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Reading the QB Tea Leaves in New England

Plus, a look at two more early-entry draft prospects, getting to know the Washington Football Team's new president, Kyle Shanahan's excitement over a rookie receiver, and a historic 2011 draft class.

Hitting the road tomorrow, and it’s going to be different …

• One thing you’ve seen consistently over the last few days: the order of the Patriots quarterbacks taking snaps. It’s been Brian Hoyer, then Jarrett Stidham, then Cam Newton. I would read nothing into that, other than Bill Belichick sticking to his own way of handling these sorts of things—this gets filed into the same category as rookies having to wear ugly numbers (in the 50s and 60s) during camp, and Tom Brady getting chewed out in meetings into his forties. That place has always been set up to be a meritocracy, with all of your equity in the building coming not on achievement elsewhere, but what you’ve done in your time there. Newton, right now, has none of that equity. With time, it’ll come. I’d be pretty surprised if he’s not the starter in September.

• LSU DB Kary Vincent’s case will be an interesting one. And so will that of Oklahoma RB Kennedy Brooks. Both opted out of the season. Vincent, in doing so, declared for the draft. Brooks hasn’t yet, but that’s probably coming, given that he mulled going pro last year. And neither of these guys are considered first-rounders. Vincent, as it stands, is a really good athlete, and specifically a nickel corner, who had a shot to juice his stock this fall playing in an LSU secondary that is losing 2020 Day 2 picks Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton. As it stands though? Maybe a third-rounder. Brooks is a Day 3 prospect. So seeing how sitting affects the draft stock of each guy—and this isn’t criticizing either decision, because in this climate those can be deeply personal—should show us something on how these prospects are being assessed. Freakish talents like Micah Parsons and Greg Rousseau know their wait won’t be long in April. Guys like Vincent and Brooks are way more of a grey area.

• While we’re on the draft, I tweeted on Monday about a host of 2011 draftees that are entering Year 10 in the NFL. My intention was to mention the accomplishment—fewer players than you might think make it a decade in the pros, so getting there is pretty noteworthy, in my mind. And in the process, I got another reminder of how off the charts that class was. J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Julio Jones, Richard Sherman and Tyron Smith are very serious Hall of Fame candidates, and there are others, like A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson, that aren’t far behind them. Then you have Cam Newton, Cam Heyward, Kyle Rudolph, Ryan Kerrigan, Robert Quinn … you get the picture. A lot of great players, and a lot of guys still playing at a high level right now. Now, consider this: Back in 2011, with training camps shortened, we were saying the same thing we are now. In essence, These rookies are screwed. Turns out, those rookies weren’t. And the 2020 rookies can take something from that.

• For what it’s worth, I was told Washington had a nice moment for Alex Smith at practice on Sunday, and that was really it. Smith, it seems, just wants to blend in and be a part of the team again, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him. But there was a pretty cool message he sent, via an interview with the team’s website: “We all face adversity in life. It comes in different forms. Was I going to talk about it or be about it? However this comes out, I’m going to be better off for it. I continue to make gains. I continue to get better, even in these last few weeks. For me, that continues to excite me, that I can keep pushing on. At some point I’ll find out what my limitations are, but I haven’t found them yet.” Smith’s story, to be sure, is incredible. Overlooked recruit, even as a high school teammate of Reggie Bush; to star quarterback for Urban Meyer at Utah, leading the Utes to a Fiesta Bowl title; to No. 1 overall pick; to presumed bust after having six coordinators in his first six NFL season; to the centerpiece of Jim Harbaugh’s first offense in San Francisco; to beat out by Colin Kaepernick during a Super Bowl run; to the pilot of Andy Reid’s Kansas City renaissance; to placeholder for a potential all-time great in Patrick Mahomes; to Washington’s replacement for Kirk Cousins after the Cousins situation got messy; to Joe Theismann 2.0; to … a miracle return. No matter what happens next, few players can claim to have had the kind of ride he has. Here’s hoping he gets a nice final chapter.

• While we’re on Washington, I’m excited to see what new team president Jason Wright can do with what’s become an increasingly blank canvas there. There’ll be a chance to reimagine the team’s image, and how it’s seen, and that a 38-year-old ex-NFL player is now the one with the brush should make the next steps all the more interesting. And since I don’t know Wright, I made a few calls on Monday to find out more about him. One was to Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves, who was Cardinals GM for the last two years of Wright’s playing career (2009-10). “He's an outstanding young man,” Graves said. “Very, very competent, very professional. I really expect that he'll do very well for the team. He's the kind of person, when you meet him, you see it—he has success written all over him.” Graves, it turns out, got an idea on where Wright was going in 2011. He tried to bring Wright back for a third year, and Wright explained to him his plans to go to business school. Few players would choose that over another year in the NFL. But Wright wasn’t just another guy. “He told me he was interested in going to business school, and you hear that from a guy like him, you just feel like their priorities are in line to set up a successful career,” Graves said. “We really liked Jason, he’s a very intelligent person, he worked at it, he gave us all the effort we could ask for. He was outstanding in every respect.” And after the few months the franchise has had, there’s no question Washington will be able to use someone like him to pair with the revamped football operation.

• If this is it for Gerald McCoy—and the question has to be on the table for a player rupturing his quadriceps at 32 years old—the ex-Buccaneer and Panther had a heck of a run, making six Pro Bowls and first-team All-Pro three times. But I also think he’ll be one of those guys, like the guy drafted one spot in front of him, Ndamukong Suh, where I’ll wonder how much more might’ve been possible if he’d gone to a more stable franchise coming out of college. Sometimes, that’s the price of going so high in the draft. The teams picking there usually aren’t in the best shape.

• It’s funny to see the attention Joe Judge is getting for making Giants players run laps for practice mistakes. That’s been going on forever in Foxboro, and Judge isn’t the first guy to go somewhere else and ruffle some feathers for doing it. Some guys think it’s demeaning. Others don’t care. Me? I can’t believe that anyone thinks it’s a big deal.

• The league-wide number of players on the COVID-19 list is now down to 12—with three more coming off it, and none going on at 4 p.m. ET Monday. That’s fantastic news, and it’s really crystallized the importance of daily testing, for me at least. It’s also why the low cost, rapid results and accessibility of the saliva test that’s coming could be a game-changer not just for football, but for all sports. If it becomes feasible for college programs to test daily, their chances of being able to start and finish a season change all together. Which is why I think all the major conferences would smart to gather, agree to take a deep breath, and reconvene to see where all this is on Sept. 1.

• I’d pay attention to what Kyle Shanahan says about Brandon Aiyuk. I don’t think there’s a better assessor or developer of receivers in football than the Niners coach, so that he’s already speaking so highly of the rookie says something. And San Francisco needs Aiyuk to come as advertised, with Jalen Hurd out and Deebo Samuel hobbled.

• Finally, one leftover from my talk with Chargers coach Anthony Lynn … He told us in the MMQB that one byproduct of revealing his COVID-19 case on Hard Knocks was a slew of texts and calls from those that took the news the wrong way—and thought Lynn was still sick. (He’s not, of course.) And then, others saw something almost as upsetting. Turns out, some of his old buddies in Texas weren’t pleased with the scene where Lynn was cooking out with his wife. “There was some stuff about the barbecuing,” Lynn said, laughing. “Some people back home that can actually cook better than me, they were embarrassed that I was using a gas grill. Like, where’s your smoker?” If you know people from there … it’s actually probably a fair question.