What we learned in our first visit with GM Ryan Pace since before Bears' disappointing 2019 campaign

Posted on January 2, 2020 - 14:06:00

Chicago values Leonard Floyd's versatility ... but how much remains to be seen; plus, Shaheen still standing and Pineiro on solid footing

Our visit Tuesday with Ryan Pace in his first availability since Sept. 2 spanned roughly 35 minutes and was so exhaustively focused on QB Mitch Trubisky that the general manager wasn't queried for a rookie evaluation of Trubisky's backfield mate David Montgomery, and the subject of Roquan Smith's complicated sophomore season wasn't even broached.

Still, there was important ground covered irrespective of Trubisky and the Bears' most recent top picks, and because our focus Tuesday was mostly on the quarterback, several players rehabbing offseason surgeries, and Matt Nagy and his coaching staff changes, we're switching gears and sharing what we heard from team brass on Leonard Floyd, Adam Shaheen and Eddy Pineiro, along with out interpretations.

Floyd love keeps flowing: "We're happy with Leonard. I know the stats don't always say that. Leonard does a lot of things that go a little undervalued. ... For him, he plays with such a high motor. He plays physical. He played the run really well this year. Again, there's a lot of things in coverage that he does that a lot of outside linebackers in the NFL can't do," Pace said.

Bears Insider take: In a potential contract season, Floyd managed a career-low three sacks. That disappointment was magnified by Khalil Mack's declined productivity and Akiem Hicks' half-season-long absence, resulting in the Bears ranking only 27th in sack percentage — down from No. 9 last season — and finishing No. 22 in the NFL in ESPN's new metric pass rush win rate.

Suffice to say, the play of the Bears' three highest-paid pass rushers is intertwined. For instance, with Hicks out of the equation and Floyd struggling to win individual matchups, Bears opponents opted to deploy chip help to Mack on 58 snaps, the third-highest total in the NFL, according to PFF.

It stands to reason, then, that the Bears might covet next season a Mack bookend who can take greater advantage of so many one-on-ones than Floyd, who hasn't lived up to expectations rushing the passer as a former No. 9 overall pick but is slated to earn a top-10 EDGE salary of $13.2 million on his fifth-year team option.

Pace wouldn't get into contract specifics on any player — including Floyd — and it wouldn't behoove the Bears to do so for someone who could have trade value. Our hunch is that the two sides could look to strike a long-term agreement that would give Floyd more security at a price tag better reflective of his versatility but also limitations as a rusher.

Shaheen's last stand?: "Shaheen is talented. I think what's hurt his development, especially being small school, is the time he missed. When he's played, we've liked what we have seen. He just hasn't put it out there long enough."

Bears Insider take: The 45th overall selection in the 2017 draft, Adam Shaheen was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 30 with a foot issue — or so we're told. It was more than a bit curious that Shaheen first was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career the week after inexcusably fumbling a squib kick at the end of the Eagles game and prior to popping up on the injury report for the first time all season. Moreover, when Nagy was simply asked whether Shaheen hurt the same foot that cost him half of the 2018 campaign, he wasn't sure.

It should be clear by now that Shaheen has been unable to compensate for the massive jump from Ashland University to the NFL in large part because he's lacking in functional strength and athleticism. Pace perhaps protecting another of his recent high draft picks did no one any favors from an aesthetics standpoint, but we get it for the same reason we outlined above with Floyd. What we simply cannot get behind is Pace using Shaheen's lack of availability as an excuse for his failure to develop after Nagy certainly appeared at least to decide he was done with the experiment for reasons unrelated to injury.

Pace said Shaheen will be be back for his final season, using the same broad explanation we heard multiple times — he's under contract — but it should be most obvious to the general manager that the Bears would be acting recklessly entering the offseason by counting on anything from Shaheen at a position whose barreness crippled the offense.

Kick starter: "The goal the whole time was to hit on a young kicker that we can grow. We feel like we've done that with Eddy. He finished the season strong, made 11 straight field goals. We feel like he's going to continue to get better," Pace said.

Bears Insider take: Pace also said that the Bears are "very proud" of the outcome of their well-documented and unorthodox kicker battle last offseason, and Pineiro's grounded approach "is going to carry him a long way."

That could all certainly be accurate, but if we've learned anything when it comes to the Bears and kickers, it's to take things one step at a time. Pineiro finished the season on a strong note, literally hitting a game-winner in the regular-season finale on his 11th consecutive conversion. It should be noted, though, that only five of his 23 conversions (on 28 attempts) was from 40 yards or farther, and Nagy clearly lost trust at least temporarily in the first-year kicker following the missed would-be game-winner vs. the Chargers.

But it's probably safe to assume the Bears won't need a separate field at Halas Hall to accommodate place-kicking challengers this spring.

What we learned visiting with Bears asst. coaches in Week 11

Posted on November 12, 2019 - 17:36:00

Ragone on Trubisky's best game, Monachino on Mack's charge and lots more

For the third time this season but first following a victory, the Bears assistant coaches met the media Monday.

As we do each month, a look at some of the more interesting takeaways, followed by our interpretations because coach speak is real, even coming off a win.

QB coach Dave Ragone on Mitch Trubisky's big-time throws Sunday, when Trubisky threw three touchdowns and logged a 131.0 passer rating, the third highest of his career: "What I saw is great anticipation," he said of Trubisky's third TD toss, a 24-yard corner route to Taylor Gabriel. "That’s another one when you watch on the coaches’ copy, he had just come out of the break. It wasn’t like he was wide. ... And right there, you start to couple a couple of throws together and look at ‘em — the Braunecker and the Allen Robinson. Those three throws to me are three throws — especially since I’ve been here, obviously the whole time with him — those are some of the better throws, especially the Robinson throw, I’ve seen since I’ve been with him."

Bears Insider interpretation: Those throws provided an important reminder of Trubisky's ceiling, and coming from Ragone — who has seen up close every one of Trubisky's 663 attempts — it's notable that he'd lump three from Sunday in the total ledger in Year 3. More importantly, of course, over the final seven games is that Trubisky continues to flash what his ceiling can be while providing far fewer reminders of his floor.

OLB coach Ted Monachino on Khalil Mack's quiet spell spanning the previous five games, when his star pupil has managed only one sack and zero forced fumbles: "It takes time. You keep grinding away at it. Eventually you finish a play. Maybe you work your way through a double team and finish a play and then your confidence raises a little bit. And then maybe you finish another one the same week or the next week. ... I don’t think this is a slump. I think this is a situation where … I know that if I got locked in a room, I’d have a hard time getting out of it. And that’s a hard thing for him right now."

Bears Insider interpretation: We know confidence is an issue for Trubisky, not Mack, making this quote fascinating. Does Mack need to experience a bit of success himself right now? It seems unlikely but it's his position coach's words, not ours. His pressure rate of 3.4 per game is in line with last season, per Pro Football Reference. Still, we don't have a way of quantifying how frequently he's being double- or triple-teamed, nor can we say exactly how often he's being held.

WR coach Mike Furrey on how his group avoids getting frustrated by inconsistent quarterbacking and overall production on offense: "I’ve never seen quarterbacks go 100 percent completion percentage in a game — they’re going to miss throws. The question is, like [Sunday], Turbo hit the deep cross on the deep over, big third-down play early in the game, dropped the ball. That’s not Mitch’s fault; that’s our fault. But listen, you’re about to come back, you’re about run this route again on third down and you’re going to score a touchdown. So that’s the mindset that you have to have — especially playing wideout. You have to have as short of a memory as DBs do when they get beat when you’re not getting the football. You better get lined back up because if you’re sitting there pouting, 'I’m not getting the football,' and that football comes to you, you’re not being the player we want you to be. So I think they're all doing a really good job of that right now."

Bears Insider's interpretation: Chicago's pass-catching corps is among the league leaders in drops, so credit Furrey for deflecting from Trubisky to his group and citing a specific example of Taylor Gabriel's bad miss Sunday — but also how they went back to him and he flourished. As Matt Nagy, his staff and players continue preaching the importance of not letting negative plays snowball, this point rings especially true. We expect to have more on this subject this week and specifically the dynamic between Allen Robinson and Mitch Trubisky.

DL coach Jay Rodgers on the daily presence of Akiem Hicks despite his best player being on IR: "Well, Akiem is out there. He's on the sidelines. He's celebrating with the guys. He's telling the guys, 'hey, this is what happened.' He checks the screens just as much as I do. He's coaching those guys as much as I am out there. He brings the energy to meeting rooms, out there on the field. He's just not out there between the lines — that's the only thing he's not. But the contributions that he's giving right now [have] been tremendous."

Bears Insider's interpretation: Remember, Hicks has never dealt with a long-term injury before this one, so it's encouraging to hear that he's attempting to make it as constructive an experience as possible. His continued daily presence also might soon loom even larger with the unit's other vocal leader Danny Trevathan likely to soon join him on IR. We can't imagine the Bears risking activating Hicks off IR in Week 15 if they're not still playing for something, but it sounds like his passion hasn't wavered. It also sounds like coaching could be in his future.

All photo credits except Hicks (David Banks, AP) go to Mark Busch of Shaw Media (mbusch@shawmedia.com)

Handicappers Corner, Week 4

Posted on September 29, 2019 - 10:59:00

Picks for every remaining Week 4 game, including undefeated AFC East battle between Patriots and Bills

PFW Week 4 staff picks:

CAROLINA at HOUSTON (-4)

HA: HOU

AA: HOU

CLEVELAND at BALTIMORE (-7)

HA: BALT

AA: CLE*

WASHINGTON at N.Y. GIANTS (-3)

HA: WAS

AA: NYG

L.A. CHARGERS (-15 1/2) at MIAMI

HA: LAC

AA: LAC

OAKLAND at INDIANAPOLIS (-7)

HA: IND

AA: IND

K.C. (-6 1/2) at DETROIT

HA: KC

AA: KC

N.E. (-7) at BUFFALO

HA: NE

AA: BUF*

TENNESSEE at ATLANTA (-4)

HA: TEN*

AA: ATL

T.B. at L.A. RAMS (-9 1/2)

HA: LAR

AA: LAR

SEATTLE (-5) at ARIZONA

HA: SEA

AA: SEA

MINNESOTA at CHICAGO (-2)

HA: CHI

AA: CHI

JACKSONVILLE at DENVER (-3)

HA: DEN

AA: DEN

DALLAS (-2 1/2) at NEW ORLEANS

HA: NO

AA: DAL

CINCINNATI at PITTSBURGH (-4)

HA: CIN*

AA: CIN*

BEST BETS

HA: KC

Matt Patricia's Lions deserve a ton of credit for their strong start and upsets of the Eagles and Chargers, and yes, this one is in Detroit. But let's be honest, guys, the Lions personnel just doesn't stack up in a depth chart comparison to the Chiefs, and Kansas City is going to put up a ton of points on anybody. Can this Lions offense hang with the Chiefs in a shootout, if that's what this becomes? I don't see how.

AA: SEA

Aftter the Seahawks were humbled at home last week by the Saints, they'll be all business headed to the desert for their initial battle with Kliff and Kyler. Pete Carroll's coaching edge over Sean Payton isn't nearly as sizable as the one he should have over the still-green Kingsbury, and though we're a bit concerned about Chandler Jones vs. a shorthanded Seattle O-line, Russell Wilson will don the superman cape if necessary to get the Seahawks pointed back in the right direction ahead of a short week to prepare for a visit from the division-leading Rams Thursday.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS

HA: 10-5 / 10-5 / 1-0

AA: 9-6 / 6-9 / 0-1

SEASON RESULTS

HA: 29-15-1 / 18-27 / 1-2

AA: 30-13-1 / 20-25 / 2-1

Handicappers Corner, Week 3

Posted on September 20, 2019 - 13:46:00

PFW Week 3 staff picks:

DENVER at GREEN BAY (-7 1/2)

Hub Arkush: DEN*

Arthur Arkush: GB

DETROIT at PHILLY (-7)

HA: DET*

AA: DET*

BALTIMORE AT K.C. (-6)

HA: KC

AA: BAL*

CINCINNATI AT BUFFALO (-6)

HA: CIN*

AA: BUF

ATLANTA AT INDIANAPOLIS (-1 1/2)

HA: IND

AA: IND

OAKLAND AT MINNESOTA (-9)

HA: MIN

AA: OAK*

N.Y. JETS AT NEW ENGLAND (-22 1/2)

HA: NE

AA: NE

MIAMI AT DALLAS (-22 1/2)

HA: DAL

AA: MIA*

N.Y. GIANTS AT TAMPA BAY (-6 1/2)

HA: TB

AA: TB

ARIZONA AT CAROLINA (-2 1/2)

HA: CAR

AA: ARI

NEW ORLEANS AT SEATTLE (-4)

HA: NO*

AA: SEA

HOUSTON AT L.A. CHARGERS (-3)

HA: LAC

AA: LAC

PITTSBURGH AT SAN FRANCISCO (-6 1/2)

HA: PIT

AA: PIT*

L.A. RAMS (-3) AT CLEVELAND 

HA: LAR

AA: CLE

CHICAGO (-4) AT WASHINGTON

HA: CHI

AA: CHI

BEST BETS

HA: KC

The difference in these two teams is that we know exactly who the Chiefs are and what to expect pretty much irrespective of who they play. This is the Ravens' chance to earn that kind of trust, and I don't love the Kansas City defense. But this isn't just the Ravens' first big test, it's their first real challenge, and until they show me they can handle it the Chiefs are a pretty easy pick here.

AA: TB

This isn't an endorsement of Jameis Winston, despite him coming off a dynamite performance last Thursday in Carolina, as much as it is a major vote of confidence in Tampa's 'D' vs. a rookie quarterback being thrown into the fire of his NFL starting debut. Under Todd Bowles, the Bucs have been sneaky (and suddenly) good, and they'll make life very hard on top pick Daniel Jones in his NFL starting debut, while Winston gets an awful Big Blue 'D' allowing an embarrassing 132.3 passer rating and 10.6 yards per pass attempt — both representing the worst in the NFC — to Dak Prescott and Josh Allen.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS (SU, ATS & BEST BET):

HA: 8-7 / 3-12 / 0-1

AA: 10-4 / 7-8 / 1-0

SEASON RESULTS:

HA: 19-10-1 / 8-22 / 0-2

AA: 21-7-1 / 14-16 / 2-0

Why New York Giants made the Eli Manning-Daniel Jones switch now

Posted on September 20, 2019 - 11:08:53

By letting its top pick get experience on the fly as a rookie, Big Blue can set itself up for potentially competitive 2020

With the announcement that the New York Giants are making the switch to Daniel Jones at the quarterback position, it is time for the best part of following sports: The debates! As with any decision - in football or in life - there are usually some pros and some cons associated with the choices in front of you.

So let’s work through those together, shall we? 

The Cons

Starting Jones does not come without risk. On the cons side of that ledger you might find items such as “he might not be ready for this,” or “the offense around him might not have enough talent” or “he will be starting his first game on the road,” among others. 

The Timing

At the start of the season, after Jones looked solid during preseason action, it did seem like the stage was set for the rookie to take over this team at some point during the 2019 campaign. He showed prowess in the vertical passing game, he showed toughness in the pocket, he brought athleticism to the table. You know, all the things we will get to in a moment on the “pros” side of the ledger. But when would be the right time. Assuming the Giants would not be competitive in what looks like a tough NFC East - and through two weeks, that assumption seems to be on point - when would Pat Shurmur make the move?

To me, it looked like mid-October would be the right time to make the switch. After playing at New England on Thursday, October 10th, the Giants would have a "mini-bye" week before hosting the Arizona Cardinals on the 20th. That seemed like the ideal time to make the move. Give Jones an extra bit of time to get ready, and certainly do not start him on a short week in Foxborough against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Instead, Shurmur makes the move now, before the Giants travel south to take on a Tampa Bay team coming off a "mini-bye" week of their own. That ... might not be ideal timing.

The Talent

Or perhaps more accurately, the lack of talent around him.

Now, Dave Gettleman has started to build on the offensive side of the football. Saquon Barkley is an offensive talent for sure, and a player that the Giants need to truly build around. Gettleman has also made moves to bolster the offensive line, which was a weak spot of this roster when he arrived in the Big Apple. So there have been improvements.

Yet, the wide receiver room is lacking at the moment. Sterling Shepard is a nice piece but he is not a true No. 1 at this point in his career. The player that could be considered their No. 1, Golden Tate, is suspended. This might necessitate New York using more "12" offensive sets, which could make sense if you plan on throwing off of play-action against base defenses, but the WR group would get a boost from Tate’s return to the lineup, which won’t happen for a few more weeks.

Eli Manning Is Not the Problem

If you watch the Giants’ offense from the past two weeks, or the Giants in general, you would come away thinking that defense, and not Manning, were the issue. You’d be correct in that assertion. Manning has not been perfect over the first two games, but few quarterbacks have. Part of his mistakes might also be due to Shurmur putting him in situations that he might not be best suited to run. For example, in Week 1 the Giants rolled Manning out on two different occasions on short-yardage situations. On one such play, he was flagged for intentional grounding. On the other, he was strip-sacked and lost the football. Maybe playing more to your quarterback’s strengths - rather than benching him - would be the right move.

Jones Might Not Be Ready

While the rookie certainly looked the part during his preseason action, it is one thing to fare well against players fighting for jobs and on roster bubbles. Players who are out there running basic defensive looks and coverages, and not doing much to confuse you as a QB. It is another thing altogether to be out there as the team’s starter, going up against the starters on the other side of the football, when the defensive coordinator is more concerned with stopping you than he is getting good film on each player to use as comparison tape when making roster cuts. Suddenly that look that you are convinced is Cover 4 pre-snap - because that’s how it looked against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the preseason - turns to a combination coverage in the blink of an eye and you are not quite ready for it. 

Is the rookie actually ready for what he is about to experience?

Those are the “cons.” What about the “pros?” Here we can go both big and small picture.

The Pros

Let’s start with the big picture. First off, there might not be any “right time” to make this move, absent an injury forcing the organization’s hands. While Manning is not the root cause of New York’s 0-2 start, he has not been an overly productive quarterback recently. Many were clamoring for the Giants to take a Sam Darnold or a Josh Allen when they drafted Barkley last year. So, though the timing might not be perfect, perhaps it is overdue.

Speaking of Barkley, we all have grown to accept that the biggest competitive advantage a team can have right now is a productive QB on his rookie deal. After all, I based an entire piece on it in last year’s PFW draft magazine. That equation might be different with the Giants. After all, Barkley is going to get paid soon. So the rookie deal that New York actually needs to maximize is his, and not Jones’. If the Duke rookie were to ride the pine for most of the 2019 campaign, that just means more of a learning curve type season in 2020, and perhaps more of a wasted year of Barkley’s rookie deal. Putting Jones on the field now gives them a shot at being truly competitive in 2020 while Barkley is still cost-controlled. 

In addition, while the concerns about Jones as a QB are still present, there are things he brings to the table that Shurmur can build an offense round. We can work through those as well. 

Athleticism

One of the strengths to Jones’ game, dating back to his time at Duke, is his athletic ability. For a young quarterback learning life in the NFL, the ability to create and/or extend with your legs can be a neutralizer of sorts. Should things break down around the QB - even as a result of a poor decision or slow read - he can use his legs to create. That is something we have seen from Jones so far, and again while in college:

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In addition, in Week 1 we saw the Giants struggle on two designed play-action rollouts, with Eli Manning grounding one play and getting strip-sacked on the other. Jones’ athleticism makes designs like this a better proposition:

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On this play against Georgia Tech from 2018, the Blue Devils roll Jones out to the left and he makes a quick read and throw to the flat. 

We can also add to this the zone read element of the offense, pairing Jones in the backfield with Barkley. A critical component to those designs is the fear that an athletic quarterback puts in the mind of defensive ends. An end worried about the QB’s legs might be slower to react to inside running plays/handoffs to the running back, and that might create some easier running lanes for Barkley. 

Pocket Toughness

Some might have checked this box from Jones before he hit the NFL. While at Duke he showed the ability to move around in the pocket well using his legs, but he was also willing to hang in the pocket and make throws as the chaos swirled around him. Take, for example, this play against Georgia Tech from 2018:

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Jones runs a run/pass option look, meeting his running back at the mesh point and pulling to throw. Before the play, Georgia Tech showed a rotation to a soft Cover 3 look, so he wants to throw a backside bang 8 post route.  But he has to carry out the mesh fake to his left before coming back to throw this pattern. His footwork is extremely fluid here, as he gets himself in good throwing position, and then caps it off with great placement. 

But in terms of pure toughness, nothing probably tops this sequence from his game against the Cincinnati Bengals during the preseason. Carl Lawson (#58) puts a perfect pass rushing move on the left tackle on this play, and Jones gets drilled in the pocket on a hit he never saw coming:

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Yet on the next play, he comes back and throws a dime to Darrius Slayton (#86) in the deep passing game, again from a crowded pocket with chaos swirling: 

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Pocket toughness: Box checked. 

Intermediate Accuracy

Similar to the pocket toughness, this is again not a knock on Manning but a look at what Jones can provide. Coming out of Duke, Jones looked like more of a passer destined for a pure West Coast offense, but in his minimal action in the NFL he has flashed both velocity and placement in the intermediate passing game. One of his most memorable plays from the preseason came on such a throw, on a post route attacking the middle of the field: 

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The Bengals are in a single-high coverage scheme here with safety Shawn Williams (#36) deep in the middle of the field. Golden is in the slot to the right as part of a three-receiver set, while Slayton is the lone receiver on the left. Slayton runs a double move, starting inside before breaking vertically, while Golden runs the post. Jones opens up to the left here and stares down Slayton using a subtle shoulder fake, which holds Williams toward that side of the field. With great protection, Jones is able to come late to Golden on the post route, and Williams - who has been held in the middle of the field thanks to the route design and Jones’ manipulation - is a step late and cannot impact the play.

Deep Passing Prowess

While the previous throw to Slayton is a good example of this, I come back to the touchdown from his debut in the NFL:

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Jones puts this throw to Bennie Fowler (#18) in an absolutely perfect spot. The corner route is perhaps the toughest deep route to throw - especially in the back corner of the end zone where there are essentially two extra defenders with the end line and the sideline - and Jones is perfect here. 

Quick Game Processing

Let’s talk about processing speed. Studying Jones left me with the belief that his mental prowess is best on quick game concepts. These two plays against Virginia from 2018 were prime bits of evidence that I would return to over and over again when thinking about his best scheme fit. On this first play, the Blue Devils face a third-and-5 in their own territory. They empty the backfield and put Jones in the shotgun, and run a Stick concept to a trips formation:

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Jones wants to throw backside here, to the slot receiver on a curl route, because he expects the middle linebacker to open his hips to the three-receiver side of the formation. However, unexpectedly the middle linebacker opens to the weak side of the offensive formation, jumping the backside curl route, due to a pressure package Virginia brings on the play. That forces Jones to change his read on the fly, and he comes to the curl route from the inside trips receiver.

Here is another example of Jones’ execution on a quicker route concept and showing great processing speed. On this third down against the Cavaliers, Duke runs a go/flat concept to the left side of the formation. Jones wants to throw the flat route to his slot receiver, but the cornerback traps this from the boundary, leaving the vertical route open along the sideline:

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Again, this is great processing speed on a quick game concept. Jones picks up the trap on the slot receiver and immediately comes to the vertical route along the boundary. 

This is something that has also translated to the NFL. This is an example of this in action:

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What stands out on this play is how quickly Jones (#8) gets through to Shepard, who is his third read on the concept. As he takes the shotgun snap, Jones first peeks at Latimer on his out route, but not liking what he sees he turns his field of vision to the drive concept. He checks Ellison and then finally comes to Shepard to throw the crosser, which he does with precision placement.

Watch this play again, and focus on Jones during his drop from the shotgun alignment. Before he hits his drop depth he has come off the out pattern and brought his eyes to the drive concept in the middle of the field. That is a very quick read and decision, but it is the right one from the young quarterback. From the end zone angle, you can see how he works the next two reads in the progression, looking first at Ellison before he comes underneath to Shepard:

comp:00005d7f4f23:00000001fb:18ba 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/QZQ77K6BtZ7wKLXNpE" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/QZQ77K6BtZ7wKLXNpE">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 47

This is very well done from Jones. He’ll need to make quick decisions like this as he adjusts to life as an NFL starter.

Expectations and The Ultimate Verdict

Now, only time will tell if this was truly the right decision, to switch to Jones at this point. But given the state of play, it was the right call. Absent a strange set of circumstances unfolding over the next few weeks, it is unlikely that the Giants were going to be competitive in the division this season. Letting Jones get some much-needed experience now will set the organization up to be competitive in 2020 while the window of Barkley’s rookie deal - and Jones’ - is still open. Perhaps Jones can enjoy a similar Year 2 leap akin to Jared Goff’s or Mitchell Trubisky’s. 

As for what Giants fans can expect? Well, bumps in the road and growing pains. But on a week to week basis or so, look past the numbers and the production and see if he is starting to grow into the position. Playing QB is hard as hell at any level, and development at the position is not linear. But if Jones can start learning how to play the position in the NFL, and can start developing the mental aspects of the position in line with his physical traits, he can have that Year 2 leap like others before him, rendering the final verdict on making the switch now a positive one for the Giants.

 

Pro Football Weekly's Week 3 Power Rankings

Posted on September 18, 2019 - 14:25:00

Ravens and Niners soar up rankings, while injuries ravage Saints, Steelers and Panthers

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 3 of the 2019 season.

Rank / Team / The Skinny

1. Patriots — AB looked amazing in Pats debut, but it was an uncomfortable watch.

2. Chiefs — What other offense can lose Tyreek Hill and not slow down at all?

3. Rams — Week 2 two-fer: crush Saints while simultaneously becoming NFC favorite.

4. Cowboys — We should be talking about their offensive coordinator Moore.

5. Packers — Green Bay flexed some frightening newfound balance on rival Vikes.

6. Ravens – Bad opponents, but Lamar and that ‘D’ have our full attention now.

7. Seahawks — A 2-0-work-in-progress with an unflappable MVP-caliber QB/head coach.

8. Chargers — With all of their injuries, none loomed larger than missing kicker in Detroit.

9. Bears — Biggest development in win No. 1 arguably Matt Nagy’s willingness to adjust.

10. Eagles — How they emerge from bloodletting in Atlanta concerns us more than the loss.

11. 49ers — Tough team to wrap our arms around but hard to argue with two impressive road wins.

12. Bills — Josh Allen and the offense should only get better, and defense is already terrific.

13. Texans — Hoped for a few more style points vs. Jacksonville and fewer hits on Deshaun Watson.

14. Vikings — There’s one glaring issue and 84 million reasons to be wholly concerned about it.

15. Saints — Thought long and hard about putting Teddy’s Saints (for now) ahead of Cousins’ Vikings.

16. Colts — We told you this team would pluck despite no Luck, and the ‘D’ showed up this week.

17. Titans — Disappointing encore for Mariota and the offense vs. Colts team that Tennessee has handled.

18. Falcons — If Atlanta needed its season saved in Week 2, was there any doubt it’d be Julio to rescue?

19. Lions — It hasn’t been pretty, but they showed us something in upsetting the Bolts shorthanded.

20. Browns — Baker-OBJ fireworks, far more disciplined in getting back to .500; O-line still worrisome.

21. Bucs — Familiar: Jameis going from awful to great in a week. Unfamiliar and exciting: ‘D’ a thing again in Tampa with Bowles.

22. Raiders — Improved talent is apparent but three good quarters vs. Chiefs not enough.

23. Steelers — Big Ben injury crushing but Rudolph can play — and Minkah trade reflects Steelers’ belief.

24. Broncos —Stunning loss vs. former team aptly illustrates Fangio’s “death by inches” catchphrase.

25. Panthers — It was obvious Thursday Cam isn’t Cam. Now, he’s down and Panthers nearly out of lives.

26. Jaguars — Two weeks, two embarrassing reminders that Jacksonville still more immature than talented.

27. Bengals — They were as unimpressive at home in defeat to Niners as they were impressive losing in Seattle.

28. Giants — We’re moving them up for finally conceding that the future is now and it’s Daniel Jones.

29. Washington — It’ll be interesting to see after a few more losses whether Jay Gruden elevates Haskins.

30. Cardinals — Yes, Kliff and Kyler must start faster, but they’ve shown competitiveness quicker than we thought.

31. Jets — First, mono for Darnold, then season-ending ankle injury for Siemian — not Gang Green’s year, again?

32. Dolphins — Not-so-obvious potential tanking pitfall: retaining the few players one actually wants.  

Pro Football Weekly's Week 2 Power Rankings

Posted on September 11, 2019 - 13:56:00

Biggest initial tumble in rankings comes from Browns, while Cowboys surge behind Prescott

1 Patriots – So what else is new, did you expect anything different?

2 Chiefs – “D” needs work but who’s going to beat them in a shootout?

3 Rams – It was close, but still a nice win going left coast to right against a solid competitor.

4 Saints – “D” need 30:00 to find itself, but, oh, that second half.

5 Cowboys – As impressive as anyone on opening day, but it was the Giants.

6 Chargers – Bolts have a lot to clean up, but apparently running back won’t be the problem.

7 Eagles – So they missed their wakeup call, but once they got going, it was impressive.

8 Vikings – That was the team we thought we’d get last year, now let’s see how they age.

9 Texans – Every once in a while, style points count and that last TD from Watson to Stills was pure gold.

10 Seahawks – Bengals shouldn’t have been that hard but they got it in the W column.

11 Packers – It was ugly as it gets but going on the road in that environment and stealing one makes them interesting

12 Bears – Offense was pathetic, but it can’t be that bad and, oh that “D,” better than last year?

13 Ravens – I know Ravens fans and Jackson don’t want to hear it, but need to see them play an NFL Team.

14 Titans – They surprised us all, now how good are they if not gifted with 18 penalties – 182 yards.

15 Colts – Brissett was fine, run game outstanding – it was the awful “D” we didn’t see coming.

16 Panthers – Opener about what we expected, but what happens without 200-plus scrimmage yards, two TDs from McCaffrey?

17 Falcons – They can’t be that bad, are they?

18 Steelers – They can’t be that bad, are they?

19 Bills – Huge comeback win on the road, but lots of help from Jets and for three quarters, they were awful.

20 Raiders – Very impressive opener, but still don’t see the talent to move them higher yet.

21 Bengals – Cincy was actually much tougher than anyone predicted, but you have to get the “W.”

22 Lions – For three quarters, they looked great, but fourth quarter and OT will keep them in NFC North cellar.

23 Jaguars – With Foles gone for at least first half of season, Jags redemption will have to wait another year.

24 Washington – Actually, much better than we expected, but were they really good for a while or Eagles just snoozing?

25 Browns – It’s hard to believe they were that bad but it was how you spell U G L Y.

26 Broncos – Two different teams first half and second, let’s see which one shows up next week?

27 49ers – Yeah, they went coast-to-coast and won, but It was two teams trying to lose in a slop-fest.

28 Jets – Got their money’s worth out of Bell and Moseley, but is there more than them there?

29 Giants – A flash here and there, but they just don’t have the horses.

30 Buccaneers – Hard to imagine an Arians offense being that sloppy, “D” actually had a few moments.

31 Cardinals – Everyone will talk about the fourth quarter and OT, but did you see the first three?

32 Dolphins – After Week 1 and for the foreseeable future this is all that’s certain.

What we learned visiting with Bears assistant coaches

Posted on September 11, 2019 - 08:59:58

Bears WR coach Furrey on Allen Robinson's Rob's stamina, Deshea Townsend on Clinton-Dix's tackling and lots more

The Bears are making their assistant coaches available monthly this season, with our first chance to visit with them Tuesday, five days after the loss to the Green Bay Packers. We already shared Tuesday evening a bit of QB coach Dave Ragone trying to find the positives from QB Mitch Trubisky's debut. Here are four more interesting takeaways from those sessions:

WR coach Mike Furrey on Allen Robinson being in his best place right now with the Bears: “I saw what you saw on Thursday night: He was out there the entire game. He felt great. We never had that eye contact of he needs a break. Obviously he was very productive. I think he had an offseason, which allowed him to prepare for training camp, and he worked his tail off in training camp, [and] that’s allowed him to be productive how he was Thursday night. It was fun watching him. He looked real comfortable.”

PFW's interpretation: A-Rob has obviously been the Bears' best offensive player on the field in their two most recent games, and over his past three dating back to last season he's averaging 7.7 catches for 110 yards — exceeding his career averages by more than three catches and 45 yards. Small sample size? No doubt. But the six-year veteran is still only 26, as healthy as he's been in his career and, barring QB play, there's every reason to believe this is the type of stat line he's capable of producing on a weekly basis. Those would be obvious indicators of Robinson's continued ascent.

What we found interesting, though, from Furrey's quote was the nugget about playtime. To wit: Robinson's 96 prcent snap share on offense Thursday was his highest as a Bear, followed by the 94 percent he logged in the playoff loss. That true WR1 dude first began to appear in January — and it's a look he's wearing increasingly well with the new season underway.

DB coach Deshea Townsend, a former 13-year NFL vet and two-time Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steeler, thinks he knows the genesis of Ha Ha Clinton Dix's poor tackling rap — the ones pushing that narrative have never been met by Clinton-Dix in an alley: "The one thing I’ll say about the contact stuff is, you always wonder who wrote it and did they have a chance to run into him and tackle him? That’s always the thing you think about. He is … glad to have him here. I’m sure no DB nowadays is a killer. Your job is to get the man down, no matter how you do it. That issue hasn’t shown. How he’s come here and been a pro is what we expected. We all have things that we need to work on. And I guess those things people are saying, he has. He’s come in in the preseason and training camp and he’s done everything we’ve asked."

PFW's interpretation: Lost in our first viewing of the NFC North safety shuffle, punctuated by Adrian Amos' game-sealing interception, was the fact that Clinton-Dix also played a heck of a game. He nearly generated the first Bears takeaway of the season, punching the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands from behind. He forced the run with urgency, trailing only secondary mate Kyle Fuller with five total tackles. And, as Townsend explained, Clinton-Dix has kept his head down and worked following a delayed start to camp with a hamstring injury. What better way to assimilate in a star-laden secondary after the most humbling year of his career?

OL coach Harry Hiestand says there's a lot more than first meets the eye in reviewing James Daniels' first NFL start at center, most notably the second-year player getting blown up by Packers shooting star anchor Kenny Clark, and how the play call did Daniels no favors: "In the third-and-one, he was almost stung, so James had little chance on that one the way we approach it and I didn’t prepare him for that pressure in that front. And so he was playing it like a normal two-gap and then they brought the safety, so that one looked really, really bad on him. But overall he didn’t look like that the rest of the night and we had things we have to do better. But he didn’t do that too … that was kind of a product on that play.

"Yeah, definitely [Daniels' improved play strength showed up Thursday]. You could see him battle in there. There’s times when he was one-on-one in pass pro because they had all five guys rushing and he’s zero head up on him and he was pushing him. But he was hanging in there and giving Mitch enough and just totally one-on-one. There’s some things to take from that." 

PFW's interpretation: Daniels had at least two high-profile losses — the run stuff by Clark and a holding penalty — but Hiestand is as straight a shooter as there is on the Bears coaching staff, not to mention among the most knowledgable O-line coaches in the game, so we take him at his word on Daniels' debut. It's also worth noting he won't draw a lot of tougher assignments than Clark, and this one came in only his 12th career start, much less first pivoting. On our list of concerns from Thursday, Daniels, and the O-line on whole, isn't near the top.

OLB coach Ted Monachino's Week 1 take on the 'Mack Effect,' which in many ways is immeasurable but not always — even in a game where the former NFL Defensive MVP uncharacteristically didn't pile up pressures and sacks: "We look at it in every different way you can look at it, and I have a tendency to look at how a player impacts the plays that he has the opportunity to. And Khalil played as well as I’ve ever had a guy play in a game. I know he would’ve preferred to impact the game more, but from a down-to-down basis he impacted 31 out of the 34 plays he was in, in our favor. And that’s 88 percent, that’s a really high percentage. So thrilled with the way he played. He’s an eyelash away from making five plays in that game, and those five plays eventually got finished by another player on our team. So I think that he played really, really well. I know that as people are watching tape they’re seeing the same thing."

PFW's interpretation: The Packers beat the Bears, plain and simple. But some of the coverage coming out of Green Bay after the game we found to be a bit cute, namely detailing the great lengths to which the Packers went to neutralize Mack. But we saw it similarly to Monachino in that Mack was constantly creating changes for others despite the double- and triple-teams. The neat part: Leonard Floyd, Roy Robertson-Harris and others seizing those opportunities signals back to Bears opponents that defensive poison spans well beyond Mack on this unit. Take your pick.

 

 

 

 

 

WR coach Mike Furrey on Allen Robinson being in his best place right now with the Bears: “I saw what you saw on Thursday night: He was out there the entire game. He felt great. We never had that eye contact of he needs a break. Obviously he was very productive. I think he had an offseason, which allowed him to prepare for training camp, and he worked his tail off in training camp, [and] that’s allowed him to be productive how he was Thursday night. It was fun watching him. He looked real comfortable.”

PFW's interpretation: A-Rob has obviously been the Bears' best offensive player on the field in their two most recent games, and over his past three dating back to last season he's averaging 7.7 catches for 110 yards — exceeding his career averages by more than three catches and 45 yards. Small sample size? No doubt. But the six-year veteran is still only 26, as healthy as he's been in his career and, barring QB play, there's every reason to believe this is the type of stat line he's capable of producing on a weekly basis. Those would be obvious indicators of Robinson's continued ascent.

What we found interesting, though, from Furrey's quote was the nugget about playtime. To wit: Robinson's 96 prcent snap share on offense Thursday was his highest as a Bear, followed by the 94 percent he logged in the playoff loss. That true WR1 dude first began to appear in January — and it's a look he's wearing increasingly well with the new season underway.

 

 

 

 

 

DB coach Deshea Townsend, a former 13-year NFL vet and two-time Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steeler, thinks he knows the genesis of Ha Ha Clinton Dix's poor tackling rap — the ones pushing that narrative have never been met by Clinton-Dix in an alley: "The one thing I’ll say about the contact stuff is, you always wonder who wrote it and did they have a chance to run into him and tackle him? That’s always the thing you think about. He is … glad to have him here. I’m sure no DB nowadays is a killer. Your job is to get the man down, no matter how you do it. That issue hasn’t shown. How he’s come here and been a pro is what we expected. We all have things that we need to work on. And I guess those things people are saying, he has. He’s come in in the preseason and training camp and he’s done everything we’ve asked."

PFW's interpretation: Lost in our first viewing of the NFC North safety shuffle, punctuated by Adrian Amos' game-sealing interception, was the fact that Clinton-Dix also played a heck of a game. He nearly generated the first Bears takeaway of the season, punching the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands from behind. He forced the run with urgency, trailing only secondary mate Kyle Fuller with five total tackles. And, as Townsend explained, Clinton-Dix has kept his head down and worked following a delayed start to camp with a hamstring injury. What better way to assimilate in a star-laden secondary after the most humbling year of his career?

 

OL coach Harry Hiestand says there's a lot more than first meets the eye in reviewing James Daniels' first NFL start at center, most notably the second-year player getting blown up by Packers shooting star anchor Kenny Clark, and how the play call did Daniels no favors: "In the third-and-one, he was almost stung, so James had little chance on that one the way we approach it and I didn’t prepare him for that pressure in that front. And so he was playing it like a normal two-gap and then they brought the safety, so that one looked really, really bad on him. But overall he didn’t look like that the rest of the night and we had things we have to do better. But he didn’t do that too … that was kind of a product on that play.

"Yeah, definitely [Daniels' improved play strength showed up Thursday]. You could see him battle in there. There’s times when he was one-on-one in pass pro because they had all five guys rushing and he’s zero head up on him and he was pushing him. But he was hanging in there and giving Mitch enough and just totally one-on-one. There’s some things to take from that." 

PFW's interpretation: Daniels had at least two high-profile losses — the run stuff by Clark and a holding penalty — but Hiestand is as straight a shooter as there is on the Bears coaching staff, not to mention among the knowledgable O-line coaches in the game, so we take him at his word on Daniels' debut. It's also worth noting he won't draw a lot of tougher assignments than Clark, and this one came in only his 12th career start, much less first pivoting. On our list of concerns from Thursday, Daniels, and the O-line on whole, isn't near the top.

 

OLB coach Ted Monachino's Week 1 take on the 'Mack Effect,' which in many ways is immeasurable but not always — even in a game where the former NFL Defensive MVP uncharacteristically didn't pile up pressures and sacks: "We look at it in every different way you can look at it, and I have a tendency to look at how a player impacts the plays that he has the opportunity to. And Khalil played as well as I’ve ever had a guy play in a game. I know he would’ve preferred to impact the game more, but from a down-to-down basis he impacted 31 out of the 34 plays he was in, in our favor. And that’s 88 percent, that’s a really high percentage. So thrilled with the way he played. He’s an eyelash away from making five plays in that game, and those five plays eventually got finished by another player on our team. So I think that he played really, really well. I know that as people are watching tape they’re seeing the same thing."

PFW's interpretation: The Packers beat the Bears, plain and simple. But some of the coverage coming out of Green Bay after the game we found to be a bit cute, namely detailing the great lengths to which the Packers went to neutralize Mack. But we saw it similarly to Monachino in that Mack was constantly creating chances for others despite the double- and triple-teams. The neat part: Leonard Floyd, Roy Robertson-Harris and others seizing those opportunities signals back to Bears opponents that defensive poison spans well beyond Mack on this unit. Take your pick.

 

Fantasy Football: Week 1 QB Rankings

Posted on September 5, 2019 - 10:37:00

Welcome to the first edition of our Week 1 Fantasy Football QB rankings! Hopefully it's not your first time here, but if so we're thrilled you found us. The idea is to have our rankings, which use standard scoring rules, published on the site at least a few hours before each Thursday, with updates arriving after the final injury report for Sunday games is available.

1. Russell Wilson, Seahawks vs. Bengals

2. Deshaun Watson, Texans at Saints

3. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs at Jaguars

4. Carson Wentz, Eagles vs. Washington

5. Drew Brees, Saints vs. Texans

6. Baker Mayfield, Browns vs. Titans

7. Jameis Winston, Bucs vs. 49ers

8. Lamar Jackson, Ravens at Dolphins

9. Cam Newton, Panthers vs. Rams

10. Dak Prescott, Cowboys vs. Giants

11. Philip Rivers, Chargers vs. Colts

12. Tom Brady, Patriots vs. Steelers

13. Aaron Rodgers, Packers at Bears

14. Mitch Trubisky, Bears vs. Packers

15. Jared Goff, Rams at Panthers

16. Kyler Murray, Cardinals vs. Lions

17. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers at Patriots

18. Matt Ryan, Falcons at Vikings

19. Kirk Cousins, Vikings vs. Falcons

20. Josh Allen, Bills at Jets

21. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers at Bucs

22. Matthew Stafford, Lions at Cardinals

23. Sam Darnold, Jets at Bills

24. Nick Foles, Jaguars vs. Chiefs

25. Derek Carr, Raiders vs. Broncos

26. Jacoby Brissett, Colts at Chargers

27. Marcus Mariota, Titans at Browns

28. Joe Flacco, Broncos at Raiders

29. Andy Dalton, Bengals at Seahawks

30. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins vs. Ravens

Chicago Bears QB Mitch Trubisky must pass eye test in Year 3

Posted on September 4, 2019 - 23:18:00

"It would not surprise me to see that same type of step this fall."

When the Bears took possession of the ball in the final minute of last year’s NFC wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles, QB coach Dave Ragone remembers one thing.

“The look in his eye,” Ragone said.

Trailing by one point in his first career playoff game, QB Mitchell Trubisky needed to lead his team at least into field goal range. All the work and preparation of the past year came down to one drive.

“When coach Nagy was calling the plays as [Trubisky] walked off the sideline into the huddle, you just had that feeling that he’s going to find a way to get us down there,” Ragone said.

Ragone said as much to backup QBs Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray.

“This kid’s going to do something,” Ragone recalled saying.

A 25-yard pass complete to Allen Robinson. An 8-yard pass complete to Robinson. A spike to stop the clock. One shot at the end zone, incomplete. A 43-yard field goal attempt for kicker Cody Parkey.

In the blink of an eye — the clank of a kick — the season was over, and the focus turned from Trubisky’s heroic last-minute drive to a kick that would not soon be forgotten. The look in Trubisky’s eye changed dramatically as Parkey’s field goal bounced off the upright. Trubisky watched with his mouth agape, like most every Bears fan at Soldier Field that day.

As the team left the locker room that night, Ragone made sure Trubisky understood that he did a lot of positive things on that final drive.

“You can’t control if a guy catches it, tips the ball at the line of scrimmage, makes or misses [a kick],” Ragone said this spring. “The fact that you made the right decisions in that last drive, in a situation you’ve never been in, if you can’t build off that as a core foundation, then we need to talk more.”

‘It takes a year’

Few quarterbacks know coach Matt Nagy’s offense as well as Bears backup Chase Daniel. He was the backup with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2013 to 2015, when Nagy was his QB coach.

When offensive coordinator Doug Pederson left Kansas City to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, Daniel followed him there and gained a reputation for helping young QB Carson Wentz learn the offense.

When the Bears hired Nagy last year, they brought Daniel to Chicago for the same purpose. He knows how much work it takes to truly be on the same page with Nagy.

“It takes a year to get fully into it,” Daniel said.

Trubisky has had a year. The third-year quarterback has moved on from the learning phase to, in Nagy’s words, “mastering” the offense.

“Trying to,” Trubisky said.

Despite the modesty from the 24-year-old Mentor, Ohio, native, all indications point toward a far deeper understanding of what Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich are trying to accomplish.

“It’s basically trying to know the offense as well as coach Nagy,” Trubisky said. “Owning every single [thing] — whether it’s protection call, check, adjustment, changing plays, everything within each play — owning and knowing it like the back of your hand. Not second-guessing, being ahead and being able to teach it to everyone else.”

For Daniel, Trubisky’s progress is most impressive not in the classroom, but on the practice field. Daniel said Trubisky is identifying where the pressure is coming from and calling the right protection far more accurately than he did a year ago.

“Pretty much all the time,” Daniel said.

Last year, according to Daniel, it was more like 50 percent of the time.

“To be honest, he wasn’t really thinking about protections too much because we didn’t want him to think about protections too much,” Daniel said. “To see him going up there and taking accountability of it, and taking the power to go up there and do that, it’s cool.”

It’s impossible to avoid comparisons when it comes to quarterbacks. The recent trend is well-documented: draft a young quarterback, hire an offensive-minded coach, play deep into the postseason. The Eagles did it in 2017 with Pederson and Wentz (with a major assist from Nick Foles). The Los Angeles Rams did it last season with coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff. If the Bears are to follow in those footsteps, Trubisky’s performance is going to have to live up to the talk coming out of Halas Hall.

Oh, and they’ll have to find a way past the Eagles and the Rams, among others, in the NFC.

‘The big-time kid’

Ragone has been coaching quarterbacks for the better part of a decade, with some time spent as a wide receivers coach, too. A former quarterback himself, Ragone was the lone offensive coach retained from John Fox’s staff when the Bears hired Nagy.

“This position is so predicated on confidence,” Ragone said. “And it’s inner confidence.”

With Trubisky, look no further than his first big-time game. No, not in the NFL. Not even in college at North Carolina. Trubisky’s first high school football start as a sophomore at Mentor High School in Ohio came against St. Edward at Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2010.

“You see certain guys and you just know this guy is better, he has all the tools,” Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno said.

Though Mentor lost that game, 35-28, Trubisky led the Cardinals to two late touchdowns to pull them out of a 21-point deficit.

Mentor went 7-4 that year with the sophomore QB. By the time he was a senior, Trubisky put a young Mentor team on his back and carried it to a 12-2 season and a trip to the state semifinals. He was named Ohio’s Mr. Football his senior year in 2012.

High school football and the NFL are worlds away, but Trivisonno saw the same willingness to learn in Trubisky over those three years starting for Mentor that the Bears are talking about now.

“He was really good with being that gym-rat kid,” Trivisonno said. “They would be in basketball and he’d be out throwing to the other receivers who were basketball players. He was going to work routes. He was going to throw the ball as often as he could and help those receivers get on the same page.”

The basketball coach was none too happy about it, but football was never far from Trubisky’s mind.

“By his senior year he could probably go out and call the plays,” Trivisonno said. “He knows what we’re doing and how we want it done, and does it well. … We always talked about, in our program, having one brain with the quarterback [and] the guy calling plays, so they’re all on the same page. When our quarterback’s on the same page with our OC, and they’re calling it, they’re seeing it, they’re understanding it, it’s hard to stop.”

Trivisonno, who announced this fall will be his 23rd and final season coaching Mentor, makes sure to record every Bears game. He usually catches up with the action later Sunday night. When Trubisky and the Bears faced the Eagles in the playoffs, Trivisonno “was watching that one live, doggone it.”

During that last drive down the field, Trivisonno could see that same cool, calm, confident quarterback who not so long ago was marching Mentor High School toward the end zone.

“Whoa, now you’re seeing the kid grow and mature,” Trivisonno said. “This is the big-time kid coming.”

The thing about football — and any sport — is that at every new level, it’s almost like starting over. Trubisky redshirted his first year at North Carolina. By his third year on campus, his redshirt sophomore season, then-UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf saw everything clicking for Trubisky.

“You could really see it in that fall camp,” said Heckendorf, now the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Arkansas State. “When you go out there, you’re confident and you’re pulling the trigger, it makes you be a lot more decisive and he’s obviously very accurate in how he throws the ball.”

In limited playing time behind North Carolina starter Marquise Williams in 2015, Trubisky connected on 40 of his 47 passing attempts for 555 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions.

A year later, Trubisky started all 13 games and played well enough to propel himself into the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Heckendorf said there was “no question” Trubisky had mastered UNC’s offense by then.

“Year three coming up in the NFL, I would probably tell you that that same sense of confidence that he developed over a three-year span at North Carolina, it would not surprise me to see that same type of step this fall,” Heckendorf said.

‘Think quick and play fast’

By his final year at North Carolina, his redshirt junior season, Trubisky was leading the quarterbacks meetings when the coaches were out on recruiting trips.

“Some guys, they know it, and they get up there and they draw it and it makes sense in their mind, but then they turn around and they look and everybody in the room is going, ‘I’ve got no idea what you just said,’” Heckendorf said. “[Trubisky] was able to get up and teach it to the other quarterbacks in a manner that covered all the bases. And he knew the plays inside out.”

The Bears don’t have too many new offensive players this year, but Trubisky has taken it upon himself to make sure that the newcomers know what they’re doing.

“It’s a great thing that I know the offense as well as I do now, that I’m able to help the new guys, the young guys and even the guys who are coming back in this offense,” Trubisky said.

Trubisky is at a point now, with 27 NFL starts under his belt, where there’s not a whole lot a defense can throw at him that he hasn’t already seen. It comes down to reading what he sees and making quick decisions.

Trubisky has been testing his abilities in practice, trying throws he might not have tried in a game last year. And that’s what his coaches want. Ragone wants him to push the envelope in practice so he has a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

“You want to think quick and play fast,” Daniel said. “You put more on the quarterback. Your offense will go as your quarterback goes. Mitch is just taking that next step.”

If it all clicks come Week 1, Ragone might be seeing that look in Trubisky’s eye more often in 2019.

“From him specifically, it’s just a different mindset, it’s a different calmness,” Ragone said. “It’s way different. From where he was when he entered here as a rookie quarterback to where he is in his third year, yeah, there’s a tremendous amount of night and day difference.”

Pro Football Weekly's Week 1 Power Rankings

Posted on September 4, 2019 - 08:56:00

Patriots and Chiefs atop our first regular-season list, but NFC heavyweights fill 7 of next 10 spots

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 1 of the 2019 season.
Rank / Team / The Skinny
1. Patriots — Seemingly even less annual hand-wringing over their imminent fall this year than usual.
2. Chiefs — If "Shady" is still the real McCoy, Andy Reid will rediscover him in this offense.
3. Eagles — NFL's best roster still needs a healthy Carson Wentz for a full season.
4. Saints — Drew Brees gets benefit of the doubt after rough Dec./Jan. with support that may be stronger.
5. Bears — All the kicker paralysis by analysis was because there aren't a lot of other issues.
6. Chargers — Red flags in form of James/Okung injuries, Gordon holdout a bit disconcerting.
7. Rams — Did NFL figure out McVay offense? Probably not. But Gurley's knee, O-line turnover new questions.
8. Texans — Tunsil isn't cure-all and Houston's future resources thin but strong favorite in suddenly turbulent South.
9. Seahawks — Hard not to admire the shrewd offseason plan to quickly overhaul defensive front.
10. Browns — Would be higher based on talent alone, but let's see what Freddie Kitchens can do.
11. Cowboys — Like the Texans, Dallas much better on paper if Zeke's back, but at what cost?
12. Vikings — How fast can new O-line jell? Asking for friends concerned with Kirk Cousins' safety.
13. Steelers — Our biggest internal divide: Ranking the Steelers after their internal divides.
14. Packers — Will the real Aaron Rodgers please stand up? If so, they're contenders again.
15. Falcons — If young stars return to full health, they're dangerous. If not, DQ's job security will be.
16. Colts — After Frank Reich watched Nick Foles' work miracles, can Jacoby Brissett?
17. Ravens — Defense likely to take a step back, making Lamar's step forward the key.
18. Panthers — With Cam's uncertain health, very difficult team to get a bead on.
19. Jaguars — If division suddenly up for grabs, have talented Jaguars matured enough to seize it?
20. Titans — Marcus Mariota is the least desirable quarterback in a division with two new ones.
21. Broncos — We have zero doubts about what Vic will do on 'D' but seriously doubt Joe Flacco is offense's answer.
22. 49ers — Exciting upgrades up front on 'D' but not enough to mask secondary deficiencies.
23. Jets — In a different division, we'd be more bullish but still expect a big jump from Darnold.
24. Bills — We like Buffalo's roster better than Gang Green's but much prefer Darnold to Allen.
25. Giants — If Eli surprises, Big Blue likely will too, but we're on Daniel Jones watch.
26. Lions — They spent a ton and Stafford should steady, but the division is simply loaded.
27. Raiders — More talented? No question. Can Gruden harness it? We're not seeing it.
28. Buccaneers — Big-strike offense with poor O-line and reckless QB ... and that's the good unit.
29. Bengals — After 16 years of Lewis, will they have same patience as Taylor inherits a rebuild?
30. Washington — With an awful QB incubator, they might be doing Haskins a favor starting Case.
31. Cardinals — They'll be fun to watch but this looked like NFL's worst roster in preseason until ...
32. Dolphins —Fitting that they're the NFL's most obvious tank job yet, right?
Rank / Team / The Skinny
1. Patriots — Seemingly even less annual hand-wringing over their imminent fall this year than usual.
2. Chiefs — If "Shady" is still the real McCoy, Andy Reid will rediscover him in this offense.
3. Eagles — NFL's best roster still needs a healthy Carson Wentz for a full season.
4. Saints — Drew Brees gets benefit of the doubt after rough Dec./Jan. with support that may be stronger.
5. Bears — All the kicker paralysis by analysis was because there aren't a lot of other issues.
6. Chargers — Red flags in form of James/Okung injuries, Gordon holdout a bit disconcerting.
7. Rams — Did NFL figure out McVay offense? Probably not. But Gurley's knee, O-line turnover new questions.
8. Texans — Tunsil isn't cure-all and Houston's future resources thin but strong favorite in suddenly turbulent South.
9. Seahawks — Hard not to admire the shrewd offseason plan to quickly overhaul defensive front.
 
10. Browns — Would be higher based on talent alone, but let's see what Freddie Kitchens can do.
11. Cowboys — Like the Texans, Dallas much better on paper if Zeke's back, but at what cost?
12. Vikings — How fast can new O-line jell? Asking for friends concerned with Kirk Cousins' safety.
13. Steelers — Our biggest internal divide: Ranking the Steelers after their internal divides.
14. Packers — Will the real Aaron Rodgers please stand up? If so, they're contenders again.
15. Falcons — If young stars return to full health, they're dangerous. If not, DQ's job security will be.
16. Colts — After Frank Reich watched Nick Foles' work miracles, can Jacoby Brissett?
17. Ravens — Defense likely to take a step back, making Lamar's step forward the key.
 
18. Panthers — With Cam's uncertain health, very difficult team to get a bead on.
19. Jaguars — If division suddenly up for grabs, have talented Jaguars matured enough to seize it?
20. Titans — Marcus Mariota is the least desirable quarterback in a division with two new ones.
21. Broncos — We have zero doubts about what Vic will do on 'D' but seriously doubt Joe Flacco is offense's answer.
22. 49ers — Exciting upgrades up front on 'D' but not enough to mask secondary deficiencies.
23. Jets — In a different division, we'd be more bullish but still expect a big jump from Darnold.
24. Bills — We like Buffalo's roster better than Gang Green's but much prefer Darnold to Allen.
25. Giants — If Eli surprises, Big Blue likely will too, but we're on Daniel Jones watch.
26. Lions — They spent a ton and Stafford should steady, but the division is simply loaded.
 
27. Raiders — More talented? No question. Can Gruden harness it? We're not seeing it.
28. Buccaneers — Big-strike offense with poor O-line and reckless QB ... and that's the good unit.
29. Bengals — After 16 years of Lewis, will they have same patience as Taylor inherits a rebuild?
30. Washington — With an awful QB incubator, they might be doing Haskins a favor starting Case.
31. Cardinals — They'll be fun to watch but this looked like NFL's worst roster in preseason until ...
32. Dolphins —Fitting that they're the NFL's most obvious tank job yet, right?

Photo tour of completed Halas Hall expansion

Posted on August 29, 2019 - 22:19:00

Chicago Bears just unveiled bold expansion and remodeling project of team facility

The Bears officially unveiled their Halas Hall expansion project with a media tour Thursday, 17 months after breaking ground in March of last year.

The 162,500-square-foot addition to existing football operations and 30,600-foot remodeling of the team facility's northeast side, led by design firm HOK and general contractor Mortenson Construction, "created a first-class facility that provides a daily reminder and motivation to help us work towards our goal of being a championship team," GM Ryan Pace said via a statement distributed by the Bears. "This upgrade furthers the continued support from the McCaskey family and their commitment to attract, develop and retain the most talented roster possible both on and off the field."

(All of the following photos were taken by Bears photographer Matt Sisneros.)

Weight Room

Expanded by 2,000 square feet to include a helmet-fitting room, footwear and shoulder pad fitting area, sewing room and high-density storage cabinets.

The Bears also say they doubled the size of their equipment room, recovery space and nutrition/fuel station, and quadrupled the sports medicine space, which now includes two hydrotherapy pools, two plunge pools, a float pod, sauna and steam room. Finally, the Bears added an indoor turf space, measuring 13,000 square feet.

Pools

There are now two hydrotherapy pools and two plunge pools, in addition to a sauna, steam room and ...

Float Pod

Recovering in style AND comfort, players can chill out in a float pod that looks like a Bears helmet (and also a bit like a Bears coffin).
Player Entry

We're told this is the coolest part of the project. All 14 of the Bears retired jersey numbers adorn the new hallway connecting the practice fields to the locker room, where players will traverse under lights that illuminate as music begins playing and they see a 46" video wall containing nine screens.

Locker Room

Among the 1,700-foot expansion is a new barber shop. Adjacent to the locker room is the addition of a 3,250-foot players lounge and a coaches/scouts locker room that now features a sauna and steam room.

Nutrition

The cafe, now more than 7,600 feet following the 4,300 feet expansion, now includes a Bearista coffee bar, smoothie/juice bar, soup/salad bars, hot food, sandwiches, desserts and more. And after the players are done dining, they can head upstairs ...

Rooftop garden

All. Local. Herbs. How cool is that!?

Brick Wall

Among the new designs are a brick wall with the team name in traditional font, plus four walls with one of the team's core value on each (Respect, Integrity, Team, Excellence). And ...

Mural

Designed by Czr Prz, this 14-by-45-foot mural is pretty sweet, too.

Staff Huddle

A meeting-of-the-minds location, this is part of a new learning center and staff training area including a wellness center, enclosed patios that open to allow fresh air and additional sunlight, now in abundance throughout Halas after the installation of glass walls and relocation of some exterior offices.

Charles Leno on potential Whitehair extension, Trubisky's charge and battling Bears dynamic OLBs

Posted on August 7, 2019 - 09:46:00

Chicago's newly married Pro Bowl alternate left tackle sprays to all fields in chat with PFW

Bears fans, you could have seen this exclusive analysis first, in your inbox, if you subscribed to PFW: Chicago. Don't miss out on in-depth analysis, without the fluff or hot takes. Subscribe today and get your first full year for only $35!

Charles Leno talks potential Whitehair extension, Trubisky's charge and practice battles with Mack and Floyd

BOURBONNAIS — All Bears LT Charles Leno has done since signing his four-year, $38 million contract extension two summers ago — weeks before the start of his would-be walk year — is start 33-of-33 possible games, play all but eight of the total snaps on offense and earn his first Pro Bowl recognition following the 2018 campaign.

"Charles is using his strengths. The way Charles plays, he’s a very good athlete, very smart and he’s tough," Bears O-line coach Harry Hiestand said last fall of Leno after his first few months back on the job. "So he uses all three of those. I’ve really been impressed with that."

Leno, who is still ascending at age 27 and should have another chance to cash in before his 30th birthday, perhaps, then, is the perfect person to ask why new (and old) O-line neighbor Cody Whitehair — likely Ryan Pace's next early extension target — should also reward his team's faith by continuing to raise his game after his first big NFL payday.

"I'll tell you one thing: I know I work hard. And Cody Whitehair is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen in my life," Leno recently told PFW. "I swear. I put that on everything I love. That dude works hard, he’s committed, he cares about … he’ll give you the clothes off his back if you want him to. He’s that type of person, and I love him for that. So, I know he’s going to be taken care of. I don’t know when, anything like that, but I know for a fact because he’s that great of a guy."

Leno is reuniting this season with his pal on the left side of the Bears offensive line, one of only a handful across the NFL poised to return all five starters. Whitehair, after joining Leno for the first time last year as a Pro Bowl alternate, is pivoting from center to left guard, where he hasn't played regularly since his rookie preseason. But Leno and him have been tight ever since Whitehair arrived as a 2016 second-rounder, and it's clear there's already plenty of communication and trust — the two biggest advantages, Leno says, of Chicago's enviable O-line cohesion.

"You know those guys got your back. Sometimes, you don’t even have to say anything. It’s really good."

And the Bears offensive line should be really good this season, but the questions most asked about this team are whether two of its past three first-rounders, Mitch Trubisky and Leonard Floyd, are ready to be really good, too. They were also both alternates in the Pro Bowl last season, but the 2018 campaign for Trubisky and Floyd is viewed by most with an asterisk: the third-year quarterback was at times brilliant, at others too inconsistent; the fourth-year outside linebacker started slowly, albeit with a broken hand, before playing arguably the best football of his career down the stretch but still tallying only four sacks, marking the third straight season that total decreased.

Leno, again, as Trubisky's blind-side protector and Floyd's main practice adversary — never mind having worn the navy and orange longer than all but three current players — felt like the right brain to pick on the subjects.

"Mitch being Mitch. Cool, calm, collected, just going about his business, going to work, ignoring all the outside noise," Leno says of Trubisky's third year thus far. "Being the guy that he’s supposed to be. We’re not asking Mitch to set world records or nothing like that. We’re asking Mitch to be the quarterback for the Chicago Bears. That’s what he’s doing right now, and he’s doing a fantastic job."

There's already been plenty of talk about iron sharpening iron in Bourbonnais. For instance, Floyd and of course former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack giving Leno and Bobby Massie all they can handle on a down-to-down basis. Leno admitted Mack and Floyd have provided great challenges, and he expounded specifically on how it's helping the Bears veteran tackles, but not before pointing out that there's also a reason he's out there.

"I’m up for that challenge. Pfft, I’m a great player too, you know what I’m saying? I believe in myself, I’m confident in myself and I want those guys to get better," he said. "If I bring my A-game, they bring their A-game, iron sharpens iron.

"As far as offensive linemen, you can worry about what the other guy has — the speed, the power, all that stuff — but you should focus on you even more. You have to focus on your technique more, you have to focus on you and your job, because that’s the only way you’re going to block those guys."

Floyd also said he loves battling Leno in practice, each of them different because the left tackle is "an overall great player" and "[does] a lot of studying and comes up with something different each day to negate what you did the day before."

Leno, who's among the Bears more underrated players, certainly appreciates the recognition. However, stopping to listen or pat himself on the back isn't how he went from Boise State to former GM Phil Emery's last pick five years ago — selection No. 246 of 256 overall (!) — to one of the foundational pieces of a Super Bowl contender, seemingly with a finger on the pulse of his whole team.

"My goal every time I try and step on the field is to be better than I was yesterday," he says. "Just getting one percent better than I was yesterday. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less, because if I do that, then I know I’m going to make gains."

— Arthur Arkush

Makeup of 53, practice tinkering and potential Whitehair extension bear watching as training camp opens

Posted on July 23, 2019 - 16:59:52

There were other interesting topics covered by Bears GM Ryan Pace, HC Matt Nagy at pre-camp presser Sunday

Believe it or not, the Cody Parkey replacement plan wasn’t the only topic covered this past Sunday by Bears GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy at their annual pre-training camp powwow.

PFW already brought you the news on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix headed to the PUP list and shared our analysis of what Bears brass had to say on Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Floyd and the revamped backfield and run game.

But what else is worth revisiting?

53-man roster construction will require heavier lifting than most think

The Bears are poised to hold their most competitive camp since perhaps the 2007 season, when they were coming off a Super Bowl appearance. That’s the level of talent Pace and Nagy have assembled. But don’t assume the roster is already set — and likewise don’t assume the team’s mind is set on how many players they’ll keep at each position.

For instance, the WR battles are widely considered to be as heated as any in Bourbonnais, but just because keeping seven at that spot is unconventional, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

“Matt and I were just talking to [WR] coach [Mike] Furrey about that this morning. I think it’s a good challenge to have that much competition at that position. Obviously we’re going to be watching it close and letting them battle out. I think sometimes we can get caught up in, ‘oh, we have to keep this many number’ — we’ll be flexible with that. Our goal is to keep the best players. If it means going a little heavy at a position, we’ll go heavy there. It’s exciting to watch that right now because, you’re right, we have kind of flipped that position. It’s tons of competition, they’re all a little different, and that’s why every rep they take in practice, in the games is all going to be closely evaluated by us — because we got to get that right.”

There will be less time to evaluate UDFA Emanuel Hall after he missed the duration of the offseason following sports hernia surgery, but he can absolutely grain ground in a flash. Javon Wims has maximized everyone of his opportunities since being selected in the seventh round last season. Marvin Hall's speed and special-teams prowess shouldn't be ignored. But with fourth-rounder Riley Ridley a virtual lock and the only question on Cordarrelle Patterson perhaps what position he'll be considered, there will be at least one odd man out.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Bears kept six receivers on their initial 53-man roster last season, but they also had five tight ends and a fullback. There’s no fullback expected in the mix a year later, and the TE room has more questions with Dion Sims and Daniel Brown exiting and Bradley Sowell converting from offensive tackle.

In addition to receiver and tight end, we’re especially intrigued by the numbers games in both backfields. The nickel position is thin on known quantities behind Buster Skrine, and at corner, Stephen Denmark faces a significant uphill battle with Kevin Toliver, who's coming off a quietly productive UDFA campaign and subsequent offseason.

Does sixth-rounder Kerrith Whyte stick as the fourth back? His speed and athleticism could prove tougher to stash on the practice squad than the sushi-raw Denmark’s. The closest thing we heard Sunday to a hint on the eventual establishing of the 53 was the news that QB3 Tyler Bray still has remaining practice-squad exemption. In other words, barring injury, it’ll be Trubisky and Chase Daniel, same as last season.

Nagy is tinkering with the camp schedule

Nagy's Bears again will continue to practice primarily beginning at 8:15 in Bourbonnais, but there will be a different format.

“We have a slight change to our installation times,” he said. “You're always trying to adapt and take feedback from players and coaches on how we do things. First year, last year, I stuck to a schedule that I knew for a lot of years. So we'll have some slight changes to how we're installing a little bit earlier and flipping our walk-through, which will be a little bit later. And then the other thing, too, we'll shut down about an hour earlier, which I think will be crucial to the guys to be together and get more sleep.”

We were already interested in seeing whether the practice tone and timing shifts at all with an almost entirely new defensive staff. Meantime, we know the order of business will change a bit. Nagy wouldn't reveal for sure whether his plan to basically stash and preserve his starters during the preseason will carry over from last summer, when the Bears had extra practice time and a fifth preseason game. But this response on the subject felt telling.

“We’ve discussed it. There’s a plan," he said. "For a lot of us, we really care about what happens Week 1, and not Week 2 of the preseason, or Week 3. At least that’s the way I think, but maybe I’m wrong. But we have a plan.”

Whitehair extension likely in works

This isn’t a fait accompli — and Pace, like every general manager, always keeps things tight to the vest with contract negotiations — but reading between the lines, it sure sounds like the Pro Bowl alternate blocker could have some new paper before Week 1.

“Obviously, Cody is an important player for us,” Pace said. “When we talk about our culture and we talk about unselfish and great teammates, Cody embodies all those things. But you guys know as we get into these extensions, they remain internal. But Cody’s an important part of this.”

Pace was asked something that we’ve written on repeatedly this offseason — how the position switch potentially affects negotiations. In short, it’s not unworkable.

We’ll leave the contract projections to the salary-cap experts but leave our readers with this on the subject: Pace is on a hot streak with extending his own. Akiem Hicks, Charles Leno and Eddie Goldman all played their best football after getting paid, an illustration not only of their outstanding football character but Pace’s ability to identify that quality. They all look like bargains now because that's what happens when smart teams reward the right players early in a league where the salary cap rises by an average of $10 millon annually. But even with that growth, the Bears' decisions will become more complicated as early as next offseason, when Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Mitch Trubisky all become first eligible for raises.

Whitehair has epitomized selflessness and steadiness over the majority of his Bears tenure. Expect his turn to be next, and, the Bears expect, his production to keep climbing at his new position.

 


 

 

 

 

 

  

   

PFW already brought you the news on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix headed to the PUP list and shared our analysis of what Bears brass had to say on Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Floyd and the revamped backfield and run game.

But what else is worth revisiting?

53-man roster construction will require heavier lifting than most think

The Bears are poised to hold their most competitive camp since perhaps the 2007 season, when they were coming off a Super Bowl appearance. That’s the level of talent Pace and Nagy have assembled. But don’t assume the roster is already set — and likewise don’t assume the team’s mind is set on how many players they’ll keep at each position.

For instance, the WR battles are widely considered to be as heated as any in Bourbonnais, but just because keeping seven at that spot is unconventional, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

“Matt and I were just talking to [WR] coach [Mike] Furrey about that this morning. I think it’s a good challenge to have that much competition at that position. Obviously we’re going to be watching it close and letting them battle out. I think sometimes we can get caught up in, ‘oh, we have to keep this many number’ — we’ll be flexible with that. Our goal is to keep the best players. If it means going a little heavy at a position, we’ll go heavy there. It’s exciting to watch that right now because, you’re right, we have kind of flipped that position. It’s tons of competition, they’re all a little different, and that’s why every rep they take in practice, in the games is all going to be closely evaluated by us — because we got to get that right.”

There will be less time to evaluate UDFA Emanuel Hall after he missed the duration of the offseason following sports hernia surgery, but he can absolutely grain ground in a flash. Javon Wims has maximized everyone of his opportunities since being selected in the seventh round last season. Marvin Hall's speed and special-teams prowess shouldn't be ignored. But with fourth-rounder Riley Ridley a virtual lock and the only question on Cordarrelle Patterson perhaps what position he'll be considered, there will be at least one odd man out.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Bears kept six receivers on their initial 53-man roster last season, but they also had five tight ends and a fullback. There’s no fullback expected in the mix a year later, and the TE room has more questions with Dion Sims and Daniel Brown exiting and Bradley Sowell converting from offensive tackle.

In addition to receiver and tight end, we’re especially intrigued by the numbers games in both backfields. The nickel position is thin on known quantities behind Buster Skrine, and at corner, Stephen Denmark faces a significant uphill battle with Kevin Toliver, who's coming off a quietly productive UDFA campaign and subsequent offseason.

Does sixth-rounder Kerrith Whyte stick as the fourth back? His speed and athleticism could prove tougher to stash on the practice squad than the sushi-raw Denmark’s. The closest thing we heard Sunday to a hint on the eventual establishing of the 53 was the news that QB3 Tyler Bray still has remaining practice-squad exemption. In other words, barring injury, it’ll be Trubisky and Chase Daniel, same as last season.

Nagy is tinkering with the camp schedule

Nagy's Bears again will continue to practice primarily beginning at 8:15 in Bourbonnais, but there will be a different format.

“We have a slight change to our installation times,” he said. “You're always trying to adapt and take feedback from players and coaches on how we do things. First year, last year, I stuck to a schedule that I knew for a lot of years. So we'll have some slight changes to how we're installing a little bit earlier and flipping our walk-through, which will be a little bit later. And then the other thing, too, we'll shut down about an hour earlier, which I think will be crucial to the guys to be together and get more sleep.”

We were already interested in seeing whether the practice tone and timing shifts at all with an almost entirely new defensive staff. Meantime, we know the order of business will change a bit. Nagy wouldn't reveal for sure whether his plan to basically stash and preserve his starters during the preseason will carry over from last summer, when the Bears had extra practice time and a fifth preseason game. But this response on the subject felt telling.

“We’ve discussed it. There’s a plan," he said. "For a lot of us, we really care about what happens Week 1, and not Week 2 of the preseason, or Week 3. At least that’s the way I think, but maybe I’m wrong. But we have a plan.”

Whitehair extension likely in works

This isn’t a fait accompli — and Pace, like every general manager, always keeps things tight to the vest with contract negotiations — but reading between the lines, it sure sounds like the Pro Bowl alternate blocker could have some new paper before Week 1.

“Obviously, Cody is an important player for us,” Pace said. “When we talk about our culture and we talk about unselfish and great teammates, Cody embodies all those things. But you guys know as we get into these extensions, they remain internal. But Cody’s an important part of this.”

Pace was asked something that we’ve written on repeatedly this offseason — how the position switch potentially affects negotiations. In short, it’s not unworkable.

We’ll leave the contract projections to the salary-cap experts but leave our readers with this on the subject: Pace is on a hot streak with extending his own. Akiem Hicks, Charles Leno and Eddie Goldman all played their best football after getting paid, an illustration not only of their outstanding football character but Pace’s ability to identify that quality. They all look like bargains now because that's what happens when smart teams reward the right players early in a league where the salary cap rises by an average of $10 millon annually. But even with that growth, the Bears' decisions will become more complicated as early as next offseason, when Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Mitch Trubisky all become first eligible for raises.

Whitehair has epitomized selflessness and steadiness over the majority of his Bears tenure. Expect his turn to be next, and, the Bears expect, his production to keep climbing at his new position.

Fantasy Football: 5 burning questions in the AFC South

Posted on July 23, 2019 - 12:26:00

Ebron's encore, Watson's draft slot and more

The AFC South was bizarre last season — in fantasy football and reality.

The Texans and Colts went a combined 4-8 to start the season and finished 17-3 en route to the playoffs, where Indianapolis thumped its rivals in Houston before receiving its own beat down, courtesy of the Chiefs. Eric Ebron nearly outscored new teammate T.Y. Hilton in standard leagues, while owners got full seasons from Will Fuller (psych!) and Deshaun Watson (real and often spectacular).

The Jaguars suffered the NFL's steepest single-season regression. The Titans? They mostly disappointed owners before Derrick Henry outscored everyone — including quarterbacks — in Weeks 13-16, aka, fantasy nut-dropping time.

So, what happens this season? The answers can be found within these 5 burning fantasy questions in the AFC South:

1. Can Eric Ebron be a horse of the same color?

You've probably heard the stat by now: Ebron, the 10th overall selection to the Detroit Lions in 2014, scored 12 touchdowns in four seasons in Motown before totaling 14 last season, his first with the Indianapolis Colts. He led all fantasy tight ends in the category, finishing as TE4 overall.

What you may not have known is that Ebron's 66 catches for 750 yards were also career highs, good enough for sixth and fifth, respectively, among his TE peers, and his personal-best 110 targets ranked fourth at his position (No. 3 with 21 red-zone targets).

But the other horseshoe could soon drop for Ebron with a healthy former Pro Bowler in Jack Doyle and ascending Mo Alie-Cox also returning to Indy's TE corps. There's also imminent TD regression on the horizon. Can Ebron thwart those concerns and remain a viable TE1, period, much less one of fantasy's more valuable commodities?

A few pieces of good news: Ebron did his damage on less than 56 percent of the team's total snaps last season, compared to Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz finishing well over 90 and George Kittle north of 87. Ebron is also more athletic, theoretically bringing more upside to the mix than Doyle. But he's never been consistent with his hands, ironically averaging the second-lowest catch percentage of his career (60), an area where Doyle thrives.

Add it all up and it seems likely Ebron — who had never finished higher than TE12 overall with the Lions, returns to the fringe TE1-sphere this season, making his current ADP (TE7, 6.10) uninviting.

Teammate Marlon Mack (ADP of RB16, 3.04), fresh off his late-season flourish and reaffirmed as the team's lead dog after the Colts punted at the position this spring, is a better bet. He returns behind perhaps the NFL's best O-line, back entirely intact, and showed last season he's best with a lather.

2. How high should we draft Deshaun Watson?

The QB4 overall last season, Watson played 16 games for the first time, naturally leveling out his fantasy-leading 24.1-point average from a ridiculous but unfortunately injury-shortened rookie season, to 20.7.

If healthy — and remember Watson began last season less than one full year removed from his second ACL reconstruction — it stands to reason his scoring average could return closer to 24. Mind you, that would remain two full points below what Patrick Mahomes averaged last season, with 50 TDs and 5,000 passing yards, stats he's almost assuredly not readying to repeat.

But Watson this season could have a healthy Keke Coutee, the fourth-rounder a year ago with whom he developed an instant rapport. Fuller is a game changer whenever he's on the field. DeAndre Hopkins remains a top-five receiver. And Houston's TE corps is brimming with potential. We're not sold on the O-line renovations, but can it possibly be worse after allowing Watson to be sacked more than any quarterback in football and ranking dead last in Football Outsiders' pass-protecting units with an adjusted sack rate of 11.6 — more than a full point worse than Miami, the 31st-ranked group?

Interestingly, Watson is currently going off as QB4 in the back of Round 5, behind Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. Which is a bit weird to us because although Luck and Rodgers have far longer and more established track records, in the short term they've missed as much if not more time with injuries, and are a half-dozen and full dozen years older than Watson, respectively.

And of course there's Watson's scrambling ability that makes him as dangerous as any of fantasy's dual-threat quarterbacks. He actually ran slightly more last year on a per-game average but his efficiency fell by a lot. Now a second season removed from the knee injury, that dimension of his game should only become a bigger asset.

We're not really into drafting quarterbacks early, but if we do, there's no one except Mahomes we prefer over Watson.

3. How many touches can Derrick Henry command?

The coordinator change from Matt LaFleur, who seems to prefer a RBBC (running back by committee), to Arthur Smith, who told the team website he'll ride Henry in a contract year, is encouraging. And encouraging obviously doesn't begin to fully describe what Henry did in a lead role late last season: 97-625-8 rushing in five December games, with the Titans going 4-1.

In three seasons, Henry has a 4.6-yard clip yet averaged only 167 carries. But his usage has increased each year, with a career-high 215 totes (and 230 total touches) in 2018, more than 40 percent of those opportunities coming in the final month.

Tennessee's O-line was better blocking the run than the pass but disappointed nonetheless in 2018 for a second consecutive season. Still, it returns Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, like Henry in a contract year, and upgraded at left guard with the signing of Rodger Saffold. Of course, the beauty of Henry is that when he's showing the necessary urgency, he can be his own blocker.

But the caveat with Henry is that regardless of what Smith says about his usage, he's never shown much in the passing game, where Dion Lewis is the specialist, catching 65-of-67 targets last season. He'll earn more than $5 million this season — and not to be phased out of the offense. His presence potentially limits Henry's value, but we saw the upside in December. If he gets, say, a minimum of 280 touches (roughly 260 as a runner), we like his prospects as a rock-solid RB2.

4. At career crossroads, what path does Leonard Fournette take?

Of the six backs selected in the top 15 picks over the past four years — Saquon Barkley, Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon — five have been home runs and one is on the verge of becoming a strikeout.

Yes, Fournette as a rookie helped the Jaguars to a division title, finishing eighth in the NFL with 1,040 rushing yards and tied for third with nine touchdowns — good for RB8 overall in half-PPR leagues. But he averaged below four yards per carry, missed three games with injuries ... and Jacksonville would've killed for that production last season.

Fournette instead missed more than half the season because of a nagging hamstring injury and suspension, was out of shape and disinterested when he returned and was told at the conclusion of his second season that his contract guarantees voided after he left the bench during his best game of the season for a fracas with Bills DE Shaq Lawson.

Will Fournette receive the message loud and clear that his immaturity is threatening to derail his once-promising career? Appearing this offseason in an Instagram video with teammate Jalen Ramsey as the All Pro corner vows not to give the Jaguars a hometown discount might suggest otherwise. But the flip side of all this is that Fournette has a chance to run behind the best offensive line and quarterback during his short NFL tenure, and though the Jaguars recently added a few interesting challengers in Alfred Blue, Thomas Rawls and rookie Ryquell Armstead, none come close to matching Fournette's talent level and draft pedigree.

His current ADP reflects Fournette as a high-risk, high-reward RB2 right now. It'll be important to monitor his camp to try and get a better indication of whether he's finally ready to be a pro and realize his potential.

5. Who'll be the fantasy stud, dud on each club?

Colts:

STUD: Andrew Luck: No reason to think he won't be even better in Year 2 under Frank Reich.

DUD: Ebron: Modest production after banner campaign will equal disappointment overall.

Texans:

STUD: Watson: Only injury, another Mahomes freak show prevents Watson from being QB1.

DUD: D'Onta Foreman: He's a rumor until he isn't.

Titans:

STUD: Delanie Walker: Even at 34, he comes with fewer questions than Henry and Corey Davis.

DUD: Marcus Mariota: We're tired of waiting.

Jaguars:

STUD: Fournette: Now or never and the stars could easily align.

DUD: DJ Chark: Why sign Terrelle Pryor and Chris Conley if Chark's ready to attack in Year 2?

Fantasy Football: 5 burning questions in the AFC North

Posted on July 11, 2019 - 08:42:08

Whether there are enough footballs in Cleveland, addition-by-subtraction for Steelers and the Lamar Jackson experience in Baltimore

PFW's fantasy football coverage is ramping up during the NFL's downtime, and after recently unveiling our first "ADP Alerts" of the summer, we're continuing our division-by-division look at the entire league, answering burning questions for all 32 teams.

Next up is the AFC North, where there's an unfamiliar new favorite in the Cleveland Browns overtaking the division's two perennial challengers, the reigning champion Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, whose addition-by-subtraction strategy may or may not lead them to more wins but likely will have negative fantasy ramifications. Conversely, the Cincinnati Bengals under rookie head coach Zac Taylor could be more prosperous for fantasy owners than the Brown family this season.

1.) What can Lamar Jackson do in his first full season as the starter?

The Heisman-winning, ankle-breaking, breathtaking playmaker finished as QB8 overall in average scoring from Weeks 11-17, his seven-game starting sample size, despite tossing 5 touchdowns compared to 7 turnovers and eclipsing 200 passing yards once. That's obviously a small sample, and Jackson has miles to go as a passer. But if new coordinator Greg Roman intends on maintaining the game plan that saw Jackson average an unprecedented 17 carries per game while Roman was asst. head coach last season and Marty Morninwheg was still calling plays, the quarterback's upside is unlimited — assuming he can make at least marginal strides as a passer.

We didn't necessarily see that last season, when Jackson completed less than 60 percent of his throws and averaged only 7 adjusted yards per attempt, but in his first full offseason, with exciting new weapons in Marquise Brown and Justice Hill, not to mention a healthier TE corps, at least modest improvements should be expected.

However, Jackson's supporting cast still leaves a lot to be desired with immense potential but little in the way of proven production in the WR corps. The signing of Mark Ingram and drafting of Justice Hill is encouraging at least because they're strong pass catchers who will serve as valuable safety valves offering high-percentage chances for Jackson as his knowledge of offense and reading defenses increases.

Jackson is going off as QB20, lasting until the end of Round 12 according to Fantasy Football Calculator's ADP data. With that price tag and his historic running production — 695 rushing yards ranks 11th in NFL history, trailing only full-time starters — Jackson will be near the top of our list of late-round QB bargains with game-changing upside.

2.) Which Steeler will be most affected by the Antonio Brown trade?

It has to be Ben Roethlisberger or JuJu Smith-Schuster, right? We touched a bit here on the three games in which Smith-Schuster has been the team's No. 1 in Brown's absence. But how has Big Ben fared without A.B. throughout his career? In two games over the past two seasons, Roethlisberger averaged 256 passing yards and tallied a 3:1 TD-INT ratio, compared to 305 and 59:29 with the future Hall of Fame receiver on the field.

Talk about a small sample size, but that's basically what we have to go off because Brown only missed one other game since becoming a full-time starter — the 2016 regular-season finale, when Roethlisberger was also sidelined. Indeed, there will be some serious projecting required before locking in Smith-Schuster as your WR1 or Roethlisberger as a potential starter.

But what about James Conner, you ask? He saw more than eight defenders in the box last season on 27.91 percent of his carries, per Next Gen Stats, a higher percentage than all but 10 qualifying NFL runners. In other words, the presence of Brown, rather surprisingly, didn't make life that much easier on Conner, at least in terms of the fronts he saw. The hard-charging Conner was not only prolific but efficient last season, and with four starters returning up front and no real new challengers to his workload, he again profiles as a rock-solid RB1 — with a drop-off looming not far behind him on fantasy RB boards.

As far as the beneficiaries of Brown's departure, 2017 Biletnikoff winner James Washington is the most obvious choice, and rookie Diontae Johnson and vets Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer merit late-round dart throws, but it could finally be Vance McDonald #szn, too. Remember, McDonald came on like gangbusters in last year's playoffs when Brown was hobbled, and after his delayed start to 2018 because of injury, finished as TE9 over the final 14 games.

3.) Will there be enough footballs to go around in Cleveland?

We're not as worried about the backfield because Nick Chubb will have half a season to maintain full ownership of the lead role in Kareem Hunt's absence with suspension, and remember what happened over the second half of Chubb's rookie campaign? All he did was finish sixth among all fantasy backs in scoring following Carlos Hyde's trade to Jacksonville. If anything, Kevin Zeitler's exit from what was only an average (at best) run-blocking O-line gives us more pause, but it's up to the 33rd overall pick in the draft two years ago, Austin Corbett, to help provide a jump start.

Until Duke Johnson is dealt, he'll also have fantasy value as the clear preferred third-down back in an offense that's going to pass a ton. But where Baker Mayfield slings it outside of OBJ and Jarvis Landry is a huge question. He was certainly more of an equal opportunity passer upon taking the starting reins than predecessor Tyrod Taylor, but that's like comparing a Rolls Royce to a beat-up Buick. We feel very comfortable drafting Beckham with the expectation of getting an elite WR1, Landry a productive WR2. We like David Njoku and Antonio Callaway, but only as relatively cheap options in what has a chance to be the most dangerous aerial attack in the league.

Stay tuned. We plan to dig in a lot deeper specifically on the Browns' riveting fantasy landscape in the coming weeks...

4.) How much faith should we have in new head coach Zac Taylor?

Well, how much faith did you have in Marvin Lewis by the end of his 16-season death march? He's a defensive-minded coach, and even with the bottom truly falling out last season, the Bengals were home of fantasy's RB9 (Joe Mixon) and WR16 (Tyler Boyd) overall.

And we expect Cincinnati to once again be fruitful for fantasy purposes, with A.J. Green currently perhaps the biggest bargain at receiver and Tyler Eifert still surely worth at least a last-round flier, which he's not fetching at the moment. Taylor has only called plays for five NFL games, when he was the interim coordinator with the 2015 Miami Dolphins. He oversaw a 60-40 pass-run split, leaning on Lamar Miller early over that stretch and helping unlock DeVante Parker late in his rookie season.

Coming from Sean McVay's Rams, Taylor seems likely to use plenty of "11 personnel" with Tyler Boyd working in the slot and John Ross potentially sliding into the Brandin Cooks vertical role. Based on their current ADPs, we might give Ross a long look before ponying up for Boyd, who hasn't shown yet that he can be a reliable point scorer opposite Green.

The injury to Jonah Williams is a crushing blow to the Bengals offensive line, no two ways about it. But that unit's shortcomings a year ago, when it ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders' overall run-blocking metric, hardly diminished Mixon's value, and a potential increase in the screen game that he's shone so brightly in spurts may offset a bit of the O-line concerns. We're comfortable with Mixon's current price tag (RB8, 1.11) but would be thrilled to get him somewhere after that Round 1-2 turn.

5.) Who'll be the fantasy stud, dud on each club?

Ravens

STUD: If he stays healthy and limits his fumbling, Lamar Jackson will anchor your squad.

DUD: Gus Edwards is about to get tossed under the Mark Ingram/Kenneth Dixon/Justice Hill bus.

Steelers

STUD: James Conner is a bad man, fully capable of building on his breakthrough 2018.

DUD: Big Ben led the NFL in yards but also picks last year, and we're all about to find out what Brown did for him.

Browns

STUD: Baker Mayfield is ready to dominate.

DUD: Add to the list of Kareem Hunt concerns: Nick Chubb.

Bengals

STUD: A.J. Green, still the man.

DUD: Tyler Boyd's contract season comes at a difficult time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up is the AFC North, where there's an unfamiliar new favorite in the Cleveland Browns overtaking the division's two perennial challengers, the reigning champion Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, whose addition-by-subtraction strategy may or may not lead them to more wins but likely will have negative fantasy ramifications. Conversely, the Cincinnati Bengals under rookie head coach Zac Taylor could be more prosperous for fantasy owners than the Brown family this season.

1.) What can Lamar Jackson do in his first full season as the starter?

The Heisman-winning, ankle-breaking, breathtaking playmaker finished as QB8 overall in average scoring from Weeks 11-17, his seven-game starting sample size, despite tossing 5 touchdowns compared to 7 turnovers and eclipsing 200 passing yards once. That's obviously a small sample, and Jackson has miles to go as a passer. But if new coordinator Greg Roman intends on maintaining the game plan that saw Jackson average an unprecedented 17 carries per game while Roman was asst. head coach last season and Marty Morninwheg was still calling plays, the quarterback's upside is unlimited — assuming he can make at least marginal strides as a passer.

We didn't necessarily see that last season, when Jackson completed less than 60 percent of his throws and averaged only 7 adjusted yards per attempt, but in his first full offseason, with exciting new weapons in Marquise Brown and Justice Hill, not to mention a healthier TE corps, at least modest improvements should be expected.

However, Jackson's supporting cast still leaves a lot to be desired with immense potential but little in the way of proven production in the WR corps. The signing of Mark Ingram and drafting of Justice Hill is encouraging at least because they're strong pass catchers who will serve as valuable safety valves offering high-percentage chances for Jackson as his knowledge of offense and reading defenses increases.

Jackson is going off as QB20, lasting until the end of Round 12 according to Fantasy Football Calculator's ADP data. With that price tag and his historic running production — 695 rushing yards ranks 11th in NFL history, trailing only full-time starters — Jackson will be near the top of our list of late-round QB bargains with game-changing upside.

 

2.) Which Steeler will be most affected by the Antonio Brown trade?

It has to be Ben Roethlisberger or JuJu Smith-Schuster, right? We touched a bit here on the three games in which Smith-Schuster has been the team's No. 1 in Brown's absence. But how has Big Ben fared without A.B. throughout his career? In two games over the past two seasons, Roethlisberger averaged 256 passing yards and tallied a 3:1 TD-INT ratio, compared to 305 and 59:29 with the future Hall of Fame receiver on the field.

Talk about a small sample size, but that's basically what we have to go off because Brown only missed one other game since becoming a full-time starter — the 2016 regular-season finale, when Roethlisberger was also sidelined. Indeed, there will be some serious projecting required before locking in Smith-Schuster as your WR1 or Roethlisberger as a potential starter.

But what about James Conner, you ask? He saw more than eight defenders in the box last season on 27.91 percent of his carries, per Next Gen Stats, a higher percentage than all but 10 qualifying NFL runners. In other words, the presence of Brown, rather surprisingly, didn't make life that much easier on Conner, at least in terms of the fronts he saw. The hard-charging Conner was not only prolific but efficient last season, and with four starters returning up front and no real new challengers to his workload, he again profiles as a rock-solid RB1 — with a drop-off looming not far behind him on fantasy RB boards.

As far as the beneficiaries of Brown's departure, 2017 Biletnikoff winner James Washington is the most obvious choice, and rookie Diontae Johnson and vets Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer merit late-round dart throws, but it could finally be Vance McDonald #szn, too. Remember, McDonald came on like gangbusters in last year's playoffs when Brown was hobbled, and after his delayed start to 2018 because of injury, finished as TE9 over the final 14 games.

 

3.) Will there be enough footballs to go around in Cleveland?

We're not as worried about the backfield because Nick Chubb will have half a season to maintain full ownership of the lead role in Kareem Hunt's absence with suspension, and remember what happened over the second half of Chubb's rookie campaign? All he did was finish sixth among all fantasy backs in scoring following Carlos Hyde's trade to Jacksonville. If anything, Kevin Zeitler's exit from what was only an average (at best) run-blocking O-line gives us more pause, but it's up to the 33rd overall pick in the draft two years ago, Austin Corbett, to help provide a jump start.

Until Duke Johnson is dealt, he'll also have fantasy value as the clear preferred third-down back in an offense that's going to pass a ton. But where Baker Mayfield slings it outside of OBJ and Jarvis Landry is a huge question. He was certainly more of an equal opportunity passer upon taking the starting reins than predecessor Tyrod Taylor, but that's like comparing a Rolls Royce to a beat-up Buick. We feel very comfortable drafting Beckham with the expectation of getting an elite WR1, Landry a productive WR2. We like David Njoku and Antonio Callaway, but only as relatively cheap options in what has a chance to be the most dangerous aerial attack in the league.

Stay tuned. We plan to dig in a lot deeper specifically on the Browns' riveting fantasy landscape in the coming weeks...

 

4.) How much faith should we have in new head coach Zac Taylor?

Well, how much faith did you have in Marvin Lewis by the end of his 16-season death march? He's a defensive-minded coach, and even with the bottom truly falling out last season, the Bengals were home of fantasy's RB9 (Joe Mixon) and WR16 (Tyler Boyd) overall.

And we expect Cincinnati to once again be fruitful for fantasy purposes, with A.J. Green currently perhaps the biggest bargain at receiver and Tyler Eifert still surely worth at least a last-round flier, which he's not fetching at the moment. Taylor has only called plays for five NFL games, when he was the interim coordinator with the 2015 Miami Dolphins. He oversaw a 60-40 pass-run split, leaning on Lamar Miller early over that stretch and helping unlock DeVante Parker late in his rookie season.

Coming from Sean McVay's Rams, Taylor seems likely to use plenty of "11 personnel" with Tyler Boyd working in the slot and John Ross potentially sliding into the Brandin Cooks vertical role. Based on their current ADPs, we might give Ross a long look before ponying up for Boyd, who hasn't shown yet that he can be a reliable point scorer opposite Green.

The injury to Jonah Williams is a crushing blow to the Bengals offensive line, no two ways about it. But that unit's shortcomings a year ago, when it ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders' overall run-blocking metric, hardly diminished Mixon's value, and a potential increase in the screen game that he's shone so brightly in spurts may offset a bit of the O-line concerns. We're comfortable with Mixon's current price tag (RB8, 1.11) but would be thrilled to get him somewhere after that Round 1-2 turn.

 

 

5.) Who'll be the fantasy stud, dud on each club?

Ravens

STUD: If he stays healthy and limits his fumbling, Lamar Jackson will anchor your squad.

DUD: Gus Edwards is about to get tossed under the Mark Ingram/Kenneth Dixon/Justice Hill bus.

Steelers

STUD: James Conner is a bad man, fully capable of building on his breakthrough 2018.

DUD: Big Ben led the NFL in yards but also picks last year, and we're all about to find out what Brown did for him.

Browns

STUD: Baker Mayfield is ready to dominate.

DUD: Add to the list of Kareem Hunt concerns: Nick Chubb.

Bengals

STUD: A.J. Green, still the man.

DUD: Tyler Boyd's contract season comes at a difficult time.

Fantasy Football: 5 burning questions in the AFC East

Posted on July 8, 2019 - 10:37:38

Determining sophomore ceilings and floors for Darnold, Allen, N'Keal Harry's rookie outlook and are the Dolphins a fantasy disaster waiting to happen?

PFW's fantasy football coverage is ramping up during the NFL's downtime, and after unveiling our first "ADP Alerts" of the summer last week, we're beginning a division-by-division look at the entire league, answering burning questions for all 32 teams.

First up is the AFC East, where a trio of 2018 first-round quarterbacks are hoping to close the gap in the NFL's most lopsided division, still completely dominated by Brady, Belichick and the Patriots.

1.) What type of rookie impact will Bill Belichick's first-ever first-round New England Patriots receiver make?

On one hand, as the 32nd overall pick in April, N'Keal Harry is New England's earliest drafted wideout under Belichick and Tom Brady. On the other, the two most recent Patriots receivers drafted prior to Harry who appeared in an NFL game on offense, Malcolm Mitchell and Aaron Dobson, double as the franchise's most successful rookie receivers: Dobson boasts a first-year franchise record 519 yards, and Mitchell averaged 8.35 yards per target.

Of course, those are very modest stats from a fantasy perspective — Dobson finished as WR60 and Mitchell was WR76 in standard scoring leagues — and it stands to reason that more recent picks would experience more success, relatively speaking, with passing games now as prolific as ever. But it also stands to reason that Dobson, hailing from Marshall where he never produced a season as dominant as Harry's 2018 with the Sun Devils, wasn't as equipped as Harry for the NFL jump, and Mitchell is an inferior athlete who produced as a rookie despite a gross preseason elbow injury.

It's also worth noting that Dobson and Mitchell thrived in part because of the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who started a career-low six games those seasons, and in spite Tom Brady tossing only 25 touchdowns in 2013 and missing the first four games with his "Deflategate" suspension three years later. With Brady somehow back near the height of his powers and nothing much to speak of in the Patriots' Gronk-less pass-catching corps after Julian Edelman, the table appears to be set for the hardworking Harry's arrival to mark another first: a reliable Patriots rookie fantasy WR3.

2.) Is Josh Allen's support group good enough to help determine how good Josh Allen can be?

As a rookie, Allen authored one of the better rushing seasons by a quarterback in NFL history, averaging 52.6 yards per game and totaling eight touchdowns. That dimension greatly enhanced his floor and helped Allen rank as QB20, ahead of other part-time starters, including Baker Mayfield and Marcus Mariota.

The flipside: the bazooka-armed Allen averaged more yards per rush (7.1) than pass (6.5), tossed more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) and converted a first down nearly as often with his legs (46.1 percent of his rushes) as just completing a pass (52.8 percent of his throws).

Now, Allen goes from perhaps the game's worst combination of pass catchers and blockers to, well, it's hard to know. In plug-and-play starting WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, TE Tyler Kroft and OL Mitch Morse (center), Quinton Spain (left guard), Spencer Long (right guard) and Cody Ford (right tackle), Buffalo has built a respectable QB incubator. It's just that there's little recent precedent we can think of for such wholesale changes.

The Bears almost entirely revamped Mitch Trubisky's pass-catching stable last season, but he also had a new coach and returned the same offensive line. Trubisky made vast strides, we should add, finishing as QB11 in per-game scoring. The Vikings successfully rebuilt most of their offensive line on the fly two seasons ago but had coaching and pass-catching continuity for new QB Case Keenum, who was QB15 (average).

Allen is more talented than both of those quarterbacks and, like each, should have a strong defense and adaptable play caller in Brian Daboll. Still, plenty of growing pains are in the offing and we expect him to be a better asset to fantasy owners seeking one of the year's higher upside backups than he is to the 2019 Bills, who will be better but ultimately held back by their still-raw leader.

3.) How do we balance the immense upside and inherent risk of the New York Jets' Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell?

If you're a believer in targeting players who finished the previous season on a high note, as we are, Darnold is on your radar. In his last four rookie games, after returning from a foot injury, the No. 3 overall pick compiled a 6:1 TD-INT ratio, 8.05 adjusted yards per attempt and 99.1 rating. There were some tremendous flashes of his playmaking potential, buoyed by the sterling flourish from WR1 Robby Anderson, who returns in a contract year after a pleasantly quiet offseason.

It's unclear who'll be more wide-eyed this season, Darnold or new coach Adam Gase, by the arrival of Le'Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, Kelechi Osemele and Co. But we like the recipe here for a nice sophomore step from Darnold, especially after a harrowing first month of the season (vs. BUF, vs. CLE, at NE, at PHI, vs. DAL).

Bell is going off as RB7 around the ninth slot of the opening round according to Fantasy Football Calculator's current ADP data. Of course, there is no data to lean on when it comes to backs who have returned after stepping away healthy for a season in the prime of their careers. But are we sure Bell really left in his prime?

Remember, his 4.8 yards per attempt (4.0) AND touch (4.9) in 2017 bottomed out over a four-year span. Granted, he handled an absurd 406 regular-season touches, but that fuels our wariness more than our willingness to get back in on Bell as a tried-and-true RB1. If his price tag manages to fall nearly a full round, that's when our interest could rise.

4.) Can the Miami Dolphins avoid being a fantasy dunk tank, and if so, why?

There actually are a few nice buy-low candidates, like Kalen Ballage and, yes, DeVante Parker. But we don't see the infrastructure here to house any major fantasy forces. This situation reminds so much of Arizona last season ... and Josh Rosen isn't the lone common denominator.

There's a shortage of skill-position talent and even more so blocking-wise. Rosen could begin the season on the bench in favor of an imminently bench-able vet placeholder. The defense again figures to struggle. And Brian Flores may or may not be in over his head similar to Steve Wilks.

The schedule is also brutal, especially in the first half of the season, likely ramping up the first-overall-pick speculation by November. Again, we'll consider Parker, likely in his last Miami stand, and Ballage if the price is right, but few fantasy environments should create greater pause than this one.

5.) Who'll be the fantasy stud, dud on each club?

Patriots

STUD: Sony Michel averaged 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in his first postseason.

DUD: Wait, the Patriots didn't draft a tight end this year and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jacob Hollister are gone?

Bills

STUD: With all the newcomers, it's two holdovers, LeSean McCoy and Robert Foster, poised to benefit the most.

DUD: Tyler Kroft got paid, but he'll get passed by in a hurry courtesy of third-rounder Dawson Knox.

Jets

STUD: Remember the 2018 fantasy playoffs? Robby Anderson is back for more.

DUD: There isn't a first-round back that scares us more than Le'Veon Bell.

Dolphins

STUD: Kenny Stills is sneaky underrated, averaging 641 yards and 6 touchdowns in four seasons in Miami.

DUD: If ever there was a season not to believe the spring DeVante Parker hype...

First up is the AFC East, where a trio of 2018 first-round quarterbacks are hoping to close the gap in the NFL's most lopsided division, still completely dominated by Brady, Belichick and the Patriots.

 

1.) What type of rookie impact will Bill Belichick's first-ever first-round New England Patriots receiver make?

On one hand, as the 32nd overall pick in April, N'Keal Harry is New England's earliest drafted wideout under Belichick and Tom Brady. On the other, the two most recent Patriots receivers drafted prior to Harry who appeared in an NFL game on offense, Malcolm Mitchell and Aaron Dobson, double as the franchise's most successful rookie receivers: Dobson boasts a first-year franchise record 519 yards, and Mitchell averaged 8.35 yards per target.

Of course, those are very modest stats from a fantasy perspective — Dobson finished as WR60 and Mitchell was WR76 in standard scoring leagues — and it stands to reason that more recent picks would experience more success, relatively speaking, with passing games now as prolific as ever. But it also stands to reason that Dobson, hailing from Marshall where he never produced a season as dominant as Harry's 2018 with the Sun Devils, wasn't as equipped as Harry for the NFL jump, and Mitchell is an inferior athlete who produced as a rookie despite a gross preseason elbow injury.

It's also worth noting that Dobson and Mitchell thrived in part because of the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who started a career-low six games those seasons, and in spite Tom Brady tossing only 25 touchdowns in 2013 and missing the first four games with his "Deflategate" suspension three years later. With Brady somehow back near the height of his powers and nothing much to speak of in the Patriots' Gronk-less pass-catching corps after Julian Edelman, the table appears to be set for the hardworking Harry's arrival to mark another first: a reliable Patriots rookie fantasy WR3.

 

2.) Is Josh Allen's support group good enough to help determine how good Josh Allen can be?

As a rookie, Allen authored one of the better rushing seasons by a quarterback in NFL history, averaging 52.6 yards per game and totaling eight touchdowns. That dimension greatly enhanced his floor and helped Allen rank as QB20, ahead of other part-time starters, including Baker Mayfield and Marcus Mariota.

The flipside: the bazooka-armed Allen averaged more yards per rush (7.1) than pass (6.5), tossed more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) and converted a first down nearly as often with his legs (46.1 percent of his rushes) as just completing a pass (52.8 percent of his throws).

Now, Allen goes from perhaps the game's worst combination of pass catchers and blockers to, well, it's hard to know. In plug-and-play starting WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, TE Tyler Kroft and OL Mitch Morse (center), Quinton Spain (left guard), Spencer Long (right guard) and Cody Ford (right tackle), Buffalo has built a respectable QB incubator. It's just that there's little recent precedent we can think of for such wholesale changes.

The Bears almost entirely revamped Mitch Trubisky's pass-catching stable last season, but he also had a new coach and returned the same offensive line. Trubisky made vast strides, we should add, finishing as QB11 in per-game scoring. The Vikings successfully rebuilt most of their offensive line on the fly two seasons ago but had coaching and pass-catching continuity for new QB Case Keenum, who was QB15 (average).

Allen is more talented than both of those quarterbacks and, like each, should have a strong defense and adaptable play caller in Brian Daboll. Still, plenty of growing pains are in the offing and we expect him to be a better asset to fantasy owners seeking one of the year's higher upside backups than he is to the 2019 Bills, who will be better but ultimately held back by their still-raw leader.

 

3.) How do we balance the immense upside and inherent risk of the New York Jets' Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell?

If you're a believer in targeting players who finished the previous season on a high note, as we are, Darnold is on your radar. In his last four rookie games, after returning from a foot injury, the No. 3 overall pick compiled a 6:1 TD-INT ratio, 8.05 adjusted yards per attempt and 99.1 rating. There were some tremendous flashes of his playmaking potential, buoyed by the sterling flourish from WR1 Robby Anderson, who returns in a contract year after a pleasantly quiet offseason.

It's unclear who'll be more wide-eyed this season, Darnold or new coach Adam Gase, by the arrival of Le'Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, Kelechi Osemele and Co. But we like the recipe here for a nice sophomore step from Darnold, especially after a harrowing first month of the season (vs. BUF, vs. CLE, at NE, at PHI, vs. DAL).

Bell is going off as RB7 around the ninth slot of the opening round according to Fantasy Football Calculator's current ADP data. Of course, there is no data to lean on when it comes to backs who have returned after stepping away healthy for a season in the prime of their careers. But are we sure Bell really left in his prime?

Remember, his 4.8 yards per attempt (4.0) AND touch (4.9) in 2017 bottomed out over a four-year span. Granted, he handled an absurd 406 regular-season touches, but that fuels our wariness more than our willingness to get back in on Bell as a tried-and-true RB1. If his price tag manages to fall nearly a full round, that's when our interest could rise.

 

4.) Can the Miami Dolphins avoid being a fantasy dunk tank, and if so, why?

There actually are a few nice buy-low candidates, like Kalen Ballage and, yes, DeVante Parker. But we don't see the infrastructure here to house any major fantasy forces. This situation reminds so much of Arizona last season ... and Josh Rosen isn't the lone common denominator.

There's a shortage of skill-position talent and even more so blocking-wise. Rosen could begin the season on the bench in favor of an imminently bench-able vet placeholder. The defense again figures to struggle. And Brian Flores may or may not be in over his head similar to Steve Wilks.

The schedule is also brutal, especially in the first half of the season, likely ramping up the first-overall-pick speculation by November. Again, we'll consider Parker, likely in his last Miami stand, and Ballage if the price is right, but few fantasy environments should create greater pause than this one.

 

5.) Who'll be the fantasy stud, dud on each club?

Patriots

STUD: Sony Michel averaged 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in his first postseason.

DUD: Wait, the Patriots didn't draft a tight end this year and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jacob Hollister are gone?

Bills

STUD: With all the newcomers, it's two holdovers, LeSean McCoy and Robert Foster, poised to benefit the most.

DUD: Tyler Kroft got paid, but he'll get passed by in a hurry courtesy of third-rounder Dawson Knox.

Jets

STUD: Remember the 2018 fantasy playoffs? Robby Anderson is back for more.

DUD: There isn't a first-round back that scares us more than Le'Veon Bell.

Dolphins

STUD: Kenny Stills is sneaky underrated, averaging 641 yards and 6 touchdowns in four seasons in Miami.

DUD: If ever there was a season not to believe the spring DeVante Parker hype...

Fantasy Football: Browns' Mayfield, Steelers' Smith-Schuster among 12 overvalued

Posted on July 3, 2019 - 11:52:44

We'd also suggest fading Dalvin Cook and Eric Ebron at their current fantasy football ADPs

Dark time in the NFL? Pfft. Allow us to illuminate, fellow fantasy football fiends, some of the best potential bargains and buyer beware candidates based on summer average draft position (ADP) data from Fantasy Football Calculator.

That's right, it's the first rendition of our annual summer series, the ADP Alert, where we go position by position scouring for steals and recognizing red flags as draft season nears. For starters, we checked in on 12 undervalued fantasy options approximately three weeks from the start of training camps. Naturally, we turn next to players who are currently overvalued.

QBs

Baker Mayfield (QB5, 6.07)

Look, we love Mayfield as much as the next guy, but doesn’t it feel like his fantasy outlook might be unreasonably tethered to the (unreasonable?) hype around his Browns? How else do we explain Mayfield’s ADP residence above far more proven quantities still possessing immense fantasy potential like Russell Wilson (QB9, 8.01) and Philip Rivers (QB14, 10.07)?

Jared Goff (QB12, 9.07)

Goff was actually a better fantasy quarterback in his third season, when he jumped from QB12 to QB7. That fact can easily be lost in his December-January swoon, when he tallied a 7:8 TD-INT ratio — with four of the touchdowns coming in a meaningless Week 17 contest vs. a lowly Niners defense. More so than recency bias, it's the Rams' interior O-line turnover giving us trepidation regarding a quarterback who struggles in muddy pockets.

RBs

Dalvin Cook (RB10, 2.04)

Such an awesome talent, such a massive injury risk. Sigh. Cook actually dropped from 9th to 20th in per-game fantasy scoring last season, which we'll chalk up largely to the O-line horror show, but missing 19 of his first 34 NFL games with injuries? Not a fluke for a player who entered the league with significant durability issues and a laundry list of surgeries on his shoulders and knees. Throw in an unsettled O-line, the arrival of third-rounder Alexander Mattison and we see a player going at least one round too early.

Phillip Lindsay (RB22, 4.04)

Lindsay was undoubtedly a rookie revelation, but Denver didn't spend a Day 2 pick last year on the bigger, stronger Royce Freeman — reportedly an offseason standout — to forget about him. Moreover, a sneaky-good run-blocking O-line lost anchor Matt Paradis, whom the Broncos loved running behind, in free agency and wasn't as effective after he went down with injury in November: Lindsay averaged a half-yard less on the same number of carries in the second half of the season. Perhaps a 5-8, 190-pounder also was running out of gas — another reason we prefer spending an eighth-rounder on Freeman.

Derrius Guice (RB28, 6.01)

Kicking off Round 6 by picking Guice, who redshirted as a rookie with a torn ACL, would be risky even if Adrian Peterson wasn't re-signed. Of course we know he's back after turning back the clock to 2015, while we know nothing about how Guice will return from injury and assimilate to an NFL offense for the first time that's likely to be led by a rookie quarterback. This entire offense is volatile, but Chris Thompson in Round 13 might be our first choice.

Darrell Henderson (RB34, 7.06)

Yes, the Rams traded up for Henderson, the most explosive runner in college football last season. True, Todd Gurley's arthritic knees are on borrowed time. Also true: the Rams matched Detroit's offer on RFA Malcolm Brown, guaranteeing him more than $2 million. Unlike Henderson, he's built to tote the rock often if Gurley can't, and flashed his own dynamism in New Orleans last season with that awesome pirouette TD. With so many mouths to feed in L.A., is the third-string runner and likely gadget specialist worth a seventh-round pick? Not to us right now.

WRs

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR6, 2.03)

In his first three NFL games without Antonio Brown, JuJu thrashed the Texans and Browns as a rookie and Bengals last season for a combined 20-255-3 receiving. But those defenses were nothing short of awful, ranked 26th, 30th and 29th, respectively, in passing yards per play. In his first three games as Pittsburgh's new WR1, he'll see a Patriots 'D' that stymied him last year (4-40 receiving), the Seahawks and 49ers. It's certainly possible he's ready for the regular attention of the opposition's best corner and/or bracket coverage every week, but it's also an awfully expensive leap of faith on someone who hasn't done it before.

Julian Edelman (WR15, 4.02)

He hasn't finished ranked higher than 14th in per-game half-PPR scoring since 2015, when Edelman was on the other side of 30 and Rob Gronkowski was still a TE-sized monster having his second-best receiving season as a pro. It's not that Edelman hasn't fared well previously in Gronk's sporadic absences, and if healthy he'll surely be in line for 150 or so targets, as he's received in each of his past two full seasons, both partial years for Gronk. But with N'Keal Harry aboard and Edelman's lack of big-play prowess, this price tag is a tad steep for our liking.

Tyler Boyd (WR27, 6.05)

There's a lot to like about Boyd: ascendant talent, in a contract year, likely to again be in a dumpster fire defense. It's just that we like the chances of a rebound for A.J. Green, who amazingly can be found at the Round 3 turn, a lot more than Boyd becoming something he has yet to be in fantasy with Green and Tyler Eifert (for now) back and Joe Mixon poised for even more work this season.

Geronimo Allison (WR37, 8.11)

Allison is a good player who mostly has maximized his NFL opportunities, but not to the point of preventing Brian Gutekunst from spending three picks in his first draft at the controls, or Aaron Rodgers driving the Jake Kumerow hype train again this offseason. Kumerow, Equanimeous St. Brown and J'Mon Moore are going undrafted, and we're befuddled by Allison's ADP relative to Marquez Valdes-Scantling's (two-plus rounds later), never mind known commodities like Larry Fitzgerald (8.12) and Emmanuel Sanders (10.06) and higher-ceiling prospects like Mecole Hardman (9.07) and Dede Westbrook (10.06).

TEs

Eric Ebron (TE7, 6.11)

This one is pretty simple: Ebron epitomized TD-dependent in his breakout debut season with the Colts, much of it spent without Jack Doyle, who's almost healthy again. Ebron still fights the ball, and he'll have to fight for targets with new middle-of-the-field threats in Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell and Deon Cain. Ebron is a boom or bust fantasy option at what's been a stream-able position in recent years — hardly a wise later-sixth-round investment.

David Njoku (TE10, 8.05)

Like in Edelman's case, we might be picking nits a bit here. Njoku is a unique talent in a unique offense loaded with playmakers. But he'll of course be joined by Odell Beckham, easily a top-five receiving talent, and returns alongside target hog Jarvis Landry (19 red-zone chances), not to mention the arrival of an underrated TE weapon in Demetrius Harris. And the tight ends might need to block more with Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard as Mayfield's edge protectors. Njoku parlayed 88 targets into TE9 overall standing last year, but it says here he'll have to be more efficient on what's likely to be a lot fewer opportunities, to match his current draft slot.

That's right, it's the first rendition of our annual summer series, the ADP Alert, where we go position by position scouring for steals and recognizing red flags as draft season nears. For starters, we checked in on 12 undervalued fantasy options approximately three weeks from the start of training camps. Naturally, we turn next to players who are currently overvalued.

QBs

Baker Mayfield (QB5, 6.07)

Look, we love Mayfield as much as the next guy, but doesn’t it feel like his fantasy outlook might be unreasonably tethered to the (unreasonable?) hype around his Browns? How else do we explain Mayfield’s ADP residence above far more proven quantities still possessing immense fantasy potential like Russell Wilson (QB9, 8.01) and Philip Rivers (QB14, 10.07)?

 

Jared Goff (QB12, 9.07)

Goff was actually a better fantasy quarterback in his third season, when he jumped from QB12 to QB7. That fact can easily be lost in his December-January swoon, when he tallied a 7:8 TD-INT ratio — with four of the touchdowns coming in a meaningless Week 17 contest vs. a lowly Niners defense. More so than recency bias, it's the Rams' interior O-line turnover giving us trepidation regarding a quarterback who struggles in muddy pockets.

 

RBs

Dalvin Cook (RB10, 2.04)

Such an awesome talent, such a massive injury risk. Sigh. Cook actually dropped from 9th to 20th in per-game fantasy scoring last season, which we'll chalk up largely to the O-line horror show, but missing 19 of his first 34 NFL games with injuries? Not a fluke for a player who entered the league with significant durability issues and a laundry list of surgeries on his shoulders and knees. Throw in an unsettled O-line, the arrival of third-rounder Alexander Mattison and we see a player going at least one round too early.

 

Phillip Lindsay (RB22, 4.04)

Lindsay was undoubtedly a rookie revelation, but Denver didn't spend a Day 2 pick last year on the bigger, stronger Royce Freeman — reportedly an offseason standout — to forget about him. Moreover, a sneaky-good run-blocking O-line lost anchor Matt Paradis, whom the Broncos loved running behind, in free agency and wasn't as effective after he went down with injury in November: Lindsay averaged a half-yard less on the same number of carries in the second half of the season. Perhaps a 5-8, 190-pounder also was running out of gas — another reason we prefer spending an eighth-rounder on Freeman.

 

Derrius Guice (RB28, 6.01)

Kicking off Round 6 by picking Guice, who redshirted as a rookie with a torn ACL, would be risky even if Adrian Peterson wasn't re-signed. Of course we know he's back after turning back the clock to 2015, while we know nothing about how Guice will return from injury and assimilate to an NFL offense for the first time that's likely to be led by a rookie quarterback. This entire offense is volatile, but Chris Thompson in Round 13 might be our first choice.

 

Darrell Henderson (RB34, 7.06)

Yes, the Rams traded up for Henderson, the most explosive runner in college football last season. True, Todd Gurley's arthritic knees are on borrowed time. Also true: the Rams matched Detroit's offer on RFA Malcolm Brown, guaranteeing him more than $2 million. Unlike Henderson, he's built to tote the rock often if Gurley can't, and flashed his own dynamism in New Orleans last season with that awesome pirouette TD. With so many mouths to feed in L.A., is the third-string runner and likely gadget specialist worth a seventh-round pick? Not to us right now.

 

WRs

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR6, 2.03)

In his first three NFL games without Antonio Brown, JuJu thrashed the Texans and Browns as a rookie and Bengals last season for a combined 20-255-3 receiving. But those defenses were nothing short of awful, ranked 26th, 30th and 29th, respectively, in passing yards per play. In his first three games as Pittsburgh's new WR1, he'll see a Patriots 'D' that stymied him last year (4-40 receiving), the Seahawks and 49ers. It's certainly possible he's ready for the regular attention of the opposition's best corner and/or bracket coverage every week, but it's also an awfully expensive leap of faith on someone who hasn't done it before.

 

Julian Edelman (WR15, 4.02)

He hasn't finished ranked higher than 14th in per-game half-PPR scoring since 2015, when Edelman was on the other side of 30 and Rob Gronkowski was still a TE-sized monster having his second-best receiving season as a pro. It's not that Edelman hasn't fared well previously in Gronk's sporadic absences, and if healthy he'll surely be in line for 150 or so targets, as he's received in each of his past two full seasons, both partial years for Gronk. But with N'Keal Harry aboard and Edelman's lack of big-play prowess, this price tag is a tad steep for our liking.

 

Tyler Boyd (WR27, 6.05)

There's a lot to like about Boyd: ascendant talent, in a contract year, likely to again be in a dumpster fire defense. It's just that we like the chances of a rebound for A.J. Green, who amazingly can be found at the Round 3 turn, a lot more than Boyd becoming something he has yet to be in fantasy with Green and Tyler Eifert (for now) back and Joe Mixon poised for even more work this season.

 

Geronimo Allison (WR37, 8.11)

Allison is a good player who mostly has maximized his NFL opportunities, but not to the point of preventing Brian Gutekunst from spending three picks in his first draft at the controls, or Aaron Rodgers driving the Jake Kumerow hype train again this offseason. Kumerow, Equanimeous St. Brown and J'Mon Moore are going undrafted, and we're befuddled by Allison's ADP relative to Marquez Valdes-Scantling's (two-plus rounds later), never mind known commodities like Larry Fitzgerald (8.12) and Emmanuel Sanders (10.06) and higher-ceiling prospects like Mecole Hardman (9.07) and Dede Westbrook (10.06).

 

TEs

Eric Ebron (TE7, 6.11)

This one is pretty simple: Ebron epitomized TD-dependent in his breakout debut season with the Colts, much of it spent without Jack Doyle, who's almost healthy again. Ebron still fights the ball, and he'll have to fight for targets with new middle-of-the-field threats in Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell and Deon Cain. Ebron is a boom or bust fantasy option at what's been a stream-able position in recent years — hardly a wise later-sixth-round investment.

 

David Njoku (TE10, 8.05)

Like in Edelman's case, we might be picking nits a bit here. Njoku is a unique talent in a unique offense loaded with playmakers. But he'll of course be joined by Odell Beckham, easily a top-five receiving talent, and returns alongside target hog Jarvis Landry (19 red-zone chances), not to mention the arrival of an underrated TE weapon in Demetrius Harris. And the tight ends might need to block more with Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard as Mayfield's edge protectors. Njoku parlayed 88 targets into TE9 overall standing last year, but it says here he'll have to be more efficient on what's likely to be a lot fewer opportunities, to match his current draft slot.

Fantasy Football early-July ADP Alert: Bears' Trubisky, Titans' Walker look like bargains

Posted on July 2, 2019 - 13:11:34

And are we now at the point where Todd Gurley undervalued in fantasy?

Dark time in the NFL? Pfft. Allow us to illuminate, fellow fantasy football fiends, some of the best potential bargains and buyer beware candidates based on summer average draft position (ADP) data from Fantasy Football Calculator.

That's right, it's the first rendition of our annual summer series, the ADP Alert, where we go position by position scouring for steals and recognizing red flags as draft season nears. First up, let's check out 12 players who appear undervalued approximately three weeks from the start of training camps.

QBs

Carson Wentz (QB10, 8.03)

Wentz tied Russell Wilson in 2017 to finish No. 2 among all QBs in per-game fantasy scoring. He appeared to be rediscovering that MVP form last season when his year was cut short by back surgery. Are the injuries a concern? Absolutely. Are the Eagles, who opted to give Wentz his record-breaking extension two years early, as smart as any NFL team, with the most intimate understanding of Wentz's medical background? Affirmative. In addition to his own tools, Wentz's skill support, O-line and coaching is elite.

Mitch Trubisky (QB22, 13.11)

We’re not sure at what point or why Trubisky became public enemy No. 1, but here are the facts: He was QB14 overall last season, his first in a real NFL offense with a real NFL-caliber pass-catching corps, one where, still, his two best talents were seldom 100 percent. Trubisky himself missed two starts with a shoulder injury — his per-game scoring ranked 11th among his peers. He was a top-five running quarterback, outpacing Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, among others. Unlike us, if you’re sensing a passing regression, there’s comfort in Trubisky’s floor given his dynamic athleticism. And he's being drafted as a low-tier QB2. Hmm.

RBs

Todd Gurley (RB11, 2.05)

At what point does fantasy's most dominant skill force over the past two seasons become a bargain in light of his arthritic knee condition? We're there now. After paying Gurley early, the Rams, it says here, really have no choice but to lean on him as their centerpiece on offense for as long as it's viable. And no we didn't miss the postseason. We think Sean McVay uses it as a teaching point — not only being too rigid schematically but also not unleashing his best talent.

Josh Jacobs (RB20, 3.10)

Flanking Jacobs on the ADP list are Tennessee's Derrick Henry and Chicago's David Montgomery, each in a tandem with an elite receiving specialist. With all due respect to Jalen Richard, a more than capable pass catcher in his own right, the Raiders spent a first-rounder on Jacobs to build their offense around him. And while being the bell cow will be new to Jacobs, having three studs in front of him in Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown can help him channel Bama again.

Tevin Coleman (RB31, 6.10)

One of the best bargains in reality during free agency can hold the same mantle in fantasy. Coleman, unlike Jerick McKinnon, has done it before under Kyle Shanahan. He also has the explosiveness of McKinnon and Matt Breida without the same size limitations, making him our favorite to lead the backfield of a potentially lethal offense.

LeSean McCoy (RB44, 9.09)

Just when we thought we were out on Shady, he pulls us back in. No, not with last year's dud of a season (career-low 752 yards from scrimmage) but his enhanced surroundings — beginning with an entirely rebuilt O-line — and Buffalo not identifying his potential successor. McCoy is at a precarious age for backs, but we think the arrival of the ageless Frank Gore lights a fire under a rejuvenated runner who, by the way, also handled a career-low 195 touches last season.

WRs

A.J. Green (WR12, 3.06)

Imagine drafting Green as your WR2, and then go draft Green as your WR2. He'll be 31 in July and is coming off his second injury-shortened season without at least 1,000 receiving yards in the past three years, after averaging 83-1,234-9 in his first five NFL campaigns. We might not know what Zac Taylor is as an NFL coach yet, but Green's a WR1 all damn day.

Tyler Lockett (WR21, 5.02)

One of the NFL's better kept secrets got out last season, when Lockett's 13.8 yards per target led the league ... by two full yards. And after turning only 70 targets into 965 yards and 10 touchdowns, understand Lockett is poised for a lot more love from Russell Wilson. Doug Baldwin, who retired in the offseason, averaged 110.5 targets as Seattle's No. 1 from 2014-17. Lockett is now officially Seattle's WR1.

Robby Anderson (WR29, 6.09)

Anderson was WR35 last season, when he missed the first two games with a suspension. He finally avoided legal run-ins this offseason, ahead of a contract year, after thrashing Buffalo (4-76-1), Green Bay (7-96-1) and Houston (9-140-1) in the fantasy playoffs. Plug in Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder, and one of the game's most feared vertical weapons won't see as many safeties over the top but he will see a much improved Sam Darnold.

Keke Coutee (WR44, 10.02)

Frankly, we'll likely end up targeting Will Fuller and Lamar Miller, too, but Coutee might currently be the best way to procure some affordable stock in Deshaun Watson's Texans. Watson said of Coutee recently, "you have to find a way to get him the ball," and that was after the fourth-rounder averaged 7 targets — and north of 8 fantasy points — per game during an injury-riddled rookie season.

TEs

Delanie Walker (TE12, 11.08)

In his first five seasons with Marcus Mariota, Walker finished as TE7, TE4, TE1, TE5 and TE3 overall, respectively, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury on his 39th snap in Week 1 last year. It was only the second time in his first 13 seasons that he failed to play at least 14 games. Tennessee's new offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith, was previously Walker's position coach and, like Mariota, knows well that the offense needs a productive Walker to again be a productive unit.

Greg Olsen (TE14, 13.05)

Apologies for sticking with the old guys, but why wouldn't we? Olsen, like Walker, has been successful long enough to easily prefer over, say, Eric Ebron seven full rounds earlier. Also like Walker, Olsen is an absolute pro who doesn't need to spend time again assimilating with his quarterback or the Panthers offense after the first two injury-derailed campaigns of his career. Could Olsen be washed? Sure. Is a 13th-round flier worth the price to find out? We'd say so.

 

That's right, it's the first rendition of our annual summer series, the ADP Alert, where we go position by position scouring for steals and recognizing red flags as draft season nears. First up, let's check out 12 players who appear undervalued approximately three weeks from the start of training camps.

QBs

Carson Wentz (QB10, 8.03)

Wentz tied Russell Wilson in 2017 to finish No. 2 among all QBs in per-game fantasy scoring. He appeared to be rediscovering that MVP form last season when his year was cut short by back surgery. Are the injuries a concern? Absolutely. Are the Eagles, who opted to give Wentz his record-breaking extension two years early, as smart as any NFL team, with the most intimate understanding of Wentz's medical background? Affirmative. In addition to his own tools, Wentz's skill support, O-line and coaching is elite.

Mitch Trubisky (QB22, 13.11)

We’re not sure at what point or why Trubisky became public enemy No. 1, but here are the facts: He was QB14 overall last season, his first in a real NFL offense with a real NFL-caliber pass-catching corps, one where, still, his two best talents were seldom 100 percent. Trubisky himself missed two starts with a shoulder injury — his per-game scoring ranked 11th among his peers. He was a top-five running quarterback, outpacing Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, among others. Unlike us, if you’re sensing a passing regression, there’s comfort in Trubisky’s floor given his dynamic athleticism. And he's being drafted as a low-tier QB2. Hmm.

 

RBs

Todd Gurley (RB11, 2.05)

At what point does fantasy's most dominant skill force over the past two seasons become a bargain in light of his arthritic knee condition? We're there now. After paying Gurley early, the Rams, it says here, really have no choice but to lean on him as their centerpiece on offense for as long as it's viable. And no we didn't miss the postseason. We think Sean McVay uses it as a teaching point — not only being too rigid schematically but also not unleashing his best talent.

 

Josh Jacobs (RB20, 3.10)

Flanking Jacobs on the ADP list are Tennessee's Derrick Henry and Chicago's David Montgomery, each in a tandem with an elite receiving specialist. With all due respect to Jalen Richard, a more than capable pass catcher in his own right, the Raiders spent a first-rounder on Jacobs to build their offense around him. And while being the bell cow will be new to Jacobs, having three studs in front of him in Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown can help him channel Bama again.

 

Tevin Coleman (RB31, 6.10)

One of the best bargains in reality during free agency can hold the same mantle in fantasy. Coleman, unlike Jerick McKinnon, has done it before under Kyle Shanahan. He also has the explosiveness of McKinnon and Matt Breida without the same size limitations, making him our favorite to lead the backfield of a potentially lethal offense.

 

LeSean McCoy (RB44, 9.09)

Just when we thought we were out on Shady, he pulls us back in. No, not with last year's dud of a season (career-low 752 yards from scrimmage) but his enhanced surroundings — beginning with an entirely rebuilt O-line — and Buffalo not identifying his potential successor. McCoy is at a precarious age for backs, but we think the arrival of the ageless Frank Gore lights a fire under a rejuvenated runner who, by the way, also handled a career-low 195 touches last season.

 

WRs

A.J. Green (WR12, 3.06)

Imagine drafting Green as your WR2, and then go draft Green as your WR2. He'll be 31 in July and is coming off his second injury-shortened season without at least 1,000 receiving yards in the past three years, after averaging 83-1,234-9 in his first five NFL campaigns. We might not know what Zac Taylor is as an NFL coach yet, but Green's a WR1 all damn day.

 

Tyler Lockett (WR21, 5.02)

One of the NFL's better kept secrets got out last season, when Lockett's 13.8 yards per target led the league ... by two full yards. And after turning only 70 targets into 965 yards and 10 touchdowns, understand Lockett is poised for a lot more love from Russell Wilson. Doug Baldwin, who retired in the offseason, averaged 110.5 targets as Seattle's No. 1 from 2014-17. Lockett is now officially Seattle's WR1.

 

Robby Anderson (WR29, 6.09)

Anderson was WR35 last season, when he missed the first two games with a suspension. He finally avoided legal run-ins this offseason, ahead of a contract year, after thrashing Buffalo (4-76-1), Green Bay (7-96-1) and Houston (9-140-1) in the fantasy playoffs. Plug in Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder, and one of the game's most feared vertical weapons won't see as many safeties over the top but he will see a much improved Sam Darnold.

 

Keke Coutee (WR44, 10.02)

Frankly, we'll likely end up targeting Will Fuller and Lamar Miller, too, but Coutee might currently be the best way to procure some affordable stock in Deshaun Watson's Texans. Watson said of Coutee recently, "you have to find a way to get him the ball," and that was after the fourth-rounder averaged 7 targets — and north of 8 fantasy points — per game during an injury-riddled rookie season.

 

TEs

Delanie Walker (TE12, 11.08)

In his first five seasons with Marcus Mariota, Walker finished as TE7, TE4, TE1, TE5 and TE3 overall, respectively, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury on his 39th snap in Week 1 last year. It was only the second time in his first 13 seasons that he failed to play at least 14 games. Tennessee's new offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith, was previously Walker's position coach and, like Mariota, knows well that the offense needs a productive Walker to again be a productive unit.

 

Greg Olsen (TE14, 13.05)

Apologies for sticking with the old guys, but why wouldn't we? Olsen, like Walker, has been successful long enough to easily prefer over, say, Eric Ebron seven full rounds earlier. Also like Walker, Olsen is an absolute pro who doesn't need to spend time again assimilating with his quarterback or the Panthers offense after the first two injury-derailed campaigns of his career. Could Olsen be washed? Sure. Is a 13th-round flier worth the price to find out? We'd say so.

 

5 takeaways from Chicago Bears offseason program

Posted on June 15, 2019 - 10:29:37

Seamless interior O-line switch, learning new defensive scheme, newfound flexibility on offense

Summer vacation got underway Thursday for the Bears and the rest of the NFL, but not before we learned a lot during the offseason program about what Matt Nagy’s club could look like come the fall.
So here are five of our bigger takeaways from the spring. Study up because there will be a pop quiz before camp commences in late July.
No more musical chairs expected up front
Nagy said this week that perhaps the greatest compliment he could pay LG Cody Whitehair and C James Daniels, the blockers who flip-flopped spots along the interior O-line this offseason, is in not talking to — or about — them much. Basically, the Bears set it and forget it when it came to the position switch this spring.
“It's funny, I was actually talking to Cody today right before practice and really with our offensive line in general, those five guys that are there, they probably get the least amount of love from me right now, which is a good thing because they're the same crew, they're just working together,” he said.
Kyle Long joked that Daniels has stepped on his toes more than Whitehair, before largely echoing the sentiments of seamlessness recently shared by Nagy and OL coach Harry Hiestand regarding the moves.
“I don't really have to look over my shoulder inside much,” Long said. “At an early age, [Daniels is] a pro. … [He] and Cody are two bright guys, so I think them flipping is really not been anything more than a bump."
We’ll have more next week on Whitehair’s mindset in approaching a contract year and position switch simultaneously, but know that he and Daniels both sound like they’re in not only good — ideal — places now.
The starters are set, but we expect the OL reserve battles to be right up there with WR, LB and CB competitions for the summer's most heated. Alex Bars, the promising college free agent with positional flexibility and a strong rapport with his former Irish position coach Harry Hiestand, got his first taste of on-field work during vet minicamp after a September ACL tear and ultimately could be the group's X-factor.
But the Bears aren't blowing smoke regarding their feelings on Rashaad Coward, and with Ted Larsen, Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings bringing real NFL starting experience to the mix, and undrafted Sam Mustipher another Hiestand disciple with strong pedigree, there's suddenly a lot of viable options to consider and likely only three spots to fill.
Scheme change on ‘D’ an ongoing process
The Bears defense is going to be really good regardless of who coordinates it because it boasts blue chippers at all three levels and improved depth to boot. But as one of its core leaders, Akiem Hicks explained that while the transition is very much a work in progress, nothing has caught the NFL’s No. 1 scoring unit by surprise and in Chuck Pagano, he thinks the right guy is leading the charge.
“There's a great deal of learning that's going to be required of us — that has been required of us — during these OTAs that's going to continue during training camp. … It's a progression right now and there's a lot of things we still have to sharpen," he said. "We expected that, though, with a new defensive coordinator. If anyone was good for the transition, it was Chuck, because he knows how to handle it.”
We've also got a big Pagano feature brewing for y’all soon and, like Danny Trevathan is keeping the pointers he learned from Mike Singletary at Bears100 close to his vest, we’re preaching patience. But here’s a snippet from Trevathan on what he’s learning from his new defensive coordinator.
He wants us to fly around,” Trevathan said. “That’s the type of football I love and I enjoy. It’s linebacker friendly, it’s linebacker fun and it’s linebacker heaven with him.”
Close your eyes and it sure sounds like Trevathan is describing Pagano’s predecessor Vic Fangio, doesn’t it?
Chocolate? Vanilla? Strawberry? Bears skill group on offense has all of them.
In top pick David Montgomery, it already appears as if the Bears have another version of Tarik Cohen: a fluid and flexible receiving back poised to be used in a multitude of ways. Of course, in Montgomery, Chicago also thinks it’s found a more creative inside runner than Jordan Howard who can handle a full workload.
In their biggest vet signing on offense, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago seemingly found Taylor Gabriel on steroids. That’s not a knock on Gabriel, who is likely to maintain at least a semblance of his own versatile role, but Patterson is a ridiculous mismatch weapon with his size and speed. And in Nagy, Patterson finally might have the imaginative play caller who'll fashion even more roles for the former first-rounder and Pro Bowl return specialist who has really been a jack of all trades but master of none on offense as a pro.
The list goes on with rookie Riley Ridley winning in all areas of the field during his first offseason and holdovers Allen Robinson and Adam Shaheen building a ton of momentum. Lest we forget, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton and promising UFA Emanuel Hall haven’t even entered the equation yet.
“It’s a good problem for me as an offensive play caller that we have a lot of weapons that we will feel good about and they’re all kinds of different flavors in regards to sizes and speeds and attributes,” said Nagy, whose creativity has never been questioned.
Now the quality and quantity of the ingredients with which he can create shouldn't be doubted, either.
Don’t forget about this guy
When the Bears spent two of their five draft picks on cornerbacks, one of the snap judgments naturally was that last year’s undrafted cover men Kevin Toliver and Michael Joseph faced long odds to stick.
While that's certainly true, it was clear throughout the offseason that the Bears remain fond of Toliver, a big, physical corner who was on the active roster all of last season and even held his own in spot-starting duty.
Toliver might not match Stephen Denmark’s “ridiculous measurables,” but his pedigree shouldn’t be discounted. Pagano, whose specialty is his hands-on teaching of defensive backs, seems to have taken particular interest in Toliver, the one-time top-rated high school CB prospect in the country.
Remember, not all drafts are created equal. Had Toliver been in this year’s class, the guess here is he’d have received a higher grade than Denmark and Duke Shelley. We’re not making any bold predictions but suggest keeping close tabs on Toliver when camp arrives. If the offseason is a true indication, his ball skills have improved.
Did the ouster of Blewitt kick start Pineiro, Fry?
Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that the two remaining challengers (for now) to replace Cody Parkey converted six of their final seven field goal tries over the final two minicamp practices after Chris Blewitt was handed his walking papers. And the final round of pressure kicks were merely 30-yard chip shots, we should add, after 45- and 53-yarders one day earlier.
But Nagy still found their upward trajectory entering the summer notable.
“Being able to respond to adversity, I want to give those kickers credit,” Nagy said after citing the “lull” the hat trick of misses on Day 1 of minicamp created. “We’re always going to get on them when they miss but when they make, like they did the last couple days with pressure situations – we didn’t change it because we want to feel sorry that they missed. Matter of fact, we made it tougher and they came through and executed. So I think heading into our summer, we like where we’re at but we’re always going to collaborate and make sure at every position that we’re doing what we need to do.”
Translation on the last part, not that it should be needed: the Bears will continue to explore all avenues to answer their kicking puzzle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns are the two obvious outside situations to monitor. They drafted in Round 5 Matt Gay and Austin Seibert to compete vs. Cairo Santos and Greg Joseph, respectively. Any of the four might be considered an upgrade, and two almost assuredly will be available come late August.

Summer vacation got underway Thursday for the Bears and the rest of the NFL, but not before we learned a lot during the offseason program about what Matt Nagy’s club could look like come the fall.

So here are five of our bigger takeaways from the spring. Study up because there will be a pop quiz before camp commences in late July.

 

No more musical chairs expected up front
Nagy said this week that perhaps the greatest compliment he could pay LG Cody Whitehair and C James Daniels, the blockers who flip-flopped spots along the interior O-line this offseason, is in not talking to — or about — them much. Basically, the Bears set it and forget it when it came to the position switch this spring.
“It's funny, I was actually talking to Cody today right before practice and really with our offensive line in general, those five guys that are there, they probably get the least amount of love from me right now, which is a good thing because they're the same crew, they're just working together,” he said.
Kyle Long joked that Daniels has stepped on his toes more than Whitehair, before largely echoing the sentiments of seamlessness recently shared by Nagy and OL coach Harry Hiestand regarding the moves.
“I don't really have to look over my shoulder inside much,” Long said. “At an early age, [Daniels is] a pro. … [He] and Cody are two bright guys, so I think them flipping is really not been anything more than a bump."
We’ll have more next week on Whitehair’s mindset in approaching a contract year and position switch simultaneously, but know that he and Daniels both sound like they’re in not only good — ideal — places now.
The starters are set, but we expect the OL reserve battles to be right up there with WR, LB and CB competitions for the summer's most heated. Alex Bars, the promising college free agent with positional flexibility and a strong rapport with his former Irish position coach Harry Hiestand, got his first taste of on-field work during vet minicamp after a September ACL tear and ultimately could be the group's X-factor.
But the Bears aren't blowing smoke regarding their feelings on Rashaad Coward, and with Ted Larsen, Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings bringing real NFL starting experience to the mix, and undrafted Sam Mustipher another Hiestand disciple with strong pedigree, there's suddenly a lot of viable options to consider and likely only three spots to fill.
Scheme change on ‘D’ an ongoing process
The Bears defense is going to be really good regardless of who coordinates it because it boasts blue chippers at all three levels and improved depth to boot. But as one of its core leaders, Akiem Hicks explained that while the transition is very much a work in progress, nothing has caught the NFL’s No. 1 scoring unit by surprise and in Chuck Pagano, he thinks the right guy is leading the charge.
“There's a great deal of learning that's going to be required of us — that has been required of us — during these OTAs that's going to continue during training camp. … It's a progression right now and there's a lot of things we still have to sharpen," he said. "We expected that, though, with a new defensive coordinator. If anyone was good for the transition, it was Chuck, because he knows how to handle it.”
We've also got a big Pagano feature brewing for y’all soon and, like Danny Trevathan is keeping the pointers he learned from Mike Singletary at Bears100 close to his vest, we’re preaching patience. But here’s a snippet from Trevathan on what he’s learning from his new defensive coordinator.
He wants us to fly around,” Trevathan said. “That’s the type of football I love and I enjoy. It’s linebacker friendly, it’s linebacker fun and it’s linebacker heaven with him.”
Close your eyes and it sure sounds like Trevathan is describing Pagano’s predecessor Vic Fangio, doesn’t it?
Chocolate? Vanilla? Strawberry? Bears skill group on offense has all of them.
In top pick David Montgomery, it already appears as if the Bears have another version of Tarik Cohen: a fluid and flexible receiving back poised to be used in a multitude of ways. Of course, in Montgomery, Chicago also thinks it’s found a more creative inside runner than Jordan Howard who can handle a full workload.
In their biggest vet signing on offense, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago seemingly found Taylor Gabriel on steroids. That’s not a knock on Gabriel, who is likely to maintain at least a semblance of his own versatile role, but Patterson is a ridiculous mismatch weapon with his size and speed. And in Nagy, Patterson finally might have the imaginative play caller who'll fashion even more roles for the former first-rounder and Pro Bowl return specialist who has really been a jack of all trades but master of none on offense as a pro.
The list goes on with rookie Riley Ridley winning in all areas of the field during his first offseason and holdovers Allen Robinson and Adam Shaheen building a ton of momentum. Lest we forget, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton and promising UFA Emanuel Hall haven’t even entered the equation yet.
“It’s a good problem for me as an offensive play caller that we have a lot of weapons that we will feel good about and they’re all kinds of different flavors in regards to sizes and speeds and attributes,” said Nagy, whose creativity has never been questioned.
Now the quality and quantity of the ingredients with which he can create shouldn't be doubted, either.
Don’t forget about this guy
When the Bears spent two of their five draft picks on cornerbacks, one of the snap judgments naturally was that last year’s undrafted cover men Kevin Toliver and Michael Joseph faced long odds to stick.
While that's certainly true, it was clear throughout the offseason that the Bears remain fond of Toliver, a big, physical corner who was on the active roster all of last season and even held his own in spot-starting duty.
Toliver might not match Stephen Denmark’s “ridiculous measurables,” but his pedigree shouldn’t be discounted. Pagano, whose specialty is his hands-on teaching of defensive backs, seems to have taken particular interest in Toliver, the one-time top-rated high school CB prospect in the country.
Remember, not all drafts are created equal. Had Toliver been in this year’s class, the guess here is he’d have received a higher grade than Denmark and Duke Shelley. We’re not making any bold predictions but suggest keeping close tabs on Toliver when camp arrives. If the offseason is a true indication, his ball skills have improved.
Did the ouster of Blewitt kick start Pineiro, Fry?
Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that the two remaining challengers (for now) to replace Cody Parkey converted six of their final seven field goal tries over the final two minicamp practices after Chris Blewitt was handed his walking papers. And the final round of pressure kicks were merely 30-yard chip shots, we should add, after 45- and 53-yarders one day earlier.
But Nagy still found their upward trajectory entering the summer notable.
“Being able to respond to adversity, I want to give those kickers credit,” Nagy said after citing the “lull” the hat trick of misses on Day 1 of minicamp created. “We’re always going to get on them when they miss but when they make, like they did the last couple days with pressure situations – we didn’t change it because we want to feel sorry that they missed. Matter of fact, we made it tougher and they came through and executed. So I think heading into our summer, we like where we’re at but we’re always going to collaborate and make sure at every position that we’re doing what we need to do.”
Translation on the last part, not that it should be needed: the Bears will continue to explore all avenues to answer their kicking puzzle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns are the two obvious outside situations to monitor. They drafted in Round 5 Matt Gay and Austin Seibert to compete vs. Cairo Santos and Greg Joseph, respectively. Any of the four might be considered an upgrade, and two almost assuredly will be available come late August.

Chicago Bears new assistant coaches on defense share offseason progress

Posted on June 4, 2019 - 11:40:13

Townsend talking Jackson, Monachino's method to maximizing Mack and much more

With Bears OTAs comes one of our few opportunities annually to visit with the assistant coaches, and this year is unique with an essentially brand new defensive staff.

So here's one nugget from each of our chats with a newcomer to the NFL's No. 1 scoring and takeaway defense:

DBs, Deshea Townsend

Sure, Townsend's new boss, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, has the Ed Reed connection and clearly knows what it's like to coach a Hall of Fame safety. But Townsend, a two-time Super Bowl champion cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has also shared a room with a soon-to-be Hall of Famer in Troy Polamalu, not to mention learning as a player under legendary Dick LeBeau.

And it's clear that Townsend shares Pagano's belief regarding the potential of first-team All Pro Eddie Jackson, who's "very similar to Reed."

"The next step for Jackson is just to see how good he can be," Townsend said. "To be a totally physical player. Not just ball skills. How can he take his game to the next level mentally as well? He’s sharp. He’s smart. The next step is making all the calls, lining everybody up in the right place but then just being that dominant presence that he is. Eddie, there’s not many holes that you can talk about. When you talk to him, you can see he can be one of the greatest ever.

"... He’s just a true talent. He’s great in the room. Guys look up to him. For him being a young guy, he still has a lot of respect in the room. Sky’s the limit for him."

ILBs, Mark DeLeone

Arguably no position coach on the Bears defense has a more important — and arguably gratifying — job than DeLeone. He inherited 22-year-old Pro Bowl alternate Roquan Smith, the team's tackling leader as a rookie and Ryan Pace's biggest draft investment on that side of the ball in five years in the GM post. Khalil Mack is the biggest star on the Bears, but Smith is the quarterback of the NFL's best defense, who has a chance to be a serious bargain over the life of his rookie contract. Of course, that assumes DeLeone maximizes Smith to the fullest.

"First of all, outside of the white lines, unbelievable worker," DeLeone said of his new star pupil. "Great person. Wants to be a great player. And then on the field I think he has the skill set where he can do everything. He’s a true three-down linebacker with elite tools, elite skills. Really excited to have a chance to coach him and watching him grow and try to help him as much as I can."

DeLeone doesn't sound daunted by the charge of building on the teachings of renowned LB whisperer Vic Fangio and his longtime lieutenant Glenn Pires.

"If everybody just raises their level a little bit, we can make the defense even better than it was," he said. "Just a little bit. And sometimes when you get a different way of hearing something, it might be the same technique but I heard it one way and now I hear it a new way, maybe that way clicks for me and that changes the whole thing. ... Whatever I can say to make them play fast and make them play hard, that’s what I want to do."

OLBs/asst. head coach, Ted Monachino

It's not exactly breaking news that Khalil Mack keeps opposing offensive coordinators up at night. But when a team has that kind of attention grabber, a weapon who dictates the way the opposition must think, as the Bears do, it's critical to avoid becoming complacent with his deployment and always remain a step ahead. That's why, Monachino explained, the Bears intend to make it difficult to find Mack.

"So with Khalil and being able to predict that they're going to talk about how do we deal with Khalil Mack on every snap," Monachino said, "being able to move him into different spots and being able to show him in different ways and to do diferent things with him, it's going to be really valuable to the defense."

After Mack aligned almost exclusively on the left side of the defense during his four years in Oakland, the Bears began using him on the right when he returned from his high ankle sprain around midseason. The most profound effect might have been on Leonard Floyd, who tallied all five of his sacks in the final nine games and appeared more effective coming off Mack's vacated left edge.

As for Mack, the Bears don't want him freelancing, but they do want to diversify his areas from which to attack.

"There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments," he said. "Freedom, he has a little bit, but variety, he has plenty. There are plenty of things that we're going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things that he does well."

We're here for a sub-rush look that features Mack aligned inside of Akiem Hicks.

Safeties, Sean Desai

Desai was a Bears defensive quality control coach for the past six years prior to his promotion this offseason to the safeties. He knows, then, about doing the dirty work that doesn't make headlines and the impact it has on the end result.

Desai, like Townsend, vowed that the Bears are going to maintain their tremendous tackling form in the secondary by working at it every day. Yes, the new OTA is more restrictive as far as contact in the offseason, but it doesn't mean tackling should be ignored.

"Obviously, the offseason program in terms of strength is huge for these guys," Desai said. "And then we emphasize it every day with some drill work. You can do it off bags, get creative sometimes. But that’s what you’re emphasizing: tackling starts with your feet and body position and then it ends with your hand strength and your leverage. We can work on all those things.

"It’s OK if you don’t have to work on the point of contact because you’re taking hits off guys — big hits. So you can really work on bags, softer things and get those guys in position to work on their techniques and their fundamentals."

So here's one nugget from each of our chats with a newcomer to the NFL's No. 1 scoring and takeaway defense:

DBs, Deshea Townsend

Sure, Townsend's new boss, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, has the Ed Reed connection and clearly knows what it's like to coach a Hall of Fame safety. But Townsend, a two-time Super Bowl champion cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has also shared a room with a soon-to-be Hall of Famer in Troy Polamalu, not to mention learning as a player under legendary Dick LeBeau.

And it's clear that Townsend shares Pagano's belief regarding the potential of first-team All Pro Eddie Jackson, who's "very similar to Reed."

"The next step for Jackson is just to see how good he can be," Townsend said. "To be a totally physical player. Not just ball skills. How can he take his game to the next level mentally as well? He’s sharp. He’s smart. The next step is making all the calls, lining everybody up in the right place but then just being that dominant presence that he is. Eddie, there’s not many holes that you can talk about. When you talk to him, you can see he can be one of the greatest ever.

"... He’s just a true talent. He’s great in the room. Guys look up to him. For him being a young guy, he still has a lot of respect in the room. Sky’s the limit for him."

 

ILBs, Mark DeLeone

Arguably no position coach on the Bears defense has a more important — and arguably gratifying — job than DeLeone. He inherited 22-year-old Pro Bowl alternate Roquan Smith, the team's tackling leader as a rookie and Ryan Pace's biggest draft investment on that side of the ball in five years in the GM post. Khalil Mack is the biggest star on the Bears, but Smith is the quarterback of the NFL's best defense, who has a chance to be a serious bargain over the life of his rookie contract. Of course, that assumes DeLeone maximizes Smith to the fullest.

"First of all, outside of the white lines, unbelievable worker," DeLeone said of his new star pupil. "Great person. Wants to be a great player. And then on the field I think he has the skill set where he can do everything. He’s a true three-down linebacker with elite tools, elite skills. Really excited to have a chance to coach him and watching him grow and try to help him as much as I can."

DeLeone doesn't sound daunted by the charge of building on the teachings of renowned LB whisperer Vic Fangio and his longtime lieutenant Glenn Pires.

"If everybody just raises their level a little bit, we can make the defense even better than it was," he said. "Just a little bit. And sometimes when you get a different way of hearing something, it might be the same technique but I heard it one way and now I hear it a new way, maybe that way clicks for me and that changes the whole thing. ... Whatever I can say to make them play fast and make them play hard, that’s what I want to do."

 

OLBs/asst. head coach, Ted Monachino

It's not exactly breaking news that Khalil Mack keeps opposing offensive coordinators up at night. But when a team has that kind of attention grabber, a weapon who dictates the way the opposition must think, as the Bears do, it's critical to avoid becoming complacent with his deployment and always remain a step ahead. That's why, Monachino explained, the Bears intend to make it difficult to find Mack.

"So with Khalil and being able to predict that they're going to talk about how do we deal with Khalil Mack on every snap," Monachino said, "being able to move him into different spots and being able to show him in different ways and to do diferent things with him, it's going to be really valuable to the defense."

After Mack aligned almost exclusively on the left side of the defense during his four years in Oakland, the Bears began using him on the right when he returned from his high ankle sprain around midseason. The most profound effect might have been on Leonard Floyd, who tallied all five of his sacks in the final nine games and appeared more effective coming off Mack's vacated left edge.

As for Mack, the Bears don't want him freelancing, but they do want to diversify his areas from which to attack.

"There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments," he said. "Freedom, he has a little bit, but variety, he has plenty. There are plenty of things that we're going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things that he does well."

We're here for a sub-rush look that features Mack aligned inside of Akiem Hicks.

 

Safeties, Sean Desai

Desai was a Bears defensive quality control coach for the past six years prior to his promotion this offseason to the safeties. He knows, then, about doing the dirty work that doesn't make headlines and the impact it has on the end result.

Desai, like Townsend, vowed that the Bears are going to maintain their tremendous tackling form in the secondary by working at it every day. Yes, the new OTA is more restrictive as far as contact in the offseason, but it doesn't mean tackling should be ignored.

"Obviously, the offseason program in terms of strength is huge for these guys," Desai said. "And then we emphasize it every day with some drill work. You can do it off bags, get creative sometimes. But that’s what you’re emphasizing: tackling starts with your feet and body position and then it ends with your hand strength and your leverage. We can work on all those things.

"It’s OK if you don’t have to work on the point of contact because you’re taking hits off guys — big hits. So you can really work on bags, softer things and get those guys in position to work on their techniques and their fundamentals."

5 'rookie redshirts' we're most excited to see in Year 2

Posted on May 15, 2019 - 09:13:00

We spend so much time each offseason analyzing comings and goings and dissecting rookie and free-agent classes that it can be easy to forget another method by which teams can improve: internal reinforcements.

Although the dog days of the offseason that are quickly approaching are voluntary, they can also be vital, especially when it comes to coaxing necessary improvements from younger players.

Today our objective is to focus specifically on the “rookie redshirts,” players who were nonfactors in Year 1 — whether the result of injuries, inexperience or it simply wasn’t yet their time to shine. Rest assured, if they’re on this list, their teams are expecting that time to be now.

New England Patriots OT Isaiah Wynn

Imagine suffering a season-ending ruptured Achilles in your first preseason, only to see your team win the Super Bowl with your college teammate and fellow first-rounder serving as a catalyst, then being thrust into a more prominent role in your redshirt season than the one you were ticketed for out of the gate.

Wynn doesn’t have to imagine. After being selected 23rd overall and penciled in as New England’s starting right tackle, his rookie campaign ended after only nine preseason snaps, when he fell awkwardly into Tom Brady following a push from Eagles Pro Bowler Michael Bennett.

Nine months later, Wynn has yet to be cleared for activity but already is being penciled in as the replacement for Trent Brown, the NFL’s largest man, with its largest contract belonging to an offensive lineman.

Did we mention Wynn, who started 15 games at left tackle for the Bulldogs in 2017, is tasked with protecting the GOAT’s blind side?

Washington RB Derrius Guice

After his tumultuous pre-draft process ended last year with a tumble to Washington in the latter part of Round 2, the former LSU feature back tore his left ACL only six carries into his preseason debut. It was actually a carry called back by penalty after going for 34 yards and both displaying Guice’s exceptional abilities and derailing his rookie season.

Although Guice’s injury in many ways foreshadowed another disastrous season in Washington ransacked by ailments to many of the team’s most important players, he watched future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson arrive as his replacement days later and author his eighth 1,000-yard season. If that wasn’t hard enough, Guice also saw A.D. re-signed in March to a contract worth up to $8 million before Washington drafted another back with a recent ACL tear, Stanford’s Bryce Love.

Just as Guice can offer a layer of insurance in front of Love, Peterson’s presence should prevent Washington from calling on the sophomore any sooner than needed. But all eyes will be on Guice and whether after two years of disappointing setbacks, he can rediscover the devastating 2016 form that once seemingly made him a first-round lock.   

Cleveland Browns OG Austin Corbett

So he wasn’t up to the task of replacing legendary LT Joe Thomas? Few would be. Now the question becomes whether Corbett — the first player drafted last year on Day 2, at No. 33 overall — can fill the shoes of Kevin Zeitler, who was shipped from Cleveland to New York in exchange for pass rusher Olivier Vernon.

While the two O-linemen selected immediately after him were forging All-Rookie campaigns, Corbett logged only 14 snaps for a Browns team that arguably was still flying somewhat under the radar after drafting Baker Mayfield and appearing on “Hard Knocks.” Enter OBJ, Kareem Hunt, Vernon, Sheldon Richardson and rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens on the heels of Mayfield’s oft-spectacular debut that yielded seven wins — three more than the previous three seasons combined — and Cleveland is a legitimate playoff hopeful and must-see theater.

That actually might work to Corbett’s advantage, allowing him to toil in obscurity as he takes his lumps. That could change fast, though, the first time the Browns projected starting right guard is whipped by — :: checks Cleveland’s schedule:: — any of the star DTs he’ll see in the first month of the season, including Tennessee’s Jurrel Casey, Jets No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams and two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones

The good news for Jones: the Bucs didn’t draft a running back and incumbent starter Peyton Barber is imminently replaceable. Bruce Arians is installing a big-strike offense that can create chances underneath for Jones, who entered the league with a reputation for being an explosive playmaker. Plus, Arians has flowered his young back with praise this offseason.

The bad news for Jones: his rookie season was so awful that only four qualifying backs in the league ranked worst in Football Outsiders DVOA metric than the former Trojan, who was never even truly considered to replace Barber after being selected 38th overall. He finished more than a yard under the “Mendoza line” for running backs.

The ugly news for Jones: He’s yet to show little at any level as a pass catcher, unlike former Cardinal Andre Ellington, who reunited with Arians this spring. Jones also might never be the type (unlike the bigger back Barber) who’s able to consistently create his own holes, and Tampa’s O-line is among the league’s most overrated.

New England Patriots CB Duke Dawson

Despite returning from injured reserve from a hamstring injury by mid-November, Dawson became the first second-rounder of the Bill Belichick era not to dress as a rookie, according to Patriotswire.com. That’s not great, especially since JC Jackson emerged from the UDFA ranks to become one of the league’s stickiest cover men as a rookie.

Dawson now not only must compete with the bigger Jackson but King-sized second-rounder Joejuan Williams, whom Bill Belichick moved up to select in Round 2. Though it could prove problematic for Dawson, it’s a typical good problem for the Patriots. To wit: New England has among the NFL’s biggest incoming draft classes — 10 men, bested only by Arizona, Seattle and Minnesota — is projected to have another double-digit draft haul with multiple third-round compensatory picks next year and is the only team to appear twice on this list.

Just missed the cut:

Minnesota Vikings CB Mike Hughes

It appears Minnesota might manage its significant cap constraints without trading one of its promising corners in contract years, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. But Hughes had provided some nice flashes prior to ripping up his knee in Week 6 and will need to reemerge on special teams, if not ‘D,’ in a make-or-break year for the Vikings.

Miami Dolphins RB Kalen Ballage

The ‘Phins speedy big back has caught the attention of new coach Brian Flores and managed 5.1 yards per carry, albeit only 36, under Adam Gase. He has soft hands to help in the receiving game, too, but Miami is throwing a ton in its RB corps to see what sticks.

Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark

The tantalizing second-round size-speed prospect wasn’t ready to be a rookie factor, which wasn’t unexpected after he was rarely utilized at LSU. The Jaguars need Chark (and 2018 first-rounder Taven Bryan) to be ready this year as the replacements for Donte Moncrief and Malik Jackson.

Los Angeles Rams OL Joe Noteboom

Noteboom actually fared OK in the regular-season finale, when he spelled LT Andrew Whitworth in his easily his most extensive rookie action. He could be OK inside, too, where he’ll have a chance to replace departed Rodger Saffold or deficient Austin Blythe. But the Rams O-line turnover is worrisome with Jared Goff not known for his resourcefulness.

Ready or not: 5 small-school rookies with biggest shoes to fill

Posted on May 10, 2019 - 13:54:00

Not every NFL rookie's learning curve is the same. For instance, Denver Broncos second-round QB Drew Lock started four years in the SEC but won't start out of the gate in the NFL, while first-rounders Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins each started for only one season — albeit brilliantly at major programs — but are likely to be handed the reins by their respective organizations on Day 1.

The QB position obviously is unique, but the point remains: Outside circumstances as much as talent level or draft status dictates how soon a rookie is called on in the pros. The Broncos agreed to trade for Joe Flacco more than two months before the opportunity to trade down with Pittsburgh in Round 1 for an extra second-rounder converged with Lock's surprising tumble to Day 2. Arizona doesn't draft Murray No. 1 overall, and Washington might not pick Haskins, if not for the Kliff Kingsbury hire and Alex Smith injury, respectively.

The NFL is a league about attrition and turnover, where patience decreasingly is awarded. Keep that in mind as we unveil the five small-school rookies with the biggest shoes to fill this season. Also keep in mind that the pressure not only falls on these raw prospects being tossed into the fire but their position coaches (included in parentheses).

1. Houston Texans OT Tytus Howard, Alabama State (OL coach: Mike Devlin)

Heck, we could mention either of Houston's picks along the offensive line on the first two nights of the draft, as Northern Illinois' Max Scharping (selected 55th overall) doesn't exactly hail from a football factory but could be asked to start on Day 1.

But Howard is the Texans' first-rounder, and whether or not they had Andre Dillard in their sights before the Philadelphia Eagles traded directly in front of them, the reality is Howard is now the guy responsible for protecting Deshaun Watson's blindside. Remember, last year another small-school rookie — Julie'n Davenport of Bucknell — played a big part in Watson, less than a year removed from his second ACL surgery, absorbing more punishment than any other NFL quarterback.

Howard is a far greater talent, but he has a ton to learn after playing quarterback in high school and beginning his college career at tight end. He might have as much upside as any player in the draft, but production — not upside — is what Houston is banking on to better protect the organization's most important asset.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars LB Quincy Williams, Murray State (LB coach Mark Collins)

We'd be lying if we told you we know a ton about the ex-Racers safety who wasn't in our draft magazine or database despite it being routinely updated for two months after the mag went to the printer. But the Jaguars would be lying if they told you there isn't significant concern internally over the abrupt announcement by Telvin Smith that he's not playing football this season.

Smith is about as rare of a playmaking linebacker as there is in the NFL, and though he took a step back (along with Myles Jack) last season, Jacksonville still must replace the roughly 100 tackles and three takeaways it banks on annually from one of the game's fastest, most dynamic defenders. Perhaps recent vet signees Najee Goode, Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander can lengthen Williams' leash a bit, but they're all replacement-level players aiming to replace a stalwart, and none match Williams' draft (over-draft?) pedigree.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Sean Bunting, Central Michigan (CB coach: Kevin Ross)

Three disappointing years after selecting Vernon Hargreaves 11th overall, the Bucs surprisingly made Bunting the fourth cornerback off the board last month. He's an athletic and rugged ballhawk, just the way new DC Todd Bowles likes his defensive backs, but Bunting started only two years for the Chippewas, who won just once in 12 tries last season.

Bowles asks a lot of his corners in a man-heavy and blitz-happy scheme, where Bunting will compete with VH3 and a pair of second-rounders last year in Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart for early playtime. But GM Jason Licht is very much on the hot seat, and after appearing to whiff on Hargreaves, his highest-drafted corner since will be expected to ball. Whether Bunting is up to the challenge could help tell the tale of the 2019 Tampa 'D.'

4. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson, Toledo (WR coach Darryl Drake)

Plucked with the second overall pick in the third round to help replace another former MAC receiver you might have heard of (and certainly have heard from this offseason), Antonio Brown, Johnson joins a WR corps with JuJu Smith-Schuster, who established himself as a star last year, and James Washington, the 2017 Biletnikoff winner who was selected six spots earlier than Johnson in 2018 and endured a rough rookie go.

Still everyone will associate the Johnson pick with Brown after the All Pro's loud forced exit from Pittsburgh and is well aware of Kevin Colbert's track record drafting wideouts. Not only was Johnson selected more than 100 picks before the fellow MAC product Brown nearly a decade earlier, they're nearly identical in size and have similar styles. No pressure though.

5. Baltimore Ravens EDGE Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech (DL coach Joe Cullen)

The all-time NCAA sack leader, Ferguson fell to the middle of Round 3 partially as the result of his sub-optimal pro day after his combine invite was rescinded. All he'll need to do to get over that disappointment is help Ravens fans get over the disappointment of future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs departing in free agency for the comforts of home in Arizona. Also departing the Ravens EDGE stable this offseason was Za'Darius Smith, who led the Ravens in sacks and QB hits last season.

Matt Judon becomes Baltimore's new pass rusher 1A, but with the higher-pedigreed Tim Williams of Alabama yet to show much entering Year 3, the hope has to be that Ferguson, despite a much bigger jump in competition, endures fewer growing pains.

PFW's Round 1 pick tracker — has your team locked up its top NFL Draft selection yet?

Posted on May 9, 2019 - 12:16:19

It's never been less complicated to sign rookies. Still there will be contentiousness.

Although the 2011 CBA eliminated the vast majority of hang-ups between NFL clubs and their rookie draft picks, still not all first-round negotiations are hunky-dory.

Last year, Roquan Smith, the eighth overall selection to the Chicago Bears, was the last first-rounder to sign, ending his 30-day holdout on Aug. 14 over financial protections from potential suspensions stemming from the NFL's new lowering-the-helmet rule.

Two years earlier, Los Angeles Chargers top pick Joey Bosa — selected No. 3 overall — held out until 13 days prior to Week 1 in a stalemate that revolved around offset language.

Will there be a lengthy holdout this year? The best way to find out is following along with PFW's 2019 first-round contract tracker, which will be updated as each of the 32 rookies sign, with approximate contract parameters and our analysis of what to expect from their maiden NFL voyages.

1. QB Kyler Murray (signed by Arizona Cardinals on May 9)

Murray gets better-than-baseball money initially, to be sure: His $35.1 million fully guaranteed likely would have taken years to earn on the diamond. Of course, with Murray's billing as the first overall pick comes the weight of great expectations that must be met a whole lot quicker than if he were playing baseball.

And we think, barring health, Murray just might begin meeting them soon, too. If he can avoid the trainer's room the way Lincoln Riley says he did in Norman despite a lot more level playing field, where the competition still might not be as fast and dynamic as Murray is but increases significantly, he's in an excellent spot in Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid to make a Baker Mayfield-esque rookie introduction.

The Cardinals O-line has enough talent if its members play to it, and with David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk joined by rookies Hakeem Butler, Caleb Wilson and Andy Isabella, the ingredients to cook up an explosive attack abound. Murray might be a better fantasy quarterback than he is in reality out of the gate, but one thing is certain: It's going to be a ton of fun to watch regardless.

Last year's No. 1 overall pick, Mayfield signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $32.6 million, according to spotrac.

2. EDGE Nick Bosa (signed by San Francisco 49ers on July 25)

"There will not be another Bosa holdout," as ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted Thursday, the day the younger Bosa signed his fully guaranteed four-year, $33.5 million rookie deal. Of course, the way the NFL is trending, we'll qualify Schefter's tweet and say there won't be any more rookie holdouts by the Bosas.

How Nick Bosa meshes with fellow newcomer Dee Ford and Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner in a revamped front seven will go a long way toward telling the story of the Niners' 'D,' the least opportunistic in NFL history last season. Unlike the secondary, where questions still abound, Bosa becomes the young cornerstone up front whose dynamic talents are expected to compensate for what could again be a lack of playmaking punch on the back end. His fit on the field might not be as curious as how the previously outspoken and somewhat political Bosa assimilates in a nothing if not progressive and liberal city. But, like in many facets in professional sports and the NFL specifically, we suspect Bosa's politics won't be an issue as long as his play on the field is everything that's advertised.

3. DT Quinnen Williams (signed by New York Jets on July 25)

The final first-rounder to sign, apparently over what portion of his signing bonus would be collected in Year 1, Williams avoided a holdout and now turns his focus to his role alongside Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson on a Jets club with high hopes mainly because of their young quarterback and wholesale changes on offense.

We're not saying Gregg Williams' defense can't be strong — the new Williams wall, if you will, in front of C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams could (should) make this group outstanding up the middle. But not unlike our analysis below of Devin White and Tampa Bay's new-look stop-unit, how the Jets operate outside on the perimeter of their defense is a huge unknown. Do they have the edge rushers who can take advantage of the young studs collapsing pockets? Are there enough competent cover men on the boundaries, where disappointing Trumaine Johnson enters Year 2 of his massive contract in a new scheme as the only established guy?

Even up the middle, Jamal Adams should continue ascending to super star status at one safety spot, but the health of Marcus Maye remains a concern and Gang Green has done little to insure its high-priced safety duo. We've been saying it since prior to Mike Maccagnan's firing — 2019 is likely about seeing how much Darnold, Quinnen Williams and other youngsters can grow, and 2020 might be the Jets' ideal time to strike for a wild card with Tom Brady entering his age-43 campaign and coming off yet another Super Bowl appearance and Father Time ass kicking.

4. EDGE Clelin Ferrell (signed by Oakland Raiders on June 19)

Fair or not, Ferrell's name will always likely be attached to that of Khalil Mack, the ex-Raiders Defensive Player of the Year who was selected fifth overall in 2014. Of course, Mack was dealt last September to Chicago, and the Raiders spent the first of two first-rounders they received in return not on Ferrell but RB Josh Jacobs at No. 24.

Still, Ferrell was considered by most to be a significant reach in the top five, especially because Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock had the unique leverage of pick Nos. 24 and 27 (from Dallas in the Amari Cooper deal), in addition to No. 4, to trade down, still get their Mack replacement and gain even more ammo. It's up to Ferrell, much like Daniel Jones in New York, who was selected two spots after Ferrell but many picks before the consensus thought was necessary, to render the timing of the selection meaningless by ascending quickly to stardom. The rub, as we see it: Ferrell looks like a really solid NFL player, not one poised for stardom, never mind Mack's All-Pro and DPOY credentials.

5. LB Devin White (signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers on July 21)

Tampa has a chance to be solid up the middle of its front seven with ultra-stout DTs Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea covering up the speedy White and Lavonte David. But Todd Bowles' 'D' could also struggle mightily to wreak havoc on quarterbacks with a Jason Pierre Paul-less — for now — rush plan and the NFL's 26th-ranked secondary in terms of interceptions sans a corner with an actual pick on his NFL resume.

Though we think White is a notch below last year's No. 8 overall pick, Roquan Smith, as a prospect, we also think his presence in the middle of this unit could help cover up other deficiencies. It'll have to, with White's unique blitzing and coverage versatility sure to be called on by Bowles frequently in the high-powered NFC South.

6. QB Daniel Jones (signed by New York Giants on July 22)

After Jones signed on the eve of Big Blue's rookies hitting the camp practice field for the first time a rookie deal containing his entire signing bonus in Year 1, how soon can he earn a chance to make that money between the white lines? That will depend obviously on head coach Pat Shurmur's assessment of his readiness but also whether Eli Manning shows any added juice in his first real camp battle in a decade and a half.

The Giants O-line should be much improved at least along the interior with Will Hernandez coming off a much better second half of his rookie season and newcomer Kevin Zeitler fortifying the other OG post around either Jon Halapio or Spencer Pulley. But the edges remain a concern — especially Mike Remmers on the right side — and there's no doubt which quarterback gives the Giants the best chance to keep plays alive and make something out of nothing.

It remains to be seen whether Jones is ready for the bright lights of the NFL's biggest market, but it makes little sense to us not to find out as quickly as possible because Giants brass is clinging to Manning's supposed signs of life in a lost season against Nick Mullens' 49ers, Ryan Fitzpatrick's Bucs and a Washington club led by Josh Johnson.

7. OLB Josh Allen (signed by Jacksonville Jaguars on May 23)

Allen inked Thursday his rookie contract reportedly worth a guaranteed $22.7 million, officially making him Jacksonville's biggest offseason investment after Nick Foles. In comparing the risk of the two deals, even if one is for a Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback, we'd probably side with Allen. That speaks to his remarkable improvements over the past year that wouldn't have been possible without impeccable football character — a departure, we'll add, from recent first-rounders, such as Leonard Fournette and Dante Fowler.

This isn't meant to slam either of those two, and especially not Foles, but rather praise the value Jacksonville seemingly received in the versatile Allen. He'll be asked mostly out of the gate to rush the passer, but his speed and length also in time could become key assets helping him become a mismatch elixir in space. Allen has not only a really high ceiling but a high floor with his physical and mental makeup, making him basically the perfect pick and a great fit for the combustible Jaguars.

8. TE T.J. Hockenson (signed by Detroit Lions on May 9)

Detroit finally has its mismatch weapon and mauler in the run game to deploy from the TE position. Now it's up to Matt Patricia, Matt Stafford and new OC Darrell Bevell to get their money's worth — an estimated $19.8 million! — from the exceptional talent out of Iowa City.

The hope has to be that Hockenson's rounded game is more effectively utilized than, say, Jimmy Graham's in his Seahawks tenure by Bevell, who parlayed Graham's red zone prowess into a lot more production than his RAC and seam-piercing ability. Hockenson has the ability to buck the typical rookie learning curve at the position, but he enters a division with a lot of plus TE-neutralizing personnel in Chicago's Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson, Minnesota's Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith and Green Bay's new S tandem of Adrian Amos and first-rounder Darnell Savage.

Last year's No. 8 overall pick, Smith signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $18.7 million.

9. DT Ed Oliver (signed by Buffalo Bills on May 9)

Sometimes in the draft, fit and value are in beautiful harmony, and this is one of those instances. Oliver's best position — three-technique — happens to be the same one in Sean McDermott's 'D' that vaulted Kawann Short to an All Rookie and two-time Pro Bowler in Carolina and was just vacated by franchise legend Kyle Williams' retirement. With all due respect to Williams — who did everything the right way during his vastly underrated 13-year career — Oliver is an entirely different animal, a perennial All-Pro talent who just might reach that billing if he becomes the type of pro that Williams was.

Paired with the powerful Jordan Phillips in the middle of Buffalo's talented 'D,' Oliver will be in a position to wreak serious havoc on the young quarterbacks of the AFC East, if not the GOAT in Tom Brady, who's rarely felled but can be bothered by interior pressure. Unlike his Houston coaches, Oliver should be in excellent hands to have his talents maximized by McDermott and Co.

Oliver's four-year, fully-guaranteed contract is worth $19.6 million.

10. LB Devin Bush (signed by Pittsburgh Steelers on May 12)

Looking for a strong Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate? Few arrive in a better situation, in a more popular market than Bush, whose speed, strength and hair-on-fire playing style makes him the ideal Ryan Shazier replacement Pittsburgh has so desperately missed for the past year and a half. After signing his fully guaranteed $18.8 million deal, the Alpha Bush should quickly command the respect of his teammates and ascend to a leader on the Steelers defense. That's the type of rookie impact Kevin Colbert almost assurely envisioned in making his first trade up for a defender in Round 1 since the Steelers found another game-changing talent in Troy Polamalu.

11. OT Jonah Williams (signed by Cincinnati Bengals on May 16)

There are very few sure things in life, much less in the Cincinnati Bengals organization at the moment. Yet after officially signing his four-year, $17.5 million fully guaranteed rookie contract Thursday, Williams feels like one of them. Are we sure that he'll become a perennial Pro Bowler? Well, no. But we feel sure in saying he'll be a winning NFL left tackle, a position that's been strangely questioned with Williams despite his excellence there for two years at Alabama against the top collegiate competition in the world.

Inferior players with shorter arms have carved out great NFL careers on the blind side. Putting Williams there from Day 1, in turn kicking Cordy Glenn across to the right side, should solve two problems for the Bengals, who secured one of the top values in the draft in Williams. It's a shame that seemingly emboldened them to reach by a number of rounds with their next pick on TE Drew Sample, but we digress. It's make-or-break time for Andy Dalton, and whether he makes it, he's already caught one big break with Williams now in front of him.

UPDATE: Williams' rookie season appears to be over before it begins thanks to left shoulder surgery.

12. DL Rashan Gary (signed by Green Bay Packers on May 3)

One of the draft's more athletic — and polarizing — prospects, Gary's rookie season will be fascinating to monitor for a couple reasons. For starters, it's not entirely clear at what position he'll begin his career after lining up often on the edge at Michigan but perhaps profiling in the NFL as a classic three-technique. With Green Bay's free-agent signees Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, along with holdover Kyler Fackrell, fairly established on the flanks and a pair of incumbent studs up front in Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, will Gary carve out a full-time rookie role? It seems unlikely.

Secondly, Gary enters the NFL with a torn right shoulder labrum, an injury he protected at his first set of minicamp practices with a brace. How the ailment — which many have played through but not necessarily without impediment — impacts a player whose production was highly scrutinized in the pre-draft process remains to be seen. Gary should bring a lot of versatility and upside to Mike Pettine's 'D,' but his rookie impact is tough to project.

Last year's 12th overall pick, Miami Dolphins DT Vita Vea, signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $14.8 million, according to spotrac.

13. DT Christian Wilkins (signed by Miami Dolphins on May 9)

Miami locked up its first-rounder Wilkins to a rookie contract reportedly worth $15.4 million and extended Xavien Howard to the richest CB contract in NFL history, but how was your Thursday? Seriously, though, along with Minkah Fitzpatrick and his secondary mate Howard, Wilkins becomes the third foundational piece of Brian Flores' defense. I might be higher on him than most, but it says here Wilkins will become not only an elite run stuffer but also an extremely dangerous interior disruptor in time.

14. OG Chris Lindstrom (signed by Atlanta Falcons on May 16)

If Lindstrom and fellow first-rounder Kaleb McGary quickly bolster one of the NFL's weaker run-blocking units and also provide an additional layer of comfort and security for Matt Ryan, we'll forget what Atlanta spent to acquire them almost as soon. For now, we're still hung up on the cost and the other areas of the team, like the secondary and pass rush, that were neglected to double-dip in Round 1 on two solid blockers with seemingly safe floors but also modest ceilings.

15. QB Dwayne Haskins (signed by Washington on May 9)

PFW's top-rated quarterback falling into Washington's lap at No. 15 could turn into the biggest heist of the draft. Haskins has all the tools needed to ascend to the face of the franchise the organization has sought for years. Our guess is he starts in Week 1 because he's easily the most talented quarterback on the depth chart and Jay Gruden doesn't have time to let his best option wait in the wings. We don't love the pass-catching corps, but if healthy, Washington has the O-line to keep a pocket passer like Haskins upright as a rookie and his weaponry might improve immensely in time as rookies Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon find their footing.

Last year's 15th overall pick, Oakland Raiders OT Kolton MIller, signed a four-year fully-guaranteed contract worth $13.4 million.

16. EDGE Brian Burns (signed by Carolina Panthers on July 24)

Looking for a darkhorse to take home DROY honors? A pass rusher has done so six of the past nine seasons, and though Burns likely isn't ready to be an every-down player yet, he finds arguably the best situation of any of the first-rounders, joining a deep Panthers D-line with opportunities abound to heat up the edges.

Burns has speed and length that can't be taught, and following the signing of Gerald McCoy, the Panthers roll deep inside with him, Kawann Short, Dontari Poe and, who knows, perhaps even first-round bust Vernon Butler commanding the type of extra attention that should free up the Seminole product on the edges. His bag of tricks will take time to expand, but he's got one that should be deadly enough from the jump to ensure he's not missing any of the rush opportunities behind the older, less dynamic Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin.

17. DT Dexter Lawrence (signed by New York Giants on June 14)

Funny how Daniel Jones can't seem to escape the wrath of Big Blue fans but they don't seem to have a problem with Lawrence going 11 spots later than the heir to Eli. We don't have a problem with the Lawrence pick necessarily, but hard to argue it wasn't a bit redundant with Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill on board, no? And if Lawrence doesn't quickly show more in the NFL as a pass rusher than he did at Clemson, well, then it becomes a real problem because it sure is unclear who's going to chase quarterbacks on this defense.

18. OL Garrett Bradbury (signed by Minnesota Vikings on May 14)

Center or left guard? With Bradbury now signed to a four-year, fully guaranteed contract totaling approximately $13.5 million, that's the next big question for Minnesota to answer regarding its athletic new blocker. Bradbury has starting experience at both, albeit none at guard over the past two years, so the Vikings have options. But it'll be interesting to see how new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak views incumbent starting C Pat Elflein, and where he, OC Kevin Stefanski and HC Mike Zimmer elect to plug and play their most talented O-lineman.

The bottom line is this: Minnesota was brutalized up front routinely last season, and with Bradbury joining vet signee Josh Kline, Kirk Cousins will have at least two new interior starters protecting him. That's encouraging, but it doesn't figure to be a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. How the Vikes line up in a division with three monster nose guards — Damon Harrison, Eddie Goldman and Kenny Clark — and an additional host of talented interior rushers, such as Akiem Hicks and rookie Rashan Gary, is unlikely to be decided without plenty of tinkering this summer.

19. DT Jeffery Simmons (signed by Tennessee Titans on May 22)

Barring health and off-field concerns, Simmons should be a heck of an NFL player. The question is how quickly after tearing his ACL in February. The answer will come not only from the former Mississippi State All American but Tennessee's strengh-and-training staff. We can't wait to see the havoc Simmons and Jurrell Casey create in front of Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown, but rest assured the Titans will wait as long as necessary after spending a top-20 pick in large part to procure the extra year of reasonable team control over this dancing bear with game-wrecking tools.

20. TE Noah Fant (signed by Denver Broncos on May 23)

There's so much to like about Fant's fit here, from the value to the valuable security he'll offer Joe Flacco in the veteran QB's Maiden Voyage in Denver. Flacco loves throwing to his tight ends, and it's fair to say he's never worked with one as dynamic as Fant, a potential future two-way stud whose speed and receiving chops shoud make him a playmaking threat as he's learning to be a complete weapon. Fant and Courtland Sutton gives the Broncos offense two unique mismatch weapons with bright futures. It's up to Flacco to ensure as much of those futures are on his receiving end, not Drew Lock's.

21. S Darnell Savage (signed by Green Bay Packers on May 3)

The Packers paid a pretty penny to move up nine spots and nab their own version of Chicago Bears All Pro Eddie Jackson to pair with his former running mate, Adrian Amos. But the fit appears tremendous, as Savage is a stat-sheet stuffer with exceptional speed and versatility — a lot more Jackson than Amos stylistically — who will offer Pettine outstanding flexibility at a turnstile position of late.

Last year's 21st overall pick, Bengals C Billy Price, signed a four-year contract including $9.1 million guaranteed with a maximum value of $11.7 million.

22. OT Andre Dillard (signed by Philadelphia Eagles on May 9)

Barring injury, arguably no first-rounder will face less pressure to make an early impact than Dillard, whom the Eagles traded up for to groom as the heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. Of course, Peters is 37, and though he returned last year from his ruptured Achilles to start 16 games, he was spelled more than usual — roughly 120 snaps or so — throughout his 15th season. It's possible, then, that some of Dillard's development could come when the bullets are flying, and with his advanced pass-pro ability, the Eagles can do so with an unusual amount of comfort.

Last year's No. 22 overall pick, Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans, signed a four-year, fully guaranteed contract worth $11.5 million.

23. OT Tytus Howard (signed by Houston Texans on May 9)

If Dillard gets the biggest rookie grace period among first-rounders, perhaps no one — at least no offensive lineman — will be thrown into the fire quicker whether he's ready or not than Howard, the favorite to be Deshaun Watson's Week 1 blind-side protector. After signing his four-year deal, reportedly maxing out at $12.3 million ($7M signing bonus), the immensely talented but raw Howard is tasked with overcoming what figures to be an extremely steep learning curve as he makes the jump from Alabama State to protecting the old Alabama assassin in Watson. He's not ready yet, but at least Howard has superb natural traits to help him weather the storm.

24. RB Josh Jacobs (signed by Oakland Raiders on July 10)

Jacobs signed a fully guaranteed deal, something the 24th overall pick last year, Carolina's D.J. Moore, didn't receive, so he's off to a great start. Now, the Bama product must gear up to become the centerpiece of Jon Gruden's offense, a true three-down back capable of carrying the load and steadying declining Derek Carr. And that important role, Jacobs' terrific power and versatility and the makings of a mashing O-line put Jacobs in the driver's seat among non-QBs to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

25. WR Marquise Brown (signed by Baltimore Ravens on June 5)

Such a fun pairing Brown and Lamar Jackson have the potential to become. The obvious speed influx coming from the Ravens' rookie class was just what the doctor ordered, and if the group's headliner, Hollywood Brown, can avoid necessitating any doctors orders — a problem with the Sooners and in his run up to the draft — we think he can be a star in the DeSean Jackson mold.

26. OLB Montez Sweat (signed by Washington on May 29)

If there was a labratory that produced freaky pass rushers, Sweat's speed and length would be among its archetypes. He has double-digit sack potential written all over him, if, of course, the heart condition that precipitated his fall isn't a limiting factor. But a sub-package rush front that includes Sweat, Kerrigan and Bama studs Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne could be an absolutely nightmarish reality for Washington's foes.

27. S Johnathan Abram (signed by Oakland Raiders on June 18)

Will he provide the edge that's been lacking in Oakland's defense for a number of years? If so, the cost will be a pittance, as he's the kind of hard-nosed enforcer and two-way playmaker that offenses needn't worry about when battling Oakland. We love the player and we love the fit alongside Lamarcus Joyner, even if Abram renders Karl Joseph expendable, which we fully expect.

28. DT Jerry Tillery (signed by June 11)

Who are offensive coordinators going to focus on? Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are a full-time blocking job, and Tillery has the dynamic havoc-wreaking potential on his own, never mind flanked by Pro Bowlers. If he realizes the opportunity that's in front of him, this should be a home-run acquisition. Just don't mistake it for a luxury pick; a disruptive interior presence perhaps was the Chargers' biggest need on defense. That the rest of the league allowed Tom Telesco to cross off another to-do with a first-round talent in Round 2, Nasir Adderley, well, that's on the rest of the league.

29. DL L.J. Collier (signed by the Seattle Seahawks on May 21)

He's got huge shoes to fill as the first part of the Frank Clark compensation, and they're very different players. But Collier and the Seahawks get the benefit of the doubt because of Pete Caroll's proven track record and consistent ability to identify the proper personnel for his incredible scheme.

30. CB Deandre Baker (signed by New York Giants on June 14)

The first corner off the board, Baker should team with Janoris Jenkins to give the Giants a very talented, if slightly undersized cover tandem with a lot of versatility and tenacity. But the Giants gave up a ton to get back in Round 1 to nab Baker, and the run on corners behind them — four of the following 10 picks spent at the position — means Dave Gettleman made three picks on Night 1 that will all invite major scrutiny if they aren't hits.

31. OT Kaleb McGary (signed by Atlanta Falcons on May 9)

The ex-Washington Huskies right tackle should be a plug-and-play performer at the same spot, serving as Ryan Schraeder's replacement. His charge will be improving vs. wide speed, which he'll see plenty of in the NFC South from the New Orleans Saints' Marcus Davenport and fellow rookie Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers, among others. McGary's arms are on the short side, but he has a long track record of overcoming far greater obstacles.

Last year's 31st overall selection, New England Patriots RB Sony Michel, signed a four-year contract including $8.3 million guaranteed with a maximum value of $9.6 million.

32. WR N'Keal Harry (signed by New England Patriots on May 14)

The first-ever first-round wideout selected by Bill Belichick's Patriots, Harry reportedly signed his four-year deal maxing out at a hair under $10.1 million Tuesday afternoon. Considering I highlighted him on Night 1 of the draft as my favorite first-round selection, I clearly hold a high opinion of how the former Sun Devil star will fit in Foxboro.

Harry's forte is out-working his opponent, and it's his combination of diligence and dynamic playmaking chops that has us believing he'll quickly endear himself to Belichick, Brady and Josh McDaniels. There's no question the Patriots will have a plan for Harry, who should fend off reclamation projects like Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman to earn a signficant rookie role.

Last year, Roquan Smith, the eighth overall selection to the Chicago Bears, was the last first-rounder to sign, ending his 30-day holdout on Aug. 14 over financial protections from potential suspensions stemming from the NFL's new lowering-the-helmet rule.

Two years earlier, Los Angeles Chargers top pick Joey Bosa — selected No. 3 overall — held out until 13 days prior to Week 1 in a stalemate that revolved around offset language.

Will there be a lengthy holdout this year? The best way to find out is following along with PFW's 2019 first-round contract tracker, which will be updated as each of the 32 rookies sign, with approximate contract parameters and our analysis of what to expect from their maiden NFL voyages.

1. QB Kyler Murray (signed by Arizona Cardinals on May 9)

Murray gets better-than-baseball money initially, to be sure: His $35.1 million fully guaranteed likely would have taken years to earn on the diamond. Of course, with Murray's billing as the first overall pick comes the weight of great expectations that must be met a whole lot quicker than if he were playing baseball.

And we think, barring health, Murray just might begin meeting them soon, too. If he can avoid the trainer's room the way Lincoln Riley says he did in Norman despite a lot more level playing field, where the competition still might not be as fast and dynamic as Murray is but increases significantly, he's in an excellent spot in Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid to make a Baker Mayfield-esque rookie introduction.

The Cardinals O-line has enough talent if its members play to it, and with David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk joined by rookies Hakeem Butler, Caleb Wilson and Andy Isabella, the ingredients to cook up an explosive attack abound. Murray might be a better fantasy quarterback than he is in reality out of the gate, but one thing is certain: It's going to be a ton of fun to watch regardless.

Last year's No. 1 overall pick, Mayfield signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $32.6 million, according to spotrac.

2. EDGE Nick Bosa (signed by San Francisco 49ers on July 25)

"There will not be another Bosa holdout," as ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted Thursday, the day the younger Bosa signed his fully guaranteed four-year, $33.5 million rookie deal. Of course, the way the NFL is trending, we'll qualify Schefter's tweet and say there won't be any more rookie holdouts by the Bosas.

How Nick Bosa meshes with fellow newcomer Dee Ford and Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner in a revamped front seven will go a long way toward telling the story of the Niners' 'D,' the least opportunistic in NFL history last season. Unlike the secondary, where questions still abound, Bosa becomes the young cornerstone up front whose dynamic talents are expected to compensate for what could again be a lack of playmaking punch on the back end. His fit on the field might not be as curious as how the previously outspoken and somewhat political Bosa assimilates in a nothing if not progressive and liberal city. But, like in many facets in professional sports and the NFL specifically, we suspect Bosa's politics won't be an issue as long as his play on the field is everything that's advertised.

 

3. DT Quinnen Williams (signed by New York Jets on July 25)

The final first-rounder to sign, apparently over what portion of his signing bonus would be collected in Year 1, Williams avoided a holdout and now turns his focus to his role alongside Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson on a Jets club with high hopes mainly because of their young quarterback and wholesale changes on offense.

We're not saying Gregg Williams' defense can't be strong — the new Williams wall, if you will, in front of C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams could (should) make this group outstanding up the middle. But not unlike our analysis below of Devin White and Tampa Bay's new-look stop-unit, how the Jets operate outside on the perimeter of their defense is a huge unknown. Do they have the edge rushers who can take advantage of the young studs collapsing pockets? Are there enough competent cover men on the boundaries, where disappointing Trumaine Johnson enters Year 2 of his massive contract in a new scheme as the only established guy?

Even up the middle, Jamal Adams should continue ascending to super star status at one safety spot, but the health of Marcus Maye remains a concern and Gang Green has done little to insure its high-priced safety duo. We've been saying it since prior to Mike Maccagnan's firing — 2019 is likely about seeing how much Darnold, Quinnen Williams and other youngsters can grow, and 2020 might be the Jets' ideal time to strike for a wild card with Tom Brady entering his age-43 campaign and coming off yet another Super Bowl appearance and Father Time ass kicking.

 

4. EDGE Clelin Ferrell (signed by Oakland Raiders on June 19)

Fair or not, Ferrell's name will always likely be attached to that of Khalil Mack, the ex-Raiders Defensive Player of the Year who was selected fifth overall in 2014. Of course, Mack was dealt last September to Chicago, and the Raiders spent the first of two first-rounders they received in return not on Ferrell but RB Josh Jacobs at No. 24.

Still, Ferrell was considered by most to be a significant reach in the top five, especially because Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock had the unique leverage of pick Nos. 24 and 27 (from Dallas in the Amari Cooper deal), in addition to No. 4, to trade down, still get their Mack replacement and gain even more ammo. It's up to Ferrell, much like Daniel Jones in New York, who was selected two spots after Ferrell but many picks before the consensus thought was necessary, to render the timing of the selection meaningless by ascending quickly to stardom. The rub, as we see it: Ferrell looks like a really solid NFL player, not one poised for stardom, never mind Mack's All-Pro and DPOY credentials.

5. LB Devin White (signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers on July 21)

Tampa has a chance to be solid up the middle of its front seven with ultra-stout DTs Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea covering up the speedy White and Lavonte David. But Todd Bowles' 'D' could also struggle mightily to wreak havoc on quarterbacks with a Jason Pierre Paul-less — for now — rush plan and the NFL's 26th-ranked secondary in terms of interceptions sans a corner with an actual pick on his NFL resume.

Though we think White is a notch below last year's No. 8 overall pick, Roquan Smith, as a prospect, we also think his presence in the middle of this unit could help cover up other deficiencies. It'll have to, with White's unique blitzing and coverage versatility sure to be called on by Bowles frequently in the high-powered NFC South.

 

6. QB Daniel Jones (signed by New York Giants on July 22)

After Jones signed on the eve of Big Blue's rookies hitting the camp practice field for the first time a rookie deal containing his entire signing bonus in Year 1, how soon can he earn a chance to make that money between the white lines? That will depend obviously on head coach Pat Shurmur's assessment of his readiness but also whether Eli Manning shows any added juice in his first real camp battle in a decade and a half.

The Giants O-line should be much improved at least along the interior with Will Hernandez coming off a much better second half of his rookie season and newcomer Kevin Zeitler fortifying the other OG post around either Jon Halapio or Spencer Pulley. But the edges remain a concern — especially Mike Remmers on the right side — and there's no doubt which quarterback gives the Giants the best chance to keep plays alive and make something out of nothing.

It remains to be seen whether Jones is ready for the bright lights of the NFL's biggest market, but it makes little sense to us not to find out as quickly as possible because Giants brass is clinging to Manning's supposed signs of life in a lost season against Nick Mullens' 49ers, Ryan Fitzpatrick's Bucs and a Washington club led by Josh Johnson.

7. OLB Josh Allen (signed by Jacksonville Jaguars on May 23)

Allen inked Thursday his rookie contract reportedly worth a guaranteed $22.7 million, officially making him Jacksonville's biggest offseason investment after Nick Foles. In comparing the risk of the two deals, even if one is for a Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback, we'd probably side with Allen. That speaks to his remarkable improvements over the past year that wouldn't have been possible without impeccable football character — a departure, we'll add, from recent first-rounders, such as Leonard Fournette and Dante Fowler.

This isn't meant to slam either of those two, and especially not Foles, but rather praise the value Jacksonville seemingly received in the versatile Allen. He'll be asked mostly out of the gate to rush the passer, but his speed and length also in time could become key assets helping him become a mismatch elixir in space. Allen has not only a really high ceiling but a high floor with his physical and mental makeup, making him basically the perfect pick and a great fit for the combustible Jaguars.

8. TE T.J. Hockenson (signed by Detroit Lions on May 9)

Detroit finally has its mismatch weapon and mauler in the run game to deploy from the TE position. Now it's up to Matt Patricia, Matt Stafford and new OC Darrell Bevell to get their money's worth — an estimated $19.8 million! — from the exceptional talent out of Iowa City.

The hope has to be that Hockenson's rounded game is more effectively utilized than, say, Jimmy Graham's in his Seahawks tenure by Bevell, who parlayed Graham's red zone prowess into a lot more production than his RAC and seam-piercing ability. Hockenson has the ability to buck the typical rookie learning curve at the position, but he enters a division with a lot of plus TE-neutralizing personnel in Chicago's Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson, Minnesota's Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith and Green Bay's new S tandem of Adrian Amos and first-rounder Darnell Savage.

Last year's No. 8 overall pick, Smith signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $18.7 million.

9. DT Ed Oliver (signed by Buffalo Bills on May 9)

Sometimes in the draft, fit and value are in beautiful harmony, and this is one of those instances. Oliver's best position — three-technique — happens to be the same one in Sean McDermott's 'D' that vaulted Kawann Short to an All Rookie and two-time Pro Bowler in Carolina and was just vacated by franchise legend Kyle Williams' retirement. With all due respect to Williams — who did everything the right way during his vastly underrated 13-year career — Oliver is an entirely different animal, a perennial All-Pro talent who just might reach that billing if he becomes the type of pro that Williams was.

Paired with the powerful Jordan Phillips in the middle of Buffalo's talented 'D,' Oliver will be in a position to wreak serious havoc on the young quarterbacks of the AFC East, if not the GOAT in Tom Brady, who's rarely felled but can be bothered by interior pressure. Unlike his Houston coaches, Oliver should be in excellent hands to have his talents maximized by McDermott and Co.

Oliver's four-year, fully-guaranteed contract is worth $19.6 million.

10. LB Devin Bush (signed by Pittsburgh Steelers on May 12)

Looking for a strong Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate? Few arrive in a better situation, in a more popular market than Bush, whose speed, strength and hair-on-fire playing style makes him the ideal Ryan Shazier replacement Pittsburgh has so desperately missed for the past year and a half. After signing his fully guaranteed $18.8 million deal, the Alpha Bush should quickly command the respect of his teammates and ascend to a leader on the Steelers defense. That's the type of rookie impact Kevin Colbert almost assurely envisioned in making his first trade up for a defender in Round 1 since the Steelers found another game-changing talent in Troy Polamalu.

11. OT Jonah Williams (signed by Cincinnati Bengals on May 16)

There are very few sure things in life, much less in the Cincinnati Bengals organization at the moment. Yet after officially signing his four-year, $17.5 million fully guaranteed rookie contract Thursday, Williams feels like one of them. Are we sure that he'll become a perennial Pro Bowler? Well, no. But we feel sure in saying he'll be a winning NFL left tackle, a position that's been strangely questioned with Williams despite his excellence there for two years at Alabama against the top collegiate competition in the world.

Inferior players with shorter arms have carved out great NFL careers on the blind side. Putting Williams there from Day 1, in turn kicking Cordy Glenn across to the right side, should solve two problems for the Bengals, who secured one of the top values in the draft in Williams. It's a shame that seemingly emboldened them to reach by a number of rounds with their next pick on TE Drew Sample, but we digress. It's make-or-break time for Andy Dalton, and whether he makes it, he's already caught one big break with Williams now in front of him.

12. DL Rashan Gary (signed by Green Bay Packers on May 3)

One of the draft's more athletic — and polarizing — prospects, Gary's rookie season will be fascinating to monitor for a couple reasons. For starters, it's not entirely clear at what position he'll begin his career after lining up often on the edge at Michigan but perhaps profiling in the NFL as a classic three-technique. With Green Bay's free-agent signees Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, along with holdover Kyler Fackrell, fairly established on the flanks and a pair of incumbent studs up front in Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, will Gary carve out a full-time rookie role? It seems unlikely.

Secondly, Gary enters the NFL with a torn right shoulder labrum, an injury he protected at his first set of minicamp practices with a brace. How the ailment — which many have played through but not necessarily without impediment — impacts a player whose production was highly scrutinized in the pre-draft process remains to be seen. Gary should bring a lot of versatility and upside to Mike Pettine's 'D,' but his rookie impact is tough to project.

Last year's 12th overall pick, Miami Dolphins DT Vita Vea, signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $14.8 million, according to spotrac.

 

13. DT Christian Wilkins (signed by Miami Dolphins on May 9)

Miami locked up its first-rounder Wilkins to a rookie contract reportedly worth $15.4 million and extended Xavien Howard to the richest CB contract in NFL history, but how was your Thursday? Seriously, though, along with Minkah Fitzpatrick and his secondary mate Howard, Wilkins becomes the third foundational piece of Brian Flores' defense. I might be higher on him than most, but it says here Wilkins will become not only an elite run stuffer but also an extremely dangerous interior disruptor in time.

14. OG Chris Lindstrom (signed by Atlanta Falcons on May 16)

If Lindstrom and fellow first-rounder Kaleb McGary quickly bolster one of the NFL's weaker run-blocking units and also provide an additional layer of comfort and security for Matt Ryan, we'll forget what Atlanta spent to acquire them almost as soon. For now, we're still hung up on the cost and the other areas of the team, like the secondary and pass rush, that were neglected to double-dip in Round 1 on two solid blockers with seemingly safe floors but also modest ceilings.

15. QB Dwayne Haskins (signed by Washington on May 9)

PFW's top-rated quarterback falling into Washington's lap at No. 15 could turn into the biggest heist of the draft. Haskins has all the tools needed to ascend to the face of the franchise the organization has sought for years. Our guess is he starts in Week 1 because he's easily the most talented quarterback on the depth chart and Jay Gruden doesn't have time to let his best option wait in the wings. We don't love the pass-catching corps, but if healthy, Washington has the O-line to keep a pocket passer like Haskins upright as a rookie and his weaponry might improve immensely in time as rookies Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon find their footing.

Last year's 15th overall pick, Oakland Raiders OT Kolton MIller, signed a four-year fully-guaranteed contract worth $13.4 million.

 

16. EDGE Brian Burns (signed by Carolina Panthers on July 24)

Looking for a darkhorse to take home DROY honors? A pass rusher has done so six of the past nine seasons, and though Burns likely isn't ready to be an every-down player yet, he finds arguably the best situation of any of the first-rounders, joining a deep Panthers D-line with opportunities abound to heat up the edges.

Burns has speed and length that can't be taught, and following the signing of Gerald McCoy, the Panthers roll deep inside with him, Kawann Short, Dontari Poe and, who knows, perhaps even first-round bust Vernon Butler commanding the type of extra attention that should free up the Seminole product on the edges. His bag of tricks will take time to expand, but he's got one that should be deadly enough from the jump to ensure he's not missing any of the rush opportunities behind the older, less dynamic Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin.

17. DT Dexter Lawrence (signed by New York Giants on June 14)

Funny how Daniel Jones can't seem to escape the wrath of Big Blue fans but they don't seem to have a problem with Lawrence going 11 spots later than the heir to Eli. We don't have a problem with the Lawrence pick necessarily, but hard to argue it wasn't a bit redundant with Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill on board, no? And if Lawrence doesn't quickly show more in the NFL as a pass rusher than he did at Clemson, well, then it becomes a real problem because it sure is unclear who's going to chase quarterbacks on this defense.

18. OL Garrett Bradbury (signed by Minnesota Vikings on May 14)

Center or left guard? With Bradbury now signed to a four-year, fully guaranteed contract totaling approximately $13.5 million, that's the next big question for Minnesota to answer regarding its athletic new blocker. Bradbury has starting experience at both, albeit none at guard over the past two years, so the Vikings have options. But it'll be interesting to see how new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak views incumbent starting C Pat Elflein, and where he, OC Kevin Stefanski and HC Mike Zimmer elect to plug and play their most talented O-lineman.

The bottom line is this: Minnesota was brutalized up front routinely last season, and with Bradbury joining vet signee Josh Kline, Kirk Cousins will have at least two new interior starters protecting him. That's encouraging, but it doesn't figure to be a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. How the Vikes line up in a division with three monster nose guards — Damon Harrison, Eddie Goldman and Kenny Clark — and an additional host of talented interior rushers, such as Akiem Hicks and rookie Rashan Gary, is unlikely to be decided without plenty of tinkering this summer.

19. DT Jeffery Simmons (signed by Tennessee Titans on May 22)

Barring health and off-field concerns, Simmons should be a heck of an NFL player. The question is how quickly after tearing his ACL in February. The answer will come not only from the former Mississippi State All American but Tennessee's strengh-and-training staff. We can't wait to see the havoc Simmons and Jurrell Casey create in front of Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown, but rest assured the Titans will wait as long as necessary after spending a top-20 pick in large part to procure the extra year of reasonable team control over this dancing bear with game-wrecking tools.

 

20. TE Noah Fant (signed by Denver Broncos on May 23)

There's so much to like about Fant's fit here, from the value to the valuable security he'll offer Joe Flacco in the veteran QB's Maiden Voyage in Denver. Flacco loves throwing to his tight ends, and it's fair to say he's never worked with one as dynamic as Fant, a potential future two-way stud whose speed and receiving chops shoud make him a playmaking threat as he's learning to be a complete weapon. Fant and Courtland Sutton gives the Broncos offense two unique mismatch weapons with bright futures. It's up to Flacco to ensure as much of those futures are on his receiving end, not Drew Lock's.

21. S Darnell Savage (signed by Green Bay Packers on May 3)

The Packers paid a pretty penny to move up nine spots and nab their own version of Chicago Bears All Pro Eddie Jackson to pair with his former running mate, Adrian Amos. But the fit appears tremendous, as Savage is a stat-sheet stuffer with exceptional speed and versatility — a lot more Jackson than Amos stylistically — who will offer Pettine outstanding flexibility at a turnstile position of late.

Last year's 21st overall pick, Bengals C Billy Price, signed a four-year contract including $9.1 million guaranteed with a maximum value of $11.7 million.

22. OT Andre Dillard (signed by Philadelphia Eagles on May 9)

Barring injury, arguably no first-rounder will face less pressure to make an early impact than Dillard, whom the Eagles traded up for to groom as the heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. Of course, Peters is 37, and though he returned last year from his ruptured Achilles to start 16 games, he was spelled more than usual — roughly 120 snaps or so — throughout his 15th season. It's possible, then, that some of Dillard's development could come when the bullets are flying, and with his advanced pass-pro ability, the Eagles can do so with an unusual amount of comfort.

Last year's No. 22 overall pick, Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans, signed a four-year, fully guaranteed contract worth $11.5 million.

23. OT Tytus Howard (signed by Houston Texans on May 9)

If Dillard gets the biggest rookie grace period among first-rounders, perhaps no one — at least no offensive lineman — will be thrown into the fire quicker whether he's ready or not than Howard, the favorite to be Deshaun Watson's Week 1 blind-side protector. After signing his four-year deal, reportedly maxing out at $12.3 million ($7M signing bonus), the immensely talented but raw Howard is tasked with overcoming what figures to be an extremely steep learning curve as he makes the jump from Alabama State to protecting the old Alabama assassin in Watson. He's not ready yet, but at least Howard has superb natural traits to help him weather the storm.

24. RB Josh Jacobs (signed by Oakland Raiders on July 10)

Jacobs signed a fully guaranteed deal, something the 24th overall pick last year, Carolina's D.J. Moore, didn't receive, so he's off to a great start. Now, the Bama product must gear up to become the centerpiece of Jon Gruden's offense, a true three-down back capable of carrying the load and steadying declining Derek Carr. And that important role, Jacobs' terrific power and versatility and the makings of a mashing O-line put Jacobs in the driver's seat among non-QBs to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

25. WR Marquise Brown (signed by Baltimore Ravens on June 5)

Such a fun pairing Brown and Lamar Jackson have the potential to become. The obvious speed influx coming from the Ravens' rookie class was just what the doctor ordered, and if the group's headliner, Hollywood Brown, can avoid necessitating any doctors orders — a problem with the Sooners and in his run up to the draft — we think he can be a star in the DeSean Jackson mold.

26. OLB Montez Sweat (signed by Washington on May 29)

If there was a labratory that produced freaky pass rushers, Sweat's speed and length would be among its archetypes. He has double-digit sack potential written all over him, if, of course, the heart condition that precipitated his fall isn't a limiting factor. But a sub-package rush front that includes Sweat, Kerrigan and Bama studs Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne could be an absolutely nightmarish reality for Washington's foes.

 

27. S Johnathan Abram (signed by Oakland Raiders on June 18)

Will he provide the edge that's been lacking in Oakland's defense for a number of years? If so, the cost will be a pittance, as he's the kind of hard-nosed enforcer and two-way playmaker that offenses needn't worry about when battling Oakland. We love the player and we love the fit alongside Lamarcus Joyner, even if Abram renders Karl Joseph expendable, which we fully expect.

 

28. DT Jerry Tillery (signed by June 11)

Who are offensive coordinators going to focus on? Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are a full-time blocking job, and Tillery has the dynamic havoc-wreaking potential on his own, never mind flanked by Pro Bowlers. If he realizes the opportunity that's in front of him, this should be a home-run acquisition. Just don't mistake it for a luxury pick; a disruptive interior presence perhaps was the Chargers' biggest need on defense. That the rest of the league allowed Tom Telesco to cross off another to-do with a first-round talent in Round 2, Nasir Adderley, well, that's on the rest of the league.

29. DL L.J. Collier (signed by the Seattle Seahawks on May 21)

He's got huge shoes to fill as the first part of the Frank Clark compensation, and they're very different players. But Collier and the Seahawks get the benefit of the doubt because of Pete Caroll's proven track record and consistent ability to identify the proper personnel for his incredible scheme.

30. CB Deandre Baker (signed by New York Giants on June 14)

The first corner off the board, Baker should team with Janoris Jenkins to give the Giants a very talented, if slightly undersized cover tandem with a lot of versatility and tenacity. But the Giants gave up a ton to get back in Round 1 to nab Baker, and the run on corners behind them — four of the following 10 picks spent at the position — means Dave Gettleman made three picks on Night 1 that will all invite major scrutiny if they aren't hits.

31. OT Kaleb McGary (signed by Atlanta Falcons on May 9)

The ex-Washington Huskies right tackle should be a plug-and-play performer at the same spot, serving as Ryan Schraeder's replacement. His charge will be improving vs. wide speed, which he'll see plenty of in the NFC South from the New Orleans Saints' Marcus Davenport and fellow rookie Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers, among others. McGary's arms are on the short side, but he has a long track record of overcoming far greater obstacles.

Last year's 31st overall selection, New England Patriots RB Sony Michel, signed a four-year contract including $8.3 million guaranteed with a maximum value of $9.6 million.

32. WR N'Keal Harry (signed by New England Patriots on May 14)

The first-ever first-round wideout selected by Bill Belichick's Patriots, Harry reportedly signed his four-year deal maxing out at a hair under $10.1 million Tuesday afternoon. Considering I highlighted him on Night 1 of the draft as my favorite first-round selection, I clearly hold a high opinion of how the former Sun Devil star will fit in Foxboro.

Harry's forte is out-working his opponent, and it's his combination of diligence and dynamic playmaking chops that has us believing he'll quickly endear himself to Belichick, Brady and Josh McDaniels. There's no question the Patriots will have a plan for Harry, who should fend off reclamation projects like Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman to earn a signficant rookie role.

Pro Football Weekly's 2019 Power Rankings, post-NFL Draft edition

Posted on May 8, 2019 - 15:55:00

Welcome to the first of myriad versions of PFW's 2019 NFL power rankings, which we'll re-calibrate at least a few more times before kickoff of the regular season and weekly thereafter until February.

With the draft and the vast majority of the most consequential free-agent signings behind us, now feels like the appropriate time to share our first impressions of how we expect the offseason to impact each team's 2019 outlook. As always, the opinions of Hub and Arthur Arkush tend to vary — sometimes greatly — so we thought it'd be fun to share both of their rankings.

As the author of this piece, Arthur's rankings will be used, but note that Hub's rankings — wherever different — are included in parentheses.

1. New England Patriots

We're clearly not as fazed by the defections of Rob Gronkowski, Trey Flowers, Trent Brown and other key members of the Patriots latest Super Bowl roster as we are by the turnover on a few of the usual suspect AFC challengers to New England's throne.

2. Los Angeles Rams (HA: 4)

They endured a few notable changes up front in both trenches (John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold on 'O,' Ndamukong Suh on 'D') but could be even better in both backfields with another year under the belt for Jared Goff and by welcoming Darrell Henderson, Eric Weddle and Taylor Rapp.

3. New Orleans Saints

I loved the additions of Jared Cook, Malcom Brown and Erik McCoy, and it's easy to forget with Sean Payton and Drew Brees, just how young the Saints nucleus is. There's a lot of room for growth, and New Orleans showed it can use the previous year's heartbreak as fuel.

4. Los Angeles Chargers (HA: 2)

They might have the NFL's best roster, so I get Hub's thinking here. Still, they didn't improve an ILB corps whose injuries were crushing late and the O-line still gives me a bit of pause. But I can't wait to see rookies Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley in this stacked 'D.'

5. Chicago Bears (HA: 5)

Mitch Trubisky's table is now ready in Year 3, when he'll be the biggest question needing an answer before the Bears can be considered Super Bowl contenders of the highest order. But his margin for error will decrease with the defense unlikely to score six TDs and 36 takeaways again.

6. Indianapolis Colts (HA: 7)

Andrew Luck might be even better with a full offseason and the additions of Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell, and I'll be very surprised if the insertion of Justin Houston and Rock Ya-Sin — not to mention a few sophomore strides —doesn't upgrade what was a very sound defense.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (HA: 6)

I keep having to remind myself that I was wholly concerned about the defense entering last season, too, and now they officially have the league MVP covering it up. Still, the volatility, in addition to wholesale turnover defensively, is reflected in this ranking.

8. Dallas Cowboys (HA: 9)

Adding a healthy Travis Frederick and Amari Cooper for 16 games helps Dallas maintain the slightest of edges on the Eagles and helps convince me that we might just see Dak Prescott's best form yet.

9. Philadelphia Eagles (HA: 8)

The health of Carson Wentz, that's really my lone question, and gone is the invaluable layer of insurance named Saint Nick. Still, I won't be at all surprised if the Eagles return to the Super Bowl — it's a first-class organization from the top down and the title window remains open.

10. Cleveland Browns (HA: 16)

This might be a top-five — at least — roster, talent-wise. Obviously, it's up to Freddie Kitchens to balance all the egos and distractions, but he's even better positioned than the past couple offensive-minded Coach of the Year winners Matt Nagy and Sean McVay to cook up a contender.

11. Seattle Seahawks (HA: 10)

Sign me up for the Russell Wilson-D.K. Metcalf show. Sure, I'm a bit concerned about losing Doug Baldwin and Frank Clark, but like with last year's turnover, probably not as much as others, and I'm certainly not predicting their demise in what could again be a down division.

12. Baltimore Ravens (HA: 13)

Lamar Jackson won't be instant coffee in Year 2, either, but this is going to be an incredibly challenging offense to prepare for. The biggest question is how much of his slack a defense that suffered so many defections can still pick up. The answer will depend a lot on Earl Thomas.

13. Houston Texans (HA: 12)

Deshaun Watson deserved more help, and I have legitimate concerns with the secondary and how the team's biggest weakness at the end of last season will be strengthened despite apparent downgrades in personnel. But Watson and Watt have earned the benefit of the doubt.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (HA: 14)

It was one thing replacing Le'Veon Bell, but attempting to replicate their offensive success without him and Antonio Brown might take a miracle. I don't believe in the whole addition-by-subtraction theory, but I do think Devin Bush and Justin Layne can have a profound effect on 'D.'

15. Minnesota Vikings (HA: 11)

This might be too low for the Vikings, whose rookie OL infusion I loved. But it'll take time for that unit to steady in a division where it may not have that luxury. A healthy Dalvin Cook would do wonders.

16. Atlanta Falcons (HA: 20)

I much preferred Minnesota's shrewd O-line rebuild to Atlanta's, but Matt Ryan will be better protected with Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Still, I have real concerns about the pass 'D,' where good DBs departed and the pass rush was neglected in a high-flying division.

17. Green Bay Packers

Like the Vikings, they might be too low, but this division will be unforgiving and Aaron Rodgers hasn't dealt with this amount of change — and scrutiny — ever in the NFL. He's more likely to win his third MVP than flop under Matt LaFleur, but the level of uncertainty is fair to point out.

18. Tennessee Titans (HA: 15)

Loved their draft after not really understanding the free agent approach, but let's be real: they'll go as far as Marcus Mariota takes them. And the fact is that he enters a potential walk year in search of his first fully healthy campaign, after a pair of duds.

19. Buffalo Bills (HA: 22)

Impressive work by Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane rebuilding Buffalo's O-line, but I still have some doubts regarding the playmaking cast for Josh Allen, and I don't know whether he can be the franchise, much less this year with an entirely new front wall and pass-catching corps.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars (HA: 19)

Nick Foles might be the right guy for the job, I'm honestly undecided. I imagine the credibility he brings to the QB room will resonate on defense, but I also worry his streaky play could be compounded with inferior coaching. Fittingly, Jaguars are one of the season's bigger wild cards.

21. New York Jets (HA: 23)

Exciting offseason. Promising young quarterback. But in typical Jets fashion, there's still reported dysfunction swirling among the upper ranks and are we sure that Dowell Loggains and Gregg Williams was the coordinator tandem best equipped for the job?

22. Denver Broncos (HA: 21)

Vic Fangio should make this defense great again ... but it won't matter if, at a minimum, competent Joe Flacco doesn't reappear behind an O-line that still has questions. Like the Jaguars, the Broncos season could produce a wide range of outcomes.

23. Washington (HA: 24)

Dwayne Haskins probably isn't ready yet, but he'll start in Week 1 because he's so much more talented than Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. I loved the rest of their draft, too, but can't shake the feeling this team might be better in 2020 despite Jay Gruden needing to win right now.

24. Carolina Panthers (HA: 18)

Reports indicate Cam Newton is doing well in his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, which is obviously positive. If second-rounder Greg Little can quickly stabilize the blind side and RT Daryl Williams seamlessly returns from injury, the Panthers will surprise. Huge "ifs."

25. Detroit Lions

Importing the "Patriot Way" hasn't really worked anywhere else. I think the Lions are an interesting team that will be better than last year's 6-10 club. Not sure it'll be more than a couple games better, which is fitting because they seem nondescript and average in a loaded North lot.

26. New York Giants (HA: 26)

Neither Daniel Jones nor Eli Manning really deserve the treatment they've received — Jones from the draft community and Manning from a franchise that won't quit him. But it should surprise no one not named Dave Gettleman when Big Blue misses the playmaking it failed to replenish when OBJ, Oliver Vernon, Landon Collins and even JPP were sent packing.

27. San Francisco 49ers (HA: 27)

Interesting team that still has too many holes but could surprise on offense if Jimmy G is healthy and late-2017 Jimmy G and Nick Bosa can follow in his brother's DPOY-caliber footsteps. But what to expect from the Niners secondary is anyone's guess.

28. Cincinnati Bengals

Still stuck on TE Drew Sample with the 52nd overall pick, perhaps the only thing Cincinnati could do to make me love Jonah Williams at No. 11 less. But Williams can't solve three spots up front, and there's still too many unknowns for my liking on defense, not to mention in Zac Taylor.

29. Oakland Raiders

It's possible the influx of talent is mitigated by the influx of problems that come with it, but the Raiders will be better. They also could be the league's train wreck we can't take our eyes off.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The JPP injury really stings and makes it easy to second guess an off-ball linebacker with the fifth overall pick when Josh Allen, Jonah Williams, Ed Oliver and others were on the board. In theory, Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians should mesh, but isn't B.A. wanting to eat his cake and eat it too with a big-strike offense and mandate for Winston to better protect the ball?

31. Arizona Cardinals

They're going to be exciting, but it's hard not to expect plenty of growing pains along the way. I do think Kyler Murray is better positioned to succeed than Josh Rosen was a year ago in the desert, which is encouraging.

32. Miami Dolphins

Even with Rosen, this roster is full of warts and could set the Dolphins up for the first overall pick next year. That doesn't mean acquiring Rosen wasn't a no-brainer — it was — and he won't stabilize the spot for years to come.

Pro Football Weekly's 2020 option tracker

Posted on May 2, 2019 - 10:22:47

Deadline is Friday for teams to exercise fifth-year options for 2020, and we're tracking every decision

The deadline for teams to exercise the fifth-year 2020 option on first-rounders from the 2016 NFL draft class is Friday, and barring a surprise from the New York Jets or Oakland Raiders, a record 45 percent (17 of 31, with the Patriots forfeiting the 32nd pick) either will decline or already have moved on from their player.

A reminder that the fifth-year team option, negotiated as part of the 2011 CBA, is a team-friendly tool that provides additional leverage for clubs that want to reserve their rights to players either in lieu of offering a long-term contract or in the interim. In most instances, a team that declines this option is indirectly admitting a mistake was made somewhere along the way in the evaluation or development process. However, we've seen in recent years cases where a player still goes on to flourish —perhaps even with his original team — despite having the option declined.

The fifth-year option salary for top-10 picks is equal to the transition tender at their position, and pick Nos. 11-32 whose options are exercised will receive the average of the third- through 25th-highest earners at their position. Fifth-year option salaries are guaranteed for injury only and become fully guaranteed on the first day of that league year.

1. QB Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: Exercised

No-brainer. Goff was the Most Improved Player of the Year as a sophomore and led the Rams to the Super Bowl in Year 3. The bigger question becomes whether the Rams invest in him long term.

2. QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: Exercised

The only factor preventing this from being a no-brainer is Wentz's injury history. He's missed 14 combined games over the past two seasons, when he tore his ACL and suffered a compression fracture in his back, respectively. He's flashed MVP ability when healthy, but the old adage in the NFL is availability trumps ability.

3. EDGE Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers: Exercised

Bosa has averaged .8 sacks per game and could be in line for a contract that contains around $75 million guaranteed as soon as next offseason.

4. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: Exercised

The centerpiece of the Cowboys offense might be the best all-around running back in the NFL. But after watching the Rams pay Todd Gurley and his subsequent knee issues, Elliott, who has been durable but not dependable off the field, could be headed for 2021 free agency.

5. CB Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars: Exercised

He's arguably the best cover man in football. The Jaguars should be willing to put up with his immaturity for that kind of premium service but it's clear not all is copacetic between Ramsey and Jaguars brass.

6. LT Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens: Exercised

Stanley has been solid if not elite, and only 25 years of age, he could be Lamar Jackson's blind-side protector for years to come.

7. DL DeForest Buckner, San Francisco 49ers: Exercised

He now has his partner in crime in Nick Bosa, who arrives at a good juncture in the career of Buckner, who has improved each season, culminating in 12.5 sacks in 2018, and was one of the few really good parting gifts left by Chip Kelly.

8. OT Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans: Declined

Only surprising because Conklin was so exceptional as a rookie All Pro, but he declined in Year 2, which ended with a torn ACL, and was slow regaining his footing in a new scheme last season.

9. EDGE Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears: Exercised

Floyd's second half of 2018, paired with the Bears limited 2019/2020 draft capital and their need to complement Khail Mack, made this a relatively easy decision.

10. CB Eli Apple, New Orleans Saints: Declined

A strong mid-season trade acquisition by the Saints following a disastrous start with the Giants, Apple's arrow is pointing up. But the Saints, who picked up the option on their own 2016 first-rounder — injured DT Sheldon Rankins — likely want to see more before committing north of $13 million to Apple with Marshon Lattimore's likely market-setting deal on the horizon.

11. CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Exercised

Frankly, this qualifies as a surprise to us, and our guess is that the difference of about $4 million between what he and Ramsey commanded as a top-10 pick sealed the deal. There's also the scheme switch and belief that Todd Bowles can coax more from VHIII in a more aggressive scheme ... assuming a player who's missed a lot of time can stay on the field.

12. DT Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints: Exercised

He ruptured his Achilles in the postseason, halting abruptly his breakthrough year that included career highs in sacks (8), TFLs (12) and QB hits (15). New Orleans gets injury protection here, though, and can keep a unique player with a lot of untapped upside from hitting the market.

13. OT Laremy Tunsil, Miami Dolphins: Exercised

He might not be a finished product, but Tunsil has come a long way from getting smoked out of the top 10 on one of the more bizarre Thursday evenings in NFL Draft history. He's clearly a survivor, the only man left standing from Miami's rebuilt O-line.

14. S Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders: Expected to be Declined

If the Raiders didn't telegraph their true feelings for Joseph with this decision, surely the addition of Johnathan Abram with the 27th pick last week did. The hard-hitting Joseph has flashed playmaking ability but also reinforced the concerns about his blend of ruggedness and lack of size in missing time each year with injuries.

15. WR Corey Coleman, New York Giants: N/A

Who says the Giants don't have a plan? It's Corey Coleman #szn in 2020, when the former Browns and Bills castoff could be poised for a starting job outside, a service that'll be largely covered by Buffalo after it claimed him — and his rookie contract — on waivers last year.

16. OT Taylor Decker, Detroit Lions: Exercised

Decker played all 16 games for the second time last season, one after Detroit was reminded what it was missing without its starting left tackle who was out the first eight games in 2017 following offseason shoulder surgery. He's more serviceable than special, but after not drafting any linemen ahead of Matthew Stafford's biggest season to date, Decker received some security.

17. S Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons: Exercised

Neal was a Pro Bowler in Year 2 who appeared poised for greater heights when he blew up his ACL in the opener last year. He fits Dan Quinn's 'D' to a tee, and though Atlanta unearthed another stud in his absence in Damontae Kazee, Quinn lamented the leadership void his unit endured sans Neal.

18. C Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis Colts: Exercised

The centerpiece of the game's most improved O-line in 2018, Kelly has missed 11 combined games with injuries over the past two seasons but earned the praise of cerebral Andrew Luck, who called him "probably the most underrated offensive lineman in the NFL." The Colts are much better when he's on the field.

19. DE Shaq Lawson, Buffalo Bills: Declined

Lawson had his best season in 2018 but hardly one befitting of his draft slot: 4 sacks, 5 TFLs, 5 PDs, 12 QB hits. With Ed Oliver on board and surely attracting plenty of attention inside, Lawson, whom Sean McDermott and Co. inherited from the Doug Whaley regime, is in a great spot to ball out as he auditions for 31 other teams in a contract year. Step 1: Play 16 games, something he's yet to do.

20. LB Darron Lee, New York Jets: Expected to be Declined

Lee looks like the modern-day off-ball linebacker prototype — and plays a bit like one too — but the Jets clearly are going in a different direction after backing up the Brinks truck for C.J. Mosley to pair with fellow starter Avery Williamson. Whether Gang Green can fetch anything in a Lee trade becomes the biggest question at this point, when his future with the club seems determined.

21. WR Will Fuller, Houston Texans: Exercised

This one is a bit surprising. Fuller's potential is absolutely not debatable, but neither is his dicey durability track record, including missing 17 combined games over his first three seasons, most recently because of torn ACL last October. Fuller is one of the game's more dangerous deep threats (14.6 YPC, 8 TDs of 18-plus yards), but the jury remains out on whether he'll ever become a reliable weapon for Deshaun Watson. Remember, the Texans exercised Kevin Johnson's fifth-year option last year, only to cut him; Fuller's future in Houston is anything but certain.

22. Josh Doctson, Washington: Declined

He's been an injury-riddled one-trick pony, and Washington might have replaced that trick — 50-50 ability — in Round 6 with Kelvin Harmon, after finding its new WR2 with WR1 upside in Terry McLaurin. Doctson turns 27 in December and lacks the dynamism to be worth this investment.

23. Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings: Declined

Treadwell's best season came in 2018, when he averaged 8.6 yards per carry and committed a few inexcusable drops in huge moments. Minnesota has moved on, but the saving grace here for Treadwell is that he'll only turn 24 in June. The problem is he's speed deficient, something that's difficult enough to mask at his position but especially with his other inconsistencies.

24. William Jackson III, Cincinnati Bengals: Exercised

He still needs to do a better job taking the football away (one career INT), but WJIII has earned his keep as a sticky cover man with more room to grow. And the Bengals, who seem to select a first-round corner bi-annually, now have gone three years without spending a top-150 selection at the position.

25. Artie Burns, Pittsburgh Steelers: Declined

About the best thing we can say for Burns is that he's been available every week. But the Steelers benched him last season, his first without an interception, and recently admitted his confidence needs reparation. The arrival of third-rounder Justin Layne, a potential Day 1 starter opposite Joe Haden, might not help.

26. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos: N/A

Lynch is competing for the backup job behind Russell Wilson in Seattle. The Broncos trading for Joe Flacco in March and trading up for Drew Lock in Round 2 last week is part of the domino effect of John Elway missing badly on Lynch.

27. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers: Exercised

Ted Thompson's penultimate first-round pick as Packers general manager, Clark has been better than advertised: A stout run stuffer, as expected, but with outstanding disruptiveness (career-high 6 sacks last season, 10.5 over the past two years) and some positional flexibility. Despite a regime and scheme change, he looks like a foundational part of Green Bay's defense.

28. Joshua Garnett, San Francisco 49ers: Declined

Failed 49ers coach Chip Kelly traded back into Round 1 for Garnett, a Day 2-3 prospect on most boards who's played to that projection. He lost his starting job last season and enters Year 4 with 11 combined starts.

29. Robert Nkemdiche, Arizona Cardinals: Declined

Despite playing his best football last season, Nkemdiche will hit the 2020 open market, where teams figure to find a tantalizing prospect who can be a difference maker ... when the mood strikes him. We'd say keep an eye on a potential reunion with Bruce Arians in Tampa, but it was actually one-and-done Cardinals HC Steve Wilks, now the Browns defensive coordinator, who squeezed the most from Nkemdiche last year.

30. DL Vernon Butler, Carolina Panthers: Declined

Dave Gettleman may know "hog mollies," but he missed on his final first-rounder in Carolina with Butler, who has never become a productive rotational rusher, never mind serviceable starter. He has outstanding physical traits but hasn't shown the want-to needed to maximize them.

31. OL Germain Ifedi, Seattle Seahhawks: Reportedly Declined

Among the most penalized players in the NFL since his arrival, Ifedi has started 44 of 48 regular-season games, cycling back and forth between guard and tackle. He seemed to settle in a bit last year, his first with respected OL coach Mike Solari in place of the awful Tom Cable, at right tackle, cutting down on penalties and ramping up his competitiveness against outside speed. So he's shown improvement, and Seattle gives its draft picks every chance to succeed, but it wasn't enough to have his nearly $10 million option exercised.

 

A reminder that the fifth-year team option, negotiated as part of the 2011 CBA, is a team-friendly tool that provides additional leverage for clubs that want to reserve their rights to players either in lieu of offering a long-term contract or in the interim. In most instances, a team that declines this option is indirectly admitting a mistake was made somewhere along the way in the evaluation or development process. However, we've seen in recent years cases where a player still goes on to flourish —perhaps even with his original team — despite having the option declined.

The fifth-year option salary for top-10 picks is equal to the transition tender at their position, and pick Nos. 11-32 whose options are exercised will receive the average of the third- through 25th-highest earners at their position. Fifth-year option salaries are guaranteed for injury only and become fully guaranteed on the first day of that league year.

 

Picks 1-5

1. QB Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: Exercised

No-brainer. Goff was the Most Improved Player of the Year as a sophomore and led the Rams to the Super Bowl in Year 3. The bigger question becomes whether the Rams invest in him long term.

2. QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: Exercised

The only factor preventing this from being a no-brainer is Wentz's injury history. He's missed 14 combined games over the past two seasons, when he tore his ACL and suffered a compression fracture in his back, respectively. He's flashed MVP ability when healthy, but the old adage in the NFL is availability trumps ability.

3. EDGE Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers: Exercised

Bosa has averaged .8 sacks per game and could be in line for a contract that contains around $75 million guaranteed as soon as next offseason.

4. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: Exercised

The centerpiece of the Cowboys offense might be the best all-around running back in the NFL. But after watching the Rams pay Todd Gurley and his subsequent knee issues, Elliott, who has been durable but not dependable off the field, could be headed for 2021 free agency.

5. CB Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars: Exercised

He's arguably the best cover man in football. The Jaguars should be willing to put up with his immaturity for that kind of premium service but it's clear not all is copacetic between Ramsey and Jaguars brass.

 

Picks 6-10

6. LT Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens: Exercised

Stanley has been solid if not elite, and only 25 years of age, he could be Lamar Jackson's blind-side protector for years to come.

7. DL DeForest Buckner, San Francisco 49ers: Exercised

He now has his partner in crime in Nick Bosa, who arrives at a good juncture in the career of Buckner, who has improved each season, culminating in 12.5 sacks in 2018, and was one of the few really good parting gifts left by Chip Kelly.

8. OT Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans: Declined

Only surprising because Conklin was so exceptional as a rookie All Pro, but he declined in Year 2, which ended with a torn ACL, and was slow regaining his footing in a new scheme last season.

9. EDGE Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears: Exercised

Floyd's second half of 2018, paired with the Bears limited 2019/2020 draft capital and their need to complement Khail Mack, made this a relatively easy decision.

10. CB Eli Apple, New Orleans Saints: Declined

A strong mid-season trade acquisition by the Saints following a disastrous start with the Giants, Apple's arrow is pointing up. But the Saints, who picked up the option on their own 2016 first-rounder — injured DT Sheldon Rankins — likely want to see more before committing north of $13 million to Apple with Marshon Lattimore's likely market-setting deal on the horizon.

Picks 11-15

11. CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Exercised

Frankly, this qualifies as a surprise to us, and our guess is that the difference of about $4 million between what he and Ramsey commanded as a top-10 pick sealed the deal. There's also the scheme switch and belief that Todd Bowles can coax more from VHIII in a more aggressive scheme ... assuming a player who's missed a lot of time can stay on the field.

12. DT Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints: Exercised

He ruptured his Achilles in the postseason, halting abruptly his breakthrough year that included career highs in sacks (8), TFLs (12) and QB hits (15). New Orleans gets injury protection here, though, and can keep a unique player with a lot of untapped upside from hitting the market.

13. OT Laremy Tunsil, Miami Dolphins: Exercised

He might not be a finished product, but Tunsil has come a long way from getting smoked out of the top 10 on one of the more bizarre Thursday evenings in NFL Draft history. He's clearly a survivor, the only man left standing from Miami's rebuilt O-line.

14. S Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders: Declined

If the Raiders didn't telegraph their true feelings for Joseph with this decision, surely the addition of Johnathan Abram with the 27th pick last week did. The hard-hitting Joseph has flashed playmaking ability but also reinforced the concerns about his blend of ruggedness and lack of size in missing time each year with injuries.

15. WR Corey Coleman, New York Giants: N/A

Who says the Giants don't have a plan? It's Corey Coleman #szn in 2020, when the former Browns and Bills castoff could be poised for a starting job outside, a service that'll be largely covered by Buffalo after it claimed him — and his rookie contract — on waivers last year.

Picks 16-20

16. OT Taylor Decker, Detroit Lions: Exercised

Decker played all 16 games for the second time last season, one after Detroit was reminded what it was missing without its starting left tackle who was out the first eight games in 2017 following offseason shoulder surgery. He's more serviceable than special, but after not drafting any linemen ahead of Matthew Stafford's biggest season to date, Decker received some security.

17. S Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons: Exercised

Neal was a Pro Bowler in Year 2 who appeared poised for greater heights when he blew up his ACL in the opener last year. He fits Dan Quinn's 'D' to a tee, and though Atlanta unearthed another stud in his absence in Damontae Kazee, Quinn lamented the leadership void his unit endured sans Neal.

18. C Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis Colts: Exercised

The centerpiece of the game's most improved O-line in 2018, Kelly has missed 11 combined games with injuries over the past two seasons but earned the praise of cerebral Andrew Luck, who called him "probably the most underrated offensive lineman in the NFL." The Colts are much better when he's on the field.

19. DE Shaq Lawson, Buffalo Bills: Declined

Lawson had his best season in 2018 but hardly one befitting of his draft slot: 4 sacks, 5 TFLs, 5 PDs, 12 QB hits. With Ed Oliver on board and surely attracting plenty of attention inside, Lawson, whom Sean McDermott and Co. inherited from the Doug Whaley regime, is in a great spot to ball out as he auditions for 31 other teams in a contract year. Step 1: Play 16 games, something he's yet to do.

20. LB Darron Lee, New York Jets: Reportedly Declined

Lee looks like the modern-day off-ball linebacker prototype — and plays a bit like one too — but the Jets clearly are going in a different direction after backing up the Brinks truck for C.J. Mosley to pair with fellow starter Avery Williamson. Whether Gang Green can fetch anything in a Lee trade becomes the biggest question at this point, when his future with the club seems determined.

Picks 21-25

21. WR Will Fuller, Houston Texans: Exercised

This one is a bit surprising. Fuller's potential is absolutely not debatable, but neither is his dicey durability track record, including missing 17 combined games over his first three seasons, most recently after a torn ACL last October. Fuller is one of the game's more dangerous deep threats (14.6 YPC, 8 TDs of 18-plus yards), but the jury remains out on whether he'll ever become a reliable weapon for Deshaun Watson. Remember, the Texans exercised Kevin Johnson's fifth-year option last year, only to cut him; Fuller's future in Houston is anything but certain.

22. Josh Doctson, Washington: Declined

He's been an injury-riddled one-trick pony, and Washington might have replaced that trick — 50-50 ability — in Round 6 with Kelvin Harmon, after finding its new WR2 with WR1 upside in Terry McLaurin. Doctson turns 27 in December and lacks the dynamism to be worth this investment.

23. Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings: Declined

Treadwell's best season came in 2018, when he averaged 8.6 yards per carry and committed a few inexcusable drops in huge moments. Minnesota has moved on, but the saving grace here for Treadwell is that he'll only turn 24 in June. The problem is he's speed deficient, something that's difficult enough to mask at his position but especially with his other inconsistencies.

24. William Jackson III, Cincinnati Bengals: Exercised

He still needs to do a better job taking the football away (one career INT), but WJIII has earned his keep as a sticky cover man with more room to grow. And the Bengals, who seem to select a first-round corner bi-annually, now have gone three years without spending a top-150 selection at the position.

25. Artie Burns, Pittsburgh Steelers: Declined

About the best thing we can say for Burns is that he's been available every week. But the Steelers benched him last season, his first without an interception, and recently admitted his confidence needs reparation. The arrival of third-rounder Justin Layne, a potential Day 1 starter opposite Joe Haden, might not help.

Picks 26-31

26. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos: N/A

Lynch is competing for the backup job behind Russell Wilson in Seattle. The Broncos trading for Joe Flacco in March and trading up for Drew Lock in Round 2 last week is part of the domino effect of John Elway missing badly on Lynch.

27. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers: Exercised

Ted Thompson's penultimate first-round pick as Packers general manager, Clark has been better than advertised: A stout run stuffer, as expected, but with outstanding disruptiveness (career-high 6 sacks last season, 10.5 over the past two years) and some positional flexibility. Despite a regime and scheme change, he looks like a foundational part of Green Bay's defense.

28. Joshua Garnett, San Francisco 49ers: Declined

Failed 49ers coach Chip Kelly traded back into Round 1 for Garnett, a Day 2-3 prospect on most boards who's played to that projection. He lost his starting job last season and enters Year 4 with 11 combined starts.

29. Robert Nkemdiche, Arizona Cardinals: Declined

Despite playing his best football last season, Nkemdiche will hit the 2020 open market, where teams figure to find a tantalizing prospect who can be a difference maker ... when the mood strikes him. We'd say keep an eye on a potential reunion with Bruce Arians in Tampa, but it was actually one-and-done Cardinals HC Steve Wilks, now the Browns defensive coordinator, who squeezed the most from Nkemdiche last year.

30. DL Vernon Butler, Carolina Panthers: Declined

Dave Gettleman may know "hog mollies," but he missed on his final first-rounder in Carolina with Butler, who has never become a productive rotational rusher, never mind serviceable starter. He has outstanding physical traits but hasn't shown the want-to needed to maximize them.

31. OL Germain Ifedi, Seattle Seahhawks: Reportedly Declined

Among the most penalized players in the NFL since his arrival, Ifedi has started 44 of 48 regular-season games, cycling back and forth between guard and tackle. He seemed to settle in a bit last year, his first with respected OL coach Mike Solari in place of the awful Tom Cable, at right tackle, cutting down on penalties and ramping up his competitiveness against outside speed. So he's shown improvement, and Seattle gives its draft picks every chance to succeed, but it wasn't enough to have his nearly $10 million option exercised.

What we're hearing about the Bears' 2019 NFL Draft class

Posted on April 30, 2019 - 09:51:03

With the help of Bears brass, their scouts and our sources, here's the buzz on Chicago's rookie class — and how we're interpreting it

The Bears five-man draft class consists of a likely rookie starting tailback, potentially sneaky Year 1 contributor at wide receiver and three relative projects found in the latter part of Day 3, albeit with a chance to contribute readily to the third phase.

With the help of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, three Bears area scouts and our own sources, let's look at each draft pick individually and share what they do best, where they must improve and why they fit in Chicago.

Iowa State RB David Montgomery

The "whole package," according to Matt Nagy, "Montgomery makes defenders miss inside the tackle box. He extends runs with his sheer power. He has a tremendous ability to feel when that next guy is coming, that peripheral vision. And then on top of all that, we've just done so much research on all these guys and we've always talked about high character guys, high character football players that you'd like to go to that as much as you can, and this guy's at the top of the line with that. He has the hands. He's a three-down back. ... He's everything that we're looking for."

Clearly, the Bears are enthralled with Montgomery's three-down skillset, and they weren't dissuaded by his ordinary combine workout. Still, the most logical area where Montgomery, described by Pace as "extremely driven," "professional" and "infectious," must continue to improve is in the passing game.

Area scout Scott Hamel explained that the Bears think it's an "underrated" part of Montgomery's game, that "there are guys in the building there in Ames who think he has the best hands on the team." Nagy singled that out as the first quality he looks for in college backs, but also pointed out the fact that few college teams are running as wide a variety of routes as backs are asked to in the pros.

We expect Montgomery to lead the Bears in rushing as a rookie, but Nagy suggested those with that line of thinking slow their roll, reminding us that Kareem Hunt — whom Montgomery does compare to, Nagy confirmed — only earned his rookie opportunity, parlaying it into a rushing title, following a torn ACL to starter Spencer Ware.

The Chiefs traded up in Round 3 for Hunt, just as the Bears did with Montgomery, but otherwise the situation has some differences, the coach said.

Georgia RB Riley Ridley

Pace said the Bears were surprised to see Ridley on the board at No. 126, the epitome of a best-player-available scenario unfolding. Like Montgomery, his workout won't wow the way his tape does, revealing, "route running, hands, catching radius. Ability to win 50-50 situations. ... When the ball is in the air, he's going to win it."

Although wideouts shouldn't be drafted for their blocking ability in 2019, it's one area our Greg Gabriel higlighted as a weakness for Ridley, who joins a feisty group of Bears wideouts in that department, starting with Allen Robinson.

Ridley's 4.58 speed is what it is, but area scout Sam Summerville thinks their are other traits that can help compensate. "I love this player," Summerville said. "He’s so competitive and he oozes the energy that you like to see. I think he’s going to be a great player."

Ridley's arrival, paired with the signing of UDFA Emanuel Hall, who has Day 2 talent but comes with concerns regarding his durability and willingness to play through nagging injuries, should make the WR position the Bears' most fiercely contested this summer. Think about that for a minute. Within the span of 13 months, Pace turned arguably the NFL's weakest pass-catching corps into a team strength and one that will require some truly difficult decisions.

Javon Wims surely was "estatic" to "rekindle some of that Georgia love" with his ex-Bulldogs teammate, Summerville said. That may be true, but his battle to make the team as a sophomore will now be fought uphill.

Kansas State CB Duke Shelley

Said Pace: "He’s so scrappy. If it’s completed, it’s earned. He’s very sticky in coverage. He’s highly, highly competitive. He’s just very athletic. When you look at his PBUs and his interceptions, they’re coming in a very athletic manner. It’s not gimmies. So I would say his competitiveness and how athletic and how sticky he is in coverage."

The four-year starter with the Wildcats wasn't invited to the combine and had his senior season halted abruptly by a toe injury.

That injury, area scout Breck Ackley explained, wasn't the reason for his combine snub, but Shelley's response to it was a strong indicator of his football character.

"The pro day was a week after the combine, right off the bat, and he had just gotten cleared medically the week before," Ackley said. "So he really didn’t have to run. A lot of these guys won't and they’ll schedule something later, but he wanted to. He said this is my only shot. He was good at his pro day, he pushed through, he had a heck of a workout and that was one of those things that showed his football character, him wanting to do that."

Ackley compared Shelley to Steelers nickel Mike Hilton and the Rams' Nickell Robey-Coleman — there's little doubt regarding the role Chicago envisions for him: the potential heir to Buster Skrine, who takes over for Bryce Callahan.

Florida Atlantic RB Kerrith Whyte

"Standout speed," Pace pointed out, is what first pulls you in when studying Whyte, the other FAU running back who caught the Bears eye this draft season. In what felt a bit like a banana in the tailpipe trick after everyone thought the Bears were courting Whyte's teammate Devin Singletary, Pace explains it was the 4.38 speed and bonus special teams prowess (26.1-yard career KR average and 2 TDs) that attracted them to the lesser known of the two.

"We were aware of him, but naturally when you’re watching the tapes, you’re watching two really good running backs, but two different styles and they both jumped out in different ways.
"And I just think his speed just jumps out when you’re watching the tape. And then you throw in the special teams value that he brings, too. I know I feel like with him, that’s one where the scouts, the offensive coaches and the special teams coaches are all excited about, because he brings that kind of versatility."
It's possible, then, that Whyte becomes the emergency KR specialist behind Cordarrelle Patterson and the long-range replacement plan. In the interim, he gives Matt Nagy and s/t coordinator Chris Tabor yet another playmaker to sprinkle in this season.
"In my opinion they're all weapons, they can play on every down, you feel good about where they're at, and as coaches we've got to figure out exactly what it is, and then there's only so many touches so we have to balance that," Nagy said. "And that is the difficult part, but it's a lot easier to do when you have that with these types of guys with different strengths."
 Valdosta State CB Stephen Denmark
Denmark's "ridiculous measurables," including a 4.48 40-yard dash and 43.5-inch vertical at 6-2 ½ and 220 pounds, make for "tremendous upside, Pace said. They also mitigate any concerns regarding Denmark's limited experience at corner after spending his first two seasons at wide receiver.
So too did Denmark's private workout with personnel man Champ Kelly and new CB coach DeShea Townsend, apparently.
"All we see is a guy with these kind of measurables and this kind of talent, and you turn on the tape and — whoa — it catches your eye. Then we send Deshea and Champ Kelly down there to work him out at Valdosta. And they come back, and they also had the video. We can test him in things we want to see.
"How does he flip his hips? How does he transition? And then on tape, for a guy that just switched to that position, his ability to track the ball—he has ball production, interception production," Pace said. "His ability to stay calm on a deep ball and get his head around with poise and track the ball is very intriguing. So this late in the draft, it’s just a very interesting, intriguing prospect for us to take. I can tell you this: When we go to the rookie minicamp, he’s going to be one of the guys I’m going to be most interested in watching, just because of the traits that he possesses."
Those traits could even make Denmark a future safety, where the Bears depth chart is as full as it as corner, but lacks the same type of promise and current investments. If one player from this draft class is poised for a rookie redshirt, it's Denmark.
But as Pace said, there might not be one who offers more intrigue, especially paired with DB-whispering Chuck Pagano and Townsend, the former Steelers Super Bowl champion junkyard dog.
 

 

With the help of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, three Bears area scouts and our own sources, let's look at each draft pick individually and share what they do best, where they must improve and why they fit in Chicago.

Iowa State RB David Montgomery

The "whole package," according to Matt Nagy, "Montgomery makes defenders miss inside the tackle box. He extends runs with his sheer power. He has a tremendous ability to feel when that next guy is coming, that peripheral vision. And then on top of all that, we've just done so much research on all these guys and we've always talked about high character guys, high character football players that you'd like to go to that as much as you can, and this guy's at the top of the line with that. He has the hands. He's a three-down back. ... He's everything that we're looking for."

Clearly, the Bears are enthralled with Montgomery's three-down skillset, and they weren't dissuaded by his ordinary combine workout. Still, the most logical area where Montgomery, described by Pace as "extremely driven," "professional" and "infectious," must continue to improve is in the passing game.

Area scout Scott Hamel explained that the Bears think it's an "underrated" part of Montgomery's game, that "there are guys in the building there in Ames who think he has the best hands on the team." Nagy singled that out as the first quality he looks for in college backs, but also pointed out the fact that few college teams are running as wide a variety of routes as backs are asked to in the pros.

We expect Montgomery to lead the Bears in rushing as a rookie, but Nagy suggested those with that line of thinking slow their roll, reminding us that Kareem Hunt — whom Montgomery does compare to, Nagy confirmed — only earned his rookie opportunity, parlaying it into a rushing title, following a torn ACL to starter Spencer Ware.

The Chiefs traded up in Round 3 for Hunt, just as the Bears did with Montgomery, but otherwise the situation has some differences, the coach said.

Georgia RB Riley Ridley

Pace said the Bears were surprised to see Ridley on the board at No. 126, the epitome of a best-player-available scenario unfolding. Like Montgomery, his workout won't wow the way his tape does, revealing, "route running, hands, catching radius. Ability to win 50-50 situations. ... When the ball is in the air, he's going to win it."

Although wideouts shouldn't be drafted for their blocking ability in 2019, it's one area our Greg Gabriel higlighted as a weakness for Ridley, who joins a feisty group of Bears wideouts in that department, starting with Allen Robinson.

Ridley's 4.58 speed is what it is, but area scout Sam Summerville thinks their are other traits that can help compensate. "I love this player," Summerville said. "He’s so competitive and he oozes the energy that you like to see. I think he’s going to be a great player."

Ridley's arrival, paired with the signing of UDFA Emanuel Hall, who has Day 2 talent but comes with concerns regarding his durability and willingness to play through nagging injuries, should make the WR position the Bears' most fiercely contested this summer. Think about that for a minute. Within the span of 13 months, Pace turned arguably the NFL's weakest pass-catching corps into a team strength and one that will require some truly difficult decisions.

Javon Wims surely was "estatic" to "rekindle some of that Georgia love" with his ex-Bulldogs teammate, Summerville said. That may be true, but his battle to make the team as a sophomore will now be fought uphill.

Kansas State CB Duke Shelley

Said Pace: "He’s so scrappy. If it’s completed, it’s earned. He’s very sticky in coverage. He’s highly, highly competitive. He’s just very athletic. When you look at his PBUs and his interceptions, they’re coming in a very athletic manner. It’s not gimmies. So I would say his competitiveness and how athletic and how sticky he is in coverage."

The four-year starter with the Wildcats wasn't invited to the combine and had his senior season halted abruptly by a toe injury.

That injury, area scout Breck Ackley explained, wasn't the reason for his combine snub, but Shelley's response to it was a strong indicator of his football character.

"The pro day was a week after the combine, right off the bat, and he had just gotten cleared medically the week before," Ackley said. "So he really didn’t have to run. A lot of these guys won't and they’ll schedule something later, but he wanted to. He said this is my only shot. He was good at his pro day, he pushed through, he had a heck of a workout and that was one of those things that showed his football character, him wanting to do that."

Ackley compared Shelley to Steelers nickel Mike Hilton and the Rams' Nickell Robey-Coleman — there's little doubt regarding the role Chicago envisions for him: the potential heir to Buster Skrine, who takes over for Bryce Callahan.

 

Florida Atlantic RB Kerrith Whyte

"Standout speed" is what first pulls you in when studying Whyte, the other FAU running back who caught the Bears eye this draft season. In what felt a bit like a banana in the tailpipe trick after everyone thought the Bears were courting Whyte's teammate Devin Singletary, Pace explains it was the speed and bonus special teams prowess that attracted them to the lesser known of the two.

"We were aware of him, but naturally when you’re watching the tapes, you’re watching two really good running backs, but two different styles and they both jumped out in different ways.
"And I just think his speed just jumps out when you’re watching the tape. And then you throw in the special teams value that he brings, too. I know I feel like with him, that’s one where the scouts, the offensive coaches and the special teams coaches are all excited about, because he brings that kind of versatility."
It's possible, then, that Whyte becomes the emergency KR specialist behind Cordarrelle Patterson and the long-range replacement plan. In the interim, he gives Matt Nagy and s/t coordinator Chris Tabor to sprinkle in this season.
"In my opinion they're all weapons, they can play on every down, you feel good about where they're at, and as coaches we've got to figure out exactly what it is, and then there's only so many touches so we have to balance that," Nagy said. "And that is the difficult part, but it's a lot easier to do when you have that with these types of guys with different strengths."
 
 Valdosta State CB Stephen Denmark
Denmark's "ridiculous measurables," including a 4.48 40-yard dash and 43.5-inch vertical at 6-2 ½ and 220 pounds, make for "tremendous upside, Pace said. They also mitigate any concerns regarding Denmark's limited experience at corner after spending his first two seasons at wide receiver.
So too did Denmark's private workout with personnel man Champ Kelly and new CB coach DeShea Townsend, apparently.
"All we see is a guy with these kind of measurables and this kind of talent, and you turn on the tape and — whoa — it catches your eye. Then we send Deshea and Champ Kelly down there to work him out at Valdosta. And they come back, and they also had the video. We can test him in things we want to see.
"How does he flip his hips? How does he transition? And then on tape, for a guy that just switched to that position, his ability to track the ball—he has ball production, interception production," Pace said. "His ability to stay calm on a deep ball and get his head around with poise and track the ball is very intriguing. So this late in the draft, it’s just a very interesting, intriguing prospect for us to take. I can tell you this: When we go to the rookie minicamp, he’s going to be one of the guys I’m going to be most interested in watching, just because of the traits that he possesses."
Those traits could even make Denmark a future safety, where the Bears depth chart is as full as it as corner, but lacks the same type of promise and current investments. If one player from this draft class is poised for a rookie redshirt, it's Denmark.
But as Pace said, there might not be one who offers more intrigue, especially paired with DB-whispering Chuck Pagano and Townsend, the former Steelers Super Bowl champion junkyard dog.

Hub Arkush's 2019 NFL Draft Grades

Posted on April 28, 2019 - 15:25:28

For anyone to pretend they can say with any certainty or objective measurements how any team did in the NFL Draft before the players they selected have ever put on pads and their new uniforms is not only silly, it is a complete waste of time.         

In fact the one thing we can say with certainty after 50 years of previewing, analyzing and eventually evaluating the league’s second-most important annual event each season at Pro Football Weekly, is you have to wait at least two seasons and even more accurately three to judge any team’s draft with any degree of actual knowledge and data to prove your analysis.

At the same time, we understand many fans needs for more information about what their favorite clubs are doing, how they’ve addressed obvious needs and wishes and  may have improved or stumbled, and what their prospects may be going forward in the immediate future.

So what we can do is take a look at each club’s picks and attempt to rate the overall value of those choices based on where players are selected as compared to a consensus of how multiple evaluators we respect had them ranked overall and by position; which teams created the most value with their picks via trade; and which clubs may have best addressed needs with solid value for solid prospects.

There is one very solid trend we noticed this year: A number of top evaluators reported in the weeks leading up to this draft that there may not have been more than a dozen-to-20 legitimate first-round picks, and that the next 25-to-40 prospects could be tossed in a hat and might be first-, second- or third-round value in any other draft.

If you had a top-12-to-20 pick, you had better have gotten it right. And if you didn’t, you might want to feel free to trade down and add multiple picks for a better chance at adding top talent.

We believe this was proven out by the fact there was only one trade in the top 20 picks this year — between the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers — but 21 of the next 30 picks were traded.

Rather than attempt to judge talent we have yet to see perform or develop, here is how we think each NFL front office did with its budget on draft weekend.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots: A-

The Patriots start every year with seven picks like everybody else but then somehow every year through a combination of compensatory awards and trades they end up with more picks than anybody. That is getting great value, especially when you finish five of the top-101 picks and seven of the top 133, as New England did this year.

How well they used them always remains to be seen, but N’Keal Harry at 32, Yodny Cajuste at 101 were very nice value, and Chase Winovich at 77 was at least half a round later than we thought he’d go. Joejuan Williams at 45 seems at least half a round too early, but do you want to match wits with Bill Belichick when it comes to football?

Buffalo Bills: A-

There is a lot to like with each of the Bills first six picks landing at least a few if not more spots below where we saw them going. Ed Oliver has a red flag or two, but the late talk leading up to Thursday night had him at three to the Jets or six to the Giants. Cody Ford (38) was definitely a first-round prospect, and Dawson Knox at 96 could have gone a round sooner, while Vosean Joseph at 147 should have gone at least a round or maybe even a round and a half sooner than he was taken. Very nice work here.

Miami Dolphins: B

The Dolphins are the toughest team we have to grade here. Even though he wasn’t in the Draft, getting Josh Rosen in essence at 62 and only throwing in a fifth-rounder next year is the NFL's greatest heist since Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl XLIX-clinching interception. Chris Grier also did a nice job of adding extra ammunition for next year’s Draft. But to be as bad as the Dolphins are right now and only make three picks in the top 200 – Christian Wilkins at 13, Michael Deiter at 78 and Andrew Van Ginkel at 151 – reaching at least a slightly on all of them is pretty disappointing.

New York Jets: B

The Jets got the consensus best prospect in this Draft while filling a huge need with Quinnen Williams on the third pick, so they’re going to get a solid grade. Jachai Polite was higher than 68 on most boards, while also filling a real need. We don’t know a lot of clubs that rated Trevon Wesco any higher than the sixth round but definitely expected Blake Cashman to be a top-120 pick.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers: B+

If we had known going into the Draft that only one club would move up in the top 20, no one would have guessed it would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we just love the fact that they did. Devin Bush and Devin White have basically the same grade and both fit in the top 10. The fall-off from there was huge, and the Steelers had to plug the middle. That they were able to do it with Bush and still get Diontae Johnson maybe a couple spots too high at 66 but steal Justin Layne at 83 and fit in Benny Snell and Sutton Smith later than where we thought they’d go at 122 and 175, respectively, was good weekend’s work.

Baltimore Ravens: B

Nothing very special here but overall you have to say well played to Eric DeCosta in his first Draft. Marquise Brown at 25, Jaylon Ferguson at 85, Miles Boykin at 93 and Iman Marshall at 127 all could have gone a couple picks to half a round higher than where they were taken, and we wouldn’t have blinked had Ferguson gone a full round earlier. A group of solid values almost all filling significant needs.

Cleveland Browns: B-

Who’s to say if the Browns overpaid for Odell Beckham Jr. or not? We can’t even come to a consensus in our own offices. We can say that Greedy Williams appears to be a steal at 46 after many had him top 15 to top 20. On the other hand, Sione Takitaki at 80 is one of the biggest reaches in this Draft, Sheldrick Redwine feels a bit high at 119 and we just can’t endorse kickers like Austin Seibert with picks in the top 200. Mack Wilson was a nice value at 155.

Cincinnati Bengals: B-

This could be more in the C range but how often do you get the Draft’s best left tackle prospect and the top O-line prospect in the Draft at 11 — and it just happens to be your greatest position of need? Jonah Williams is a really nice pick. Honestly, though, after that, Drew Sample at 52 feels way too early, as in two rounds at least, and other than Trayveon Williams at 182, we’re not seeing where the Bengals outsmarted anybody.

AFC SOUTH

Tennessee Titans: A-

It feels like the Titans absolutely slayed it this weekend. Without the ACL injury, Jeffery Simmons was a top-five pick — and many still saw him going five-to-15 rather than 19thA.J. Brown was a first-rounder on a number of boards, so getting him while sitting still at 51 is like nailing a trifecta at the track, and Nate Davis at 82, Amani Hooker at 116 and D’Andre Walker at 168 all could easily have gone half a round to a round earlier.

Jacksonville Jaguars: A-

It was not a perfect weekend for the Jags: 69 feels too rich for Josh Oliver and Quincy Williams was one of the first who picks of the weekend. But Josh Allen at seven and Jawaan Taylor at 35 are arguably the two biggest steals of the Draft. On top of that, I know what the trade value charts say, but in moving up from 38 to 35 to grab Taylor in a deal with the Raiders and getting that pick, a five and a seven while giving up just their two and four, we’re not sure they didn’t win the trade too.

Indianapolis Colts: B

We love what Chris Ballard did here with all the quantity he was able to generate making multiple trades for multiple picks, and love that he had three in the second round. That said, the players he used the picks on don’t jump out at you based on where they were valued, although some felt Rock Ya-Sin could be the first corner off the board a dozen picks or so higher than 34 and we saw Parris Campbell 20-to-25 picks higher than 59 on multiple boards. Beyond that though most of the rest of his picks are either tight squeezes or perhaps could have even waited a bit longer?

Houston Texans: C+

Whoa Nellie? Everyone knew about Tytus Howard, and we love Max Scharping as a prospect, but we never saw Howard going before 35-to-45, rather than the 23rd pick the Texans used, and we expected Scharping might last half a round longer too. Lonnie Johnson we love and he fits where they got him, and Kahale Warring is a fascinating prospect that was definitely a late riser and probably fell just about right at 86.

AFC WEST

Los Angeles Chargers: A-

Jerry Tillery at 28 and Nasir Adderly at 60 are perfect fits for the Chargers and where they were drafted, if not bargains who could have each gone 10, 15 picks higher.        Trey Pipkins, Drue Tranquill and Easton Stick at 91, 130 and 166 were also pretty much spot on as to where we thought they’d go. Egmeke Egbule and Cotez Broughton at 200 and 242 were as much as a round higher on a number of boards making for an excellent weekend in L.A.

Denver Broncos: B+

This is another group we really like, with Noah Fant at 20 probably about where we expected but an excellent prospect in Dalton Risner at 41 and Drew Lock after trading up to 42 each went half a round lower than we expected. Much like the Dolphins and Washington, John Elway gets extra credit here for playing the QB market so shrewdly. Trading 52, 125 and 182 for a prospect most rated in the top 20 worst case is excellent use of your assets.

Oakland Raiders: B-

We get what Mike Mayock is selling in his Draft philosophy — and like it — but still can’t find a team or a respected analyst who had Clelin Ferrell higher than 14 or 15 in the first round. Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abram and Trayvon Mullen fit nicely at 24, 27 and 40, but 137 was a bit rich for Foster Moreau, who we actually like and thought could be a sleeper in this Draft, because we expected him to go in the middle of the fifth round earliest.

Kansas City Chiefs: C

The Bears and Cowboys got extra points for having acquired Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper with their picks and already having gotten significant production from them. The Chiefs get docked for badly overpaying for Frank Clark. We have found no one who understands how Clark is worth a one, a two and a swap of threes, if Dee Ford was only worth a 2020 second-round pick and Clark actually ended up with a slightly bigger contract.

Add that the Chiefs reached probably a half a round early at the least for Mecole Hardman in their panic to replace Tyreek Hill, and made a similar reach for Rashad Fenton at 201, and even though we do think Juan Thornhill was good value at 63, it was not a good weekend in Kansas City.

NFC EAST

New York Giants: B+

We are underwhelmed by Daniel Jones as the sixth pick but still feel he’s a better fit there than Murray was at one, and are confident he would not have been there at 17. Again, we’re told the phones were unusually quiet this year at the top of the first round after the Murray and Ferrell picks. Beyond that, the Giants got some of the best value in this Draft — with Dexter Lawrence at 17, Deandre Baker at 30 — who we don’t believe would have been available had the Giants waited until their 37th pick without trading up. Oshane Ximines at 95 and Julian Love at 108 are potential steals. Darius Slayton is also a very nice value at 171.

Philadelphia Eagles: B

The Eagles got a very solid haul while filling needs and protecting their investment in the franchise, Carson Wentz. Andre Dillard at 22, Miles Sanders at 53 and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside should all eventually be starters and make Wentz better. Dillard and Miles Sanders could each easily have gone five-to-10 picks higher. Arcega-Whiteside on the other hand may have moved half a round too soon. Shareef Miler is also a bit reach at 138, but Clayton Thorson was nice fit at 167.

Washington: B

Hats off to Washington for having the patience to sit tight at 15 and get Dwayne Haskins. With no QB trades in front of Washington, and the Cardinals taking Murray and the Giants grabbing Jones, this is apparently where he belonged. But the restraint from D.C. to sit and wait was uncharacteristic.

It’s hard to know what to say about Montez Sweat, a top-10 talent who fell all the way to 26 because of an uncertain medical. As a prospect you’re getting top-10 value there, but we have no idea what the realities of the medical are. We do have to point out one of the worst values of this draft is Bryce Love at 112. He’s a great kid who we wish much better things for than the way his last year has gone, but we had good reason to believe he was a sixth- or even seventh-rounder (if not a free agent) because of what everybody seems to think the medical on his knee is — at least right now. We hope we’re wrong on this one.

Dallas Cowboys: C+

Trysten Hill may or may not be the 58th best prospect in this Draft; there is no denying his talent. But the character red flag scared a number of teams away, and of all teams to take him, do the Cowboys, rebuilding their defensive front because of bad bets on Randy Gregory and David Irving make any sense at all here? Connor McGovern at 90, Michael Jackson at 158 and Joe Jackson at 165 – no, you can’t make this stuff up, but no relations – are all nice gets where they got them. Tony Pollard at 128 was a long reach, and the rest of the choices are reasonable but uninspiring where they were taken.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: B

We have no quarrel with David Montgomery being taken at 73 and would have been fine if he’d gone even five or 10 picks earlier, so nice selection, but you can’t ignore that he cost the Bears their third-, a fourth- and fifth-round picks — although they did get a sixth-rounder back from New England with Montgomery.

It seems a bit rich.

Riley Ridley saves their grade here, as he could have gone a full round higher than where the Bears got him at 126. Kerrith Whyte at 222 and Stephen Denmark at 238 aren’t reaches in the seventh round, but they might have been priority free agents, and Duke Shelley — who they took at 205 — almost certainly should have been. So why is this a B instead of a C or even C-? Because they also got Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller.

Minnesota Vikings: B

This is actually a very nice group with everyone fitting pretty much where you’d expect or possibly even higher. Irv Smith could easily have gone 20 picks sooner than No. 50, and almost half their three sixes and four sevens could have gone half a round to a round earlier. The one player that seems a bit rich was at 162, where we thought Cameron Smith was a seventh-rounder or priority free agent.

Green Bay Packers: B

This is one where we have to be careful because in our scouting reports we have some questions on some of these kids, but those don’t get answers for two or three years. As far as where they were taken, this looks like a very solid list. Most had Rashan Gary at a top-10 pick — and some even saw him in the top five — so No. 12 is very nice. Everybody else looks like a very solid fit, and Dexter Williams at 194 and Ty Summers at 24 each could have gone a round or even a round and a half sooner.

Detroit Lions: C+

We are wildly excited about T.J. Hockenson as a potential star, but he went right about where we expected, to the club we expected to take him. After that, the Lions appeared to consistently have players rated a bit higher than most. Travis Fulgham is an excellent value at 184, and Amani Oruwariye was good value at 146, but those picks aside, Jahlani Travai at 43 and Will Harris at 81 appeared to be significant reaches.

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints: B

The Saints got very nice value trading up with Erik McCoy still on the board at 48, and we definitely thought Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was coming off the board by the end of the second round, so he almost reaches the steal category at 105. We didn’t love the Saquon Hampton pick at 177, as our consensus listings show him in the seventh round,  but that late on Day 3, we’re splitting hairs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B

This is a solid job by the Bucs' Jason Licht with his new brain trust of Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles. We had Devin White as perhaps the eighth to 12th best prospect in this Draft. But once the Cardinals pulled the trigger on Murray at one, Ferrell went too high  and few saw the Giants taking Jones at six, there was minimal interest in teams trading up into the top 10 with players like Josh Allen, Dwayne Haskins and T.J. Hockenson lasting longer than we might have expected.

White may be a perennial Pro Bowler, and Sean Bunting at 39 – perhaps that’s 10-12 spots too high — and Jamel Dean at 94 felt about right with all three filling huge needs. We’d prefer Licht hadn’t used a fifth-rounder on a kicker, Matt Gay, after his spectacular miss on Robert Aguayo, but we’re not punishing for past blinders here.

Carolina Panthers: B

The Panthers draft looks just about right. EDGE and OT were their two greatest needs — and they got top-five prospects at each position right about where we expected them to go. Some thought Greg Little could have even gone a few spots higher than 37. Will Grier is a fascinating pick for them, and we’re anxious to see how he plays out, but as far as snaring him at 100, it seems right.

Atlanta Falcons: B-

This is another group where we have to remind you we’re not questioning the prospects, we’re just curious about where they were taken. Atlanta had to upgrade its offensive line — and did a nice job of it with its first two picks — but we thought each was taken about 10 or perhaps even 15 spots early. Could the Falcons have worked the phones and maybe added a pick or two while still getting Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary? This is a classic all we can do is wait and see group.

NFC WEST

Seattle Seahawks: A-           

While nothing here is based on the kind of players we think these prospects will be in two or three years, we can certainly talk about the value four-year veteran Frank Clark has, and getting a one, a two and a three for just Clark and your own three was highway robbery on the Seahawks part.

They then had a typical Seattle Draft, picking for speed and need with almost every choice, some a few spots high, some better values than you’d expect, but nothing off the charts until you focus on D.K. Metcalf at 64. Listen, he was passed 63 times, so we can’t say every team in the league screwed up, but we can tell you a number of those teams indicated to us he was the top pass catcher on their boards going into the Draft. Great work by Schneider and Carroll.

Los Angeles Rams: B

L.A. did a very nice job with Taylor Rapp at 61, and Darrell Henderson was a nice fit at 70, but the Rams used two thirds to deal with the Bucs to move up and get him. The trade chart says that’s the value of moving up from 94 to 70, so it’s hard for us to say Henderson isn’t worth the two threes, as he almost certainly would have been gone at 94. David Long at 79 was a little rich, but Bobby Evans at 97 was a little bit of a bargain so good group.

San Francisco 49ers: B-

Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel fill huge needs and were selected right about where most expected them to be. On the other hand, we saw Jalen Hurd as more of a fourth-round choice at best, not at the top of the third round. And while Mitch Wishnowsky is a top punter prospect, the fourth round on a punter for a team with the needs the 49ers have just feels too rich. TE Kaden Smith may have been a fourth-rounder prior to poor pre-Draft workouts making him a nice grab/gamble in the sixth.

Arizona Cardinals: C+

Kyler Murray may be the next superstar QB, a bust or land anywhere in between. But was he worth the No. 1 overall pick? Is there another club in the league that would have taken him there? Is there another team that would have taken him top 10? And is there another team that would have taken him in the first round?

We are convinced the Cardinals could have traded this pick, created some additional very valuable assets — even if not the haul a team might usually get for this pick — and still have landed Murray. Andy Isabella was also a reach at 62, especially after trading up to get him there and realizing the price was Josh Rosen and last year’s No. 10 overall pick, a third- and a fifth-rounder. Isabella almost has to become a perennial Pro Bowler now.

This grade would be even lower were it not for the excellent values Arizona did get with Byron Murphy at 33, Zach Allen at 65, Hakeem Butler at 103 and Deionte Thompson at 139. Every one of those players was projected to go earlier.

 

In fact the one thing we can say with certainty after 50 years of previewing, analyzing and eventually evaluating the league’s second-most important annual event each season at Pro Football Weekly, is you have to wait at least two seasons and even more accurately three to judge any team’s draft with any degree of actual knowledge and data to prove your analysis.

At the same time, we understand many fans needs for more information about what their favorite clubs are doing, how they’ve addressed obvious needs and wishes and  may have improved or stumbled, and what their prospects may be going forward in the immediate future.

So what we can do is take a look at each club’s picks and attempt to rate the overall value of those choices based on where players are selected as compared to a consensus of how multiple evaluators we respect had them ranked overall and by position; which teams created the most value with their picks via trade; and which clubs may have best addressed needs with solid value for solid prospects.

There is one very solid trend we noticed this year: A number of top evaluators reported in the weeks leading up to this draft that there may not have been more than a dozen-to-20 legitimate first-round picks, and that the next 25-to-40 prospects could be tossed in a hat and might be first-, second- or third-round value in any other draft.

If you had a top-12-to-20 pick, you had better have gotten it right. And if you didn’t, you might want to feel free to trade down and add multiple picks for a better chance at adding top talent.

We believe this was proven out by the fact there was only one trade in the top 20 picks this year — between the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers — but 21 of the next 30 picks were traded.

Rather than attempt to judge talent we have yet to see perform or develop, here is how we think each NFL front office did with its budget on draft weekend.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots: A-

The Patriots start every year with seven picks like everybody else but then somehow every year through a combination of compensatory awards and trades they end up with more picks than anybody. That is getting great value, especially when you finish five of the top-101 picks and seven of the top 133, as New England did this year.

How well they used them always remains to be seen, but N’Keal Harry at 32, Yodny Cajuste at 101 were very nice value, and Chase Winovich at 77 was at least half a round later than we thought he’d go. Joejuan Williams at 45 seems at least half a round too early, but do you want to match wits with Bill Belichick when it comes to football?

Buffalo Bills: A-

There is a lot to like with each of the Bills first six picks landing at least a few if not more spots below where we saw them going. Ed Oliver has a red flag or two, but the late talk leading up to Thursday night had him at three to the Jets or six to the Giants. Cody Ford (38) was definitely a first-round prospect, and Dawson Knox at 96 could have gone a round sooner, while Vosean Joseph at 147 should have gone at least a round or maybe even a round and a half sooner than he was taken. Very nice work here.

Miami Dolphins: B

The Dolphins are the toughest team we have to grade here. Even though he wasn’t in the Draft, getting Josh Rosen in essence at 62 and only throwing in a fifth-rounder next year is the NFL's greatest heist since Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl XLIX-clinching interception. Chris Grier also did a nice job of adding extra ammunition for next year’s Draft. But to be as bad as the Dolphins are right now and only make three picks in the top 200 – Christian Wilkins at 13, Michael Deiter at 78 and Andrew Van Ginkel at 151 – reaching at least a slightly on all of them is pretty disappointing.

New York Jets: B

The Jets got the consensus best prospect in this Draft while filling a huge need with Quinnen Williams on the third pick, so they’re going to get a solid grade. Jachai Polite was higher than 68 on most boards, while also filling a real need. We don’t know a lot of clubs that rated Trevon Wesco any higher than the sixth round but definitely expected Blake Cashman to be a top-120 pick.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers: B+

If we had known going into the Draft that only one club would move up in the top 20, no one would have guessed it would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we just love the fact that they did. Devin Bush and Devin White have basically the same grade and both fit in the top 10. The fall-off from there was huge, and the Steelers had to plug the middle. That they were able to do it with Bush and still get Diontae Johnson maybe a couple spots too high at 66 but steal Justin Layne at 83 and fit in Benny Snell and Sutton Smith later than where we thought they’d go at 122 and 175, respectively, was good weekend’s work.

Baltimore Ravens: B

Nothing very special here but overall you have to say well played to Eric DeCosta in his first Draft. Marquise Brown at 25, Jaylon Ferguson at 85, Miles Boykin at 93 and Iman Marshall at 127 all could have gone a couple picks to half a round higher than where they were taken, and we wouldn’t have blinked had Ferguson gone a full round earlier. A group of solid values almost all filling significant needs.

Cleveland Browns: B-

Who’s to say if the Browns overpaid for Odell Beckham Jr. or not? We can’t even come to a consensus in our own offices. We can say that Greedy Williams appears to be a steal at 46 after many had him top 15 to top 20. On the other hand, Sione Takitaki at 80 is one of the biggest reaches in this Draft, Sheldrick Redwine feels a bit high at 119 and we just can’t endorse kickers like Austin Seibert with picks in the top 200. Mack Wilson was a nice value at 155.

Cincinnati Bengals: B-

This could be more in the C range but how often do you get the Draft’s best left tackle prospect and the top O-line prospect in the Draft at 11 — and it just happens to be your greatest position of need? Jonah Williams is a really nice pick. Honestly, though, after that, Drew Sample at 52 feels way too early, as in two rounds at least, and other than Trayveon Williams at 182, we’re not seeing where the Bengals outsmarted anybody.

AFC SOUTH

Tennessee Titans: A-

It feels like the Titans absolutely slayed it this weekend. Without the ACL injury, Jeffery Simmons was a top-five pick — and many still saw him going five-to-15 rather than 19thA.J. Brown was a first-rounder on a number of boards, so getting him while sitting still at 51 is like nailing a trifecta at the track, and Nate Davis at 82, Amani Hooker at 116 and D’Andre Walker at 168 all could easily have gone half a round to a round earlier.

Jacksonville Jaguars: A-

It was not a perfect weekend for the Jags: 69 feels too rich for Josh Oliver and Quincy Williams was one of the first who picks of the weekend. But Josh Allen at seven and Jawaan Taylor at 35 are arguably the two biggest steals of the Draft. On top of that, I know what the trade value charts say, but in moving up from 38 to 35 to grab Taylor in a deal with the Raiders and getting that pick, a five and a seven while giving up just their two and four, we’re not sure they didn’t win the trade too.

Indianapolis Colts: B

We love what Chris Ballard did here with all the quantity he was able to generate making multiple trades for multiple picks, and love that he had three in the second round. That said, the players he used the picks on don’t jump out at you based on where they were valued, although some felt Rock Ya-Sin could be the first corner off the board a dozen picks or so higher than 34 and we saw Parris Campbell 20-to-25 picks higher than 59 on multiple boards. Beyond that though most of the rest of his picks are either tight squeezes or perhaps could have even waited a bit longer?

Houston Texans: C+

Whoa Nellie? Everyone knew about Tytus Howard, and we love Max Scharping as a prospect, but we never saw Howard going before 35-to-45, rather than the 23rd pick the Texans used, and we expected Scharping might last half a round longer too. Lonnie Johnson we love and he fits where they got him, and Kahale Warring is a fascinating prospect that was definitely a late riser and probably fell just about right at 86.

AFC WEST

Los Angeles Chargers: A-

Jerry Tillery at 28 and Nasir Adderly at 60 are perfect fits for the Chargers and where they were drafted, if not bargains who could have each gone 10, 15 picks higher.        Trey Pipkins, Drue Tranquill and Easton Stick at 91, 130 and 166 were also pretty much spot on as to where we thought they’d go. Egmeke Egbule and Cotez Broughton at 200 and 242 were as much as a round higher on a number of boards making for an excellent weekend in L.A.

Denver Broncos: B+

This is another group we really like, with Noah Fant at 20 probably about where we expected but an excellent prospect in Dalton Risner at 41 and Drew Lock after trading up to 42 each went half a round lower than we expected. Much like the Dolphins and Washington, John Elway gets extra credit here for playing the QB market so shrewdly. Trading 52, 125 and 182 for a prospect most rated in the top 20 worst case is excellent use of your assets.

Oakland Raiders: B-

We get what Mike Mayock is selling in his Draft philosophy — and like it — but still can’t find a team or a respected analyst who had Clelin Ferrell higher than 14 or 15 in the first round. Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abram and Trayvon Mullen fit nicely at 24, 27 and 40, but 137 was a bit rich for Foster Moreau, who we actually like and thought could be a sleeper in this Draft, because we expected him to go in the middle of the fifth round earliest.

Kansas City Chiefs: C

The Bears and Cowboys got extra points for having acquired Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper with their picks and already having gotten significant production from them. The Chiefs get docked for badly overpaying for Frank Clark. We have found no one who understands how Clark is worth a one, a two and a swap of threes, if Dee Ford was only worth a 2020 second-round pick and Clark actually ended up with a slightly bigger contract.

Add that the Chiefs reached probably a half a round early at the least for Mecole Hardman in their panic to replace Tyreek Hill, and made a similar reach for Rashad Fenton at 201, and even though we do think Juan Thornhill was good value at 63, it was not a good weekend in Kansas City.

NFC EAST

New York Giants: B+

We are underwhelmed by Daniel Jones as the sixth pick but still feel he’s a better fit there than Murray was at one, and are confident he would not have been there at 17. Again, we’re told the phones were unusually quiet this year at the top of the first round after the Murray and Ferrell picks. Beyond that, the Giants got some of the best value in this Draft — with Dexter Lawrence at 17, Deandre Baker at 30 — who we don’t believe would have been available had the Giants waited until their 37th pick without trading up. Oshane Ximines at 95 and Julian Love at 108 are potential steals. Darius Slayton is also a very nice value at 171.

Philadelphia Eagles: B

The Eagles got a very solid haul while filling needs and protecting their investment in the franchise, Carson Wentz. Andre Dillard at 22, Miles Sanders at 53 and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside should all eventually be starters and make Wentz better. Dillard and Miles Sanders could each easily have gone five-to-10 picks higher. Arcega-Whiteside on the other hand may have moved half a round too soon. Shareef Miler is also a bit reach at 138, but Clayton Thorson was nice fit at 167.

Washington: B

Hats off to Washington for having the patience to sit tight at 15 and get Dwayne Haskins. With no QB trades in front of Washington, and the Cardinals taking Murray and the Giants grabbing Jones, this is apparently where he belonged. But the restraint from D.C. to sit and wait was uncharacteristic.

It’s hard to know what to say about Montez Sweat, a top-10 talent who fell all the way to 26 because of an uncertain medical. As a prospect you’re getting top-10 value there, but we have no idea what the realities of the medical are. We do have to point out one of the worst values of this draft is Bryce Love at 112. He’s a great kid who we wish much better things for than the way his last year has gone, but we had good reason to believe he was a sixth- or even seventh-rounder (if not a free agent) because of what everybody seems to think the medical on his knee is — at least right now. We hope we’re wrong on this one.

Dallas Cowboys: C+

Trysten Hill may or may not be the 58th best prospect in this Draft; there is no denying his talent. But the character red flag scared a number of teams away, and of all teams to take him, do the Cowboys, rebuilding their defensive front because of bad bets on Randy Gregory and David Irving make any sense at all here? Connor McGovern at 90, Michael Jackson at 158 and Joe Jackson at 165 – no, you can’t make this stuff up, but no relations – are all nice gets where they got them. Tony Pollard at 128 was a long reach, and the rest of the choices are reasonable but uninspiring where they were taken.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: B

We have no quarrel with David Montgomery being taken at 73 and would have been fine if he’d gone even five or 10 picks earlier, so nice selection, but you can’t ignore that he cost the Bears their third-, a fourth- and fifth-round picks — although they did get a sixth-rounder back from New England with Montgomery.

It seems a bit rich.

Riley Ridley saves their grade here, as he could have gone a full round higher than where the Bears got him at 126. Kerrith Whyte at 222 and Stephen Denmark at 238 aren’t reaches in the seventh round, but they might have been priority free agents, and Duke Shelley — who they took at 205 — almost certainly should have been. So why is this a B instead of a C or even C-? Because they also got Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller.

Minnesota Vikings: B

This is actually a very nice group with everyone fitting pretty much where you’d expect or possibly even higher. Irv Smith could easily have gone 20 picks sooner than No. 50, and almost half their three sixes and four sevens could have gone half a round to a round earlier. The one player that seems a bit rich was at 162, where we thought Cameron Smith was a seventh-rounder or priority free agent.

Green Bay Packers: B

This is one where we have to be careful because in our scouting reports we have some questions on some of these kids, but those don’t get answers for two or three years. As far as where they were taken, this looks like a very solid list. Most had Rashan Gary at a top-10 pick — and some even saw him in the top five — so No. 12 is very nice. Everybody else looks like a very solid fit, and Dexter Williams at 194 and Ty Summers at 24 each could have gone a round or even a round and a half sooner.

Detroit Lions: C+

We are wildly excited about T.J. Hockenson as a potential star, but he went right about where we expected, to the club we expected to take him. After that, the Lions appeared to consistently have players rated a bit higher than most. Travis Fulgham is an excellent value at 184, and Amani Oruwariye was good value at 146, but those picks aside, Jahlani Travai at 43 and Will Harris at 81 appeared to be significant reaches.

 

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints: B

The Saints got very nice value trading up with Erik McCoy still on the board at 48, and we definitely thought Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was coming off the board by the end of the second round, so he almost reaches the steal category at 105. We didn’t love the Saquon Hampton pick at 177, as our consensus listings show him in the seventh round,  but that late on Day 3, we’re splitting hairs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B

This is a solid job by the Bucs' Jason Licht with his new brain trust of Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles. We had Devin White as perhaps the eighth to 12th best prospect in this Draft. But once the Cardinals pulled the trigger on Murray at one, Ferrell went too high  and few saw the Giants taking Jones at six, there was minimal interest in teams trading up into the top 10 with players like Josh Allen, Dwayne Haskins and T.J. Hockenson lasting longer than we might have expected.

White may be a perennial Pro Bowler, and Sean Bunting at 39 – perhaps that’s 10-12 spots too high — and Jamel Dean at 94 felt about right with all three filling huge needs. We’d prefer Licht hadn’t used a fifth-rounder on a kicker, Matt Gay, after his spectacular miss on Robert Aguayo, but we’re not punishing for past blinders here.

Carolina Panthers: B

The Panthers draft looks just about right. EDGE and OT were their two greatest needs — and they got top-five prospects at each position right about where we expected them to go. Some thought Greg Little could have even gone a few spots higher than 37. Will Grier is a fascinating pick for them, and we’re anxious to see how he plays out, but as far as snaring him at 100, it seems right.

Atlanta Falcons: B-

This is another group where we have to remind you we’re not questioning the prospects, we’re just curious about where they were taken. Atlanta had to upgrade its offensive line — and did a nice job of it with its first two picks — but we thought each was taken about 10 or perhaps even 15 spots early. Could the Falcons have worked the phones and maybe added a pick or two while still getting Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary? This is a classic all we can do is wait and see group.

NFC WEST

Seattle Seahawks: A-           

While nothing here is based on the kind of players we think these prospects will be in two or three years, we can certainly talk about the value four-year veteran Frank Clark has, and getting a one, a two and a three for just Clark and your own three was highway robbery on the Seahawks part.

They then had a typical Seattle Draft, picking for speed and need with almost every choice, some a few spots high, some better values than you’d expect, but nothing off the charts until you focus on D.K. Metcalf at 64. Listen, he was passed 63 times, so we can’t say every team in the league screwed up, but we can tell you a number of those teams indicated to us he was the top pass catcher on their boards going into the Draft. Great work by Schneider and Carroll.

Los Angeles Rams: B

L.A. did a very nice job with Taylor Rapp at 61, and Darrell Henderson was a nice fit at 70, but the Rams used two thirds to deal with the Bucs to move up and get him. The trade chart says that’s the value of moving up from 94 to 70, so it’s hard for us to say Henderson isn’t worth the two threes, as he almost certainly would have been gone at 94. David Long at 79 was a little rich, but Bobby Evans at 97 was a little bit of a bargain so good group.

San Francisco 49ers: B-

Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel fill huge needs and were selected right about where most expected them to be. On the other hand, we saw Jalen Hurd as more of a fourth-round choice at best, not at the top of the third round. And while Mitch Wishnowsky is a top punter prospect, the fourth round on a punter for a team with the needs the 49ers have just feels too rich. TE Kaden Smith may have been a fourth-rounder prior to poor pre-Draft workouts making him a nice grab/gamble in the sixth.

Arizona Cardinals: C+

Kyler Murray may be the next superstar QB, a bust or land anywhere in between. But was he worth the No. 1 overall pick? Is there another club in the league that would have taken him there? Is there another team that would have taken him top 10? And is there another team that would have taken him in the first round?

We are convinced the Cardinals could have traded this pick, created some additional very valuable assets — even if not the haul a team might usually get for this pick — and still have landed Murray. Andy Isabella was also a reach at 62, especially after trading up to get him there and realizing the price was Josh Rosen and last year’s No. 10 overall pick, a third- and a fifth-rounder. Isabella almost has to become a perennial Pro Bowler now.

This grade would be even lower were it not for the excellent values Arizona did get with Byron Murphy at 33, Zach Allen at 65, Hakeem Butler at 103 and Deionte Thompson at 139. Every one of those players was projected to go earlier.

 

Kerrith Whyte: 3 things to know about the new Bears RB draft pick

Posted on April 27, 2019 - 16:24:00

The second RB draft pick by Ryan Pace could aid in the return game

In the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Bears selected Florida Atlantic running back Kerrith Whyte. Here are three things you need to know about the newest Bear.

1) By the numbers: Whyte had a 77-yard rush and a 75-yard reception during his senior year at FAU, displaying the explosive ability and agility that Ryan Pace saw enough to draft him in the seventh.

2) A quote to know: In Whyte’s NFL.com scouting profile, an AFC running backs coach said “[Devin] Singletary gets all the attention, but Whyte is the more explosive of the two and he might end up surprising people.”

3) Not just an RB: He had a 100-yard kick return for a score against ODU, becoming the first place in FAU’s history to return a kickoff for a score at home. He was named second team all Conference USA as a kick returner and honorable mention as a running back.

Duke Shelley: 3 things to know about the new Bears CB draft pick

Posted on April 27, 2019 - 15:55:00

Shelley is coming off of a toe injury

In the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Bears selected Kansas St. cornerback Duke Shelley Here are three things you need to know about the newest Bear.

1) Defensive mainstay: Shelley started 37 games in four years at Kansas State and tied for fourth in school history with two pick-sixes. That 37 starts would have been higher if not for a toe injury cut his Kansas St. career short seven games into his senior season.

2) Highly recruited: Coming out of high school in Tucker, Georgia, Shelley was the 22nd-best cornerback by Rivals.com and 33rd by ESPN.

3) His best game: Arguably Shelley’s best game came just one game before his season-ending injury. Against Oklahoma St. in Oct. 13, he had two interceptions, a pass breakup and six solo tackles in a 31-12 victory.

Riley Ridley: 3 things to know about the new Bears WR draft pick

Posted on April 27, 2019 - 12:27:00

Ridley comes up big when it matters most

In the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Bears selected Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley. Here are three things you need to know about the newest Bear.

1) Family connection: Ridley’s brother is former Alabama and current Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Calvin was a first-round pick in 2018 and had 64 catches in his rookie season. Riley at 6-foot-1 is taller than Calvin, but both have similar athleticism.

2) Famous comparisons: Former Georgia and Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is a big fan of Ridley, tweeting in Sept. 2018 that Ridley is “gonna be the next AJ green.” Ridley is also the recipient of the AJ Green Family Football Scholarship at Georgia.

3) Coming up in big moments: Ridley had only 14 catches in 14 games as a sophomore. However, six of them came in the national title game against Alabama. The next year, he had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in the SEC title game.

David Montgomery: 3 things to know about the Bears new running back

Posted on April 26, 2019 - 23:11:00

With the 73rd overall pick, the Bears traded up to get Iowa State running back David Montgomery. Here are three things to know about the newest Bears running back.

1. Recruiting: Montgomery was ranked as the 67th-best running back nationally by Scout. He was rated three stars by Scout and ESPN, and chose Iowa State over Illinois, Purdue, Indiana and Marshall.

2. He’s become close friends with a 6-year-old Iowa State fan named Hunter Erb, according to a story published in The Athletic. Erb has undergone three open-heart surgeries, and Montgomery has spent time with Erb at the University of Iowa Hospital.

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Hub Arkush's final 2019 mock draft, unlocked

Posted on April 24, 2019 - 15:57:18
Mock Drafts are really stupid when you think about it.
Until the NFL Draft actually kicks off each year only one team, the club with the first overall pick actually knows what it’s going to do, so how are the rest of us supposed to know who’s going where when 31 teams don’t?
I know, you do your homework and make some educated guesses and in a good year maybe you match 8-to-10 players with the team that ends up taking them but to what end? So fans know a few days or weeks in advance who their favorite club got?
Back in the day when we basically created independent draft analysis at Pro Football Weekly we began doing mock drafts more as a way to rank the top players than to pretend we were Nostradamus II.
Somewhere along the line as more and more analysts jumped into the fray we all started grading our performances as a way to promote our content.
Unfortunately what’s happened now is all the focus is on who’s taking who, even though the best of us will miss on at least 65% or so of our picks rather than whom the top prospects are.
So here is my final pseudo mock this year, with the top 32 prospects in this draft all going in the first round very close to the order I’ve ranked them.
If every NFL team took the best available football player every time it made a draft pick the league would be even more competitive than it already is.
Now when you’re on the board you probably have a handful of players ranked very tightly so then you can go with a need, but at the end of the day my top 32 are all here.
So, I have no idea how many of these players will actually end up with the teams I have them with although I suspect a few will, but let’s see how many of them do end up in the first round?
1. CARDINALS: Quinnen Williams – Williams is the highest graded player on my board, the safest bet in this draft and fills a real need for Cardinals
2. 49ers: Josh Allen - The Niners want the best edge rusher in the draft and I have Allen a tick ahead of Bosa on size, athleticism and upside
3. N.Y. JETS: Nick Bosa - But you probably can’t go wrong with Bosa either and the Jets want a difference maker on defense
4. RAIDERS: T.J. Hockenson – So here’s where we veer from almost all “mocks” but Hockenson is the best tight end prospect I’ve seen in a year and it is a real need for the Raiders.
5. BUCS: Jeffery Simmons – If it wasn’t for the ACL I’d have him right behind Williams at two and he’s the kind of special weapon Todd Bowles needs.
6. GIANTS: D.K. Metcalf – Almost a too good to be true WR prospect who should be a plug and play and eventual perennial Pro Bowler.
7. JAGUARS: Ed Oliver - He comes with a few red flags but a disruptive force inside. I missed on Aaron Donald, don’t want to miss on this kid.
8. LIONS: Devin Bush - He’s a couple inches short, but so was Sam Mills and that’s who I kept seeing watching this kid at Michigan.
9. BILLS: Jonah Williams – The best O-line prospect in the Draft regardless of whether he ends up at left tackle or guard .
10. BRONCOS: Jawaan Taylor – The second-best O-line prospect, particularly if you’re thinking left tackle and I think Garrett Bolles belongs inside filling two big holes with one pick.
11. BENGALS: Devin White – There’s not much that separates White and Bush, not even first names and this is Bengals biggest need filled with Best Player Available
12. PACKERS: Rashan Gary – I’m not as high on Gary as most because of his lack of production in college but the traits are undeniable and he could be a 5-technique force in Lambeau
13. DOLPHINS: Dwayne Haskins - I believe Haskins is clearly the best QB prospect in this draft but he will need a couple years and right now the Dolphins have nothing but time
14. FALCONS: Dexter Lawrence – Next to Grady Jarrett, nobody will ever run on the Falcons again
15. WASHINGTON: Greedy Williams – He is the best pure cover DB in this draft and Washington does have a real need
16. PANTHERS: Andre Dillard – Wow, the best player still on my board fits the Panthers biggest need
17. GIANTS (from the Browns): Christian Wilkins – Gettleman is fixing his “culture” problem? This kid is a stud on the D-line and off the charts in character and smarts
18. VKINGS: Cody Ford – Ford fits their biggest need and may be able to help inside or outside
19. TITANS: Irv Smith - Delanie Walker fine as a receiver, but Titans need a four-down tight end and Smith can be a good one.
20. STEELERS: Noah Fant - Fant is a hair below his teammate Hockenson in athleticism, but still a potential future Pro Bowler as well
21. SEAHAWKS: Marquise Brown – If speed kills try covering Tyler Lockett and Brown. This kid is too small but he’s also too fast.
22. RAVENS: A.J. Brown – Finally, and Anquan Boldin clone in Baltimore
23. TEXANS: Brian Burns – It may be counter intuitive but Texans need more pass rush and Burns could be a great fit coming off the edge behind Clowney
24. RAIDERS (from the Bears): Kyler Murray – This is exactly where Murray belongs prospect wise in this draft and he lands with just the right mad scientist to see if he’s worth the risk
25. EAGLES: Garrett Bradbury – As good a true center prospect as we’ve seen since Ryan Kelly when Kelce hangs them up, and he can play guard if Kelce stays
26. COLTS: Clelin Ferrell – As good as the Colts “D” was in the second half of season last year they need more skilled players in front seven and Ferrell is the best on the board
27. RAIDERS (from the Cowboys): Josh Jacobs – I know, Raiders need “D” and this is 3rd offensive layer in the first round but he’s the best player on the board and RB another huge Raider need
28. CHARGERS: Jerry Tillery - If motivated he will be a mountain in the middle of some club’s D-line and that’s one of the few holes on the Chargers
29. SEAHAWKS (from the Chiefs): Dalton Risner – Whether he ends up at tackle or guard the Seahawks still need a lot of help up front
30. PACKERS (from the Saints): Parris Campbell – I think this kid is going to be special with patience and coaching and what a perfect answer in the slot Randall Cobb has vacated
31. RAMS: Byron Murphy – Murphy has been streaking up draft boards and there is uncertainty about the future at corner with Peters and Talib
32. PATRIOTS: Drew Lock – If he’d only been more accurate prior to his senior year I’d have him ahead of Haskins but this could be perfect for him with a year or three to grow with the best coaching staff in the league.

Mock Drafts are really stupid when you think about it.

Until the NFL Draft actually kicks off each year only one team, the club with the first overall pick actually knows what it’s going to do, so how are the rest of us supposed to know who’s going where when 31 teams don’t?

I know, you do your homework and make some educated guesses and in a good year maybe you match 8-to-10 players with the team that ends up taking them but to what end? So fans know a few days or weeks in advance who their favorite club got?

Back in the day when we basically created independent draft analysis at Pro Football Weekly we began doing mock drafts more as a way to rank the top players than to pretend we were Nostradamus II.

Somewhere along the line as more and more analysts jumped into the fray we all started grading our performances as a way to promote our content.

Unfortunately what’s happened now is all the focus is on who’s taking who, even though the best of us will miss on at least 65% or so of our picks rather than whom the top prospects are.

So here is my final pseudo mock this year, with the top 32 prospects in this draft all going in the first round very close to the order I’ve ranked them.

If every NFL team took the best available football player every time it made a draft pick the league would be even more competitive than it already is.

Now when you’re on the board you probably have a handful of players ranked very tightly so then you can go with a need, but at the end of the day my top 32 are all here.

So, I have no idea how many of these players will actually end up with the teams I have them with although I suspect a few will, but let’s see how many of them do end up in the first round?

1. Cardinals: Quinnen Williams

Williams is the highest graded player on my board, the safest bet in this draft and fills a real need for Cardinals.

Check out Greg Gabriel's full scouting report on Williams here (subscribers only)

2. 49ers: Josh Allen

The Niners want the best edge rusher in the draft and I have Allen a tick ahead of Bosa on size, athleticism and upside.

Our subscribers get our full report on Allen, including red flags and best fit here.

3. N.Y. Jets: Nick Bosa

But you probably can’t go wrong with Bosa either and the Jets want a difference maker on defense.

Who do we compare Bosa to among NFL pass rushers?

4. Raiders: T.J. Hockenson

So here’s where we veer from almost all “mocks” but Hockenson is the best tight end prospect I’ve seen in a year and it is a real need for the Raiders.

What grade does Greg Gabriel give Hockenson?

5. Bucs: Jeffery Simmons

If it wasn’t for the ACL I’d have him right behind Williams at two and he’s the kind of special weapon Todd Bowles needs.

Greg Gabriel gives Simmons a Round 2-3 grade, but here's why

6. Giants: D.K. Metcalf

Almost a too good to be true WR prospect who should be a plug and play and eventual perennial Pro Bowler.

Our Arthur Arkush compares Metcalf to this former Browns standout (subscribers only)

7. Jaguars - Ed Oliver

He comes with a few red flags but a disruptive force inside. I missed on Aaron Donald, don’t want to miss on this kid.

What are Oliver's red flags?

8. Lions: Devin Bush

He’s a couple inches short, but so was Sam Mills and that’s who I kept seeing watching this kid at Michigan.

These five teams are the best fit for Bush (subscribers only)

9. Bills: Jonah Williams

The best O-line prospect in the Draft regardless of whether he ends up at left tackle or guard.

Greg Gabriel says the Bills are a good fit for Williams in his full scouting report here.

10. Broncos: Jawaan Taylor

The second-best O-line prospect, particularly if you’re thinking left tackle and I think Garrett Bolles belongs inside filling two big holes with one pick.

You can read Greg Gabriel's full scouting report on Taylor here.

Picks 11-16

11. BENGALS: Devin White – There’s not much that separates White and Bush, not even first names and this is Bengals biggest need filled with Best Player Available.
12. PACKERS: Rashan Gary – I’m not as high on Gary as most because of his lack of production in college but the traits are undeniable and he could be a 5-technique force in Lambeau.
13. DOLPHINS: Dwayne Haskins - I believe Haskins is clearly the best QB prospect in this draft but he will need a couple years and right now the Dolphins have nothing but time.
14. FALCONS: Dexter Lawrence – Next to Grady Jarrett, nobody will ever run on the Falcons again.
15. WASHINGTON: Greedy Williams – He is the best pure cover DB in this draft and Washington does have a real need.
16. PANTHERS: Andre Dillard – Wow, the best player still on my board fits the Panthers biggest need.

Picks 17-23

17. GIANTS (from the Browns): Christian Wilkins – Gettleman is fixing his “culture” problem? This kid is a stud on the D-line and off the charts in character and smarts
18. VKINGS: Cody Ford – Ford fits their biggest need and may be able to help inside or outside
19. TITANS: Irv Smith - Delanie Walker fine as a receiver, but Titans need a four-down tight end and Smith can be a good one.
20. STEELERS: Noah Fant - Fant is a hair below his teammate Hockenson in athleticism, but still a potential future Pro Bowler as well
21. SEAHAWKS: Marquise Brown – If speed kills try covering Tyler Lockett and Brown. This kid is too small but he’s also too fast.
22. RAVENS: A.J. Brown – Finally, and Anquan Boldin clone in Baltimore
23. TEXANS: Brian Burns – It may be counter intuitive but Texans need more pass rush and Burns could be a great fit coming off the edge behind Clowney

Picks 24-28

24. RAIDERS (from the Bears): Kyler Murray – This is exactly where Murray belongs prospect wise in this draft and he lands with just the right mad scientist to see if he’s worth the risk
25. EAGLES: Garrett Bradbury – As good a true center prospect as we’ve seen since Ryan Kelly when Kelce hangs them up, and he can play guard if Kelce stays
26. COLTS: Clelin Ferrell – As good as the Colts “D” was in the second half of season last year they need more skilled players in front seven and Ferrell is the best on the board
27. RAIDERS (from the Cowboys): Josh Jacobs – I know, Raiders need “D” and this is 3rd offensive layer in the first round but he’s the best player on the board and RB another huge Raider need
28. CHARGERS: Jerry Tillery - If motivated he will be a mountain in the middle of some club’s D-line and that’s one of the few holes on the Chargers

Picks 29-32

29. SEAHAWKS (from the Chiefs): Dalton Risner – Whether he ends up at tackle or guard the Seahawks still need a lot of help up front
30. PACKERS (from the Saints): Parris Campbell – I think this kid is going to be special with patience and coaching and what a perfect answer in the slot Randall Cobb has vacated
31. RAMS: Byron Murphy – Murphy has been streaking up draft boards and there is uncertainty about the future at corner with Peters and Talib
32. PATRIOTS: Drew Lock – If he’d only been more accurate prior to his senior year I’d have him ahead of Haskins but this could be perfect for him with a year or three to grow with the best coaching staff in the league.

Arthur Arkush: Chicago Bears 5-round Mock Draft

Posted on April 12, 2019 - 16:59:58

Explosive 'hybrid' RB, freaky developmental DE and potential Cody Parkey replacement in Chicago's two-Tiger haul

The NFL draft is less than two weeks away, but for fans of the three teams without a first-round pick — the Bears, Browns and Saints — the wait will be a tad longer before their team is first on the clock on Day 2.
Which is why today feels like the right time to unveil our first full Bears mock draft. Doing first-round mocks are tricky enough; attempting to identify which prospect a team might fancy with, say, the 222nd overall pick takes what was already an exercise in dart throwing to a whole new level.
But we're guessing more than a few of you have endured at least a bit of mock draft envy during this seemingly endless process, so this one's for you. As a reminder, I offered my take on the Bears' top five post-free agency draft priorities in last week's newsletter, but your general manager is very much a BPA (best player available) drafter and for the purposes of this mock, the main goal is aligning value and need.
One final note before we begin: The Bears don't have first- or second-rounders this year, but what they do now have is one of the more talented rosters in football. That means it'll be an uphill battle for even a five-man draft class to all stick, and even less likely it yields more than a couple key contributors in 2019. Like Ryan Pace, we attempted to take the long view and find players whose value to the Bears can increase in time.
Round 3 (No. 87) — Notre Dame RB Dexter Williams
Matt Nagy might prefer a committee approach in the backfield after dealing Jordan Howard, but he admitted at the combine to enjoying the challenge of hunting for a "hybrid back" in this class. Though many Bears fans have keyed on the "other" Williams, Texas A&M's Trayveon, who admittedly is a cleaner evaluation, it says here Dexter is the better "hybrid" RB prospect with a higher ceiling.
As for what complicates his eval, Dexter Williams underachieved at Notre Dame, and when he finally put it all together last season, it wasn't until after serving a four-game drug suspension. Here's the thing: Few teams should have a better read on him than the Bears, as one of their most trusted assistant coaches, Harry Hiestand, spent three years in South Bend with Williams. That the Bears still reportedly met privately with Williams might mean nothing. Or it could mean they're very interested in an ascendant playmaker nicknamed "Juice" who just might be worth the squeeze with their first pick.
Round 4 (No. 126) — LSU TE Foster Moreau
A pre-draft riser who lit up the combine after posting pedestrian-like production at LSU, Moreau appeared in 49-of-50 possible games at LSU, starting the final 26 in a row. He's an advanced blocking prospect with the versatility that Nagy covets. If he sounds like the antithesis of Adam Shaheen, well, that's only partially accurate. He's much more ready for the pro game, likely meaning he'd push Shaheen next season — not merely insure the former second-rounder. But his eye-opening combine, where he tested out among the most athletic tight ends in an absolutely loaded lot, suggests he's only scratching the surface of his potential as a two-way threat.
Round 5 (No. 162) — Charleston EDGE John Cominsky
Pace loves him some athletic, small-school balls of clay on Day 3 (DeAndre Houston-Carson, Tarik Cohen, Bilal Nichols), which fits Cominsky to a tee. The Charleston product's SPARQ score was in the 82nd percentile, ahead of presumptive top-five picks Nick Bosa and Josh Allen. He pairs imposing size (6-5, 286) with frightening speed and change of direction (4.69 40 and 7.03 three-cone ranked No. 2 among all D-linemen at the combine). Chicago would mark a perfect situation for Cominsky behind Akiem Hicks, Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols to work on his game with respected D-line coach Jay Rodgers but without any pressure to produce early.
Round 7 (No. 222)LSU PK Cole Tracy
Well, landing the best one in the draft, who holds LSU's single-season record for made field goals (29), as well as the NCAA's career FG mark (97), in the Tayo Fabuluje-Daniel Braverman-Kylie Fitts pick range seems like a pretty good calculated risk.
The Bears have met twice with Tracy, who's already seen a lot in his circuitous journey from Assumption College to LSU to to the pros — including kicking in Death Valley under the kind of intense spotlight that melted Cody Parkey.
Remember, Ryan Pace vowed this offseason to explore every avenue for the answer to his most vexing riddle as a general manager. We all know he's swung and missed repeatedly on veterans using pro free agency and waivers. He added two former college free agents this offseason. That leaves a few avenues, and even with five total picks, it shouldn't surprise if his next route is the draft.
Round 7 (No. 238)Oklahoma State RB James Williams
It's not a knock, per se, but one thing we've learned about Pace over his four-plus years in Chicago is that he tends to overcompensate to address positions of need, from pairing Glennon-and Trubisky to the Dion Sims-Shaheen TE haul. After making Tracy the franchise's highest-drafted kicker in nearly two decades (Paul Edinger went No. 174 overall in 2000), Pace double dips in the backfield on Williams, the most accomplished pass-catching back in the draft.
Tarik Cohen has fast earned a reputation as one of the NFL's best receiving backs and remained remarkably durable to date. But Williams is a smart hedge and provides another kind of third-down option, with a bit more size, vision and experience at the goal line. And it's not that Williams can't handle the rock as a runner; he comes from an offense where it was rarely required — and he still managed 4.9 yards per carry and scored 19 rushing touchdowns in three years.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks away, but for fans of the three teams without a first-round pick — the Bears, Browns and Saints — the wait will be a tad longer before their team is first on the clock on Day 2.
So what better time to unveil our first full Bears mock draft? Doing first-round mocks are tricky enough; attempting to identify which prospect a team might fancy with, say, the 222nd overall pick takes what was already an exercise in dart throwing to a whole new level.
But we're guessing more than a few of you have endured at least a bit of mock draft envy during this seemingly endless process, so this one's for you. As a reminder, I offered my take on the Bears' top five post-free agency draft priorities in last week's newsletter, but your general manager is very much a BPA (best player available) drafter and for the purposes of this mock, the main goal is aligning value and need.
One final note before we begin: The Bears don't have first- or second-rounders this year, but what they do now have is one of the more talented rosters in football. That means it'll be an uphill battle for even a five-man draft class to all stick, and even less likely it yields more than a couple key contributors in 2019. Like Ryan Pace, we attempted to take the long view and find players whose value to the Bears can increase in time.
Round 3 (No. 87) — Notre Dame RB Dexter Williams
Matt Nagy might prefer a committee approach in the backfield after dealing Jordan Howard, but he admitted at the combine to enjoying the challenge of hunting for a "hybrid back" in this class. Though many Bears fans have keyed on the "other" Williams, Texas A&M's Trayveon, who admittedly is a cleaner evaluation, it says here Dexter is the better "hybrid" RB prospect with a higher ceiling.
As for what complicates his eval, Dexter Williams underachieved at Notre Dame, and when he finally put it all together last season, it wasn't until after serving a four-game drug suspension. Here's the thing: Few teams should have a better read on him than the Bears, as one of their most trusted assistant coaches, Harry Hiestand, spent three years in South Bend with Williams. That the Bears still reportedly had Williams in for a private meeting might mean nothing. Or it could mean they're very interested in an ascendant playmaker nicknamed "Juice" who just might be worth the squeeze with their first pick.
Round 4 (No. 126) — LSU TE Foster Moreau
A pre-draft riser who lit up the combine after posting pedestrian-like production at LSU, Moreau appeared in 49-of-50 possible games at LSU, starting the final 26 in a row. He's an advanced blocking prospect with the versatility that Nagy covets. If he sounds like the antithesis of Adam Shaheen, well, that's only partially accurate. He's much more ready for the pro game, likely meaning he'd push Shaheen next season — not merely insure the former second-rounder. But his eye-opening combine, where he tested out among the most athletic tight ends in an absolutely loaded lot, suggests he's only scratching the surface of his potential as a two-way threat.
 
Round 5 (No. 162) — Charleston EDGE John Cominsky
Pace loves him some athletic, small-school balls of clay on Day 3 (DeAndre Houston-Carson, Tarik Cohen, Bilal Nichols), which fits Cominsky to a tee. The Charleston product's SPARQ score was in the 82nd percentile, ahead of presumptive top-five picks Nick Bosa and Josh Allen. He pairs imposing size (6-5, 286) with frightening speed and change of direction (4.69 40 and 7.03 three-cone ranked No. 2 among all D-linemen at the combine). Chicago would mark a perfect situation for Cominsky behind Akiem Hicks, Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols to work on his game with respected D-line coach Jay Rodgers but without any pressure to produce early.
 
Round 7 (No. 222)LSU PK Cole Tracy
Well, landing the best one in the draft, who holds LSU's single-season record for made field goals (29), as well as the NCAA's career FG mark (97), in the Tayo Fabuluje-Daniel Braverman-Kylie Fitts pick range seems like a pretty good calculated risk.
The Bears have met twice with Tracy, who's already seen a lot in his circuitous journey from Assumption College to LSU to to the pros — including kicking in Death Valley under the kind of intense spotlight that melted Cody Parkey.
Remember, Ryan Pace vowed this offseason to explore every avenue for the answer to his most vexing riddle as a general manager. We all know he's swung and missed repeatedly on veterans using pro free agency and waivers. He added two former college free agents this offseason. That leaves a few avenues, and even with five total picks, it shouldn't surprise if his next route is the draft.
Round 7 (No. 238)Oklahoma State RB James Williams
It's not a knock, per se, but one thing we've learned about Pace over his four-plus years in Chicago is that he tends to overcompensate to address positions of need, from pairing Glennon-and Trubisky to the Dion Sims-Shaheen TE haul. After making Tracy the franchise's highest-drafted kicker in nearly two decades (Paul Edinger went No. 174 overall in 2000), Pace double dips in the backfield on Williams, the most accomplished pass-catching back in the draft.
Tarik Cohen has fast earned a reputation as one of the NFL's best receiving backs and remained remarkably durable to date. But Williams is a smart hedge and provides another kind of third-down option, with a bit more size, vision and experience at the goal line. And it's not that Williams can't handle the rock as a runner; he comes from an offense where it was rarely required — and he still managed 4.9 yards per carry and scored 19 rushing touchdowns in three years.

Hub Arkush: Finding the Bears a difference maker with 87th pick in NFL Draft

Posted on April 12, 2019 - 08:47:40

Chicago should also give hard look to these three late-round gems

It doesn’t take a ton of time or effort to compile lists of the top 70 or 75 players in the NFL draft.
However, I didn’t say it doesn’t take talent. Those lists aren’t worth much when they’re wrong.
That’s why we’re so lucky to have Greg Gabriel and his 30-plus years of NFL scouting and drafting experience and multiple contacts in all 32 front offices.
But when the team you’re focused on doesn’t have a pick until No. 87 overall, you don’t want to be looking for the guys ranked in the top 80 or 90 who might slip to 97 for whatever reason (because there usually is a reason).
You should be looking for guys who may not have been ranked in the top 75, but they should have been and actually could be bargains in the middle or late rounds.
Here are three guys you may not be talking about who could be very interesting when the Bears are first on the clock in Round 3, and three more prospects to keep an eye on once Day 3 begins:
Bears' targets at No. 87
RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma – Anderson has great size at 6½ feet and 221 pounds, plenty of speed and quickness and looks like the real deal when healthy, which was almost never in college. He would be boom-or-bust pick at 87 if he couldn’t stay on the field, but a boom at this position would be nice, wouldn’t it?
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M – You’ve heard of him, and he could go earlier, but my gut is telling me he’ll be there. And after spending a half hour with him at the scouting combine – as well as studying his tape – my gut also is telling me grab him if you can.
EDGE Chase Winovich, Michigan – 6-3, 258 pounds and labeled as not much of an athlete, so many are saying he doesn’t project at the next level – and he doesn’t in the first couple of rounds. But turn on his tape, check out his motor, talk to his coaches and he just may be a steal with the 87th pick.
Bears' targets on Day 3
ILB Khalil Hodge, Buffalo – No, I don’t just want another Khalil from Buffalo – OK, maybe I do – but I’d love this kid in the fourth round and would jump all over him in the fifth.
TE Kaden Smith, Stanford – Smith was a Day 2 pick until he basically flunked the T-shirt and shorts part of the combine. But give me a Stanford tight end with his ability in the fifth round, coach him up a little more, and he is much more than a backup or special teams guy.
CB Jamal Peters, Mississippi State – Some say priority free agent, but I see a 6-2, 218-pound cornerback whose scouting report reads a lot like Adrian Amos’ did coming out of Penn State. He'd be my sixth- or seventh-round pick.
It doesn’t take a ton of time or effort to compile lists of the top 70 or 75 players in the NFL draft.
However, I didn’t say it doesn’t take talent. Those lists aren’t worth much when they’re wrong.
That’s why we’re so lucky to have Greg Gabriel and his 30-plus years of NFL scouting and drafting experience and multiple contacts in all 32 front offices.
But when the team you’re focused on doesn’t have a pick until No. 87 overall, you don’t want to be looking for the guys ranked in the top 80 or 90 who might slip to 97 for whatever reason (because there usually is a reason).
You should be looking for guys who may not have been ranked in the top 75, but they should have been and actually could be bargains in the middle or late rounds.
Here are three guys you may not be talking about who could be very interesting when the Bears are first on the clock in Round 3, and three more prospects to keep an eye on once Day 3 begins:
Bears' targets at No. 87
RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma – Anderson has great size at 6½ feet and 221 pounds, plenty of speed and quickness and looks like the real deal when healthy, which was almost never in college. He would be boom-or-bust pick at 87 if he couldn’t stay on the field, but a boom at this position would be nice, wouldn’t it?
 
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M – You’ve heard of him, and he could go earlier, but my gut is telling me he’ll be there. And after spending a half hour with him at the scouting combine – as well as studying his tape – my gut also is telling me grab him if you can.
 
EDGE Chase Winovich, Michigan – 6-3, 258 pounds and labeled as not much of an athlete, so many are saying he doesn’t project at the next level – and he doesn’t in the first couple of rounds. But turn on his tape, check out his motor, talk to his coaches and he just may be a steal with the 87th pick.
 
Bears' targets on Day 3
ILB Khalil Hodge, Buffalo – No, I don’t just want another Khalil from Buffalo – OK, maybe I do – but I’d love this kid in the fourth round and would jump all over him in the fifth.
 
TE Kaden Smith, Stanford – Smith was a Day 2 pick until he basically flunked the T-shirt and shorts part of the combine. But give me a Stanford tight end with his ability in the fifth round, coach him up a little more, and he is much more than a backup or special teams guy.
 

CB Jamal Peters, Mississippi State – Some say priority free agent, but I see a 6-2, 218-pound cornerback whose scouting report reads a lot like Adrian Amos’ did coming out of Penn State. He'd be my sixth- or seventh-round pick.

Mosher: 5 bold predictions for 2019 NFL Draft

Posted on April 10, 2019 - 14:00:58

Haskins, Metcalf fall, Polite still around on Day 3 and Giants punt on premium-round passer

The NFL draft is my favorite event of the year.

I look forward to the last weekend in April more than any other because of the chaos that always ensues. Without fail, our minds are blown during every draft as a premier prospect falls or as a team makes a blockbuster trade. There are always wild things that happen during this weekend that no one can expect.

Today, we are going to try to “predict” some of the madness that could happen during the 2019 NFL draft. Using some clues and educated guesses, here are my five bold predictions for this year’s draft. 

1. Drew Lock will be drafted before Dwayne Haskins

For a large portion of the draft season, Dwayne Haskins has been considered one of the top two quarterbacks in this class, and it's not hard to see why. As a redshirt sophomore, Haskins put up record numbers at Ohio State, throwing 50 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. No quarterback was responsible for more touchdowns (54) than Haskins last season, and again, he was a redshirt sophomore in his first season as a starter. Considering he has size, arm talent and production, he should be a lock to be a top-10 pick.

However, there has been some late momentum for Missouri QB Drew Lock. It's also not hard to see why Lock could be rising on draft boards this late in the process.

He's an experienced quarterback, starting 38 games over the past three seasons. His completion percentage has increased every year at Missouri, and he's blessed with the strongest arm in the class. All of those things matter to NFL coaches and evaluators and will likely be the reason he is a first-round pick, despite inconsistent play over his career.

That is why I won't be surprised at all when the older, more seasoned Lock is drafted ahead of Haskins. While I may not agree with the move, this prediction feels very likely as Lock has a lot of fans around the league. Look for Lock to come off the board inside the top 10 picks, likely via a trade up, and don't be surprised if Haskins is still available in the teens.

2. A.J. Brown is selected over teammate D.K. Metcalf

Like Dwayne Haskins, Mississippi receiver D.K. Metcalf has widely been considered the top receiver in the class. At 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, Metcalf looks like Hercules on the football field. At the NFL combine, he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash and leapt 40.5 inches in the vertical jump drill. He is simply one of the most explosive receivers we have seen enter the draft in a long time.

However, it wouldn't be a complete shock if he wasn't the first receiver — overall, never mind from Ole Miss — picked in the 2019 NFL draft. It wouldn't be a complete surprise if his teammate, A.J. Brown, was selected before him.

Brown isn't nearly as athletice as Metcalf, nor does he have his elite size. But what Brown does have is one impressive resume. Over the past two seasons, Brown caught 160 passes for 2,572 yards and 17 touchdowns in the SEC. Not only is Brown productive, but he is also versatile. When Metcalf was on the field, Brown primarily played in the slot. But when Metcalf was out, Brown moved to the outside and was dominant.

Metcalf may have the higher ceiling, but Brown has a higher floor and is more scheme diverse. Don't be surprised when several teams have Brown higher on their board and he ends up being drafted earlier than Metcalf. 

3. Florida's Jachai Polite falls to Day 3

Florida's Jachai Polite has had an offseason to forget. That is extremely unfortunate considering just how well he played during his final season in The Swamp. As a junior, he recorded 19.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 13 games. In addition to finishing third in the conference in sacks, he led the nation in forced fumbles (six). But since the season ended, things have spiraled out of control for Polite.

Polite struggled at the NFL combine, running a 4.84 40-yard dash at 258 pounds. He also struggled in the vertical jump, scoring in just the 15th percentile (32 inches). Polite also reportedly struggled in interviews and did not make a good impression on teams. He then went to his pro day in Gainesville and continued to struggle. Polite ran a 5.04 40-yard dash and hurt his hamstring once again.

Polite is an incredibly gifted pass rusher, but there are so many questions surrounding him now that he's poised to suffer an Arden Key-like drop in the 2019 draft. Polite will fall out of the top 100, remaining on the board into Day 3.

4. Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is the first receiver selected

As previously predicted, at least one receiver will be drafted ahead of Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf. But who else has a chance to be the first receiver off the board? Look no further than Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.

With the emergence and domination of Tyreek Hill, teams across the league are searching for players with speed who can stretch a defense. Hollywood Brown is a similar to Hill: Undersized, but with home-run speed. Over the past two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown caught 132 passes for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns. In his college career, he’s averaged 18.3 yards per reception, the fourth-most for any receiver in Big 12 history.  

However, some questions are surrounding his draft stock. Brown could not participate in workouts at the NFL combine because of a LisFranc injury requiring surgery. Not only is he injured entering the NFL, but Brown is also historically small. According to Mockdraftable, he is the lightest receiver ever measured at the NFL combine, weighing in at only 166 pounds. Combine that with his small arms and hands, and you are looking at one of the smallest pass catchers the league has ever seen.

But despite some of the concerns surrounding Brown, he is still considered to be a lock to go in the first round. ESPN’s Adam Schefter called him a “projected top-15 pick” and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah “feels good” that Brown will be selected in the first round. The NFL invited him to attend the draft, meaning the league also thinks he will likely be a first-round pick.

Don't be surprised when Brown is the first receiver drafted — a lot earlier than most are imagining. There aren't many players with his speed and production in the NFL. It wouldn’t even be a total shock if he wound up being a top-10 pick when everything is said and done.

5. The Giants will ignore the QB position in Round 1

It’s tough to get inside the mind of New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman. He has been one of the most unpredictable general managers in the league over the past few seasons, trading away Odell Beckham Jr., removing the franchise tag from Josh Norman in Carolina, etc. No one really knows the plan of Gettleman and the Giants, but we are going to make a prediction anyway.

The Giants own two picks in the first round, Nos. 6 and 17. Most believe the first selection will address their pass-rush need with either Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat or Florida State’s Brian Burns. Both are explosive edge players who would upgrade the team’s pass rush right away.

At pick No. 17, could the Giants address their need for a successor to Eli Manning? It's unlikely that any of the top three quarterbacks will be available (Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock) and that could force the team to go elsewhere with this pick. Considering how much the Giants have backed Eli Manning publicly, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see them continue to upgrade their defense in the middle of the first round.

Assuming the Giants wait on the QB position, there are a few intriguing prospects who could be available after the first round. Players such as West Virginia’s Will Grier or Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson would make sense on Day 2 if the Giants wanted to groom a young quarterback behind Manning. Expect the Giants to be one of the wild-card teams on the first day of the draft and Gettlemen to do the unexpected.

 

I look forward to the last weekend in April more than any other because of the chaos that always ensues. Without fail, our minds are blown during every draft as a premier prospect falls or as a team makes a blockbuster trade. There are always wild things that happen during this weekend that no one can expect.

Today, we are going to try to “predict” some of the madness that could happen during the 2019 NFL draft. Using some clues and educated guesses, here are my five bold predictions for this year’s draft. 

1. Drew Lock will be drafted before Dwayne Haskins

For a large portion of the draft season, Dwayne Haskins has been considered one of the top two quarterbacks in this class, and it's not hard to see why. As a redshirt sophomore, Haskins put up record numbers at Ohio State, throwing 50 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. No quarterback was responsible for more touchdowns (54) than Haskins last season, and again, he was a redshirt sophomore in his first season as a starter. Considering he has size, arm talent and production, he should be a lock to be a top-10 pick.

However, there has been some late momentum for Missouri QB Drew Lock. It's also not hard to see why Lock could be rising on draft boards this late in the process.

He's an experienced quarterback, starting 38 games over the past three seasons. His completion percentage has increased every year at Missouri, and he's blessed with the strongest arm in the class. All of those things matter to NFL coaches and evaluators and will likely be the reason he is a first-round pick, despite inconsistent play over his career.

That is why I won't be surprised at all when the older, more seasoned Lock is drafted ahead of Haskins. While I may not agree with the move, this prediction feels very likely as Lock has a lot of fans around the league. Look for Lock to come off the board inside the top 10 picks, likely via a trade up, and don't be surprised if Haskins is still available in the teens.

2. A.J. Brown is selected over teammate D.K. Metcalf

Like Dwayne Haskins, Mississippi receiver D.K. Metcalf has widely been considered the top receiver in the class. At 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, Metcalf looks like Hercules on the football field. At the NFL combine, he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash and leapt 40.5 inches in the vertical jump drill. He is simply one of the most explosive receivers we have seen enter the draft in a long time.

However, it wouldn't be a complete shock if he wasn't the first receiver — overall, never mind from Ole Miss — picked in the 2019 NFL draft. It wouldn't be a complete surprise if his teammate, A.J. Brown, was selected before him.

Brown isn't nearly as athletice as Metcalf, nor does he have his elite size. But what Brown does have is one impressive resume. Over the past two seasons, Brown caught 160 passes for 2,572 yards and 17 touchdowns in the SEC. Not only is Brown productive, but he is also versatile. When Metcalf was on the field, Brown primarily played in the slot. But when Metcalf was out, Brown moved to the outside and was dominant.

Metcalf may have the higher ceiling, but Brown has a higher floor and is more scheme diverse. Don't be surprised when several teams have Brown higher on their board and he ends up being drafted earlier than Metcalf. 

 

3. Florida's Jachai Polite falls to Day 3

Florida's Jachai Polite has had an offseason to forget. That is extremely unfortunate considering just how well he played during his final season in The Swamp. As a junior, he recorded 19.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 13 games. In addition to finishing third in the conference in sacks, he led the nation in forced fumbles (six). But since the season ended, things have spiraled out of control for Polite.

Polite struggled at the NFL combine, running a 4.84 40-yard dash at 258 pounds. He also struggled in the vertical jump, scoring in just the 15th percentile (32 inches). Polite also reportedly struggled in interviews and did not make a good impression on teams. He then went to his pro day in Gainesville and continued to struggle. Polite ran a 5.04 40-yard dash and hurt his hamstring once again.

Polite is an incredibly gifted pass rusher, but there are so many questions surrounding him now that he's poised to suffer an Arden Key-like drop in the 2019 draft. Polite will fall out of the top 100, remaining on the board into Day 3.

 

4. Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is the first receiver selected

As previously predicted, at least one receiver will be drafted ahead of Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf. But who else has a chance to be the first receiver off the board? Look no further than Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.

With the emergence and domination of Tyreek Hill, teams across the league are searching for players with speed who can stretch a defense. Hollywood Brown is a similar to Hill: Undersized, but with home-run speed. Over the past two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown caught 132 passes for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns. In his college career, he’s averaged 18.3 yards per reception, the fourth-most for any receiver in Big 12 history.  

However, some questions are surrounding his draft stock. Brown could not participate in workouts at the NFL combine because of a LisFranc injury requiring surgery. Not only is he injured entering the NFL, but Brown is also historically small. According to Mockdraftable, he is the lightest receiver ever measured at the NFL combine, weighing in at only 166 pounds. Combine that with his small arms and hands, and you are looking at one of the smallest pass catchers the league has ever seen.

But despite some of the concerns surrounding Brown, he is still considered to be a lock to go in the first round. ESPN’s Adam Schefter called him a “projected top-15 pick” and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah “feels good” that Brown will be selected in the first round. The NFL invited him to attend the draft, meaning the league also thinks he will likely be a first-round pick.

Don't be surprised when Brown is the first receiver drafted — a lot earlier than most are imagining. There aren't many players with his speed and production in the NFL. It wouldn’t even be a total shock if he wound up being a top-10 pick when everything is said and done.

 

5. The Giants will ignore the QB position in Round 1

It’s tough to get inside the mind of New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman. He has been one of the most unpredictable general managers in the league over the past few seasons, trading away Odell Beckham Jr., removing the franchise tag from Josh Norman in Carolina, etc. No one really knows the plan of Gettleman and the Giants, but we are going to make a prediction anyway.

The Giants own two picks in the first round, Nos. 6 and 17. Most believe the first selection will address their pass-rush need with either Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat or Florida State’s Brian Burns. Both are explosive edge players who would upgrade the team’s pass rush right away.

At pick No. 17, could the Giants address their need for a successor to Eli Manning? It's unlikely that any of the top three quarterbacks will be available (Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock) and that could force the team to go elsewhere with this pick. Considering how much the Giants have backed Eli Manning publicly, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see them continue to upgrade their defense in the middle of the first round.

Assuming the Giants wait on the QB position, there are a few intriguing prospects who could be available after the first round. Players such as West Virginia’s Will Grier or Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson would make sense on Day 2 if the Giants wanted to groom a young quarterback behind Manning. Expect the Giants to be one of the wild-card teams on the first day of the draft and Gettlemen to do the unexpected.

Mosher: The 5 most overrated numbers regarding 2019 NFL Draft

Posted on April 8, 2019 - 11:33:23

Why you shouldn't worry about Kyler Murray's number of college starts or Jonah Williams' arm length

During every draft season, we are flooded with information and statistics regarding some of the top prospects in the class. Often these stats are entirely meaningless and don't translate to the NFL or are simply taken out of context. Rarely do they tell us what type of player a prospect will become in the NFL. Today, we are going to take a look at some of the most overrated numbers relative to a few top prospects in this class and determine why we should throw out them out during our evaluations.

Number of career starts for Kyler Murray: 17

Believe it or not, a lot of NFL teams still care about the number of starts a quarterback makes in college. Bill Parcells once developed a set of rules for drafting a quarterback, and the league has loved it ever since. One of those rules was to only draft quarterbacks who have started at least 30 games in college. Another rule was that the quarterback must be a three-year starter who graduated college.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray doesn't check any of those boxes. He only became Oklahoma's full-time starter in 2018, appearing in all 14 games for the Sooners. If Murray was so great in college, why didn't he start more games? That would likely be a question someone following Parcells' rules blindly would ask. But this is where having concrete rules can be difficult. Murray played behind 2017 Heisman Trophy Winner Baker Mayfield, who was the most prolific passer in college football history.

What I care about is how well Murray played when he was on the field and given an opportunity to start. He only became the 2018 Heisman Trophy Winner, setting multiple records at Oklahoma with both his arm and his legs. Murray's limited number of starts shouldn't scare teams off because of how successful he was in 2018.

There is also a precedent for this in the NFL. We have seen talented one-year wonders excel in college and then continue to be successful in the NFL. Cam Newton is a player who comes to mind after starting just 14 career games at Auburn. Like Murray, Newton was forced to transfer early in his career and only got one year of major collegiate experience before becoming the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft. Mitchell Trubisky is another player with limited college experience (13 starts) who became a premium pick (No. 2 overall in 2017). Even Aaron Rodgers started only 22 career games at Cal and has become arguably the league's best passer. Starts clearly shouldn't be the end-all, be-all when it comes to the quarterback position.

At the end of the day, ability is what matters here. If Kyler Murray can play, then it doesn't matter if he had 17 career starts or 50. He has shown that he can dominate on the biggest of stages and should be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

Josh Jacobs career rushes: 251

By many accounts, Alabama's Josh Jacobs is the clear-cut top running back in this year's class. (Editor's note: Penn State's Miles Sanders is PFW draft expert Greg Gabriel's RB1.)

Like most of the Alabama runners to enter the NFL draft over the past decade, he has power and the ability to make defenders miss inside of the tackle box. He's got the size and the body armor to be an every-down back in the NFL.

However, what he doesn't have compared to other Alabama backs is the college production. In his three-year career at Alabama, Jacobs rushed for only 1,491 yards on 251 carries. That pales in comparison to other Crimson Tide runners who were selected inside the top 100 picks since 2011:

2011 – Mark Ingram – 572 carries for 3,261 yards and 42 TDs.

2012 – Trent Richardson – 540 carries for 3,130 yards and 35 TDs.

2013 – Eddie Lacy – 355 carries for 2,402 yards and 30 TDs.

2015 – T.J. Yeldon – 576 carries for 3,322 yards and 37 TDs.

2016 – Kenyan Drake – 233 carries for 1,495 yards and 18 TDs.

2016 – Derrick Henry – 602 carries for 3,591 yards and 42 TDs.

While it's true that Jacobs doesn't have the college production of an Ingram, Richardson or Henry, he also doesn't have the same wear and tear on his body. In fact, you can make an argument that Jacobs' lack of touches at the college level is a positive for him entering the NFL. He is likely to be fresher than many other running backs coming into the league, meaning that he could have more success right away. As long as you are comfortable with Jacobs' game and talent level, the lack of career carries should be an easy thing to look past.

67 career receptions for D.K. Metcalf

For most of the draft season, Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf has been the top receiver in the class. Once Metcalf ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, it likely secured his spot for many evaluators. However, some people also are worried about Metcalf's lack of production in college. 

During his three years at Ole Miss, Metcalf totaled only 67 career receptions in 21 games. His best season ever came in 2017, when he caught 39 passes in 12 starts. On the surface, that is concerning, as players with his lack of production usually aren't drafted early. Since the NFL Draft became seven rounds long, only three receivers were selected in the first round after catching less than 70 passes in college:

2002 - Javon Walker (65)

2013 - Cordarrelle Patterson (46)

2005 - Matt Jones (0)

Patterson was mostly used as a running back in college, while Jones was exclusively a quarterback at Arkansas. Both were picked early because of their freakish athleticism. Walker went on to have the best career of the three, making the Pro Bowl in 2004. However, as you can see, players with this limited of production just aren’t selected early very often.

But none of those three players were as gifted a receiver as Metcalf, who was incredibly productive while he was on the field, averaging 18.3 yards per reception. He also was forced to share the ball in the same offense with A.J. Brown and Dawson Knox, two players also likely to be early draft picks, if not first-rounders.

But the biggest reason Metcalf lacked college production was that he dealt with injuries throughout his career.  Metcalf missed the final four-plus games of the 2018 season with a neck injury. As a freshman, he only played two games as he suffered a foot injury that ended his season. Talent has never been the issue with Metcalf; it's just his sketchy injury history that makes me nervous.

In the NFL, don't expect Metcalf to be a player with high reception totals. It would be surprising if he ever had a season with more than 80 catches. Where he is going to make his money is as a down-the-field weapon that can make big plays at any given time. Expect the low reception total but high yards-per-catch average to continue in the NFL.

Jonah Williams Arm Length: 33 5/8"

NFL draft evaluators love to talk about arm length for offensive linemen and its importance. However, there is little correlation that shows players with longer arms have better careers than players with shorter arms. While it's never bad to have long arms, it isn't a requirement for offensive linemen in the NFL.

That's why Alabama OT Jonah Williams' lack of hype in the 2019 draft doesn't make a lot of sense to me. He was the best offensive lineman in all of college football last season, a consensus All-American. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed only 12 total pressures last season, never allowing more than one in a single game. We know coming from the SEC that he is battle tested and faced elite competition every week.

However, despite his production, stability, and versatility, Williams has been knocked by some evaluators for his arm length. At the NFL Combine, his arm length was measured at 33 5/8". According to Mockdraftable, that puts him in the 26th percentile for all offensive tackles since 1999. For many teams across the league, this means he won't be able to play tackle in the NFL. However, the league is currently loaded with offensive tackles who have sub-34" arms. Take a look at several notable players currently in the league with below-average arm length:

Ty Sambrailo - 33

Jason Peters - 33 1/8

La'el Collins - 33 1/4

Riley Reiff - 33 1/4

Bryan Bulaga - 33 1/4

Jake Matthews - 33 3/8

Mitchell Schwartz - 33 1/2

Marcus Gilbert - 33 1/2

Taylor Decker - 33 3/4

Rob Havenstein - 33 3/4

Ryan Ramczyk - 33 3/4

Taylor Lewan - 33 7/8

Considering how dominant Williams was in college, he should have no problem making the transition to the NFL at tackle. Even if a team doesn't view him as a tackle, he has experience playing inside as well, giving him more value. Williams could have a Zack Martin-like career at guard or center if forced to play inside, but there are no physical limitations that suggest a move is required. Williams is one of the best dozen players in this draft and should be picked relatively early.

Ed Oliver's Sack Total: 13 ½

Ed Oliver of Houston is one of the most athletic defensive linemen we have ever seen enter the NFL draft. He is an exceptional athlete who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Aaron Donald. However, one thing that is holding people back from comparing him to Donald is his low sack total. Despite playing at Houston, Oliver recorded just 13 ½ career sacks in 33 games. Donald, on the other hand, had two seasons at Pittsburgh with at least 11 sacks, totaling 29 ½ sacks in his career.

To some, that lack of production is nerve-racking, especially when projecting an undersized defensive tackle from the American Athletic Conference. But of all the stats listed in this piece, his lack of sack production may be the single most overrated stat during this draft process for a few different reasons.

The biggest reason not to be concerned is that sack production in college isn't overly predictive of NFL success. In fact, even in the NFL, sack totals can be somewhat fluky. Instead, tackle for loss production is a better indicator of future success. Oliver was dominant in this area, tallying 54 total tackles for loss in his career. As a freshman, he had 23 tackles for loss, which is the second most by a defensive tackle since 2010. The only player to have more in a single season was Donald in 2013 (28.5).

What makes Oliver's TFL production even more impressive is the way that he was used at Houston. According to Pro Football Focus, no player in his draft class rushed the passer more as a zero-technique (nose tackle) than Oliver. He was forced to take on blocks and was often double- and sometimes triple-teamed. In the NFL, he won't see that type of attention, as he will hopefully be used as an under tackle in a 4-3. 

Oliver is a rare player with elite production and athleticism. Don't overthink his limited sacks in college, where he proved he could be a dominant player against top competition. With the change in scheme, it wouldn't be a surprise if Oliver had multiple double-digit sack seasons in the NFL. 

 

Number of career starts for Kyler Murray: 17

Believe it or not, a lot of NFL teams still care about the number of starts a quarterback makes in college. Bill Parcells once developed a set of rules for drafting a quarterback, and the league has loved it ever since. One of those rules was to only draft quarterbacks who have started at least 30 games in college. Another rule was that the quarterback must be a three-year starter who graduated college.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray doesn't check any of those boxes. He only became Oklahoma's full-time starter in 2018, appearing in all 14 games for the Sooners. If Murray was so great in college, why didn't he start more games? That would likely be a question someone following Parcells' rules blindly would ask. But this is where having concrete rules can be difficult. Murray played behind 2017 Heisman Trophy Winner Baker Mayfield, who was the most prolific passer in college football history.

What I care about is how well Murray played when he was on the field and given an opportunity to start. He only became the 2018 Heisman Trophy Winner, setting multiple records at Oklahoma with both his arm and his legs. Murray's limited number of starts shouldn't scare teams off because of how successful he was in 2018.

There is also a precedent for this in the NFL. We have seen talented one-year wonders excel in college and then continue to be successful in the NFL. Cam Newton is a player who comes to mind after starting just 14 career games at Auburn. Like Murray, Newton was forced to transfer early in his career and only got one year of major collegiate experience before becoming the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft. Mitchell Trubisky is another player with limited college experience (13 starts) who became a premium pick (No. 2 overall in 2017). Even Aaron Rodgers started only 22 career games at Cal and has become arguably the league's best passer. Starts clearly shouldn't be the end-all, be-all when it comes to the quarterback position.

At the end of the day, ability is what matters here. If Kyler Murray can play, then it doesn't matter if he had 17 career starts or 50. He has shown that he can dominate on the biggest of stages and should be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

Josh Jacobs career rushes: 251

By many accounts, Alabama's Josh Jacobs is the clear-cut top running back in this year's class. (Editor's note: Penn State's Miles Sanders is PFW draft expert Greg Gabriel's RB1.)

Like most of the Alabama runners to enter the NFL draft over the past decade, he has power and the ability to make defenders miss inside of the tackle box. He's got the size and the body armor to be an every-down back in the NFL.

However, what he doesn't have compared to other Alabama backs is the college production. In his three-year career at Alabama, Jacobs rushed for only 1,491 yards on 251 carries. That pales in comparison to other Crimson Tide runners who were selected inside the top 100 picks since 2011:

2011 – Mark Ingram – 572 carries for 3,261 yards and 42 TDs.

2012 – Trent Richardson – 540 carries for 3,130 yards and 35 TDs.

2013 – Eddie Lacy – 355 carries for 2,402 yards and 30 TDs.

2015 – T.J. Yeldon – 576 carries for 3,322 yards and 37 TDs.

2016 – Kenyan Drake – 233 carries for 1,495 yards and 18 TDs.

2016 – Derrick Henry – 602 carries for 3,591 yards and 42 TDs.

While it's true that Jacobs doesn't have the college production of an Ingram, Richardson or Henry, he also doesn't have the same wear and tear on his body. In fact, you can make an argument that Jacobs' lack of touches at the college level is a positive for him entering the NFL. He is likely to be fresher than many other running backs coming into the league, meaning that he could have more success right away. As long as you are comfortable with Jacobs' game and talent level, the lack of career carries should be an easy thing to look past.

 

67 career receptions for D.K. Metcalf

For most of the draft season, Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf has been the top receiver in the class. Once Metcalf ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, it likely secured his spot for many evaluators. However, some people also are worried about Metcalf's lack of production in college. 

During his three years at Ole Miss, Metcalf totaled only 67 career receptions in 21 games. His best season ever came in 2017, when he caught 39 passes in 12 starts. On the surface, that is concerning, as players with his lack of production usually aren't drafted early. Since the NFL Draft became seven rounds long, only three receivers were selected in the first round after catching less than 70 passes in college:

2002 - Javon Walker (65)

2013 - Cordarrelle Patterson (46)

2005 - Matt Jones (0)

Patterson was mostly used as a running back in college, while Jones was exclusively a quarterback at Arkansas. Both were picked early because of their freakish athleticism. Walker went on to have the best career of the three, making the Pro Bowl in 2004. However, as you can see, players with this limited of production just aren’t selected early very often.

But none of those three players were as gifted a receiver as Metcalf, who was incredibly productive while he was on the field, averaging 18.3 yards per reception. He also was forced to share the ball in the same offense with A.J. Brown and Dawson Knox, two players also likely to be early draft picks, if not first-rounders.

But the biggest reason Metcalf lacked college production was that he dealt with injuries throughout his career.  Metcalf missed the final four-plus games of the 2018 season with a neck injury. As a freshman, he only played two games as he suffered a foot injury that ended his season. Talent has never been the issue with Metcalf; it's just his sketchy injury history that makes me nervous.

In the NFL, don't expect Metcalf to be a player with high reception totals. It would be surprising if he ever had a season with more than 80 catches. Where he is going to make his money is as a down-the-field weapon that can make big plays at any given time. Expect the low reception total but high yards-per-catch average to continue in the NFL.

 

Jonah Williams Arm Length: 33 5/8"

NFL draft evaluators love to talk about arm length for offensive linemen and its importance. However, there is little correlation that shows players with longer arms have better careers than players with shorter arms. While it's never bad to have long arms, it isn't a requirement for offensive linemen in the NFL.

That's why Alabama OT Jonah Williams' lack of hype in the 2019 draft doesn't make a lot of sense to me. He was the best offensive lineman in all of college football last season, a consensus All-American. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed only 12 total pressures last season, never allowing more than one in a single game. We know coming from the SEC that he is battle tested and faced elite competition every week.

However, despite his production, stability, and versatility, Williams has been knocked by some evaluators for his arm length. At the NFL Combine, his arm length was measured at 33 5/8". According to Mockdraftable, that puts him in the 26th percentile for all offensive tackles since 1999. For many teams across the league, this means he won't be able to play tackle in the NFL. However, the league is currently loaded with offensive tackles who have sub-34" arms. Take a look at several notable players currently in the league with below-average arm length:

Ty Sambrailo - 33

Jason Peters - 33 1/8

La'el Collins - 33 1/4

Riley Reiff - 33 1/4

Bryan Bulaga - 33 1/4

Jake Matthews - 33 3/8

Mitchell Schwartz - 33 1/2

Marcus Gilbert - 33 1/2

Taylor Decker - 33 3/4

Rob Havenstein - 33 3/4

Ryan Ramczyk - 33 3/4

Taylor Lewan - 33 7/8

Considering how dominant Williams was in college, he should have no problem making the transition to the NFL at tackle. Even if a team doesn't view him as a tackle, he has experience playing inside as well, giving him more value. Williams could have a Zack Martin-like career at guard or center if forced to play inside, but there are no physical limitations that suggest a move is required. Williams is one of the best dozen players in this draft and should be picked relatively early.

 

Ed Oliver's Sack Total: 13 ½

Ed Oliver of Houston is one of the most athletic defensive linemen we have ever seen enter the NFL draft. He is an exceptional athlete who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Aaron Donald. However, one thing that is holding people back from comparing him to Donald is his low sack total. Despite playing at Houston, Oliver recorded just 13 ½ career sacks in 33 games. Donald, on the other hand, had two seasons at Pittsburgh with at least 11 sacks, totaling 29 ½ sacks in his career.

To some, that lack of production is nerve-racking, especially when projecting an undersized defensive tackle from the American Athletic Conference. But of all the stats listed in this piece, his lack of sack production may be the single most overrated stat during this draft process for a few different reasons.

The biggest reason not to be concerned is that sack production in college isn't overly predictive of NFL success. In fact, even in the NFL, sack totals can be somewhat fluky. Instead, tackle for loss production is a better indicator of future success. Oliver was dominant in this area, tallying 54 total tackles for loss in his career. As a freshman, he had 23 tackles for loss, which is the second most by a defensive tackle since 2010. The only player to have more in a single season was Donald in 2013 (28.5).

What makes Oliver's TFL production even more impressive is the way that he was used at Houston. According to Pro Football Focus, no player in his draft class rushed the passer more as a zero-technique (nose tackle) than Oliver. He was forced to take on blocks and was often double- and sometimes triple-teamed. In the NFL, he won't see that type of attention, as he will hopefully be used as an under tackle in a 4-3. 

Oliver is a rare player with elite production and athleticism. Don't overthink his limited sacks in college, where he proved he could be a dominant player against top competition. With the change in scheme, it wouldn't be a surprise if Oliver had multiple double-digit sack seasons in the NFL. 

Eagles and Cardinals among teams that best balanced free agency and NFL draft

Posted on April 5, 2019 - 13:46:00

Spending in the spring simply for the sake of spending is frivolous. Measured moves that ideally align a team’s greatest needs with the strengths and weaknesses of free agency and the draft shows good foresight.

Today our goal is to shine a light not on which clubs spent the most in free agency, but the ones that have spent the most wisely, simultaneously improving their roster while maximizing their draft flexibility.

A couple quick reminders before we begin: The draft’s greatest strengths are on the edges up front on both sides of the ball, along the interior defensively and at tight end. There’s also plenty of depth at receiver and safety. Conversely, it’s slim pickings at quarterback, interior offensive line, inside linebackers and at corner.

And in the NFL in 2019, the opening of the league year now marks both the start of free agency and trading season. Trading has never been a more viable alternative, and the smart teams have caught on to the fact that a trade can't cost future compensatory picks but can actually help earn them. For instance, when a club acquires a player in a contract year, he plays well and earns a lucrative deal elsewhere the following season, that team just reaped the benefits twofold: The production that helped that player become a compensatory free agent and potentially a draft pick the following year.

Here are the five teams (in original 2019 NFL draft order) with the best free-agent approaches relative to their needs and draft outlook:

Arizona Cardinals

No team has been busier, but unlike, say, the Raiders and Jets, Arizona has attacked a ton of its biggest needs without going cap crazy. Welcoming Terrell Suggs and Darius Philon struck a nice defensive balance of vet experience with continued production (Suggs) outside and underrated but still loads of untapped potential (Philon) from the interior. Whether you had EDGE or DT first or second on the list of needs to begin the offseason, Keim attacked both with impressive results.

We had receiver behind DL/EDGE, and it's arguably the only one of the Cardinals' needs still requiring a lot more attention, with only ex-Bears first-round flameout Kevin White new to the mix. But the Cardinals capably filled their long-burnable CB2 spot opposite Patrick Peterson with vets Robert Alford and Tramaine Brock, and added two starters up front in a trade with Pittsburgh for RT Marcus Gilbert and signing OG J.R. Sweezy.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the Kyler Murray vs. Josh Rosen debate, and we'd be lying if we said we're not still trying to wrap our arms around the idea of bypassing Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams for Murray. When was the last time a team drafted top-10 QBs in consecutive years? It's almost unfathomable.

Until we not only hear Goodell announce Murray as the first overall pick but see the return on Rosen, we'll reserve our final judgment.

Buffalo Bills

After the mass OL turnover last offseason and trade for Josh Allen, who as a rookie ran frequently for his life behind an awful line, we're good with splurging on 27-year-old C Mitch Morse and the additional signings of experienced OGs Spencer Long and Quinton Spain and OT LaAdrian Waddle. And similarly to the offensive line, we understand the decisions to sign John Brown and Cole Beasley. Receiver was Buffalo's biggest need after blockers and another dicey position to expect immediate rookie results. Smoke's speed and Cole's slot chops should mesh well with Allen and play caller Brian Daboll.

Throw in a low-risk investment on a former first-rounder in CB Kevin Johnson, who reunites with his first NFL position coach, Bills DBs instructor John Butler; a strong veteran addition in RB Frank Gore to pair with LeSean McCoy; and the re-signing of talented DT Jordan Phillips, whom Buffalo pushed the right buttons with following his mid-season arrival, and we already see the makings of a much-improved club for Sean McDermott.

Cleveland Browns

You didn't think we'd fail to recognize the NFL's new darlings, did you? We had their needs entering 2019 slotted: OLB, OT, DT, CB and WR. No, they haven't truly addressed the first one, but the other upgrades have been nothing if not explosive.

Greg Robinson was as surprising a LT elixir in a post-Joe Thomas Cleveland as imaginable. However, his re-signing could be a win-win, if he continues the career revival he began last season, now under the strong tutelage of new OL coach James Campen. Sheldon Richardson pairing with Larry Ogunjobi in the middle of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon?

That could work.

And if (when) it does, blitz-happy Steve Wilks won't feel pressure to dial it up nearly as often as was necessary over the past two seasons in Arizona and Carolina.

The Browns also re-signed CB Phillip Gaines, replaced Jabrill Peppers with fellow former John Dorsey find in Kansas City, Eric Murray (the return in the Emmanuel Ogbah trade) and added a receiver you might recognize. Odell Beckham's career 92.8 receiving yards per game ranks second in NFL history ... on the receiving end from Eli Manning.

What will he do with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland's evolving downfield passing game?

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles began free agency by re-signing stalwarts Jason Peters and Brandon Graham. The Eagles also re-signed Isaac Semualo, further fortifying their OL depth. Next they signed Malik Jackson to replace Michael Bennett (traded to New England) and brought back Vinny Curry on a one-year deal after he flopped in Tampa. Consider the trenches in tip-top shape, even with Bennett's departure and the retirements of Haloti Ngata and, potentially, Chris Long.

What about the skill positions, you say? Enter (or should it be reenter?) DeSean Jackson, who brings the feared lid-lifting speed the offense sorely missed last season. Also arriving via trade (and also not affecting Philly's 2020 compensatory equation) is Jordan Howard, still only 24, for a potential career reboot. The part lost seemingly by many in Howard's acquisition is all the familiar faces that could help him find a soft landing after a Year 3 thud: OC Mike Groh, WR Alshon Jeffery, Pro personnel maven Joe Douglas and more.

The Eagles attacked one of their needs prior to the draft. Remember when their salary cap situation was going to be prohibitive in achieving that goal? Neither do we.

Indianapolis Colts

Executive of the Year Chris Ballard's Colts showed awesome patience in free agency, focusing first on re-signing their own (NT Margus Hunt, CB Pierre Desir, PK Adam Vinatieri, OG Mark Glowinski) prior to a pair of big splashes: WR Devin Funchess and EDGE Justin Houston. 

Funchess fits snugly as the big-bodied, between-the-numbers WR force in Frank Reich's offense. Houston instantly becomes the franchise's most established pass rusher since the Freeney/Mathis days. Remember, Ballard just had a draft for the ages that helped propel his Colts to the division round and has four picks in the top 89 to continue adding defensive playmakers — the strength of this draft.

Hub Arkush: Can you name the Chicago Bears greatest NFL Draft of all time?

Posted on April 4, 2019 - 10:53:46

There are a few great options from which to choose

Between 1984 and 1988, the Bears compiled a regular-season record of 62-17, the third-best record over a five-season span in the history of the NFL, topped only by the New England Patriots, who went 64-16 between 2007 and 2011 and 63-17 between 2013 and 2017.

Those were the Bears teams built by Jim Finks, and remaining amply stocked after his departure following the 1983 Draft by Bill Tobin — two of the best talent evaluators ever.

Between 1975 and 1983, Finks drafted 15 of the 22 starters on the Bears Super Bowl champions and added three more starters — Jay Hilgenberg, Dennis McKinnon and Leslie Frazier — as undrafted rookie free agents.

That ’85 team is often recognized as the greatest team in NFL history over a single season, etching in stone the premise that great NFL teams are built though the Draft.

With the NFL’s 2019 Draft right around the corner, and the Bears starting to show some awfully solid drafting chops again under general manager Ryan Pace, it got us to thinking: which have been the Bears’ greatest Drafts of all time.

I’m sure you all have your own opinions, but for my money these are the Bear’s top three. Players are listed with the round they were chosen and what pick they were overall in parentheses. These lists include only the players that succeeded in the NFL, not all players drafted.

3RD Best All Time — 1975

RB Walter Payton (1st/4), DE Mike Hartenstine (2nd/31), CB Virgil Livers (4th/83), OG Revie Sorey (5th/110), QB Bob Avellini (6th/135), Tom Hicks (6th/151), LB Joe Harris (8th/197), Roger Stillwell (9th/212), Doug Plank (12th/291) and Roland Harper (17th/420).

2ND Best All Time — 1983

OT Jimbo Covert (1st/6), Willie Gault (1st/18), Mike Richardson (2nd/33), Dave Duerson (3rd/64), Tom Thayer (4th/91), Richard Dent (8th/203) and Mark Bortz (8th/219).

Greatest All-Time Bears draft — 1965

MLB Dick Butkus (1st/3), Gale Sayers 1st/4), Steve DeLong (1st/6), Jim Nance (4th/45), Dick Gordon (7th/88), Frank Cornish (11th /144), Frank Pitts 16/213 and Ralph Kurek (20th/269).

Finks took over as the Bears general manager in the summer of 1974, and the 1975 Draft was his first as the boss of the team’s football operations.

While Payton was certainly not an unknown, coming out of Jackson State at a time when historically black colleges were viewed as somewhat akin to “Division II talent,” many thought Payton was a reach.

Clearly, Finks knew better as “Sweetness” went on to join the conversation about who has been the greatest player in the history of the game.

After the Bears served as one of the NFL’s doormats for over a decade, all of the players listed — other than Stillwell (injuries) and Harris (didn’t make Bears but played 6 years in the NFL) — formed a major part of the nucleus of Chicago’s ’77 and ’79 playoff teams.

The ’83 group is often included in discussions about the top five Drafts in league history – I’ll explain why it’s only second for the Bears in a moment.

Suffice to say one Draft that produced seven starters on the Super Bowl XX Champions and 12 Pro Bowl appearances is an awfully nice haul.

How can any Draft — even the Bears’ 1965 haul — surpass the 1983 group?

The Bears’ 1965 Draft is the only time in history an NFL team drafted two Hall of Famers – Butkus and Sayers – in the first round, back-to-back no less, and like Payton, Butkus is prominent in the debate over who greatest player in the NFL’s storied history.

If you’re not familiar with the Bears’ next two picks, DeLong and Nance chose the AFL Chargers and Patriots, respectively, at the height of the NFL/AFL bidding wars in the last summer before the merger. DeLong became one of the AFL’s best defensive tackles, Nance arguably its best running back.

Gordon would set an NFL single-season receptions record with the Bears, and Cornish, Pitts and Kurek would go on to long and productive careers as starters.

If Pace can come up with a Draft to match one of these three in the next year or two, we could be looking at the reincarnation of those ’85 Bears.

Those were the Bears teams built by Jim Finks, and remaining amply stocked after his departure following the 1983 Draft by Bill Tobin — two of the best talent evaluators ever.

Between 1975 and 1983, Finks drafted 15 of the 22 starters on the Bears Super Bowl champions and added three more starters — Jay Hilgenberg, Dennis McKinnon and Leslie Frazier — as undrafted rookie free agents.

That ’85 team is often recognized as the greatest team in NFL history over a single season, etching in stone the premise that great NFL teams are built though the Draft.

With the NFL’s 2019 Draft right around the corner, and the Bears starting to show some awfully solid drafting chops again under general manager Ryan Pace, it got us to thinking: which have been the Bears’ greatest Drafts of all time.

I’m sure you all have your own opinions, but for my money these are the Bear’s top three. Players are listed with the round they were chosen and what pick they were overall in parentheses. These lists include only the players that succeeded in the NFL, not all players drafted.

3RD Best All Time — 1975

RB Walter Payton (1st/4), DE Mike Hartenstine (2nd/31), CB Virgil Livers (4th/83), OG Revie Sorey (5th/110), QB Bob Avellini (6th/135), Tom Hicks (6th/151), LB Joe Harris (8th/197), Roger Stillwell (9th/212), Doug Plank (12th/291) and Roland Harper (17th/420).

2ND Best All Time — 1983

OT Jimbo Covert (1st/6), Willie Gault (1st/18), Mike Richardson (2nd/33), Dave Duerson (3rd/64), Tom Thayer (4th/91), Richard Dent (8th/203) and Mark Bortz (8th/219).

Greatest All-Time Bears draft — 1965

MLB Dick Butkus (1st/3), Gale Sayers 1st/4), Steve DeLong (1st/6), Jim Nance (4th/45), Dick Gordon (7th/88), Frank Cornish (11th /144), Frank Pitts 16/213 and Ralph Kurek (20th/269).

Finks took over as the Bears general manager in the summer of 1974, and the 1975 Draft was his first as the boss of the team’s football operations.

While Payton was certainly not an unknown, coming out of Jackson State at a time when historically black colleges were viewed as somewhat akin to “Division II talent,” many thought Payton was a reach.

Clearly, Finks knew better as “Sweetness” went on to join the conversation about who has been the greatest player in the history of the game.

After the Bears served as one of the NFL’s doormats for over a decade, all of the players listed — other than Stillwell (injuries) and Harris (didn’t make Bears but played 6 years in the NFL) — formed a major part of the nucleus of Chicago’s ’77 and ’79 playoff teams.

The ’83 group is often included in discussions about the top five Drafts in league history – I’ll explain why it’s only second for the Bears in a moment.

Suffice to say one Draft that produced seven starters on the Super Bowl XX Champions and 12 Pro Bowl appearances is an awfully nice haul.

How can any Draft — even the Bears’ 1965 haul — surpass the 1983 group?

The Bears’ 1965 Draft is the only time in history an NFL team drafted two Hall of Famers – Butkus and Sayers – in the first round, back-to-back no less, and like Payton, Butkus is prominent in the debate over who greatest player in the NFL’s storied history.

If you’re not familiar with the Bears’ next two picks, DeLong and Nance chose the AFL Chargers and Patriots, respectively, at the height of the NFL/AFL bidding wars in the last summer before the merger. DeLong became one of the AFL’s best defensive tackles, Nance arguably its best running back.

Gordon would set an NFL single-season receptions record with the Bears, and Cornish, Pitts and Kurek would go on to long and productive careers as starters.

If Pace can come up with a Draft to match one of these three in the next year or two, we could be looking at the reincarnation of those ’85 Bears.

Marcus Mosher's NFL Mock Draft

Posted on April 2, 2019 - 17:38:25

Only 2 QBs in Mosher's Round 1 simulation, nearly half of which is front-seven defenders

We are three weeks away from the NFL Draft, and there is still so much in the air. No one knows for sure who will be the No.1 overall pick, making this draft all the more interesting. We are starting to hear rumors and rumblings about where players may go, but nothing is set in stone. However, that doesn't mean we can't predict what is going to happen. Without further ado, here is my first mock draft of the year:

1. Arizona Cardinals — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

The Arizona Cardinals are going to sink or swim with Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach, so they might as well give him "his" quarterback of choice. Expect Murray to be the second straight Oklahoma Heisman-winning quarterback to go first overall.

2. San Francisco 49ers — Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State

The 49ers added Dee Ford this offseason to boost their pass rush, but they still lack a true No.1 player off the edge. Bosa can fill that void for the 49ers at pick No. 2. While there are some health concerns, Bosa is about as easy as an evaluation as there is. Expect him to make multiple Pro Bowls in San Francisco.

3. New York Jets — Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky

The Jets have lacked a dominant edge rusher for several years, and now they get their chance at acquiring one in Allen. The 2018 Defensive Player of the Year fits perfectly in Gregg Williams' defense, where he can play as a hand-in-the-dirt rusher or on his feet. Allen is a highly athletic, ascending player. His best football is still ahead of him.

4. Oakland Raiders — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

Ideally, the Raiders would like to see either Nick Bosa or Josh Allen fall to them to fill their edge rusher need. However, the team is forced to "settle" for arguably the best player in the class in Williams. Pairing him with the steal of the 2018 draft in Maurice Hurst would give the Raiders one of the most talented DT combinations in the league.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Devin White, LB, LSU

Arguably the league's worst-kept secret, White seems destined to end up in Tampa Bay at pick No. 5. With Kwon Alexander leaving in free agency, the team needs to add more LB talent, and White is the best in the class. The position doesn't have a lot of depth, so the Bucs are wise to grab him here and address other positions later. Lavonte David and White would be one of the best LB duos in all of the NFL.

6. New York Giants — Montez Sweat,  EDGE, Mississippi State 

While many think this will be the spot where the Giants grab Eli Manning's future successor, it seems they are more likely to address their defense with the sixth pick. New York needs edge rushers, and Sweat might be the best one on the board. With elite speed (4.41 40-yard dash), he should be able to bring pressure off the edge on a consistent basis. Expect the Giants to go defense early in the first round.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Could the Jaguars draft a quarterback in the first round, even after paying Nick Foles free agency? It's certainly possible. Foles has just two years of guaranteed money in his four-year deal and could provide a bridge for Haskins, one of the youngest quarterback prospects to enter the league, who could use some seasoning before being thrown into the action. For a team that has struggled to find a franchise quarterback, throwing multiple darts at the position isn't the worst strategy.

8. Detroit Lions — Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State

Detroit added Trey Flowers this offseason but still needs a lot of help on the defensive line. Burns would fit well in Matt Patricia's defense as he can play standing up or as a defensive end. He would bring athleticism and speed to a defense that desperately needs it. Expect Burns to go off the board somewhere in the top-12 picks.

9. Buffalo Bills — Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

It's not hard to make the case that Buffalo had the league's worst offensive line in 2018. Rookie Josh Allen was running for his life, and they struggled to do anything on the ground. Buffalo has tried to address the need this offseason, signing veterans Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe and shouldn't pass up the opportunity to take the best offensive lineman in the draft in Williams. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed just 12 pressures at Alabama last year and is battle tested. He can play all across the line and should prove to be an elite offensive tackle in time. Williams would be a home-run selection for the Bills.

10. Denver Broncos — Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

Could the Broncos draft a quarterback at No. 10? It's certainly possible, as Drew Lock has been a rumored target for a while. However, they may wait to address their QB position, and an elite athlete in Bush would fill an instant need at linebacker and replace Brandon Marshall right away.

11. Cincinnati Bengals — Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida

The Bengals re-signed RT Bobby Hart this offseason, but that doesn't mean they are done upgrading their offensive line. Taylor could sit for a year behind Hart before eventually moving him into a reserve role. Taylor is just too good of a talent to pass up here for Cincinnati.

12. Green Bay Packers — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa

The Packers decided to keep veteran Jimmy Graham this offseason, but how he fits into Matt LaFleur's offense isn't known. However, Hockenson is a perfect fit who can play anywhere on the field. He is a more athletic version of Delanie Walker and would soon be a favorite of Aaron Rodgers. Hockenson would be a steal for any team after the top 10 picks.

13. Miami Dolphins — Ed Oliver, DT Houston

Despite his fantastic Pro Day, there are likely to be teams in the NFL that are scared off from Oliver because of his lack of size. However, new head coach Brian Flores will know how to get the most out of Oliver. Expect him to be moved all over the Dolphins' defensive line, including at nose tackle and off the edge.

14. Atlanta Falcons — Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan

The Falcons have to address their defensive line during this draft, but picking at No.14 could mean the top four edge rushers are off the board. The best strategy might be to swing for the fences and gamble on Gary. He is an elite athlete with position flex whose lack of college production is somewhat concerning. However, landing in Atlanta with Dan Quinn might be the perfect spot for Gary, who could play defensive end on first and second down and kick inside in nickel situations. Expect Gary to be selected inside the top 16 picks.

15. Washington — D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi

Washington could look to pick its quarterback of the future here but instead adds to the receiving corps. Metcalf would give the offense a bona fide No.1 receiver to pair with Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn. Metcalf immediately makes Washington's offense more dangerous and gives new QB Case Keenum a down-the-field threat.

16. Carolina Panthers — Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State

One thing Carolina has to do better in 2019 is protect QB Cam Newton. After re-signing Daryl Williams to play right tackle, the Panthers need more O-line help. Dillard could help them solve several issues, giving the Panthers a long-term LT solution and the ability to move Taylor Moton to left guard. Dillard has the best feet in the class, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him be the top tackle drafted this year.

17. New York Giants — Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

Dave Gettleman is known for fixing defensive lines. In Carolina, he drafted numerous defensive tackles to firm up the middle of the defense. Expect him to do the same in New York as the best nose tackle in the draft falls to the Giants at pick No.17. Lawrence is an elite athlete for a player of his size and would give the Giants a true presence in the middle of their defense, even after drafting B.J. Hill last year. Don't be surprised if they pass on a quarterback with their first two picks and address that position in the second round with Drew Lock or Daniel Jones.

18. Minnesota Vikings — Cody Ford, OG, Oklahoma

Last offseason, the Vikings made Kirk Cousins one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. However, they failed to protect him in the first year of his deal. They could draft just about any position on the offensive line, and it would be an upgrade. That's why the selection of Ford would make a lot of sense. He played tackle in college, but his best spot in the NFL might be at guard. Still, it wouldn't be surprising if he was the team's best tackle from Day 1. In the middle of the first round, this would be an outstanding selection for the Vikings.

19. Tennessee Titans — Garrett Bradbury, C, NC State

The Titans have one of the better OT pairings in the league in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, but the interior of their offensive line needs work. They signed veteran guard Rodger Saffold, but they could use another quality guard. Bradbury is the best interior offensive lineman in the class, with the flexibility to play both guard and center. He would be an instant upgrade over OG Corey Levin and could project as the team's long-term answer at center.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers — Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

Pittsburgh would love to see one of the top two linebackers fall to No. 20, but that seems somewhat unrealistic. So, the Steelers look to continue fixing their secondary with Williams, who was once considered a lock to go inside the top 10. But after a rough 2018, he falls to Pittsburgh. He can sit behind Joe Haden and Steven Nelson until he is ready. If Williams can fix his technique and become a better tackler, he has the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

21. Seattle Seahawks — Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware

In two years, both Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are gone from the Seattle Seahawks. Now, Seattle must look for a way to replace them. At pick No.21, it could select the draft's top safety in Adderley, a four-year starter who can play both S spots as well as cornerback. He doesn't have elite size but shows the type of athleticism the Seahawks covet in the secondary. He would be a Day 1 starter and an impact player in Pete Carroll's defense. 

22. Baltimore Ravens — Chris Lindstrom, C, Boston College

Give credit to the Ravens' front office for developing a plan and executing it. They know exactly what kind of football team they want to be and what type of players they want to acquire. With that in mind, don't be surprised if Baltimore continues to build up its rushing attack by selecting an offensive lineman early. Lindstrom has excellent size, can play either OG position and maybe even center and would be a great fit in Baltimore's run-heavy offense. 

23. Houston Texans — Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State

No quarterback was sacked more last season than Deshaun Watson (62), and it's easy to understand why. The Texans had one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and they haven't done much in free agency to improve the unit. However, they should have the opportunity to grab an instant starter at pick No.23. Risner could be a target because he can play both guard and tackle. He would immediately be one of the best lineman on the roster and should help keep Watson upright in 2019. 

24. Oakland Raiders — Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The Raiders lost their leading receiver in free agency (Jared Cook) and need to find an adequate replacement. Fant might be the best receiving tight end in the class, and he tests as an elite athlete at the position. Fant is mostly a short-to-intermediate threat but can be used in similar ways to Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. At this point in the draft, this would be outstanding value for the Raiders. 

25. Philadelphia Eagles — Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

Howie Roseman and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles' front office have done an outstanding job at filling needs in free agency. That allows them to go in any direction in the first round. However, expect the Eagles to target the secondary, their weakest unit in 2018. Abram could be a realistic target as a hard-hitting free safety with elite speed. Abram is one of the most physical players in the draft and would bring toughness to the Eagles' secondary. Expect Abram to come off the board inside the top 40 picks.

26. Indianapolis Colts — A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi

T.Y Hilton was phenomenal in 2018, catching 76 passes for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games. However, he struggled to stay healthy and played most of the season at less than 100 percent. The Colts have tried to find a suitable counterpart to Hilton, signing Devin Funchess in free agency. But they could look to get more dynamic at the position in the first round. Over the past two seasons, Brown caught 160 passes for 2,572 yards in the SEC, playing both in the slot and on the outside. He would bring a certain toughness to the Colts' offense and would be the perfect No. 2 to Hilton. Putting Brown in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck would be a slam-dunk pick.

27. Oakland Raiders — Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

The Raiders have yet to address their edge rusher need in the first round, but with no first-round-worthy players on the board, they could resolve their cornerback need here. Gareon Conley proved to be a quality corner last season, but the team needs another player opposite him. Murphy isn't a great athlete, but he is the best cover corner in the draft. He can play on the outside and in the slot and is one of the toughest defensive players in the draft. Murphy would prove to be a solid No. 2 cornerback for the Raiders.

28. Los Angeles Chargers — Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

The Chargers are a team without many holes on their roster. They could add a receiver, but this draft has a lot of depth at the position. Instead, they opt to continue to build their pass rush with Wilkins, a versatile defender who can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 and get up the field as a rusher. Putting him on the same defense as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should be terrifying for offensive coordinators. 

29. Kansas City Chiefs — Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

The Chiefs did an excellent job in free agency of addressing their pass-rush needs by acquiring Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor at a relatively low price. However, the same can't be said about their secondary, where they lost Steven Nelson to the Steelers but could replace him with the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award Winner. Baker may lack the elite speed to be a true shutdown cornerback, but he is a physical cover guy who does his best work on the outside. Pairing him with Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland would give the Chiefs a nice CB trio entering 2019.

30. Green Bay Packers — N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Could the Packers double dip on offensive playmakers in the first round? It's certainly possible. Outside of Davante Adams, there isn't another quality receiver on the roster. At pick No. 30, Harry would be outstanding value, as he can play on the outside and in the slot and would be a fantastic second receiver in Green Bay's offense.

31. Los Angeles Rams — Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson

The Rams added Clay Matthews this offseason and were able to retain Dante Fowler in free agency. However, that isn't going to prevent them from adding to the edge rusher position this draft. Ferrell was highly productive at Clemson and was named the 2018 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. His skill set suits him to play on the left side, but he has the size and length to play across the defensive line. He would make a lot of sense in Wade Phillips' defense at this point in the draft.

32. New England Patriots — Zach Allen, EDGE, Boston College

The Patriots lost Trey Flowers to the Lions in free agency and need to beef up their defensive line. Zach Allen would make a perfect replacement as he can move up and down the line. He lacks elite speed, but Allen has great length, explosiveness and quickness for a player of his size. He could start right away in Bill Belichick's defense.

1. Arizona Cardinals — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

The Arizona Cardinals are going to sink or swim with Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach, so they might as well give him "his" quarterback of choice. Expect Murray to be the second straight Oklahoma Heisman-winning quarterback to go first overall.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers — Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State

The 49ers added Dee Ford this offseason to boost their pass rush, but they still lack a true No.1 player off the edge. Bosa can fill that void for the 49ers at pick No. 2. While there are some health concerns, Bosa is about as easy as an evaluation as there is. Expect him to make multiple Pro Bowls in San Francisco.

 

3. New York Jets — Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky

The Jets have lacked a dominant edge rusher for several years, and now they get their chance at acquiring one in Allen. The 2018 Defensive Player of the Year fits perfectly in Gregg Williams' defense, where he can play as a hand-in-the-dirt rusher or on his feet. Allen is a highly athletic, ascending player. His best football is still ahead of him.

 

4. Oakland Raiders — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

Ideally, the Raiders would like to see either Nick Bosa or Josh Allen fall to them to fill their edge rusher need. However, the team is forced to "settle" for arguably the best player in the class in Williams. Pairing him with the steal of the 2018 draft in Maurice Hurst would give the Raiders one of the most talented DT combinations in the league.

 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Devin White, LB, LSU

Arguably the league's worst-kept secret, White seems destined to end up in Tampa Bay at pick No. 5. With Kwon Alexander leaving in free agency, the team needs to add more LB talent, and White is the best in the class. The position doesn't have a lot of depth, so the Bucs are wise to grab him here and address other positions later. Lavonte David and White would be one of the best LB duos in all of the NFL.

 

6. New York Giants — Montez Sweat,  EDGE, Mississippi State 

While many think this will be the spot where the Giants grab Eli Manning's future successor, it seems they are more likely to address their defense with the sixth pick. New York needs edge rushers, and Sweat might be the best one on the board. With elite speed (4.41 40-yard dash), he should be able to bring pressure off the edge on a consistent basis. Expect the Giants to go defense early in the first round.

 

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Could the Jaguars draft a quarterback in the first round, even after paying Nick Foles free agency? It's certainly possible. Foles has just two years of guaranteed money in his four-year deal and could provide a bridge for Haskins, one of the youngest quarterback prospects to enter the league, who could use some seasoning before being thrown into the action. For a team that has struggled to find a franchise quarterback, throwing multiple darts at the position isn't the worst strategy.

 

8. Detroit Lions — Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State

Detroit added Trey Flowers this offseason but still needs a lot of help on the defensive line. Burns would fit well in Matt Patricia's defense as he can play standing up or as a defensive end. He would bring athleticism and speed to a defense that desperately needs it. Expect Burns to go off the board somewhere in the top-12 picks.

 

9. Buffalo Bills — Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

It's not hard to make the case that Buffalo had the league's worst offensive line in 2018. Rookie Josh Allen was running for his life, and they struggled to do anything on the ground. Buffalo has tried to address the need this offseason, signing veterans Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe and shouldn't pass up the opportunity to take the best offensive lineman in the draft in Williams. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed just 12 pressures at Alabama last year and is battle tested. He can play all across the line and should prove to be an elite offensive tackle in time. Williams would be a home-run selection for the Bills.

 

10. Denver Broncos — Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

Could the Broncos draft a quarterback at No. 10? It's certainly possible, as Drew Lock has been a rumored target for a while. However, they may wait to address their QB position, and an elite athlete in Bush would fill an instant need at linebacker and replace Brandon Marshall right away.

 

11. Cincinnati Bengals — Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida

The Bengals re-signed RT Bobby Hart this offseason, but that doesn't mean they are done upgrading their offensive line. Taylor could sit for a year behind Hart before eventually moving him into a reserve role. Taylor is just too good of a talent to pass up here for Cincinnati.

 

12. Green Bay Packers — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa

The Packers decided to keep veteran Jimmy Graham this offseason, but how he fits into Matt LaFleur's offense isn't known. However, Hockenson is a perfect fit who can play anywhere on the field. He is a more athletic version of Delanie Walker and would soon be a favorite of Aaron Rodgers. Hockenson would be a steal for any team after the top 10 picks.

 

13. Miami Dolphins — Ed Oliver, DT Houston

Despite his fantastic Pro Day, there are likely to be teams in the NFL that are scared off from Oliver because of his lack of size. However, new head coach Brian Flores will know how to get the most out of Oliver. Expect him to be moved all over the Dolphins' defensive line, including at nose tackle and off the edge.

 

14. Atlanta Falcons — Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan

The Falcons have to address their defensive line during this draft, but picking at No.14 could mean the top four edge rushers are off the board. The best strategy might be to swing for the fences and gamble on Gary. He is an elite athlete with position flex whose lack of college production is somewhat concerning. However, landing in Atlanta with Dan Quinn might be the perfect spot for Gary, who could play defensive end on first and second down and kick inside in nickel situations. Expect Gary to be selected inside the top 16 picks.

 

15. Washington — D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi

Washington could look to pick its quarterback of the future here but instead adds to the receiving corps. Metcalf would give the offense a bona fide No.1 receiver to pair with Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn. Metcalf immediately makes Washington's offense more dangerous and gives new QB Case Keenum a down-the-field threat.

 

16. Carolina Panthers — Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State

One thing Carolina has to do better in 2019 is protect QB Cam Newton. After re-signing Daryl Williams to play right tackle, the Panthers need more O-line help. Dillard could help them solve several issues, giving the Panthers a long-term LT solution and the ability to move Taylor Moton to left guard. Dillard has the best feet in the class, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him be the top tackle drafted this year.

 

17. New York Giants — Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

Dave Gettleman is known for fixing defensive lines. In Carolina, he drafted numerous defensive tackles to firm up the middle of the defense. Expect him to do the same in New York as the best nose tackle in the draft falls to the Giants at pick No.17. Lawrence is an elite athlete for a player of his size and would give the Giants a true presence in the middle of their defense, even after drafting B.J. Hill last year. Don't be surprised if they pass on a quarterback with their first two picks and address that position in the second round with Drew Lock or Daniel Jones.

 

18. Minnesota Vikings — Cody Ford, OG, Oklahoma

Last offseason, the Vikings made Kirk Cousins one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. However, they failed to protect him in the first year of his deal. They could draft just about any position on the offensive line, and it would be an upgrade. That's why the selection of Ford would make a lot of sense. He played tackle in college, but his best spot in the NFL might be at guard. Still, it wouldn't be surprising if he was the team's best tackle from Day 1. In the middle of the first round, this would be an outstanding selection for the Vikings.

 

19. Tennessee Titans — Garrett Bradbury, C, NC State

The Titans have one of the better OT pairings in the league in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, but the interior of their offensive line needs work. They signed veteran guard Rodger Saffold, but they could use another quality guard. Bradbury is the best interior offensive lineman in the class, with the flexibility to play both guard and center. He would be an instant upgrade over OG Corey Levin and could project as the team's long-term answer at center.

 

20. Pittsburgh Steelers — Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

Pittsburgh would love to see one of the top two linebackers fall to No. 20, but that seems somewhat unrealistic. So, the Steelers look to continue fixing their secondary with Williams, who was once considered a lock to go inside the top 10. But after a rough 2018, he falls to Pittsburgh. He can sit behind Joe Haden and Steven Nelson until he is ready. If Williams can fix his technique and become a better tackler, he has the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

 

21. Seattle Seahawks — Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware

In two years, both Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are gone from the Seattle Seahawks. Now, Seattle must look for a way to replace them. At pick No.21, it could select the draft's top safety in Adderley, a four-year starter who can play both S spots as well as cornerback. He doesn't have elite size but shows the type of athleticism the Seahawks covet in the secondary. He would be a Day 1 starter and an impact player in Pete Carroll's defense. 

 

22. Baltimore Ravens — Chris Lindstrom, C, Boston College

Give credit to the Ravens' front office for developing a plan and executing it. They know exactly what kind of football team they want to be and what type of players they want to acquire. With that in mind, don't be surprised if Baltimore continues to build up its rushing attack by selecting an offensive lineman early. Lindstrom has excellent size, can play either OG position and maybe even center and would be a great fit in Baltimore's run-heavy offense. 

 

23. Houston Texans — Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State

No quarterback was sacked more last season than Deshaun Watson (62), and it's easy to understand why. The Texans had one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and they haven't done much in free agency to improve the unit. However, they should have the opportunity to grab an instant starter at pick No.23. Risner could be a target because he can play both guard and tackle. He would immediately be one of the best lineman on the roster and should help keep Watson upright in 2019. 

 

24. Oakland Raiders — Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The Raiders lost their leading receiver in free agency (Jared Cook) and need to find an adequate replacement. Fant might be the best receiving tight end in the class, and he tests as an elite athlete at the position. Fant is mostly a short-to-intermediate threat but can be used in similar ways to Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. At this point in the draft, this would be outstanding value for the Raiders. 

 

25. Philadelphia Eagles — Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

Howie Roseman and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles' front office have done an outstanding job at filling needs in free agency. That allows them to go in any direction in the first round. However, expect the Eagles to target the secondary, their weakest unit in 2018. Abram could be a realistic target as a hard-hitting free safety with elite speed. Abram is one of the most physical players in the draft and would bring toughness to the Eagles' secondary. Expect Abram to come off the board inside the top 40 picks.

 

26. Indianapolis Colts — A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi

T.Y Hilton was phenomenal in 2018, catching 76 passes for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games. However, he struggled to stay healthy and played most of the season at less than 100 percent. The Colts have tried to find a suitable counterpart to Hilton, signing Devin Funchess in free agency. But they could look to get more dynamic at the position in the first round. Over the past two seasons, Brown caught 160 passes for 2,572 yards in the SEC, playing both in the slot and on the outside. He would bring a certain toughness to the Colts' offense and would be the perfect No. 2 to Hilton. Putting Brown in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck would be a slam-dunk pick.

 

27. Oakland Raiders — Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

The Raiders have yet to address their edge rusher need in the first round, but with no first-round-worthy players on the board, they could resolve their cornerback need here. Gareon Conley proved to be a quality corner last season, but the team needs another player opposite him. Murphy isn't a great athlete, but he is the best cover corner in the draft. He can play on the outside and in the slot and is one of the toughest defensive players in the draft. Murphy would prove to be a solid No. 2 cornerback for the Raiders.

 

28. Los Angeles Chargers — Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

The Chargers are a team without many holes on their roster. They could add a receiver, but this draft has a lot of depth at the position. Instead, they opt to continue to build their pass rush with Wilkins, a versatile defender who can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 and get up the field as a rusher. Putting him on the same defense as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should be terrifying for offensive coordinators. 

 

29. Kansas City Chiefs — Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

The Chiefs did an excellent job in free agency of addressing their pass-rush needs by acquiring Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor at a relatively low price. However, the same can't be said about their secondary, where they lost Steven Nelson to the Steelers but could replace him with the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award Winner. Baker may lack the elite speed to be a true shutdown cornerback, but he is a physical cover guy who does his best work on the outside. Pairing him with Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland would give the Chiefs a nice CB trio entering 2019.

 

30. Green Bay Packers — N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Could the Packers double dip on offensive playmakers in the first round? It's certainly possible. Outside of Davante Adams, there isn't another quality receiver on the roster. At pick No. 30, Harry would be outstanding value, as he can play on the outside and in the slot and would be a fantastic second receiver in Green Bay's offense.

 

31. Los Angeles Rams — Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson

The Rams added Clay Matthews this offseason and were able to retain Dante Fowler in free agency. However, that isn't going to prevent them from adding to the edge rusher position this draft. Ferrell was highly productive at Clemson and was named the 2018 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. His skill set suits him to play on the left side, but he has the size and length to play across the defensive line. He would make a lot of sense in Wade Phillips' defense at this point in the draft.

 

32. New England Patriots — Zach Allen, EDGE, Boston College

The Patriots lost Trey Flowers to the Lions in free agency and need to beef up their defensive line. Zach Allen would make a perfect replacement as he can move up and down the line. He lacks elite speed, but Allen has great length, explosiveness and quickness for a player of his size. He could start right away in Bill Belichick's defense.

Chicago Bears' best third-round NFL Draft picks of the modern era

Posted on April 2, 2019 - 16:56:00

With no selections in NFL draft until Round 3, we revisit franchise's best third-rounders of past 40-plus years

The Bears aren't slated to make their first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft until Round 3, marking the first such occurrence in the draft since 2010. That was the second of consecutive years when Chicago's first-rounder went to the Denver Broncos as part of the Jay Cutler trade.

It might take a few years to properly assess a draft pick, but with the benefit of hindsight we can already say the reason the Bears aren't picking until Round 3 this time (the Khalil Mack trade) is a lot more satisfying. We can also confirm that neither Major Wright nor Jarron Gilbert made the cut for the best third-round draft picks in the Bears' modern history. And because we're only looking at drafts over the past 43 years, let us first mention legendary Don Meredith (1960) and Frank Broyles (1946).

Meredith is in the Hall of Fame and is considered by many "The Original Cowboy," after George Halas drafted him in Chicago essentially as a gift for the expansion Cowboys, who owned Meredith's rights. Broyles' greatest contribution to the Bears, who selected the ex-Georgia Tech quarterback in Round 3, came as an administrator at University of Arkansas, where he recruited a kid out of Jacksonville Arkansas with only two years of high school experience named Dan Hampton.

With that here are the best third-round draft picks in the Bears' modern-era history.

9. Chris Gardocki (78th in 1991)

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With apologies to three-year starting CB Jeremy Lincoln, we're beginning with Gardocki, who wasn't all that special, but it felt like a fitting way to open our list with a specialist. He is one of two in franchise history selected in the first 80 picks (his replacement, Todd Sauerbrun, was chosen 56th overall in 1995), and he was the punter on Mike Ditka's last Bears playoff team. Another commonality between Gardocki and Ditka? They were both fined for using their middle finger on the field, Gardocki when he sent the bird to then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher as a member of the Browns.

8. Bernard Berrian (78th in 2004)

The most dangerous playmaker on the Bears' 2005 and 2006 division-winning offenses, Berrian averaged 14.6 yards per catch and tallied 13 touchdowns in four seasons in Chicago. He parlayed that success into a six-year, $42 million contract with the rival Vikings that made him one of the game's highest-paid receivers, but Berrian's production steadily declined following his first season in Minnesota.

7. Jerry Fontenot (65th in 1989)

The Texas A&M product started 86 consecutive games at center from 1991-96 before enjoying a nice second act with the New Orleans Saints. After his playing career concluded, Fontenot spent 10 seasons as an assistant on Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers coaching staff, where he earned a Super Bowl XLV ring.

6. Tony McGee (64th in 1971)

His best seasons came after his three-year stint in Chicago, but McGee was a menacing inside pass rusher who made 32 starts and recorded seven of his 12 career fumble recoveries with the Bears. McGee arrived to the NFL from Bishop College, where he transferred following his dismissal from the University of Wyoming for protesting as part of the "Black 14."

5. Jim Flanigan (74th in 1994)

You better be damn good if you're going to don Hall of Famer Dan Hampton's No. 99, and Flanigan wore it well, producing a career-high 11 sacks in 1995, his second season and first with the Danimal's digits. It also marked the first of five straight seasons with at least five sacks for the disruptive interior defender.

4. Marty Booker (78th in 1999)

A fearless and highly productive possession receiver, Booker finished his Bears career with 3,895 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, both top 10 for a franchise that has consistently struggled to produce difference makers at the position. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2004 along with a third-round pick for pass rusher Adewale Ogunleye.

3. Dave Duerson (64th in 1983)

A linchpin on the '85 Bears and their subsequent defenses that claimed four of the next five division crowns, the versatile safety intercepted 20 career passes and notched 16 sacks, making four consecutive Pro Bowls (1985-88). Tragically, Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in 2011, after which his brain was studied and detected to have CTE.

2. Lance Briggs (68th overall in 2003)

All Briggs did was make seven consecutive Pro Bowls and finish as the second-leading tackler (trailing Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher) on all three of the Bears' division championship clubs. Filling one of the more important roles as the "Will" linebacker in Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 'D,' the rangy and dynamic playmaker from Arizona rarely was lost in the shadow of his teammate Urlacher and Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Bill George, the only linebackers in Bears history with more interceptions than Briggs' 16 (including five pick-sixes, second only to Charles Tillman's 8).

1. Olin Kreutz (64th overall in 1998)

The undersized and salty Kreutz epitomized the kind of player with whom teammates were grateful to share a bunker. He was absolutely nasty throughout his 13 seasons in Chicago, when he made six Pro Bowls and was named a member of the NFL's All-Decades team for the 2000s. His 182 combined regular-season starts are the second most in team annals, behind only Walter Payton. Kreutz's toughness and technique allowed him to tussle with the division's much bigger defensive tackles, including Detroit's Shaun Rogers and the "Williams Wall" in Minnesota.

Mosher: 7 Bears draft targets at No. 87 who could readily contribute

Posted on March 29, 2019 - 10:20:47

Bears almost certain to be in the NFL draft RB market, as well as seeking EDGE and DB depth

After one of the more aggressive offseasons we had ever seen in Chicago last year, the Bears are left with just one NFL draft selection inside of the top 125 picks. However, they aren't in a bad spot heading into the 2019 season — not even in the slightest. 

The Bears have one of the best rosters in the NFL with very few urgent needs. The biggest could be at running back after the team traded away Jordan Howard to the Eagles for a conditional 2020 pick. Chicago signed veteran Mike Davis this offseason, but he likely isn’t the long-term answer at the position.

Outside of running back, the Bears could also use some depth on defense, specifically on the edge or at cornerback. Other than that, Chicago should be able to select the best available player when they are on the clock. Let’s look at a handful of players who could be available late in the third round for the Bears and could contribute right away.

RB David Montgomery, Iowa State

With Howard now off to the Eagles, the Bears must find a way to replace his production. More specifically, they are going to need to find a workhorse back who can make plays between the tackle box and after contact. Enter Iowa State’s David Montgomery.

Over the past two years with the Cyclones, Montgomery put on a show, rushing for 2,362 yards and 24 touchdowns. However, the most impressive trait about Montgomery is his ability to break tackles and gain the extra yard or two, even if there doesn't seem to be any yards to be earned. According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery avoided the tackle on first contact on more than 41 percent of his carries.  Considering just how bad Iowa State's offensive line was, he had to do this to be successful. He has outstanding lower-body strength and knows not only how to absorb contract, but how to make defenders miss as well. Outside of elite athleticism, Montgomery has everything you would want in a feature back.

In the NFL, Montgomery projects as an every-down back who makes his living as an inside runner. Pairing him with Tarik Cohen would give the Bears a fantastic one-two punch. His toughness and high character would be a perfect fit in Chicago. Expect Montgomery to be selected somewhere inside the top 100 picks.

RB Damien Harris, Alabama

Another devastating inside runner who would make a ton of sense for the Bears is Alabama’s Damien Harris. For whatever reason, Harris has been lost in the shuffle this pre-draft process, when his former teammate Josh Jacobs has garnered the most attention at the RB position. However, it was Harris who was the more productive college back and could wind up being the better pro.

Over the past three years at Alabama, Harris tallied 2,913 rushing yards on just 431 carries (6.75 yards per attempt.) He’s improved as a receiver, but that’s certainly not his strength. He is at his best when he is making plays after contact, especially near the goal line. Harris is one of the smartest running backs in the class, consistently finding the right lane to hit. He's also reliable, never missing a game during his career. That in itself is a quality trait to have in a running back.  

Harris could be there for the Bears with their third- or fourth-round pick, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he were able to replicate Howard’s success in Chicago. They are similar players, but one is cheaper and still has a lot of tread on the tires (477 career carries for Harris). Considering his ability to play on all three downs, Harris would be an excellent fit with the Bears. Expect him to be an instant-impact player in the NFL. 

RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis

If the Bears are looking to get a little more explosive in the backfield, one back they could consider at the end of the third round is Memphis’ Darrell Henderson.

Henderson was arguably the best back in college football last season, when he was a first-team All American. As a junior, Henderson tallied 2,204 total yards from scrimmage and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt on the ground. He was unstoppable for the Tigers, scoring 25 touchdowns in 13 games.

While he is undersized (5’8, 208 pounds), Henderson plays big and can run between the tackles. But his game is built on speed and consistently creating chunk runs. If Chicago is looking to get away from the typical inside runner/workhorse back, Henderson would be a perfect fit in Matt Nagy’s offense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have a Devonta Freeman-type career.

EDGE Ben Banogu, TCU

If the Bears decide not to select a running back with their first pick, look for them to continue to stock their defense with talent. One position they could add some depth to would be on the edge.

Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd are one of the better pass-rushing duos in the league, but the team is in a good place and can afford to look for depth players with upside because of their already-entrenched starters. One name that would make a lot of sense for Chicago is TCU’s Ben Banogu.

Banogu played two years at TCU, racking up 34.5 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. He was even more impressive at the NFL Combine, testing as the most explosive edge rusher in the class, according to 3sigmaathlete.com. He ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, but more impressively, posted a 40-inch vertical and a 134-inch broad jump.

However, Banogu isn’t going to be for everyone, as he lacks great size and length.  But in a 3-4, that might not be as big of a problem. He will need time to develop but is a world-class athlete who can make plays with his speed and explosiveness alone. Nearly every game, you see him use his athleticism to make a play on the backside or with sheer effort. At pick No.87, this would be a fantastic gamble for the Bears.

DL Charles Omenihu, Texas

One of the more intriguing defensive lineman in the entire 2019 draft class is Texas’ Charles Omenihu. At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, Omenihu is a freak athlete with an incredible wingspan of 85.5 inches. In college, he was finally able to turn his athleticism and length into production, recording 18 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks as a senior.

However, there are questions about where to play him in the NFL. For the Bears, he could be the perfect depth player for Chuck Pagano, as he can play 3-4 outside linebacker, the five-technique or inside as a defensive tackle in nickel packages. He is fundamentally raw and needs to be coached up, but his upside is fantastic.

Putting Omenihu on an already-established defense where he wouldn’t be forced to start would be the ideal place for his development. If the Bears were able to snag him in the third round, that could prove to be one of the biggest steals in the entire draft. Expect Omenihu to be on the short list of names the Bears consider at pick No.87.

 

EDGE Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion

Another relatively unknown pass rusher who could intrigue general manager Ryan Pace is Oshane Ximines from Old Dominion University. Ximines was a force in Conference USA, recording 43.5 tackles for a loss and 27.5 sacks in his final 37 games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ximines finished the 2018 season with a grade of 90.2, higher than Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell, and Rashan Gary. Despite coming from a small school, he’s technically sound and knows how to win with his hands. That should help ease the transition to the NFL. 

With his size and athleticism, Ximines has shown the potential to be a productive 3-4 outside linebacker. Expect him to be picked somewhere in the top 100 and contribute right away as a team’s third or fourth edge rusher.

CB Sean Bunting, Central Michigan

The Bears are fairly set in the secondary with Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Buster Skrine, but it's never a bad idea to continue to add to the position. One potential option for the Bears at the end of the third round is Central Michigan's Sean Bunting. 

A physical press-cornerback who seems to be offended if the receiver gets off of the line of scrimmage, Bunting needs some work in zone coverage and could improve his tackling technique, but he’s one of the most physical corners to come into the NFL in some time.

Bunting is also a fantastic athlete, testing just below the 93rd percentile, according to 3sigmaathlete.com. At 6-0, 195 pounds, Bunting ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine while jumping 41.5 inches in the vertical. He has the athletic profile to play on the outside and in the slot at a high level.

Given his size, athleticism and physicality, Bunting would be an excellent gamble for the Bears at pick No.87. Don’t be surprised if he turns into a starting cornerback in the NFL sooner rather than later.  

The Bears have one of the best rosters in the NFL with very few urgent needs. The biggest could be at running back after the team traded away Jordan Howard to the Eagles for a conditional 2020 pick. Chicago signed veteran Mike Davis this offseason, but he likely isn’t the long-term answer at the position.

Outside of running back, the Bears could also use some depth on defense, specifically on the edge or at cornerback. Other than that, Chicago should be able to select the best available player when they are on the clock. Let’s look at a handful of players who could be available late in the third round for the Bears and could contribute right away.

 

RB David Montgomery, Iowa State

With Howard now off to the Eagles, the Bears must find a way to replace his production. More specifically, they are going to need to find a workhorse back who can make plays between the tackle box and after contact. Enter Iowa State’s David Montgomery.

Over the past two years with the Cyclones, Montgomery put on a show, rushing for 2,362 yards and 24 touchdowns. However, the most impressive trait about Montgomery is his ability to break tackles and gain the extra yard or two, even if there doesn't seem to be any yards to be earned. According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery avoided the tackle on first contact on more than 41 percent of his carries.  Considering just how bad Iowa State's offensive line was, he had to do this to be successful. He has outstanding lower-body strength and knows not only how to absorb contract, but how to make defenders miss as well. Outside of elite athleticism, Montgomery has everything you would want in a feature back.

In the NFL, Montgomery projects as an every-down back who makes his living as an inside runner. Pairing him with Tarik Cohen would give the Bears a fantastic one-two punch. His toughness and high character would be a perfect fit in Chicago. Expect Montgomery to be selected somewhere inside the top 100 picks.

 

RB Damien Harris, Alabama

Another devastating inside runner who would make a ton of sense for the Bears is Alabama’s Damien Harris. For whatever reason, Harris has been lost in the shuffle this pre-draft process, when his former teammate Josh Jacobs has garnered the most attention at the RB position. However, it was Harris who was the more productive college back and could wind up being the better pro.

Over the past three years at Alabama, Harris tallied 2,913 rushing yards on just 431 carries (6.75 yards per attempt.) He’s improved as a receiver, but that’s certainly not his strength. He is at his best when he is making plays after contact, especially near the goal line. Harris is one of the smartest running backs in the class, consistently finding the right lane to hit. He's also reliable, never missing a game during his career. That in itself is a quality trait to have in a running back.  

Harris could be there for the Bears with their third- or fourth-round pick, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he were able to replicate Howard’s success in Chicago. They are similar players, but one is cheaper and still has a lot of tread on the tires (477 career carries for Harris). Considering his ability to play on all three downs, Harris would be an excellent fit with the Bears. Expect him to be an instant-impact player in the NFL. 

 

RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis

If the Bears are looking to get a little more explosive in the backfield, one back they could consider at the end of the third round is Memphis’ Darrell Henderson.

Henderson was arguably the best back in college football last season, when he was a first-team All American. As a junior, Henderson tallied 2,204 total yards from scrimmage and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt on the ground. He was unstoppable for the Tigers, scoring 25 touchdowns in 13 games.

While he is undersized (5’8, 208 pounds), Henderson plays big and can run between the tackles. But his game is built on speed and consistently creating chunk runs. If Chicago is looking to get away from the typical inside runner/workhorse back, Henderson would be a perfect fit in Matt Nagy’s offense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have a Devonta Freeman-type career.

 

EDGE Ben Banogu, TCU

If the Bears decide not to select a running back with their first pick, look for them to continue to stock their defense with talent. One position they could add some depth to would be on the edge.

Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd are one of the better pass-rushing duos in the league, but the team is in a good place and can afford to look for depth players with upside because of their already-entrenched starters. One name that would make a lot of sense for Chicago is TCU’s Ben Banogu.

Banogu played two years at TCU, racking up 34.5 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. He was even more impressive at the NFL Combine, testing as the most explosive edge rusher in the class, according to 3sigmaathlete.com. He ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, but more impressively, posted a 40-inch vertical and a 134-inch broad jump.

However, Banogu isn’t going to be for everyone, as he lacks great size and length.  But in a 3-4, that might not be as big of a problem. He will need time to develop but is a world-class athlete who can make plays with his speed and explosiveness alone. Nearly every game, you see him use his athleticism to make a play on the backside or with sheer effort. At pick No.87, this would be a fantastic gamble for the Bears.

 

DL Charles Omenihu, Texas

One of the more intriguing defensive lineman in the entire 2019 draft class is Texas’ Charles Omenihu. At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, Omenihu is a freak athlete with an incredible wingspan of 85.5 inches. In college, he was finally able to turn his athleticism and length into production, recording 18 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks as a senior.

However, there are questions about where to play him in the NFL. For the Bears, he could be the perfect depth player for Chuck Pagano, as he can play 3-4 outside linebacker, the five-technique or inside as a defensive tackle in nickel packages. He is fundamentally raw and needs to be coached up, but his upside is fantastic.

Putting Omenihu on an already-established defense where he wouldn’t be forced to start would be the ideal place for his development. If the Bears were able to snag him in the third round, that could prove to be one of the biggest steals in the entire draft. Expect Omenihu to be on the short list of names the Bears consider at pick No.87.

 

EDGE Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion

Another relatively unknown pass rusher who could intrigue general manager Ryan Pace is Oshane Ximines from Old Dominion University. Ximines was a force in Conference USA, recording 43.5 tackles for a loss and 27.5 sacks in his final 37 games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ximines finished the 2018 season with a grade of 90.2, higher than Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell, and Rashan Gary. Despite coming from a small school, he’s technically sound and knows how to win with his hands. That should help ease the transition to the NFL. 

With his size and athleticism, Ximines has shown the potential to be a productive 3-4 outside linebacker. Expect him to be picked somewhere in the top 100 and contribute right away as a team’s third or fourth edge rusher.

 

CB Sean Bunting, Central Michigan

The Bears are fairly set in the secondary with Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Buster Skrine, but it's never a bad idea to continue to add to the position. One potential option for the Bears at the end of the third round is Central Michigan's Sean Bunting. 

A physical press-cornerback who seems to be offended if the receiver gets off of the line of scrimmage, Bunting needs some work in zone coverage and could improve his tackling technique, but he’s one of the most physical corners to come into the NFL in some time.

Bunting is also a fantastic athlete, testing just below the 93rd percentile, according to 3sigmaathlete.com. At 6-0, 195 pounds, Bunting ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine while jumping 41.5 inches in the vertical. He has the athletic profile to play on the outside and in the slot at a high level.

Given his size, athleticism and physicality, Bunting would be an excellent gamble for the Bears at pick No.87. Don’t be surprised if he turns into a starting cornerback in the NFL sooner rather than later.  

The best and worst AFC East NFL Draft picks in the past decade

Posted on March 28, 2019 - 09:29:27
You'll hear hundreds of names called in less than a month at the NFL Draft.
Some will turn into superstars. Others will be out of the league in a couple of years. We're taking a look at the best and worst picks made by each team in the past decade, leading up to the NFL Draft.
Today, the AFC East:
Bills:
Best: Tremaine Edmunds, 1st round, 2018
Yeah, we're going with the young kid with one year of experience. Edmunds was a revelation for the Bills in his rookie campaign, with two sacks, two picks and two forced fumbles, to go along with 121 tackles. He turns 21 in May, and the future is as bright for Edmunds as it is for any young defensive player in the league.
Worst: EJ Manuel, 1st round, 2013
With a career completion percentage of 58 percent, 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, Manuel, who was a reach at No. 16 overall, was a first-round bust.
Dolphins:
Best: Reshad Jones, 5th round, 2010
Any time you can get a 10-year impactful player in the fifth round, you chalk that up as a major win. Jones has 21 career picks and has been a mainstay on the Dolphins defense since being plucked on the final day of the 2010 draft.
Worst: Dion Jordan, 1st round, 2013
We covered Jordan in a previous list, but it rings true here: Another player who found himself in consistent legal trouble, Jordan was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season, the entire 2015 season, and then was waived in 2017 for failing a physical. He had three sacks in four years with the Dolphins. Jordan did resurface in Seattle over the past two seasons, amassing 5.5 sacks in 17 appearances (three starts) but is currently unsigned.
Jets:
Best: Quincy Enunwa, 6th round, 2014
Muhammad Wilkerson deserves some mention here, but our choice is Enunwa, a sixth-round steal who blossomed in 2019 into one of franchise quarterback Sam Darnold's favorite targets while Enunwa was on the field. If he stays healthy, a true breakout is coming.
Worst: Christian Hackenberg, 2nd round, 2016
Dak Prescott went two rounds later, and Hackenberg quickly became known for his air-mailed practice passes that had anyone in attendance on high alert. He was traded two years later for a conditional seventh-round pick to the Raiders.
Patriots:
Best: Rob Gronkowski, 2nd round, 2010
The easiest choice on this list. A first-ballot Hall of Famer who changed the way you thought about the position, all while having a blast doing it. How did he last until the second round?
Worst: Dominique Easley, 1st round, 2014
It's rare, but Bill Belichick does miss on the ocassional draft pick. Easley lasted two seasons in New England, with three total sacks, before he was cut.

You'll hear hundreds of names called in less than a month at the NFL Draft.

Some will turn into superstars. Others will be out of the league in a couple of years. We're taking a look at the best and worst picks made by each team in the past decade, leading up to the NFL Draft.

Today, the AFC East:

Bills Best: Tremaine Edmunds, 1st round, 2018

Yeah, we're going with the young kid with one year of experience. Edmunds was a revelation for the Bills in his rookie campaign, with two sacks, two picks and two forced fumbles, to go along with 121 tackles. He turns 21 in May, and the future is as bright for Edmunds as it is for any young defensive player in the league.

Who are the best edge rushers in this year's draft? Greg Gabriel has his full list here for subscribers.

Bills worst: EJ Manuel, 1st round, 2013

With a career completion percentage of 58 percent, 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, Manuel, who was a reach at No. 16 overall, was a first-round bust.

Dolphins best: Reshad Jones, 5th round, 2010

Any time you can get a 10-year impactful player in the fifth round, you chalk that up as a major win. Jones has 21 career picks and has been a mainstay on the Dolphins defense since being plucked on the final day of the 2010 draft.

For our subscribers, who does Greg Gabriel grade as a fifth round pick?

Dolphins worst: Dion Jordan, 1st round, 2013

We covered Jordan in a previous list, but it rings true here: Another player who found himself in consistent legal trouble, Jordan was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season, the entire 2015 season, and then was waived in 2017 for failing a physical. He had three sacks in four years with the Dolphins. Jordan did resurface in Seattle over the past two seasons, amassing 5.5 sacks in 17 appearances (three starts) but is currently unsigned.

Jets best: Quincy Enunwa, 6th round, 2014

Muhammad Wilkerson deserves some mention here, but our choice is Enunwa, a sixth-round steal who blossomed in 2019 into one of franchise quarterback Sam Darnold's favorite targets while Enunwa was on the field. If he stays healthy, a true breakout is coming.

Jets worst: Christian Hackenberg, 2nd round, 2016

Dak Prescott went two rounds later, and Hackenberg quickly became known for his air-mailed practice passes that had anyone in attendance on high alert. He was traded two years later for a conditional seventh-round pick to the Raiders.

Get the No. 1 best selling draft guide today.

Patriots best: Rob Gronkowski, 2nd round, 2010

The easiest choice on this list. A first-ballot Hall of Famer who changed the way you thought about the position, all while having a blast doing it. How did he last until the second round?

Patriots worst: Dominique Easley, 1st round, 2014

It's rare, but Bill Belichick does miss on the ocassional draft pick. Easley lasted two seasons in New England, with three total sacks, before he was cut.

The biggest NFL Draft busts of the past 10 years

Posted on March 26, 2019 - 12:24:00
It happens every year. One of the constant things you'll hear about the draft is that it's a crapshoot. Some players are a bad fit. Some skill sets don't translate to the next level.
So it's not with glee that we point this out, but to serve as a reminder that some teams will be unhappy a few years from now with their 2019 picks. And, because of the stakes, some general managers will point to this draft as to why they are unemployed.
With that in mind, here are some of the biggest busts of the past decade.
2009: Aaron Curry, Seahawks, 4th overall
There are a few selections that could have gone here – Jason Smith to the Rams at No. 2, Aaron Maybin to the Bills at No. 11. But Curry received $34 million guaranteed, and just two years later was benched. He was out of the league by 2013.
2010: Jimmy Clausen, Panthers, 48th overall
Go back and look at the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Seven Pro Bowlers in the first 10 picks, very few disappointments. You have to go into the second round to find a true bust, and Clausen fits the bill. Appearing in 22 games for his career, Clausen threw seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
2011: Jake Locker, Titans, 8th overall
The first seven picks of the 2011 draft? All reached a Pro Bowl. No. 8? A strong-armed but inaccurate quarterback who retired in 2015 because of several injuries. Locker was middling for the healthy portions of his short career, throwing 27 total touchdowns to 22 interceptions and completing 57.5 percent of his passes.
2012: Justin Blackmon, Jaguars, 5th overall
Blackmon had out-of-this-world talent coming out of Oklahoma State, but only played 20 total games as a result of several arrests and run-ins with the law.
2013: Dion Jordan, Dolphins, 3rd overall
Another player who found himself in consistent legal trouble, Jordan was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season, the entire 2015 season, and then was waived in 2017 for failing a physical. He had three sacks in four years with the Dolphins. Jordan did resurface in Seattle over the past two seasons, amassing 5.5 sacks in 17 appearances (three starts) but is currently unsigned.
2014: Justin Gilbert, Browns, 8th overall
Yes, this is the Johnny Manziel draft, but Gilbert was a top-10 pick that was traded just two years later, in his own division, for a sixth-round pick. Ineffective in coverage and unable to adjust to the pro game, Gilbert also got suspended in 2017 for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
2015: Ereck Flowers, Giants, 9th overall
A liability from Day 1 at offensive tackle, Flowers has been unable to protect the quarterback and allows consistent pressure. The Giants jettisoned him in October of 2018. Somehow, this didn't stop Washington from signing him to a contract reportedly including $1.5 million guaranteed this offseason.
2016: Corey Coleman, Browns, 15th overall
The first pick of the Sashi Brown era, Coleman has already been on four (!!) rosters. The speedster out of Baylor has had issues with drops, route running and a broken hand.
2017: We’re watching: John Ross, Solomon Thomas
Ross has struggled with injuries but even when he's on the field, he hasn't been more than an occasional deep threat. Thomas has four sacks in two years and has largely been ineffective.
It happens every year. One of the constant things you'll hear about the draft is that it's a crapshoot. Some players are a bad fit. Some skill sets don't translate to the next level.
So it's not with glee that we point this out, but to serve as a reminder that some teams will be unhappy a few years from now with their 2019 picks. And, because of the stakes, some general managers will point to this draft as to why they are unemployed.
With that in mind, here are some of the biggest busts of the past decade.

2009: Aaron Curry, Seahawks, 4th overall

There are a few selections that could have gone here – Jason Smith to the Rams at No. 2, Aaron Maybin to the Bills at No. 11. But Curry received $34 million guaranteed, and just two years later was benched. He was out of the league by 2013.

Who does Greg Gabriel have as the top linebackers in this year's draft? Our subscribers know.

2010: Jimmy Clausen, Panthers, 48th overall

Go back and look at the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Seven Pro Bowlers in the first 10 picks, very few disappointments. You have to go into the second round to find a true bust, and Clausen fits the bill. Appearing in 22 games for his career, Clausen threw seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

2011: Jake Locker, Titans, 8th overall

The first seven picks of the 2011 draft? All reached a Pro Bowl. No. 8? A strong-armed but inaccurate quarterback who retired in 2015 because of several injuries. Locker was middling for the healthy portions of his short career, throwing 27 total touchdowns to 22 interceptions and completing 57.5 percent of his passes.

Get access to Greg Gabriel's scouting reports on this year's draft class when you subscribe today.

2012: Justin Blackmon, Jaguars, 5th overall

Blackmon had out-of-this-world talent coming out of Oklahoma State, but only played 20 total games as a result of several arrests and run-ins with the law.

2013: Dion Jordan, Dolphins, 3rd overall

Another player who found himself in consistent legal trouble, Jordan was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season, the entire 2015 season, and then was waived in 2017 for failing a physical. He had three sacks in four years with the Dolphins. Jordan did resurface in Seattle over the past two seasons, amassing 5.5 sacks in 17 appearances (three starts) but is currently unsigned.

Stay in the know for the draft when you get our free newsletter today.

2014: Justin Gilbert, Browns, 8th overall

Yes, this is the Johnny Manziel draft, but Gilbert was a top-10 pick that was traded just two years later, in his own division, for a sixth-round pick. Ineffective in coverage and unable to adjust to the pro game, Gilbert also got suspended in 2017 for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

2015: Ereck Flowers, Giants, 9th overall

A liability from Day 1 at offensive tackle, Flowers has been unable to protect the quarterback and allows consistent pressure. The Giants jettisoned him in October of 2018. Somehow, this didn't stop Washington from signing him to a contract reportedly including $1.5 million guaranteed this offseason.

Stay in the know for the draft when you get our free newsletter today.

2016: Corey Coleman, Browns, 15th overall

The first pick of the Sashi Brown era, Coleman has already been on four (!!) rosters. The speedster out of Baylor has had issues with drops, route running and a broken hand.

2017: We’re watching: John Ross, Solomon Thomas

Ross has struggled with injuries but even when he's on the field, he hasn't been more than an occasional deep threat. Thomas has four sacks in two years and has largely been ineffective.

Next season starts now. Get the No. 1 best-selling NFL Draft guide today.

Bears vs. Packers at Soldier Field on 'Thursday Night Football' to kick off NFL's 100th season

Posted on March 25, 2019 - 15:13:00
The Bears will host the Green Bay Packers to kick off the NFL's 100th season on Thursday, Sept. 5 at Soldier Field, the league confirmed Monday. Additional plans for a free fan festival in Grant Park, featuring concerts, former Bears players and a live viewing party, were also unveiled.
Although the defending Super Bowl champion usually hosts the first game of the season, the New England Patriots will take a backseat to the NFL's oldest rivals, welcoming a foe that's still to be determined to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sept. 8.
“As an organization, we are thrilled to be kicking off the 100th season of football in the NFL,” Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said in a statement distributed Monday by the team. “As a charter franchise, we cannot think of a better way to begin our centennial season by hosting our longtime rival in prime time at Soldier Field.”
The 199th clash between the two charter franchises will mark the Bears' first-ever Week 1 appearance on "Thursday Night Football," kicking off their own centennial season celebration. The last prime-time battle in Chicago between the Bears and Packers was in Week 3 of 2010, a 20-17 Bears triumph.
The Bears and Packers met at Lambeau Field in Week 1 last season for the first time since 2015. Chicago led 20-0 in the third quarter of the navy and orange debut for eventual Coach of the Year Matt Nagy and first-team All Pro OLB Khalil Mack prior to Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers' largest fourth-quarter home comeback ever.
But the Bears exacted revenge last December, when they clinched their first division title in eight years at Soldier Field by defeating Green Bay, 24-17. The rivalry, which the Packers lead 97-95-6, was amped up another gear this offseason, when they signed former Bears starting S Adrian Amos and the Bears countered by replacing him with ex-Packers first-rounder Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
comp:00005c98989d:000000007b:135e 4 <a class="spreaker-player" href="https://www.spreaker.com/episode/17396935" data-resource="episode_id=17396935" data-width="100%" data-height="200px" data-theme="light" data-playlist="false" data-playlist-continuous="false" data-autoplay="false" data-live-autoplay="false" data-chapters-image="true" data-episode-image-position="right" data-hide-logo="false" data-hide-likes="false" data-hide-comments="false" data-hide-sharing="false" data-hide-download="true" >Listen to "PFW Chicago Podcast 146: Wayne Larrivee talks NFC North" on Spreaker.</a> <script async src="https://widget.spreaker.com/widgets.js"></script> xl left 6
Grant Park, Chicago's famous downtown park roughy one mile north of the stadium, is a familiar site for the NFL. It was transformed into 900,000 square foot "Draft Town," hosting tens of thousands of fans over three days when the league held its college draft there and at the Auditorium Theater from 2015-17.

NFL Draft: The most important stat for every top WR prospect

Posted on March 20, 2019 - 16:38:55

From explosive play count to catch rate to number of passes defensed, the most telling numbers on WR class

It’s time to dive into the film and metrics to unearth the next great players of the NFL, and one of my favorite exercises is finding the most important and useful stat for each prospect I evaluate. Today, we will be taking a look at 10 of the top receivers in the 2019 NFL draft class and their most important stat from the 2018 season.

1. D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss – 21.9 Yards per Reception

The consensus top receiver in the 2019 NFL draft class is D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss. Despite playing in only seven games last season, Metcalf’s potential was on full display as he dominated in the SEC. He is arguably the best deep threat in the entire class, at times flashing the potential ceiling of a player like Calvin Johnson. At the NFL combine, Metcalf stole the show, running a 4.33 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds.

It’s not hard to see where Metcalf’s athleticism translates to production. He averaged an incredible 21.9 yards per reception, the fourth-highest in college football last season. According to PlayerProfiler, Metcalf’s 21.9 yards per reception rank in the 96th percentile among all receivers entering the NFL since 2000.  

Metcalf’s game is built on being bigger and faster than his opponent, and even in the NFL, there aren't going to be many cornerbacks that can match his level of athleticism. He is going to need to improve on the technical areas of being a receiver, but his ability to make big plays down the field make him a valued commodity in the 2019 NFL draft. I think his talent and skill set falls somewhere between Josh Gordon and Martavis Bryant.

2. Hakeem Butler, Iowa State – 25 receptions of 20 or more yards

Everything that was said about D.K. Metcalf could also be said about Iowa State's Hakeem Butler. In 2018, Butler was third in the nation in yards per reception, averaging an incredible 22 yards per catch (97th percentile since 2000). His 25 receptions of at least 20 yards paced FBS as Butler consistently made play after play down the field in the Big 12.

comp:00005c8f5e22:00000003b9:743f 4 <a class="spreaker-player" href="https://www.spreaker.com/episode/17397221" data-resource="episode_id=17397221" data-width="100%" data-height="200px" data-theme="light" data-playlist="false" data-playlist-continuous="false" data-autoplay="false" data-live-autoplay="false" data-chapters-image="true" data-episode-image-position="right" data-hide-logo="false" data-hide-likes="false" data-hide-comments="false" data-hide-sharing="false" data-hide-download="true" >Listen to "PFW Podcast 135: Greg Gabriel talks NFL Draft prospects" on Spreaker.</a> <script async src="https://widget.spreaker.com/widgets.js"></script> xl left 7

Despite his wiry frame, nobody is a bigger threat when it comes to creating big plays. Butler's 4.48 speed at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds was a major talking point at the combine. And he not only ran fast in Indianapolis, his track record of making splash plays in college should make him an early selection.

3. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford – 9 Red Zone Touchdowns in 2018

If a team is looking to solve its red zone woes, look no further than Stanford's J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. In 2018, the Pac-12 receiver scored 14 touchdowns, nine of which occurred inside the red zone. No other draft-eligible receiver scored more touchdowns inside the 20 than Whiteside, and it's easy to see why.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside has the elite size and body control that allows him to be a big-time weapon in the red zone. It wouldn't be a surprise if he quickly replicated this kind of success in the NFL, where he can immediately be used on fades and back-shoulder throws. Arcega-Whiteside needs to refine his game in other places, but his value will always be tied into his red zone dominance. Look for Arcega-Whiteside to come off the board within the top 100 selections.

4. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Oklahoma – 1 Pass Defended in 2018                   

One statistic that often isn't brought to attention for draft-eligible receivers is the number of passes defended. If defensive backs can't deflect or defend a pass, it typically means that the receiver is consistently creating enough separation where that is not possible. Texas A&M's Christian Kirk (selected No. 47 overall last year by the Cardinals) led the nation with the fewest passes defended (1) in 2017.

Last season, Oklahoma receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown allowed the fewest passes defended (1). Brown is one of the fastest receivers in the draft, and his speed will be his trump card in the NFL. Brown averaged an incredible 17.6 yards per reception in 2018 and 18.3 throughout his career. I fully expect Brown to continue to create massive amounts of separation at the next level and be used in a DeSean Jackson-type of role. Like his cousin Antonio, Marquise Brown is one of the toughest receivers to cover in one-on-one situations.

5. Parris Campbell, Ohio State – 83 Percent Catch Rate

Some of the stats listed in this article can tell you a lot about a player, such as Hakeem Butler's big-play ability, D.K. Metcalf's yards per reception, etc. In the case of Parris Campbell, there are two potential conclusions that can be formed after looking at a specific stat. In 2018, Campbell caught 83 percent of the passes intended for him, leading the nation. In total, Campbell caught 90 passes for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns.

However, what is somewhat misleading about this statistic is that it doesn't take into account the type of routes Campbell was asked to run. Usually, he was running underneath routes, and that is why he averaged a measly 11.8 yards per reception at Ohio State. If Campbell is asked to run deeper routes in the NFL, will he be able to sustain this absurd catch rate? Probably not. However, his ability to be a safety blanket for a quarterback will be valuable at the next level.

 6. Andy Isabella, UMass – 47.5 Percent of Team’s Yardage Share

A popular phrase that is uttered during the draft process is "market share" in regards to receivers. To make things simple, market share is the percentage of the passing offense a receiver is responsible for. In college, the "magic" number most are looking for is at least 20 percent, with the top prospects reaching 30 percent. Last season, D.J. Moore, who was the first receiver drafted, led the nation with a market share of 51.7 percent of Maryland's offense.

In 2018, it was University of Massachusetts receiver Andy Isabella leading all receivers in yardage share at 47.5 percent as he caught 102 balls for 1,698 yards. According to PlayerProfiler, Isabella accounted for 52.2 percent of UMass’s passing offense, good enough to be in the 97th percentile of all receivers since 2000. Isabella won't be as highly regarded as Moore, but he is an outstanding prospect who has the production and athleticism to be a dynamic receiver in the NFL. Drafting Isabella any time on Day 2 would be a steal.  

7. Riley Ridley, Georgia – Big-Play Rate of 16 Percent

One of the most controversial receivers in the 2019 draft class is Georgia's Riley Ridley, the younger brother of Falcons' receiver Calvin Ridley, who was a first-round pick last April. Riley isn't quite the same talent, but he does have a lot of fans around the draft community.

The biggest argument against Ridley is his lack of production. In 28 career games at Georgia, Ridley totaled just 69 receptions for 1,015 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. In his final season as a Bulldog, he accounted for just 22 percent of Georgia’s passing offense (28th percentile).

But my biggest concern is the lack of big plays. In 2018, Ridley had only seven receptions of at least 20 yards — a big-play rate of 16 percent. He just doesn’t have the top-end speed (4.58 40-yard dash) to scare defenders. Ridley is going to have to make his money in the short to intermediate part of the field, and considering his lack of production, he is going to be a hot-button player during this draft season.

8. Emanuel Hall, Missouri – 43 Percent Big-Play Rate

One of the most underrated receivers in the 2019 NFL draft is Emanuel Hall of Missouri. Despite putting up fantastic numbers in the SEC, he hasn't received a lot of buzz throughout the draft process. Hall is one of the best deep threats in the entire class, averaging 22.4 yards per reception in his final season at Mizzou.

In 2018, Hall caught a pass of at least 20 yards on 43 percent of his receptions. That was by far the highest rate of any receiver in the 2019 draft class. In total, Hall had 15 receptions of at least 20 yards in just eight games for the Tigers. If a team is looking to acquire a receiver who can make plays down the field at a reasonable cost, Hall should be a target.

9. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State – 16.9 Yards per Punt Return

If you are searching for value at receiver, one thing to search for is how productive a player was on special teams. Many of the NFL's top receivers (Antonio Brown, Tyreek Hill, Julian Edelman, Adam Thielen, etc.) started their careers on special teams, and the same holds true in college. For whatever reason, players who succeed on special teams usually have a pretty smooth transition to offense.

N’Keal Harry of Arizona State is widely considered one of the top receivers in this class. Over the past two seasons, Harry caught 155 passes for 2,230 yards and 17 touchdowns. His receiving tape is good enough alone to warrant a top-50 selection, but it's his special teams ability — specifically his punt return skills — that make me confident he is going to thrive in the NFL.

In his final season at Arizona State, Harry averaged 16.9 yards per punt return, one of the highest in all of college football. Harry doesn't have elite top-end speed (4.52 40-yard dash), but he is elusive enough to make defenders miss and to create big plays for his team. If nothing else, expect Harry to contribute in Year 1 as a dynamic punt returner. 

10. Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State – 17.4 yards per reception on 1st down

Kelvin Harmon of North Carolina State is one of the most well-rounded receivers in the class. You won't find many flaws in his game. He might lack any single "elite" trait, but what Harmon does so well is create chunk plays on early downs. In 2018, Harmon averaged an incredible 17.4 yards per reception on 1st down, the most in all of college football. Harmon has some Michael Thomas in his game, and his efficiency per target in college is quite similar. Expect Harmon to be a top-50 selection and instantly make an impact as a WR2.

 

1. D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss – 21.9 Yards per Reception

The consensus top receiver in the 2019 NFL draft class is D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss. Despite playing in only seven games last season, Metcalf’s potential was on full display as he dominated in the SEC. He is arguably the best deep threat in the entire class, at times flashing the potential ceiling of a player like Calvin Johnson. At the NFL combine, Metcalf stole the show, running a 4.33 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds.

It’s not hard to see where Metcalf’s athleticism translates to production. He averaged an incredible 21.9 yards per reception, the fourth-highest in college football last season. According to PlayerProfiler, Metcalf’s 21.9 yards per reception rank in the 96th percentile among all receivers entering the NFL since 2000.  

Metcalf’s game is built on being bigger and faster than his opponent, and even in the NFL, there aren't going to be many cornerbacks that can match his level of athleticism. He is going to need to improve on the technical areas of being a receiver, but his ability to make big plays down the field make him a valued commodity in the 2019 NFL draft. I think his talent and skill set falls somewhere between Josh Gordon and Martavis Bryant.

2. Hakeem Butler, Iowa State – 25 receptions of 20 or more yards

Everything that was said about D.K. Metcalf could also be said about Iowa State's Hakeem Butler. In 2018, Butler was third in the nation in yards per reception, averaging an incredible 22 yards per catch (97th percentile since 2000). His 25 receptions of at least 20 yards paced FBS as Butler consistently made play after play down the field in the Big 12.

Despite his wiry frame, nobody is a bigger threat when it comes to creating big plays. Butler's 4.48 speed at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds was a major talking point at the combine. And he not only ran fast in Indianapolis, his track record of making splash plays in college should make him an early selection.

 

3. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford – 9 Red Zone Touchdowns in 2018

If a team is looking to solve its red zone woes, look no further than Stanford's J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. In 2018, the Pac-12 receiver scored 14 touchdowns, nine of which occurred inside the red zone. No other draft-eligible receiver scored more touchdowns inside the 20 than Whiteside, and it's easy to see why.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside has the elite size and body control that allows him to be a big-time weapon in the red zone. It wouldn't be a surprise if he quickly replicated this kind of success in the NFL, where he can immediately be used on fades and back-shoulder throws. Arcega-Whiteside needs to refine his game in other places, but his value will always be tied into his red zone dominance. Look for Arcega-Whiteside to come off the board within the top 100 selections.

 

4. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Oklahoma – 1 Pass Defended in 2018                   

One statistic that often isn't brought to attention for draft-eligible receivers is the number of passes defended. If defensive backs can't deflect or defend a pass, it typically means that the receiver is consistently creating enough separation where that is not possible. Texas A&M's Christian Kirk (selected No. 47 overall last year by the Cardinals) led the nation with the fewest passes defended (1) in 2017.

Last season, Oklahoma receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown allowed the fewest passes defended (1). Brown is one of the fastest receivers in the draft, and his speed will be his trump card in the NFL. Brown averaged an incredible 17.6 yards per reception in 2018 and 18.3 throughout his career. I fully expect Brown to continue to create massive amounts of separation at the next level and be used in a DeSean Jackson-type of role. Like his cousin Antonio, Marquise Brown is one of the toughest receivers to cover in one-on-one situations.

 

5. Parris Campbell, Ohio State – 83 Percent Catch Rate

Some of the stats listed in this article can tell you a lot about a player, such as Hakeem Butler's big-play ability, D.K. Metcalf's yards per reception, etc. In the case of Parris Campbell, there are two potential conclusions that can be formed after looking at a specific stat. In 2018, Campbell caught 83 percent of the passes intended for him, leading the nation. In total, Campbell caught 90 passes for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns.

However, what is somewhat misleading about this statistic is that it doesn't take into account the type of routes Campbell was asked to run. Usually, he was running underneath routes, and that is why he averaged a measly 11.8 yards per reception at Ohio State. If Campbell is asked to run deeper routes in the NFL, will he be able to sustain this absurd catch rate? Probably not. However, his ability to be a safety blanket for a quarterback will be valuable at the next level.

 

 6. Andy Isabella, UMass – 47.5 Percent of Team’s Yardage Share

A popular phrase that is uttered during the draft process is "market share" in regards to receivers. To make things simple, market share is the percentage of the passing offense a receiver is responsible for. In college, the "magic" number most are looking for is at least 20 percent, with the top prospects reaching 30 percent. Last season, D.J. Moore, who was the first receiver drafted, led the nation with a market share of 51.7 percent of Maryland's offense.

In 2018, it was University of Massachusetts receiver Andy Isabella leading all receivers in yardage share at 47.5 percent as he caught 102 balls for 1,698 yards. According to PlayerProfiler, Isabella accounted for 52.2 percent of UMass’s passing offense, good enough to be in the 97th percentile of all receivers since 2000. Isabella won't be as highly regarded as Moore, but he is an outstanding prospect who has the production and athleticism to be a dynamic receiver in the NFL. Drafting Isabella any time on Day 2 would be a steal.  

 

7. Riley Ridley, Georgia – Big-Play Rate of 16 Percent

One of the most controversial receivers in the 2019 draft class is Georgia's Riley Ridley, the younger brother of Falcons' receiver Calvin Ridley, who was a first-round pick last April. Riley isn't quite the same talent, but he does have a lot of fans around the draft community.

The biggest argument against Ridley is his lack of production. In 28 career games at Georgia, Ridley totaled just 69 receptions for 1,015 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. In his final season as a Bulldog, he accounted for just 22 percent of Georgia’s passing offense (28th percentile).

But my biggest concern is the lack of big plays. In 2018, Ridley had only seven receptions of at least 20 yards — a big-play rate of 16 percent. He just doesn’t have the top-end speed (4.58 40-yard dash) to scare defenders. Ridley is going to have to make his money in the short to intermediate part of the field, and considering his lack of production, he is going to be a hot-button player during this draft season.

 

8. Emanuel Hall, Missouri – 43 Percent Big-Play Rate

One of the most underrated receivers in the 2019 NFL draft is Emanuel Hall of Missouri. Despite putting up fantastic numbers in the SEC, he hasn't received a lot of buzz throughout the draft process. Hall is one of the best deep threats in the entire class, averaging 22.4 yards per reception in his final season at Mizzou.

In 2018, Hall caught a pass of at least 20 yards on 43 percent of his receptions. That was by far the highest rate of any receiver in the 2019 draft class. In total, Hall had 15 receptions of at least 20 yards in just eight games for the Tigers. If a team is looking to acquire a receiver who can make plays down the field at a reasonable cost, Hall should be a target.

 

9. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State – 16.9 Yards per Punt Return

If you are searching for value at receiver, one thing to search for is how productive a player was on special teams. Many of the NFL's top receivers (Antonio Brown, Tyreek Hill, Julian Edelman, Adam Thielen, etc.) started their careers on special teams, and the same holds true in college. For whatever reason, players who succeed on special teams usually have a pretty smooth transition to offense.

N’Keal Harry of Arizona State is widely considered one of the top receivers in this class. Over the past two seasons, Harry caught 155 passes for 2,230 yards and 17 touchdowns. His receiving tape is good enough alone to warrant a top-50 selection, but it's his special teams ability — specifically his punt return skills — that make me confident he is going to thrive in the NFL.

In his final season at Arizona State, Harry averaged 16.9 yards per punt return, one of the highest in all of college football. Harry doesn't have elite top-end speed (4.52 40-yard dash), but he is elusive enough to make defenders miss and to create big plays for his team. If nothing else, expect Harry to contribute in Year 1 as a dynamic punt returner. 

 

10. Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State – 17.4 yards per reception on 1st down

Kelvin Harmon of North Carolina State is one of the most well-rounded receivers in the class. You won't find many flaws in his game. He might lack any single "elite" trait, but what Harmon does so well is create chunk plays on early downs. In 2018, Harmon averaged an incredible 17.4 yards per reception on 1st down, the most in all of college football. Harmon has some Michael Thomas in his game, and his efficiency per target in college is quite similar. Expect Harmon to be a top-50 selection and instantly make an impact as a WR2.

Hub Arkush: Free agency's biggest bargains, overpays

Posted on March 20, 2019 - 11:17:00

Seahawks stole K.J. Wright, unlike Washington spending record money on Collins

The NFL’s free agency bizarre isn’t even a week old yet and at least five of this year’s top 30 players are still on the board, with as many as 30 percent of the top 100 still available.
But the majority of the league’s 32 teams have already locked in their salary cap plans for the 2019 season, and though there are still a number of quality signings to come, most of the “big deals” and headline makers are done.

So here’s a way-too-early look at who are this year's biggest bargains, overpays:

Bargain

K.J. Wright: Certainly, injuries are a concern with Wright, who will turn 30 this season, but he is one of the most underrated players in the league when healthy. At less than $8 million a year, he’s a steal.

Overpaid

Trent Brown: Read above and then make him the highest paid offensive lineman in the game. I couldn’t be happier for the guy but I also just can’t see him playing anywhere near up to that deal, and that the Raiders shipped Osemele out to make this work is really too bad.

Bargain

Bashaud Breeland: Breeland is an excellent cover corner with nice size, instantly upgrading the Chiefs' CB position. Injuries hadn’t been a problem for him prior to last year, and on a one-year prove it deal at $5 million, he’s a bargain.

Overpaid

Landon Collins: Collins is a great football player — one of the best safeties in the game — but as it is prone to do, Washington was bidding against itself. As it is want to do, Washington got its man but left the team with a number of other holes and in less than ideal cap shape going forward.

Bargain

Bears S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: Clinton-Dix hasn’t played as well over the last year and a half or so as he did over his first three years in the league. But he’s still been highly productive with six picks and 12 passes defensed in 2017-18. His 17 INTs and 36 PDs over the past five seasons — — which included one Pro Bowl — make him one of the most productive safeties in the game, and for the Bears to get him at the age of 26 on a one-year, $3.5 million prove-it deal to pair with All Pro Eddie Jackson is a gamble they really can’t lose.

Overpaid

Lions DE Trey Flowers: Flowers is a really nice player who did make a difference in New England, but $90 million with $56 million guaranteed is nuts for a guy who, at 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds, doesn’t really have a position and has averaged only seven sacks, two passes defensed and three tackles for loss per season.

Hub Arkush: Nick Foles will be one of free agency's MVPs, but Trent Brown bound to disappoint

Posted on March 19, 2019 - 09:23:00

But who else figures to flourish, flounder among this year's big free agent signees?

The NFL’s free agency bizarre isn’t even a week old yet and at least five of this year’s top 30 players are still on the board, with as many as 30 percent of the top 100 still available.

But the majority of the league’s 32 teams have already locked in their salary cap plans for the 2019 season, and though there are still a number of quality signings to come, most of the “big deals” and headline makers are done.

So here’s a way-too-early look at who will be this year's free agent MVPs and disappointments:

MVP

Tevin Coleman: Kyle Shanahan knows exactly what to do with Coleman to get the most out of him. The former Falcon is an instant upgrade, not only for the Niners running game but as a valuable weapon for a passing game that is extremely short on those right now. And it’s really surprising how reasonable his price was.

Disappointment

Sheldon Richardson: Richardson is a head case who hasn’t fared well in the past when playing on long-term deals. While everyone else is raving about what the Browns have done, there should be some real concern about all the character question marks in that locker room right now, and my gut tells me it’s a bad spot for Richardson to flourish.

MVP

Golden Tate: No, he isn’t Odell Beckham Jr. — and he never will be on the field — but Tate also isn’t OBJ off the field — and that’s a good thing. Forget Beckham; he’s gone. Tate is a perfect fit to work with Eli Manning and to help groom a young quarterback when Manning's heir apparent is ready to take the field.

Disappointment

Lamarcus Joyner: Joyner’s play has slipped a bit the past two seasons — and that was playing in one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL. Now, he’s going to be asked to make a difference while surrounded by far lesser talent, and with the comfort of four years and $21 million guaranteed it’s not at all certain he can handle it.

MVP

Nick Foles: I don’t know what Foles has left to prove, but there is enough talent left in Jacksonville for him to make the Jaguars instantly competitive again. Blake Bortles got a lot more of the blame than he deserved, but Foles is a former Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl MVP at the most important position on the field, and I expect him to make a big difference.

Disappointment

Trent Brown: This kid was playing as well as any left tackle in the NFL at the end of last season — and he has a Super Bowl ring to prove it. But that was with Brady and Belichick, some think the best O-line coach in the game in Dante Scarnecchia and one of the better O-line groups in the game. Derek Carr isn’t going to make things anywhere near as easy on Brown, and the rest of the talent on the Raiders line won’t come close to measuring up.

Hub Arkush: San Francisco 49ers among teams with best free-agent plans

Posted on March 18, 2019 - 21:49:00

Conversely, Bengals would have been better off not spending

The NFL’s free agency bizarre isn’t even a week old yet and at least five of this year’s top 30 players are still on the board, with as many as 30 percent of the top 100 still available.

But the majority of the league’s 32 teams have already locked in their salary cap plans for the 2019 season, and though there are still a number of quality signings to come, most of the “big deals” and headline makers are done.

So here’s a way-too-early look at who appeared to have the best and worst plans of attack in free agency:

Good plan

San Francisco: The 49ers may have overpaid for Kwon Alexander, but when healthy he’s a tackling machine you can build a defense around. While Dee Ford arrived in a trade – and the new contract the Niners gave him is a bit over the top too – he should make an outstanding bookend with DeForest Buckner and dramatically improve one of the league’s weakest pass rushes. Tevin Coleman is an instant upgrade for their ground game at a bargain price, and if he’s healthy Jason Verrett could very well prove to be the steal of this year’s free agent crop.

The Niners got that all done while retaining the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and almost $35 million in cap space.

Bad plan

Washington: This team just doesn’t appear to have a clue. I love Landon Collins but the money they gave him was way over the top, while they let Preston Smith walk for far less and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took less than they offered him to pair with Collins to go to Chicago for a bargain basement prove-it deal and a chance to win. You get that the Alex Smith injury has left them in a difficult spot, but the idea that Case Keenum is the answer seems highly unlikely. The problem is this team never seems to have a plan at all.

Good plan

Buffalo: The Bills are all in on last year’s top pick Josh Allen as their franchise quarterback and made the commitment in free agency to upgrade the weapons they have around him as much as possible without committing any “stupid” money that is likely to hamstring them down the road.

By teaming Frank Gore with LeSean McCoy and adding five new offensive linemen, their ground game should take a significant leap forward, and while WRs Cole Beasley, John Brown and return specialist Andre Roberts will probably never be Pro Bowlers, they are a significant upgrade over the weapons Allen had on hand.

And Buffalo got that all done while still retaining the fifth most cap space in the league, approximately $37 million.

Bad plan

Bengals: I’m not dogging any teams here for doing nothing, but the Bengals probably would have been better off if they had done just that. $20 million for Bobby Hart is absurd. It would be great to have a healthy Tyler Eifert, but at this point to chase Tyler Kroft away to keep Eifert is about as dependable as playing the lottery. B.W. Webb is a bottom-of-the-roster guy, and while re-signing Preston Brown was smart, Cincinnati definitely looks like it has a weaker roster now than it did when free agency began.

Good plan

N.Y. Jets: Le’Veon Bell for the most part made a fool out of himself over the past two seasons, forcing himself away from one of the winningest teams in football to one of its biggest losers, for less money, and leaving almost $15 million on the table last year he can never recoup. But he is still just 27 years old, has no wear and tear on his body over the last year and a half and if he can stay away from off-the-field issues that shadowed him prior to all his contract problems, he should be a huge comfort for Sam Darnold. The Jets flat out stole Kelechi Osemele from the Raiders, and while they wildly overpaid for C.J. Mosley, he should be the focal point of their defense for the next three or four years.

Bad plan

Chiefs: Tyrann Mathieu would have been a great get ... to pair with Eric Berry. I also like Alex Okafor and Bashaud Breeland — even if the Chiefs overpaid for Mathieu and Okafor. But if someone made me the offer, I just couldn’t see agreeing to trade Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Eric Berry and Steven Nelson for the three of them, which is effectively what they did. On the other side of the ball, Mitch Morse, Chris Conley and Demetrius Harris may not be Pro Bowlers, but they are nice pieces that now have to be replaced as well.

The good, bad and ugly so far in 2019 NFL free agency

Posted on March 18, 2019 - 10:13:55

From best overall plan to least draft flexibility created, our free-agent superlatives with dust beginning to settle

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Free agency was basically over before it started, thanks to the NFL's early negotiating window's constant leaks. The good news is it gives us an opportunity to share some of our superlatives sooner. We've pared them down to 11 categories, from the best plan to the least draft flexibility created, and hopefully a lot of fun areas of discussion in between.

Yes, plenty of the smart teams pretty much sit out free agency annually (we're looking at you, Patriots), but that doesn't mean this isn't an invaluable mode of roster construction for every team — including New England, which probably doesn't win the Super Bowl a few years ago without signing Stephon Gilmore. Think the Eagles win the following season without free-agent acquisitions Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffery on offense and Chris Long and Patrick Robinson on 'D?'

And would the Patriots have won last season for the second time in three years without the trade acquisitions of Trent Brown and Jason McCourty?

Indeed, in the NFL in 2019, we'd be remiss without also mentioning trades, which have quickly become a spring rite of passage and as viable an avenue to improving teams in the short term as building up compensatory draft pick war chests for long-term roster sustainability.

Without further ado, our 2019 NFL free-agent superlatives:

Best multi-year value signing: Panthers C Matt Paradis

Solely because he's recovering from a fractured fibula, Paradis was forced to settle for a three-year, $29 million deal including $12 million guaranteed with the Panthers. It's almost like other teams forgot the former sixth-rounder started 60 consecutive games, not missing a single snap, prior to the injury last fall. Paradis is a 29-year-old ironman who brings the kind of toughness and down-to-down steadiness rarely found at the position outside of the man he's tasked with replacing, Panthers legend Ryan Kalil. And after overextending the last time it attempted to rebuild its O-line with bloated deals for Matt Kalil and even Trai Turner's extension, Carolina's signing of Paradis on the heels of Mitch Morse's monster deal in Buffalo (AAV of $11.125 million with $26.2 GTD) looks shrewd.

Best prove-it deal: Bears S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

The Bears replaced the sound and physical Adrian Amos, who jumped ship for their oldest rivals, with Clinton-Dix, the former Packers first-rounder, and saved $11.5 million this season. Ryan Pace isn't known for his free-agency values, but this could go down as one of his best. Clinton-Dix brings more pedigree and playmaking potential than Amos, and though he's not as consistent as a tackler and in his assignments, his perfect fit in the NFL's No. 1 scoring 'D' figures to cover that up a bit. Basically, the Bears might have sacrificed a bit of reliability at safety for a more dynamic player, while getting a bit more durable and a bit less dynamic at nickel, swapping Bryce Callahan for Buster Skrine.

Smartest FA plan: Browns

Could the collection of mercurial talents backfire on John Dorsey? Of course. But we'll never fault a general manager with a rising star QB only entering Year 2 of his rookie deal for being as aggressive as possible. The Browns were one of the more talented teams in football entering 2019 and have added WR Odell Beckham, DE Olivier Vernon, DL Sheldon Richardson and RB Kareem Hunt. Except Hunt, a luxury addition under extenuating circumstances, all three play premium positions, have Pro Bowl credentials and remain in the primes of their career. Though OBJ obviously catches the most headlines, we especially love adding Vernon across from Myles Garrett. Dorsey wisely dealt a guard — and a good one in Kevin Zeitler — for a top-end pass rusher, knowing he can plug his OG hole with the 33rd overall pick a year ago, Austin Corbett.

Most confusing FA plan: Washington

We could easily pick Dave Gettleman's Giants, but at what point does it just become piling on? We'll instead side with rival Washington, which paid Landon Collins free agency's most outrageous deal; traded for Case Keenum, whom the Vikings spent so much on Kirk Cousins to replace; let Jamison Crowder, Preston Smith and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix escape. And did we mention the Collins deal? Box safety or not, why splurge at that position when 2019 looks like a rebuilding year and a coaching change could follow it?

Safest move: Rams S Eric Weddle

What a fabulous decision by the Rams, who will get a third-round compensatory pick for Lamarcus Joyner after replacing him with a better player in Eric Weddle. Moreover, Weddle signed a two-year deal with $6.2 million guaranteed, or $15 million less than Joyner and $9 million less than Amos. Granted, the Rams' hometown allure likely created a discount here, but why should they apologize? Getting one of the game's more steady players at free agency's most surprisingly lavish position for offseason spending was superb work. We can't wait to see the fun Wade Phillips will have with Weddle, who continues to bring sensational versatility and leadership.

Riskiest move: Eagles QB Nick Foles

Four years and $88 million with $50-plus million guaranteed for the Super Bowl MVP seemed quite excessive when we consider that no other teams appeared to be serious bidders. This feels like a case of overcompensating in an attempt to right a wrong. Foles should bring instant credibility to the QB corps and much-needed leadership to an immature locker room. But that dazzling postseason run two seasons ago absolutely obscures the fact that the streaky Foles was mostly awful this past January and has an 88.5 regular-season career passer rating. It just doesn't feel like Jacksonville's QB situation is fully fixed here.

Smartest trade: Jets OG Kelechi Osemele

I actually like a lot of what GM Mike Maccagnan has done this offseason with his new lease on life, and the acquisition of Osemele from Oakland at the cost of moving down 32 spots early on Day 3 could be as important as any move. At his best, the 29-year-old Osemele is a game changer up front, a run-game mauler who adds a layer of comfort in the pocket for young QB Sam Darnold. At his worst, Osemele is still better than anything the Jets had at guard last season, and they can cut ties after 2019 without any further cap damage after allocating $10.5 million in smart money this season.

Most puzzling trade: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

The Dolphins were going to release Tannehill, and we're hard-pressed to think that move was going to trigger a bidding war for the failed former first-rounder. Heck, the team most likely to pursue him might have been the Jets, who are short on picks. So why Tennessee thought it was necessary to send the Dolphins next year's fourth-rounder and a seventh this year in exchange for Tannehill and a 2019 sixth-rounder is a mystery. Especially when we consider that they reportedly guaranteed him $7 million — $5 million of which will be covered by the Dolphins — with a chance to earn up to $12 million in incentives. That's all fine and good, but Tannehill and embattled starter Marcus Mariota ($20.9 million cap hit in his Year 5 option) are free agents next march.

Best available player: Chiefs OLB Justin Houston

This one's not even close. Houston is still a dangerous two-way player when he's on the field, where he wreaked regular havoc down the stretch for the Chiefs last season. Because of the injuries and age, we do understand why teams would be apprehensive. But it's not too often that someone with Houston's ability to provide a premium service is available at this juncture.

Team that created most draft leverage: Giants

We've written plenty on how Dave Gettleman's original Giants plan was wholly ill advised and it took way too long for him to finally pick a lane. Still, he did OK strictly in terms of compensation in the OBJ trade, and having the Browns' 17th overall pick (plus a third-rounder) could get Big Blue right in the sweet spot for, say, Duke QB Daniel Jones or to continue stockpiling draft capital to finally land their quarterback. That won't buy him any good will, but the Giants could replace Vernon and land the quarterback they have waited this long on with their two first-rounders. Throw in Collins replacement Jabrill Peppers and this trade isn't nearly as bad as what first met the eye.

Draft most handcuffed by free agency: Chiefs

Trading Dee Ford and releasing Justin Houston leaves Kansas City with a crater-sized void on its edges, threatening Chris Jones' ability to avoid constant doubles inside. The Tyreek Hill investigtion — which we'll write more on later Monday — and departures of Chris Conley and Demetrius Harris means the Chiefs suddenly are in real need at the WR position. The Chiefs spent dearly on Tyrann Mathieu, and he can wear a lot of hats, but outside corner isn't one of them and this draft has few to offer, unlike EDGE rushers.

Best multi-year value signing: Panthers C Matt Paradis

Solely because he's recovering from a fractured fibula, Paradis was forced to settle for a three-year, $29 million deal including $12 million guaranteed with the Panthers. It's almost like other teams forgot the former sixth-rounder started 60 consecutive games, not missing a single snap, prior to the injury last fall. Paradis is a 29-year-old ironman who brings the kind of toughness and down-to-down steadiness rarely found at the position outside of the man he's tasked with replacing, Panthers legend Ryan Kalil. And after overextending the last time it attempted to rebuild its O-line with bloated deals for Matt Kalil and even Trai Turner's extension, Carolina's signing of Paradis on the heels of Mitch Morse's monster deal in Buffalo (AAV of $11.125 million with $26.2 GTD) looks shrewd.

 

Best prove-it deal: Bears S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

The Bears replaced the sound and physical Adrian Amos, who jumped ship for their oldest rivals, with Clinton-Dix, the former Packers first-rounder, and saved $11.5 million this season. Ryan Pace isn't known for his free-agency values, but this could go down as one of his best. Clinton-Dix brings more pedigree and playmaking potential than Amos, and though he's not as consistent as a tackler and in his assignments, his perfect fit in the NFL's No. 1 scoring 'D' figures to cover that up a bit. Basically, the Bears might have sacrificed a bit of reliability at safety for a more dynamic player, while getting a bit more durable and a bit less dynamic at nickel, swapping Bryce Callahan for Buster Skrine.

 

Smartest FA plan: Browns

Could the collection of mercurial talents backfire on John Dorsey? Of course. But we'll never fault a general manager with a rising star QB only entering Year 2 of his rookie deal for being as aggressive as possible. The Browns were one of the more talented teams in football entering 2019 and have added WR Odell Beckham, DE Olivier Vernon, DL Sheldon Richardson and RB Kareem Hunt. Except Hunt, a luxury addition under extenuating circumstances, all three play premium positions, have Pro Bowl credentials and remain in the primes of their career. Though OBJ obviously catches the most headlines, we especially love adding Vernon across from Myles Garrett. Dorsey wisely dealt a guard — and a good one in Kevin Zeitler — for a top-end pass rusher, knowing he can plug his OG hole with the 33rd overall pick a year ago, Austin Corbett.

 

Most confusing FA plan: Washington

We could easily pick Dave Gettleman's Giants, but at what point does it just become piling on? We'll instead side with rival Washington, which paid Landon Collins free agency's most outrageous deal; traded for Case Keenum, whom the Vikings spent so much on Kirk Cousins to replace; let Jamison Crowder, Preston Smith and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix escape. And did we mention the Collins deal? Box safety or not, why splurge at that position when 2019 looks like a rebuilding year and a coaching change could follow it?

 

Safest move: Rams S Eric Weddle

What a fabulous decision by the Rams, who will get a third-round compensatory pick for Lamarcus Joyner after replacing him with a better player in Eric Weddle. Moreover, Weddle signed a two-year deal with $6.2 million guaranteed, or $15 million less than Joyner and $9 million less than Amos. Granted, the Rams' hometown allure likely created a discount here, but why should they apologize? Getting one of the game's more steady players at free agency's most surprisingly lavish position for offseason spending was superb work. We can't wait to see the fun Wade Phillips will have with Weddle, who continues to bring sensational versatility and leadership.

 

Riskiest move: Eagles QB Nick Foles

Four years and $88 million with $50-plus million guaranteed for the Super Bowl MVP seemed quite excessive when we consider that no other teams appeared to be serious bidders. This feels like a case of overcompensating in an attempt to right a wrong. Foles should bring instant credibility to the QB corps and much-needed leadership to an immature locker room. But that dazzling postseason run two seasons ago absolutely obscures the fact that the streaky Foles was mostly awful this past January and has an 88.5 regular-season career passer rating. It just doesn't feel like Jacksonville's QB situation is fully fixed here.

 

Smartest trade: Jets OG Kelechi Osemele

I actually like a lot of what GM Mike Maccagnan has done this offseason with his new lease on life, and the acquisition of Osemele from Oakland at the cost of moving down 32 spots early on Day 3 could be as important as any move. At his best, the 29-year-old Osemele is a game changer up front, a run-game mauler who adds a layer of comfort in the pocket for young QB Sam Darnold. At his worst, Osemele is still better than anything the Jets had at guard last season, and they can cut ties after 2019 without any further cap damage after allocating $10.5 million in smart money this season.

 

Most puzzling trade: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

The Dolphins were going to release Tannehill, and we're hard-pressed to think that move was going to trigger a bidding war for the failed former first-rounder. Heck, the team most likely to pursue him might have been the Jets, who are short on picks. So why Tennessee thought it was necessary to send the Dolphins next year's fourth-rounder and a seventh this year in exchange for Tannehill and a 2019 sixth-rounder is a mystery. Especially when we consider that they reportedly guaranteed him $7 million — $5 million of which will be covered by the Dolphins — with a chance to earn up to $12 million in incentives. That's all fine and good, but Tannehill and embattled starter Marcus Mariota ($20.9 million cap hit in his Year 5 option) are free agents next march.

 

 

Best available free agent: Chiefs OLB Justin Houston

This one's not even close. Houston is still a dangerous two-way player when he's on the field, where he wreaked regular havoc down the stretch for the Chiefs last season. Because of the injuries and age, we do understand why teams would be apprehensive. But it's not too often that someone with Houston's ability to provide a premium service is available at this juncture.

Team that created most draft leverage: Giants

We've written plenty on how Dave Gettleman's original Giants plan was wholly ill advised and it took way too long for him to finally pick a lane. Still, he did OK strictly in terms of compensation in the OBJ trade, and having the Browns' 17th overall pick (plus a third-rounder) could get Big Blue right in the sweet spot for, say, Duke QB Daniel Jones or to continue stockpiling draft capital to finally land their quarterback. That won't buy him any good will, but the Giants could replace Vernon and land the quarterback they have waited this long on with their two first-rounders. Throw in Collins replacement Jabrill Peppers and this trade isn't nearly as bad as what first met the eye.

 

Draft most handcuffed by free agency: Chiefs

Trading Dee Ford and releasing Justin Houston leaves Kansas City with a crater-sized void on its edges, threatening Chris Jones' ability to avoid constant doubles inside. The Tyreek Hill investigtion — which we'll write more on later Monday — and departures of Chris Conley and Demetrius Harris means the Chiefs suddenly are in real need at the WR position. The Chiefs spent dearly on Tyrann Mathieu, and he can wear a lot of hats, but outside corner isn't one of them and this draft has few to offer, unlike EDGE rushers.

Hub Arkush: It’s bargain hunting time already in NFL free agency

Posted on March 16, 2019 - 08:06:00

And there are still nice pieces on the clearance rack

It is 3:09 p.m. in Chicago as I pen these thoughts, ever-so-barely 48 hours after the official beginning of the 2019 league year and free agency and the party – at least in terms of free agency – feels like it’s already over.

Still, of what’s left in free agency I expect at least five players to make significant impacts in the coming season once they find new homes this spring or summer.

Just for grins I’d like to share my top four, why they intrigue me the way they do and offer some logical landing spots for them.

1. Justin Houston: Houston is not the force he was five seasons ago when he came up just a ½ sack short of breaking Michael Strahan’s single season record for sacks of 22 ½.

The main reason is has awful knees that along with other assorted injuries caused him to miss five games in 2015, 11 in 2016, one in 2017 and four last year. However playing in just 43 games over the past four seasons, Houston still notched 30 sacks including nine in those 12 games last season and 9 ½ the year before, and he is no one-trick pony as he’s excellent against the run too.

My best guess is he’s only still available because of money. Coming off a huge deal in Kansas City that made him a cap casualty, no team is likely to throw a serious guarantee at a 30 year old with a long injury history, but there’s also no hurry for Houston to jump into a bargain deal.

Ideal fits for Houston include: Patriots, Bears, Colts, Eagles, Panthers, Titans, Browns, Falcons.

2. Ndamukong Suh: Suh disappointed in Los Angeles last year through most of the regular season but down the stretch and in the playoffs he was dominant displaying why he will one day be a serious candidate for Canton. What may be missing from his Hall Of Fame resume are big game victories and a ring, which I suspect is why Suh is going to spend a little more time shopping for the deal that best suits him. You can never have too much money, but Suh has made more than enough that I suspect fit will be as important to him as salary and he has to know at 32 there are no long term deals out there. Ideal fits for Suh include: Rams, Titans, Bills, Seahawks, Eagles, Cowboys.

3. Bashaud Breeland: When healthy, Breeland is an excellent cover corner and what’s intriguing about him is while injuries cost him a $24 million deal in Carolina last year – his contract was voided by a failed physical from an infection in his foot after an offseason golf cart accident — it would seem the kid is due for a little better luck and should be a bargain on a one-year prove-it deal. Ideal fits for Breeland include: Steelers, Texans, Lions, Broncos, Rams, Chiefs.

4. Zach Brown: Brown was highly productive his first two years in Tennessee before suffering through two injury riddled seasons, and he then bounced back with a Pro Bowl season in Buffalo in 2016 and highly productive campaigns for Washington the last two seasons. He’s missed just three games over the last four years so health isn’t really a question mark and honestly I’m a bit puzzled why some 4-3 team hasn’t picked him up already to play outside linebacker. Ideal fits for Brown include: Chargers, Browns, Jaguars, Bengals, Lions.

Discounted for durability: 5 potential Bears NFL draft targets with injury concerns

Posted on March 6, 2019 - 14:21:13
One of the true constants during Ryan Pace's time as Bears general manager has been his willingness — eagerness, even — to take chances on players rehabbing injuries or with checkered medical backgrounds who can be found on discounts.
Eddie Jackson might be Pace's best draft pick in his first four years, a universally feared playmaker on 'D,' who was only available at No. 112 because he was coming off a broken leg and previously tore his ACL at Alabama.
Allen Robinson signed for $6 million less than fellow injury risk Sammy Watkins last year because he played only three snaps in 2017 before tearing his ACL and wasn't full-go until camp in his first Bears offseason. Bears fans got a glimpse in the wild-card round of what they should expect routinely from A-Rob in Year 2.
James Daniels likely would have been drafted in Round 1 alongside fellow interior blockers Billy Price and Frank Ragnow, if not for worries about an arthritic knee condition. Daniels exceeded expectations as a 21-year-old starting left guard after mostly playing center at Iowa.
Of course no one bats 1.000, period, much less when targeting players who inherently carry greater risk, and Pace has been burned with this approach, too, by the likes of Pernell McPhee and Markus Wheaton, to name a few. Thus, it's important to strike the proper balance, not loading up on constant cold tub inhabitants, especially with the franchise coming off its most successful and healthiest (read: these aren't mutually exclusive) season in years.
Yet in his first offseason in Chicago with precious few resources, Pace's affinity for attempting to procure greater value by taking players whose injuries might deter other clubs could loom especially large. So we've identified four free agents who play positions of relative need for the Bears and have an injury or durability concern likely to influence their market.
(Editor's note: If you enjoy this piece, be sure to check our Bears' free agent discounts.)
USC EDGE Porter Gustin
A throwback player who simply knows the way home, sadly, Gustin also knows all too well the way to the trainer's room. He played in only nine combined games over the past two seasons at USC, enduring biceps, toe and ankle injuries. But before that, he showed a knack for disrupting quarterbacks with 11 sacks and 20 TFLs in his first two seasons. Gustin isn't the type of athletic phenom Pace is generally drawn to, but he showed outstanding strength with 31 reps on the bench and posted respectable 40 (4.69) and leaping results in Indy (35.5, 119") at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. Our Greg Gabriel calls Gustin one of the draft's "major wild cards" and a potential "late-round steal." That sounds to us like a Pace pick.
Alabama S Deionte Thompson
Will Thompson be around at pick No. 87? Unlikely. But a wrist injury in the pre-draft process could lead to at least a slight tumble, and while some have delusions of grandeur over pairing Eddie Jackson with another Alabama safety, FA Landon Collins, his former teammate Thompson is at least slightly more realistic. Pace has moved up on Day 1 or 2 in his first four drafts; if he deems the athletic and rangy Thompson as the ideal interchangeable safety opposite Jackson, it's not unfathomable he could send one of his second-rounder's next year, when the Bears should finally snap their compensatory pick drought, to go get him in Round 2.
Stanford RB Bryce Love
This one might be even more obvious than Thompson. Forget Love's sparse receiving production at Stanford; he is more than skilled enough to become a plus pass catcher at the next level. He's also a dynamic downhill runner with more juice and elusiveness than Jordan Howard — or, at least he was that two years ago, prior to an ill-advised decision to return to Palo Alto preceding him tearing his ACL in the regular-season finale. That could mean he isn't available until the latter portion of 2019. But that wouldn't scare Pace, who looks for smart, dedicated players like Love, a potentially beautiful fit in Matt Nagy's system.
Ohio State CB Kendall Sheffield
The 5-foot-11, 193-pound former Buckeye is a heck of an athlete, even if he didn't get a chance to show it at the combine, where he suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle in bench press. That ended not only his week in Indy but his pre-draft process in terms of on-field workouts and testing. Sheffield didn't play nickel in Columbus, so there's definitely a lot of projecting involved here, but he's got big-time speed and agility likely to appeal to a traits drafter like Pace. Does he solve the Bears' potential nickel void in Week 1? Not necessarily, but he has future starting ability and the Bears might be looking for someone like that as soon as 2020.
Kentucky TE C.J. Conrad
In a loaded TE class, Conrad faced an uphill battle to get drafted — even before he was sent home from the combine with a heart issue. First and foremost, we just hope Conrad is given a clean bill of health, whether or not he resumes his football career. If he does, it could be a similar situation to the one we saw last year with Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, who fell to Day 3 after a heart defect was identified at the combine before showing enough as a rookie with the Raiders to think he's a long-term building block. Conrad isn't close to the prospect that Hurst was last year, but he was a force in the Wildcat offense as a blocker with the versatility to line up all over the field and finish second on the team in catches last season. Conrad's skill set might not wow anyone, but he can do enough different things — none better than block — to potentially provide a nice complement to Trey Burton and unproven Adam Shaheen.
One of the true constants during Ryan Pace's time as Bears general manager has been his willingness — eagerness, even — to take chances on players rehabbing injuries or with checkered medical backgrounds who can be found on discounts.
Eddie Jackson might be Pace's best draft pick in his first four years, a universally feared playmaker on 'D,' who was only available at No. 112 because he was coming off a broken leg and previously tore his ACL at Alabama.
Allen Robinson signed for $6 million less than fellow injury risk Sammy Watkins last year because he played only three snaps in 2017 before tearing his ACL and wasn't full-go until camp in his first Bears offseason. Bears fans got a glimpse in the wild-card round of what they should expect routinely from A-Rob in Year 2.
James Daniels likely would have been drafted in Round 1 alongside fellow interior blockers Billy Price and Frank Ragnow, if not for worries about an arthritic knee condition. Daniels exceeded expectations as a 21-year-old starting left guard after mostly playing center at Iowa.
Of course no one bats 1.000, period, much less when targeting players who inherently carry greater risk, and Pace has been burned with this approach, too, by the likes of Pernell McPhee and Markus Wheaton, to name a few. Thus, it's important to strike the proper balance, not loading up on constant cold tub inhabitants, especially with the franchise coming off its most successful and healthiest (read: these aren't mutually exclusive) season in years.
Yet in his first offseason in Chicago with precious few resources, Pace's affinity for attempting to procure greater value by taking players whose injuries might deter other clubs could loom especially large. So we've identified four free agents who play positions of relative need for the Bears and have an injury or durability concern likely to influence their market.
(Editor's note: If you enjoy this piece, be sure to check our Bears' free agent discounts.)

USC EDGE Porter Gustin

A throwback player who simply knows the way home, sadly, Gustin also knows all too well the way to the trainer's room. He played in only nine combined games over the past two seasons at USC, enduring biceps, toe and ankle injuries. But before that, he showed a knack for disrupting quarterbacks with 11 sacks and 20 TFLs in his first two seasons. Gustin isn't the type of athletic phenom Pace is generally drawn to, but he showed outstanding strength with 31 reps on the bench and posted respectable 40 (4.69) and leaping results in Indy (35.5, 119") at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. Our Greg Gabriel calls Gustin one of the draft's "major wild cards" and a potential "late-round steal." That sounds to us like a Pace pick.

Alabama S Deionte Thompson

Will Thompson be around at pick No. 87? Unlikely. But a wrist injury in the pre-draft process could lead to at least a slight tumble, and while some have delusions of grandeur over pairing Eddie Jackson with another Alabama safety, FA Landon Collins, his former teammate Thompson is at least slightly more realistic. Pace has moved up on Day 1 or 2 in his first four drafts; if he deems the athletic and rangy Thompson as the ideal interchangeable safety opposite Jackson, it's not unfathomable he could send one of his second-rounder's next year, when the Bears should finally snap their compensatory pick drought, to go get him in Round 2.
 

Stanford RB Bryce Love

This one might be even more obvious than Thompson. Forget Love's sparse receiving production at Stanford; he is more than skilled enough to become a plus pass catcher at the next level. He's also a dynamic downhill runner with more juice and elusiveness than Jordan Howard — or, at least he was that two years ago, prior to an ill-advised decision to return to Palo Alto preceding him tearing his ACL in the regular-season finale. That could mean he isn't available until the latter portion of 2019. But that wouldn't scare Pace, who looks for smart, dedicated players like Love, a potentially beautiful fit in Matt Nagy's system.
 

Ohio State CB Kendall Sheffield

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound former Buckeye is a heck of an athlete, even if he didn't get a chance to show it at the combine, where he suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle in bench press. That ended not only his week in Indy but his pre-draft process in terms of on-field workouts and testing. Sheffield didn't play nickel in Columbus, so there's definitely a lot of projecting involved here, but he's got big-time speed and agility likely to appeal to a traits drafter like Pace. Does he solve the Bears' potential nickel void in Week 1? Not necessarily, but he has future starting ability and the Bears might be looking for someone like that as soon as 2020.
 

Kentucky TE C.J. Conrad

In a loaded TE class, Conrad faced an uphill battle to get drafted — even before he was sent home from the combine with a heart issue. First and foremost, we just hope Conrad is given a clean bill of health, whether or not he resumes his football career. If he does, it could be a similar situation to the one we saw last year with Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, who fell to Day 3 after a heart defect was identified at the combine before showing enough as a rookie with the Raiders to think he's a long-term building block. Conrad isn't close to the prospect that Hurst was last year, but he was a force in the Wildcat offense as a blocker with the versatility to line up all over the field and finish second on the team in catches last season. Conrad's skill set might not wow anyone, but he can do enough different things — none better than block — to potentially provide a nice complement to Trey Burton and unproven Adam Shaheen.

Discounted for durability: 4 potential Bears FA targets with injury concerns

Posted on March 6, 2019 - 12:05:00

Few GMs in NFL have capitalized on injury risks more than Bears' Pace

One of the true constants during Ryan Pace's time as Bears general manager has been his willingness — eagerness, even — to take chances on players rehabbing injuries or with checkered medical backgrounds who can be found on discounts.

Eddie Jackson might be Pace's best draft pick in his first four years, a universally feared playmaker on 'D,' who was only available at No. 112 because he was coming off a broken leg and previously tore his ACL at Alabama.

Allen Robinson signed for $6 million less than fellow injury risk Sammy Watkins last year because he played only three snaps in 2017 before tearing his ACL and wasn't full-go until camp in his first Bears offseason. Bears fans got a glimpse in the wild-card round of what they should expect routinely from A-Rob in Year 2.

James Daniels likely would have been drafted in Round 1 alongside fellow interior blockers Billy Price and Frank Ragnow, if not for worries about an arthritic knee condition. Daniels exceeded expectations as a 21-year-old starting left guard after mostly playing center at Iowa.

Of course no one bats 1.000, period, much less when targeting players who inherently carry greater risk, and Pace has been burned with this approach, too, by the likes of Pernell McPhee and Markus Wheaton, to name a few. Thus, it's important to strike the proper balance, not loading up on constant cold tub inhabitants, especially with the franchise coming off its most successful and healthiest (read: these aren't mutually exclusive) season in years.

Yet in his first offseason in Chicago with precious few resources, Pace's affinity for attempting to procure greater value by taking players whose injuries might deter other clubs could loom especially large. So we've identified four free agents who play positions of relative need for the Bears and have an injury or durability concern likely to influence their market.

(Editor's note: If you enjoy this piece, be on the lookout later Wednesday for our Bears' draft discounts.)

Titans S Johnathan Cyprien

A cheaper alternative to Adrian Amos with a similar enforcer's mentality, Cyprien recorded 100-plus tackles in his first four seasons in the NFL after the Jaguars selected him with the first pick in Round 2 in 2013. He parlayed that production into a four-year, $25 million deal with the Titans but missed six games in 2017 with a hamstring injury and all of last season following a non-contact left ACL tear in training camp. Cyprien will be 29 this summer and is unlikely to command the multi-year offers of Amos, but he's a similar player.

Chargers CB Jason Verrett

If it wasn't for bad luck with injuries, the Chargers' former first-round Pro Bowler would have no luck at all. He's appeared in only 25 games over five seasons, and only one in the past two, when he's endured a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles. Still, Verrett has flashed lock-down cover ability on the perimeter and in the slot, and he'll only be 28 in June. Granted, it might not make sense to one dynamic but diminutive nickel with myriad injury concerns (Bryce Callahan) for another in Verrett, but there's really no comparing their pedigrees and Verrett will cost less.

Broncos OLB Shane Ray

Another former first-rounder who fell on hard times in the AFC West following a fabulous NFL start, Ray was limited to 19 combined games and only two sacks over the past two seasons, when he battled a surgically-repaired wrist and Denver's incompetent coaching. That rut was preceded by 12 sacks in his first two seasons as the menace opposite Von Miller. Ray's get-off, play strength and energy would be a great addition behind Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd, and it'll be interesting to see how Vic Fangio weighs Ray's assets vs. not only fellow Broncos free agent Shaq Barrett but Aaron Lynch, with whom he's the most familiar.

Chiefs RB Spencer Ware

It feels like an eternity, but it's actually been only a year and a half since Ware, not Kareem Hunt, was tabbed by Andy Reid and Matt Nagy as the featured replacement for Jamaal Charles. Ware was coming off a 2016 campaign in which he caught 33 passes for a 13.5-yard average and carried it 214 times at 4.3 yards a pop across 14 starts when he tore his MCL/PCL in the '17 preseason. That opened the door for the then-rookie Hunt to lead the NFL in rushing. Following Hunt's abrupt release last year, Ware was the first man out of the backfield chute and showed some of the same pre-knee injury juice and versatility before suffering a hamstring injury. Damien Williams took the baton and never gave it back, but Ware is still 27, with Jordan Howard's size but something closer to Hunt's receiving skills. We saw Nagy lean on his former Chiefs pupils last year, including Bryan Witzmann and Josh Bellamy, and the cost to see what Ware has left would be negligible.

5 takeaways from talking with Matt Nagy at the NFL combine

Posted on February 27, 2019 - 15:20:00

What did the Bears head coach have to say?

INDIANAPOLIS — Ask any coach, even one as loose and forthcoming as the Bears' Matt Nagy, about offseason football decisions at the scouting combine and you've wasted your time and his.

But ask Nagy about in-season football evaluations and it might get you somewhere.

The reigning Coach of the Year met the media at his second NFL combine Wednesday, and here are five of the more interesting takeaways:

The run game

Nagy reiterated what he said often during the season, that the onus lies first and foremost on him and his coaching staff to figure out the NFL's 27th-ranked ground game in terms of yards per carry. He officially put to bed the Bears' not-so-seriously kicking the tires on Kareem Hunt and basically conceded that he, his staff and Jordan Howard are still in the discovery period of their relationship.

"We were all figuring out together, including Jordan, how we're going to make this thing go," said Nagy, admitting a volume runner like Howard fitting into a diverse offense like Nagy's requires continued adjustments for all parties.

Nagy also briefly pulled back the curtain to shed some light on his RB profile in the Bears scheme and how there's an interesting mix in this draft class but perhaps not a lot of complete backs.

"In this offense, you want to be able to have a guy that has really good vision that can make guys miss," Nagy said. "And at the same time, there's that balance of being a hybrid being able to make things happen in the pass game too, but yet to where you're not one-dimensional. That's not easy.

"There are a lot of backs in this draft right now that are one-dimensional. There are some that are hybrids, and there are some that are really just scat guys."

Perhaps the convergence of the Bears' precious draft capital — an NFL-low five picks, none in the top 85 — and Nagy's view that this class isn't loaded with complete backs provides Howard a new lease on life? Or perhaps not.

Mitch and Matt

Now that he's a Pro Bowl alternate with a year steeped in Nagy's system, what's next for Mitch Trubisky? Nagy explained that the young quarterback's evolution continues by mastering pre-snap recognition, and now there's a "library" with which to study.

"He can now be better at the other part of that – seeing what the defense is showing. Once we get to that point, I think what you’ll see is you’ll see the ball out a little bit sooner. You’ll see him being able to make more plays. But that takes time. That’s not something that just happens in the first year."

Reminded that Trubisky did start 12 games as a rookie, albeit in an outdated Dowell Loggains offense, Nagy explained the benefits Trubisky should enjoy this offseason by watching his own film, not Alex Smith running the 2017 Chiefs offense.

"We get to see how [we] can get better with our feet, how can we be better with our vision," Nagy said. "Are we looking at the same thing on the defensive side? And then, the other part of this too that gets lost is that every other player on this offense now comes into Year 2 with us and they now all know now what’s going on on the offensive side. So now we can start playing ball. That’s what I think we’ll ultimately be judged on."

Defensive changes

Since we last visited with him, Nagy and new DC Chuck Pagano have completed their defensive staff. Nagy was asked what gives him confidence that Pagano can make the NFL's No. 1 unit even better. Refreshingly, he said that there are no guarantees and credited Fangio for his outstanding work. But he also provided parallels between Fangio and his successor, including their experience, the clout that comes with it and the schematic carryover.

Still, there will be changes.

"He has an aggressive mentality, which you know I like," Nagy said. "But you’ve got to be smart with it, and that’s going to be fun. So just like we were starting out in training camp and OTAs last year with some newer terminology, the defense will doing that. But Chuck has a great balance with his staff of making sure that it’s not too much to where our guys can play fast."

One potential nugget Nagy might have let slip came when he was asked about the rising value of nickel corners. The Bears arguably have the best one hitting free agency, and though Nagy didn't mention Bryce Callahan by name, he highlighted some of the key traits in a slot player — blitzing and tackling, strengths of Callahan's — in addition to cover skills.

Developing young playmakers

Nagy raved about the rookie season of Anthony Miller, who led the Bears in receiving touchdowns despite battling through a painful shoulder dislocation much of the year. From his knowledge of offense to confidence to versatility, Miller's play on the field matched — if not exceeded — what the Bears saw on his Memphis film.

Ryan Pace confirmed that Miller underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and is making progress, though no timetable has been set for his return. Miller could be limited to begin the offseason, but "we'll get that right," said Nagy, adding Miller's next charge is continuing to be a more disciplined student of the game.

Nagy also said "I love where we're at right now" at the TE position, one many have surmised could get attention with reserves Ben Braunecker and Daniel Brown out of contract and the jury still very much out on Adam Shaheen.

"Getting Adam back (from his foot injury) toward the end of the season last year — it was unfortunate when it happened in preseason, but I'm really looking forward to him and doing some good things."

O-line cohesion

Finally, Nagy gushed over the work of renowned O-line coach Harry Hiestand and the continuity the Bears can look forward to after extending RT Bobby Massie and restructuring RG Kyle Long. He mentioned the luxury of having the flanks secure contractually as the Bears prepare for a season in which they'll prepare for a stout schedule, including a loaded AFC West brimming with top edge rushers.

"We fully understand some of these bookend defensive ends that we’re going to be seeing here in the future and the direction of speed and talent that goes on on that front, so you better have those edges protected," he said. "We have two guys right now that we feel really good with on the edges. Credit goes to Ryan and his guys for building that unit there now. And then also for Mitchell, it’s that trust factor for him, that confidence in knowing all the communication that goes on on that front line of how to do things. So I’m looking forward to it."

Bears notes: Kyle Long restructures deal, ensuring his 2019 return

Posted on February 26, 2019 - 11:53:00

And franchise scoring leader Gould tagged by 49ers, putting kibosh on potential fairytale return

The Bears' longest-tenured homegrown player agreed to a restructured contract Tuesday that could allow him to play his entire career with one organization.

comp:00005c73bcae:0000000023:3398 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bear for Life 🙏🏼</p>&mdash; Kyle Long (@Ky1eLong) <a href="https://twitter.com/Ky1eLong/status/1100427122617794562?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 26, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 1

Three-time Pro Bowl RG Kyle Long had the four-year, $40 million extension that he signed in 2016 redone in order to decrease his $8.5-million cap hit and give Chicago some much-needed cap relief as the new league year quickly approaches. The Bears, who had only $12 million in cap space (No. 26 in the NFL prior to Long's restructure) are expected to approach more players about contract adjustments prior to the new league year opening March 13.

Long, whom the Bears selected in the first round of the 2013 draft out of Oregon, enters the offseason healthy for the first time in several years. He missed eight games with a right foot injury last season but returned for the regular-season finale in Minnesota and wild-card defeat vs. the Eagles. His eight starts were the same number he made in 2016, when he signed his extension with a torn left shoulder labrum from the year before but battled through it for the first half of the season.

At his best one of the game's more athletic big men and devastating run blockers, Long played in 10 games two seasons ago (nine starts) prior to a gruesome ankle injury requiring surgery last offseason, one of three separate medical procedures he was forced to undergo, along with shoulder and neck operations.

Long started 47 of a possible 48 games to begin his career, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl invites prior to a fluky run of injuries. With him set to return next season, the Bears should line up the same starting five offensive linemen from the year prior for the first time in a while. That continuity could be key as Chicago aims to improve the NFL's 21st-ranked offense (No. 27 in rushing yards per play). And the fact that the Bears will return one of the more respected leaders in the locker room after Long was a part of his first division winner and playoff squad shouldn't be overlooked.

Good as Gone

One former longtime Bear who won't be returning to the team is free-agent PK Robbie Gould, who received the franchise tag from the 49ers at a cost of approximately $5 million. That all but extinguishes fans' faint hopes that Gould, the franchise's all-time scoring leader and one of the NFL's best kickers since the Bears unceremoniously dumped him prior to the 2017 campaign, coming back to clean up the Cody Parkey mess.

The Bears will move on from Parkey when the new league year begins in two weeks only one year into a four-year, $15 million deal that included $9 million guaranteed. He'll account for $3.5 million in dead cap space once the move is official. But the Bears will swallow hard and turn the page after Parkey's upright escapades and TODAY show appearance on the heels of his last-second playoff miss marked an abrupt end to a breakthrough season.

The Bears signed free-agent PK Redford Jones, a first-year player out of Tulane who has never kicked in the NFL, earlier this offseason. He's expected to compete with a draft pick and/or college free agent and perhaps a more established veteran in 2019.

The most logical landing spots for Antonio Brown

Posted on February 20, 2019 - 12:06:00

Now that Pittsburgh dealing Brown appears imminent, where is he most likely to be dealt?

One of the best wide receivers in NFL history will have a new home in 2019.

Antonio Brown has created a lot of off-field questions in recent weeks as he's forced the Steelers' hand into an imminent trade. But, even as Brown approaches age 31 this summer, there isn't a team in the NFL that wouldn't benefit from his on-field presence.

Of course, only a handful of clubs will think they have the right coach and locker room, the requisite cap situation and draft capital and the required risk aversion to take a swing at landing Brown. Those are a few of the biggest factors we used in paring down the five most logical trade destinations for the perennial Pro Bowler and surefire future Hall of Famer.

Before we get started, a reminder that the Super Bowl LIII participants, the Patriots and Rams, each made big trades for receivers in 2018, and the winner two years ago, the Eagles, signed a No. 1 receiver in its SBLII run and acquired via trade the second-biggest target at last year's trade deadline. Coverage-dictating, big-play receivers absolutely can create a profound effect for an offense, and few are feared more than Brown.

1. Indianapolis Colts

Might as well start at the top. That is, the top of the list of NFL clubs with the most cap room. The Colts have more than $107 million with which to work and a general manager, Chris Ballard, who's a staunch believer in taking calculated risks. That's key, as Brown has made it clear that he expects his next team to kick in some new guaranteed dollars on his deal, and Frank Reich cultivated one of the best locker-room cultures in the league in Year 1.

The Colts also have an extra second-round pick (from the Jets in the Sam Darnold deal) and a need at receiver, albeit ideally a bigger one to complement T.Y. Hilton. But can you imagine Brown and Hilton flanking red-zone monster TE Eric Ebron? Andrew Luck probably can, and he might be the right kind of leader, handling his business more privately than Big Ben, to sync up well with Brown.

2. Green Bay Packers

Before we get to some teams in need of a difference-making wideout to maximize their unproven quarterbacks, we must mention another one with an established passer and passing game that could become even more fearsome with Brown.

In Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers already has his blue-chip WR1. What he lacks is a second option with Brown's route-running prowess and versatility. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and/or Equanimeous St. Brown might grow into that in time. But Rodgers is 35, staring at the biggest reboot of his 13-year career and now has an aggressive general manager willing to turn over every stone on the pro personnel side and wielding two first-rounders and a healthy cap situation. And wouldn't it be something if, one year after their oldest rivals landed Khalil Mack, the Packers added Brown?

3. New York Jets/Buffalo Bills

Forgive us for lumping together these two AFC East also-rans, but it's the Patriots and everyone else, and it's that fact that might compel either Mike Maccagnan and Adam Gase or Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott to swing for the fences.

Buffalo has the worst supporting cast for a young quarterback in the NFL; no team could use Brown more. Josh Allen can be a bit, we'll say, erratic, and Brown makes difficult catches appear routine. But is Buffalo the right town for the high-profile Brown? That's tough to say.

The Jets have a couple promising pass catchers in Robby Anderson and TE Chris Herndon but also an opportunity to capitalize on Sam Darnold's late-rookie season momentum with a splash. One potential rub: Can Gang Green support any more crazy above and beyond Adam Gase and Gregg Williams?

4. San Francisco 49ers

No team has been connected more to Brown, who has been courted on social media by All-Pro TE George Kittle and "badly" wants to be there, according to 49ers GOAT Jerry Rice. San Francisco also has in excess of $76 million in cap space — No. 5 in the NFL, per spotrac — and an outgoing former No. 1 in Pierre Garcon but incoming QB1 in Jimmy Garoppolo, who dared Kittle to Twitter recruit AB.

Kyle Shanahan certainly knows how to get the most out of high-volume playmaking receivers, from Garcon in Washington to Julio Jones in Atlanta. The Niners have an exciting young talent at receiver in Dante Pettis and full-blown star in Kittle to complement Brown. But there are some potential hangups, including DV allegations against Brown that could scare off a Niners club that badly whiffed on Reuben Foster.

5. Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll loves to trade and isn't shy about welcoming big, mercurial personalities. Doug Baldwin is coming off his least-productive season since signing a big extension. The Seahawks, despite their affinity for running into crowded boxes, could help their offense and unshackle Russell Wilson with the arrival of Brown. They have the cap room and are readying to part ways with a few more defensive stalwarts in Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright.

Seattle has traded for other perceived problems, including Percy Harvin and Marshawn Lynch. It just watched the rival Rams acquire Brandin Cooks, who let L.A. down in the Super Bowl. This would be quite the countermove after reminding everyone last season that they're still a force in the West.

Off limits?

The Steelers won't consider dealing Brown within the division or to the cream of the conference for the better part of two decades, the Patriots, according to Albert Breer of MMQB. That's the only reason we didn't include the Browns and New England, both flush with cap space and/or draft capital and clearly willing to push in all their chips.

The football fits would be outstanding, but it makes sense that Steelers brass wouldn't send him to a team they'll see at least twice annually or the one most likely restricting their path back to the Super Bowl.

Still, the Browns just showed in their signing of Kareem Hunt that talent trumps off-field questions, especially as they appear ready to make a long-overdue playoff push.

The Patriots, more than any other team, have proven consistently that they can turn other teams' cast-offs into their own invaluable cast members. And with Rob Gronkowski's future in Foxboro uncertain, Brown would make sense for all the same reasons as acquiring Josh Gordon last fall.

NFL Draft: 5 prospects whose combine performances loom especially large

Posted on February 14, 2019 - 14:48:00

NFL Draft fans, you could have seen this exclusive analysis first, in your inbox, on Wednesday morning if you subscribed to PFW's draft newsletter. Sign up today for free and you'll get insider draft news and analysis multiple times every week in your inbox leading up to the the draft!

Louisiana Tech EDGE Jaylon Ferguson won't get the opportunity to explain his 2015 arrest on a simple battery charge at the NFL scouting combine, which begins at the end of February. Ferguson had his invitation rescinded, so he'll join Mississippi State's Jeffery Simmons and Colorado State WR Preston Williams, fellow prospects not in attendance at the pre-draft event in Indianapolis, where the NFL told teams anyone with a violent criminal charge in their history is prohibited.

Ferguson is a first-round talent in the eyes of PFW draft expert Greg Gabriel. But the NCAA's all-time sack leader, thanks to the NFL's ridiculous rule, now has one less chance to answer on- and off-field questions, increasing the importance of his pro day and private workouts.

But here are 5 prospects not named Kyler Murray who will be in attendance in Indianapolis, whose interviews and workouts will have a profound effect on when their names are called in April:

Florida EDGE Jachai Polite

Few squads will doubt the on-field credentials of Polite, who had 11 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season and who plays the game with unbridled energy, terrific power and instincts. Instead, it's his measurables that could mean the difference between him being a surefire first-rounder and slipping, even possibly into early on Day 2.

Polite is listed on his Florida bio as 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds, but there are concerns he might not reach the 6-2 threshold, where every first-round pass rusher since Melvin Ingram (18th overall in 2012) has measured at the least.

Ohio State OL Isaiah Prince

Like Polite, Prince's talent is unassailable. Unlike Polite, Prince rarely plays to his. A frequent mistake-maker and lackadaisical performer, he started for three seasons on the right edge at Ohio State, flashing second-round ability.

Teams will want to know, however, why he was so often on a different page than his linemates and how top-notch coaching didn't correct his unrefined understanding of leverage and hand use. Prince has unique traits; teams already digging deep on his mental makeup and ability to reach his ceiling will get their first opportunity to look him in the eyes in seeking those answers.

Texas DL Charles Omenihu

He was regularly deployed as an interior down lineman at Texas, where his unique length and underrated pass-rush prowess perhaps weren't entirely maximized. Can Omenihu, who measured 6-5 5/8 and 274 pounds at the Senior Bowl, learn to play on his feet and potentially become an outside linebacker? Agility tests and positional workouts in Indy should provide a strong indicator.

Does Omenihu have the suddenness to play some in coverage? The awareness to get proper depth in his drops and ball skills to affect the passing game in space? It's tough to tell on film because it's such a big projection, but Omenihu has tantalizing traits.

Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta'amu

Ta'amu flashed starter traits in his brief time at Ole Miss, including arm talent, athleticism and downfield touch and accuracy. They were merely flashes, though, as he only had a year-and-a-half of major college starting experience and tape to evaluate and determine his offensive knowledge.

The Hawaii native starred at New Mexico Military Institute prior to settling in Oxford, where he compiled a 30-12 TD-INT ratio and 9.5-yard attempt average alongside 507 yards and 10 touchdowns on 173 carries. He's talented but raw, and the combine will be an opportunity to begin showing teams his learning curve might isn't too steep.

Michigan CB David Long

A big-time player for the Wolverines the past two seasons, Long has the versatility, quickness and instincts to be an excellent NFL nickel back. And anyone who doubts the increasing importance of that position might want to go back and watch Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman toying with the Rams.

The question is whether he has the height and speed to play in the boundary. Long is more quick than fast and might not measure much over 5-10, small-ish by today's NFL standards. Already a solid Day 2 prospect, Long can help himself if he surprises us by eclipsing the 4.5 40 mark and perhaps even comfortably clearing 5010.

Take 2: Are the Patriots the greatest NFL dynasty ever?

Posted on January 29, 2019 - 11:00:00

Pro Football Weekly GM Hub Arkush and senior Bears reporter Bob LeGere discuss whether any NFL dynasty truly belongs in the same conversation with the Patriots:

ARKUSH: Well, Bob, it hasn't exactly been "Hotlanta" here in Atlanta for Super Bowl week, but I'm sure it's safe to say it's a lot more comfortable than Chicago as temperatures have been in the 35-to-55 range and the conversation has certainly heated up, a disproportionate amount of it about whether these Patriots are the greatest NFL dynasty of all time. Folks have thrown around the Bears and Packers prior to the Super Bowl era and certainly the Steelers of the '70s and Cowboys and 49ers of the '80s and '90s as well as Joe Gibbs' Washington teams that won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. But most of the kudos lead back to the Patriots. It's not just how much Belichick and Brady have won together, it's that they've done it in the free-agency, salary-cap era. Do you think any other organization compares?

LEGERE: In a word, “No.” At least not in the Super Bowl Era. What sets the Belichick-Brady Patriots apart from every other dynasty is the longevity of their dominance. The Patriots’ dynasty dates to the 2001 season. The Steelers of the 1970s were more dominant over a short period, winning four Super Bowls in six years, starting with Super Bowl IX. But the Steelers did not play in the first eight Super Bowls, and after their fourth title following the 1979 season, they didn’t make it back to the big game for 16 years. After the Patriots won three times in four years to start their dominance, they went 10 years before they won again. However, they made it to the Super Bowl twice during that “drought,” and now they’re playing in the big game for the fourth time in five years, and they won two of the previous three appearances. Since 2001, they’ve been over .500 for 18 straight years and won 10 or more games 17 times.

ARKUSH: Bob, not only do we completely agree, but there is even more to the story. I'm not sure anyone would argue that the Patriots haven't accomplished their dominance with less overall talent than any of the other dynasties we're comparing them to. Of course the Patriots’ nine Super Bowl teams in the last 18 seasons have featured a number of great players, but how many have been Hall of Fame caliber? Of course there is Randy Moss, but he played just three seasons and four games with them and appeared in only Super Bowl XLII, which they lost. Other than Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Adam Vinatieri, how many perennial All Pros have they had? Only Richard Seymour (3) and Wes Welker (2) have had multiple All-Pro seasons. It is astounding how much more they've done with less.

LEGERE: Hub, I have to agree with you, and again, I hearken back to the great Steelers teams of the 1970s. Compare the Patriots’ dearth of Hall of Fame players to the all-star cast that fueled those Pittsburgh teams. Nine of them are in the Hall of Fame: WR John Stallworth, LB Jack Ham, WR Lynn Swann, DE Joe Greene, C Mike Webster, CB Mel Blount, QB Terry Bradshaw, RB Franco Harris and LB Jack Lambert, in addition to coach Chuck Noll. It’s mind-boggling that all nine of those players played together for eight straight years, from 1974-81. By comparison, New England’s cast of impact players is constantly in flux, with the only constants being Brady and Belichick, although Gronkowski has provided an unparalleled weapon for the past nine years. But there’s no one else who has provided the year-to-year continuity that those Steelers teams enjoyed. To me, that makes the achievements of Belichick and Brady second to none, and it’s not even close.

Hub Arkush: 5 biggest storylines for Super Bowl LIII

Posted on January 20, 2019 - 23:39:00

CHICAGO – Once the NFL, the media and the sporting world descend on Atlanta next week, there will be almost as much written about the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII as there has been on all of the 266 games played before it this season.

There are several themes you will hear over and over and over again, and since we’re pretty sure these will be five of the biggest, let's get a head start:

Luke Skywalker meets Obi-Wan Kenobi

I know, I know, the majority of you would prefer Bill Belichick in the role of Darth Vader. But there is no question Sean McVay is the young Jedi who’s exceeded every expectation so far and appears to have the “Force” with him, and call Belichick whatever you like as long as it ends in the GOAT.

In the 41 Super Bowls I have covered, I cannot remember a coaching matchup even close to as intriguing as this one, and the over/under on how many times each will be asked about the other should open around 1 million.

The Rams got a gift, and the Saints got jobbed

That will be the headline in New Orleans for the next two weeks, but it won’t make it true.

Did the officials miss a blatant pass interference call on Rams nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman against Tommylee Lewis? Absolutely!

Had the flag been thrown, were the Saints guaranteed a touchdown rather than the 31-yard field goal they settled for to take a 23-20 lead, or could they have run the clock out before kicking what would have been the game-clinching field goal? No and no.

Did the officials have anything to do with the Rams answering with a 48-yard field goal to get the game to overtime, or a 57-yard OT game-winner? Nope, not a thing.

After the Saints won the coin toss and got the ball to start OT, giving them complete control of their own destiny until Drew Brees threw a pick, were the officials involved? Nope.

Neither team played their best football. The Saints just got a lousy break and didn’t do enough to win, while the Rams did just enough.

The Rams absolutely deserve to be in Atlanta — and it’s a real shame they’ll have to spend the next two weeks explaining why.

Are the Patriots the greatest franchise in NFL history?

Admit it now: unless you’re a Patriots fan, you were pulling with all your hearts for the Chiefs, or the Chargers ... or anybody but the Patriots. But here they are again — three Super Bowls in a row, 11 overall, 9 for Brady and Belichick together.

Certainly Halas’ Bears, Lombardi’s and Lambeau’s Packers teams, Brown’s Browns, Walsh’s 49ers and Landry’s and Johnson’s Cowboys are all in the conversation.

But with clearly the greatest coach and greatest quarterback of all time, and probably the greatest tight end, there will be no shortage of debates over the next couple weeks on whether the Pats are the best pro football organization ever.

What happened to Todd Gurley in New Orleans ... and what happens next?

How is it possible that Todd Gurley, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, in arguably the biggest game in Rams franchise history, received exactly four carries — C.J. Anderson was given 16 — and was targeted just three times in the passing game, spending most of the fourth quarter and overtime on the sideline?

It defies logic, and McVay’s “no big deal, he’ll have a great Super Bowl” comments after the game will make it an even bigger story once the Rams touch down in Atlanta.

How Gurley handles the media interrogations he’s about to go through, and what he does against the Pats on Super Sunday might be career defining.

Will this be the last hurrah for Belichick and Brady?

Neither the coach nor the quarterback have given any indication they are ready to walk away; in fact, they’ve said quite the opposite.

But this one wasn’t supposed to happen. Remember, they were the underdogs.

It will be pure conjecture based on no facts at all, but I promise that you are about to read and hear thousands of reports and interviews about Brady and Belichick riding off into the sunset together if they win this one — and the reports probably won’t stop until they’re back together again next year in Miami.

Hub Arkush: With Fangio gone, who do Bears hire as defensive coordinator?

Posted on January 9, 2019 - 19:50:00

Steve Wilks, Chuck Pagano among names that could interest Bears

Vic Fangio is an outstanding coach and a really good guy who more than earned his crack at a head job years ago and I wish him nothing but the best since this is obviously what he wanted most.

That said is Denver going to be a smart move for Fangio?

Having Gary Kubiak to do for him on offense what he did for Matt Nagy this year on defense, assuming Fangio approaches the relationship the same way, is a great start.

From there things get very murky.

The Broncos current ownership structure is the least stable in the NFL. When it is settled, how stable will Fangio’s new boss, John Elway’s job be?

Until then, Elway is among the league’s more difficult executives to work for, and if reports that he will oversee the hiring of Vic’s staff are anywhere near true, that is a recipe for disaster.

Fangio has enough talent on defense to be very good quickly.

But with Case Keenum recently playing more like, well, Case Keenum, than the guy who led the Vikings in 2017, the Broncos probably need to start all over at quarterback, again.

For every head coach that succeeds dozens fail. Let’s hope Fangio doesn’t end up regretting this move.

From where the Bears sit, certainly they knew this was a real possibility and must have had a plan if Fangio left.

Many assumed it would be Todd Bowles replacing Fangio because of his long history with the Nagy family, but that won’t happen because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a coaching decision fraught with concerns that worked for Bowles.

Bruce Arians resigned from the Cardinals head coach job just 12 months ago due to family and health concerns, and he is now 66 years old.

What exactly could Arians have done in the last year to eliminate all those concerns?

Apparently the Glazer brothers are most interested in Arians the quarterback whisperer working with Jameis Winston and are willing to take risks.

Why would Bowles – who does have an equally strong relationship with Arians as the Nagy family, or apparently stronger – choose the Bucs/Arians' murky waters and one of the NFL’s worst defenses in 2018 – 27th in total defense in 31st in points – allowed over the Bears with the consensus best defensive coordinator job in football?

One source very close to the situation opined to me that Bowles knows if he can turn the Bucs around, Arians isn’t likely back for long and if he leaves again in a year or two the Bucs could be his most direct path back to a head coaching job.

With Bowles unavailable the Bears have an excellent in-house candidate in secondary coach Ed Donatell, who has four years coordinator experience with the Packers, three years with the Falcons and one year in Washington. Donatell is coming off a fantastic year coaching the secondary.

Some believe, however, he will go with Fangio to be his coordinator.

Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers would be a bolder choice, but sources around the league tell me he’s ready after 10 years in the NFL. He has done a great job with Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris.

If the Bears look outside, and he doesn’t go right back to Carolina where he did an outstanding job as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks could be very interesting.

Wilks was the Bears secondary coach from 2006-2008.

Another hot prospect, if he doesn’t get one of the last three head jobs, and they could pry him out of Dallas where Rod Marinelli has the coordinator job, would be Kris Richard, who was outstanding overseeing the Seattle defense from 2015-2017.

Other names my sources have shared are Jets defensive line coach Mike Caldwell, Chuck Pagano (who is from Boulder and could also be Fangio’s guy out there) and Greg Williams, who is arguably the best of the veterans but whose baggage is probably just too heavy.

Of course, there is always a chance Nagy has a surprise up his sleeve, a lesser-known position coach, defensive coordinator in waiting in whom he sees the same things Andy Reid saw in him, and I’m told not to rule out Chiefs DB’s coach Al Harris as a possibility.

Schofield: Mitch Trubisky's Year 2 report card

Posted on January 9, 2019 - 13:22:00

Trubisky took important developmental steps, but he has plenty to work on ahead of critical Year 3

Nobody liked getting a report card in school. Especially when you knew full well that there were going to be some bad grades on there. For Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, a season perhaps cut too short now finds him getting handed report cards from around the football world. Here’s one more to add to the pile. Here we will look at the positive traits he displayed this season, hand out some incomplete grades for other traits that need work, highlight some of his best work to date, assign some homework, and end with a final verdict.

Excited yet?

The Positives

Athletic Ability

We can start with athleticism, which— as has been discussed in these pieces throughout the year — might end up being his trump card as a quarterback. The theory here is that each successful quarterback has one trait that they can fall back on when things break down, that they excel at to get them through difficult situations. For Trubisky, his athletic ability might be that one trait. There are times when he will turn to his legs and pull the ball down, and that has led to some splash plays for the Bears’ offense, such as this long touchdown scramble against the New England Patriots:

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Given his athleticism, Nagy called upon Trubisky as a ball-carrier, either early in games or early in drives, to get his QB into the flow of the contest and keep defenses honest. Just one example is this play from Chicago’s opening drive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Facing a second-and-10, Nagy calls an inside zone read play but uses an Arc block in front of Trubisky (#10). Should the QB decide to pull the football, he’ll have Trey Burton (#80) in blocking in front of him:

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That’s exactly what happens:

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Trubisky keeps the football around the right edge, Burton leads the way, and the QB picks up an easy 23 yards on Chicago’s opening drive, which Trubisky caps with a touchdown pass to Burton on the very next play.

Trubisky’s athleticism put him in some situations this season where he could contribute with his legs, either by keeping plays alive, via designed runs, or extending plays to make throws downfield in scramble drill situations. Every good QB has something they can fall back upon when plays either break down, or the defense shows them something unexpected. Trubisky’s ability to create as an athlete is likely his, at least right now.

Schemed Decisions

We will get to processing speed (and by extension, decision-making) in a moment, as that is an issue. But in terms of getting the most out of his quarterback, Nagy excelled at putting Trubisky in some situations where he accelerated his decision-making process, while still stressing a defense at multiple levels of the field. This was done via run/pass option designs, whether the reads were made pre-snap, or post-snap.

The best example of this comes from the Bears’ game against the Los Angeles Rams. Early in the third quarter, following the sack and safety of Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff, the Bears came out and put together a scoring drive that was capped off by a touchdown throw from Trubisky to offensive lineman Bradley Sowell. But on three plays during that drive, Nagy called RPOs that gave Trubisky some defined reads, and easy decisions. The first came on a pre-snap decision between an inside handoff, and a backside out route to Allen Robinson (#12):

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All Trubisky needs to do here is count. If the offense has the numbers advantage in the box, he hands it off. If it does not, he pulls the football at the mesh point and throws the backside out pattern. A simple process leads to good execution from the QB.

Later, Nagy calls a similar design, only this time Robinson runs the slant route working to the inside. This requires more of a post-snap decision. Trubisky reads Mark Barron (#26) and makes a post-snap decision based on how Barron reacts to the potential handoff. If the linebacker drops into the throwing lane, Trubisky will hand off. If Barron tracks with the potential run, the QB pulls and throws.

Barron plays the run, so Trubisky pulls and throws:

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The end zone angle is a perfect view of how the QB works this play. Trubisky stares down Barron, forcing the linebacker to choose. Once he does, the QB pulls the football and throws a dart to Robinson.

Later in the drive, Nagy returned to the first design, pairing the pre-snap read with the backside out to Robinson:

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These designs were very effective for Trubisky this season, and are signs that the potential growth in processing speed are present. Whether Trubisky takes that leap in his third season remains to be seen, but the foundation is built.

Competitive Toughness

You, my dear reader, might call this a cop-out.

I understand why you might. What is “competitive toughness,” exactly? It sounds like one of those undefined platitudes a parent might use with a toddler who, in the midst of eating some paste and drawing on the white walls with permanent marker, is told that he is “doing a good job at following his heart.” Show me tape, you might demand, of Trubisky being competitively tough. Show me numbers, you might ask, like a frustrated Joshua Lyman, to quantify this trait.

That’s the problem with grading this trait. It’s tough. You can’t point to a statistic, and though you can do things like highlight effort plays, or even write a piece demonstrating a quarterback’s leadership skills, it might not convince the audience. In the end this is one of those traits that, to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.

In my viewing, Trubisky has it. “It,” being competitive toughness, a prerequisite for playing the quarterback position. You can see it in a quarterback like John Elway, helicoptering himself down near the goal line in a Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. You can see it decades later in another quarterback named Deshaun Watson, executing a similar play against Reuben Foster and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the national championship game, taking his best shot from the talented linebacker and bouncing right back up. Staring that talented defense in the eye and saying “not today.” You can see it in a rookie like Baker Mayfield, electrifying stadiums when he comes onto the field, like he did in his first appearance against the New York Jets on a Thursday night game, or even when he just walked onto the practice field down at the Senior Bowl. Eyes gravitate, teammates want to fight beside him, coaches want to call plays for him.

You can see it in Trubisky. You saw it in that second game against the Packers. You saw it on that touchdown run against the Patriots. Yes, you saw it late against the Eagles.

Competitive toughness is a trait that NFL front offices use when grading and evaluating draft prospects. I learned this from Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout and currently the Director of the Scouting Academy, a program that helps teach the NFL evaluation methods to those who want to break into the football world. Say what you want about Trubisky’s other traits, but this is a box he checks.

Incomplete Grades

Some might call these the negatives, but as Trubisky’s second season should be evaluated in terms of his overall development, we prefer handing out incomplete grades for these traits. Should Trubisky remain static, then future versions of this piece will have these down as negatives. But these are areas that need improvement in Year Three of the Trubisky Era.

Processing Speed

All quarterbacks, especially younger quarterbacks, need to get faster. Trubisky is certainly no exception. However, his development curve here might be a bit steeper than other recent young quarterbacks. This gets us to the relative level of experience he has compared with other quarterbacks, either in his class or recent classes. Trubisky had one season as a starter under his belt when he left college, played a partial season in one offensive system, and just finished his first full season as an NFL starter in another system. Three years, three different systems. Tough for any quarterback, doubly difficult for one with his relative inexperience.

Hence, the tougher developmental curve.

That being said, Trubisky does have to get faster with his reads, and make better decisions when his first option on a route design is not available. Sometimes, this comes in the form of simply getting to that second read to begin with. Trubisky has a tendency to lock onto his initial target and, even if it is covered, force the throw. We saw that against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season:

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Here, Trubisky locks onto the curl route from Robinson, forcing a throw into coverage that is intercepted. If he instead comes off this read, he might notice Ben Braunecker (#84) running open because of a coverage bust.

Sometimes the speed issue comes in the form of getting the ball out late. We saw this on Sunday against the Eagles. On this play, Trubisky looks to Taylor Gabriel (#18) on a curl route but stares it down and waits to see the receiver make his break, rather than delivering a throw with anticipation:

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Of all the issues facing Trubisky, this might be the biggest. Until he speeds things up mentally, there will be issues in developing the offense and expanding the playbook moving forward.

Footwork

There are two areas in Trubisky’s game right now that are an issue when it comes to footwork. First, is his left foot. This is an issue that we drilled down deep on a few weeks ago after Chicago’s victory over the Rams. Trubisky’s tendency to step in the bucket with his left foot on throws to his left, sometimes — but not always — led to mistakes and missed opportunities in the passing game. For example, look at this interception thrown by Trubisky in that game against the Rams, on a throw in the direction of Burton:

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Here is another angle of this play, which illustrates from the end zone camera how Trubisky’s lead foot is well left of the target line, leading to the poor placement:

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In addition to the problem with his left foot, there is another footwork issue that created some hardships for the quarterback in his second season: Set/reset throws. For an athletic quarterback like Trubisky, athleticism can be a double-edged sword. Sure, it can bail him out of some crowded and/or collapsing pockets, and it can enable him to create some plays with his legs that might become sacks for more statuesque QBs. But there is also a dark side to this trait. Athletic quarterbacks often find themselves keeping their feet moving when in the pocket and/or sliding away from pressure, and throws made from unsettled feet can result in turnovers.

This was something we saw back in Week 2, against the Seattle Seahawks:

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This mistake comes immediately after the Bears defense forced Seattle to punt from deep in their own territory, gifting Trubisky and his offense great field position. Nagy looks to capitalize immediately, dialing up this vertical shot to Allen Robinson (#12). But Trubisky is forced to move in the pocket, and as he tries to reset and throw, the feet remain unsettled when he releases the throw. The pass is underthrown and intercepted by Shaquill Griffin (#26).

As you can see from this replay angle, the feet are moving at the release, and we can see the result downfield:

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This issue continued as the season wore on, and even into the playoff game against the Eagles. For example, back in Week 9 the Bears coasted to a 41-9 victory on the road against the Buffalo Bills, but that game might have been one of Trubisky’s poorer starts of the season. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 135 yards and one interception, as well as one touchdown, and his quarterback rating for that game (76.0) was his fifth-lowest of the season. Quarterback rating is a metric that has its flaws and might be outdated, but in the context of his entire season of date it is a point to consider.

Again, we saw the set/reset snake bit Trubisky on a throw:

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The Bears dial up a Yankee Concept here, a two-receiver maximum protection concept pairing a deep post route with an over route underneath it. It is a route design that we have talked about in various pieces over the past year. Trubisky tries to hit Anthony Miller (#17) on the over route, but he is forced to slide and attempt to reset before making the throw. Right before the throw, Trubisky is sliding his feet, and though he does reset them before pulling the trigger, this is another example of him missing with placement when attempting a set/reset/throw play. Plus, look at that left, or lead, step. It is more to the outside than toward the target, another issue we have seen in the past from the second-year QB.

Putting these footwork issues together, we can see how they lead to some of the negatives we saw from Trubisky this season. Until these issues are ironed out, there might continue to be some bumps along his developmental path.

Ball Placement

Building off the previous point, ball placement was and remains an issue for Trubisky. It was, shall we say, inconsistent this season. Yes, you can point to his completion rate of 66.6 percent (good for 14th in the league among qualified passers and above Tom Brady) and say that ball placement is not an issue. But there is a world of difference between completion percentage and whether a throw is placed well or not.

This was the subject of a piece written after the Bills game. Looking through that article, you can find examples of Trubisky missing on throws, even when the pass was completed. Throws made to the wrong shoulder or hip, throws that force the receiver to adjust, throws that allow the defender to close and be in position to make a play on the football.

Like this one:

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Trubisky’s placement needs to improve. Part of it might come naturally from the game speeding up for him. When a quarterback is getting through reads and decisions faster, he is making throws on time and in rhythm and attacking a defense at more advantageous moments and throwing into better and bigger throwing lanes. Part of it will come from fixing the footwork issues, as previously outlined. But this is the third big area that needs improvement.

The Developmental Outlook

Readers of these pieces this year know that I like to end as much as possible on a high note, and this piece will be no exception. Despite the flaws and the issues that he needs to improve upon, there were still signs of progress from Trubisky this season. There were moments when he made anticipation throws. There were moments when his footwork was better, or his decisions were quicker. The signs are there. In Sunday’s game against the Eagles, Trubisky made a throw to Tarik Cohen that Cris Collinsworth said was the best he had seen him make, and I concur:

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The Bears run a four verticals concept out of 2x1 formation, with Tarik Cohen (#29) running one of the seam routes out of the backfield, which turns this into a 3x1 alignment. From the way Trubisky moves the safety with his eyes in the direction of the bending vertical route from Adam Shaheen (#87), to the spot he puts this throw in (away from the underneath defender but in front of the other safety) is very impressive. Bears fans, if you want to take away one play from Sunday in terms of Trubisky’s development, remember this one.

The Summer School Assignments

Develop and improve, or die. That is life in the NFL for every single player, scout, coach and general manager. Get better at what you are doing, or your organization will find someone to replace you. This is a results-oriented business.

For Trubisky, his summer school assignments are clear. Fix the footwork, get faster from a mental standpoint, and improve the accuracy. Yes, they are big things to work on, but they are also critical to his development.

The Verdict

Ultimately, how one feels about Trubisky’s 2019 season largely depends on the criteria used and the bar you were hoping he’d reach or exceed. If one looks at the talent on both sides of the football, the fact the Bears won the NFC North and hosted the final team to get in the playoffs but still failed to put enough points on the board to advance to the divisional round, one might consider Trubisky’s year largely a failure. Or at best underwhelming. When it comes down to it, the NFL is a league that values winning above all, and quarterbacks are often judged in terms of wins and losses, and not in terms of their development and progression.

However, I think that to truly evaluate Trubisky’s second season — and his first full season as a starter — it is imperative to put his career into context and look at where he has come from, and where he is hopefully going as a passer. Coming into this year, many Bears fans were perhaps hoping for a Year Two similar to Goff’s second season, and with reason. After all, seeing the huge step forward Goff took in his sophomore campaign, thanks to the addition of Sean McVay as the Rams’ head coach, Chicago fans envisioned Nagy providing a similar boost to Trubisky.

But they might be a year ahead of schedule.

Before this season started, I was a guest on Locked on Bears with Lorin Cox, and I was asked about whether Bears fans should expect a breakout year similar to Goff. I was hesitant to set the bar that high, given Trubisky’s level of experience coming out of college when compared to Goff, who started for the University of California as a freshman. Instead, I pointed Lorin to Eli Manning’s first and second NFL seasons. Granted, Manning had more experience in college, but in terms of production I thought Manning’s second year (for example, a jump from a TD/INT ratio of 6/9 in his rookie season to 24/17 in his second year) was a more reasonable goal, and one I’d be happy to see Trubisky duplicate.

Trubisky's TD-INT ratio went from 7-7 as a rookie to 24-12 in 2018.

So from where I stand, Trubisky’s second season, despite the flaws and the things he needs to work on, was largely positive. He met my expectations for the year, he shows signs of development and he seems ready to have the kind of third season I thought his career arc was set up for, in terms of a best case scenario. Sure, grading services and quarterback rankings lists and the like might have him in the QB17-22 range this season, but where was he last year? Where was he entering this season?

This was to be a year of growth and development for Trubisky. He took steps forward, and while his performance might not have matched the overall performance from the team, the foundation is in place for him. Year Three is the critical one. Bill Walsh, who forgot more about quarterbacks than I will ever know, always said that if a quarterback doesn’t figure it out by Year Three, then it’s time to worry. So 2019 is the season to watch for Trubisky.

5 NFC playoff questions — the biggest storylines heading into wild-card weekend

Posted on January 3, 2019 - 17:27:00

Pedigree, X-factors, the Gruden effect and lots more

With wild-card weekend upon us, PFW identifies 5 burning questions that must be answered by NFC playoff teams looking to represent the conference in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Feb. 3.

1. Does familiarity play favorites?

Of the four wild-card matchups, only the weekend's finale in Chicago between Matt Nagy's Chicago Bears and Doug Pederson's Philadelphia Eagles isn't a rematch from the 2018 regular season. And yet we wouldn't fault those who said there is more familiarity between those two clubs than any potential postseason pairing.

Nagy and Pederson are extremely close from their time together on the staffs in Philadelphia, where Nagy began as a coaching intern below Pederson, a quality control coach, and continuing to Kansas City, where the Bears rookie served as QB coach under the reigning Super Bowl champ (and then-Chiefs offensive coordinator).

The two head coaches who double as play-callers essentially run the same offenses. They feature players (Chicago's Trey Burton and Philadelphia's Alshon Jeffery) who cut their NFL teeth behind enemy lines, while their defenses might boast the top two D-lines in the playoff field. Does one side get any sort of edge from all the commonalities?

Meantime, the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, who touch down in Arlington, Texas, this weekend, reprise their Week 3 battle, in which Pete Carroll's club got off its 0-2 schneid with a 24-13 home victory. Of course, the familiarity goes beyond that, with former Seahawks D-coordinator Kris Richard still hoping to exact revenge on his former boss who surprisingly cut ties last offseason, allowing the Cowboys to hire Richard as their secondary coach/pass-game coordinator.

2. How does pedigree travel this weekend?

The conference's two head coaches and starting quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings who play this weekend will both do so on the road, where the Eagles and Seahawks went a combined 8-8 during the regular season (compared to the Bears' and Cowboys' combined home mark of 14-2). Of course, in both Philadelphia's and Seattle's title-winning postseasons, they each played playoff games away from home only once — for the Super Bowl.

Seattle appears to have a pack-and-play formula, in addition to the conference's most Super Bowl skins on the wall, with a dynamic run game (No. 1 in yards, No. 2 in attempts, No. 5 in average gain) and risk-averse quarterback overseeing a judicious, ball-control offense (league-low 11 giveaways) to complement a solid 'D.'

But the Eagles haven't run the ball consistently (30th in rushing), and they're resigned to playing inexperienced players and journeymen in a banged-up secondary, where they rank 30th against the pass. Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, then, really need their team's high-priced lines to dominate the Bears, which at least seems plausible for Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett and Co., if not a wall attempting to protect immobile Nick Foles from Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of a dominating Bears front seven. Or can rallying around their perceived underdog-with-a-QB2 disadvantage again work to their advantage?

3. Which club does 'Gruden Effect' help the most?

The Bears and Cowboys probably aren't in this position without the unintended help of Jon Gruden, who jettisoned the top two talents he inherited as Raiders coach in Khalil Mack to Chicago and Amari Cooper to Dallas.

That you already knew.

Remember, though, that the Seahawks' firing of longtime O-line coach Tom Cable, the ex-Raiders boss whom Gruden quickly plucked off the scrap heap to join him for a second stint in Oakland, cleared the way for Mike Solari's arrival and subsequent O-line revival in Seattle.

We're having a bit of fun at Gruden's expense — hey, he can afford it! — but it's only meant to add just a bit more context to arguably the singular most important acquisition the Bears, Cowboys and Seahawks made this past season.

Mack joined an already-solid Bears 'D' and made it easily the NFL's best playmaking unit. Cooper was inserted into one of the game's worst pass-catching corps and basically put the Cowboys on his back for the better part of a five-game win streak propelling them back to the playoffs. And without Solari helping to coax marked blocking improvements, the Seahawks don't successfully go from the NFL's most pass-heavy team during an 0-2 start to the most run-committed over a 10-4 finish.

4. Who are the biggest X-factors?

The Bears' Mitch Trubisky might be the biggest X-factor in the entire 2018-19 playoff field. He authored a six-TD game vs. the lowly Bucs, earned Player of the Week honors for tallying four more scores without a giveaway in taking apart the Lions and finished among the best single-season quarterbacks in franchise history.

But he's also tallied a touchdown-turnover ratio of 5-8 in games in front of a national audience and enters his first-ever elimination game since high school. The Bears don't need Trubisky to be heroic — they need him to handle the offense with care, letting the defense do much of the heavy lifting. Whether he can oblige will most determine how far Chicago advances.

As for the other three X-factors on display this weekend, on Philly's side at Soldier Field this weekend, we'll go with Nelson Agholor. The Bears have the Pro Bowl-caliber producers to minimize the damage of Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz; it's Agholor from the slot whose speed could give Sherrick McManis problems.

McManis has held up well thus far in place of Bryce Callahan, who is on IR, but Agholor has caught fire of late, with three touchdowns among his 10-156 receiving over the past two games.

For the Cowboys, how fortuitous is it having Richard's knowledge of Seattle's pass catchers entering Saturday? Although we just got done extolling their ground attack, the Seahawks will visit a Dallas run 'D' led by Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch that allowed only one 100-yard rusher in its final 13 games. It has the sideline-to-sideline speed to potentially make Seattle beat it through the air, where Richard has the Cowboys young DBs playing confidently and, this weekend, with a unique understanding of how Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett will try and win.

Finally, the Seahawks didn't trade up in the draft to pick a punter in Round 4 for him not to be an X-factor. The rookie out of Texas has absolutely been as advertised, ranking second in gross average (48.2) and No. 6 in net (42.5). Seattle's defensive strength is defending the pass, not the run, and Dickson gives it a nice weapon to ensure Dallas has to drive the length of the field.

5. How will two giant offenses return from weekend rest?

The top-seeded New Orleans Saints earned the right to have the path to Super Bowl LIII in the NFC go through the Superdome, but they didn't exactly reignite on offense there over the final two weeks, when they threw for only two combined touchdowns against vulnerable Steelers and Panthers secondaries.

Granted, it was Teddy Bridgewater, not Drew Brees, playing in the finale without Alvin Kamara and both starting tackles. Still, it'll be interesting to see whether the potent Drew Brees-led passing offense we're accustomed to will instantly reappear after being held below 200 yards and/or two passing TDs in the final five games ... or if Sean Payton is content continuing to lean more on his rushing attack.

Similarly, is Sean McVay's Rams offense all the way back after getting an unexpected jolt from C.J. Anderson in Todd Gurley's two-game absence to end the season? In their two games prior to scoring a combined 79 points with Anderson as its bell cow — both losses — Jared Goff failed to throw a touchdown. He won't have to worry about the elements anymore, but should we be at all concerned about Goff's uneven close to what had been an MVP-caliber campaign?

Remember, he wasn't very good in his first playoff game, either, completing barely more than 53 percent of his passes and averaging only slightly more than 5.5 yards per attempt vs. Atlanta last January.

Mosher: 3 reasons the Chicago Bears can go to Super Bowl LIII

Posted on January 3, 2019 - 16:49:00

Bears are more than just a dominant defensive team

The Chicago Bears are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and boy is it sweet. In just one season, the Bears have drastically changed the direction of the franchise. We can debate and argue about who deserves the most credit for their rapid improvement another time, but this is a team that appears to be set to dominate the NFC North for years to come.

But before they can become a truly dominant team, the Bears need to find some success in the playoffs. That starts on Sunday afternoon as they host the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round. But before that game begins, it’s time to look at the three biggest reasons the Bears have a chance to win the NFC this year.  

1. The Bears Have The No. 1 Defense (DVOA)

After years of watching playoff football, one thing that holds true each postseason is that having an elite defense can take you to the promised land. And for the Bears, they certainly have a great defense. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had the No.1 defense in DVOA at -25.6 percent. What is DVOA, you may ask? DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on the situation.

According to DVOA, the Bears’ 2018 defense was one of the best in NFL history and the best overall since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl. Chicago finished the season as the No.1 scoring defense, allowing just 17.7 points per game. Chicago led the league in takeaways (36), the most in the NFL in a season since the 2015 Carolina Panthers (39).

Not only do they take the ball away at a high level, but the Bears also pressure the quarterback at an absurd rate. Chicago finished the season with 50 sacks, which was good enough for 3rd in the NFL. A defense that gets sacks creates the most amount of turnovers in the league and holds teams under 18 points per game seems pretty good if you ask me. The more you dive in, the more obvious it is that the Bears have an all-time great defense. Here are some defensive categories the Bears led the league in:

Opponent Touchdown Drives (28)

Yards allowed on 1st down (4.7 yards)

Total Touchdowns Allowed (30)

Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game (80)

Three-and-Outs Forced (49)

If the Bears advance to the divisional or championship round of the playoffs, they are likely to face some of the best offenses in the league, likely the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. Their elite defense can single-handedly win them games, and we saw that play out multiple times throughout the season. The Bears' defense alone is a reason to consider them one of the favorites to bring home the Lombardi trophy in 2019.

2. Chicago’s Red Zone Offense

Unlike most teams with a historically great defense, the Bears have one of the better offenses in the league to pair with their defense. In 2018, they finished the season as the 9th ranked offense, scoring 26.3 points per game despite being 21st in yards per game (343.9). How is that possible? Because they have one of the league’s best red zone attacks.  

According to Team Rankings, the Bears scored touchdowns on 67 percent of their red zone attempts this season, sixth-best in the NFL. Not only are they scoring at a high-rate in the red zone, but they are also one of the best teams concerning success rate as well (56.7 percent). They don't have many negative plays when they are near the end zone, and that is a big part of their success.

With the additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller, the Bears have all sorts of weapons in the red zone. Not only can they throw the ball exceptionally well inside the 20, but they also have the option of running with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Mitchell Trubisky, depending on the opponent.

In the playoffs, points come at a premium, so having one of the best red zone offenses and a top play-caller in Matt Nagy should pay dividends. Expect the Bears’ red zone effectiveness to help guide them to victory in Round 1.

3. Special Teams

One of the things that makes the Bears such a dangerous opponent in the playoffs is that they can win in all three phases of the game; offense, defense, and special teams. Chicago has been outstanding in nearly every aspect of special teams, minus their kicker. On the season, the Bears have averaged 12.5 yards per return on punts, second-best in the NFL. On the flip side, they allowed just 7.5 yards per return, the 10th fewest in the NFL.

While their punt return average on both sides has been fantastic, it doesn't tell the whole story. One of my favorite stats in the special team's game is the number of 20+ yard returns both created and allowed. Why is this one of my favorite stats? Because the special teams' phase of the game is all about creating big plays and preventing them. For Chicago, they were able to do both this season. The Bears led the league in punt returns of at least 20 yards with seven, and they also led the league in 20+ yard returns allowed with zero.

While their kicking game has struggled some this season, I fully expect their Bears’ punt return unit to be dominant in the playoffs. Don’t be surprised if and when Tarik Cohen makes one or two big plays in this area that flips the field position like he has done all season.

Conclusion

Chicago has all of the pieces to make a run in the playoffs. In my opinion, they are the most well-rounded team in the NFL and maybe of the last few years. However, as we know, the most balanced team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl as the NFL playoffs tend to be random. But don’t be surprised if the Bears make a run this postseason. This is simply one of the best teams in the NFL.

5 AFC playoff questions — the biggest storylines heading into wild-card weekend

Posted on January 3, 2019 - 16:34:00

Can Chiefs end long playoff home skid? Who are the healthiest teams? Can a young QB surprise?

Let's take a look at some of the key questions as we handicap and break down the AFC playoff teams heading into this weekend's wild-card action:

1. How much will QB experience matter?

It’s the old dogs vs. the new pups. Tom Brady has 37 playoff starts, and he’s been on the winning side in 27 of them. Philip Rivers has nine postseason starts, and Andrew Luck has six. The other three AFC quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson — are all making their playoff debuts.

If there’s ever a year to challenge the notion that postseason experience (especially at quarterback) is crucial, it could be this one.

Mahomes has been the league’s most prolific QB this season and will be playing at home. Watson has been brilliant after a slow start, with a 16-2 TD-INT ratio the past nine games. Jackson is the most dangerous runner of the bunch, and he’s playing fearlessly.

That’s not to suggest that Brady can’t dig deep for his playoff magic or that Rivers or Luck can’t exorcise their postseason demons this year. But it does feel like the door is open for a next-generation quarterback to really make some noise over the next few weeks.

The longest shot would be the 21-year-old Jackson, who will be the youngest starting QB in playoff history. He has seven NFL starts to date and would need three more victories (perhaps two coming on the road) to reach the Super Bowl and bring his start total to 10. That would put him just behind Colin Kaepernick (nine starts), Vince Ferragamo (seven) and Jeff Hostetler (six) for fewest combined NFL starts prior to starting a Super Bowl

Want one more bar-trivia question with which to stump your friends? The highest passing total for a quarterback making his first start: Kelly Holcomb for the Cleveland Browns, in 2002, with 429. Mahomes might have a shot at topping that, but he also could run into one of three hot defenses (Chargers, Colts, Ravens) in that first game.

2. Which teams are healthiest? Who is hurting the most with injuries?

The Chiefs will have the extra week to evaluate where they are with some talented players who might be able to contribute in the playoffs. WR Sammy Watkins (foot) has been out five weeks and counting. S Eric Berry (heel) was held out in Week 17 after being worked back into the lineup, as was RB Spencer Ware (hamstring). RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (shin) could be activated off the IR for part of the playoffs.

The Patriots appear to be in relatively good shape, especially with the extra time. Many have speculated Brady is dealing with a knee injury, possibly an MCL, but he’s not been on the injury report. S Devin McCourty (head) and WR-RB-KR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) are the only other major contributors who are in play, and there’s strong optimism both could return for the divisional round.

The Texans have a few concerning injuries, including the loss of WR Demaryius Thomas (Achilles) for the season. RB Lamar Miller (ankle) is expected to be ready for the Colts game, but CB Johnathan Joseph (neck), DT Brandon Dunn (ankle) and WR Keke Coutee (hamstring) are still up in the air. WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) and LB Bernardrick McKinney (heel) also are banged up but expected to be ready.

Are the Ravens the healthiest AFC team heading into the postseason? Maybe, and that’s quite a change from an injury-ravaged 2017 season. LG Alex Lewis (shoulder) could return to the lineup after missing four games, and WR John Brown (hamstring) appears fine.

The Chargers could receive some very good news with RB Melvin Gordon (ankle) expected to go, and what a fascinating addition TE Hunter Henry (torn ACL) could be if he’s cleared and activated off IR. If Henry can play at a high level, they’d be adding another weapon just after the offense had leveled off a bit.

The Colts would love to get C Ryan Kelly (neck) back in the lineup after he missed Week 17 and a handful of other games this season, as the offense just wasn’t quite the same without him. WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) also has been battling for the past month or so to stay healthy, but he’s expected to play against the Texans — a team he routinely has destroyed in his career. Another possible boost could come from the return of S Clayton Geathers (knee) to help bolster the secondary vs. Watson.

3. Does momentum matter heading into the playoffs?

This is such an open-ended question, and it can be as focused or protracted as we want, so let’s first set some parameters for the question. The longest current win streak by any NFL team heading into the postseason is — you might be surprised — four games.

One is the Chicago Bears. The other is an AFC team. Can you guess?

Yes, that would be the Colts, who beat the Titans (then winners of four straight) last week to get into the playoffs. Can we say they’re the hottest team in the conference field right now? There’s certainly a argument to be made, especially as they had won five straight prior to their 6-0 clunker of a loss to the Jaguars. That’s been Indy’s only setback since Week 6.

But what about the team they face? The Texans started 0-3 and ripped off 11 wins in their next 13 tries. That might be defined as hot. Of course, one of those losses came to the Colts at home in Week 14, and Houston missed a golden chance to lock up a bye by losing at Philly. So that’s only a 2-2 finish after a scorching middle portion of the season.

The Ravens are winners of six of seven since the bye when Jackson took over at QB. They’re playing some of their best ball of the season now, even in the 27-24 loss at Kansas City that came down to a few wild conversions late by Mahomes and Co.

Like the Texans, the Chargers overcame a poor start to enter the dance. They’re on an 11-2 run as well, but just like Houston, they also lost just to a team (Baltimore) they recently faced — and this rematch is on the road.

The funny part about this is that of the top two seeds, the Chiefs and Patriots, neither can really be called hot. The Chiefs are 3-3 down the stretch, which was preceded by an unimpressive win over the three-win Cardinals, and they blew three separate 14-point leads in their only home loss of the season to the Chargers.

New England won eight of nine games and was on the verge of making it nine of 10 prior to the “Miami Miracle” loss to the Dolphins. That was followed by a bad loss to the Steelers. Two losses in December for a Bill Belichick-coached team? The last time that happened, in 2012, the Patriots were the two seed and were beat up in the AFC title game to the top-seeded Broncos.

Of course, both the Chiefs and Patriots blew out their lesser Week 17 opponents.

It begs the question: Does any of this even matter?

Recent history suggests maybe not. The Eagles lost two December games last year sandwiched around three narrow victories. The team they beat in Super Bowl LII, the Patriots, went 11-1 to finish the 2017 regular season. The Patriots and Falcons both steamrolled into the playoffs and eventually the Super Bowl with strong finishes down the stretch in 2016, but the Broncos — shaky late amid a QB change — beat the 15-1 Panthers the year before that.

It’s hard to discount what the Texans and Colts have done during their magical runs, nor can we ignore how transformative the past two months have been for a team such as the Ravens. But those elements also do not portend Super Bowl destinies, of course.

Momentum feels like a faulty measurement heading into the postseason. Some teams are able to elevate their play once the stakes have been raised, and others clearly cannot. Consider this a new season starting Saturday.

4. How much does defense matter?

Clearly, the Ravens have a formula that works — and a defense that’s peaking at the right time. After seven combined forced fumbles and INTs in the first 10 games, they have a total of 10 of those in the past six. The Ravens turned in banner performances against three high-flying passing games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers — all of those on the road, too. Defense travels, as the old adage goes.

We lean on Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) ratings quite a bit; it measures just how relatively good teams were, not just in terms of rankings in each categories, but it’s weighted toward more important stats and trends.

But they also take it a step further with their Weighted DVOA, which puts a greater emphasis on more recent performances. For their defensive rankings, the highest AFC team is Baltimore at No. 4 (minus-14.1 percent — the lower the number, the better). The next-best defensive team in the AFC playoff field is the Chargers at No. 7 (minus-5.9 percent), followed closely behind by Indianapolis at No. 8 (minus-5.8 percent).

The remaining AFC playoff teams are as follows: Houston at No. 10 (minus-5.2 percent), New England at No. 13 (0.0 percent), and Kansas City No. 17 (2.5 percent). The Chiefs’ full-season number was 6.8 percent, which was ranked 26th in the NFL, so this suggests that this unit is trending in the right direction at the very least. In fact, the majority of the AFC playoff teams are improved down the stretch, with the Texans the only team of the six taking a small step back.

5. Can a wildcard-weekend team make it to Atlanta?

From the 2005 to 2012 seasons, there were six wildcard-round participants in Super Bowls, making a fairly common phenomenon. Since then, however? Zero. It appears that home field has been a huge edge in recent seasons, as each of the past 10 Super Bowl teams have been one- or two-seeds.

The Chiefs are 7-1 at Arrowhead, with the aforementioned one-point loss to what would become a 12-win Chargers team. So clearly Kansas City is going to be tough to beat at home by that factor alone.

The only two AFC teams in the field with winning road records this season are as follows: the Chargers at 7-1 (plus-63 point differential) and the Texans at 5-3 (plus-15). The Colts and Ravens both were 4-4, but Baltimore outscored its opponents in those games by 45 points and the Colts by a net plus-13.

Those are all pretty respectable marks. Would you believe the worst road record by an AFC playoff team belongs to … New England? The Patriots are 3-5 away from Gillette Stadium, having been outscored by a combined 19 points in those games. Road blowouts to the Jaguars and Lions early were one thing, but getting canned by the Titans and dropping back-to-back road games at Miami and Pittsburgh shows the Patriots can be vulnerable. They scored 10 points each in two of those losses.

You might assume that the Chargers and Ravens — both of which played tight, tense games at Arrowhead this season — are best prepared to go in there and beat the Chiefs. Then again, the Patriots already beat the Chiefs (with Kareem Hunt) once before and in theory are a better defensive team now than they were back in Week 6.

There’s also this unsettling fact: As raucous as it can get in the playoffs in Kansas City, the Chiefs have lost a shocking six straight postseason games there, including one in each of the past two seasons. Those teams were different than this year’s banner unit, but it doesn’t discount the fact that home field didn’t appear to provide much of an edge for them.

Pro Football Weekly's wild-card round power rankings

Posted on January 1, 2019 - 15:56:00

Top teams remain static, but AFC's middleweights provide interesting logjam

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering the first round of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Saints (13-3) — Road to Atlanta goes through the Superdome

2. Rams (13-3) — Tuneups vs. Cardinals, 49ers got them back on track

3. Chiefs (12-4) — Can they regain mojo at Arrowhead? Tough to beat there (in regular season)

4. Bears (12-4) — Trubisky completing 75 percent final three games

5. Chargers (12-4) — Congrats on 12 wins! Now travel cross-country in short week

6. Patriots (11-5) — They’ve never won a Super Bowl without a bye

7. Texans (11-5) — Can Deshaun Watson continue heroics in first playoffs?

8. Colts (10-6) — Dangerous team that makes big plays, limits them on ‘D’

9. Ravens (10-6) — Defensive takeaways must continue for a playoff run

10. Seahawks (10-6) — Stumbled down stretch but already beat Dallas before

11. Cowboys (10-6) — Should be pretty healthy on offense again

12. Eagles (9-7) — Will Nick Foles’ strange magic work at Soldier Field?

13. Steelers (9-6-1) — More drama? You can’t make this stuff up

14. Vikings (8-7-1) — It appears band will be back together for another try in ’19

15. Titans (9-7) — Going to need a downfield threat to help offense evolve

16. Browns (7-8-1) — Could they end up favorites to win the North next year?

17. Panthers (7-9) — This offensive line might need three new starters

18. Falcons (7-9) — Pressure on DQ now with coordinators out, him taking over ‘D’

19. Dolphins (7-9) — Another reboot? One of the more poorly run franchises

20. Packers (6-9-1) — Massive offseason: new coaches, free agency, two first-rounders

21. Washington (7-9) — Might have to find QBs through draft and other means

22. Bills (6-10) — Defense was stout again, but finding Josh Allen help is paramount

23. Broncos (6-10) — Expect Elway to target experienced head coach, rookie QB

24. Buccaneers (5-11) — Jameis Winston back for all-important fifth season

25. Jaguars (5-11) — How they attack QB position in offseason will be fascinating

26. Lions (6-10) — New Year’s resolution: no more carries for LeGarrett Blount, please

27. Giants (5-11) — Would they entertain idea of trading OBJ? Contract makes it possible

28. 49ers (4-12) — Imagine what George Kittle could do with full season of Jimmy G

29. Bengals (5-11) — End of Dalton’s time too? Change might be in the air there

30. Jets (4-12) — Will be big spenders in free agency, especially on offense

31. Raiders (4-12) — Mike Mayock hire is fascinating with massive draft upcoming

32. Cardinals (3-13) — Could Adam Gase be what this offense needs?

5 reserves to watch after Chicago Bears pull starters Sunday against Vikings

Posted on December 26, 2018 - 16:23:00

Toliver, Coward among potential jars on Bears shelf who should get early 2019 auditions

The minds of Bears fans wandering in Week 17 (or much earlier for that matter) to next season is hardly new.

But the Bears already having clinched their division and likely the No. 3 seed, allowing their fans' minds to wander — temporarily — to next season while also preparing for next week's playoffs to begin certainly is both new and refreshing.

So here we are, Bears fans. Your squad is likely to be resting its starters by halftime or sooner Sunday in Minnesota, where the Vikings will be fighting for their postseason lives. That should create an interesting viewing experience for fans, who'll get extended looks at a number of younger players who could be vying for bigger roles in the Bears' NFC North title defense season in 2019.

You hopefully know by now that PFW will have all of your playoff preview needs met — and exceeded — very soon. Meantime, let's focus on 5 Bears who should play a lot more than usual Sunday and how their performances might influence their future with the club.

5. WR Javon Wims

The seventh-rounder out of Georgia, who led the NFL in preseason receiving yardage, has played all of nine snaps as a rookie, when he's been a healthy scratch 12 times, including in every game since Week 8. The Bears' top three receivers are locked in for 2019, but Kevin White almost certainly is on the way out and WR4 Josh Bellamy also will be a free agent. Allen Robinson is dealing with sore ribs, only further enhancing the likelihood of Wims getting the call at some point against the NFL's No. 3 pass 'D' and a secondary boasting three former first-rounders and nickel Mackensie Alexander, selected No. 54 overall three years ago.

4. LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Looking up on the depth chart at one of the NFL's best ILB pairings, the fourth-round rookie from West Virginia has been relegated to 11 snaps on 'D.' But he's flashed on special teams, where he's a "core-four" player, logging nearly 74 percent of the total snaps and pacing the Bears with six special-teams tackles. Nick Kwiatkoski has shown he's a try-hard guy with clear limitations in the passing game; can Iyiegbuniwe be Roquan Smith's potential partner in crime in time? Any opportunities to cover red-hot Dalvin Cook and Kyle Rudolph would represent terrific on-the-job training.

3. Kevin Toliver

The Bears' boundary corners would seem to be entrenched through at least next season, but obviously there's no such thing as too many able cover men and the Bears got a scare Sunday with Kyle Fuller on the heels of losing Bryce Callahan. Off the hoof, Toliver is impressive, and he's acquitted himself fairly well in 123 spot snaps on 'D,' save for a few minor issues late against Arizona. Sunday can provide a key staging point potentially on two levels: How would Toliver hold up against a pair of complete receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen; and might he be a slot consideration with Callahan's Bears future unclear?

2. OL Rashaad Coward

The Bears will have a decision to make at right tackle this offseason, when solid but unspectacular Bobby Massie's contract expires. Is it possible the minds of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are already made up? They have spent the season watching their first-year player and pet project, Rashaad Coward, work behind the scenes at practice, but fans haven't caught a glimpse of the 6-foot-5, 320-pound converted D-lineman from Old Dominion since August. Perhaps that changes Sunday, when Danielle Hunter (13.5 sacks) and Anthony Barr are attempting to heat up the right edge guarded by Massie for all but five snaps this season. The Bears are no strangers to converting athletic D-linemen to the other side of the ball — see: Williams, Big Cat; and Bortz, Mark — and Sunday could be a good opportunity to see the fruits of Coward and renowned O-line coach Harry Hiestand's labor.

1. Isaiah Irving

Irving's fellow outside backer, rookie Kylie Fitts, is a better prototype for the position. Still, Irving consistently has made plays when called on in the preseason and should hear his number much more Sunday, when Aaron Lynch likely will be out again and few players on 'D' could benefit more from rest than Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. He logged a QB hit in Week 16 among his seven snaps and tallied his first NFL sack earlier in Buffalo. It might sound crazy in light of how strong he's come on over the past month-plus, but Leonard Floyd's 2020 option decision looms in May and Pace picking it up isn't a fait accompli. We'd expect Lynch to be a priority re-signing, but it's possible the Bears covet cheaper edge alternatives with Khalil Mack occupying $70 million in cap space from 2019-21. Irving is an exclusive rights free agent next season, when Fitts enters Year 2 of a negligible rookie deal, and one or both of them showing out against Minnesota's leaky O-line would be a promising development.

Pro Football Weekly's Week 17 power rankings

Posted on December 26, 2018 - 09:54:00

Rising Ravens enter top 10, but field looks wide open approaching postseason

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 17 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Saints (13-2) — Could be long time until Marshon Lattimore struggles like that again

2. Rams (12-3) — More two-TE sets seemed to really help up front last week

3. Chiefs (11-4) — Defensive gameplan vs. Seattle was confusing at best

4. Bears (11-4) — Win at San Fran means they’ll go for it in Week 17

5. Chargers (11-4) — That Ravens loss really was massive with Chiefs losing

6. Patriots (10-5) — Tom Brady’s knee isn’t only issue, but earning bye would be big

7. Texans (10-5) — Deshaun Watson’s heroics buried by late collapse on defense

8. Ravens (9-6) — You have to completely redo your defensive gameplan for them

9. Seahawks (9-6) — Funny how quickly we’ve moved on from bad Week 15 loss

10. Cowboys (9-6) — Don’t need to play hard in Week 17, but Jerry says they will

11. Steelers (8-6-1) — Fake punt was worse than JuJu’s fumble, it turns out

12. Colts (9-6) — Remember: They were 1-5 with losses to Bengals and Jets

13. Vikings (8-6-1) — Dalvin Cook gets shot at redemption vs. Bears

14. Titans (9-6) — Likely have to win with ball-control offense in Week 17 showdown

15. Eagles (8-7) — Nick Foles has one of the strangest but strongest legacies with team

16. Browns (7-7-1) — Gunning for first over-.500 season in dozen years

17. Washington (7-8) — Swearinger exit a reminder this team has been mired discord for years

18. Falcons (6-9) — Can they rebound as contenders? Gotta load up on lines of scrimmage

19. Dolphins (7-8) — Some changes coming, but always feels like Ross makes wrong ones

20. Packers (6-8-1) — Don’t throw young offensive playmakers out with bathwater just yet

21. Bills (5-10) — Finishing with six victories honestly would be pretty impressive

22. Panthers (6-9) — Could be first team in 16-game era to start 6-2, lose eight straight

23. Buccaneers (5-10) — Easily overlooked, but Mike Evans has been tremendous amid losing

24. Broncos (6-9) — Absolutely brutal all-around performance with Joseph’s job on line

25. Giants (5-10) — Saquon’s late slide likely means Baker Mayfield is your OROY

26. Jaguars (5-10) — Doug Marrone looking likely to be back, but his staff could change

27. Lions (5-10) — We know the offense is broken, but how much of this is on Stafford?

28. Bengals (6-9) — A major teardown still feels unlikely even if it could be best remedy

29. 49ers (4-11) — Kyle Shanahan still getting them to play hard, but lots to improve

30. Jets (4-11) — A good coach will want to work with Darnold, but this roster stinks

31. Raiders (4-11) — Dwayne Harris gives Raider Nation a terrific sendoff in Black Hole

32. Cardinals (3-12) — Odds-on favorite to earn top pick in the draft … Nick Bosa?

Fantasy Football: Week 16 RB rankings

Posted on December 20, 2018 - 15:19:00

Panthers have a lot of problems but C-Mac isn't one

One of the few people less deserving of blame than Ron Rivera for the Carolina Panthers' nightmare season is Christian McCaffrey.

While it's unclear whether Rivera might become the scapegoat for a franchise that feels like it could be headed toward major change, McCaffrey arguably is the Panthers' most valuable player who doesn't wear a helmet with a headset. The RB position might not be all that important for most squads, but McCaffrey isn't most running backs.

McCaffrey is fantasy's RB3 overall (RB2 in PPR leagues) despite finding the end zone only one time in his first six games. How is that possible? He has scored in seven of the past eight — including tossing a 50-yard touchdown Monday night — and 13 times overall since. He's averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 8.2 yards as a receiver, with an outside chance to crack the 1K milestone in both departments.

And after setting a career high with 14 catches (for 102 yards, his second career 100-receiving yard day) in his visit to the Deion Jones-less Atlanta Falcons in Week 2, the rematch comes with Jones back but Cam Newton out, meaning Taylor Heinicke is set to make his first NFL start. The Falcons' issues defending backs over the past two-plus seasons are well-documented; no other NFL club has allowed 100 receptions to the position in either season, much less Atlanta's 213 combined.

With Heinicke at the controls, McCaffrey surely will get a full workload — as a runner and receiver — vs. Atlanta Sunday, when he needs 203 yards from scrimmage to become only the 10th player ever to reach 2K. Since suddenly there's increasing hot-seat talk surrounding the under appreciated Rivera, can we at least fully appreciate what a spectacular sophomore season McCaffrey has authored?

Take a look at our full Championship Week RB rankings, which include a few links to our other Week 16 fantasy resources and will be updated prior to kickoff between Washington and Tennessee on Saturday afternoon:

1. Todd Gurley, Rams at Cardinals

2. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys vs. Bucs

3. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers vs. Falcons

4. Nick Chubb, Browns vs. Bengals

5. Saquon Barkley, Giants at Colts

6. Alvin Kamara, Saints vs. Steelers

7. Joe Mixon, Bengals at Browns

8. Melvin Gordon, Chargers vs. Ravens

9. Phillip Lindsay, Broncos at Raiders

10. Dalvin Cook, Vikings at Lions

11. Chris Carson, Seahawks vs. Chiefs

12. Derrick Henry, Titans vs. Washington

13. Marlon Mack, Colts vs. Giants

14. Tevin Coleman, Falcons at Panthers

15. Sony Michel, Patriots vs. Bills

16. David Johnson, Cardinals vs. Rams

17. Gus Edwards, Ravens at Chargers

18. Mark Ingram, Saints vs. Steelers

19. Elijah McGuire, Jets vs. Packers

20. Damien Williams, Chiefs at Seahawks

21. James White, Patriots vs. Bills

22. Matt Breida, 49ers vs. Bears

23. Jaylen Samuels, Steelers at Saints

24. Tarik Cohen, Bears at 49ers

25. Josh Adams, Eagles vs. Texans

26. Jordan Howard, Bears at 49ers

27. Adrian Peterson, Washington at Titans

28. LeSean McCoy, Bills at Patriots

29. Lamar Miller, Texans at Eagles

30. Kalen Ballage, Dolphins vs. Jaguars

31. Jamaal Williams, Packers at Jets

32. Peyton Barber, Bucs at Cowboys

33. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars at Dolphins

34. Kenneth Dixon, Ravens at Chargers

35. Mike Davis, Seahawks vs. Chiefs

36. Latavius Murray, Vikings at Lions

37. Doug Martin, Raiders vs. Broncos

38. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins vs. Jaguars

39. Zach Zenner, Lions vs. Vikings

40. Wendell Smallwood, Eagles vs. Texans

41. Theo Riddick, Lions vs. Vikings

42. Dion Lewis, Titans vs. Washington

43. Jalen Richard, Raiders vs. Broncos

44. Nyheim Hines, Colts vs. Giants

45. Duke Johnson, Browns vs. Bengals

46. Justin Jackson, Chargers vs. Ravens

47. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars at Dolphins

48. Jeff Wilson, 49ers vs. Bears

49. Chris Thompson, Washington at Titans

50. Rex Burkhead, Patriots vs. Bills

51. John Kelly, Rams at Cardinals

52. Brian Hill, Falcons at Panthers

53. Darren Sproles, Eagles vs. Texans

54. Kapri Bibbs, Packers at Jets

55. Chase Edmonds, Cardinals vs. Rams

Not listed because of injury: James Conner, Lamar Miller, Spencer Ware, Austin Ekeler, Chris Ivory

Fantasy Football: Week 16 QB rankings

Posted on December 20, 2018 - 15:14:00

Outside-box thinking might be needed at QB in fantasy Championship Week

Of the top eight quarterbacks picked in PFW's preseason fantasy mock draft — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins and Cam Newton — three are scuffling to the point we're not recommending them, two broke down before making it here and one is a top-three option in Championship Week.

If you have been reading our fantasy stuff this season, first and foremost, a huge thank you — your readership is what allows us to keep doing it. Secondly you already know how we feel about drafting quarterbacks early or even being anywhere near the "QB run" in our standard leagues.

But this isn't a shot at those players who address the position earlier; to each their own, and we'd love each of you to consider playing in our leagues next season. No, it's just a reminder why the likes of Baker Mayfield, Dak Prescott, Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles warrant real starting consideration in the final week of most fantasy seasons.

Take a look at our full Championship Week QB rankings, which include a few links to our other Week 16 fantasy resources and will be updated prior to kickoff between Washington and Tennessee on Saturday afternoon:

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs at Seahawks

2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks vs. Chiefs

3. Andrew Luck, Colts vs. Giants

4. Drew Brees, Saints vs. Steelers

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers at Saints

6. Baker Mayfield, Browns vs. Bengals

7. Dak Prescott, Cowboys vs. Bucs

8. Matt Ryan, Falcons at Panthers

9. Deshaun Watson, Texans at Eagles

10. Jared Goff, Rams vs. Cardinals

11. Tom Brady, Patriots vs. Bills

12. Mitch Trubisky, Bears at 49ers

13. Kirk Cousins, Vikings at Lions

14. Aaron Rodgers, Packers at Jets

15. Nick Foles, Eagles vs. Texans

16. Lamar Jackson, Ravens at Chargers

17. Philip Rivers, Chargers vs. Ravens

18. Marcus Mariota, Titans vs. Washington

19. Josh Johnson, Washington at Titans

20. Jameis Winston, Bucs at Cowboys

21. Josh Allen, Bills at Patriots

22. Derek Carr, Raiders vs. Broncos

23. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins vs. Jaguars

24. Sam Darnold, Jets vs. Packers

25. Case Keenum, Broncos at Raiders

Not listed because of injury: Cam Newton, Carson Wentz

Pro Football Weekly's Week 16 power rankings

Posted on December 18, 2018 - 10:22:00

Just how dangerous are Chargers? Can Rams, Saints rediscover offensive mojo?

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 16 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Saints (12-2) — Defense really has carried them for a month now

2. Rams (11-3) — McVay needs to help out his embattled offensive line

3. Chiefs (11-3) — Chris Jones might be second only to Aaron Donald

4. Chargers (11-3) — If they get healthy, they’re very dangerous

5. Bears (10-4) — Where has Anthony Miller gone?

6. Texans (10-4) — Secondary still gives up too many pass plays

7. Patriots (9-5) — Just something big missing offensively now

8. Steelers (8-5-1) — It turns out they handled Le’Veon situation perfectly

9. Ravens (8-6) — Have to keep Lamar Jackson upright against tough defenses

10. Colts (8-6) — Frank Reich has continued to push them in brilliant ways

11. Cowboys (8-6) — Same old Dallas? Old issues cropped up in bad loss

12. Seahawks (8-6) — Loss to San Fran came out of nowhere really

13. Vikings (7-6-1) — Don’t overlook what OC change did in one week

14. Titans (8-6) —Derrick Henry: more rush yards last two weeks than first 10 games

15. Eagles (7-7) — Avonte Maddox came up big in stunner at L.A.

16. Browns (6-7-1) — Just spitballing here: Could Baker take LeBron’s banner spot?

17. Washington (7-7) — We need to give Josh Johnson his incredible due for last week

18. Dolphins (7-7) — If this is the end for Frank Gore, he went out running like HOFer

19. Broncos (6-8) — Vance was likely in trouble before ill-fated FG decision

20. Panthers (6-8) — It’s a travesty if Ron Rivera loses his job

21. Packers (5-8-1) — One of the more fascinating offseasons in recent Packers history

22. Buccaneers (5-9) — Jameis Winston decision not becoming much clearer

23. Giants (5-9) — Seem to be souring on Kyle Lauletta a bit

24. Bills (5-9) — Give Josh Allen a big receiver who can win 50-50 battles

25. Lions (5-9) — Coaching staff changes could be coming, but how many?

26. Falcons (5-9) — Can they keep Tevin and Devonta next year?

27. Bengals (5-9) — Joe Mixon quietly putting together fantastic year

28. 49ers (4-10) — Imagine what they can do with better defense, health

29. Jets (4-10) — We frankly overestimated the talent on this team

30. Jaguars (4-10) — Can’t you just picture Joe Flacco being a Coughlin guy?

31. Raiders (3-11) — Have to find at least one pass rusher in the draft, FA

32. Cardinals (3-11) — Looking more and more like Steve Wilks could be in trouble

Photos: Chicago Bears clinch the NFC North

Posted on December 16, 2018 - 16:23:00

Photos from the Bears clinching the NFC North with a win Sunday against the Packers.

Bears' trick plays not just about being fancy, as Matt Nagy is planting all kinds of seeds

Posted on December 14, 2018 - 12:54:00

Imagine preparing for a Chicago offense that will call chicanery at any time with almost anyone on field

We should have known right away that everything would be on the table this season for Matt Nagy and the Chicago Bears. On his first play call of the 2018 season, Nagy gave us his ode to Bears history with “Papa Bear Left,” a handoff to Tarik Cohen out of the old T-formation popularized in the NFL by Bears founder George Halas.

Although that formation has barely been seen in the league since the 1950s, Nagy installed the play — both as a nod to the franchise’s inedible mark on football history and as a sign of things to come.

Since then, Nagy has earned his reputation as one of the more innovative young offensive-minded head coaches in the NFL with his play designs and his creative usage of tomfoolery on the field.

That Week 1 opening drive against the Packers also featured LT Charles Leno split wide; he didn’t get the ball that game, but that’s a formation the Bears and Nagy might opt to revisit at some point. And over the next few games, the Bears started unloading their bag of tricks, one fun play after another seemingly every week.

Some have worked. Some haven’t.

“You’ve got to have value with it, and you’ve got to understand that … the concept works, now what are you going to do with it?” Nagy said. “So I think the guys love it. We’ve done that for a while now, and it just spices it up a little bit.

“It adds a little fun to the process.”

But there’s a method to Nagy’s madness that goes beyond fun, not only in terms of calling the plays in games but back to the point at which they were installed during practice. It’s the kind of thing that gets players a little excited, he said, to help break up the monotony of installation and the daily grind of the season.

“They see it in practice … and I don’t know what they think,” Nagy said. “I don’t know if they think, ‘This coach is crazy,’ or if they think, ‘No, this is pretty good,’ or ‘Is he going to call it?’

“But then when they do get called, you can feel the excitement. And why not? If you have a ‘why’ behind why you do it, then it makes sense.”

Nagy’s experience with trick plays felt pretty up and down last season, when he was the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was an occasionally explosive offense, but sometimes it appeared that the team got a little too cute, whether it was asking Tyreek Hill to throw a pass, having Travis Kelce do the same or even trying to throw a pass to offensive lineman Cam Erving. Whether those calls with the Chiefs were Nagy’s or Andy Reid’s is up for some debate, but it’s likely from what we’ve seen this season that Nagy had some hand in them.

Nagy said that Bears players now are pitching their own ideas with creative designs of their own, and the coach appears to welcome it. And so far with the Bears, Nagy’s results been far more good than bad, to the point where these gadget operations have become a bit of the identity of the team, even with the potential for them failing once in a while.

“They’re not all going to work,” Nagy admits. “There’s going to be some where I’m going to be standing up here and [media] are going be saying ‘You’re an idiot.’ But that’s inevitable. I’ll accept that. They’re working right now and the guys like it, so let’s keep going.”

We thought we would sort through some of the Bears’ more successful trick plays — and why they worked — along with a few that fell short this season.

Trey Burton direct snap

By comparison to some of the wizardry we’ve seen in recent games, this play feels like a Day-1 installation. Still, there’s some complexity to it — and some intrigue.

In Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, the Bears come out for a third-and-1 play from the Seattle 13-yard line with QB Mitch Trubisky in a pistol formation with an inverted wishbone backfield. Burton is lined up directly behind him, with Jordan Howard and Cohen flanked to the QB’s left and right, respectively.

This is what we’d call “30 personnel” if we consider Burton to be a running back here, even if he’s a tight end by trade. This personnel usage is extremely seldom used in the NFL. Warren Sharp, who tracks teams’ personnel groupings, technically has only two teams (the Texans and Lions) running a total of seven plays with three backs, two wideouts and no tight ends on the field together this entire 2018 season. (We’re guessing he charted this Bears play as “21 personnel” because of Burton.)

As the play clock winds down, Trubisky dashes out to the left, flanked as a receiver. Cohen and Howard flip sides. Burton slides up into the pistol QB spot. The Seahawks, who were missing All-Pro LB Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowl sidekick K.J. Wright that game, respond by adjusting to the new look, appearing to show they’re in a two-high man defensive look. They don’t look frazzled, per se, but there’s a lot going on they must quickly adjust and respond to, and only nine of the 11 men on defense have their eyes in the backfield when the ball is snapped.

The snap goes to Burton, and now it’s just a basic read-option play from here. The Bears pull LG Eric Kush into the hole as the lead blocker, along with Howard. Burton can either hand off to Cohen or keep it, depending on what the unblocked end man on the line (LB Mychal Kendricks) does. If he takes the pitch man, Burton keeps it; if he bites down hard on the QB, Burton gives.

It was Kendricks’ first game with the team, too, stressing a player who only had something along the lines of 72 hours to learn the Seahawks’ defensive scheme. This is smart by Nagy to call this play with a lot of window dressing and movement to stress the defense, in particular Kendricks and Austin Calitro, who were making their first starts.

Burton keeps it, and gets just enough for the first down despite Kendricks making a nice tackle (and Cohen perhaps not running quite enough interference on the play). It potentially could have gone for more, and the Bears settled for a field goal in the final minute of the half, so it wasn’t a complete success. But the job was done, giving the Bears a 10-0 halftime lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Boiled down, there really wasn’t a whole lot of magic to this play. But the Bears now have put an exotic look on tape, and Nagy has made a point all along that they can run variations of that play down the road — perhaps one where Burton throws the ball? — that further stresses defenses. Sometimes with trick plays, it’s partially about fooling the defense in the moment, but it also can be a way of giving future opponents a lot to think about down the road.

“I think if you just stay vanilla and you just try to continue to run the same things over and over again, eventually defenses will figure it out and they’ll stop it,” Nagy said. “Adding some creativity to it, some misdirections and doing multiple things from it, it’s hard. It’s hard to defend. So you’ve got to always try to stay one step ahead of these defensive coordinators.”

Willy Wonka

The clever names of plays started to emerge beginning with this play in the blowout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, and we’ve since come to find out that backup QB Chase Daniel might be the secret architect of some of these, including “Willy Wonka.”

This play features the Bears in a tight formation with three receivers, one tight end and two quarterbacks — Trubisky and Daniel — both in the backfield with the Bears knocking on the door at the Tampa 3-yard line. This apparently was something of a Daniel creation, one to which he was more than happy to contribute on and off the field.

“Chase was a big part of coming up with it,” Trubisky said after the game, “and it opened right up just the way we drew it up.”

The Bucs already were down 28-3 at this point and clearly rattled, which made it a perfect time for Nagy to pull this one out. Daniel is flanked to Trubisky’s right in the shotgun, and yet both quarterbacks have their hands out — so who is getting the snap? That’s where all the defenders’ eyes are naturally drawn: into the backfield.

But check out the eyes of WR Taylor Gabriel, who is lined up offset behind Leno. Gabriel (circled in red) is looking to his right, knowing that the ball is coming to him on a pitch, so he’s trying to navigate a path to the end zone. The Bucs never picked up on it pre-snap. That’s actually a pretty big tell that might tip off a more aware opponent.

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But the play works just as it’s drawn up, with Trubisky getting the snap and throwing a six-inch “pass” to Gabriel, who runs it in for the score.

There’s some nice chicanery happening here with Burton also on the field, on the other side of the bunch formation, as the Bears have shown quite a few versions of him receiving an inside pitch. This play, however, goes the other way, which crosses the Bucs up. Burton blocks down and Gabriel walks into the end zone untouched.

As for the name? Well, we don’t know exactly the etymology of it, but Nagy offered a nice explanation of how simplifying play calling also has a fun, effective reasoning to it.

“You can sit there and say, ‘Squeeze left, Y left, Zebra right, counter motion, such-and-such,’” Nagy said, “and then the next thing is you look up at the [play] clock, and there’s 14 seconds on it.

“But you go ‘Willy Wonka’. Boom, they know it.”

The beauty again here: The Bears might never run this again all season. Or they could come out in the same unusual formation and run something different with it. Perhaps that’s the secret beauty of the Wonka name, considering the fictional character’s penchant for messing with his guests’ heads a bit.

Sowell’s first target vs. Patriots

Prior to Bradley Sowell becoming one of the greatest receivers in Bears history against the Rams, he actually was targeted on a missed connection in Week 7 against the New England Patriots. The 312-pound reserve offensive lineman hasn’t played that much all season, but he had come on in that game for two snaps previously as an extra blocker.

But on his third snap, with the Bears running a first-and-goal play from the New England 2-yard line, Nagy perhaps had designs on pulling a fast one on Bill Belichick and the Patriots in a different way. Or did he? This play is pretty interesting on a few levels.

The Bears come out with six offensive linemen (Sowell lined up on the outside shoulder of RT Bobby Massie) and three tight ends (with Ben Braunecker lined up as an offset fullback, Burton going in motion from the offense’s right to left, and Daniel Brown in line right in front of Burton). Trubisky is under center, with Howard behind him. Clearly this is meant to look like a heavy goal-line set, although the Patriots might have sniffed something out given that the play was run from the 2.

Trubisky executes a play-action fake to Howard and immediately looks to his right, where he has two receivers running patterns on that side of the field: Braunecker and Sowell, who was eligible on the play. This is a very common concept called a “Flat-7” and is great to run inside the 5-yard line out of heavy personnel against a defense that might not have the best eye discipline.

Braunecker is running the flat route from the offset fullback spot, and Sowell — considered a tight end here — is running the “7” or corner route to the far pylon. Conceptually, it’s a great call. But the execution could be better here. Trubisky and Howard really have to sell the play-action fake, and you could argue they half-assed it a bit. Howard appears just a tad too eager to execute his block on LB Kyle Van Noy, who initially was engaged with Sowell at the line. There also was a breakdown inside, as RG Kyle Long missed on his block on DT Danny Shelton, who turned him around and got good penetration on Trubisky.

The Patriots didn’t appear fooled. Devin McCourty can be seen pointing Braunecker’s direction as if they know a pass is coming. LBs Elandon Roberts and Dont’a Hightower have their eyes up and are not driving down hard vs. the run. And with Shelton winning his inside battle, it forces Trubisky from going off his first read (Sowell) to looking back the other way, avoiding the rush and then forcing a ball back to Sowell on an ill-advised pass that should have been picked.

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Howard scored on the next play to give the Bears a 17-7 lead, but let’s face it: They were lucky. Perhaps in ball-don’t-lie karma, the lead was short-lived as the Patriots ran back the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.

Miller throwback to Chase Daniel

One of the things you have to love about Nagy is that he trusts his players to execute. That’s the case when he calls a play for an offensive lineman to catch the ball, and it certainly applies when a backup QB is in the game. Credit Nagy for being transparent when he said the game plan didn’t change with Daniel replacing an injured Trubisky on Thanksgiving. The coach wasn’t whistling Dixie.

With no actual first-team reps for Daniel in the short-week preparation, it took some serious onions for Nagy to call for Anthony Miller to execute a throwback pass to Daniel with the Bears down four points in the fourth quarter at Detroit. But that’s exactly what happened here:

comp:00005c0e392d:000000042e:2ea1 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">.<a href="https://twitter.com/ChaseDaniel?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChaseDaniel</a> making plays 😤 <a href="https://t.co/LDJsxgCw5f">pic.twitter.com/LDJsxgCw5f</a></p>&mdash; The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) <a href="https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/1065696478201552896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 22, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 47

Miller comes in motion from his flanker spot on the offense’s right side of the formation, joining into the bunch with WRs Josh Bellamy and Allen Robinson. Daniel receives the shotgun snap and whips a backward pass — a lateral — to Miller, who has a man-made wall in front of him with Bellamy and Robinson now becoming blockers.

Meanwhile, the second-and-3 play evolves into a screen on the other side of the formation with four offensive linemen patiently waiting to get downfield and only Massie staying home on the other side. The timing is important because they can’t release too soon or it will be called illegal man (or men) downfield. That means Miller has to catch the ball, quickly reset and fire it back to Daniel for it to work.

The Lions also have to be fooled, too, and it appears they are. It looks like they're in some kind of combination coverage with the backside corner locked in on man defense against Burton, who is running an over route, and the defenders on Miller’s side of the field all with eyes in the backfield, suggesting those players to that side are in zone coverage.

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They fall for the fake of Miller throwing to Burton or Cohen. Daniel catches Miller’s throwback and makes a nice move to make a first down. Now, was there some breath-holding involved with exposing your backup QB to injury on such a play? Absolutely. Trubisky was out, and Tyler Bray — who just was promoted from the practice squad — was the only other realistic option available.

Given that Trubisky would end up missing one more game, we can say that the play itself was a success; after all, it gained a key first down. But was it the wisest decision from Nagy in that spot? We would argue no.

Freezer Left

The first successful trick play the Bears ran against the Giants in Week 13 was when Akiem Hicks came onto the field late in the second quarter for a goal-line play.

It’s really interesting that Hicks never had been used on offense for even a single snap in his career, despite spending time on the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, with two creative head coaches who ask their players to multitask quite a bit. Hicks also hadn’t been used in that capacity in either 2016 or 2017 with the Bears under the old regime, even with former play caller Dowell Loggains a trick-play fan. (Perhaps John Fox put the kibosh on that one if it ever had been brought up previously.)

But here was the 350-ish-pound Hicks trotting onto the field for his second offensive snap of the season. The first came two weeks prior against the Vikings when the Bears went for the two-point conversion midway through the fourth quarter. Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris were both stacked as receivers to the right side of the field but were decoys as Trubisky fired a fade to Adam Shaheen clear across the field to make it 22-6, Bears.

Against the Giants, however, Hicks was the man. Perhaps the Giants didn’t believe he actually was going to get the ball, but Nagy was not scared — even with it fourth-and-goal in a game the Bears were trailing 14-0. Again, the trust here is off the charts. Fail and Nagy gets shredded by the media postgame.

The Bears were in a split-back formation with Hicks and Howard in the backfield, along with Robertson-Harris — a rare and gifted athlete himself — lined up as the offset fullback. If you’re the betting type, maybe place a small wager on him scoring an offensive TD at some point this season given that he’s now been used on three offensive snaps but has not been given the ball yet.

This play, though, was just a straight dive into the teeth of the Giants’ defense, and Hicks plowed his way into the end zone despite getting met by a host of big bodies near the goal line and the Bears not getting great push up front.

And once again we get a fun name and a great nod to Bears lore. “Freezer Left” was the call, and anyone who knows anything about the team’s history clearly knows about William “The Refrigerator” Perry and his rushing prowess, which was unleashed during the 1985 Super Bowl season. Hicks, who is even bigger than Perry was at the time, clearly has that same level of athletic ability and he converted a huge TD at the time.

The Bears wouldn’t forget this the next week against the Rams.

Oompa-Loompa

But before the Giants game was over, Nagy had a few more tricks to throw their way. The play called “Oompa-Loompa” came when the stakes were even higher. The Bears had fought back from down 10 points with 1:49 remaining in the game, having kicked a field goal and gotten the ball back in a goal-to-go situation.

It was fourth down from the New York 1-yard line with a chance to tie the game with three seconds remaining following a Giants penalty.

PFW’s Bob LeGere wrote in-depth about this play, which was designed for Cohen to throw it to Daniel for the touchdown — the Bears’ spin on the Eagles’ “Philly Special” unleashed in the last Super Bowl. The irony here is that Burton, the man who threw that pass for the touchdown to Eagles QB Nick Foles, was involved with the play but was the second man to touch the ball for the Bears and not the one throwing it. With Daniel covered, Cohen went to his second option — Miller — who caught the thrilling, game-tying score in a contest the Bears would drop in overtime.

Still, who calls this stuff at this time? Nagy will. This is a first-year head coach, folks, and he’s got the guts of a cat burglar.

Santa’s Sleigh

Remember our old friend Sowell? Well, he was one of six offensive linemen on the field when the Bears reached the 2-yard line of the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14. Oh, and there were four defensive linemen out there, too, including Hicks and Robertson-Harris. The Rams couldn’t have realistically known who was getting the ball.

We wrote extensively about that play the night of the game, as well as the following day, so we’ve spilled plenty of words on it. But here’s the bottom line, and it ties together what we’ve been trying to show here: These are not all just cute, clever designs by Nagy trying to look like the smartest guy in the NFL. There’s a theme and a connection running through all of them, even if we’re talking vastly different formations, situations, times of games, parts of the field — all of that.

The point is that the Bears are now stacking a library of plays with their regular offense and supplementing that with a ton of special plays that can be run with their standard personnel or with defensive players and offensive linemen on the field, two QBs playing together, tight ends or running backs throwing the ball, misdirection and so on and so forth.

Imagine as a defense trying to prepare for all of that. Trubisky might not be a Pro Bowl-level QB yet. The offensive line might not be the most dominant group in the league. The Bears’ skill-position players clearly are good, with some real difference-makers out there, but we’re not talking about the same firepower that some clubs possess.

Instead, the Bears make you consume volume and multiplicity. That’s the chore when facing Nagy’s offense, and it’s a lot to prepare for if you’re an opponent. And if you’re a Bears player? Well, it can just be some good, old-fashioned fun. That’s how Nagy is killing two birds with one stone with all these fancy calls.

Pro Football Weekly's Week 15 power rankings

Posted on December 11, 2018 - 10:09:00

What has happened to the Steelers? Ascending Browns ranked too low?

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 15 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Saints (11-2) — Asleep for six quarters before waking up vs. Bucs

2. Rams (11-2) — Offensive line was pretty much overwhelmed all game

3. Chiefs (11-2) — Mahomes certainly took MVP lead with huge plays

4. Chargers (10-3) — Seldom stack impressive performances back to back

5. Patriots (9-4) — Defense didn’t show up before Miami Miracle happened

6. Bears (9-4) — Trubisky’s worst game this season came when defense took over

7. Texans (9-4) — Could realistically win their remaining games

8. Cowboys (8-5) — Red-zone execution clearly needs fixing still

9. Seahawks (8-5) — Programmed well to win strange, ugly games

10. Steelers (7-5-1) — What has happened to them since dominating Panthers?

11. Ravens (7-6) — What a damaging loss, with chance at division lead lost

12. Colts (7-6) — Dropped passes still an issue, but Luck fought through them

13. Titans (7-6) — We’d love to see Derrick Henry do it for more than one game

14. Dolphins (7-6) — Winning without Xavien Howard was impressive

15. Vikings (6-6-1) — A team without an offensive identity right now

16. Eagles (6-7) —Pederson’s logic on end-of-game decision actually made sense

17. Broncos (6-7) — From playoff contender to coaching change? Maybe

18. Browns (5-7-1) — Baker’s dangerousness is rubbing off on this team

19. Panthers (6-7) — An absolute collapse that starts with the defense

20. Packers (5-7-1) — Is it an attractive job? Yes, but lots to sort out

21. Buccaneers (5-8) — Talented but flawed team makes crucial mistakes often

22. Giants (5-8) — It’s becoming clear Eli will be back at QB1 in 2019

23. Lions (5-8) — Offense a mess, but defense has made decent strides of late

24. Washington (6-7) — Josh Johnson story should be celebrated in lost season

25. Jets (4-9) — Bowles got team to fight hard, but will it matter for him?

26. Bills (4-9) — Potentially dangerous team next year, but offense needs help

27. Falcons (4-9) — Both lines of scrimmage need major refurbishing

28. Bengals (5-8) — Starting to think Hue Jackson might be bad luck

29. Jaguars (4-9) — Future of Leonard Fournette will be big offseason story

30. Raiders (3-10) — Give Gruden credit: Like he said, this team isn’t tanking

31. 49ers (3-10) — George Kittle: The real Baby Gronk?

32. Cardinals (3-10) — Josh Rosen taking too long to get into rhythm in games

Hub Arkush: '17 Bears bare striking resemblance to '16 Rams

Posted on December 9, 2018 - 10:31:00

Are these Bears closer than we think?

CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears' loss last Sunday was easily the most disappointing of the season to Bears Nation.

As I worked the post-game show on the SCORE radio station, taking calls from one fan after another screaming for the heads of the George McCaskey, Ted Phillips, Ryan Pace, John Fox and most of the rest of the team, I happened to notice on one of the TV monitors over my shoulder the suddenly resurgent Los Angeles Rams pounding lumps on the Houston Texans.

And it suddenly occurred to me today’s Bears bare a striking resemblance to the Rams one year ago today.

The 2016 Rams started 4-5 — as compared to today’s 3-6 Bears — before going on to lose their final seven games and finish at 4-12.

These 2017 Bears are going to win at least five, likely six games.

The Rams started 2016 with a blockbuster trade, giving up two first-rounders, two second-rounders and two third-rounders to draft Jared Goff first overall, ahead of Carson Wentz, who went second to the Eagles.

The ’17 Bears, of course, gave up two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder to take Mitch Trubisky second overall, leaving Deshaun Watson on the board.

Goff didn’t crack the lineup until Week 10, and started the final seven games, averaging 17-of-29, 155 yards passing while going 0-7.

Trubisky has already started five games averaging 12-of-23, 162 yards passing and he is 2-3.

Starting Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin, while bringing Brian Quick, Pharoh Cooper, Bradley Marquez and Mike Thomas off the bench, with Lance Kendricks and Tyler Higbee starting at tight end, the Rams had one of the weakest receiving corps in the league last season — and, of course, the Bears have the NFL’s least exciting receiving group this year.

The ’16 Rams featured Todd Gurley, Austin, Aaron Donald and Alec Ogletree; the ’17 Bears feature Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd.

The ’16 Rams were awful on the offensive line; the ’17 Bears are more talented but injuries have made their front a challenge as well.

The Rams were blessed with young talent on defense in 2016 but weren’t playing well consistently, and these young Bears defenders were on the rise this year until laying an egg last Sunday vs. the Packers.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher had made his bones as a defensive coordinator before logging 16 seasons as the head coach of the Oilers/Titans, and at 59 was in his fifth year leading the Rams.

Fisher’s teams were known to be tough as nails on defense and as conservative as the Tea Party on offense, with that unit being run by a young, lesser known offensive coordinator out of Glenbard West high school, Rob Boras, who had been the tight ends coach with the Bears at one time.

The Bears with John Fox and Dowell Loggains . . .

Late in the ’16 season, the Rams fired Fisher but retained general manager Les Snead, and in the belief that he had drafted the right quarterback in spite of Goff’s disappointing rookie season, Snead hired the youngest head coach in league history, an offensive guru named Sean McVay to tutor Goff and shepherd all the young talent he’d acquired to suceed.

Snead and McVay traded for Sammy Watkins, signed free agent Robert Woods and drafted Cooper Kupp to fix their wideout problem and added free agents Andrew Whitworth at tackle, John Sullivan at guard, pass rusher Connor Barwin and cornerback Kayvon Webster.

Today Goff is on fire, the Rams are 7-2 and one of the best stories in the NFL.

Do these Chicago Bears need a complete reboot? Or is it possible Pace has his young Bears even closer than the Rams were a year ago and a coaching change and a few more strategic free agents can be the difference?

Remember, Pace still has his first and second draft picks that Snead had to build without this past offseason.

I’m not saying next year’s Bears will be this year’s Rams. But I am saying they just might be closer than you think and you might want to take one more pill before you give up on Pace and start from scratch again.

Mosher: Could one of these 5 offensive minds be the next Sean McVay?

Posted on December 6, 2018 - 12:16:00

Around this time of the football season is when NFL teams and general managers start to put out “feelers” in regards to potential head-coaching candidates. There are already two jobs available (Green Bay and Cleveland) and many more expected to be open once the season ends. It wouldn’t be a surprise if there were as many as eight head coaching changes this season.

After the success of young, offensive minds such as Sean McVay and Matt Nagy, teams across the NFL are going to be searching for the next innovative head coach. Teams that are struggling on offense or are looking to develop a young quarterback will be hunting for the game's next great play caller. With the league becoming more pass-heavy and offensively dominant, it is hard to imagine many teams opting for defensive head coaches over some potentially brilliant offensive minds.

With that in mind, here is a list of five potential candidates who should garner some attention and interview for head-coaching jobs over the next few months.

John DeFilippo, Minnesota

One of the hottest names this offseason will be John DeFilippo of the Minnesota Vikings. He became a star in the coaching world as he helped develop quarterback Carson Wentz as a rookie. Then, in 2017, helped coach up Nick Foles to win a Super Bowl. That landed him a job as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, where he has dramatically changed Minnesota’s offense. Outside of developing and coaching up quarterbacks, DeFilippo has had a lot of success as a play-caller.

What I love about DeFilippo is that he knows how to use the players on his roster to their fullest extent. The Vikings have had problems running the ball successfully this season, especially when Dalvin Cook has been out of the lineup.

Instead of running into a brick wall on every snap, DeFilippo has opened up the offense to feature his two outstanding receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Vikings are now throwing the ball 67.3 percent of the time, the most in the NFL. On top of that, Minnesota has one of the best two-minute offenses in the league combined with a lethal attack in the red zone. When they protect Kirk Cousins, this offense can hang with any team in the NFL.

While there have certainly been bumps in the road, specifically on the offensive line, DeFilippo has helped the Vikings to overcome some of these obstacles as the team is still in contention for a playoff spot. If a team has a young quarterback they are trying to develop, DeFilippo may be the No.1 candidate on the market.

Todd Monken, Tampa Bay

Monken is the oldest coach on this list (52), but he should be on the head coaching radar after his work in Tampa Bay this year. While the Bucs season hasn’t necessarily gone as planned, the offense has been able to put up points with subpar quarterback play. That, in part, is the reason Monken should earn interviews, at least.

According to 360SportRadar, the Buccaneers lead the league in Air Yards (total distance the ball is thrown beyond the line of scrimmage) by quite a bit. Through 12 games, Tampa Bay has 2,835 Air Yards, and the second-closest is Atlanta at 2,151. The Buccaneers are one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and that is somewhat of a surprise given their offensive personnel.

Under Monken, the Buccaneers have had one of the most aggressive passing attacks in the league and are averaging 9.0 yards per passing attempt, third-best in the NFL. Tampa Bay has also been one of the most aggressive teams in the league on fourth down. Front offices that are looking to improve their passing game and up the aggressiveness in the building should consider hiring Monken.

Matt LaFleur, Tennessee

If you are looking for the next Sean McVay, look no further than a coach who has worked under him in Los Angeles. Matt LaFleur is the current offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, but he worked with the Rams last season in the same role. Before that, he was the quarterback coach in Atlanta and helped Matt Ryan win the first MVP award of his career.

This season, LaFleur and the Titans have have been up and down, but he has appeared to resurrect Marcus Mariota’s career as he is completing nearly 69 percent of his passes. The Titans are throwing the ball down the field more as they rank 10th in Air Yards (finished 27th in 2017) and have improved significantly on third down. While the product hasn’t been perfect, the Titans’ offense has dramatically improved since his arrival.

How the Titans finish the season could determine just how many interviews LaFleur receives this offseason. If a team misses out on DeFilippo, LaFleur isn’t a bad consolation prize. At just 39 years old, LaFleur has the perfect combination of youth and pedigree to be the next great young head coach.

Byron Leftwich, Arizona

Sometimes, getting the right head coach can be done by taking a chance on a young, somewhat unproven commodity. For me, one of the first coaches I would interview for a head coaching job would be Byron Leftwich of the Arizona Cardinals. Leftwich is very green, starting coaching in 2016 under Bruce Arians. However, he has experience as a play caller, and the Cardinals' offense has improved dramatically since he has become the offensive coordinator midway through the 2018 season.

Leftwich has been handicapped some by the old scheme left behind by Mike McCoy and the poor play of the offensive line. However, the offense has seen a 3.5 points per game increase since Leftwich’s mid-season promotion. But there have been even more signs that Leftwich understands how to run an offense. Since he has been promoted to offensive coordinator and play caller, running back David Johnson has seen his success rate jump from 33.6 to 50.6 percent. Earlier in the season, Johnson was averaging just 3.23 yards in McCoy's archaic offense. That has since risen to 4.42 as Leftwich has figured out how to get Johnson involved in the offense effectively. With a rookie quarterback, Leftwich has done a great job at getting Josh Rosen to feel comfortable in the pocket and has devised a way to improve the run game, as well.

If you could pair Leftwich with an experienced defensive coordinator, such as the Rams did with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips, the results could be terrific. He’s going to need some help transitioning from an offensive consultant to a head coach, but I’m buying all of the Byron Leftwich stock I can.

Pete Carmichael, New Orleans

Pete Carmichael has been the the offensive coordinator of the high-powered New Orleans Saints’ offense since 2006. During that period, only the Patriots have scored more points, and nobody has racked up more total yards. It is somewhat shocking that more teams haven’t come after Carmichael after all of his success in New Orleans.

Under Sean Payton and Carmichael, the Saints have changed their offensive game plan multiple times, depending on their offensive personnel. But whatever the Saints have done on offense over the years has worked. By pedigree alone, there aren't many candidates that can come close to the accomplishments of Carmichael.

Carmichael has taken interviews for head coaching jobs before but has turned down offers to stay with the Saints. If an opportunity arises in which he could coach another elite quarterback, such as in Green Bay, would he take it? Though Payton and Drew Brees get most of the credit in New Orleans, Carmichael’s name needs to be mentioned more often. Don’t be surprised if Carmichael becomes a hot candidate over the next several weeks.

Pro Football Weekly's Week 14 power rankings

Posted on December 4, 2018 - 11:15:00

Rams back in top slot, Cowboys crack top 10 following defensive masterpiece

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 14 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Rams (11-1) — Dante Fowler Jr. quietly was a nice pickup

2. Saints (10-2) — Might not face a defense that good again until playoffs

3. Chiefs (10-2) — Spencer Ware has a chance to play hero

4. Patriots (9-3) — Defense has done its job well of late

5. Chargers (9-3) — Got some luck at Heinz, but don’t underrate this team

6. Texans (9-3) — They’ve now pitched three first-half shutouts

7. Bears (8-4) — Tough loss, but they showed some real spunk fighting back

8. Steelers (7-4-1) — Better hope that James Conner’s injury isn’t too bad

9. Cowboys (7-5) — Only Bears, Texans might have better defenses right now

10. Seahawks (7-5) — Truly an inspired run they’re on

11. Vikings (6-5-1) — Tensions rising over offensive play calling

12. Ravens (7-5) — Such a strange dynamic, with Harbs’ job still in question

13. Broncos (6-6) — Type of team no one really wants to face now

14. Eagles (6-6) — Better performance but still not firing on all cylinders

15. Colts (6-6) — Frank Reich’s candor on late-game calls is refreshing

16. Panthers (6-6) — Defensive changes are nigh, but will they matter?

17. Titans (6-6) — How about Taywan Taylor’s return? They needed it

18. Dolphins (6-6) — Xavien Howard is turning in All Pro type of season

19. Buccaneers (5-7) — Andrew Adams increased career INT total from 1 to 4

20. Washington (6-6) —Sanchize? Nah

21. Packers (4-7-1) — Did Mike McCarthy favor by saving him month of job speculation

22. Browns (4-7-1) — Have to think McCarthy is in play here

23. Falcons (4-8) — Negative run plays have been huge thorn

24. Bengals (5-7) — And now A.J. Green is done? Whew, boy

25. Bills (4-8) — Don’t look now, but Josh Allen showing a few things

26. Giants (4-8) — Give Shurmur credit: His team is fighting hard

27. Lions (4-8) — Quarter century since last division title

28. Jaguars (4-8) — Best defensive performance of the season

29. Jets (3-9) — Todd Bowles can’t survive that breakdown, can he?

30. Raiders (2-10) — A much more competitive team in recent weeks

31. Cardinals (3-9) — Pyhrric victory in Green Bay with injuries

32. 49ers (2-10) — This roster needs more help than we realized

Unlocked: Pro Football Weekly's Chicago Bears-New York Giants predictions

Posted on November 30, 2018 - 12:45:00

Will Bears ensure themselves of a winning season in Week 13?

The PFW Chicago staff predictions for Bears against New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday:

Hub Arkush:

Remember the last time the Bears had a bye, they were coming off their most impressive game in at least six seasons — a 48-10 shellacking of the Bucs — and then took a week off and came back flat and overconfident early in Miami, never quite recovered and fell to an inferior team, 31-28.

Granted, the Bears had just a mini-bye after playing on Thanksgiving Day, but will they have learned from the Miami experience?

The Giants are a bad football team that has played much better the last five weeks, going 2-3 with all three losses by one score — 20-23 at Atlanta, 13-20 at home to Washington and 22-25 at Philadelphia last week after blowing a 19-3 late second-quarter lead.

Eli Manning will be a stationary target for the Bears' pass rush, though, and OBJ is unhappy again, complaining about first-year Giants coach Pat Shurmur's game plan last Sunday after snaring just five of nine targets for 85 yards.

Beckham's battle with Kyle Fuller will be fun, and rookie sensation Saquon Barkley will make some plays for the Giants, but in the end the Bears 'D' will be too much for Manning and Co.

Bears 27, Giants 24

Bob LeGere:

The 8-3 Bears hold a 1.5-game lead over the Vikings in the NFC North, and they’ve gotten an extra three days’ rest at the end of a grueling 12-day stretch that included three games against division foes, all of which they won. If ever there was an ideal spot for a letdown, this might be it, but coach Matt Nagy has kept his team hyper-focused on the job at hand all season. 

Despite their 3-8 record, the Giants have been competitive in all but two games this season, and they possess star power on offense with WR Odell Beckham and rookie RB Saquon Barkley. But it remains to be seen if coach Pat Shurmur’s team will continue to play hard now that the playoffs are out of the picture. Initial indications are that embattled QB Eli Manning will remain as the starter because he gives the Giants the best chance to win. 

However, Manning has been sacked 38 times, more than every NFL quarterback other than the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and that doesn’t bode well against a Bears defense that is 11th in sack percentage. The Bears are also No. 1 in interception percentage, but Manning has thrown just seven picks.

Bears 24, Giants 19

Arthur Arkush:

With Eli Manning playing better and boasting a dynamite trio of playmakers, and Pat Shurmur familiar with Vic Fangio's 'D' and likely to use the quick game that has subdued the Bears' ferocious front before, I expect this game to be close throughout.

With Chase Daniel again at the controls, the Bears could have issues with a strong defensive front and more aggressive scheme than Daniel saw in Detroit, where Trubisky's superior mobility was missed.

But the Bears now know how to put away inferior opponents, which the Giants certainly are, and again will smartly use their wealth of weapons to counter however Big Blue elects to defend them.

Even with the ball coming out fast, the Bears' pass rush and penchant for big plays against an immobile and mistake-prone Manning and his leaky O-line should be a winning recipe for Chicago. Khalil Mack was shutout in the sack department Thursday, and a matchup with turnstile Nate Solder ensures that won't repeat itself. A late pick, this time affected by Mack, propels the Bears again.

Bears 24, Giants 20

Eric Edholm:

Why the odd score? Well, this could be an odd game for all we know now. It's still not crystal clear whether Mitch Trubisky will be cleared for action with his banged-up shoulder, so it could be Chase Daniel again. Plus, with Matt Nagy's penchant for going for two-point conversions early in games lately, that perhaps could make the score a little weird. (There have been six 26-18 games ever, by the way.)

The Bears have done a very nice job against running backs this season, although I am not sure they've faced one as dynamic as Saquon Barkley, who has looked very impressive lately, even as the Giants bizarrely took the ball out of his hands up 19-3 after halftime in an eventual loss to Philly last week. Here's predicting they won't do that again and that Barkley gives the Bears a little trouble.

But we believe enough in Nagy's system to believe the Bears can do relatively well offensively no matter which QB plays, and the defense isn't going to let both Barkley and Odell Beckham beat them consistently. They earn a win here, but like the Thanksgiving game, it might not be a treasured work of art when they're done with it.

Bears 26, Giants 18

Mosher: Amari Cooper has had profound effect on Dallas Cowboys

Posted on November 29, 2018 - 11:34:00

Aggressive add of Cooper has reinvigorated Prescott and could save Garrett's job

I love trades. I always have, and probably always will. When I was a kid, I loved trading football cards with my group of friends. As I got older, I started playing fantasy football for the same reason. There is something exhilarating when it comes to making a trade. So when the Dallas Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper, I was thrilled. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the price tag Dallas was “forced” to pay, but I was excited nonetheless.

Through four weeks, the Cooper trade has worked out well for Dallas. In his four games with the Cowboys, Cooper has 22 receptions for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also helped the team win three straight games.

Ahead of the Cowboys' critical Week 13 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, I planned on writing about Amari Cooper and how he can be the difference maker in this game. However, the more I thought about his presence on this roster and the trade Dallas made, the more I realized just how impactful he has been.

When we judge trades in the NFL, we often point to the player's statistics to see who "won" the trade. While Cooper's stats in Dallas have been more than adequate, that's not necessarily a fair way to judge a trade.  

Despite being on the team for just four games, Cooper may have saved some jobs and careers. That’s what I want to focus on today — the difference Cooper has made for the entire Cowboys’ roster. Let’s first start with the quarterback, Dak Prescott.

Dak Prescott

Before Cooper's arrival, Dak Prescott was in a pretty big slump. From Week 11 of 2017 to Week 7 of 2018, Prescott threw 14 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and his passer rating dipped all the way to 80.2. He was averaging less than seven yards per attempt and was sacked 37 times.

Across all media platforms, there were discussions as to whether Prescott was and is potentially a franchise quarterback. However, since the addition of Cooper, those talks have died down some — and for good reason.

In the last month, Prescott's stats have improved dramatically. In the previous four games, Prescott's passer rating is up to 102.4, and he is now completing 70 percent of his passes at 7.7 yards per attempt. He has scored eight touchdowns (five passsing and three rushing), with only one interception.

What I have specifically noticed is how much more effective and efficient Prescott has been from the five-to-ten-yard range with Cooper on the field. Now that he has Cooper, he finally has a receiver he can rely on to run slants and dig routes. Take a look at Prescott's passing charts from before and after the Cooper trade, and you will see what I mean concerning his accuracy in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field.   

https://twitter.com/Marcus_Mosher/status/1067947987610075136

If Cooper’s presence is making Prescott a better quarterback, then the trade has been well worth it. While the sample size is still somewhat small, there is no doubt in my mind that Cooper has improved Prescott’s game. For Dak’s skill set, you couldn't have asked for a better match. However, Prescott isn't the only one who has improved since Cooper has arrived.

Ezekiel Elliott

One of the reasons I was so excited about the Cooper trade was that I believed his presence on the field would open up the run game. Over the last month, that has proven to be true. As special as Ezekiel Elliott is as a runner, it's hard to do much when defenders are crowding the line of scrimmage. In the first seven weeks of the season, Elliott had a success rate of 47.7, slightly below league average. However, over the last four games with Cooper on the field, that has risen to 56.5, one of the highest success rates in the league. Cooper is dangerous enough as a receiver that teams can't just crowd the line of scrimmage, and that is making Elliott a more effective runner.

Elliott’s raw production has been impressive as well during the team’s last four games. He has carried the ball 85 times for 455 yards and three scores. He’s also added another 188 yards and a touchdown through the air. Now that opposing teams can’t key on Elliott on every snap, we are starting to see his production rise to MVP levels, despite the Cowboys' offensive line being in rough shape.

If the Cowboys' offensive line can get healthy for December, it wouldn't be a shock to see Elliott average well over 100 yards per game on the ground for the remainder of the season. Moreover, if that happens, Dallas is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

Coaching Staff

Let's be honest here. After the Cowboys' Week 7 loss to Washington, you could have made a strong case that either Jason Garrett or Scott Linehan needed to be fired for their poor offensive performance in the first two months of the season. The offense looked stale, and nothing seemed to change from last year when the offense fell off a cliff over the final eight games of the season. But with Cooper now in the fold, their offense is starting to click. Suddenly, all the pieces are starting to fit together, and this offense looks very similar to what we saw in 2016.

Did Cooper save the jobs of Garrett and Linehan? It's still too early to tell, but it does seem to be the trend. If Dallas makes it to the playoffs and advances to the second round or farther, it would be hard to argue that the team should move on from this staff. But at least in the interim, Cooper has allowed this offense to get back on track as the Cowboys have moved into prime position to claim a playoff spot.

The fact is, it's still too early to fully judge the Amari Cooper trade. It will likely be a few years before we can say who won or lost. But the early returns look great for the Cowboys. Sometimes, being aggressive in the trade market can pay big dividends. For the Cowboys, they are now clearly reaping the benefits of having a true No.1 receiver in their offense.  

Pro Football Weekly's Week 13 power rankings

Posted on November 27, 2018 - 11:11:00

Steelers slip as Patrios regain No. 2 slot in AFC playoff totem pole

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 13 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Saints (10-1) — First of three straight on the road as we approach December

2. Rams (10-1) — Do they need to go 15-1 to get the top conference seed?

3. Chiefs (9-2) — Eric Bienemy starting to get possible head-coaching buzz

4. Patriots (8-3) — Gronk is not Gronk, eh? Sorry we’re not quite buying in

5. Chargers (8-3) — Replacing Melvin Gordon not impossible but not easy

6. Bears (8-3) — This would be a good time for the run game to develop

7. Steelers (7-3-1) — Hard not to realize how big that loss at Denver was

8. Texans (8-3) — Starting to stack more impressive wins in eight-game streak

9. Vikings (6-4-1) — Dalvin Cook’s emergence would really boost this club

10. Colts (6-5) — Let’s retire the WR Andrew Luck role, shall we?

11. Seahawks (6-5) — Impressive how they’ve weathered tough stretch here

12. Cowboys (6-5) — Defense has allowed more than 24 points once this season

13. Panthers (6-5) — Might need to split vs. Saints to stay in playoff hunt

14. Ravens (6-5) — Fascinating decision looming at QB with playoffs in sight

15. Broncos (5-6) — Only 3-3 since Jets loss, but clearly a different team

16. Eagles (5-6) — Still have a path to the division crown, but still shaky

17. Titans (5-6) — Every remaining game is winnable, but they have work to do

18. Washington (6-5) — Can Colt McCoy rebound after tough first outing?

19. Dolphins (5-6) — Just a brutal fourth quarter after outplaying Colts early

20. Packers (4-6-1) — New coaching options starting to come into picture now

21. Browns (4-6-1) — NBD, approaching December with same record as Packers

22. Falcons (4-7) — Defense needs major upgrading in offseason

23. Bengals (5-6) — Ditto the comment above

24. Buccaneers (4-7) — Well … yeah, ditto here too

25. Bills (4-7) — Josh Allen isn’t perfect, but it’s easy to see his raw upside

26. Lions (4-7) — Fans turning on Matthew Stafford during rough season

27. Giants (3-8) — Saquon on pace as third RB ever with 1,000 rushing and receiving

28. Jaguars (3-8) — Who is pumped for Cody Kessler-Carlos Hyde show this week?

29. Jets (3-8) — We overestimated this roster preseason; it’s still not in good shape

30. 49ers (2-9) — Reuben Foster turns ugly season into something even worse

31. Raiders (2-9) — How would you use those three first-rounders? Lotta needs

32. Cardinals (2-9) — Went up 10-0, then got boat-raced in 45-10 L

Pro Football Weekly's Week 12 power rankings

Posted on November 20, 2018 - 09:27:00

Bears hop into top 10, but Washington sinks following Alex Smith injury

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 12 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Saints (9-1) — Looking like an absolute machine right now

2. Rams (10-1) — McVay's nuclear offense edges Chiefs in game for ages

3. Chiefs (9-2) — Mahomes and Co. also brilliant but too many mistakes

4. Patriots (7-3) — Still a Super Bowl contender, but winning on road might be tough

5. Steelers (7-2-1) — Ben found magic late after struggling badly early

6. Chargers (7-3) — Right when we want to graduate them, they flunk another test

7. Bears (7-3) — Defense held its own after two turnovers deep in Vikes territory

8. Texans (7-3) — How was Justin Reid not a higher draft pick?

9. Panthers (6-4) — Still have two games left against the Saints

10. Vikings (5-4-1) — Got away from run too soon, Cousins had rough night

11. Colts (5-5) — Suddenly look like frightening wild-card candidates

12. Cowboys (5-5) — Jason Garrett, rising from the dead

13. Seahawks (5-5) — Best three-headed run game in the league

14. Ravens (5-5) — Lamar wasn’t perfect, but he opened eyes in first start

15. Eagles (4-6) — They don’t seem to be having as much fun this season

16. Titans (5-5) — Mariota injury just the latest test for this up-and-down squad

17. Dolphins (5-5) — Can Ryan Tannehill return for crucial Colts game?

18. Packers (4-5-1) — Tonyan Time? Packers need someone else to step up on offense

19. Washington (6-4) — Been almost five years since Colt McCoy’s last start

20. Falcons (4-6) — Two or three key mistakes with nearly every loss

21. Bengals (5-5) — Marvin Lewis actually didn’t do poorly calling plays

22. Lions (4-6) — Would be 6-4 without close losses at San Fran, Dallas

23. Broncos (4-6) — Game flipped completely on Von Miller’s INT

24. Jaguars (3-7) — Not having Bortles contingency plan was inexcusable

25. Browns (3-6-1) — This whole Condi Rice thing felt far-fetched from the start

26. Jets (3-7) — Wasn’t that long ago that they beat the Colts, it just feels that way

27. Buccaneers (3-7) — Jameis back up again, but results haven’t changed

28. Bills (3-7) — Sounds like Josh Allen could be a go this week

29. Giants (3-7) — Pat Shurmur’s offense finally showing signs of life

30. 49ers (2-8) — Will be interesting to see how they handle QBs in offseason

31. Raiders (2-8) — Jon Gruden shows he’s still trying to win games

32. Cardinals (2-8) — Losing at home to awful team has a way of ruining your year

Pro Football Weekly's Week 11 power rankings

Posted on November 13, 2018 - 13:06:00

Patriots take a slip before bye, while Colts come on strong

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 11 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Chiefs (9-1) — Seventeen TD drives of five plays or fewer — tops in NFL

2. Saints (8-1) — Brees has two games in past 45 with under 60 percent completions

3. Rams (9-1) — Loss of Cooper Kupp tough to swallow, but they still are loaded

4. Chargers (7-2) — Only 66 points allowed last five games, but two vs. Oakland

5. Patriots (7-3) — Bye week hits at good time with Gronk still ailing

6. Steelers (6-2-1) — Bell drama obscuring scorching hot run of late

7. Panthers (6-3) — Pass protection must be better in all ways for Cam’s sake

8. Vikings (5-3-1) — Defense has rebounded nicely since Rams debacle

9. Texans (6-3) — Kareem Jackson quietly having strong season in good secondary

10. Bears (6-3) — Anthony Miller breakout makes good offense that much better

11. Washington (6-3) — Weird stat: Haven’t trailed in any W, haven’t led in any L

12. Eagles (4-5) — Worst nine-game start for defending champ in a decade

13. Packers (4-4-1) — Tied for NFL lead in sacks despite no one with more than 5

14. Titans (5-4) — Corey Davis emerging clearly adds dimension to this offense

15. Colts (4-5) — Frank Reich should absolutely be in Coach of the Year discussion

16. Dolphins (5-5) — Injured and inconsistent isn’t the path to making postseason

17. Falcons (4-5) — Picked a bad week to have another defensive breakdown

18. Bengals (5-4) — Not sure how Marvin Lewis cleans up this defensive mess

19. Ravens (4-5) — If Lamar gets his shot, favorable defensive matchups

20. Seahawks (4-5) — Chris Carson injury hurts but might be Rashaad Penny time

21. Cowboys (4-5) — Staved off execution for another week at least

22. Jaguars (3-6) — Blake Bortles does just enough vs. bad defenses to keep job

23. Browns (3-6-1) — Baker Mayfield makes this a very attractive job

24. Lions (3-6) — What a surprising mess, with more big changes coming

25. Jets (3-7) — Next head coach hire will be with Darnold's development in mind

26. Buccaneers (3-6) — Todd Monken is a good play caller, for what it’s worth

27. Broncos (3-6) — Couple tough games staring them in the face

28. Bills (3-7) — Shocking what they did with Matt Barkley vs. Jets

29. Cardinals (2-7) — Byron Leftwich move could end up paying off long term

30. Giants (2-7) — Glad Eli had a chance to have one more moment in the sun

31. 49ers (2-8) — Defense needs big reinforcements this offseason

32. Raiders (1-8) — Favorites to earn top pick with Giants winning last week

Interesting observations from Chicago Bears assistants

Posted on November 9, 2018 - 15:52:00

Bears appreciate No.1 WR Allen Robinson's maturity

Discussions earlier this week with Bears assistant coaches revealed some interesting observations as the first-place team prepares for three games in a 12-day span against NFC North opponents, starting with Sunday’s Soldier Field meeting with the 3-5 Lions.

1. WR coach Mike Furrey really appreciates the level of maturity that Allen Robinson brings to the Bears’ WR room, even though he’s just 25.

“Have you seen my other guys that are in the room?” Furrey said, laughing. “But it’s great. We have an awesome room.”

The room includes the exuberance of youth, with rookies Anthony Miller and Javon Wims, along with Kevin White (26), Taylor Gabriel (27) and ultra-talkative Josh Bellamy (29), who seems to have an unlimited supply of energy and patter.

“When ‘A-Rob’ goes out and plays and practices, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a leader,’ ” Furrey said. “And then you’ve got the other guys like Taylor and ‘A-Mill’ and ‘JB’ are so happy and blessed to be here. They’re smiling all the time, they’re having fun, they’re out there dancing, they’re energetic. It’s a good mix of guys, especially with the experience and the inexperience. (It’s) great having them see A-Rob, and say, ‘Hey, that’s how you practice. I need to try that.’ ”

Only Wims and Miller are younger than Robinson, but the former Jaguar’s business-like approach and five years’ experience make him wise beyond his years.

“He’s a professional,” Furrey said. “It’s his job, so he comes in and gets guys going, whether it’s studying film or studying the opponent. He’s got that alpha to him where, ‘This is our job, and let’s go out and do the best that we can at it.’ That’s a good presence to have.”

That professionalism should make it easy for Robinson to pick up where he left off with QB Mitch Trubisky, even though he’s missed the past two games with a groin injury.

“The biggest thing is trust,” Furrey said. “Mitch trusts A-Rob. So he hasn’t been there the last couple weeks. It’s not like he won’t trust him anymore. That’s the biggest thing is having that chemistry.”

2. LB coach Glenn Pires isn’t satisfied with rookie ILB Roquan Smith’s play, even though the eighth overall draft pick has 36 tackles and a sack in the past four games.

“He’s closing to the ball and finishing plays with his speed,” Pires said, “but he’s still inconsistent. We’re hard on him because he wants to be a perfectionist, and that (hard coaching) is going to be happening all the time. For this team to go where we want to go, it has to be that way, especially at the position he plays, being a leader of our defense.”

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is of the same mind regarding Smith.

“He played good, but the good news is he’s capable of playing better,” Fangio said of Smith’s 13-tackle performance vs. the Bills.

So, what could he do better?

“Miss no tackles,” Fangio said, “and do a better job of being aware in coverage both man-to-man and zone.”

3. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell is a big fan of nickel CB Bryce Callahan, who’s fourth on the team with 32 tackles and tied for second with four pass breakups.

“We love him to death,” Donatell said of Callahan, who came into the league as undrafted rookie out of Rice in 2015 but has started 26 games, including seven this year when the Bears opened in nickel. “Any time you’re a free-agent, these guys are looked over, just like offensive slot (receivers). Many times they have to fight their way in. But once we got him in here, we knew he had it all. He’s got the movement, the body control, the jumping ability, the brain, the quick reaction. He’s smooth, athletic, calm -- he’s got all that stuff.”

4. OLB coach Brandon Staley believes three-year veteran Leonard Floyd is ready for a breakout after failing to get a sack in the first eight games, the longest drought of his career.

“He’s aware of it,” Staley said. “They have a lot of pride in their performance. He’s practiced really well, he’s rushing better, and he’s around the quarterback more. We know he can sack the quarterback it’s just about finishing.

“He’s playing with a lot more confidence in all areas of his game, from the run game to the pass game, to our pass-rush set-up,” Staley said. “That’s one of the hallmarks of a (great) defensive player: ‘Are you around the football?’ And I think that he has been. We’ve done a really good job of not giving the quarterbacks clean pockets.”

Injury update

Bears OLB Khalil Mack (ankle), WRs Allen Robinson (groin) and Taylor Gabriel (knee), OG Eric Kush (neck) and TE Ben Braunecker (concussion) all had full participation in Friday’s practice and were removed from the injury report; so all five should play Sunday against the Lions.

DL Bilal Nichols (knee) was limited and is questionable. TE Dion Sims (concussion) did not practice all week and is out, while S DeAndre Houston-Carson missed practice with a non-injury issue.

For the Lions, two starters are out: CB Darius Slay, who had two interceptions in his last game vs. the Bears and has two this season; and OG T.J. Lang. OLB Eli Harold, who has three sacks, is doubtful. Four players are questionable: DE Ziggy Ansah, RB Kerryon Johnson, TE Luke Wilson and LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Mosher: 5 most concerning stats regarding Dallas Cowboys offense

Posted on November 7, 2018 - 14:33:00

From Prescott's red zone struggles to Frederick's crippling absence up front, Cowboys offense is broken

On "Monday Night Football," the Dallas Cowboys were embarrassed by the Tennessee Titans at home. For a team that was essentially playing a must-win game, Dallas didn't show up on either side of the ball. However, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone watching the team, specifically its offense. Midway through the 2018 season, it is now becoming quite apparent that the Cowboys' offense is broken.

Over the past 16 games, the Cowboys have averaged 17.6 points. That number drops even further when you account for special teams and defensive scores. It’s an offense that is, quite frankly, struggling to be mediocre. Here are the five most concerning stats surrounding the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.

1. Ezekiel Elliott’s 1st Down Success Rate: 46 percent

It’s no secret that the Cowboys want to run the ball. They are going to do so on first down regardless of the number of defenders in the box. They firmly believe in establishing the run to set up the pass. The goal is to get themselves into manageable second and third downs, but that hasn’t been the case this season.

Although I may personally disagree with this strategy, it has worked in the past for the team. In 2016 and 2017, the Cowboys were a dominant rushing team on first down, with success rates of 55 percent and 53 percent, respectively. This season, teams have loaded the box to stop Dallas on first down, and the Cowboys have yet to find a way to counter. Their first down rushing success has plummeted to less than 46 percent, well below league average.

If the Cowboys are a below-average rushing team, then they have little chance of becoming an even average offense in 2018. Over the final eight games, the Cowboys have to find some way to correct their run games woes.

2. Red Zone TD Percentage – 50 percent

As we always say here at Pro Football Weekly, the key to winning in the NFL is having success in the red zone. Since more than 75 percent of all offensive touchdowns are scored inside the oppositions' 20-yard line, the best teams in the league are the ones that score touchdowns and don’t kick field goals.

Whenever the Cowboys have had success over the past decade, it's largely been because of their red zone offense. Even in 2017, Dallas finished 7th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on nearly 60 percent of their red zone trips.

However, in 2018, the Cowboys have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league, converting their trips into scores just 50 percent of the time (24th in the NFL). Considering that the team has Ezekiel Elliott and a supposedly powerful offensive line, that number isn't acceptable. Perhaps the addition of Amari Cooper will help, but as of right now, Dallas is struggling to score in the red zone, and it is killing the offense.

Part of the reason for their red zone woes is the play of Dak Prescott. He’s completing just 45 percent of his passes in the red zone this season, partially the result of not having a “go-to” receiver near the end zone. For the past two seasons, Dez Bryant has dominated in this area, gobbling up targets weekly inside the 20. But this season, Prescott has been asked to throw to lesser players — and it has hurt the team’s effectiveness in the red zone. Perhaps the addition of Amari Cooper will help — he caught a touchdown in the red area in his Dallas debut — but as of right now, the Cowboys are struggling to score in the red zone, and it is killing their offense. 

3. Third Down Conversion Percentage – 33 percent

The Cowboys want to run the ball on first down so they can get themselves into manageable third downs. However, when they struggle to run the ball successfully on first down, it inevitably puts them into lousy situations on third down. Dallas' average yards to go on third down this season is 7.61 yards, 24th in the NFL. Because of this, they are converting third downs at the incredibly low rate of just 33 percent. The Cowboys don't have a high-flying, explosive offense. Instead, it's a ball-control attack that relies on consistency and efficiency. However, Dallas has been anything but that this season.

4. Second-Half Points – 9.6 PPG

With the way the NFL game has evolved, the league is now designed for the second halves of games to be high-scoring affairs. With the two-minute warning, timeouts and rule changes, there will almost always be more scoring in the second halves of games than in the first.

However, that hasn’t been the case for the Cowboys this season. Dallas is averaging  just 9.6 points per game in the second half this season, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Surprisingly enough, Dallas is averaging the exact same number of points in the first half that it is in the second half. In both cases, Dallas ranks in the bottom tier of the NFL. The Cowboys  simply don't have a way to rack up points quickly in a league that is built for scoring.

5. Sack Percentage – 11.76 percent

Finally, the most depressing stat for the Dallas Cowboys is their inability to protect their quarterback. According to Team Rankings, Dak Prescott is being sacked on more than 11 percent of his dropbacks, the worst in the NFL. Dallas currently has the most expensive offensive line in the NFL, but it's playing like one of the worst.

The biggest reason for the Cowboys’ struggles on their offensive line is the play of RT La’el Collins and LG Connor Williams. Together, the two have allowed 31 pressures, six sacks and have committed 12 penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. There is an argument to be made that each are playing out of position, but nevertheless, neither are playing well through the mid-way point of the season.

There is also the Joe Looney issue for the Cowboys. Though he has been serviceable at center, he’s not Travis Frederick. The plan for 2018 was to put Williams next to two All-Pro players in Tyron Smith and Frederick, but that obviously hasn’t happened. Frederick is one of the most important pieces on the Cowboys’ roster, and not having him is crippling their offensive line.

For a team that was built to protect the quarterback, it isn't getting the job done. If the Cowboys can’t figure out a way to get their offensive line to play at a higher level, they could ruin Prescott, if they haven’t already. The offensive line's performance this season has to be the most disappointing and discouraging aspect of the team.

Pro Football Weekly's Week 10 power rankings

Posted on November 6, 2018 - 13:54:00

Chiefs earn top spot, Rams fall to three, but little separating them with Saints

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 10 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Chiefs (8-1) — One loss so far vs. a good schedule, which vaults them here

2. Saints (7-1) — Hottest team in football, which puts them nipping at Chiefs’ heels

3. Rams (8-1) — We’re not knocking them down far at all, trust us

4. Patriots (7-2) — Beat Packers without three key offensive starters

5. Chargers (6-2) — Somehow avoided most Charger-y loss possible in Seattle

6. Panthers (6-2) — Sneaky-good team with sneaky-good Thursday game at PIT

7. Steelers (5-2-1) — Don’t look now, but defense is keeping opponents’ scores down

8. Vikings (5-3-1) — Have to be NFC North faves, even with Bears coming on

9. Eagles (4-4) — Watching Washington, Dallas flop makes division run easier

10. Texans (6-3) — Opposing coaches have handed them at least 2-3 wins

11. Bears (5-3) — Beneficiaries of easier slate, but right in the thick of it

12. Falcons (4-4) — Likely have to win six more games, but don’t rule it out

13. Bengals (5-3) — Losing A.J. Green for brief spell at worst time possible

14. Washington (5-3) — Injuries to Scherff, Lauvao, Richardson just gutting

15. Packers (3-4-1) — A positive amid the muck: MVS is a legit stud

16. Ravens (4-5) — When do they pull the trigger on starting Lamar Jackson?

17. Seahawks (4-4) — They’re not done yet, but this part of the schedule is rough

18. Titans (4-4) — Mariota still misses some easy throws, but he’s clearly improving

19. Colts (3-5) — Prediction: They’ll be the hipsters’ favorite team next year

20. Jaguars (3-5) — Leonard Fournette back? Will it even make a difference?

21. Dolphins (5-4) — Earned a nice win, but Reshad Jones story strangely mars it

22. Lions (3-5) — Firing a special-teams coordinator after 200 days, eh?

23. Cowboys (3-5) — Imagine thinking they were an Amari away from contending

24. Jets (3-6) — It’s not all Sam Darnold’s fault, but he is starting to get sloppy

25. Buccaneers (3-5) — Best team in the NFL when they get down 4 TDs

26. Broncos (3-6) — So Elway is suddenly cool with Vance Joseph’s coaching errors?

27. Browns (2-6-1) — All it took was two offensive geniuses getting fired to free Duke

28. Cardinals (2-6) — Chiefs, Rams, Chargers still left on the schedule

29. Bills (2-7) — Currently the 12th-lowest scoring team since the 1970 merger

30. 49ers (2-7) — My lord, they’re hosting the Giants on Monday Night Football …

31. Giants (1-7) — … some fair soul please flex this game straight into the sun

32. Raiders (1-7) — Hey, at least they’re not in primeti—OH NO, WEEK 14! WEEK 16!!

Teams in running for 2019 NFL draft's top pick narrowing quickly

Posted on November 1, 2018 - 12:48:00

These six clubs have the best shot at top pick, so what might their plan be if they get it?

We’re under the six-month mark in the countdown to the 2019 NFL draft, and the names and faces are very slowly coming into focus for which prospects might be in play for the top of Round 1. But the teams that could be in the mix for the top overall selection are very much sharpening before our eyes.

The original owners of the No. 1 overall selections (prior to any trades happening) the past 10 years have won an average of 1.5 games the season prior, with none of those teams winning more than three games. So it’s a pretty strong bet that next year’s top pick will go to a team with three or fewer victories by the end of the 2018 regular season.

Let's focus on the NFL’s current bottom six teams — all of whom have two wins or fewer. What makes things really interesting as we peek ahead to 2019 is the uncertainty of the quarterback hierarchy for the draft, plus the fact that a number of these teams might already have their QB of the future on the roster.

Here are the teams most likely to earn the top overall pick next April, ranked in order of how the draft would unfold if it was held today:

New York Giants (1-7 record)

The Giants knew they were risking a lot by passing on every quarterback not named Baker Mayfield in the 2018 NFL draft with the second overall selection, and that debate has raged on pretty much every day since — and not just in the New York talk radio circuit.

Saquon Barkley has shown special ability so far, but the Giants might not have their future QB on the roster with Eli Manning well into the twilight of his career. They did use the 108th pick on Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, and who knows, maybe he turns into Kirk Cousins? But so far the Giants are sticking with Manning, even after his struggles this season, so Lauletta might be a year away from getting his shot.

Can the Giants afford to pass on a quarterback should they end up with the top overall pick? Well, they might not have a choice. Oregon’s Justin Herbert is considered the best — and maybe only — possible QB to be top-pick worthy. But he’s coming off a bit of a down stretch in his season, and multiple reports have surfaced that he very well could consider staying in school another year.

So let’s say some combination of Lauletta getting a chance down the stretch (and playing well) and Herbert staying in school happens. There also could be a veteran QB route the Giants could take in the short term, even if they like Lauletta but think he’s a year away. What then?

We say it would be Ohio State DE Nick Bosa, who has finished his college career and absolutely remains a top-overall-pick candidate. The Giants could use the pass-rush juice. But again, they have to get the quarterback first in some form.

San Francisco 49ers (1-7)

Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals likely means there’s an excellent chance the 49ers are picking ahead of their division rivals next spring. Draft-order tiebreakers are (in order) strength of schedule, division tiebreakers and conference tiebreakers before we get to the coin flip, and right now the 49ers hold the edge in all of them and currently have one fewer victory after being swept by Arizona.

Jimmy Garoppolo will receive every opportunity to be the long-term starter in San Francisco, so we can rule out a quarterback if the top pick lands there. (Not to say the 49ers couldn’t draft a QB, however, with replacement C.J. Beathard perhaps showing his limitations during the team’s losing streak. It just won’t be at No. 1 overall.)

The 49ers are in an interesting spot in that the strongest non-QB position that high in the draft easily appears to be on the defensive line. That’s the position the team used first-round picks three years straight — Arik Armstead (2015), DeForest Buckner (2016) and Solomon Thomas (2017).

Would they have an issue going with Bosa or another D-lineman? It says here no, they absolutely would not. They’ll surely be inclined to take the best available talent, regardless of position, and that includes an end or a tackle. Armstead might not be in the team’s long-term plans, and Thomas has yet to develop fully.

So we easily could see two Bosas, along with older brother Joey on the Chargers, playing in California next year.

Oakland Raiders (1-6)

They’ve won the same number of games as the Giants and 49ers but with one fewer loss. And guess who faces off this Thursday? Yep, it’s Raiders at Niners with quite a bit of draft importance on the line.

The Raiders won’t completely lose out if they don’t land the top pick, mind you, as no team has more 2019 draft capital right now than they do. Oakland owns first-round picks of the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, which are currently slotted as the 12th and 22nd overall picks. Along with their own first- and second-round choices, that gives the Raiders five of the top 35 overall picks at the moment. That’s some real draft capital.

So what will Jon Gruden do? Ha. Now isn’t that a loaded question.

Even if Derek Carr plays well down the stretch, it wouldn’t be any stretch to see him moved in the offseason (hello, Giants?). That means a quarterback has to be in play with one of those top five picks they own, one might think. But with the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades, they’re also short on pass rushers and receivers.

We basically have no idea what the plan will be, but the list of needs certainly leaves them plentiful options to pursue.

Arizona Cardinals (2-6)

Even if the Cardinals lose their remaining eight games, they likely would need the 49ers to win two more to leapfrog them in the standings. For that reason, we aren’t going to use much space on them here. Plus, they also have Josh Rosen in tow, and there’s absolutely no reason to think they’d even consider bailing from him this soon. They’d be well-suited going best player available with the top pick, but trading down to a QB-needy team (if one is worth taking at 1) would also make a lot of sense.

Buffalo Bills (2-6)

Like the Cardinals, they feel set at quarterback — or better said, they’re not ready to give up on Josh Allen, who at least has shown a few flashes even in an injury-shortened rookie season.

The Bills would love to assist Allen with offensive help at any number of positions, basically take your pick on that side of the ball. But as we pointed out in our first stab at a 2019 mock draft last week, that’s not the strength of this draft — at least in the top five or 10 picks.

Trading down absolutely would be an option. They need help all over the place on offense. This defense has done some good work.

Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)

After the latest coaching shakeup, the Browns once more are in disarray. If Baker Mayfield hasn’t been broken, and we don’t think he is, the Browns will have some very important building blocks in place already.

Landing the top pick will be tough with two victories and a tie already, but the Browns do have one of the toughest remaining schedules. Cleveland actually has a higher statistical chance of landing a top-three pick than the Bills do.

They could go with a premiere defensive player or help for Mayfield on the other side. And even though some of the analytics folks were cleared out of the front office, a trade down to acquire more picks very much should be an option — especially if Herbert declares.

For all the maneuvering the Browns have done with the draft the past few years, they currently only have extra picks in Round 3 (New England’s selection), Round 5 (New England and Jacksonville) and Round 7 (Baltimore) next year. Depth and talent are still on their list of needs. Stop us if you’ve heard it before, but this Browns roster is not yet nearly complete.

Mosher: 4 steps to drafting a first-round receiver who won't bust

Posted on October 31, 2018 - 11:17:00

Perhaps no non-QB position tougher to to draft successfully in Round 1 than receiver. We made it easier.

Drafting wide receivers is hard. Outside of quarterback, it might be the most difficult position to evaluate in the NFL. That is why we have seen even the smartest, most well-respected coaches and evaluators in the league essentially give up on spending high draft picks on receivers. Instead, coaches, like Bill Belichick, Sean McVay, and Doug Pederson, are trading away premium picks for already-proven players, rather than drafting and developing first-round receivers.

I cannot blame them. When we look at the past several NFL drafts, we can see that teams are struggling to get even adequate production from their first-round receivers, let alone players that are living up to their draft value.

Consider this: since 2012, there have been nine receivers drafted inside of the top 10. Just two have made the Pro Bowl (Amari Cooper and Mike Evans). Four of the nine receivers have failed to crack 1,000 career receiving yards. To show how hit and miss the top-10 has been for receivers, here is the full list since 2012:

2014 (4th overall) – Sammy Watkins

2015 (4th overall) – Amari Cooper

2012 (5th overall) – Justin Blackmon

2017 (5th overall) – Corey Davis

2014 (7th overall) - Mike Evans

2015 (7th overall) – Kevin White

2017 (7th overall) – Mike Williams

2013 (8th overall) – Tavon Austin

2017 (9th overall) – John Ross

Of those nine, how many would you say have become productive NFL players? How many are bonafide No.1 receivers? Two or three at most, right?

Things become even bleaker the further you expand. Since 2012, there have been 25 receivers who have been drafted in the first round. Just four of those players have gone to a Pro Bowl as a receiver (Odell Beckham, Amari Cooper, DeAndre Hopkins, and Mike Evans). Of those 25 players, nine have yet to crack 1,000 career receiving yards. More often than not, teams are getting a bust in the first round, rather than a useful NFL player. That is quite telling.

The biggest question is why are teams struggling to draft receivers in the first round or even in the second round, for that matter? Are teams just misevaluating these players or is there something more going on? The answer is complicated and multi-faceted.

Though you can make a solid argument that spread offenses in college are hurting the development of wide receivers, many teams in the NFL are adopting these spread concepts. The transition from college to the NFL has never been easier for most players.

Simply put, the biggest reason teams have trouble drafting receivers in the first round is that they are often reaching for need. Because the NFL has become such a passing league, teams are in desperate need to find playmakers on the outside. Therefore, they are willing to overdraft receivers in hopes they can turn into elite NFL players. We even saw this play out at the NFL trade deadline. Teams such as Dallas, Philadelphia, and Houston would rather trade high picks for “rental” players, as they at least know they can get some production from a receiver right now. The NFL draft is such a mystery box when it comes to picking receivers.

However, that shouldn't be the case. Drafting receivers should not be as tricky as teams make it seem. It is impossible to nail every pick, but there are ways to improve the odds of avoiding a draft whiff. Instead of telling you why so many of these players failed, maybe it would be easier to create a step-by-step instruction guide to drafting receivers in the first round. Without further ado, here are four ways to avoid busting on receivers in the first round.

Step 1 – Only Draft Elite Prospects in Top 10

Sounds easy, right? Only take good players in the top 10 of the draft. That sounds so simple, yet teams often ignore this and draft traits, rather than great prospects. A top-10 prospect should have little-to-no flaws in his game. Not only should he have the height-weight-speed of a No.1 receiver, he should also have that sort of production as well.

The top 10 should be reserved for players who project as future No.1 receivers in the NFL, not complementary pieces. As explosive and dynamic as Tavon Austin and John Ross were coming out of college, they never projected as No. 1 NFL receivers. They were always going to need a player opposite them to draw coverage and attention.

Typically, we know who the high-risk players are coming into the draft. Someone like Kevin White, who was only productive in his senior season at West Virginia, was a much riskier pick than Amari Cooper, who had 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman at Alabama. That is not to say production is everything, but teams need to reserve the top 10 for players who have virtually no flaws in their game.

Step 2 – Draft Big School Players

When drafting a receiver in the top 10 (or even in the first round, for that matter) you want to see a player who has dominated their competition, hopefully at a powerhouse school, such as Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, etc.

Since 2011, those four schools, for example, have produced first-round picks Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, A.J. Green and Odell Beckham Jr. If a player can dominate at the best school while playing against the top competition, his skill set is likely to translate. While it is far too early to claim that Calvin Ridley or Mike Williams is a “hit,” the other six names are all No.1 receivers in the NFL.

Let’s even dig into that further. If we included schools such as Penn State, Ohio State and USC (all historically dominant schools), you would see that the list of “hits” grows even more. Players such as Michael Thomas, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson would appear, as well as Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor, Chris Godwin and Marqise Lee.

It should not be a surprise that the best receivers in the league typically come from powerhouse programs. The better high school prospects tend to go to the bigger schools. If a player can make a name for himself there, then he likely will be a better player than someone who went to Baylor or Central Florida. Mainly, if given a choice between two somewhat similar players, go with the player from the better school.

Step 3 – Limit Risk

Unfortunately, teams do not always abide by this. If a team is going to draft a receiver inside of the top 10, he should not have any significant flaws. There shouldn’t be injury (John Ross) concerns. There shouldn’t be off-the-field concerns (Justin Blackmon). There also shouldn’t be questions about how a player’s game is going to transition to the NFL, like there was with Tavon Austin and Kevin White.

Another “risk” is taking a player from a smaller (or less successful) school. We just looked at how the elite prospects usually come from elite schools. There will be players who become successful from smaller schools, but the risk rarely outweighs the reward.

Since 2012, we have had receivers drafted in the first round from Central Florida, Baylor, Illinois, TCU, West Virginia and Western Michigan. A few of these schools have had successful seasons, but they are not football factories that produce constant NFL talent. Yet those seven schools produced eight of the 25 first-round picks since 2012. You can make a strong case that each one of those picks has been a “bust” as well.

This is not to say that a team should avoid non-powerhouse school receivers. But be more cautious before taking these players in the first round.

Step 4 – Don’t Overvalue Speed

One of the biggest mistakes that general managers make when drafting receivers in the NFL is overvaluing speed. Although speed is a game changer in the NFL, its attraction often leads to some of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL. For whatever reason, speed clouds the judgment of talent evaluators. Just because a player is fast, doesn’t mean he is going to have success in the NFL. Just ask the teams who selected Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, A.J. Jenkins and Kevin White.

On the flipside, if a receiver is slow, then we should be concerned. At a certain point, a receiver needs to have enough speed to create separation. Once you get into the 4.60+ range of receivers, things get dicey. It is a tricky game, but putting the right amount of value into speed will help cut down on the draft misses.

Enviably, there are going to be guys like Antonio Brown and Adam Thielen who fall through the cracks. It happens, and there is no way to get it right 100 percent of the time. Drafting wide receivers in the first few rounds, especially in the first round, is all about limiting risk. By using these four steps, teams should cut down on the number of busts.

Pro Football Weekly's Week 9 power rankings

Posted on October 30, 2018 - 11:08:00

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 9 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Rams (8-0) — Outplayed for 53 minutes but came through vs. GB when mattered

2. Chiefs (7-1) — Easily have played more challenging slate so far than Rams

3. Saints (6-1) — This team is entering peak dangerous mode during brutal slate

4. Patriots (6-2) — Is Gronk OK? We might see his time be managed carefully here

5. Chargers (5-2) — Are they the fifth-best team in the NFL? Might not know until December

6. Panthers (5-2) — What they’ve done to patch holes first half of the season has been terrific

7. Vikings (4-3-1) — People blaming Kirk Cousins for this mark are absurd … or blind

8. Steelers (4-2-1) — Beat Baltimore and they’re officially back in the inner circle

9. Eagles (4-4) — Pass rush did its job in London test without Derek Barnett

10. Washington (5-2) — Last two times they started 5-2 (2000, 2008), they finished 8-8

11. Packers (3-3-1) — Montgomery’s disobedience could be a troubling turning point

12. Bengals (5-3) — Strange team that doesn’t enjoy making it easy on themselves, fans

13. Texans (5-3) — Still a lot to question about them but can’t ignore results either

14. Ravens (4-4) — Lose vs. Steelers and season might slip away quickly

15. Seahawks (4-3) — Will offseason attrition start hurting them again?

16. Bears (4-3) — For a two-tackle, no-sack game, Leonard Floyd was darned good

17. Falcons (3-4) — Only three home games left in final nine, lot more W’s needed

18. Lions (3-4) — Guess we can put that "are they NFC North’s best?" talk to bed

19. Jaguars (3-5) — Have they missed their window to win? Maybe not but worth asking

20. Dolphins (4-4) — Adam Gase’s refusal to play DeVante Parker looks a little petty

21. Colts (3-5) — Too high? Nonsense — by season’s end they’ll be the 2019 darlings

22. Cowboys (3-4) — Paul Alexander OL experiment was shocking, abject failure

23. Jets (3-5) — Defense solid but can’t afford almost any mistakes with ‘O’ woes

24. Titans (3-4) — Three of next four on road in crucial time for Marcus Mariota

25. Bucs (3-4) — Could be gearing up for another major franchise reset in short time

26. Broncos (3-5) — Buy all your Courtland Sutton fantasy stock now

27. Bills (2-6) — Defense has done bang-up job vs. Brady, Cousins, Rodgers

28. Browns (2-5-1) — Gregg “Ahab” Williams now taking the wheel of the Pequod

29. Cardinals (2-6) — Rosen-Kirk connection could flourish under Byron Leftwich

30. Raiders (1-6) — Martavis Bryant played a darned good Amari Cooper last week

31. Giants (1-7) — Sticking with Eli for now, even in lost season, so that’s cool

32. 49ers (1-6) — Imagine blaming Kyle Shanahan for this mess he’s been handed

Mosher: 7 stats contributing to Chicago Bears' 4-3, first-place start

Posted on October 29, 2018 - 17:08:00

From their explosion to discipline, here are 7 impressive statistics illustrating Bears success

After a Week 8 win over the New York Jets, the Chicago Bears are now in the lead in the NFC North with the first two months of the season in the books. It even feels weird to type and read this. At 4-3, the Bears are in the driver’s seat in the division.

How have the Bears gotten themselves to this point? Well, it’s been a little bit of a surprise. At the beginning of the season, one would have assumed their defense would have carried this team for the first month of the year. However, the offense did much of the heavy lifting, too. Let’s take a look at the seven most important and interesting facts from the Bears’ first seven games of the season.

1. Rushes of 15-plus yards: 15

It is no surprise that the Bears have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. They are averaging more than 130 yards on the ground per game, sixth most in the league. What is more impressive is how explosive this run game has been this season. Through seven games, they already have 15 runs of at least 15 yards, the fourth most this season. Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Mitchell Trubisky all have five rushes of 15 or more yards this season. It’s one of the most balanced and diverse rushing attacks in the NFL.

2. Drops: 4

One of the most significant areas of need for the Bears this offseason was playmakers at receiver and tight end. The unit needed a massive overhaul. Their receiving corps lacked talent and was one of the least-reliable groups in the NFL. This season, the Bears have been just the opposite. They have a group that is continually making “splash” plays and has been one of the most reliable units in regards to drops this year.

Through seven games, the Bears have only four drops, according to SportRadar. That is by far the fewest in the league. In comparison, the Colts lead the league in drops with 26 in their eight games played. If the Bears can continue to limit the number of mistakes on offense, they should have no problem keeping up with any team in the league.

3. Penalty Yards Per Game: 45.2

Speaking of mistakes, the Bears have limited the number of penalties and penalty yards this season. Through seven games, Chicago is committing just 5.7 penalties per game for an average of 45.2 yards. Both of those statistics put them inside of the top five as they are one of the least-penalized teams in the NFL. Not beating yourself is one of the biggest keys to victory in the NFL, and the Bears have done an excellent job at making the game tougher on themselves.

4. Punt Return Average 11.7 (5th in the NFL)

In my lifetime, the Chicago Bears have usually had one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Though their hiccup in Week 7 vs. New England could cause a few Bears fans to doubt them, it’s an area their team has dominated in again this season. One specific area in which Chicago has thrived is in the punt game. They are averaging 11.7 yards per return, the fifth most in the NFL. Tarik Cohen has been fantastic, racking up 199 yards on 17 returns. He’s not Devin Hester, but he is one of the most dangerous returners in the NFL.  

5. Punt Return Yards Allowed: 51

The Bears are consistently making plays in the punt return game, and they aren’t allowing their opponents to gain yardage on punt returns, either. Through seven games, the Bears have punted the ball 25 times. That means their opponents are earning a measly average of two yards per punt return. That is outstanding. If the Bears can continue to keep up this play in the punting game, they are going to be a tough out in the NFC.

6. Second Half Points: 14.6

One of the things the Bears’ offense now is capabe of is putting points up on the board in a hurry. In previous seasons, getting down by double digits in the second half would often be a death knell. However, with Matt Nagy at the helm, his offense can score in a hurry. In 2018, the Bears are averaging 14.6 points per game in the second half, one of the best in the NFL. Not only can they create explosive plays in the passing game, but their running backs (and Trubisky) can change the field position quickly as well. As the season rolls along, there are going to be games where the Bears fall behind and need their offense to score points in the second half. That shouldn’t be a problem any longer.

7. Points Per Game: 27.7

Finally, the most important stat from this season is the number of points per game the Bears have averaged through the first two months of the season. Since 1994, the Bears have averaged more than 25 points per game just twice (2006 and 2013). This season, that number is nearing 28. If Chicago continues to play like this on offense, it has a chance to break a bunch of franchise records. More importantly, this sort of offensive production is what is going to allow the Bears to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Who has the edge? Chicago Bears vs. New York Jets

Posted on October 25, 2018 - 15:46:00

Bears, Jets both battling inconsistency

The 3-4 Jets have been an inconsistent bunch, much as their rookie QB Sam Darnold has been. In their three wins, the Jets have scored an average of 41.3 points; in their four losses, they’ve averaged just 14.5 points.

Defensively the Jets have flourished with takeaways, and are tied for third in the NFL with 15, but they have floundered when they don’t take the ball away. That has also been negated by the Jets’ 16 giveaways, which is tied for third worst.

The Jets also began last year 3-4 but went on to lose seven of their last nine to finish 5-11, same as the Bears.

The 3-3 Bears have their own inconsistencies, and their second-year QB Mitch Trubisky, who’s in his first year in Matt Nagy’s offense, has also experienced some of the ups and downs that Darnold has. But it’s the Bears’ defense that has been especially schizophrenic.

The defense was mostly dominant during a 3-1 start that sent the Bears to the top of the NFC North. But it’s failed to show up for long stretches in each of the past two games, both losses, which have left the Bears tied for the bottom spot in the division.

Bears rushing offense vs. Jets run defense

Thanks to a brilliant 7.9-yard average, QB Mitch Trubisky is second on the team with 245 rushing yards. Although Nagy is encouraged by the added dimension that the scrambling gives Trubisky, he’s not the least bit pleased with the ground game.

“Our run game needs to improve,” Nagy said. “We’ve got some yards with (Mitch) running the ball, but to me, that’s a scramble. But our run game has to get better. It’s everybody. We just need to figure out how we can do that, what’s best for us identity-wise, and it’s not one person.”

Jordan Howard, the workhorse in his first two seasons, is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, and his workload has diminished a bit, as he’s lost carries to 5-foot-6, change-of-pace guy Tarik Cohen, who’s averaging 4.8 per carry.

The Jets held the Vikings to 88 yards on 24 rushes last week and are 12th in rushing yards and 15th in average gain per rush allowed. ILBs Darron Lee and Avery Williamson are the leading tacklers and both benefit from playing behind DL Leonard Williams, a major force up front.

Edge: Jets

Bears passing offense vs. Jets pass defense

QB Mitch Trubisky took a step back after a two-week stretch that included nine TD passes and just one interception. But against the Patriots, he was picked off twice and his accuracy was inconsistent at best. WR Allen Robinson played but was of little help with a groin injury, although TE Trey Burton stepped up with a career day (nine catches, 126 yards), and he has four touchdowns, including one in three straight games. WR Taylor Gabriel had his least productive game of the season (three catches, 26 yards) but he has a narrow team lead in catches (30) and yards (329) in a well-balanced attack.

The Jets’ pass defense is ranked 21st in passing yards but sixth in interception percentage. They shut down the Vikings in first half before a second-half avalanche of 27 points buried them 37-17.

In the past four games, the Jets have allowed 1,307 passing yards as injuries have decimated the secondary.

S Doug Middleton, who was starting for Marcus Maye (broken thumb), is out for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral. So now Terrence Brooks is starting. CB Trumaine Johnson (quad) has missed three games and nickel CB Buster Skrine (concussion) two. They still have plenty of talent with S Jamal Adams and CB Morris Claiborne.

Edge: Bears.

Jets rushing offense vs. Bears run defense

RB Isaiah Crowell rushed for 219 yards in Week Five and was averaging 5.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns before he was slowed down by a foot injury the past two weeks. Bilal Powell is averaging 4.3 per carry, but he suffered a neck injury last week as the Jets were held to 71 yards on 24 carries.

After four games the Bears led the NFL, allowing just 64 yards per game, but they were gashed for 161 yards at a 5.2-yard clip vs. the Dolphins in Week Six. They rebounded slightly vs. the Patriots, allowing 108 yards on 27 carries (4.0-yard average), but their effort was helped by the knee injury that sent rookie Sony Michel to the sidelines early in the first half.

Edge: Bears.

Jets passing offense vs. Bears pass defense

Sam Darnold has suffered through the same inconsistencies that have plagued Bears second-year QB Mitch Trubisky, especially as it concerns his off-and-on accuracy issues. Darnold was intercepted three times vs. the Vikings and was 17-of-42 for 206 with one touchdown, his worst game as a pro with a 34.4 passer rating. But, like Trubisky, he ran for a touchdown in Week Seven and has demonstrated the ability to make big plays with his legs.

Darnold has played in just two games in which the temperature was below 50. Sunday’s scheduled high is 51. Jets are 0-4 when Darnold throws more than 30 passes. They’re 3-0 when he throws fewer than 30 passes.

Making the situation even more difficult for the rookie quarterback is a banged-up WR corps and an inexperienced TE group. WR Quincy Ununwa has been hobbled by an ankle injury, and Terrelle Pryor was recently released with a groin injury. The Jets are down to solid Jermaine Kearse and explosive Robby Anderson, who’s averaging 18.5 yards on 17 catches with three touchdowns.

The Bears remain first in interception percentage, led by CB Kyle Fuller, who has three picks in the past two games. S Eddie Jackson has two interceptions, and the Bears have 11 as a team, three more than they’ve had in any of the past three seasons. But the pass rush that defined the defense through the first quarter of the season has evaporated. In the past 88 pass attempts by opposing quarterbacks, covering nine quarters, the Bears have just one sack. Ringleader OLB Khalil Mack, who had five sacks and four forced fumbles in the first four games, has been practically nonexistent in the back-to-back losses, as he has struggled to overcome an ankle injury.

Edge: Bears

Special teams

The argument could be made that the Bears’ special teams cost them Sunday’s game, as they allowed a 95-yard Cordarrelle Patterson kickoff return for a touchdown and gave up another TD on a blocked Pat O’Donnell punt.

The Jets’ Andre Roberts leads the NFL with an 18.8-yard punt-return average.

Edge: Jets.

Coaching

The Jets’ Todd Bowles has overseen back-to-back 5-11 seasons after a 10-win rookie campaign, and he likely needs to show progress this year to make it to Year Five. Unfortunately, his success is wed to the progress of his rookie quarterback, who has shown glimpses of greatness but is very much a work in progress.

Nagy’s success is also tied to his young quarterback, but since both are in the first year of a new regime, there is more leeway for the Bears to reverse a four-year slump of double-digit losses. However, the team’s 3-1 start elevated expectations — maybe too soon.

Edge: Bears.

Sunday’s overall edge

The Bears are at home for a second straight week, while the Jets are on the road for the first time in a month. The visitors have been hampered by injuries on both sides of the ball and aren’t talented enough to be competitive at less than full strength.

Edge: Bears.

Take 2: Who is to blame for Bears' disappointing run game?

Posted on October 25, 2018 - 08:11:00

Pro Football Weekly GM Hub Arkush and senior Bears reporter Bob LeGere debate what's contributing to Chicago's ineffective ground game.

ARKUSH: Bob, it’s important to remember the Bears were actually home underdogs Sunday, and the game went the way it was supposed to, and how we should have expected. But what everyone learns from it is key. Matt Nagy made a rare acknowledgement that his offense isn't on schedule. "You can’t have earmuffs and blinders on. You got to be real with it and understand that we got to be better in the run game. When you’re not good in the run game and you become one-dimensional, you’re in trouble. And so we need to focus in on making sure we’re better there. It doesn’t mean that you change your ratio, pass or run ratio or anything like that, but when you do run, your yards per carry has to be better."

Clearly, Nagy is spot on, and I wonder if he wasn't unintentionally raising another question: are the Bears shortchanging the development of the ground game and the potential of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen with their laser focus on developing a new-age passing game and young QB Mitch Trubisky?

LEGERE: Hub, when it comes to the running game, I don’t believe for a second that it’s been overlooked by Nagy and his staff. I’m a firm believer in the old axiom: “It’s not the Xs and the Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes.” In other words, it’s the players who are repeatedly coming up short, and that goes for Jordan Howard and the offensive linemen. Howard is not running with the same sense of urgency he did in his first two seasons.

I can only recall a couple carries this season where he got anything more than what was blocked for him. In his defense, not much has been blocked for him. The back-to-back carries (19 and 15 yards) in overtime vs. the Dolphins are the only two that come to mind, and maybe the only two where he showed any burst. And the “excuse” that he’s not getting the ball enough is misguided and a copout. He’s getting 15 carries per game; in his first two seasons he averaged 17.

ARKUSH: Whoa, hold on there, pal. We both know stats can lie, and I think yours may be telling a whopper. Howard didn't start until Week Four his rookie year. He also missed a big chunk of the Packers game at Green Bay in Week Seven, netting just seven carries. Last year he got just 13 and nine carries in Week One and Two losses to Atlanta and Tampa Bay, respectively, and then missed a chunk of the Week 11 game against the Eagles after getting just seven carries.

Take away those seven games, and his 48-154 rushing in them (almost identical to his 3.25-yard average per carry so far this year), and in Howard's 25 starts as a Bear in which he's played the whole game prior to this year, he has 480 carries for 2,281 yards (4.8 YPC) — an average of 19.2 carries a game. Drop this year's Cardinals game, when he earned 24 carries, and he's averaging just 13.2 carries a game — 31 percent less than those first 25 games. Blame who you like for the ground game's production, but Howard is getting significantly fewer chances to produce this season.

LEGERE: He’s also producing significantly less. You can’t just eliminate the one game where he got 24 carries and say he’s averaging 13.2 carries per game. By that argument, take away his 36-carry game last year against the Ravens, and he averaged just 16 carries per game for the rest of the season — one less than he’s averaging this year.

When you have skill-position players like Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Allen Robinson, you’re not going to run the offense through a plow horse averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Also, when he did get 24 carries against the Cardinals this year, he averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, one of four games in which he’s averaged 3.3 yards or less per carry. I think we’re looking at the next Anthony Thomas.

Hub Arkush: Sunday's game vs. Jets is first turning point for Matt Nagy's Bears

Posted on October 25, 2018 - 05:30:00

Bears must rediscover pass rush, finally unlock ground game to show they're real contenders

CHICAGO — At noon this coming Sunday at Soldier Field, the Chicago Bears will face the first turning point of the Matt Nagy era.

After a 3-1 start during which the Bears defense went beyond good to dominant and the offense was interesting and entertaining, the club has now dropped two straight to the Dolphins and Patriots, respectively, with the defense M.I.A. and the offense all over the board.

It’s not like the Bears have been difficult to project or predict through the first half of the season — I am currently 5-1 predicting their games. I am NOT bragging about my record, but I am usually awful as a prognosticator.

The point is the Bears have been remarkably easy to predict so far this season, with only the Dolphins loss catching us by surprise because who knew the Bears would come out as flat as they did in the first half in Miami and beat themselves, but that does happen to all teams once in a while.

Knowing the Bears weren’t ready yet to handle Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, that they were simply more talented than the Seahawks, Cardinals and Bucs or that nobody beats the Patriots in October was very much like shooting fish in a barrel.

I’m pretty sure I know what to expect against the Jets on Sunday, too.

The Bears are a better team than the Jets, and coming out flat a second time in two weeks at home would seem pretty unlikely.

If the Bears are as good as they looked at 3-1, a legit playoff contender that could even be ready to win playoff games as soon as next year, the next two games — adding Buffalo to the mix at their place in Week 9 — are games the Bears must win.

There, I said it: The Jets are the first must-win Matt Nagy's club has faced during his still very young head-coaching career, and we are now faced with two issues that call into question whether the Bears will get it done.

The Bears' pass rush, only 12 days ago the best in the NFL, has managed only one sack and few other hurries or pressures in the past two games.

The NFL’s best defensive player in September, Khalil Mack, playing the majority of those two games on a bum ankle, explains part of the problem. But considering Mack had just five of the Bears' 18 sacks when they were still No. 1 in sack percentage through Week Five, makes clear the problem isn’t that simple.

There are now seven teams in the league with more sacks than the Bears.

The second issue is one that Nagy himself brought up and admitted earlier this week, that the Bears must figure out their ground game to take his offense where he believes it can go.

The Bears have managed 784 rushing yards this season, ranking them sixth in the NFL, but 245 of those yards have come from Mitch Trubisky.

The 539 yards the Bears have gotten from their backs — 86.8 yards per game — would rank them 28th in the NFL.

In most cases this conversation devolves into a debate over how much of the problem is Jordan Howard and how much is Nagy’s scheme, as it did in this week’s Take 2 with Bob LeGere and me a few pages behind us here, but that begs the issue.

For whatever reason, the Bears don’t run the ball well enough to keep the pressure off Trubisky and the passing game, and it’s up to the head coach to get that fixed.

If the Bears find their ground game and pass rush over the next 10 days, they will be 5-3 and we will know we are looking at a real wild-card threat at the least well into December.

If they don’t, regardless of the outcomes of the Jets and Bills games, we’ll be talking about a pretender that is nowhere near as close to competing as we thought they were at 3-1.

Fantasy Football: Matchups to avoid and exploit for Week 8

Posted on October 25, 2018 - 05:30:00

It’s Minnesota Miracle reunion week, so expect to see replays of Marcus Williams’ whiff and Stefon Diggs’ jaunt and helmet throw once or twice. Just don’t let it distract you from the fact that national treasure Adam Thielen, not Diggs, paces his fantasy position.

Similarly, although Drew Brees has set the NFL’s all-time passing mark and joined the exclusive 500-TD club in consecutive games, it’s Kirk Cousins who narrowly leads Brees as QB5 overall and is on pace to break Brees’ single-season completion mark. The Vikings are heating up and, unlike the Minnesota Miracle, there’s nothing fluky about it.

CHICAGO (vs. Jets)

Over the past month, Mitch Trubisky is fantasy’s No. 3 overall point producer, trailing only Todd Gurley and Andrew Luck — both of whom have played one more game than the Bears’ emerging dual-threat passer. Over that same stretch, the Jets have allowed 10 passing touchdowns and an average of 326 yards through the air. Slot receivers, in particular, have been white hot against Gang Green, with Adam Thielen (110 yards, 1 TD), Chester Rogers (55 yards, 1 TD), Emmanuel Sanders (72 yards) and Dede Westbrook (130 receiving yards). Anthony Miller, whom Trubisky airmailed on a pair of would-be touchdowns Sunday, could get his turn in Chicago’s spread-it-around passing game.

Don’t hesitate: QB Mitch Trubisky, RB Tarik Cohen, TE Trey Burton

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB Jordan Howard, WRs Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller

CINCINNATI (vs. Bucs)

The Bengals won’t be on the road in primetime, so they should be good again … right? After serving as the Chiefs’ latest punching bag Sunday night, Cincinnati returns home to welcome a Bucs ‘D’ that remained bad in its first game under the direction of interim DC Mark Duffner, sent Pro Bowl LB Kwon Alexander to IR this week and could again be without fellow Pro Bowler and top interior rusher Gerald McCoy. So fire up not only the Bengals’ usual suspects but also C.J. Uzomah against fantasy’s worst TE defense and welcome Andy Dalton, he of the 7:1 TD-INT ratio at home, back into your circle of trust.

Don’t hesitate: QB Andy Dalton, RB Joe Mixon, WRs A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, TE C.J. Uzomah

GREEN BAY (at Rams)

The point total here is 57 at presstime, and because we trust you’re already playing all the Rams you can find, let’s focus on the Pack, which emerges from the bye potentially with Aaron Rodgers as healthy as he’s been since the first quarter in Week 1. We’re a bit leery over Aaron Jones, only because Jamaal Williams’ superior pass pro figures to be needed inside against Donald and Suh. But there’s enough evidence now to suggest big-bodied blazer rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling —WR30 and WR16 in his second and third career starts — should be on the field over Geronimo Allison. Whether Mike McCarthy figured as much out over the bye remains to be seen.

Don’t hesitate: QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, TE Jimmy Graham

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB Aaron Jones, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

ARIZONA (vs. 49ers)

Addition. By. Subtraction. Sure, it’s Byron Leftwich’s NFL play-calling debut, but we’ve seen often over the years the spark an in-season coordinator change can elicit, and there’s only one way the Cardinals can go after firing Mike McCoy. Josh Rosen’s toe injury certainly merits monitoring, but owners who drafted David Johnson with a top-three pick finally will be rewarded, as will those who plucked Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones off waivers. San Francisco’s CB corps is a M.A.S.H. unit with starters Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward iffy with lower-leg injuries.  

Don’t hesitate: RB David Johnson, WR Christian Kirk

Think twice (but it’s alright): WR Larry Fitzgerald, TE Ricky Seals-Jones

JACKSONVILLE (vs. Eagles)

Blake Bortles might be 3-0 in his career in London with a passer rating of 101.2, but he’s never played there after getting benched for Cody Kessler one week earlier. Plus, the Jaguars might have to wait another week to start seeing returns on their Carlos Hyde investment; for all of Philly’s problems early on in its title defense season, stopping the run isn’t one: the Eagles are allowing less than 4.0 YPC and have permitted only two touchdowns to backs. The Eagles remain susceptible through the air but trusting Bortles to stand in against that pass rush and make plays is as foolish as Jacksonville’s decision to stand pat at the position with a ‘D’ ready to win now.

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB T.J. Yeldon, WRs Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief

Don’t do it: QB Blake Bortles, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Keelan Cole

CAROLINA (vs. Ravens)

The Panthers just pulled off one of the bigger fourth-quarter comebacks in recent memory, while Baltimore is coming off as improbable a loss as one can imagine. Against a defense that held Drew Brees to a season-low 212 yards and limited Alvin Kamara to a career-low two catches, the Panthers are poised for a letdown. We’re obviously not suggesting you bench Cam Newton or Christian McCaffrey (though C-Mac’s one score on 118 touches is troubling), and Devin Funchess is too hot to put on ice. But forget about rolling the dice on ancillary options like Torrey Smith in his revenge game and D.J. Moore in his college reunion, and we’d even explore Greg Olsen alternatives vs. a ‘D’ that’s allowed only one touchdown to tight ends (Ben Watson last week).

Think twice (but it’s alright): QB Cam Newton, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen

Don’t do it: WRs D.J. Moore, Torrey Smith

MIAMI (at Texans)

You know we love revenge-game narratives in this space, but sending Brock Osweiler to Houston with two healthy receivers (two and a half if we’re counting DeVante Parker) feels like divine intervention helping the Texans exact revenge on their former quarterback. Seriously, Miami’s passing-game limitations will accentuate the need to lean on RBs Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, which would be fine most weeks but not on a short one and visit to Houston, where a dangerous Texans ‘D’ that hasn’t allowed a back not named Saquon to score or surpass 73 rushing yards this season.

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB Kenyan Drake

Don’t do it: RB Frank Gore, WRs Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker

NEW YORK JETS (at Bears)

Vic Fangio’s ‘D’ gets a break from luminaries such as Brock Osweiler and Tom Brady to host Sam Darnold, who has tossed 8 TDs to 9 INTs since Week 1 and failed to crest 206 passing yards in five of his seven rookie starts. The Jets were desperate for receiving help, signing Rishard Matthews off the street after the ex-Titan requested his release. We’re hard-pressed to find a single Jet that’s worth starting this week against a Bears ‘D’ whose bounce back feels imminent.

Don’t do it: Jets-Jets-Jets

2019 NFL mock draft 1.0

Posted on October 24, 2018 - 13:58:00

Recent trades have shaken up draft order, team needs in a big way

With the trades of Amari Cooper by the Oakland Raiders and Eli Apple (the first apple to drop?) by the New York Giants, we thought it might be a good time to take a wildly early look at the 2019 NFL draft.

As our own Greg Gabriel likes to say, any mock draft before April 1 is just a fool’s errand. We mostly agree with Greg here from an accuracy standpoint, but we also recognize the fact that some teams — and thus some teams’ fans — appear to be in full tank mode at this point. (Our lonely eyes turn to you, Raiders Nation.) That might change further, we suspect, if someone such as Patrick Peterson is moved by the Arizona Cardinals, another top-of-the-draft team currently.

We used the current draft order, which is clearly subject to major change. And we’re going off what we know about the current crop of prospects, which also is due for a big shakeup in the ensuing six months.

So when you look at this mock, keep in mind that we’re merely trying to spot players in the general range where they might fall and trying our best to match up players with teams seeking upgrades at their positions.

We know it’s early. We know this will be soon outdated. But it’s not hard to see that this really could be a fascinating draft, especially with the Raiders potentially owning the top half of Round 1. And seeing which players did not make our first top 32, it’s clear that the depth on the defensive line and at wide receiver likely will make a lot of teams happy on Day 2.

1  New York Giants — Oregon QB Justin Herbert

The early scuttlebutt is that Herbert might opt to stay in school. That’s what they said about Sam Darnold, too. But it’s also what they said about Andrew Luck, and that turned out to be true. The Giants are praying the talented Herbert can solve the long-term issue at QB. They’ve already sent scouts to see him multiple times.

2  San Francisco 49ers — Ohio State DE Nick Bosa

Sitting out won’t hurt him. He was a top-five pick coming into the season and remains so. Teams love his upside, perhaps as much if not more than his brother’s potential. The 49ers have used a ton of draft resources to overhaul the defensive front, but Bosa could be special with so much talent surrounding him in Robert Saleh’s scheme.

3  Arizona Cardinals — Houston DT Ed Oliver

If this is how it unfolds, the Cardinals can’t pass here, even with a ton of offensive needs that must be addressed. Oliver could be a special interior rusher with unfair comps to Aaron Donald, but the similarities are evident. Turn on any tape and Oliver seems to rack up half a dozen legit pressures. Pair him with Chandler Jones and magic could happen, although it's worth noting that one area scout we spoke with who has been through Houston the past few seasons said he thinks Oliver is "a very good prospect" but perhaps not a great one. Take what you will from that one particular person's opinion. Many others love Oliver's upside.

4  Oakland Raiders — Alabama DT Quinnen Williams

We think they’ll take an edge rusher at some point, and yes, perhaps a QB, too. But Jon Gruden surely knows all about Williams, who just became a starter this season, with his close ties to Nick Saban’s program. No team in the country cranks out future stars from its former reserves quite like Bama.

5  Indianapolis Colts — Georgia CB Deandre Baker

Perhaps the best cornerback in the country, Baker would be an excellent addition to a secondary that has been forced to play too many retreads. The Colts will keep building their roster up one player at a time. Baker would be a good addition, but we also could see the next pick we mocked to the Bills being in play here, too.

6  Buffalo Bills — LSU CB Greedy Williams

Perhaps the best playmaking cover man in the country, Williams would join Tre’Davious White in what could be an excellent secondary. As we’ve noted with other teams with young quarterbacks, adding help for Josh Allen would be nice. But will there be an offensive lineman or receiver worth taking this high? That much we don’t yet know.

7  Cleveland Browns — Washington CB Byron Murphy

This is too high for some folks, and I completely get that. Murphy is a redshirt sophomore and could return to school, and the Browns went CB with their second first-rounder a year ago. But Denzel Ward was an inspired pick, and Murphy’s toughness and feistiness could endear him to this scouting staff. The Ward pick proved they’re unafraid to take players they like higher than others might.

8  Oakland Raiders (from DAL) — Alabama S Deionte Thompson

The secondary is a mess. The young Thompson could be special, and here Gruden doubles down on Bama defenders with the first two of his three first-rounders. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk quarterbacks with the Raiders soon enough.) It’s not clear if Thompson will come out, but the Crimson Tide have become a DB factory in recent seasons — and the Raiders badly need someone to patrol the deep halves. We'd have taken a receiver here for the Raiders, as this is the Amari Cooper pick, but right now there isn't a clear top-10 option.

9  Tennessee Titans — Florida DE Jachai Polite

The contracts of Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are up after this season, and yet the Titans could have themselves quite the edge duo with Harold Landry and Polite, one of the faster risers in the college season. The offense must be addressed for sure, but this pick makes sense.

10  Jacksonville Jaguars — Missouri QB Drew Lock

Hmm, a Mizzou QB going 10th overall to the Jaguars … where have we heard that before? No, Lock is not Blaine Gabbert, even if some choose to make that comparison. And we say that Lock’s stock will be just fine when it comes to draft season despite a downtick in production to this point. He has all the tools you want, and the Blake Bortles thing might have just run its course.

11  New York Jets — Michigan DE Rashan Gary

A pressure player without a perfect position fit, Gary has been slowed lately with a shoulder injury. But his unique set of traits, we believe, will have him back on the rise in time. If you can’t figure out how to use Gary on your defensive front, perhaps you need to change coordinators. We don’t know the future of Kacy Rodgers with the Jets since he’s been battling health issues, but we assume the Jets can use this type of front-four scheme wrecker.

12 Atlanta Falcons — Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence

The Falcons’ defensive front has not held up that well this season, and Lawrence can alleviate some of that. He’s a massive space eater (340-plus pounds) and can fill the role vacated by Dontari Poe this offseason. You might be surprised by Lawrence’s Poe-like quickness when you watch him. Another player who easily could go higher than we have him here now.

13 Philadelphia Eagles — Alabama OT Jonah Williams

Finding a long-term replacement for Jason Peters is crucial, as the Eagles have been far too leaky in pass protection this season. They last drafted an offensive lineman in the top 75 picks back in 2013 (Lane Johnson). Carson Wentz takes too many hits, and the run blocking hasn't been up to par so far.

14  Denver Broncos — Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons

Simmons’ character could be called into serious scrutiny following a 2016 incident in which he struck a young woman who was an acquaintance of his sister (and it was caught on video). Simmons has tried to make amends for his behavior, and his play on the field has been exceptional, but his draft stock remains volatile until teams sign off on the young man first.

15  Oakland Raiders (from CHI) — West Virginia QB Will Grier

The whispers that Gruden also secretly is punting on the 2019 season to draft Tua Tagovailoa in 2020 are even too Gruden-ish for us to buy into. So for now, we’re pegging in a possible Derek Carr replacement here as Carr’s relationship with his coach has come into question recently. Fair or not, this is where we find ourselves now. Grier is tough-minded and an aggressive thrower who has had a few clunkers lately but seems to be impressing some NFL folks regardless. Admittedly, this is a total shot-in-the-dark pick here. I haven’t watched enough Grier to know whether his first-round status is warranted.  

16  Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Kansas State OT Dalton Risner

A high-floor, solid-ceiling prospect who has the makeup to come in and start Day 1 as a rookie, Risner would be exactly what the Bucs could use to pass protect (for whomever lines up at QB next season, with Jameis Winston the assumption for now) and help spur a lagging run game.

17  Seattle Seahawks — Ohio State DT Dre'Mont Jones

He may not be Ed Oliver, but Jones is an athletic playmaker inside who can get upfield in a hurry. Ohio State has groomed some really good defensive talent in recent seasons, and Jones is the latest disruptor who has enamored scouts. This easily could be a pick for the secondary, too, as that’s a big area of need.

18  Detroit Lions — Florida State DE Brian Burns

We might look back at Burns landing outside the top 10 and laugh. That’s the direction his stock is heading with a torrid recent streak rushing the passer. That’s the Lions’ biggest defensive shortcoming, depending on the 2019 status of Ziggy Ansah: edge pressure. Burns is lean but mean and an intriguing prospect.

19  Miami Dolphins — Duke QB Daniel Jones

I have no clue where Jones will end up being drafted. Top 10? Second round? Both feel possible now. I don’t think there’s a chance, however, when it’s said and done that he’s not a fast riser in the postseason process. Jones returned from a broken collarbone suffered against Northwestern and was throwing darts three weeks later against Virginia Tech. He’s got size, arm talent, really good athleticism, smarts and — clearly — toughness. He’s my QB2 right now, above Lock and Grier, and I suspect others will jump on board soon enough.

20  Baltimore Ravens — Stanford WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

If you draft Lamar Jackson, you need to give him a jump-ball target. The Ravens already have a deep threat in John Brown, who is playing his way into an extension, and a stable full of intriguing tight ends and backs. That’s a great start, but Arcega-Whiteside could be exactly what this offense needs … for whenever Jackson takes over for Joe Flacco. The Cardinal receiver just outleaps people for the ball and makes plays after the catch.

21  Houston Texans — Ole Miss OT Greg Little

No team needs offensive line help more than the Texans, who stuck a project (Julién Davenport) at left tackle and a guard (Martinas Rankin) at right tackle. Then both predictably struggled, and they’ve tried out Kendall Lamm now on the outside. It’s just poor and unfair treatment of Deshaun Watson, who needs help. Little is a good pass protector, so he’s a fit.

22  Cincinnati Bengals — LSU LB Devin White

White might be the player the Bengals draft to finally replace Vontaze Burfict. He is a hitter and tone setter but is not nearly the reckless performer Burfict has become. The Bengals are said to like some of their young linebackers, but they’re all seemingly hurt now.

23  Green Bay Packers — Iowa TE Noah Fant

The Packers are starting to really figure out how to use Jimmy Graham as a weapon, and he’s on pace for his highest yardage total since he was with the Saints. But Graham also turns 32 in a month and has a potential out in his contract following the 2019 season. Fant is the latest to emerge from the Iowa tight end factory and could be special after serving as Graham’s understudy for a year.

24  Minnesota Vikings — Alabama LB Mack Wilson

Wilson is a rangy, intense playmaker who could be a perfect swap-out for Anthony Barr in free agency. Although he’s been a bit lost in the Bama shuffle, Wilson’s play has been exceptional this season. The Vikings’ biggest need would appear to be offensive line, but they don’t typically just draft for biggest need.

25  Pittsburgh Steelers — Kentucky LB-DE Josh Allen

It feels like the Steelers have drafted about nine players cut from similar cloth the past several seasons, along with a slew of defensive backs of similar ilk. But alas, the defense still lacks playmakers and an identity. Allen has developed so much as a pass rusher this season, and he’s added bulk, too. He feels like a Steelers-type of defender. (And we mean that in a good way, believe it or not.)

26  Washington — Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry

We also had Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown and Buffalo’s Anthony Johnson in mind here. It’s hard to know what the team thinks of Josh Doctson at this point, but the vertical speed (Paul Richardson) and the quick space roles (Chris Thompson) are pretty well spoken for. What Washington could use is a big-bodied red-zone target and chain-mover, such as Harry, Brown or Johnson.

27  Carolina Panthers — Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell

Lower than some folks have Ferrell going, but we feel he’s more of a solid-to-very-good prospect rather than a special one. This is the kind of pick GM Marty Hurney made for almost a decade in Round 1, and he has a very high batting average on those picks, too. Julius Peppers’ replacement won’t have to travel far down the road.

28  Los Angeles Chargers — Alabama DT Raekwon Davis

One, two, three, four … yes, that’s now five Alabama players in this Round 1 mock. They’ve had four Round 1 picks each of the past two seasons. That’s just stunning. Maybe a QB prospect such as Jarrett Stidham (or Dwayne Haskins?) might tempt them here, but we’ll go with Davis, who would be a perfect fit on a Chargers front that needs to make life easier for its edge performers. If Davis went this late, we suspect the pick would be called into police as grand larceny; he’s really too good to last this long.

29  New England Patriots — Mississippi State DE-LB Montez Sweat

Bill Belichick hasn’t seemed to value edge rushers in the draft as much as other teams have in recent years, but it might be hard for him to pass up such a violent, speed-to-power defender at this stage. Sweat has a great rip move and has a build and athletic profile that is similar to former top Patriots pick Jamie Collins.

30  Green Bay Packers (from N.O.) — Wisconsin OT David Edwards

A Big Ten twofer for the Packers in Round 1, and a short trip down I-41 for some much-needed tackle depth with their second pick. When Green Bay has suffered injuries up front, the backups have not performed well. Edwards is not super flashy, but he’s technically sound, shockingly consistent, physically strong and can play left and right tackle — a perfect swingman in Year 1.

31  Kansas City Chiefs — Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye

Someone to help the secondary makes a lot of sense; I also am a big fan of Notre Dame’s Julian Love and considered him here. Oruwariye’s ball production and size are just a little more ideal, however, and would appear to be a good fit in a Chiefs defense that needs both badly.

32  Los Angeles Rams — Clemson DT Christian Wilkins

Wilkins is a jack of all trades, having played almost every technique along the Tigers’ defensive front. He’s also lined up at fullback, run a fake punt, reportedly lined up at safety in the team's spring game and even jokingly lobbied to get snaps at QB after Kelly Bryant transferred. Wilkins is a competitive, versatile and effective player who would fit nicely in Wade Phillips’ scheme — especially if Ndamukong Suh ends up elsewhere next year.

Pro Football Weekly's Week 8 power rankings

Posted on October 23, 2018 - 10:47:00

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Week 8 of the 2018 season.

Rank / Team / 2018 Record / The Skinny

1. Rams (7-0) — Todd Gurley on pace to break LaDainian’s TD record

2. Chiefs (6-1) — Bengals win best three-phase victory of their season, no doubt

3. Saints (5-1) — Every great team gets showered with a little good luck sometimes

4. Patriots (5-2) — Special teams really hadn’t been great until Chicago

5. Vikings (4-2-1) — Crazy! Adam Thielen 10th all-time in franchise receiving yards

6. Chargers (5-2) — Bye this week … then Joey Bosa back in action?

7. Panthers (4-2) — Ron Rivera must be Coach of the Year candidate even if he won’t win

8. Ravens (4-3) — Played squarely with a very good Saints team, lost on fluke

9. Steelers (3-2-1) — And just like that, they’re back in first place

10. Eagles (3-4) — Might need to go 7-2 down the stretch to ensure division title

11. Packers (3-2-1) — Beat the Rams and then we can talk about if they’re contenders

12. Washington (4-2) — Alex Smith not playing well but not turning it over, which helps

13. Bengals (4-3) — Got slaughtered on the road, but at least it was to a good team

14. Lions (3-3) — Slipped Detroit ahead of Chicago for quality of victories

15. Dolphins (4-3) — Brock Osweiler actually playing OK as he returns to Houston

16. Bears (3-3) — Doubt we’ll see this defense get gashed like that much more

17. Texans (4-3) — QBs faced lately: Dak, Josh Allen, Peterman, Bortles & Kessler

18. Seahawks (3-3) — Middle part of schedule will let us know how good they are

19. Jaguars (3-4) — Talk Bortles ‘til you’re teal in the face … this ‘D’ must step up

20. Falcons (3-4) — Head into bye with a bit of momentum finally

21. Jets (3-4) — Sam Darnold shrunk after decent first quarter vs. Vikings

22. Cowboys (3-4) — Amari Cooper trade was all about Dak Prescott

23. Bucs (3-3) — Beating Browns that way doesn’t bump you up here

24. Titans (3-4) — Loved the 2-point call, but hated the design and execution

25. Broncos (3-4) — “Receiver for sale!” Too bad it’s the overpriced, less good one

26. Browns (2-4-1) — Office politics might turn ugly soon in Hue’s twilight

27. Colts (2-5) — This team still needs talent, but this is a well-coached club

28. Bills (2-5) — Derek Anderson vs. Tom Brady on MNF, what could go wrong?

29. Giants (1-6) — By the way, analytics folks LOVED Shurmur going for 2 there

30. 49ers (1-6) — Raheem Mostert making best of a bad SF season

31. Raiders (1-6) — Gruden says he’s not trading anyone else … this week?

32. Cardinals (1-6) — If they think they hired wrong coach, they have to make right call

Hub Arkush: What we learned about the Bears in their loss to the Patriots

Posted on October 21, 2018 - 21:38:00

Same result, but a different story for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy

CHICAGO – It seems highly unlikely the New England Patriots 38-31 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday was the game anyone was hoping for.

Yes, there were a handful of big plays in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams and the game ended with the Bears at the Patriots' 1-yard line, quite possibly one play away from overtime.

But the game wasn’t really that close and if someone had told you New England would turn the ball over three times and commit seven penalties for 64 yards isn’t there at least a chance you’d have wondered if it was really Bill Belichick’s Pats in town?

Sunday was a very different story from a week earlier in Miami when the Bears beat themselves.

With the Patriots in town the Bears tried taking a step up in class they just weren’t ready for.

We could bemoan the fact Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson were clearly something less than 70-or-75 percent and they are the Bears best defensive and offensive players.

But Rob Gronkowski was watching from somewhere back in New England and the Pats new-found running game, Sony Michel, left early in the first half with a knee injury. Their absence didn’t stop the Patriots from claiming sole possession of first place in the AFC East while Miami was getting pummeled by the Lions.

So while the Mack and Robinson injuries may have hurt the Bears chances of winning Sunday, they’re not the reason the Bears lost.

What did contribute mightily to the loss were the 14 points the Bears handed the Patriots on special teams with missed tackles on a Cordarelle Patterson 95-yard kickoff return for a TD, and the 29-yard Kyle Van Noy return of a blocked punt on a jail break rush that gave the Pats a 31-24 lead they would never relinquish.

Great teams like New England make those plays and teams that are still evolving and learning how to win like the Bears allow those things to happen.

Rookie head coach Matt Nagy has said dozens of times his Bears are just getting started and it’s going to take time.

While Bears fans may not want to hear Nagy’s message, it is the truth and that message was driven home in the Patriots loss.

Consider the play of the young man around whom Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace hope to build their contender, Mitch Trubisky.

We’ve known for a while now that Trubisky is capable of making contributions with his legs but that part of his game took a quantum leap forward Sunday as he rushed for 81 yards on six carries including a Houdini-like eight-yard run for the Bears first touchdown and a 10-7 lead, and a brilliant 39-yard scramble on the Bears first possession of the second half that set up a first and goal and eventually lead to a six-yard TD pass to Tarik Cohen to give the Bears a 24-21 lead.

But as happens when you’re building rather than contending, with one step forward on the ground, Trubisky took a step, perhaps even a step and a half backwards through the air with a passing slash line that reads 26-50, 333 yards, 2 TDs, 2 interceptions and a 69.8 passer rating.

Realistically it was even worse than that as two of his incompletions should have been interceptions three and four, and his 52 percent completion percentage was much more the result of consistent inaccuracy than the play of New England.

While the young man continues to be the most exciting young Bears quarterback prospect since Jim McMahon with a much higher ceiling, the education of Trubisky continued Sunday with the reminder there is still much work to do before he’s ready to swap paint with Tom Brady.

We can and should take the Pats loss as a learning experience the Bears needed, but things will now get serious the next two weeks.

The Jets and Bills games are contests the Bears can and should win if their talent level is as improved this season as we believe it is, and if they fail in either of those it will be time for a very different conversation.

Is Bears offense too gimmicky for its own good right now?

Posted on October 18, 2018 - 08:00:00

Pro Football Weekly GM Hub Arkush and senior Bears reporter Bob LeGere debate whether Matt Nagy's offense has too many bells and whistles to establish what it does best.

ARKUSH: Bob, we knew they were going to lose again, so in that regard the moonwalk in Miami shouldn't be too disappointing. But it is certainly worth analyzing what went wrong and what the next steps should be for Matt Nagy and his young team to take a step forward. One thing that pops out of the Dolphins tape and might be a recurring theme on offense is the number of different formations, personnel groups, schemes and different plays Nagy loads into the game plan, and the lack of go-to plays and an identity developing on that side of the ball. Miami beat the Bears with two plays — WR screens and underneath crossing routes. The Bears’ defense pressures the quarterback and stops the run — usually. What does the offense do? Is it possible that Nagy's trying to have too much of a good thing on offense is causing him to accomplish too little?

LEGERE: Hub, I can’t fault the offense for this loss, despite the red-zone disasters. If you told me before the game, the Bears would score 28 points and roll up 467 yards of offense, I’d have imagined they win by double digits. Yes, they looked as if they were in quicksand for most of the first half, but as Nagy has said time and again, “It’s a process.” Most of the Bears’ problems on offense Sunday were the result of player errors – lost fumbles by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and the end-zone pick thrown by Mitch Trubisky. That is not a game-planning or play-calling problem. This offense showed what it is capable of by scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions and four of its first five in the second half. Had Cody Parkey’s kick not sailed wide right, I think the narrative coming out of this game was that the offense took another step forward.

ARKUSH: OK, we're going to have to go a few rounds on this one. To be clear, following the sixth weekend of the season, the Bears offense ranked 19th in the NFL, 22nd passing, 15th in INT percentage, 21st in sack percentage, 16th in the red zone and 10th in points scored — with that number skewed by defensive points scored and all those numbers slanted by the Bucs game. I am as excited as anyone by what Nagy brings to the table and what his offense can eventually be. But if the offense showed what it is capable of with its scoring outburst in the second half, it also showed how poorly it is capable of playing in the first half, managing just 124 yards of offense in spite of almost 17:00 time of possession. The Bears lost because they missed I don't know how many tackles on Albert Wilson's two long RAC touchdowns. It was that simple. But my question is whether Nagy is sacrificing development and wins now by insisting on putting in too many gadgets and different looks immediately?

LEGERE: I’m convinced Nagy’s running his offense, which means he’s exploring all options. As he’s said, his offense does not run through one player because that makes it more difficult to defend. Taylor Gabriel is well on his way to a career year. He had never had a 100-yard receiving game until Week Four, and now he’s had two in a row. Cohen is averaging nearly twice as many yards per catch as he did last year and averaging a full yard better per carry. Trubisky has a 105.6 passer rating. You’re correct on your stats, but the Bears are also No. 8 in rushing yards and 11th in average gain per pass. And don’t forget, this was arguably the NFL’s worst offense last year and it’s Year One of a new scheme. I’m more than satisfied with the progress, even if it comes sporadically.

Fantasy Football: Matchups to exploit and avoid in Week 7

Posted on October 17, 2018 - 21:57:00

Wentz's Eagles starting to soar, but Cardinals likely to remain grounded

With Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson — fantasy’s QB1, QB6 and QB9, respectively, over the past two weeks — resting Sunday, followed by Matt Ryan (QB2 overall) and Philip Rivers (QB6) off in Week 8, Baker Mayfield’s fantasy star turn is here. The Cleveland Browns, virtually no healthy receivers and all, visit Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh over the next two weeks, when there aren’t a dozen fantasy quarterbacks we prefer over Baker.

EXPLOIT

BRONCOS (at Cardinals)

The one thing Denver does well — run the rock — also happens to be Arizona’s biggest defensive shortcoming. And unlike in Week 6, when the Broncos trailed the Rams by two scores for roughly half the game, the Cardinals aren’t equipped to run away from Denver. So fire up the rookie running tandem of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, and consider Emmanuel Sanders a lock-and-load WR2 with upside against a Cardinals ‘D’ that was toasted Sunday by slot savant Adam Thielen and two weeks ago by Trent Taylor.

Don’t hesitate: RBs Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Think twice (but it’s alright): QB Case Keenum, WR Demaryius Thomas

PHILADELPHIA (vs. Panthers)

Don’t look now, but Carson Wentz is QB8 overall since returning from Dec. ACL surgery, while Carolina has allowed nine combined passing touchdowns and an average of 285 yards through the air since Week 1. Alshon Jeffery, with three touchdowns in two games, is commanding 9.7 targets per contest, up two over his average in 2017, when the Eagles had more WR juice. We told you last week: Corey Clement absolutely can fill the bill in Jay Ajayi’s absence, running behind Wendell Smallwood last Thursday but still totaling 66 yards and a touchdown on 14 opportunities, which feels like his floor at least until Darren Sproles returns.

Don’t hesitate: QB Carson Wentz, RB Corey Clement, WR Alshon Jeffery, TE Zach Ertz

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Nelson Agholor

Lions (at Dolphins)

The Dolphins should get Bobby McCain back, which is good news for everyone except for those in the Torry McTyer fan club. Still, a defense that was taxed into overtime by Mitch Trubisky and Co. a week ago welcomes a fresh Lions club that now can punish opponents on the ground and through the air. Kerryon Johnson had two weeks to rest his injured hamstring and emerges from the bye with a robust 5.7-yard average per carry — say what you will about that being a trivial stat in fantasy but not if it helps to convince Lions brass to give its best back more work after time to self scout. Expect Johnson to gash Miami up the gut, unlike the Bears, and the Lions’ wideouts to stay hot.

Don’t hesitate: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Kerryon Johnson, WRs Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB Theo Riddick, WR Marvin Jones

RAVENS

After posting an 8-2 TD-INT ratio in his first four games, Joe Flacco has come off his elite perch. But he’s been good when required to exchange blows with high-powered Bengals and Steelers offenses, and the Saints probably won’t get shutout by Baltimore like Tennessee a week ago. The Saints also aren’t a shutdown ‘D’ again despite what they showed in a terrific effort vs. Washington two Mondays ago. Come for the Willie Snead revenge game if you must — the former Saint is quietly beginning to out-produce Michael Crabtree — but stay for Crabtree and John Brown against fantasy’s worst defense against opposing wideouts.

Don’t hesitate: WRs John Brown, Michael Crabtree

Think twice (but it’s alright): QB Joe Flacco, RBs Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, WR Willie Snead

AVOID

BILLS (at Colts)

The one week we don’t include the Bills in our column, and top pick Josh Allen gets injured. Suffice to say, either Derek Anderson (who just signed with the team) starting or Nate Peterman returning to the helm leaves us no choice but to welcome Buffalo back. And that's even against a Colts club that has allowed 20, 37, 38 and 42 points in four consecutive losses since Week 2. Indy actually didn’t surrender a rushing touchdown Sunday for the first time over that span, which isn’t enough to give LeSean McCoy owners pause. Outside of McCoy, though, if you haven’t done so yet, forget the pause button and hit stop on all future fantasy considerations concerning the Bills.  

Think twice: RB LeSean McCoy

JAGUARS (vs. Texans)

How bad is Blake Bortles? We’re pulling for Cody Kessler’s white horse getting saddled up, like, yesterday. Seriously, though, Bortles’ Jaguars welcoming Houston’s funnel pass ‘D’ might get Jalen Ramsey talking … about his own team needing a change behind center. T.J. Yeldon remains Jacksonville’s best fantasy option in this one, as Houston has allowed only four touchdowns to backs, but three of them have come through the air. Dede Westbrook scored Sunday for the first time since Week 2 but gets a tough matchup inside vs. Kareem Jackson. Keelan Cole, who passed Westbrook as Bortles’ second-leading target, behind none other than Donte Moncrief, has crested 70 receiving yards only once this season, after doing so four times as a rookie.  

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Dede Westbrook

TITANS (at Chargers)

Marcus Mariota completed 10 passes and absorbed 11 sacks Sunday, which probably isn’t the way Matt LaFleur drew it up. That was in the cozy home confines of Nissan Stadium, not the cozy road confines of the StubHub Center, where Mariota’s Titans visit a Chargers ‘D’ fresh off its best pass-rush performance of the season. The Titans, like the Chargers’ Week 6 opponent, Cleveland, have one good receiver in Corey Davis, who gets Casey Hayward. The Chargers run ‘D’ remains susceptible; do you trust a Titans reeling O-line and run game ranked 28th in yards per play to capitalize?

Think twice (but it’s alright): RB Dion Lewis

CARDINALS (vs. Broncos)

Mike McCoy, whom Vance Joseph (read: Elway, John) dismissed as Denver’s offensive coordinator last November, has a chance to hand Joseph a defeat he’d be hard-pressed to overcome. But have you watched McCoy’s Cardinals offense this season? Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Josh Rosen deserve better. And as bad as defensive-minded head coach Vance Joseph’s defense is this season, it’ll be good enough to keep Arizona’s offense — which has converted only 2-of-24 combined third- and fourth-down attempts over the past two games — off schedule.  

Don’t hesitate: RB David Johnson

Think twice (but it’s alright): WR Christian Kirk, TE Ricky Seals-Jones