The Daily Briefing Friday, March 2, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Wherever NFL men go to drink in Indianapolis, they talk about the Vikings QB conundrum per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
The biggest question bouncing off the walls in drinking holes around Lucas Oil Stadium this week concerns what the Vikings will do at quarterback.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport guessed that Kirk Cousins would land in Minnesota during a stopover on the Around The NFL Podcast, but Rapsheet said not to rule out the Cardinals as a dark-horse option. The Jets might have the most guaranteed money to offer, while Broncos executive John Elway displayed a mix of confidence and anxiety that he could land his man to move past a nightmarish 2017.
“Life is too short to rebuild in the NFL,” Elway said.
Cousins is the safest option available to avoid doing so, and it’s shaping up to be a four-team race to sign him. That leaves teams like the Broncos and Vikings making contingency plans if Cousins spurns them. One of the most surprising developments this week is the growing wisdom that Minnesota’s Option B could be re-signing Sam Bradford rather than Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater.
Reading between the lines of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s comments Thursday, the organization has concerns about Bradford’s health, but not his talent.
“Can Sam stay healthy? Is Teddy what he was? Is Case the guy that he was last year or two years ago?” Zimmer asked, neatly summing up the issues with all three Vikings free agents.
It wasn’t the only time Thursday when Zimmer openly wondered if Keenum could sustain his level of play from 2017 or whether he would turn back into a pumpkin. When talking about Bridgewater, it sounded like Zimmer is resigned to possibly saying goodbye to a player he loves. Bridgewater’s best chance to return to the Vikings could be as a backup.
“I’m hopeful for Teddy, No. 1, that he has an outstanding career,” Zimmer said. “He’s earned it; he’s deserved it. Hopefully it’s with me, but if not, I wish him the best of luck. I’ll give him a hug and hope for the best for him.”
Bradford, not Bridgewater, was trusted as Keenum’s backup during the playoffs, despite Bradford’s degenerative knee. Zimmer noted that Bradford was able to ski last week and said he believed Bradford could stay healthy, but also admitted, “Who knows?”
New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo worked briefly with Bradford in Philadelphia, and that familiarity could be why Rapoport opined Thursday on NFL Network that Bradford could be the most likely Vikings quarterback to return.
Cousins figures to be Minnesota’s first choice, but the Vikings need to be prepared to chase a Super Bowl title if they can’t work out that deal with our top overall free agent. Zimmer, for one, sounded cautious about extending the team too far financially for one player.
“What I don’t want to do is say, OK, this is the one thing — we’re going to do this and we’re going to take away from the rest of the things that have gotten us to this point,” Zimmer said in relation to managing the salary cap.
There has also been speculation that the Vikings could use the transition tag on Keenum simply to retain the right to match any offers from other teams. (There is almost no downside to this plan, because they can rescind the tag at any time.) This is just one of the dizzying array of variables for Minnesota to consider, with Cousins holding much of the leverage over the entire market. Zimmer dryly joked that he will probably get fired if the Vikings choose the wrong quarterback. Like most great jokes, there was an element of truth to it.
“I know there’s a lot of rumors and a lot of different things going on out there, but don’t believe everything you hear — unless it’s from me,” Zimmer said.
It’s the end of the line in Carolina for RB JAMES STEWART. David Newton of ESPN.com:
The Carolina Panthers on Wednesday released all-time leading rusher Jonathan Stewart, clearing $3,718,750 from the salary cap.
With Monday’s release of veteran defensive end Charles Johnson and safety Kurt Coleman, general manager Marty Hurney has cleared just over $9.6 million in cap space in the past three days. The Panthers now have close to $30 million in cap space.
Stewart, who will turn 31 on March 21, was coming off one of his worst seasons statistically behind an offensive line Hurney regarded as one of the top five in the league. Stewart averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry (680 yards on 198 carries), and his total yards were his fewest since 2013, when he was limited by injuries.
His yards per carry ranked 32nd among the 34 running backs who had at least 150 carries last season, ahead of only Adrian Peterson and Ameer Abdullah, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Stewart’s 3.55 yards per touch last season were the fewest by a running back with at least 200 touches in a season since BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3.47) and Rashard Mendenhall (3.49) in 2013.
Stewart ends his career at Carolina, where Hurney selected him in the first round of the 2008 draft, with 7,318 yards. He surpassed DeAngelo Williams last season as the team’s all-time leading rusher.
S KENNY VACCARO is headed elsewhere according to Joel Erickson of the New Orleans Advocate:
Kenny Vaccaro will not be re-signing with the New Orleans Saints, a source told the Advocate.
Vaccaro, the veteran strong safety who was a first-round pick in 2013, has spent all five years of his career in New Orleans.
But the Texas product hinted strongly during the season that he planned to move on during free agency, which opens when the league year begins on March 14.
“It’s sad now, because I’m a free agent,” Vaccaro said in November. “We’ve grown so close. I don’t want to leave — not necessarily the business side of it. The team side of it. I don’t want to leave these guys now.”
Vaccaro, a starter from his first game in New Orleans, produced flashes of brilliance during his five seasons: 7.5 sacks and eight interceptions overall, plus highlights of 104 tackles and three sacks in 2015 and three interceptions in the first half of the 2017 season.
He also had bouts of inconsistency — he was benched against New England early last season — and struggled at times with penalties. Vaccaro also served a four-game suspension for using Adderall at the end of the 2016 season, and injuries were a problem; a torn groin forced Vaccaro to injured reserve in December.
With Vaccaro moving on, the safety position for the Saints will be turned over to Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams, second-round picks in each of the past two seasons.
The Seahawks are trying to get someone to take DT MICHAEL BENNETT, the hero of Las Vegas and their Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, off their hands. Brady Henderson of ESPN.com:
The Seattle Seahawks are shopping Pro Bowl defensive lineman Michael Bennett in trade talks, a source tells ESPN.
Bennett, 32, was second on the team with 8 1/2 sacks in 2017. Although he’s coming off a productive season and signed a three-year extension in December 2016, Bennett expressed doubts about his future after the Seahawks’ final game, telling The News Tribune that he “probably won’t be back next year.”
Asked about Bennett’s status in light of his end-of-season comments, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thursday from the scouting combine: “I haven’t talked to Mike in a while now, but it’s the time of year, conversations going in all directions.”
Bennett is set to count almost $7.4 million against Seattle’s salary cap next season. By trading or releasing him before June 1, the Seahawks would save roughly $2.2 million against the 2018 salary cap while incurring around $5.2 million in dead money charges. A trade or release would likely come before March 18, when Bennett is owed a $3 million roster bonus.
Bennett’s contract has three years remaining, with base salaries of $1.65 million, $6 million and $7.5 million, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.
Seattle’s defensive line has the potential to look significantly different in 2018. Sheldon Richardson, acquired in a trade with the New York Jets before the start of last season, is among the team’s 16 unrestricted free agents and may price himself out of Seattle. Cliff Avril’s football future is in jeopardy because of a neck injury he suffered last season.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says he has no problem with quarterback Russell Wilson taking part in spring training with the Yankees, saying Thursday, “it’s awesome.”
Malik McDowell, a second-round pick in 2017, may be unavailable again after missing his rookie season because of what the team called a severe concussion from a summer ATV accident.
Carroll had no update Thursday on Avril’s status or that of strong safety Kam Chancellor, who also suffered a career-threatening neck injury last season.
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Carroll also spoke about the big changes to the Seahawks coaching staff. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Seattle Seahawks made the most significant changes to their coaching staff this offseason since Pete Carroll was hired as the team’s head coach in 2010.
Eight coaches from last year’s staff aren’t returning in 2018, including each of the team’s top four assistants. Six coaches have been added to the group with three coaches moving to new roles as well. Carroll discussed his reasons for the changes for the first time in Indianapolis on Thursday.
“Wanted to make sure to challenge the opportunity to get better,” Carroll said. “Wanted to find ways to make… and there was some tough decisions here to get that done, but I wanted to work at changing just kind of the approach to it so that maybe we can find our ways and maybe some newness to uncover. It was difficult to make those choices, because the guys that left we have done so much together and worked together in great fashion. But I just felt it was time. It really just comes back to competing and just trying to find a way to get a little better. That’s why we made those choices.”
The team hired Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator and Mike Solari as the offensive line coach. Ken Norton Jr. returns to the team to take over as defensive coordinator after three years with the Oakland Raiders. The team also hired Jethro Franklin as assistant defensive line coach, Larry Izzo as assistant special teams coach and Steve Shimko as an offensive assistant.
Seattle also moved Carl Smith from quarterbacks coach to associate head coach, moved Dave Canales from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach, and promoted Nate Carroll to wide receivers coach from the assistant position.
“I’m really excited about the guys that are here and how it’s working out so far,” Carroll said. “We are seeing the new energy. I am energized by it. The whole group is. And we are looking forward to working to see how it’s going to turn out.”
Will someone sign RB FRANK GORE? He will not be back with the Colts. Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:
Don’t look now, but a future Hall of Famer is on the market.
Indianapolis Colts honchos confirmed Wednesday that veteran running back Frank Gore will not return to the team in 2018.
“I am aware that [general manager] Chris Ballard and Frank did have a discussion once the season was over,” newly christened Colts coach Frank Reich told reporters, “and out of respect to Frank, so he could know exactly what was going on, Chris was right up front and said that we probably would be moving on to make the roster a little bit younger at that position.”
Gore’s exodus leaves Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin and Josh Ferguson in the Colts’ RB shed.
A longtime stalwart of the San Francisco 49ers, Gore played out his three-year, $12 million deal with the Colts at a consistent clip. Gore tallied 260, 263 and 261 rushes in his three seasons in Indianapolis, averaging more than 60 rushing yards per game and over 1,200 scrimmage yards in each campaign as well. Gore ranks fifth all-time in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards — 75 yards behind Curtis Martin and 1,243 yards short of Barry Sanders. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday the Browns and Ravens are potential suitors for Gore.
Despite the disappointing seasons, The Inconvenient Truth left a mark and never let up.
“Just in three years, even though most of his career was in San Francisco, his three years he’s left an impact on the locker room and people like I don’t know if I’ve seen another player do,” Ballard said of Gore. “I want to give Frank a chance to go see what’s out there and see if he finishes in a place where he wants to finish it.”
Gore joined the Colts in 2015 with the express hope that he’d finally win a Super Bowl. Will the 34-year-old tailback latch onto a championship contender this offseason before calling it quits?
The Dolphins are allowing WR JARVIS LANDRY to seek a trade. ESPN.com:
Since that permission was granted, at least two teams already have communicated their interest in a potential deal, sources told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
The Dolphins franchised Jarvis Landry. Now what’s their move? Our NFL Insiders weigh in on whether Miami will shop the wide receiver, and other big topics of the offseason.
Miami put the franchise tag on Landry last month. It is expected to be around $16.2 million.
The Dolphins and Landry’s agent met Wednesday, and a source told Anderson that the communication “went extremely well.”
Landry, 25, led the NFL with 112 receptions last season. He also had 987 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald hears the name of a possible trade partner.
Landry plans to sign the franchise tag – a necessary step before he can be traded – and that’s expected to happen soon.
Landry’s agent, Damarius Bilbo, and the Dolphins met Wednesday in Indianapolis, and the Dolphins informed Bilbo that they would not be making a longterm contract offer to Landry at this time, if at all.
The Dolphins also said they would be OK with Landry playing next season with the $16 million franchise tag if a trade cannot be facilitated.
But make no mistake: The Dolphins clearly prefer to trade Landry and are pursuing efforts to accomplish that, as The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero reported earlier this week.
The Dolphins are seeking a draft pick or a player in exchange for Landry. Chicago is among teams that has emerged as a possibility.
THIS AND THAT
Jim Kelly says his cancer has returned. Mike Rodak of ESPN.com:
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly will once again undergo treatment for oral cancer after recent testing showed that the cancer has returned.
“As our family has faced many trials and triumphs throughout the years, you have blessed us with your prayers. We are asking for those prayers once again,” Kelly said in a statement Thursday. “The oral cancer we hoped would be gone forever has returned. Although I was shocked and deeply saddened to receive this news, I know that God is with me.
“I continuously talk about the four F’s: Faith, Family, Friends and Fans. With all of you by my side, we will fight and win this battle together. Staying ‘Kelly Tough’ and trusting God, will carry us through this difficult time.”
Kelly first announced in June 2013 that he had squamous cell carcinoma of the upper jawbone. He had surgery to remove tumors but was found again to have cancer in March 2014.
The former Buffalo Bills quarterback underwent weeks of chemotherapy and radiation in 2014 before being declared cancer-free that September. He has been periodically screened for cancer in the years since.
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Former Panthers WR Rae Carruth, still in a North Carolina prison, has abandoned his pursuit of custody of his son. David Newton of ESPN.com:
Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth has given up plans to pursue a relationship with his son after being released from prison later this year.
In a letter to the Charlotte Observer, Carruth wrote that he will not pursue custody of Chancellor Lee Adams, who lives in Charlotte with his maternal grandmother, Saundra Adams.
This comes a few weeks after Carruth, scheduled to be released in October, sent a letter to WBTV in Charlotte, saying he planned to pursue custody of his 18-year-old son.
Carruth has spent the past 17 years in Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina. He was found guilty in 2001 for conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend in 1999.
Cherica Adams died in the hospital after being shot multiple times by Van Brett Watkins, who was hired by Carruth. She was pregnant with Chancellor, who as a result of the shooting was born prematurely. He has cerebral palsy.
“For all involved or invested in this ordeal, please calm down,” Carruth wrote in the letter to the newspaper. “I will no longer be pursuing a relationship with Chancellor and Ms. Adams. I promise to leave them be, which I now see is in everyone’s best interest.”
Carruth wrote that including in the first letter his desire to enter Chancellor’s life was a mistake and he admitted that was too optimistic, even though he still wants to “make amends with Chancellor and try to be the father that I should have been from day one.”
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Former Dolphins OL Jonathan Martin is still suffering, apparently, from the mental health effects of perceived bullying. And it has left his high school in fear. Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com:
Harvard-Westlake School filed a workplace violence prevention restraining order against former NFL offensive lineman Jonathan Martin on Thursday at the Santa Monica Courthouse, according to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Martin was detained for questioning in Los Angeles last Friday as a result of a threatening image posted on social media but was released later in the day, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.
A law enforcement source told KABC-TV in Los Angeles that Martin was being held in a mental health facility.
It’s unclear if Martin posted the image to the verified Instagram account that is believed to be his.
The image on the Instagram account said: “When you’re a bully victim & a coward, your options are suicide, or revenge.” The image showed a shotgun and ammunition and tagged four accounts, including those belonging to former Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey. It also included hashtags for Harvard-Westlake, where Martin went to high school, and the Miami Dolphins.
Another person tagged was James Dunleavy. Martin went to Harvard-Westlake with a James Dunleavy, who is the son of former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy and went on to play basketball at USC.
Martin accused Incognito and Pouncey of bullying him in 2013 when they were teammates in Miami, which resulted in an NFL investigation. The investigation found that Incognito, Pouncey and John Jerry created a hostile working environment for Martin, who left the team in the middle of the season.
Incognito was suspended for eight games by the NFL because of the investigation.
Martin hasn’t played in the NFL since 2015. Weeks after retiring, Martin posted a lengthy message on Facebook explaining that he suffered from depression and had tried to kill himself on multiple occasions.
Harvard-Westlake, an elite private school in Los Angeles, closed last Friday morning in response to the post, but police told ESPN there was no direct threat to the school.
According to a source, the Dolphins’ security director reached out to the league to make officials aware of the post. Pouncey was also made aware.
Conventional wisdom used to be – don’t draft a running back in the first round.
Now, argues Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, the fresh new wisdom is stay away from wide receivers in the opening round.
If you’re a head coach or general manager seeking a difference-maker at wide receiver, you should probably look outside of the first round.
In theory, the best players in the draft should be the earliest ones selected. But recent history suggests that the top pass-catching prospects aren’t necessarily the ones who win the pre-draft beauty pageant.
Looking at last season’s leaderboard, I found it interesting that the pace-setters in receptions (Jarvis Landry) and receiving yards (Antonio Brown) were not first-round picks. In fact, there were only three former first-rounders (Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones) ranked among the top 10 in either category. While some would chalk that up to a one-year aberration — given that five former No. 1s placed in the top 10 in receiving yards in 2016 — the fact that these rankings have been heavily populated with later-round picks over the past five years suggests that the position should be devalued on draft day.
“You can find wide receivers anywhere,” an NFC scout told me. “Just look at how many second- and third-round guys have come in and made plays right away. Why would you even think about using a first-round pick on a wide receiver?”
I can’t argue that point, based on the recent results of first-round receivers. Since 2015, there have been 13 wideouts taken on Day 1, but only one (Amari Cooper) has emerged as a Pro Bowl player. Look at the list:
2017: Corey Davis (No. 5 overall), Mike Williams (No. 7), John Ross (No. 9).
2016: Corey Coleman (No. 15), Will Fuller (No. 21), Josh Doctson (No. 22), Laquon Treadwell (No. 23).
2015: Amari Cooper (No. 4), Kevin White (No. 7), DeVante Parker (No. 14), Nelson Agholor (No. 20), Breshad Perriman (No. 26), Phillip Dorsett (No. 29).
Remember, the first round is reserved for players who are expected to be difference-makers early in their careers. They should have two to three “blue” characteristics (size, speed, skill, production, playmaking ability, etc.) that set them apart from the rest of the players at their respective positions. In addition, their superior talent should allow them to step into the starting lineup as rookies and make contributions as impact players.
Reviewing that list of picks from 2015 to ’17, you could make the argument that injuries have played a major role in the group’s underachievement, but I think the issue extends beyond that. Scouts (myself included) place a greater emphasis on traits (size, speed, athleticism) over skill (route running and pass catching) in the evaluation process. Evaluators fall in love with NFL Scouting Combine and pro day workouts and don’t spend enough time studying the tape to see if the prospects’ games were polished enough to make an immediate impact on Sundays.
“We expect first-rounders to come in and contribute right away, but we don’t really know how long it will take them to transition to the pro game,” another NFC scout told me. “Most of these guys are coming from spread offenses where they run a limited route tree and they’re used to getting the play calls from the sideline. Playing in a pro offense is a big adjustment for everyone.
“Just because a guy is a first-round pick, it doesn’t mean that it will click for him faster than a late-round pick.”
Given that sentiment, I believe craftsmen should be valued over explosive athletes despite the spectacle feel to the draft. Evaluators should look long and hard at the tape to see if the wide receivers win with skill over pure speed and explosiveness in routes. Moreover, scouts should pay close attention to how well they separate from defenders, particularly against press coverage. Artistry is required to win against some of the physical tactics employed by NFL defenders, which gives skilled receivers a nod over athletes in my mind.
Looking back at last year’s draft class, it’s not a coincidence JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp immediately succeeded in the NFL as Day 2 picks. Each player was viewed as a polished route runner who was extremely productive over a sustained period in college. In addition, their respective NFL teams put them in roles that ideally suited their skills. For instance, Kupp started the season as the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 3 receiver and operated primarily out of the slot. He was able to work over nickel corners with his patience and precision. Smith-Schuster enjoyed similar success as a move-around playmaker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played in the slot and out wide in the team’s spread formations, executing a variety of catch-and-run plays and crafty vertical routes. With JuJu nearly reaching 1,000 yards in his first pro season, the Steelers’ masterful utilization of their rookie receiver is one of the blueprints teams should consult going forward.
“I can’t say enough about the importance of ‘fit’ within a scheme,” an AFC college scouting director told me. “You have to know how well the player fits into your scheme and how you plan to use him. Whether it’s on the outside or in the slot, you need to be able to assess the player’s skills and put him in a spot to maximize his talent.”
Just look at the curious case of Agholor as proof of that premise. The Philadelphia Eagles receiver floundered during his first two seasons as an outside player, but he blossomed in Year 3 after moving inside to the slot. He not only looked like the big-time playmaker who piqued the interest of scouts during the pre-draft process, but he started to make critical plays in big moments for the team.
Fast-forward to the 2018 wide receiver class. You can make the argument that there is only one consensus first-rounder in the class — Alabama’s Calvin Ridley — but the next 10 prospects rank as borderline Day 1/Day 2 prospects. Given the number of closely rated guys in that range, teams would be wise to wait until the second round to select a pass catcher, when the value is in line with the player.
Keep that in mind as we spend the next few days evaluating the wide receivers in T-shirts and shorts. Instead of focusing on the explosive athletes who win the football decathlon, spend your time identifying the skilled players adept at running routes and accelerating out of breaks to catch the ball. Those are the guys who will make plays next fall.
But Brooks wouldn’t draft a guard early either:
Over the past few days, I’ve heard Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson pegged as a top-three prospect in this class. But I’m having a tough time buying the narrative, based on my personal assessment of his game and the value of the position. Simply put, offensive guard is not a marquee position on the roster, and too many teams are playing ordinary guys on the interior.
“I would never invest a top pick in an offensive guard,” the AFC college scouting director said. “There are too many Pro Bowlers that have come from the later rounds for me to commit a top pick to that position. I would rather spend draft capital on one of the marquee spots (quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher or cornerback) that impacts the passing game on either side of the ball.”
This is the prevailing opinion of most evaluators in the league. The top half of the first round is reserved for players capable of impacting the passing game, and teams shouldn’t step outside of the box on draft day. Since I started scouting in 2000, there have been only four offensive guards selected as top-10 picks, which speaks volumes about the value of the position in today’s game.
Look, Brandon Scherff (taken fifth overall in 2015), Jonathan Cooper (seventh overall in 2013), Chance Warmack (10th overall in 2013) and Leonard Davis (second overall in 2001) were good prospects coming out, but did any of them end up being a true game-changer in the NFL? It’s also important to note that Scherff had some position flexibility as a combo guard-tackle, which enhanced his value as a top-five pick.
With that in mind, I have a hard time valuing Nelson as one of the elite prospects in this class. Sure, he is a powerful road-grader adept at moving defenders off the ball, but I worry about his movement skills and athleticism. He lacks the balance and body control to consistently hit moving targets in the strike zone, and he could be prone to holding penalties with his “clutch and grab” playing style.
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t view Nelson as a first-round player with the potential to earn Pro Bowl honors in a few years, but I don’t see him as a Hall of Fame-type prospect with a game that will revolutionize the position. I could be wrong about my long-term assessment, but I know I wouldn’t spend a top-five pick on an interior player with such a limited impact on the passing game.
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Chad Reuter of NFL.com has a four-round Mock Draft, and he is among those big on JOSH ALLEN, the strong-armed but perhaps inaccurate QB from Wyoming:
1 – CLEVELAND
Josh Allen – QB, Wyoming
There has been scuttlebutt that GM John Dorsey likes Allen. Most folks are projecting Sam Darnold to go first overall, but I’ll go with Allen, who showed great promise at the Senior Bowl.
2 – NY GIANTS
Sam Darnold – QB, USC
Darnold has the potential to be the best quarterback in this class. Sitting behind Eli Manning for one year would be ideal.
3 – INDIANAPOLIS
Bradley Chubb – DE, N.C. State
The Colts finished second-to-last in the league last year with 25 sacks. Chubb is also strong vs. the run, making him the top defensive player in the draft.
4 – CLEVLAND
Saquon Barkley – RB, Penn State
Adding Barkley to whomever they take with the top pick will put the Browns’ building process in full gear.
5 – BUFFALO (from Denver)
Baker Mayfield – QB, Oklahoma PROJECTED TRADE WITH BRONCOS.
The Bills are willing to make a big move (giving up their two first-round picks this year plus a 2019 second-rounder) to get a quarterback after Sean McDermott falls in love with Mayfield’s fiery demeanor. Denver is a willing trade partner after addressing the QB spot in free agency.
6 – NY JETS
Josh Rosen – QB, UCLA
The Jets pick the top pure passer in the class — now they need a strong offensive line and running game to help him.
7 – TAMPA BAY
Quenton Nelson – OG, Notre Dame
Nelson’s a nimble road-grader who will help the team’s second-round pick at running back (or late-first-round pick if they trade up) become a star.
8 – ARIZONA (from Chicago)
Lamar Jackson – QB, Louisville PROJECTED TRADE WITH BEARS.
Arizona gives up its 2018 and 2019 first-round picks to move into this spot, as it feels a sense of urgency to get ahead of teams like the Dolphins and Bengals, as well as any other team looking to trade up for a QB. New head coach Steve Wilks gets a dynamic playmaker to develop with the help of new quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich. Jackson has his doubters, but the Cardinals see him for what he can be and they go get their man.
9 – SAN FRANCISCO
Minkah Fitzpatrick – S, Alabama
Fitzpatrick will be the leader of the Niners’ secondary for years to come.
9 – OAKLAND
Vita Vea – DT, Washington
Vea’s combination of strength and athleticism gives him an excellent chance of being picked in the top 10.
11 – MIAMI
Tremaine Edmunds – LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds should go higher than this, but if the quarterbacks go early, it will push a defensive star or two outside the top 10.
12 – CINCINNATI
Marcus Davenport – EDGE, UTSA
Both Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are due to become free agents after the 2018 season, so Davenport will learn from those veterans how to use this length on the edge while still making an impact as a rookie.
13 – WASHINGTON
Denzel Ward – CB, Ohio State
Ward’s shown great promise as a cover corner, but his size might limit the ceiling of his draft position. Former teammate Marshon Lattimore showed last year, though, that corners don’t have to go in the top 10 to make a big instant impact.
14 – GREEN BAY
Leighton Vander Esch – LB, Boise State
Vander Esch will be considered among the best defensive prospects in the class after the combine concludes.
15 – CHICAGO (from Arizona)
Calvin Ridley – WR, Alabama PROJECTED TRADE WITH CARDINALS.
Chicago is on the other side of a draft-capital swap this year. Mitchell Trubisky needs difference-makers at the receiver position. Ridley is one of those.
16 – BALTIMORE
Orlando Brown – OT, Oklahoma
Brown follows in his late father’s footsteps to play for the Ravens.
17 – LA CHARGERS
Roquan Smith – LB, Georgia
Undersized ILBs typically fall into the middle of the first round. Smith’s hustle to the ball will help him overcome his lack of bulk, though, giving him a long, successful career.
Derwin James – S, Florida State
The James- Seahawks match seems like it was made in heaven, which means it probably won’t happen. I’ll stick with it for now, though.
19 – DALLAS
Connor Williams – OT, Texas
There’s an opening at guard with Jonathan Cooper due to become a free agent. Williams could also play outside if right tackle La’el Collins kicked inside to guard.
20 – DETROIT
Maurice Hurst – DT, Michigan
Keeping Hurst in-state gives the Lions the quick and strong tackle they need.
21 – DENVER (trade with Buffalo)
Christian Kirk – WR, Texas A&M PROJECTED TRADE WITH BILLS.
I’m assuming Denver picks up a veteran QB in free agency. So how about finding another big-play threat?
22 – DENVER (trade with Buffalo)
Mike McGlinchey – OT, Notre Dame PROJECTED TRADE WITH BILLS.
Could the Broncos select tackles in the first round two years in a row? It has happened before (six times in the 1990s, Detroit 2000-2001, Green Bay and Seattle in 2010-2011), and Denver must upgrade its line.
23 – LA RAMS
James Daniels – C, Iowa
Rams center John Sullivan is due to become a free agent, and Daniels’ athleticism has caught the eye of scouts.
24 – CAROLINA
James Washington – WR, Oklahoma State
The Panthers need a threat to stretch defenses, and Washington consistently did that for Oklahoma State.
25 – TENNESSEE
Harold Landry – EDGE, Boston College
Landry’s natural bend and tenacity makes him a good fit for a 3-4 team in need of youth on the outside.
26 – ATLANTA
Harrison Phillips – DT, Stanford
Harrison’s combination of hustle, strength, and quickness will make him an excellent piece to add to the Falcons’ front line if Dontari Poe departs in free agency.
27 – NEW ORLEANS
Dallas Goedert – TE, South Dakota State
Goedert will hit paydirt regularly as a top red-zone target for Drew Brees, whom everyone expects to re-up with the Saints.
28 – PITTSBURGH
Sony Michel – RB, Georgia
Let’s say the Le’Veon Bell situation goes sideways — Michel has a similar skill set, so this would be a good addition for the Steelers.
29 – JACKSONVILLE
Isaiah Wynn – OG, Georgia
Wynn is brought in to ensure last year’s first-round pick, Leonard Fournette, is able to make yards on the ground.
30 – MINNESOTA
Mike Hughes – CB, UCF
If veteran Terence Newman departs in free agency, Hughes would be a nice replacement as a playmaker in the secondary and the return game.
31 – NEW ENGLAND
Josh Jackson – CB, Iowa
With Malcolm Butler expected to depart in free agency, New England needs more talent on the outside.
32 – PHILADELPHIA
Rashaan Evans – LB, Alabama
Evans could fill either the Sam or Mike spots for Philadelphia, who could lose Dannell Ellerbe and Nigel Bradham in free agency.
33. Browns: Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State
34. Giants: Martinas Rankin, OT Mississippi State
35. Browns: Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
36. Colts: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
37. Jets: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
38. Bucs: Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
39. Bears: Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
40. Broncos: Justin Reid, S, Stanford
41. Raiders: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
42. Dolphins: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
43. Patriots: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
44. Redskins: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
45. Packers: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
46. Bengals: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
47. Cardinals: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
48. Chargers: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
49. Jets: Billy Price, C, Ohio State
50. Cowboys: D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
51. Lions: Dorance Armstrong, EDGE, Kansas
52. Ravens: Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE, USC
53. Bills: Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State
54. Chiefs: Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
55. Panthers: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
56. Bills: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
57. Titans: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
58. Falcons: Hercules Mata’afa, EDGE, Washington State
59. 49ers: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
60. Steelers: Marcus Allen, S, Penn State
61. Jaguars: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
62. Vikings: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
63. Patriots: Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama
64. Browns: Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia
65. Browns: DeShon Elliott, S, Texas
66. Giants: Rashaan Gaulden, CB, Tennessee
67. Colts: Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
68. Texans: Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
69. Bucs: JoJo Wicker, DE, Arizona State
70. 49ers: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
71. Broncos: Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State
72. Jets: J.C. Jackson, CB, Maryland
73. Dolphins: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
74. 49ers: J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri
75. Raiders: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
76. Packers: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
77. Bengals: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
78. Chiefs: Quenton Meeks, CB, Stanford
79. Cardinals: Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
80. Texans: Andrew Brown, DE, Virginia
81. Cowboys: Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
82. Lions: Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
83. Ravens: Rasheem Green, DE, USC
84. Chargers: Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn
85. Panthers: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
86. Chiefs: Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
87. Rams: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech
88. Panthers: Braden Smith, OG, Auburn
89. Titans: Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
90. Falcons: Alex Cappa, OG, Humboldt State
91. Saints: Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
92. Steelers: Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State
93. Jaguars: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma
94. Vikings: Chad Thomas, DE, Miami
95. Patriots: Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
96. Bills: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
97. Cardinals: Sam Jones, OG, Arizona State
98. Texans: Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
99. Broncos: DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
100. Bengals: Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
101. Browns: Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
102. Giants: Michael Dickson, P, Texas
103. Texans: Anthony Averett, CB, Alabama
104. Colts: Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
105. Bears: Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers
106. Broncos: Ian Thomas, TE, Indiana
107. Jets: Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
108. Bucs: Kyzir White, S, West Virginia
109. Broncos: Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia
110. Raiders: Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest
111. Dolphins: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
112. Bengals: Mason Cole, C, Michigan
113. Redskins: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
114. Packers: Kameron Kelly, CB, San Diego State
115. Bears: Holton Hill, CB, Texas
116. Cowboys: Fred Warner, LB, BYU
117. Lions: Mike McCray, LB, Michigan
118. Ravens: Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
119. Chargers: Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
120. Seahawks: Colby Gossett, OG, Appalachian State
121. Bills: Tyquan Lewis, EDGE, Ohio State
122. Chiefs: Jeff Holland, EDGE, Auburn
123. Browns: M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina
124. Chiefs: Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
125. Titans: Jaylen Samuels, TE, N.C. State
126. Falcons: Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU
127. Saints: Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
128. 49ers: Dane Cruikshank, CB, Arizona
129. Jaguars: Nyheim Hines, RB, N.C. State
130. Eagles: Marcell Frazier, EDGE, Missouri
131. Dolphins: Siran Neal, CB, Jacksonville State
132. Eagles: Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
133. Packers: Wyatt Teller, OG, Virginia Tech
134. Cardinals: Byron Pringle, WR, Kansas State
135. Giants: Deadrin Senat, DT, USF
136. Patriots: John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
137. Cowboys: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama