Beware the word “Freak” when it comes to the NFL Draft.
Also, be very careful about picking players based on how they look and run in shorts and T-shirts.
And be very afraid of NFL personnel evaluators who love to talk about the Combine and Pro Days, which are beauty contests – not games. They, like the draft itself, are marketing tools to keep the NFL’s season lasting all year.
Once the draft exits the first round on television, it looks like a Holiday Inn lounge act, even if it is in Las Vegas this year. When Vegas lounge act Wayne Newton, 80, took the floor Friday night and announced the third round pick of the Vegas Raiders, it was time to switch over to the Ozark drop on Netflix.
But if you did that, you missed hearing Newton say that guard Dylan Parham played at Mississippi. He actually played at Memphis, which Newton should know is not in Mississippi. It’s close, but it’s not there. ESPN once put the University of Mississippi’s Colonel Reb logo on the screen for highlights from Mississippi State at the College World Series, but at least it was in the right state.
Felt bad for Raiders’ great Marcus Allen, who was paired on stage with Newton in the worst draft date since Mike Ditka and Ricky Williams. Newton did apologize on Twitter and invite Parham and his family to dinner in Vegas.
Can’t blame Newton too much, though, at least his mistake was a school in the SEC, which again dominated the first three rounds of the draft through Friday.
The SEC led all conferences entering Saturday’s final four rounds with 34 players picked, and it wasn’t not even close. The Big Ten was a distant second with 21, followed by the American Athletic Conference – where Memphis plays, Mr. Newton – and the Pac-12 with 10 apiece, and the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 with seven each.
Georgia led all schools with nine players selected, followed by Alabama with six, Cincinnati with five, Baylor, LSU and Ohio State with four.
When the draft ended Saturday evening, the SEC won its 16th consecutive draft title, as far as most players picked, going back to 2007. The SEC finished with 65 draftees in 2022, tying the draft record of 65 set by the SEC last year.
Georgia’s 15 selections broke the NFL record for most players picked out of one school, which was 14 set by Ohio State in 2004 and tied by LSU in 2020.
For the 11th time over the last 12 years, the SEC led the way in first round picks on Thursday night with 12, including seven of the first 15 picks. Georgia led the nation with five first round picks.
Georgia set an NFL Draft record in the process for most defensive players picked in the first round with five – end Travon Walker as the first overall pick by Jacksonville, tackle Jordan Davis as the 13th pick to Philadelphia, linebacker Quay Walker at No. 22 to Green Bay, tackle Devonte Wyatt at No. 28 to Green Bay and safety Lewis Cine at No. 32 and last in the first round to Minnesota.
Another outstanding draft for the SEC and a red letter weekend for Georgia, which tied its own record for most players picked in a draft with nine with four more rounds to go. It could get as many as 14 or 15.
But not a good first pick for Jacksonville. Jaguars’ general manager Trent Baalke, new coach Doug Pederson and personnel directors fell in love too much with Walker’s “freak” athleticism from the various beauty contests.
Walker should not have been the first pick. He should’ve been closer to No. 10 than No. 1.
“He’s a freak,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said at his team’s Pro Day last month.
There’s that word “freak,” and that runway festival, aka Pro Day.
“He’s got great length. He’s an incredible athlete,” Smart waxed on.
But can he play?
Walker definitely looks the part at a chiseled 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, and he ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine/Track & Field Meet in February. He also had a 35-4 vertical leap, a 10-3 broad jump and ran the cone drill in 6.8 seconds.
This is all great if ABC brings back “Battle of the Network Stars.” But do those activities really translate to NFL games?
Walker made one sack in seven games in 2020 at Georgia. He had 2.5 sacks in nine games in 2019. He did have six sacks in 13 games last season as Georgia won the national championship … with four other first round defenders.
Some say Walker was not the best defender on his own team. But, boy he looked good in shorts.
“At Cleveland, when all our draft guys would come back from the Combine, they’d rave about how fast this guy was or high this guy jumped,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said decades ago when he was LSU’s coach, recalling his days as a Browns’ defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick in the 1990s.
“And Bill would ask,” Saban said, “‘But, can they play?'”
Beware, Troy Williamson.
Williamson, a wide receiver from South Carolina who won 100 and 200 meter state titles in high school, put on a freak show at the 2005 NFL Combine with a 4.3 time in the 40. He zoomed to the No. 7 pick in the draft by Minnesota, which apparently had no one ask, “Can he catch?”
There apparently were more cone drills than catching drills at the Combine, because Williamson could not catch. He was credited with 11 drops in 2006, and there were critical drops in 2007. But Jacksonville – you guessed it – took a chance by trading a sixth-round pick for him. After playing in two games in 2009, he was done. He ended his career with four touchdowns.
Cincinnati used the ninth pick of the 2017 draft to take Washington wide receiver John Ross, largely because of his 4.22 time in the 40. He played four forgettable seasons with the Bengals before starting one game with the Giants last year and is currently a free agent.
Jacksonville – again – used its 21st pick of the first round in 2005 to take Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones as a wide receiver after Jones ran a 4.3 time in the 40. He showed some flashes of promise, but was done after four seasons.
The selection of Jones was similar to that of Walker by Jacksonville. Maybe they just had too much time – too much time from the actual games – to think about their pick. Like Jones, Walker rose dramatically in the various draft projections over the final few weeks before the draft.
It’s almost like the so-called experts get bored with the same names and try to juice up the draft hype over the final days. And Jacksonville fell for it. It’s not about picking a hot name, or appearing smart with your pick. It’s about picking a can’t-miss player, which can be boring. Or maybe Jacksonville had too much time to think about its first pick – paralysis through too much analysis. This happens way too often in the NFL Draft.
Had this draft been held in March, Travon Walker may have been closer to the 10th pick, where he belongs.
And Jacksonville is not exactly known for great drafts or great seasons after drafts. The Jaguars failed to win more than six games in 10 of the last 11 seasons. And they are known for major first-round busts, such as wide receiver Justin Blackmon taken with the fifth pick of the first round in 2012 out of Oklahoma State and offensive lineman Luke Joeckel with the second pick in 2013 out of Texas A&M.
The Houston Texans also may have paid too much attention to beauty contest workouts. They took LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. too high with the third pick of the first round. Great player, but he should have been closer to the ninth or 10th pick as well. He hasn’t played in games like a top three pick since his freshman year in 2019, but boy he looked good in shorts.
The Texans, meanwhile, have not won more than four games in a season in three of their last five seasons.
Stingley ran a 4.3 in the 40 at LSU’s Pro Day this month with a 38-5 vertical jump and met with the Saints, among other teams.
“Any time you can get out and see the prospect run around, move around, have dinner with him, it just helps the whole draft process,” said Saints’ co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen at LSU’s Pro Day.
Dinner? Really? Did you like his suit?
Watch more film, NFL people. Move the draft up on the calendar for less analysis. Less can be more and produce less busts, which is what may happen with Walker.
Stingley will not bust, but he was not third-pick worthy. Just check out the 2019 film against Alabama when he couldn’t cover DeVonta Smith.
If Walker and Stingley were picked a tad too high, we will find that out by watching their games in the future after more attention should have been paid to watching their games in the past.