Cleveland hocks. The barter-happy Browns zigged and zagged their way through the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, making two trades and three selections, stuffing their pockets with future picks.
The team’s chief strategist, Mr. Moneyball Paul Podesta, was a wheeling-and-dealing phenom, looking to revamp a franchise that won just one game last season.
On a warm night when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got anything but a warm welcome from the Philadelphia boo-birds, there were all sorts of upsets on the Rocky Balboa steps.
The league’s biggest offseason event started predictably enough, with the Browns taking Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett first overall. But then the evening got strange.
The quarterbacks, who were billed as nothing special, were suddenly a hot commodity. Three teams traded up in the first 12 picks to select them — North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky to Chicago at No. 2, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes to Kansas City at No. 10, and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson to Houston at No. 12.
A distinguishing characteristic of this draft class was the sheer number of top-shelf cornerbacks, yet they were almost afterthoughts. The best one, Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, didn’t go until New Orleans took him at 11. There was talk he could has gone as early as second overall.
Three more corners were taken after Lattimore — Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey (Baltimore at 16), USC’s Adoree Jackson (Tennessee at 18), and LSU’s Tre’Davious White (Buffalo at 27) — but there wasn’t the flood that some observers had predicted. There likely will be a corner grab when the second and third rounds unfold Friday night.
An offensive lineman wasn’t selected until Denver took Utah tackle Garett Bolles with the 20th pick. That’s an eternity by NFL standards. According to the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, never in the common draft era has it taken so long for an offensive lineman to come off the board.
Bolles, who had a troubled childhood that included him being kicked out of five schools and the family home, served a Mormon mission in Colorado Springs for a year and said he turned his life around. He walked on stage Thursday cradling his infant son in the crook of his arm.
“Denver,” Bolles almost shouted, “I’m coming back home!”
The most memorable and emotional exchange of the night came after Atlanta traded up five spots to take UCLA outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley with the 25th pick.
McKinley carried a large picture of his late grandmother on stage with him for an interview with NFL Network’s Deion Sanders.
“I made a promise to her and I stuck to it! I made that promise, man,” a tearful McKinley yelled. “I told her! Before she passed away, I was going to live my dream! I was gonna go D-I! I was gonna get out of Richmond, I was gonna get out of Oakland! I was gonna go to the NFL! I made that promise to her, man! Thirty seconds later she passed away! And this is who I do it for! This is who I do it for, man!”
McKinley then cursed on live TV, and added, “Fine me later!” The league will likely take that under advisement.
Meanwhile, there was a run on ultra-versatile players, the gadget guys who can contribute in all sorts of different packages. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey went eighth to Carolina; Trojans star Jackson can help the Titans on defense, as a returner, and possibly even offense; and the Browns took multi-dimensional Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers at 25.
“That goes to show, the more you can do, the better,” Jackson said. “You always hear from the coach, ‘The more you can do for the team, the longer you’ll last in this league.’”
Then again, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. Just ask quarterback Mike Glennon, who last month signed a three-year deal with Chicago worth as much as $45 million. One pick into this draft, the Bears made a stunning move. They gave up three picks — two thirds and a fourth — to leapfrog the 49ers and take Trubisky, when everyone expected them to go defense.
Trubisky didn’t even get a call in the green room. He only found out he was headed to Chicago when Goodell read his name.
“It was a huge surprise for me and my family,” the quarterback conceded.
San Francisco got the player it was targeting, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, and new 49ers General Manager John Lynch picked up the first win of his career as an executive.
There would be more unexpected twists, including Cincinnati taking Washington receiver John Ross at No. 9. That diminutive receiver set the scouting combine record by running the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds, but there weren’t a lot of people who expected him to crack the top 10 in the first round. He had knee and shoulder injuries in college.
“When you’re playing against him, people feel his speed,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters.
The first round ended on a frustrating note for fans in Seattle and Green Bay, as both of those teams traded out of the round. That was standard practice for the Seahawks, who have had just one first-round pick in the past five drafts, but it was unfamiliar territory for the Packers. The last time they didn’t have a first-round pick was 2008.