The Daily Briefing Wednesday, June 13, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Cowboys G ZACH MARTIN will soon be the highest paid guard in NFL history.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Not only are the Cowboys on the verge of giving guard Zack Martin a contract, they’re going to give him a huge one.

 

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the six-year extension will make Martin the highest-paid guard in the league.

 

That means he’s topping the five-year, $66.5 million deal Andrew Norwell signed with the Jaguars this offseason. That deal had $30 million in guarantees, including a $15 million signing bonus.

 

Martin’s made the Pro Bowl each of his four seasons, and the Cowboys knew his deal was going to be expensive. Now, he’s going to be able to take the field for their minicamp tomorrow as a wealthy man.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

A St. Louis court orders the Rams to pay Reggie Bush $12.5 million for an injury he sustained in a game in St. Louis, after the St. Louis judge dismissed all the St. Louis defendants.  Joel Currier of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 

A St. Louis jury has awarded millions of dollars to a former NFL running back who suffered a severe knee injury in a game at the Edward Jones Dome in 2015.

 

The Los Angeles Rams were ordered to pay Reggie Bush $4.95 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in punitive damages.

 

The jury found the Rams 100 percent liable for Bush’s injury. He had also sued public agencies that own and operate the Dome, but they were dismissed from the suit by a judge last week after arguing the football team had control of operations at the facility on game days.

 

“I’m very happy with the verdict,” Bush told the Post-Dispatch after the verdict. “The people spoke and decided very fairly.”

 

The former San Francisco 49er filed suit in 2016, claiming he suffered a season-ending knee injury during a game against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 1, 2015. Bush was returning a punt when he was pushed out of bounds, then slipped and fell on what his lawsuit called a “concrete ring of death,” a strip of exposed concrete about 35 feet behind the 49ers bench.

 

Two weeks after Bush was injured, the concrete surface in the Dome was covered with rubber padding.

 

The trial, which started last week in St. Louis Circuit Court, put Bush’s 11-year NFL career under a microscope. Bush’s productivity as a running back after he tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee was questioned. Bush claimed the injury undermined his chances to get a more lucrative contract the following season and hurt the rest of his playing career. After sitting out the rest of the 2015 season, Bush signed with Buffalo for the following season. He announced his retirement last year.

 

Bush’s fall followed a similar incident at the Dome on Oct. 25, 2015, in which Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown slid across the same concrete stretch into a wall, hurting his shoulder.

 

That was the final season for the Rams in St. Louis. Owner Stan Kroenke moved the team to Los Angeles the following season. The former Edward Jones Dome is now called the Dome at America’s Center.

 

Bush had originally sued the Rams as well as the publicly funded St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which owns and operates the Dome.

 

At trial, jurors were shown video clips of Bush’s injury numerous times in real-time and in slow motion as doctors offered opinions on whether the concrete caused Bush’s fall or if previous injuries contributed to it. Rams lawyers elicited testimony that Bush may have heard and felt a pop in his knee before reaching the concrete strip off the sidelines.

 

Bush said the injury not only ended his season but “it ultimately ended my career. I wasn’t ready to end. I wanted to keep playing. I wanted to go out on my own terms. I never envisioned, as a little boy, my career ending, slipping and falling on concrete during a football game.”

 

Bush said the lawsuit was about player safety.

 

“Safety always has to be a priority during games, during practices,” Bush said. “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve seen worse. Football’s a rough sport. It’s already as brutal as it can possibly be. We don’t need any concrete or anything else out there that can make it even worse for guys. They’ve got enough to worry about with other guys trying to take their heads off.”

 

In closing arguments Tuesday, Bush’s lawyer asked jurors for a judgment against the Rams ranging from $10 million to $15 million, arguing that he was in line for a three-year deal in that range at the time of his injury.

 

“Reggie lost his ability to do what he loved, and to bargain for a contract that he worked his entire life for,” Bush’s lawyer Tim Cronin said. “These players get chewed up. They only have so many chances.”

 

Dan Allmayer, a lawyer for the Rams, had argued the NFL team should not be held responsible for Bush’s injury because the team could not have foreseen a dangerous condition when no one besides McCown and Bush had been injured there over 20 football seasons played at the Dome.

 

Allmayer focused most of his closing argument Tuesday on Bush’s career rushing statistics, injuries and statements to the press about his health. He said Bush’s injury was caused by “pre-existing issues,” not the fall on the concrete. Allmayer also said the Rams hustled to cover the concrete immediately after Bush’s injury, which shows the team was concerned about safety.

 

“Football is risky and being pushed out of bounds is a risky part of the game,” he said. “Reggie Bush is one of the most talented running backs in the NFL. Why didn’t he swerve or do something to avoid the concrete? … Why in 20 years had all sorts of running backs who had been pushed out of bounds not reached the concrete?”

 

Rams spokeswoman Joanna Hunter declined to comment on the verdict. Allmayer said the Rams plan to file a motion for a new trial.

 

Bush, 33, of Los Angeles, said he is working as an analyst for the NFL Network.

 

He won’t see all of the money the Rams were ordered to pay. Missouri law requires that 50 percent of punitive damages paid by a defendant go to the state Tort Victims’ Compensation Fund. People who have been injured due to negligence or recklessness but can’t obtain full compensation because the party at fault doesn’t have insurance or is goes bankrupt can seek compensation from the fund.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Not even Jon Gruden can make QB CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG a serviceable NFL QB.  The Raiders have sent him packing to Bustville.  Mike Sando of ESPN.com:

 

The Oakland Raiders won’t be sending a 2019 draft pick to the New York Jets for Christian Hackenberg after all.

 

Oakland released Hackenberg from its 90-man roster Tuesday, three weeks after acquiring the backup quarterback from the Jets for a conditional seventh-round choice in 2019. A traded player typically must remain on his new team’s roster for a period of games or past mandatory roster reduction dates for conditional choices to change hands.

 

New Raiders coach Jon Gruden said the decision was made to cut Hackenberg because roster spots were needed to sign veteran defensive linemen Frostee Rucker and Ahtyba Rubin.

 

“I was disappointed in not really giving Christian the opportunity to go to camp,” Gruden said after practice Tuesday. “We felt like we needed to add a couple defensive linemen. We ran out of numbers, and that’s not good at that position heading into camp.”

 

Gruden liked what he saw from Hackenberg when the former Penn State quarterback appeared on the ESPN-produced Gruden’s QB Camp two years ago. The move to acquire Hackenberg amounted to an extended tryout, with no strings attached.

 

The Raiders headed into their mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday with Derek Carr, Connor Cook and EJ Manuel as their top three quarterbacks. Like Hackenberg, all three were past participants in Gruden’s QB Camp, giving the Raiders coach an extended look at all of them before they entered the NFL.

 

A second-round pick of the Jets in 2016, Hackenberg is the third QB drafted in the first two rounds in the common draft era not to play an NFL game in his first two seasons. The last to do it was Jim Kelly, but he played in the USFL at the start of his career.

– – –

RB DOUG MARTIN, making a comeback, has Gruden’s heart aflutter.

 

Make no mistake about it, Marshawn Lynch is the bellcow back for the Oakland Raiders as they prepare for their first minicamp under Jon Gruden.

 

Ask Gruden about Lynch and the conversation quickly turns as Gruden cannot say enough good things about Doug Martin. Yes, that Doug Martin. And indeed, Gruden is well aware that Martin has averaged a mere 2.9 yards per carry the past two seasons, thank you very much.

 

Martin has been impressive in offseason workouts and maybe, just maybe, Gruden sees a little Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner (Thunder and Lightning) in Lynch and Martin?

 

That would make for a Return of the Muscle Hamster, and that would be unique for a 29-year-old running back who is itching to prove he is still the two-time Pro Bowler, as he was in his first four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and not the afterthought he was the past two years.

 

Martin is hoping a homecoming will help.

 

“The last time I played here was with the Bucs in 2012,” said Martin, who was born in Oakland but grew up some 70 miles away in Stockton. “I had a fabulous game. I had like 50 family fans in the crowd. That type of energy just brings the best out of me. I’m kind of excited to see what this year is going to bring me.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Any receiving corps with a sober and focused WR JOSH GORDON on it has a jump start to being the best in the NFL, so maybe the Browns receiver isn’t overly optimistic.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has a high opinion of himself, and his teammates.

 

Gordon said today that he believes he’s part of the best group of wide receivers in the NFL.

 

“The best receiving corps in the league, in my opinion, already. Just because of talent alone,” Gordon said. “We’re not short on talent at the wide receiver position at all.”

 

It’s easy to laugh at anyone talking up a team that was 0-16 last year, but the Browns undeniably have talent at the position. Gordon was the best receiver in the league in 2013, before a series of positive drug tests derailed his career. The newly arrived Jarvis Landry led the league in catches last year, and Corey Coleman was a first-round pick.

 

So while Gordon might be pushing things a bit, there’s little doubt that the Browns have talent at wide receiver. Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield have some good weapons to work with.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

QB ANDREW LUCK is throwing footballs!  Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

 

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck not only threw a football in front of the media Tuesday for the first time since he was shut down last October, he also said he will “absolutely” be playing the team’s Week 1 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

“No knock on wood,” Luck said. “I’ll be playing. I believe it in my bones.”

 

Luck, who had surgery on his right shoulder in January 2017, jogged from the team’s indoor practice facility out to the practice field about 10 minutes after the start of practice. He threw a Wilson TDS 1205 football, which is a college-size ball, during individual position drills under the watchful eye of head coach Frank Reich before eventually heading back into the Colts’ indoor facility about 30 minutes later. Luck made 20-25 throws.

 

“I’ve been seeing every workout,” Reich said. “I spend a lot of time with all our players, but obviously during Andrew’s rehab process I try to be out there for as many workouts as I can no matter when that is. Not only the throwing portion of them, (but) when he’s throwing the weighted balls and then phasing into what you saw (Tuesday). I like to go out there and I like to watch some of the other stuff he’s doing, the lifting, plus the whole thing. It’s part of getting to know your guys and seeing the process and having confidence in it.”

 

Luck threw a regulation football once several weeks ago when he called Reich at his house and asked him to come to the facility to help him with a “little mental block” that he had to overcome. Luck said he made Reich “swear” not to tell anybody about throwing a regulation football because it was his “story to tell.” But the majority of his throwing currently is with the college-size ball.

 

“The reason I’m using a little less smaller football is it puts less stress,” Luck said. “And throwing weighted balls. And the difference between throwing a round ball and a football is how it comes off your hand and often things like that. We’re not in Indianapolis and the 500 just happened, our bodies aren’t vehicles, we aren’t robots.

 

“You can’t just take a piece off and put a new piece on and go around. We adapt, and if you ask the right questions and if you’re patient enough you can truly learn, and I believe in my bones if I stay patient and ask the right questions and communicate with everybody about my body that slowly but surely I can make myself do anything. That’s sort of been MO.”

 

Luck has been a regular at offseason workouts since the Colts started in early April, but his work had consisted of taking part in individual drills without throwing the ball and continued rehabilitation on his shoulder.

 

Throwing a football, albeit a smaller one, is hopefully another step in Luck’s long road to finally playing in a regular-season game for the first time since Week 17 of the 2016 season. Owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard have been steadfast in saying that they’re confident that Luck will be ready for the start of the 2018 season.

 

The Colts have Luck’s schedule lined up all the way up the team’s opener against the Bengals. Barring any kind of setback, Luck will enter training camp at the end of next month without any restrictions.

 

“My goal is to be able to throw as much as I need to in a game week,” Luck said. “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at practice and a Sunday, let it loose, no count, nothing. You gotta go and let it go. That’s what I’m preparing for. That’s why right now I’m throwing Mondays Tuesdays Wednesdays and Fridays, to mimic a three-day practice week and a practice as Sunday game day.”

 

Luck originally injured his shoulder, which started a downward spiral of injuries for him, in a Week 3 game against the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 season. He re-injured the shoulder trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception against Denver in Week 2 of the 2016 season. Luck still played in 15 games that season but was limited in practice at least one day each week.

 

 

TENNESSEE

T TAYLOR LEWAN is among the NFL’s rising group of holdouts.  Jason Wolf of The Tennessean:

 

Taylor Lewan is sending a message: He wants a new contract, and he’s done playing nice.

 

The Titans’ two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, is not participating in the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp, which began Tuesday at Saint Thomas Sports Park.

 

Lewan is scheduled to make $9.341 million in base salary this season.

 

Titans general manager Jon Robinson said the team has been working to negotiate a long-term deal.

 

“As we start the mandatory veteran mini-camp, we were informed by the representatives for Taylor Lewan that he would not be attending the camp,” Robinson said in a written statement. “We have had several constructive conversations over the last 5-6 weeks about his contract status. He is currently under contract and we are working to keep Taylor as part of this organization for a long time.”

 

The Titans drafted Lewan out of Michigan with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. He’s started 53 of 58 regular-season games, including every game the past two seasons and the first 15 games in 2015.

 

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said his players have the “entire organization’s support” to remain in the locker room during the pre-game national anthem. Jason Wolf, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

 

Until last week, the 6-foot-7, 309-pound Lewan had participated in the team’s voluntary offseason workouts since players first reported on April 9.

 

The Titans can fine Lewan up to $84,435 for skipping all three days of minicamp: $14,070 for Tuesday, $28,150 for Wednesday and $42,215 for Thursday.

 

“I have a lot of faith in Jon and our organization and the front office, and certainly Taylor’s got a situation,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said, “but where we’re at, I think Jon pretty much covered it with the statement …

 

“We all have a contract. I understand that. Everybody in this building has a contract, and so I understand that there sometimes becomes issues with those, so I think that they’re best handled internally, and that’s where we’ll go.”

 

Lewan addressed concerns about his contract situation late last month.

 

“I understand that this is a business, and so if something gets done here that’s great,” Lewan said. “But if not, I understand and that’s how it is. That’s how this game works, so whatever happens, happens.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

CHAREAN WILLIAMS

Charean Williams, the former Ft. Worth Star-Telegram writer now affiliated with ProFoootballTalk.com, has won a prestigious and deserved award.  Mike Florio:

 

Well, this is an interesting development. And a pretty damn exciting one.

 

The Pro Football Writers Association has named our own Charean Williams, who joined PFT in 2017, the recipient of the 2018 Dick McCann Award.

 

The 50th recipient of the award, Charean becomes the first female to receive this distinction. She’s also the first PFT contributor to earn the award in the outlet’s 17-year history.

 

The McCann Award goes to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football via coverage of the game. Dick McCann served as the first director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, from 1962 through 1967. He also worked as a reporter and a columnist before joining the Washington franchise, where he served as publicity director and eventually as G.M.

 

Charean will be honored during the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner in Canton on Friday, August 3. She will receive the award during the 2018 Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on Saturday, August 4.

 

“When you look at the list of previous winners and the other nominees, I feel honored and humbled,” Charean said via email. “‘Wow’ was my first response. Winning the Dick McCann Award means I have done this a long time; I hope it doesn’t mean I’m old. I have plans for many more years and many more stories.”

 

And unlike one certain member of the Hall of Fame class of 2018, Charean will show up for the festivities.

 

“We’ll celebrate in Canton with a party — hot dogs under the bleachers and a CD of Justin Timberlake,” Charean said.

 

Charean has been an excellent addition to our team, and this reconfirms how lucky we were to land her. The entire PFT family congratulates Charean and her family on this award. Feel free to do the same in the comments.

 

The paper that dumped her – the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram – actually ran a nice story on the award.  More bio on the Aggie:

 

Williams is entering her 25th year of NFL coverage in 2018. She spent 17 years covering the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys for the Star-Telegram. She is in her second year at Pro Football Talk. Williams has covered 24 Super Bowls.

 

Williams became one of the first two women members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee in 2007. She has been a selector for the past 12 Hall of Fame election cycles and is a member of the Hall’s Contributor Selection Committee. She was the 24th president of the PFWA, serving from 2009-10.

 

Williams, an Arlington resident who graduated from Texas A&M and is a native of Beaumont, began covering the NFL as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter at the Orlando Sentinel in 1994.

 

Perhaps in her award speech she’ll thank all of the P.R. directors she has worked with beginning with the first.

 

 

TOP 100

Pete Prisco offers the top 100 players in the NFL as of the summer of 2018:

 

The top overall player for the second straight year is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He missed time last year with a shoulder injury, but he’s the best player in in the league when on the field.

 

He edges out Tom Brady, who is right there in the second spot. The rest of the top 10 features a lot of usual suspects, but there are a lot of new entries this year throughout the top 100.

 

If you’re wondering what team has the most players, it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars with eight in the top 100 – six of them defensive players — just edging out the Los Angeles Rams, who have seven.

 

1                     Aaron Rodgers          GREEN BAY PACKERS           QB

When he’s on his game, and on the field, there is nobody better. I know he doesn’t have the rings of Tom Brady, but right now he is the NFL’s best – even coming off an injury-marred season.

 

2                     Tom Brady                  NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS    QB

To be doing what he’s doing at his age is unreal. The man is the gold standard when it comes to franchise quarterbacks and might be the best ever.

 

3                     Aaron Donald              LOS ANGELES RAMS            DE

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a force on the inside and should be even better this year with more help next to him in Ndamukong Suh. The Rams need to make him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.

 

4                     Von Miller                    DENVER BRONCOS               OLB

He remains the game’s best edge rusher, a player who can also play the run. Miller’s ability to disrupt games is why he’s near the top of the list.

 

5                     Antonio Brown             PITTSBURGH STEELERS       WR

He continues to put up amazing numbers for the Steelers. There is no sign at all of him slowing either as he led the NFL in receiving yards last season.

 

6                     Jalen Ramsey                JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS      CB

He is now the NFL’s best corner, a big, long player who can play either man or zone and excel at it. He plays with the swagger of a Deion Sanders.

 

7                     Rob Gronkowski                  NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS   TE

He is the standard by which tight ends are measured. Gronkowski is on his way to Canton, but injuries have been a concern.

 

8                     Khalil Mack                           OAKLAND RAIDERS                DE

His season wasn’t quite as good as the year before, but he remains one of the top edge rushers in the league. A new defense should help his sack numbers.

 

9                     J.J. Watt                                HOUSTON TEXANS                 DE

He’s coming off a season shortened by injury, which has been a recurring theme for him lately. But when he’s healthy – and he reportedly is that now – he is still a player who can ruin an offense.

 

10                    Cameron Jordan                   NEW ORLEANS SAINTS         DE

For some reason, he doesn’t seem to get the due he deserves as one of the league’s best down players. He had his best season in 2017 with 13 sacks.

 

11                    Luke Kuechly                       CAROLINA PANTHERS           MLB

He remains a game-changing player in the middle of Carolina’s defense. He is good against the run, but also really good against the pass.

 

12                    Todd Gurley                          LOS ANGELES RAMS              RB

He was special in 2017, putting up big numbers running it and catching it out of the backfield. He should again be a legitimate MVP candidate.

 

13                    Julio Jones                             ATLANTA FALCONS                WR

He remains one of the top receivers in the league. But he does need to catch more touchdowns.

 

14                    Odell Beckham                       NEW YORK GIANTS                WR

He played in just three games because of a broken ankle last season, but when he’s on the field he is one of the game’s best and a player who can change a game with one catch and run.

 

15                    Calais Campbell                     JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS        DT

In his first season with the Jaguars, he could have easily been the Defensive Player of the Year with 14½ sacks. He was even better off the field for a young group of defenders.

 

16                    Harrison Smith                       MINNESOTA VIKINGS              FS

He is a playmaking safety who can do it all, rush, cover and play the run. His versatility is perfect for the modern NFL.

 

17                    Joey Bosa                               LOS ANGELES CHARGERS DE

Entering his third season, he is one of the league’s best edge rushers. Watch for him to be higher on this list next year.

 

18                    DeAndre Hopkins                    HOUSTON TEXANS               WR

Now that he finally has a quarterback in Deshaun Watson, Hopkins should be even better. He’s put up big numbers with below-average passers, so look out.

 

19                    Le’Veon Bell                           PITTSBURGH STEELERS      RB

He can do it all, run it, catch it and he’s a good blocker. His contract situation shouldn’t overshadow how great he is as a player.

 

20                    Drew Brees                             NEW ORLEANS SAINTS        QB

Closing in on the age of 40, he remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks. The help from the running game last season cut his numbers some, but not the production.

 

21                    David Johnson                         ARIZONA CARDINALS       RB

When he’s healthy, he’s right near the top of the list of backs. He missed most of last season with a broken wrist, but he is healthy and again should be a big part of the Arizona offense.

 

22                    Tyron Smith                              DALLAS COWBOYS          T

Back issues limited him to 13 games last season, which is a concern moving forward. When he’s on the field, he’s the best left tackle in the game.

 

23                    Marshal Yanda                          BALTIMORE RAVENS           G

He was lost in the second week with a broken ankle in 2017. He is expected to be ready to go for camp and when he’s on the field he’s one of the best guards in the league.

 

24                    Casey Hayward                        LOS ANGELES CHARGERS     CB

He quietly had one of the best corner seasons in the league last year. He’s been a real steal for the Chargers in free agency.

 

25                    Bobby Wagner                          SEATTLE SEAHAWKS           MLB

He was the best middle linebacker in the league last season. On a defense hit with injuries, he was their best player.

 

26                    Zack Martin                              DALLAS COWBOYS               G

His ability to dominate inside is why the Cowboys have been so good running the ball with him as a starter. He’s about to get a huge contract.

 

27                    Xavier Rhodes                        MINNESOTA VIKINGS            CB

He is an elite cover corner who plays on one of the best defenses. Rhodes is just now getting to his peak.

 

28                    Travis Kelce                              KANSAS CITY CHIEFS         TE

He is the second-best tight end in the league. He is a physical presence who puts a lot of pressure on a defense.

 

29                    Patrick Peterson                      ARIZONA CARDINALS           CB

Peterson continues to be an outstanding cover player who travels with the opposition’s best receiver.

 

30                    Chris Harris                             DENVER BRONCOS              CB

Early in his career he was underrated, but is now one of the better cover corners in the league. He can play inside or outside and with Aqib Talib now with the Rams, he is the top dog by far in their secondary.

 

31                    Ezekiel Elliott                           DALLAS COWBOYS            RB

When he’s on the field, he’s one of the best runners in the league. Missing time due to suspension last season really hurt the Cowboys.

 

32                    A.J. Bouye                                JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS CB

He is the “other” corner on the Jaguars roster, but that doesn’t mean he’s not one of the league’s best.

 

33                    Marshon Lattimore                    NEW ORLEANS SAINTS CB

As a rookie, he was outstanding as a cover corner, helping to fix a position that has been a major problem for the Saints for years. He had five interceptions and showed the ability to play the ball in the air.

 

34                    Michael Thomas                      NEW ORLEANS SAINTS        WR

In his second season, he became the go-to player for Drew Brees with 104 catches. Scary thought: He might just be scratching the surface of what he can do.

 

35                    A.J. Green                             CINCINNATI BENGALS           WR

He had 77 catches with eight touchdowns on an offense that was hit hard by injuries and had bad line play last season. Are his best years going to waste?

 

36                    Fletcher Cox                          PHILADELPHIA EAGLES          DT

He is a disruptive force inside for the Eagles, a guy who plays the run really well is also a good pass rusher.

 

37                    Melvin Ingram                       LOS ANGELES CHARGERS     OLB

Playing opposite Joey Bosa, he is a premier pass rusher in his own right. Ingram plays with a nasty style and had his best season in 2017.

 

38                    David DeCastro                     PITTSBURGH STEELERS       G

He plays the game with power and has improved greatly as a pass protector. He has lived up to the first-round hype.

 

39                    David Bakhtiari                       GREEN BAY PACKERS           T

He is outstanding protecting the blind side for the Packers. In pass protection, he’s as good as any left tackle.

 

40                    Geno Atkins                            CINCINNATI BENGALS            DT

Atkins was back looking like the young Atkins last season. He is a power player with unreal quickness.

 

41                    Matt Ryan                                ATLANTA FALCONS                 QB

His numbers were down some from his 2017 MVP season, but there were reasons for it, including a new offensive coordinator. He played better than the perception of his game.

 

42                    Russell Wilson                         SEATTLE SEAHAWKS               QB

His ability to turn bad plays into great ones is as good as any quarterback in the league. This year, the offense should be his, which will help his numbers go up.

 

43                    Jadeveon Clowney                    HOUSTON TEXANS               OLB

With injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus last season, Clowney lived up to his pre-draft hype for the first time. Injuries do remain a concern.

 

44                    LeSean McCoy                        BUFFALO BILLS                       RB

He was the main reason why the Bills somehow snuck into the playoff last season. Imagine if he had more help around him?

 

45                    Alvin Kamara                           NEW ORLEANS SAINTS         RB

As a rookie he was special, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. This season he will get more carries, which is a good thing.

 

46                    Demarcus Lawrence               DALLAS COWBOYS               DE

He had his breakout season in 2017 after overcoming a back injury. Now comes the tough part: Doing it again.

 

47                    Chandler Jones                         ARIZONA CARDINALS          OLB

He led the NFL in sacks last season with 17 and emerged as one of the better edge rushers.

 

48                    Travis Frederick                            DALLAS COWBOYS            C

His ability to block for the run is a big part of the Cowboys offense. He remains one of the two or three best centers in the game.

 

49                    Tre’Davious White                           BUFFALO BILLS                  CB

As a rookie, he was impressive in coverage. He didn’t back down from any challenge thrown his way. He was one of the true bright spots on the Bills defense.

 

50                    Jurrell Casey                                   TENNESSEE TITANS            DE

He can push the pocket in the passing game, but he’s also good against the run. Plays with quickness and power.

 

51                    Ndamukong Suh                              LOS ANGELES RAMS        DT

He never lived up to the money in Miami, but he was still a heck of a player on their line. Now he gets to play next to Aaron Donald, which might make him even better.

 

52                    Philip Rivers                                     LOS ANGELES CHARGERS QB

He threw for 4,515 yards, with 28 touchdown passes and 10 picks, which was down from 21 the year before. His yards-per-attempt average of 7.9 was his highest since 2013.

 

53                    Grady Jarrett                                   ATLANTA FALCONS              DT

He has emerged as one of the best inside players in the NFL. His quickness is as good as any down player in the league.

 

54                    Brandon Graham                            PHILADELPHIA EAGLES      DE

He doesn’t pile up huge sack numbers – getting 9½ last season — but his presence is felt with the way he consistently pressures the quarterback.

 

55                    Gerald McCoy                               TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS   DT

His six sacks last season were his lowest total since 2012, but he didn’t have much help around him. He is still a disruptive force inside.

 

56                    Andrew Norwell                             JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS      G

With Carolina last season, he was one of the top guards in the game. He will amp up the Jaguars’ run game in a big way.

 

57                    Damon Harrison                            NEW YORK GIANTS               DT

The man they call “Snacks” is a power player inside who dominates against the run. He doesn’t get the due he deserves.

 

58                    Mike Daniels                                 GREEN BAY PACKERS           DE

He continues to be a dominant down player on a defense that doesn’t have many playmakers. He certainly stands out.

 

59                    Marcus Peters                               LOS ANGELES RAMS           CB

He plays a cocky brand of corner, but he usually backs it up. A change of scenery will be good for him.

 

60                    Eric Berry                                        KANSAS CITY CHIEFS          SS

He is coming off a season where he was lost in the first week with a torn Achilles tendon. He’s overcome so much in the past, so why not expect him back playing at a high level again this season?

 

61                    Kawann Short                               CAROLINA PANTHERS            DT

He’s by far their best defensive lineman, dominating against the run and with his ability to push the pocket inside. He had 7½ sacks last season.

 

62                    Lavonte David                               TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS       OLB

He was one of the few bright spots on a bad Tampa Bay defense. His speed makes his game work.

 

63                    Ben Roethlisberger                         PITTSBURGH STEELERS       QB

He remains a player who can beat a team with his arm, but is really dangerous when the play breaks down. Since his impressive 2014 season, his numbers haven’t been as good.

 

64                    Kareem Hunt                                    KANSAS CITY CHIEFS            RB

He was the leading rusher in the league last season as a rookie, which was impressive for a third-round pick. He should be even better in 2018.

 

65                    William Jackson                               CINCINNATI BENGALS            CB

He emerged as a shutdown corner last season, his first on the field after missing his rookie season in 2016. He had two impressive games against Antonio Brown.

 

66                    Alex Mack                                        ATLANTA FALCONS                 C

He had another good season for the Falcons, especially blocking for the run. He turns 33 this year, so he’s getting up in the years.

 

67                    Eric Weddle                                      BALTIMORE RAVENS           DB

He finished tied for third in interceptions with six last season and is still a top-tier safety.

 

68                    Matthew Stafford                             DETROIT LIONS                    QB

He had another good season in 2017, throwing 28 touchdown passes and 10 picks. He also threw for 4,446 yards.

 

69                    Aqib Talib                                         LOS ANGELES RAMS            DB

This 32-year-old showed last season he still has the tools to be an outstanding cover player. He will be a nice fit with the Rams.

 

70                    Carson Wentz                                    PHILADELPHIA EAGLES     QB

He was in the MVP conversation last season before he was lost with a torn ACL. He’s expected back for the opener, and he should be back to his winning ways.

 

71                    Leonard Williams                             NEW YORK JETS                   DE

He wasn’t as dominant as he was in 2017, but he remains a big-time force on the Jets line. He just needs more help around him.

 

72                    Jason Kelce                                      PHILADELPHIA EAGLES        C

His smarts and quickness are imperative to the Eagles offense as he remains one of the top centers.

 

73                    Tyreek Hill                                        KANSAS CITY CHIEFS         WR

The NFL’s fastest player showed what he’s capable of doing when he settled in as a receiver last season. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch.

 

74                    Darius Slay                                       DETROIT LIONS                  CB

He tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight, showing the ability to handle the league’s best receivers.

 

75                    Andrew Whitworth                           LOS ANGELES RAMS              T

In his first season with the Rams, he helped steady a line that was in need of it. He continues to be one of the best in the league.

 

76                    Telvin Smith                                    JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS     OLB

He is a run-and-chase linebacker who knows how to get to the football. He is one of the leaders on one of the NFL’s best defenses.

77                    Malik Jackson                                  JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS      DT

He had a better second season with the Jaguars than in 2016, when he signed as a big-ticket free agent. His ability to push the pocket inside is a big part of their defense.

 

78                    Earl Thomas                                    SEATTLE SEAHAWKS            FS

Injuries have slowed his career some, but when he’s on the field he’s still a game-changing player on the back end.

 

79                    Yannick Ngakoue                             JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS  DE

On a dominant defensive line, he had his breakout season in 2017. Watch for a lot more from him in 2018 and for him to be much higher on this list next year.

 

80                    Keenan Allen                                    LOS ANGELES CHARGERS WR

He had 102 catches (fourth in the league) for 1,393 yards (third in the league). He showed how good he could be when he’s healthy.

 

81                    Leonard Fournette                           JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS     RB

He fought through some injuries last season and was still a productive rookie. With a better line in front of him this season, his numbers will go up.

 

82                    Zach Ertz                                         PHILADELPHIA EAGLES       TE

He was a big reason why the Eagles’ offense was able to help the team win a Super Bowl. He had 74 catches with eight touchdowns.

 

83                    Landon Collins                                  NEW YORK GIANTS           DB

He wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2016, but he continued to be a playmaker on their defense. Look for a better year from him in 2018.

 

84                    Cameron Heyward                             PITTSBURGH STEELERS    DT

He had his best season in 2017 with a career-best 12 sacks. He’s also outstanding against the run in their scheme.

 

85                    Joe Staley                                        SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS         T

At the age of 33, he is coming off another good season at left tackle for the 49ers. He’s the rock on their line.

 

86                    Mike Evans                                      TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS   WR

His numbers dropped from 2016, but he still had 71 catches and averaged 14.1 yards per catch. His touchdowns fell from 12 in 2016 to five last season.

 

87                    Larry Fitzgerald                                ARIZONA CARDINALS           WR

All he does is continue to catch passes. He was second in the league with 109 catches and had six touchdowns. He’s become more of a possession receiver, but he can move the chains.

 

88                    Malcolm Jenkins                              PHILADELPHIA EAGLES         DB

He is a versatile player who can do a lot of things and is a big reason why the Eagles are the Super Bowl champs.

 

89                    Deion Jones                                    ATLANTA FALCONS              MLB

He made big strides in his season season. I would expect an even bigger jump in 2018.

 

90                    Kevin Byard                                    TENNESSEE TITANS              DB

He tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight last season. Even though Deion Sanders might not know who he is, his opponents sure do.

 

91                    Micah Hyde                                      BUFFALO BILLS                    SS

In his first season with the Bills, he showed why they made the move to sign him as a free agent. He was all over the field and had five picks.

 

92                    Adam Thielen                                     MINNESOTA VIKINGS           WR

He was fifth in the league in receiving yards with 1,276 on his 91 catches last season for an average of 14.0 per catch.

 

93                    Adrian Amos                                       CHICAGO BEARS                  SS

This young safety was impressive in his third season with the Bears. He’s good against the run and the pass.

 

94                    Davante Adams                                  GREEN BAY PACKERS      WR

He had another good season for the Packers in 2017, catching 74 passes with 10 touchdowns.

 

95                    DeForest Buckner                              SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS     DT

In his two seasons, he has become a force for the 49ers. I expect his sack numbers to rise this season.

 

96                    Kendall Fuller                                     KANSAS CITY CHIEFS        CB

He was much more than a throw-in in the Alex Smith trade to the Redskins. He was special as a slot player last year.

 

97                    Jared Goff                                          LOS ANGELES RAMS        QB

After a slow start in his rookie season, he really came on under Sean McVay last year in his second. He will be much higher up this list next year.

 

98                    Everson Griffen                                  MINNESOTA VIKINGS          DE

All he does is continue to pressure the quarterback. He had 13 sacks last season for the Vikings.

 

99                    Trey Flowers                                     NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS DE

He’s the best defensive player on a defense that doesn’t have enough good players.

 

100                  Chris Jones                                     KANSAS CITY CHIEFS          DE

This is a rising player who will be much higher on this list next season. He really came on last season for the Chiefs.

 

Just missed

Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings; Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers; Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots; Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Linval Joseph, DT, Minnesota Vikings; Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots; Michael Bennett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles; Vic Beasley, DE-OLB, Atlanta Falcons; Takkarist McKinley, DE, Atlanta Falcons; Jack Conklin, T, Tennessee Titans; Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons; Lamarcus Joyner, S, Los Angeles Rams; Glover Quin, S, Detroit Lions; Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks; Trent Williams, T, Washington Redskins; David Andrews, C, New England Patriots; Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders; Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans; Taylor Lewan, T, Tennessee Titans; Akiem Hicks, DT, Chicago Bears; Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs; Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings and Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons.