Poll: Who Will Be First Non-QB Selected?

Quarterbacks are dominating this year’s draft discussion even more than the NFL’s marquee position’s prospects usually do. With the possibility of four signal-callers going in the top five, it opens the door for a wide variety of scenarios.

But with this many passers projected to go high, teams that either do not need a quarterback (this would include the Browns at No. 4, if they keep their pick) — or franchises on the fence about selecting one in the top five (see: Giants, Broncos) — could find themselves in position to land an impact talent that may not have been available to them in another year.

There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about the top non-QB in this draft, either. Players like Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson are high on draft boards. Denzel Ward may be as well, with Roquan Smith having visited teams holding top-10 picks. So, who goes first?

Chubb and Barkley have made the most noise here, with the latest coming out of the Big Apple aligning the Giants with the Penn State running back. Viewed as a superior talent when compared to recent No. 4 overall choices Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette, Barkley has been connected to the Giants at No. 2 and the Browns at No. 4. Although the Browns are not expected to bypass a quarterback at No. 1, Barkley’s name is the one mentioned as a possibility for Cleveland at No. 1 that isn’t a QB. And there may or may not be an issue with a Barkley-to-Cleveland scenario.

Viable running backs are obviously easier to obtain in later rounds than pass-rushing talent, and Chubb has visited the Giants and drawn praise from Hue Jackson as a possible No. 4 overall selection. James Bettcher doesn’t see a problem fitting the N.C. State defensive end into his 3-4 scheme at outside linebacker, and edge rushers are much more valuable commodities than running backs.

Nelson is reportedly a top-three player on the Giants’ board, and Dave Gettleman has not made it a secret he wants an offensive line metamorphosis to take place under his watch. Nelson’s been tabbed a prospect on the Zack Martin tier. Should a quarterback rush occur ahead of them, the Broncos are also in need of a guard. Buzz about a Broncos/Nelson union has emerged, with Ward — the latest high-end cornerback Ohio State has developed — on that level as of late as well.

The Notre Dame-trained blocker being the first non-passer selected would be a massive change of direction. This century, only one team — the 2015 Redskins — took a guard in the top five. And Brandon Scherff was viewed as a tackle prospect at the time. Ward would also represent a major upset as the first position player taken as well, but former Buckeyes teammate Joey Bosa didn’t receive a ton of buzz to go No. 3 to the Chargers two years ago. And this program has produced some high-caliber corners in recent years, as Bradley Roby and Marshon Lattimore have shown.

Who will even make this pick? The Giants have visited with each of the top quarterbacks and have been mentioned as Sam Darnold fans for a while, so it’s not certain they’ll be making this pick. If the Browns take Josh Allen at No. 1 and trade their No. 4 pick to the Bills, the Broncos could be thrust into this role at No. 5.

So, which one of these prospects will hear his name called first? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Rumors: Raiders, Bradford, Donald

Although the Raiders have signed a slew of veterans in free agency this year, they are still in need of help at linebacker. And they may be hoping a run on quarterbacks helps bring Roquan Smith to them at No. 10. They may not be willing to trade up for the Georgia-honed linebacker, however.

Roquan Smith is the guy. I don’t know that they would be willing to give away additional picks later to go up and get him, but he’s the guy they want,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said, via Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. “… There’s a lot of love for Roquan Smith in that building.”

While NaVorro Bowman has been connected to the Raiders for months as a re-sign candidate, he remains a free agent. The Silver and Black signed Tahir Whitehead, and he’ll likely start at one of their second-level spots, with Kyle Wilber and Emmanuel Lamur in line to supply depth. But a long-term cog looks to be on the agenda as this draft approaches. The Raiders have not selected a first- or second-round linebacker who plays off the ball during the Reggie McKenzie regime, with Rolando McClain (Round 1, 2010) being the most recent such investment. Of course, McKenzie ceded some power to Jon Gruden this offseason.

However, the 49ers are a possible Smith suitor as well — with Reuben Foster facing possible prison time and Malcolm Smith coming off a season-ending injury — and met with Smith this week. He also visited with the Colts and Bears, each holding top-eight picks, in April.

Here’s the latest from the West divisions:

  • McShay’s also heard Tremaine Edmunds and Vita Vea‘s names linked to the Raiders. With four quarterbacks possibly set to go off the board before the Silver and Black’s selection window opens, they could have their pick of these three prospects.
  • While the Cardinals are going to ease Sam Bradford into action this offseason, Steve Wilks likes the early form the would-be starter is in. “I didn’t see anything (bad) out of his knee. Not one thing,” Wilks said, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. “Nothing is wrong with his knee. I thought he threw the ball well, ball-handling, he handed the ball off, rolled out, bootleg, all those things. He’s doing everything we ask him to do. We just want to make sure we don’t put too much on him too soon.” Bradford wore a brace on his troublesome left knee early in the week before shifting to a sleeve, per Urban.
  • Sean McVay is encouraged by the early dialogue the Rams are having with Aaron Donald. The team did not expect Donald, a holdout until September last year, to report to the first phase of its offseason program as he seeks a landscape-altering contract. “We feel good about the dialogue that has existed,” McVay said this week. “This is a voluntary offseason program with where we’re at. You know he’s a guy who’s going to work hard on his off-time, and that’s kind of where we’re at.” The Rams sound like they’re on the verge of authorizing a record contract for the reigning defensive player of the year.
  • Maurice Hurst visited the Raiders on Monday, Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. Adding the Raiders are “hell bent” on strengthening their interior pass rush, which has been a trouble spot for a while now, Bair identifies the Michigan defensive tackle as a candidate for Oakland’s Round 1 choice it the team trades down from its No. 10 slot.
  • Foster’s in a world of trouble for an alleged domestic violence incident earlier this year, facing three felony charges, but the 49ers linebacker saw a misdemeanor charge dropped this week. Foster won’t face a charge for the possession of a large-capacity ammunition magazine, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office announced (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle).

New York Notes: Barkley, Darnold, Dez

No running back has gone in the top two of a draft since Reggie Bush 12 years ago, but the Giants may be leaning toward using their top offseason investment on a ball-carrier that’s been labeled as one of the highest-ceiling backs to emerge in many years.

I’ve heard really strongly that there are important people in that building who believe in Saquon Barkley the player, that that’s what they want to be,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said, via Tom Rock of Newsday. “The Giants want to be a run-first, physical football team and Saquon can basically be the face of that franchise moving forward several years. … It just feels to me like it’s inevitable that Saquon Barkley is going to be a New York Giant.”

The Giants brought Barkley in for a visit, and their coaching staff is sold on the Penn State standout. The Giants have been linked to Sam Darnold at No. 2, if he’s there, for a while. But Barkley’s name has come up in recent days as well. While the Alvin Kamara/Kareem Hunt offensive rookie of the year debate showed how top-end backs can be acquired later in the draft, but McShay added Barkley “is different” than the type of back that can be acquired in later rounds. In Dave Gettleman‘s previous draft as a Giants exec, the Giants used their No. 32 overall pick on David Wilson in 2012, and an injury shortened his career to just two seasons. The team’s previous such investment came in 2000, when the then-Ernie Accorsi-led Giants took Ron Dayne at No. 7. Gettleman was in his second year as Big Blue’s pro personnel director at that point.

Here’s the latest from the Big Apple teams:

  • If Josh Allen goes No. 1 overall to the Browns, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News isn’t sold that on the Giants wanting Darnold at No. 2. Instead, he envisions a scenario in which the Giants trade down with the Bills to acquire the No. 12 and No. 22 picks plus one of the Bills’ second rounders (Nos. 53 or 56). There is apparently a split in the front office over the team’s evaluation of Darnold, though it should be noted that GM Gettleman never traded down in the first round while in Carolina. In this scenario, Mehta believes the Jets will select Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield at No. 3 over Josh Rosen.
  • Could the release of Brandon Marshall lead the Giants to Dez Bryant? When asked about the possibility of signing the former Cowboys star, Gettleman didn’t close the door. “I have interest in everybody,” Gettleman said (via Danny Abriano of SNY.tv). “We do our film work. You never know.” The Giants may lead the pack in terms of teams Bryant wants to land with, having made it clear he wants revenge against the Cowboys.
  • While this could go without saying, Newsday’s Calvin Watkins notes CEO Christopher Johnson and other Jets brass are concerned about Robby Anderson‘s behavior. The talented wideout saw a felony charge against him dropped, but the arrest earlier this year — one of many traffic-related issues he’s dealt with over the past several years — still has a misdemeanor charge standing.

Zach Links contributed to this report.

Bears To Sign WR Marlon Brown

While Marlon Brown won’t be as likely to make the Bears’ 53-man roster as the franchise’s other offseason additions at this spot, he reached an agreement to compete for a spot.

The Bears signed the former Ravens supporting-cast wideout on Thursday, Adam Caplan of ESPN.com tweets. Brown has not played in an NFL game since the 2015 season. Brown worked out for the Bears on Tuesday.

Brown joins Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Bennie Fowler as newcomer Bears wideouts. Still just 26, the 6-foot-5 receiver was out of football last season, last being affiliated with the Broncos during their 2017 training camp. Brown’s best season came in 2013, when he caught 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns. The Georgia product has not gotten into the end zone since his rookie season.

After losing RFA Cameron Meredith to the Saints, the Bears’ wide receiver group will look almost entirely new this season. Josh Bellamy and Kevin White remain on the roster, but the latter can’t exactly be counted on given his extensive injury past. Beyond Bellamy, 2017 UDFA Tanner Gentry s three catches last season were the most among the remaining receivers still on the Bears’ roster.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dwight Freeney Retires From NFL

Dwight Freeney is calling it a career. After 16 seasons in the NFL, Freeney will sign a one-day contract with Indianapolis to retire as a member of the Colts. 

Freeney entered the league as the No. 11 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Since then, he has racked up seven Pro Bowl nods, three first-team All-Pro selections, and a Super Bowl ring.

Freeney, 38, will be best remembered for his time in blue and white, where he amassed 107. 5 sacks across eleven seasons. All in all, he has 125.5 career sacks to his credit, tying him for 17th all-time in NFL history.

The Colts averaged 11 wins per year during Freeney’s run with the Colts and had 11 sacks in his 22 playoff games with the team. Many thought the Colts were reaching when they selected Freeney in ’02, but he turned out to be the perfect fit for first-year head coach Tony Dungy.

Bill [Polian] had seen Dwight and thought he was exactly the guy I had been talking about,” Dungy said of Freeney. “We’re sitting at No. 11 in the first round and people looked at his size and thought it was too high to draft him. Bill, to his credit, said, ‘If this is going to be the big piece of the puzzle, let’s not worry about where we take Dwight and what other people think. Let’s get the guy who is going to be the perfect piece.’ Dwight was the straw that stirred the drink.”

The Syracuse product played in three Super Bowls — two with the Colts, one with the Falcons — and started in 19 postseason games. All seven of Freeney’s double-digit sack seasons came with the Colts.

Following his Colts run, which ran through the 2012 season, Freeney played with five more teams. His most notable post-Indianapolis season came with the 2015 Cardinals, for whom he registered eight sacks and helped to the NFC title game despite being an off-the-bench edge rusher. He recorded three sacks in each of the past two seasons, playing in Atlanta, Seattle and Detroit. Prior to Arizona, Freeney spent two seasons in San Diego.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos Rumors: Elway, No. 5 Pick, Ray

The Broncos are open for business. In a presser on Thursday, GM John Elway announced that he is willing to trade the No. 5 overall pick for the right price. Elway also noted that Denver is open to all possibilities, which may mean standing pat to take a quarterback, moving back for the QB they want, or even selecting a non-QB.

The Bills, armed with the Nos. 12 and 22 selections in the draft, are expected to be among those with serious interest in moving up to the No. 5 pick.

Here’s more out of Denver:

  • Elway says the team hasn’t made a decision yet on picking up Shane Ray‘s fifth-year option (Twitter link via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic). Ray had a breakout season in 2016, recording 48 tackles and eight sacks in 664 snaps and placing 45th out of Pro Football Focus’ 110 qualified edge defenders. Unfortunately, Ray’s wrist kept him off the field until late October last year and he was shut down once again in December. As shown on PFR’s 2019 Fifth-Year Option Tracker, seven players have had their options exercised. The Broncos will have to think long and hard about whether to do the same for the former No. 23 overall pick.
  • Elway says the Broncos do not have more than four quarterbacks with first round grades (Twitter link via James Palmer of NFL.com), though he added that there is not a consensus in the building on ranking them.
  • Elway says that the production of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield over ” the last three years” is proof that his height – just over 6’0″ — should not be an issue in the NFL (Twitter link via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com).

Giants Release WR Brandon Marshall

The Giants released wide receiver Brandon Marshall with a failed physical designation, GM Dave Gettleman announced. Marshall was set to enter the final year of a two-year, $12MM contract signed in 2017. 

By releasing the veteran, the G-Men will save $5.1MM against the salary cap. Marshall, 34, feels that he has multiple seasons left in the tank, but the Giants do not concur. At least, they did not feel that Marshall had enough juice to justify his salary.

I’m all-in on football. I’ve rebuilt my body,” Marshall said in December. “I think I’m two great years away from — and I’ll say it, I want to be a Hall of Famer, and I think I got two great years to go to be mentioned with some of the greats. I’m not just playing this game just to be a guy; I want to be remembered for the product that I put out on the field.”

Marshall was one of several Giants receivers to succumb to injury in 2017 as he missed the bulk of the year after undergoing ankle surgery. He topped 1,500 yards in his 2015 season with the Jets, but he has not been able to reprise that production. In 2016, he had just 59 catches for 788 yards and three touchdowns, a big step back from the previous year in which he had a league-leading 14 TDs.

Earlier this week, Marshall took to social media to inform free agent Dez Bryant that there is “no room” for him in New York. The Giants now have the necessary space – from both financial and football perspectives – to add Bryant, if they wish. For his part, Bryant is eager to join up with the Giants and exact revenge on his former employers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Eagles Open To Trading First Round Pick

The Eagles have traded out of the first round just twice since 1999, but they’re not ruling it out in this year’s draft. When speaking with reporters this week, Eagles GM Howie Roseman indicated that the No. 32 pick could be for sale. 

I would say overall we’re open for business,” said Roseman (via Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice). “We’re open for business in every round if it’s something that we think makes sense for our team, we’re going to do it. But at the same time, we’re ready to pick. We have 32 guys we feel really good about. We can’t operate under the assumption that we’re going to bail out, so we’re ready to roll.”

The final pick in the first round has been traded in three of the last four drafts. The No. 32 pick may not seem sexy, but it holds value over the first pick in the second round since those players can be controlled for an extra year through the fifth-year option.

Most GMs like to say they are “open for business” at this time in the offseason, so it’s hard to tell how serious the Eagles are about the prospect of moving back from No. 32. However, as Kempski notes, the Eagles have moved out of their original draft slot in nine of the last 19 drafts, so, historically speaking, they are willing to deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Re-Sign DL Jamie Meder

The Browns announced that they have re-signed defensive lineman Jamie Meder. Meder was a restricted free agent who was tendered at the lowest level this offseason. Per the terms of the tender, Meder will earn $1.907MM in 2018. 

Meder, 26, first entered the league with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Ashland in 2014. He found his way to the Browns in 2015 and has been with the team ever since. In 2016, he started most of the season on a thinned out Browns defensive line.

Last year, he appeared in ten games (two starts) for the Browns before landing on IR with an ankle sprain. In a limited sample of 178 snaps, the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus gave him an average grade with a 74.8 overall score.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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