The Daily Briefing Thursday, April 27, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

It’s going to take two people to replace Dean Blandino.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Almost-former NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino is leaving just as the league was about to give final say on real-time replay from every game.

 

And after a moment of surprise, perhaps they’ve realized it might take more than one man to do the job.

 

According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com, the NFL has posted a new job which sounds like the guy who will be the eyes and face of replay, in addition to the vacancy Blandino’s creating by going to FOX.

 

The posting for the newly created vice president of replay and administration says that person will be responsible for “accuracy and consistency in all areas concerning in-game reviews and communication with [the] on-field officiating crew,” and said the job would require the “ability to make decisions in situations that are time sensitive and potentially public facing.”

 

That new title will report to the senior vice president of officiating, meaning they’re effectively splitting Blandino’s job in half.

 

Creating a new position does nothing to change the perception that centralizing replay was done with Blandino in particular in mind, and that his leaving left them in a state of pants somewhere other than up. And it also suggests that the lure of more money for less work was something Blandino was interested in, unless the league was offering to double his salary and we just haven’t heard about it.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

Still hard to believe that QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER suffered such a serious knee injury without contact.  Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com on the Vikings options with his contract:

 

In response to the ESPN report that the Vikings likely won’t pick up quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s fifth-year option before the May 3 deadline, NFL Media reported that it won’t matter, if Bridgewater spends the full season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, that’s currently a very, very big if. Bridgewater is currently not expected to spend the entire season on the PUP list. Which means that his contract would definitely expire after the 2017 season, if the Vikings don’t pick up the option.

 

Even if Bridgewater doesn’t exit the PUP list in 2017, it’s still not entirely clear that Bridgewater’s four-year contract automatically would extend to five years. If it does, a disagreement could emerge between team and player as to whether Bridgewater should exit the PUP list during the midseason window that allows players first to practice and then, if healthy, to join the active roster.

 

Also, if the Vikings can indeed toll the contract by not activating Bridgewater from the PUP list in 2017, why not pick up the fifth-year option and extend the deal through 2019? If they think he’ll stay on PUP in 2017 and that he won’t be ready to play by 2019, that would be the most ominous news yet regarding his knee injury from nearly eight months ago.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Spirit of New Orleans spoke to RB ADRIAN PETERSON, and willed him to sign with the Saints.  Julie Boudwin of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

Peterson released the following statement through ESPN’s Josina Anderson regarding signing with New Orleans:

 

“I am excited to be joining the New Orleans Saints. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. Most importantly, I chose this team because it just felt right within my spirit. Additionally, my wife and family added their confirmation with the same feelings.

 

“On offense, it goes without saying that the Saints are really solid behind Drew Brees. I feel like my skill set can make them even more dominant as a unit. They have a great offensive line, which is something that stood out to me as well. I could tell from talking to head coach Sean Payton over the last two weeks that he did his due diligence in evaluating how I could contribute.

 

“I also did a lot of homework on the defense as well. While I know that injuries have played a role in performance, I also see areas of potential with a lot of younger guys having the ability to step up. Lastly, it goes without saying that the Saints have an amazing fan base and I look forward to making them proud and creating everlasting memories.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Michael Silver on NFL.com, BFF of Hue Jackson, says reports of a rift in Cleveland over tonight’s first pick are bull.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Browns head of football operations Sashi Brown has known for two weeks who he’ll pick at No. 1, Mike Silver of NFL Network reports.

 

Silver is reporting from the Browns’ facility Berea, where he’s been all week, and spoke directly to Brown on Wednesday.

 

Brown wouldn’t reveal the pick to Silver and has said he’ll take his full allotment of time. Brown is likely referring to Myles Garrett, but he wouldn’t tell Silver. Silver also reported that only handful of people in the building know who the pick is.

 

Question is, is coach Hue Jackson one of them?

 

In a later interview with the Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan, Silver said, “My understanding is that Hue Jackson does not know, but we’re sitting here talking on the radio, so maybe he does. I’m not in constant communication with everyone at all times.

 

“(Jackson) did tell me several times this week, ‘I’m putting my head down and coaching my guys, we’re here for OTAs, we’ve got the Nave SEALs here, I’ve got a lot going on as the coach of this football team,’ so he’s intentionally put himself in a coaching cocoon and I’m 100% sure that he and Sashi, if it hasn’t happened already are going to have a good conversation and know everything.”

 

Brown also told ESPN’s Josina Anderson, who’s also embedded in Berea, “You want to make sure that you get a player (at No. 1) that’s going to be an impact player and that we can count on.”

 

With Garrett widely regarded as a surefire gamechanger and with all of the quarterbacks needing time to develop, all signs still point to the Texas A&M pass-rusher.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk elaborates on a report from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the disappointment of TE LADARIUS GREEN.

 

A year ago, the Steelers signed Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract, thinking that meant they had found Heath Miller’s replacement at tight end. It hasn’t worked out that way.

 

Green missed 10 games in the regular season and all three games in the postseason, and now the Steelers aren’t sure he’ll ever be ready to go. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the Steelers’ coaches may not have any hopes for Green, and the Steelers are likely to draft a tight end.

 

There were reports shortly after Green arrived in Pittsburgh that the Steelers found out only after he signed that a lingering ankle issue and a history of concussions were worse than the team thought. The Steelers, however, said that wasn’t the case.

 

If the Steelers spend their first-round pick on a tight end tonight, that’s a strong sign that they’re not as confident in Green now as they were a year ago.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Houston’s Saturday picks will be out of this world.  Matt Young of the Houston Chronicle:

 

The Houston Texans will spice up the third day of the NFL Draft by having their picks announced from space.

 

Peggy Whitson, a Rice graduate who is on her record-setting 535th day in space, will introduce the team’s picks and send it down to Earth for the live announcements. Astronaut Scott Kelly will help make the Texans’ announcements for the fourth and fifth rounds.

 

The Texans will have former star receiver Andre Johnson announce the team’s second-round pick Friday. Texans linebacker Brian Cushing will announce the team’s third-round pick.

 

The NFL will choose a Texans fan in Philadelphia – where the draft is being held – to make the announcement of the Texans’ seventh-round pick.

 

 

TENNESSEE

GM Jon Robinson is willing to drop down from #5 even with a multitude of picks.  Jason Wolf of USA Today:

 

The Titans want to trade the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft.

 

If the price is right.

 

“We’ve had a few calls,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said Tuesday. “I think there’s some that are just investigative, just trying to see if anything is going on around us. And we’ve had a couple a little more serious in nature about potentially moving.”

 

Robinson said there’s a “50/50” chance the Titans make a trade in the first round of the draft, which begins Thursday in Philadelphia. They own the fifth and 18th overall selections, two picks in the third round and one each in the fourth through seventh rounds.

 

The Titans do not have a second-round pick, a situation the GM would undoubtedly like to rectify.

 

Robinson has orchestrated five trades since taking over as the team’s GM last year; three of them to move around the draft board.

 

Most notably, he dealt the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft to the Rams as part of a package that netted the Titans two first-, two second- and two third-round picks, including the fifth overall selection this season.

 

After dropping from No. 1 to 15, Robinson traded up to select right tackle Jack Conklin with the eighth overall pick. Conklin was named a first-team All-Pro last season.

 

Any trade this week is likely to occur with the Titans on the clock.

 

Numerous draft analysts speculate that a team may trade up to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

 

“Over the last week or so the quarterback market has maybe heated up a little bit,” Robinson said, “at least from what I can see on the internet. I don’t know how legit it is. But again I think we’re in a good position at five and 18 to get two good football players if we stay there.”

 

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com calls the Titans the “powerbrokers” of the draft:

 

OK, so in the past, I’ve written on the power brokers in each year’s draft. And it’s not only about who has the most capital—anyone can count up picks—but also who will have the flexibility to move and strike.

 

As much as anything else, that can be defined as a team that can do things that others can’t. Which is why, even though they have three picks fewer than the Browns and Bengals, I’m going with the Titans this year.

 

Here’s the deal: Because of the depth of this class at several spots, this year’s draft is one in which teams that want to trade down will have trouble finding suitors. And yet, I think the Titans are in a position to deal down, and more than once.

 

With the fifth pick, Tennessee sits right in the vicinity of where the first quarterback could go. At 18, the Titans are just ahead of an expected run on offensive linemen—there are four (Alabama’s Cam Robinson, Utah’s Garrett Bolles, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramcyzk and Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp) who seem to have separated from the pack—in a year where the demand greatly outdistances the supply.

 

So if you want in on the top quarterbacks, you’ll call Titans GM Jon Robinson. And if you’re a playoff team in need of offensive line help, ditto.

 

“Those will probably manifest themselves closer to when the draft starts, depending on what players are available when our pick gets close,” Robinson said from his office on Tuesday afternoon. “I’d like to think, based on our movement last year, teams would be willing to call and see if we’d be willing to slide around a little.”

 

And all of this will close the loop on the Jared Goff trade between the Titans and the Rams.

 

So far, the Titans have flipped that one pick—the 2016 first overall pick, which they deal to the Rams in mid-April last year—into starting right tackle Jack Conklin, bulldozing former Heisman winner Derrick Henry, and reserve (for now) nose tackle Austin Johnson. Tennessee has two picks left from that deal—fifth overall tonight, and 100th overall Friday.

 

“The players we took last year with that trade, that certainly paid dividends for us,” Robinson said. “And I certainly hope the players we can acquire with those picks in this year’s draft can pay dividends. So it’s the culmination of both draft classes. … We’re certainly excited about the opportunity to add guys, and glad we have all these picks this year.”

 

What’ll make it easier to hit now is the job that Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey have done creating an identity for the roster and patching holes. It’s not as if they don’t have needs—receiver is one, and corner is another. It’s just that those needs are not glaring to the point where the Titans wouldn’t be able to, say, sit and take someone at another position, like an O.J. Howard, fifth overall.

 

So coming off a nine-win season, playing in a winnable division, and with a franchise QB in tow, Robinson seems poised to set up his team’s next step, with plenty of reason to be happy with where the Titans stand.

 

“We set out wanting to add tough, dependable guys, guys that could play that style of football,” Robinson said. “That’s been my background, certainly has been Mike’s background. So to find those guys, and get those players to buy in, both in free agency last year and then in the draft and in this most recent free agency period, it’s been good.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

GAREON CONLEY

CB GAREON CONLEY awaits his fate today (and maybe tomorrow).  Christine Brennan of USA Today looks at the allegations swirling around him:

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A college football player becomes embroiled in a potentially heinous criminal scandal just days before he is to become a multi-millionaire in the NFL draft. The police are involved, there are two sides to the story, and NFL teams that were hoping to draft the player early in the first round are now scrambling.

 

This was the saga of LSU offensive guard La’el Collins two years ago. And it’s the story of Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley today.

 

Did Conley rape a woman in a hotel bathroom in Cleveland on April 9? Or did he not? That should be enough of a concern for all of us, but it’s not.

 

That horrible uncertainty, life altering as it would be for the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator, is set against the backdrop of the looming NFL draft. Conley was certain to be drafted within the first couple of hours of Thursday night’s televised extravaganza. Now, of course, he might not be drafted at all. He could fall spectacularly out of the draft entirely, just as Collins did in 2015.

 

If Conley sexually assaulted the woman, going undrafted and losing more than $10 million in earnings would be just the beginning of his deserved punishment. But if he did not rape her, if the woman lied to the police, it would be a terrible turn of events for Conley.

 

But it would be a turn of events that was entirely within his control to avoid.

 

@TomPelissero

Gareon Conley calls the allegations against him “completely false.”

 

The police report says that the 23-year-old woman met the 21-year-old Conley around 3 a.m. while riding in an elevator at the Westin hotel with her friends. She then left her friends to join Conley in his room, where he allegedly asked the woman if she wanted to have sex with another couple in the bathroom.

 

According to the police report, the woman told Conley “she wanted to watch the couple” with the intention “to try and avoid having sex with Conley all together.”

 

The police report states that the woman and Conley eventually walked into the bathroom before Conley allegedly assaulted her. The report says that Conley finished the sexual act and then kicked the accuser out of the room.

 

Two witnesses in Conley’s room contradicted the woman’s description of events, according to police, one saying Conley “never touched” her, while the other said the two were “on the bed together, but nothing happened.” Conley’s attorney has called the accusations “ridiculous and ludicrous.” Conley has denied the allegations, calling them “completely false.”

 

Let’s go back to that scene in the elevator at 3 a.m. You’re Conley, and you’re less than three weeks away from realizing the dream of a lifetime: Your football skills are about to set you up financially for decades, if not forever. You’re going to be a top selection in the NFL draft. Does it get any better than that?

 

You’ve been told over and over again by your high school and college coaches, as well as the other adults in your life, to avoid trouble at all costs. You’ve probably been cautioned about this exact situation, being with people you don’t know in the middle of the night. Other than injury, there’s only one thing that can ruin your dream now, and that’s making a terrible decision.

 

Then you make a terrible decision.

 

In a statement released Wednesday, Conley admitted as much. “I realize that I put myself in the situation and I could have used better judgment.”

 

Two years ago, Collins was projected to be a first-round pick when, right before the draft, he was called to answer questions by the Louisiana state police in the shooting death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend. By the time the case was closed, with Collins cleared, the draft had come and gone, and he had been left by the wayside. Collins later signed with the Dallas Cowboys and has started at left guard when not sidelined by injury, playing for millions less than he would have made had he been a first-round pick.

 

Because it’s unlikely Conley’s case will be resolved by Thursday night, he almost certainly will face a similar fate. What NFL team can risk using a first-round selection – or any choice for that matter – on a player who might be arrested for sexual assault within days?

 

Another NFL draft day is upon us. Another cautionary tale, too.

 

This from Albert Breer at TheMMQB.com:

 

How far will Gareon Conley fall?

 

NFL teams that had strong interest in the Ohio State corner before the April 9 rape accusation against him were scrambling to figure that out Wednesday. And simultaneously, they were furiously trying to gather any information they could on what happened that night at the Cleveland Westin. And Conley was on the phone to coaches and general managers giving his side of the story.

 

Now, the problem: This probably won’t be settled by Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

If Conley’s guilty, then he deserves the fate that’s likely awaiting him. But there are questions that need to be answered about what happened in that room, whether it was consensual, and what the woman’s motive was after Conley kicked her out, which is the one event in the timeline that matches up in the stories of both the accuser and the accused.

 

I asked one NFC personnel chief, who likes Conley as a player, about where he stood. Answer: “Confused.” An assistant coach for an AFC team said, “I don’t know enough yet, I just don’t know enough. Could it be a setup? I don’t know.” An AFC executive was more definitive: “He’s going to drop. It could be BS, but uncertainty prevails, and I don’t think he’s cleared by Thursday.”

– – –

Before the rape accusation, scuttlebutt in league circles had Conley connected to the Saints at 11, the Eagles at 14 and the Colts at 15. After talking to teams now, it seems likely Conley’s drop will be more precipitous than Tunsil’s, but he probably won’t fall out of the draft like Collins.

 

Some facts on Conley …

• NFL teams viewed him as one of the cleaner prospects among potential first-rounders from a character standpoint. That doesn’t mean he isn’t guilty. But if he had a thick file of previous incidents, a lot of clubs would probably say, “forget this” and just move on. Teams that were lukewarm on him to begin with, or don’t have a big corner need, probably will treat this that way. Teams with a genuine interest will do their homework the best they can in the time available. One such club said that in five days of combine interviews, Conley was the most impressive player they talked to, and displayed off-the-charts football IQ.

 

• Ohio State coaches, at least the ones I’ve talked to at (full disclosure) my alma mater, were stunned to hear the news. Suffice it to say, Conley was among the last of their players they expected to be accused of a crime this serious. One assistant said, “I don’t know what happened, but I’d stand on the table for the kid.” Again, doesn’t mean Conley is innocent. But teams have been calling Columbus, and that kind of feedback is part of the picture.

 

• The strength of the position in this year’s class will hurt Conley, as it figures to hurt Washington’s Sidney Jones, who suffered a torn Achilles at his pro day. I wrote last week that one team had 35 corners with draftable grades (more on that later), and there’s a feeling that potential rookie-year starters in the secondary will be available into the fourth and fifth rounds. So it’s easy for teams to look at Conley, decide that—no matter the truth—it isn’t worth the risk and move on to another player with a similar grade.

 

So where are teams now? Conley has reached out to as many head coaches and GMs as he could over the past 36 hours to give them his side of the story. Teams have been talking with other witnesses (one is a childhood friend of Conley’s, another didn’t know him before April 9) in the case too, and going back to re-vet Conley’s character.

 

Of course, there have been plenty of cases in which a player with a pristine reputation was guilty of a heinous crime. No one saw Ray Rice coming. No one saw Darren Sharper coming. So while it’s relevant that no one seems to have seen this coming with Conley, it’s not in any way definitive of anything.

 

That uncertainty is going to cost Conley a lot of money.

 

There’s a chance he falls out of the draft all together, but teams I’ve talked to figured he could land in the third or fourth round now if teams feel comfortable he’ll be cleared. At that point, the upside is you get a potential high-end starter at premium position for a bargain basement price. And if he’s guilty of what he’s been accused of, you can cut him without much penalty. The reality is he’s the one paying a price here.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

In the NFL world, cutdown day at ESPN included, besides Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer, Britt McHenry, Jarrett Bell and Ashley Fox.

 

Some more columns on the plight of the Worldwide Leader.  Tom Ley at Deadspin on the symbolic nature of the cuts versus the actual costs that are dragging ESPN to the rocks:

 

The big ESPN layoffs that everyone knew were coming finally arrived today, and the culling has been as brutal as anyone could have expected. Though the final number isn’t in yet, various reports have around 100 people losing their jobs, and many of the people who have been fired so far aren’t just long-time, front-facing employees, but those who, like Jayson Stark and Jane McManus, represent what ESPN is at its best: wired, experienced, deeply knowledgable, enthusiastic.

 

The impetus behind these layoffs is not mysterious (and has nothing to do with the network’s purportedly liberal politics). ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers for some time now as a result of cord-cutting, which hurts them much more than other networks given that they charge vastly higher carriage fees. With ESPN having to pay billions of dollars to sports leagues for the right to broadcast the must-see live events that allow it to charge those fees, the network is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with the sudden decline in revenue that comes with the loss of 10 million subscribers over the course of three years.

 

And so today’s layoffs seem to follow a kind of logic: If ESPN is bleeding money from subscriber losses, they need to offset the damage by making cuts elsewhere in the company. That doesn’t, though, really follow, mathematically. Look at the people who have been laid off today. Sure, it’s possible that veterans like McManus and Stark and Ed Werder were carrying hefty salaries, but no amount of fired reporters and columnists is going to put even the tiniest dent in ESPN’s rights fees. Add up all the salaries of the people who lost their jobs today, and how much of a single Monday Night Football broadcast does it buy? Ten minutes? Fifteen?

 

So, then, what was the point? The memo released this morning by ESPN president John Skipper is instructive. It was hollow and buzzword-laden in the precise way that is meant to speak to Disney investors who want to be assured that ESPN is still capable of “navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content.” That’s what today appears to have been really about—assuring Disney stakeholders that ESPN is taking things very seriously and is prepared to keep itself lean and competitive. Don’t think too much about how we’re going to continue to pay rights fees with sustained subscriber loss! We’re making cuts! We have a handle on things!

 

In the end, the real solution to ESPN’s problems will involve much more severe changes than were made today. Perhaps the network will work in closer partnership with leagues and even competitors; perhaps it will find a way to offload deals it can no longer afford; perhaps it will seek some way to simply outgrow its present structural issues, with aid and backing from Disney and even cable carriers who are quite aware of just how much their industry looks right now the way newspapering did 15 years ago. Whatever it is, it won’t have much to do with cuts that amount to rounding errors in the books.

 

And that’s the truly tragic thing about today’s layoffs, that those who lost their jobs were essentially symbolic sacrifices. ESPN may have bought itself a little more slack from investors today, but its future remains just as uncertain as it was yesterday. Meanwhile, good writers and reporters like Doug Padilla, Mike Goodman, Ethan Sherwood Strauss, and many others—people who were not on million-dollar contracts but nevertheless did quality work on important beats, providing the depth and texture that make the network something more than just a lot of branded content and screaming dullards—are jobless. A lot of good people lost their jobs today, and ESPN got a lot worse, and all of it was probably for no good reason.

 

Dan McLaughlin in the National Review does feel the liberal tilt of ESPN’s programming has hurt the network:

 

 “Stick to sports” is not just good manners for sports journalism, it’s good business advice. (A March poll of sports media consumers found that 60% of respondents thought ESPN leaned left politically, as opposed to 3% who thought it leaned right.) Yes, there are times when you can’t avoid the political implications of what happens on the field, or the sports implications of what happens in politics. Jackie Robinson really did change the country, not just baseball, by playing Major League Baseball. And yes, if you drill down deep enough, there are embedded political assumptions in everything. Some of those embedded assumptions are broadly shared by all but a small fringe, like respect for the American flag, the national anthem, and other symbols of shared American identity and values, to the point where a statement against them really is more visibly partisan and ideological than a general affirmation of them. But political assumptions that are barely even visible to people who don’t spend 24/7 politically “woke” do not feel, to the average viewer, like political content, and should not be used as a lever to launch coverage of divisive hot-button issues into sports coverage. As Peggy Noonan noted about the CBS News culture she worked in many years ago, Edward R. Murrow once said of the Holocaust that some issues just don’t have two sides – but not every issue is the Holocaust, and acting like they are is a sign that you’ve lost so much perspective, you just can’t even speak your audience’s language anymore.

 

Fundamentally, people watch sports as an escape from less entertaining aspects of life, from politics to business. Sports isn’t a university, whose job is to instruct and open minds, and it isn’t a church, whose job is to save souls. It was Earl Warren, a man whose life was nothing if not consumed with hot-button political issues, who once said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.” For my own part, back when I was writing a baseball blog, I tried hard to keep the sports and politics content separate, so people who came for the former could bypass the latter (admittedly, nobody does this on Twitter, and my writing is mostly politics these days anyway). The more you import politics into the spaces people reserve to crack open a beer at the end of the day and enjoy a ballgame, the more apt they are to look for something else to watch that is not full of man’s failures.

 

ESPN’s layoffs demonstrate that the network understands it has a business problem. It’s too soon to tell if it also understands it has a politics problem (certainly eliminating hockey coverage, maybe the least political area of the 21st century sports world despite the international origins of its players, won’t fix that). But its business model allows subscribers to vote with their feet in a way that has an immediate bottom-line impact. Maybe it should start listening.

 

But Ace as AceOfSpades.com thinks that ESPN’s lurch to the left is a strategy designed to create a smaller core of fans, but those with unbridled passion for the network’s mix of political and sports content.

 

First, he notes this from ESPN’s public editor, one Jim Brady, who admits that ESPN welcomes its growing status as a left-wing outlet.  It’s a long piece, with a big discussion of The538 and TheUndefeated parts of the ESPN website.  You can read it here.

 

“Hey, ESPN: Stick to sports.”

 

I’ve read thousands of social media posts and reader emails about ESPN over the past 15 months. If there’s one phrase that tends to surface most frequently, it’s that chestnut suggesting the network’s only proper place is in the athletics lane.

 

Yes, when it comes to ESPN — the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” — the concern of many fans is that it’s no longer focused enough on sports. Some complain too much focus has been placed on culture and politics, with the most fire directed at FiveThirtyEight, The Undefeated, the new SC6 show and even one of the network’s graybeards, Outside the Lines, the title of which describes exactly the coverage some would like to see less of.

 

As I wrote in November, the desire to draw a boundary between sports, culture and politics is a fool’s errand. Sports has always intersected with culture and politics. It isn’t a recent phenomenon; it’s been true for more than a century. If you don’t believe that, search the names Jack Johnson, Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson Zaharias or Moses Fleetwood Walker. (OK, I helped you out there).

 

ESPN, in fact, just removed any question about the sports-politics-culture intersection when it released new political guidelines that loosen the restraints on commentary about politics and culture, though stressing that such discussion should connect to sports whenever possible.

 

Whatever one thinks of the revised guidelines, one thing appears beyond dispute: The volume of non-sports content within ESPN’s empire has increased significantly in recent years. Some of that has been driven by the athletes ESPN covers, who have, in recent years, begun to speak more forcefully about societal and political issues. Some of it has resulted from the breakdown of the wall between on-field and off-field activities, thanks to the explosion of social media and proliferation of media sources that make any utterance by any sports figure potential news.

– – –

The more interesting recent development, to me, has been the network’s desire to embrace non-ESPN-branded properties that, quite intentionally, are not dominated by sports. The most notable of those efforts are The Undefeated and FiveThirtyEight.

 

A quick glance at the two sites makes it clear that, while sports are indeed crucial cogs in their editorial machines, it is not their primary reason for existing. The Undefeated’s own mission statement says the site is “the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture.” And, though it has always covered sports from an analytical point of view, FiveThirtyEight became known to the world via politics, especially when the Nate Silver-led site correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states in the 2012 presidential election.

 

The existence of these sites might seem odd to those who pine for the days of ESPN being all sports all the time. But media is growing more disaggregated by the day, leading more and more cable subscribers to cut the cord, a trend that has significantly affected ESPN’s once-impenetrable broadcast business. Now, the network whose acronym originally stood for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network” seems to be metaphorically reinserting the “entertainment” into its programming.

– – –

Evidenced by these types of comments and many others you can find on social media, moving beyond sports is not a decision that comes without risk. Brand extensions are never easy. If ESPN needs a reminder, it need only look at its own recent history. Its Grantland site, despite strong content, a deeply loyal fan base and a considerable investment from ESPN, closed in 2015 after, as one ESPN source told me, never coming close to making a profit.

 

The Undefeated has followed loosely the same formula as Grantland. It has amassed immense journalistic talent and been aggressive in its embrace of new storytelling forms. It also has the freedom to chase a wide range of topics rather than having to provide a complete news report each day — something Undefeated editor Kevin Merida was consumed with in his previous role as managing editor of The Washington Post.

– – –

Whether or not you’re on board with the heavy focus on culture and politics, The Undefeated’s body of work is impressive. Freed from the pressures of daily coverage — it has the ESPN.com engine to cover the day’s sports news — the site has produced many excellent longform pieces, such as Andrew Maraniss’ profile of former Alabama men’s basketball coach C.M. Newton, Jill Hudson’s dissection of Cam Newton’s fashion style, Kelley Carter’s chronicling of ballerina Misty Copeland’s trip to Cuba and Jesse Washington’s fascinating exploration of the 1916 lynching of his namesake.

– – –

Among those satisfied with The Undefeated is one very important client — Skipper, who, when asked about the site’s progress, said he is “very happy. We have seen remarkable growth in the first 10 months.”

– – –

There is no denying that culture, sports and politics are fused together more today than at any time in recent memory, and there’s an argument to be made that ESPN is rightfully taking advantage of that trend. But there’s also no denying the presence of a fervent fan base that prefers the ESPN of old, meaning these worlds will continue to collide.

 

One thing is clear: Those of you who have not held your tongue about ESPN’s move away from an all-sports-all-the-time mantra also should not hold your breath waiting for a change.

 

ESPN has made it clear: It’s not sticking to sports.

 

With this foundation, Ace writes:

 

This emphasis on SJW leftwingery is not the cause of the problem so much as it is ESPN’s effort to fix the problem.

 

He didn’t explain, but here’s my guess as to his thinking:

 

In the old says, a big hit show was one that garnered a 30% market share. 30% of all TVs in America in use would be turned to MASH or All in the Family.

 

In an age of increasing market fragmentation, no one even thinks about a 30% market share. Now a tv show is a hit if it has something like a 6% or 8% market share.

 

Now add into that the increasing partisanship of the country: Bush proved — through most of his term — that you didn’t need all of the country to support you if 40% of the country strongly supported you, and 10% were indifferent. (At the end of his term, when the financial crisis hit, he also proved you definitely needed more than 29% support.)

 

Obama took that lesson and ran with it. Obama was the most divisive and partisan president in several lifetimes — Nixonian in his scheming, Carteresque in competency — and spent the bulk of his presidency in the 44-46% approval range.

 

But the bulk of that approval was strong approval from intense partisans, who saw them as their avatar in the unending Culture Wars, and quite possibly an actual Messiah or Buddha sent down by Heaven to redeem that part of humanity that lived in the better zip codes of at least a dozen coastal US cities.

 

In an age where more people are tuning out ESPN’s main product, they may have decided they don’t need viewers so much as they need emotionally-invested political supporters

 

FoxNews is the biggest cable news channel — but most of the country doesn’t watch it, or outright hates it. But that doesn’t matter — you don’t need all of the people, you just need a lot of the people to be strong supporters who will tune in just out of a sense of loyalty.

 

ESPN may have looked into its future, a future filled with bloated, paid-way-too-much-for-way-too-little loss leader costs for broadcast rights to sports, at the same time its subscriber base was falling every single year (and usually — every single month), and may have decided that at some point they will have to jack up the mandatory cable subscription rates through the roof to cover costs, and to get the cable channels to agree to that, they’re gonna need a lot of intensely-loyal Obama-style partisans telling cable companies “Yes, by all means, agree on $15/month for the right to carry ESPN.”

 

We may be in the age where our commercial television entertainments must be turned into Cultural/Political/Quasi-Religious Crusades in order to hold on to a small number of nigh-religiously-devoted zealots to have any kind of market viability at all.

 

Given that, ESPN may have decided that it would gladly alienate all the conservative men its audience — a larger chunk of its audience, or at least a larger chunk of its previous audience — in order to secure the passionate partisan followership of a smaller but louder audience that will bully cable companies into mandating that anyone who wants cable has to pay $15 per month to ESPN, or else they’ll cry “Racism!”

 

ESPN’s positioning of itself as Black Lives Matter/Social Justice Warrior central may be some clever maneuvering to play the Racism! card when they start seeking higher rents from more unwilling citizens.

 

This may be ESPN’s cynical effort at creating a devoted followership that will permit it to achieve the dream of every socialist enterprise — simple rent-seeking, compelling unwilling citizens to pay a tax to subsidize you in your dream-quests to reshape humanity.

 

And you know what?

 

It just might work.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com says there is likely to be a trade late in the first round between Atlanta and Seattle.

 

As we get closer to the start of the draft, talk of potential trades is heating up. Draft Analyst has learned of one potential trade late in the first round.

 

Sources have told us the Atlanta Falcons (31st pick) and Seattle Seahawks (26th pick) are discussing swapping first-round picks. It’s a trade many think will ultimately occur, in large part due to the relationship between Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and his former employer.

 

I’ve been told the Falcons want to jump ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys to ensure themselves of a top-rated pass rusher. The name being floated as their target is Charles Harris of Missouri.

 

Once they move back, the Seahawks will then target an offensive lineman. The name given to me is tackle Garett Bolles of Utah. Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable was on the Utes campus this past Sunday meeting with the team’s top offensive line prospects.

 

I’m told the compensation for the swap is likely to end up being a fourth-round pick.

 

Will Brinson of CBSSports.com offers 10 other trades to look for:

 

The most thrilling thing about the NFL Draft is hearing that a trade has been made, particularly when a team makes a bold move up the board during the first round Thursday night.

 

The 2017 NFL Draft might offer more opportunities for moving than we’ve seen in quite some time because of the bizarre composition of draft boards. There is a clear-cut top prospect in Myles Garrett, but then things get muddled between Nos. 2 and 15. Certain candidates to go No. 2 could fall into the mid-teens. That is not normal.

 

After that, things get even harder to parse because the pool of potential prospects for 15 through 45 is a large group. While there aren’t elite linemen in this crop, there are a lot of guys who could fill immediate needs. There aren’t any lock franchise quarterbacks (spoiler: There almost never are), but there are several who could send teams scrambling when it comes to the middle and late portions of the first round.

 

It’s going to be hairy and fun to watch. Let’s look at 10 potential first-round trades in the 2017 NFL Draft. If you don’t like the compensation, leave a note in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @WillBrinson with a better idea. Bear in mind these are simply possibilities for teams interested in making a move up or down the board.

 

1. Cleveland Browns trade up to No. 2 overall

The trade: CLE sends No. 12, No. 33, 2018 second-round pick to SF for No. 2.

Why it happens: The Browns want to take Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, but are still thinking about Mitchell Trubisky. They would make this move because they are concerned the Ohio native will be a franchise quarterback, and this franchise has missed on plenty of quarterbacks. There is no guarantee they get him anywhere but No. 2, and San Francisco understands that and is willing to trade down at a discounted price. Giving up three top-75 picks for a quarterback they might be able to get a few picks later in a deal is a lot, but if the Browns want to guarantee they get their quarterback of the future, this is the move. The 49ers need bodies, and picking No. 12 instead of No. 2 isn’t that steep a drop in this draft when you consider the additional picks they’ll get.

 

2. Washington Redskins trade to No. 2 overall

The trade: WAS sends No. 17, Kirk Cousins to SF for No. 2

Why it happens: Washington still isn’t sold on Cousins as a franchise quarterback. If the Redskins were, long-term contract negotiations would have progressed. It’s hard to imagine Cousins sticking around if a deal isn’t hammered out before July 15, which means Washington might lose Cousins to free agency next year (barring a transition tag or a third franchise tag, both of which would be absurd guaranteed money for three years of work). The 49ers want to get out of the No. 2 pick because there isn’t a clear-cut prospect to grab there, and Kyle Shanahan is a Kirk Cousins supporter. This isn’t great value for the 49ers, right? I guess: If Cousins can be a franchise-caliber quarterback in your system, you slide down 15 picks to grab him in a draft with fairly nebulous value from Nos. 2 through 32. Some people would say the 49ers don’t get enough and some would say the Redskins don’t get enough. That’s how you know it’s a reasonable move.

 

3. Cleveland Browns trade to No. 5 overall

The trade: CLE sends No. 12, No. 52, No. 108 to TEN for No. 5

Why it happens: This is another avenue to landing Trubisky because the Browns, as you might know, need a quarterback. It makes a lot of sense to believe they will take some of the draft capital they have acquired over the past year or so and trade up in order to get said quarterback. This deal actually seems more realistic: The Titans would like to get out of No. 5 and add picks, and by making this move they would actually get their old second-round pick back. The Browns don’t have to give up No. 33 in the deal and they can take Trubisky, although there is obviously more risk in hoping he falls to No. 5.

 

4. Buffalo Bills trade to No. 5 overall

The trade: BUF sends No. 10, No. 44 to TEN for No. 5, No. 100

Why it happens: Back-to-back trades to No. 5! Obviously only one of these can happen, but again, not all of these moves have to take place. The Bills are very much in the franchise quarterback business, and assuming Trubisky is gone, there could be a whole pile of teams scrambling for the next guy, Deshaun Watson. We’re assuming Watson is going to make it past the Bears and Jaguars in this scenario, which means the Bills have to sit there and wonder if the Jets would snake a potential franchise quarterback they’ll have to face twice a year. The Titans traded down last year and loaded up with picks; trading down in this instance isn’t prohibitive and means they’ll add another top-50 pick to their already stout 2017 haul. The Bills would walk away with their quarterback of the future.

 

5. Denver Broncos trade to No. 14 overall

The trade: DEN sends No. 20, No. 82 to PHI for No. 14

Why it happens: The Eagles have a history of moving in the draft and Howie Roseman won’t be afraid to slide down here. If Roseman’s top options are off the board, maybe he wants to move. He should find plenty of suitors, especially when it comes to offensive lineman in this class; the Broncos are one of several teams who need a lineman (see the Giants trade below) and jumping up six spots for the cost of a third-round pick would allow them to get the cream of the crop at the position and set the tone for the back half of the first round in terms of offensive line prospects.

John Elway Broncos

 

6. Houston Texans trade to No. 16 overall

The trade: HOU sends No. 25, No. 57 to BAL for No. 16, No. 78

Why it happens: The Texans should be, like many teams, motivated to move up for a quarterback. They are currently rolling with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. It’s like Bill O’Brien is one of those guys who refuses not to play from the tips. You’re a good golfer, Bill, but your handicap lets you play from the blues. Stop making it hard on yourself. Just move up to the blues already and get yourself a semi-competent quarterback. Ozzie Newsome loves to trade down and in this draft, getting an extra second-round pick for sliding down nine spots in the first round feels like a steal. You could argue that Newsome might want more in return based on the trade value chart, but this slide in the first is negligible given the first-round talent and the bump you get by adding picks.

 

7. New York Giants trade to No. 18 overall

The trade: NYG sends No. 23, No. 87 to TEN for No. 18, No. 124

Why it happens: The Giants are sitting there with the Titans on the clock, knowing the offensive line prospects situation and the importance of getting protection for Eli Manning. They look at teams ahead of them and realize somewhere between one and three offensive linemen could go off the board, so they move up to grab Forrest Lamp or Ryan Ramcyzk. Both should still be on the board and either would dramatically improve New York’s offensive line. The Titans are always willing to trade, at least based on how Jon Robinson has approached the draft, and Tennessee could probably move down and land a wide receiver (Corey Davis? Maybe John Ross?) at this point.

 

8. Dallas Cowboys trade to No. 19 overall

The trade: DAL sends No. 28, No. 133, Alfred Morris to TB for No. 19

Why it happens: The Cowboys have a big-time offensive identity that will, barring unforeseen regression from Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, put up some big numbers in 2017. But they need to get better on defense after an offseason when they failed to find a pass rusher and lost players in the secondary. This is the draft to find that defensive player, and there is a real opportunity to move up and get an edge rusher. In this case, let’s identify them as being interested in chasing Missouri’s Charles Harris, who has frequently been mocked to them at No. 28, but who might not actually be there when they pick. He is sitting there at No. 19, though, so the Cowboys package a third-round pick and jump up to grab a guy who can make an immediate impact. The Buccaneers don’t mind moving down while  picking up a running back that the Cowboys reportedly want to trade anyway  and potentially even adding Dalvin Cook. Yes, the Bucs would have all the running backs, but it’s a position of need because of the suspension to Doug Martin.

 

9. Kansas City Chiefs trade to No. 20 overall

The trade: KC sends No. 27, No. 91 to DEN for No. 20

Why it happens: The Chiefs are in the hunt to land a future quarterback. Just look at the ceiling they’ve hit with Alex Smith and then look at his contract. Then look at Andy Reid’s history handling quarterbacks as they get to an advanced age. But they’re committed to Smith for 2017 and believe they can win with him this season. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t prohibit them from moving up to acquire a potential franchise quarterback, likely either Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, provided that either is still on the board. The Broncos want to land offensive line help, but the top guys (Forrest Lamp, Ryan Ramcyzk) are already off the board and they would rather dip down a few picks, let the board come to them and pick up an extra player.

 

10. Pittsburgh Steelers trade to No. 22 overall

The trade: PIT sends No. 30, No. 105 to MIA for No. 22

Why it happens: Well, for starters, the Dolphins don’t have their original third-round pick because they traded it to the Vikings (though they did add a compensatory third-rounder to their stash). So they could use an opportunity to pick up some more capital. The Steelers have two picks, Nos. 94 and 105 (the latter being compensatory) and might be willing to send an extra selection in order to move ahead of the Giants and Raiders to ensure they get Miami tight end David Njoku, who might not fall all the way down to No. 30. As with a lot of these deals, it doesn’t necessarily hit on the full value in the trade chart, and I’m not sure I see the Steelers as a team that would likely trade away later draft capital to move up in the draft. But adding Njoku to this offense would give them another dimension, since Ladarius Green hasn’t necessarily worked out.

 

 

 

MOCK DRAFTS

Louis Reddick of ESPN.com tells GMs who they should pick with this Mock Draft:

 

In the mock draft below, I am not predicting where each player will be picked in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, WatchESPN). Instead, I’m making the picks based on what I think each team needs.

 

A few ground rules:

 

At each slot, I make a pick in the best interest of only the team with the pick. I won’t pass on a player at No. 4 just because I like the team better at No. 5.

 

No trades unless they’re already done.

 

Again, I’m not projecting picks; I’m saying whom I would pick if I were running each team.

 

1. Cleveland Browns

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

The game has changed, and safeties are more crucial than ever to success on defense. Adams is the total package on and off the field. There are no questions about him, whereas there are some about Myles Garrett.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

Picking at the top of the draft is about managing risk, and Thomas is the safer pick over Myles Garrett. While Thomas lacks the same kind of athletic upside as Garrett, he poses minimal risk from a competitive character/consistency perspective from all that I have been told.

 

3. Chicago Bears

Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M

Garrett is scheme versatile, so he can fit in the Bears’ 3-4 defense. Secondary is the Bears’ other big need, but I couldn’t overlook the durability issues surrounding Ohio State DBs Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker with Garrett still on the board.

 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

The Jaguars need a ball-hawking center fielder in the worst way. They had a league-low seven interceptions last season. People think I hate Malik, but I don’t. While Hooker isn’t a good tackler, he’s very opportunistic in coverage.

 

5. Tennessee Titans (from Rams)

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

I’d really want to trade down if I could, but since I can’t in this exercise, let’s go with White. He’s a perfect fit for Dick LeBeau’s scheme, which requires corners to have great route-recognition skills. White is a willing tackler and very seasoned. He’s a safe pick.

 

6. New York Jets

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Todd Bowles wants his corners to play in-your-face, bump-and-run coverage. Lattimore is a pure man-to-man corner with tremendous quickness, speed and agility. His history of hamstring injuries is the only concern.

 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram solidified on the edge, Allen would bump inside in Gus Bradley’s new 4-3 defense. That’s a hellacious front. Allen’s shoulder issues have raised concerns about his longevity, but his character and versatility are pristine.

 

8. Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

LSU RB Leonard Fournette is a better fit for Carolina’s power scheme, but this O-line is going to need a guy like McCaffrey, who can prevent negative runs with his lateral quickness. McCaffrey would help the Panthers in multiple ways, given his ability to be a matchup problem in the passing game.

 

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

It’s still too early for any of the O-linemen in this draft, and while ILB Reuben Foster is a fit for the Bengals, I’d be a little scared to take him this high, because of the issues surrounding him. Harris shows great burst off the edge. The Bengals need someone to pair with Carlos Dunlap.

 

10. Buffalo Bills

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

The only knock on Davis is that he hasn’t run the 40-yard dash because of an ankle injury. But trust me, this guy plays fast, and he’s a crisp route runner on tape. He would fill a big need.

 

11. New Orleans Saints

Haason Reddick, ILB, Temple

The Saints need more versatile playmakers on defense. Reddick can do it all: cover, tackle and rush the passer.

 

12. Cleveland Browns (from Eagles)

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Huge need. Top QB on my board. Easy pick. The only reason Trubisky falls this far is because of his lack of experience; he had only 13 starts in college.

 

13. Arizona Cardinals

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

I love this fit for Bruce Arians’ scheme. Howard has the size and speed to be a tremendous help to QB Carson Palmer in the vertical passing game. The Cardinals need a difference-maker at tight end.

 

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Vikings)

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Cook is the perfect fit for what this offense desperately needs: a three-down back whom QB Carson Wentz can hand off to and utilize in the passing game. Cornerback is an even bigger need, but with the allegations surrounding Ohio State CB Gareon Conley, you can’t take him here without more information.

 

15. Indianapolis Colts

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Offensive line was a consideration, but the pass rush was a disaster last season in Indianapolis. The Colts pressured QBs only 21.5 percent of the time in 2016 (31st overall). I like the idea of adding Barnett’s pass-rushing skills to the fold, even if he’s a bit limited athletically.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

Ramczyk is on the mend from offseason hip surgery, but I’m not worried about any long-term issues there. He fills a major need at right tackle. Ramczyk showed a lot of upside in pass protection in his one season at Wisconsin.

 

17. Washington Redskins

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Combining Fournette with RBs Chris Thompson and Robert Kelley would take a lot of the pressure off a passing game that is sure to feel the effects of losing two major contributors in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Despite the Redskins’ needs at defensive tackle and safety, Fournette presents too much value to pass on here.

 

18. Tennessee Titans

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

The Titans would be thrilled if Williams actually fell to them at No. 18. They have to find a way to get Marcus Mariota a few new receiving options in this draft. Williams is an elite playmaker when the ball is up for grabs.

 

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

With the top three running backs off the board and no safeties I want here, let’s go with Engram, who ran a 4.42 40 at 234 pounds. He’s a legitimate matchup nightmare and would make this passing game ridiculously potent.

 

20. Denver Broncos

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

I don’t care who starts at quarterback for the Broncos next season, he doesn’t have a chance if the pass protection isn’t better. Bolles has the length and athleticism to help in that regard.

 

21. Detroit Lions

Jarrad Davis, ILB, Florida

The Lions need to find a way to improve their linebacking corps and pass rush in this draft. Davis is the best value of the players currently available. He has the range to be a difference-maker against the run and pass.

 

22. Miami Dolphins

Zach Cunningham, ILB, Vanderbilt

I like Cunningham a lot, and I know there are some teams near the bottom of the first round hoping he falls to them. He gets to the ball in a hurry.

 

23. New York Giants

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

Ereck Flowers hasn’t panned out at left tackle thus far, and the Giants were terrible running the football last season, ranking 30th in the league in yards per carry. Robinson is a dominant run-blocker who has the tools to grow as a pass protector.

 

24. Oakland Raiders

Kevin King, CB, Washington

King’s combine workout helped land him in the first-round conversation. It’s pretty ridiculous to run a 4.43 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3.

 

25. Houston Texans

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

Why Mahomes and not Clemson’s Deshaun Watson? I think Mahomes is simply a more gifted thrower who can attack the field horizontally and vertically with equal effectiveness. Bill O’Brien and the Texans will need to manage expectations and exercise patience as he adjusts to an NFL offense, but it sounds as though Mahomes is willing to put in the work to be great. He has the potential to be special.

 

26. Seattle Seahawks

Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky

Man, the Seahawks better do something about this offensive line. I’m not sure if Lamp will fall this far, but if he does, Seattle should jump at the chance to take him.

 

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

Inside linebacker is the biggest concern on the Chiefs’ roster, given that Derrick Johnson is 34 and coming off his second Achilles tear in three seasons. Foster fell this far because of character concerns, but he’d be worth the risk for K.C. at this spot.

 

28. Dallas Cowboys

Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State

Willis’ ridiculous combine numbers (4.53 40 at 253 pounds) and great college production (32.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons) give him a lot of upside for a Cowboys team that should continue to search for pass-rushing help.

 

29. Green Bay Packers

Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC

The Packers need more playmakers on defense, and while Jackson is on the smaller side (5-10, 186), he has great ball skills, and I know he’ll battle despite his size limitations.

 

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston

The Steelers need pass-rush help in a big way. Bowser found a way to register 8.5 sacks in eight games, despite being asked to drop into coverage way too much. He’s a smooth athlete who can be used in multiple ways.

 

31. Atlanta Falcons

DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State

After Vic Beasley Jr., the Falcons’ pass rush really falls off. I like Walker’s fit, because he can get after the passer playing inside or on the edge. He plays his tail off, too.

 

32. New Orleans Saints (from Patriots)

John Ross, WR, Washington

Ross really is DeSean Jackson 2.0, but with better speed and a much more extensive injury history, including multiple knee procedures and a shoulder issue. With Brandin Cooks now in New England, Ross is the perfect player to fill his role.

– – –

 

Mike Mayock of NFL.com only does one Mock Draft and it is out now:

 

1   CLEVELAND

Myles Garrett – DE

School: Texas A&M. Garrett is just too good to pass up. He’s explosive off the edge. If he works at it and stays healthy, he could be the best DE in football.

 

2    SAN FRANCISCO

Jamal Adams – S

School: LSU. I want to give them Leonard Fournette, but I think Kyle Shanahan got spoiled in Atlanta with middle-round backs like Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Pair Adams with Eric Reid, and you’ll have one of the best safety tandems in football.

 

3   CHICAGO  

Marshon Lattimore – CB

School: Ohio State. Lattimore is the best CB in this draft. He’ll affect the pass game.

 

4  JACKSONVILLE 

Leonard Fournette – RB

School: LSU. They have to get better on offense. Fournette runs angry. He changes their whole offensive philosophy. He’ll take pressure off of Blake Bortles.

 

5   CLEVELAND

Mitchell Trubisky – QB

(PROJECTED TRADE WITH TITANS) School: North Carolina. Cleveland trades up to get its QB. Trubisky is the QB prospect most ready to play. I would prefer not to play him this year because I think it will take him a while to adjust, but at the end of the day, he’d come in and compete for the starting job.

 

6   NEW YORK JETS 

O.J. Howard – TE

School: Alabama. I love Howard. He reminds me of Greg Olsen. He helps in the run and pass game. He’s tough, he’s fast and he’ll play Day One.

 

7   LOS ANGELES CHARGERS 

Solomon Thomas – DE

School: Stanford. I think they’d be ecstatic to land Thomas. They can play him outside on early downs and inside in sub packages. His quickness is similar to Aaron Donald’s.

 

8   CAROLINA

Christian McCaffrey – RB

School: Stanford. Cam Newton took a beating last year, and they need to take some run-game pressure off of him. McCaffrey’s athletic skill set is similar to LeSean McCoy’s.

 

9   CINCINNATI

Jonathan Allen – DE

School: Alabama. Allen is my No. 2 player in the draft. He can flat-out play.

 

10   BUFFALO

 Reuben Foster – LB

School: Alabama. Buffalo could go in a lot of directions here, including QB, but Foster’s tape is so good that it reminds me of Luke Kuechly’s. There are off-field concerns with Foster, but his tape is awesome.

 

11   NEW ORLEANS

 Charles Harris – DE

School: Missouri. They have to get better on defense. Harris must get stronger against the run, but he will be a double-digit sack guy early in his career.

 

12   TENNESSEE

 John Ross – WR

(PROJECTED TRADE WITH BROWNS) School: Washington. They add a dynamic playmaker, Mr. 4.22 himself.

 

13   ARIZONA

 Marlon Humphrey – CB

School: Alabama. I want to give them Patrick Mahomes, but the roster is playoff-ready. Humphrey has everything you want in a CB except for one thing — he struggles finding the ball in the air. If he can learn to do that one thing, he’s a Pro Bowl corner.

 

14   PHILADELPHIA

 Mike Williams – WR

School: Clemson. Philly needs corners, but it’s time to support Carson Wentz with this pick. Williams is a lot like Alshon Jeffery. He’s physical and will block. They can play basketball on grass with him.

 

15   INDIANAPOLIS

 Derek Barnett – DE

School: Tennessee. Once Barnett learns better technique, he’s going to be a big-time DE.

 

16   BALTIMORE

 Haason Reddick – LB

School: Temple. Reddick was a walk-on and might be the best story in draft. He lit up the Senior Bowl.

 

17   WASHINGTON

 Takkarist McKinley – DE

School: UCLA. They need immediate help off the edge. McKinley has a great motor. He has some shoulder issues. If their doctors don’t think he’ll be ready to go full speed on Day One, they can’t pull the trigger here.

 

18   TENNESSEE

 Adoree’ Jackson – CB

School: USC. They double down on playmakers after taking Ross. Jackson can compete Day 1 to play opposite Logan Ryan at CB and brings value as a kick returner.

 

19   TAMPA BAY

 Malik Hooker – RS

School: Ohio State. Hooker is the best centerfielder in the draft. They need a dynamic guy on the back end. Hooker is that guy.

 

20  DENVER

Ryan Ramczyk – OT

School: Wisconsin. Ramczyk has the ability to start at left tackle. He’s coming off of hip surgery and I’ve been told he passed all the physicals.

 

21   DETROIT

Corey Davis – WR

School: Western Michigan. Davis provides instant impact. He’s physical and tough. I think he comes in with an attitude.

 

22   MIAMI

T.J. Watt – OLB

School: Wisconsin. They need an edge rusher, and DNA don’t lie. The league is divided on Watt, the younger brother of J.J., but I think his quickness and explosion off edge gives Miami what they need now.

 

23   NEW YORK GIANTS

Garett Bolles – OT

School: Utah. When you protect Eli Manning, you win football games. Bolles comes in and competes at right tackle. He’s the most athletic O-lineman in this draft.

 

24   OAKLAND

Cam Robinson – OT

School: Alabama. He’s the most gifted O-lineman in this draft. He’s plug and play right tackle. He helps big-time in the run game and will develop as a pass protector.

 

25   HOUSTON

 Deshaun Watson – QB

School: Clemson. Bill O’Brien goes all in on Watson, who plays his best football when the lights are brightest.

 

26   SEATTLE

 Forrest Lamp – OG

School: Western Kentucky. If I have a favorite player in the draft, he’s one of 2 or 3 I would nominate. He’s played tackle, but he’s going to be an inside player in Seattle.

 

27   KANSAS CITY

 Dalvin Cook – RB

School: Florida State. Cook is a big play waiting to happen. His tape is outstanding.

 

28   DALLAS

 Tre’Davious White – CB

School: LSU. White is probably not the sexy pick that Cowboys fans want, but he can fill a variety of roles on defense and he has added value as a returner. This is a very solid pick.

 

29   GREEN BAY

 Alvin Kamara – RB

School: Tennessee. Kamara runs through tackles. He has the lateral jump-cut of a LeSean McCoy. When you include him in the pass game, he’s almost as good as Christian McCaffrey. He put on a show at his pro day.

 

30   PITTSBURGH

 Jordan Willis – DE

School: Kansas State. Willis had an outstanding combine. He needs to get stronger against the run, but he’s a natural bender who can get around the edge and rush the passer.

 

31   ATLANTA

 Jabrill Peppers – S

School: Michigan. With the ball in his hands, Peppers is special. He’ll be a core special teams player. He can play strong safety and nickel. He fits what Dan Quinn wants on defense with quickness and toughness.

 

32  ARIZONA

 Patrick Mahomes – QB

(PROJECTED TRADE WITH SAINTS) School: Texas Tech. I told you I wanted to get Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer together with Patrick Mahomes. We do that here. They move up from No. 45 to No. 32 and it only cost them a third-round pick. They get their QB of the future.

 

And how about Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com:

 

So of course, I’m making excuses for what’s ahead. Here’s my mock draft. Hopefully, under these harrowing circumstances, I can get a few right.

 

1. Browns: Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett.

The Trubisky buzz is real. And I think Cleveland will be aggressive to get him after going chalk at

 

2. 49ers: Stanford DE Solomon Thomas.

Yes, this would be their third straight year with a first-round DL. But their Seattle-style scheme demands numbers up front. Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore is also in play.

 

3. Bears: LSU S Jamal Adams. There’s been buzz that John Fox likes OSU safety Malik Hooker, and Alabama DL Jonathan Allen could be a fit. But Adams is the safe play for GM Ryan Pace.

 

4. Jaguars: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.

I’m 50/50 with Watson and LSU RB Leonard Fournette here. But if Tom Coughlin is smitten with Watson …

 

5. Browns (trade with Titans): North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky.

If Cleveland comes away with both objects of its affection, that’s a win. The hope would be those two do what 2014 draftees Khalil Mack and Derek Carr have done for Oakland.

 

6. Jets: Alabama TE O.J. Howard.

I’ve vacillated on this. But teams see Howard as close to a sure thing as there is. Also, won’t hurt the QBs to have him.

 

7. Chargers: Clemson WR Mike Williams.

There are whispers about QBs here, and Hooker’s been the logical pick. But the Bolts did late work on Williams.

 

8. Panthers: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey.

Shocker! Fournette isn’t the first back off the board. Instead, Cam Newton gets a Swiss Army knife for his arsenal.

 

9. Bengals: LSU RB Leonard Fournette.

I’ve heard Washington WR John Ross, Alabama LB Reuben Foster and Howard here. But if Fournette drops in their lap, things change.

 

10. Bills: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore.

How serious Buffalo is about the QBs is an open question. But if Lattimore or Howard fall, the Bills would be happy.

 

11. Saints: Temple LB Haason Reddick.

Such a great story, and a guy who can be a foundation piece for New Orleans’ defensive rebuild.

 

12. Titans (trade with Browns): Alabama DL Jonathan Allen.

He is as good a college player as any in this draft. Shoulder issues are there. Tennessee is the beneficiary.

 

13. Cardinals: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis.

Texas Tech QB Pat Mahomes is in play here. Instead, Arizona gets a guy who will help, rather than eventually replace, Carson Palmer.

 

14. Eagles: Ohio State S Malik Hooker.

I’ve heard Tennessee DE Derek Barnett here. Of course, that scenario supposes that Hooker doesn’t fall this far.

 

15. Colts: Missouri DE Charles Harris.

 GM Chris Ballard likes pass rushers with athletic juice. And while he needs some work, Harris can bring that.

 

16. Ravens: Alabama LB Reuben Foster.

No one gets more background on Bama players than Ozzie Newsome. And I hear he’s OK with Foster’s flags

 

17. Redskins: UCLA LB Takkarist McKinley.

Redskins are hunting for pass rushers. My sense is they’d like Harris. If he can get healthy, McKinley might be better.

 

18. Titans: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey.

Could see him going as high as 13 to Arizona. This fit, with what Mularkey and Robinson are building, makes sense.

 

19. Buccaneers: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett.

I’ve heard Dalvin Cook strongly here, but getting a pass-rusher is a priority and there will be backs later.

 

20. Broncos: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk.

Ramczyk’s a fit for what Mike McCoy wants to do. The question is how comfortable Denver is with his hip.

 

21. Lions: Miami TE David Njoku.

 GM Bob Quinn comes from tight end-loving New England, and Njoku makes sense to eventually replace Ebron.

 

22. Dolphins: USC CB Adoree’ Jackson.

Miami will invest in its defense, and with the pass-rushers off the board, it starts at corner.

 

23. Giants: Utah OT Garrett Bolles.

 He’s not without his warts, and he’s a little older, but Jerry Reese needs a pass protector. In this group, that’s Bolles.

 

24. Raiders: Florida LB Jarrad Davis.

It’s a crying need. And if his health holds up, Davis belongs right in this area. Oakland can address corner later.

 

25. Texans: Alabama OT Cam Robinson.

I believe they’ll make an effort to go up and get Watson, and consider Mahomes before settling on a right tackle.

 

26. Seahawks: Washington CB Kevin King.

Big, long Pete Carroll type of corner makes sense as GM John Schneider starts to look to the future on defense.

 

27. Chiefs: Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes.

I see this as the floor for Mahomes, who could go much earlier. That said, KC would be an ideal landing spot for him.

 

28. Cowboys: UConn S Obi Melifonwu.

Free agency decimated the Dallas defense, and this rising prospect could well grow into a cornerstone.

 

29. Packers: Florida CB Quincy Wilson.

Green Bay needs to overhaul this position and Wilson is a solid fit for Dom Capers’ scheme.

 

30. Steelers: Washington WR John Ross.

Could go as high as 9, falls all the way to 30, exemplifying this volatile draft. I almost put Cal QB Davis Webb here.

 

31. Falcons: Utah S Marcus Williams.

Atlanta could trade up, maybe all the way to the late teens. Failing that, Dan Quinn gets his centerfielder.

 

32. Saints: Washington S Budda Baker.

This is a hunch, and a sense that this Bob Sanders clone would bring the edge Dennis Allen wants from his D.

 

And, finally, the DB submits:

 

1. Browns: Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett.

 

2. 49ers:  LSU S Jamal Adams

 

3. Bears: Alabama DL Jonathan Allen.

 

4. Jaguars: LSU RB Leonard Fournette.

 

5. Browns (trade with Titans): North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky.

 

6. Jets: Alabama TE O.J. Howard.

 

7. Chargers: Ohio State S Malik Hooker.

 

8. Panthers: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey.

 

9. Bengals: Stanford DE Solomon Thomas.

 

10. Bills: Temple LB Haason Reddick..

 

11. Saints: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore

 

12. Titans (trade with Browns): Clemson WR Mike Williams.

 

13. Cardinals: Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes.

 

14. Eagles: Missouri DE Charles Harris.

 

15. Colts: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett.

 

16. Ravens: Alabama LB Tim Williams

 

17. Redskins: UCLA LB Takkarist McKinley.

 

18. Titans: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey.

 

19. Buccaneers: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

 

20. Broncos: Alabama OT Cam Robinson.:

 

21. Lions: Miami TE David Njoku.

 

22. Dolphins: USC CB Adoree’ Jackson.

 

23. Giants: Utah OT Garrett Bolles.

 

24. Raiders: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk.

 

25. Texans: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer

 

26. Seahawks: Western Kentucky G Forrest Lamp

 

27. Chiefs: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.

 

28. Cowboys: Alabama LB Reuben Foster.

 

29. Packers: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara

 

30. Steelers:  Western Michigan WR Corey Davis.

 

31. Falcons: Michigan S Jabrill Peppers

 

32. Saints: Washington WR John Ross