Future Superstars Shine Bright at NFL Draft

In front of the famous “Rocky Steps” outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, NFL fans blocked the streets, anxious at who their respective teams would take, hopeful that they acquire  the next Hall-of-Famer, yet nervous that they could get the next bust. Baseball season had just began its long 162-game season, and the first round of the NBA playoffs was tying up some loose ends, but there still remained a craving for football. Not only did the NFL Draft fit the bill, but this year’s incoming draft class posed one of the deepest in years, so the beginning of the 2017 NFL season was looking like it would be just as attention-grabbing as the way the 2016 season ended (28-3 anyone?).

The night started out with the perennial losers, the Cleveland Browns, taking the obvious pick in Texas A&M edge rusher, Myles Garrett. Garrett had basically been deduced the first overall pick since the beginning of the 2016 College Football season, being dubbed the next coming of former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.

My Chicago Bears shook up the night and broke everyone’s mock drafts when they traded up one spot from the No. 3 pick to take San Francisco’s No. 2 pick. With their new pick, the Bears shocked the world and took a flyer on UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a promising but risky pick given that he only had 13 games of college tape on his resume. “Things just got interesting,” ESPN anchor Trey Wingo declared. There has been a lot of backlash about this pick, including some from myself, but if GM Ryan Pace believes this is his franchise quarterback, then no price should be too high. Paraphrasing ESPN reporter Sarah Spain, “Either Ryan Pace and Co. know something that we don’t, or they are getting fired and they just don’t know it yet.”

With the third pick, the San Francisco 49ers took dominant edge rusher, Solomon Thomas, out of Stanford, the player many assumed Chicago would take when they traded up. Thomas should help catalyze his college town’s NFL team, as new GM John Lynch has used a flurry of swift moves to bolster San Francisco’s defensive squad.

Leonard Fournette, the 2017 class’s top running back, went to Jacksonville with the No. 4 pick, continuing the Jaguars’ attempt to invest in a strong smash-mouth run game as opposed to relying on Blake Bortles’ arm. If Bortles can reclaim that status that he had before his previous lackluster season, the Jaguars could be an interesting dark-horse candidates to steal the AFC North crown in 2017.

Another AFC North team, the Tennessee Titans, took Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis with the next pick, continuing to add offensive firepower. With Marcus Mariota leading a fun-to-watch, young core that includes Demarco Murray and now Davis, the Titans could be another team to keep your eye on.

The rest of the top 10 picks were rounded out as follows: Jamal Adams to the Jets, Mike Williams to the LA Chargers, Christian McCaffrey to Carolina, Draft Combine 40-yard-dash record-holder, John Ross, to the Bengals, and Patrick Mahomes to the Chiefs.

Most of these picks were solid picks that most pundits had predicted, except for the Chiefs’ selection at No. 10. Kansas City shocked the world when they took a quarterback not named Deshaun Watson, let alone their trade up from the 27th pick to the 10th. Mahomes had been skyrocketing up draft boards over the last few months, making scouts salivate at his pure cannon of an arm. I personally thought Watson was the best quarterback in the class and was simply the safest pick with a recent championship under his belt, but apparently the Chiefs were looking more at upside. Mahomes will need to polish his craft for sure and improve his footwork, but if there is any coach better than Andy Reid prepared to mold the Texas Tech product into the Chiefs’ quarterback of the future, I have not met them yet. Remember what Reid was able to do in Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb, a quarterback possessing a very similar skill set?

Deshaun Watson only had to wait two more picks until the Houston Texans called his name at No. 12. Houston had traded up 13 spots to take the Clemson passing-leader, demonstrating just how quarterback-driven the NFL has become. The first three quarterbacks taken were drafted after teams traded up to snatch them. As deep as this draft class was in other areas like secondary and tight end, the quarterback position was lighter than in years’ past.

Some of the other notable first round picks included Malik Hooker slipping to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 15, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers adding top-5-projected Alabama senior, Jonathan Allen, at No. 17, the Cleveland Browns taking a chance on jack-of-all-trades Jabrill Peppers at No. 25, the Pittsburgh Steelers bolstering their linebacking corps with J.J. Watt’s younger brother, T.J. Watt, at No. 30, and the 49ers getting one of the steals of the draft in perhaps the class’s top linebacker, Reuben Foster, at No. 31. As horrendous as the Niners were last season, a defense led by Navorro Bowman, Solomon Thomas, and Reuben Foster could bring back the grit of the Patrick Willis days.

The remaining six rounds did not provide many surprises, though there were a record-setting 37 trades over the course of this year’s draft. The more memorable picks after round one included cornerback Kevin King to the Packers at No. 33, the Vikings replacing Adrian Peterson with running back Dalvin Cook at No. 41, the Browns taking their quarterback of the future in their selection of Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer at No. 52, the Dallas Cowboys bolstering their secondary with defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, the Jaguars adding controversial wideout Dede Westbrook, the Denver Broncos adding tight end Jake Butt in round five, and the first-round-projected defensive back Desmond King falling all the way to the Chargers in round five. Most of these moves are value picks that add depth to the teams’ respective rosters, and in some cases, the newcomers could push for starting roles.

Personally, I do not like to declare winners or losers of the draft until after at least a few seasons have passed because many of the players taken are developmental projects and you cannot judge their ability until they are inserted into a starting role. In addition, often rookies have bad first years and return to have stellar sophomore years as they increase their knowledge of the playbook, so it is too early to judge whether or not they will pan out just yet.. For all those that are already hating on their team’s’ draft picks, they have not even played one snap on the gridiron yet, so give them a chance before you make conclusions.

The 2017 NFL draft could pose some interesting storylines down the road as these young stars could one day grow to dominate the league they have entered. It will be fun to see these players develop and compete at the highest level, either making or breaking their fan bases’ dreams. Now, I just cannot wait to see these players take the field this September at the start of the 2017-2018 NFL season.