The Daily Briefing Friday, June 16, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

The actual settlement part of the concussion settlement is near at hand reports Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Thursday’s Associated Press report regarding the issuance of the first payments in the concussion settlement contains one factual flaw: The payments haven’t actually been issued.

 

According to attorney Brad Sohn, the claims have been approved for payment but payment has not been made. Sohn points out that the NFL has appeal rights, and that the payments likely will be made at the end of the summer.

 

It’s not a huge issue, but the money isn’t in hand until the money is in hand. For all former players, the long wait to get paid continues.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

Oops!  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Vikings believed they had a strong support system in place for wide receiver Michael Floyd, and he said he was in a good place. But he may have violated the terms of his house arrest and be on his way to jail.

 

According to TMZ, Floyd tested positive for alcohol this week. He’s prohibited from drinking as part of his sentence for his DUI in Arizona last December, when he was found passed out behind the wheel of his car. His sentence was transferred to Minnesota upon signing with the Vikings.

 

Tom Pelissero of USA Today adds that a Scottsdale City Court spokesperson said Floyd was due in court on June 26 to address “non-compliance of high alcohol tests” from June 11.

 

Floyd could be sent back to jail if he’s found in violation of his house arrest. That would also, obviously, complicate his football future.

– – –

According to this report from Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, doctors may have finally got things right with Coach Mike Zimmer’s vision:

 

Mike Zimmer will have to drive to his daughter’s wedding in Dallas next week, but otherwise he doesn’t expect his troublesome right eye to affect him much anymore.

 

Zimmer had a checkup with his doctor Wednesday and was told the retina is “perfect” and the pressure in the eye is “great” about a month after his latest surgery.

 

“He said he’d be absolutely shocked if anything else happened to this eye the way it is now,” Zimmer said Thursday after the Vikings concluded spring workouts. “I’m just about out of the woods.”

 

Zimmer, 61, said the gas bubble holding his retina in place is about one to two weeks from completely dissolving, which then will allow him to fly again. The Vikings coach returned June 5 from two weeks of rest at his Kentucky ranch and said he didn’t suffer any setbacks coaching the final seven practices of the spring.

 

“It’s nice we’re progressing and maybe [surgery] number nine doesn’t show up,” Zimmer joked. “I read [a sign] on my way to Kentucky, something like cats have nine lives, you don’t, so buckle your seatbelt. It was something like that. I’m hoping I don’t get to the ninth life.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

This could be a big reason to feel good about Dallas this year.  Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

For Jaylon Smith, the wait has been long enough.

 

After missing his entire rookie season due to a gruesome college knee injury, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker is on his way toward finally seeing game action in 2017.

 

“I feel like me. I look like me. I am me,” Smith told USA TODAY’s Tom Pelissero. “I’m Jaylon Smith. Ready to play some ball.”

 

Viewed as a top-five draft talent, Smith fell to Round 2 last year amid concerns over his battle with drop foot, the result of nerve damage suffered when he hurt the knee in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. Smith is still wearing a brace over the knee, but Pelissero described him as flashing “downhill burst” in individual drills during this week’s minicamp.

 

Smith also displayed a “slight limp” and occasionally needed to “take a beat … to change direction and accelerate,” but the hope is that the former Notre Dame star will regain full health and play a role this September — a role that would grow over time.

 

“The nerve’s regenerating, so I’m doing great,” Smith said. “It’s all God’s timing.”

 

There were concerns at one stage that Smith might never play again. Instead, the team is seeing progress, only furthering hopes that their second-round investment will someday become a Cowboys fixture.

 

“He’s starting to show that quickness and instincts,” Dallas linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said. “And then when we get the pads on him, we’ll get to see his striking ability. We’re excited about him.”

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com on what the Giants offense looks like with both WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. and WR BRANDON MARSHALL on the field.

 

In the span of several minutes during Wednesday’s minicamp practice, the New York Giants received a glimpse of what they hope will be their not-so-distant future. The scenario would likely lead to a lot of victories in 2017.

 

The enticing dream situation unfolded in red zone drills with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., back for his second practice after skipping organized team activities, making a sliding catch for a touchdown on a pass from Eli Manning in the left corner of the end zone. Several plays later, Brandon Marshall made a leaping catch over cornerback Valentino Blake in the right corner of the end zone. Marshall plucked the ball one-handed from over Blake’s back for his score.

 

It was vintage Beckham with the difficult sliding grab. It was vintage Marshall with the in-air magic.

 

These plays might have occurred during a rather meaningless spring practice, but it at least allows the Giants to head into their summer break dreaming of what might be this season, even if they were playing without first-round pick Evan Engram, who sat out with an injury. This is why they signed Marshall as a free agent this offseason. The 33-year-old was the ideal, big-bodied complement to the explosive Beckham and added a much-needed element to the offense. Marshall was what the Giants needed to build a more complete passing attack.

 

“It was nice to get everybody here and excited about where we’re at,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re at a good point right now of where we want to be in terms of moving forward and getting ourselves ready for training camp.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

RB CHRISTIAN MdCAFFREY has been freed from jail/Stanford.  Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com:

 

Christian McCaffrey made the most of his first career NFL minicamp.

 

Which means Carolina’s first-round draft pick made the most of one day.

 

McCaffrey, sidelined by NFL rules that required him to wait until Stanford officially completed its academic year, got his first action on the field with the Carolina Panthers on their final day of minicamp Thursday.

 

“I felt really good,” the running back said who has been in constant communication with coaches. “I already knew all the plays coming into today. … It was just about coming out here and knowing what I’m doing and playing fast, and the next practice, whenever that is, will be the same thing.”

 

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound running back is expected to contribute to the Carolina offense in many ways, much like he did at Stanford, where he led the NCAA with 211.5 all-purpose yards a game last year.

 

“It was nice just to have him, as brief as it was. I think his teammates got the feel for the flair he can bring to what we want to do offensively,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re real excited about what he can do and his abilities and the things that he’s going to open up for his teammates. … He’s going to take a lot of pressure off of people as well.

 

“The biggest thing is we’ve given our quarterback another weapon, another tool.”

 

McCaffrey is expected take the pressure off of running back Jonathan Stewart as well as tight end Greg Olsen and receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.

 

“I hope I’m used in a lot of ways, but it’s not up to me,” McCaffrey said. “Wherever they need to put me, that’s where I’m going to play.”

 

While waiting to join the team, McCaffrey was at home in Colorado, not even taking classes this quarter. Even though he wasn’t taking classes, he could not join the team until exams were finished Wednesday.

 

The NFL makes an attempt to defend the rule that held McCaffrey prisoner.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is not having any of it:

 

The NFL’s effort to tiptoe around the proprietors of its free farm system knows no limits.

 

In response to a renewed assault on the rule that keeps players from colleges that operate on a quarters system away from most if not all of the offseason program due to the timing of final exams in classes players aren’t taking, the league has attempted to defend the rule and/or minimize its impact.

 

After posting on Twitter a link to the PFT story regarding the complaints about the rule, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent ran a link to the league’s explanation of the so-called “May 16 Rule.” Here’s the language of the rule:

 

1. “Players who attend schools with final examinations that conclude prior to May 16 may fully participate in any activities (i.e., tryout, physical examination, three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp, or RFDP) at a club’s facility beginning May 15.”

 

2. “Players who attend schools with final examinations that conclude after May 16 may not participate in any activities other than the three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp until after the player’s final day of examinations.”

 

3. “Players who have withdrawn from school may not attend any club activity (other than the three-day post-Draft Rookie minicamp) or be visited at his campus or residence, or any other location, by any club personnel or club representative if final examinations have yet to conclude at the school. This includes drafted players, any undrafted players that have signed as free agents, and any undrafted players that have not signed.”

 

The league explains that the rule “is an NFL effort to make sure that drafted rookies who have yet to graduate can finish their college educations without pressure to drop out to join their new NFL club.” The league also notes that the rule was adopted in 1990 because players were indeed leaving school after being drafted.

 

“Graduation rates were very important to colleges then, as they are now,” the NFL explains. “When drafted players dropped out without graduating, it created an issue for the colleges. The American Football Coaches Association — an association of football coaches and staff on all levels — reacted by locking pro scouts off of college campuses.”

 

There’s a serious problem with that logic, in light of current circumstances. Given the importance of the pre-draft process, players no longer drop out of college to join their NFL teams after being drafted. They drop out of college after their eligibility expires. As a result, players who left school months ago can’t participate in offseason workouts because of a rule that has no relevance to them because they aren’t taking exams at all.

 

The league justifies the rule in part by arguing that, “[i]f dropouts were allowed to report to their clubs early, the student-athletes who remain in school would be put in a competitive disadvantage. . . . They could face pressure from clubs and their fans to participate in offseason activities.”

 

That competitive disadvantage (if there truly was one) still exists for players who choose one of the six schools where the rule currently applies: Washington, Northwestern, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA. While players from every other school are participating in offseason programs, players from those six schools are excluded for arbitrary and outdated reasons.

 

As to players like Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, the impact of the rule is lessened by the job security that comes from being a top-10 draft pick. For low-round picks and undrafted free agents from Washington, Northwestern, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA, the inability to participate in the offseason program could be the kiss of death for a budding NFL career.

 

Nothing the NFL has said supports clinging to the rule. Unless it changes, the message to any aspiring NFL player being recruited by major college programs is clear: Don’t go to Washington, Northwestern, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, or UCLA.

 

Which means that the coaches from those schools should be leading the charge to dump the May 16 Rule. As high school players and their parents become more informed and sophisticated, why would anyone who hopes to parlay the kind of football talent that leads to a scholarship offer at a major college program into an NFL career go to a school where an eventual NFL career will be delayed by a rule designed to win a battle that already has been lost?

 

And if the NFL genuinely wants to help college football programs boost their graduation rates, the best way to do it would be to disband the pre-draft process entirely, scrapping the all-star games, Scouting Combine, Pro Day workouts, and other things that routinely compel aspiring NFL players to quit going to college so that they can focus their efforts on putting on the best show possible for scouts.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com on RB ADRIAN PETERSON in New Orleans:

 

Adrian Peterson was the 2003 U.S. Army National Player of the Year as a senior at Palestine (Texas) High, and Rivals.com’s No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2004. He was a Heisman finalist as a freshman at Oklahoma, and rushed for 4,041 yards in 31 games there. The Vikings drafted him seventh overall in 2007, he was the NFL rookie of the year and was named All-Pro three times and a Pro Bowler six times in his first seven NFL seasons.

 

Even after missing all but one game of the 2014 season while facing child abuse charges, he came back to win his third rushing title in 2015.

 

So this spring was different.

 

For the first time in his life, Peterson’s ability was being questioned. That’s how it goes for a 32-year-old back coming off knee surgery with 2,418 carries in the rear view mirror. Peterson was unemployed for 47 days, without a football team for the first time since he can remember, until the Saints signed him in late April.

 

“Yeah, it was different,” Peterson said in a quiet moment Wednesday. “But I knew coming off the meniscus tear [in September that ended his 2016 season], it could happen. If I came out and led the league in rushing, I’d have been off the market. That wasn’t the situation I was in. So in my mind—this is the situation, this is the position you’re in, it’s not what you envisioned going into the off-season, but this is where you’re at, so how are you gonna handle it?

 

“I got down at times. But I always stayed up too. I was able to allow myself to get down, and I felt bad when I needed to. I’d snap right out of it, I knew when I had to tighten up. That’s all it was.”

Peterson feels home now in New Orleans. If you ask him if he’s lost much of what he had when he was at his best in Minnesota, you’ll see that anything that might’ve gotten him down in March or April absolutely hasn’t kept him there.

 

“No,” he answered, maintaining eye contact. “I’ve lost nothing.”

 

We’ll start with my assignment to try to figure out what Peterson has left. Not many running backs make it to age 32 in the NFL, especially ones who have the mileage and employ the kind of jackhammer style that the former MVP does.

 

And I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I was thinking. I’m not here to convince you Peterson is going to shed precedent the way he has so many tacklers over his decade in the NFL. We’ll see in the fall whether he can do it or not. You could fill a warehouse with a record of impressive Junes that meant little in October.

 

What I will say is this: He believes it’s going to happen. And he’ll tell you why.

 

“It’s knowing what I was able to do on the field before I got injured, knowing that the meniscus was completely healed, I tore 90 percent of it, and it was no longer a factor. And then it was getting into my regimen—nothing had changed,” Peterson said. “I was still explosive, fast, working with all the young guys, I didn’t have no doubt at all.

“Outside sources that doubt because of age? I led the league when I was 30, and it was the same thing then. He’s going downhill. I played with a mediocre offensive line and still led the league at 30. I just look at things different. If I started buying into what everyone was saying, I probably would’ve retired three or four years ago.”

 

The truth is, what I saw Wednesday didn’t reveal a ton. Mark Ingram took the first snap with Drew Brees’s group during 11-on-11 walkthroughs, and Peterson was first when the Saints went closer to full speed. Peterson still looks fearsome physically, and glides confidently through a front seven like he’s on ice skates. He dropped a ball in the flat during 7-on-7. Other than that, there weren’t many hiccups.

 

But if you talk to the guys who really know—his teammates—they pretty much uniformly glow about him. When I asked Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, a native Texan, he joked, “I mean, you don’t want to get my opinion. My whole life growing up, I thought Adrian Peterson was the man.

And then Vaccaro, and a lot of his teammates, told me that Peterson still is the man. Here’s a sampling …

 

• Vaccaro: “It’s his motor. Even when we do walkthroughs, he’s so explosive. What did it for me, when we put on the tape a couple times, he’s still pulling off on DBs. And he’s gliding. It’s pretty amazing. You see the way he works, you see the body. It’s incredible. It doesn’t seem like he’s lost a step.”

 

• DT Sheldon Rankins: “There were two moments where I was like, ‘That’s Adrian Peterson.’ We were doing agility drills, and just watching him move, I’m like, ‘That’s the guy they’re counting out?’ He looked as explosive as I’ve ever seen anyone. And then, might’ve been a couple weeks ago, there was one run, he busted through the line and he just hits a gear and starts pulling away from people. And that’s when I was like, ‘He hasn’t lost it whatsoever.’”

 

• RT Zach Strief: “You deal with the preconceived notion that you have from afar—a running back that’s been injured, people weren’t beating on his door to sign him. You have that perception beforehand. He’s breaking down. Some idiot said he’s a ‘glorified fullback’ at this point. And early in OTAs, one of the first couple days, we saw him make a cut and we were all like, Whoa. It just looks different. …  It was just a cutback. It wasn’t anything crazy, but he puts his foot in the ground and goes.”

 

• QB Drew Brees: “He’s coming off an injury, 32-year-old running back and typically that’s over the hill, but there’s an intensity there, a presence, a work ethic. And you watch him, and you’re like, Wow, I don’t see how anybody tackles that guy.  … And his size. Usually, if I close my eyes and put the ball out, this is where I’m handing it off to most running backs.” [He indicates where, then lifts his arms up.] And here’s where I’m gonna hand it off to Adrian Peterson, just because he’s that much bigger and taller.”

 

• CB Delvin Breaux: “The first time he was in weight room, we’re in the off-season program and he was in there, and he had the box at 42, 48 [inches] and he was single legging, jumping on the box. It was like, ‘Damn, that guy just had knee surgery?’ That was the first time I had a wow moment, and then seeing him on the field, it’s crazy. He’s still got the juice. I can’t wait to play with him.”

 

• C Max Unger: “We’re seeing the things that we’ve historically seen from him. I’ve played against him going back to 2005, in college, and he looks great. Watching him go downhill and hit the line of scrimmage, it’s impressive. It’s what we’ve seen in the past. … From the time he gets the ball to when he gets to the line of scrimmage, it’s evident he’s done something right this off-season. It looks fantastic.”

 

• WR Mike Thomas: “We’re out there practicing on the turf, and he’s literally wearing Adidas regular shoes. Not turf shoes. Not cleats. And he’s still cutting and he’s still full speed. There’s no slowing down, and you’d think he has cleats on. And you look at his feet and he’s got the normal shoes on.”

 

• Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen: “There are have been some plays where it’s, Wooo! You didn’t really see him come through the hole, and it’s like, where’d he come from? You see that burst and explosion.”

 

Again, it’s June. And none of these guys are going to bash Peterson anyway. But my observation being here? The way the guys’ eyes lit up talking about those moments made you feel like they just spotted Bigfoot.

 

“It’s still just such a surprise that it actually happened,” Brees said. “We really signed Adrian Peterson? Mark is such a great player, and so it was amazing he came to us, and I think it says a lot about how he views our organization. …. Knowing that he wants this to be his last stop. And here we go. That puts a little added responsibility on all of us—‘OK, this is our window, let’s go do it.’”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Kevin Patra of NFL.com with a report that RB DOUG MARTIN is back from rehab in tip-top shape:

 

Perhaps no veteran player has done more to improve his standing during offseason workouts than Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin.

 

A clear cut candidate after struggling last year and being suspended at the end of the season for violating the NFL’s drug policy, Martin has earned nothing but praise this offseason after he spent time in rehab.

 

NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo spoke to Bucs general manager Jason Licht as the team closed minicamp on Thursday. The assessment of Martin’s on-field improvement was glowing.

 

“I had a conversation with [Licht]. He said, ‘[Martin] looks lean, he looks like he’s finishing his runs — obviously, there is no contact in the spring — but it looks like he’s finishing his runs. He looks like he’s got that burst. He looks like he’s got that burst. He looks like the Doug Martin of 2015,'” Garafolo said Thursday on NFL Network’s Inside Minicamp Live.

 

The report from Licht meshes with everything we heard from beat reporters during minicamp about Martin looking quicker and fresher than last season.

– – –

Zoltan Buday of Pro Football Focus on the move of ALI MARPET to center:

 

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter announced that guard Ali Marpet is expected to permanently move to center in the upcoming season, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine.

 

  • The former second-round draft pick’s career is going exactly the way Tampa Bay envisioned it as he took a big step forward in 2016 and ranked 13th among guards with a grade of 84.5 after earning an overall grade of 75.5 in his rookie year.

 

  • Furthermore, Marpet is part of a group of elite guards in the NFL, as his run-blocking grade of 84.4 ranked fifth last season, ahead of the likes of Oakland’s Kelechi Osemele and Buffalo’s Richie Incognito.

 

  • Marpet has also been one of the most reliable and consistent guards in the NFL as he graded below average in only three games last season and played the second-most snaps among guards with 1,135 snaps in the regular season, just three shy of New Orleans’ Jahri Evans.

 

  • The former Hobart guard was not bad in pass protection either as he ranked 18th in pass-blocking efficiency with a score of 96.9 as he allowed 26 total pressures on 643 passing plays.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

DT AARON DONALD did show up for the mini-camp.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald reported to Rams minicamp this week after spending the rest of the offseason working on his own and waiting for talks about contract extension to progress to a point where he could sign a long-term deal with the team.

 

General Manager Les Snead indicated things were progressing toward that point in May, but the last month has not brought things any closer to being finalized. Snead said Thursday that a new deal for Donald is a “priority,” but that there’s “nothing new” to report about when it might get done.

 

COO Kevin Demoff also said it’s a priority to get a deal done and added that the team is committed to doing what it takes to strike a deal.

 

“He couldn’t be a better person, human being, leader … There’s a lot of time to get this done, but there’s an urgency on our part because you want to reward players like Aaron,” Demoff said, via ESPN.com. “Aaron deserves to be paid among the elite players in our game. That’s never been a sticking point for anybody in our organization.”

 

Donald is under team control through the 2018 season, so Demoff is right about having time to get a deal done. Getting one would do more than reward Donald as well. It would also give the Rams more of an idea how to work out new deals for linebacker Alec Ogletree and other impending free agents that they’d like to keep for the long term in Los Angeles.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Michael Lombardi of CBSSports.com doesn’t think the Broncos will contend this year without top flight quarterbacking.

 

When John Elway first took over as executive vice president of football operations and general manager of the Denver Broncos in January 2011, he knew he needed a quarterback. It was just as true one year later, despite winning the AFC West and a playoff game after his first season. Elway wasn’t buying Tim Tebow as the Broncos’ quarterback of the present or the future. This was a “code red” situation. So he searched. And, as if fate was on his side, Peyton Manning suddenly became a free agent. Before long, he was heading to Denver. Lucky, right?

 

The Manning effect on the Broncos was incredible, in all respects. In the five seasons before Manning joined the Broncos, the team was tied for 20th overall in win total and never finished better than .500. Things changed once no. 18 took over. The Broncos dominated the NFL during the Manning years, frequently locked in a battle with the New England Patriots. Throughout most of this four-year period, both teams were at the top of the league in wins, points scored, and total offense. Seattle was a close third, and the three teams accounted for five of the eight Super Bowl slots during this time.

 

Despite the early Manning success, including a Super Bowl appearance, Elway was not ecstatic about John Fox as his head coach. Even though Elway hired Fox, he believed his team had underachieved. With Fox, the Broncos made the playoffs in each of his four seasons, losing in the divisional round three times — twice at home in Mile High — and also in Super Bowl XLVIII. Fox’s inability to win the important games soured Elway. “We had a good regular season but struggled in the first round,” he told reporters in 2016. “So the idea, the goal — what our owner wants — is to win a championship. That’s why the decision was made last year to go in a different direction.”

When Elway’s best friend and former teammate Gary Kubiak became available, Elway couldn’t resist. A Hall of Fame quarterback, a tenacious defense, and a gifted offensive mind. Who could ask for anything more?

 

Then Manning hit rock bottom — fast and hard. Who could have predicted it? If asked after the AFC championship game following the 2013 season between the Patriots and the Broncos whether Manning or Tom Brady would still be playing football in 2017, I would have answered Manning — and quickly. In 2015, Manning experienced the worst season of his career, and the Broncos still won the Super Bowl behind an incredible defensive game plan by coordinator Wade Phillips. Elway knew when he signed Manning that the QB wouldn’t play forever. Needing a long-term replacement, he spent a second-round pick in 2012 on his eventual successor — Brock “The Heist” Osweiler. (Listeners of The Bill Simmons Podcast know that I refer to Osweiler as the Heist because his robbery of the Texans reminds me of the legendary 1978 Lufthansa heist, famously depicted in Goodfellas.) When Manning missed time with injuries in ’15, Osweiler took over and appeared to be the heir apparent. When the Heist was heading toward free agency, and with Manning’s career over, Elway offered him a huge deal to stay — and was turned down. For Elway, getting Manning to say yes was lucky; getting a “no” from the Heist was even luckier.

 

But Elway could have never imagined that Kubiak was not forever. In part because of health issues, and in a larger part because Elway insisted upon changes to his coaching staff, Kubiak walked away from football — for now. As the 2017 season approaches, Elway is on his third head coach and without a proven quarterback. Now the hard work begins.

 

When you study the 2016 Broncos, their lack of offensive production in every area is staggering. They couldn’t convert third downs consistently, couldn’t make big plays (gains of 20-plus yards), and — most alarming for the play-action offensive scheme under Kubiak — they couldn’t sustain drives longer than five minutes. In each of those areas, the team finished in the bottom five of the NFL. The recently mighty Broncos ranked just 22nd overall in points scored last season. Elway and the Broncos front office might lay blame for the ineptitude on a bad offensive line, inconsistent play from the quarterback, and injuries to key offensive weapons, most notably running back C.J. Anderson. But deep down they know this is just what life looks like in the NFL when you don’t have an established quarterback.

 

This lack of offense and the need to develop a quarterback is obvious, considering that the efforts of Denver’s 2016 defense — which ranked fourth in both points and yards allowed — were wasted as the team failed to make the playoffs. Which then makes the hiring of former Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as head coach fascinating. Most executives, when looking for a new head coach, concentrate on the side of the ball that needs the most improvement — and for the Broncos, that clearly was their offense. With a good defensive staff already in place, Elway could have selected an up-and-coming offensive coach with quarterback development ties — think Kyle Shanahan — and solved two huge problems. He didn’t. For some reason, Elway hates nostalgia. He seems to resist the temptation of walking down memory lane, even when recent history can be beneficial. Letting Wade Phillips walk out the door to Los Angeles and not hiring Shanahan signals that Elway will be his own man, with no ties to his playing past.

 

So, Elway bucked the traditional thinking and hired a defensive coordinator as head coach with the understanding the team wouldn’t change the scheme on defense. Different, right? Joe Woods, the defensive backs coach last year, will take over the defensive coordinator position, utilizing the Phillips system as his core. Joseph worked for Phillips in Houston, so he understands the scheme and can chime in with suggestions. What else will he contribute? Elway is taking a huge risk hiring this first-time head coach. And after his first stint as defensive coordinator was rather shaky — Joseph’s defense in Miami ranked 29th overall and 18th in points allowed.

Now, I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom for Joseph in his first year. In fact, there was a similar situation not long ago when the Packers were looking for a head coach. Eleven years ago, Mike McCarthy became the Green Bay head coach after a horrible season as offensive coordinator for the 49ers. Packers general manager Ted Thompson saw something in McCarthy when he was a Packers assistant and felt he was the perfect fit, regardless of his prior poor statistical offensive season. In Joseph, Elway might see a leader, a potential commanding head coach that can bring out the mental and physical toughness in the Broncos’ players. Regardless of Elway’s reasons, Joseph has the job, and his challenge will be to prove that he can return the Broncos to the standard the team established in the Manning era.

 

There have been other significant changes since the Manning era — the team has altered its player procurement method. Its 2014 free-agent class — DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, and T.J. Ward — proved to be the cornerstone of their Super Bowl–winning team. Since that season, the Broncos have dabbled in free agency, without the same results. They also stopped bringing in midlevel free agents and relied more on draft picks to fill those spots. The problem with this method is Denver rarely gets immediate production from its rookie class; it’s ranked 32nd in the NFL in rookie play time since 2012. Last season, only safety Justin Simmons and running back Devontae Booker played more than 25 percent of snaps as rookies, and in the latter’s case that was solely due to Anderson’s season-ending injury.

 

Currently, Denver has 10 starting players on its roster with a $5 million per year or more cap charge, and 28 players above $1 million. The Broncos have only four backups making more than a million — which includes Donald Stephenson, a free agent last year who started initially at right tackle before being benched during the year, and Jamaal Charles, who signed a nonguaranteed, incentive-based contract that could earn him $2.5 million this year.

 

By bringing Manning to Denver, the Broncos copied Bill Polian’s Indianapolis Colts spending model: rely on a few elite players with expensive contracts and fill in the rest with draft choices. Once Manning left Indy, we saw how badly this method worked out for the Colts. History is repeating itself.

 

Naturally, the Patriots do the opposite. They’re one of the few teams with midlevel depth. New England has seven players on its roster with a cap charge over $5 million this season and 36 players with charge of a million or more. Bill Belichick wants a full team, not a few high-priced veterans and then all draft picks. He understands that most draft picks never affect the team in their first season, however. In Denver’s case, rookies rise to 10th in playing time in their second season and seventh in their third and fourth years. The draft is always for the next year’s team, not the current team. It’s why grading a draft the day after its completion is ridiculous.

 

But what happens next for the Broncos post-Manning comes down to the quarterback. Has Elway found the answer to the first question he was asking back in 2011? Last year, before trading a third-round pick to move up in the draft to select Paxton Lynch in the first round, he traded for Mark Sanchez to compete for the starting job along with a 2015 seventh-round pick out of Northwestern named Trevor Siemian. Sanchez was dumped before opening day after he lost the job to Siemian. Lynch, the rookie, held a clipboard.

 

Siemian’s performance over the course of the season suggested he’s more likely a solid backup player than a quality starter, in large part due to his body. To become a quality, winning starter in the NFL, quarterbacks must be able to endure punishment play after play, without their physical skills deteriorating. Body types do matter. Smaller-boned quarterbacks like Siemian lose power in their lower body when sustaining hits, which then affects their arm and ability to control the ball. When healthy, Siemian looked good — better than good. When beaten up from hits, he looked below average. In baseball, pitchers run the outfield warning track on off days to strengthen their legs and enhance their ability to maintain their velocity, which is largely generated from their lower body. The same theory applies for quarterbacks. Quarterbacks have to endure the hits and maintain leg strength, which then allows them to drive the ball — it’s all about the torque in their lower body. Siemian can do this for a portion of the season. But it’s doubtful he could play for 16 games and the playoffs and be a consistent thrower.

 

Which then places the burden on second-year player Paxton Lynch, who started two games and played like a rookie — a rookie who was uncomfortable under center, unable to make down-the-field throws, and struggled mightily on third down. Lynch averaged under 5 yards per attempt on third down, which was a signal to all defensive coaches; he wanted the ball out of his hand — now. Like most rookies, he wanted to make the checkdown rather than risk a downfield throw. The game is moving entirely too fast for many rookies. Those hot-potato throws help the completion percentage, but kill any significant progress by the offense. It’s obvious but true: Rookie quarterbacks need time. To develop, to throw, to think.

 

The coach with all the pressure on him in Denver is Mike McCoy. The former Chargers head coach and current Broncos offensive coordinator will now attempt to build an offense around two average quarterbacks. During his career, McCoy has been fortunate to work with veteran, established quarterbacks, most notably Philip Rivers. His one time designing an offense around an unproven QB was with Tim Tebow, and that offense finished 31st in passing. This will be the stiffest challenge of his career. The old cliché that a running game helps a young quarterback is old-school thinking. McCoy knows the ground game won’t be the solution to his offensive problems, and he must find a way to create explosive plays down the field. Those explosive plays were not a part of the Broncos offense last season with a similar cast of offensive players. Are they counting on Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas being better? How can they work the ball down the field? They won’t. It’ll be a struggle for McCoy to be creative each week. The best thing the Broncos offense can do would be to play complementary football for their defense. Protect the ball, work the clock, and become highly efficient in the red zone. Playing within their limitations will allow their offense to grow and their quarterback to develop.

 

The Broncos have a championship-level defense right now, and Elway must feel a sense of urgency to complement that defense with a championship passer. In the tough AFC West, the Broncos have the fourth-best quarterback out of four — and when has a team ever won a division with that ranking? Explosive offense wins games. Neither 12–4 team in the West last season was dominant on defense. The Chiefs allowed yards but were stingy allowing points, and the Raiders played like they were in the old ABA: just outscore the opponent.

 

My sense is that at the end of the 2017 season, the Broncos will come up short of a playoff appearance, which will force Elway into another “code red.” And I doubt he’ll be as lucky as last time.

 

 

OAKLAND

Joe Marino of FanRagSports.com on why Jack Del Rio, in the late ‘10s, is the right coach for the Raiders.

 

Prior to the 2016 season, the Oakland Raiders went 13 consecutive years without a playoff berth. Before the start of that 13-year drought, the Raiders only missed the playoffs a total of 15 times in the Super Bowl era ranging from 1966-2002. In what was a black-eye in Raiders history, in the 12 seasons between the 2002 Super Bowl loss and Jack Del Rio being hired as head coach, the Raiders averaged just 4.7 wins per season and finished last in the AFC West six times while never finishing higher than third.

 

Del Rio changed the Raiders culture. He was exactly what Oakland needed to dig themselves out of perpetual losing.

 

Del Rio’s 11-year playing career in the NFL, nine seasons as an assistant coach and nine-year stint as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars prepared him to become the steady hand needed to lead the Raiders.

 

From Del Rio’s bold decision to go for two and play for the win in Week 1 and defeat the Saints to four come-from-behind victories to overcoming an NFL record 23 penalties and two missed game-ending field goal attempts to defeat the Buccaneers in overtime, Del Rio deserves significant credit for the Raiders turnaround. Oakland’s 2016 success laid the foundation moving forward.

 

After a 12-4 season, Del Rio finally did what his six predecessors during the 13-year playoff drought couldn’t do – teach the Raiders how to win football games.

 

Del Rio put together the right coaching staff around him, and for that he also deserves credit. The mix of seasoned coaches like offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Mike Tice to respected NFL veterans who recently became coaches like wide receivers coach Rob Moore and assistant defensive backs coach Rod Woodson provided the right style and mix of leadership to the team.

 

Make no mistake about it, the Raiders are a talented team with a core of young superstars. The 2016 team sent seven players to the Pro Bowl. The offensive line is stacked, Derek Carr is a rising start quarterback, the Amari Cooper/Michael Crabtree duo at receiver is dynamic and Khalil Mack is the reigning defensive player of the year. General manager Reggie McKenzie has assembled a strong roster and the players are performing. But for talent to be maximized, it requires leadership and direction. Del Rio and his staff have done well to get the most out of the Raiders stars.

 

There is room to grow. The Raiders defense needs to take a major step forward in 21017. Finishing in the bottom 10 of the NFL in rushing and passing yards per game allowed, the Raiders’ defense gave up 24.1 points per game in 2016, which was in the bottom half of the league. The Raiders’ defense allowed 6.1 yards per play, which was the most of any NFL teams last season.

 

Help is on the way for the defense in the form of cornerback Gareon Conley, safety Obi Melifonwu and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who were the team’s first-, second- and third-round draft picks, respectively. Oakland was also able to add to the offensive talent by acquiring wide receiver Cordarralle Patterson, tight end Jared Cook and running back Marshawn Lynch.

 

It will be up to Del Rio and his staff to utilize the new pieces. Given the strong coaching staff and nucleus of talent already in place combined with the new culture Del Rio has established, inserting the talent should be seamless.

 

The Raiders brass recognized Del Rio’s worth and role in the Raiders new-found success and rewarded him with a new contract that links him to the club through 2021. In a team statement, owner Mark Davis made it clear that Del Rio’s leadership was paramount to continuing the team’s success moving forward.

 

“The Raiders have torn up Jack Del Rio’s original contract and rewarded him with a new four-year deal. We are excited to continue building on the strong foundation that has been established and this is a significant step in achieving that goal.”

 

Del Rio was the NFL’s lowest paid coach after the 2016 season which is unprecedented for someone finishing their 10th season as an NFL head coach. In a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine this March, Del Rio revealed that he took Davis at his word and bet on himself to right the Raiders ship.

 

“That’s a credit to MD. One of those things was, I bet on me on my contract. It wasn’t a very good contract to start with, but it was an opportunity. And I bet on our ability to get this thing turned around, and I feel like we have. Again, he was a man of his word and he stepped up and tore up that deal and gave me a new one.”

 

It’s been a long time coming to see this level of cohesion among the Raiders front office, leadership from the coaching staff and collection of talent on the field. Del Rio is at the root of it all.

 

Next for the Raiders is proving they can sustain success and win big games. After Derek Carr went down with an injury and was forced to miss the playoffs, the 12-4 Raiders experienced a first-round exit in the wildcard round. With even more talent on the roster and continuity in the system, Del Rio’s Raiders have all the pieces in place to perennially compete in the AFC.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The last gasp in San Diego as the Chargers officially move up The 5.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The close of minicamp on Thursday officially ended the Chargers’ time in San Diego.

 

Despite the announced move to Los Angeles five months ago, the Chargers still conducted offseason workouts in their San Diego facility.

 

Philip Rivers was the last man off the field he’s known since being drafted in 2004.

 

“I had sweaty hands and was nervous before practice,” Rivers said, via the team’s official website. “I was like, ‘What is wrong with me?!’ I’m going into the last minicamp practice in year 14, and here I am nervous before going out there. It was a little bit ridiculous. But it was because of that.”

 

With the end of minicamp, the Chargers will move up Interstate 5 to Los Angeles, where they will play at StubHub Stadium in Carson, California, until the new stadium is ready in Inglewood.

 

The Chargers had been in San Diego since 1961. For Rivers, it’s the only professional home he’s known, but he can only look forward to the new scenery, noting all things “come to an end at some point”

 

“It is only right for me to be fired up to go up there, and know that everyone up there [in L.A.] is going to get the same guy that I’ve been here for the last 13 years,” he said.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Michael Manning of Pro Football Focus with bullet points on what WR JEREMY MACLIN might mean to the Ravens:

 

* Jamison Hensley of ESPN reports that the Baltimore Ravens plan to use newly signed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the slot often this upcoming season after the team lost their three most-used slot receivers.

 

* WR Steve Smith Sr. retired this past offseason, WR Kamar Aiken signed with the Colts in free agency, and TE Dennis Pitta re-injured his hip in OTAs which led to his release.

Maclin began running at least 20 percent of his routes from the slot in 2012, and he has led his team in yards per route run from the slot every year he has been active since then.

 

* The former Missouri Tiger had only three drops over a three-year span (2014-2016) when running his routes from the slot, the least by a WR to qualify all three years.

 

* The best season a Ravens slot receiver has had in terms of yards per route run was in 2016 by Smith (1.81). Maclin has outperformed that in three of his past four seasons he has played.

 

* Maclin’s 12 touchdowns from the slot since 2014 are fourth-most in the NFL, his slot TDs account for 60 percent of his touchdown production in that time.

 

* The Ravens WR group has accounted for 14 touchdowns from the slot during that span.

 

 

CINCINNATI

Brad Evans and Liz Loza at YahooSports.com debate whether or not controversial RB JOE MIXON will end up atop the Bengals running back depth chart:

 

BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Joe Mixon muscles his way past Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to not only start Week 1, but also to close out the year inside the top-fifteen players at the position.

 

Liz – MAKE BELIEVE. There’s no questioning Mixon’s immense on-the-field talent. In fact, he was my No. 1 ranked rookie RB this spring, ahead of Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. His landing spot, however, is less than ideal. Not only is there a crowded backfield to contend with, but moreover the Bengals offensive line is flimsy at best.

 

Ranked by Football Outsiders among the bottom ten in terms of open field yards, Cincy’s run blocking unit did little to help the backfield in 2016. In fact, the Bengals’ rushing attack averaged 3.9 YPC, which placed them 20th in the league for that statistical category. With the recent departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, the potential of this entire offense could be undone by the o-line.

 

Make no mistake, Mixon will get his shot, especially with Gio Bernard expected to be eased back in and Jeremy Hill disappointing in back-to-back campaigns. But it’s important to remember that the former Sooner is a rookie, and one with some behavioral red flags. I think it’s more likely that Mixon finishes in the RB18-23 range. FF: 219 carries for 876 yards and 5 TDs, 33 receptions for 280 yards and 2 TDs

 

Brad – BELIEVE. His reprehensible past aside, everything is starting to come together for Mixon. Whispers have started to turn into shouts Gio Bernard will miss regular season games in his slow recovery from a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hill, who stumbled terribly in consecutive seasons, is vulnerable to sliding down the training camp depth chart. That leaves the rookie, an extremely talented, multi-down producer who possesses the burst, wiggle (48 total evaded tackles with Oklahoma in ’16), power (3.7 YAC/att last fall) and hands to immediately usurp the alleged incumbents and safeguard the starting job rest of season. Most convincingly, his workout metrics comp to a previous rookie sensation, Zeke Elliott. Arousing.

 

Staying on the straight and narrow is obviously key and the Bengals makeshift offensive line is a concern, but Mixon’s path to 260-270 touches is apparent. Keep Hill at bay and storm out of the gate Weeks 1-3 against Baltimore, Houston and Green Bay, and the youngster leaves everyone in the dust. A popular Round 3 grab in PPR or standard (34.8 ADP, RB14), he should deliver a solid return on investment.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

ESPN.com surveyed their NFL correspondents for some golf stories what with NFL golf season getting into full swing.  This from Sarah Barshop:

 

Handicap: 0

 

Brandon Weeden has been playing golf since 2008 and was a walk-on for the Oklahoma State golf team. The Houston Texans backup quarterback said he has a 0 handicap. He said he is “no question” the best golfer on the team, although Shane Lechler is No. 2. The two played last spring at Bluejack in Texas and he “got him pretty good.” Weeden finished the round at 72 and Lechler shot 82.

 

Weeden said one of the coolest golf moments for him was when he got to play with fellow Oklahoma State standout Rickie Fowler.

 

“When I was at Oklahoma State I was on the golf team, and Rickie Fowler came back,” Weeden said. “I hadn’t spent a bunch of time around him, but he came out and played 18 holes with us. Just to see that up close and personal … it was amazing. He was hitting the driver in spots that most people wouldn’t even think about. He played fast, he just hit the ball so well. There’s a difference between PGA Tour guys and the guys that think they’re good. And those guys are good.”

 

Weeden’s best score came at the Lakeside Golf Course in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he shot a 67 and birdied the 18th. — Sarah Barshop

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

RB CHRISTINE MICHAEL did not last long on the active roster of the Colts.  The AP:

 

The Indianapolis Colts have put veteran running back Christine Michael on the injured reserve list.

 

Michael signed with Indy on June 1. He has played 37 career games with Green Bay, Seattle and Dallas over the last four seasons.

 

To replace him on the roster, the Colts signed running back Troymaine Pope. The 5-foot-8, 205-pound Pope played four games with the Seahawks and New York Jets last season, finishing with 12 carries for 44 yards.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Todd Bowles lets us know that there is no front-runner in the dismal Jets QB competition.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The Jets are heading into the break with a quarterback battle looming.

 

That’s what head coach Todd Bowles told NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones on Thursday after the club’s final mandatory minicamp practice.

 

“I don’t look at anybody as the frontrunner,” Bowles said, adding that reps were divided evenly between Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.

 

Bowles has always had a strange approach to the starting quarterback position. Whether that was saying Ryan Fitzpatrick was not going to be benched before benching him in 2016, or benching Fitzpatrick in the middle of a Monday Night Football game and not telling him that the switch was permanent, there hasn’t always been a firm hand behind such decisions.

 

With such an integral season ahead, the youth-movement Jets are delicately trying to navigate 16 games while thrusting their most inexperienced players into live action. Will it be bothersome that the team also has to deal with a three-way training camp battle for snaps?

 

While it would not be surprising to see Hackenberg, Petty and McCown all take snaps at some point this season, one has to wonder if Bowles is putting too many things on his plate for the month ahead. This will already be a tremendous undertaking for a coaching staff looking to elevate a slew of young, promising players. Now, they will have to do so while also entertaining passes from three potential starting quarterbacks.

 

Bowles took heat last season for essentially promising Fitzpatrick a starting job even while Fitzpatrick was holding out, so it’s understandable that he would want to sidestep the potential pitfall by naming a starter too early. But is doing the complete opposite the correct answer?

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Ed Werder, currently unemployed, wins a big award.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

One of the top honors in football journalism is going to someone who’s currently out of work.

 

Ed Werder, who was recently laid off by ESPN, has been named the recipient of the 2017 Dick McCann Award. The award is named for the first director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Werder will be honored at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on August 5.

 

Werder spent two decades covering the NFL for ESPN and has also covered the NFL for CNN, the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Orlando Sentinel, the Boulder Daily Camera, The National and Sports Illustrated.

 

ESPN also recently laid off a former recipient of the award, John Clayton.

 

The Dick McCann Award is a one-and-done award that goes to print journalists (although some of the ESPN winners have been hybrids like Werder).

 

Werder is the fourth ESPN.com employee to win it – joining Clayton (2007), Len Pasquerelli (2008) and Chris Mortensen (2016).

 

The NFL also has a Pete Rozelle Award for radio-TV broadcasters.  The DB thinks it is about time Dick Stockton received it.

 

 

FIRST TIME PRO BOWLERS

Marc Sessler of NFL.com put together a list of 32 players, one for each team, that he thinks are likely to make their first Pro Bowl after this season.  We give you an edited version of his report below, you can read the entire thing here.  That said, not all of these wide receivers can make the Pro Bowl.

 

AFC

 

Baltimore Ravens

Brandon Williams, nose tackle: The Ravens wasted no time this offseason in making Williams the league’s highest-paid nose tackle with a five-year, $54 million pact.

 

Buffalo Bills

Sammy Watkins, wideout: Plenty of Buffalo’s defensive stalwarts have already earned Pro Bowl nods. Same goes for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and star back LeSean McCoy. Watkins is under pressure to generate a massive season after the Bills refused to pick up his fifth-year option and appear reluctant to sign him to an extension

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon, running back: Coach Marvin Lewis often slow-cooks his rookies, but Mixon is ticketed for major snaps right away.

 

Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler, guard: You were expecting Myles Garrett here, weren’t you?

 

Denver Broncos

Shane Ray, edge rusher: Set to take over for the retired DeMarcus Ware across from Von Miller, Ray was one of the league’s most improved defenders in 2016.

 

Houston Texans

Whitney Mercilus, edge rusher: He should have made it last year.

 

Indianapolis Colts

Ryan Kelly, center: A close look at the Colts’ roster reveals that plenty of prominent players have already nabbed Pro Bowl berths. That doesn’t take away from Kelly, who started all 16 games as a rookie in 2016 and played well from wire to wire.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jalen Ramsey, cornerback: Jacksonville’s defense is loaded with young talent: Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, A.J. Bouye, Telvin Smith … shall we go on? Yes, we shall, in order to name the most promising young star of the bunch in Ramsey.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Mitchell Schwartz, right tackle: With Kansas City set to make more prime-time TV appearances than any other club in 2017, a strong year for the Chiefs will net another bundle of Pro Bowl nods.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Joey Bosa, edge rusher: It’s beyond ludicrous that Bosa was left out of the most recent Pro Bowl.

 

Miami Dolphins

DeVante Parker, wideout: Jay Ajayi made the 2017 Pro Bowl after a thunderous campaign on the ground. This time around, how about Miami’s fascinating third-year receiver?

 

New England Patriots

Trey Flowers, edge rusher: Has Flowers bloomed into New England’s most talented player on defense?

 

New York Jets

Jamal Adams, safety: Peruse the Jets’ roster and tell me who you’d pick for the Pro Bowl. Long-suffering fans of this tortured team are in for no relief in 2017.

 

Oakland Raiders

Bruce Irvin, edge rusher: It’s somewhat surprising Irvin was never included in the annual haul of Pro Bowlers in Seattle.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Martavis Bryant, wideout: Pittsburgh’s squad is flush with Pro Bowlers. Scanning potential first-timers, right tackle Marcus Gilbert deserves consideration, along with talented defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Pro Bowl voting, though, reacts heavily to highlight-reel plays on the big stage, and that’s what Martavis Bryant brings to the table.

 

Tennessee Titans

Corey Davis, wideout: I’ve tried to stay away from naming rookies, but Davis is stepping into a major role right away in Tennessee.

 

NFC

 

Arizona Cardinals

John Brown, wideout: Last year was a struggle for Brown, who battled a concussion before his season was derailed by symptoms tied to the sickle-cell trait. This offseason, though, the deep threat “looks like John Brown” again, according to coach Bruce Arians.

 

Atlanta Falcons

Deion Jones, linebacker: Defensive lineman Grady Jarrett is another possibility here, but I’m going with Jones, the speedy linebacker who served as a pleasant surprise during his rookie season.

 

Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey, running back: It’s dangerous territory projecting rookie numbers, but McCaffrey adds a special element to Carolina’s attack.

 

Chicago Bears

Cody Whitehair, center: Chicago’s team-building process remains an enigma. The low-wattage offense suggests few Pro Bowl candidates beyond Jordan Howard, who already made the all-star affair as a rookie running back.

 

Dallas Cowboys

La’el Collins, right tackle: Safety Byron Jones also makes sense, but concerns loom around the Dallas secondary.

 

Detroit Lions

Darius Slay, cornerback: I initially had this spot pegged for Taylor Decker, Detroit’s second-year left tackle who ranked 23rd at his position — just below Cordy Glenn — per PFF. After recently undergoing shoulder surgery, though, it’s unclear when Decker will be fully healthy.

 

Green Bay Packers

Nick Perry, edge rusher: The Packers have plenty of stars on offense, but don’t overlook the progress of Perry.

 

Los Angeles Rams

Trumaine Johnson, cornerback:

I have more confidence in vaunted defensive coordinator Wade Phillips doing what he always does: maximizing the defense, beginning with the play of his cornerbacks.

 

Minnesota Vikings

Stefon Diggs, wideout: Diggs finished last season with 903 yards off 84 grabs despite suffering a Week 4 groin injury that held him back the entire way.

 

New Orleans Saints

Michael Thomas, wideout: Is there a better situation for young receivers than New Orleans?

 

New York Giants

Olivier Vernon, edge rusher: It’s flat-out crazy that Vernon hasn’t made a Pro Bowl, having piled up 37.5 sacks over his first five seasons.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz, tight end: The safer bet here might be Carson Wentz. Even if he doesn’t play at a Pro Bowl level, the annual rash of quarterbacks ditching the all-star clash typically thrusts all sorts of less-than-stellar passers into the lineup.

 

San Francisco 49ers

Carlos Hyde, running back: Mountainous end DeForest Buckner is a logical candidate on defense, but Hyde — if he keeps the starting role — finds himself in a premier scheme for backs.

 

Seattle Seahawks

Frank Clark, edge rusher: Who hasn’t made the Pro Bowl in Seattle? Years of success have generated a wave of personal accolades on both sides of the ball, but Seattle continues to groom new talent.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Noah Spence, edge rusher: While the offense is loaded with previous Pro Bowlers, Tampa’s defense also has its share of intriguing young players. This was a toss-up between Spence and Kwon Alexander, the team’s emerging third-year linebacker.

 

Washington Redskins

Jamison Crowder, wideout: A second-team Pro Bowl alternate in 2016, Crowder finished last season as one of the more exciting players in the NFC, leading Redskins receivers in yards after the catch (383) and touchdowns (seven).