NFL Draft heating up, Jon Gruden’s Raiders, power rankings and more

NFL


Every NFL Draft has its turning points and this year will be no different. With so many variables atop the order, look for April to have plenty of intrigue.

Come April 26, the NFL world will feast its eyes on JerryWorld. Comissioner Roger Goodell will step to the podium, get booed, smile awkwardly, and then announce that the Cleveland Browns are on the clock.

From there, chaos will reign.

The Browns are not likely to trade out of that top pick, and are almost certain to take a quarterback. While the guess here is Sam Darnold, it’s nothing more than that, because Josh Allen and Josh Rosen are absolutely in play. Once Cleveland takes its next face-of-the-franchise, the New York Giants will be up, and that’s when the crucible really heats up.

In each draft, there are moments that shape the rest of the proceedings. They break the mold, and force everybody to throw their mock drafts in the fire, roasting atop the charred remnants of last year’s versions.

At No. 2, the Giants could take Saquon Barkley, adding another weapon for Eli Manning. Speaking of Manning, they could drafts eventual replacement, or give him help up front by nabbing Quentin Nelson of Notre Dame. Then again, general manager Dave Gettleman may opt to select Bradley Chubb, bolstering a horrid defense. Of course, Gettleman could also deal the pick to a quarterback-starved franchise like the Buffalo Bills or Denver Broncos.

While we haven idea who will be the second player off the board, that will be the first flash point of many coming out of Arlington in three-plus weeks. The second may well be which direction the Broncos go should they remain at the fifth spot.

Denver signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal in March, but it’s hard to believe either he or Paxton Lynch are the long-term answer. Does general manager John Elway take Allen or Baker Mayfield if they remain on the board? If not, the free fall could be on for one fo the quarterbacks who many believe won’t make it out of the top five. In this vein, never forget that Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers were supposed to only warm their seat in the green room, not make an imprint in it.

Should that happen, and a quarterback slides, where does the slide stop? The Bills pick at No. 11, and it’s tough to imagine a bonafide signal-caller eludes them at that juncture. Then again, would a team such as the Miami Dolphins or Arizona Cardinals trade up a few spots to land their man? If Mayfield is the one falling, Miami is rumored to be very giddy about his potential. For a team that struggles to sell seats, one could do worse than trotting Mayfield out the following day in front of an energized fanbase.

While there are a bevy of loaded position groups (safety, running back among them), quarterbacks have and will continue to drive the narrative around draft classes. We know which teams need them, but there will be stunning trades, shocking selections and tough decisions that stun us all. Once Cleveland takes its man first-overall, the draft will get turned on its ear.

And those mock drafts we all love so much? They’ll join the ashes of the brethren from year’s past on the bottom of the fireplace.

Power rankings

Top 10 non-active coaches not in Hall of Fame

1. Don Coryell, San Diego Chargers
2. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
3. Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Tom Flores, Oakland Raiders
5. George Allen, Washington Redskins
6. Marty Schottenheimer, Kansas City Chiefs
7. Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys
8. Dick Vermeil, Philadelphia Eagles
9. Mike Shanahan, Denver Broncos
10. Chuck Knox, Los Angeles Rams

Quotable

“I’m going to put my fan hat on, and obviously at some point we have to,” Kraft said, via ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “… I put my faith and confidence in Bill [Belichick]. He knows his responsibilities. Anything can happen, even if Tom comes in [and is in] tip-top shape.”

– New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the need to draft a quarterback

It wouldn’t be stunning to see New England use a Day 2 pick on a quarterback. Brady is turning 41 years old in August, and the current backup is veteran Brian Hoyer. The Patriots could target Lamar Jackson, Luke Falk or Mason Rudolph and be happy with a developmental prospect.

We could have a rare year where all four teams in a given division use a high draft picks on a quarterback. The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills are almost certain to nab one in the first round, while the Miami Dolphins have been linked heavily to having interest Baker Mayfield.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of Stacking The Box every Monday, on both iTunes and Facebook Live via the FanSided page. Make sure to check it out, subscribe and hit us up with a comment!

Random stat

For only the second time since realignment in 2002, the NFC had division that sent three teams to the postseason. In 2017, the South saw the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints all play into January.

Info learned this week

1. Jon Gruden is doing it his way

For better or worse, the Oakland Raiders are getting the Jon Gruden treatment. Oakland’s choices in free agency have been questioned both in this space and around the internet, and for good reason. The Raiders have gotten older and slower in a league that is constantly gearing the game toward fast, athletic types. Signing Leon Hall, Lee Smith, Derek Carrier, Jordy Nelson, Keith Smith and others flies in the face of that.

Then, on Friday, the Raiders decided to release Pro Bowl punter Marquette King. King, 29, is an elite punter, so cutting him makes little sense on the surface. There have been suggestions that King’s personality could be part of the reason he was cut — King has been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for his celebrations — but it seems both premature and shortsighted on Gruden’s part if that’s the case.

Oakland signed Gruden to a 10-year, $100 million deal in January. One wonders if the Raiders are starting to sweat a bit over that pact.

2. Seahawks accepting minor rebuild

The Seattle Seahawks finished out of the playoffs last season for the first time since the 2011 season, and general manager John Schneider decided to make sweeping changes. In the past few months, the Seahawks have said goodbye to Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson and others, stripping down the cap and roster simultaneously.

Recently, Schneider told ESPN 710 AM in Seattle that the team was resetting, something that is evident. The Seahawks are going with a youth movement, centered around veterans Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, which is the correct decision. With the Rams and 49ers building strong teams, the Cardinals also rebuilding, Seattle is reading the room well. Considering Schneider’s track record — and the presence of Wilson — the Seahawks won’t be down for long.

3. Texans revamping offense for Deshaun Watson

Despite watching Deshaun Watson light up opponents for 19 touchdowns in eight games a year ago, Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien isn’t content. Going into 2018, the Texans are completely changing their offensive playbook to suit the strengths of Watson, hoping to build a top-end attack.

Houston is smart to build around its franchise player, especially considering how tough the AFC South is becoming. The Jacksonville Jaguars have the league’s top defense, while the Tennessee Titans are quietly having an excellent offseason. If the Texans are going to surpass those two teams, Watson is going to be the key.

4. Johnny Manziel getting back in NFL circles

Whether or not Manziel ever plays another down in the National Football League remains an unknown, but the possibility seems much more plausible than it was even six months ago. Manziel, who has gotten himself sober and working out regularly, threw at the Texas A&M pro day and spoke with the Patriots afterwards.

Manziel, 25, still has time on his side, but he has to prove himself and then some. After being drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Cleveland Browns, Manziel only started eight games before being cut.

Throwing in front of NFL teams, in shape, is a good start. The question now becomes can Manziel keep it up, and will someone give him a chance?

5. Reuben Foster could be out of San Francisco soon

The San Francisco 49ers are on the rise, but they have an ugly issue hanging over their heads. After selecting inside linebacker Reuben Foster in the first round of the 2017 draft, the former Alabama star was great when healthy, amassing 72 tackles in 10 games.

However, Foster was arrested on charges that include domestic violence in February, adding to a lengthy history of off-field problems. At the NFL owners meetings in Orlando last week, Jed York told NBC Sports Bay Area that Foster’s future with the team is uncertain, as the legal proceedings continue to play out.

If he’s found guilty, the 49ers would be right to move on, admitting a major error in judgement nonetheless.

History lesson

The Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs in every season between 1968-78, save for 1972. That year, the Green Bay Packers won the NFC Central, buoyed by a punishing ground tandem of MacArthur Lane and John Brockington.

For Green Bay, that was the only postseason appearance of the decade. The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears also only tasted playoff football once that decade, with Detroit going in 1970 and Chicago making it in 1977. All three trips were one-and-done.

Incredibly, the Vikings played in as many Super Bowls as the other three divisional participants played in postseason games combined.

Parting shot

The AFC is the weaker of the two conferences, but two teams could make a move come draft day. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have both missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and neither has much of an identity. When you think Cincinnati and Baltimore, what comes to mind? Nothing.

If the Bengals and Ravens can add some playmakers to their teams, they could challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers in the North, and could certainly vie for a wild card berth. Both teams have talent, but they need more, and an infusion of youth would do wonders.

With both coaches on the hot seat entering 2018, each organization has a chance to reestablish itself as a contender climbing the ladder. It also has a chance to prove why a full-blown overhaul is needed.



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