NFL Draft Daily: Why will we never see a first round without quarterback again

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 30 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

You’ve heard it by now if you’ve been watching any sort of coverage in the lead up to the 2022 NFL draft: this is a weak quarterback class. There is no Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow or Kyler Murray. The expectation is that for the first time since 2017, there won’t be a quarterback taken with the first overall pick.

Mills was a bit of a wildcard in 2021, having only started 11 games in his career at Stanford. (Wikimedia Commons)

So, we know it’s bad, but how bad are we talking? Daniel Jeremiah recently said on his Move the Sticks podcast that if Davis Mills was in this draft class, he would be the first quarterback taken. Mills was the seventh quarterback selected in 2021 with the 67th overall pick. That should give us some perspective on how bad this is. Granted, that is just one draft scout, but DJ often knows what he is talking about.

Yet, every 2022 mock draft we see has at least one and probably two or three quarterbacks projected to go in the first round, including Jeremiah’s most recent mock. Malik Willis, Matt Corral and Kenny Pickett all seem to find their way into the top 32 selections. If these guys are no better than a player drafted in the third round just a year ago, why are they considered first-round players?

It all comes down to the league’s need for quarterbacks. Since 1996, there has been at least one quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft. In fact, only four times in that span, 2013, 2001, 2000 and 1997, was only one quarterback taken in the first round. Even that is a bit of a misnomer because Drew Brees was selected 32nd overall in 2001. It was just before we had 32 NFL teams, so he was the first pick of the second round.

So even when there arguably aren’t first-round caliber quarterbacks, the league finds a way for them to go in the first round. 2013 is a perfect example. E.J. Manuel was seen as the best of a very weak quarterback class, arguably even weaker than the one we have in 2022. He lacked the polish or skill set of a first-round prospect, but he went No. 16 overall because the Bills desperately needed a quarterback. He inevitably flopped, as did pretty much everyone from that draft class. Had Manuel come out the year before or the year after, he probably wouldn’t have gone until the third round. 2012 featured Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. 2014 had Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. I think all of them would have been viewed as better draft prospects, whether that was right or not.

Beyond teams getting desperate, there is more incentive to draft quarterbacks in the first round than ever. With contracts skyrocketing for these signal callers, getting a cost-controlled quarterback is often the key to building a Super Bowl contender. Especially since the introduction of the fifth-year option in 2011, it makes a ton of sense to grab a quarterback at the end of the first round for that extra year of contract control.

Jackson led the league in touchdown passes in his MVP season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s use Lamar Jackson as an example. The Ravens quarterback will play this season on his fifth-year option. He has been to multiple Pro Bowls in his first four seasons, so he will earn the equivalent of the franchise tag for the position. His cap hit this season will be roughly $23 million, which ranks ninth among quarterbacks in the NFL. That’s fairly affordable for a player who has already won an MVP award in his career.

Then there are guys like Daniel Jones. He has struggled with consistency, fumbles and injuries in his first three seasons. He also has had a horrendous offensive line and injuries to most of his key skill players as well. In short, it’s a bit unclear what to make of Jones.

If New York decides it wants to hang onto Jones for an extra season without giving him a true extension, they have until May 2 this year to exercise his fifth year option and lock him in for 2023. Based on his playtime in his career, Over The Cap projects Jones to have a cap hit of $22.3 million for that season. That would rank 13th in the league right now. Probably a slight overpay for Jones, but not if he turns it around this upcoming season. For the record, it would be about $8 million less than Jared Goff’s cap hit. That stems from the monster deal he signed with the Rams after his third season. Sometimes it pays to be patient when evaluating your quarterback.

With such a high priority placed on finding quarterbacks and the appeal of the fifth-year option, we are always going to see at least one quarterback taken in the first round, whether they are truly a first-round talent or not. It’s going to happen this year, where it is debatable if there are really any first-round quarterbacks. Weak quarterback class or not, the league will find a way to make at least one of them into a first-round selection.

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NFL Draft Daily: The case for Evan Neal at No. 1

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 31 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

For the second straight year, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the first overall pick in the NFL draft. In 2021, they used it to select their quarterback of the future and one of the most anticipated prospects in the past decade, Trevor Lawrence.

My message to the Jaguars: don’t pass up the opportunity to give Lawrence the support system he needs. Doug Pederson arriving is already a good start. Jacksonville spent big in free agency, but the upgrades they’ve made feel pretty marginal. Brandon Scherff is a really good addition on the offensive line, but the Jags overpaid for Christian Kirk and probably Foyesade Oluokun as well. They really need to crush it in the draft.

After franchise tagging Cam Robinson, the assumption has been that Jacksonville will now select Aidan Hutchinson No. 1 overall. Pairing the edge rusher from Michigan with Josh Allen would give the Jaguars a talented duo off the edge. However, I’m here to advocate for Evan Neal going first overall.

Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke says extension talks with Robinson are ongoing. (Wikimedia Commons)

I talked about this idea a bit this week on my podcast. This has less to do with Hutchinson and more to with both Neal and the Jaguars future at offensive tackle. Lawrence’s rookie season was nothing shy of a train wreck. He threw 12 touchdowns and a league-high 17 interceptions while completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes. That included an eight-week stretch where he only had one touchdown. However, Lawrence was rarely the subject of scrutiny when it came to the Jaguars. Urban Meyer racked up controversy after controversy to keep the spotlight off the former Clemson star. By all accounts, it was a very toxic environment and Jacksonville did not allow Meyer to even finish his first season.

On top of that, his supporting cast was underwhelming at best. Fellow first-round pick and former Clemson teammate Travis Etienne suffered a Lisfranc injury that cost him the whole year. The receiving corps was often banged up and lacked a go-to playmaker. The offensive line left a lot to be desired as well.

The case for Neal requires a bit of projecting into the future. This is the second straight year the Jaguars tagged Robinson. I can’t see them doing it a third time and clearly they have some reservations about handing him a long-term extension. On the right side, Jacksonville also has a question mark. Jawaan Taylor is in the final year of his rookie deal and has done little to indicate he deserves an extension. According to PFF, he led the league in penalties for offensive tackles last season on top of allowing six sacks. So both of the Jaguars starting tackles could be gone next season and neither one is truly deserving of being the long-term starter.

That’s why I think Neal should be the pick. He measured in at 6’7.5″ and 337 pounds with 34-inch arms at the combine. In addition to being a massive human being capable of moving like a man 100 pounds lighter, he has experience at both tackle spots from his time at Alabama. He could easily play right tackle this season before sliding over to the left side in 2023 when Robinson’s deal is up. Jacksonville also has 2021 2nd-round pick Walker Little in the fold. If he can continue to develop. He could be in line to be the team’s starting right tackle with Neal on the left in 2023.

Put on Neal’s tape and you can see why he is special. He is rock solid in pass protection and can get to the second level as a run blocker. There is definitely room for him to improve his pad level and balance. If you want to see what he looks like going up against NFL talent, here is his film from the SEC Championship game against Georgia.

I have long been an advocate for building in the trenches, especially on the offensive side. Jacksonville has already invested some resources there this offseason, but they shouldn’t stop. Especially after Brandon Linder announced his retirement on Sunday, this unit still has room to grow.

There is one last piece to this that I think is important to consider. The depth at edge rusher in this draft class is impressive. Players like Arnold Ebiketie, Nick Bonitto, Drake Jackson, David Ojabo, Kingsley Enagbare, Cam Thomas, Josh Pascal and Myjai Sanders will all likely come off the board on Day 2. Jacksonville will absolutely be able to find a quality edge rusher to pair with Josh Allen with the 33rd pick in the draft.

I don’t think the same can be said for offensive tackle. The drop off from Neal to players like Darian Kinnard, Abraham Lucas, Nicolas Petit-Frere and Tyler Smith is much larger than the drop off from Hutchinson to the group I mentioned before. As great a player as Hutchinson may be, the strength of this class is at edge rusher.

If and when Jacksonville ultimately drafts Hutchinson No. 1 overall a month from now, I won’t crush them for making the safe and obvious pick. I will wonder a bit about Lawrence’s long-term protection and if passing on Neal will hurt his long-term development.

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NFL Draft Daily: Is the Rams’ “all-in” method possible to replicate?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 34 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in Monday for another entry.

The Rams laid the blueprint. Now everyone is trying it. Los Angeles general manager famously rocked a NSFW t-shirt at the team’s championship parade this year that summed up his feelings on draft picks. Let’s just say he doesn’t regret his aggressive approach to roster building.

As the old saying goes: it’s a copycat league. A whopping eight teams currently do not have a first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft. There are a few outliers in the group, as Chicago and San Francisco both parted with their 2022 picks in 2021 to trade up to draft a quarterback. However, the rest, which includes Denver, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Miami and, or course, the LA Rams, all did so in a win-now move in pursuit of a Super Bowl.

The Rams already had a championship core featuring players like Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Jalen Ramsey and more. (Wikimedia Commons)

For the Rams, we’ve already seen the tact work. They brought in Matthew Stafford and sent Jared Goff packing. Continued aggression saw them acquire Von Miller from the Broncos for a second-round pick. It all paid off in the form of a Lombardi trophy won in February. Even if the Rams are terrible in two years, which is possible with an aging core and fewer draft picks to replace them, it will have been worth it because they won a title.

The important thing to remember when it comes to trying to emulate Los Angeles is that this was already a championship contender. The Rams featured in the Super Bowl three years prior against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That group ultimately came up short, but L.A. was very clearly within reach of a title. They just made the move to put them over the top.

I can’t say the same thing for any of the teams that have attempted to follow in their footsteps this offseason. We obviously saw the Colts fall well short of expectations last year and ultimately ship Carson Wentz to D.C. after just one season. They brought in Matt Ryan, but as I’ve talked about, they have some holes they still need to fill at corner, left tackle and wide receiver.

Then you have the Browns, who mortgaged their future to acquire Deshaun Watson. Cleveland is probably closer than most to competing for a title, but they need another receiver to complement Amari Cooper, possibly a new center and tight end and an edge rusher. It’s also far from a guarantee Watson will be available for much of this upcoming season given that he is facing civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment. The Browns also compete in the same division as the reigning AFC champions and the 2019 MVP in Lamar Jackson. Plus, you can never count out Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.

Miami might be the exception to all of this with two first-round picks in 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)

Miami has fewer clear holes on the roster after spending big in free agency and adding Tyreek Hill via trade. That being said, they have maybe the 10th best quarterback in the conference. We simply have not seen enough from Tua Tagovailoa to believe he is capable of leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl, or even to stay healthy for a full season. Perhaps he will take the next step in his development with a new, offensive-minded head coach in Mike McDaniel. Still, the Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. Not exactly a contender putting in the final piece of the puzzle. While Miami is unquestionably better, it’s hard to say they are even the best team in their own division with Buffalo coming off an impressive year and adding Von Miller.

Then there are the Raiders and Broncos. Many are describing the AFC West as the best division we’ve ever seen in football with Russell Wilson joining the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. Denver had a good defense last year, but some abysmal quarterback play, which led to a 7-10 record and the end of Vic Fangio’s tenure with the team. Las Vegas snuck into the playoffs after beating the Chargers in Week 18. Rich Bisaccia righted the ship after a season full of controversy and hardship.

There is no question both teams are better, but given the moves made by the Chargers (re-signing Mike Williams, signing J.C. Jackson and trading for Khalil Mack) and the continued presence of Patrick Mahomes, I’m hard pressed to say either Raiders or Broncos are a lock to make the playoffs, much less a true championship contender. All four teams are talented enough to make it, but the likelihood is someone will miss out because of how brutal those divisional games will be.

The all-in approach is one that I can respect. If you think you have a championship window, you should be doing everything possible to maximize it. The problem is, if you fall short after going all in, you wind up staring down a long rebuild without the resources necessary to do so. My prediction, none of the teams that went all in will win the Super Bowl this year. I think we are much more likely to see a team like the Chiefs, Packers or Buccaneers hoist the Lombardi trophy than a team like the Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins or Browns. What the Rams did is much harder to imitate than it might seem.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

NFL Draft Daily: Should you pay big money to wide receivers or keep drafting them instead?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 35 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

The past few weeks in the NFL are like nothing ever seen before. Massive trades with league-altering implications are occurring on a daily basis. Record deals are being signed at every step. Welcome to the league’s version of March Madness. One of the most interesting trends in all of these moves has to do with the wide receiver position.

Miami gave Hill $72 million in guaranteed money as part of his new deal. (Wikimedia Commons)

Tyreek Hill became the latest NFL superstar to be traded and the deal highlights the growing divide between two schools of thought as it pertains to the value of wide receivers. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest moves we’ve seen this offseason involving receivers.

Los Angeles made the move to keep Mike Williams in house. The Chargers offered him a three-year, $60-million deal to do so. That contract makes him the sixth highest paid receiver by annual average, tied with Chris Godwin and Amari Cooper. Los Angeles now has two of the top six highest paid receivers in the NFL. Keenan Allen makes just a shade over $20 million per year himself. Jacksonville shocked everyone the following week by splashing out $84 million to sign Christian Kirk. The deal included $37 million in guaranteed money and made Kirk the 10th-highest paid receiver in the league on average. He has yet to reach 1,000 yards receiving in one season in his career.

Shortly after Kirk signed with Jacksonville, Dallas shipped Amari Cooper to Cleveland in what mostly amounted to a salary dump. The Cowboys received a fifth-round pick and swapped sixth-round picks with the Browns to complete the deal. Say what you want about Cooper, but he is a four-time Pro Bowl with five 1,000-yard seasons in his career. He will carry a pretty sizable cap hit in 2023 and 2024, but teams typically have a way of restructuring those to minimize that cap hit.

Since entering the league in 2014, Adams has the second-most touchdown catches, trailing only Mike Evans. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then, a week ago, the Raiders reunited Davante Adams with his college quarterback Derek Carr. They sent a first- and second-round pick to Green Bay in order to land him. They promptly made him the highest-paid receiver in the league with a five-year $140-million pact. That benchmarked lasted less than a week.

Wednesday saw the Dolphins acquire Hill for five draft picks, including their first and second rounder for this year. Hill wanted to be the highest paid receiver in the league. He got the same amount of money as Adams, but he earns it in one year less. Hill’s new annual average is $30 million.

What I find really interesting is the two competing schools of thought on the wide receiver position right now. On one hand, you have a handful of teams that are willing to pay big money and premium draft capital to bring in proven veterans. On the other, you have teams willing to move on from proven receivers in an effort to save cap space and recoup draft picks. ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid recently said he could see the wide receiver position treated much like running backs are in the NFL: It is important to have a good one, but you don’t need to overpay to keep them. I think I might be coming around to this line of thinking.

We have seen some phenomenal receiver classes come out in the past few years. 2019 was thought to be a weaker group, but D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, Diontae Johnson and Hunter Renfrow all went in the middle rounds. 2020 produced Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr., Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney. 2021 was not quite as prolific, but was headlined by Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. If Amon-Ra St. Brown, Elijah Moore and Rashod Bateman take the next step this upcoming season, it could be another special draft class.

2022 is shaping up to be another impressive class. Garrett Wilson, Drake London, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams and Treylon Burks are all widely considered first-round prospects. Christian Watson and George Pickens could crash the first-round party as well. There is depth beyond that top group as well, as has been the case with each of the previous three draft classes.

Chase accounted for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns in his rookie season. (Wikimedia Commons)

The point is, it seems like we are entering the golden age of young receivers. Jefferson, Chase, Metcalf, and Samuel are unquestionably among the top 10 in the game. Brown, Lamb, Waddle, Smith, McLaurin, Higgins and Johnson are all in the top 25 at the position. Every one of those guys is currently on their rookie contract.

You don’t necessarily have to spend big to have elite talent at the position. Look at Stefon Diggs and Cooper Kupp. They’ve been two of the best receivers in the NFL over the past two years. They make about half what Hill and Adams are set to make on an annual basis. They could also be due for big raises if this is how much elite receivers are making on the open market.

Let’s be clear, having and paying an elite receiver can be a winning strategy. The Chiefs won a Super Bowl with Hill. The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. That being said, if we are going to start seeing teams paying quarterback-level money to wide receivers, it is hard to see that trend continuing.

It might work in Miami and Los Angeles, where they have quarterbacks on their rookie contracts. But for the Raiders, there is a good chance that having to pay both Derek Carr and Davante Adams is going to put a pretty big squeeze on where they can build the rest of their roster. Especially without a first or second-round pick this season.

There are exceptions to every rule though. Adams, Hill, Kupp, Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins are all game-changing players and likely worth the investment. The same is true for running backs with Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey (when healthy), Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook.

What I think we are going to see is a decline in interest in the middle class of receivers. Paying for elite talent makes sense. Paying guys like Kenny Golladay, Christian Kirk, Robby Anderson, Corey Davis and Michael Gallup likely won’t be worth the investment when you can find replacement level players or better in the draft. That sentiment is true of every position, I just think we are going to start to see it applied more with receivers. It will be a very interesting trend to watch and one that will be greatly impacted by how well the Raiders, Dolphins, Packers, Chiefs and Chargers do in 2022.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

NFL Draft Daily: The Kyle Hamilton Conundrum

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 36 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Ed Reed. Troy Polumalu. Ronnie Lott. Ken Houston. Paul Krause. In some order, those are arguably the five greatest safeties in NFL history. Maybe throw Steve Atwater in there, too. All of them are Hall of Famers. Sean Taylor probably would have gotten there if he had not been tragically killed only four years into his career. They were incredible, game-changing players in the league.

Why am I bringing up these legendary safeties? That’s because Kyle Hamilton is one of the top draft prospects in 2022, and based on the hype, it seems like he could be the next Hall of Fame-caliber safety in the NFL. At least, that is what I would expect for a player many are saying should be drafted as early as No. 2 overall by the Lions. This isn’t some random draft analyst either. Mel Kiper Jr. had him at No. 2 in his latest mock draft. The question is: is a safety worthy of such an early selection in the NFL draft?

The last time we had a safety drafted in the top five, it was Eric Berry back in 2010. Berry was a good player for a long time, but is debatable whether he was worth a top-five selection. That level of scrutiny is a very high bar to clear and puts a ton of expectation to put on Hamilton the moment he steps into the league.

There are certainly cautionary tales out there for not drafting a safety in the top 10. Jamal Adams went sixth overall in 2017. It wasn’t necessarily a bad pick, especially when you consider that the Jets netted two first-round picks and Bradley McDougald when they traded him to the Seahawks in 2020. That being said, I chalk that up to bad process on the side of Seattle, who mortgaged its future to acquire a player that was a total liability in pass coverage. Essentially, the Seahawks bailed the Jets out. I definitely believe that trade is a big part of the reason Russell Wilson is no longer with the team.

The difference with Hamilton is that he can cover. He plays fast, has good ball skills and a solid understanding over coverage responsibilities. Actually, just watch the play below to see what I’m talking about:

Hamilton is the complete package. At 6’4″, 220 pounds, he is built like a modern day linebacker, but he has better coverage skills than just about any linebacker in the game. There are some small concerns about his health after he missed a good chunk of his final season due to a knee injury. He also posted a less than stellar 4.59 40-yard dash time at the combine, which is below average for safeties.

There is no question Hamilton is a really good prospect. He is one of the best in this class and one of the best safety prospects ever. However, the positional value for a safety in the NFL right now simply is not high enough for me to feel comfortable taking him in the top five. I had the Jets selected him with the 10th in my most recent mock draft. I’m not the only one struggling with this. Daniel Jeremiah projected Hamilton to slide to 11th, landing with the Commanders, in his latest mock draft. While comparing Hamilton to other top safety prospects is a bit tricky given how different he is from Adams and how much the game has changed since Taylor played, let’s take a different approach.

Over the past few drafts, there have been a couple different highly-rated prospects at positions that the league does not value as highly (think running backs, interior offensive linemen). It’s a bit too early if Kyle Pitts was worth the fourth overall pick in 2021. He became the highest drafted tight end ever and the first to go in the top six picks since Vernon Davis in 2006. We will have to revisit that one in a few years.

Before that, we can go back to 2018. Saquon Barkley went second overall and without question that was a terrible pick. Even with how talented and game-changing he can be when healthy, there is simply not enough value in drafting a running back that early in the draft. New York passed on a number of quarterbacks, including Josh Allen, and a very talented edge rusher in Bradley Chubb. Needless to say, New York would have been much better off heading in a different direction and opting for a player that played at a more valuable position. Finding starting running backs rarely requires teams to spend a first round pick these days. Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Jonathan Taylor all went in the second round or later.

The 2018 draft provides us another interesting comparison point for Hamilton. That draft also produced Quenton Nelson, one of the best interior linemen prospects ever who faced many of the same questions Hamilton is facing now. He went sixth overall to the Colts and he has not disappointed. He has missed just three games across four seasons en route to four Pro Bowl selections and three first-team All-Pro honors. He is in line to become the highest paid interior lineman in NFL history whenever he signs his next contract. Without question, Indianapolis got more than enough value from drafting Nelson in that slot.

Once again though, that is an incredibly high bar to reach. Nelson essentially stepped into the NFL and was instantly one of the best guards in the league, if not the best. I don’t know if we will be able to say the same thing about Hamilton. He might get there in a few years. I also personally value interior offensive linemen over safeties, but the gap between them is not overly significant.

Bottom line, I think I would feel comfortable drafting Hamilton around sixth overall or later, but I can also understand if he does not come off the board until somewhere in the 10-to-12 range. I know my assessment does not really mean much, but I do think this will be a really interesting case study for future drafts. If Hamilton is not one of the best players at the position within his first three seasons, there will be a narrative about how you cannot draft safeties that early. Fair or not, that is the pressure and paradox facing teams right now when evaluating Hamilton in this draft class.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.