SPORTS MONDAY 04/27/20

Welcome to another edition of Sports Monday — on a Monday no less! Today I wrap up my 2020 NFL Draft Series with the help of my guests throughout, Ethan and Brian Hausser, otherwise known as my two sons. Any Dad will tell you what a gift it is to work with your children on anything. We’ve all had a lot of fun together creating this project.

As the culmination, we produced the first Sports Monday Podcast on today’s topic! We’re not ready for “The Ringer” and we already know what we’ll do next time to make it better. With that caveat, please give a listen!

We looked at the draft overall, focused again on our Niners and Bills, and finished up with some fun awards.

Below I summarize the conversation and add my perspective.

HEADLINES: What’s the Story of this Draft?

Here’s my headline and lede:

A Safe, Regional, Downhome Draft
Out with risk-taking trades, in with letting the players come to you. Out with casting a wide net, in with players you saw play for the Natty or come from traditional NFL pipelines. Out with designer suits and glitterati, in with comfortable/casual duds and family on the couch. From start to finish, this was a different kind of NFL Draft.

I’ll start at the end. I loved watching people in their home environments. The NFL provide 58 prospects with an iPhone and small tripod. I think they need to at least double that next year. Ethan countered that the time lag sometimes made it seemed like the draftee either didn’t know he was picked or wasn’t enthusiastic. More on this in a moment.

Ethan’s headline, Contenders Stay on Top emphasized how the rich got richer in this draft. Brian’s headline, Packers Plan for Future focused on the how the replacement process for Aaron Rodgers has inexplicably begun.

In backing up my “Safe” argument” I found CBS Sports provided a nice post-draft breakdown of the draft by conference and school. For conference, the top two are no surprise. But look who’s at #3?

2020 NFL Draft by Conference (Big 6 — others have fewer)

  1. SEC–63
  2. Big Ten48
  3. Pac-12–32
  4. ACC27
  5. Big 12–21
  6. AAC — 17

For all the “Pac-12 Sucks” national storylines, largely due to our TV contract which keeps many games available to the majority of the country, we apparently have some pretty good players out West.

Now take a look at the list of Top-Ten Schools by Players Picked

  1. LSU — 14
  2. Michigan — 10
  3. Ohio State — 10
  4. Alabama — 9
  5. Clemson — 7
  6. Florida — 7
  7. Georgia — 7
  8. Utah — 7
  9. Auburn — 6
  10. Notre Dame — 6

Oklahoma comes in 16th. Add their four players to the teams in bold above, and the schools who played in the last three National Championship games produced 44 draft picks. Go figure.

Looking at #2, there’s no question Jim Harbaugh can recruit, coming in tied with OSU with 10 players picked. But Michigan fans have to be asking themselves about his ability to produce championship teams out of those players.

And I’m sure Utah is the biggest surprise. Clearly this team has not gotten the national attention it deserves — though Brian pointed out they were a late-season loss from winning the Pac-12 South with a possibility of making the playoff. Still. One of the teams on that list is not like the others. And that’s the Utes.

Bottom line: Teams emphasized big school programs in the absence of in-person information.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SUR-PRISE

Our first surprise was how “chalky” the first round was. We agreed this was partly the effect of the virtual draft process.

We all were SHOCKED when the Niners didn’t take Jeudy or Lamb Thursday night, and the fall of those two were the first surprise of the draft. Love to the Packers certainly raised all our eyebrow as discussed above. The fall after the top tier of cornerbacks — especially for Ethan — was another surprise. As for runs, he noted that once they started, the never really ended. Only the positions changed.

My other surprise was the lack of trade movement. I wasn’t the only one.

“I would have lost a lot of money saying that the Buffalo Bills wouldn’t have done some type of trade.” — Brandon Beane

THE CORONO-DRAFT

Returning to the homey nature of this year’s broadcast, we all agreed seeing people in their home environments with family members humanized the players and team management, and even Roger Goodell. There are definitely some parts we would keep. We all shared our mutual disappointment at the lack of glitches or embarrassing moments.

On the football side, we saw the effect of this year’s draft constraints largely on players who fell in the draft. But unlike some years, there was no mystery as to why they fell. It was for one of three reasons:

  1. Medical concerns exacerbated by the inability to do further in-person evaluation;
  2. Combine results, especially side-by-side comparisons (the Bills benefitted from this by both Epenesa and Fromm being available later than expected), since no Pro Day data was available for most; or
  3. Overall depth of draft.

As for draft geniuses and dunces, here’s a relevant quote from ans NFL guru.

“Rounds 1–3 are the easy picks to make. Rounds 4–7 are the picks that make Super Bowl champions.” — Bill Polian

SAN FRANCISCO FORTY NINERS (00:30:00 in podcast)

With that we turn to the team less than 15 minutes away from being Super Bowl Champs last year, our 49ers. John Lynch and company had one of the oddest yet most active drafts in memory. Odd because the three days were more like a two-act play with an intermission.

Day one began with three main questions:

  1. How high a priority was replacing Buckner with a draft choice rather than from current roster?
  2. Who did Shanahan most love at WR to replace the departed Sanders?
  3. Was Joe Staley coming back or retiring?

By the end of the day, we had three answers:

  1. Very high — they used their first pick to select a lower-priced on-the-field clone.
  2. To our shock it wasn’t Jeudy or Lamb. It was Brandon Aiyuk, even if the cost was a little high to our minds.
  3. Joe Staley was apparently coming back because there was no OT selected.

With no picks in the second or third round, the Niners were silent.

Then came the news we woke up to on Day 3: The Niners had traded pick #156 and a 2021 third rounder to Washington for disgruntled All-Pro Tackle Trent Williams. This could only mean one thing. We were wrong about Staley. He was indeed retiring, something he confirmed hours later. By the end of the day, Lynch had completed filling all the team’s major holes and adding depth at OL, TE and WR.

That’s an A to A- grade in all of our books.

There’s lots of information out there on Day 1 picks. So I decided to focus on Day 3 selections for our teams. In this case, it’s the Niners 4th round pick.

OT Colton McKivitz, West Virginia
McKivitz’ NFL draft profile highlights his “above-average nastiness” while noting that his measurables, which were below the average at the NFL Combine, might be a cause for concern. However, those who watched more than a highlight tape noticed his attention to technique and detail, which improved dramatically over his WVU career, and his ability to execute combination and downfield blocks effectively.

While McKivitz has been projected as a borderline back-up/developmental prospect by the league, his on-field collegiate performance definitely suggests a higher ceiling.

Coaches say his work ethic and willingness to take on assignments make him a valuable teammate and leader.

McKivitz could be a right tackle in the NFL but will compete for a starting guard position. Shanahan pointed to his ability to play multiple spots along the line as one of the reasons they like him.

BUFFALO BILLS (00:39:00 in podcast)

Moving to the Bills, our grades ranged from B to B+.

On one hand, Brandon Beane got value at literally every pick (except maybe kicker) by standing pat on draft days, while filling all of his positions of need. He got his DE reinforcement in Epenesa, an ideal RB complement to Singletary in Moss, and two more potential weapons for Josh Allen in Davis and Hodgins. Fromm was by far the best value on the board at the time and offers some insurance. So, let’s face it. If the biggest complaint I hear is that I should have taken the best kicker in the draft with my second pick in the 6th round, not the first, I’ve had a successful draft. Oh, and just in case you need reminding, Stefon Diggs.

On the other hand, we all walk away feeling like the Bills could have had more. No complaints about Epenesa, and Moss was a pre-draft favorite. After that, it’s a little underwhelming. We get why Beane took Fromm from a value standpoint. But otherwise, meh. The receivers both look promising and it’s clear what Beane wanted from that position. But there were players we liked more.

And waiting till the last pick for a CB? One of our lasting imaginary images from the draft will be Ethan yelling again about picking a cornerback, Brandon Beane submitting his pick for K Tyler Bass, turning to the camera, and giving Ethan the finger…

As I did with the 49ers, I did a little digging on Day 3 picks. In this case I became intrigued with the WR the Bills drafted in rounds 4 and 6. Beane from his post-draft interview:

“I got tired of hearing Sean (McDermott) call our group The Smurfs, so we decided to get some larger ones. Honestly, that’s where it was on the board. We had some big guys, some slots, some guys that could play inside-out, and it really just worked that way.”

WR Gabriel Davis, UCF
I’ll admit my first reaction to this pick at #128, the Bills was: What?! Who?? Why?!! Here are a few answers:

Davis was among the best wide receivers left on the board, with size (6-feet-2-inches), ability to go up and get the ball and reliable hands. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote about Davis in his final scouting report:

“His production steadily increased in every category each season, finishing his career second in school history in touchdowns (23) and seventh in receiving yards (2,447). A natural hands-catcher, Davis was a big-play threat in college with his ability to win one-on-one battles, relying on his tracking skills and ‘my ball’ mentality.

The consensus is Davis will have a harder time getting open in the NFL. However, as Brugler concludes

“He is a natural high-pointer with the catch radius and professional mentality to see snaps as an NFL rookie.”

Brandon Beane:

“[Davis] didn’t run a variety of routes in that offense. And I do think that might have hurt him a little bit … But at the end of the day, we actually called down there and got some of his practice clips. There was a few different variations than what we saw on film, not the full array that he will run here but, again, big player. Vertical stretch can go up, high-point the ball, contested balls. And again, a size guy. He’s a strong guy. He’s got some run after catch. We just liked the way he competes, thought he had a really good year. And I thought his hands were one of his strong points.”

Then at #207 Beane took another big bodied, sure-handed receiver.

WR Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State
My first question with a Pac-12 Player is having seen him play. I admit the name didn’t immediately ring a bell. Then I looked. Stanford 31, Oregon State 28. Hodgins: 10 rec, 162yds, 1 TD. Oh right. That guy.

He’s 6–3 and 201 pounds. His 20 touchdowns rank second all-time in school history, four behind the school’s all-time leader, Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Every scouting report on Hodgins makes note of his great hands. In his college career, he was targeted 156 times and only had three drops. That’s 3. In his career.

There’s a Bay Area tie-in as he is a native of Walnut Creek, CA. You want bloodlines? Hodgins father, James Hodgins, played eight years in the NFL as a fullback. He was a key blocking back for Marshall Faulk on the Rams championship team in 1999. He also played the Cardinals and the Jets.

According to The Athletic’s Matthew Fairburn, Hodgins has a real shot at making the team as a 6th rounder. He doesn’t have top-end speed, but his hands and ability to win in traffic could make him a useful red-zone target.

“He double-moved people. Really good feel for setting people up and guys biting on. I don’t think I saw a receiver win on double moves more than him. And again, another catch-radius, bigger-guy, bigger-frame player.”

As Fairburn points out, that double move is something Hodgins picked up watching highlights of his new teammate, Stefon Diggs.

LEAGUE WINNERS, LOSERS, AWARDEES (1:00:30 on podcast)

Finally, we turned to winners and losers. Much as we all hated to acknowledge it, Cowboys won the draft. Ravens had a great draft and at times is almost seemed like the Ravens and Chiefs seemed like they were drafting against each other. We agreed that’s going to be some 2021 AFC Title Game…

It must be noted that the Bengals didn’t miss on a single pick at the top of the draft. When you’re starting over, you can’t afford to miss on foundational picks. They couldn’t have realistically done any better. The Cardinals had an strong draft, especially at the top. The Vikings and Dolphins got respect, along with the Jaguars, though we will have to see how many are hits and how many misses after choosing so many players.

Losers? As previously mentioned, the Packers were the clear leader in this category. Not a single WR? The Eagles selection of Jalen Hurts made almost no sense given their roster, needs and players left on the board.

A few more to throw in:

Winners

  • Is there a happier combo than Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Chiefs?
  • Stanford Express Plus: Eagles/Casey Toohill (who I completely missed in our pre-draft rundown) joins a nice stable of Cardinal Alums.
  • “Mr. Irrelevant” — Tae Crowder, ILB, Georgia to Jersey Giants. He has a good chance to make the team as the final pick in the draft.

Losers

  • Aaron Rodgers. Nuff said
  • Fans of both Stanford and the 49ers: Stanford TE Colby Parkinson drafted by the Seahawks.

AWARDS

We wrapped up by giving some awards. Here’s my first one:

  • The Las Vegas Raiders, with The Ghost of Al Davis is Alive and Well! Award. You could practically hear Al rasp “Speed, Speed, Speed!” as the Raiders chose Henry Ruggs III as the first WR off the board. I believe I had that.

You’ll have to listen to the podcast for the rest!

I’ll close by saying again how enjoyable this has been. It’s really been a highlight in this strange world without sports. I’m ready for training camp! Alas, we have no idea when that might be. The next major sporting activity on the current horizon is the NBA draft the last week of June. Assuming I can successfully negotiate with their agents, I expect Brian and Ethan will be back!

Between now and then, if any major sports stories arise, I’ll tackle them in future SPORTS MONDAY posts. Meanwhile, thank you for reading.

Stay healthy and safe, my friends!

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Professional Communicator, Change Agent & Nonprofit Specialist. “COVID CHRONICLES” documents life under pandemic. Also write on sports, politics and life.

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Wynn Hausser

Wynn Hausser

Professional Communicator, Change Agent & Nonprofit Specialist. “COVID CHRONICLES” documents life under pandemic. Also write on sports, politics and life.

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