s guess.
It’s in this that Pittsburgh added former Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the fourth round on Saturday. He’s definitely a project and will likely compete with Landry Jones for the No. 3 spot behind Big Ben and Zach Mettenberger. But there’s surely starter potential in the former Volunteer. With Big Ben showing him the way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dobbs eventually become a starter in the Steel City.
Most of the focus in this draft was on the quarterbacks teams traded up for in the first round. But there ended up being some solid depth at this position. New York and Pittsburgh took advantage of that by adding potential long-term starters.
Philadelphia really doesn’t like Roger Goodell
Embrace the villain role, Mr. Goodell. It’s there for the taking and you might as well roll with it. We’re not sure what people expected when the NFL decided to host the 2017 draft in Philadelphia.
Goodell is not a liked man around the football world, especially among fans. Add in the MO of the Philadelphia fan base, and that was obviously going to be taken to a whole new level.
But this was bad. Really, really bad.
A Tradition Unlike Any Other….
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) April 28, 2017
“Come on Philly, come on.”
That’s awesome of Goodell. He knew what he was in store for and embraced it. Overall, Philadelphia did a tremendous job hosting the annual event. There were certainly some awesome moments, especially when former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski acted a human shield for the commish.
— David (@xNYDavidNYx) April 28, 2017
Maybe this will be Goodell’s next act. Embracing that he’s vilified and just going with it. At this point, why the heck not?
Running backs are back
So very punny.
In any event, after seeing running backs valued at a lower clip in recent drafts, it looks like they might very well be back. For only the third time in the past eight years, two running backs went in the first round. More than that, the 2017 draft represented the first time since 2005 that two running backs went in the first 10 picks.
It started with Jacksonville adding a three-down playmaker to the mix in the form of LSU’s Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick. Fournette was the consensus No.1 back leading up to the draft and should provide a mistake-prone Blake Bortles with the balance he needs on offense.
Then, a few picks later, the Carolina Panthers got a tremendous offensive weapon of their own. It came in the form of Christian McCaffrey with the eight pick. The former Stanford standout can excel in three different areas of the game and is coming off a three-year career on the Farm in which he tallied over 7,000 all-purpose yards. That’s just absurd.
Talk about getting Cam Newton the help he needs on offense. McCaffrey is a Day 1 starter and should immediately challenge the 2,000-yard mark as a rookie.
It’s an interesting dynamic. Ezekiel Elliott was seen more as an outlier when the Cowboys took him fourth overall last year. That doesn’t appear to the case anymore.
With Saquon Barkley, Royce Freeman and Nick Chubb potentially set to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, this is a trend we could see last beyond the 2017 event. It will surely be interesting to see.