SEC Country offers a detailed “Winners and Losers” look at Day 1 of the NFL Draft, one of the most surreal draft nights on record.
What made it so unusual? That’s a question for Laremy Tunsil, his handlers … and whoever presides over the no-holds-barred anarchy of social media.
WINNER: Ole Miss’ reputation as a football powerhouse
The murals might have already been commissioned for The Manning Center athletic facility, honoring offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Dolphins — 13th overall), wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (Vikings —23rd overall) and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (Cardinals — 29th overall) as Round 1 selections.
It’s the first time in school history that Ole Miss boasts three first-rounders from the same draft.
Treadwell and Nkemdiche comported themselves very well Thursday, with the former letting his daughter share in the meet-and-greet experience with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell … and the latter employing great humility and appreciation for his affiliation with Arizona — even though a number of off-field red flags could have hindered Nkemdiche’s draft value.
Now for the shaky news related to Tunsil …
LOSER: The Rebels’ reputation as a relatively pristine program
I’m not a police officer or criminologist, but I’m also not blind to the underground realities of big-time college football.
So, let’s address this potential mess, one by one:
a) It appears someone was trying to sabotage Tunsil leading up to Thursday’s big event, posting a video of Tunsil smoking from a bong on Tunsil’s Twitter account, and screenshots of texts inferring impermissible benefits from an Ole Miss employee on his Instagram account; and judging by the look of Tunsil’s face prior to Miami’s draft selection … he didn’t seem all that shocked by a “gas-mask” photo that, without hyperbole, broke the Internet sometime around 8:45 p.m. EST.
b) How on earth did superstar agent Jimmy Sexton, representing Tunsil (along with other prominent players and coaches), let his client speak to the media … just minutes after he was picked by the Dolphins?
Yes, it’s standard-operating procedure for draftees to address on-site reporters behind the draft’s main stage. But given the craziness of the gas-mask photo (which Tunsil admitted was genuine, but dated), the NFL should have waived its normal protocol with Tunsil — and simply let the situation calm down for an hour or two.
Instead, while sweating under the hot lights of the press room, Tunsil confirmed his role with the gas-mask photo — while claiming his social-media accounts had been inexplicably hacked. He then doubled down with an admission of guilt when asked if he had ever received money or assistance from the Ole Miss coaches.
A public relations staffer would eventually halt the press conference (below video); but by then, the proverbial damage had already been inflicted.
As such, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels athletic department must now defend the program’s honor, in terms of disproving all claims of cheating or misconduct.
c) There’s still the lingering issue of Tunsil’s stepdad suing the Ole Miss product, stemming from an alleged assault. Put it all together and it’s a mini-miracle that Tunsil’s draft slide ended at the 13th slot.
By comparison, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack fell out of the first round … just because of a torn meniscus injury.
WINNER: Leonard Floyd’s tantalizing potential as a ferocious pass rusher
The most dejected NFL team on Thursday? Sometime after 9 p.m., with the Cleveland Browns on the clock (originally drafting eighth), the New York Giants were sitting pretty at No. 10.
By all accounts, the Giants coveted Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin or UGA’s Floyd and would have access to one of the prospects momentarily. But in a cruel turn of fate, the Browns traded their selection to the Tennessee Titans, who grabbed Conklin at No. 8; and then the Bears (originally drafting 11th) moved up two spots, as a not-so-subtle means of stealing Floyd at No. 9.
Well, New York’s loss (yoink!) is now Chicago’s gain. Floyd was one of the draft’s fastest risers, a byproduct of his amazing speed and explosion off the edge, along with the versatility to play in either 4-3 or 3-4 bases.
Now for the tough part: The Bears’ coaches and fans won’t view Floyd as the sturdy college player who was more consistent (three-year average: six sacks, nine tackles for loss) than dominant.
Instead, they’ll daydream about that edge-rush potential and evoke thoughts of Broncos star Von Miller (Super Bowl MVP back in February) or Aldon Smith, who collected 33.5 total sacks for 2011-12, when Vic Fangio — the Bears’ current defensive coordinator — was running the 49ers defense.
WINNER, PART II: Will Muschamp’s recruiting acumen — at Florida
The Muschamp/Gators era (28-21 from 2011-14) might have ended poorly two years ago, but it also had a nice postscript Thursday, with Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (Buccaneers — 11th overall) and safety Keanu Neal (Falcons — 17th overall) landing in the top 20 picks.
Hargreaves should be a good fit with the Buccaneers, now that the franchise isn’t so obsessed with the Tampa 2 defense (zone principles); and Neal, a punishing safety, shall be a strong representation of the Falcons’ relentless search for “fast and physical” defenders.
The only downside: Drafting a safety at 17 can be construed as a “reach” … unless that player ends up a cross between Seattle’s Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
LOSER: The SEC’s sense of trivial history
From 2007-15, the SEC produced at least one top-five pick.
In 2007, the streak curiously started with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell at No. 1 overall (one of the most notorious busts in recent memory) … and ended last year with Florida linebacker Dante Fowler (Jaguars — No. 3 overall) and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper (Raiders — No. 4 overall) cracking the top five.
Nine years? It’s a great run, for sure; but it also warrants an enthusiastic meh.
WINNER: Alabama center Ryan Kelly as a cornerstone (and standalone) asset
Without a doubt, Kelly (18th overall to the Colts) will be an entrenched part of Indy’s offensive line for the next 7-10 years; and for what it’s worth, former Colts executive Bill Polian (now an ESPN and SiriusXM analyst) had Kelly tabbed as the draft’s No. 4-rated prospect, regardless of position.
But the Colts connection is a mere footnote to the larger story of Kelly being the lone Crimson Tide player selected in Round 1, meaning defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, linebacker Reggie Ragland, cornerback/kick returner Cyrus Jones and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry must now pin their NFL hopes on Friday’s action (Rounds 2 and 3).
No one could have seen this coming. It has to be a tremendous shock to the Alabama program and SEC, at large.
Which brings us to this …
LOSER: Alabama’s short-term defensive mystique
Let’s put this harsh sub-headline into perspective, flanked with the following question:
What can be the explanation for Robinson, Reed and Ragland falling into Round 2?
All three prospects had seemingly done enough at the NFL Scouting Combine and Alabama’s Pro Day to justify their presumptive draft ranges of mid-to-late first round; only Ragland had a medical red-flag that could have put doubt in teams’ minds.
There didn’t seem to be any buzz for Robinson or Reed when the Cardinals, Panthers and Seahawks — three defense-focused clubs — were wrapping up Round 1. If anything, there was an eerie sense of Round 2 inevitability for the lane-clogging duo.
Here’s a list of rationalizations supporting the Reed/Robinson/Ragland plunge (in no particular order):
a) When teams drafting high in Round 2 trade up to the first round, they’re typically doing it to secure the services of an offensive playmaker (quarterback, receiver, running back).
In the league’s current collective bargaining agreement, clubs have the right to pick up a reasonably priced fifth-year option with Round 1 talents (thus avoiding early free agency).
b) The Crimson Tide enjoyed top-20 national rankings in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense (first nationally) and turnovers forced last season. But maybe in the eyes of NFL scouts and front-office personnel, the 2015 defense was more sum-of-its-parts than Grade-A individual talent.
(As a counter, Alabama linebacker Tim Williams could be a top-3 pick in next year’s draft.)
c) The Alabama and Clemson defenses might have incurred reputation hits from the high-scoring national championship game with the Crimson Tide and Tigers accounting for 95 points and four offensive touchdowns of 30-plus yards. In addition, the Tigers racked up 550 yards of offense against Alabama’s vaunted defense.
Six weeks ago, Reed, Robinson and Ragland, along with Clemson’s Kevin Dodd (defensive end) and Mackensie Alexander, were all considered shoo-ins for Round 1.
But now, they’re all searching for answers and fighting for spots in the next 30-40 picks.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.