The NFL Draft.
With nothing going on in sports, fans were anticipating this event like never before. And why not?
It was the first LIVE happening of any kind and despite a radical change in how it was presented, starved sports followers flocked to the three-day selection of rookies who will join their teams for games we we have no clue when or if they will be played. The ratings were up nearly 40 percent for the first two nights, and averaged 8.4 million viewers for all three days.
Absent was the normal hoop-la that surrounds the draft. Originally slated for Las Vegas, with all the glitz we’ve known of cheering and booing crowds, players hugging Commissioner Roger Goodell when they came out on the stage, the euphoria we’ve witnessed, all of that was missing.
What we saw was the social distancing, stay-at-home effects of this virus, the low-key reveal of the team’s choices. It started with the Commissioner announcing the picks from his basement, and continued with shots of coaches, and General Managers in their homes, through to players sitting in their living rooms with their parents and other relatives awaiting their fate.
You know what? It worked. And it worked extremely well.
Credit Goodell with being resolute in his determination to hold the draft in the first place, and the flawless manner in which it was executed. There could have been countless instances of mix-ups and miscommunications to turn the draft into an awkward, maybe comical event.
But that didn’t happen.
I was thinking, as the first night, first round picks were being made, that this might be a preview of what the season might be like if there are no fans sitting in the stadium, just the game being played, and only viewed on television.
It was without obvious excitement, but it was to the point. It was the draft of new players for the season.
And that’s exactly what we got.
Now to the draft itself.
I laugh when the so-called experts come out with grades for how teams fared.
There hasn’t been one practice. There hasn’t been one game. None of them have done a fraction of work team scouts have done to prepare. Yet, they may be correct in some or many of their assessments. And they may be wrong.
In other words, it’s ridiculous to make judgments at this point.
However, there are givens concerning many players.
And while I admit I don’t spend my time studying college players in a meticulous way, I do have general thoughts based on gut instinct gleaned from many years in sports reporting.
There were a minimum of surprises. Most hardly worth mentioning. The usual buzz of draft day trades were not prevalent, likely because of the difficulty the communication process was forced to follow.
There were some who advised top-pick QB Joe Burrow to refuse to play with the Cincinnati Bengals in advance, citing their inability to build a championship team. That was ridiculous. Burrow didn’t feel that way. He’s an Ohio native and knew he would go to a team that needed him.
Remember, the Bengals have appeared in two Super Bowls with two different quarterbacks: Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason, they were good teams then. They’ll be a good team again soon, with their new franchise quarterback.
There was a question as to whether the Miami Dolphins would choose Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert as their soon-to-be savior at quarterback. Tagovailoa has had some big-time injuries, including surgery last November for a fractured hip. Was he destined to be injury-prone and prove to be a wasted number five choice?
But I commend what the Dolphins did. They took Tua, who could be spectacular. A chance worth taking.
Most football observers figured the Dolphins would “tank” this past season. Not care about winning, so they could get their franchise leader. Lose and have the first pick. But they didn’t “tank for Tua”. Miami won five of their last nine games. A testimony to first-year head coach Brian Flores who I’ve said in this column that he’s on his way to a successful career. So they picked fifth, still had the chance to choose Tagovailoa, and did precisely that.
This is a team on the rise, I feel. In fact, in the changing world of the NFL, the power teams all fall eventually.
I think that’s what the Patriots are facing. I see the Buffalo Bills winning the AFC East next season. And the Miami Dolphins will soon be their biggest challengers.
The draft was marked by an abundance of wide receivers and offensive linemen.
It is a quarterback-driven league. More to the point, it’s all about scoring points. I know, they say defense wins championships. They may get you close, but you win with offense. And it all starts with the QB.
So here’s the dilemma. You need an outstanding line to protect your passer but you also need wide receivers to score. The Giants put their emphasis on protecting promising Daniel Jones. But they bailed out on the many top-of-the-line pass catchers to worry opposing defenses.
The Las Vegas Raiders knew they had to draft scoring threats. So they picked a wide receiver for two of their first four choices, and a player named Lynn Bowden from Kentucky in the third round. Bowden played quarterback AND wide receiver for the Wildcats, and the Raiders plan to use him as a running back.
This is a relatively new weapon NFL teams are developing. A quarterback who can play multiple positions, and be used as a surprise during the game. They’re calling these athletes Swiss Army knives because of their versatility.
The Saints have one in Taysom Hill, who can enter a game in a given situation to run or catch, or throw.
Or replace the great Drew Brees suddenly on a certain down-and-distance situation.
That may be how the Raiders use Bowden, and that may be how the Eagles use Jalen Hurts, the championship quarterback who played at Alabama and finished at Oklahoma.
The selection of Hurts puzzled most Eagles followers. But he can augment starter Carson Wentz as a runner in the backfield or as an off-beat entry into the game to run a play.
I like that pick.
You may wonder why the Patriots didn’t choose a quarterback with Tom Brady gone from the scene?
Here’s my answer. Either Bill Belichick feels Jarrett Stidham, his fourth round pick from a year ago is now getting his chance, or he didn’t like those available in this year’s draft, or he has an ace up his sleeve.
I trust Belichick’s judgment.
I know it’s popular to declare how much Brady, and now tight end Rob Gronkowski wanted to get far away from Belichick, but the fact is, despite an all-business approach by the head coach,Brady and Gronkowski have won six and three Super Bowls respectively. I’ll guess that there are more players that want to join Belichick in New England than want to leave.
But Brady will be 43 in August, and Gronkowski who has missed a year and lost a lot of weight will be 31 in August.
They will be a huge boost to the Tampa Bay Bucs. But winning the Super Bowl?
Even with those two former Patriots, the Bucs still have to learn to win.
And they still won’t beat out the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
How about the Packers drafting quarterback Jordan Love of Utah State instead of a wide receiving-threat for Aaron Rodgers. I think time is running out fast for Rodgers and the Pack, and the team may know that.
I know he’s won a Super Bowl and has incredible numbers throughout his career. But Rodgers is not the easiest player to deal with. And I’m not talking about contract issues.
Despite his ability and stature, he often falls short, and not only because of his receivers.
Perhaps the Packers are thinking ahead. They did when they drafted Rodgers during the reign of Brett Favre.
They may be doing the same thing now.
Looking at the big picture, I believe the league’s powerhouses strengthened themselves in this draft.
The Chiefs, 49ers, and the Ravens, who had the league’s best record, did well. Maybe as well as anyone in the league.
I will add another team to that mix. A team that has been knocking on the door for years. They always seem to fall short. You know who they are.
They’re known as America’s Team.
The Dallas Cowboys.