By MIKE HERNDON
Now is the time of the great second-guessing. With the 2018 NFL draft in the books, we’ll spend the next four months wondering whether our favorite teams made the right choices – particularly fans of the Browns, Jets, Bills and Cardinals, the four teams who took quarterbacks in the first 10 picks and will presumably be grooming them as the faces of their respective franchises.
Ultimately, how many of those quarterbacks end up being worth the picks their teams invested in them will be the story of this draft. Will it be like 1983, which gave us John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Tony Eason. Or will it be like 1999, which gave us Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown (along with Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper).
The chances are, a couple of the quarterbacks who went in the first round will flop — along with several other high draft picks — but we’ll have to wait a few years before we know. And therefore, it’ll be a few years before we can say with any certainly which teams had a great draft and which bombed.
Will Baker Mayfield finally break the Browns’ QB curse? Is Seattle crazy for taking Rashaad Penny instead of Sony Michel, Nick Chubb or Derrius Guice? Was Mike McGlinchey a reach at No. 9? Check back with me this time next year, or in 2020.
With that in mind, I offer instead five of the most curious decisions in the 2018 draft. As with anything else in the draft, they may end up working out. But for now, we can only wonder what they were thinking.
- The Packers spend a draft pick on a long-snapper.
As a former high school center and long-snapper myself, I promise you I understand the importance of the job. Just let someone mess it up and it becomes evident. But it’s such a teachable skill – after doing it poorly as a freshman, I snapped 100 balls a day before my sophomore year and never blew another snap. Now I’m by no means suggesting a 5-11, 170-pounder could have snapped in the pros, but appropriately-sized snappers are so readily available on the free-agent market that spending a pick on one – even a seventh-round throwaway – seems like a waste.
Remember: Jeff Holland, arguably the best pass-rusher in the SEC in 2017, went undrafted.
- Not one, but two tight ends in the first three rounds for the Ravens.
Baltimore felt like it needed a tight end and seems to have gotten a good one in the first round in South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst. Then they decided they had such an outstanding need at the position that they drafted another TE, Oklahoma’s Mark Edwards, in the third.
I understand that a lot of NFL teams have looked at New England’s success with a two-TE system and are trying to replicate it themselves. But the Ravens had a lot of other needs that were either unaddressed in this draft or left until the later rounds. Terrelle Suggs is 35 years old and the Ravens did not draft a pass-rushing linebacker. Their top three receivers are Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, but they waited until the end of the fourth round to draft a WR.
Stockpiling in one position is not always a bad idea – the Packers do it often, with encouraging results. But the Ravens already had Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams on the roster.
- Dallas waits until Round 3 to address its situation at receiver.
If ever there was a team that should have thought about stockpiling at any one particular position, it’s Dallas. After releasing Dez Bryant (a not-so-surprising development considering his declining production), the Cowboys’ top receivers entering the draft were the spectacularly underperforming Terrance Williams, undersized slot receiver Cole Beasley and new acquisitions Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns.
They added Tavon Austin in a trade with the Rams on the last day of the draft, but passed on a wealth of first-and-second-round talent while adding to seemingly strong position groups with linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and offensive lineman Connor Williams. They did get a very productive pass catcher in Michael Gallup in Round 3 and took a seventh-round flier on Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson, and if either of those pan out this won’t be an egregious oversight. But Dallas still doesn’t have a No. 1 receiver.
- The Steelers fail to draft a linebacker.
Pittsburgh’s biggest hole was at inside linebacker, as the Steelers’ defense fell apart last season when Ryan Shazier was lost with a serious neck injury. Shazier will be out all this season as well as he continues to recover, leaving the Steelers’ top need in the draft clear.
But Dallas surprisingly took Vander Esch at No. 19 and, while the Steelers reportedly tried to trade up in order to get Alabama’s Rashaan Evans, Tennessee beat them to the punch, trading up to land Evans at No. 22. South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard would have been a nice Day 2 option, if the Colts hadn’t jumped all over him with the fourth pick of the second round.
So the Steelers spent most of the draft taking the best player available and, instead of reaching for a late-round project at LB, elected to stand pat and hope Jon Bostic can fill Shazier’s shoes. The ultra-productive Micah Kizer of Virginia might have been nice Day 3 insurance.
And No. 1: The Saints trade two No. 1 picks to move up for a defensive end.
I’m sure Marcus Davenport is a fine player. At 6-foot-6, 264 pounds, he certainly looks the part. His 4.58 speed in the 40 shows the burst off the edge you want in a pass rusher. But to give up their 2019 first-round pick, along with this year’s first-rounder, in order to move up to draft him at No. 14 overall, the Saints need their heads examined.
Buffalo and Arizona, both in need of quarterbacks, moved up to picks No. 7 and 10, respectively, and neither had to give up next year’s first-rounder to do it. Both were, or at least should have been, more desperate to do so than the Saints.
I get that the Saints’ window is closing. Drew Brees is 39. If they’re going to win another Super Bowl, the time is now. But is Davenport the final piece they need? If he turns into the next Reggie White, it will have been worth it, But if he’s average, or if it takes him a while to adjust – a reasonable assumption after playing a Sun Belt schedule at UTSA — the Saints will have all day next April during the first round of the 2019 draft to regret it.
(Photo of Leighton Vander Esch: playitusa.com)