Falcons, Broncos deliver most shocking picks of NFL Draft’s first round, plus Joel Embiid’s big night

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He Went Where? Two possibly historic blunders

For about an hour, last night’s first round of the NFL Draft was pretty boring. No mega-trades, no real shocks in the top five. And then the draft got real, real weird. Two picks I cannot stop thinking about:

1. The Falcons, who just signed new franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins to a massive contract, picked … Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8. That is just a stunner. No other way to say it. The levels here are jarring:

  • Does the team have such little faith in Cousins’ Achilles tendon? Cousins had surgery in November, but no one seemed too worried about his health when Atlanta guaranteed him $100 million in the opening hours of free agency. So is Penix insurance? An insurance QB in the top 10?? What are we doing here? I won’t get over this. The Falcons’ explanation frankly didn’t make sense, either.
  • And hey Kirk, new franchise QB, uh, we believe in you? The Athletic’s Dianna Russini reported that Cousins was understandably dismayed by the surprise. There’s job security, and then there’s wasting a high pick on a guy who won’t help the team this season — a team that’s clearly loading up for a potential playoff run. The Falcons apparently told Cousins they’d be drafting a QB in the later rounds, then made this selection. Yeesh.

2. Thanks to the Penix pick, Denver’s Sean Payton escapes some scrutiny for picking Oregon QB Bo Nix at No. 12. This is a huge reach on most people’s boards. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler did not have Nix as a first-rounder in his last mock draft, slotting Nix at No. 44 in his list of the top 300 prospects. The Broncos’ QB plan post-Russell Wilson is apparently Nix, Zach Wilson and Jarrett Stidham. Not exactly thrilling.

It’s not hyperbole to say these two picks are historic moments for both franchises, and right now, they look like possible busts. It’s unfair to pin this on either QB — they might be great! — but the picks just make no sense beforehand.

There weren’t many other shocks. Caleb Williams is a Bear, and so is Washington wideout Rome Odunze, which might’ve given Chicago an offense for the first time in eons. Jayden Daniels is a Commander, Drake Maye is a Patriot and J.J. McCarthy is a Viking. All tracks.

We’ll have plenty more to say on the draft in the coming days. For more now:

  • First-round grades are here. Both Denver and Atlanta get C’s. We also gave out some winners and losers titles.
  • You can find every pick here. Of course Kansas City traded back into the first round to get a blazing-fast wide receiver. We also had a record 14 straight offensive picks to start the draft.
  • The draft is far from over, too. There is a ton of talent on the board, including Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean. See Dane’s best available list here.

And make sure to tune into Scoop City for everything I missed.

Playoff Peek: They’re not done yet

The Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic both entered last night’s games down 2-0 in their respective series, but the tenor of each could not be more different:

  • In Philly, there was urgency to recoup time. Reigning MVP Joel Embiid, who could not waste another season of his prime by going down 3-0 to the surging New York Knicks, single-handedly willed the Sixers to a 125-114 win with 50 points, all while battling Bell’s palsy. He possibly should’ve been ejected from the game, though.
  • In Orlando, there was a lesson. This is a young, talented, and green team experiencing its first playoff experience together. The Cavs ran them in the first two games. Last night’s blowout 121-83 Magic win could be the moment in the superhero movie when the protagonist realizes their own power. I hope this series becomes fun.

Do we even have to talk about the Lakers, who fell 112-105 to the Nuggets? I guess. I’ve seen this movie seven times in the last two postseasons and each viewing has the same result: a Denver win. The defending champs can sweep Saturday.

See all our insights from yesterday’s NBA action here.

The NHL bracket featured … the opposite:

  • Both Carolina and Florida pushed their respective tilts to 3-0 with big wins on the road, effectively ending these series, barring miracles/meltdowns. The Hurricanes and Panthers are our clear Stanley Cup favorite right now, in that order.

News to Know

Eagles extend Brown, too
The Philadelphia Eagles spent draft day doing more than making picks: They signed star wide receiver A.J. Brown to a three-year, $96 million contract extension with $84 million guaranteed. It’s the highest average annual value for a wideout in NFL history. The Eagles have been spending some serious cash this offseason.

More news

  • Cubs reliever Luke Little was forced to change his glove yesterday due to an American flag patch.
  • Former members of the Arizona Coyotes landed in Utah yesterday to much fanfare.
  • Yesterday, the man who shot and killed retired Saints defensive end Will Smith in 2016 received a 25-year prison sentence.

Watch This Game

NBA: Bucks at Pacers
5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The night’s entire slate is great, but I’m focused on some anxiety here: I genuinely have no idea what to expect from Milwaukee at any point. At 1-1, they can’t solve Pascal Siakam, and Giannis Antetokounmpo remains doubtful to play. A loss here could signal a season-ending spiral.

NHL: Rangers at Capitals
7 p.m. on TNT
New York has a lot of juice right now, but I want to see whether they slam the door on this series or let Washington hang around. This feels like an early are-they-actually-contenders playoff test. Watch out for Alexis Lafrenière, a big reason for that juice.

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

Former Dodgers pitcher Steve Sax has a theoretical trophy case almost any other former MLB All-Star would envy. But you won’t find them out in his home these days — you’ll find memories of his son, John, a Marine pilot who died in action in 2022. Daniel Brown writes a heart-wrenching tale about a father’s devotion to sharing his son’s story. Try not to cry.

Stephen J. Nesbitt has an uplifting story out of Chicago and Charlotte, where White Sox minor-league reliever Chad Kuhl — who has spent parts of seven seasons in the majors — is embracing the “boring” return to normal after his wife’s breast cancer scare.

Mets celeb fan Seymour Weiner — yes, his real name — has seen all of your jokes. The 97-year-old loves them, too.

Which NHL player had the worst game in playoff history? Sean McIndoe went down a depressing rabbit hole.

Fascinating piece from Christopher Kamrani: The Winter Olympics have a problem, as climate change and costs have made it impossible for most countries to host the event going forward. It’s led the IOC back to Salt Lake City — which could become somewhat of a recurring host.

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Our last beat writer NFL mock draft. They did pretty well … until the QB surprises.

Most-read on the website yesterday: Dane Brugler’s final NFL mock draft. Also hit the first four picks.

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