NFL Draft 101

The draft has taken on a life of it own with the fans and media. Its popularity has risen so much that the networks are now dedicating three days of coverage to the annual selection show.

The National Football League has done a great job of marketing the draft and the media does an equally great job of educating fans on the college prospects. Give credit to Joel Buchsbaum and Mel Kiper, the two people who were most instrumental in the original schooling and enlightening of fans from the media side. They were pioneers who passionately believed in what they did (and, in Kiper’s case, still do) and educated their audiences with behind the scenes insight that draftniks fed on.

Joel BuchsbaumJoel Buchsbaum was the original draftnik.

If the truth were known, Buchsbaum and Kiper probably opened the NFL’s eyes on just how marketable the draft could be.

Looking now and seeing what the event it has turned into, I credit much of the success for its popularity to Joel and Mel. Joel passed away and he is sorely missed. I don’t know a guy in football who didn’t have great respect for the work he did. He was a true icon, not only as a sports writer, but also as a fan. His heart bled the NFL and nobody knew it better.

Why has today’s draft become even more important to teams?

All organizations want to build through the draft. You are getting young, fast, talented, healthy players, entering into the prime of their careers, and you’re getting them cheaper than ever under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

What are the consequences of drafting poorly?

Teams have to go into the veteran free agent market and pay handsomely for older players to fill the voids they failed to address with younger players during the draft. Their payroll skyrockets with no real assurance of winning.

There is nothing wrong with signing veteran players in free agency. We had very good success with the veteran players we signed in Chicago and Tampa, particularly on the offensive line, where we had some injuries and younger players who failed to meet expectations. The key here, however, is to not enter the marketplace as a hostage to a number of positions that require upgrades.

My goal for each draft was to find at least four players we could win with. Between seven draft picks and a dozen or so college free agents acquired after the draft, that’s a bigger challenge than you may think. Why? Because while drafting talent is easy, drafting a talented player with solid character and a good medical is a difficult task. The fact that approximately 70 percent of players drafted in any given offseason will be out of the league in three to four years tells you how difficult it is to identify great players.

<p> How do we grade players?

I’ll give you an example of how the grading system for some teams generally looks. This is an abbreviated scale, but this will give you a good idea of the criteria that distinguishes between elite and lesser talent.

A typical grade on a player would have a two-digit number. That number reflects how the team projects the prospect will play when he gets into the league.

8.0 grade: Special player, will impact a game and dominate at his position
7.0 grade: A potential pro bowler, a player you win because of
6.5 grade: A solid rank and file starter you could win with
6.0 grade: A solid backup who could start, but limited
5.5 grade: A role player but not a starter. A specialist
5.0 grade: A talented player, but not draftable. Developmental

You would also see a + or – next to the number grade indicating whether or not the player fits the scheme. In addition, there are letter grades that would indicate a player’s character, his intelligence and his medical status. These are subjective grades based on the team’s research and evaluations. These grades would vary from team to team.

The letter system would be a simple A, B, C, D, F.

CHARACTER

A: No concerns, an exemplary person, top intangibles, a leader
B: Good person, not great, but a guy you want on your team, dependable
C: Some issues, need to work with him, can’t trust 100 percent, but can live with him
D: Some character flaws, can’t trust him, really don’t want him, but would consider late
F: Character reject, don’t want him under any circumstances

MEDICAL

A: Clean, no major surgeries, no missing of practices or games
B: Overall good, missed some practice time and games with small injuries
C: Had major surgery but came back from it, no real missed time
D: Multiple surgeries, missed practice time and games throughout career, risk
F: Too many medical issues and concerns, won’t hold up and hasn’t in college

MENTAL

A: Very bright, picks it up quickly, can coach other players, no mental errors
B: Smart, no mental errors, can make game day adjustments with, can trust
C: Needs reps but will get it, listens well, must stay on him to make sure he has it
D: Poor retention, drifts, will have it down by game day, but must rep him every day
F: Can’t trust to get it, has too many mental errors, limited in what you can ask of him

The mental grade is based on what the prospect will be asked to do given his position. Obviously, a quarterback or offensive lineman has more tasks to perform mentally on game day than most of the other positions. So you want brighter players at those spots.

A typical grade would look like this: 7.0+ B, C, and C

Breakdown: 7.0+ (talent level and scheme fit) B (character) C (intelligence) C (durability)

So without watching or knowing the player and just by looking at the grade, you would say that this is a very talented prospect who fits the scheme, possesses very good character, will need some repetition learning, had surgery, but came back and played and should be fine.

If there were another player who was rated a 7.0+ with A, B, B grades, you would rank him ahead of the first player.

You can see how players get juggled around on a draft board when you take into account all the circumstances that teams must consider. A player could have an F medical grade, yet a team may still draft him. Some teams would never draft an F medical. Some teams are less concerned about a player’s character or mental makeup than others.

There is a significant gray area from team to team and organizations have to make their own decisions and stick with them. It’s a risk/reward business and it’s up to each team to determine their own risk tolerances.

Breaking down the rounds

In most drafts, after the first two rounds, the highly talented players with production and good play history are gone. The third round still provides a solid opportunity to get a quality starter, but there is a big drop-off once you get near the middle of the round.

Russell WilsonStriking gold: Seattle found a Super Bowl-winning signal-caller during the third round.

In the fourth round you will witness teams assuming more risk, perhaps with a player who possesses top talent and good production, but has questionable character or a poor medical grade. Other teams will just take the best football player they saw on tape, regardless if he had an average workout.

The fifth and sixth rounds are when you’ll see teams all over the board. These are the rounds where teams really need to focus on strong traits. These are the ‘sleeper’ picks where general managers and scouts can make a name for themselves. There are good players in these rounds, but they truly are diamonds in the rough.

To me, the seventh round was the start of college free agency. There are still some good players in this round, but you’ll need some luck finding them.

Every team thinks and selects a little differently, which is what makes the draft exciting and fun to follow. Again, the goal is to come out with at least four good players you can win with. When you do the math and multiply those four players over four years, you have 16 players still on their rookie contracts who are potentially in the starting lineup. That’s pretty strong from a contribution and cost value position.</p>

You figure the other players will be a combination of guys drafted five or six years ago but had their contracts extended, as well as veteran players acquired during the offseason and free agency.

It’s the NFL draft that provides the best opportunity to build a talented and winning team.

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971.

2017 NFL Draft Grade: NFC North

The Bears hitch their wagon to Mitchell "Don't call me Mitch" Trubisky, the Lions get some Gators, Ted Thompson and the Packers leverage the second round for secondary support, while Minnesota was fortuitous to land its "All Day" replacement on day two.

Chicago Bears
Round 1 (No. 2): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North

The Bears hitch their wagon to Mitchell “Don’t call me Mitch” Trubisky, the Lions get some Gators, Ted Thompson and the Packers leverage the second round for secondary support, while Minnesota was fortuitous to land its “All Day” replacement on day two.

Chicago Bears
Round 1 (No. 2): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North Carolina
Round 2 (No. 45): Adam Shaheen, TE. Ashland
Round 4 (No. 112): Eddie Jackson, DB. Alabama
Round 4 (No. 119): Tarik Cohen, RB. North Carolina A&T
Round 5 (No. 147): Jordan Morgan, OG. Kutztown

Let me preface by saying that I actually like the collection of players the Bears added, but this evaluation hinges at least partially on Ryan Pace & Co.’s one-spot trade up into No. 2 overall. I’m a cautious believer in Trubisky and I think the biggest ‘win’ from this Chicago class is the fact that he is allowed to sit for a complete year behind Mike Glennon. Adam Shaheen is not “Gronk-lite”, but he’s a well-rounded player who can block/run/catch. Eddie Jackson is decent safety depth, but my two favorite picks were the last two: “Joystick” Tarik Cohen is an intriguing change of pace ‘back who offers electricity in space, while Jordan Morgan is a high-potential college left tackle who will transition to guard. Chicago gave up a boatload for one draft position and didn’t get much draft value elsewhere, but this is a long-term class for a rebuilding team so they won’t care what I think.

Grade: C+

Detroit Lions
Round 1 (No. 21): Jarrad Davis, LB. Florida
Round 2 (No. 53): Teez Tabor, CB. Florida
Round 3 (No. 96): Kenny Golladay, WR. Northern Illinois
Round 4 (No. 124): Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB. Tennessee
Round 4 (No. 127): Michael Roberts, TE. Toledo
Round 5 (No. 165): Jamal Agnew, CB. San Diego
Round 6 (No. 205): Jeremiah Ledbetter, DE. Arkansas
Round 6 (No. 215): Brad Kaaya, QB. Miami (FL)
Round 7 (No. 250): Pat O’Connor, DE. Eastern Michigan

I don’t see the ‘wow’ factor anywhere in this class past round one. I really like the Jarrad Davis pick: fills a major position of need and adds a very dynamic, twitchy interior linebacker with range and on-field leadership qualities. However, Teez Tabor and Kenny Golladay combine for maybe the most underwhelming day two haul of any draft class this year. Jalen Reeves-Maybin adds more athleticism in a big area of need, but was questionable value. Michael Roberts is a good blocker and a nice red zone option, while Brad Kaaya is the most exciting of the late round project passers, but that’s not enough to salvage a desired grade here.

Grade: C

Green Bay Packers
Round 2 (No. 33): Kevin King, CB. Washington
Round 2 (No. 61): Josh Jones, S. North Carolina State
Round 3 (No. 93): Montravius Adams, DT. Auburn
Round 4 (No. 108): Vince Biegel, LB. Wisconsin
Round 4 (No. 134): Jamaal Williams, RB. Brigham-Young
Round 5 (No. 175): DeAngelo Yancey, WR. Purdue
Round 5 (No. 182): Aaron Jones, RB. Texas-El Paso
Round 6 (No. 212): Kofi Amichia, OG/C. South Florida
Round 7 (No. 238): Devante Mays, RB. Utah State
Round 7 (No. 247):
 Malachi Dupre, WR. Louisiana State

Green Bay’s methodical and workman-like approach was evident yet again this year, valuing need over BPA. I was fired up about the team’s first three picks: King is your modern matchup boundary, while Josh Jones is a hit-stick safety with supreme athleticism – and in a post-Raji world, Montravius Adams’ blend of size/quickness/power fits right in. Mid-late rounds are hit or miss, but Jamaal Williams can do the dirty work Ty Montgomery can’t and Aaron Jones has intriguing long-speed. Malachi Dupre was a nice stamp: blue-chip high school recruit who suffered from poor quarterback-play at LSU – potential diamond. Par value, plenty of contributors.

Grade: B

Minnesota Vikings
Round 2 (No. 41): Dalvin Cook, RB. Florida State
Round 3 (No. 70): Pat Elflein, C. Ohio State
Round 4 (No. 109): Jaleel Johnson, DT. Iowa
Round 4 (No. 120): Ben Gedeon, LB. Michigan
Round 5 (No. 170): Rodney Adams, WR. South Florida
Round 5 (No. 180): Danny Isidora, OG. Miami (FL)
Round 6 (No. 201): Bucky Hodges, TE. Virginia Tech
Round 7 (No. 219): Stacy Coley, WR. Miami (FL)
Round 7 (No. 220): Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE. Northwestern
Round 7 (No. 232):
 Elijah Lee, LB. Kansas State
Round 7 (No. 247): Jack Tocho, CB. North Carolina State

One of three teams (Seattle, Cincinnati) who made 11 selections – the most this year. Like Green Bay, the Vikings knocked off a lot of needs. Dalvin Cook was my top rated running back, so to get him at No. 41 might be my favorite pick from the 2017 draft overall. A new long-term center was sorely needed and Elflein addresses that, offering some guard versatility in the interim. Jaleel Johnson is a wide-bodied 3-tech in the profile of Sharrif Floyd (who may not play again). Rodney Adams takes Cordarrelle Patterson’s place as the WR/KR on roster, while the intriguing Bucky Hodges is a modern move-TE with long arms and movement skill. I don’t think Ben Gedeon is the long-term Chad Greenway replacement Spielman & Co. might, but time will tell.

Grade: B

Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

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Caputi: Pick-By-Pick Analysis (Round 1)

Settle in, I'm here to accompany you through the 2017 NFL Draft's first day of selections. Here you'll find my pick-by-pick analysis as we progress through the night.

Have a comment for me? Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

 

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
The right pick for

Settle in, I’m here to accompany you through the 2017 NFL Draft’s first day of selections. Here you’ll find my pick-by-pick analysis as we progress through the night.

Have a comment for me? Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

 

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
The right pick for a franchise lacking a genuine premier cornerstone on defense for far too long. This situation reminds me so much of Mario Williams’ selection by Houston in 2006. Defensive end has become a true value position over the past half-decade and good teams require elite edge play. Myles Garrett will have bare the flag of the Cleveland revolution, but fortunately he has a ton of talent supporting his efforts.

2. Chicago Bears (via SF): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North Carolina – *TRADE
Let the games begin. Cleveland consciously passed on Trubisky at No. 1 knowing it was impossible he’d be available to them again. Oh, and don’t forget about John Lynch’s San Francisco 49ers already making a bold move by allowing the Bears to select the potential franchise arm – acquiring a boatload for the one draft spot in the process, I’ll add. Only two picks in and already we have a major storyline to follow in the coming years. Browns and 49ers pass on Trubisky: will they find their QBs later? will Trubisky pan out? Time will tell.

*Details of trade
To Bears: 1st round pick (No. 2 – Trubisky)

To 49ers: 1st round pick (No. 3), 3rd round pick (No. 67), 4th round pick (No. 111) + 2018 3rd round pick

3. San Francisco 49ers (via CHI): Solomon Thomas, DE. Stanford
John Lynch goes to his alma mater for his first pick as a General Manager. Building the defense from the ground up after making Thomas the franchise’s third 1st round defensive lineman selection in as many years (previous Arik Armstead, 2015 and DeForest Buckner, 2016). He’s not a tweener, he’s versatile. Hand in the dirt on 4-3 looks or rushing off the edge in a two-point stance on 3-4 downs, he can change the complexion of games.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB. Louisiana State
Elite size to speed ration with an undeniable mean streak. Ultimately, this pick had to be made in support of Blake Bortles and the Jags’ minimalist ground game. T.J. Yeldon is a nice player, but Fournette adds an element that simply wasn’t there before this evening.

5. Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, WR. Western Michigan
A more complete, all-around receiver than guys perceivably graded ahead of him, but finds the right “fit” for your offense trumps the public’s draft board. Davis is tremendously productive + experienced, enters the league with a ton of polish and adds a more imposing physical element to Mariota’s arsenal.

6. New York Jets: Jamal Adams, S. Louisiana State
Whether the organization realizes it or not, there is a rebuild going on right now and Adams’ tone-setting abilities are a timely addition. Though the needs on defense were greater elsewhere, the Jets front office were not expecting this scenario – too much talent to pass on. Great pick – my favorite thus far.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, WR. Clemson
The wide receiver need was always evident, but to get their guy this early is surprising when you consider the talent available on defense. That said, Phil Rivers ain’t getting younger and he’s never been able to rely on Keenan Allen to be healthy for a full 16 games. Williams is the best 50-50 receiver in this draft and adds an element that was sorely missing in the pass game.

8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR. Stanford
Four-down player, don’t put him in a box as just being a running back. You want to allow him 20-30 touches and create opportunities for him in space, as he offers pretty scary open-field elusiveness. Can you imagine the possibilities of a Cam Newton + Christian McCaffrey backfield? Sign me up for some college-style options looks once in a while – they could be special together. Caf’s special teams ability is just the cherry on top.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, WR. Washington
The fastest man in NFL Combine history is off to Cincy. The Bengals are fortunate that the one receiver who suits their offense best in this receiver group fell to them. Ross’ speed creates a dangerous over-the-top threat that should relieve AJ Green of some pesky double-coverages. Calling Ross a similar player to DeSean Jackson would be miscasting him – at minimum, he enters the NFL running B+ routes with A++ speed.

10. Kansas City Chiefs (via BUF): Pat Mahomes, QB. Texas Tech – *TRADE
The biggest talent at his position in the class and he’s entering the ideal situation where he can sit for a complete season before worrying about meaningful snaps. We thought all along that he had a hard-stop at No. 12-13 with the quarterback-hungry Browns and Cardinals soon on the clock. He creates his own opportunities and is equipped with an A++ arm. In 3-5 years, we may look back at the quarterback order and say this situation worked out the best.

*Details of trade
To Chiefs: 1st round pick (No. 10 – Mahomes),

To Bills: 1st round pick (No. 27), 3rd round pick (No. 91) + 2018 1st round pick.

11. New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore, CB. Ohio State
The Saints front office, much like the viewing public, could never have imagined Lattimore would be available outside of the top ten. You must think his constant hamstring issue may have at least mildly contributed to this happening, but the cornerback-starved Saints are thrilled by the opportunity to roll the dice here.

12. Houston Texans (via CLE): DeShaun Watson, QB. Clemson – *TRADE
It’s well-documented that Bill O’Brien is a fan of the big, strong prototype passers. DeShaun Watson doesn’t quite fit that profile and it just goes to show how highly O’Brien must rate his intangibles. An accurate passer who comes alive in big moments, Watson is the safest quarterback in this class and he’s joining a playoff team. Houston went to the playoffs despite receiving marginal QB play last year, so the pressure isn’t on Watson to be a world-beater in year one.

*Details of trade
To Texans: 1st round pick (No. 12 – Watson),

To Browns: 1st round pick (No. 25) + 2018 1st round pick.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Haasan Reddick, LB. Temple
Cards missed out on landing a QB to create the ideal redshirt scenario they desired, but might have landed the best realistic player on their board otherwise. Reddick is a self-starter, improving annually and holds genuine 2-3 position versatility. Will help wherever needed and contribute as a pass rusher from day one.

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE. Tennessee
This one made a lot of sense pre-draft. Marcus Smith hasn’t panned out and Philly required a more reliable option off the edge behind Brandon Graham. Three consistent years of sack production at Tennessee, I don’t care if the combine numbers weren’t eye-popping on him, he gets after it.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker, S. Ohio State
Boom or bust poster boy from this draft class. Hooker has only one year of production, but it was absurdly productive. Elite center-field type with excellent ball skills. Sideline to sideline range and near-cornerback caliber movement skills, but the inexperience and durability concerns must be noted. Will he show flashes of Ed Reed at the next level or are we talking Raheem Moore 2.0? I’m suspect there won’t be much in-between with him. Tremendous potential-based pick.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Marlon Humphrey, CB. Alabama
Ozzie Newsome drafts a player from Alabama? No way! Seriously, this is a bargain pickup here as Humphrey could have easily gone to New Orleans had Lattimore not been available as expected. A physical press-man type, he profiles somewhat like Pro-Bowler Stephon Gilmore stylistically. Makes you wonder about Jonathan Allen though – if Ozzie wasn’t even comfortable scooping him 

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DL. Alabama
While the arthritic shoulder situation is worrisome, the Redskins have glaring issues along their 3-4 base defensive line. Strictly from a talent standpoint, Allen is a top 3 player in this class and worth the risk here for Washington. The Skins’ trench play has already improved with this selection.

18. Tennessee Titans: Adoree Jackson, CB. Southern California
This pick was (hopefully) made with patience in mind. As the diminutive playmaker develops as a corner I do hope to see him contribute immediately as an ace returner and hopefully on offense a little. Size and matchup length aren’t mandatory physical traits in Tennessee, nor have they ever been. It was always going to take an open-minded team to choose Adoree and the Titans may reap the long-term benefits as a result.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: O.J. Howard, TE. Alabama
Great fortune for the Bucs, who continue adding to an enviously impressive core of weaponry for Famous Jameis. Howard represents elite pass-catching potential, but enters the league with polish as a blocker. Hell, he did it so much at Bama, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Either way, massive bargain at this point.

20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, OT. Utah
There’s no better athlete available along the offensive line in this draft class. Bolles essentially stays home and has long-term left tackle potential, though he requires a bit of polishing – which should come at RT. In a rather weak OL draft overall I think Elway & Co. go the potential route. Bolles is a mean dude on-field and enjoys a good trench battle.

21. Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis, ILB. Florida
Rangy interior linebacker to the team who was most desperate for help in that spot in the league. Davis is a leader by example, modern in style and provides a major athletic boost to the Lions’ linebacking core. Conventional thinking says there was just no way Reuben Foster would be available here though. For them to pass on him says quite a bit about what kind of slide Foster might be in for tonight and/or tomorrow.

22. Miami Dolphins: Charles Harris, DE. Missouri
A coaches dream, Harris is a self-starter who has had to earn his time at Missouri behind a conveyer belt of strong collegiate edge defenders. After two productive starting seasons, I’m happy to see him land with a 4-3 team as I believe 4-3 end is his ideal situation. To Miami, he’s Cam Wake’s heir apparent.

23. New York Giants: Evan Engram, TE. Ole Miss
All along, it was a very strong possibility that Engram could go ahead of David Njoku. His skill-set appeals to more teams, including those who already had an entrenched tight end. The reason is he’s not a true tight end, nor is he a wide receiver – though versatile nonetheless. Eli obtains a field-stretcher.

24. Oakland Raiders: Gareon Conley, CB. Ohio State
Simply put, if the off-field allegations didn’t happen, he’s comfortably a top 15 pick. Give the Raiders front office the benefit of the and assume they know something the public doesn’t, because there still appears to be some uncertainty here. That said, on-field, this is a fantastic all-around player who contributes day one. Oakland entered this draft lacking a solution at corner opposite Sean Smith. We’ll see how this one plays out.

25. Cleveland Browns (via HOU): Jabrill Peppers, S/LB. Michigan – *TRADE
His personality should certainly help to provide a spark in a stagnant Browns locker room. Hue Jackson is attempting to change the culture of the organization’s on-field product and you do that by collecting players like Peppers. Though, to me, he’s more of a tweener than he is versatile I’ll assume the team selecting him is doing so with a specific role in mind for him.

26. Atlanta Falcons (via SEA): Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB. UCLA – *TRADE
Relentless motor off the edge either as a 4-3 end or standup edge linebacker. Offers some role diversity for the Falcons’ pass rushing setups and increases the ‘compete’ level of an already strong defensive core. By the way – who didn’t love that on-stage moment? You’ve just got to love live TV. Good for him – as he’s certainly not going to enter the NFL lacking in motivation.

*Details of trade
To Falcons: 1st round pick (No. 26 – McKinley),

To Seahawks: 1st round pick (No. 31), 3rd round pick (No. 95), 7th round pick (No. 249).

27. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Tre’Davious White, CB. Louisiana State – *TRADE
4-year starter who should make a seamless transition into a starting role from day one and competent enough to contribute in a multitude of roles in coverage. Stephon Gilmore departed and reinforcements were needed asap. Nice to see Buffalo think big-picture and acquire a 2018 1st round selection while still crossing off a considerable roster hole.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton, DE. Michigan
Long disruptive figure who feasted in opposing backfields. That said, he’s a one-year wonder, but the Cowboys are clearly pleased with the upside aspect of this pick. Despite his size + frame, Taco gets real-real skinny. Dallas has some talent on the edges, but these days teams require 3-4 viable options. I like this pick, Taco is too talented to have slid out of day one.

29. Cleveland Browns (via GB): David Njoku, TE. Miami (FL) – *TRADE
Supremely gifted athlete with absolutely no physical limitations. Njoku is still just 20 and enters the league as something of a diamond in the rough, as his catching is a little inconsistent for my liking. However, when he’s your third 1st round pick, than I think you feel comfortable rolling the dice on his talent. If you pass on all of the quarterbacks, at least help Kessler. They did with this pick.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt, OLB. Wisconsin
Can’t draw it up any better. Energy, toughness, attitude – all ideal characteristics Pittsburgh seeks on defense, all adjectives of T.J. Watt. One of the more complete defenders available at this point and it’s logical that he proved too talented to slip out of day one. Steelers have been trying to get younger on D for years.

31. San Francisco 49ers (via ATL by SEA): Reuben Foster, ILB. Alabama – *TRADE
We’ll assume this slide – like teammate Jonathan Allen’s – was medical related, but I applaud rookie GM John Lynch for being aggressive at both the top and bottom of round 1. Thomas and Foster help frame a new attitude for a rebuilding San Francisco defense that was very good not long ago.

*Details of trade
To 49ers: 1st round pick (No. 31 – Foster),

To Packers: 2nd round pick (No. 33), 4th round pick (No. 108).

32. New Orleans Saints (via NE): Ryan Ramczyk, OT. Wisconsin
Plug and play right tackle to help keep the grizzled Drew Brees upright. Saints addressed the big cornerback need earlier and now knock off arguably the second largest hole on the roster. Unsexy, but sound pick to conclude the day.

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Caputi’s Final 2017 NFL Mock Draft

Here we go, football fans - the big day is here.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
Quarterback rumors are on sale, but no one's buying. There's an obvious dearth of talent in Cleveland and fortunately the most talented player in this class also addresses a considerable need. Note: Browns

Here we go, football fans – the big day is here.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
Quarterback rumors are on sale, but no one’s buying. There’s an obvious dearth of talent in Cleveland and fortunately the most talented player in this class also addresses a considerable need. Note: Browns defense ranked No. 30 in sacks last year (26.0)

2. San Franciso 49ers: Mitch Trubisky, QB. North Carolina
New General Manager. New Head Coach. New Quarterback? The organization’s current situation under center is concernedly comprised of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Shanahan gets his prototype. Note: 49ers had the league’s worst-ranked passing offense in 2016.

3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams, S. Louisiana State
An impact player is needed in the defensive secondary here and there may not be a safer player in this class. Da Bears have lacked a tone-setting defender since Brian Urlacher’s retirement; Adams fits the bill. Note: Bears defense conceded 399 points last season (ninth-worst in the league).

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB. Louisiana State
In a make-or-break season for Blake Bortles the franchise is well placed to support its fourth-year quarterback while still solving a position of concern. Doug Marrone is given a physically imposing specimen with long speed. Note: Jacksonville’s 101.9 rushing yards per game ranked 22nd-best in 2016.

5. Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore, CB. Ohio State
Long-time starting cornerback Jason McCourty was jettisoned for economic reasons and despite the signing of Logan Ryan, help remains sorely required at the position. The former Buckeye is a gifted athlete with an exciting future if hamstrings issues don’t continue to flare up. Note: Titans defense begrudgingly boasted the NFL’s 30th-ranked passing defense last year.

6. New York Jets: O.J. Howard, TE. Alabama
If Gang Green isn’t feeling a quarterback here (and the belief entering the day is they aren’t), this is represents a tantalizing alternative. Elite pass-catching potential + nicely refined blocking skills in a position of significant need. Note: The last tight end to be selected No. 6 overall (or higher)? Vernon Davis in 2006.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker, S. Ohio State
The vintage Eric Weddle era already feels like a lifetime ago and the organization is desperate for a playmaker in the secondary. Ohio State produced last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year for the team – double dipping is allowed. Note: Chargers defense allowed the 4th-most points in the NFL in 2016 (423 total).

8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB. Stanford
Provides much-needed electricity and can hurt a defense in a multitude of ways. Think outside the box here – position and role can change on any down; he runs, he catches, he scores touchdowns when in space. Note: Panthers offense finished middle of the pack in total yards (19th) and touchdowns (17th).

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Solomon Thomas, DE. Stanford
Michael Johnson is now 30 and the quietly-elite Carlos Dunlap becomes a free agent after 2018. Cincy, more so than most, values pass rushing options. Thomas is an active power-edge reminiscent of vintage Aaron Kampman (2006-2007). Note: Bengals defense had 9.0 less sacks in 2016 than in 2015.

10. Buffalo Bills: Marlon Humphrey, CB. Alabama
A similar profile to the now-departed Stephon Gilmore: comfortable in press-man, combining length + speed with an eagerness to intervene in run defense. Not much on the roster past Ron Darby. Note: Humphrey created 8 turnovers in two years (five interceptions, three forced fumbles).

11. New Orleans Saints: Haasan Reddick, LB. Temple
Though cornerback is by far the bigger concern, this selection represents more talent value. Nollins’ added some depth at linebacker, but Reddick has 2-3 position versatility and flashed elite pass rushing proficiency as a senior in 2016. Note: Saints defense placed 27th in sacks last season (30.0).

12. Cleveland Browns: Mike Williams, WR. Clemson
Were quarterback a real priority, I find it difficult to believe they’d pass on “their guy” at No. 1. Instead, Cleveland opts to add some weaponry for Kessler & Co after upgrading the defense earlier. Kenny Britt is barely a short-term solution and Williams could create a mouthwatering duo with last year’s 1st round draft choice Corey Coleman. Note: In 2016, Browns placed 27th in receiving yards per game (230.8) and t-30th in receiving touchdowns (15).

13. Arizona Cardinals: Pat Mahomes, QB. Texas Tech
Never look a gift horse in the mouth – particularly when the gift is a quarterback. Arizona is in the optimal situation of being able to give a redshirt year to whomever it taps as its future under center. Highly gifted, in-time Mahomes could prove to be the best passer this class produces. Note: In 2012 – a year before Carson Palmer’s arrival – the Cards ranked 28th in passing yards per game.

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE. Tennessee
Supreme value, as he could’ve crept into the top 10. Tremendous production with 32.0 sacks in three seasons of starting. Barnett is as prolific in the classroom as he is on-field; great character. Marcus Smith hasn’t panned out and Chris Long is a stop-gap. Note: Eagles defense was t-16th in sacks last season (34 total).

15. Indianapolis Colts: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB. UCLA
Robert Mathis has rode off into retirement and incomes a fresh-faced motor edge in his likeness. McKinley enters the NFL coming off a better year than some remaining counterparts in the same role. Note: Indy’s defense placed 19th in the league with 33.0 sacks last season.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis, WR. Western Michigan
The current wide receiver situation in Baltimore is shocking. If Breshad Perriman can put things together, great – it’s a bonus, but otherwise reinforcements are needed. Davis, and his four years of absurd production, are a safe selection here. Note: Ravens offense finished 2016 with 20 receiving touchdowns, tied for 21st in the league.

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DL. Alabama
The (medical-related?) slide ceases, much to the Skins’ benefit. Though some more disruption depth off the edge would help, this is tremendous value. A top 3-5 talent if healthy, Washington can easily improve its 3-4 base trench-play. Note: Last year, the Redskins’ defense placed 9th in both sacks (38.0) and yards per game (119.8).

18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR. Washington
Front office has taken care to ensure Mariota is continuously supported in his development and an injection of electricity is needed. Ross is often miscast as a one-dimensional vertical threat, but he boasts elite speed and (as of today) B+  route running skills. Note: (At 232.5) Titans offense ranked 25th in overall receiving yards per game last season.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB. Florida State
A tornado of uncertainty surrounds Doug Martin’s future with the Bucs and the chance to grab a special all-around workhorse is too tempting to pass on. And he’s only about a four hour drive away. Note: Bucs rushing offense ranked 24th in the league last season (101.0).

20. Denver Broncos: Cam Robinson, OT. Alabama
His combination of length and size could allow him to cover 3-4 positions in the NFL. If the whole long-term left tackle thing doesn’t pan out, he projects to be an elite guard/right tackle. Note: Denver conceded a 24th-ranked 40.0 sacks in 2016.

21. Detroit Lions: Reuben Foster, LB. Alabama
Victim of circumstance (and maybe some pre-draft character questions), as he’s undoubtedly a top 10 talent in this class. Detroit is gifted an elite falling talent at arguably its greatest position of need. Note: Lions defense finished middle of the pack (15th) in total yards conceded per game last season (354.8).

22. Miami Dolphins: Forrest Lamp, OG. Western Kentucky
The franchise has shown the willingness to invest prominent picks in reinforcing the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil kicks out to left tackle and Forest Lamp, at guard, is arguably the most ready-to-play blocker in this class. Note: Phins allowed the 14th-most QB hits in the league last year.

23. New York Giants: David Njoku, TE. Miami (FL)
G-Men have invested prominent picks into their OL recently and brought in D.J. Fluker as well. This could finally be the year they address the need for a dynamic tight end, and Njoku is a special athlete. Note: NYG ranked 18th in receiving yards per game (251.7) last season.

24. Oakland Raiders: T.J. Watt, OLB. Wisconsin
It’s a great spot for a corner (among other defensive positions), but the organization is in dyer need of pass rush help. “Little” Watt gets to the quarterback and probably shouldn’t be available here. Note: Raiders finished last in the league with 25.0 team sacks in 2016.

25. Houston Texans: DeShaun Watson, QB. Clemson
He’s not the ideal Bill O’Brien profile, but you want your quarterback to be an alpha-male personality who performs best in big situations. Houston went to the playoffs with poor play under center in 2016, so there’s little pressure to do “too much” in his rookie campaign. Note: In 2016, Texans ranked last in average yards per pass attempt (5.9).

26. Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King, CB. Washington
Perfectly suits the profile of what’s desired on the boundary in Seattle and he’s a local product. The Legion of Boom core is aging fast and Richard Sherman’s situation is awkwardly uncertain. Note: ‘Hawks defense conceded 7.2 yards per reception last season, tying them for 15th in the NFL.

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Zach Cunningham, ILB. Vanderbilt
Derrick Johnson is 34 and coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2016. They reinforce the interior linebacker spot with a big search-and-destroy playmaker. Note: Chiefs gave up the 7th-most rushing yards per game (121.1) last season.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Tre’Davious White, CB. Louisiana State
The position needs to be addressed early and the ‘Boys are fortunate to see an experienced man-capable available here. Note: Dallas conceded the 7th-most passing yards per game (260.4) in 2016.

29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Kamara, RB. Tennessee
Offense lacks a workhorse in the ground-game and there’s 3-down value here. Exciting do-it-all talent if perceived character concerns can be overcome. Note: Pack came in at 20th in rushing yards per game (106.3) last season.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Charles Harris, DE/OLB. Missouri
There’s little behind the soon-to-be 39-year-old James Harrison on the edge opposite Bud Dupree. Harris is a self-motivater with the ideal skill-set for a 3-4 conversion rusher. Note: Pittsburgh conceded the 10th-fewest points (327) in the league in 2016.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Jordan Willis, DE. Kansas State
Ascending prospect who has improved in each of his last three-years as a starter, including a strong pre-draft process. Active and instinctual, a bargain for a team with very few needs. Note: Atlanta conceded the 8th-most yards per game (371.2) in 2016 on defense.

32. New Orleans Saints (via Patriots): Rasul Douglas, CB. West Virginia
Surprise. Former JUCO, one (elite) year wonder with 8 interceptions in 2016. Physically he combines size and modern prototype length. Cornerback must be addressed with one of their two picks. Note: Nollins’ allowed the most passing yards per game (273.8) in 2016.

Call me an idiot on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

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Vontaze Burfict three-game suspension upheld

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks upheld Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's three-game suspension.

Burfict was suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs that caused a concussion.

Burfict met Thursday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his on-field behavior and steps he could take to avoid further disciplinary

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks upheld Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension.

Burfict was suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs that caused a concussion.

Burfict met Thursday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his on-field behavior and steps he could take to avoid further disciplinary action in the future. Burfict, his agents and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis were at the meeting Thursday with Goodell and NFL executi Troy Vincent.

Burfict was fined $50,000 for a hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams.

Burfict was fined three times for incidents against the Steelers that totaled $70,000.

Burfict will lose $502,941 of his salary next season.

Follow me on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL

Aaron Wilson covers the Texans for The Houston Chronicle.

 

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post, his second stint at the Post. He has previously written for Pro Football Talk and FOX Sports-Scout. Entering his 13th year covering the Baltimore Ravens, he’s a beat writer for The Baltimore Sun. Wilson has also covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

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Why Jonathan Martin retired

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin retired before the 2015 season, but Martin’s departure from football has nothing do with his infamous bullying scandal or his sometimes inconsistent play.

Instead it was a back injury suffered prior to training camp that forced him out of football.

“It just never got better,” said Martin’s agent, Kenny Zuckerman. “He

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin retired before the 2015 season, but Martin’s departure from football has nothing do with his infamous bullying scandal or his sometimes inconsistent play.

Instead it was a back injury suffered prior to training camp that forced him out of football.

“It just never got better,” said Martin’s agent, Kenny Zuckerman. “He was just hoping it would just get better and better every day, and it just didn’t.”

Doctors said that Martin had to rest his back for four to eight weeks without engaging in physical activity — something that would’ve put him well behind for this NFL season — and then he was a candidate for spinal fusion surgery, a risky operation that could have sidelined him a year.

According to Zuckerman, the injury left Martin very discouraged, something that went contrary to some media depictions that labeled him as a player who lacked passion for football. He agonized over what to do about his playing career before deciding to retire just shy of his 26th birthday.

“He went through a tough time, but he loved playing,” Zuckerman said. “(The injury) consumed his mind 24 hours a day.”

After the Dolphins’ turmoil in 2013, few would have guessed that the NFL stay of Richie Incognito, the player who tormented Martin, would outlast Martin’s.

Martin, who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, was just 23 years old at the time of the scandal and played one of the most important positions in football — offensive tackle. He entered the NFL as a major prospect, having protected quarterback Andrew Luck while at Stanford.

Incognito was a 30-year-old guard, who had been dismissed from both Nebraska and Oregon during college, and was being kicked to the curb by his third NFL team.

Surprisingly, Incognito is now slated as the starting left guard for the Bills while Martin has moved on with his career.

Zuckerman said there is “zero percent” chance that Martin plays again — regardless of whether the 25-year-old’s health unexpectedly improves.

Instead Martin, whose mother is a corporate lawyer for Toyota, likely will go to law school.

“If it was a guy who didn’t have that plan, I could see him sitting a year (and playing again),” Zuckerman said. “He’s a very bright guy … He’s ready to move on to the next part of life.”

After attending Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High, a school known for its lofty academics, Martin, who majored in ancient Greek and Roman classics at Stanford, could have been the first ever fourth generation African-American at Harvard.

He was heavily recruited by the Ivy League school attended by his mother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Instead Martin went to Stanford, where he became a second-team All-American in 2011, before starting 32 games during his three years in the NFL.

After leaving the Dolphins, the 6-5, 315-pound Martin signed with the 49ers and played for his college head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Martin started nine games at right tackle but often struggled while playing on an injury-plagued offensive line and was cut after the season.

In the ensuing offseason, he was claimed off of waivers by the Panthers, a team with a porous offensive line.

Martin, who was mostly playing behind Michael Oher of The Blind Side fame on the left side of the Panthers’ line during offseason practices, was reportedly scheduled to make $1.042 million this season.

Following his retirement from the Panthers, Martin’s camp maintains that he will not be negatively linked to the bullying scandal but instead serve as a positive example of resilience.

“He is a role model for kids that are going through things like he went through,” Zuckerman said.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Chasing the Patriots: Bills and Jets share same strengths, weaknesses

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have won the AFC East six consecutive years, but they are poised to be knocked off the division’s top perch.

They have lost their top three cornerbacks from last season, and the NFL upheld a four-game suspension of QB Tom Brady.

Two of their challengers in the division —

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have won the AFC East six consecutive years, but they are poised to be knocked off the division’s top perch.

They have lost their top three cornerbacks from last season, and the NFL upheld a four-game suspension of QB Tom Brady.

Two of their challengers in the division — the Bills and Jets — are similarly constructed teams with the same strengths and problems.

Both the Bills and Jets have very good defensive units, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the main link between the franchises is Rex Ryan, the son of Buddy Ryan, who popularized the 46 defense.

After six years with the Jets, Rex Ryan enters his first year coaching the Bills. Ryan’s replacement in New York, Todd Bowles, actually employs a very similar gameplan involving a blitz-heavy 3-4 D.

Bowles, though, inherits the same problem that plagued Ryan in New York and still negatively affects him in Buffalo — poor QB play.

Although both teams have two of the most uncertain QB situations in the league, their defensive lines are two of the best.

The Jets’ D-line took a hit when defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who was just charged for resisting arrest after driving 143 mph, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. But even without him, the Jets have Muhammad Wilkerson, a 6-4, 315-pounder with 16 sacks the last two years, and rookie Leonard Williams, who was regarded as the best defensive player in the draft before dropping to No. 6 overall because of rumors of a lingering shoulder injury that he claims were unfounded.

Buffalo’s version of Richardson is Marcell Dareus. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has the versatility to play nose tackle, 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. The talented Dareus is stout versus the run, and his 28.5 sacks in his four years in the league demonstrate his pass rush ability. His issues come off the field where he has numerous incidents, including ones involving drag racing and drugs.

On the Bills’ four-man line, Dareus lined up next to Kyle Williams, a high-motor player who has 16 sacks the past two years, last season.

Ryan will likely go with three down linemen this year, moving defensive ends Mario Williams — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft — and Jerry Hughes to 3-4 outside linebackers. Williams has 91 career sacks, and the duo combined for 24 sacks last season.

The Bills had the third best pass defense in the league last year not only because of their ability to get to the quarterback, but also because they have two former top 11 picks — Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore — starting at cornerback.

Ryan will love having those corners. He can trust them in single coverage, allowing him to blitz multiple defenders.

His penchant for doing that is why Ryan lobbied the Jets front office to re-sign Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the cover cornerbacks who shut down receivers while the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2010.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the Jets re-signed them only after he left.

Those secondary additions — and the free-agent acquisition of CB Buster Skrine — should drastically improve a New York defense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season but only 14th against the pass.

And the Jets D will have to be outstanding to compensate for an anemic offense.

The offensive woes begin at quarterback where New York has error-prone Geno Smith, who has turned the ball over 41 times in 30 career games.

Rookie quarterback Bryce Petty, drafted in the fourth round, has potential, but he is somewhat of a project because he needs to adjust from the spread offense at Baylor to the Jets’ pro-style attack.

There’s a reason Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his sixth team; he is whom you want as your No. 2 quarterback but not your starter.

One of Fitzpatrick’s former teams, the Bills, have similar QB issues. Matt Cassel, the odds-on favorite to win the job, is like Fitzpatrick. An excellent backup, he could not hold onto the starting job in Kansas City or Minnesota.

EJ Manuel, the first quarterback selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, is not dynamic enough. He has completed under 59 percent of his passes in both seasons and never averaged more than 6.44 yards per pass.

Tyrod Taylor also has a shot at the starting job.

Whoever quarterbacks the Bills will at least have LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson at running back, potentially allowing Buffalo to play a ball-control attack, which puts less pressure on the passer.

McCoy has 2,926 rush yards over the last two seasons, and Jackson has surpassed 925 rushing yards three times.

The Bills have young talent at receiver. Sammy Watkins enters his second year while Robert Woods enters his third. They combined for 1,681 receiving yards last year.

They also signed WR Percy Harvin to a one-year contract. Harvin played for Ryan last year in New York after the versatile receiver previously wore out his welcome in Minnesota and Seattle.

The Jets took on another talented — but somewhat troubled — receiver in Brandon Marshall to complement Eric Decker.

But like the Bills, the Jets would be better off taking the game out of the hands of whichever dubious quarterback wins the QB job and relying on a deep RB group.

The Jets ranked third in the NFL in rushing last year and are even deeper this year. Though lacking an elite back, New York has Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy. Each has at least one 697-yard season to his name.

Time will tell if strong running games and defenses will be enough to make up for poor QB play — and enough to finally unseat the Patriots.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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How the Belichick-Parcells relationship mirrors Coach K and Knight’s

Mentor teaches pupil. Pupil bests mentor. Mentor and pupil grow apart. Mentor and pupil become close again.

It’s a narrative that describes two of the greatest coaching pairings — Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski — in the modern era, and it’s just one of the ties that bind

Mentor teaches pupil. Pupil bests mentor. Mentor and pupil grow apart. Mentor and pupil become close again.

It’s a narrative that describes two of the greatest coaching pairings — Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski — in the modern era, and it’s just one of the ties that bind the four legends.

Belichick coached on the defensive side of the ball under Parcells from 1983-1990 with the New York Giants, 1996 with the New England Patriots and 1997-1999 with the New York Jets.

The two were so tied at the hip that Belichick was called “Little Bill,” and Parcells was called “Big Bill.” Little Bill, though, has now surpassed Parcells. As head coach he has more Super Bowl titles (four to two), more Super Bowl appearances (six to three), and more regular-season victories (211 to 172).

Coach K played under Knight from 1966-1969 at Army and coached under him at Indiana from 1974-1975. When Krzyzewski’s father died near the end of his senior year, Knight flew to Chicago to mourn with the family and he attended Krzyzewski’s wedding four days after his player graduated from college.

Like Belichick, Krzyzewski similarly exceeded his confidante and former boss. He now has more NCAA championships (five to three), Final Four appearances (12 to five), and total victories (1,018 to 902) than Knight.

The striking parallels, though, go beyond a student gaining more acclaim than his teacher.

The falling out and reconciliation

The plan all along was for Belichick to succeed Parcells as head coach with the Jets. However, Belichick, who saw a more stable ownership with the Patriots and a chance to spread his wings, resigned from that position to become the Patriots’ head coach.

“At that point in time, in that situation, I did what I felt I needed to do and I don’t have any regrets about that,” Belichick said in Parcells: A Football Life. “Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently.”

Belichick’s move to New England not only added more fuel to the Patriots-Jets rivalry, but also created acrimony between the coaches. The two remained estranged for about six years.

But after Parcells watched Belichick win Super Bowl XXXIX and get doused with Gatorade while his father, Steve, was at his side, Parcells was moved. He sent a note describing his joy in seeing them enjoy that father-son moment.

More than a year after that, Belichick invited Parcells, the then-Cowboys coach, to play golf at Nantucket Golf Club, a gracious act that Scott Pioli, Parcells’ son-in-law and former Belichick right-hand man, is presumed to have played a role in.

Shortly thereafter, the coaches regularly called each other.

Belichick, whose girlfriend was living in Florida, even purchased a condominium unit two floors above Parcells’ Miami-area place in 2009.

“We just had a difference of opinion on some things,” Parcells said in his book. “I wasn’t happy that we were kind of at different ends of the spectrum for a while. I wouldn’t say we’re buddy buddies, but we get along.”

The ultimate gesture came when Belichick left Patriots training camp to attend Parcells’ 2013 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Coach K went to his first Final Four in 1986, a beaming Knight supported him by wearing a Duke button in Dallas.

For his sixth Final Four, Coach K’s defending champion faced Knight’s Indiana team in the semifinal. Duke won 81-78, and the coaching legends brushed past each other after the game, barely shaking hands.

It was never revealed what led to the frostiness in the relationship. John Feinstein, a Duke alum and author of the Knight tell-all book, A Season on the Brink, conjectured that Knight felt Krzyzewski had not publicly credited him enough for his success.

Like it did for Parcells and Belichick, the Hall of Fame helped mend fences for the basketball coaches.

Krzyzewski asked Knight to introduce him during his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, and the two became close once again.

During a 2006 holiday tournament, Krzyzewski told me he always roots for Knight, who was then coaching Texas Tech, to win, equating it to cheering for a family member.

When Krzyzewski surpassed Knight in 2011 as the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history, Knight was there announcing the game for ESPN. The two warmly embraced.

“I just told Coach I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. It’s a moment shared. I know he’s very proud and I’m very proud to have been somebody who’s worked under him and studied him and tried to be like him.”

Military ties

All four have deep connections to the military.

Bill Belichick’s father, Steve, coached at Navy from 1956-1989. The Midshipmen coach helped indoctrinate his son, who learned how to scout at the age of 10, into the football world.

Steve coached against Parcells, the Army head coach from 1966 to 1969, in the famed Army-Navy rivalry clashes. Parcells became the head coach at another service academy, the Air Force, in 1978. It was his first head coaching job at any level.

Knight, who was nicknamed the “General” in part because he coached at Army from 1965 to 1971, recruited Krzyzewski. Coach K then served as Army head coach from 1975 to 1980 before becoming Duke head coach.

To further complete this coaching quadrangle, Parcells and Knight were the respective head coaches of football and basketball at Army at the same time.

They became great friends, playing heated basketball games against each other and regularly hanging out in Knight’s basement or Parcells’ living room.

Knight would counsel Parcells on prospective jobs, once telling him the Indiana head coaching job had opened, though Parcells would accept the Giants’ head coaching position.

Three years before, Knight recommended Duke hire an under-the-radar coach with a last name that was difficult to pronounce. He would go on to become the NCAA’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

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Why the Vikings are on the rise

After a 7-9 finish last year, the Minnesota Vikings are a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2015 — and for good reason.

Although the young talent on the defense may represent the biggest reason for the Vikings’ ascension, much of the optimism centers on returning star, RB Adrian Peterson, and the new offensive

After a 7-9 finish last year, the Minnesota Vikings are a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2015 — and for good reason.

Although the young talent on the defense may represent the biggest reason for the Vikings’ ascension, much of the optimism centers on returning star, RB Adrian Peterson, and the new offensive face of the franchise, QB Teddy Bridgewater.

The excitement over Bridgewater is understandable, considering the Vikings went 31-48-1 from 2010-14 when the team’s major problem was a void at quarterback.

Now they have their best young passer since Daunte Culpepper. (Brett Favre starred in his first season in Minnesota in 2009, but at 40 years old, he was not a long-term answer at the position.)

Bridgewater enters his second season after going 6-6 in his 12 starts as a rookie. Most encouraging is how his play improved as the season wore on. During four of his last five games, he posted a QB rating of 90.2 or better. He threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions during that stretch while completing at least 68 percent of his passes in each game.

He put up those promising numbers despite being without one of the best running backs in NFL history. Peterson played in just one game in 2014 after being placed on an exempt list due to child abuse charges.

Look for Peterson, who rushed for 1,266 and 2,097 yards in the two previous seasons, to play with added motivation in 2015. The last time he had a chip on his shoulder — after coming back from an ACL injury — he finished with an MVP season.

Though he’s a physical marvel, Peterson has turned 30, the age when most running backs begin showing slippage. But the Vikings finally have a player who can spell Peterson in Jerick McKinnon, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie last season.

They are not the only offensive playmakers who will help out the 22-year-old Bridgewater. He now has a deep threat after the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick for wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Even though the speedster didn’t live up to the expectations of his lofty contract with the Miami Dolphins, he still had 862 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and a change of scenery could provide a career boost.

His receiving mate, the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson, showed great promise as a rushing/receiving/special teams threat while scoring nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2013, though his play regressed last season.

To resuscitate Wallace’s career and advance Patterson’s, the Vikings have the right man in offensive coordinator Norv Turner, an excellent playcaller and QB guru.

Unlike most well-regarded offensive coordinators, Turner emphasizes the running game over the passing game, though he mixes in the deep ball, a result of his Air Coryell roots.

With Turner in charge of the offense, it allows second-year head coach Mike Zimmer to devote his time to his specialty — the defense, a 4-3 unit that features press coverage in the secondary.

The D — with players like Jared Allen, the Williams Wall, Antoine Winfield and co. — used to be the hallmark of Minnesota’s success, but as that group grew old, the Vikings fell apart.

The Vikings have just one defensive starter from their last NFC Championship Game appearance — Chad Greenway, the linebacker who has started 123 games.

Minnesota has remade their defense alongside Greenway with a slew of young defensive stars, which it acquired through the draft.

One reason the Vikings felt comfortable parting with Allen before the 2014 season was the emergence of their other pass rushers. Everson Griffen and veteran Brian Robison combined for 32 sacks the last two years, though a pectoral injury could limit the latter during training camp.

Aside from Greenway and Robison, it’s a young corps.

Before a knee injury ended his 2014 season, linebacker Anthony Barr was in contention for Rookie of the Year voting. A multi-talented player, he had 55 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a touchdown through 12 weeks last year.

Projected as a 2015 first-round pick, Eric Kendricks slipped to the Vikings in the second round (45th overall). The best middle linebacker of the draft has special instincts and intelligence while also possessing great lateral agility and a 38-inch vertical leap.

With the 11th overall pick, the Vikings selected cornerback Trae Waynes, a perfect fit for Zimmer’s man-press scheme. The 6-1, 183-pounder has the blend of size and speed to handle NFC North receivers.

His 4.23 speed at the NFL Combine was the fastest among all defensive backs, and he also had the fastest 20-yard split (2.40 seconds) among all participants.

What was once a source of weakness — the defensive backfield — may soon become a strength for the Vikings. They can pair Waynes with ballhawking safety Harrison Smith, who has three touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his three-year career, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013.

Beyond the young talent aboard, the future looks bright in Minnesota. The Vikings’ new stadium, Minnesota Stadium, will open in 2016. And in 2018, it will host the Super Bowl.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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The Chiefs have Georgia on their mind

Immediately after Chris Conley was selected by the Chiefs in third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, second-year Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray texted the Georgia wide receiver.

“Get ready to come and grind with me again,” messaged the former Bulldogs passer.

Murray, Georgia’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, threw to Conley for

Immediately after Chris Conley was selected by the Chiefs in third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, second-year Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray texted the Georgia wide receiver.

“Get ready to come and grind with me again,” messaged the former Bulldogs passer.

Murray, Georgia’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, threw to Conley for three years, including in 2013, when Conley led the team with 45 receptions and 651 receiving yards.

The duo is elated about their reunion Kansas City.

“It helps tremendously. It helps because Aaron knows how I work,” Conley said. “He’s able to ease that transition a little more.”

Perhaps the Chiefs will start planting some Sanford Stadium-like hedges outside Arrowhead Stadium. In the past five years, Kansas City has drafted five Georgia players.

That group includes Murray, Conley, safety Sanders Commings, linebacker Justin Houston and linebacker Ramik Wilson, who was selected in the fourth round (118th overall) of this 2015 NFL Draft.

Under general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have selected four former Georgia players since 2013 and at least one Bulldog every year.

In addition Wilson has become close to Houston, who was drafted by former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. The elite pass rusher often comes back to Georgia at the end of NFL seasons and works out or rehabs there. Wilson and Murray both grew up in Tampa, Florida, and have known each other for years prior to reconnecting in Kansas City.

“It’s a great fit,” Wilson said. “It makes (it) feel like home. I can go to them for anything.”

While the Georgia players enjoy a comfortable setting in Kansas City with plenty of former teammates, the Chiefs get players who have proven their ability at the highest level of college football.

“Everyone always talks about the speed of the game and they say the speed of the SEC is the closest you get,” Conley said. “Hopefully that will translate.”

That SEC background is likely one reason Dorsey remains enamored with Georgia players. However, he drafted Conley and Wilson because of their specific skill set — not just their conference pedigree.

The Chiefs liked Conley so much that they traded their third-round pick (80th pick overall) and sixth-round pick (193rd overall) to the Vikings in exchange for Minnesota’s 76th overall pick.

The 6-2, 213-pound Conley has an impressive blend of size and athleticism. At the 2015 NFL Combine, he led all participants with a 45-inch vertical leap and tied for fourth with a 40 time of 4.35 seconds.

Conley used that speed to average 18.3 yards per catch while posting 657 receiving yards and scoring eight touchdowns during his senior year in 2014.

“He can go deep. He really does have some nice feet in terms of running after the catch and making guys miss. He’s got enough size to break the arm tackle,” Dorsey said. “He has got the athletic skills to just kind of blend right in.”

Conley has blended in quickly thus far, wowing observers and teammates during offseason practices.

“He can play some football,” said veteran wide receiver Jason Avant. “He has the potential to be really, really good.”

The Chiefs need Conley to be good and quickly — given the glaring hole on Kansas City’s roster. The Chiefs’ wide receivers did not score a touchdown last season.

Wilson also fits a need at middle linebacker where 32-year-old star Derrick Johnson is coming off a season-ending torn Achilles tendon.

The rookie’s production and range belie his 4.74 speed in the 40. A three-year starter at Georgia who can adeptly cover tight ends, the 6-2, 237-pound linebacker led the SEC in tackles in 2013 and added 110 more in 2014.

His fellow Bulldogs linebacker, Houston, remains unsigned after the franchise player led the NFL with 22 sacks last year. Meanwhile, Commings, who is trying to overcome two injury-plagued seasons, will try to help fill the void left by safety Eric Berry.

The challenge for Murray, the presumptive No. 3 quarterback and a possible eventual successor to starter Alex Smith, is to continue to master the complexities of the Chiefs’ West Coast Offense.

“Even Aaron is still learning things about this offense,” Conley said. “When Aaron was at Georgia, he knew everything there was. This offense is so big and grand, and every year wrinkles are added.”

As Conley tries to master his own playbook and adjust to life in the NFL, having fellow Bulldogs on the roster only can help the rookie receiver.

“There are so (many) new things going on and so many things flying,” Conley said. “Having familiar faces and guys who can kind of show you the ropes is so beneficial at this point. I’m loving it.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

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Why Michael Sam can excel in the CFL

Though Michael Sam did not play a regular-season down in the NFL, he has the skill set to flourish up north.

“He can be an outstanding CFL rush end,” Jim Popp, Montreal Alouettes vice president, general manager and director of football operations, told NFP.

The Alouettes, who signed Sam on May 22, run an aggressive

Though Michael Sam did not play a regular-season down in the NFL, he has the skill set to flourish up north.

“He can be an outstanding CFL rush end,” Jim Popp, Montreal Alouettes vice president, general manager and director of football operations, told NFP.

The Alouettes, who signed Sam on May 22, run an aggressive scheme with a four-man front, which emphasizes pressuring the passer, and employ bump-and-run coverage in the secondary.

Moreover, the CFL has 12 players on each side of the ball, and the extra player is typically a receiver on offense and a defensive back on defense. So, the Alouettes use a 4-3-5 scheme or often a dime look with six defensive backs. Those extra secondary players focus on coverage responsibilities, which will allow Sam to concentrate on pressuring the quarterback.

“There will be times where he has to drop,” Popp said. “But 95 percent of the time he’ll be rushing the passer.”

That should enable Sam, 25, to avoid one of the weaknesses in his game — dropping back into coverage — that prevented him from hanging on with an NFL team.

Sam, however, has a knack for rushing the passer.

In the best conference in the country, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss during his senior season at Missouri and was named the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. During the 2014 NFL preseason, he tied for fourth in the league with three sacks.

But the 6-2, 260-pound Sam, who ran a 4.99 in the 40 at the NFL’s veterans combine in March, was knocked by NFL teams for being a tweener — too slow to be a 3-4 linebacker and too small to play defensive line.

The CFL is often a refuge for players deemed to have inadequate speed or size for the NFL. Doug Flutie, who NFL teams rejected because of his 5’10” height, became a six-time Most Outstanding Player in the CFL.

“We don’t get caught up in measurables,” Popp said.

Popp also is not concerned by the fact that Sam is gay.

“Absolutely not,” said Popp, who lauded Sam’s character and leadership. “We see everyone as equal.”

Sam was not only the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL, but Popp also said he is the first one in the CFL, and the CFL is embracing his barrier-breaking status.

“The league office is very happy,” Popp said.

Sam has been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list since college.

The CFL has a draft, but it is only for Canadian citizens. Free agents can be placed on a negotiation list of 35 players, a first-come, first-serve, private list only known to CFL teams and the league office.

Noteworthy players who have been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list include Russell Wilson (who was once deemed too short for the NFL and was recruited to N.C. State by future Alouettes coach Marc Trestman), Clay Matthews (a former USC walk-on once considered too slight), Colin Kaepernick (once considered a product of a gimmicky system at Nevada) and Tim Tebow.

CFL teams can take a player off at any time but cannot tamper with someone else’s list. Hypothetically, they could even put high school players on that list, though they cannot negotiate with them or college players until they have declared for the draft or already have spent four years in college.

The Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round (249th overall) in 2014 before releasing him prior to the season. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn holding down a stacked defensive end group, St. Louis may not have been the best fit.

“That was one of the strongest points of that team,” Popp said. “That was (working) against him.”

Receiving playing time with the Alouettes, a vaunted CFL franchise that has made eight Grey Cup appearances in the 21st century, is not guaranteed either. Defensive end John Bowman, the franchise’s all-time leading sacker, leads a deep group.

“The position we’re bringing him into (has) four very good guys,” Popp said.

Sam signed a reported one-year deal, and the Alouettes hold the option for the 2016 season, though Popp often allows his players to move on if they receive NFL interest.

So if Sam can rise up the Montreal depth chart and produce big this year — like former B.C. Lions pass rusher Cameron Wake — he could find himself back in the NFL within a year.

Sam begins his CFL journey at the Alouettes’ rookie camp, which starts Wednesday.

After his NFL campaign focused on how a gay football player would mesh with his team, the narrative now has become whether he can make an impact on the field.

“This young man just wants to be a football player,” Popp said. “He wants to play.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Why Travis Kelce is poised for a huge season

When the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano over the offseason, it pained his younger position mate, Travis Kelce.

“When you see Fasano go, that’s a brother. That rips your heart out,” Kelce said. “It just lets you know that it is a business and everybody’s spot is vulnerable.”

It also meant that Kansas

When the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano over the offseason, it pained his younger position mate, Travis Kelce.

“When you see Fasano go, that’s a brother. That rips your heart out,” Kelce said. “It just lets you know that it is a business and everybody’s spot is vulnerable.”

It also meant that Kansas City had high expectations for Kelce to replace Fasano —who started 22 games for the Chiefs the last two years — and then some.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the 25-year-old Kelce has the potential to be an elite player, and he’s at a crucial position in the K.C. offense.

Even with the free-agent signing of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs lack strong receiving options. And in their ball-control, short-passing offense — K.C. ranked 24th in the league in yards per attempt — the team often employed 3-TE-sets last season.

The Chiefs still have basketball player-turned-tight end Demetrius Harris and did draft James O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but the onus will be on Kelce, who caught 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 during what basically was his rookie year.

A 2013 third-round pick, he played in just one game his rookie season because of a knee injury. He was placed on injured reserve in October of 2013 and underwent microfracture surgery, where holes are drilled in the knee to stimulate cartilage growth.

Kelce excitedly launched a comeback, returning to action last season when he burst on the scene with a 69-yard touchdown reception during the first preseason game, a 41-39 victory against the Bengals.

“I felt like I was in flames, just running around there with my head on fire,” Kelce told NFP. “It was a huge mile marker for me.”

Once the 6-6, 250-pounder passed that initial marker, he continued to flourish.

And now nearly two years removed from microfracture, he should see even better results this season. Patients who have undergone major knee surgeries typically report that it’s not until two years postoperatively that they begin feeling 100 percent.

“Without a doubt … the cartilage has got to regrow,” Kelce said. “I’m definitely feeling more and more comfortable.”

He’s also growing more accustomed to the offense that uses him in myriad roles, including in motion and chip blocking pass rushers.

“If you watch the film,” Kelce said, “you can see me everywhere on the field.”

Indeed he stands outs, exuberantly celebrating his touchdowns — and even first downs.

“He’s tremendously talented, loves to play the game,” Reid said. “He’s like a little kid out there.”

Kelce’s energy pumps up teammates during games and even mundane practices and meetings.

“When you’re having a bad day,” said Brandon Barden, a tight end on last year’s Chiefs practice squad, “just look at him, and he’ll kind of give you that little spark you need to get through.”

Kelce’s enthusiasm is best displayed during touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair.

“I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.”

It’s a carryover from what he did growing up while “being a knucklehead in the backyard trying to get in the heads of the guys we were playing around with.”

“Everything that I come out here and show,” Kelce said, “is a product of who I am and where I’m from.”

He grew up in suburban Cleveland with his brother, Jason Kelce, who has started 46 games at center for the Eagles.

Reid drafted and coached Jason, who is two years older than Travis, when he was in Philadelphia. That bond likely factored into the Chiefs drafting Travis and knowing he could make an impact in the NFL.

“It might’ve helped out a little bit that they knew the kind of family that me and Jason came from,” Travis said. “We’re both hardworking guys and love what we do.”

Upon being selected by Kansas City, Travis picked his brother’s brain on Reid, and Jason emphasized the vigilance and attention to detail of Reid, a former offensive lineman at BYU and a tight ends coach for the Brett Favre-era Packers.

“He was going to hold you accountable. He wasn’t going to let anything slide,” Travis said his brother explained. “Every fundamental, even when you think he’s not watching, he’s watching every single second.”

Reid likely will be keeping a close eye on Kelce’s blocking, an area that he needs to improve to be on par with his stellar body control, route running and ability to gain yards after the catch.

As he continues to hone those skills, Kelce seems ready to use his breakout 2014 campaign as a springboard for 2015.

“Everybody is really excited about Travis,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “We all saw last year what he’s capable of.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Shane Ray and Randy Gregory: Same predicament, different outlook

CHICAGO—Shane Ray and Randy Gregory endured a similar fate.

The talented pass rushers plummeted in the 2015 NFL Draft because of marijuana issues.

“Shane is kind of like me. He made a bad choice.” Gregory told NFP. “I wish nothing but the best for him, hope he makes some smarter decisions in the future and I'm

CHICAGO—Shane Ray and Randy Gregory endured a similar fate.

The talented pass rushers plummeted in the 2015 NFL Draft because of marijuana issues.

“Shane is kind of like me. He made a bad choice.” Gregory told NFP. “I wish nothing but the best for him, hope he makes some smarter decisions in the future and I’m hoping he wishes the same upon me.”

But while the humbled Gregory said he deserved what happened to him, the overly confident Ray was defiant.

“I want to show those other teams that they made a huge mistake. … This does nothing but add fuel to the fire,” Ray said. “I will use this as motivation and I hope that I do see every one of those teams twice a year.”

Ray, who had 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last year, vowed to demonstrate his ability that had many pegging him as a Top 10 pick last month before his issues, including an April 27 citation for weed possession, caused him to slide to No. 23 overall.

“I will go over and beyond to show (the Broncos) that I am more than capable at dominating at whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “And when I say ‘dominating,’ I mean nothing less than that.”

While the Denver-bound Ray seemed vengeful, Gregory took a more apologetic tone, saying he needed to mature.

“I made a real dumb decision,” Gregory said, “that’s been the most embarrassing part of my life up to this point and I’m just ready to fix it.”

After testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, Gregory fell out of the first round and was the last player remaining in the green room when the Cowboys selected him 60th overall.

Gregory’s Missed Appointments

Magnifying concerns over his character, the Nebraska product was truant from meetings with several NFL clubs.

“I know for a fact it hurt me with a few teams,” Gregory said. “I understood why I wasn’t picked high.”

One meeting Gregory did attend was with the Cowboys a couple of weeks ago. He spent 40 minutes with head coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and owner Jerry Jones.

Gregory compared his heart-to-heart with Jones to a stern father-son conversation. Dallas has taken chances on several players with a litany of off-the-field problems, including wide receiver Dez Bryant and defensive end Greg Hardy.

Gregory, who said he smoked weed to help cope with anxiety, told reporters he would be open to having a mentor/sponsor, which the Cowboys have used on players in the past.

Unintentionally wearing Cowboys colors — a silver suit and blue tie — on Friday night, he may prove to be a great fit in Dallas. Having recorded just 28 sacks in 2014, the Cowboys ranked 26th in pass defense and are in desperate need of a pass rusher.

“I feel like I could be a piece right there to get us to that next level, get us another championship,” Gregory said. “That’s what makes it exciting.”

Denver, on the other hand, does not have a hole at pass rusher. With DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, after whom Ray has modeled his game, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 in the NFL last year with 41 sacks.

Rumors, though, circulated that the Ravens were targeting Ray, and the Broncos traded their first-round pick, fifth-round pick, 2016 fifth-round pick, and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez to the Lions to move up five spots to select the explosive 6-3, 245-pound Missouri star.

Injury and Weight Issues

Trading up was somewhat of a surprising move by Denver, considering Ray not only had the marijuana incident but also a toe injury that prevented him from working out at the Combine and had some speculating he would miss much of his rookie NFL season.

Ray, though, said that his doctor told him he did not need surgery. The injury was only keeping him out because he did not have time to properly rehab it due to the hectic schedule of pro days, the Combine and flying to meet teams.

He promised to be healthy enough to play Week 1 against the Ravens.

“My toe’s fine,” Ray said. “I will be ready.”

Like Ray, Gregory had a physical concern that caused him to fall in the draft.

Though a gifted 6-5 pass rusher who had 17.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss the last two years, he was the lightest defensive lineman at the Combine at 235 pounds. Gregory said he currently weighed 239 to 240 pounds and that he needs to get up to 255.

“One of the big things is obviously putting a little bit more mass on me,” he said. “I’m definitely going to get there.”

Ray is going to get to play in Colorado, a state that legalized pot, something that made him the butt of social media jokes.

“Just because I was cited for marijuana possession doesn’t mean I’m this huge smoker or some huge drug addict,” Ray said. “That’s not a worry for me.”

Instead Ray is more concerned with proving himself to the other teams who passed on him before the Broncos selected him at No. 23.

“They’re all circled, you best believe,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with my situation that the Broncos decided to trade up to get me and give me a second opportunity. And I’m going to show them that this was the best decision they could’ve made.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Draft: 3 biggest bargains of round one

Although there were very few curveballs in a rather vanilla round one of the 2015 NFL draft, we certainly weren't void of a few value selections in the latter stages of the night.

Here are three in particular that stood out:

Bud Dupree to the Steelers at No. 22

Prior to Randy Gregory

Although there were very few curveballs in a rather vanilla round one of the 2015 NFL draft, we certainly weren’t void of a few value selections in the latter stages of the night.

Here are three in particular that stood out:

Bud Dupree to the Steelers at No. 22

Prior to Randy Gregory and Shane Ray’s off field indiscretions in the pre-draft, there may have been a limited number of scenarios where all five of the highly rated pass rushers were not all off the board by the time Pittsburgh was on the clock at No. 22. However, for the eternally defensive-minded Steelers, Kentucky conversion edge defender Bud Dupree fell fortuitously into their lap. Although the secondary absorbed multiple blows this offseason, with Jason Worilds’ shock retirement came the immediate requirement for a pass rushing reinforcement. Dupree (my 10th ranked player overall) was projected by some to go as high as seventh to Atlanta. A height, weight, speed specimen with significant upside, he will luckily not be thrust into a high leverage role prematurely as he — and his raw skill set — acclimatizes to the NFL game.

Shane Ray to the Broncos at No. 23

The 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year’s slide was not unforeseen after being cited for marijuana possession during the very week of the draft, but the Broncos were happy to capitalize. Ray (my 3rd ranked player overall) brings with him to Denver a pleasantly violent on-field demeanor and unmatched motor. Though I view him to be a better fit as a classic 4-3, hand in the dirt, defensive end, simply having him installed opposite Von Miller makes a good unit all the more dynamic. I’d expect him to contribute primarily as a spot rusher while he adjusts to the pro level and (hopefully) adds to his frame.

Malcom Brown to the Patriots at No. 32

Big bodies who can move and affect the passing game are a commodity. For New England, it was fortunate that Brown (my 14th ranked player overall) was able to get past a handful of defensive tackle-needy teams in the twenties — particularly the Detroit Lions at No. 28 who lost both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason. Malcom Brown improved significantly in 2014 and accumulated 13.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. A slippery pass rusher packed into a beefy frame, he boasts an abundance of athleticism for the position as well. Yes, Vince Wilfork is gone, but Brown is not his replacement. The latter is a different profile of player and, unlike Big Vince, won’t have to come off the field in obvious passing situations.

Honorable Mention…

The 49ers trade down two spots and still get their man

Despite the surprisingly sparse amount of trade movement, San Francisco was able to slide down just two spots and take the player they coveted all along. The 49ers went from No. 15 to No. 17, managing to acquire a fourth round pick (No. 117 overall) and a 2016 fifth round pick as well. Fair play to San Diego for getting its man, but quick and easy draft manipulation is always worthy of props.

Let me hear it on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

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NFL Draft Day Two: The 11 Best Available

When the music stops at the cessation of any NFL draft's first day, we're left with a handful of talented players still standing, unselected.

Though the 2015 NFL draft isn't as classically stockpiled with as much overall depth as we've been accustomed to in recent years, there is plenty to monitor heading into the top

When the music stops at the cessation of any NFL draft’s first day, we’re left with a handful of talented players still standing, unselected.

Though the 2015 NFL draft isn’t as classically stockpiled with as much overall depth as we’ve been accustomed to in recent years, there is plenty to monitor heading into the top of the second round.

Of the remaining dancers without a partner, here are the eleven most enticing available:

Jake Fisher, OT. Oregon (6’6″ 306 lbs.)

Former tight end with superior athleticism and quickness off the snap. A potential left tackle in a zone blocking scheme, he gets by on good technique and above-average footwork. There is a Joe Staley element to his profile.

Randy Gregory, OLB. Nebraska (6’5″ 235 lbs.)

Quality movement skills and lower body explosion packaged into a long frame. Though his get-off is sub par as slowly unravels out of his stance, Gregory does well to use his hands to beat blockers. Chase linebacker who plays with effort. If he gets past his substance concerns and reinforces his semi-wiry frame, he could be a major day two bargain.

Landon Collins, S. Alabama (6’0″ 228 lbs.)

Aggressive and tough, Collins is a downhill hammer that finds the football in run and pass defense. Will add a certain attitude to a defense and comes physically ready for the NFL. A lack of ball skills or natural coverage ability prevented him from the first round, but he’s an impact run defender from day one at the strong safety position.

Eddie Goldman, DT. Florida State (6’4″ 336 lbs.)

A lot to be said about big men who can carry their weight well. Goldman is a wrecking ball at the point of attack and can affect the oppositions rhythm with his natural power. He lacks the ability to consistently affect the passing game on third-down, likely limiting him to 3-4 teams.

T.J. Clemmings, OT. Pittsburgh (6’5″ 309 lbs.)

Experienced leader who displays impressive quickness and lateral movement skills. The former defensive end is still constantly learning the nuances of playing on offense, but has long term potential to be a left tackle if he goes to a patient team.

Jaelen Strong, WR. Arizona State (6’2″ 217 lbs.)

Big body target who can prove to be a reliable safety valve due to his ability to adjust and shield defenders away from passes. Lacks explosion and doesn’t consistently make catches off hi frame with natural hands, but there’s an undeniable talent level that should intrigue teams early day two.

La’El Collins, OG/RT. LSU (6’4″ 305 lbs.)

Powerful, thickly-built dual guard or right tackle. A finisher in the run game who eliminates when engaged. Leader with three-years of starting experience. Though he is not a suspect, Collins has a scheduled meeting with police over an April shooting of a pregnant woman. If not for the uncertainty of the situation, he’d have likely been a first round selection.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR. Missouri (6’5″ 237 lbs.)

A laundry list of maturity and off-field concerns are difficult to overlook, but the physical makeup is tantalizing. Fluidity and smooth movement despite carrying a larger, taller frame. Strength and separation of areas of concern, but can extend and high-point over most defensive backs. Can he deal with physical NFL cornerbacks, though?

Jordan Phillips, NT. Oklahoma (6’5″ 329 lbs.)

Beefy 3-4 nose tackle only; decent movement skills. Anchors well and can push the pocket using his supreme length and strength. Won’t provide much of a pass rush, but should contribute from the outset for a team that needs help at the 0-tech. Two down player, but imposing dimensions.

Ronald Darby, CB. Florida State (5’11” 193 lbs.)

Track speed with smooth change or direction and obvious fluidity. Man-coverage capable boundary corner by gives up inside release quite often on film. Lacks top end ball skills, but could make for a very intriguing project to a team in day two. Rather significant upside.

Tevin Coleman, RB. Indiana (5’11” 206 lbs.)

Workhorse ‘back who produced heavily despite playing behind an unimpressive offensive line. Greatest strength is his refusal to go down, but can also be a weakness as he too often looks for the home run. Still, a smooth-cutting between the tackle rusher who can maintain speed off contact. Lacks open-field elusiveness of some others and relatively unproven as a pass catcher.

Honorable mentions…

Jalen Collins, CB. LSU (6’1″ 203 lbs.) – New school boundary corner; size/speed/length.
T.J. Yeldon, RB. Alabama (6’1″ 226 lbs.) – Decisive bruiser with instincts; keeps feet moving.
Eric Kendricks, ILB. UCLA (6’0″ 232 lbs.) – Stat freak with an aggressive downhill demeanor.
Donovan Smith, OT. Penn State (6’6″ 338 lbs.) – Day one starter at guard/right tackle.
Eli Harold, DE/OLB, UVA (6’3″ 247 lbs.) – Gets regular pressure; fluidity to play in space.

Let me hear it on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

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Did the Jets get a steal in Leonard Williams?

CHICAGO—Before stepping to the podium, Leonard Williams audibly exhaled.

Such a reaction was understandable, considering he had slipped to the sixth overall pick, even though most had pegged the 6-5, 302-pounder as the best defensive player — and perhaps the best player overall — in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“It’s like a sigh of relief,”

CHICAGO—Before stepping to the podium, Leonard Williams audibly exhaled.

Such a reaction was understandable, considering he had slipped to the sixth overall pick, even though most had pegged the 6-5, 302-pounder as the best defensive player — and perhaps the best player overall — in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“It’s like a sigh of relief,” Williams said. “I had high expectations for myself, and seeing myself fall was kind of disappointing.”

The Jets didn’t expect him to be available at No. 6 either.

Williams had visited the Jets and was told he’d be one of their main targets if he was there, something they didn’t figure to be the case.

Rumor has it that a shoulder injury caused the defensive lineman, who had 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss during his three years at USC, to slide in the first round.

Williams had surgery following his sophomore season to repair a torn labrum and after workouts he still does extra stabilization exercises to keep his shoulder strong.

After missing spring workouts, however, he returned from injury to have seven sacks and 80 tackles during an impressive junior campaign where he started 13 games.

“I played the whole 2014 season with no problems,” Williams said. “I don’t know why that would have been a factor, so I don’t really believe in that rumor.”

Whether that shoulder rumor led to him falling to the Jets, it meant he landed on a team that had already possessed a strong defense. New York had the sixth-ranked defense last year and added cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who both starred for the team previously, during the offseason.

“I’m glad to go into a defense that’s already well-seasoned up front,” Williams said. “They have a great D-line already.”

That line is led by stout defensive ends Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. In addition to stopping the run, the latter has 16.5 sacks the last two years, a very high total for a 3-4 end.

Following the Jets’ selection of Williams, Wilkerson welcomed him to the club via Instagram.

“That means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to working with those guys.”

Wilkerson, though, could be on his way out. Thee fifth-year player is in the final year of his deal and has skipped voluntary workouts. New York even reportedly listened to trade offers for him prior to the draft.

Williams, who looks very lean in person, is athletic, having run a 4.94 40, and versatile, which allows him play either the three- or five-technique under new head coach Todd Bowles. But he said the Jets told him he would play as a 3-4 defensive end, perhaps making Wilkerson the odd man out.

Bowles, a Bill Parcells disciple, orchestrated the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense last year and likely will not employ four defensive linemen in his base defense.

Williams instantly bonded with his new coach, who he described as a players’ coach, during their visit. Bowles kidded him, saying he would critique his draft attire.

“We were joking around,” Williams said. “I felt comfortable around him.”

The 20-year-old, who has outside interests including ceramics, should also be a good fit in New York as he crosses coasts to plays on the biggest stage.

“I kind of do well being in big cities,” Williams said.

The Big Apple will take to Williams if he can help the Jets bridge the gap in the division, which includes their longtime nemesis and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots led by Tom Brady.

“I know it’s a big rivalry,” he said. “I’m looking forward to tackling a great quarterback like that. I hope that’s the first sack of my career.”

The Jets could make the going tough for opposing offenses in the AFC East. They currently have three defensive lineman (Richardson, Wilkerson and Williams) who were first-round picks, and none is older than 25.

The issue is that by loading up on D-line, the Jets have neglected their offense, which currently looks like it will be quarterbacked by Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick and lacks many weapons beside Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

New general manager Mike Maccagnan must spend Friday and Saturday improving that part of his team.

He used his Thursday to phone Williams, a call that really surprised the All-Pac 12 player.

It was not only shock for the soon-to-be rookie, but it also provided motivation. He vowed to remember the five teams who passed on him.

“I’m looking forward to proving those people wrong,” Williams said, “and most of all proving the Jets right.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Participation Is Voluntary

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, and restricted free agents, like Tashaun Gipson, are prohibited from participating in off-season team activities without signing an NFL player contract.

There is another way for these types of players to participate through an obscure provision (Article 21, Section 9) of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Players who received a tender but haven’t signed an NFL contract and unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired can engage in offseason workouts and minicamps with their previous team while retaining the free agency rights they already have. In order to participate, these players must sign an agreement that contains the standard language the NFL and NFLPA came up with in 2012, which has been incorporated into Article 21, Section 9 of the 2011 CBA as Appendix Q.

Appendix Q protects players in case they are injured while participating in team activities during the off-season. In the case of an injury, a player will receive as a one year salary the greater of his required tender, his applicable minimum salary or the amount negotiated by the player and the team. Participation by a player is voluntarily under this provision so he can withdraw at any time with impunity. In Gipson’s case, his 2015 salary would be $2.356 million with an injury, his restricted free agent tender, since it’s unlikely that the Cleveland Browns would agree to a greater amount in order to get him to participate.

A main benefit to signing a participation agreement instead of an NFL contract is that a player will preserve his option of holding out without subjecting himself to penalties. For example, if Gipson boycotted a mandatory three day minicamp because of a lack of progress on a long term deal after signing his restricted free agent tender, the Browns would have the right to fine him $12,155 for the first day he missed minicamp, $24,300 for a second missed day and $36,465 if he missed a third day ($72,920 total for missing minicamp). If Gipson continued his boycott into training camp, the Browns could fine him $30,000 for each day he missed. These fines can’t occur when players are operating under participation agreements and they can only partake in training camp if they have signed an NFL contract.

Participation agreements have been rarely utilized by players receiving a franchise tender. Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin signed one in 2012 so he could be a part of the off-season program. The Titans rewarded his approach by signing him a five-year, $35 million contract (with $15 million in guarantees) about a month before training camp started.

The player least likely to use this option as a gesture of good faith is Houston. The Chiefs shouldn’t expect to see Houston during the off-season unless he has signed a long term deal. The 2011 third round pick skipped off-season activities in 2014 and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline in 2014 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent this year.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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A Chiefs draft lesson: Why GM Scott Pioli was better than you think

Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years.

Among his biggest gaffes:

  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is

Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years.

Among his biggest gaffes:

  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is better suited as a backup than a starter, to a franchise quarterback worthy deal of six years, $60 million, including $28 million guaranteed.
  • Trading future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick that would be used on Javier Arenas, an average defensive back.
  • Drafting Tyson Jackson third overall — over players like Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews — in the 2009 NFL Draft.

As time has gone on, however, Pioli’s 2009-12 tenure looks much better.

Three of his draft picks, in particular, have proven to be the backbone for a Chiefs defense that allowed the second fewest points in the league last year.

It starts with the 2011 NFL Draft, where his third-round selections accounted for 27 sacks last season.

With the 70th overall pick, Pioli selected outside linebacker Justin Houston, a move that was considered a gamble at the time. Houston starred at Georgia, but his character was questioned for, among other things, testing positive at the NFL Combine for marijuana.

Houston, though, lost weight and has become a hard worker, providing Kansas City its best edge rusher since Derrick Thomas.

Just 26, Houston already has made three Pro Bowls, including his exemplary 2014 season when he had 22 sacks — a half-sack behind Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season NFL record — and four forced fumbles.

Sixteen picks after Houston, Pioli selected Allen Bailey out of Miami (Fla.) The 3-4 defensive end came into his own last year, starting 14 games and recording five sacks.

“He’s continued to improve,” head coach Andy Reid said. “He was good before, but I think he’s really developed into a pretty fine football player.”

Bailey’s speed, range and quickness made him effective on third down from the get-go, but the 6-3, 288 pounder has added weight and honed his technique to make him a more stout, well-rounded 3-4 end.

As a result the Chiefs, who signed Bailey to a four-year, $25 million contract last season, expect the 26-year-old to anchor the edge of their defensive line for years to come.

“The more he’s played, the better he’s got,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “The arrow’s really pointing up on him.”

Bailey’s acquisition also offsets missing on Jackson, who was drafted to play the same position as Bailey, two years earlier. (Jackson now plays for the Falcons, where Pioli is the assistant GM.)

Pioli’s best move may have been his final first-round pick as a Chiefs executive when he drafted nose tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall choice in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Poe may be the best nose in the NFL. He’s that good.

Poe crushed it at the 2012 Combine, running the 40 in 4.98 seconds despite being the fifth heaviest defensive lineman to weigh in at the Combine since 2000. He also bench pressed 44 reps of 225 pounds.

Despite those eye-popping numbers, Poe was considered a workout wonder, and the pick was deemed a question mark. His play on the field at Memphis came nowhere close to reflecting those physical gifts. He had just five sacks over three years, including one as a senior, while playing against weak competition in Conference USA.

Pundits thought that indicated a lack of motor and of real football talent.

Pioli, however, rolled the dice and ended up with a player that not only has a motor, but it’s revved for nearly every play.

Heading into Week 14 of the 2013 season, for example, Poe was in the lineup for 95 percent of Kansas City’s defensive plays, which amounted to 804 snaps and was 85 more than any other NFL defensive tackle.

“It’s a great luxury because very seldom do you have a man as big as he that doesn’t come out,” Sutton said. “He’s a very talented guy.”

Indeed Poe plays so many downs because of his versatility — not just because of his stamina. The mammoth space eater is stout against interior running plays but has chased down screen passes near the sideline.

On obvious passing downs, the 346-pounder can collapse the pocket. The three-time Pro Bowler has 10.5 sacks the last two seasons.

The acquisitions of Poe, Bailey and Houston show that while the Chiefs organization may be in better shape with Reid and John Dorsey running the show, some of Pioli’s moves helped mold the Chiefs defense into one of the league’s best.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Is 2015 the best running back draft in years?

After becoming devalued in the new pass-happy NFL era, the running back position has become a premium asset this offseason.

DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy both signed five-year deals for $40 million or more, and the 2015 draft is loaded at running back.

Most prognosticators believe that this NFL draft will have at least one

After becoming devalued in the new pass-happy NFL era, the running back position has become a premium asset this offseason.

DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy both signed five-year deals for $40 million or more, and the 2015 draft is loaded at running back.

Most prognosticators believe that this NFL draft will have at least one running back selected in the first round for the first time in two years.

Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon and Jeremy Langford head a deep group that could contribute from Day One. Before a knee injury sidelined Gurley, many thought the Georgia runner was the most talented back since Adrian Peterson.

Only time will tell if the experts are correct in predicting the quality of this year’s crop, but here’s a look at what the 2015-ers are up against from the last five RB drafts:

 

2010 — 13 RBs drafted

1st round

C.J. Spiller, drafted 9th overall by the Bills, rushed for 1,244 yards in 2012, but a broken collarbone shortened the explosive player’s 2014 campaign.

Ryan Mathews, drafted 12th overall by the Chargers, has started 53 games and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but he can’t shake the injury bug.

Jahvid Best, drafted 30th overall by the Lions, played in just 22 games before concussions ended his career.

2nd round

Dexter McCluster, drafted 36th overall by the Chiefs, was a running back/receiver and never exemplary at either, though he did make the Pro Bowl as special teamer in 2013.

Toby Gerhart, drafted 51st overall by the Vikings, served as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota and then struggled when given an opportunity for more with Jacksonville.

Ben Tate, drafted 58th overall by the Texans, broke his ankle as a rookie, allowing Arian Foster to take his spot. He ran for 942 yards the next year for Houston but has been on three different teams since.

Montario Hardesty, drafted 59th overall by the Browns, was plagued by injuries and last played in a regular season contest in 2012.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Packers (193rd overall, 6th round), James Starks rushed for 316 yards in the 2010 postseason during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run.

Grade

D: This class not only lacked depth, but the first seven backs selected are no longer with their original team.

 

2011 — 24 RBs drafted

1st round

Mark Ingram, drafted 28th overall by the Saints, had his best year in 2014, rushing for 964 yards and nine touchdowns after battling myriad injuries.

2nd round

Ryan Williams, drafted 38th overall by the Cardinals, has been plagued by injuries, including rupturing a patella tendon before taking a regular season snap and a shoulder injury that ended his second season.

Shane Vereen, drafted 56th overall by the Patriots, emerged as an effective runner, receiver and blocker especially on third downs.

Mikel Leshoure, drafted 57th overall by the Lions, tore his Achilles tendon before playing a regular season down for Detroit and did not play for a team during the 2014 regular season.

Daniel Thomas, drafted 62nd overall by the Dolphins, has averaged under 3.9 yards per carry in each of his four seasons.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Cowboys (71st overall, 3rd round), DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards in 2014.

Drafted by the Patriots (73rd overall, 3rd round), Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012 before fumbling issues put him in Bill Belichick’s doghouse.

Drafted by the Redskins (105th overall, 4th round), Roy Helu surpassed 100 rushing yards in three consecutive weeks as a rookie.

Drafted by the 49ers (115th overall, 4th round), Kendall Hunter averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career before tearing his ACL in last year’s training camp.

Drafted by the Jets (126th overall, 4th round), Bilal Powell started 11 games while rushing for 697 yards in 2013.

Drafted by the Falcons (145th overall, 5th round), Jacquizz Rodgers, a shifty third-down back, has scored 10 career touchdowns.

Grade

C+: Murray can’t redeem a class whose early-round picks had their careers hampered by injuries and that lacks many full-time starters.

 

2012 — 19 RBs drafted

1st round

Trent Richardson, drafted 3rd overall by the Browns, has become one of the NFL’s biggest draft busts of late.

Doug Martin, drafted 31st overall by the Buccaneers, rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie before suffering a shoulder injury and then falling out of favor with the Tampa Bay coaching staff.

David Wilson, drafted 32nd overall by the Giants, retired prior to the 2014 season because of neck injuries.

2nd round

Isaiah Pead, drafted 50th overall by the Rams, carried the ball a total of just 17 times during his three years in St. Louis.

LaMichael James, drafted 61st overall by the 49ers, was relegated to the Dolphins’ practice squad before joining their active roster late in the 2014 season.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Broncos (67th overall, 3rd round), Ronnie Hillman started four games for Denver last year before the emergence of C.J. Anderson.

Drafted by the Ravens (84th overall, 3rd round), Bernard Pierce rushed for 1,334 yards in three years with Baltimore before a recent DUI arrest led to his release.

Drafted by the Redskins (173rd overall, 6th round), Alfred Morris has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,613 during his rookie season, and 4.0 yards per carry each year.

Drafted by the Bengals (191st overall, 6th round), Dan Herron started all three playoff games for the Indianapolis Colts last season.

Drafted by the Rams (252nd overall, 7th round), Daryl Richardson rushed for 475 yards as a rookie.

Grade

D+: A 6th rounder — Morris — is the best of a lot that included major busts in the early rounds.

 

2013 — 23 RBs drafted

1st round

None Selected

2nd round

Giovani Bernard, drafted 37th overall by the Bengals, amassed 1,209 yards from scrimmage during his rookie year while making a slew of highlight plays.

Le’Veon Bell, drafted 48th overall by the Steelers, was initially slowed by knee and foot injuries as a rookie before emerging as one of the NFL’s best weapons in his second season.

Montee Ball, drafted 58th overall by the Broncos, never developed into more than a part-time player as he struggled with injuries and fumbling issues.

Eddie Lacy, drafted 61st overall by the Packers, has become the best back Aaron Rodgers ever played with.

Christine Michael, drafted 62nd overall by the Seahawks, has averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his career, though Marshawn Lynch’s backup only has 52 career rushes.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Chiefs (96th overall, 3rd round), Knile Davis has proven to be a nice complement to the smaller, speedier Jamaal Charles.

Drafted by the Jaguars (135th overall, 5th round), Denard Robinson, the former college quarterback, twice surpassed 100 rushing yards as he grew into his new position during his second season.

Drafted by the Rams (160th overall, 5th round), Zac Stacy started 12 games his rookie year before falling out of favor in his second season.

Drafted by the Raiders (181st overall, 6th round), Latavius Murray surpassed 75 rushing yards three times during the last five games of the 2014 season.

Drafted by the Cardinals (187th overall, 6th round), Andre Ellington has produced 2,078 yards from scrimmage during his two-year career.

Drafted by the Lions (199th overall, 7th round), Theo Riddick caught four touchdowns last year and likely will take on a bigger role after Detroit lost Reggie Bush.

Grade

A-: The second round featured a star back in Bell and two very good ones in Lacy and Bernard. The later rounds unearthed several part-time or full-time starters, which could’ve been even better had 4th rounders Johnathan Franklin and Marcus Lattimore not retired early.

 

2014 — 20 RBs drafted

1st round

None selected

2nd round

Bishop Sankey, drafted 54th overall by the Titans, disappointed as rookie, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry and never registering more than 61 yards in a game. He had as many touchdowns as fumbles.

Jeremy Hill, drafted 55th overall by the Bengals, shined as the star of the class, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and stealing the starting job from Giovani Bernard.

Carlos Hyde, drafted 57th overall by the 49ers, averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year and is poised to assume the starting role in 2015 with Frank Gore off to Philadelphia.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Rams (75th overall, 3rd round), Tre Mason came on strong in the latter part of the season as St. Louis’ main back after not playing in the first four games.

Drafted by the Browns (94th overall, 3rd round), Terrance West started six games for Cleveland.

Drafted by the Vikings (96th overall, 3rd round), Jerick McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry and could become Minnesota’s main back if it parts ways with Adrian Peterson.

Grade

B: This class could produce as many as six starters on 2015 rosters, but Hill is the only Pro Bowl-level talent.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

 

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Free Agency’s Losers

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so well on the open market.

Michael Crabtree (WR): Crabtree took a backseat to 34 year old Anquan Boldin in the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game last season. The 2009 tenth overall pick finished 2014 with 68 receptions, 698 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The 49ers went in a different direction at wide receiver by signing speedster Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract (with $22 million in guarantees). It only took Dwayne Bowe a week to find a new home with the Cleveland Browns once the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Bowe got a two-year, $12.5 million containing $9 million fully guaranteed despite three straight disappointing seasons in Kansas City. Crabtree is willing to be patient to find the right situation. He made $4 million in 2014 during the final year of his six year rookie contract. The odds are against him finding a one year deal for more than his 2014 salary.

Terrance Knighton (DT)-Washington Redskins: It was widely assumed Knighton’s affinity for head coach Jack Del Rio would lead him to the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio had Knighton for three years when he was coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Continuing to play for Del Rio went out the window after Knighton eliminated the Raiders from consideration because of a “low ball” offer. Knighton was reportedly seeking a multi-year contract averaging $8 million per year. The Raiders signed defensive tackle Dan Williams to a four-year, $25 million deal with $15.2 million fully guaranteed instead. Knighton took a one year deal worth $4 million from the Redskins, which includes $450,000 in weight clauses.

Rolando McClain (ILB): McClain was one of the NFL’s best bargains in 2014 while making $700,000. He was retired and hadn’t played in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders released him in the middle of the 2012 season when the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last off-season. McClain was the Cowboys’ best linebacker in 2014 and finished tied for second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Other 2014 Cowboys linebackers quickly found deals on the open market. Bruce Carter signed a four-year, $17 million contract (worth up to $20.5 million with salary escalators and incentives) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Justin Durant received a three-year, $10 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.8 million through incentives) from the Atlanta Falcons. McClain didn’t do himself any favors by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy. He is subject to a fine of four week’s salary for failing three drug tests. His next violation will result in a four game suspension.

The Cowboys are interested in bringing him back but have already signed Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar for middle linebacker depth. Brinkely received a one year deal worth $2.25 million with the Cowboys having an option for a second year at the same amount. Gachkar signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million through incentives.).

Ahtyba Rubin-(DT)-Seattle Seahawks: Rubin’s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million with incentives) is a big departure from his last contract. He entered free agency after completing a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension (with $18 million in guarantees) he signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Rubin, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2014, will provide depth as a part of Seattle’s interior defensive line rotation.

Rahim Moore (S)-Houston Texans: Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal ($4.5 million fully guaranteed) to fill a void at free safety that’s existed ever since Glover Quin left via free agency two years ago. It’s interesting that the Texans made a bigger commitment to an aging Ed Reed in 2013 than to the 25 year old Moore. Reed received a three-year, $15 million contract containing $5 million fully guaranteed when he was approaching 35 years of age. The future Hall of Famer made $5,050,966 from the Texans for appearing in seven games before being released nine games into the 2013 season. Moore is making $5 million in 2015.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Free Agency’s Big Winners

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages $16,666,667 per year) J.J. Watt received from the Houston Texans last September. Suh’s $59.955 million also sets a new standard for guaranteed money with non-quarterbacks. It eclipses the $53.25 million of guaranteed money in the seven-year, $113.45 million contract extension Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012.

Darrelle Revis (CB)-New York Jets: Revis getting a deal to place him at the top of the cornerback salary hierarchy was expected. His five-year contract worth $70,121,060 is clearly superior to other top cornerback deals in key contract metrics. $39 million is fully guaranteed at signing. That’s a little over $8.5 million more than the $30.481 million Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, the NFL’s second and third highest paid cornerbacks (by average yearly salary) have fully guaranteed at signing collectively.

Julius Thomas (TE)-Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars didn’t make Thomas the NFL’s second highest paid tight end because of his blocking prowess. He is expected to remain arguably the NFL’s best red zone threat at the position after receiving a five-year, $46 million deal containing $24 million in guarantees. Thomas sets a new standard for guarantees in tight end deals with the $24 million. $21 million of the $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

Byron Maxwell-(CB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Maxwell hit the open market at the right time. This year’s group of free agent cornerbacks wasn’t nearly as impressive as last year’s group, which included Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner. He received a six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million fully guaranteed. $32 million is in the first three years.

Devin McCourty (S)-New England Patriots: McCourty became the NFL’s second highest paid safety despite rejecting bigger offers from other teams. His five-year, $47.5 million contract contains $28.5 million in guarantees, which is the most ever in guarantees for a veteran safety deal. McCourty also has the best three-year cash flow for safeties with $30 million in the first three years.

Rodney Hudson (C)-Oakland Raiders: Hudson reached his goal of becoming the NFL’s highest paid center with a five-year, $44.5 million contract. The Raiders were smart in using a pay as you go structure with Hudson’s deal. His cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus. Since Hudson’s $7.35 million 2016 base salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2016 league year (mid-March), the Raiders have a window to get out of the deal after the 2015 season without any cap consequences if he doesn’t pan out.

DeMarco Murray (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Murray didn’t capitalize on a dominant season in a contract year as much as he would have at other positions because of the devaluing of running backs. Nonetheless, his five-year, $40 million contract (with $21 million in guarantees and worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) makes him the first running back to switch teams in free agency with a deal over $5 million per year since Michael Turner left the San Diego Chargers for the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.

Dwayne Harris (WR)-New York Giants: The Giants made Harris the NFL’s highest paid player whose primary role is returning kicks by giving him a five-year, $17.5 million contract (with $7.1 million fully guaranteed). Harris was second in the NFL in kickoff return average with 30.6 yards per return and third in punt return average (12.8 yards) during the 2013 season. It’s conceivable that Harris will be New York’s fifth wide receiver behind Preston Parker, who caught 36 passes in an expanded role because of Victor Cruz’s torn patellar tendon in his right knee. To put Harris’ deal in better perspective, Cole Beasley, who was ahead of Harris on the depth chart with the Dallas Cowboys last season as the team’s third wide receiver, recently re-upped on a four-year, $13.606 million contract with $5 million fully guaranteed.

Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: The Packers maintain offensive continuity with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and wide receiver Randall Cobb taking hometown discounts to remain in Green Bay. Bulaga signed a five-year, $33.75 million deal. Cobb’s four-year, $40 million contract containing a $13 million signing bonus, which is the deal’s only guaranteed money, is in line with the four-year, $39.05 million contract extension Jordy Nelson signed during the initial days of training camp last season.

Jeremy Parnell (OT)-Jacksonville Jaguars: Parnell signed a five-year, $32 million deal with $14.5 million fully guaranteed after serving as a backup during his five years with the Dallas Cowboys. He got his most extensive playtime in 2014 by starting five regular season games and both of the team’s playoff games because of ankle and foot injuries to starting right tackle Doug Free. Parnell received a much more lucrative contract than Free, who is two and half years older. Free re-signed with the Cowboys for $15 million over three years. The guaranteed money in Parnell’s deal is almost as much as Free’s entire contract.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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