As we all know, there’s a big difference between style and substance. This year’s NFL Draft has plenty of substance.
But style? Well, maybe not quite as much.
“You’ve heard a lot of people referring to this as an average draft,” Super Bowl-winning coach and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Well, it’s an average draft on the scale of being a sexy draft, the big impact guys that touch the ball – the wide receivers, the running backs. But I think it’s a solid draft, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously the quarterbacks are going to go 1 and 2, (Laremy) Tunsil, the offensive lineman, (could go third) and (then) maybe Ezekiel Elliott (goes fourth). The debate (is whether) you take a running back this high because (you can get valuable running backs in later rounds).”
Aside from those picks, though, many of the top prospects off the board will be defensive standouts. Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, DeForest Buckner, Myles Jack, Vernon Hargreaves, Leonard Floyd, Reggie Ragland, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, A’Shawn Robinson – the list goes on.
“It’s going to be a defensive-laden draft,” Billick said, “and in that regard, I don’t think there’s that dominant, Clowney-type pick, although that hasn’t turned out real well. There isn’t that dominant, sexy shutdown corner, although Ramsey looks to be pretty good. That’s why I think it looks like a defensive draft. And outside of the teams that need a quarterback – and there’s not many in the first 10, 12 picks – most of these teams need defensive help. I imagine they think this is a pretty darn good draft.”
It’s also, in all likelihood, a safe draft – unless you’re the Rams or Eagles. Both franchises traded several draft picks for the right to take Jared Goff or Carson Wentz, and there seems to be no consensus regarding which one is better. In fact, entering the college football season last fall, neither Goff nor Wentz were first-round locks, much less locks for the top two picks.
Are these guys really head and shoulders above the likes of Christian Hackenberg and Connor Cook? And, more importantly, how can a franchise tell one way or the other?
“Well, that’s the $64 million question, isn’t it?” Billick asked. “Because you’re right. It’s getting harder and harder. I like the college game, but you look at quarterbacks and they all do the same thing: The entire team looks to the sideline, nobody calls a play, they hand the ball off or throw a bubble screen. How much of that are you going to do in the National Football League? So any of these guys, you’re having to bet (on them) a little bit. If you think (they’re worth it), you got to move up and take them and you got to hope that you’re right. But you’re right. To separate the guys in that regard, most of these guys, notwithstanding Goff and Wentz – and Paxton Lynch is in there as well – you’re safe making them second-round picks.”
Especially since the difference between a first- and second-round quarterback is often, at least for general managers, the difference between having a job and, well, not.
“It’s amazing the difference between taking a guy with the 32nd pick, which makes him a first-rounder, and the first pick of the second round,” Billick said. “You’re talking one spot. So in an analytical way, (people say), ‘It’s okay. That’s appropriate.’ Well, no it’s not. I don’t care if it is the 32nd pick of the draft. If you take a first-round quarterback and he misses, you’re gone.
“So I’m with you,” Billick continued. “Fortunately, I’m not in a position where I’ve got to make that distinction now. But how you separate that full group of quarterbacks to with conviction say, ‘This is a franchise quarterback and this isn’t’ – boy, I’m glad I don’t have to make those choices anymore.”