The Daily Briefing Wednesday, December 13, 2017

AROUND THE NFL 

Will Jerry Jones go down without a shot today?  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says no.

As the NFL’s owners gather in Dallas to meet in the aftermath of the new contract signed last week by the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell, there’s an expectation that the Texas excursion could be memorable.

One source with knowledge of the dynamics and the process expressed a belief on Tuesday that it will be “as interesting of a day as I have ever had” at one of these events.

The intrigue flows from the likelihood that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones won’t go away quietly regarding his opposition to the Goodell deal. Jones said Tuesday that he won’t be withdrawing a resolution aimed at delaying the contract for six months, even though the contract already is final and binding.

But the sense is that he’s got some other plan, unknown for now, to advance his agenda — and if necessary to create a little chaos. Eventually, it’s believed he’ll find a way to declare victory, even if the end result (in the eyes of most of his peers) is that the league, by virtue of the ugliest, most public fight among owners in years, has lost.

And that’s the other thing that will make this meeting memorable. The lingering anger and frustration among plenty of owners toward Jones could manifest itself in a dressing down of Jones and his tactics, which could serve only to set Jones off all over again.

However it plays out, it’s going to play out on Wednesday in the town where Jerry’s team resides.

NFC NORTH

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS put this on Instagram with a photo of the QB lying on his back in a hospital bed giving the thumbs up sign.  Presumably, it is a “before” photo:

It’s been a long road from that day to this, but I’m happy to say I’ve been medically cleared to return. Thanks for all the love, support, prayers, and well wishes over the past 8 weeks ️ and a big thank you to Dr McKenzie and our incredible training staff. #riseagain #

NFC SOUTH

CAROLINA

Some shuffling of the Panthers’ practice squad roster saw the team dispatch PK ROBERTO AGUAYO who had been killing time there if GRAHAM GANO pulled something.

NFC WEST

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Coach Sean McVay feels like he needs to re-commit to the running of RB TODD GURLEY II.  Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com:

It jumped off the page. The box score from the Los Angeles Rams’ 43-35 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles showed Todd Gurley averaging 7.4 yards per carry, but running the ball only 13 times — half the amount of times that Jared Goff threw it. It was the continuation of what has become a longstanding theme with Sean McVay, the Rams’ first-year head coach and offensive playcaller. McVay isn’t afraid to rely heavily on the pass, a luxury afforded by his ability to design simple ways for Goff to get yardage through the air.

But is McVay relying too heavily on the pass?

He seemed to project that on Monday.

“I look at it myself and say, ‘You’ve got to make sure that you’re cognizant of giving the runs a chance and trying to stay balanced,’” McVay said. “And that’s something that I haven’t done. You can’t keep standing up here and saying the same things; you’ve just got to get it fixed. That’s something that I’ve got to be mindful of.”

Gurley received only 16 touches on Sunday, tied for his season low. The Rams are now 2-4 when Gurley gets 20 or fewer touches and 7-0 when he exceeds that number, an indication of how much better off they are when he is the focal point of their offense.

A prime example came Sunday. Gurley had only five first-half carries, so the Rams, McVay said, came out of halftime intent on getting him going on the ground. They ran Gurley on back-to-back plays to start the second half. Then they hit him with a screen and watched him pick up 20 yards. Then they ran play-action, with Malcolm Brown, and set up a wide-open Cooper Kupp for a 23-yard gain.

But McVay went back to relying mainly on Goff through the air, the most glaring example being the playcall that led to the fourth-quarter fumble that was caused by Chris Long — a play-action passing attempt, on first-and-10 from the Rams’ 35, while up one and with their starting right tackle out of the game.

“I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that he gets enough touches to get into the flow, especially when we were getting some good movement,” McVay said of Gurley, who managed 135 scrimmage yards despite the minimal workload. “But it is a delicate balance.”

McVay has spent a big chunk of his Monday news conferences this season pointing out flaws in his own playcalling, even in times when it doesn’t seem warranted.

The run-pass balance has been a frequent topic of late, even though Gurley’s workload remains high.

Gurley still has the NFL’s third-most rushing attempts (236) and is tied for the second-most touches (287). But over the past five weeks, Goff has thrown the ball 174 times and a Rams player — either Gurley, Brown, Lance Dunbar, Tavon Austin or Pharoh Cooper — has run it 96 times. The Rams are throwing the ball more often than all but three teams during that stretch — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs — even though they haven’t fallen behind big in any of those games.

The Eagles entered Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with the top rushing defense in the NFL, “But our guys were doing a good job getting some movement,” McVay said. “Todd was running really well.”

McVay brought up the fact that the Rams ran only 45 offensive plays on Sunday, about 20 shy of an ideal number, which limited Gurley’s chances. He also credited a Jim Schwartz-led defense for mixing it up in early downs, which put the Rams in several second-and-long situations that prompted passing attempts.

But he also didn’t want to make excuses.

“At the end of the day, however you want to cut it, I’ve got to get him going, give him more opportunities with the way he was running it and have a better feel for the flow of the game,” McVay said. “That was something that I didn’t think I did very well [on Sunday].” 

AFC NORTH

CLEVELAND

According to 50,000 simulations of the rest of the season at FootballOutsiders.com, the Browns have a 97.1% chance of earning the first overall pick for the second consecutive season.  The Giants are at 2.7% with the 49ers and Colts at 0.1%

– – –

Conor Orr of TheMMQB.com on how NFL VP of Spin Joe Lockhart sowed confusion on the matter of the Browns and Rooney Rule compliance in the hiring of John Dorsey:

 The Browns’ hiring of general manager John Dorsey: Pro Football Talk was on this story initially, wondering how the team could have possibly complied with the Rooney Rule when reports of Sashi Browns’ firing first surfaced around 10:20 a.m. on Dec. 7 and Dorsey was installed later that same day. NFL.com reported that former Bills general manager Doug Whaley was interviewed by the club,   which would technically satisfy the requirement.

However, a conference call with NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart on Monday seemed to raise more questions than answers. A snippet below:

JL: There is nothing in the rule that talks about having to publicly discuss or disclose who has been talked to. Just a little dose of common sense can tell you why. If there are people applying for jobs that already have other jobs, you don’t necessarily want that broadcast. In this particular case, the Rooney Rule was properly applied. That’s all we’ve got on that.

You’re saying it is possible that compliance of the Rooney Rule could constitute someone being interviewed while someone else is holding the position?

JL: No, I didn’t. I said that if there’s someone on team A who is interviewing for a position for team B, that person won’t want to have team B broadcasting it to the world that the interviews are going on. That is not part of the process. The question is if there was compliance here with the rule, and we believe that the answer is yes.

On when the interview that complied with the Rooney Rule took place:

JL: I am not going to comment on that. I am only going to comment on the broader question of whether or not the rule was complied with. Any other questions should be put to the club.

On the league saying that the Browns complied with the Rooney Rule simply because a minority candidate was interviewed, and you’re not saying compliance happened relative to the timeline of when the actual candidate was interviewed:

JL: I’m not going to comment on the timeline; you can talk to club about that. On whether we believe that there was compliance, the answer remains yes.

Can a substantive interview happen the same day that that the previous person is fired and the replacement is hired?

JL: Answering that question would get me in the timeline, and I’m just not going to do it.

Again, the DB wonders why the Browns, with a black head coach, a deposed black GM, a previous black GM and a previous black head coach – all in the last decade, need to be subjected to this inquisition.

PITTSBURGH

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on how the Steelers are trying to replace LB RYAN SHAZIER:

Ryan Shazier remains an inspiration to the Steelers, as they have rallied around their fallen teammate.

But as for the much-less-important earthly business of football, he’s also left a vacancy in their defense they’re having a hard time filling.

The news that they placed Shazier on IR yesterday brought home the reality that they have a glaring hole in the middle of their defense now. Of course, his physical condition is a much bigger deal, as he remains hospitalized following surgery for his spinal injury.

On the field Sunday against the Ravens the difference was obvious, and that weakness could be a bigger liability this week against the Patriots. They allowed a season-high in points and their second-highest yardage total of the season, against a team which had shown no previous proclivity for offense.

“I’d love to see one guy, but identify that guy,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Shay is a special guy with a lot of talents, not only physically but mentally and from a leadership standpoint and communication.

“It’s just not a realistic discussion to talk about one guy replacing him.”

The Steelers used three different players at his inside linebacker spot against the Ravens, and they’ll likely continue to mix-and-match as they make do without their defensive signal-caller.

Tyler Matakevich is their top backup, but he was out injured Sunday night, forcing the Steelers to sign Sean Spence off the street and start him immediately. Converted outside linebacker Arthur Moats rotated with him, and L.J. Fort got in on some passing downs.

“It wasn’t as smooth as you’d like,” Tomlin said. “That was probably a reasonable expectation. We were without our defensive quarterback. It’s also reasonable to expect it to smooth out as it continues.”

The Steelers had outside linebacker Vince Williams call signals last week, but given the time of the year and the absence of Pro Bowl players available in the market, it’s going to be hard for them to make up the difference this year. They just have to hope their committee gets better. 

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON

QB TOM SAVAGE continues to stand up for Coach Bill O’Brien and proclaim his own good health.

Texans starting quarterback Tom Savage provided an update on his condition after absorbing a punishing hit Sunday that caused a concussion and a controversy about how the NFL protocol was followed and him going back in the game.

Savage wrote on social media that he’s feeling better and expressed support for Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who was emphatic that he wouldn’t have allowed the quarterback to go back into the game if he had seen a viral, disturbing video where Savage was lying on the ground in pain with his arms and hands twitching.

Tom Savage

@TomSavage03

I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers, I’m doing fine. Even though I cannot speak to media due to the protocol I will say this, nobody cares more about his players than OB. 

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND

John Dorsey’s first act as Cleveland’s new GM was to jettison WR KENNY BRITT.  The Patriots, as is their custom, scoop him up.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

One week ago, Kenny Britt was stuck in the mud with the worst team in football.

One week later, the cantankerous veteran wideout finds himself playing for the greatest powerhouse in professional sports.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that Britt — four days after being released by new Browns general manager John Dorsey — is signing a two-year deal with the Patriots.

According to Rapoport, New England stood out as Britt’s “top landing spot.”

Britt signed with Cleveland in the offseason, inking a lucrative $32.5 million deal with $10.5 million in guarantees. In return, the 29-year-old pass-catcher failed to do just that: catch passes.

Hauling in just 18 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns — that works out to $583,333 per catch — Britt made a bigger mark with a string of ugly drops and pressing questions about his desire from the coaching staff.

Britt was also sent home early before a game with the Texans for missing curfew and benched during a tilt with the Vikings in London. For a Browns franchise seeking veteran leadership inside a young wideout room, Britt refused to lead, operating instead as a raging and expensive headache from wire to wire.

The Patriots don’t need Britt to serve as a leader. They’re simply looking for a guy who can step in as the team’s fourth or fifth option for quarterback Tom Brady. Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan all hold vast priority over Britt, but he could steal snaps from Phillip Dorsett if effective.

The Patriots excel at finding and maximizing veteran talent, turning plenty of difficult players into gems. Britt is coming off a 1,000-yard season with the Rams, but utterly collapsed in Cleveland. If he shines in New England, the Patriots will have spun their finest magic yet.

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com points out there was a time the Patriots wouldn’t touch the oft-troubled Britt:

Nearly four years after putting the literal kibosh on bringing Kenny Britt to New England, owner Robert Kraft has allowed the acquisition to happen.

“We won’t be signing him,” Kraft said in early 2014, via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. “That won’t happen.”

And now they have. As Reiss notes, Britt’s extended history of off-field incidents contributed to the decision to shy away from him. The team also had a heightened sensitivity to antisocial behavior at the time, since the Aaron Hernandez fiasco was still fairly fresh in everyone’s mind.

Now, with Britt not only playing well (at times) but also staying out of trouble, it’s easier to justify adding a player who could improve the depth chart at the position.

It nevertheless remains difficult for skill-position players to get quickly up to speed with a new team, new coaching staff, new playbook, new everything. But Britt will have the balance of the regular season to get himself up to speed, with the likely goal being of finding a way for him to make a contribution at some point in the postseason.

And with a two-year deal in place, the bigger play for the Patriots could be finding a way to get the most out of him in 2018. 

THIS AND THAT

 ESPN RANKINGS

We haven’t looked at the ESPN Power Rankings in awhile.  Edited version below, full thing here.  The Steelers fall way behind at home to a middle of the road team, win on a late FG, and jump 4 spots:

Here’s a rundown of the Week 15 Power Rankings, as voted on by our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — with a look at some of the most notable statistical breakthroughs across the league. 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-2 (Last Week 5)

The Steelers have more sacks in 13 games this season (41) than they did in all of 2016 (38). Part of that is Cameron Heyward recording a career-high 9.0 sacks. Another is T.J. Watt recording the most sacks (6.0) by a Steelers rookie since Kendrell Bell in 2001.

2. New England Patriots, 10-3 (1)

The Patriots’ defense had a major turnaround following a 2-2 start to the season. Through Week 4, they had allowed the second-most points per game in the NFL (32.0). They’ve allowed an NFL-best 13.5 points per game since, with Monday night’s 27-20 loss to Miami being the only time the unit has allowed even 20 points in their past nine games.

3. Philadelphia Eagles, 11-2 (2)

Carson Wentz’s season came to an abrupt end when he tore his left ACL in Sunday’s win over the Rams, but what he accomplished this year was stellar. Wentz currently leads the NFL in passing touchdowns and set a franchise record for touchdown passes in a single season (33).

4. Los Angeles Rams, 9-4 (4)

The Rams averaged 14.0 points per game in 2016. This year they are averaging more than twice that (30.5). Jared Goff’s improvement has been notable, but Todd Gurley II has been the catalyst. He has accounted for 34 percent of the team’s yards from scrimmage, highest in the NFL.

5. Minnesota Vikings, 10-3 (3)

There’s no bigger breakthrough for the 2017 Vikings than Case Keenum. Even after Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, Keenum still ranks third leaguewide in Total QBR and has led Minnesota to an 8-3 record in his starts. He entered the season with a career 9-15 record as a starter.

6. New Orleans Saints, 9-4 (7)

The Saints’ running game has been a revelation this season, with both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram ranking in the top five for yards per rush. As a team, they have 19 rushing touchdowns, their most since the 2009 Super Bowl season (21).

7. Carolina Panthers, 9-4 (9)

Cam Newton has more completions to Christian McCaffrey this season (67) than he has ever had to Panthers running backs in a single season. McCaffrey leads the team and all rookies in receptions.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars, 904 (8)

The Jaguars are allowing nearly 10 points fewer per game than they did last season, and currently boast the league’s best defense in terms of points allowed, takeaways and Total QBR. Last season they ranked 25th in points allowed, 30th in takeaways and 14th in opponent QBR.

9. Seattle Seahawks, 8-5 (6)

Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas all have missed multiple games this season, but what has to be encouraging for Seattle is how the team has handled it. With any of those players off field this season the Seahawks have allowed a 39 Total QBR, which is better than their QBR allowed for the entire season (42).

10. Atlanta Falcons, 8-5 (10)

The Falcons’ pass rush was dependent on Vic Beasley Jr. last year, but others are getting more involved, which has resulted in a sack rate up nearly two full percentage points from 2016. Most notable is veteran Adrian Clayborn, who at 29 years old has set a career high with 9.0 sacks.

11. Los Angeles Chargers, 7-6 (11)

The Chargers have a winning record despite an 0-4 start thanks to takeaways and giveaways. Philip Rivers has the lowest interception percentage of his career, Melvin Gordon has the most touches without a fumble (272) and the defense has 20 takeaways since the start of Week 5, tied for most in the NFL.

12. Baltimore Ravens, 7-6 (13)

Alex Collins was cut by the Seahawks on Sept. 2 and signed by the Ravens on Sept. 5. Flash forward to December and he’s fourth in the NFL in yards per rush (5.1) and just 175 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season.

13. Kansas City Chiefs, 7-6 (18)

The Chiefs’ big-play offense being led by Alex Smith is probably a surprise to most. Smith has 11 completions and eight touchdowns of at least 40 yards this season, which are both career bests. He had 10 touchdowns of at least 40 yards his first four seasons with the Chiefs.

14. Green Bay Packers, 7-6 (16)

The Packers’ running back situation was up in the air entering the season, but now they have several strong options. Rookie Aaron Jones has a pair of 100-yard rushing games, and rookie Jamaal Williams has five touchdowns and is averaging 125.3 scrimmage yards in his past three games.

15. Dallas Cowboys, 7-6 (14)

DeMarcus Lawrence’s emergence has been one of the biggest breakthroughs for the Cowboys. His 13.5 sacks this season are second-most in the NFL and most by a Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 in 2011. Lawrence entered the season with 9.0 sacks in 32 career games.

16. Detroit Lions

17. Buffalo Bills

18. Tennessee Titans

19. Oakland Raiders

20. Arizona Cardinals

21. Washington Redskins

22. Miami Dolphins

23. Cincinnati Bengals

24. Denver Broncos

25. Houston Texans

26. Chicago Bears

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

28. New York Jets

29. San Francisco 49ers

30. Indianapolis Colts

31. New York Giants

32. Cleveland Browns

NFL DISLIKED

The National Anthem protests by a small number of players and the subsequent appeasement by the NFL office have put the NFL in a place it has never occupied before.  Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner:

For three straight months, the National Football League has been America’s most unpopular team sport, a trend that now appears to be settling in, according to the latest Winston Group Sports Survey.

In November, 38 percent said they had an “unfavorable” view if the NFL, more than twice that of baseball. No other sport came close to having such a poor rating in the survey provided to Secrets.

Even in the National Basketball Association, known for bad boy antics of players, the unfavorable rating is just 26 percent, said the Winston Group.

There was a little positive movement in the survey for the NFL, however, but it is unclear if it reveals a change or not.

Said the analysis:

The newest monthly WG Sports Survey (November 29-30) found that the NFL brand improved very slightly, going from 44% favorable – 40% unfavorable in October to 48% favorable – 38% unfavorable. While this is a slight improvement, favorability is well below where it was in August when it was 57% favorable – 23% unfavorable. The question is whether this is a small start back toward the original brand standing, or a settling-in process for the new brand standing of the NFL with the public.

Men also started to change, and that could be significant. “Overall, among males the brand improved slightly going from 47% favorable – 46% unfavorable to 50% favorable – 39% unfavorable. However, the favorables are still almost 20% lower than where they were in August,” said the analysis. 

DVOA AND PLAYOFF ODDS

According to “weighted” DVOA at FootballOutsiders, here are the chances certain teams make the playoffs.

First in the NFC (with the most likely seed and it’s percentage in parenthesis)

Philadelphia        100% (#1, 91%)

Minnesota           100% (#2, 65%)

LA Rams               96% (#3, 42%)

New Orleans         98%  (#4, 38%)

Carolina                81%  (#5, 53%)

Atlanta                  51%   (#6, 28%)

Seattle                  36%   (#6, 16%)

Green Bay             15%  (#6, 11%)

Detroit                   12%  (#6, 10%)

Dallas                    11% (#6, 9%)

The Seahawks had a 68% chance of making the playoffs prior to last Sunday’s loss at Jacksonville.

And in the AFC:

Pittsburgh               100% (#1, 66%)

New England          100% (#2, 31%)

Jacksonville            100% (#3, 45%, #2 39%)

Kansas City              67% (#4, 59%)

Baltimore                   80% (#5, 44%)

Tennessee                68% (#5, 31%, #6, 24%)

LA Chargers             45%  (#4, 38%)

Buffalo                      25%  (#6, 17%)

Miami                        12%  (#6, 10%)

Oakland                      3%  (#4, 2%)

 With JIMMY GAROPPOLO doing his thing for the 49ers, we’re not sure where the Titans win again in their final run of at SF, LAR, JAX.

 And here are the most likely Super Bowl matchups – even with the Eagles downgraded going forward due to the loss of CARSON WENTZ.  No one matchup is particularly likely:

Teams                                             Chance

PHI vs PIT                                       10.7%

LAR v. PIT                                          8.5%

PHI vs NE                                           8.3%

MIN vs PIT                                          7.8%

NO vs PIT                                           6.6%

KAEP SIGHTING

Social Justice Activist and winner of Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Award Colin Kaepernick is spotted.  Liz Roscher of Shutdown Corner:

Colin Kaepernick can’t seem to do anything without making someone upset — even if it’s something selfless.

On Tuesday, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback went to the infamous Rikers Island prison in New York to pay a surprise visit to inmates. A Department of Corrections spokesman said that Kaepernick was there “to share a message of hope and inspiration.” But according to the New York Daily News, Kaepernick’s very presence at the prison angered Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association. Here’s what Husamudeen told the Daily News:

“This will only encourage inmates to continue to attack Correction Officers at a time when we need more protection.”

It’s not clear how Husamudeen decided that Kaepernick sharing an inspirational message with inmates meant that he was telling them to attack correction officers, but here we are. Kaepernick is an advocate for criminal justice reform, which in no way means he was calling for inmates to attack prison officers.

That wasn’t all Husamudeen was offended by. New York’s PIX 11 had more about Kaepernick’s visit, and more about what Husamudeen was angry about.

Husamudeen was also upset inmates were provided with suits to wear for the meeting. Kaepernick’s   meeting was in conjunction with the organization “100 Suits for 100 men,” a program for young adult inmates who are mentored in financial literacy, become members of a book club and listen to guest speakers.

“We’re living in a world of make believe,” Husamudeen said. “Inmates don’t wear suits in jail. Give suits to the men in the streets looking for work. Help them before they come to jail.”

Rikers Island is one of the most brutal prisons in the country. Giving the inmates suits to wear while while they hear Colin Kaepernick speak is a chance for them to feel human. Denying inmates their humanity is how prisons break people down, and Kaepernick was trying to give that humanity back to the inmates for just a few hours. Nothing about that is “make believe.”

In the end, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association says about Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick did something positive for several Rikers Island inmates on Tuesday, and that’s what matters.

Sean Wagner-McGough says that Kaep won’t be wearing Eagles green.

Whenever an NFL contender has lost its quarterback to a serious injury this season — from Ryan Tannehill to Aaron Rodgers to Deshaun Watson — Colin Kaepernick’s name has surfaced almost immediately as a possible replacement. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear Kaepernick’s name come up in the aftermath of Carson Wentz’s season-ending ACL injury. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that the 11-2 Eagles reportedly aren’t interested in Kaepernick’s services.

On Monday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio both reported that the Eagles are not considering bringing in Kaepernick.

“Per a league source, the Eagles have shown no interest in Kaepernick, and they’re not currently expected to do so,” Florio wrote for PFT. 

2018 DRAFT

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com takes a look at how the 2017 regular college season has impacted the draft.

The first edition of this column ran one day shy of three months ago, and it centered on two guys who showed Heisman promise over the first two weeks of the season.

We were right on that one. Both Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson were in   New York for the Heisman ceremony on Saturday night. But compare the impact each has made in the time since, and there’s no contest.

This fall, Mayfield helped himself as much as any draft-eligible player. His 13-game run included 4,340 passing yards, 310 rushing yards, a 71.05 completion rate, 41 touchdown passes, five touchdown runs, just five picks, a third straight Big 12 title and a birth in the playoffs. Along the way, he proved to be an improved passer from the pocket, as well as the competitor we always knew he was.

Jackson was plenty good, too. But despite another year of gaudy numbers (3,489 yards, 25 touchdowns passing; 1,443 yards, 17 TDs rushing), his team was just 8-4, knocking him from the spotlight nationally. More important to NFL types, Jackson still left them wanting for instincts and anticipation as a passer.

The bottom line? Back in September, the NFL saw both these guys as second-day types. Mayfield has taken the next steps. Jackson, spectacular as he can be, hasn’t.

We’re transitioning this week, from the regular-season Draft Column into the bowl season Draft Column, and so we can call this our bridge edition. And to do it (in keeping with the boss’s customs), we’ll kick it off with 10 Things I Think I Think from another wild fall of college football. And we’ll start with those two quarterbacks.

1. At this point, it would be a surprise if Baker Mayfield doesn’t go somewhere in the first round. Mayfield isn’t for everyone. But he’s accurate, he’s mobile, and he wins. The off-field incident of last summer and his on-field antics are there, yes, but offset by how his teammates and coaches feel about him, and his football character (i.e. how seriously he takes his craft). Like I said last week, I think a lot of teams will have second-round grades on him, and someone jumps on him in the first.

2. Conversely, it would be a surprise if Lamar Jackson does go in the first round. The evaluators I’ve spoken with have questions about his instincts and anticipation in the passing game, and his ability to process within the context of a pro offense, and still believe he’s more thrower than passer. That doesn’t mean he can’t develop. It does means that he was seen as raw as a quarterback going into 2016, and the feeling on that remains the same.

3. For as closely as we all scrutinized USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, not much has changed on those three as far as scouts are concerned. Darnold still has the funky mechanics, the flair for the dramatic, the rep as a winner and the pristine character. Rosen is still the pageant winner—he looks like he was born to throw a football—with the questions about his personality and character. And Allen is the raw mountain of ability without much polish.

4. I think Josh Rosen and Josh Allen are definitely declaring, and I think very few people know what Sam Darnold will do. My understanding is Darnold shut down all talk of that before the season started, and his reluctance to jump through some hoops players do (like vetting agents) in deciding on whether to declare or not is what led people to believe that he’ll be back in 2018. What you hear is he’s a smart kid, from a good family, who will take everything into account before making a final call. Could he use the extra year? Yes. But if he’s projected to go first or second, that’ll be tough to pass on.

5. Last year’s running backs class has a chance to be remembered for a long, long time: Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Jamaal Williams, Kareem Hunt . . . on and on. This year’s group might be close to as good. Not quite to the level of 2017, but good enough to start to look at this being a new golden era at the position, particular when you figure Todd Gurley (2015) and Ezekiel Elliott (2016) in. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is fantastic, but it’s not just him. LSU’s Derrius Guice, Alabama’s Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Stanford’s Bryce Love, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, USC’s Ronald Jones, Miami’s Mark Walton and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams are among those who make this a deep, quality class.

6. Saquon Barkley’s star faded late in the year, to the point where he finished with just four 100-yard rushing games on the season and wasn’t even invited to New York. But don’t get it twisted—this is still the do-everything, 21st-century prototype that we said he was back in September. I ran it by one AFC exec on Monday night who said, “to the people that matter, nothing’s changed.” Barkley, like Ezekiel Elliott and Joe Mixon before him, fits what NFL teams are looking for in 2017, the 230-pound hammer who can play on all three downs.

7. Some guys help themselves by staying in school, and Mayfield wasn’t the only one in 2017. The best example? N.C. State senior pass rusher Bradley Chubb, who I believe some teams will regard as the best prospect at any position in this year’s class. I got a one-word answer when I asked one veteran evaluator what he liked about the 6′ 5″, 272-pound Chubb coming out of this year: “Everything.” And another defensive linemen who helped him stock by staying for senior year was Michigan’s Maurice Hurst. His height (he’s expected to measure out at 6′ 1″ or so) may keep him out of the first round, but he can play.

8. NFL teams looking for offensive line help in 2018 are going to be much happier with what they find than those who needed them last year. While those guys are still harder to evaluate and develop than they used to be, it wouldn’t be shocking if three offensive linemen—Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey and Texas tackle Connor Williams (health permitting)—all went in the first 10-15 picks, and there are others who can play beyond those three.

9. SMU’s Courtland Sutton is going to be one of this year’s most interesting prospects, with a   good shot to go ahead of more well-known names at wide receiver, like Calvin Ridley (Alabama) and James Washington (Oklahoma State). Sutton is expected to come in at 6′ 4″ and 230 pounds, and those who live-scouted him came back sounding like they just spotted Big Foot. If he tests well—and it’s expected he will—there’s a chance he lands inside the Top 10 picks as the first receiver taken.

10. I can’t wait to dig a little more into the small school prospects. Perhaps the most interesting one is Texas-San Antonio pass rusher Marcus Davenport, a converted receiver who we covered a little earlier in the year. Another intriguing one to watch is South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert, who can play in-line and flex out, and does a little bit of everything. And if you want to go really deep, we’ll probably be talking more about West Georgia tackle Desmond Harrison come March and April. Harrison, a Senior Bowl invitee, is 6′ 6″, 290 pounds and could run sub-5.0 in the 40.

11. And here’s a bonus, before we get out of here for this week (we’ll reinstitute some of the old elements next week): This year’s class, outside of the quarterbacks, lacks sizzle at the top. There’s no super-elite prospect at another position, like a Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett (or like a number of the 2019 defensive line prospects could be), but there is balance and depth.

That’s all for now. It’s still early yet. Five months to go.