AROUND THE NFL

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com says something the DB has been thinking:

 

The NFL’s owners approved adding pass interference to the list of items that can be reviewed on instant replay, but they may not have thought through all the potential consequences.

 

One such consequence could be additional offensive pass interference calls on offensive players who are blocking more than one yard downfield. Most people assume that offensive pass interference reviews will be about receivers pushing off before catching the ball, but former NFL referee and NBC analyst Terry McAulay wrote on Twitter that he thinks some run-pass option plays will now have offensive pass interference calls on offensive linemen, who start the play like they are run blocking, block more than a yard downfield, and then are technically committing offensive pass interference when the ball is thrown.

 

“Now that PI is reviewable, here’s an RPO that I would expect to be reversed to OPI after review,” McAulay wrote with a video on Twitter. “Ball snapped at the 1. The RG blocks the LB ever so slightly more than 1 yd downfield (contact in the EZ) just before the pass is in flight. . . . I could see the defensive coach challenging this play.”

 

The new replay rule actually has the potential to be even more intrusive than McAulay suggests: Every touchdown is automatically reviewed, which means the replay assistant will have to watch every passing touchdown to see if anyone was blocking more than one yard downfield. Will touchdowns get overturned to offensive pass interference because of a block two yards downfield that didn’t appear to have any impact on the play?

 

It’s important that the league think through all these possibilities and, if necessary, revise the rule at the May league meeting. One revision could be to make offensive pass interference reviewable only for contact that begins after the ball is in the air.

 

Heading into last month’s league meeting, it was unclear which of the many replay proposals would be approved. It’s possible that the league rushed to approve this one, without considering every possibility.

 

The DB would say that only OPI and DPI at the point of the reception could be reviewed.

– – –

Mel Kiper has his version of a Grade A draft – his picks as to what he personally would do for all 32 teams.  It is three rounds long and you can see the whole thing here.  We have his thinking for some of the more interesting teams below in their slots.

 

Kiper’s first round is below – ending with the Patriots taking Duke’s QB DANIEL JONES as the next Jimmy Garoppolo:

 

PICK   TEAM  PLAYER                     POS.   SCHOOL

1          ARI      Kyler Murray               QB       Oklahoma

2          SF       Nick Bosa                   DE       Ohio State

3          NYJ     Josh Allen                   OLB     Kentucky

4          OAK    Quinnen Williams        DT       Alabama

5          TB       Devin White                ILB       LSU

6          NYG    Dwayne Haskins         QB       Ohio State

7          JAX     Jawaan Taylor                        OT       Florida

8          DET     Montez Sweat             DE       Miss. State

9          BUF     T.J. Hockenson          TE       Iowa

10        DEN    Ed Oliver                     DT       Houston

11        CIN      Devin Bush                 ILB       Michigan

12        GB       D.K. Metcalf                WR      Ole Miss

13        MIA     Rashan Gary              DE       Michigan

14        ATL     Christian Wilkins         DT       Clemson

15        WSH   Drew Lock                  QB       Missouri

16        CAR    Brian Burns                 DE       Florida State

17 NYG (cle)   Clelin Ferrell               DE       Clemson

18        MIN     Jonah Williams            OT/G   Alabama

19        TEN     Dexter Lawrence        DT       Clemson

20        PIT      Deandre Baker           C         Georgia

21        SEA     Chris Lindstrom           G         Boston College

22        BAL     Erik McCoy                 C/G     Texas A&M

23        HOU    Andre Dillard               OT       Washington State

24 OAK (chi)   Rock Ya-Sin               CB       Temple

25        PHI      Johnathan Abram       S          Miss. State

26        IND      Marquise Brown          WR      Oklahoma

27 OAK (dal)   Irv Smith Jr.                TE       Alabama

28        LAC     Jeffery Simmons        DT       Miss. State

29        KC       Greedy Williams         CB       LSU

30 GB (no)      Noah Fant                   TE       Iowa

31        LAR     Garrett Bradbury         C         NC State

32        NE       Daniel Jones               QB       Duke

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Here is what Mel Kiper, Jr. would do in the first three rounds if he was the Green Bay GM:

 

Round 1 (12): D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi

Round 1 (30): Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

Round 2 (44): Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington

Round 3 (75): Taylor Rapp, S, Washington

 

Before the Packers signed Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency, taking an edge rusher with their first pick would have been a no-brainer. Now? GM Brian Gutekunst can focus on other positions (although it would be tough to turn down Rashan Gary’s potential). And with my top-ranked receiver Metcalf still here, let’s get some assistance for Aaron Rodgers, who at age 35 is sneakily the NFL’s sixth-oldest starting quarterback. Metcalf has gotten attention for being an out-of-this-world athlete, but he can play, too. Injuries shortened his career at Ole Miss, so hopefully he can stay healthy.

 

Fant is another weapon for Rodgers; the comp I’ve made for him actually played with Rodgers for a season — Jared Cook, who just signed with the Saints. Fant won’t block much (yet), but he’ll outrun a few defensive backs and score a few touchdowns. McGary could be the right tackle of the future in Green Bay. Rapp didn’t run well at his pro day, but he could be a steal in Round 3.

– – –

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com thinks it was an error for the Packers to throw money at QB AARON RODGERS:

 

Last offseason, the Packers gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers a huge new contract, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. The latest revelations about Rodgers’ relationship with the higher-ups in Green Bay raise a simple question: Why?

 

Why did the Packers give Rodgers an enormous new contract, when they still had him under contract for two more very affordable seasons? If Rodgers were still playing under his old contract, he’d be heading into the final season of that deal, and he would be highly motivated to have his best season ever before hitting free agency.

 

Instead, Rodgers pocketed a whopping $67 million last year. He has enough “screw you” money that he doesn’t have to be particularly accommodating to his team.

 

And the revelations from the new report by Tyler Dunne of BleacherReport.com indicate that Rodgers hasn’t always been accommodating in Green Bay. Rodgers apparently held a grudge going all the way back to former coach Mike McCarthy being part of the 49ers’ decision making in the 2005 NFL draft, when the 49ers chose Alex Smith first overall and Rodgers fell to Green Bay with the 24th overall pick. And Packers CEO Mark Murphy reportedly had to order Rodgers not to be the problem after Matt LaFleur was hired as McCarthy’s replacement.

 

“Don’t be the problem” ought to go without saying for a franchise quarterback. It’s doubtful that Robert Kraft ever had to tell Tom Brady not to be the problem in New England, or that Jim Irsay ever had to tell Peyton Manning not to be the problem in Indianapolis. The mere fact that Murphy felt the need to say those words speaks volumes.

 

So why did Murphy sign a quarterback who needed to be told not to be a problem to the biggest contract in NFL history? If the Packers hadn’t signed Rodgers to that extension, they’d have a great deal of leverage with him right now: They could tell him, If you’re the problem this season, you won’t be here next season, but if you get back to your MVP form, we’ll reward you with a lucrative contract extension.

 

As it is, the Packers have given Rodgers so much money that they couldn’t move on from him now if they wanted to: Rodgers’ huge signing bonus means he would have about a $45 million dead cap hit if he were traded. It’s simply not feasible.

 

The Packers would be in much better shape right now if Rodgers were going into the last year of his contract, motivated to prove any doubters wrong.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Should this make Saints fans rest easy?  Charean Williams at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The rumors about Sean Payton eventually ending up in Dallas continue.

 

It’s easy to connect the dots.

 

Jason Garrett is in the final year of his contract with the Cowboys, who won’t extend him before the season. Payton is a former Cowboys assistant coach who has a good relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees is nearing the end of his career, which could mean a rebuild in New Orleans.

 

Payton addressed the rumors Thursday on WWL Radio.

 

“It seems like these rumors come up every odd-number year, doesn’t it?” Payton said on WWL. “The plan is to remain in New Orleans. Hey, I’ve got fleur-de-lis tattoos that can’t be erased.”

 

Payton, 55, has gone 118-74 in his 12 years with the Saints since leaving the Cowboys. The Saints won the Super Bowl to end the 2009 season.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants show some love to WR STERLING SHEPARD.  Cory Benjamin of CBSSports.com:

 

The New York Giants may have saved money by trading star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. less than a year after his lucrative extension, but now they’ve redirected some of those savings to another pass catcher.

 

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Giants are finalizing a four-year, $41 million deal with Sterling Shepard, the team’s No. 2 WR in 2018 who was entering a contract year. More than half of the big-money extension — $21.3 million — will be guaranteed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

A second-round draft pick of New York in 2016, Shepard figures to play an even more prominent role in the Giants’ offense following Beckham’s departure, but he’s been a full-time starter out wide since his rookie season. The 26-year-old Oklahoma product has yet to eclipse 900 receiving yards in a single season, but he’s also seen his yardage total rise each year since entering the NFL, logging a career-best 872 on 66 catches in 2018. Shepard has flashed big-play ability, scoring eight touchdowns in 2016 and averaging almost 14 yards per catch in 2018, a year after missing five games due to migraines.

 

As Garafolo noted, Shepard’s reported $41 million extension instantly makes him the Giants’ highest-paid WR and gives him a higher average annual salary than most wideouts who hit free agency this offseason. His $10.25 million per-season average, for example, tops those of Tyrell Williams, John Brown and Devin Funchess, all of whom inked new deals in March.

 

Shepard’s not the only WR to get big bucks from the Giants in the wake of Beckham’s unceremonious departure. New York also gave former Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks veteran Golden Tate a four-year, $37.5 million contract in free agency.

– – –

Mel Kiper, Jr. is still a believer in DWAYNE HASKINS when others seem to be abandoning the QB from The Ohio State:

 

Round 1 (6): Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Round 1 (17): Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

Round 2 (37): Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State

Round 3 (95): David Long, CB, Michigan

 

Since I’m playing the GM of all 32 teams here, I’m going based on what I would do. And if I were running the Giants, I’d do anything necessary to get my quarterback of the future. Eli Manning is 38 and mediocre by any statistical measurement you can find. Don’t miss out on Haskins, who can be the future at the position. Now, the Giants have other needs — their roster is among the worst in the league — but they are in the beginning stages of a rebuild. Start that rebuild with a quarterback.

 

New York is desperate for edge-rushing talent, and Ferrell would help. That’s the pick it got from Cleveland in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. (I think I’d still rather have OBJ.) The Giants have two good slot receivers in Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, and McLaurin, who averaged 20 yards per catch last season, could be an outside receiving threat. Near the end of Round 3, the Giants can get an intriguing corner in Long.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Good points here from Mel Kiper, Jr. on why some teams might like QB DREW LOCK as he gives him to the Redskins in his three-round Mock:

 

Round 1 (15): Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Round 2 (46): A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi

Round 3 (76): Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion

Round 3 (96): Dru Samia, OG, Oklahoma

 

Lock has the edge over Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins in two areas: arm strength and sample size. He can sling it. He showed that over 50 career games at Mizzou, while Murray and Haskins were essentially one-year starters. Lock’s biggest issue is accuracy, though, and he’s far behind the other two top quarterbacks there. He completed just 56.9 percent of his passes over those 50 games. Now, he didn’t have great talent around him, and he played in college football’s toughest conference. NFL coaches see the talent there. That’s why he might not make it out of the top 10 picks later this month.

 

In Washington, Lock wouldn’t be under pressure to start immediately, although I’d count on him getting a few starts. The Redskins can also add some Day 2 receiving help with Brown, who had a much more productive college career than his former teammate D.K. Metcalf. Ximines, who had 33 career sacks for the Monarchs, would likely play outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 defense. Samia started 48 career games for the Sooners.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Here is what Mel Kiper, Jr. did for the Panthers in his three-round Mock:

 

Round 1 (16): Brian Burns, DE, Florida State

Round 2 (47): Amani Hooker, S, Iowa

Round 3 (77): Chuma Edoga, OT/G, USC

Round 3 (100): Maxx Crosby, DE, Eastern Michigan

 

This pick has to be a pass-rusher. Right? Future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers retired, and Carolina can’t count on Bruce Irvin to be an every-down defensive end. I’d go with Burns or Clelin Ferrell here, and Burns is higher on my board. He produced 65 pressures last season, second most in the FBS.

 

After running a 4.48 40 at the combine, Hooker is another defensive back who is rising up boards. He is a good tackler who could play close to the line of scrimmage. Edoga played right tackle in college, but his testing numbers make him more likely to play guard in the NFL. Crosby opened some eyes with a 4.66 40 at the combine, putting him in the third-round discussion. Again, defensive end is the Panthers’ top need.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

Kimberley Martin of YahooSports.com looks at QB RUSSELL WILSON and his deadline for a new contract:

 

I see you, Russell Wilson.

 

Drawing the proverbial line in the sand. Delivering a stern but not too threatening message. Showing ownership that team-players have self-interests too.

 

I get it.

 

When we think of the Seattle Seahawks, who do we think of?

 

You, of course.

 

You’re the foundation of the franchise, the unequivocal leader of this locker room. At 30, you have many seasons ahead of you. And the organization made sure that your voice carried the most weight behind closed doors. So why shouldn’t the front office commit to you financially once again?

 

How fitting, too, that the extension talks deadline you set is April 15th — Tax Day, the day Uncle Sam demands to receive what he is owed.

 

You clearly deserve to get paid. But will your ultimatum ultimately fall on deaf ears?

 

****

 

Wilson is in the final year of the four-year, $87.6 million contract extension he signed in July 2015 and is scheduled to make $17 million in 2019. His goal, however, is to either become the highest-paid player in the NFL (that honor currently belongs to Aaron Rodgers, who makes $33.5 million per year) or the player with the most guaranteed money.

 

But these negotiations aren’t necessarily about what Wilson wants. It’s about what the Seahawks feel like doing. And when.

 

Despite everything the Super Bowl champion and six-time Pro Bowl quarterback means to this organization, he isn’t the one driving this conversation.

 

Yes, he set a deadline. And no, he doesn’t want to engage in contract talks until after the season, should the Seahawks choose not to present a new deal by Monday. But there’s nothing forcing Seattle’s hand.

 

Wilson reportedly still plans to show up to voluntary workouts — removing the threat of a holdout — and is prepared to play out the final year of his current contract if it comes to that.

 

It’s possible that both sides strike a deal quickly in advance of Monday’s looming deadline. The last time Wilson made his demands known, he received a new contract the day before the Seahawks’ 2015 training camp began. That deal made the quarterback the second-highest player in the NFL at the time.

 

This time around, that doesn’t appear likely. Even though Seattle knows it’s a better team with Wilson, it’s not obligated to hammer out a lucrative contract at this very moment. The front office can instead slap him with the franchise tag in February at over $30 million and work toward a multi-year extension before July 15, 2020 league deadline. Or, the Seahawks could tag him again in 2021 at a little more than $36 million.

 

(A third franchise tag would result in an exorbitant 2021 salary that would be slightly more than $52 million.)

 

Wilson may be the face of the franchise. But the Seahawks have the leverage.

 

For now and maybe years to come.

 

****

 

Of course, Seattle would be wise to avoid the melodrama that arose from the Washington Redskins’ handling of Kirk Cousins’ contract situation. Perpetually tagging players with no real intention of working out a long-term deal breeds only discontent.

 

Seattle could also opt to trade Wilson before it gets to that point.

 

Consider how the Seahawks have approached other veterans in recent years: They released Richard Sherman. Traded away Michael Bennett. And didn’t cave to the contract demands of Earl Thomas.

 

Perhaps moving on from the Seahawks is something that Wilson would prefer. Fox Sports 1’s Colin Cowherd recently floated the idea that Wilson and his singer-wife, Ciara, would be interested in relocating to New York because of the entertainment opportunities and the fact that the Giants need a replacement for Eli Manning.

 

One would think that the Seahawks would do everything in their power to retain a franchise quarterback who set career-highs in passer rating (110.9) and touchdown passes (35) in 2018, while also tying a career-low with just seven interceptions.

 

It was assumed the Seahawks would eventually get a deal done, likely this summer. But Wilson’s ultimatum was his calculated way of moving up the team’s timeline. Further complicating matters might be the fact that Seattle doesn’t like to guarantee salaries beyond the first year of a new deal, preferring instead to give guaranteed money in the form of signing bonuses and base salaries. And making Wilson the highest-paid player may not be in the front office’s plans.

 

Wilson wants to remain in Seattle. But that decision may not be his.

 

What initially appeared to be a power move on the part of Wilson will amount to nothing more than an empty threat if his arbitrary deadline comes and goes without a new deal. Even a player as gritty, as gutsy and as gifted as Wilson is at the mercy of management to some degree. Save for withholding their labor — which Wilson won’t do — NFL players have only so many avenues to make their voices heard across the negotiating table. Even those with more leverage than most.

 

That said, the longer the Seahawks draw out these negotiations, the closer they get to a potentially messy situation involving the centerpiece of their team. Fallout could ensue if contract talks go poorly.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Mel Kiper, Jr. passes on DREW LOCK at 10 if he was Denver GM:

 

Round 1 (10): Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Round 2 (41): Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State

Round 3 (71): Ryan Finley, QB, NC State

 

I thought about Drew Lock at No. 10. Is Joe Flacco really the long-term answer? But with Oliver still available, he’d be hard to pass up. Put him at end in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. Put him at nose tackle. Maybe let him get some edge-rushing reps to spell Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Oliver has the athletic ability to be a star at multiple positions, although he needs to develop some true pass-rushing moves.

 

Denver can still take a quarterback on Day 2, and although I don’t have as high of a grade on Finley as McShay does, he’s worth a shot in the third round. Let him sit behind Flacco and see how fast he picks up the pro game. Risner could play tackle, center or guard for the Broncos.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Here are Mel Kiper’s three rounds of picks for the Chiefs:

 

Round 1 (29): Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

Round 2 (61): Elgton Jenkins, C, Mississippi State

Round 2 (63): Jachai Polite, OLB, Florida

Round 3 (92): Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M

 

After parting ways with Dee Ford and Justin Houston this offseason, I expect the Chiefs to keep an eye on the edge rushers in the first round. But cornerback is also a need position, and there aren’t any defensive ends or outside linebackers left on my board with first-round grades. Williams had eight interceptions over the past two seasons, but he has dropped in the eyes of teams because of his unwillingness to stick his head in and make tackles in run support. When he’s on, though, he can be a lockdown defender. There’s a chance we’ll look back on this pick in a few years and wonder how Williams fell so far.

 

Kansas City has an extra second-round pick (via the Rams and the Marcus Peters trade), and it can pick up a Mitch Morse replacement in Jenkins and an edge rusher in Polite, who had a miserable combine but is super talented. His 2018 tape is phenomenal, so you have to wonder why his workout was so poor. Williams might be the best receiving back in this class, and he’d get some third-down snaps as a security blanket for Patrick Mahomes.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

From the sounds of it, Mike Mayock will be in charge of things on draft day and it sounds like he has a good plan.  From the sounds of it.  Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:

 

Jon Gruden has some pointed advice for his new general manager as Mike Mayock approaches his first NFL draft as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager, after years as a draft analyst for NFL Network.

 

Especially with the Raiders holding so much draft capital.

 

“Don’t mess it up, dude,” Gruden told Mayock. “I took a lot of slings to get you three first-round picks.”

 

Indeed, Gruden is still taking flak for last fall’s trades of All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack and Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper that netted Oakland first-round picks from the Chicago Bears (No. 24 overall) and Dallas Cowboys (No. 27) to go with their own pick at No. 4.

 

But consider: The Raiders are just the fourth team in the past 30 years — the first since the 2001 Rams — to enter draft day with three first-rounders.

 

Mess it up? Mayock is embracing the challenge.

 

“You always have to go back to trusting who you are as an evaluator,” said Mayock, who also said his board will be stacked by the end of next week.

 

Oakland, who finished 4-12 last season and has already added 19 players this offseason, has just three defensive ends on the roster. That’s despite ending the year with a league-low 13 sacks, 17 fewer than anyone else in the NFL last season. In fact, six individual players had more sacks than Oakland did as a team.

 

So how fine is that line between drafting for need and drafting the best player available? As Raiders two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Flores said, if you’re picking in the top 10 you don’t have the luxury of drafting for a specific need because you have needs all over the roster.

 

“I’m a son of a coach and I know how coaches think, and coaches think need,” Mayock said. “And we’re a coach-driven building, our coaches are highly involved. That’s good. I embrace that. The flip side is, you can’t reach. You’ve got to use some common sense. And that’s what I preach.”

 

Mayock said that if two players at different positions rank similarly, but one is at a higher position of need, “Great, let’s go get him,” Mayock said.

 

“But if there’s a discount, a disparity between the two [players], let’s not reach for need because the more you do that, the more you dilute your roster. And that’s a conversation we’ve had a lot.”

 

In his old job as a TV GM, Mayock would put together a draft board based on “league value” and would share it with general managers across the league.

 

Now? Raider Nation state secrets are at stake. That’s why other GMs may be trying to get Mayock to slip up and let them know of the Raiders’ draft plans… before he turns the tables.

 

“I miss just talking ball with you,” Mayock recounted someone telling him recently.

 

“Yeah, same thing,” Mayock answered. “Who are you going to take?”

 

Mayock laughed, even as he says he is not worried about his reputation heading into his first draft as a real GM, or Gruden’s playful jab.

 

“The way I look at this thing from a how-do-people-perceive-me perspective is a lot of people doubted that anybody could come out of the media and go and be a GM for any team,” Mayock said. “I know that. I get that.

 

“But at the end of the day, here’s the deal — if we win, everything will be fine. And if we lose, I’ll get fired. And I’m perfectly fine with that.”

 

Before that day possibly comes, though, there is the April 25-27 draft, in which the Raiders hold eight picks, with half of them coming in the first 35.

 

The flip side is that Oakland does not have a pick from 36 to 105, missing a lot of what Mayock sees as his sweet spot between 20 and 60.

 

“Between 24, 27 and 35 we have three awesome opportunities,” Mayock said. “I happen to like 20 through 60. Always have. I think there are a lot of guys that love the game and are safer picks, sometimes, than top-10 picks.

 

“I’d love to get a couple more picks in there. We’ve got a lot of holes that need to be filled and I think that’s a really good place to go fishing.”

 

That would mean the Raiders trading to get there. And though they have the capital and flexibility with those four picks in the top 35 to make moves, Mayock was non-committal about dealing two weeks ahead of the draft.

 

“We have to be ready to pick at 4 and be excited about a player, right?” Mayock said. “Now, we might move up, we might move back. Who knows? We won’t know until draft night. But, if we’re, quote, stuck at 4, we’ve got to be ready to go and that’s a hell of a lot easier than worrying about all the permutations at 24 and 27 and 35.”

 

And if the Raiders simply stay put with those first four selections?

 

“We better get four foundation football players,” Mayock said. “We define foundation as talent and football character. That’s what we want. Guys that love the game. And if we don’t move up or down or anywhere, man, we better get four of those guys.

 

“We need to be nimble.”

 

Here is what Mel Kiper, Jr. would do if he was Mayock:

 

Round 1 (4): Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

Round 1 (24): Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

Round 1 (27): Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama

Round 2 (35): Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

 

When the Raiders made the trades to add first-round picks from Chicago and Dallas, many thought they’d be getting extra top-15 picks. Instead, the Bears had a breakout season under new coach Matt Nagy, Amari Cooper made the Cowboys’ offense instantly better, and both teams made the playoffs. That means Jon Gruden & Co. have picks in the mid-20s instead in this draft. And Gruden and new GM Mike Mayock need to hit here. They have to get starters.

 

Williams is a game-wrecker, a defensive playmaker whom Gruden will love. Ya-Sin, one of college football’s best lockdown corners in 2018, is still raw — he played just one season at the FBS level — but he has a high ceiling. Smith would fill the void left by Jared Cook. If there’s one qualm with my own picks here, it’s that there are no first-round edge rushers left on my board at No. 24. There is going to be a run on them in the top 20, which means Oakland could miss out on a big need area.

 

Jacobs might not make it to Round 2, but Gruden and Mayock shouldn’t pass on him if he’s there at No. 35. Get the best back in this class and help out Derek Carr.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

G RAMON FOSTER begs Steelers, past and former, to keep their grievances off social media.  He does so on social media.  NFL.com:

 

Steelers guard Ramon Foster has seen all of the comments from inside and outside Pittsburgh’s locker room and has offered a solution to prevent the public airing of grievances.

 

Foster took to Twitter on Thursday and asked any current or ex-teammate to reach out to him, center Maurkice Pouncey or anyone “you feel comfortable with” instead of taking his gripes to social media and creating yet another media firestorm.

 

@RamonFoster

 PSA. Contact me or @MaurkicePouncey or anyone else that you feel comfortable with about anything else next time. I passed this through a few guys still in the locker room and they are ok with this.

 

Foster’s plea follows an eventful offseason in Pittsburgh that has featured Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell lobbing shots at Ben Roethlisberger and then a well-documented war of words between Brown and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

 

While it might seem that all of the drama reached a boiling point this week for Foster, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero said Thursday that isn’t the case.

 

“My understanding is that some of the Steelers players leaders felt a statement like this from Ramon Foster today was long overdue,” Pelissero relayed on Up to the Minute. “This was not about one specific former Steelers player saying incendiary things. This was not even just about Antonio Brown and some of the shots he’s taken against JuJu Smith-Schuster. This goes all the way back to some of the things Le’Veon Bell said after he signed with the Jets about the Steelers organization that he didn’t feel as if other players wanted to see him go to the Jets and succeed.

 

“This is a Steelers team that is empowered by coach Mike Tomlin to police themselves in the locker room. We have also seen general manager Kevin Colbert certainly empower Ben Roethlisberger among others to take care of their own business.”

 

And that seems to be the preferred method moving forward — for all parties involved. Brown said earlier this week that he was done giving “ammo” to the media, and Foster has laid out a blueprint for how players should handle personal squabbles.

 

“These media takes might give y’all good traffic on your social media outlets,” Foster wrote, “but the guys still in that locker room, who y’all still know personally have to answer for those comments.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Here is what Mel Kiper, Jr. did with three rounds for the Texans:

 

Houston Texans

Round 1 (23): Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State

Round 2 (54): Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Round 2 (55): Darnell Savage Jr., S, Maryland

Round 3 (86): Antoine Wesley, WR, Texas Tech

 

With three picks in the top 55, Houston has to address its offensive line, one of the NFL’s worst last season. The Texans should think about using two of those three picks on linemen. For now, let’s stick with Dillard, who started at left tackle for the Cougars but could play on the right side. I have called him the best true pass-blocker in this class.

 

On Day 2, Houston could add competition for Lamar Miller with Harris, a reliable runner and pass-catcher, although he’s not as explosive as his former teammate Josh Jacobs. Savage had seven interceptions over the past two seasons and could compete with Tashaun Gipson for the other safety spot next to Justin Reid. Wesley is a 6-foot-4 giant with good ball skills and a 37-inch vertical.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Here is what Mel Kiper, Jr. did with three rounds for the Colts:

 

Round 1 (26): Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

Round 2 (34): Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

Round 2 (59): Chase Winovich, OLB, Michigan

Round 3 (89): Sione Takitaki, LB, BYU

 

The Colts get the final piece of last year’s trade with the Jets, in which New York moved up three spots in Round 1 and dealt Indianapolis its first-round pick and three more second-rounders (two last year, one this year). And the Colts can get a starter with that No. 34 pick. There should be several solid defensive backs available at the top of Round 2, which means GM Chris Ballard can pick his favorite. My favorite on the board here is Murphy, who is the best ball-hawk corner in this class.

 

In Round 1, I’ll add a weapon for Andrew Luck in Brown, who has dealt with a foot injury and hasn’t been able to work out for teams during the pre-draft process. If he comes back healthy, he could be a No. 1 receiver. He’s lightning fast. Winovich could instantly be added to the edge-rushing rotation, while Takitaki is a tackling machine who ran better than expected at the combine (a 4.63 40).

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

If Mel Kiper, Jr. ran the Bills, here are picks in the first three rounds:

 

Round 1 (9): T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa

Round 2 (40): N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Round 3 (74): Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech

 

The Bills’ offseason priority should be supporting Josh Allen. They’re never going to see him develop if he’s running for his life and throwing to subpar pass-catchers like he did in 2018. And with the additions of center Mitch Morse and receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown, you can see what GM Brandon Beane is doing. And since this is my “Grade: A” mock draft, I’m going a step further and getting Allen some more weapons. That means Hockenson, the best tight end in the class and a true upgrade as a blocker and pass-catcher, and that means Harry, a big target (6-foot-2) with great hands. Let’s see how Allen can progress in Year 2 with upgraded players around him.

 

Ferguson, who set the NCAA record for career sacks with 47, including 17.5 last season, doesn’t wow you with his measurables, but he already has an advanced arsenal of pass-rushing moves.

 

 

MIAMI

If Mel Kiper, Jr. is Miami’s GM, he passes on a QB in the first round:

 

Round 1 (13): Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

Round 2 (48): Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida

Round 3 (78): Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

 

If the Giants are undergoing a rebuild, what should we call what the Dolphins are doing this offseason? They have stripped their roster of talent — and salary — under a new regime, parting ways with starters Ryan Tannehill, Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, Ja’Wuan James and Danny Amendola, among others. They have holes all over the roster, which makes this a tough pick.

 

This is about where Gary’s floor is in the draft — he could go as high as No. 4. And he’d be the Dolphins’ most talented pass-rusher as soon as he hits the field. Their top returning sacker is linebacker Jerome Baker, who had only three last season. Gary has enormous potential; the issue is getting that potential out of him every play.

 

Gardner-Johnson is a versatile safety who could play down in the box or cover the deep middle of the field. Stidham is a project; he had a down 2018 season in a run-oriented offense. But he has an intriguing tool set that will likely see him picked on Day 2. The team that takes him probably doesn’t want him to see the field as a rookie, but with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the No. 1 in Miami, this might be the spot where he’s most likely to play early.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Mel Kiper, Jr. with his three rounds for the Pats:

 

Round 1 (32): Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

Round 2 (56): Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame

Round 2 (64): Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame

Round 3 (73): Lonnie Johnson Jr., CB, Kentucky

Round 3 (97): Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State

Round 3 (101): Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M

 

Look at all these picks. No team takes advantage of the compensatory system like the Patriots, who have two third-round comp picks in this draft and will likely get two more in 2020. And they have an extra second-rounder as a result of the Bears moving up for Anthony Miller a year ago. So let’s get to the six prospects:

 

Tom Brady can’t play forever, and New England’s backup is Brian Hoyer. It needs to find Brady’s successor. Jones has improved every year at Duke, and he can learn a lot from Brady. Some team is going to take him on Day 1.

 

Tillery just had surgery to repair a torn labrum and might miss some time. When he’s healthy, he’s a disruptive force at defensive tackle.

 

Boykin was a big riser after the combine; he ran a 4.42 40 and had a 43-inch vertical. He’s still raw, but he has the physical traits to be a contributor.

 

Johnson is a bigger corner (6-foot-2) who could develop under Belichick & Co.

 

You might be curious why I have two tight ends to the Patriots in Round 3. That’s because no one player can replace the all-around game of Rob Gronkowski. Sternberger is the better pass-catcher of the two, while Warring is already an above-average blocker who is still learning the receiving part of the position. Don’t forget that New England also has to replace Dwayne Allen.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2018 DRAFT

With the lies about BAKER MAYFIELD from last year in mind, Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com thinks we are not getting the truth about these five players in the NFL Draft:

 

Here are a few highly graded players in this draft who have some conflicting information or opinions (or a void of important information) floating around about them late in the process. Call it what you want – lies, spin, misdirection, concealment. It all might fall under those definitions by the time draft night gets here.

 

QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma

From the start, there has seemingly been a lot of lying going on about Murray. First, the lies about his height being slated to come in at slightly shorter than 5-foot-10, which were weirdly given credence by the Oklahoma football program at one point. Then the (alleged) lies about Murray having terrible interviews and being bad diagramming plays on the whiteboard with teams. And now, the swirl of conflicting information about whether Arizona has settled on him with the No. 1 overall pick. A source close to the evaluation who spoke to Yahoo Sports has said – and reiterated – multiple times since February that Murray is the target at No. 1. This despite Rosen being in the facility during the workout program and a building awkwardness around the entire quarterback situation in Arizona.

 

One way or another, some lying is happening about Murray and the Cardinals right now. Either by the Cardinals or by other NFL teams who are engaging in a long, drawn-out trade dance. As of late last week, a handful of league sources believed that the Los Angeles Chargers have become the No. 1 team in the Rosen sweepstakes. But a source inside the Chargers said if that’s the case, the plans are being kept between as few as two or three people at the top of the organization. The same source did allow that the Chargers are looking over their quarterback options, so it would make sense that Rosen is on the table.

 

Here’s what we know about Murray: Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is on board with him as a quarterback prospect. General manager Steve Keim and team owner Michael Bidwill appear less certain, particularly as it relates to whether Arizona can get something valuable for Rosen. The Cardinals are playing out a game with other teams, Rosen, Murray’s camp and the media. Rosen is playing out a game with the Cardinals. And teams that are seated directly behind the Cardinals in the draft – including the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders – are all trying to figure out what is happening in between.

 

QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

For roughly two months before the scouting combine in February, Haskins was touted to be either the No. 1 or 2 quarterback in this draft. Then the sifting process started and some vaguely negative evaluations started to come out. Four sources from different teams told Yahoo Sports coming out of the combine that Haskins was no better than the third quarterback on their board, with either Missouri’s Drew Lock or Duke’s Daniel Jones being rated ahead of him. Proclamations that seemed a lot like the typical lying you’d hear in March about quarterbacks since teams try to conceal who they like in hopes that a coveted player like Haskins slides.

 

What has been different about Haskins is the malaise about his evaluations has lingered for a while now, with teams nitpicking as the months have moved along. To the point where some team sources with critical Haskins assessments have pointed at a few prominent draft analysts as being the individuals who planted the notion that Haskins was the top quarterback in this draft. In other words, the hype about Haskins being a top-10 pick has been media driven, not team driven. That is what a team would say if it was hoping to get Haskins outside of the top 10.

 

The most intriguing assessment I heard about Haskins from a league source was this: In many ways, his evaluation and some of the knocks on his game were similar to the ones that teams pinned on Rosen in 2018. The difference? Rosen had a better pure passing stroke, but also more tape to pick at during assessments. He also had some perceived red flags about his leadership style that were more negative than anything in Haskins’ dossier. The source boiled it down as Haskins being similar to Rosen with less of a pure passing stroke, less tape to evaluate, which means a higher chance of getting the pick wrong. And all of that signals caution, causing a player to slide down the board. Add in the fact that the Cardinals don’t seem to have teams beating down their door to get Rosen one year after he was selected No. 10 overall, and there’s arguably more ammunition to suggest Haskins won’t be the top-10 pick everyone assumed. This means either his stock was bloated by analysts who don’t work for teams, or some NFL teams are lying about reasons not to like him. Take your pick.

 

DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State

The Bosa drama has been far less prominent than that surrounding Haskins and Murray. And it has nothing to do with scrubbing his social media accounts. But make no mistake, there is definitely a debate in some front offices questioning whether Bosa is being elevated over other players simply because he’s seen as safe. Specifically, multiple evaluators have suggested that Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Kentucky’s Josh Allen are demonstrably better pass rushers who have the tape to back it up. To the point that the word “overrated” has been dropped on Bosa by some late in this process. One harsh assessment that really stuck out: Bosa had basically one year as a starter in college football and hasn’t fully lived up to being anointed as the next great edge rusher as he followed in the steps of his older brother, Joey. This includes his four sacks and six tackles for loss in three games in 2018 – which this particular evaluator pointed out were executed against players at Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU who “will never sniff the NFL.”

 

It’s fair to say a negative evaluation like that can’t simply be pegged as a lie. But there are definitely some scouts, executives and coaches who don’t all extend Bosa the “can’t miss” assessment that has gotten lavished on him in many corners. Maybe something more along the lines of “less likely to miss but less likely to be an All Pro” is the tag some would reach for. Whether that’s right, there are people who aren’t buying some of the resounding Bosa applause, either.

 

CB Greedy Williams, LSU

So, Greedy is supposedly falling. Unless he isn’t. Williams has gotten his share of fastballs in team interviews, with questions about whether he’s soft and doesn’t like contact to his ego and attitude to anything in between. One of my favorite texts about Williams came from a source intimately familiar with Derrius Guice. The source said simply, “Williams has some Derrius Guice in him.” In last year’s process, Guice was known to have a big ego and think a lot of himself, so there’s that whole parallel to debate. Williams’ bigger concern is his tackling, which some teams apparently termed to be so bad at times, it was like LSU was playing with only 10 men against the run. That’s about as negative as you can get when it comes to knocking someone’s willingness to tackle.

 

But there is something about the Williams assessment that can feel staged at times. Particularly when there is an insistence that he is no better than a second-round player. One evaluator was downright unruly when asked about that, saying that Williams is the best pure coverage player in the draft and that you’ll suffer some tackling issues for those kinds of players. He said, more to the point: “When in the last whatever number of years has the best cover corner not been drafted in the first round?”

 

DE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

Sweat has a lot of information going in different directions. Some evaluators love his length and first step as a pass rusher, with one evaluator even ranking him ahead of Bosa in that respect. Others say he’s a “run around you” player who won’t deal well with physical offensive tackles in the NFL and hasn’t shown he can develop a multitude of pass rush moves to defeat different scenarios. He also had some prickly reviews coming out of the combine in two respects: some felt he required too much instruction in the drills, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and others in interviews felt he was a little withdrawn in the process. Garden variety stuff when you’re parsing out players or floating negative evaluations to throw off interest.

 

More interesting is the information about the minor heart condition that leaked coming out of the combine. This is where a lot of the lying comes in. Some are suggesting there is no such thing as a “minor” heart condition and Sweat is in for a fall. Others say it’s simply a matter of a medical re-check to determine if a team is comfortable with him moving forward. In some respects, this has echoes of Maurice Hurst last season. Hurst was ultimately cleared in a re-check and supposedly wasn’t going to fall much further than the second or third round. He ultimately plummeted into the fifth. This is part of what comes with the murkiness of medical assessments. We’re never sure how serious teams take them, partially because of privacy issues and partially because there is currency in either concealing or inflating information. When Reggie Ragland was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta before the 2016 NFL draft, the assessments were that he’d still be taken in the first two rounds. He ultimately went 41st overall. Sweat questions are producing some of those same “his stock won’t be affected” vs. “it’s hard to say where he’ll go” conversations. You can be sure that teams have an accurate read on it as they did with both Ragland and Hurst. But they aren’t saying due to some mixture of privacy concerns or being able to use the information to their advantage.

– – –

Hall of Famer Gil Brandt finds landing spots for five of the top receivers in the draft:

 

1) D.K. Metcalf: Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck is back! The Colts made the playoffs! But they’re still thin in the pass-catcher department, even if you take into account the signing of Devin Funchess and the sudden emergence last season of veteran tight end Eric Ebron as a prolific red-zone threat. T.Y. Hilton needs help. As a big, strong receiver, Metcalf would make an excellent complement to the speedy Hilton; the pair could create chaos for opponents. Metcalf, of course, has speed to burn in his own right, having posted a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, tied for fifth-best among all position groups this year in Indy. He showed great athleticism at Mississippi, demonstrating the potential to create mismatches with cornerbacks. He will lose concentration at times, which can lead to drops, but he tracks the ball well and posted a robust 21.9 yards per catch in seven games last year (before a neck injury prematurely ended his season).

 

2) Marquise Brown: Pittsburgh Steelers

JuJu Smith-Schuster is in place to take the No. 1 receiver reins from Antonio Brown. But who’s going to fill in for Smith-Schuster as the No. 2 guy? The good news for Pittsburgh is that general manager Kevin Colbert has an established track record of uncovering pass-catching gold in the draft, including Martavis Bryant (fourth-round pick in 2014), Mike Wallace (third-round pick in 2009), Emmanuel Sanders (third-round pick in 2010) and, of course, both Antonio Brown (sixth-round pick in 2010) and Smith-Schuster (second-round pick in 2017). Marquise Brown projects as the perfect player to slot next to Smith-Schuster. The Oklahoma product has explosive quickness and is a proven playmaker, having posted 1,318 yards (at 17.6 yards per catch) in 2018. Though he was unable to run the 40 at the combine or his pro day after undergoing Lisfranc surgery (everything looked good at his medical re-check in Indianapolis), I’d peg him as having sub-4.4. speed. Every time he touches the football, the results are electric — with Smith-Schuster as the muscle and Marquise Brown as the speed threat, this pairing would help take the sting out of Antonio Brown’s acrimonious exit.

 

3) Parris Campbell: New England Patriots

New England’s failed attempts to sign Adam Humphries (who ended up in Tennessee) and Cole Beasley (who landed in Buffalo) speak to the team’s awareness that the receiving corps needs bolstering, with Julian Edelman standing as the only receiver on the roster who tallied more than 50 catches in 2018 (Edelman posted 74, second to running back James White’s 87). The retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski only compounded the challenge of giving Tom Brady the weapons he needs to flourish as a 42-year-old quarterback (which he’ll be in August). Campbell just recorded the most catches (90) in a single season in Ohio State history — and he probably would have caught more if not for the presence of the Buckeyes’ other standout receivers. Campbell ran a lot of underneath routes; he catches at the high point. He can also really separate and run away from people; for a great example of this, re-watch his 78-yard touchdown against Michigan. Campbell looks a lot like fellow former Buckeye Curtis Samuel, who was picked in the second round in 2017 by the Panthers. The catch-everything prospect is Bill Belichick’s type of guy.

 

4) A.J. Brown: San Francisco 49ers

Maybe it wouldn’t be an issue if they were installing a wishbone offense, but the 49ers’ RB-heavy roster is light on receiver depth; aside from tight end George Kittle, no San Francisco pass catcher topped 500 receiving yards in 2018. The team’s interest in trading for Odell Beckham Jr. shows management is well aware of the need for someone to boost a receiver corps stocked with secondary talents like Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor and newcomer Jordan Matthews. Brown is the all-time leader in receiving yards at Mississippi, having posted 2,984 yards in three years. He also posted 12 games of 100-plus yards in his career there. He’s very physical and makes good adjustments; he’s a good hands-catcher who can make contested catches. He’s also a strong route-runner. Eighty-five percent of his touchdown catches came out of the slot, and the Niners could definitely use a player like that.

 

5) Deebo Samuel: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens continue to seek stability at receiver after saying goodbye to veterans John Brown and Michael Crabtree, leaving Willie Snead and Chris Moore as the top two wideouts on the roster. Samuel is a very physical wide receiver who boasts good concentration and quickness, as you could see in his 210-yard effort against Clemson in 2018. The South Carolina product also excels at keeping his feet in-bounds while making catches along the sidelines. He’s strong and fast, has a history of being productive and he can return kicks, having set a school record with four kick-return touchdowns.

 

Not sure we knew that ex-Bucs WR ADAM HUMPHRIES spurned the Patriots.  Seems like TOM BRADY is a better fit QB for a receiver of Humphries’ skills than MARCUS MARIOTA.