Christmas comes in late April for NFL front offices and die-hard football fan, and the NFL Draft has evolved into a league event on par with the Super Bowl in terms of media coverage.
Representatives from NFL football teams work during the last day of the 2016 NFL Draft on Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Football teams get better through two ways in the modern NFL: free agency or the draft. Many teams elect to avoid the hassles and expenses of free agency, so for organizations such as the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers, April is paramount. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate which teams conquered this year’s draft and which teams failed miserably.
Green: I’m a long-time Ravens beat writer so I think we already know where this is headed. Biases aside, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome kills it every draft season and has a knack for selecting franchise players who last seven to 10-plus years with the team. Baltimore had its choice to nab the first left tackle of the draft and took Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, who was quickly moving up the draft boards. Baltimore has employed a couple of short-time rentals at left tackle over the last few years, and hasn’t had a full time caretaker for the position since Jonathan Ogden retired. Newsome values strong line play on both sides, and he dedicated six of Baltimore’s 11 picks to improving play in the trenches. Baltimore added Stanley, a versatile edge rusher in Kamalei Correa and a flexible defensive end in Bronson Kaufusi. Nobody identifies players who fit their system better than Newsome.
Riley: A true homer reaction if ever I saw one. I thought the Jacksonville Jaguars had the most impactful draft with back-to-back selections of combo defensive back Jalen Ramsey and falling superstar Myles Jack, who Jacksonville nabbed in the second round after trading with the Ravens. Ramsey is ready to start in the NFL, and Jack was widely regarded as the best overall player in the draft before a knee injury zapped his hype. Pair the selections of Ramsey and Jack with 2015 first round choice Dante Fowler Jr., an explosive pass rusher, and the Jaguars could see the biggest impact from their rookie class in 2016. Ramsey would have made Jacksonville’s draft great all by himself. Unfortunately for Baltimore, he was the guy they wanted with the No. 6 pick, before Jacksonville selected him one pick earlier. As runners-up, the Dallas Cowboys had a monster haul as well.
Green: Ramsey was definitely coveted by the Baltimore brass. At least they didn’t panic like Pittsburgh did when AFC North rival Cincinnati selected cornerback William Jackson III exactly one pick before they could. Jackson, a blazing fast cornerback with 4.3 speed and a knack for big plays, was widely rumored to be the apple of the Steelers’ eye—until the Bengals beat them to the punch. Instead, the Steelers drafted University of Miami defensive back Artie Burns, the first official reach of the first round; Burns was expected to go between Round Two and Four by several draft scouts. It appears that the Steelers panicked once Jackson was off the board. Pittsburgh then followed that questionable choice with another gamble in Round Two, when they selected combo defensive back Sean Davis, a project out of the University of Maryland. The first three rounds of the draft are critical for every team, and no one reached for more bad value than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Riley: Anytime you don’t have a first round pick, you deserve a failing grade, and the New England Patriots earn low marks from me in that regard. The “Deflategate” scandal cost New England big time in a deep draft year; the team didn’t pick until the 60th selection, taking a short cornerback, Cyrus Jones. New England is a team that doesn’t make too many splashy moves in free agency or trades—the draft is truly how the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick restock their roster, so drafting so low and late in a draft class full of talent was a sure letdown for this proud franchise.