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2021 NFL draft – Jeff Legwold ranks the top 100 prospects

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For years, folks in the NFL would often openly wonder if they needed to be in Indianapolis for the entire combine.

They would complain about the cold weather, saying they were counting the hours until they could hit the road, as they speed-walked through the convention center to another round of interviews. Then the combine was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the calls made to rank the best players in the 2021 NFL draft, many said they missed the sleet in Indianapolis as well as the chance to see people and get to know players.

Teams have done the work, as always, by plowing through the game video, making cross-country treks from one pro day to the next and talking to as many sources as possible about prospects. They have made the most of virtual visits and medical exams.

But there was still something missing from this year’s draft prep. It might show up in the quarterback frenzy at the top of the board, the fate of players who are coming off injury or evaluations of those who opted out of the 2020 season. But its impact will be known only in the seasons that follow.

Again, this isn’t a mock draft. It’s the top 100 players ranked, regardless of position. The top quarterbacks will certainly be selected well before where they’re slotted, because there are always two NFL draft boards — the quarterback board and the board for everybody else.

That multiplier might kick in more than ever before if passers go 1-2-3-4 for the first time in draft history.

And, as always, if you disagree with the rankings, rest assured, many in the league whom I have long respected have also done so.

Note: Best verified or electronically timed 40-yard dash in parentheses. With no combine, 40 times were verified with at least two separate evaluators. DNR = did not run a verified time.

*Denotes unverified height and/or weight.

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson, 6-foot-5⅝, 213 pounds (DNR)

He was 34-2 as a starter at Clemson and 52-2 in high school. Lawrence’s teams have a .956 winning percentage, two high school state titles, a national championship and no regular-season losses. Surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder earlier this year will have no impact on his draft status. Lawrence played the most high-stress downs against the best opponents of any quarterback on the board and flourished (nine career wins against Top 25 teams), throwing 90 touchdown passes with 17 interceptions for his career.

2. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida, 6-5⅝, 245 (4.44)

Some believe Pitts might be the top prospect on the board. He is a matchup migraine for defenses, with a large catch radius, quality hands and the ability to run crisp routes. Pitts finished his career as the Gators’ all-time leader in receiving yards by a tight end (1,492), including seven catches for 129 yards against Alabama this past season.

3. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama, 6-1, 175 (DNR)

The Heisman winner, whose wiry frame has been questioned by some, declined to be measured or weighed at the Senior Bowl and Alabama’s pro day, so his official height and weight were not available to teams until Smith was weighed and measured during his medical check in Indianapolis earlier this month. He also suffered a finger injury in his final game. Smith is the only receiver in SEC history with multiple games of four or more touchdowns and holds the SEC record for career receiving touchdowns (46), topping the previous record by 15.

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Take a look at the highlights from LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase as he gets ready to be one of the top receivers off the board in the NFL draft.

4. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU, 6-0⅜, 201 (4.38)

Chase opted out of the 2020 season but had 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019 with Joe Burrow as his quarterback. Quibble about his ability to get off press coverage, but he wins the ball and scores when he has it. He had eight 100-yard games and three 200-yard games in 21 career starts.

5.Rashawn Slater, T, Northwestern, 6-4½, 304 (4.89)

The three-year starter opted out in 2020. His work against Chase Young in 2019 should be enough to tamp down any narrative about moving to guard. Slater has started games at left and right tackle and has smooth footwork, balance and recovery skills.

6. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama, 5-10*, 182* (DNR)

Waddle missed much of this past season with a fractured ankle, returning for the national title game but limping through much of it. His return skills are elite, with a career punt return average of 19.3 yards, as is his speed, given that he routinely obliterates any cushion. Waddle has three of the five longest scoring receptions in Alabama history.

7. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama, 6-2, 208 (4.42)

Big corners always rise on the board on the draft weekend. Surtain started the last 38 games for the Crimson Tide and plays with the awareness and savvy people have come to expect from Nick Saban-coached defensive backs. A quality tackler in the open field, Surtain can play zone or press man and is a solid defender against the run.

8. Penei Sewell, T, Oregon, 6-4⅞, 331 (5.08)

Sewell opted out in 2020 after winning the Outland Trophy as a sophomore and becoming the third player in school history to be a unanimous first-team All-American. He allowed one sack in two seasons and none in his 926 snaps as a sophomore in 2019. Sewell showed remarkable athleticism at his pro day.

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Relive some of the incredible plays from Trey Lance’s college career.

9. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State, 6-3⅞, 224 (DNR)

Lance is a raw prospect brimming with potential and won’t even turn 21 until May. He played one game in 2020 — the only game the Bison played due to COVID-19 restrictions — and 20 teams sent scouts. Lance is smart, athletic and threw one interception in 318 career pass attempts. A team with patience and a plan will get an absolute gem.

10. Kwity Paye, OLB/DE, Michigan, 6-2½, 261 (4.58)

While some see a short strider with a somewhat underwhelming 11.5 career sacks, I see a guy who got moved all over the defensive front — with snaps at nose tackle — who has room to develop into far more. Paye missed time with a leg injury in 2020, but he plays with high effort, rockets out of his stance and pushes people off the ball.

11. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State, 6-2¾, 227 (4.45)

Fields works progressions, plays well in big moments, is smart enough to have been recruited by Harvard and tossed six TDs against Clemson despite taking a hit in the ribs that would have sent many to the emergency room. He averaged 244 yards passing in 22 games, with 63 TDs and nine interceptions.

12. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State, 6-3⅛, 246 (4.40)

Parsons has the coveted versatility to beat blocks in the run game, cover in the passing game, blitz and make plays all over the formation. Teams have questioned him extensively about a fight with a former teammate at Penn State — he was later named in a lawsuit against the school, coach James Franklin and another player that included charges of hazing. Parsons said after his pro day workout: “We all made mistakes when we were 17 or 18. … I know the type of person I’m becoming.”

13. Christian Darrisaw, T, Virginia Tech, 6-4¾, 322 (DNR)

Darrisaw has all of the attributes of a long-term solution at left tackle. He cuts off angles of the speed rushers and has shown the strength to stifle power-first guys. A product of his youth, he has been known to get spotty with the details — like his hand placement — but is a quality player who is ascending.

14. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, ILB, Notre Dame, 6-1½, 221 (DNR)

Some say he’s a safety, some say a weakside linebacker, some say a hybrid. I say figure it out, because Owusu-Koramoah can rocket to the ball carrier in run defense, cover in the passing game and blitz when needed. He won the Butkus Award in 2020 and had 24.5 tackles for loss in the last two seasons combined.

15. Alijah Vera-Tucker, G/T, USC, 6-4½, 308 (5.10)

Vera-Tucker was an All-Pac-12 player at guard before he opted out and then opted back in for the 2020 season to start at left tackle. Some evaluators see a future NFL guard, but his work this past season at tackle shouldn’t be dismissed. Vera-Tucker’s ability in pass protection and toughness make him one of the safest bets on the board.

16. Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama, 6-4⅛, 310 (4.93)

Barmore had a slow windup to start 2020, but his final three games, including the Tide’s two playoff wins, included 15 tackles, two for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. And he has one of the best first steps on the board.

17. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama, 6-1⅜, 232 (DNR)

Harris is a big back with elusiveness in a crowd and versatility in his game. He had 43 receptions in 2020, 70 receptions over his last two seasons and is sound in blitz pickup. In short, this is an NFL back who will contribute from day one.

18. Azeez Ojulari, OLB/DE, Georgia, 6-2¼, 249 (4.62)

When Ojulari learns some additional counters — and he will have to — there is a strong, quick, fiercely competitive pass-rusher waiting to happen. He led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks in 2020 (12.5 and 8.0). He had 69 quarterback pressures over the last two years.

19. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson, 5-10⅛, 215 (4.41)

It’s not just the elite speed, the 7.2 career yards per carry or the 74 career touchdowns, it is the fact that Etienne could turn many short throws in the NFL into enormous game-changing plays.

20. Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern, 6-0¼, 192 (4.39)

Newsome’s competitiveness in coverage can be seen on every snap, and he has enough athleticism and speed to match up with NFL receivers. He draws flags at times — 15 in 21 career games — but he’s too smart, smooth and talented to have that be a nagging issue long term.

21. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina, 6-0¾, 205 (4.38)

The penalty flags are a concern with Horn — five in seven games in 2020 — but he is a ready-made press-man corner. He did finish his career with more sacks (three) than interceptions (two), but with work on technique issues, his talent will produce more ball production.

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Check out the highlights that make TCU’s Trevon Moehrig a prospect in this year’s NFL draft.

22. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU, 6-0⅝, 202 (4.52)

The Jim Thorpe Award winner will give defensive coordinators options. Moehrig was a team captain and was voted most valuable special teams player early in his career. He created nine takeaways and knocked down 26 passes over the last two seasons combined.

23. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa, 6-4⅞, 259 (4.66)

The winner of the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards is a former high school quarterback who led his team to a state title as a senior. Collins is a rare combination of size and athleticism, a high-effort tackler in the run game with ability in coverage. He had four interceptions in 2020 and returned two for touchdowns.

24. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU, 6-2⅛, 210 (DNR)

Wilson romped through the Cougars’ 2020 schedule with six 300-yard games, two 400-yard games, 33 touchdowns and three interceptions. It was a meteoric rise for a player who threw 11 TDs and nine interceptions the year before. He had shoulder and hand surgery in 2019.

25. Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami, 6-6⅝, 266 (4.68)

A former high school safety, Rousseau has grown into one of the most intriguing pass-rushers on the board. He has an 83¼-inch arm span and has plenty of developmental room, but after opting out in 2020 and missing all but two games as a freshman in 2018 with an ankle injury, his résumé is the 2019 season, when he led the ACC in sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (19.5).

26. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech, 6-1, 207 (DNR)

Farley, who opted out in 2020, has had back issues in the last year, with a second surgery on March 23. His health will dictate his ranking on draft boards around the league. A former wide receiver for the Hokies, he has played defensive back for two seasons and led the ACC in passes defensed with 16 in 2019.

27. Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky, 6-3½, 234 (4.48)

Davis gets off blocks, has the closing speed to finish plays and can work in coverage. He finished the 2020 season with 102 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, a defensive touchdown and a blocked kick. He had seven games with at least 10 tackles this past season.

28. Teven Jenkins, T, Oklahoma State, 6-5⅞, 317 (5.02)

Watching Jenkins’ bruising work in the run game will lift the mood of any offensive line coach. He played at left tackle, right tackle and right guard in his 44 games with the Cowboys. He projects as a right tackle, but some believe he may move to guard. There are some footwork issues to clean up, but this is a future starter.

29. Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU, 6-2½, 205 (4.40)

Marshall played in seven games in 2020 before opting out for the last two games of the season. There were times when he seemed frustrated with all of the attention he received from opposing defenses with Ja’Marr Chase out and Justin Jefferson in the NFL. Marshall averaged more than 100 yards receiving per game and 15.2 yards per catch.

30. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida, 5-11⅝, 193 (4.38)

Toney needs some polish in his routes, but those who find a way to get the ball to him with a little room to work will reap the rewards. His combination of speed and elusiveness is seen over and over. Toney scored touchdowns rushing, receiving, passing and on a punt return.

31. Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami, 6-5½, 260 (4.58)

Phillips played one season for the Hurricanes after transferring from UCLA. His draft status will depend on how teams have graded him medically after multiple concussions, wrist and ankle injuries. He started all 10 of Miami’s games in 2020 and finished with 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

32. Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest, 6-3⅜, 274 (4.62)

Basham had 23 consecutive games during his career with at least one tackle for loss. If teams start with his effort and power, they can work with him on the rest. He needs to smooth some rough edges in his pass rush but presents plenty of versatility across a defensive front.

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Check out highlights from Alabama QB Mac Jones’ college career ahead of the 2021 NFL draft.

33. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama, 6-2⅝, 217 (DNR)

Surrounded by the best depth chart in college football, Jones had a historic 2020 season, with 4,500 yards passing, 41 passing touchdowns and four interceptions. He had eight games with at least four passing touchdowns, a 77% completion rate in 11 SEC games and two playoff wins.

34. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina, 5-9⅝, 212 (4.55)

Williams runs with power and vision and forced a pile of missed tackles. He had 19 rushing touchdowns in 2020, including four games with at least three rushing touchdowns. Some running backs coaches believe he is the best back on the board, but they also say he will need to be more consistent in the passing game.

35. Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi, 5-9½, 178 (4.36)

Moore will contribute immediately as a slot receiver with high-end route running to go with explosiveness. He had at least 10 receptions in seven of his eight games this past season, including 11 catches for 143 yards against Alabama. He also returned punts in three seasons and kickoffs as a freshman.

36. Jalen Mayfield, T, Michigan, 6-5¼, 326 (5.39)

He was a right tackle at Michigan, but Mayfield’s arm was measured at under 33 inches at his pro day, so that may indicate a move to guard. But the game video showed a consistent awareness with what is happening in front of him and the ability and willingness to finish blocks.

37. Landon Dickerson, C/G, Alabama, 6-5⅝, 333 (DNR)

The distance between Dickerson’s football grade (awesome) and medical grade (a concern) is almost galactic. He’s an NFL lineman in every way but suffered his second torn ACL this past season and missed time in two other seasons because of ankle injuries.

38. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri, 5-11⅛, 237 (4.59)

There will be some who say the work to be done in pass coverage should push him down the board. Consider this a hearty disagreement because Bolton is a high-effort, athletic tackler with plenty of stopping power. He had a five-game stretch in 2020 when he finished with at least 10 tackles four times, including 17 against Tennessee.

39. Joe Tryon, DE, Washington, 6-5, 259 (4.68)

Tryon is one opt-out player who has NFL teams intrigued. He started 14 games in his two seasons with the Huskies, so his résumé is limited. He has some work to be done in how he attacks linemen in the pass rush, but he’s a big-framed player who consistently wins at the point of attack.

40. Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia, 6-0⅝, 194 (4.31)

Some scouts had Stokes sub-4.3 (hand-timed) in his 40s at Georgia’s pro day, so he is one of the fastest players on the board. His work in run defense is a concern, but in coverage he should be able to play outside or in the slot. Stokes had a combined 13 pass breakups in the last two seasons.

41. Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington, 6-2⅞, 290 (4.89)

Onwuzurike opted out this past season, and while he flashed his ability, he didn’t perform as well at the Senior Bowl. It comes down to that performance vs. plenty of moments in game video where his strength and explosiveness are easy to see.

42. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky, 5-11½, 197 (4.35)

Joseph did not play in 2019 because of transfer rules, coming from LSU, and opted out with two game left in 2020. He has nine college starts on his résumé, and his play shows that lack of experience at times. But watch him against Alabama, where he had one of his four interceptions, to get a glimpse of the potential.

43. Samuel Cosmi, T, Texas, 6-5⅞, 314 (4.89)

In a year when so many abbreviated résumés are being considered, Cosmi’s 34 starts over the last three seasons for the Longhorns gives evaluators plenty to parse. He’s smart, plays with quality technique and has good movement skills in the run game.

44. Chris Rumph II, OLB, Duke, 6-2¾, 235 (DNR)

Rumph didn’t run or do drills at his pro day because of a hamstring injury, but he finished his career with 34 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in 36 games. He had at least two tackles for loss in nine games. His father, Chris, is the Chicago Bears‘ defensive line coach.

45. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State, 5-10⅛, 180 (4.41)

Over the first four games in 2020 alone, he had three interceptions and recovered two fumbles. He led the ACC in pass breakups in 2019 with 14 and started 23 games over his three seasons with the Seminoles. His overall awareness stands out, as he gets himself in the right spots.

46. Quinn Meinerz, C/G, Wisconsin-Whitewater, 6-2⅞, 320 (4.99)

Few players have pleasantly surprised evaluators in recent months as much as Meinerz, whose team had its season canceled due to COVID-19. With no games, Meinerz got to work and then dominated at the Senior Bowl. He took all the nastiness and physicality he showed in the 2019 season and upgraded his conditioning/technique to become a top-50 player.

47. Walker Little, T, Stanford, 6-7⅜, 313 (5.30)

Opinions on Little will vary from team to team, given that he opted out in 2020 after playing one game in 2019 because of a knee injury. He needs to build strength, but with his footwork, length and flexibility, this is a future left tackle.

48. Dillon Radunz, T, North Dakota State, 6-5¾, 301 (5.15)

After missing all but 15 plays of his freshman season due to a knee injury, Radunz started in his last 32 games for the Bison, including the one game in 2020. Some see a future NFL guard, but he plays with toughness and has been consistent in pass protection.

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Check out the best highlights from Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman’s college career.

49. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota, 6-0⅜, 190 (4.43)

Bateman has quality hands with good body control. He opted out in 2020 before returning to play five games. He finished with at least 100 yards receiving in three of those games. Bateman set freshman and sophomore receiving records at the school in 2018 and 2019.

50. Alex Leatherwood, G, Alabama, 6-5⅛, 312 (5.01)

Leatherwood started two seasons at left tackle and one at right guard. He plays with athleticism and has a top-tier consistency to his footwork that will enable him to contribute quickly in the NFL.

51. Jayson Oweh, DE/OLB, Penn State, 6-4⅞, 257 (4.39)

There were many strange but true things during the 2020 college football season; consider Oweh’s no sacks in seven games among them. That’s despite testing numbers of the rarest kind (his double-take 40 time to go with a 39½-inch vertical) and game video that shows a player who caused offenses plenty of problems.

52. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State, 6-2¾, 245 (4.56)

Much like with Oweh, some evaluators felt Browning’s potential should have equaled more production. He played strongside and weakside linebacker spots with the Buckeyes and is a player with coverage skills and pass-rush potential.

53. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse, 6-2½, 205 (4.50)

Some see Melifonwu as a safety/cornerback hybrid. Defensive backs with his kind of long frame, speed and man coverage abilities aren’t going to wait long to hear their names called. He had a combined 20 passes defensed in the past two seasons and had 42 solo tackles in 2020.

54. Ronnie Perkins, DE/OLB, Oklahoma, 6-2½, 253 (4.71)

At times Perkins seemed to lack the flexibility or proverbial bend some prospects have, but here’s to production: 32 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks in 33 career games. He was aided by the Sooners’ stunt-heavy approach, but this is a high-effort player whose skills should transfer to the NFL.

55. Aaron Robinson, CB, Central Florida, 5-11½, 186 (4.39)

The long list of cornerbacks whom teams have graded in the middle rounds of this draft could push Robinson down the board some. A transfer from Alabama — he played 13 games there as a true freshman in 2016 — he started 19 games over the past two seasons.

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Check out the best highlights from Purdue WR Rondale Moore’s college career.

56. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue, 5-7, 181 (4.33)

Moore played in three games this past season after missing all but four games in 2019 with a left knee injury. Speed, change of direction and potential as a returner make him a valuable prospect. He had six 11-catch games in 2018 — including 170 yards receiving and two touchdowns against Ohio State.

57. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma, 6-4½, 302 (5.11)

Talent evaluators often give an extra look to linemen with extensive wrestling backgrounds. Humphrey is a powerful player who understands what he sees in defensive fronts. Oklahoma’s coaches told scouts Humphrey did not surrender a sack during his final two seasons.

58. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State, 5-11⅜, 194 (4.50)

Many said Wallace opted out at halftime of the team’s bowl game last December, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said afterward the plan had been to pull Wallace from the game to “protect him” for the draft. He suffered a torn ACL in 2019 but finished his career with 14 100-yard games.

59. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU, 6-3¼, 232 (DNR)

Cox should be a multitasker in an NFL defense, with potential in a variety of personnel groupings. He did not run at a pro day due to a hamstring injury. He played last season for the Tigers as a graduate transfer from North Dakota State (258 tackles in three seasons there) and made the most of it, ranking third on the team in tackles (58) to go with three interceptions.

60. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State, 6-4¾, 256 (DNR)

Freiermuth had shoulder surgery in November that will impact where he lands. In a shallow pool of tight end prospects, he is the best blocker/receiver combo. He was named All-Big Ten by the league’s coaches in 2020 despite playing in four games.

61. Joseph Ossai, DE/OLB, Texas, 6-3¾, 256 (4.63)

Ossai played at inside linebacker early in his career but has shown far more pro potential as an edge player. He is inexperienced, with one full season in that role, but had 16 tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles in nine games during 2020. His testing numbers more resemble a wide receiver (41½-inch vertical, 10 feet, 11 inches in broad jump).

62. Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana, 5-11⅞, 205 (4.58)

Johnson was the first Hoosiers safety to be selected first-team All-Big Ten since Eric Allen in 1996. He fits the needs of many defensive coordinators in today’s NFL — a player who can play safety and work in the slot at times. He had four interceptions in eight games in 2020, including two against Ohio State.

63. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas, 5-11¾, 193 (4.41)

Rochell played in 42 games during his career, with 28 starts over the past three seasons. He’s a big-reach defensive back with great athleticism. He wasn’t tested much by opposing quarterbacks this past season but had 10 career interceptions with 38 pass breakups.

64. Payton Turner, DE/OLB, Houston, 6-5½, 268 (DNR)

He didn’t run the 40 at his pro day due to turf toe, but he posted quality numbers in drills. A three-year starter, Turner had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in just five games in 2020. He knocked down 10 passes and blocked two kicks during his career.

65. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan, 6-4⅛, 215 (4.45)

He opted out for 2020 but has size and speed and wins contested catches. Some will say Collins needs work to beat press coverage more consistently, but he has consistent hands, powers into his routes, has elite top speed and averaged 19.7 yards per catch during his last full season on the field.

66. Elijah Molden, CB, Washington, 5-9½, 192 (DNR)

He’s the closest defensive back on this draft board to the savvy and instincts of Chris Harris Jr. Molden’s football intellect is clear on every snap and he will be able to play in the slot from the moment he arrives.

67. Stone Forsythe, T, Florida, 6-8, 307 (5.13)

Forsythe played in 40 games for the Gators, starting 28. A player with his kind of reach — 83¼-inch arm span — who has shown a proficiency in pass protection is worth a long look. He is not what some coaches will prefer in a power-run game, but in a pass-first league he is a prospect with a bright future.

68. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon, 6-0⅝, 207 (4.47)

Holland was an opt-out this past season and some have dropped the “can’t run” label on him, but his timed speed (4.47) shows up on the game video, especially in 2019, when he finished with 66 tackles to go with four interceptions. He has also returned punts.

69. Spencer Brown, T, Northern Iowa, 6-8¼, 311 (4.94)

A three-sport athlete in high school, Brown has the movement skills to get a look as a left tackle in the league, though he started 31 games at right tackle at Northern Iowa. He did not play in 2020 because his team’s season was canceled.

70. Davis Mills, QB, Stanford, 6-3¾, 217 (4.82)

Mills is certainly a work in progress given he played in just 14 games during his career with the Cardinal mostly due to knee injuries. He shows a lot of potential as a play-action passer and he has the arm strength to challenge coverages in the deep middle as well as up the sidelines.

71. Liam Eichenberg, T, Notre Dame, 6-6⅛, 306 (DNR)

The All-American has a proven résumé given he played 43 games as a three-year starter for the Irish. While Eichenberg started at left tackle for Notre Dame, he might face a move to the right side as a pro given he is not as fluid in his movements as some of the other prospects on the board.

72. Milton Williams, DT/DE, Louisiana Tech, 6-3, 284 (4.67)

Williams will need the right fit, but his testing numbers, at 284 pounds, are double-take worthy. He was a two-year starter with 19 tackles for loss in the past two seasons combined.

73. Josh Myers, C, Ohio State, 6-5¼, 310 (DNR)

He did not work out at the Buckeyes’ pro day due to a toe injury after surgery earlier this year. Myers did not play center, even in high school, until Ohio State coaches moved him there in 2019. He plays with awareness and toughness and is considered one the safest picks on the board.

74. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia, 6-1, 193 (4.40)

Campbell started 24 games over the past three seasons and has the size, speed, athleticism and gobs of potential required. He needs to smooth some rough edges in his technique and some defensive backs coaches wonder how he finished his career with one interception.

75. Jackson Carman, G/T, Clemson, 6-4⅞, 317 (DNR)

Carman had back surgery earlier this year and did not work out at Clemson’s pro day. He started this past season at left tackle for the Tigers, but with his power — his initial pop simply shocks defenders at times — and awareness he is most likely suited to be a guard or right tackle. He played in 40 games, starting 27 over his three seasons.

76. Richie Grant, S, Central Florida, 5-11⅝, 197 (4.57)

Grant is the poster player for ball production with 10 interceptions to go with six forced fumbles over the past three seasons. He is active, versatile and forced the issue along the line of scrimmage. There are some busts in coverages at times, especially in the red zone.

77. Aaron Banks, G, Notre Dame, 6-5⅜, 325 (5.34)

He has overwhelmed defenders with power over the past three seasons, but improved footwork is needed against quicker interior rushers. Banks started 28 games over the past three seasons, playing in 38 overall.

78. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State, 6-3⅝, 315 (DNR)

Davis, a two-time All-American who left the national championship game with a knee injury, didn’t run or do other testing at the Buckeyes’ pro day, but he did go through position drills. He is a far more proficient blocker in the run game at this point but has the potential to start as a rookie.

79. Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame, 6-3⅜, 241 (4.65)

Some evaluators want more of a receiver at the position in this day and age, but Tremble presents an intriguing developmental player given the bring-it-on physicality as a blocker he has paired with plenty of potential as a receiver. He did not have a touchdown catch in 2020 and had four in his two seasons.

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Check out the best highlights from Iowa DT Daviyon Nixon’s college career.

80. Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa, 6-3⅛, 313 (4.90)

The defensive line coaches who want a more athletic player over a mauler on the interior will prefer Nixon. His athleticism was on display during a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown. He led the Big Ten in tackles for loss in 2020 with 13.5.

81. Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson, 5-9½, 212 (4.52)

Rodgers, who tore an ACL in 2019 spring practice and returned by Week 2 that season, has worked drills at running back in the pre-draft season and will need the right fit. He has had some drops that are concerning, but offsets that with broken tackles, contested catches and run-away play speed in the open field.

82. Brady Christensen, T, BYU, 6-5¼, 302 (4.90)

Christensen played in 38 games over the past three seasons at left tackle, but figures to get his first NFL look at right tackle. He plays with power at the point of attack in the run game and showed plenty of awareness in pass protection.

83. Deonte Brown, G, Alabama, 6-3¼, 344 (5.57)

Scouts noticed Brown put in the work between the Senior Bowl, where he weighed 364 pounds, and his pro day, when he weighed 344. He was suspended six games by the NCAA “due to a violation of team rules and policies,” coach Nick Saban said. He is a masher on the interior who smoothly works in double-teams and plays with assignment responsibility.

84. Shakur Brown, CB/S, Michigan State, 5-9¾, 185 (4.64)

He consistently ran with the top receivers on opposing offenses, so teams are going to have to look beyond the timed speed. Brown competes on every snap to make every play and understands what he’s looking at — he had five interceptions in seven games during 2020.

85. Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State, 5-10⅝, 184 (4.51)

Johnson’s team had its fall season canceled in 2020 so he had to make the most of his week at the Senior Bowl. In a deep pool of receivers, he might not be a Day 2 pick for some, but he’s a multisport athlete who can return kicks with 2,554 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

86. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC, 5-11½, 197 (4.51)

He doesn’t have the top speed of some of the other receivers in this draft, but Brown’s a polished route runner who knows how to create space for himself. He had 41 receptions and seven TDs in six games this past season.

87. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota, 6-3¼, 202 (4.55)

He played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2017 at Michigan before he transferred to Minnesota. Some might try St-Juste at safety, but his best football is in front of him. He competes on every snap and, with patience, could be a future starter.

88. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford, 6-1, 198 (4.45)

Adebo is one of the tougher evaluations on the board as he opted out in 2020 after missing three games in 2019 with an injury. His last full season was 2018, when he led all FBS players with 24 passes defensed.

89. Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina, 5-7⅞, 201 (4.54)

Carter topped 20 receptions in three seasons, averaged 6.6 yards per carry over his career — 514 carries — had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He will stick his nose in there on pass protection and can return kicks. That’s a high-value player.

90. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M, 6-2⅝, 211 (4.62)

He started 44 games during his career, playing in 48. Mond’s accuracy outside the numbers needs to be better, but a closer look at his 2020 season showed a calmer player than in previous seasons. He showed good work in play-action with the athleticism to throw on the move and participate in the run game. Mond has a smooth delivery and in the right hands should improve quickly.

91. Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina, 6-2⅛, 229 (4.59)

Surratt started his career as a quarterback (threw for 1,342 yards, rushed for 210 as a freshman), so he has plenty of room to grow as a defensive player. He consistently shows pedal-to-the-metal effort, was a team captain and had two 90-tackle seasons to go with 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks over the past two years.

92. James Hudson, T, Cincinnati, 6-4¾, 313 (5.34)

Hudson has a short résumé with three games played at Michigan in 2018, one game in 2019 after a waiver to become immediately eligible at Cincinnati was denied following his transfer and 10 games this past season. He should improve quickly because his movement skills flash plenty of potential.

93. Kendrick Green, C/G, Illinois, 6-1⅞, 305 (4.89)

He arrived at Illinois as a defensive lineman before he moved to offense during his redshirt year. Green started games at left guard and center for the Illini. He has rare athleticism with positional versatility and room to develop some additional consistency in pass protection.

94. Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn, 6-0, 186 (4.30)

Some scouts had him sub-4.3 (hand-timed) at his pro day, which is not surprising for a guy who set a world youth record in the 100 meters (10.15) at the 2017 Florida Relays. Schwartz’s production was spotty in Auburn’s limited passing attack and he has been inconsistent with his hands at times. But he affects defenses and has plenty of developmental room.

95. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama, 6-1¾, 235 (DNR)

Moses suffered a torn ACL before the 2019 season and posted on social media this past January he considered quitting football during the 2020 season because of knee pain. The medical exam will determine his placement for many teams. As a player he has vast potential, with 80 tackles in 2020 to go with 6.5 tackles for loss.

96. Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina, 6-0⅝, 189 (4.45)

The drops will cause a headache or two initially, but he caught enough balls to be the first player in the program’s history to have two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Brown had eight career touchdowns of at least 40 yards. He scored a touchdown every 5.9 catches during his career and averaged at least 20 yards per catch in two seasons.

97. Divine Deablo, S, Virginia Tech, 6-3¼, 226 (4.45)

Some evaluators say Deablo is one of the top two safeties on the board. He’s big enough to participate in run defense, but quick enough to cover tight ends. In short, he is exactly the kind of player defensive coordinators want right now. He played 51 games, had three 50-tackle seasons and finished 2020 with four interceptions.

98. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee, 6-5½, 321 (5.11)

Smith has the reach to hold off pass-rushers — 82 1/8-inch arm span — the power to move people in the run game and the potential to be far better a year from now. He did miss spring practice in 2018, and missed time later in the 2018 season, with blood clots in his lungs, but started 22 games over the past two seasons without any issues.

99. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida, 6-5¼, 236 (5.08)

Trask threw for 4,283 of his 7,386 career passing yards this past season and had nine consecutive games with at least three touchdowns in 2020. He has the arm and accuracy, but needs to clean up some footwork issues and will have to show he can move in the pocket well enough to protect himself to be a long-term option.

100. Malcolm Koonce, DE/OLB, Buffalo, 6-2¼, 249 (DNR)

Through the years, No. 100 isn’t always the 100th-best player, but someone I believe will succeed and deserves more attention. Past No. 100s have included wide receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, and last year it was linebacker Davion Taylor (selected at No. 103 by Philadelphia). Koonce missed the Senior Bowl and did not run at his pro day due to a foot injury, which might push him down the board. He had 14 sacks over his final 19 games. His long reach and quick feet (though not as refined, think Elvis Dumervil-esque) were consistently a problem for blockers.

Close, but not quite: Alim McNeill, DT, NC State; Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville; Patrick Jones II, DE, Pitt; Tyler Shelvin, DT, LSU; Bobby Brown III, DT, Texas A&M; Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State; Jaylon Moore, T, Western Michigan; Jordan Smith, OLB/DE, Alabama-Birmingham; Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State; Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse; Hunter Long, TE, Boston College; D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan; Dayo Odeyingbo, DE, Vanderbilt; Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State; Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee; Ben Cleveland, G, Georgia; Jay Tufele, DT, USC; Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis; Ar’Darius Washington, S, TCU.

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Whom does Patriots top pick Mac Jones study most? Starts with Tom Brady – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Mac’s models: Just as the Tampa Bay BuccaneersTom Brady has leaned heavily on personal quarterback coaches Tom Martinez and Tom House over his career, Patriots first-round draft pick Mac Jones has done the same.

Joe Dickinson, who first started coaching as a graduate assistant in the 1980s under Barry Switzer at Oklahoma, has been with Jones since an initial meeting at the DeBartolo Sports Camp in Jacksonville, Florida, when Jones was 11.

The two communicate daily, such as Saturday when Dickinson’s phone buzzed with a text at 5:50 a.m. It was Jones.

“He said, ‘Hey, Coach, are you ready to go to work?'” Dickinson told ESPN.com in a phone interview.

Dickinson said the early-morning text reflects Jones’ relentless work ethic and passion for the game. As Jones takes the early steps of hoping to become the Patriots’ succession plan to Brady, Dickinson pointed out that Jones has long studied Brady’s game.

“Tom Brady is a huge idol to him, since he was a young guy,” said the 64-year-old Dickinson. “I had a buddy of mine from the NFL who would get me New England film, and we looked at that a lot, because he was a master of going to the right guy. He loves Brady, because he’ll cut your heart out with a dull spoon.”

For Patriots followers becoming more familiar with the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Jones, and what he hopes to become, the quarterbacks he watches closest with Dickinson provide an introductory guide.

“He studied Tom Brady the most. Then Drew [Brees], because Mac knows his own capabilities. Drew might not have the biggest gun in the fight, so he has to have fast eyes. While Mac has a lot stronger arm than people think he does, and he’s more athletic than people think he is, he’s a huge student of the game and he has the fastest eyes.”

Jones hasn’t limited himself to just Brady and Brees, mixing in others such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes with a goal of “trying to learn from the best.”

As Dickinson was relaying that information, he started to laugh. His phone was buzzing again with a text message from Jones. He wasn’t surprised.

Jones told him he’d be back in Birmingham, Alabama, at 1:15 p.m., and wanted to finalize the details for a one-on-one throwing session with him. After two days of draft excitement and hype — from Cleveland to New England to Alabama — it was time for Jones to get back to work.

2. QB economics: Jones’ contract with the Patriots will be four years, $15.58 million, fully guaranteed, and include an $8.6 million signing bonus. The deal, like all first-round picks, will include a fifth-year option. That’s a great contract for the Patriots — assuming Jones pans out. Had Jones gone to the 49ers at No. 3, he would have signed a four-year, $34.105 million deal that was fully guaranteed.

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Check out the best highlights from Alabama DT Christian Barmore’s college career.

3. Intel on Day 2 picks: A brief reach-out to some scouts/personnel men on the Patriots’ Day 2 picks — Alabama’s defensive tackle Christian Barmore (second round, No. 38) and Oklahoma’s outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins (third round, No. 96) — confirmed the initial impression that both weren’t expected to be available at those picks based on pure talent alone. So both seemed to be a case of how teams balance talent with the fact these are young men who are still maturing. Barmore had a challenging training camp, posted on social media that he wanted out of Alabama, and had deleted Alabama references from his accounts before playing his best football late in the season. And Perkins reportedly failed a drug test that led to a suspension, limiting him to six games. They both get a fresh start in New England, where their talent is less of a question than how they adapt maturity/culture-wise.

4. Mills as QB2?: The Patriots obviously felt good about Jones falling to them at No. 15, but as usual, they were prepared for multiple scenarios, having spent considerable time and resources on the second tier of quarterbacks. Who might have been their target? The Texans’ selection of Stanford’s Davis Mills early in the third round (No. 67) is the strongest evidence to me that he was the Patriots’ Plan B, as first-year Texans general manager Nick Caserio grew up in the New England system.

5. Windy welcome: When Jones arrived in town Friday and took part in the traditional photo shoot for a first-round draft pick with owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft, there were wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph. At one point as he stood on the stage at the 50-yard line, answering questions from reporters, the Jacksonville native stopped and said, “I’m going to have to get used to this.” He said it reminded him of the windy days when he would bring his football to the beach and throw there.

6. Mac’s timetable: When coach Bill Belichick didn’t wait for a question from a reporter after the first round and instead decisively declared Cam Newton is the team’s quarterback until further notice, some might have viewed him as being stubborn and fiercely loyal to Newton. The view here is different, however. Everyone knows the Patriots selected Jones to be their quarterback of the future, so the question is more “when” than “if” he’s handed the reins to show what he can do. But a foundational principle of the Patriots’ program is showing the type of commitment, work ethic and leadership to earn the respect of teammates and coaches, and there’s a process that still has to unfold over time. No one is handed anything until it does.

7. Bam(a), Bam(a): The Patriots selected back-to-back Alabama players with their first two picks in the 2021 draft (Jones and Barmore), and then back-to-back Oklahoma players after that (Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson), which is the type of double dip at one school that has been commonplace under Belichick. It marked the sixth and seventh times, respectively, under Belichick that the Patriots have gone back-to-back at the same school: Rohan Davey/Jarvis Green (2002, LSU), Jermaine Cunningham/Brandon Spikes (2010, Florida), Logan Ryan/Duron Harmon (2013/Rutgers), Joe Thuney/Jacoby Brissett (2016/NC State) and Isaiah Wynn/Sony Michel (2018/Georgia). Only one team has done what the Patriots did this year (first two picks from one school, next two picks from another school): the 1992 Los Angeles Rams, with Pittsburgh’s Sean Gilbert and Steve Israel, and then LSU’s Marc Boutte and Todd Kinchen.

8. Wynn’s option: Monday marks the deadline for the Patriots to make a decision on the fifth-year options for 2018 first-round picks Wynn and Michel, with the team taking it down to the wire. Doing so for Wynn, the starting left tackle, would fully guarantee him $10.4 million in 2022. If the Patriots had selected an offensive tackle in the first three rounds of the draft, it might have swayed the decision. But since they didn’t, the safe play would be to pick it up, even though Wynn’s availability hasn’t been ideal because of injuries. For Michel, the No. 2 running back, it would be $4.5 million — which likely will be too rich for the team’s liking.

9. BB salutes Adams: Belichick called football research director Ernie Adams’ impact on the Patriots’ organization “historic” on Saturday night, tipping his cap to him while announcing Adams had concluded his final draft with the franchise. Adams and Belichick met at Phillips Andover Academy, with Adams first joining the Patriots in 1975 as an administrative assistant and assistant offensive coach under Chuck Fairbanks. Belichick noted that things the Patriots do now trace back to those years with Fairbanks and personnel czar Bucko Kilroy, crediting Adams for “being part of the process and the way he set it up and taught it to all the people who have come through here — from Scott [Pioli] and Nick [Caserio], to all the scouts.” ESPN’s Wright Thompson previously wrote about Adams as a secret to the Patriots’ success, and now Matt Patricia seems to be stepping into at least part of that role.

10. Did You Know: When the Patriots selected Jones at No. 15, it marked the second time in the common draft era (since 1967) that five quarterbacks were selected within the top 15. The other year was 1999 — Tim Couch (1), Donovan McNabb (2), Akili Smith (3), Daunte Culpepper (11) and Cade McNown (12).



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Jets should acquire this veteran QB to complete Project Zach Wilson – New York Jets Blog

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

1. In Nick of time? General manager Joe Douglas did a nice job of surrounding rookie Zach Wilson with players, using his second, third and fourth draft picks to build the offense, but the “Making of a Quarterback” project still is missing an important piece:

An experienced backup quarterback/insurance policy/mentor for Wilson.

The ideal candidate is the Chicago BearsNick Foles, seemingly the odd-man out now that first-round pick Justin Fields is joining “QB1” Andy Dalton. Foles, 32, has lost nine of 11 starts over the past two years, but he and Douglas have a strong bond — the Super Bowl they won together as members of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.

The Jets should make a play for Foles, who has two years, $12 million left on his contract — including $9 million in guarantees. Obviously, the teams would have to work out a financial arrangement because it makes no sense for the Jets to trade for that contract as is. They could wait out the Bears, hoping they cut him, but it would cost more on the salary cap to release him than to keep him — whether it’s a post-June 1 cut or not.

Wilson needs a veteran at his side to help his growth, and the Jets don’t have anybody like that on the roster. Their other quarterbacks are James Morgan and Mike White, neither of whom has taken a regular-season snap. Foles is known as a team player who could function in the offense if called upon. They met recently with free agent Brian Hoyer, another good guy, but he hasn’t played effectively in years.

The Jets would love for Wilson to be their Week 1 starter, but there’s no guarantee. Of the past 11 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10, dating to 2017, only three were Week 1 starters — Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals), Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) and Sam Darnold (Jets).

“I really am excited about the guys we have,” Douglas said Saturday, commenting on whether he needs a veteran in the quarterback room. “That’s a conversation Coach [Robert Saleh] and I will get together on. Once the dust settles on this draft, we’ll talk about every [position].”

2. Three’s Company: The Jets’ first three picks — Wilson, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and wide receiver Elijah Moore — all ranked in the top 25 on their board and are expected to play significant roles as rookies. When was the last time that could be said about one of their drafts?

3. It’s catching on: The “Build-around-the-rookie-QB” concept is a leaguewide trend. Of the eight teams that drafted a quarterback in the first three rounds, six paired the quarterback with a new offensive lineman — a league high in the common-draft era (since 1967). Darnold must be wondering, “Why didn’t they do this for me?”

4. Joe goes O: Douglas is creating his own teams trends. Before he arrived, the Jets were known as a defensive-minded team that used first-round picks on 300-pound linemen. Now, look:

In two drafts, Douglas’ five highest-drafted players came on offense — Wilson (No. 2 overall), tackle Mekhi Becton (11th), Vera-Tucker (14th), Moore (34th) and wide receiver Denzel Mims (59th).

This is called adjusting to the new NFL.

5. ‘Big’ trade: If you’re keeping score on the trade of safety Jamal Adams:

Two of the four picks the Jets received from the Seattle Seahawks — Nos. 23 and 86 overall in this year’s draft — were dealt to the Minnesota Vikings in the move-up for Vera-Tucker. The Jets turned half the Adams trade into a 6-foot-4, 308-pound guard who will be a Day 1 starter — and they still have Seattle’s first- and fourth-round picks in 2022.

“He’s going to be an All-Pro guard,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Vera-Tucker. “He’s just one of the cleanest, safest picks in the whole draft.”

The downside is that it left the Jets with no third-round selections. Douglas considers those “premium” picks or projected starters. It’s tough to lose two of them, especially for a team with so many holes, but they were determined to get Vera-Tucker. He was one of the top-10 players on their board. Douglas was so pumped up to get him that he high-fived people in the draft room.

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Check out the best highlights from Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore’s college career.

6. Hard lesson: The low point of Moore’s Ole Miss career was the 2019 Egg Bowl, when he celebrated a touchdown by pretending to urinate like a dog. The crude gesture drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, pushing his team back and resulting in a missed extra point in a one-point loss. During the run-up to the draft, he was grilled about it by every team who interviewed him.

Douglas said he’s “confident that was just a one-time incident.” Moore, in a post-draft Zoom call with reporters, showed contrition, saying he learned “countless things” from the regrettable incident.

7. Did you know? The Jets have the league’s longest active drought of not drafting a Pro Bowl player on offense. The last draft to produce one actually produced two — tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold in 2006.

8. Knapp town: BYU legend Steve Young, an unofficial advisor to Wilson and his family during the pre-draft process, is hopeful that Zach can reverse the franchise’s bleak quarterback history. One of the reasons is the presence of Gregg Knapp, the Jets’ passing-game specialist. (Yes, that’s his title.) Young and Knapp go way back; Knapp was a San Francisco 49ers‘ assistant for several years during Young’s run as the starting quarterback in the late 1990s.

“I told his dad, Mike Wilson: If I had a son and I needed him to be coached and taken care of in a way that helps him play better football, I’d want Gregg to be part of it,” Young told ESPN. “That’s a huge plus.”

9. No Joshing: Wilson and Darnold have a common link: Josh McCown, the former Jets quarterback who mentored Darnold as a rookie in 2018 (and still does). Before the draft, Wilson called McCown to pick his brain on what to expect from playing quarterback in New York. McCown, who grew up in a small town in Texas, told him how he fell in love with the place after early apprehension about a big city. He also spoke glowingly of the Jets’ rebuilding effort under Douglas.

“I thought that was so cool to hear that from him,” Wilson said. “It gives you confidence in being able to go in there and it made it very comforting to know that I’m going into a great situation.”

10. A-Rod’s swag: Wilson grew up in Draper, Utah idolizing Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers. He always speaks of Rogers in reverential terms, but a lighthearted comment about him last fall turned into a thing. Wilson said in an interview, “He’s my guy. But as far as his swag, the way he dresses, he doesn’t have any. He has no swag.” Word got to Rodgers, who responded on the Pat McAfee Show.

“One college kid took a shot at my swag,” Rodgers said, “Swag is a mentality.”

11. Coach speak: Saleh’s mantra — “All gas, no brake” — is something he wears and speaks. When he spoke to drafted players by phone, he mentioned the phrase “all gas.” When he greeted Wilson at the facility on Friday, he was wearing a black T-shirt that said, “All gas, no brake.” Get used to it; you’re going to be hearing that a lot in the coming months.

12. The last word: “We were trying to corner the market on Elijahs and Michael Carters” — Douglas, who drafted a Michael Carter at running back (North Carolina) and a Michael Carter at safety (Duke).



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Tampa Bay Buccaneers make Houston’s Grant Stuard draft’s Mr. Irrelevant

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TAMPA, Fla. — Unlike many other NFL prospects, former University of Houston linebacker Grant Stuard wasn’t sent a box of hats for the 2021 NFL draft. The only NFL hat he owned was a vintage Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat his father brought over from Spring, Texas, on Saturday.

“He said something just told him to grab a hat because he’s a hat guy,” said Stuard, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection. “So he just grabbed a random hat that he had. He didn’t know what this was. I didn’t know what this was.”

It just so happened to be the hat of the team that called his name with the 259th overall and final pick of the draft, making him this year’s Mr. Irrelevant.

“When their pick was up and they were on the phone, he was pointing at the hat,” Stuard said of his dad. “I was like, ‘That’s just crazy.’ It was just by chance.”

Stuard getting to this moment wasn’t by chance, however. The leadership skills that led to him being voted a team captain at Houston? Those were cultivated at home. Though the two were together in Houston for one of the most important days of Stuard’s life, his relationship with his dad has been marked by ups and downs and absenteeism, and he fought to care for his siblings.

“My mom is a drug addict. … She used to work in the sex industry,” Stuard told ESPN on Saturday night. “My dad was in prison a good portion of our young life. Even when he wasn’t in prison, he was very absent when we were growing up. That results in both parents being absent the majority of the time.”

“It was bouncing from home to home,” Stuard said. “Sometimes we didn’t know if there was gonna be food on the table. We didn’t know if the lights were gonna be on. We didn’t know what school we were gonna go to.”

Stuard learned that in the grand scheme of things, an uncertain future in the NFL or being selected last is nothing compared with fighting to survive. He credits his faith, a village of people that helped raise him and football — the one constant he could turn to every August — for keeping him on track.

“There were a lot of people along the way — a lot of family members, a lot of teachers, a lot of coaches — that deserve worlds of credit for everything that they did,” Stuard said. “Whether it was bringing a meal, or my Nina paying a bill. There were people all over the place that just really gave back to us. So that’s why I’m really passionate about giving back with the little things I do as well.”

At his Houston pro day, Stuard raised money for Heels to Halos, a Christian organization helping women recover from sex trafficking. Stuard asked fans to pledge donations for each rep he performed on the bench press, with a goal of 25 reps. He wound up benching 28 reps, raising $5,210. He also put on back-to-school drives and toy drives.

“We love him as a person and, obviously, as a player,” general manager Jason Licht said Saturday. “He’s got a lot emotion on the field. He’s had a little bit of a tough life, he’s been taking care of his siblings. … He’s a very mature person, a very accountable person and a very accountable football player. Guys that can get through tough times and adversity — that’s a big box to check for us.”

So is Stuard’s special-teams ability, which was a focus for the Bucs on Day 3 of the draft. They love his speed, physicality and toughness and believe it will translate well onto their coverage units.

“He reminds me — this is going way back — I was with the Dolphins when we signed Larry Izzo out of Rice as an undersized linebacker that played with a huge heart,” Licht said. “He ended up making a great career for himself as a special teams linebacker. Not to say that we don’t think Grant has a chance to play linebacker — he’s going to be [an inside linebacker] for us on the field — but we think he’s got a chance to excel as a special-teams ace.”

Stuard said he hopes he can use his platform to help others going through similar obstacles, particularly those whose parents haven’t really been there for them in their life.

As for Stuard’s relationship with his family, both parents were with him when he got the phone call from Tampa Bay. His mother even popped in during his Buccaneers Zoom call with local media. His parents still have their struggles, but they’re improving, Stuard said.

“My mom … she pops in every now and again,” Stuard said. “My dad is doing much better. He definitely has improved. His involvement is a lot better. He’s becoming more involved and he helps my little brother with sports and stuff like that.”

Stuard said his major driving force is being a role model for his siblings. He and his wife plan to move at least one of his four siblings in with them.

“No matter what adversity comes in your life, there’s always a way out,” Stuard said. “If you just keep working hard, doing everything that you can and everything that you can control and really keep the Lord’s will first in your life, I truly believe that you will be successful. That’s pretty much the mindset that I have day by day when I wake up, is just doing everything with everything I have, because I know this is the only day that I have.”

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