The Daily Briefing Wednesday, June 13, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.