Mike Freeman's NFL Draft Notebook: Shaquem Griffin and the Fear of the Unknown

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 28, 2018

Central Florida's Shaquem Griffin walks out onto the stage at the start of the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Why so many teams passed on Shaquem Griffin, the winners and losers of the draft, Andrew Luck trade talk and more.

        

1. A day of unknowns

Shaquem Griffin was the best story of this year's draft. Of many years' drafts.

The Central Florida edge-rusher has a legitimate chance to be a star in the NFL despite having had his left hand amputated at age four. His potential really is that high, and along the way he will be a beacon for many.

But that's just one aspect to this story. What happened to Griffin in this draft is also typical of how the NFL views the unknown—and how it used Griffin to boost its image.

The NFL knew the chances of Griffin being drafted high were practically zero, yet it still invited him to the league's green room, where cameras constantly showed him, and his incredible story was told repeatedly.

And he sat. And he sat. And his story was told over and over.

It's not that Griffin wasn't going to be drafted. That was always going to happen, and the Seahawks did finally take him in the fifth round. It's that the NFL always knew there was no way Griffin was going to be drafted in the first three rounds, when the cameras are there.

The same way the league uses our love of patriotism, the military and the police to manipulate us, it used Griffin's presence in that green room.

Meanwhile, with Griffin and his story used as a way to portray the league as a benevolent force, the normal business of the draft continued, where we saw, again, in full display, how the NFL views—and fears—the unknown in totally irrational ways.

Griffin is an unknown because of his missing hand, lost because of a rare prenatal condition. It didn't stop him from dominating in college, but teams fear it will hold him back in the NFL because they haven't seen this before.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01:  Shaquem Griffin #18 of the UCF Knights steps over Jarrett Stidham #8 of the Auburn Tigers after making a sack in the second quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgi
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tellingly, a number of players who have real reason to make teams fear the unknown were drafted ahead of him.

Antonio Callaway was picked in the fourth round despite allegations of credit card fraud and sexual assault. Defensive lineman Arden Key was drafted by the Raiders in the third round. He had checked himself into rehab for marijuana use. Baker Mayfield was taken first overall despite a public intoxication arrest. Cornerback Mike Hughes was drafted in the first round by the Vikings. He was suspended one game after misdemeanor charges were filed against him after a frat party. He left North Carolina after a sexual assault allegation that didn't bring charges. Derrius Guice went in the second round to Washington despite a cavalcade of issues.

Will those players get their behavioral issues under control in the NFL? Unknown.

Meanwhile, teams are unwilling to risk signing Colin Kaepernick because it's unknown how their fanbases and locker rooms would react. (Both would be fine.)

And they passed on Griffin because it's unknown how a player with one hand could dominate in the NFL. (Again, he did just fine at it in college.)

We all know what the NFL is. It's a cutthroat business, and however much talk there is from teams of wanting high-character players, the league drafts and signs all manner of good men and all kinds of not-so-good ones.

The NFL had Griffin in that green room because it wanted to showcase its inclusion of one of the good ones. Even if he was an unknown.

Instead, the league's hypocrisy was all that was on display.

         

2. 'Giants won this draft...'

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

I asked one AFC front-office person to rank the drafts (without ranking his own team). What he said:

Best:

• Giants: "I always felt like whoever got Saquon Barkley would get one of the most special players I've ever seen. Giants won this draft because of him."

• Packers: "They changed that defense overnight. They're much more athletic now."

• Broncos: "They have Bradley Chubb and Von Miller now on the same defense."

Worst:

• Raiders: "I have no clue what their strategy is."

• Seahawks: "Waited until late in the fifth to take an offensive lineman. That's just not smart."

          

3. Trade Andrew Luck?

AJ Mast/Associated Press

Colts owner Jim Irsay just opened the door. The question is why?

As reported by Zak Keefer of Indystar.com, Irsay on Saturday revealed that his team received trade offers during the draft for Andrew Luck.

"Trust me, there were people that would've given an unprecedented amount of draft picks, all with a No. 1 (pick) behind them, for him, and we wouldn't even think of drifting in that direction," Irsay said. "He's our guy. We feel 100 percent confident that he is going to come back and lead this football team with some of the new teammates he's accumulated to great things."

When asked for more details, Irsay added: "I won't go any deeper in that. We won't open our doors on that. Let's just say that I think the rest of the league is anticipating him to return and play great."

It's likely this is just Irsay going full Irsay. He was just being chatty.

There's a reason, though, that teams almost never voluntarily, and openly, talk about trade offers. It leads to all kinds of speculation and often actually irritates the players who are the subject of the trade talk.

I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of this.

           

4. Multi-sport

An amazing statistic from Detroit Free Press writer Mick McCabe on this year's first-round picks:

It used to be, decades ago, that teams had issues with multi-sport athletes. Teams wanted guys who played mostly football. They thought if you played other sports, you weren't truly committed to football.

That's obviously changed.

Denver's draft pick, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who also played basketball at SMU, spoke about being a multi-sport athlete and how it helped him be a better football player.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

"I was always told that a lot of the sports that I play kind of went together within themselves," Sutton said, according to quotes distributed by the team. "I played basketball, baseball and football growing up. Baseball helped me with depth perception and being able to see where the ball is going to be when the quarterback throws it. It is a unique trait to be able to have after you have played in there. With basketball, being able to be a dominant rebounder you have to know how to box out guys. You have to know how to high point the ball at the highest point or you won't get any rebounds.

"I think adding those to my traits of being a dominant, big body receiver is something that I have been able to do and continue to do. Being able to play basketball that one year that I was at SMU was very helpful. Coach Larry Brown helped me understand the importance of bodying people, being able to box out guys that are 6'10", trying to get rebounds over them. It really helped me whenever I got in games, I was boxing out guys that were like 5'9", 5'10". It was a lot easier to be able to do. I think all of those traits definitely go together, blends together, and makes me the football player I am right now."

       

5. Stars were born

Last note on the draft, and it's an important one. It comes from Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Brown is the best receiver in football today but wasn't a high-round pick or star college player.

The Steelers saw something in him, and Brown knew he could be special.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Now here he is, and he gets the final word.

For hundreds of players, the door is now open.

      

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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