Posts by Matt Pearce

Who The First Round Picks Replace: NFC

It has been over one week since the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft took place.

Draft classes have been graded, and the way too early versions of 2017 mock drafts have been posted.

The next step in the offseason are rookie minicamps, which are already underway for some teams.

With the first round

It has been over one week since the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft took place.

Draft classes have been graded, and the way too early versions of 2017 mock drafts have been posted.

The next step in the offseason are rookie minicamps, which are already underway for some teams.

With the first round picks seeing the field for the first time, who are they expected to replace on their respective rosters?

This article just looks at rookies in the NFC. The article on AFC teams can be found here.

Arizona Cardinals: DT Robert Nkemdiche

A player with immense talent, Nkemdiche fell to the Cardinals due to off-the-field issues. After playing defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense at Ole Miss, he moves to 3-4 defensive end in Arizona. Calais Campbell is star at one defensive end spot, so Nkemdiche is replacing veteran Frostee Rucker at the other spot. Rucker, 32, has started 20 games over the past two seasons for Arizona and is a free agent at the end of the season. Nkemdiche and Campbell gives the Cardinals a strong defensive line unit.

Atlanta Falcons: S Keanu Neal

Safety was one of the positions that the Falcons absolutely had to upgrade to get better on defense. Both safety spots are important in a Cover 3 scheme, Incumbent strong safety William Moore was released in February and still hasn’t signed anywhere. Neal comes in and replaces him. Head coach Dan Quinn likely saw some Kam Chancellor, a player Quinn worked with in Seattle, in Neal. Neal is known as a big hitter who speeds down from his safety position to take out opposing players.

Carolina Panthers: DT Vernon Butler

Butler is an interesting selection because he doesn’t necessarily replace a starter on the Panthers roster. Starting defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei are quality players who are free agents after the 2016 and 2017 seasons, respectively. However, Carolina is reported to want to sign both to long-term extensions. This makes Butler the third defensive tackle, a role that belonged to Dwan Edwards last year. He was released in March. Butler will still see the field as a rookie, but it will be as rotational player.

Chicago Bears: OLB Leonard Floyd

Trading up to pass the New York Giants, the Bears selected Floyd, an athletic pass rusher. His best fit early is as a situational pass rusher. This will allow him to develop other pass rush moves and improve his game against the run. Chicago will be able to do this because the players Floyd is replacing are still on the roster. Willie Young is a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, and Lamarr Houston, who isn’t a great fit in a 3-4 defense, can be cut for significant cap savings at any time.

Dallas Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott

In the overall scheme of things, Elliott is replacing DeMarco Murray, who left Dallas for Philadelphia in free agency over a year ago. With Elliott, the Cowboys are trying to recreate their strong run game that they had with Murray in 2014. In terms of the roster right now, Elliott takes over for Darren McFadden. McFadden started 10 games last season and gained 1,089 yards behind the Cowboys’ excellent offensive line. With Dallas’ offensive line, there might not be a better spot for a running back to land.

Detroit Lions: OT Taylor Decker

The Lions looked at offensive tackles all offseason in free agency, but were unable to land one. The team definitely needed a new right tackle and may be looking to replace left tackle Riley Reiff, who has one year left on his contract. Reiff has been serviceable in his career, but can be improved upon. One of the most interesting position battles to watch over the summer will left tackle in Detroit. Which player starts on the left side and which player starts on the right?

Green Bay Packers: DT Kenny Clark

The retirement of B.J. Raji left the Packers with a bigger need on the defensive line. He was a free agent, but the team was expecting to re-sign him. There was some thought that Letroy Guion would move over from defensive end to nose tackle, but Clark’s selection allows the Packers to simply plug Clark into the void left by Raji. Clark is a strong run defender with a good bull rush. He may start off as just a two-down player, but he has the potential to be more than that.

Los Angeles Rams: QB Jared Goff

Back in Los Angeles and desperate for a franchise quarterback, the Rams packaged a bunch of picks to Tennessee to trade up to No. 1 overall. The reward was Goff, who joins the franchise as the instant starter. The Rams’ quarterback position has been unsettled since Sam Bradford first tore his ACL in 2013. Nick Foles and Case Keenum both started games ineffectively last season. Both are still on the roster, but odds are Los Angeles tries to trade one of them by the start of the season.

Minnesota Vikings: WR Laquon Treadwell

Goal No. 1 for the Vikings for the 2016 draft had to be find a new target for Teddy Bridgewater to throw to. The starting unit of Mike Wallace and Stefon Diggs wasn’t putting fear into opposing defenses. Wallace, who never really fit in because Bridgewater doesn’t throw deep often, was released. Treadwell takes Wallace’s spot in the starting lineup, but they are completely different receivers. Wallace is a burner and Treadwell is a physical player who dropped in the draft due to a slow forty-yard dash time.

New Orleans Saints: DT Sheldon Rankins

One of the most important positions in a 4-3 defense is the three-technique defensive tackle (think Warren Sapp and Aaron Donald). This player is responsible for interior disruption. Last season, the Saints relied on 35-year-old Kevin Williams. He played well, but clearly was just a stop-gap solution. The Saints signed Nick Fairley, but he will only be around for one season. The job is clearly Rankins’ to lose.

New York Giants: CB Eli Apple

After missing out on rumored top targets Jack Conklin and Leonard Floyd, the Giants took Apple. On the surface, this seems like a strange selection, as they already have Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback. However, Rodgers-Cromartie turned 30 in April and can be cut for significant cap savings after the season. Finally, teams need to have three good cornerbacks in today’s NFL. Apple will probably have to move inside to the slot at the beginning of his career.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Carson Wentz

A decent argument could be made that Goff and Wentz are both replacing the same player: Bradford. Now in Philadelphia, Bradford started 14 games last season and re-signed for good money this offseason. However, that is only a two-year contract and the Eagles can easily get out of the deal after one season. He asked for a trade out of Philadelphia and started to hold out, but eventually returned to the team. Bradford is the quarterback for now, but Wentz is the future.

San Francisco 49ers: DE DeForest Buckner and G Joshua Garnett

The only team with two first round selections this year, the 49ers improved their trenches with the selections of Buckner and Garnett. The Buckner selection makes it two Oregon defensive ends in two straight first rounds. Buckner and Arik Armstead are the two starters now. Buckner takes over for Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial. The 49ers heavily rotated their defensive ends last season. Dorsey and Dial will be good backups now. Once Alex Boone left in free agency, guard became a big need on offense. Garnett, who San Francisco traded up to acquire, is Boone’s replacement. It is tough to lose an offensive lineman of Boone’s caliber, but the 49ers were proactive about finding a replacement. Garnett is a mauling run blocker.

Seattle Seahawks: OL Germain Ifedi

The entire offensive line in Seattle needs work, so it was no surprise that the team spent a first round pick on one. At Texas A&M, Ifedi played right tackle his last two seasons, but was a guard as a freshman. Seattle is expected to play Ifedi as a guard. Right now, he is penciled in as the starting right guard. Last season, that was J.R. Sweezy, who left for Tampa Bay in free agency. Seattle may reshuffle their offensive line again before the season starts, but right now Ifedi is replacing Sweezy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Vernon Hargreaves III

Tampa Bay’s top two cornerbacks in 2015 were Alterraun Verner and Sterling Moore. Verner was in and out of the starting lineup, and Moore left for Buffalo in free agency. Brent Grimes was added on a two-year contract in free agency, but at 32-years-old, he is only a temporary solution. Hargreaves comes in as a clear starter. His ability to play both outside and inside will help the Buccaneers play their best three cornerbacks. If Verner is able to survive this season, don’t expect him to be on the roster in 2017.

Washington Redskins: WR Josh Doctson

At first glance, this selection may not make much sense. Some NFL fans definitely were asking why would Washington draft a wide receiver with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon already on the roster? Well, both Jackson and Garçon will be free agent after the 2016 season and will turn 30 by then. The selection of Doctson was done with an eye on the future. He may not be needed much as a rookie, but he will be in 2017. With that being said, he is too talented to keep off the field early.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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Who The First Round Picks Replace: AFC

It has been over one week since the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft took place.

Draft classes have been graded, and the way too early versions of 2017 mock drafts have been posted.

The next step in the offseason are rookie minicamps, which are already underway for some teams.

With the first round

It has been over one week since the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft took place.

Draft classes have been graded, and the way too early versions of 2017 mock drafts have been posted.

The next step in the offseason are rookie minicamps, which are already underway for some teams.

With the first round picks seeing the field for the first time, who are they expected to replace on their respective rosters?

This article just looks at rookies in the AFC. An article on NFC rookies will be posted soon.

Baltimore Ravens: OT Ronnie Stanley

Stanley was drafted to be the Ravens’ franchise left tackle, which means incumbent Eugene Monroe is being replaced. Monroe is a good offensive tackle, but he has missed 15 games the past two seasons due to injury. It seems likely that Stanley, a strong pass protector, will take over protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside this season. Monroe is expected to stay around for 2016, but Baltimore can save about $4.5 million in cap space by releasing him next season.

Buffalo Bills: DE Shaq Lawson

When the Bills released disgruntled defensive end Mario Williams, the position became a significant need that was expected to be filled in the draft, as Buffalo doesn’t have much cap room. Lawson, who led the NCAA in tackles for loss last season with 25.5, will take Williams’ spot. Adding Lawson allows the Bills to keep a bigger body opposite of their other defensive end Jerry Hughes, who is a smaller player.

Cincinnati Bengals: CB William Jackson III

For the third time since the 2012 draft, the Bengals selected a cornerback in the first round. Neither of these other two cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) and Darqueze Dennard (2014) have lived up to expectations yet. Cornerback is known as a position that takes a while to adjust to the NFL, but Jackson’s selection puts pressure on these two. Kirkpatrick is a free agent at the end of the season, so he may not be back in 2017.

Cleveland Browns: WR Corey Coleman

The Browns’ wide receiver depth chart wasn’t looking too good before the draft, hence the team drafting four. Coleman instantly comes in as the No. 1 option. Travis Benjamin was the leading receiver in 2015 with 68 receptions for 966 yards and five touchdowns. However, Benjamin signed with San Diego in free agency, leaving Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins as the best options. Coleman, a speedster like Benjamin, seems like a safe bet to fill the void left by Benjamin, if not improve upon his performance.

Denver Broncos: QB Paxton Lynch

Figuring out who Lynch replaces in Denver is simple, but it is a tough task for the Memphis quarterback. All he has to do is replace the most prolific quarterback in NFL history. No pressure, right? Peyton Manning’s performance may have declined in recent years, but he was still Manning and replacing him isn’t as easy as Andrew Luck has made it look in Indianapolis. Lynch may not start at the beginning of the season, that likely falls to veteran Mark Sanchez, but Lynch is sure to see the field as a rookie.

Houston Texans: WR Will Fuller

Houston already has one of the league’s best wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins, but they didn’t have much after him. Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts III were the next two leading receivers for the Texans in 2015. Washington left in free agency, but Shorts is still around. Schematically though, Fuller really isn’t replacing anyone. This is because the Texans lacked a fast, vertical receiver last year. His blazing speed is the main reason he was selected in the first round. It will provide a new element to the Texans’ offense and hopefully take away safety help from Hopkins.

Indianapolis Colts: C Ryan Kelly

The starting center job in 2015 was split between Khaled Holmes (early season) and Jonotthan Harrison (late season). Kelly comes in and is instantly the starter. The Colts released Holmes after the draft, and Harrison may see time at guard now. Protecting Luck was clearly the No. 1 priority for Indianapolis in the draft, as four of their eight selections play on the offensive line.

Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Jalen Ramsey

With the additions of Ramsey and free agent Prince Amukamara, the Jaguars are going to have two new starting cornerbacks. Last year, Aaron Colvin and Davon House saw the most time at cornerback. House’s playing time may be affected the most, as Colvin plays a lot in the slot. However, the Jaguars are expected to play Ramsey a bit in the slot as well. Both Colvin and House are probably going to see a dip in their playing time this season.

Kansas City Chiefs: No First Round Pick

Kansas City didn’t select in the first round after trading with San Francisco. The Chiefs drafted defensive lineman Chris Jones in the early second round, who will take over for the retired Mike DeVito.

Miami Dolphins: OT Laremy Tunsil

The Dolphins capitalized on Tunsil’s draft day fall, selecting the Ole Miss left tackle at No. 13. In the long run, he will be taking over for Branden Albert at left tackle. In the beginning though, there is talk that Tunsil may play left guard for a year or so with Albert still on the outside. Albert has some experience at guard, so he may move inside instead. For 2016, this replaces Dallas Thomas in the starting lineup and in the long term, Tunsil will replace Albert.

New England Patriots: No First Round Pick

New England didn’t select in the first round as they lost the selection as punishment for DeflateGate. The Patriots drafted cornerback Cyrus Jones in the late second round, who will probably be their slot cornerback and a returner as a rookie.

New York Jets: LB Darron Lee

New York needed help at both inside and outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. Lee and third round pick Jordan Jenkins provide the reinforcements. Inside linebacker Demario Davis didn’t play well in 2015 and was allowed to leave in free agency for Cleveland. Lee replaces Davis in the starting lineup. David Harris is the other starting inside linebacker and, at the age of 32, probably only has a few seasons left.

Oakland Raiders: S Karl Joseph

After tearing his ACL in October, Joseph might miss the start of the season while he recovers. When he returns, he will start next to free agent addition Reggie Nelson. Joseph has the difficult task of replacing Raiders’ legend Charles Woodson who retired. Despite Woodson’s age, he put together another great year in 2015. The other safety position last year was a revolving door. Joseph’s job is made easier but playing with Nelson, a second-team All-Pro in 2015.

Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Artie Burns

It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to not see much of Burns as a rookie. Pittsburgh’s defense has a history of not playing rookies much. However, their cornerback play needs a lot of improvement, so he may be pushed into the lineup early. The Steelers will be hoping Burns can be the cornerback they thought they had in Cortez Allen. Allen signed a $25 million contract extension in 2014, but his play quickly declined as he was pushed into a bigger role. He was released this offseason.

San Diego Chargers: DE Joey Bosa

After playing 4-3 defensive end at Ohio State, Bosa will move to 3-4 defensive end in San Diego. This isn’t his best fit, but this will only be in base packages. He will be back on the edge (with some work on the inside) in sub packages. Since he is expected to move around a bit in the Chargers’ defense, it is tough to peg an exact player he is replacing. In base looks, Bosa takes the spot vacated by Kendall Reyes, who signed with Washington in free agency.

Tennessee Titans: OT Jack Conklin

As expected, the Titans added an offensive tackle early in the draft. Depending on who the tackle was, there was talk that Taylor Lewan would move from left to right tackle, but that won’t happen with the selection of Conklin. He’ll go to the right side after playing left tackle at Michigan State. He takes over for Byron Bell who played right tackle for most of 2015 and was re-signed in the offseason. Tennessee needed to improve their protection of quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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2016 NFL Draft Top 20 Defensive Linemen

Every draft class has its strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest strength of the 2016 NFL Draft is clearly the defensive line, where an insane amount of talent is about to enter the NFL.

When evaluating draft prospects, I classify defenders by the following positions: defensive linemen, edge defenders, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.

Defensive linemen is basically a combination

Every draft class has its strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest strength of the 2016 NFL Draft is clearly the defensive line, where an insane amount of talent is about to enter the NFL.

When evaluating draft prospects, I classify defenders by the following positions: defensive linemen, edge defenders, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.

Defensive linemen is basically a combination of 4-3 defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends. So, if you are looking for a player like Joey Bosa, he won’t be in this article, as I have him as an edge defender.

With this in mind, here are my top 20 defensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft.

1. DeForest Buckner, Oregon

Buckner is the near unanimous choice as the best defensive lineman and that is for good reason. Returning for his senior season, the 6-foot-7, 291 pound lineman added another 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss to his impressive résumé. He plays just like you would expect a player his size to and is a better prospect than former Oregon teammate Arik Armstead who was drafted at No. 17 last year. Buckner is a better run defender than pass rusher right now. He is best fit as a 3-4 defensive end and is a lock to be selected in the top 10.

2. Chris Jones, Mississippi State 

While you may know Chris Jones from his unfortunate mishap while running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, he is a legitimate first round prospect. He recorded only 8.5 sacks in college, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Watch his film and you see a defender that was constantly influencing the game. Mississippi State moved him all over their defense, playing end, tackle and even as a blitzing linebacker at times. He needs to become more consistent, but this is a player who fills every size requirement (6-foot-6, 310 pounds with long arms and big hands) while putting together impressive tape in the SEC. He is a top 15 player for me.

3. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville

After dominating at the Senior Bowl, Rankins firmly put himself into round one, and he’ll probably hear his name called in the top half of the round. If you are looking for a three-technique, then he is your guy. He has the quickness to shoot gaps and disrupt plays. Weighing in at 299 pounds and being only 6-foot-1, he isn’t going to be a fit for every defense. However, put him in a defense that let’s him attack upfield and everything will be fine. Productive interior pass rushers can be hard to find, which is why Rankins will go early in the draft.

4. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

Since I don’t have access to specific information regarding off-the-field incidents and medicals, these rankings only take into account on-field talent, which is why Nkemdiche comes in at No. 4. The talented, but troubled, defender has been hyped as a future first round selection since committing to Ole Miss. An elite athlete with undeniable talent, he will put together stretches of quality, disruptive film and follow it with some not so good film. He is still a raw player and never fully put it together at Ole Miss. However, he has the traits that NFL teams are looking for on the defensive line. Questions about him off the field will cause him to fall.

5. Jarran Reed, Alabama

Alabama’s front seven was nearly impenetrable at times last year and one of the main reasons for that was the play of Reed. The 6-foot-3, 307 pound nose tackle dominates at the point of attack and can be nearly impossible to move. He is by far the best run-defending defensive lineman in the draft. While he is a dominant run defender, he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. Despite this lack of pass rush, Reed is still a first-round prospect because of his elite run-stuffing ability. Quality nose tackles have a huge impact on defenses and they usually aren’t asked to do much in terms of rushing the passer, so don’t worry too much about his pass rush.

6. Andrew Billings, Baylor

While Reed is the prototypical, run-stuffing nose tackle, Billings is the rare playmaker at the position. With a combination of power and speed that doesn’t come around very often––especially for players who are 311 pounds––he had 25.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons. There are times you see him running around the field and wonder how he is a nose tackle. Teammate Shawn Oakman received all of the hype entering the season, but there is not doubt that Billings is a better player and prospect by a significant margin.

7. Kenny Clark, UCLA

A prospect who I feel doesn’t get talked about enough on the defensive line is Clark. He is a strong run defender who holds his spot and occupies blockers. UCLA ranked 88th in the nation in run defense last season, but that wasn’t his fault. One player can only do so much. For example, he had strong showings against Arizona and Nebraska, but the two teams each ran for over 300 yards against the Bruins. As a pass rusher, Clark possesses a strong bull rush. Expect to see him come off the board in the early to middle part of the second round.

8. Jonathan Bullard, Florida 

Bullard is a player who can play multiple spots on the defensive line. He can line up at defensive tackle and end in a 4-3 defense and defensive end in a 3-4 defense. At the NFL Combine he said he is best fit as a three-technique. However, he would be undersized here at 285 pounds. A quick player off the line, he makes his biggest impact on opponent’s ground game. With his ability to penetrate gaps and disrupt plays, he would be best utilized in a one-gap scheme.

9. Austin Johnson, Penn State

I feel like Johnson is the forgotten defensive tackle in this draft class. Penn State had one of college football’s best defensive lines in 2015, and he was the glue that held it together. As the one-technique, he constantly took double teams that freed up Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel. Johnson isn’t the type of player who will be making flashy plays all game, but he is a strong run defender who occupies blocks and doesn’t let offensive linemen move him around. With 6.5 sacks in 2015, don’t discount his pass rushing ability either. As a player who does the dirty work of a defense and is always hustling, Johnson is one of my favorite players in the draft.

10. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama

In general, Robinson is one of the more highly rated defenders in the draft. However, I have him at No. 10 in my defensive line rankings. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like him as a prospect. I actually like what he brings to the table as a run defender. The reason I have him at ten is because I don’t see much pass rush from him. He wasn’t a productive pass rusher at Alabama, and I’m not sure these traits will develop for him at the next level. As a 3-4 defensive end, you would like to have pass rush from him to select him in the first round. A 3-4 defensive end that doesn’t rush the pass well is still a valuable asset as long as the player is a quality run defender, which Robinson is. A run defending 3-4 defensive end isn’t a player that you take in a first round, but it is a nice piece to add on day two of the draft.

11. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech

The first prospect from a non-Power 5 conference, Butler made easy work of the competition in Conference USA, recording 23 tackles for loss the past two seasons. Put together his quality tape with a 6-foot-4, 323-pound body with above-average hand size and arm length and you get a NFL prospect who teams will want. Butler is best fit as either a one-technique in a 4-3 defense or a five-technique in a 3-4 defense. It is a good year to be a fan of the Bulldogs, as they have two players that should come off the board by the end of day two in Butler and running back Kenneth Dixon.

12. Maliek Collins, Nebraska

An athletic defensive tackle who likes to attack upfield, Collins is the three-technique to look for on day two. Over the past two seasons, he recorded 23 tackles for loss, but only four sacks. This lack of sacks is concerning, but the entire Nebraska defense struggled in 2015 due to a scheme change. At some times last year he played a blitzing linebacker role, despite his 6-foot-2, 311 pound frame. He has the appearance of a more productive professional than collegiate player.

13. Jihad Ward, Illinois

Every draft there are players that are selected high on the basis of potential. One of these players this year is Ward. In two seasons in Champaign, spent playing defensive end and defensive tackle, he recorded only 4.5 sacks. In fact, he had only 3.5 tackles for loss in 2015. However, this is a player who looks the part (6-foot-5, 297 pounds) and at times flashes the ability to be a quality player. He doesn’t have much defensive line experience and was a wide receiver only a few years ago. Give Ward to one of the better defensive line coaches in the NFL and he could become a special player.

14. Hassan Ridgeway, Texas

University of Texas football has been struggling in recent years, but it produced a good one in Ridgeway. With 9.5 sacks in two years as a starter, a solid argument could be made that he was the Longhorns’ best player. When he was on the field he played well, especially as a run defender. However, conditioning issues and minor injuries limited him to a rotational role that saw him play only about 50 percent of snaps. If these two problems don’t carry over to the NFL, then Ridgeway will be a fine player.

15. Sheldon Day, Notre Dame 

Day is a classic example of a college player who is going to be knocked for being undersized at the next level. At 6-foot-1, 293 pounds, he comes in as one of the smaller defensive tackles in recent draft classes. In college he was able to win on quickness and a non-stop motor, but will this work in the NFL? He can struggle at the point of attack and against double teams. At the Senior Bowl he looked good at both defensive tackle and end. Day may not be an every down player in the NFL, but he should be a player that gives quality snaps in multiple spots, especially as a three-technique.

16. Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State

To be drafted from the FCS level a player needs to have extremely good film. Hargrave goes well beyond this measure. In 2014, he recorded 16 sacks, including a whopping six in one game, and he added another 13.5 in 2015. Watching his tape, it seemed like he impacted every other play and he loved his swim move. In terms of projecting him to the NFL, he is going to face a steep transition in the level of competition. He will no longer be able to just rely on athleticism. Anytime a player is as productive as Hargrave was, especially as a defensive tackle, the NFL is going to take notice.

17. Bronson Kaufusi, BYU

Kaufusi spent 2014 as an outside linebacker in BYU’s 3-4 defense, but made the move down to defensive line in 2015. At 285 pounds, this is where he will play in the NFL. A four-year contributor with 26 career sacks, he has been on the map for a while now. However, a lot of his sacks weren’t a result of his work, but more from mistakes on the offensive line and plays taking a long time. He should be drafted in the third round.

18. Adolphus Washington, Ohio State

The fact that we are still discussing day two prospects at player No. 18 is a testament to the depth and quality of the defensive line class. Considered to be a potential first round pick earlier in the process, Washington is now more likely to go later on day two. He has shown the ability to be a disruptive defender, but it isn’t always there. He played as a three-technique at Ohio State, but he should be able to transition to a 3-4 defensive as a defensive end if need be.

19. Willie Henry, Michigan

Henry’s testing numbers from the NFL Combine are above-average in all areas and it is easy to see that on film. His quickness when playing is obvious and is his biggest attribute. He plays fast and aggressive, but this can also be turned into a negative, as he was heavily penalized (multiple offsides penalties and a silly personal foul against Michigan State). He also has some experience at defensive end. Henry is another player who needs to be able to play more consistently.

20. D.J. Reader, Clemson

Reader is one of the biggest defensive linemen in the draft. He weighed in at 327 pounds at the NFL Combine, but was reported to weigh more at other times. On the field, he uses this size well and his strength is evident. Clemson mostly asked him to clog run lanes in the middle of the line and he did just that. He doesn’t have much pass rushing ability, but that isn’t what a team will be drafting him for. Select him in the middle rounds of the draft and a team will have a dependable run stuffer.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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NFL Draft All-Underclassmen Team (Defense)

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft passed a few days ago, and the NFL has released the list of players who declared.

In all, 96 players were “granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft,” which is two short of the record of 98, set in 2014. To be eligible

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft passed a few days ago, and the NFL has released the list of players who declared.

In all, 96 players were “granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft,” which is two short of the record of 98, set in 2014. To be eligible for the NFL Draft, a player must be at least three years removed from high school. In terms of college eligibility, the players must be at least a junior or a redshirt sophomore.

Another 11 players “fulfilled their degree requirements with college football eligibility remaining.” What this means is the player earned their degree, but still had another year of eligibility. Basically, they are redshirt juniors with a college degree.

This is part two of a two-part series that will look at the best underclassmen in the 2016 NFL Draft. You can find part one, offensive players, here. Special teams players (kicker and punter) were split between the offensive and defensive articles.

Edge Defender: Joey Bosa, Ohio State

Considered one of the front-runners to be selected No. 1 overall since the completion of the 2015 draft, Bosa’s best fit would be as a 4-3 defensive end, but he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. After recording 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss as a sophomore, his statistics fell to five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2015, as offenses focused their attention on him. Just because he didn’t record many sacks this year doesn’t mean he wasn’t producing pressure. Per CFB Film Room, he recorded 24 quarterback hits (which led their charting by seven) and another 24 hurries.

Edge Defender: Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky

If Spence wasn’t ruled permanently ineligible by the Big Ten Conference for multiple positive drug tests, him and Bosa would have wrecked havoc together the past two years (they played together as freshmen). The former five-star recruit spent the 2015 season with Eastern Kentucky, where he dominated the lower competition for 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. Teams will have to do their homework on Spence, but his speed off the edge is sure to entice teams, especially ones that run a 3-4 defense. He is the most talented 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft.

Defensive Tackle: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

Like Spence, Nkemdiche comes with immense talent, but off-the-field issues. Nkemdiche has great athletic ability for an interior defensive lineman. He can dominate offensive linemen, but was inconsistent in his time at Ole Miss, only recording seven sacks and 19 tackles for loss in three seasons. If a team can even out his performance, they will produce one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. How early he gets drafted will depend on how comfortable teams are with him off the field.

Defensive Tackle: A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama

Defensive tackle was the hardest position to choose, as defensive line is probably the deepest position in the draft, and multiple underclassmen will go in the first round. Robinson gets the nod after anchoring the Alabama defense in two seasons as a starter. The Crimson Tide won the National Championship this year with the strongest front seven in college football. Robinson’s statistics, 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, won’t blow you away, but what makes him special are the things that don’t show up on the stat line.

Linebacker: Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

Before suffering a major knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, Smith seemed like a lock for the top 10. Now, his draft status is unknown, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay in the first round––he is just too talented. In three seasons in South Bend, he filled the stat sheet, recording 292 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception. He is at his best when in pass coverage, but don’t underestimate his ability to stop the run. Where Smith gets drafted will depend a lot on the results of his medial exam.

Linebacker: Myles Jack, UCLA

Jack is the definition of the new bread of linebackers, as he will be one of the most athletic players on any field he steps on. At UCLA, he wasn’t used in a typical linebacker role, as he was asked to cover slot receivers a lot. Unfortunately, his junior season was cut short by a meniscus tear. It was recently announced that he is expected to be healthy for the NFL Combine. Jack should be one of the stars at the Underwear Olympics and lock in his spot as a top 15 selection.

Linebacker: Darron Lee, Ohio State

Along with the defensive line, linebackers have the potential to dominate the headlines early in the draft. Smith, Jack, Lee, Reggie Ragland and Su’a Cravens all will be selected early. Lee is still new to the linebacker position, having switched before the 2014 season. With 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and three interceptions, he was instrumental to Ohio State’s success. The Buckeyes’ strongside linebacker can do a bit of everything, and this gives him a chance to go in the first round.

Cornerback: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

Since Hargreaves joined the Gators as a five-star recruit, he has been known as a shutdown cornerback. Listed at 5-foot-11, he doesn’t have the size that some top cornerbacks have. He makes up for this with great fundamentals and technique. In his three seasons in Gainesville he intercepted 10 passes. Hargreaves is in the running to be the first cornerback off the board in April. One thing to follow will be how tall he is at the Combine. If he comes in under his listed height, and there are rumors he will, he could fall down draft boards a bit.

Cornerback: Mackensie Alexander, Clemson

If Hargreaves isn’t the first cornerback off the board, then it will likely be Alexander (depending on how teams view Jalen Ramsey, but more on him later). Alexander owns one of the most impressive statistics in all of college football. In his past 23 games, he has allowed a total of zero touchdowns. In his career, he has only allowed two. Prior to the National Championship Game, which he didn’t finish due to a hamstring injury, he was allowing only 32.7 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, per CFB Film Room. A negative with Alexander is he failed to record an interception in his collegiate career.

Safety: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

Depending on what team Ramsey is drafted by, he will play either safety or cornerback. In 2014, he lined up at safety for the Seminoles, but moved to cornerback in 2015. Personally, I prefer him at safety, where he makes plays all over the field (9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2014). Simply put, he is a playmaker. His tape against Miami in 2014 is one of the most impressive performances from a player in this draft class. Impressively, he started all 41 games in his career. Off the football field, he is an All-American and ACC Champion in Track and Field.

Safety: Vonn Bell, Ohio State

It was a tough choice between Bell and teammate Tyvis Powell for the final safety spot. Bell is a two-year starter who earned a start in the Orange Bowl as a freshman. Ever since that game, he has been making impact plays for the Buckeyes. He intercepted nine passes in his career, including six in 2014, the year Ohio State won the title. If all goes well for Bell in the draft process, he will go on Day Two.

Punter: Eric Enderson, Delaware

Already owning his degree, Enderson decided to forgo his final year of eligibly. A FCS All-American in 2014, he averaged 43.6 yards per punt in his career. Each year his average declined, going from 45 to 44.9 to 41.1 yards per punt.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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NFL Draft All-Underclassmen Team (Offense)

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft passed a few days ago, and the NFL has released the list of players who declared.

In all, 96 players were "granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft," which is two short of the record of 98, set in 2014. To

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft passed a few days ago, and the NFL has released the list of players who declared.

In all, 96 players were “granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft,” which is two short of the record of 98, set in 2014. To be eligible for the NFL Draft, a player must be at least three years removed from high school. In terms of college eligibility, the players must be at least a junior or a redshirt sophomore.

Another 11 players “fulfilled their degree requirements with college football eligibility remaining.” What this means is the player earned their degree, but still had another year of eligibility. Basically, they are redshirt juniors with a college degree.

This is part one of a two-part series that will look at the best underclassmen in the 2016 NFL Draft. Part two, defensive players, will be posted at a later date. Special teams players (kicker and punter) will be split between the offensive and defensive articles.

Quarterback: Jared Goff, California

Quarterback is always the position that everyone wants to know about. This year, Goff and Paxton Lynch headline the non-senior quarterback class and will battle to be the first off the board. Lynch has a high upside, but I prefer Goff, who rewrote the Golden Bears’ record book in his three years as a starter. He could go as early as No. 2, where Cleveland needs a quarterback (again).

Running Back: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

Derrick Henry may be the Heisman Trophy winner, but Elliott is the better pro prospect. A two-year starter, he rushed for over 1,800 yards in 2014 and 2015. At Ohio State, he played his best on the biggest stage, rushing for 625 yards and 10 touchdowns on 83 carries in three bowl games. He has an all-around game that translates to the NFL and the talent to go in the top 15. The biggest question with Elliott is how much value will teams assign to a running back?

Wide Receiver: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

Treadwell entered the season as the No. 1 receiving prospect and nothing he did as a junior changed that. His biggest question mark was the serious leg injury suffered late in 2014. Setting career-highs in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,153), touchdowns (11) and yards per reception (14.1), he proved to be fully recovered and ready for the NFL. The 6-foot-2 receiver could go as early as No. 4 to Dallas, and if he runs well at the combine there will be more speculation about him paired up with Dez Bryant.

Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, Ohio State

Unlike other top receiving prospects, Thomas didn’t put up great numbers in his final collegiate season. The lack of production isn’t an indication of his talent, but a result of the Buckeyes’ offensive scheme and changing quarterback situation. Thomas led the 2014 National Champions in receptions and all receiving statistics in 2015. The 6-foot-3 receiver will likely go late in the first round.

Wide Receiver: Corey Coleman, Baylor

Early in the college football season, Coleman took the nation by storm with a ridiculous 20 touchdowns in the first eight games. After that, injuries decimated the Bears’ quarterback depth chart and their passing game suffered. The 5-foot-11 Coleman won the Biletnikoff Award with 74 catches, 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns. At worst he is a vertical playmaker, but he has the potential to become much more than that. He will challenge Thomas and others to be the second receiver off the board.

Tight End: Hunter Henry, Arkansas

Overall, the tight end class is pretty weak this year. This is good news for Henry, who looks to be the top prospect with O.J. Howard (Alabama) and Jake Butt (Michigan) returning to school. In 2015, he caught 51 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, he possesses great size for the position. He needs to improve as a blocker, but that won’t hold him back from being a high selection. Due to the lack of depth at tight end in this draft, he could sneak into the end of the first round.

Offensive Tackle: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss

One of the premier talents in the draft, Tunsil headlines an offensive tackle class that should put at least four players in the first round. Tunsil missed the early part of the 2015 season due to an NCAA investigation, but this won’t impact his NFL stock. In his first game back, he faced Texas A&M’s star defensive end Myles Garrett and held him in check. With Tennessee needing offensive line help, Tunsil is the early favorite to be taken first overall by the Titans.

Offensive Tackle: Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame

While Tunsil is the consensus No. 1 offensive tackle in the draft, Stanley is the No. 2. Stanley is at his best in pass protection, where he protected the blindside of Fighting Irish quarterbacks for two years after one year at right tackle. If he can improve his strength, he has the potential to become one of the better offensive tackles in the league. With the high demand for offensive linemen, it is likely that Stanley doesn’t escape the top 10 selections on draft day.

Guard: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas

Many of the best guard prospects in the 2016 draft will make the transition from tackle to guard in the pros. Kirkland is one of these players, as he played left tackle at Arkansas in 2015. However, he already has experience at guard, as he spent his freshman and sophomore seasons playing guard for the Razorbacks. After three years on the massive Arkansas offensive line, he is one of the better guard prospects and could be selected on Day Two of the draft.

Guard: Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State

Playing three seasons at Oregon State, Seumalo saw time at center, guard and tackle. NFL teams will love the versatility that saw him start 23 games at center, nine at guard and five at tackle. After missing all of 2014 with a foot injury, he returned and moved to guard, which is his likely position in the NFL.

Center: None

No center declared early for the 2016 NFL Draft. Seumalo can play center, but his expected NFL position is guard.

Kicker: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State

It is rare to see a kicker selected high in the draft, but Aguayo has a chance to be the highest selected in years. No kicker has been selected in the top 100 of the draft since Mike Nugent in 2005. Aguayo is the third most accurate kicker in the history of college football, making 69 of 78 attempts, and he never missed from under 40 yards. If there is an area of concern, it is that he had his worst season in 2015 (missing five field goals).

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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Film Review: Blaine Gabbert’s Touchdown Run

Another excellent Sunday of football has come and gone. The game between San Francisco and Chicago provided plenty of late intrigue, as overtime was forced when both teams scored in the final few minutes.

A four-yard run from Ka'Deem Carey put the Bears ahead with 3:32 left in the game. The 49ers quickly responded on Blaine Gabbert's 44-yard

Another excellent Sunday of football has come and gone. The game between San Francisco and Chicago provided plenty of late intrigue, as overtime was forced when both teams scored in the final few minutes.

A four-yard run from Ka’Deem Carey put the Bears ahead with 3:32 left in the game. The 49ers quickly responded on Blaine Gabbert’s 44-yard run with 1:42 left. Chicago had plenty of time to answer, and Deonte Thompson’s 76-yard kickoff return set up the Bears’ offense for what seemed like the win. However, Robbie Gould missed a 36-yard field goal, sending the game to overtime.

After the teams traded three-and-outs, San Francisco got the ball back and ended the game on one play, hitting Torrey Smith deep for a 71-yard reception.

This was a game that seemed to be in the control of Chicago, but San Francisco was able to pull off the victory.

Using the coaching film available on NFL.com, let’s look at how Gabbert was able to break free for the touchdown run that tied the game. (All screenshots taken from the coaching film by myself.)

Gabbert’s touchdown run came on a third and three from the Bears’ 44-yard line. The 49ers are in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) and line up in shotgun with two receivers on each side of the field, with the tight end in the near slot. Chicago goes with a sub package and rolls down a safety to line up over the tight end, giving a single-high safety look.

At the snap, Gabbert gives a quick play-action fake, but the Bears’s linebackers don’t bite. Gabbert then looks to his left where he has Smith running a deep route on the outside, and Anquan Boldin in the slot running a quick route and sitting down just past the first down marker. Both options are well covered, and, feeling pressure from Willie Young who beat left tackle Joe Staley, Gabbert steps up in the pocket and sees an opening in the Bears’ defense, which allows him to take off for the first down.

Chicago was in man coverage with a safety and linebacker in zone coverage, commonly known as cover 1 robber. (The safety is in the deep middle of the field and the linebacker is in the shallow middle.) A scrambling quarterback can find success against man coverage, as the defenders will vacate certain areas of the field based on the routes of the receivers. Here, the middle of the field opens up as the linebackers split in coverage, one in man against the running back on a swing route, and the robber linebacker moves over to the quick route that Gabbert was initially targeting.

Once Gabbert gets into the open field, the Bears’ defense should be able to bring him down. Despite the fact that he ran a 4.62 forty-yard dash at the NFL Combine, he is by no means known as a running quarterback.

Poor tackling and pursuit angles from the Bears’ defense led to Gabbert breaking through for a touchdown. Looking at the picture below, Gabbert shouldn’t have been able to get out of that situation. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Anderson (No. 58) took too shallow of an angle and was never able to make the play. Another rookie, safety Adrian Amos (No. 38), was the last line of defense and failed to bring Gabbert down. Amos comes up from his deep position a bit too fast. This comes into play when he fails to properly break down in order to make the tackle, and it looks like he slips a little. Still, he was never in great position to make the play. After the game, he explained that he was expecting Gabbert to slide. The last Chicago defender in the picture is cornerback Kyle Fuller (No. 23). Fuller forces Gabbert to cut to his left, and then Fuller is blocked from making the tackle by 49ers’ wide receiver Quinton Patton, who walls Fuller off.

Once Gabbert gets away from Amos, there is no defender to stop him reaching the end zone. Anderson continues his pursuit, but is never able to make the play due to his poor angle from earlier.

Ultimately, multiple factors caused Gabbert to break free, and score the game-tying touchdown. Based on Amos’ postgame comments, how much of the Bears defenses’ failures on the play come from the fact that they are expecting Gabbert to slide?

Another thing to note is that if Young doesn’t get pressure, forcing Gabbert to scramble, he probably throws to tight end Blake Bell, who created separation at the top of his route and had room in the middle of the field.

Giving up this rushing touchdown wasn’t the end of the Bears by any means. Despite allowing this late touchdown, they were in a position to win, but missed the field goal and then weren’t able to score in overtime.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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Michigan State vs Ohio State: NFL Talent Everywhere

Saturday, Michigan State and Ohio State will play their long-awaited game.

For college football, this matchup has a significant impact on the College Football Playoff, as the two teams have a combined one loss.

From the perspective of the NFL, this game is very important as well. How important you ask? Well, an Ohio State spokesman said

Saturday, Michigan State and Ohio State will play their long-awaited game.

For college football, this matchup has a significant impact on the College Football Playoff, as the two teams have a combined one loss.

From the perspective of the NFL, this game is very important as well. How important you ask? Well, an Ohio State spokesman said that 19 NFL scouts have requested credentials for the game.

Both the Spartans and the Buckeyes have future first-round picks and starters throughout their roster. Here is a unit by unit look at the players to watch. Expect to hear a lot of these names in April.

Michigan State Offense

Connor Cook

Connor Cook will lead the Spartans in one of the biggest games of his career.

The prospect that everyone knows from the Spartans’ offense is redshirt senior quarterback Connor Cook, who is the consensus top senior signal caller. Facing the Buckeyes’ defense will be great for evolution purposes, due to all of the talent they possess. However, he suffered a shoulder injury last week against Maryland that saw him leave the game early. He is expected to be ready to play, but how healthy will he actually be? One thing to note with Cook is that he goes through bouts of inaccuracy. His career-best completion percentage is 58.7. Beyond Cook, Michigan State has three more offensive players to keep an eye on. Left tackle Jack Conklin is a potential first round selection and has steadily protected Cook’s blindside for three years. There isn’t anything flashy about his game, but, then again, offensive line play isn’t flashy to begin with. Up next is center Jack Allen, a likely day three pick. Centers rarely receive much love, but their importance to an offense is well understood. By far the breakout player of Michigan State’s season is wide receiver Aaron Burbridge. The 6-foot-1 receiver has caught 65 passes for 1,021 yards and six touchdowns. The senior picked the perfect time to improve his game and he is now firmly on the NFL’s radar.

Ohio State Offense

By far the college team with the most NFL talent right now is Ohio State. Assuming the underclassmen declare, the Buckeyes should dominate the first round of the 2016 draft. On offense, everything starts with electric running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last 15 games. Easily the most underrated part of playing running back is pass protection, and Elliott is perfect in that area this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Like the Spartans, the Buckeyes have a standout left tackle. Taylor Decker may not end up in round one, but he is going to hear his name called early in the draft. Ohio State saw receiver Devin Smith selected early in the second round last year, but they have an even better receiver prospect this year in Michael Thomas, who possesses a filthy double move. He has 45 receptions for 651 yards and eight touchdowns this year. The other Buckeye receiver is Braxton Miller. The former quarterback has transitioned nicely into his new role thanks to his insane athletic ability. Since he is new to the position, the pre-draft circuit (Senior Bowl, Combine, etc.) will be even more vital to his draft stock. Rounding out the Ohio State offense are two lesser known players. Guard Pat Elflein and tight end Nick Vannett aren’t as well known as they other prospects, but they are steady contributors who could come off the board in the middle rounds. Of course, quarterback Cardale Jones is a prospect, but with J.T. Barrett starting, Jones isn’t likely to see the field.

Michigan State Defense

When the Spartans’ defense is on the field, you are probably going to be more inclined to watch the previously mentioned players from the Buckeyes’ offense. This is because Michigan State features only one defender that is a quality NFL prospect, and that is edge defender Shilique Calhoun. If you feel like the 6-foot-5, 252 pound defensive end has been around for a while, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. A redshirt senior now, he has been talked about as a potential prospect since he recorded 7.5 sacks as a redshirt sophomore. With 24 career sacks, he has shown he knows how to get after the quarterback. Right now, he is probably a second round pick.

Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa looks to play a big role Saturday

Ohio State Defense

Without a doubt, the best player on the field Saturday will be Buckeyes’ defensive end Joey Bosa. The versatile pass rusher is sure to top draft boards come April. He statistics may have fallen this season (4.0 sacks compared to 13.5 as a sophomore), but that isn’t because he is playing poorly––it is because offenses are focusing so much attention on him. Alongside Bosa on the Ohio State defensive line is tackle Adolphus Washington, who is likely to be a top 50 selection. He has seven sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss since the start of the 2014 season. The linebacking corps in Columbus features Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, who are both in the discussion to be day two picks. Lee plays strongside linebacker and Perry, whose 124 tackles led the team last year, plays weakside linebacker in the Buckeyes’ 4-3 scheme. Moving to the secondary, safety Vonn Bell and cornerback Eli Apple are two prospects to keep an eye on. Like the other defenders listed here, they both could come off the board early. Bell is a playmaker in the backend who led the team with six interceptions during their title run. Per CFB Film Room, Apple has been excellent in coverage in 2015, allowing only 45.5 percent of balls thrown his way to be caught. Like Lee, Apple is only a redshirt sophomore, so he may not declare for the draft.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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College Football’s Crazy Weekend

College football is arguably the most chaotic sport around. With upsets and crazy games each week, you never know what is coming next. This week, there was full blown chaos and that has nothing to do with major upsets.

Over the span of the last few days the following has occurred: three head coaches fired, one

College football is arguably the most chaotic sport around. With upsets and crazy games each week, you never know what is coming next. This week, there was full blown chaos and that has nothing to do with major upsets.

Over the span of the last few days the following has occurred: three head coaches fired, one head coach retired, one athletic director resigned and one starting quarterback for a nationally ranked team was suspended for the season. Just your normal weekend in college football, right?

Let’s start at the beginning, when a report came out that the University of Maryland was going to fire head coach Randy Edsall after their game against Ohio State.

With a 22-34 career record for the Terrapins, he never found much success with the team, but the timing was strange nonetheless. Edsall was left hanging by the administration and coached what was a lame duck game against the number one team in the nation (Ohio State). The game was tied at 21 early in the third quarter before the Buckeyes pulled away, ending Edsall’s tenure.

What would have happening if he had pulled off the upset though, would he still have been fired? The timing was very strange in this case.

The second head coach to be fired this past weekend suffered a cruel fate as well. Dan McCarney’s North Texas squad was demolished 66-7 at home against Portland State, an FCS school, dropping them to 0-5.

If the loss wasn’t embarrassing enough, consider that the Mean Green paid the Vikings $425,000 to play the game. The North Texas athletic director was so embarrassed by the team’s performance that he fired McCarney right after the game was over in a press conference that occurred instead of normal postgame interviews with the team.

North Texas isn’t a team that is on the national radar and this isn’t what it wants to be in the news for.

Of course, the firing everyone knows about was Steve Sarkisian’s departure from Southern California.

After initially taking a leave of absence from the team, USC decided to fire their second-year head coach just one day later, as they further investigate the extent of his drinking habits. It has been reported that he was drunk on the sideline for the Arizona State game (USC still won 42-14) and had showed up to meetings not sober.

At this point, we can only hope that Sarkisian, who has entered rehab, is able to get the help he needs.

The head coach at USC is one of the most high-profile coaching jobs in the nation and has had its fair share of controversy over recent years, but nothing quite compares to this.

A team that has absolutely stunk it up so far this season is Central Florida, who sit at an ugly 0-6, just two years after winning the Fiesta Bowl. A record doesn’t always give justice to a team’s performance, but the Knights record does.

Feeling the pressure to win, head coach George O’Leary resigned from his position as interim athletic director to focus on his role as the head coach of the Knights.

Was his role as interim athletic director affecting O’Leary’s job as a head coach? Who knows. What we do know is that the Central Florida football team looks like a shell of its former shelf.

Staying in Florida, the state’s highest-ranked team suffered a major loss.

The University of Florida’s turnaround into a top-tier football program again is one of the best stories in college football so far and the team looked to have a clear path through the SEC East. However, they are going to have to finish the season––and start 2016––without starting quarterback Will Grier, who was suspended one year for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.

Grier’s play under center is one of the main reasons the Gators have been playing so well.

No crazy college football talk would be complete without a suspension, right?

The craziest news of the past few days actually broke while I was already writing this article. South Carolina’s head coach Steve Spurrier, the Head Ball Coach himself, announced his retirement, effective immediately.

South Carolina is coming off a down 2014 season (7-6 record) and was on the same path this year (2-4 record), with three top-10 teams left on the schedule.

There had been talk that Spurrier might eventually step down due to the Gamecocks struggles and his age (70), but this move appeared suddenly.

The Head Ball Coach no doubt left his mark on the game. He retires with the 13th-most victories in college football history (228), but he will forever be known for his quirkiness that would have made him a legend even without him being an excellent coach.

I think I speak for everyone when I say there will never be another coach like Steve Spurrier.

Spurrier’s retirement is the perfect cap to an absolutely crazy weekend in college football that will almost certainly never be seen again.

Welcome to college football and don’t forget to embrace the craziness.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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Top 2016 Draft Prospects Coming Off Injuries

Week one of college football is just a few weeks away, meaning we get to see 2016 NFL Draft prospects on the field again and see how they have improved from last season.

Every prospect enters the new season with certain questions about their game and for some, those questions revolve around injuries suffered during

Week one of college football is just a few weeks away, meaning we get to see 2016 NFL Draft prospects on the field again and see how they have improved from last season.

Every prospect enters the new season with certain questions about their game and for some, those questions revolve around injuries suffered during the prior season and how the player will return from the injury.

Injuries are an unfortunate consequence of participation in athletics and championship races at every level are affected by injuries every year.

When evaluating prospects, NFL teams consider many different factors before putting a final grade on a player. One of these factors that can tend to be overlooked by casual, outside observers are injuries. If a player has a history of injuries it can severely impact their draft stock.

Here are five highly-regarded prospects eligible for the 2016 draft that suffered serious injuries in the 2014 season and are looking to show NFL scouts that the injuries should have no affect on their evaluations.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

Entering the 2016 process, Tunsil is considered to be a top-10 prospect by many observers. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior left tackle has been a rock for the Rebels’ offense since stepping on campus as a five-star recruit in 2013. As a freshman in the toughest conference in college football, he allowed just one sack. In 2014, he missed two games in early November due to a partially torn bicep, but was able to return for the Rebels final three games. This wasn’t his most significant injury of the season though. Almost everything went wrong for Ole Miss in their 42-3 loss in the Peach Bowl and that included injuries, as they lost their blindside protector to a fractured fibula. Health is one of the biggest question marks for Tunsil, so an injury-free 2015 season would be beneficial for his draft stock.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

Part of the same recruiting class as Tunsil, Treadwell, the Rebels’ other offensive star, suffered a similar fate during the 2015 season. Trailing Auburn by four points with under two minutes left on the clock, Treadwell caught a screen pass, ran up field and looked like he was going to score, keeping his team’s playoff hopes alive and showing why he will be a highly-regarded prospect. As he was entering the end zone, he was tackled from behind and his leg crippled underneath his body, breaking his tibia and dislocating his ankle. In the process, he fumbled the ball, sealing victory for the Tigers. In two seasons in Oxford, the junior has caught 120 passes for 1,240 yards and 10 touchdowns. Arguably the best receiver in the nation right now, the biggest concern with the 6-foot-2 receiver is making sure his ankle is healthy. Assuming there are no complications, he has the makings of a top-tier wide receiver prospect.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Here is a scary thought for Big 10 defenses: Elliott wasn’t completely healthy for his 2014 campaign that saw him gash defenses for 1,878 yards––including three-straight 200-yard games to finish the season––and lead the Buckeyes to a national title. Due to a broken wrist suffered before the season, he had to wear a cast on his left wrist. This forced him to carry the ball exclusively in his right hand and limited his ability to push away defenders. After the season, the junior had another wrist surgery, which kept him out of Ohio State’s spring practices. Now healthy, Elliott is a good bet to put up even bigger statistics. With Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon III both selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, Elliott has a very good chance of going in the first round in 2016.

Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn

While the first three names on this list are household college football names, Lawson probably isn’t. A five-star recruit, he was an impact freshman for Auburn, recording four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Set to takeover for Dee Ford as the Tigers’ best pass rusher in 2014, his season was over before it started, as he suffered a torn ACL in spring practice. More than a year removed from the injury, the redshirt sophomore is set to take the SEC by storm in Will Muschamp’s scheme. Lawson will play a similar role to Dante Fowler Jr. (who went third overall in the 2015 draft) for Muschamp. Physically, the two are very similar (Fowler is one inch taller and four pounds heavier). Calling Lawson a top draft prospect for 2016 takes some projection, given his limited playing time and redshirt sophomore status, meaning he is no lock to declare for the draft, but consider this: remember how Tunsil gave up only one sack as a true freshman? Well, the player who beat Tunsil for that sack was Lawson.

Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon

The most serious injury of the group belongs to Brown, who almost lost his lower right leg to amputation last November. Facing Utah late in the season, he suffered a non-contact injury and tore two ligaments in his knee. More seriously, a stretched artery caused internal bleeding and was cutting off blood flow in his lower right leg. Quick surgery saved the leg and he is now preparing to play in 2015, though a medical redshirt is a possibility. A return to football is not completely guaranteed after this awful injury, but the senior is making an attempt. The playmaking tight end planned to declare early for the draft after last season, but the injury halted the plan. Every NFL team wants athletic, pass catching tight ends and Brown is just that, catching 25 passes for 420 yards and six touchdowns in 2014, despite missing five games. If Brown is healthy and plays at the same level as he did in 2014, he would probably be an early-round selection.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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Quarterback Contract Extensions: Who Signs Next?

No position in football is more important than quarterback and this is reflected in their contracts. Nineteen quarterbacks average more than $10 million per season in salary, according to Over The Cap.

The latest quarterback to sign a mega-extension was Russell Wilson, who inked a contract worth $21.9 million per year in new money

No position in football is more important than quarterback and this is reflected in their contracts. Nineteen quarterbacks average more than $10 million per season in salary, according to Over The Cap.

The latest quarterback to sign a mega-extension was Russell Wilson, who inked a contract worth $21.9 million per year in new money just before the start of training camp.

It is only a matter of time before the next extension is signed. So, who are the next quarterbacks to have the Brink’s truck parked outside their house?

Eli Manning, New York Giants

A veteran of 11 seasons in New York, Manning is entering the last year of his contract. The two sides have been talking about a new deal and had hoped to have an agreement in place before the start of training camp. Obviously, this didn’t occur. It wouldn’t be surprising if the 34-year old was waiting to see what happened with Wilson. Now Wilson’s situation is resolved, Manning has a new number to base his negotiations off. A two-time Super Bowl champion, he had one of his best seasons in his first year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system. The Giants are trying to find their way back to the postseason and there is no way they can do it without Manning. Expect a deal to get done soon.

Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Around the draft, rumors swirled that the Chargers might trade Rivers. San Diego decided to keep their starting quarterback of the past nine seasons and now they want to sign him to a new contract, allowing the 33-year old to finish his career in San Diego. Rivers has made it known that he doesn’t want to play in Los Angeles, where the Chargers could potentially relocate to and most talk of him not signing a new contract is based off this thought. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report recently reported that Rivers hopes to have a deal in place in a few weeks. This is good news for the Chargers. A contract for Rivers would probably fall slightly short of the deal Manning will eventually receive.

Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams

Acquired early in the offseason in a trade with Philadelphia, the Rams are hoping Foles can be the quarterback to lead the team to the postseason for the first time since 2004. In 2013, the 26-year old put up astonishing numbers, throwing for 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He quickly fell back to Earth in 2014, with his completion percentage falling below 60 while throwing 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight starts. Given his inconsistent history and no professional tape outside of Chip Kelly’s quarterback-friendly system, the best bet for St. Louis would be to take the wait-and-see approach. By no means would Foles break the bank, but he still will command more than $10 million per season.

Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

Easily the biggest unknown on this list, Bradford hasn’t played in a regular season game since Oct. 20, 2013. Two ACL injuries have derailed the career of the former number one overall selection. An essential part of Chip Kelly’s wild offseason, Bradford will put up quality numbers for the Eagles if he can stay healthy––and that is a big if. Due to the uncertainty about his health, Bradford is expected to play out the season on the last year of his rookie contract. This will allow him to maximize his value. Right now, there is no way Philadelphia would sign him to a contract worth a significant amount of money. If he stays healthy, then he will be able to cash in at the end of the season when he will still be 28 years old.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Of the five quarterbacks here, Luck is the only one whose contract doesn’t expire after the 2015 season. Indianapolis exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract in April, putting the 25-year old under contract for $16.155 million in 2016. With two years left on his contract, neither side is going to be in a hurry to put together a new deal. The most likely scenario is he plays out the 2015 season and then signs an extension during the offseason. Luck isn’t likely to sign anytime soon, but when he does, he is sure to become the highest-paid player in the NFL.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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2011 NFL Draft: The Year of the Superstar

Not all draft classes are created equal. The 2011 NFL Draft is a perfect example of this, as it was one of the best in recent history, loaded with players who have gone on to become stars in the NFL.

Starting with the top 10 selections, an astonishing eight players have been selected to a Pro Bowl

Not all draft classes are created equal. The 2011 NFL Draft is a perfect example of this, as it was one of the best in recent history, loaded with players who have gone on to become stars in the NFL.

Starting with the top 10 selections, an astonishing eight players have been selected to a Pro Bowl and have risen to the top of their respective positions.

With the first overall selection, Carolina took the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Cam Newton. By no means is Newton the best quarterback in the league, but he is a rising star and the Panthers recently rewarded him with a contract extension that makes him the third highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

Denver selected next and took Von Miller, who is one of the league’s most productive pass rushers. In his first four seasons, he has recorded 49 sacks, despite missing eight games––which is half of a season.

Marcell Dareus may not receive the publicity that other defensive tackles get––probably because he plays in Buffalo––but he is one of the few elite interior defensive lineman in the league, productive as a pass rusher (10 sacks in 2014) and as a run stuffer.

In Cincinnati, wide receiver A.J. Green has put together four seasons with more than 1,000 yards, including seasons of 97 and 98 receptions, while catching passes from a quarterback who is the definition of inconsistent.

Things don’t slow down at the fifth pick, as Patrick Peterson is considered by many to be one of the rare shutdown cornerbacks and has been an electric punt returner when given the opportunity (four touchdowns as a rookie, including a 99-yard return).

When Atlanta traded up to number six for Julio Jones, they were expecting a game changing wide receiver and they received exactly that. In 2014, he hauled in 104 passes.

Aldon Smith has run into trouble off of the field in San Francisco, but on the field, he has been a force, recording 44 sacks––including an amazing 19 as a rookie.

The first miss of the draft came eight selections in, as Tennessee missed on quarterback Jake Locker. Jacksonville did the same at number 10 with Blaine Gabbert and Minnesota followed the trend with Christian Ponder at 12. Unless your favorite team selected a quarterback in the first round of 2012, odds are they hit on their pick.

After one season at right tackle, Tyron Smith, the ninth overall selection, has locked down the Cowboys’ left tackle position and anchors the best offensive line in football.

Of course, no discussion of the 2011 draft would be complete without the player Houston took at number 11, a certain Justin James Watt. All J.J. Watt has done is become the best player in football.

Teams didn’t have any trouble finding talent after Watt, as Nick Fairley, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Nate Solder, Corey Liuget and Prince Amukamara went in order. All seven of these players are essential pieces on their respective teams.

The talent started to thin out a bit after the top 20 picks, but Anthony Castonzo (22), Cameron Jordan (24), Jimmy Smith (27), Muhammad Wilkerson (30) and Cameron Heyward (31) are all top players at their positions.

In the second round, teams had much more success at the quarterback position with Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick. Neither is without their flaws, but they have led their teams to multiple playoff appearances.

The second highest-paid center in the NFL, Rodney Hudson, went at number 55 to Kansas City and Green Bay took the NFL’s best slot receiver at number 64 in Randall Cobb.

Back-to-back selections in the early third round, numbers 70 and 71, saw the 2014 sacks leader (Justin Houston) and rushing leader (DeMarco Murray) go off the board.

A few picks later, Tennessee found the anchor of their defensive in Jurrell Casey at number 77.

The fourth round was the place to go for a tight end, with Jordan Cameron (102) and Julius Thomas (129) having made a combined three Pro Bowls in the last two seasons.

Fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean the 2011 draft didn’t have contribute at that position. Anthony Sherman, Pro Football Focus’ best fullback in 2013 and 2014, went at number 136 to Arizona. (He really hit his stride after being traded to Kansas City before the 2013 season.) In the seventh round, pick number 211, San Francisco selected Bruce Miller, who finished third and fifth in the same rankings.

Gold was struck on three consecutive selections in the sixth round (172-174). Minnesota started things off by taking Slippery Rock’s finest, Brandon Fusco. Seattle followed with Byron Maxwell (more on the Seahawks later) and Miami finished with Charles Clay. That is three above-average starters in the sixth round on consecutive picks.

The sixth round wasn’t done though, with Philadelphia finding a high-level center in Jason Kelce at pick number 191.

All the seventh round did was produce a Super Bowl MVP for Seattle.

On to Seattle, the team has had so much success drafting in the late rounds, a whole paragraph needs dedicated to the team. The first two days of the draft didn’t produce much to speak of for Seattle, but day three sure did. The day started well, with fourth-round pick K.J. Wright (99). The jewel of the draft was Richard Sherman (154), who is a top two cornerback. (Some people prefer Darrelle Revis, others prefer Sherman.) As already mentioned, Byron Maxwell went in the sixth round. Teams will take any contribution from a seventh round pick, but Malcolm Smith exceeded all expectations, earning MVP honors for Super Bowl XLVIII. The 2011 made major contributions to Seattle’s suffocating defense.

As everyone knows, once the last selection is made, the draft isn’t over. In undrafted free agency, multiple quality players were found including Dan Bailey, Chris Harris Jr., Henry Hynoski and Doug Baldwin. Bailey (kicker), Harris Jr. (cornerback) and Hynoski (fullback) are all in the upper echelon of their positions and Baldwin has been the Seahawks’ most consistent receiver since 2011.

Not every player discussed here is a superstar, as the title of this article would suggest, but they are all quality players produced by an extremely talented draft class––one that will go down in history. In addition, there are a number of talented players that weren’t mentioned in this article.

Simply put, the 2011 draft class was one for the ages and the scary part is that these players are just four years into their careers.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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Broncos Have an Offensive Line Problem

The offensive line of the Denver Broncos had question marks entering Organized Team Activities (OTAs)––and that was before starting left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

By no means is the 28-year old Clady a top-tier left tackle like he was a few years ago, but he was an essential

The offensive line of the Denver Broncos had question marks entering Organized Team Activities (OTAs)––and that was before starting left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

By no means is the 28-year old Clady a top-tier left tackle like he was a few years ago, but he was an essential piece in the puzzle that the Broncos’ offensive line has become.

Earlier in the offseason, the team lost three of their top five offensive lineman from 2014, in terms of total snaps, in Manuel Ramirez (trade, Detroit), Orlando Franklin (free agency, San Diego) and Will Montgomery (free agency, Chicago). Throw in the loss of Clady, and the Broncos will be starting at least four new lineman in week one against Baltimore.

The 2014 offensive line wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire, as Denver started to utilize formations with six offensive linemen to protect quarterback Peyton Manning and better run the football. From week 12 through the Broncos exit in the playoffs (eight games), the team averaged 13 plays per game with six offensive lineman.

The 2014 offensive line was more talented than what the 2015 version projects to be. Currently, the Denver offensive line projects as this:

Left Tackle: Ryan Harris
Left Guard: Shelley Smith
Center: Gino Gradkowski
Right Guard: Louis Vasquez
Right Tackle: Chris Clark

Not exactly confidence inspiring.

Only Vasquez has consistently been a starter at the NFL level, while the other four have spent almost as much time on the bench as on the field.

Pro Football Focus has been taking an in depth look at depth charts around the league and the Denver offensive line didn’t look good. Harris and Smith graded as below average; Gradkowski, poor, Vasquez, high quality, and Clark average. (The grading scale is elite, high quality, good, average, below average and poor.)

Sitting behind these five players are two rookies and a second-year pro. Head coach Gary Kubiak has to be hoping for at least one of these players to step up.

Second-round pick Ty Sambrailo could challenge for the starting left tackle position, and the same goes for fourth-round pick Max Garcia at center. Michael Schofield, a third round selection in 2014, will likely backup Clark at right tackle.

Kubiak, in his first year in Denver, brings his well-known zone-blocking scheme with him. This will help the weak Broncos’ line, but the impact won’t be felt as much in the passing game.

Part of these problems in pass protection will be alleviated by Manning. He is known for his quick release and has the fastest time to throw in each of the last two seasons (2.24 and 2.36 seconds in 2014 and 2013, respectively).

Manning can only do so much to help himself when passing the ball though. He is one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the NFL and, at the age of 39, his performance may start to regress.

A 39-year old, immobile quarterback behind a weak offensive line is not a recipe for success. Manning is a rhythm passer and if he doesn’t have time to throw the ball, the Denver offense won’t be going anywhere this season.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13

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All-Free Agent Team (Special Teams)

Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft,

Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft, hence the reclassification of the players.

With this in mind, there are still some players on the market who could help your favorite team reach the playoffs in the 2015 season. As teams suffer injuries in minicamps and other team activities, expect to see these free agents sign with teams.

Earlier, I posted the best offensive and defensive free agents. Rich Eisen taught us that punters are people too, so we can’t forget about special teams players!

Kicker: Shayne Graham

An All-Pro kicker in 2005, Graham is no longer one of the best in the NFL, but he held down the kicking job for the New Orleans Saints last season. Attempting 22 field goals, he made 19––a field goal percentage of 86.4. The 37-year old was perfect inside of 40 yards and his three misses came from 41, 42 and 51 yards out. The free agent kicker market is bare and Graham is the best of the bunch.

Punter: Mat McBriar

If the kicker market is bare, then the punter market is empty. McBriar is the only punter on the market with a regular season punt, according to Spotrac’s free agent list. Australian born, the 35-year old has been a mid-season replacement for Pittsburgh and San Diego the last two seasons. In three games for the Chargers in 2014, he averaged 46.9 yards per punt, but had net average of only 35.4 yards. While his average would have been the fourth best in the league, his net average would have ranked dead last if he had enough punts to qualify.

Long Snapper: Christian Yount

Recently waived by the Browns, Yount has plenty of experience at long snapper. Yount, 26 years old, joined the Browns in the middle of the the 2011 season and held down their long snapper position since then. He spent 53 games in Cleveland as their long snapper, giving teams plenty of tape to analyze his snaps.

Return Specialist: Josh Cribbs

A two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, Cribbs is one of the most decorated return specialists in recent history. After eight seasons in Cleveland, Cribbs, soon to be 32 years old, spent 2013 in New York with the Jets. His kick return average of 24.5 yards was 12th best in the league. Playing for the Colts in 2014, he averaged 32 yards per kick return and 6.6 yards per punt return. Just one kick return shy of qualifying, his average would have led the league. Cribbs is no longer the speedster he used to be, but he is still a savvy returner.

Special Teamer: Jarrett Bush

A core special teams player for the Packers since joining the team in 2006, Bush has racked up plenty of special teams tackles over the years. Since 2007 (when Pro Football Focus started tracking), he has 75 special teams tackles. There is no cumulative tackle rankings, but the 31-year old Bush is sure to be high on that list.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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Potential Hard Knocks Storylines

The 10th edition of HBO's Hard Knocks has been announced for the 2015 season and the cameras will be following the Houston Texans during training camp.

This is the first time that the Texans will appear on the television series. (Only Dallas and Cincinnati have appeared twice.)

While the series focuses on the team as a

The 10th edition of HBO’s Hard Knocks has been announced for the 2015 season and the cameras will be following the Houston Texans during training camp.

This is the first time that the Texans will appear on the television series. (Only Dallas and Cincinnati have appeared twice.)

While the series focuses on the team as a whole, every year there are certain storylines, players and coaches that play essential roles. Who could fill that role in 2015?

J.J. Watt

The most dominant player in football right now, Watt is likely one of the main reasons the Texans are on the show. Even if you aren’t a Houston fan, you have to appreciate what he is doing. His devotion to the game is well known and now everyone will get an inside look at how he prepares for the season. There is no doubt that Watt will be one of the stars of Hard Knocks this year.

Quarterback Competition: Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett

Despite an unsettled quarterback position, the Texans were able to finish the 2014 season with a 9-7 record, just missing the playoffs. This year, there will be another battle for the quarterback spot, this time between Hoyer and Mallett. Hoyer joins Houston from Cleveland, where he had the Browns playing relevant football again. Mallett re-signed with the Texans after starting two games last season before tearing a pectoral muscle, sidelining him for the season. Will the veteran Hoyer or the strong-armed Mallett line up under center for Houston next season?

The Return of Jadeveon Clowney

The number one overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft, Clowney was one of the best defensive prospects to enter in the NFL in recent years. However, his rookie year didn’t go as planned. He suffered a knee injury in week one and then returned to play in weeks eight, 11 and 12 before being shut down for the year. In early December, he underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee. Microfracture surgery is known not only for long rehab times, but a lot of players never return to the same level. How will Clowney recover from this surgery? Hard Knocks should give us an inside look.

Bill O’Brien

Head coaches play an essential role in Hard Knocks for obvious reasons. O’Brien is entering his second season as the head coach of the Texans. Despite very little contribution from his rookies and playing four quarterbacks, O’Brien reversed the Texans’ fortunes last season, turning them into a 9-7 squad, just a year removed from going 2-14. Coming from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, O’Brien probably isn’t thrilled to be featured on Hard Knocks. In spite of this, he is going to be a key person in the television series.

Arian Foster

Known as one of the best NFL players to follow on Twitter, Foster is not only the Texans’ star running back, but a character perfectly suited for the Hard Knocks environment. Houston will rely on the 28-year old running back for heavy offensive production again this season. In training camp, he is sure to provide a few memorable moments, just like he has done on Twitter.

Replacing a Legend

For just the second time in franchise history, the Houston Texans will take the field without wide receiver Andre Johnson. The only other time was the first season in franchise history, which was a year before the Texans drafted him. After 12 seasons in Houston, their legendary receiver is now playing with division rival Indianapolis. Replacing Johnson will mainly fall upon the shoulders of DeAndre Hopkins, who actually had more receiving yards and touchdowns than Johnson last season.

Breakout Star: Mike Vrabel

The former New England outside linebacker, best known for his exploits as a goal line tight end, is currently the linebackers coach for the Texans. A rising star in the coaching world, the 39-year old enters his second season with the Texans after three years as an assistant at Ohio State, his alma mater. Vrabel is already well known due to his playing career, but Hard Knocks has a chance to catapult his coaching career.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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All-Free Agent Team (Defense)

Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft,

Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft, hence the reclassification of the players.

With this in mind, there are still some players on the market who could help your favorite team reach the playoffs in the 2015 season. As teams suffer injuries in minicamps and other team activities, expect to see these free agents sign with teams.

Earlier this week, I post looked at the best offensive free agents left.

Defensive End: Dwight Freeney

With 111.5 career sacks, the 35-year old Freeney has been one of the best pass rushers since entering the NFL in 2002. An Indianapolis legend, he has spent the last two seasons in San Diego and has recorded a total of four sacks in 20 games. While he may not be taking down the quarterback as much as he used to, he is still getting pressure. He had 40 quarterback hurries last season, tied for the ninth most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Freeney is no longer an every down player, but he can contribute as a pass rushing specialist.

Defensive End: Red Bryant

Bryant is almost the exact opposite of Freeney, offering run stuffing ability, but not much in the way of pass rushing. Playing in Jacksonville, he recorded 23 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in 2014. The 31-year old did the dirty work for the Jaguars, clogging run lanes and freeing up other defenders. While he was PFF’s third worst pass rushing 4-3 defensive end, he was tied for the third best in run defense. Every team needs a player who stops the run on the defensive line.

Defensive Tackle: Barry Cofield

Prior to missing eight games last season due to injury, Cofield, 31 years old, had missed just one game in his first eight seasons. Most nose tackles are run defense specialists, but Cofield made a habit of getting to the quarterback in 2012 and 2013, recording a combined five sacks, 24 quarterback hits and 43 quarterback hurries in these seasons, per PFF. Interior pass rush is the toughest for offenses to stop, so defensive coaches are always on the look out for players with Cofield’s ability.

Defensive Tackle: C.J. Mosley

Due to the performance of Mosley’s namesake in Baltimore last year, the 31-year old defensive tackle is now the “other” C.J. Mosley. Thrust into the starting lineup last year with Nick Fairley injured, Mosley filled in admirably and the highly regarded Detroit defense didn’t appear to miss a beat. He can start if needed, but is best fit as a backup who plays about 20 snaps per game.

Linebacker: Lance Briggs

For the first time in Briggs’ career, he won’t be playing in Chicago. After 12 seasons and 1,173 tackles, the the Bears decided not to re-sign him. Over the last two seasons, the 34-year old has been limited to a total of 17 games due to injuries. When on the field in 2013 and 2014, he has been productive, averaging just over six tackles per game. Plenty of teams could use help at linebacker and San Francisco has expressed quite a bit of interest. Expect to see Briggs sign with a team soon.

Linebacker: Geno Hayes

After starting 25 games at outside linebacker for the Jaguars the past two years, Hayes is still looking for a job. With Jacksonville, the 27-year old recorded 128 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. PFF graded him as their 12th best 4-3 outside linebacker last season (out of 40 qualifiers). An undersized linebacker (226 lbs), he won’t be a fit for most teams, but on the field he has been productive.

Linebacker: Jacquian Williams

The New York Giants have gone through quite a few linebackers in recent years and Williams is one of them. In four seasons at the Meadowlands, he started 22 games and recorded 243 tackles and two sacks from his outside linebacker position. Before ending 2014 on injured reserve, he had 77 tackles in nine games. The 26-year old Williams isn’t likely find another starting job, but he can be a solid backup for teams.

Cornerback: Tarell Brown

Brown has spent his entire eight-year career in the Bay Area, spending seven seasons with the 49ers and one season (2014) with the Raiders. He has been a starter since 2011, though he probably won’t find a starting job at this point in free agency. With Oakland, he allowed 62.7 percent of passes to be completed against him for a quarterback rating of  91.7, per PFF. There won’t be any repeats of 2012 (his best season), but the 30-year old can still be a solid cornerback in the NFL.

Cornerback: Carlos Rogers

A teammate of Brown since 2011, Rogers, 33 years old, has started 123 regular season games in his 1o year career. Playing just seven games last season before a knee injury ended his season, Rogers struggled in coverage, allowing 84.6 percent of passes to be completed against him for a quarterback rating of 116.3. This completion percentage was tied for the worst in the NFL out of qualifying cornerbacks, per PFF. Rogers has lost a step, but if a team loses a cornerback to injury, he will be on the short list for many general managers.

Safety: Dawan Landry

Since 2010 (five seasons), few safeties have been as productive as the 32-year old Landry, who has recorded 515 tackles without missing a game. A veteran of Rex Ryan’s blitz happy defenses (Landry has played for Ryan in Baltimore and New York), Landry was PFF’s ninth best safety last season. A reunion with Ryan in Buffalo would make sense. Expect Landry to join a new team by training camp.

Safety: Bernard Pollard

Known for hard hits and injuring Patriots’ players, the 30-year old Pollard puts the strong in strong safety. A box safety, he is part of a dying breed in the NFL, as teams are looking for versatile safeties who excel in coverage. Coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon, he must prove his health to teams before they sign the outspoken safety, who requested his release from Tennessee in order to join a winning team.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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All-Free Agent Team (Offense)

Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don't count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft,

Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft, hence the reclassification of the players.

With this in mind, there are still some players on the market who could help your favorite team reach the playoffs in the 2015 season. As teams suffer injuries in minicamps and other team activities, expect to see these free agents sign with teams.

The defensive free agents will be posted at a later date.

Quarterback: Michael Vick

As Vick has aged, his play has declined and he is no longer the best athlete on the field. Soon to be 35 years old, he won’t be confused for a starting quarterback anytime soon, but he could be a backup for plenty of teams. In one of his three starts last season, he led the New York Jets to a 20-13 upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers, while throwing for two touchdowns. His quarterback rating in these three starts was 83.1.

Running Back: Pierre Thomas

A staple of the Saints’ offense for years, the 30-year old Thomas is one of the better pass catching running backs in the league. He is coming off an injury-shorted season, but still caught 45 passes for 378 yards. While he has never played outside of Sean Payton’s diverse scheme, Thomas has attributes that can be transferred to any offense in the league. He can contribute as a third down running back for most teams.

Wide Receiver: James Jones

Released by the Oakland Raiders after the draft, Jones was the best receiver in Oakland last season. With a rookie under center (Derek Carr) and a lack of other talent on the offensive side of the ball, Jones caught 73 passes for 666 yards and six touchdowns. Prior to that, he played in the receiver friendly Packers’ offense. There won’t be any repeats of 2013 where he caught 14 touchdowns, but the 31-year old Jones can still be a solid receiver in the NFL.

Wide Receiver: Donnie Avery

Injuries limited Avery to just six games (three starts) in 2014, but prior to that he was a productive receiver for Kansas City and Indianapolis. Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he caught 100 passes for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. Soon to be 31 years old, Avery isn’t a spectacular receiver, but he can be a contributor for a team looking to add a veteran presence to their offense.

Wide Receiver: Wes Welker

One of the best slot receivers in history, Welker’s performance has sharply declined recently. Last season, he caught 49 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns and appeared to be a shell of his former self at times. At 34 years old with a concussion history, his career is close to over. There is a chance he could come in and contribute as a fourth receiver for some teams.

Tight End: Jermaine Gresham

If not for back surgery earlier in the offseason, Gresham would have been off the free agent market by now. Teams are waiting for his back to heal before giving him a look. Soon to be 27 years old, Gresham caught 62 passes last season, but this is an inflated number from Andy Dalton regularly checking down to him. Assuming his back progresses nicely, expect him to be with a new team by training camp.

Offensive Tackle: Jake Long

A former first overall pick, talent isn’t the question with Long––it is his health. The 30-year old hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2010 and is currently rehabbing a torn ACL, which was suffered in week eight. This is the second year in a row that he has torn his ACL, causing teams to stay away. Once healthy, Long should sign a contract with playing time incentives and little guaranteed money.

Offensive Tackle: Anthony Collins

One of the prized free agents in Tampa Bay’s 2014 haul, the 29-year old Collins lasted just one season with the Buccaneers, in what was his first season as a full-time starter. He fell from Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) 23rd rated offensive tackle in 2013 to 63rd in 2014. With the ability to play either tackle position, most teams would love to have him on their roster, but he is likely holding out for a starting position.

Guard: Justin Blalock

Since entering the league in 2007, Blalock has started 125 out of a possible 128 games for Atlanta, the only team he has ever played for. Released in a salary cap move, the 31-year old has been a top 30 guard the last two seasons according to PFF. He isn’t a top guard, but he could be a quality starter for a team.

Guard: Rob Sims

Sims is in a similar situation to Blalock, being 31 years old and having started 94 out of the last 96 games for Detroit and Seattle. Sims wasn’t as good according to PFF, ranking in the top 40 the past two seasons, but that is still a serviceable level. Sims is the type of guard who you can improve upon, but you could also do much worse than him.

Center: Chris Myers

One of the best centers in the NFL over the last few seasons, Myers has started 128 straight games for the Texans and Broncos. At 286 lbs, he is undersized for the position, but has thrived in zone blocking schemes as a run-blocking center. The 33-year old has received a few looks as a free agent after Houston cut him for salary cap reasons. If he goes to a team with a zone-blocking scheme, he should have another successful season.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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NFL Draft Lottery?

Tuesday night, the NBA had their annual draft lottery, which can completely change the nature of the draft. While that didn't occur this year, it has in the past.

Of the four major American sports leagues, the NBA and NHL employ a type of draft lottery, while the MLB and NFL don't, preferring a draft that is solely the

Tuesday night, the NBA had their annual draft lottery, which can completely change the nature of the draft. While that didn’t occur this year, it has in the past.

Of the four major American sports leagues, the NBA and NHL employ a type of draft lottery, while the MLB and NFL don’t, preferring a draft that is solely the inverse of the standings.

Could the NFL change to a lottery system? Technically, yes. There is nothing stopping commissioner Roger Goodell, the owners, and the NFLPA from doing this, but it won’t happen.

One of the aspects that separates the NFL from the other major American sports leagues is parity.

Going back to the 2010 season, at least one of the teams selecting in the top two of the draft has gone on to either make the playoffs or still be in the playoff race entering week 17.

Part of the reason for this is rewarding the worst teams with the best draft selections. In a lottery system, the team with the worst record can end up with the fourth selection. Usually a team drafting that high is searching for a franchise quarterback and in any given draft, there aren’t four franchise quarterbacks. Teams already have enough trouble finding a franchise quarterback. There is no need to make that even harder.

The NBA draft lottery was created as a measure to stop teams from tanking. While some teams are still employing this tactic (I’m looking at you Philadelphia), the lottery has been an effective measure for the NBA.

Looking at the NFL, tanking isn’t a problem. No team is putting out a roster full of scrubs in order to try and secure a higher draft selection.

On any given Sunday, anything can happen. Tampa Bay owned the first overall selection in the draft, yet they defeated the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers in week four. New England ended up winning the Super Bowl, yet three of their four losses came against teams that didn’t even make the playoffs.

Every team harbors playoff dreams at the beginning of the season, and this carries on for most of the year.

As a fan, you can root for your team to lose late in the season, if the season is lost, in order to improve draft position. The players and coaches on the teams aren’t going to do that though, as their jobs are at stake.

The main reason there is a draft lottery in other leagues is to stop teams from intentionally losing. The NFL doesn’t have this kind of problem, so there would be no need for a NFL draft lottery, though it would provide even more intrigue to an already dramatic event.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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