Round One brought us loads of excitement on Thursday night. But good-to-great organizations win the second and third days of the draft. Overall, the 2017 draft lacks big-time star potential at the skill positions, but we still had some interesting developments unfold Friday evening. Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon’s landing spot was the most anticipated story heading into it, and he found a home in Round 2. The Browns also finally took a quarterback, while the Vikings also stopped one of the top running back prospect’s slide early in the second round. Let’s dive into it all.
Bengals Take the Plunge on Joe Mixon
This draft’s most polarizing prospect, ex-Sooners star Joe Mixon was caught on video as a freshman punching a female in the face, knocking her to the ground. The horrific scene was released to the public last December and dominated the storylines in the lead-up to draft day. A true top-15 talent in this year’s class, Mixon was fully expected to be picked on Friday night. It was just uncertain which organization would have the intestinal fortitude to take that plunge and deal with the oncoming PR backlash. The Bengals have never shied away from troublemakers. And that’s not to say Mixon is one three years after the aforementioned incident, but people are never going to forget what he did, and it will always be attached to his name. The Bengals at 41 and Eagles at 43 always seemed to be Mixon’s sweet spot, and Vegas agreed by setting his over-under at 42.5. Cincinnati traded back from 41 to 46, and the Eagles passed on Mixon at 43 in favor of injured CB Sidney Jones, who tore his Achilles’ at his Pro Day. The Bengals were back up at 46 and made the move after owner Mike Brown signed off on it. Mixon has drawn comparisons to Le’Veon Bell as a do-it-all three-down back who excels at literally every phase of the position. Our own Evan Silva kicks it back old school, dropping a Ricky Watters comp for Mixon as a combo runner-receiver. Jeremy Hill has one year left on his rookie deal in Cincinnati, and Giovani Bernard suffered a late-2016 torn ACL, while Rex Burkhead left as a free agent to join the Patriots. Hill has done barely more than nothing since his impressive rookie year in 2014, and Bernard can’t be expected to be the same before 2018. Mixon should have no problem leaping Hill on the depth chart as early as training camp, and his addition could make Hill a candidate for trade or even release come cut-down day at the end of the summer. Mixon immediately slots in as a fantasy RB2 with immense upside surrounded by playmakers. The O-Line is a question mark.
Browns Find Their QB Project
The Browns have made a habit of passing on quarterbacks in the past two drafts, trading out of the No. 2 spot last year, allowing the Eagles to draft Carson Wentz, and then passing on Mitchell Trubisky (rightfully so) at No. 1 this year and opting to trade their No. 12 pick to the Texans, which they used on Deshaun Watson. Cleveland used a third-rounder on Cody Kessler last year and came back this year to nab Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer in the second round at No. 52 overall. A big-armed passer at 6’4/233, Kizer made headlines in the draft process calling himself a mix between Tom Brady and Cam Newton. That’s his youth talking. He’s a massive project with some flaws, notably with confidence, ball placement/touch, and processing information quickly. Kizer, however, does have some intriguing traits as a big-bodied, power passer, who also stands tall under pressure. This Browns regime knows it has time to build something in Cleveland. Kizer is the definition of a developmental project, but there’s a lot to like. Kessler remains the favorite to start Week 1. Cleveland is a low-key strong landing spot for a young quarterback. The Browns field one of the best offensive lines in the league, have playmakers at the skill positions in Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson out of the backfield, Kenny Britt, Josh Gordon (potentially), and Corey Coleman out wide, and first-rounder David Njoku at tight end. The arrow is pointing up for coach Hue Jackson’s group.
Rams Give Last Year’s No. 1 Pick Some Weapons
The Rams spent a lot of draft capital trading up to No. 1 overall for “franchise” QB Jared Goff last year. In doing so, they weren’t able to land him any weapons in the 2016 draft, wasting a fourth-rounder on slow, un-athletic, small-ish WR Pharoh Cooper, who already appears to be washed out under new coach Sean McVay’s regime. The Rams swapped out Kenny Britt for Robert Woods in free agency and “lost” Lance Kendricks to the Packers, though that may turn out as a net gain. Second-year TE Tyler Higbee has been spoken highly of by McVay and Co., but the Rams knew they had plenty of work to do to produce points on offense. Without a first-rounder in 2017, the Rams made South Alabama TE Gerald Everett their top pick at No. 44 in a trade-back scenario. Everett was next in a long line of a surprisingly-loaded tight end class. A former hoops player, Everett stands 6’3/239 and ran 4.62 with a strong 37.5-inch vertical and long arms. McVay loved using two- and three-tight end sets in Washington and figures to do the same in L.A. with Higbee as the seam stretcher like Vernon Davis and Everett in the Jordan Reed mold. It’s an exciting young duo dripping with upside. With their next pick, the Rams took EWU WR Cooper Kupp at No. 69 overall in Round 3. Kupp’s NFL future is far less certain. Extremely productive in college, Kupp was exposed at the Combine, testing sub-par athletically and is already 24 years old (in June). It’s not an automatic death sentence obviously, but Kupp struggled to separate even from linebackers in college. He figures to man an inside slot role in McVay’s offense. The Rams are loaded with those types of receivers, from newly-signed Woods, to Kupp, to Tavon Austin, and even Cooper. They don’t have much in terms of outside weapons. Kupp is repped by the same agent as Goff, and the two worked out together in the lead-up to the draft. They could form a quick connection, and Kupp is a dark horse to see 100 targets Year 1. Higbee might be the best bet to lead the team in big plays and yard per reception.
Post-A.D. Vikings End Dalvin Cook’s Slide at 41
The Vikings are reshaping their backfield after Adrian Peterson held it down for a whopping 10 years. He’s since moved on to the Saints, and the Vikings signed Latavius Murray as a free agent. Murray is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and had a bad habit of taking lots of big hits in Oakland because of his straight up-and-down, no-wiggle running style. Minnesota needs options, and GM Rick Spielman ended Florida State RB Dalvin Cook’s slide at No. 41 overall. Cook was being talked about as a possible top 10-15 pick early in the draft process, but he tested really poor at the Combine and has a laundry list of off-field concerns. He’s promised not to bring the crew he ran around with away from football in Florida to Minnesota with him, but time will tell. On the field, Cook was a dynamic playmaker as a Seminole, breaking Warrick Dunn’s school rushing record and grading out as PFF College’s No. 1 elusive back in all of the NCAA last season, proving very difficult to tackle in space. Cook has a three-down skill set and showed natural hands as a pass-catcher in college. He and Murray will contend for the starting job this summer, but Cook figures to be the lead back sooner rather than later. The offensive line in Minnesota was a major nightmare in 2016, but the team has added a pair of new tackles in LT Riley Reiff and RT Mike Remmers. Cook should come off the board in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts this summer, but he could start off as part of a committee.
Feel-Good Story James Conner Stays Home in Pittsburgh
There may not have been a better story on Friday night than seeing Pittsburgh RB James Conner get the call at the end of Round 3 from his hometown Steelers. Conner was an absolute beast as a 2014 sophomore, rushing for 26 touchdowns and winning ACC Player of the Year honors. He ended up tearing his MCL the following season and was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma that same year. Conner endured a dozen rounds of chemotherapy and was able to make a marvelous return to the football field in 2016. However, he didn’t look like his 2014 self. That’s to be expected a year after fighting for his life, but Conner was more of the plodding, bruising type his final year at Pitt. He’ll slide in as Le’Veon Bell’s backup and get a couple carries here and there like DeAngelo Williams did when Bell was healthy. No matter what happens, Conner is someone to root for in the big leagues.
Panthers Have Clear Focus to Add Speed to Offense
Carolina has talked about “evolving” on offense this offseason. While Cam Newton is arguably the top playmaker at his position, he wasn’t exactly surrounded by explosive athletes at running back and receiver. Ted Ginn was the big-play threat in Carolina the previous couple years, and he left to join the Saints as a free agent. GM Dave Gettleman knew he had to add young speed to this group. Hybrid RB/WR/KR Christian McCaffrey was drafted No. 8 overall on Thursday, and Gettleman came right back and took another RB/WR/KR type in Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel at No. 40 on Friday. Samuel had 172 career carries as a Buckeye and caught 107 passes, playing a Percy Harvin-type role under coach Urban Meyer, who coached Harvin at Florida. Samuel doesn’t turn 21 until later this summer and blistered a smoking 4.31 forty at the Combine. This Panthers offense became exponentially more versatile and multiple in a matter of 24 hours the past two nights. Jonathan Stewart may only have one more year left in Carolina despite signing an extension through 2018 this offseason.
Saints Trade Up for More RB Help
Even after signing Adrian Peterson earlier this week to pair with Mark Ingram, the Saints still felt the need to trade their 2018 second-rounder to the 49ers for the No. 67 overall pick at the top of the third round on Friday night to snag Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara. An original Alabama commit, Kamara spent his final two years at Tennessee where he showed do-it-all traits as a runner and receiver. He was never a college workhorse, but Kamara pops on film with his playmaking ability. Where the Saints used Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet behind Ingram last season, Peterson and Kamara figure to slide in and fill those respective roles. Kamara likely won’t hold much re-draft value, but Peterson won’t be around long and Ingram’s 2018 contract year is voidable. Kamara is an intriguing Dynasty stash with mammoth upside playing alongside Drew Brees on the Superdome turf.
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