Outside of the Super Bowl and the opening weekend of the season, what truly captivates fans is the annual NFL Draft.
Before the ink is dry on the three-days of 32 teams picking through seven rounds, there is immediate speculation on next year’s draft.
It never ends, and there is no down-time when it comes to the draft.
This year’s draft was about two things. Quarterbacks and players from the University of Alabama.
Eight quarterbacks were chosen in the first three rounds the most in the common draft era which began in 1967.
Six Alabama players were picked among the first 24 selected, including four of the top 15. Two more members of the Crimson Tide were gobbled up in the second round.
If this doesn’t solidify the recruiting future for ‘Bama head coach Nick Saban, I don’t know what does.
If you’re a prime prospect coming out of high school, and you have pro aspirations, why wouldn’t you strongly consider Alabama. Of course, the Tide will never get everyone they want, because many potential stars entering college will choose to other schools who have great programs for various reasons.
But it’s clear Alabama will never have to struggle to fill out their roster with the creme-de-la-creme.
The quarterback phenomenon has become the rage of the NFL Draft.
At one time, when a potential franchise quarterback was available, the race was on to select the player at the sport’s most important position to lead them for a decade or more.
Let’s rewind to 2004. There were three top-level QB’s available. Eli Manning was the #1 pick by the San Diego Chargers.
But Manning told the Chargers he would not play for them, so San Diego worked a deal with the New York Giants who had the fourth choice. The Giants named Philip Rivers, who they had rated third among the Big Three, and swapped Rivers for Manning, who the Giants coveted. There were draft picks included in the trade, which is usually the case.
The Pittsburgh Steelers then selected Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick.
Big Ben was the first of the three to win a Super Bowl. And then captured another one.
Manning won two with the Giants. Philip Rivers never got there, but played 17 seasons, 16 with the Chargers, before retiring after one campaign with the Colts.
Experts can spin it many different ways, but the clear fact is, it is virtually impossible for a team to win a Super Bowl without a “franchise” quarterback. That’s a fact.
Yes, there have been teams with powerful defenses that have won championships, without possessing a brilliant performer at that key position. But it’s been rare. The Bears of ’85, and the Ravens of 2000 are the two most obvious examples.
What has made the desperation for teams to draft quarterbacks capable of taking them to a title so intriguing is the uncertainty of it all.
It’s been said an observer knows a “franchise” quarterback when he sees one, but you never really know for sure.
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Roethlisberger have been the obvious ones who have come through.
But other teams are still wishin’ and hopin’ with the likes of Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff, and Matthew Stafford.
A couple of years ago, there was a rush on newer candidates. But the Bears failed with Mitchell Trubisky, the Chiefs struck in rich with Patrick Mahomes, and the Texans seemed to have a gem in Deshaun Watson, but his future now is uncertain, with multiple charges of sexual allegations hanging over his head.
Then came the continued run of the more “athletic” quarterbacks, whose ability to run in spectacular fashion often overshadowed their passing skills.
They number the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray of the Cardinals, and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa.
They have been joined by the more conventional signal-callers, who are more pocket-passers than runners, such as Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Daniel Jones.
There are many true experts who insist those who think run first, and pass second will never lead a team to a championship.
So far, they have been right on the money.
The 2021 draft featured another race to available quarterbacks.
New Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer made it crystal clear early in the game that Trevor Lawrence of Clemson would be the first selection. No surprise there. Or with the Jets throwing their chips at BYU’s Zach Wilson at number two.
But where would the other prospects fall?
The constant rumors that the 49ers would trade Jimmy Garoppolo never happened.
The burning question was who would the 49ers take after trading up to number three.
Would it be Mac Jones of Alabama, Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance who was sensational in 2019, but played in only one game last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Niners’ head coach Kyle Shanahan who doesn’t need much help on who his quarterback should be, chose Lance.
The Bears, paid a hefty price to the Giants in trading up to pick Fields, who they hope will ultimately remove the bad taste of the Trubisky fiasco.
But the one that got my attention was the decision by the Patriots to draft Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Having parted ways with the great Tom Brady, who left to win a Super Bowl with the Bucs, the Patriots had to begin the next chapter in their attempt to regain their championship stature.
Last year, veteran Cam Newton took over, but it was nowhere near what New England has known.
Newton will be penciled in to start the 2021 season, but, to me, the following is apparent.
The close relationship between Bill Belichick and Nick Saban convinced me that picking Jones was a huge move for the Patriots. You just know, that whatever questions Belichick had about Mac Jones, he got the answers from his trusted friend.
This draft also featured trades, with teams leap-frogging others to take a specific player.
When you have a young quarterback with ability, you have to give him weapons.
That’s what the Dolphins, Eagles and Ravens did among others with WR Jaylen Waddle (Ala), DeVonta Smith (Ala), and Rashod Bateman (Minn). The Falcons helped Matt Ryan by drafting a tight end who could be special: Kyle Pitts (Fla).
The Eagles vaulted over the Giants for Smith, but in paying the price in losing draft picks, it takes a few years to really assess any draft.
The Lions were ecstatic when they found Oregon’s Penei Sewell, considered the finest offensive lineman by far, fall into their laps.
Other than a top-tier quarterback, you can’t do better in a draft than to acquire a premier pass rusher, or an immovable offensive lineman. Versatile linebackers who can play the run and rush the passer come next, and weapons for the QB are a necessity.
Running backs who can catch are invaluable, but much of what they do running the ball has a lot to do with the offensive line.
Cornerbacks and safeties don’t mean all that much if the defensive line isn’t putting pressure on the QB.
So there you have it from one man’s point of view.
I am amused every year at the multitude of mock drafts by a million websites, featuring so-called experts.
I am equally amused by the rankings of players, and teams after the draft, indicating which clubs did well and which did not.
The so-called experts hear an opinion by someone in football and run with it.
They think watching a few films and highlights make them qualified to rate the athletes.
They have no idea how deep and thorough NFL teams go to determine where a player stands prior to the draft.
Discussions with college coaches, including assistants, trainers, former teammates, and opponents during their college career, help make up their profile.
We’re not talking only about the glamorous first round. We’re talking about ALL the rounds. Where players are chosen to not only win a roster spot but to eventually start.
I have no idea whether a player will succeed. Neither do the so-called experts. The scouts, player personnel people, and ultimately the General Manager have that responsibility. Many times they miss. Miss too much and they’re not around for long.
That’s what’s so fascinating about the annual NFL Draft.
It’s not an exact science. The teams make their picks, and then the fun begins.
The real fun comes to the teams who pick the right players.