AROUND THE NFL

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes that after three weeks of play, the folks in Vegas believe the Patriots will play the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, probably win, and then claim another Super Bowl title.

 

Three weeks of dominance, even against easily-dominated teams, gets the attention of the folks in Las Vegas.

 

After trouncing the Steelers, Dolphins, and Jets — franchise that are a combined 0-9 on the year — the Patriots have seen their odds to win the Super Bowl drop to 7-2, via the Westgate Superbook. The Patriots are 6-5 favorites to win the AFC Championship.

 

The Chiefs have the next lowest odds to win the Super Bowl, at 4-1. The Chiefs are 3-2 to get to Miami in February.

 

After New England and Kansas City, the odds for the AFC teams spike. The Ravens are 30-1 to win it all, and 15-1 to get to the Super Bowl. The Texans are 20-1 and 10-1. The Chargers are 30-1 and 15-1. The Colts are 60-1 and 30-1. The Browns, who opened in January at 30-1 and 10-1, are now 60-1 and 30-1.

 

In the NFC, the Rams and Cowboys are 8-1 to win it all, and 4-1 to win the NFC title. The Packers are 10-1 and 5-1. The Saints and Vikings are 16-1 and 8-1. The Bears and, amazingly, the 49ers are 20-1 and 10-1. The Eagles are 25-1 and 12-1. The Seahawks are 30-1 and 15-1.

 

Usually for futures bets like these a long shot or two will stand out. The Lions or the Bills at 50-1 to win it all, for example. The Titans, the Bucs, or the Giants at 200-1.

 

But not on this one. The cream has quickly separated from the crap in the NFL’s 100th season. It’s most likely going to be the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys, or Rams, when the dust settles. It will be a major upset if it’s a team like the Packers, Texans, Vikings, Saints, etc.

 

It’s almost inconceivable that a long shot will pull it off. Which means that I’ve just walked right into an immediate future that sees a long shot rising and eventually winning it all.

 

– – –

 

S KEANU NEAL took off his helmet while lying on the field in pain.  The officiating crew of referee Alex Kemp was quick to spot and punish said crime.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Falcons safety Keanu Neal suffered a season-ending torn Achilles on Sunday, and he was so upset that he was weeping on the field. He was also so upset that he took off his helmet and threw it — drawing a 15-yard penalty.

 

That didn’t sit well with Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who said he wishes the officials would have cut Neal some slack in the heat of the moment.

 

“I would hope in those instances we use common sense and pick up the flag,” Quinn said, via Jason Butt of TheAthletic.com.

 

Quinn is right. The rule making it a penalty to remove a helmet is intended to curtail problems like taunting an opponent, getting in the face of an official, or excessive celebration after a big play. It certainly wasn’t intended to penalize a player who’s just been hurt, is taking off his helmet as the medical personnel approach, and throws the helmet in his frustration.

 

The officials may not have known why Neal threw his helmet at first, but once they saw him crying while he talked to the medical staff and saw him carted off before the next play, they should have realized that this wasn’t worth a personal foul penalty.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY may be overdrafted, and he may never be enshrined in Canton – but former NFL defensive back Ryan Clark threw some unwarranted shade at the Bears QB.  Mike Sando of The Athletic:

 

There was some consternation Monday night when ESPN analyst Ryan Clark suggested that Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky could become another Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell if he didn’t improve. Trubisky had just completed 81 percent of his passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns in a dominating Bears victory over Washington.

 

Clark, a retired 13-year NFL safety with a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl victory on his resume, later acknowledged he had exaggerated. Trubisky, three games into his third season, has already outperformed Leaf and Russell. But there remains a large gap between the stat line Trubisky produced Monday night and what football people see as the reality. Tightening up one of the more loosely used terms in football reporting helps navigate the divide.

 

The term “dropback” has become ubiquitous for describing what quarterbacks do every time they take the snap and set up to pass. After Monday night, we plausibly could have heard about Trubisky completing 25 of 31 passes for 231 yards with three sacks on his 34 dropbacks. But in looking at the game from a coaching standpoint, the Bears’ staff did what most staffs do. They limited their quarterback to a handful of actual dropback passes, instead favoring passing actions that reduce the degree of difficulty for the QB.

 

Passing actions help determine degree of difficulty at the position, so when Clark and other football people see a game plan as easy on the quarterback as the Bears’ plan was Monday night, they become grudging in how much respect they dish out.

 

In this case, Trubisky completed 18 of 21 attempts for 130 yards on passes traveling no more than five yards past the line of scrimmage. To call most of those 21 pass plays “dropbacks” insults actual dropback passing while distorting what happened in this particular game.

 

Screens, quicks, bootlegs, sprintouts, play-actions and run-pass options accounted for a majority of plays when the Bears attempted passes Monday night. Trubisky averaged 5.2 air yards per attempt, the second-lowest figure for his career. Varying the passing actions to enable dinking and dunking is standard procedure in the NFL, but earning respect at the highest level requires succeeding in the actual dropback passing game, with its higher degree of difficulty and value in generating offense during dire situations. Tom Brady leading New England back from a 25-point deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 would be the ultimate example.

 

“What (Bears coach Matt) Nagy does is what good play-callers do,” a veteran coach said. “He accentuates his quarterback’s strengths and stays away from his weaknesses.”

 

The easy completions add up with heavy doses of the quick game, screens and boots. Throw in some RPOs and play-actions with easier throws where the receivers are running toward the center of the field, and then when the game plan does call for actually dropping back, play callers can make sure their quarterbacks have checkdowns and other outlet routes. That’s not the case only for Trubisky. It’s the case for a lot of quarterbacks.

 

Charting by Sports Info Solutions shows Trubisky ranking second among qualifying quarterbacks (more than 30 completions) with 25 percent of his completed passes coming on plays when he targeted receivers on curl routes. Those carry higher margins for error from an accuracy standpoint because receivers are turning back toward the quarterback, presenting stationary targets. Trubisky also ranks near the top with another 22 percent of his completions coming on screens. That’s nearly half his passes on easier throws. Of course, Drew Brees ranks first in completions on curl routes. Aaron Rodgers is first in completions on screens.

 

“Most game plans are built around the easy throws,” another coach said. “Guys like Brees differentiate themselves in two-minute, on third down, in the tougher situations, and then also in how they place the ball — their accuracy.”

 

Stats for the final two minutes of halves can be misleading. Teams aren’t always in two-minute mode, and sample sizes can be small. But in stacking quarterbacks by yards per attempt in the final two minutes of halves since Trubisky entered the league, the Bears’ quarterback comes in 38th out of 39 players with at least 50 pass attempts in those situations. Brock Osweiler is lower. At the top: Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. While there are a couple of unexpected names in unexpected places on the list, that could be a decent proxy for performance in those situations. Not that coaches and evaluators need a yards-per-attempt stat to tell them what they can see from watching the games.

 

The interception Trubisky threw on a fade route Monday night was a rough one. He left the ball short and inside, creating an easy interception for Josh Norman. But with the Bears’ defense dominating, the turnover didn’t matter much. Earlier, Trubisky completed a 36-yard scoring pass after escaping pressure in the pocket and hurling the ball deep to the right side of the end zone, where only his receiver could catch it.

 

“The scramble play before half was a nice throw,” a personnel evaluator said. “He is running around to do it. He threw another seam to a running back that was a decently hard throw. There are maybe four or five upper-tier throws in that game. He’s a work-in-progress, in his third year. Is he going to get better?”

 

Clark, following up Tuesday in an interview with Steve Torre and Danny Kanell of Mad Dog Sports Radio, amended his harsh Monday night commentary by substituting Tim Couch, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder for Leaf and Russell in his analysis of the Bears’ quarterback. That probably wasn’t the upgrade Bears fans were hoping for, but they presumably would take 81 percent completions and three touchdown passes against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4, no matter how many actual dropbacks are in the gameplan.

 

The DB thinks Trubisky may settle in somewhere between ANDY DALTON and MATTHEW STAFFORD – but we’ll see.

 

More Trubisky bashing from Bryan Perez of NBCSports.com:

 

The Mitch Trubisky honeymoon in Chicago is over, even if that’s not necessarily how the fanbase feels.

 

Trubisky, who’s in his third season since being selected second overall in the 2017 NFL draft, began 2019 with high expectations for Year 2 with Matt Nagy. He’s coming off his best game of the season in Week 3’s Monday night victory over the Redskins, but even his positive performance hasn’t done much to silence his critics. See Cris Carter and Ryan Clark.

 

Sure, Trubisky hasn’t had the kind of start fans were hoping for. With only three touchdown passes through three games, his stats aren’t anywhere near the top of the NFL’s leaderboard. And while stats don’t always tell the full story, a deeper dive into the analytics can help fill in the gap.

 

According to Pro Football Focus’ QB rankings after three weeks, it doesn’t get much better for Trubisky. He’s QB24.

 

24. MITCHELL TRUBISKY, CHICAGO BEARS

Trubisky has picked up where he left off last season, missing far too many throws down the field. However, this season hasn’t seen the stat inflation that led to false optimism coming out of his 2018 campaign. His Week 3 effort against the Redskins was a step in the right direction with two wide-open touchdowns and perhaps his best throw of the season for a third score. However, if the Bears’ offense is going to take the next step, Trubisky must start hitting throws more consistently, as he has the fifth-highest percentage of uncatchable passes in the league so far.

 

False optimism and uncatchable passes? Yikes.

 

Trubisky hasn’t been great in 2019. In fact, he’s struggled to even be good. At best, he’s looked like an average quarterback, but his 36-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Monday night was a special throw that’s evidence of his potentially special ability. As PFF stated, he just has to become a more consistent player in order to make the leap from barely good enough, to franchise passer.

 

Fans are keeping the faith and remaining patient in spite of what feels like a mass exodus from the Trubisky bandwagon.

 

 

DETROIT

 

 

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS is aware that the offense has not clicked the way people expect it to under the direction of a Hall of Fame QB.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:

 

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t view himself as a game manager just because the Green Bay Packers finally appear to have a top-caliber defense. Nor does he want that defense to have the carry this team like it has on the way to its 3-0 start.

 

Yes, Rodgers expected growing pains in coach Matt LaFleur’s new offense, as he said at the start of the regular season.

 

But that doesn’t make it any easier to look at the NFL’s rankings and see the Packers at No. 28 in total offense heading into Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

“It’s time for us to do our part on offense,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “Moving forward, we’re going to play a stretch of really good football teams. At some point, we can’t expect our defense to shut everybody down. They have been, but at some point the offense is going to have to wake up and start making some plays.”

 

Rodgers has thrown for just 647 yards, the second-lowest total of his career through three games of a season. His 57 completions through three games rank as his lowest total to this point in a season since 2009.

 

Still, Rodgers hasn’t had to carry the Packers like in years past. All the resources that general manager Brian Gutekunst has put into the defense by adding free-agents Adrian Amos, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith along with recent first-round draft picks Jaire Alexander (2018), Rashan Gary (2019) and Darnell Savage (2019) have helped the Packers lead the NFL in takeaways (eight), rank second in scoring defense (11.7 points allowed per game) and third in sack percentage.

 

“Well, we’ve never wanted to just manage the football game around here,” Rodgers said. “The standards are very high for us. We’ve got to play a lot better on offense. We’ve played some good defenses, no doubt about it, but the standard and expectations are very high here, and we haven’t met them on offense. Thankfully, our defense has not only been opportunistic but stout, holding them to field goals in the red zone, taking the ball away, putting us in good field position.”

 

Rodgers suggested after Sunday’s 27-16 win over the Broncos that the key might be getting Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams the ball more. Adams caught all four passes thrown his way for 56 yards, but Rodgers said: “Four targets for Davante is obviously not enough.”

 

Last season, Adams caught 111 passes — one short of the franchise single-season record — for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns. With 15 catches for 198 yards, Adams is on pace for 80 catches and 1,056 yards but doesn’t have a touchdown.

 

LaFleur also acknowledged he needs to get the ball in the hands of his top playmakers more, but it needs to come within the rhythm of the offense.

 

“I’ve never been of the mindset or philosophy of, just force-feed a guy the ball, you know?” LaFleur said Tuesday. “I do think that we can do a better job of making sure that we get some of the things that we want to get called going into games and again just make sure they get called to give those guys optimal number of opportunities.”

 

Rodgers also would like to get tight end Jimmy Graham more involved. Graham caught a touchdown pass and had three receptions for 30 yards in Week 1 but was shut out the last two weeks. Graham is on the injury report this week with both a groin and quad injury but participated in Tuesday’s walk-through practice.

 

“Jimmy’s the best,” Rodgers said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s a one of my best friends, not just as a teammate. I love our conversations, getting to talk to him. He is a very positive person. He’s a realist. His focus and preparation has been second to none, as usual.”

 

The Packers ran only 57 offensive plays against the Broncos and have averaged just 59 plays per game, which is 24th in the NFL.

 

“It’s just putting him in position to have some opportunities, whether that’s moving him around or giving him motion or messing with a split, I think it’s just giving him some more opportunities,” Rodgers said of Adams. “I think part of it is we’ve been so bad on third down, we haven’t had those conversions that give us more plays. We had 50-something plays last week, which is limiting the amount of opportunities our entire offense has. If our offense has less opportunities, there are probably going to be less opportunities for targets for Davante.”

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

More on RB SAQUON BARKLEY and his ankle from Andie Hagemann of NFL.com:

 

Saquon Barkley is seeking a second opinion on his ankle.

 

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on NFL Now the New York Giants running back is scheduled to see Dr. Robert Anderson on Wednesday for an evaluation of his high ankle sprain, per a source informed of the situation.

 

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen was first to report the news.

 

This week NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Barkley is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks with the injury, which is a big loss for a Giants’ offense featuring rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.

 

As Pelissero notes, Barkley is continuing to gather more information from experts on how to proceed going forward.

 

Barkley exited the Giants’ Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter. He had eight carries for 10 yards and four receptions for 27 yards. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year has 237 rushing yards, 74 receiving yards and one touchdown on the season.

 

With Barkley out, the Giants worked out a slew of running backs on Tuesday:

 

@TomPelissero

The #Giants are kicking the tires on a bunch of running backs after Saquon Barkley’s ankle injury, working out Benny Cunningham, Fozzy Whitaker and Zach Zenner today. No immediate signings, though, so for the moment, appears it’s The Wayne Gallman Show.

– – –

An ESPN note on what QB DANIEL JONES accomplished:

 

@ESPNStatsInfo

The Giants overcame an 18-point deficit. According to @EliasSports , that’s tied for the 2nd-largest comeback victory for a quarterback in his 1st career start since the 1970 merger.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Hakim Laws is the name of the Eagles fan who used his sure hands to catch children being thrown from a burning building.  Tim McManus of ESPN.com on what happened next:

 

Football is an obsession in Philadelphia.

 

Former firefighter Hakim Laws provided the latest evidence of that by referencing the Eagles’ loss to the Detroit Lions — and Nelson Agholor’s role in it — moments after he was involved in a fire rescue Monday morning.

 

On Monday evening, Agholor showed that there was no love lost by inviting Laws and his family to the next home game via social media.

 

@nelsonagholor

Thank you for being a hero in the community, would like to invite you and your family to the next home game

 

@espn

“We was catching ’em … unlike [Nelson] Agholor.”

 

Laws said he was walking in a residential area in West Philadelphia when a fire broke out, and he joined first responders to help rescue residents who were inside.

 

“One of my old coworkers took the ladder off the truck and raised it up and was assisting people down,” Laws said. “My man just started throwing babies out the window. We was catching ’em, unlike Agholor.”

 

The Eagles fell to the Lions 27-24 on Sunday. Agholor had a drop and a fumble in the first half before rebounding in the second half with a pair of touchdowns. The receiver had a costly drop in the closing minutes against the Atlanta Falcons the week before.

 

Agholor was front and center in the locker room after both losses to take accountability, and he opted for the high road after Laws’ comments went viral.

 

“The plays that you messed up on could have been the plays that determined an opportunity to win,” he said. “In my mind, I am trying to eliminate bad plays. I think good plays are going to come. I think I am gifted, I am coached well, and I am put in great positions, but in terms of making mistakes, it can’t happen, especially with me being a veteran in the group.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

A new deal for DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL who will now become a free agent at the end of the year.  Field Yates of ESPN.com:

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jason Pierre-Paul have agreed to a reworked contract that includes the defensive end’s compensation dropping by around $3 million for 2019, while the 2020 year of his deal was eliminated, per a league source.

 

Given that there are varying opinions on whether and when Pierre-Paul will be able to resume his playing career after a neck injury suffered in a car accident this past May, the contract reflects a compromise between the two sides.

 

Pierre-Paul was placed on the non-football injury list, which means the team was not obligated to pay him his full salary of $13.65 million for this season. With the amended deal, Pierre-Paul’s compensation for the year is now $10.5 million, and the 30-year old can hit free agency in March if he is able to continue to play football, which he believes he can.

 

For the Buccaneers, this deal creates financial flexibility in the form of $4.4 million in cap savings, which is helpful for a team that has been tight to the salary cap.

 

There is no timetable for Pierre-Paul’s return and the organization is proceeding cautiously, given the nature of his injury. He was cleared by the team and independent doctors to resume rehabilitative exercises last month after he opted not to undergo surgery.

 

Shaquil Barrett has stepped up in his absence, tying an NFL-record with 8 sacks in the first three games.

 

Bruce Arians said Monday that Pierre-Paul is “progressing” and that it’s been good to see him at the team facility.

 

“Yeah, he’s been in and out a bunch,” he said.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks ship TE NICK VENNETT off to Pittsburgh for a 5th round pick and quickly sign an old friend, TE LUKE WILLSON.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Willson signaled he was rejoining the Seahawks after they traded Nick Vannett to the Steelers Tuesday.

 

A fifth-round pick out of Rice in 2013, Willson spent the first five years of his career in Seattle, snagging 89 passes for 1,129 yards and 11 TDs. He signed in Detroit last season and had an unimpressive campaign, catching 13 balls for just 87 yards and no points.

 

Willson spent the offseason with the Oakland Raiders, where he was front-and-center during HBO’s Hard Knocks, but didn’t make the final roster.

 

The tight end will now return to Seattle where he’ll provide veteran depth behind second-year TE Will Dissly, who has fast become one of Russell Wilson’s favorite targets.

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

RB MELVIN GORDON may soon be making his way back to the Chargers.  ESPN.com:

 

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon could soon be moving up his reporting date, though no final decisions have been made, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Gordon had previously planned to return at some point in October, but circumstances have changed and Gordon senses the best way to show his value is on the field, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

 

He must report no later than Nov. 29 to play in 2019 and accrue credit for this season toward becoming a free agent in the offseason.

 

Without Gordon, the Chargers (1-2) rank 13th in the NFL with 111.7 rushing yards per game. Austin Ekeler (160 yards this season) and Justin Jackson (142) have combined to fill the void.

 

Gordon, 26, continues to hold out because of a contract impasse with the Chargers. Gordon’s representation was granted permission by the Chargers to pursue a trade, but so far no deal has materialized.

 

Gordon is scheduled to make $5.605 million in the final season of his rookie deal. Just before the season started, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco announced that the team had postponed negotiations with Gordon until after the season. If Gordon chooses to report, he will play under his current contract.

 

Gordon wants a contract extension that will compensate him similarly to top backs Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, who earn an average of $13 million to $14 million annually. During training camp, the Chargers offered Gordon a new contract that would double his salary at roughly $10 million annually.

 

The former first-round draft pick has rushed for 3,628 yards and has 1,577 receiving yards with 38 total touchdowns in his first four seasons.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Browns TE DAVID NJOKU makes a decision that could allow him to return for the end of the season.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

David Njoku has elected not to have surgery on his broken wrist, a league source told cleveland.com.

 

Njoku broke the wrist against the Jets when cornerback Nate Hairston upended him in the first quarter on a high pass from Baker Mayfield. He also suffered a concussion on the play. Njoku was placed on injured reserve last week and must miss a minimum of eight games. But not having surgery increases his chance of returning this season.

 

The Browns can bring two players back off injured reserve, and don’t have to designate them ahead of time. Christian Kirksey is also on IR with his chest injury, possibly a torn pectoral muscle, but it has yet to be determined if he needs surgery.

 

Both players are eligible to return on Nov. 24 at home against the Dolphins.

 

With Njoku out, Demetrius Harris caught a two-yard TD pass Monday night in the 20-13 loss to the Rams.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Snark from Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com in the face of the news of continued health calamities facing CB JALEN RAMSEY:

 

Poor Jalen Ramsey can’t catch a break.

 

After bravely surviving Monday’s bout with the flu, he now apparently has some injuries which could keep him from being able to participate fully today.

 

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the wantaway Jaguars cornerback is “a little banged up,” and has been receiving treatment for “issues related to his lower back and hamstrings.”

 

Naturally.

 

Of course, this wouldn’t invite such skepticism, if he wasn’t angling for a trade out of Jacksonville that team officials don’t seem in a hurry to oblige. And if there weren’t reports over the weekend that he’d find a way to not practice this week.

 

If this latest diagnosis doesn’t convince you, perhaps Ramsey could show you his broken arm. Either way, we hope he gets well soon. He’s a righteous dude.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

This tweet from Sam Farmer of the LA Times:

 

@LATimesfarmer

Patriots are the first team in the Super Bowl era to not allow a passing or rushing touchdown in its first three games of the season.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2020 DRAFT

An updated Big Board of 25 top prospects from ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. , starting with Alabama’s passing tandem and featuring the appearance of fast-rising Washington QB JACOB EASON:

 

1. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama*

Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 192 | Previously: 1

Jeudy was No. 1 on my preseason Big Board, and he has lived up to his ranking, catching 30 passes for 404 yards with six touchdowns this season. He’s unguardable at the college level, and he should immediately become a No. 1 NFL receiver after he gets drafted. I said in May that he’s the most talented receiver to enter the NFL since the duo of Julio Jones and A.J. Green went in Round 1 in 2011. Jeudy can run every route and has elite ball skills, and he runs by SEC defensive backs every week. He’s the best wideout in what could be a special 2020 class.

 

2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama*

HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 218 | Previously: 4

Is it really possible for Tagovailoa to be more efficient than he was in 2018? So far, the answer is yes. The lefty is completing 77.7% of his passes — up from 69% — with 17 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s averaging 11.6 yards per attempt, and his 96.3 Total QBR ranks second in FBS (just behind that of former teammate Jalen Hurts). He has been tremendous. Tagovailoa has elite accuracy and great footwork, and his arm strength looks improved in his second season as the full-time starter.

 

Now, he and Bama haven’t really been tested yet — they have rolled through their first four games. If Tagovailoa keeps this up against LSU and Auburn in a couple of months, he’s going to be the surefire top quarterback in this class.

 

3. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State*

HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 265 | Previously: 2

Sometimes we hype up prospects before the season, and then they’re slow to make an impact. Not Young. He has seven sacks in four games, and those numbers don’t show his full dominance. Just watch the tape from Ohio State’s big win over Miami (Ohio), in which he had two strip sacks, and the Redhawks’ offensive tackles had no chance to stop him. The NFL loves twitchy edge rushers who can get after quarterbacks, and that’s Young. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off the board first in April. He caught my eye as a true freshman in 2017, and he really came on last season, picking up the production with Nick Bosa sidelined. Young finished with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 total tackles for loss in 2018.

 

4. Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State*

HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 200 | Previously: 15

Credit McShay here — he had Okudah at No. 4 overall in his preseason rankings. When I went back through the 2018 tape, I saw why Todd was so fired up. This is a potential top-five pick with a high ceiling based on talent alone. The problem? Okudah hadn’t picked off a single pass in his two seasons for the Buckeyes. That changed last weekend with his first career interception. Okudah broke up eight passes last season, and he has three so far in 2019.

 

5. Grant Delpit, S, LSU*

HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 203 | Previously: 3

Going through the 2018 LSU tape again, it’s easy to see why NFL scouts raved about Delpit. He made plays everywhere for this defense, picking up 74 tackles, 5 interceptions and 5 sacks. Delpit is a complete safety in the mold of former LSU star Jamal Adams. Both can stick running backs in the hole on one play, cover the slot receiver on the next and play the deep middle of the field on the same drive. I really like watching Delpit play. He has 16 tackles in four games so far.

 

6. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 237 | Previously: 8

As I wrote in May, Herbert just looks like a potential No. 1 overall pick — great size, a powerful arm to make every throw, limited interceptions, good athleticism. Yet he took a step back in consistency in 2018, and that’s why I thought he made a good decision to return to Oregon for his senior season. What I wanted to see this season was improved accuracy, better decision-making and him going through his reads to find open passers. So far, so good for Herbert, who has completed 74.4% of his passes with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions.

 

Herbert was good, not great, in the season-opening loss to Auburn, but he has bounced back well. He’s doing the little things — check out the pump fake on this touchdown pass against Stanford. Herbert has a high ceiling, and I’m excited to watch him the rest of the way.

 

7. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama*

HT: 6-foot | WT: 190 | Previously: 23

As Tagovailoa’s other favorite target, Ruggs’ game is all about speed, though he improved as a route runner last season, when he had 46 catches for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns. He looks great so far in 2019, catching 16 passes for 350 yards and four TDs. Check out this route on a 74-yard TD catch on which he almost outruns the throw. Ruggs is the early favorite to be the fastest prospect in the 2020 class, and he’s perfect for today’s NFL.

 

8. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa*

HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 322 | Previously: 7

Left tackle, right tackle — it really doesn’t matter anymore. NFL teams aren’t differentiating between the value of the two positions. Just look at the $36.75 million guaranteed the Raiders gave Trent Brown, who’s going to play on the right side this season. Teams just want good tackles — period. Wirfs, a former high school wrestling champion, plays right tackle for the Hawkeyes, and he just mauls defenders. Dominates them. He has incredible strength and power — check out this video — and he can also move his feet. Wirfs is a rare talent who could keep moving up.

 

9. Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson*

HT: 6-foot-4 | WT: 225 | Previously: 11

A converted safety who had 89 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss last season, Simmons is exactly what NFL teams look for in three-down linebackers in today’s game. He has the size and speed to run sideline to sideline to chase down tailbacks, and he has the athletic ability to cover tight ends in the slot. He could even flip his hips and play some safety. Simmons is a combo player in the mold of Keanu Neal. He has 33 tackles and two sacks so far this season.

 

10. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia*

HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 320 | Previously: 6

There haven’t been many top-tier offensive tackle talents lately — the last time a tackle was picked in the top five was 2015 (Brandon Scherff). Could 2020 be the year of the tackle resurgence? I’m not going to go that far just yet, but there are some talented big men to watch, such as Wirfs and Thomas. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a couple of them in the top 10. Thomas, who started at right tackle as a true freshman in 2017, switched to the left side last season, has long arms and good feet. He’s a steady player who doesn’t make mistakes.

 

11. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 318 | Previously: 9

I wrote about Brown this week. He was tremendous in the Tigers’ win at Texas A&M with two sacks and a forced fumble. Is this a sign of things to come or a one-off performance? Because that’s what he needs to show this season: that he can be productive and get sacks. NFL teams want interior disruptors who can knock down quarterbacks, and Brown hasn’t shown that he can consistently do that. Yet. He’s still raw, but he has top-five talent in a massive frame.

 

12. Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama*

HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 310 | Previously: NR

After starting at guard as a sophomore in 2018, Leatherwood replaced first-round pick Jonah Williams as Bama’s left tackle this season. Through four games, he has been a rock. With a massive frame and great athleticism for the position, Leatherwood also packs a punch in the run game. He’s rising quickly.

 

13. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin*

HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 220 | Previously: NR

This is an interesting running back class, and there’s no first-round lock. Combine workouts are going to be extremely important for all of these guys to show true top-end speed. Taylor, though, is making his case and moving up draft boards. After rushing for 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns the past two seasons — seriously, those are ridiculous numbers — Taylor is a 12-1 Heisman shot and the Badgers’ workhorse back, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He has the size, athleticism and ability to be the first back off the board in April.

 

I’d love to see Taylor get more targets in the receiving game, but that’s not Wisconsin’s game. The unknown there might hold him back in the eyes of some NFL scouts. That’s where the individual team workouts will become important.

 

14. Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State*

HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 311 | Previously: NR

A five-star prospect in the 2017 class, Wilson took some time to come into his own. He was good as a sophomore last season, but he has been phenomenal in four games this season, a bright spot in another up-and-down Florida State season. Wilson dominated Louisville last weekend, picking up two sacks and recovering a fumble. He’s quick off the ball, stellar against the run and has shown the ability to penetrate past guards and centers. He has looked great while playing almost 60 snaps per game for the Seminoles.

 

15. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida*

HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 202 | Previously: 17

Henderson is dealing with an ankle injury, which means the lockdown cover corner hasn’t been able to make much of an impact yet this season. He should be back soon, though, which means I’m not going to drop him from the middle of my Big Board. With six interceptions from 2017 and ’18, Henderson has tremendous ball skills, and he has the athletic traits to be a No. 1 corner in the NFL.

 

16. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson*

HT: 6-foot-4 | WT: 205 | Previously: 10

It’s the size that sticks out with Higgins — he has a huge frame to create mismatches. But he’s also a better-than-expected route runner, and he can stretch the field for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He can box out smaller cornerbacks in the red zone, and he can high-point the ball on sideline throws. Check out this catch-and-run from last season. Higgins was a touchdown machine in 2018, scoring 12 times on 59 catches, and he’s averaging 23.5 yards per catch on his 16 receptions this season, with two TDs.

 

17. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia*

HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 215 | Previously: NR

Just watch Swift on this 48-yard screen against Arkansas State. He runs through and by defenders, showing off what has scouts so excited about his potential. It starts with speed, as Swift is one of the fastest running backs in the country. But he also has a physical side, and he makes tacklers miss. After running for 1,049 yards as part of a rotation last season, Swift is the Bulldogs’ clear No. 1 back, and he’ll be crucial to their College Football Playoff hopes. He caught 32 passes last season, so he is already a third-down threat. That versatility will be important for his future.

 

18. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma*

HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 191 | Previously: 18

Lamb had 65 catches for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and that was as the Sooners’ No. 2 target. With Marquise Brown off to the NFL, Lamb has become the top target for Jalen Hurts, though OU hasn’t been tested through three games. Lamb has averaged 25.4 yards per catch on his nine receptions, and he has scored three times. He is an advanced route runner, has outstanding hands and can get open against any defender. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’ll test well athletically. I’m high on Lamb’s potential, and he’ll be used more often the rest of the way.

 

19. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa*

HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 280 | Previously: 5

Unlike Young, Epenesa is off to a slow start, with one sack in three games. But he has five hurries, and the sacks will come. He is playing almost 20 more snaps per game this season, as he was a part-time player as a sophomore. He still led the Hawkeyes with 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. With great size and length, Epenesa has the skill set to be dominant against the run while pitching in double-digit sacks. He could be an end in a 3-4 defense at the next level.

 

20. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

HT: 6-foot | WT: 200 | Previously: 21

It’s hard to watch LSU and not focus on its defensive backs, as Delpit and Fulton were spectacular in 2018. Because of an NCAA suspension that wiped out his 2017 season, Fulton really didn’t get playing time for two years before standing out a year ago. He’s a gifted corner who had nine pass breakups and an interception, and I expect him to test extremely well once he enters the NFL. He already has five pass breakups this season, too. With games to come against Florida, Auburn and Alabama, Fulton and the Tigers have a chance to make some noise in the College Football Playoff picture.

 

21. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado*

HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 220 | Previously: 19

Shenault is such a fun prospect. He plays wide receiver like a running back, as he’s phenomenal after the catch, and the Colorado staff has been smart in moving him up all over the field to get the ball in his hands, even playing him as a Wildcat quarterback at times. Shenault had 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 11 total touchdowns (five rushing) in 2018, and he has two receiving TDs and one rushing score this season. Although he isn’t as developed of a route runner as the other receivers in my top 25, that should come with more reps. He has the versatility and traits that will have NFL teams interested.

 

22. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama

HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 207 | Previously: 22

A broken foot limited Diggs to six games last season, but he was great in those games, breaking up six passes and adding an interception. Can he stay healthy for a season and give NFL scouts a bigger sample of success? Diggs, whose brother Stefon is a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, is fully recovered from his foot injury, and he has looked great so far, already picking off two passes. He’s a versatile defensive back who can excel in man-to-man coverage, and he’s a decent tackler. Again, this will come down to whether Diggs can show that he’s at full strength for the entire season.

 

23. Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State*

HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 262 | Previously: 16

When I rewatched the Penn State defensive line to get a feel for 2019 draft pick Shareef Miller’s season, I kept coming back to Gross-Matos, who was the most productive player from the group. He had eight sacks and 20 total tackles for loss. Gross-Matos is a pure pass-rusher with a big frame — he wears size 17 shoes — and he still has room to grow. He’s raw, but he has a high ceiling. He had 3.5 sacks in his first two games and is dealing with a nagging injury.

 

24. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia*

HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 220 | Previously: 25

McShay and I went deep on Fromm on Tuesday, discussing whether he could be a first-rounder and what he does best. He isn’t going to put up gaudy numbers like Tagovailoa and Herbert, but he is a great anticipatory thrower, even with only average arm strength. I think he’ll only get stronger in time, which means we need to project his accuracy, which is his best trait. He has poise and just doesn’t make mistakes. Did I mention he’s playing well even after the Bulldogs lost their top four receivers and top tight end from last season? Fromm is a really good player, and he’ll get more chances on the big stages this season.

 

25. Jacob Eason, QB, Washington*

HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 225 | Previously: NR

Welcome to the Big Board, Jacob Eason! I love the upside here. I mentioned him before the season as a potential riser, as he was getting some buzz. He has a huge 6-foot-6 frame and the arm to match it, but he has, frankly, looked a little rusty this season. Eason, if you recall, started 12 games for Georgia in 2016 and showed some flashes. There were a few throws that made me inch closer to the screen. But he was injured in 2017, lost his job to Fromm, then transferred back to his home state and has waited two years to be able to start again.

 

He’s completing 73.1% of his passes so far, with 10 touchdowns and two picks. He didn’t have a great game in the Huskies’ upset loss to Cal — he lost a fumble and threw a costly interception — but he’s going to keep improving throughout the season. He might end this season with 25 career starts, too, though the fourth-year junior could return to school in 2020.