Alex Smith’s comeback: Inside the fight to save the QB’s leg and life

Alex Smith’s comeback: Inside the fight to save the QB’s leg and life

On Nov. 18, 2018, Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith was injured in the third quarter of a Week 11 game against the Houston Texans. The injury was severe. This is a first-person account, from Smith’s wife, Elizabeth, to ESPN’s Stephania Bell, of the untold story of what happened next. Watch the full story on E:60 at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday.

Warning: This story contains graphic images.

“Our first priority is we’re going to save his life. And then we’re going to do our best to save his leg. And anything beyond that is a miracle.”

Alex isn’t Alex anymore.

It’s been 57 hours since my husband was carted off the field with a compound fracture in his right leg in a Week 11 game, but now it’s Wednesday at midnight and he’s not just an injured football player — he’s the patient who’s drifting in and out of consciousness as doctors try to figure out what’s wrong. Of course, I just want to talk to Alex. But he’s … he’s not there.

They’re thinking he has a blood clot, a pulmonary embolism. Then we’re doing a cardiogram. Throughout the night, it’s test after test after test. Alex’s fever is through the roof. His blood pressure is dropping.

Everyone — the nurses, the doctors — every person is in this room and can hear me asking, “Is everything going to be OK?” They are saying, “We just need to find the root of the problem.”

Finally, we learn he has an infection.

The doctors are telling me, “He’s septic. It’s in his blood. But we don’t know what type of infection it is.”

Dr. Steve Malekzadeh, one of Alex’s trauma surgeons, comes in early the next morning. It’s Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. He would tell us later he came in because he couldn’t sleep. He knew something was off. He unwraps the bandages from Alex’s leg, even though it had been unwrapped just a few hours before. At that time, it looked normal, at least as normal as post-surgical fracture sites look.

But now his leg is black. The blisters are huge. It’s clear the infection is in his leg. It’s something I couldn’t fathom seeing in a war movie, only now it’s my husband. It’s my worst nightmare.

Dr. Malekzadeh says, “We have to go back. We have to take him into surgery again.”

Alex’s parents are there. The Redskins were in Texas playing the Cowboys that day, but Dr. Robin West, the head team physician, flew back from Dallas to join in on the surgery. I couldn’t even tell you how long it was, but it felt like we were waiting for an eternity.

The doctors finally walk in, and they look defeated. Like they had opened Pandora’s box. “He has a bad infection,” they say. “There was colonization of the bacteria all through his soft tissue. We removed a big portion of the anterior compartment.”

“What does this mean?”

“Well, we had to take off a lot of skin, a lot of muscle tissue.”

“So, is it fine? Is it done? Is the infection gone?

“No. We have to go back tomorrow. And we’re going to do it again. We think this looks like necrotizing fasciitis.”

We all look at each other in disbelief. Necrotizing fasciitis? Like, flesh-eating bacteria? This was something I only knew about from reading about it online.

Now it’s Friday, and they are going back in to cut out more tissue. Then, the cultures came back and, sure enough, it’s necrotizing fasciitis. There is one really rare bacteria in his bloodstream, aeromonas hydrophila, a bacteria typically found in freshwater or brackish water.

So Alex has a flesh-eating bacteria that’s eating away his at his leg. He’s septic and, essentially, dying. We’re being inundated with medical language. Family, friends, everybody is on high emotion.

And I just need some grounding. I need someone to sit me down and tell me exactly what’s going to happen. I send Robin (West) a text and ask her if we can meet privately and talk.

We head to the cafeteria annex, which had become my private escape. I said, “Please, can you just break this down for me? My husband is laying here. And he’s dying. And it’s coming from his leg. I just need to know — why can’t we just — cut it off? I need to know if I’m going to be able to leave this place with him with me. I can’t go home to my children without him with me. We need to make sure he’s OK.”

And these were her exact words. I can still hear them.

She said: “Elizabeth, we’re doing the best we can. And right now, our first priority is we’re going to save his life. And then we’re going to do our best to save his leg. And anything beyond that is a miracle.”

How’d we get here?

So let’s back up a little.

Nov. 18, 2018, started out like any other home game day. Alex and I, we have a routine. He spends the night before the game at the team hotel. The kids and I, we wake up, do our breakfast, shower, get ready. We’ll jump in the car, pick up friends and family in D.C., then head to the stadium. Right before I get to the stadium, Alex gives me a call. He’s warming up on the field. We do our little pep talk. We always say the same thing, “Love you,” then hang up. It’s football, and though Alex is only 34 at this point, it’s his 14th year in the league.

Everyone is tailgating and having a great time. We head into the stadium for kickoff. And that day was just like any other game.

Until, the play. We all stand because we realize it’s Alex down. He’s lying there, and I see that he grabs for his leg. I’m thinking, is it his ankle? Is it his knee? Our 7-year-old, Hudson, tugs at me. I look down and he’s welling up with tears. He says, “Mom, the cart’s coming.” And he knows that when the cart comes, it’s serious. To everybody else, this is a player that’s down. Cart’s coming. Game’s gonna go on. But for me, our children, Alex’s parents, this is more than that.

My in-laws take the kids, and I head to the tunnels. When I get down there, I hear screaming. In the medical room there are people crowded around Alex — the doctors, [Redskins owner] Mr. [Dan] Snyder, all the medics. Alex screams as they try to readjust his leg. I’ve never seen him like that before. But in my mind, I’m just thinking, let’s go. Let’s get him on that ambulance, get him the surgery, get this fixed.

As we ride in the ambulance, Alex says, “Pull up the score. How’s [Redskins backup] Colt [McCoy] doing?” He wants to know all the formations. This is typical Alex. He’s worried about the team, which is still in first place at 6-3, and how they are doing. He wants to make sure everyone else is OK.

They are ready for us when we get to the hospital. There’s a trauma bay open and they get imaging of his leg. Dr. Michael Holtzman is working that night. Dr. Malekzadeh is on call. Dr. West had said to us on the way in, “If you have any trauma, these are the best two guys you want working.”

Before Alex goes into surgery, the doctors show us the CT scan and say, “This is a really severe fracture.” It’s a spiral fracture that starts down in the ankle joint and spirals all the way up through the tibia to the knee. And the fibula is broken. Because of the length of Alex’s tibia, they are going to have to put in a few plates and quite a few screws. “It’s pretty common practice,” they tell us. “You’ll go in there, maybe be in the hospital for two days, do a little bit of rehab and then you’re on your way.”

After surgery, the doctors say it went as well as they could have hoped and everything looked good inside his leg. The bones are lined up great. I even have pictures; it looks beautiful. Since Alex had suffered a compound fracture (a complex fracture with the bone breaking through the skin), they say there is a risk of infection. They had pulled out a little bit of dirty sock from the wound. But, he’s on antibiotics.

Alex has a mild fever and is in a fair amount of pain the next day, but that was to be expected with a huge fracture repair involving three plates and 20-some-odd screws and pins. The doctors say they will probably keep him on some form of pain medication for the next couple of weeks, and we expect to head home on Tuesday.

But Tuesday afternoon Alex is still having a fair amount of pain and running a mild fever. Dr. West stops by to see him before she heads out of town with the team for a Thursday game. Dr. West says, “Why don’t you just stay one more night?” Alex resists; he just wants to get home and sleep in his own bed, but Dr. West convinces us to stay. Thank goodness she did because that night he spikes a high fever.

Dr. Holtzman comes in the next morning and unwraps his leg and says it looks pretty normal. Blisters are normal, bruising is normal. But throughout that day, Alex gets progressively worse. By Wednesday night, well, we know we’re not going home.

Saving a leg

The doctors make it their mission to save Alex’s life and his leg. They say, “You know what? We’re going to go in every single day.” And for a week they go in every day for a debridement — cutting skin, tissue and muscle — until the infection is gone, until they’re certain.

At night, I sit with Alex, not sleeping, and they come in with a pen, a Sharpie. And they write over his leg, where the infection looks to be tracking up. Every 20 minutes another resident comes in and writes — it’s coming up a little bit further. And eventually they take him into the operating room to cut into his thigh to see if the infection is actually moving up that high.

As I’m sitting there watching the infection move up his leg, I’m just trying to make sure that my husband’s life is not in danger. I understand now, from the doctor’s perspective, had they amputated at the time, it would’ve been above the knee. And it’s a different quality of life whether you amputate above or below the knee.

Thankfully, the necrotizing fasciitis never gets above his knee. Alex still has his leg … well, what remains of it.

After eight debridements, Alex has this completely exposed tibia. He has no anterior compartment. He is missing everything from his knee to his ankle and from side to side. The way the doctors explain his situation is Alex no longer has a sports injury. He has what would be more comparable to a military blast injury.

Alex doesn’t look at his leg. He doesn’t want to see it.

At that point, Dr. Vineet Mehan, the plastic surgeon, comes in with the orthopedic surgeons and says, “Here are your options. We want to lay out everything you could do.”

For the first time Alex is really awake and listening.

“Obviously, one is amputating.”

“Two is a muscle transfer. One transfer option would be your lat.”

Alex said: “You’re not taking my lat. I need that to throw. It’s everything. You can’t take my lat.”

It had to be a large muscle because Alex’s tibia was so long.

“We can take part of your quad on your left leg.”

But they also tell him it might not work. In addition to transferring the muscle, you have to connect arteries and veins and all these things. It’s microvascular surgery. And when you do that, like an organ transplant, it’s not guaranteed to take. If it doesn’t take, you’re going to an amputation. And if you have an amputated right leg, now your left leg is weakened. You have to use that leg for the rest of your life.

“It’s not to say that you couldn’t be athletic and have a prosthetic because there are amazing athletes that have prosthetics,” the doctors say. “But we wouldn’t want to try that surgery and — if it doesn’t work — weaken the leg that you would have to use for the rest of your life as the strong leg.”

Alex’s parents and I look at each other. “What do you do?”

Alex is participating more in the conversation, and he’s a fighter. Give him a challenge and he wants to go. As soon as he hears about the transfer, he’s like, “Let’s do it. Let’s go.”

After the muscle transfer surgery and a week of recovery, Alex is finally discharged home in a wheelchair with his leg fixated upward. It’s now two weeks before Christmas.

The first few weeks out of the hospital are hard. We had to outfit our house to be wheelchair-accessible for Alex to get around. He can’t let his leg down. He needs help with everything, whether it be to get out of bed or go to the bathroom. He can’t really shower. Alex came home with a PICC line, so I give him his antibiotics every day. The kids all want to care for him, too.

Every time I line up the meds for his shots, our daughter, Sloan — 2 years old at the time — helps me push the shots. Our boys help push Alex in the wheelchair. If anyone comes over, our middle son, Hayes, says, “Don’t go too close to my dad’s leg.” He has hand sanitizer ready. They understand. They’re just so excited we are all together again.

Once Alex starts bearing weight on his leg, he begins going to physical therapy five, sometimes six days a week. Some days he’ll finish PT and say to me, “I think I want to head out to the practice facility and get a little more upper-body work in.” His mental fortitude is ridiculous. He pushes himself every day.

It’s absolutely incredible how far he’s come.

Looking forward

Between the debridements, the muscle transfers and microvascular surgery, the skin grafts, the external fixator shortening and removal, and, finally, the replacing of the large circular bone-stabilizing frame with a titanium rod, Alex would undergo 17 total surgeries and endure four separate hospital stays over a period of nine months.

There’s no doubt that this is a challenging time, especially for Alex. But through it all, he keeps great perspective. At one point when we’re in the hospital, shortly after he came so close to losing his life, Alex tells me out of nowhere that everything is going to be OK.

“Do you know how many people would love to trade positions with me?” he says at the time. “Millions of people would love to be where I am right now. Do you know the life that we live and the blessings we have?”

“What?” I say, in disbelief.

“And we can’t take it for granted, not even for a minute,” he says. “Perspective.”

I have to admit he’s right.

As I think back on the experiences of the past 15 months, I feel so fortunate. We’ve had so much support from family and friends who helped us, especially with the kids, by just loving them and wrapping their arms around them. It’s not to say that we weren’t there, because they saw us every day. But they helped keep the kids’ lives as normal as possible, which was so important to me. Early on there were many nights I spent at the hospital, and I became friends with a lot of nurses. And the doctors were amazing — they genuinely cared. There were days we all broke down together and days we all cheered and laughed.

Alex and I joke that everyone wants their daughter to grow up to be Dr. West. Not only is she an incredible doctor, mother, woman — she’s a friend. Dan Snyder and the entire Redskins organization have been incredibly supportive throughout the entire process, ever since the moment Alex was injured. I don’t think I could ever have imagined a better team than what we were given.

There have certainly been moments along the way that have reinforced the concept of perspective. Traveling to the San Antonio Military Medical Center in February 2019, for instance. What a humbling experience. It just put Alex’s injury in a whole different light. There have been so many soldiers who have had this type of injury. And it is because of them — not only fighting for our freedom but through their injuries, the medicine and the technology learned as a result of caring for them — an athlete is reaping these benefits. It’s incredible.

It may have been intimidating for Alex at first when we arrived. He said, “There are people here that are Army Rangers, Special Forces … do you know what kind of badasses they are?”

They’re doing things that an NFL player couldn’t do. But they had that mental fortitude and that perseverance; they were going to get through it. And I think it gave Alex that extra little, “I can do this. I got this.” I don’t think it’s easy for anyone, especially an athlete to go from the peak of your profession to not being able to walk. I think you need motivation to get back to that spot. To watch him light up, to get that inner drive again, it was pretty awesome. On the way home from San Antonio was the first time since the injury that Alex talked about playing football again.

When I think about Alex returning to football, there’s part of me that wants him to do whatever he has the inner drive to do. If that means stepping back on the football field and throwing on those pads, then I want him to prove that to himself. But obviously there’s part of me asking, “Is it worth ever doing that again? Do you know what we just went through?”

But, I know at the end of the day this is his fight — physically, emotionally and mentally. I want him to have something to fight to get back to. And I support him.

Published at Wed, 29 Apr 2020 17:31:04 +0000

2020 NFL draft: Execs on what worked, what didn’t in virtual mode

2020 NFL draft: Execs on what worked, what didn’t in virtual mode

Zac Taylor was sweating in the days leading up to the 2020 NFL draft, and it had nothing to do with the Cincinnati Bengals‘ No. 1 overall pick.

The head coach had ordered a “Dark Chocolate” Ridgeley U-shaped desk to anchor his at-home setup in time for Thursday’s broadcast. But the online order kept getting delayed — until Taylor got word it would arrive the week after the draft.

And so, as Taylor suspected, the internet had its way with his outdated desk, which he says was positioned “horribly” next to the only bare walls in his basement. Taylor’s brother, Philadelphia Eagles passing game coordinator Press Taylor, naturally texted Zac every embarrassing screenshot he could find.

“I was going to have this beautiful setup, and the whole world won’t be able to see it,” Taylor said. “You have to be able to laugh at yourself.”

Home decor malfunctions didn’t stop the NFL’s first virtual draft from becoming a resounding hit.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to stay home, but the NFL was determined to hold a draft largely reliant on Wi-Fi bandwidth. This prompted skepticism from coaches and general managers not used to abandoning draft rooms for online conferencing.

But everyone involved lauded last week’s operation, experiencing minimal issues and plenty of memories:

Taylor called it “awesome.”

“Fantastic,” Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

“Outstanding,” Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said.

All 255 picks and 29 trades were submitted without issue. The NFL placed cameras in the homes of 64 NFL luminaries and 58 draft picks, all of whom showcased their homes with minimal glitching. And the NFL raised more than $100 million for COVID-19 relief.

The shots of kids draped over NFL decision-makers humanized the event. From IT departments to personnel staff, NFL organizations experienced a new level of teamwork.

And now, some teams are imagining the possibilities for future years.

“The draft may have just evolved,” Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead concluded.

“Technology is an amazing thing,” New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said.

But it wouldn’t be an NFL draft without some paranoia, good-natured ribbing and, in this case, well-positioned cable trucks, oversized monitors, candy vices, police cars and kids put to work.

Several general managers, along with coaches and execs, recounted their experiences of the first virtual draft to ESPN.

Be prepared

Most executives entered this draft with some level of nervousness. Putting on the suit, working the big board in a team facility shoulder to shoulder with confidantes offers comfort.

Not only was the NFL taking that away, but the leaguewide mock draft last Monday started slowly when the Bengals and Dallas Cowboys tried to execute an imaginary trade (Taylor said it wasn’t a big deal). One head coach, in a word, predicted the draft would be “chaos.”

Dimitroff loaded up for contingencies. His home office featured an 80-inch screen in front of him and two 60-inch monitors by each shoulder: one for each trade, one for team needs and a draft chart.

Then, there were the two 27-inch monitors with offensive and defensive big boards. He had his trusty draft calculator and needs charts on his desk. He had two trade phones: one for the AFC, one for the NFC. A bowl of M&Ms was nearby.

Before Thursday night’s festivities, as GMs were calling each other to compare trade notes, Dimitroff made a pact with Seahawks GM John Schneider that they should contact one another via cell if they had any issues that night.

“That was a fail-safe,” he said.

What to wear?

Another pressing matter among general managers: dress code.

“We’re not getting in a suit, right?” the Titans’ Robinson remembers texting to a few peers in the hours before the draft.

So everyone went business casual or even the T-shirt-and-jeans look. And then there was Eagles GM Howie Roseman, who wore a suit coat. Even Dimitroff, who rarely works without a suit and tie, was surprised by Roseman, who was in line for good-natured ribbing.

“You’re making us look bad,” Robinson jokingly told Roseman.

One extra step to make a trade

A big concern was how trades would go down in the first round, with the stakes higher and resources more stripped down. The first trade off the board was at No. 13 overall, with Tampa Bay moving up one spot to select tackle Tristan Wirfs.

A Tampa Bay Buccaneers source said the trade with the San Francisco 49ers went smoothly, but required one more step than usual: discussing the matter on video chat (Zoom technology was the preferred method for most teams, and Microsoft Teams was the main channel of communication with the league). Afterward, they had a personnel staffer call the 49ers to negotiate, report back to GM Jason Licht, then call the 49ers back to hash it out.

Some minor tech snafus

The looming question: What would happen when or if someone did experience technical issues?

Snead thought it was perfect that his internet went out about 10 picks before he selected Florida State running back Cam Akers at No. 52 overall. The Wi-Fi never went out when his kids did their homeschooling.

“This isn’t a coincidence anymore,” Snead joked. “This is a crime scene.”

While his in-house IT guy got to work on the hot spots, Snead called his football operations guy to inform him that Akers was the pick if available, and if not, he had two backup names. The internet came back up pretty quickly after that.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Chargers GM Tom Telesco got Zoom-greedy, resulting in an issue in the seventh round.

He had one Zoom conference with Chargers ownership and his top personnel people, and another one with his pro scouts for trade updates. He attempted to launch a third Zoom to address college free agency, and that caused his ownership window to crash, he said. This happened right before the Chargers’ 220th overall selection, which they used to select Ohio State receiver K.J. Hill.

Telesco calmly called team president John Spanos, who helped submit the pick. The troubleshooting was actually rewarding.

“To do all this remotely, and to do it in short order, the teamwork was incredible,” Telesco said.

Taking no chances

The Falcons weren’t messing around on draft night after Dimitroff noticed a few fan emails with draft “recommendations” reached his junk folder.

A police officer patrolled the Dimitroff property on all three nights to prevent any hecklers.

“I really wasn’t that concerned about our fan base,” Dimitroff said. “We get a lot of divisional opponents. I didn’t want anyone to think they could throw rocks at our window.”

Telesco got creative too, using his cable guys for a classic rub route.

Spectrum workers with a van were parked outside for three days, and they strategically parked in front of a cable box in the yard “so no one would see it and try to cut any wires.”

The workers put up two lawn chairs and watched the draft from a satellite feed. Telesco hooked them up with Chargers swag for their efforts.

Lots of extra help when making picks from home

The family time was by far the best part of the draft for the teams involved.

Jacksonville Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell can’t talk about this year’s draft for very long without mentioning his 13-year-old son, David Michael II, who stayed by his side throughout the process. “He gives me all the advice,” Caldwell joked.

David Michael was also part of a simultaneous mock draft involving the kids of several NFL GMs who keep in touch.

“I’ve been working from home the last 40 days, and he deserves to be a part of it,” Caldwell said. “The whole process was rewarding, from a teamwork standpoint [with the Jaguars] and being with the family.”

Each person has a family anecdote from the weekend. Snead’s wife, Kara, had a virtual mock draft with friends and tried to work her husband for inside info.

Telesco’s daughter, Elena, served as the team’s social media coordinator, interviewing the GM after picks.

Taylor’s oldest son wanted his dad to revolutionize the draft by selecting a player, then trading him to get a “blocker.”

“He was trying to hold a pick hostage,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I said, ‘Why don’t you just trade for the guy you want?’ Everyone has their process, I guess.”

Robinson ended Day 3 in perfect form: by hopping on a virtual diabetes-fundraising gala in Nashville to guest-auction a Titans preseason game package. Robinson, whose 14-year-old daughter, Taylor, has Type 1 diabetes, is a major supporter of the cause.

Looks can be deceiving

Gettleman is aware of the perception that he’s technologically out of touch. This became a convenient talking point after his Dec. 31 news conference, when he mentioned having “four computer folks” in the Giants’ analytics department.

In a phone conversation after the draft, Gettleman made clear he handled draft tech just fine, and that he doesn’t care about those outside perceptions, as long as he’s maximizing the Giants’ talent pool.

Gettleman had a 75-inch big screen to accompany two smaller monitors on his desk. He had an IT guy on standby. And he helped organize a multiteam mock draft in recent days, separate from the league’s deal.

“I’ve never let the ancillary [stuff] get in the way,” Gettleman said. “What this [draft] has taught is to have reinforcement. Stay in your process and work through it. … We did what we do.”

2020 foresight: How this could change future drafts

The ease of the virtual draft has left general managers brainstorming about the future. The chance to work more from home has resonated with personnel people who grind long hours away from the family.

“The interesting thing is it sparked some ideas about how we move forward, the amount of travel the scouts have,” said Gettleman, who could see draft-related travel scaled back around the combine or pro day circuit for some.

The Falcons’ war room could experience change, Dimitroff said. Usually about 50 people occupy the room, and Dimitroff admits the “quiet and relaxing” atmosphere at home triggered “clean thinking.” Atlanta utilizes the traditional big board with magnets, and could segue to a more electronic approach.

Snead liked the process of sending the pick in electronically, through the NFL’s use of Microsoft Teams, instead of calling the team’s on-site representative to submit a card.

“It does seem like we should probably eliminate [the middle man] and just type the name into your computer and hit send,” Snead said.

Even if changes are slight and the virtual draft was a one-off, the NFL world savored the time. Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn got emotional just thinking about the lack of work-life balance in an NFL schedule.

“Jumping on flights and getting home late and sleeping for six hours and going to the office the next morning is hard, especially losing all the time we do during the season,” Quinn said. “So I thought it was cool for [family to be involved].”

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein contributed to this story.

Published at Wed, 29 Apr 2020 12:47:15 +0000

Trade and cut candidates for all 32 NFL teams: Barnwell picks post-draft nominees

Trade and cut candidates for all 32 NFL teams: Barnwell picks post-draft nominees

Free agency and the 2020 NFL draft have been completed, and now the league enters into an uncertain hiatus. The NFL deliberately kept both of those activities on their original timelines, but with no way to safely practice social distancing, the league canceled organized team activities, and it could do the same for June’s usually mandatory minicamps. Teams might not meet again until training camps kick off in July, and even that might be an optimistic timeline.

In a typical year, players at the bottom of NFL rosters are dealing with uncertainty. This year might make that uncertainty even more acute. Players might get only a handful of practices to fend off a new addition in free agency or a midround draft pick. Of course, a fresh start in a new place might be the exact thing some of those players need, as Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed last season.

Let’s run through one player on each roster who is likely to be released or become a trade candidate over the next few months:

Jump to:
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF


Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton

The Broncos used their top two picks on wide receivers, adding Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to surround 2020 breakout star Courtland Sutton in their new-look wideout corps. Hamler seems likely to win the slot receiver job away from another former Penn State Nittany Lion in Hamilton, who has averaged just 9.3 yards per catch over his first two NFL seasons.

With Hamilton playing just one special-teams snap last season, he wouldn’t retain much value on the roster as Denver’s fourth or fifth wideout.

Running back Darrel Williams

Williams and Darwin Thompson were the dark horses to pick up meaningful snaps for the Chiefs last season, but neither was impressive enough during the preseason to keep the Chiefs from signing LeSean McCoy. The LSU product scored a touchdown during the postseason, but Damien Williams and first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire are likely to split the bulk of the touches at running back in 2020, and the Chiefs also have former Raiders back DeAndre Washington on the roster.

Darrel Williams and Thompson both took special-teams snaps in 2019, but I suspect the Chiefs would prefer the player they once drafted (Thompson) to a street free agent in Williams.

Wide receiver Zay Jones

The decision to trade a fifth-round pick for Jones in October seemed curious at the time, and he averaged just 7.4 yards per catch on 20 receptions across his 10 games with the Raiders.

Las Vegas overhauled its receiving corps this offseason, signing Nelson Agholor and Keelan Doss, while drafting Henry Ruggs III (Round 1), Bryan Edwards (Round 3) and Lynn Bowden Jr. (Round 3), who is moving to running back for the Raiders but could see wideout snaps. With Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow likely guaranteed roster spots, Jones could be the odd man out.

Linebacker Denzel Perryman

The oft-injured Miami product was able to tie his career high by playing 14 games in 2019, but the Chargers were using Perryman as only a two-down linebacker. He took just 20 snaps on third down all season, and when they traded up to draft Kenneth Murray in the first round, it likely came at the expense of Perryman’s spot in the lineup.

Los Angeles would save only about $1.7 million by cutting the 27-year-old Perryman, but that would help free up space for the team to pursue a veteran left tackle such as Jason Peters. Perryman’s contract also is tradable, and the Chargers could recoup a sixth- or seventh-round pick for the veteran.


Wide receiver Kenny Stills

It’s admittedly naive to try to apply typical NFL logic to what the Texans will do, but after signing Randall Cobb and trading for Brandin Cooks, the Texans are now paying Stills $7 million to serve as the fourth wideout. None of that money is guaranteed, so they could either try to force Stills to take a pay cut, release him or find a trade partner for the 28-year-old.

It flew under the radar, but the Packers didn’t add a wide receiver to help Aaron Rodgers during the draft; Stills would be a logical addition.

Running back Marlon Mack

Mack has been an effective two-down back during his three seasons with the Colts, but after drafting Jonathan Taylor in Round 2, general manager Chris Ballard seemed to make the 24-year-old’s future with the organization clear. Mack is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and backups Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins already have defined complementary roles Mack can’t fill.

The Colts could carry four backs and split carries between Mack and Taylor. But Mack also could be trade bait if a team sees its starting running back go down in preseason, like Lamar Miller did for the Texans last year.

Wide receiver Keelan Cole

Cole had an impressive rookie season as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but he has fallen down the depth chart as Dede Westbrook and DJ Chark have emerged. Jacksonville drafted Laviska Shenault Jr. in the second round and Collin Johnson in the fifth, leaving Cole to compete with veteran Chris Conley for a roster spot.

The Jaguars handed Cole a second-round restricted tender at $3.3 million, but that contract is unguaranteed, and Conley played ahead of Cole last season. One of the two is likely to leave, and the additional cash savings makes it slightly more likely Cole is that guy.

Cornerback Chris Milton

There’s no obvious candidate on this roster, but the closest thing might be Milton. The Titans signed him off waivers from the Colts last year and used the Georgia Tech product on special teams amid calf and ankle injuries.

Tennessee brought back fellow special-teamer Tye Smith and used a second-round pick on Kristian Fulton; if it also re-signs Logan Ryan after the slot corner’s market failed to develop, Milton’s future with the team would be in question.


Wide receiver Jaleel Scott

A 2018 fourth-round pick, Scott missed his entire rookie season with a hamstring injury and was active for only three games in 2019. The Ravens lost Seth Roberts this offseason, but the selection of Devin Duvernay on Day 2 will almost surely bump Scott off the roster.

Elsewhere, the Ravens will have to carry four running backs if they want to keep Gus Edwards and 2019 fourth-rounder Justice Hill alongside Mark Ingram and second-round pick J.K. Dobbins.

Quarterback Andy Dalton

The Bengals refused to admit whether they had received any trade offers for Dalton during the draft, which is most likely admitting they didn’t. They lost virtually all their leverage with Dalton after the Bears traded for Nick Foles, given that no other team was going to be comfortable paying Dalton the remainder of his one-year, $17.5 million deal. Nobody believes they are going to pay Dalton that much money to serve as the backup to No. 1 pick Joe Burrow.

The only unsettled starting quarterback job left is in New England, and while Dalton would be a logical fit, the Patriots don’t have the cap space to offer the 32-year-old much money. Plenty of teams would be interested in him as a backup — the Steelers, Titans, Seahawks and Rams all need one — but not at this price tag. Dalton could restructure his deal and take less money, but that restructure would likely be in line with what he would get on the open market as a free agent, with the latter scenario having the added benefit of allowing him to choose his destination. This situation is probably heading toward an outright release.

Cornerback Terrance Mitchell

Former Browns general manager John Dorsey once systematically released and traded away the draft picks of the Sashi Brown era. New Cleveland GM Andrew Berry has suggested he won’t purge the Browns’ roster of Dorsey’s favorites in response, but it does make sense to move on from Mitchell, who is owed $3 million in 2020 and would likely be the fourth corner behind Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson.

The Browns didn’t draft a cornerback, which might give Mitchell a respite, but they did guarantee undrafted free agent A.J. Green $145,000 to join the team. And yes, that name is correct.

Wide receiver Deon Cain

After drafting 6-foot-4 wideout Chase Claypool in Round 2 and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. on Day 3, the Steelers have too many wide receivers and too many backs. There are questions about the futures of the guys atop those respective depth charts, but I’m not projecting trades for James Conner or JuJu Smith-Schuster here.

More realistically, it’s tough to see a path to a roster spot for Cain, who doesn’t play special teams and isn’t going to stick on the roster ahead of Claypool, Smith-Schuster, James Washington or Diontae Johnson. Cain is likely competing with slot receiver Ryan Switzer, who caught just eight passes over nine games last season, for a place on the team.


Wide receiver Robert Foster

Foster looked like a potential breakout candidate after racking up three 100-yard games in the second half of his 2018 rookie season, but general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott quickly buried him on the depth chart with their offseason moves, suggesting they didn’t see greatness in the cards for the undrafted free agent.

Foster caught just three of 18 targets for 64 yards last season and was pushed further into obscurity by the arrival of Stefon Diggs via trade. Some team is going to look back at that tape from 2018 and give Foster a shot, but Buffalo probably wouldn’t be able to net much more than a conditional pick from a trade.

Quarterback Josh Rosen

Once more unto the breach with Rosen, who has now been disastrously bad in each of his first two pro stops. The Cardinals and Dolphins didn’t give him anything in terms of competent offensive line play, but even when you just focus on unpressured dropbacks, he has been a mess. Over the past two seasons, Rosen has posted a passer rating of 76.4 without pressure, the worst mark in the league for a quarterback with at least 100 attempts. The league average in that situation is 101.6.

It’s possible the 23-year-old Rosen is just shell-shocked beyond the point of no return, but at the right price, a team is likely going to bring him into its building and try to rebuild the former 10th overall pick. The Dolphins surely don’t want that somebody to be the division-rival Patriots, so I wonder if they’ll try to trade Rosen somewhere else for a seventh-round pick.

Tight end Matt LaCosse

Patriots tight ends caught a league-low 37 passes last season, which led Bill Belichick to use a pair of third-round picks on Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Both players will be on the roster barring injury, which would likely leave one spot to pick between LaCosse and Ryan Izzo.

Between the two, I would lean toward Izzo, whose blocking ability could be the difference for a New England team that is likely to try to run the ball more frequently without Tom Brady.

Linebacker Avery Williamson

The Jets spent big money at inside linebacker in consecutive seasons to add Williamson and C.J. Mosley, but the two players combined for just two appearances in 2019. Mosley’s season was ruined by a groin injury, while Williamson tore his ACL during the preseason and missed the entire campaign.

The Jets will likely move forward with some combination of Mosley, Blake Cashman and former Ravens starter Patrick Onwuasor here, given they can save $6.5 million by releasing Williamson from the final year of his deal.


Linebacker Haason Reddick

Reddick has never seemed to find a foothold in Arizona, where the Cardinals didn’t manage to convert the 2017 No. 13 overall pick’s versatility and athleticism into a meaningful role. They already have made moves to replace Reddick by signing De’Vondre Campbell and now using a top-10 pick on Isaiah Simmons.

The Cardinals will likely decline Reddick’s fifth-year option, and it’s probable that they’ll try to shop him for a late-round pick. The first call they’ll make will likely be to the Panthers, whose coach, Matt Rhule, was formerly Reddick’s coach at Temple.

Running back John Kelly

I also nominated Kelly as the most likely candidate for the Rams last year, but after being cut by Sean McVay’s team in November, he retreated to the practice squad and made it back to the active roster the following month. Todd Gurley‘s release temporarily opened up a roster spot, but the decision to draft Cam Akers in the second round took away that opportunity.

Kelly would now likely need to beat out 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson to make the roster, and while the Rams seem to be disappointed with Henderson, who got just 39 carries as a rookie, they’ve shown little interest in giving Kelly regular-season opportunities.

Wide receiver Dante Pettis

The 49ers cleared out some of their depth at running back and wide receiver by trading away Matt Breida and Marquise Goodwin during the draft, but the first-round pick the 49ers used on Brandon Aiyuk leaves them with too many wideouts. Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd will make the roster, leaving Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, Trent Taylor and Travis Benjamin to compete for what would likely be a max of three jobs.

Pettis fell out of favor with Kyle Shanahan last season, so he might be the odd man out, even if he is the most talented wideout of that bunch. He also is the most likely to return a midround pick via trade.

Tight end Luke Willson

The Seahawks were forced to turn to practice squad tight end Jacob Hollister as their starter last year due to injuries, but that won’t be necessary in 2020. This offseason, they have signed Greg Olsen and drafted Colby Parkinson and Stephen Sullivan to compete with Hollister, Willson and Will Dissly for roster spots.

I can’t see the Seahawks keeping more than four tight ends, and Olsen and Parkinson, who was drafted in the fourth round, seem like locks to make the team. Willson is an underrated player, but he doesn’t have the upside of Seattle’s younger options.


Punter Ryan Allen

Last year, Allen was on this list after the Patriots used a fifth-round pick on Jake Bailey. The rookie won the job, pushing Allen to Atlanta, where the Falcons ranked 24th in punting by Football Outsiders’ metric.

Now, the Falcons have used their seventh-round selection on Syracuse punter Sterling Hofrichter, who also has the ability to handle kickoffs. Seventh-round specialists don’t always make the team, but Allen has to feel like he’s on notice yet again.

Cornerback Corn Elder

The 2017 fifth-round pick has one of the NFL’s best names, but he was waived early in 2019 and spent most of the season on the Giants’ practice squad before making a lone appearance with Carolina. The Panthers drafted four defensive backs and overturned their coaching staff this offseason, leaving Elder up against it as he tries to make the team as a slot corner.

Guard Larry Warford

The Saints keep flooding the interior of their offensive line with assets. Last year, they signed Nick Easton in free agency and then traded up to draft Erik McCoy, who excelled at center as a rookie. This offseason, they re-signed Andrus Peat to a five-year, $57.5 million deal and then used their first-round pick on center Cesar Ruiz, who will shift over to guard.

This raises questions about Warford’s future, given that the former Lions guard — who has started 44 regular-season games over the past three seasons in New Orleans — is owed $8.5 million in the final year of his deal.

Tight end Cameron Brate

In my column covering the Rob Gronkowski trade, I wrote about why I thought it made more sense for the Bucs to move on from the more-expensive Brate as opposed to former first-round pick O.J. Howard. Tampa general manager Jason Licht has since gone on to say he wasn’t looking to deal Howard, and while that could be a negotiating ploy, the draft came and went without a Howard deal.

The Bucs could still keep all three tight ends, but as veterans who might help their defense come free, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa clears out cap space with a Brate trade.


Tight end Adam Shaheen

The writing is on the wall for Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017. The Bears hoped to translate his size and athleticism into superstar play, but he caught a total of 26 passes for 249 yards over three years. Injuries stunted his progress, but the team clearly soured on Shaheen quickly; it signed Trey Burton to an enormous deal after Shaheen’s first season, before adding Jimmy Graham, Demetrius Harris and second-round pick Cole Kmet this offseason.

Trading up to draft Mitchell Trubisky before Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes will come to define Ryan Pace’s tenure as general manager in Chicago, but using the No. 45 overall pick on Shaheen when George Kittle would go off the board in the fifth round won’t look much better.

Guard Oday Aboushi

The Lions lost starting guard Graham Glasgow in free agency, but they used a pair of midround picks to supplement their depth on the interior by adding Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg.

Aboushi has been a borderline starter when healthy, but he hasn’t topped eight starts in a year since 2014. The Lions aren’t in a position in which they can depend on Aboushi to play a meaningful role in 2020.

Running back Jamaal Williams

Packers fans haven’t taken kindly to the team’s draft, but they might find a silver lining in the decision to use a second-round pick on bruising running back AJ Dillon. Williams has been an ineffective change-of-pace back for his entire career and dragged down the Green Bay offense when he was on the field replacing Aaron Jones.

With both Jones and Williams in the final year of their respective deals, it seems likely that the Packers will go with Jones and Dillon as their running back rotation, leaving Williams as a possible special-teamer or candidate for release.

Guard Aviante Collins

The Vikings drafted 15 players, which gave their top-heavy roster some much-needed depth. They used three picks along the offensive line, including second-round tackle Ezra Cleveland and a pair of late-round selections in Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton. The latter two aren’t locks to make the team, but they’re probably better candidates to make an impact than Collins, who has been limited to two games in three years by various injuries.

I also wonder if wideout Tajae Sharpe is a lock to make the team after the Vikings drafted Justin Jefferson (Round 1) and K.J. Osborn (Round 5), given that Sharpe doesn’t play special teams.


Kicker Kai Forbath

Forbath went 10-for-10 on both field goals and extra points over his three-game stretch for the Cowboys last season, which would typically earn a journeyman a shot at the starting job the following campaign. He is still on the roster, but after the Cowboys hired former Rams special-teams coach John Fassel and signed Greg Zuerlein to a three-year, $7.5 million deal, they made their intentions at kicker clear.

Forbath will likely get cut in camp and wait for a job to open up in September.

Running back Wayne Gallman

One of the final draft picks remaining on the roster who was selected by former general manager Jerry Reese, Gallman has averaged an even 4.0 yards per carry as a runner while fumbling six times on just 250 touches. His special-teams role has dissipated, and after the Giants signed Dion Lewis to serve as the receiving back behind Saquon Barkley, Gallman’s path to touches has as well.

New York didn’t draft any running backs, but Gallman doesn’t have a role on the roster.

Wide receiver Greg Ward Jr.

The Eagles loaded up on speed for Carson Wentz at wide receiver over the past week, as they drafted Jalen Reagor (Round 1), John Hightower (Round 5) and Quez Watkins (Round 6), while also trading for Marquise Goodwin. Alshon Jeffery‘s job could be up for grabs under a different contract, but the Eagles would owe $26 million in dead money if they cut him.

Injuries made Ward the Eagles’ top wideout for stretches late in the season, and he very nearly became the team’s quarterback during its playoff loss to the Seahawks after both Wentz and Josh McCown were injured. But it would take a tremendous camp — or a series of new injuries to other players — for Ward to keep his spot on the roster.

Running back Adrian Peterson

Washington’s backfield is a crowded mess, with Peterson joined by Derrius Guice, Bryce Love, Peyton Barber and third-round pick Antonio Gibson. The rookie is the only lock to make the active roster, but I don’t really see any reason for a rebuilding Washington team to stick with the 35-year-old Peterson.

Ownership seemed to keep Peterson on the roster last season, and he came in handy after Guice went down with an injury in Week 1, but new coach Ron Rivera should have enough personnel power to make tough decisions. Peterson could earn a reprieve if one of the backs ahead of him gets hurt, but the Barber signing seemed to point to Peterson’s eventual release.

Published at Mon, 27 Apr 2020 02:27:12 +0000

2020 NFL draft biggest takeaways: Surprises, lingering questions and lots of dogs

2020 NFL draft biggest takeaways: Surprises, lingering questions and lots of dogs

The NFL’s draft industrial complex took a hit this weekend, and I mean that in the most optimistic way possible. The 2020 virtual NFL draft revealed a level of humanity, intimacy and spartan aesthetics that was not only pitch-perfect amid a national quarantine, but also suggestive of a new way of drafting.

We all hope the NFL never again has a reason to conduct a virtual draft. But some of the necessary inventions of this year’s event — both in structure and philosophy — should carry on. The most significant revelation, of course, is that the NFL draft can function on something short of a war footing.

In any other year, teams would have operated out of “war rooms,” modeled in some cases after military briefing centers to conceal discussions, data and any other information that could prove helpful to the “enemy” — i.e., the other 31 teams. With decision-makers all working from home this year, the broadcast divulged scores of insights that demonstrated how over-the-top previous attempts at Cold War-level secrecy really were.

We saw the draft board of Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden not once or twice, but throughout the weekend. It wasn’t easy to read the massive whiteboard, but it was out there. We saw Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta running through a printed list with a yellow highlighter Friday night, perhaps outlining his Day 3 wish list. Houston Texans general manager Bill O’Brien screamed, cursed and gestured at … someone, a pretty good indication that he wanted to do something other than draft Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard in the third round.

And guess what? They all survived. They got their players. No one lost any games. Their work was revealed as more haphazard and less bellicose than they themselves once imagined.

Part of that, of course, was their environment. As a reporter who always looks for the tiniest nuggets to humanize these “soldiers,” I can’t tell you how fruitful it was to see coaches and general managers in their homes, surrounded by their families, as they worked on tasks they once thought required complete professional isolation.

Who would have guessed that Ravens coach John Harbaugh would have a collection of birdhouses in his home office? Who couldn’t be touched by seeing the proud face of Lions coach Matt Patricia’s son, sitting inches from his dad as he made decisions that would impact thousands of lives? Who couldn’t identify with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, surrounded by candy wrappers and soda cans, or even commissioner Roger Goodell, whose great big jar of M&M’s emptied quickly over the course of each day?

I would have taken the “over” on three mounted animals in Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s living room, but to be fair, we didn’t see the rest of “Zimmer Ridge Ranch.” Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s setup at what looked to be a dining room table was cute, as were his interactions with a dog named Nike that, like a good dog, kept his chair warm when he got up.

These weren’t fun little nuggets, but genuine insights into people who usually wall them off. It’s not fair to expect an annual invasion of their private lives, and it’s possible this is just a one-time consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, but the NFL would be well advised to continue exploring it when possible.

The league and teams could incorporate other parts of this draft moving forward. Perhaps decision-makers will prove better served by trusting their instincts, and making the obvious decisions, as they unquestionably did in 2020. The record number of 40 SEC players through three rounds, along with a healthy dose of 10 Ohio State players in the same span, suggested they were drafting players most familiar to them after the NFL closed the usual avenues for investigation of smaller-school players.

And there is every reason to continue the Draft-a-Thon, which raised more than $100 million in support of coronavirus relief efforts, but also delivered a hysterical second-screen experience. Active players such as Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, led expertly by host Rich Eisen, alternated between friendly barbs, with critiques of Deion Sanders’ jacket. (At one point, Brady teased Wilson about connecting to the video conference from his car, after which Wilson zinged Brady for a gaudy zebra-style chair in his background.)

All of this is to say, I guess, that necessity can be the mother of invention. Let’s hope the NFL doesn’t mothball attributes of the 2020 experience in future, non-pandemic, years.

Here are a bunch of other takeaways from this draft, what might be the final event on the NFL’s offseason schedule this year:

  • The draft wasn’t virtual for everyone. IT specialists around the league were dispatched to the homes of coaches and general managers to install equipment. Goodell said that three people were stationed in his basement to assist with production. New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said that a member of the team’s IT department sat with him during the first round, and Gettleman wasn’t the only one with company. Players had been asked to limit home gatherings to six people, but in many cases, it was clear that additional attendees were standing — and celebrating — off camera. Agents could also be seen in the players’ homes. This isn’t to suggest that anyone was forced into an unsafe position. But it would be wrong to say that the NFL conducted a draft with everyone at home, or with strict physical distancing enforced at all times.

  • One coach who absolutely respected the rules was the Arizona Cardinals‘ Kliff Kingsbury, who sat alone on a white couch in the expansive open living room of his multimillion-dollar pad, his loafers perched on a contemporary coffee table. If you thought Kingsbury was pulling off the flexiest of NFL coach flexes, well, you were not alone. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, whose own home had a similar patio, told reporters: “Kliff had that thing set up like it was a movie for himself. I was killing him about that last night, like he was trying to film a movie about it. I said, ‘You were trying pretty hard there, bro.'”

  • The Packers’ decision to draft a quarterback in the first round is getting more scrutiny than the quarterback who made this plunge worth it to them in the first place. A strong argument could be made to select Aaron Rodgers‘ heir now, rather than waiting for Rodgers’ retirement. But is Jordan Love the right quarterback for that? He led the NCAA with 17 interceptions during his final year at Utah State and, at the very least, is a high risk-reward prospect. The chances of a worst-case scenario — starting the public clock on Rodgers’ endgame with a first-round pick who isn’t up to replacing him — are higher than they should be.

  • While we’re on the subject of the Packers, it’s worth noting that they are operating with the kind of long-term vision that many of us criticize other teams for ignoring. But is that approach compatible with maximizing the final years of Rodgers’ career? It could be, but only if the right answer is to surround Rodgers with a strong running game rather than an enhanced set of pass-catchers. Despite one of the deepest wide receiver classes in memory, the Packers failed to add a single one. After Love, they took a power runner in Boston College’s AJ Dillon and a tight end in Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara. No objective observer could say that the Packers helped Rodgers in the passing game during this draft. We’ll see if it matters.

  • Compare the Packers’ approach to that of the New Orleans Saints, who have been treating each of the past few years as if it could be the last for quarterback Drew Brees. They identify specific players they believe can help them right away and aren’t shy about moving around to get them. On Saturday, the Saints traded all of their Day 3 picks — a total of four in all — to move back into the third round to draft Dayton tight end Adam Trautman. (They eventually traded back into the seventh round to select Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens.) The Saints’ approach has translated into 37 regular-season wins since 2017 with three consecutive trips to the playoffs. I don’t know if it will put them any closer to a Super Bowl championship than the Packers, but the Saints offer an instructive alternative approach.

  • The New England Patriots‘ decision to pass on the 2020 quarterback class was slightly less surprising than the Packers’ failure to draft a receiver. But to be fair, there has never been any indication that Belichick planned to substantively add to a group that currently includes Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Anything could happen at any time, and there are some notable free agents remaining on the market, including Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. But at some point, we might just have to accept that Belichick really does plan to replace Tom Brady with Stidham — with Hoyer available to fill in if Stidham can’t handle it. It is a relatively rare reaction to moving on from an MVP quarterback — since 2000, 11 of the 15 teams that have bid farewell to one have drafted a possible replacement in the next draft — but it is very much on brand for Belichick.

  • The NFL tried too hard to co-opt the annual draft booing of Goodell, who encouraged screens of fans to let loose on him throughout the draft. An adjacent screen displayed a suspiciously consistent “Boo Meter.” It was a clever but ineffective bit. At the risk of sounding like a “Seinfeld” script, I’ll posit that neither Goodell nor anyone else gets to change the terms of the boo. We must fight to preserve booing as an unironic expression of dissatisfaction, not tongue-in-cheek affection. It is the American way.

  • We’ll have to twist ourselves into a knot to excuse Chiefs coach Andy Reid (one of the league’s best forward thinkers) for drafting a running back in the first round (a vestige of previous eras). But here goes: LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire might be the best receiving back in the draft, and the Chiefs are highly productive when they target their backs. Edwards-Helaire is tremendous in the open field, having forced the second-most missed tackles (97) in college football last season. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown 16 touchdown passes to running backs in two seasons and averages an NFL-best 7.7 yards per attempt when targeting running backs in his career. For a comp, consider how Reid used Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2009. Over that period, Westbrook caught twice as many touchdown passes (29) as the next-best running back. Reid gets the benefit of the doubt here.

  • Somewhere around 1,458 people have been named “Raekwon” since 1880, according to the website The Dolphins have two of them: second-round defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and third-year linebacker Raekwon McMillan, a second-round pick in 2017. According to the Pro Football Reference database, they are the only two Raekwons in NFL history. McMillan welcomed his new teammate to Miami:



New Eagles draftee Jalen Hurts talks about his journey to the NFL and how he feels blessed to be an NFL player.

  • Given the importance of the position, and the frequently crushing implications of an injured starter, it’s a mystery why teams don’t draft a quarterback every year and assign his development to an assistant coach. Even if he never helps win a game, the quarterback could perhaps become a trade asset. That’s what Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was referring to Saturday after drafting Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round. “We want to be a quarterback factory,” Roseman said. But generally speaking, NFL teams expect significant contributions from second-round picks within a season or two. Hurts isn’t playing quarterback in the coming years unless starter Carson Wentz is injured. So we’ll give Roseman the benefit of the doubt and assume the Eagles also have a 2020 offensive role in mind, at some position, for Hurts as well.

  • The great receiver class of 2020 lived up to its billing. Eight receivers flew off the board in the first 35 overall picks, the highest total in the common draft era; 26 were drafted through five rounds; and a total of 36 were drafted overall, tying the record set in 2003 for the most in a seven-round draft, all according to the Elias Sports Bureau. This was a perfect synthesis of talent and an annual screaming need from a pass-happy league.

  • No team was more receiver-focused than the Las Vegas Raiders, who became the first team in 38 years to draft three receivers in the first three rounds of a single draft. (It had happened only twice before, with the 1982 Saints and the 1967 Vikings.) In Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, the Raiders got the fastest receiver in the draft. Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden is an all-around playmaker and South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards can be a strong outside presence. If Derek Carr ultimately falters under coach Jon Gruden, it won’t be because of a lack of weapons.

  • The same is true of Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, who in some ways might be the top winner of the draft. To go along with veteran receiver Courtland Sutton, Lock now has Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy (Round 1) and Penn State’s KJ Hamler (Round 2). The Broncos also got his former tight end at Missouri, Albert Okwuegbunam, in the fourth round. What remains to be seen about the Broncos’ offense, however, is whether they can find a way to elevate their offensive line. The Broncos ranked No. 27 in ESPN’s pass rush win-rate metric and didn’t add a lineman until drafting center Lloyd Cushenberry III in Round 3.

  • The Miami Dolphins took the opposite approach for building around new quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, drafting offensive linemen in the first, second and fourth rounds. Of that group, you can expect USC’s Austin Jackson (Round 1) to start right away at left tackle, with Louisiana-Lafayette’s Robert Hunt (Round 2) at right guard or right tackle.

Published at Sun, 26 Apr 2020 00:08:49 +0000

Analysis for every pick in the NFL draft

Analysis for every pick in the NFL draft

The 2020 NFL draft is underway, with the first three rounds in the books. While some teams have found their new franchise quarterback in the draft — including Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert — others used their picks on elite playmakers on both sides of the ball. And how about all of those trades?

If you missed any of it — or just want to catch up on deeper analysis — read on for insights on every team from our crew of reporters.

Jump to:
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF

There’s no way the Cardinals could’ve passed on Isaiah Simmons, who’s widely considered the best defensive player in this year’s draft. He’s often referred to as a positionless player, and with Arizona’s issues defending tight ends over the years, Simmons can be an instant fix. He can also rush the passer, drop back into coverage, play safety … basically, he can do everything. Analysis of every Cardinals pick from Josh Weinfuss.

The Falcons needed a starting-caliber cornerback after releasing Desmond Trufant, and A.J. Terrell has the size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to be a longtime starter. Analysis of every Falcons pick from Vaughn McClure.

The Ravens filled their biggest need, but Patrick Queen doesn’t look or play like Ray Lewis or C.J. Mosley, the two other middle linebackers who’ve been selected by Baltimore in the first round. Queen is a safety-sized, multitalented defender. He can go sideline-to-sideline to stop the run, drop back in coverage to blanket tight ends and blitz from anywhere on the field. Analysis of every Ravens pick from Jamison Hensley.

With at least six players on the board who also fit a team need, the Bills selected a player many analysts believed had first-round value. After losing pass-rusher Shaq Lawson and signing veteran Mario Addison in free agency this offseason, Buffalo needed a foundational piece at defensive end, and A.J. Epenesa fits that mold. Analysis of every Bills pick from Marcel Louis-Jacques.

The Panthers went with Derrick Brown over Isaiah Simmons, in part because they have only two defensive tackles on the roster, and in part because they believed Simmons to be a better fit for an established team than one in a rebuild mode. Put Brown beside Pro Bowl lineman Kawann Short, and the Panthers now have one of the stoutest inside duos in the NFL. Analysis of every Panthers pick from David Newton.

The Bears had the NFL’s least productive tight ends group in 2019, and used their first pick of the draft on Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet. Expect him to have a significant role, alongside free agent signing Jimmy Graham. Analysis of every Bears pick from Jeff Dickerson.

In Joe Burrow, the Bengals selected a quarterback who is expected to be the face of the franchise and the starter immediately. Getting Burrow acclimated to the NFL will be challenging, given the restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the 23-year-old figures to be up for the challenge. Analysis of every Bengals pick from Ben Baby.



Ben Baby breaks down why the Bengals made the right choice in taking Joe Burrow first overall in the 2020 NFL draft.

Although there was plenty of outside smoke about the Browns potentially trading for Washington veteran All-Pro Trent Williams to address their void at left tackle, they remained committed to drafting their left tackle of the future. In Jedrick Wills Jr., the Browns got exactly what they had hoped to land in this draft — a long-term blindside protector for Baker Mayfield. Analysis of every Browns pick from Jake Trotter.

Drafting CeeDee Lamb can be viewed as a Dak Prescott-friendly move. Lamb gives the Cowboys a big-play threat on the outside with the ability to move around the formation. Alongside the equally mobile Amari Cooper, Lamb will put pressure on defenses in how they want to match up against the Cowboys. Analysis of every Cowboys pick from Todd Archer.

Jerry Jeudy will play immediately — and a lot — for the Broncos. His ability to line up all over the formation made him the perfect intersection between the biggest need on the depth chart and the best player on the board when the Broncos’ turn arrived. Analysis of every Broncos pick from Jeff Legwold.

On a team that traded Darius Slay to Philadelphia last month and then signed Desmond Trufant in free agency, there was still a hole for a starting corner opposite Trufant. Now the Lions have a player who should transition into a No. 1 corner sooner rather than later in Jeff Okudah. Analysis of every Lions pick from Michael Rothstein.

Aaron Rodgers has always played with a chip on his shoulder, and this might be another reason to do so. But by taking Jordan Love in the first round, the Packers get the option of a fifth-year deal on his rookie contract. Analysis of every Packers pick from Rob Demovsky.



Rob Demovsky details whether the Packers made the right choice to take Jordan Love with the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

With their first pick of the draft, the Texans filled the need for an interior lineman, getting TCU DT Ross Blacklock. The Texans like Blacklock’s versatility and fit in new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver’s defense. Analysis of every Texans pick from Sarah Barshop.

The Colts, who didn’t have a first-round pick, are giving Philip Rivers some help at receiver. Michael Pittman Jr. joins a receiving group that lacked depth because of injuries, and didn’t get enough production from the healthy players at the position last season. Analysis of every Colts pick from Mike Wells.

Defensive tackle and corner are the Jaguars’ two biggest needs this offseason, and some analysts saw C.J. Henderson as a better cover guy than Jeff Okudah, the third overall pick. Then, at pick No. 20, the Jags landed an elite pass-rusher, LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson. Analysis of every Jaguars pick from Mike DiRocco.

The rich just got richer. The Chiefs had some depth at running back, including Super Bowl LIV star Damien Williams, but neither Williams nor the team’s other backs are in the same playmaking class as Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Analysis of every Chiefs pick from Adam Teicher.

With this pick, the receiver-needy Raiders had all of the consensus top-three wideouts at their disposal, and they had an Al Davis moment — they went with the fastest guy in the draft, Henry Ruggs III. And to help slow down all the elite receivers in the AFC West, they also snagged CB Damon Arnette at No. 19. Analysis of every Raiders pick from Paul Gutierrez.

The Chargers’ decision to select Justin Herbert sets the course of the franchise for the foreseeable future as they attempt to move on from veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who departed in free agency after 16 seasons. Then, after trading up to No. 23, they landed three-down linebacker Kenneth Murray. Analysis of every Chargers pick from Lindsey Thiry.



Lindsey Thiry breaks down whether the Chargers made the right decision to move up and select Kenneth Murray with the 23rd pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

After releasing Todd Gurley, it was expected that the Rams would select a running back on Day 2 of the draft, and they did just that with Cam Akers. Akers rounds out a running back room that also includes Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, and the trio is anticipated to share the load next season. Analysis of every Rams pick from Lindsey Thiry.

The Dolphins were faced with the choice of taking a chance on Tua Tagovailoa and his injury/durability risks or “settling” for a lesser quarterback prospect in Justin Herbert. They chose Tagovailoa, the most efficient QB in college football history, who can rise to become the face of Miami’s rebuild and the franchise QB that this team desperately needs. At No. 18, they got their new QB some protection by drafting offensive tackle Austin Jackson. Analysis of every Dolphins pick from Cameron Wolfe.

The unpredictable nature of the draft played in to the Vikings’ favor in a big way. They were able to check the best-player-available box and draft for need with the same pick, getting WR Justin Jefferson at No. 22. Then, after an offseason exodus at cornerback, they landed Jeff Gladney at No. 31. Analysis of every Vikings pick from Courtney Cronin.

At just shy of 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, Kyle Dugger is a box safety and linebacker type in the mold of Patrick Chung, who fills a valuable role on the Patriots’ defense. With Chung closer to the end of his career, Dugger is a potential future replacement and should be an immediate contributor on special teams. Analysis of every Patriots pick from Mike Reiss.

Drafting Michigan center Cesar Ruiz wasn’t a sexy pick, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. The interior offensive line was the only position Saints coach Sean Payton identified by name as a draft need. While a WR or front-seven defender might’ve been more exciting, the Saints have a strong record of investing in young offensive linemen. Analysis of every Saints pick from Mike Triplett.

The Giants needed a tackle, and Andrew Thomas was their top choice. He will come in at the start and compete at right and left tackle, and he is a perfect fit for what new coordinator Jason Garrett wants to do with the offense. Analysis of every Giants pick from Jordan Raanan.

The Jets could have opted for a wide receiver — they were tempted by CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III — but they made the right call by locking down Sam Darnold‘s blind side with 6-foot-7, 364 pound Mekhi Becton. Analysis of every Jets pick from Rich Cimini.

The Eagles made a bold move by selecting Jalen Reagor at No. 21 with Justin Jefferson still on the board. Reagor is a burner, and that’s exactly what Philly was looking for after slogging its way through much of the 2019 season on offense. Analysis of every Eagles pick from Tim McManus.

Though he’s listed as a wide receiver, Chase Claypool has the body of a tight end at 6-4, 238 pounds. His addition gives quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a third receiving target of at least 6-4, joining tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald. Analysis of every Steelers pick from Brooke Pryor.

It probably should come as no surprise that the 49ers once again invested in the defensive line; this is the fifth time in six seasons they’ve used their first pick on the defensive front. In Javon Kinlaw, the Niners hope to have found their replacement for DeForest Buckner as the three-technique defensive tackle. Later in the first, the Niners moved up six slots to nab wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Analysis of every 49ers pick from Nick Wagoner.

Taking Jordyn Brooks at No. 27 was every bit the first-round Seahawks surprise, just as James Carpenter was in 2011, Bruce Irvin was in 2012 and Rashaad Penny was in 2018. Say what you will about the Seahawks drafting a player you didn’t expect them to, but you can’t fault them for adding a speedy playmaker to a defense that struggled across the board in 2019. Analysis of every Seahawks pick from Brady Henderson.

The Bucs were hoping one of the four top-tier offensive tackles would fall to them at No. 1, but decided to jump one spot to grab Tristan Wirfs; it’s a small price to pay when considering how paramount protection is for 42-year-old Tom Brady. In Wirfs, they have a plug-and-play, Day 1 starter. Analysis of every Buccaneers pick from Jenna Laine.



Jenna Laine believes the Buccaneers made the right decision in trading up to select Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

The Titans added a player who will help their rushing attack. Isaiah Wilson has already proved that he can excel as a run-blocker, having played in a zone-oriented scheme at Georgia, and he helps offset the loss of Jack Conklin in free agency. Analysis of every Titans pick from Turron Davenport.

The Redskins made a no-brainer choice by selecting Chase Young second overall. Coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, between them, have coached Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Julius Peppers. They know what an elite edge rusher can do for a defense, and that’s what they’re expecting from Young. Analysis of every Redskins pick from John Keim.

Published at Sat, 25 Apr 2020 04:58:28 +0000