The Daily Briefing Thursday, February 22, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Carlos Ruiz of USA TODAY’s For The Win looks at which teams have the capital and positioning to improve the most heading into 2018.

 

With the NFL offseason set to kick off in a few weeks (March 14, to be exact), let’s take a look at which teams have put themselves in position to really improve their rosters this spring.

 

In order to get a good picture of which teams will have the resources to do so (and which teams will not), we’ve put together what we’re calling the NFL offseason asset rankings. The methodology is simple, we’ve ranked every team based on how much cap space they’ll have (via Spotrac) and how much value they can expect to add in the draft based on Chase Stuart’s “Draft Value Chart.”

 

We’ve combined those two measures to rank all 32 teams based on the resources they’ll have to use this offseason. Here are the composite rankings, which include where each team ranks in terms of draft capital and cap space (the DB has the top 10 below…you can see the whole list here:

 

Rank     Team                            Draft Value        Rk                    Cap Space        Rk

1          Cleveland                      119.6                1                      $110.7 mil         1

2          San Francisco                 72.4                 2                       $78.0 mil         4

3          N.Y. Jets                        62.1                4                        $79.3 mil         2

4          Indianapolis                     58.8                6                        $79.2 mil         3

5          Tampa Bay                     52.6                8                        $64.2 mil         6

6          Houston                          22.6               32                        $65.2 mil         5

7          Chicago              51.2                9                        $39.7 mil       11

8          Buffalo                            63.1                3                        $29.3 mil       16

9          Tennessee                      37.0               20                        $49.1 mil         8

10         Detroit                             38.9               17                        $47.1 mil         9

 

Some observations…

 

– Former Browns GM Sashi Brown left the cupboard full for his successor John Dorsey. Cleveland not only ranks first in both cap space and draft capital, but the second-place teams in both categories aren’t even close.

 

– The Super Bowl champion Eagles will have a hard time adding to their roster. It will require some tough cuts (like LT Jason Peters, for instance) for the team to even get under the cap. Because of the trade-up for Carson Wentz in 2016, Philly doesn’t have a whole lot to work with in the draft, either. A trade-down from the No. 32 pick is probably a requirement at this point.

 

– The Texans land in the top-10 but that is based on their favorable cap situation. The Deshaun Watson trade during the 2017 draft left the team with little to work with in 2018.

 

– The Seahawks are low in these rankings, but that could change if they decide to part ways with a number of key veterans, including Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. And next offseason, Seattle should have plenty of cap space to work with.

 

– It seems like every year the Buccaneers are a trendy favorite offseason sleeper. Don’t expect this year to be any different. Tampa Bay has the resources to add to an already talented roster and Florida is always a popular destination for NFL free agents. The Bucs will make some splash signings.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

More cuts are expected in Chicago.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bears are already near the top of the league in available cap space for 2018, with about $50 million to spend. And they’re likely to have a lot more space available when they get done cutting expensive veterans.

 

Mike Glennon has a team-high cap hit of $16 million for 2018, and it goes without saying the Bears will cut him. Signing Glennon last year was a huge mistake by G.M. Ryan Pace.

 

But a less-discussed mistake for Pace was signing wide receiver Markus Wheaton, ostensibly to be Glennon’s No. 1 receiver. Wheaton caught a grand total of three passes for the Bears last season and with a $5.75 million cap hit, he’s almost certain to be cut as well.

 

Pernell McPhee has played well at outside linebacker at times, but his cap hit is $8.1 million in 2018, and ESPN is reporting McPhee won’t be back unless he agrees to a pay cut. McPhee will probably test the market.

 

The Bears also have a couple veterans in the secondary, cornerback Marcus Cooper and safety Quintin Demps, who could get cut. Cooper’s cap hit is $5.5 million while Demps’ is just under $4 million. Both could be on the way out.

 

Pace will have a lot of cap space to play with heading in free agency. The question is whether he’ll make wiser use of it than he did last year, when Glennon and Wheaton were his big acquisitions.

 

 

MINNESOTA

John DeFillipo is the Vikings new QB coach, and he literally has no real idea who he will be coaching.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com.

 

The Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in John DeFilippo and the chances are good that he’ll be working with a new quarterback after spending last season on the Eagles coaching staff.

 

The big question is whether that quarterback will also be new to the Vikings. Case Keenum and Sam Bradford are definitely free agents and Teddy Bridgewater is set to join them unless there’s an announcement that his contract tolled in 2017, which leaves a lot of possible routes for the team to take heading into the 2018 season.

 

When DeFilippo was hired, he said he’d have as much say in the decision as the Vikings wanted him to have. He’s voicing those opinions now that the Vikings have started to figure out which way they want to go.

 

“Right now we’re going to get it fixed, I know that,” DeFilippo said, via Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “It’s just a matter of choosing the right person to fit our culture and what we’re trying to do offensively. There’s no doubt that [General Manager] Rick Spielman, coach [Mike] Zimmer and myself will put our heads together and make the best decision that we think is the best for the Minnesota Vikings. That is the approach we’re going to take, and we’re in the middle of that process right now.”

 

DeFilippo didn’t hint at where things stand in that process as he talked about “being flexible” to whoever the Eagles wind up putting under center. He said Keenum “brings a lot to the table” and called Bradford, who he worked with in Philly, “the purest passer I have ever coached” while noting the long injury history that makes it tough for a team to put too many eggs in that basket.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Only now has WR ALSHON JEFFREY repaired a long-time torn rotator cuff.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Alshon Jeffery’s season-long heroics in Philadelphia came with a cost.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the Eagles wideout underwent successful surgery Wednesday on a torn rotator cuff, per a source informed of the situation.

 

Jeffery played through the injury all season after hurting his right shoulder during training camp.

 

Toiling through the pain, the 28-year-old pass-catcher started all 16 games and finished with 57 catches for 789 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns. Jeffery was especially effective in the playoffs, meshing with quarterback Nick Foles for 12 receptions and a trio of scores over three starts — capped by the wideout’s beautiful 34-yard touchdown grab in Super Bowl LII.

 

After signing a one-year deal with the team last offseason, Jeffery was rewarded in December with a four-year, $52 million extension packed with $27 million in guaranteed loot.

 

Proving he fit in with Philly’s offense, Jeffery earns points for grinding through his injury to help author one of the most unlikely championship runs of the century

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Having survived a domestic abuse investigation for an organization whose estranged owner was accused of sexual harassment, Marty Hurney has the interim removed from his title.   COO Tina Becker made the announcement on Wednesday.  Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com with the team’s version:

 

The interim tag has been removed from Marty Hurney’s title.

 

Hurney has been selected to be the Carolina Panthers’ general manager on a full-time basis, reprising the role he held from 2002-12. Jimmy Raye III, Lake Dawson and Martin Mayhew also interviewed for the position.

 

“We are very fortunate to have Marty as our general manager after he did an exceptional job in the interim role this past season.” Panthers COO Tina Becker said. “Marty’s guidance and vision helped build the foundation for this team, and his work this season was instrumental in returning the team to the playoffs. We believe he will continue to craft a roster that will win games and contend for a championship.”

 

Installed in place of Dave Gettleman shortly before training camp this past season, Hurney helped the Panthers bounce back from a losing season to go 11-5 and earn a playoff berth. In his interim role, Hurney already had been charged with directing the Panthers’ offseason plans in regards to the roster, and now he’ll be around to see how the changes play out.

 

“I have always felt a strong connection to this organization and viewed this job as one of the very best in the NFL because of the people here,” Hurney said. “Mr. Richardson and Tina have been open and honest with me from the beginning, and I am thankful for the trust they have placed in me. I gained a lot of perspective being away and then back in an interim role last season. I feel that I am the best person to help Ron and this team moving forward. We have a really special core of players in place, and I’m extremely excited about the direction we are headed.”

 

Hurney’s last draft in 2012 netted linebacker Luke Kuechly with the ninth overall pick and cornerback Josh Norman in the fifth round, but Hurney was relieved of his duties midway through a disappointing 2012 season. In 2011, Hurney and the Panthers opened the draft by selecting quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick. His first draft, in 2002, began with defensive end Julius Peppers being selected No. 2. Subsequent drafts landed first-round gems like offensive tackle Jordan Gross (2003), cornerback Chris Gamble (2004), linebackers Thomas Davis (2005) and Jon Beason (2007) and running backs DeAngelo Williams (2006) and Jonathan Stewart (2008).

 

In Hurney’s first stint as general manager, which spanned 10 seasons and part of an 11th, the Panthers made three playoff appearances, won an NFC Championship, claimed two NFC South titles, appeared in two NFC Championship games and played in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Saints owner Tom Benson is in the hospital.  The team made the announcement, saying the 90-year-old auto dealing magnate had “flu-like” symptoms.

– – –

The Saints will be talking with QB DREW BREES at the upcoming Combine about his 2018 deal.  Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:

 

Scheduled to reach free agency next month, Drew Brees has already emphasized his desire to remain in New Orleans as long as the Saints will have him.

 

To that end, Brees’ representatives are expected to meet with the team at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine “to try to hammer out what is potentially a short-term deal,” NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday’s edition of NFL Total Access.

 

Although negotiations have yet to begin in earnest, there’s urgency to reach agreement before the start of the league year when Brees would count $18 million against the Saints’ cap absent a new deal.

 

A prominent voice in the NFL Players Association throughout the latter portion of his career, Brees has pushed for maximum contract value in the past. Finally at the helm of a promising young roster set to contend for the Super Bowl, the veteran quarterback’s tone has changed in recent months.

 

Rapoport expects the sides to find common ground on a deal that will fall between $20 million and $25 million annually.

 

“Is Brees going to break the bank as he did previously? Probably not,” Rapoport explained earlier this week. “I know the Saints certainly do not see him eclipsing even really what he had last time. … It’s really about finding the sweet spot somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties to extend him, but yeah, he is going to be their quarterback.”

 

If there’s drama to be encountered in this round of negotiations, it figures to occur early next month when Brees’ agent has a chance to gain leverage via the threat of that $18 million in dead money hanging over the new league year.

 

From the tone of Brees’ public comments and Rapoport’s reporting, the Saints will have a prime opportunity to lock up the face of the franchise before it reaches that point.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

After visiting the Browns and the Bills, CB VONTAE DAVIS is spending some time with the 49ers.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun on an upcoming position change for CROCKETT GILLMORE.

 

Ravens pending free agent Crockett Gillmore is healthy again and he’s intent on making a strong return to the field. However, it won’t be as a tight end.

 

Gillmore, who missed the entire 2017 season after he tore his MCL last summer, has been training this offseason with the intention of becoming an offensive lineman, his new agent, Jonathan Feinsod, confirmed Wednesday.

 

Gillmore has put approximately 40 pounds onto his 6-foot-6 frame. According to his profile on his new agency’s website, Gillmore is up to 305 pounds. The Ravens listed him at 266 pounds last summer.

 

The Ravens are believed to be intrigued by Gillmore’s potential and feel he has the mindset and physicality needed to make the transition. They have spoken to him about a return, but they’d have to see where he is physically before agreeing to a deal.

 

The 26-year-old has been working out the past couple of offseasons at former NFL guard-center LeCharles Bentley’s offensive line academy, focusing specifically on his balance, footwork and explosion off the line of scrimmage.

 

Gillmore was a defensive lineman at Colorado State before switching to tight end and since becoming a Raven, he talked about either wanting to switch to defense or play offensive tackle.

 

“I could care less about playing offense,” Gillmore told The Baltimore Sun in an October 2015 story. “I have the mentality and the want-to to be the best, no matter what I’m doing. To me, defense is where I belong. That’s where I’ve always belonged, and I have that mentality. I play with, I’ve always said, a mentality of playing with bad intentions.”

 

 

CLEVELAND

WR JOSH GORDON is NOT a restricted free agent, but remains under Browns control.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

This year’s crop of free-agent receivers lacks significant star power, especially if Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins are tagged by the Jaguars and Rams, respectively. (The Dolphins already have franchise-tagged Jarvis Landry.) One of the most talented receivers in the league will not be part of it.

 

The NFL Players Association initially told PFT on Wednesday that Browns receiver Josh Gordon will be a restricted free agent. This would mean that he finally has completed his rookie contract, but that he doesn’t yet have four years of service under the NFL’s labor deal.

 

But since Gordon played in only five games last year, he did not do enough gain a third accrued season toward free agency. That would make him an exclusive rights free agent. The NFLPA has clarified Gordon’s status, explaining that he did not pick up a third accrued season.

 

Because he’s an exclusive rights free agent, Gordon will not be a free agent at all. The Browns will be able to offer him the second-year minimum for a player with two years of service, and his choice will be to sign it or not play.

 

Gordon arrived in Cleveland in 2012 as a second-round pick in the supplemental draft. In 2013, he generated 1,646 receiving yards in only 14 games. That’s more than new Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens ever had in any one season.

 

But Gordon, who didn’t play at all in 2015 or 2016 due to his latest suspension under the substance-abuse policy, remains at risk for another banishment from the league.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

LB RYAN SHAZIER retains his big goals.  Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner:

 

Ryan Shazier hasn’t let a serious spinal injury affect his long-term football outlook.

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker said he wants to play again, and he wants to be one of the best linebackers ever. He talked to Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix on Nix’s podcast, which was the first interview for Shazier since his injury. Shazier, who was injured making a tackle against the Bengals on Dec. 4, made it clear he isn’t giving up his football career.

 

“I got to get back,” Shazier told Nix, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Right now I’m reading a book and it’s basically saying trust the process. I’m really trusting the process. I know the end goal. So I’m taking every step of the way, I’m giving everything I got. The therapists are like, ‘Man this is crazy; I’ve never seen anyone work this hard.’ They almost see progression every day.

 

“They say like some progressions they see week to week, they see from me day to day. I’m really trying to come back and still be a Pro Bowler.”

 

Shazier talked about his goal, which he had since college, of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He still has that goal.

 

“I’m still reaching for that Hall of Fame because I really feel I’m the best linebacker ever,” Shazier said on Nix’s podcast. “I just got to be back out there so everybody can see it. You know what I’m saying?”

 

Shazier seems to be a long way from playing. On Feb. 6 he stood up, with some help, at a Pittsburgh Penguins game when he was shown on the arena’s video screen, and he told Nix it was important for fans to see him standing. Shazier told Nix he has a larger appreciation for people in wheelchairs since his injury.

 

“The thing that’s so funny is like when I do the littlest things, peopled don’t understand how much people appreciate this right now,” Shazier told Nix. “Like the process of me trying to get my feeling back to stand up and all that. Everything I did, I appreciated every moment.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

It looks like PK ADAM VINATIERI will be breaking records in 2018 as a Colt.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Adam Vinatieri is closing in on a deal to return to the Indianapolis Colts for his 23rd NFL season.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Colts and Vinatieri’s agent are close to a one-year deal, according to a source informed of the situation.

 

Bob Kravitz of WTHR-TV first reported the development, noting a deal should be finalized Thursday.

 

Vinatieri returning to the Colts comes as no surprise. The longtime kicker stated in December his intentions to continue his NFL career. Indy wasn’t likely to find as reliable a kicker as the future Hall of Famer.

 

In 2017, Vinatieri went 29 of 34 on field goal attempts. The 85.3 percent is his lowest since 2012, but he remains in the upper echelon of kickers. He converted a long of 54 yards on the season, including five of six attempts from 50-plus yards, and didn’t miss a single attempt inside 30 yards. The wily veteran also converted 22 of 24 extra points — a year after making all 44 of his PATs.

 

Vinatieri turns 46 in December and enters his 13th season with Indianapolis. The booter spent 10 years in New England, where he rose to fame as one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history.

 

There aren’t many, if any, players for whom a 10-year stint with one team is not the longest of their careers. 

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com must have read yesterday’s Briefing, but he goes a little further (but not to the banks of the Little Big Horn):

 

Here are some of the records that he has either already set or is closing in on:

 

Field goals: Vinatieri has kicked 559 field goals, second-most in NFL history. He should break Morten Andersen’s record of 565 within the first few games of the regular season.

 

Postseason field goals: Vinatieri has by far the most postseason field goals in NFL history, with 56 (30 with the Colts and 26 with the Patriots). He can keep adding to that total if the Colts are in the playoffs this year, although he’s so far ahead of everyone else in NFL history that the record will be his for many years regardless of whether he ever kicks another playoff field goal. If anyone is ever going to break Vinatieri’s record it’s probably his successor as Patriots kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, who has 34 postseason field goals.

 

Points scored: Vinatieri has scored 2,487 points in his career, with 808 extra points, 559 field goals and one two-point conversion. He should break Morten Andersen’s all-time record of 2,544 this season.

 

Postseason points scored: With 234 points, Vinatieri has the all-time record by a large margin. Stephen Gostkowski, with 180 postseason points, is probably the player with the best chance of catching him eventually.

 

Extra points made: Vinatieri has kicked 808 extra points, which means he’s almost certain to pass Gary Anderson (820) for third-place all time this season. He has a chance of passing Morten Andersen (849) for second place, but George Blanda’s record (943) is out of reach for at least three more years.

 

Regular season games played: Vinatieri has played in 337 games, good for fifth all-time. If he plays all 16 games in 2018, he’ll pass George Blanda (340) and Jeff Feagles (352) and tie Gary Anderson with 353 games played, for the second most in NFL history. Only Morten Andersen, with 382 games played, would be ahead of Vinatieri.

 

Postseason games played: Vinatieri has played in 30 postseason games, second all-time. If the Colts reach the playoffs he’ll add to that total, although he’s not going to catch his old teammate Tom Brady, who has the NFL record with 37 postseason games played.

 

Vinatieri will turn 46 in December, and at that point he’ll be just the fourth player ever to play at that age, joining George Blanda, Morten Andersen and John Carney.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Mel Kiper, Jr. has his second Mock Draft of the campaign, and he still thinks that Wyoming QB JOSH ALLEN will be John Dorsey’s choice with the first pick:

 

Since my first mock draft in mid-January, we’ve seen the Eagles win the Super Bowl, Alex Smith traded to Washington and all of the vacant head-coaching openings filled. So, yeah, there are quite a few changes in my new projection of Picks 1-32, which you can read below:

 

A few reminders before I get started:

 

Upcoming combine testing, medicals, pro days and individual workouts are extremely important to the process, and draft boards will change a lot based on those.

 

There are no trades allowed in this projection, and several of these picks are based on who I think is the best player available. In some cases, I have identified a few needs that could be targeted.

 

An asterisk denotes a prospect who is an underclassmen.

 

The 49ers and Raiders are tied at Nos. 9 and 10, and the picks will be decided by a coin flip at the combine. For the purposes of this projection, I’m sticking with San Francisco for the ninth pick.

 

My new Big Board and position rankings can be found here. Let’s dig in to Mock Draft 2.0:

 

1. Cleveland Browns

*Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

I’m sticking with Allen here. The only way I see the Browns not ending up with a quarterback at No. 1 is if they sign Kirk Cousins, which is going to cost them around $100 million in guarantees. Then they could trade down with a quarterback-needy team to pick up more talent — and remember, they have the No. 4 pick, too. Allen had a strong week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, improving every day. The NFL statistical comp I make to Allen: Matthew Stafford, who completed 57.1 percent of his passes in 39 games at Georgia and still went No. 1 overall. And Stafford had better talent around him.

 

2. New York Giants

*Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Do the Giants take a quarterback or the best prospect available? They don’t have quite as many needs as the Browns, and they won 11 games two seasons ago. New York has some talent. I went with Josh Rosen in Mock Draft 1.0, but Barkley is the top-ranked player on my Big Board. If the Giants can add Barkley to a group that includes Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, that would be rare skill-position talent. Barkley is more than a great runner — he is a stellar receiver (he caught 54 passes in 2017) and pass-blocker. Eli Manning should be more efficient with these weapons around him, and the Giants can use another year of evaluation to figure out whether 2017 third-round pick Davis Webb is the heir apparent.

 

3. Indianapolis Colts

Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

No change with the Colts, who don’t need a quarterback and can grab the draft’s best pass-rusher. They ranked 31st in the NFL in sacks (25) last season. Chubb had 46.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. New defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus came over from Dallas, where Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys ran a 4-3 defense. Chubb is a great fit in a 4-3 as an edge rusher.

 

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)

*Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

With Saquon Barkley off the board, Cleveland can fill a huge need at cornerback with the pick it acquired in the Texans’ trade up for Deshaun Watson last year. And yes, that’s where Fitzpatrick would fit with the Browns. I said in my Mock Draft 1.0 that he is the top cornerback and safety in this draft. Fitzpatrick is a big-time playmaker as a deep safety, outside corner and in the slot — he really has it all. He is a defensive coordinator’s dream.

 

5. Denver Broncos

*Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Darnold has a high ceiling, but ball security issues in 2017 — his 22 turnovers were tied for most in the FBS — raised questions. When he’s on his game, he looks like the No. 1 overall pick. Can he show consistency? I expect Denver to be part of the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, and it could look to defense here if it lands the top free-agent quarterback. The Broncos might look very different in 2018, especially if Aqib Talib and Demaryius Thomas are released. They would have needs at several positions, including corner, safety, receiver and running back.

 

6. New York Jets

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

This is another team I expect to be in on Kirk Cousins; the Jets have to add a quarterback this offseason. Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg aren’t long-term answers. So why Mayfield over Josh Rosen here? It’s close. Mayfield is one of the best leaders in this class, and there are still questions about Rosen’s ability to galvanize a team. Rosen has a higher ceiling, but Mayfield is ready to start in the NFL right now. I like Rosen as a pure passer, but there are also concerns about his injury history — he missed half of the 2016 season after having shoulder surgery. Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, put up huge numbers for the Sooners and measured at 6-foot at the Senior Bowl. If the Jets get Cousins, cornerback is their top need.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

*Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

Nelson moved up to No. 4 on my latest Big Board, and there’s no question he’s the favorite to be the first offensive lineman off the board in April. He’s a plug-and-play starter who dominates defenders and can get to the second level. Tampa Bay had one of the league’s worst running games in 2017 — it averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Nelson would be an instant upgrade.

 

8. Chicago Bears

*Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Edmunds is a tremendous athlete. He could play inside or outside linebacker in the Bears’ 3-4, and it’s that versatility and athleticism that has scouts drooling. I expect him to put up huge numbers at the combine. Edmunds had 109 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017, and he does a good job covering pass-catchers out of the backfield. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, Edmunds doesn’t look like a traditional middle linebacker, but he’s such a physical specimen that you can’t rule it out. And the Bears just released Jerrell Freeman. Chicago could also be in the market for an offensive tackle or wide receiver here.

 

9. San Francisco 49ers

*Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

No change for the 49ers here, as Ward would give them a true No. 1 cornerback on top of a super talented front seven. Ward is polished, though he’s not huge (5-10, 191) like 6-2 Ahkello Witherspoon, San Francisco’s third-round pick last year. Ward had two interceptions and 15 pass breakups in 2017, and he plays the ball well and has good instincts.

 

10. Oakland Raiders

*Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia

This match makes too much sense, so I’m sticking with it. Smith could be the centerpiece of Jon Gruden’s defense, playing inside linebacker. He had 137 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season, and he was a force in the College Football Playoff, making plays from sideline to sideline.

 

11. Miami Dolphins

*Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

If Rosen drops to No. 11, Miami has to pounce. This is a pick for the best player available. Ryan Tannehill is coming off a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of the 2017 season, and the Dolphins could part ways with him next year. Jay Cutler is a free agent. This quarterback situation isn’t resolved. Rosen is the most polished quarterback in this class when he’s at his best, and he has rare arm talent. But he was inconsistent in 2017 and dealt with a serious shoulder injury in 2016. His medical reports and interviews with teams at the combine will be extremely important. Miami could also target an offensive tackle or pass-rusher.

 

12. Cincinnati Bengals

*Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

This is a deep group of offensive tackles, and our first one is off the board at No. 12. Miller is a pure left tackle with a 6-8 frame and great feet. He reminds me of Patriots left tackle Nate Solder (a free agent). Last offseason, the Bengals let longtime left tackle Andrew Whitworth walk, and former first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi took his spot. Whitworth had an All-Pro season with the Rams, but Ogbuehi struggled. He might be better with a move inside to guard. Picking Miller here gives Cincinnati an upgrade, though he needs to get stronger.

 

13. Washington Redskins

*Vita Vea, DT, Washington

We could probably scratch off quarterback here after Washington traded for Alex Smith and signed him to a new deal. The next position I have on my Redskins needs list is nose tackle, and Vea and Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne are the best in the class. Washington ranked last in the league in 2017 in run defense, allowing 134.1 yards per game. The 6-4, 346-pound Vea is a freakish talent who is more than a run-stopper. He has rare quickness for a player of his size and can play all three downs.

 

14. Green Bay Packers

Marcus Davenport, DE, UT San Antonio

Davenport was my pick for Green Bay in Mock Draft 1.0, and I don’t see a reason to change. There really aren’t many top-tier edge rushers in this class for the second half of the first round, and there’s a drop-off after Davenport. He had an OK week at the Senior Bowl but didn’t dominate. That was expected, however, as he’s a raw, quick-twitch athlete with a 6-6 frame who lacks pass-rushing moves. Those should come in time, and he would get to learn the craft from Clay Matthews in Green Bay.

 

15. Arizona Cardinals

*Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

I love this fit for both sides. Take a look at the Cardinals’ depth chart from the end of the season. Larry Fitzgerald will be 35 when the 2018 season begins. John Brown and Jaron Brown are free agents. They need a No. 2 receiver. Ridley is far and away the best wideout in this draft class, and getting him at No. 15 is good value. He had 19 career touchdown catches with inconsistent quarterback play. Arizona also needs a quarterback, of course, but I think new coach Steve Wilks & Co. are more likely to go the veteran route. But watch out for the Cardinals if one of the top four QBs falls.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens

*Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

I’m giving the Ravens a right tackle again, just swapping the prospect. Brown is a pure mauler and plug-and-play guy over incumbent Austin Howard. At 6-8, 345, Brown will need to lose a little bit of weight, but he was stellar protecting Baker Mayfield’s blind side at Oklahoma. Baltimore could be in position to snag the top center in this class — Iowa’s James Daniels is No. 1 on my board — if it loses Ryan Jensen in free agency.

 

17. Los Angeles Chargers

*Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

As I wrote in my Mock Draft 1.0, stopping the run has to be a priority for the Chargers in 2018. Their 4.9 yards per rushing attempt allowed ranked last in the league. Los Angeles has two young star edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but it has to improve on the interior. Payne popped in the College Football Playoff and even had an interception and touchdown catch in the semifinal win over Clemson. The 6-2, 319-pound Payne had only three career sacks, but he consistently beat his man, even if it didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

 

18. Seattle Seahawks

*Derwin James, S, Florida State

There are questions all over the Seattle defense — will Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson and Richard Sherman be back? — and the future of the aging Legion of Boom is up in the air. James could be a new member. He looked like a top-five pick as a freshman at Florida State in 2015, missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury, then didn’t return as the same player in 2017. But he’s still extremely talented. Medical reports and testing at the combine will be important for James. Scouts are keeping an eye on how he runs and what he shows in the agility drills.

 

19. Dallas Cowboys

Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama

I almost went with a tight end here, as South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst reminds me of a young Jason Witten, who can’t play forever. But middle linebacker is another need, especially if Dallas can’t retain free agent Anthony Hitchens, and Evans could play there or be insurance for Sean Lee, who will be 32 when the 2018 season begins and has struggled with injuries in his career. Evans had 15 sacks at Alabama and is a threat as a pass-rusher on third down. He’s smart and battle-tested after playing under Nick Saban. I really like this pick for the Cowboys.

 

20. Detroit Lions

*Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

This is a spot to watch for a rising pass-rusher, but Detroit would be thrilled with the No. 2 running back on the board. Guice is a true every-down back, which Matthew Stafford has never had in his career. Ameer Abdullah averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in 2017, while Theo Riddick is more of a versatile pass-catcher. Guice had 26 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, and he looked every bit as good for the Tigers as Leonard Fournette did in 2016. I also like the fit for USC running back Ronald Jones II and Detroit, so he’s another option as the second back to be drafted.

 

21. Buffalo Bills

*Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

With back-to-back picks here, could the Bills try to package these and move up for a quarterback? It would take both picks — and more — to get into the top 10. Hughes fills a big need opposite 2017 first-round pick Tre’Davious White, and he’s a great punt and kick returner, too. He had three touchdown returns last season. After playing at North Carolina in 2015 and a junior college in 2016, Hughes doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he emerged as a shutdown corner and important player for the Knights in 2017.

 

22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs)

*James Daniels, C/G, Iowa

Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is a perfect fit in the Bills’ 4-3 — and my top-ranked 4-3 tackle — but the retirement of Eric Wood opens up a void at center in Buffalo, and the Bills could get the top prospect at a real position of need. Daniels is No. 1 on my board there. At 6-4, 296, he can move his feet and get to the second level as a true athlete. He is perfect as an anchor for today’s NFL. I wouldn’t be shocked if two centers went in the first round. Ohio State’s Billy Price is the other one.

 

23. Los Angeles Rams

*Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Los Angeles has decisions to make on free-agent cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman and safety/corner Lamarcus Joyner, and it isn’t likely to keep them all. Cornerback is a clear need for the Rams. Jackson burst onto the scene with eight interceptions in 2017, including three in an upset win over Ohio State. The big question about Jackson is true speed — he needs to run well at the combine to stay in the first-round discussion. He could also help out on punt returns.

 

24. Carolina Panthers

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

When Cam Newton was league MVP in 2015, he had a deep threat in Ted Ginn Jr. who could take the top off defenses. Ginn had 10 touchdowns and averaged almost 17 yards per catch. Washington could be that guy for the Panthers. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch and had 39 touchdowns at Oklahoma State. He is great after the catch. At 5-11, 210, Washington is undersized, but he was one of the best receivers at the Senior Bowl. He consistently beat defenders in one-on-ones, just like I saw on his college tape.

 

25. Tennessee Titans

*Ronald Jones II, RB, USC

Tennessee is expected to part ways with DeMarco Murray, which means Derrick Henry becomes the primary back. New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur spent time with the Falcons (2015-16) and Rams (2017), who both used their backs a lot in the passing game, and Jones could be a complementary back who helps there. He caught only 14 passes last season, but he has a lot of tools with which to work and has a lot of talent after the catch. I also thought about center or guard here, as the Titans need to upgrade the interior of their line.

 

26. Atlanta Falcons

Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia

Wynn is another prospect who helped himself at the Senior Bowl. He was one of the best offensive linemen there, and he neutralized pass-rushers on almost every one-on-one rep. Wynn played guard and tackle for the Bulldogs, but at 6-2, 308, scouts see him as a guard at the next level. By picking Wynn, Atlanta could upgrade on Wes Schweitzer on the right side or move on from Andy Levitre on the left side. Defensive tackle and receiver are other positions to watch with this pick, depending on what happens in free agency.

 

27. New Orleans Saints

*Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

I mentioned Hurst at pick No. 19, and he’s trending toward being a Day 1 pick and the first tight end off the board. He’s a well-rounded tight end who didn’t get a ton of targets in the South Carolina offense. One thing to note: Because Hurst spent a couple of years playing minor league baseball, he will be 25 when he plays his first NFL game. That shouldn’t be a demerit, however, as he has the tools to be a premier tight end in the league. New Orleans brought in Coby Fleener in 2016 to try to replace the production of Jimmy Graham, but that didn’t work out and the Saints could release him this offseason. Drew Brees needs a No. 1 tight end.

 

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

*Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Vander Esch is a name I continue to hear for the end of the first round. I expect him to put up strong numbers at the combine. At 6-4, 240, he has the versatility to play outside linebacker, but I think his best fit is as an inside ‘backer in a 3-4. He’s a physical run-stopper who can defend tight ends and running backs — he had three interceptions in 2017. Inside linebacker is an obvious need for the Steelers, who will have to replace Ryan Shazier. This is also a spot where I could see a team trading up to grab Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who I think will be the fifth QB off the board.

 

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

I’m giving the Jags a different tight end here after going with Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews in my Mock Draft 1.0. Former first-round pick Marcedes Lewis has had a great career, but he’s turning 34 this year and isn’t much of a receiving threat. I have compared Goedert to Todd Heap and Zach Ertz, two guys who can catch passes and also block. Goedert has a tremendous catch radius at 6-4, 260. He suffered a hamstring injury at the first Senior Bowl practice but should be fine to work out at the combine.

 

30. Minnesota Vikings

*Geron Christian, OT, Louisville

This tackle class is fluid. I could see five or six picked on Day 1. I’m anticipating Christian to get a lot of buzz at the combine. He’s going to be a riser after he shows his athleticism in drills. Christian started 39 straight games for the Cardinals, including every game as a freshman. He has great feet and a big 6-6 frame. With Mike Remmers likely staying at guard in 2018 and beyond, the Vikings have a hole at right tackle. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Texas’ Connor Williams are other tackles to keep an eye on.

 

31. New England Patriots

*Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

Jackson is another prospect I expect will rise at the combine. He might be the fastest player in this class. He has elite speed and physical talent, and he could help out as a returner. Jackson is only 5-11, 180, but he has a similar build to that of 2017 first-round pick Adoree’ Jackson. We know the Patriots love to trade down, so this is a spot to watch for a team trying to get Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Patriots also need a pass-rusher, and Boston College’s Harold Landry or Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter could be under consideration.

 

32. Philadelphia Eagles

*Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

The Super Bowl champs are built to contend for years to come, and they don’t have many immediate needs. I thought about tackle here, as veteran left tackle Jason Peters is coming off a torn ACL and MCL. But former fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai showed promise down the stretch, and the offensive line as a whole played really well in the playoffs. The Eagles might part ways with Torrey Smith this offseason, which means a receiver at the end of the first round makes sense. At 5-11, Kirk isn’t a big target, but he can be a weapon in the slot and in the return game. UCLA’s Jordan Lasley is a receiver who could rise into the Day 1 discussion, too.