Go ahead and list your favorite NFL scapegoats by position, I’ll wait.
My top-three positional scapegoats are as follows: Quarterback, left tackle and cornerback.
Ordering this list is a matter of perspective, but consider that quarterbacks and offensive linemen tend to get noticed when they actually play well. Usually, a pretty solid barometer of cornerback play is literally never hearing the dude’s name over the course of a game. For this reason, I would argue that cornerback is the most thankless position on an NFL roster.
It also appears to be the hottest position in the world right now.
Cornerbacks represented approximately 13 percent of the 253 players selected over the course of the 2017 NFL Draft. If you consider safeties in that total, NFL teams drafted 56 defensive backs this week, smashing a modern draft era record in the process. This unprecedented run tells us two things: 1) a larger number of really, really good athletes are choosing to play defense instead of receiver, and that 2) NFL defenses are in the midst of a revolution, much like what NFL passing attacks have enjoyed over the past six or seven years.
Stock up - AFC North
Assigning arbitrary draft grades is meaningless, but you have to admire what every team in the AFC North did during the draft:
- The Steelers added some much-needed depth at four key positions, including T.J Watt at outside linebacker and James Conner at running back. Both players’ jerseys are going to immediately sell out when they hit the team store sometime later this summer. Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton was a good value pick in the third round and should figure to have a solid role this season, and Juju Smith-Schuster is a young, malleable receiver with an Anquan Boldin-ish skillset.
- The Browns Browns-ed their way into five of the top 65 picks, including three in the first round. Despite making several trades over the course of the draft, Cleveland will have 12 (!) total picks in the 2018 Draft, including five in the first two rounds.
- The Ravens drafted a borderline luxury in Marlon Humphrey at no. 16 overall (cornerback is always a need, but they didn’t need one that badly). Baltimore later filled more pressing needs by adding depth to the defensive line and drafting a pair of pass rushers.
- The Bengals drafted a receiver who submitted the fastest 40-yard dash time ever and a running back whose professional ceiling is Le’Veon Bell.
Like, of course the Bengals would draft Joe Mixon. That is literally the only pick that everybody’s mock drafts actually had right. Man, to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting.
On the opposite end of the human being spectrum is James Connor, who, in addition to surviving cancer, constantly sends warm regards to cancer victims and their families and just generally empowers people to circumvent literally some of the worst news they will ever hear. Pittsburgh’s running backs coach James Saxon claimed that Connor was drafted strictly for his football abilities. I suspect that this might not entirely be true.
Stock up - First-year general managers
Thanks to the Chicago Bears, John Lynch is the smartest football man in the world. Lynch, who assumed San Francisco’s general manager position earlier this year, received two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick from the Bears simply for agreeing to swap picks and move back one spot in the first-round. Chicago ultimately drafted Mitchell Trubisky, who probably would have still been on the board at no. 3 if Chicago had simply kept their pick
Now, such an assumption isn’t entirely fair to Chicago (or, as we will find out, San Francisco). Let me explain.
It is very possible that Lynch and his gaggle of thieves swindled Chicago’s brass into thinking that San Francisco wanted to draft Trubisky second overall. If this is the case, bravo to John Lynch. You don’t often see such a savvy move from a rookie. Also, this kind of explains why the Bears would operate so aggressively in the first place. Are two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick too steep of a price to pay for a franchise quarterback? Absolutely not. Let’s pretend for a minute that Trubisky will become, say, Matt Ryan in four years. Matt Ryan is unquestionably worth extra mid-round draft picks, even if the team who wanted him maybe could’ve drafted him without forfeiting said picks. Honestly, this is a “better safe than sorry” kind of situation.
For his troubles, Lynch drafted Solomon Thomas, who it seems like he probably would have drafted no. 2, anyway. Lynch also traded back into the first round to draft Reuben Foster at no. 31 overall.
Even if neither of these trades work out, Lynch has at least demonstrated his willingness to be aggressive in the draft, which is admirable.
First-year Colts general manager Chris Ballard exhibited precisely none of Lynch’s aggressiveness, but still came away with a pretty impressive haul. He dipped his feet in the luscious defensive back waters, grabbing a sliding Malik Hooker at no. 15 and Quincy Wilson in the second round. Had Wilson not decided to throw his hat into the deepest cornerback draft ever, he probably would have been a first-round pick. Of course, neither Hooker nor Wilson plays offensive line, so Andrew Luck is still very much in grave danger.
Stock down - Team chemistry
I don’t know what Martavis Bryant’s major was at Clemson, but it definitely wasn’t public relations.
In a tweet that he has since deleted (long after literally thousands of people had already screenshotted said tweet), Bryant wrote, “lol that’s Sammie coates [‘] replacement not minds [sic][,] take it how you want to[,] I am back” soon after Pittsburgh drafted Smith-Schuster in the second round. I legitimately have never laughed so hard in my life. Much to my delight, Coates caught wind of Bryant’s tweet and responded with a hearty and presumably vexed “hahahahahaha.”
Soon after this, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, WHO WAS SITTING IN THE DRAFT ROOM, DRAFTING, tweeted (FROM THE DRAFT ROOM!), “Play nice boys,” and legit @-ed both Bryant and Coates in his tweet. It is important to mention that this was Tomlin’s first Twitter activity since January 11 of this year.
Two things about this: First, on Bryant’s tweet, this is some of the biggest disrespect I’ve ever seen in my life, and I watched the Houston Rockets bench burst into uncontrollable laughter after watching the Thunder’s Andre Roberson miss a free throw in a playoff game. And Bryant did this to his own teammate.
Second, BRYANT SAID THIS TO HIS OWN TEAMMATE. The same Sammie Coates who was not suspended for the entire season for failing a drug test.
Martavis Bryant is an amazing football player, but throwing teammates under the bus isn’t going to get people back in his corner. If Bryant performs as well this season as he did in 2015, he will be one of the most electric receivers in the NFL. At his best, he is better than both Coates and Smith-Schuster. Thus, his status on the receiving hierarchy is in his own hands.
Regardless, practice is gonna be soooooo awkward.
Stock down - Desperate measures
I don’t usually buy into pre-draft hype, and I definitely don’t buy into post-draft hype (to an unrealistic extent, anyway). With that said, I generally trust expert scouts who have way more experience and insight than I do. So, when virtually every top-level scout agrees that the 2017 quarterback class is kinda “meh,” I tend to take their word for it.
Nobody knows for certain how the professional careers of Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson will turn out. For all we know, these dudes could be the next Rivers, Manning and Roethlisberger. They all certainly have the skills and pedigree. Then again, Trubisky has 13 college starts under his belt. Mahomes played within a system that is unlike anything he will see in the NFL. Watson, who, it should be noted, is a back-to-back Heisman runner-up and National Champion, has tossed 30 interceptions over the past two seasons.
Again, I’m no professional scout, but it would not unreasonable to say that not one of the dudes qualifies as a blue-chip prospect. Despite this, three teams forfeited a ton of draft capital in order to acquire these guys. Solidifying the quarterback position is understandably a top concern for many teams throughout the league, but, again, at what cost? Hey, at least none of them drafted Joe Mixon.