Monthly Archives: January 2018

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How would the 2017 NFL draft have looked if teams knew then what they know now? How long would Deshaun Watson last? Would the Bears still pick Mitchell Trubisky to be their quarterback of the future? How early would Marshon Lattimore go?

With the regular season in the rearview mirror, our panel of NFL Insiders took a crack at re-drafting the first five picks of last year’s draft class. The panel included Matt Bowen, Mike Sando, Aaron Schatz, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates.

As a reminder, the actual top five of last year’s draft went as follows:

1. Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2. Bears: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
3. 49ers: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
4. Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
5. Titans: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Note: For the purpose of this re-draft, we reverted to the original 2017 draft order, before Chicago traded up to take Trubisky at No. 2. Cleveland held the first pick, followed by San Francisco, Chicago, Jacksonville and Tennessee.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Deshaun Watson

2018 NFL DRAFT
When: April 26-28
Where: Arlington, Texas
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Bowen: Defensive end Myles Garrett has the traits to become a star pass-rusher in the league, but Cleveland’s inability to hit on the quarterback position has consistently hindered the development of the entire franchise. That’s why I’m going with Watson here. From the high-level intangibles he brings onto the field to the dual-threat talent with which he attacks opposing defenses, Watson is a perfect fit for today’s NFL game and an answer to Cleveland’s long search for a leader at the position.

If we look back at Watson’s tape from 2017, and his 19 touchdowns in seven games before injuring his knee in practice, his ability to run a modern offense pairs with Hue Jackson’s philosophy. It’s the movement passes, the quick game, the shot throws off play-action and the RPOs (run-pass option) — with some QB runs sprinkled in. Play fast, open up throwing windows and use movement to dictate tempo from an offensive perspective.

With Watson in the mix, the Browns would most likely not be picking No. 1 overall again in the 2018 draft, and they also wouldn’t have added the No. 4 overall pick, which the Texans gave up last year in trading up for Watson. But if Cleveland had solidified its QB position last April, the Browns could have focused on building a winning culture around Watson, Josh Gordon and a solid offensive front this offseason. Instead, they’re still looking for their quarterback of the future.
2. San Francisco 49ers: DE Myles Garrett

Sando: Knowing the 49ers were able to land Jimmy Garoppolo from New England for a second-round choice made it easier — more defensible, at least — to bypass a quarterback in this re-draft. It’s not just me saying they might be able to find a QB another way. We all know they did exactly that, even though they could not have known how things would shake out when they traded back from the second overall spot on Day 1 of the 2017 draft.

Garrett was one of the most talented players in the class. Selecting him did not require much justification. He was there; I took him. Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore were the other players from the draft who stood out in my mind as alternatives. The 49ers already have a good running back, and they’re running a system that has succeeded in the past with quite a few backs with varied pedigrees. Lattimore’s injury history was still a slight concern in my mind, even though he played more games than Garrett did this past season.
The Bears traded up a spot to draft Mitchell Trubisky in 2017. Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

3. Chicago Bears: QB Mitchell Trubisky

Yates: Quarterback play is the function of player ability, coaching and circumstances. Immediate success is not entirely uncommon — Dak Prescott was an MVP candidate as a rookie in 2016 — but it should also not be the barometer to measure a quarterback after just one season in the NFL.

After all, Chicago drafted Trubisky with the intention of redshirting him, a plan that went awry because of the performance of Mike Glennon.

When reviewing Trubisky’s rookie campaign, particularly when bypassing other players such as Lattimore with this pick, it’s important to analyze beyond what the numbers — 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 59.4 percent completion percentage — tell us about him. Trubisky played within an offense whose top wide receiver for much of his time as the starter was either Dontrelle Inman, cast off by the Chargers for a late conditional draft pick, or Kendall Wright, who signed a one-year deal after not fully meeting expectations in Tennessee.

When the Bears hired Matt Nagy as their new head coach this offseason, a prevailing narrative was that the team aspires to recreate a Sean McVay-Jared Goff dynamic with Nagy and Trubisky. That isn’t a certainty to happen given how expediently McVay and Goff found success, but if the Bears passed on Trubisky in this spot, the team would have had — and still have — a massive quarterback quandary.

Banking on player development via a strong coaching staff that would be in place for Trubisky’s second year plus the undeniable talent he brings to the table, he remains the pick at No. 3 overall.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Patrick Mahomes II

Schatz: After a 10-6 playoff season, I’m sure the Jaguars still feel good about their selection of Leonard Fournette. But I’m a strong believer that you don’t take a running back this high in the draft — especially one who won’t even average 4 yards per carry as a rookie. Kamara was the best rookie running back, but he doesn’t really fit the power style the Jaguars want from their lead back, so he wouldn’t make sense here either.

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The Jaguars are so imbalanced that it seems absurd to suggest they needed a defensive player with the No. 4 pick. Lattimore or Tre’Davious White would be fantastic additions to most teams, but Jacksonville already has two outstanding outside corners (Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye) and a reasonable nickelback (Aaron Colvin).

No, the Jaguars need to be honest with themselves about their need at the most important position in the game: quarterback. Yes, Blake Bortles ranked 12th in ESPN’s Total QBR metric this season, but that was his best career finish by far, and the positive performance was grouped into a handful of games. Overall, Bortles was the least consistent quarterback in the league.

He has four years of experience now. It’s probably never going to get better than this. The Jaguars need to find a quarterback who can carry the team even on days the defense doesn’t have a stellar performance. And a team that wants to build on defense and running the ball needs a quarterback with a big arm who can take advantage of the play-action opportunities deep. So, say hello to Mahomes, who in our re-draft world is now the heir apparent to Bortles in Jacksonville instead of Alex Smith in Kansas City. Mahomes was the highest-rated quarterback last year in Football Outsiders’ QBASE projections, and the success of Goff and Case Keenum in 2017 means less reticence about drafting a quarterback out of an Air Raid college system.

 

5. Tennessee Titans: CB Marshon Lattimore

Seifert: The Titans entered the draft with two first-round picks, along with clear needs at receiver and defensive back. They chose receiver Corey Davis at No. 5 and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson at No. 18.

Davis proved to be a promising — if late-developing — prospect. Jackson had a solid rookie year. But it’s now clear that Lattimore is a special player, one who earned Pro Bowl honors and was one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks by the end of the season.

In this version, the Titans get the best cover man in the draft at No. 5 and then sift through the remaining receivers at No. 18 or beyond — such as JuJu Smith-Schuster or Cooper Kupp, who weren’t drafted until the second and third rounds, respectively.

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J.J. Watt, Greg Olsen and Benjamin Watson are finalists for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

The recipient of the award that recognizes a player’s contribution in his community and to society in general will be revealed on Feb. 3 at NFL Honors, when The Associated Press announces its individual NFL awards.

Humbled & honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as Walter Payton. Also happy to share the nomination with @BenjaminSWatson and @gregolsen88 who are both extremely deserving. This is so much bigger than just one man. It’s about the good in all of humanity.

— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 21, 2018
Houston defensive end Watt, in his seventh NFL season and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, had the goal of raising $200,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief in Houston.

His fundraising did a whole lot more, bringing in an incredible $37 million in 19 days. Watt has dedicated himself to finding organizations that will apply the funds in a way he has promised both donors and victims of the storm.

“For me, this nomination is about so much more than one man,” Watt tells The Associated Press. “It’s about the hundreds of thousands of people who helped donate to those who went through an extremely difficult time and rose above it all.

“I also know this is about honoring the city and its people.”

Watt says he noticed something special evolving from his involvement in the fundraising efforts.

“I learned how much good there is in the world, how humanity steps up to the plate when they see fellow humans going through difficult times,” he says. “From my high school and from kids with their lemonade stands … to seeing people putting aside any differences and rivalries and helping out … and how they wanted to donate to be good people and help their fellow humans. It shows how much good light there is in the world.”

Carolina tight end Olsen, who just finished his 11th pro season, has put together two initiatives, one to fight breast cancer, the other to help youngsters with a congenital heart defect.

Olsen’s mother is a breast cancer survivor, and in 2009 he founded Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. The Foundation’s “Receiving Hope” focuses on cancer research and education programming.

In honor of being 1 of 3 finalists for Man of the Year, we are launching the “Man of the Year Match”. Today thrU Feb 4th, my wife and I will MATCH the first $100,000 raised to support the families @LevineChildrens thru our HEARTest Yard program! Visit https://t.co/ZzrtugHHyi now pic.twitter.com/9073QeD325

— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) January 21, 2018
In early 2013, Greg and his wife, Kara, founded the HEARTest Yard Fund after a routine examination of their unborn son, T.J., revealed the infant had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). It’s a family service program administered in conjunction with Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

“We meet with the hospital staff and the nurses and doctors and go into these homes,” Olsen explains. “Just to see and hear the families and have them relay the stories about this program and … what the lives of these families would be like without our program. To hear how it is helping their family life and family dynamic is something far beyond what we imagined.

“It’s been fun watching it grow and have such an impact.”

Baltimore tight end Watson, a 14-year pro, assists countless people through his charitable arm, the One More Foundation.

Most recently, One More partnered with the International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat human trafficking, modern day slavery and other forms of violence against the poor. Benjamin and his wife, Kirsten, joined the global fight to end the scourge of sex trafficking.

“There are 2 million children worldwide involved in sex traffic and exploitation,” he says. “This slavery issue is really a big deal that kind of goes on unnoticed and unheralded.

We are a brotherhood filled with men of great character integrity and charity. I’m honored to represent all of them, my family and my Savior in joining @gregolsen88 and @JJWatt as a finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year.

— Benjamin Watson (@BenjaminSWatson) January 21, 2018
“People want to help, a lot of times people don’t know how. The problems of the world seem so overwhelming that they do not know where to start. We provide people the opportunity to do something for someone.

“Whenever you help somebody, they end up helping you and you learn as much from them as they do from you.”

Olsen broke into the NFL with the Bears. So the Payton legacy is more than a familiar one for him.
“Playing in Chicago for four years, I saw firsthand what the Payton family has meant to the city and the community,” he says. “I was a teammate with Walter’s son, Jarrett, at the University of Miami for a year, kept in contact with him. It’s interesting how many parallels there are. They have a great foundation that does a lot of great work.”

The three finalists emphasize that hundreds of their peers are doing similar work, selflessly and without fanfare.

“A lot of guys are doing those things, more than what people know,” Watson notes. “One thing I always wanted to do is take advantage of the opportunities as long as I play and after I play.

“We obviously have some influence. Yes, as NFL players … we have the ability to be more visible. Everybody has a sphere of influence they can affect positively, whether it is 10 people or 10,000 people. I want to use it to help people and advocate for people whenever I can, to be someone who stands for what is just and kind and right.”

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Adrian Gonzalez has agreed to a deal with the New York Mets pending a physical, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

It’s the second significant move this past week for the Mets, who brought back free-agent outfielder Jay Bruce on a three-year, $39 million contract Wednesday.

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Gonzalez gives the Mets a veteran presence at first base, where Lucas Duda and Dominic Smith mainly played for them last season. Duda was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays during the season, and Smith, 22, struggled offensively, batting just .198.

Gonzalez spent the past six seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers but was limited to 71 games in 2017 because of a herniated disk in his back that put him on the disabled list for a long stretch. When he returned, National League Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger had taken over for the NL champion Dodgers.

Los Angeles traded Gonzalez to the Atlanta Braves last month as part of the Matt Kemp deal. Atlanta, in turn, quickly released him, making him a free agent.

Gonzalez, 35, is owed $21.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Mets would owe him just $545,000, with Atlanta paying the rest.

USA Today first reported the agreement between Gonzalez and the Mets.

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PHOENIX — Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson were fourth overall picks in the draft: Bender in 2016, Jackson in 2017.

Both are just 20 years old, and the jury is out on whether they deserved to go that high.

They sure looked good Sunday night, though.

Bender scored 17 of his career-high 20 points in the second half, Jackson had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the first double-double of his rookie season, and the Phoenix reserves played a big role in the Suns’ 114-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We’re trying to develop young players here and they both stepped up big-time today,” Suns interim coach Jay Triano said. “I thought they played really well together. Josh would drive and kick and find Dragan on the perimeter and I think there’s a comfort level really developing with those two.”

Bender made a career-best six 3-pointers, going 5 of 6 in the second half. The Suns beat the Thunder for the third straight time dating to last season, with all three wins coming in Phoenix.

Russell Westbrook had his 14th triple-double of the season and second in a row with 26 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but Oklahoma City never led after the first quarter. Paul George added 19 points and Steven Adams 18 for the Thunder.

Devin Booker scored 26 and T.J. Warren 23 for Phoenix.

The Suns made a season-high 17 3s in 39 attempts while Oklahoma City was 8 of 27.

“We like the way we played,” Triano said. “We shot a lot of 3s, which is what we want to do. We got into our drive-and-kick game. I thought we were solid defensively. I think they missed a bunch of shots as well. This is a game that we feel really good about and it’s a step for us. It’s a step for us for sure.”

Booker’s 3-pointer gave Phoenix a 74-60 lead with 7:56 left in the third, but the Thunder responded with a 15-2 run. Westbrook made one of two free throws to cap the outburst and cut the lead to 76-75 with 5:03 left in the period.

Bender’s 3 ignited a 14-4 Suns surge, Jackson’s 3-pointer boosting the lead to 90-79 with 32 seconds left in the quarter. Carmelo Anthony’s three-point play cut the lead to 90-82 entering the fourth.

Bender sank two more 3s to start a 14-2 outburst that put Phoenix up 107-89 after Tyler Ulis’ 3-pointer with 6:42 remaining.

“All my 3s in the second half were wide-open 3s,” Bender said. “We moved the ball really well. They gave us some open shots.”

Bender also had six rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

The Thunder had beaten the Lakers and Clippers on the three-game road trip before losing Sunday.

“In the first half we did not play like we had played the last couple of games,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. “Then we tried to get back to that level. We got back to it for a little bit but we couldn’t get all the way there.”

TIP-INS

Thunder: Westbrook moved past Larry Bird into 40th on the NBA career assist list. … Westbrook missed four of seven free throws. The Thunder were 12 of 21 at the line. … Terrance Ferguson fouled out with 7:42 to play. … George and Westbrook are 1-2 in the NBA in steals. George had one, Westbrook two in the game. … Westbrook has 93 career triple-doubles.
Suns: The 14-point winning margin matched Phoenix’s biggest of season. … Suns committed season-low seven turnovers. … Marquese Chriss left the game with a right hip strain in the second quarter and did not return. He had scored in double figures the previous five games. … Warren was back after missing a game due to illness. … Tyson Chandler had 13 rebounds and needs 22 to become 40th player in NBA history with 10,000.

BENCH BLOWOUT

The Suns reserves outscored their Oklahoma City counterparts 48-21, 28-11 in the second half.

Jackson made a career-high three 3s in six tries. Bender was 6 for 9.

Jackson became the first Suns rookie to have at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game since Joe Johnson on Feb. 22, 2002.

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Major League Baseball said it is investigating allegations by a woman who worked as a photographer at Minnesota Twins events who said that third baseman Miguel Sano sexually assaulted her in 2015.

“We are aware of the allegations and are now in the process of looking into it,” MLB spokesman Mike Teevan said in a statement.

In a tweet posted Thursday, photographer Betsy Bissen said Sano grabbed her wrist and tried to pull her inside a bathroom at a store in a mall after an autograph session and that the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Sano tried to kiss her several times. ESPN does not typically identify people who make accusations of sexual assault unless they have chosen to go public with their names.

In her post, Bissen described how Sano flirted with her without reciprocation during the autograph signing. She said Sano’s agent and her former boss were also at the event. She said Sano later grabbed her wrist and made her accompany him to an Apple store in the mall before trying to pull her into a restroom against her will.

“Every time he did, I said no and kept pulling back,” Bissen said in her Twitter post. “… I was in a squatted position with my wrist throbbing. I screamed, no one came to help me. He finally gave up after a solid ten mins of fighting to pull me thru that door.

“… Every time I have to hear how great people think Miguel Sano is, I’m reminded of how awful he actually is and how he hurt me.”

Sano issued a statement Thursday denying the allegations.

“I unequivocally deny the allegation made against me today — it never happened,” Sano said in the statement. “I have the utmost respect for women, especially those working in professional sports, and I deeply sympathize with anyone who has experienced sexual harassment. There is no place for it in our society.”

Rob Plummer, Sano’s former agent, confirmed he was at the mall for the signing but was not in a position to see the alleged incident.

“I was outside next to the car, waiting for him to come out on the other side of the loading bay dock, so I don’t know what happened inside,” Plummer told ESPN. “I didn’t see or hear anything. I wasn’t anywhere near Miguel.”

In replies to the tweet, Bissen said the Twins knew nothing about the incident at the time.

“Today the Minnesota Twins were made aware of allegations involving Miguel Sano at an offsite appearance during the 2015 season,” the team said in a statement released on Thursday. “The Twins, along with Major League Baseball, take these allegations very seriously. Until more information is gathered, the Twins will have no further comments.”

Bissen said that she told people, including her family, at the time, but that she wasn’t quite ready to share her story more widely until Thursday. She used the hashtag #metoo with her tweet, which has gained popularity in encouraging women to publicize experiences to demonstrate the widespread nature of sexual assault.

She said she now works for the St. Paul Saints, an independent baseball team.

Sano, 24, signed with the Twins out of his native Dominican Republic in 2009 for a bonus of $3.15 million. He finished third in American League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2015. This past season, he hit 28 home runs, drove in 77 runs and made the All-Star team for the first time.

MLB and the players’ association reached agreement on a domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy in August 2015. The policy allows commissioner Rob Manfred to decide on appropriate discipline, with no minimum or maximum penalty. Players have the right to challenge any punishment before an arbitration panel.