Heading into the combine, the NFL Network analyst spreads the good word on the best quarterback, the deepest position group and more. Plus items on the Browns’ big decision, an offseason read and a new NFL doc
Never been a big combine fan. I’ve always felt it (in part) bastardizes the draft class by getting fans and some scouts and coaches all heated up when some average college player runs fast and jumps high in Indianapolis, and pushes that so-so player up the draft board. Gratuitously.
Stephen Hill. 2012. Georgia Tech receiver. Caught 49 passes in his college career. Big guy: 6'4", 215. Ran a 4.30 and 4.31 in the 40-yard dash at Indy. Much frothing over Hill around Lucas Oil Stadium. Jets traded second-, fifth- and seventh-round picks to move up to take Hill in the second round. Hill caught 45 NFL passes, total. Out of football now.
But it is the start of the draft season, and I do have an inordinate amount of respect for Mike Mayock, who cares so much about his craft and is not afraid to admit when he errs—as he did publicly and with much hand-wringing about thinking Johnny Manziel had turned his life around three years ago.
So when he says this from his Pennsylvania bunker, taking a break on Friday from watching five game tapes of every prospect of import, I listen:
“This is as good and as deep a class as I’ve seen in a draft in several years—with the exception of quarterback and offensive line. Running backs and tight ends, top end and depth are outstanding. Tight ends—I haven’t seen a group like this in years. Wide receivers, very good. Defensively, it’s unbelievable. The edge rushers … we haven’t seen a group like this in a long, long time. You’ll be able to get a starting edge rusher in the fourth round that last year or most drafts you’d compare to an edge rusher in the second round. Cornerbacks and safeties, it’s the best I’ve seen in 10 years at least.”
Hmmm. With some Stephen Hill-ian perspective, let’s go over the Ten Things Mayock Thinks About the 2017 NFL scouting combine.
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• Mayock thinks he has no idea which quarterback is best. “Not a great class, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t talent there,” he said. “The talent at the top end is not ready to contribute anytime soon. Two or three years down road, though, is your owner patient? Your fan base patient?” Mayock says put DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes in any order. “I do top-five lists, and this was the toughest I ever remember at any position. An intriguing class, for different reasons. All have holes in their games, all a little inexperienced.” This was the best thing Mayock said: “I try to focus so that I am not mired in old-school philosophy. But one thing that really bothers me is a one-year starter at the quarterback position. I like Trubisky, but 13 college starts bothers me for a top 10-pick. Look at his bowl game against Stanford. Some great throws in the last two minutes. But also a throw on a wheel route that a DB returned for a pick-six. What’s he thinking?” Kizer, he says, is the most compelling. “I think he has the most upside, the highest ceiling. But he is 12-11 as a starter at Notre Dame. He played a lot of bad football with the game on the line in the fourth quarter this year. That is not acceptable. But he is 6'5", 235. He has that kind of prototypical franchise quarterback look, a Philip Rivers type … if he gets everything right.”
• Mayock thinks he is fascinated by Deshaun Watson. “The positives I love: 28-2 as a starter in the last two seasons, played his best when the lights were brightest, embraces the moment—and you cannot discount that. As you watch him play, what it really comes down to: He’s gonna have the same conversation in draft rooms as Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota, RG3, Johnny Manziel, all of these spread quarterbacks: Can he win from the pocket? I’ve done five games of his. When his post-snap look matches up with pre-snap, when he gets what he thinks he’s gonna get, he can make every throw with accuracy on all three levels, no question. When his post-snap look is different from pre-snap, he struggles.”
• Mayock thinks the backs are dreamy. “There are five backs this year that you can give a first-round grade,” he said, “and the average number of backs to go in the first round in the last five years is 1.2.” He has Florida State’s Dalvin Cook one and all-world Leonard Fournette of LSU two, because he thinks Cook’s a better all-around back and has been healthier. To get the value out of Fournette, he says, you must treat him like Ezekiel Elliott and plan for 25 touches a game. He also likes Alvin Kamara of Tennessee and thinks without the off-field problems Joe Mixon would be a first-round pick. With the problems? Maybe in the Tyreek Hill, fifth-round range.
• Mayock thinks Christian McCaffrey is a great match for the team picking 32nd. I said to Mayock, “Wouldn’t New England—where every game plan is a snowflake, so different and so diverse—be a perfect landing spot for McCaffrey?” The Patriots select last in the first round, and Mayock said: “I would be surprised if he lasted that long, but I am in 100 percent agreement with you. The NFL’s become a matchup league, and Christian McCaffrey is a matchup player. You can line him up anywhere: the I, slot, all the way out wide, sidecar to QB, he becomes a chess piece for a smart offensive mind. He will run 4.5 or better, and I’ve never seen him get caught from behind. He’s going to be a very good NFL player.”
• Mayock thinks the lesser wideouts will be very good pros. He’s like everyone: Mike Williams (Clemson), Corey Davis (Western Michigan) and John Ross (Washington) are the cream. But at the Senior Bowl, Mayock fell in love with two great-hands guys: Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington and Zay Jones of East Carolina. “Every year, when Eastern Washington played a PAC-12 school, Cupp dominated, so that eliminated any question to me about level of competition,” Mayock said. “Zay Jones … what hands. No fear.”
MORE ON THE COLLEGE QBS: Deshaun Watson, in the Eyes of Pro Experts | Who Is Mitch Trubisky? | DeShone Kizer and the Fraternity of the Golden Dome QB | In Search of ‘The Next Carson Wentz’ | Chad Kelly Has Questions to Answer
• Mayock thinks the edge guys could set a record this year. It’s not surprising to say seven or eight defensive linemen could go in the first round. But seven or eight pass-rushers in the first round? That’s a great class. Mayock said he would be surprised if the Browns do not stick at number one and take Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who at 252 pounds is six pounds heavier than Von Miller was at the combine six years ago, and was just as impactful around the corner as Miller was in college. The first pick, Mayock thinks, will be one of two players: Garrett or Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. That leads us to a non-first-rounder, but one of Mayock’s favorites …
• Mayock is a Philly guy, so forgive him for this, but he thinks the hidden gem in the edge class and maybe the draft is a guy from his ’hood (Villanova). The son of a chemist from Uganda and economist from Ivory Coast, rusher Tanoh Kpassagnon (repeat after me: TAWN-o pass-N-yoh) had 21 tackles for loss at the I-AA level last year. “He has no idea what he’s doing,” said Mayock, “but he was really good at the Senior Bowl, and it’ll be interesting to see what he runs. Lots of teams love him.” Look for him to go in the late-second-round range.
• Mayock thinks J.J. Watt’s brother could sneak into the first round. “He could,” Mayock said. Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt declared early for the draft after one very good pass-rush season (15.5 tackles for loss, including 11.5 sacks). Like his brother, T.J. is a Tazmanian Devil in terms of motor, but Mayock compares him to another frenetic player. “The easy comparison is [Green Bay’s] Clay Matthews. He’s an edge rusher who fits best into a 3-4 system. He has a similar game to Clay—an edge who can drop in coverage and has a motor that just won’t stop.”
• Mayock thinks the defensive backfield will be fascinating in Indy. Think of these two Swiss army-knife players: Jabrill Peppers of Michigan and UConn’s Obi Melifonwu. Peppers was king of the versatile guys going into the Senior Bowl—he is probably the third safety in the crop, and could play nickel or even a light linebacker. But Melifonwu could run in the low 4.4s, and if he does, the buzz will start about trying him at corner. That’s crazy talk, a 6'4", 219-pound guy playing NFL corner, but imagine the matchup nightmare he’d be if he had the quickness to cover quick-twitch tall receivers. Of course, no one in the NFL does that, and even the 6'1" Jalen Collins got beaten on dig routes and double-moves in the Super Bowl by Tom Brady. So no one knows if the college safety could transition to cornerback. But as Mayock said. “I know NFL guys who think, ‘I’d love to try him [at corner]. Let’s see if he fails.’ That’s where the NFL is going. A big, very athletic guy, and instead of thinking him automatically as a safety who may be able to play linebacker, now we’re thinking of him as a safety who just might be able to play cornerback.”
• Mayock thinks the elephant in the room might be best off being out of the room. Two elephants, actually. Quarterback Chad Kelly and running back Joe Mixon, in particular, are two good prospects who won’t be in Indianapolis because they’ve had major disciplinary and/or criminal problems off the field. “Remember Michael Sam?” Mayock said. “For him it was a circus at the combine. Here is what I think is going on, and it’s worth a conversation. I almost think it’s an advantage Mixon won’t be there. He won’t get poked and prodded from 5 in the morning to midnight for two days at the combine. He won’t deal with all the questions from all the teams. We know Joe Mixon is gonna be in the NFL next year. Tyreek Hill went in the fifth round last year, after all his trouble in college, and the Chiefs got away with one, and he’s been clean off the field since the draft. Every team will vet him.”
Mixon punched a woman in the face in 2014 and was kicked off the Oklahoma team for the season. He did later return, but the video of the incident has haunted him and caused the NFL to ban him from the combine. Albert Breer of The MMQB spoke to Mixon, who said he was not upset about being excluded from the combine. “It’s not in my hands, to make that decision,” Mixon told Breer. “At the end of the day, I respect the NFL not inviting me. And I’ve got another opportunity to show what I can do, at the pro day … They came up with a decision. And like I said, I respect it.”
Breer will write in-depth about Mixon later this week here at The MMQB. For now, be ready to get inundated by combine talk. Mayock and NFL Network will bring the event into living rooms Friday through Monday, beginning at 9 a.m.
We’ll have staffers of The MMQB on hand, writing later this week. We’ve got some good stories working, so check back often.
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You Need to See This Documentary
Jeff Chadiha and I used to write about football at Sports Illustrated, and I have a lot of respect for him. If you’d ask me to describe Jeff in a word, I’d say, “thoughtful.” That’s what made him a good reporter. Not many preconceived notions, and he’d go at his subjects thoroughly and deliberately.
This is what he has done with a new NFL Network documentary called “The Conversation,” which debuted Sunday night at 11 p.m. It’s about America’s reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem during the 2016 season. Chadiha went from coast to coast to talk to thoughtful people across the spectrum of American football—from longtime Niners and civil rights conscience Harry Edwards, to a Howard University cheerleader who kneeled during the anthem, to Denver linebacker and Kaepernick sympathizer Brandon Marshall, to 60-year Niners fan Ernie Giachetti in the parking lot before a game (“I was disappointed; he disrespected the flag … he lost me,” Giachetti said of Kaepernick), to a shop owner in Colorado Springs respectful of the cause, and, most powerfully, to a white police officer in Norfolk, Va. That officer shot and killed a 19-year-old African-American, and he relives the fateful moment with Chadiha on the streets of Norfolk. Those few minutes, without question, are the most riveting in the documentary.
“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career, and the most challenging,” Chadiha said Saturday night. “It started off early in the season as a four-minute feature, and it just evolved. Our goal was to show both sides, and to have people articulate what they were really thinking.”
Chadiha is an African-American. I don’t think he wants you to come away from this hour choosing sides. He wants you to see that there are two sides, and both deserve your respectful attention. Case in point: He went on ride-alongs with the police and says in the documentary: “You don’t realize how much danger there is out there. You don’t realize how difficult the job is for a police officer.” But throughout he shows footage of seeming overreactions by other police officers, and he gauges the public response, around football and around America.
The whole piece is smart. Thorough and pensive and smart.
At the end, Chadiha passes along his observations of the time he spent examining football, and America. He says: “When you start something like this, you don’t really know where it’s going to lead. You don’t know what you’re going to get. I thought a lot about my own son, who is 4 years old now. The way I grew up is going to be totally different from the way he’ll grow up. The world is becoming more aware of inequality. … There are issues in this country that can end your life. I want him to know that there are dangers out there. There are also reasons to feel good about the world, and where we’re going.
“So I am encouraged that more people are able to see the plight. The question is, ‘How willing are people to get involved and make a change?’ It can’t just be the players doing this. It just can’t be their supporters. It has to be a lot more than that. That to me is where the big divide is. Through it all I think I’ve heard honesty. People giving real opinions, which to me was the whole point of all of this. You can’t really start to make a change until people start being real with themselves, and real about how they feel about the world.”
NFL Network re-airs “The Conversation” tonight at 9 ET. Re-airs after that should be plentiful. By the way, it is not just Chadiha who should get the credit here. NFL Network associate producer Jen Karson had the kernel of an idea, and producer Trent Cooper saw it through along with Chadiha. Congrats to them for a powerful hour.
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The Challenge of the Combine
This has been driving me crazy. Why is it harder to find a very good offensive lineman at the top of the draft than to find a quarterback there?
I could argue that it is hard. Look at the five drafts between 2011 and 2015. Look at the top half of the first round of each of those drafts. Look at the linemen, and look at the quarterbacks in the top 16 overall picks each year. I’ll make the argument that only six of the 16 linemen picked look like winners, while a higher percentage of quarterbacks look like solid picks.
In the following graphic, I list the overall pick for each of the players, with a “+” denoting a good player, a “-“ denoting a poor player, and a “+-” for a player still on the bubble. The toughest call was listing Ryan Tannehill on the bubble, though he’s better than the other bubble quarterback, Blake Bortles, at this point.
|Year||O-Lineman (Team)||Pick||Quarterback (Team)||Pick|
|2015||Brandon Scherff, G (WSH)||5 (+)||Jameis Winston (TB)||1 (+)|
|2015||Ereck Flowers, T (NYG)||9 (-)||Marcus Mariota (TEN)||2 (+)|
|2015||Andrus Peat, T (NO)||13 (-)|
|2014||Greg Robinson, T (LAR)||2 (-)||Blake Bortles (JAC)||3 (+-)|
|2014||Jake Matthews, T (ATL)||6 (-+)|
|2014||Taylor Lewan, T (TEN)||11 (+)|
|2014||Zack Martin, G (DAL)||16 (+)|
|2013||Eric Fisher, T (KC)||1 (-)||E.J. Manuel (BUF)||16 (-)|
|2013||Luke Joeckel, T (JAC)||2 (-)|
|2013||Lane Johnson, T (PHI)||4 (+)|
|2013||Jonathan Cooper, G (ARI)||7 (-)|
|2013||Chance Warmack, G (TEN)||10 (-)|
|2013||D.J. Fluker, T (SD)||11 (-)|
|2012||Matt Kalil, T (MIN)||4 (-)||Andrew Luck (IND)||1 (+)|
|2012||Robert Griffin III (WSH)||2 (-)|
|2012||Ryan Tannehill (MIA)||8 (+-)|
|2011||Tyron Smith, T (DAL)||9 (+)||Cam Newton (CAR)||1 (+)|
|2011||Mike Pouncey, C (MIA)||15 (+)||Jake Locker (TEN)||8 (-)|
|2011||Blaine Gabbert (JAC)||10 (-)|
|2011||Christian Ponder (MIN)||12 (-)|
OL hits: 6. Misses: 9. Jury out: 1.
QB hits: 4. Misses: 5. Jury out: 2.
I’ve always thought the failure in taking offensive linemen—and teams began to do something about this last year in the draft—was projecting linemen from spread offenses in college football to be able to make the transition easily to the pro game. In so many college programs (it’s overly simplistic to say, but many Big Ten and Midwestern programs are more pro style than spread), tackles don’t put their hands down; on most downs, they’re in two-point stances, with their hands ready to punch rather than having one hand on the ground, crouching in a classic pro tackle stance. In the NFL, they’re going to be expected to put that hand down most often.
I did not include the players from the 2016 draft here; it’s too early to judge players after one season. But the initial reports on the 2016 top of the first round may show us that teams are learning, and taking into account the style of play of the linemen. Three of the four linemen taken in the top half of the first round—Ronnie Stanley (Baltimore), Jack Conklin (Tennessee) and Taylor Decker (Detroit)—had good to very good rookie years. The jury is out on Miami draftee Laremy Tunsil, who played guard last year and will move to his more natural spot, tackle, in 2017. Interesting to note: Stanley, Conklin and Decker are all Midwestern players from programs playing more of pro style. Let’s see what teams do in the draft this year, and let’s see if the 2016 way becomes a trend.
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Browns Are on the Clock, in More Ways Than One
Cleveland has such an embarrassment of riches in the draft that soon they’re going to run out of reasons why they can’t win. Last year the Browns had 14 overall picks, the most they’ve had in a season since they had 15 in 1979. [Ozzie Newsome had just finished his rookie year at the time of that draft.] This year Cleveland enters the draft season with eight picks in the top 150 … two more than any other team in the NFL in the top 150.
The picks: 1, 12, 33, 52, 65, 108, 142, 145.
In a way it’s almost cruel that such a crop of picks falls in an overall mediocre year for the quarterback position. If the Browns don’t trade for a promising quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo, or try to steal a franchised quarterback like Kirk Cousins (well, he’s likely to be franchised by Washington) in free agency, then they’ll be in a tough spot in this draft. There’s no logical quarterback to take first overall if going by grades; surely Myles Garrett or Jonathan Allen, likely the top two defensive players on the board, will have grades superior to any quarterback in the draft. But with all the teams high in the draft that will need a quarterback (San Francisco at 2, Chicago at 3 and possibly the Jets at 6 and Bills at 10), the Browns may be in a very tough spot. They may have to over-draft the quarterback they love (if there is one) or risk losing him before they can pick again at 12. Or they may have to trade a significant amount of draft capital to pair with the 12th pick to move up.
I feel for Browns coach Hue Jackson and GM Sashi Brown. Despite letting go three quality offensive players in Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and Taylor Gabriel, they’ve done a lot of right things in the past year. But the crying need for a quarterback in a year where there’s no sure thing will test every brain in the Cleveland organization, including top scout Andrew Berry and strategist Paul DePodesta. What’s the right thing to do when there’s no obvious right thing to do? For a team that’s 4-33 since Thanksgiving 2014, it’s another crucial—and likely tortured—decision to have to make.
What would I do? Though I continue to think the Patriots won’t trade Garoppolo, I’d offer the Patriots the 12th and 65th picks for him. (This is only if the Browns really like Garoppolo, which I hear they do.) No other team in the league will offer such a lucrative package, and even if Bill Belichick doesn’t want to trade him, it’s likely he’d be tempted by that deal.
I know that so many Browns fans are anti-Garoppolo because of his limited sample size, and I understand that, and I get that the 12th and 65th picks in a very good draft should be Day 1 contributors. But there’s also the matter here of hoarding draft picks, and becoming slaves to them. Cleveland fans have gotten used to the draft being their Super Bowl. It’s time to sacrifice something significant to get a quarterback. If there’s a QB you love available in April, no package is too rich to get him.
It may come down to this: Do you have more faith in Garoppolo or in one of the rookies to be the best option for the future of the Browns? If you believe one of the kids in the draft is, then you shouldn’t feel bad about the Browns picking him first overall. The quarterback workouts are Saturday on NFL Network. (This week is Plug Central for NFL Network.) Lovers of the Browns should eat up the workouts.
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The Dominant Combine Story
In his SI.com media column, Richard Deitsch often surveys people in the field about a specific question or issue, and I’m thieving from him today. I asked a few draftniks entering scouting combine week: “What’s going to be the dominant story angle coming out of the combine this year?”
Todd McShay, ESPN
“The tight end and running back droughts end in 2017. We haven’t had a tight end selected in the first round of the past two drafts. This year’s group features two that belong in round one: O.J. Howard (Alabama) and David Njoku (Miami). Both are expected to test extremely well in Indianapolis. We’ve only had three first-round backs in the past four drafts. This group could have up to four: Leonard Fournette of LSU, Dalvin Cook of Florida State, Alvin Kamara of Tennessee and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. Final note: One of the three most talented backs in this class was not invited to Indy, Joe Mixon. First-rounder on tape … but which team is willing to take a chance, and at what point of the draft, on a player who knocked out a young lady, and it’s on tape for everyone to see?”
Chris Burke, SI.com
“The wide receiver position is too important, and too many teams are lacking weapons there, for Corey Davis and Mike Williams to be the only two wideouts taken in round one. The combine will throw a few more names into the hat, especially with Davis sitting out drills because of an ankle injury. Washington’s John Ross can fly and might solidify himself as a first-rounder, but he’s not alone. Prospects like Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech), Curtis Samuel (Ohio State), K.D. Cannon (Baylor) and Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma) are well-built for the combine’s athletic testing. Will Fuller, now of the Texans, helped push his stock into the first round by breaking off a 4.32-second time in the 40-yard dash at last year’s event, and those named above—and several others—could pull a similar trick this time around. This is a deep receiver group that’s going to open some eyes in Indianapolis.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
“This is the deepest group of cornerbacks and safeties I’ve seen in a very long time. I think we’ll all be gushing about this secondary class following this year’s combine. I currently have 10 cornerbacks in my top 50 list, and I could easily add another four to five names based on what I’ve studied thus far. I think we will be blown away after watching the on-field workouts. All of them have an impressive combination of size/speed, and they are very fluid movers. The safety group has a nice mixture of over-the-top free safety prospects and rolled-up box safety types. The personnel community will be giddy after watching them run, jump and move around on the field.”
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report
“The biggest storyline coming out of the 2017 combine will be the athleticism of Leonard Fournette. He’s been a forgotten man for much of the season due to the ankle injury that sidelined him and then the fact that he wasn’t eligible to compete in the Senior Bowl. That will change next week. Fournette is a beast at 6'1" and 235 pounds, and I’ve been told in training he was running in the low 4.4s in the 40-yard-dash. That’s unreal. His overall numbers will best those of Derrick Henry and be on par with Ezekiel Elliott. The running back may not be a premium draft pick anymore, but elite athletes like Fournette are always prioritized at the top of the draft order. Leaving Indianapolis, Fournette should be talked about as a top-five player.”
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com
“Many tend to judge draft classes by the quarterback prospects and although this year’s crop doesn’t have a clear-cut number one overall candidate, it is not a weak class. North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes are the top four, and while each of their games has holes, each is also uniquely talented with NFL starting potential. But what order will they come off the board? How many in the top 10? Will another quarterback work his way into the mix? With several NFL teams searching for an upgrade at the position, the quarterback dominoes will start to fall at the combine and give us a better idea of how the quarterback market will all shake out.”
Josh Norris, RotoWorld, NBCSports.com
“The 40-yard dash. ‘Who ran fast?’ What Bill Walsh called the universal measurable has been the athleticism identifier at the combine. That is wrong, and we need to progress our understanding and interpretation of NFL combine results. Shining in one area does not make a top athlete, and I would throw in Chicago running back Jeremy Langford as an example. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine in 2015, which led all running backs. The rest of his workout was below average, but he was labeled as a top athlete due to the singular run. Each test and result should be factored in with a prospect’s weight in order to create a composite score. That composite score, from a consistent formula, can act as an athletic profile. Too many, including NFL teams, misunderstand how to identify athleticism and use it as a tool.”
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Quotes of the Week
“I’ve never been to the combine. You can’t watch anything. It’s a waste.”
—ESPN’s Mel Kiper, to The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler, in “Talking Football.”
That’s a little bit like Peter Gammons saying he’s never been to the World Series.
“Ed literally built us into a union, thanks to his brilliance and loyalty to the players.”
—NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, on former union leader Ed Garvey, who died last Wednesday of Parkinson’s disease at age 76.
“I think we did set a record for coaching there the longest under the present ownership. I take pride in that. Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal for that.”
—University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, on San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami’s podcast, on coaching four seasons with the 49ers under owner Jed York.
“You can put a chip in the ball, but then you better put a chip in the guy’s knee, too. The ball is one thing, but it’s not over until the knee hits the ground or the shoulder hits the ground. So how accurate is that going to be?”
—Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now with FOX, on “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King” this week.
Mike Florio had an interesting take about the placement of a chip Friday at Pro Football Talk. Suppose the chip is in the end of the ball opposite the side of the ball that barely breaks the plane of the goal line. Do you then put in four or six chips in each ball, to be sure whatever part of the football breaks the plane has a chip in it? Sometimes I think you have to accept that you can’t account for every exigency that might occur in a game.
“Trailblazers are rightly remembered for being the first. Bernie Custis, the first black professional quarterback in the modern era starting with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951, should be revered as well for being one of the best.”
—Canadian Football League commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, to the Associated Press, via Pro Football Talk, on the death last week of Custis.
There is an asterisk there around “modern era.” Hall of Fame coach/quarterback Fritz Pollard actually played the position in the 1920s (which was significantly different in those days—more of a running back) for the Akron Pros. Then George Taliaferro played quarterback for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference in 1949 and as a multipurpose player for several NFL teams in the early ’50s.
“I don’t think he’s a great coach. I think he’s a very good one.”
—Skip Bayless of FOX Sports, on Bill Belichick, via Michael Hurley of CBS Boston.
“Very good” coach: five Super Bowl victories as a head coach, seven AFC championships as a head coach, two Super Bowl victories as a coordinator, 14 division titles in the past 16 seasons.
“Great” coach: who, exactly?
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Stat of the Week
The compensatory draft pick system might be one of unintended consequences. By not aggressively trying to sign high-profile free-agent veterans on one’s own team, a team can still succeed, and in a big way.
Maybe the success of the teams with the most compensatory picks in the 24-year history of the system (designed to compensate teams that lose valued free agents with draft picks a year after the loss of those players) is a coincidence. But I doubt it.
Look at the most active five teams in terms of draft choices awarded in the history of the system, and look at their success.
|Franchise||Comp. Picks||Super Bowl Titles|
|2. Green Bay||38||2|
|4. New England||34||5|
|5. St. Louis/L.A. Rams||33||1|
The five most active teams, then, have won 11 of the 23 Super Bowls played since the compensatory pick system was launched with the 1994 draft. (It’s 23, not 24, because there have been 23 Super Bowls played since the system began.)
The lessons of the story:
• The franchise architects for the top four teams have been in their chairs for at least 12 years. They set a system in motion and don’t deviate from it.
• When you have the same person running your team for a long time (Ozzie Newsome since 2002, Ted Thompson since 2005, Jerry Jones since 1989, Bill Belichick since 2000), they don’t get cowed by the prospect of losing a high-priced star to free agency. They can take the wave of the initial negative publicity without feeling the hot flames of a critical media.
• Mid-round picks are valuable, both because they can yield starters and because they give a good GM the rope to make mistakes. Huh? That’s the way one front-office guy explained it to me a few years ago. “Say you get two comp picks,” the veteran scout said. “So instead of having seven picks, you have nine, and that gives you the chance to take more volume in the draft. It just increases the odds you’ll get more productive players out of your draft.” And the money a fifth-round pick will cost is far less than what a monied free agent will cost, obviously.
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Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Part of being really good in the NFL, or anywhere for that matter, is being available. Which is why this Jamaal Charles factoid is going to be important for the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason.
In the past 41 Chiefs games, Charles has rushed for at least 100 yards once.
A linebacker likely to go in the top half of the first round, Alabama’s Reuben Foster, has overcome quite a bit to get to the combine this week. When Foster was 18 months old, according to AL.com, his mother was holding him, and his father shot her multiple times in the back. One of the bullets hit Reuben. She didn’t tell him until he was 5, and the wound didn’t impact his football career.
Joe Jackson, the great-great-grandnephew of Shoeless Joe Jackson, is a Double-A outfielder in the Texas Rangers organization, MLB.com reports.
Shoeless Joe died in Greenville, S.C., in 1951. Joe the Ranger was born in Greenville, S.C., 41 years later.
Shoeless: 6'1", 178.
Joe the Ranger: 6'1", 180.
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On Their Night Table
I’m happy to report Andrew Luck, proprietor of the aptly named “Andrew Luck Book Club,” has chosen “When Breath Becomes Air,” by the late Paul Kalanithi as his special pick for the month of February. What’s great about the book club—one of the things anyway—is that Luck reads the selections he picks. “When Breath Becomes Air” is a moving account by a 36-year-old neurosurgeon diagnosed with incurable lung cancer, with an epilogue by his widow, Lucy Kalanithi, that is as brilliant as the book itself. I was blown away by the lessons of living life told in the book. I’m especially happy that Luck will have Lucy Kalanithi on a special podcast this week … and I will be bringing you details about it Wednesday.
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Tweets of the Week
The veteran QB conversation is more interesting than the QB draft conversation for the first time I can remember— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) February 24, 2017
As someone who's covered Jameis Winston ever day and happens to be female, I don't believe his intent was to disparage women.— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) February 23, 2017
Still don't understand need/logic of compensatory picks in a salary cap environment. Takes away some incentive to re-sign your own players.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) February 24, 2017
ICYMI: How large is site for new Rams stadium?— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) February 25, 2017
It's three acres larger than the University of Oregon campus.
Bill Paxton was, simply, a wonderful man. A wonderful man... Hanx.— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) February 26, 2017
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From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: ESPN radio host Mike Greenberg and FOX officiating analyst Mike Pereira.
• Pereira on how he’d improve officiating: “I think the time has come to throw tradition away when it comes to officiating ... Maybe the NFL takes steps to add an eighth official, which they are talking about doing, but they are talking about adding an eighth official deep in the defensive backfield to help with calls of defensive holding on running plays. It’s ridiculous. It's not going to help one bit. That's the traditional approach. Let's try to add another official on the field. Well, if you're going to add one, how about we think about putting an eighth guy in stripes and putting him upstairs, putting him in a booth by himself with replay equipment. He's not the replay guy, he is the peanut butter and jelly guy, the PBJ, ‘press box judge.’ And let him, after seeing a quick hit on the video, without interrupting the game and calling for a review, let him make the call quick down through the communications system they have now and say, ‘Hey, that wasn’t a face mask. Hey, that pass was incomplete.’ If you do that, you certainly will eliminate more mistakes. And then I think the notion of full-time officiating, probably is to the point where it needs to be considered.”
• Pereira on his “Vets to Refs” program: “One day, I like to drive occasionally, I drive to Oregon … about a year and a half ago and thinking that what I do is fun, and kind of cool, but what I do is really not that meaningful, and what could I do as I begin the last third of my life, what could I do to have some meaning? … And then I was thinking about officiating around the country and how we have shortages of high school and youth officials now across the country. Some Tennessee schools can't even have JV football programs because they don't have enough officials to cover it. So then I'm thinking, vets/officials. So we started a foundation, my wife and I did, and we got some great people involved, and it’s called Vets to Refs. We give full scholarships to returning vets to become sports officials in their communities, and we buy their uniforms and their equipment and we pay their local dues and get them mentors. We ran a pilot program this past football season, and we are going to do it for all sports, but we had six vets that got involved. Two were homeless, living in a barracks provided by a former vet. When I talked to these vets, all they wanted to do—they said that they missed being part of a team and having a mission. And when they got involved in officiating, it was amazing because you would see their eyes light up, they were part of a team! And I remember the $10 a game I got; they are packing $210 in their pocket! And they were so into it and I am so into it that we are going to go one step further this year, regional, and then by the middle of the summer take it nationally.”
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think it’s silly to not have Joe Mixon and Chad Kelly at the scouting combine. Isn’t the object of the post-season information-gathering season to gather as much information as you can about all good prospects in the draft—particularly the ones whose cases will be the toughest to figure out? How does it benefit information-gatherers if they can’t learn first-hand about the toughest cases?
2. I think if I were new Jacksonville football czar Tom Coughlin, and I’d been asked about the fate of fourth-year Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, I wouldn’t have given him a vote of confidence either. Bortles has won 11 of 45 starts. He’s coming off a hugely disappointing third season; his performance, in large part, is why the Jaguars coaching staff got blown out. He leads the NFL in turnovers over the past three years with 72 (51 interceptions, 21 lost fumbles), and Coughlin basically put Bortles on notice that he’s on trial for his job in 2017. Twenty-four turnovers a year! It’s a cruel business. You don’t want to throw away Bortles based on one crushing season, but the Jaguars are in a tenuous position. They’ve averaged an embarrassing 3.4 wins per season over the past five years. This will be Bortles’ fourth year as a starter in one of the NFL’s weakest divisions. With Coughlin being in charge, and not having drafted Bortles, it’s clear that this will be Bortles’ last chance to prove he should be the Jags’ quarterback of the future.
3. I think these are the three things you need to know about Jamaal Charles, who has had an amazing career for the Chiefs (5.5 yards per rush, 7,260 career rushing yards) and his future in Kansas City:
• Games played in the past two years: 8. Games missed due to injury: 27.
• Age on opening day 2017: 30 years, eight months.
• The Chiefs signed C.J. Spiller for backfield insurance, and they’ll surely take a back in a tailback-rich draft in April.
4. I think the released Nick Mangold is going to be some team’s solid rock at center over the next two seasons. He’ll be able to pass physicals this spring, from what I hear. Since he’s 33, you don’t want to plan your future at center around him. But for the short term, if he stays healthy, he could have an Alex Mack-type impact on a needy line (as Mack did in Atlanta in 2016). Mangold, per Nate Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, has not allowed a sack in his last 33 games.
5. I think the players of today owe a big thanks to Ed Garvey, the 12-year leader of the NFLPA through two ugly strikes that made him public enemy number one among owners and the league. (Well, maybe public enemy number two, behind Al Davis, in the eyes of Pete Rozelle.) Garvey and the players took on the motto of “No freedom, no football” in 1974, and though the players eventually won the right in court to be free when their contracts expired, owners didn’t bid for other teams’ players. In 1982, Garvey led the players on the longest football strike of the past 50 years; the season was cut from 16 to nine games per team, the players were divided more than ever, and Garvey got criticized for taking a deal in midseason that some thought he could have gotten in the preseason. Garvey resigned a year later. This all happened before I covered pro football, but my recollection is that Garvey, like Marvin Miller in baseball, made the players unafraid of pushing back hard at the owners. There’d be no game without the players, and future union leaders Gene Upshaw and De Smith have pushed further and gotten significant gains on the backs of what began with Garvey and the players in the eighties.
6. I think this is the oddest configuration in the draft order announced by the NFL on Friday:
• Seattle has no picks between the first and 25th overall slots.
• Seattle has five picks between the 26th and 106th overall slots.
• Seattle has no picks between the 107th and 209th overall slots.
7. I think I have just one word, and one punctuation mark, for those who disagree with me about the Cardinals and Jay Cutler being a good match: Why? (A few more words, actually …) A good media friend of mine emailed me after I’d suggested it last Monday and said, in essence, That makes no sense. I’m trying to figure all of this out. Bruce Arians calls more deep throws than anyone else in football. Cutler throws a great deep ball. There’s a good chance Cutler will be on the street in two weeks. Carson Palmer turns 38 in December. I understand Cutler’s an acquired taste (translation: he’s not well-liked), and many fans hate him. But my only question is: Who’d you rather have as a backup to Palmer—Drew Stanton or Cutler?
8. I think I’d be inclined to not jump on Jameis Winston too hard for his chauvinistic remarks to elementary-schoolers in Tampa the other day. He asked little boys to stand for a message, while saying girls should be “silent, polite, gentle.” Just a horrible message to give to kids, obviously. He should be criticized. But I am going to look a little bit at his background—and I do not mean the accusations of sexual assault at Florida State. I mean how he grew up. Southern kid, in all ways. Sheltered, in many ways. Athletically privileged, and in the south, that means if you’re great at sports, you skate when you make errors. Last year in training camp, I remember being with Tim Rohan of The MMQB waiting to speak with Winston after a practice. Winston was talking with the grandmother of a former teammate at Florida State, and the conversation was very much of a “Yes, ma’am,” almost bowing, showing respect to the woman, being uber-polite, humble. Seriously: In two minutes, I think he said, “Yes, ma’am” eight or 10 times. So now he enters the real world, where people are watching everything he says and does, and the traditions he’s used to in Bessemer, Ala., are not the same as the traditions when what he says are going to end up regularly on “SportsCenter.” And he says something dumb. I’m the father of two daughters. I get the outrage. But Jameis Winson is a very young, very green face of a franchise. He’s 23 years old. If he’s still saying things later in his career, then he’s got a big problem, because it means he can’t learn the ways of the world. For now I’ll put this one in the still-learning column. The future will tell.
9. I think Myles Garrett is going to be the first overall pick on April 27. By someone.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Great investigative work by Steve Politi and Matthew Stanmyre of NJ Advance Media.
b. Media an enemy of the people? Read that stuff and tell me Politi and Stanmyre haven’t done a great public service in New Jersey.
d. So I don’t want to think that this is the climate in our country right now, with people from India educated here and then working here legally as engineers and paying taxes here and supporting local businesses here. But I am not sure anymore.
e. I’m with Dan Le Batard in the Magic Johnson dustup at ESPN, if only to emphasize that different voices are okay.
f. LeBatard racist? Stop it, Keyshawn Johnson. Silly.
g. I’m not with Shaquille O’Neal on his continuing attack on Warriors player JaVale McGee. It must be such a privilege to be so good at basketball that you can rip the crap out of an average player time after time after time.
h. Coffeenerdness: The inconsistency of Delta coffee is, well, so consistent.
i. Beernerdness: Back to Peroni. Sorry. I’ve been exotic for so long that I came home last week and longed for the simple pale lager, and, Saturday evening it did not disappoint. Never does.
j. Gut feeling: Chris Christie would be a good New York drive-time sports talk-show host.
k. Political gut feeling: Chris Christie would much rather be a New York drive-time talk-show host than an invisible operative somewhere in this presidential administration.
l. Speaking of politics, Chuck Todd will never have a day off for the rest of his life.
m. Really hope I get to Bluebeard in Indianapolis this week at the combine, even if it’s for one glass of wine. That is one gem of a restaurant.
n. Still bitter they moved the combine back a week. I’ll be at the Sloan Sports Conference on Friday and Saturday in Boston, so my appearance at the combine will be just a cameo. Have some good podcast conversations planned, though. Stay tuned.
o. Dave Strader, so glad to see you back in the booth calling Dallas Stars games … and so glad NBC put you on the air Sunday in front of a national audience, doing Bruins-Stars. You’re a gifted announcer, and you have fought cancer with courage and dignity. Good luck to you.
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The Adieu Haiku
Moonlight won. Moonlight.
No La La Land. Honestly.
Envelope guy: Fired.
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