The Daily Briefing Wednesday, March 22, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Clarence Hill, Jr. in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram on the TONY ROMO hostage crisis:

 

The Tony Romo hostage crisis in Dallas officially began on March 9.

 

Romo was told he was going to be released by the Dallas Cowboys and then team’s brass reneged on that option with plans of trying to trade him rather than letting him go for free.

 

Eleven days later, the situation remains unresolved. Romo remains in limbo.

 

But he is not in a sunken place.

 

While the Cowboys control his rights, Romo is not without say regarding his future.

 

The delay seemingly favors the Cowboys as they hope to squeeze blood out of a turnip in their quest to create a trade market for a soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback, who has played in five games since 2014 because of injuries. Romo has had three back surgeries since 2013 in addition to shoulder surgery before last season.

 

The two most likely destinations — the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos — have yet to blink. Both continue to maintain that they have no interest in trading for Romo when they know they can pursue him for free when the Cowboys finally have no other choice but to release him.

 

Maybe that changes at the upcoming NFL owners meetings next week in Phoenix.

 

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will surely try to work his magic of persuasion on Broncos general manager John Elway or Houston owner Bob McNair at the swanky Biltmore Hotel.

 

Maybe. Maybe not.

 

Until then, the wait continues.

 

But before you start feeling sorry for Romo during his time of captivity, understand that this time is good for him as well.

 

The only thing that seems certain is that he won’t be back with the Cowboys.

 

The time gives him a chance to weigh his own options, which include retirement and a possible lucrative network television job in addition to continuing his career with the Broncos or Texans.

 

His wife is expecting their third child in August.

 

As much as Romo believes he can still play at a high level, doesn’t buy the widespread notion that he is brittle and injury prone and says he is as healthy as he’s been in some time, it stands to reason that the tugs of family and fatherhood are also weighing heavily on his mind.

 

Consider those now-viral Instagram videos Romo posted recently. The one with him teaching his two boys to play football and the other with him talking to his son Hawkins about bedtime.

 

The latter, posted on Friday, had many people thinking he was taking a dig at the Cowboys.

 

Here is a transcript:

 

“OK … deal? Pinky promise? Pinky promise!” — Hawkins

 

“What am I pinky-promising?” —Tony

 

“That deal! OK? You’re gonna do it, OK? Pinky promise!” — Hawkins

 

“Is it good?” — Tony

 

“Uh-huh. It’s good. It’s a good deal for me. It’s better for me, OK, Dad? It’s not for you, it’s for me.” — Hawkins

 

“Why would I take the deal then if it’s better for you?” — Tony

 

REALISTICALLY, THE LINE IN THE SAND IS ON OR BEFORE APRIL 17 WHEN THE COWBOYS, BRONCOS AND TEXANS OFFICIALLY START THEIR OFF-SEASON PROGRAMS.

 

The video was taken a while back, according to a source. It was released by Romo last week, but it wasn’t a shot at the Jones family. It just seemed that way because of the timing.

 

Sure.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON played through a shoulder injury last fall and Scott Fowler in the Charlotte Observer takes the Panthers to task:

 

It turns out that during the 2016 season the Carolina Panthers benched Cam Newton for not wearing a tie, but that the quarterback never missed a snap after partially tearing the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

 

The Panthers revealed Tuesday that Newton will have surgery on his throwing shoulder on March 30 in Charlotte to repair an injury he sustained Dec. 11 in a home game against San Diego. The plan is for Newton to be healthy by the time training camp rolls around in late July.

 

But I will take that plan with a grain of salt, in part because the original plan was for Newton to rehab his shoulder with some R&R this offseason. Instead, after he rested the shoulder and started throwing again, things went south.

 

Said Ryan Vermillion, the team’s head athletic trainer, to the Panthers’ team website while discussing Newton’s offseason: “As we worked to advance him into the next stage – the strengthening stage, the throwing stage – he started to have an increase in his pain level and started having pain while throwing. As a result, Dr. Pat Connor (the Panthers’ head team physician) felt the most prudent procedure would be to arthroscopically repair the shoulder.”

 

Obviously, this is not ideal. If Newton had had the surgery in mid-January, he would be two months into his rehab by now.

 

It is also not a crushing blow. Many NFL quarterbacks have recovered from rotator cuff surgery and played well. Drew Brees had his rotator cuff repaired more than a decade ago, as well as a more serious shoulder problem, and still plays at an elite level.

 

But what I wonder is how much risk the Panthers were taking when they allowed Newton to play in those final three games of 2016? Don’t tell me there was no risk, because there’s a risk every time you step on the field.

 

I know Newton is a very tough guy and that he never uses injuries as an excuse and always wants to play.

 

That ultimately doesn’t matter, though. The Panthers obviously could have held Newton out if they wanted to. And remember, they were 5-8 by the time of those final three games and all but out of the playoff race.

 

It is also not unprecedented for a quarterback to play with a partial rotator cuff tear. Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre are among the players who have done so.

 

Newton looked the least like himself in Carolina’s final game of the season on Jan. 1 at Tampa Bay. He floated balls that he normally zips, and his lack of shoulder strength was definitely a problem in a game in which he threw three interceptions. He also nearly led a last-second comeback. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera immediately after the game applauded Newton gutting it out.

 

“I thought Cam Newton was about as courageous as it gets,” Rivera said that day, admitting that he tried to take Newton out of the game but was talked into letting him stay in by the quarterback himself. “He didn’t want to come out. He tried to make some throws that he probably shouldn’t have.”

 

Rivera said at the time that Newton’s issue with the shoulder was pain management and not possible long-term damage.

 

Newton, for his part, said right after that game: “They asked me could I go. I said I could and that was the end of it.”

 

When asked after the game what he planned for his shoulder and his offseason, the quarterback said: “Rest, a lot of rest. For me, I think me and football have a love-hate relationship and we’re not on good terms right now. I’m just going to leave her alone for a while.”

 

Look, it’s silly to think the Panthers are going to put Newton out there – ever – if they think he’s going to risk serious injury. He is their most important investment, as well as their most expensive one. They obviously believed in those final three games that it was only a pain management issue and that the tear wouldn’t get worse. (It is also only fair to note that the Panthers were ultra-cautious with middle linebacker Luke Kuechly’s concussion during the same time period).

 

But it is also true that the Panthers were not at all forthcoming about Newton’s partial tear. Rivera said Newton’s MRI in mid-December after he injured his shoulder against San Diego showed no problems. Yet the team said on its website Tuesday that the MRI revealed a partially torn rotator cuff.

 

“As a result of the MRI, we modified all of Cam’s work in the weight room and on the field for the final three weeks of the season,” Vermillion said.

 

Should the team have also modified his playing time? I think so, but I’m no doctor.

 

Obviously, sitting Newton out because he didn’t wear a tie when it was mandated on a team flight – he was held out for the opening series Dec. 4 at Seattle – was a totally different situation. It is ironic, though.

 

All I can say now is be careful. Be really careful.

 

Really, what does it matter if Newton is throwing strikes on the first day of training camp or not? From a football standpoint, all that matters is keeping the man with the golden arm healthy once the games begin in September.

 

This “scope” surgery is a setback. Ultimately, it should be a minor one.

 

But as we have seen just from the events of these past few months, right now with Newton’s throwing shoulder you cannot be totally sure what is going to happen next. And that’s a little scary.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Looking at the contracts, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks that NICK FOLK is likely to displace generational kicker ROBERTO AGUAYO this summer.

 

The Buccaneers have opted not to compound a mistake by admitting it. But it won’t be cheap.

 

One way or the other, the Buccaneers will be paying a kicker to not kick for the team this year. Specifically, it either will be Roberto Aguayo, who has $428,000 in fully-guaranteed salary for 2017, or Nick Folk, who will make $750,000 fully guaranteed.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the contract, Folks has a $750,000 roster bonus, a $1 million base salary, and a $250,000 incentive tied to field goals.

 

The investment in Folk suggests that the Bucs are serious about keeping Folk and shedding Aguayo. Unless the presence of Folk causes Aguayo to become the kicker the Buccaneers hoped he’d be when drafting him, the Bucs will more likely be paying Aguayo $428,000 to leave than giving Folk $750,000 to take his talents to a location other than Tampa.

 

AFC WEST

 

OAKLAND

Mark Maske of the Washington Post has sources who think it is likely, but not certain, that the Raiders will gain approval for a move to Las Vegas.

 

NFL owners tentatively are scheduled to vote early next week on the Raiders’ proposed move from Oakland to Las Vegas, and several people familiar with the deliberations said they believe it is likely but not definite that the relocation will be ratified.

 

“I think it will be approved,” a high-ranking official with one NFL team said. “But I’m not certain yet.”

 

Those sentiments were echoed by others with knowledge of the league’s inner workings.

 

“I’m guessing it gets done,” one of those people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “It really comes down to: What else are you gonna do?”

 

Owners are scheduled to gather this weekend at a Phoenix-area resort for three days of meetings, officially beginning Monday, at the annual league meeting.

 

A joint owners’ committee, consisting of members of the finance and stadium committees, is poised to recommend that the owners vote at this meeting on the Raiders’ proposed move. The relocation would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners.

 

The joint committee has not yet decided whether to take the next step and formally recommend approval of the move to the owners, according to a person close to the process.

 

Such a recommendation could be meaningful to the owners. Committee recommendations generally are followed. However, the owners rejected a recommendation by their L.A. committee last year when they voted on the sport’s return to Los Angeles. The committee recommended the Carson, Calif., stadium proposal made by the Raiders and Chargers. However, the owners chose the Inglewood stadium project proposed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

 

A move by the Raiders, if approved, would be the third franchise relocation ratified by the owners in a little more than a year. The Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles last year, and the Chargers this year exercised their option to join them.

 

A significant number of owners seem reluctantly in favor of the move, according to people within the sport. Those owners appear to prefer the Oakland market over the Las Vegas market but cite the lack of what the league regards as a viable new-stadium deal in Oakland. Wariness over the gambling-related ramifications of placing a franchise in Vegas seems to have subsided but some concerns over the size of the market have persisted.

 

Owners who have not been directly involved in the Vegas deliberations will want to be updated at this meeting on the details of the stadium deal in Las Vegas, those close to the process said. The deal nearly unraveled when casino mogul Sheldon Adelson withdrew but Bank of America reportedly will provide the $650 million that was to be contributed by Adelson. The Raiders are to contribute $500 million toward the $1.9 billion stadium deal and there is $750 million of public funding in place.

 

Raiders owner Mark Davis has said he would keep the franchise in Oakland while a new stadium in Vegas would be under construction.

 

Hint, hint from the agent of RB Marshawn Lynch.  Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

Is Marshawn Lynch’s desire to return to the NFL legitimate?

 

His agent on Monday wouldn’t shoot it down.

 

“He does miss football, no question,” Doug Hendrickson said of the retired running back on KNBR-AM in San Francisco. “He loves the game of football. He’s 30. But until I meet with him this week, you know, I don’t know what his mindset is. He’s the kind of guy that can shift by the hour.”

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo have reported that Lynch is considering an NFL return, but only as a member of his hometown Oakland Raiders.

 

Hendrickson made it clear that he has yet to meet with Lynch to chart a course ahead for the former Seahawks star who grabbed headlines by announcing his retirement smack dab in the middle of Super Bowl 50.

 

“Well, in all sincerity, Marshawn’s been in Canada,” Hendrickson said. “I’m due to see him this week. So he and I have not spoken about this at all. So it was the media who took the ball and kind of ran with it.

 

“He’s one of the most unique guys I’ve ever been with in my life. Marshawn, it wouldn’t shock me in three days if he says, ‘Hey, I want to play.’ It wouldn’t shock me if he says, ‘Nah, I don’t know where this came from. I don’t want to play.'”

 

Hendrickson reiterated that Lynch isn’t motivated by a need for cash, saying: “He doesn’t spend any of the money he’s made. He’s got a lot of money.”

 

And this from NFL.com from Michael Robinson who knows his way around the Seahawks:

 

Retired running back Marshawn Lynch is mulling an NFL return, but it only would be as a member of the Oakland Raiders, according to reporting over the past few days by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

 

NFL Network’s resident Seahawks whisperer and former Lynch lead blocker Michael Robinson chimed in Monday as well. His knowledge of the situation did nothing to quell the sentiment that this comeback attempt is real.

 

“I think out of all the rumors of the past few years of Marshawn coming back, I think this is the most real one,” Robinson said on NFL Total Access Monday. “Is he a good fit in Oakland? Um, yeah. Absolutely. This guy can run any offense you want, and I’m not just saying that because I played with him. Just put on the film, just look at this guy’s body of work. He can play in the shotgun, which the Oakland Raiders do a lot because of their passing game. He can run zone, he can run gap and he catches out of the backfield.

 

“You look at their roster right now and Latavius Murray is out the door, they don’t have a lead back. Not saying it’s going to happen — can’t say it right now — but I’m just saying, just saying, he’s a good fit.”

 

Robinson added he “would feel comfortable saying that” this is a Raiders-or-bust proposition for the running back.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

After failing to reach a deal elsewhere, LB ZACH BROWN has changed agents and is returning to Buffalo for a visit.

 

Why has Zach Brown not signed yet?

 

It seems like the former Buffalo Bills linebacker is wondering that himself now almost two weeks into NFL free agency. The curious case took another twist Tuesday when Brown found new representation to aid in his search for a home, hiring CSE Football after previously employing agent Carl Carey.

 

Along with that, The Buffalo News has learned Brown will visit the Bills on Wednesday after he wrapped up a visit with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, leaving South Florida without a contract.

 

It’s unusual to see a player “visit” his former team in free agency, although it makes a little more sense in this case since the Bills have a new coaching staff under Sean McDermott.

 

Brown, who finished second in the NFL in tackles last season, ranks 48th on Pro Football Talk’s list of top 100 free agents, 31st on ESPN’s list of the top 150 and 20th on nfl.com‘s list of the top 101.

 

On the surface, he would seem to be a good fit at weak-side linebacker in McDermott’s 4-3 defense. His production in 2016 — 149 tackles, four sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception — figured to land him a contract that would provide a significant raise from the $1.25 million he earned last season.

 

Brown took a visit to the Oakland Raiders last week and the Miami Dolphins on Monday. Adding to the intrigue about the lack of a new deal was the following tweet from Omar Kelly, a Dolphins beat writer for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. In response to a question about what a contract for Brown might look like, Kelly seems to indicate there could be off-the-field concerns with Brown.

 

@OmarKelly

It’ll likely be a one year rental like the one he signed with Buffalo last year. His luggage must be U-Hual size because the film is GOOD

 

Another league source told The News on Tuesday that he did not know of any character concerns regarding Brown.

 

Brown’s teammate from last year, fellow linebacker Preston Brown, has been campaigning for his playing partner’s return on Twitter recently.

 

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins have locked up LB KIKO ALONSO.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

Kiko Alonso got rewarded for a bounce-back 2016 season.

 

The Dolphins announced they have given the linebacker a three-year contract extension, keeping Alonso under contract in Miami through 2020. The extension is worth $25 million, including $18.5 million guaranteed, which is tacked on to the $3.9 million restricted tender he received this season, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Tuesday.

 

The Dolphins prioritized locking down the 26-year-old linebacker after he compiled 115 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defended in 2016, his first year in Miami.

 

The Dolphins acquired the linebacker in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles after one disappointing season, when Alonso was clearly struggling to return from a knee injury that wiped out his entire 2014 year.

 

As a rookie with the Buffalo Bills, Alonso became a cult-like figure in Western New York. The tackling demon was all over the field, compiling 159 tackles and four interceptions in 2013.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP FIGHTS BACK

QB COLIN KAEPERNICK, the target of barbs thrown by the President of the United States, is fighting back with cash to Meals On Wheels.  Kevin Lynch in the San Francisco Chronicle approves of that and more:

 

On Monday, Donald Trump announced at a rally in Kentucky that teams won’t sign free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick because they fear “a nasty tweet from Donald Trump.” Now, Kaepernick is answering back with a sizable charitable donation to an organization under threat because of Trump’s proposed budget.

 

On Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that Kaepernick is donating $50,000 to Meals on Wheels, which could face funding cuts should Trump’s budget pass Congress.

 

This month, Kaepernick also donated $50,000 to help alleviate the burgeoning crisis in Somalia where people are facing starvation. Kaepernick seems particularly concerned about the Somali crisis; he posted a video and joined other celebrities in securing a 60-ton plane to deliver food. Kaepernick also started a GoFundMe page to aide those starving in Somalia.

 

Trump took on Kaepernick during his campaign last season, suggesting that Kaepernick should move to another country if he continues his sitting during the pregame playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Kaepernick was protesting police violence, discrimination and racism in communities of color. Since then, Kaepernick announced he planned to donate $1 million over the next year to charitable causes to advance basic needs and human rights.

 

Rather than focusing on the fallout from what Trump might tweet about him, NFL owners might want to consider the good Kaepernick is doing. It’s something his teammates have noticed. Kaepernick won the Len Eshmont Award last year, which is given to the team’s most inspirational and courageous 49er by vote of the players.

 

Kaepernick’s protest has also evolved. Rather than sitting for the anthem – a practice Kaepernick will suspend this season – Kaepernick is funneling efforts and his own money into action. Not only is he donating $1 million, Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign supports educational efforts and promotes good nutrition in communities of color.

 

Owners should also consider that over 70 percent of their players come from communities of color. Signing Kaepernick would send a positive message to players that ownership is concerned about their communities.

 

Another consideration is how good an owner or general manager could look if they sign Kaepernick and he succeeds. Kaepernick threw 16 touchdown passes and only four interceptions last year playing behind an injured offensive line and throwing to the least talented receiving corps in the league. He also won road playoff games and has taken a team to the Super Bowl. Additionally, he is far healthier and stronger than he was a year ago when he was recovering from three off-season surgeries.

 

Not only that, a team could sign him to a relatively cheap contract.

 

The potential positives of signing Kaepernick far outweigh what the President might tweet about the team who signs him. But it will take a little courage and foresight from a team owner. It begs the question: Are there any out there with those qualities?

 

Here is how Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report sees his situation:

 

What’s happening with Kaepernick is highly unusual. So far, it seems he hasn’t visited a single team. I can’t find a quarterback-needy team that’s interested. Again, things can change quickly, but the silence is deafening.

 

From a football perspective, teams worry about Kaepernick’s throwing accuracy. He still has some difficulty hitting tight windows and sometimes runs even when receivers are open. In 2016, Kaepernick connected on 59.2 percent of his passes, which ranked 26th in the league.

 

There’s also the perception—a wrong one—that he has difficulty learning new schemes.

 

And if those weren’t enough, concerns linger that he is moody and not a good teammate. That belief also may not be accurate. From speaking to 49ers players about Kaepernick, it’s clear most of the San Francisco locker room liked him.

 

Kaepernick can take hope in how putrid the quarterback market is. When Jay Cutler is at the top of the heap, that says it all.

 

There are still teams desperate for a competent QB, so much so that one eventually will find the risk in signing Kaepernick is worth any potential backlash. That’s my guess.

 

Still, it’s hard to emphasize how unusual Kaepernick’s current situation is. If a Super Bowl quarterback can walk and chew bubble gum simultaneously, he gets opportunities. Those opportunities usually arrive until that player is totally and completely done. That’s not the case with Kaepernick.

 

Four years ago, he ran for a playoff-record 181 yards and two scores at Green Bay as the 49ers beat the Packers in a divisional playoff game, 45-31. The Niners would then go to Atlanta and upset the Falcons in the NFC title game before losing Super Bowl XLVII to the Ravens when a last-gasp drive fell five yards short. Throughout those playoffs, Kaepernick was more than capable, completing 61.3 percent of his passes, throwing only two interceptions and producing a combined quarterback rating of 100.9.

 

Guys like that get multiple shots.

 

Further adding to the intrigue is that teams understand Kaepernick hasn’t been playing with a great deal of talent around him recently. The 49ers, frankly, have been a dumpster fire the past few years, and it showed with some of the players with which the team surrounded their QB.

 

Despite all of that, his phone is not ringing off the hook. Or at all, for that matter.

 

Kaepernick’s new agents appear to have foreseen all of this, which is why it wasn’t surprising when sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Kaepernick would start standing for the anthem.

 

Now, he sits. Waiting and waiting. A still-talented player whose political statement may have cost him his NFL career.

 

Here’s David Steele in The Sporting News:

 

It seemed a little early to condemn NFL teams for freezing out Colin Kaepernick. Barely a week had gone by in free agency. With one exception — albeit a grotesque, borderline-obscene one — not many quarterbacks had been coming off of the market. Bleacher Report’s Friday story on how front-office types still want nothing to do with him for his protests during the national anthem shined another light on it.

 

Still, it’s a long offseason. It only takes one team rowing against the tide. And, again, even the Jay Cutlers were still looking for work, never mind a part-time starter fighting against a scarlet letter.

 

Then, this week, Nick Foles signed with the Eagles.

 

EJ Manuel signed with the Raiders.

 

Geno Smith signed with the Giants, soon after Josh Johnson, last year’s backup, re-signed.

 

Josh McCown set up a visit with the Jets.

 

And, of course, this all was after Mike Glennon signed with the Bears for $18.5 million guaranteed.

 

Come on. Stop it. Do not ever say Colin Kaepernick can’t get a job because he’s not good enough.

 

Think of a better excuse. Think of a better lie. Hey, even try telling the truth — this time, on the record.

 

But don’t feed everybody the “It’s because Kaepernick is a trash quarterback” line. Everybody’s full, thank you.

 

Now, the Bleacher Report explanation is much more plausible — and NFL executives no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt that their decisions are football-related.

 

They might be able to get away with them being money-related, except that there is nothing definitive about what Kaepernick wants to get paid. Then again … $18.5 million for Mike Glennon. To be a starter.

 

It’s not worth the electricity needed to type it, or to trot out the stats that say Kaepernick was not terrible in his 11 games last season. It’s not worth repeating that he had not played in a year because of multiple surgeries and is healthier now than he has been in two seasons. Not worth the reminder that the 49ers’ new management is rebuilding the entire roster from scratch, which tells you Kaepernick wasn’t exactly working with the same weapons Matt Ryan was.

 

Of course this isn’t about football. It’s about maintaining the status quo, or what NFL teams believe that to be. It’s about not ruffling feathers, or at least the feathers NFL teams care about ruffling.

 

It’s about at least one team in the market for a quarterback, the Giants, with a coach who’s on the record as being “disappointed” in Kaepernick’s protest (at the same time he eagerly defended a kicker who abused his wife). The two signings they made essentially scream, “Anybody But Kaepernick.”

 

And it’s about one nameless AFC general manager who took this to its furthest extreme and told Bleacher Report that he’s afraid “Trump will tweet about the team,” and that some teams want no part of that kind of attention.

 

Imagine that. Kaepernick was the one labeled a coward in so many places for so many reasons last season — including, implausibly, for making it known that he would no longer do the same protest at games next season.

 

That marked Kaepernick a coward, yet teams are scared of a hot take from the president, and let that guide their football decisions.

 

The DB’s operative in San Francisco reminds us that Kaepernick chose his plight, opting out of his contract with the 49ers.

 

 

BEHIND THE MOCK DRAFTs

Emily Kaplan of TheMMQB.com talks to some of the creators of the top Mock Drafts about the process.

 

The draft is 37 days away, and already 195 outlets have published mock drafts online. That’s according to letsgoredskins.com, a blog that, inexplicably, has been charting such data since 2001. That count doesn’t include spinoff posts—other media outlets literally reporting on the results of said simulations. It also doesn’t factor in repeat offenders. I, for example, have published two mocks. SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, whose Twitter handle is, aptly, @MockingTheDraft, has authored one every Monday since Nov. 28.

 

If any of this sounds outlandish, imagine how ESPN’s Mel Kiper assesses a modern landscape littered with mocks. The godfather of NFL draft coverage, Kiper produced his first mock draft in 1978, as a community college freshman. He sold 100 issues of his draft guide, then quit school. A few other draft publications, such as Pro Football Weekly, included mocks at the time—but Kiper willed the niche into the mainstream.

 

“People talk more about the draft than NFL games,” Kiper says. “And for many people, how they talk about the draft is through mock drafts.”

 

If the NFL draft is the most popular non-sporting event in sports, mocks are the primary vehicle for the hype. This is not an industry secret: No matter the time of year, no matter the author, mock drafts draw a huge audience.

 

“If I wrote a thoughtful piece about how we marginalize black quarterbacks in scouting, people would read it,” says Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. “But 10 times the amount of people might read my mock draft.”

 

Adds Todd McShay, Kiper’s ESPN teammate: “I’m always mildly surprised by how many people read these things. But I know I shouldn’t be.”

 

And NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah says: “When I made the transition from scouting to the media, I learned to never read comments on anything I write. And for the love of god, never, ever read the comments on a mock draft.”

 

The question I’ve always wondered: Why do people care—and care so much—about mock drafts?

* * *

Mock drafts will always carry the stigma of a work-from-your-basement industry; wannabe analysts filling in Mad Libs. Insert some jargon, add a little bit of recycled wisdom citing trends, and make a series of educated guesses.

 

“I think my 3-year-old could make a pretty good draft,” Miller says. “I mean, picking out of a hat, you’d probably get a few right.” Insiders have legitimized the practice by picking up the phone and checking in with sources, and yet the distinction is still muddled.

 

Perhaps as confusing as why people like them is why they exist in the first place (besides the aforementioned traffic numbers). The editor of this column, Gary Gramling, likes to say a mock draft sets a baseline for fan expectations. NFL front offices conduct dozens of mocks; it helps project the market.

 

“I do see some benefit in going through the exercise,” says Jeremiah. “It’s easy to flippantly say, This guy is a first-round pick, this is guy is a second rounder. But when you put names to teams, including team needs, it’s like, Hold up, not all of these guys can go in the first round.”

 

Adds McShay: “I’ve always said, Chris Mortensen and [Adam] Schefter, the scoop guys, they should be doing these things if you want them to be most accurate.”

 

In the early ’80s, Kiper produced twin mock drafts: One version detailed what Kiper believed should happen. The other predicted what he believed would happen. It confused the hell out of his readers.

 

“I got so many letters,” he says. “I had to write people back. Having to explain myself became burdensome.” So Kiper benched his opinion. Miller, who also ranks the top 300 players based off his own tape study, says his rankings are his eyes and his mock drafts are his ears. Jeremiah, too, produces a popular top 50 ranking.

 

“I’ll defend any questions you may have on that, because that’s how I view the players after studying them,” Jeremiah says. “Mock drafts for me, are solely based off what I am hearing. So I can’t take offense if you don’t agree.”

 

Not that it matters. Readers will inevitably get upset.

 

* * *

A romantic might say the mock draft’s popularity is rooted in unbridled optimism. Just as, each August, hope springs eternal at training camp, approaching the draft, mocks give you a sense that your team could be one piece away.

 

A cynic’s alternative: America loves listicles.

 

Theories are sprinkled across the spectrum.

 

“Mock drafts are popular because the audience is larger,” McShay says. “It’s the intersection of college and NFL fans.”

 

“It has a fantasy football vibe to it,” Jeremiah says. “You’re trying to match up [players and teams] and see how many you get right.”

 

“Fans love mock drafts because it’s almost more fun than the draft,” says Kiper. “Like Christmas, it’s all about the speculation. You know you’re going to get a gift, but you wonder, Will it be perfect? Will it fit right?”

 

“I grew up in Cleveland,” says Kadar. “So the draft is our Super Bowl.”

 

Surmises Miller: “It’s the same reason we follow election polls. You want your thoughts to be validated by someone in the know.”

 

It’s not just fans tuning in.

 

“I’ll get guys [in the NFL] calling me saying, ‘Bro we’re not taking that guy,’” Jeremiah says. “Most of them will deny it publicly, but they all read that stuff.”

 

And Jeremiah’s usual response: “That’s fine. I don’t really care who you take.”

 

It’s not as much apathy as a resignation that perfect prognostication is near impossible—especially on Jan. 19, when Jeremiah’s Mock Draft 1.0 was released. (Consider how much has changed in these two months—from the combine to pro days to teams addressing needs in free agency.) “But, it’s good for the website,” Jeremiah says. “No use complaining about it, just do it and move on.”

 

For those who are lukewarm on mock drafts, there is only one thing worse. “There is no way I would ever do draft grades,” McShay says. “Maybe three or five years later you could retroactively look, but how can you assess a grade before any of the guys play a down?”

 

And so when McShay balked at that assignment, editors offered an alternative—as McShay views it, a tradition unlike any other. “It’s my least favorite activity,” he says. “But probably does the best of anything I write.”

 

On Wednesday, May 3, he will publish his first mock draft for 2018.

 

 

THE BRADY HEIST

Jordan Raanan and Mike Reiss at ESPN.com break down how NFL Justice and other authorities tracked down Tom Brady’s jerseys (and Vaughn Miller’s helmet) to Mexico.

 

Brady, wearing a fresh gray “Super Bowl Champions: We Are All Patriots” T-shirt on top of a sweat-drenched blue undershirt he had worn during the game, entered the locker room at 10:06 p.m., according to video captured by Fox Sports. Within minutes of his arrival, his game-worn jersey disappeared.

 

The media’s videos, including those from Fox Sports, are how authorities eventually pieced together the case of the missing jersey. There were no security cameras inside the Patriots’ auxiliary locker room, but there was footage available from multiple media outlets in and around the area that assisted. The Houston Police Department, with help from other agencies, requested support from outlets that may have had video before, during or after the theft.

 

The HPD pored over hours of footage, according to chief Art Acevedo. With the help of a game-changing tip and tireless work from NFL security, Patriots security, the FBI and an assistant U.S. attorney, they found something. There was a man outside the United States with the Tom Brady jersey and more. His name was Martin Mauricio Ortega, a source told ESPN, a former Diario La Prensa executive who recently resigned from his position at the Spanish-language newspaper and who had obtained access to the locker room — and the jersey — with a media credential for what was believed to be the third straight year.

 

So began the search for the jersey. When law enforcement reviewed the tapes they saw Ortega enter with a black leather bag over his arm through the side door of the locker room behind Patriots coach Bill Belichick and others. Belichick goes in one direction, while Ortega goes in the other toward the players’ area, according to a source who saw the video.

 

At 10:07 p.m., Brady was at his locker located at the front right of a crowded locker room near the door. Brady was about to leave to take the fading eye black off his drained face. But first his shoulder pads and jersey waited on the chair. Each had a different desired destination. There were two bags. One, an embroidered bag with the Patriots logo that he used to haul his equipment to and from games, sat on the floor by his feet. It was a standard team-issued bag, packed to the brim with cleats, pads and other items earmarked for the equipment manager and his crew. That bag was for the shoulder pads.

 

The folded jersey was earmarked for an unzipped black leather handbag — an oversized man-purse of sorts — stuffed neatly with Brady’s personal items. He put the jersey in that bag and left to remove the eye black.

 

On the video provided by Fox Sports, investigators could still see part of the jersey sticking out just enough to be grabbed. That’s when a man authorities say is Ortega is seen approaching the bag, and with his back to the camera, reaches down for the jersey, removes it from the black leather bag, puts it in a black plastic bag and walks out with it under his left arm, according to a source who saw the video. Ortega has not been arrested or charged as of Tuesday afternoon.

 

Before Brady returned, the quarterback, who has won five Super Bowl championships, stopped to talk with former teammate and current NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, who declared, “Make room for the GOAT” in the crunched locker room at NRG Stadium. The two chatted for a moment before Brady was back at his locker with a look on his face that did not befit a man who had just enjoyed one of the best moments of his professional career. Brady examined the leather tote and noticed the jersey wasn’t in the black leather bag where it was left.

 

“B, did someone take my jersey?” Brady said to Brenden Murphy, an equipment assistant with the Patriots, before placing down the water bottle in his left hand to begin his own personal search. “It was in my bag. I absolutely 100 percent put it in my bag. Someone took it, B.”

 

He wasn’t kidding. The jersey that Brady had specifically placed inside his personal bag was missing.

 

Murphy is seen on the video suggesting they check everyone on their way out of the room. That never materialized given the substantial traffic and situation. Neither did the jersey at any point that evening or when the equipment truck returned to Foxborough, Massachusetts, several days later. It was a disappointment.

 

“Those are special ones to keep,” Brady said the day after the 25-point comeback when he collected yet another Super Bowl MVP trophy. He wanted that specific jersey to go home with, too. It was a memento from an emotional victory that was witnessed in person by his mother Galynn, who is ill, but attended the Super Bowl in Houston. It was the only game she attended that season.

 

Brady didn’t stuff it into the equipment bag by his feet for a reason. Instead, it was strategically placed atop the bag that would return with him on the bus, to the hotel, to the following day’s MVP news conference and ultimately on the airplane back to New England.

 

A quarterback with a near-photographic memory and a proclivity for precision doesn’t forget something as simple as where he placed a jersey he desperately wanted to keep two minutes earlier. Pfft. Just like that, it was mysteriously gone amidst a sea of chaos.

 

The search concluded Monday after the jersey was returned to Boston for examination; they need to authenticate the memorabilia they found days earlier.

 

The Houston police, Texas Rangers, Patriots’ security contingent, NFL security and even the FBI searched far and wide, following the goose chase across borders before it was located 43 days after going MIA after one of the greatest football finishes ever seen. To find that jersey took a similar effort from all agencies involved.

 

Authorities recovered two Tom Brady jerseys, including this one, which appears to be the one he wore in Super Bowl XLIX, which was played on grass in Glendale, Arizona. Photos of Brady after that game indicate the same pattern of grass stains. Mexican Attorney General’s Office

The search also reached the desk of assistant U.S. attorney John Durham of New Haven, Connecticut, sources told ESPN. Durham was critical to the recovery of the jersey after the NFL or Patriots security that had a connection to him reached out, and he “jumped on the case,” per law enforcement sources.

 

A longtime prosecutor who first joined Connecticut Attorney’s office in the late 1970s and has worked high-profile investigations, Durham’s experience and expertise in a situation in which federal statues might apply was viewed as critical. Durham’s professional background includes, among other things, being selected by Attorney General Janet Reno to probe law-enforcement corruption in Boston in 1999.

 

With Brady at the case’s center, this was always going to be an attention-grabbing story, no matter how complex or rudimentary the plot, to snag what ultimately is a memento that Houston police valued at $500,000 in its original report. It wasn’t the first time Brady’s jersey had gone missing after winning a Super Bowl either. The same mysterious situation had unfolded two years earlier in Glendale, Arizona, only with much less fanfare. Brady wasn’t caught on camera asking about the whereabouts of his jersey during the previous incident.

 

To identify Ortega, NFL security, Patriots security and the FBI pulled credentials for everybody who was issued one for Super Bowl LI — that totaled approximately 20,000 credentials.

 

Going through each credential and accompanying photo one by one, they were able to narrow the number to about 1,400 based on the description of the person they had seen on the Fox Sports video. At photo 847, they identified Ortega. Around the same time this was happening, an FBI tip came in on Ortega. He had posted something on a since-deleted social media account about having a Super Bowl XLIX jersey.

 

The missing jersey was found in Mexico in the possession of Ortega. There they also located what is believed to be Brady’s jersey from Super Bowl XLIX and a helmet from Super Bowl 50 that belonged to Denver Broncos star Von Miller, multiple sources confirmed. The Mexican attorney general released pictures Tuesday of the two Brady jerseys featuring distinctive logos from each of the Patriots’ past two Super Bowls.

 

The items are in the process of being authenticated, but there is strong evidence to believe that it is Miller’s helmet because inside there were stickers — one each for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Those stickers were specific to the missing helmet Miller wore in Super Bowl 50.

 

A process that started with the HPD Major Offender Division and stretched into the jurisdiction of the FBI is now in the U.S. attorney’s office. Ortega is not in custody and has not been charged. The charges could include federal crimes such as transporting stolen goods across state lines and out of the country, according to Acevedo.

 

Brady’s missing jersey wasn’t exactly the most pressing case on the books for the city of Houston. This was just a missing jersey — it would turn up.

 

“Let’s keep this in perspective,” Acevedo said Monday after noting this was the only blemish on his city for Super Bowl week. “After we speak about this today, we probably won’t speak about this anymore.”

 

For all the back-patting about the tireless search and with the aid of incriminating video – it still all seems to rest on the anonymous tipster who monitored Ortega’s social media.

 

There are hints that Ortega’s crime spree may date back decades.  Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As more details emerge regarding the Super Bowl strain of kleptomania practiced by a man named Martin Mauricio Ortega, one question cries out to be asked, and hopefully answered: How much more Super Bowl gear did Ortega steal?

 

A detailed item from the Associated Press sprinkles enough detail about Ortega’s attendance at the most recent Super Bowl (supposedly, more than 20) and items in his possession (supposedly, a Super Bowl jersey worn by Kurt Warner, an item that Warner was surprised to hear Ortega had acquired) to make one at least wonder whether Ortega began his Super Bowl crime spree in Super Bowl XLIX with his first theft of a Tom Brady jersey, or earlier.

 

Per the AP, Ortega brought multiple NFL memorabilia items with him to Houston for the Super Bowl LI. So what were they, and where did they come from? Ortega also reportedly told others that he attended the Super Bowl not as a reporter (he was an executive) but as a fan.

 

The report includes a claim from a Colorado auctioneer that Ortega wanted to know the value of Von Miller’s helmet from Super Bowl 50. Ortega claimed that he had the helmet.

 

“Had” is the key word, as it relates to Von Miller’s helmet. The next question is what else Ortega has or had (or has had) based on access typically reserved to people who are, you know, working at the Super Bowl, not hanging out and/or stealing things.

 

The DB would say that the NFL has always been more lenient in credentialing international media because of a desire to claim the game’s footprint was growing across the globe and also because it is harder to determine the reach of media who publish or broadcast or blog to an audience with a language other than English.

 

 

 

2017 DRAFT

 

Mel Kiper, Jr. launches his 3rd version of a 2017 Mock Draft:

 

The NFL combine is in the rear-view mirror, and pro days are in full swing. Free agency is essentially over, and team needs are becoming clearer. That means we’re a little more than a month away from the 2017 NFL draft, and so it’s time for Mock Draft 3.0.

 

You’ll find several changes from my second version, but there’s no change at No. 1 — Myles Garrett is the best prospect, and the Browns should take him. The rest of my first-round projection is based on a combination of team needs and best prospects available.

 

1. Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Garrett to the Browns has been my pick in the other two mocks, and I’m not changing it. His phenomenal combine performance — a 4.64 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical and 10-foot-8 broad jump, all at 6-foot-4, 272 pounds — locked in his status as the best prospect in this class. Cleveland was 30th in the NFL in sacks last season (26), and Garrett is a brilliant, natural pass-rusher who had 32.5 sacks in three seasons for the Aggies. Don’t overthink this pick, Browns; take the top overall prospect.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

After the 49ers signed veterans Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in free agency, I’m moving away from North Carolina signal-caller Mitch Trubisky here. The urgency for the 49ers to pick a QB isn’t as high. They could target a developmental prospect in the second or third round (Patrick Mahomes, maybe?) and let him have a redshirt year in 2017. The reality is that San Francisco has many needs on both sides of the ball. Thomas (6-3, 273) is a different kind of player than the D-linemen the 49ers have taken in the first round the past two years (DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead); he’ll get after the quarterback from Day 1.

 

3. Chicago Bears

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

This might be a high pick for the traditional version of a safety, but Adams is more than that. He’s a true hybrid who never has to come off the field, because he can run and cover but also is a beast as an in-the-box defender. His 4.56 40 at the combine was right in line with what I expected. The Bears targeted the secondary in free agency, signing cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper and safety Quintin Demps, and the addition of Adams (6-0, 214) would further boost their defensive backfield.

 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Jacksonville has put a lot of capital into improving its defensive line — a No. 3 overall pick on Dante Fowler Jr., (2015) and big-money free-agent contracts to Malik Jackson (2016) and Calais Campbell (2017) — but Allen is almost too good to pass up at No. 4. In this scenario, Allen (6-3, 286) would probably slot in at tackle next to Jackson, but he could kick outside, too. He’s versatile enough to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense and rush the passer from the inside or at end. He totaled 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons in Alabama.

 

5. Tennessee Titans (from Rams)

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

In Lattimore, the Titans would get the top cornerback in the draft with the first of their two picks in the top 18. Yes, they gave former Patriots corner Logan Ryan $16 million guaranteed in free agency, but they need bodies. Plus, long-time starter Jason McCourty turns 30 in August and is a free agent in 2018, so Tennessee could move on with a ready-made replacement. Lattimore (6-0, 193) is an athletic phenom who doesn’t have a ton of experience — he ran a 4.36 40 and had a 38.5-inch vertical at the combine, but he started just one season for the Buckeyes.

 

6. New York Jets

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

If the Jets are really going with Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, they’re going to need someone to catch passes to try to score some points. At 6-6, 251 pounds, Howard is my top-ranked pass-catcher, even though he wasn’t prolific for the Crimson Tide, with just seven touchdowns in his career. He has all of the athletic attributes of a top-tier player, though, and he was one of the most impressive prospects at the combine. There is precedence for a tight end going this high, too — Vernon Davis (49ers in 2006) and Kellen Winslow Jr. (Browns in 2004) both went No. 6 overall.

 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

If Jahleel Addae is the Chargers’ in-the-box safety, Hooker (6-1, 206) could be their center fielder. He has incredible range, but like Lattimore, he was a first-year starter for the Buckeyes in 2016. One thing that makes Hooker particularly interesting here is that Los Angeles already has one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL in fellow Buckeyes alum Joey Bosa. Hooker is the type of player who can help a great pass rush produce points going the other way on errant throws.

 

8. Carolina Panthers

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Jonathan Stewart is 30. Fozzy Whittaker is a part-time back at best. Cameron Artis-Payne hasn’t shown much in two seasons. Why not take the draft’s best back and put him in the backfield with Cam Newton? He’s a special athlete with an incredible combination of size (6-0, 240), speed and power. Fournette can produce from Day 1 in the NFL, and that Carolina offense would become even more scary.

 

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA

The addition of free-agent middle linebacker Kevin Minter makes me think the Bengals won’t take Reuben Foster, whom I had going to Cincinnati in Mock Draft 2.0. Pass-rusher is still in play, though, and McKinley is one of the most explosive in this class. At 6-2, 250, he’s not huge, but he is suited to play end in today’s NFL. Put McKinley in the rotation with Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Will Clarke, and the Bengals have a stellar foursome.

 

10. Buffalo Bills

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

After losing Robert Woods to the Rams in free agency, the Bills have a clear need at receiver. And if Williams falls to No. 10, Buffalo would be getting a guy with a much higher ceiling than Woods, not to mention another Clemson wideout to go alongside Sammy Watkins. Williams’ pro day moved him back to being my top-ranked receiver. His 40-yard dash was the question, and he ran right around 4.50, which is what he needed. Production wasn’t the issue — Williams (6-4, 218) had 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. Quarterback could still be in play here, too, with the Bills committing to Tyrod Taylor with limited guaranteed money.

 

11. New Orleans Saints

Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

No prospect has risen as much during the pre-draft process as Reddick has. He was fantastic at the Senior Bowl, and he was one of the MVPs of the combine, with a 4.52 40, 36.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 broad jump. Reddick’s value is in his versatility — he could play inside or outside in a 4-3 or 3-4, with his hand in the dirt or playing on his feet in space. The Saints have made an effort to improve their 31st-ranked defense in free agency, re-signing Nick Fairley and bringing in A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o and Alex Okafor, and Reddick (6-1, 237) would probably play outside in New Orleans’ 4-3.

 

12. Cleveland Browns (from Eagles)

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

This might be the ideal situation for the Browns, getting the top overall prospect at No. 1 (Garrett) and the top quarterback at No. 12. This is assuming they don’t use draft capital to trade for Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who could still be available if the price is right. Trubisky (6-2, 222), who went to high school in Northeast Ohio and is a Cleveland sports fan, completed 68.2 percent of his passes and had 30 touchdown passes and six interceptions in his first season as a starter. The potential is there, but he’s green. Trubisky could compete with Cody Kessler and give the Browns some hope for the future.

 

13. Arizona Cardinals

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Arizona needs a quarterback of the future, and this is a sneaky spot to grab one — if he’s still around. Carson Palmer, 37, showed his age last season, and backup Drew Stanton hasn’t proved he’s a starting-caliber QB. So now Bruce Arians, who’s a brilliant offensive mind, would get Palmer’s heir apparent in Watson, who flashes top-five-pick talent at times but was inconsistent in 2016. At 6-2, 221, Watson has the arm strength, toughness and athleticism to play for a long time. He could back up Palmer in the short term while he adjusts gradually to the NFL. Keep an eye on the secondary here, too; the Cardinals lost their two starting safeties plus a corner in free agency.

 

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Vikings)

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

The Eagles are in a good spot to get their pick of one of the best cornerbacks in a deep class. Several will be on the board at No. 14 with a potential run on pass-rushers at the top of the first round. Conley, the third member of the Ohio State secondary to be picked so far, is rising after the combine, where he ran a 4.44 40 with a 37.5-inch vertical at 6-0, 195. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz needs a new No. 1 corner, and this is a great fit.

 

15. Indianapolis Colts

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

Let’s be clear here: I don’t have Foster, a top-five talent, dropping because of his bizarre combine ejection. He’s dropping here because not many teams above the Colts at No. 15 need a true inside linebacker. The Bengals and Saints, for instance, have both signed inside linebackers in free agency. Whichever team takes Foster, though, is getting a big-time, sideline-to-sideline defender with All-Pro potential. Indianapolis has done a solid job of upgrading its roster this offseason, and picking Foster (6-0, 229) is another step toward defensive respectability.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

This is a strange year for offensive tackles — there are no top-five-type talents in this class. This is about the range where I expect the first tackle to go. Ramczyk, Cam Robinson and Garett Bolles are all on the board, but I’m going with Ramczyk, who’s a better prospect at right tackle. Baltimore has Ronnie Stanley, the No. 6 overall pick in 2016, on the left side, and Ramczyk (6-6, 310) would upgrade the right side over former undrafted free agent James Hurst.

 

17. Washington Redskins

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Like I mentioned in Mock Draft 2.0: At what point should a team forget about what’s conventional and just take the best football player? That’s the value in McCaffrey here. The Redskins like Rob Kelley, but McCaffrey brings a different element to the offense as a runner and receiver, and he can be a return man, too. McCaffrey’s 4.48 40 and 37.5-inch vertical at the combine eliminated any doubts about his athleticism.

 

18. Tennessee Titans

John Ross, WR, Washington

Don’t you think Marcus Mariota would be elated with this pick? He’d get a true field-stretcher in Ross, whose 4.22 40 broke the combine record. That’s something the Titans’ offense sorely lacks. Ross (5-11, 188) produces, too — he had 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Tennessee has drafted a good, young core on offense, and it could also target a cornerback or linebacker here and with the No. 5 overall pick.

 

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

This pick stays the same as Mock Draft 2.0 — it makes too much sense. Vincent Jackson is gone, and free-agent signing DeSean Jackson will fill his spot opposite Mike Evans. Davis, who had 331 catches for 5,278 yards and 52 touchdowns in his collegiate career, would give Jameis Winston another fantastic option, but he’s a different player than both Jackson and Evans. The only issue with Davis (6-3, 209) is an ankle injury that kept him out of the combine, and he might not run a 40 before the draft, so scouts won’t have a true number. I don’t expect him to drop out of the first round, though.

 

20. Denver Broncos

David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.)

Njoku can no longer be considered a sleeper after posting a 4.64 40, 37.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 broad jump at the combine. He has the size (6-4, 246) and athleticism to run past and jump over defenders. He will be a weapon in the NFL. Experience is a question — he’s a third-year sophomore who only put it all together down the stretch of the Hurricanes’ 2016 season — but he has a high ceiling. This is another spot in which an offensive tackle could go.

 

21. Detroit Lions

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Pass-rusher and cornerback are the two biggest needs for the Lions, and you can take your pick from a deep class at both positions. Harris (6-3, 253) would give Detroit’s D-line a boost — the Lions had only 26 sacks last season, which ranked 30th in the league. He would play end in Detroit’s 4-3, but he could move inside and rush the passer when needed. Harris had nine sacks and two forced fumbles in 2016.

 

22. Miami Dolphins

Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky

Laremy Tunsil’s expected move to left tackle leaves an opening at guard, and Lamp is the best guard in the draft. He could also move over to right tackle or slide in to center, and his versatility is a plus. Though Lamp (6-4, 309) played in Conference USA, he has the traits to step in and play immediately next season. Miami could also be in play for a linebacker, even with Kiko Alonso locked into a new deal. Florida’s Jarrad Davis makes some sense.

 

23. New York Giants

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

The Giants’ 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl teams featured a fearsome pass-rushing rotation, and this would be an attempt to build out that rotation again. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are entrenched as starters — and they have the big-money deals to show for it — but they played too many snaps last season. Vernon had more than 1,000, and Pierre-Paul was on his way before a groin injury ended his season in December. Barnett had 33 sacks in three seasons for the Volunteers, and he’s an all-around 4-3 end at 6-3, 259 pounds.

 

24. Oakland Raiders

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

D.J. Hayden was a miss at No. 12 overall in 2013, and now the Raiders will be looking for cornerback help on Day 1 or Day 2. Enter White, who has what many of the corner prospects above him don’t: experience. A four-year starter for the Tigers, White (5-11,192) could have been a Day 3 pick a year ago but made the right decision to return to school. The Raiders think they’re Super Bowl contenders, but corner is a gaping hole headed into 2017.

 

25. Houston Texans

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

The Texans could be in play for a quarterback here after trading away Brock Osweiler, though Tony Romo could find his way to Houston soon if he gets his release from the Cowboys. For now I’m sticking with Robinson at No. 25, even if he’ll have no idea whom he’s blocking for. Robinson (6-6, 322) has been a known commodity for the Crimson Tide, for whom he was a three-year starter, but he isn’t a lock to play left tackle. He’s a powerful run-blocker who needs to clean up some things to reach his potential as a pass-blocker.

 

26. Seattle Seahawks

Kevin King, CB, Washington

Before Sidney Jones’ Achilles’ injury at the Washington pro day last week, the Huskies had a realistic chance of having two corners taken in the first round of the draft. King (6-3, 200) is a lanky, rangy defender who fits the Seattle mold of bigger defensive backs, and he knows his way around the city. In a great class of cornerbacks, he stands out for his size but can also move, as the 4.43 40 at the combine showed. The Seahawks could be in the market for an offensive tackle on Days 1 and 2 as well.

 

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Jeremy Maclin had a down season in 2016, and the Chiefs’ top pass-catchers were tight end Travis Kelce and rookie fifth-round pick Tyreek Hill, who’s not a true No. 1 wideout. Jones has moved up my board considerably thanks to his performances at the Senior Bowl and combine, where he ran a 4.45 40 and had a 36.5-inch vertical. At 6-2, 201 pounds, he put up huge numbers for the Pirates last season with 158 catches for 1,746 yards and eight touchdowns. Adding Jones would help open up the Chiefs’ offense and give Alex Smith a reliable, productive target.

 

28. Dallas Cowboys

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

Wouldn’t this be a Jerry Jones type of pick? Peppers is one of the most well-known prospects in this class, but he’s a tweener (5-11, 213) who’s polarizing to NFL scouts. The team that drafts him will have to get creative and use him as a hybrid safety who can play the run and cover tight ends. Peppers could also be a great return man. He’s a tremendous athlete (4.46 40, 35.5-inch vertical). And Dallas’ secondary has been depleted in free agency — Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are all gone.

 

29. Green Bay Packers

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Cook’s stock is dropping a little bit. He didn’t test amazingly at the combine, a couple of shoulder injuries at FSU have worried teams and not many teams in the first round need running backs. But falling to Green Bay here would be considered a great value pick. Green Bay needs a back and will take one at some point — converted receiver Ty Montgomery is really all it has now — and Cook (5-10, 210) is one of the best home run hitters out there. Cook gives Aaron Rodgers and the offense some help in the passing game, too.

 

I came close to giving Green Bay another player here: Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, who is surging up draft boards and might be the most talented back in the entire class. Mixon has notable off-field issues, and some teams will take him off their boards because of that, but I expect him to be picked by end of the second round.

 

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston

You might remember Bowser from the time he got in a fight with a teammate and broke an orbital bone the day before a game, but he has made a name for himself from his play on the field, too. He had 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss for the Cougars in only eight games last season. Bowser (6-3, 247) is perfect for a 3-4 team like the Steelers, and he is rising up draft boards after testing incredibly well at the combine with a 4.65 40 and 37.5-inch vertical. Pittsburgh brought back James Harrison, who at 38 could be a mentor to Bowser.

 

31. Atlanta Falcons

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

Charlton falls to Atlanta here in this projection because a 4.92 40 at 6-6, 277 at the combine was concerning. He’s still a first-round talent, however, and I suspect the Falcons would be thrilled to put him on the other side of Vic Beasley Jr., who broke out with 15.5 sacks last season, and let him get after quarterbacks. Charlton has long arms (34¼ inches) and active hands and takes ideal angles when rushing the passer.

 

32. New Orleans Saints (from Patriots)

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

The Saints are trying to pry away restricted free-agent corner Malcolm Butler from the Patriots, but until they do, the position is a weak spot on a defense that gave up the most passing yards per game (273.8) last season. Humphrey (6-0 197) has length, strength, speed and good bloodlines (his father is former NFL running back Bobby Humphrey). I had Haason Reddick going to the Saints with their other first-round pick, and I suspect they’d be happy with two defenders who could step in and play on Day 1.

– – –

Mike Mayock of NFL.com doesn’t do a Mock Draft until just before the draft, but he does do positional ratings.  And he’s continuing to list DeSHONE KIZER of Notre Dame first at quarterback:

 

Quarterback

1. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson

3. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina

4. Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech

5. Davis Webb, California

 

Running Back

1. Leonard Fournette, LSU

2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

4. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

5. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

 

Rise: Fournette (2), McCaffrey (3), Perine (NR)

Fall: Cook (1), Joe Mixon, Oklahoma (5, added to special exceptions)

 

Wide receiver

1. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

2. Mike Williams, Clemson

3. John Ross, Washington

4. Zay Jones, East Carolina

T-5. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington

T-5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

 

Rise: Jones (5), Smith-Schuster (NR)

Fall: Kupp (4),

 

Tight end

1. O.J. Howard, Alabama

2. David Njoku, Miami

3. Evan Engram, Ole Miss

4. Gerald Everett, South Alabama

5. George Kittle, Iowa

 

Rise: Everett (5), Kittle (NR)

Fall: Jake Butt, Michigan (4, added to special exceptions)

 

Offensive tackle

1. Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin

2. Garett Bolles, Utah

3. Antonio Garcia, Troy

4. Roderick Johnson, Florida State

T-5. Taylor Moton, Western Michigan

T-5. Jermaine Eluemunor, Texas A&M

 

Interior OL

1. Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky

2. Cam Robinson, Alabama

3. Dan Feeney, Indiana

4. Dion Dawkins, Temple

T-5. Ethan Pocic, LSU

T-5. Pat Elflein, Ohio State

 

Rise: Dawkins (5), Elflein (NR)

Fall: Pocic (4)

 

Interior DL

1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama

2. Caleb Brantley, Florida

3. Malik McDowell, Michigan State

4. Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte

5. Chris Wormley, Michigan

 

Edge rusher

1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

2. Solomon Thomas, Stanford

3. Derek Barnett, Tennessee

4. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA

5. Tim Williams, Alabama

 

Rise: Thomas (4), McKinley (5)

Fall: Williams (2)

 

Linebacker

1. Reuben Foster, Alabama

2. Haason Reddick, Temple

3. Jarrad Davis, Florida

4. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt

5. Alex Anzalone, Florida

 

Rise: Davis (4)

Fall: Cunningham (3)

 

Cornerback

1. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State

2. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama

3. Kevin King, Washington

4. Gareon Conley, Ohio State

5. Fabian Moreau, UCLA

 

Rise: Lattimore (2), Humphrey (3), King (NR), Conley (NR), Moreau (NR)

Fall: Sidney Jones, Washington (1, added to special exceptions), Teez Tabor, Florida (4), Tre’Davious White, LSU (5)

 

Nickel

1. Budda Baker, Washington

2. Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado

3. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

4. Desmond King, Iowa

5. Damontae Kazee, San Diego State

 

Safety

1. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

2. Jamal Adams, LSU

3. Malik Hooker, Ohio State

4. Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut

T-5. Marcus Williams, Utah

T-5. Marcus Maye, Florida

 

Rise: Peppers (3), Melifonwu (5), Williams (NR), Maye (NR)

Fall: Hooker (1) , Budda Baker, Washington (4, added to nickel)

 

Special exceptions

1. Adoree’ Jackson, USC

2. Curtis Samuel, Ohio State

3. Sidney Jones, Washington

4. Jake Butt, Michigan

5. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

 

Additions: Jones (previously No. 1 CB), Butt (previously No. 4 TE), Mixon (previously No. 5 RB)

Moved: Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado (3, moved to nickel), Desmond King, Iowa (4, moved to nickel)

Fall: Adam Shaheen, Ashland (5)