Thu Apr 22 2:31am ET
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance smiles as he is interviewed at the school's football NFL Pro Day in Fargo, N.D., in this Friday, March, 12, 2021, file photo. Lance will likely be one of the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs next week. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King, File)
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance throws at the school's football NFL Pro Day in Fargo, N.D., in this Friday, March, 12, 2021, file photo. Lance will likely be one of the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs next week. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King, File)
North Dakota State lineman Dillon Radunz does drills at the school's NFL Pro Day football event in Fargo, N.D., in this Friday, March, 12, 2021, file photo. Theres a common thread linking most of the Football Championship Subdivision players who expect to hear their name called in this months NFL draft. They didnt participate in their schools pandemic-delayed spring season. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King, File)
There's a common thread linking most of the Football Championship Subdivision players who expect to hear their name called in the NFL draft.
They didn't participate in their schools' pandemic-delayed spring season.
''Ultimately, it just comes down to athletes taking care of their bodies,'' North Dakota State offensive tackle Dillon Radunz said. ''You can go out and have fun and do that, and there's a certain purity to that, but next thing you know, some guy tears his ACL in the spring, and now he misses out on the spring season, and misses out on the fall season. Then he has to wait another whole year and a half just to play football again.''
When the NCAA announced that the FCS season wouldn't start until February, it left draft prospects from those schools facing a dilemma. Do they stick with their schools for the spring season or use that time to get ready for the draft?
Most decided to start preparing for their future.
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance said playing a spring season wasn't feasible because of the way the schedule was designed. The FCS playoffs start Saturday, less than a week before the draft.
''I would have had to leave my team in the middle of the season (for the draft),'' Lance said. ''Here at North Dakota State, we play for national championships. That's the expectation every single year. So for me, if I was going to stay in school and play, I would have stayed and played the spring and the fall as well.''
Lance and Radunz will likely be the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs next week. Lance is projected as a top-10 overall pick. Radunz seems likely to get taken in the second round.
They helped North Dakota State win an FCS title in 2019, the Bison's eighth championship in nine seasons. Lance and Radunz ended their college careers by playing in North Dakota State's lone game last fall, a 39-20 victory over Central Arkansas.
Radunz noted that even if he had played a spring season and avoided injury, the move could have caused long-term drawbacks. He believed playing a full college schedule in the spring and an NFL season in the fall ultimately might have shortened his career.
''You're just playing that much football in a short period of time, and it's just not good for a body, especially at this high level of play,'' Radunz said.
Here's a breakdown of some other draft prospects from schools outside the FBS ranks.
OT SPENCER BROWN, NORTHERN IOWA
Brown gained nearly 100 pounds while at Northern Iowa to develop into a 6-foot-8, 311-pound prospect. Brown opted out after Northern Iowa decided to delay its football season to the spring, but he did participate in the Senior Bowl and had an impressive pro day performance.
WR CADE JOHNSON, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Johnson was a 2019 finalist for the Walter Payton Award that goes annually to the top FCS player. Johnson entered the transfer portal when South Dakota State delayed its season, but he ultimately decided to enter the draft. He caught a combined 139 passes for 25 touchdowns over 2,500 yards in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
OL QUINN MEINERZ, WISCONSIN-WHITEWATER
Meinerz, the lone Division III player on this list, also didn't play this fall because the pandemic prevented Wisconsin-Whitewater from having a fall season. The 6-3, 320-pound Meinerz gained plenty of attention in Senior Bowl workouts despite breaking his hand that week. He's most likely to play center in the NFL.
CB BRYAN MILLS, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL
Mills, who is 6-1, made five interceptions and had eight pass breakups in 2019. He got a Senior Bowl invitation even though North Carolina Central didn't have a fall season in 2020.
CB ROBERT ROCHELL, CENTRAL ARKANSAS
Rochell was the rare FCS draft prospect who played multiple games for his school over the last year. Central Arkansas played a nine-game schedule last fall, and Rochell appeared in seven of those games. He also got a Senior Bowl invitation. He intercepted four passes in 2018 and five in 2019.
DE ELERSON SMITH, NORTHERN IOWA
Smith had a huge season in 2019 with 14 sacks, 21 + tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. He didn't play for Northern Iowa this spring after its fall season was pushed back. The 6-6, 252-pound Smith projects as an edge rusher in the NFL.
S CHRISTIAN UPHOFF, ILLINOIS STATE
Uphoff had 70 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions for Illinois State in 2019 and earned a Senior Bowl invitation. Uphoff, who is 6-2 and 209 pounds, has NFL size and showed enough speed to return kicks at one point in his college career.
The Las Vegas Raiders signed free-agent cornerback Casey Hayward to an undisclosed deal on Tuesday. The 31-year-old, a second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2012, will join cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen (taken in the second round in 2019), Damon Arnette (a first-rounder in 2020), Amik Robertson (fourth-rounder in 2020) and Nate Hobbs (fifth-rounder this year). Hayward will reunite with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was his coordinator the last four years with the Los Angeles Chargers. He didn't play in a full season last year for the first time since 2013, recording an interception and eight passes defensed in 14 games (13 starts). Hayward had 66 passes defensed, which led the AFC, in his five years with the Chargers. He also led the NFL with seven interceptions in 2016 and made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017.
Former Denver Broncos special teams ace/linebacker Joe Jones is signing an undisclosed deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday, according to a source. The Broncos are losing both Jones and safety Will Parks, who were both standout special teams players for the Broncos in the last four seasons. It doesn't come as a huge surprise, though, as Denver put a big emphasis on special teams in the draft last week. The 27-year-old Jones was undrafted out of Northwestern and recorded 31 combined tackles (23 solo) in 49 games (zero starts) for the Broncos from 2017 through last year. Jones will help boost Tampa's special teams unit in 2021.
The Kansas City Chiefs are signing free-agent safety Will Parks to a one-year deal worth up to $1.13 million on Wednesday, according to a source. Parks took a visit with the Detroit Lions as well, but he is choosing the Chiefs. He started his career as a safety and was taken in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. Parks spent the first four seasons of his career as a rotational safety before joining the Philadelphia Eagles last spring. But he was waived in December and rejoined Denver to play in nickel situations for the final four games of the season. In 10 games between the Eagles and Broncos in 2020, the 26-year-old had 31 tackles (three for loss) and a sack. It's likely the Chiefs will view him as more of cornerback depth at this point in his career.
Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who knows how current Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is feeling these days, thinks that Rodgers is unlikely to back down. "Knowing Aaron, and I think I know him fairly well, if he has a grudge, whether it be against the organization or a player or an arch-rival, or family, friends, he ain't budging," Favre said on the "Bolling with Favre" podcast. If Rodgers were to abruptly retire, he'd owe the team around $23 million over the next two years. The Packers traded up in the first round of last year's draft to select Jordan Love, Rodgers' eventual successor, and Rodgers didn't take kindly to that. Rodgers has reportedly mocked general manager Brian Gutekunst in group chats with teammates, referring to him as Jerry Krause, the former Bulls GM who got into it with Michael Jordan. At this point, anything could happen with Rodgers and the Packers. Buckle up.
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman confirmed that quarterback Kirk Cousins is the team's starter. The Vikings drafted quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round of last week's NFL draft, but it was done to create competition behind Cousins. "Right now, there's no question that Kirk Cousins is our quarterback," Spielman said. Mond will enter the mix behind Cousins, and it also includes Nate Stanley and Jake Browning. Cousins is due to count $45 million against the salary cap in 2022, which would all become dead money if he was cut. While Cousins remains the starter for now, the Vikings also considered making a move to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, which means they are preparing for Cousins' eventual run in Minnesota. Cousins isn't the sexiest pick in fantasy, but he has plenty of weapons and should be seen as a low-end QB1 option.
The Dallas Cowboys are waiving starting defensive tackle Antwaun Woods on Wednesday, according to a source. Woods becomes a salary cap casualty after the Cowboys selected defensive tackles Osa Odighizuwa in the third round and Quinton Bohanna in the sixth round of last week's NFL draft. Woods started 32 games for Dallas from 2018 through last season and was set to make $2.1 million under the restricted free-agent tender. He had 33 tackles, one sack and four QB pressures in 14 games (seven starts) last season. The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder was more of a fit in former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme. Dallas also waived cornerback Saivion Smith after the team selected corners Kelvin Joseph (second round) and Nahshon Wright (third round) in the draft. The Cowboys also released center Adam Redmond, defensive tackle Walter Palmore, defensive end LaDarius Hamilton and cornerback Kemon Hall.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel could potentially lose his roster spot to fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson because the latter is more likely to be a factor on special teams, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss.
The Las Vegas Raiders will release safety Jeff Heath on Wednesday, according to a source. Heath was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 10 last year, but he'll be looking for a new team this offseason. It comes after the Raiders drafted safeties Trevon Moehrig in the second round and Tyree Gillespie in the fourth round in last week's NFL draft. They also officially added cornerback Casey Hayward on Tuesday. The Raiders think that Moehrig can step in and start at the free safety spot. Heath led the team with three interceptions in 2020. The soon-to-be 30-year-old signed a two-year deal worth up to $8 million last offseason after spending seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. In 13 games last year, Heath had 37 tackles and four pass breakups.
Las Vegas Raiders S Jeff Heath will be released, according to a source Tuesday, May 4.
Free-agent WR Damiere Byrd (Patriots) agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears Tuesday, May 4, according to a source. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Fantasy Spin: Byrd is coming a productive 2020 season and could compete for the No. 3 receiver job during training camp. Fantasy players can monitor the situation because Byrd could be a late round option if he receives a decent role in the passing game.
Free-agent CB Casey Hayward (Chargers) agreed to terms with the Las Vegas Raiders Tuesday, May 4. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Jacksonville Jaguars S Doug Middleton was released Tuesday, May 4.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, one of the fastest players in the NFL, will compete in the USA Track and Field Golden Games and Distance Open this Sunday in Walnut, California. He is listed among the participants in the 100-meter dash. The 6-foot-4, 229-pounder was a standout hurdler and long-jumper in high school, in addition to playing football and basketball. Metcalf ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 combine and reached a top speed of 22.64 mph last year, according to Next Gen Stats. He made the Pro Bowl in 2020 with 83 catches for a franchise-record 1,303 yards. Metcalf caught five passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff loss to the Rams last year and will enter the 2021 season as a top-five fantasy wideout.
Free-agent TE Darren Fells (Texans) is scheduled to visit with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, May 4.
Free-agent S Malik Hooker (Colts) is meeting with the Miami Dolphins Tuesday, May 4, according to a source.
Free-agent veteran tight end Darren Fells is visiting with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, according to a source. Fells is coming off 11 touchdowns in the last two seasons with the Houston Texans and could return to Detroit, where he played in 2017. The 35-year-old also had 55 receptions on 76 targets for 653 yards in 32 games (28 starts) over the last two years with Houston. He played mostly in a backup role to Jordan Akins for most of last year, catching 21 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. The Lions already have T.J. Hockenson as their top pass-catching tight end, so if Fells were to return to Detroit, he'd have very minimal fantasy value as a backup once again. Fells had 17 catches (26 targets) for just 177 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games for the Lions back in 2017.
San Francisco 49ers incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said he wants to help rookie quarterback Trey Lance with his transition to the NFL after the team took him at No. 3 overall in the first round of last week's draft. Garoppolo entered the league with the New England Patriots and learned behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. "I try to use my own personal experiences and just what I went through, what helped me, what challenged me as a young player," Garoppolo said. "I'm going to use those tools that helped me and try to help Trey out." Jimmy G is 24-9 in his time with the 49ers, but he's been injured in two of his three seasons. Garoppolo is expected to enter the 2021 season as the starter under center, but another injury or poor performance could thrust Lance into the spotlight at some point in his rookie season. There is no definitive plan or timetable for Lance to take the starting job next season.
Former Indianapolis Colts first-round safety Malik Hooker is visiting with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, according to a source. Hooker has yet to play a full season in the NFL after being selected 15th overall out of Ohio State in 2017. The 25-year-old played in only two games last year before he tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season. He's missed 14 games with various injuries in his four seasons in the league, which is why Indianapolis declined to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2021 campaign. Hooker can still be productive on the field, he just needs to stay healthy. He has seven interceptions, 124 tackles (81 solo), 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries in 36 career games (35 starts).
Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (heart) fell to pick No. 52 overall in last week's NFL draft because a heart issue came up late in the pre-draft process, according to sources. However, doctors ultimately cleared him. If not for the heart issue, Owusu-Koramoah could've come off the board in the first round. Cleveland traded up to keep him from sliding any further on Day 2. The former Notre Dame product is a linebacker/safety hybrid, which will allow the Browns to drop him into coverage or rush him off the edge. Owusu-Koramoah will bring intensity and a high motor to his new club. He finished his senior season for the Fighting Irish with 62 tackles (11 for loss) and three forced fumbles.
New York Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (foot) broke a small bone in his foot and likely will undergo surgery that will keep him out for eight to 10 weeks, according to sources. Williams will miss organized team activities and minicamp, but he should be ready to return for training camp this summer. The 23-year-old is one of the better pass-rushers for Gang Green's defense, so this is notable. He finished last season with 55 tackles and seven sacks for the Jets. As long as Williams doesn't suffer any setbacks during his rehab process, he should be good to go for Week 1 of the 2021 regular season. In 13 games (nine starts) in his rookie season in 2019, Williams had just 28 tackles (four for loss) and 2.5 sacks.