PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With 253 selections over three days, and a couple hundred thousand people on hand, the NFL draft seems as complex an operation as exists.
Don’t believe it, at least not for the teams. All the hard work had been done in the previous months. This weekend, the objective was very simple: improve.
Filling holes while building a foundation is essential. Here’s how some teams attempted to do that, along with some that had folks scratching their heads.
CLEVELAND — So much of the attention has been on Cleveland’s recent drafting failures, particularly at quarterback. What the Browns set out to do with a slew of picks was bring in fresh talent that, down the road, can carry them back to respectability.
We won’t know for years if they did so, but with Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett to kick it off, followed by Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers and Miami tight end David Njoku in the opening round alone, that talent base has increased.
Of course, there are questions attached to all three of those, particularly Peppers, who must prove he can be a full-time safety in the pros after moving around for the Wolverines. And second-rounder DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame is as inconsistent a quarterback as you’ll find.
CINCINNATI — The Browns’ in-state rival took a familiar route when they took Joe Mixon. The skill level of the Oklahoma running back isn’t questioned. But his off-field issues caused an immediate and nasty backlash in Cincinnati. Not that Bengals owner Mike Brown ever cares, given the history his team has with reclamation projects.
Cincy desperately needed wideouts who can stretch the defense, and it got two in Washington’s John Ross — he of the 4.2 40 at the scouting combine — and Tennessee’s Josh Malone.
CAROLINA — To get back to Super Bowl contention after their 2016 flop, the Panthers had to find a way to take the hefty burden off Cam Newton. With do-everything weapons Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Curtis Samuel of Ohio State, then guard Taylor Moton of Western Michigan, they probably got him some help.
NEW ORLEANS — For pure college talent, no team bolstered itself like the Saints. Sure, they had lots of needs, but consider that they added perhaps the best cornerback and offensive lineman in this crop with Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State and Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin. Two of their third-rounders, RB Alvin Kamara of Tennessee and LB Alex Anzalone of Florida, also bring terrific athleticism to a club that has had three straight losing records with Drew Brees at quarterback.
PITTSBURGH — Although they might have reached on J.J. Watt’s younger brother, linebacker T.J. of Wisconsin, and on Southern California receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster with their first two picks, the Steelers deserve kudos for what they did in the third round. Their selection of RB James Conner of Pitt, who came back from cancer to play for the Panthers, was inspirational — and wise. No one will bring more to an NFL franchise this year than Conner.
PHILADELPHIA — The city (and the league) were thrilled by the turnout, adding countless millions of dollars to their coffers. As for the Eagles, they stayed away from any headline picks and wound up with players who should be very useful for a while. Top pick Derek Barnett of Tennessee might be the best pure pass rusher in this group. Second pick Sidney Jones would have gone in the opening round had he not torn his Achilles tendon at his pro day, so patience is needed with him. Cornerback Rasul Douglas of West Virginia, wideout Mark Hollins of North Carolina and NCAA record-setting RB Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State fit the schemes well.
Oh yeah, former Eagles star safety Brian Dawkins did a pretty fine rendition of “Fly Eagles Fly” on Saturday.
CHICAGO — As for the head scratchers, the Bears take the prize. They so coveted North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky — he of the 13 career starts, although impressive ones — that they spent lavishly to move up one spot from third to second overall for him. That move came in part because GM Ryan Pace felt other teams were desperate to get up to the second spot. Some say he panicked.
San Francisco took in that haul, then got the guy it wanted anyway at No. 3, Stanford DE Solomon Thomas.
Chicago also took Adam Sheehan, a 6-foot-6, 278-pound tight end from Division II Ashland in the second round. He certainly is a physical specimen, but what a challenge moving up in class he faces. The Bears also took two other small college guys in the first five rounds.