Day 2 takeaways: Connor Cook free-falling; Bucs trade up for a … kicker?!?
A run on defenders and then on quarterbacks, with a random place-kicker selected in between, highlighted the second day of the 2016 NFL draft. Let’s get straight to my most notable takeaways, starting with the fall of a quarterback prospect that was either totally surprising or completely predictable, depending on whom you ask.
1. Whoa, Connor Cook
Four quarterbacks were drafted Friday, bringing the total to six over two days, and none of them were Michigan State’s Connor Cook. That qualifies as a genuine shocker, no matter how much stock you placed in ever-present stories about Cook’s personality.
ESPN’s Jon Gruden rated Cook as a first-round talent and went so far as to suggest he could wind up as the best quarterback in this draft. That assessment sparked wild suggestions that Cook and perhaps Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg could be part of a five-man class of first-round picks.
Hackenberg was the fourth quarterback selected, No. 51 overall by the New York Jets, but Cook sat and watched the New England Patriots select NC State’s Jacoby Brissett at No. 91 and the Cleveland Browns go with USC’s Cody Kessler at No. 93.
Brissett and Kessler are widely regarded as future backups. So what does that make Cook, who won 34 of 39 starts at Michigan State while throwing 70 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions?
There really can be only one explanation. This is not a question of 32 teams in a quarterback-starved league failing to see Cook’s obvious passing skills. They are all well aware. It’s clear that teams in the quarterback market were turned off by the rest of the package. Call it character, personality, leadership — yes, everyone knows he was not elected the Spartans’ team captain this season — or something else.
It’s worth noting how often teams are willing to look away and/or ignore what seem to be important flaws. Hackenberg, for example, had a historically damning completion percentage at Penn State and hasn’t been an effective starter since his freshman year. But the Jets couldn’t wait to draft him. It takes only one desperate and/or optimistic team to make it happen, and yet not a single team so far felt secure enough to jump at Cook.
Playing quarterback is not simply a matter of on-field skills. Teams judge quarterbacks on intangibles more than any other position job. This was one case where the anonymous scouts and whispered rumors were accurately depicting concern around the league.
If 98 picks come and go without a talented quarterback getting his name called, it’s safe to assume there are off-field reservations about him. Cook will be by far the most talented player remaining when the fourth round begins Saturday afternoon, and he’ll likely be drafted shortly thereafter. But make no mistake: Cook turned off a lot of teams in this process and the evidence arrived in stark reality Friday night.
2. Defense dominates
Teams chose defensive players for 22 of the 32 picks in the second round, the most in any second round in the draft’s common era (beginning in 1967).
The easy answer is to suggest that a copycat league is attempting to mirror the success of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, who have won two of the past three Super Bowls with dominating defenses. But in truth, this was where all the pre-draft suggestions of talent imbalance manifested itself.
The day opened with about 70 players that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. graded as a second- or third-round prospect. Of that total, 50 were defensive players. That included two linebackers, Jaylon Smith (Dallas Cowboys) and Myles Jack (Jacksonville Jaguars), who would have been top-five picks were it not for knee injuries.
For the most part Friday night, teams followed their talent and value boards. With the exception, of course, of …
3. Trading up for a place-kicker?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers not only drafted a kicker in the second round, but they traded up to do it. That decision begs further analysis to determine exactly how much draft capital the Bucs used to select Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo.
Here’s one way to consider it: The Bucs deployed the equivalent of the No. 34 overall pick to lock up a position that most teams fill with undrafted free agents.
How do we figure that? The Bucs needed to move up 15 spots, from No. 74 to No. 59, to get in position for the selection. To do so, they gave that No. 74 to the Kansas City Chiefs as well as the No. 106 spot.
Using Football Perspective’s the draft pick value calculator, we can see that the 74 and 106 picks combined have the same value as the No. 34 overall pick. With that guide, we can say that Aguayo is one of the highest-priced kickers in the common era.
The only ones that exceed him are Sebastian Janikowski, selected No. 17 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2000, and John Lee — taken No. 32 overall in 1986 by the Los Angeles Rams. If that isn’t elite company, I don’t know what is.
4. Jaguars rolling
Count me among those who will pay some extra attention to the usually invisible Jacksonville Jaguars, who have done just about everything they could in the past two days to improve a defense that has given up the second-most points in the NFL (26.1 per game) since the start of the 2010 season.
On Thursday, the Jaguars grabbed the best defensive back in the draft, Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Friday, they drafted Jack — who might have been the draft’s best player before a knee injury hurt his draft position. The Jaguars also drafted defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, a speedy pass-rusher, in the third round.
When you consider that 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. has recovered from his torn ACL, you can say the Jaguars have already added four young impact players to their defense. If this team is ever going to make a move under coach Gus Bradley and quarterback Blake Bortles, it should be in 2016.
5. Goodell’s unfortunate remark
Commissioner Roger Goodell was booed for nearly an entire day, both from a figurative and literal sense. In addition to the usual jeers from draft fans, Goodell engendered a new round of criticism from players for his response to a question about Miami Dolphins draft pick Laremy Tunsil.
Appearing on ESPN Radio, Goodell said that Tunsil’s social media fiasco Thursday night was “part of what makes the draft so exciting.” Tunsil, of course, fell out of the top 10 of the first round when both his Twitter and Instagram accounts were hacked with damning posts.
NFL Players Association president Eric Winston returned fire, telling ESPN: “It just shows you that they can care less that this kid’s world just fell apart in a matter of three hours.”
Earlier, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith appeared to take a shot at Goodell as well by tweeting: “SMH. Welcome to my world. Maybe now the public understands why players and I insist on having certain owners in the room to get things done.”
Perhaps Goodell was under-caffeinated for his early-morning appearance. Maybe he wasn’t ready for the question. But there is no explaining away the message his words conveyed: That the NFL was eager to commodify one of the most difficult moments of a new employee’s life. This was nothing more than another installment of reality television, and it caused Winston to tweet: “Let me dish out some free advice to the young men coming into this league this weekend: they are not your family. This is a business.”
Goodell is a popular target, but he deserved these barbs. He portrayed the NFL as a callous entertainment industry — not inaccurately, some might argue — at a time of year when optimism around the league is usually at its height. Tunsil is hardly innocent in this episode, but a little sympathy can go a long way.