The Washington Redskins haven't finished in the top half of the league defensively in either yards or points allowed since 2011. There's a reason they'll target defense -- wisely so -- with the 13th overall pick in the draft. They could trade the pick if a couple of players are gone; if that's the case, they might go in a different direction. But if they stay at 13, defense provides the best value.
Here's a look at what might happen with their first pick on defense:
Secondary. The Redskins could benefit from four quarterbacks being drafted in the top 10, allowing one player to fall to them at 13. Good luck figuring out who that might be. The Redskins don’t have a clue which player will fall, although Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James would be highly tempting at 13. Or what if a corner such as Denzel Ward happened to fall? There are two things a defense can never have enough of: pass rushers and corners.
Why a safety? Because both players do more than just play one spot. Fitzpatrick is considered smart and versatile, able to play corner and safety. James has similar versatility, though he’s more of an in-the-box safety with the ability to play linebacker in a nickel or dime role -- similar to what they hoped from Su’a Cravens. But James is more talented than Cravens. Both James and Fitzpatrick have drawn much praise for their football character, too. Most involved in the game anticipate both players going in the top 10, though one NFL defensive coach referred to Fitzpatrick as a jack of all trades and master of none; he wasn’t wowed by him. The Redskins, it sounds like, feel differently.
Even though the Redskins should be fine at safety this season with D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson, they don’t have anyone with the versatility of James or Fitzpatrick. So they could use three safeties many times, though it might not be known until the snap what someone like Fitzpatrick or James would be playing. That's an advantage.
“Safety is becoming a premium position in the NFL,” ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said. “You need to be able to defend these hybrid offensive weapons people are deploying in the middle of the field.”
Greg Cosell, a co-host on ESPN’s NFL Matchup, said: “You talk to coaches nowadays and they tell if you don’t have good safeties, it limits your options defensively.”
Defensive line. The Redskins have wanted to add a defensive lineman since the season ended. They haven't done so (yet) via free agency, so it should be a lock that they'll find one in the draft. Key words: should be.
There are two legitimate choices at 13: Da’Ron Payne and Vita Vea; the Redskins, according to multiple sources, appear to be higher on Payne. It's not a lock that they'd draft a lineman here. They also seem to like Tim Settle, whom they could possibly target in the third round (again, if they acquire a pick) at the latest.
In talking to multiple people in the league, there is split opinion as to whether Payne could be a three-down player. It only matters what Washington thinks, though, and the Redskins seem to believe Payne would be one. Vea’s inconsistencies have bothered others, but some consider him a freakish athlete. One person called him "exciting." He has drawn comparisons to Haloti Ngata.
“Vea is not Ngata,” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “But he’s a big, strong, tough kid. You can put him at nose tackle and he’ll hold up effectively. Payne has more penetration capability. He’ll be more disruptive.”
Linebacker. There are a few in the first round who are intriguing. Washington does not have a major need for one, but they could still go in this direction because of the (potential) talent available. They do like Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds. If neither safety falls, then perhaps a linebacker will be there at 13.
The Redskins have Mason Foster and Zach Brown inside, so if they don’t draft a linebacker here, they’re OK. Foster is coming off an injury but has been solid when healthy the past two years. Brown provides a different look with his athleticism; he was highly effective when next to Foster and behind Jonathan Allen. But both players could be cut after this season with no problem (Foster wouldn’t count anything on the cap; Brown would have $3 million in dead money). Assuming Smith was off the board, Kiper said if he had to rate between Edmunds, Payne and Vea he’d have the linebacker slightly ahead of Payne “because he has much more upside,” with Vea third.
Edmunds could help vs. the run on first and second down and can rush the passer on third; his size and athleticism mean he could play multiple linebacker spots in nickel packages, even rushing off the edge.
“Roquan Smith is the truth, man,” Riddick said. “The kid’s a player in every sense of the word and he should be a Pro Bowler very quickly. Very quickly. His key and diagnosis is exceptional. He very rarely takes bad paths to the ball. He can run. When he gets there he gets there with bad intentions. He can cover. He can play running backs; he can match up against tight ends. There’s nothing bad for me to say about Roquan.
“[Edmunds] doesn’t play nearly as fast as Roquan. I don’t think he’s as confident as Roquan as far as his ability to key and diagnose. You will see him play slower because he’s not sure. Once he is sure, he’s like a gazelle. Then he makes those run-and-hit plays where you go, ‘Wow. Look at that big son of a buck running like this, putting people on the ground.’ Of course, scouts and coaches go, ‘I’ll make him [a] starter. I’ll make him play faster.’ That’s the arrogance of scouting and coaching. You need that. But if I need a baller right now ... I’m going Roquan Smith all day.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Trading back in the first round makes plenty of sense for the Baltimore Ravens.
It would also come on the 10-year anniversary of perhaps the shrewdest draft-day move in franchise history. In the 2008 draft, the Ravens dropped down in the first round to select an eventual Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Joe Flacco and still netted third- and fourth-round picks.
While the Ravens are probably not looking for another franchise quarterback by trading down this year, they could find more playmakers for Flacco by falling back from the No. 16 overall pick.
Baltimore needs another wide receiver and a pass-catching tight end, but taking either one might be considered a reach in the middle of the first round. If the Ravens slide down to the bottom 10 picks of the first round, they can get better value for a wide receiver like Maryland's D.J. Moore or a pass-catching tight end like South Carolina's Hayden Hurst as well as pick up a third-round pick.
Of course, the Ravens would need a team that's interested in trading up to make this happen.
"We’ve seen all the trades, and you can trade basically anywhere in the first round, because there’s an emotional aspect to it," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "Teams want to trade up for a guy or trade back for a guy. It doesn’t really matter where the other team is. If you have a specific player that you want, you just come up and get him."
For instance, Baltimore could trade with a team looking to move up for a quarterback like New England. The Ravens can fall back to No. 23, which still leaves them in front of teams in need of a tight end -- Carolina (No. 24) or New Orleans (No. 27) -- and a team looking for a wide receiver in Jacksonville (No. 29).
The Ravens can use that additional third-round round pick gained by trading back as a bonus selection, which can be used on a young backup quarterback who can be developed. Richmond's Kyle Lauletta, Western Kentucky's Mike White and Washington State's Luke Falk should be available after the first two rounds.
"We’ve made some of those trades where we’ve gone from the 20s up to 15 or 16 over the years," DeCosta said. "And also, there’s been a lot of trades where we’ve traded back as well. So, I think we’re in a good spot for a lot of different reasons. I think 16 is a good spot to be in this draft. It plays well to our needs and different strategies. There are a lot of different things at play, and I think it will be an interesting first round."
A decade ago, the Ravens worked the first round to near perfection. In 2008, the Ravens had the No. 8 overall pick but knew it was too early to take Flacco, who was the No. 15 prospect on Baltimore's board.
Baltimore dropped from a top-10 pick to No. 26 in the first round, getting Jacksonville's first-round pick, two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder. The Jaguars wanted pass-rusher Derrick Harvey, who totaled eight sacks before being out of the league in four years.
Moving to the bottom quarter of the first round proved too far down to owner Steve Bisciotti's liking. He started getting antsy that Flacco wouldn't fall to the Ravens. He didn't want to get stuck with a quarterback like Chad Henne or Brian Brohm, who weren't rated anywhere close to Flacco.
Bisciotti's urging led to the Ravens giving up one of the third-round picks received from Jacksonville and a sixth-round pick to Houston in order to jump to No. 18 and take Flacco. At the news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome called Flacco "the guy to lead our football team into the future."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs, like every NFL team, routinely gather their scouts this time of year to discuss how they think the upcoming draft will unfold and how the team should proceed if a particular player slides beyond most projections to a spot ahead of where the Chiefs are scheduled to pick.
Brett Veach, one of Kansas City's top scouts for the past five drafts, always had the same reaction to what the Chiefs should do about a favored player who was falling.
"Every scenario had me trading up," Veach said.
That could be instructive as Veach prepares for his first draft as the Kansas City general manager. Last July he replaced John Dorsey, who was fired.
His instinct to trade doesn't mean the Chiefs are going to try to deal for every draft prospect they feel they can't survive without. But it doesn't mean they won't, either.
"That's kind of who I am," Veach said. "I have a group of [Chiefs scouts] that are worried I'm going to be too aggressive. I'm glad I have those guys."
Chasing coveted players in the draft is nothing new for the Chiefs. Just last year they moved up in the first round to draft Patrick Mahomes II and in the third round to get Kareem Hunt. They were rewarded with a talented quarterback who is now their starter and a running back who led the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie.
The Chiefs opened last year's draft with 10 picks and made just six choices because of their various trades. This year they have eight picks and none in the first round. They traded that pick last year as part of the deal to acquire Mahomes.
The Chiefs don't have as much to work with in terms of trade material as they did last year. But that won't necessarily prevent them from making a deal or two.
"You don't always have to acquire picks," Veach said. "Sometimes draft equity is the best asset you have, but also another valuable asset is your ability to evaluate your talent and be confident in guys. That's where I think my aggressiveness comes in.
"We'll operate with that mindset."
Two players Veach wanted for the Chiefs when he was a scout were an offensive lineman, Cam Erving, and a linebacker, Reggie Ragland. Erving instead went to the Browns in the first round in 2015, Ragland in the second round to the Bills a year later.
Shortly after taking over as general manager last summer, Veach traded a draft pick for each player. Ragland became a starter last season.
"We think [Ragland] can be a star," Veach said. "We think him and Anthony Hitchens will be a dynamic duo."
Erving is a backup who can play several positions. Veach views that versatility as essential for a reserve lineman.
"Cam has all the ability in the world," Veach said. "He'll get a shot to continue to compete for those interior spots and provide [flexibility] at tackle. Those guys are very hard to find.
"We traded a fifth-round pick for him. But really that skill set is hard to find in the fifth, sixth round."
Veach tried last summer to trade for wide receiver Sammy Watkins. One thing that stopped him was that the Chiefs would have had to part with their second-round pick this year. He felt the Chiefs couldn't afford the price after already having dealt this year's first-round pick.
But in an example of how dogged his pursuit of a player can be, the Chiefs signed Watkins this year after he had become a free agent.
That's why there's no telling what this weekend might bring for the Chiefs.
"I learned a lot from John," Veach said. "I think some of the processes we have in place are very similar.
"So I think some of the structure is the same, but I think everyone is inherently different in how they see things and how they envision the team -- both now and in the future. There will be some of those differences."
But will they stay there?
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is not shy about trading down, as he did in 2013, when he set his sights on cornerback DJ Hayden at No. 3, traded down to No. 12, still got his man and picked up a second-round selection in the swap. Now, you can debate all you want about McKenzie missing on the Hayden pick (Star Lotulelei, Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, Darius Slay, anyone?), but McKenzie’s philosophy has always been to let the draft board talk to him.
There is another voice in the Raiders draft room now: Jon Gruden. So who will do the talking now?
“The board will still be doing the talking,” McKenzie said with a shrug. “It really will.”
So if the Raiders stay at No. 10, here are five players the Raiders could potentially tab, and why or why not they are a match. (On Tuesday, we’ll look at a few others who might be targets should Oakland trade back.)
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith
Silver and Black: The answer to Raider Nation’s prayers as a ready-made NFL linebacker with his tackling ability, sideline-to-sideline coverage skills and purportedly voracious appetite for studying film. As ESPN’s Louis Riddick tweeted, Smith’s “tape is close to perfect. He can do it all.” As in be able to play either the Mike or the Will in a 4-3 scheme.
Silver and Blech: The last linebacker linked to the Raiders who was seen as such a surefire hit? Try Rolando McClain. True, it’s unfair to link Smith with McClain, but tape in college and reputation can carry you only so far. Besides, the Niners might take this decision off the Raiders’ hands at No. 8, if the Chicago Bears don’t beat them to it a pick earlier.
Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds
Silver and Black: Gruden himself said the Raiders would not “discriminate” against Edmunds because of his youth -- he is at the tender age of 19 but will be 20 by the time the season begins. And what a physical freak Edmunds is at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, with the ability to play stout against the run and carry good speed, thanks to his 4.58 40-yard dash time. He would provide immediate depth, on defense and special teams.
Silver and Blech: The Raiders already addressed the linebacker position with aplomb in free agency, inking Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Wilber and Emmanuel Lamur to join the likes of Bruce Irvin, Cory James, Shilique Calhoun and Nicholas Morrow. And then there's the anticipated re-signing of NaVorro Bowman. Edmunds has the feel of a project this high in the draft, which for Raiders fans brings to mind combine warrior Bruce Campbell.
Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea
Silver and Black: If the key to unlocking edge rusher Khalil Mack’s full potential is to provide him with help inside, look no further than the monstrous and athletic Vea, who can plug holes, push the pocket and chase down ball carriers with equal ease. Vea, at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, is seen in many parts as the next Haloti Ngata; and that’s not a good thing, it’s a great thing for Oakland. Gruden wants a Warren Sapp-type defensive tackle to occupy blockers and free up Mack, à la Simeon Rice.
Silver and Blech: Sure, he can push the pocket, but Vea’s sack production went down from his sophomore to junior season, from 5.0 to 3.5. Plus, many see him as merely a two-down player, and the Raiders already have that at DT in Justin Ellis. Plus, the highest McKenzie has ever drafted a defensive tackle is in the third round, last year, with Eddie Vanderdoes -- who is coming off ACL surgery.
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward
Silver and Black: McKenzie subscribes to that old Al Davis maxim that you build a team from the cornerbacks in, or have you missed the GM taking corners with his first-round pick in 2013 (Hayden) and 2017 (Gareon Conley)? This would allow for a Buckeye reunion between Ward and Conley, who played only two games last season due to injury. Plus, Ward thrives in man-to-man coverage. Sound familiar, Raider Nation?
Silver and Blech: Another Ohio State corner? Seriously? Until Conley shows up, it’s hard to defend McKenzie on evaluating cornerbacks, though TJ Carrie, a seventh-rounder in 2014, was serviceable. Then again, Ward might not be there at No. 10, as his stock is skyrocketing and nine other teams ahead might be in line ... so long as they don’t need a quarterback, right?
Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick
Silver and Black: Imagine the glee on the face new Raiders defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley (who was with the Crimson Tide the past two years) should Fitzpatrick be available at No. 10. Fitzpatrick’s allure is that he could be this draft's best overall playmaker in the secondary, as well as the best athlete. And at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, Fitzpatrick also could play cornerback. He had nine interceptions in three seasons at Alabama.
Silver and Blech: Let’s see, the Raiders used a first-rounder on strong safety Karl Joseph two years ago, re-signed free safety Reggie Nelson (purportedly because he is familiar with new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme) and signed Marcus Gilchrist in free agency. And last year’s second-rounder, Obi Melifonwu, is healthy. Do you really want your first-rounder to be for depth in a reloading season?
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In assessing the Denver Broncos' seven NFL drafts during John Elway’s tenure as football boss, there is an argument to be made they have had more success reeling in help on defense than they have had on offense.
Especially in the prime real estate that is the draft's first four rounds.
And the Broncos do have eight picks in the first five rounds of this year's draft, with six of them being in the first four rounds. That's worth noting because many personnel evaluators around the league believe this year’s draft is fairly thin at some key defensive positions, such as tackle, edge rusher and linebacker. So the Broncos will have to do their best work in the first two days of the draft.
“This is a draft that is deep in certain positions," Elway, the team's general manager and executive vice president of football operations, said this past week. “It’s [also] a little thinner in a lot of positions, more so this year than in the past."
In his seven drafts, Elway has split the team’s picks evenly on offense and defense over the first four rounds, taking 14 offensive players and 14 defensive players. With the benefit of hindsight, his hit rate has been higher on defense, most notably the first pick of his first draft upon Elway's return to Denver in 2011: linebacker Von Miller.
Miller has been named to six Pro Bowls, has been a first-team All-Pro three times and was the MVP of the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win.
Also among the Broncos' haul of draftees on defense have been future starters Derek Wolfe, Justin Simmons, Rahim Moore, Nate Irving, Quinton Carter (before a knee injury) and Sylvester Williams. Denver also drafted Kayvon Webster, who went on to be special teams captain with situational duty at cornerback.
Several personnel evaluators in the league believe Simmons has Pro Bowl potential, and Wolfe has been considered Pro Bowl-worthy by several general managers over the past three seasons.
The two defensive players the Broncos selected in the first four rounds in last April’s draft -- defensive end DeMarcus Walker (second round) and cornerback Brendan Langley (third round) -- had limited impact. Walker was moved between outside linebacker and defensive end, and the Broncos believe that stifled his ability to find a niche in the defense. They plan to simply leave him at defensive end this time around.
Elway, despite his pedigree as a Hall of Fame quarterback, has not had as much success in the first four rounds of the draft on offense. Whether it has been because of injuries or coaching changes -- the Broncos have had three head coaches and several changes in assistant coaches over the past four seasons (Vance Joseph fired seven assistant coaches from last season’s staff alone) -- or draftees simply not turning into the players the Broncos had hoped for, drafting on offense has been a struggle.
Running back Montee Ball, a second-round pick, battled off-the-field problems that he has been public in discussing, and he played in just 21 games with the Broncos. Wide receiver Cody Latimer, also a second-round pick, never had more than 19 catches in any of his four seasons with Denver before leaving in free agency last month.
Tight end Julius Thomas is the only offensive player taken in the top four rounds in Elway’s drafts who has been named to a Pro Bowl.
Tackle Orlando Franklin was a starter on a Super Bowl team in 2013, and Michael Schofield, Brock Osweiler, Max Garcia, Devontae Booker and Paxton Lynch also started games. But beyond Osweiler's foray into free agency, when he left the Broncos after the 2015 season, none of those players has been viewed in as high a standing around the league as Wolfe or Simmons are now.
Last year’s first-round pick, left tackle Garett Bolles, had a bumpy ride as a rookie, but he did start every game and is slotted as the starter for this season.
Elway said this past week he didn’t want to publicly say where the areas of need are on his roster -- “because I don’t like giving ideas of where we believe our roster is" -- but after free agency, as well as running back C.J. Anderson’s release, the Broncos have more glaring needs on offense heading into draft weekend. Having vetted the top quarterbacks in the draft, they also have depth-chart openings at running back and wide receiver.
“We feel like there are a lot of good football players that we’ll be able to find," Elway said. “Players that will help us. I think having the picks that we have -- having eight picks in the first five rounds -- is helpful, too."
While there are different quarterback flavors à la Ben & Jerry’s available to the New York Giants and general manager Dave Gettleman with the No. 2 overall pick, there is only one real option as a pass-rusher at the top of the draft. North Carolina’s Bradley Chubb is the Google of the outside linebackers/defensive ends. Nobody else is even comparable.
He’s going to be a high pick in this draft. He is likely to be a top-five selection on Thursday night and an option for the Giants with the second pick.
Given Gettleman’s approach to team building, Chubb is a realistic option. Gettleman believes in building along the lines and rushing the passer. Two of his five first-round picks with the Carolina Panthers were spent on the defensive line.
What the Giants would be getting with Chubb is what one person described as a cross between two of the most ferocious pass-rushers in the NFL: Denver’s Von Miller and Oakland’s Khalil Mack. At least that was Miller’s assessment last week.
What team wouldn’t want that? Certainly the Giants, after trading Jason Pierre-Paul and finishing last season 29th in the NFL in sacks, could find a use for a mix of Miller and Mack, or even a sawed-off version.
“That’s jaw-dropping for him to come out and say it,” Chubb told ESPN late last week of Miller's assessment.
Chubb sees some of his game in Miller and Mack. He believes his quick twitch and speed off the edge are a shade of Miller. The long arms and power are a bit of Mack.
Chubb’s 34-inch arms are longer than Mack's (33¼). He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds at 269 pounds. Mack ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds at 251 pounds and Miller in 4.53 seconds at 246 pounds.
The comparisons are not all apples and apples. Chubb didn’t show the same type of explosion as Mack and Miller in the short shuttle and 3-cone drills at the NFL combine. Miller ran a 6.7 in the 3-cone and 4.06 in the shuttle. Mack ran 7.08 and 4.18. Both were significantly twitchier at the combine than Chubb.
None of it matters to the consensus top pass-rusher in this year’s draft. He views himself as a football player, as evidenced by his 25 sacks in the past three seasons.
“The L-cone and stuff like that, I didn’t feel my best doing it,” Chubb said. “I knew my times would be bad, so a lot of people put weight on that. At the end of the day, I play football. Those drills right there are something you do to confirm your ability.”
With the Giants, the decision on whether to draft Chubb rests on where he would fit in their defense. He’s a natural rusher who has mostly played with his hand on the ground. The Giants are switching to a base 3-4 defense, with Olivier Vernon expected to fill the role of full-time rusher that was occupied by Chandler Jones in Arizona last season in coordinator James Bettcher’s defense.
“I’ve played in a 4-3 in college, so I would say I’m most comfortable with that just because of four years of doing it. But when it comes to standing up, I’ve done that as well,” Chubb said. “It just wasn’t our base packages. I’ve done both. I feel comfortable doing both. I don’t feel like I should be put in a box -- that I’m only a down end or a stand-up end. If a team needs me to do both, I have the skill set to do it.”
Chubb said he dropped into coverage an estimated 25 percent of the time at N.C. State, which is likely a generously high estimate. He knows it’s not his top skill but will do whatever is asked of him by his new team.
If Chubb were selected by the Giants, it would likely put into question Vernon’s long-term future with the team. The two could likely co-exist for a year or two, with the Giants in sub-packages for passing downs 60-plus percent of the time anyway. But in the long term, Chubb is likely best served in the role pegged for Vernon this season, with newly signed linebacker Kareem Martin handling the dirty work.
The Giants spoke to Chubb at the NFL scouting combine, they were at his pro day and they had him in East Rutherford for a private visit. He came away impressed with what he heard, and he would welcome being selected No. 2 overall and landing in New York.
“All positive. Mr. Gettleman is a great dude,” he said. “We had a chance to sit down and talk. He was talking not even about life during football but life after football. How I could come in and set myself up to help my family for generations. Sitting down and having a real talk was cool. Just sitting down with Coach [Pat] Shurmur and all the coaching staff ... just sitting there talking football with those guys was cool. It was a great experience.”
Chubb would even have a familiar face in the locker room. He was high school teammates with tight end Evan Engram, and he is best friends with Engram’s sister Mackenzie, who was recently selected in the third round of the WNBA draft.
PITTSBURGH -- Doug Whaley took the orders from general manager Kevin Colbert and hit the phones.
The 2003 Pittsburgh Steelers were prepared to make franchise history by moving up in the first round, and as Whaley began to call teams, he was greeted with disbelief on the other end of the line.
“A lot of teams were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’ll really come up,’” said Whaley, then-Pittsburgh’s pro personnel director who later became general manager for the Buffalo Bills. “And other teams were like, ‘What?’ At first, they didn’t believe us. It just showed the confidence Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher had in the player.”
That player was a game-changing safety out of USC, a speedy, hybrid defensive back before it was trendy, an eventual Hall of Fame talent who sent lightning through Pittsburgh’s defense with perfect hair and Marvel superhero leaps over the line of scrimmage.
This week’s NFL draft marks the 15-year anniversary of a trade that forced a traditional team to act non-traditionally to acquire Troy Polamalu with the 16th overall pick.
The Steelers never had traded up in the first round before that moment, nor had they drafted a pure safety in that round.
But the Steelers wanted to improve their secondary and got their guy for modest compensation, giving Kansas City their 27th pick -- which it used on running back Larry Johnson -- along with the 92nd pick (corner Julian Battle) and 200th pick (quarterback Brooks Bollinger).
The Steelers' draft room is known as businesslike, emphasizing consensus building over reactionary high-fiving.
That day, everyone sensed the satisfaction without saying a word.
“We’ve always had the philosophy, if you like a guy, you go get him,” said Ron Hughes, the Steelers’ longtime college scouting coordinator who retired in 2015. “We drafted the best player available to us.”
Here’s how it all went down.
The Steelers planned to upgrade the Lee Flowers-Brent Alexander tandem at safety, and Polamalu’s hamstring issues during the 2002 season had them hoping he would slide into the late first round.
Those plans were smashed once Polamalu smashed his pro day with elite athleticism. When the Steelers walked off the USC campus that day, they knew they had just watched a top-15 player in the draft.
“I remember [then-USC coach] Pete Carroll telling me ... 'I could wake up Troy at 3 a.m. and he’d wake up and run a 4.3 and jump 42 inches,'” said Marvin Demoff, Polamalu’s agent. “So I think the Steelers saw he was different than the people playing safety at the time. They believed in their eye.”
But Demoff hadn’t pegged Pittsburgh to his client, who visited the Steelers but didn’t have his hopes up either way.
Sure, Polamalu wasn’t a perfect prospect. Hughes cited a concussion history in his file, along with the lack of "corner fluidity." But Hughes knew Polamalu’s “special” playmaking was what they needed and would fuel draft-day drama.
“We ended up getting anxious on draft day,” Hughes said. “And it paid off."
Demoff also represented Johnson, an explosive running back out of Penn State who was convinced Pittsburgh would select him 27th.
He had the right number, wrong team.
The Chiefs had targeted Johnson early in the process despite that former coach Dick Vermeil was hoping for a linebacker.
“Carl [Peterson, the former Chiefs GM] was adamant about getting Larry Johnson, as was Lamar Hunt,” Vermeil said.
That presented an opening for Pittsburgh, which understood the Chiefs’ draft needs while trading notes with teams over phone calls a few weeks earlier.
Around the 14th pick, the Steelers brass -- Colbert, Cowher, owner Dan Rooney and son (now team president) Art Rooney II -- huddled in the corner of the room, then emerged with a plan and a ceiling for trade compensation.
“[Colbert] called me over, and the message was, ‘We’re getting on the phone, let’s do it,'” Whaley said.
The Steelers made several calls before reaching Kansas City, which felt fairly comfortable Johnson would be available at 27.
Turns out the presence of Cowher, a former Chiefs defensive coordinator, would help cement the deal, Peterson said.
“Both teams got what they wanted at the time,” wrote the now-retired Peterson via email while aboard The World residential cruise ship. “The Steelers needed and wanted a FS/SS, and the Chiefs wanted a big RB. Both players gave excellent production the first 4-5 years of their careers, but Troy P. went on to a very long, and a HOF career, and Larry J. did not play near as long in his NFL career. That’s OK, because some years earlier Bill C. assisted me in moving up in the first round, to draft a pretty good TE from Cal Berkeley (Tony Gonzalez), who should be a first-ballot HOFer this next year!”
Demoff got the call from the Steelers and relayed the message to his client, who appreciated the moment -- in his own way.
“He was so 'gosh, golly, gee whiz' about this,” Demoff said. “If he was picked in the second round, he wouldn’t have been unhappy. Once he got to Pittsburgh and got involved in minicamp and the business of it all, he had a greater appreciation.”
Efforts to reach Polamalu for this story were unsuccessful. Polamalu turned 37 on Thursday.
Backup quarterback Charlie Batch figured Polamalu must be darn good for the usually conservative Steelers to trade up for him.
He realized that the first day of minicamp.
“I said to myself, ‘Whew, he’s quick,’” Batch recalled. “He validated it quickly. He’s actually one of those guys where he intercepts you and you say, ‘Damn, I’m not used to that,’ because of the quickness.”
Polamalu was in a USC system that allowed him to freelance some, and though the Steelers’ defensive scheme required a level of nuance, Polamalu quickly found a sweet spot between assignment football and breathtaking playmaking.
Shortly after the trade, Cowher acknowledged a changing NFL game in which “speed is such an asset.” Polamalu proved Cowher right by doing a little bit of everything, from stopping the run in the box to covering tight ends on his way to four All-Pro nods.
Fifteen years later, traditional linebackers and safeties are becoming dinosaurs in favor of the sideline-to-sideline speed Polamalu possessed.
On April 26, 2003, the Steelers knew they were taking a bit of a chance because of the draft’s unpredictability. But the payoff was a defensive catalyst on the way to two Super Bowls.
“Maybe some teams thought we’d be stupid to move up and take a player who would have been there [at 27] anyway?” Hughes said. “But we’d definitely make that trade again now.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the Green Bay Packers want one of the top three defensive backs -- and there’s a good chance they do -- it might necessitate a bold move from general manager Brian Gutekunst in his first draft.
That’s because cornerback Denzel Ward of Ohio State, versatile defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama and Florida State safety Derwin James all could be gone before the first 13 picks come off the board in Thursday’s first round.
So the question that stares Gutekunst in the face, as he runs through final preparations this week, is this: How high would he have to trade up to get one of the three?
“That’s a good question,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.
Kiper broke down where Gutekunst, who currently holds the 14th pick, might have to move to get each one.
“If you want to go up and get Fitzpatrick and you feel he’s a cornerback, not a safety, you probably have to get to nine or 10,” Kiper said. “If you talk about James, everybody seems to think he’ll go 7 to Tampa Bay. Denzel Ward, probably up to that 6-7 range because he’s the best corner in the draft.”
To move up four spots, Gutekunst would have to give up his third-round pick -- No. 76 overall -- according to most draft trade-value charts. The Raiders currently own the 10th overall pick. If Gutekunst wanted try to get up to No. 6, where the Colts currently stand, it would take at least his second-round pick -- No. 45 overall. The Broncos hold the fifth pick, a selection that GM John Elway said is available at the right price. That price could be the Packers’ second- and third-round picks, according to the trade chart.
Gutekunst has a wealth of draft picks. In fact, no one has more selections than the 12 in his possession.
His predecessor, Ted Thompson, traded his first-round pick only twice -- and both times it was to move down. However, he traded to get into the first round a second time in 2009, when he had the ninth pick (nose tackle B.J. Raji) and then jumped up to No. 26 to grab Clay Matthews. That cost him a second-round pick (No. 41 overall) and two third-rounders (Nos. 73 and 83), although he also received a fifth in the deal.
Gutekunst was sitting in the room on that day, when Thompson knew he needed to get new defensive coordinator Dom Capers two building blocks as he installed a 3-4 scheme. Gutekunst could view this draft similarly, given that coach Mike McCarthy fired Capers in January and hired Mike Pettine to run his defense.
One of Gutekunst's first major moves after he took over was to trade cornerback Damarious Randall, a first-round pick in 2015, to the Browns. Although he signed two veteran corners, Davon House and Tramon Williams, the secondary is far from settled.
However, Gutekunst also might be content to stay at 14 and risk losing out on the top three defensive backs to take a pass-rusher. In a draft short on ready-made edge players who can get after the quarterback, the best options need to be considered at their spot. Bradley Chubb, a likely top-five pick, could be the only true pass-rusher taken in the first 13 picks, leaving Gutekunst with the option to pick UT-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport or Boston College’s Harold Landry.
“I would think it’d be down to Alexander or Jackson if they didn’t get one of the top three [defensive backs],” Kiper said. “If they want the next-best corner, it would be one of those guys. And I would think Alexander and Jackson would be the two in the mix at that point.”
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Philip Rivers handled his top priority in 2017, curbing turnovers.
After throwing a league-high 21 interceptions in 2016, Rivers finished with just 10 interception last season.
Still, the offense for the Los Angeles Chargers sputtered at times under Rivers last season, struggling to score points early in the year during the team’s 0-4 start.
Rivers said the team’s struggles were due to a lack of execution, and one of his priorities during this offseason is focusing on doing the little things better to improve the Bolts on offense in 2018.
“Early on, the first five or six weeks of the season, there were too many missed plays,” Rivers said. “We weren’t playing terrible. We were 0-4, but it was just, ‘Gosh that was a huge first down. I just missed the throw.’ Or this was a huge opportunity with a touchdown but we missed it.
“We talked about not scoring enough points those first few games -- we were just not scoring enough points. And so I think it’s gotten to the point now, and you hope it’s this way, it’s more now about the approach and the little fine details of how to convert another third down, not kick a field goal in a key situation (and) continue to take care of the ball.”
While paying attention to the little things on the field, Rivers also will go through a change in the quarterback room. Good friend and backup quarterback Kellen Clemens did not return to the Chargers in free agency.
“He’s already jumped in big time as far as learning it,” Rivers said about Smith. “We did a lot of formations today (Monday), and to me, he was ahead in terms of on the first day, it wasn’t, ‘Woah.’
“That just goes to show you he’s been in this league. He’s been in a few different offenses. The demeanor that he had, and the way he’s approaching it, it’s positive. And Cardale, his second year now in this offense (is) a little more comfortable.”
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn served as the running backs coach for the New York Jets during Smith’s first two years in the league, so he has a familiarity with Smith’s skill set.
“I know what he’s capable of doing,” Lynn said. “I think he lost his focus there for a little while, but he’s hit the reset button. He’s refocused. We’re glad to have him.
“I think last year, the things I've heard from the coaches in New York, he’s over the mental hurdle if he ever had one. I’m just glad he’s here.”
On New Year's Day, Joe Namath watched the Rose Bowl with his daughter, Jessica. A devoted Alabama alum, Namath wanted to check out the Georgia-Oklahoma game in his anticipation of a potential matchup against the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
It was a wild, back-and-forth game, and Namath remembers his daughter asking, "Daddy, have you ever seen anything like this?" Georgia won 54-48 in double overtime.
Namath's response: "No, I haven't, honey. These two teams are good. I wouldn't want to play against that guy, let me put it that way."
He was referring to Baker Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback.
Count Namath as a Mayfield fan.
On Thursday night, Namath's former team, the New York Jets, may select the fiery quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen also could be considerations, but most of the pre-draft buzz is focused on Mayfield.
"I haven't met them, but I've watched them and the most outrageous, so to speak, that I've seen has been Mayfield," Namath told ESPN in a phone interview.
The legendary quarterback doesn't want to come off as a know-it-all scout. He said it's impossible to form a true evaluation of a player until you meet him and get to know him personally.
That said, Namath saw a lot of college football last fall and, yes, he watched the NFL scouting combine. He played the position, won a Super Bowl and made the Hall of Fame, so his opinions shouldn't be discounted. He's Broadway Joe, after all.
"Hey, it wasn't just Georgia, it was a couple of years, early on, when I saw him play," said Namath, tracing his affinity for Mayfield. "I saw him a couple of years back. I never saw him look bad. I don't know how tall he is. I still don't know big he is. Size can be a major asset, yes, size can be an asset in today's game. But Drew Brees, his size was questioned many times and he's one of the greatest players who's ever played."
Speaking of Mayfield, Namath said, "When I see his quick feet and I see him throwing every which way, I see the accuracy, I see the intensity, his hustle. Hey, I tell you, I wouldn't want to play against him. I didn't want Alabama to play against him."
Mayfield is a shade under 6-foot-1, a fraction taller than Brees, who will join Namath in Canton one day. The other knocks on Mayfield are that he comes from a spread system and that his brash personality can incite opponents.
Namath knows a thing or two about swagger. He's famous for guaranteeing a win over the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III -- and delivering.
"I'm not as big on the outward swagger, so to speak, but the confidence, the leadership qualities ... and that damn confidence, man. Don't tell me I can't do it, I'm gonna get it done."
Referring to the top "four or five" prospects in the draft, Namath said, "Physically, they look great." He also said he was impressed by Mason Rudolph and Lamar Jackson, both of whom have been overshadowed by the top four.
"No one mentions Jackson," Namath said. "I wouldn't say he's not going to be a player, either. 'Argue for your limitations and they're yours.' (A quote from author Richard Bach.) We start putting limitations on people and we don't know them. He might be around for 10 years; who knows?"
Namath said he hopes to watch the draft live. If he's not busy with his charitable foundation or running errands, he'll make sure to set the DVR. None of his 12 full-time successors have led the Jets to a championship. Maybe his old team will order a Baker's dozen.
Here’s a closer look at the scenarios for the teams that hold the Nos. 1-6 picks:
No change here. The choice still will be the quarterback who is the best fit for the long term. The leading candidates remain USC's Darnold and Wyoming’s Allen. There has been a fair amount of buzz lately that the Browns are leaning toward Allen, but coach Hue Jackson scoffed at that claim, saying the Browns had yet to decide their pick and would not decide until they had more intense organizational discussions through the week. The Browns will pick a quarterback first, and it figures to be Darnold or Allen, with Mayfield a distant third. -- Pat McManamon
All signs are trending toward Barkley being the No. 2 pick for the Giants. "He’s one of those guys my mother could have scouted,” general manager Dave Gettleman said at his pre-draft news conference. "She could’ve figured that one out." Gettleman also called the idea that the Giants needed to draft a quarterback so they’re not in this spot again in a few years “hogwash.” This is the sound of an organization that seems ready to bypass drafting a potential franchise quarterback even though Eli Manning will be 38 before the end of the upcoming season. Of course, it could all change if the Browns pass on Darnold. Still, at this point, Barkley or a trade back seem to be the Giants' most likely options. -- Jordan Raanan
If Darnold is off the board, as many expect, the Jets’ quarterback decision probably will come down to Mayfield or Rosen. Both players have support within the organization, but the sense is that Mayfield has the edge. Why Mayfield? The Jets like his pinpoint accuracy, competitiveness and winning pedigree. They regard Rosen as a terrific pocket passer, but there are concerns about his durability. It doesn’t help that he’s the most immobile of the top quarterback prospects. Allen appears to be fourth in the Jets’ pecking order. If Darnold slips to No. 3, it probably changes everything. There’s an outside chance the Jets could trade up one spot for Darnold. -- Rich Cimini
What the Giants do will determine how the Browns go here. If the Giants take a quarterback at No. 2 or trade out of the pick so another team can get a quarterback, the Browns will take the best player available, and it will be either Barkley or Chubb. The team has not telegraphed its intentions between those players. If the Giants take Barkley, the Browns will go with Chubb. If the Giants take Chubb, the Browns will take Barkley. Either one is an excellent choice. This draft is set up so well for the Browns, it’s hard to see them making a mess of it. -- Pat McManamon
In his final public comments before the Broncos actually make a pick in this year’s draft, president of football operations/general manager John Elway said Thursday that he still would consider using the No. 5 pick on a quarterback if it were the one he liked the most. “That’s my job; ultimately [the decision] is going to be mine." But Elway said he also would consider a move up or down in the first round if a trade proposal suited him and he could still get the player the Broncos desire. If the quarterbacks go early, the Broncos could stay at No. 5 and focus on Chubb, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward or Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. All three would project to start as rookies. -- Jeff Legwold
Anything is in play with the Colts at No. 6. They’ll be closely watching to see how the dominoes fall with the quarterbacks with the five teams picking in front of them. The Colts will be in a position to have good options to choose from with their pick if two or more quarterbacks are taken before them. The possibility of the Colts trading back with a team looking for help at quarterback will increase if two or more of the projected top quarterbacks are still on the board when they go on the clock. Moving back -- again -- will give Indianapolis more picks to add to the nine it currently has in this year’s draft. Ward and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith are players to keep an eye on if Barkley, Chubb and Nelson are off the board and the Colts decide to stay at No. 6. -- Mike Wells
It's the first round. It's where young quarterbacks want to be drafted.
Now just days away from this year's draft, the former Oklahoma State quarterback hasn't stopped thinking about being a first-round pick. But he understands that where he's chosen is simply out of his control. After months of interviews, meetings, coaching, throwing and private workouts, Rudolph feels he's done enough -- from his collegiate career to the Senior Bowl to the combine to meetings with teams -- to be worthy of hearing his name called Thursday night.
"I think the hay's in the barn is the way I feel," Rudolph told ESPN. "We'll see what happens."
Indeed we will.
Over the past four months, this year's quarterback class has been divided into two groups: Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield, and everyone else. But Rudolph doesn't think he's necessarily part of that "everyone else" category. He sees himself "right there in the mix of the top four guys." He said he doesn't care about the other quarterbacks, or even how their selection can impact his. He's just concerned about himself and where he goes.
"I look at myself as a first-round quarterback," he said. "I can come in and start for any organization [from] Day 1, and have success and win games. It's not in my control, obviously. I can only prepare myself to the best of my ability and make sure that I'm hitting the ground running."
Not everyone agrees with Rudolph, however. But the feeling about Rudolph around the NFL isn't cut-and-dried. He's firmly planted in the gray area between a surefire first-round pick and not a first-round pick at all.
By most standards, he fits the first-round billing. He's 6-foot-4 1/2 and 235 pounds. He's known for his arm strength, as one NFC executive described his deep throws as "impressive" and his arm as "live." He's shown toughness in the pocket, standing in there to take a hit and make the throw.
But in one breath, that same executive, who evaluated this year's crop of quarterbacks, showed the complexity of evaluating Rudolph.
"He never struck me as a first-round talent," the executive said. "To me, if he goes in the first round, that is purely based on need and trying to convince them that he is a first-round quarterback even though I see him as a capable starter at some point."
Even ESPN NFL draft Insider Mel Kiper can't decipher Rudolph.
"He's an interesting guy," Kiper said. "It's hard to figure out what kind of quarterback he'll be in the NFL.
"I look at Mason Rudolph [and wonder] does he have that ‘it' factor? He's a tough one. Some are going to view him as a first-rounder and some are going to say, ‘Eh, second or third round.' There's going to be mixed opinions on Mason Rudolph, but there's a lot to like."
Should Rudolph still be on the board once the first round enters its final third, his path to being a first-day pick may come at the hands of a team that sees him as its future, thanks to first-round picks coming with an option for a fifth season.
"Even if you think he's a second- or third-round quarterback, it's almost worth the gamble at that point because if you think he's got a little bit of an upside, he's averaging less than $2 million a year so who gives a s---?" one agent said. "If he turns out to be half of anything, you got him for five years and you got him ... at no money, so I think that holds true with quarterbacks more so than any other position."
Another agent believes Rudolph going at the end of the first round may be the best thing for him because it'll likely mean he'll play behind an experienced veteran starter.
There are a handful of teams, including the Bengals, Bills, Patriots, Falcons, Saints and Steelers, from No. 20 onward that could be potential landing spots for Rudolph, who could be stashed and learn for a season or two.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim offered a few more reasons why a team late in the first round may select a quarterback who's straddling the late-first, early-second decision: "supply and demand at the position, hard to find, hard to develop, not enough time to develop sometimes."
But that fifth-year tender will only help Rudolph's cause with those teams. Take Teddy Bridgewater as an example. The Minnesota Vikings traded back into the first round in 2014 to take Bridgewater with the last pick of the round. That ensured they'd get their perceived quarterback of the future and have him for a minimum of five years. Fate intervened, but the Vikings had a plan.
"That fifth-year option provides you the ability to have a little more time with him, to be able to have cost certainty at that position, which can get out of control at times if a guy has any type of success," Keim said. "So, I think that that fifth-year option is certainly something that is dangling out there that's enticing."
A run of quarterbacks early in this year's draft is expected by many. That may tip a domino effect throughout the rest of the first round that could eventually reach Rudolph.
One agent interviewed for this story said he "absolutely" thinks teams panic in the first round when it comes to quarterbacks. Will Rudolph be a panic pick? That's yet to be seen. But Rudolph won't be devastated if he's not a first-round pick, even though he'll tell any team that asks that he should be one.
"I think you're wrong if you don't take me in the first round," he said. "It's not going to make me depressed if I go in the second. I'm going to be that much more motivated and charged up to go win a job and compete, or learn the system and take full responsibility and take my chance whenever I get it."
Legendary Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown decided he had to find Otto Graham’s successor in 1952.
With his first-round pick in the NFL draft, Brown chose quarterback Harry Agganis, the son of poor immigrants and a standout at Boston University. Agganis was a bit of a legend in Boston. A multi-sport high school star in West Lynn, Massachusetts, he was recruited by 75 colleges but chose BU so he could be near his widowed mother.
His play drew crowds where there had been none and caught the attention of the NFL’s greatest coach. While some compared Agganis to Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh, Brown merely said Agganis would succeed Graham.
Brown offered Agganis $50,000 to join the Browns, according to a bio on The Agganis Foundation website, but Agganis turned it down.
He decided instead to join the Boston Red Sox for less money, saying he had proven himself in football and he wanted to prove himself in baseball.
The tale took place in a different era in the NFL. The draft was not the colossal show it is now, and research on players was minuscule compared to today. But Agganis is a cautionary tale both about first-round picks and about quarterbacks. Even with the smartest minds at work, it sometimes does not work out, and the Browns have proven that in their 67 years in the NFL.
Through the team’s history, its success with quarterbacks has been marred by missteps and pratfalls, by bad luck and misfortune, and by lack of commitment to what is the most important position on the field.
It’s easy to look at the Browns' history since 1999 and find failure at the position. In reality, the Browns' entire history with the draft and quarterbacks has not been stellar -- and only highlights the importance of the Browns getting it right Thursday when they will no doubt select a quarterback with the first overall pick.
This is a team that has never really found and/or committed to a player as its franchise quarterback in the regular draft. None of its best quarterbacks came via the regular draft.
Bernie Kosar is the one player the team found and committed to, but he came via machinations that put him in the supplemental draft. It cost a future first-round pick to bring him to Cleveland, but he did not come in the regular draft.
Graham, the greatest quarterback in Browns history, joined the team as a “free agent” out of Northwestern when the Browns were in the All America Football Conference.
Brian Sipe came in the 13th round, Bill Nelsen was acquired via trade from Pittsburgh, and Frank Ryan was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Tim Couch was a first overall pick, but he lasted five seasons of painful expansion football; it’s impossible to look at Couch now and not feel that he deserved better.
The Browns' history of drafting quarterbacks has produced only two outstanding players, and the team’s history of “committing” to top quarterbacks shows that it hasn’t.
Since 1950, the Browns have drafted 49 quarterbacks, eight in the first round, with four of those first-rounders taken since 1999. Of the eight, only Kosar has been successful; he led the Browns to three AFC Championship Games.
Sipe, a 13th-round choice in 1972 and the team's all-time leader in passing yards, guided the Browns in the Kardiac Kids era in the 1980s.
The Browns twice drafted quarterbacks first overall: Couch in 1999 and Bobby Garrett in 1954.
Garrett’s was an interesting choice, coming after the Browns went 11-1 and played for the NFL championship. Garrett’s selection and what happened after shows how different the draft was in the fledgling days of the Browns in the NFL.
The draft in those years was based on a lottery, which the Browns won. Garrett was the consensus best pick after an All-America career at Stanford.
The Browns took him as the heir apparent to Graham, who had played eight seasons. However, soon after the draft Paul Brown learned that Garrett was in Air Force ROTC and had a two-year military commitment. Brown traded Garrett to Green Bay before the season in a deal that brought Babe Parilli to Cleveland.
Garrett played nine games in Green Bay, but did not start. In 1957, the Browns reacquired Garrett, with Parilli going back to the Packers.
It was in the 1957 training camp that the Browns, and Brown, learned what was holding Garrett back: He stuttered, which made calling plays difficult. One of his teammates at Stanford eventually told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that they had to smack Garrett on the back to get him to make the play calls.
Coaches did not take sensitivity training in those days, and Garrett retired before preseason ended. He never played a down for the Browns.
The next quarterback taken by the Browns in the top 10 was Mike Phipps, who in 1970 was considered a future star coming out of Purdue.
Art Modell so badly wanted a quarterback that he made a trade with the Miami Dolphins to send receiver Paul Warfield to Miami for the third overall pick. Phipps was selected after quarterback Terry Bradshaw went to Pittsburgh and defensive lineman Mike McCoy to Green Bay.
Warfield was beloved in Cleveland. He had grown up in Warren, Ohio, and attended Ohio State. In his six seasons in Cleveland he had become a fan favorite. When Warfield returned to Cleveland for the first time after the deal for a Monday night game, he received an ovation that he has said was among the highlights of his career.
The Browns were coming off 10-win seasons (in 14 games) in 1968 and 1969 that saw the team make consecutive conference championship games. But Nelsen’s creaky knees (six surgeries) scarred him and scared the team. Modell made a bold move, and it didn’t work out. Phipps went 24-35-1 as a starter in Cleveland and completed just 48.1 percent while throwing 81 interceptions and 40 touchdowns. In 1977 he was traded to Chicago.
Warfield went on to the Hall of Fame and was part of the Dolphins' perfect season.
The first team the Dolphins beat in the playoffs that season was the Browns, quarterbacked by Phipps. Warfield had 91 yards rushing and receiving, while Phipps went 9-for-23 for 131 yards with five interceptions. Those numbers don’t show how close the Browns came to the upset, though, as they led 14-13 in the fourth quarter before losing 20-14.
Modell’s next move for a quarterback went better, as the team used the supplemental draft rules to their advantage to get Kosar. The Browns made a trade with Buffalo to get the first pick in the supplemental draft, and Kosar delayed his entry to the NFL to avoid the regular draft because he wanted to play in Cleveland.
He had an outstanding career and took part in one of the more exciting eras in team history that included three appearances in the AFC Championship Game. All were against Denver, and included “The Drive” engineered by John Elway, and “The Fumble” by Earnest Byner, which pains Browns fans to this day.
In 1999, the Browns were returning as an expansion franchise and decided to build around a quarterback. They chose Couch with the first pick in the 1999 draft.
Couch had ability and to this day Bruce Arians insists he would have been a successful quarterback had he been handled better. But he was thrown into the starting spot with an expansion team then was jerked in and out of the lineup by Butch Davis.
The Browns let him go after signing Jeff Garcia, who lasted one season. Couch, who ranks fifth in Browns history with 11,131 passing yards, went 22-37 as a starter and guided the team to its only post-1999 playoff experience in 2002, only to miss the playoff game with a broken leg.
Since Couch was drafted the Browns have selected three quarterbacks in the first round, all 22nd overall: Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn. None won more than five games and combined they won 10.
Since 2008, the Browns have had eight top 10 picks and not used one on a quarterback. They have not taken a quarterback in the top five since 1999.
In the team’s 67-year history in the NFL, the Browns have had 55 different starting quarterbacks (28 since 1999). Only eight have gone to the Pro Bowl, with 16 total appearances.
Eleven have started a playoff game, with Kelly Holcomb (2002) and Vinny Testaverde (1994) the only playoff starters since 1993. Of the team’s 34 playoff games, Graham or Kosar was the starting quarterback in 20.
The lesson for the Browns as this draft approaches is the lesson of all history: Those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it.
T-minus four days until the 2018 NFL draft. It's a big one for the New York Giants. They're picking second overall and face a decision that could determine the overall success of the franchise for the next decade.
To select a quarterback or not? That is the question.
It will be answered soon enough. In the meantime, some observations and whispers.
The Davis Webb factor
As the Giants are on the clock at No. 2, you have to wonder how much Webb plays into the equation. He was a third-round pick last year by the previous regime and has impressed since with his work ethic and preparation. Still, nobody has seen him take an NFL snap. It would appear Webb is a virtual unknown.
But with Eli Manning and Webb on the roster, it's possible the Giants are more comfortable with their short- and long-term future than those outside the organization. New coach Pat Shurmur said Manning has "years left" despite being 37 and on the decline. New general manager Dave Gettleman has been equally adamant that the two-time Super Bowl winner has something left in the tank.
What Shurmur and Gettleman really think about Webb is shrouded in mystery. When the Giants hold their first minicamp of the season from Tuesday to Thursday, it will be their first opportunity to see Webb on the field with their own eyes. How Webb performs will be monitored closely, but it won't affect their already determined draft board.
"Nothing is going to totally change the top of the board," said Gettleman, a self-proclaimed film junkie. "Seeing Davis next week is going to be fun for us because he's a great kid, he works his fanny off, he has been following Eli around like a little puppy dog since he walked in the door, and it will be a neat opportunity to see him play.
"Yeah, sure, everything affects the board. I'd be lying if I said no, but at the end of the day, I'm looking forward to it."
Gettleman isn't going to knock Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen down a few pegs just because Webb had a strong practice in shorts and shoulder pads hours before the draft. More likely, what the team feels about his prospects was determined long ago.
It doesn't hurt that one of Webb's biggest supporters in last year's draft is still in the building. President of player evaluation Chris Mara (who is also part of the ownership group) was perhaps the strongest voice on Webb last year.
But the Giants were never going to draft Mahomes because the front office wasn't nearly as high on the Texas Tech quarterback. They were also split on Webb.
This is a glimpse of how the Giants operate. They have a lot of cooks in the kitchen who often have differing views on players.
That's likely the case with this year's quarterback class as well. Each of the top prospects is unique. Gettleman compared it to shopping at Ben & Jerry's, and it could make it difficult to come to a consensus, especially with Manning and Webb still on the roster with support within the building.
No. 1 pick uncertainty
What the Cleveland Browns do at No. 1 likely directly affects the Giants' selection. The common belief is it's between Darnold and Allen. I also wouldn't completely rule out Baker Mayfield knowing full well that Scot McCloughan is serving as a consultant to general manager John Dorsey. McCloughan is on record earlier this year saying Mayfield is the best quarterback in this draft.
Difficulty of trading down
The No. 2 pick is desirable, especially for teams that want a quarterback. The Browns at No. 1 and New York Jets at No. 3 are almost certainly going in that direction. So if a team wants a specific quarterback, the Giants' pick is where they want to land.
Except the Giants are going to ask for a major haul. Multiple first-round picks -- and more. It's going to be difficult for anyone to meet their demands. They might be best waiting the Giants out considering the Browns at No. 4 aren't likely to take a quarterback and the No. 5 and No. 6 picks are available to the highest bidder.
Guards going high
This is considered a really strong draft for interior offensive linemen. Multiple personnel evaluators believe there will be at least four guards and centers taken in the first round. Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson, Georgia's Isaiah Wynn, UTEP's Will Hernandez and Arkansas' Frank Ragnow are the most likely.
Nevada's Austin Corbett, Iowa's James Daniels, and Ohio State's Billy Price also could go anywhere from late first to early second round. There is lots of talent to be had on the interior of the offensive line.
Future of Flowers
Don't be surprised to hear about the Giants possibly trying to move tackle Ereck Flowers during the draft. He hasn't been at the offseason workout program this spring, and it doesn't appear that has been particularly well received.
Even with one year remaining on his rookie contract it might not be feasible to move the 2015 first-round pick. He's due $2.4 million this year and has a questionable track record.
"I wouldn't mess with him," one personnel executive with an NFC team said. "I wouldn't want him in the building. Sounds like he's not worth the trouble."
The Giants traded for punter Riley Dixon on Friday. It cost them a conditional seventh-round draft pick next year. It still might not prevent them from adding another punter after the draft.
The Giants did a lot of pre-draft work on punters this year. They had private workouts with a bunch of the top prospects in what is considered a strong draft for punters. It's still possible they add a punter after the draft and bring him in to compete with Dixon for the job. The "conditional" part of the seventh-round pick they sent to Denver likely allows them to do that.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just this week, the guy who makes the football decisions for the Denver Broncos, John Elway, made it clear how important it is to get to know draft prospects.
He made it clear how much he values face-to-face conversations, the quality time, as he prepares to select fifth overall on Thursday.
"When you have them in on a visit you get to know them better," Elway said. "You still don't get to know them really well, but you get to know them better and you learn about the personalities. I don't jump to conclusions that they are true. I draw my own conclusions, so no matter what's been said out there, I try to draw my own conclusions and get as many viewpoints on a kid. The bottom line is I have to draw from my own and with the feel I get from them. ... It's hard to draw from too many different opinions until you get around them and get a feel for them yourself."
But more than a decade ago, one of the Broncos' quirkier draft chapters involved little power of conversation, limited quality time and absolutely no face-to-face meetings. As the Broncos look hard at another draft board with several high-profile quarterbacks under review, there is the silence-is-golden story of the Broncos and Jay Cutler.
Because when the Broncos traded up -- not once, but twice -- in the first round of the 2006 draft to select Cutler at No. 11, the man making the decision then -- Mike Shanahan -- had not spoken to Cutler face-to-face at any point leading up to the draft. The Broncos didn't even attend Cutler's pro day at Vanderbilt.
"Not once," Cutler has said. "Never. The first time I talked to him was after they picked me."
It seems so out of place now as every crumb of information, every sliver of body language, is shoved through multiple levels of review, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. So much so that earlier this year when Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield was presented with the idea of a team selecting him without first talking to him, it seemed foreign.
"At all? Not at all?" asked Mayfield, one of the most highly rated quarterbacks in this year's draft. "Wow, I don't know, just from my own experiences, I'm not sure I can even see that happening."
Wyoming's Josh Allen, too, wasn't quite sure how to consider such a thing.
"I can't say that's happened," Allen said early in the draft process. "I already feel like I've talked to every team or at least somebody from every team with [the Senior Bowl], combine and everything."
Shanahan has always maintained it was all part of special circumstances. Coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Broncos were slated to pick 29th in 2006. Shanahan liked Cutler enough as a player to want to draft him, but knew that wasn't going to happen near the bottom of the first round.
Years later when Shanahan, as the Washington Redskins head coach with the No. 2 pick in hand, was deciding between Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, he openly discussed both, met with both and did nothing to hide the pursuit.
"We were picking 2, and if you're there, you have to like both guys, be willing to pick either guy and we were, as an organization, willing to pick either guy then," Shanahan said. "[The 2006 draft] was different. I was trying to get in position and it was going to be close."
So Shanahan called on a friend. Jeff Fisher's Tennessee Titans had the No. 3 pick and team owner K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr. had already pointed at Texas quarterback Vince Young. Because the Titans had such a high pick, they vetted, met with and worked out the top three quarterback prospects in that draft: Young, USC's Matt Leinart and Cutler.
"We had sat down with them all," Fisher said this past season. "And we knew Vince was going to be the pick, so in that situation I talked to Mike about the guys as people. We knew, in our situation, Vince was the pick, we weren't compromising that in any way."
"I could see the rest on film," Shanahan said. "So, we didn't have to participate in the talk ... it was a little different."
Information in hand and with a desire to select Cutler, the Broncos made a trade with the Atlanta Falcons on the first night of the 2006 draft to move up from 29 to 15. But Shanahan didn't believe that would be quite enough, as the top nine picks were made with Cutler and Leinart still on the board.
The Arizona Cardinals then selected Leinart at No. 10, so Shanahan made a trade with the then-St. Louis Rams to get to No. 11 -- where the Broncos selected Cutler.
"I've said it was kind of the same way we did when we got [linebacker] John Mobley [in the 1996 draft]," Shanahan said. "We never talked to him before that draft before we took him [at No. 15]. Jimmy Johnson called me after that one. I think he wanted to take him, too."
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