Plus, a new way to think about roster depth, a rookie receiver shows off at Lions camp, and could we see 7-on-7 football in the Olympics?
1. We are well into the “shiny new toy” stage of evaluation on next year’s QB draft class. This type of fervor happens every year about this time, and it’s ratcheted up thanks to a 2018 quarterbacks group that could be (heavy emphasis there) among the best to roll through the ranks in recent memory: USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk, etc.
I think it’s only a matter of time until the annual cycle moves on to its next stage, which features an overly critical spotlighting of every prospect’s flaws. Sure, this sounds like a class that could go down as one of the strongest ever, but the pendulum will swing to the negative. Eventually, you’ll be hearing an avalanche of discussion about Darnold’s funky throwing motion, Allen’s statistical shortcomings (56% completion rate, 15 INTs while playing in a non-Power 5 conference last season) and Rosen’s attitude. Let’s not even start on the nitpicking that will occur of Louisville’s dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson, should he lean toward the ’18 draft.
This ongoing merriment period probably has about three months of life left, if that. As soon as these quarterbacks start chalking up losses—Allen’s Wyoming team opens at Iowa, Rosen and UCLA head to Stanford in September, for instance—the skepticism will rise. Happens every year.
2. I think I heard my favorite quote of OTAs/mini-camps during my stop at Browns camp in Berea, Ohio last week. It came courtesy of new Cleveland defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who talked about the need for versatility on the roster.
“How you get through games, through injuries is to play the next best athletes,” Williams said, “not just the next guy on the depth chart.”
That is a really intriguing philosophy as it pertains to roster construction. There are limits, obviously—if a team’s top nine athletes are all DBs, it’s not lining up in a 2-0-9 formation. It is a slightly altered view of the “next man up” philosophy preached to death by coaching staffs this time of year.
Williams credited his belief in it to New England coach Bill Belichick, who long has been creative with his personnel. He also used the line of thinking to explain why “everybody on our defense ... has to play two positions” during practices.
The topic came up, in part, because Williams was asked about his plans at safety for newcomer Calvin Pryor and rookie Jabrill Peppers. Williams said that those two were working at “similar ... not the same” positions within the defense, and that it’s entirely possible they could be on the field together.
All of this helps explain why the Browns had interest in Peppers in the first place. Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? Is he an offensive weapon? Maybe. He’s definitely an athlete, though, and Williams has placed a high value on that.
3. Bilal Powell is the best running back on the Jets’ depleted roster, which is why I think it will be interesting to see what happens with Matt Forte in July and August. Forte’s contract—he is guaranteed $5 million this year—has to be the main reason he’s still around after GM Mike Maccagnan took the rest of his team’s veterans out to the curb and hung “Free, Still Works” signs around their necks.
However, Forte is almost certain to be released after this season, when the Jets can save $3 million of the remaining $4 million they will owe him. So, with Maccagnan’s tank-but-don’t-call-it-tanking plan at work, there’s little reason to keep Forte as part of the backfield rotation this year. The Jets have to be thinking about 2018 and beyond, when Forte will not be there.
4. The International Federation of American Football wants its game included on the Olympics docket, and I think it’s only a matter of time until that happens. And in light of 3-on-3 basketball’s acceptance into the 2020 Tokyo Games, it might be worth exploring the possibility of a 7-on-7 football model, if the full-on American football version does not float the IOC’s boat. (The IOC earlier denied a bid to include American football in ’20.)
The United States likely would dominate the early days of Olympic American football competition either way, but lining up 7-on-7 might level the playing field a bit. It also could help limit injuries, an issue that would be of vast concern to any players eligible to participate. The AAU Junior Olympic Games included 7-on-7 football in 2015, so there is some precedent here.
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5. I do not think the Lions can be ruled out as a possible July/August landing spot for a wide receiver (Anquan Boldin signed with them in July last year, and he’s a free agent again). I do, however, think that the Kenny Golladay groundswell is legit. The best catch I saw at the Lions’ mini-camp workout I attended last week was an on-the-run grab by Golladay, who plucked a high fastball while maintaining his stride across the middle.
“Consistently, he’s getting better every single day,” Golden Tate said after that practice. “His route running is getting better. His knowledge of the game is getting better. ... Every single day you’re seeing him make a big play or make a contested catch.”
6. I think I am in awe of Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com pointed out this week that LeBeau will turn 80 the day before Tennessee’s season opener vs. Oakland; this will be LeBeau’s 59th season in the NFL, as a coach or player. I am in my mid-30s, work from home quite a bit and my job doesn’t require much that one would consider “of a physical nature,” yet I’m mentally drained by the end of each season. I have no idea how LeBeau still goes through the grind, but more power to him.
7. Not sure how often this happens, but I think the Broncos would prefer to have a little tougher start to their preseason schedule than they have. Their first two games are against Chicago and San Francisco, two teams very much in flux. Why is that a problem? Mainly because that’s when the bulk of the Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch debate will have to be settled, and the Broncos might learn more from watching their QBs face Denver’s own vaunted defense in practice than they will from those matchups.
8a. I think my Las Vegas Knights NHL expansion draft would look something like this (props to TSN for the expansion-draft simulator):
Forwards: William Carrier (BUF), Marko Dano (WPG), Nic Dowd (LA), Cody Eakin (DAL), Brendan Gaunce (VAN), William Karlsson (CBJ), Nicolas Kerdiles (ANA), Jujhar Khaira (EDM), Brendan Leipsic (TOR), Jamie McGinn (ARI), Derek McKenzie (FLA), James Neal (NSH), David Perron (STL), Michael Raffi (PHI), Lee Stempniak (CAR)
Defensemen: Fredrik Claesson (OTT), Matt Dumba (MIN), Calvin de Haan (NYI), Alexei Emelin (MON), Slater Koekkoek (TB), Brett Kulak (CGY), Jon Merrill (NJ), Colin Miller (BOS), David Schlemko (SJ), Nate Schmidt (WAS), Trevor van Riemsdyk (CHI)
Goalies: Marc-Andre Fluery (PIT), Petr Mrazek (DET), Calvin Pickard (COL), Antti Raanta (NYR)
As this is a football website, I won’t get into the intricacies of that roster. I have my reasons for the picks.
8b. Oh, and I mainly mention all this because we’ll be putting together a fun little NFL expansion hypothetical in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for it.
9. I think the 2017 class of rookie cornerbacks will turn out to be exceptional, and there is early evidence to that end. The first-rounders, like Marshon Lattimore and Marlon Humphrey, will be important on their respective teams. But Day 2 guys like Teez Tabor, Shaq Griffin, Rasul Douglas and Chidobe Awuzie already are emerging.
10. Paul Perkins can be a very good back in this league, but I think I’m skeptical that the Giants will afford him enough of an opportunity to prove it. While Perkins should be the No. 1 option in the backfield this season, a decent amount of OTA buzz surrounded fellow RB Orleans Darkwa, and the Giants also have veteran Shane Vereen for third downs and rookie fourth-rounder Wayne Gallman. All this in a pass-happy offense behind a question-mark offensive line. There’s probably going to be a rather low ceiling on Perkins’s 2017 stats.
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