Sure, Mel Kiper and everyone who turned their television on last night to watch the NFL draft is going to tell you their draft grade for all the teams who reached the podium, but now it is just becoming white noise. We all know that the 49ers and John Lynch stole the Chicago Bears’ lunch, and a bag full of picks. Let’s talk about the real winners and losers of the draft, the franchise players on these organizations who will benefit, or not, from these picks.
One of the biggest winners of the draft last night was Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. Not only did the front office bring him a deep threat in DeShaun Jackson this off-season, but last night they drafted him the best tight end in the draft in OJ Howard. This monster of a playmaker tore up Clemson in back-to-back National Championships and made highlight plays all year long. He is a solid blocker, a terrific pass catcher and can fly when he has open space. Winston is a big-time winner from last night as he now has four legit game-breaking options to pass to in Jackson, Howard, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate. It is going to be a fun season to be a Bucs fan.
I can’t imagine anyone happier last night watching the draft than DeAndre Hopkins as he saw his Texans trade up in the draft to select their quarterback of the future, Mr. Everything, and fellow Clemson alum, DeShaun Watson. Yes, the club announced Tom Savage is their quarterback for 2017, but that is until Watson decides it’s not, and no one is going to benefit more from that, than Hopkins. If you forgot about him last season, don’t worry, Brock Osweilder did too. For the first time in three seasons he was under 1,000 yards and his touchdown total was almost cut in a third. Enter, Mr. Watson, the reigning national champion, and the most clutch player in college football possibly since Vince Young. He lives for the pressure moments and it won’t be long until he is bombing spirals down the field to Hopkins. This speedy pass catcher finally has a legit quarterback, who has no fear, and likes to make plays. It also helps that they both played their college career in Death Valley. This is a match made in heaven, or actually in Houston.
Andy Dalton and Blake Bortles, welcome to your hot-seat. The Bengals and Jaguars got you some major weapons last night, making you draft night winners, but if you don’t use them effectively, next year at this time your franchises might be battling on the draft board for a quarterback. The Jags brought in power-back Leonard Fournette, who can do all things great as a runner. He can take a hit and give one back, he can run between the tackles or up the sidelines, and he isn’t afraid to stay in the backfield and block. He is everything that the Jaguars need but didn’t have. Jacksonville has now given Bortles two solid receivers, went out and bought him a big playmaking tight end and have now armed him with a monster of a runner. If he can’t score often with this offense, the Bortles-service may hit last call next offseason.
For Dalton, he has a record breaking speed freak to line up opposite AJ Green, now that the Bengals drafted former Washington receiver John Ross. Dalton’s touchdown numbers were a career low last season, and even though he threw for 4,200 yards, if his receivers aren’t finding the end zone, what good are all those passes? The team finished 6-9-1 and the head office clearly views the only way to flip those numbers around is more scoring, and the way to the end zone is speed. Freakish speed. Well, Dalton, you have another guy to fly up the sidelines and you better find him often this season, or the Red-Rifle may be on the Red-Hot-Seat.
With every winner, there is also a loser, and one that I am sitting here scratching my head at is the Carolina Panthers taking Christian McCaffrey at number 8. He is a heck of a talent and one of the best pure athletes coming out of college, but I’m not sure how he fits in with Carolina. Let’s put his punt and kick returning aside, because he is a lock for that role, but as a pure runner, I’m not sure he is the guy you want running between the tackles, and isn’t that what Cam Newton needs? He needs help up the middle, someone to absorb some of the hits he has been taking. He needs a good blocker, someone who can help him, and protect him, in the pocket. McCaffrey isn’t the right size for that. Newton isn’t the most accurate pocket passer either, and McCaffrey is going to need to get short passes out of the backfield, which again is not Cam’s strength. Newton will enjoy the new kid’s strengths, but he is going to have to change his game to accommodate. He may not be a draft night loser, but he sure could have benefited from a power-back, not a guy who the team needs to build a role for.
Malcom Butler... Poor Malcom Butler. Well, technically he isn’t “poor” since he will be making a cool $4,000,000 this season, but in today’s NFL standards, that isn’t an elite pay scale compared to the other cornerbacks of his caliber, especially the guy he will share the defensive backfield with who is making $9 million more for this upcoming 16-game season. That is an extra half-million per game. Anyways, clearly, I don’t mean poor in a financial sense, but more in the fact that his big actual pay day was going to come in a trade with New Orleans and a reconstructed deal, but after the earthquake level shake up at the top of the draft order, former Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore fell right into Sean Payton’s lap at the 11th pick. With their corner of the future, Butler is now left without a trade partner and will be playing out his season with New England. Not that it is a bad place to be, but when you feel like you are underpaid, by a lot, it makes going back to that locker room a little harder. So yes, Butler is a loser in this scenario, but the Patriots are going to be big winners, perhaps 16 times in the regular season, with the best secondary in football.
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