It’s a different year in the draft. It’s too early to say who’s going where, and too early to know who’s trading with whom, because most teams are in the final days of stacking their boards and placing values on players. But there are two things in the NFL’s 87th draft that stand out, from conversations with 12 GMs/coaches/personnel people on Friday and Saturday:
1. This could be the first draft since the NFL began the “Annual College Player Selection Meeting” in 1936 that has no one who touches the ball getting picked in the top 10. No running backs, of course. Quite possibly no wideouts; the Jets, picking 10th, look to be the first place a receiver might go. And with the quarterback picture so lousy and so cloudy, who knows? We all know Carolina, picking sixth, could well take a quarterback. And we know a desperate team for one (Pittsburgh, picking 20th?) could be motivated to move up for one. “But unless Carolina takes one,” one GM said, “I can’t see any team picking one in the top 10.”
2. It’s going to be a bad year for mock drafts. Great line from a top GM Saturday night: “You can take the top 20 most plugged-in guys in your business. Ask them to pick the top 10 guys in this draft. I would bet a lot of money no two guys have the same top 10. When you don’t know who’s going one or two or three at this point of the year, you’ve got a mysterious year.”
Lots of interesting tributaries to this draft, as told to me by those in the draft rooms over the weekend, and we’ll start with the first pick. After Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence were locked in atop the three most recent drafts by now, a very unfamous Georgia Bulldog is a serious contender for number one this year.
I asked my 12 draft-authority panelists: Less than two weeks before the draft, what do you feel good about? What will be true come draft weekend? I said I would use their thoughts but not their names.
This is going to be an odd column—a stream-of-consciousness column. Think of having 12 inside authorities on the draft, with their soundbites and quick opinions, one after the other. At times, I’ll inject some explanation. At times, I’ll just let them riff.
THE FIRST PICK IN THE DRAFT
GM1: “Tough call for Jacksonville, because [Michigan’s] Aidan Hutchinson’s such a safe pick. I look at [Jags GM] Trent Baalke’s history going back to San Francisco. That year he picked Aldon Smith , look who he passed on—J.J. Watt, Cam Jordan. Bigger guys, sturdier guys. Trent picked the guy with tools and traits, Smith. That’s why I think he’ll take Travon Walker. Great kid, and he’s got all the traits except consistent production.”
Walker played some over the center at Georgia, moved out wide to rush, and also dropped in coverage. At 275, he can play all over the line. But it’ll take a leap of faith to pick him first overall. In three seasons, he had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss … total.
GM2: “I wouldn’t draft Walker thinking you’re getting Von Miller. He’s not a classic edge. He’s more an all-around guy who plays the run well too. He’s a great example of this draft—not a no-doubt prospect, but intriguing.”
Coach1: “I bet Jacksonville takes Walker. But I don’t know how great they’ll feel taking a projection one overall.”
GM3: “I like Walker, but I’m not a big fan of guys who rise after the season the way he has. In December, he wasn’t even on the radar for the first round.”
Let’s see. I checked four December “mock drafts,” though I don’t know how you have a mock draft when you don’t know where teams will be drafting. One had Walker 25th, one had him 32nd, one didn’t have him as a first-round pick, and the NFL.com multi-round mock had him 45th.
This sort of reminds me of something Bill Parcells said in his last year running a draft—in Miami in 2010. The previous year, they’d taken an option quarterback, Pat White, 44th overall. White was a pre-draft fast riser, in part because teams valued him as a potential Wildcat quarterback. White failed, and Parcells said that’s the last time they were going to be seduced by a rising star after the season was over. In 2010, the Dolphins set their draft board before going to the combine, and changed it only because of injury or character concerns dug up after the season—not because of a great combine performance.
One analyst who’s been fairly consistent on Walker is Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. Jeremiah has put out three top 50 rankings since the end of the college football season and has had Walker climbing, though conservatively, not like he was shot out of a cannon. Jeremiah has rated Walker 15, 10 and six.
GM3: “Walker’s a one-year starter who had six and a half sacks, with a lot of talent around him on a great Georgia defense. Again, I like him—but I prefer to base the grade on how he played football.”