The Daily Briefing Wednesday, October 17, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The NFL’s Fall Meeting does not have as much angst as last year according to Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com:

 

At this time last year, the NFL’s fall league meetings were chaotic and controversial. When owners and club representatives gathered in lower Manhattan in October 2017, just a few weeks after the President of the United States chided players who demonstrated during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the hotel was swarmed with protesters and media. Team owners and league executives were fractured, as the debate over how the league and its players were handling the anthem gripped the NFL.

 

This year the anthem wasn’t on the agenda. “The focus has been on the efforts that our players have continually brought as their issues in their communities and how can we make our communities better,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. The meeting overall was mostly league business as usual, which hasn’t often been the case over the last several years. But there were some significant points of discussions.

 

Here are five takeaways from this week’s quarterly league meeting:

 

1. Concern in L.A.? After two decades without a team in Los Angeles, the NFL returned with not one, but two clubs, in 2017. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham reported Wednesday that there was a lot of private chatter among owners at this meeting about the Chargers’ viability in L.A. and their struggles to build a fan base after relocating from San Diego. They’re currently playing in the 27,000-seat StubHub Center until they move into the new stadium the Rams are building in Inglewood in 2020. Goodell acknowledged “there is some work that needs to be done” since the NFL was out of the market for a long time and needs to earn its way back with fans. “Both teams are committed to that,” he said.

 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who helped spearhead the deal that brought the NFL back to L.A., said he’s not concerned about the Chargers establishing a foothold there. “No, no. We are fortunate because both teams are playing at a high level, but no, I don’t share any concern there,” Jones said. “It’s just a part of two teams that are part of a new stadium and the acclimation and reshuffling of logistics of the fans, and those kinds of things. So I don’t think the word would be ‘concerned’ as much as just they are working the problem, working the challenge.”

 

2. A concussion “intervention.” Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, issued a “call to action” earlier this year in response to the rising concussion numbers across the league in 2017. One prong of that plan, in addition to getting players into better-performing helmets and rule changes in the name of player safety, was what Sills called a “ targeted intervention” with seven clubs that had a higher incidence of practice concussions in 2017. According to Sills, six of those seven teams had a decrease in preseason practice concussions from 2017 to 2018. Overall, according to the NFL, concussions decreased in the preseason from 91 in 2017 to 79 in 2018, both practices and games included. The NFL also said there were zero concussions sustained on kickoffs in the preseason, down from three last preseason, after the kickoff was redesigned in an attempt to make the game’s most dangerous play safer.

 

3. Seahawks staying in Seattle. Seahawks owner Paul Allen, also the co-founder of Microsoft, died on Monday from complications with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Several owners expressed that they have no doubt the Seahawks will stay in Seattle, though Goodell said what happens next with Seahawks’ ownership was not discussed at this meeting. Allen never married and had no children, and a succession plan hasn’t been made public; there was a sense among some owners, however, that the team might be sold. (We’ll have more on this later). Also on the West Coast, Goodell said there was no update on where the Raiders will play in 2019; the team is currently in negotiations with the city of Oakland to continue to play there until their new home in Las Vegas is built.

 

4. Officiating woes abating. One of the reasons you know the NFL isn’t facing any major current crisis is that officiating has been the biggest point of discussion so far this season. From the rash of lowering-the-helmet calls in the preseason to the furor over the body-weight emphasis on roughing the passer calls, there was plenty of criticism about the frequency and consistency of flags being thrown. Officiating was discussed at this week’s meeting, but club owners sounded pleased with the adjustments the competition committee and officials have made on how both rules are being called. Jones said he was “encouraged” by the league’s willingness to assess the enforcement of these rules and the adjustments that were made league-wide.

 

“They always want consistency in officiating, but you’re going to have calls that aren’t always going to be clear,” Goodell said. “But I think the focus of trying to protect defenseless players, and that includes quarterbacks, when they are in exposed positions, is something that is very important and there is a strong commitment to do that.

 

5. Goodell-Jones kumbaya. Jones was bullish on everything NFL, including Goodell. Yes, you read that right. Just a year ago the Cowboys owner was locked in a battle royale with Goodell, clashing with him over Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension after Elliott’s ex-girlfriend said he abused her, and later threatening to sue other owners during negotiations for Goodell’s contract extension. But Jones was standing firmly in Goodell’s corner this week, “because it’s my corner.”

 

“Under Roger Goodell’s leadership, we really are the best I’ve ever seen in the NFL, as far as transparency, as far as how we’re addressing the issues, the timeliness of it,” Jones said. “I know that’s ironic since we’ve had some criticism, too but I think that’s healthy. … All of this really has me … looking at the NFL at the top of its game.”

 

And Roger Goodell claims the on-field product is in peak shape:

 

There were a variety of topics up for discussion when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with the media at the completion of Wednesday’s owners meeting, but the message Goodell wanted to lead the day was pretty clear.

 

Goodell said that the NFL is experiencing “historic highs” in terms of the quality of the games, the closeness of the scores and offensive play through the first six weeks of the season. He noted the growth in ratings and development of “so many good young players” as further signs that the state of the league is strong.

 

“I will leave you with something that I have said to the owners many times. I don’t think there has been a better time to be an NFL fan,” Goodell said. “The quality of the games and the enjoyment that comes with that, I hear it from the fans all the time — that is number one for them. Number two, is the access to the games and the way that fans are able to engage with the NFL. There are more platforms and more opportunities to do that. The experience is better because of technology. All of that creates a much better opportunity for our fans to enjoy football and NFL football. From our standpoint, we look at this as a great moment for us — the tremendous growth and the tremendous popularity of our game.”

 

The last couple of years have seen plenty of discussion about things that have been going poorly for the league. The causes of those discussions haven’t gone away and, in some cases, are unlikely to ever go away, but the opening weeks of this season have been quieter on that front and Goodell took that as a chance to puff out his chest a bit on Wednesday.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

The Bears say LB KHALIL MACK is “day-to-day.”  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Bears linebacker Khalil Mack went for tests on his ankle after hurting it against the Dolphins last Sunday and doctors didn’t find anything that ruled him out for this week’s visit from the Patriots.

 

He hasn’t been ruled in for the game either, however. Head coach Matt Nagy said in his Wednesday press conference that the team will continue to monitor Mack throughout the week.

 

“He’s day to day right now,” Nagy said. “We’re just going to continue to keep an eye on it and be more cautious than anything.”

 

And Bill Belichick had plenty to say on a conference call when asked about Mack.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Wednesday provided the scenario, as a reporter asked the Patriots head coach if Chicago Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack ranked up there with the likes of Taylor and Reggie White.

 

Belichick, however, quickly put an emphatic end to the line of questioning.

 

“Wait a minute you’re talking about Lawrence Taylor, now,” Belichick said. “I’m not putting anybody in Lawrence Taylor’s class. You can put everybody down below that. That’s with a lot of respect to a lot of good players now, but we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor.”

 

Belichick served on the Giants coaching staff from 1979 to 1990, a span during which Taylor terrorized quarterbacks, so his high opinion of one of the league’s greatest pass rushers carries significant weight.

 

 

MINNESOTA

RB DALVIN COOK may be ready to go this Sunday at the Jets.  He practiced fully on Wednesday, although he was expected back last week from his hamstring problem as well.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Something to keep an eye on – QB CARSON WENTZ was limited with a back injury on Wednesday.

 

T JASON PETERS with his biceps injury was also among those described as limited.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com gives us this look at QB PATRICK MAHOMES.  Here’s a piece of it:

 

Ask the boys back home, coaching high school ball in Tyler or pumping oil in Midland, whether they thought any of this was possible when they were going home early in the 5A state playoffs, and they’ll honestly tell you: No. Mahomes always excelled at any sport he played, but he was never the kind of prodigious quarterback who puts Division I coaches in the seats, knocking the door down with offers.

 

Mahomes, in fact, nearly quit football the summer before his junior year of high school, according to his mother, Randi. He’d played safety as a sophomore and felt he didn’t get a fair shot at the position he wanted, quarterback. Rather than enter a QB competition as a junior, he figured he’d concentrate on basketball and baseball. (Mahomes would be drafted by the Detroit Tigers at the conclusion of his senior year in 2014, in the 37th round.) His mother encouraged him to pray on it.

 

Football, though, had one big thing going for it. While the baseball team labored in relative anonymity, and the sport’s professional lifestyle promised at least a few years on the road in even more anonymity, football was different. The football team had the juice.

 

“I think it had to do with the fans he had in football,” Randi says. “You’re in Texas—everybody comes out to watch Friday night football. At first he liked football, but he didn’t love it, and junior year he came to me and said he didn’t think he was going to play anymore. They weren’t letting him play quarterback.

 

“But in basketball they would do well, and nobody came to games. Baseball they would do well and no one came to games. In football the stands are full.”

 

“He finally got to play quarterback and he got to lead, and he just fell in love.”

– – –

Patrick was a somewhat introverted child from the start. He’d have friends over in elementary school and keep to himself, declining to play. His parents divorced when he was 11, in 2006, a year Randi describes as the most difficult of his life. Eventually he made a small group of friends through sports, and though they could have terrorized Tyler on weekends after football victories, they usually stayed clear of the party scene, according to Mahomes’ friends. When he arrived at Texas Tech, a year after Baker Mayfield made brief landfall there, the contrast was stark. Mayfield, who transferred to Oklahoma after one season, was boisterous and loud, leading with his mouth and backing it up with his arm. Mahomes was reserved, and let his arm do all the talking.

 

(When Mahomes did speak, his raspy voice became a source of amusement in the Texas Tech football program. Equipment manager Zane Perry nicknamed Mahomes, “Kermit the Frog.” Mahomes has always laughed it off, but his mother took umbrage when Reid this week described his voice as “froggish.” Said Ms. Mahomes: “Patrick thinks its funny, but as a mom I’m like, why’s he saying my son sounds like a frog? My sister would say you need to get that checked and I would say, ‘You need to worry about your own kid. I got this.’”).

 

“He’s not one of those rah rah guys,” says former Texas Tech and current Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant. “But whenever he does talk everybody just shuts up and listens. He has that quiet-boy swag.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Isn’t it about time that the Bengals cut ties with LB VONTAZE BURFICT?  That’s the position of Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

From time to time, the NFL looks the other way regarding suspension-worthy behavior on the football field. This time, the NFL looked the other way on banishment-worthy behavior from Vontaze Burfict.

 

Burfict’s blatant forearm to the helmet of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown passes the walks/talks/quacks/craps-like-a-duck test, especially in light of Burfict’s history. He wanted to throw a forearm into the helmet of Brown, and Burfict did.

 

So why wasn’t he suspended? One possibility is that, with everything otherwise going so smoothly this year for the NFL, the league office opted not to undermine the upswing in scoring and ratings (and eventually revenue) by making a strong public statement about Burfict being a bad guy. With the league’s owners gathering on Tuesday for a quarterly meeting, the topic could/would have created plenty of sound bites regarding the unacceptability of the headhunting in which Burfict seemed to be engaged, drawing even more attention to the lingering dark underbelly of the game.

 

At a time when the league is determined to keep the focus on the game, the question of whether Burfict should be suspended for an extended stretch or kicked out of the league for good would take the focus away from the current Papa John’s-style “better offenses, better game, NFL” obsession.

 

But it’s becoming harder to ignore the situation, given that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger claims that, after the blow to Brown’s head, Burfict pointed to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and declared, “You’re next!”

 

The NFL has yet to respond to an inquiry from PFT as to whether they’ll investigate the situation and punish Burfict. They should. Ultimately, they should kick Burfict out of the league.

 

He has had ample opportunities to comply with the expectations of those who run the sport. He consistently has failed.

 

If you’re on the fence about that, take a look at this video posted by Robert Klemko of SI.com. Burfict is a menace to the game, a constant threat to the health and safety of his opponents, and unfit to conform to the conduct the league now mandates.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

A big game in the AFC South Sunday – and the Jaguars may not have any RBs of consequence.  RedZone.org:

 

Neither T.J. Yeldon nor Leonard Fournette practiced Wednesday as the Jacksonville Jaguars continue to struggle with the health of their running game according to the team’s official website.

 

Of the two, Yeldon’s absence is the most concerning as Fournette is fully expected to miss the team’s Week 7 game against the Houston Texans and may be held out through the team’s Week 9 bye to make sure his hamstring injury fully heals.  Yeldon is expected to carry the lead in Fournette’s absence but the veteran was held to just 11 touches in 40-7 blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.  The 25-year-old had an ankle issue dating back to Week 4 but now apparently has a foot injury also.  For the season Yeldon has 67 rushes for 299 yards while catching 25 passes for 223 yards and four combined touchdowns.

 

Fournette does not appear close to returning, although there must be some progress as he was already ruled out by this time last week.  Head coach Doug Marrone has said Fournette has a “chance” to play against the Texans but that chance appears to be slim.  Grizzled veteran Jamaal Charles, who was just signed last week, and David Williams are the Jaguars’ only healthy backs.

– – –

If Shad Khan does someday move the Jaguars to England, it won’t be to play in a Wembley Stadium that he owns.  Kevin Patra on Khan’s withdrawal:

 

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is shutting down his efforts to buy Wembley Stadium.

 

Khan and the Football Association announced Wednesday that the Jacksonville Jaguars owner has withdrawn his unsolicited offer to purchase the London stadium.

 

“Unfortunately, given where we are today, I’ve concluded that the outcome of a vote next week would be far from sufficient in expressing the broad support favored by the FA Chairman to sell Wembley Stadium,” Khan said in a statement. “Until a time when it is evident there is an unmistakable directive from the FA to explore and close a sale, I am respectfully withdrawing my offer to purchase Wembley Stadium.”

 

Khan, who is principal owner of Fulham F.C. as well as the Jags, proposed purchasing the stadium earlier this year, an effort he argued would free up funds to allow the FA to allocate elsewhere.

 

“… At a recent meeting with Mr. Khan he expressed to us that, without stronger support from within the game, his offer is being seen as more divisive than it was anticipated to be and has decided to withdraw his proposal,” FA chief executive Martin Glenn said in a statement. “Wembley Stadium is an iconic venue that is revered around world and it will continue to thrive under the ownership and direction of The FA.”

 

The dalliance with buying the stadium was viewed by many as the next step in Khan potentially moving the Jags permanently to London — a change he has repeatedly denied.

 

Wednesday news should pump the breaks further on any talks about a team moving its home base across the pond. Here is Khan’s complete statement on his decision:

 

I’ve been clear publicly as well as in my correspondence with the FA Council that it would require a proper partnership, with the full and enthusiastic commitment of all involved, to maximize the benefits to the FA and game of football by way of 100 percent private ownership of Wembley Stadium. At this moment, following last week’s FA Council hearing, it appears there is no definitive mandate to sell Wembley and my current proposal, subsequently, would earn the backing of only a slim majority of the FA Council, well short of the conclusive margin that the FA Chairman has required.

 

The intent of my efforts was, and is, to do right by everyone in a manner that strengthens the English game and brings people together, not divides them. Unfortunately, given where we are today, I’ve concluded that the outcome of a vote next week would be far from sufficient in expressing the broad support favored by the FA Chairman to sell Wembley Stadium. Until a time when it is evident there is an unmistakable directive from the FA to explore and close a sale, I am respectfully withdrawing my offer to purchase Wembley Stadium.

 

I cannot rule out revisiting the opportunity at another time when perhaps the Football Association family is unified in its views on the opportunity. What is certain is seeing a proposal of this magnitude come to fruition would necessitate an extraordinary partnership, one capable of doing remarkable things for all of our respective constituents well into the future. That would require the partners getting off to a strong and promising start, and with opinions clearly split, that is not possible at this time.

 

The journey was not without its rewards, as I have strengthened standing relationships while making new friends along the way. Wembley Stadium is indeed a national treasure, one I would care for and respect for generations. I recognize the passion many people have for Wembley and what it means to English football, and will be willing to re-engage with the FA on this matter under proper circumstances. In the meantime, I thank the FA for its consideration and as it continues to deliberate the potential of private ownership of Wembley Stadium, I trust it will own and operate Wembley in a manner that will provide exceptional service to players, guests and the development of football in England.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills are not going to the well with interception machine QB NATHAN PETERMAN in Indianapolis on Sunday.  Instead, they turn to grizzled vet DEREK ANDERSON.  Sal Maiorana in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

 

There was really no other choice Bills coach Sean McDermott could have made.

 

With Josh Allen out indefinitely due to an elbow injury, the duration of which seems very much up in the air, Buffalo needs someone else to play quarterback for the immediate future, starting Sunday in Indianapolis, and McDermott has chosen Derek Anderson to be that player rather than Nathan Peterman.

 

“It’s the right move for our team,” McDermott said in making the announcement Wednesday morning.

 

Obviously, it was.

 

Peterman, who said after practice, “I respect the decision,” has endured nothing but misery in his time with the Bills. He has now appeared in seven games counting his cameo at the end of the Bills’ playoff loss in Jacksonville. He has completed just 36 of 82 passes (43.9 percent) with three touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating is historically horrible at 29.11, and last week’s game-losing pick-six in Houston only diminished that number.

 

It would have been unconscionable of McDermott to continue to trust Peterman, so even though Anderson has been with the Bills barely a week, he was clearly the right choice.

 

“Derek’s a guy that I’ve been around in Carolina,” McDermott said, referring to the six years they spent with the Panthers before McDermott took the Bills’ head coaching job last season. “He brings experience, a leadership presence to the table and he’s worked hard the last week, week and a half here to get himself up to speed.”

 

Two weeks ago, Anderson was chasing around his three children, ages 4, 3, and 1. Sunday, he’ll be starting an NFL game. Even for a 14-year veteran, it’s a little crazy.

 

“It’s football,” he said. “Things that happen in this game never amaze me; just gotta be ready at all times. I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into coming here. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but we’re going to do what we can.”

 

Anderson has not started a game since Dec. 4, 2016 when Carolina was at Seattle. The first pass he threw in that game was intercepted, and it set up a field goal by then-Seattle kicker Stephen Hauschka which started the Seahawks on their way to a 40-7 rout. Cam Newton, who did not start because of a disciplinary situation, replaced Anderson on the next series.

 

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins list QB RYAN TANNEHILL as “limited” after he’s sighted at Wednesday’s practice, but does not throw any passes.  Some reports say he is “ruled out” for Sunday with the Lions. Meanwhile, NFL Justice is trying to get to the bottom of last week’s surprise failure to play.  Armando Salguero in the Miami Herald:

 

The NFL office intends to contact the Miami Dolphins to investigate the team’s handling of the Ryan Tannehill injury situation and how the team reported the injury on its injury reports last week, an NFL source told The Miami Herald on Wednesday.

 

The NFL looks into how teams report injuries — particularly to prominent players such as starting quarterbacks — when questions arise whether a team has adhered to league policy.

– – –

The NFL looking into the injury report matter does not not mean the Dolphins broke the rules or tried to circumvent them. But obviously the way the situation played out is curious.

 

The Dolphins say Tannehill was injured in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals when he was trying to throw the ball but a defensive player grabbed or hit his arm as it was starting to torque forward.

 

Tannehill was unable to complete his throwing motion.

 

Coach Adam Gase has said Tannehill was sore on Monday and Tuesday last week but felt better by Wednesday.

 

Despite the injury, the team’s injury report reads he practiced full on Wednesday. That means he did everything and took every snap as if he was healthy.

 

Then, Gase has said, things got worse on Thursday.

 

“He was starting to feel better and then we went out and practiced on Wednesday and he was sore but he was fine,” Gase told reporters after the victory over the Chicago Bears. “And then Thursday kind of came around and it just kind of got progressively worse as far as his ability to really throw the ball the way he wanted to. So we kind of were just making contingency plans in case it just didn’t get any better.”

 

Gase went on to say Osweiler took some first-team snaps in Thursday’s practice.

 

According to the NFL rules, practicing full means the player takes all his normal reps. Practicing limited means the player took “less than 100 percent” of his normal reps.

 

Obviously, Tannehill took less than 100 percent of his normal reps on Thursday but the Dolphins reported him as practicing full.

 

Another question is why the Dolphins listed Tannehill as “questionable” on Friday when multiple national news outlets on game day reported Tannehill was actually “doubtful” to play.

 

The Dolphins will have to come up with answers for all this.

 

The team gave no such answers on Wednesday, however. The team referred all questions regarding the injury report investigation to the league office.

 

The NFL takes the injury reporting process seriously. It has called its policy “a cornerstone of public confidence in the NFL for many decades.”

 

If he was on the report as questionable on Friday, we don’t see that it is that big a deal that this time the answer to the question was “no.”

 

It also seems that the Thursday report is done before practice – and Salguero’s story says he got worse as the day went along.  Perhaps the Dolphins should have issued an amended report on Thursday night, but really it sounds like no big deal.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

THE 10 BEST PLAYERS

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report takes an “informal poll” of some NFL execs and comes up with this list of the 10 best players in the 2018 NFL:

 

Who are the 10 best players in the NFL today?

 

That’s a text we sent to 12 longtime NFL scouts, coaches and general managers as the NFL season nears its midpoint.

 

That question alone is tough to answer. You almost need context to define what “best” means. Are the best players those with the most talent or the players dominating statistically? To be one of the 10 best players, do you have to have both talent and production?

 

Ultimately, that was up to the 12 men responding. What does best mean to them and who ranks in the top 10 players right now?

 

Here are the results.

 

10. Odell Beckham Jr.

Scout’s Take: “OBJ is always in consideration [for top 10]…Eli is killing him.”

 

Giants owner John Mara may want OBJ to do a “little less talking,” but those around the league know just how dominant Beckham is—even if he’s being held back by Eli Manning, as this scout suggested.

 

On the season, Beckham has just one touchdown to go with his 45 catches, but the struggles of the New York Giants offense start with the play of Manning. “If you’re basing this on talent and production, Odell has to be top 10,” said another NFC pro scout. And he is, no matter how many times the Giants offense misfires because of the play at quarterback.

 

Beckham is also controversial. While five scouts polled said he was a top-10 player, one wouldn’t rank him highly based on “drops, his attitude and how soft he is.”

 

9. Antonio Brown

Scout’s Take: “He might not lead the league in catches or yards this year, but AB is still the best wide receiver in the game.”

 

Here’s an example of a ranking based on talent and production combined.

 

With six touchdowns to go with his 40 catches this year, Antonio Brown is still statistically one of the most explosive and reliable offensive weapons in the NFL. It almost seems like that was forgotten when the Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a slow start, but Brown had 24 catches in the team’s first three games. His dominance hasn’t changed.

 

The 30-year-old is the top-ranked wide receiver on this list, but scouts did note that OBJ and others might be catching him. “AB is still the man, but you have to look at what Mike Thomas [New Orleans Saints] and others are doing. The gap isn’t what it used to be,” said one rival head coach.

 

8. Von Miller

Scout’s Take: “I don’t care about Khalil Mack or Myles Garrett or anybody else, Von is still the best pass-rusher in the league.”

 

With 5.5 sacks on the season, Von Miller is once against proving to be one of the best pass-rushers in football. And with a premium placed on getting to the quarterback, it’s easy to see why he claimed a top-10 spot.

 

Miller helped usher in a new trend in football when the Denver Broncos began rushing him from the left side of the defense to attack slower, less athletic right tackles on the offensive line. That’s now commonplace, as defensive coordinators look for any edge to get to the quarterback a step faster.

 

With speed, instincts and a bevy of pass-rushing moves, Miller still stands out as one of the game’s most impactful players.

 

7. Drew Brees

Scout’s Take: “It might be controversial, but I still think you have to put Brees up there.”

 

Controversial? Drew Brees?

 

Your first reaction is probably like mine; why the heck would Brees in the top 10 be controversial? “Well, statistically, he’s not having a top-10 season, and you could make the case that his team isn’t playing that well, either,” responded the general manager who placed Brees in his top 10.

 

Ultimately, all 12 respondents agreed and put Brees in the top 10. Is that based on reputation, or is he really still a top-10 player?

 

“Make a list of players you’d want on your team if you had to win one game. How far down that list is Brees?”

 

For me, he’s top 10.

 

6. Aaron Donald

Scout’s Take: “He started slow, but in the last month no one has been better than Aaron Donald.”

 

Every evaluator we talked to ranked Donald as a top-10 player, and his play in the last three games (four sacks in that time) backs it up—Donald is a top-tier player and arguably the league’s best defender.

 

Rushing from the interior of the Rams defense, Donald has lived up to his paycheck as the league’s top-paid defensive tackle. It’s no coincidence that Donald’s ability has helped lead the Rams to the NFL’s only remaining undefeated record.

 

“What he’s doing from the middle is unlike anything I’ve seen. He might be the most talented player in the game,” said a rival coach. Donald’s play and ranking seem to agree.

 

5. Patrick Mahomes

Scout’s Take: “Mahomes has to be on your list. He’s going to be league MVP.”

 

Only seven starts into his NFL career, Mahomes is on this list as one of the best players in the league. And it’s important to remember this isn’t about who has had the best career. It’s looking at the best players of the present.

 

Mahomes is one of them.

 

Through the Chiefs’ 5-1 start, Mahomes has thrown for 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions while generating the kind of buzz throughout the league rarely seen after a handful of starts. Mahomes is not only one of the league’s most productive players right now, but he’s also one of its most marketable. He has the talent and success to quickly become one of the faces of the NFL.

 

4. Todd Gurley

Scout’s Take: “If MVP truly goes to the league’s best player, it better go to Todd Gurley.”

 

Todd Gurley is doing amazing things in an explosive, wide-open Rams offense and is in the running for the MVP award. Through six games, Gurley leads the NFL in touchdowns (11) and rushing yards (623) while dominating on a weekly basis.

 

Gurley is the perfect fit for head coach Sean McVay’s fast-paced offense given his versatility and ability to run without a fullback or often even a tight end clearing paths for him. His vision and explosiveness are why the Rams invested a top-10 pick in a running back.

 

The MVP award has mostly gone to quarterbacks, but Gurley is making a serious case as the league’s best player this year.

 

3. Khalil Mack

Scout’s Take: “That ankle injury might be the only thing that could stop Khalil Mack.”

 

An ankle injury suffered against the Miami Dolphins slowed Mack down for the first time all season and might put his chances for postseason awards in doubt, but through the first six weeks of the season no one has been better on defense.

 

Mack, who was traded to the Chicago Bears and almost immediately suited up to play before getting into football shape, had five sacks in his first five games and was impacting the game with four forced fumbles and an interception. It was a legitimate MVP-type season, and he appeared to be a lock for Defensive Player of the Year.

 

As long as Mack can get back healthy, he’ll stay high on this list.

 

2. Tom Brady

Scout’s Report: “He’s obviously the greatest ever, but he’s still really good right now too.”

 

Tom Brady is still great, as seen in the New England Patriots’ shootout win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. Statistically, Brady might be having a down year through six games, but his talent and success speak for themselves.

 

The numbers aren’t great so far—Brady isn’t top 10 in yards or quarterback rating—but his 13 touchdowns rank in the top 10, and his ability to carve up defenses remains as good as ever. There’s also a belief that Brady is only getting started this year.

 

With Josh Gordon in the fold and Julian Edelman back from suspension, the Patriots offense might be unstoppable for the next 10 games.

 

1. Aaron Rodgers

Scout’s Report: “If you put it all together—stats and talent and impact—Rodgers is still the best.”

 

Khalil Mack, Todd Gurley and Patrick Mahomes each got a vote as the best player in the league, but of the 12 evaluators talked to, an amazing nine voted for Rodgers.

 

Maybe it’s the recency bias of a Monday night comeback over the San Francisco 49ers that had the league buzzing, but this also isn’t a new opinion. Rodgers has long been considered the most talented quarterback in the NFL even though he hasn’t been surrounded by the Brady-like coaching talent needed to win multiple titles.

 

Rodgers’ ability and impact are unrivaled in the NFL for now, which is why he’s still tops on the list.

 

So who’s missing? 

 

The DB probably has the hardest time with Beckham in the top 10. 

 

Production with a mid-level QB doesn’t get WR ADAM THIELEN on the list.  Is Odell a better producer than Thielen or TYREEK HILL or DeANDRE HOPKINS? Or JULIO JONES?  He could be, but right now is he?

 

What a difference a year makes with no CARSON WENTZ.  RUSSELL WILSON?