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For 262 young men this past weekend, it was arguably the happiest time of their lives. They heard their names called in the NFL draft and know where the next chapter will take place.
For some, it was a matter of hand meeting glove. Drake London should immediately assume duties as the No. 1 wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. Edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson should become a defensive leader for the Detroit Lions in short order. Offensive tackles Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu will all but certainly start from the jump for the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, respectively.
However, some players didn’t exactly have ideal landing spots. It could be a matter of poor fit within a team’s scheme, being buried on a depth chart behind more established talent or just a plain old bad decision by a front office.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily doom these players to failure. They could overcome the early obstacles placed in their path and go on to have fine careers.
But for some players, things didn’t get off on a great foot.
Because they had the misfortune of being drafted by the wrong teams.
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For many fans and analysts, the selection of University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett by the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20 overall was a dream come true, with the kid who starred for the Panthers picking up the torch from Ben Roethlisberger.
Here’s hoping that dream doesn’t become a nightmare.
In fairness, Pickett is a talented young passer. The 23-year-old completed 67.2 percent of his passes last year for over 4,300 yards and 42 scores with just seven interceptions.
But Pickett wasn’t the top-ranked quarterback by the scouts at Bleacher Report. Or even the No. 2 quarterback.
“While Pickett shows a solid understanding of NFL-level concepts, he is inconsistent with his timing on throws, often going one-and-done with his reads,” Nate Tice wrote. He will also end up late getting to a second option on a concept because he is guessing when the next route will become available.
“He has a tendency to stare down one available route and then look to start a scramble drill outside of the pocket at unnecessary times, which can lead to sacks and missed opportunities.”
And Pickett will be under the most pressure to start. He was the only quarterback selected in the first round. If Mitchell Trubisky struggles in camp, the calls for Pickett will come. If the Steelers start losing games, those calls will get that much louder.
And while many are probably tired of hearing about it, Pickett has exceptionally small hands by NFL standards at just 8½ inches. When he takes the field, he’ll have the smallest hands of any starting quarterback in the league.
The last we checked, Heinz Field doesn’t have a roof. And Pickett fumbled 26 times over his collegiate career. When the weather gets bad, his grip could be an issue.
Maybe Pickett will be fine. Or maybe it will turn out that the Steelers should have waited a round for University of Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder. And that Pickett would have been better off swapping places with him and playing more than half of his games every year indoors.
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Bill Belichick is the most successful head coach in NFL history, but his record as a selector of personnel on draft day is, um, spotty.
And in 2022, Darth Hoodie was either trolling the entire league or he posted one of the most confusing draft hauls in recent memory.
When the Patriots traded down in Round 1, that was no surprise. They seemingly do that every year. But when they finally did pick at No. 29, they took a player zero people saw coming.
To be fair, Cole Strong of Chattanooga is a talented young interior lineman who has, according to B/R scout Brandon Thorn, the ability to develop into a quality starter.
“Overall, Strange has the frame, athletic ability, play strength and competitive toughness to be considered a high-level backup at multiple positions across the line, with starter potential over his first few seasons at guard,” he wrote.
But that’s the thing. Most viewed the 6’5″, 307-pound Strange as a developmental prospect, a fringe Day 2 pick. Not a first-rounder that left Rams head coach Sean McVay’s jaw on the floor.
Had Strange fallen to the late second or third round, there would have been all sorts of teams with interest. The Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Las Vegas Raiders all took guards in that area. On one of those teams, Strange would likely have been afforded time to refine his technique before becoming a full-time starter.
That time isn’t there in New England—not after Ted Karras left in free agency and Shaq Mason was traded for a box of Pop-Tarts.
If Strange isn’t ready to start (and play well) by Week 1, it won’t take long for the bust label to start being thrown around. We’ve seen it happen before with players whose only fault was being overdrafted by teams that reached for a need.
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There’s more uncertainty with this one. It’s possible that Michigan safety Daxton Hill will go on to have an excellent NFL career. Per Dane Brugler of The Athletic, there are those who are willing to go even further than that.
“The appeal with Hill is his versatility to play anywhere in the secondary. He can attach himself to slot receivers as a nickel, play more of a two-safety look, and he could realistically line up outside with his above-average athleticism. One scout told me that Hill will be the best defensive back out of Michigan since Charles Woodson, and it is hard to disagree.”
To his credit, Hill told All Bengals (h/t Aaron Gershon of Cincy Jungle) that he’s willing to play anywhere the Bengals need him in the secondary.
“Yeah, I mean definitely,” Hill said when asked if he wanted to try line up on the boundary. “With corner, that’s something I definitely have to prepare myself for. Whatever that is and whenever that is, I’m ready for the challenge.”
That’s the thing, though.
The Bengals already have a pair of more than capable starting safeties in Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, although both are free agents after the season. In Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, the slot and one of the boundary spots are accounted for.
Could the Bengals use an upgrade on Eli Apple at the other outside spot? Yes. But either they are planning that a conversion will work quickly with Hill or the team looked to 2023 with its first-round pick.
Both are risks. And had Hill dropped just another spot, he could have landed on a Vikings team in which he would have slid right back into the defensive role he’s familiar with.
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Not to keep piling on the Patriots, but man, their draft got off to a rocky start. It went about as well as the old TV show Cop Rock.
Picture Law and Order. Only a musical. Seriously.
First, Belichick drafted Strange, which we have already discussed. That would have been a fine pick in, say, Round 3. At No. 29 overall, though, it was arguably the biggest reach of the first round.
As it turns out, Belichick was only getting started. On Day 2, he traded up to the 50th overall pick to choose Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton. Per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, he couldn’t find a team that had higher than a fourth-round grade on the 6’2″ speedster:
“Thornton, an absolute burner who’s built like a lamp post, could provide a downfield element to the Patriots’ offense, maybe to eventually replace Nelson Agholor (who’s in a contract year). But one area scout assigned to Baylor told me he had a fifth-round grade on Thornton. Few had more than a fourth-round grade on him. He went in the second round.”
This isn’t just about the reach, though. Baylor wideouts are not exactly renowned for their expansive route trees. Thornton does what he does at this point. He runs really, really fast in a straight line (4.28 40-yard dash).
There’s a reason why Agholor’s first year in New England was so forgettable. Second-year quarterback Mac Jones is about timing and tight windows, not chucking the ball 60-plus yards in the air.
Taylor would have been much better off as a Day 3 project in Green Bay or Cincinnati than as a player who will be expected to contribute right away in an offense he’s a terrible fit for.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars raised more than a few eyebrows when they selected Travon Walker ahead of Aidan Hutchinson at No. 1 overall. But those eyebrows went up even more on the draft’s second day.
It’s no secret that the Jaguars weren’t happy with their situation at linebacker. The team cut bait on disappointing veteran Myles Jack and signed Foyesade Oluokun to a massive three-year, $45 million contract in free agency.
Given that, it wasn’t all that surprising when the Jaguars traded back into the first round Thursday to draft Utah’s Devin Lloyd, a rangy 6’3″, 237-pounder whom B/R Scout Derrik Klassen compared to Shaq Thompson of the Carolina Panthers.
“Lloyd’s high-end play in space and ability to cover in all kinds of assignments will make him a good ‘Will’ in the NFL,” he said. “He has Pro Bowl potential that could get turned up another notch if he learns to play with more violence downhill.”
What was surprising was when the Jags then turned around and used a third-round pick on another off-ball linebacker in Wyoming’s Chad Muma.
This isn’t a matter of Muma’s talent. Klassen actually had the 6’3″, 239-pounder ranked as a first-round talent and higher among linebackers than Lloyd. Muma should be a special teams ace from Day 1.
But a Jaguars team with holes all over the roster doesn’t need to be spending Day 2 picks on special teamers. And unless Muma beats out Lloyd for the right to start next to Oluokun in camp (which would be a mess of another sort), he’s going to be doing a lot of watching in 2022.
In somewhere like Denver, he’d likely be a Day 1 starter. In Jacksonville, he’ll most likely be a spectator.
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DeAngelo Malone, Edge, Western Kentucky
There’s no question that the Atlanta Falcons need help in the pass rush. No team logged fewer sacks in 2021. The Falcons addressed the position in Round 2 with Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie and then circled back the following round to snag Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone.
The former could turn out to be a fine pick. The odds for the latter aren’t as good.
Malone piled up 25 sacks the past three seasons coming off the edge for the Hilltoppers. But at 6’3″ and just 243 pounds with a slight frame, Malone isn’t a good candidate to be a successful “rush” linebacker in the pros—so much so that Klassen recommended a switch to off-ball linebacker.
“Malone may benefit from a transition to off-ball linebacker,” he said. “He clearly has the speed for it, and removing him from the line of scrimmage may help hide some of his strength issues. Malone generally sees and attacks run concepts effectively, too, which could be an encouraging sign for a move to an off-ball position. It may not work, but Malone probably will not crack a starting lineup on the edge at his size anyway.”
That’s where the problem(s) come in. The Falcons had already used a draft pick on an off-ball linebacker in Montana State’s Troy Andersen. If Atlanta really wanted another one, Georgia’s Nakobe Dean (arguably the best talent at the position in the entire class) was still on the board. And if the Falcons wanted an edge-rusher, Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders could have been a better fit.
Malone would have been best-served landing with a 4-3 team like Buffalo, Philadelphia or Indianapolis, where he could transition into a base-down “Sam” linebacker who gets after the quarterback in sub-packages.
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Wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson is one of the most dangerous players in this draft class when a football is in his hands.
“Good football player we’ve had our eye on, generator with the ball in his hands, very good run after the catch, very good route-runner, can separate,” New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen said after the draft. “And for what we are going to do offensively, we thought he would be a very good fit for us.”
Robinson was productive last year to be sure. He had 104 receptions, 1,334 yards and seven touchdowns with the Wildcats in 2021. There’s just one small problem. One really small problem.
Robinson is 5’8″.
His 4.44-second 40-yard dash speed helps to compensate for his lack of size, and Robinson is shifty in space and runs good routes.
But he is a significantly undersized slot receiver. And given the myriad of needs the Giants had entering the draft (especially in the trenches on both sides of the ball), spending a second-round pick on an undersized slot receiver was a curious selection, especially after Schoen went out of his way to quell the rumors that the team was trying to trade Kadarius Toney.
It would have been better for Robinson to fall multiple rounds and start off with an established quarterback like in Tennessee, Dallas or Buffalo. Early expectations would then be tempered.
Now he carries second-round expectations on a bad team with a crowded depth chart at receiver and one of the league’s worst situations under center.
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Jerome Ford had himself quite the 2021 season while helping to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to the College Football Playoff. The 5’10½”, 210-pounder piled up over 1,300 rushing yards last year on 215 carries, averaging over six yards a pop.
With power and 4.46 40-yard-dash speed, Ford impressed many scouts as a potential top-five back and Day 2 pick, including Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network.
“Well-rounded ball-carrier with the size and speed to play on Sundays. Strong carrying the ball, breaks tackles, and carries defenders for extra yardage. Falls forward when tackled. Possesses terrific short-area quickness with the ability to set defenders up and make them miss. Patiently waits for blocks to develop, uses them all over the field, and possesses a burst of speed.
“Plays much faster than his 40 time, beats defenders into the open field, and can run to daylight. Finds the running lanes, turns it upfield, and possesses the agility necessary to turn the corner. Quickly gets into pass routes, adjusts to errant throws, and consistently makes catches with his hands. Comes away with the difficult reception downfield at full speed.”
As is often the case, the draftniks were wrong about Ford. NFL teams weren’t as enamored, and he fell all the way to Round 5, where he landed in the absolute nightmare scenario for running backs.
Put Ford on 20 other NFL teams, and he’d at least have a chance to carve out change-of-pace work. But while he joined one of the NFL’s best rushing teams in the Cleveland Browns, he will open his pro career behind Nick Chubb on the depth chart, as well as Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson and maybe Demetric Felton.
Ford may not get 215 carries over his entire rookie contract.