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Every year immediately following the NFL Draft, I do the same thing: I watch and take notes on nearly 40 hours’ worth of post-draft press conferences. It’s a brutal mind-numbing slog, but it’s also quite possibly the most important and most valuable thing I do every offseason.
NFL GMs and head coaches lie all the time, fearful of giving away any important pieces of intel to the enemy, but the NFL Draft is something different. Teams have poured so much time and energy into this event. And most importantly, for a brief shining moment, they’re happy. They’re happy they got their guy and they’re excited to brag about him. And so, for once, they’ll tell us honestly why they liked a player, what they think about him, and how they envision him fitting into their scheme, and sometimes they’ll tell us even more than that.
Again, this is massively time-consuming, but not for you. I condensed all of the most important fantasy-relevant information here for your reading pleasure.
Here’s Round 1.
Jaguars, Round 1: QB Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall) & RB Travis Etienne (No. 25 overall)
HC Urban Meyer knew QB Trevor Lawrence was their guy in early February. They asked him about the other QBs he evaluated and he said: “There were some good Zoom calls with those other two QBs.” It’s not clear which two QBs he’s referring to, but I’d assume Zach Wilson and Trey Lance.
When asked about the selection of RB Travis Etienne, Meyer responded: “The idea of offense is to create matchup nightmares… He’s as good outside as a receiver as he is a running back… The way we’ve always looked at offensive football. Anytime you get a dual-threat, you can catch the ball and run the ball, obviously the name that comes up so often is Percy Harvin. I’m not saying he’s a Percy Harvin, we’ll find out. But he’s a piece of a puzzle that’s hard to defend.”
Harvin is a pretty odd comp for a RB considering Harvin played WR and totaled 3,302 receiving yards to just 683 rushing yards through his first four NFL seasons. But Meyer did have Harvin in college (at Florida), where he played RB at times, finishing his collegiate career with 1,852 yards rushing and 1,929 yards receiving. So, I’m guessing that’s probably the version of Harvin that Meyer is thinking of here.
When asked about how Etienne fits in with the other RBs on the team, Meyer said he sees “James Robinson and Carlos Hyde as the 1-2 punch.” Both being downhill, powerful, early-down runners, while with Etienne the Jags “can be in two-back sets with Etienne in there, where Etienne goes out. He’s certainly a third-down back and a matchup issue for defenses.” Will Etienne provide an immediate impact for the team? Meyer answered, “[S]omeone said why would you take another running back? He’s much more than a running back. He’s a slash — we did not recruit him just because he’s a running back. We probably wouldn’t have. He’s a guy that had a lot of production in the pass game at Clemson. He has excellent hands and he’ll be dual-trained, he’ll be a guy that we dual-train. Those guys are hard to find, but if you find one, we know how to use them. With him I expect an instant impact.”
It was later revealed that WR Kadarius Toney was the player Meyer really wanted, but he did at least have Etienne as the top RB on his board. He told reporters: "The Steelers took a great player [RB Najee Harris] but the guy that we had penciled in [Etienne], we got him.” But the worry here is that maybe he preferred Toney for this Harvin-type role, whatever that is, and maybe that role is far more valuable from an NFL perspective than a fantasy perspective.
All of this is very bizarre. I’d assume Meyer views Etienne as a scatback on steroids, something akin to the way Alvin Kamara is used in New Orleans and very similar to the way he used Harvin at Florida. Which is to say, Etienne isn’t going to be a bell cow, but he could be enough of a PPR cheat code to help to offset that liability — remember, for RBs, a target is worth 3.25 times as much as a carry outside of the red zone. Like Kamara, and Harvin in college, don’t be shocked if Etienne totals nearly the same amount of rushing yards as receiving yards as a rookie. But, with Robinson and Hyde stealing early-down work and goal-line carries, Etienne should be ranked well behind Harris from a fantasy-perspective. And, unlike Harris, he’s going to be gamescript-sensitive and highly volatile on a week-to-week-basis.
And here’s where things get weirder. When calling Etienne to let him know he’s now a Jacksonville Jaguar, the first thing Meyer said to him was “Travis, how are you doing? Can you go right to the weight room tomorrow?” He continued: "Remember those pictures we sent to you? In two months you’re going to look like that.” Etienne responded: "If that’s the plan coach, I’m ready.”
It’s possible Meyer has size-concerns with Etienne, who was listed at his Pro Day at 5’10” and 215 pounds, though he isn’t necessarily undersized by my metrics (for reference, Cam Akers is 5’10” and 217 pounds). Perhaps Meyer needs him to bulk up, and add a full year of experience in the NFL, before he can trust him as a bell cow, rather than just a third-down specialist?
I’m not sure. Ideally, he’s Kamara-esque in Year 1 and a full-on bell cow in Year 2. But it’s also possible he’s just a scatback in Year 1 (rather than a scatback on steroids like Kamara), or, worse yet, something like a positionless gadget-type player stuck in a full-on RBBC.
Note: A Percy Harvin-type role for Etienne, and especially Kadarius Toney, could be seen as redundant to Laviska Shenault and what he brings to the table. Meyer also continually emphasized the importance of speed to his offense, and wanting as much speed on the field as he can get. I don’t think this bodes at all well for Shenault, who ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine last year. I’d be looking to sell him in dynasty wherever I can.
Jets, Round 1: QB Zach Wilson (No. 2 overall)
Nothing of note.
The Jets have been locked into Wilson since his Pro Day. They think he’s a great fit for the type of offense they want to run. Wilson feels similarly, saying: "That west coast style of offense that coach [Mike] LaFleur, coach [Robert] Saleh are going to bring in … if I had to write exactly the kind of offense I’d want to play in, it’d be right there."
Albert Breer took this line of thinking one step further: "This is going to sound bananas, but the Jets’ coaches actually discussed, at one point, how they preferred Wilson to Lawrence as a fit for their offense."
HC Robert Saleh was asked if the plan was to make Wilson the Week 1 starter. Saleh answered, "It’s a great question, but I’m excited to get him in the building as soon as possible. Excited for the first meetings and give the kid an opportunity to introduce himself to his teammates and go one step at a time. And you all can ask me that in training camp."
49ers, Round 1: QB Trey Lance (No. 3 overall)
Reporter: “I was hoping you guys could walk us through the timeline on this decision. The storyline out there is that QB Mac Jones was the guy that you liked about a month ago when you made the trade but that QB Trey Lance has made a sort of furious comeback over the last several weeks. Is that accurate?”
HC Kyle Shanahan: “No it is not. We’ve been very high on Trey Lance since the very beginning. Since day one.”
GM John Lynch said he doesn’t want to trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Shanahan told Rich Eisen: "[Garoppolo] is definitely our starter right now.” Maybe that’s not true, but I believed Lynch when he said: "We don’t have to play our rookie QB until he’s ready to play.” Shanahan gave a similar answer during the press conference: "I want Jimmy to be here and I want this kid to be brought along. I want to see how he does and if it turns into a competition, it turns into a competition. I'd be excited about that if he showed he was ready for it and stuff, but we know where Jimmy's at.”
Shanahan made it clear he liked Mac Jones. They might have taken him with their No. 12 overall pick had they not traded up. When they first moved up to No. 3, they felt comfortable with either him or Lance (they knew Lawrence and Wilson would go first and second), but they still had a lot of work to do before making the pick. They liked Justin Fields too by the end of the process, but Lance was definitely their preference, and they knew he’d be their pick for a number of weeks now.
Falcons, Round 1: TE Kyle Pitts (No. 4 overall)
When asked about what went into this pick and what sort of role HC Arthur Smith envisions, he told reporters: "We’re excited about the player’s skillset. [TE Kyle Pitts] is a unique player. Obviously we’ll get him in here, we’ll get him started, then let his role grow for us. We think we can play him in multiple spots. We view him as an offensive weapon. I guess I do have a little bias towards tight ends, but really he was the best player we felt was available. He checked every box.”
When asked if he thought he’d be a starter this season, Smith responded: "He’s going to play. That’s the anticipation. He’s going to have to earn those reps. The way we’ll play in multiple personnel groups, again, if you’re going by who is out there the very first play of the game, that’s going to be different every week depending on what we decide the best way to attack that team is. Yes, we anticipate he’ll have a huge role here. Sometimes people get caught up in the starter. There are guys that are really good players, these natural streaks have gone on. Look at what we did in Tennessee, we had certain players, even veterans. When you got the right, unselfish guys – I go back to my own experience working with somebody like Delanie Walker. I call the first play of the game, he might not be in there. He’s going to be in there 70% of our snaps or more. He never cared. We anticipate he should have a big role for us.”
Bengals, Round 1: WR Ja’Marr Chase (No. 5-overall)
Random: HC Zac Taylor’s voice is indistinguishable from comedian Tim Heidecker.
HC Zac Taylor summed up his thoughts at the start, saying: "[W]e're really excited about Ja'Marr, and we're really happy that he was there at No. 5. It was no-brainer for us to take him with the pick."
Everyone on the staff made it clear Chase is going to be an immediate starter and contributor for the team. Taylor told reporters: "[I] see him coming right in and being very comfortable with the terminology, what we ask him to do and the quarterback, which is encouraging." OC Brian Callahan added in a separate interview: "Yeah, I expect a really quick transition.”
Callahan was also asked how he saw Chase fitting into the offense and said: "Yeah, he’s going to fit that [A.J. Green]-type of role for us. He's probably going to fit somewhere as an X receiver for us, which ultimately is just a letter. It doesn't mean a whole lot at this point. He's going to be one of the three receivers that will be on the field quite a bit.”
Chase was asked what his goals were for his rookie season. He responded: "I want to win rookie of the year. I want to have 10 touchdowns and at least 1,500 yards for the year minimum." Lofty!
Dolphins, Round 1: WR Jaylen Waddle (No. 6 overall)
Nothing really of note.
I’d expect WR Jaylen Waddle to start from day one in the slot and return kicks on special teams as well. But HC Brian Flores was a little more vague saying: "His role is going to be what he makes it. Based off of all the film we’ve seen, we think he’ll fit inside or outside. We think he’ll add a speed element. Obviously he has some value in the return game. I think his versatility is a big part of this. His ability to play inside, play in the slot, play on the perimeter, play in the return game. Again, we’re very, very excited to have him.”
Like with Ja’Marr Chase, Waddle comes into the NFL with an already established rapport with his QB (Tua Tagovailoa). However, Waddle did tell Andrew Siciliano in March he preferred Mac Jones to Tagovailoa. And, at Alabama, Tagovailoa wasn’t nearly as efficient when targeting Waddle as he was DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, or Irv Smith Jr.
Eagles, Round 1: WR DeVonta Smith (No. 10 overall via trade up)
Random: HC Nick Sirianni is energetic but a poor public speaker. He’s awkward and inarticulate, as he was in his introductory press conference.
Why the trade up to get him? GM Howie Roseman responded: "DeVonta was standing out on our board, his grade, the type of player he is, the type of person he is, so we just wanted to make sure he got him."
When asked whether he’ll play in the slot or Z or X for the Eagles, HC Nick Sirianni told reporters: "So, he definitely gives us that option and position flexibility. He’s able to play inside, he’s able to play outside. And so, again, that’s just not my philosophy. We’re going to have to move him around, and that’s just how we roll with our offense.”
One reporter brought up Smith’s size concerns and the lack of success historically of sub-170-pound receivers. Philadelphia brass quickly dismissed the question, but, in my opinion, not very well, pointing to the numbers he produced and the records he broke at Alabama.
From Albert Breer’s MMQB column: “We asked all the SEC guys who the best player they played against was over the last couple months,” said one NFC exec. “All of them, every one, said DeVonta. And the Bama guys all said, ‘He’s the best football player I’ve ever been around.’”
Again, per Breer, Smith’s frame is probably maxed out and there should be little expectation of Smith bulking up once he comes to the NFL. He wrote: "Bama tried to put weight on Smith during his four years in Tuscaloosa, and by his second year on campus, it became clear to those there that Nick Saban had made peace with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen the same way it routinely would with other players. “He’s gonna be 165 pounds, no matter what,” Saban said in meetings going back to Smith’s sophomore year."
Bears, Round 1: QB Justin Fields (No. 11 overall via trade up)
Both HC Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace mentioned multiple times Nagy’s relationship with Ohio State HC Ryan Day, and how he helped them through this process and all of the conversations they had with him regarding QB Justin Fields. I think Albert Breer helped shed some light on what they were hinting at in his MMQB column. Per Breer, Nagy and Day had a discussion in March of last year. Nagy asked: "Hey, how about that quarterback of yours?” “Dude, he’s a generational talent,” Day responded.
The vibe I got from both Nagy and Pace was that they’re going to take their time with Fields. They’re in no rush to get him on the field and starting in NFL games. Perhaps they really do have some belief in Andy Dalton, or perhaps they view Fields as a little less NFL-ready as the other Round 1 QBs (while offering more long-term upside). They continually made mention of how Kansas City brought along Patrick Mahomes, and how he basically redshirted his rookie season (when Nagy was there). I wouldn’t be shocked if the other four Round 1 QBs all start a game before Fields. And if Fields’ primary competition wasn’t Dalton, I would have said there’s a very good chance he doesn’t start a single game in his rookie year.
Pace told reporters early on: "Andy is our starter and we’re going to have a really good plan in place to develop Justin.” For more clarity on the Mahomes-Smith comparison, Pace said later: "To get [Fields] is one thing. To surround him and develop him is another thing. Matt has the blueprint. They did an awesome job with Patrick and Alex there in Kansas City. Matt and I have talked about that a lot. That year and how it was handled. And he kind of has a blueprint on how all that whole situation went down. What I love about our environment is the veteran QBs we have in that room. The experience in them and then the coaches we have surrounding that position… Doing this the right way. At the right speed. That’s what matters. Is developing this guy, the process in how we do that is important. We got a good plan in place to surround him with the right resources to develop him the right way.”
Hopefully this isn’t actually the blueprint they plan to follow with Fields.
Patriots, Round 1: QB Mac Jones (No. 15 overall)
Nothing of note. Obviously, it’s the Patriots.
HC Bill Belichick didn’t give us much more than this: “So, Mac [Jones] was available there at our pick and he's a guy we spent a lot of time with and felt like that was the best pick at that time for us. And look forward to working with him. He's a smart kid. He's been in a system that's similar to ours. We have had a lot of good conversations with him. I think he'll be able to process the offense. It's obviously going to take a lot of time. We'll see how it goes. Cam [Newton]'s our quarterback. Whatever time Jarrett [Stidham] or Mac [Jones] are ready to challenge and compete, then we'll see how that goes. But right now, Mac, he's just got a lot of learning in front of him.”
I don’t doubt him when he says Cam Newton is their starter right now, but I also expect Jones to take over the reigns at some point this season.
Belichick was asked how personal friend and Alabama HC Nick Saban might have impacted this pick. He replied: "Coach Saban is always very, very helpful in his evaluations … nobody knows more football than Nick does." During the draft Saban said he felt this was a great fit for Jones, and talked about the similarities between the two offenses.
Jones told reporters: "I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along, so I'm actually really happy that it happened.”
Giants, Round 1: WR Kadarius Toney (No. 20 overall)
Random: GM Dave Gettleman came off unprofessionally in his interview, which isn’t at all unusual for him. He couldn’t remember the specifics of the trade with Chicago, and, as a sort of nervous tic, kept drumming or banging on the table which interfered with the audio. The reporters seemed to let him off the hook, and I wonder how much of that is preconditioned from Gettleman “bullying” them in previous interviews.
There was nothing of note in the interviews with GM Dave Gettleman and Bill Belichick disciple HC Joe Judge, which shouldn’t be too surprising. Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit gave us the most intel on this pick.
When asked to describe WR Kadarius Toney’s skillset, with the reporter hinting that maybe he’s a gadget type, he responded: "He's a playmaker. He's instinctive, he's tough, makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We feel he has flex inside and out. He also has value as a returner for us. Like I said, this is an instinctive, tough guy with very good athletic ability and speed.”
Gettleman and Judge were asked if they felt he was somewhat “raw” as a prospect, which many talent evaluators said of Toney throughout the pre-draft process. Both dodged the question. Pettit volunteered it unprompted: "[L]ike every player in the draft, he's raw, every player in the draft and every player has to develop into a pro. So, it will take some time but this guy is a playmaker with the ball in his hands.”
When asked how close the team thought Toney was to the top-three WRs off the board, Pettit answered: "He was close enough, we felt like he was the best player available at the time we took him. I don't know if there was a big separation, if I can say that, but like I said, he's right up there and he was worthy of a first-round pick, so that shows you what we think of him.”
Steelers, Round 1: RB Najee Harris (No. 24 overall)
GM Kevin Colbert told reporters: "We’re happy… ecstatic actually, in getting Najee [Harris].” He said again later: "[We’re] ecstatic that he was there for us at 24.” HC Mike Tomlin later re-emphasized that point: "We were ecstatic that he was there.” And in watching the presser, these two typically emotionless men did in fact seem very pleased they got the player they were hoping for.
I counted the word “ecstatic” three times in the 11-minute interview, but the phrase “complete back” was uttered at least twice as many times.
That’s what the Steelers are getting in Harris, and that’s also what Tomlin wants in a RB. Like myself, Tomlin is firmly on team “Bell Cow or Bust.” Here’s what he told us last May: "I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality… Usually when it’s going well, it’s because you have a lead dog out front, and that guy is the featured runner."
Colbert told reporters: "Najee is as complete a back as we could hope to get at any point in the draft. It was very exciting to have him be available for us. He’s got the size, speed, athleticism, the run skills to run inside and outside, and he can also play in the passing game as a receiver and a blocker. He’s a 3-down NFL back. He played in an NFL system … It’s really exciting for us to get what we think is a 3-down running back and add him to the team. ”
Colbert said again later: "Like we said he’s a 3-dimensional running back.” Tomlin followed up: "He’s a complete back. He’s very good in the passing game whether it’s routes out of the backfield or aligning outside of the backfield. There’s not a lot of holes in his overall game.”
Harris received some Stephen Jackson and Matt Forte comparisons during the pre-draft process but our own Graham Barfield compared him to Le’Veon Bell. And I think that’s what we’re looking at here with Harris falling to the dream landing spot of all landing spots in Pittsburgh. I think Bell-type usage is firmly within the realm of possibilities — something like 18.0 carries per game, 5.5 targets per game, a 93% snap share, and all of the goal-line work. In other words, there’s a legitimate case to be made for him deserving a borderline-Round 1 ADP in redraft leagues.
Ravens, Round 1: WR Rashod Bateman (No. 27 overall)
There wasn’t much of note here.
OC Greg Roman said he was surprised WR Rashod Bateman was still on the board at their pick. He refused to categorize Bateman as an X, Z, slot, or outside receiver. But he did mention he liked his versatility and felt he was capable of playing both inside and outside for the Ravens. Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz echoed this sentiment, saying: "[H]aving that 2019 tape, seeing him play outside, and then him showing the versatility this year to go inside and look comfortable and productive in there as well, I think were attractive things about him.”
When asked about whether or not this move would help open up the offense, and whether or not Baltimore will be more pass-heavy this year, Roman answered: "It’s important to remember that as we are a quote-unquote running offense we still throw the ball more than we run it. There are more passing plays per year than running plays, and we want to be great at both, and we’re going to work very hard at being great at both. There are times when people, from a numerical standpoint, are just going to dare you to throw it and just commit more to defend the run than you can possibly hope to have sustained success against. That’s where we really want to take a big step this year, and I think that’s really going to be key to us taking a big step offensively. But we’re happy that Rashod is a part of us now, and I can’t wait to get out on the grass and watch him get to work and really improve his craft.”