The National Football League draft starts tonight and runs through the weekend. Here’s what the first two rounds of the draft would look like if we entered The Land of Make Believe, in which NFL teams selected from the pool of talented athletes who starred at the five local schools.
Welcome to the 4th Annual Bizarro Draft…
1. Cleveland Browns: Joe Catania (RB- Rocky Hill): The Browns have completely revamped their offense and Catania should be the final piece of the rebuild. His explosiveness, incredible balance and punishing running style will remind Clevelanders of Jim Brown.
2. New York Giants: Stone Belzo (QB/DB- Middletown): A unique two-way player that has thrived as a defender, both in-the-box and in space, and also shined as a quarterback in the fall. Regardless of how new head coach Pat Shurmur uses Belzo, he’s found his field general for the next decade.
3. New York Jets: Damon Stewart (DL- Newington): Stewart’s dominance on the line is unmatched. His length, athleticism, and brute strength will provide position flexibility for a Jets team that has lost a lot of talent on the d-line in recent years.
4. Cleveland Browns: Bryce Karstetter (QB- Crom/Port): The future is now in Cleveland and they pull the trigger on the strong-armed Karstetter. Underrated athlete with great pocket awareness and ability to throw on the run. Made tremendous strides in 2017.
5. Denver Broncos: DeAaron Lawrence (CB- Middletown): There seems to be nothing that Lawrence can’t do athletically. The track and basketball star shined on the gridiron in the fall, intercepting three passes and knocking down seven others as the leader of a vaunted secondary.
6. Indianapolis Colts: Matt Osgood (WR- Rocky Hill): A rare receiving talent with sure hands and the versatility to play outside, in the slot, or as a flex tight end. Osgood will quickly become Andrew Luck’s best friend because of his ability to get open and his physicality after the catch.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Max Cyr (OL- Middletown): Exactly the type of fierce lineman that Tampa covets. Drive blocking ability of a guard with prototypal size and pass protection skills of a tackle. An anchor for years to come.
8. Chicago Bears: Dianta Highsmith (WR- Crom/Port): A magnet for the ball. Production in the passing game speaks for itself, but he also came up with four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) on defense. Special combination of ability to separate and physicality.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Conor Keane (OT- Wethersfield): Keane comes with a ton of experience. Ideal size and natural movement to protect San Fran’s new franchise QB. A safe, but wise selection for a team on the rise.
10. Oakland Raiders: James Johnson (DE- Middletown): Production from the opening snap until the last, racking up 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in the fall. Quarterbacks will quiver at the thought of Johnson and Khalil Mack.
11. Miami Dolphins: Luke Pappalardo (DB- Newington): Instinctual leader with a ton of game experience and production. Ball skills of a receiver with a knack for coming up with game-changing plays and is a great locker room guy.
12. Buffalo Bills: Danny Cavallaro (QB- Rocky Hill): Cavallaro’s confidence and grit will be welcomed in Buffalo. Proven winner with beautiful touch and accuracy, even in colder weather. Has ability to make plays with his feet and not afraid to mix it up or lower his shoulder to finish runs.
13. Washington Redskins: Connor Pace (DB- Wethersfield): Rising star that gets stronger each game. Worker bee with a nose for the ball (four interceptions) and enjoys contact (45 tackles).
14. Green Bay Packers: Joseph Ferreira (RB- Rocky Hill): Decisive, powerful runner with breakaway speed and the ability to cut on a dime. A touchdown factory that will solidify the backfield in Green Bay.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Sanchez (QB/S- Newington): Intriguing two-way prospect. Could be Arizona’s future quarterback or defensive backfield leader because of his tremendous adaptability and athleticism.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Martin (OL- Crom/Port): Grinder who will help get Baltimore’s rushing attack back on track. Well-coached and ready to start from day one.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Connor Brennan (DB- Newington): Don’t let Brennan’s size fool you, because he packs a punch. Maximum effort athlete with attacking nature from his time on the lacrosse field.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Will White (S- Rocky Hill): White will put the boom back in the Legion of Boom. Consistent, non-stop motor and is willing to play any position to help the team.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Kitrell Lauray (LB- Crom/Port): Lauray had his fall hampered by injuries, but his burst and explosiveness is hard to duplicate. Plays downhill and with purpose.
20. Detroit Lions: Rossano DiGiacomo (LB- Wethersfield): Zach Thomas-type player who uses his leverage and football acumen to take over games. A tackling machine that is difficult to block.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Anthony Feliciano (OL- Rocky Hill): Pro-ready mauler that fills a need in Cincy. Great short-area blocker with power to eliminate bigger opponents and quickness to get to the second level.
22. Buffalo Bills: Mike Souza (LB/S- Middletown): Versatile athlete that thrived near the line of scrimmage and may be a safety at the next level. Plays with an edge and is disciplined.
23. New England Patriots: Dante Baker (LB- Rocky Hill): Steal at this point in the draft. Fast-twitch athlete with explosive power. Willing to play multiple roles, which will serve him well with the emperor of New England.
24. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Vereen (DL- Middletown): Makes his living in the opposing team’s backfield (15 tackles for loss) and can play in both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. A matchup problem.
25. Tennessee Titans: Ryan Skelly (WR- Wethersfield): Captains mentality and is deceptively long with run-after-catch ability. Runs the entire route tree with precision and has outstanding body control.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Wolak (OL- Crom/Port): Adds linebacker’s mobility and intelligence to Atlanta’s front line. High-character prospect with an incredible drive and will not be outworked.
27. New Orleans Saints: Austin Harnish (DT- Wethersfield): Wrestling background allows him to dominate with leverage and power. Versatile athlete, excelled on both sides of ball.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Stephen Hill Jr (LB- Middletown): Young, tenacious prospect with a ton of upside. 80 tackles this fall and is exactly the type of dynamite defender that excels in Pittsburgh.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kyle Sanzo (OL- Rocky Hill): Adaptable lineman that plays with passion and can fill multiple roles. Solid choice for budding team loading up on talent.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Carlum Caldwell (WR/KR- Newington): Adds explosiveness to an offense in transition. Speedster can take any pass or kick to the house.
31. New England Patriots: Jack Hansen (DB- Rocky Hill): Long, lean athlete that can jump and is a major asset on special teams. Blankets receivers and is always around the ball.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Nico Cavaliere (DB- Middletown): Experience defensive back with active hands. Not afraid to support the run, which is a must in Philly.
33. Cleveland Browns: Mitchell Quadrato (DE/OLB- Wethersfield): Youthful, rising star that is explosive off the edge, racking up a handful of sacks this fall.
34. New York Giants: Brendan Dowd (LB- Wethersfield): Intriguing prospect with great size. Tough as nails and a natural leader, having played both middle linebacker and quarterback over the last two seasons.
35. Cleveland Browns: Diamante Baker (LB/DB- Rocky Hill): Supreme athlete with a ton of upside. Rangy and can play in space or near the line, reminiscent of Thomas Davis when he came out of Georgia.
36. Indianapolis Colts: Osbourne Richards (OL/DL- Middletown): Immovable brick wall, offering a lot of flexibility on both sides of the line. Ascending stud is just entering his prime.
37. Indianapolis Colts: Mike Foster (DE/OLB- Middletown): Relentless motor, high-intensity thumper that reminds many of Clay Matthews III. Ceiling is sky high.
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aveontae Frazier (RB- Newington): Shifty back with supreme lateral burst and finishes runs with purpose. High-character kid who comes from an athletic family.
39. Chicago Bears: Bobby Balesano (DE/OLB- Wethersfield): Natural instincts and explosion off the line. Also played running back and is great with the ball in his hands.
40. Denver Broncos: Brent Robbins (RB- Crom/Port): Captain who can adapt to multiple roles. A leg-churning back with a nose for the end zone, evidenced by dozen TDs in 2017.
41. Oakland Raiders: Liam Coleman (LB/S: Crom/Port): Great vision and instincts. Doubled as a receiver, and will high-point and compete for 50/50 balls.
42. Miami Dolphins: Cole Fishberg (FB- Rocky Hill): Old school football mentality and toughness, brings defensive mindset to the offensive side. Tom Rathman clone at the next level.
43. New England Patriots: David Colon (CB- Wethersfield): Great technique and breaks on the ball quickly. Not shy about supporting the run either.
44. Washington Redskins: Jack Shauck (DT- Crom/Port): Stout run-stuffer, who has the size and length for the next level. Heady captain with a fantastic work ethic.
45. Green Bay Packers: Nick Kerlejza (LB- Newington): Fluid from sideline to sideline and remarkable recognition in pass defense. Speed and surge to chase down ball carriers.
46. Cincinnati Bengals: Johnny Cravero (S- Wethersfield): Equally impressive in run support and pass coverage. A playmaker who will continue to grow and flourish with more experience.
47. Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Hinkle (CB- Crom/Port): An absolute steal at this point in the draft. Excels when the ball is in the air and is a shadow to receivers. Mature beyond years and came into his own this fall.
48. Los Angeles Chargers: Ryan Pirre (C- Rocky Hill): Incredibly adaptable player who turned into a devastating blocker this fall. A team-first guy that will do all the dirty work inside.
49. Indianapolis Colts: Camryn Wynn (TE- Middletown): Athletic enough to play outside and a daunting matchup as an in-line tight end. Natural hands catcher.
50. Dallas Cowboys: Gage Davis (LB- Middletown): Plays downhill and attacks the ball. Workout warrior wants to deliver a statement on every play.
51. Detroit Lions: Xzavier Reyes (RB- Middletown): Highly productive back that is swift through the hole and can carry a heavy load. Thievery this late in the second round.
52. Baltimore Ravens: Alex Boutin (DL- Rocky Hill): Burgeoning star with superior size and strength. Sneaky good athlete who is assertive and will not be pushed around.
53. Buffalo Bills: Julian Mulero (DL- Newington): Young buck who exploded onto the scene this fall. Phenomenal run-stuffer that will continue to shine with more experience.
54. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Gerhart (LB- Wethersfield): Reliable three-down backer who pursues and tracks the ball well. Game intelligence is off the charts.
55. Carolina Panthers: Greg Fernstrom (DL- Rocky Hill): Injury hampered season, but has the size and attitude to dominate the line of scrimmage. Willing to do anything for the team, including lead block.
56. Buffalo Bills: Josh Cronkhite (OLB- Wethersfield): Team-player who sets the edge very well. Locker room leader and won’t be outworked.
57. Tennessee Titans: Isayah Burgos (DL/LB: Newington): Solid enough to play the line and athletic enough to play in space. Sure tackler with a lot of field time.
58. Atlanta Falcons: Devon Kilham (DB- Crom/Port): Next level footwork, tracks the ball well, and flies downhill to support the run. Duel threat with breakaway speed and can be used on either side of the ball.
59. San Francisco 49ers: Tyreece Lumpkin (RB/PR- Middletown): Lightning in a bottle that can take it the distance on any given touch, evidence by his 10 TDs this fall. The next Darren Sproles?
60. Pittsburgh Steelers: Garrett Dandridge (DB/KR- Middletown): Elite track speed makes him a return threat from day one. Coverage skills are overlooked but he picked off two passes and knocked down 10 others last season.
61. Jacksonville Jaguars: Craig Elliott (QB: Wethersfield): Works hard at his craft and has a lively arm. Battled injuries, but has all the tools to be an upper echelon signal caller.
62. Minnesota Vikings: Bryan Lockwood (RB- Crom/Port): Just getting started. Explosive back that has the chance to become something really special.
63. New England Patriots: Mike Aresco (K-Middletown): Record-breaking kicker is too good to pass up. Checks all the boxes --- leg strength, accuracy and cool in the clutch.
64. Cleveland Browns: Kamani Chambers (OT- Newington): Great value at the end of the second round. Ideal size, aggressiveness, and finishing skills to pass protect and pave the way for the run.
Middletown's Stone Belzo and Cromwell/Portland's Kitrell Lauray
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin