AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Coach Matt Nagy with some thoughts on his long search for a kicker after he threw CODY PARKEY to the curb.

 

With few holes to poke on Chicago’s roster, much of the coverage around Bears camp this spring and summer has revolved around the kicker competition. That discourse quieted this week after the Bears cut Elliott Fry, essentially ceding the starting kicker job to Eddy Pineiro for the time being.

 

But a Sports Illustrated story published Wednesday morning focused on the Bears’ handling of their booter battle ignited the conversation once again, with former Bears tryouts pinning blame on second-year coach Matt Nagy for Chicago’s drawn-out kicker woes.

 

Following the piece’s publication, Nagy defended how the club operated its kicker competition.

 

“I understand — we brought in a lot of kickers that came in here,” Nagy told reporters Wednesday, per ESPN. “To me, I look at it as a positive, in the fact that we said we’re going to turn over every stone to find whoever’s out there. We felt like we, at that point in time, when we brought in a bunch of kickers, we’re going to test them all out and see what they can do.

 

“And then, within that time frame, we also put in some situations with the Augusta silence early on to see how they could handle it. Is it exactly the perfect science? I don’t know that, maybe not … I just really like how we’re going through this thing. (Bears general manager) Ryan (Pace) and I talk about no regrets, right?”

 

Among the issues outlined by kickers profiled by SI’s Kalyn Kahler were Nagy’s obsession with the 43-yard field goal (the distance of Cody Parkey’s double-doink miss), the use of an obscure scoring system to evaluate the kickers and the addition of kicker consultant Jamie Kohl to the staff.

 

“It’s not efficient for the team to continuously beat that one dead horse the whole time,” Justin Yoon, one of nine kickers who worked out Chicago in rookie minicamp, told Kahler of the cult of the 43-yarder. “You have to build a system of confidence for your kicker. I don’t think that’s how the Bears are running it.”

 

In regards to Kohl, some kickers said that the consultant showed bias in how he and the coaching staff whittled down the candidates. The final three booters Chicago was considering — Fry, Pineiro, Chris Blewitt — all had a prior relationship with Kohl.

 

“All of Jamie’s guys, they could have shanked the kick, and it was like, ‘Oh, you have really good rotation, your foot is wrapping around the ball,'” one kicker told SI. “I don’t think this situation will be solved or will be what the team needs to be until Jamie Kohl is gone. The way he very much tries to control a room, tries to be the alpha.”

 

As of Wednesday, Chicago had just one kicker left on its roster — Pineiro — but that could change before the season’s start. The Bears reportedly sought out former Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik in a trade before Baltimore shipped him to Minnesota, and veterans like Dan Bailey could become available following roster cuts.

 

But for now, for the first time this summer, Nagy prefers that less attention is paid to Chicago’s kicker crisis.

 

“It’s really easy in Chicago as a head coach of the Chicago Bears, as a fan of the Chicago Bears, as the media (covering) the Chicago Bears, as the team of the Chicago Bears, it’s really easy for us to just destroy every missed kick,” Nagy said. “And I think we have to keep those things in a little perspective and not get too crazy over a missed kick here or there. And so there’s that balance though, right? That’s where we’re at.”

 

 

DETROIT

Michael David Smith on the Lions giving money for Snacks:

 

Detroit defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison was seeking a new contract, and the Lions gave him what he was looking for.

 

The Lions and Harrison have agreed to add one year and $11 million in new money to his contract, a league source tells PFT. His deal now includes $12 million guaranteed this year and next.

 

Harrison sat out the entire offseason program in his search for a new contract, and when he reported to training camp despite not getting one, some thought that meant he was going to play out the year without a new deal. But it turned out that the Lions and Harrison kept talking, and came to a deal.

 

Last year the Lions acquired Harrison in a trade with the Giants and he provided an immediate boost to their run defense. The Lions think he’ll be a big part of their defense for a few more years.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Should we be worried about WR AMARI COOPER’s heel?  Adam Maya of NFL.com:

 

Amari Cooper has the long game in mind. It’s fitting given his style of play.

 

The big-play wide receiver has missed nearly three weeks of practice with plantar fasciitis, leaving the Cowboys without another third of their offensive triplets in training camp. Like the other two, Cooper and his representation is also in the midst of negotiating a new deal in Dallas.

 

Cooper, who reiterated this week he’s not concerned about a contract extension, isn’t expected to return until at least next week but insisted he will be himself once he does. In fact, he said he would play tomorrow if the Cowboys had a regular-season game — and that he’d be effective.

 

“Real effective,” Cooper said, per Jori Epstein of USA TODAY. “I’m not really worried. … It’s not really that bad, especially just walking around. But to do the things that I do on the field, obviously I’m cutting really hard, I’m stopping really hard.”

 

The Pro Bowl wideout reminded that he has played through this very injury in the past, including during his rookie season with the Raiders and his sophomore year at Alabama. He caught 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns while playing in every game during the former. In 2013, he played 11 games for the Crimson Tide and hauled in 45 passes for 736 yards and four touchdowns.

 

“I played with a lot of foot injuries,” Cooper said. “I played with high ankle sprains. All those things so I’m pretty good at playing with foot injuries. But I don’t think I’m going to have to play with it.”

 

That’s why Cooper isn’t concerned but also why he isn’t rushing back from the heel injury. The hope is the less he does now, the more he’ll be able to do later. For what it’s worth, Cooper has remained engaged in his team’s activities this August. It’s the most he can do given the modifications being made to the offense under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Cooper said things will be “dressed up differently” but it’s all familiar to the fifth-year veteran.

 

“Of course I feel like I’m missing things because I’m missing practice,” Cooper said. “But, like I said, I’m able to keep up mentally. … The plays are, for the most part, the same or similar. … It’s a lot of the same routes from my perspective.”

 

If it produces the same results, this time off will all be forgotten.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Bill Barnwell with a reasonable goal for the 2019 Giants:

 

New York Giants

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 9.9%

 

Get ownership away from the quarterback position. One of the reasons the Giants have become a laughingstock over the past two seasons is how ownership has meddled publicly and privately in the team’s quarterback decision-making. Owner John Mara insisted that the Giants weren’t tanking when they benched Eli Manning for Geno Smith in 2017, only for ownership to see the fan base’s visceral reaction to the Manning move and reverse it the following week, firing coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese in the process.

 

Now, with the Giants drafting Daniel Jones in the top 10, Mara is back in the news by publicly suggesting how Manning would start all 16 games “in a perfect world” for the Giants in 2019. Coach Pat Shurmur then publicly agreed with Mara in a news conference.

 

Here are two things I know. One is that organizations say they’re going to sit their rookie quarterbacks for as long as possible before the season, only to invariably stick them into the lineup at the first sign of their veteran incumbent slipping. The other is that nothing good ever comes from ownership getting involved in personnel decisions for nostalgia’s sake. If Shurmur wants to sit Jones all season and play Manning for 16 games, that should be his decision without any interference or public quotes from Mara.

 

Find a pass-rusher. While general manager Dave Gettleman has attempted to rebuild the Giants around the sort of running game and physicality the team enjoyed during the Bill Parcells era, he has curiously neglected to find the sorts of pass-rushers the Giants have been built around for decades. Gettleman used Olivier Vernon as a trade chip to acquire another offensive lineman this offseason in Cleveland’s Kevin Zeitler, and while the Giants used a first-round pick on nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, their other key moves to address the edge were signing former Cardinals standout Markus Golden and using a third-round pick on Oshane Ximines.

 

Golden has the best pedigree of the three, given that the former second-rounder racked up 12.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign with the Cardinals, but injuries limited him to 2.5 sacks over the ensuing 15 games. He is signed to only a one-year deal, so New York probably would prefer 2018 third-round pick Lorenzo Carter to make the leap after generating four sacks and 10 knockdowns as a rookie, given that the Giants have him under contract through 2021. They need one of these guys to break through before making a bigger addition at the position (Jadeveon Clowney?) next offseason.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com with four goals for the 2019 Buccaneers:

 

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 9.1%

 

Come to a conclusion on Jameis Winston. With a coach who turns 67 in October, the Bucs can’t afford to let the Winston saga leak into 2020 without making a long-term decision. Tampa obviously hopes that its former first overall pick rounds into form and delivers a full season of the promise he has shown in bursts over the past few years, but it would be better for Winston to crater and the Bucs to subsequently pursue a new path at quarterback in 2020 than it would be for Winston to play just well enough to justify a franchise tag or prove-it deal.

 

Discover at least one (and preferably two) starters at cornerback. Like the Raiders, Tampa is loaded with high draft picks in the secondary. In addition to 2016 first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves, the Bucs can call on 2018 second-rounders Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, 2019 second-rounder Sean Murphy-Bunting and 2019 third-rounder Jamel Dean. All five will make the roster, but can the Bucs finally find some building blocks in an oft-leaky secondary?

 

Even given the receiver depth in the NFC South, Tampa wouldn’t have invested quite as much as it has at cornerback if Hargreaves had lived up to expectations as the 11th overall pick. Coaches and teammates have raved about the former Florida standout in camp, with our Jenna Laine naming Hargreaves as Tampa’s camp MVP. If Hargreaves delivers on his potential, the Bucs would still have him under contract for 2020 on a fifth-year option at just under $10 million.

 

Davis and Stewart appear likely to start alongside Hargreaves, but given what we know about Todd Bowles’ preferred style of defense, it’s likely that we’ll see the Bucs rotate plenty of defensive backs through the lineup as both cover men and blitzers. Every Bucs defensive back seems to be raving about how the new, aggressive scheme fits them in a way that the zone scheme preferred by Mike Smith did not, but that’s par for the course in a training camp with a new defensive coordinator. We won’t know whether the shoe actually fits until we see Davis & Co. on the field in the new season.

 

Find a plan at running back. Tampa has been rumored as a possible destination for plenty of free-agent backs over each of the past two offseasons, but the only veteran runner the Bucs have imported since then is Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians’ former charge in Arizona. Peyton Barber retained the job by default last season when second-round pick Ronald Jones lost the coaching staff’s confidence and struggled to stay healthy. The Bucs have generally kept Jones out of the lineup so far this preseason, which might be a positive sign pending what happens in their third practice game.

 

While the Bucs have given reps to Dare Ogunbowale this preseason, it’s likely that their 2020 starter at running back is either Jones or a back not currently on the roster. They should be one of the more aggressive teams in the league when teams make cuts at running back this offseason, although they also shouldn’t be in position to devote serious draft capital to acquiring a back. They should be giving serious consideration to pursuing backs like LeSean McCoy, Jerick McKinnon and Corey Clement if they’re cut by their current teams.

 

Get through one season with competent kicking. This might be too much to ask.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

After some delay, the Cardinals have come to terms with WR MICHAEL CRABTREE.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After the Cardinals worked out receiver Michael Crabtree (and others), decided they wanted Crabtree, and offered him a deal, Crabtree wanted more. So the Cardinals created the false impression that they didn’t really want Crabtree, and that they were simply doing “some due diligence.”

 

More than two weeks later, some checks due and payable to Crabtree will be significantly larger than they would have been.

 

No doubt aided by the hiring of the agent who represents coach Kliff Kingsbury, Crabtree ended up with a contract that will pay out a base salary of $3.25 million, along with incentives up to $2.25 million, per a source with knowledge of the deal.

 

The prior offer had $2.5 million in base salary, and (per the source) only $1.5 million in incentives. The final deal also including a doubling of the signing bonus.

 

The magnitude of the deal makes it clear that Crabtree will be part of the 53-man roster. The real question is whether and to what extent he’ll help at the NFL level and offense with which he’s very familiar based on his time at Texas Tech.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

When the preseason dies, Sean McVay will be among its killers.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Rams coach Sean McVay won’t play his starters in the preseason. And he won’t apologize for it.

 

McVay knows that there are people out there who think the preseason is increasingly becoming a ripoff for fans, who buy tickets to watch a bunch of players who will get cut at the end of the month. But McVay said that the Rams have a core group of starters who have played together long enough that they don’t need the preseason, and don’t need to risk injuries to play exhibitions.

 

“Not to say there’s not an appreciation for what the preseason entails and playing real football,” McVay said. “I think there is a lot of merit to that. But when you look at some of the continuity now that we have on both sides of the ball coming back, and you say, If something were to happen, is it really worth that risk in our mind? We just felt like that answer is no. That’s the approach that we’re taking, I totally understand if people don’t agree with that, but we always make decisions that are in the best interests of our team. That’s just really for this unit. Does that mean we’ll always have that luxury? I think if you have a different number of returning players, then the narrative on that is a little different.”

 

The Rams got to the Super Bowl without the starters playing in the preseason last year, so no one can say they needed it. NFL teams may increasingly follow McVay’s lead, and the preseason may become increasingly pointless.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

A provincial tweet from a Raider.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Raiders play a preseason game against the Packers tonight in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That was news to Raiders punter A.J. Cole.

 

Cole wore during the road trip from Oakland to Canada a hoodie that says, “Winnipeg, Alberta.”

 

He poked fun at himself for the wardrobe malfunction.

 

“Apologies to the citizens of Winnipeg, Manitoba,” Cole tweeted, “just a kid from Atlanta, Florida playing football in Oakland, Nevada with a low geography IQ.”

 

It’s unclear how Cole got a hoodie that had the name of Winnipeg’s province wrong. Unless he had it made, it’s really not his fault. But it’s also smart for him to suck up; you never know when an NFL punter may end up punting for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

 

Cole actually didn’t even get a bordering province, as Sakatchewan sits between Manitoba and Alberta.

– – –

Vinny Iyer of The Sporting News tells us what we missed on Hard Knocks Episode 3:

 

The 2019 Raiders were destined to be featured on “HBO’s Hard Knocks.”

 

Here is our review of the third episode.

 

A Caliendo callback

We’ve seen plenty of Frank Caliendo impressions of Gruden before, but it went to a whole other level with Caliendo addressing the Raiders in their team meeting room while Gruden watched from the side. The comedian picked up a few more bits from “Hard Knocks”: “I gotta stop cussing,” “Knock on wood” and a love of saying “Glenn-on” to refer to Oakland’s backup quarterback.

 

If you blinked during the cold open, you might have thought it was Gruden himself.

 

Gruden always “all in” on AB

Throughout Brown’s issues with frostbitten feet and his helmet – Gruden hasn’t criticized or called out his superstar wide receiver in any way. He knows they are in this together as the two mavericks most charged with sparking the Raiders’ offensive turnaround.

 

“I give the guy credit for standing up for what he believes in,” Gruden said before admitting he didn’t know why it was such a big story.

 

During Thursday’s exhibition vs. the Cardinals, in which AB didn’t play, Gruden still had praise for his glamorous grinder: “You’ve got to love guys who have energy.”

 

The biggest tell, however, was when Gruden was comfortable enough to joke about Brown’s discomfort over his burning feet in the extra heat of camp.

 

“Why don’t you go to a cryochamber?” Gruden suggested, cheekily referring to the solution that caused Brown’s problem in the first place.

 

Luke Willson, eh?

The veteran tight end, one of the most notable Canadian players in the NFL, is reintroduced to us with his flowing hair stealing the show. Think of it as a cross between Geddy Lee, A.J. Hawk and PFT Commenter.

 

In true Canadian fashion, we see Willson being nice and relaxed while on a ferry ride to Sausalito, marveling at the Golden Gate Bridge, with his visiting father, Mike, in tow. On cue, Mike relates how he thought Luke might be playing pro hockey, not football – and instead following his “Slap Shot” dream of becoming a real-life Hanson brother.

 

Darren Waller, baller

The Raiders’ most skilled receiving tight end gets some attention for the hard work he has done in the offseason to get past the durability and substance-abuse issues he has experienced in his NFL career. We also see Waller, a converted wide receiver, staying modest in talking to “Madden” rating adjusters and missing out on two preseason touchdown catches because of an overthrow and a substitution.

 

The highlight, however, was NFL Films having footage of when he was squandering his first big chance in Ravens camp. The contrast of an uninterested player vs. a passionate one makes us appreciate Waller’s journey a lot more.

 

Hunter Renfrow, leading receder

Color us not shocked that there was another joke about the rookie wide receiver not following the Raiders’ “bigger, faster” philosophy, or yet another one about his balding pate making him look like he was 37, not 23. The only thing that matters for Oakland is what Renfrow showed over and over at Clemson – the ability to make clutch catch after clutch catch.

 

Gone with the Windt

Gruden, while prepping his team to face Kyler Murray and the Cardinals, also showed the players a clip of Chargers long snapper Mike Windt stepping on the field vs. the Cardinals – with a ball during a live play involving another ball.

 

That turned out to be a prophetic example of the type of player he didn’t want them to be. The Chargers cut Windt on Tuesday after nine seasons with the team.

 

Words to live by

“Men lie. Women lie. Analytics don’t.” – Brown, when confronted with data showing why he has been the best wide receiver in the game.

 

“Some ships are made of metal, some ships are made of wood, but the best ships are friendships and that’s the way it should . . .” – Wilson, on camp camaraderie, in the most Canadian way

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.cm with some reasonable goals for the Bengals in 2019:

 

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 7.9%

 

Develop a third pass-rusher behind Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. With the jewels of Cincinnati’s 2010 class now on the wrong side of 30, the Bengals have to start preparing for a future without their two star defensive linemen. Atkins and Dunlap combined for 18 sacks and 40 quarterback knockdowns last season, and the only other Bengals player to top 2.5 sacks was Sam Hubbard, who managed six on just nine knockdowns. Defensive linemen typically turn about 45% of their knockdowns into sacks, so it’s unlikely that he will be able to keep that ratio going in 2019.

 

Hubbard is promising and still the most likely candidate to step up into the 15-knockdown range this season, but the Bengals have another option in line with Carl Lawson, who had 8.5 sacks and 21 knockdowns as a rookie in 2017 before going down with a torn ACL a year ago. If the Bengals can get continued growth from Hubbard and a return to form from Lawson, they’ll be blessed with one of the deeper pass-rush rotations in the AFC.

 

Find a young guard. The best-laid plans for the Cincinnati offensive line went down in tatters this offseason when longtime starting guard Clint Boling retired and first-round pick Jonah Williams underwent season-ending surgery on his labrum. Backup guard Christian Westerman, who was one of the options in line to replace Boling, also appears to be retiring. Cordy Glenn, who moved back to left tackle after Williams went down, is out with a concussion. This is all before the season has even begun.

 

The 2020 line is going to include Williams at left tackle and 2018 first-rounder Billy Price at center. That’s settled. The Bengals signed guard John Miller and tackle Bobby Hart to three-year deals this offseason, but neither deal would preclude Cincy from moving on after 2019. Trey Hopkins, who has served as a utility lineman for the team, is on a one-year deal.

 

The Bengals are likely to start Miller and former Giants lineman John Jerry on the interior to start the season, but the player who could figure into the lineup by the end of the year is rookie fourth-round pick Michael Jordan. As the first true freshman to start regularly at Ohio State since Orlando Pace, Jordan has been on NFL radars for a while, but the 6-foot-6 lineman still needs some refinement. If the Bengals can help mold Jordan into a viable starter by the end of the season, it would allow them to focus their efforts elsewhere next season.

 

Come to a conclusion on Andy Dalton. The Bengals finally made up their mind and moved on from longtime coach Marvin Lewis this offseason after 16 years of moderate accomplishment. Dalton will be entering only his ninth season as Cincinnati’s starting quarterback, but the TCU product has been slightly above or below league-average in seven of his eight completed campaigns, with one down-ballot MVP season in 2015 as the exception.

 

That was a season in which Dalton had arguably the best offensive line in football and a deep, healthy group of receivers, and given that the Bengals are already down Williams and will likely start the season without A.J. Green, he won’t have that same sort of support in 2019. It might seem unfair to slate Dalton for how he might struggle without his starting left tackle or his top wide receiver, but we have yet to see him transcend his teammates for any stretch of time. It would have been tough to move on from Dalton when the Bengals were producing winning seasons, but after starting 50-26 through that 2015 campaign, he has gone 18-24-1 as a starter over the past three seasons.

 

He has two years and $33 million left on the extension he signed in August of 2014. There’s no reason the Bengals should enter 2020 with Dalton as their lame-duck option at quarterback. If Dalton proceeds to piece together another 2015 season, the team should extend his contract. If the 31-year-old delivers another adequate campaign, it should be time to move on, either in free agency or through the draft.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers have brought back a veteran coach for their receivers in the wake of the passing of Darryl Drake:

 

The Steelers have announced the name of the coach who will work with the wide receivers in the wake of Darryl Drake’s death earlier this month.

 

Ray Sherman has been named the interim wide receivers coach in Pittsburgh. Sherman has been around the team as an observer throughout the offseason and training camp.

 

Sherman brings a lot of coaching experience with him, including a 1998 stint as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. He also served as an offensive coordinator with the Jets and Vikings and has also spent time as a position coach or assistant head coach with the Oilers, Falcons, 49ers, Packers, Titans, Cowboys and Rams. His last full-time gig was with the Rams in 2015.

 

“It’s been good because Coach Drake used to tell us that he would ask him questions,” Steelers wide receiver James Washington said. “For Coach Drake to tell us that explains the type of guy that Coach Sherman is and the knowledge he has and all that he brings to the table as a coach.”

 

In addition to that NFL work, Sherman spent more than a decade on college coaching staffs. One of those jobs was as the running backs coach at Purdue when Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was a graduate assistant.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Stephen Ross’ wallet may have enriched the wrong presidential candidate, but he did walk the walk in terms of giving chances to minority candidates.  It still wasn’t enough to keep him on the NFL’s “diversity and social justice” committee.  Jason Whitlock has a pertinent comment on Speak For Yourself:

 

@SFY

@WhitlockJason disagrees with Ross being forced off committee

 

“There’s 1 NFL team that I know of that has a black GM and a black head coach. It’s the Miami Dolphins. We’re going to cast out the guy (Ross) that’s empowering people because we don’t like his politics. It’s a mistake.”

– – –

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com with some reasonable 2019 goals for the Dolphins:

 

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 4.8%

 

Signs of life from Josh Rosen and his pass protection. The Dolphins were smart to take a flier on the 2018 first-round pick after the Cardinals drafted Kyler Murray No. 1 overall in April, but the same issues that haunted Rosen in Arizona are likely to follow him. Rosen played behind a disastrously bad offensive line, with the Cardinals down to street free agents and practice-squad guys by the end of the season. The Dolphins have one standout in left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but they might have the worst line in the league between left guard and right tackle.

 

If Rosen can overcome the line woes and exhibit consistent positive traits under new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, the Dolphins will have acquired a player they can build around for a fraction of his typical value. That would be a huge victory. It would also be a positive if the Dolphins manage to pass protect for the duo of Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They could start a pair of rookie guards in third-round pick Michael Deiter and undrafted free agent Shaq Calhoun; it’s on new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo to help mold them into building blocks.

 

Find a pass-rusher. The Dolphins are rebuilding throughout their roster, but no position has been wiped clean like defensive end. Miami moved on this offseason from Andre Branch, William Hayes, Robert Quinn and franchise legend Cameron Wake, and while those were all reasonable decisions for a team looking toward the future, the cupboard is now thin on the edge.

 

The obvious hope is to get more out of 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris, who will see his role grow after playing as a reserve in each of his first two campaigns. The Missouri product has just three sacks across 847 snaps, but his 17 quarterback knockdowns over that time frame suggest he might be more productive than that sack total. After that, the next guys up are a pair of former disappointing second-rounders in Tank Carradine and Nate Orchard. Rookie first-round pick Christian Wilkins will help from the interior, but unless Harris takes a star turn, the Dolphins will likely be in the market for pass-rushing help next offseason.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Will QB SAM DARNOLD consider this a compliment?  Just kidding.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

One wouldn’t think to compare Jets teammates Le’Veon Bell and Sam Darnold to one another.

 

Darnold’s a quarterback and Bell is a running back, which means they have very different skill sets and responsibilities on the football field. As Bell has gotten to know Darnold since joining the Jets, however, he’s realized that there are similarities between the two.

 

Bell called Darnold “a competitor” who is always looking to get better on the practice field and said he’d describe himself the same way.

 

“It’s hard to describe someone that’s like that because I’m like that,” Bell said, via the team’s website. “A lot of people go to practice and you’re just practicing. They call a play and you run the play. When they call a play for me, I’m trying to work myself and I’m trying to like really get better at it. And I can see that in Sam. When he makes a throw he doesn’t really like, I can see that in his face, ‘I could’ve thrown that better.’ You’ve got to love that about him because he literally wants to be perfect. He reminds me a lot of myself in that aspect.”

 

The Jets are hopeful that Bell and Darnold will be two peas in a pod when it comes to production in games as well, although putting that to the test will wait until the regular season as Bell won’t be playing at all in August.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

JAY-Z

According to Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com, Jay-Z’s deal with the NFL does NOT include an imminent ownership stake.

 

The narrative seems already established that media mogul Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter essentially has a handshake deal for partial ownership of an NFL team or is on a fast path to eventually having a team of his own.

 

But that’s not the case. Multiple people connected to NFL ownership and the league office have told CBS Sports that this TMZ-reported rumor is simply false, that there are no plans in place for the rap legend to become an NFL owner.

 

The report was connected to the deal Carter’s Roc Nation has to become the “live music entertainment strategist” for the NFL’s major events. There was already enough to unpack in that. How will Roc Nation impact social justice campaigns with the NFL? How will this affect artists unwilling to work with the NFL in the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick’s exit from the league? When and how will money be spent? How different will the Super Bowl halftime show look under Jay-Z’s leadership?

 

And unfortunately, the timing of the report, amid an already-charged atmosphere, has further complicated a murky situation which will take time to play out. Sources said it had people directly tied to the deal — within the Roc Nation team and within the NFL offices — scurrying to try to figure out who put the flawed info out there.

 

Was it leaked by someone with a particular agenda? Was it meant to obscure or conflate the actual intent of this arrangement?

 

Regardless, the deal does not include any ownership stake or parameters of a potential one. That’s not to say that Jay-Z will not at some point get a piece of a team through his work with the league and its owners, but this is nothing like the situation between him and the Brooklyn Nets, where he paid the most nominal of fees to get a portion of the team while he campaigned for their move to that borough and served a particularly public function as the face of the franchise. Carter would have to be fully vetted and approved by membership, and he would have to divest himself of his growing athlete representation empire as well.

 

“Those kinds of deals don’t exist in the NFL,” as one super-plugged in ownership-level source put it. “There is no ownership component to this arrangement.”

 

While the focus in terms of NFL diversity is generally on the coaching ranks, and to some degree, the general manager ranks, the lack of people of color in ownership is just as pressing. Seeing a group of controlling partners and limited partners who more closely resemble the demographics of NFL locker rooms is something all parties should embrace. But in this case, with this rapper, if it does happen it is quite a ways off, at the very least.

 

 

2020 DRAFT

50 names to know for the 2020 draft from Dane Brugler of The Athletic:

 

It’s early, but we need to start somewhere.

 

Evaluations will fluctuate over the next eight months, meaning these rankings will change as the 2019 college football season plays out. Scouting is very much a process, but if the 2020 NFL Draft were held tomorrow, this is a look at how my top 50 players would stack up.

 

Several players coming off serious injury (like Alabama EDGE Terrell Lewis, LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, Utah RB Zack Moss and Washington OT Trey Adams) have top-50 talent, but were left off this preseason list until we see them back on the field.

 

*Indicates draft-eligible underclassmen

 

1. *Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State (6-foot-5, 266 pounds)

Despite battling ankle injuries last season, Young posted 10.5 sacks and led the nation with 77 quarterback pressures. A dominant presence, his combination of athleticism, power and technical skill are why he is the early favorite to be the first non-quarterback drafted.

 

2. *Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (6-0, 232)

With his instinctual feel for the game, Tagovailoa’s tape is full of spontaneous genius, using his athleticism, arm and mind to create plays. If he stays healthy and cuts down on the “Superman” plays, Tagovailoa is the clear favorite to be the first quarterback drafted.

 

3. *A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa (6-5, 284)

A player who has yet to start a college game ranked at No. 3? Absolutely. Epenesa is surprisingly refined with his heavy hands and rush plan, showing an advanced understanding of how to attack blockers. His 10.5 sacks last season tied Ohio State’s Young for the Big Ten lead.

 

4. *Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State (6-1, 200)

Despite entering the 2019 season with only one career start, Okudah is deserving of this high ranking because of his special traits. He needs a productive junior season to stay this high, but his twitchy athleticism and read/react quickness are qualities that NFL teams covet.

 

5. *Grant Delpit, SS, LSU (6-2, 206)

Similar in ways to Derwin James, Delpit has the diagnose skills and rangy athleticism to blitz the quarterback, shut down the run or cover pass-catchers. His sterling football character and versatile talent will be highly attractive traits in the spring.

 

6. *Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama (6-2, 236)

Alabama’s defense is loaded with high-level athletes, yet Moses still moves differently than most everyone else on the field. Nick Saban has sent a number of linebackers to the NFL, but Moses has the potential to be the best of the lot.

 

7. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (6-6, 240)

Herbert looks like he was constructed with a quarterback starter kit, boasting all the physical and mental attributes desired for the position. Consistency has been an issue for him, but as long as he makes progress as a senior, Herbert will be a top-10 pick in April.

 

8. *Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado (6-2, 224)

Opponents struggled to shut down Shenault last season — injuries were the only thing that could slow him down. With his blend of athleticism, power and competitiveness, he is a playmaker at every level of the field and starts the season as my No. 1 receiver prospect.

 

9. *Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson (6-3, 228)

A decade or so ago, Simmons would have been labeled a tweener who might lack a true NFL position. Today, he is an ideal fit for the modern game because of his versatility to play in the box as a linebacker or drop in space like a defensive back. His best position? Playmaker.

 

10. *Jordan Love, QB, Utah State (6-3, 224)

Love faces a few challenges this season with a new coaching staff and only one other offensive starter returning. However, NFL scouts are giddy over his raw talent (one scout went as far to describe him as “Mahomes-like”) with his loose arm, mobility and mental processor.

 

11. *CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma (6-1, 192)

Lamb is one of the best players on the planet (college or pro) at adjusting his frame and attacking the football. He needs to hone his skills as a route-runner, but his athleticism and catch-point skills make him a dynamic weapon, regardless of who is at quarterback.

 

12. *Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama (6-1, 195)

Jeudy won’t set any records in the 40-yard dash at next year’s combine, but his play speed and dynamic route-running are elite. His lack of ideal size and strength are bothersome, but his electric feet allow him to easily uncover vs. sticky defensive backs.

 

13. *Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa (6-5, 320)

While watching Wirfs’ tape, it can be tough to remember that he is only a true sophomore because his talent appears pro-ready. He has athletic feet to protect the corner or hold up in space, also showing the powerful hands and technical skill to stay between rushers and the quarterback.

 

14. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU (6-0, 194)

My top-ranked defensive senior prospect entering the season, Fulton has outstanding cover athleticism, using his lower body twitch and transition skills to stay attached to receivers. If he improves his ball tracking skills downfield, Fulton can be a top-10 pick in April.

 

15. *Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia (6-5, 318)

Thomas’ pass protection is boringly beautiful — he has outstanding feet, body coordination and length to keep rushers at bay. He uses this simple approach to protect the blind side and will be a top-10 draft pick if he cleans up a few of his technical bad habits in 2019.

 

16. *Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama (6-5, 320)

After starting every game at right guard last season, Leatherwood replaces Jonah Williams as the Tide’s left tackle. He hasn’t started a game at the position since high school, but he looks straight out of central casting with his bulking build, foot quickness and body flexibility.

 

17. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn (6-4, 325)

When scouting 300-pound defensive linemen, some show explosiveness in their lower body while others explode with their upper body. The rare ones do both, which is why Brown is the clear No. 1 interior defensive prospect to start the season.

 

18. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama (6-2, 202)

Diggs, who is the younger brother of Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, has an elite combination of size and speed for the position. There is room for him to improve his technical skill and route awareness, but all the competitive and athletic ingredients (and bloodlines) are there for him to be a top-flight pro.

 

19. Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina (6-5, 308)

Kinlaw is a home-wrecker on the interior because of his upfield rush attack. He already looks like an NFL player with his long, brawny frame and initial burst off the snap and with added attention to his on-field discipline, Kinlaw can be a top-20 draft pick.

 

20. *D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (5-9, 215)

Swift has the uncanny ability to make defenders miss and anticipate the next block, skillfully shifting his gears to maximize each run. While his natural burst pops off the screen, his vision and processing speed is why he enters the season as the No. 1 running back prospect.

 

21. *Creed Humphrey, OC, Oklahoma (6-4, 328)

Although he was a redshirt freshman last season, Humphrey played more like an experienced senior, displaying the timing, technique and movements of a grizzled vet. It will be interesting to track his development in 2019 with four new starters on the offensive line.

 

22. *Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State (6-5, 264)

As his confidence grew last season, Gross-Matos was able to unlock his nimble athleticism and body flexibility, finishing with 20.0 tackles for loss. He is still piecing together how to be a well-rounded rusher, but he has intriguing tools with his frame, length and athleticism.

 

23. *Tyler Biadasz, OC, Wisconsin (6-2, 322)

A sound technician, Biadasz affects the game with his effort and attention to detail. Although he might not be an elite athlete, he has a decent first step and quickly finds his landmarks, relying on his upper and lower halves to stymie defenders.

 

24. Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame (6-5, 242)

Okwara does an outstanding job gaining ground with his initial quickness and long arms (measured at 34 1/4-inches by NFL scouts this spring). If he can be a better finisher in 2019, I doubt Okwara gets out of the first round next April.

 

25. *Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson (6-3, 205)

The only player in the ACC to post double-digit touchdown catches last season, Higgins is an intriguing height/speed athlete. He needs to get stronger and develop as a route runner, but his graceful movement skills and catch radius make him a play creator.

 

26. Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt (6-4, 260)

Although not dominant in one specific area, Pinkney is very well-rounded as a pass-catcher and blocker. Entering the season, he is the highest-rated tight end prospect in the country and has a legitimate chance to crack the first round.

 

27. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia (6-2, 202)

Looking for a definition of “ball skills”? Throw on some of Hall’s game tape. He led the FBS with 22 pass breakups last season, blanketing receivers from press-man and zone. He has only average speed for the position, but his length, toughness and instincts are why he is a future NFL starter.

 

28. *Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU (5-10, 196)

Blessed with 4.3 speed, Reagor does an outstanding job shifting gears to leverage routes and create passing windows downfield. There isn’t much he can do about his height, but Reagor can cement his status as a first-round pick if he becomes a better finisher in 2019.

 

29. *CJ Henderson, CB, Florida (6-1, 196)

I want to see Henderson take more chances before I bump him up this list, but he has the coordinated movements of a top-25 draft pick. His ability to gear down, stay under control and maintain spacing versus top-tier athletes is why so many are optimistic about his NFL future.

 

30. *Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama (5-11, 192)

Speed kills and Ruggs might be the fastest player in the FBS. He needs to develop the finer points of the position, but he already has a nose for the end zone with 17 career touchdown catches, registering one every 3.4 receptions.

 

31. *Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State (5-9, 205)

Benjamin was one of the most fun players I evaluated this summer. He uses his natural balance to create as a ball carrier, running with a low center of gravity and the start/stop burst to elude defenders. Arizona State produced a first-rounder on offense in April (N’Keal Harry) and could do it again in the 2020 class.

 

32. *Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (5-9, 212)

Few players at the college level move as fast with the ball in their hands as Etienne. He has the difference-making speed to destroy pursuit angles and the compact power to skirt tackle attempts. Etienne will shoot up this list if he improves as a pass-catcher and blocker this fall.

 

33. Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee (6-3, 259)

Although he is missing a power move in his arsenal, Taylor is very skilled at turning the corner and accelerating to the quarterback. His eight sacks as a junior led the Volunteers and are the most of any returning player in the SEC.

 

34. *Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame (6-5, 311)

Can Eichenberg follow in the footsteps of Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey as Fighting Irish left tackles who were first-round picks? He needs to show better placement with his punch to control the point of attack, but he has an excellent understanding of body angles.

 

35. *Lloyd Cushenberry III, OC, LSU (6-3, 312)

Cushenberry needs to tidy up his discipline, especially at the point of attack, and stay within himself, controlling his eagerness to make plays. However, he checks a lot of boxes for the next level with his movement skills, raw strength and pedigree.

 

36. *Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia (6-1, 221)

Fromm will be a divisive prospect due to his lack of ideal size and arm strength. However, he scores highly in the most important category for the position: accuracy. Fromm is mature beyond his years and is pro ready, projecting best in a West Coast system.

 

37. Ashtyn Davis, FS, California (6-1, 201)

An accomplished hurdler in track, Davis’ speed translates to the football field, flying around the field with purpose. He might not look like an enforcer, but he competes with the toughness and anticipation to be disruptive.

 

38. Lucas Niang, OT, TCU (6-6, 336)

The top senior offensive lineman on this list, Niang is a nimble 336-pounder, using his 35-inch arms and 11-inch hands to wrangle pass rushers off the edge. He isn’t a finished product just yet and must better leverage blocks, but his body girth and range are solid foundation traits.

 

39. *Xavier McKinney, FS, Alabama (6-1, 204)

McKinney is field fast and always in attack mode, running the alley with violent intentions. He tends to false step, but if he eliminates the mistakes and plays more consistent this season, McKinney will go from a “maybe” first-rounder to a top-25 pick.

 

40. *Walker Little, OT, Stanford (6-6, 314)

Despite his last name, Little has above-average size and has steadily improved since entering the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2017. He is too much of a catch blocker and his average feet can be stressed by edge speed, but Little plays powerful and balanced.

 

41. *Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford (6-1, 188)

After redshirting in 2017, Adebo put his name on the NFL map last season with 24 passes defended, including four interceptions. He is at his best using bail technique, which won’t be a fit for every defense, but he is similar in ways to Richard Sherman and projects best in a Cover-3 scheme.

 

42. *Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State (6-6, 315)

Starting all 27 games the last two seasons for the Broncos, Cleveland has the strong upper body to stymie bull rushers and anchor versus power. He has only average lateral range, which is why some scouts see him best at guard, but regardless, Cleveland projects as a starting offensive lineman.

 

43. *Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan (6-2, 211)

Although injuries and inconsistencies with the Michigan offense have held him back, Peoples-Jones is primed for a breakout season. He is a tremendous athlete regardless of size, but especially for a wideout with his measurements.

 

44. *Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA (5-10, 196)

Holmes, who is one of only a handful of players who intercepted Kyler Murray last season, has been a starter for the Bruins since he arrived in Westwood. He is one of the fastest players in college football (he should run in the mid-4.3s) and competes with the aggressive nature needed for the next level.

 

45. *Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma (6-4, 231)

More of a slot receiver than traditional tight end, Calcaterra is a tough target to cover due to his fluid movements and long-striding speed. He won’t have much (any?) inline experience in college, but NFL teams will be high on his downfield skills as a pass-catcher.

 

46. *Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (5-10, 218)

With 4,171 rushing yards over his first two seasons, Taylor’s production speaks for itself (he’s 2,234 yards behind Donnel Pumphrey’s all-time FBS rushing record). While NFL teams draft traits, not production, Taylor also has the skill set that will produce at the NFL level.

 

47. *Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State (5-11, 189)

Wallace uses instant acceleration to win off the line and stack cornerbacks deep. His lack of size and strength can be an issue at times, but there is no question about his competitive energy, attacking the football to finish.

 

48. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama (6-6, 315)

After a dominant sophomore campaign, Davis appeared to take a step back last season with Quinnen Williams emerging as Alabama’s top defensive lineman. But with his raw power and rare measurements, Davis has moldable talent worth taking a chance on.

 

49. *Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa (6-7, 295)

While he doesn’t have the same talent as teammate Tristan Wirfs, Jackson has started 24 games at left tackle the last two seasons. He needs to mature on and off the field to reach his pro potential, but Jackson usually gets the job done as both a run blocker and pass protector.

 

50. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon (6-3, 218)     

The only active player from a Power Five conference to lead his team in tackles each of his first three seasons, Dye runs like a gazelle to play sideline to sideline. Although leaner than ideal, he uses his length and athleticism to match up against backs and tight ends in coverage.