So I wrote the top of the column the way I did to tell you how much life has changed in 40 years, in so many ways. And to temper the expectations of who will know what before the evening of the first round of the draft April 27.
A few things I’ve heard about the draft with 17 days left on the hype train:
1. This is important: Most draft boards are not finalized. Keep in mind that most teams have their rankings done in pencil now, with the ability to change the order by position and overall. That’s an important thing to realize as we go down the home stretch. For instance, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter is due to visit two teams in the top seven, Seattle (five) and Las Vegas (seven), in the coming days. How can Vegas GM Dave Ziegler and Seattle GM John Schneider finish their evaluation of Carter before sitting down with him at length? They can’t. So if you hear, “Carter’s out in Seattle,” for instance, it’s just not feasible.
2. Mr. Beckham goes to Baltimore. Pragmatism should be the best reaction to Odell Beckham Jr. signing with the Ravens, no matter who his quarterback turns out to be. (Still betting on Lamar Jackson, by the way.) Entering his age-31 season, Beckham will be playing football for the first time in 19 months in September after two ACL surgeries. He has just 67 catches for 856 yards over the past three years. It’s a nice signing, but expectations should be tempered. Beckham’s last mega-season was seven years ago (101 catches, 1,367 yards, 10 TDs as a Giant in 2017). The best thing might be the sign it sends to Jackson: We want you back, we’re probably going to add one more bright-prospect receiver in the draft, and it’s all set up for you to take us deep in the playoffs. Which leads to …
3. The receivers are all bunched up. One team thinks it’s nuts for Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba to be ranked ahead of USC’s Jordan Addison. Another team has BC’s Zay Flowers the top-ranked wideout on the board. In short, we’re going to see some surprises at receiver on draft night. Smith-Njigba caught just five passes last year for Ohio State as he battled and eventually succumbed to a hamstring injury. Addison caught 100 balls from Kenny Pickett at Pitt in 2021, then 59 more in a new offense for USC in 2022. With a lesser supporting cast at Boston College, Flowers caught 200 balls in four seasons and has been hugely impressive in interviews with teams. To me, Baltimore getting Addison or Flowers at 21 would be a big get in the Ravens’ only scheduled pick in the first two rounds.
4. The Bryce Young-to-Carolina talk increases. Though ESPN’s Chris Mortensen stressed the final call has not been made, the plugged-in Mort did say he thinks the Panthers “will stick with him when it’s time to turn in the card” on draft night. This jibes with what I wrote last week — that Young has a lot of fans in high places in the organization. I agree with Mortensen that it’s not a done deal, but the momentum toward Young is real. What’s interesting if the 5-10 Young goes before the 6-3 (and accomplished) C.J. Stroud is how it signifies how much the game has changed over the past few years. Young likes people comparing him to a point guard, a distributor of the ball to the open man, because it illustrates a lot about modern quarterbacking. In today’s game, a short quarterback can work better than a generation ago because it’s more of a horizontal, short-passing game overall.
5. One coach of a team with a pick in the top half of the first round had an interesting observation about Young/Stroud. This coach told me he had Stroud a strong number one on his board, with Young two. The overriding point was about size. If Young plays at 5-10 and, say, 198, he’ll be one of the smallest quarterbacks ever, obviously, in the NFL. Not just short, but slim. This coach asked me about the defensive fronts Young will face. “Alabama’s line was superior,” this coach said, “and Young consistently had enough time to throw. Taking away nothing from him, because he made the throws and made the plays to be great. But the offensive line for him will be crucial. Think of the defensive coordinators he’ll face, and how much they’ll emphasize putting good hits on him. I don’t see how that’s not a big factor when you put a grade on him.” Think of 6-8 Calais Campbell and 6-3 David Onyemata bull-rushing Young on the Atlanta defensive front—Campbell has 10 inches and 110 pounds on Young. People will say Young faced great defensive linemen in the SEC, and he did. But he’s not likely to have an NFL offensive line as foreboding as the one he had at Alabama.
6. Mystery of the first round, example one. Among those making or strongly contributing to high first-round picks: Carolina, with a first-year coach and a strong-willed owner, picking first; a GM in Houston, Nick Caserio, who’s as secretive as former boss Bill Belichick, picking second; a GM running his first draft in Arizona, Monti Ossenfort, picking third; GMs in their second or third drafts with skimpy books on them — Brad Holmes (Detroit), Dave Ziegler (Las Vegas), Terry Fontenot (Atlanta) and Ryan Poles (Chicago) — picking six, seven, eight and nine. How can anyone have great ideas when they’ll all do?
7. Mystery of the first round, example two. Used to be that there were a few mock drafts by veteran scribes with sources inside draft rooms that were used by teams for homework. Now there are hundreds of mocks, and most will turn out non-prescient. I remember in 2016 being at the Dallas Cowboys for the draft, and one of the best to ever do it, longtime pro football writer Rick Gosselin, had that year’s mock brought up six or eight times while I was at the Cowboys. “Who’s Goose got going here?” someone would ask. That’s influence. Now mocks are perused but not thought of authoritatively because on most teams, leakers are long gone, and old-time sources have been muzzled for fear of inside info getting out. One team aggregates scores of three-round mocks to try to figure who will be available on day three. Another team uses mocks to see if it’s way off on a player, and if its grade is way different, will ask a scout to go back and double-check some tape.
8. Hearing a lot about Emmanuel Forbes, the Mississippi State cornerback. Interesting story. Forbes was a high school pitcher who threw in the mid-nineties until suffering an elbow injury. Then he switched full-time to football, and what a college career he had: 14 career picks, six pick-sixes, zero games missed due to injury. He may slip to the second round because he weighs only about 170, but one team believes he can play comfortably and with more strength at 185. At 6-1 and running a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, Forbes should go no lower than late in the first, even with the weight question.
In short, sit back and enjoy the surprises on draft weekend. We’ll see a lot of them.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column