I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe exactly what happened on Saturday in words that anyone who wasn’t there can understand. I can’t. There simply is nothing on earth like the NFL Draft (even the NBA Draft is different) and there has never been an NFL Draft like this one.
Going into too much detail about each individual player would be pointless, because at this stage most of the 252 players drafted are merely very good college players and we have no way of knowing if they will make it in the NFL itself. The 252nd player drafted is always referred to in the media as ‘Mr Irrelevant’, which strikes me as a little harsh. Then again, if this year’s holder of the title, a linebacker named David Vorbora, can’t use that to motivate him then he probably doesn’t belong in professional sport.
Everything started very tamely. The Dolphins actually signed their #1 pick, Jake Long, almost a week before the Draft began. The first six picks then fell pretty much as everyone expected. Chris Long went to the Rams at #2, which left Matt Ryan to go to the Falcons at 3, Darren McFadden to the Raiders at 4, then Glenn Dorsey went to the Chiefs and Vernon Gholston to the Jets. So far so good, especially as I picked them as the first six choices last week.
And then all hell let loose. Of the next 25 picks, no fewer than 17 of them were traded between teams. It started tamely enough, with the Patriots and the Saints swapping places at 7 and 10. But then the Jaguars traded up a massive 18 places to make sure of getting the defensive tackle they wanted and the rest of the first round turned into a swapmeet. What is even more surprising is that two teams – the Packers and the Eagles - traded out of the first round altogether. With another two teams not in the first round at all (the Colts and the Browns, who ended up with no picks before round 5), this means that the chaos was being wrought by only a few of the 32 sides.
Biggest winner in the draft was undoubtedly quarterback Joe Flacco. Having traded down by swapping with the Jaguars, the Ravens then traded back up again to get Flacco, who most people rated as a second round choice. In doing so they bypassed two more highly rated QBs in Brian Bohme and Chad Henne. There will be a lot of pressure on Flacco as a result. He comes from a small college who didn’t play in the highest reaches of college football and indeed switched to there from Pittsburgh, where he couldn’t get past the incumbent QB to get a game.
Bohme and Henne did quite well out of this, though. Both went in the second round, with Bohme going to the Packers and Henne to the Dolphins. Bohme won’t start the season, but with Aaron Rogers never having started an NFL game either and Brett Favre retired, anything could happen. Henne, on the other hand, has every chance of starting at a Dolphins side who went through four quarterbacks last season.
Unlike Brady Quinn last year, there were no real losers in the first round. Highly rated offensive tackles Brandon Albert and Jeff Otah both saw themselves passed over for Chris Williams, but this was due to the frankly bizarre way the Bears ran their Draft. It was as if Chicago was determined not to take any player that they had been linked with, or strengthen any position where anyone else thought they had a weakness. Which means it’s Rex Grossman time again this season, I’m afraid.
The only other player to drop down the Draft was running back Rashard Meadenhall. Given that the first round was almost all about linemen rather than any other position, you might think this was a hard trick to pull off. In fact, though, he was the victim of some fancy manoeuvring by the Cowboys. They had two first round choices and used them to take a different running back, Felix Jones, and a cornerback, Mike Jenkins. Earlier in the week, they had signed the notorious Tennessee Titans player Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, who is still suspended by the NFL after being arrested no fewer than 12 times during his first two seasons in the league. That suspension is due for review at some point in the summer. Pacman is a cornerback who is also a brilliant kick returner. Jenkins is, as stated, a cornerback and Felix Jones is also a brilliant kick returner. What the Cowboys have done is to use their first two picks to buy themselves some insurance against Pacman’s suspension not being lifted. I can’t work out if this is brilliant forward thinking or really really dumb – what do they do with the two guys if Pacman is allowed to play? They might have wasted first round money on two players they never use.
The Bengals were also in the insurance game. The bloodyminded stand-off between the club and wide receiver Chad Johnston looks like it could end with the latter not playing at all in 2008, so they used their first two picks in the second round to take wide receivers. (Oddly, no wide receivers were picked at all in the first round, which hasn’t happened since 1990).
If you want an idea of how chaotic the whole thing was, at one point the Jets actually ended up trading with themselves, giving away a lower round spot and then getting it back again in a later trade.
Two names to watch out for – Tom Zbikowski and Jack Ikegwuonu, now at the Chiefs and Eagles respectively. Just because it will be fun watching commentators try and pronounce them.