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NFL Draft: TV analysts give Jets, Giants passing grades on first-round picks

In this general overall view of AT&T Stadium,

In this general overall view of AT&T Stadium, Georgia's Roquan Smith is shown on the video screen after being selected by th Bears during the first round of the NFL draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

Time will tell, as always, but the Giants’ and Jets’ first-round draft decisions got high marks on Thursday night from the analysts on both the ESPN and NFL Network/Fox telecasts.

While opinions were mixed on the Browns’ decision to take quarterback Baker Mayfield first overall, there was little skepticism surrounding running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2 for the Giants and quarterback Sam Darnold at No. 3 for the Jets.

“In my opinion, the best player in the draft,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said of Barkley, adding he considers him the best back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson in 2007.

Added ESPN’s Louis Riddick, “Saquon Barkley was tailor-made for this football team . . . Saquon can tote it and he can catch it. It’s perfect.”

Fox’s Troy Aikman, who joined NFL Network coverage that Fox simulcast for the first time, said he agrees with NFLN analyst Mike Mayock that Barkley is the No. 1 player in the draft.

Aikman addressed a subject that was not delved into as deeply as it might have been by the analyst teams: As good as Barkley might be, should the Giants have taken a quarterback anyway, given Eli Manning’s advanced age of 37?

“What it tells you right off the bat is [general manager] Dave Gettleman did not believe that any of the quarterbacks left on the board were a franchise quarterback,” Aikman said.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Herbstreit and Aikman all noted Darnold’s problems with turnovers last season at Southern Cal — Kiper called him a “turnover nightmare” — but Aikman said he believes Darnold can improve there with coaching.

Herbstreit said there were times on third down last season when Darnold “struggled. He panicked. He turned the ball over. He was sacked a bunch because he was holding on to the ball.”

Still, said Kiper, “They could have themselves a steal at No. 3.”

Riddick said, “It is a good situation. There is no better pro to learn from than Josh McCown. Josh McCown is perfect for Sam Darnold . . . They’re tickled that he fell to them.”

Aikman and Mayock both considered Darnold the best quarterback in the draft. Aikman noted that when the Jets traded up from sixth to third overall, they still could have ended up with the third-best quarterback. Instead, they got the man Aikman deemed the best.

Asked by NFLN’s Deion Sanders what he will bring to the Jets, Darnold said, “A lot of wins. I think that’s what I can bring a franchise.”

NFLN’s Ian Rapoport said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s future with the Jets might be in question for health reasons.

Both television coverage teams captured the raucous atmosphere at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and ESPN host Trey Wingo got it rolling with an over-the-top introduction at the top of the show that fit the moment.

“Welcome to the circus, baby!” he said “’Cause we’re inside the big top. Jerry World! AT&T Stadium! The draft is happening now. Get ready for full immersion. Buckle up, buttercup, ‘cause ain’t nobody knowin’ what’s really going down tonight!”

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