The NFL Draft kicks off tonight

By Jeff Linville -
Jeff Linville News Editor -

Tonight is the big night for college football prospects as the NFL Draft starts at 7 p.m.

Teams will be picking their favorite player in the first round, then they will try to convince the fan base that they have acquired the next G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time).

At least four, and possibly five, quarterbacks will be selected in the first 30 picks. History tells us that one of those picks, if not two of them, will be a bust. One of these young men could be the next Ryan Leaf.

You remember Ryan Leaf. He was argued as possibly the better QB choice in 1998 over Peyton Manning. He struggled, blew up at a reporter, got married and said he was more mature and ready to lead, but he continued to struggle.

In 2012 he was arrested for breaking into homes looking for pain pills; the navigation system on his pickup helped convict him because it showed him visiting one of the homes at the time of the break-in.

Maybe Baker Mayfield turns out to be the next Johnny Manziel. Or with his great accuracy and fearlessness in a smaller package, he turns into the next Drew Brees. We can’t know, but team executives will be doing their best to convince fans of their greatness — if for nothing more than to sell season tickets.

The Carolina Panthers have a much worse pick this time than last year, choosing 24th tonight after going eighth in 2017.

Looking at how the Panthers used that high pick, I can’t help but wonder if the team blew it — even if the draft pick turns out to be a good player.

With that eighth pick, the Panthers got Christian McCaffrey, a running back who looked extremely good in the open field. The way he ran routes and caught the ball was quite impressive to watch, so how could anyone question the selection?

Easy, look at what Buffalo got two spots later at 10th. The Bills traded back with the Chiefs, got Kansas City’s first-round pick (27th), the third-rounder (91st) and a 2018 first-rounder, which turns out to be 22nd tonight.

The Bills got Tre’Davious White, who was graded as the second-best cornerback in the league by Pro Football Focus, edging Marshon Lattimore, who got more accolades, however.

If the Panthers had White to pair with James Bradberry at CB, then maybe it wouldn’t matter as much that safety Mike Adams can qualify for AARP.

And then we’d be talking about the Panthers having picks at 22 and 24 tonight.

And that third-rounder? Well, league rushing leader Kareem Hunt went just five picks earlier last year. If the team needed a running back, it wouldn’t have taken much draft capital to move up a half-dozen spots to acquire Hunt.

Or the team could have stayed put and picked Tarik Cohen (4.3 yards per carry).

Don’t forget that Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon were second-rounders, and Hunt, Alvin Kamara and D’Onta Foreman were third-rounders.

Oh sure, I can hear what you’re thinking. “If we can’t know for sure which QBs are going to succeed and which are going to flop, then you can’t have known last year that these running backs would be good.”

Well, that’s not quite true. Running backs are generally way more trustworthy in the draft. And unlike most positions where it takes time for a rookie to acclimate, RBs can simply run instinctively and contribute right away. That’s why in the past 30 years, 17 times the offensive rookie of the year award has gone to a runner.

Carolina had to know that the offensive line was going to struggle — okay, not as mightily as it did in the first half of the season. Matt Kalil didn’t look healthy to start the year, then his brother Ryan Kalil went down and missed half the season.

Daryl Williams got better at RT over the season, but in the first half, there just were no running lanes for any back. Walter Payton would have averaged three yards a carry.

Using a high draft pick on cannon fodder just didn’t make sense. That’s one of the reasons the team kept putting McCaffrey out as a receiver — and boy did he shine there.

McCaffrey had more catches as a running back than any Panther has as a rookie — and that includes receivers like Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammed and Kelvin Benjamin. In fact, 80 catches is the fourth-best total in team history regardless of experience level.

When you draft a player high in the first round, you want to get that five-year rookie deal and then one more contract out of them. Maybe four or five years. The Panthers signed McCaffrey around the time of his 20th birthday, so it’s possible he could play at a high level for a decade.

But not as a running back.

He’s fast, he’s quick, he has great hands. But I just don’t see this guy taking a pounding in the middle of a scrum for years.

I say that the coaches should move McCaffrey to receiver and throw the ball his way 10 times a game. Sound crazy?

Wes Welker was a respected return man for Miami, then he signed with the Patriots, and Brady started throwing his way 10 times a game. Welker played six years in New England and averaged more than 100 catches a season.

Welker was 26 when he signed with the Pats. McCaffrey is only 21 now — and every bit as nimble and elusive. Imagine having our own Wes Welker for a decade.

The Panthers should use a pick Friday to grab someone like Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones II or Rashaad Penny, and save the wear and tear on their high draft pick.

Otherwise, why did they use such a premium pick?

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.