SportsPulse: Shaquem Griffin, a one-handed linebacker who made history by being drafted by the Seahawks, on what motivates him and the crazy story of how he found out he got drafted.
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With the 2018 NFL draft now in the books, the dust will begin to settle for the talent acquisition portion of the offseason. Now comes the assembly phase. Rookie minicamps will soon take place, veteran strength and conditioning workouts continue, and in roughly a month, offseason practices begin.
Here’s a look at 10 of the most intriguing post-draft story lines around the league:
State of the Browns: This offseason featured dramatic moves for Cleveland. From the trades for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and cornerback Damarious Randall, to the signing of seven free agents. Taking Baker Mayfield first overall marked the pinnacle. But how quickly will it all come together? Hue Jackson (1-31 the last two seasons) will start Taylor while developing Mayfield. How long will they manage to keep the Heisman Trophy winner in a backup role? That depends on Taylor’s success. Meanwhile, future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas has retired. Cleveland will try to replace him with second-round pick Austin Corbett.
Win-now Giants: By passing on Sam Darnold or another top quarterback at No. 2, and instead taking running back Saquon Barkley, the Giants signaled they remain fully confident in Eli Manning. Barkley continues the upgrading of Manning’s supporting cast after the free-agent signing of left tackle Nate Solder. Now, the attention shifts back to Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants resisted pressure to trade him. Now will they give him the rich contract extension he seeks?
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The Patriots’ present: Forget prepping for life after Brady. Bill Belichick remains focused on the now. He gave Brady his replacement for Solder (Georgia left tackle Isaiah Wynn 23rd overall), and added a potential big-play running back (Georgia’s Sony Michel 31st overall). The Patriots have suffered key losses in free agency before but always plug in new pieces and keep rolling. They aim to do so once again.
Jon Gruden’s comeback: Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie passed on a much-needed top-flight defensive player at 15th overall. Instead, they picked UCLA’s Kolton Miller, who could start at right tackle. Defensive help followed on Days 2 and 3 of the draft. But the Raiders still have a hole at inside linebacker with veteran play-maker NaVorro Bowman remaining unsigned. Gruden’s other ongoing mission involves helping quarterback Derek Carr reach elite status. Giving him a weapon like wideout Martavis Bryant (acquired via trade from the Steelers last week) should help.
Ravens’ QB picture: You knew they would take a developmental quarterback with Joe Flacco aging. But Ozzie Newsome made a splash, trading back into the first round to take Lamar Jackson. The rookie could benefit from a developmental year behind Flacco and fellow former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. But after this season, Flacco has no guaranteed money left on his contract.
Vrabel’s first go-round: The former Patriots linebacker began his head coaching career by taking a pair of athletic, versatile and physical linebackers (Alabama’s Rashaan Evans 22nd and Boston College’s Harold Landry 41st). Those moves signify the kind of mindset Vrabel wants his squad to adopt. Over the next few weeks, Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will continue installing their systems while laying the foundation for what they hope is a productive first training camp.
Year 2 in Buffalo: Coach Sean McDermott and the Bills find themselves in an interesting position. They’re trying to make it back to the playoffs after squeaking in last season. But they’ve hit the reset button on offense by shipping Taylor to Cleveland, signing A.J. McCarron in free agency, and drafting Josh Allen seventh overall. Meanwhile, they’re also having to replace two long-time veteran offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Eric Wood. Can fifth-round guard Wyatt Teller (Virginia Tech guard) help here? Buffalo will have to rely heavily on its defense again. Two draft picks, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (16th overall) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (third round) could provide sparks.
Seattle’s new Griffin: The Seahawks delivered one of the more emotional stories of the draft when they selected Shaquem Griffin in the fifth round. Griffin, who joins his twin brother, defensive back Shaquill, on the roster, becomes the first NFL player with only one hand to be drafted. He shined at the scouting combine with dazzling speed and aims to prove he’s more than a feel-good story. The 6-0, 227-pounder will likely see time in sub packages as a linebacker, and on special teams.
Rams’ reload: After an aggressive March and early April (trading for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and wide receiver Brandin Cooks while signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh), the Rams used the draft to bolster depth. In OTAs, the focus will center on fitting all these new pieces together with the core group that produced the NFC West title. Another priority: signing defensive lineman Aaron Donald to a much-deserved contract extension.
Recovering quarterbacks: The Miami Dolphins passed on drafting a quarterback despite Ryan Tannehill coming off two major left knee injuries in the past 18 months. They’ve said all along that they view him as their starter for 2018 and expect he’ll be ready to take the field for offseason practices. But Tannehill hasn’t played a game since December of 2016. Meanwhile, OTAs will feature continued recoveries for two other QBs coming off ACL tears. Neither Houston’s Deshaun Watson nor Philly’s Carson Wentz will practice this spring, but continue to aim for Week 1 returns.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.