Now that the NFL Draft is officially over, we’re onto the most preposterous premise in sports: grading teams’ drafts before any of their players have played a single snap in the league. We can be a judge of value, sure- the Raiders have already been criticized for taking Alex Leatherwood in the first when the rest of the league reportedly didn’t have a desire to take him until at least the second, but no one has seen any of these prospects play at all. We see the roles they play in action when the games actually begin. There were, however, many narratives and storylines that we want to will and speak into existence based on who was taken, when, and where, and that’s the beauty of the NFL. The NFL is a real life, week-to-week dramatic TV series with characters and story arcs that create the history of the game. So, in the aftermath of the draft, rather than grade the teams’ selections of guys we’ve never seen before, we’re going to assign them common TV/movie roles due to the storylines we’ve already created.
Justin Fields- “The Chosen One”
This just feels like the storybook “Hero’s journey” narrative in the making, doesn’t it? The Bears are the most quarterback-cursed franchise in NFL history, never having a starting black quarterback outside of Jason Campbell and the most-defined quarterback was characterized by ripping cigarettes and caring as little as possible (yes, Jay Cutler, everyone). They also have the curse of the 2017 draft haunting them when they traded up to get Mitchell Trubisky instead of taking Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. Most recently, they were on Russell Wilson’s “preferred trade destinations” list, so, naturally, the quarterback-less franchise was clowned on social media when they instead signed Andy Dalton and tweeted out a photo that said “QB1.”
Justin Fields has the chance to break not only that curse, but also the label that Ohio State quarterbacks never translate to the NFL. Fields was the #2 overall high school prospect behind Trevor Lawrence. He was then passed up on at Georgia in favor of Jake Fromm, who was last seen in Buffalo making Josh Allen a sandwich as a third-string backup. Then, he went out and beat Trevor Lawrence in the College Football Playoff after transferring to Ohio State and he still somehow fell to 11th in the draft. Fields represents a new hope for Chicago. GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy may very well both be fired after this season, but they went all-in on him because he’s their last stand- the man who can save Chicago from this embarrassing run. It was as if they were saying, “Help us, Justin Fields, you’re our only hope,” a la Princess Leia. He is the chosen one.
Comparable Narrative: Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies
Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase: “The Bromance”
Joe Burrow was massacred last year behind an offensive line that led to a torn ACL and MCL with structural damage and a nasty looking scar that you could see in the Bengals recent video the Bengals social media team put out promoting their new uniforms. So, naturally, with the 5th pick in the draft, many mocks had the Bengals drafting Oregon tackle, Penei Sewell, who many think will be a generational talent. Only they didn’t. Burrow was reportedly lobbying the Bengals to take his favorite target during his time at LSU, Ja’Marr Chase, who they selected instead. When Chase was at LSU with Burrow, he put up better numbers than Justin Jefferson, who just broke the rookie receiving record in Minnesota last year. The Bengals did sign a tackle this offseason and drafted several o-linemen after Chase, but in a way, this was the team entirely pandering to quarterbacks and his inseparable best bud, and they’re happy as can be. Burrow may have a death wish if the line they put together ends up not panning out, but he couldn’t care less- he gets to throw dimes to his boy. It’s the bromance we all can’t wait to see this year (and for the sake of Burrow’s health, we all hope this pays off).
Comparable Narrative: Jake Peralta and Charles Boyle in Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Zach Wilson: The Headstrong, Overly-optimistic Protagonist
It’s no secret that the New York sports media absolutely crushes their teams and athletes associated with the city. The Jets are even more magnified considering how every embarrassment they’ve had, from the butt fumble to Sam Darnold’s “Out Indefinitely: Mononucleosis” graphic, is amplified across the sports world forever. To put it in simple terms, the Jets have been a meme- they haven’t had a Super Bowl since Joe Namath, who didn’t even finish his career with a winning record, and they’re desperate for some reason to be positive.
This year, however, after continuing to employ who many think is the worst NFL coach in history, Adam Gase is finally fired with Robert Saleh in, Sam Darnold gets a fresh start traded elsewhere, and they spent their #2 overall pick on Zach Wilson, the quarterback from BYU who looks like a freshman in high school. The New York media and Jets fans are so up in arms over their recent failures that they will absolutely crucify Zach Wilson if he ends up being a failure, especially since the Jets blew a chance at getting Trevor Lawrence instead when they accidentally won a couple of games they shouldn’t have down the stretch in 2020. The nature of the Jets’ beast is that there’s a ton of pressure to win there with how hungry the franchise is for optimism.
Wilson is embracing it, though! The 21 year-old is confidently posting pictures of his baby-faced self on draft night in a tux and working out before the event, he’s already got sponsorships getting the bag showing off his Chipotle burrito order to the world, and he’s ready to take on being the face of the franchise of the big city after being a hometown kid in BYU. He appears ready for it, aware that he could potentially be chewed up and spit out after a game where he throws a soul-crushing pick-six, and welcomes the pressure with that 12 year-old smile. He’s headstrong, and it might be naive, but at least the guy isn’t afraid.. yet.
Comparable Narrative: Kimmy Schmidt in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Mac Jones: The Monster Created in a Lab
After all of the rumors of San Francisco possibly taking him with their #3 pick, there was absolutely nothing more of a New England pick than Mac Jones going to the Patriots. He confidently strutted down that draft hallway after getting the call as if he answered the phone with “yes, master” when they gave him the call. He went to Alabama and was coached under Nick Saban: college football’s Bill Belichick. He is the perfect creation for Bill to mold into a franchise quarterback. When a monster is created in a lab by an evil scientist that mimics the original copy, something is always just a little bit off from the original. That’s Mac Jones and Tom Brady. The comparisons were already coming in hot pre-draft because they both were a bit out-of-shape, tall pocket-passers. There’s no world where Mac matches the play of the greatest of all-time and begins another New England dynasty, but it feels as if Bill saw him and had that same “evil scientist” mindset thinking of the possibilities he could have with him after confiding in his pal Saban.
Comparable Narrative: Any dinosaur created/thought was a good idea by scientists in a Jurassic movie
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: The Guy on a Revenge Tour
The linebacker out of Notre Dame won the Butkus Award in 2020, was ACC defensive player of the year, and a unanimous All-American. Many mock drafts had him going in the top 15 picks. He’s lauded for his speed and versatility, heralded as a linebacker-safety hybrid for how all over the field he is.
He slipped out of the 1st round, and the thought the next day was, “man, whoever has one of those top picks in the 2nd is going to get a steal.”
Ten more picks go by. Still not drafted.
Ten more picks go by, and Cleveland finally trades up to take him at 52nd overall.
There was a lack of medical information in this draft because of COVID, so NFL teams found an issue with a minor heart problem he reportedly deals with. It still can’t be ignored that he is this year’s “How did he fall?” guy. The Browns already have a solid overall team, and he’ll play in a group with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney in front of him. JOK will be out for blood for all of the teams that passed up on him.
Comparable Narrative: Arya Stark in Game of Thrones
Najee Harris: The Tragic Hero
Coming off of 2 College Football Playoff championships at Alabama, Najee Harris was considered to be the best runningback in the draft. His play style is practically an art form, where he uses patience to locate holes within the trenches and then explodes forward with the force of a wildebeest down the field and into the endzone. He was one of the biggest superstars and known faces of college football in the draft who projects to be a great pro.
And the majority HATED his selection in the first round.
The Steelers were dead last in the league last year in rushing, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry, and their primary ball carrier, James Conner, left in free agency to the Cardinals. With an aging Big Ben potentially slinging a noodle arm in his final season, they need to balance the offensive game plan so he isn’t throwing the ball from shotgun 50 times per game. So, at 24th overall, they took Najee to be the new face of the running game.
The problem that analysts had with the pick is that they already had a weak offensive line last year, and this year they will be without retired center Maurkice Pouncey and free agent tackle Alejandro Villanueva. After so many running backs taken with a high draft pick have failed to live up to the overpaid second contract they get and other studs at that position can go in the third round easily for a dime a dozen, the “NFL analytics” crowd is no longer on board with using high draft capital at that position, therefore, taking Najee instead of an offensive lineman was seen as an atrocity.
The problem isn’t using high draft capital on a running back if he’s a superstar, and who’s to say Najee isn’t? The problem is overpaying the second deal if they have no miles left in the tank or get injured. However, the Steelers didn’t address the line even immediately AFTER they took Najee, taking a tight end in the second round.
Najee is going to be the lamb taken to the slaughter if he isn’t a stud, and he’s going to have to do it behind an offensive line held together with yarn and scotch tape. Any time he gets tackled for a loss or any time Big Ben takes a sack, the critics are going to jump down his throat, angrily mentioning how he was taken instead of a Tackle or Guard. He has such beautiful potential, but he might be the tragic hero, destined to be thrown into the fire to start his career.
Comparable Narrative: Wallace in The Wire