The draft: A few boos (taped), a lot of quarterbacks
Roger Goodell got his boos — recorded as they might have been. The 49ers got their replacement for DeForest Buckner. And the Raiders got their official acknowledgment they belong to Las Vegas, which as the virus-denying female mayor of the city said on CNN is not China.
She’s very good at geography, if poor at social distancing.
It was the first round of an NFL draft without precedent and practically without surprises. You could substitute “virtually” for practically, but everything these days is virtual.
And, in this situation, a bit ironic.
The draft was placed in Vegas on Thursday to celebrate (sigh) the arrival of the two-timing Raiders from Oakland. But as we know, the coronavirus chased everyone out of the casinos and the convention center. The only way to connect was on Zoom or the Internet.
Which, the way electronics work these days, seemed fine.
So the rat pack of young fans that normally hoot, holler and loudly belittle every selection was not in the building.
But Goodell, the NFL commissioner, proving that a guy who earns $40 million per year, give or take a dollar, has a sense or humor, wasn’t going to let that absence go unnoticed.
To start the day/evening, Goodell said the booing “was a draft tradition, and one I certainly enjoy.”
He then instructed viewers who were not much not closer to his Bronxville, N.Y., home, from where he was ensconced, than the moon, “Let’s hear it from you now.”
A few well-planned seconds of taped booing followed.
John Madden had two observations about the draft. One, a team always liked the selections it made; why else would it make them? Two, with rare exceptions, you won’t know how good your draftees are for a least a season, maybe two.
The Niners had the 14th overall pick, and although the predictions were that they’d go after a wide receiver, they took defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw of South Carolina, ostensibly to replace Buckner, traded to a few weeks back to Indianapolis. Then they moved up from the 31st pick to 25th, and did grab a wideout, Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State.
We’ll deal later with the question of whether people west of the Nevada border, their hearts having been pierced too many times by uncaring ownership, remain emotionally attached to the Raiders. But it must be reported that the former Oakland franchise took receiver Henry Ruggs III of Alabama with the 12th pick and Damon Arnette of Ohio State, a cornerback, at No. 19.
What made this draft interesting, along with the fact that staff was not at team headquarters — but home with computers, pets and families — was the type of players taken early on.
We know games are won in the trenches, the offensive and defensive lines. But we also know that, to the fans and media, those positions are of little interest.
We want the guys who throw the ball, run the ball, catch the ball — or maybe, for a defensive back, intercept the ball.
And quickly enough, that’s what we were presented.
As expected, Joe Burrow, the quarterback from LSU, was the No. 1 pick, taken by the pathetic Cincinnati Bengals. Not expected, but certainly considered, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama went No. 5 to Miami. Immediately after, Justin Herbert of Oregon went No. 6 to the Chargers; Jordan Love of Utah State went to Green Bay at No. 26.
What a haul.
Tagovailoa was the subject of an endless debate. The mavens, you know, Mel Kiper et al — must be two dozen of them — kept insisting Tagovailoa would have been No. 1 had he not been injured numerous times, including a dislocated hip last November.
Does a team take a chance with Tagovailoa? Does he slip out of the top 10? The top 20 even? So much speculation. So much anxiety.
So much ado about nothing, it turned out. Maybe Tagovailoa couldn’t be given the usual, in-person physical, but he sent videos. The Dolphins liked what they saw.
As far as the NFL’s first virtual draft, the rest of us liked what we saw and heard — a lot of quarterbacks and just a smattering of taped boos to satisfy Goodell.