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This NFL Draft Had Major Risks, QB Steals, and Familiar Teams Outsmarting Everyone

Recognizing the best and ballsiest performances from the three-day marathon event

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Two-hundred-fifty-six picks are in. The three-day marathon event is over. The 2017 NFL draft is in the books, meaning it’s time to take stock of every team’s haul. While we won’t definitively know who won this draft for years, it’s never too early to hand out some hardware. To that end, here are a few awards to celebrate the most noteworthy performances of draft weekend.

The Get Your Entire Staff Fired or Enshrined in the Hall of Fame Award: Chicago Bears

The Bears traded up to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick on Thursday, a decision that was widely met with a combination of shock and horror. Chicago gave up third- (no. 67) and fourth-round (no. 111) picks in this year’s draft and a third-rounder in next year’s draft to move up one spot and grab a raw, inexperienced signal-caller with just 13 college starts on his résumé. Even if that initial trauma has yet to wear off, another reaction has taken hold. In a way, it’s hard not to admire the chutzpah general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox showed when they took their stack of chips and pushed them all in on the former Tar Heel.

Trubisky represents an enormous risk for both men, a player on whom they are staking their jobs. If Trubisky flops, Pace and Fox are toast in Chicago. If he does turn out to be the second coming of Matt Ryan or Drew Brees, though, no one will lament the loss of those third- and fourth-rounders. People will laud Pace and Fox for their foresight and aggressiveness and for having the balls to do what it took to get the future face of the franchise.

Chicago’s draft motto? No guts, no glory. We’ll find out if pays off.

The Best Quarterback Value Award: Cleveland Browns

Entering this week, there were some who believed that the Browns would use the first overall pick to grab Trubisky — or at the very least, use their stockpile of assets to trade up from the no. 12 slot and grab him if he was still on the board after Thursday’s first few picks. In the end, logic prevailed: Cleveland used the top pick on Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett, and the Browns traded back out of the no. 12 slot once Trubisky was snatched up by the Bears. At no. 25, via a pick it acquired in a deal with the Texans, Cleveland selected Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers; at no. 29, with a pick it got in a trade with the Packers, it landed Miami tight end David Njoku.

It wasn’t until the 20th pick of the second round, at no. 52 overall, that Browns head coach Hue Jackson finally took a quarterback, landing Notre Dame signal-caller DeShone Kizer much later than many had predicted he’d go. If you take Jackson at his word, the draft went exactly according to plan.

"I think there are all kinds of ways to [build an offense]," Jackson said at the combine in March. "You have to support [the quarterback] position the right way. It’s not just about putting a quarterback on the team and saying, ‘Here we go.’ You have to make sure he has enough weapons. You have to make sure you’re able to protect him, and you put him in the right spot so he can have success."

Jackson’s patience was rewarded, and the Browns ended up with one of the highest-upside prospects at the position — a raw player with excellent arm strength and great mobility who can develop as a backup without facing the pressure that would follow a QB with top-10 billing. Cleveland can bring Kizer along slowly and benefit from adding a pair of high-impact defensive players and a potential red zone weapon in the meantime.

The Save a Coach’s Job Award: Houston Texans

The outlook for Houston’s 2017 offense has changed dramatically over the past two months. After shipping Brock Osweiler and his albatross contract off to the Browns in March, the Texans moved up 13 spots in Thursday’s first round to select Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 12th pick. Head coach Bill O’Brien was quick to declare that Tom Savage will remain the nominal starter for Houston, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that company line changes during the the preseason, especially if O’Brien feels like his leash is getting short.

Watson is a big-game playmaker and an extraordinary leader who gives the Texans their first exciting option at quarterback since O’Brien took over in 2014. The respected quarterback whisperer — who has done shockingly well with a combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Osweiler, and Savage under center — at last has a high-upside passer to mold.

Houston wasn’t done after the Watson pick, though. It grabbed Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham — a player many thought would be a top-30 pick — in the second round and then added Texas running back D’Onta Foreman in the third. The Texans want to cut down on starting tailback Lamar Miller’s wear and tear, and the 6-foot, 233-pound former Longhorn should make for a nice complement. After adding Bucknell tackle Julie’n Davenport and Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins in the fourth round, Oregon State safety Treston Decoud in the fifth, and Baylor center Kyle Fuller in the seventh, Houston came out of this draft having addressed just about every one of its needs.

The Save a Quarterback’s Job Award: Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles may already be past the point of being salvageable as a franchise passer, but the Jaguars apparently maintain belief that the soon-to-be fourth-year pro can make a leap if surrounded by enough support. Jacksonville gave him plenty over the weekend, adding explosive LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick and then grabbing Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson in the second round. Fournette gives the offense a much-needed battering ram and a guy who can take a sliver of daylight and turn it into a long touchdown. He should help the Jags close out tight games in the fourth quarter, convert in short yardage, and bring this team an intimidation factor it previously lacked. Robinson provides depth on the line and could be a day-one starter. He’s an enormous human who could line up at either left tackle or guard.

The Best First-Time GM Draft Award: San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts (Tie)

OK, this is cheating a little, and not just because 49ers general manager John Lynch and Colts GM Chris Ballard are sharing the honors — they’re also the only two newbie general managers this year. Given how each fared this weekend, though, it was hard to tell that both Lynch and Ballard were running their first respective drafts.

Lynch managed the coup of the draft, squeezing a bevy of picks out of the Bears to move down one spot to no. 3 overall, a pick the 49ers used on the player they wanted at no. 2 anyway. And after selecting Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, San Francisco traded back into the first round to nab Alabama’s Reuben Foster at no. 31. Foster was widely considered a top-15 talent, but fell after he had a disastrous combine showing and teams expressed concern about the health of his shoulders. From there, Lynch stocked up on underrated and talented players in just about every round: He grabbed underrated Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard (the only pick I really don’t get) in the third, Utah running back Joe Williams in the fourth, Iowa tight end George Kittle and Louisiana Tech receiver Trent Taylor in the fifth, Ole Miss defensive tackle D.J. Jones and Utah outside linebacker Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth, and Miami defensive back Adrian Colbert in the seventh.

As for Ballard, the former Chiefs personnel executive hit a home run when he grabbed Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, a top-five-caliber talent, at the no. 15 spot. Hooker is a big-time playmaker and center-field patroller whom Ballard can build his defense around. Indy wasn’t done, though, selecting Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson in the second round and Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham in the third. Both players should contribute early. USC tackle Zach Banner, South Florida running back Marlon Mack, Albany State defensive tackle Grover Stewart, Temple cornerback Nate Hairston, and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. rounded out a balanced and talent-packed class.

The Most Bang for Your Buck Award: New England Patriots

The Patriots came into this draft without first- or second-round picks, owning just six selections in total. This was the result of head coach Bill Belichick’s constant wheelin’ and dealin’: Over the past few years, New England has orchestrated trades for wide receiver Brandin Cooks (which cost the team a first-round pick in this draft), defensive end Kony Ealy (a second), tight end Dwayne Allen (a fourth), defensive end Barkevious Mingo (a fifth), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (a sixth), and tight end Michael Williams (a seventh). Plus, the Pats made the decision last week to sign restricted free-agent running back Mike Gillislee away from Buffalo (a fifth). It’s amazing they had any picks, especially given that they were forced to give up a 2017 fourth-rounder as part of their punishment for Deflategate.

Well, by the time the smoke cleared this weekend, New England had traded out of all but one of its spots and came away with four selections, a new franchise low. But in perfect we’re better than everyone at everything Patriots fashion, Belichick turned that shocking lack of draft capital into two potential high-impact players and two solid developmental pieces. He stole top-50 talents in Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers and Troy offensive lineman Antonio Garcia at no. 83 and no. 85, respectively, and then landed Arkansas pass rusher Deatrich Wise in the fourth round and UCLA tackle Conor McDermott in the sixth. The Patriots just keep getting better, and no one can do anything about it.

The Stick to Your Brand Award: Baltimore Ravens

It’s safe to say that Baltimore has a type. The seven men in general manager Ozzie Newsome’s 2017 draft haul are all connected by a common thread: They all fit the Ravens’ identity as tough, physical, and reliable competitors who just want to smash the hell out of the guys in front of them. Baltimore took hard-hitting and speedy Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round, explosive Houston pass rusher Tyus Bowser in the second, and Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley and Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams in the third. They then added a collective 650 pounds at offensive guard by grabbing San Diego State’s Nico Siragusa and Texas A&M’s Jermaine Eluemunor in the fourth and fifth, before selecting Chuck Clark, a physical defensive back out of Virginia Tech, in the sixth.

Playing Baltimore has long made for a knockdown, drag-out battle. This class all but ensures the next few years will bring more of the same.

The Recreate Another Team’s Draft Magic Award: Pittsburgh Steelers

Dak Prescott contended for the MVP award as a rookie, but when the Cowboys drafted him with last year’s 135th overall pick, they probably thought they were selecting a high-upside thrower who could develop into the starter once Tony Romo retired. When the Steelers took Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs at no. 135 overall on Saturday, they probably did so with a similar mindset. The parallels between the Prescott and Dobbs selections go beyond their draft number: Much like Prescott, Dobbs is a raw-but-gifted quarterback going to a team with a superstar running back, a top-tier wide receiver, and an outstanding veteran QB who gets hurt a lot and has recently pondered retirement.

Could Dobbs become this year’s breakout fourth-round quarterback? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves — but he’s certainly a strong-armed, mentally tough, and mobile signal-caller with a decent chance of winning the backup job. And the guy who backs up the oft-injured Ben Roethlisberger is all but guaranteed to see some action during the season.

The "Whoops, We Left This Thing on Auto-Draft Mode" Award: New York Jets

There’s plenty to like about the individual players the Jets drafted over the past three days. LSU safety Jamal Adams (no. 6 overall) is a versatile and hard-hitting playmaker; Florida safety Marcus Maye (no. 39) is in the same mold; and Alabama receiver ArDarius Stewart (no. 79), Cal receiver Chad Hansen (no. 141), and Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett (no. 150) are all potent downfield threats. It’s just that New York is in full-on rebuild mode, and the selection of two mostly-in-the-box safeties and three pass catchers is a weird way to start a new foundation.

In Marcus Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor, the Jets already have starters at both safety spots, and they have plenty of receiving depth, too: Eric Decker, Quincy Enunwa, Jalin Marshall, Charone Peake, Robby Anderson, Devin Smith (although he has a torn ACL and will miss the 2017 season), and Quinton Patton. General manager Mike Maccagnan added a pass rusher (West Georgia’s Dylan Donahue), a running back (Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire), and a pair of corners (Michigan’s Jeremy Clark and Mississippi’s Derrick Jones) late in the draft, but New York largely took a rudderless approach to team-building, neglecting a troublesome offensive line, an aging and talent-barren linebacking corps, and, of course, a black hole at the quarterback position. It was hard to see any semblance of a plan.

The Do the Opposite of What the Jets Do Award: Denver Broncos

Denver’s draft was anything but random: With his first pick, Broncos GM John Elway addressed a giant hole at left tackle by selecting Utah product Garett Bolles at no. 20 overall. Then, in the second round, Elway grabbed Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker to shore up a defensive line that lacked depth last season. The rest of Elway’s weekend consisted of systematic depth-building: Denver grabbed a pair of receivers (Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson and Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie), a cornerback (Lamar’s Brendan Langley), a talented-but-injured tight end (Michigan’s Jake Butt), and a running back (Coastal Carolina’s De’Angelo Henderson).

Then, with what’s normally a throwaway pick, Elway used the final pick of the draft to take a flier on Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. The nephew of former Bills great Jim Kelly has plenty of arm talent and enough athleticism to challenge for a backup job come this fall. If Kelly, who has a history of off-field issues, climbs up the depth chart, he would add to Elway’s history of turning seventh-round QB picks into production: Trevor Siemian, who started 14 games in 2016 and was invited to the Pro Bowl, was the 250th selection in the 2015 draft.

The It’ll Be Fun in a Few Years Award: Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs GM John Dorsey rolled the dice on Thursday, giving up a 2018 first-round pick to move up 17 spots and select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. While that was certainly an exciting investment to make, it’ll likely take a while to pay dividends. Alex Smith remains under contract in Kansas City for two more years, and while the team can opt out of his deal after this season, it probably won’t do so unless Mahomes has developed into more than just a raw and inexperienced gunslinger.

Mahomes boasts as much upside as any passer in this draft — he’s got a cannon for an arm, loves to fling the ball downfield, and can make plenty of plays with his feet — but his talents may need to be reined in by head coach Andy Reid. Mahomes played out of the constructs of Texas Tech’s offense far too often throughout his college career, and that kind of randomness and improvisation creates far more turnovers than touchdowns in the NFL.

The Mahomes pick signals a fun, new future of Chiefs offense, but one that will require time to take shape. In the meantime, Smith should pilot the Chiefs offense in all six of Kansas City’s 2017 prime-time appearances.