And that’s a wrap! The 2017 NFL draft concluded Saturday with all 32 teams getting better, no one drafting a player that wasn’t at the top of its board and everyone wishing the 2018 draft started tomorrow.
Well, it kind of does. The first 2018 mocks are in production as we speak.
So, in that brief window between NFL draft seasons, let’s take a step back and consider some bigger-picture lessons from the past three days.
1. Skip the bowl game!
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: Well-regarded prospects have nothing to gain from a professional standpoint and everything to lose by playing in an otherwise meaningless college bowl game. His participation in the bowl game can cost him millions of dollars. The 2017 draft provides a succinct explanation.
Running backs Leonard Fournette (LSU) and Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) both skipped their final college games to preserve their health. Did NFL teams question their commitment or love for the game? Hardly. They were among the first eight players drafted, to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, respectively.
On the other hand is the case of Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl. Before the injury, you could quite comfortably call him a top-50 prospect, meaning he could have been drafted in the first round, but no later than the middle of the second. Based on 2016’s rookie scale, Butt would have been guaranteed about $2.8 million if he had been drafted at No. 50 overall.
The ACL injury knocked him down to Saturday’s fifth round, where he was selected at No. 145. Based on last season’s scale, he can expect guarantees of around $260,000. So even after collecting on an insurance policy ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported would bring him $543,000, he is still roughly $2 million short of where he would have been.
In truth, the only time a bowl game is important to a player’s evaluation is when it represents a rare chance to see him play against better competition or a bigger conference. Otherwise, it is a financial risk absorbed by the player for the benefit of his school’s coffers.
To be clear, this applies mostly to sure-fire, high-end prospects. By the end of the college regular season, most players and their advisers should know if they are in that group.
And, of course, finances are not the only factor involved in deciding whether to play in a bowl game. Some players consider it part of their scholarship commitment. Fine. Others want one final celebration in their college uniform. No problem. A few might succumb to pressure from coaches, fans or both. It’s not great, but it happens.
But almost none of them should feel it will affect their NFL future. The benefits of a stellar bowl game performance don’t come close to outweighing the financial risk for these players. It would not be at all surprising to see more players follow in the footsteps of Fournette and McCaffrey next season.
2. Record trade totals
This draft stood out in several ways, but most notably when it came to trades and defensive backs. There were a record 38 exchanges of draft picks, eclipsing the previous high of 34 set in 2008, in part because this was the first year the NFL allowed teams to trade compensatory picks. It added a bit of a frenetic pace to what can descend into a monotonous few hours, particularly on Day 3, and ultimately allowed more teams to maneuver for the specific player they wanted. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Meanwhile, a total of 57 cornerbacks or safeties were drafted as teams escalated their annual efforts to fight the ever-rising efficiency of the passing games. That was a record for the first seven rounds of a draft in the common era, dating back to 1967.
The only teams that didn’t draft at least one defensive back were the New England Patriots and New York Giants. (The Patriots had only four selections, tied for the fewest ever made by a defending Super Bowl champion.)
Finally, what was billed as a defensive draft fell just short of a record over the first seven rounds of a draft in the common era. There were 132 defensive players selected, four short of the 136 selected in 2010.
3. Minimal immediate impact from QBs
Now that we know where the 2017 quarterback class has landed, we can conclude that most of its members will open the season on the sideline. The informed guess here is that no more than one rookie quarterback will be his team’s Week 1 starter, barring an injury to an incumbent.
The likeliest candidate is the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who at this point needs only to beat out Tom Savage in order to play in Week 1 against the Jaguars. The rest of the class has promise but is decidedly green.
It’s difficult to imagine the Chicago Bears paying free-agent pickup Mike Glennon $19 million this season to back up No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, who started 13 college games. It’s true that in 2012, then-Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson beat out Matt Flynn, who had received $10 million guaranteed to sign. But let’s remember that Wilson transferred to Wisconsin as a senior to play out his maximum eligibility.
Likewise, it doesn’t appear the Kansas City Chiefs have any intentions other than to spend the next year or two developing Patrick Mahomes II behind starter Alex Smith. In fact, the second-most-likely Week 1 starter might be the Cleveland Browns’ Deshone Kizer. It’s true that Kizer is inexperienced enough that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said publicly he should have stayed in college. But the Browns’ depth chart isn’t that intimidating, with Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler (for now) ahead of him.
Finally, let’s not spend too much time dreaming about developing a future starter among quarterbacks drafted after the second round. We all love to cite the example of Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2000. Saturday, it was noted by more than a few observers that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs at the same spot (No. 135) as the Dallas Cowboys got Dak Prescott last year.
However, Prescott is a decided exception to the rule. Of the 135 quarterbacks drafted after the second round from 2001 through 2016, only 11 became starters of any degree of longevity. For every Brady, Wilson or Prescott, there are 10 Matt Barkleys.
4. Character concerns affect draft position but not draft status
This draft was a sobering reminder of a reliable axiom: If your football résumé is strong enough, nothing short of active incarceration will keep you out of the NFL. You might be drafted later than expected if you’ve encountered off-field trouble, but you’ll likely get drafted. If not, there will be teams ready to take you on as an undrafted free agent.
Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, under investigation after a rape allegation earlier this month, slipped perhaps 10 spots before the Oakland Raiders took him at No. 24. (Conley said he passed a polygraph test.) Oklahoma tailback Joe Mixon, whose 2014 punch of a woman was caught on videotape, dropped from a possible first-round selection to the second round. And Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, once considered a second-day pick, lasted until the sixth round because he was charged with misdemeanor simple battery after he allegedly struck a woman and knocked her unconscious.
Browns executive vice president Sashi Brown later told reporters the team might rescind Brantley’s rights based on further details about the incident, an approach that quite literally suggests the team drafted first and will ask questions later.
There is certainly a strong argument to be made about second chances. But it’s important to remember how it worked out for the 2017 “character” class when considering future hysterics about players ruining their chances of getting into the NFL. Talent trumps character questions except in extreme situations.
5. Adrenaline rush at the draft site
The draft escalated this year into a full-on offseason pep rally, the likes of which are unseen in any other professional sport. Nearly 250,000 fans showed up in downtown Philadelphia, a record according to the NFL, to watch what turned into much more than a mere recitation of names. About 50,000 of that total were in attendance Saturday even though the names were being announced off-site.
Philadelphia fans got after commissioner Roger Goodell louder than ever. Former Dallas receiver Drew Pearson later taunted them about the Cowboys’ five Super Bowl championships. Saturday, former Eagles players Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins revisited Pearson’s words and the intensity was palpable even through the television.
Representatives of nearly half of the NFL’s cities were in attendance to prepare bids for future drafts. When the NFL first took the event on the road, the presumption was that it would eventually migrate to the new Los Angeles stadium and assume a Grammy Awards-like vibe. But given the success in Philadelphia and the intense interest nationwide in hosting the event, the draft seems likely to continue as a traveling show for some time.