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NFL Draft Takeaways: The Seahawks Play It Smart, and Bill Belichick Finds a New Trading BFF

Seattle masterfully accumulated assets, the Cardinals probably should have received more in return for Josh Rosen, and Belichick dialed up Sean McVay on more than one occasion

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It is nearly impossible to compare draft hauls because each team is trying to accomplish wildly different things. The Raiders had three first-round picks to accelerate their rebuild under Jon Gruden (they probably didn’t). Once again, the Patriots hoarded a seemingly infinite number of mid-round picks to keep their dynasty alive forever. The Saints, who play a short game and operate as if every season is the last one on earth, barely made any selections because they traded three of their top four picks in previous deals that landed them players like Marcus Davenport, Teddy Bridgewater, and Eli Apple. Remarkably, their draft looks like this:

With so many different priorities, the best way to view the draft is in the biggest-picture terms possible. With that in mind, here are the most important things that happened in the 2019 NFL draft:

1. Smart teams do smart things.

Like most football clichés, the idea that it takes three years to evaluate a draft class—passed around by general managers and pundits—is mostly wrong. It might take three years to make a final judgment on a bad class, mostly to ensure there aren’t any late bloomers, but it usually becomes evident pretty quickly if a class is going to be great. Players on their first contracts are producing at record levels, so it’s generally a bad thing if it takes three years for a draft class to pop. (Bill Belichick has cut a first-round draft pick after two years.) We do not need more time to let the Colts’ 2018 haul of Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, or the Saints’ 2017 class featuring Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, and Alvin Kamara marinate before we judge them.

So, no, you typically don’t need to wait three years. You cannot, however, judge players until they start playing NFL games—grading drafts in April is how you end up with the horrible analysis of the Seahawks’ 2012 class that included Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson. What you can do immediately is evaluate how a team played the draft—how it extracted value or played the board. With a record number of trades in this year’s draft—surpassing the previous high set in each of the past two years—this was particularly important.

You’ll notice that some really smart teams—the Patriots, Rams, and Seahawks—were involved in these trades. It appears Sean McVay and Bill Belichick, whose teams executed three trades with each other, are the new Belichick and Andy Reid, two coaches who have formed a bond so tight they apparently make deals with each other for fun (and some value).

The best example of deftly navigating the draft is Seattle, which masterfully multiplied its return by turning four picks into this:

Meanwhile, they got what I consider to be a bargain by selecting receiver D.K. Metcalf with the last pick in the second round after many mock drafts pegged him in the top half of the first. Metcalf is an athletic testing marvel, which makes him worth a second-round pick despite his limited production in college, and the Seahawks have thrived in turning great athletes into great players. They’ve planned well if the underrated Doug Baldwin doesn’t play again.

It’s narrow thinking to judge drafts based on the players acquired Thursday through Saturday. Cleveland’s draft, for instance, was a success because it traded its first-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr., and the Browns got even more value in the second round when they snagged cornerback Greedy Williams, a presumptive first-round pick.

Other teams that impressed me: the Chargers, who got defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and safety Nasir Adderley to add to an already dynamic defense (general manager Tom Telesco seems to have no desire to trade down in the draft, but we’ll give him a pass because he takes good players).

The Eagles can reinvigorate their offense with the selection of elite athletes like lineman Andre Dillard, running back Miles Sanders, and wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

Then there are the Rams, who executed six trades during the draft while seeming to suggest they are planning for life after Todd Gurley in his prime:

Good teams have a plan. Other teams should try it sometime.

2. The Colts will be awesome.

NFL general managers probably don’t get enough credit in the modern game. Coaches are crucially important—more so than any other sport—but there is simply no competitive advantage better than, uh, having really good players. And as player evaluation becomes more complicated than ever, a good general manager is an even bigger asset. A good stretch of drafts is a remarkable achievement. Former Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome consistently hit on his drafts in the late ’90s and early 2000s while building a perennial contender—Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs were among Baltimore’s picks from 1996 to 2003. From 2010 to 2012, the Seahawks drafted Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Russell Wilson, pivotal players during their Super Bowl run. Ted Thompson crushed multiple drafts for Green Bay from 2005 (the one with Aaron Rodgers and Nick Collins) through 2009 (in which his first three picks, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, and T.J. Lang, went on to become Pro Bowlers).

Colts GM Chris Ballard netted two All-Pros, Nelson and Leonard, in last year’s draft, and his masterful navigation of this year’s shows the signs of a run that will spring the Colts into real contention. A general manager on a hot streak is incredibly important. It’s too soon to know whether Ballard’s selections will hit like last year’s did, but we can say with absolute certainty that he’s following the best possible plan by drafting athleticism, hoarding picks, and targeting needs efficiently, as seven of the Colts’ 10 picks were defenders.

Ballard took over for Ryan Grigson in 2017, which is like following Nathan Peterman as a starting quarterback. Ballard’s ability to rebuild this team so quickly—with that big Andrew Luck salary, no less—is one of the best team-building jobs currently happening in the NFL.

3. The future really is now.

For the past five years, nothing in football has fascinated me more than the offensive evolution of the game, particularly the panic that the college spread offense has caused in coaching circles. It’s been only three years since the Cowboys ranked Connor Cook above Dak Prescott because Cook played a pro-style offense at Michigan State and Prescott didn’t at Mississippi State. One of the things the past two drafts have accomplished is that there is almost no discussion anymore about offenses. This is a product of the roaring success that so-called college-style offenses have had in the NFL in the past half-decade as quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes II and Baker Mayfield, among others, have imported the schemes successfully. I have found it refreshing and encouraging that we don’t have to re-litigate this dumb debate anymore when it comes to top prospects like Kyler Murray, who played in a pass-happy offense at Oklahoma. Passing in college is a good thing. It’s easy to draw the wrong conclusions about where the league is heading scheme-wise based on one or two isolated picks: Miami’s selection of West Virginia quarterback Pat White in 2009 was supposed to bring the wildcat offense into a new era; instead, it faded away without White ever completing an NFL pass. The spread offense was never a fad, but if you thought it was, well, you’re probably an NFL head coach above the age of 60. And you’re also wrong.

4. The Patriots will probably go to the Super Bowl again.

There’s a remarkable story from The Athletic’s Jeff Howe that illustrates how the Patriots use patience to control the draft. They turned the 2018 second-round pick they received for Jimmy Garoppolo into, at present, seven players and a 2020 fourth-round pick through a series of trades and acquisitions, including cornerback Joejuan Williams and quarterback Jarrett Stidham in this year’s draft. The Patriots are good because they have the best quarterback and coach in history, but their ability to play the long game is the reason for their sustained greatness.

Pats Pulpit had a helpful rundown of how often the Patriots have traded down to extract maximum value. In 2007, they traded the 28th pick to the 49ers for a fourth-rounder and a 2008 first-rounder. The Patriots then traded the fourth-rounder for receiver Randy Moss and took standout linebacker Jerod Mayo with the first-rounder. In 2009, they traded back in the first round twice and gathered picks that eventually became receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski. This is how they win: They figure out a tiny edge and keep hammering it home to outsmart the competition. They’ve found a sweet spot in the second and third rounds, where teams are more likely to part with their picks. The Patriots have traded some big stars for picks—Richard Seymour, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, and Garoppolo among them—and unlike most teams, they manage to milk those picks for all that they are worth.

True to form, Belichick’s draft was a mix of value picks and wild cards. He traded up to get a punter, a right-footed one, shockingly, considering his love of left-footed punters; he snagged a 6-foot-3 cornerback in Williams at no. 45; and Chase Winovich, who he picked at no. 77, was one of the highest-rated college players at rushing the passer and playing the run, according to Pro Football Focus.

Strong drafts from teams like the Colts, Browns, and Ravens, and the continued improvement of the Chiefs, means the AFC will be stacked in 2019, and thus the title of this section is supposed to be a joke—well, except for the fact that the Patriots make the Super Bowl every year.

5. More teams should have been in on Josh Rosen.

Since last spring, when teams and pundits criticized Josh Rosen for little more than being a millennial and generally being smart, he has had one of the weirdest rides in the NFL. He was dropped into one of the worst situations in football with a bad coach in Steve Wilks, a terrible offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy, and an offensive line that got him sacked 45 times in 13 starts. The Cardinals will pay $8 million in cap money for Rosen in 2019 and the Dolphins get him for a total of about $6 million over three seasons. The Dolphins also didn’t even give up their best second-round pick for Rosen. They traded the 48th pick to the Saints, who gave the Dolphins the 62nd pick, a sixth-rounder, and a 2020 second-rounder in return. The Dolphins then gave the Cardinals the 62nd pick for Rosen.

I think less of a lot of teams now that it is established this was the best bid for Rosen. How often can you take a flyer on a top-10 pick at the most valuable position in sports for the 62nd pick? Any team that isn’t absolutely settled at quarterback—and a few teams who are—should have been in the mix. Where was Tampa Bay? Where was Oakland? Should Carolina, who took Will Grier in the third round, not have looked into getting a much better quarterback in the second? The best part of the draft is that these players are all unknown commodities and teams can essentially talk themselves into any projection, but I assure you a quarterback like Grier, or even Drew Lock, who was taken 20 spots ahead of the pick that was traded for Rosen, would have looked much worse than Rosen in Arizona last year.

Heading into the draft, reports indicated the Cardinals could net a third-round pick for Rosen, so the return for him could have been worse, but probably not by much. Instead of a third-rounder, the Cardinals got the third-to-last pick in the second. Congratulations? Keim also gave up an extra third- and fifth-rounder to trade up to get Rosen last year. If Murray plays as well as fellow Oklahoma product Baker Mayfield, none of this matters and everyone will keep their job, but it’s hard to say the Cardinals played this situation correctly. Also, Rosen might end up OK:

6. Are we sure Jon Gruden watched more than one college game?