We could wait until drafted players actually get onto the field to judge them, but I don’t see the fun in that. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of winners and losers from Friday, based on pre-draft evaluations of players and some other draft-season impressions.
Winner: the Cardinals
They traded Josh Rosen to the Dolphins and got a second-round pick back. They spent that pick on Andy Isabella, a 5’9 receiver from UMass who is a million times better than you’d think based on the description “a 5’9 receiver from UMass.”
Isabella comfortably led FBS with 1,698 receiving yards in 2018 and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the country’s best pass-catcher. He ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and has some of the better agility in the draft. He’s a lot like Keke Coutee, the current Texan and former Texas Tech receiver who shined in new Cards coach Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense in Lubbock. He’s going to catch a lot of balls, and I’m already wondering if he might challenge Anquan Boldin’s rookie receptions record of 101.
I don’t think the Cardinals got good value for Rosen, a top-10 pick all of one year ago. But they had to move him after taking Kyler Murray first overall on Thursday. Trading Rosen keeps the franchise out of an uncomfortable situation, in which the Cards would’ve been divorcing Rosen and moving their new spouse into the house before Rosen moved out.
They also picked Washington cornerback Byron Murphy with the first pick of the second round. As you’d think with that pick, a lot of people saw Murphy as a first-round talent.
Winner: the Jaguars
Jacksonville’s having a really good draft, according to me, a person who spends a lot of time watching college football and thinks the players they’ve taken so far were really good at college football. Landing Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen — the country’s best defensive player in 2018 — at seventh overall was a coup. So was following that up with Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor at No. 35, with the third pick of the second round.
Taylor is a mountain of a man at 6’5 and 312 pounds, which is actually smaller than his playing weight for some of his career in Gainesville. This man is a complete brawler — sturdy in pass coverage, but especially fun to watch on runs. He makes sense for a team that has a likely mediocre quarterback in Nick Foles and could really use to get more out of (so far) disappointing back Leonard Fournette. On both fronts, Taylor will help.
Winner: the Bills
I really like Cody Ford, the tackle the Bills took 38th overall. Ford isn’t a destroyer like Taylor, but he’s a smooth protector who did excellent work safeguarding Kyler Murray and (sometimes) Baker Mayfield the last two years at Oklahoma. (You can read here about how Ford and the rest of Oklahoma’s linemen adjusted to blocking for Murray, a once-in-forever kind of player.) Ford played right tackle in 2018, and the year before, he was merely a depth lineman whom the Sooners listed as a left guard. He should be versatile in Buffalo.
The Bills’ Josh Allen is a bad passer, and it remains dubious that they took him in the top seven last year. But if you have a QB like Allen with serious accuracy problems, you might as well shield him with stud linemen. He was the second shrewd pick the Bills made, after they got Houston’s game-wrecking defensive tackle, Ed Oliver, at No. 9 on Thursday.
I’m also intrigued by the Bills’ third-rounder, 96th overall pick Dawson Knox. The Ole Miss tight end put up tiny college stats, and it’s unusual that I’d like a player like that. But Knox was a tight end in an offense with a bunch of skill-position weapons, and he’s pretty skilled.
Loser: the Panthers
It’s not that Little lacks talent. He has tons of it, actually, befitting the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2015. But Little never became a star at Ole Miss, was a mixed bag in NFL Combine testing, and seems to have a long way to go before he’s an above-average pro. Evaluating offensive linemen is hard even for people who’ve made it their life’s work, but the mix of Little’s college struggles and the cost of moving up to get him gives me worry.
Winner: the Panthers
What!? Yes. They drafted West Virginia QB Will Grier 100th overall, three picks before the end of the third round. Grier was the fifth QB picked, but I think he’s likely to be the third-best, following Murray and Haskins. Carolina has a quarterback, obviously, but Grier, who’s from Charlotte, is a great backup option who could develop into more.
Pretty simple: Washington took Terry McLaurin 77th overall. The Ohio State receiver is undervalued and could be one of the best players in the whole draft. Plus, he brings a history of effective collaboration with new Washington QB Dwayne Haskins.
Speaking of Haskins, he’s gonna be a happy camper:
This is a bizarre thing to say about an often incompetent franchise, but the Washington front office is really nailing the draft. Other first-rounder Montez Sweat is also a stud.
Loser: the Raiders
This is hard for me, because I have a general rule not to criticize a team for picking anyone from Clemson’s defense. This rule usually serves me well. (See: the last four college football seasons, especially the last one, when Clemson finished first in Defensive S&P+ and beat Alabama by four touchdowns in the national title game.) But the Raiders used the 40th pick on Clemson DB Trayvon Mullen, whom SB Nation’s Dan Kadar ranked 76th in the draft.
Loser: the Lions
The Lions used their second-round pick on Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai. I can’t get behind a team spending the 41st pick on a player who ranked 94th on SB Nation’s board and 237th on Pro Football Focus’. Tavai produced a bunch weak numbers in pass coverage, by PFF’s accounting, and might not bring anything that special other than size. (He’s an impressive 6’2 and 250 pounds, with long arms.) Maybe this will work out well, but it’s not what you’d call a value pick. The Lions spent their other pick, a third-rounder, on Boston College safety Will Harris. That was 81st overall, for a player we have in the 170s.
Winner: the Browns
The Browns didn’t have a first-round pick, because they sent it to the Giants for Odell Beckham Jr. That didn’t stop them from getting LSU’s Greedy Williams, who I thought was the best corner in the whole draft. (Williams was 25th overall on our board and ninth on PFF’s.) It’s like drafting a first-rounder when you don’t have a first-rounder.
The most common knock on Williams seems to be that he’s not a good enough tackler. Frankly, who cares? You can teach someone to tackle what’s in front of him. You cannot teach a 6’2 corner to run a 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. You cannot teach that player to be agile enough, and jump high enough, to match even the most talented NFL receivers.
Draft for the skill that prevents 40-yard completions, and work on the one that prevents 7-yard completions from becoming 12-yard completions. Williams has the former.
(They spent their third-round pick on BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki, who seems likable.)
Winner: LSU fans who live in Northeast Ohio, assuming they exist
Beckham, Williams, and Jarvis Landry are all now in their neighborhood.
Loser: the Bears
They traded their third-rounder and next year’s fourth-rounder to move up a bit in the third and take Iowa State running back David Montgomery 74th overall. (They got a sixth-rounder back.) Pretty weird move! Running backs are a highly replaceable, and Montgomery was one of the least efficient college RBs of all the regularly talked-about draft prospects. Montgomery is a tough runner and breaks tons of of tackles, but investing so much in him is risky. It requires a belief that Iowa State’s offensive line held him back massively.
Winner: the team that drafted A.J. Brown (i.e. the Titans)
It boggles my mind that Brown lasted until the 52nd pick. He’s an epic talent who did little other than produce while a bunch of chaos unfolded around him over three years at Ole Miss. Brown had three different starting QBs — granted, all of them had talent — and played well with all of them, developing into the best receiver in the SEC. (He didn’t have the best numbers in the SEC, but plop him on Alabama in 2018, and few of us could even imagine the kind of season he’d have had.) He can do whatever Marcus Mariota needs.
Loser: D.K. Metcalf
The other star Ole Miss receiver seemed overrated for much of the draft cycle. He was not nearly as productive as his teammate Brown in college, but he garnered a ton of media hype after he put up absurdly good athletic testing stats in everything except agility drills. There were plenty of mock drafts that had him going in the top 10. Instead, he went with the last pick of the second round, 64th overall to the Seahawks. He’ll have plenty of chances to mount a good NFL career, but his camp will be disappointed he fell so far.
Loser: Anyone having their bachelor or bachelorette party in Nashville, the site of the draft, unless that person has a really good attitude about it
Sometimes, you have to take things in stride.