The more things change, the more they stay the same. The NFL is all about protecting their quarterback and getting pressure on the opposing signal caller. Nine offensive linemen had their names called in the first round and nine defensive linemen were selected this year in the first round of this year’s draft. That is also where the value of this year’s draft was; when it all came down to it, the brass tax, the guys in the trenches and guys coming off the edge were the better players. With all of that in mind, there are some conclusions that can be drawn and some that cannot. The quarterback class was not highly thought of and the NFL had been putting out clues to point to that fact, but the offensive skill positions such as wide receivers and running backs do have a great deal of talent but the depth made it so no one felt rushed to take them. There is also further evidence as to what is going on in college football.
When it comes to finding a true left tackle and someone that can be a franchise guy, like with quarterbacks, it is never too early to grab one and they go in a hurry. This is a trend that should continue. Do not be surprised if Menelik Watson, Terron Armstead, Reid Fragel, and David Quessenberry go earlier than people assume because of their ability to potentially contribute at the left tackle spot. None of this explains the Cowboys taking Travis Frederick at the end the first round which was just perplexing, but he needs to become a franchise pivot for them. Fans were hoping they would get more offensive line help and they did, but that felt like a huge reach; two rounds early.
On the other hand, when it comes to the wide receivers and running backs in this class, there is legitimate talent but the difference between them is minimal and comes down to fit mostly. Keenan Allen, Quinton Patton, Robert Woods, Markus Wheaton, and Justin Hunter were guys that warranted first round consideration and are all available on day two. The depth only continues from there so missing out on Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins is not a devastating loss for opposing war rooms. As for Tavon Austin, he is in a different category as he is a slot receiver, kick returner, and running back. He warrants the athlete tag. There is a lot of pressure on both him and the Rams to have him produce in a huge way and it is going to be difficult to pay off the pick.
It is a similar story with the running backs. Most saw this coming as no one really stood out as being an incredible talent warranting the first round but it is going too far to say that the running back position is devalued too much. If there was a running back that warranted a first round pick, this would be a more meaningful discussion. It was a stretch to put Eddie Lacy in the first round and it did not work out. The running back position is another one with a ton of depth. If a team misses out on Lacy or Giovani Bernard or Johnathan Franklin, they can take a guy like Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor or Le’Veon Bell a round later without having a huge drop off. Grab an offensive lineman, a pass rusher or a corner and come back and grab a running back a round or two later. Take two running backs with later picks. There is a ton of talent there.
The clues were there for the quarterback position that not valued in this draft. The teams picking first, third, and seventh pick all bailed on the quarterback position this year and made other arrangements. The other issue that this draft class was facing is that few teams really needed quarterbacks. The Buffalo Bills made the surprise move of trading down for their franchise quarterback. There are around ten quarterbacks in this draft with the potential to start and they were ranked closely enough together that everyone rankings were vastly different. Evidently, the Bills had E.J. Manuel rated as the top guy. Teams like the Jaguars, Raiders, and Cardinals took a smart, calculated risk that there was no threat for real threat these quarterbacks would go too early or that they could not get a guy with comparable talent a round or more later. Now, they have to balance the needs of the teams without a legitimate starting quarterback against the teams that are looking for competition or backup quarterbacks, so it stands to reason there will be a run on quarterbacks. The other aspect of the quarterback discussion is that not taking one in the first round means that guy is starting and starting now. It would be shocking if E.J. Manuel was not starting at some point this season in Buffalo. For the teams like the Chiefs, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, and Cardinals, they can now take a quarterback and not feel overwhelming pressure to put the guy on the field too early. Now, they can take the path like the 49ers did with Colin Kaepernick and like first round quarterbacks used to be able to do and develop, master the offense before worrying about mastering the position under fire. As frustrating as it is for Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, and others, this situation may ultimately be better for them, their careers, and the teams that picked them.
And it never fails; nose tackles and linebackers fall every year. Star Lotulelei warranted a top five pick and went 14th to the Carolina Panthers. On tape, Jesse Williams was a prototypical nose tackle and a guy that could be plugged in the middle of a three man front for a decade: Still available day two. It is the same with pure linebackers. Arthur Brown is the best pure linebacker in this draft and he is still sitting there available. Alec Ogletree managed to sneak into the back of round to the Rams or no linebackers would have gone in round 1. And for all of the criticism thrown at the Bengals and their willingness to bet on guys with character questions, Jeff Fisher has a long track record that goes back to his run at Tennessee of taking these types of players.
The SEC is king and the first round of the draft was further evidence of that with twelve first round picks. Meanwhile, the Big Ten had one; barely. If not for Frederick at the end of the round, the Big Ten would have been outproduced by the MAC. Defenders of the Big Ten can claim this was more fluke than reality, but the fact of the matter is that half of the Big Ten could end up not having a player picked this year; Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern could have zero players picked this year while Central Michigan had the first pick overall with Kent State and Miami having picks coming. Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Brady Hoke (Michigan) and Mike Dantonio (Michigan State) cannot do it all. Incoming Big Ten school, Rutgers, will outproduce much of the conference in this year’s draft with more to come in the future.
There are plenty of conclusions that can be drawn after day one of the draft but there are a few that could trip onlookers up. The quarterback class was not loved, but the running backs and receivers are more of a quality of depth rather than a quality issue. There is going to be a run on linebackers as well. The largest implication of the draft may be what is going on at the college level and where the talent is coming from, but more importantly where it is not; the Big Ten has got to step it up in recruiting and talent development. There is still an overwhelming amount of quality left in this draft and a ton of impact players that will go today and Saturday; it is going to be a lot of fun.