The Daily Briefing Wednesday, March 21, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The catch rule will be changing – the question is whether or not it is for the better.  Kevin Seifert of NFL.com:

 

The NFL’s competition committee is expected to propose a new catch rule that would eliminate the “going to the ground” distinction in addition to reinforcing a high standard for overturning calls via replay, league executive vice president Troy Vincent confirmed Tuesday to the Washington Post.

 

ESPN previewed the changes on March 8, explaining the committee’s options, along with the role that a replay update would play in reimagining the controversial rule.

 

New York Giants owner John Mara told ESPN in February that the competition committee agreed that a handful of highly debated rulings — including incompletions for Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2010 and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant in 2014 — should be called completions moving forward.

 

The requirements for a catch, under the committee’s likely proposal, will include the receiver controlling the ball and establishing himself in bounds. There will also be instruction for officials to define a time element, but it will apply both to receivers who are standing and those who are falling during the process of the catch.

 

Vincent did not specify that element with the Post and did not immediately respond to a request from ESPN. But former NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino told ESPN recently that it would have to define an act common to the game, such as taking a certain number of steps, in order for officials to call the play consistently.

 

Some of the problems with the catch rule in 2017 revolved around an inconsistent interpretation of a long-held standard to overturn mistakes that were “clear and obvious,” according to the wording in the 2017 NFL rulebook.

 

In the March 8 story, ESPN analyst Bill Polian — a former competition committee chairman — suggested the phrasing would be strengthened to “indisputable visual evidence.” That change, confirmed by Vincent to the Post, would remind the NFL’s centralized game-day officiating department that the league doesn’t want catches overturned because of slight movement of the ball.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com offers his solution:

 

Three years ago, in the aftermath of #DezCaughtIt, a sense emerged that the league would make meaningful changes to the catch rule. The league didn’t.

 

Now, a strong feeling of inevitability has emerged that some sort of substantive change will be made to the catch rule. So what should the change be?

 

The problems arise not from the first two elements of the catch rule (possess the ball plus two feet or body part on the ground) but from the third element, which contemplates having the ball for a certain period of time before a catch has occurred. Without the third element, a player who has the ball for a nanosecond before being hit legally by a defensive player and losing possession would be deemed to have caught the ball and fumbled it.

 

The third element has traditionally been subjective. Previously, the third element required the player to have the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game. More recently, the third element was changed to require the player to have the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. These are both subjective tests, not conducive to slow-motion, frame-by-frame replay review.

 

There’s another possibility, an objective way to complete the catch and to permit the process to be reviewed reliably and consistently by replay. It’s the concept of taking an extra step after getting two feet down. We suggested a new catch rule based on taking a third step in 2015, and the concept (notwithstanding our support for it) gained some traction.

 

With the league meetings approaching quickly, it could be gaining traction again. And it could end up on the table next week, whether formally proposed by the Competition Committee or not. Ultimately, the owners can make any rule changes they want to make, regardless of whether enough members of the Competition Committee sign off on it.

 

The goal is (or should be) to devise a rule that meshes with the reasonable expectations of all stakeholders (owners, coaches, executives, players, media, and fans) regarding what a catch is, and what a catch isn’t. But it’s not enough to codify a know-it-when-you-see-it rule; there must be a standard that can be fairly and consistently applied.

 

Ideally, the standard would be objective, to ensure consistency — and to facilitate replay review. Hinging the third element on the player getting two feet down and taking one more step could make the most sense, and it could mesh most closely with that we expect a catch to be, and to not be.

 

The DB is not sure why Florio thinks an “extra step” would establish a catch, because we can think of a lot of catches that do indeed happen (near the sideline, in the end zone, diving to the ground) without any sort of step being needed or contemplated.

 

For what it’s worth the DB would take the current rule which we usually, at this point, can adjudicate and add an exception for situations where a player going to the ground clearly extends the ball forward for the purpose of crossing a goal line or reaching a first down line.  Exhibiting that skill would establish the catch before reaching the ground and would have made catches out of two of the most controversial plays – Dez Bryant and Jesse James. 

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

The Bears will not be letting CB KYLE FULLER go to the division rival Packers.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

We learned late last week that the Bears were going to match the Packers’ offer sheet for cornerback Kyle Fuller, but they didn’t make it official until Tuesday.

 

That was the last day for them to match the offer and waiting ensured that the cap space needed for the four-year, $56 million contract would be tied up in Green Bay as long as possible. That was the final step in a transition tag process that Fuller described on Tuesday as a “crazy experience.

 

“It was almost like [as soon as the Packers’ offer was official], it was a done deal and matched,” Fuller said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “I just went with the flow of everything. I wasn’t able to think too much about it. … It means a lot. Definitely happy to be back in Chicago. It was a crazy process, but I’m glad it’s over with.”

 

The deal wound up being a more expensive one than the Bears might have wanted when the process got underway, but holding onto Fuller should only help their chances of finding their way to a winning record for the first time since 2012.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Free agent WR ALLEN HURNS (ex-JAX) is on the move, with his first stop a diversion to Dallas.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Receiver Allen Hurns wants to visit the Jets, but there’s no plane to take him there.

 

Per a league source, weather issues in the New York area have triggered the cancellation of the flight that would have taken Hurns to visit the Jets. He’ll instead visit the Cowboys first, with a visit to the Jets to follow immediately.

 

Of course, there will be no visit to the Jets if Hurns likes what he hears and puts pen to paper.

 

Hurns, undrafted out of Miami in 2014, was released on Tuesday. His production has dipped significantly since generating more than 1,000 yards in his second NFL season.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Big talk from DT MICHAEL BENNETT as he arrives in Philadelphia.  Tim McManus of ESPN.com:

 

Michael Bennett wasted no time taking aim at the NFC East quarterbacks he’ll soon be chasing.

 

“I know Eli Manning is probably watching this and thinking … yes, I’m coming. I know Dak [Prescott] is watching this like, ‘Yeah, he’s coming.’ Yeah, I am,” Bennett said at his introductory news conference Monday as a member of the Eagles. “And Alex Smith, he knows he can’t run from me. I told him in the Pro Bowl.

 

“It’s definitely going to be a great season, and it’s going to be fun to be out here and be able to chase quarterbacks.”

 

Bennett, 32, was recently acquired from the Seahawks along with a seventh-round pick for a fifth-round pick and wide receiver Marcus Johnson. He joins a deep defensive line group in Philadelphia that includes defensive ends Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett, as well as tackles Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Haloti Ngata.

 

“I think it can be one of the greatest. I think we can have one of the greatest defensive lines to ever play the game if we approach the game like every single way, just go out there and keep doing what they’re doing and just finding a way to just add and keep showing how many great players [we have]. And I think a great defensive line is about the rotation. It’s kind of like Golden State, you want to be able to have those guys that can come in and shoot and shoot and score every time,” Bennett said.

 

Given the number of players vying for snaps, as well as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s preference to rotate his linemen, Bennett’s playing time is likely to dip — he played 931 snaps for Seattle last year en route to an 8½-sack campaign, while no member of the Eagles’ line played more than 663 snaps last year.

 

But when he does get on the field, he’ll be able to hunt in Schwartz’s attack scheme.

 

“I think in Seattle, it’s a little bit more responsibility because we played a little bit different defense — still played with great defensive linemen; Cliff Avril, one of the best players to ever play the game, I had so many great players around me who were some of the best players to ever play — and so here, this defense is just another opportunity to line up on tight ends. And honestly, I don’t think there’s a tight end in the NFL that can block me,” he said before launching into his bit about the quarterbacks in the division.

 

“So it’s definitely going to be a great season, it’s going to be fun to be out here and be able to chase quarterbacks [not just on] third down, it’s going to be on second down and first down. It’s just going to be fun.”

 

Bennett, who found out about the trade while on vacation in Japan, started the news conference by thanking the Seahawks, the franchise he split with after five successful seasons that included two trips to the Super Bowl and one Lombardi trophy.

 

Bennett pushed back at the notion that he was moved because of his role on the social activism front, believing it was more about Seattle’s desire to go younger and get value out of some of the aging veteran players while it still could. He declined to answer whether he would continue his protests during the national anthem while in Philadelphia, but touted the Eagles organization for its participation in off-field issues while expressing a desire to make an impact in the community.

 

“It’s not just about winning championships on the field, it’s about being a champion off the field and being able to work in the community with men and young women all across this city and be able to give back,” he said.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com tries to wrap his head around what the Colts might receive with their draft haul, enhanced by the trade with the Jets:

 

The Jets’ move up the draft board in a trade with the Colts created quite a buzz over the weekend. The Jets clearly have three players in this draft that they love. They would not have given up so much draft capital if that wasn’t the case. In order to acquire the third overall pick, they parted with the sixth, 37th and 49th overall selections in this year’s draft and they also included their second-round pick for next year.

 

I expect them to come away with their quarterback of the future, while the Colts will be able to stockpile players in their rebuilding process. Let’s put some potential names to these picks in order to get a better feel for the cost/benefit of the move. This is one scenario that could play out:

 

JETS GET

Pick No. 3 in 2018 draft: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

 

COLTS GET

Pick No. 6 in 2018 draft: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State

Pick No. 37 in 2018 draft: Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon

Pick No. 49 in 2018 draft: Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Second-round pick in 2019 draft: TBD

 

I think this could end up being a win/win for both teams. While the Jets did give up four potential starters by trading away those picks, coming away with a quarterback capable of leading your franchise for a decade is a definite win.

 

For the Colts, this is a chance to add some much-needed talent to their front seven on defense and offensive line. There is also the possibility that the Colts will use one or more of these picks to move around on draft day to secure the players they covet. This will be fun to follow.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

How times change!

 

Can you imagine this story being written 12 months ago?  Six months ago?  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

Are Jaguars the favorite in the AFC in 2018 after fruitful offseason?

Even with recent cuts and the departure of two front-line players who signed elsewhere, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a slightly better football team right now than they were when they lost in the AFC Championship Game.

 

The New England Patriots, who beat the Jaguars 24-20 at Gillette Stadium to advance to the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh Steelers are not.

 

So it’s logical to argue that what has happened over the past week should make the Jaguars the slight favorite to win the AFC in 2018. That’s over the Patriots, who have played in three of the last four Super Bowls (winning two). And over the Steelers, whom the Jaguars beat twice at Heinz Field last season.

 

Certainly, other teams in the AFC improved significantly through free agency, specifically AFC South rivals Houston and Tennessee. The Texans added safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback and former Jaguars nickel back Aaron Colvin, while the Titans added cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis.

 

The Los Angeles Chargers, who barely missed the playoffs last season, added center Mike Pouncey. The Denver Broncos may have found a quarterback in Case Keenum, and the Oakland Raiders gave David Carr an additional playmaker in Jordy Nelson.

 

But the Jaguars’ addition of 2017 first-team All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is arguably the free-agent signing of most impact in the AFC. Per Pro Football Focus, Norwell had just 42 negative blocks in the run game (8.7 percent of all his run blocks) and didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit all season. His pass-blocking grade of 90.0 was significantly higher than that of any Jaguars guard last season.

 

Norwell was arguably the best non-quarterback player available in free agency, and the signing was a perfect fit. He should help make the run game consistent and prevent the late-season drop-off that saw the Jaguars rush for 51.3 yards per game less in the final six weeks of the season than they did in the first 11.

 

Losing receiver Allen Robinson to the Chicago Bears hurts, but it may not be as significant as it first seems. The Jaguars went 10-6 and won their first division title since 1999 without him last season and added Donte Moncrief, re-signed leading receiver Marqise Lee and are expecting big strides from second-year players Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook.

 

The Jaguars tried to bring Colvin back but he wanted to be a starter outside. They still have Pro Bowlers Jalen Ramsey (a first-team All-Pro) and A.J. Bouye, and while Colvin was a good tackler he didn’t make a lot of big plays: 14 pass breakups and no interceptions in 48 regular-season games. That includes just seven pass breakups when he started 15 games on the outside in 2015.

 

The Patriots suffered much more critical losses. Left tackle Nate Solder left for a big contract with the New York Giants (four years, $62 million with $35 million guaranteed). His Super Bowl benching aside, Butler was one of the Patriots’ best defensive players. Lewis was a significant part of the offense. Danny Amendola, who signed with the Miami Dolphins, led all players in receptions and receiving yards in the postseason.

 

New England does get receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont’a Hightower back from injuries and they still have Tom Brady, but the offensive line is weaker and the pass rush needs work. The Patriots will win 11-plus games and the AFC East and will be in contention for home-field advantage in the playoffs again, but the Jaguars nearly — and should have — beat them in January.

 

The Steelers didn’t lose significant players but they didn’t gain any, either. Their best defensive player (Ryan Shazier) isn’t going to play in 2018 as he recovers from spinal stabilization surgery.

 

This doesn’t mean the Jaguars are by any means the clear favorite to win the AFC. There are a lot of things that must take place for that to be the case:

 

The elite defense must stay healthy again (linebacker Telvin Smith was the only starter to miss a start) and players must produce at similar levels.

 

Blake Bortles has to continue to improve and take care of the football the way he did last season.

 

Leonard Fournette must stay healthy, have a complete understanding of the offense and produce at a higher level than he did as a rookie.

 

The Jaguars must navigate a first-place schedule that includes the Patriots, Steelers and the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

 

The draft and inevitable injuries obviously will play a large role in what happens in 2018, but the Jaguars’ work in free agency, which includes adding tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and beefing up special teams, arguably should make them the slight favorite to win the conference.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

WR ZAY JONES finds himself charged with a felony after a nude fight with his brother.  TMZ.com has the tale:

 

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Zay Jones got into a bizarre naked struggle with his brother — who’s also in the NFL — and it ended in a bloody mess … with Zay in handcuffs.

 

TMZ Sports obtained this video of the crazy fight that went down Monday night in a downtown L.A. apartment building. Zay is stark raving nude while grappling with his brother — Cayleb Jones of the Vikings.

 

You can hear Zay yelling, “I’m going to fight for Jesus” … and according to witnesses, Cayleb was trying to stop him from jumping out a 30th floor window.

 

Zay eventually broke free, and ran in the direction of Cayleb’s gf’s apartment … you can hear her screaming. We’re told at some point, he ran back out of the apartment, entered a public balcony area and smashed his foot through a window.

 

Photos from the scene show blood on the shattered window, and all over the floors and walls.

 

We’re told Zay actually tried to squeeze through the hole in the window, but Cayleb restrained him until police arrived, and arrested him for felony vandalism.

 

Jones was the Bills’ 2nd round draft pick last year.

 

According to law enforcement sources, he’s being held in the medical ward of L.A. County Jail. It’s unclear what his condition is at this point.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

“DOMINANT” ATHLETES

Peter Keating, writing on behalf of ESPN The Magazine offers a list of the 20 “Most Dominant” athletes of the last 20 years – and the greatest QB of all-time barely makes the list (edited below with an NFL emphasis):

 

1 – TIGER WOODS  PGA TOUR

How can a golfer who’s won only eight tournaments in the past nine years be the most dominant athlete of the past 20? Because boy howdy, the 11 years before that. Consider the decade prior to Tiger Woods’ dominant run, when golf’s players of the year averaged 3.1 wins. From 1999 through 2009, Woods averaged 5.8 wins per season and won the award nine times. He was routinely magnitudes greater than the game’s next best: He won 13 of 35 majors from late 1999 to mid-2008, while no other golfer won more than three; three times he won five or more consecutive tournaments — the last man who won five in a row was Ben Hogan in 1953; of the 45 times he held the outright lead heading into the final round, Woods won 43 of those — a 95.6 percent closing clip. Even the minutia is amazing: From 2002 through 2005, Woods faced 1,716 putts of 3 feet or less; he made all but four. Nobody’s perfect. –Ty Wenger

 

2- LEBRON JAMES  NBA

 

3 – PEYTON MANNING    NFL 

Perhaps the greatest testament to Peyton Manning’s sustained excellence? He made being elite look ordinary; he was just that good. The 539 passing touchdowns, an NFL record. The 71,940 passing yards, also a league mark. The 186 wins at quarterback, the most in the NFL at the time of his retirement — a record that he held until last October, when foil and fellow ridiculously dominant QB Tom Brady seized that honor. Ponder the sheer amount of year-in, year-out greatness required to amass those numbers. Those 539 TDs? He threw for at least 25 touchdowns in 16 seasons — three more than Brady. The 71,940 yards? He racked up 4,000-yard seasons before they were de rigueur, reaching that mark 14 times overall (more than any other quarterback) and every year from 1999 to 2004, when no other QB did so more than two times. The 186 wins? Those can add up when you boast a .750 winning percentage (or better) against half the league. Dominating opponents? Nothing out of the ordinary. –Hallie Grossman

 

4 – JIMMIE JOHNSON                NASCAR 

 

5 – ROGER FEDERER                TENNIS

 

6 – ANNIKA SORENSTAM          LPGA 

 

7 – MICHAEL SCHUMACHER    FORMULA ONE 

 

8 – FLOYD MAYWEATHER     MEN’S BOXING 

 

9 –MARTA                               WOMEN’S SOCCER 

 

10 – USAIN BOLT                    MEN’S TRACK & FIELD 

 

11 – LIONEL MESSI                MEN’S SOCCER 

 

12 – SERENA WILLIAMS         WTA 

 

13 – LAUREN JACKSON          WNBA 

 

14 – CRISTIANO RONALDO      MEN’S SOCCER 

 

15 – NOVAK DJOKOVIC             TENNIS

 

16 –  ALLYSON FELIX                 TRACK & FIELD 

 

17 – BARRY BONDS                   MLB 

 

18 – MIKE TROUT                       MLB  

 

19 – MANNY PACQUIAO            MEN’S BOXING 

 

20 – TOM BRADY                        NFL 

If it’s true that you are what you eat, the famously health-conscious Tom Brady is nuts (and crucifers, greens and a sizable cistern of water). His career numbers are nuts too: Brady claims more postseason wins as starting quarterback (27) than do 27 franchises. His Super Bowl victories (five) outnumber the all-time playoff-win tallies for one team (the still new-ish Texans) and match another’s (the not-at-all new-ish Bengals). Since 2006, Brady has six of the top 30 postseason QBR performances — his closest competitor is Peyton Manning, with three — and he has the top single-game playoff QBR, 98.0 vs. Jacksonville in 2007. And lest you think Brady burns brightest only on the big postseason stages, his long-term success is also staggering: Since 2007, only 13 QBs without their own branded cookbook have thrown at least 34 touchdown passes in a season, while Brady himself has averaged 34 TD tosses for those years; and his 341/82 TD/INT mark since ’07 is the league’s best. Let’s face it, he’s bananas (but only when mixed in a smoothie). –Hallie Grossman

 

We get that dominating an individual sport is easier than dominating a team sport. 

 

We get that this exercise treats sports most don’t follow (women’s track and field) as the equal of the NFL.

 

But seriously, Mike Trout (no postseason success) is more dominant than Brady?

 

And, can Lauren Jackson actually have been dominant if we never have heard of her?

 

And, of course, why did Manning rank higher than Brady?  There is one huge flaw in ESPN’s methodology that guts Brady’s greatness.  ESPN knew it would take flack and this is the feeble explanation.

 

Why the heck is Peyton Manning so much higher than Tom Brady?

For one thing, today’s QB stats are steadily inflating. (There were 1.72 passing touchdowns for every interception in the NFL last season, up from 1.29 20 years ago.) For another, Brady wasn’t really Brady-automatic Pro Bowler and MVP candidate-until 2007. Result: Manning considerably outpaces him when measured by yardsticks that don’t depend on era, like MVPs (5-3), first-team All-Pro selections (7-3) and number of seasons throwing for 4 percent or more of the league’s passing TDs (12-9, adjusted for number of teams). Then there’s this: In evaluating players, we considered regular-season stats only, since there’s no good way to compare playoffs across sports.

 

 

DEPRESSED ATHLETE

This update on troubled Jonathan Martin:

 

Former NFL offensive lineman Jonathan Martin pleaded not guilty to four felony counts and one misdemeanor count in connection with a threatening Instagram post from last month.

 

Martin surrendered in a Van Nuys, California, court Tuesday on an arrest warrant, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.

 

Martin faces four counts of making criminal threats and one count of carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle during an incident on March 13.

 

Martin, 28, was detained for questioning on Feb. 23 after a threatening image was posted on Instagram that said: “When you’re a bully victim & a coward, your options are suicide, or revenge.”

 

The image showed a shotgun and ammunition and tagged four accounts, including those belonging to former Miami Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey. It also used hashtags for Harvard-Westlake — where Martin went to high school in Los Angeles — and the Dolphins.

 

Another person tagged was James Dunleavy. Martin went to Harvard-Westlake with a James Dunleavy, who is the son of former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy and went on to play basketball at USC.

 

Harvard-Westlake School, which shut down for a day after the Instagram post, filed a workplace-violence-prevention restraining order against Martin on March 1.

 

A law enforcement source told KABC-TV in Los Angeles earlier this month that Martin was in a mental health facility.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

ESPN.com looks at the top six picks and how they might relate to the QB market:

 

The New York Jets’ trade with the Indianapolis Colts to move to the third overall pick could trigger a handful of moves, starting with the Cleveland Browns and the No. 1 overall pick and ending with the Colts, who now have the sixth overall pick. Here’s a closer look at the scenarios for the teams that hold the Nos. 1-6 picks:

 

1. Cleveland Browns

The Jets-Colts trade illustrates why the Browns are playing dangerously if they don’t take the quarterback they want with the first pick. One more trade to the second spot from a team that wants a quarterback and the Browns suddenly would be left looking at the third potential quarterback if they go with another position with the first pick. That scenario works if and only if the Browns feel all three are rated equally. But that’s an approach that could backfire if the Browns favor one of the three. The Browns have danced around the quarterback issue for decades, not taking one once with eight top-10 picks since 2008. They can pick the guy they want in this draft. They already have said he will wait and learn behind Tyrod Taylor. They have a chance to get another potentially great player at No. 4 — perhaps even Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Dancing around this potential and this need would be a mistake. The Browns need to stay where they are and take their quarterback. — Pat McManamon

 

2. New York Giants

The Giants are in a position of power with the No. 2 overall pick. With an early run on quarterbacks now likely, they are in a desirable position. They can draft their potential successor to Eli Manning, select the top player on their board (maybe Barkley?) or get a king’s ransom for the pick. Teams that don’t want to miss on their quarterback may now need to move into the top three of the draft to get their guy with the Browns, Giants and Jets all threats to go in that direction. It will be costly to get to No. 2, maybe even more than before. Thank you, Jets. — Jordan Raanan

 

3. New York Jets

The objective is to draft a quarterback; that was the driving force behind their trade with the Colts. They must feel three quarterbacks are worth the third pick or else it would’ve been foolish to make the trade. How do they rank them? Hard to say at this point, but Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen fit the profile preferred by GM Mike Maccagnan — big body and big arm, the prototypical pocket passer. Baker Mayfield would be an outside-the-box choice for the GM. Conceivably, the Jets could try to trade up again to make sure they get the first or second quarterback on their board, but they’re running out of draft capital. They have enough to move up one spot, but is there a quarterback worth that much? Probably not. Secondly, could the Jets and Giants actually make a trade of that significance? Debatable. — Rich Cimini

 

4. Cleveland Browns

The Browns have options, all of them good. The first and most appealing is to stay at four and take the best player available. If quarterbacks go 1-2-3, this would give the Browns their option of the best player at any other position to go with the quarterback they take first, likely Darnold. That’s a bonanza of a draft — the best quarterback and the best player at any other position. If the Giants don’t go quarterback, the Browns still would likely have their choice of any two from Barkley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick or pass-rusher Bradley Chubb. Any would be an outstanding pick. If for some reason the Browns want to trade back, they have options there as well — as long as the Giants keep the second pick. Buffalo or Denver might want to move up for a quarterback, which could give the Browns extra picks and, if the trade is with Denver, would net them one of the top trio at the fifth pick. Nothing wrong with that, either. Regardless of what happens, the Browns seem to be in excellent position. They can select the quarterback they want first, then likely end up with another potentially great player. And if they choose to maneuver and do it properly, extra picks as well. — Pat McManamon

 

5. Denver Broncos

John Elway said Friday, “We have a lot of opportunities at [No.] 5 now.” And that was after the Broncos signed quarterback Case Keenum. Those opportunities have only increased with the Jets’ trade because the Broncos could still take a quarterback if the one they like the best is still on the board. But if at least three of the top four quarterbacks on the board are selected in the top four picks, the Broncos also will be left with at least three of the best players overall: Chubb, Barkley or Quenton Nelson. They could trade down with a quarterback-starved team, but that offer has to be better than the players still on the board. — Jeff Legwold

 

6. Indianapolis Colts

The opportunity to move back and add even more picks could be there for the Colts, depending on how things play out with the four teams picking in front of them when it comes to the quarterbacks. Cleveland, the Giants, Jets and Broncos could all end up selecting quarterbacks, which likely would mean the Colts remain at No. 6. Colts GM Chris Ballard told Colts.com they are “open to move down” again in the draft if they receive a “pretty attractive” offer from a team. The odds of that happening will increase depending on how many of the projected top-10 quarterbacks are still on the board when the Colts pick. A team such as Buffalo, which is still seeking long-term stability at quarterback, might be willing to make a trade with Indianapolis. The Colts are in the position to move back again because they don’t have their eyes on one particular player in the draft. They have so many holes — offensive line, defensive line, cornerback, linebacker and receiver — that there’s a good chance they’ll still be able to find a player at one of those positions wherever they end up picking. — Mike Wells

– – –

Mel Kiper, Jr. of ESPN.com sees importance in QB SAM DARNOLD’s Pro Day and offers advice:

 

One of the best pro days ever was Jamarcus Russell’s. One of the worst? Peyton Manning’s.

 

Yet USC quarterback Sam Darnold’s pro day matters — at least, it does to NFL teams. Sure, pro days are just a sliver of the evaluation process for NFL draft prospects. But they aren’t completely useless, and we’re talking about a potential No. 1 pick here — a potential No. 1 pick with competition. It magnifies things a little more. Yes, scouts and front-office personnel have watched mountains of tape, talked to people who know the prospects they have their eyes on and sometimes even met with the prospects, either at the combine or on in-person visits. And quarterbacks? If a team is eyeing a quarterback in Round 1, it has done its homework.

 

When Darnold chose not to throw at the combine earlier this month, it didn’t raise any flags, but it made this pro day matter a little more. He was the only quarterback among the potential first-round picks who didn’t throw. Did he not want to compete? Was he tweaking his mechanics?

 

Darnold has enough tape to show teams. He threw 57 touchdown passes to 22 interceptions and completed 64.9 percent of his passes across 24 starts. There were no red flags in any of his athletic testing at the combine (hand size was a question going in, but he measured right around average for quarterbacks). What did he really have to prove throwing to receivers he has never met? He has shown enough promise to be in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft. And he was always planning to throw at his pro day, which is Wednesday.

 

A pro day setting is perfect for quarterbacks: It’s comfortable, it’s scripted, and QBs get to use the same receivers they’ve played with for years. No quarterback should ever have a poor pro day. But that adds at least an ounce of pressure.

 

So what am I looking for from my No. 2-ranked quarterback at his pro day? Here are three things:

 

Show cleaner mechanics.

If there’s a question about Darnold, it’s his delivery, which is more of a windup than the other top quarterbacks’. He has a quick release, but NFL coaches are going to want him to shorten that delivery. A windup, or elongated delivery, could matter for two reasons. One is delivery speed. That seems to be a lesser concern here. Darnold anticipates well and gets the ball out pretty quick. That said, a windup can expose the ball to pass-rushers — think of a ball behind your shoulder, where it can be swatted, as opposed to next to your head — and for a guy who has had turnover issues, that can stick out.

 

About those turnovers: Darnold had an issue there in 2017 — his 22 turnovers were tied for most in the FBS — but I actually think a lot of that was footwork. Several of his 13 interceptions were because of poor footwork, and some of his sacks were the result of his not properly setting his feet and climbing the pocket. Scouts will take a close look at Darnold’s footwork and mechanics on Wednesday to see if he’s moving in the right direction.

 

Make all the throws — from every situation.

Deep outs to the opposite hash. Fades. Corners. Get under center. Show three-, five- and seven-step drops. (If it’s raining, even better). Scouts are watching every throw and the footwork that goes into those throws. In a perfect world, no balls would hit the ground against air. Now, Darnold can’t help his receivers dropping the ball, but ball placement matters. Is he giving his receivers a chance to make a play on every throw?

 

Be a leader.

How does he interact with teammates? Is he screaming at a receiver who drops a pass? Is he respectful to his coaches and to the people in attendance? All that stuff matters to scouts. And they’re watching every interaction. The front office that drafts Darnold should have no questions about him when the pro day is over.

 

Pro days are really about confirming what the tape shows. Darnold has some fantastic tape, mixed with rocky moments from 2017.

 

All of the top quarterbacks in this class have flaws. That’s why there’s no consensus on who’s going No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns. But Darnold is squarely in the mix. What he does Wednesday should help confirm what we’ve talked about since he burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2016: He has a chance to be special.

 

– – –

Kiper and ESPN counterpart Todd McShay offer up a list of players who helped themselves at the Combine:

 

Five risers from Kiper

 

D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

Kiper’s position rank before the combine: No. 5

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore was the most impressive wide receiver in Indianapolis, putting up a 4.42 40-yard dash and 11-foot broad jump and showing his ability as a smooth pass-catcher in drills. He ranked among the top receivers in almost every athletic test. Moore, who had 80 catches for 1,033 yards last season, really pops on the Maryland tape. His 483 yards after the catch ranked 14th in the country. I thought Moore was a Day 2 pick coming into the combine, but he has moved into the first-round discussion.

 

Draft projection: Late first or early second round

 

Shaquem Griffin, LB/DB, Central Florida

Kiper’s position rank before the combine: Not in top 10

Griffin is a great story, and he’s a legitimate NFL prospect. You know by now that he had his left hand amputated when he was 4, and he went on to have a great career as a relentless edge defender for the Knights (13.5 tackles for loss in 2017). Then he went out and bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times with a prosthesis on his arm at the combine, and followed that up with a 4.38 40, which was the fastest time for a linebacker in more than a decade. Now, he’s undersized for a linebacker at 6-0, 227, so he’s going to have to make his way as a nickel rusher and special-teams demon, and he will go through defensive back drills at his pro day. But if I were a general manager, I’d want him on my team. He was probably a sixth- or seventh-round pick before the combine, but he’s moving up on Day 3.

 

Draft projection: Fourth or fifth round

 

Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

Kiper’s position rank before the combine: No. 4

Gesicki opened some eyes with his numbers. The 6-5, 247-pounder had a 41.5-inch vertical, 4.54 40 and 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump, all of which ranked No. 1 at his position. Those are wide receiver numbers. Now, Gesicki wasn’t asked to block much for the Nittany Lions, as he had 57 catches and nine touchdowns last season. He has the athleticism and skill set of a big slot receiver. Will a team that thinks it can teach him to be a better blocker like him enough to snag him on Day 1? Top-ranked tight end Dallas Goedert didn’t go through testing because of a hamstring injury, and Gesicki is moving up the board.

 

Draft projection: Late first or early second round

 

Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

Kiper’s position rank before the combine: No. 8

I wrote before the combine that Alexander could be a star slot corner, and he’s going to rise after his 4.38 40. Now, he came in a little smaller (5-10) than he was listed (5-11), so he doesn’t have ideal size for a first-round corner. But he’s versatile enough on defense and special teams — he could be an NFL team’s punt returner on day one — to be in the conversation for cornerback-needy teams. There are several cornerbacks fighting for the spot after Denzel Ward, the top player at the position, and Alexander, who had five interceptions in 2016 before missing six games with injuries last season, is right there.

 

Draft projection: Late first round

 

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Kiper’s position rank before the combine: No. 6

As in the cornerback class, there are several running backs fighting for the No. 2 spot behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Chubb’s testing numbers at 5-11, 227 have moved him up a little bit. He had a great college career — 48 total touchdowns and 4,769 rushing yards over four seasons — but scouts were concerned he had lost some explosiveness after a severe knee injury in the middle of the 2015 season. Chubb, however, put up a 38.5-inch vertical and 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump and ran a 4.52 40, all of which are excellent for his size. He has moved from a third- or fourth-round pick into the early Day 2 range.

 

Draft projection: Second round

 

Five risers from McShay

 

D.J. Chark, WR, LSU

Scouts Inc. position rank before the combine: No. 8

Chark really helped his cause with a terrific workout in Indy, building on his great showing during Senior Bowl week. Chark’s 4.34 40-yard dash was tops among wide receivers, and his 40-inch vertical jump and 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump were both elite. He’s an underrated talent who didn’t get enough targets in a QB-deficient LSU offense during his career. He’s in the mix to be one of the top five wideouts off the board, probably early in Day 2.

 

Draft projection: Second round

 

Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Scouts Inc. position rank before the combine: No. 5

Sutton’s workout flew under the radar because he ran a 4.54 in the 40, but that’s a really good time for a 6-3, 218-pound receiver. What really stood out to me, though, was his change-of-direction skills in the three-cone drill and short shuttle. His times of 6.57 seconds in the three-cone and 4.11 in the shuttle are just stupid fast for a receiver his size. There is still some inconsistency on tape, but there’s no denying his raw ability. I’d be surprised if he got out of the top 50 picks.

 

Draft projection: Second round

 

Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State

Scouts Inc. position rank before the combine: No. 2

Vander Esch had a great combine, showing off the athleticism that I saw on tape. He posted a ridiculous three-cone drill time of 6.88 and an elite 4.65 40-yard dash, numbers that indicate he’s capable of rushing the passer off the edge. A very good 20-yard shuttle time of 4.15 (which has the strongest correlation to NFL success at inside linebacker of all these drills) and an elite 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump and 39.5-inch vertical were the cherries on top.

 

Draft projection: Late first or early second round

 

Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia

Scouts Inc. position rank before the combine: No. 6

I thought Carter had a nice combine, with a 4.50 in the 40 and outstanding jumps (10 feet, 10 inches in broad jump and a 36-inch vertical). I was a little disappointed that he chose not to run the three-cone drill (most telling drill for edge rushers), but we’ll see him run it at Georgia’s pro day. There’s a lot of buzz around him, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he sneaks into the first round in April.

 

Draft projection: Late first or early second round

 

Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

Scouts Inc. position rank before the combine: No. 4

Bryan’s explosiveness stood out on tape, and his workout matched the film. His first step on tape looks like he’s shot out of a cannon, and his 1.69 10-yard split in a 4.98 40 confirmed it. The top two drills that correlate to NFL success for defensive tackles are vertical jump (38 inches) and 20-yard shuttle (4.48), and Bryan had elite results in both drills. I think he’s a 3-technique in the NFL and a top-50 pick for scheme-appropriate teams.

 

Draft projection: Second round

– – –

This from Daniel Jeremiah at NFL.com where he has Darnold at the top of the recent list:

 

I always believe it’s helpful during the evaluation process to rank the current group of prospects among the players at the position from the previous two drafts. I recently looked up the grades I gave to the quarterbacks in the ’16 and ’17 draft classes and I slotted them in with this year’s crop of talent. Here’s the order I have them in based on their draft grade.

 

1) Sam Darnold, USC

Draft class: 2018

The skinny: I had very similar draft grades on each of the top four players on this list. However, I gave Darnold a slightly higher grade than Carson Wentz because of his durability and level of competition from college.

 

2) Carson Wentz, North Dakota State

Draft class: 2016; second overall pick, Philadelphia Eagles

The skinny: Wentz had an ideal skill set coming out of NDSU. His ability to drive the ball accurately and create with his legs made him a special prospect.

 

3) Josh Rosen, UCLA

Draft class: 2018

The skinny: Rosen is the best pure passer in this time frame (2016-2018). His motion, footwork and arm talent are off the charts.

 

4) Jared Goff, Cal

Draft class: 2016; first overall pick, Los Angeles Rams

The skinny: Goff was very smooth and accurate at Cal. He was an effortless thrower and you’ve seen that carry over to the NFL.

 

5) Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Draft class: 2018

The skinny: Mayfield is the shortest member of this group (measured in at 6-foot 5/8 and 215 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine), but I gave him a strong grade based on his touch, playmaking ability and toughness.

 

6) Josh Allen, Wyoming

Draft class: 2018

The skinny: Allen was an inconsistent performer at Wyoming, but his good moments are incredibly impressive. He is very capable of outplaying my draft grade.

 

7) Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Draft class: 2017; 12th overall pick, Houston Texans

The skinny: I had Watson as my highest-rated quarterback in last year’s class, but based on early returns, I was way too low with my grade. I had concerns with his accuracy and decision making, but he cleaned up both areas last fall. He was off to a remarkable start as a rookie before suffering an ACL tear in November.

 

8) Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina

Draft class: 2017; second overall pick, Chicago Bears

The skinny: I loved Trubisky’s talent, but he had a very small sample size of production. He was a full-time starter for only one year at UNC, but his upside was tremendous.

 

9) DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

Draft class: 2017; 52nd overall pick (Round 2), Cleveland Browns

The skinny: I had a big grade on Kizer heading into his final year at Notre Dame, but he struggled mightily to maintain that level of play. I ended up dropping his grade prior to the 2017 draft and he landed in a really tough spot in Cleveland. He was rushed into action before he was ready to play, and the results weren’t pretty. Now, he’s getting a fresh start after being traded to the Green Bay Packers earlier this month.

 

10) Paxton Lynch, Memphis

Draft class: 2016; 26th overall pick, Denver Broncos

The skinny: Lynch was a polarizing player coming out of Memphis. His size, arm talent and athleticism were enticing, but I had concerns about the adjustment he would have to make from his college offense to an NFL system.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com with this on the upcoming draft coverage war.

 

When FOX announced that it would simulcast the NFL draft with NFL Network, it appeared to mark a major defeat for ESPN, whose draft broadcast would lose in the ratings race to the combined forces of a broadcast network and the league-owned cable channel. But ESPN isn’t going down without a fight.

 

ESPN now plans to broadcast the first two nights of the draft on both ESPN and ESPN2, and to simulcast Saturday’s draft coverage on both ESPN and ABC, according to the New York Post. The joint ESPN-ESPN2 broadcast will apparently give viewers a choice of two different broadcasts, an approach ESPN has previously used with big college football games.

 

The NFL has made the draft the signature event of its offseason, and no one has done more to help the league build it up than ESPN. But NFL Network has been chipping away at ESPN’s audience share the last few years, and when FOX agreed to put the draft on broadcast television, that looked like a serious blow to ESPN.

 

The decision to beef up its draft coverage is a statement from ESPN that it wants to remain viewers’ first choice as the home of the NFL draft. And it’s good news for fans, who will have more alternatives than ever for watching the draft.

 

– – –

And this from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Former NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger has lost his current job after allegations that he sexually harassed a woman during his time at NFL Network.

 

The Bill Simmons Media Group has confirmed that Weinberger no longer serves as its president. Simmons’ company claims that they “mutually agreed” two weeks ago that Weinberger would leave.

 

In a lawsuit filed by former NFL Network employee Jami Cantor, Weinberger is accused of sending “several nude pictures of himself and sexually explicit texts” to Cantor. He is accused of telling Cantor that she was “put on earth to pleasure me,” and allegedly pressed his crotch against Cantor’s shoulder and asked her to touch it.

 

Simmons started his Media Group, which produces TheRinger.com, podcasts and documentaries, after he left ESPN in 2015. He hired Weinberger away from NFL Network to run the company but suspended Weinberger after the NFL Network sexual harassment case surfaced.

 

Several NFL Network employees have been accused of sexual harassment. Two former players, Donovan McNabb and Eric Davis, lost commentating jobs with ESPN over allegations stemming from their time at NFL Network.