FRISCO, Texas -- Though some will believe the Dallas Cowboys reached a little bit when they took Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick Thursday, Charlton believes he went too late.
"I felt like I was a top-10, top-15 player, but I feel like I'm happy to be here in Dallas with the team and a coach that believes in me. Dallas is right there as to getting to that championship and Super Bowl," Charlton said. "They had a great regular season, and I believe I can help them get [back] to the playoffs and do some great things."
The knocks on Charlton dealt with his speed (he ran a 4.8 40 at his pro day) and that he started for only one year at Michigan. The Cowboys believe Charlton's arm length mitigates the speed issue and that he is athletic enough to play almost anywhere on their defensive line.
As for having to wait to start at Michigan?
"We had a lot of veteran guys, a lot of seniors in front of me," Charlton said. "One of those guys was Frank Clark in Seattle for a while for two years. So I had to sit behind him, and he was a great player and did great things with Seattle this year with 10 or 11 sacks. So that was really out of my control. I just made sure when I got in, I just tried to do a lot of good things, and that's why I got 10 sacks this past year."
Charlton's sack total increased in each of his four seasons from zero to 3.5, 5.5 and 10.
"I think just getting the chance to get on the field more," Charlton said. "You can watch my junior year, my last four games. I do a lot of good things because I played more. This year I got a chance to get on the field more. Just all the hard work I put in every offseason. From my freshman year until now it's been so much consistent growth just because all of the hard work I put in on the practice field, the weight room and in the film room, and it just shows on game day."
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli coached both -- Peppers with the Chicago Bears and Ware with the Cowboys.
On is pre-draft visit, Charlton said he hit it off immediately with Marinelli and assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett.
"They showed a lot of interest and said they liked me a lot; liked my tape; liked what they had seen. Especially meeting with Coach Marinelli and 'Big Cat' (Lett), so it felt with those two that when they got their hands on me, the sky's the limit."
The Miami Dolphins hold the No. 54 and No. 87 picks in the second and third rounds, respectively, on Friday.
Here are several prospects still available who could be of interest to Miami:
No. 1: Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky
Why: Lamp is a plug-and-play starter on the offensive line, which is all you can ask for in the second round. Lamp should have gone on Day 1, but being a projected NFL guard from a small school likely hurt his stock. He will provide very good value and versatility for any team that takes him on Friday.
No. 2: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
Why: McDowell is a first-round talent at an important position. However his lack of a consistent motor is why he fell to the second round. McDowell would be a good value for Miami if the team can stay on top of him. McDowell and former second-round pick and fellow defensive tackle Jordan Phillips are similar in that regard, and both players could push each other.
No. 3. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Why: I didn't like Cunningham enough as a first-round prospect for Miami, mostly because he's more of an inside linebacker. However, Cunningham would provide solid value as a second-round pick. The Dolphins have a need at outside linebacker and would have to teach Cunningham the nuances of playing that position, which could take time. But he has the instincts and athleticism that should be able to translate. If it takes time, the Dolphins still have Koa Misi who can start this season at outside linebacker. It's not as big a risk as taking Cunningham in the first round
No. 4: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Why: The Dolphins don't need an extra running back. Jay Ajayi made the Pro Bowl last season, and backup Kenyan Drake was a third-round pick last year. However, Cook is one of the most productive players in this draft and offers tremendous value in the second round. Cook might be too hard to pass up in terms of pure talent and simply drafting the best available player if he's still on the board at No. 54. The Dolphins could take Cook in the second round and figure out their crowded backfield later. Cook's skills mesh very well with Ajayi's power running style and head coach Adam Gase's offensive scheme.
No. 5: Dion Dawkins, G, Temple
Why: Dawkins is not as athletically gifted as Lamp, but he is still one of the few guards in this draft capable of being a Day 1 starter. The Dolphins need help in this area and shouldn't leave Friday without drafting a guard to compete with free-agent pickup Ted Larsen. Dawkins also played offensive tackle in college and has the position flexibility to be a backup there.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions hit on their biggest need during the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
But there are six rounds, seven potential Lions picks and a bunch more needs to go. With that in mind, and after looking at a very offense-heavy top of the first round Thursday, here are some players who make sense for Detroit on Day 2 of the draft.
The Lions, as of now, have picks No. 53 and No. 85 on Friday night.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina: The 6-foot-2 receiver had a standout 2016 season with 158 catches for 1,746 yards and eight touchdowns. He has an NFL pedigree with his father and uncle playing in the NFL. He would be a good-sized receiver to pair with the Lions starters and be a No. 3 right away with the potential for more.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee: He never put up huge numbers at Tennessee, but he’s a strong runner and has less mileage on his body than other backs. His size -- 5-foot-10, 214 pounds -- is also pretty good. He can also catch passes out of the backfield.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo: He's received a lot of attention from the Lions, and Bob Quinn has shown that he’s not shy about doing the homework necessary on a player when he’s focused on him (see Jarrad Davis). Hunt is a strong runner who likes contact, but has the shiftiness to to get away from defenders late. He’d be an intriguing addition to Detroit's backfield.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio State: The one-time running back would be a steal if he were still around at No. 53. His size might be an issue (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) but his speed is elite at 4.31 seconds. He would be a bit of a project, but in Detroit would have two good mentors in Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, who is essentially a pass-catcher with a running back positional tag.
Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut: He’s a physical marvel at 6-foot-4, 224 pounds and has all of the athletic tools -- a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, a 44-inch vertical and a 141-inch broad jump. He can also hit. If he’s there at No. 53, the Lions should consider him heavily, because he could be a good complement to Glover Quin.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado: He can play inside and outside, and positional flexibility is something Quinn covets. Awuzie has strong coverage skills, too, and would be a good fit.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC: The speed isn’t great, but his NFL.com comparison is Anquan Boldin -- the player he would theoretically be replacing if he comes to Detroit. Smith-Schuster is a willing blocker and has the toughness to move over the middle.
Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan: He has good size (6-foot-5, 298 pounds) and can play both end and tackle. The Lions have some players like him already (think Cornelius Washington), but he might be intriguing enough to be an early down run-stopper and move inside on pass downs.
Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland: The former Division II basketball player became an insanely productive football player at Ashland with 26 touchdowns over his last two seasons. In Detroit he’d have a similar player to learn from in Darren Fells and could be the No. 3 tight end for a year before moving up.
DeMarcus Walker, DL, Florida State: He would be a good complement on the defensive line to Ezekiel Ansah and is a fantastic pass-rusher with 26.5 sacks over his last two seasons with the Seminoles. The Lions need a pass-rusher, and if he’s there at No. 53, he might be the pick.
Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova: Kpassagnon would be more of a project, but has all of the intangibles the Lions like in defensive ends. He’s tall at 6-foot-7 with good weight (289 pounds). He has pretty good speed with a 4.83-second 40-yard dash and is incredibly smart. He’s the type of end defensive line coach Kris Kocurek could mold into a really good player.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson mentioned more than once that just because he now owns the first pick in Friday's second round doesn't necessarily mean he has a specific player in mind.
In fact, he might not take anyone at No. 33 -- one of the picks he acquired when he traded out of the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night. Thompson would be open to another trade.
"Oh yeah, you can put that down," Thompson said. "That will save us a couple of phone calls. We're taking calls."
The trade with the Cleveland Browns meant Thompson not only has the first pick of Day 2 (when Rounds 2 and 3 are conducted), he also has the first selection on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7).
"We have something that's kind of unusual," Thompson said Thursday. "We have the first pick tomorrow and I think the first pick on Saturday."
If more than just a couple of highly ranked players remain on Thompson's board, he could be enticed to move back again. It's possible he lost only one or two players that he would have taken at No. 29, meaning he could have several that he still likes early in the second round.
The first pick on Day 2 could be of interest to any quarterback-needy team that wants Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer. Perhaps the New York Jets, who sit at No. 39 overall, might feel compelled to jump ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 35 to take Kizer.
Whatever the case, Thompson seems to be inviting a bidding war for No. 33.
"I think it's very good, strategy-wise," Thompson said of owning pick No. 33. "We know where we're at and what we're going to do.
"There's a couple of different ways of looking at it in terms of being helpful to us. It could be that we highlight a player that we know we can get, and they can't take him away from us, so we sit there and pick him. It could be that a team sees an opportunity to maybe trade up and get a player they didn't think they could get and maybe it's again a trade that works well for us. There's a couple of different ways to look at it."
Added Thompson: "We wanted to add a little meat to shoring up the roster."
At this point, the Packers own nine picks in Rounds 2-7.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If they play it right, the New York Jets could make a killing on Day 2.
This is a particularly deep draft, as the second and third rounds are loaded with talented players. The Jets have three picks -- one in the second (39 overall) and two in the third (70 and 107).
This is where the smart teams separate themselves from the pack. Historically, the Jets haven't been too smart. They haven't nailed a second-round pick since 2007 (David Harris), and their last second-rounder to make the Pro Bowl on offense or defense was Mark Gastineau (the 1979 draft).
Talk about a prolonged slump. Maybe they should trade out of the second and accumulate extra picks for the third.
The top remaining players who could be on the Jets' radar:
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: He was a prolific runner in college (1,765 yards, 19 touchdowns last season), but he slipped because of durability and character issues. The Jets need playmakers on offense, and they should take a hard look at Cook.
Kevin King, CB, Washington: He's a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who blew up the scouting combine by running the 40 in 4.43 seconds and impressing in the agility tests. The Jets brought him in for a pre-draft visit, so there's some level of interest. Cornerback is a need.
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida: Coach Todd Bowles likes rangy corners to play his press-man scheme, and Wilson fits the bill at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds. He tested poorly, hurting his stock, but he was a playmaker for the Gators.
Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland: General manager Mike Maccagnan usually avoids small-school players, but Shaheen is worth a look. He's a 6-foot-6, 278-pound former basketball player who dominated the Division II level. You might have heard, tight end is a massive need.
Jordan Willis, DE/OLB, Kansas State: At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Willis projects as an outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 base. He finished his career with 26.5 sacks and he improved his stock at the combine.
FLOWERY BRACH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley doesn't bite his tongue, so the defensive end from UCLA was brutally honest when asked what he knew about his new defense.
"I do know they had the Patriots up, 28-3, and they kind of just ran out of gas," McKinley said, referring to the Falcons' collapse in a 34-28 Super Bowl LI loss to New England.
Maybe that wasn't exactly one of the first things Falcons fans wanted to hear McKinley utter, but at least he's fully aware of the biggest storyline going into the 2017 season: How the Falcons will respond from their Super Bowl hangover.
A player as talented as McKinley should help the cause, especially when teamed with reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr.
"For a D-lineman, it's hard to rush every single play," McKinley said. "So if I can just go out there (on) third downs, second down, or whatever just to give them guys a break and continue to pass rush, who knows how far we'll go."
When the 6-foot-2-inch, 250-pound McKinley said "them guys," he was referring to Beasley and Dwight Freeney. The veteran Freeney isn't expected back, which puts that much more emphasis on McKinley's role coming in as a rookie.
First and foremost, the Falcons have to make sure McKinley is healthy after surgery in March to repair a significant right shoulder injury originally expected to sideline McKinley, possibly until September. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said he was comfortable with the medical reports associated with McKinley's shoulder. And coach Dan Quinn expressed optimism about the timetable for McKinley's recovery.
"Training camp, that's my hope," Quinn said. "If not, it will be soon after that."
Quinn is confident it won't linger into the season. And he's confident McKinley will have an impact as another edge rusher on a line that now features Beasley, nose tackle Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, Adrian Clayborn, Derrick Shelby, Ra'Shede Hageman, and newcomer Jack Crawford.
"This guy is a dog competitor," Quinn said of McKinley.
Quinn expanded on what exactly he sees in McKinley's pass-rush skills.
"The first (trait) was his initial get-off where he can really beat a guy to the punch," Quinn said. "It was that kind of speed that he can get out of his stance and go. We saw him play, at UCLA, linebacker, where he was in a two-point stance, and some where he was down and really going. We saw him play on both sides, that kind of flexibility. I'm anxious to work with him. We feel like we can help develop and train him and get him even stronger. ... But he does have the initial traits that we're looking for."
McKinley was asked to describe his playing style. Again, he didn't bite his tongue.
"I'm relentless," he said. "I've got heart. I've got the best motor in this class. A lot of guys don't run to the ball. They just jog to the ball. Or a lot of guys don't jog to the ball. For me, if a quarterback is scrambling, I want to be right there in his face scrambling with him to force a bad throw. ... I'm somebody that's going to go hard no matter what."
The Buffalo Bills' chances of selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2017 draft were dealt a blow when the Chicago Bears traded up Thursday night to select Mitchell Trubisky second overall. When the Bills dealt out of their No. 10 pick despite Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson remaining on the board, it became clear Buffalo was not going to address their long-term quarterback need in the short term.
Maybe the Bills' predraft meetings with the draft's top quarterbacks were, as first-year coach Sean McDermott coyly theorized, simply a smokescreen.
Even so, quarterback could still become a priority for Buffalo in 2018. In swinging the trade with Kansas City, the Bills gained a first-round pick next year that could potentially be packaged with the Bills' existing first-round pick to move up for a quarterback.
What about Tyrod Taylor? The seventh-year veteran will remain the Bills' starter this season, but his restructured contract allows for the Bills to cut him after 2017 if they deem him not worthy of being the franchise cornerstone. That means if top quarterback prospects Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen (or a late riser) are within striking range for the Bills in 2018, Taylor's time in Buffalo could be short.
While the Bills might ultimately look foolish if Mahomes or Watson turns into a star, the decision to trade down Thursday with Kansas City was a logical move for first-year coach Sean McDermott. Buffalo -- starved for draft pick flexibility in recent years after trading up for Sammy Watkins (first round, 2014) and Reggie Ragland (second round, 2016) -- now has draft capital to either contend for a top quarterback in 2018 or continue to maneuver.
Such a forward-looking tactic from the Bills might not have been popular among a segment of fans that wanted the Bills to take tight end O.J. Howard, cornerback Marshon Lattimore or any of the other talented players remaining on the board Thursday at No. 10, but the decision to trade down has McDermott resting easy.
"At this point in time, having two first round picks next year? Yeah, I feel really good about it," he said. "That being said, we wanted to make sure that a player that we valued would be there at our pick and, in fact, he was, with Tre'Davious White. ... I’ll be able to sleep fairly well tonight, until tomorrow rolls around."
The Bills' trade in some ways overshadowed the selection of White, a 2016 first-team all-SEC selection at LSU who fills a need at cornerback. White is considered a technically-sound and high-character player who fits best in McDermott and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier's zone-based coverage scheme, even if he does not start right away.
Buffalo enters Friday with three selections in the second and third rounds, although they lost their fourth-round selection in the trade for Ragland last year. With three fifth-round picks, the Bills could look for a trade partner to get back into the fourth round.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Football wasn't something new Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker really thought about while growing up in Pennsylvania. His focus was on basketball, where he was considered a Division I prospect. He didn't play high school football until his junior year.
That's when things took off for him.
Basketball eventually became an afterthought once schools like Ohio State started recruiting him for football.
Hooker transformed from a one-time basketball recruit, to leading the Big Ten in interceptions last season, to being compared to a young Ed Reed after becoming the Colts' first-round draft selection Thursday.
Hooker's pick was not something the Colts anticipated. They thought he would be long gone by the time they drafted at No. 15. But a surprising number of offensive players -- eight of the first 14 picks -- put Indianapolis in a position to snatch up Hooker.
"I'm not going to lie, about 10 days ago we thought, 'What if one these guys fall, would we be willing to pull the trigger and take him?'" Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. "We ended up bringing him in -- in case he falls."
Hooker, who became a full-time starter at Ohio State last season, has something the Colts needed last season: ball instincts. He returned three of his seven interceptions for touchdowns last season at Ohio State. The Colts didn't return any interceptions for a touchdown in 2016.
"He's an elite guy," coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's a center fielder. We know he's a ball hawk. He's a threat to score every time he gets his hands on the football."
It wasn't too difficult for Pagano to do his homework on Hooker. Ohio State's defensive coordinator is Greg Schiano. Pagano and Schiano were on the staff together at the University of Miami in the late 1990's.
"[Schiano] was quoted as saying, 'This is the closest thing to [former Hurricanes and Baltimore Raven safety] Ed Reed,'" Pagano said. "That stood out to me. He's got that rare range, instincts and can make plays on the football. An elite athlete. Again I can't emphasize that enough."
Hooker appreciated the praise.
"It's just like an honor to be compared to somebody like Ed Reed, a football legend, the best safety to ever player football. That's a blessing," he said. "I definitely take that as a compliment, but I wouldn't even dare put myself in that category."
Ballard doesn't want that kind of pressure put on Hooker so soon.
"Let's sloowwwwwwww down a little bit, pump the brakes," Ballard said. "We're talking about a [potential] Hall of Famer. Let's pump the brakes a little bit."
You can understand why Ballard said that after ESPN analyst Jon Gruden wasn't sold on the pick.
"I think this is a need pick," Gruden said on ESPN's NFL draft show. "He's had too many injuries, for me, and he's missed too many tackles. He's an inexperienced player. You watch Hooker play against Clemson, you've got to take better angles and make these open-field tackles. There's too many bad angles, too many missed tackles to be this high in the first round. That's my opinion. I know the Colts need a safety but these are one-on-one tackles you have to make at this level of football.
"I'm a little shocked that Hooker went this early, personally."
Hooker is not expected to be ready to participate until training camp following January surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and sports hernias.
The Colts are fine with that. They're looking long term with Hooker. Ballard mentioned Hooker being "unique" a number of times during his media conference Thursday evening. Hooker is another piece in Ballard's attempt to revamp what has routinely been one of the NFL's worse defenses under Pagano. Hooker will compete with Darius Butler, T.J. Green and Clayton Geathers for playing time.
"I really thought coming in here that we needed to add defensive playmakers," Ballard said. "I thought Hooker was the best athlete in the draft and he's got a unique skill set. He has size, speed, great instincts and ball skills. And guys that can take away the football are hard to find. We think he can do that at this level. Is he a ready-made guy? He's going to need work."
HOUSTON -- All offseason -- after the Houston Texans traded Brock Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns -- the front office and coaching staff have said they believe in Tom Savage to be the team’s starting quarterback.
But in a huge move in the first round of the NFL draft, the Texans traded two first-round picks (No. 25 in 2017 and their 2018 pick) to get Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, the guy that general manager Rick Smith clearly thinks is Houston's quarterback of the future and the end of their quarterback carousel.
But not yet. After the pick, Smith and head coach Bill O’Brien reiterated that Savage is still their starting quarterback. “I don’t know if people believe us, but we’re comfortable with Tom Savage as our quarterback,” Smith said with a laugh.
“As a rookie quarterback it's a big jump,” O’Brien added. “Tom is our starter and Deshaun will come in and he's going to work hard and we're going to teach him and feed him a lot of information and he'll work at it.”
But Watson didn’t just fall into their laps at No. 25. Smith said after he saw the Kansas City Chiefs trade up to select Texas Tech quarterback, he made the call to Cleveland to complete the trade. This is the first time since 2012 that three quarterbacks were picked within the first 12 picks, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
According to the organization, Savage will be given a chance to succeed. But given the high price the Texans gave up to draft Watson, he will have the chance for the starting job, and we may see Savage on a short leash if he struggles.
In less than two months, Savage has gone from the guy who the Texans said was their answer at quarterback to now being in what could be a tough position battle. With one year remaining on his rookie contract, this is his chance to be an NFL starter, something that has been just out of his reach due to other quarterbacks and injuries.
During his conference call on Thursday night, Watson said he was prepared to do whatever it is the Texans ask him to do.
"All I need to do is put my head down, don't say anything, learn from all the veteran guys, learn from Tom Savage, learn from Brandon Weeden and just play my role," Watson said. "Whatever role that is, play it well and help the team win."
The phrase Smith and O’Brien repeated after drafting Watson is that he is a winner, something that is very important to the organization. O'Brien cited Watson's poise and impressive memory as characteristics that impressed them about the rookie. Watson, who was was 32-3 in as a starter at Clemson, threw for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2016 to lead the Tigers to the national title last season
"One of the things that stood out to me was how well he played in clutch moments, in big games, in games that really meant everything — national championship games, big ACC games, the guy came through," O'Brien said. "When the chips were down he was able to lead his team to victory. And I think that says a lot about a quarterback. In the end, one of the things that we always look at is is the guy a winner and this guy is a winner ... I don't think anyone can argue with that."
Everybody's mock draft was dead by 8:15 ET on Thursday night, which is fine. As it should be, really. Mock drafts are fun things we do to pass the time in the months ahead of the actual draft. And as Thursday night showed, the actual draft is a heck of a lot more entertaining.
Not even the mock draft of San Francisco 49ers brain trust John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan's wildest dreams featured the Chicago Bears trading them three picks to move up one spot so they could take North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. That move was a no-brainer for the 49ers, who weren't going to take Trubisky and were happy to get Solomon Thomas one spot later and about $900,000 cheaper. And the rookie GM and head coach spun the deal into more gold a few hours later, using Chicago's 2017 fourth-rounder to trade back into the first round and take a player at No. 31 (Reuben Foster) they'd considered taking at No. 2.
"This isn't that hard!" Shanahan and Lynch may have said, for all we know, as they benefited from the Bears' stunning largesse. But while the 49ers' front office was high-fiving, the rest of us were scratching our heads. And not for the final time. Our list of first-day draft head-scratchers starts in Chicago.
What were the Bears thinking? The short and obvious answer is that the Bears were convinced (A) that Trubisky is a franchise quarterback and (B) that some other team was going to trade with the 49ers and take him if they didn't. That's the only way it makes sense to trade four picks for a guy who started 13 college games and lost to Duke and North Carolina State in two of them. Trubisky needs to be Eli Manning or better to justify this move, which means he needs to unseat Bears free-agent signee Mike Glennon before too long. Meantime, I know the draft is about more than one year, but it's not as if Chicago's roster couldn't have used help elsewhere with those extra midround picks. No pressure, Mitch.
Did everyone go cuckoo for quarterbacks again? Was this a repeat of 2011, when Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker all went in the top 12? It's possible. Kansas City spent two first-rounders and a third-rounder to move up and take Patrick Mahomes at No. 10, and Houston spent this year's and next year's first-rounders to go up to 12 and get Deshaun Watson. Is one of those guys Locker? Is one of those guys Gabbert? All we heard for months was that the quarterbacks in this year's draft need time to develop. Mahomes should get that behind Alex Smith and under Andy Reid, but the win-now pressure in Houston is going to put a spotlight on Watson from the get-go. Watson doesn't scare easily, but developing in the spotlight is a tough way to go.
What happened to the defense-heavy draft? So much talk about how deep and strong this draft was on the defensive side of the ball, and then eight of the first 12 picks are offensive skill-position players. The three quarterbacks we've already discussed, three wide receivers and two running backs. No offensive linemen, no tight ends. This is a collection of dudes who are going to show up in your preseason fantasy rankings in a couple of weeks, and the order of the day seemed to be "get the quarterback some help." Christian McCaffrey will do a million different things for Cam Newton in Carolina's offense, but it was still weird to see Dave Gettleman pass on all those defensive linemen who were there when he picked at No. 8. John Ross joining A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert in the Bengals' passing game is a dream for Andy Dalton, but that Cincy front seven isn't getting any younger. It was fun to see some conservative front offices get a little fantasy-crazy, but you wonder if some of them might regret not selecting some larger gentlemen in the top 10.
Why did all the Alabama guys fall? The Crimson Tide was a trickle by the time it reached the shore. Some thought six or seven Alabama players would go in the first round. Four did, which isn't bad, but the first one didn't go off the board until No. 16, when teenage cancer survivor TJ Onwuanibe fist-pumped his way through the announcement of cornerback Marlon Humphrey to the Ravens. That set off a bit of an Alabama run, with Jonathan Allen going to Washington at No. 17 and O.J. Howard to the Bucs at 19. And Foster sneaked in at the end of the round when the Niners came back in to get him. Not a bad haul for the Tide, but not as brilliant as was expected. I'd expect Cam Robinson, Ryan Anderson and maybe Tim Williams to add to the ranks of newly minted Bama pros in the second round Friday night. Still, Thursday's little group tumble makes you wonder if there's something to this idea that NFL teams worry Nick Saban maybe grinds these guys down a bit.
Is Cleveland really going to go with Brock Osweiler after all? I still don't think so, but the Browns managed to make three picks in Thursday's first round and still not come away with a quarterback. They appear to have come away with three very exciting players -- stud Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett, do-everything Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers and dazzling Miami tight end David Njoku. And they picked up the Texans' 2018 first-round pick in the deal that landed Watson in Houston. But ... Watson is in Houston, Trubisky is in Chicago, Mahomes is in Kansas City. If Cleveland's plan still is to dump Osweiler and add a leftover veteran, the Browns conceivably could head to camp with a Colin Kaepernick-Cody Kessler quarterback competition. Too late to get that on "Hard Knocks"? Trading down and amassing picks is, in general, the best way to draft. But at some point, the Browns are going to need a real quarterback. If one of the three guys who went Thursday does anything like Carson Wentz did last year, the ridicule will only ratchet up.
So much for dropping due to off-field issues. Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley spent the 48 hours before the draft trying to convince teams of his innocence of a rape allegation that surfaced Tuesday. It worked. The Raiders took him at No. 24. Peppers and Foster, we learned in the past week, both tested positive for dilute samples at the combine and will enter the league in Stage 1 of the drug program. The Browns took Peppers at 25 and the Niners took Foster at 31. These are incredibly talented players, and these three teams decided they were worth whatever risk they brought. The Conley pick is the riskiest, but if he ends up proved innocent he's one of the steals of the first round. And while Foster's fall surely had something to do with concerns over his shoulder as well as the combine drug test, he could end up being an even greater bargain. Just goes to show the influence of short-term thinking on these big decisions. These kids get four-year contracts that are longer than the average tenure of a coach or GM. The Raiders have only two more years to win a title in Oakland. And when you work for the Browns, how can you possibly know how much time you'll get to deliver a winner. More and more, it seems time is short and risks are worth taking.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' pick was fast approaching, and they seemed to be in such great shape Thursday night with the way things were unfolding in the first round of the NFL draft.
And then they weren’t.
Just like that, in a span of 30 or so minutes, the top of their draft board crumbled. Tight end O.J. Howard was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 19th overall pick. Offensive tackle Garett Bolles went to the Denver Broncos at No. 20. Linebacker Jarrad Davis landed with the Detroit Lions at 21. Back-to-back-to-back, three players the Giants coveted were gone.
At No. 23, they discussed the pick and dipped into the next level of prospects for Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram, ahead of Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham, who had his supporters in the room. It wasn’t ideal, even if general manager Jerry Reese provided his usual assessment of how the first round developed.
“Well, it played out just like most first rounds. This draft was a little different because we thought that guys would come off of the board all over the place, and it did that,” Reese said. “There were a lot of uncertainties about a lot of players with respect to some off-the-field issues, some injury issues, different issues like most drafts have, but I don’t think that anyone was surprised about anything that happened.”
For the second consecutive year, the Giants were paralyzed by Reese’s rigidity. His streaks remain intact. He has never traded (up or down) in the first round, and has never traded down in 72 times on the clock in his 11 drafts as general manager.
Thursday was the perfect opportunity. Howard, a player the Giants coveted and had ranked near the top 10 of their board, was slipping. He was still available in the mid-teens, and lasted almost until the 20s. The opportunity was there for Reese to make a move somewhere, although he said afterward it was never in consideration.
Consider it an opportunity wasted for Howard, Bolles and Davis. One by one, they were gone. Just like last year, the Giants’ targets were taken right out from under them.
It was a wacky first round filled with shockers right from the start.
"You go in the draft and you always expect the unexpected and, right from the start, there were some unexpected things that happened and you don’t know what it is, but you just wait for it to happen and it did," vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross said. "Thirty-two draft boards, 32 teams, they got it all different."
Ultimately, Engram might be the right pick. It’s not often you see a tight end with 4.42 speed, and with the way the game is changing -- defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo often calls it basketball on grass -- the new-age "move" tight end is invaluable (see: Washington Redskins and Jordan Reed).
Engram will be a weapon in coach Ben McAdoo’s offense.
“The fastest way to the end zone is down the middle of the field,” McAdoo said. “Any time you can add someone to your offense that can run down the middle of the field with that type of speed and length, it stresses the defense.”
So the Giants did what was needed in this draft and added an offensive weapon, even if it was one they entered Thursday thinking was an unlikely addition. And now they have more work to do. It’s still imperative to bolster an offensive line that remains riddled with question marks. They could use a running back or some reinforcements at linebacker and defensive tackle.
It’s on Reese to get that right, beginning on Day 2 when the Giants are slated to pick 55th and 87th. He'll be tasked with making sure they're in position to get their intended targets. Maybe that will involve thinking on his feet and moving up or down, although history once again proved that isn't his strength. In fact, it might be his weakness.
It looked like it during the first round Thursday night.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The moment was an emotional one, with Jonathan Allen finally learning his fate. He was expected to go much earlier than No. 17, but medical concerns pushed him lower. And when he finally received the call from Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden and owner Dan Snyder, Allen was a bit overwhelmed.
“It was hard for me,” said Allen, who played at Alabama. “I kind of blacked out. I do remember them saying, ‘We’re blessed and lucky to have you.’ I said, ‘No, I’m lucky you took me.’”
Being drafted by a team that practices just a few minutes from where he attended high school was a bit of a storybook situation. It was a dream scenario for the Redskins, too. They did not expect Allen to fall that far, but when he did, Gruden called him a “no-brainer” selection.
But the reason Allen did fall was concern over his left shoulder, which has required multiple surgeries, the last one occurring in January 2016.
“I feel it was definitely in the back of some teams’ minds,” Allen said.
He said he did not need to wear a brace on his left shoulder this past season. Allen also said every team he spoke to about his shoulders cleared him medically.
“It’s probably the best I’ve felt in the last four years, to be honest,” said Allen, who played at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Virginia.
Gruden said the Redskins didn’t have any concerns about his left shoulder. Dr. James Andrews, who works with the Alabama football team, gave the Redskins a “thumbs up,” Gruden said. That alleviated any concerns and led to an easy decision.
“This is just a great pick,” Gruden said. “It’s a no-brainer. You’re taking a great person, a great player, a big body, a guy that can do a little bit of everything on the defensive line.”
The Redskins were in a good spot because other players they rated high, including Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and Missouri linebacker/end Charles Harris both remained available. However, the goal was to find an impact defensive lineman -- they just didn’t expect to do so in the first round.
“There were a couple guys slipping that we really liked,” Gruden said. “We were in a very good situation. But Jonathan had our highest grade and it was an easy pick for us.”
It led to a long wait for Allen, but one that paid off.
“It’s tough, but when you do get that call it’s a load off your shoulders,” Allen said. “My motivation is to prove why the Redskins were right and smart for drafting me. It’ll sit in the back of my mind, but I have a job to do.”
That job will be to do what he did at Alabama: pressure the passer. He recorded 22.5 sacks the past two years combined. At 286 pounds, he's not the prototypical size for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but the Redskins don't play that formation except perhaps 20 percent of the time. So he can play some end, but also rush inside in their sub packages. He can also rush at end in their nickel packages -- and from either side.
"We have guys that can play the run pretty good, but this guy can do everything," Gruden said. "He can line up at nose if you want him to. He can stunt, he can play the run, but he can rush the passer. That versatility is hard to find this day and age in defensive linemen. Big-bodied guys are usually just run-stoppers. They're not able to rush the passer as effectively as he does. And that's a big need for us.
One stood out that defined the player Carolina made the eighth pick of the NFL draft Thursday night.
It was a run inside the tackles. The linebacker was getting blocked, leaving a tight space for the 5-foot-11, 202-pound back to get through.
"He cuts his angle and actually bangs off that linebacker who is getting blocked and the backside linebacker couldn't get there because of the angle he took," Gettleman recalled.
"And then he steps on the gas like a road runner and [Gettleman whistled] -- see you later."
Gettleman rarely gets this excited about players who aren't "Hog Mollies," his nickname for big men. But his enthusiasm for McCaffrey, the son of former Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, is genuine.
Gettleman was so convinced McCaffrey was the player who can alleviate the pressure off quarterback Cam Newton having to run that he rejected repeated offers to trade down. He was so convinced that he didn't hesitate when Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen, considered by many a top-five pick and a big-time "Hog Molly," was still on the board.
Gettleman went so far as to compare McCaffrey to Hall of Fame back Curtis Martin, the best runner inside the tackles he has seen.
"Christian is right there with him," he said. "Running in that tackle box takes unique vision and unique foot quickness, and he's got it."
Some might consider McCaffrey a reach at No. 8, but in many ways he is the perfect fit for Carolina. He fills the void as a receiving threat out of the backfield, as a slot receiver and a punt returner.
He is also capable of carrying 15-20 times a game if something happens to starting running back Jonathan Stewart.
"Getting Christian set the tone for our draft and got us off to a real good start," Gettleman said.
With two picks in the second round and another in the third, the Panthers are in position to fill other needs at defensive end, safety, tight end and offensive tackle. But getting a back who can do all that McCaffrey does was key for a team that is evolving its offense to depend less on Newton.
"He has elite skills in terms of running, his vision, his run patience, his receiving skills, and he can step on the gas and go," Gettleman said. "There is just so much value there."
Coach Ron Rivera can't wait to see how defenses react to where McCaffrey lines up. He recalled one play at Stanford in which McCaffrey went wide and three defenders followed him. The quarterback ran 12 yards up the middle.
"Moving him around and watching how defenses react to him is going to be a big thing that is going to help our quarterback and the rest of our offense," Rivera said.
The Panthers had an edge over most teams in researching McCaffrey because they hired his position coach at Stanford, Lance Taylor, to replace wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl. Taylor had practice cut-ups and other video that showed what the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up did beyond games.
But it wasn't what Taylor showed the Panthers that stood out as much as what he told them.
"He said he's got Luke's kind of DNA," Rivera said, referencing middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "He's one of those guys who is all about football."
If you doubt that, here's what McCaffrey said after meeting Kuechly and outside linebacker Thomas Davis during his pre-draft visit to Charlotte.
"The first thing I did was imagine blocking them," he said. "I've got to get ready. That's all I've got to say."
The Panthers couldn't say enough about McCaffrey, whose 6,191 combined all-purpose yards in 2015-16 are the most in a two-season span by any player in FBS history.
Gettleman said it's rare that you find a back who can wow you running between the tackles and catch as well as McCaffrey.
"Man, he's got suction cups on the end of those wrists," he said. "There aren't many cats that can do what he does."
There were a few anxious moments for Gettleman when the Los Angeles Chargers selected at No. 7 because there were rumblings they were interested in McCaffrey. When they went with Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, there were all smiles.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Leonard Fournette is a big, physical running back. You can spend a lot of time on YouTube watching him prove that over and over again by running over defensive backs.
But Fournette likes to remind people that he’s more than a pounder.
"A lot of people think I’m a big, bruising guy who can’t make anybody miss if I don’t run them over or hit them or anything," the LSU product said shortly after being selected fourth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night. "I mean, I have a lot to show this season coming up and I will."
Fournette ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which is pretty impressive considering he weighed 240 pounds at the time. He also made sure to mention that he ran the 200 meters in 21.4 seconds and the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds in high school.
"A lot of people think for my size I’m very slow," Fournette said. "When they get on the field and it hits you, it kind of surprised them."
But the Jaguars didn’t draft Fournette for his elusiveness. They took him because he can run between the tackles and carry the ball 20-25 times a game. They took him to help secure games in the fourth quarter and, most importantly, to score touchdowns.
The Jaguars have rushed for only 13 touchdowns in the past two seasons, five of which have been by quarterback Blake Bortles. Fournette ran for 40 touchdowns in his three seasons at LSU.
"We do have a playmaker," Jaguars executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin said. "You can’t have enough but that was the intent. The intent was look, we need to get the ball in the end zone. We don’t get the ball in the end zone enough. We need players to put the ball in the end zone.
"This guy can help us in regard to that."
Another area in which the Jaguars struggled over the past few seasons: closing out games. The 2016 finale was the worst example. The Jaguars took over at the Indianapolis 30-yard line after blocking a punt with 1:54 remaining but they blew the chance to seal a victory.
Eight plays and 75 yards later, Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle and the Colts won 24-20. That was the 10th time the Jaguars had a game decided by seven points or less in 2016; they were 2-8 in those games.
"Win the line of scrimmage and win those battles, and you’ll be much better off, and then if you have a back that can help -- a good back with good vision can help the offensive line and hopefully be able to control the ball, close out games," coach Doug Marrone said. "How many games did we lose in the last two minutes last year or in the fourth quarter when we had a lead? When you have a big back that can run out the clock you are going to win some of those close games."
There were pre-draft doubts about Fournette’s pass-blocking and receiving abilities, but Coughlin said he was satisfied in those areas. Even if there were some concerns, Coughlin said Fournette’s game-breaking ability as a ball carrier over-rides them.
"He's special," Coughlin said. "We need playmakers. We need people to put the ball in the end zone. We need to do something about balance. We need to do something about creating a better situation where the quarterback doesn't have the entire game on his shoulders."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Walking down a long corridor inside Levi's Stadium on Thursday night after his first draft as a head coach, Kyle Shanahan couldn't help but smile. I walked alongside him and asked him, half-jokingly, whether he would be allowed to pick any players on offense for the 49ers on the draft's second day.
Shanahan's smile grew wider. He chuckled and said, "I hope so." Make no mistake, Shanahan had zero qualms with how the first day turned out after the Niners made a pair of trades and landed defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster, two of the top three players on their board.
As the Niners enter Day 2, they still have plenty of needs. They don't have a second-round pick after moving up for Foster but still have two choices in the third round at Nos. 66 and 67.
Here's a look at how things could shake out and how the Niners could come out of the second day of the draft with Shanahan smiling as much he was at the end of the first.
49ers pick: None.
49ers picks: Second in the round (No. 66 overall), third in the round (No. 67 overall)
Ideal scenario: The Niners addressed the front seven on Thursday night and though another pass-rusher would be welcome, the biggest remaining needs are in the secondary and just about anywhere on offense. Starting with the defensive backfield, there are still several top cornerbacks and safeties on the board. If any from a group that includes Washington safety Budda Baker and cornerbacks Kevin King and Sidney Jones, Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, Utah safety Marcus Williams and Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson are on the board in the third round, the Niners would have to be tempted to use one of their picks to add another potential starter.
As for the offense, there are still some intriguing prospects on the board. They could add weapons at receiver or running back or a developmental quarterback for Shanahan. Should the likes of Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, East Carolina receiver Zay Jones, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, USC receiver Juju Smith-Schuster or Ohio State receiver Curtis Samuel slip into the early part of the third round, expect the 49ers to give them a long look.
And given what we saw from general manager John Lynch and Shanahan on Thursday, we can't rule out the possibility of another trade, perhaps even jumping back into the second round to secure a player who might slip down the board.
Realistic alternatives: The best thing about this draft from the Niners' standpoint is they don't have to be beholden to positional needs. They just need the best players possible. With that said, this draft is loaded with talent at some of the positions where their needs are still most glaring. So for example, after landing Thomas and Foster, the Niners could still have some strong possibilities to bolster the secondary even if some of the players above are gone. Guys such as Iowa cornerback Desmond King, Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and North Carolina State safety Josh Jones could all reasonably fall into the third round.
It seems unlikely the same is true of some of the players on offense, but that doesn't mean there won't be options available. Names to know here are Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman, Cal quarterback Davis Webb, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp, Texas running back D'Onta Foreman, Western Kentucky receiver Taywan Taylor, North Carolina receiver Mack Hollins and Louisiana Tech wideout Carlos Henderson. Tight end also offers some good options such as Ashland's Adam Shaheen, Michigan's Jake Butt, South Alabama's Gerald Everett, Clemson's Jordan Leggett and Iowa's George Kittle.
Considering the depth at some of the positions mentioned above, the Niners should be able to find two more players capable of helping out right away on the draft's second day. Potentially even one who can help Shanahan's offense.
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