NFL Draft: Baltimore Ravens are winners with Lamar Jackson, Buffalo Bills losers for trading up twice and other takeaways

Jay Asser 29/04/2018
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Lamar Jackson was taken 32nd overall by the Ravens.

The NFL draft, after lasting what felt like a week, is finally over. And it didn’t disappoint as surprising picks and several trades highlighted the proceedings.

It’s always important to remember that the true impact of these draft picks won’t be fully realised for years and that none of these rookies have played a snap in the league yet.

But with that said, here are winners and losers of the draft, along with some miscellaneous takeaways.

WINNERS

Cleveland Browns

It would have taken a significant screw-up for Cleveland to not end up here, considering they had two picks in the first four selections. But they deserve credit for wielding those picks well, too.

It’s way too soon to say if Baker Mayfield will be the best quarterback in this class, but it’s certainly easier to believe him in right now than in the theoretical nature of someone like Josh Allen.

You could argue they should have followed that up by taking the consensus best player in the draft, Bradley Chubb, at four, but forgoing a pass rusher in favour of a playmaking cornerback in Denzel Ward is hardly a crime.

Running-back Nick Chubb and wide receiver Antonio Callaway were also promising picks later on as the Browns came out of the draft with a reason for optimism.

Baker

Denver Broncos

John Elway didn’t spring on his quarterback of the future, but you can’t blame him because of what he ended up with instead.

Bradley Chubb fell into the Broncos’ lap at fifth overall, so instead of trading their pick and acquiring more capital, Elway decided to bolster their strength and add the pass rusher to a defence that already includes Von Miller.

That’s the type of luxury you can afford when you bring in a veteran quarterback like Case Keenum, who may not light the world on fire, but is more than a steady hand.

Baltimore Ravens

There’s a chance Baltimore ended up with the best quarterback in the draft, and all it took was moving into the 32nd pick.

Lamar Jackson may not be the prototypical quarterback, but if you have eyes and followed his college career, you know he’s an electric playmaker capable of taking over games. Will he have to improve his accuracy and reads to succeed in the NFL? Sure. But the talent is unquestionably already there and he’ll have at least a year to develop behind Joe Flacco.

Ozzie Newsome wasn’t done there though, as he went on to select multiple players who thrived in college, including offensive tackle Orlando Brown, cornerback Anthony Averett and safety Deshone Elliott.

LOSERS

Buffalo Bills

The NFL draft is a crapshoot, which is why packaging picks to trade up – essentially sacrificing multiple chances at landing an impact player in favour of going all-in on one player – is often foolhardy.

To trade up twice in the first round? That’s just asking for regret down the road.

And yet Buffalo felt it necessary to move up to seventh overall to take Josh Allen and then trade up to 16 and nab Tremaine Edmunds.

This criticism of the Bills has less to do with the players they picked – although Allen has his doubters for a reason – and more to do with their process. This is the same team, by the way, that traded the ninth overall pick, along with a first and fourth-rounder in 2015 to move up and select wide receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall.

The circumstances are different this time around, but still. Have the Bills learned nothing?

Josh Allen

New Orleans Saints

Speaking of trading up, the Saints were also guilty of giving in to temptation.

New Orleans surrendered next year’s first-rounder to move from 27 to 14 to snag raw but talented pass rusher Marcus Davenport, which is a good pick in a vacuum, but perhaps not for the price it required.

They then took offensive lineman Rick Leonard in the fourth round, which was a head-scratcher based on where he was ranked by many coming into the draft.

Maybe the Saints know something the rest of us don’t?

TAKEAWAYS

Patriots wait on QB

Somewhat surprisingly, New England didn’t take a quarterback until the seventh round, when they selected Danny Etling.

So after rumours ahead of the draft suggested they may move up and take a top quarterback prospect, the Patriots ultimately played it pretty safe at the position. Which is a little disappointing because they could have taken Jackson at 31 overall, instead of fortifying their deep stable of running backs.

But Bill Belichick is Bill Belichick for a reason and it’s probably safe to assume he knows what he’s doing. That’s not to say Etling will become Tom Brady’s successor, but New England is always going to take the measured approach.

Belichick

Worth a shot

It’s always interesting to see where talented players with red flags – medical, behavioural, legal, etc. – will go.

Highly productive defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who has heart issues, was taken in the fifth round by Oakland; linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who has one hand, was taken in the fifth round by Seattle; and Callaway, who has been in trouble for various reasons, was picked in the fourth round by Cleveland.

All three of those players have the talent to outperform where they were drafted, and if they do, the teams that took them will look smart. And if they don’t work out, a fourth or fifth round pick hardly constitutes much of a risk.

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Will Jordan Mailata be a rare success or just the latest failure in cross-code NFL transfers

Alex Broun 29/04/2018
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Jordan Mailata - will he succeed in the NFL?

The name on everyone’s lips in the NFL and NRL universe today is Jordan Mailata.

But if you didn’t pick up the news yesterday, you could be excused for asking: “Jordan who?”

Gigantic 20-year-old Mailata is the latest cross-code experiment in the NFL after the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, selected the South Sydney Rabbitoh as No233 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, as a projected offensive lineman.

The super-sized Samoan, who hails from Sydney, now follows in the footsteps of other Aussies in the NFL – Jarryd Hayne, Darren Bent, Mat McBriar, Ben Graham, Sav Rocca and current Broncos star Adam Gotsis.

The difference being from those listed above only Gotsis and Hayne were not punters.

Aussie Rules of course has a similar skill-set to a NFL punter so Rocca (112 games), Graham (91), McBriar (141) and Bennett (159, the most successful Australian in NFL history) had a fairly easy transition – only having to get use to a slightly different shaped ball to kick.

For those hoping to transition to other positions – Hayne (Running Back) and Gotsis (Defensive End) – the challenges are much greater and to date only Gotsis (32 games), is the only non-special team player to make the transition successfully.

And Gotsis actually played American Football growing up in Melbourne.

Mailata, who EPSN described as the Eagles’ “most interesting pick”, has never played gridiron but what he does have is size and, more importantly, speed.

His physical attributes are impressive: height 6’8’’ (2.03m), weight 345lbs (155kgs), as well as long arms (36in), and big hands (11in), perfect for keeping would-be sackers away from your quarterback.

But the stat that really made the NFL scouts stand up and take notice was time over 40-yards – 5.12 secs.

That kind of reaction time and explosive speed in NFL is priceless.

Watch Mailata in junior Rugby League (below) and it looks like boys against men – a charging bull swatting away mice. He reminds a lot of a young Jonah Lomu.

It was all on show in the NRL where to be honest – despite his speed and size – Mailata was club less. Souths had let him go.

And that’s how he ended up in the NFL.

With his days numbered at the Rabbitohs his agent decided to create a highlight reel to try to entice other league clubs.

Just on the off chance he also sent it to a connection with the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, who was intrigued.

Mailata was summoned to the US and a workout in Los Angeles in November last year led to Mailata being selected to train at the IMG Academy in Florida.

There he worked hard for three months – four-and-a-half hours a day training and three more on board and film work, fast-tracking his knowledge of the game.

As Mailata admits, he knew “little as peanuts” about NFL, although he (and his agent) were no doubt aware of the riches on offer.

“The last three or four months have not been easy at all,” he said.

“Mentally challenging as well as physically. Trying to understand the basics and the fundamentals of football has been a great task.

“Little knowledge before I came in, but I can happily say now that I can understand concepts and a beginning to have a step in the right direction.”

Mailata was clearly confident, inviting scouts to watch him work out, under the guidance of Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.

“He gave me the thumbs up at the end of the session and said I had an outstanding session, an outstanding workout,” Mailata said.

Most importantly he earned Stoutland’s respect, a key element in the Eagles finally stepping in for him – although another seven franchises had expressed interest.

The reason – Stoutland (below) decided that the eager young giant was “coachable”.

This is the key because no matter what physical skills you have – and Hayne for example had many – if you cannot learn the complexities of the game, you will not succeed.

For a punter the challenge is not so high – run on, kick the ball, run off. Not for an OT (offensive tackle), where Mailata has been chosen to play, who is involved in many of the most complex phases of the game.

The huge publicity around Hayne’s initial success, and then failure, in the NFL also means that the weight of expectation around Mailata has been reduced.

He will be expected to fail, with his drafting seen as not much more than a novelty, or “luxury pick”, for the strong Eagles roster.

Even the NFL website only gives him a 50% chance of success. But Mailata know the risk.

“Walking away from something I knew that well to go into something that was very foreign was a big risk to take,” he explains.

“So I was definitely all-in when I made my decision.”

Getting drafted was the easy part – the hard work starts now.

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Philadelphia Eagles swoop for Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata in NFL draft

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Jordan Mailata has been signed by the Philadelphia Eagles

The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles made Australian Jordan Mailata the 233rd overall pick in the NFL draft on Saturday, hoping the towering 20-year-old can successfully transition from rugby league to American football.

“It’s been an absolute brainstorm of an experience,” Mailata told NFL Draft Live after being selected in the seventh round of the annual intake of new talent.

Mailata, who previously suited up for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the National rugby League, had admitted earlier to NFL.com that he wasn’t expecting to be drafted.

But his imposing physical attributes likely convinced the Eagles to take a chance that Mailata, listed as an offensive tackle, could earn a place on their roster.

He’s six feet, eight inches tall (2.03 metres) and 346 pounds (157 kilograms) – and wowed scouts at his pro day demonstration by running the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds.

Jordan Mailata draft stats

Jordan Mailata draft stats

In recent months, Mailata has been training and studying the intricacies of the game at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, trying to fast-track his pursuit of his NFL dream.

The Eagles traded up from their 250th pick to the number 233 spot to take Mailata with their final selection of the proceedings.

“I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life,” said Mailata, who arrived on Saturday in Dallas – where the draft began amid massive fanfare at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium on Thursday.

“There were a lot of emotions today … especially when it came down to the last 30 picks, but it’s been a great experience as a whole,” he said.

Mailata said he first began mulling an attempt to break into the NFL in November.

“Definitely wasn’t something I took lightly,” he said. “It took me about two months to make my mind up. The fans here are very passionate and very outspoken here, and hopefully I can earn their respect.”

Jarryd Hayne left a lucrative NRL contract to pursue a career in the NFL in 2015, but experienced only fleeting success in his lone campaign with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Eagles have taken a look at rugby talent before, signing Canadian Sevens player Adam Zaruba as an undrafted free agent in July of 2017.

He was waived in September, but the Eagles have since re-signed him to a reserve/futures contract – a move that indicates they still feel he has NFL potential.

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