In the past couple of years the city of Philadelphia hosted the Democratic National Convention and a visit from Pope Francis, but when they hosted 2017 National Football League Draft last April the city looked better to the rest of the country than it had in decades.
How could that be? Because Philadelphia is a pro-football town and what happens in professional football and with the hometown Philadelphia Eagles matters here. The NFL selection draft being there with hundreds of thousands of fans attending in front of the Art Museum not only made the draft a must-see event, but also shed the national stereotype that has been labeled on Philadelphia sports and their fans.
You know the trite labels:
“Philly Fans boo everyone, even their best players!”
“Hey remember when Philly fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus in 1968? That was hilarious!”
“How can you be an Eagles fan? They haven’t won since before the Super Bowl existed!”
In the words of John Facenda: A true Philadelphia fan learns to Boo before he learns to speak.
Well, for one glorious weekend, Philadelphia and their fans shined as the host of NFL draft, making the country forget about their reputation. Not only did the draft look nearly as electric as a Super Bowl, but there were no crimes or incidents that occurred. Well actually the only arrest was because someone flew a drone over the area, but otherwise the city had clean slate.
Not a Rolling Stones concert, but just NFL teams picking college players to play for them
Every First Round Prospect attendee in Philadelphia
Then there is the NFL Draft itself, which had the traditional booing of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell who has survived many controversies throughout his decade-long tenure. Nevertheless, he remains in power and wholeheartedly welcomed the Boos.
The first pick of the draft was the least dramatic one as the Cleveland Browns, the NFL’s worst team of last year and of this century, picked the top overall prospect in defensive end Myles Garrett from Texas A&M. While the Browns have had historically bad drafts this century, Garrett should go down as a stud and will help make Cleveland football legitimate again.
Garrett (left) holds his jersey next to 1984 NFL Draft Number One pick Bruce Smith.
It was the second pick however that began a trend of surprises. The Chicago Bears, the team with the third overall pick in the draft, traded three of their draft picks for the 2017 and 2018 draft to the San Francisco 49ers to move up just one spot. They selected Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from North Carolina. Football and draft experts universally panned the trade and selection because the Bears moved up one spot to draft a player who would’ve been available for them anyway had they not traded up. Trubisky also wasn’t the flashiest quarterback prospect coming into the draft as he started only 13 games for UNC, while Clemson quarterback and hero of this year’s College Football National Championship game Deshaun Watson was available.
UNC's Trubisky did not get a warm welcome from Chicago when selected.
For the San Francisco 49ers, who crashed and burned last year as a dysfunctional organization along with the questionable hiring of former player John Lynch as their new general manager, they came out of this year’s draft as the clear-cut winners. They basically hoodwinked Chicago in getting another third and fourth-round pick along with a third-round pick for next year’s draft. They would draft Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and trade up to get Alabama linebacker Rueben Foster late in the first-round.
Following the trade for Trubisky was a surprising onslaught on offensive players. The Jacksonville Jaguars took LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick followed by the Tennessee Titans taking a wide receiver in Corey Davis with the fifth. The Jets took an LSU safety in Jamal Adams followed by the now-Los Angeles Chargers taking another receiver in Clemson’s Mike Williams. A second running back was taken with the eighth selection the Carolina Panthers taking Christian McCaffrey and then a third wide receiver was taken in John Ross by the Cincinnati Bengals.
The selection of running backs Fournette and McCaffrey both in the top ten are notable because both players skipped out of their respective college games to avoid the risk of injury. Both were criticized at the time, but now their decisions have paid off as each being a first round pick. This should begin a trend where several top college prospects, especially running backs, will skip playing a meaningless bowl game to protect their future professional career in case of injury.
Then another stunning trade occurred when the Kansa City Chiefs swapped picks with the Buffalo Bills for them to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech. So while Kansa City will still have Alex Smith at quarterback for a few more years, Head Coach Andy Reid looks to develop Mahomes as the Chief’s quarterback of the future. Remarkably, this is the first time Kansa City drafted a quarterback in the first round since Todd Blackedge in 1983 (The same draft where they could have taken Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Jim Kelly instead.)
So even with two quarterbacks taken, Deshaun Watson was still on the board despite being viewed as a potential number one pick a year ago after a great performance in the National Championship game in a losing effort versus Alabama. This year he had another great National Championship game performance in a winning effort against the Crimson Tide and somehow his draft stock fell. Could the same draft scouts who saw Watson play in two title games play like Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl also see his career go the same way as Young’s did?
Nevertheless, the New Orleans Saints then took cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th, the Houston Texans capitalized on the opportunity to take Watson by moving up to take him with the 12th pick.
For the Texans, this could go down as their best draft pick since J.J. Watt in 2011 because despite being a playoff team with an elite defense for the past two seasons, their weakest position that has kept them out of the Super Bowl for all these years has been the quarterback. Deshaun Watson can finally be their answer to the quarterback issue could lead them to their first Super Bowl berth within a few years. (J.J. Watt’s brother T.J. Watt was also selected in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.)
The pick after Watson was a sentimental moment when the Arizona Cardinals took Philly’s local kid from Temple Haason Reddick. Reddick got to celebrate his NFL dream coming too right in front of the hometown fans gave him a round of applause. And then came the Eagles pick…
Surprisingly, the Eagles first-round pick in Philadelphia might have been the least exciting moment of the draft in picking defensive end Derek Barnett from Tennessee. While stud prospects like Jonathan Allen and Rueben Foster were still on the board, Derek Barnett was the safe pick because he fits the scheme of the Eagles defense and filled their position of need. Barnett also has the milestone gift (or curse) in breaking Tennessee’s all-time sack record held by Reggie White.
Barnett had the unique experience of being drafted by the host city's team
In the second round, the Eagles took a risk in drafting Sidney Jones who will likely not play this season due to his injuries, but if he returns healthy and lives up to his potential it will go down as a steal, especially for a team where the cornerback has been a position of need for years. After all, this is a city that patiently waited two years to see Joel Embidd come onto the court and awesomely play for only 31 games. Along with that waiting an entire year to see Ben Simmons step onto the court. So it won’t be that torturous for Eagles fans to wait and see what Sidney Jones has.
An Amry lieutenant's widow and son got to announce the Eagles selection of Sidney Jones.
The Eagles would used their later picks filling in their position needs in running back, cornerback, and wide receivers.
The draft also had epic moments like Takkarist McKinley's speech
While there are seven rounds in the NFL draft, teams can also sign undrafted free agent prospects, and there are occasions where undrafted free agents go on to become star players. Among those undrafted free agents was Duke receiver Anthony Nash being signed by the Denver Broncos. Nash was my middle school football teammate for the Stetson Falcons in the West Chester Area School District.
With the huge success of the draft being held in Philadelphia, the chances of the 2018 NFL draft being held there again are very high. The nation’s original capital has every right to host the draft again next year for elevating the event to the level of a national music festival. And now we can sit back and the professional career of each draft picks turns out as either a hit or a bust this Fall in the 2017 NFL season and for future seasons to come.