May 14, 2021; Flowery Branch, Georgia, USA;  Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield (77) lines up for a play during rookie camp at the Falcons Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons ink five players from 2021 draft

The Atlanta Falcons announced that they have signed five of their 2021 draft picks. The signings include offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield, defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham and a trio of sixth-round picks: linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji, cornerback Avery Williams and wide receiver Frank Darby.

The Falcons have yet to sign top draftee Kyle Pitts, the No. 4 overall selection and tight end out of Florida.

Mayfield, the 68th overall pick in the third round, played three seasons at Michigan, allowing only two sacks in 18 games.

Taken 148th overall (fifth round), Graham played in 48 career games at Texas, with nine starts and seven tackles for loss in 2020.

Ojundeji, a Notre Dame product, appeared in 43 games and earned captain’s honors and a Reese’s Senior Bowl invitation in 2020.

Boise State produced Williams, who was a four-year corner and return specialist for the Broncos. He totaled nine total touchdowns on returns in his career.

Darby played at Arizona State, notching 67 receptions for 1,317 yards and 13 touchdowns for his career.

–Field Level Media

Dec 28, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft  on the field as his team warms up before the start of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots’ Robert Kraft addresses free-agency binge, draft misfires

The New England Patriots were quite active during the NFL’s free agency period, spending a league-record $165 million in guaranteed money.

While the Patriots added tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and wideouts Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, among others, Patriots owner Robert Kraft acknowledged Wednesday that being active in free agency isn’t the desired path toward long-term success.

“In the end, if you want to have a good, consistent, winning football team, you can’t do it in free agency,” Kraft said. “You have to do it through the draft because that’s when you’re able to get people of great talent, whether it’s Willie McGinest or Tom Brady. You get them at a price where you can build the team and be competitive. Once they get to their (second) contract, if they’re superstars, you can only balance so many of them.

“… Really, the teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good. I don’t feel like we’ve done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope and believe I’ve seen a different approach this year.”

The Patriots look to rebound after a 7-9 record last season resulted in the first time they missed the playoffs since 2008. They have 10 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, which kicks off on April 29. Barring a trade, their first pick will be No. 15.

As for New England’s recent top draft picks, well, judge for yourself.

In 2017, the Patriots selected defensive end Derek Rivers and offensive lineman Antonio Garcia in the third round. Both players are no longer with the team.

The following year’s first-round picks, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel, have produced inconsistent results. Wynn has started 18 games over the past two seasons while Michel rushed for 1,843 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first two campaigns before being limited to 449 yards and one score in 2020.

Wideout N’Keal Harry, the team’s first-round pick in 2019, has just 45 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns in 21 games.

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Detailed view of a Miami Dolphins helmet against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Dolphins trade No. 3 pick to 49ers, get Eagles’ No. 6 pick

The San Francisco 49ers acquired the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft from the Miami Dolphins, multiple outlets reported Friday.

Per reports, the Dolphins secured the 49ers’ first-round pick (12th overall) in 2021 as well as first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. They also received a third-round selection in 2022.

That 12th overall pick didn’t stay with the Dolphins for long. Miami sent it, along with the 123rd overall pick and a 2022 first-round selection, to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for the No. 6 and 156 overall picks in 2021.

The Dolphins initially acquired the third overall pick as part of the trade that sent left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans in September 2019.

While Miami has Tua Tagovailoa as its starting quarterback, the trade now puts the 49ers in play to land one of the top-tier QBs of the draft. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive No. 1 pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the New York Jets (at No. 2) will have a choice between BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones.

San Francisco general manager John Lynch was on hand Friday for Wilson’s pro day.

ESPN reported that the 49ers plan to keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the fold.

Garoppolo, 29, was acquired in a trade from the New England Patriots in October 2017 and guided the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance following the 2019 season. Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension with the 49ers on Feb. 8, 2018, and his cap hit this season is $26.4 million.

Philadelphia’s decision to trade away the sixth overall pick likely means it will stay with second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts as their starter. Veteran Joe Flacco signed a contract with the team this week.

The 2021 NFL Draft begins on April 29.

–Field Level Media

Mayfield and Barkley have strong debuts in preseason opener

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley lived up to early expectations as the top two picks in the NFL draft in their first action as the Cleveland Browns beat the New York Giants 20-10 on Thursday night.

Replacing starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first quarter, Mayfield hit 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and converted two fourth-down plays with his feet. The Heisman Trophy winner who was the No. 1 overall pick found tight end David Njoku on a 10-yard TD pass to cap a 14-play, 72-yard drive on his second series. He finished his debut with a completion on a 54-yard slant and run to fellow rookie Antonio Callaway.

Taylor, expected to be coach Hue Jackson’s starter as Mayfield learns this season, hit all five of his passes in two series, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Njoku, a New Jersey native.

Barkley, the No. 2 pick, electrified the fans at MetLife Stadium, taking a handoff from Eli Manning on the opening play from scrimmage and turning no apparent hole into a 39-yard run down the sideline in front of the Giants’ bench. It set up a 42-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas.

The Penn State running back finished with 43 yards on five carries.

STEELERS 31, EAGLES 14

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs each tossed touchdown passes and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles rested several starters, including quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Nate Sudfeld threw a pair of touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown sat for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t signed his franchise tender.

Jones completed all four of his passes for 83 yards, including a 71-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the first quarter. Smith-Schuster made a leaping catch over Rasul Douglas at the 33 and ran untouched to the end zone.

Fitzgerald Toussaint had a 3-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion, while Dobbs threw a 29-yard TD pass to Damoun Patterson.

Sudfeld threw a perfect strike for a 63-yard TD to Shelton Gibson and fired a 15-yard TD pass to rookie Dallas Goedert. He finished 10 of 14 for 140 yards.

Wentz still hasn’t been cleared for contact after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee last December. Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, has missed a few practices with muscle spasms in his neck and shoulder.

Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick competing with Jones and Dobbs for the backup job to Roethlisberger, was 7 of 12 for 101 yards.

PANTHERS 28, BILLS 23

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s feud with former teammate Panthers quarterback Cam Newton continued before and during Carolina’s preseason-opening win.

First, the two exchanged words on the field about 90 minutes before kickoff. Then they each played key roles in touchdowns drives in the first quarter.

Benjamin caught four passes for 59 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown reception from Nathan Peterman on Buffalo’s first possession. Newton responded on the next possession, completing 4 of 5 attempts for 67 yards as part of an 85-yard drive capped by Christian McCaffrey’s 2-yard run.

The bad blood between the two emerged last week when Benjamin criticized Newton’s accuracy and questioned why the Panthers used a first-round pick to draft Benjamin in 2014. It was the latest time Benjamin has voiced his frustrations since forcing his trade to Buffalo in October.

Before the game, a video posted by The Charlotte Observer showed Benjamin chatting with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis when Newton approached the two and attempted to shake Benjamin’s hand. Newton waved away Davis, and then had a brief discussion with Benjamin before the receiver began walking away.

Newton followed and the two talked again. The discussion ended when Benjamin shrugged and turned to walk away, and Newton waved his hand at the receiver’s back.

Newton finished 6 of 9 for 84 yards in two series.

BENGALS 30, BEARS 27

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton made a solid debut in Cincinnati’s revamped offense, throwing for a pair of touchdowns.

The Bengals were last in the league on offense last season, the worst finish in franchise history. They overhauled their leaky offensive line, and coordinator Bill Lazor injected more diversity into the playbook. It showed the first time out.

Dalton went 6 of 8 for 103 yards, completing four passes of at least 20 yards. He also had an interception that wasn’t his fault — John Ross fell on his route and Kyle Fuller returned the pickoff 47 yards to the end zone.

The Bears (0-2) rested most of their starters during a 17-16 loss to the Ravens in the Hall of Fame game, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky . His preseason debut didn’t go very well.

Trubisky was in for two series that netted minus-1 yard on eight plays. The Bears’ only first down on those series came on Carlos Dunlap’s penalty for roughing the quarterback, a late hit on Trubisky. He missed on a deep sideline pass to Kevin White on his opening throw and finished 2 of 4 for 4 yards.

SAINTS 24, JAGUARS 20

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles completed 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards and scored on a short bootleg. Bortles was poised in the pocket and nearly perfect in one series of work, a significant improvement from the way his preseason started a year ago. Bortles had a five-interception performance during a training camp practice in 2017 and continued to struggle during joint practices with New England. He was benched two weeks into the preseason and had to earn the starting job.

A year later, his starting spot is as solid as just about anyone’s on the team. It showed against the Saints.

Bortles led the Jaguars on a 15-play, 79-yard drive to open the game. He converted both third-down passes he faced and finished off the series by going untouched around the right side.

Saints star Drew Brees got the night off, allowing backup Tom Savage to play the first half. Savage completed 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards. Brees only played in one preseason game in 2017.

Mark Ingram, suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers, carried seven times for 23 yards and a touchdown. Ingram scored against Jacksonville’s backups and after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept the drive alive.

BUCCANEERS 26, DOLPHINS 24

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro made a 26-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to cap a 67-yard drive and give them the win.

Ryan Tannehill completed passes on the first four plays in his return from two serious injuries to his left knee, sparking a 40-yard drive that ended with a missed field goal in his only series.

Tannehill, seeing his first action since December 2016, was off-target on his final two throws and finished 4 for 6 for 32 yards.

Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston played the second quarter against Miami’s second team and led a group of reserves to 10 points on drives of 32 and 40 yards. He went 11 for 13 for 102 yards in four series.

Winston is suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson and defensive end Robert Quinn protested during the anthem. Stills and Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Quinn stood and raised his right fist. There were no apparent protests by the Buccaneers.

___

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