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NFL draft board building 101 — Inside the secretive yearlong grind

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It is universal. It is unique.

It is stacked, adjusted and set. It is mocked, remocked and mocked again.

But unless you are one of the cooks in the proverbial football kitchen, you haven’t seen it. It is the stew that everyone in the NFL makes and whose recipe is hidden from anyone outside the family.

It is the NFL draft board, a place where player rankings are handed out, complete with concerns, questions and the sometimes tenuous hope of finding the league’s next big star.

And contrary to the notion of a “draft season,” the blueprint each team’s draft weekend is a year in the making.

Yet how the NFL draft board is built, how it looks and what is on it — names, symbols, grades — isn’t really a topic for conversation outside the conference rooms or laptops where the boards are hidden.

How secretive is it? Just before the 2000 draft, when the Tennessee Titans had the 30th pick in the first round, then-Titans general manager Floyd Reese was asked who the 30th player on his board was, to which he replied, “Well, that’s one of my favorites, looking real hard there, that would be the guy between ‘None Of’ and ‘Your Damn Business.'”

To build the board, no one is above asking for guidance from myriad sources, be they human, data or spiritual.

“[Hall of Fame team executive] Ron Wolf would always let me put something on the draft board that was blessed by the pope,” said Bryan Broaddus, who worked in the scouting departments of the Eagles, Packers and Cowboys during his career. The item was something small enough it could fit in a plastic bag, but that had a papal blessing. “After the first year we did it, it was just kind of accepted after that. You’ll take all the help you can get and it went on the top of the board.

“Sometimes I would just sit there, in the room, with all those names and just wish, somehow, the future Hall of Famers would just light up, so then you would know. You just want to get it right.”

ESPN conducted dozens of interviews in recent weeks asking about the nuts and bolts of building a draft board. Those calls, combined with 35 years of reporting on many of those who grade the players and stack the boards, have helped shape an insider’s look at the process.

Each board is unique to its team and decision-makers, but one thing remains the same: The path to the draft is not a sprint after the calendar flips to February. It is a long, grueling, opinion-filled, argument-spiced marathon through an entire year.


The first meeting

The first step toward the next draft is often taken before the last piece of confetti from the previous draft has even drifted to the ground.

Former Titans scouting director Blake Beddingfield, who was in that position for 19 seasons, said the first meeting with the team scouts was almost always “the week after the draft, just before rookie camp.” Former Jets general manager and Dolphins executive VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said “about Memorial Day, every time.”

Some teams choose to go it alone, but most teams use either National Scouting — which runs the combine every year — or Blesto scouting services to help with their initial list of college football seniors as well as reports from their own scouts on players they may have seen in their campus visits.

That first list of players can be in the hundreds — some said as many as 900 names or more.

Scouts are often brought back to the team complex — in a non-pandemic year — in early June, around the team’s minicamp, to discuss the top prospects in each region heading into the college football season. From those meetings, the fall schedule for the area scouts — scouts who cover a specific geographical area of the country or specific conferences — will take shape.

Often the players are ranked for the first time at these meetings and those rankings are adjusted throughout the college football season as reports from the scouts come in and the scouting director evaluates each prospect’s grade after the visits.


The season

Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said the process of building a draft board includes “no shortcuts” and those involved have “to embrace the day-to-day … embrace the grind.”

Hundreds of plane tickets, thousands of highway miles, night after night in hotel rooms are on deck. It’s not uncommon for scouts to have hotel points in the millions.

The schedule will vary slightly from team to team and depends on the size of each scouting staff. But at the foundation during the college football season are the area scouts, who will each have to visit roughly five schools a week. A visit will entail a heavy dose of game video review and speaking with coaches as well as other support personnel about prospects.

At some of the larger college programs, these visits are limited and must be scheduled on specific dates during the season.

Knowledge is always power. Longtime scout C.O. Brocato, who died of cancer in 2015, would fill the trunk of his car with T-shirts, hats and other team gear from the Houston Oilers (and later the Titans) to give to staffers, security guards and receptionists at many of his campus stops. He knew their names, and an open door often followed a smile.

Known over a four-decade career to start his day at 2 a.m. in order to drive to stops across the vast expanse of Texas and the South, Bracato always joked that the first scout in “gets the clicker” to control the viewing of game video and “I like the clicker.”

After each visit, a scout may write a report for between eight to 12 players at the bigger schools, two or three at the smaller schools. Each week each scout sends those reports to the team’s scouting director.

The reports will include basic background, physical characteristics (height, weight and other general information like quickness or agility) and position-specific items such as how each prospect’s traits fit the position he plays and where he would fit in the team’s profile for that position.

It isn’t enough to say a player is good or bad. Details and specifics are coveted. Scouts who pay attention to detail and write meticulous reports quickly can be one of the most important aspects of a quality draft class.

Do the math: About five or six area scouts each sending between 40 to 60 player reports each week — it’s about 200 to 360 in all. Again the guidelines vary, but generally scouts have to visit schools with players who have draftable grades in their areas two or three times a season, with one of those three required to be a game day.

Some schools, smaller programs that may have one or two players with draftable grades in a given year, may be visited once, but area scouts will often circle back to those schools as well if they find they have a free afternoon.

Some positions, like quarterback and safety, may require more visits. Some teams will add a national scout — referred to as an “over the top” scout or “cross-checker” — or the college scouting director, the general manager or assistant general manager to the mix for more looks or “exposures” at a prospect, particularly on a game day.

“The challenge,” former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said, “is always staying organized, keeping the board up to date, making sure the reports are detailed and finding the spots where the scout’s grade and the scouting director’s grade may vary, things like that. But big or small school, you just don’t want to miss anybody.”

This year, with some players having opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, there was a hearty review of 2019 game video, digging on player’s backgrounds and where they were working out, along with any added information from pro days or interviews with team officials.


A rainbow of symbols

It isn’t just football information in the scouting reports. Before the draft, the team’s medical staff is going to be involved, background checks are carried out and the elements of a prospect’s résumé off the field are added to the grade.

Teams use a variety of colors and symbols to note different issues about some prospects. Sometimes it is as simple as a red cross for an injury question or a yellow dot (proceed with caution, as one scout put it) for off-the-field issues, a green shield for effort questions, a skull and crossbones if a player has a difficult agent, or a star for a low test score.

In the end, players who stand out for the wrong reasons are referred to by some as “rainbow players” because they have so many symbols of different colors next to their names.

This will also vary from team to team. Some medical staffs will flag a player’s injury as a concern when others will not. Some general managers will be more comfortable with a player’s explanation of past trouble than others. A fight with a teammate, an arrest in high school, a failed drug test, a transfer to another school with a hazy backstory, an injury during a January workout — all of it is in the symbols.

As an example, last April several teams went into the draft concerned about the long-term impact of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa‘s hip injury suffered in his final season at Alabama. Tagovailoa, however, was selected fifth overall by the Miami Dolphins and is poised to be the Dolphins’ starter this season.

In 2019, Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons was not invited to the scouting combine despite being considered a potential first-round pick because a video from 2016 had surfaced of him punching a woman multiple times during an altercation the woman had with his sister. Simmons had also torn an ACL during a pre-draft workout.

Some teams had removed Simmons from consideration, but the Titans selected him with the 19th pick. Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said following the draft she had never been more involved in vetting a player before than with Simmons, including viewing the video with Titans coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson.

Simmons has started 22 games over the past two seasons with the Titans.

Beyond the symbols, how the boards look will vary. From the early days of chalkboards to electronic boards for some teams today, it’s always evolving and is often kept secret. But whether it’s a whiteboard or a magnetic board, names will be stacked in the order of their grades. That’s anywhere from 120 to 180 players for most teams.

It takes up the entire wall of a large conference room.

Then there are hundreds of names on another wall of the players the team graded, but who were removed from consideration because of questions, including injuries.

Teams augment this with the use of overhead projectors so they can display the same information from a laptop onto a wall as well. It allows them to move meetings from room to room and use the information about a particular player or particular position in smaller meetings.

It’s the rainbow of symbols, though, that often leads to some of the biggest differences of opinions among teams on top prospects. Those symbols explain why some teams will take a player off the board while others will select the same player in the first round. Many of those surveyed for this story said there is always an uncomfortable silence in draft rooms when a player who had been taken off the board is selected early, especially in the first two rounds. It’s “that we-better-be-right feeling” after the guy was picked somewhere else, “especially in the division,” as one scout said.


Last call for info

After the bowl games there are the all-star games and scouting combine — this year’s was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns — and then on-campus pro days and visits to the team complexes (in a non-COVID-19 year). At this point, the teams who feel good about their scouting staffs and the information they’ve gathered will have boards largely set.

The scouting director has spent months reviewing the weekly reports and game video and had hours’ worth of discussions with the scouts as the reports have come in. It means the notion of “risers” and “fallers” on the draft board, at least according to those who build the boards, is far less pronounced than it is often portrayed.

Beddingfield said “usually 80 to 85% or more of a guy’s grade came in the season” and Tannenbaum added “late information isn’t always great information; you have to be mindful of that.”

Teams will often adjust a prospect’s standing within his position group or within the round of the draft where graded. But most say it is rare for players to jump or drop, even one full round, let alone multiple rounds, because of Senior Bowl practices, a pro day or the combine.

This year will offer some slight differences due to opt-outs or canceled games because of COVID-19. A player such as Wisconsin-Whitewater offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz had his team’s season canceled due to the coronavirus, but he showed up to the Senior Bowl practices “looking like a different guy” than he had in 2019, according to one scout. Players like Meinerz may move around more on draft boards than in years past, but those big fluctuations will still be exceptions rather than the rule.

At times it can be a prospect’s performance in a workout or the practices at an all-star game can slightly tip the scales about what position that prospect may play. For example, before the 2020 scouting combine, some personnel executives wondered if Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool would really be a receiving tight end because of his size (he was measured at 6-4¼ and weighed 238 pounds at that combine).

Then Claypool blistered the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds — among the fastest at any position of the players invited — to go with a 40 1/2-inch vertical jump and many in the league left Indianapolis thinking of Claypool as a wide receiver. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the second round — 49th overall. Claypool finished his rookie year with 62 receptions, 879 yards and nine touchdowns.

Movement on the board after the college football season is far more subtle, subdued and nuanced within the tiered groupings than often perceived. The advent of pro days and combine workouts on TV — and so much more draft coverage overall than even a decade ago — have made the concept of movement on draft boards appear larger than it is inside team complexes.

A caveat is an arrest or a significant off-the-field issue that happens between the end of the college football season and the draft. It’s why teams have people in the scouting department monitoring social media throughout the draft process to try to avoid the surprise of a video that goes viral the morning of a draft.

“You confirm something you wanted another look at, get an answer to a particular thing you needed, whether that’s medical, something athletically, or an off-the-field thing you wanted an answer to,” one longtime personnel executive said. “You’ll move a guy some within his group, but jumping up from one group to the next or down multiple groups or multiple rounds, the teams that do that probably didn’t get enough information from the area scout during the year. Does it happen? Yes, but rarely is it a big, big move.”


Lock it in

When draft weekend arrives, the number of players on the board will vary team to team.

The list of players a team would draft — the board they’re working off during draft weekend — has often been called the “value board,” essentially the players each team really likes and would select because they fit the team’s position profiles and scheme.

As scouting staffs have grown and the process has become more refined, 300-player draft boards are largely gone. Most teams have between 125 and 150 names on the value board. And when those players are selected, by any team, the names are taken down.

If they’ve done the work correctly, when all the draft picks are made — some 240 or 250 picks or so including compensatory picks — a team might have just a handful of names remaining on a well-built value board. Those are the first choices to sign as undrafted rookies.

While it isn’t considered as common, there are teams and general managers who will work what some personnel executives have called a “short board,” which might have 75 to 95 names.

A shorter board may force teams to trade out of a round when they have no players graded to that round. If the team doesn’t trade out, it could find itself taking a player it didn’t have graded anywhere close to that round.

An example of an overreach can be found with the Broncos and the 2010 draft. Many with the team at the time said the Broncos used a short board approach that year — Josh McDaniels’ second season as coach — with fewer than 100 players on it. Among the players they selected was North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn in the second round (64th overall) — their third second-round pick. No other team contacted in the weeks after the draft had a grade above the seventh round on Quinn, who had 12 receptions during his career at North Carolina. Quinn said later his agent had told him not to expect to be drafted.

He played 30 NFL games with two teams and finished his career with one catch.

“Anybody who has worked the job would say, retrospectively, most any time we made changes late I wished we had not,” Tannenbaum said. “But that’s why it’s important to have good evaluators among your scouts who give you the information you need to make the best board you can make.”

The value board comprises the “best players available” who also fill needs, including those who would be the best specific scheme fits with the current coaching staff.

The remainder of players with draftable grades — but who might have symbols next to their name or do not fit into a team’s system — are listed on another board, or list, sometimes called the “back board” or the “out board” to monitor where they are chosen.

“And you try to kind of get a feel for how the board is going to go around the league, kind of work through all the scenarios with potential trades,” Broncos president of football operations John Elway said. “Just make sure you’re ready to adjust and move and feel good as an organization about your evaluations. And in the back of your mind you kind of know there is no predicting what everybody is going to do — the curveball is coming.”


Make the picks

Start with the draft’s dirty little secret about the first round. There are never, ever 32 first-round grades on draft boards throughout the league.

Want to know why teams bail out of the bottom of the first round so often? It’s because all of the players they had with first-round grades are gone. Or why a team quickly trades back into the No. 32 spot as the clock winds down? They want to snatch up the player still on their board with a first-round grade who has not been selected.

During dozens of interviews in recent weeks, the highest total given for first-round grades in any draft was 27 — and one general manager said “you knew that was going to be a damn good draft.” The lowest? Seventeen.

Beddingfield said scouts are among the most nervous and engaged on draft weekend. And emotional investment is the biggest reason. “I always battled for them to be in the room with everybody when we made the picks,” Beddingfield said. “Some GMs didn’t want that, but I made it a priority. You’re telling those guys their work is important when they’re in there and there is tremendous pride when after all those weeks, the team turns in a card for the pick with a guy you looked at from Day 1.”

All of the people asked about all of this — every single one — said the teams that “stick to the board” do the best in the draft year after year. The lure of the late nugget of information, a “gut feel” in the final hours, should be discussed and dissected to make sure the change is actually a good one.

It is important for a general manager to create an environment where the scouts and others will speak up. Often the didn’t-stick-to-the-board picks result because those who made the grades don’t feel they can stand up to those making the picks. “And you better be a good listener as a GM,” Tannenbaum said. “If you’re going to stray from the board, you better have a good reason why you didn’t think that way before and you better ask the guys who saw the player all season. And it should make you pause.”

The so-called “pounding the table” for prospects a scout or a coach likes has to largely take place weeks before the draft, not draft weekend. There are ties to be broken in the minutes before the picks when the arguments may get the loudest, but as one general manager put it “the ties better be between players you liked all the way through.”

And virtually all of those interviewed said they believed most people not involved in the process would be surprised by how much the grades, the boards and where players are valued can vary from team to team. One team’s potential steal is another team’s name removed from the board deemed to have no chance.

In 2009, the Raiders selected Ohio University safety Mike Mitchell with the 47th pick overall, a major surprise to most. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said he had a seventh-round grade on Mitchell, and some teams privately said they didn’t have him among their top 280 players.

Mitchell then fueled some of that skepticism when he started nine games in his first four seasons, though he would go on to play 10 seasons overall with five years as a regular starter.

“The board is players you like; other people may not, but you do,” is how one longtime personnel executive put it. “Sometimes you’re not right until a few years out and sometimes you’re not right until the guy goes somewhere else because they fit him better or he gets healthier or he just develops. Fit, the developmental curve, coaching, the guy’s work ethic, maturity, it all can add up differently and those are the questions you’re trying to answer when you make the picks.”

After the picks are made — or even as the seventh round gets underway — the scramble begins for the undrafted players. It is inevitable with so many opinions on so many players around the league, players with fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round grades are left on a board. Some draft boards will simply have a large red line to mark where the draftable grades stop; the group of players posted below it are that team’s priority free agents.

Scouts, assistant coaches, assistant general managers, general managers and head coaches acting as closers scramble to get the best of the rest signed as undrafted players.

“A seven-round draft, there are good football players who fit what you do still on the board after the picks are done if you’ve stacked it right, and they didn’t get picked just because of the way things fell,” Elway said. “We want to find guys who can be Denver Broncos wherever we have to find them.”

It’s why scouting is so important and why Elway often opened media gatherings after the draft each year by naming, and thanking, each of the team’s scouts and other scouting personnel.

“Those guys are on the road, and it gets lonely out there sometimes,” Elway has said. “They do a hell of a job and we ask a lot of them.”


Rinse, repeat

Beddingfield said rookie camp, usually in May, was always the last pit-of-the-stomach feeling for a scout moving from one draft to the next.

“You just didn’t want to go out at rookie camp and see a guy you really fought for struggle; you wanted him to get off to a good start,” Beddingfield said. “Crazy to think that way because he’s just getting started, but in that moment, in the back of your mind, it’s all those nights, all that road traveled, how much you like the kid. You just want it to look like it’s going to be great. And when he goes on to be great, there is nothing better. But you finish that camp and you hit the road again.”

Tannenbaum said: “Sometimes people would kind of say we made all those reports and we only took seven players. My response always was, ‘We just made the first report for our pro personnel department on the other guys. They go right to that database so you have it in September when they get cut or two Septembers from now.’ When it’s over, there’s relief, exhaustion and the 10-minute feel-good, that absence of agony that makes you feel so good. And then you start again.”

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Carolina in his mind? New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson catches a tough break – New York Jets Blog

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Wilson vs. Darnold: Zach Wilson‘s NFL debut will be off-Broadway in location only. In terms of theater, his Week 1 road showdown against predecessor Sam Darnold is worth a neon marquee.

While Jets-Carolina Panthers is being billed as Darnold’s revenge game, the potential impact on Wilson can’t be dismissed. Already facing huge expectations as the No. 2 pick and perceived franchise savior, the 21-year-old rookie and presumptive starter will be under magnified pressure in what amounts to a statement game.

Is that a fair way to look at it? No, but that’s how it will play. The NFL schedule-makers, always lusting for drama, did the Jets no favors by staging Wilson versus Darnold. This is no soft opening, that’s for sure.

Wilson hasn’t commented yet on the matchup, but someone who knows him well believes he will be unfazed by the magnitude of it.

“He looks forward to opportunities like this,” said former NFL quarterback John Beck, Wilson’s longtime personal coach. “Because people kind of snubbed him young, meaning he wasn’t heavily recruited [in high school], he could see these as opportunities to prove something.

“He’s not one of those people who had everybody telling him how good he was. In situations like this, those [players] probably think, ‘Oh, gosh, I may fail and, if I fail, what does that mean?’ I think Zach views that as the opposite.

“To him, it’s not him versus Sam Darnold. In Zach’s mind, it’s him taking the stage at his first regular-season game. To him, that’s what this stage is about. Because of that, he wants to play really well in that situation. I think that type of challenge excites him.”

Last month’s Darnold trade wasn’t a clear-cut decision for Jets general manager Joe Douglas, who admitted he considered the possibility of pairing Darnold and Wilson. Despite his struggles in New York, Darnold remains popular within the organization and the fan base. In that sense, it’s probably a good thing the opener is on the road. If the day goes sideways, Wilson won’t have to worry about fan backlash.

2. Two for the show: As expected, Wilson will wear No. 2. There’s certainly not much Jets history associated with that number. The most recognizable player to wear No. 2 was place-kicker Nick Folk, a member of the team from 2010 to 2016. In terms of New York sports history, the all-time No. 2 is a no-brainer — former Yankees star Derek Jeter.

3. Sorry, wrong number: First-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker will wear No. 75, which raises a question: Why is that number still in circulation? The Jets should retire that number because it belonged to the late great Winston Hill, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Other ex-Jets in the Hall of Fame — quarterback Joe Namath (12), wide receiver Don Maynard (13) and running back Curtis Martin (28) — had their numbers retired by the team. Even defensive lineman Joe Klecko (73), not a member of the HOF (even though he should be), had his number retired. Why should Hill, who wore No. 75 with distinction for 14 seasons, be different? By the same token, offensive lineman Kevin Mawae (68), inducted in 2019, also should be afforded that honor. No current player has No. 68.

Vera-Tucker wore No. 75 at USC, so his preference is understandable. Chuma Edoga, another former USC lineman, wore it for the Jets the past two years. No one should wear it again now that Hill has been posthumously honored in Canton.

The Jets, aware of the Hill situation, haven’t ruled out adjustments in the future.

4. Inside the schedule: Every team’s schedule is filled with quirks and trends. Let’s take a closer look at the Jets’ slate:

  • Positives: They have 13 games at 1 p.m. ET, a franchise record. That’s not great for national exposure, but it makes the coaches happy. Prime-time games cut into the following week’s preparation. … The Jets and Chicago Bears are the only teams without back-to-back road games. … They face only one 2020 playoff team (Tennessee Titans) in their first seven games. … Starting in Week 10, they have six home games in a span of eight weeks, their first such stretch since 1976. … They could benefit from an unbalanced schedule. Due to the 17-game schedule and a London game, the Jets have nine home games, seven true road games and one international game. The Miami Dolphins have the same situation.

  • Negatives: The bye is Week 6, the earliest it can be. (Three other teams have the early bye.) For the Jets, it comes after their trip to London. That means they have to close the season with 12 straight games, which will be taxing. … Their rest differential is minus-2 days. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than the New England Patriots (-15) and Dolphins (-6). (Note: The Jets had a plus-8 differential last season, which did them no good.) … They’re away from home in four of the first six games, which could be a factor now that stadiums are expected to be at full capacity again. … Five of the Jets’ final 10 games are against 2020 playoff teams.

5. Did you know? The Jets play the Patriots in Weeks 2 and 7. If Wilson starts against Mac Jones, who will supplant Cam Newton at some point, it will mark the first time in the history of the Jets-Patriots rivalry that two rookie quarterbacks started. That covers 121 regular-season games. Tom Brady started 36 of them, none as a rookie, which explains a lot.

6. No opt-outs: Before the 2021 NFL draft, Douglas was on the fence when asked how he would evaluate prospects who opted out for 2020. On one hand, he said it would be a “challenge” to grade players based on 2019 tape. But he made sure to note he respected the wishes of those who decided not to play, ostensibly for COVID-19 concerns. (Wink, wink.)

As it turned out, no fewer than 19 teams drafted at least one player who opted out for the entire college season — but not the Jets. Wide receiver Elijah Moore opted out for the final two games at Ole Miss, but he still had eight highly productive games on tape in 2020. Douglas picked players who played, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. He’s all about minimizing risk, and he recognized opt-outs carried more risk than other players.

7. Super sleeper: For obvious reasons, the Jets’ third-day defensive draft picks didn’t get much exposure, but one name to watch is fifth-round pick Jamien Sherwood, the safety/linebacker hybrid. He was a tackling star at Auburn, but his pro evaluation dropped with a disappointing 40-yard dash (4.74 seconds) at his pro day. The Jets see him as an ideal fit as a weakside linebacker in their 4-3 front — a wide-open position — and there’s some thought he could emerge as the starter. He played safety with a linebacker mentality.

8. Looking for gems: The Jets were aggressive in signing undrafted free agents, doling out relatively large guarantees for coveted players. Oregon State cornerback Isaiah Dunn got $185,000 and Ole Miss tight end Kenny Yeboah received $180,000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those were two of the league’s biggest guarantees.

9. Whatever happened to…: Most of the members of the Jets’ previous coaching staff landed jobs in the pro and college ranks. Of the coordinators and position coaches on Adam Gase’s staff, only Gregg Williams (defensive coordinator), Joe Vitt (outside linebackers) and Jim Bob Cooter (running backs) are out of coaching. Vitt, Gase’s father-in-law, could retire. Gase, too, is not coaching; he has two years left on his contract.

10. The last word: “He’s a fantastic guy. I think he’s the leader of men that the Jets need. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest parts of the rebuild phase.” — center Connor McGovern on coach Robert Saleh, via inforum.com in Fargo, North Dakota (his hometown).



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New York Giants sign former first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have signed former Carolina Panthers first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, the team announced Sunday.

Benjamin and former Philadelphia Eagles running back and Super Bowl hero Corey Clement impressed over the weekend during tryouts at rookie minicamp and received one-year deals.

A wide receiver who had over 1,000 yards as a rookie for the Panthers in 2013, Benjamin has not played in the NFL since 2018. He worked primarily as a tight end at the tryout.

“In terms of Benjamin working a different position [Friday], we’re going to work different guys at a variety of things right now,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “He’s a big guy. He’s always been a big receiver. He’ll work receiver. He’s working a little bit flex tight end as well.

“I wouldn’t really kind of, you know, pin him down to any one position at this point. We’re going to use the weekend to move him around to different spots and see how it works out.”

Benjamin would join a crowded tight end room along with Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo. The Giants also are deep at wide receiver after adding Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free agency and drafting Kadarius Toney in the first round. This will make it tough for Benjamin to ultimately land a spot on the final roster, regardless of position.

It was just three years ago during a Monday Night Football broadcast that ESPN analyst Booger McFarland famously declared Benjamin was “probably a Popeyes biscuit away from being a tight end.”

Benjamin, 30, has spent time with the Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. He has 209 career receptions for 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns. The 28th overall pick in 2014 was originally drafted in Carolina by current Giants general manager Dave Gettleman.

Clement, 26, spent the first four seasons of his professional career with the Eagles. He has been slowed in recent years by injury but is best known for his performance in Super Bowl LII, when he had 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ upset win over the New England Patriots. Clement also helped execute the Philly Special, a trick play that resulted in a touchdown reception by quarterback Nick Foles.

The Giants needed veteran depth at running back. With Saquon Barkley coming back from a serious knee injury, the Giants signed Devontae Booker as a free agent and drafted Gary Brightwell in the sixth round.

New York also announced that it had waived running back Jordan Chunn and tight end Nate Wieting.

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Fight for life: Ex-Ravens lineman Lional Dalton waiting for transplant – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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In March, Lional Dalton’s wife was setting up a Wall of Fame at their Atlanta home to showcase his days of lining up at defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens and playing a key role in one of the most physically dominating defenses in NFL history.

Sorting through all of the old pictures, Dalton came across a plaque thanking him for filming a public service announcement for the Living Legacy Foundation in Maryland, a nonprofit organization that facilitates organ donation and transplantation.

“It’s almost like God got a crazy sense of humor,” Dalton said. “What’s the odds of that?”

More than 20 years after publicly promoting the need for organ donation, Dalton is one of the 110,000 people in the United States who is in need of a life-saving transplant. Dalton, 46, has been battling Stage 4 kidney disease for the past 17 months, going to dialysis for five hours a day, three days a week, while understanding his future is uncertain.

The typical wait time for a kidney from the national deceased-donor waiting list is five years. An average of 17 people die per day waiting for a transplant.

“Waiting for a kidney is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Dalton said. “I used to fight for my team on the field, but now I am fighting for my life.”

Dalton’s fortune changed two months ago when he discovered that plaque and a phone number on the back of it, a turn of events that caused his wife to get chills. “It was like that ‘a-ha’ moment,” said Tiffany Dalton, who has been married to Lional for eight years.

Dalton reached out to the Living Legacy Foundation, which soon got him an appearance on “Good Morning America” to explain the need to donate organs and to share his story. That four-minute interview stirred some people from the Baltimore area to call and offer help.

One woman intended to donate her kidney to her mother, but her mother passed away before the transplant. So she wants to give her kidney to Dalton in the name of her mother. The potential donor, who could not be reached for an interview, is undergoing tests to see if she is a match.

A kidney from a living donor can last 15-20 years. If successful, the affable Super Bowl champion nicknamed “Jelly Roll” can resume traveling the world with his wife and their two daughters.

“God willing, this lady comes through for me,” Dalton said. “I could have a kidney by the end of the year. That would be amazing.”

‘A big bombshell’

In a matter of hours, Dalton went from a relaxing start to 2020, to thinking his life was over.

Dalton hosted a New Year’s Eve party with friends, where he laughed and played games before going to bed. Around 6 a.m., he started experiencing shortness of breath and went alone to a nearby fire station, which was the closest emergency medical service.

With soaring blood pressure, Dalton was rushed to the hospital. His wife Tiffany woke to several missed calls because Dalton didn’t want to bother her initially, and she bolted out of the house to join him.

Dalton, who hadn’t felt sick before this, was informed by the doctor that his kidneys were functioning at 20%. Dalton’s first thought was to tell his wife to get all of his affairs in order because he didn’t know how long he was going to live. He started to cry, and Tiffany stepped out of the room to do the same.

“[The doctor] just dropped a big bombshell on us, and it was super surprising,” Tiffany said. “All of the emotions go down. It was a lot to process at first.”

Football’s impact on Dalton’s health

Dalton believes his kidney disease is an aftereffect of playing in the NFL. An undrafted defender out of Eastern Michigan, Dalton did whatever it took to make it in the league and stay there for nine seasons. He bounced around five teams, and he found out running around while weighing more than 300 pounds can inflict a significant toll on both knees.

For his last two years in Kansas City and Houston, Dalton estimated he downed four to five pills of anti-inflammatory medication every Wednesday and Thursday, the two most physical practices of the week. For his last three seasons, he acknowledged taking a pain-killing shot the day before games.

According to Dalton, an NFL team doctor told him that he had protein in his urine but didn’t explain this was a sign of kidney issues. Dalton thought he needed to stop eating red meat.

“They give a pill for everything,” Dalton said. “What happened in January [2020] was an accumulation of all the Motrin and anti-inflammatory medication. All that stuff wears on the kidneys. If I would have known in 2005 about my issues, I would have stopped taking all those pills when I was playing. But I didn’t know. That’s why I’m in the position I’m in right now searching for a donor.”

It’s been estimated that 3% to 5% of all late-stage kidney failure patients in this country are due to prolonged and high use of anti-inflammatory medication, according to the Living Legacy Foundation.

Dropping 118 pounds

Dalton sat atop the football world in 2000, though you wouldn’t believe it by how his Super Bowl ring slips off his finger.

He was a valuable backup to interior linemen Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa on the Ravens’ defense that allowed the fewest points in a 16-game season and spearheaded Baltimore to a 34-7 triumph over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Teammates remember Dalton for how he stuffed the run, how much he ate and how he exercised his bulldog Biggie on the treadmill.

At that time, Dalton had the second-largest Super Bowl ring ever made, behind the Chicago Bears’ William “the Refrigerator” Perry. Dalton’s ring size was 16.

But these days, everything is smaller with Dalton.

“I tell people to just call me Jelly,” he said. “The rolls are all gone.”

After learning he has end-stage renal disease, Dalton read about how lowering your food consumption slowed down the deterioration of the kidneys in rats and mice. He immediately started fasting and switched to a 90% plant-based diet.

For breakfast, he might have a smoothie and some fruit. His favorite is almond milk with cinnamon and nutmeg along with a banana.

His bigger meals are between noon and 4 p.m. He eats falafel, rice, pita and hummus. His wife has learned how to batter cauliflower to make it taste like chicken.

“A player rep in Atlanta told me: It’s like the Super Bowl for your life,” Dalton said. “What you eat is how you feel.”

At his heaviest, the 6-foot-1 Dalton was 360 pounds. The day before a game, he once ate nearly two slabs of ribs, a pint of baked beans and some macaroni and cheese.

Now, he’s down to 242 pounds — a loss of 118 pounds. This is the lightest he’s been since middle school.

His waist line went from a size 48 to 38. His weight loss has been so dramatic that he’s no longer on blood pressure medicine. Dalton had been taking four pills a day for blood pressure, which had been further damaging his kidneys.

“I gave him a hug,” Tiffany said, “and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel like I have a new husband.”

Providing inspiration

Mornings became confusing for Lional and Tiffany’s two daughters, six-year-old Skye and two-year-old Sade.

“Where’s Daddy?” they asked.

Dalton had been taking his girls to school every morning and picking them up. But his schedule drastically changed. Dialysis treatment goes from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

During his 4 1/2 hours a day there, Dalton has written two books. His first was on his experiences and seeing different cultures: 19 countries in Africa along with Israel, Dubai and China. His other is a nearly finished ABC book that chronicles Skye’s travels, with pictures of her with different animals all around the world.

“Every day he encourages me and motivates me to be better, to be stronger, to not complain,” Tiffany said. “The things I’m going through is nothing compared to him. He definitely gives us strength.”

The hope for Dalton and the Living Legacy Foundation is he can inspire others too. Dalton wants to remove the stigma and fear surrounding organ donation. He explains how many lives in the community can be saved through organ, eye and tissue donation.

It’s the same message he was spreading in 1999, when he filmed his PSA.

Charlie Alexander, the CEO of the Living Legacy Foundation, remembers taking a picture with Dalton back then and thinking it’s great that Dalton is giving his time to a cause that he’ll never need.

“What it boils down to is this can happen to anyone,” Alexander said. “Nothing is guaranteed. We all need to be aware of what an impact we can make on people’s lives we may never know.”

How much of an impact can Dalton’s story make?

“People are looking to ‘Who can I trust right now on TV or online or in my community?’,” Alexander said. “You see a guy like Lional standing up in front of the room 20 years ago, when he didn’t have a proverbial horse in the race. Now, you’re seeing him standing there again today saying, ‘I hope you took my message seriously 20 years ago because my life depends on it.’”

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