The Daily Briefing Friday, March 16, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
With the QB free agent market settled, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com looks at what teams are now turning to the draft for passers:
The problem with the quarterback position in the NFL is that 32 teams are looking for franchise quarterbacks and there simply aren’t 32 franchise quarterbacks walking the earth. So when this game of offseason musical chairs happens, some teams are bound to be left with imperfect solutions, solutions-in-progress or wing-and-a-prayer situations that may or may not turn out to be disasters.
That doesn’t sound overly hopeful, but facts are facts, and even after all of the big offseason quarterback dominoes (and a few of the medium-sized ones) have fallen, there are plenty of teams left with questionable quarterback situations.
The pool of possible solutions is drying up, and it’s loaded with guys you’d prefer to take in some sort of combination with each other. AJ McCarron thinks he can be a starter, but and he finally got a deal with a team — Buffalo. Colin Kaepernick has proved he can be a starter, but after so many teams shunned him last year, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever get another chance. Guys such as Drew Stanton and Brock Osweiler have starting experience, but it’s the buckle-your-seatbelt kind.
The Eagles aren’t trading Nick Foles unless a team coughs up at least a first-round pick. The Giants are riding it out with Eli Manning to the end. Jay Cutler cost the Dolphins $10 million last year and maybe should have stayed with his original plan to transition to broadcasting.
Point is, if you’re still looking for a quarterback at this point, your options aren’t great, and you may be thinking about moving up in the draft to take one of the unproven but well-regarded kids coming out of college.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five NFL quarterback situations that still appear the most questionable, and which teams might be looking to take a quarterback early in next month’s draft.
Teams still looking for answers at QB
1. Buffalo Bills
The signing of AJ McCarron to a two-year deal is enough to let you know the Bills weren’t comfortable going with Nathan Peterman. But it doesn’t take them out of the running for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. The Cordy Glenn trade with the Bengals moved them up from No. 21 to No. 12 in the first round, but they also hold the No. 22 pick and three more between 53 and 65. They will be able to trade up if they want to, but McCarron gives them a veteran “bridge” guy with a little bit of experience who can play while they get a rookie ready or in case they don’t end up taking one this year.
2. Arizona Cardinals
They’re set to add Sam Bradford, which could work out great if his knee holds up. But that’s a big “if,” which is why they also appear set to add Mike Glennon once the Bears cut him. Glennon is an insurance policy for Bradford, but both players come with question marks and are, for various reasons, difficult players on whom to rely. Arizona is picking 15th overall but could clearly be a team that moves up to take a quarterback if there’s one near the top it likes. They picked up an extra third-round compensatory pick that could help.
3. New York Jets
The Jets love Josh McCown and what he brought them last year, so after missing out on Kirk Cousins they brought him back and also will be bringing in former Vikings prospect Teddy Bridgewater. The Jets pick sixth in the draft and could add a rookie as well. (They hold an extra second-round pick from the Sheldon Richardson trade and could move up if need be.) It’s a scattershot approach designed to maximize their chances of success. McCown, they know, can play at an acceptable level while they figure out what else they have behind him, whether Bridgewater can be a starter after two years off because of injury, and how long it might take for their rookie to get ready.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins appear set to roll with Ryan Tannehill after he missed last year with an ACL tear, but backup Matt Moore is a free agent and they have no real contractual commitment to Tannehill beyond 2018. The Dolphins hold the 11th pick in the draft but don’t have the extra picks in the later rounds that some of these other teams have to help them move up.
5. Cleveland Browns
Taylor is certainly an upgrade over what the Browns had in 2017, and it would be shocking if the Browns didn’t also take a quarterback with the first pick in the draft. (If they don’t, they’ll surely take one at No. 4, a pick they added when the Texans traded up for Deshaun Watson last year.) Cleveland has been active in free agency putting pieces around Taylor, and the stronger the group around him, the better chance he has to succeed. He was always better in Buffalo when Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy were healthy and on the field together.
Other teams that could take QBs in Round 1
New York Giants
Pick: No. 2
The Giants are in position to draft Eli Manning’s successor if they fall in love with one. At this point, the tea leaves seem to indicate they’ll go in a different direction, though.
Pick: No. 5
Yes, they just got Case Keenum, but with Paxton Lynch still a major question mark, is it nuts to imagine the Broncos covering their bases with a prospect they like?
Pick: No. 13
Again, they’re bringing in Alex Smith, who’ll start for the foreseeable future. But if there’s a long-term successor about whom they feel good, why not?
Pick: No. 16
They’re tied to Joe Flacco for one more year and maybe two, but Ryan Mallett hasn’t proved to be a reliable backup and it might be time to think about the future.
Los Angeles Chargers
Pick: No. 17
The Chargers have a fairly loaded roster, and Philip Rivers is 36.
New Orleans Saints
Pick: No. 27
Like the Chargers, the Saints have a fairly loaded roster, and Drew Brees is 39.
Pick: No. 28
Ben Roethlisberger is now saying he wants to play three more years, but that could change at any time. It would be a mild surprise to see the Steelers spend this pick on a quarterback, but it’s not ridiculous.
Pick: No. 29
Kind of a broken record down here, except for Jacksonville the issue with their starter isn’t age, it’s consistency. Blake Bortles just re-upped, but the Jags can get out of the deal after one year with minimal pain or two with none.
New England Patriots
Pick: No. 31
Hey, did ya hear? Tom Brady will be 41 when the season starts. And they shipped out potential successor Jimmy Garoppolo in October. Free agency has left the Pats with more needs than usual, so maybe a tackle or a receiver makes more sense on Day 1. But you never know.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on the moves made by the Bears:
New coach Matt Nagy’s expected aggressive offensive philosophy was quickly matched in free agency by GM Ryan Pace’s fervor in acquiring Nagy some toys. It’s incredibly rare to see a receiver with a true No. 1 skill set become available in free agency, so Pace accepted some risk in Allen Robinson, who is coming off a torn ACL. Although, in 2018, it’s not that huge a risk, anyhow, with most young players returning from ACL surgery nearly good as new.
In tight end Trey Burton and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, the Bears paid a lot of money for role players. But Pace was determined to build Nagy’s offense from scratch quickly in the same manner that Snead did for Rams coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff last year. Now second-year pro Mitchell Trubisky will have an array of options, with Nagy able to dictate matchup advantages on the perimeter. The Bears needed a group of weapons, not just a signing or two. With running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen already in place, they at least have a starting five.
Pace is not done yet, as the team must continue to fill out its wide receiver depth. But the Bears’ moves on defense (re-signing cornerback Prince Amukamara and picking up linebacker Aaron Lynch, a former acolyte of coordinator Vic Fangio) bodes well for that side of the ball remaining steady. If the John Fox Bears were in the dark ages in terms of watchability, Nagy should bring them into the light, safe for national television again.
According to his agent, QB KIRK COUSINS did indeed want more money than the 49ers gave JIMMY GAROPPOLO, but he could have had even greater compensation than $28 million per from another team. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Kirk Cousins met the media after signing his fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings Thursday and said that the reason he came to Minnesota wasn’t just about the contract.
Cousins said the deal “is what it is,” but said that the organization is what excites him about coming to a place he said he expects to spend the rest of his career. While breaking down the steps that led to Minnesota, Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney told a similar story.
McCartney admitted that “it was important for him to surpass Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract,” but said that Cousins didn’t take the biggest offer on the table.
“Two things I kept saying to Kirk,” McCartney said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “Money is important, contract is important but I want you on a daily basis to jump out of bed excited to go to work, to go into a building that has a great culture and a chance to win. But at the same token at the end of the day, I want you to get excited to go home where your wife and family are flourishing and if we can find both of those I think we’ve done our job.”
McCartney didn’t say which team offered Cousins more money than the Vikings, but reporting leading up to his decision suggests the Jets are a good candidate. McCartney also didn’t say anything about the length of the other team’s offer or if it was fully guaranteed, both of which were surely significant pieces of information for Cousins and company when they were figuring out their next stop.
The Panthers have come to terms with DT DONTARI POE who was with the Falcons last year. The deal is reported to be worth $27 million for three years.
Tom Benson, who was a better NFL and NBA owner than he will widely be given credit for, died at age 90 on Thursday. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:
Tom Benson, owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, died Thursday in New Orleans with his wife at his side, the teams announced. He was 90.
Benson was one of only three owners of both an NFL and NBA franchise at the time of his death. He was widely credited with keeping both teams in his native New Orleans when their futures were in doubt, first when he purchased the Saints in 1985, and then when he purchased the former New Orleans Hornets in 2012.
Benson had been hospitalized since Feb. 16 in New Orleans with flu-like symptoms.
“Tom Benson’s contributions to New Orleans and the National Football League were legendary,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
“He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs. Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover. The Saints rewarded their fans with tremendous football and a Super Bowl championship.
“Within the NFL, he was a true leader among NFL owners. … I know that the entire NFL family joins me in extending our most heartfelt condolences to Gayle Benson and the entire Saints organization.”
Benson underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in April 2001 and remained in good health until 2014, when he underwent two arthroscopic knee procedures and suffered complications that led to a long recovery.
Benson’s plan was to turn the franchises over to Gayle, his wife of the past 13 years, after he ousted his daughter and grandchildren as heirs during a bitter legal feud that lasted nearly two years. The dispute ended with a private settlement in February 2017. Gayle Benson has already been approved by the NFL and NBA as the owner of both teams. She is a New Orleans native who is expected to keep both teams in the city long term.
We thought the succession of the team was settled, as the ESPN story indicates, but Katherine Sayre of the New Orleans Times-Picayune plants seeds of doubt:
The likely contentious question over who will inherit Tom Benson’s estimated $3 billion fortune — including the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, his most high-profile and publicly beloved assets — will be a key issue in the wake of Benson’s death at the age of 90.
Benson, who died Thursday (March 15), had said he intended to leave the teams to his wife, Gayle Benson. The Saints said both the NFL and NBA have approved the ownership transfer.
Benson ascended from his modest 7th Ward roots to become the wealthiest man in Louisiana
But a long-running family fight over Benson’s empire, including the Saints and Pelicans, could reignite in the settling of his estate in court in New Orleans. Details of how Benson decided to pass on his estate, and whether his estranged heirs would challenge the validity of his will, have yet come to light.
The uncertainty goes back to a surprise announcement Benson made in January 2015. Then 87, Benson said he had disowned his granddaughter Rita LeBlanc — the heir-apparent to the Saints who had been groomed since childhood to one day lead the team — along with her brother Ryan LeBlanc and their mother Renee Benson, Tom Benson’s only surviving child.
Benson said in cutting ties with his would-be heirs, he was instead leaving his teams, auto dealerships, real estate and bank holdings to his third wife, Gayle Benson, whom he married in 2004. Benson said the switch was intended to “ensure the long-term stability and success” of the sports franchises and his other interests.
Documents later revealed in court included a 149-word letter Benson had sent to Renee, Rita and Ryan, stating that since he married Gayle, they had become “offensive” and “did not act in an appropriate manner,” creating an unpleasant family and causing him “heartbreak.”
Renee, Rita and Ryan – the “Three R’s” as some people called them – responded by filing a lawsuit in Civil District Court in New Orleans claiming that Benson was mentally and physically unfit to manage his own affairs.
Gayle Benson was Tom’s third wife; he was twice widowed. The heirs argued that Gayle was unduly controlling him with the help of an inner circle of Saints executives. The heirs portrayed Gayle Benson as a manipulative and money-hungry intruder in the family, who had ostracized Rita, Renee and Ryan from the patriarch.
That effort ultimately failed. A New Orleans judge ruled Benson competent after a closed-door trial. That decision was upheld after the heirs appealed.
Renee Benson, meanwhile, made similar arguments in a separate lawsuit filed in 2015 in San Antonio challenging her father’s position as trustee over a family trust holding banking, car dealerships and real estate holdings, including a Texas ranch.
The trust was created out of the estate of Renee Benson’s mother, Shirley Benson, who died in 1980. The case settled in a confidential agreement, although one big piece was made public: Renee Benson had replaced her father as trustee.
Ownership in the Saints and Pelicans came into play in yet another lawsuit, this time in federal court in New Orleans in 2015.
Benson attempted to remove his estranged family’s stake in the professional teams from trust funds created to benefit Renee, Rita and Ryan — a move they disputed. A federal judge was faced with the question of whether Benson could swap shares in the teams for other assets in the trusts.
What was at stake were only non-voting shares in the Saints and Pelicans, leaving Benson in control of the teams with all of the voting stock. At the time of the litigation, the heirs’ trust funds held 95 percent of the Pelicans and 60 percent of the Saints.
A settlement was reached last year, but the terms remained confidential, leaving it unclear whether the heir’s stake on the teams changed.
The Bensons have expanded their holdings in recent years beyond the auto dealerships and banks on which Tom Benson built his fortune from scratch. They got into horse racing with a stable, then later buying an $11.2 million farm in Kentucky. Last year, they bought and revived the Dixie beer brand with an intent to build a new local brewery. There were also plans to launch a wine brand.
The suit was filed one day after Tom Benson unexpectedly announced plans to transfer future ownership of the clubs to his wife, Gayle
Meanwhile, the Bensons, who met at a St. Louis Cathedral Mass, have been big donors to Catholic charities and Ochsner Medical Center, creating The Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center. Charitable donations could be part of Tom Benson’s will.
But what is for certain: The future of the Saints and Pelicans with Benson’s controlling shares will be at the center of settling his estate.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com approves of the many moves of the Rams.
The Rams upgrading their excellent secondary is one of the big upsets of this offseason. General manager Les Snead knew last month that he had three starters headed to free agency (safety Lamarcus Joyner, cornerback Trumaine Johnson and nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman) and another one (Kayvon Webster) recovering from an Achilles tear. The Rams’ relative lack of salary-cap space made it appear that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ group would inevitably take a step back.
Instead, Snead found a way to improve the No. 1 corner spot, going from Johnson to former Chief Marcus Peters, while saving a lot of money in the process. Trading for Aqib Talib, who played his best career ball under Phillips in Denver, shored up the other starting spot, while Snead was able to retain Joyner with the franchise tag and keep Robey-Coleman on a bargain contract.
All three Rams cornerbacks ranked in the top 25 of Pro Football Focus’ grades in 2017. Both safeties, including 2017 rookie John Johnson, ranked in the top 10 at their position. Talib and Peters bring personality and competitiveness to a defense built for thievery. A catchy nickname is the only remaining piece to the puzzle for what should be the best secondary in football.
WR JORDY NELSON is heading to Oakland for pretty good money. Nick Shook at NFL.com:
Jordy Nelson said his goodbyes to Green Bay less than 48 hours ago, and now he has his new team.
The former Packers wideout is headed to the Bay, signing a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders worth $15 million ($13 million guaranteed), NFL Network’s James Jones reported. The team later officially announced the signing.
In a related move, Oakland also is cutting receiver Michael Crabtree, NFL Network’s James Palmer reported.
Nelson moves from a team that wasn’t willing to pay him the back end of an extension that included a salary-cap number of $11.5 million last season to a franchise so desperate for him, it guaranteed the veteran wideout $13 million of a $15 million deal. Nelson arrives to replace Crabtree, who had his worst season in Oakland in 2017, catching 58 passes for 618 yards and eight touchdowns. Statistically, Nelson was even worse (53 receptions, 482 yards, six touchdowns), but was also playing a good chunk of his season with Brett Hundley.
Nelson joins an offense led by Derek Carr, who could use Nelson’s route-running savvy opposite Amari Cooper. Oakland’s receiving corps also includes Cordarrelle Patterson and Seth Roberts, as well as new addition Griff Whalen, among others.
What Nelson’s ceiling is in Oakland is anyone’s guess, because while the wideout had an excellent 2016 season (earning Comeback Player of the Year), it became clear in 2017 he was no longer the team’s best wideout. At 32 years old (he turns 33 in May) and entering his second season after an ACL injury, his expected contribution lands somewhere between 2017 Crabtree and bordering on a 1,000-yard season in a best-case scenario.
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The Raiders have also signed RB DOUG MARTIN, the former Buccaneer who hails from nearby Stockton, California.
It gave Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times a chance to do his Jon Gruden imitation on Twitter:
I’ll tell ya what, man. I love Doug Martin. I know how he feels. I got fired by the Bucs, too, man. We’re not running on the Hamster wheel anymore, man. We’re going places!
WR RYAN GRANT will not be a Raven. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
A day before free agency opened, the Ravens and wide receiver Ryan Grant agreed to a contract. Two days later, Grant still hasn’t signed it. And he might never sign it.
Grant failed his physical with the Ravens, according to multiple reports.
NFL contract agreements are contingent on a player passing a physical, but it rarely becomes an issue because teams usually have a good idea of any injuries a player might be recovering from. In the case of Grant, it’s unclear what the issue is. Grant has played all 16 games in all four of his NFL seasons.
The agreement between Grant and the Ravens points to one of the drawbacks of the “legal tampering” period, when agents and teams are allowed to agree on the parameters of a contract, but players are not allowed to visit team facilities or get checked out by team doctors. If Grant had been allowed to take his physical from the outset, both he and the Ravens would be in a better place now: Grant would have been able to shop himself to other teams, hoping that whatever issue concerned the Ravens’ medical staff could be cleared by another team’s medical staff. And the Ravens would have been able to find another receiver, before many were signed by other teams.
Now Grant remains a free agent and the Ravens remain looking for a wide receiver.
Why does Coach Hue Jackson make these statements that can’t possibly be true? Is he really saying that the Browns will draft a QB with either #1 or #4 and he will sit behind QB TYROD TAYLOR all year no matter how many games the Browns lose? Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com has the same reaction.
The Browns say there will not be a competition for the starting quarterback job in Cleveland this year.
Browns head coach Hue Jackson said today that Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback for the 2018 season.
“He’s going to be the starting quarterback,” Jackson said of Taylor. “There is no competition.”
That’s easy to say now, but it may be harder to believe six weeks from now, when the Browns may choose a quarterback with the first or fourth overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. If the Browns do take a quarterback in the first round, and if that quarterback looks good in training camp and the preseason while Taylor struggles, the Browns may have a competition even if they don’t plan on having one today.
So file this one away: The Browns say Taylor is their starting quarterback for the 2018 season right now. They may say something different six months from now.
TE AUSTIN SEFARIAN-JENKINS, once a Buccaneer, is returning to Florida. Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:
The Jaguars are fulfilling their plan to upgrade the talent surrounding quarterback Blake Bortles.
Jacksonville has agreed to terms with former Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a two-year, $10 million contract, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation.
The Jags beat out the Saints and Seahawks, who also showed interest in signing the No. 38 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Seferian-Jenkins turned his career around with Gang Green, posting career-highs in receptions (50) and receiving yards (357) last season after battling alcoholism early in his career with the Buccaneers.
Although “ASJ” isn’t much of a threat with the ball in his hands, he possesses reliable hands to move the chains as a possession receiver and the size and athleticism to help Bortles as a red-zone weapon.
Since the onset of free agency, Jacksonville’s David Caldwell-Tom Coughlin braintrust has imported Seferian-Jenkins, re-signed Marqise Lee, splurged on former Colts wideout Donte Moncrief, added ex-Redskins tight end Niles Paul and landed the best guard on the market in former Panthers Pro Bowler Andrew Norwell.
The Jaguars aren’t resting on their laurels after reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2017.
The Dolphins purge continues with C MIKE POUNCEY likely to be bounced. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
The Miami Dolphins are parting ways with another big-name player.
Center Mike Pouncey requested his release, which is expected to be granted Thursday, according to multiple reports.
Pouncey, who had three years remaining on his contract, told Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post he requested his release because his request for a raise in a long-term deal wasn’t granted.
“I gave this city everything I had,” Pouncey told Schad. “I’m heartbroken.”
Pouncey added that he plans on continuing his playing career after seven seasons with the team that drafted him in the first round in 2011.
“At the end of the day I’m a Miami Dolphin for life. I think it was awesome,” he said. “I had a hell of a ride here. We’ll see what the next chapter is.”
Cutting Pouncey saves the Dolphins $7 million on the salary cap.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed, that the Dolphins are signing former Bears guard Josh Sitton to a two-year deal worth up to $18 million with a base value of roughly $15 million with $8 million guaranteed.
Pouncey played 16 games in 2017, the first time he’s participated in a full slate since 2012. After three Pro Bowls from 2013-2015, Pouncey struggled last season after returning from injury but remained one of the Dolphins’ top O-lineman. The 28-year-old has battled hip issues, undergoing three procedures during his tenure in Miami. Any team that inks the talented center with health concerns must be confident his hip issues are in the past.
Pouncey’s departure continues the high-priced exits from Miami. Since the new league year opened, the Dolphins have traded Jarvis Landry, cut Ndamukong Suh, and now will release Pouncey.
UPDATE: The Dolphins acquired center Daniel Kilgore and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick (227th overall) from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for ’18 seventh-rounder (223rd overall).
The Patriots have had LSU running backs before (Kevin Faulk and Stevan Ridley come to mind) and they may have another. They have scheduled a visit with RB JEREMY HILL, the erstwhile Bengals back. This from TheRedZone.org:
This is the first known visit the 25-year-old Hill has had in free agency. Originally a second-round draft pick out of LSU in 2014, Hill had a good rookie season with over 1300 total yards and nine touchdowns but his performance has subsequently gone downhill each season. In 2017 he managed only 116 yards on 37 carries despite starting the season as the nominal top RB on the Bengals’ depth chart. He struggled through seven games with a gimpy ankle before finally going on injured reserve and undergoing surgery and then in mid-January he tweeted that he did not expect to return to Cincy.
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The McCourty twins are re-united in New England. Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com
The Patriots and Browns’ trade partnership remains strong. For the second time in less than a week, the two teams have agreed to a trade, which was first reported by Cleveland.com‘s Mary Kay Cabot.
On Thursday, the Browns sent cornerback Jason McCourty and a seventh-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for a sixth-round pick, which means the Patriots now have both McCourty twins on their roster. Safety Devin McCourty has resided in New England since 2010, when the Patriots picked him in the first round. The brothers played together at the collegiate level.
Reunited and it feels so good:
What Devin McCourty said at Super Bowl LII:
“Hopefully this year I’m telling the right guys and Bill [Belichick] and Nick [Caserio] pull it off, and we get [Jason] out of Cleveland. It’d be a great honor for me to support him and hopefully play alongside him one of these years.” https://twitter.com/art_stapleton/status/974377499386839041
As far as trades go, it’s a pretty minor one considering the Browns were going to release McCourty anyway. In fact, prior to the trade announcement, the Browns even announced that they cut McCourty. But the Patriots appeared to have swept in before the release was made official. From the Browns’ perspective, it’s a great trade because they at least got something for McCourty. From the Patriots’ perspective, they just addressed a hole with a veteran player.
The Patriots lost starting cornerback Malcolm Butler to the Titans in free agency, so cornerback was a need for them. In McCourty, the Patriots are getting a cornerback who picked off three passes last season and allowed a 95.8 passer rating in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus, which graded him as the 27th-best cornerback. It’s worth noting that Butler graded out as PFF’s 51st-best cornerback in 2017. In his nine-year career, most of which he’s spent with the Titans, McCourty’s racked up 16 interceptions and 86 passes defended.
McCourty shouldn’t be viewed as Butler’s replacement because he’s not nearly as good of a player as Butler — last year notwithstanding — but he provides depth at an area of need. He’ll likely get playing time, but nobody should expect him to be a star. Still, for the price of a move down on Day 3, it’s a nice pickup by the Patriots, who have found an eager trade partner in the Browns.
In 2016, the Patriots traded Jaime Collins to Cleveland. Less than a week ago, the Browns sent Danny Shelton to New England.
THIS AND THAT
Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com matches up QB skills with the 2018 QB class.
Everyone knows Josh Allen has the strongest arm in the 2018 NFL Draft, and Lamar Jackson is the most athletic. But who’s the best down the field? Which quarterback’s the most calm under pressure? Who’s most ready to run an NFL offense featuring RPOs?
In one of the most-hyped quarterback classes of this generation, it’s vital to break down and rank the individual capabilities of each signal-caller.
The first installment of this series will do exactly that. After closely examining the specific “skills” critical to each position — in this case, the quarterback spot — it’s time to rank prospects in each facet.
Below I’ve ranked each of the consensus top six quarterbacks in the qualities I deem most necessary to be a successful quarterback in the NFL (listed in order of importance). I’ve also added one player who should be available a bit later in the draft that excels at each particular trait.
Rosen’s clean delivery, quality arm strength, and natural talent allow him to repeatedly throw with high-level ball placement on short and intermediate passes. And relative to the added difficulty of the throw, he’s actually more accurate in the 10-19 yard range than he is close to the line of scrimmage.
Mayfield and Rudolph are closely behind Rosen in this category and demonstrated frequent pinpoint accuracy on quick passes and beyond the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Jackson, as you’ll notice is a trend throughout in this article, drastically improved in this aspect of his game during his time as Louisville’s starter.
Sleeper: Mike White
White operated a true spread system at Western Kentucky that prominently featured four and five wide receiver sets. His attack was based on the quick game, and he displayed consistent accuracy on those passes just beyond the line of scrimmage.
Admittedly difficult to decipher what’s going through the mind of a quarterback on film, in this class, Rudolph appears to possess the most speed moving from read to read. Some of those looks were seemingly predetermined pre-snap, but he made a variety of full-field reads at multiple levels, quickly scanning across the field split seconds after his initial read was covered.
Rosen is deft in this area as well on most of his snaps, yet I noticed him get “stuck” on his initial read a bit too long on a few too many plays, especially over-the-middle tosses to his tight ends. Jackson made gigantic strides in this area from 2016, and this facet of playing quarterback is the main knock I have on Mayfield. The Oklahoma scheme didn’t help him here.
White is the sleeper here based on his vast experience throwing the football at Western Kentucky.
At times, Rudolph held the ball too long and was sacked from behind on a chase-down pass rush. However, as he’s going through his progressions, he naturally steps into the pocket. He often showed an awesome shoulder dip as he looked downfield when edge-rushers tried to get their hands on him around the corner. He also can move laterally and usually maintains a wide base to throw after drifting inside the pocket.
Jackson put some ridiculous pocket movement plays on film — against free blitzers — which led to him narrowly beating out Mayfield here, although the two are similar in this category. There are special flashes of creativity and a fair amount of times in which they run into pressure. Darnold has anxious feet in the pocket and can pull off incredible improvisational throws on the run. He’s not refined calmly drifting from pressure right now though. Allen does tend to leave clean pockets much more than anyone listed above. I did notice a few plays of in-pocket maneuverability. He just needs to reign in his hyperactivity when things break down.
Sleeper: Logan Woodside
Woodside likes to lean on his passing prowess instead of his underrated scrambling ability and has some athleticism, which puts him at No. 6 in this category.
Mayfield rarely put the ball in harm’s way in 2017. He had the luxury of throwing to wide open receivers time and time again and appeared to understand when it wasn’t worth it to fire the football to a well-covered pass-catcher.
Rudolph is another quarterback who only made clearly bad decision a few times on nearly 500 pass attempts in 2017. Jackson has significantly improved in this area in his three years as the Louisville starter and was docked for his performance in the bowl game against Mississippi State, which did appear worse live than it did on the re-watch. Rosen’s “over-improvisation” is the reason he’s No. 4 here, although typically knows where to go with the football. Darnold is capable of elite-level anticipatory throws but is apt to be overly aggressive as well.
Sleeper: Brandon Silvers
On 443 passes in 2017, Silvers tossed just seven interceptions. His accuracy needs major work, as does his ability under pressure. He does do a good job keeping the ball away from the opponent.
Passing Under Pressure
Similar to his No. 1 ranking in the Pocket Movement category, Rudolph makes the most of plays in which he’s pressured. Many of his long-ball connections — and a handful of touchdowns — came after a defender got free along the line of scrimmage.
Mayfield wasn’t under pressure much behind Oklahoma’s dominant offensive line yet showed the ability to make plays happen with pressure mounting. Jackson lacks some accuracy when protection cracks and counters that by being capable of making game-changing plays with his arm in those instances Rosen is probably the most accurate in this scenario. It’s also when he tends to force the issue and either throw across his body, as he’s falling down or off balance, or when coverage is too tight. The same goes for Josh Allen.
Toledo had a strong offensive line in the MAC last season, yet blocking weakness showed against top competition. Check the game against Miami (FL). Woodside threw two touchdowns on under-pressure plays.
Yes, Rudolph threw to two NFL-caliber wideouts in James Washington and Marcell Ateman. He made the most of his enviable situation at Oklahoma State. Sometimes, he underthrows his deep tosses. Much more often than not, he drops passes 20-plus yards down the field right in the bucket.
Early in the season, Mayfield was more accurate down the field than he was later, yet overall, he exhibited fine ball placement on shot plays. This is one area where Rosen clearly struggles. Darnold and Jackson will misfire on two deep throws, then place the football perfectly downfield on their next five attempts. Allen, mainly due to his arm, is capable of connecting on outrageous long passes.
Woodside’s downfield ball placement deep leaves a little to be desired. He does have a tendency to find his receivers down the field though, even if a slight adjustment needs to be made.
No surprise here. Allen will have one of the NFL’s strongest arms right away. Up there with Matthew Stafford and Joe Flacco.
Jackson possesses the Michael Vick-esque “flick” delivery that somehow leads to lasers being sent all over the field. The three in the middle all have underrated arms capable of fitting the ball into tight windows at the intermediate level and throwing the typical max distance in the NFL of 55 or 60 yards if need be. Benkert has a wide frame and a well-built upper body. That combination allows him to frequently throw the football at a high velocity. As for Rudolph, this is one area in which he’s clearly behind his contemporaries. At times his aforementioned underthrows appear to be due to a lack of arm strength. Despite his reputation, at times, especially in the intermediate range where arm strength is needed most, Rudolph’s passes arrive with plenty of zip.
Sleeper: Kurt Benkert
Benkert has a wide frame and a well-built upper body. That combination allows him to frequently throw the football at a high velocity.
No-doubter here. Jackson is the most electric, athletically gifted quarterback to enter the NFL since Mike Vick.
The top five quarterbacks in this category are well-rounded, highly sought after passers, so it’s easy to assume they can’t move. That isn’t the case. They’re all “new-age” signal-callers capable of scrambling when necessary.
Sleeper: J.T. Barrett
Barrett carried the football often at Ohio State, and is a proficient reading blocks.
Rosen is a rhythm passer who’s the furthest ahead from under center than any of the top quarterbacks in this class. He works the middle portion of the field very well with impressive timing.
Mayfield and Rudolph are almost strictly shotgun passers — which is not nearly as big of a deal as it’s sometimes made to be — and both are effective on timing throws in the short to intermediate range.
Sleeper: Nick Stevens
Each year it’s getting more difficult to find the traditional “pro-style” offense being run at the collegiate level. Stevens took an assortment of snaps from under center and is comfortable operating deep-drop play-action plays.
Man, if Bruce Arians were still in Arizona, Darnold would’ve been the absolute perfect fit in his ultra-aggressive, vertical passing offense. For a 20-year-old quarterback, Darnold is immensely confident in his arm, often letting it rip down the field, and he has the arm and accuracy to threaten defenses.
Because of their ability to rocket the football downfield, Jackson and Allen would be fun in a Norv Turner-like play-action, deep-ball based system. Rosen, Rudolph, and Mayfield could theoretically work here, but a downfield scheme wouldn’t be the best fits for their skill sets.
Sleeper: Riley Ferguson
Ferguson is well above-average on intermediate throws and doesn’t shy away from the chance to hit a shot play down the field. He has a slightly unusual, almost three-quarter delivery yet the ball jumps out of his hand.
The Oklahoma offense was the most creative attack I’ve ever watched. It manipulated linebackers on almost every snap with a dizzying variety of motions, misdirections, offensive linemen pulls, and options. Mayfield undoubtedly can efficiently run a spread attack, although I’m worried the scheme provided him with too many “easy” throws to wide open targets.
Rudolph’s offense featured a fair amount of RPOs as well, and he played in a clear-cut spread scheme at Oklahoma State. This was a tough ranking because all the systems run at Louisville, USC, UCLA, and Wyoming had many spread concepts and utilized four and five wideouts plenty.
Sleepers To Watch: Nic Shimonek
Any Texas Tech quarterback is ready to call the shots in a spread offense after his time in college. While his arm or athleticism aren’t close to Patrick Mahomes, Shimonek is one of the more physically capable Red Raider signal-callers of the past decade.