Thursday, May 23, 2024

NFL Draft Winners and Losers: Steelers Surge, Cardinals Confound on Day 2

HomeSports NewsNFL Draft Winners and Losers: Steelers Surge, Cardinals Confound on Day 2

When the klieg lights of the NFL draft’s opening night fade, the real franchise-altering moves often unfurl on Day 2’s winding road. Stocked with premium picks, teams frantically scrambled to secure prized assets before the well ran dry in Friday’s second and third rounds. With this year’s prospect pool shallower than Baha’ia’s salt flats, the feverish hunt for hidden gems took on seismic urgency. For some, the haul glittered brilliantly. For others, regret already looms.

Steelers Mine Bonanza of Beef and Blitz

The Pittsburgh Steelers harkened back to their callous, smash-mouth roots, unleashing a Day 2 masterclass. After plucking hulking tackle Troy Fautanu in Thursday’s first round, the Steelers reinforced their new-age Steel Curtain by nabbing center Zack Frazier – a four-time high school wrestling king boasting sumo-level grappling prowess.

Hardly done fortifying their burly trenches, Pittsburgh plucked blazing wideout Roman Wilson as their yearly polished Day 2 receiver gem. But their biggest dice roll came at linebacker, where injured but elite playmaker Payton Wilson plunged all the way to the draft’s basement amid durability woes. If the Bednarik Award winner stays upright, the Steelers may have pilfered 2024’s biggest second-day steal.

Bolts Reload With Wolverine Haymakers

For weeks, skeptics howled over the Chargers’ barren receiving corps behind aging stalwart Keenan Allen. New coach Jim Harbaugh swiftly doused those flames. Los Angeles sacrificed future picks to shoot up and seize Georgia’s Ladd McConkey at No. 34 overall – a human yo-yo mastering every silky route tree contortion.

Harbaugh’s Wolverine reunion tour kept rolling as the former Michigan guru grabbed his old linebacker enforcer, Junior Colson, in Round 3. Colson’s thunderous presence should eradicate the soft underbelly chronic to the Chargers’ recent defenses. With McConkey’s electric feet and Colson’s bludgeoning fury, the Bolts fortified two major needs instantly.

Maize and Blue Blizzard Batters Draft

Friday will forever be remembered as Michigan Dominance Day. The defending national champs flooded the draft with a six-pack of ballers spanning both lines of scrimmage and every level of the defense.

Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and cornerback Mike Sainristil got the party raging in Round 2. Then in Round 3, linebacker Junior Colson, running back Blake Corum, ‘backer Roman Wilson, and offensive guard Zak Zinter went off the board in a stupefying barrage. At one point, Corum, Wilson and Zinter’s names were bellowed from the podium in successive picks, unfurling pandemonium.

It could get even wilder on Saturday for Jim Harbaugh’s juggernaut, as more Wolverines likely await phone calls that could break Georgia’s record for most players drafted in a single class.

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New Schemers Freshen Up Fading Defenses

In the City of Brotherly Love, Philly’s new defensive shot-caller Vic Fangio received an influx of youthful talent to mold his aggressive vision. Toledo corner Quinyon Mitchell’s rangy, blanket coverage skills made him a no-brainer first-round selection to bolster the secondary.

Round 2 brought another defensive back malleable to Fangio’s scheme in Iowa’s sleek, versatile safety/nickel Cooper DeJean. Then to cap the coordinator’s inaugural draft haul, the Eagles upsized their pass rush by nabbing raw but rippling defensive end Jalyx Hunt.

Over in Green Bay, Jeff Hafley wasted no time revamping the Packers’ staid defense on Day 2 with playmakers to power his predatory attack. Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper is a prolific sideline-to-sideline pursuer while Georgia safety Javon Bullard showcased elite ball skills for Hafley’s turnover-feasting system. With those collections of hunters in the fold, things should start heating up again at Lambeau.

Seminoles Stalk Draft’s Middle Rounds

Florida State gave NFL fans flashbacks to the program’s late-90s heyday, flooding the draft’s second and third rounds with an avalanche of talent from last year’s 13-win heavyweight.

It started with receiver Keon Coleman heading to Buffalo early in Round 2, kicking off a daily Seminole downpour. Four more FSU studs quickly followed, highlighted by defensive tackle Braden Fiske reuniting with first-round defensive end partner Jared Verse on the Rams’ reinforced defensive front.

With receiver Johnny Wilson, versatile tight end Jaheim Bell, and sky-high upside quarterback Jordan Travis still on the board, Saturday could bring even more Garnet and Gold to the professional ranks in a single draft class unseen since Miami’s torrid 2002 production line.

Jets Snag The YAC Monster

While the draft’s brightest lightning bolts came off the board in Round 1, the New York Jets found one of the class’ most electrifying weapons much later by plucking Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley in Round 3.

Aptly dubbed “The YAC King”, the 5-11, 207-pound Corley is a human pinball wizard once the balls in his hands. His preternatural ability to slither through creases and pile up yards after the catch is unrivaled.

Assimilating Corley’s elite short-area dynamism into New York’s system could unlock new dimensions for decorated newcomer Aaron Rodgers. Securing a role won’t be easy for a limited route-runner, but Rodgers’ precision passing and Corley’s runaway train broken-field prowess could form an unstoppable duo over the middle.

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Zeke-Dallas Reunion In Jeopardy?

Once seemingly inevitable, a reunion between the Cowboys and three-time Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott appears on shakier ground. Despite professing a massive draft crush on undrafted Texas runner Jonathon Brooks, Dallas stunningly bypassed adding a frontline back through the draft’s first three rounds.

Owner Jerry Jones lauded Brooks as delivering the “best interview” of his three-decade tenure. Yet after Round 3, the Cowboys are now running short on options to fill their glaring backfield vacancy. Their next chance to draft won’t come until the fifth round, bottlenecking them with limited options if Elliott’s return hits an impasse and Brooks yields to another team.

For as much fanfare as Jones built courting Brooks, suddenly Dallas’ once-potent rushing attack looks adrift heading into summer.

Cardinals Creep Through Draft’s Desert

Heading into the draft’s second day armed with a bounty of seven premium picks inside the top 90, the Arizona Cardinals seemed primed to orchestrate a franchise-altering overhaul. Instead, their barrage of dizzying selections left more questions than answers in the wake of GM Monti Ossenfort’s debut draft haul.

Grabbing Florida State running back Trey Benson raised eyebrows with James Conner still under contract. Illinois tight end Tip Reiman’s greatest accomplishment remains convincing people birds aren’t actually real during a comedic Combine showing. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. hits the mark as a dynamic No. 1 target, but otherwise Arizona’s draft did little to overcome their roster’s lack of top-tier talent across the board.

After such an uneven start from a stacked draft cache, the Cardinals may have squandered their biggest opportunity to reignite their rebuild around emerging star quarterback Clayton Pickett.

Rattler Left Outside Looking In

In a quarterback-famished year hyped as historically rich in passing prospects, not a single signal-caller heard their name called in Friday’s second or third rounds. That left ballyhooed South Carolina slinger Spencer Rattler stuck in limbo among the leftover prospects still awaiting the call to the big leagues.

The enigmatic Rattler entered the draft with first-round seeding in some circles but major accuracy and decision-making warts. Those flaws, combined with the dearth of QB-demand after Thursday’s six first-round passers came off the board, has dropped Rattler firmly into project-prospect purgatory as Day 3 beckons.

What once seemed like a potential Day 2 landing spot is now appearing increasingly improbable for the rocket-armed but erratic passer. Rattler may soon have to embrace a developmental role if he hopes to someday unlock the tantalizing potential that made him a top recruit coming out of high school.

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Patriots’ “Weaponized” Offense Still Lackluster

When discussing the need to “weaponize the offense” for incoming rookie quarterback and No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye, the New England Patriots have underwhelmed considerably two days into the draft process.

Second-round receiver Ja’Lynn Polk is a steady complementary target but hardly the alpha No. 1 option this passing game desperately needs. Offensive tackle Caedan Wallace could eventually settle in as a solid starter, but asking him to lock down the blind side from Day 1 feels ambitious for Maye’s long-term development.

So unless the Patriots unearth a true difference-maker among Saturday’s remaining receiver crop, Maye could be in for a trial by fire without many proven weapons in 2024. The North Carolina product thrived creating off-script plays in college using his elite athleticism, but overreliance on that survival tactic could prove disastrous against the NFL’s merciless pass rushers.

For a franchise that preaches being “patriotically prepared” at all times, New England’s offseason plan around its new quarterback already looks disconcertingly incomplete following a lackluster draft haul thus far.

As the NFL draft pushes into its third and final day, plenty of unresolved intrigue still lingers around the league. Some franchises solidified their foundations with savvy maneuverings, while others appear more destined for regret after bizarre decision-making.

The Pittsburgh Steelers look revitalized up front after continuing their tradition of grabbing elite offensive and defensive line talents. Defensive gurus like Vic Fangio and Jeff Hafley received influxes of talent tailor-made for their new attacking schemes in Philadelphia and Green Bay.

Meanwhile, superstar prospects like Michigan’s Blake Corum and Florida State’s Jared Verse found new homes befitting of their elite talents. Aaron Rodgers gained an electrifying new gadget weapon in “YAC King” Malachi Corley. Uncertainty swirls around Ezekiel Elliott’s future in Dallas after Jerry Jones failed to land his draft crush at running back.

The Cardinals, Rattler, and Patriots highlight those still facing major question marks about their short and long-term trajectories. But with impact players still on the board across every position group Saturday, all 32 franchises have one more chance to put a bow on their incoming rookie classes.

Whether Day 2’s aftershocks ultimately yield seismic shifts or mere tremors won’t be known for years. But the peaks and valleys emerging from Friday’s controlled chaos could loom large in how certain franchises fare in the 2024 campaign and beyond.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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