The Draft Games Begin
It’s a rite of April. Draft chatter is at full buzz and no one knows what’s the truth and what’s just spin. Let’s cut through all that with five things to know as May 8 draws near. Plus, NFL Media’s new leader, 10 things and my journey to England
Five things you should know about the draft, 24 days before the first round begins:
1. You’d better go to the videotape if you want to see Jadeveon Clowney work out. Clowney won’t be doing any more individual workouts for NFL teams, apparently the result of Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas, a day-two NFL draft prospect, blowing out his knee in training for the draft two weeks ago. The Clowney camp has told at least three teams he won’t be working out for teams before the draft, preferring to let his on-campus Pro Day April 2 at South Carolina stand. I spoke to two general managers over the weekend about this, and one took exception to Clowney taking a pass on pre-draft team workouts and one didn’t. He still will visit teams and interview with coaches and GMs, but his next show-and-tell football performance will be after the draft in a mini-camp, with whichever team picks him. Now, I don’t think this will prevent a team that loves him from picking him, but it might be a small factor in the decision by a team on the fence about Clowney. As one of the general managers said, “I’d want the guy who’s going to be coaching him to put him through some of our drills, and see how he responds.”
2. Ten players who touch the ball in the first round—and no runners. That’s how draft guru Gil Brandt sees it. Four quarterbacks and six wideouts in the top 32 for Brandt, if he had to pick it today. Contrast that to last year, when there was one quarterback, wideout or running back in the top 15—receiver/returner Tavon Austin, who went eighth to St. Louis. This year a very similar player in size and production, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, could be the sixth wideout picked. Regarding the passers, Derek Carr of Fresno State joins the big three quarterbacks, and at receiver, the depth is so good that former unheralded guys like Cody Latimer of Indiana are creeping into view high in the second round now.
3. “I’m down to my 40th-ranked player, and I don’t have a running back picked yet.” That’s Brandt on this crop. It’s the diminished importance of the position, plus the fact that Trent Richardson looks like he should have been picked 103rd, not third, in 2012 based on his production so far. Teams have proven over and over they can find good backs on day three of the draft, and as rookie free agents.
4. Speaking of surprise players … The stunner this draft season is a quarterback who threw 83 passes as a Rutgers sophomore in 2010, then didn’t play college football in 2011 or 2012 as he transferred from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt. “The hottest guy in the draft,” Brandt of Tom Savage. How hot is he? Late last week Savage’s agent, Neil Schwartz, had to tell two teams who wanted to set up a visit or meeting with the quarterback that he didn’t have any time left to do so. “There are literally no days left on his calendar for him to go see any other teams,” Schwartz said Saturday. The deadline for teams to host players or work them out is April 27, and by then Savage is scheduled to have either worked out for or had visits with 24 or 25 teams. That’s an amazing number of workouts and/or meetings … and when I say meetings with teams, I mean time with either the GM, coach, offensive coordinator or two or three of those. Savage is popular because he’s got an above-average NFL arm right now—some are calling it the best in the draft—and showed well over the last half of last season with a bad offensive line at Pitt. He spent Friday with the Oakland staff, and that’s a place he’d fit in well. Amazing to think a player so itinerant and with so little college success could be leap-frogging A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. But there’s a good chance Savage will. Todd McShay had Houston taking Savage with the 33rd overall pick. Now there’d be a way to kick off the second day of the draft in style, with a stunner like that.
5. A few teams with quarterback needs have an interesting strategy. I’ve heard that at least four quarterback-needy teams—Houston (first pick), Jacksonville (3), Cleveland (4) and Oakland (5)—are strongly considering passing on quarterbacks with their first picks and waiting until their second or third selections. Simple reason: They’re not in love with any of the quarterbacks, and there are too many other good players who are surer things than a quarterback you have sincere doubts about. For that reason, there could be more quarterbacks taken in round two than round one. For instance, Jacksonville really likes Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, and he’d likely be there high in the second round when the Jags pick again, at 39.
One more thing: The great value in this draft will be from about 20 to 50. So guess what team is in great position to capitalize on the depth in rounds one and two? San Francisco, with the ability and the recent history of moving around so well. The rich-get-richer Niners hold the 30th, 56th, 61st, and 77th overall picks. If they want someone in the forties, they’ve got the currency to get him. The Browns are in good shape to do some damage too, with picks 26, 35, 71 and 83.