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Why it’s so hard to find developmental QBs in the NFL draft’s middle rounds – New Orleans Saints Blog

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METAIRIE, La. — Myth 1: Teams can readily find top-quality quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott in the middle rounds of the NFL draft.

Myth 2: Teams such as the New Orleans Saints can draft a QB on Day 2 or 3, let him sit behind Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, then develop him to be their future starter.

Those ideas sound nice, especially for the Saints, who pick 28th and would have to pay a fortune to trade up for one of this year’s top five prospects.

And it’s not impossible. Especially not with one of the greatest offensive coaches in league history in Sean Payton, who once helped discover and develop an undrafted Tony Romo with the Dallas Cowboys.

But the actual track record of teams selecting a quarterback outside of the top 40 picks, then adding some time and seasoning into the recipe to produce a future starter, is rarer than you might expect.

Over the past 15 years, only eight quarterbacks who weren’t drafted in the top 40 have won more than eight games as a starter for the team that chose them: Wilson (98), Prescott (42), Kirk Cousins (26), Nick Foles (21 in two stints with the Philadelphia Eagles), Trent Edwards (14), Chad Henne (13), Trevor Siemian (13) and Tarvaris Jackson (10).

Jimmy Garoppolo should also be mentioned as a success among this group, because he won two games for the New England Patriots after being selected 62nd overall in 2014 — then won another 24 after being traded to the San Francisco 49ers. And 2020 second-rounder Jalen Hurts could join the list is he locks down the Eagles’ starting job.

But you get the point. The idea of “drafting and developing” works only if you find the golden ticket.

“There’s just not that many people on the planet that … have every box checked, so to speak,” said ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who was part of a 2005 draft class that produced better than most. It included Charlie Frye (7-16 record in games started) in Round 3, Kyle Orton (42-40) in Round 4, Orlovsky (2-10) in Round 5, Derek Anderson (20-29) in Round 6, Matt Cassel (36-45) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (59-86-1) in Round 7.

“It’s a good question [why the successes are so rare],” Orlovsky said. “… And I try to tell people, there’s a reason Patrick Mahomes gets $40 million a year or Dak Prescott gets $140 million.

“While a person like me or a quarterback that’s drafted in Round 3, 4, 5, 6, they have some of the boxes checked, they don’t have all the boxes checked. And that box might just have the initial dash of that check. So physical talent does come into play. And how well you perform with that physical talent at the highest level on a consistent basis comes into play.

“While I could make a decision in 2.4 seconds, Matt Ryan, who’s more physically talented, makes the decision in 2.2 seconds. That is a career of a difference, essentially. And I know that sounds small and silly, but that’s just the reality. And while Matt does it 65 out of 66 snaps, I might do it 61 out of 66 snaps. That is a career of a difference. … And that’s why the position is so hard.”

‘Often poorly evaluated’

There are plenty of factors that go beyond the quarterbacks themselves, including poor coaching fits, poor scheme fits or teams that lack patience. But Orlovsky’s explanation is the simplest:

It’s just really hard to be a successful NFL quarterback.

That goes for first-round picks, too. Only three of the 19 QBs drafted in Round 1 from 2010 to ’16 lasted more than five years with their original team (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill). Only Newton lasted more than six.

“I think it’s a position that oftentimes is poorly evaluated,” said Payton, who mocked the “mock drafts” that tend to skew expectations for quarterbacks.

Even Payton’s own team has had more success developing undrafted QBs, including Hill and Chase Daniel, than it did with 2015 third-round choice Garrett Grayson, who lasted just two years with the team.

“I think there’s so much that goes into it that it’s not perfect relative to a science,” Payton said. “Look, more of them are found in the early rounds, no question. And yet there are great exceptions where guys were taken a little bit later and had great success. So, it’s, ‘What you are looking for, what’s the vision for your club, what do you think they do well?’ And then, ‘Can they win?’

“Clearly we spend a lot of time on that position, and for good reason.”

Another popular explanation for why it has become harder to develop midround quarterbacks is because so many QBs with midround grades are actually being drafted in Round 1.

“Our draft-and-develop guys have almost become Round 1 instead of Rounds 2 and 3,” ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller said.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave a similar explanation, as did multiple team executives or scouts who said they have to select a quarterback much higher than their own team grades suggest if they want to get him.

One scout pointed out that teams have been more willing to take a chance on shorter quarterbacks, such as Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, at No. 1 overall in recent years, whereas in years past shorter QBs like Drew Brees and Wilson fell to Rounds 2 and 3.

“The five quarterbacks [projected to go in the top 10] this year, a lot of them in previous years wouldn’t be drafted that highly,” said Miller, who pointed to North Dakota State’s Trey Lance as a developmental prospect. “Players like [Wilson, Prescott and second-round pick Derek Carr] would likely be first-round picks in this day and age because of supply and demand. … You feel like you have to get one.”

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, who now works as an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio, said teams are also more willing to reach for QBs above their grade level in the middle rounds.

“Because if you strike gold or strike silver, for four years you’re gonna have a real bargain on your football team,” Dominik said.

‘More quality No. 2s’

Dominik, former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum and one current AFC GM all suggested another reason for the developmental struggles of all QBs: It’s much harder to read defenses and process information in the NFL than in college, where many have information relayed from the sidelines through pictures or hand signals.

Grayson, for one, admittedly struggled with absorbing the Saints’ lengthy play calls and relaying them with confidence in the huddle.

Dominik and Hall of Fame personnel executive Gil Brandt also added how hard it is to measure things like heart and work ethic.

But Dominik said success doesn’t just have to come in the form of home runs like Wilson or Prescott. Dominik experienced some middling success with midround QB picks Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, Josh Johnson and Mike Glennon when he was a personnel executive with the Bucs from 1997 to 2013.

“I think I’ve seen players get developed, but more into quality No. 2s,” said Dominik, who listedDrew Stanton and Colt McCoy, in addition to Cousins and Foles. “I think talent has kept their ceiling from exploding to being an elite talent — but I do think clubs and coaches are still developing them.”

This year, there are a handful of prospects who could tempt the Saints outside of those top five prospects. Orlovsky said Stanford’s Davis Mills “intrigues me a lot” and said he could see Mills being successful with a “really good surrounding football team.” It’s possible Mills won’t last until the Saints’ second-round pick at No. 60 overall, though.

And it’s obvious from talking to various analysts that there isn’t universal agreement on whether Mills, Florida’s Kyle Trask, Georgia’s Jamie Newman, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond or others are likely to pan out.

Payton stressed that the position is not a “must” for New Orleans this year, though Saints general manager Mickey Loomis did say during the Senior Bowl that he thinks “there’s a number of good quarterback prospects in this draft.”

“For you to draft a player in the second or third round, you have to love the player, you need to have a vision for him,” Loomis said. “I think playing the position, No. 1, and being successful at it is a difficult proposition in the NFL. So there’s that part of the development.

“But it can certainly occur and has occurred.”

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Ex-Austin Peay Governors DB Juantarius Bryant falls victim of Atlanta Falcons tryout hoax

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Juantarius Bryant thought he was heading to Georgia this weekend to try out for the Atlanta Falcons during the team’s rookie minicamp. When he arrived in Flowery Branch, though, he learned he had been the victim of a hoax instead.

Bryant, a defensive back from Austin Peay, was never actually contacted by the Falcons but instead by someone texting him from an Atlanta area code pretending to be defensive coordinator Dean Pees. So when Bryant arrived at the team’s facility Wednesday to get ready for his chance to accomplish an NFL dream, he was instead turned away.

“I do not know or understand why this has happened,” Bryant wrote in a Twitter message. “But I do know that everything happens for a reason. Yes, this was heart breaking for me, but just another stepping stone that I am not afraid to admit or overcome.

“At the end of the day, this will not make or break me. I will still continue to fight for my dreams because I know it’s what I really want.”

Bryant declined an interview with ESPN when reached Sunday and said he posted something about it publicly on Twitter to let people who have supported him know what was going on because he believed he had a legitimate invite to Falcons camp over the weekend.

“I am ready to move on from the situation and respectfully I do not feel like talking about it over and over again,” Bryant said in an email to ESPN. “Yes, whoever did this to me is very wrong, but I’m moving on from the situation and I forgive them for whatever reason they chose to do it.

“I honestly would not like the person who pulled this stunt on me to be publicly humiliated. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

Bryant, who is from Nashville, Tennessee, initially began his career as a walk-on at Austin Peay and became a first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference defensive back by his senior season in 2019 after making 107 tackles (2.5 for loss). In his career, he played in 43 games for Austin Peay with 242 tackles (8.5 for loss), eight passes defended, three forced fumbles and an interception.

The Falcons declined to comment about the situation to ESPN, but Bryant’s agent, Corey Alexander, tweeted that he has been in touch with the Falcons about what happened. A message left with Alexander seeking further comment was not immediately returned.

COVID-19 protocols limited the number of tryout players a team could have at its rookie minicamps the past two weeks. Atlanta had five players try out for the team this weekend — the maximum the team could have — and signed defensive lineman Olive Sagapolu, who was in training camp with the Detroit Lions last year, on Sunday.



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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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