The Daily Briefing Thursday, October 19, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

The NFL is not punishing the Cowboys for challenging its disciplinary authority in the EZEKIEL ELLIOTT case.  Dallas lands next year’s draft.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The 2018 NFL Draft is heading to the Lone Star State.

 

Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday that the Dallas Cowboys will host the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — the first time the event will take place inside an NFL stadium. The draft will run April 26-28.

 

The NFL has made the draft a road show the past three years, holding it in Philadelphia in 2017, and Chicago in 2015 and 2016.

 

The 2017 draft in Philadelphia, the first time a host city held the draft outside, was met with rousing success, setting an attendance record for the event.

 

“Philadelphia raised the bar by taking the Draft to another level, and this new opportunity in Dallas will enable us to continue the event’s evolution and grow it even further,” Goodell said in a release. “We are grateful to the Dallas Cowboys, the cities of Arlington, Dallas, and Frisco, and the Dallas Sports Commission for their leadership in turning this vision into reality.”

 

With the 2018 iteration moving to Jerry World, expect an even bigger show to up the ante. After all, everything is bigger in Texas.

– – –

In other legal news, the attorney for Colin Kaepernick thinks there will be concrete evidence of NFL collusion shown.  Mark Sanchez in the New York Post:

 

Colin Kaepernick is on the hunt for a job and a smoking gun.

 

The free-agent quarterback’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, said Tuesday he believes incriminating evidence that proves the NFL has blackballed his client exists.

 

Confirming collusion, which Kaepernick is alleging, is notoriously difficult, but his lawyer does not sound discouraged, even if he doesn’t yet have the smoking gun he promises.

 

“I am going to predict right now that we will have a smoking gun,” Geragos said on CNN. “I’m not going to alert who it will be or what it will be. We have a high degree of confidence that this will be able to be proved and that there are people who are going to get into an arbitration proceeding, and they’re not going to lie. They’re going to tell the truth.

 

“They’re going to say what happens — that they were told no, they’re not going to hire him.”

 

Kaepernick filed a grievance Sunday against the league’s owners, arguing they “entered into an enforced, implied and/or express agreements to specifically deprive” him of a job. Kaepernick has been unemployed since he opted out of his 49ers contract in March following a mostly forgettable season, in which he still threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 12 games — and became the most controversial athlete in sports when he refused to stand for the national anthem.

– – –

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com looks inside the TV ratings:

 

You may have already seen the figures from Nielsen that show an overall decline of 7.5 percent in total viewership, comparing this year’s ratings to last year’s, which the NFL believed were down from 2015 because of the election.

 

What you didn’t see is consistency in how the numbers sunk across the board, something the owners showed concern over inside those meetings rooms. Consider these:

 

• There are six time-related viewing windows the NFL measures every week. Through six weeks, the NFL’s ratings were down in 20 of 36 windows.

 

• The NFL’s average household rating is currently 25.1, down from 26.9 over the same period last year, and the 28.1-28.7 range where it sat from 2013-15.

 

• Twenty-five of 31 teams (excluding the Chargers, because of the move) are drawing lower local numbers than they did in 2016. Nineteen have dropped 5 percent or more, including brand name teams like the Cowboys (7% drop), Patriots (8%) and Steelers (6%), and both New York clubs (the Giants are down 7%, the Jets are down 37%).  Conversely, only three teams (Chiefs, Bucs, Lions) have improved by more than 5 percent.

 

• Digital streaming numbers are improving, but not at the rate that TV numbers are falling. ESPN counts the stream crowd as 3 percent of its viewership of Monday Night Football, which is the best of all the game-carrying networks.

 

Now, it’s also important to understand that TV ratings across the board—not just sports—are dropping for a large number of reasons, mostly related to technology, the amount of options people have, and cord cutting.

 

In fact, one team executive looked at the numbers, and actually didn’t see them as all bad. He said, “I took away that compared to TV, the NFL is actually stronger year over year, compared to other programming. But the league does need to better understand how change in habits will affect ratings long-term.”

 

That said, this is an NFL that has grown used to having everything it touches land on a permanent upward trajectory in both profitability and popularity, so seeing any sort of decline is jarring to some of the guys in that room. And one of those people is Jones, who is nothing if not a master at understanding how to monetize anything you could possibly put in front of him.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Now is your chance to see a game at Lambeau Field at a more reasonable price.  This from Yardbaker:

 

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t simply an impactful player when he’s on the football field. The former NFL MVP continues to drive up interest in the team’s product in the smallish Wisconsin city.

 

Now likely lost for the season after suffering a collarbone injury in Week 6, Rodgers’ impact is being felt in a big way. Resellers in the area are seeing a dramatic drop in ticket prices for Packers games moving forward this season, with a ton of fans looking to sell their tickets.

 

“Taking perhaps the hardest is Ticket King in Green Bay which says retail ticket value for the upcoming home game has already gone down at least 50%,” WBAY in Green Bay reported.

 

Green Bay’s Super Bowl aspirations took a major hit when Rodgers went down against Minnesota on Sunday. It’s readily apparent that fans understand this full well.

 

Even then, to see a mass exodus of those wanting to attend games isn’t a good thing. Green Bay is known as a football town. It’s all about the Packers. Lambeau was rocking even when the Packers weren’t contending.

 

If that’s not going to be the case moving forward this season, the environment itself is going to be pretty strange.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Coach Mike Zimmer wants to be realistic with returning QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

Teddy Bridgewater’s return to Minnesota Vikings practice on Wednesday drew a larger media contingent than normal, with video, still cameras and iPhones capturing the quarterback’s first few moments in practice since dislocating his knee and tearing multiple ligaments, including his ACL, on Aug. 30, 2016.

 

The Vikings’ spirits are understandably heightened after witnessing the rehabilitation efforts Bridgewater put in for more than a year. He’s reached a major milestone by returning to practice, but the quarterback still has a way to go before he’ll be part of the team’s game plan.

 

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer expressed a need to temper expectations before Bridgewater stepped on the field for the first time in 14 months. The overarching plan is to ease No. 5 in slowly with his practice reps without placing much focus on when he’ll be ready to make the next jump in his recovery.

 

“We still don’t know where it’s going to go, where that’s going to lead to,” Zimmer said. “I think everybody feels good for him because they know what kind of kid he is and how hard he’s worked. He’s probably not going to play this week, so we need to put the brakes on things a little bit.”

 

The Vikings are operating within a 21-day window to active Bridgewater off the physically unable to perform list and move him to the 53-man roster or injured reserve for the remainder of the season. That timetable opened on Monday when he was medically cleared to practice.

 

To determine whether he’s ready to play this season, Zimmer said Bridgewater needs to show movement and how he can protect himself and avoid defenders.

 

On Wednesday afternoon, Bridgewater was joined by Case Keenum and Kyle Sloter on the practice field. This is the fourth straight practice the Vikings have been without Sam Bradford.

 

Bridgewater won’t be ready to play until Week 10 at the earliest, assuming the Vikings use the entire 21-day window to determine his status for the rest of the year. In that time, Minnesota will put Bridgewater in various situations to determine how comfortable he is playing at game speed.

 

“We have to give him some plays,” Zimmer said. “I think some of it is he’s been in a very controlled environment for the last 14 months. Eventually we have to work him into some uncontrolled environments.”

 

Making Bridgewater’s return less urgent has been the relatively solid play of Keenum.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

With a judge, a Republican judge to boot, having signaled that “fundamental fairness” can be considered in the matter of EZEKIEL ELLIOTT – thus limiting the NFL’s argument that the CBA allows it to do absolutely whatever it wants in terms of player discipline, the League may have blinked.

 

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News:

 

Ezekiel Elliott’s camp and the NFL have discussed the possibility of a settlement. This should come as no surprise. There has been dialogue behind the scenes, one source asserts, after each court ruling along the way.

 

The level of sincerity present in those previous discussions is open to debate.

 

The NFL was in no mood to deal after arbiter Harold Henderson upheld the commissioner’s six-game suspension. Elliott’s side wasn’t inclined to back down after they won a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from a court in Sherman.

 

The league regained its edge with last week’s ruling in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Negotiations are about leverage. The side with the upper hand, especially in a battle as acrimonious as this one, often tends to overplay that hand, making a settlement unlikely.

 

Judge Paul Crotty in the Southern District of New York only granted Elliott a temporary restraining order. The two sides must turn to Judge Katherine Failla before the month is done to determine the status of the preliminary injunction.

 

That decision determines whether Elliott will begin serving his suspension during the season or if this legal wrangling is pushed into the offseason before it results in clarity.

 

It can be argued both sides have inflicted enough harm on the other at this stage to be amenable to a settlement. Elliott can claim a reduced suspension is an admission that the NFL overreached, not an admission of guilt on his part. The NFL can acknowledge it made procedural mistakes in the investigation and process and avoid a potential negative ruling that would undermine future discipline.

 

Now, the big question: what is that number for both sides? Two games? Three?

 

If the two sides enter serious negotiations now, Judge Failla won’t have to hear this case when she returns from vacation.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

CB ELI APPLE was MIA in The Big Apple on Wednesday – at least as far as the media was concerned.  Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:

 

Cornerback Eli Apple was not at practice on Wednesday and not listed on the initial injury report.

 

But coach Ben McAdoo clarified Apple had been excused for a “personal reason,” that McAdoo “knew about it ahead of time,” and that he expects Apple back with the team on Thursday.

 

Apple’s absence initially raised eyebrows because when a similar situation arose with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last Wednesday, it turned out the veteran corner walked out of the facility on McAdoo, drawing a suspension for Sunday’s 23-10 win in Denver.

– – –

Part of Giants ownership insists that Coach Ben McAdoo came up with the idea to drop his play-calling all on his own.  Pat Duggan of the Newark Star-Ledger:

 

Giants co-owner John Mara said it was coach Ben McAdoo’s call to give up play-calling.

 

“I certainly did not speak to Ben and I know (co-owner Steve Tisch) did not about giving up the play-calling,” Mara said Wednesday at the NFL fall owners meeting. “That’s got to be the coach’s decision at the end of the day.”

 

McAdoo had called the plays in every game since being promoted to head coach in 2016 before delegating that duty to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan in Sunday’s 23-10 win over the Broncos. McAdoo said he made the change because “the whole locker room needed me” during a week of turmoil.

 

It’s a change that many were clamoring for after the offense failed to score 30 points in McAdoo’s first 22 games as head coach. The Giants reached the 30-point mark 12 times in McAdoo’s 32 games as offensive coordinator in the 2014-15 seasons.

 

Co-owner Steve Tisch intimated on Tuesday that ownership gave McAdoo a nudge to give up play-calling. But Mara said his conversations about play-calling with Tisch did not involve McAdoo.

 

“Steve and I have talked about that,” Mara said. “We talk about the games and what goes on. We bitch and moan to one another, but neither one of us spoke to the coach about giving up the play-calling.”

 

Is the key word in Mara’s denial “spoke”?  What about a text message? GM Jerry Reese relaying the owners’ concerns?

 

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

DE CHRIS LONG continues to donate his salary. The AP:

 

Chris Long is donating the rest of his year’s salary to increase educational equality.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles defensive end already gave up his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, he’s using the next 10 to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign.

 

“My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality,” Long told the Associated Press. “I think we can all agree that equity in education can help effect change that we all want to see in this country.”

 

Long began his NFL career in St. Louis in 2008 and played for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. He signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, including a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. His base salary in 2017 is $1 million.

 

The charitable initiative encourages people to make donations to improve equal education opportunities.

 

Long’s foundation has selected four organizations whose missions focus on making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.

 

The four organizations are based in the three communities in which Long has played during his NFL career. The city that raises the most money during the season will receive an additional $50,000 donation.

 

“There’s a lot of opportunities to help out, and they’re wonderful organizations,” Long said. “We have such a great platform as football players, and hopefully fans get behind it.”

 

Long grew up in Charlottesville and starred in high school at St. Anne’s-Belfield before going to the University of Virginia. He was moved to start the scholarship program following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August.

 

“Our hometown is a wonderful place, and I feel like people got the wrong idea about what the residents of Charlottesville are all about,” he said.

 

 

WASHINGTON

A big loss for the Redskins as DT JONATHAN ALLEN, a first round rookie hit for Doug Williams and crew, is done for the year.  John Keim of ESPN.com:

 

Washington Redskins defensive lineman Jonathan Allen will miss the rest of the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during Sunday’s win over San Francisco, a source said Wednesday.

 

Allen underwent surgery Wednesday on the foot, a source said, and had multiple screws inserted into it. The recovery period will be at least three months.

 

It’s a crushing blow for a defense that had been improving, in part because of Allen’s performance.

 

Allen, the 17th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, visited noted foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson on Tuesday. Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses had a similar injury near the end of the 2014 season; he underwent surgery and returned for the start of training camp.

 

The Redskins (3-2) play at Philadelphia on Monday night and could be without three key defensive players. Josh Norman (rib) missed Sunday’s 26-24 victory, and fellow cornerback Bashaud Breeland had to leave early after spraining the MCL in his left knee.

 

Allen had been starting as a tackle in the nickel package, usually playing alongside Matt Ioannidis. The pair had been giving Washington what it needed: players who can drive offensive linemen back and collapse the pocket. Those two, plus the outside linebackers, enabled Washington to often send just four rushers and focus on coverage.

 

Allen only had one sack, but the rookie had a number of strong rushes to help set up others or prevent the quarterback from escaping.

 

On Monday, head coach Jay Gruden said Allen was playing the position “like a veteran, really.”

 

“He has got great fundamentals,” Gruden said. “He’s got a great idea of run/pass, how to get off blocks. He has got strong hands, and he was getting a pretty consistent pass-rush push. He doesn’t have a lot of sacks, obviously, but he was getting push in the pocket, which was critical for the interior guys so the edge guys can get home. Just all around, he has played well.”

 

Allen had fallen in the draft in part because of concerns about his shoulders. The Redskins did not share those concerns and were ecstatic that he fell to them.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on Sunday’s game in New England:

 

The Falcons and Patriot will face off on Sunday night, which means there’s going to be a lot of references to the last time those two teams played each other.

 

That was in Super Bowl LI, of course, and it’s easy to imagine the Falcons would like a chance to replay that game after they saw a 28-3 lead evaporate in the second half of what turned out to be a 34-28 overtime loss. As coach Dan Quinn pointed out on Wednesday, however, that’s not an option and the Falcons can’t have their heads in the past if they are going to win in the present.

 

“One of the sayings we have is ‘the only fight that matters is the one you’re in,’” Quinn said, via ESPN.com. “So that’s where our focus is. Even deeper than that, our focus is for us to play at our best. We’re not there yet, so that’s what we’re out chasing. We don’t want to go in the rematch world because we’ve learned our lessons and you don’t get to apply them until you’re back in them again. If we keep looking back in the rear-view (mirror), we’re not going to be where we want to be.”

 

The Falcons have several players who weren’t at the Super Bowl in big roles, including cornerback Desmond Trufant and first-round defensive end Takk McKinley, and they don’t have offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan anymore. They will also have to deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who didn’t play for the Patriots because of a back injury. Their presence will be a clear sign that this chapter will play out based on the current state of the two teams rather than how it did in Houston last February.

 

Mookie Alexander of FieldGulls.com (a Seahawks-centric site that is part of the SBNation family) brings us up-to-date on why that Super Bowl game is not an isolated incident:

 

The Seattle Seahawks got some help from the Miami Dolphins, whose moribund offense rattled off four consecutive scoring drives to turn a 17-0 halftime deficit into a 20-17 road win over the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan drove Atlanta into field goal range, but in going for the win, the reigning MVP threw an interception in the closing seconds. After a 3-0 start calmed early concerns about a “Super Bowl loss hangover” for the defending NFC champions, consecutive home losses on either side of the bye week has some Falcons fans panicking, especially since they have three straight road games coming up.

 

While 28-3 vs. the Patriots at Super Bowl LI is the crème de la crème of collapses (if there is such a thing), this is the third time in a year that Dan Quinn’s Falcons have lost a game when leading by 17+ points. You may remember that the week after Atlanta’s loss to Seattle last October, the Falcons were up 27-10 at home against the 2-4 Chargers, only for San Diego to outscore them 23-3 and win 33-30 in overtime. In the extra session, Quinn went for it on 4th and 1 at his own 45, and the Chargers stuffed Devonta Freeman in the backfield. The gamble didn’t pay off and San Diego came away with an unexpected victory.

 

Another notable second-half collapse came in Quinn’s rookie season, as the Falcons were up 21-7 in the 3rd quarter against the Matt Hasselbeck-led Indianapolis Colts, but Indy scored 17 unanswered in 16 minutes to win 24-21 in Atlanta. The Falcons dropped to 6-4 after this puzzling defeat, ultimately spiraling out of playoff contention after starting the season 6-1.

 

In fairness to our great ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator, you could argue that Atlanta’s propensity to blow big leads is more damning of Matt Ryan than anything else. Back in 2014, the Mike Smith-era Falcons tossed away a 21-0 halftime lead against the Lions in London, losing 22-21 on a last-second field goal. Among the lowlights of that second-half meltdown was Matty Ice throwing one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see.

 

Lest we forget that they raced to a 17-0 start against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, and still came up short 28-24 in what is the largest lead squandered by a home team in Conference Championship history. Of course, Atlanta was fortunate to have even made it that far, as they nearly lost to the Seahawks in the divisional round despite entering the 4th quarter up 27-7. (I know, it still hurts)

 

I don’t know what it is about this team and their tendency to step off the gas pedal when comfortably ahead — even more bizarre is every single game I’ve reference was either at home or neutral site — but it’s a problem that Quinn has to sort out soon, or else he’s going to develop a reputation that he may ever be able to shake off. And unlike last season, the Falcons have serious competition in the NFC South, so they cannot afford to keep throwing away winnable games like they did on Sunday, or else the Monday Night Football showdown in Seattle may actually end up being really important for just the Seahawks.

 

After outscoring their opponents 81-37 in the first half this year, the Falcons have been outscored 40-72 in the second half.

 

 

CAROLINA

Perhaps this LB LUKE KUECHLY concussion is not as serious as some in the past.  Joseph Person in the Charlotte Observer:

 

Kuechly took a step forward in the concussion protocol by riding a stationary bike during the portion of practice open to the media.

 

The league’s five-step process for players in the protocol calls for a period of rest and recovery, followed by a second stage during which they can begin light aeorobic activity.

 

If Kuechly feels good and symptoms do not reemerge or worsen, he’d move on to the final three stages:

 

▪  aerobic exercise, with strength training;

 

▪  non-contact, football-specific work;

 

▪  full return to practice.

 

An independent neurologist would have to clear Kuechly before he resumes practicing fully, and also would have to sign off before Kuechly plays in a game.

 

Given where Kuechly is in the protocol, it seems unlikely he would be cleared before Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.

 

While Kuechly rode the bike, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin – left practice early with a knee injury. His status for the rest of the week is unclear.

 

S KURT COLEMAN did return to practice on Wednesday after missing the last two games with a sprained knee ligament and could be on track to start in Chicago Sunday on CBS.

 

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com notes the rise of the Saints in a long piece you can read here.  Excerpts below:

 

No team has improved its playoff odds more over the past month than the New Orleans Saints, who the Football Power Index estimated to hold a 5.1 percent shot of hitting the postseason after an 0-2 start. After rolling off a pair of impressive victories before their bye and winning a rollicking encounter against the Lions in Week 6, the 3-2 Saints are now favorites to make their way back into the postseason, with a 62.9 percent chance of playing past Week 17.

 

Naturally, the player at the heart of the Saints is quarterback Drew Brees. In writing about the league’s potential MVP candidates after Week 4, it felt as if we were almost taking Brees for granted, given that he arguably had the best numbers in football.

 

Over the past three games, though, a defense that had served as a punchline has shown signs of life. The Saints have jumped from 31st in defensive DVOA after Week 2 to 15th, lofty heights for a unit that has ranked either last or second-to-last in the league in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Dennis Allen’s unit has produced shocking numbers over its past three games, but even if the defense can’t keep it up, the Saints might only need to be competent to challenge for the NFC South crown. Few quarterbacks have needed — and gotten — less from their defenses to succeed than the 38-year-old the Saints have under center.

 

Help out Brees — just a little bit

 

No quarterback of this generation has gotten less help from his defense than Brees. It’s backed up by the numbers. I looked at every quarterback to begin their career since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and found each season in which they were the primary starter for their team. I took the points allowed by each team and standardized them against the averages for each year in question, making it possible to compare quarterback defenses across eras. (More on that methodology here.)

 

There have been 38 quarterbacks to start 10 or more seasons since the merger. Brees has the seventh-worst average defense over that period, and the worst of any active quarterback. Here are the quarterbacks with the 10 worst defenses, their average standardized score, and what that would translate to in terms of a 2016 defense:

 

PLAYER                      AVG DEF           2016 PPG

Archie Manning  0.80                    25.5

Jim Everett                   0.74                   25.3

Dan Fouts                     0.70                   25.1

Boomer Esiason            0.65                   25.0

Steve DeBerg                0.50                   24.5

Drew Brees                   0.47                   24.4

Jim Plunkett                  0.40                   24.1

Vinny Testaverde           0.28                   23.7

Jake Plummer  0.25                   23.6

Warren Moon                 0.21                   23.5

 

It has to be sad for Saints fans that the guy at the top of the list also happens to be a New Orleans franchise icon. Manning never once had a defense that finished in the upper half of the league rankings in scoring defense, but after he gave way to Ken Stabler in 1982, the Saints finished in the top half nine out of the ensuing 11 seasons, including seven top-10 appearances and two league-leading defenses in 1991 and 1992.

 

During his time with New Orleans, Brees hasn’t needed a great defense. He hasn’t even needed a decent one. When Sean Payton gives Brees a remotely competent defense, Brees delivers him to the postseason. I’ve mentioned this before, but the numbers are staggering. Check out the chart below.

 

Brees’ Defenses In New Orleans

YEAR   DEFENSIVE DVOA RECORD    PLAYOFFS?

’06                    22                    10-6                         Yes

’07                    30                      7-9                          No

’08                    26                      8-8                          No

’09                    17                     13-3                         Yes

’10                    10                      11-5                        Yes

’11                    28                      13-3                        Yes

’12                    32                        7-9                         No

’13                    10                      11-5                         Yes

’14                    31                        7-9                         No

’15                    32                        7-9                         No

’16                    31                        7-9                         No

 

 

The Saints have ranked in the top 25 of the league’s 32 defenses four times in 11 seasons with Brees. They’ve made the playoffs each time and won an average of 11.3 games along the way. Again, the Saints’ defense doesn’t even have to be good. As long as it’s not awful, Brees seems to be able to drag the team into the playoffs. He even delivered a 13-3 record with a dismal defense in 2011, only to be taken out in the postseason by an offensive outburst from Alex Smith and the 49ers in one of the most dramatic playoff games in recent NFL history.

 

Brees and the Saints’ offense are holding up their end of the bargain through five games. They went four games without turning the ball over, only giving way against the Lions in a wild game last weekend. New Orleans ranks third in offensive DVOA, while Brees is fourth in passer rating and adjusted net yards per attempt. The Saints are great on offense, which should be no surprise.

 

What we’re taking for granted, though, is just how little the Saints have around Brees. This isn’t a team with Jimmy Graham and a boatload of high draft picks at the skill positions. The Saints traded away Brandin Cooks and replaced him in their receiving corps with Ted Ginn Jr. Their top wideout is Michael Thomas, a second-round pick in 2016 who was the sixth wide receiver chosen. Joining him is undrafted free agent Willie Snead, who just returned to the lineup in Week 5. Brees has been down both of his starting offensive tackles for most of the year, with Terron Armstead debuting last week and Zach Strief hitting injured reserve after 78 snaps. First-round pick Ryan Ramczyk has filled in, playing every offensive snap so far this season at either left or right tackle.

 

Brees does this or something like this every season, so we’ve grown accustomed to how consistently excellent he is. He has never been the best quarterback in football, so there’s no peak season for us to point to. Even during 2009, when Brees led the league in passer rating and quarterbacked a 13-3 Saints team to the top of the NFC and then the Super Bowl, he mustered only 7.5 MVP votes to the 39.5 of Peyton Manning. Brees has racked up only six other MVP votes over the rest of his career combined, so while he consistently has been a top-eight quarterback, we’re collectively sleeping on just how impactful he has been for so long.

(after some deleted discussion of the Saints playing better on D)

 

What’s inspired the sudden improvement?

 

The play of Cameron Jordan.

 

Improvements from Kenny Vaccaro.

 

Changes to the defensive personnel.

– – –

Can the Saints keep up that sack rate? Probably not. Will they be one of the best defenses in football over the next 11 weeks? I’d be skeptical. Showing steady signs of life after three years of awful performances, though, is promising. Defenses as bad as the Saints have been often regress to the mean by virtue of the dead cat bounce; they get rid of replacement-level talent, change their coaches, invest in new talent, or get luckier.

 

What’s next

 

It has taken the Saints three years to get out of the gutter, but they might finally be bouncing back toward mediocrity.

 

The reality is that the Saints don’t need to possess a top-three defense to make it to the postseason. If the defense can just flirt with competency, that should be enough for Brees and the offense to hit 10 wins. FPI has the Saints nearly there, with 9.6 wins and a division-best 39.8 percent chance of winning the NFC South. With New Orleans catching a break and facing a Packers team without Rodgers in Lambeau this weekend before hosting the Bears, the Saints look in great shape to stay in the thick of the NFC South race.

 

Maybe we’ll even be reminded of how great their quarterback is in the process. It’s not exactly typical for a player to win his first MVP award at 38, but there aren’t as many quarterbacks who have aged as well as Brees has. With Rodgers injured, the Patriots’ defense playing a lot like the bad Saints units of the past, and Kareem Hunt playing a less valuable position, this is Brees’ best shot at taking home hardware before retirement. The MVP award would probably require the Saints to win the South and claim a first-round bye, which the Saints have a 19 percent shot at accomplishing, per FPI. If the defense can hold up their end of the bargain, it seems likely Brees will hold up his.

 

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Despite his long holdout, Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com says DT AARON DONALD has continued to improve on his already high level of play:

 

Week 7 has begun, and Aaron Donald’s contract situation remains unchanged. The Los Angeles Rams’ exceptional defensive tackle spent the entire summer holding out, an act of protest that caused him to miss the season opener, but he still hasn’t put pen to paper on a lucrative extension.

 

It isn’t something he’s willing to open up about.

 

“I’m just playing football right now,” Donald said after Wednesday’s practice at the University of North Florida. “That’s all I’m worrying about. I’m letting my agents handle that. I’m just playing football.”

 

The Rams have not given up on getting a long-term deal with Donald done before the end of this season, but there have been no signs that anything is remotely close.

 

One potential motivation for Donald’s reps at CAA could be to let others from his 2014 draft class set the market first, specifically Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Others, including receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Anthony Barr and offensive lineman Zack Martin, could set a new precedent at their respective positions, too.

 

Donald was asked if he’s able to put a looming contract situation aside, and he spat out an answer before the question was even finished.

 

“I’m here now,” he said, “so my main focus is football.”

 

Donald is once again proving that he should be the game’s highest-paid defensive player. When it comes to pressuring the quarterback, the two-time first-team All-Pro is having his best season yet.

 

Even though he missed the first game, Donald leads all players, regardless of position, in quarterback pressures, with 36, according to numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus. Donald reached that total with 169 pass-rush snaps. The No. 2 guy on the list, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, has three fewer pressures in 45 more pass-rush snaps.

 

NFL Leaders In QB Pressures

PLAYER, TEAM            PRESSURES    RUSHES

Aaron Donald, LAR                   36          169

Chandler Jones, Ariz.                33          214

Calais Campbell, Jac.               32          187

Demarcus Lawrence, Dal.           1          153

DeForest Buckner, SF               29          198

Source: Pro Football Focus

 

Donald is one of only seven interior defenders with at least 20 pressures so far, and the runner-up, the 49ers’ DeForest Buckner, has only 29 pressures in 198 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

 

Donald isn’t just pressuring the quarterback better than anybody in the NFL; he’s pressuring the quarterback better than he ever has. His 36 pressures are his most through the first six weeks of a season, even though he has played in only five games. From 2014 to 2016, Donald had seven, 16 and 35 quarterback pressures through the first six weeks, respectively. He has only two sacks in 2017, but his impact goes well beyond that.

 

Not that he’s satisfied.

 

“I still want to make more plays, but you know it’s going to come,” Donald said. “You gotta keep playing, playing hard, continue to study, continue to get myself better, working on my technique, and it will come. Just gotta keep working.”

 

Donald doesn’t really stop working. Even while holding out, he put his body through grueling 45-minute speed-and-agility drills multiple times each week, with weightlifting exercises right before and pass-rush drills immediately after. He’s also a master at watching film, with detailed notes that teammate Michael Brockers once compared to those of a mad scientist.

 

Rams first-year head coach Sean McVay caught Donald doing that last Thursday at around 10 p.m. PT. The Rams had finished practice six hours earlier. The next day, they were set to leave on a 10-day trip to Jacksonville, Florida, and then London. But there was Donald’s car, all alone in the dark in the players’ lot. McVay walked into the defensive linemen’s room and spotted Donald analyzing film of how offensive linemen set on pass plays.

 

McVay smiled as he recounted that story, saying, “You walk away and say, ‘I’m sure glad that guy’s on my team.'”

 

After playing in Jacksonville last week, the Rams have stayed in that fine North Florida city to prepare for this week’s game in London.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com puts some pressure on QB DEREK CARR:

 

The Raiders return to prime time on Thursday night, putting their 2-4 record on the line against the 5-1 Kansas City Chiefs. And it’s time for quarterback Derek Carr to play like a prime-time player when playing in prime time.

 

The last two times Carr, who is making $25 million per year, has played in prime time, he has not played well. In Week Three, Carr completed 19 of 31 passes for 119 yards, generating an average of 3.8 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 52.9.

 

Last year against the Chiefs on a Thursday night in Kansas City, Carr essentially disqualified himself from MVP consideration with an even worse showing. He completed only 17 of 41 passes for 118 yards, averaging a meager 2.9 yards per attempt and a career low single-game passer rating of 49.1.

 

It would help Carr if some of his teammates would show up. Receiver Amari Cooper has four catches for 51 yards and no touchdowns in the last four games. Running back Marshawn Lynch has yet to go full Beastmode during his unretirement, raising fair questions as to whether the Raiders would have been better off with a rookie running the ball and not a good-for-business hometown hero.

 

It’s going to be very bad for business if the Raiders lose their fifth game in a row on Thursday night, before a throng of fans that surely will be getting more than a little frustrated about a Super Bowl season that is close to landing in a different kind of bowl altogether. The only good news for the Raiders may be that, after tonight, they don’t play again in Oakland until November 26.

– – –

The Raiders are ready to throw LB NOVARRO BOWMAN into action tonight.  Matt Schneidman of BayAreaNewsGroups.com:

 

NaVorro Bowman will “probably” play Thursday night against the Chiefs, Raiders’ coach Jack Del Rio said with a smirk on Wednesday, not wanting to officially declare the inevitable that Bowman plays.

 

Bowman signed with Oakland on Monday after the 49ers released him last Friday. Del Rio said previously that it wasn’t out of the question for the linebacker to suit up on such a short turnaround, and Bowman said Monday he’d push to play if he felt prepared.

 

“Hey, I’m gonna show you something,” he said when asked if it was feasible to be prepared after three days.

 

The 29-year-old will likely start at middle linebacker. His reported per-game salary for the remainder of the season is $300,000. Last season, the Raiders played middle linebacker Perry Riley on a quick turnaround after acquiring him.

 

In his short time with Oakland thus far, Bowman has impressed his new head coach.

 

“He’s a veteran. He understands ball. We’ve not tried to install the entire playbook but specific gameplan things,” Del Rio said. “Even though it’s a short week, we feel good he’ll play.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

A shoutout for CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH from Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus:

 

On Sunday, Johnathan Joseph had two interceptions and one pass breakup. Since joining the NFL in 2006, he has 132 combined interceptions and pass breakups. On Sunday, he passed Darrelle Revis and his 131 combined interceptions and pass breakups for the most in the last 12 years.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The recovery of QB ANDREW LUCK is heading the wrong way.  Nate Bouda at NFLTradeRumors.com:

 

Colts GM Chris Ballard told reporters on Wednesday that QB Andrew Luck will not practice squad this week after he recently experienced some shoulder soreness and had a cortisone shot, per Mike Chappell.

 

According to Ballard, there’s no timeline for Luck to return and he wouldn’t speculate if he’ll play at all this year, per Chappell.

 

Ballard did, however, say that Luck has made “great strides” in his return from shoulder surgery. He also said that injured reserve is not an option for Luck at this point in time.

 

Doctors have said that this is not usual for a quarterback working his way back from shoulder surgery and is part of the process, per Stephen Holder.

 

One positive note is that Ballard said Luck should be able to pick up where he left off in terms of his practice plan, per Holder.

 

The Colts elected to not place Luck on the PUP list coming out of the preseason, which would have cost him the first six games of the season because they felt he could return before then. However, that hasn’t been the case.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Jaguars owner Shad Khan takes up for the NFL and its players after more Twitter commentary from Donald Trump.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

So much for not responding to the sniping from the White House.

 

Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who recently dubbed President Trump “the great divider,” provided more specific and detailed criticism of the Commander-in-Chief on Wednesday, via Jarrett Bell of USA Today.

 

“Let’s get real,” Khan told Bell. “The attacks on Muslims, the attacks on minorities, the attacks on Jews. I think the NFL doesn’t even come close to that on the level of being offensive. Here, it’s about money, or messing with — trying to soil a league or a brand that he’s jealous of.”

 

The jealousy comes from the fact that President Trump never was able to buy an NFL team.

 

“He’s been elected President, where maybe a great goal he had in life to own an NFL team is not very likely,” Khan said. “So to make it tougher, or to hurt the league, it’s very calculated.”

 

As to the latest controversy involving President Trump, on the question of whether he said to the widow of a fallen soldier that “he knew what he was signing up for,” Khan offered even more pointed language.

 

“It’s so bad,” Khan said. “It’s below the lowest of the lowest expectations. It doesn’t sound rational. It’s bizarre.”

 

And so Khan is showing no qualms about calling out the President, with the apparent goal of demonstrating that the President’s policies dramatically overshadow the claim that, currently, a handful of NFL players are disrespecting the flag by choosing to kneel or sit during the anthem. Khan specifically pointed to the President’s effort to restrict travel to the United States from multiple Muslim-majority countries.

 

“That’s one aspect that you can imagine — someone is getting a visa that will change their life is from a Muslim-majority country — and, now, boom, that dream to change lives, they get locked out,” Khan said. “That’s a hell of a lot more significant than fighting some sponsors or people who want their money back because they’ve been riled up.”

 

It’s unclear at this point whether Khan will be the only owner to direct such strong language at the President, or whether others will join in. Regardless, at least one owner is willing to stand up to man who insists that all NFL players be required to stand up for the anthem.

 

Based on Tuesday’s meetings and the absence of any change to the policy regarding player conduct during the anthem, it could be that the league has decided to weather whatever storms the President can conjure during whatever time he has left in office.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM

The surprising conclusion of the Owner’s Meeting was to double down on supporting the band of social justice players in their work to solve “community issues.”  NFL.com on Goodell’s talking points that tried to split the difference between patriotic concerns and those of the social justice players:

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear Wednesday the league believes its players should stand during the national anthem, but said the league has no plans to make them do so.

 

“I think our clubs all see this the same way — we want our players to stand, we’re going to encourage them to stand and we’re going to continue to work on these issues in the community,” Goodell told reporters after meeting with team owners at the Fall League Meeting in New York. “We’ll address issues — I can’t deal with hypotheticals right now, we’ll deal with those issues if they come up — but for right now, that’s our focus.”

 

Said Goodell: “The fact is that we have about half a dozen players that are protesting. We hope and continue to work to try to put that at zero — that’s what we’d like to do.”

 

On Tuesday, a collection of 13 players, union leaders, 11 team owners and NFL executives met to discuss social issues and plans “to promote equality and effectuate positive change.” He said discussions about the national anthem played a big role in this week’s meetings.

 

Goodell on Wednesday said the players effectively communicated their reasons for protesting.

 

“One other issue we spent a great deal of time talking about this morning was how much we believe [that] everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell said. “It’s also an important part of our game, that we all take great pride in. And it’s also for us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans expect us to do that. And so that was something we continued to focus on this morning. But really talking a lot about with the opportunity that exists with our players to try to go and really make a difference in our communities in a positive way.”

 

“They’re very clear about it. And they’re actually incredibly knowledgeable, articulate and they spent the time going into the communities to talk about that,” Goodell said. “… They’re talking about criminal justice reform, whether it’s bail reform. Whether it’s talking about mandatory sentencing. They’re talking about changes that, I think, will make our communities better — that there’s bipartisan support for and that need focus. They’re talking about what we can do to support them to effectuate that legislative change, and that’s, again, very, very positive. They’re talking about equality issues, making sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to give people an opportunity, whether it’s an education or economic and what we can do to try to effectuate that. And we believe, with the players, that we can help them, we can support them. And those are our issues, national issues, American issues that are all important.”

 

Goodell also acknowledged the passionate response from many NFL fans around the importance of standing for the anthem.

 

“I understand where our fans feel about this issue — and we feel the same way. About the importance of our flag, about the importance of patriotism,” Goodell said. “And I believe our players feel that same way. They will state to you, and they have stated to everyone publicly, they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it’s being interpreted, and we’re dealing with those underlying issues.”

 

Goodell repeatedly pointed to “the opportunity that exists with our players to try to go and really make a difference in our communities in a positive way,” calling those efforts “things that we all believe are necessary to do, and that’s what we’ll continue to do” moving forward.

 

“[Our discussions] reflected our commitment to work together with our players on issues of social justice,” Goodell said. “I will tell you that our players are men of great character. They have a very deep understanding and tremendous knowledge of the issues that are going on in all of our communities. Their commitment to addressing these issues is really admirable and something that I think our owners looked at as saying ‘We want to help you support you. Those are issues that affect us. They’re our issues also. We’d like to do it together.'”

 

The NBA has not buckled to the pressure of social activists to the dismay of Carron Phillips in the New York Daily News:

 

The stars were aligned for Tuesday to be a very special day for the NBA.

 

In one of the most anticipated Opening Nights in the history of the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics were facing off against each other in the first game, with the finale featuring the Houston Rockets and the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

 

The lineup was full of storylines as Kyrie Irving was making his return to Cleveland, while the new tandem of Chris Paul and James Harden had a chance to take down the Warriors on ring night.

 

On a day in which NFL players met with owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell concerning social issues and player protest, there was anticipation in the air that possible protests could take place in the NBA, which would set a tone for the season and take the conversation to another level.

 

LeBron James had on shoes that said “EQUALITY” on the back. And three-fourths of the Brotherhood (James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul) who famously made a speech about athletes using their platforms to be vessels of social change to open the 2016 ESPYs, would all take the court.

 

However, there wasn’t a single knee on the ground or a fist raised on Tuesday night. The Cavs and Rockets did decide to lock arms during the national anthem, though.

 

I would be lying if I said I, like many others, wasn’t experiencing “kneeling fatigue.”

 

But I also understand how important it is for these protests to continue. Because if they stop, then there is a chance that the conversations may as well. And issues like police brutality, racism, and inequalities aren’t things that can be remedied over a few months. Which is why the awareness that kneeling brings to these issues must continue.

– – –

Vocal DT MICHAEL BENNETT says he is not listening to anything the NFL has to say until Colin Kaepernick is employed.  Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:

 

“I plan on sitting down, in general,’’ said Bennett, who has sat for the anthem for all but one game this season, Seattle’s game Oct. 8 when he stood along with the rest of the defensive line to honor victims of the Las Vegas shooting. “Like I said, I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing, and the consequences are the consequences.’’

 

Bennett also said he doesn’t think there can be any meaningful dialogue between the NFL and players who are sitting or taking other measures to draw attention to social issues until former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is back in the league.

 

Bennett’s sentiments ran counter to those of other players, including teammates such as Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, who have called recent discussions between the NFL and players encouraging. Baldwin went as far as to work with Goodell to send a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsing a criminal justice reform bill.

 

Kaepernick was the first player to begin sitting and then kneeling for the anthem in 2016. He became a free agent after last season and has not been signed. Bennett and other players, including Sherman, agree with Kaepernick’s contention that he is being blackballed in retaliation.

 

Bennett said players need to have faith that the NFL won’t penalize them for speaking out in whatever manner they wish before there can be any constructive conversations between the two sides.

 

“I think the first step to even being able to have a conversation is making sure that Colin Kaepernick gets an opportunity to play in the NFL,’’ Bennett said. “That’s before we even negotiate anything about whether we sit or whether we stand there should be a negotiation about opening up the doors for Colin Kaepernick and giving him an opportunity again. Through everything, that’s been lost. All of us are having an opportunity to speak to our employers, but to think about the guy who started everything not to be able to have a voice at this moment doesn’t seem very right to me. …

 

“I think before we can move forward that is something we need to address as a league and address as players and address as the NFLPA (the players’ association), because if it can happen to one of our own, then how can we fight for what we want if we can’t protect the people who play next to us, and that’s something that we need to make sure that we get across to the employers and Roger and the rest of the guys. … I think it’s something, like I said, that there needs to be a deep conversation, and we need to find a solution about that. Whether they say ‘This is what’s happening, he’s not going to play again,’ or whether they open their doors up, but I think there needs to be some kind of resolution to what’s going on.’’

– – –

Bennett said he did not think the emphasis on Kaepernick was detracting from the overall message of attempting to bring attention to social injustices.

 

“He started the message, and for us to forget about who started it I don’t think is right,’’ Bennett said. “I don’t think we are following our brotherhood or whatever. I think we have to bring that up. I don’t think it derails the message. I think that is a part of the message.’’

 

Baldwin on Tuesday said the letter he co-authored with Goodell was further proof of attempting to move beyond merely talking and beginning to take action. And when asked about Kaepernick alleging collusion, Baldwin indicated that is a separate issue and that substantive progress can be made regardless.

 

“Colin has to do what he has to do,’’ Baldwin said. “I don’t want it to detract from what we are trying to get done as a coalition of players in the league right now, in terms of the issues and opportunities that we have brought about. Honestly, I haven’t engaged with it.”

 

But Bennett was adamant saying, “I don’t think we can work alongside of them until we address that issue.’’

 

Bennett also spoke strongly about the right of players to continue to sit for the anthem regardless of what Goodell may wish.

 

Goodell said following the league meetings on Wednesday that “the fact is, we have about half a dozen players that are protesting. We are hoping to continue to try and work and get that to zero. That is what we’d like to do.’’

 

Bennett said a comment by Dallas owner Jerry Jones that he would not let anyone who sits for the anthem take the field “is crazy. And I just think it’s inconsiderate.’’

 

Bennett went on to compare it to Dred Scott, a reference to the famous 1857 court case in which Scott, a slave, sued unsuccessfully for his freedom, a decision that has been credited with setting in motion events that led to the Civil War.

 

“I just thought it (Jones’ comments) reminded me of the Dred Scott case,’’ Bennett said. “You are property, so you don’t have the ability to be a person first. And I think in this generation I think that sends the wrong message to young kids and young people all across the world that your employer doesn’t see you as a human being, they see you as a piece of property. And if that’s the case, then I don’t get it. I just don’t get why you don’t see him as a human being, they don’t see us as human beings first.’’

 

This last part drew a reaction from Clay Travis:

 

@ClayTravis 

Michael Bennett is making $15.45 million to play football this year & he just compared himself to 19th century slave Dred Scott.

 

@ClayTravis 

Michael Bennett, aka the modern day slave Dred Scott, recently bought a $4.35 million Hawaiian second home. https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2015/09/25/seattle-seahawks-star-michael-bennett-buys-hawaii.html

 

@ClayTravis 

Hey, @jaketapper since you’re so good with time, you’ve had two months to cover Michael Bennett’s lies  about Las Vegas police. Why nothing?

 

 

NFL HIRING REPORT CARD

Richard Lapchick, contributing at ESPN.com, has a long story with a “report card” on NFL hiring practices in race and gender issues here.  Among other things, we learn that roughly a third of Roger Goodell’s senior executives are women.

 

The results of the NFL Report Card regarding race may help. The National Football League has achieved an A for racial hiring practices as it has over the last several years. The NFL demonstrated increases in people of color in key roles of general manager and head coach in this year’s report in particular. Players should be encouraged that there are more people who look like them in team leadership roles controlling football ops, but it’s a number nowhere near the proportion they represent in the league. Of course, there is still room for improvement and consistency in hiring people of color. Based on the level of player activism in the league, I feel heartened about the potential of equality and I am confident that players will continue to push leaders in the NFL to ensure the league is diverse and inclusive, with a focus on head coaches, general managers, coordinators and assistant coaches.

 

Improvements are also needed not only regarding race, but also in gender hiring. The NFL earned only a C for its gender hiring practices.

 

This gave the NFL an overall B. The NFL’s score for race was 90.7 percent, which is below the 91.1 percent score in 2016. The score for gender was 74 percent, a decrease from 2016’s 76 percent score. The overall grade for the NFL decreased from 83.6 percent in 2016 to 82.4 percent in 2017. However, it should be noted that the decreases were largely a result of a new grading scale that better represented America’s changing demographics.

 

In this year’s NFL RGRC, the increase of women in management positions in the league office in 2017 reached a milestone. Previously, they held 31.6 percent of the positions. In 2017, the percentage increased to 35.4 percent, which is the highest in the report’s history. The number of people of color at or above the vice president level in the league office continued to increase as well. In 2015, there were 21 people of color at or above the VP level. In 2016, there were 24 and in 2017, that number jumped to 31 people of color. Similarly, the number of women at or above the VP level increased from 35 to 45 in 2017.

 

Perhaps the most positive finding is that at the start of the 2017 season was the eight head coaches of color and six people of color who were general managers or performing the role of GM. There had been considerable concern among NFL officials and advocates for increased head-coaching opportunities for people of color for several years going back to 2014 when there were only five people of color in head-coaching positions. There were six coaches of color in 2015 and 2016. The record was eight coaches of color in 2011, and that number has been reached again.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com has a ranking as of the minute of the possible QBs in the 2018 draft:

 

Over the summer, a general manager told me how stupid it was of all of us to go slobbering over what looked to be a bumper crop of college quarterbacks available in the 2018 draft. That might seem like typical, curmudgeonly scout talk. In fact, it is how a lot of those in the scouting community view the current-day, 24-7-365 coverage of the NFL draft. But this was more than that: He had a point to make, and he used the three quarterbacks everyone was talking about to drive it home.

 

• Sam Darnold was incredible in 2016, throwing for 3,086 yards and 31 scores against just nine interceptions, and leading a scuffling USC team to nine straight wins, capped by an epic effort in the Rose Bowl. That said, he came into 2017 with just 10 collegiate starts under his belt.

 

• To watch UCLA’s Josh Rosen throw a football is to see a kid who looks like he was born to do it, and he’s been talked about in an NFL context since early in his true freshman season. But faced with all that hype, Rosen leveled off severely as a sophomore, then got hurt, just as questions about entitlement and partying started to mount.

 

• Wyoming’s Josh Allen was the great quarterbacking discovery of 2016. His production was one thing, putting eyes on his physical ability was another. But that was just it coming into this year—he was seen as raw as they come, and making strides would be essential in proving he could eventually be as polished as Darnold and Rosen are.

 

You probably get it. Yes, all the potential was there for those three to head a generational quarterback class, a group that had more than one NFL fan base openly advocating tanking. Conversely, each of those three came into 2017 with far more left to prove than Andrew Luck had going into his final year at Stanford or Marcus Mariota had before his last year at Oregon.

 

That’s why I figured, here at the midway point of college football’s regular season, the time was right to poll experienced NFL evaluators (I got eight of them on the panel) who’ve watched these quarterbacks on where they stand now. The concept here is easy: Rank them 1-5, with five points for first place, four for second, and so on. These are the results from Monday’s polling:

 

1. Sam Darnold, USC (35 points, 4 first-place votes, appeared on all 8 ballots): Darnold’s been uneven this year, without question, having already matched his interception total from last year. But the feeling I’ve gotten is that scouts will cut him some slack because of the offensive line issues the Trojans are having. The biggest criticism is that he’s trying to do too much, not unlike what Jameis Winston his final year at Florida State.

 

2. Josh Rosen, UCLA (34 points, 3 first-place votes, 8 ballots): The Bruins are 3-3, but it’s hard to pin that on Rosen. He’s played from behind a bunch and still has the best completion percentage of his career (64.2) while throwing for 2,354 yards and 17 touchdowns through six games. That said, he’s been a little sloppy with the ball at times.

 

3. Josh Allen, Wyoming (23 points, 1 first-place vote, 8 ballots): Allen’s numbers are mediocre and his team is 4-2. But there’s youth all around him and scouts trust the talent. One voter put him first, and another put him in front of Rosen.

 

4. Luke Falk, Washington State (10 points, 6 ballots): Falk was really rolling before Friday night’s five-interception meltdown at Cal, resulting in the Cougars’ first loss. He came into that one with a 19-to-2 TD/INT ratio, and is still over 70% passing.

 

5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State (7 points, 3 ballots): There’s more variance on him than any of the other quarterbacks. Is it Mike Gundy’s system and his receivers? Rudolph was second on one ballot, and didn’t appear on five others.

 

6. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (6 points, 4 ballots): If Mayfield were just a little bit taller, he’d probably be two spots higher on this list.

 

7. Lamar Jackson, Louisville (5 points, 2 ballots): The Heisman winner is as electric a runner as we’ve seen at the position since Mike Vick, and has flashed a strong arm. But inconsistency as a passer remains.

 

8. Ryan Finley, N.C. State (1 point, 1 ballot): The junior has a shot to be this year’s Mitchell Trubisky. Two of our eight voters conceded they needed to do more research on him.

 

So there you have it. And I’d remind you, as that GM reminded me a few months ago, that these things are fluid.

 

 

COLLEGE PLAYOFF UPDATE

 

Spencer Hall of SBNation.com has some oddball scenarios he claims might be plausible here.  Some are silly, but we have a few to catch your attention.

 

 

1. THE “GOD DON’T LIKE UGLY; HE LOVES IT” PLAN

Michigan State

Stanford

Alabama

NC State

 

A plausible scenario, actually. Michigan State winning out against the rest of their schedule with 13-9 games would be weird, but not the weirdest thing Michigan State has ever done. Alabama is easy to put in; NC State is less simple and way less likely, but still possible. Stanford needs the Big 12 to hand out some round-robin losses, but can knock out Notre Dame itself on Nov. 25.

 

The over for all of these games would be somewhere around 45 points total. Ratings would fall.

 

2. THE COACHES ARE FIGHTING

Notre Dame

Penn State

TCU

Oklahoma State

 

HELLO, BOYS. LOOKS LIKE WE’VE GOT ENTIRELY TOO MANY TROUBLEMAKERS HERE. TOO MANY 40-YEAR-OLD ADOLESCENTS, FELONS, POWERDRINKERS, AND TRUSTEES OF MODERN CHEMISTRY!

 

3. THE SWINNEY DEBACLE PROTOCOL

Alabama

Ohio State

NC State

Georgia

 

Engineered specifically for maximum Clemson fury.

– – –

6. TRIUMPH OF THE GEEKS

Notre Dame

Virginia

Stanford

Oklahoma State

 

In every other scenario, Notre Dame doesn’t need much help to get in, really. Win out, and then rely on the grabby little hands of the Playoff committee to snatch Notre Dame up for the sake of television ratings. They’re a good team, have a loss they can apologize for adequately, and will have a presentable schedule.

 

But! If we want to put Stanford in, then we’re talking about a bit more engineering. The Cardinal have two losses already and need to beat Notre Dame, a team that can’t afford a second loss.

 

So, we’re going to need some disasters to happen elsewhere. We’re going to need Alabama to win the SEC, but take two losses and look awful beating the East team. That would mean dropping the LSU and Auburn games, and then playing what could only be described as a 60-minute atrocity in Atlanta so unwatchable the rest of the country recoils from the idea of watching the Tide play another game.

 

Kentucky can speed this along by being the team that beats Georgia and wins the East (but loses to Louisville), because no one on the committee could really accept a Playoff team losing to Kentucky. That’s not fair, but say it out loud and know how right this is.

 

This also assumes everyone in the Big Ten ends up with two losses and that the committee kind of forgets Notre Dame isn’t a Big Ten team. Stop acting like that totally doesn’t happen already.

 

Keep rolling with this stupidity by assuming a miracle of a season at UVA. Yes, this would mean former SEC East champion Indiana would have a transitive win over the entire ACC. Why do you flinch and shudder when I say that?

 

Oklahoma State is in the Triumph of the Geeks scenario because I a.) couldn’t really find another super smart team to put in, and b.) petrochemical engineering and veterinary medicine are really hard. Expand your narrow definition of geekery and put these boots on, y’all. They’re comfy, and in Stillwater, you can wear them with shorts and formal wear.