The Daily Briefing Thursday, April 20, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
We get the 2017 schedule tonight. Eliott Harrison of NFL.com has a list of games fans will be excited to see (Harrison apparently hasn’t got the memo that Atlanta at New England will not open the 2017 season):
Ah, the Super Bowl rematch.
We don’t get those too often. At least, we rarely see them the ensuing fall. And this one just happens to be a replay of arguably the greatest — or at least most stunning — Super Sunday of all time. Falcons at Patriots will mark just the third time in two decades — and the seventh time ever — that the two Super Bowl combatants meet in the very next regular season.
And that’s just one game from the intriguing slate the league will feature in 2017. After carefully studying every team’s regular-season opponents, I came up with the top 17 matchups of 2017.
Some of the old, familiar retreads got no love this time around. There’s room for a few unusual contests pitting new coach against old team, as well as a showdown between quarterbacks drafted in succession. So take a look, tell me what I missed: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
17) San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
I can’t help myself, putting this seemingly innocuous NFC matchup on the list. Seemingly innocuous, that is, until you think about a certain signal caller … Will Kirk Cousins be in a 49ers uniform? Perhaps not, as the possibility he gets traded seems to get more remote by the day. That said, if the Redskins don’t deal him, they might get a third-round compensatory pick next offseason when Cousins bolts for the Niners (… in theory, of course). How will Cousins handle those questions leading up to the game? We should mention: Pierre Garçon will be going up against his former team. Get excited.
16) Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins
Vance Joseph goes against the team whose defense he led last season. Can Joseph direct the Broncos’ defensive unit the way Wade Phillips did over the last two seasons? This game should be evenly matched, although the Broncos have a better opportunity to make the postseason via winning the AFC West. (The Dolphins, of course, play in the AFC New England — I mean, AFC East.) Is Ryan Tannehill ready to take that proverbial step forward in Year 2 of Adam Gase’s offense? This matchup will be quite telling on that front. By the way, Joseph said at the NFL’s Annual League Meeting, “My belief system is Wade’s.” Sounds cool. Will his defensive results mirror Wade’s? And how much will Joseph’s former defense take it to the young quarterbacks John Elway’s rolling with?
15) Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers
Another seemingly random matchup, but intriguing on the coaching front. Sean McDermott was given much credit for the Panthers’ ascension from NFC South champ to Super Bowl team in the 2015 season. Although the Panthers disappointed in 2016, McDermott still had enough juice to land his first head-coaching gig. This is the kind of interconference slugfest the Bills need to win to be a playoff team. (Think of the heartbreaking loss in Seattle last season.) Tyrod Taylor vs. Cam Newton is interesting, as well. Taylor stays in the pocket more, but is he really far behind Newton as a complete player? Newton has been more ballyhooed for his athleticism and such, while no one seemed too excited about the Bills sticking with Tyrod. Seems out of balance to me.
14) New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers
There are three certifiable Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the NFL right now: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (with Ben Roethlisberger a likely candidate). With the Packers and Saints not in the same division, and Brees 38 years old, there won’t be too many more meetings between Rodgers and him. Last time these two faced off, they combined for a mere 765 yards passing and seven touchdowns. The year before, they locked horns in a heckuva contest to kick off the season that ended with a goal-line stand. The Packers’ offense should present quite the challenge for a New Orleans defense Sean Payton has focused on improving.
13) Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Perhaps no signing made people put the thinking emoji — or the upside-down emoji (my personal favorite) — in their tweets more than Mike Glennon signing with the Bears for what felt like 50 billion dollars. OK, so it was only $15 million per year on what ultimately was deemed a team-friendly deal. While Glennon’s (good) fortune revealed what the quarterback market commands in 2017, it also provides him an opportunity to prove he is a commodity, not simply a viable starter. Glennon was decent in Tampa, but not many young quarterbacks can fend off a team using the No. 1 pick on a worthy quarterback. Jameis Winston’s talent demanded the Bucs take him. Has general QB demand truly overinflated the price tag on a guy like Glennon? He will show all of us, including his former team.
12) First Los Angeles Chargers home game
While the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles was met with a collective yawn, what you haven’t heard is that many of us are wondering what it will be like to watch an NFL team in what could be deemed an intimate setting — a 30,000-seat soccer stadium. This harkens back to the early days of the AFL, or even farther back to 1940s NFL, when some teams were playing in front of those crowds at smaller venues.
11) New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Who knows where to place this contest? These two teams have faced off three times over the past two seasons, with none of the three bouts being particularly awesome. Thus, what has looked rad on paper has turned out kinda blah on TV. The closest contest was the 2015 Kickoff Game, which was devoid of Le’Veon Bell. Ditto the majority of last season’s AFC Championship Game, as Bell’s gimpy groin sidelined him in the first quarter. At some point, these two AFC goliaths will play at full bore with full health, and it should be awesome. I still think, had Bell not been hurt in the 2014 regular-season finale, that Pittsburgh — not New England — would’ve played Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.
10) Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams
What? You’re not feeling Eagles at Rams? Alright, I get it — Philly probably will finish third in the NFC East, while the Rams might hang around the cellar of their division. Yet, this game is intriguing because it will be the first time we see Carson Wentz and Jared Goff go up against one another. In fact, we rarely see two quarterbacks drafted first and second overall play each other early in their respective careers. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston went at it right off the bat. Seriously — it was their first pro game. And it was a blowout. While league observers are excited about Wentz and Dak Prescott having many meetings to come in the NFC East, everyone seems to have blown off Goff. Let’s see what the guy can do in his first full season as a starter.
9) Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks
With a premier quarterback, the Texans not only would be a contender, but it would make this Houston-Seattle matchup one of the very best games. Even without Tony Romo under center for Houston, though, this showdown offers plenty of intrigue. These two defenses should provide a fantastic game, especially with J.J. Watt and Earl Thomas healthy. Those are two of the best in the game at their respective positions. Moreover, how about last year’s top-ranked defense versus the only unit in the modern era to lead the league in point allowed for four straight years (only snapping that streak this past season)? That’s precisely why Texans at Seahawks is listed, because this should be one of the most physical matchups of the year. Now, imagine if Romo stepped out of the booth … Nah.
8) Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
The NFC Championship Game we didn’t get. Unfortunately. With no offense to the Packers, Falcons at Cowboys would have been a much tighter contest, with the second-seeded Dirty Birds on the road. While Atlanta’s offense will be all the Dallas defense can handle — especially with all the Cowboys’ losses in the secondary — the Falcons never had to worry about the game being dictated to them when playing Green Bay this past January. That is precisely what happens when the Cowboys’ running game gets going with Ezekiel Elliott. Still, this matchup is likely to be a track meet, and perhaps a preview of the 2017 NFC Championship Game. Cool that Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott and Elliott were all in the MVP race last year, only adding to this game’s intrigue. (Now watch Devonta Freeman rush for 185 yards.)
7) New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Now we’re diving into the really fun matchups. Patriots at Buccaneers might not be a game that jumps off the schedule at first glance, but it should. That Tampa defense should get off to a quick start. This unit was playing great last season until the last two games, which should change with the addition of Chris Baker and the continued development of young stud Kwon Alexander. Alexander and Marcus Mariota were the toughest omissions from my All-Under-25 Team. Winston earned that prestigious honor, and should be more effective in Year 3. How serious a contender will Tampa be? This game against New England provides a useful gauge, but the Bucs could win 10-plus games. The Pats have struggled in Florida lately. No, seriously.
6) Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Replaying a conference title game is never a bad thing, especially when the highly anticipated matchup turned out to be a total blowout on Championship Sunday. Will this rematch be a new dud in Atlanta’s new digs? Doubtful — especially with the yuck taste in Rodgers and Company’s mouth after the way they played against these guys in January. Much depends on how Green Bay’s pass defense holds up against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and those Falcons RBs coming out of the backfield. Of course, Kyle Shanahan’s departure to San Francisco could mean that offense will be slightly less track meet-ish. Then again, that man experienced an avalanche of blame from the Twitter millions following the Super Bowl, so … we’ll see?
5) Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders
Any time these two teams get together — once every four years — it feels like classic football. Two storied franchises with eight Lombardi Trophies between them and Good-vs.-Evil history makes for fun times. Yep, nothing like the Dallas Cowboys against the Oaklllll … eh … uh … Las Vegas(?) Raiders. Ugh. OK, scratch those previous sentences. At least both teams are solid, with quality quarterbacks, stud receivers and defenses that pretty much ensure the game won’t be 17-13. Both organizations feel like they are on the Super Bowl’s doorstep. That’s awesome. And yes, it’ll be even better if (when) @MoneyLynch is in the Raiders’ backfield opposite Zeke running for the Cowboys.
4) Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Easily the most intriguing of the AFC postseason rematches. While Patriots at Steelers sounds sexy, the reality is that the AFC Championship Game stunk, as did the regular-season matchup — partially because the Steelers have been partial. (Availability is the most important ability, football fans.) Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Kansas City locked up in an old-school, ’70s-style matchup that came down to the wire (and an Eric Fisher stranglehold of Ted Nugent proportions). Chiefs fans thought they were robbed. The Steelers advanced. These two teams present a fascinating contrast in approach — from coaching styles to offenses to the strengths of their defenses. Great uni matchup, too, while we’re at it.
3) New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders
While the 2016 Patriots were cruising the last few weeks of their 14-2 campaign, everyone was wondering aloud who would challenge them in the AFC. The Steelers were fumbling around. No one trusted the Chiefs’ passing game to take down New England. Oakland? Now that was a title threat with juice. Sure, the defense was middling, at best. But Derek Carr could keep up with Tom Brady. Not to mention head coach Jack Del Rio was gutsy enough to make for a fascinating coaching matchup. Annnnnd we ended up getting nada because Carr fell late in season. Subsequently, one half of Connor Cook football told us what we all needed to know (but didn’t want to hear): Oakland was going nowhere in January without Carr. These two could see each other in the playoffs — again. Remember their controversial postseason affairs from 1976, 1985 and 2001?
2) Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
There’s been a lot of talk about Ty Montgomery becoming a permanent addition in the Green Bay backfield. Well, Eddie Lacy will take it to his former team from his new perch in the Seahawks’ backfield. That makes Seahawks at Packers — which hasn’t produced wonderful games the last two years — much more fun. How about immensely more fun? Never mind. Don’t forget that, besides Russell Wilson going against Aaron Rodgers (they hold the top two career passer ratings in NFL history), Michael Bennett and Martellus Bennett will go at it, too.
1) Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots
You gotta know this is going to be the Kickoff Game, right? The league passing on a Super Bowl rematch, when it so conveniently fits the model of the defending champion opening the new season at home? That’d be like turning down 750 million free bucks from the Strip. (Too soon?) Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the league will want to replay the 2007 AFC Championship Game, and send the newly minted L.A. Chargers careening into Gillette. For all those who rooted hard for the Falcons during Super Bowl LI, their football hopes might be dashed again, given that this deal is not on a neutral field, the Atlanta offense will be different and Brandin Cooks could fly past the Falcons’ secondary like nobody’s business. So here’s a piece of advice for new OC Steve Sarkisian: Run the football.
We do note that this is the 3rd straight season in which there has been a Super Bowl rematch.
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Is RB JOE MIXON a serial striker of women? John McMullen at FanRagSports.com on his apparent plunge on draft boards after something of a rise from the depths:
You don’t have to reach too far back in the memory banks to realize that talented Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon could be passed over in next week’s NFL Draft.
Back in 2015, Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman La’el Collins was a slam-dunk, first-round pick before his former girlfriend was shot to death and news broke that the Louisiana State Police wanted to speak with Collins, even though he was never described as a suspect.
Despite having nothing to do with the crime Collins went undrafted over the fear generated from even the slightest appearance of impropriety.
Fast forward to Mixon and from a pure talent perspective, Mixon falling out of the draft would be completely unrealistic if not for his history of domestic violence.
Everyone is aware of the ugly video from early in Mixon’s college career in which he punched Amelia Molitor at a Norman restaurant in July of 2014, something the victim claimed was the result of her refusing sexual advancements from Mixon and his friends. A lesser-publicized allegation makes it more difficult to turn that incident from “one-time mistake” that perhaps would be overlooked in the name of second chances by an NFL team, however.
Often lost in Molitor’s allegations was the fact that her lawyer tracked down another man, Anthony Hernandez, who claims Mixon struck his daughter while the 6-foot-1, 227-pound back was still in high school.
“I know for a fact (Mixon) threw my daughter to the ground and hit her,” Hernandez alleged, according to the lawyer. “I went to the school and …they hid him in the office. He got no punishment. The police even came. I was escorted off the campus as if I did something wrong. These are simply the facts, he’s a woman beater.”
Hernandez has since recanted those allegations.
That other incident seems to be the reason that the so-called Godfather of the NFL Draft, legendary former Cowboys personnel executive Gil Brandt, left Mixon off his top-150 prospect list.
“I just wouldn’t draft him,” Brandt said when discussing Mixon on PFT Live. “His problems started back in high school.”
Obviously, from a skill-set standpoint, Brandt keeping Mixon off his top-150 list is absurd. But as a former draft guru in the league, the 84-year-old still approaches the event the same way he did while he was in the Dallas front office, so what he was really signaling was that he would place the red flag on Mixon and not even consider selecting him.
Character is a nebulous characteristic when it comes to potential NFL players and one that really can’t be quantified by a number, so placing an emphasis on it can be frustrating to some obsessed by analytics or game film.
It’s also real, however, and nothing highlights that more than what went on with Aaron Hernandez in a Massachusetts prison cell early Wednesday morning.
From a public-relations standpoint, a one-time incident is easier to deal with than a troubling trend, and the thought circulating around the league right now is that the second alleged issue, despite little supporting evidence, could be the one that ultimately derails Mixon with most teams.
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Is it coincidental that 4/20 is a big day in NFL drug testing? Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
It’s April 20. Or 4/20. Or 420.
For some, that has a specific meaning — along with specific incentive to engage in a specific activity. For NFL players, it’s the worst day to supplement #riseandgrind with a little #wakeandbake.
Coincidental or not, April 20 also is the day on which the window opens for the annual substance-abuse testing program. Any players who would like to smoke and/or ingest substances that (for now) can be legally smoked and/or ingested in various American states must now wait until they are tested. That can happen as late as August.
For that reason, most players hope the word comes quickly. Unless, of course, it hasn’t been a full month since they last smoked and/or ingested. In that case, they need to sweat out the possibility of the drug test mandate coming before the metabolites have exited the player’s system.
That said, the first strike doesn’t result in a suspension. But once the player lands in the program, the testing happens more frequently. Which means that the player will have to choose football over marijuana on a consistent basis until exiting the program.
QB KIRK COUSINS realizes that having a guaranteed $24 million income this year is not a bad deal. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
Quarterback Kirk Cousins received the franchise tag for the second straight year earlier this offseason and there have been plenty of people wondering whether he or the Redskins had much interest in striking a long-term deal that would tie their futures together.
That question has been complicated on the team’s end by the departure of General Manager Scot McCloughan and on Cousins’ side by speculation that he’d prefer to be traded to another club. Cousins said that isn’t true on a podcast with Peter King of TheMMQB.com because he’d be willing to commit to the team if they were willing to make a commitment to him.
He also added that not getting the deal isn’t a major problem for him, however, and said that he likes the feeling that he has to continue to prove himself. He also knows things could be a lot worse than making nearly $24 million for the coming season.
“There are far greater challenges in this league than the situation I’m in,” Cousins said. “I mean, there are guys getting cut, not knowing where they’re going to have move their families, not knowing where their next job’s going to be. That’s a much tougher situation than where I am. So I feel very fortunate and look forward to the opportunity that I have in Washington.”
The two sides have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, but Cousins continues to sound like a player willing to bet on himself.
There will be an extra-normal focus on Tampa Bay’s preseason. Dan Hanzus at NFL.com is a “Hard Knocks” afficianedo and he thinks the prospects are good:
We received good news Wednesday, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced they will be the focus of the 12th season of “Hard Knocks,” HBO’s venerable collaboration with NFL Films that offers football fans a warts-and-all view of training camp life.
The five-episode run will air every Tuesday, from August 8 through September 5. Cameras will track every Bucs movement ahead of their season opener. Tampa Bay follows the Los Angeles Rams, whose own star turn produced earthbound drama aside from one deeply regrettable promise from Jeff Fisher.
I’ve documented every “Hard Knocks” season for NFL.com since 2012, when Joe Philbin was wowing America with charisma that would leave a young Elvis Presley green with envy. Barring a nuclear fallout scenario, I’ll be back at it again with episode recaps starting in August.
The Bucs are promising NFC upstarts with no shortage of intriguing personalities and storylines. One could even call them youngry … is that taken? Meanwhile, this feels like an important season for “Hard Knocks,” an all-time sports series that retreated into a formulaic cul-de-sac under the weight of the dreary Rams a year ago.
Anyway, here’s what I’m looking forward to this season:
The Jameis Winston Show
You know that warm feeling when you pick a total stud at the top of your fantasy draft — think David Johnson or Julio Jones — and the selection serves as a security blanket as the rest of your draft starts to take shape? That’s what it’s like for “Hard Knocks” producers when they have a camera-ready quarterback to play off. It’s an ace in the hole and another example of how QB1 is the center of everything in the football universe.
Winston, now 23 and entering his third season, is more than just an ascendant talent at the game’s most important position. He is fiery leader straight out of the “Any Given Sunday” playbook. Last summer, “Hard Knocks” had to make chicken salad out of Jared Goff chilling with his bro on recline mode.
Of course, Winston has been no stranger to controversy, either — this includes legal trouble and his recent misadventure in youth leadership. But those imperfections also factor into what makes him such a provocative subject in this format.
Gerald McCoy’s something-to-prove angle
NFL players rarely ever say anything interesting during OTAs. Another way to put it is that NFL players are trope machines this time of year. And that’s what made Gerald McCoy’s pointed self-criticism this week so surprising.
“The great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter,” McCoy said, via ESPN.com. “The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it’s necessary. If I want to be considered one of those guys when my career is over, that’s what has to be done. I haven’t been watching games or my film. I’ve been watching all of my fourth quarters. Where’s my energy level in the fourth quarter? Is my technique dropping in the fourth quarter? Am I making the plays that I need to make in the fourth quarter?”
McCoy said he spoke to three unnamed individuals at this year’s Pro Bowl and came out of it with the understanding he hasn’t “done enough to lead this team.” McCoy went on to promise changes in how he’ll operate — NFL Films would be wise to track this storyline and I’m sure they will. McCoy, entering his eighth season, has never been to the playoffs. This team could be his big ticket.
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If there’s one aspect of a Bucs “Hard Knocks” season that gives me pause, I’m sorry to say that it’s having Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter back in our lives on premium cable. Both seem like swell guys, but they weren’t exactly the most compelling figures during the Falcons’ “Hard Knocks” season of 2014, when Smith was Atlanta’s head coach and Koetter the offensive coordinator.
Anyway, one potential positive of having Koetter and Smith back is the possibility that 2014 “Hard Knocks” MVP Bryan Cox could resurface in Tampa. The passionate and occasionally terrifying assistant coach was fired by the Falcons after their Super Bowl collapse.
The Doug Martin Redemption Tour
In 2015, Doug Martin was one of the best running backs in football. The following season, the Bucs watched in horror as Martin’s life and career went sideways. After a trip to rehab, league suspension and public waffling from the Bucs over his future, Martin represents one of the biggest question marks in football entering 2017.
Martin is due substantial money and is no lock to make the team. How the Bucs proceed will make for great theater.
If you’re a regular reader of the End Around or listen to the Around The NFL Podcast, you’re probably aware that I’m very excited about the impending camp battle between second-year man Roberto Aguayo and veteran Nick Folk.
The Bucs stunned the football world by moving up to take a kicker in the second round last April, and Aguayo made them look awful with a truly terrible rookie season. That prompted general manager Jason Licht to sign Folk to a deal that included $750,000 in guaranteed money.
Giving Folk three quarters of a million bucks tells us this isn’t going to be some FARCE of a kicking battle. This is a real fight-to-the-death, two-men-enter, one-man-survives type of deal. I’d just build an octagon around the entire special teams meeting room. Lean into this sucker.
Seriously though, there are legitimate stakes here as the Bucs wrestle with the decision to possibly acknowledge they made one of the worst draft mistakes in the last 30 years. How will Aguayo react to this sort of pressure? Will the Bucs take away Licht’s parking spot if Aguayo gets cut? This is going to be fascinating television.
The whole season has that kind of potential.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns are starting to think they aren’t going to sit on QB MITCHELL TRUPINSKY at number 12.
Browns head of football operations Sashi Brown admitted Wednesday he’s game for trading up from No. 12 — and although he wouldn’t confirm it, the target is presumably quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
“We are open to it,” Brown said during his pre-draft press conference. “Generally, we value picks. We think no matter how prepared you are there is always a lot of uncertainty in the draft. Every team misses. We’re not going to be different in that regard. We like young talent.
“We’ve said the draft is going to be the pipeline. We don’t want to get into a habit of turning two picks into one, so to speak. We just don’t think that is a good way to do business over time.
“We have studied this around the league, and it’s just our inclination. It doesn’t mean that if there is a player there we might not go take a shot. We think we’re positioned to be able to do that without impacting our draft much.”
Trubisky, the Mentor, Ohio, native, could go in the top 10, or could tumble to the twenties. No one knows for sure, but if the Browns want him, they might have to seize the moment.
At the NFL owners meeting last month, Brown admitted he’ll do what it takes to land that elusive franchise quarterback.
“We’ve shown we want to be aggressive and that doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s going to get done,” he said. “We don’t want to force things just to have things happen, but we are going to stay aggressive at quarterback as we will all positions.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that he’ll pursue a veteran quarterback such as a Jimmy Garoppolo or AJ McCarron. Asked if he’ll try to trade for a veteran on draft weekend, Brown said, “No.”
Before draft weekend then?
“Could we in theory? Yes,” he said. “But are we planning on it or is that the plan? No.”
That means the Browns will focus on a rookie, and if they can’t land Trubisky, they’ll likely consider Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes. During Brown’s press conference, walterfootball.com reported the Jets have already engaged in trade talks with the Browns about moving down from No. 6 to No. 12.
Brown refused to comment on the report, but Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan told reporters recently that he’d like to deal the No. 6.
“Every draft I’ve been in I’ve always wanted to acquire more picks,” he said. “I think the one thing for ourselves, we’d like to move back and acquire more picks in this draft if possible. We’re open for business in every round. If someone wants to move up in any particular round, call us up.”
It’s likely the Browns have done just that to test the waters before the draft next Thursday. Although the Jets also need a quarterback, they’re not believed to have their sights set on Trubisky.
The Titans at No. 5 have made it clear they’re ready to move out of the pick too. The Browns, of course, traded down with the Titans last year from No. 8 to No. 15, where they landed receiver Corey Coleman.
“It’s got to be a two-way street,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said at the NFL Combine. “We’ve got to have somebody that wants to move up to that spot. But like I said last year, we’re open for business and willing to have discussions. We’re just trying to put ourselves in position to improve the football team.”
So, it appears the Browns will have a good chance of landing both Garrett and Trubisky, providing the 49ers don’t take Trubisky at No. 2 or another team doesn’t jump ahead of them. The Bears at No. 3 are set with Mike Glennon, and the Jaguars at No. 4 have Blake Bortles.
The Browns have spent a lot of time with Trubisky and are believed to like him ahead of the other QB prospects.
“A positive young man, bright, very competitive and brings kind of a lunchbox, blue-collar mentality to the position,” said Brown. “We were impressed by him.”
He didn’t feel the need to harp on the hometown thing in their meetings.
“No, I think Mitch seems to be a pretty mature kid,” he said. “All the quarterbacks were – (Notre Dame DeShone) Kizer, (Clemson QB Deshuan) Watson, (Texas Tech QB Patrick) Mahomes (II), (California QB) Davis (Webb) who we had down at the Senior Bowl – all of them really mature young men and I think would handle themselves well, whether they were in their home environment or they were on the road.”
He’s not necessarily bugged by Trubisky’s 13 starts the way Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is.
“Not going to comment on Mitch’s history,” Brown said. “We appreciate Bruce’s expertise. First, let me say that. Certainly, I think you’d like to be able to look back on as many games as you can, and it is no mystery that Mitch hasn’t played in a lot of them.”
Is QB PATRICK MAHOMES, raised in Tyler, Texas, heading to Houston? Chase Goodbread at NFL.com:
It hasn’t been easy for Patrick Mahomes to get a read on which teams like him the most, but Texans coach Bill O’Brien is one he has a strong feeling about. Mahomes was in Houston to meet with Texans officials Monday, and amid reports that O’Brien is a big fan of the former Texas Tech quarterback, Mahomes got a similar sense himself.
“I feel like a lot of coaches like me, but especially coach O’Brien. I think my personality and how real I am, those are things beyond what I can do on the field that he likes,” Mahomes said. “It seemed like the way I was answering questions, I think he knew that I knew what was going on. You can tell when coaches have a confidence in you.”
Four clubs scheduled him for both a pre-draft visit and a private workout: the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. That, he believes, is sign of strong interest, as well.
“I felt like the visits with most of those clubs came after I had a good workout, and they invited me afterward. That tells me they saw something they liked and they want to know you a little better,” Mahomes said.
With a whirlwind tour of club visits and an aggressive schedule of private workouts nearly complete — Mahomes said got in front of NFL clubs 21 times, counting dinner meetings — he now has an understanding of why teams were so interested.
“I think the reason they looked into me so hard is that I’m so different than other quarterbacks. I have my own unique way of playing, and it works. They wanted to see if I had the knowledge, background and drive to be a great quarterback in the NFL,” he said.
It was exhausting and hectic, but the value he drew from so much face time with NFL coaches can’t be measured.
“I got to talk with some of the great offensive minds in football. Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich, Andy Reid, Ben McAdoo, Bill O’Brien, I met all those guys and tried to take something away from each of them,” Mahomes said. “Hue Jackson, people that are known for developing quarterbacks, I got exposed to a lot of stuff I hadn’t seen before. Even Jon Gruden, who I met doing the QB Camp show, I was able to pick his brain too.”
Now, it’s nearly time for an NFL team to do the picking, with the draft (April 27-29 in Philadelphia) just about a week away. And after seven long weeks since the NFL Scouting Combine, he’s ready to get the call.
The Patriots had what would normally be a nice and unremarkable visit to the White House yesterday, but nothing goes unremarked these days. The New York Times and other outlets dug out photos that seemed to suggest that attendance had drastically declined since the team’s 2015 audience with Barack Obama. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Patriots visited the White House on Wednesday, an event that generated plenty of photos. One specific photo has been compared to a specific photo from their last visit to D.C. to celebrate a Super Bowl win, because it seems to show a much smaller contingent for the trip to see President Donald Trump.
Not so, says the Patriots. The team has taken to Twitter to explain that the photos “lack context,” adding that, in 2015, more than 40 members of the team’s football staff were standing on stairs. This year, there were seated on the South Lawn.
It’s unclear whether the Patriots made this clarification on their own, or whether they were asked to do it. It’s possible that the topic will come up during Thursday’s press briefing from Sean Spicer.
Not making the trip on Wednesday was QB TOM BRADY who issued a statement citing “personal family matters” which made some of us think about his mother and her health.
Victor Mather in the New York Times gets a career attendance count amidst his coverage:
During a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, President Trump singled out several members of the New England Patriots, including wide receiver Danny Amendola, calling for them to raise a hand or step forward for acknowledgment. But Amendola was not there, nor were two dozen or more other players for the Super Bowl champions.
The customary White House visit for sports champions has become especially fraught since Trump was elected, with some athletes saying they would reject an invitation for political reasons. The issue was stark on Wednesday, when a relatively small contingent of Patriots players flanked the president.
A Patriots spokesman, Stacey James, said Wednesday night that 34 players had attended, similar to the turnout when President George W. Bush hosted them in 2004 and 2005. He said that more than 45 players attended the ceremonies in 2002, after the franchise’s first Super Bowl, and that in 2015, when Barack Obama was president, the number of players approached 50.
James said that one reason substantially fewer players showed up this time as compared to 2015 was that some veteran players did not see the need to go twice in three years.
James said, however, that the size of the Patriots’ full delegation for each trip to the White House has been roughly the same. Some photos of the ceremonies include support staff, he said, making the turnout appear bigger. That, he said, was the case in 2015.
The White House did not immediately respond to an email inquiring about Wednesday’s turnout.
Quarterback Tom Brady was among those who did not attend Wednesday’s ceremony, citing family matters. Trump did not mention Brady, the Super Bowl’s most valuable player,during the ceremony. Brady had been spotted in 2015 with one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats in his locker.
The visit to the White House came the same day that a former Patriot, Aaron Hernandez, hanged himself in prison, where he was serving a life sentence for murder.
During the ceremony, Trump heaped praise on the Patriots — “No team has been this good for this long.” He also could not resist making allusions to his campaign.
“With your backs against the wall, and the pundits — good old pundits, boy, they’re wrong a lot, aren’t they? — saying you couldn’t do it, the game was over, you pulled off the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.”
Trump also thanked Coach Bill Belichick for writing a letter before the election praising him.
“Whether you’re trying to win a Super Bowl or rebuild our country, as Coach Belichick would say, ‘There are no days off.’ ”
Trump was presented with the usual ceremonial jersey, with the No. 45 and “Trump” on the back, as well as a helmet.
This from Karim Zedan at SportsOnEarth.com:
When New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski crashed White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s briefing on Wednesday afternoon, it became evidently clear that this would not be a typical day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Apart from yielding awkward laughter from surrounding media members and a befuddled reaction from Spicer, a longtime Pats fan himself, Gronkowski’s sudden appearance on live television served as a reminder that the Patriots were scheduled to visit the White House that day to celebrate their Super Bowl LI victory. In total, 34 members of the decorated team attended the first sports championship celebration of President Donald Trump’s tenure in office — Tom Brady, notably wasn’t among them.
Yet while the majority of the team took part in the longstanding tradition of White House sports ceremonies, several dark clouds loomed over the proceedings.
A group of six players — Alan Branch, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Long, Dont’a Hightower, Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty — publicly stated that they would not attend the ceremony with the rest of their teammates (34 were absent in all). Some, including six-time captain McCourty, openly expressed their concerns and explained that their stance was to be taken in the form of a political statement against Trump’s administration.
“The different things that come out of the White House or the [administration] just didn’t agree or align with some of my views,” McCourty said at the Boston University’s “Play It Forward” summit (h/t ESPN). “I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t. … I don’t believe in excluding other people.”
McCourty wasn’t the only outspoken member of the Patriots, as Blount told The Rich Eisen Show that he “just doesn’t feel welcome in that house,” while Bennett stated that “People know how I feel about it. Just follow me on Twitter.”
The Patriots’ ties to Trump are undeniable; owner Robert Kraft is a friend of the president and contributed significantly to his inauguration ceremony. He has since been reportedly spotted having dinner with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-A-Lago. Apart from his friendship with Kraft, Trump namedropped Brady and coach Bill Belichick at various points on the campaign trail. He claimed to have their support and even quoted Brady saying “you’re my friend and I voted for you.” Brady has reportedly known Trump since 2002 when he judged one of the Miss Universe beauty pageants. His absence on Wednesday raises a few eyebrows.
But in the immediate aftermath of the Patriots victory in February, Kraft dismissed the notion that his players were outspoken against Trump, instead blaming the controversy on the media’s portrayal.
“It’s interesting, this is our fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years, and every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go,” Kraft told NBC’s Today show (h/t Sports Illustrated). “This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention,” Kraft said. “Some other players have the privilege of going [to the White House] in college because they’re on national championship teams. Others have family commitments.
“But this is America; we’re all free to do whatever’s best for us.”
THIS AND THAT
An Aaron Hernandez update from Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:
More details are emerging regarding the death of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, and they’re troubling.
Via WBZ-TV, the phrase “John 3:16” was written on Hernandez’s forehead, and red marker was on his hands and feet. “John 3:16” is a popular Biblical verse, the 16th verse of the third chapter of the Gospel According to John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Per the report, investigators are exploring whether Hernandez may have smoked synthetic marijuana on Tuesday night. If he did, that possibly could explain bizarre and erratic behavior, like someone who was not suicidal suddenly committing suicide.
Hernandez’s lawyer, Jose Baez, has vowed to conduct his own investigation regarding the situation.
Phil Simms may be out as the number one game analyst at CBS, but he will continue to be heard in a prominent role on the network’s NFL coverage. The AP:
Phil Simms is headed to the studio.
A fixture as a game analyst at CBS for two decades, Simms will join the network’s “NFL Today” cast for the upcoming season.
Simms recently was replaced as the top game analyst at CBS by Tony Romo after the Cowboys quarterback retired. He and CBS Sports President Sean McManus had been discussing Simms eventually moving to “NFL Today” for several years. Simms has experience in a similar setting from his work on Showtime’s “Inside The NFL.”
“When Sean told me he wanted me in the studio, I thought about it a bit,” Simms said Wednesday. “I told him I would like to do (games) a bit longer. I love doing the games, meeting during the week with coaches and players, getting the inside info. It is the best.
“But I also thought that I will work in New York and watch all the games instead of prepping for two teams, and will have all week to study the league, and that really intrigued me.
“There are a lot of things I don’t get to say on games I have a chance to say now. There are a lot of things I would like to talk about that I never would have talked about during games.”
Simms joins Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher, Bart Scott and James Brown as part of the program. He says he’s more than comfortable being part of that lineup, and looks forward to some pointed conversations among the group.
“James and I get along really well,” he said, adding with a laugh, “on ‘Inside the NFL,’ we’re always playing footsie because I want him to send it back to me so I can challenge something someone said, or make a comment.
“Boomer and I have known each other for years and we do not have thin skins, so we can say anything with each other.
“Of course, coach Cowher, well, he’s the coach, and we are going to disagree a lot because we were players and he was a coach.
“We all love football, and I think that will come across, and I hope we talk about the aspects of the game I have opinions about that are different from what you hear on some other (shows).”
McManus is certain that will be the case. His network received criticism for the Romo announcement that seemed to leave Simms in the cold. Instead, McManus believes the former quarterback who was part of two Super Bowl titles with the Giants is entering a new and productive phase of his broadcasting career.
“When the news hit that Tony Gonzalez would not be back on the show, this seemed logical,” McManus said. “We had a number of discussions about it and I was excited about it, and he was excited.
“This will be good for viewers. Anyone who has watched just 30 seconds of ‘Inside The NFL’ will know that.
“One of the things I like best, Phil has strong opinions, but he has a way of doing it in a very respectful way. And you see the interaction they have on ‘Inside The NFL.’ It’s really good stuff, a really good mix.”
Mixing in Thursday night games to Simms’ schedule made viewers wonder if the workload had become too heavy. Simms strongly disputes that, noting that he felt last season was the best on Thursday nights for the network.
“A lot of people said it wore on me, and I am not going to say it physically was easy,” Simms said. “I told everyone over the years, man when that game is ready to start, I never felt I was not completely prepared, and I couldn’t wait for them to turn the camera on.
“So that stuff is not true, it was never to the level where I couldn’t handle it.”
What about handling being absent from the broadcast booth after so many Sundays (and Thursday nights) behind the microphone?
“Yeah, the excitement of just being there, hearing the crowd, the prep and talking to the coaches and players who are such a part of it,” he said. “But I will probably get over that pretty quick.”
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Some interesting interaction between ESPN and FS1. Michael McCarthy of The Sporting News:
The tension between ESPN and rival Fox Sports 1 is starting to resemble the old late-night TV wars. There was a flare-up Wednesday at the CAA World Congress of Sports, with ESPN executive Burke Magnus accusing FS1 boss Jamie Horowitz of taking “cheap shots” at the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
Things got testy in the morning when Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming, was asked about Horowitz’s observation that ESPN should be “worried” about its flagship “SportsCenter” franchise. “SportsCenter” had lost 30 percent of its audience over the previous five years, and 40 percent among younger viewers, Horowitz noted at last year’s conference. “That’s a staggering fall,” he said at the time.
Fast forward to Wednesday. Magnus called Horowitz’s comments a “cheap shot.” He told moderator Abe Madkour, executive editor of SportsBusiness Journal, the comments are as “ridiculous today as it was a year ago.”
Magnus noted “SportsCenter” showed its worth with its all-hands coverage Wednesday morning of the reported suicide of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
“We’re the only ones in the business covering the story like that. We’re the only entity in sports media that’s heavily invested in journalism and project reporting,” Magnus said. “‘SportsCenter,’ first of all, is not a show. ‘SportsCenter’ is a brand.”
Horowitz was the ESPN wunderkind who created shows like “First Take” and “SportsNation.” A year after his comments at the World Congress, and after his interview with Sporting News, he looks prescient in many ways.
ESPN’s flagship “SportsCenter” franchise has lost nearly a third of its TV audience since 2010, according to industry sources. The drop is even worse among advertiser-coveted viewers aged 18-34 and 18-49.
As Madkour noted, ESPN is making major changes to reposition “SportsCenter” for a future in which fans are more likely to get the latest news and highlights on their phones instead of their TVs. The changes are also designed to fight back against FS1’s roster of “opinionists” such as Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock, all of whom previously worked at ESPN.
— ESPN is poised to announce a new “Greeny & Friends”-type show for Mike Greenberg in the early-morning ESPN time slot currently filled by “SportsCenter:AM” (6-10 a.m ET). Greenberg’s solo show will be opinion-driven. The show marks the end of Greenberg’s 17-year partnership with Mike Golic on ESPN2’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning.”
— “The Six” with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill (6 p.m. ET), a new version of “SportsCenter,” features as much opinion and personality from its co-hosts as traditional news and highlights.
— ESPN moved “First Take,” with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim, up to ESPN from ESPN2 to beat down the challenge from FS1’s “Undisputed” with Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and Joy Taylor.
Horowitz, meanwhile, canceled the “Fox Sports Live” late-night show that was supposed to be FS1’s answer to “SportsCenter.”
Horowitz’s predictions about opinion replacing news and highlights have proven to be correct, said one TV executive attending the World Congress of Sports who declined to be named because he works with both ESPN and FS1.
“Was that a ‘cheap shot,’ or a mission statement on how ESPN should fix their lineup?” the executive asked.
This executive added it was “silly to believe that viewers had to turn to ‘SportsCenter’ for the Hernandez story when it was was everywhere on TV and social media.
“You don’t need ‘SportsCenter’ to tell you what happened,” he said.
Rob Rang, writing at CBSSports.com, with some recent rumors:
Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster and Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell are two of the most gifted defenders in the 2017 draft, with tape that suggests that each should be considered with a top-10 pick.
Neither is likely to get selected that high, however, at least according to some of this week’s hottest rumors.
Foster, the reigning Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker, was among the prospects invited back to Indianapolis last week for the medical rechecks. This was not simply because Foster was booted out of the initial combine for a well-documented dispute with a medical official there. Foster underwent surgery on his rotator cuff in February and teams wanted to get an update.
Unfortunately for Foster, some teams are not satisfied with his recovery – at least, according to a report from ESPN’s NFL Insiders TV program. It was even suggested that Foster may need a second surgery, which could threaten his availability for training camp.
Not surprisingly, Foster’s agent, Malki Kawa, had the opposite opinion, taking to Twitter to claim that his client is “ahead of schedule” and “will be ready for training camp.”
The issue with McDowell is not so much medical as motivational — as in his relative lack of it.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound McDowell is among the more physically dominant prospects in the draft when focused, but you wouldn’t know it from the meager statistics (34 tackles, including seven for loss and 1.5 sacks) he posted a year ago — a significant drop from a splashy sophomore season in which 13 of his 41 tackles came behind the line of scrimmage, including 4.5 sacks.
NFLDraftScout.com Fire Detector: Fire. Whether because of the medical or the character red-flags created with his expulsion from the original combine, Foster’s stock is slipping, according to multiple league sources contacted by NFLDraftScout.com. The same is true with McDowell. One could argue that his numbers might have approached his 2015 production had McDowell not missed three games with a nagging ankle sprain but the reality is McDowell’s inconsistency and toughness were being questioned even prior to his injury. Worse, scouts from multiple teams shared with NFLDraftScout.com that McDowell’s interviews at the combine and since were – as one scout characterized it – “far from ideal.”
Fourth or even fifth QB to be selected in the first round?
Most expect that North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson will be selected somewhere in the first round. I also believe that Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes will hear his name called, perhaps as early as No. 13 overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
There are plenty who believe that Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and California’s Davis Webb could also earn first-round picks, with some even suggesting that it would be a surprise if at least one of these passers was not a top-32 selection.
Given that the value of young quarterbacks has never been higher (and that the depth at typically hard-to-find positions like edge rusher and defensive back is so good this year), it is a possibility worth considering, though most believe that Kizer and Webb (and perhaps Mahomes, as well) are at least a year away from contributing much.
NFLDraftScout.com Fire Detector: Smoldering Coals. Most are focusing on the teams selecting early as the potential landing spots for the quarterbacks, as it would shock no one if the Cleveland Browns (picking first and No. 12 overall), San Francisco 49ers (No. 2), Chicago Bears (No. 3) or New York Jets (No. 6) gambled on young passers. What makes this rumor intriguing, however, is that many of the teams selecting later that already have veteran Pro Bowl quarterbacks may be looking for a young backup to groom behind their accomplished starters.
The San Diego Chargers (No. 7), Buffalo Bills (No. 10), Cardinals, New York Giants (No. 23) and New Orleans Saints (No. 11, 32) have each dedicated significant time into vetting this year’s quarterbacks and may see the potential fifth year of rookie contracts allowed just for first-round selections as the perfect “layaway plan” to develop a young passer.
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Steve Palazollo of ProFootballFocus.com ranks all the leading QBs in the Class of 2017. He’s not a fan of DAVIS WEBB:
The quarterback class has a number of question marks at the top, and there is no consensus as to which signal-caller will be the best option a few years down the road. Perhaps more than ever, each quarterback’s situation will determine their success, as all of the top players have strengths to accentuate, but also weaknesses to hide at the next level. There are a few quarterbacks with starting ability at the top of the draft to go with a number of potential backups who should be available in the mid-to-late rounds.
2017 QB class data and rankings
1. Mitchell Trubisky, UNC
A one-year starter, Trubisky showed good short-area accuracy, pocket presence, and the ability to make big-time throws outside the numbers. He can still improve his blitz recognition and deep ball, but his impressive one-year sample has pushed him to the top of our quarterback board.
2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
One of the most difficult evaluations in the class, Watson can make the necessary throws to be successful at the next level. His ability to work through progressions and maneuver the pocket, however, present big questions he has to answer. Watson usually saves his best work for crunch time, either down the stretch or late in games, and that’s the part that pushes him back up draft boards despite concerns about his game translating at the next level.
3. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Mahomes has an incredible feel for making plays outside of the flow of the offense, and when combined with his special arm talent, that allows him to make any throw from any platform—a best-case scenario for Mahomes is tantalizing. The problem is the same feel for making plays also leads to a number of poor decisions with the football, and a prospective team has to find the balance of keeping Mahomes’ aggressiveness and natural playmaking ability while harnessing him to make good decisions within the flow of the offense.
4. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Week-to-week—and often play-to-play–consistency is the big question for Kizer, who has at least shown the ability to make every throw, handle pressure, and maneuver the pocket like an NFL quarterback. He often makes difficult stuff look easy, but he also makes the easy stuff look difficult, and his overall accuracy is below the level of the other quarterbacks in the draft class.
5. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh
The best quarterback during the week at the Senior Bowl, Peterman showed an impressive combination of big-time throws and intermediate accuracy during the 2016 season. He also had one of the highest percentages of turnover-worthy throws, and his natural tools don’t jump off the tape, but there’s a lot to like about Peterman’s game.
6. Brad Kaaya, Miami
When throwing within the flow of the offense, Kaaya looks like a reasonable quarterback, able to make good decisions and get the ball out of his hand with solid short-area accuracy. He doesn’t have great zip to drive the ball downfield, and most concerning about his game is how much he drops off when pressured, illustrated by his completion percentage falling from 68.5 percent in a clean pocket to 32.9 percent when under pressure.
7. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
It’s often a combination of great throws and head-scratchers when watching Kelly, and when taking his off-field concerns out of the equation, he has a skill-set worth looking to develop at the next level. At the very least, Kelly is willing to take chances and let his playmakers make plays for him, but the same aggressiveness that can win a game will also lead to losses when he turns the ball over at inopportune times.
8. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Dobbs has a knack for keeping you around just as you’re ready to write him off. He’s been wildly inconsistent with his accuracy throughout his career at Tennessee, but he tied for the national lead with 12 touchdowns when pressured, and he’s the best running quarterback in the draft.
9. Davis Webb, Cal
After four weeks in 2016, Webb was sitting at No. 4 in overall PFF grades among quarterbacks, but Week 5 through the end of the season saw him finish dead last at 142nd. At his best, Webb can make impressive downfield throws with touch or with zip, but his decision-making and accuracy was too inconsistent to rely on him as more than a developmental option.
10. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
There’s little spectacular to Beathard’s game, as he makes solid decisions and throws with good touch, but he’s shown little to suggest that he can carry a franchise and be more than a backup option at the next level.
Best arm: Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Mahomes makes special throws regularly, whether putting passes into tight windows, making off-balance throws look routine, or even mixing in the no-look pass for good measure.
Most accurate: Mitchell Trubisky, UNC
Trubisky is excellent in the short-to-intermediate range, where he throws with good ball location that allows his receivers to maximize their yards after the catch.
Best under pressure: DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
While he’s inconsistent, Kizer had some of the best plays in the draft class when facing pressure. Whether maneuvering the pocket or making throws while taking a hit, Kizer has shown the ability to handle muddy pockets.
Best deep ball: Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh
With great touch and downfield ball location, Peterman can create chunk plays, and his 125.5 passer rating on deep passes ranked third in the nation. He is extremely accurate on over-the-shoulder throws, and that led to the highest percentage of big-time throws in the class.
Best running threat: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Dobbs was often used as a designed runner in Tennessee’s system, and his presence gave the Vols a viable run game despite their poor offensive line. He gained 1,029 yards while averaging 8.0 yards per carry last season.