Monthly Archives: May 2017

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Philip Rivers keeps picking up talented companions for his road trip up Interstate 5.

While his fellow class of 2004 quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger pretended to happily welcome rookie quarterbacks during draft weekend, Rivers watched his already-loaded offense get better.

No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams joins perhaps the deepest group of pass catchers west of Foxborough: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates and Melvin Gordon. In Rounds 2 and 3, the Chargers bulked up their shoddy interior offensive line, with second-round pick Forrest Lamp coming at a terrific value after many analysts like Mike Mayock saw him as a top-20 talent.
FIRST LOOK AT 2017 SEASON
▹ Ranking the 5 best offseasons
▹ Who will snap playoff drought in ’17?
▹ Projected Starters (NFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ Projected Starters (AFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ All-32: One major question for every team
▸ AFC | NFC
▹ Most vulnerable division winners
‘TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017’
▹ Ike Taylor’s Rankings:
▸ 100-81 | 80-71 | 70-61
“This draft tells — it wasn’t about telling me — but I think it tells our team, which is something we already believe. And I think it tells the fans, ‘Hey, we think we’ve got a chance to compete for a championship right now,’ ” Rivers told a room of Chargers fans Saturday via the Los Angeles Times. “I know the guys in the locker room believe that. I think these pieces we’ve added can help us get that.”

Rivers is right. He has a chance to be the best story of 2017 — the underrated veteran quarterback, surrounded by great talent, making one last title bid late in his career. He can have the season Tony Romo should have had in 2016.

Rivers was just one of the NFL quarterbacks who got a boost during the 2017 NFL Draft. Here are the rest who enjoyed collateral benefits over draft weekend:

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: Even Bortles could not have anticipated his offseason going this well. After a season during which he challenged Brock Osweiler as the worst starting quarterback in football, the Jaguars …

1) Retained Doug Marrone as head coach, mostly because Marrone sold the franchise on the idea he could turn around Bortles while providing continuity with the offensive scheme.
2) Re-signed Chad Henne and did not draft a quarterback, signaling that Bortles will not be challenged in the offseason or during the season. (So stop asking the question, you pesky journalists.)
3) Loaded up an already-talented defense with big free-agent pieces.
4) Traded for left tackle Branden Albert.
5) Drafted Leonard Fournette No. 4 overall and tackle Cam Robinson at No. 34 to take more pressure off Bortles.

The offense will run through Fournette, and Bortles still has three quality wideouts to target when necessary. Rarely has a quarterback done so little and been given so much.

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: Last season, the Titans convinced themselves a fifth-round rookie (Tajae Sharpe) could be a No. 1 receiver. This season, they drafted someone with a true No. 1 skill set. Top-five pick Corey Davis and third-round slot receiver Taywan Taylor should expand Tennessee’s short passing and mid-range attack. Perhaps it will take another year for this passing game to come together, but Mariota finally has a group around him that he can grow up with.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Panthers GM Dave Gettleman drafts in bunches. He took two defensive tackles to start his tenure in Carolina, two cornerbacks to replace Josh Norman last year and two super-sized wideouts one year apart in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.

In 2016, the Panthers looked like an NBA team that was still playing two big men after that strategy was made obsolete by a changed game. Give Gettleman credit for recognizing something was amiss and drafting Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel this year, two “space” players who should make Cam Newton’s life easier. Newton and offensive coordinator Mike Shula need to evolve along with the team’s new personnel. Cam always has excelled at the toughest throws; it’s the short, supposedly easy stuff that has given him trouble.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati’s offense should be fun to watch again. Adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon upgrades two starting jobs with speed and athleticism. Dalton is not naturally a creator, but the team just added two more players who can create for him.

The Bengals’ season might come down to whether third-year tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher can improve. If Dalton gets time in the pocket, this Cincy squad should be frisky.

Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills: Nothing is guaranteed for Taylor long-term in Buffalo, but this offseason couldn’t have gone much better. The Bills found a replacement for Robert Woods in East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones, who will follow his old receivers coach to Buffalo. The team added a potential starting right tackle in Temple’s Dion Dawkins and didn’t draft a quarterback until the fifth round (Nathan Peterman). It’s Taylor’s job, and his chances of keeping it only went up when the team fired general manager Doug Whaley.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I still worry about the offensive line. The team ranked 25th in PFF’s pass-blocking rankings last season and hasn’t done anything to upgrade the unit. The Bucs are counting on the same magical thinking — hoping they simply play better — that is taking place with the Bengals’, Giants’ and Colts’ offensive lines. This draft and free-agent crop left few other options.

With that preamble out of the way, this Bucs’ weaponry is stacked after adding tight end O.J. Howard and promising third-rounder Chris Godwin. Last year, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries were the team’s second- and third-leading receivers, respectively. They could both get passed by DeSean Jackson and Howard this year.

My goal for the summer is to find something in life I love as much as Winston will love playing with this group.

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The Washington Redskins’ red-zone offense received a boost when they signed receiver Terrelle Pryor. They might have received another one by drafting Samaje Perine. And, suddenly, a red-zone offense that struggled throughout last season could be much better.

The Redskins’ offense lost a lot of production when they allowed Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, both 1,000-yard receivers, to depart via free agency. But even their presence could not help the red-zone efficiency in 2016. Washington ranked 29th in this area.

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Running back Samaje Perine demonstrated a nose for the end zone at Oklahoma. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, Perine scored 49 touchdowns at Oklahoma, excelling in short-yardage situations in part because he’s built low and strong at 5-foot-11, 233 pounds and runs with excellent balance.

“He’s gifted man,” said Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “His strength shows up and his vision shows up and he has a great feel for getting the ball in the end zone. There were times we didn’t block it up perfectly that he won. There were times we’d scheme it up so there’s only one free hitter, and a lot of times he’d run through or around that person to make it happen. He has a great skill set for it and I would think he’d be an impact guy in that scenario.”

Last year’s starter, Robert Kelley, didn’t have great success inside the 20. There were a combination of issues, but the bottom line is he averaged 2.41 yards per carry in the red zone (22nd in the NFL) and only 1.16 yards after first contact (ranking 18th). Just running more isn’t the only recipe for success. There were top-10 red-zone offenses that threw more (New Orleans, Green Bay), others who were run-heavy (New England) and those who were balanced (Dallas, Tennessee).

The threat of both, though, helps. That’s why it’s not just about adding Perine. It’s also Pryor, who could now team with multiple targets for red-zone success: receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed. And Pryor would be replacing one guy (Jackson), who struggled in the red zone.

The Redskins will miss Jackson’s speed as a deep threat, capable of changing a game with one play. But he was not effective inside the 20-yard line, with only five catches in 12 attempts the past two seasons combined. It wasn’t just about his size; Crowder, smaller than Jackson but a more versatile route-runner, caught 14 passes (out of 25 attempts) with five touchdowns over the same period — including one on, gasp, a well-run fade route from the slot position.

Garcon was OK here, with 13 catches and six touchdowns in 28 attempts thanks to his ability to muscle through traffic.

But Pryor offers more size at nearly 6-foot-5. With Cleveland last season, Pryor caught 9 of 14 passes with four touchdowns in the red zone.

Josh Doctson could help — he’s 6-foot-2 and jumps well, but must prove himself as a route-runner in this area. During a conversation in March, Pryor said his quarterback days — and a desire to learn — have helped him in the red zone. On certain routes, some receivers start too fast and mess up the timing with the quarterback. So, for example, on a fade Pryor knows he must be patient, create separation by starting inside and nudging back wide. If you don’t do the former, the route won’t be open.

“That’s something I learned from Carson Palmer,” Pryor said of the Arizona quarterback. “A lot of times he had a problem with Chad Johnson [while in Cincinnati]. He’d be in the gun, so Carson would have to catch the ball and find the laces quick. Down there you have to be precise. Chad would beat his guy and the guy caught up [because the route was too fast]. It’s hard to make that throw.
“Carson would look over to Chad and put his pointer finger and point at his teeth. That would mean take his time at the line. Be slow. He needs to catch the ball from the gun and it gives him time to throw to the proper spot.”

All of that would help Cousins. Two years ago he threw 22 touchdowns with no interceptions in the red zone, completing 64.1 percent of his passes (fourth in the NFL). Last season, as defenses used more zone trying to take away Reed, Cousins threw 14 touchdowns and two interceptions, completing 47.5 percent of his passes — 24th in the NFL.

The Redskins needed stronger choices here and, through free agency and the draft, might have found them.

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The Redskins continued the push to get big receivers on the roster, drafting the 6-foot-3 Robert Davis in the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s Georgia State’s all-time leading receiver.

Among the Washington Redskins’ seven picks selected on the third day of the 2017 NFL Draft, Georgia State wide receiver is, perhaps, the most intriguing prospect for the coaching staff to work with this summer.

“[Wide receivers coach] Ike Hilliard had a pretty good grade on him and really liked him,” Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. “He has a skill set that is very interesting. He’s big, he’s strong and he is fast and he can catch. He was productive; I don’t know what else you want in a wide receiver so he is going to be an interesting guy to watch. He can play outside, run through arm tackles so keep an eye on him.”

Unlike a majority of the Redskins’ 10 draft picks for the 2017 draft class, Davis did not come from a big school, nor was he highly recruited coming out of Northside (Ga.) High School. In fact, during his high school career Davis said he caught just eight passes in a run-heavy offense.

Despite the lack of targets and production, Davis was still able to enroll at Georgia State where he would eventually become the Panthers’ all-time leading receiver. While Georgia State would join the Sun Belt Conference starting with Davis’ freshman season in 2013, the 6-foot-3, 219 pounder experienced quite a bit of success when the Panthers went up against elite college programs.

In games against West Virginia, Alabama, Washington, Clemson, Oregon and Wisconsin, Davis recorded 23 receptions for 335 yards and three touchdowns, going against the likes of Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and other first-round talents.

Davis hopes that he can take some of the positives from those performances and parlay them over to the NFL, where defenses won’t be locking in on him quite the same way they were when he was Georgia State’s No. 1 receiver.

On the outside, of course, Washington already has Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Josh Doctson, while slot receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed demand attention in the middle of the field.

“I’m an athletic receiver that can help stretch the field,” Davis said. “I really feel I can come into that organization with the great receiver coach they have there. I’m just ready to go to work and see what I can do to help the team.”

Davis comes into the fold for a wide receiving corps that has changed quite significantly since last season, most notably the group’s overall size.

Gone are the six-foot Pierre Garçon and the 5-foot-10 DeSean Jackson. In their place, Washington signed Pryor (6-foot-4) and Brian Quick (6-foot-3) and brought in Davis.

“I think when you’re looking for outside receivers, you’re looking for a guy that can be a little bit bigger,” Gruden said. “We feel like we have the best inside receiver – one of the best ones in the game – in Jamison so we weren’t really looking to add another one there. But we have some guys that can play a little bit of everywhere. You’d like to have size, but we just felt like at the time Robert was the best player available at receiver.

He just so happened to be 6-3 and runs a 4.4. Good for us. Really, size, we weren’t looking for a specific position there. We were looking for a guy that could run and maybe help out on special teams in his first year and continue to develop and break in the lineup that way first.”

Davis will have to fight for playing on offense with all of the large weapons currently ahead of him on the roster. But even if his appearances on offense are limited to start, he’ll find ways to make it onto the field.

“All I can say is I’m a football player,” Davis said. “I don’t even consider myself as just a wide receiver. I consider myself a football player. I feel like I can go out there and make plays on special teams. I’m willing to block. I went to a triple option high school, where that was the only thing we did. I only caught [11] passes my high school career. I mean, blocking was what I did, and I am a skilled blocker. I’m a physical guy and I’m a guy who’s willing to go out there and compete.”

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When Stone Bridge High School head coach Mickey Thompson thinks of his former Virginia Player of the Year, now the Redskins’ 17th-overall pick, Jonathan Allen, he thinks of two different people.

The first is the calm gentleman, who shows off his respectful demeanor around people, and who sounds like he wouldn’t hurt a fly. The second is the one the Redskins hope to see on the field each day, the one who makes you reconsider the person you’ve previously met.
“You have no idea what he is like when he is on the football field,” Thompson said following Allen’s introductory press conference at FedExField. “You would be shocked at his demeanor and the way he is when he gets on the field. He is just intense, you just look in his eyes and go, ‘That’s a player.’”

Thompson, who sat in a small audience watching Allen Saturday on an elevated stage, knew that as soon as he met him as a freshman — then only 190 pounds and playing a few different positions, including wide receiver — he was a physical specimen.

“You knew he was a good athlete,” Thompson said. “You just didn’t know if he was a football player or basketball player.”

As Allen bulked up, that question was quickly answered. Thompson shifted him to defense and he carried the team as a junior and senior, drawing consdierable interest from scouts, and then eventually from Nick Saban.

“It was fun and challenging,” Allen said of his high school experience earlier this year at NFL Combine. “Coach Thompson really pushed us. I mean, we would wake up at 6 a.m. to go lift before school. That’s something that none of us have never done before, so it really helped prepare me for what I was going to experience at the next level.”

“He was the best,” Thompson said. “You find out quickly that he is one of the best players you’re going to have you don’t know what level; you can’t predict the kind of rise he had when he first comes to you. You knew he was a good football player but how good he was, over the next couple of years, we were finding out slowly.”

Thompson has been a Redskins fan his whole life, and while he would have liked to see Allen be taken earlier in the draft, an indication of just how good he thinks the lineman is, Allen donning a Redskins cap is the next best thing.

“It was amazing,” Thompson said. “I grew up here; my football idol is Sonny Jurgenson way back with the Redskins. Just seeing him play for the Redskins, I was disappointed with draft, he is a much better player than that, he is the best player in college football, but he is also a Redskins now, so that’s exciting.”