Apr 25, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

🏈 Happy draft day! Imagine waking up this morning and knowing you were about to be selected in the NFL draft — a dream you'd had since you were a kid. Insane...

  • About last night: The Hurricanes beat the Capitals in the third-longest Game 7 in NHL history, concluding a first round that saw zero — I repeat, zero — of the four No. 1 seeds advance.

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1 big thing: Draft day prep
Expand chart
Sources: NFL, ESPN and Sports Illustrated; Chart: Axios Visuals

The 2019 NFL draft begins tonight at 8pm ET, live from an outdoor stage in downtown Nashville.

  • It should be a nice reprieve from the intensity of postseason play — a much slower-paced evening that's part theater, part reality TV show and part contest to see who can make up the most rumors in one night.

Latest buzz:

  • First two picks: There is a 99.9% chance that the Cardinals take Kyler Murray (who just signed with Nike) with the first overall pick, according to Mel Kiper. And almost every mock draft has Nick Bosa going No. 2 to the Niners.
  • Rosen trade? Assuming Arizona snags Murray, Josh Rosen would be on the move. Three potential destinations, according to Mel's best friend (or mortal enemy, it's unclear), Todd McShay: Giants, Dolphins and Chargers.
  • Washington moving up? Multiple reports indicate that the Redskins (No. 15 pick) are exploring a trade into the top 5. According to one source, owner Dan Snyder has "taken over the first round." Last time that happened? Washington sold the farm to move up for Robert Griffin III.

General news:

  • Weather concerns: The NFL is closely monitoring tonight's forecast in Nashville (currently calls for thunderstorms), as the draft is being held on an outdoor stage downtown. If the weather is severe enough, it will move into the nearby Symphony Hall.
  • Beast mode retires: Marshawn Lynch is reportedly done with football, which means the Raiders — armed with two picks in the 20s — could target someone like Alabama's Josh Jacobs to replace him.
  • Two big extensions: The Steelers signed Ben Roethlisberger to a two-year extension worth $68 million ($37.5 million signing bonus). ... The Ravens signed kicker Justin Tucker to a four-year, $20.5 million extension, making him the highest-paid kicker in history.

📺 How to watch:

  • ESPN: This will be the same show that it's been for 40 years. Experts breaking down each pick, X's and O's talk and plenty of draft lingo like "downhill runner" and "fluid hips."
  • ABC: Hosted by Robin Roberts and the "College GameDay" crew, this is for the more casual fan. Instead of debating things like "scheme fit," they'll focus on each player's journey and personality.
  • Others: NFL Network, various streaming platforms.

Go deeper: Pick-by-pick preview

2. The draft's "black market for information"

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

"Underlying the intrigue and drama of the NFL draft is a black market for information," SI's Jenny Vrentas writes:

  • "Teams need to know about more than just the players — they also need to know who else likes the players they like and where in the draft order they have to be to get those players."
  • "They cast a wide net to get that information, one that includes media insiders like [NFL Network's] Ian Rappaport and ESPN's Adam Schefter, and even each other."
  • The draft's great paradox: "Teams fiercely guard information, while at the same time desperately seeking it."
"In my world, and for people who do my job, we are trying to track down GMs all the time, and a lot of times, especially when they are doing a deal, they avoid us. In draft week, it's the opposite."
— NFL Network's Ian Rappaport

The big picture: This exercise in media manipulation and subterfuge has been a part of the NFL draft since its inception, but the methods teams use to acquire information have evolved over time.

  • Back in the day: Bill Walsh used to send a staff member to buy a copy of the Boston Globe so he could see NFL columnist Will McDonough's predictions.
  • The rise of mock drafts: For fans, mock drafts are fodder for debate. For teams, they're a goldmine for clues — not just about what other teams are thinking but about what the media knows or doesn't know about what your team is thinking. Front offices follow them religiously.
  • The livestream era: In a recent draft, one team was eyeing a player, and started watching the livestream of his draft party. "They were able to watch [him] on the phone with another team, who was telling him they would draft him with their next pick. The first team then made the move to trade up, ahead of the second team, to pick the player," writes Vrentas. Wow.
3. The great data divide

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

When it comes to evaluating current NFL players, teams have access to more data than ever before. But when it comes to scouting college prospects, that same information isn't widely available, which leads to a lot of guesswork.

What's happening: In order to fill this analytics void, NFL teams have been forced to get creative in their approach to evaluating talent.

  • For example, some teams are analyzing in-season player-tracking data (something that wasn't available until last year) for the NFL's best players, then seeing if they can cross-reference that with combine statistics.
  • "If tracking data shows an edge rusher is quicker off the line of scrimmage than anyone else, teams will reverse-engineer his combine stats to find out how they could scout for that skill," writes The Ringer's Kevin Clark.

The other side: For other prospects, things like player-tracking data are much easier to come by. A handful of conferences generate their own data, as do powerhouse programs like Alabama.

  • When evaluating those prospects, teams face an entirely different challenge. Instead of working with an underwhelming amount of information, they have to wade through a sea of it — then decide what actually matters.
4. Outside of Murray, "no consensus" on QBs

Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Will Grier, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock. Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Every NFL draft, much like the NFL itself, is defined by its quarterbacks. But this year, there's an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding football's most important position.

Questions:

  • Are these QBs even good? Outside of Kyler Murray, ESPN's Todd McShay says he's never seen less of a consensus at the QB position. Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Will Grier, Ryan Finley — the projected pick range has been all over the place for these guys.
  • Which teams actually want one? Many of the teams at the top of the draft that could use a QB don't necessarily need a QB. To a certain extent, this is always true, but it's a key theme tonight.

The big picture: On top of all of this mystery, college football's most pro-ready QBs — Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence — aren't in the draft.

  • Could that result in teams who would have otherwise taken a QB sitting this draft out in hopes of getting Tua next year or Lawrence the year after that? Seems a little crazy; then again, those two are so good they've ignited a conversation about the NFL's age restriction.

Go deeper: These advanced stats tell us which 2019 QB prospects will actually be good

5. A different perspective

"There is only one group of people I'm aware of that hates the NFL draft: current NFL players," The Athletic's Ross Tucker, who played seven seasons in the NFL, writes (subscription):

  • "Not all of them, mind you. The stars whose roles are secure on their teams get to enjoy the draft like the rest of us. ... [But] for the other 60 to 75% of an NFL roster, the draft is like torture."
  • "Imagine watching a show on national television to see whether your employer is likely to fire you within months because it just hired your replacement. Sound a bit extreme? It's not."
  • The two things every non-star player is hoping for: "That their team drafts as few players at their position as possible and, if those picks are made, that they are as low in the draft as possible."
6. An offense-first league; a defense-first draft

Nick Bosa. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

From Mike Sykes: The NFL, much like the NBA, is in the midst of an offensive revolution. But, as defenses begin to adapt to these college-inspired schemes, certain types of athletes have become increasingly valuable.

The intrigue: Close to two-thirds of tonight's first-round picks are projected to be used on defensive players, with the top prospects possessing the skillsets needed to stop today's spread offenses.

Some valuable archetypes:

  • Linebackers who can cover: Brian Urlacher changed the game with his ability to cover. Today's linebackers play a similar game, spending much of their time covering receivers in spread attacks. ... Fit the mold: Devin White, Devin Bush.
  • Game-breaking edge rushers: Edge rushers can get expensive (see: Khalil Mack's $23.5 million AAV), so drafting the right one and getting them on the cheap for four years is a game-changer in terms of team-building. ... Fit the mold: Nick Bosa, Josh Allen.
  • Aaron Donald clones: With QBs getting rid of the ball faster than ever, it's crucial for defenses to apply quick pressure — and the shortest distance is straight up the middle. ... Fit the mold: Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver.

Go deeper: The NFL's linebacker evolution

7. Position-by-position rankings
No. 16 overall prospect, WR D.K. Metcalf. Source: Giphy

The best players at each position (via ESPN's big board).

Offense

  • QB: Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (11); Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State (12); Drew Lock, Missouri (23)
  • RB: Josh Jacobs, Alabama (26); Miles Sanders, Penn State (51); David Montgomery, Iowa State (59)
  • FB: Alec Ingold, Wisconsin (349)
  • WR: Marquise Brown, Oklahoma (15); D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss (16); A.J. Brown, Ole Miss (34)
  • TE: T.J. Hockenson, Iowa (7); Noah Fant, Iowa (28); Irv Smith, Jr., Alabama (33)
  • OT: Jawaan Taylor, Florida (9); Jonah Williams, Alabama (14); Andre Dillard, Wash. State (18)
  • OG: Chris Lindstrom, Boston College (24); Dru Samia, Oklahoma (67); Nate Davis, Charlotte (84)
  • C: Garrett Bradbury, N.C. State (27); Erik McCoy, Texas A&M (38); Elgton Jenkins, Miss. State (60)

Defense

  • DE: Nick Bosa, Ohio State (1); Rashan Gary, Michigan (6); Montez Sweat, Miss. State (13)
  • DT: Quinnen Williams, Alabama (2); Christian Wilkins, Clemson (5); Ed Oliver, Houston (8)
  • ILB: Devin White, LSU (4); Devin Bush, Michigan (10); Mack Wilson, Alabama (75)
  • OLB: Josh Allen, Kentucky (3); Brian Burns, FSU (19); Germaine Pratt, N.C. State (70)
  • CB: Byron Murphy, Washington (20); Deandre Baker, Georgia (21); Greedy Williams, LSU (22)
  • S: Johnathan Abram, Miss. State (25); Taylor Rapp, Washington (32); Darnell Savage, Jr., Maryland (43)

Special teams

  • K: Matt Gay, Utah (336)
  • P: Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah (279); Jake Bailey, Stanford (337)

Go deeper: Every draft prospect, ranked

8. Tight end trivia

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If Iowa's T.J. Heckenson ends up being a top-10 pick, he will be just the fourth tight end this century to go in the top 10.

  • Question: Can you name the only three tight ends who have gone in the top 10 this century?
  • Hint: They were drafted in 2004, 2006 and 2014, respectively. Two are still active.

Answer at the bottom.

9. 📚 Long reads

How failed NFL draft prospects become grist for the content mill (The Ringer)

"JaMarcus Russell, Tony Mandarich, Ryan Leaf: What do they have in common? They were highly touted football draft picks who flamed out of the league. And they all lived long enough to become sympathetic figures of the bust economy."

Yep, the 1999 NFL draft was just as crazy as you thought (ESPN)

"The epic, chaotic 1999 NFL draft had it all: Quarterback busts galore. Historic, massive trades involving three teams and 15 picks. Thunderous boos, double-crosses ... Mike Ditka in a dreadlocks wig, a Hall of Fame cornerback, a Heisman Trophy winner in a wedding dress and several juicy secrets that have just now come to light."

Meet Prospect X, the draft's deepest sleeper (SI)

"The MMQB spent the past few months searching for the most overlooked prospect in the 2019 NFL draft ... [and] we landed on a player who we believe is the draft's best-kept secret. We will reveal his name in a follow-up after draft weekend, but for now ... he is simply 'Prospect X.'"
10. 🎰 Tonight's Pick 3

Will Dexter Lawrence join his teammates, Clelin Ferrell (left) and Christian Lawrence (right), in the first round? Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

1. How many Clemson defensive linemen will be drafted in the first round? Over/under 2.5?

  • Know this: Some mock drafts have two going in the first round (DE Clelin Ferrell and DT Christian Wilkins), while other mock drafts have three (those two plus DT Dexter Lawrence).

2. How many top-10 trades will happen? Over/under 1.5?

  • Know this: Over the past decade, there have been 15 draft-day trades involving top-10 picks. ... But two of the past 10 drafts have featured zero.

3. Who will the New York Giants select with their first pick?

  • Multiple choice: (1) QB Dwayne Haskins, (2) QB Daniel Jones, (3) QB Drew Lock, (4) OLB Josh Allen, (5) DL Rashan Gary, (6) Someone else

🎰 Play now: Make your picks (cutoff time: 8pm ET)

Yesterday's results: 24.5% correctly predicted that the Hurricanes would beat the Capitals … 61.5% correctly predicted that the Rockets and Warriors wouldn't both cover the spread … 24.2% correctly predicted that Kevin Durant would score the most points.

  • 7 players nailed all three: Mark Ascione (Washington D.C.); Kristin Cumberland (London); Jeff Young (Deland, Fla.); George Labunsky (San Francisco); Colin Fant (Marietta, Ga.); Gabriel M. (Teaneck, N.J.); Jon Hayden (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
Kendall Baker

Thanks,

Kendall "Sports, man" Baker

Trivia answer: Kellen Winslow Jr. (No. 6, 2004); Vernon Davis (No. 6, 2006); Eric Ebron (No. 10, 2014)