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What a difference a week makes. The NFL as everyone previously knew it has been irrevocably changed.
So, take every previous mock draft and scrap them. None are applicable anymore. A fresh start is necessary after a tidal wave of player movement.
Free agency is meant to serve as a supplementary period to fortify rosters and allow teams to address areas of need before they’re officially on the clock. Organizations attack weak spots so they’re not beholden to them once the draft begins.
For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars made the biggest free-agency splash of the week when they signed Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract. The team now has its franchise quarterback and won’t be forced to position itself for the best available prospect at the game’s most important spot.
Not everything can be addressed, though. Each team still has problem areas. Even so, every franchise has already made a move that could change its draft approach.
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Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t attend Oklahoma’s pro day to watch quarterback Kyler Murray. So what? Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey did the same last year before he selected Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick.
When you know, you know.
What the Arizona brass would have seen was one of the best throwing sessions in recent memory. Murray is a gifted and natural passer who easily changes speeds and levels with solid ball placement.
Josh Rosen’s status makes this a complicated decision. But it’s easy to see why Murray, despite his slight frame, should be the No. 1 overall pick. He’s a gifted athlete with arm talent comparable to or better than his predecessor at Oklahoma while doubling as the most dynamic runner since Michael Vick.
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The San Francisco 49ers are loaded along the defensive front after the team agreed to send a 2020 second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for Dee Ford. Ford, who led edge defenders with 84 total pressures last season, joins three former first-round picks—DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead—along with Cassius Marsh, Ronald Blair and Sheldon Day.
The Niners should look to another position with the second overall pick.
If/when the Arizona Cardinals decide Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray is the future of their franchise, the 49ers will be in position to select the top-graded prospect—Ohio State’s Nick Bosa.
Bosa’s potential inclusion provides another legitimate edge presence. Buckner dominates from the interior. Thomas is better suited to playing 3-technique, especially in sub-packages. The Ohio State product is a refined pass-rusher who complements Ford.
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The New York Jets had a plan for Anthony Barr. The plan won’t come to fruition since Barr did an about-face and decided to re-sign with the Minnesota Vikings after he originally agreed to a free-agent deal with the Jets.
As such, the Jets now need someone who fits their plan. Fortunately, Kentucky’s Josh Allen presents many of the same qualities Barr did. He’s arguably a better option.
The Jets wanted to make Barr into the team’s primary edge-rusher after he played strongside linebacker with the Vikings. Allen is already a natural edge defender who led the SEC last season with 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.
New York has already bolstered its offense with the additions of guard Kelechi Osemele, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. Now, general manager Mike Maccagnan can execute his original vision by pairing C.J. Mosley with Allen.
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A year ago, the Oakland Raiders were nearly laughed out of the league after they traded their two best players, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. Nobody is laughing now after the Raiders took an aggressive approach to free agency and the trade market.
The acquisitions of left tackle Trent Brown, safety Lamarcus Joyner and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams make the Raiders a significantly better team than last year’s 4-12 squad. Plus, they still have three first-round picks.
The plan at No. 4 is simple: Pick whichever top defender falls into their laps.
In this scenario, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams is available and the easy choice. Williams is the best interior prospect since Ndamukong Suh entered the league in 2010. He’s powerful at the point of attack yet slippery enough to consistently shed blocks, disrupt run games and collapse the pocket.
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Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Deone Bucannon in free agency. The 2014 first-round pick hopes to rekindle his career under the staff that once made him a standout for the Arizona Cardinals. And yes, the Buccaneers already have Lavonte David. These two could easily be Tampa Bay’s starting inside linebackers to open the season.
However, the Buccaneers must take two more things into consideration.
First, Bucannon signed a one-year, prove-it deal. Second, Lavonte David isn’t an ideal system fit, and the staff may not be fully committed to the 29-year-old linebacker who still has $20.5 million remaining through the final two years of his contract.
LSU’s Devin White can immediately step in and become the Buccaneers’ defensive cornerstone. White is a thick and powerful downhill defender with more than enough speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash) to play sideline-to-sideline.
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The New York Giants organization remains committed to Eli Manning as its starting quarterback. According to ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano, the team does “not expect to move on” from the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller.
The franchise’s stubbornness changes its entire approach, especially after general manager Dave Gettleman gutted the roster by allowing safety Landon Collins to leave in free agency while trading superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns.
As a result, months of slotting Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins at this spot seems silly.
Instead, the Giants can concentrate on the defensive side of the ball in a loaded class. Montez Sweat is an ideal fit in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme as a long, lanky and explosive linebacker who can provide some punch to the team’s pass rush.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars accomplished their primary offseason goal by signing Nick Foles to be their starting quarterback. Step two involves providing Foles with the best possible supporting cast.
Protection became a significant issue last season. Injuries exacerbated the problem, but the Jaguars aren’t settled at offensive tackle, especially after the front office decided to release veteran right tackle Jermey Parnell.
The left side cycled through multiple options in 2018. However, Cam Robinson is expected back at full strength after he suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 against the New England Patriots.
Florida’s Jawaan Taylor is a natural right tackle. The 6’5″, 312-pound blocker is overwhelming at the point of attack, which bodes well for Jacksonville’s physical running game. He also improved greatly as a pass-blocker during his final collegiate season.
Taylor completes an offensive line that already featured Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder and the recently re-signed A.J. Cann.
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Kenny Golladay emerged last season as a 1,000-yard wide receiver. But even with his improved play, size (6’4″, 213 lbs) and downfield capabilities, the Detroit Lions still ranked as one of the league’s least explosive offenses.
The acquisition of Danny Amendola doesn’t change this fact.
Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf brings the type of physical presence Calvin Johnson once did. He isn’t quite on Megatron’s level, but he’s close.
The 6’3″, 228-pound Metcalf amazed onlookers at the NFL combine with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, 40.5-inch vertical and 11’2″ broad jump. His size, strength and straight-line speed ratio are nearly off the charts; his SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness test) score placed him in the 99th percentile among wide receivers, according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman.
Matthew Stafford has one of the league’s best arms. It’s only natural to give him a weapon who can stretch the field.
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The Buffalo Bills accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.
The offense desperately needed to add playmakers and solid pieces to the offensive line. The Bills signed center Mitch Morse, guard Spencer Long, tackle Ty Nsekhe, swing lineman Jon Feliciano, running back Frank Gore, tight end Tyler Kroft and wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley.
Now that they’ve adequately addressed the offense, they don’t have to force anything in the draft. Instead, they can capitalize on a stacked defensive line class.
Kyle Williams’ retirement left a hole at 3-technique.
With Star Lotulelei set at 1-technique, Houston’s Ed Oliver adds a disruptive presence along the interior that Buffalo currently lacks. The 287-pound Oliver doesn’t fit traditional norms, but he doesn’t struggle at the point of attack. He’s been one of the college football’s best run defenders over the last three seasons.
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The Denver Broncos are fully committed to Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback.
“I think we’re getting Flacco at the right time,” general manager John Elway said, per the Denver Post‘s Mike Kiszla. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder.”
The Broncos must now build around their new 34-year-old signal-caller, and Flacco has always been fond of throwing to his tight ends.
Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson immediately helps Denver’s offense in two areas.
First, he’s a weapon in the passing game. Hockenson might not be the same caliber of athlete as his former teammate Noah Fant, but the reigning John Mackey Award winner still tested in the 88th percentile for tight ends, according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman. He can stretch the field and create mismatches.
Second, Hockenson’s value rises so high because he’s a true in-line option. His outstanding blocking will help a suspect offensive line.
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The thought of Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins falling outside the top 10 picks seems preposterous.
Is it, though?
Two prospects, Haskins and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, are considered elite prospects in this year’s class. If the Arizona Cardinals and/or New York Giants pass on their opportunities to select signal-callers, everyone else among the top 10 already has a quarterback plan in place.
The Cincinnati Bengals are far from settled at the position. Andy Dalton turns 32 later this year, and the organization can release him without incurring any dead money. Furthermore, a new coaching staff isn’t tied to the veteran signal-caller.
Haskins can provide a talent infusion the Bengals roster desperately needs. He’s a prospect with true franchise potential. The fact he played at Ohio State is an added bonus.
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The Green Bay Packers quietly enjoyed an outstanding start to free agency. The team’s new aggressive approach to talent acquisition must have caught many off guard. Or, massive trades for the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Dee Ford overshadowed Green Bay’s exceptional signings.
The combination of safety Adrian Amos, guard Billy Turner and edge-defenders Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith drastically improved the Packers roster and filled significant areas of need. As a result, the Packers have a pair of first-round picks to spend however they like.
Wide receiver and tight end remain in question, but neither is a good fit at this slot.
Instead, they can complete their defense with an outstanding sideline-to-sideline linebacker in Michigan’s Devin Bush Jr., who gets to play behind a now-fearsome defensive front.
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The Miami Dolphins, who are in a rebuilding phase and need someone to feature in head coach Brian Flores’ new defensive scheme, lost to the Detroit Lions in their pursuit of free-agent defensive end Trey Flowers.
Michigan’s Rashan Gary presents a similar skill set.
The two have scheme-versatile traits as defensive ends in base fronts and interior pass-rushers in sub-packages. The incoming lineman is a far better athlete, though.
Gary’s physical gifts are outstanding. The 277-pound defender ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash with a 38-inch vertical and 4.29-second short shuttle.
But Miami would still need to develop Gary’s natural tools and help unfurl his immense potential. The defensive end posted only 9.5 sacks in three years with the Wolverines. Right now, he’s more potential than actual dominance, though the traits to become a disruptive NFL defender are present.
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The Atlanta Falcons already began their offensive line overhaul by signing guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown. The team also released right tackle Ryan Schraeder. The 30-year-old blocker started all but 11 games over the last five seasons.
With four-fifths of the offensive line set, the Falcons can complete their front by selecting Alabama’s Jonah Williams. The three-time All-SEC performer started his career on the right side before converting to left tackle prior to his sophomore campaign.
Williams is an outstanding technician and reliable blocker. He might not have the length some teams prefer or the weight to be a pile-driver at the NFL level, but his overall pad level, hand placement and ability to anchor against bigger or more athletic defenders have been seen throughout his collegiate career.
Outstanding offensive line play is built upon repeatable technique. No one in this year’s draft class demonstrates that better than Williams.
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Case Keenum’s acquisition isn’t a solution to the Washington Redskins’ quarterback issues; it’s a cry for help. The journeyman is a competent short-term bridge at an extremely reasonable price ($3.5 million), but he’s not a successful full-time starter.
Washington must take a step back and realize a long-term answer is necessary. Alex Smith may never return as the player he once was. He may not return at all. Uncertainty at quarterback is the fastest way toward a losing season.
Missouri’s Drew Lock is an ideal developmental option. The physical tools are present with exceptional arm talent to drive the ball downfield and into tight windows, but he’s still learning the position’s intricacies.
Keep this in mind: Lock’s contract won’t be prohibitive even with Smith still on the books. Last year’s 15th overall pick, Kolton Miller, accounted for a shade under $2.5 million against the salary cap during his rookie season.
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Free agency allowed the Carolina Panthers to address the offensive line through the addition of Matt Paradis and a new contract for Daryl Williams. The team’s attention can now turn to the defensive front in the draft.
Currently, the Panthers’ notable edge-rushers consist of Mario Addison and…
Addison, who led the team with nine sacks last season, turns 32 later this year. Between advancing age and Julius Peppers’ retirement, the pass rush requires more punch.
Clelin Ferrell came from Clemson’s stacked defensive front as the unit’s most productive performer. The 6’4″, 264-pound defender registered 50.5 tackles for loss and 27 sacks as a three-year starter.
Questions do arise about Ferrell’s flexibility and burst toward the quarterback. He answered those to a degree by finishing in the top 11 among edge defenders at the combine in both three-cone drill (7.26 seconds) and short shuttle (4.4 seconds).
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The Giants may decide to build up their roster and double-down by selecting two non-quarterbacks with their pair of first-round picks. But an opportunity presents itself to land a quality prospect who is perfect for the organization as a long-term developmental option behind Eli Manning.
Duke’s Daniel Jones already speaks Manning’s language as a fellow David Cutcliffe protege, and the two have an established relationship.
“Being around those guys [during the offseason], watching Eli work and lead those workouts and meetings and those types of things is really cool,” Jones said at the Senior Bowl, per Newsday.com’s Tom Rock. “I got to interact with them a little bit. I got to sit in on one of Eli’s meetings and just kind of talk to him walking through the building.”
Jones and the Giants are a natural pairing.
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The Minnesota Vikings released Mike Remmers Monday. With his departure, the team doesn’t have a starting-caliber guard on the roster.
Oklahoma’s Cody Ford is the ideal option with the 18th overall pick. Not only does he address the Vikings’ need area, but he brings a mentality the team lacks. Head coach Mike Zimmer prefers bigger, more physical performers to set the tone on offense.
Ford is the class’ best finisher. Once the 6’4″, 329-pound lineman latches onto a blocker, it’s over for the defender. He’s relentless in his willingness to bury opponents—a trait missing from the Vikings offensive line.
If needed, Ford can bump out to right tackle after starting at both positions, but Brian O’Neill appears settled on the strong side.
This acquisition isn’t just about making Minnesota’s offensive line better; Ford’s a culture-changer.
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The Tennessee Titans’ search for offensive weapons continues even after they signed Adam Humphries in free agency. Another addition at wide receiver would be nice, but a prospect who consistently creates mismatches in the passing game is even better.
Tight end doesn’t appear to be a major concern as Delanie Walker prepares to return from a dislocated ankle. Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser already join him on the roster.
But Iowa’s Noah Fant brings a completely different skill set.
The 6’4″, 249-pound target finished first among tight ends at the combine in the 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds), vertical jump (39.5 inches), broad jump (10’7″) and three-cone drill (6.81 seconds). His 4.22-second short shuttle ranked third overall. According to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman, Fant’s SPARQ score places him in the 99th percentile of tight ends.
Athletes of Fant’s caliber don’t come around often, and a sharp offensive mind can find a way to utilize him.
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Cornerback Bradley Roby spurned the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers to sign a one-year deal with the Houston Texans, per 9News’ Mike Klis. However, Pittsburgh did sign Steven Nelson to bolster its porous secondary.
But Nelson has been better covering the slot, and the Steelers could use quality depth, especially if they finally decide to move on from Artie Burns. Furthermore, Joe Haden just entered the final year of his contract.
A cornerback selection becomes even more interesting if the Steelers have their choice of top prospects.
LSU’s Greedy Williams can replace Burns or Haden as a long-term starter at outside corner. The 6’2″, 185-pound defensive back is extremely fluid in his hips and shows strong footwork. His short-area burst and willingness to tackle are suspect, but the Steelers need someone to cover receivers such as A.J. Green and Odell Beckham Jr. in the AFC North.
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The Seattle Seahawks made top edge-rusher Frank Clark’s retention an offseason priority, although the defensive end doesn’t plan on signing the franchise tag, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Jarran Reed also emerged as more than a run-stuffer last season, tallying 10.5 sacks after he recorded only three through his first two campaigns.
Imagine placing college football’s best interior pass-rusher between those two.
Like Reed, Tillery developed to unexpected levels in 2018 and recorded 48 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. The collegiate defensive tackle benefited from a position switch to 3-technique and excelled when his length (6’6″, 295 lbs with 34 1/4-inch arms) and athleticism were highlighted.
Tillery registered 8.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles during his final season. His addition to a rotation comprised of Reed, Poona Ford and Nazair Jones would give Seattle a chance to roster the league’s best set of defensive tackles.
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The Baltimore Ravens were dead and buried after C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Eric Weddle and John Brown each decided to sign elsewhere during free agency.
All of a sudden, the NFL heard something beating under the floorboards.
Baltimore rose from the abyss with the signings of the game’s premier free safety, Earl Thomas, and a bruising downhill running back in Mark Ingram II.
The situation isn’t perfect, but the Ravens always have a plan. Part of it will involve Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams working off the edge to replace the 15.5 sacks Suggs and Smith managed last season.
An added boost can come from Florida State’s Brian Burns. Per Pro Football Focus’s Austin Gayle, the lanky 6’5″, 249-pound edge-rusher “ranked fifth among the 104 FBS edge defenders with 300-plus pass-rush snaps in pass-rush grade (90.4) this past season, recording 51 hurries, 10 hits and eight sacks in the process.”
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Astonishingly, the Houston Texans haven’t added any offensive linemen in free agency. The approach is baffling, considering how poorly the team’s front performed last year. Defenses sacked quarterback Deshaun Watson a league-high 62 times.
Seantrel Henderson re-signing isn’t enough. The Texans may have some young talent on the roster, but the entire group struggled last season, and a steadying force is necessary.
Washington State’s Andre Dillard can step in as ready-made blindside protector. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as college football’s best pass-blocker last year. The three-year starter played in the country’s most pass-happy offense, and his experience showed because he’s never rattled in his pass set. He’s patient and efficient with both his footwork and hands.
Dillard’s run-blocking may leave a little to be desired, but his inclusion in the Texans lineup is meant for one purpose: keeping Watson upright.
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Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden made his intentions clear.
“We don’t want to have a good receiving corps,” he said during Antonio Brown’s introductory press conference. “I want to have the best receiving corps in football.”
The additions of Brown and Tyrell Williams are a great start. But that doesn’t give the Raiders the league’s best receiving corps. Not yet, anyhow.
The goal could be achieved by selecting Marquise Brown with the 24th overall pick.
His raw speed is a game-changer. Antonio Brown’s cousin might be small (5’9″, 166 lbs), but his ability to create separation, whether working from the slot or outside the numbers, is astounding.
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The Philadelphia Eagles are searching for a feature running back. As a result, every significant free agent at the position has been linked to the organization at some point.
But Le’Veon Bell signed with the New York Jets. The Baltimore Ravens claimed Mark Ingram II. The San Francisco 49ers swooped in for Tevin Coleman.
The Eagles’ search continues and could end during the draft.
Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the top running back prospect. The 5’10”, 220-pound runner never served as the Crimson Tide’s lead back, yet his skill set portends a heavy NFL workload. Jacobs displays the downhill power to run through defenders. His feet are nimble enough to evade tacklers in the hole. Most importantly, the 21-year-old ball-carrier is a nifty receiver capable of running more than dump-off routes.
With Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement still on the roster, the Eagles can ease Jacobs into their rotation. Then they can expand his usage.
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Christian Wilkins sliding this far in the draft isn’t an indictment of his potential; it’s an indication of the class’ defensive depth.
System fit also plays a role. He’s not the longest or stoutest defensive tackle. However, the Indianapolis Colts place an emphasis on character and production, and he provides both in excess.
Wilkins left Clemson as a permanent team co-captain, a winner of the William V. Campbell Trophy (the “Academic Heisman”) and a three-time All-American—a unanimous selection in his final year. He compiled 40.5 career tackles for loss and 16 sacks. He even presents position flexibility as a base end or defensive tackle.
Adding him to a front that already features Denico Autry and Margus Hunt, the Colts will have three of the league’s most active and versatile interior defenders to provide coordinator Matt Eberflus with plenty of options for his scheme.
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The Oakland Raiders are thin at cornerback. Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley, who received a second-round restricted free-agent tender, appear set as the team’s starting outside corners. The team lacks a nickel option, though.
Veteran Leon Hall and safety Marcus Gilchrist served as the team’s primary slot defenders last season. Both are free agents, and neither seems likely to return. The Raiders need to get younger and more dynamic at the position.
Lamarcus Joyner, who has the skill set and previous experience, could serve as the team’s nickel corner. But he’s best used as a pure free safety who roams the field.
Washington’s Byron Murphy is an outstanding alternative. Murphy isn’t the biggest (5’11”, 190 lbs) or fastest corner. However, he competes with a technically sound and physical brand of football. He could slide inside and give the Raiders three starting-quality cornerbacks.
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The Los Angeles Chargers took a veteran approach to free agency.
They chose to re-sign defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and added linebacker Thomas Davis and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. At this point in their careers, none are frontline players. But they’re reliable, experienced and capable of providing the franchise with some flexibility.
Right tackle has yet to be addressed.
Obviously, the Chargers want to maximize Philip Rivers’ final years. Their free-agent signings indicate as much. Yet, the team hasn’t done everything in its power to protect the 37-year-old signal-caller. Sam Tevi is not the answer on the strong side.
Ole Miss’ Greg Little, however, is a talented blocker whose natural ability could warrant much higher selection. The 6’5″, 310-pound lineman moves extremely well. He can be the short-term solution to right tackle and the long-term answer at left tackle.
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The Buffalo Bills made Mitch Morse the game’s highest-paid center. Morse’s old team, the Kansas City Chiefs, signed Austin Reiter to a two-year, $4.5 million contract extension in December.
Reiter could step in as a starter. However, the opportunity to replace Morse with the class’ top center prospect and solidify the offensive interior for years to come is too tempting.
North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury enters the NFL ranks as a three-year starter, an exceptional athlete and the reigning Rimington Trophy winner. The tight end-turned-center is at his best when blocking on the move. His lateral agility to reach defenders up front or along the second line is truly rare. Plus, he showed a little more punch than expected at the point of attack during the Senior Bowl.
Beyond that, Reiter is an ideal sixth lineman since he can play both center and guard.
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D.K. Metcalf may be the draft’s most impressive physical specimen, but Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler isn’t too far behind his classmate.
Butler is 6’5″ and 227 pounds with 35 1/4-inch arms. The massive target ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and provided a 36-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
His combination of size, speed and explosion make him an ideal vertical threat. In fact, Butler’s 22 yards per catch led all major college football targets with at least 40 receptions last season.
His presence in the Packers lineup has the potential to make the offense simply devastating. Imagine how effective Aaron Rodgers can be with an outside threat who can take the top off any defense. Defensive coordinators around the league just experienced a collective shudder.
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Last offseason, the Los Angeles Rams wowed the league with multiple moves to fortify their defense. A year later, those same moves are working against them.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is testing the market. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters weren’t as good as advertised. Peters, in particular, struggled with the adjustment from the Kansas City Chiefs to Wade Phillips’ defensive scheme. Meanwhile, Talib is 33 years old.
Sam Shields, who played in every game last season, is a free agent.
Georgia’s Deandre Baker isn’t quite as big as Talib or Peters, but he has excellent length with 32-inch arms and a 77 1/8-inch wingspan. The reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner disappointed at the combine by running slower than expected (4.52-second 40-yard dash) and didn’t appear as fluid during on-field drills.
But Baker still proved himself a top cover corner during three years against SEC competition.
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The New England Patriots better prepare for life without tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“He loves football,” agent Drew Rosenhaus said in an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King (h/t NBC Sports Boston). “… But at the same time, the amount of pain and punishment that he’s had to endure, for somebody who can do something outside of football and be a huge success—whether it is broadcasting, or acting, or endorsements—Rob has so many opportunities. It is a tough decision.”
The Patriots’ search to find a competent long-term replacement starts now. New England has had other tight ends with differing skill sets find success in its system.
Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. is a slight-framed tight end who’s best being used as a mismatch detached from the line of scrimmage. The 20-year-old’s athleticism and movement skills make him a perfect complement to Gronkowski if he returns, as well as a potential focal point of the Patriots offense down the road.