In front of legions of fans from across the land, rising football stars found out where their careers would be heading during the 2018 National Football League (NFL) Draft.
As has been a tradition almost every year since his appointment in 2006, the draft commenced with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell being bombarded with a fury of boos as he came across the stage, followed by mixed reactions from many fans as the Cleveland Browns announced who would be their first overall selection: 2017 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The Browns made plenty of offseason moves, adding seven-year veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor and three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry to go along with their nine draft picks. Head coach Hue Jackson, who has been 1-31 in his two seasons in The Land, has confirmed to reporters that Tyrod Taylor will be the top quarterback on the depth chart, and Mayfield will be penciled in as the number three quarterback behind Taylor and veteran Drew Stanton.
Many fans raised their eyebrows over he decision to pick Mayfield, as the former Oklahoma Sooner has drawn many comparisons to that of Johnny Manziel, another Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who has had his share of off-the-field issues. Manziel was taken 22nd overall in the 2014 Draft and spent only two years with the Browns before being cut, amidst many controversies in which authorities had him under investigation.
Perhaps giving him time to marinate and learn under veteran leadership will bode well for both Mayfield and the Browns, who have struggled with rookie quarterbacks. Many NFL analysts are fairly impressed on the Browns’ draft class and expect them to begin to make positive strides, but they are still a long way away from being legitimate contenders in the American Football Conference (AFC).
Besides Mayfield, the first round saw four other quarterbacks selected, with University of Southern California’s Sam Darnold going third to the Jets; University of Wyoming’s Josh Allen going seventh to the Bills; University of California, Los Angeles’s Josh Rosen going 10th to the Cardinals, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Lousiville Lamar Jackson rounding out the first round at 32nd to the Baltimore Ravens. Darnold, Allen and Rosen, unlike Mayfield, will likely be expected to compete for the starting job right away, while Jackson will likely be placed behind Joe Flacco.
One of the biggest winners of the draft was the New York Giants, who took Penn State standout running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. He should be expected to bring an immediate increase in productivity in the running game, along with the acquisition of guard Will Hernandez from the University of Texas at El Paso.
The Arizona Cardinals also set themselves up nicely for the future when they drafted Rosen as well Texas A&M University wideout Christian Kirk, who will get to benefit from learning from, and complementing, 11-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald.
The Denver Broncos have received plenty of praise as well and deservedly so. They were able to pick up North Carolina State University’s Bradley Chubb fifth overall, when many had expected him to go earlier, perhaps even first. Chubb, coupled with Von Miller, will create plenty of problems for offensive tackles. The Broncos also picked up Southern Methodist University’s Courtland Sutton at the wide receiver spot to add to the already dangerous receiving corps of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, which will give recently-signed quarterback Case Keenum plenty of options to work with.
Perhaps the most feel-good story of the draft came on day three at pick No. 141, when University of Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin learned that he would be a Seattle Seahawk. The former Knight was born with amniotic band syndrome, which caused the fingers on his left hand to not fully develop and forced him to undergo an amputation of his hand at age four.
A second team All-American last season, Griffin shocked many with his stellar performance in the NFL Combine, running a 4.38 40-yard dash and completing 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press wearing a prosthetic hand. Despite his handicap, his college resume and performance in the Combine was enough to warrant a draft pick by the Seahawks, where Griffin will get the chance to reunite with his twin brother, fellow cornerback and UCF alum, Shaquill Griffin.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was also a feel-good story of the draft. After suffering an absolutely terrifying spinal injury that left the Pro Bowl linebacker confined to a wheel chair, Shazier showed off the tremendous progress he has made on the road to recovery, walking out on stage with his fiancée to announce the Steelers’ first round selection.
Despite already being ruled out for the 2018 season, Shazier has stated that he plans to return to the field, and while his appearance warranted a standing ovation from the fans in attendance, some felt that his appearance was equally as worrying as it was inspiring.
Whether you were inspired or petrified at Shazier’s appearance, it’s exciting to see him making progress on his long road to recovery.
Every draft will have its share of stars, hidden gems and busts, and the 2018 iteration will be no different. As summer progresses and training camp begins, it will be exciting to watch and see what these rookies have to bring to the table this season.