Mike Carlson: The prime-time rise and fall of pro prospects in the NFL draft

With the first round of the NFL draft on the board, Mike Carlson looks at who got what, and if they got it right

Nfl Draft, New York, Mike Carlson,

Image: Matt Marton / AP/Press Association Images

After months of evaluation, speculation, machination and anticipation, the first round of the NFL Draft got written into the books on Thursday night in Chicago.

At a time when both basketball's NBA and ice hockey's NHL playoffs are in full swing, and the baseball season moves past its opening weeks, the NFL Draft's first round, shown in prime time, was the most-watched sports event of the day. The interest is national, not local, and football is America's biggest sport.

No matter that there's nothing much to see except some guys in team gear sitting on phones at tables and writing their picks on little pieces of paper, after which league commissioner Roger Goodell, in a conservative suit, reads those picks.

This creates a procession of giants pimped out in more sparkly suits as Goodell gets them caps with the logo of their new team, hugging and taking selfies with said commissioner, and posing with a newly-printed jersey bearing the number one. It's the sporting world's equivalent of the bake-off, only the prizes are bigger.

The draft distributes college football's best eligible players (those three years removed from high school) to NFL teams in reverse order of their finish from last season. The Super Bowl champions pick last in each round; the hapless Tennessee Titans held the first pick of the 31 teams (the New England Patriots, forfeited their first pick as punishment from Goodell in the ongoing Ballghazi deflation controversy).

Teams are free to trade their picks, and indeed both the Titans and the Cleveland Browns, who held the second pick, traded those choices away, gathering bonanzas of lower-round picks, and future first-rounders in return.

The prize for the teams trading up was, inevitably, quarterbacks. It's the most crucial position in the game, and potentially great ones are rare. Last year quarterbacks were the first two players picked, and both Jameis Winston (Tampa) and Marcus Mariotta (Titans) had successful seasons.

So the Rams, newly-relocated to Los Angeles, and the Philadelphia Eagles, traded bits of their depth and their future for the chance at one of the two premium passers in this year's crop. For months, the debate over whether the first pick would be Jared Goff from the University of California or Connor Wentz of North Dakota State raged on. But yesterday, Goff, slightly less impressive physically but somewhat more pro-ready, went to the needier Rams; Wentz, whose college team played at a lower level, flew to the Eagles, where he likely will not have to start as soon.

Trades were the story of the night, or would have been before we saw the gas mask video. Two months ago, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil from Mississippi was considered the likeliest number one pick: the Titans, before trading their pick, needed a left tackle (remember the film, The Blind Side, and the importance of protecting your quarterback?) and this 6-5 300 pounder, with the agility of a basketball player, was considered the best tackle to come along in a few years.

But there were red flags. During his college career he was suspended for receiving 'impermissable benefits' (a coach was paying him cash), and not being 'completely forthcoming' about the cash with investigators from the NCAA, who are charged with keeping their multi-billion dollar sports business completely 'amateur'.

His step-father was suing him and claiming to be the victim of domestic violence. He suffered a series of small injuries which left some questioning whether he was a 'glass eater' (scout-speak for a growling fighter who can play through pain). And he was with his roommate, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, when the latter fell drunkenly 15 feet from a hotel room window and later tested positive for marijuana too.

Last night, just minutes before the draft, a video appeared on Tunsil's twitter account showing him wearing a gas mask and inhaling smoke through a bhong. It was deleted quickly, but not quickly enough, and Tunsil's agent said his account had been hacked, which made sense because what player in his right mind wuld post a video of himself toking up just before the biggest night of his life.

Before you could say 'far out', Tunsil fell all the way down to the thirteenth pick, where the Miami Dolphins felt his talent was too much to pass on, especially since South Beach is an unlikely location for anyone to find an opportunity for recreational trouble. That fall probably cost him something like $5-6 million over the course of his rookie contract.

The Dolphins said the video was old news, implying they (and probably most of the league) were already aware of its existence. And Bob Quinn, the new General Manager of the Detroit Lions, explained it was a sign of the times. 'If we removed everyone who'd smoked pot...half the board would be gone,' he explained, as if this were the '60s, not 2016.

The political writer Matt Taiibi once produced a list of rules for the draft. The first one was 'take the weed guy', meaning NFL teams tended to devalue players who would nonetheless manage to play well despite their bouts of reefer madness. Nkemdiche followed his literal fall with a less dangerous one on the draft board. He was chosen with the 29th pick by the Arizona Cardinals, who looked at his measureables and destructive play on the field, and figured they could keep his head in the game and his body in the hotel rooms.

In the more mundane world of the draft, the Chargers used the number three pick for defensive end Joey Bosa of Ohio State. Quarterbacks are the hot properties, but there are usually players at other positions who grade out higher, and the Chargers had their pick of four or five.

Image:  Charles Rex Arbogast / AP/Press Association Images

Bosa's choice was a surprise, because he doesn't seem a natural fit for the three-man defensive line San Diego employs. He would have been a perfect fit for Dallas Cowboys with the fourth pick, but with him gone, Cowboys general manager Jerry Jones, who has the full backing of team owner Jerry Jones, went for the glamour pick of running back Ezekiel Elliott, also from Ohio State. The last two times Dallas drafted running backs high in the draft, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith wound up in the Hall of Fame, but having signed Alfred Morris away from Washington already, this was not necessarily a need pick.

The two teams accumulating picks from the Rams and Eagles made their own trade. The Titans gave the Browns a third-round pick and a second-round pick next year to move from the 15th to 8th, where they took another Ohio State player, tackle Jack Conklin. He will be tasked with helping to protect their quarterback Mariota, last year's second pick overall.

The Browns, who signed former second-pick overall Robert Griffin III, used the 15th pick for receiver Corey Coleman of Baylor, who has rare speed but doesn't answer their quarterback question.

And the third-ranked quarterback in the draft, Paxton Lynch of Memphis, will not be around when Cleveland make the first pick in round two today. He went to the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who had Peyton Manning retire and Brock Osweiler sign with Houston after the Super Bowl.

Denver moved up five places by giving a third-round pick to switch spots with Seattle, who still got the offensive lineman they desired, Germain Ifedi from Texas A&M. Lynch, 6'7" and 245 pounds, is physically an Osweiler clone, but not necessarily ready to step in and start.

On Friday the NFL will stage rounds two and three, with the remaining four rounds on Saturday when interest is less and TV audiences are usually smaller anyway. Will the Browns take a quarterback with the 32nd pick? Will Tennessee, with four picks among the first 15 in round two, continue dealing or start stocking up on players? Will New England, with the 60th and 61st picks, and two in round three, try to package some of them to move up and make up for not having a first round pick? Watching the draft is like playing fantasy football, and until the pick is actually made, you can pretend to be the general manager. Without fear of falling.