After a long weekend of fact-finding (and misinformation-farming) for my Sports Illustrated mock draft, which was put to bed Sunday, here are the 10 things I feel good about 10 days before the first round of the draft:
1. Andrew Luck has put to rest questions about his arm strength. I wrote a Luck/Robert Griffin III piece for the magazine this week and unearthed this tidbit from his March 21 workout on the Stanford campus. It was windy that day, with gusts around 15 mph, and Luck chose to throw into the wind.
"Never seen that before,'' said one veteran club official who was on the field at Stanford for the workout. "But I think he wanted to show everybody who had any question about his arm that they shouldn't. The great thing was, his last throw of the day, into the wind, was a go with the ball snapped from his own 30. He dropped back and released it around his 24. That ball went all the way to the goal line, about 75 yards in the air. Perfect spiral. He hit the receiver in stride, and he dropped it. And someone said, 'That's saying take that to Phil Simms.' You know, because Simms said he didn't have a great arm.''
Simms actually said last fall he didn't see "big-time NFL throws ... and not a tremendous amount of power.'' I didn't see much of it either, watching Luck tape last week from Stanford's game against Oregon last season; Stanford plays a lot of power football and a move-the-chains game. But this throw shows some of the power. Take a look.
2. The Browns are the pivot point of the first round at No. 4. You have the big quarterbacks going 1-2, and then Minnesota is praying it can stir up interest at No. 3. Not going to happen, according to the teams I've talked to, because there isn't enough love for another of these five prospects -- tackle Matt Kalil, running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne, wideout Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill to move up to three. Or four.
If the Vikings stay where they are, it's most likely they go for the long-term protector of second-year QB Christian Ponder instead of a desperately needed cover man like Claiborne. Then, Cleveland. I heard different things over the weekend from people I trust. GM Tom Heckert loves Blackmon and that would be his pick; president Mike Holmgren is still trying to decide with finality if Tannehill is the franchise quarterback worth taking here. The safest pick? Richardson, at a need position, even though receiver is a bigger need.
3. The Eagles don't want to trade up from 15 to anywhere between three and eight. It'd cost too much, and I sense their interest in Tannehill has been overstated. Philadelphia has sniffed around the quarterback position through the offseason, which could be a sign they've cooled on Michael Vick as their long-term solution at the position, and the Eagles have been linked to the Texas A&M quarterback because they sent quarterback coach Doug Pederson to the school to work out Tannehill two weeks ago. The Eagles might pay something to move up for Tannehill, but it won't be much, and the move won't be far.
4. In the unlikely event Tannehill makes it out of the top 10, I believe he'll be the 11th overall pick. That spot belongs to the Chiefs. I don't see the Chiefs taking Tannehill. I see Kansas City taking the best offer for the pick, and there will certainly be offers for that pick if Tannehill slips. Still, the most likely scenarios are Tannehill to Cleveland at four or Miami at eight. But why 11? Because teams around the league know how much Seattle loves Tannehill. And you can write this down: If Tannehill were to be there at 12, Seattle would take him, even though the Seahawks just paid medium dollar for Matt Flynn in free agency. That's how much Seattle loves him. "At Tannehill's workout,'' one source told me, "[coach] Pete Carroll was giggling like a schoolgirl watching him throw. His attitude was like, 'What are we even doing here? He'll never be there for us.' ''
5. Jeff Fisher loves Trent Richardson, and the impact of the Rams ending up with the Alabama running back would be huge. First, the Rams would presumably either trade or release Steve Jackson if this happens. I don't see them paying Jackson $7 million in 2012 to share the job with a player certain to eclipse him soon. And that big number takes some logical teams (Steelers, Giants) out of the running for Jackson. Now, I view this scenario as unlikely anyway, because the Rams simply have to get receiver help for Sam Bradford. But if Justin Blackmon is gone here and Richardson's still there, he's logical for the Rams. Of course, Cleveland likes Richardson a lot, and rookie Tampa coach Greg Schiano does too, so I don't see Richardson making it to six.
6. The team you don't want to be in this draft is Jacksonville at 7, because the first-round power grid goes something like this: 2-4-1-Everybody Else. By that I mean the Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III twosome are going at the start of the draft; Kalil, Richardson, Claiborne and Blackmon are the presumptive next four to go off the board, in some order, unless the 1, Tannehill, forces himself in there.
As I did the magazine's mock draft over the weekend, the one thing I found is a cadre of about 20 picks mentioned throughout the round. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the second corner on the board now that Janoris Jenkins' character has knocked him out of the first round, could go anywhere from 7 to 27, defensive tackle Michael Brockers from 9 to 25. So what does iconoclast GM Gene Smith do in Jacksonville? This could be a Tyson Alualu-type draft. A couple of years ago, Jacksonville overpaid for Alualu at 10, unable to trade down a few spots where GM Gene Smith would still be able to take him. Gilmore could be tempting for the Jags.
7. Michael Floyd's a major wild card. The Notre Dame receiver could go as high as 10 to Buffalo; Arizona (13), Cincinnati (17, 21), San Diego (18), Chicago (19) and Cleveland (22) all would love to have a shot at him. Two months ago, the receiver group was Blackmon alone at the top and then a big gulf. Now it's Blackmon edging Floyd -- and I talked to one team in the top 10 with a receiver need that had Blackmon just barely over Floyd entering the final week of board-shuffling. Good for Floyd that he has apparently changed his life to get to this point. A year ago, he was arrested for DUI on the Notre Dame campus, and that came on the heels of twice being cited for underage drinking in his home state, Minnesota. Floyd lived in a freshman dorm with three non-football players, away from off-campus temptations, and had a quiet year off the field and a resurgent year on, and now what seemed impossible 12 months ago is on the verge of happening in 10 days. At 6-2 ½ and 220, and running 4.4 in the 40, the most accomplished receiver in Irish history could crack the top 10.
8. The widest disparity of opinion is on Dontari Poe. Is the Memphis defensive tackle the next Haloti Ngata, or just another winner of the underwear Olympics known as the Scouting Combine? The 6-3 ½, 346-pound Poe ran a tight-end-like 4.9-second 40 at the combine and benched 225 pounds 44 times, which are all-time incongruous. But for a guy with such athletic talent, I heard more comments like, "I see no production,'' or "The guy just disappears in games.'' But one AFC personnel man did compare him to Ngata and said, "He could be one of the most versatile tackles in our league. Ngata didn't come into the league without questions either.'' Here's my biggest question about Poe: For such a marvelously disruptive pocket-presser, how did he have eight tackles for loss and one sack in 12 games last year? I can't see Carolina reaching for Poe at 9, and I can't see Kansas City taking him because of his poor college production, but I do think he'll go somewhere soon after that. I could see Jets coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who had Ngata at Baltimore, thinking they can make history repeat itself with Poe.
9. Falling: DE Melvin Ingram, T Riley Reiff, DE Quinton Coples, G-T Cordy Glenn, T Jonathan Martin.
10. Rising: CB Stephon Gilmore, S Mark Barron, DT Fletcher Cox, OLB Shea McClellin, QB Brandon Weeden, OL Amini Silatolu.
Finally, it's fitting that, on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, Bill Belichick celebrates his 60th birthday. Time to wonder how much longer the 17-year head coach has on the sidelines.
Belichick doesn't seem to age in dog years the way some coaches do. He has said he won't be coaching until he's 70, but no one with the Patriots thinks he's in his final year or two either.
He starts 2012 ninth on the all-time win list, with a 192-104 record, including playoffs. Next to pass: Chuck Knox (193), Dan Reeves (201), Marty Schottenheimer (205). All of those men could be passed this season, if the Patriots excel in the regular season again.
Then we get to the top five: Chuck Noll 209, Curly Lambeau 229, Tom Landry 270, George Halas 324 and Don Shula 347. I can see him passing Noll and Lambeau, but the siren song of his life outside football might be too great for him to coach the seven or eight more years he'd need, realistically, to catch Landry, particularly with Tom Brady getting up there in age. But sometime in the next two seasons, we should see Belichick enter the hallowed ground of the five winningest coaches ever.
"Some people will never understand the feeling of what it means to be an Auburn man. But I'm lucky enough to be able to raise my right hand and be able to say, 'I can.' "
-- Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, part of a poem he read at a ceremony unveiling his statue on the Auburn campus Saturday. Auburn had statues of its three Heisman winners (also Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson) commissioned for campus.
"He beat Robert Griffin 59 to 24, he beat Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl, he beat Landry Jones, he beat Ryan Tannehill. I like Brandon Weeden, as you can tell. I would find something for him to do.''
-- ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, on Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.
"I ain't going to say I was sad because the only thing they remember is that pass. You gotta go back and look at the rest of the games. I wasn't getting no balls, and you had to make some of these plays where some players were open and he is not making the throws. But I don't want to talk bad about Tim, but hey, I am happy we got Peyton."
-- Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to WQXI in Atlanta, via sportsradiointerviews.com, talking about the loss of Tim Tebow and the addition of Peyton Manning.
I don't want to talk bad about Tim? Imagine what Thomas would say if he wanted to be really critical of Tebow.
Interesting that the pass to which Thomas refers is so easily wiped away, minimized, forgotten, whatever. There are Hall of Fame receivers who don't have the kind of electric, scintillating, once-in-a-career moment Thomas had when he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tebow on the first play of overtime to beat Super Bowl contender Pittsburgh in the playoffs in January.
Demaryius, the day you retire, ESPN will replay that 80-yard touchdown pass five times. You'll have to have an incredible career for any play you ever make to eclipse that forgettable, meaningless touchdown that made the earth shake on the field in Denver that day.
In other words, a little gratitude toward the departed thrower of that biggest reception of your NFL career might be nice.
"People need to hear how far-gone this league has gotten and how far removed we have taken ourselves as a society to care about lives less than we care about winning f------ football games. It's unreal to me, man. It's just a sport ... It's exhausting to try and explain why this is wrong to people. There are mothers I've talked to who lost their children because of concussions suffered in youth football. When I listened to the [Gregg Williams] audio, all I can picture are these mothers bawling their eyes out and being so irate that these people don't care about their kids.''
-- Former Saints tackle Kyle Turley, to Alex Marvez of foxsports.com, on why, even though he is a close friend of Steve Gleason's, he supported the release of Sean Pamphilon's audio tape with the inflammatory pregame speech by then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from last January.
This from the mind of the great Gil Brandt:
Amazing the bust factor at linebacker in the last 10 years. Brandt tipped me onto this, and he's absolutely right: Look at the top 10 picks in the draft from 2001 to 2010. Six have been linebackers (if you count Terrell Suggs as a defensive end). The six are A.J. Hawk, Ernie Sims, Keith Rivers, Jerod Mayo, Aaron Curry and Rolando McClain. One of the six has made a Pro Bowl -- Mayo -- and he's made just one. Rivers was traded to the Giants for a pittance of a fifth-round pick on Friday. Curry was dealt from Seattle to the Raiders for a seventh-rounder last year. The Eagles gave up a fifth-round pick for Sims in 2010; he's an unsigned free agent now. Hawk and McClain have been pedestrian at best in Green Bay and Oakland, respectively.
One Pro Bowl linebacker picked in a decade in the top 10 of the draft. Contrast that to defensive linemen: Twenty-six were picked in the top 10 of the draft from 2001 to 2010 -- obviously counting Suggs as a defensive end -- and those 26 have made 29 Pro Bowls.
Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin, from the tiny town of Marsing in southwest Idaho, grew up on Chicken Dinner Road.
"She is gone ... The unsinkable ship ... Lost in the depths ... All around check their watches 2.20 a.m. -- exactly.''
-- @TitanicRealTime, a living history invention by The History Press, with real-time tweets as though they were being sent exactly 100 years to the minute after the ship's ill-fated voyage ended in a sunken ship 100 years ago Saturday night, at 9:20 Eastern (2:20 a.m. Sunday England time).
"Yanks home opener. Elevator door opens and there's Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, why not?''
-- @TylerKepner, ace baseball writer for the New York Times, at 10:14 a.m. Friday, almost three hours before the first pitch of the Yanks home season opener, versus the Angels.
''Sounds like an article from The Onion.''
-- @Andy_Benoit, an NFL writer for the New York Times and CBSSports.com, responding to a ProFootballTalk.com item on Vince Young still seeing himself as a starting NFL quarterback.
1. I think it's cute how Ben Roethlisberger said, "I feel bad for the Sanchez,'' the other day, when asked about Sanchez and Tim Tebow having to coexist. The Sanchez? I've heard of Mark Sanchez and The Sanchize. It must be great to have a first name of "The.''
2. I think this quarterback's decision is going to be a big story because the NFL is covered the way the Washington Post covers Congress. But it's really not a big deal that Drew Brees will miss the opening of the Saints' offseason workout program today. Now if he's not in training camp Aug. 1, we'll have a story. And you'd surely like to have him involved in some of the offseason program. But this is a guy who can call the plays in that offense in his sleep, with most of the main characters the same. The Saints will be fine on offense -- assuming he'll be signed to a one-year or multiyear deal by six weeks before the start of the season.
3. I think being better than his brother on Saturday Night Live will be a tougher task for Eli Manning than beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I'm serious.
4. I think if you love the Saints (or you simply can't agree with the league coming down on them like a ton of bricks for the bounty scandal), know this: The number of players involved in concussion- or head-trauma-related lawsuits against the NFL now is 1,186. Someday those cases are going to get to a courtroom somewhere. And someday Roger Goodell is probably going to have to testify about what an attorney will say is the NFL's lax approach to player safety. Don't think those sanctions were made in a vacuum.
5. I think I was reminded of those 1,186 players when I saw Giants president John Mara say to Giants.com a few days ago that kickoffs could eventually be phased out. I don't want this to happen. I know you don't want this to happen. But the sky hasn't fallen because there were 1,120 touchbacks in 2011 with the kickoff moved from the 30- to 35-yard-line, as opposed to 416 touchbacks in 2010.
"We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it," Mara said. "There's no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game. You see it evolving toward that."
6. I think it's not certain the schedule will be released Tuesday, but the plan is to get it out in time for a prime time TV show. The final document, though, is not done yet. Meaning this: It's written in pencil and the league's probably happy with it, but these things always take extra time because of all the league officials who must sign off on it after considering what is best for every team and the networks. But look for it this week.
Highlight of the first weekend, I would think: Peyton Manning's Denver debut somewhere in prime time on Sunday (NBC) or Monday (ESPN). The Giants and Cowboys kick off the season on Wednesday, Sept. 5 in New Jersey (instead of Thursday) because of President Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.
7. I think the arrival of Lee Evans in Jacksonville -- Adam Schefter said over the weekend Evans will sign today -- means only one thing: The Jaguars still need another receiver. It's Laurent Robinson and Mike Thomas and a cast of Lee Evanses. I wouldn't expect that receiver to come in the first round 10 days from now either.
8. I think every Rams fan will join me in sending condolences to the family of six-time Pro Bowl center Rich Saul, who died Sunday of leukemia at 64. Saul was a feisty fighter who helped build the Rams' bruising identity.
9. I think two teams did nice things over the weekend that should be recognized: The Chiefs announced that owner Clark Hunt will give each season-ticket account-holder a free personalized Chiefs jersey, with a STH (season-ticket-holder) patch on the shoulder. These are the new Nike jerseys that lots of fans would likely have been buying anyway. Now Hunt will be buying them for the fans, one per account. And in Tampa, the Bucs surprised their most veteran employee, Jill Hobbs, who has worked for the team for 35 years, with a personalized Bucs jersey, No. 35, and a check for $35,000. Classy moves, both.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. To all at The Post, the independent student paper at Ohio University that birthed me in this business: Congrats on your 100th anniversary celebration over the weekend. Sorry I wasn't there to celebrate with you.
b. Good luck in your first marathon (Boston) today, Tedy Bruschi. It's going to be historically warm, so be safe. Bruschi's running for the American Stroke Association.
c. Why would Tebow get lustily booed at a Yankee game, which happened last night?
d. Good luck with the New Orleans Hornets, Tom Benson. That's a good civic thing to do.
e. Mike Florio on the abomination of the Flyers-Penguins fight fest Sunday afternoon: "So when do former hockey players start suing the NHL over the referees allowing the players to pound the crap out of each other?''
How can Gary Bettman allow that to stand? I don't care if it's the playoffs. The only way that crap is going to stop is with suspensions. Lots of them.
f. Best three hours I spent last week: sunny Friday afternoon watching Red Sox 12, Rays 2. Fenway spooks David Price. Josh Beckett got 'em out throwing 89-mph fastballs. Odd.
g. Glad I drafted Ortiz.
h. Most interesting 10-minute conversation last week: chatting up Joe Maddon before the game. "Everybody says we're a pitching and defense team, and we are, I guess,'' he said. "But did you know that over the last two years, we're sixth in the major leagues in runs scored?'' That I didn't know. Pleasant fellow. We talked a lot about how much he puts the shift on -- even against lousy hitters. "The information's there for everyone to see,'' he said. "If they're not going to hit it in a certain spot, why play someone there?''
i. Best two hours and nine minutes I spent, non-baseball edition: Watching To Kill a Mockingbird, 50 years after its release. Remind me to watch it again next year. And the year after that.
j. Best TV feature of the week (by far, from what I saw): ESPN's story of Trent Richardson taking cancer survivor Courtney Alvis to her Hueytown (Ala.) High senior prom. "I'm kinda nervous,'' Richardson says as he finishes dressing in a tuxedo for the prom. "I gotta ask her parents if I can take her to the prom.'' Really heartfelt and warm. That was one happy kid. Watch for yourself.
k. Utterly fantastic tribute to the late Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes Sunday night. Loved seeing Wallace sitting on the floor during the Iran hostage crisis, asking the Ayatollah Khomeini how he would respond to charges he was a lunatic.
l. I love Jim Irsay tweeting that he'd like to find the "fowl swine'' who stole Tom Petty's five guitars last week. It's "foul,'' by the way. And my guess is the lousy lout probably doesn't follow Jim Irsay on Twitter.
m. Wouldn't go handing the NL pennant to the Phils just yet, not with a 3 through 8 in the order Saturday against the Mets of Jimmy Rollins, Hunter Pence, John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton, Freddy Galvis, Brian Schneider. Yikes.
n. Heath Bell's last three outings for Miami: 2.0 innings, 17 batters faced, 11 baserunners, six scored. Yikes.
o. Beernerdness: Spring at Fenway, and UFO Hefeweizen on tap in one of the stadium bars. Nothing wrong with that.
p. Coffeenerdness: Finally found a restaurant in Manhattan with good post-dinner espresso. Montebello, on 56th Street in midtown. We'll be back.
q. So long, Rick Cleveland. Been great having you in the business. Mississippi's been lucky to read you for so many years: