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The Winners and Losers From Round 1 of the NFL Draft

From Buffalo’s baffling Josh Allen decision to the rebirth of the running back, here’s what we learned from the first 32 picks

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

There is no football played at the NFL draft. How can we figure out who did well? We could hand out grades, but ugh, who wants to think about school? (And we already did that, anyway.) You want to think about sports! So let’s arbitrarily decide who won and who lost.

Loser: Roger Goodell

The NFL had a plan to prevent Roger Goodell from being bathed in boos at the start of the draft. To kick things off, the commissioner was accompanied onto the stage by Cowboy legends Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, and Jason Witten, a trio likely to get cheers from the Dallas crowd.

The plan did not work:

I do, however, like the premise of Boo Bodyguards to shield bad people from the criticism they deserve. Next year, Goodell is going to come on stage with a basket filled with Labrador puppies, and he’ll still get booed to hell. It must be a real drag when every public environment you walk into doubles as a reminder of how monumentally unpopular you are, but getting paid $30 million a year probably makes up for it.

Winner: Steve Smith

Maybe the only thing more fun than watching Steve Smith play wide receiver was listening to Steve Smith talk. Luckily, he hasn’t stopped talking now that his playing career is over:

Smith also called Maryland’s D.J. Moore his “spirit animal” and said that the wide receiver will give you “instant grits all day long.” Smith was the undisputed star of the NFL Network’s draft coverage, and I now believe that all NFL games should be broadcast with Steve Smith’s running commentary.

Loser: The Buffalo Bills

I would consider any team that used a first-round pick on Josh Allen to be the biggest loser of the first round. No good NFL quarterback has ever had statistics as bad as Allen’s college stats; his best-case statistical comparables include Brian Griese and Josh McCown. There are just so many videos of him missing easy passes so badly. Sure, his arm is strong enough that teams should value his potential, but “extremely strong quarterback who may never learn how to throw to receivers” seems to me like a Day 3 pick, not a first-rounder. I remain baffled that he was treated like a top prospect throughout the entire draft process.

But the Bills didn’t just draft Allen. They traded up to get him, giving up two second-round picks to move up five spots. That’s a massive overpay on any draft value chart. And then the Bills also traded a third-rounder to the Ravens to move up from the 22nd pick to the 16th to select Tremaine Edmunds.

Trading up is the move of a team in win-now mode. The Bills did so—but they selected a quarterback whose supporters even consider him a project. That doesn’t jibe. I’m so happy that the Bills got to the playoffs last year, and so confused about their future.

Winner: All the Teams That Didn’t Draft Josh Allen

Congrats to the Browns for listening to me and drafting Baker Mayfield instead of Josh Allen! Baker Mayfield was historically efficient at passing in college, setting the record for yards per passing attempt as a senior. Meanwhile, Allen averaged fewer yards per passing attempt than Rashaad Penny averaged per rushing attempt against the same competition in the Mountain West Conference.

Congrats to the Bears, who picked eighth, one slot behind where Allen was taken. Since the pick ahead of theirs was used on a quarterback who struggles to throw a football to his teammates, the Bears got to draft Roquan Smith, who, in my opinion, was the best defender in college football last year.

Congrats to the Cardinals, who picked 10th, and got to take Josh Rosen, because one of the teams ahead of them took the other Josh! Congrats to the Chargers, who got Derwin James—a projected top-10 pick—at no. 17! Congrats to the Ravens, who got Lamar Jackson—potentially the best quarterback in the draft!—with the 32nd and final pick in the first round! For the most part, life was really good for the 31 teams who didn’t take Josh Allen.

Winner: Running Backs

Running backs are just about worthless in the modern NFL. They get paid less than kickers and punters. But don’t tell that to the teams picking in this year’s NFL draft!

First, the Giants made Saquon Barkley the highest-selected running back since Reggie Bush in 2006, using the second pick in the draft on the Penn State playmaker. I normally wouldn’t understand why a team would draft a running back so highly, but Barkley is special and can potentially reshape the way the position is used in the NFL. I actually like the pick. Barkley joins Ki-Jana Carter and Blair Thomas as top-two running backs out of Penn State, and, ah, don’t look their careers up.

Later, the Seahawks took San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny with the 27th pick. It was a confusing selection—few considered Penny the second-best running back in the draft, and the Seahawks have plenty of other needs besides running back. Anytime you can use a first-round pick to fill a non-pressing gap with a not-highly-regarded player at a non-important position, you gotta do it.

And finally, the Patriots took Georgia’s Sony Michel 31st overall. It’s odd, considering the Patriots have typically put little value into individual running backs—they’ve had committees of free-agent veterans for the past few seasons.

If the Patriots are doing something, that means it’s smart, right? So, I guess running backs are important again.

Winner: Ryan Shazier

Something supposedly inspirational happened Thursday night: Ryan Shazier, who suffered a potentially paralyzing spinal injury while playing for the Steelers in December, walked onto the stage to announce Pittsburgh’s pick.

It is so relieving to see that Shazier can walk so soon after his injury. We should admire the fight and determination that he has shown in his recovery, but I hope the NFL realizes that Shazier’s is not a story worth celebrating. Four years ago, he was a first-round pick, and now we’re applauding his ability to walk. That’s football’s fault. The best way the NFL can honor Shazier is to do whatever it can to make sure that what happened to him never happens to any of its players ever again.

Loser: Sam Bradford (and Everybody Else in Josh Rosen’s Way)

Two years ago, Sam Bradford signed a $36 million contract with the Eagles—two months before the Eagles selected Carson Wentz with the second pick in the 2016 draft. A month and a half ago, Bradford signed a $20 million contract with the Cardinals—and Thursday night, Arizona traded up to take Rosen, who surprisingly dropped all the way to the 10th pick in the draft. Rosen provided the quote of the night about his fall:

Some feel that Rosen might be the best quarterback in the draft, and that the Cardinals got great value to find him at no. 10. But alas, it means the Bradford era in Arizona could end before—or soon after—it starts. Poor Sam—err, actually, extremely rich Sam. But regardless, it’s another bummer for the former no. 1 pick.

Winner: James Daniels

I have never seen somebody with a better draft day setup than the center from Iowa:

He’s chilling in an extremely luxurious chair, in a bar, wearing a smoking jacket over pajamas.

The draft itself was kind of a bummer for Daniels—he went undrafted in the first round while centers Frank Ragnow and Billy Price did go off the board—but it doesn’t seem to matter to Daniels. He’s already too opulent and comfortable to care.

Loser: Mock Drafts

In 91 percent of mock drafts, Sam Darnold or Josh Allen went first overall to the Browns. Instead, the Browns listened to me and drafted Baker Mayfield first overall. And, well, if a mock draft misses on the first pick, it’s probably not going to be very accurate with the rest.

I haven’t found any mock drafts that put Denzel Ward on the Browns with the fourth pick; I haven’t found any that had Bradley Chubb falling to fifth, where he was selected by the Broncos. The Ringer’s mock draft—put together by Danny Kelly, who I promise you is very smart and good at his job—had just one accurate pick in the entire first round. The most accurate mock draft was by this 49ers reporter:

We have already discovered the complete futility of the seven-round mock draft, but this year, even the first round was impossible to project. Please forget this instantly and read a bunch of mock drafts next year; bloggers need you to click on them so we can feed our families.