SPORTS MONDAY 04/23/20
It’s here! Draft Day is upon us. We’re hours away from the live drama unfolding over the next three days. Of course, “drama” is contextual — watching the NFL Draft is a bit like watching paint dry, with moments of excitement when the dog gets loose. On the plus side, it’s our annual coming together around how insufferable we all find Mel Kiper Jr.
To wrap up my pre-draft discussion with my sons Brian and Ethan Hausser, here are some thoughts about specific players and teams that will provide some wheat among the chaff of the three-day broadcast.
WH: Let’s start with the first question at the top of the draft: QB. While it would be a very Bengals thing to do to not take Joe Burrow with the #1 pick, let’s assume cooler heads prevail and he’s gone. On the board is Tagovailoa and Hebert, plus I’m adding Jordan Love to have a third.
Who Ya Got at QB? Tua? Justin? Jordan?
BH: Tua, Love, Herbert. Just six months ago we were wondering which team was going to successfully “Tank for Tua.” This is still the same kid that, in his first real college action, came in at halftime and won the freaking national championship. He has everything you would want in an NFL quarterback besides a clean bill of health (not that anyone could know that with the whole “global pandemic” thing going on). I think passing on Tua would be a HUGE mistake, particularly in favor of Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. Hebert has never been relied on in big situations (which I think speaks for itself) and seems to be one of the most consistently inconsistent quarterbacks in college football. He has always seemed like someone who people want to be better than he actually is, and he never took the step forward in college that I think he needed to in order to warrant being an early first round pick. This may come back to bite me, but I just don’t see it.
I think Jordan Love, while obviously riskier, provides way more upside than Herbert and will probably come at a cheaper price. In today’s NFL, it’s hard to get over the hump with a consistently mediocre quarterback. I would rather take the guy with upside, and see Herbert following in the footsteps of Jared Goff as first-team “not bad enough to move on from but just good enough to feel like you need to give him $30 million a year.” That just isn’t the wagon I would want to hitch my team to.
EH: I agree with Brian. Tua is clearly the best QB once Burrow’s off the board; if he hadn’t gotten injured, I’d probably be banging the drum for him to go #1. Obviously his career at Alabama was unparalleled — the most efficient college quarterback of all time, national champion, program legend, etc. — but just watching 10 minutes of his tape shows you all you need to see: a preternaturally gifted field general with the anticipation, accuracy, and touch of Drew Brees. I know it’s an overworked comparison, but I really think that’s the caliber of player Tua can become.
I sympathize with GMs who don’t want to get fired because they drafted someone too injured to ever play, but the reward is high enough to justify the risk, especially because I’m not high on Herbert or Love. The Herbert-Goff comparison really tracks for me — he’s got talent but can’t say I watched him win the Ducks too many games on his own — and there are very few coaching staffs I would trust to make the most out of Love’s tools. If paired with a Hall of Fame-worthy coach, he’s got the raw ability to become the next Mahomes … but I think there’s a far better chance of him ending up with a coach like Doug Marrone and becoming the next Paxton Lynch instead.
WH: Match the Player to the Team — take 3 QBs above and match them according to fit between Dolphins, Chargers and Team #3 who needs a QB most?
After spending the last year “Tanking for Tua” I think the Dolphins are the best spot for him. Herbert is a West Coast guy, so send him to the Chargers. HOWEVER, a Chargers fan I know just compared Herbert to Joey Harrington, and now I can’t get that image out of my head. After watching Herbert’s college career, I have to admit that I’m one of those Brian mentioned who wants him to be better than he is. Don’t be surprised if he’s the guy who drops. And watch Bill Belichick go after Love.
BH: I think this is pretty spot on. I’d be shocked if the Dolphins didn’t end up with Tua, and the Chargers will probably ignore my protests and take Herbert with the sixth pick. I think the Patriots and Colts are the conventional wisdom for Love, but I wanna throw out a dark horse: the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees will be 42 next season and the Saints have very few holes to fill. Drafting a gunslinger to learn under the NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage would be smart, and seeing the offense Sean Payton would craft to accentuate Love’s skills would be just plain fun.
EH: I absolutely adore Love going to the Saints from a football fan’s perspective and hate it from a not-a-Saints-fan’s perspective. Payton is exactly the type of coach I was referring to who’d make the most out of his skillset. I’m of the opinion that the Dolphins and Chargers have both been hyping up Herbert as a smokescreen, and both would much prefer Tua. In the end, though, Miami has far too much draft capital to let the Chargers jump ahead of them.
If that’s true, don’t be shocked to see LA take someone like Isaiah Simmons here — this is a team that has stayed out of their own way in recent years by taking the clear BPA, and Herbert at #6 is a classic “poorly-run team needs a QB now” overdraft. If Herbert makes it all the way to the Panthers at #7, things start to get fascinating: Carolina may snatch him up, or another team (keep an eye on the Raiders with their two first-round picks) might make them an offer they can’t refuse. Either way, it’ll have ripple effects throughout the rest of the draft.
WH: What Do Ya Do? — Do you trade with Washington, Lions, or Giants to get your guy above? Which team is most likely to do so?
EH: I know I just waxed poetic about Tua, and as an outside observer I think it’s stupid to pass on him. But putting myself in a GM’s shoes, I would love any excuse to not hitch my wagon to a QB right now. The expectations for a first-round quarterback are that he’ll be a franchise-changing player, and if he doesn’t change my franchise, I’ll probably be looking for work by the time his rookie contract is up.
With so much less intel available to front offices than in normal years — and considering my inability to get the highest-ceiling prospect in for a medical evaluation — I’m more than happy staying put and taking whoever falls to me, be it Tua or a blue chipper at a different position. I know, QB is the most important position in sports, but there’s a lot of talent in this draft and I’d prefer not to give up some bites at the apple in order to get a guy coming off a bad injury who my doctors haven’t looked at.
BH: I think if you can get Tua and feel confident in his health (which, again, is hard to do given the situation), it is always a mistake not to trade up and draft someone who could be a franchise-changing quarterback. Obviously, given the distinct inability for front offices to effectively evaluate this year’s prospects, it is hard to imagine any GM feeling one hundred percent confident in any of these QBs. That being said, not pulling the trigger and getting “your guy” is a career ruiner, so if a team falls in love with someone, I don’t think trading up would be a mistake (unless that someone is Justin Herbert).
WH: I have vivid memories of the fastest player I ever saw in person on both the football and baseball fields — Bo Jackson — have potential Hall of Fame careers in both ended because of a hip injury. I understand this is a different injury. I just can’t shake that concern.
I won’t be shocked to see Vegas or Denver or even the Jets to try to move up here to snag their favorite receiver, or someone else in the top 10 who wants a specific player. But this year I mostly think patience is a virtue.
WH QUESTION: I’m So Excited… Name a few players you’re excited about tracking to see where they land.
EH: The quarterbacks interest me, obviously, but not quite as much as Isaiah Simmons does. I reference him a lot because he’s my favorite player in the draft, but he’s not the kind of guy who you can plug into any team and expect greatness (unlike someone like Chase Young). The whole reason you take him high is because he can be so many things for your team — big nickel, safety, slot corner, linebacker, edge rusher — but put him on a boring, conventional defense and his talent will be wasted. I’ll be incredibly disappointed if he ends up in the wrong spot. I’m also interested to track the two small-school safeties, Kyle Duggar and Jeremy Chinn, to see how willing teams are to trust their film despite the lesser competition they faced.
BH: As a CU Boulder student, I’ve seen Laviska Shenault Jr. turn from a local sensation to a national one, and then into a largely polarizing prospect who has been marred by injury. He’s unbelievably strong, and is a rare example of a receiver who actually seeks out contact. In such a deep and exciting receiver draft, he ‘s largely been lost in the mix, but I am still very excited to see what he becomes at the next level. He is incredibly versatile (he scored seven rushing touchdowns in college, including several out of the wildcat) and if he can stay healthy, could be one of the most interesting players to come out of this draft.
WH: As a Stanford fan, I’m always interested in seeing where our guys go. That’s Colby Parkinson this year. Second, I’m a Bay Area/Pac-12 fan. So I’m interested in seeing where Ashton Davis, S from Cal ends up. Third, I’m a Northwestern fan. So I’ll watch for where DE Joe Gaziano ends up.
As a general fan, and former center, I always pick a favorite offensive lineman to watch. This year it’s Cesar Ruiz out of Michigan. At 6-foot-3, 307 pounds, he can play any of the three interior positions. Eventually you’ll want him to settle in at one of them. But while he’s honing his skills, he immediately makes your entire OL better.
And from cousin Nick Delan, our Clemson/SEC/College Football Insider, here are a few more under the radar guys to watch out for we haven’t mentioned in any of our analyses:
- QB: Cole McDonald, Hawaii.
- RB: Anthony McFarland, Maryland.
- WR: KJ Hamler, Penn State; Tyler Johnson, Minnesota.
- TE: Jared Pickney, Vanderbilt.
- Edge: Josh Uche, Michigan (Ethan is high on this guy too).
- DL: Rashard Lawrence, LSU; James Lynch, Baylor; Jason Stonebridge, UNC.
- LB: Jacob Phillips, LSU; Marcus Baily, Purdue; Jordan Mack, UVA; Khaleke Hudson, Michigan; Logan Wilson, Wyoming.
- DB: Lavert Hill and Josh Mettelis, Michigan; Tanner Muse, Clemson; Myles Dorn, UNC; J.R. Reed, Georgia
WH: Other than our two teams, name up to three teams you’ll be watching, for either opportunity or entertainment value.
EH: The Colts are definitely interesting, given they’re down a first rounder but have a savvy GM and a lot of capital otherwise. I also don’t think the Dolphins will be standing pat with all of their picks and could see them doing a lot of wheeling and dealing. Third is the Rams, because they desperately need to reload (checks notes) everywhere and have given away all of their resources with which to do so. They need to make aggressive moves, and fast.
BH: The Rams are a good call, it’s crazy how quickly they’ve gone from Super Bowl to desperation and how much of it was avoidable. To add a new team, I’ll say the Panthers. Matt Rhule did a great job building programs at both Temple and Baylor, and I’m interested to see how his approach changes in the NFL if it does at all. They’ve got so much speed on offense and I think they are closer than a lot of people think, even playing in a stacked division like they do.
WH: Well, suddenly, everyone is watching Tampa Bay become “The Brady’s.” With the addition of Gronk, they’re loaded on offense. By the end of the draft they can conceivable be the Niners biggest competition to get back to the Super Bowl (with apologies to the Cardinals). Colts are also on my list. I always root for the Browns to do something Brownish. The Texans are bound to provide some entertainment value. The Pats are the Pats and aren’t dead till there’s a stake in their heart. So, them too.
WH QUESTION: The Universal Prayer of players in this draft is “Lord, Please … don’t let me get picked by THAT Team …” Name that Team.
EH: I’ll go with the Houston Texans for two reasons: it will be depressing to watch Bill O’Brien waste my quarterback’s career doing stupid bullsh*t, and if I’m a bust for any other team I can at least take solace in knowing the Texans will trade one of their remaining All-Pro players to acquire me.
BH: I’ll go with the Bucs. After signing Brady and Gronk, they clearly have to be considered legitimate contenders in the NFC. That being said, their window is going to be very short-lived, so I’ll be interested to see how they balance shifting into “win-now” mode with building a sustainable contender.
WH: I can’t imagine anyone who grew up outside of Northern Florida wishing they’d be drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
EH: I’m both incredibly excited the draft is finally here, and incredibly depressed that it’ll be over after this weekend. After this, the only sports content on the horizon is the MJ documentary and my Madden franchise. I don’t know how we’ll survive. Lord help us all.
BH: Definitely agree, feels like the last stronghold of normalcy in the sports calendar. I do think both the MLB and NBA will have to make decisions soon, so hopefully we get a little more clarity on when we will next see sports. Until then, the outlook is pretty bleak.
WH: Well, fortunately we can milk the next few days for all they’re worth. I really want to thank you both for participating in this little experiment. It was LOADS of work. But it was also LOADS of fun social distancing with you guys!
BH: Thank you too!
EH: Had a lot of fun. I hope you’ll have me back.
WH: In fact, we’ll all be back Monday with our Post-Draft analysis and see how we did. In the meantime, special thanks to all who read and gave us feedback.