Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (QB07) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders end Sam Howell’s long wait in draft’s fifth round

Odds were very slim that Sam Howell would hear his name called on the initial day of the NFL draft, but it seemed certain he would be selected on the second.

Instead, it took until Day Three and the first pick of the fifth round for the North Carolina quarterback to be picked. The Washington Commanders ended his long agonizing wait by choosing him with the 144th overall selection.

“I had no expectations coming into the draft,” Howell said. “Obviously everyone wants to be a first-round pick. I just want to get on a good team. I’m super blessed.”

The final four rounds of the draft were held Saturday in Las Vegas and Howell’s plunge was one of the biggest surprises of the festivities.

Most draft prognosticators pegged Howell as a second-round pick. Nobody was forecasting he’d last until the fifth round.

Pitt’s Kenny Pickett was the lone quarterback to go in Thursday’s first round as the No. 20 overall pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

No quarterbacks were tabbed in the second round. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder went in the third round (No. 74 overall) to the Atlanta Falcons, Liberty’s Malik Willis was chosen 86th by the Tennessee Titans and Matt Corral of Ole Miss was No. 94 by the Carolina Panthers.

Howell wasn’t even the first quarterback drafted on Saturday: Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe went to the New England Patriots in the fourth round (No. 137 overall).

Meanwhile, Howell was in wait-and-see mode while watching the draft in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., with family and friends. Not an easy situation for someone who set North Carolina records of 10,283 career passing yards and 92 touchdown tosses.

“It was a little stressful, but at the same time I was trusting God,” Howell said. “I was waiting for a call, and I’m so glad it was Washington that called. This is a perfect spot for me. It’s a team I wanted to play for all along, so I’m fired up.”

Howell may not see the field much this season as the Commanders traded for Carson Wentz earlier this offseason.

The Patriots’ pick of Zappe was interesting as the club selected Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 draft.

Zappe spent four college seasons at Houston Baptist before transferring to Western Kentucky. He passed for 5,967 yards, 62 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his one season with the Hilltoppers. The yardage and touchdowns led the nation.

Zappe was Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player but the pinball-type season didn’t overwhelm many NFL scouts. Not that Zappe cares.

“I don’t really worry about the naysayers and the critics,” Zappe said. “The Patriots believe in me. … Those are the people that I’m going to try to prove right.”

It’s not often that a punter gets drafted lower than his reputation but that occurred Saturday when San Diego State’s Matt Araiza went with the first pick of the sixth round to the Buffalo Bills and was just the third punter selected.

Araiza set an NCAA record with a 51.19 average last season and earned the nickname “Punt God” for his booming efforts. He won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter and had six punts of at least 70 yards — including boots of 86 and 81 yards.

Araiza was a unanimous first-team All-American. The only other San Diego State player to sweep the first-team honors was legendary runner Marshall Faulk, who did it in 1992 and 1993.

Penn State’s Jordan Stout was the first punter off the board. He went in the fourth round (No. 130 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens. Three picks later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Georgia’s Jake Camarda.

“I’ll have a lot of motivation to dominate this season,” Araiza told Buffalo reporters.

–Field Level Media

Jan 22, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) during a NFC Divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

49ers coach: Nothing ‘remotely close’ on Deebo Samuel trade calls

San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters that the team has yet to receive a suitable trade offer for hybrid wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

“You’ll consider anything. You have a responsibility to help your organization the most you can,” Shanahan said on Friday night. “But losing a player like Deebo, it’s hard to see how that helps your organization. So you try to look into all the aspects of it and what people are willing to do, and nothing was even remotely close to what we thought would be fair to us or fair for the Niners.”

Multiple media outlets reported the New York Jets offered the 10th overall selection of the 2022 NFL Draft in a pick swap with San Francisco. The 49ers declined, and the Jets selected Ohio State wideout Garrett Wilson with that pick.

Samuel, 26, recently requested a trade from San Francisco on the heels of his breakout season. He is heading into the last year of his $7.24 million rookie deal and is due to make $3.99 million this year with a salary-cap hit of $4.89 million, according to Spotrac.

Samuel made first-team All-Pro last season after proving to be effective as both a ball carrier and a pass catcher. He made 77 receptions for 1,405 yards (league-leading 18.2 yards per catch) and six touchdowns, and he added 59 carries for 365 yards and eight touchdowns.

In three postseason games in the 2021 season, Samuel added 10 catches for 154 yards and a TD plus 27 carries for 137 yards and a score.

The 49ers selected Samuel in the second round of the 2019 draft out of South Carolina.

“We’ve been with him for three years,” Shanahan said. “I think we know him pretty well. He knows us pretty well. And things haven’t been the best over the last couple of months through outside perception. But I see that happen a lot in this league, especially in contract situations. So, you try not to overreact one way or the other on it. You try to be patient with it because emotions can get high with people, especially when you care about people and a lot is riding on it. But that’s what you’ve got to make sure you don’t react to. And you’ve got to make sure that when it’s all said and done, first and foremost, you do what’s right for the organization. And then second of all, you try to get a win-win for both sides.”

–Field Level Media

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) celebrates after a defensive stop on fourth down in the second half the NCAA Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Alabama Crimson Tide defeated Cincinnati Bearcats 27-6.

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2023 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

The 2022 NFL Draft contained unique depth in the late rounds due to players taking advantage of COVID eligibility, but it lacked truly elite prospects at the top of the draft.

The 2023 prospect pool looks similarly strong in the late rounds, but seems more well-rounded at the top. It’s headlined by two star defenders and a potential franchise quarterback.

Here’s a closer look:

10. TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame: One of the most productive receiving tight ends in college over the last two years, Mayer has excellent size and athleticism for the role.

9. OLB Nolan Smith, Georgia: An exodus to the NFL will weaken Georgia’s defense next year, but Smith will be a pillar as he works to cement himself as a first rounder.

8. QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State: Stroud’s accuracy needs improvement, but he is strong-armed and productive with great upside as a passer.

7. LB Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama: Rangy and nimble with great instincts, To’oTo’o has the type of athletic profile and football intelligence to be the first linebacker picked.

6. CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State: The son of former Steeler Joey Porter, the younger Porter has the explosiveness and ball skills to be a lockdown corner in the NFL.

5. OLB Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame: A gifted hybrid pass-rusher who can rush as a defensive end or drop into coverage as a linebacker. Foskey’s versatility will intrigue teams.

4. WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU: Boutte has some injury questions, but his elite fluidity of movement and slick routes will be eye catching for scouts.

3. QB Bryce Young, Alabama: Undersized but remarkably accurate with a lightning quick release. Young’s precision and off-script ability make him the favorite to be the first passer selected.

2. DT Jalen Carter, Georgia: Carter’s production was undercut by sharing a defensive line with three first rounders last year. He’ll get a lot more opportunities as a junior.

1. DE Will Anderson Jr., Alabama: After collecting 17.5 sacks as a sophomore, Anderson seems primed to be the top pick in next year’s draft.

–Field Level Media

Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (QB16) goes through a drill during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks nowhere to be found in 2nd round of NFL draft

On a night when many anticipated an early run on quarterbacks, NFL teams instead turned to virtually every other position.

Teams that seemingly needed a young quarterback such as the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons both passed twice on drafting a signal-caller in round two of the NFL draft Friday night.

That left QBs such as Liberty’s Malik Willis, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and North Carolina’s Sam Howell all waiting to hear their name called as the Las Vegas event moved into round three.

One of the most popular positions once again was wide receiver, as seven were picked in the second round after six wideouts were chosen in Thursday’s first round.

Only one quarterback was chosen in the first round — Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, by the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began Round 2 by choosing Houston defensive end Logan Hall. The pick originally belonged to the Jacksonville Jaguars before they moved up six slots in a trade with Tampa Bay on Thursday evening, allowing Tampa Bay to kick off Thursday night’s action.

The Green Bay Packers then traded up to select Aaron Rodgers’ newest weapon, North Dakota State wideout Christian Watson. The Packers sent two second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 59) to the Minnesota Vikings to move up for Watson.

Two picks later, the New York Jets traded up with their crosstown rival Giants to choose Iowa State’s Breece Hall, the first running back off the board in the 2022 draft. Thursday marked the first time since 2014 that no running back was selected in the opening round.

Many expected Seattle to choose a quarterback with either the 40th or 41st pick with Russell Wilson now in Denver. However, the Seahawks opted to go with a pair of Big Ten standouts — Minnesota linebacker Boye Mafe and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III.

Meanwhile, Atlanta had a pair of second-round picks and chose two defensive players — Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie at No. 38 and Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen 20 picks later.

The New England Patriots (Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton at No. 50), Pittsburgh Steelers (Georgia’s George Pickens at No. 52) and Kansas City Chiefs (Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore at No. 54) chose wide receivers in Round 2.

–Field Level Media

Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the eleventh overall pick to the New Orleans Saints during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft at the NFL Draft Theater. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft: First round is least-watched since 2017

The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday night brought in the fewest TV viewers since 2017, according to Sports Business Journal.

ABC, ESPN and NFL Network combined to draw 10.03 million viewers, roughly 2.5 million fewer than last year’s first round and the lowest mark since the network simulcast window was introduced in 2018.

The viewership number still cleared eight digits. The last time it was lower, a combined 9.23 million viewers tuned in for the 2017 first round on ESPN and NFL Network.

The first round, in particular the top 10, was dominated by defensive players and offensive linemen with few big names among the so-called skill players. The only quarterback drafted in the first round, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, went No. 20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The viewership number has tumbled since the record of 15.27 million was set in 2020, though that was boosted by more people staying indoors during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The draft continues Friday with the second and third round before concluding Saturday afternoon with rounds 4-7.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) looks up during National Anthem before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021 in Indianapolis, Ind.

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A.J. Brown trade triggers shift in Eagles’ odds

The Philadelphia Eagles swung the biggest trade during the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft, which in turn swung their futures odds at sportsbooks.

The Eagles sent the 18th overall pick and a third-round selection this year to Tennessee in exchange for wide receiver A.J. Brown, who also reportedly agreed to a four-year, $100 million contract.

The 6-foot, 226-pound Brown is the big, physical target the Eagles were seeking to pair opposite 170-pound 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith, who proved to be a dynamic playmaker as a rookie.

After the first round concluded, DraftKings reported that Philadelphia’s odds to win next year’s Super Bowl shortened from +4500 to +3500. While that doesn’t put the Eagles in the top half of the NFL just yet, it did move them toward the middle of the pack.

More important, they closed the gap on division rival Dallas.

Philadelphia entered the draft +2200 longshots to win the NFC title and +300 to claim the NFC East. After acquiring Brown, the Eagles are now +1800 to reach the Super Bowl and +275 to win the division.

Dallas remains the -110 favorite at DraftKings to win the NFC East, with Philadelphia ahead of Washington (+250) and the New York Giants (+650).

The Eagles made a massive commitment to Brown – reportedly $57 million in guaranteed money – to provide quarterback Jalen Hurts with one of the league’s premier downfield threats. Brown, who turns 25 in June, caught 185 passes for 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns in 43 games (36 starts) over three seasons with Tennessee.

Coming off a 2020 Pro Bowl selection, he had 63 catches for 869 yards and five scores in 13 games last season despite missing four games due to a chest injury.

The Eagles’ Super Bowl odds remained +4000 at BetMGM, where the title futures did not change following the first round of the draft.

The sportsbook did report that it took a hit when Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker went to Jacksonville after only emerging as the likely No. 1 overall pick earlier this week. That pushed Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson to Detroit at No. 2 while LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. landed with Houston at No. 3.

“The NFL draft was a success for many BetMGM bettors,” BetMGM sports trader Seamus Magee said. “Travon Walker to go first overall, Derek Stingley Jr. third overall and Kayvon Thibodeaux fifth overall were bad outcomes for the book. Drake London as the first receiver was the best prop for the book.”

–Field Level Media

Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the fourth quarter of their game Sunday, October 3, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

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Reports: Packers pick up options on Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage

The Green Bay Packers are exercising the fifth-year options on linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage, ESPN reported on Friday.

Gary will pocket $10.892 million during the 2023 season per Spotrac, while Savage is set to receive $7.901 million in his option year.

The 24-year-old Gary recorded 9.5 sacks to go along with 47 tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 16 games (all starts) last season.

Gary has totaled 16.5 sacks and 103 tackles over 47 career games (20 starts) since being selected by the Packers with the 12th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Savage, 24, has started all 46 games in which he has played since being chosen by Green Bay with the 21st overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

He had 63 tackles to go along with two interceptions in 17 games last season.

Savage has 193 tackles, eight interceptions and two forced fumbles in his career with the Packers.

–Field Level Media

Jan 15, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) runs during the second quarter in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders not picking up options on three players

The Las Vegas Raiders said Friday they will not exercise the fifth-year options on all three of their 2019 first-round draft picks: defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram.

“We look forward to working with all three players and we will evaluate each situation individually moving forward,” general manager Dave Ziegler said in a statement.

Ferrell, the No. 4 overall pick in 2019, would have been guaranteed an $11.5 million salary in 2023 if the Raiders had picked up his option. Jacobs, drafted 24th, would have been guaranteed $8.03 million and Abram, selected 27th, would have been due $7.90 million.

Ferrell, 24, started all 26 of his games in his first two seasons before appearing in 16 games as a reserve in 2021. He has 79 career tackles, 24 quarterback hits, eight sacks and nine passes defensed.

Jacobs, 24, rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two campaigns and made the Pro Bowl in 2020. He has 3,839 yards from scrimmage and 28 rushing touchdowns in 43 career games (42 starts).

Abram, 25, has recorded 207 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 28 career starts. Shoulder injuries ended his rookie season after one game and his 2021 campaign in Week 15.

–Field Level Media

Sep 20, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA;  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and wide receiver Davante Adams (17) following the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers: Packers trading Davante Adams ‘surprising’

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers admitted he was surprised after the Green Bay Packers traded two-time All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason.

A four-time NFL MVP, Rodgers was making in his first public comments since the trade on March 18 while speaking during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.”

“It was a little surprising with Davante — obviously when I made my decision, I was still thinking he was going to come back,” Rodgers said. “I was very honest with him about my plans and my future and where I saw my career going, as far as how many years I want to play. But I felt like he was going to be back, didn’t obviously turn out that way, but I have so much love for ‘Tae and appreciate the time we spent together and definitely wish him the best and Derek (Carr) in Vegas. But that’s a big hole to fill.”

The Packers shuffled Adams to the Raiders for first- and second-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Green Bay used the first-round pick, No. 22 overall, on Thursday night to select Georgia linebacker Quay Walker.

Adams, 29, posted career highs of 123 receptions (second in NFL) and 1,553 yards (third) in 2021 in 16 games (all starts). He caught 11 touchdown passes. He had 73 career TD passes in eight seasons with the Packers, earning five Pro Bowl appearances.

The loss of Adams was magnified even greater in Green Bay after the team saw wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling sign with the Kansas City Chiefs the following week.

Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and offseason addition Sammy Watkins are the top wideouts on the Packers.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley looks on from the sideline against the Illinois fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland coach Mike Locksley signs 5-year deal

Maryland football coach Mike Locksley agreed to a new five-year contract through the 2026 season on Friday.

Financial terms were not disclosed but the deal includes incentives that could extend his contract through 2028.

Locksley, 52, led the Terrapins to a 7-6 record and a 54-10 rout of Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl last season.

“Coach Locksley uses the mantra ‘The Best Is Ahead’ and it is for Maryland football,” athletic director Damon Evans said in a news release. “Coach Locks has done a great job revitalizing our football program. Last season, culminating with the emphatic win in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, demonstrated the progress he is making. Coach Locks continues to build our program and has high expectations and we know he is the man to lead us there. We are thrilled he will be leading our football program into the future as the best is certainly ahead.”

The 2021 campaign marked the first winning season for Maryland since 2014 and its first bowl wins since the 2010 Military Bowl.

Locksley is 13-23 overall at Maryland, including a 1-5 record as interim head coach in 2015 after the firing of Randy Edsall. Locksley was 2-26 as the head coach at New Mexico from 2009-11.

“Maryland is not only my dream job, but it’s also home,” Locksley said. “We are building something special here in College Park and I’m extremely grateful and honored to continue to serve as the head football coach at this outstanding university. …

“There is still plenty of work to be done to elevate this program to where I believe it should be nationally, but I know that we have the right people and structure in place to ensure that the best is ahead for the Terps.”

Maryland kicks off the 2022 season at home against Buffalo on Sept. 3.

–Field Level Media