If the discussion of every draft class starts with the quarterbacks, then here’s what you need to know about 2021’s: It’s been a half-decade in the making.
NFL people will hand-wring over the difficulties of this scouting cycle. They’ll worry about taking a player who opted out, an injury risk or a player who’s been flagged as a character concern. They’ll tell you that, because of the difficulty of information-gathering, this year’s class is a complete and total crapshoot from the third or fourth round on. That there aren’t any defensive tackles. That the depth drops out quickly.
And all of that may be true. But the makings of this class started way before any of that came known.
“Actually, yes, and I can’t say that every year,” Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer said last week on my podcast. “I can’t say every year that we nailed the Elite 11 and we knew that there were going to be future pros. I think we’ve gotten better over time. But [the high school class of] ‘18 was a unique class where you knew Trevor [Lawrence] and Justin [Fields] would wind up in the top five in the draft.
“You knew when they were 17 years old: They had rare traits, they had rare work ethic, they had rare awareness, they had rare leadership qualities. They checked every box at 17, and they were only going to get better, and we knew they were going to good places too.”
All this time later, both wound up Heisman finalists, played for national titles in college, and are now on the precipice of the top of the first round of the draft. Lawrence’s path was a little cleaner, of course, with Fields having transferred from Georgia to Ohio State. (“So he went from a really good situation to a better situation,” Dilfer said.) But both are here now, two kids who grew up 40 minutes from each other near Atlanta, having lived up to all the expectations, and even having played each other twice in the College Football Playoffs.
In the time in between, a skinny high-schooler who filled out and developed into a freakish passer at BYU jumped into the fray, as did the “other” quarterback Alabama took in its 2017 recruiting class, plus a kid from an interstate exit of a Minnesota farm town who was only pursued by his State U as a safety prospect.
But the point remains: Remarkably, people like Dilfer could’ve told you this might be coming a very long time ago. And it has.
So as we set up our draft primer for 2021, with the event itself now 10 days away, that this has a shot to be a really, really strong quarterback group is the first thing you need to know. We’ve got 20 more of those coming for you.
There are lots of things to get to in the week’s MMQB, live from my quasi-vacation in Marco Island, Fla. In the column, you’ll find …
• A breakdown of the NFL/NFLPA squabble over offseason programs, which start Monday.
• My analysis of what Trevor Lawrence said right here at The MMQB last week.
• A look at Trey Lance’s second pro day, and who’ll be there.
• Words on how the Chargers feel about Justin Herbert going into Year 2.
But we’re starting with the draft, and what you need to know going into the draft season’s stretch run.
Just to bolster the point above, it’s really not out of bounds to suggest that we could have five quarterbacks go in the first nine picks, even if there aren’t any more trades into that area.
Locking in Lawrence at No. 1 to the Jaguars and Zach Wilson at No. 2 to the Jets, it’s certainly possible Mac Jones could land at No. 3 with Niners and, say, Fields could wind up going eighth to the Panthers and Lance ninth to the Broncos. It’s also possible one or two could slide a little. But that this scenario’s even possible—there’s never been a draft with five quarterbacks in the top 10—tells you, again, what you need to know about this draft class, and that position’s place in it.
Here are 20 other things you need to know …
1) When I had Dilfer on my podcast, he said that Jones has a “twitchy mind,” a reference to how fast he processes and plays. This, so you know, checks out with NFL people. One team told me that it asked him in April to recall the first thing they’d installed with him over predraft meetings, and Jones immediately spit out everything about the play. And remember, at this point of the process, these kids have a lot floating around in their heads, given the number of teams (and other people) they’re talking to. “He’s as smart as advertised,” said one exec. “I’d say borderline genius when it comes to football.”
2) Obviously, the possibility that Jones would be in play has led to a lot of intrigue with the Niners at No. 3. The team’s brass is still swearing to other teams that they haven’t made a final decision on what they plan to do. Seem impossible? Sure it does, until you really think about it. Of course, Kyle Shanahan had a leaning when the trade was made. He’d done two months of work on those guys. It’d be hard not to have one at that point. But what if, for argument’s sake, Shanahan came to a comfort level with one of the three quarterbacks (beyond Lawrence and Wilson) that the Niners saw as first-rounders? And what if he said, I can see Mac Jones being my quarterback for the next 15 years? And what if he was also intrigued by Lance and Fields, but used Jones as the baseline, the I know I’m going to like what I get at No. 3 regardless guy? And what if that was just the starting point for a month of work to get to know all three and make the best call? That, it seems to me, would be a smart approach for a smart organization. And honestly, I think it is their approach.
3) Lots of teams think the Falcons are going to sit where they are and take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, and really for two reasons. One, the asking price for a team to get up to No. 4 is high, as you’d expect it would be after what the Dolphins got for the third pick. Two, it’s been pointed out by a few people how the Matt Ryan contract restructure makes it more difficult for the Falcons to move on from him not just this year, but next year too—and how if they were looking to set up a quarterback transition, they’d be more likely to take their cap medicine now. So yes, Atlanta’s looked very hard at all the quarterbacks, and the Falcons are among a small group of teams to have multiple people at both pro days for both Fields and Lance. If I had to guess, this may well come down to which quarterback falls to them and how that quarterback compares to Pitts.
4) While we’re there, I’ve said this before, but the way people talk about Pitts reminds me a lot of how people talked about Quenton Nelson coming out of Notre Dame three years ago—where the only thing to pick at, really, is whether or not to draft a player at his position that high. And as one veteran evaluator said to me, someone is going to have to put that thought in the proper place on draft day: “He’s the best player, so get over it.”
5) Detroit at No. 7 is the other team that’s generated buzz as a trade-down team. And with many believing that Cincinnati and Miami will stick at No. 5 and 6, if Atlanta takes Pitts, it could give the Lions a shot to auction off the right for someone to get in front of Carolina and Denver for a quarterback. If the Lions stay there, I’d just keep an eye on the background of the two guys in charge, GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell, and their history of valuing offensive linemen (Penei Sewell? Rashawn Slater?). And I also wouldn’t ignore the presence of Chris Spielman, who joined the organization in December, which would explain why I’ve heard them connected to Penn State LB Micah Parsons.
6) While we’re on the subject of offensive linemen, this year’s group is really good, but calling it “great” might be a product of the dearth of linemen coming into the league in recent years and how hard it’s been for teams to build depth at those positions as a result. Sewell is probably the only elite, pure left tackle prospect in this year’s class (and he’s not without flaws, which we’ll get to in a minute). From there, you have a couple prospects that are bordering on elite, in Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker, who might be better off at guard (depending on where they go). And after that, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, who is a true tackle, but not quite at Sewell’s level, and a few other tackles (Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg and Texas’s Sam Cosmi) who are just solid, plus one (Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield) who’s got a lot of potential, but had a really rough predraft process (shaky pro day, etc.).
7) It’s worth diving into Sewell a little bit more, because there’s just a lot there with the former Oregon star who opted out of the 2020 season. On one hand, as one scouting director said, “He’s 19 years old on the tape [from 2019], and he was a man on the film.” On the other, as another exec says, maturity remains an issue: “There’s a lot to sort through there, and there are lapses in play too. He doesn’t dominate all the time. But he’s a great athlete.” And he’s also right there with Parsons and Alabama’s Christian Barmore as fantastic talents with character flags, and guys who might have a harder time dispelling questions this year than they would in a normal year—because of the lack of opportunity to do so in person with teams.
8) That said, there are rumblings that some teams could be spoiling to get aggressive with some sliding “risk” guys, sensing opportunity and believing their character and medical evaluations on the players are good. And that sounds good on paper, but we’ve seen teams try it before and pay the price. In 2013, coming off the massive RG3 trade, Washington tried to cut corners and wound up with David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo washing out relatively quickly. In 2011, the Lions took swings on three character risks 1-2-3 (Nick Fairley, Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure), and you could argue that wound up setting the stage for Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew to lose their jobs.
9) For related reasons, this is setting up to be a year when teams may lean on their relationships at the college level more than ever. As we mentioned last week, it also could give Jaguars coach Urban Meyer and Panthers coach Matt Rhule an interesting advantage, given that they have background with some of these players going back to when the players were teenagers (through recruiting, coaching them or coaching against them).
10) Speaking of Sewell, he’s one of a number of players I’d see in play for the Panthers at No. 8. The genius of the Sam Darnold trade, by GM Scott Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule, is that it maintains the team’s flexibility to take a quarterback there while creating new flexibility not to take a quarterback with the pick. If Fields slides to No. 8, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his slide stop there—be it via the Panthers taking him or trading the pick to someone who would. At the same time, Carolina’s in a nice spot to address its needs at corner (with a Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain) or tackle (with, perhaps, Sewell) and go forward with Darnold, too.
11) Denver’s the team that’s been sniffing around just about everything, and could trade up or trade down. But one thing other teams do believe is that the Broncos have been lurking for some time as a sneaky quarterback-hungry team. We’ll see if that manifests.
12) And while other teams, like New England, have been marked as trade-up teams (with quarterbacks as targets), here’s one I was a little surprised by: The Eagles. Philly’s sitting at No. 12 and did well enough in the trade with Miami that it could potentially make a short move back into the top 10 and still come out loaded with draft assets. What would it be for? I’d never totally rule out a quarterback for Philly, but I think corner is a possibility, with teams right above them having that need. And for what it’s worth, in addition to exploring a move up, the Eagles have also explored a move down.
13) Why get so aggressive at corner? I thought it was interesting to hear one GM this week say he believes the top three corners in this year’s class (Surtain, Horn and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley) are better coming out than anyone was last year. And, remember, Jeff Okudah went third to the Lions. Now, Farley’s case is clouded a little by his back condition, and there are some questions about Surtain’s ceiling, and all that’s why Horn being the first corner taken wouldn’t floor me (I got a Stephon Gilmore comp on him over the weekend). But all three have value, considering the value of the position, and the fact that there’s a drop off after the top three is why I can see why someone might move aggressively to land one early.
14) And same as with the corners, a few scouts have said to me that they believe the top three receivers in this year’s class—LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase, and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle—are better than any receiver in last year’s star-studded class. “They’re different body types and styles,” said one exec. “You got the powerful, physical guy in Chase; the explosive playmaker who’s incredible with the ball in his hands in Waddle; and the all-encompassing route-runner with speed and toughness, but not size, in DeVonta. They’re all better than [Jerry] Jeudy and [Henry] Ruggs. [CeeDee] Lamb is right in the mix with them, but Ruggs and Jeudy are below those guys for me.” At this point, I’d be surprised if Chase isn’t first, Waddle isn’t second (maybe as high as sixth overall) or Smith isn’t third among the receivers taken. Who goes fourth is a much tougher question to answer.
15) The next group of receivers is very much loaded with sparkplug slot receivers like Ole Miss’s Elijah Moore, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Clemson’s Amari Rodgers, Western Michigan D’Wayne Eskridge, and North Texas’s Jaelon Darden. Moore and Toney are in the mix to be that fourth receiver taken, right there with Minnesota’s bigger-bodied Rashod Bateman.
16) The edge-rusher group is intriguing in that it features a handful of striking athletes who need a lot of polish—and may wind up being two-year projects. Michigan’s Kwity Paye, still a bit raw, might be the most ready of them all, and could be first off the board (maybe as early as No. 11 to the Giants). After that, Miami’s Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau, and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh all have freakish natural ability, but need plenty of development (and there’s a ton to sort through off the field with Phillips). It would be interesting to see if a team like Cleveland, which has star pass-rushers and could afford to develop one, winds up getting good value by landing one of these guys and bringing them along over time.
17) Past Pitts, good luck looking for a tight end. Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth and Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble have a chance to be solid, but sit a good distance behind Pitts, and there’s not a ton beyond them.
18) It’s even worse at defensive tackle. There’s the boom-or-bust guy in Barmore. Then, there’s Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike, who opted out in 2020 but has nice potential. And after that, there’s a wasteland, to the point where teams scrambled some for defensive tackles in free agency in anticipation of this being a tough year to draft at that position. “It’s terrible,” said one GM, “just awful.”
19) Want a guy to possibly go surprisingly higher than you think? How about Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins. “He’s different because he’s big, and there aren’t many [linebackers] to choose from,” said one college scouting director. “He’s big, productive and has some physical skill to work with. Do I think he’s top 20? Probably not. But his tape is better than [Tremaine] Edmunds’s was [in 2018]. He’s not the athlete Edmunds is, but he’s big like him and just a really solid player.” So could he sneak into the teens? Maybe. And he’s part of an interesting linebacker group that includes the freakish Parsons, and Notre Dame’s smallish, Ryan Shazier-play-alike Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
20) And we’ll finish back with the position where we started: The second tier of quarterbacks is super interesting, and you hear plenty about the idea that Stanford’s Davis Mills, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Florida’s Kyle Trask could be second-round values. The truth? If they all go in the second round, that would buck an interesting trend. It would be the first time in six years that multiple quarterbacks go in the second round, and first time since 2007 (Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton) that three go in the second. The history of that position in that round in the time in between? Murky at best.
2020: Jalen Hurts
2019: Drew Lock
2017: DeShone Kizer
2016: Christian Hackenberg
2014: Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo
2013: Geno Smith
2012: Brock Osweiler
2011: Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick
2010: Jimmy Clausen
2009: Pat White
2008: Brian Brohm, Chad Henne
You have some good value in there, but a lot of washouts too. And the reason why the numbers are low in Round 2? Easily explainable. If you think a quarterback can be your starter for the next 10 years, you’re probably taking him in the first round; and if you think a quarterback can’t be that, then you’re probably still looking, at that juncture, for someone who can start for you for 10 years at another position. All that said, this draft is believed to have good depth at the game’s most important spot, so maybe one of those guys will pan out.
Which, of course, would only add another layer to a story line at quarterback that’s already been in the works for quite some time.
THE OFFSEASON PROGRAM SQUABBLE
As you read this on Monday, all 32 teams are allowed to report for their offseason programs—and in a normal year (the last one of those was 2019), what would become clear immediately is how loosely the term “voluntary” is thrown around in the NFL.
Yes, by the letter of the law, workouts, passing camps and minicamps in April, May and June (or all of them except the full-squad minicamps in June) are to be strictly optional. But in practice, they were about as optional as filing your taxes on time (there was absolutely a price to pay for being late, and going AWOL could have massive consequences for the great majority of players).
Back then, big-name guys missing even the first day of even strength-and-conditioning work was considered headline-worthy (Is this guy pissed about his contract? Is that guy making a statement about his role?).
And that’s where Monday—Day 1 of the 2021 offseason program—will be so different. Who does show up will be as big a deal as who doesn’t, with the NFLPA and NFL remaining at loggerheads over the value of having in-person April, May and June work. Adding intrigue is that the question is being asked as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to people the age of NFL players in all 50 states.
Players from more than half the NFL’s 32 clubs have announced formally that as a team they’ve decided to either boycott or allow for “many” players to skip the program due to concerns stemming from the pandemic. That’s their right, just as it’s the NFL’s right under the CBA, even with conflict remaining between the league and union on the COVID-19 working conditions for the spring, to unilaterally start offseason programs Monday, which they will.
So what will those working conditions be? Here’s a look at them in a nutshell …
• Phase I of the program has been extended for two extra weeks, so it’ll go from April 19 to May 14. That piece of spring is, for the most part, made up of strength-and-conditioning and classroom work—and, really, it’s just two hours of work in the facility per day, four days a week, for the next four weeks. Teams can’t do on-field drills, coaches can't work with the players on the field and all meetings have to be virtual.
• During that time, protocols would be the same as the “post-elimination” rules that have been in place. No more than 20 players can be in the building at once, no more than 10 in the weight room at once, players have to pass a rapid test to enter and staff interacting with players must undergo daily testing. The NFL also encourages but doesn’t require use of the contact tracing tracking devices used during the season—that part’s being left up to the teams. And masks, social distancing and CDC signage is required of all teams.
• Phases II and III cover another five weeks, from May 17 to June 18, and that period covers early field work, OTAs and the full-squad mandatory minicamps. It’s truncated because of the lengthier Phase I, so Phase II (which adds non-contact, on-field drills at a “teaching pace”) lasts just a week. The teams have their 10 OTA days, which includes the three-day mandatory minicamp, and are allowed to start having in-person meetings during the four-week Phase III period.
• During those five weeks, the league will require teams to revert to regular-season rules. Teams can have their full rosters in the building, but there are restrictions on the number of staff (100 total for Tier I and 2 staff), players have daily rapid testing to get in, Tier 1 and 2 staff have daily PCR testing, the tracking device are required with contact tracing done by the league, and all the mask and social distancing requirements remain in place.
Now, in Thursday’s GamePlan, we went over how the decision whether to show up is not the same for every player. Some have sizable workout bonuses (seven Packers, by my count, have workout bonuses of at least $500,000). For others, this may be a critical offseason professionally, be it a young player trying to build off a strong 2020 or an older player coming off an injury.
And that’s why these things have never really been voluntary in the first place. Every decision has competitive implications, which is one reason why there’s power in the NFLPA organizing group decisions on this battleground.
I did look a little deeper into the NFL’s motivation to push on this one—because owners, in the past, have been pretty amicable about negotiating away work hours with the union. My understanding is there were, in fact, a small group of owners that thought it was important to have spring camps, and that play did suffer last year. Also, the league surveyed a cross-section of coaches (old/young, more experienced/less experienced) and found that the great majority thought a second consecutive lost spring would be detrimental.
The main areas those guys pointed to, for what it’s worth, were offensive line play, the development of younger players and overall depth across the league.
So that leaves us where we are, in the throes of another union/league squabble. Where’s the truth in all this? My take is relatively simple.
I think more established players were fatigued by what was an incredibly difficult season last year and aren’t looking to sign up for another nine weeks of that (testing, masks, distancing, etc.), especially when it means, for some, moving back to their NFL cities for two months. And I think the league and owners never want to give an inch to the players without getting something in return—and they’re listening to the coaches on this one, too.
As for the protocols, we know they work, and we know the players would, in most cases, in all likelihood, be safer from COVID-19 under them in their NFL facilities than they are working out wherever they live (and they’re contractually protected there too).
And the one other thing to remember: Practice doesn’t really start Monday. For the next four weeks, it’s really just lifting, running and meeting. So these sides do have another four weeks to settle their difference before anything really significant is supposed to happen. And on Sunday, Pro Football Talk reported on a compromise the Packers are offering to players that could wind up providing the framework for an NFL-wide compromise, which, again, they still have some time to come to.
Trevor Lawrence has been equated to Andrew Luck a lot the last couple years—and the story he did with our own Michael Rosenberg is one more way to make the comparison for the rest of us. Here’s a quote from my discussion with Luck early in camp in 2019, just a couple weeks before he decided to retire from the NFL: “I’d put way too much of my self-worth directly into how I was performing on the football field. And then I wasn’t on the football field and I felt quite empty. It was very unhealthy, first for me, second for the relationship with my now-wife and my other relationships. The result has been the best thing that ever could’ve happened. It forced me to look in the mirror and do a character assessment, and address the things I didn’t like and then the things I did like, and then get on the same page with the people I love and respect.” Luck also said, at the time, he was continuing to challenge himself to be a better football player than he’d ever been, and “if I lose that motivation, then I think it’s time to not play.” From there, his ankle and calf acted up, he and the Colts’ trainers couldn’t get it right, and he shocked the football world by walking away. So when Lawrence says similar things now, at 21, to what Luck was saying at 29, wouldn’t that be a bad thing? Maybe. Maybe not. The Colts weren’t without fault in the Luck situation. They couldn’t do enough to keep him off the ground during a seven-year period to keep him from considering how much he wanted to do it—and I do think you could argue that if Indy could’ve done for Luck what it did for Peyton Manning in the late ’90s and early 2000s, he may be the best quarterback in football now, rather than retired. So to me, it’s good that Lawrence has considered the things it took a while for Luck to confront in his life—since before that, Luck was never shy to share that he, like Lawrence, had interests outside of the game. But I’d say it does put just a little more pressure on the Jaguars to build the right way around Lawrence, to keep his fire burning bright.
I also do think it’s fair to ask how Lawrence’s words would be received coming from any of the other quarterbacks in the class. My take on that: This isn’t a normal dude. He can say it because all he’s ever done is produce. Does that make him protected? Sure. But he’s earned that. As a prep star, he won four straight region titles, two state titles and keyed a 41-game winning streak at Cartersville (Ga.) High. He started as a freshman at Clemson, and didn’t lose until the last game of his sophomore year, won the ACC and went to the playoffs three straight years, and has won 75 of his last 78 starts (75–3!), a run stretching all the way back to his freshman year in high school. He’s the only quarterback ever to go from state champion in high school, to No. 1 recruit nationally going into college, to national champion in college, to No. 1 pick in the draft. Even John Elway, Peyton Manning and Luck, the three prospects he’s most equated with in NFL circles, didn’t have that clean a wire-to-wire run of excellence. So if this guy has demons or doubters to beat back? Chances are he’s either manufacturing them or looking too hard. Good for him for being honest—he just has to find his motivation different ways. And good for our guy Rosenberg for getting it out of him.
The actions of Trey Lance the last couple weeks have been telling on the motivation for both he and Justin Fields to put on second pro days. And to tell this story, we have to start from the top with Lance. He had an early pro day (March 12), which gave him the shot to do a sort of week of professional development in California in March. While he was out there, he met with NFL quarterbacks and others involved in the game, and stayed near his ex-teammate (and current Chargers QB) Easton Stick. Stick works with John Beck at 3DQB, and knew Lance was looking to get extra work in—after having trained with Quincy Avery leading up to his pro day—so Lance went with Stick to work with Beck. Then, the 49ers’ trade happened, the wheels started spinning on Lance doing a second pro day as a result, and Lance went back to Beck for two more weeks of work. Why? Simple. Beck played for Kyle Shanahan in Washington in 2010 and ’11, and has intimate knowledge of what Shanahan and Shanahan-bred coaches are looking for. Beck was able to consult with the Niners to help Lance map out the second pro day. And Beck did that for Fields too, after having worked with Fields through the predraft process. So the workout Lance puts on for teams Monday in Fargo will likely look strikingly similar to the one Fields put on last week—maybe all the way down to letting a Niners coach run the last 10 throws of it, as Fields did. And I think this tells us two things, really. One, the biggest (only?) reason these second pro days are happening are for the benefit of San Francisco, which will have Shanahan and GM John Lynch in attendance in Fargo, just as they were in Columbus. Two, the idea of playing for San Francisco, given the system, the roster and the quarterback teachers in-house is very appealing for the young quarterbacks. And it should be. If you look at the history of first-round quarterbacks in the draft, there’s definitely an argument to be made that there’s nothing more important to whether such a quarterback makes it or not than the environment in which he lands, and San Francisco’s is a very good one. So smart play for Lance, who, I’m told, will also have the Patriots in attendance for the workout, which kicks off at 12:30 Fargo time.
There are definitely some quirks to these second pro days. We saw that last week at Ohio State, with teams keeping their plans to come undercover, to the point where the school didn’t know some were going to be there until just beforehand. Bears coach Matt Nagy and Washington director of college scouting Tim Gribble were both there, and those teams were able to keep it quiet ahead of time. For this one, I’m told the Falcons will have assistant director of college scouting Dwaune Jones and QB coach Charles London in attendance, the Patriots will have assistant director of player personnel Dave Ziegler and exec Eliot Wolf there, and the Broncos are sending OC Pat Shurmur. My understanding is neither the Bears (Nagy was at Fields’s second pro day because he missed the first, and Chicago had both him and GM Ryan Pace at Lance’s first pro day) nor Washington (GM Martin Mayhew, OC Scott Turner and Gribble were at Lance’s first one) or Carolina (Rhule, GM Scott Fitterer and OC Joe Brady were at the first one) are making the trip. Here’s another thing to watch for (or not watch for, since Lance’s second pro day, like Fields’s was, will be closed to the media)—Lance has had to get creative in finding people to catch his throws, especially because NDSU’s season is going on right now. So there’s a good shot he’s going to be throwing to stationary receivers at spots on the field. And that’ll likely require him to run the workout in a similar to fashion to how Fields did with freshmen receivers last week. As we’ve reported the last couple weeks, neither Avery nor Beck will be in Fargo for the session.
The Chargers aren’t hiding their excitement over Year 2 of Justin Herbert. Last week, when I talked to Brandon Staley about the team, and his takeaways from the early parts of getting to know the guys on his roster better, he first told me he’d figured that everyone felt like they had a really good locker room, and then he said this: “The other thing I’ve learned is they have a lot of faith in our starting quarterback. This guy’s done a lot for this team. The way they talk about him, the respect that he’s earned, it’s just one of those things. These guys know he gives you a chance in every single game that you play. He’s earned that respect in such a short time, and there’s still such a long way to go. I’m excited about that.” And then I asked Staley how he thought that happened so fast, and he didn’t miss a beat. “He’s one of the guys. I think that’s the best compliment you can give a quarterback,” Staley said. “It’s the position I played and when you can earn the respect of your teammates because they think you’re just one of the guys then, even though everyone knows he’s a top pick, a franchise quarterback, one of the elite young players in the league, for the players to talk about his work ethic, and that he’s not manufactured, that he doesn’t try to do too much, he’s just himself, that’s awesome. He’s got a lot of humility, a really good work ethic, just a great head on his shoulders, and that’s what players respect. They respect you if you’re a good dude and you’re a good player. That’s what people are attracted to. He’s just got a refreshing way that attracts him to all different shapes and sizes, all different ages.” It’s also interesting to hear that in light of the criticism Herbert faced before the draft—that he was too introverted and too sheltered as a kid who’d never left his hometown of Eugene, Ore. Seems like he’s doing just fine in the nation’s second-biggest market. And giving people there plenty to be excited about.
The deadline on fifth-year options for 2018 first-round picks is two weeks from Monday, and I think that none have yet been exercised is telling. Yes, there has been one extension, that one was signed by Raiders LT Kolton Miller. And there are a few others that really are no-brainers (Quenton Nelson, Josh Allen, Bradley Chubb, Denzel Ward, Tremaine Edmunds, Jaire Alexander, Frank Ragnow). But past that? I think the reluctance to pick up the options can be tied to two things, and those two things can be connected. One, the obvious, that these options, under the new CBA, are fully guaranteed (and not just guaranteed for injury until the following March) for the first time. So there won’t be any more cases like Adoree' Jackson’s this year, where a team hedges its bet by picking up the option, then makes the decision to cut him a year later. And two, I think the realities of the 2022 cap come into play here (most expect it to be relatively flat for another year, before a big jump in 2023), and so teams might be waiting to see who they wind up with in the draft to make a final decision on pricey options for next year, especially if the players with option decisions coming have injury issues (Chargers S Derwin James and Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch are two examples of that). Also, if you just take a gander at the 2018 first round, there are plenty of guys there who would qualify as close calls—good, but maybe not quite great players (Rashaan Evans, Isaiah Wynn, and D.J. Moore are three names that seem to fit that category).
Jadeveon Clowney’s decision to go to Cleveland is a great example of how far the Browns have come. A lot has gone wrong with Clowney’s career, but if you look closely at it, one thing you’ll notice is that he’s never been in or put himself in a real losing situation. In three of his five years as a Texan, Clowney was in the playoffs. He made it again in 2019 as a Seahawk, after being dealt to Seattle. And he was there a fifth time as a Titan in 2020, after choosing Tennessee over New Orleans very late in free agency (right before the season started). Remember, this is a guy who’s made more than $60 million in his career, has had a real look at his football mortality (microfracture surgery as a rookie will give a player that) and has always been well-served by being in winning situations. In choosing Cleveland, and choosing this much earlier than he chose the Titans last year, he’s telling everyone how he views the Browns. That’s a credit to what Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski have accomplished in just a year. Also, this should work for Clowney football-wise. He’s not the bell cow pass-rusher the world thought he’d be in 2014. Injuries have robbed him of the explosiveness to be that guy anymore. But he’s still got the length and athletic ability to be a problem as a moveable matchup guy (the Browns plan to play him inside and out) on a defensive line capable of generating the right one-on-ones for him. Which is why playing opposite Myles Garrett is perfect for him. And this is also perfect for the Browns, who’d been looking for a complement for Garrett, and now don’t have to force it with a draft class that, again, is full of edge-rushers who have talent but will need time.
I hope through all the BS last week over the Hall of Fame, everyone got a chance to properly appreciate Julian Edelman’s career. I’ve made where I stand clear: I think it’s worthy of discussion, and that it’s a fascinating discussion to have, but ultimately I’d say no (based on my premise that the point of entry for a player should be being at an elite level for his position for an extended period time). And I’d say no largely because the regular season needs to count. But the playoffs also matter, and I’d argue they matter more, and that’s where Edelman’s résumé reads like this.
• Second all-time in catches (118) and yards (1,442) only to Jerry Rice.
• Game-winning TD in Super Bowl XLIX after taking a decleating hit from Kam Chancellor.
• Iconic shoestring catch in Super Bowl LI to spark the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
To me, if Edelman had, say, Hines Ward’s regular-season numbers, that would be enough to get him in. But honestly, I don’t think it should take a gold jacket for anyone to appreciate what just happened. This guy went from a flier of a seventh-round draft pick converting from option quarterback in college to receiver in the pros (made largely on a report from a workout conducted by then-Patriots scout Nick Caserio) to the best punt returner in football, to a guy who had to keep finding ways to make himself useful (kick-cover ace, part-time defensive back) to buy himself time to become a full-fledged receiver. And it was tenuous at times (like in 2013, when the Pats let him hit the market and signed Danny Amendola as Wes Welker’s replacement), but eventually the whole thing worked out. There’s a ton in there for Edelman to be proud of, and for other football players to learn from. And whether or not some sportswriters put him in a museum won’t change that.
I hope the guys who’ll become NFL players in 10, 11 and 12 days are listening to what Malcolm Jenkins is saying here. “You hear invest, invest, invest, but you really don’t know what that means,” the Saints safety told CNBC. “The harsh reality I had is that I would be broke probably in five or 10 years [if I hadn’t played this long]. So for me, it’s been a journey to learn how to not only save your money, how to plan, how to budget but also how to grow your money. … Lucky for me, I’ve been in this league long enough where I’ve been able to make enough money to withstand the mistakes that I’ve made.” Over the years, I’ve done some reporting into how players get swindled by shady financial advisors, and how naïve 21- or 22-year-olds who become rich in a very sudden way can be (I’m not saying I would’ve been any better, if someone gave me that sort of payday at that age). And I know the mentality of some guys is to operate as if they’ll be making the money they are now for the next 50 years, when the reality is they’ll be lucky if they do for another 10. So it’s great to see someone with a voice like Jenkins’s say something that can help younger guys out.
Just a reminder: The rule change proposals are up for vote on Wednesday. In previous columns, we’ve laid out the argument for and against the loosening on rules around jersey numbers (pro: it’s fun and teams need more numbers; con: it could, in a roundabout way, make it tougher to protect quarterbacks). And we gave you an in-depth look at the Ravens’ spot-and-choose OT proposal and push for the booth umpire too, which has since been amended to expanding the scope of the replay officials. Coaches and GMs met on it over video conference last Wednesday. Owners will be on a call with those folks this Wednesday, along with members of the competition committee, to vote.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1) I’d make fun of the Red Sox’ marathon uniforms—they are a bit much—but I think I have to put myself in timeout on Sox takes after declaring their season over at 0–3.
2) While we’re on Boston sports, I was at the Bruins’ game on Tuesday night with my family, and it felt awesome to be back in an arena for a game as a fan. It was my second time since the pandemic started, with the college football title game being the other (I was also at the Super Bowl for work), and I have to say that the effort to keep everyone safe was really good, and I think the gradual ramp-up that most teams are employing is a good approach. And I let my 6-year-old stay all the way through overtime to see a shootout win.
3) That said, being in Florida the last five days was a pretty good illustration of how differently COVID-19 is being handled from state to state. And, again, how ridiculous it is that this has become so politicized. I’m not gonna get into who’s right and who’s wrong, but it’s pretty clear to me that the opinions of people on opposite sides of the political spectrum on the pandemic are driven by how to make the other side look wrong, and often at the expense of what’s actual best for our country. Which is, of course, obscene. If we’d all been pragmatic about this earlier on, and committed to taking care of each other in every way, I believe we’d be in a much better spot.
4) Prayers to the families of the victims in Indianapolis. Gun control in this country is an absolute mess.
5) Remember this name: Bryce Young. The Alabama sophomore QB is slated to succeed Mac Jones in Tuscaloosa, and, if the Tide’s spring game is any indication, his impending stardom sets up nicely for Bill O’Brien to either become a college head coach or reemerge in the NFL at some level soon.
6) Behold, Jack Sawyer … who had three sacks in Ohio State’s spring game and looks like he could be next in the Larry Johnson edge-rusher assembly line that has already churned out Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young. Sawyer’s class at Pickerington North (Ohio) High, by the way, doesn’t graduate until June.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
What a brilliant idea this was, seriously. No better way for Dr. Fauci to get the message out than through voices that’ll amplify his. And Marshawn Lynch’s does that. Well done by both guys here.
And here’s another example of a star football player using his voice for good when our country needs it most.
If Mac Jones wins seven Super Bowls, will his cigar-chomping pic from after the title game get the same run that Brady’s combine pic has?
Love this. Edelman paying it forward.
Patriots fans—experts on levels of toughness.
Great thread from a former NFL lineman, who happens to be an awesome follow on Twitter.
Love how getting the Mahomes stamp of approval has become the bar for all off-platform throws.
Most teams have had their analytics department overhaul this chart and give them a more updated one that works for today’s NFL, which I think is what Joe’s referencing here.
Full disclosure: I didn’t watch any of the Jeopardy! episodes that Aaron Rodgers hosted, but I think it’s pretty cool that Rodgers being considered to be the next Alex Trebek is seen as a legitimate thing. And maybe another reason to wish that more players were as honest as Lawrence was this week about their off-field interests.
Some people manage their Twitter accounts like they’re stock portfolios. Those are the people who announce these sorts of things. I, on the other hand, look at my follower list and can’t remember why I followed half the people I do in the first place.
Love this—and it’s an effort by Nagy and his staff to help the NFL in its efforts to promote diversity across the board. If you really look at it, you’ll notice that far more ex-NFL players wind up on the coaching side than on the scouting side. Through the Senior Bowl’s scout school, the hope is more ex-players have their eyes opened to the opportunities they have in another facet of the business. And getting more ex-players involved in the scouting would, I think, improve the NFL’s scouting process in general.
Here’s ex-Packers exec (and, of course, MMQB Business of Football columnist) Andrew Brandt explaining the genesis of Green Bay’s workout bonus strategy.
The Aaron Donald situation is such a good example of why, in the age of instant media, it’s always important to take a deep breath in cases like this and allow for the facts to be sorted out. Which sometimes takes, yes, a little patience. “We’re in an era of cell phones and videos,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff said at a fan event at SoFi Stadium on Saturday. “I think one of the things, it’s always good to let situations play out. That’s true in a particular time like this, when it appears to vindicate the player, and it’s true, unfortunately, if it hadn’t. I think it’s cliché to say we’ll let the legal process play out. This is one where it may have happened quickly. We will see how it concludes. I think we’ll just continue to let the story unfold the way it is.”
And this is a nice conclusion to the story we brought you last week, where Jags fans chipped in to buy wedding gifts for Trevor Lawrence, then donated to his favorite charity. Nice way to respond, Trevor.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The NFC West is going to be a blast this year, and I love this quote that Rams coach Sean McVay gave my buddy Rich Eisen when Rich asked him about it: “No it’s not fun. It’s really not a fun pool. It’s a pool I wouldn’t mind not being in, to be honest with you. It sure makes it fun for you to say, ‘Hey, how’s it swimming in the deep end six times a year, Sean?’”
Russell Wilson. Matthew Stafford. Kyler Murray. Third pick in the draft and Jimmy Garoppolo. And four staffs building with urgency.
For the record, I’m with Rich on this. Big fan of the deep end.
More From Albert Breer:
* Landon Dickerson on Prepping for the Draft While Rehabbing
* Julian Edelman's Legacy in New England Is Unique and Secure
* How Brandon Staley Is Building Team Culture Virtually
* Why the Jets Dealt Darnold; the Search for Their Next QB