NFL Draft 2014: 4 Winners, 4 Losers
It's obvious why #1 is smiling.
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
On Texans Radio on Saturday, covering Day 3 of the NFL Draft with my buddies John Harris (smartest football guy I know) and Ted Johnson (3-time Super Bowl winner, great on the radio himself and all-around good guy), I made the comparison of the NFL Draft to a "three-day version of Christmas Day."
Teams spend three days opening up brand-new presents that they assume are going to make their lives better, to varying degrees. The main difference between Christmas Day and the NFL Draft (for people who open their presents in a normal order) is that during the draft, the big gifts all get opened first.
(Normal people open the big stuff last. You hear me, Paul Gallant?!)
Day 2 and especially Day 3 are more like stocking stuffers -- they may or may not become something that you use and are enthused about receiving.
One thing is for certain, though -- much like December 26, if you're an NFL fan in a city where the draft matters (and in Houston, this is the most important draft in franchise history), the day after it's over there's a bit of a letdown.
This man has many winning days ahead, we're sure.
Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
So now it's on to the next step, to see how all of the pieces fit together. All weekend long, there were winners and losers, not just in Houston, but league-wide. Here are a few of them...
4. Texans' front seven Heading into Thursday night, the Texans' defensive front seven barely had seven bodies on the entire depth chart. By the end of the weekend, thanks to the selection of South Carolina beast Jadeveon Clowney, the trade up to take Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, and the third day pick of underrated Jeoffrey Pagan of Alabama, the Texans have immediately fortified the front seven, rejuvenated the pass rush (or the pass-rush-not-named-Watt), and all of that should improve life for the secondary, as well. A front seven of J.J. Watt, Nix, Clowney, a healthy Brian Cushing, a moved-inside Brooks Reed, a single blocked, motivated Whitney Mercilus, and whoever at the other defensive end (Pagan? Crick? Hell, ME?)....Wow. (Underrated draft subplot: All three of the front seven guys the Texans drafted -- Clowney, Nix, Pagan -- all wore single digit numbers in college. I know this sounds trivial, but that matters. Generally, if you wear a single digit number as a defensive lineman, it means you're a beast.)
3. Culture change on Kirby The transformation of the front seven of the Texans is a microcosm of the culture change going on within the team, a culture change covered in Bill O'Brien's fingerprints. Clowney is a guy who, talent-wise, was too good to pass up, and the common criticism with him was that everything came too easy to him, that he was handed these God-given gifts (not his fault, by the way). The Texans seem to have vetted that criticism enough to where they're cool with giving him over $20 million. But look at some of the Day 3 draft picks:
* Tom Savage (QB, 4th round) transferred schools twice, sat out from football for nearly three years, and worked construction in the interim just to get a shot at Pitt.
* Jay Prosch (FB, 6th round) transferred from Illinois to Auburn to be closer to his sick mom, who eventually passed away, and then endured a coaching change after his first year at Auburn.
* Andre Hal (CB, 7th round) grew up in Baton Rouge, went to get an elite education at Vanderbilt, and was captain of a team that eventually set every record for team success at Vanderbilt. (Note: We interviewed him on Texans Radio during the draft, and when I asked him about being a part of Vanderbilt's rise to relevance in the SEC, he began listing all of their upsets, like Michael Corleone rattling off his list of enemies in The Godfather. It was awesome.)
* Lonnie Ballentine (CB, 7th round) was the final pick in the draft and said he would use the title of "Mr. Irrelevant" that comes with it as motivation in camp. Also, his Twitter handle is @Big_Play_4. Love that.
Adversity, doubt, hardship have followed these guys and made them stronger, better people and players. The Kubiakian ways of old have been steamrolled by a culture of toughness and perpetual competition. It's about time.
2. Perverts in Cincinnati The football gods are funny. Ask any college football fan (or Brent Musberger) who the hottest college football player's girlfriend is and they'll say Katherine Webb (girlfriend of Alabama QB A.J. McCarron). Ask any college football fan who the hottest college football player's mom is and they'll probably say Dee Dee Bonner (mother of McCarron, although Taylor Lewan's mom is coming up fast on the outside. Wowee! Go BLUE!) So naturally, McCarron got drafted by the one city in the NFL whose constituents most closely resemble the cantina scene in Episode IV of Star Wars -- Cincinnati. Bad enough that pervs in whatever city McCarron went to would be waiting pants-less at the city limits for Webb and Bonner to arrive, but now the mob awaiting them are essentially slightly more evolved Kentuckians. THE HORROR!
1. Michael Sam, marketing mogul With about eight picks to go in the entire draft, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was selected by the St. Louis Rams, making him the first openly gay player on an NFL roster. In the increasingly diverse world in which we live, this was a watershed moment, one that hopefully will become less and less of a "big deal" with subsequent players of different sexual orientations. Paving the way is never easy, and the road won't be for Sam, but there are silver linings. The first gay player in NFL history will (I'm guessing) be approached with numerous marketing and sponsorship opportunities, not only with products and companies that are popular in the gay community, but with companies who see Sam as generally courageous and inspirational. And if jersey sales are any indicator, the store for Sam is most definitely open....
Unfortunately, there's still this....
4. Don Jones, Miami Dolphin homophobe Most of the folks around the league were very gracious and welcoming of Sam. Then there was Don Jones, a second year player for the Dolphins:
Soon after Sam was drafted, Jones tweeted "OMG" and "horrible." Those tweets since have been deleted.
Television cameras showed Sam kissing his boyfriend after the former Missouri star received a phone call from the Rams.
Following last year's issues with Miami's locker-room culture, Jones's tweet was enough to catch the attention of Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey.
"I was made aware of it and I was disappointed in those comments," Hickey said Saturday night. "That's not what we stand for as an organization. The draft weekend is a culmination for so many players, their lifetime achievement of their dream to achieve a goal for Michael Sam and all the other players.
"It's a celebration. ... I think it's a great thing for the league."
Yeah, not a great week for the Dolphins on Twitter....
3. Dolphins center Mike Pouncey.... After the Dolphins selected Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Waun James:
Some folks been dumb a long time! pic.twitter.com/Z17T1kOg5T— Warren Sapp (@WarrenSapp) May 9, 2014
The only thing that would make Pouncey's Jonathan Martin jokes more absurd would be if he were tweeting them while wearing his "FREE HERNANDEZ" lid.
2. My pal John McClain of the Houston Chronicle Back when the whole draft process started and it seemed like it was a foregone conclusion that the Texans would be drafting a quarterback, my buddy John McClain put his money where his mouth was. Actually, he literally put his employer's end product where his mouth was, which would be awesome if he worked at a pizzeria or a sushi bar. Unfortunately, he works for a print publication, so when McClain said that he would eat the front page of the draft day sports page if the Texans didn't select a quarterback in the first round, we all just assumed he knew something we didn't. As it turns out, if McClain did know something, then the Texans heel turned him badly, selecting Clowney and relegating McClain to a meal of tuna and sports page...
1. The makers of Draft Day In case you missed it, there was a story that began circulating the first night of the draft that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was approached by a homeless guy who told him to draft Johnny Manziel. Here is the transcript of the story:
"Jimmy Haslam, the owner of the team, I spent about 30 minutes with in his office today and we talked a lot about football. He said, 'You know what, I can go out to dinner anywhere in Tennessee and nobody bothers me.' That's his home state. But he said, 'Here in Cleveland, everywhere I go, people know me. I was out to dinner recently and a homeless person was out on the street, [he] looked up at me and said: Draft Manziel.' And that convinced him that the Cleveland Browns fans wanted Manziel."
I couldn't find the video, probably because Paolantonio himself is trying to have it destroyed as his report makes the homeless guy's advice sound as credible as a scout in Haslam's war room (and to be fair to Paolantonio, it may very well be; after all, this is the Browns we are talking about here). I just know that somewhere, the makers of Draft Day are kicking themselves that they didn't insert a homeless man in the script muttering "Draft Jennings" to the cheese-ball owner who never took off his shades (played in career ending fashion by Frank Langella).
Although perhaps this may be the impetus for a sequel to Draft Day, and let's face it...that would be the real tragedy.
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