It’s starting to play out a little bit clearer now. For months, Jacksonville has been locked in during the draft. It’s appeared as if the New York Jets have been as well. Then, San Francisco traded all the way up to No. 3 and you don’t do that unless there’s a player you know you badly want.
All of which sets up very interestingly for the Atlanta Falcons. Not necessarily good. Definitely not bad. Just…interesting, because it leaves new general manager Terry Fontenot and new head coach Arthur Smith with options in their first Falcons draft.
Working on the premise San Francisco or the Jets don’t pull a stunner, the top three picks should go quarterback-quarterback-quarterback, with Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson expected to be two of those players.
The intrigue begins at No. 4. There are a few different ways for the Falcons to go.
Draft a quarterback
As a general manager and coach, you don’t want to be perennially picking in the Top 5. If you are, you likely aren’t going to have your job for very long. So while Atlanta is here, investing in a quarterback would be one very obvious way to go.
How Atlanta handles this could depend on what its board looks like. If a quarterback the team views in the Top 5 is available — and at least of Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones should be available — then it makes sense to pick the signal-caller.
There are wrinkles here, though. Barring an injury to Matt Ryan, a quarterback would not play in 2021. It would be highly unlikely the quarterback would play in 2022, either, although according to Roster Management System, Atlanta would save $23.75 million in cap space if he were to be a designated post-June 1 cut (while still carrying $24,921,500 in dead money).
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So if Atlanta views the soon-to-be-36-year-old Ryan as a player to build around for the next three years, then a quarterback wouldn’t make sense because almost half of the player’s rookie contract will be sitting behind Ryan.
There are two reasons to take a quarterback here: Your plan is to move on from Ryan somewhere in the near future after 2021 or you believe the player is so transformative he’s your quarterback for the next decade-plus post-Ryan. If neither one of those things are true, better to get an elite talent at another position and draft a quarterback later on you can potentially develop.
Atlanta currently has one quarterback on the roster — Ryan — so the Falcons need someone there. Who it is could determine so much about the short- and long-term future of the franchise. It’s the first truly big decision for Fontenot and Smith and one that could define their early tenures.
Take Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell
The question here might be how the Falcons view Sewell. He’s 6-foot-6, 325 pounds and has his experience at tackle, so that would be the more sensible spot. While it would be a surprise to see him at guard — the Falcons have Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary at tackle already, so guard could be the short-term play. To take a player you view as a long-term guard at No. 4 would be a stretch — the last guard to go in the Top 10 was Quenton Nelson to Indianapolis in 2018 — but if the long-term play would be for Sewell to be a tackle, he would be worth the investment.
McGary is under contract through 2022 and Matthews through 2023 so Sewell could be inside for a year before moving outside since neither player has guaranteed money left on their deals should Atlanta go this route. And taking a tackle in the Top 5 is not unheard of — the Giants did so last year at No. 4 with Andrew Thomas.
But Sewell will upgrade the offensive line if Atlanta picks him and could offer a blindside protector for the next decade for whoever is playing quarterback for the Falcons. It won’t be an exciting pick, but it might be a safe one with a high floor and high ceiling. Sewell is an elite prospect.
Draft Florida TE Kyle Pitts
It might seem high to take a tight end at No. 4 — it hasn’t been done in the Super Bowl era. Just twice has a tight end gone in the Top 5: Hall of Famer Mike Ditka in 1961 and four-time Pro Bowler Riley Odoms in 1972. Both went fifth.
That said, Pitts is a different type of player and the NFL has evolved offensively to where tight ends are becoming more valuable by the year in offenses. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Pitts ran an unofficial 4.44-second 40-yard dash time, jumped 33½ inches in the vertical and had 22 bench press repetitions at Florida’s pro day. He’s not what a tight end used to be. He is what a tight end could end up being in the future.
“He’s a different bird than what a traditional tight end has been,” said Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, a former NFL tight end. “Or certainly has been when I played.”
He’s young, too, which theoretically means more room for growth in the future. He won’t turn 21 until October and increased his production every year at Florida (although he had fewer receptions in a COVID-altered 2020 season). In less than three full seasons, he became Florida’s all-time leader for receiving yards by a tight end (1,492) and second in receptions (100).
Tight end is a difficult position to transition to from college to the NFL, even for first round, Top 10, picks. But Atlanta’s roster construction can help here, too. Hayden Hurst is in the last year of his contract (although Atlanta could pick up his fifth-year option) and Lee Smith is on a one-year deal. At receiver, Calvin Ridley is in a contract year (although, like Hurst, Atlanta has a fifth-year option) and Julio Jones is under contract until 2023.
But putting Pitts in a pass-catching corps with Jones, Ridley and Hurst could be a nightmare for opposing defenses for the next two seasons, at least.
This goes back to the quarterback. If there are teams — Carolina, Denver, New England and Washington are candidates — who desperately want one of the remaining quarterbacks, Fontenot could move off of the pick and trade down to pick up more future draft capital. You need a willing trade partner in order to pull this off, but Atlanta might actually have some options.
Considering the state of the roster, this would not be the worst move if he were able to pull it off. Trading back also opens up a more realistic option of taking a defensive player — linebacker Micah Parsons could be available at Nos. 8 or 9, for example, and defensive lineman Kwity Paye and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could be available later than that. Corners Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II could end up in that mix, too, depending where Atlanta moved down to. And other players could be involved here, too, as the middle of Round 1 is where the top defenders might start coming off the board.
Atlanta has 20 players under contract for 2022, although that number could go up if Hurst and Ridley receive their fifth-year options, and the defense will need new, young talent. While defensive players aren’t the elite of the elite in this year’s draft, there are talented playmakers available and if Fontenot can use No. 4 as a way to get more picks to bolster the long-term building of the roster, it might be the best play for Atlanta to make if it isn’t in love with a quarterback.
Bruce Arians to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians hasn’t felt the need to bring in a specialist to talk to his players about the COVID-19 vaccine, which some players leaguewide have expressed skepticism about in recent days.
While Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera brought Harvard immunologist Kizzmekia S. Corbett in to speak to his players Tuesday night, Arians said Thursday, “I’m the specialist.”
He told players, “If you want to go back to normal, get vaccinated.”
Arians said the Bucs are holding a vaccine drive for players and their families at the facility.
“There’s going to be a long line over there right now,” Arians said. “We were pretty short up until now. Hopefully we have a pretty good line.”
Previous vaccine drives have also taken place at the facility for coaches and support staff members. The goal is to have 85% of the team vaccinated, which Arians feels they’ll be much closer to after the drive.
“Everybody’s tired of meeting out here and eating outside, and doing all those things we had to do last year,” Arians said. “It’s still a personal choice, but I don’t see a reason not to be vaccinated.”
When asked if any players expressed concern or skepticism, as Washington’s Montez Sweat did Wednesday, Arians said, “I haven’t spoken to anybody that’s resisted it. They’re just too lazy to get one.”
Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett said he and his wife, Jordanna, both received the vaccine. Their four children aren’t old enough to qualify for the vaccine at this time, as the CDC currently recommends children ages 12 and older receive vaccines.
Barrett missed the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons because he was a close contact of a teammate who tested positive, despite never testing positive himself. Still, he was forced to quarantine for five days. His children were home-schooled in 2020 and did not have play dates with other children because of concerns about the virus.
“It’s ‘to each their own.’ I recommend it,” Barrett said Thursday. “I don’t know why people wouldn’t get it. But whatever makes you comfortable, whatever helps you sleep at night, you do that. But I would like for 85% of the team to be vaccinated.”
Kansas City Chiefs hope Kyle Long back by start of regular season after leg injury in practice
Long was signed by the Chiefs in the offseason after he ended his retirement after one year. He wrote about the injury on Thursday on his Twitter account.
“I did everything I could to get back for football,” Long said. “Zero regrets. … Focusing on controlling the things I can control. Yesterday was not one of those things!”
I did everything I could to prepare to get back for football. Zero regrets. I’ve been getting better everyday and having so much fun with my new team. Focusing on controlling the things I can control. Yesterday was not one of those things! Thanks for the well wishes.
— Kyle (@Ky1eLong) June 10, 2021
Drafted 20th overall by the Chicago Bears in 2013, Long missed just one game over his first three seasons, in which he was selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls, but appeared in just 30 regular-season contests over his last four years with the team because of a variety of injuries. He announced his retirement in January of last year.
NFL Network first reported that Long had suffered a leg injury.
Fantasy Football cheat sheets – Updated 2021 player rankings, PPR, non-PPR, depth charts, dynasty
If you’re seeking a one-stop shop for updated 2021 fantasy football rankings and cheat sheets throughout the summer, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you will find them for PPR and non-PPR formats, as well as dynasty leagues.
PPR positional cheat sheet
One sheet with players broken down by position, including overall rank, salary-cap value and bye weeks for leagues that award one point for each catch. Download »
PPR top-300 cheat sheet
This sheet features 300 players in order of overall draft value, with positional rank, salary-cap value and bye-week information for leagues that reward each catch with a point. Download »
Non-PPR positional cheat sheet
For leagues using the scoring format that doesn’t award an extra point for each reception. One sheet with players broken down by position, including overall rank, salary-cap value and bye weeks. Download »
Non-PPR top-300 cheat sheet
This sheet features 300 players in order of overall draft value, with positional rank, salary-cap value and bye-week information. Download »
Mike Clay’s team-by-team projection guide
If you want the full breakdown for all 32 teams, you’ve come to the right place. Download »
NFL team depth chart cheat sheet
Fantasy depth charts for each NFL team: top two QBs, three running backs, four wide receivers, two tight ends and a kicker. Prioritized by fantasy value in PPR leagues rather than role defined on a traditional NFL depth chart, includes players’ positional ranks. Download »
Dynasty cheat sheet
Features the top 240 players and 60 best rookies to make all of your keeper and dynasty league decisions. Includes the age of players at the start of the 2021 season. Download »
*All cheat sheets are in PDF format. Your device must be equipped with a PDF reader for you to access and print the cheat sheet.
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