NFL Draft Losers
The period between free agency and the draft is probably the most dangerous for any dynasty owner. There is a real tendency towards assuming that free agency gives a definitive guide to team strategy and that the draft will then be used to fill any remaining holes. In practice it’s a minefield of banking on starters whose position is much more tenuous than you might think. The draft produces winners every year, but more often than not it crushes the hopes of dynasty owners who put too much faith in past production.
This year was no exception and coming out of this year’s NFL draft the outlook for a number of players started to look bleaker. Here are a few of them:
Kerryon Johnson: Detroit runner Johnson may well have been the biggest loser of the draft weekend. Without any doubt, he’s one of a trio of backs whose value took an almighty hit as their teams spent high end picks on players likely to take significant amounts of carries from them.
The former Auburn back has struggled to stay healthy since the Lions spent the 43rd overall pick on him in 2018. His 14 starts have shown flashes of the top end talent but he’s almost missed as many games as he’s appeared in over his first two years. Availability, as they say, is the best ability.
Enter D’Andre Swift. Despite a litany of other needs the Lions once again used a top 50 pick on a running back. Georgia’s Swift is an exciting talent who rushed for nearly 3000 yards amidst a crowded backfield in Athens. He’s a smaller, shiftier back and you’ll struggle to find anyone who thinks he’s anything but more talented that Johnson. The best hope for Kerryon owners is that the former Patriots duo of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia see this as a complimentary addition and they end with a split backfield.
It’s possible that there is still value in Kerryon. He may end up as the team’s battering ram in a 1-2 punch for a coaching staff that likes a committee but his inability to stay healthy will almost certainly hand Swift the chance to take control of the backfield and when that happens it might be tough for the Lions to take him off the field.
Darrell Henderson: Another back who saw his stock hit by a second round pick. When the Rams moved on from Todd Gurley in the summer, Henderson owners hoped that it was a signal that the team were about to give the Memphis graduate a shot at leading the backfield. The team’s lack of cheap young talent across the roster made the likelihood of them apportioning significant assets to another back very unlikely.
That would all be fine if you were banking on rational team building on the part of Les Sneed and Sean McVay. That, I’m afraid, is a bet you’d lose. After spending two 3rd round picks to acquire Henderson last year, they spent another 2nd round pick on Cam Akers, not to mention another 2nd rounder on Van Jefferson – a guy so alike Cooper Kupp that the infamous two Spidermans GIF may have been created for them alone.
Anyway, I digress. With Akers in town Henderson’s chances of grabbing a lead role have, at best, diminished. He remains a dynamic and explosive ball carrier, but you can’t ignore the actions of the Rams – it’s entirely possible that he’s just not good. With McVay favourite Malcolm Brown still in town it’s tough to see a big role for the second year man outside of injury. If you can possibly get value, then probably best to sell.
Ronald Jones: The third of the group of running backs who entered the draft as presumptive starters and left, well, not, is Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones. After a disastrous rookie season, 2nd round pick, Jones showed flashes last season and by the end of the year appeared to have gained Bruce Arians trust as his top back.
One lingering issue clearly remained though. Arians wants his back to catch the ball and Jones has continued to struggle in the passing game and in protection. Last weekend Arians addressed both with Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughan. Underrated going into the draft, senior Vaughan has produced back to back 1000 yard rushing seasons and in his final year added 28 catches for 270 yards. He seems to fit the bill for what Arians wants.
RoJo will likely begin the season as the starter but Vaughan’s flexibility will be attractive to Tom Brady and assuming he can protect may find himself playing a James White role in the Bucs offense before Thanksgiving. If Brady gets to trust him then Jones will find his workload reduce.
The one positive for Jones is that Brady does favour a stable of backs and his Patriots offenses produced enough to keep two backs relevant (though picking the right one was something akin to Russian roulette). He may get a lot of carries while Vaughan emerges as the pass catcher. If so there may be a little life yet, but for now he’s a definite loser.
Anyone in Green Bay Called Aaron: Green Bay has spent the entire Aaron Rodgers era with sub par running back production. Outside of Eddie Lacy and Ryan Grant (yes, Ryan Grant) they haven’t had an 1000 yard back in Rodgers tenure. Until last year. Aaron Jones wracked up 1500 yards rushing & receiving and added, a not insubstantial, 19 touchdowns. So, as Jones approached a contract year, his fantasy owners finally could rest easy, knowing their man had found his feet. Afraid not.
The Packers, somewhat perplexingly, spent a 2nd round pick on AJ Dillon, a back who couldn’t be less like Aaron Jones if he tried. A 250lb back with surprising speed is certainly an interesting addition and the draft capital suggests that rather than extending Jones the team are ready to move on. Head Coach Matt LeFleur has first hand experience of Derrick Henry in Tennessee, it seems logical that this is the kind of running game he wants. Jones has spent his entire career in Green Bay being underused and now looks set for a final indignity of losing his spot in his contract year.
Maybe there’s something in the name. Not satisfied with undermining Aaron Jones, the Packers decided to take aim at their star Quarterback. The drafting of Aaron Rodgers whilst the team still had Brett Favre is embedded in NFL folklore and, perhaps, Rodgers should have heeded the words of George Santayana – “those who do not learn history and doomed to repeat it”.
Rodgers may well respond to the drafting of Utah State’s Jordan Love with less petulance off the field than his predecessor but the Packers will hope he responds with exactly the same fury on it. Favre continued to play at a high level for three more years culminating in a 13-3, 4000 yard season in 2017.
On top of drafting his replacement the Packers did almost nothing to help Rodgers in terms of weapons. The addition of Dillon suggests they want to run the ball more, a move that’s unlikely to please the future Hall of Fame Quarterback and outside of Davante Adams he’ll be throwing to much the same collection of uninspiring pass catchers he had last year. It’s tough to think anything other than that Rodgers storied time in Wisconsin is nearing it’s end.
Deebo Samuel: Since drafting Arizona State Wide Receiver Brandon Aiyuk with the 25th pick last weekend it would entirely fair for the 49ers to wonder if they’d be Superbowl Champions had they had the speedy rookie on the field instead of Emmanuel Sanders in February.
Adding speed to the offense gives Coach Kyle Shanahan more options, not least an increased ability to stretch the field. Aiyuk definitely plays faster than the 4.5 40 that he ran at the combine. His run after the catch ability and short game effectiveness are likely to play well in San Fransisco but they do present something of an issue to Samuel who has a very similar skill set.
Fans of Deebo hoped that his increasing usage last year and gradual development from gadget player to fully developed receiver was well underway. Aiyuk’s arrival may end up eating into both. Samuel had an impressive 802 yards in his rookie season, 473 came after contact – if he eats into the short game work then the former South Carolina man will need to improve a lot in the traditional passing game to make up. It’s not impossible but adding a receiver with a similar skill set make me sceptical that we’ll see the the jump in production that many were hoping for.