Carolina GM Scott Fitterer said last week that the Panthers have about 16 players with first-round grades. That’s only half of the 32 picks that will be made Thursday night.
Cleveland GM Andrew Berry said the Browns view 114 players as “draftable.” That’s just 44% of the 259 selections that will be made through Saturday’s final rounds.
These numbers vary annually and from team-to-team. In 2017, for example, the Niners said they had 200 draftable players on their board while the Patriots had 50 to 75.
Berry insisted his 114 number wasn’t unusually low. However, in 2017, Berry said the Browns had about 175 draftable players on their board, so that’s not entirely accurate.
The truth is NFL teams are not thrilled with the overall talent in this draft, either at the top or from rounds one through seven.
Uncertainty is a factor, created by opt-outs and the pandemic, but so are the players themselves. I’ve talked to other teams with similarly small numbers of first-round grades to the Panthers.
The impact of this could be two-fold:
One: teams with high picks like the Panthers at No. 8 or Giants at No. 11 might not see value in entertaining offers to trade back too far because they don’t view players as worth the value in the late teens or early 20s.
Two: we could see several late first-round trades out by teams like the Browns at No. 26, maybe with a team charging up for a quarterback or another tempting talent (more on that later).
The dearth of top-end talent in this draft furthers my belief that the savvy Baltimore Ravens, now holding picks No. 27 and 31 in the first round, will trade out of one of those picks to acquire even more late-round capital to take more swings at depth.
But that’s just some of the interesting info out there about Thursday’s first round.
DARNOLD ON THE MOVE AGAIN?
A bigger reason the Panthers might not trade back: they are considering a quarterback at No. 8.
Fitterer traded for the Jets’ Sam Darnold already, but he said the club won’t decide on whether to pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option for 2022 until after the draft.
When asked if one of the top five quarterbacks in this draft fit his team, Fitterer responded: “Yes. There’s actually several of them that we’re excited about. But we’re not going to get into exactly who.”
The Panthers’ tough talk could be a smokescreen to bait another team to trade over them for a QB, bumping another blue-chip position player down to them — perhaps their choice of the top two corners, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
Sources believe the Detroit Lions are trying to trade back from No. 7, so a team that is gunning for a quarterback could strike there.
Still, there is real belief in league circles that Carolina is serious about taking a QB at No. 8 if their preferred prospect is available.
What would it mean for Darnold if the Panthers went with a QB? I’d watch the Washington Football Team and the Denver Broncos in a potential flip.
JAELAN PHILLIPS: HIGH-CEILING ENIGMA
Miami pass rusher Jaelan Phillips is one of the most fascinating and polarizing players in this draft. He has top-five talent, but there are questions about his ability and desire to play football long-term.
He quit football a couple years ago at UCLA after three diagnosed concussions and other injuries. And as The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote: “NFL scouts say he genuinely enjoys football, but music will always be his first passion.”
Because of those questions, this is expected to be the first draft in nine years without a pass rusher picked in the top five — and the second draft in nine years without a pass rusher picked in the top three.
The last time a pass rusher didn’t go in the top five was 2012, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went Nos. 1 and 2. The first defensive lineman picked was Chiefs DT Dontari Poe at No. 11. The first defensive end was the Seahawks’ Bruce Irvin at No. 15.
The 2018 draft is the only time from 2013 on that a pass rusher wasn’t picked in the top three. That was the Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Sam Darnold trio up top. Bradley Chubb went to the Denver Broncos at No. 5.
I gave Phillips to the Giants in my third mock draft last week because — just based on his physical skill set — he’d be exactly what they would need and covet if they overlooked his red flags. But ultimately I don’t expect any team to risk taking him in the top half of the first round.
It will be interesting to see which team takes a chance on him later in the first, if he’ll fall out of the first altogether, or if someone trades up from the early second into the late first to nab him when he slides.
The payoff could be enormous. And every pick Phillips falls, the better the value and the more worth the risk he will be.
HISTORY SAYS CINCY GOES WR
The Cincinnati Bengals’ history suggests they may be more likely to replace departed free agent receiver A.J. Green (Arizona Cardinals) with LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5 overall than to draft Oregon OT Penei Sewell.
Since 1985, the Bengals have used a high draft pick on a wide receiver five times to replace a top wideout they lost that same offseason, per NFL blogger Joe Goodberry.
Cincinnati picked Eddie Brown No. 13 overall in 1985 after Isaac Curtis’ final season in 1984. The Bengals drafted Carl Pickens No. 31 overall at the top of the 1992 second round after Brown’s final season in 1991.
They took Peter Warrick No. 4 overall in 2000 after Pickens’ final season in 1999. And they picked AJ Green at No. 4 in 2011 after Chad Johnson’s final year. (Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were picked in the second and seventh rounds in 2001, respectively).
The Bengals are returning leading receivers Tee Higgins (second round, 2020) and Tyler Boyd (second round, 2016). They have missed on high skill position picks before, of course, including WR John Ross at No. 9 overall in 2017.
But this is valuable context on how the franchise operates and may point to what Cincy plans to do on Thursday night.
EVERYBODY LOVES KYLE
There is a good chance the first four picks could be quarterbacks. If the Atlanta Falcons don’t take a QB or trade out, though, the player teams think they’ll draft is Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
When the Miami Dolphins traded out of the No. 3 slot to No. 12 and then moved back up to No. 6, many believed they did it because they thought Pitts would still be there. Now there isn’t even a guarantee he’ll get out of the top four.
“He’s a uniquely talented player,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman said of Pitts last week. “You can’t characterize him as just a receiving tight end because you watch him block and he’s got a lot of blocking grit. He’s got some nice fundamentals down, and he’s certainly big enough. He’s a different breed of cat. He’s very talented.”
When Gettleman acknowledged that the early run of QBs will push players to the Giants, he added: “Frankly, I’d like to see 10 quarterbacks go in front of us.”
He would love to see Pitts fall to New York, no doubt. Wishful thinking, Dave!