Round One on Thursday night didn’t disappoint, but championships are won by drafting well on the second and third days of the draft. Right out of the gates Friday evening, we saw two of the top players of the draft talent-wise come flying off the board. We also saw the Bucs trade up for a second-round kicker. Let’s dive into it all.
Injured LBs Find Homes Early
Probably the biggest surprise of the night came minutes into Day Two, when the Cowboys took a risky flier on Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith at 34th overall. There’s no questioning Smith’s talent; he’s a top-10 prospect in this class if healthy. But there are serious red flags with his surgically-repaired knee. Smith tore his ACL and LCL in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl defeat to Ohio State in January and is expected to miss the entire 2016 season. He’s also been diagnosed with “drop-foot” syndrome, an issue caused by nerve damage. Scary stuff. Smith is going to need a lot of hard work and good fortune to get back to his pre-injury form. There’s at least some doubt he ever gets back on the field. The Cowboys know Smith’s situation as good as any team, as their doctor performed Smith’s knee surgery, and Smith’s brother, RB Rod Smith, is also on Dallas’ roster. Another game-changing linebacker with top-end talent and a concerning injury situation, UCLA’s Myles Jack came off the board two picks after Smith, at No. 36 overall, with the Jaguars trading up with the Ravens to add Jack to their revamped defense. Not too long ago, Jack was being linked to the Jaguars at No. 5 overall. Pairing Jack with first-round CB Jalen Ramsey has Jacksonville as one of the theoretical, on-paper winners of the first two days of the draft. Jack’s issues are considered less severe than Smith’s, but he’s coming off a torn meniscus last fall. There have been reports Jack may need the dreaded microfracture surgery, but Dr. James Andrews squashed that Friday afternoon. Jack is a do-it-all off-the-line linebacker, who can cover, blitz, and stop the run.
A Kicker? In the Second Round? Via Trade-Up?
Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo was arguably the best college kicker of all time, nailing 88.5 percent of his field goals for the Seminoles and never missing a single one of his 198 extra points. There were whispers he could go on the draft’s second day. But in the second round!? That’s exactly what happened when the Bucs sent the Nos. 74 and 106 overall picks to the Chiefs for the 59th pick, where they took Aguayo, keeping him home in Florida. It’s not quite Sebastian Janikowski (17th overall in 2000) or Mike Nugent-level (45th overall in 2005) reaching for a kicker, but Aguayo is the highest-drafted kicker since Nugent was taken by the Jets. Incumbent Bucs kickers Patrick Murray and Connor Barth can pack their bags, well, yesterday.
Does Hackenberg Have What it Takes to Hack It?
Coming into the first round of the draft, we had a pretty good idea of who the first three quarterbacks off the board would be. After Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Paxton Lynch it became a bit of a guessing game. With the 51st pick, the Jets addressed their messy quarterback situation by selecting Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. The pick was immediately widely criticized. Hackenberg is probably multiple years away from maybe becoming a viable NFL starter. Hackenberg looks the part at 6’4/223 and had us all wondering if he’d be a future No. 1 overall pick after an outstanding true freshman season with the Nittany Lions back in 2013 under coach Bill O’Brien. But his final two seasons were utter disaster. As one anonymous coach told ESPN’s Joe Schad, Hackenberg “couldn’t escape pressure, identify blitzes, release it quickly, anticipate throws, or pass downfield accurately.” Jets OC Chan Gailey and QBs coach Kevin Patullo have their work cut out for them. A crowded quarterback room that now includes Hackenberg, Geno Smith, and Bryce Petty, it may not have room for free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has held firm on not accepting Gang Green’s lowball offer. Smith looks like the current favorite to open the season as the starter. Yikes.
Day Two WRs Land in Prime Spots
Four receivers came off the board on the draft’s opening night, as expected. But a few second-day receivers also ended up in some great situations. The first receiver to hear his name called Friday was Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. He was taken by the Giants with the 40th overall pick and immediately slides in as the favorite to assume Rueben Randle’s old role as the No. 2 receiver to complement Odell Beckham. It would be hard to find a player who did less with more than Randle in his four-year stint with the G-Men. Randle was tied for 20th in the league in targets among receivers last season, seeing 122 of them, but turned those looks into a pitiful 58.2 percent catch rate and 71-938-3 line. GM Jerry Reese showed zero desire to re-sign Randle, who sat on the open market for two weeks before inking a minuscule one-year deal with the rival Eagles. Shepard is a favorite of Rotoworld draft guru Josh Norris and tore up the Combine with a 4.48 forty and 41-inch vertical. He’s viewed as the best route runner in this class and figures to immediately make noise in the middle of the field, a la Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, in the Giants’ high-octane passing attack. Buzz-worthy Ohio State QB-turned-WR Braxton Miller also found a home Friday, landing with the Texans via the 85th overall selection. Houston has dramatically overhauled its offensive skill group this offseason, and Miller figures to give Cecil Shorts a big push for the slot gig between DeAndre Hopkins and fellow rookie, first-rounder Will Fuller on the outside. The Bengals also addressed their glaring wide-receiver hole by nabbing Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd at No. 55 overall. But the selection isn’t moving the needle much. Boyd has average measurable athleticism and was frequently tackled on first contact in college. Cincinnati has a crater-sized hole at No. 2 receiver that will be open to competition.
#ExoticSmashmouth Titans Add Hulk-Like Runner
After the Titans traded for DeMarco Murray last month, it figured to take them out of the early-round running back picture come draft weekend. But coach Mike Mularkey promised an “exotic smashmouth” style of offense upon his hiring, and selecting hulking Alabama RB Derrick Henry at No. 45 overall proves Mularkey’s seriousness. Henry stands a mammoth 6’3/247 and is coming off a Heisman Trophy season and incredible Combine. Henry blazed a 4.54 forty and recorded a 10-foot-10 broad jump and 37-inch vertical in Indianapolis. He has a lot of miles on his tires with 603 career college carries and a lumbering running style, but Henry figures to immediately push Murray for snaps in Tennessee’s backfield. Either way, Murray is looking like a one-and-done candidate with the Titans, while young RBs Bishop Sankey and David Cobb are buried and likely on their way out. The Titans’ backfield depth chart currently reads Murray-Henry-Dexter McCluster-Antonio Andrews.