Mike Tannenbaum and the 33rd Team had the privilege Wednesday morning of hosting a two-hour “Path to the Draft” special on ESPN New York Radio. Joined by a roster of big-name guests, the show dug into what teams can expect when the 2021 NFL Draft begins Thursday night, how teams prepare for the draft in general and historical references that may instruct teams going forward.
To listen to the complete broadcast, click here.
Some highlights of the show:
Rex Ryan on Zach Wilson
The former Jets head coach was very high on the Jets’ presumptive second overall pick, BYU QB Zach Wilson – daring to comparer him to the current NFL MVP.
“When I watch him, I see a young … maybe not quite Aaron Rodgers, but he’s close,” said Ryan. “In fact… everybody’s saying, ‘Well, Trevor Lawrence is the best guy far and away, slam-dunk’ and all that. I said that the whole year. … then I watch this kid and I think, ‘Oh, man’
“I don’t want to say it – because you know I love Clemson – but I’m not so sure when it’s all said and done that this kid might end up having a better career.”
Former Jets QB Mark Sanchez joined the show in the second hour and also had praise for Wilson. In addition to his on-field attributes, Sanchez was impresed with Wilson’s maturity. Once Wilson had a good idea that he’d be a Jet, he reached out to Sanchez and fellow former Jet Chad Pennington to ask about life in New York.
Always be prepared
Tannenbaum was asked what teams do in the final hours leading up to the draft.
“If I were running a team right now, I’d make sure we had three players that we were really, really good with – and I mean from a scheme standpoint, a medical standpoint, all the intangibles are checked,” he said. “And have a really great sense of, ‘Hey, if we want to trade up for whatever reason, who are the one or two players that we feel could be there?’ Likewise, if we’re going to trade back, I want to have all those cvonversations, to the extent that it’s reasonable, with the head coach and owner beforehand.”
Tannenbaum recalled the 2016 draft, when he was with the Dolphins. The No. 1 player on Miami’s board was offensivbe tackle Laremy Tunsil, but they never thought he’s be there when the Dolphins picked at 13. But off-field questions led to Tunsil dropping, and Miami got a player they never thought they’d get.
“As prepared as you can be, and I’m sure all 32 teams are, that’s what is so great about what we’re going to see (Thursday) night… an amazing drama played out over four hours.”
When asked what pick Thursday night might cause the most mayhem, Banner and Tannenbaum had different answers.
Banner: “I don’t know about mayhem, but whatever Atlanta decides to do (with the fourth overall pick) is going to have a huge impact, not just at the front of the draft but as we go down through it – and whether a series of trades that are being discussed right now actually happen or not.
“I think we’re all curious as to who gets picked at 3, but it’s going to be one of the quarterbacks. So the true unkowns in my mind kick in at 4, and there’s a domino effect that runs down through the round quite a bit. So to me, that’s going to be quite interesting.”
Tannenbaum: “The other fascinating one to me is Carolina and here’s why: They gave up multiple picks to get Sam Darnold, most notably a 2 and a 4 next year. Sam only has one more year on his contract, assuming they exercise the option. Assuming there’s a good quarterback there – and what I mean by good is one of the top five … I think teams can come up. I think there’s a group of four – Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh and New England – that could come up for a quarterback there.
“But more fundamentally, what does Matt Rhule do? You acquired Teddy Bridgewater, that didn’t work out. You have Sam Darnold. Do you keep going and try to add another quarterback? Scott Fitterer, their new GM, came from Seattle, where they had Tarvaris Jackson. They had Matt Flynn. And then they stumbled into a 6-foot-tall, third-round quarterback that couldn’t start at N.C. State named Russell Wilson. And I think where they really deserve credit is, it was a mindset where they kept trying to add to the quarterback position. So I’m really curious to see how Carolina handles that, assuming there is one of these front-line quarterbacks still there.”
Tannenbaum and Banner talked about the challenges of draft preparation in the time of COVID.
“You just hear from teams (about) the challenges of getting medical information or just not having enough time with players,” said Tannenbaum. “It’s different, and some of these medical situations can be complicated.”
Banner agreed, though he did take a contrarian view about the idea that COVID limitations would make it harder to make smart picks.
“I actually think there’s a chance we’ll see a higher hit rate. Because I think one of the mistakes teams make is that they get distracted from the tape. And they get caught up in other discussions. And although you’d obviously like to have the information that Mike’s referring to – and the more information, the better – if what this really does is get … whoever has the final say to make the pick (to rely more on the tape), I think there’s actually a chance we see as high or higher a hit rate than what we’re used to seeing.”
Former Eagles team president Joe Banner shared a great story, recalling one of the odder draft-day conversations he’s had. In 1999, the Eagles made Donovan McNabb the second overall pick. From the team war room, Eagles head coach Andy Reid called McNabb, who was in New York at the draft. After a short conversation, McNabb was called away to greet the commissioner Paul Tagliabue on stage.
What happened is draft lore, as Eagles fans in attendance at the draft gave their new franchise quarterback a hearty booing.
“So I’m actually getting on the phone with him right after he got booed,” said Banner. “I quickly was trying to be his therapist. You’re 20-21, and anybody’s who’s ever been in a position to get booed, it’s unpleasant anyway. And here’s a moment you’ve fantasized about your whole life. You’re there with your family on national TV. So getting back on the phone with him right after we had witnessed him being booed that way, it was definitely a challenging few moments.”
What did Banner say to McNabb?
“I said, ‘You’re hearing from people that don’t know, so don’t let them rattle you. We believe in you. We can’t tell you how excited we are about this. You’re going to be here a long time and we’re going to have a lot of success.’ I just tried to flip into a little bit of empathy followed with trying to build his confidence and just reassure him how much we believed in him and how good we felt about him and how this will be forgotten in time.”