2017 NFL Draft spawns enticing offseason storylines to watch


With the 2017 NFL Draft receding into memory, the offseason really begins now. What we'll learn from the next few weeks -- with rookie camps and OTAs setting us up for the June minicamps -- is just how close those draft projections are to reality, how much the trends we thought we saw developing pan out, how much teams have been changed by the player-acquisition cycle.

Training camps are still three months away, but there is plenty to keep an eye on as new players take the field for the first time over the next two weekends and teams reconvene for the more intensive offseason work.

1) How NFL-ready are the rookie quarterbacks?

Mitch Trubisky hadn't even gotten to Chicago yet before Bears general manager Ryan Pace sought to downplay expectations.

"Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback," Pace told the assembled media last week. "There is no quarterback competition when Mitch gets here."

That has been an early and consistent theme from the three teams that traded into the top 12 picks to select quarterbacks -- in addition to the Bears jumping up one spot for Trubisky, the Chiefs made a move to acquire Patrick Mahomes at No. 10, while the Texans vaulted into the 12 spot to nab Deshaun Watson. And it's the same song and dance with the quarterback-desperate Cleveland Browns, who took DeShone Kizer in the second round. Getting these quarterbacks on the field should start to answer the most pressing question:

Can any of them make enough progress during offseason workouts to get within competition range for training camp and the regular season?

The Bears paid Glennon starter's money in March, and Pace believes he is injecting Trubisky into an ideal developmental situation. But coming off a season with just three wins would seem to place pressure on John Fox to get that turnaround started immediately. Jeff Fisher, after all, was certain Jared Goff was not going to play last year ... until it became apparent the season was going south and his job might be on the line. So he started Goff, it was a disaster, Fisher was fired and Goff's development starts anew under new coach Sean McVay. Envisioning a similar doomsday scenario in Chicago -- where Fox has said he consulted with Fisher about how to handle a rookie quarterback -- does not seem like a stretch.

Kansas City might truly have the ideal setup -- because of Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Smith has played well for the Chiefs. That affords Reid the luxury of time with Mahomes. There is no such soft landing in Houston or Cleveland, though, and two quarterback-guru head coaches might be anxious to see what their new projects can do when their other options are Tom Savage (with Bill O'Brien's Texans) and Cody Kessler/Brock Osweiler (with Hue Jackson's Browns). In Cleveland especially, a regular-season in-game view of Kizer might be necessary before the Browns, rich with picks in 2018, potentially face the quarterback question again a year from now.

2) Cincinnati's simple draft strategy: S-P-E-E-D

The Bengals, coming off a 6-9-1 season, embraced the adage that speed kills -- and that should give them a very different look once the new players get familiar with Cincinnati's playbook.

The Bengals took receiver John Ross -- the fastest player in the draft, as evidenced by his record 40 time of 4.22 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine -- with their first-round pick. Later, they took receiver Josh Malone, who ran 4.40, the third-fastest time for a receiver at the 2017 combine. Running back Joe Mixon ran the 40 in 4.50 at the Oklahoma pro day. And on the other side of the ball, defensive end Jordan Willis was second-fastest of the combine defensive linemen at 4.53, while defensive end Carl Lawson ranked eighth at 4.67. Even later picks like sixth-rounders Jordan Evans (linebacker) and Brandon Wilson (cornerback) were among the fastest prospects at their respective positions.

Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said the run on speed players was like Christmas.

"I don't know if it was No. 1, but it was a big part of our earlier plan," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "It was important to do. That's part of it with today's NFL. We measure speed every day on the field. We have to make sure we feel good about it.

"There's an evolution in college football, so it's only natural that the NFL follow suit."

This emphasis was no coincidence on either side of the ball. Last season, the Bengals' offense, which ranked 24th in scoring, was often stagnant. The arrivals of Ross and Malone should help immediately. But the defense entered the draft in need of pass rushers, too.

"I thought, as a defense, we needed to get faster at all three levels," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "Hopefully, not only does it help us get faster with the guys we selected, but it keeps our older guys fresh and able to go."

3) Falcons spruce up D after Super Bowl breakdown

The Falcons have used their first two picks in each of the three drafts since Dan Quinn arrived on defense. And during their run to the Super Bowl last season, they showed off dramatically improved defensive speed. Given how their NFC South rivals loaded up on offensive weapons in the draft -- SEE: Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel (Carolina), O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) -- it should not come as a surprise that the Falcons will need that speed (and maybe more) just to win the division again.

The marquee tandem to watch when they get on the field together: Vic Beasley, the NFL's reigning sack king, and rookie Takk McKinley, the first-round pick who is still recovering from shoulder surgery in March and is likely to be ready for training camp. Might the Super Bowl have ended differently if the Falcons had been able to get just a little more pressure on Tom Brady during the Patriots' comeback? Brady was sacked three times in the fourth quarter, but none came in the drive that tied the game or in the winning drive in overtime.

But it's linebacker Duke Riley, the third-round draft pick, who has Quinn raving about "swagger." Riley ran the 40 in 4.58, the second-fastest time among linebackers. Quinn said Riley likely will start out as a weak-side linebacker, but the coach sees him as a four-down player.

"The speed he plays with fits terrifically in our style," Quinn said.

4) Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey: Pre-draft trend setters?

Now that Leonard Fournette (No. 4 overall) and Christian McCaffrey (No. 8) were high first-round draft picks after skipping their final college bowl games, the floodgates might be about to open for others like them. And NFL personnel evaluators have little problem with it.

"I thought it would bother me more than maybe it does," one longtime evaluator said. "You like to see the kids compete for their teammates. The bowl games are nice -- they might put a few extra dollars into coach's pocket -- but it was never really brought up at all about these guys missing the games. It wasn't like it was a big negative. The ice has been broken. It happened. Guys have gotten hurt. Guys have sat out. Now that will be part of the decision-making for top players."

The evaluator goes even further, wondering if a pro day was entirely necessary for a highly regarded player like cornerback Sidney Jones, who tore his Achilles tendon at Washington's event and slid from a projected high first-round pick to No. 43.

"How much is too much?" the evaluator wondered. "They have the combine, their pro day, then some guys are doing 10 to 12 workouts for different teams -- why do we have to do that? You see it on tape, see it at the combine, at pro day ... Is there one route you run you want to see them run? It's ridiculous. To go work out a first-round dude, put him on the field, it's overkill."

For all the players who already have strong résumés and have the luxury of skipping bowl games or a workout, there are others like linebacker Haason Reddick, who used the Senior Bowl to skyrocket his stock, eventually coming off the board at No. 13 overall to Arizona. And no matter how highly regarded a player is, nobody expects anyone to start skipping the bowl games associated with the national championship.

But last bowl season, Trubisky faced off for North Carolina against Stanford pass rusher Solomon Thomas -- the second and third overall picks, respectively, appearing in the Sun Bowl. Could we see less of that?

When rookies take the field over the next two weekends -- with McCaffrey and Fournette among them -- it will be worth remembering who is not there. Tight end Jake Butt -- who slid to the fifth round after suffering a torn knee ligament in the Orange Bowl but maintains he has no regrets about his decision -- is still recovering from his injury. He, along with Jaylon Smith, who suffered a severe knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl before sliding into the second round last year (and who has yet to play), could become cautionary tales for premier players -- and their agents -- who are already thinking about their professional futures well before their college seasons are over.

5) The truth about character concerns

Mixon garnered the headlines, but the Bengals were hardly the only team to set aside character issues in the draft. The Raiders, Cowboys, Browns and Jaguars also drafted players -- in the Raiders' case, in the first round -- who have, at minimum, been accused of violence against women.

After the Ray Rice-Adrian Peterson-Greg Hardy cycle of revelations and punishments in 2014, the NFL vowed to crack down on those who commit violence against women and children. Perhaps all of the players drafted last weekend will go on to have productive, trouble-free careers. But the presence of these players at rookie camps in the next two weeks is a stark reminder that some teams are still willing to look past troubling accusations, risk public disapproval and take on the headache of keeping players out of trouble if they feel the talent is worth it.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.



The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop