The NFL is a copycat league in which teams borrow or flat-out steal concepts that have worked out well for other teams.
That never was more evident than on Thursday in the first round of NFL Draft. Some teams followed the new-age model the Los Angeles Rams used to win a Super Bowl last season. The Rams threw conventional wisdom to the wind as general manager Les Snead followed a win-now approach and gave away most of his draft currency.
In essence Snead traded for a Lombardi Trophy, and that’s something no team is going to turn down.
Some other teams quickly grabbed onto the Rams’ model. The Dolphins, for example, gave up a slew of draft picks to acquire wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs, so Miami had to sit out the first round.
But that doesn’t mean the old-school way of building a team through the draft has been forgotten. Not every team did what the Rams and Dolphins did. In fact, stockpiling picks may still be the preferred method.
An unprecedented eight teams had multiple picks in the first round, and first-round picks usually translate into instant starters. There were a lot of trades after the draft began, leaving many mock drafts looking useless.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winners and losers in the first round.
DETROIT LIONS: Ordinarily, I would say a team drafting at No. 2 shouldn’t get too much credit for making an easy pick. However, given the embarrassing draft history of the Lions, nothing was out of the question. This time, though, Detroit got it right.
Although No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker might end up being a superstar in Jacksonville, the Lions lucked out when defensive end Aidan Hutchinson was available. First, he’s a Michigan kid, and that will play well at the box office. Second, Hutchinson can rush the passer, and the Lions were desperate for that. Third, Hutchinson doesn’t have the ceiling that Walker does, but he also doesn’t have the same kind of floor.
The Lions followed that up by trading up to take Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams at No. 12. That’s a coup because Williams might have been the best receiver in the draft. Yeah, he tore his ACL late last season and probably won’t be able to play until around midseason. That’s fine because the Lions aren’t expecting to turn things around immediately.
NEW YORK GIANTS: General manager Joe Schoen didn’t do anything exciting in his first draft, but that’s the exact approach he should have followed. After making questionable decisions on skill-position players in recent years, the Giants got back to basics.
With the fifth overall pick, the Giants took Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, and with the No. 7 selection, they drafted Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal. There is nothing exciting there, but that’s not a bad thing.
Thibodeaux easily could have gone at No. 1 or 2 because he can rush the passer. Neal will bring some much-needed protection for quarterback Daniel Jones. Thibodeaux and Neal will start right away, and the Giants might have come out of the first round as the NFL’s most improved team.
Think about it: During some of the best years in franchise history, the Giants were built around solid offensive lines and pass rushers such as Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan. The Giants walked out of the first round with two cornerstones.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: There was a school of thought around the league that Carolina owner David Tepper, who is not the most patient man, was going to force general manager Scott Fitterer to use the No. 6 pick on Liberty quarterback Malik Willis.
Maybe Tepper has more patience than anyone realized. Or maybe his thought process gave way to common sense. Whatever, the Panthers made the right call in drafting North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu. That’s as solid a pick as the Panthers could have made. Ekwonu will give Carolina its first reliable left tackle since Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season.
Yeah, that means Carolina fans can look forward (maybe that’s too strong a word in this case) to another year of Sam Darnold at quarterback. But that’s a better alternative than drafting Willis too early and surrounding him with a bad team.
Earlier this week, Tepper reminded the media he said he expected coach Matt Rhule would take five years to rebuild when he was first brought on board. Rhule is entering his third season. He still doesn’t have a solid quarterback, but at least he’s not stuck with a quarterback who would have set the rebuilding process back.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: General manager Mickey Loomis has never been afraid to gamble. That’s especially true now that coach Sean Payton is gone. The Saints entered the night with the 16th and 19th picks. Loomis traded up with the Washington Commanders to get the No. 11 pick.
The Saints used it on Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave. If Loomis hadn’t made the deal, Olave would have been gone and the Saints, who need to surround quarterback Jameis Winston with weapons, might have been out of suitable options because the wide receiver pool was drying up.
Loomis’ second pick of the night wasn’t as flashy, and some may question how quickly offensive tackle Trevor Penning can contribute because he played at Northern Iowa. But keep this in mind: Loomis once drafted guard Jahri Evans out of Division II Bloomsburg (Pa.). Evans turned out to be a four-time All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: If ever a team was expected to address a certain position coming into a draft, it was the Packers and a wide receiver. After trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay was running extremely thin on wide receivers for Aaron Rodgers to target.
But, somehow, the Packers managed to come out of the first round without a wide receiver. Instead, they brought in two defensive players from the University of Georgia. Linebacker Quay Walker was drafted at No. 22 and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, who has had some off-field problems, was taken at No. 28.
Did the Packers whiff on getting a receiver? Maybe. Maybe not.
With receivers coming off the board at a rapid rate, the value just wasn’t there for the Packers. But a couple of things need to happen to straighten out a potential mess. The Packers need to get a receiver with some upside in the second or third round.
More important, Rodgers is going to have to make that receiver look good right away.
HOUSTON TEXANS: The history books say that 2002 was Houston’s expansion season. They might have been wrong. Look at Houston’s current roster. It’s actually worse than it was in 2002.
The Texans drafted LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 3 overall. That’s a violation of the cardinal rule that you don’t draft a cornerback in the first five.
Deshaun Watson is gone and Davis Mills is Houston’s current starting quarterback. There is a reason why Mills wasn’t taken until the third round in 2021. The Texans also entered the draft with the No. 13 overall pick. They traded it to Philadelphia and wound up with Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green at No. 15. Green may end up being a solid player, but has a guard ever turned around the direction of a franchise?
The Texans went 4-13 last season. They’ll be lucky to win four games this year.
NEW YORK JETS: Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t get as many boos from Jets fans as he did back when the draft was held at Radio City Music Hall. He should have. The Jets had a chance to get Thibodeaux and fill their biggest need.
Instead, they made the same mistake the Texans did and drafted a cornerback too soon, taking Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner at No. 4. The Jets also veered off the track from their biggest needs at No. 10 when they chose Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson. He’s a nice player, but he doesn’t fill a huge need.
The Jets finally did get a pass rusher when they traded back into the first round to get Florida State linebacker Jermaine Johnson II at No. 26. He has lots of potential, but he’s far from a sure thing.
The Jets came into the draft with a great chance to improve. At the end of the night, they didn’t look much better.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: The Ravens drafted Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton at No. 14. That’s anywhere from five to 15 spots too high.
Yeah, Hamilton was a productive college player, but there are questions about his ability to be an impact player on the next level: What about that 4.7 time in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine? And is Hamilton a safety or a linebacker?
Baltimore’s biggest need heading into the draft was on the defensive line, where the Ravens haven’t used a first-round pick since Haloti Ngata in 2006. Coming out of the first night of the draft, defensive line still is Baltimore’s biggest need.
On a night when the Ravens made multiple trades, drafting Hamilton wasn’t their only puzzling move. They traded Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, a 1,000-yard receiver last year, to the Arizona Cardinals. At least the Ravens made one move that made some sense when they used the No. 25 pick on Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. It’s hard to find a center that turns out to be a bust.
–Pat Yasinskas, Field Level Media