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  • Why making the first overall pick ‘earn’ the starting job only costs valuable time. Plus, the Saints stand pat after the Mark Ingram suspension, why Ben Roethlisberger has a point, Cliff Avril’s legacy, DeShone Kizer’s future and the Raiders make a head-scratching move at linebacker
By Andy Benoit
May 11, 2018

Analyzing the NFL’s biggest on-field stories of the week…

Hue Jackson reiterates: “Tyrod Taylor’s the starting quarterback of this football team, and that won’t change.”
This is misguided political correctness spiraling out of control. Jackson feels he has to say this because Taylor will be 29 in August and has paid his NFL dues; he doesn’t want the 23-year-old Baker Mayfield to look entitled. But it’s not like Taylor is a tested veteran who’s beloved in Cleveland’s locker room—he just arrived a few months ago. The Browns traded the 65th overall pick to get him. They spent the first overall pick on Mayfield. A safe assumption is the Browns spent 10,000% more time and effort researching Mayfield than they did Taylor. They’ve trumpeted Mayfield’s football IQ and natural leadership. If they actually believe in their scouting process, why not declare Mayfield the starter right now? Why give even one of No. 1 pick’s reps to the guy you acquired with the 65th pick?

Jackson wouldn’t buy a new Rolls Royce and tell everyone he’s committed to the used Nissan Altima he just got at auction. He wouldn’t book a nonrefundable first-class seat then plan to fly economy. He wouldn’t purchase a beach house in Maui but prepare to spend offseasons in Tulsa.

What stinks is a few weeks into August, after Jackson has pointlessly given hundreds of Mayfield’s valuable practice reps to Taylor, Jackson will come out and announce Mayfield the starter, saying how they’re blown away at how quickly Mayfield has come along. They shouldn’t be—he’s the guy they chose over literally everyone else in this draft.

Hue Jackson says new offensive coordinator Todd Haley has “total autonomy” over the Browns offense
Haley, who comes over from Pittsburgh, and Jackson ran similar passing schemes last year. They both featured spread formations with fairly isolated route designs that attacked the 12- to 20-yard range downfield. The difference was Haley had great receivers and a veteran star QB—he went simple because he could. Jackson had callow wideouts and an overwhelmed rookie QB. He went simple because he had to. Both men having worked with such extreme personnel in 2017, it’s hard to forecast how their offense will look this fall.

Saints running back Mark Ingram suspended four games for PEDs
The Saints have said they won’t sign a veteran running back to fill Ingram’s spot. This suggests a heavier workload for Alvin Kamara. But the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year played just 45% of the snaps last year, and he’s a lynchpin in many of New Orleans’s aerial designs. Doubling his workload out of the gates would be risky—and inconsistent with the “back by committee” approach that Sean Payton has always favored. If the Saints indeed don’t sign a veteran runner (still out there: DeMarco Murray, Terrance West, Orleans Darkwa or, though it’s now obviously a long shot, Adrian Peterson), then expect to see sixth-round rookie Boston Scott or last year’s seventh-rounder Daniel Lasco.

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t understand the Mason Rudolph pick
And why would he? It makes no sense. The Steelers have a Super Bowl ready team now. They have a serviceable veteran backup quarterback in Landry Jones, and behind him, last year’s fourth-round pick, Josh Dobbs. Yes, Roethlisberger has publicly contemplated retirement the last couple of years. But if the Steelers really thought Rudolph could be Roethlisberger’s heir, they would have drafted him with their late-first or late-second-round pick. So when Roethlisberger wonders aloud if the team feels it missed on the Dobbs pick… he’s merely reading the boldfaced writing on the wall. It’s the first thing every Steelers reporter and fan should have asked.

Panthers sign running back C.J. Anderson
The 27-year-old ex-Bronco is an upgrade over Jonathan Stewart. Anderson is a low, surprisingly shifty runner who can stay in on passing downs, if need be. The only question is whether his style, which fit Denver’s zone scheme, will translate smoothly to more of the man-to-man blocking concepts that Carolina has traditionally featured.

Mike McCarthy believes new Packers backup QB DeShone Kizer would have gone first round in this year’s draft
Kizer’s good is as intriguing as anyone’s. He’s mobile, his ball has zip, he’s aggressive throwing outside and at the deep-intermediate levels. The problem is his bad is as concerning as anyone’s—and in Cleveland it showed up too often. The interceptions and mental errors can be chalked up to rookie mistakes, but the bouts of wild inaccuracy? Alarm bells. If a quarterback can’t put the ball where he wants, his other traits become irrelevant. In the NFL, accuracy can be polished, but not instilled. And so the question is whether Kizer has the mechanical foundation to become a more consistent down-to-down passer. McCarthy might not have a clear idea until the end of August.

Seahawks release Cliff Avril
The team is rebuilding (no matter what they call it) and Avril is coming off a serious neck injury. This is the right time to part ways. If this is indeed the end of Avril’s career, he joins Robert Mathis as emblems for why left tackles are really not that much more valuable than right tackles. For years, Avril and Mathis racked up more sack-fumbles than anyone. They were quick, low-to-the-ground players who could bend around the corner. Bending around the offense’s right side, they arrive at the quarterback’s throwing arm, not his backside. Michael Lewis’s astute book, The Blind Side, taught people to worry about protecting a QB in the areas he can’t see. But what about where the QB can see? Guys like Mathis and Avril made quarterbacks play fast and timid. Having a dominant pass rusher in the corner of your eye, near your throwing shoulder… that’s great inspiration to throw the ball too soon or to break down in the pocket.

Many of the best defensive ends in today’s NFL play to the quarterback’s right. The list includes J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Justin Houston, Cameron Jordan, DeMarcus Lawrence, Joey Bosa, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Wake and Brandon Graham. Cliff Avril helped establish this trend.

Dolphins acquire Jets backup QB Bryce Petty
Petty illustrates why college quarterbacks are hard to project to the NFL. In isolation, he looks the part: good size, strong arm, picturesque throwing motion. But to display this, he needs a clean pocket, which is rare in pro football.

Ex-Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson signs with the Raiders
Interesting that Oakland would bring in a 35-year-old Johnson before bringing back a 29-year-old NaVorro Bowman. Both have been diminished by serious injuries, but both play with a coach’s awareness. Down the stretch last season, however, Johnson’s snaps where reduced in K.C., while Bowman’s increased in Oakland. Johnson has also not recently played in the two-high safety zone scheme that new Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther runs. Bowman, on the other hand, spent his formative years in a variation of that scheme with the Niners.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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