By Jason Keidel
Even the most ardent football fans must be suffering from some form of mock draft fatigue.
With the real NFL Draft coming this week, we’ve seen every projection, permutation and computation. Every pundit on the planet has thrown down on this QB-fertile occasion, which will start on Thursday in Dallas, at AT&T Stadium.
It’s fitting that something so massive and festive should be hosted at Jerry’s World, where football and fantasy are fused for eight Sundays every autumn.
Now the first official salvo of America’s game now truly belongs to America, with rotating locations across our map. Last year’s festivities, held in Philadelphia, was a resounding success. And a precursor to Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl title. While Dallas has won five Super Bowls, it’s been awhile since they’ve contended for a Lombardi Trophy, and hope some of that draft luck rubs off on the Cowboys.
But long before the Eagles or Cowboys pick a player, the main nerve of this year’s draft resides in the first six or seven picks, where, presumably, at least four quarterbacks will be grabbed by the more forlorn franchises of football, desperate for a QB.
No matter the mock draft you find most reliable, no one doubts the Cleveland Browns, the NFL’s most forlorn franchise, which posted an 0-16 record in 2017, and armed with the first and fourth picks in the draft, will bag a signal-caller with one of them.
But this draft doesn’t really start until the New York Giants make their selection at No. 2, and the rest of the draft pivots off that pick. New Giants GM Dave Gettleman is playing with a serious poker face, unwilling to tip his draft hand in any direction, though many draft gurus have Big Blue going with Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. Even if it’s become increasingly trendy for teams to pluck running backs in later rounds, many have Barkley rated as the top pure talent in the draft.
It says here the Giants are in perfect position to make a more prudent move — pick a quarterback, groom him at the altar of Eli Manning, and make a smooth transition once the two-time Super Bowl MVP retires. As gifted as Barkley may be, he will never be the face of the franchise — unless the G-Men trade Odell Beckham Jr. — nor its best player. Even with their obvious need and opportunity to pick a quarterback, word is the only way the Giants are assured to draft a QB is if the Browns take Josh Allen out of Wyoming, which would drop USC’s Sam Darnold onto the Giants’ lap.
Allen is one of those draft darlings we see every spring. Despite a dubious record at Wyoming, where he completed just 56 percent of his passes against questionable competition, Allen is big, strong, and can throw a football through two zip codes. Of course, every potential NFL player looks resplendent in a t-shirt and shorts. Ever since Mike Mamula wowed NFL scouts with a bionic combine, there’s been a sense that college stars can hypnotize otherwise sagacious personnel men with pre-draft splendor. The Boston College linebacker short-circuited stop-watches and stretched tape measures during the NFL combine, leaped up to a top-ten pick, was nabbed by the Eagles, and never lived up to his pre-draft projections.
But that’s part of the fun, beauty, and artistry of the NFL Draft. Equal parts science and projection, no one can tell for sure which college player will grow into his NFL body. Despite all the film and tape measures and stop watches and interviews, drafting college players is no more certain than it was 10 or 20 years ago. With a few exceptions, like John Elway and Andrew Luck, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Even the greatest regular-season QB of all-time, Peyton Manning, was not the presumed top pick of the 1998 draft. You may recall there were many pundits pining for Ryan Leaf, who unraveled into one of the biggest busts in NFL history. The man many call the GOAT, Tom Brady, was stolen in the sixth round, the 199th pick, and the sixth QB taken in 1999.
Josh Rosen may be the most pro-ready QB coming out of college. But no matter who the Giants have as their top QB — rumors are that Darnold is their top-rated passer — they need to take him. No one should know the importance of the QB more than the Giants, who haven’t had to worry about theirs since 2004. Of the NFL’s best running backs, only Ezekiel Elliott was taken in the top-five. Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt were taken after the first round, and many feel this draft is typically littered with gifted runners.
If the Giants go against the current and take Barkley, then a conga line of NFL clubs will be quite grateful, especially the Giants’ co-tenants at MetLife Stadium, the New York Jets. (Few expect Darnold to last until the third pick, where the Jets could pick him.) It will also inexorably hurt their future. As soon as Eli retires, the Giants can’t hand the ball to Barkley as the franchise QB.
Maybe the Giants are just posturing, and really plan to pluck a QB or trade their pick for a slew of other picks, move down a few spots, then grab Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson, the last two Heisman Trophy winners. Either way, the 2018 NFL Draft doesn’t start until the New York “Football” Giants make that move.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.