The NFL Draft may not hold the same place in my heart it used to, but the event still found a way to provide plenty of local intrigue over the weekend. From the Eagles' theatrics at the top of the first and fourth rounds, to the Ravens passing on a big-name replacement for Ray Lewis, to a former University of Delaware assistant being placed in charge of maybe the most intriguing pick in this draft, there was plenty to keep your attention over the first four rounds.
Let's begin with Philadelphia, which needed to have a big draft, and certainly did in terms of name-power. In the opening round the Eagles selected the man that many thought had the highest ceiling in this year's draft. It was not all that long ago that Lane Johnson was a high school quarterback, so to go from that to a top-four pick at offensive tackle is a pretty remarkable transformation. It also means that he has an awful lot of room for potential growth at his craft.
Yes he was the third offensive lineman selected, but he was also described by numerous draft analysts as the one with the most raw skill and the most room for growth. Those are two attributes you love to see next to someone on your roster.
With their second-round choice the Eagles grabbed Zach Ertz, a smart disciplined route-runner with the best hands of any tight end in the draft. He is not an elite-blocker, but then again, with the spread attack Chip Kelly is expected to employ, blocking is not necessarily a prerequisite at that position. Just look at what the Patriots do in their offense with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Kelly is likely to try and establish the same sort of vertical threat down the seams from his tight end.
The most intriguing pick came in the fourth round however. The Birds moved up to select USC quarterback Matt Barkely. It appears as though there is no middle ground with this move. You either love it or hate it. Most seem to be in favor of it because just a year ago Barkley was considered to be a top-10 pick, and now he fell all the way to No. 98. But there are reasons the signal caller’s stock dropped so precipitously. He does not do anything at an elite level. He is very good at a variety of things, but he lacks a plus-arm, doesn’t have an off the charts football IQ and he is not blessed with any mobility whatsoever.
To me, he is Nick Foles with just a little more upside. So why have both on the roster? And does drafting Barkley mean Kelly is abandoning many of the run-portions of his spread attack that made him so successful at Oregon? I don’t love the pick for the Birds.
Conversely, the defending world champion Ravens had a completely different mission with their draft. While the Eagles had to add as much talent as possible, Baltimore needed to fill some of the holes created by retirement and salary cap casualties. Many speculated they would tab the polarizing Manti Teo to replace the even more polarizing Lewis at middle linebacker, but general manager Ozzie Newsome had a different plan.
The most underrated front-office man in the NFL instead decided to select Ed Reed’s replacement at safety. The Ravens picked Matt Elam with the final choice of the first round and then scooped up inside linebacker Arthur Brown out of Kansas State with the 56th overall selection. There is a pretty good chance he will step into Lewis’ shoes in the middle of the Baltimore defense.
Meanwhile, the pick with the biggest upside in the entire draft came from the Arizona Cardinals. In the third round they selected the oober-talented, but just as troubled Tyrann Mathieu, out of LSU. Matthieu almost won the Heisman two years ago, but got kicked out of school a season later for drug use. He seems to be serious about getting his priorities straight, and he brings a whole lot of talent with him to the desert.
The man in charge of getting the most out of him as possible is the Cardinals new secondary coach Nick Rapone. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because he spent the last seven seasons as the defensive coordinator at the University of Delaware. Rapone is a great defensive mind, and according to his players at UD, an incredible teacher. If Mathieu can stay clean, Rapone will help turn him into one of the best corners in the league.
The NFL Draft used to be one of my favorite events on the sports calendar. There was something about it that just sucked me in every year. Obviously it combined two of my favorite parts of life (college football and the NFL) but it was more than that. It always seemed like it was a true sports fan’s event. With 15 minutes in between picks you had to make a serious commitment to sit through the first round. You also used to have to really follow college football closely to have any idea what was happening.
Now everything is different. All the changes they’ve made have been in an attempt to make the draft more fun to watch. And to be honest, they all worked. Less time between selections makes the event move faster. All the analysis leading up to the draft gives everyone a chance to learn who is expected to go when. Even the fact that it is spread over three days, with two coming in primetime on Thursday and Friday, saves you from sinking an entire weekend into the proceedings.
But for all the pluses that have come from the tweaks, there is something about it that just isn’t the same for me personally. I’m just not as into the draft as I used to be. Honestly, I’ll miss the entire first and second rounds because I’ll be at the Blue Rocks, and I am not upset about it at all.
What makes that even weirder are the facts that I love college football more now than I ever have, and my favorite NFL team (Eagles) has only had a higher first-round pick once in my entire life. Yet, I feel no excitement or anticipation for tonight whatsoever.
When I started to wonder why, it hit me. One of the things I loved most about the draft was that it took a commitment. It was like a test of loyalty. If you did your homework and followed along closely enough you loved every second of it. If you didn’t, you probably wondered why anyone would ever waste their time watching something where no one wins or loses or even plays.
Now all that information is spoon-fed to everyone during every Sports Center for four months leading up to the draft. As stupid as it sounds, now that there’s no challenge to it, the draft just isn’t as much fun to follow.
We witnessed the demise of the KG-Paul Pierce Celtics on Tuesday. It was ugly, it was public and it was definitive.
To Boston's credit, most thought its run had ended this summer - when Ray Allen went turncoat and signed with the Miami Heat. Any holdouts assumed it was finished when Rajon Rondo was lost at the midpoint of the regular season with a torn ACL.
Conventional wisdom suggested the one impact player on the Celtics roster who was not an old man was gone, and Boston was going to be stuck resembling a rec team without him. Certainly the playoffs were out of the question.
Yet the Celtics pressed on and even thrived for a stretch without Rondo.
They got into the postseason, matched up with a Knicks team, that while red-hot, had plenty to prove on a stage of this magnitude.
Boston gave New York all it could handle in game one, but just could not make enough shots to get over the top at the end of the game. It was a disappointing loss for sure, but there were enough positive signs from Doc Rivers' team that you wondered whether they had a shot to steal game two. A win at MSG would give the Celtics home-court advantage, and that might be enough to tilt the series in their direction.
The way it started on Tuesday, it seemed as though everything might be falling into place perfectly for Boston. New York was inconsistent on offense, and the Celtics were hitting their open looks. The Knicks went to the locker room at halftime down by six with doubt beginning to creep in.
Then the second half began, and in the blink of an eye that uncertainty festering in the Knicks psyche vanished. It was like something clicked in their minds. They realized they are more athletic than Boston at every position on the floor. Suddenly the Celtics couldn't even get shots off anymore.
Their half-court offense was broken and their transition game was nonexistent. That's a tough combination to overcome, and not even the gritty Celtics were able to get it done. Boston managed just 23 points over the final 24 minutes as the Knicks cruised to a 16-point win.
The Celtics' hearts were still there, but their ability to compete with the elite in the NBA for a full 48 minutes is gone. They are too old at too many positions.
They staved off Father Time longer than anyone ever imagined possible, but at the end of the day he always eventually wins. Every team's time comes and goes. The Celtics' should have seen theirs depart three years ago, but to their credit they made it until April 23, 2013. That's the day their run as members of the NBA's elite class officially came to a close.