The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 30, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Big day Wednesday for the quarterback position in GREEN BAY and NEW ORLEANS as AARON RODGERS becomes the highest paid player in NFL history and the Saints send out a signal for the future by trading for TEDDY BRIDGEWATER.

– – –

An update on the helmet rule from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The new rule against lowering the helmet is having less of an impact on the game, based on three weeks of preseason action.

 

According to the league office, the official number of fouls through three games is 60, based on 49 total preseason games.

 

That’s an average of 1.22 per game, with 51 called against the defense and nine against the offense.

 

The average per game dropped considerably in Week Three of the preseason, with only nine new fouls. Week One had 24 fouls, and Week Two had 27.

 

It’s clear unclear why the fouls dropped so dramatically from Week Two to Week Three. Occam’s razor would suggest that the drop had something to do with last week’s non-change change to the rule, which resulted in no official adjustment but an unofficial alteration that specifically exempts incidental or inadvertent helmet contact.

 

Also, the league office has been pushing the idea of bracing for contact as a path around potential violates of a rule that technically applies only when a player lowers his helmet and initiates contact.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Herbie Teope of NFL.com on the new deal for QB AARON RODGERS:

 

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got paid, and then some.

 

The Packers and Rodgers have agreed to terms on a four-year, $134 million extension, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s James Jones reported, per a source informed. Rodgers also receives a record $57.5 million signing bonus and will earn more than $80 million by March, Rapoport added. The team later made the deal official.

 

Rodgers previously signed a five-year, $110 million extension in 2013 and was set to enter the regular season with two years remaining on his contract, which paid base salaries of $19.8 million in 2018 and $20 million in 2020.

 

The Packers, however, indicated throughout the offseason they would take care of the two-time NFL MVP by signing him to a new deal.

 

With a new deal in his back pocket, there will be no distractions for Rodgers and the Packers when they host the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field for their regular-season opener on Sept. 9.

 

Since entering the league in 2005, the 34-year-old Rodgers has become the heart and soul of the Packers, guiding the team to a championship in Super Bowl XLV, where he also won the MVP.

 

On his career, Rodgers holds a 94-48 overall record as a starter, and has passed 38,502 yards, 313 touchdowns with 78 interceptions for a 103.8 passer rating. His passer rating and TD-INT ratio ranks as the highest in NFL history (minimum 2,000 attempts).

 

The Packers signal-caller enters his 14th professional season and has made his mark, including being one of two active players to win multiple MVP awards and one of two quarterbacks with multiple first-team All-Pro selections, accomplishments shared with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

 

Rodgers has also been named to six Pro Bowls and is one of eight active quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl. He is the second-most productive quarterback in Packers history behind Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

 

While Rodgers has gathered numerous gaudy individual statistics and accolades on his career; perhaps his biggest value to the Packers surrounds his time on the field.

 

Since 2008, the Packers are 94-46 and average 27.7 points per game with Rodgers, but are 6-13-1 and average 20.2 points per game without him.

 

The reaction of Rodgers from his Instagram page:

 

The Packers quarterback wrote a thank you on Instagram Wednesday afternoon.

 

“It’s been an amazing ride the last 13 years; excited to start year 14 knowing that my future is here, in Green Bay, for our 100th season,” Rodgers said. “I’ve grown up in this place, and grown older and a little wiser along the way. Thank you to our incredible fan base for inspiring us players to be better year after year. Thank you to the Packers organization for standing by me time and time again and giving me the opportunity to lead this football team. And thank you to my teammates along the way, past and present who have impacted my life in so many positive ways, giving me friendships for life. Looking forward to making some more memorable moments this year, and for years to come. . . .

#packers100thseason #packersfamily #packerforlife #midrange”

 

ProFootballTalk.com has the numbers:

 

1. The signing bonus is $57.5 million. (The prior record was $50 million, set by Matthew Stafford.)

 

2. Through the end of the 2018 season, Rodgers will earn $66.9 million.

 

3. Through March 2019, he’ll earn $80.8 million.

 

4. Through the 2019 season, he’ll earn $81.9 million.

 

5. Through the 2020 season, he’ll earn $103 million.

 

6. Through the 2021 season, he’ll earn $125 million.

 

7. Through the 2022 season, he’ll earn $150.5 million.

 

8. Through the 2023 season, he’ll earn $176 million.

 

The base value of the deal is $176 million over six years, an average of $29.33 million at signing. The new-money average is $33.5 million. Both are all-time records.

 

The contract also includes $4 million in incentives/escalators, which could push the total value to $180 million. That would make it an even $30 million per year on the full six years.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Fringe WR CAYLEB JONES, brother of troubled Bills WR ZAY JONES, has his own problems.  Andrew Krammer in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

 

Vikings receiver Cayleb Jones is being held in Dakota County Jail after he was arrested on suspicion of three charges, according to jail records.

 

Jones, 25, turned himself into Eagan police on Tuesday evening at 4:15 p.m. after officers responded to a domestic incident in which a preliminary investigation found “a verbal altercation between Mr. Jones and a female which turned physical,” according to the Eagan police department. Jones fled the scene before officers arrived to the Country Inn Suites off Highway 55 in Eagan. He eventually turned himself in to police.

 

Jones, who is yet to be formally charged, is being held on probable cause of three charges: felony-level theft, misdemeanor domestic assault and a gross misdemeanor for interfering with a 911 call. Jones is being held without bail ahead of his first scheduled court appearance on Thursday at noon. A Dakota County district attorney spokesperson said more information will be available when Jones is formally charged Thursday.

 

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman released a statement regarding Jones.

 

“We are aware of the situation involving Cayleb Jones and are in the process of gathering more information. Further comment will be provided at the appropriate time,” Spielman’s statement read.

 

Jones has previously been charged with second-degree felonious assault by Austin police in 2013, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The charge was reduced to misdemeanor assault in April 2013 after police allege he threw a punch that broke the jaw of a then-University of Texas tennis player. Jones pleaded no contest to the case, served two years of probation and transferred from the Longhorns to the University of Arizona that summer.

 

Jones is currently suspended the first four games of this season for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.

 

He joined the Vikings in December 2016 and spent last season on the Vikings’ practice squad.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Stephen Jones wants to continue having four preseason games, but he understands its hard to get fans to pay full price:

 

Stephen Jones isn’t so sure he wants to see the preseason reduced from four games, arguing young players need the reps.

 

“Here’s my problem: At the end of the day, it’s so important for these young players to play the game and play on a big stage and play in stadiums,” said Stephen Jones, a member of the league’s competition committee. “I know sometimes the fans may not love it as much, and that’s Jerry’s point. Would they rather see a regular game? But that’s part of the fun of the game is watching these young guys come up and play. It’s not for everybody. I understand that. But there’s a group of fans out there who really enjoy watching these young players develop.

 

“We’re certainly going to dynamic pricing in the preseason. They certainly are being priced less than our regular-season games. I’m sure we’ll continue to see that more and more. I just think we need these games to develop these football players.”

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

For the accountants in our audience, here is Mike Florio’s breakdown of the deal for WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.:

 

PFT has obtained and fully analyzed the Odell Beckham Jr. contract. To see how the six-year, $98.459 million contract is constructed, keep reading.

        

For starters, there is no extension. It’s a new contract that covers the next six years. The full details for the six-year deal appear below.

 

1. Signing bonus: $20 million ($10 million will be paid by September 19, $5 million will be paid by November 21, and $5 million will be paid by February 20).

 

2. 2018 base salary, fully guaranteed: $1.459 million.

 

3. 2019 base salary, fully guaranteed: $16.75 million.

 

4. 2020 base salary: $14 million. Of that amount, $2.75 million is fully guaranteed at signing, the rest is guaranteed for injury only. As of the third day of the 2020 league year, the $14 million becomes fully guaranteed.

 

5. 2021 base salary: $14.5 million. Of that amount, $12.791 million in guaranteed for injury at signing. The amount becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year.

 

6. 2022 base salary: $13.75 million.

 

7. 2023 base salary: $13.75 million.

 

8. Workout bonuses from 2019 through 2023: $250,000 per year ($1.25 million total).

 

9. Training camp roster bonuses for 2021 through 2023: $1 million per year, if he shows up on the first day of training camp.

 

That last term is smart, and it suggests that the Giants don’t plan to rip up the final three years of the deal if/when Beckham feels like he’s underpaid. If he holds out in any of those three years, he loses $1 million. Period.

 

Here’s the cash flow: $21.459 million through 2018; $38.459 million through 2019; $52.709 million through 2020; $68.459 million through 2021; $83.459 million through 2022; $98.459 million through 2023. (Note that the cash flow through the first three years is more than $7 million less than the reported $60 million. That’s a fairly significant difference.)

 

He has $40.959 million fully guaranteed at signing, and $65 million guaranteed for injury at signing. Given the structure of the vesting, with the guarantees kicking in the same year the money is paid, the Giants could (in theory) part ways with Beckham after two years and $41.2 million over after three years and $52.709 million.

 

Finally, the incentives. (Actually, escalators.) Beckham can boost his 2022 salary by up to $2.5 million. He triggers the escalators in $500,000 chunks, getting another half million for each of the following accomplishments: (1) 96 or more receptions; (2) 96 or more receptions and a playoff berth; (3) 1,374 receiving yards; (4) 1,374 receiving yards and a playoff berth; and (5) 12 touchdown receptions. The same potential dollars apply to 2023, with the same formula based on what he does in 2022.

 

So to get the extra $5 million, he needs 96 catches, 1,374 yards, 12 touchdowns, and playoffs in 2021 and in 2022. At a time when someone other than Eli Manning likely will be the quarterback.

 

Again, the deal is very good, but it’s hardly the earth-shattering package that many thought Beckham deserved. And I’d still take the Sammy Watkins contract, especially since he’ll make only $4 million less over the first three years and end up back on the market.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Cris Carter knows what it is like to be hanging on at the end of a once-great career.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter remembers how his own career ended, and he thinks future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson is due for a similar ending.

 

Carter, who played his 16th and final season in Miami and caught just eight passes, believes Peterson is in for a similar season in Washington this year.

 

“Did you see me in a Dolphins uniform?” Carter told USA Today. “I had no business playing that season. I wouldn’t have admitted it, either. These guys get so sensitive about everything. Adrian had better get over himself. We were all great. But at the end, we all smelled like a baby’s diaper.”

 

Peterson heard Carter make similar comments on FS1 and was not happy about it.

 

“Watching some of the things they said about me, man, it really hurt me to the core,” Peterson told USA Today. “Not only are they black men, but these are people I looked up to. And these are people that made mistakes, especially Cris Carter. So some of the things that came out of his mouth, not only personally, but about me as a player – aw, he’s washed up and this, that and the other, and he should just retire – how dare you.

 

Peterson insists he has plenty of gas left in the tank and even thinks he can lead the league in rushing. That’s a pipe dream, but he’ll at least try to be better than Carter was with the Dolphins.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com on the acquisition of QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER:

 

The Jets went into training camp looking to trade Bridgewater, 25, whom they signed to a one-year, $6 million contract. They’ve already paid him $1 million in bonus money.

 

Bridgewater will cost the Saints at least $5 million for one year. He could earn up to $9 million more in incentives based on playing time, yards and touchdowns.

 

“We are excited to add Teddy Bridgewater to our team,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in a statement on the team’s website. “We look forward to working with him and watching him continue to develop as a player.”

 

Bridgewater played well in three preseason games, completing 74 percent of his passes (28-for-38) for 316 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating is 104.7.

 

The trade occurred one day shy of the two-year anniversary of Bridgewater’s horrific knee injury with the Minnesota Vikings. Bridgewater played in 29 games for the Vikings in 2014 and 2015 but missed all of 2016 after dislocating his left knee and tearing multiple ligaments on Aug. 30 of that year. He has recovered remarkably and hasn’t been limited in any fashion. He played in one game last season and signed with the Jets in March.

 

The Saints appear to have decided to upgrade at backup quarterback behind Drew Brees this year. But Bridgewater also is an intriguing candidate to eventually succeed Brees, if the two sides ultimately decide to extend Bridgewater’s contract past this season.

 

Brees, who will turn 40 in January, just signed a two-year deal with the Saints in March.

 

The Saints have never made this kind of investment in the backup quarterback position during the 13-year Brees-Payton era, although they did come close to drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017. The Saints are paying a significant price to land Bridgewater, considering they have less than $10 million in salary-cap space and already traded away their 2019 first-round draft choice to move up to pick defensive end Marcus Davenport this year.

 

The Saints’ two backup QB candidates this summer were veteran Tom Savage and second-year dual threat Taysom Hill.

 

Savage was solid but unspectacular throughout the preseason.

 

The performance of Hill, meanwhile, was more of a roller-coaster ride. He led the Saints in rushing in each of the first three preseason games, but he also committed four turnovers in the first half of the second exhibition game.

 

Hill will almost certainly remain on the Saints’ 53-man roster because they’re intrigued by his long-term potential and because he also serves as one of their top special-teams coverage specialists.

 

Mike Florio:

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Bridgewater “loves” the move, even though it means he won’t be playing absent an injury to future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. The upside comes from the chance to learn and to develop in a system designed by Sean Payton and executed by Brees.

 

With enough tape from three preseason games to show that Bridgewater’s knee has healed, he’ll likely find greater interest on the open market in 2019 — especially with far fewer free agents to compete with. And who knows? Maybe Brees calls it quits after the coming season and Bridgewater gets a chance to take over in New Orleans.

 

However it plays out, this is a move aimed at setting the table for Bridgewater in the future. Still only 25, he’s got plenty of years left to play. And he’ll now be in a better position to play and to play well, wherever he lands next season.

 

So while he’d rather play this year, not playing with the Saints arguably is better than not playing for any other team. Even though the Saints have given up a third-round pick for Bridgewater and a sixth-rounder, they could still choose to flip him to a team that develops a sudden and urgent need for a starter, if there’s an injury that happens at some point in the not-too-distant future. Like the injury that happened to Bridgewater on August 30, 2016.

 

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com loves the deal (although reasons 2 and 3 would seem to apply to any QB):

 

The New Orleans Saints pulled off a bit of a surprise on Wednesday when they shipped a 2019 third-round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a 2019 sixth-round selection. The move not only upgrades the Saints’ QB2 spot, but it also provides coach Sean Payton with a young signal-caller to groom as a successor to Drew Brees.

 

With that in mind, here are three reasons why the Bridgewater trade is a great move for the Saints:

 

1) Bridgewater gives the Saints a solid QB2 with long-term QB1 potential.

The Saints have been searching for a QB2 with the talent and potential to succeed Drew Brees for years. The team hasn’t found a solid developmental prospect in either the draft (think of Garrett Grayson, a third round pick in 2015, or Sean Canfield, a seventh-rounder in 2010) or in free agency (think of Chase Daniel or Luke McCown). With Tom Savage (career passer rating of 72.5) and special-teams standout Taysom Hill (who is intriguing based on his talent as a utility player but not ready to be a QB2 on a team in the hunt for a Super Bowl title) currently on the depth chart behind Brees, they turned to the trade market.

 

Although Brees is signed through 2019, New Orleans needs to have a succession plan in place, given that the perennial Pro Bowler will turn 40 next January. Bridgewater would certainly appear to be a solid replacement as a young quarterback (25) with significant starting experience (28 regular-season starts) and a playoff pedigree. The one-time Pro Bowler has not only guided a franchise to the postseason, but he did it as a youngster in a Vikings offense that was conservative by nature. Sure, his career numbers aren’t eye-popping at first glance (he has a 64.7 percent completion rate and a 28:22 touchdown-to-interception ratio), but he played “winning” football (low turnovers, smart decisions) for a defensive-oriented squad.

 

While the pedestrian stats and conservative style of play have led many to suggest Bridgewater is merely a game manager, I think it is important to remember he was a prolific passer at Louisville. He completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 9,817 yards and a 72:24 TD-to-INT ratio for the Cardinals during an impressive three-year run that included a Big East title and Big East Offensive Player of the Year (2012) honors.

 

As a prospect, Bridgewater certainly exhibited traits of a franchise quarterback (leadership, poise, judgment, anticipation, timing and accuracy). A pocket passer for a team that employed a wide-open offensive scheme, he distributed the ball quickly and efficiently to his playmaker on the outside on a series of quick-rhythm throws inside the numbers. Bridgewater consistently strung together completions and rarely made costly mistakes with the ball.

 

He continued to display those traits as a passer for the Vikings and, most recently, the Jets, with whom he was undertaking a comeback from a devastating knee injury that wiped out his 2016 season. Bridgewater’s combination of poise, anticipation, timing and accuracy have stood out in the preseason, as evidenced by his 73.7 percent completion rate and 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio in three games. I know preseason stats don’t count, but how Bridgewater has played matters, and the Saints’ evaluators certainly saw a player with QB1 potential.

 

Some might snicker at the notion of Bridgewater being a QB1, based on concerns about his arm strength. But playing in the NFC South, which includes a pair of domes (New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and some mild-weather cities (Charlotte and Tampa), will make that a non-issue going forward.

 

2) Sean Payton is the perfect play-caller for Bridgewater.

To operate at a high level, the overwhelming majority of quarterbacks in the NFL need a creative play-caller in their corner. Payton is arguably one of the best offensive minds in the business, as evidenced by the Saints’ six No. 1 rankings in total offense during Payton’s tenure thus far (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016) and a pair of top finishes in scoring offense (2008 and 2009).

 

Some would attribute the Saints’ success to Brees. But there is no disputing Payton’s influence on the 11-time Pro Bowler’s game when you look at the tape. The Saints have carefully crafted a scheme around Brees’ talents as a pinpoint passer with A-plus arm talent while accounting for declining arm strength in recent years. The team has featured a number of vertical concepts in the game plan, but the Saints traditionally target the middle of the field on a variety of seams and skinny post-routes. In addition, they have a diverse horizontal passing game with an assortment of crossing routes and option concepts designed to get Brees easy completions within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

 

I believe Bridgewater’s playing style and approach are similar to those of Brees. Although Bridgewater is a lesser talent, he is an accurate passer adept at working the short and intermediate areas of the field on quick-rhythm throws. Bridgewater makes sound decisions with the football and is at his best when playing like a pass-first point guard from the pocket. He is a distributor at heart. The Saints’ play-caller will tap into those skills by putting him in an offense that features a number of spacing reads and triangle concepts designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly.

 

With Bridgewater showing the football world that he has rediscovered his game as a rhythm passer during his time with the New York Jets, the marriage between Payton and his new QB2 looks like a match made in football heaven.

 

3) The Saints’ supporting cast could elevate Bridgewater’s game.

So much of a quarterback’s success depends on the supporting cast around him. And the Saints have the right kind of weaponry in place. From their dynamic running back tandem (which I’ve previously called the “G.O.A.T” among RB duos), to their big-bodied WR1 with the sticky hands and spectacular ball skills, to their rock-solid offensive line, the Saints have A-level talent at the key positions needed to elevate the play of the quarterback.

 

For a pinpoint “dink and dunk” passer like Bridgewater, the presence of a dominant running game sets up big-play opportunities on the outside off play-action fakes. In addition, the explosive playmaking ability of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the passing game will help him terrorize defenses intent on taking away his top target (Mike Thomas) or his deep threat (Ted Ginn Jr.) with screens and option routes out of the backfield. Kamara, in particular, could be a vital weapon for Bridgewater when it comes to targeting overmatched linebackers in space. The second-year pro is a nightmare to contain in the open field, and Payton’s clever play designs will get No. 41 plenty of one-on-one matchups

 

On the outside, Thomas is a strike-zone expander with the size, length and ball skills to win 50-50 balls down the field. No. 13’s presence could encourage Bridgewater to be a more aggressive thrower. With Ginn also capable of winning the outside as a vertical playmaker, the Saints’ new QB2 could become a more prolific scorer.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The big money deal for DT AARON DONALD could be near as the Rams free up some cash.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Rams say they are “very close” to reaching a deal with defensive tackle Aaron Donald and they’ve reportedly made some moves to free up money they can devote to such a contract.

 

Field Yates of ESPN reports that the team has restructured the contracts of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and wide receiver Robert Woods. The moves reportedly clear $7 million in cap space for this season and that likely comes in handy for a team with little cap space to use if the mega-deal that Donald is set to receive will cause his cap number to rise this year.

 

The details of the restructure aren’t known, but the moves will likely involve converting some salary into bonuses that can spread cap hits over future seasons. Whitworth has an $8 million base salary this year and is signed through 2019 with a scheduled cap number of $12.4 million. Woods, who received a $3 million roster bonus to go with his $5 million salary, is signed through the 2021 season with cap numbers of $5 million, $6 million and $8 million.

 

Stars appear to be aligning for the long-awaited Donald contract and we’ll see how much longer it takes to flesh out the final details.

 

 

SEATTLE

A deal for WR TYLER LOCKETT in Seattle.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Tyler Lockett has obtained financial security, signing an extension that guarantees him $20 million. For that, the Seahawks receiver is grateful.

 

“This is something we all dream of as kids, being able to get to this position and being able to know that our family set and our life is set,” Lockett said, via John Boyle of the team website. “For me, words can’t even explain how I feel. I love this organization. Pete [Carroll], John [Schneider], everybody has been so amazing to me. With the way they bring a lot of people here to be able to help us on the mental side, on the physical side, everything that I need, has been here. They traded picks to come and get me, they’ve shown me that they wanted me here. From what I know in the draft, they were the only team that told me I could do both returns and play receiver. They’ve allowed me to grow as a person, and they also allowed me to develop into a receiver that I’m continuing to be every day. We’re in a business, so it’s hard for businesses to be able to extend people. The fact that they were willing to give me an extension because they see me in their future, that says a lot. They’ve given me all of them, and each and every day, I’m giving all of me. I’m giving whatever I can to be able help this team win, to be able to help this team be successful, and to be able to help every single player on this team reach their potential.”

 

Lockett has 5,274 all-purpose yards, the most in the NFL over the past three seasons. He earned first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie in 2015 and second-team honors in 2016 and 2017.

 

“Tyler has been a great Seahawk, an incredibly productive player,” Carroll said. “You can check his numbers. Nobody’s done more than he’s done in his years in the league in terms of total yards. He’s just been such a great competitor for us. This is a great chance to reward him accordingly and make him a Seahawk for a long time.”

– – –

It looks like inspiring rookie LB SHAQUEM GRIFFIN will start the regular season opener.

 

One of the feel-good stories of the offseason is going to have an opportunity to take center stage in the regular season opener.

 

With Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright expected to be out at least two weeks, the door is open for rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin to start in his place when Seattle opens the season at Denver on Sept. 9.

 

That’s an amazing rise for a player who wasn’t even initially invited to the Scouting Combine, but one that obvious mistake was corrected stole the show. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, but his 20 reps of the 225-bench press might have been most impressive, since he has one hand. Griffin’s left hand was amputated when he was 4 years old because of amniotic band syndrome.

 

The Seahawks have used him extensively in the preseason to get him ready for his role.

 

“I want to see him continue to get better and clean things up and make sure he’s really accountable,” Carroll said of Griffin, via Brady Henderson of ESPN.com. “He’s a running-and-hitting guy. We ain’t worried about that. It’s just making sure he’s really playing the scheme really well and is really precise about all his fits and all that. . . .

 

“We’d like to be able to use his speed and his range and all that, so he’s working really hard at it. He’s been a very astute worker, been a really sharp communicator and all that stuff. A lot of good things are positive, and now we’d just like to see him put it all together again. He’ll have another big week next week and we’ll hopefully add to that.”

 

Wright had arthroscopic surgery on his knee Monday, and when Carroll was asked how much time he’d miss, replied: “They talked about a couple weeks. It was the most optimistic we could be.”

 

Two weeks from the procedure would be the day after opener, so Griffin could be in the starting lineup for at least the first game.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

The Raiders are taking calls on DE KHALIL MACK, but so far their asking price in a trade has been too high.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Several teams are interested in trading for Khalil Mack, but apparently not at the price the Raiders are asking.

 

Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that the Raiders have received “a bunch of calls in recent days” about Mack, but the Raiders are giving “the impression the price would be at least two first-round picks.”

 

In other words, the Raiders aren’t really motivated to do a deal. That’s an exorbitant price, even if it’s for the 2016 defensive player of the year.

 

The Raiders and Mack remain in a standoff, with neither side willing to make the next move.

 

While Aaron Donald is on the verge of a deal expected to make him the league’s highest-paid defensive player, the Raiders have not made Mack an offer since February. He remains a holdout.

 

Skipping regular-season game checks will cost Mack more than $814,000 per week.

 

It only takes one team to meet that asking price.  Remember, a team once game up those two ones, plus two twos, for a coach.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Rookie G GREG SENAT took a photo that earned the ire of Coach John Harbaugh.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

Ravens rookie Greg Senat might have more to worry about than his injured right foot.

 

Senat posted a picture of him wearing a protective boot, which drew the ire of coach John Harbaugh.

 

“He’ll be disciplined for that,” Harbaugh said. “So, I’ll make sure that we take care of that.”

 

Senat deleted his tweet less than 30 minutes after Harbaugh’s remark.

 

A sixth-round pick out of Wagner, Senat was Baltimore’s starting left tackle in Saturday’s preseason game because of injuries to Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst. He left the game early after suffering turf toe.

 

Harbaugh expects Senat to be out “for a while.”

 

“Obviously, he doesn’t know any better,” Harbaugh said. “At this point in time when the regular season starts, we won’t be doing that.”

 

The Ravens are very tight-lipped about injuries. It’s typically left to Harbaugh to comment on the specifics after a player is hurt.

 

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns cut LB MYCHAL KENDRICKS after he runs afoul of the Feds.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

The Browns on Wednesday released linebacker Mychal Kendricks, just hours after he was charged by federal authorities with insider trading worth up to $1.2 million in illegal profits.

 

Signed by the Browns to a one-year deal in June, Kendricks faces up to 25 years in prison and a $5.25 million fine for charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud, according to investigators.

 

When the Browns signed Kendricks, they knew he was under federal investigation for insider trading, but they believed his explanation that he had been taken advantage of by his friend Damilare Sonoiki, a Harvard-educated analyst for Goldman Sachs who’s currently a writer for the ABC hit sitcom “Black-ish.”

 

Sonoiki, who helped facilitate the illegal trades authorities say, has been charged along with the former Eagles linebacker in the scheme, which included Kendricks allegedly giving kickbacks to his friend for stock tips that included $10,000 in cash, Eagles tickets and more.

 

“Prior to signing Mychal, we were informed that there was a financial situation that he had been involved with in 2014,” Browns GM John Dorsey said in a statement released by the club Wednesday night. “We were told Mychal had fully cooperated with investigators as a victim. From what was communicated at that time and based on the numerous questions we asked and further due diligence on our part, including checking with the league office, there was no information discovered that conveyed otherwise.

 

“Recently, we were provided an update on the matter and the circumstances have changed. We are now dealing with a different set of facts and the additional information we’ve gathered has led us to the decision to release Mychal from our team. Due to the ongoing legal nature of this situation, we will have no further comments.”

 

The Browns discovered about 10 days ago that charges were forthcoming, a source said, but they still believed Kendricks might be viewed as more of a pawn in his friend’s elaborate scheme.

 

When court documents were released Wednesday and the Browns had all of the facts, they opted to cut ties. Over the span of two years, Kendricks and Sonoiki used coded language in their texts to disguise insider trading, and met numerous times for Kendricks to pay off Sonoiki, investigators say.

 

The Browns left Kendricks home from their bus trip to Detroit Wednesday for the final preseason game Thursday night against the Lions while they decided whether or not to release him.

 

With Kendricks under contract for only a year, and with the NFL having the option of placing him on the exempt list while the proceedings are underway, the Browns opted to let Kendricks go and cut their losses.

 

In financial terms, it’s no great loss for them. They signed Kendricks to a one-year deal worth about $2.228 million, including a $500,000 signing bonus – the only guaranteed money in the deal. It included per-game bonuses worth another $350,000.

 

They’re currently only out the $500,000, which they might also be able to recoup.

 

The Eagles were aware that Kendricks was the subject of a probe when they released him in May, and the NFL had also been informed of it, a league source said. Kendricks visited two other teams before signing with the Browns, the Vikings and the Raiders. His brother, Eric, plays for the Vikings.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, a lawyer by original trade, sounds like he thinks Kendricks has a case.  Florio is fueled by the fact that the NFL stood with Browns ownership while it weathered a federal investigation, but the Browns are dumping Kendricks.

 

It may just be another case of the Browns being the Browns. Or it may be another case of an NFL team doing what the NFL told it to do. Regardless, something stinks about the decision to abruptly cut linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

 

The smoking gun is hiding in plain sight. “Prior to signing Mychal, we were informed that there was a financial situation that he had been involved with in 2014,” the Browns said in the statement announcing his termination.

 

So they knew what was going on or, at a minimum, they should have known. The fact that the statement then flops around with half-hearted excuses for not knowing the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the bottom line is that the Browns signed Kendricks without figuring out the truth. So either this is a diplomatic way of claiming that Kendricks lied to the Browns (if that’s what they think, they should just say it) or it’s a case of the heat getting too hot in the kitchen, and the NFL and the Browns having no viable alternative to cutting Kendricks loose.

 

Indeed, paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract authorizes termination “if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club.” But how does that apply to conduct from four years ago, especially when the team was on notice that something had happened before the player was signed?

 

Making the decision even more awkward is the fact that it came from a team owned by a man whose truck-stop chain engaged in massive customer fraud, with no NFL consequence of any kind to the owner. Moreover, the termination of Kendricks also comes only three months after the league looked the other way on the settlement of a civil fraud cause arising from allegations that Giants quarterback Eli Manning engaged in fraud in connection with the sale of NFL memorabilia.

 

So, yes, this one stinks. And Kendricks, who very likely will be ostracized in the aftermath of his looming guilty plea to insider trading, should consider filing a grievance aimed at getting the pay he otherwise won’t see, all because the Browns at best failed to do their homework before signing him and at worst implemented a decision that was foisted upon them by a league office that doesn’t want NFL games to be marred by the periodic mention of the presence of a player who is facing possible jail time for insider trading.

 

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com has more on what Kendricks was doing:

 

“I would like to apologize,” Kendricks said. “Four years ago, I participated in insider trading, and I deeply regret it. I invested money with a former friend of mine who I thought I could trust and who I greatly admired. His background as a Harvard graduate and an employee of Goldman Sachs gave me a false sense of confidence.”

 

The maximum sentence for the counts is 25 years in prison and a $5.25 million fine.

 

The detail in court documents suggest that federal investigators have no shortage of information boxing in the crime – either provided from Kendricks, Sonoiki, other cooperating witnesses or some level of surveillance, digital footprints, forensic audits or other pieces of data left behind by the transactions.

 

Prosecutors detail a chance meeting between Kendricks and Sonoiki at a party in late 2013, followed by a friendship and exchange of financial ideas through the summer of 2014. It was at that point, according to charging documents, that Kendricks opened up a brokerage account with an $80,000 deposit, which he appeared to have tried to hide from his financial adviser by first transferring the money into his personal checking account and then opening the brokerage account for use by himself and Sonoiki.

 

Soon after, prosecutors allege that Kendricks’ account began purchasing stock options, taking massive financial gains on four companies that were all headed for stock-spiking merger announcements. All four of the companies – Compuware, Move, Sapient and Oplink – had some level of advisement ties to the investment firm that employed Sonoiki. Prosecutors allege Sonoiki cultivated inside stock pricing information on all four of the companies, using that information so either he, Kendricks or an unnamed “middle man” could purchase stock options that would pay off huge sums following merger announcements.

 

Among the massive windfalls from those alleged transactions:

 

Using the initial $80,000 deposited, Kendricks’ brokerage account purchased $60,163 in stock options for Compuware and then sold those options for $138,586 following a merger announcement – a 130 percent return on investment in 34 days.

 

Kendricks’ account purchased $71,001 in stock options for Move and then sold those options for $349,702 following a merger announcement – a 393 percent return on investment in 25 days.

 

Kendricks’ account purchased $145,784 in stock options for Sapient and then sold those options for $634,862 following a merger announcement – a 335 percent return on investment in 31 days.

 

Kendricks’ account purchased $446,387 in stock options for Oplink and then sold those options for $798,260 following a merger announcement – a 79 percent return on investment in 24 days.

 

During the timeframe of stock trades, federal investigators detailed text exchanges between Kendricks and Sonoiki that appeared to show a willful attempt to cover their actions, speaking in coded texts or on FaceTime, meeting face-to-face and eventually employing a “middle man” to manage the brokerage account. Prosecutors haven’t identified the middle man who at one point handled the brokerage account for Kendricks and communicated with Sonoiki. The middle man also isn’t listed in charging documents as a co-conspirator in the scheme, despite having some level of involvement.

 

The court documents go on to detail alleged kickbacks and gifts from Kendricks to Sonoiki, which included roughly $10,000 in cash, tickets to Eagles games and a visit to a music video shoot. There are also text exchanges that recount some level of anxiety from Kendricks over the scheme, with Sonoiki attempting to quell his reservations or reminding him to avoid certain types of communication. However, the documents also reveal that late in the middle of the scheme, the online firm hosting the brokerage account placed a freeze on funds due to suspicious login activity. Following that freeze, prosecutors detail a “desperate” call from Kendricks to the online brokerage firm, pleading for the freeze to be lifted in advance of another round of options purchases.

 

In one of the more colorful coded text exchanges, Sonoiki also allegedly references one of the cash kickbacks he expected from Kendricks, using the “bread” in Philly cheesesteaks:

 

“idk when next imma be able to see you,” Sonoiki allegedly texted Kendricks “so try to have the bread if you can … the bread in nyc just isn’t the same and I really like my cheesesteaks with the stuff you all have in Philly.”

 

In totality, the charging documents appear to show a detailed account of the scheme, and a participation and knowledge by Kendricks that went beyond finances. That might explain why Kendricks and his attorney have quickly admitted guilt publicly and remorsefully, as they attempt to get ahead of an apparently inevitable guilty plea to some level of charges.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on the upcoming decision point for RB Le’VEON BELL:

 

When Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell played the “fake news” card earlier this week in response to a report that he has told teammates he’ll show up and sign his franchise tender on Monday, Bell opted to keep his real plans to himself. And so, with 10 days until the Steelers travel to Cleveland for the first game of the regular season, Bell remains unsigned and unprepared and there’s a lingering sense of uncertainty as to when he’ll grab a helmet and get to work.

 

Bell’s agent already has said publicly that, “barring something exceptional,” Bell will arrive the week before Week One. So whether it’s Monday or Sunday or Saturday or Friday, Bell’s agent already has created the impression that Bell’s return is imminent. So when Bell shouts “fake news!” in response to a suggestion that Monday is the day, it seems odd that we wouldn’t finish the thought.

 

But Bell, for whatever reason, chooses to maintain a mystery regarding his status, for reasons neither obvious nor apparent. The Steelers won’t give him a long-term deal to get him to show up because they can’t; that door slammed against the frame on July 16. In theory, the Steelers could offer him more money on a one-year deal. At this point, though, why would they? The time to use extra cash or other terms on a one-year offer to lure him to Latrobe has come and gone.

 

And given Bell’s agent’s on-the-record comments about when Bell likely will arrive (followed by no on- or off-the-record claims to the contrary), it’s hard to sell anyone on the idea that Bell actually is considering staying away and skipping out on weekly checks in excess of $855,000.

 

So there’s currently every reason to think Bell will be back soon. And there’s currently no reason for Bell to quibble with reports regarding when he’ll be back, unless he truly intends to return Monday but genuinely believes he has said nothing to any teammates that would give away his plan. Which would make the news technically fake but ultimately true.

 

Through it all, the Steelers have the power to give Bell and everyone else a late-summer surprise, by ripping the one-year contract offer away just as Bell is poised to put a pen to it. That would be the ultimate boss/prick move, depending on one’s perspective. There’s still no reason to think the Steelers would do it, in part because they’re keeping their cards a lot closer to the vest on this one than Bell.

 

Which means that it would still be wise to keep one eye open on the possibility that the Steelers will decide to save $14.54 million, to proceed with James Conner as the lead tailback, and to thrust Bell into the open market at a time when rosters are set, budgets are exhausted, and cap money may be scarce.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

The hype for CB JALEN RAMSEY continues with a big ESPN takeout by Mina Kimes here.

 

“I don’t really care what people think about me, to be honest,” he says. “At. All.”

 

Such pronouncements — You can’t hurt me! — typically draw skepticism, and rightfully so. No one drives through life with blackout windows; most of us are affected, in some way or another, by the love and hate we encounter in others. But the more time I spend with Jalen Ramsey, the more I realize he isn’t like most people. If legendary cornerback Darrelle Revis was an island on the field, the 23-year-old Jaguar is an island off it, a self-governing state that refuses to engage in diplomacy with the outside world. As a player, his hermetically sealed brain elevates his game to extraordinary heights. As a person, it can make things complicated.

 

THE FACT THAT Ramsey is famous at all is a small miracle. He’s a cornerback who plays in a tiny market; if he’s in the news, it’s usually because he’s a reliable purveyor of juicy sound bites, often batting back reporters’ queries with quotes that are perfectly tailored for aggregation and televised debate. Since he was drafted fifth in 2016, Ramsey has talked a city landfill’s worth of trash, the likes of which the league hasn’t seen since Steve Smith Sr. hung up his mouthguard. (As a rookie, Ramsey called the legendary wide receiver an “old man.”)

 

As a result, when we meet earlier in the day, at a Logan’s Roadhouse in Smyrna, I’m prepared for the second coming of Deion Sanders. But Ramsey rolls in quietly, his longtime girlfriend, Breanna Tate, in tow. I don’t know what I expected — a WWE-style entrance? A Deion-esque ensemble? — but this isn’t it: He’s dressed plainly, in sweats, and he slips wordlessly into a booth. Ramsey brushes a few peanut shells off the table and regards me suspiciously, as though we’re lined up across from each other on the field. When I ask him if he likes doing interviews, he scrunches his nose. “As long as they’re not boring,” he says.

 

And this:

 

When I ask Ramsey if he believes Bortles can win a Super Bowl, he pooh-poohs the question. “He doesn’t need to,” he says. By his estimation, the team is strong enough as a whole to go all the way. “The Jaguars can win a Super Bowl with Blake Bortles at quarterback,” he says.

 

And besides: He likes Bortles! He just believes that, contrary to NFL orthodoxy (as it applies to players), criticism and respect aren’t mutually exclusive. And while he says Bortles is a little “too chill” compared with the swaggering defense, he thinks that started to change last season. Ramsey points to a moment in the Bengals game when Bortles clashed with Jacksonville’s coach, Doug Marrone, over whether to run a play or kneel when the team was up by three scores. “The players liked it,” he says, grinning.

 

Anyone who’s ever been part of a team knows there is danger in radical honesty — that it invites not only hurt feelings but increased scrutiny. But running back Leonard Fournette, who remembers that same moment fondly, says players respect Ramsey because he’s unafraid to share his opinions face-to-face. And because, well, he’s really good. “It’d be another thing if he talked trash and didn’t back it up,” Fournette says. “He’s a dog. That’s who he is.”

 

Later in the summer, I ask Marrone how he views the cornerback’s candor. He says that as with any player, he wants Ramsey to learn from his mistakes — but that he doesn’t want him to conform for conformity’s sake. “I don’t like coaching that way,” he says. Marrone also notes that trash-talk is hardly a cardinal sin — and that Ramsey’s takes are often born from preparation. “Before every game, I’ll say: ‘Tell me about the receiver you’re going up against,'” he says. “He’s as thorough as anyone I’ve ever been around.”

 

It’s debatable whether Ramsey’s bluntness helps or hinders his team. But it’s undeniably positive for the NFL. Hollywood is littered with antiheroes, characters who are subversive, impolite and far more watchable than their bland good-guy counterparts. At one point in our conversation, Ramsey mentions that he loved “Black Panther” but says he couldn’t relate to the main character. “I’m Killmonger,” he says, the movie’s villain whose charismatic performance steals the show. It’s a role he’s come to accept, because for him it isn’t a role at all. “A lot of people are gonna hate me before they like me,” he says. “I’m perfectly fine with that.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Thoughts from QB TOM BRADY on the Patriots’ transient receivers corps.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Patriots have had a revolving door at wide receiver this offseason. Eric Decker retired. Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell were released. Julian Edelman was suspended. Tom Brady is trying not to let all that faze him.

 

Brady said in his interview with WEEI (an interview whose contents were overshadowed by Brady’s decision to end the interview abruptly) that he can’t get too concerned about things not working out with his wide receivers.

 

“Certain things haven’t worked out the way we would have hoped and players would have hoped, but that’s football,” Brady said.

 

Asked if the Patriots need to add a veteran receiver, including possibly Dez Bryant, Brady demurred.

 

“I don’t make those decisions for our team. I don’t go in there and tell them who I want,” Brady said. “My job is to play quarterback and whoever’s here that’s who I have to make it work with.”

 

But while Brady isn’t taking the bait, there’s been a lot of talk about the Patriots potentially adding another wide receiver. On his personal website, Mike Reiss of ESPN floated the idea of the Patriots making a trade with the Lions for Golden Tate, although Reiss made clear he was just spitballing, and in a report on ESPN.com that mentioned Michael Floyd, Brandon LaFell and Corey Coleman as possible Patriots targets, Tate was not mentioned.

 

The Patriots might just decide that the wide receivers they have in camp now — including Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett — are good enough for the first four weeks, and that when Edelman returns in Week Five, Brady will have all the targets he needs. Whatever the team decides, Brady sounds like he thinks it will all work out just fine.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Here is a QB SAM DARNOLD nugget:

 

According to a tweet from NFL Research, Darnold will become the youngest quarterback to start a regular season opener since the 1970 merger.

 

Darnold will be 21 years and 97 days old when the Jets take the field against the Lions on Monday, Sept. 10.

 

That would surpass Drew Bledsoe’s previous mark (21 years, 204 days), along with Matthew Stafford (21, 219), Jameis Winston (21, 250), and DeShone Kizer (21, 251).

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

DRAFT 2019

ESPN’s dynamic duo of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay tell you who to watch this college football season – from an NFL perspective.  The whole thing, which you can see here  

has 27 “questions”, only some of which we included below.:

 

Are you that football fan who watches college football games and is convinced you can pick out the NFL players? Hey, join the club. Here’s a little primer for the season on whom to be watching (and when). Does your NFL team need a QB, a pass-rusher, a running back?

 

Take a look. We’ll hit those and many, many more …

 

1. The No. 1 prospect in this class is …

McShay: As of today, it’s Houston’s Ed Oliver. I’m not saying he’s Aaron Donald, but the traits look similar, with an explosive first step, the ability to knock a blocker backward, and he pursues in space like a guy 50 pounds lighter. He has 39 tackles for loss in two seasons. Look out.

 

Kiper: Don’t forget about Nick Bosa. The Ohio State pass-rusher has the same grade as Oliver on my board. Bosa is the best edge rusher in this class, and Oliver is the best interior pass-rusher. By the way: The last defensive tackle to go No. 1 overall? Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson in 1994.

 

3. Which Week 1 college football game should I watch for prospects?

McShay: Auburn-Washington is loaded, and hey, I’ll be there! Washington has maybe the best tackle combo in the country, led by Trey Adams, and a loaded secondary, led by safety Taylor Rapp. You’re talking about a group with four legit prospects. There are several other U-Dub names I could have mentioned. Auburn has QB Jarrett Stidham, a potential first-rounder, and is just loaded on defense: Derrick Brown looks like a first-rounder, and Dontavius Russell (NT), Darrell Williams (OLB) and Deshaun Davis (ILB) are all legit. This is a loaded game.

 

Kiper: You know I’m going to say Michigan-Notre Dame, right? The Wolverines’ defense is absolutely loaded with prospects. A few guys to watch: Defensive lineman Rashan Gary dominates when he’s at his best, and he could be a top-five pick; Lavert Hill is one of the best underclassmen cornerbacks in the country; outside linebacker Devin Bush makes plays all over the field. Notre Dame has versatile guard Alex Bars, who could be a first-rounder in 2019. Cornerback Julian Love, defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te’Von Coney are also prospects to keep an eye on.

 

4. My team needs a quarterback next offseason. Which team should I watch this fall?

Kiper: I’ll go with Oregon, and the guy who could rise and be the top quarterback off the board is Justin Herbert. Watch out here. The 6-foot-6, 233-pound signal-caller is athletic for his size and can make every throw, and his decision-making has improved since he stepped on the field as a freshman in 2016. The 34 touchdown passes to only nine picks in 15 starts stick out — he takes care of the ball. When Herbert broke his left collarbone last season and missed five games, the Ducks couldn’t score and lost four out of five. He’s a crucial part of Oregon’s hopes for a Pac-12 title.

 

McShay: Some teams you aren’t seeing a ton of, usually. Check out Ryan Finley of NC State, Drew Lock of Missouri and Nate Stanley at Iowa, who had 26 TD passes and just six INTs last season. Sleeper for Round 1.

 

5. Which quarterback prospect are you most excited to see in 2018?

McShay: I’ll go with Nate Stanley because I know I have him rated higher than most. He’s tough and has a big arm, and the key is development because he has a chance to make some big strides in his second year starting.

 

Kiper: I want to see more out of Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. The tools are there — he makes some “wow” throws — but the reality of Gus Malzahn’s offense is that quarterbacks are asked to get the ball out quickly, so Stidham doesn’t have to go through read progressions. He’s raw, and I want to see more consistency in his accuracy and footwork.

 

6. It’s early, of course, but if my team needs a ______, we’re in luck in 2019.

Kiper: Defensive lineman. We’ve already mentioned Oliver, Bosa and Gary, but there are the Clemson guys — Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant — plus Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, Auburn’s Derrick Brown, Oregon’s Jalen Jelks and Boston College’s Zach Allen. This is shaping up to be the best defensive line group in the past 20 years. I can’t remember it being this strong ever.

 

McShay: No arguments. Check this out: My top five prospects right now are D-lineman — and nine of my top 13. That’s crazy.

 

7. Which non-powerhouse has a couple of potential first-rounders to keep an eye on?

McShay: Iowa. Stanley could be a first-rounder if he builds on last season, and Noah Fant is a really impressive tight-end prospect, the type of player every NFL team wants as a weapon in the middle of the field. And if you’re arguing that Iowa is a powerhouse, let’s just say it’s not typically one for offensive talent: The last Hawkeye skill-position player to go in the first two rounds? Dallas Clark … in 2003!

 

Kiper: How about Mississippi State? Defensive linemen Montez Sweat, coming off a 10.5-sack season, and Jeffery Simmons, a disruptive force along the interior, could go on Day 1. Elgton Jenkins is one of the best centers in college football, and Johnathan Abram is a physical safety with good instincts. The Bulldogs have two first-rounders and two second-rounders on my board right now.

 

10. Who are the newly draft-eligible offensive prospects you can’t wait to watch?

Kiper: Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown. He’s a big-time player. What’s he going to do for an encore after putting up 75 catches for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns last season? I love the way he attacks the football, and he dominates smaller corners.

 

McShay: Herm’s guy! N’Keal Harry is a go-get-it wideout for Arizona State. He has a big frame and production to match. He’s 6-foot-4 and has 140 catches and 13 touchdowns in two seasons. He should pile up targets.

 

11. What about on defense?

McShay: Give me Michigan’s Rashan Gary. This guy had a can’t-miss label on him out of high school, and we know that doesn’t always work out in football. But he has been really good and could dominate the Big Ten as a true junior. I have him as a top-five prospect.

 

Kiper: LSU linebacker Devin White. He led the Tigers in tackles (133) and tackles for loss (14) as a sophomore in 2017. His read-and-react ability jumps out on film. White is a spectacular player who is perfect for today’s NFL.

 

14. Baker Mayfield’s replacement, Kyler Murray, has already been picked in the MLB draft. Is he an NFL prospect?

 

McShay: It’s too soon to say, but I think he’ll bring a running element that Lincoln Riley could have some fun with. The dude can really run.

 

15. Which transfer are you most excited to see this season?

Kiper: It has to be Shea Patterson, the former Ole Miss quarterback who just won the Michigan job. Jim Harbaugh’s quarterbacks produced a Total QBR of 33.9 last season, which ranked 113th in FBS. They were brutal. Now Harbaugh goes back to the transfer route, and Patterson has huge upside and is a legit prospect if he can put it all together. We know the defense will be great again, but Michigan’s success will depend upon how Patterson and the offense plays.

 

16. What about true freshmen?

McShay: Watch out for J.T. Daniels at USC and Trevor Lawrence at Clemson. Daniels will start right away, and Lawrence could get the job soon enough. It’s big time to get the nod at quarterback as a true freshman in those programs.

 

17. Alabama had four first-round picks in 2017. How many could it have next April?

Kiper: Likely right around four again, but I’ll give you six names to watch: Offensive tackle Jonah Williams and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis are near locks. Linebackers Mack Wilson (four interceptions in 2017) and Anfernee Jennings (six tackles for loss) will get their chances to make plays again. Running back Damien Harris is one of my favorite players in the country, though it’s tough for backs to go on day one. Then there is big Isaiah Buggs, a defensive tackle who can penetrate. Nick Saban always has NFL talent.

 

22. Could any defensive back go in the top five?

McShay: Greedy Williams from LSU, who’s a third-year sophomore. Great name for a cornerback, right?

 

23. Who’s the top FCS quarterback prospect to keep an eye on?

Kiper: There’s always one, right? This year it’s North Dakota State’s Easton Stick. who took over for Carson Wentz. He’s only 6-foot-2, but he’s mobile and can extend plays (24 career rushing touchdowns), and he takes care of the football: 60 career TD passes and only 21 interceptions. I have a day three grade on him right now, but he’s an under-the-radar QB to watch.