The NFL draft went to Las Vegas and quickly got drunk.
In the shadow of Caesars Palace, commissioner Roger Goodell morphed into part carnival barker, part pit boss, announcing 32 picks and a record nine first-round trades in a wild night befitting a wild offseason. (Remember when Tom Brady retired? Me neither.) There were just three trades in last year’s first round.
Teams moved up. Teams moved down. They traded picks and players. They dished veterans on the side. And, yes, they made some selections. Five defensive players topped the draft. Six wide receivers went in the first 18 selections. It was like a roulette wheel spinning around. After each pick, a war room somewhere broke into high-fives.
How crazy was this first round? The New York Jets may have won it, that’s how crazy.
Yes, the Jets, who grabbed cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner from the University of Cincinnati at No. 4 and then wide receiver Garrett Wilson from Ohio State at No. 10. That alone was a strong effort — a shutdown corner and perhaps the most talented pass-catcher in the draft.
To pick Wilson, though, they had to pass on Florida State pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II, another area of need for the Jets (pretty much everything is an area of need for the Jets). Except, the rest of the league went on a wide receiver binge and Johnson slid.
The Jets pounced, sending picks 35, 69 and 163 to Tennessee for the 26th and 101st selections. At 26, they grabbed Johnson, some kind of dream scenario for a franchise prone to nightmares. A corner, a pass rusher and a receiver? All three first-round picks were considered top-10 talents in most mock drafts.
It was that kind of night.
The trades dominated the action. Eight teams didn’t even have a first-round pick due to previous deals — just 14 of the 32 spots were used by the team that initially owned it. Meanwhile, talent evaluators were saying there were about 15 or so players who merited a first-round grade, which means some teams were desperate to find value where they could.
For some, that meant jumping up. For others, it was bailing out.
Tampa Bay traded with Jacksonville. The Jets traded with Tennessee. Tennessee traded with Philadelphia. Philadelphia traded with Houston. Buffalo traded with Baltimore. Baltimore traded with Arizona. Kansas City traded with New England. Detroit traded with Minnesota. New Orleans traded with Washington.
There may have been more. It’s hard to remember.
Consider the plight (or flight) of the 29th selection. It went from San Francisco to Miami to Kansas City to New England (about 6,000 miles total if it actually got sent around). Once it hit Foxborough, Bill Belichick used it to take an offensive FCS lineman named Cole Strange because, well, he’s Bill Belichick.
So maybe not everything was unpredictable.
With all the talented receivers getting picked, almost everyone assumed Kansas City, Green Bay or both would try to move up and pick one. After all, the Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill and the Packers Davante Adams respectively this offseason. And both had multiple first-, second- and third-rounders to maneuver with.
Instead Green Bay wound up with Georgia defensive players — Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt. Kansas City selected cornerback Trent McDuffie and defensive end George Karlavtis, a former Greek national team water polo player turned Purdue pass rusher.
Going defensive is rarely a bad idea, but no receivers for the two Super Bowl contenders who seemed to need one the most? Perhaps Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes can discuss this at their next insurance commercial shoot.
Meanwhile, Baltimore traded wide receiver Hollywood Brown to Arizona (where he will reunite with his old Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray). Shortly after the deal, Ravens star Lamar Jackson tweeted out “Wtf.”
They used the pick to grab Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum (which Jackson seemed to approve of) and previously watched Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton fall to them. So, not bad for Baltimore.
A quarterback wasn’t selected until No. 20, when the Pittsburgh Steelers took Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Panthers. PIckett will need to just cross a hall in Heinz Field to go from his old locker room to his new locker room.
Detroit, which has won just a single playoff game since 1957 and thus treats draft night as a personal Super Bowl of sorts, got aggressive. General manager Brad Holmes quickly picked Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson at No. 2 like they couldn’t believe Jacksonville took Georgia’s Travon Walker instead.
They then packaged some picks and got in on the wide receiver derby, getting Alabama Jameson Williams, who is coming off a torn ACL but is a massive talent. The Lions, for whatever it proves to be worth, were out there making moves.
When the New York Giants took Evan Neal from Alabama, it noted the 14th consecutive year a Crimson Tide player was selected in the first round (Neal was soon joined by Williams). That ties Alabama for the record with the 1995-2008 Miami Hurricanes. Nick Saban’s program will break the record a year from now when quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson go 1-2, or 2-1. Or whatever.
Alabama didn’t win the national title in college football this year, though. Georgia did, mainly thanks to its epic defense. The NFL noticed, taking five of them in the first round, from pick No. 1 (defensive end Walker) to 32 (safety Lewis Cine).
“The Bulldogs were good” was about the only thing the league could agree on Thursday.
Everything else was a frenzy, teams jumping around to get the one guy they coveted. It was a bunch of desperate gamblers throwing chips down on random field bets at a craps table, hoping that they aren’t doomed by hand size or cone drill times or being too passive or too aggressive.
For one night, they all went home believing they were winners. Morning and reality will come soon enough. It always does in Vegas.