The Daily Briefing Friday, March 31, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

It is not the most ringing endorsement by a coach we’ve heard, but perhaps it is realistic.  John Fox doesn’t think his Bears are winners just yet, but they are close.  Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

 

John Fox has been doing this long enough to know the Bears need a breakthrough to prevent major turnover at Halas Hall, something that has happened too often since the firing of Lovie Smith five years ago.

 

Fox has his own glass that’s half-full, as Smith used to say, and proclaimed the team is within “striking distance” after posting a 9-23 record in the last two seasons. Only the Browns, 49ers and Jaguars have been worse in the same period.

 

This wasn’t revelatory on Fox’s part. Recall after the Week 16 loss to the Redskins that the coach said he believed the Bears were “closer” than a lot of folks wanted to give them credit for, and the injuries that plagued them on both sides of the ball was a factor.

 

Whether the Bears, who have been last in the division three consecutive years, are capable of closing the gap or its coach-speak fueled by the desert sunshine is a matter of opinion. As Fox sat down Tuesday evening at the Arizona Biltmore at the NFL’s annual meetings, he remained upbeat about a season in which the team is going to have to show substantial growth.

 

He’s entering Year 3 of a four-year contract and typically that timeline leads to a crossroads in the NFL. The coach either gets an extension at the end of Year 3 or he’s let go because lame-duck seasons usually turn messy quickly. That’s what the Bears have to consider over the next nine months.

 

The most interesting thing the introspective Fox shared was that he figured the Bears would have done better to this point. He was hailed for his quick fixes in Denver and Carolina, and that hasn’t materialized here.

 

“You do always look back,” Fox said. “Obviously there are always things that in hindsight you would change. I think all of us sitting here would look back at things we’ve done and consider that. It’s kind of been what I thought it would be. Other than that, I would have thought that we would have done better to this point. But I kind of still feel really positive and encouraged for where we’re headed. I just saw it happening a little bit faster.”

 

 

MINNESOTA

You know how all surgery is deemed “successful” after the fact.  That may not be the case with DT SHAREEF FLOYD who has “complications” that threaten his career.

 

Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd’s career could be over as a result of a knee injury and subsequent surgical complications.

 

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that Floyd suffered nerve damage when he had surgery in September to repair a torn meniscus, and the injury is putting his career in jeopardy.

 

“Sharrif is rehabbing, has seen some of the best doctors in the country, will continue to rehab and hopefully, this will heal sooner than later,” said Floyd’s agent, Brian Mackler.

 

Floyd’s $6.757 million base salary this season is guaranteed for injury as the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. But at 25 years old he likely had many years left to play and tens of millions of dollars left to earn beyond 2017. This injury puts that future in question.

 

Floyd suffered the injury in September but the Vikings initially said they didn’t think it would be serious. It wasn’t until December that they placed him on injured reserve.

 

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

According to deposed GM Scot McCloughan, as recounted by Michael Robinson of ESPN.com, he is not a drunk.  His firing was a case of team president Bruce Allen being jealous of McCloughan’s popularity with the players.  Dan Steinberg in the Washington Post:

 

The two main actors in the Redskins’ latest front-office drama — team President Bruce Allen and former general manager Scot McCloughan — both remained silent, at least publicly, for more than two weeks after McCloughan’s abrupt firing. Allen broke his silence at the NFL owners meetings on Sunday, telling a variety of outlets that he wished things had ended differently, but that the GM was fired to bring “clarity” to the team’s front office. McCloughan has yet to be quoted.

 

But the former GM talked with NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson this week, and Robinson described parts of their conversation during a Thursday morning appearance on Richmond’s Fox Sports 910. Robinson has previously called McCloughan “a really good friend,” who played an integral role in San Francisco’s decision to draft him in 2006. He’s also previously said that McCloughan was responsible for keeping him in the league and helping to bring him to Seattle, where he won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks. Years later, Robinson broke the news that McCloughan would be hired as the Redskins general manager.

 

 “Boy, did he have a lot to say,” Robinson began. McCloughan, he said, was “very, very, very disappointed at Mr. Allen. He really, really felt that it was a pride thing. He knew the players loved him, and he started feeling the hate from Bruce Allen right around — well, he’s been feeling it. But when they didn’t let him speak at the [Senior Bowl], he said to him that was his last straw, and he knew that he was on his way out.”

 

Robinson told host Wes McElroy that after the combine — which he did not attend — McCloughan was called up to Allen’s office. And the team president “was just like, ‘Nobody likes you in this building. Nobody wants you here.’ And Scot was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m out of here.’ ”

 

The Post has previously reported that Allen had cursed at McCloughan after he attempted to counsel a frustrated defensive back in the team’s locker room last season. Robinson indicated that McCloughan told him the same story.

 

“He was wondering why the hell did Mr. Allen get so pissed about that?” Robinson said. “I mean, [he was] just talking to a player. It’s all about relationships.”

 

And Robinson said McCloughan told him he had wanted to sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal, another reported source of conflict.

 

“Because he knew, the longer you wait, this guy [Cousins] is gonna break the bank,” Robinson said. “And also the longer you wait, he may not want to come back, because you’ve been negotiating for so long.”

 

Via an anonymous official, the Redskins indicated that McCloughan’s ouster was due to problems with alcohol. Robinson said that McCloughan told him he doesn’t currently have an issue with drinking, and that he hasn’t touched a drink “in a while.”

 

“But of course they wouldn’t let me say it, because they silenced me,” McCloughan said, according to Robinson.

 

Robinson said McCloughan didn’t sound like a guy who was “done with the National Football League,” and that he sounded “like a guy who felt like he had something to prove.”

 

“The guy really has an eye for talent that not many people are born with,” Robinson concluded.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

CB RICHARD SHERMAN is taking trade talk seriously now, and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks you should too:

 

Richard Sherman quickly has gone from being amused to bemused.

 

A week after laughing off talk of a possible trade from Seattle, the seventh-year cornerback has taken a more serious tack regarding the possibility that his days in Seattle are coming to an end. On Thursday, he provided this statement to Gee Scott of 710 ESPN: “I wouldn’t want to leave this city and my guys, but I understand it’s a business and organizational philosophies change.”

 

Said Sherman last week about then-nascent trade chatter: “I just laugh it off, man. It’s funny to me. But sometimes people need to see you gone to realize what you had. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But I don’t let things like that bother me. The chips will fall how they’re supposed to.”

 

So what changed in the interim? Among other things, G.M. John Schneider didn’t scoff at the notion of a Sherman trade, saying instead that “[w]e listen to everything.”

 

Sherman apparently has gotten the message.

 

He has $4.4 million of bonus money that would hit the cap, either in a pair of $2.2 million chunks or all at once. Also, $5 million of his base salary for 2017 became fully-guaranteed a year ago. A trade of the contract, which has a total base salary of $11.431 million for 2017, would absolve the Seahawks of that obligation.

 

No trade partners have emerged for Sherman, but with the draft four weeks away, all it takes is a phone call. The Seahawks are ready to listen.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns are putting out the word that they are very high on S MALIK HOOKER.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Hue Jackson singled out Ohio State safety Malik Hooker at the Buckeyes’ Pro Day last week to shake his hand and chat with him, and now he’ll get a chance to get to know him better Friday in Berea.

 

Hooker will visit the Browns facility on Friday for a pre-draft visit, sources confirmed for cleveland.com.

 

Hooker first revealed the visit on WKNR-850 AM, where he said he was driving today to Cleveland and spending tomorrow with the Browns.

 

He also said “I definitely do get that feeling” that the Browns like him.

 

He’s right, according to sources close to Hooker. The Browns, who are in need of a premier safety, are very high on the Ohio State product and are considering him in the first round of the draft. They’ve spent a lot of time on him and have expressed as much interest as any team in the league, the sources said.

 

The problem is, they’re pretty well set on taking Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, and Hooker will likely be gone by the time the Browns pick again at No. 12. Some mock drafts have him going in the top three, including a recent one by Sports Illustrated that penciled him in for the Bears at No. 3.

 

Therefore, if the Browns really want him, they’d likely have to trade up to get him.

 

With them also eyeing top quarterback prospects in the draft such Mentor, Ohio’s Mitch Trubisky, they might be more inclined to move up for a quarterback.

 

They’ll actually host both Trubisky and Hooker Friday, so depending on the timing, they might get to compare them side to side. Trubisky will participate in the Browns’ local day at the facility, meaning he can work out, throw and run. Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley of Massillon High will also be one of the locals participating.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP IN EXILE

 

Stat geeks Kyle Wagner and Neil Paine of The538.com are puzzled why COLIN KAEPERNICK doesn’t have a deal if it’s just about football.

 

Three weeks into the NFL’s free-agency period, Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job. Ordinarily, an NFL veteran who is having difficulty finding a team isn’t exactly newsworthy. But NFL talent is scarce at quarterback, and Kaepernick’s situation is far from ordinary.

 

After Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem last season as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, the question has become whether it’s the reason that teams are avoiding him. Some arguments regarding Kaepernick’s worth to a team are easily put aside (the obsession over “distractions” in sports is always tired but loses all meaning when we have proof that the supposed distraction had the opposite effect), though that wouldn’t necessarily stop a team from considering them. But others are more credible, or at least invite more investigation. Could it be that Kaepernick just isn’t good enough, or that he plays a style that makes him difficult to accommodate?

 

The evidence suggests that those factors alone don’t explain Kaepernick’s unemployment. Kaepernick’s current employment status looks less like a natural result of the supposed NFL meritocracy and more like something unusual is going on (even by the standards of an unusually complex situation). His play is good enough to have attracted interest from teams by now. That it hasn’t suggests that he’s being punished on at least some level for his political outspokenness.

 

Other QBs as good as Kaepernick usually get signed

 

There are a couple of ways we can judge whether it’s unusual that Kaepernick is still waiting for NFL teams to call. One is to see how long into free agency it usually takes for a quarterback of Kaepernick’s quality to find a new team. Director Spike Lee implied in an Instagram post a week ago that similar QBs are usually signed by now. He’s right.

 

To investigate Lee’s claim, we started with a list of all free-agent QBs who changed teams since 2012 (the first free-agency period under the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement), courtesy of our friends at ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. Then for each quarterback, we plotted his Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) from the season before his free agency — to get a sense of how well he played — against the number of days that elapsed between the start of his free agency and his signing:

 

Last season, Kaepernick posted a QBR of 55.2 — which is not great (he ranked 23rd out of 30 qualified passers) but also not terrible. (The NFL-wide average QBR was 61.3.) You can see on the chart that Lee’s theory is credible: It’s hard to find a recent free-agent QB who played at Kaepernick’s level and lasted so long on the market the next offseason. Matt Leinart (2012) and Kyle Orton (2014) signed nearly 50 days into their free agency, but neither had played much the year before. Michael Vick wasn’t signed for 169 days in 2015, but he was also older and coming off a season (39.4 QBR) far worse than Kaepernick’s 2016.

 

There are an unusual number of unsigned QBs at this stage of the offseason, though, and some with comparable résumés to Kaepernick’s. That’s in part because Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may move teams this offseason and begin a QB carousel in the league.

 

PREVIOUS SEASON

PLAYER                        AGE    PLAYS QBR

Chase Daniel                    30      1          99.6

Shaun Hill                       37       38         63.6

Blaine Gabbert                 27       218       60.3

Colin Kaepernick            29         454       55.2

Ryan Fitzpatrick              34        481       45.4

Robert Griffin III              27        211       45.0

Case Keenum                 29        388       43.4

Charlie Whitehurst         35         30         37.9

Jay Cutler                      34        170       33.2

Matt McGloin                  27        17         14.5

David Fales                    26        7         1.8

 

Quarterbacks who remain unsigned as of March 29, 2017

Minimum one action play in the previous season. Ages are as of Dec. 31, 2016.

 

SOURCE: ESPN STATS & INFORMATION GROUP

 

In other words, Kaepernick’s absence from the NFL may be a quirk of circumstance in a league where there are only so many landing spots during the offseason. You don’t hear talk radio obsessing over where Blaine Gabbert will end up, for example.

 

Our free-agency data set has a blind spot, though — it only shows QBs who were ultimately signed. Another way to try to evaluate why Kaepernick hasn’t been is to spin a hypothetical: Imagine Kaepernick doesn’t throw a single pass next season — is he like other QBs who fall off the map?

 

Not really. Since 1966, only one under-30 quarterback has had as good a year as Kaepernick’s 20161 yet gone unsigned the next year.2 Other young quarterbacks who follow relatively good seasons with no passes the next tend to be out of the game for different reasons:

 

SEASON BEFORE ABSENCE  

PLAYER                 YEAR       AGE        YARDS ABOVE REPLACEMENT     REASON FOR ABSENCE

Vince Ferragamo    1980        26            987                                                       Rival league

Neil Lomax              1988        29            829                                                       Injury

Greg Cook              1969        23            614                                                       Injury

Trent Green            1998        28            458                                                       Injury

Bobby Hebert          1989        29            444                                                       Holdout

Steve Walsh           1991        25            436                                                       Benched

Doug Williams         1982        27            409                                                      Rival league

Ed Luther                  1984       27            396                                                      Rival league

Ed Rubbert              1987        23            361                                                      Unsigned

Randy Johnson      1973        29            345                                                      Rival league

Gary Danielson       1978        27            341                                                      Injury

Sam Bradford          2013        26            254                                                      Injury

Steve Beuerlein       1989        24            226                                                      Benched

T.J. Rubley             1993        25            225                                                      Benched

Craig Nall                  2004       25            224                                                      Benched

Steve Walsh           1994        28            220                                                      Benched

Colin Kaepernick     2016        29            202                                                       ?

Ed Hargett               1971        24            199                                                      Benched

Charlie Batch          2001        27            197                                                   Benched

Timm Rosenbach   1990        24            197                                                  Injury

 

Why Kaepernick-caliber QBs missed a season

Top 20 seasons, by yards above replacement, among quarterbacks younger than 30 who threw zero passes the following season, 1966 to 2016. Ages are as of Dec. 31 of the listed year.

 

SOURCES: PRO-FOOTBALL-REFERENCE.COM, MEDIA REPORTS

 

Many of the absences were injury-related (remember Trent Green?), some QBs simply lost their starting roles and stayed on the bench, and others were lured away to join rival leagues.

 

Kaepernick, though, isn’t injured, has not yet secured even a spot on the bench, and an excursion into a rival league is a far steeper fall off for a player today than it was in the past.

 

Kaepernick can fit into different offenses

 

That doesn’t mean Kaepernick’s case is open and shut, though. There are other factors that may be at play, such as his reported desire to compete for a starting job (and earn a low-starter to high-backup salary). That would encourage him to wait and see what happens with Romo and the ripple effects that Romo’s move could have on the rest of the league.

 

But there is also a belief that the delay in finding Kaepernick a team is because of his particular skillset: that any team that signs him would have to run an offense built for a quarterback who isn’t a pocket passer. But Kaepernick’s reputation for being a bad QB in the pocket is somewhat overblown. There are in-depth film reviews for Kaepernick that show his ability to make reads and handle pressure, such as Doug Farrar’s at Bleacher Report. The stats confirm as much.

 

Last season, Kaepernick completed 61 percent of his passes from the pocket, for 14 touchdowns and two interceptions, according to data from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. Elite quarterbacks tend to complete something in the mid-to-high 60s, so it’s not like Kaepernick is being shunned despite being elite. The league median completion percentage since 2010 is 63 percent. Still, considering that San Francisco receivers dropped 6.3 percent of all targets thrown their way in 2016 — the highest rate in the league — Kaepernick’s accuracy is likely a bit better than the percentages show.

 

It was Kaepernick’s out-of-pocket stats that weighed down his numbers: He completed just 49 percent of his passes from outside the pocket in 2016, with a raw QBR (total QBR before adjusting for strength of opponent) of just 16.5 on those plays. So it’s probably a good thing that the share of Kaepernick’s plays that came outside the pocket were at a career-low last season, dropping from a high of 23 percent of his plays in 2012 to 17 percent in 2016. That 17 percent is still fairly high relative to the league (the median since 2010 is 11 percent), but his game is trending toward staying in the pocket.

 

Despite Kaepernick’s flaws, QBs at his level are still worth something in the NFL, in part because its quarterback marketplace is driven by scarcity. The Denver Broncos were prepared to give up a fourth-round pick for Kaepernick last year because there aren’t that many people in the world who can do what Kaepernick can do, even if what Kaepernick does is far from perfect.

 

For instance, Kaepernick’s raw QBR for in-pocket plays has not been very good the past few seasons. Among 232 qualified passer-seasons since 2010, Kaepernick’s 2016 ranks 208th. But then look at Sam Bradford, whose 2015 season ranks four spots ahead of Kaepernick, at 204th. When Minnesota starter Teddy Bridgewater went down just before the 2016 season, the Vikings traded a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-rounder for Bradford’s services as an emergency starter. Kaepernick is only a year older than Bradford was last season, but his value has dipped from a fourth-round pick in Denver to seemingly nothing at all.

 

It is impossible to prove the precise mix of factors that have gone into Kaepernick’s free agency to this point. The market remains paralyzed by Romo, and teams are run by fallible owners and executives who may simply disagree on Kaepernick’s football value. But given what we know about how the quarterback market has worked historically, and about Kaepernick’s value as a player, the commentariat is right to be suspicious. If Kaepernick begins the season without a team, history says it’s unlikely to be for football reasons. We aren’t there yet, but every day further into free agency makes that scenario harder to ignore.

 

It doesn’t fit The Narrative, but Michael Lombardi in The Ringer explains a pretty significant football-related reason (actually two of them) why a reasonable GM might balk at signing Kaepernick:

 

His first 32 games [in the NFL], he was a legitimate quarterback. He averaged almost 8 yards per attempt. He threw 31 touchdowns; he threw 11 interceptions. But mostly telling during that time, he was also challenging the defense with his feet. He would run the football. He had 157 carries for 937 yards. He had a long [run] of 50.

 

Then he becomes Colin Kaepernick, the star. Goes to the Super Bowl, everything is expected of him. And the last two years … his numbers have dwindled [and] that’s why he’s not being signed.

 

He’s Not a Great Passer

 

Lombardi: He can’t live on his arm. His accuracy is horrendous, OK? Horrendous. When he has to thrown the ball further than 10 yards down the field, his numbers shrink below 50 percent. He’s bad between 10 and 20 yards. The guy is not a very good quarterback. He has to run a certain system, which he did his first few years, [and] threaten with his feet. Now, when he has to play quarterback because he’s not running anymore, he’s looking for a job. … I think really when you look at this player and you study him, the system of offense that he wants to run has to involve his feet. He doesn’t make enough throws with his arm.

 

He Struggles Against Complex Defenses

 

Lombardi: When you evaluate quarterbacks, you’ve got to evaluate them on certain games where the game is going very fast. Third down is the play. When you look at Kapernick on the third down and the defenses are mixed, it becomes problematic for him. On first down, it’s a pretty easy defense, everybody is pretty standard. That’s why first down is the best down to throw the football, because the defenses are easy to read. On third down, it becomes a more complex game. He can’t execute that.

Look at the tape, look at the numbers, there’s no reason over the last 37 games you can justify. He averages under 7 yards per attempt. … What am I getting if I sign him?

Now, here’s the reality, why isn’t he a backup quarterback? Well, he probably doesn’t want to take a backup salary. And as a backup, he’s got to fit the offense for the starter. That’s a problem.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

DE MYLES GARRETT continued to build his credentials for being the first overall pick at Texas A&M Pro Day.  Chase Goodbread at NFL.com:

 

Myles Garrett was nothing if not bold Thursday in retesting in the 40-yard dash at Texas A&M’s pro day despite running a strong time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

 

Garrett ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at the Aggies’ workout on Thursday, per NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, which is a significant improvement over the already impressive 4.64 the 6-foot-4, 272-pound DE recorded at the combine.

 

“I feel like I had done pretty well in my position drills and some other drills that I did today,” Garrett told NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock. “I feel like I needed to prove myself in the 40. I felt like I could go faster if I had stretched out a little more, enhance what I did in Florida.”

 

Garrett also recorded a 10-foot-6 broad jump after recording a 10-foot-8 at the combine. He is regarded as the favorite to be selected by the Cleveland Browns at No. 1 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. All five NFL.com mock drafts foresee that, and his combine and pro-day performances have done nothing to shake that thinking. He recorded 30.5 sacks in three seasons with the Aggies, establishing himself as one of college football’s elite pass rushers right from his freshman season.

 

“I gotta win. Winning is just not enough. I have to do my best,” Garrett said of the decision not to rest on all his combine results. “So, I have to build a new personal record not just set a record for everybody else. It’s mine that counts. I can’t hold myself to any other standard.”

 

Garrett’s time in College Station has elsewhere been reported at 4.62 and 4.61.

– – –

Rob Rang of CBSSports.com on what, if any, importance Pro Days might have:

 

Though not as important as the combine and running a very distant third in importance to game tape, pro day workouts are an important evaluative tool and can impact the rankings of closely rated prospects.

 

By answering questions about his straight-line speed during his recent pro day at Clemson, for example, wide receiver Mike Williams jumped a couple of spots in this week’s Big Board. Unfortunately for Florida cornerback Teez Tabor, his lack of speed has his stock slipping right out of the first round.

 

And here is Rang’s latest Mock Draft:

 

1. CLEVELAND BROWNS

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M:

The clear top need in Cleveland is at quarterback but frankly it would be a stunner if anyone other than Garrett was the first pick, as he is simply the best player in the draft. Garrett lived up to his hype at the Combine, dazzling with his combination of size (6-4, 272), power (33 repetitions of 225 pounds) and speed (4.64) and explosiveness (41-inch vertical).

 

2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford:

Head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired to help spark a listless offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in passing last season but ignoring better players just to draft a quarterback may only guarantee another poor season in 2017. Thomas is a natural disruptor who has drawn comparisons to LA Rams star Aaron Donald. He could be the perfect finishing touch for a defense line currently better prepared to stuff the run than bother rival quarterbacks.

 

3. CHICAGO BEARS

Jamal Adams, SS, LSU:

Safety has long been a sore spot in Chicago with only one Bears safety (Mike Brown) earning an invitation to the Pro Bowl over the past 20 years. Adams has that kind of potential and is viewed by some as the safest prospect in the draft. He is a tone-setter with a rare combination of instincts, athleticism and intangibles to make an immediate impact on a defense that made strides a year ago but allowed 24.9 points per game, 24th in the NFL.

 

4. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

(3-13)    Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU:

Splashy signings in free agency suggest that the Jaguars are looking for an immediate difference-maker with this pick. The Cowboys went from last to first in the NFC during the regular season a year ago in large part because of the stellar play of 2016 No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott and the Jaguars could see a similar bounce with Fournette taking the pressure off of young Blake Bortles and the passing game. Fournette was not as impressive at the Combine as expected but he is a freakish talent, boasting the most exciting combination of size, speed and power since Adrian Peterson.

 

5. TENNESSEE TITANS (FROM LOS ANGELES)

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State:

The addition of veterans Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien help but only the most optimistic of Titans fans believe that they can turn a secondary that ranked 31st a year ago against the pass into an elite unit. Now if a talent like Lattimore was added to the mix, on the other hand, optimism would be much higher. Lattimore struggled with hamstring injuries early in his career at Ohio State but he was dominant last season, showing the easy agility, acceleration and instincts to project as a future Pro Bowler.

 

6. NY JETS

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama:

If the Jets indeed plan on entering next year with Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, adding weapons in the passing game is a must. After spectacular performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine, Howard is gaining traction as the top pass-catcher in this draft and a top 10 pick.

 

7. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

(5-11)    Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State:

The Chargers won big with Joey Bosa a year ago and could see another Buckeye as an ideal replacement for Eric Weddle, whom the club clearly missed in 2016. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound Hooker possesses the range and ballskills to complement the Chargers’ small but physical cornerbacks.

 

8. CAROLINA PANTHERS

Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama:

Defensive line is not necessarily the biggest concern in Carolina but general manager Dave Gettleman may have a hard time letting a talent like Allen slip any further. Questions about the health of his shoulders and schematic fit could hound the 6-3, 286-pound Allen, but the tape does not lie; he is agile, powerful and technically refined, possessing the ability to play virtually anywhere along the defensive line.

 

9. CINCINNATI BENGALS

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan:

 

10. BUFFALO BILLS

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson:

With significant losses to both position groups in recent weeks, this selection is likely to be spent on either a wide receiver or a cornerback. Given the commitment made to resigned quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the depth at cornerback this year, GM Doug Whaley may like the idea of pairing the 6-4, 218 pound Williams with his former Clemson teammate Watkins to give Taylor a pair of playmakers on the outside.

 

11. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama:

The Saints ranked dead last in pass defense in 2016 and may opt to trade this or another pick for New England Patriots’ star cornerback Malcolm Butler in an attempt to fix the issue. Until that occurs, adding talent in the secondary is likely New Orleans’ top priority. Humphrey is an NFL legacy with a rare combination of size (6-0, 197 pounds) and speed (4.41), who at just 20-years old appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.

 

12. CLEVELAND BROWNS (FROM PHILADELPHIA)

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina:

The splashy trade for Brock Osweiler is not likely to keep Cleveland from drafting another quarterback. Trubisky is obviously a roll of the dice given that he only started one year for the Tar Heels but he showed impressive accuracy, athleticism and pocket awareness in 2016. The Ohio native possesses the combination of upside and intangibles that Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson prioritized with their draft picks a year ago.

 

13. ARIZONA CARDINALS

(7-8-1)   Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech:

The Cardinals have publicly stated their intention to find a young quarterback to groom under Carson Palmer and teams are excited about Mahomes’ upside. After starring in Tech’s shotgun-heavy Air-Raid offense, Mahomes is undeniably a project but he possesses the gunslinger mentality and arm talent to excite Bruce Arians.

 

14. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (FROM MINNESOTA)

Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan:

Given the dynamic pass-catchers the Eagles face annually in the NFC East, addressing a leaky secondary should be among Philadelphia’s top priorities. Peppers is a polarizing prospect in the scouting community based in large part because he recorded just one interception over his career at Michigan. However, he is an instinctive, versatile player with the open-field tackling skills and competitive nature to quickly become a fan favorite.

 

15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State:

The best way to spark Andrew Luck and the Colts’ sagging offense? A dynamic running back. Ignore the questions about Cook’s so-called lack of athleticism after a disappointing Combine performance. On the field where it matters, Cook is a proven superstar with the soft hands and elusiveness to put Indianapolis right back in the playoff picture.

 

16. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee:

Barnett lacks the length and pure explosiveness scouts would prefer, which could lead to his slipping a bit on draft day. Barnett’s instincts, use of hands and production (33 sacks over the past three years), however, could have him ultimately outplay his draft slot.

 

17. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama:

The Redskins surrendered an average of nearly 120 yards per game on the ground in 2016 and only three teams (the Chargers, Bills and 49ers) allowed more than their 19 rushing touchdowns. Foster was kicked out of the Combine after a run-in with medical personnel but his talent is undeniable. Possessing remarkable closing speed and the physicality to intimidate, he could prove a steal at this point in the draft.

 

18. TENNESSEE TITANS

John Ross, WR, Washington:

With Marcus Mariota’s speed and the two-headed monster of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield, Tennessee clearly has a run-first strategy on offense. That said, Ross’ incredible straight-line speed would force opposing defensive coordinators to think twice before crowding the box. Further, Ross would add juice to a special teams unit that ranked 20th a season ago in punt return average (7.9) and 26th on kickoffs (19.1).’

 

19. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.):

 Cameron Brate has developed into a very solid young security blanket for Jameis Winston but he does not possess Njoku’s big play potential. The 20-year old Njoku is still very much a work in progress but scouts are enamored with the 6-4, 246-pounder’s ability to create mismatches in the passing game.

 

20. DENVER BRONCOS

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah:

On paper, the signings of former Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson and Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary make up for the decision to let starting left tackle Russell Okung walk in free agency but reality could prove different. Bolles is a work in progress after only starting one year at Utah and comes with some character red flags. He has the highest upside of any lineman in this class, however, boasting the light feet and competitive nature to project as a future standout left tackle.

 

21. DETROIT LIONS

Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple:

The Lions addressed concerns along the offensive and defensive lines through free agency but lost speed at linebacker with the decision to release DeAndre Levy. Reddick recorded 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as an edge rusher for the Owls in 2016 before wowing first at the Senior Bowl as a more traditional linebacker at the Senior Bowl and then at the Combine, recording a ridiculous 4.52 second time in the 40-yard dash and 11-foot-1-inch broad jump at 6-1, 234 pounds.

 

22. MIAMI DOLPHINS

Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky: Trading away starting left tackle Branden Albert (to Jacksonville) says a lot about the Dolphins’ confidence in last year’s first round pick Laremy Tunsil. While Tunsil should have no problem re-acclimating to tackle after starring at left guard last season, his absence inside could be an issue. Lamp looks like a plug and play solution after a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl.

 

23. NY GIANTS

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin:

The Giants struggled to protect Eli Manning and rushed for a miniscule 3.5 yards per carry in 2016, scoring a league-low six touchdowns on the ground. Ramczyk has the feet to handle blindside duties and at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, possesses the girth to move people in the running game, as well. He is a clear athletic upgrade than current Giants’ left tackle Ereck Flowers, who projects better on the right side.

 

24. OAKLAND RAIDERS

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State:

The Raiders’ rise to the playoffs is directly attributable to its explosive offense but if the club is to take the next step — and remain a consistent postseason threat — help must be on the way for a defense that surrendered an average of 375 yards per game, 26th in the NFL. In his postseason wrap-up, Jack Del Rio stressed the need to create more of disruption on the interior, which is exactly what the 6-5, 285 pound McDowell does best.

 

25. HOUSTON TEXANS

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson:

Getting rid of the colossal Osweiler contract was a relief in itself but unless a veteran replacement (Tony Romo?) is found, quarterback is now the top priority again in Houston. Watson’s ability to deliver in the clutch intrigues scouts but he also threw an FBS-worst 30 interceptions over the past two seasons, making him a polarizing player in the scouting community. At this point in the draft, however, GM Rick Smith might see him as simply too talented to pass up.

 

26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama:

It is no secret that the Seahawks’ top priority over the offseason would be addressing a leaky offensive line. Robinson, the reigning Outland Award winner as the nation’s top blocker, possesses the size and strength Seattle prioritizes with a skill-set which projects well to guard or tackle, wherever offensive line coach Tom Cable needs him most.

 

27. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Korey Cunningham, OT, Cincinnati:

The Chiefs have some massive shoes to fill up the middle with nose guard Dontari Poe walking in free agency and the 34-year old Derrick Johnson recuperating from his second season-ending Achilles tear over the past three years. The 6-3, 234-pound Cunningham — a two-time First Team All-SEC defender who led the conference in tackles last season — has the length, awareness and speed to help immediately.

 

28. DALLAS COWBOYS

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado:

By allowing multiple members of their secondary to walk in free agency, it seems like that the Cowboys will address that position early and potentially often in the draft. For whatever reason Awuzie has not generated as much national attention as some of his peers at cornerback but some scouts feel he is the safest of this year’s class, standing out on tape due to his quickness, anticipation and toughness, including in run support.

 

29. GREEN BAY PACKERS

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford:

Running back is far from Green Bay’s biggest concern but after allowing Eddie Lacy to leave via free agency, the Packers will almost surely be looking for help there via the draft. Adding a speed threat like McCaffrey would help the running game, as well as give Aaron Rodgers another set of hands in the passing game and boost a return game also looking to replace Micah Hyde.

 

30. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Obi Melifonwu, SS, Connecticut:

Two years ago, it was former Husky Byron Jones who wowed scouts at the Combine with his sheer athleticism, earning a first round pick by Dallas. Melifonwu was one of this year’s brightest stars in Indianapolis, producing a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, 44-inch vertical and 11-feet-3-inch broad jump at 6-4, 224 pounds. Better yet, Melifonwu’s athleticism translates onto the field and the Steelers could use his range in the deep patrol.

 

31. ATLANTA FALCONS

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri:

The need for more juice in the pass rush was evident throughout the second half collapse in the Super Bowl. The 6-3, 253-pound Harris would be an ideal changeup to the similarly sized Vic Beasley. Harris may lack Beasley’s initial burst but he possesses a full complement of pass rush moves and plays with the intensity head coach Dan Quinn will appreciate.

 

32. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (FROM NEW ENGLAND)

Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA:

The Saints ranked 27th in the NFL a year ago with just 30 sacks, a real concern given the quarterback talent in the NFC South. Help is on the way with former Arizona Cardinals’ edge rusher Alex Okafor but he signed only a one year deal. McKinley’s stock is a bit in flux after recently undergoing shoulder surgery but he possesses the explosive first step, arm length (34 3/4 inches) and high-revving motor to ultimately prove one of the best edge rushers from this year’s class.