2017 NFL Draft Grade: NFC North

The Bears hitch their wagon to Mitchell “Don’t call me Mitch” Trubisky, the Lions get some Gators, Ted Thompson and the Packers leverage the second round for secondary support, while Minnesota was fortuitous to land its “All Day” replacement on day two.
Chicago Bears
Round 1 (No. 2): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North Carolina
Round 2 (No. 45): Adam Shaheen, TE. Ashland
Round 4 (No. 112): Eddie Jackson, DB. Alabama
Round 4 (No. 119): Tarik Cohen, RB. North Carolina A&T
Round 5 (No. 147): Jordan Morgan, OG. Kutztown
Let me preface by saying that I actually like the collection of players the Bears added, but this evaluation hinges at least partially on Ryan Pace & Co.’s one-spot trade up into No. 2 overall. I’m a cautious believer in Trubisky and I think the biggest ‘win’ from this Chicago class is the fact that he is allowed to sit for a complete year behind Mike Glennon. Adam Shaheen is not “Gronk-lite”, but he’s a well-rounded player who can block/run/catch. Eddie Jackson is decent safety depth, but my two favorite picks were the last two: “Joystick” Tarik Cohen is an intriguing change of pace ‘back who offers electricity in space, while Jordan Morgan is a high-potential college left tackle who will transition to guard. Chicago gave up a boatload for one draft position and didn’t get much draft value elsewhere, but this is a long-term class for a rebuilding team so they won’t care what I think.
Grade: C+
Detroit Lions
Round 1 (No. 21): Jarrad Davis, LB. Florida
Round 2 (No. 53): Teez Tabor, CB. Florida
Round 3 (No. 96): Kenny Golladay, WR. Northern Illinois
Round 4 (No. 124): Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB. Tennessee
Round 4 (No. 127): Michael Roberts, TE. Toledo
Round 5 (No. 165): Jamal Agnew, CB. San Diego
Round 6 (No. 205): Jeremiah Ledbetter, DE. Arkansas
Round 6 (No. 215): Brad Kaaya, QB. Miami (FL)
Round 7 (No. 250): Pat O’Connor, DE. Eastern Michigan
I don’t see the ‘wow’ factor anywhere in this class past round one. I really like the Jarrad Davis pick: fills a major position of need and adds a very dynamic, twitchy interior linebacker with range and on-field leadership qualities. However, Teez Tabor and Kenny Golladay combine for maybe the most underwhelming day two haul of any draft class this year. Jalen Reeves-Maybin adds more athleticism in a big area of need, but was questionable value. Michael Roberts is a good blocker and a nice red zone option, while Brad Kaaya is the most exciting of the late round project passers, but that’s not enough to salvage a desired grade here.
Grade: C
Green Bay Packers
Round 2 (No. 33): Kevin King, CB. Washington
Round 2 (No. 61): Josh Jones, S. North Carolina State
Round 3 (No. 93): Montravius Adams, DT. Auburn
Round 4 (No. 108): Vince Biegel, LB. Wisconsin
Round 4 (No. 134): Jamaal Williams, RB. Brigham-Young
Round 5 (No. 175): DeAngelo Yancey, WR. Purdue
Round 5 (No. 182): Aaron Jones, RB. Texas-El Paso
Round 6 (No. 212): Kofi Amichia, OG/C. South Florida
Round 7 (No. 238): Devante Mays, RB. Utah State
Round 7 (No. 247):
 Malachi Dupre, WR. Louisiana State
Green Bay’s methodical and workman-like approach was evident yet again this year, valuing need over BPA. I was fired up about the team’s first three picks: King is your modern matchup boundary, while Josh Jones is a hit-stick safety with supreme athleticism – and in a post-Raji world, Montravius Adams’ blend of size/quickness/power fits right in. Mid-late rounds are hit or miss, but Jamaal Williams can do the dirty work Ty Montgomery can’t and Aaron Jones has intriguing long-speed. Malachi Dupre was a nice stamp: blue-chip high school recruit who suffered from poor quarterback-play at LSU – potential diamond. Par value, plenty of contributors.
Grade: B
Minnesota Vikings
Round 2 (No. 41): Dalvin Cook, RB. Florida State
Round 3 (No. 70): Pat Elflein, C. Ohio State
Round 4 (No. 109): Jaleel Johnson, DT. Iowa
Round 4 (No. 120): Ben Gedeon, LB. Michigan
Round 5 (No. 170): Rodney Adams, WR. South Florida
Round 5 (No. 180): Danny Isidora, OG. Miami (FL)
Round 6 (No. 201): Bucky Hodges, TE. Virginia Tech
Round 7 (No. 219): Stacy Coley, WR. Miami (FL)
Round 7 (No. 220): Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE. Northwestern
Round 7 (No. 232):
 Elijah Lee, LB. Kansas State
Round 7 (No. 247): Jack Tocho, CB. North Carolina State
One of three teams (Seattle, Cincinnati) who made 11 selections – the most this year. Like Green Bay, the Vikings knocked off a lot of needs. Dalvin Cook was my top rated running back, so to get him at No. 41 might be my favorite pick from the 2017 draft overall. A new long-term center was sorely needed and Elflein addresses that, offering some guard versatility in the interim. Jaleel Johnson is a wide-bodied 3-tech in the profile of Sharrif Floyd (who may not play again). Rodney Adams takes Cordarrelle Patterson’s place as the WR/KR on roster, while the intriguing Bucky Hodges is a modern move-TE with long arms and movement skill. I don’t think Ben Gedeon is the long-term Chad Greenway replacement Spielman & Co. might, but time will tell.
Grade: B
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Caputi: Pick-By-Pick Analysis (Round 1)

Settle in, I’m here to accompany you through the 2017 NFL Draft’s first day of selections. Here you’ll find my pick-by-pick analysis as we progress through the night.
Have a comment for me? Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate
1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
The right pick for a franchise lacking a genuine premier cornerstone on defense for far too long. This situation reminds me so much of Mario Williams’ selection by Houston in 2006. Defensive end has become a true value position over the past half-decade and good teams require elite edge play. Myles Garrett will have bare the flag of the Cleveland revolution, but fortunately he has a ton of talent supporting his efforts.
2. Chicago Bears (via SF): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North Carolina – *TRADE
Let the games begin. Cleveland consciously passed on Trubisky at No. 1 knowing it was impossible he’d be available to them again. Oh, and don’t forget about John Lynch’s San Francisco 49ers already making a bold move by allowing the Bears to select the potential franchise arm – acquiring a boatload for the one draft spot in the process, I’ll add. Only two picks in and already we have a major storyline to follow in the coming years. Browns and 49ers pass on Trubisky: will they find their QBs later? will Trubisky pan out? Time will tell.
*Details of trade
To Bears: 1st round pick (No. 2 – Trubisky)
To 49ers: 1st round pick (No. 3), 3rd round pick (No. 67), 4th round pick (No. 111) + 2018 3rd round pick
3. San Francisco 49ers (via CHI): Solomon Thomas, DE. Stanford
John Lynch goes to his alma mater for his first pick as a General Manager. Building the defense from the ground up after making Thomas the franchise’s third 1st round defensive lineman selection in as many years (previous Arik Armstead, 2015 and DeForest Buckner, 2016). He’s not a tweener, he’s versatile. Hand in the dirt on 4-3 looks or rushing off the edge in a two-point stance on 3-4 downs, he can change the complexion of games.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB. Louisiana State
Elite size to speed ration with an undeniable mean streak. Ultimately, this pick had to be made in support of Blake Bortles and the Jags’ minimalist ground game. T.J. Yeldon is a nice player, but Fournette adds an element that simply wasn’t there before this evening.
5. Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, WR. Western Michigan
A more complete, all-around receiver than guys perceivably graded ahead of him, but finds the right “fit” for your offense trumps the public’s draft board. Davis is tremendously productive + experienced, enters the league with a ton of polish and adds a more imposing physical element to Mariota’s arsenal.
6. New York Jets: Jamal Adams, S. Louisiana State
Whether the organization realizes it or not, there is a rebuild going on right now and Adams’ tone-setting abilities are a timely addition. Though the needs on defense were greater elsewhere, the Jets front office were not expecting this scenario – too much talent to pass on. Great pick – my favorite thus far.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, WR. Clemson
The wide receiver need was always evident, but to get their guy this early is surprising when you consider the talent available on defense. That said, Phil Rivers ain’t getting younger and he’s never been able to rely on Keenan Allen to be healthy for a full 16 games. Williams is the best 50-50 receiver in this draft and adds an element that was sorely missing in the pass game.
8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR. Stanford
Four-down player, don’t put him in a box as just being a running back. You want to allow him 20-30 touches and create opportunities for him in space, as he offers pretty scary open-field elusiveness. Can you imagine the possibilities of a Cam Newton + Christian McCaffrey backfield? Sign me up for some college-style options looks once in a while – they could be special together. Caf’s special teams ability is just the cherry on top.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, WR. Washington
The fastest man in NFL Combine history is off to Cincy. The Bengals are fortunate that the one receiver who suits their offense best in this receiver group fell to them. Ross’ speed creates a dangerous over-the-top threat that should relieve AJ Green of some pesky double-coverages. Calling Ross a similar player to DeSean Jackson would be miscasting him – at minimum, he enters the NFL running B+ routes with A++ speed.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (via BUF): Pat Mahomes, QB. Texas Tech – *TRADE
The biggest talent at his position in the class and he’s entering the ideal situation where he can sit for a complete season before worrying about meaningful snaps. We thought all along that he had a hard-stop at No. 12-13 with the quarterback-hungry Browns and Cardinals soon on the clock. He creates his own opportunities and is equipped with an A++ arm. In 3-5 years, we may look back at the quarterback order and say this situation worked out the best.
*Details of trade
To Chiefs: 1st round pick (No. 10 – Mahomes),
To Bills: 1st round pick (No. 27), 3rd round pick (No. 91) + 2018 1st round pick.
11. New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore, CB. Ohio State
The Saints front office, much like the viewing public, could never have imagined Lattimore would be available outside of the top ten. You must think his constant hamstring issue may have at least mildly contributed to this happening, but the cornerback-starved Saints are thrilled by the opportunity to roll the dice here.
12. Houston Texans (via CLE): DeShaun Watson, QB. Clemson – *TRADE
It’s well-documented that Bill O’Brien is a fan of the big, strong prototype passers. DeShaun Watson doesn’t quite fit that profile and it just goes to show how highly O’Brien must rate his intangibles. An accurate passer who comes alive in big moments, Watson is the safest quarterback in this class and he’s joining a playoff team. Houston went to the playoffs despite receiving marginal QB play last year, so the pressure isn’t on Watson to be a world-beater in year one.
*Details of trade
To Texans: 1st round pick (No. 12 – Watson),
To Browns: 1st round pick (No. 25) + 2018 1st round pick.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Haasan Reddick, LB. Temple
Cards missed out on landing a QB to create the ideal redshirt scenario they desired, but might have landed the best realistic player on their board otherwise. Reddick is a self-starter, improving annually and holds genuine 2-3 position versatility. Will help wherever needed and contribute as a pass rusher from day one.
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE. Tennessee
This one made a lot of sense pre-draft. Marcus Smith hasn’t panned out and Philly required a more reliable option off the edge behind Brandon Graham. Three consistent years of sack production at Tennessee, I don’t care if the combine numbers weren’t eye-popping on him, he gets after it.
15. Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker, S. Ohio State
Boom or bust poster boy from this draft class. Hooker has only one year of production, but it was absurdly productive. Elite center-field type with excellent ball skills. Sideline to sideline range and near-cornerback caliber movement skills, but the inexperience and durability concerns must be noted. Will he show flashes of Ed Reed at the next level or are we talking Raheem Moore 2.0? I’m suspect there won’t be much in-between with him. Tremendous potential-based pick.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marlon Humphrey, CB. Alabama
Ozzie Newsome drafts a player from Alabama? No way! Seriously, this is a bargain pickup here as Humphrey could have easily gone to New Orleans had Lattimore not been available as expected. A physical press-man type, he profiles somewhat like Pro-Bowler Stephon Gilmore stylistically. Makes you wonder about Jonathan Allen though – if Ozzie wasn’t even comfortable scooping him 

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DL. Alabama
While the arthritic shoulder situation is worrisome, the Redskins have glaring issues along their 3-4 base defensive line. Strictly from a talent standpoint, Allen is a top 3 player in this class and worth the risk here for Washington. The Skins’ trench play has already improved with this selection.
18. Tennessee Titans: Adoree Jackson, CB. Southern California
This pick was (hopefully) made with patience in mind. As the diminutive playmaker develops as a corner I do hope to see him contribute immediately as an ace returner and hopefully on offense a little. Size and matchup length aren’t mandatory physical traits in Tennessee, nor have they ever been. It was always going to take an open-minded team to choose Adoree and the Titans may reap the long-term benefits as a result.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: O.J. Howard, TE. Alabama
Great fortune for the Bucs, who continue adding to an enviously impressive core of weaponry for Famous Jameis. Howard represents elite pass-catching potential, but enters the league with polish as a blocker. Hell, he did it so much at Bama, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Either way, massive bargain at this point.
20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, OT. Utah
There’s no better athlete available along the offensive line in this draft class. Bolles essentially stays home and has long-term left tackle potential, though he requires a bit of polishing – which should come at RT. In a rather weak OL draft overall I think Elway & Co. go the potential route. Bolles is a mean dude on-field and enjoys a good trench battle.
21. Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis, ILB. Florida
Rangy interior linebacker to the team who was most desperate for help in that spot in the league. Davis is a leader by example, modern in style and provides a major athletic boost to the Lions’ linebacking core. Conventional thinking says there was just no way Reuben Foster would be available here though. For them to pass on him says quite a bit about what kind of slide Foster might be in for tonight and/or tomorrow.
22. Miami Dolphins: Charles Harris, DE. Missouri
A coaches dream, Harris is a self-starter who has had to earn his time at Missouri behind a conveyer belt of strong collegiate edge defenders. After two productive starting seasons, I’m happy to see him land with a 4-3 team as I believe 4-3 end is his ideal situation. To Miami, he’s Cam Wake’s heir apparent.
23. New York Giants: Evan Engram, TE. Ole Miss
All along, it was a very strong possibility that Engram could go ahead of David Njoku. His skill-set appeals to more teams, including those who already had an entrenched tight end. The reason is he’s not a true tight end, nor is he a wide receiver – though versatile nonetheless. Eli obtains a field-stretcher.
24. Oakland Raiders: Gareon Conley, CB. Ohio State
Simply put, if the off-field allegations didn’t happen, he’s comfortably a top 15 pick. Give the Raiders front office the benefit of the and assume they know something the public doesn’t, because there still appears to be some uncertainty here. That said, on-field, this is a fantastic all-around player who contributes day one. Oakland entered this draft lacking a solution at corner opposite Sean Smith. We’ll see how this one plays out.
25. Cleveland Browns (via HOU): Jabrill Peppers, S/LB. Michigan – *TRADE
His personality should certainly help to provide a spark in a stagnant Browns locker room. Hue Jackson is attempting to change the culture of the organization’s on-field product and you do that by collecting players like Peppers. Though, to me, he’s more of a tweener than he is versatile I’ll assume the team selecting him is doing so with a specific role in mind for him.
26. Atlanta Falcons (via SEA): Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB. UCLA – *TRADE
Relentless motor off the edge either as a 4-3 end or standup edge linebacker. Offers some role diversity for the Falcons’ pass rushing setups and increases the ‘compete’ level of an already strong defensive core. By the way – who didn’t love that on-stage moment? You’ve just got to love live TV. Good for him – as he’s certainly not going to enter the NFL lacking in motivation.
*Details of trade
To Falcons: 1st round pick (No. 26 – McKinley),
To Seahawks: 1st round pick (No. 31), 3rd round pick (No. 95), 7th round pick (No. 249).
27. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Tre’Davious White, CB. Louisiana State – *TRADE
4-year starter who should make a seamless transition into a starting role from day one and competent enough to contribute in a multitude of roles in coverage. Stephon Gilmore departed and reinforcements were needed asap. Nice to see Buffalo think big-picture and acquire a 2018 1st round selection while still crossing off a considerable roster hole.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton, DE. Michigan
Long disruptive figure who feasted in opposing backfields. That said, he’s a one-year wonder, but the Cowboys are clearly pleased with the upside aspect of this pick. Despite his size + frame, Taco gets real-real skinny. Dallas has some talent on the edges, but these days teams require 3-4 viable options. I like this pick, Taco is too talented to have slid out of day one.
29. Cleveland Browns (via GB): David Njoku, TE. Miami (FL) – *TRADE
Supremely gifted athlete with absolutely no physical limitations. Njoku is still just 20 and enters the league as something of a diamond in the rough, as his catching is a little inconsistent for my liking. However, when he’s your third 1st round pick, than I think you feel comfortable rolling the dice on his talent. If you pass on all of the quarterbacks, at least help Kessler. They did with this pick.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt, OLB. Wisconsin
Can’t draw it up any better. Energy, toughness, attitude – all ideal characteristics Pittsburgh seeks on defense, all adjectives of T.J. Watt. One of the more complete defenders available at this point and it’s logical that he proved too talented to slip out of day one. Steelers have been trying to get younger on D for years.
31. San Francisco 49ers (via ATL by SEA): Reuben Foster, ILB. Alabama – *TRADE
We’ll assume this slide – like teammate Jonathan Allen’s – was medical related, but I applaud rookie GM John Lynch for being aggressive at both the top and bottom of round 1. Thomas and Foster help frame a new attitude for a rebuilding San Francisco defense that was very good not long ago.
*Details of trade
To 49ers: 1st round pick (No. 31 – Foster),
To Packers: 2nd round pick (No. 33), 4th round pick (No. 108).
32. New Orleans Saints (via NE): Ryan Ramczyk, OT. Wisconsin
Plug and play right tackle to help keep the grizzled Drew Brees upright. Saints addressed the big cornerback need earlier and now knock off arguably the second largest hole on the roster. Unsexy, but sound pick to conclude the day.

Caputi's Final 2017 NFL Mock Draft

Here we go, football fans – the big day is here.
1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
Quarterback rumors are on sale, but no one’s buying. There’s an obvious dearth of talent in Cleveland and fortunately the most talented player in this class also addresses a considerable need. Note: Browns defense ranked No. 30 in sacks last year (26.0)
2. San Franciso 49ers: Mitch Trubisky, QB. North Carolina
New General Manager. New Head Coach. New Quarterback? The organization’s current situation under center is concernedly comprised of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Shanahan gets his prototype. Note: 49ers had the league’s worst-ranked passing offense in 2016.
3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams, S. Louisiana State
An impact player is needed in the defensive secondary here and there may not be a safer player in this class. Da Bears have lacked a tone-setting defender since Brian Urlacher’s retirement; Adams fits the bill. Note: Bears defense conceded 399 points last season (ninth-worst in the league).
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB. Louisiana State
In a make-or-break season for Blake Bortles the franchise is well placed to support its fourth-year quarterback while still solving a position of concern. Doug Marrone is given a physically imposing specimen with long speed. Note: Jacksonville’s 101.9 rushing yards per game ranked 22nd-best in 2016.
5. Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore, CB. Ohio State
Long-time starting cornerback Jason McCourty was jettisoned for economic reasons and despite the signing of Logan Ryan, help remains sorely required at the position. The former Buckeye is a gifted athlete with an exciting future if hamstrings issues don’t continue to flare up. Note: Titans defense begrudgingly boasted the NFL’s 30th-ranked passing defense last year.
6. New York Jets: O.J. Howard, TE. Alabama
If Gang Green isn’t feeling a quarterback here (and the belief entering the day is they aren’t), this is represents a tantalizing alternative. Elite pass-catching potential + nicely refined blocking skills in a position of significant need. Note: The last tight end to be selected No. 6 overall (or higher)? Vernon Davis in 2006.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker, S. Ohio State
The vintage Eric Weddle era already feels like a lifetime ago and the organization is desperate for a playmaker in the secondary. Ohio State produced last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year for the team – double dipping is allowed. Note: Chargers defense allowed the 4th-most points in the NFL in 2016 (423 total).
8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB. Stanford
Provides much-needed electricity and can hurt a defense in a multitude of ways. Think outside the box here – position and role can change on any down; he runs, he catches, he scores touchdowns when in space. Note: Panthers offense finished middle of the pack in total yards (19th) and touchdowns (17th).
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Solomon Thomas, DE. Stanford
Michael Johnson is now 30 and the quietly-elite Carlos Dunlap becomes a free agent after 2018. Cincy, more so than most, values pass rushing options. Thomas is an active power-edge reminiscent of vintage Aaron Kampman (2006-2007). Note: Bengals defense had 9.0 less sacks in 2016 than in 2015.
10. Buffalo Bills: Marlon Humphrey, CB. Alabama
A similar profile to the now-departed Stephon Gilmore: comfortable in press-man, combining length + speed with an eagerness to intervene in run defense. Not much on the roster past Ron Darby. Note: Humphrey created 8 turnovers in two years (five interceptions, three forced fumbles).
11. New Orleans Saints: Haasan Reddick, LB. Temple
Though cornerback is by far the bigger concern, this selection represents more talent value. Nollins’ added some depth at linebacker, but Reddick has 2-3 position versatility and flashed elite pass rushing proficiency as a senior in 2016. Note: Saints defense placed 27th in sacks last season (30.0).
12. Cleveland Browns: Mike Williams, WR. Clemson
Were quarterback a real priority, I find it difficult to believe they’d pass on “their guy” at No. 1. Instead, Cleveland opts to add some weaponry for Kessler & Co after upgrading the defense earlier. Kenny Britt is barely a short-term solution and Williams could create a mouthwatering duo with last year’s 1st round draft choice Corey Coleman. Note: In 2016, Browns placed 27th in receiving yards per game (230.8) and t-30th in receiving touchdowns (15).
13. Arizona Cardinals: Pat Mahomes, QB. Texas Tech
Never look a gift horse in the mouth – particularly when the gift is a quarterback. Arizona is in the optimal situation of being able to give a redshirt year to whomever it taps as its future under center. Highly gifted, in-time Mahomes could prove to be the best passer this class produces. Note: In 2012 – a year before Carson Palmer’s arrival – the Cards ranked 28th in passing yards per game.
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE. Tennessee
Supreme value, as he could’ve crept into the top 10. Tremendous production with 32.0 sacks in three seasons of starting. Barnett is as prolific in the classroom as he is on-field; great character. Marcus Smith hasn’t panned out and Chris Long is a stop-gap. Note: Eagles defense was t-16th in sacks last season (34 total).
15. Indianapolis Colts: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB. UCLA
Robert Mathis has rode off into retirement and incomes a fresh-faced motor edge in his likeness. McKinley enters the NFL coming off a better year than some remaining counterparts in the same role. Note: Indy’s defense placed 19th in the league with 33.0 sacks last season.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis, WR. Western Michigan
The current wide receiver situation in Baltimore is shocking. If Breshad Perriman can put things together, great – it’s a bonus, but otherwise reinforcements are needed. Davis, and his four years of absurd production, are a safe selection here. Note: Ravens offense finished 2016 with 20 receiving touchdowns, tied for 21st in the league.
17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DL. Alabama
The (medical-related?) slide ceases, much to the Skins’ benefit. Though some more disruption depth off the edge would help, this is tremendous value. A top 3-5 talent if healthy, Washington can easily improve its 3-4 base trench-play. Note: Last year, the Redskins’ defense placed 9th in both sacks (38.0) and yards per game (119.8).
18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR. Washington
Front office has taken care to ensure Mariota is continuously supported in his development and an injection of electricity is needed. Ross is often miscast as a one-dimensional vertical threat, but he boasts elite speed and (as of today) B+  route running skills. Note: (At 232.5) Titans offense ranked 25th in overall receiving yards per game last season.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB. Florida State
A tornado of uncertainty surrounds Doug Martin’s future with the Bucs and the chance to grab a special all-around workhorse is too tempting to pass on. And he’s only about a four hour drive away. Note: Bucs rushing offense ranked 24th in the league last season (101.0).
20. Denver Broncos: Cam Robinson, OT. Alabama
His combination of length and size could allow him to cover 3-4 positions in the NFL. If the whole long-term left tackle thing doesn’t pan out, he projects to be an elite guard/right tackle. Note: Denver conceded a 24th-ranked 40.0 sacks in 2016.
21. Detroit Lions: Reuben Foster, LB. Alabama
Victim of circumstance (and maybe some pre-draft character questions), as he’s undoubtedly a top 10 talent in this class. Detroit is gifted an elite falling talent at arguably its greatest position of need. Note: Lions defense finished middle of the pack (15th) in total yards conceded per game last season (354.8).
22. Miami Dolphins: Forrest Lamp, OG. Western Kentucky
The franchise has shown the willingness to invest prominent picks in reinforcing the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil kicks out to left tackle and Forest Lamp, at guard, is arguably the most ready-to-play blocker in this class. Note: Phins allowed the 14th-most QB hits in the league last year.
23. New York Giants: David Njoku, TE. Miami (FL)
G-Men have invested prominent picks into their OL recently and brought in D.J. Fluker as well. This could finally be the year they address the need for a dynamic tight end, and Njoku is a special athlete. Note: NYG ranked 18th in receiving yards per game (251.7) last season.
24. Oakland Raiders: T.J. Watt, OLB. Wisconsin
It’s a great spot for a corner (among other defensive positions), but the organization is in dyer need of pass rush help. “Little” Watt gets to the quarterback and probably shouldn’t be available here. Note: Raiders finished last in the league with 25.0 team sacks in 2016.
25. Houston Texans: DeShaun Watson, QB. Clemson
He’s not the ideal Bill O’Brien profile, but you want your quarterback to be an alpha-male personality who performs best in big situations. Houston went to the playoffs with poor play under center in 2016, so there’s little pressure to do “too much” in his rookie campaign. Note: In 2016, Texans ranked last in average yards per pass attempt (5.9).
26. Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King, CB. Washington
Perfectly suits the profile of what’s desired on the boundary in Seattle and he’s a local product. The Legion of Boom core is aging fast and Richard Sherman’s situation is awkwardly uncertain. Note: ‘Hawks defense conceded 7.2 yards per reception last season, tying them for 15th in the NFL.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Zach Cunningham, ILB. Vanderbilt
Derrick Johnson is 34 and coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2016. They reinforce the interior linebacker spot with a big search-and-destroy playmaker. Note: Chiefs gave up the 7th-most rushing yards per game (121.1) last season.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Tre’Davious White, CB. Louisiana State
The position needs to be addressed early and the ‘Boys are fortunate to see an experienced man-capable available here. Note: Dallas conceded the 7th-most passing yards per game (260.4) in 2016.
29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Kamara, RB. Tennessee
Offense lacks a workhorse in the ground-game and there’s 3-down value here. Exciting do-it-all talent if perceived character concerns can be overcome. Note: Pack came in at 20th in rushing yards per game (106.3) last season.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Charles Harris, DE/OLB. Missouri
There’s little behind the soon-to-be 39-year-old James Harrison on the edge opposite Bud Dupree. Harris is a self-motivater with the ideal skill-set for a 3-4 conversion rusher. Note: Pittsburgh conceded the 10th-fewest points (327) in the league in 2016.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Jordan Willis, DE. Kansas State
Ascending prospect who has improved in each of his last three-years as a starter, including a strong pre-draft process. Active and instinctual, a bargain for a team with very few needs. Note: Atlanta conceded the 8th-most yards per game (371.2) in 2016 on defense.
32. New Orleans Saints (via Patriots): Rasul Douglas, CB. West Virginia
Surprise. Former JUCO, one (elite) year wonder with 8 interceptions in 2016. Physically he combines size and modern prototype length. Cornerback must be addressed with one of their two picks. Note: Nollins’ allowed the most passing yards per game (273.8) in 2016.
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Vontaze Burfict three-game suspension upheld

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks upheld Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension.
Burfict was suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs that caused a concussion.
Burfict met Thursday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his on-field behavior and steps he could take to avoid further disciplinary action in the future. Burfict, his agents and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis were at the meeting Thursday with Goodell and NFL executi Troy Vincent.
Burfict was fined $50,000 for a hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams.
Burfict was fined three times for incidents against the Steelers that totaled $70,000.
Burfict will lose $502,941 of his salary next season.
Follow me on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL
Aaron Wilson covers the Texans for The Houston Chronicle.

Why Jonathan Martin retired

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin retired before the 2015 season, but Martin’s departure from football has nothing do with his infamous bullying scandal or his sometimes inconsistent play.
Instead it was a back injury suffered prior to training camp that forced him out of football.
“It just never got better,” said Martin’s agent, Kenny Zuckerman. “He was just hoping it would just get better and better every day, and it just didn’t.”
Doctors said that Martin had to rest his back for four to eight weeks without engaging in physical activity — something that would’ve put him well behind for this NFL season — and then he was a candidate for spinal fusion surgery, a risky operation that could have sidelined him a year.
According to Zuckerman, the injury left Martin very discouraged, something that went contrary to some media depictions that labeled him as a player who lacked passion for football. He agonized over what to do about his playing career before deciding to retire just shy of his 26th birthday.
“He went through a tough time, but he loved playing,” Zuckerman said. “(The injury) consumed his mind 24 hours a day.”
After the Dolphins’ turmoil in 2013, few would have guessed that the NFL stay of Richie Incognito, the player who tormented Martin, would outlast Martin’s.
Martin, who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, was just 23 years old at the time of the scandal and played one of the most important positions in football — offensive tackle. He entered the NFL as a major prospect, having protected quarterback Andrew Luck while at Stanford.
Incognito was a 30-year-old guard, who had been dismissed from both Nebraska and Oregon during college, and was being kicked to the curb by his third NFL team.
Surprisingly, Incognito is now slated as the starting left guard for the Bills while Martin has moved on with his career.
Zuckerman said there is “zero percent” chance that Martin plays again — regardless of whether the 25-year-old’s health unexpectedly improves.
Instead Martin, whose mother is a corporate lawyer for Toyota, likely will go to law school.
“If it was a guy who didn’t have that plan, I could see him sitting a year (and playing again),” Zuckerman said. “He’s a very bright guy … He’s ready to move on to the next part of life.”
After attending Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High, a school known for its lofty academics, Martin, who majored in ancient Greek and Roman classics at Stanford, could have been the first ever fourth generation African-American at Harvard.
He was heavily recruited by the Ivy League school attended by his mother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Instead Martin went to Stanford, where he became a second-team All-American in 2011, before starting 32 games during his three years in the NFL.
After leaving the Dolphins, the 6-5, 315-pound Martin signed with the 49ers and played for his college head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Martin started nine games at right tackle but often struggled while playing on an injury-plagued offensive line and was cut after the season.
In the ensuing offseason, he was claimed off of waivers by the Panthers, a team with a porous offensive line.
Martin, who was mostly playing behind Michael Oher of The Blind Side fame on the left side of the Panthers’ line during offseason practices, was reportedly scheduled to make $1.042 million this season.
Following his retirement from the Panthers, Martin’s camp maintains that he will not be negatively linked to the bullying scandal but instead serve as a positive example of resilience.
“He is a role model for kids that are going through things like he went through,” Zuckerman said.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

Chasing the Patriots: Bills and Jets share same strengths, weaknesses

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have won the AFC East six consecutive years, but they are poised to be knocked off the division’s top perch.
They have lost their top three cornerbacks from last season, and the NFL upheld a four-game suspension of QB Tom Brady.
Two of their challengers in the division — the Bills and Jets — are similarly constructed teams with the same strengths and problems.
Both the Bills and Jets have very good defensive units, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the main link between the franchises is Rex Ryan, the son of Buddy Ryan, who popularized the 46 defense.
After six years with the Jets, Rex Ryan enters his first year coaching the Bills. Ryan’s replacement in New York, Todd Bowles, actually employs a very similar gameplan involving a blitz-heavy 3-4 D.
Bowles, though, inherits the same problem that plagued Ryan in New York and still negatively affects him in Buffalo — poor QB play.
Although both teams have two of the most uncertain QB situations in the league, their defensive lines are two of the best.
The Jets’ D-line took a hit when defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who was just charged for resisting arrest after driving 143 mph, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. But even without him, the Jets have Muhammad Wilkerson, a 6-4, 315-pounder with 16 sacks the last two years, and rookie Leonard Williams, who was regarded as the best defensive player in the draft before dropping to No. 6 overall because of rumors of a lingering shoulder injury that he claims were unfounded.
Buffalo’s version of Richardson is Marcell Dareus. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has the versatility to play nose tackle, 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. The talented Dareus is stout versus the run, and his 28.5 sacks in his four years in the league demonstrate his pass rush ability. His issues come off the field where he has numerous incidents, including ones involving drag racing and drugs.
On the Bills’ four-man line, Dareus lined up next to Kyle Williams, a high-motor player who has 16 sacks the past two years, last season.
Ryan will likely go with three down linemen this year, moving defensive ends Mario Williams — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft — and Jerry Hughes to 3-4 outside linebackers. Williams has 91 career sacks, and the duo combined for 24 sacks last season.
The Bills had the third best pass defense in the league last year not only because of their ability to get to the quarterback, but also because they have two former top 11 picks — Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore — starting at cornerback.
Ryan will love having those corners. He can trust them in single coverage, allowing him to blitz multiple defenders.
His penchant for doing that is why Ryan lobbied the Jets front office to re-sign Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the cover cornerbacks who shut down receivers while the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2010.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the Jets re-signed them only after he left.
Those secondary additions — and the free-agent acquisition of CB Buster Skrine — should drastically improve a New York defense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season but only 14th against the pass.
And the Jets D will have to be outstanding to compensate for an anemic offense.
The offensive woes begin at quarterback where New York has error-prone Geno Smith, who has turned the ball over 41 times in 30 career games.
Rookie quarterback Bryce Petty, drafted in the fourth round, has potential, but he is somewhat of a project because he needs to adjust from the spread offense at Baylor to the Jets’ pro-style attack.
There’s a reason Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his sixth team; he is whom you want as your No. 2 quarterback but not your starter.
One of Fitzpatrick’s former teams, the Bills, have similar QB issues. Matt Cassel, the odds-on favorite to win the job, is like Fitzpatrick. An excellent backup, he could not hold onto the starting job in Kansas City or Minnesota.
EJ Manuel, the first quarterback selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, is not dynamic enough. He has completed under 59 percent of his passes in both seasons and never averaged more than 6.44 yards per pass.
Tyrod Taylor also has a shot at the starting job.
Whoever quarterbacks the Bills will at least have LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson at running back, potentially allowing Buffalo to play a ball-control attack, which puts less pressure on the passer.
McCoy has 2,926 rush yards over the last two seasons, and Jackson has surpassed 925 rushing yards three times.
The Bills have young talent at receiver. Sammy Watkins enters his second year while Robert Woods enters his third. They combined for 1,681 receiving yards last year.
They also signed WR Percy Harvin to a one-year contract. Harvin played for Ryan last year in New York after the versatile receiver previously wore out his welcome in Minnesota and Seattle.
The Jets took on another talented — but somewhat troubled — receiver in Brandon Marshall to complement Eric Decker.
But like the Bills, the Jets would be better off taking the game out of the hands of whichever dubious quarterback wins the QB job and relying on a deep RB group.
The Jets ranked third in the NFL in rushing last year and are even deeper this year. Though lacking an elite back, New York has Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy. Each has at least one 697-yard season to his name.
Time will tell if strong running games and defenses will be enough to make up for poor QB play — and enough to finally unseat the Patriots.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

How the Belichick-Parcells relationship mirrors Coach K and Knight’s

Mentor teaches pupil. Pupil bests mentor. Mentor and pupil grow apart. Mentor and pupil become close again.
It’s a narrative that describes two of the greatest coaching pairings — Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski — in the modern era, and it’s just one of the ties that bind the four legends.
Belichick coached on the defensive side of the ball under Parcells from 1983-1990 with the New York Giants, 1996 with the New England Patriots and 1997-1999 with the New York Jets.
The two were so tied at the hip that Belichick was called “Little Bill,” and Parcells was called “Big Bill.” Little Bill, though, has now surpassed Parcells. As head coach he has more Super Bowl titles (four to two), more Super Bowl appearances (six to three), and more regular-season victories (211 to 172).
Coach K played under Knight from 1966-1969 at Army and coached under him at Indiana from 1974-1975. When Krzyzewski’s father died near the end of his senior year, Knight flew to Chicago to mourn with the family and he attended Krzyzewski’s wedding four days after his player graduated from college.
Like Belichick, Krzyzewski similarly exceeded his confidante and former boss. He now has more NCAA championships (five to three), Final Four appearances (12 to five), and total victories (1,018 to 902) than Knight.
The striking parallels, though, go beyond a student gaining more acclaim than his teacher.
The falling out and reconciliation
The plan all along was for Belichick to succeed Parcells as head coach with the Jets. However, Belichick, who saw a more stable ownership with the Patriots and a chance to spread his wings, resigned from that position to become the Patriots’ head coach.
“At that point in time, in that situation, I did what I felt I needed to do and I don’t have any regrets about that,” Belichick said in Parcells: A Football Life. “Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently.”
Belichick’s move to New England not only added more fuel to the Patriots-Jets rivalry, but also created acrimony between the coaches. The two remained estranged for about six years.
But after Parcells watched Belichick win Super Bowl XXXIX and get doused with Gatorade while his father, Steve, was at his side, Parcells was moved. He sent a note describing his joy in seeing them enjoy that father-son moment.
More than a year after that, Belichick invited Parcells, the then-Cowboys coach, to play golf at Nantucket Golf Club, a gracious act that Scott Pioli, Parcells’ son-in-law and former Belichick right-hand man, is presumed to have played a role in.
Shortly thereafter, the coaches regularly called each other.
Belichick, whose girlfriend was living in Florida, even purchased a condominium unit two floors above Parcells’ Miami-area place in 2009.
“We just had a difference of opinion on some things,” Parcells said in his book. “I wasn’t happy that we were kind of at different ends of the spectrum for a while. I wouldn’t say we’re buddy buddies, but we get along.”
The ultimate gesture came when Belichick left Patriots training camp to attend Parcells’ 2013 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When Coach K went to his first Final Four in 1986, a beaming Knight supported him by wearing a Duke button in Dallas.
For his sixth Final Four, Coach K’s defending champion faced Knight’s Indiana team in the semifinal. Duke won 81-78, and the coaching legends brushed past each other after the game, barely shaking hands.
It was never revealed what led to the frostiness in the relationship. John Feinstein, a Duke alum and author of the Knight tell-all book, A Season on the Brink, conjectured that Knight felt Krzyzewski had not publicly credited him enough for his success.
Like it did for Parcells and Belichick, the Hall of Fame helped mend fences for the basketball coaches.
Krzyzewski asked Knight to introduce him during his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, and the two became close once again.
During a 2006 holiday tournament, Krzyzewski told me he always roots for Knight, who was then coaching Texas Tech, to win, equating it to cheering for a family member.
When Krzyzewski surpassed Knight in 2011 as the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history, Knight was there announcing the game for ESPN. The two warmly embraced.
“I just told Coach I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. It’s a moment shared. I know he’s very proud and I’m very proud to have been somebody who’s worked under him and studied him and tried to be like him.”
Military ties
All four have deep connections to the military.
Bill Belichick’s father, Steve, coached at Navy from 1956-1989. The Midshipmen coach helped indoctrinate his son, who learned how to scout at the age of 10, into the football world.
Steve coached against Parcells, the Army head coach from 1966 to 1969, in the famed Army-Navy rivalry clashes. Parcells became the head coach at another service academy, the Air Force, in 1978. It was his first head coaching job at any level.
Knight, who was nicknamed the “General” in part because he coached at Army from 1965 to 1971, recruited Krzyzewski. Coach K then served as Army head coach from 1975 to 1980 before becoming Duke head coach.
To further complete this coaching quadrangle, Parcells and Knight were the respective head coaches of football and basketball at Army at the same time.
They became great friends, playing heated basketball games against each other and regularly hanging out in Knight’s basement or Parcells’ living room.
Knight would counsel Parcells on prospective jobs, once telling him the Indiana head coaching job had opened, though Parcells would accept the Giants’ head coaching position.
Three years before, Knight recommended Duke hire an under-the-radar coach with a last name that was difficult to pronounce. He would go on to become the NCAA’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

Why the Vikings are on the rise

After a 7-9 finish last year, the Minnesota Vikings are a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2015 — and for good reason.
Although the young talent on the defense may represent the biggest reason for the Vikings’ ascension, much of the optimism centers on returning star, RB Adrian Peterson, and the new offensive face of the franchise, QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The excitement over Bridgewater is understandable, considering the Vikings went 31-48-1 from 2010-14 when the team’s major problem was a void at quarterback.
Now they have their best young passer since Daunte Culpepper. (Brett Favre starred in his first season in Minnesota in 2009, but at 40 years old, he was not a long-term answer at the position.)
Bridgewater enters his second season after going 6-6 in his 12 starts as a rookie. Most encouraging is how his play improved as the season wore on. During four of his last five games, he posted a QB rating of 90.2 or better. He threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions during that stretch while completing at least 68 percent of his passes in each game.
He put up those promising numbers despite being without one of the best running backs in NFL history. Peterson played in just one game in 2014 after being placed on an exempt list due to child abuse charges.
Look for Peterson, who rushed for 1,266 and 2,097 yards in the two previous seasons, to play with added motivation in 2015. The last time he had a chip on his shoulder — after coming back from an ACL injury — he finished with an MVP season.
Though he’s a physical marvel, Peterson has turned 30, the age when most running backs begin showing slippage. But the Vikings finally have a player who can spell Peterson in Jerick McKinnon, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie last season.
They are not the only offensive playmakers who will help out the 22-year-old Bridgewater. He now has a deep threat after the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick for wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Even though the speedster didn’t live up to the expectations of his lofty contract with the Miami Dolphins, he still had 862 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and a change of scenery could provide a career boost.
His receiving mate, the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson, showed great promise as a rushing/receiving/special teams threat while scoring nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2013, though his play regressed last season.
To resuscitate Wallace’s career and advance Patterson’s, the Vikings have the right man in offensive coordinator Norv Turner, an excellent playcaller and QB guru.
Unlike most well-regarded offensive coordinators, Turner emphasizes the running game over the passing game, though he mixes in the deep ball, a result of his Air Coryell roots.
With Turner in charge of the offense, it allows second-year head coach Mike Zimmer to devote his time to his specialty — the defense, a 4-3 unit that features press coverage in the secondary.
The D — with players like Jared Allen, the Williams Wall, Antoine Winfield and co. — used to be the hallmark of Minnesota’s success, but as that group grew old, the Vikings fell apart.
The Vikings have just one defensive starter from their last NFC Championship Game appearance — Chad Greenway, the linebacker who has started 123 games.
Minnesota has remade their defense alongside Greenway with a slew of young defensive stars, which it acquired through the draft.
One reason the Vikings felt comfortable parting with Allen before the 2014 season was the emergence of their other pass rushers. Everson Griffen and veteran Brian Robison combined for 32 sacks the last two years, though a pectoral injury could limit the latter during training camp.
Aside from Greenway and Robison, it’s a young corps.
Before a knee injury ended his 2014 season, linebacker Anthony Barr was in contention for Rookie of the Year voting. A multi-talented player, he had 55 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a touchdown through 12 weeks last year.
Projected as a 2015 first-round pick, Eric Kendricks slipped to the Vikings in the second round (45th overall). The best middle linebacker of the draft has special instincts and intelligence while also possessing great lateral agility and a 38-inch vertical leap.
With the 11th overall pick, the Vikings selected cornerback Trae Waynes, a perfect fit for Zimmer’s man-press scheme. The 6-1, 183-pounder has the blend of size and speed to handle NFC North receivers.
His 4.23 speed at the NFL Combine was the fastest among all defensive backs, and he also had the fastest 20-yard split (2.40 seconds) among all participants.
What was once a source of weakness — the defensive backfield — may soon become a strength for the Vikings. They can pair Waynes with ballhawking safety Harrison Smith, who has three touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his three-year career, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013.
Beyond the young talent aboard, the future looks bright in Minnesota. The Vikings’ new stadium, Minnesota Stadium, will open in 2016. And in 2018, it will host the Super Bowl.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

The Chiefs have Georgia on their mind

Immediately after Chris Conley was selected by the Chiefs in third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, second-year Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray texted the Georgia wide receiver.
“Get ready to come and grind with me again,” messaged the former Bulldogs passer.
Murray, Georgia’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, threw to Conley for three years, including in 2013, when Conley led the team with 45 receptions and 651 receiving yards.
The duo is elated about their reunion Kansas City.
“It helps tremendously. It helps because Aaron knows how I work,” Conley said. “He’s able to ease that transition a little more.”
Perhaps the Chiefs will start planting some Sanford Stadium-like hedges outside Arrowhead Stadium. In the past five years, Kansas City has drafted five Georgia players.
That group includes Murray, Conley, safety Sanders Commings, linebacker Justin Houston and linebacker Ramik Wilson, who was selected in the fourth round (118th overall) of this 2015 NFL Draft.
Under general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have selected four former Georgia players since 2013 and at least one Bulldog every year.
In addition Wilson has become close to Houston, who was drafted by former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. The elite pass rusher often comes back to Georgia at the end of NFL seasons and works out or rehabs there. Wilson and Murray both grew up in Tampa, Florida, and have known each other for years prior to reconnecting in Kansas City.
“It’s a great fit,” Wilson said. “It makes (it) feel like home. I can go to them for anything.”
While the Georgia players enjoy a comfortable setting in Kansas City with plenty of former teammates, the Chiefs get players who have proven their ability at the highest level of college football.
“Everyone always talks about the speed of the game and they say the speed of the SEC is the closest you get,” Conley said. “Hopefully that will translate.”
That SEC background is likely one reason Dorsey remains enamored with Georgia players. However, he drafted Conley and Wilson because of their specific skill set — not just their conference pedigree.
The Chiefs liked Conley so much that they traded their third-round pick (80th pick overall) and sixth-round pick (193rd overall) to the Vikings in exchange for Minnesota’s 76th overall pick.
The 6-2, 213-pound Conley has an impressive blend of size and athleticism. At the 2015 NFL Combine, he led all participants with a 45-inch vertical leap and tied for fourth with a 40 time of 4.35 seconds.
Conley used that speed to average 18.3 yards per catch while posting 657 receiving yards and scoring eight touchdowns during his senior year in 2014.
“He can go deep. He really does have some nice feet in terms of running after the catch and making guys miss. He’s got enough size to break the arm tackle,” Dorsey said. “He has got the athletic skills to just kind of blend right in.”
Conley has blended in quickly thus far, wowing observers and teammates during offseason practices.
“He can play some football,” said veteran wide receiver Jason Avant. “He has the potential to be really, really good.”
The Chiefs need Conley to be good and quickly — given the glaring hole on Kansas City’s roster. The Chiefs’ wide receivers did not score a touchdown last season.
Wilson also fits a need at middle linebacker where 32-year-old star Derrick Johnson is coming off a season-ending torn Achilles tendon.
The rookie’s production and range belie his 4.74 speed in the 40. A three-year starter at Georgia who can adeptly cover tight ends, the 6-2, 237-pound linebacker led the SEC in tackles in 2013 and added 110 more in 2014.
His fellow Bulldogs linebacker, Houston, remains unsigned after the franchise player led the NFL with 22 sacks last year. Meanwhile, Commings, who is trying to overcome two injury-plagued seasons, will try to help fill the void left by safety Eric Berry.
The challenge for Murray, the presumptive No. 3 quarterback and a possible eventual successor to starter Alex Smith, is to continue to master the complexities of the Chiefs’ West Coast Offense.
“Even Aaron is still learning things about this offense,” Conley said. “When Aaron was at Georgia, he knew everything there was. This offense is so big and grand, and every year wrinkles are added.”
As Conley tries to master his own playbook and adjust to life in the NFL, having fellow Bulldogs on the roster only can help the rookie receiver.
“There are so (many) new things going on and so many things flying,” Conley said. “Having familiar faces and guys who can kind of show you the ropes is so beneficial at this point. I’m loving it.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

Why Michael Sam can excel in the CFL

Though Michael Sam did not play a regular-season down in the NFL, he has the skill set to flourish up north.
“He can be an outstanding CFL rush end,” Jim Popp, Montreal Alouettes vice president, general manager and director of football operations, told NFP.
The Alouettes, who signed Sam on May 22, run an aggressive scheme with a four-man front, which emphasizes pressuring the passer, and employ bump-and-run coverage in the secondary.
Moreover, the CFL has 12 players on each side of the ball, and the extra player is typically a receiver on offense and a defensive back on defense. So, the Alouettes use a 4-3-5 scheme or often a dime look with six defensive backs. Those extra secondary players focus on coverage responsibilities, which will allow Sam to concentrate on pressuring the quarterback.
“There will be times where he has to drop,” Popp said. “But 95 percent of the time he’ll be rushing the passer.”
That should enable Sam, 25, to avoid one of the weaknesses in his game — dropping back into coverage — that prevented him from hanging on with an NFL team.
Sam, however, has a knack for rushing the passer.
In the best conference in the country, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss during his senior season at Missouri and was named the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. During the 2014 NFL preseason, he tied for fourth in the league with three sacks.
But the 6-2, 260-pound Sam, who ran a 4.99 in the 40 at the NFL’s veterans combine in March, was knocked by NFL teams for being a tweener — too slow to be a 3-4 linebacker and too small to play defensive line.
The CFL is often a refuge for players deemed to have inadequate speed or size for the NFL. Doug Flutie, who NFL teams rejected because of his 5’10” height, became a six-time Most Outstanding Player in the CFL.
“We don’t get caught up in measurables,” Popp said.
Popp also is not concerned by the fact that Sam is gay.
“Absolutely not,” said Popp, who lauded Sam’s character and leadership. “We see everyone as equal.”
Sam was not only the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL, but Popp also said he is the first one in the CFL, and the CFL is embracing his barrier-breaking status.
“The league office is very happy,” Popp said.
Sam has been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list since college.
The CFL has a draft, but it is only for Canadian citizens. Free agents can be placed on a negotiation list of 35 players, a first-come, first-serve, private list only known to CFL teams and the league office.
Noteworthy players who have been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list include Russell Wilson (who was once deemed too short for the NFL and was recruited to N.C. State by future Alouettes coach Marc Trestman), Clay Matthews (a former USC walk-on once considered too slight), Colin Kaepernick (once considered a product of a gimmicky system at Nevada) and Tim Tebow.
CFL teams can take a player off at any time but cannot tamper with someone else’s list. Hypothetically, they could even put high school players on that list, though they cannot negotiate with them or college players until they have declared for the draft or already have spent four years in college.
The Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round (249th overall) in 2014 before releasing him prior to the season. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn holding down a stacked defensive end group, St. Louis may not have been the best fit.
“That was one of the strongest points of that team,” Popp said. “That was (working) against him.”
Receiving playing time with the Alouettes, a vaunted CFL franchise that has made eight Grey Cup appearances in the 21st century, is not guaranteed either. Defensive end John Bowman, the franchise’s all-time leading sacker, leads a deep group.
“The position we’re bringing him into (has) four very good guys,” Popp said.
Sam signed a reported one-year deal, and the Alouettes hold the option for the 2016 season, though Popp often allows his players to move on if they receive NFL interest.
So if Sam can rise up the Montreal depth chart and produce big this year — like former B.C. Lions pass rusher Cameron Wake — he could find himself back in the NFL within a year.
Sam begins his CFL journey at the Alouettes’ rookie camp, which starts Wednesday.
After his NFL campaign focused on how a gay football player would mesh with his team, the narrative now has become whether he can make an impact on the field.
“This young man just wants to be a football player,” Popp said. “He wants to play.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin