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NFL Draft

How one draft day can change your franchise forever

Florida Football Insiders

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Every year in the NFL draft there are certain players who are labeled “Franchise changers,” because they allegedly can help turn a struggling team around. Unfortunately, most years, those “franchise” guys don’t end up delivering. And then, the next year the cycle starts over, a lot of the time for the same teams still searching.

Well, we know in previous draft history the Sunshine State pro teams have had such occasions where one draft day, one (or maybe two) draft selections make all the difference and change the club’s fortunes for the short or maybe long term.

First up is the guy in the photo above.

It was April 26, 1983, when the Miami Dolphins made a selection that changed not only their direction at QB, but by his second season, would change how the NFL began to look at offense and specifically, the passing game. That day in New York, the Fins took eventual record breaking Hall of Famer, Dan Marino with the 27th pick.

It was the first time in draft history that six quarterbacks were taken in the opening round. And even though fellow eventual Hall of Famers John Elway, first overall and Jim Kelly were later, there were names like Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien, that also were selected before Marino, too.

It didn’t take long. In fact it was 1984, Marino’s second year in the NFL, where he and the Dolphins, which had once been a plodding run the ball and smother with defense team, completely re-invented the attacking passing game. Marino broke records for completions, yards, touchdowns, almost everything that year, and the Dolphins stomped to a 14-2 record and went to the only Superbowl of Marino’s career.

Marino went on to a 17 year career, with nine Pro Bowls, three All-Pro nominations, and the 1984 league MVP.

His play paved the way of the “pass happy” NFL that you now see, where almost every QB throws the ball 40 times a game and for 4,000 yards. A franchise and league changing player for sure, Marino went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Next up was April the 22nd, 1995. The day that the first round of that draft laid the foundation for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers future, and eventual 2002 Superbowl win.

That day, the Bucs GM Rich McKay “wheeled and dealed,” and ended up trading down in the first round with the Eagles and still picking 12. Then, he traded back up into the first round for the 28th pick of the Cowboys, using one of the Eagles picks from the trade.

The two names he got? Take a look:

Yes, the former Miami All American, Warren Sapp had shaky drug rumors in his background check that made teams leery, but the Buccaneers had done their homework. And, they took the risk and ended up getting a player who became one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the modern era of the NFL.

Over his 13 season Hall of Fame career, Sapp finished with seven Pro Bowls, and 96.5 career sacks, and most importantly helped change the losing culture of the previous 15 years in Tampa Bay.

The other player selected that day was fellow eventual Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. While some teams backed off the FSU All American because of concerns about his size and weight to play linebacker in the NFL, the Bucs and McKay knew what they had seen on those Seminole Saturdays. And in the end, Brooks became one of the great linebackers of the last three decades in the NFL. His 11 Pro Bowls, five first team All Pro selections, staggering 1,700+ career tackles speak for themselves.

However, he bonded with Warren Sapp, as they were roommates in training camp and on the road. And, they together with veterans Hardy Nickerson and John Lynch led the Bucs defense to total domination in the late 1990’s. The Bucs, with Sapp and Brooks leading the way, won it all in 2002. Sapp and Brooks have since gone in into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2014.

Finally, the Jaguars experienced a “franchise changing moment” on April 18th, 1998.

That’s the day they drafted former Gators running back Fred Taylor ninth overall and grabbed the greatest runner the Jags have ever possessed. Taylor ran for 1,200+ yards and a record 14 rushing TDs his rookie year. That was on the way to a 13 year career with seven 1,000 yard seasons in Jacksonville. He made only one Pro Bowl (2007) but left Jacksonville with every single season and career rushing mark imaginable, and most of them are still standing a decade after his career has ended.

Taylor was the “hammer” in the Jaguars offense that had QB Mark Brunell firing passes to the likes of Jimmy Smith and Kennan McCardell that made them one of the best offenses in football in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s. And he is still regarded by fans and media who covered that era and those teams, as one of the key reasons they sustained a great level of play.

So, the draft approaches Thursday night, and the names Darnold, Allen, Barkely, Chubb and others are being kicked around. Will one or more of them be able to do what Marino, Sapp, Brooks and Taylor did? Possibly. And maybe, even, a couple of them will end up being stars or maybe a Hall of Famer.

That’s the hope, especially for those in the top part of the draft, that their franchise’s fortunes can change for the better on one night with one pick (or two like the Bucs 25 years ago). A pick that makes a lasting impact and sets the team on the course for great things.

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NFL Draft

Bucs, Dolphins and Jaguars rookies take part in “Rookie Premier”

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFLPA hosted members of the 2018 NFL Draft class in Los Angeles over the course of the last three days, With several Bucs, Dolphins and Jaguars represented, there were also state school players there, as well.

First, the 40 rookies attended a seminar, and then all got the opportunity to see their jerseys for the first time together:

For the Bucs, rookie running back Ronald Jones out of USC has now settled on #27, Dolphins rookie TE Mike Gesicki donned his #86 and new teammate RB Kalen Ballage, his #33, and for the Jaguars rookie D.J. Chark saw his #17 with everyone else, too.

Of course, the marquee quarterbacks from the top ten of last month’s draft have and will continue to grab most of the attention.

This included the Browns #1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, the Jets and their new “savior” in Josh Darnold, Josh Allen of the Bills and Josh Rosen of the Cardinals.

The guys took a group photo Saturday morning:

Interesting that there were also several state school players who were out in Southern California taking part in the three day event, and also got the same chance to put their new colors on, etc.

One of those is former USF star receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was taken by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round and he was eager to put on social media his first rookie card:

Also in attendance was former Hurricanes now Bengals running back Mark Walton putting on his #32. And former Louisville Heisman quarter back Lamar Jackson, who’s also a former high school star in Boynton Beach, decided to show some dance moves in his video shoot:

All in all the rookies, the NFLPA and their sponsors spent three days that got them acclimated to the upcoming to the lavish life of the pros.
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NFL Draft

Did Dolphins and Bucs make mistake passing on FSU’s Derwin James?

Florida Football Insiders

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Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Granted we are just after the NFL Draft process late last month and no one has played an actual game, but the analysis continues to pour in on players and the teams that drafted them.

One name that keeps coming up under the heading of “steal” in round one is FSU safety Derwin James.

The L.A. Chargers ended up sitting where they were at #17 and got the Noles All American safety to fill a need.

However, as the draft played out, the Dolphins, were not able to grab a quarterback, and decided with the 11th pick to draft Alabama safety/corner Minknah Fitzpatrick.

As we wrote, Fins owner Stephen Ross was apparently against that decision, but was convinced to let his front office make that pick instead of trading down to get more selections.

The Buccaneers could have also taken James after trading down to in deal with the Bills, but Tampa Bay chose Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.

Both clubs have a mix of veteran and young safeties, but you could make the argument that James would be able to step in and make an immediate huge impact in 2018. And, that’s what Pro Football focus discussed Tuesday:

As PFF points out, that 90.6 grade in pass coverage was #1 in their ranking formula for college safeties, and also his overall grade (92.1) on their scale ranked him #2. And as you can see from their info/photo they had James ranked their fifth best player in the entire draft.

You can also see more about what PFF’s analysts think about James’ game translating to the next level and the fit with the Chargers in their video here:

In the Fins case, they went with a player from Nick Saban’s defensive back factory at Alabama. Again, he’s had 10 defensive backs drafted in the first or second round of his Bama tenure. So, you cannot say that was a bad pick, unless Fitzpatrick is terrible/lost (unlikely), and James is tremendous from year one.

In the Bucs case, they drafted a young physical safety in Justin Evans in the second round last year and eventually took another safety, Jordan Whitehead of Pitt, on day three of the draft this year.

So, both teams would tell you that they addressed the need both last year and this year.

Now, will James’ play make them both regret that they had the chance to take him?

We will find out this fall.

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NFL Draft

Will Mark Walton get significant carries for the Bengals?

Ari Russell

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(USA Today - Trevor Ruszkowski)

When the Cincinnati Bengals selected Mark Walton in the fourth round it wasn’t just for the former Miami Hurricane to not compete for playing time. You have to understand before his ankle injury which cut short his 2017 season, Walton was projected to be as high as a second round pick. Obviously the injury hurt his stock, but he still could play a significant role in his rookie season.

That said there is one scout who feels as if Walton is actually overrated (via cintyjungle.com).

MARK WALTON, Miami (5-9 ½, 202, 4.59, Round 4): Third-year junior declared early even though ankle surgery ended his final season after four games. “He should have stayed in school,” one scout said. “He’s not very good. Just kind of a one-speed guy and gets tackled easily. No elusiveness.” Had a big season in 2016 (1,117). Finished with just 395 carries for 1,995 (5.1) and 26 TDs along with 56 receptions for 624.

That said another scout didn’t hold the same view of Walton at all.

“He’s got a PhD of football,” said another scout. “Poor, hungry and determined.” From Miami. “He’s explosive as heck,” a third scout said. “Just little. Big-play ability. Effective out of the backfield. He can cut and slide at full speed and can outrun the angles.”

Not sure what tape the first scout watched on Walton, it must have been right after he had his first ankle injury last season, where for a few carries he was a little slow. He did end up with over 200 yards on the ground that day. He’s an explosive player once healthy and can find seems and make the long ball runs.

The Bengals have quite a bit a depth now with Walton at running back. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are already there. Plus there’s Brian Hill and Tra Carson. One thing that makes Walton valuable is his special teams abilities.

He’s capable of receiving kickoffs and punts, plus he’s excellent on coverage of both. The fact that he’s also a reliable receiver in the backfield also gives him a nice advantage as far as earning playing time. Considering his diverse value, Mark Walton will be making some kind of impact his rookie season, provided he remains healthy. Not sure what the heck that one scout was talking about.

Here’s Walton talking about his first day of rookie mini-camp.

 

 

 

 

 

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