It seems only fitting that Willie Richardson passed away of natural causes February 8, 2016, at age 76. Natural is the appropriate description for the genial Richardson.
Moving adroitly on the gridiron, golf course and all walks of life, Richardson was one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League from 1967-69 as a two-time pro-bowler during his tenure with the Baltimore Colts 1963-71 [and Miami Dolphins in 1970].
Former University of Mississippi Law School Dean, Bob Farley, once said, “Mississippi is not a state, it’s a family.”
On many levels, Richardson’s life parallels this theme. Family, friends and relatives from across Mississippi were intertwined throughout his life.
W.C. Gorden, a high school coach [1956-66], defensive coordinator for Jackson State coach Rod Paige [1967-77], head baseball coach [1966-76] and head football coach at Jackson State [1977-91], shared a friendship of nearly half century with Richardson.
“Willie was known throughout the state and that started with high school football,” said Gorden. “He was an outstanding community servant and a natural at connecting with people.
“When I got to the church, I saw white and black professionals and people from all walks of life. You had over 1,800 people; many had come from all over the state. It was the largest funeral I’d been to. That’s when I understood just how beautiful a person Willie was.”
Growing up in Greenville, Miss. Richardson and his five brothers: Gloster, Ernie, Thomas, Charles and Allan made a name in football, basketball and baseball.
The majority of the black students attended Coleman High School established in 1926 and named after Lizzie Coleman on the north side of the city [rival Weston High School was on the south side]. Taking pride in their students’ achievements was palpable throughout the community. A person who had a sizeable hand in developing Richardson, his brothers and hundreds of kids during his tenure was coach Davis Weathersby. A native of Liberty, Miss., he grew up with six brothers and three sisters helping farm the 65 acres his father owned, where they raised cotton, vegetables, sweet potatoes and also had their own sugar cane mill. Attending Alcorn State in 1951, Weathersby learned from a strong senior class that included running back Medgar Evers and 6-0, 230 pound fullback Jack Spinks, who became the first black from Mississippi to play in the NFL. Weathersby started three years as a 5-10, 185 pound offensive guard and defensive lineman.
Head coach at Coleman High School from 1956-70, Weathersby posted a 112-26-6 record, which included state championships in 1957 and ’67 and four Big Eight Conference titles. Richardson’s junior year, they went 9-0-2 and beat Laurel 19-14 for the conference championship. The following season they started 0-2, Weathersby moved Richardson from receiver to quarterback [he started at free safety] and they went 8-2-1 the rest of the way. In 1961, wide receiver Gloster Richardson paired with quarterback George Scott and they went to the conference final against Rowan in 1961. Scott went onto play major league baseball [1966-79] with the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. A receiver in the NFL from 1967-74, Gloster was on Super Bowl championships with the Kansas City Chiefs  and the Dallas Cowboys . A South Side Chicago resident in the South Shore neighborhood after his career ended, Gloster returned to Mississippi for two years where he was the wide receiver coach at Mississippi Valley State in 1983-84 working with future NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Teachers and administrators at Coleman High School made certain every opportunity was extended to the students.
“Coleman was a great school,” said the 83-year old Weathersby, who lives in Greenville. “We called it the school of champions. We had a great band and glee club; we excelled in everything. We had dedicated teachers and parents who were very supportive. We had people come in before and after school to teach advanced calculus and other subjects. We were strict and had complete control of our kids.”
In a state overflowing with football fever, Friday afternoons for home games brought the community out to celebrate. The 70 member award winning band, led by renowned director Roy P. Huddleston, festooned in stylish attire, stepping with drum majors and majorettes, led the march down Nelson St. before a crowd of a couple thousand.
“I grew up wanting to be a drum major,” said Wilbert Montgomery, who was part of the integration of Greenville High School in 1970 [the same year the high school ended up 90 percent African American]. He played with younger brother, Cleotha, for coach Gary Dempsey, winning a state championship in 1972 going 11-0 before attending Abilene Christian. A four year starter with the Wildcats, Montgomery set a record with 37 touchdowns as a freshman, teaming with quarterback Clint Longley to help win a NAIA National Championship. Montgomery gained over 6,700 yards playing with the Philadelphia Eagles [1977-84]. Younger brothers Cleotha, Tyrone and Fred Montgomery also played professional football; nine of the 10 brothers played college football. “You’d see them out in front of everyone with their stylish uniforms high-stepping in their routine.
“Later at night, I’d get out in the street and practice my own routine.
“As a child, we’d go to watch the games. It cost a quarter and we couldn’t afford it so we’d watch from outside the fence.
“Most kids grew up dreaming of playing for Coleman. My brother Alfred played there and my mom and aunt went there.
“Willie was a pioneer. He set and raised the bar for everyone. He showed you could go to college and play ball and even beyond that. You could see that life didn’t stop after high school.”
Yazoo City native Willie Brown went up against Richardson throughout high school in the Big 6 Conference and then in college.
“He did everything and we couldn’t stop him,” said Brown, who played cornerback for the Raiders [1967-78, Broncos 1963-66] and was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame. “Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson and the staff told me Willie was going to Grambling, but they took me there in the summer before my freshman year and Willie never came. I guess Jackson State did the same thing with him.
“Willie was dating a girl I went to school with. I had to give my approval before he could go out with her. We ended up going to the high school prom together.”
Following visits to Grambling, Tennessee State and Michigan State, he ended up at Jackson State after coach John Merritt came to his home.
“Coach Merritt told my mother [Alice] if Willie came to Jackson State, the rest of us could play there, too,” said Gloster. “He had the vision to see what was down the line.”
Younger brothers Charles, Allan and Tom, [with the New England Patriots 1969, 70] all played at Jackson State during the 1960s.
Born in Clarksdale, Richardson moved to Greenville at age five, but went back periodically to visit his aunt. During his time there, he became good friends with Higgins High School quarterback Roy Curry.
Teaming with Curry, the duo executed an offensive machine that was unstoppable in the SWAC [Southwestern Athletic Conference] with a 19-3 record from 1961-62.
In a rematch against Florida A&M, they were dominant with a 22-6 win at the 30th Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Fla. before 47,791 breaking the Rattlers 21 game win streak.
The team was feted with a parade through the city of Jackson and a celebration on campus.
“We’re still celebrating!” Gloster insisted.
A four-year starter at receiver and free safety, and two-time All-American, Richardson tallied 171 receptions and 36 touchdowns for the Tigers.
He and Florida A&M’s Robert Paremore were the first blacks to play for the Southern team in the 17th annual North-South Shrine game. Catching two touchdowns, Richardson was voted MVP.
He also played in the North-South All-Star game. A few days later, they had a parade for him in Jackson and a Willie Richardson day was held in Greenville.
“There were about 4,000 people lined up down Washington Ave. that ended at City Hall,” said Weathersby. “After that, we had a dinner with 200 people at Coleman High School with all the coaches from Jackson State.”
At the time of Civil Rights unrest, the fanfare for Richardson portrays the complexities of race in Mississippi.
A native of Moss Point and lifelong Mississippian, Dr. Robert Khayat holds a distinguished resume of service at the University of Mississippi. A member of the Rebels 1960 championship and an academic All-American and all SEC catcher, kicker for the Washington Redskins [1960, ’62 and ‘63], a 1966 law school graduate and professor at the school of law. Khayat was Chancellor of Ole Miss from 1995-2009 and had the law building named in his honor in April, 2011.
“Mississippi is much discussed. It produces a diverse group of incredibly successful people and Willie was one of those,” said Khayat, who lives in Oxford, Miss.
“Willie was widely respected across the state. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t admire him. He was involved in a many projects that always had to do with helping people. Wherever you saw him, he was always upbeat. He mixed well with everyone whether it was at Annandale Golf Course or any other venue.”
During the 17th annual North-South All-Star game in 1962 he became friends with Syracuse tight end John Mackey, who was a second round selection of the Colts. Richardson caught two touchdowns and was named MVP as the South won 15-14 a few days before the NFL draft.
A post-game interview impressed the viewers including Mackey’s wife, Sylvia, who was watching the game with her mother at home in Washington, D.C.
“Willie was so eloquent and at ease in the interview; we were spellbound,” said Sylvia. “John called me after the game, I told him how impressed we were with Willie and he said, ‘That’s my man Willie!’”
The 1962 draft was held Dec. 4 at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Chicago. A seventh round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts and third round selection of the New York Jets, Richardson’s relationship with Mackey was a significant factor in signing with the Colts.
The two roomed together in training camp for the 1963 College All-Star team that beat the Green Bay Packers, 20-17, before 65,000 at Chicago’s Soldier Field in the 30th annual game.
“Coach [Vince] Lombardi told me, ‘If I had that all-star team, I’d win a championship in three years,’” said Dave Robinson, who was the last pick in the first round [No. 14] by the Packers after playing linebacker-tight end at Penn State. Among the guys who went on to exceptional careers were: Lee Roy Jordan, Kermit Alexander, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Lee Roy Caffey, Walt Sweeney, Ray Mansfield, Fred Miller, Jim Dunaway and Ed Budde.
He got a good look at Richardson during practice and when he lined up against the Colts.
“I really hadn’t seen a wide receiver like Willie [in college],” said Robinson. “Willie didn’t make breaks in his routes, he just went from one part of the route to another; he was that smooth. Guys who came from the black colleges were coming from wide open offenses; it was a different style of play. It was an untapped market, a lot of those guys went to the AFL. It wasn’t an easy time for any of us. For blacks players to make it [in the NFL] you had to be great. If you were borderline, you had no chance. We all had respect for each other’s ability; there were no prima donnas.
“When we played Baltimore we double covered Willie often. We brought the free safety over so we wouldn’t get beat deep. He was the guy we were worried about.”
How would Richardson’s career differed had he signed with the Jets?
“Oh my gosh! He would’ve broken all Don Maynard’s records,” said Larry Grantham, who played on the University of Mississippi’s national championship team in 1959 and was a starting linebacker for the Jets from 1960-72 at 6-1, 195 pounds. “It sure would’ve been interesting to see. I think it would’ve benefitted Joe Namath and Willie. [Namath’s rookie season was 1965].”
In the spring of 1963, Grantham received a call from a Jackson State coach who wanted to introduce him to Richardson. After a workout, the two went for coffee and felt a common ground. Richardson was invited to Grantham’s home in Crystal Springs [20 miles from Jackson] for dinner. Richardson reciprocated and the two became friends.
“We did a number of events together in the offseason in and around Jackson during the 1960s,” said Grantham. “Willie was always a gentleman; you enjoyed being around him.”
Stepping in with some of the best to ever play the game takes adjusting. A master of the craft and meticulously detailed, Raymond Berry gave Richardson a few pointers, but was also impressed with the rookie’s tools.
“Willie had a tremendous combination of size, speed, quickness and great hands,” said Berry. “He was a tough competitor; the complete package. That’s the reason he became a super wide receiver.
“Physically, Willie could match up with anyone. Once he learned the double and triple fake he became extremely effective.
“As a receiver, you had to communicate with Unitas. He would ask you, ‘What can you get open with?’ And you better be prepared to tell him! That was a key thing; John depended on that constant feedback.”
Behind Berry and Jimmy Orr his first four years, Richardson waited in reserve, grabbing 35 receptions. In 1967 with Orr injured and Berry in his last season, the league got a full view of Richardson’s talents as he caught 63 passes [eighth in the NFL] and made all-pro. Richardson followed that with 37 and eight touchdowns  and 43 grabs [in 1969], but only 17 his last two years. He led the Colts with eight receptions in their famous 16-7 Super Bowl III loss to the New York Jets.
The Colts multipurpose running back Tom Matte [1961-72] explained one of the reasons for the team’s success.
“Willie was a great competitor and phenomenal Jack of all trades guy,” he said. “He paid his dues and came up through the ranks. The guys always made sacrifices, putting in extra time and Willie fell right in line. He worked his butt off after practice. I worked with him on different patterns, reading defenses and man-to-man adjustments. He was unselfish and fell into the same crowd of Art Donovan, Johnny Unitas and others; we always hung out together.
“We had a basketball team in the offseason where we traveled around and played about 30 games. It was a way to stay in shape and raise some money for charity. It was Mackey, Unitas, Geno Marchetti and a few others. Willie was one of the best players.
“We had a group that would play golf frequently and Willie was the best. He was right at par, I was a three-four handicap. He was always 30-yards longer off the tee.
“We’d all go out for beers together, we had a lot of great times together. His wife [Earline] was a real sweetheart and was good friends with my wife.”
In 1965, Richardson made an instinctive interception which resulted in a joyful 50-year marriage and three kids [Sonji Nicole, Willie III and Shawn Elizabeth].
One of seven children, who spent her first five years on the famous Hopkins Plantation outside of Clarksdale, Earline Outlaw’s family roots go back before the Civil War in the same city. Earline’s father drove a tractor at the Hopkins Plantation, but he died of heart failure when she was five. She moved into town with her grandparents [her grandfather was a barber].
“My grandparents and everyone else emphasized education and the importance of going to college and bettering yourself,” said Earline.
During her freshman year at Jackson State, she met Willie. While never dating, the two kept in touch through letters and occasional phone calls. When Richardson found out Earline was getting engaged, he made a quick decision.
“He told me, ‘Don’t marry him…wait for me!’” said Earline, laughing at the memory.
Married June 6, 1965, by a Justice of the Peace in Clarksdale, their honeymoon was postponed as Richardson prepared for training camp. Earline finished her degree at Coppin State and began teaching elementary school in Baltimore.
“I never really knew all the things Willie did, but at the funeral so many people came up and said, ‘Willie helped me get my first job in city government or in other areas,’” said Earline. “That’s when it hit me how many people he reached.”
As one of the premier cornerbacks in the league [1963-69 with the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams 1970-71, free safety the Philadelphia Eagles 1972-73], Kermit Alexander lined up against Richardson many times, beginning with the College All-Star team.
“It didn’t matter if he was double-covered, whenever they needed a big catch, on third down, he’d get it,” said Alexander, who was All-Pro in 1968 and second in the NFL with nine interceptions [he had 43 in his career and ranks third in 49er history with 36]. “He would destroy a zone [defense] so we’d switch to man-to-man to cut down his opportunities. You had to pick and choose when to double cover him. You couldn’t intimidate him and you never saw him drop a pass.
“Willie ran terrific routes and had very deceptive speed. He would glide along and then change gears, separate from you and break a pattern so quickly. Unitas would throw the ball before he finished the route and the ball would be there right when he made his break. We’d have guys on our team cussing each other out because we couldn’t stop him.
“Unitas and his receivers worked for an hour after practice to perfect their timing.
“When I was with the Rams we double-teamed him, but he still owned the red zone. Even in double coverage, he could out-jump you for the ball. His hands were so strong. I thought Willie was like Berry in that they were masterful in running their routes; of course Willie had more speed.”
A common thread was woven through the Jackson State players. They were primarily from small towns across the state and grew up laboring long hours picking cotton and were the first of their family to attend college. Taking full advantage of opportunities on the field and in the classroom, relationships cemented 50 years ago are intact, as hair grew gray and gaits slowed. Raised in Clarksdale, John Outlaw watched his older cousin, Roy Curry, star as a quarterback at Higgins High School.
Outlaw, who battled receiver Harold Jackson in practice, was drafted in the 10th round in 1969 by the Boston Patriots. Before training camp, he moved in with Richardson in Baltimore and worked out with Berry, Unitas, Ray Perkins and a few others.
“What I learned in one month was invaluable,” said Outlaw, who played with the Patriots from 1969-73 and the Eagles from 1973-77. “There was a slew of talented receivers and you had Unitas at quarterback. I didn’t shy away.
“Willie’s hand-eye coordination was at another level. He knew how to set you up. He’d get you leaning one way and then cut the other way; he had incredible body control.
“Playing at Jackson State, Willie was a guy everyone looked up to and aspired to be. He was a straight shooter and a huge asset to the school.”
A case of deja vu occurred in 1971 when Outlaw found himself lined up against Richardson during the final game of the season. In the second quarter, he picked off a Unitas pass and sped 60-yards for a touchdown as the New England Patriots held off the Colts 21-17.
A year behind Richardson in college, Speedy Duncan enjoyed the opportunity to square off against the best.
“[Assistant coach] Joe Gilliam Sr. taught us to play bump-and-run,” said Duncan, who joined the San Diego Chargers as a free agent in 1964. Defensive coordinator Chuck Noll put Duncan in as a starter in 1965, at right cornerback, where he became a four-time All-Pro in addition to returning punts and kickoffs. He was a special teams ace with the Washington Redskins from 1971-74.
“Willie knew how to get you where he wanted in his route and then make his cut. He knew how to separate from you under any situation. He was a tremendous competitor and never made a dirty play [in practice].
“I went against Lance Alworth [for six years] and there were similarities between the two. Both had a mindset when the ball was in the air it belonged to me! It didn’t matter what position you had, or how close you were, they would find a way to go up, position their body and come away with the ball. Both had incredible hand-eye coordination and were also great golfers.”
Gulfport, Miss. native Lem Barney, who was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame with John Mackey in 1992, has close ties to the Richardsons.
“I remember watching Willie when Jackson State played Grambling and then during the Blue-Gray All-Star game,” said Barney, who was a seven-time pro bowler with the Detroit Lions [1967-77]. “He was an inspiration for me signing with Jackson State.”
Barney’s roommate was Thomas and Gloster lived across the hall.
“I felt like I was part of the Richardson family, we had a great relationship,” said Barney, who was a three-time All SWAC selection. “We spent a lot of time talking about Willie and watching him when the Colts were on television. You talk about a loaded team, they had it all with Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry.
“When Willie came back to Jackson he was very encouraging with me. He said, ‘You have great footwork, you’re fundamentally sound, you’re going to get drafted high.’”
It wasn’t long before Barney was lining up against Richardson, who caught five passes against him in a 41-7 Colts win in 1967.
“When Willie went up in the air, he was impossible to stop. He had long arms, great body control and his hands were like nets. He was as good as any receiver I faced.”
Barney and Richardson went at it in the Pro Bowl held in Los Angeles in 1967 and ‘68. Afterwards, they joined their wives, Jacqui and Earline and enjoyed the sights in Los Angeles.
The day after the 1965 draft, Bill Curry woke up to a phone call from his brother-in-law telling him he was the second to last player drafted in the 20th round, by the Green Bay Packers. Curry hung up thinking it was a joke. It wasn’t. Making the squad in 1965, Curry became their starting center in 1966 and then started for the Colts from 1967-72. His memories are still vivid recalling Richardson’s artistry that helped the Colts beat the Packers.
“Willie was a dominant receiver in those three years [1967-69],” said Curry. “He made a number of big catches to win games for us. In 1967 [at Baltimore], Willie stepped in front of [Hall of Fame cornerback] Herb Adderly on a post route and caught a [23-yard] touchdown pass [from Johnny Unitas] in the fourth quarter to give us the win [13-10]. That snapped a four-game losing streak to the Packers.
“The next year at Green Bay, I desperately wanted to win that game. Willie went up and reached over the top of Adderly at the goal line to take away the ball and complete a 26-yard touchdown pass [from Earl Morrall]. I remember running down there picking him up to celebrate [a 16-3 win].
“The other thing that sticks out about Willie is he was always upbeat and ready for the next thing, like most of the guys on the team.
“The Packers had a passionate fan base, but Baltimore, there was nothing like it. They called Memorial Stadium the World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum and that’s what it was. We played on what we called the astro-dirt. We had pep rallies, we had the Colts’ Corral in the offseason. It was a special time and place.”
Making a seamless transition to television, he worked as a sports anchor for Fox 45, in Baltimore from 1972-82.
In 1982, Governor William Forest Winter called Richardson and offered him a job in the tax division, where he ended up working for 25 years.
“Willie was very close with his mother,” said Earline. “It was a little more of an adjustment for me. I taught at an elementary school in Rankin County for two years and then at Barr Elementary for nine years.”
Pastor Jerry Young of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson was an extended family member and eulogized Richardson.
“Willie’s mother [Alice] was my second grade teacher,” said Young, who has been pastor since 1980. “She convinced me I could be successful. I went to her class from second grade to high school. His father W.L. Richardson and my dad E.L. Young were preaching buddies. They went to a number of churches in the delta.
“I went to high school in Benoit at Nugent Center.”
A few years younger Willie, Pastor Young followed his career. Richardson was a member of his church for over 30 years.
“Willie Richardson represented all of us,” he said. “It wasn’t just pride, but hope and aspiration of what was possible. To come out of Jackson State and make it.
“The Richardson family were tremendous people. I can’t tell you how proud we were of Willie and his brothers.
“Sometimes, when a man has accomplished what Willie had, by the grace of God, he reads his own press clippings and becomes pompous or arrogant. I know Willie understood the power that came through him, not from him and was a gift of God.
“Willie was a great person who was always humble. I did the eulogy for his mother and brother Ernie. I was pleased and proud to be a friend. He was in church the Sunday before he passed, sitting in his usual spot. I looked out and said, ‘There’s Willie.’”
Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached email@example.com
The Jacksonville Jaguars now have the dubious distinction of having two consecutive top-5 overall picks injured early in the offseason program. Last year, Dante Fowler, Jr. tore his ACL in the first rookie minicamp practice. Now Jalen Ramsey has suffered a “small” meniscus tear.
Last week I wrote how half of teams will suffer a significant injury program. With Ramsey for the Jaguars, Shaq Lawson (shoulder) with Bills and Jumal Rolle (Achilles) of the Ravens, that makes three of the potential 16 teams already.
The size of Ramsey’s meniscus tear is not the biggest factor for a quick return. The type of tear and location (peripheral vs inner rim) determines the type of arthroscopic surgery needed: menisectomy (trimming) versus meniscus repair (sewing). A typical return from menisectomy is 4-6 weeks. A meniscus repair would mean 4-6 months out.
Statistically, there is over a 90% chance that Ramsey’s tear will not be amenable to repair, thus dictating the trimming surgery with quicker recovery. Interestingly, a previous poll of NFL players showed they would overwhelmingly choose the menisectomy (earlier return) over a repair (less long term arthritis, longer recovery) even if their tear was a candidate for repair.
Myles Jack’s knee situation with the osteochondral lesion is much different. He was another top-5 talent that fell to the Jaguars early in round 2 due to reports of needing future microfracture surgery. Jacksonville fans are understandably worried, but the two situations bear little resemblance medically.
Concern for Ramsey’s knee in Jacksonville is high as it came to light that he had a microfracture surgery as a Sophomore in high school. A report surfaced that Jaguars may contradict that he ever had that procedure. Even if Ramsey did have microfracture surgery, at age of 15, the results are much better.
I was not aware of Ramsey’s microfracture history, but I assure you the Jaguars medical staff knew the facts. For almost two decades I was in the same Combine medical room as Jacksonville and have worked with their current head athletic trainer. Yes, draftees conveniently “fib or forget” about their injury history, but team doctors know this and factor that in. Even without the operative report of the high school surgery, with portal scars on his knee, likely a MRI was obtained that would show any previous microfracture surgery. With Fowler and now Ramsey, the consecutive year injuries appear to be bad luck, not something missed by the Jaguars medical staff.
The Jacksonville GM, now knows his team doctor very well given the three knee issues of Fowler, Jack and Ramsey. If all three work out, the Jaguars could have a formidable defense and make the biggest improvement of any team in 2016. If the three knee issues do not perform well, the GM could be looking for another job.
MMMD 1: Shaq Lawson needs shoulder surgery after all
Before the draft, I indicated that the team that drafted Lawson would either do surgery immediately or hope to get through the first season with a shoulder harness and then have surgery in the offseason. Despite the player’s previous denials of any need for surgery, a labral repair surgery was performed this week. Unfortunately, the procedure means Lawson will start the year on PUP and undoubtedly miss Week 1. If rehab is smooth, Lawson could return 4-6 months after surgery, which means he could miss half of his rookie campaign.
This is not to say the Buffalo made a bad draft pick. There is no doubt the Bills medical staff was aware of the issue and the Lawson first-round selection was a calculated risk. The good news is that once healed, there should be no long-term issues.
Lawson played three years with a shoulder brace. It is not unusual that as a player steps up to a higher level of competition, injuries they could play with before, now get unmasked. Reports say Lawson re-injured the shoulder doing a bag drill. Even though it was likely that he was not wearing brace when the shoulder re-dislocated, the Bills are making the right decision to get their prized rookie fixed now.
MMMD 2: Wide receiver fracture
The Jones 5th metatarsal fracture should be renamed the WR fracture. Sammy Watkins joined a long list of recent WRs to have a screw placed in his foot. Julian Edelman, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and DeVante Parker all had a second screw in the same foot. Others to undergo surgery for Jones fracture include Hakeeem Nicks, Michael Crabtree, Marvin Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Quinton Patton.
Other positions get the injury too: 49ers RB Carlos Hyde and teammate S Jimmy Ward among others. However, fifth metatarsal fractures are more common in wide receivers than any other position group due to the hard cuts they have to make. No one knows who Sir Robert Jones, the namesake for the Jones fracture is anymore. I propose we just call this injury a “wide receiver” fracture.
MMMD 3: Another reason for Laremy Tunsil draft tumble?
A report surfaced that Tunsil’s draft day fall may not have been exclusively related to the gas mask video. A “pre-arthritic” ankle may have contributed to the slide. Don’t forget that Tunsil had an ankle fracture/dislocation in the bowl game at the end of his junior season, but returned to play well. This injury could indeed lead to future arthritis but that typically takes decades.
College teammate Laquon Treadwell had a similar injury and was a fellow first-round pick. Then again, Darren Sproles had a similar injury and surgery early in his NFL career and is beginning his 10th season since that ankle injury.
MMMD 4: Cardinals with confidence in Tyrann Mathieu
Teams are usually hesitant about a defensive back coming off an ACL tear (see Darrelle Revis and the Jets 2012). Arizona has no such fears and is rumored to be extending the contract of the “honey badger”.
It typically takes longer for a DB to be fully effective after ACL surgery due to the demands to react to the offensive players moves. However, Mathieu already showed he could recover from a potentially career threatening ACL/LCL injury in 2013. This ACL recovery is easy compared to the last one.
MMMD 5: James Harrison’s suspicions about NFL drug test unfounded
The often-fined Steelers linebacker wondered why he wasn’t allowed to film his recent drug test. This was not a case of Harrison being singled out but it is against league policy for anyone to record the testing procedures.
Recording a test would make it easier to study the process and circumvent future testing. In a recent Olympics cheating scandal, Russia was accused of substituting clean urine samples in look-a-like bottles. Filming what the bottles look like might help in this counterfeiting process.
The NFL is often accused of acting suspiciously (see Deflategate), but this does not seem to be the case here.
MMMD 6: Crazy stories
We have gotten numb to off field stories from Aaron Hernandez to Johnny Manziel. Add two more unbelievable stories that involve two players I know, respect and wish the best for. Erik Kramer survived a suicide attempt where he shot himself in the head. Reche Caldwell landed in jail after casually ordering drugs over the internet.
There are many positive stories about former players, we just don’t hear about them as often. This weekend was the Marshall Faulk Celebrity Championship that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. What is unique is that Faulk primarily raises money not for his own charity, but for the Junior Seau Foundation. After the 2012 death, the NFL MVP of 2000 voluntarily stepped up to take the lead to continue to raise money in Junior’s absence. Faulk just wants to pay Seau back for his encouragement when the young running back starred at San Diego State.
I would rather hear more about these great charitable acts from players than hear more crazy stories about former players.
MMMD 7: ProFootballDoc Scorecard
The 2016 record was 5-0 even though injury predictions/assessments are sparse this time of year.
Prior to the draft, I indicated Shaq Lawson would need shoulder surgery, which he denied even after the draft. With his recent labral repair, that increases this seasons total to 6-0.
With most NFL draft’s it’s usually the first round picks who receive much of the attention and attract most of the spotlight. Yet over the years when you go back and review successful draft classes it’s typically the “sleepers” or day three selections that make a good class turn into a great class.
With that in mind we reviewed each NFL teams draft class, per division, and attempted to point out who potentially could turn out to be that groups “sleeper”
Buffalo Bills – Jonathan Williams, RB Arkansas 5th rd. 18th pick (#156 overall)
Although running back was not a need position for the Bills heading into the draft they received tremendous value with the selection of Williams in the fifth round.
In Williams the Bills are getting a runner who possesses good size with some wiggle to him and someone that demonstrates the ability to make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage as well as in the open field. Williams has good vision and balance with quick feet that allow him to avoid some of the trash at or near the line of scrimmage. Although he does not have game breaking speed Williams can hit a gap and rumble 15 to 20 yards before a defender catches him.
Williams missed the 2015 season due to a foot injury he suffered in August that required surgery. In 2014, while splitting carries with fellow Razorback Alex Collins, Williams rushed for almost 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns.
With the Bills he will be expected to supply depth at running back behind LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, while also helping to strengthen the league leading ground game that Buffalo featured last season. With McCoy and Williams missing a combined nine games in 2015, the Bills looked to add some insurance to better equip themselves for potential injuries.
Having Greg Roman as the offensive coordinator, and with his preference to build the offense around a powerful rushing attack, selecting Williams was not only good value, but it could turn out to be one of the better selections made during the 2016 draft in the years that follow.
Miami Dolphins – Jakeem Grant, WR 6th rd. 11th pick (#186 overall)
Former Texas Tech receiver/speed demon Jakeem Grant is a player who is small in stature (5’6” 165 lbs.) but has a big presence on the field, as he plays the game without fear and was one of the most electrifying players in college football last year. Grant led the Big-12 conference with 90 receptions last season to go along with 1,268 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. While on kick-offs Grant average 26.1 yards a return with two touchdowns.
Grant’s calling card is his speed and quickness, patterning his game after Darren Sproles and Tavon Austin, which is why he was disappointed to not receive a scouting combine invite as he had planned on breaking Chris Johnson’s record forty time (4.24). At the Texas Tech Pro Day various hand times had Grant posting forty-times anywhere from 4.10 to 4.38. For the record grant believes he is closer to a time of 4.10 than a 4.38
Grant is also not lacking in confidence as he told the media, at the recent Dolphins rookie camp, that he plans on lining up at wide receiver in the NFL, and does not see himself as just a specialist.
Whether he makes an impact on Miami’s offense is yet to be determined, but Grant will most likely have a positive effect on the Dolphins special teams unit. Not only is Grant dangerous with the ball in his hands on kick-off returns (had four KO return touchdowns in college) but his presence will also allow the coaches to remove receiver Jarvis Landry off punt return duty which will give him less exposure to big hits and make him less susceptible to injuries suffered while playing special teams.
New England Patriots – Malcolm Mitchell, WR 4th rd. 14th pick (#112 overall)
The Patriots undeniably knocked it out of the park with the selection of Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round. Look for Mitchell too quickly garner Tom Brady’s confidence and give him a receiver on the outside who he can rely on to make plays for him.
Mitchell’s ability to go up and make a play on the ball in traffic is something Brady hasn’t really had at the receiver position. Although he is just six feet tall, Mitchell has long arms (33 inches) and big hands (10 ½) coupled with a 36 inch vertical, and that allows him to win those 50/50 balls downfield. Mitchell’s speed along with his route running, and run after the catch toughness will allow the Patriots to utilize him in a number of different ways within multiple sets. Mitchell’s character both on and off the field along with the toughness he will bring to the receivers group is sure to make him a fan favorite as well.
Concerns over Mitchell’s size and durability, as he has missed a number games with both minor and major injuries (torn right meniscus and ACL), allowed him to drop to New England in the fourth round.
Bill Belichick and the New England coaches will absolutely love the character, toughness, and versatility (started three games at cornerback in 2012) that Mitchell will bring to the team. If he manages to stay healthy there is no doubt in my mind that he will develop into a nice offensive weapon for the Patriots.
New York Jets – Charone Peake, WR 7th rd. 20th pick (#241 overall)
On paper Charone Peake’s size speed ratio would lead you to believe that he would have been drafted much higher than the 241st overall selection, but to the delight of the Jets Peake was available for them to select in the seventh round.
What may have contributed to Peake’s fall was that for the better part of his years at Clemson it seemed like he was always either playing behind a future NFL receiver or hurt. With players like Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Martavis Bryant all ahead of Peake on the depth chart seeing some meaningful snaps was not easy. Add to it the fact that two games into the 2013 season he tore his left ACL, then in the Summer of 2014 he tore the meniscus in the same knee. The two injuries caused Peake to miss a total of 18 games in two seasons.
As previously mentioned, Peake has a great combination of size, length, and speed. He possesses terrific arm length, giving the quarterback a big target to throw to. Peake does a nice job of eating up a corners cushion with his long strides, before turning on the jets and simply running right by them with pure speed. He displays good concentration downfield hauling in a long pass over his shoulders, and looking the ball it into his hands. On film Peake does a good job of adjusting to back shoulder throws and catching the ball cleanly with his hands.
With the Jets often liking to utilize three and four receiver sets on offense Peake will be given every opportunity to play and contribute as a rookie. As long as Peake can stay healthy he has the talent and skill level to continue the recent string of former Clemson Tigers turned big-play NFL wide receivers.
Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp.
Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56
‘Tis the season for rookie and team minicamps. The intent is to indoctrinate rookies, provide a primer on new terminology and get an early talent evaluation. However, teams have an underlying more important goal.
Everyone’s main objective is to finish minicamps injury free. In my 17 years as a NFL team physician, it seemed that every other year my team suffered a significant season altering injury to one of our main contributors. Lead pass rusher Melvin Ingram tore his ACL in the 2013 Chargers mini-camp. Last season, Jaguars #3 overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. ruptured his ACL on the first day of minicamp and missed his entire rookie season. The Broncos suffered the same fate last year with tight end Jeff Heuerman.
Clubs have a focus on trying to stay healthy. After last year’s loss, Jacksonville has made it a bigger priority to stay injury free and have changed their rookie minicamp.
Statistically, over 50% of teams will have a season-ending injury during offseason activities. Last week, Ravens cornerback Jumal Rolle tore his Achilles tendon and will miss 2016.
The most common offseason injuries are muscles strains including the hamstring, groin, quad and calf, which usually recover in plenty of time. ACL and Achilles tears are the feared ones that will lead to a loss of the upcoming season. These injuries are commonly high-speed non-contact injuries. Thus, even with limited contact practices, the new CBA has not resulted in lower numbers of these injuries. Achilles have become the new ACL with increased numbers and both are dreaded season-enders.
The main priority has become staying healthy while accomplishing offseason goals.
MMMD 1: Julian Edelman with a second foot surgery
Early reports called the procedure minor and that he would be back for training camp. Edelman had revision surgery where a screw was reinserted into the same left fifth metatarsal bone. Also called a Jones fracture, this is a problem fracture due to its poor blood supply. Returning to play early increases the chance of needing a second procedure, which often is accompanied by bone graft.
Needing a second surgery for a Jones fracture is not unusual and does not indicate mismanagement by the surgeon or Patriots medical staff. When hurrying back to play, this happens up to 20% of the time. Recent examples of needing redo surgery include Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and the NBA’s Kevin Durant.
Healing after revision surgery typically takes 3-4 months. It is possible that Edelman will be ready for the start of training camp but is it more likely he begins on PUP and targets a return before the first real game. If the Patriots are unlucky, it is possible they could play early season meaningful games without Tom Brady and their #1 wide receiver.
MMMD 2: Dez Bryant recovery from second Jones fracture surgery
The Cowboys wide receiver returned six weeks from his initial fifth metatarsal screw placement but never really excelled, posting a maximum of five catches in a game and totaling three touchdowns in 2015. After revision surgery, he is reported to be recovering well and on target to participate in some of OTAs and the June minicamp.
The key here is Bryant had his 2nd foot surgery in January and “isn’t fully cleared yet”. If Julian Edelman follows this timetable, his May surgery will have him back in October. The take home message is to be careful with fifth metatarsal fractures.
MMMD 3: Melvin Gordon microfracture surgery
When the word “microfracture” is used, many jump to the conclusion that a player is doomed. I agree with Chargers GM Tom Telesco. Not all microfracture surgery is the same and the key is the size and location of the lost articular cartilage.
I have not treated Gordon and do not know the circumstances of his surgery, but given the optimistic return guideline of 4-6 months and the reports of his workout progress, the running back should be on course for a much better 2016 than rookie year. The team knows the details of the January surgery, yet they did not draft a running back or add one in free agency. That likely speaks loudly to the Chargers’ confidence in their starting running back’s rebound for a strong year.
MMMD 4: BFR and Le’Veon Bell
The question is will BFR be enough to get Bell back for next season. The Steelers have set no timeline. In general, MCL/PCL surgery is harder to recover from than an isolated ACL tear. Simply put, recovering from two torn ligaments is harder than returning from one. There is no guarantee that Bell will be 100% or even ready to play Week 1, but if he is, BFR will share in the credit for his return.
MMMD 5: Ricardo Lockette didn’t have a choice
Big news of the week was the Seahawks WR/ST retiring from football. Congrats to Lockette on his decision to walk away healthy.
The reality is that the injury and subsequent surgery caused him to lose significant rotation in his neck motion. A spine fusion from C1-C4 leaves him with well under 50% of his ability to turn his head to the right and left. It would be unprecedented to return to football from a three-level fusion.
Lockette made the right choice to retire, but the medical reality is that he didn’t really have a choice.
MMMD 6: Kudos to NFL player engagement
I personally know of dozens of players who have taken advantage of programs. From broadcast boot camp, finance workshops to coaching or scouting internships, there are many programs aimed at giving former players direction. I am not saying the NFL is perfect in all aspects related to former players but I see an honest effort to help players with life after football careers.
MMMD 7: ProFootballDoc scorecard
In the offseason, I have not updated the running 2016 scorecard each week as activity is sparse. I will still keep tabs this season and see if it is possible to continue the slight improvement from 92.6% in 2014 to the 94.3% in 2015.
In early March, the Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso trade to the Dolphins was rumored to be off due to Maxwell’s physical, which noted sternoclavicular (SC) joint problems. I tweeted at the time it was likely the deal would still go through and it did. Despite worry about Tony Romo’s offseason surgery to decrease the chance of recurrent clavicle fracture, I correctly indicated that the Dallas QB would be fine and indeed he is already cleared and throwing 100%. Prior to Jaylon Smith’s Combine medical evaluation, he was universally thought to be a top pick. Seeing video posted by the player, I concluded nerve issues and indicated that unfortunately he would fall out of the first-round. I even got lucky and predicted the Cowboys would draft him. Myles Jack is able to play football today, but an OCD lesion would drop him out of being a top 10 pick.
Adding these four correct assessments to the 1-0 2016 record leaves us with a 5-0 start for this coming season.
It has been over one week since the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft took place.
Draft classes have been graded, and the way too early versions of 2017 mock drafts have been posted.
The next step in the offseason are rookie minicamps, which are already underway for some teams.
With the first round picks seeing the field for the first time, who are they expected to replace on their respective rosters?
This article just looks at rookies in the NFC. The article on AFC teams can be found here.
Arizona Cardinals: DT Robert Nkemdiche
A player with immense talent, Nkemdiche fell to the Cardinals due to off-the-field issues. After playing defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense at Ole Miss, he moves to 3-4 defensive end in Arizona. Calais Campbell is star at one defensive end spot, so Nkemdiche is replacing veteran Frostee Rucker at the other spot. Rucker, 32, has started 20 games over the past two seasons for Arizona and is a free agent at the end of the season. Nkemdiche and Campbell gives the Cardinals a strong defensive line unit.
Atlanta Falcons: S Keanu Neal
Safety was one of the positions that the Falcons absolutely had to upgrade to get better on defense. Both safety spots are important in a Cover 3 scheme, Incumbent strong safety William Moore was released in February and still hasn’t signed anywhere. Neal comes in and replaces him. Head coach Dan Quinn likely saw some Kam Chancellor, a player Quinn worked with in Seattle, in Neal. Neal is known as a big hitter who speeds down from his safety position to take out opposing players.
Carolina Panthers: DT Vernon Butler
Butler is an interesting selection because he doesn’t necessarily replace a starter on the Panthers roster. Starting defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei are quality players who are free agents after the 2016 and 2017 seasons, respectively. However, Carolina is reported to want to sign both to long-term extensions. This makes Butler the third defensive tackle, a role that belonged to Dwan Edwards last year. He was released in March. Butler will still see the field as a rookie, but it will be as rotational player.
Chicago Bears: OLB Leonard Floyd
Trading up to pass the New York Giants, the Bears selected Floyd, an athletic pass rusher. His best fit early is as a situational pass rusher. This will allow him to develop other pass rush moves and improve his game against the run. Chicago will be able to do this because the players Floyd is replacing are still on the roster. Willie Young is a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, and Lamarr Houston, who isn’t a great fit in a 3-4 defense, can be cut for significant cap savings at any time.
Dallas Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott
In the overall scheme of things, Elliott is replacing DeMarco Murray, who left Dallas for Philadelphia in free agency over a year ago. With Elliott, the Cowboys are trying to recreate their strong run game that they had with Murray in 2014. In terms of the roster right now, Elliott takes over for Darren McFadden. McFadden started 10 games last season and gained 1,089 yards behind the Cowboys’ excellent offensive line. With Dallas’ offensive line, there might not be a better spot for a running back to land.
Detroit Lions: OT Taylor Decker
The Lions looked at offensive tackles all offseason in free agency, but were unable to land one. The team definitely needed a new right tackle and may be looking to replace left tackle Riley Reiff, who has one year left on his contract. Reiff has been serviceable in his career, but can be improved upon. One of the most interesting position battles to watch over the summer will left tackle in Detroit. Which player starts on the left side and which player starts on the right?
Green Bay Packers: DT Kenny Clark
The retirement of B.J. Raji left the Packers with a bigger need on the defensive line. He was a free agent, but the team was expecting to re-sign him. There was some thought that Letroy Guion would move over from defensive end to nose tackle, but Clark’s selection allows the Packers to simply plug Clark into the void left by Raji. Clark is a strong run defender with a good bull rush. He may start off as just a two-down player, but he has the potential to be more than that.
Los Angeles Rams: QB Jared Goff
Back in Los Angeles and desperate for a franchise quarterback, the Rams packaged a bunch of picks to Tennessee to trade up to No. 1 overall. The reward was Goff, who joins the franchise as the instant starter. The Rams’ quarterback position has been unsettled since Sam Bradford first tore his ACL in 2013. Nick Foles and Case Keenum both started games ineffectively last season. Both are still on the roster, but odds are Los Angeles tries to trade one of them by the start of the season.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Laquon Treadwell
Goal No. 1 for the Vikings for the 2016 draft had to be find a new target for Teddy Bridgewater to throw to. The starting unit of Mike Wallace and Stefon Diggs wasn’t putting fear into opposing defenses. Wallace, who never really fit in because Bridgewater doesn’t throw deep often, was released. Treadwell takes Wallace’s spot in the starting lineup, but they are completely different receivers. Wallace is a burner and Treadwell is a physical player who dropped in the draft due to a slow forty-yard dash time.
New Orleans Saints: DT Sheldon Rankins
One of the most important positions in a 4-3 defense is the three-technique defensive tackle (think Warren Sapp and Aaron Donald). This player is responsible for interior disruption. Last season, the Saints relied on 35-year-old Kevin Williams. He played well, but clearly was just a stop-gap solution. The Saints signed Nick Fairley, but he will only be around for one season. The job is clearly Rankins’ to lose.
New York Giants: CB Eli Apple
After missing out on rumored top targets Jack Conklin and Leonard Floyd, the Giants took Apple. On the surface, this seems like a strange selection, as they already have Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback. However, Rodgers-Cromartie turned 30 in April and can be cut for significant cap savings after the season. Finally, teams need to have three good cornerbacks in today’s NFL. Apple will probably have to move inside to the slot at the beginning of his career.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Carson Wentz
A decent argument could be made that Goff and Wentz are both replacing the same player: Bradford. Now in Philadelphia, Bradford started 14 games last season and re-signed for good money this offseason. However, that is only a two-year contract and the Eagles can easily get out of the deal after one season. He asked for a trade out of Philadelphia and started to hold out, but eventually returned to the team. Bradford is the quarterback for now, but Wentz is the future.
San Francisco 49ers: DE DeForest Buckner and G Joshua Garnett
The only team with two first round selections this year, the 49ers improved their trenches with the selections of Buckner and Garnett. The Buckner selection makes it two Oregon defensive ends in two straight first rounds. Buckner and Arik Armstead are the two starters now. Buckner takes over for Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial. The 49ers heavily rotated their defensive ends last season. Dorsey and Dial will be good backups now. Once Alex Boone left in free agency, guard became a big need on offense. Garnett, who San Francisco traded up to acquire, is Boone’s replacement. It is tough to lose an offensive lineman of Boone’s caliber, but the 49ers were proactive about finding a replacement. Garnett is a mauling run blocker.
Seattle Seahawks: OL Germain Ifedi
The entire offensive line in Seattle needs work, so it was no surprise that the team spent a first round pick on one. At Texas A&M, Ifedi played right tackle his last two seasons, but was a guard as a freshman. Seattle is expected to play Ifedi as a guard. Right now, he is penciled in as the starting right guard. Last season, that was J.R. Sweezy, who left for Tampa Bay in free agency. Seattle may reshuffle their offensive line again before the season starts, but right now Ifedi is replacing Sweezy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Tampa Bay’s top two cornerbacks in 2015 were Alterraun Verner and Sterling Moore. Verner was in and out of the starting lineup, and Moore left for Buffalo in free agency. Brent Grimes was added on a two-year contract in free agency, but at 32-years-old, he is only a temporary solution. Hargreaves comes in as a clear starter. His ability to play both outside and inside will help the Buccaneers play their best three cornerbacks. If Verner is able to survive this season, don’t expect him to be on the roster in 2017.
Washington Redskins: WR Josh Doctson
At first glance, this selection may not make much sense. Some NFL fans definitely were asking why would Washington draft a wide receiver with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon already on the roster? Well, both Jackson and Garçon will be free agent after the 2016 season and will turn 30 by then. The selection of Doctson was done with an eye on the future. He may not be needed much as a rookie, but he will be in 2017. With that being said, he is too talented to keep off the field early.
Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter@Matt_Pearce13