Draft Day 2016

With the NFL Draft just hours away, the Rams will have the first pick in their first draft back in Los Angeles. The Tennessee Titans were inclined to trade the pick to a quarterback needy team having a Marcus Mariota of their own and the Cleveland Browns could not hold back their love for Jared Goff both publicly and privately. In a class where the top QBs, Cal’s Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, were not being hyped like Jameis Winston and Mariota, the Browns – now operated by former Mets’ and failed Dodgers’ exec Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown – promised to conduct business differently and ended up blowing it yet again in pure Cleveland fashion. DePodesta, their Chief Strategic Officer and “Moneyball” extraordinaire, has no previous football experience but proclaimed the sport his true passion. He wanted to be a headball coach and even played on Harvard’s football team, truly a remarkable accomplishment! Paul also overheard folks at the combine trash talk him on bringing nerd to the National Football League, although I can’t understand why or where they would get that idea. In all seriousness, the only thing funnier than those jokes is probably him and his group passing on the second pick and sending it to Philadelphia.

Yes, they did receive quite a haul from the Eagles for presumably Carson Wentz; they still do not have a stable future at the most important position and have not for literally as long as I’ve been alive. To cry and moan that your favorite Jared Goff was no longer going to be there given his history with the area, then not consider Wentz when you yourself could have traded up a spot if you really liked Goff that much, is akin to taking advice from a homeless man and then drafting Johnny Manziel. But the reason for this is fairly obvious. The whole point of processes and computer churned analysis is to avoid taking larger risks and Carson didn’t play a whole lot of games for you to scrutinize with these calculators. Regardless, he is in my opinion the more talented of the duo with his ability to run and take hits on his Ben Rothlisberger like frame, and the franchise doesn’t have much room to argue, well, because they are the CLEVELAND BROWNS. For a FCS player to jump up boards as quickly as this one did, there must be a whole lot of confidence in his abilities! Ironically, Wentz and Goff both share the same agents and I must say, this agent might be the best in the world getting his clients out of a horrendous and toxic situation. I liked Robert Griffin III to come back as much as anyone and respect DePo’s attempts at a career in scouting, ambitions in other fields and desire to prove and spread his methods but both men cannot be counted on to take their city to new heights without a proper backup plan. Say what you want about their readiness levels and ceilings, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are infinitely times more reliable from day one than Washington’s exiled signal caller with bad knees and no weapons and are more likely to reach their ceilings of Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers while not residing in Northeast Ohio. If they come anywhere close, this move will be nothing more than foolishness.

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Now that that’s out of the way (I’ve been meaning to do that for a long time), we can talk about the greater implications on the draft. The Chargers may or may not stay in San Diego and would be crazy to not take Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey with them. Baltimore probably can’t believe the talk that they’ll walk out of it with the consensus top offensive tackle in Laremy Tunsil and Chip Kelly just wants another Oregon Duck in DeForest Buckner on his 49ers roster. Our two local teams, the New York Giants and the New York Jets, sit there and own the tenth and twentieth picks in a critically important night. The Giants finally fired Tom Coughlin after having him on the hot seat for many years. It wasn’t the right decision and confirmed his place as the most successful and least appreciated figure in New York sports this century who won them two rings but his fate was sealed with some bad fourth quarters in clock management. Big Blue, an organization that hates change, has effectively put its top decision maker Jerry Reese on notice for this coming season due to the flawed teams he assembled these past four years resulting in no playoff appearances. Reese took over in 2007 in the middle of a very great run of Giants teams and defiantly defended his 6-10 record which he believed to be competitive, where he in effect said that he wasn’t the only one who should be held responsible, that “everybody’s involved” and used phrases to then take away its meaning in his next sentences. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was promoted to head coach over my choice Hue Jackson and even Adam Gase so that he’d be easier to remove with Reese if the team doesn’t improve and they didn’t have to rip up their offense to do it although the clock is certainly ticking and the blame can no longer be leveled on Coughlin alone but above him.

The Jets, in comparison, had a much less tumultuous season, contrary to what you might have thought after the Geno Smith incident when he got punched in the face by I.K. Enemkpali. Gang Green had already cleared the shelves, dismissing Rex Ryan and John Idzick and replacing them with potentially a better defensive coach, Todd Bowles, and hard working and humble Mike Maccagnan. Rex stopped NYJ from getting its star quarterback that it doesn’t have to this day by winning his final games against teams like the Titans knowing he wasn’t coaching for his job, moved on to Buffalo and continued his loud talking ways with little to nothing to show for but an expected appearance introducing Donald Trump at a Trump rally. The six game improvement to double digit wins was swift and happened through two high reward trades engineered by Maccagnan for Bears outstanding wideout Brandon Marshall and then backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick and Marshall set Jet records touchdowns thrown and touchdowns caught and paced the Jets to a win against the Patriots and Week 17 win and get in game that they obviously lost because Fitz couldn’t beat his old Bills team twice against Tyrod Taylor. The primary focus is to get younger and add inventory to an already solid team.

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To further highlight the urgency of this draft, the Giants went into the first week of free agency running. They gave out $200 million and $82 million in guarantees not counting the Jason Pierre Paul deal, $50 million of the guaranteed going to prized defensive end and Pro Football Focus All Pro Olivier Vernon’s $17 million annual five year contract. Janoris Jenkins has allowed the third most scores of any corner in the league since he has came in and is sixth in average salary behind Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden and Josh Norman. Damon Harris went from undrafted free agent to the Jets’ great run defender to current New York Giant but does not rush the passer. You can’t gamble like this and not try to do the same with your draft, either you’re all in or you’re out. At this spot in the draft inside the top ten, you have to prepare to be the one to pull the trigger on a player that has been sliding and it appears like that this year it’s Myles Jack, a historically talented athlete from UCLA. Jack, named Pac-12 Offensive AND Defensive Freshman of the Year for his work at linebacker and running back, missed his final season three games into it, immediately turned pro and will be ready for training camp. Whether you want to speculate that he’s a microfracture surgery waiting to happen is up to you, why the Jaguars wouldn’t take him is beyond me. To speculate on what can happen five plus years down the line is exactly that: speculative. Can you guarantee a person won’t get hurt playing football? Myles has already rehabbed from his injury, for another superstar LB and once surefire top five pick, it’s the opposite and my stance has not changed under that circumstance either, as I will explain later.

Reese explained that the club does not take someone with a D or F health rating and reports are Jack has been dropped because of medical concerns. If their doctors and staff are wrong, they should be fired because the G-Men can afford to use the tenth pick in the draft for this caliber of player. Besides, every team has a different opinion of someone’s health and some try to forecast more than others. The last time they used a first rounder on this position was 1984 and Carl Banks was a pretty good result. The other player worth dancing to the podium is Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. The Dallas Cowboys practically have to lock up Jerry Jones before he lets go of such of headline making opportunity, but assuming his son can get him to, Elliot in the backfield with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. could be the new Greatest Show on Turf. He predicted the three of them together would win a Super Bowl pretty early. I don’t think I disagree.

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My two choices that will be available for the Giants turn are Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson and Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. Lawson is more than explosive than Joey Bosa and you can’t put it past him that he’ll be better than Bosa one day as there isn’t much separation there. After taking over a starting job from Vic Beasley, Lawson had more than 25 tackles and registered 13 sacks. I was sold when I saw him on the sidelines in the Orange Bowl jumping up and down supporting his teammates while he was out. Steve Spagnuola rotates his 3-4 schemes and he’d fit many of them. Shaq exudes confidence, wants to be the next Reggie White and played and stayed in South Carolina for his father who died in a car accident. The real Shaq should feel old that kids named after him are starting to enter professional leagues. Treadwell never took off like the draft’s number one receiver usually does and is lumped with lesser receivers like Will Fuller and others because of his slow 40 time. This was the case for DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans smartly took him at 27 opposite Andre Johnson. The Giants don’t have a number two playmaker and Megaquon is suited for that role. I’m sure Eli wouldn’t mind throwing to an Ole Miss alum either like he does with Beckham who went to his high school. The physical target has visited the Giants, can go get 50-50 balls and provide a nice contrast with a speedster like Odell.

The argument is that Laquon would be reach for Jerry Reese but how does that matter or how is that better than having Victor Cruz not play for you? He won’t get to be Dez Bryant and maybe he could be in some other places but he can at least be a Hakeem Nicks and win a lot of football games, his M.O. For the Players’ Tribune, Treadwell wrote a for hire letter recounting a game in his sophomore year where he broke his ankle catching a potential game winning throw and had to carted off. The tears began to flow only after he was told he didn’t score in the final seconds. His team first and championship mindset make him an ideal candidate just like Shaq Lawson. Make no mistake, both are top ten talents. Ronnie Stanley is the only offensive lineman I would consider and sounds like a Giants type name but drafting four of them in the first two rounds of the last four years sounds like a huge concentration of resources. With this year’s second rounder, you can keep going back to Alabama and Ohio State and take Derrick Henry, Braxton Miller or Michael Thomas and Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd who broke all of Larry Fitzgerald’s records, depending on the combination you go with, I.e. if Jack and Elliot are indeed there or you pick Lawson over Treadwell.

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The Jets’ draft needs become more visible when you’re at the 20 spot as opposed to where the Giants are. The upside is limited and harder to get to or unlock in the second half of the first round and tempt teams to go outside their rankings. What has to be comforting for Jets fans is that their GM is actually one of the genuine best player available proponents and displayed that when he took Leonard Williams last year. There hasn’t been much activity beyond signing Pro Bowler Matt Forte to add another dynamic to the running game. There has been criticism with the way Mike Maccagnan has handled Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract negotiations but can you blame him for not wanting to give a long term commitment to a 33 year old quarterback who was once released for Charlie Whitehurst? Muhammad Wilkerson is underpaid compared to defensive linemen in his draft year, has been for two years, has patiently waited and is beginning to fight back. Wilkerson is declining to sign his franchise tag tender and attending the voluntary offseason program. A trade seemed inevitable and here we are with no trade. Of course, sorting something like that out is difficult because the team Mo gets traded to will have to want to give him the contract the Jets haven’t wanted to, make sure he is recovering and then give the Jets enough compensation greater than the 2018 pick they’d receive. In the middle of the game of chicken being played, New York also made a late attempt to trade up to the number one pick that the Rams eventually got to presumably select Jared Goff.

That doesn’t exactly give an endorsement to Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith or Bryce Petty on their roster. Smith is talented but does not have the support of his locker room and Petty is young. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, the third best QB in most circles, is filled with arm strength and has a long way to go in his own development and learning the ins and outs about the game. Brock Osweiler is what he can be molded into being and you saw how much money he got after sitting behind Peyton Manning in all his years with the Broncos. It’s easy to dream with Lynch but he had the most basic system in college and you don’t want to force yourself into liking him. Chan Gailey’s offense can help but it will be a few years before he can hit the field and with a first round pick and only six picks, the selection should be an instant contributor. The Jets would like an outside linebacker and Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is potentially the best case scenario. Floyd has uncommon length at 6 foot 6 and needs to fill out but has seen his stock rise significantly in the last month and is more likely to go to the Giants than here. His production hasn’t matched his traits and that makes him an enigma. Personally, I know Jet fans would riot but I’d think hard about strengthening my front seven even more if I can move Wilkerson and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins is left. Rankins is smaller than most defensive linemen but that hasn’t stopped Aaron Donald. His versatility and the possibility of Sheldon squared with Sheldon Richardson is appealing, at least for me.

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Reggie Ragland from Alabama and William Jackson from Houston are solutions to problems coming in the near future. Ragland is a safer bet, an inside line backer and thumper in the middle that’s a throwback player AKA like a Green Bay Packer and heartbeat and general to the Crimson Tide defense more so than the bigger A’Shawn Robinson. He is a luxury to have at this moment with David Harris but can play outside if need. Jackson is not far behind Vernon Hargreaves and cornerback is a sneaky need because of Antonio Cromartie not living up to expectations in his second tour back and the uncertainty with Buster Skrine and Marcus Williams. He has exceptional ball skills, speed, a knack for pass breakups and is the prototypical corner Todd Bowles likes to use in press coverage. The Steelers behind them could be in play for Jackson so the Jets would have to pounce quickly if they want him. The selections of Ragland and Jackson at 20 echo what Maccagnan has said, “the goal is not to just sort of mortgage the future. We haven’t sort of leveraged everything to try to make one big run … and at the end of the day, have to try to tear it all down … It’s not like we feel like we have to go all-in and just do it this year.”

Teams ahead of them like the Colts are angling to get Conklin and Decker, O-line pieces that can protect its prized quarterback so he gets an edge like Noah Spence with troubles behind him to address that area instead. Acquiring Ryan Clady to replace the retiring D’Brickshaw Ferguson was huge. Whatever it is, the Jets have options at 20 including trading the pick and moving back into the early second round if they can’t trade Muhammad Wilkerson. They’d be choosing from similar crops anyway and could pull off the biggest draft heist in ten years: Jaylon Smith. Smith is a Hall of Famer and I have no doubts about his future. If New York picks Ragland, Mike shouldn’t stop there and draft the biggest wild card in ten years: Jaylon Smith in the second round. Smith is going to be a Hall of Famer and I have no doubts about his future. His calm and convincing demeanor in the midst of the toughest obstacle of his life is refreshing to witness. Jaylon isn’t bitter about losing millions from his fall in draft position, he is determined to make that up and more. Having him with Ragland inside, Jackson in the secondary or even next to Spence in a year’s time would be a coup for Maccagnan and Co.

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Jaylon Smith
Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Christian Hackenberg should also be a prime target for the Jets. Hackenberg is a polarizing figure in this draft, understandably so with his less than stellar sophomore and junior seasons where he never completed more than 56% of his throws. However, his freshman campaign where he ran a pro-style offense under current Houston Texans head coach, Bill O’Brien, will always stick out to me. Hackenberg, back then, was on pace to be a top five draft pick. With no protection from his offensive line and not adapting well to James Franklin’s offense, Hackenberg seriously hurt his draft stock. When I looked at more recent film from his pro day at Penn State, I couldn’t help but be impressed with his throwing motion and clean delivery (which reminded me of Eli Manning). He’s only 21 years old and I still believe he can tap into his potential with an accomplished offensive coordinator and better pass protection. If he’s available in either the second or third round, Mike Maccagnan should snatch Hackeberg in my opinion. It will take time but I think Hackenberg is still salvageable. He’s played well in a pro-style offense before, has the big prototypical pocket passer frame, and has the toughness to play well at the next level. Hackenberg just needs the right team and the right coach to develop him. The Jets may be it.

Sticking with the QB position for the Jets (sensing a theme here?), Connor Cook wouldn’t be a bad option at Round 2 either. Watching his film, I see Cook making NFL throws when he makes passes over 20 yards but sometimes is inaccurate from short distance. This could be due to the “gun slinger” moniker Cook is so proud of but he definitely looks like an NFL quarterback playing in a pro-style offense at Michigan State. I think the character questions surrounding Cook are a bit overblown and he has the college experience necessary to be at least a game manager in the NFL. While I think Hackenberg has the higher ceiling, Cook is not getting enough credit for being a safe option at QB. Colin Kaepernick and Sam Bradford should not be dismissed before and after the draft.

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Lastly, I finally got around to watching the “German Randy Moss”, Moritz Boehringer. While being completely surprised that American football is alive and well in Schwäbisch, Germany, I was even more surprised to see the combination of speed and size that Boehringer possesses. Yes, the competition he faces resembles nothing close to Division 1 college football. But, Boehringer clearly stands out on tape and his 4.43 seconds 40-yd time should automatically set off alarm bells. The Jets have a need at TE and if he can block, I see Boehringer causing havoc at that position offensively. I would play him at both the WR and TE position and see which one he adapts to best. There is something special about Boehringer and I think he would be an absolute steal in Round 3 or 4. Why not take a chance at this unique talent?

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The Jets and Giants and everyone else in the National Football League have the opportunity today to take some excellent football players through the weekend. They are now on the clock.

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