The Daily Briefing - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

SUPER BOWL 51

The Falcons have opened up as 3-point underdogs to the Patriots who have played in six previous Super Bowls in the Belichick-Brady Era with none decided by more than four points.

 

They may be underdogs, but that’s a much more highly-regarded position than the Falcons found themselves vis a vis the betting public when the season started.  David Perdum ofESPN.com with some tales from Vegas:

In the offseason, there was so little betting interest in the Atlanta Falcons that some Las Vegas sportsbooks lengthened their Super Bowl odds from 40-1 to 100-1 in an attempt to drum up some action.

 

It didn't help.

 

When the NFL season kicked off in September, sportsbook operator CG Technology had taken more bets on the Cleveland Browns to win the Super Bowl than it had on the Falcons. In fact, as of Sept. 6, only one team had attracted fewer bets to win the Super Bowl than the Falcons -- the Tennessee Titans.

 

Five months later, the sportsbooks are feeling good about their positions heading into Super Bowl LI.

 

The Falcons opened as 3-point underdogs against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Sportsbooks do well on their Super Bowl futures markets regardless of who wins, but an Atlanta victory would be the bigger boon.

 

"We took a $5,000 bet at 40-1 on the Falcons to win the Super Bowl," CG Technology vice president Jason Simbal said. The ticket would net $200,000. "And we still win almost a million on the Falcons. That's how few people bet them."

 

While few and far between, there are some other big Super Bowl tickets on the Falcons. William Hill reported taking 184 tickets on the Falcons at odds of 100-1 or greater. And MGM 's sportsbook took 31 bets on the Falcons at 75-1, with the average amount around $70, according to vice president of race and sports Jay Rood.

 

"Some people have some pretty nice tickets on them," Rood said. "But we still look great to them."

 

The Patriots were the consensus Super Bowl favorites throughout the season and also one of the most popular bets. In September, more money had been bet on New England to win the Super Bowl than any other team at William Hill's Nevada sportsbook. But the books kept the Patriots' odds low enough that they'll still turn a significant profit even if New England wins.

- - -

Presumably, Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe is just having fun playing a sneeringBoston elitist looking down on poor Atlanta:

 

We do not hate Atlanta nor its sports fans. We can’t even summon the old “Casablanca” line when Rick Blaine tells a petty thief, “If I gave you any thought I probably would [despise you].”

 

No. It’s not that. When it comes to Atlanta and its sports fans, we feel nothing. Maybe a little pity.

 

The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl in Houston Feb. 5, and they are going to play the Atlanta Falcons, and that takes a little fun out of the experience. It’s thrilling to see the Patriots get a chance to carry out their frontier justice on Roger Goodell. It will be sweet if Bill Belichick becomes the first coach to win five Super Bowls and Tom Brady ends the debate once and for all by surpassing Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with five Super Bowl rings.

 

But Atlanta? Seriously? This will be like the Larry Bird Celtics winning two of their championships by beating the Houston Rockets instead of the Lakers. It’ll be like the Bruins beating the expansion St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup. It’ll be like the Red Sox beating the Colorado Rockies to win the World Series.

 

I know this makes us greedy, but it’s real. A Super Bowl vs. the Dallas Cowboys or New York Football Giants or Green Bay Packers would have had so many more layers of story lines and history. Even a rematch with Pete the Poodle Carroll and the Seahawks would have drummed up some extra interest.

 

The Atlanta Falcons?

 

Meh.

 

This is nobody’s fault. There is no need to insult the nice folks of Atlanta, where you can drive on Peachtree Street, go to Peachtree Plaza, and order yourself a Peachtree Margarita. Atlanta is a diverse and hospitable city with friendly folks and warm temperatures. You can always get a Coke and a smile.

 

 

But it is also a town with absolutely zero enthusiasm for professional sports. And the non-fans know it. They’ve been hearing it for a long time. The Falcons, Braves, and Hawks don’t win championships so they don’t get much love. Atlanta is a place where people play sports rather than watch them. Atlanta grows professional athletes. We produce Ordways and Massarottis.

 

The only two spectator sports that matter in Atlanta are college football . . . and spring college football.

 

I was in Atlanta to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in the first round of the NBA playoffs last April. There was zero local buzz about the Hawks or the playoffs. While the Celtics and Hawks warmed up for their postseason clash, all the televisions at Philips Arena were tuned into Georgia’s intramural spring football game, for which 93,000 fans were gathered in Athens. In the next day’s local paper, coverage of Georgia’s spring practice dwarfed that of the NBA playoff game.

 

Given the dearth of professional sports championships the city has produced, it’s hard to blameAtlanta fans for their abject apathy.

 

Atlanta has the Braves, the Hawks, and the Falcons. The Braves (born in Boston) came from Milwaukee, while the Hawks migrated from St. Louis. The Falcons were an NFL expansion team, born in 1966. Atlanta has had two NHL teams (Flames and Thrashers) and lost them both to cities in Canada — because of lack of support.

 

Meanwhile, two perfectly suitable “new” stadiums (Turner Field and the Georgia Dome, both built in the 1990s) have already come and gone as Atlanta teams search for support that never arrives.

 

Atlanta’s five professional sports teams have combined to win ONE championship in 168 seasons of competition. One. The Braves, winners of 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, managed to win only one World Series, and that came at the expense of the Cleveland Indians (of course) in 1995.

 

Here in Boston, we’ve had an embarrassment of riches, witnessing nine championships since the turn of the century. Between February of 2005 (Patriots in Jacksonville vs. Eagles) and June of 2011 (Bruins in Vancouver), we watched a local team from each of the four major sports win a championship. That’s a span of just six years and four months. No city will ever do that again. Certainly not poor Atlanta.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

We are reminded that the NFL still has an open investigation on RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT as owner Jerry Jones pushes back.  Jon Machota in the Dallas Morning News:

 

Jerry Jones continued to express support of Ezekiel Elliott on Tuesday as the NFL continues its investigation of the rookie running back for two incidents in which a former girlfriend alleged assault.

 

The NFL investigated Elliott throughout the 2016 season and never ruled one way or the other. The investigating is still ongoing, with the NFL officials looking into an incident last February in Florida and an allegation by the same woman for alleged assault by Elliott over several days in July in Columbus, Ohio (those claims are what initiated the NFL's investigation).

 

Elliott, who hasn't been charged in either case, said after the Cowboys' playoff loss that he wants closure and believes the league is "dragging their feet."

 

"I'm very comfortable with where Zeke is with that situation," Jones said. "I'm well aware of all of the circumstances involved there and have felt good about it since training camp and have seen nothing that in any way would make me think any differently than we felt shortly after it became a point.

 

"I don't want to get into how this comes out one way or the other."

 

Jones was asked if he could understand why Elliott might be frustrated by how the NFL has taken so long to investigate the alleged assault.

 

"I'm just aware of all the circumstances here," Jones said. "I would want our fans to know that I'm very aware of all the facts and the details and been aware of it since training camp and not one thing has come up or surfaced that in any way gives me any concern, that I actually to my mind put to bed at training camp."

 

 

WASHINGTON

While they haven’t shown him the money yet, the Redskins are talking the talk about committing to QB KIRK COUSINS.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The word from Washington continues to be that quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t going anywhere.

 

Cousins could wind up as a free agent in March, but coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday that he “totally” anticipates Cousins  starting quarterback in 2017. Gruden is on the same page as Redskins president Bruce Allen when it comes to the team’s view of Cousins’ future.

 

During an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Allen was asked if one could say it is a “10” on a scale of 1-10 that Cousins will be in Washington next season. Allen said you could “go ahead” and mark it that way.

 

“Yeah. Kirk is our quarterback,” Allen said. “He’s played well the last two years. I know there’s other speculation, but it doesn’t come from the Redskins.”

 

This is a familiar dance since Cousins was in the same position heading into last offseason. He played out the year under the franchise tag, something that would cost the Redskins just under $24 million if they were to use the non-exclusive version for the second straight year. That tag would make it possible for another team to sign Cousins away for the price of two first-round picks, although Cousins could nip that in the bud by signing the tender as quickly as he did last year.

 

A funny tweet from Cousins over the weekend:

 

‏@KirkCousins8  Jan 21

Not being in the playoffs means my January weekends involve sitting on mall benches, outside perfume stores, waiting on my wife

#NeverAgain

 
 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Owner Arthur Blank wants all his peeps in Houston.  Michael Cunningham of the AtlantaJournal-Constitution:

 

Falcons franchise owner Arthur Blank plans to take all of the team’s employees to Houston for the Super Bowl. The team employs about 500 people.

 

No further details of Blank’s plans were available on Monday, the day after the Falcons beat the Packers for the NFC championship. The Falcons will play the AFC champion Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

 

 “Football is the ultimate team sport and it goes way beyond the people you see on the field,” Falcons president Rich McKay said in an emailed statement. “It takes a lot of people to operate a successful NFL team and the staff works very, very hard all year round. Arthur loves the associates and one of our core values is ‘Include Everyone.’ He wants those who have helped our team reach the Super Bowl to have the chance to see the game live in Houston.”

 

Blank would not be the first NFL franchise owner to take all of his employees to the Super Bowl along with the team.

 

The owners of both the Panthers and the Broncos paid for all of their employees to go to the 2016 Super Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif.

- - -

The Falcons have started the same offensive line for all 18 games so far, but they do have one spot at some risk going into the big game.  Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:

 

Ahead of their second-ever Super Bowl appearance, the Atlanta Falcons are taking no chances and all precautions with the linchpin of their offense.

 

Falcons center Alex Mack is dealing with a swollen, painful sprained ankle, an injury he suffered in last Sunday's NFC Championship Game. While Mack returned to the game after a brief exit, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source, that Atlanta will likely hold the center out of practice during the bye week.

 

Rapoport adds that Mack is expected to play in Super Bowl LI against the Patriots and will rest his ankle to ensure his ability to play in his first Big Game. The center also said as much on Schein on Sports on Tuesday: "We're doing good. We'll be there on gameday."

 

The most important piece of the only offensive line in the league to start all 16 games as a five-man unit, Mack has incalcuable value to Atlanta's juggernaut of an offense. The center came over in the offseason from Cleveland, signing a five-year deal with the Falcons, and immediately fell into a comfort zone in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense, one he briefly guided as a member of the Browns.

 

Mack finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus' third-ranked center, a Pro Bowler, a second-team All-Pro member and the highly regarded pointman for MVP favorite Matt Ryan and the NFC champions.

 

It'd be silly and downright irresponsible to try to push Mack out on the practice field if his ankle is not ready. That's why there's a bye week in between Championship Weekend and the Super Bowl. Everyone wants the best, healthiest product out there on the biggest stage, from the league to the organizations to the fans and on down.

- - -

Matt Harmon of NFL.com and NextGenStats.com has a long, long stat-based look at who should be the 2016 NFL MVP amongst (in alphabetical order) TOM BRADY, AARON RODGERS and MATT RYAN.  You can go with his numbers here.

 

Here is his big finish:

 

Casting a vote

Each of these three quarterbacks composed a resume that would make them the worthy MVP of the 2016 NFL season. Better yet, each player wrote to us stories of excellence that made not only their individual campaigns worth following but also enhanced the grand tale of the league as a whole. If any of these players come home with the trophy, you won't hear much of a complaint from me.

 

I do not get an MVP vote -- yours truly is not even close to being important enough for one of those. However, after perusing all of the data the Next Gen Stats tracking has to offer, I feel more convinced than ever that his elevation of his supporting cast, execution of the hardest assignments and overall season-long steady dominance makes Matt Ryan this year's Most Valuable Player.

 

Aaron Rodgers' peak of otherworldly play was nearly convincing enough to overtake Ryan, and I didn't believe that going in. Yet, some of the data demanded presented here demanded a reconsideration, and surely it should cause the true voters to pause before overweighing his slow start. I certainly didn't truly understand just how wildly better Brady has been this year before the Next Gen Stats chimed in, but his case is right there with the other two.

 

Should you disagree with Ryan as the MVP, you likely have a good reason in believing the title should go to one of these other quarterbacks. Some of the data in this very piece would support you. In the end, we can all agree that we're better as followers of this sport for a tight and contentious MVP race that will go down to the wire.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk on GM Mickey Loomis doing nothing to dispel the idea that 2017 will be the final season in New Orleans for QB DREW BREES:

 

Saints quarterback Drew Brees signed a one-year extension last year after an offseason that featured a lot of attention to his contract situation, but said at the end of the 2016 season that he doesn’t intend to push for an extension that keeps him under contract beyond 2017 because he wants to “focus on what’s right in front of me.”

 

That approach works for the Saints as well. General Manager Mickey Loomis met with the media at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday and said that the team is fine with that approach because he’s also focused on things that will “make our team better right now for the 2017 season.”

 

“I think he’s already addressed that, hasn’t he? So I don’t have anything to offer you in that regard,” Loomis said, via ESPN.com. “You know, Drew’s at that point in his career where for him, I think it’s, ‘Hey, how do I feel?’ He had a great season, he’s planning on having another great season. And then we’ll go from there.”

 

The Saints have gone 7-9 the last three seasons and have resisted taking the team in a different direction at either coach or quarterback despite that spell out of the postseason. Keeping things on a year-to-year basis with Brees would give them the flexibility to dive into a deep rebuild if they continue to sputter along, although the hope in New Orleans is surely that having $25 million-plus in cap space helps put together a team that lifts them back into the postseason.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Jeff Smith of FanRagSports.com has some rare love for Jed York.

 

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t take the “wrong” approach when hiring former head coach Chip Kelly, and one could even argue that the team made a bad decision to part ways with him. That’s a debate for a different day, but one thing that the 49ers seem to have finally figured out is how to not make a snap decision on something like a head coach, or general manager for that matter.

 

The 49ers interviewed candidates for both positions but obviously didn’t feel as though any of the candidates were the right choice. Or maybe they were a fan of an option or two, but the candidate chose another job. These are things that fans probably won’t be able to find out, but it’s completely irrelevant. In the end, the 49ers apparently had their eyes set on one man and decided to remain patient and wait out the opportunity to land him.

 

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is having his second interview this week with the 49ers for their head coaching vacancy, as Pro Football Talk reports. Many believe that this is all but a done deal, but obviously, the Falcons are playing in Super Bowl 51, so nothing can be finalized between the two sides until after the big game.

 

So, the 49ers are waiting. No rush, no reason to stress, because they’re just going about their business and playing the waiting game. While the organization has decided to wait it out for Shanahan, it’s the smartest move they could make, because he’s the candidate they seem to want the most.

 

While Shanahan and the 49ers look poised to be a great match, not everyone is feeling stress-free about the whole situation. According to The Mercury News, former 49ers great Brent Jones told KNBR the wait has been “nerve-racking.”

 

“The delay is a little nerve-racking,” Jones told KNBR on Monday. “My biggest concern is, the more time that clicks away, the more time we have to lose our front-runners. We’ve lost more front-runners in the last few weeks than anybody. So I’m starting to see visions of, ‘Gosh, do we have a coach left to hire?’ I am getting a little nervous.”

 

It’s obviously a bit hectic and probably has fans nervous, but the approach the team has taken while looking to find a new coach and general manager has been the best possible decision they could make. As Michael Silver reported, Jed York could wind up reopening the GM search if he doesn’t sense a fit between Shanahan and the current candidates.

 

Obviously, the 49ers aren’t on the verge of turning an immediate corner and becoming Super Bowl contenders again, but showing patience like this is key to helping the team get back to the promised land. The 49ers, and every other NFL team for that matter, need to find the right mix of coaches, a GM, and players.

 

The hiring of Shanahan seems imminent, and while the GM job is still up in the air, there’s reason to be confident as a 49ers fan that the team is finally making the right moves, at least in the front office. Now, maybe this solid decision making can shift over to the player front and will help them put together an offense capable of helping the team turn a corner.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

RB TODD GURLEY on his second season from Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:

 

After a successful debut campaign as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, Rams running back Todd Gurley suffered through a miserable second season.

 

Mired in an inept Los Angeles attack, Gurley clearly regressed as a playmaker, finishing with the lowest yards-per-carry figure (3.2) of any back with 150 or more rushing attempts.

 

In a Tuesday appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, Gurley was asked to categorize his 2016 season.

 

"Like a nightmare. I still can't believe the season," Gurley said. "It was definitely a tough year, a learning experience for me. To be 4-12 this year? I don't want to feel that feeling again."

 

Gurley made news in December, describing the Rams' attack as a "middle school offense" in the wake of back-to-back lopsided losses that led directly to the firing of coach Jeff Fisher.

 

Provided a forum to explain that criticism, Gurley clarified that he was speaking strictly of the players rather than the coaching staff.

 

"The week before, we played New England. I think we probably scored one touchdown and that was the last two minutes of the game," Gurley explained. "Then we go play Atlanta, and they probably put more points up on us on defense than we actually put up on offense.

 

"It was frustrating. I kind of told it like it was, kind of how we looked. It was too many mental errors from everybody, including myself, just turning the ball over. You just can't have that."

 

Gurley was gracious enough to let the coaching staff off the hook, but Fisher's offenses were dysfunctional for long stretches of his five-year tenure with the Rams.

 

Erupting for more than 125 rushing yards in each of his first four NFL starts, Gurley drew lofty comparisons to Hall of Famers such as Gale Sayers and Eric Dickerson early in his rookie season.

 

His rare talent was so obvious at the time that NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger raved, "My mom could scout Todd Gurley."

 

Since that torrid start to his career, however, Gurley has reached the century mark just once in 24 games. No other running back since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger has played all of his team's games and averaged as many carries per game as Gurley (17.4) without reaching 100 rushing yards at least once in a season, per NFL Research.

 

The Rams have enlisted new head coach Sean McVay to pull No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff out of his rookie-year tailspin. Beyond that quarterback-whisperer responsibility, McVay will have to find a way to free Gurley from the bad habits he picked up behind an offensive line that is too often overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage.

 

The talent is there. Can McVay and his staff unlock the potential in 2017?

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Dean Spanos hears the chatter that the move to Los Angeles is a disaster in the making and he should skedaddle back to San Diego.  Not happening, according to Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News:

 

Given that Dean Spanos’ typical dinner hour is 6:30 p.m., and that, well, he’s pushing 66 years old, one concern you can immediately eliminate about the soon-to-be Angeleno is him getting caught up in the whole Hollywood scene.

 

His Chargers might call Los Angeles home now after spending the last 56 years in San Diego, but the lures and temptations and potential pitfalls of Tinseltown won’t be a problem for their long-time owner.

 

“No TMZ moments for me,” Spanos said, laughing. “In the event a camera crew jumps out of me coming out of a restaurant, I’ll just smile and nod and say: ‘I’m just ecstatic to be here in Los Angeles’ and keep on walking.”

 

Spanos’ smile and laugh indicated a man growing more and more comfortable with his new surroundings and the new world that awaits him. The last two weeks have been a non-stop blur that’s left precious little time for him to reflect or dwell on his decision to relocate the Chargers 120 miles north to Los Angeles.

 

But as each day passes, the reality of it all sets in and his mind shifts more and more from what he left behind to what lies ahead.

 

“This is an entirely different stage, a bigger stage, and there’s no doubt you already sense that,” Spanos said. “And for us, it’s full steam ahead.”

 

The key being moving forward, especially after a report surfaced over the weekend indicating the NFL is upset Spanos is relocating the Chargers to Los Angeles and that some owners hope he changes his mind and goes back.

 

To which Spanos replies: Not happening.

 

“That’s not even a consideration,” Spanos said. “There’s no looking back. We’re moving forward.”

 

The disappointment the NFL might feel is understandable, Spanos acknowledged. No one wanted to leave San Diego, least of all Spanos, who spent the last year chasing one final local stadium effort after being approved by fellow owners last January to relocate to Los Angeles.

 

“That vote was 30-2, by the way” Spanos reminded me.

 

But when the Chargers’ downtown stadium measure failed in a vote by San Diego residents last November, Spanos essentially turned his attention to Los Angeles, where an option to join the Rams awaited him.

 

And along with it, a fully financed $2.66 billion stadium in which the Chargers are responsible for none of the construction cost but reap or share most of the revenue streams. After paying off a $550 million relocation fee and the $1 dollar per year rent – it’s all profit after that.

 

And that provides Spanos with what he sought for so long in San Diego: At least 30 years of stadium security in a world-class, revenue-creating venue that will enable him and the Chargers to compete financially with the 31 other NFL teams.

 

Yes, there were some last-ditch efforts to buy the Chargers more time in San Diego, even after the November vote, but as the days and weeks and months passed and the deadline to exercise his L.A. option approached, Spanos knew what he had to do. In fact, the groundwork for the move began well before he made the announcement Jan. 11.

 

“This wasn’t a decision I just woke up and made two weeks ago,” Spanos said.

 

Nor did he make it with apprehension or half-heartedly.

 

“We want to be in Los Angeles,” Spanos said. “And we’re excited to be in Los Angeles.”

- - -

The Rams have a year’s head start in the market and nearly 50 years of history to tap into. The Raiders remain a strong presence. And the Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, USC, UCLA, Clippers, Kings, Ducks and Galaxy fill an incredibly packed local sports landscape.

 

Into that crowded community come the Chargers. And while they used the 21 years Los Angeles spent without an NFL presence to build what they say already makes up 25 percent of their ticket buyers, many more will have to jump on board to create a sustained base.

 

That doesn’t happen in a week or month or one or two years.

 

The Chargers will have to earn everything they get in Los Angeles.

 

“But I absolutely believe we’ll find our place,” Spanos said. “And that’s what’s so exciting, and why I can’t wait for the games to start. You can say all you want, do all you want, but ultimately it’s about the product you put on the field. That’s how you create history. That’s how you attract fans and build a fanbase.”

 

The Chargers will play the next two seasons at StubHub Center in Carson, and the 30,000-seat capacity offers a chance to ease into the market rather than force-feed things at the 90,000-seat Coliseum. The Chargers haven’t released season-ticket wait list numbers yet, but Spanos insists the only problem he anticipates is running out of seats to accommodate the interest.

 

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a great place to watch a football game,” Spanos said. “I think fans are in for a treat. I really do.”

 

Official kickoff for the Chargers’ new life is still eight months away. And plenty of work remains between now and then.

 

But more and more, you get the sense Spanos and his franchise are focused ahead rather than behind.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Thoughts from Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto on the big contract for LB JAMIE COLLINS:

 

They overpaid!

 

Just wait for that charge to come after the Cleveland Browns gave a four-year, $50 million deal ($26 million guaranteed) to free agent linebacker Jamie Collins.

 

The 1-15 Browns are the NFL's worst franchise. They have been near the bottom of the league for years and years and years.

 

To convince a B-plus type linebacker to stay in Cleveland, you have to pay him like an A-student.

 

You are asking him to stay with a team that has yet to prove it has a clue how to win.

 

This is exactly what the Browns had to do. They have to stop allowing good players to leave.

 

The money? It's a lot, the fourth-highest contract of any linebacker in the NFL.

 

New England didn't think Collins was worth $10 million a year. That's why he was traded -- his price was too high.

 

And New England is so strong, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl without Collins, who was a Pro Bowl pick in 2015.

 

But the Browns are not the Patriots. They are 1-15. And they are more than $100 million under the salary cap!

 

The 27-year-old Collins is a good bet to be productive in the next few seasons. It's also a sign to other players that the Browns are willing to pay -- and Collins was willing to stay rather than test free agency in March.

 

A good guess is this contract won't look quite as large by the end of the open free agency period. Someone, somewhere will receive a deal that causes even more eyes to pop.

 

That's how it is every year.

 

RECRUITING COLLINS

 

When the Browns traded for Collins, vice president Sashi Brown picked up the linebacker at the airport. It was a way of letting Collins know he mattered to his new team.

 

We'll never know if the Browns would have been able to sign Collins without making the mid-season trade. They will send a future third-rounder to the Patriots for Collins.

 

But the trade helped them keep Collins. It allowed Collins to get to know coach Hue Jackson and the people in the front office.

 

The trade also gave the Browns a chance to evaluate Collins as a player and a person. How will he handle losing? Is he coachable?

 

Jackson connected with Collins and built a solid relationship during the final eight games when the linebacker was with the Browns.

 

SOMETHING POSITIVE

 

The Browns had a few things to sell.

 

They are a team with a new and proven defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams. He has a history of putting players in the right spots to excel.

 

They are a team with a pile of high draft picks in the next few years, but it's also a team that has to prove it can use them wisely.

 

They are a team that was willing to pay Collins big money and set him up to be a key part of the defense.

 

All of that helped keep Collins with the Browns -- and away from the Wild West of the free agent market.

 

Collins lives in Mississippi. He drove to Alabama to visit Jackson, Williams and the other Browns coaches Monday at the Senior Bowl.

 

I know, the Browns "overpaid."

 

But I also know this: If the Browns had failed to sign Collins, what would everyone be saying about the franchise?

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Uh oh.  QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER is putting the Steelers on notice that his time may be drawing near to the end.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gave an interesting answer on Tuesday to a question about how much longer he thinks he will be playing in the NFL.

 

During an appearance on “The Cook and Poni Show” on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger said he didn’t know how much longer he’d be playing and stopped short of confirming that he would be returning for the 2017 season.

 

“I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options,” Roethlisberger said. “To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season. All those things. I think at this point in my career, at my age, that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.”

 

Roethlisberger was asked a follow up to confirm that he was considering not playing anymore which drew a laugh and a repeat of his feeling that it was prudent to evaluate. He said he wants to walk away from his career rather than get carted off and said “head injuries are always a big thing” when discussing some of the things he’d be considering.

 

Roethlisberger is signed for three more years under an extension signed in 2015 that came with a $31 million signing bonus. Retiring could lead him to pay back some of that bonus while also foregoing $46 million in salary and bonus as well as escalators in the final two years that could lead to a higher payout.

 

Those are plenty of reasons to keep playing and a tough loss to the Patriots may be coloring his thoughts, but Roethlisberger says, for now, that he’s not sure of anything.

 

Michael David Smith, also at PFT, adds this from Mike Tomlin:

 

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s comment today that he is considering retirement came as a surprise to some people, but not to coach Mike Tomlin.

 

Tomlin told reporters today that he wants to keep coaching Roethlisberger but will understand if the soon-to-be 35-year-old Roethlisberger decides to walk away.

 

“Ben said it so you do take it seriously. I’m not alarmed by it, that’s football. Obviously, I’m hopeful he returns,” Tomlin said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Not surprised by that thought process by Ben. We’ll react and plan accordingly. We haven’t met yet. He’s one of last I meet with.”

 

Although Roethlisberger is still a good starting quarterback, given his age it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him quit this offseason. Tomlin said the Steelers will plan accordingly for the possibility that they’ll be building a new offense with a new quarterback in 2017.

 

Not sure why it popped into the DB’s head that the last game MIKE GLENNON, still sort of with the Buccaneers, won as a starter in the NFL was on September 28, 2014 – atPittsburgh.  He threw a 5-yard TD pass with 7 seconds left for the 28-24 victory.

- - -

Like the Seahawks, the Steelers seem to have an injury report issue.  Jeremy Bergman atNFL.com:

 

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters that he was aware that Le'Veon Bell was managing a groin injury down the stretch of the 2016 season, but that he didn't report it because the injury never forced Bell to miss practice or game time.

 

"It was just something to manage," Tomlin elaborated. "I think when you look at the journey that is the season, I think that just about every guy down there is dealing with and managing something in an effort to stay on the grass. So I was aware of it, but it wasn't significant to the point where it affected planning or the anticipation of planning in anyway."

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Two names that withdrew from the 49ers GM hunt, Chris Ballard of the Chiefs and Eliot Wolf of the Packers, may be willing to talk to Indianapolis.  Josh Alper at USA TODAY:

 

 The Colts kicked off their search for a new General Manager by firing Ryan Grigson last weekend and the list of candidates they’re putting together will look familiar to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the 49ers’ search.

 

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that the team has requested permission to interview Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard. He joins Packers exec Eliot Wolf, Vikings exec George Paton, interim G.M. Jimmy Raye and Seahawks co-player personnel directors Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer on their list.

 

The Chiefs blocked Ballard from interviewing for the opening with the 49ers, but their ability to do that ended once their season ended with a loss to the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs. There was also a report that Ballard was not interested in interviewing with other teams, so we’ll have to see if the new opening in Indianapolis leads to a different outcome.

 

All of the candidates identified in Indianapolis were in the mix for the 49ers opening, although Paton is the only one still in the running. He’s expected to interview with the 49ers a second time on Saturday.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead with a provactive thought about where TOM BRADY stands in the all-time list of sports heroes.

 

Tom Brady is going back to the Super Bowl, which makes seven trips in 15 years. Excluding his rookie year, when Brady appeared in one game, and 2008, when he tore his ACL in the opener, Tom Brady has had a miraculous 15-year run, the greatest in modern team sports history.

 

Yes, it’s more impressive than Magic’s Lakers (nine Finals trips in 12 years), Bird’s Celtics (five Finals appearances in 12 years*), Jeter’s Yankees (seven World Series trips in 18 seasons**), Montana’s 49ers (four Super Bowl appearances in 11 seasons***), Gretzky’s career (five Stanley Cup trips in 21 seasons with four teams) and yes, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (six NBA Finals appearances in 10 years in the Windy City).

 

Remember, we’re talking about a 6th round draft pick. Brady has exceeded all expectations at the professional level. Magic, Bird, Jeter, Gretzky, Jordan – these guys were high draft picks who lived up to expectations. Magic and Bird were drafted into storied, stacked, franchises. You knew they’d be great. Montana was a 3rd round pick out of Notre Dame, but he was a legendary athlete in high school who went on to with a National title for the Irish.

 

But yes, I’m aware Brady will forever be tied to Bill Belichick. This goes both ways; Bill couldn’t win anything in Cleveland without Brady. And who can forget that Michael Jordan will forever be linked to Phil Jackson. MJ couldn’t get to the Finals until Jackson came along, and then he went 6-0.

 

It’s difficult to compare the NBA and NFL for a multitude of reasons, among them, Jordan plays at both ends; Brady doesn’t play defense or special teams.

 

But the other reason I’m going Brady over Jordan is the era they did it in.

 

Jordan couldn’t get through Larry Bird and the Bad Boy Pistons as a young star in the 80s; he ascended to the top of the NBA when Bird’s back was busted and racked up five rings after Magic Johnson retired early. Jordan’s 6-year run of dominance in the Finals was built in the pre-Super Teams era. Yes, Reggie Miller and Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing are Hall of Famers, but compared to whom Brady competed against?

 

Brady’s career went head-to-head with a Top 5 QB of all-time (Peyton Manning), a QB who the stats guys might put in the Top 3. Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls. To show you how difficult it is to get to the Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers is a brilliant QB, and on talent alone, he’s probably a Top 10 QB all-time already.

 

He’s been to one Super Bowl.

 

If the list is of the most dominant athletes in team sports in the modern era, I’d go:

 

Tom Brady’s Patriots: 4-2 in Super Bowl History

Michael Jordan’s Bulls: 6-0 in NBA Finals History

Magic Johnson’s Lakers: 5-4 in NBA Finals History

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

George Godsey, cut loose as the Jets OC, may find a home with the Jets, per Rich Cimini of ESPN:

 

The Jets are showing interest in former Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey, according to a league source. They could interview him for their vacant OC position as soon as tomorrow at the Senior Bowl. Godsey and the Texans mutually parted ways after the playoff loss to the Patriots. The Texans finished 29th in total offense, as $72 million QB Brock Osweiler struggled. The Jets also have interest in Saints WRs coach John Morton, per source.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

SUPER BOWL 52

After seeing how little money was dropped on the Falcons last offseason, we decided to take a look at the current  Super Bowl 52 odds from FootballLocks.com

 

Here are the alphabetical odds

 

Teams Sorted Alphabetically  2018 Super Bowl LII Futures Odds

Super Bowl Money Odds (Payout Per $100 Bet.)

Arizona Cardinals            +$3,000 (30 to 1)

Atlanta Falcons               +$1,000 (10 to 1)

Baltimore Ravens           +$3,000 (30 to 1)

Buffalo Bills                     +$7,500 (75 to 1)

Carolina Panthers           +$2,500 (25 to 1)

Chicago Bears                +$12,500 (125 to 1)

Cincinnati Bengals          +$6,000 (60 to 1)

Cleveland Browns           +$30,000 (300 to 1)

Dallas Cowboys              +$1,200 (12 to 1)

Denver Broncos              +$1,500 (15 to 1)

Detroit Lions                    +$7,000 (70 to 1)

Green Bay Packers        +$1,200 (12 to 1)

Houston Texans              +$5,000 (50 to 1)

Indianapolis Colts            +$2,500 (25 to 1)

Jacksonville Jaguars      +$7,500 (75 to 1)

Kansas City Chiefs         +$2,000 (20 to 1)

Los Angeles Chargers    +$7,500 (75 to 1)

Los Angeles Rams          +$12,500 (125 to 1)

Miami Dolphins               +$4,000 (40 to 1)

Minnesota Vikings           +$3,000 (30 to 1)

New England Patriots     +$600 (6 to 1)

New Orleans Saints        +$7,000 (70 to 1)

New York Giants            +$2,000 (20 to 1)

New York Jets                            +$12,500 (125 to 1)

Oakland Raiders             +$2,000 (20 to 1)

Philadelphia Eagles         +$4,500 (45 to 1)

Pittsburgh Steelers          +$1,200 (12 to 1)

San Francisco 49ers       +$30,000 (300 to 1)

Seattle Seahawks           +$1,500 (15 to 1)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +$4,000 (40 to 1)

Tennessee Titans            +$5,000 (50 to 1)

Washington Redskins     +$5,000 (50 to 1)

 

Here are the odds sorted from the Patriots to the 49ers.  We boldfaced a team we like (9-7 with two number one picks including the 5th) even though the market has their odds a bit lower than we would have hoped:

 

Super Bowl 52 Odds (Payout Per $100 Bet.)

New England Patriots      +$600 (6 to 1)

Atlanta Falcons                +$1,000 (10 to 1)

Dallas Cowboys               +$1,200 (12 to 1)

Green Bay Packers         +$1,200 (12 to 1)

Pittsburgh Steelers           +$1,200 (12 to 1)

Denver Broncos               +$1,500 (15 to 1)

Seattle Seahawks            +$1,500 (15 to 1)

Kansas City Chiefs          +$2,000 (20 to 1)

New York Giants             +$2,000 (20 to 1)

Oakland Raiders              +$2,000 (20 to 1)

Carolina Panthers            +$2,500 (25 to 1)

Indianapolis Colts             +$2,500 (25 to 1)

Arizona Cardinals             +$3,000 (30 to 1)

Baltimore Ravens            +$3,000 (30 to 1)

Minnesota Vikings            +$3,000 (30 to 1)

Miami Dolphins                +$4,000 (40 to 1)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  +$4,000 (40 to 1)

Philadelphia Eagles          +$4,500 (45 to 1)

Houston Texans               +$5,000 (50 to 1)

Tennessee Titans          +$5,000 (50 to 1)

Washington Redskins     +$5,000 (50 to 1)

Cincinnati Bengals          +$6,000 (60 to 1)

Detroit Lions                    +$7,000 (70 to 1)

New Orleans Saints        +$7,000 (70 to 1)

Buffalo Bills                     +$7,500 (75 to 1)

Jacksonville Jaguars      +$7,500 (75 to 1)

Los Angeles Chargers    +$7,500 (75 to 1)

Chicago Bears                +$12,500 (125 to 1)

Los Angeles Rams          +$12,500 (125 to 1)

New York Jets                            +$12,500 (125 to 1)

Cleveland Browns           +$30,000 (300 to 1)

San Francisco 49ers       +$30,000 (300 to 1)

 

 

2017 DRAFT

 

This as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who went to Mobile while his quarterback did not, is telling anyone who will listen how great Watson is.  Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:

 

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave the ultimate endorsement Tuesday to his quarterback, Deshaun Watson, as he heads into the NFL draft process.

 

"I'm just telling you, if they pass on Deshaun Watson, they're passing on Michael Jordan," Swinney said during the first day of Senior Bowl practices. "I'm just telling you. I don't know what the heck I'm talking about; I'm just an old funky college coach. But Deshaun Watson is the best, by a long shot."

 

Watson elected not to participate in the Senior Bowl. He is a junior but has graduated, making him eligible for the game.

 

Watson, who led Swinney's Tigers to the national championship with a stunning 35-31 win over Alabama earlier this month, is one of the most highly debated draft prospects early in this year's evaluations.

 

"I'm just telling you, if they pass on Deshaun Watson, they're passing on Michael Jordan."

Dabo Swinney

A strong case could be made for the Cleveland Browns considering Watson as high as No. 1 overall because of his star power and proven ability to win on the biggest stage.

 

But draft analysts aren't as sold yet on the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said he has Watson rated as his No. 36 prospect overall -- but Kiper projected Watson to go No. 10 to Buffalo in his first mock draft, and said he could go even higher because of the value and need at the position.

 

Swinney, however, believes there should be no such debate.

 

"That's how you change things, you know, change a culture," Swinney said when asked specifically about Cleveland considering Watson at either No. 1 or No. 12 overall. "For me, it's through discipline and recruiting and staffing and all that stuff. For them, it's decision-making. It's who you pick.

 

"It would be the easiest player [Browns coach Hue Jackson has] ever coached. I'm sure he's coached some good ones, and so have I. But [Watson is] just simple. Very low maintenance, humble, the same guy every day and always ready. Comes to every meeting prepared.

 

"He's the greatest preparer that I've been around. He loves it. You know, he graduated in three years. This is a driven, focused kid that's been way too busy being great to be distracted by anything. So he's just ready for the moment. He's so prepared. And it's been that way forever."

- - -

In case you forgot, Jordan went third in the 1984 as the Houston Rockets made the solid pick of Hakeem Olajuwon and the Trailblazers took the hapless Sam Bowie.

 

Mel Kiper, Jr. of ESPN, in his first Mock Draft of the year, thinks nine teams will pass on The Football Jordan:

 

Note: One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore.

 

1. Cleveland Browns

*Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Garrett is the top prospect on my Big Board, and he's a premier pass-rushing talent who had 32.5 sacks in three seasons for the Aggies. The Browns are in the beginning stages of a rebuild, and Garrett would be a foundational piece. Keep an eye on a potential trade down from Cleveland, though, as it did last year out of the No. 2 spot. The Browns want to keep acquiring picks. They could also fall in love with one of the talented but green quarterbacks.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

*Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

This isn't a strong draft for quarterbacks. Trubisky is the best QB in the draft, but he's only No. 16 on my Big Board. He has only one season of collegiate starting experience, completing 68.2 percent of his passes with 30 touchdown passes and six interceptions. The 49ers still don't have a general manager or coach, and Colin Kaepernick could be on his way out.

 

3. Chicago Bears

Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Allen, who had 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons, could play defensive end or defensive tackle in the NFL. Positional flexibility is a big selling point, and he'd likely play end in the Bears' 3-4 in this scenario. He was one of the best players in college football in 2016. The Bears had a disappointing 2016 season and have needs across the board, including at quarterback, safety and potentially receiver, depending on what happens with free agent Alshon Jeffery.

 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

*Jamal Adams, S, LSU

Adams is built for today's NFL as a versatile safety who can play in the box effectively, make tackles against the run and move to the edges and track slot receivers. Jacksonville hit on a couple of defenders in the 2016 draft (Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue; Myles Jack is still an unknown), but the Jags need more help.

 

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)

*Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

One of the stars in the Tigers' national title game win, Williams finished the season with 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's the top wideout in this draft. Marcus Mariota could use a deep threat and chain-mover -- Williams was fifth in the country in 2016 with 60 catches that resulted in first downs.

 

6. New York Jets

**Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Lattimore is another first-year starter who jumped to the top of my cornerback rankings with a stellar season. A hamstring injury limited his time on the field in Columbus in 2014 and 2015. Speed, size (6-foot-1, 190) -- he has all the traits to be a star. Darrelle Revis could be on his way out with the Jets -- or move to safety -- and Lattimore would slide into his spot on Day 1.

 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

*Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

This isn't a great class for top-tier blindside protectors, but Robinson is at the top of the list, though I think his best skill -- run-blocking -- means he'd be better as a right tackle at the next level. A three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, he's a known commodity in the NFL. The Chargers ranked in the bottom third of the league in rushing (3.8 yards per carry, 94.4 yards per game) in 2016, and tackles Joe Barksdale and King Dunlap have underwhelmed.

 

8. Carolina Panthers

*Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

This is really the first spot I see that could be a good fit for Fournette, barring a trade up. He's a special athlete with an incredible combination of size (6-1, 235), speed and power, but he won't get a grade as high as I gave Ezekiel Elliott last year. Elliott went No. 4 in 2016, but backs have been devalued in recent years -- he was the only back taken in the first round. Jonathan Stewart turns 30 this year and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry in 2016.

 

9. Cincinnati Bengals

**Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

Thomas, one of the biggest risers of the year, had eight sacks in 2016. At 6-3, 270, he could move inside and play tackle, too. The Bengals need pass-rushing help -- they had only 33 total sacks in a disappointing 2016 -- and this is a good draft for edge rushers.

 

10. Buffalo Bills

*Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

I'm a believer in franchises with new head coaches starting fresh with new quarterbacks, and it appears likely the Bills move on from Tyrod Taylor after hiring Sean McDermott. That leaves Buffalo with a huge hole and a top-10 pick to fill it. I wrote last week that I didn't think Watson would get a post-title game draft bounce, but I've heard differently from people around the NFL. Though he had an up-and-down season -- and threw 17 interceptions -- Watson is extremely talented. He's the second quarterback off the board in this projection, ahead of Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer.

 

11. New Orleans Saints

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

Foster is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. At 6-1, 240 pounds, he has stellar range, runs sideline to sideline and is a complete linebacker. He's a terrific blitzer, too, and recorded five sacks in 2016. The Saints need defensive help -- 2015 first-round pick Stephone Anthony played just 127 defensive snaps this season.

 

12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)

*Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

After picking Myles Garrett No. 1, this would give the Browns two prospects in the top five of my Big Board. Cook is a speedy home-run hitter who rushed for 4,464 yards and had 48 total touchdowns in three seasons for the Seminoles. Cleveland also could look at an offensive lineman, cornerback or linebacker.

 

13. Arizona Cardinals

*Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Tabor, my No. 2 cornerback, is a playmaker who had eight interceptions -- with three returned for touchdowns -- the past two seasons. Arizona struggled to find a No. 2 corner opposite Patrick Peterson all of 2016, and in Tabor the Cardinals would get a guy who could step in and start on Day 1. Arizona could take a look at a pass-rusher, too, depending on what happens with free agents Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones.

 

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)

*Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

That Florida secondary was loaded the past few seasons with Wilson, Tabor and 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III. Wilson is right there with Tabor on my board. He's a little bigger (6-1, 213) than Tabor (6-0, 201) and has good ball skills and instincts. This is a spot in which the Eagles need immediate help.

 

15. Indianapolis Colts

Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA

A dominant speed rusher, McKinley gave Pac-12 offensive tackles nightmares in 2016. He took a big leap as a senior with 10 sacks, going from fringe prospect to first-rounder. At 6-2, 240 pounds, he's not huge, but his explosion off the line is suited for today's NFL. Indianapolis needs playmakers on defense, and McKinley is a great fit.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens

**Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

The Harbaugh connection is interesting here. Who has better intel on Peppers than his college coach, Jim Harbaugh? And Jim's brother, John, is the Ravens' coach. Peppers is a fantastic talent, but he's a tweener and is more of a rover back. He could be an in-the-box safety or linebacker who helps in run support and goes out and covers slot receivers and tight ends. The right team will get creative with him and get a star playmaker.

 

17. Washington Redskins

**Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

Hooker was the best center-field-type safety I saw this season -- he has incredible speed and range and was all over the field for the Buckeyes. He had seven interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. Washington could also have a need at wide receiver, even after taking Josh Doctson in the first round last year. Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are both free agents. Keep an eye on a pass-rusher here, too.

 

18. Tennessee Titans

**Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

I've mentioned this before, but 2017 could be the year of the third-year sophomore. Humphrey is the fifth such player I listed in the first round. A hamstring injury slowed him down toward the end of the 2016 season, but he's an outstanding prospect with great size (6-1, 196). The Titans have two first-round picks -- I gave them Mike Williams at No. 5 -- and cornerback should be a spot they target.

 

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

Charlton plays with good leverage for his height (6-5) and has active hands and an incredible wingspan. I'm curious what he'll measure at the combine. He can play on his feet, too, which means he could fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. The Bucs took Noah Spence in the second round last year, and he improved in their 4-3 as the season progressed (5.5 sacks). Charlton would be a great pick.

 

20. Denver Broncos

*Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

Bolles started only one season for the Utes after coming over from a junior college, but he was tremendous. He has nice feet and can drive defenders off the ball at 6-5, 300 pounds. Denver has to get some help at tackle in order to get back on top of an AFC West that features two games every season against Justin Houston, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa. Russell Okung has a team option at $11.7 million, and Donald Stephenson had a poor first season with the Broncos.

 

21. Detroit Lions

Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama

Williams (6-4, 250) is a fantastic pass-rushing talent who can be unblockable at times. He had 19.5 sacks the past two seasons. Williams would have to put on some weight to play end in a 4-3, but his talent is undeniable. The Lions were second to last in sacks in 2016 (26), and Ezekiel Ansah had only two after a breakout 2015 season in which he had 14.5. This is a clear need, especially with few pass-rushers available in free agency.

 

22. Miami Dolphins

Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

As a steady and reliable linebacker with a nose for the football, Davis' versatility stands out. He could play inside or outside linebacker at the next level, though he's not a guy who will get 10 sacks on the outside in a 3-4. He can be an every-down guy.

 

23. New York Giants

*Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

Picking another tackle would allow the Giants to move 2015 top-10 pick Ereck Flowers over to the right side -- he struggled in 2016. Ramczyk, who has had an amazing path to the NFL, is a 6-6, 314-pound road grader with all the traits of an NFL starter, but he's not a talent on the level of former Badger Joe Thomas (who is?). New York could also target a pass-rusher or tight end (none are off the board so far).

 

24. Oakland Raiders

*Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

How can a team with Khalil Mack rank last in the league in sacks? That happened this season -- he had 11 and the rest of the defense had 14. McDowell had only 7.5 sacks in his career, but the talent is there to produce much more in the NFL. He's a tremendous athlete with a 6-6, 290-pound frame who is still raw. One position to keep an eye on: running back. Latavius Murray is a free agent, and this class is loaded.

 

25. Houston Texans

*Budda Baker, S, Washington

Baker, the fourth safety off the board so far, is a dynamic athlete with a small frame -- he's only 5-10, 173. He was a tackling machine for the Huskies, and he had two picks and three sacks in 2016. Quintin Demps is a free agent, and the Texans need to upgrade their defensive backfield.

 

26. Seattle Seahawks

Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson

The Seahawks like big corners, and Tankersley (6-1, 190) fits their style as a guy who could hold up opposite Richard Sherman, and DeShawn Shead's knee injury opens up a spot. Tankersley had nine interceptions over his last two seasons and was a big part of the Tigers' success. Seattle will be in the market for offensive linemen, too, but I don't have much first-round talent available here at No. 26. There's still a long time until draft day, however.

 

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

The Chiefs' top pass-catchers in 2016 were a tight end (Travis Kelce) and rookie fifth-round pick who was better known for his return skills (Tyreek Hill). Davis was one of the most productive wideouts in the country during his career at Western Michigan, catching 331 passes for 5,278 yards and 52 touchdowns. He has ideal size (6-2, 212) and length to be a great NFL wideout. Kansas City has an interesting offseason ahead -- it doesn't have a ton of cap room, and it has to find a way to bring back top free agents Eric Berry and Dontari Poe.

 

28. Dallas Cowboys

*Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Jones, a three-year starter for the Huskies, is the sixth corner off the board. At 6-1, 170, he's agile and fast with nice ball skills. He had nine interceptions in his career. Dallas has a glaring need at defensive end, but don't count out a corner here. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are free agents.

 

29. Green Bay Packers

*Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

McCaffrey fits what the Packers want on offense. He's versatile like college quarterback-turned-receiver Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery, who switched to running back in 2016. McCaffrey can return kicks, catch the ball out of the backfield -- he's dynamic with the ball in his hands. The Packers have a few needs on defense, but running back Eddie Lacy is a free agent, and they don't have an internal replacement.

 

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

*Charles Harris, OLB, Missouri

Harris had an up-and-down 2016 with nine sacks and two forced fumbles, but his ceiling his high. In this scenario, Harris (6-3, 255) would be an outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4, but he could play end in a 4-3 or even move inside to rush the passer from a tackle spot. Pass-rushers Jarvis Jones (a 2013 first-round pick) and James Harrison (who turns 39 this summer) will be free agents.

 

31. Atlanta Falcons

*Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Barnett (6-3, 265) is the eighth defensive end or outside linebacker to go in my first round -- this is a great class for pass-rushers. He is an all-around defender who beats double-teams and makes plays in the running game, and he's versatile enough to play in a 4-3 or 3-4. The light came on for Vic Beasley Jr. in Year 2 in the NFL, but his 15.5 sacks accounted for 45.5 percent of the Falcons' total in 2016. He needs some help.

 

32. New England Patriots

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

Howard, my top-ranked tight end, had only seven touchdowns in his four-year career, but three came in national title games. The Crimson Tide didn't use Howard (6-6, 250) much in the passing game, and he could be more productive in the NFL. He can stretch the deep middle of the field and be a dynamic weapon. New England's No. 2 tight end, Martellus Bennett, could get a big deal in free agency this offseason, and it's too early to tell how Rob Gronkowski's back injury will heal. Another tight end to keep an eye on here: David Njoku, a talented and athletic guy from Miami (Florida) who had a great junior season.