The Daily Briefing Thursday, April 12, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Tim McManus of ESPN.com with the highlights of the 2018 preseason schedule released by the NFL on Wednesday:

 

The NFL released its preseason schedule Wednesday night and among the highlights is a Week 2 matchup between the two participants in Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.

 

It can hardly be called a rematch, but the fact that the Eagles will play in New England just months after defeating Tom Brady and the Pats for their first Lombardi Trophy adds juice to the preseason slate.

 

There’s a good chance Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will get the start as Carson Wentz continues to work back from a knee injury. Eagles coach Doug Pederson is already on record as saying he doesn’t need to see Wentz in the preseason. “I need him ready for Week 1,” he said recently.

 

Both the Eagles and Patriots like to hold joint practices with teams they’re facing in the preseason. It would make for some pretty good theater if the teams decide to practice together before their preseason matchup.

 

ESPN will broadcast two Week 2 matchups: the New York Jets’ visit to the Washington Redskins for a Thursday night game on Aug. 16, and the Baltimore Ravens’ Monday night visit to the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 20.

 

The Ravens and Chicago Bears will kick off the preseason on Aug. 2 in the previously announced Hall of Fame Game matchup as they honor 2018 inductees Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, who will enter the Hall on Aug. 4.

 

Elsewhere on the schedule, newly signed Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III gets a chance to face his former team in a Week 4 matchup versus Washington. Griffin signed a one-year deal with Baltimore this month after sitting out the 2017 season. Perhaps he’ll need a strong showing against his old squad to solidify a roster spot.

 

New Broncos quarterback Case Keenum will likely make his debut against his old team, as Denver hosts the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. The Broncos defense, meanwhile, figures to get an extended look at their former starting quarterback, Trevor Siemian, who was traded to the Vikings last month.

 

Keeping with the theme of players suiting up against their old teams, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and the Raiders host the Green Bay Packers in Week 3.

 

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota — the top two picks in the 2015 draft — will square off for the first time since Week 1 of their rookie season.

 

Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes, the first two quarterbacks drafted last year, will be in the spotlight when the Bears host the Kansas City Chiefs. Matt Nagy, Chicago’s new head coach, is Kansas City’s former offensive coordinator.

 

The preseason will end Aug. 30-31, and the regular season will begin Sept. 6 in Philadelphia.

 

Regular-season schedules will be announced at a later date.

 

Here is the whole thing, week-by-week with national TV games in boldface:

 

NFL/HALL OF FAME GAME – AUGUST 2

 

Chicago vs. Baltimore (NBC)

 

WEEK 1 – AUGUST 9-13

 

LA Chargers at Arizona

LA Rams at Baltimore

Carolina at Buffalo

Chicago at Cincinnati

Minnesota at Denver

Tennessee at Green Bay

New Orleans at Jacksonville

Houston at Kansas City

Tampa Bay at Miami

Washington at New England

Cleveland at NY Giants

Atlanta at NY Jets

Detroit at Oakland

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia

Dallas at San Francisco

Indianapolis at Seattle

 

WEEK 2 – AUGUST 16-20

 

NY Jets at Washington (ESPN, 8/16)

Baltimore at Indianapolis (ESPN, 8/20)

Kansas City at Atlanta

Miami at Carolina

Buffalo at Cleveland

Cincinnati at Dallas

Chicago at Denver

NY Giants at Detroit

Pittsburgh at Green Bay

San Francisco at Houston

Seattle at LA Chargers

Oakland at LA Rams

Jacksonville at Minnesota

Philadelphia at New England

Arizona at New Orleans

Tampa Bay at Tennessee

 

WEEK 3 – AUGUST 23-26

 

Philadelphia at Cleveland (FOX, 8/23)

Detroit at Tampa Bay (CBS, 8/24)

New Orleans at LA Chargers (CBS, 8/25)

Cincinnati at Buffalo (FOX, 8/26)

Arizona at Dallas (NBC, 8/26)

New England at Carolina

Kansas City at Chicago

San Francisco at Indianapolis

Atlanta at Jacksonville

Houston at LA Rams

Baltimore at Miami

Seattle at Minnesota

NY Giants at NY Jets

Green Bay at Oakland

Tennessee at Pittsburgh

Denver at Washington

 

 WEEK 4 – AUGUST 30-31

 

Denver at Arizona

Miami at Atlanta

Washington at Baltimore

Buffalo at Chicago

Indianapolis at Cincinnati

Cleveland at Detroit

Dallas at Houston

Green Bay at Kansas City

LA Rams at New Orleans

New England at NY Giants

NY Jets at Philadelphia

Carolina at Pittsburgh

LA Chargers at San Francisco

Oakland at Seattle

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay

Minnesota at Tennessee

 

 

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

See NEW ORLEANS for more on the decision of the Bears not to match a contract offer to WR CAMERON MEREDITH.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The big meeting between owner/GM/chief medical spokesman Jerry Jones and WR DEZ BRYANT is supposed to occur on Friday.  Josh Clark of 105.3 The Fan:

 

According to a source close to the G-Bag Nation on 105.3 The Fan, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will meet with Dez Bryant on Friday to discuss the receiver’s contract.

 

The timing couldn’t be any more important as the team will hold their first official workout on Monday.

 

105.3 The Fan’s Mike Fisher reported on Tuesday that the Cowboys could be prepared to say goodbye to Bryant in that meeting.

 

“The ‘Dump Dez’ concept was born about two months ago, when Cowboys COO Stephen Jones openly noted that Bryant’s contract needed to “be addressed.” Stephen at different times used the word “distraction” in conjunction with the player. At the time, I assumed Stephen was attempting to negotiate Bryant’s contract via the media, sure, but more, was attempting to “negotiate behavior,” Fish said in his piece.

 

Bryant, who has a $12.5 million base salary and a $16.5 million cap number for 2018, has been caught up in numerous rumors throughout the offseason. With the Cowboys signing receivers Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency, Dallas suddenly has a plethora of receivers on the roster. 

 

Stephen Jones told 105.3 The Fan last week that the team had not yet met with Bryant but that his father, Jerry, would let everyone know when it happens.

 

“No, we haven’t. And when we (do), we’ll let you know, and the guy who will do that will be Jerry,” Stephen Jones told the Ben and Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan. “You’re talking to the wrong guy,” Jones added while chuckling.

 

In that same conversation, the younger Jones said if the Cowboys were to select a wideout with the 19th overall pick, it wouldn’t affect Bryant’s future with the team.

 

“No. That’s a separate category. In terms of Dez, we need good football players, and like we said, we wanted to really heat up the competition at that spot.”

 

According to Fish, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and SMU’s Courtland Sutton are among some of the receivers that were supposed to come to The Star in Frisco for official visits.

 

Dallas also notably attempted to sign free agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins, however, he ended up in Kansas City instead. Had the Cowboys secured his commitment? Fish says the Jones family was prepared to kiss Bryant goodbye.

 

But, now? The goodbye kiss could still come. It’ll just be a month later than they originally hoped.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

If WR ODELL BECKHAM, JR. was ever truly on the market, ESPN’s Adam Schefter says NFL teams now believe he is off of it. 

 

Teams around the NFL no longer believe the New York Giants are going to be trading wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. before or during the upcoming draft, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

This represents a change in the thinking of teams that thought there was a real chance the Giants would trade him.

 

The Giants created a firestorm at the NFL meetings when the team’s brass said it would listen to offers for Beckham. Several teams inquired about his services and Schefter reported that the Giants were asking for at least two first-round picks in return for Beckham, but the team insisted it was not shopping the three-time Pro Bowler.

 

The Los Angeles Rams were one of the teams interested, but they traded with the New England Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, eliminating them as a potential landing spot.

 

Beckham was there for the start of the Giants’ offseason workout program on Monday despite talk of a holdout and a potential trade. Coach Pat Shurmur said it was important for all his players to be at the workouts this week to learn their new systems and help rebuild their culture.

 

The situation has been trending toward him staying with the Giants, and a big step in the process was Beckham showing up for the start of Monday’s voluntary workouts. The Giants wanted to see that he was committed to the new regime and get an up-close and personal look at the ankle he fractured in Week 5 of last season.

 

Beckham, who is eyeing a new contract, stayed away most of last spring. He played last year for $1.8 million and is expected to make $8.5 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract this season. A new deal is likely to net him in the range of $60 million guaranteed.

 

He missed most of last season with his fractured ankle, but he still finished second on the team with three touchdown receptions despite playing in just four games. The Giants struggled badly without him, averaging 13.6 points in the 13 games where he either didn’t play or was limited.

 

 

WASHINGTON

“Letters, not numbers” is a good turn of phrase on QB play used by ALEX SMITH.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Washington Redskins swapped quarterbacks this offseason, going from Kirk Cousins to Alex Smith.

 

The latter brings stability to Washington after years of uncertainty under Cousins. The Redskins brass has already preached the move was an upgrade that will help to establish a winning brand not just put up gaudy statistics.

 

Ahead of Washington’s offseason workouts opening on Monday, Smith is already on board with that mantra.

 

“Letters not numbers, that’s kind of the saying,” Smith said Wednesday night, via NBC Washington. “Letters are what’s important, wins and losses. You can get caught up, especially this day and age with fantasy and all these stats. With that, obviously, there’s a balance.”

 

The spin coming from D.C. is predictable.

 

The Redskins botched the Cousins situation so ineptly they let a young QB walk away after he put up three straight seasons of 4,000-plus yards (including a 4,917-yard 2016) and 25-plus TD passes. Yet for all the impressive plays he made while carrying a team falling apart around him, Cousins could never earn enough victories. He ended his tenure in Washington with a 26-30-1 record and zero playoff wins.

 

In comes Smith, who has one career 4,000-yard season and one year past the 25-TD mark in 12 NFL seasons (barely inching over those marks last season — 4,042; 26 — in his best year). But Smith wins. He has a career 88-62-1 record, including 50-26-0 the past five years in Kansas City, with two career playoff victories.

 

When a team makes a move that might be unpopular among some fans, like swapping Cousins for Smith, pointing out how much winning the latter has done is a tried-and-true PR method.

 

 

“In the end winning is it. Winning is all that does matter. Usually in the end there’s a correlation there with good play and with that comes decent numbers usually,” Smith said.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Saints have plucked WR CAMERON MEREDITH away from the Bears.  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

The Chicago Bears declined to match the New Orleans Saints’ two-year, $10 million offer sheet to restricted free-agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith on Wednesday.

 

Meredith confirmed the news during an appearance on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy Show.

 

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy met with Meredith to inform him of the decision.

 

Saints take risk on high-upside Cameron Meredith after Bears pass

Cameron Meredith is coming off a major knee injury, but his versatility could make him a great fit in the Saints’ offense if he’s healthy.

 

“It was just the right move for the Bears as a whole and as a team. As for me, as a player, we just felt this was the best way to go,” Meredith said.

 

“I think in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really know the specific details why they did it, or why they didn’t. I can just control what I can control and do going forward.”

 

A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Bears’ call was mainly a medical decision as Meredith is coming off a torn ACL and MCL, and the team was hesitant to commit that much money to a player coming off such a serious knee injury.

 

Meredith said his injury rehabilitation has “been a big part of my offseason, making sure my knee and my recovery is right so I’m able to come back 100 percent.”

 

He added: “With that being said, I haven’t had any setbacks or anything like that. So I don’t think anyone had that as a major concern.”

 

Meredith gives the Saints another big target to pair with 6-foot-3, 212-pound Pro Bowl wideout Michael Thomas and veteran speedster Ted Ginn Jr. Meredith will likely compete with Ginn and Willie Snead for prominent roles in New Orleans’ receiving corps.

 

The Bears had issued an original-round tender to Meredith, valued at $1.9 million, so the Bears receive no draft pick compensation from the Saints because Meredith was an undrafted free agent.

 

After going undrafted in 2015, Meredith signed with the Bears as a free agent out of Illinois State and appeared in 11 games as a rookie, catching 11 passes for 120 yards.

 

Meredith, 25, had a breakout season in 2016 with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns, but suffered the knee injury in a preseason game last summer at Tennessee. He expressed confidence in January that he’ll be ready by the beginning of training camp.

 

Joining the Saints reunites Meredith with wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who previously served in the same role for the Bears.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The “experts” weren’t terribly excited by the SAM BRADFORD signing, but the Cardinals are.  Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:

 

In a recent poll conducted by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, three of five NFL executives chose the Cardinals as the franchise most likely to trade up in the draft for a quarterback.

 

Don’t tell that to David Johnson.

 

The All-Pro tailback believes Arizona’s offense has the potential to reach the heights of the 2015 “All or Nothing” season if former Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford avoids the injury bug.

 

In Wednesday morning’s interview with SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio, host Adam Schein asked just how prolific new coordinator Mike McCoy’s offense can be if Bradford stays healthy this year.

 

“Oh, we’re going to be great if Sam Bradford’s healthy,” Johnson replied. “From me watching him personally, I’ve seen him do some great things. The biggest thing is just being healthy.

 

“Not just with the addition of him but with also with the linemen we got, the receivers and everyone else that we have added to the team on the offensive side, I think we definitely will be the top offense in the league this year.”

 

Even if Johnson returns to dominant 2016 form, that’s a fantastical forecast considering the dubious state of the offensive line and receiving corps.

 

The past two years’ worth of Vikings tape, however, bolster Johnson’s claim about Bradford’s potential in Arizona.

 

The scarlet letter attached to Bradford this offseason is similar to the one Carson Palmer sported when the Cardinals stole the former Raiders quarterback for the bargain price of a sixth-round draft pick in 2013: Can his body withstand the weekly poundings long enough to showcase his special arm talent?

 

Within two years of his arrival in the desert, Palmer was being hailed as a “godsend,” leaving a trail of skeptics in his wake.

 

That’s not to suggest Bradford is bound to follow in Palmer’s footsteps as an MVP runner-up in Arizona, but Johnson’s inferences are far from unfounded.

 

Bradford’s brilliant performance in the 2017 season opener (27 of 32 for 346 yards and three touchdowns) was one of the most impressive displays of ball placement we’ve seen in recent years. Playing behind a tattered offensive line the previous season, he led the NFL in completion rate (71.6) while topping Pro Football Focus’ accuracy ratings on deep passes (20 yards or more downfield).

 

A healthy Bradford is no afterthought, much less a laughingstock.

 

That said, there’s perhaps no bigger injury risk in the league. Despite Johnson’s optimism over the offensive line, it’s a shaky group tasked with keeping Bradford’s fragile limbs out of harm’s way.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

This from Curtis Crabtree on ProFootballTalk.com on the contract status of P JOHNNY HEKKER:

 

Rams General Manager Les Snead conceded that they are about to make defensive tackle Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in league history.

 

With that in mind, the Rams appear to be checking the couch cushions for whatever change they can find.

 

According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, the Rams restructured the contract of punter Johnny Hekker. The move converted $1.21 million of Hekker’s 2018 base salary to a signing bonus paid immediately. It saves the team $968,000 in cap space this season while pushing an additional $242,000 in cap commitments to each of the next four seasons of his deal.

 

The Rams currently have the least amount of salary cap space of any team in the league, according to NFLPA numbers. The team will have to find the space needed to accommodate Donald’s impending deal, though the year one cap hit could potentially be pretty negligible depending on how the contract is structured. Hekker’s contract restructure is one way for the Rams to get the space needed so they can take care of the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

NFL.com’s Steve Wyche lets us know how much moola will make LB KHALIL MACK happy:

 

Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack was a no-show for Monday’s voluntary workouts, leading to the obvious inference that the absence is contract-related.

 

Slated to earn $13.846 million under the fifth-year option of his rookie pact, Mack is in the market for a mega deal with guarantees on par with top quarterbacks.

 

The 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is seeking guarantees in excess of $65 million, NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported on Tuesday’s edition of NFL Up to the Minute.

 

Whereas the Rams’ Aaron Donald is ticketed for the most lucrative contract ever signed by a defensive player, Mack’s proposed number would fall just shy of the $70 million secured by Von Miller in 2016.

 

When might we expect an agreement with the Raiders?

 

Citing Derek Carr’s 2017 deal as a model, Wyche cautioned not to expect a signing before June. That would allow Oakland’s staff to concentrate on the draft and offseason practices in the meantime, leaving the last few weeks before summer vacation to hammer out the details of Mack’s contract.

 

If that is indeed the case, it stands to reason that Donald’s camp might just await a Mack deal before setting the market for defensive primacy.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com maintains it was wrong for Bengals owner Mike Brown to want to know what kind of social justice warrior he would be getting if he signed S ERIC REID:

 

When the national anthem controversy erupted in 2016 and became an even bigger issue for the league in 2017, the NFL made one point very clear publicly: Players have the right to kneel or otherwise demonstrate during the national anthem. Privately (and at times publicly), some of the NFL’s teams have sent a very different message.

 

This duality has resulted in a collusion grievance from free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and a collusion grievance could (in theory) be the path that free-agent safety Eric Reid eventually chooses to follow.

 

Setting aside personal opinions on whether it’s proper or improper to use the anthem as a mechanism for protest, as a matter of labor and employment law, it’s proper for players to choose to protest during the anthem. Which means that, as a matter of labor and employment law, it’s not proper for the NFL or its teams to hold protesting during the anthem against any player who chooses to protest.

 

Which also means that there’s no legitimate reason whatsoever for any owner, G.M., or coach to interrogate a potential employee/player on whether he will or won’t kneel. Which means that, if it happens, it’s necessarily illegitimate — no different than asking potential employees about religious beliefs, national origin, and (for female employees, obviously) whether they are or plan to become pregnant.

 

Again, collusion is just a fancy word for coordination. If the teams have collectively decided, possibly with the league office as the conduit, that players who are most closely identified with kneeling (like Kaepernick and Reid) are bad for business despite the fact that kneeling can’t be prohibited, that’s a problem.

 

With the Bengals, a team that has routinely provided sanctuary to players with off-field issues, being the ones to pose clearly inappropriate questions to Reid in the apparent hope that he’ll commit clearly and unequivocally to not kneeling before the Bengals will offer him a contract, the problem becomes even more glaring.

 

With Kaepernick, the NFL’s teams had a chance to fix the problem before it got out of hand. With Reid, the window is still open. Once it closes, however, the NFL could end up with a second player claiming that the league and/or its teams are working in coordination to keep out of football one of the players who have been at the core of the issue of protests during the national anthem.

 

 

CLEVELAND

So, asks the DB, if the Browns are leaning towards QB JOSH ALLEN as the first overall pick should they trade down a spot or two?  Is there anyone else who so values Allen?  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

The drumbeat of “Josh Allen to the Browns at No. 1” is growing louder with the NFL draft only two weeks away.

 

But is it all a smokescreen? Or will the Browns take a chance on the big-armed quarterback from Wyoming with the accuracy concerns who will visit the Browns facility on Thursday, the last of the Big Four to come to town.

 

Rumblings that Browns GM John Dorsey liked Allen surfaced at the Senior Bowl in January, where an NFL personnel executive and acquaintance of Dorsey told cleveland.com “Dorsey will pick Allen. The Browns will be good very soon. He will block out the noise and take the best guy.”

 

Then, two weeks ago, Dan Patrick said on his show that three sources told him the Browns were hyping Sam Darnold because they really like Allen and want to bait the Giants into trading up from No. 2 overall.

 

Shortly thereafter, Peter King wrote in his Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com that a friend of Dorsey, which he referred to thereafter as FOD, told him he believes the Browns GM will draft Allen No. 1 and then Saquon Barkley at No. 4.

 

“I would be surprised if he traded down,” the friend told King. “This would be his chance to take his two offensive cornerstones for the next eight or 10 years.”

 

Earlier this week, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on the air that “people that know people inside the Browns” expect them to take Allen at No. 1.

 

During an NFL Network pre-draft conference call on Wednesday, Jeremiah, a former Browns scout, expounded on that.

 

“Just in talking to people around the league for the last, I would say it really picked up in the last week, it’s just a lot of people, not from inside the [Browns’] building — I’ll stress that — but there’s just a lot of people telling me, ‘Hey, I think it’s going to be Josh Allen,”’ he said. “It’s either guys that have worked with John Dorsey or guys that are familiar with that room and that process.

 

“They think that makes more sense for him with Josh Allen being more of an upside pick than a floor pick, and Josh Allen is not there right now, but maybe you feel Tyrod [Taylor] can buy you enough time before Josh Allen is ready.”

 

Jeremiah disagrees with the pick, if it’s true.

 

“It’s a risk, no question,” he said. “I think the pick should be Sam Darnold, and at this point in time none of us know who it is. I just know that it’s not a slam dunk. Just talking to people around the league, that’s the sense that I get.”

 

NFL analyst Bucky Brooks, who was on the conference call along with Jeremiah, connected the dots between Dorsey and Allen, and sees the connection.

 

“John Dorsey spent a lot of his formative time in the league in Green Bay when Brett Favre was the quarterback, a big, strong-armed thrower, a guy who could really throw off platform, could make improvisational plays and really make up for a lot of things with his exceptional arm talent,” said Brooks. “And then when you go back and you look at (Dorsey’s) draft history and some of the guys that he’s taken, he has a long track record of going for projection and potential over production.”

 

He cited Dorsey trading up last year to draft Patrick Mahomes over Deshaun Watson at No. 10. However, Dorsey was fired by the Chiefs two months after that draft, so the pick could’ve been Andy Reid’s as much as Dorsey’s.

 

“Patrick Mahomes’ game compared to Josh Allen’s game, there are a lot of similarities, tremendous arm talent, athleticism, the ability to play off platform,” said Brooks. “It’s easy to see why John Dorsey would like that.”

 

Brooks cited Dorsey selecting left tackle Eric Fisher over Luke Joeckel at No. 1 overall in his first draft with the Chiefs in 2013, opting for upside over polish. Joeckel went No. 2 to the Seahawks.

 

“So when you check off all the boxes in terms of projecting what the Browns may do, it appears that Josh Allen could be that pick because they’re trying to knock it out the park based on what Josh Allen could be as opposed to what he hasn’t been to this point,” said Brooks.

 

Like Jeremiah, Brooks would take Darnold over Allen.

 

“I’ve seen him shine in big games. I’ve seen him display the it factor and the leadership qualities when the team is down,”  he said. “Early in the year, we talked to [USC coach] Clay Helton, and he said the job of a franchise quarterback is to give everybody else on the field hope. I think you’ve seen that hope and optimism play out when he’s had the ball in his hands with the game on the line.”

 

Conversely, Brooks worries about Allen’s 56.2 career completion percentage and performance in big games.

 

“When you look at his track record against Power Five schools, it’s hard to kind of justify explaining a guy who has one touchdown, eight interceptions in three appearances against Power Five schools,” he said. “To me, if you’re taking someone No. 1, there has to be a signature game or some moment when you feel like he’s the best player on the field, and I just haven’t seen that to date with Josh Allen.”

 

Jeremiah couldn’t agree more.

 

“I’ve been on record for a long time saying I think Sam Darnold should be the pick for the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “I think he’s the right guy there. I personally think he’s the best quarterback in this class, and I think he, at 20 years old, is just scratching the surface of what he can do.”

 

When Jeremiah looked up in the stands and saw Browns owner Jimmy Haslam talking with Darnold’s parents, he was ready to hand in the card. Little did he know that Haslam would be chatting up Allen’s parents two days later at Wyoming.

 

It should be noted that Dorsey has said he’s open for business and is looking to drum up interest in both the No. 1 and No. 4 picks. There’s a lot of strategy involved and likely a lot of subterfuge taking place. Dorsey doesn’t even know who he can trust in the building yet — aside from the guys he hired and a few others — and even coach Hue Jackson said at the NFL Annual Meeting that Dorsey isn’t showing his hand.

 

He could be sending mixed signals not only to throw off other teams, but to test for possible leaks in his own building.

 

This draft could prove to be the turning point in the franchise if Dorsey and company get it right. If they blow it, it could set the franchise back at least a few years, and the truth is, Allen’s accuracy issues are the big unknown.

 

“He has a cannon,” Jackson said at the NFL meetings. “He threw a ball that hit a guy in the sternum and you could hear it go ‘boom.’ I mean, he can really throw a football. And when he does it all right from a biomechanics standpoint and his body being in line, everything, he throws it as pretty as I’ve seen.”

 

And when he’s off-kilter?

 

“People say it takes 7,000 reps to change those type of things, but you can,” said Jackson. “He has a lot of work to do. One thing about the young man, he’s a hard worker. He’ll work at it.”

 

That’s 7,000 reasons for the Browns to still be strongly considering Darnold.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

An inspiring moment at the Penguins game recounted by Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier showed at Wednesday nights Pittsburgh Penguins game that he is continuing to make progress in recovering from the severe spinal cord injury he suffered last season.

 

Shazier stood up to lead the crowd in a “Let’s Go Pens!” chant, and he was given a microphone and told the fans, “It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh.”

 

Shazier looked steady and comfortable standing, an improvement over previous images that have shown him needing help to get out of his wheelchair.

 

The 25-year-old Shazier suffered the injury last year in a game against the Bengals. The Steelers have already announced that Shazier will not be able to play in 2018.

 

The Penguins went on to start their defense of the last two Stanley Cups with a 7-0 rout of the Flyers.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com says the Patriots are looking high and low for the next TOM BRADY:

 

They worked out Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White on Wednesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports. Nick Caserio, the team’s director of player personnel, put White through the workout. Caserio also met with White for a film session before Western Kentucky’s Pro Day, White previously told SiriusXM NFL Radio.

 

The Patriots attended the Pro Days of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta and Toledo’s Logan Woodside and reportedly held private workouts with Oklahoma’s Mason Rudolph and Florida International’s Alex McGough, NESN reports.

 

New England owns two first-round picks and two second-round picks as well as four other picks, so the Patriots have the ammunition to trade up for a quarterback if they so desire.

 

Meanwhile, Peter King looks into his crystal ball (perhaps informed) and tells us what the Patriots are going to do with their draft haul:

 

This is (probably) terrifically phony, but follow the plot line:

 

Let’s fast-forward two years, and walk into the New England Patriots’ draft room. It’s two weeks before the 2020 NFL Draft in Green Bay, and head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Nick Caserio are tweaking the draft board, trying to get everything just right for their first draft together. After 20 years with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the team as coach and quarterback, they’ve both retired, and now McDaniels and Caserio have to find a way forward. Franchise cornerstone Rob Gronkowski is retired too, and defensive leader Devin McCourty is likely headed into his last season, playing 2020 at age 33.

 

McDaniels and Caserio look at their board, and consider who they have as their nucleus players entering years four through 10 of their careers. It’s a thin group.

 

On offense, it’s guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney, who will each play 2020 at 27; right tackle Marcus Cannon (32), center David Andrews (28), and running back James White (28). On defense: tackle Malcom Brown (26), pass-rusher Trey Flowers (27), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (29) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (30). And Hightower is no sure thing.

 

As McDaniels and Caserio have said to each other, it’s a good thing the franchise had those four high picks in 2018.

 

“Thank God for that 2018 draft,” McDaniels says to Caserio. “Where would we be without that draft?”

 

Back to reality.

 

Once you realize the Patriots, as of today, are in the bottom half of the league (and probably the bottom third) in cornerstone players for the next three to six seasons, you realize what a huge draft this is for the franchise. If McDaniels indeed succeeds Belichick when the legendary coach decides to retire—I’m betting Belichick has two or three years left—it’s the kind of draft McDaniels will appreciate the day he takes the job. Certainly, some of McDaniels’ success or failure in the coach’s chair depends on what happens with this year’s picks. New England has the 23rd and 31st picks in round one, and the 43rd and 63 picks overall in round two. Then they have but one choice in the next three rounds.

 

I would be surprised if the Patriots packaged some of the draft choices, or a high one this year and next, to move up for a quarterback. First: They don’t have the ammo to move up for one of the top ones; the top four will likely be gone in the top 10 picks, and maybe in the top five.

 

Second: Their needs elsewhere are too acute to go all-in for a quarterback this year. So, barring a big surprise, the Patriots won’t mortgage these picks to move up for a passer.

 

New England’s draft prep is always shrouded in secrecy, but let’s think about their last couple of months. They come back from a crushing Super Bowl loss, and Belichick and owner Robert Kraft are able to talk McDaniels out of taking the Indianapolis head-coaching job. In so doing, Belichick, according to multiple reports, agrees to take McDaniels behind the curtain and give him the inside story of what it takes to build and care and feed a great team. We have to assume that’s happening now. If so, McDaniels is likely playing a role in draft prep, particularly at the quarterback position. The only way—in my opinion—that the Patriots will go outside the box and trade a cadre of picks to move up for a quarterback is if McDaniels and Caserio and Belichick feel one of the top five (including Louisville’s Lamar Jackson) has championship potential. Then and only then would the Patriots mortgage the future to get Brady’s successor. I still think it’s a long shot. Not impossible, but a long shot.

 

The Patriots shouldn’t be that picky. They have needs all over the roster, except perhaps for the interior offensive line. The biggest need is at left tackle, with the free-agent loss of Nate Solder to the Giants. But there isn’t a position outside of guard or center that would be a mistake to target in the first two rounds. The Patriots almost certainly will let the draft come to them, not reaching for any position except perhaps left tackle in round one.

 

Here’s what I think they will do:

 

1. (23rd overall) Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa, or Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State. With the pick obtained from the Rams in the Brandin Cooks trade, New England can target a sideline-to-sideline linebacker with speed in the 4.6s to key a needy unit, or take Malcolm Butler’s successor. Also a chance neither would be around by pick 23.

 

2. (31st overall) Kolton Miller, T, UCLA, or Connor Williams, T, Texas. Gil Brandt’s Pats pet pick. After losing Nate Solder in free agency, left tackle is the biggest need on the roster. Miller’s more of a project, but also has a bigger and more athletic upside.

 

3. (43rd overall) Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina, or Cortland Sutton, WR, SMU. One of these ready-to-produce pass-catchers should be there at 43. Hurst is the kind of blocking-receiving tight end who would appeal to Belichick.

 

4. (63rd overall) A quarterback. All of these are guesses, of course, but let’s put Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State or Luke Falk of Washington State here. Excellent students, and room to grow for a year or two behind Tom Brady.

 

The Patriots will be smart to make four picks, or turn one of these into two players in the top three rounds. That’s what I think they’ll do.

 

And Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com sees the Patriots telegraphing an interest in Louisville QB LAMAR JACKSON:

 

While the manner in which the top five quarterbacks will exit the board isn’t known, two things have become accepted in recent weeks. One, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson may be the last of the five taken. Two, he nevertheless will be taken in round one.

 

So who will take Jackson? The Cardinals at No. 15? The Ravens at No. 16? The Chargers at No. 17? The Saints at No. 27?

 

A sense has been emerging that the Patriots could be the team to land Jackson. Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report recently wrote that the Patriots have the most interest in Jackson.

 

Then there’s this: NFL Network posted a graphic on social medial of Jackson and Patriots coach Bill Belichick, with this quote from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks: “I believe after watching Deshaun Watson tear up his defense, he said, ‘I want a player like Lamar Jackson.’” NFL Network’s Deion Sanders (who apparently realizes that Lamar Jackson is a player and not merely a fan) responded by saying, “About time they got the revelation.” Below that, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chimed in with this response to Sanders: “He’s a beast!!!!”

 

While it may be a stretch at this point to believe that Brady and Belichick are totally in cahoots when it comes to manipulating the draft board, Belichick typically doesn’t tip his hand about his draft plans. And by “typically doesn’t,” I mean he never, ever, ever does.

 

Belichick, who learned football strategy at the knee of his father, a long-time member of the Naval Academy football program, realizes the tactical value of information and the lack thereof. Everything he says and does has a reason. And if he secretly covets Lamar Jackson, Belichick will be doing everything he can to keep that a secret.

 

So if it’s getting out that Belichick wants Jackson, it’s getting out because Belichick wants it to get out. And with each of his three chief competitors in the AFC East in position to take a top quarterback, it could be that Belichick is trying to unleash a Jedi mind trick on the Jets, Dolphins, or Bills, baiting them into taking Jackson — if Belichick has decided that Jackson ultimately won’t be nearly as good as Deshaun Watson.

 

Again, given some of the reported tension between Belichick and Brady, it’s hard to imagine that Brady is pumping up Jackson at the behest of Belichick. But the notion that Belichick likes Jackson most likely wouldn’t be trickling out of Foxborough unless Belichick wanted it to. Which invites speculation that he’s hoping that the Jets, Dolphins, and/or Bills take Jackson instead of someone like Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or Josh Allen.

 

Maybe I’m wrong. (It wouldn’t be this first time this week today.) Maybe Belichick is losing his cloak-and-dagger fastball. Regardless, when it comes to the Patriots’ plans for restocking the most important position in football via the draft — a matter of critical importance with the Brady Train pulling into the station — it’s hard to imagine Belichick allowing anyone to know what he truly thinks, and it’s easy to think that any reports or rumors as to what he thinks have made their way into the public eye for a reason.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

This is a lot of alcohol.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Aldon Smith arrived at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for ankle monitoring Friday with a blood alcohol level of 0.40, Evan Sernoffsky of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

 

Smith immediately was arrested for a violation of his parole.

 

He appeared briefly in court Wednesday and remains in jail custody, per Sernoffsky, with his next destination likely an in-custody, residential rehab facility.

 

The list of pending charges against Smith now includes three separate counts of contempt of court. Smith previously was arrested for violating the terms of a protective order arising from a domestic violence arrest and had a bench warrant issued for his arrest after failing to appear at a court hearing.

 

The former NFL linebacker has not played in the league since 2015 and likely never will again.

 

 

RANKING THE QBs

Where do this year’s crop of QBs rank compared to those of recent years?  Todd McShay of ESPN.com lets us know his rankings in a very long piece here with an edited version below (give him credit, his misses are obvious):

 

I’ve said throughout this 2018 NFL draft process that I believe Sam Darnold is the best quarterback in this class. I know Louis Riddick likes Baker Mayfield and Mel Kiper has Josh Allen as his No. 1 signal-caller. And that lack of consensus is why I stand by my statement that this is the most interesting QB class I’ve ever evaluated at ESPN.

 

How does this year’s crop compare to quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2008? Glad you asked. Below are my grades and scouting reports for every first-round QB over the last decade, along with the grades for the top five guys — Darnold, Allen, Josh Rosen, Mayfield and Lamar Jackson — in this class. These are in order of highest grade (Andrew Luck) to lowest (EJ Manuel).

 

Note: The “as a prospect” blurbs are how we viewed each player coming out of college. The grades are from my final evaluations before they were drafted.

 

Grade: 99    Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (2012)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 1 overall

 

As a prospect: “There’s no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect, but Luck has everything you’re looking for in a quarterback. In terms of physical tools, he has a prototypical frame, strong arm and above-average pocket mobility. In terms of his football intelligence, he has a strong understanding of how to run an offense and he makes sound decisions on the field. Finally, there’s no question about his ability to step into an NFL huddle and take charge of it.”

 

In the NFL: It has been a mixed bag for Luck, who has made three Pro Bowls and threw for 4,761 yards and 40 TDs (only 16 INTs) in the 2014 season. He has played in only 22 games over the past three seasons, though, and missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury.

 

Grade: 98    Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (2008)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 5 overall

 

As a prospect: “Matt Ryan doesn’t have the arm strength of a JaMarcus Russell, and he isn’t a dynamic open-field runner, but he is clearly the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft class.

 

Grade: 97    Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2015)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 1 overall

 

As a prospect: “Winston is one of the best prospects we’ve evaluated the last 10 years at the skills that translate to the NFL level.

 

Grade 97     Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (2010)

Pre-draft ranking in 2010: No. 3 overall

 

Grade 97      Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (2012)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 2 overall

 

Grade: 96       Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (2009)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 7 overall

 

Grade: 95        Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (2009)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 8 overall

 

Grade 95         Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars (2011)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 5 overall

 

As a prospect: “Gabbert has the frame, intangibles and arm strength teams look for. He is a tough leader who can play through pain and rally his teammates, and while he needs to improve his pocket mobility and ability to handle pressure he has the toughness and foot speed to do so. It’s somewhat surprising he fell this far because he is the most accurate of the top three quarterbacks on our board, and he has the football acumen to make the transition from a college spread scheme to a pro-style offense.”

 

Grade: 94          Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (2012)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 12 overall

 

Grade 94          Sam Darnold, USC (2018)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 4 overall

 

As a prospect: “There’s no question that he developed some bad habits with his footwork (lazy/sloppy with lower-body at times) and ball security (dangling ball with one hand when moving in the pocket), but both are correctible. The bottom line is that Darnold is the most complete quarterback in the 2018 class and he has the type of makeup that most good NFL starters possess. Darnold grades out as a high-level NFL starting quarterback and he projects to be a top-five pick.”

 

Grade: 93           Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (2011)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 15 overall

 

Grade 93             Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (2015)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 5 overall

 

Grade: 91            Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (2014)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 18 overall

 

As a prospect: “Bortles is our top QB in this year’s class. He has prototypical size, mobility and outstanding intangibles. He is not a finished product and needs some work with his lower-body mechanics to improve velocity and accuracy. However, he shows excellent poise inside the pocket and has great instincts when extending plays and working off schedule. Bortles’ game reminds us a lot of a young Ben Roethlisberger.”

 

Grade 91             Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles (2016)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 10 overall

 

Grade 91             Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (2016)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 11 overall

 

Grade 91             Josh Rosen, UCLA (2018)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 11 overall

 

As a prospect: “Rosen is the best pocket passer in the 2018 draft and is NFL ready. Accuracy, touch and timing are his best traits. Throws from a balanced base. Gets the ball out on time. He lacks ideal mobility and turnovers have been an issue (26 INTs and seven fumbles lost in 30 starts), but the reality is that Rosen carries an elite grade based solely on his tape. If a quarterback-needy team at the top of the draft passes on Rosen it will have everything to do with concerns regarding his durability and “football character.”

 

Grade 91               Josh Allen, Wyoming (2018)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 12 overall

 

As a prospect: “Allen has elite arm strength and his accuracy is good when his feet are set properly. Also has better-than-average accuracy when on the move. Allen is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks to come out of college in the last five years. His ceiling is incredibly but so too is his bust potential. The team/situation he’s drafted into will be far more important to his success than his draft slot.”

 

Grade: 90             Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (2011)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 25 overall

 

Grade 90              Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns (2014)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 22 overall

 

As a prospect: “Manziel is the most polarizing player in this year’s draft. On the downside, there are concerns about his ability to make plays from within the pocket and stay healthy in the NFL. Plus, his off-the-field behavior has some wondering if he’ll be the kind of leader who’s the first player in and the last player out of the building. On the plus side, he’s a fierce competitor when he takes the field, he has above-average arm strength and he is an escape artist who can buy time for his receivers to get open and break long runs when he gets a lane to scramble.”

 

Grade 90               Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (2018)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 18 overall

 

As a prospect: “Russell Wilson is the closest NFL comparison for Mayfield in our opinion, but there are still some obvious flaws in that comp. Mayfield is one of the most polarizing players in this class, in large part due to his outstanding football character and leadership but debatable maturity. In our opinion, Mayfield grades out as a good NFL starter but he clearly comes with some red flags (measureables, footwork, played in spread offense). When all said and done; Mayfield is a likely top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.”

 

Grade: 89              Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (2008)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 29 overall

 

Grade 89                Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (2014)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 28 overall

 

Grade 89                 Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (2017)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 27 overall

 

As a prospect: “Only was a one-year starter (13 career starts) and will need time to develop and hone his craft. He’s an accurate passer with the frame and quality pocket awareness, mobility and arm strength to develop into an effective NFL starter.”

 

In the NFL: It’s way too early to make a determination on Trubisky. He had an up-and-down rookie campaign, in part due to his inexperience and in part due to a lack of offensive playmakers.

 

Grade: 88                  Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (2017)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 28 overall

 

As a prospect: “Watson’s ability to transition to a pro-style offense will ultimately dictate whether or not he succeeds in the NFL. A proven winner, there’s no denying he has the physical tools and rare intangibles to develop into a franchise quarterback.”

 

Grade: 86                  Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns (2012)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 48 overall

 

Grade: 85                   Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings (2011)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 45 overall

 

Grade: 85                   Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos (2016)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 38 overall

 

Grade: 85                     Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs (2017)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 44 overall

 

Grade: 85                    Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 46 overall

 

Grade: 84                     Lamar Jackson, Louisville (2018)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 43 overall

 

As a prospect: “Jackson is a very difficult evaluation, as no player in college football the last two years has been more explosive with the ball in his hands. But he needs a lot of refinement as a passer — specifically when it comes to his inconsistencies with progression reads, anticipation and ball placement. There’s also legitimate concern about his potential durability given his slight frame (6-2, 216) and inevitable high volume of carries in the NFL. Simply put; he’s too dynamic not to find ways to get the ball in his hands, but he might not be refined enough as a passer right now to hand him the keys to an NFL offense as a rookie.”

 

Grade: 78                           Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos (2010)

Pre-draft ranking: No. 65 overall

 

Grade: 76                            EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills (2013)

 

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Charlie Casserley’s Mock Draft from NFL.com:

 

1 – CLEVELAND

Sam Darnold – QB, USC

Darnold is the best quarterback in this year’s draft, and he fills the biggest need for Cleveland.

 

2 – NY GIANTS

Saquon Barkley – RB, Penn State

The Giants believe Eli Manning can still play well. They give him a chance to do that with the signing of LT Nate Solder and selection of Barkley.

 

3 – NY JETS

Josh Rosen – QB, UCLA

Rosen will be the most scrutinized pick from this draft for years to come. He’s the most pro-ready QB in this class.

 

4 – CLEVELAND

Bradley Chubb – DE, N.C. State

The Browns bypass bigger needs (LT, WR) to land a bookend to Myles Garrett up front on defense.

 

5 – BUFFALO

Josh Allen – QB, Wyoming

PROJECTED TRADE WITH BRONCOS. The Bills move up the board again and they find their QB. Allen is built to throw in the bad weather he’ll encounter in Buffalo.

 

6 – INDIANAPOLIs

 Quenton Nelson – OG, Notre Dame

Nelson is the best offensive lineman to enter the draft since 2000.

 

7 – TAMPA BAY

 Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick’s versatility will allow him to play cornerback or safety in the back end for the Bucs.

 

8 – CHICAGO

Denzel Ward – CB, Ohio State

This pick gives the Bears two talented young cornerbacks with Ward joining Kyle Fuller in the secondary.

 

9 – SAN FRANCISCO

Marcus Davenport – DE, UTSA

The Niners are in desperate need of a pass rusher and Davenport helps them get after the quarterback. … Chicago and San Francisco could be looking at the same players at this juncture in the draft.

 

10 – OAKLAND

Tremaine Edmunds – LB, Virginia Tech

The Raiders bolster their defense by adding the best linebacker in the draft.

 

11 – MIAMI

Baker Mayfield – QB, Oklahoma

With the division-rival Jets and Bills picking quarterbacks in the top five, Miami keeps pace by adding Mayfield.

 

12 – DENVER

Roquan Smith – LB, Georgia

PROJECTED TRADE WITH BILLS. A playmaking inside linebacker is a need for Denver. Smith fits the bill.

 

13 – WASHINGTON

Vita Vea – DT, Washington

The Redskins fill their biggest need with the selection of Vea, who changes the face of the front seven on defense.

 

14 – GREEN BAY

Mike Hughes – CB, UCF

Hughes might be the most complete cornerback in the draft.

 

15 – ARIZONA

Calvin Ridley – WR, Alabama

WR, QB and CB are the Cardinals’ biggest needs. Ridley is the highest-rated player still available from those position groups.

 

16 – BALTIMORE

Mike McGlinchey – OT, Notre Dame

The Ravens decide to address their offensive line and get a bookend for LT Ronnie Stanley.

 

17 – LA CHARGERS

 Derwin James – S, Florida State

James is the best player available here, and he fills a need. The former FSU star could easily be a top-10 pick this year, but in this scenario, he’s still on the board at No. 17.

 

18 – SEATTLE

Harold Landry – EDGE, Boston College

Landry is the No. 3 pass rusher in this draft. He set the school single-season record with 16.5 sacks in 2016.

 

19 – DALLAS

 Da’Ron Payne – DT, Alabama

Payne is an excellent run defender who has potential as a pass rusher, too.

 

20 – DETROIT

Derrius Guice – RB, LSU

The Lions go from having a poor running game to making it a strength of the team with the selection of Guice.

 

21 – CINCINNATI

Will Hernandez – OG, UTEP

Cincinnati addresses a weakness, upgrading the offensive line with a potential Pro Bowl guard in Hernandez.

 

22 – DENVER

Christian Kirk – WR, Texas A&M

PROJECTED TRADE WITH BILLS. The Broncos need an inside WR who can also play outside. Kirk is a fit.

 

23 – NEW ENGLAND

Kolton Miller – OT, UCLA

Miller fills their biggest need on offense. I would not rule out an attempt by the Patriots to trade up for Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey now that they have more flexibility following the Brandin Cooks trade.

 

24 – CAROLINA

Justin Reid – S, Stanford

Reid is a versatile defender who can play nickel corner as well as safety.

 

25 – TENNESSEE

Billy Price – C, Ohio State

Price suffered a pectoral injury while bench-pressing at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he’s still the type of player who can make a big difference at the center position.

 

26 – ATLANTA

Taven Bryan – DT, Florida

Bryan is an upfield defensive tackle who fits coach Dan Quinn’s scheme.

 

27 – NEW ORLEANS

Hayden Hurst – TE, South Carolina

Hurst has the pass-catching ability teams want at the TE position. The Saints might be able to trade back and still land him.

 

28 – PITTSBURGH

Rashaan Evans – LB, Alabama

Evans fills the biggest need on the team. He’s a highly instinctive player.

 

29 – JACKSONVILLE

D.J. Moore – WR, Maryland

Moore immediately becomes the Jaguars’ best wide receiver.

 

30 – MINNESOTA

Connor Williams – OT, Texas

Williams is an upgrade at the right tackle position, which hurt them late last season.

 

31 NEW ENGLAND

Josh Jackson – CB, Iowa

Jackson’s a better player than Malcolm Butler, who departed New England for the Titans in free agency.

 

32 – CLEVELAND

Sony Michel – RB, Georgia

PROJECTED TRADE WITH EAGLES. After trading up, Cleveland gets its third impact player of the first round in Michel.