Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers (19) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. Georgia won 33-18.

News Joshua L Jones

Take 5: Top TE prospects eligible for 2024 NFL Draft

Utah’s Dalton Kincaid was the lone first-round pick in a deep tight end class in 2023, hopping off the board at No. 25 to the Buffalo Bills.

But Iowa’s Sam LaPorta (34th), Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer (35th) and Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave (42nd) crashed the top 50 picks with two more tight ends picked in the second round (Luke Schoonmaker of Michigan to the Cowboys at No. 58; Penn State’s Brenton Strange 61st to the Jaguars).

A deep class is coming right behind this one led by Georgia junior Brock Bowers, who is in the mold of former Florida “unicorn” tight end Kyle Pitts.

Here are the top five tight ends eligible for the 2024 NFL Draft.

1. Brock Bowers, Georgia — Two years serving as arguably the best weapon on a national championship offense boosted Bowers to the top of the 2024 tight end rankings.

In reality, he’s used more as a big slot receiver than he is a traditional tight end. He’s too gifted to stack on the line and with natural tools to dominate inside and in jump-ball situations, Bowers’ impact is limited only by the imagination of his offensive coordinator. He runs jet sweeps for the Bulldogs, showcasing rare speed and agility.

2. Cade Stover, Ohio State — Perhaps he’s not the rare talent Bowers appears to be as a prospect, but Stover has a good shot at being the highest-drafted tight end out of Columbus since Rickey Dudley went ninth overall in 1996.

An aggressive blocker who bullies linebackers and stands his ground against defensive ends, he isn’t lacking in quickness or ball skills as a receiver.

3. Erick All, Iowa — A new arrival for Iowa by way of Michigan, All missed most of the 2022 season due to injury and had surgery on his spine last October. Proving he’s healthy short- and long-term is an obvious must.

Pre-surgery, he had remarkable burst for his size. A healthy year in the Hawkeyes’ tight end factory could do wonders for his value.

4. Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford — Lanky and has an enormous catch radius with game-changing length when functioning as an in-line blocker. The two-year starter isn’t elite in any one area. He provides value across the board as a receiver and blocker.

5. McCallan Castles, Tennessee — Castles spent two years as a backup at California before transferring to UC Davis to play out his college career. A dominant couple of years at the FCS level put him on the map.

Castles passed up the NFL in favor of a season with the Volunteers. He is likely a fourth- or fifth-round pick preseason, but he could work his way into the bottom of the second round with a strong season in the SEC.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Jaylen Wright (20) and quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) celebrate after a touchdown during the first half against the Akron Zips at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Week 4 CFB Odds, Trends & Predictions

All but one of the top 25 teams are in action in Week 4 of the college football season, and we’re seeing a gradual uptick in marquee matchups as conference season begins in earnest.

That includes three conference games pitting ranked teams against each other on Saturday.

Five interesting trends sportsbooks are reporting:

5. The Eyes of Texas

No. 22 Texas facing an unranked in-state rival might not have much impact on the national landscape, but the Longhorns’ trip to Texas Tech is gaining the eye of the public. Texas covering its 7.0-point spread has drawn nearly twice the handle as the second-most wagered-on play at BetRivers.

It has been the heaviest-bet college game overall with 7.8 percent of the action. The Over has also been a one-sided play, drawing 89 percent of the tickets and 84 percent of the money on the 61.0-point line.

4. Wolverine Wrecking Crew

No. 4 Michigan has opened its season with three blowouts and the public is expecting Jim Harbaugh’s crew to make it a quartet when the Wolverines play host to unranked Maryland. It has been the most popular game of the week at BetMGM, where Michigan is a 17.0-point favorite after the line opened at 17.5.

Michigan has been backed by 91 percent of the spread bets and 92 percent of the money, both leading the way at BetMGM. The percent of the action has been identical at PointsBet, while DraftKings reported 92 percent of the spread bets and 93 percent of the handle backing the Wolverines.

3. Razors’ Edge?

Texas A&M kept its faint College Football Playoff hopes alive with a win over Miami last week and now plays host to 10th-ranked Arkansas. The Razorbacks come to College Station with a 3-0 record and respect from the public.

The Aggies are 2.0-point consensus favorites, with the line moving from 2.5 at BetMGM with the Razorbacks drawing 74 percent of the spread bets and 78 percent of the money. Arkansas has been equally as popular at BetRivers, where it has been backed by 78 and 82 percent of the action, respectively.

PointsBet reported Texas A&M holding an edge with 53 percent of the bets and 61 percent of the money, while the action has been split at DraftKings, with the Razorbacks supported by 51 percent of the bets while the Aggies have drawn 54 percent of the handle.

2. ACC Battle of Unbeatens

Of course, there are countless markets beyond game spreads, and the most lopsided prop at PointsBet involves No. 5 Clemson making an important road trip to No. 21 Wake Forest.

The Over/Under market opened at 57 points at the sportsbook but moved to 55.5 and has seen the Over draw a whopping 93 percent of the total money wagered. That includes some large bets with 81 percent of the total tickets placed on the Over.

The line has also moved to 55.5 at BetMGM, where the Over has drawn 83 percent of both the total bets and money.

1. Gators Swamped at Neyland?

Florida is one of the few teams to face multiple ranked teams within its first four games. After losing at home to Kentucky two weeks ago, the 20th-ranked Gators now travel to No. 11 Tennessee.

The Volunteers enter the game 3-0 but with a lone win over a Power 5 team — an overtime victory at Pittsburgh. This is an important litmus test for Tennessee with at trip to LSU next week ahead of hosting Alabama.

The Vols are double-digit favorites, which has spurred split action at many books. Florida has been backed by 58 percent of the bets at +10.5 at DraftKings while Tennessee has drawn 51 percent of the spread money. The same spread has similar action at BetMGM — 57 percent of the bets on the Gators and 51 percent of the money on the Vols.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell during the second quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Nebraska coaching candidates to replace Scott Frost

How desirable the Nebraska football job is will be a point of debate following the firing of Scott Frost on Sunday.

The answer may well be determined by who the Cornhuskers are able to lure to Lincoln, Neb.

Frost was let go after a 1-2 start to the season, including a home loss to Georgia Southern on Saturday. That dropped Frost’s record to 16-31 at his alma mater.

Athletic director Trev Alberts said the search for Frost’s replacement will begin “immediately,” and Nebraska gets a head start on that process.

Five early candidates:

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati head coach
Fickell’s name has surfaced with most every coaching vacancy at a Power 5 program over the past few years. He has turned down every overture thus far but Nebraska could be a compelling option for the Columbus, Ohio native who played for Ohio State.

However, Fickell has already turned down Michigan State and may not be interested in a Big Ten job other than the Buckeyes. He also said no to Notre Dame.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach
Campbell has turned the Cyclones into a consistent contender in the Big 12 and, like Fickell, has turned down several opportunities to interview with larger Power 5 programs.

Nebraska has the tradition and the deep pocketbooks that may pique Campbell’s interest level, and leaving Ames now might be more appealing with the future makeup of the Big 12 a major question mark. He has strung together five consecutive winning seasons with the Cyclones.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky head coach
Stoops is fresh off a big victory over Florida and has the Wildcats ranked in the top 20 despite being without his leading rusher to start the season. He has built a very respectable program in the SEC East that has posted a pair of 10-win campaigns in the past six years, but Stoops might see an easier path to sustained success in the Big Ten West.

Stoops, who is 12-3 since the start of last season, did sign an extension through 2028.

Dave Aranda, Baylor head coach
Aranda served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2013-15 before moving on to the same role with LSU from 2016-19. He led the Bears to the Big 12 championship in only his second season and signed an extension through 2029.

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers head coach
Rhule entered the NFL season on the hot seat after compiling a 10-23 record through his first two years. He is a proven program builder at the college level, taking a Temple team that won only two games in his first year to consecutive 10-win seasons just two years later.

Rhule then did the same at Baylor, leading the Bears to an 11-3 record in 2019 and recording 47 total victories as a college head coach. The Bears earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl before Rhule left for the NFL.

Other notable names: Mickey Joseph, Nebraska interim coach; Lance Leipold, Kansas head coach; Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin DC; Urban Meyer, FOX Sports analyst; Bill O’Brien, Alabama OC

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) during the first quarter at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Week 2 CFB Odds, Trends & Predictions

Week 2 of the college football season features all of the top 25 teams in the nation in action, with three contests pitting ranked teams against each other.

Five interesting trends sportsbooks are reporting ahead of Saturday’s jam-packed slate of games.

5. Roll Tide Roll Over Sark?

Top-ranked Alabama will pay a visit to former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s unranked Texas team in Austin. The Tide opened as 19-point favorites at PointsBet and the line has moved to 20 with Alabama drawing 90 percent of the spread-line bets and 95 percent of the handle.

The story is similar at BetRivers, where it has been the most wagered-on game of the weekend with 11.1 percent of the total college football handle. There has been almost twice as much money wagered on Alabama vs. Texas than any other game on the Week 2 schedule, with 88 percent of the spread handle backing the Tide at -20.

It has also been the most popular game at BetMGM, where Alabama has been backed by 88 percent of the bets and 92 percent of the handle with the line shifting from 17.5 to 20.5 points by Friday.

4. Pitt on Upset Alert

No. 24 Tennessee travels north to play No. 17 Pittsburgh, but it’s the Volunteers who are a 4.0-point favorite at BetMGM, where they have been backed by the second-most spread bets (73 percent) and handle (73 percent) of all teams this weekend.

The spread is 5.0 points at PointsBet but that hasn’t deterred the public there, either, as Tennessee has drawn 61 and 72 percent of the spread bets and handle, respectively. The game is responsible for 5.1 percent of all the action at BetRivers, third-most at the sportsbook.

3. All Over the Aggies

Fresh off a heartbreaking defeat at home to North Carolina, Appalachian State pays a visit to No. 6 Texas A&M. The Mountaineers put up 61 points in their loss to the Tar Heels, including a whopping 40 in the fourth quarter.

The public is seeing a hangover affect for Appalachian State, with Texas A&M backed by 65 percent of the spread bets and 75 percent of the handle as a 16.5-point favorite at BetMGM.

2. Eyeing the Irish

Following an opening loss to Ohio State, Notre Dame likely has to run the table to have a shot at the College Football Playoff.

That quest begins with a visit from Marshall, and it has been the second-most popular game of Week 2 at BetRivers with 5.5 percent of the total action. The Irish’s 21-point spread is the second-most popular play with 2.5 percent of the total tickets, and is third in handle with 2.0 percent of the action.

The line opened at 19 at PointsBet but shifted to 20.5 with Notre Dame drawing one-sided action, with 95 percent of the spread bets and 96 percent of the handle as of Friday evening.

1. Swamp Support

Florida scored an impressive opening victory over Utah and the 12th-ranked Gators are preparing for one of the bigger games of the weekend as they play host to No. 20 Kentucky.

Anthony Richardson thrust himself into the early-season Heisman chatter with a strong effort in the win over the Utes. Florida, favored by 6.0 points, has been the third-most bet on team at BetMGM this week, with the Gators backed by 62 percent of the bets and 68 percent of the handle.

However, the spread handle has been evenly split at PointsBet, while Florida has drawn 62 percent of the total bets with the line moving from 5.5 to 6.0 points.

–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

Take 5: Teams under most pressure to ace ’22 draft

Throughout their collective history, few NFL franchises have been more patient than the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers.

There’s no question the ongoing ownership of the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, the Maras and Tischs in New York and the Hunts in Kansas City have made their franchises rock solid through the decades. None of those ownership groups have been too hands on. Instead, they leave the work up to their coaches and general managers and coaches and allow them to do their jobs.

It’s similar in Green Bay, where ownership situation is very different. The Packers are owned by 360,584 shareholders. In relative terms, Green Bay is a small and close-knit community and team executives historically have been slow to change coaches or quarterbacks.

Although the Panthers are newer (they came along as an expansion team in 1995), their longtime owner, Jerry Richardson, came from the old-school NFL. Before Richardson was forced to sell the team in 2017 in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur, the team and the league loved to point out the fact he played in the NFL and caught a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.

But the patience is gone in Carolina because current owner David Tepper is more like a modern-day owner, who doesn’t believe in sitting still. It’s commonly accepted that coach Matt Rhule must win now to keep his job.

Things aren’t quite so dire in Pittsburgh, New York, Kansas City and Green Bay. But clocks are ticking more rapidly than ever before. That means the Steelers, Giants, Chiefs, Packers, and even the Panthers, are under enormous pressure to ace the upcoming NFL draft, which starts on April 28.

Let’s take a look at each of those situations and why the draft is so critical.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
The natives – and one very important non-native — truly are restless. When February 2023 rolls around it will mark 12 years since quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have won a Super Bowl. That’s 12 years longer than most Green Bay fans expected.

Rodgers has won four MVP awards, but time is running out. Rodgers is 38 and has made plenty of noise about retiring. There also have been rumors he might prefer to finish his career elsewhere.

That means the Packers have to go all-in this season and they are not quite there. Rodgers’ favorite target, Davante Adams, was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. That means the Packers have to use either the 22nd or 28th overall pick to get a receiver that can make an instant impact.

Either Alabama’s Jameson Williams or Ohio State’s Chris Olave make sense as receivers and Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green could keep Rodgers happy.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Believe it or not, there also is a sense of urgency in Kansas City.

When you have the league’s best young quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) you’re supposed to win the Super Bowl every year. Mahomes did that in the 2019 season, but came up short the last two years.

There was a lot of head scratching in Kansas City in March when the Chiefs traded Mahomes’ favorite receiver, Tyreek Hill, to Miami. But there was logic behind the deal. Coach Andy Reid is 64 and won’t be around forever and the Chiefs have needs at multiple positions. In exchange for Hill, they got a 2022 first-round pick, a second-round pick and two fourth-round picks in addition to a 2023 sixth-round pick.

The Chiefs have three picks in the top 50, including Nos. 29 and 30. They could use one of their early picks on Williams, Olave or Georgia’s George Pickens to replace Hill, but that would be only part of the puzzle. As last year showed, the offensive line and the defense also need help.

The Chiefs need to come out of this draft with at least three players that contribute right away. Georgia defensive tackle Devonte White, Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe and Central Michigan offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann could step right in and start.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
This is a unique situation because the Steelers have had only three coaches (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) throughout most of the lifetimes of most of their fans. Tomlin isn’t on the immediate hot seat because he’s had only two non-winning seasons.

But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a constant during Tomlin’s tenure, retired and that likely means there will be a step back. While most scouts agree there are no quarterbacks in this year’s draft worthy of top pick consideration, general managers, coaches and even owners have a way of using a shoehorn to fill a need.

Would it be totally outrageous for the Steelers to do something out of character? Not really. It would make a lot of sense for them to go with the quarterback from the hometown college – Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett. Given Tomlin’s job security, Pickett wouldn’t have to play right away. He could wait a year and then takeover.

Besides, does anybody really think Mitchell Trubisky is the long-term answer?

NEW YORK GIANTS
Coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen are new, but you can bet they – at least subtly – been told to get back to doing things the “Giants Way.”
Think about the nucleus of the franchise’s last two Super Bowl wins, which came after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Pass rusher Michael Strahan was the face of the 2007 team.

Quarterback Eli Manning was the poster boy in 2011, but that’s only because guards Chris Snee and David Diehl made Manning look better than he was. In recent years, unsuccessful regimes have drafted running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones and receiver Kadarius Toney. The results haven’t been great and that’s why this year’s draft is so important for the Giants.

They hold three picks in the top 36. That should translate into three first-year starters.

If Schoen and Daboll want to stick around long, they would be wise to stay away from flashy skill-position players and go with what’s tried and true in New York. Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux or Purdue’s George Karlaftis could fit the Strahan model or Alabama’s Evan Neal or N.C. State’s Ikem Ekwonu could help make Jones look like Manning.

CAROLINA PANTHERS
There are rumblings around the league that Tepper is doing what several owners around the league foolishly have done in recent years. That’s encouraging your coach and general manager to take a quarterback they don’t really want.

But that might be the best thing Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer could do. Taking Liberty quarterback Malik Willis probably won’t translate into a lot of wins in 2022. But, if Willis shows any signs of promise, Rhule still could have a job in 2023.

–By Pat Yasinksas, Field Level Media

Aug 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo watches the action during the second half against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jerod Mayo one of FLM’s 5 under-the-radar HC candidates

As the NFL hiring cycle kicks into high gear, not every outstanding head coaching candidate is a household name.

But New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is not a secret in NFL circles.

As a Patriots linebacker, Mayo approached the game with speed, toughness and intelligence as he delivered punishing tackles for coach Bill Belichick.

Known for haunting darkened film rooms, Mayo immediately earned the respect of a veteran Patriots team and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008.

He became an All-Pro linebacker and a Patriots’ all-decade selection before retiring after eight seasons because of injuries.

Now Mayo, 35, is emerging as a rising star in NFL coaching circles. Many predict a fast rise from his current job to ultimately becoming a head coach.

“Jerod is a strong leader of men,” one NFL source said. “He’s incredibly smart with outstanding emotional intelligence and knowledge. I wouldn’t bet against him becoming a head coach very soon and being very successful. Jerod is a high-character person capable of energizing a franchise.”

Finishing his third season of coaching after retiring in 2016 and working in the financial sector and as a media analyst, Mayo could follow a similar fast track that another former Patriots linebacker, Mike Vrabel, traveled from Houston Texans defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to head coach of the Tennessee Titans.

“I think Mayo will be an unbelievable head coach because he learned from the best coach (Belichick) to ever coach and he ran a defense as a rookie that has so many levels of complexity to it,” said former Patriots and Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “It’s just a matter of time when his number will be called.”

As a player, Mayo became known for his prodigious and unusual work ethic. He rarely took a day off, showing up in Foxborough at the team facility for extra workouts and film sessions on his own, even when coaches weren’t at Gillette Stadium.

“While it was quite spectacular what Jerod did as a player, I think he’d be a great head coach,” former Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer said. “When he was hired as an assistant, I told my wife: ‘He’s going to either be a coordinator or a head coach in three years.’ The impact that guy has, it’s really hard to describe.

“He has learned from the best and can put his own style and stamp on it. If he does anything close to what he’s done as a man and a player and an assistant coach and can translate that into being a head coach, that would be phenomenal. Nothing Jerod does would surprise me.”

Here are four other coaches who could emerge as head-coaching candidates this year or in the future:

Indianapolis Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone

A former Patriots safety and special teams standout, Ventrone just finished his fourth season running the Colts’ special teams. Known for his high-energy style and leadership qualities, Ventrone is already on the radar of several NFL franchises as someone on their short list of future head coaching candidates.

Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett

Hackett flies a bit below the radar because Packers coach Matt LaFleur is directly involved in running the offense. However, Hackett is instrumental in operating the offense headlined by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player. Hackett isn’t exactly being ignored. He’s a known commodity to NFL decision-makers and the Jacksonville Jaguars officially requested an interview for their vacancy.

New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham

Graham declined an interview request last offseason with the New York Jets as they hired another defensive strategist in Robert Saleh. Graham did a solid job for a Giants defense that performed at a high level despite the team’s overall record in 2021. A member of the Belichick coaching tree, he is known for his defensive expertise and strong leadership style.

Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady

The Frank Reich coaching tree is a pipeline that won’t be ignored after the success of Nick Sirianni with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Indianapolis offense didn’t miss a beat in 2021 as Brady directed a heavyweight rushing attack built around Jonathan Taylor. Brady is a three-time CFL Grey Cup champion with the coaching chops and plan to succeed.

–By Aaron Wilson, Field Level Media

Apr 20, 2019; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Penei Sewell (58) blocks a defender during the Oregon spring game at Autzen Stadium. Mighty Oregon beat Fighting Ducks 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Draft prospects destined for NFL stardom

There are bound to be some spectacular busts in this year’s NFL draft, just like every year before it.

The cold reality of the process is that not every first-round pick can turn into a Hall of Famer, and the players your favorite team takes on Day 3 won’t all be diamonds in the rough who turn into 10-year starters.

That said, the football world can be confident that these five players are destined for stardom at the professional level.

TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The phrase associated with Pitts that pops up everywhere you look is “nightmare matchup.”

It’s little wonder why draft evaluators universally feel that way, with Pitts’ 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame combined with a 4.44-second 40 time and reliable hands. Pitts is often ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the class, absurdly high for his position. No tight end has been selected in the top five since 1972, but he might break that mold.

That’s partly due to the rising star potential of his position. From Rob Gronkowski’s heyday to the emergence of Travis Kelce and George Kittle, athletic tight ends have become more valuable — and more desired — weapons in passing games around the NFL. Pitts is ready to join them in the pro ranks.

WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
The wide receiver class is stacked this year, with five to seven receivers projected as first-round picks. There’s particular star power at slot receiver — two hail from Alabama, Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith — but Chase rises above them all as the complete package.

Chase, who opted out of the 2020 college football season, has top-end speed and more size than Waddle and Smith, allowing him to line up anywhere in an offense’s formation. He averaged 21.2 yards per catch and caught 20 touchdowns in 2019 for national champion LSU. Scouts have said Chase can still improve as a route-runner, which makes his pro potential all the more frightening for defensive coordinators who will have to deal with him.

CB Patrick Surtain, Alabama
Most mock drafts are predicting a run on offensive players to kick off the first round. Surtain might not go until the Dallas Cowboys pick at No. 10, but he’s the best defensive prospect available this year. SEC quarterbacks rarely challenged Surtain, whose length is ideal for a prototypical shutdown corner at the next level.

“I can’t say enough about this guy in every regard. He’s gonna be very successful, no doubt,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said last season, pointing to Surtain’s smarts and coachability in particular. And the Crimson Tide know how to churn out NFL-ready defensive backs. Surtain is following in the footsteps of Marlon Humphrey (2016 first-rounder), Minkah Fitzpatrick (2017 first-rounder) and Xavier McKinney and Trevon Diggs (both 2020 second-rounders).

OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
It’s not the sexiest position out there, but star left tackles certainly exist, and this year’s draft class is heavy on those all-important blindside protectors. Some analysts prefer Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater or Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, both projected for the first round, but Sewell has been the class’s most coveted lineman for a few years.

The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was just a sophomore when he won the 2019 Outland Trophy — the award given to the best college lineman, offensive or defensive. According to Oregon’s athletics site, Sewell only allowed one sack in two seasons starting for the Ducks. Scouts believe he has a high floor, and generally speaking, first-round tackles rarely turn out to be busts unless you’re talking about Tony Mandarich.

QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence is the most acclaimed quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and the Jacksonville Jaguars will make him the first overall selection Thursday. But rather than reciting all of Lawrence’s talents and traits, let’s instead remember that star college quarterbacks are not in complete control of their NFL success. First, Lawrence needs to walk into a situation where the franchise is set up to build around him.

The Jaguars have swung and missed on first-round QBs before (Blake Bortles in 2014, Blaine Gabbert in 2011). Perhaps those players’ careers would have turned out differently if Jacksonville didn’t lack talented skill players to complement them or cycle through coaching staffs so frequently. But with Urban Meyer hired as coach and four more draft picks in the first three rounds, this time feels different.

No pressure, kid.

–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris (22) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Win-now trades

Identifying Super Bowl contenders in win-now mode is rather simple this time of year.

The Kansas City Chiefs wasted little time stacking a complete offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes after watching helplessly as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers devoured their half-billion dollar quarterback in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were in the running for multiple left tackles, acquired Orlando Brown from the Ravens and signed the top interior lineman on the market in guard Joe Thuney. We’re betting former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher, recovering from a torn Achilles, gets a reunion offer there, too.

Keeping pace with the Chiefs was a challenge for pretty much every team this side of Tampa. The Buccaneers committed to a run-it-back tour by keeping all of their key parts from the Lombardi float trip and brought in another durable running back in Giovani Bernard.

Will other 2020 contenders remain in the thick of it all by hitting home runs in the 2021 draft?

Here are five trades we’d suggest for potential title teams in 2021:

1. Buffalo Bills trade up, draft Alabama running back Najee Harris

Josh Allen’s contract is headline news in New York, but the roadmap to the AFC Championship game involves finding a reliable RB1 first.

Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams are all sensible targets for the Bills with the 30th overall selection. To get Harris, the Bills likely need to jump ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (24th) and get into the high teens. Depending on the number of wide receivers and cornerbacks off the board in the top 15 — we’re counting on five quarterbacks — it’s possible Harris might not last even that long.

He’s a bruiser with dominant production in the SEC and the Derrick Henry comparisons go beyond the Tide connection.

Buffalo didn’t get what it wanted from Zack Moss and Devin Singletary can’t handle a lunchpail workload. Allen as a leading rusher is a good way for the Bills to work their way out of the AFC playoff conversation.

2. Denver Broncos acquire No. 4 pick from Atlanta Falcons

Depending on which side of the fence you stand on this time of year, whispers about Trey Lance or Mac Jones as the No. 3 pick are leaving open the possibility that Justin Fields will be available to the highest bidder starting with the fourth pick.

The Atlanta Falcons can ask for a mint to move out of this spot or attempt to rebuild on the fly.

The Falcons can’t afford to trade Matt Ryan — literally, his cap hit is too great under the 2021 structure — so they part with the fourth overall pick and get Nos. 9 and 40 from the Broncos in return.

Denver drafts Fields after closely courting him the past two months and the Falcons can consider Jones or the best offensive lineman available with the ninth pick.

At No. 40, the Falcons are well equipped to take a flier on a pass rusher such as Miami’s Gregory Rousseau or Michigan’s Kwity Paye.

Fields isn’t a must-start immediately for the Broncos depending on Drew Lock’s development, but he’s the future for one of the few NFL teams with no answer to that all-important question.

3. Miami Dolphins acquire No. 8 pick from the Carolina Panthers for Nos. 18, 50

The Dolphins are ready to cash in on their rebuilding bounty and give Tua Tagovailoa everything he needs to succeed.

Already armed with the sixth overall pick, the Dolphins slide back into the top 10 to guarantee coming away with two of the top playmakers in the draft.

That should equal an offense that centers around Tagovailoa, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and either LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Heisman winner DeVonta Smith or dynamic Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.

4. Chicago Bears acquire No. 5 pick from Cincinnati Bengals

Unless general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have gone through the double secret handshake with president and CEO Ted Phillips, their necks are on the line again this season.

Missing the playoffs and then taking the field with either Andy Dalton or Nick Foles and no plan beyond that is swimming with sharks — with an open wound, in a fish tank.

Does Jones warrant the fifth overall pick?

We can’t decide. He’s a proven winner, has enough arm and would be more of a marketing play than the Red Rifle.

The trouble with missing on top five quarterbacks is the setback that follows (see Trubisky, Mitchell).

The trouble with not taking the necessary risks to find the right man for the job? Pace and Nagy would be risking their own jobs by standing pat.

To get to this spot from No. 20, Pace parts with defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the 20th pick and Chicago’s 2022 first-rounder.

5. Green Bay Packers acquire No. 10 pick from the Dallas Cowboys.

With all of the offensive firepower owner Jerry Jones coveted off the board, Dallas takes a bundle of picks from Mike McCarthy’s old team and Green Bay breaks character.

But while Aaron Rodgers celebrates at the thought of another playmaker, Green Bay selects Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons to man the middle of a new-look defense. Cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn could also invite interest.

Dallas slides all the way down to 29 where safety is a good match. The Cowboys add a second-round pick to address defensive shortcomings in bulk.

–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media

Oct 11, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) calls a play in the second quarter against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Free agent situations that will shape the NFL offseason

The NFL is embarking on an offseason that could change the shape of numerous franchises.

While the league has yet to set the precise salary cap for the 2021 season, it is expected to be around $180 million. Teams can’t engage in discussions with free agents until March 15 and are prohibited from signing them until two days later, but that doesn’t mean franchises and players aren’t aware of what’s looming.

In free agency, a good addition such as when the Colts signed quarterback Philip Rivers, can turn a team coming off a losing season into a playoff contender. Conversely, a poor choice can stunt a team’s growth – for example, the one-year, $20 million deal Arizona gave to oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford in 2018.

Free agent decisions create a ripple effect throughout the league, with teams left to fill voids and free agents getting a gauge of what their market value is with other signings in their position groups. Franchise and transition tags can also be used on pending free agents between Feb. 23-March 9 and can shape the free agent market.

Here are five free-agent situations that will shape the offseason:

1. QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys and their franchise signal-caller have been working on a long-term deal for the past couple years without success. Now, it has likely come to a head.

Before Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in a win over the New York Giants on Oct. 11, he had thrown for 10,643 yards, 61 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, in addition to rushing for 12 scores, in his previous 37 games.

Prescott, who turns 28 in July, played under a franchise tag this past season. If he has to be franchise-tagged again, he’ll make more than $37 million in 2021, which could prevent the Cowboys from adding pieces to their defense, which struggled mightily at times last year.

The Cowboys are among roughly a dozen teams with the quarterback position in flux. Prescott is the headliner of this year’s potential free-agent quarterback class, with a steep drop-off to Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and New England’s Cam Newton.

2. RB Aaron Jones, Green Bay: Jones bet on himself this year. The Packers reportedly offered him a contract before last season that would have made him among the five highest-paid players in the league. But he turned it down because he was unhappy with the deal’s guaranteed money.

Jones was terrific for the second straight season. He made his first Pro Bowl with a career-high 1,104 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in two fewer games and 35 fewer carries than in 2019. Jones also caught 47 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns, continuing to be a valuable check-down target for Aaron Rodgers.

How Green Bay handles Jones, who signed a four-year, $2.601 million deal as a rookie, likely sends a message to Rodgers regarding the team’s offensive philosophy. Jones’ backup, Jamaal Williams, is also a pending free agent, and it’s unlikely both return with 2020 second-round pick AJ Dillon also on the roster.

Jones’ situation will impact a free-agent group of running backs that includes Arizona’s Kenyan Drake (955 yards, 10 TDs), Seattle’s Chris Carson (681 yards, 5 TDs), Tampa Bay’s Leonard Fournette (367 yards, 6 TDs) and Atlanta’s Todd Gurley (678, 9 TDs).

3. Which receiver signs first?

The top tier of free-agent receivers is deep. Chicago’s Allen Robinson II, Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin, Detroit’s Kenny Golladay and Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster could all hit the market and would command top dollar. But how much?

That’s the biggest question because the receiver who signs first – whether it is with his team or another franchise – could set the market for the others.

Robinson has 200 receptions for nearly 2,400 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns the past two seasons catching passes from Trubisky, Nick Foles and Chase Daniel. Robinson, who turns 28 in August, is also coming off a contract that paid him $42 million over three seasons, with more than $25 million guaranteed.

Godwin, who turns 25 later this month, has 151 catches for nearly 2,100 yards and 16 touchdowns during the same time span. He also had the luxury of playing with Tom Brady this season and alongside premier receiver Mike Evans during his time in Tampa. He’s in line for a huge raise after completing his four-year, $3.284 million contract rookie contract.

Golladay established himself as a go-to receiver with a combined 135 receptions for 2,253 yards and 16 touchdowns from 2018-19. However, he was limited to just 20 catches in five games in 2020 due to a nagging hip injury.

Will a team pay top dollar to the 27-year-old Golladay, who is coming off a four-year, $3.196 million deal?

Smith-Schuster caught 97 passes for 831 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns in 2020 and doesn’t turn 25 until November. He could also be expendable to the Steelers, who are deep at receiver with Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington.

Smith-Schuster will be looking for a much bigger payday now that his four-year, $4.195 million rookie contract is over.

The next tier of receivers includes Tennessee’s Corey Davis, Houston’s Will Fuller V, Carolina’s Curtis Samuel and Tampa Bay’s Antonio Brown.

4. What will the Ravens do with DEs Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue?

The Ravens will likely be in the market for one of the above wide receivers to improve a league-worst passing offense (171.2 yards per game in 2020). They also have a major decision to make regarding their premier edge rushers.

Judon, a two-time Pro Bowler who recorded 6.0 sacks this season after recording 9.5 in 2019, played under a $16.808 million franchise tag and could command $20 million annually in his next deal.

So too could the 25-year-old Ngakoue, who the Ravens acquired in an in-season trade with Vikings. He had 8.0 sacks and four forced fumbles combined between the two teams while earning $12 million in 2020.

The free-agent class of edge rushers is fairly deep. It includes Denver’s Von Miller, Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett, Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree, Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan, San Francisco’s Kerry Hyder, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Melvin Ingram and Tennessee’s Jadeveon Clowney.

5. What’s LT Trent Williams’ future in San Francisco?

It’s not often a premier left tackle hits the open market, but that could be the case with Williams, an eight-time Pro Bowler who returned to dominating form in 2020 after sitting out all of 2019 due to a contract dispute with Washington.

San Francisco gave Washington two draft picks to acquire Williams, but the 49ers will have to give the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder a new contract to keep him. Williams, who turns 33 in July and is coming off a five-year, $68 million deal, is in line for the biggest payday of his career.

If Williams leaves San Francisco, the 49ers could still find a good – but not great – replacement in free agency. Pittsburgh’s Alejandro Villanueva, Philadelphia’s Jason Peters, Jacksonville’s Cam Robinson and Carolina’s Taylor Moton and Russell Okung headline a deep class.

–Jon Gallo, Field Level Media

Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) and quarterback Tom Brady (12) against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Players with most to gain in Super Bowl LV

More than the Lombardi Trophy will be handed out on Sunday night at Super Bowl LV in Tampa: legacies, dynasties and places among the all-time greats will there for the taking.

For the winners, the prizes go beyond money and rings, while the losers are dealt blemishes that could haunt them for years, if not ultimately prevent them from securing their places in history.

In Field Level Media’s two-part series of players and coaches with the most to gain and most to lose, let’s start with who has the most to earn.

Tom Brady: Buccaneers:
With a win, he becomes his own dynasty.

Look at all the elite players across all American major team sports who have played for at least two teams in the past 40 years.

Michael Jordan never led two franchises to championships. Neither did Wayne Gretzky, Randy Johnson, Emmitt Smith or Brett Favre. That leaves us, for argument purposes, with four players: LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Peyton Manning and Brady.

Despite missing 21 games due to injury, O’Neal was integral to the Heat during their championship season, but Dwyane Wade was the team’s on-court leader and Finals MVP. Manning has won four fewer Super Bowls than Brady and is 2-2 in the big game; Brady is 6-3 with three MVP trophies.

James won two titles with a “super team,” the Miami Heat and one in Cleveland and claimed one last year by teaming with another top-10 player, Anthony Davis with the Los Angeles Lakers, one of professional sports most successful franchises ever.

Brady, a three-time NFL MVP didn’t take his “talents to South Beach” like James; he took it to western Florida and one of the least successful franchise in all of professional sports in the past 40 years: Tampa Bay.

He has taken a Buccaneers franchise that had gone 267-424-1 for a .387 winning percentage — the worst among North American pro sports teams — in the 44 seasons before he arrived to just their second Super Bowl and first since winning it 2003. Since then, the Buccaneers didn’t win a playoff game — until their savior arrived.

If Brady wins a seventh title in his first year leading a franchise that averaged 5.4 wins in the nine seasons before he got there, it may be his most impressive accomplishment.

Tyreek Hill, Chiefs: The 26-year-old receiver already is in an elite class as he joins Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce and Odell Beckham Jr. as the only players since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to post at least 1,450 receiving yards and at least 12 touchdowns in a season before turning 25.

A victory in Super Bowl LV would give Hill a second ring – one fewer than Rice and more than Bruce (1) and Beckham (0) combined.

He’s also looking to become just the ninth receiver in league history to be named to The Associated Press’ All-Pro First Team and win the Super Bowl in the same season.

It’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison in 2006. Of the eight players who have done it, five — Rice (1988, 1989, 1994), John Stallworth (1979), Lynn Swann (1978), Paul Warfield (1973) and Harrison — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Gary Clark (1987), Drew Pearson (1977) and Cliff Branch (1976) had very, very good careers.

Tampa Bay gave up 346 passing yards to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in its win in the NFC title game.

Hill torched Tampa Bay for 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 15 targets in the teams’ regular-season meeting less than two months ago.

Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers: Gronkowski can go from being the greatest tight end in NFL history to arguably being best postseason pass-catcher in league history with a strong performance in Super Bowl LV.

With a victory, he will be one of just 35 players with at least four Super Bowl rings, with Brady earning his seventh, two more than Charles Haley and at least three more than everyone else including the 33 players who would own four rings.

Currently, only Pittsburgh’s Marv Fleming and Randy Grossman are the exclusive tight ends on the list, and neither was ever named All-Pro in their combined 22 seasons. Gronkowski is a four-time AP All-Pro.

Gronkowski’s 12 postseason receiving touchdowns are tied with Pittsburgh Hall of Famer John Stallworth and 10 behind the all-time leader Rice, who has 22. Gronkowski has caught all 12 of his scoring passes from Tom Brady. The other quarterback-receiver duo with a dozen? Joe Montana and Rice.

The chances of Gronkowski finding the end zone against the Chiefs on Super Sunday? It’s pretty good considering the Chiefs have played 18 games this season – including the postseason – and allowed 10 scores to opposing tight ends.

In the teams’ last meeting, Gronkowski had six catches for 106 yards, the only time he amassed more than 80 yards in any game this season, including the postseason.

Every catch Gronkowski makes on Sunday will add to his record of 1,206 postseason receiving yards for a tight end, which is well ahead of Dallas Clark (847), Keith Jackson (834) and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe (814).

Antonio Brown, Buccaneers: What’s the one thing missing in Brown’s otherwise stellar on-field career? A Super Bowl ring.

He and Rice are the only receivers in NFL history to be named AP All-Pro first-team four straight years. But Rice has won three Super Bowls.

Brown has scored 79 touchdowns in his career, which are more than 24 pass-catchers who are in the Hall of Fame. Still, regardless of fairness, having never won a Super Bowl would be a dent in his place atop the all-time receiver hierarchy.

Brown could make that a moot point on Sunday.

This also may be Brown’s final chance to put a ring on his resume.

The seven-time Pro Bowler has been held to 70 yards or fewer in eight of his 10 games this season. He only has one game in which he amassed more than 100 yards receiving, when he went for 138 against the Falcons.

Let’s not mistake the Chiefs’ defense with the Falcons’.

Now, whether a Super Bowl ring trumps his off-field transgressions, only time will tell.

Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs: Another Super Bowl ring has to change the league’s perception of him, especially if the Chiefs put up a lot of points against the Buccaneers, right?

Maybe he should look across the sideline at Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians.

Arians went to three Super Bowls – winning two — as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator before he became a head coach.

In Arians last season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. The next season, he took the same position in Indianapolis. He was promoted to interim head coach when Pagano was diagnosed with cancer and Arians was named NFL Coach of the Year.

The next season, he was hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Meantime, Bieniemy, in his third year coordinating Kansas City’s juggernaut offense, interviewed for all six head-coaching vacancies this offseason and was turned down for all of them after interviewing with several teams the two previous seasons.

Bieniemy, 51, was most recently passed over by the Texas, who went with David Culley, a 65-year-old longtime NFL assistant who most recently served as the Ravens assistant head coach/pass coordinator/wide receivers coach.

Baltimore finished dead-last in passing this season; the Chiefs ranked first.

–By Jon Gallo, Field Level Media