With the first day of the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett is already off the board, having been taken at pick 28 by the San Francisco 49ers, which surprised many by trading up to claim the big Stanford guard. That was just one of many surprises that took place in Chicago on Thursday, when 31 picks were made as part of the first round. After the proceedings of the first day, we asked football writers Vihan Lakshman, Andrew Mather and Do-Hyoung Park about their reactions and opinions regarding a few points as the Draft continues, with the second and third rounds set to take place today.
What do you think was the biggest surprise of Day One of the Draft?
Vihan: After the first two selections went according to script, there were several eyebrow-raising moments throughout the first round that made for some great entertainment. The fall of Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil, once considered a lock for the top-overall pick, played out like a Greek tragedy with a twist from modern technology. But bongs and gas masks aside, the biggest surprise for me was UCLA’s Myles Jack dropping out of the first round entirely. Jack was a brilliant talent on both sides of the ball for the Bruins and would have never escaped the top ten if it weren’t for the knee injury that ended his college career. Even with the obvious injury concerns, I was shocked that a player of Jack’s caliber remained on the board at the close of business on Day One. I wouldn’t expect that to last very long once when the second round commences tomorrow.
Andrew: Honestly, this draft didn’t surprise me as much as I thought it could. A few players, like Tunsil and fellow Rebel Robert Nkemdiche, certainly saw their selections occur later than they would have hoped for, but even these collapses were fairly predictable in the scheme of things. To me, the least surprising actual pick of the day was arguably still part of the most surprising draft saga overall: Jared Goff at number one. The Rams needed a quarterback and every Stanford fan knows of Goff’s abilities at the position, but given their relatively poor record thus far of identifying their franchise passer of the future, I’m still struggling to understand why they put so much on the line to chase down the former Bear. On the plus side, at least they know the new uniforms won’t throw him off too much.
Do: I agree with Andrew here, and I’m going to go further by saying that both the Rams and Eagles trading up to grab Goff and Wentz at 1-2 was a shocker to me, though we’ve known about that for a few days now. I don’t think either quarterback has the clear star power (a la RGIII) to warrant the teams giving up as much as they did to trade up for them; for what it’s worth, I’m going to maintain that Christian Hackenberg will be the most successful quarterback in this year’s draft class. I understand that a Rams team with the longest streak of losing seasons in the NFL and a very bland roster of Todd Gurley III and nobody else needed to make a big splash, but they could have made a splash at 15, where they were picking initially. Instead, they traded the farm for a quarterback with a losing record in college, and Philly didn’t do all too much better, trading up for a quarterback without experience against proven opponents. Honorable mention to my bewilderment at Dallas taking Zeke Elliott at 4: Nobody else would have taken Elliott in the first round, and in general, taking RBs high in the first round is so last-decade. By the way, the last running back taken with a top-four pick was a fellow named Trent Richardson.
How will Joshua Garnett fit with the 49ers?
Vihan: Chip Kelly was clearly smitten with Garnett at Stanford’s Pro Day and didn’t try to hide it. Any offense under the control of the Mad Scientist will emphasize the run and Garnett should be able to help out immediately in that department. The reigning Outland Trophy winner clears space like few others and should find his home on the starting offensive line immediately. This was a great pickup on the part of San Francisco.
Andrew: The 49ers were in clear need of assistance on the offensive line, and Josh Garnett is a great choice to give it to them. Still, I was surprised to see the 49ers trade up just to pick Garnett, especially considering it seems like he probably would have still been on the board when their original pick rolled around six selections into the second round. Clearly Kelly and Co. saw their needs on the offensive line as more pressing than those at wide receiver and cornerback and opted for a reliable option in the first team all-American.
Do: There’s a schematic transition to be made from the man-blocking heavy, power-run scheme of Stanford to Chip Kelly’s option-based, zone-blocking offense, but luckily for Heavy G, his skill set is quite conducive to making that a smooth transition. Garnett’s forte was getting out into space and taking on linebackers at the next level as Stanford’s pulling guard on power runs, and for as good of a man blocker he was, he clearly made his (figurative) money in zone schemes and while on the move, which the Chip Kelly offense will have him doing much more of. Don’t expect too many deep dropbacks from whoever’s quarterbacking the Niners next season, either, which is also a good thing for Garnett, who has struggled in pass protection at times, especially against 3-techniques and interior rushers. It should be an easy transition for the projected Day One starter.
Which Stanford player do you think could get picked higher than expected on Friday and Saturday?
Vihan: We always hear that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and this dictum was taken to the extreme in the first round with three franchises, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Denver, trading boatloads of picks to move up and select their signal-callers of the future. If Day One taught us anything, it’s that teams aren’t gun-shy about pulling the trigger on quarterbacks. It only takes one team to fall madly in love for a quarterback to go much higher than projected. As a result, maybe we’ll see Kevin Hogan defy the conventional wisdom and sneak into the fourth round? I wouldn’t bet my bank account on this happening, but if there’s any position where a player can go much higher than expected, it has to be at quarterback. Hogan’s abundant game experience, prototypical size and familiarity with running an NFL offense could definitely enamor some teams. After we saw three QBs go in the first 31 picks, these remaining teams in need of a passer might elect to get their guy sooner rather than later.
Andrew: It hasn’t been a great past few years in terms of Cardinal players getting taken above their expected position, but if there’s one player I can see moving up, it’d be Kyle Murphy. Murphy’s stock fell a bit after he picked up a hamstring injury right before the combine, but linemen with his length and experience can really add a lot to almost any program. I wouldn’t be shocked if Murphy hears his name called on Friday, but even if he hangs around a little longer I’m sure it won’t take too long for someone to make a safe pick and go after the stalwart protector of Kevin Hogan’s blind side.
Do: I’m going to go bold and say that I can see a team falling in love with Devon Cajuste and taking a chance at him in, say, the fifth or sixth round. The biggest detractor from Cajuste’s professional aspirations is the prevailing opinion that he’s too slow to play wide receiver at the NFL level, but if the unofficial 4.42 that he ran at Stanford’s pro day is any indication, that might just be flat-out wrong. And his numbers back it up, too – his 17.7 yards per catch over the course of his Stanford career is just behind the 18.2 put up by track star and noted deep-play threat Michael Rector, showing that Cajuste combines deceptive speed with his size, which would put him in rarified territory, even in the NFL. His 6-foot-4, 234-pound frame with 4.4 speed would make him a matchup nightmare even against the corners of the NFL, and when you consider his crisp route-running, great hands and ability to come down with jump balls in the red zone, he could prove to be a criminally underrated jewel that could make a splash for whichever team picks him up. Cajuste has spent his entire playing career proving his doubters wrong. I’m confident he can do that one more time.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu, Andrew Mather at amateur ‘at’ stanford.edu and Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.