NFL franchises, constantly harping on the importance of team chemistry, dabbled Friday in the theory of relativity.
Can the sons match the fathers?
A running theme on the second day of the draft was generational talents, as USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (Indianapolis), Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (Tampa Bay) and Florida receiver Van Jefferson (Rams) each made their first steps down a path their NFL dads took.
Michael Pittman Sr. spent 11 years as a running back in the league with Arizona, Tampa Bay and Denver, winning a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. Antoine Winfield Sr. played 14 years as a cornerback for Buffalo, Minnesota and Seattle. And Shawn Jefferson was a receiver for 13 seasons with San Diego, New England, Atlanta and Detroit, now coaching the position for the New York Jets.
Their sons were all chosen in the second round, with the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Pittman being the second name called of the night.
“I think they brought me in to make an impact right now, and they have Philip Rivers, who I think is a Hall of Famer,” Pittman said, referring to the longtime Chargers quarterback acquired by the Colts in free agency. “I’m happy I get to start with like a Hall of Fame quarterback.”
Pittman, one of four Football Bowl Subdivision receivers to catch more than 100 passes last season, is the latest in a string of former Trojans wideouts to go in the second round, joining JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
Tampa Bay’s huge offseason acquisition was Tom Brady, 42, who is the same age as the elder Winfield and played against him. Now, young Antoine is Brady’s teammate.
“It means everything,” Antoine Jr. said. “I’ve dreamed about this moment ever since I was a little kid watching my dad play.”
He said his father’s influence “helped in every way.”
“Growing up, I would watch him do things and play football,” he said. “Just the little advice he would give me growing up — he would take me out to the backyard, and we would be doing football drills, just working on things I need to work on and watching film together.”
On the first day of the draft, conducted from remote locales amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the country watched plenty of football film. The opening round set a ratings record with average audience viewership of more than 15.6 million, breaking the previous high of 12.4 million set in 2014.
The second round opened with Cincinnati taking Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins, and that set the pass-catching tone for the night. Thirteen receivers were selected in the first and second rounds, a league record.
Among the most surprising picks was Philadelphia taking Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round, with Carson Wentz firmly entrenched as the Eagles’ starter.
Hurts, who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma, gives the Eagles a change-of-pace option who allows them to be more creative on offense, especially in goal-line situations. And that’s a franchise that knows the value of a capable backup, having won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles filling in for the injured Wentz.
New England, meanwhile, repeatedly passed on taking a quarterback despite losing Brady. Patriots coach Bill Belichick stocked up on defensive players — Lenoir-Rhyne safety Kyle Dugger, Michigan defensive end Josh Uche and Alabama outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings — and was almost never in the shot when the broadcast cut to his streaming video. It was merely a shot of an empty chair at what looked to be his kitchen table.
The Patriots finally took an offensive player when they traded back into the third round to select UCLA tight end Devin Asiasi. He declared for the draft after a junior season in which he had 44 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns. He had 22 receptions in the last four games of the season, including five for 141 yards and a touchdown against USC.
“Devin has huge upside as a tight end prospect,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said last week of the 6-foot-3, 257-pound Asiasi. “He can run, he’s big, he’s physical, good offside attributes and speed, what you’re looking for in a tight end.”
With two quarterbacks on the Patriots’ roster — Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer — it remains to be seen who will be delivering the football.
More sons of NFL fathers await their opportunities, possibly Saturday in rounds 4-7. Among them, Louisiana State tight end Thaddeus Moss (Randy Moss), South Dakota State kicker Chase Vinatieri (Adam Vinatieri), North Carolina tackle Charlie Heck (Andy Heck), UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes (Darick Holmes) and Michigan tackle Jon Runyan Jr.
Talk about junior achievement.