Sun Apr 5 11:54am ET
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
In this Aug. 7, 2015, file photo, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Bill Polian speaks to reporters in Canton, Ohio. With Americans hunkering down, doctors overwhelmed by the mounting cases of COVID-19, and a flurry of canceled pro days, Polian believes it's time to bring back an old approach for this year's draft. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
FLUE - In this March 20, 2019, file photo, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, left, and New England Patriot coach Bill Belichick talk during Georgia Pro Day in Athens, Ga. Some college coaches are making a more concerted effort to sell the players who didn't get a chance to work out in front of NFL scouts. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)
In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, Indiana wide receiver Nick Westbrook runs during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, in Bloomington, Ind. Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. Those who competed in college all-star games but didn't receive a combine invite, like Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook, have the advantage of performing in front of scouts. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
In this March 12, 2020, file photo, Clemson football player Tee Higgins lifts weights during NFL Pro Day in Clemson, S.C. Scouts, front-office executives and even coaches find themselves coping with a whole new process with Americans hunkering down and doctors overwhelmed by the mounting cases of COVID-19. Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
In this March 11, 2020, file photo, former Oklahoma running back Marcelias Sutton makes a catch as he runs through drills during Pro Day for NFL football scouts and coaches in Norman, Okla. Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. Also gone are some of the numbers garnered at pro days decision makers like to crunch as they becoming increasingly reliant upon advanced metrics. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams, File)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Bill Polian simplified the NFL's draft process years ago.
He studied film, relied on medical experts, checked the numbers and interviewed players.
With the flurry of canceled pro days, the Hall of Famer who constructed multiple Super teams during his 32-year- career believes it's time for a return to his throwback approach.
“Really all you need, and it's especially true in a time like today, you need the game film, the physical exam, which may be difficult to get right now, and the measurables," he told The Associated Press. “So if a player has been to the combine, that's all you really need. If a player hasn't been to the combine or is from a small school, then you've just got to go on the game film and you'd be slightly less accurate.
“And the people who haven't done it as long as I did are probably a little discombobulated about that right now.”
Younger scouts, front-office executives and even coaches find themselves coping with a whole new process with Americans hunkering down and doctors overwhelmed by the mounting cases of COVID-19.
Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. Also gone are some of the numbers garnered at pro days decision makers like to crunch as they becoming increasingly reliant upon advanced metrics.
That combination has forced everyone to rethink how they do business.
- Zoom and Skype meetings have become commonplace.
- Draft prospects are offering to send homemade videos of workouts and drills to NFL teams.
- Some college coaches are making a more concerted effort to sell the players who didn't get a chance to work out in front of NFL scouts.
- Even agents find themselves playing new roles.
“I feel like more of a mental health counselor than ever before because some of these kids have been so stressed out to not have the opportunity to showcase what they've worked for their whole life," said David Moreno, who represents about 10 pro prospects.
Everybody agrees that top-tier players such as Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow or defensive end Chase Young won't be hurt by the cancellations. They did enough in their college careers - and it's all on tape. Plus, they met with team officials and went through the medical checks at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Some players with medical concerns, such as Tua Tagovailoa, the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up, or Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., probably won't see a precipitous drop in their stock, either.
And those who competed in college all-star games but didn't receive a combine invite, like Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook, also have the advantage of performing in front of scouts.
Many others find themselves in limbo.
“I just feel horrible for all these kids that aren't combine guys and put in all this work and now they're just kind of stuck,” agent Ron Slavin said.
The stories are endless.
Slavin represents eight draft-eligible players, including Houston punter Dane Roy, who returned home to Australia for his wedding before the school's March 31 workout was called off. Roy doesn't know when he'll be back in the U.S.
Westbrook was working out in Seattle - until the pandemic started shutting down the city. So the Indiana receiver moved in with his parents in Florida but has since struggled to find a workout facility.
Lehigh's top receiver, Devon Bibbens actually missed out on three pro days - two at Temple and another at Delaware. He's also back home in Pennsylvania, using his old high-school regimen to stay in shape.
“I'm lucky enough that I have some equipment in my garage - dumbbells, a barbell, a pull-up bar, field equipment. My high school has a hill," Bibbens said. “These are the workouts I did in high school, so getting back to those things is honestly kind of fun."
Still, nothing can really replace missing time in front of NFL scouts. So coaches are pitching in.
Illinois was one of the few major schools to conduct a pro day before travel restrictions were imposed, so coach Lovie Smith has spent his days responding to follow-up questions.
At Georgia, coach Kirby Smart said he's been contacted personally by five NFL teams and answers text messages daily in an effort to help his players, especially those under the radar.
“The guys that didn't get to go to the combine that are really football players, I worry for them, for their sake,” Smart said. “You feel good when you go out there and you go perform, whether you perform good or bad, you feel good that you got your opportunity."
It's not just the football component that disappoints players, it's the uncertainty.
“Not knowing what's going to happen and even if the draft takes place on time, whether the minicamps start up and all those unknowns is probably the hardest thing to deal with right now," Westbrook said.
But Polian has a reassuring message for borderline prospects: NFL teams have been unearthing talent for decades, - many years with no combine and no pro days.
“That's why we have scouts," he said. “They've seen the player up close and personal and can do a pretty good assessment of all the measurables and the physical. If they need additional information, I'm sure the school will give it to them. ... If you have good scouts, you're in great shape.”
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith should see an increased role in the offense in 2020 now that Stefon Diggs is playing for the Bills. When wide receiver Adam Thielen was out for almost two months with an injury last year, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's offense also relies heavily on tight ends under coach Gary Kubiak; tight ends have received an average of 23 percent of targets per season in Kubiak's 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Even battling for targets with Kyle Rudolph, Smith could become worth rostering as a TE2 in standard leagues in his second season in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida didn't have much of a role on offense to end last season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. If Jerick McKinnon is actually healthy in 2020, he gives the 49ers a legitimate route-runner and third-down option out of the backfield. San Fran could be willing to trade Breida's rights for a low-round draft pick. Of all the backs in this crowded backfield, Breida is the most likely to be playing for another team come the start of the season. The 25-year-old from Georgia Southern has been productive with 5.0 yards per carry on 381 career rushing attempts in his three years with the Niners, but he's also consistently battled nagging injuries and is now buried on the depth chart. A move out of this crowded backfield and onto another team with more opportunity would be best for Breida's real-life and fantasy value.
The Kansas City Chiefs have had contract talks with defensive tackle Chris Jones, but there haven't been any offers up to this point. The Chiefs will also be trying to work out a long-term extension with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that is unlikely to happen until sometime after the draft. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Jones earlier this offseason, but they'll have until July 15 to figure out an extension. The 25-year-old made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2019, registering nine sacks, 36 tackles (23 solo), eight tackles for loss and 20 QB hits. Jones has become an essential inside presence on KC's defensive line and has 33 sacks in his four seasons in the league.
The Cleveland Browns have shown interest in free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and some people around the league think that Cleveland has gotten closer with Clowney than other suitors. Clowney was originally seeking around $20 million per season, but his market has been cold and he hasn't received the offer that he wants in order to re-sign with the Seahawks. The Titans and Jets have also been interested, but the pass-rushers price might have to drop some more in order for him to strike a deal. The 27-year-old isn't in a rush to sign at this point. The oft-injured former first overall pick in 2014 by the Texans is a risk/reward in both real life and in IDP leagues.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was charged with felony burglary conveyance, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor criminal mischief charges for an alleged January assault that resulted in the former All-Pro's arrest. The misdemeanor battery charge states that Brown was "actually and intentionally striking" a delivery truck driver against his will. It's possible the state of Florida will offer him the chance to work out a plea deal. The NFL opened an investigation of Brown in the fall when his former trainer Britney Taylor accused him of rape and sexual assault in a civil lawsuit. No matter what transpires with Brown's charges, he's expected to be punished by the NFL, and it remains to be seen if any team will give him another chance in 2020 or beyond.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (core injury) is progressing well in his rehab, according to head coach Kevin Stefanski. In regards to both Beckham and Jarvis Landry's respective rehabs from offseason surgery, Stefanski told reporters, Both those guys are exactly where they need to be in terms of rehab progression." Beckham had surgery to repair a core muscle injury in late January but appears to be in no danger of missing games once the 2020 season kicks off. After a down year, Beckham needs to be treated as a WR2 with upside in fantasy drafts.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip) is on track in his rehab, according to coach Kevin Stefanski. Landry had surgery to repair the labrum in his hip back in February with the expectation he would need 6-8 months to recover. Speaking of both Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., Stefanski stated, "Both those guys are exactly where they need to be in terms of rehab progression." Landry can be tentatively penciled in for the start of the NFL season but he is likely to miss most of training camp. When active, Landry can be treated as a rock-solid WR2 in all formats.
The Kansas City Chiefs agreed to an undisclosed deal with tight end Ricky Seals-Jones on Friday, according to a source. Seals-Jones played in 14 games (three starts) and caught just 14 passes for 229 yards, but he did score a career-high four touchdowns in his lone season with the Browns last year. It was disappointing that he wasn't able to do more, especially with David Njoku missing a big chunk of the year with an injury. In Kansas City, he'll be a little-used backup tight end behind stud Travis Kelce. If Kelce were to miss any time with an injury, however, Seals-Jones could have some TE2 appeal for fantasy owners.
Houston Texans safety Justin Reid said he has spoken to head coach Bill O'Brien about his brother, free-agent Eric Reid. O'Brien was positive about Eric Reid, but it's unclear if the Texans will actually sign him. The 28-year-old was the 18th overall pick of the 49ers in the 2013 draft and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. He spent the last two years in Carolina, recording a career-high 130 tackles (97 solo), seven tackles for loss, five QB hits, six passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 16 games. Reid has 11 career interceptions in his seven seasons in the NFL. Houston needs as much help as they can get in the secondary.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk, the former second-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2018, knows that the addition of stud wideout DeAndre Hopkins will mean that opposing defenses will focus less on him. Kirk missed the final three games of 2019 due to injury and finished with 68 catches for 709 yards and three touchdowns. He should see a lot more single coverage, but the fact remains that he'll see fewer consistent targets with both Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald demanding looks from quarterback Kyler Murray. The 23-year-old could have some big games if teams focus all their attention on Nuk, but Kirk's fantasy stock is down entering the 2020 season.
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace said that quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles will be in an open competition in training camp this summer. The Bears were expected to bring in someone to compete with Trubisky under center, so they decided to acquire Foles from the Jaguars. Foles has experience working with all of Chicago's offensive coaches, so it seems like it could be his job to lose after Trubisky regressed in 2019. The Bears also remain non-committal on whether they'll pick up Trubisky's 2021 option. Neither QB will be much more than a midrange QB2 if they win the job, but Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP, would be a little more intriguing for wide receiver Allen Robinson.
The Kansas City Chiefs and wide receiver Sammy Watkins agreed to a restructured contract that will keep him with the team for at least another season. It will lower his salary cap number and he can earn a maximum of $16 million in 2020, according to a source. The one-year deal has a base salary of $9 million, and the move creates $5 million in cap space for the Chiefs. Watkins had 52 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games in the regular season, but he came on once again in the postseason on the way to a Super Bowl championship. The 26-year-old has just one 1,000-yard receiving season in his six years in the league after being the fourth overall pick of the Bills in 2014. Watkins can have some big games in KC's offense, but they'll be few and far between.
The Las Vegas Raiders signed safety Damarious Randall to a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million, according to a source. It comes just after a deal for cornerback Eli Apple fell apart. Randall, a first-round pick by the Packers in 2015, had the first 2.5 sacks of his career for the Browns in 11 games last year, also recording 61 tackles (45 solo) and three QB hits. The 2019 season was the only one in his five years that he didn't record an interception, as Randall has 14 career picks in 65 games (56 starts). He'll help shore up the secondary alongside Johnathan Abram in Las Vegas.
According to a source, there's "not a chance in hell" that the New England Patriots trade wide receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman does carry a salary cap hit of $9.6 million in 2020, but he's too important to the team's passing game, especially given their lack of depth and with quarterback Tom Brady no longer in town. The veteran receiver was targeted 153 times in 2019 and caught 100 passes for the second time in his career. With Brady gone -- he'll likely have Jarrett Stidham under center this season -- Edelman's fantasy appeal certainly won't be as strong, and he'll also be 34 next month. But he'll still be useful in PPR leagues and could even come at a nice value. However, he won't be as much of a PPR lock as he's been in the past as Brady's favorite aerial weapon.
The Las Vegas Raiders and cornerback Eli Apple were unable to finalize a contract, according to sources. Apple will remain a free agent and will go back on the open market. The former 10th overall pick by the Giants in the 2016 draft hasn't lived up to his draft pedigree in his four years in the league with New York and New Orleans, but another team will likely be willing to take a chance on him at a low cost. The 24-year-old has just three interceptions in his career and totaled 58 tackles (53 solo), four passes defensed and one forced fumble in 15 games for the Saints in 2019.
The New York Jets are interested in free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney now that his asking price has dropped a bit on the open market. Clowney has found a cold market for his services, likely because of the lack of physicals due to the coronavirus and his extensive injury history, but at this point he's in no rush to pick a team. He's willing to wait until he gets the deal that he's seeking as the best pass-rusher available in free agency this late in the game. The Seahawks are interested in bringing him back at the right price, and the Titans have also shown interest. Clowney has never had a double-digit sack season in his career and is an injury risk, but there's no denying that he still has an impact in defending both the run and the pass when he's healthy. This one could drag on.
Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil said on NFL Live that he wants to become the league's highest-paid offensive lineman. "Im not going to talk numbers, as Im going to keep that between me and the club. I am looking to be the highest-paid lineman, of course. I worked my butt off to be in that position and hopefully we can make that happen," Tunsil said. The 25-year-old first-round pick of the Dolphins in 2016 was acquired from Miami along with receiver Kenny Stills last year for two first-round picks and a second-rounder. He's an elite left tackle that should easily wind up making around $20 million per season on a long-term deal with the Texans. His presence on the blind side for years to come will be excellent news for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) said he's still not fully recovered from an ankle injury that held him to just 11 games in 2019. Ebron had to have his ankle examined and "cleaned out" by an independent doctor near his home in Houston because of league restrictions keeping players from visiting other organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. The 26-year-old has yet to be examined by the Steelers medical personnel. "If the season started today, I dont think Id be able to 100% perform. But we dont play today," Ebron said. He was a disappointment last year as a TE1 after setting career highs in catches (66), yards (750) and touchdowns (13) in 2018. The 10th overall pick by the Lions in 2014 must get healthy first, but he'll also be competing for targets with Vance McDonald, which will hurt his overall fantasy ceiling in his new home.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed quarterback Blaine Gabbert to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. Gabbert will serve as the backup to Tom Brady in 2020. The 30-year-old former 10th overall pick of the Jaguars in 2011 will help Brady learn head coach Bruce Arians' system. He didn't see the field at all in 2019, but Gabbert has played in 56 games (48 starts) in his eight years in the NFL with stops in Jacksonville, San Francisco, Arizona and Tennessee. You can obviously ignore Gabbert in all fantasy leagues, and he'd merely be a low-end QB2 option in Tampa if Brady were to get hurt and miss any time.
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said that offensive tackle Jack Conklin will stay at right tackle in Cleveland. The Browns added Conklin in free agency as they look to improve a dreadful offensive line from a season ago. The eighth overall pick by the Titans in the 2016 draft was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season and has been one of the better right tackles in the league in his four seasons. The 25-year-old has started all 57 games he's played in and has played in a full 16-game season in three of his four years in the league. Conklin will help bring stability to the right side of the Browns line, but they'll need help elsewhere.