The Sensible Draft
One veteran club boss called the 2022 draft “rational,” which I thought was spot on. “It didn’t seem like teams acted out of desperation,” he said. Teams really didn’t like the quarterback crop and so, after the Steelers picked Kenny Pickett 20th and said they’d give him a chance to win the job as heir to Ben Roethlisberger in camp, QBs were picked as backup plans: 74th (Desmond Ridder), 86th (Malik Willis) and 94th (Matt Corral). This puts zero pressure on teams to play any of these players this year. Willis, in particular, was seen by scouts as a project. Now, he can learn the position and the pro game, and if Ryan Tannehill plays poorly this year, Willis could be in position to challenge for the job in 16 months. If Willis had been a first-round pick, the clock would tick till he played—this year.
There was one trade that showed rationality: Detroit moved up 20 spots, from 32 to 12, to take a potential number one receiver, Jameson Williams. The Lions traded the 32nd, 34th and 66th pick to Minnesota for the 12th and 46th picks. Normally, the 12th pick would fetch more. But the Vikings didn’t love a player at 12; in their estimation, four picks between 32 and 66 were better than 12, 46 and 77. Of course, we won’t know for two or three years if Vikes GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was right in the first big trade of his GM career.
Receivers might have short shelf lives with teams. In the good ol’ days, maybe like 15 months ago, Amari Cooper’s $20-millon-a-year contract was the gold standard for receivers. DeAndre Hopkins got a two-year bandaid deal in Arizona for a few dollars more in 2020, but $20 million was the long-term target for players … until Christian Kirk (who?) got $18 million a year in free agency from Jacksonville. Then seven wideouts got between $20 million and $30 million a year in the next five weeks ending with the A.J. Brown trade-and-sign deal in Philadelphia on night one of the draft.
As one GM told me: “I could see the receiver position becoming like running backs. Get as much out of the receiver in his first contract and then, after four or five years, let him go and draft another one high. There are so many good receivers now, I’m not sure they’re all going to get paid going forward.” Tennessee, for instance, simply swapped one physical 4.5-speed, 225-pound receiver (A.J. Brown) for another (Treylon Burks) and will pray that Burks can be 90 percent the player for the Titans that Brown was. That’s a very big ask. In the end, one team not paying big money to a QB (Philadelphia) could afford Brown, and one team paying a QB (Tennessee) couldn’t. Or calculated that it couldn’t.
What A Ransom
I did like the 11th pick in the draft, Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave, selected by New Orleans after a trade-up with Washington. Olave, multiple GMs told me, is the most NFL-ready of the receiver group, a precise route-runner, tough and consistently productive, and a sub-4.4 guy.
But that was one heck of a commitment the Saints made to get him.
Per the Jimmy Johnson draft trade value chart, the 11th pick in the draft is worth about 1,250 points of trade value. And by my approximation, the Saints paid about 1,942 points for it. New Orleans used value from two trades to move up to take Olave—the one with Philadelphia in which they acquired the 16th overall pick, and then the one with Washington in which they traded up to 11. Scrape away all the fluff, and here’s what the Saints used altogether to move up to the 11th overall choice:
Picks 16, 98 and 120 in 2022
First-round pick in 2023
Second-round pick in 2024
The 11th pick on the Johnson trade chart is worth 1,250 points. The 16th is worth 1,000, with the 98th worth 108 and 120th worth 54. I counted next year’s one as being worth the least amount of points for a first-rounder (590) and the second-rounder in 2023 as being worth a mid-third-round pick (190) in today’s value. There are many ways to extrapolate the value of those picks, but I chose to decrease the value by half-a-round per year. Total value of the five picks: 1,942.
(You might wonder about the other picks involved in both trades, which is fair. I equated the two other first-round picks involved in the trade with Philly, because 18 and 19 are so close in value, and I equated the late-round picks exchanged because they too are so close in value.)
I understand why New Orleans did it. It’s a Rams-type move. Maximize your chances today, worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Three pieces to this:
1. Olave’s ready to contribute opening day, to a team very much in need of a productive wide receiver, particularly after Michael Thomas has had two straight washout seasons. Thomas should be healthy this year, but they don’t sell insurance for that, as Bill Parcells was fond of saying.
2. The Saints are ready to win now, and think they can win now. And why shouldn’t they think that? In four regular-season games against the Tom Brady Bucs, they’re 4-0, with an average victory margin of 16 points.
3. I believe some of this is GM Mickey Loomis sending a message to his team post-Brees/Payton. The message: We’re not building for 2025 here. We’re in it to win it now. With a defense ready-made to win now, the acquisition of Olave (and Tyrann Mathieu) says New Orleans thinks it can make a deep run this year. Loomis wants the players to believe it too.
Speaking of Mathieu …
Local Dude Comes Home
Lots of ways to look at Tyrann Mathieu, who turns 30 this week, signing with his hometown Saints to finish his career. I think it’s borderline poetic. The timeline:
February 2010: Saints win Super Bowl. Local high school hero and big Saints fan Tyrann Mathieu celebrates in the French Quarter.
September 2010: At LSU, Mathieu stars as a true freshman defensive back.
August 2012: After two great years at LSU, Mathieu is kicked off the team for violation of team rules. Drug violations surface.
April 2013: Arizona picks Mathieu in the third round of the NFL draft, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles gives him four spots to learn in the Cardinal defense.
March 2018: Mathieu signs for one year in Houston.
March 2019: Mathieu signs and plays three years with Kansas City. He is the defensive leader on the Chiefs’ 2019 Super Bowl team. And then … nothing. No offer from Kansas City. After two all-pro seasons and two Pro Bowl seasons for KC, the team never made him an offer to stay.
May 2022: Mathieu signs with the Saints.
A look back at the last time @Mathieu_Era played for a Louisiana team 🐯
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 7, 2022
Mathieu is confused, a little angry, that Kansas City never gave him a chance to come back. He says he got caught in bad timing, with younger players like Orlando Brown getting the cap money that might have been his. They never gave him an answer about not giving him an offer to stay, which hurts. “The business sucks,” he told me, still wounded by it. But he’s not going to let it be a scar for his time in Kansas City.
“I have a lot to accomplish on the field and off the field,” he said. “To come back here and play where I grew up is really good, really important. When I was young, and I was making mistakes, some big mistakes, a lot of times, something bad would happen with me, or I’d go to jail, and I could sense it in the people who believed in me. Disappointment. Hurt. So now, in my community, I’m gonna be the everyday reminder. You can get better. You can turn your life around. I did. It’s important for me to play great. But it’s as important for me to show these kids you can come back from big mistakes and be better. I’m better. I really want to help these kids in New Orleans.
“When I came by the Saints building to talk to them, I had a great talk with [defensive coordinator] Kris Richard. What a great teacher. I learned so much. I remember walking out of the building that day. ‘Those guys don’t need me. They don’t need the Honey Badger.’ That’s what I thought. I play a tricky position. Once you turn 30, it’s easy to just go draft a 22-year-old. Then they called me. I was thrilled. The money doesn’t matter. I just feel like there is so much more for me to accomplish.
“This is my last stop, my last challenge. I am just thrilled to be here. When I put the uniform on and play in the Superdome for the first time, I will have to take a moment. Honest. It’ll be so special. Just special.”
Now Mathieu had to pause for a moment. Four, six seconds.
“God is good,” he said. “God is good.”
All-Conference teams and All-America teams are not very important when it comes to the best prospects for the draft. But I find this interesting:
• The Southeastern Conference coaches vote for all-conference first and second teams. They vote for four first-team defensive linemen and four second-team offensive linemen. Travon Walker, the first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, did not make the first or second team on the defensive line, among the eight players chosen.
• PFF honored its 2021 All-Americans, with four defensive linemen on the first, second and third teams, and four honorable mentions. Sixteen defensive lineman. Walker was not one of the 16.
• On the traditional Associated Press All-America team, with four linemen named on each of the first, second and third teams, Walker was not one of the 12 defensive linemen selected.
Walker is a gifted athlete who played on one of the great college defenses in recent times, and he didn’t start until this year at Georgia. But he’s not going to be in shadows anymore when his pro career starts in Jacksonville. And the spotlight will also be on the man who picked him, GM Trent Baalke, over Aidan Hutchinson or some top tackle prospects to protect the franchise quarterback. It’s going to be fascinating to watch the NFL development of Walker.
Four Sentences On Four Teams
Chicago. The Bears paid for the drafting of Justin Fields last year by losing the seventh and 112th picks to the Giants this year. He’d better be the guy, or this rebuild will be beyond arduous. With only three picks in the top 160, they got two physical players in coach Matt Eberflus’ image, corner Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker. No need for the Bears to panic here, because barring a huge jump from Fields this year, they won’t contend till Aaron Rodgers leaves football, or leaves Green Bay.
Carolina. Panthers keep chasing quarterbacks. In trading up into the low third round to take Matt Corral, Carolina dealt its third-round pick next year to New England to sweeten the deal. To me, it just continues to show the pressure from the owner to find the next quarterback. If Sam Darnold proves he’s not the guy this year and Corral is shaky in whatever 2022 opportunity he has, Carolina will be back at QB Ground Zero nine months from now—and without a ’23 third-rounder as ammo to move.
Seattle. Probably smart to not take a flier on Baker Mayfield, unless Cleveland throws the Seahawks a fifth-round pick to take Mayfield, and some of his salary, off the Browns’ hands. Barring that, I’d just let Drew Lock and Geno Smith handle QB in a restocking year with a big plus—taking the franchise tackle (Charles Cross) they could never find for Russell Wilson. Seattle could have four picks in the top 50 or so next year: their own first- and second-round picks, and Denver’s first- and second-rounders from the Russell Wilson trade. For the first time in recent Seahawk history, they’d be in position to draft one of the top quarterbacks from what is shaping up as a deep pool.
L.A. Chargers. By using draft capital to address pass-rush need with Khalil Mack and free-agency capital on the best young corner in the market, J.C. Jackson, the Chargers had two major needs plugged entering the draft. Zion Johnson, the top pick, will fit at guard or (more unlikely) at right tackle. And they got a bigger back, 220-pound Isaiah Spiller, who just maybe converts that fourth-and-one at Las Vegas. The Chargers are one of the most improved teams in the league.