Blake Martinez

Extra Points: Mexico, Saints, Packers, Broncos

Could Donald Trump’s campaign promises affect the NFL’s games staged in Mexico? The league says that won’t be the case.

I’m a firm believer that any international focus requires you to manage within the political climate that exists,” NFL executive vice president/International Mark Waller told Alex Marvez of The Sporting News. “You can’t control what government is or is not in place. Our job irrespective of that is doing everything we can do to expand the popularity of our sport.”

The NFL estimates that it has 28.3 million fans in Mexico with 9.9 million categorized as “hardcore” supporters. The league does big business south of the border and hopes to grow the fanbase going forward.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Saints added Kevin O’Dea as an assistant coach to help with their struggling special teams, as Christopher Dabe of The Times-Picayune writes. “I think when you have some struggles in an area immediately I think the reaction is people want heads to fly,” Payton said. “I think for us, it’s about bringing in someone that can help. I think [special teams coordinator] Greg [McMahon] and [special teams assistant] Stan [Kwan] and those guys, this is a low-ego business. We want to win, and that’s the most important thing. So a guy like Kevin I think can help us. He was fired up. He got in here (Monday) afternoon.”
  • Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez is expected to miss multiple games with an MCL sprain, a source tells Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The fourth-round pick has started nine games for Green Bay this year.
  • The Broncos placed a claim on running back Ronnie Hillman, tweets Mike Klis of 9News in Denver (via Twitter). The 25-year-old was waived by the Vikings yesterday and landed on the Chargers today.

Ben Levine contributed to this report.

Impact Rookies: Green Bay Packers

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Kenny Clark, DL (UCLA, No. 27 overall)

Sometimes, even big men fly under the radar, as seems to be the case with this Bruins standout. Named his team’s MVP, he was a dominating force in the middle of the line, taking over starting duties as a sophomore. Well-respected by the staff and teammates, the co-captain preferred to not be in the limelight. However, NFL scouts saw him as a bright light on a dark night. Kenny Clark

In three seasons, Clark delivered 153 tackles with six sacks and 18.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. In his two seasons as a starter, he delivered 117 of those tackles in run force, posted a total of 28 hits for losses (assists and solos) while bringing down twelve other ball carriers for no gain. Twenty-four of those stops came inside the red zone, including seven on goal-line stands.

Clark has really come on strong in recognizing blocking schemes and it was rare to see him bite on misdirection or play action during his junior season. He has no problems taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field, needing minimal reps to retain. He plays with very good awareness, taking advantage of his impressive arm length to keep blockers off his feet and legs. The UCLA product demonstrated that he picks up schemes quickly and he does well staying with the flow of the play to close on the ball.

Clark has a very explosive initial step with quick feet, good athleticism and balance for his size, along with the body control and low pad level to come off the snap and get an immediate advantage versus a lethargic offensive lineman. He flashes a strong, consistent hand punch, enough to consistently put the blocker up on his heels, driving with good leverage walking that lineman back into the pocket. He has that initial burst needed on movement and the suddenness to gain advantage when engaging double teams. He has good initial quickness coming off the snap and for a player of his size, that burst can surprise an offensive lineman.

Clark appears poised to show that he should have gone earlier than No. 27 in this year’s draft. Word out of Green Bay is that Clark will start at nose tackle in the base 3-4 and his skill set plus versatility will ensure that he sees plenty of time on the field as an NFL frosh.

Continue reading about the Packers’ rookies..

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Draft Pick Signings: Eagles, Packers, Bears, Colts

Checking in on the latest rookie signings from around the NFL…

  • Two offensive linemen – third-rounder Isaac Seumalo and fifth-rounder Halapoulivaati Vaitai – have agreed to deals with the Eagles, the team tweeted. Seumalo went 79th in the draft after playing various positions, mostly center, along Oregon State’s O-line. Vaitai, the 164th pick, made 30 starts at tackle (primarily on the right side) during his TCU tenure.
  • The Colts have signed fourth-round linebacker Antonio Morrison, the 125th overall choice, according to a team press release. Morrison was a four-year starter at Florida.
  • Packers general manager Ted Thompson announced the signings of four draftees — fourth-rounders Blake Martinez (linebacker, Stanford) and Dean Lowry (defensive end, Northwestern), fifth-rounder Trevor Davis (receiver, California) and sixth-rounder Kyle Murphy (offensive tackle, Stanford). Those four were Green Bay’s final picks of this year’s draft. The team still has to lock up its top three selections, including first-round defensive lineman Kenny Clark.
  • The Bears inked fourth-round defensive back Deiondre’ Hall to a four-year deal worth $2.85MM, including a $510,982 signing bonus, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). Hall, the 127th pick, piled up 13 interceptions during his four years at Northern Iowa.
  • The Vikings have signed fourth-round offensive lineman Willie Beavers and fifth-round linebacker Kentrell Brothers, per a team press release. Beavers was a stalwart at left tackle for Western Michigan before the Vikings grabbed him with the 121st choice, while Brothers – the 160th selection – was a prolific defensive playmaker at Missouri.
  • The Steelers announced the signing of sixth-round linebacker Travis Feeney, a former University of Washington standout and the 220th overall pick.

NFC Draft Rumors: Eagles, Lynch, Washington

The Eagles will work out Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch and it’s not just for kicks, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Despite having Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel under contract, Rapoport says they’re serious about Lynch and they’re taking owner Jeffrey Lurie on each trip.

While we wait to see if the Eagles’ QB situation could get even weirder, here’s a look at some more draft news from the NFC:

  • Boston College linebacker Steven Daniels worked out for the Eagles on Wednesday, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (for WalterFootball.com). Daniels has also auditioned for New Orleans.
  • Coach Jay Gruden says he wants Washington to draft a developmental quarterback, as Tarik El-Bashir of CSNMidAtlantic.com writes. “You have your starter. You got your quality backup. And you’ve got to have [another] one in the [quarterback meeting] room—whether it’s your third on the active roster or a practice squad guy—that you can develop,” Gruden said last week. Of course, Kirk Cousins will be the team’s starter with Colt McCoy as his primary understudy. However, Gruden would like to add a young QB who can be groomed without an immediate timeline.
  • The Buccaneers worked out UTSA tight end David Morgan on Tuesday, according to Jenna Laine of Sports Talk 1040 (on Twitter). Morgan also worked out for Philadelphia recently.
  • The Falcons were at Stanford on Wednesday to work out tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker Blake Martinez, according to Tony Pauline for Walter Football. On Tuesday, Atlanta coaches were at Washington State to scope out Washington State offensive lineman Joseph Dahl, receiver Dominique Williams, and defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao.

Draft Notes: Cravens, Lawson, Hogan

Let’s round up some draft notes to close out this Tuesday evening:

  • Contrary to prior reports, USC linebacker Su’a Cravens will not be holding any private workouts for interested clubs, according to agent Fadde Mikhail (article via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). Mikhail said, “There have been too many teams that have called to set up private workouts, and I think Su’a’s body of work on film speaks for itself.” Cravens played linebacker for much of 2015, but many teams view him as a safety at the next level, and he is seen as a late first-round or early second-round prospect. As Florio notes, the decision not to work out for teams is gradually becoming more popular with some agents, who believe the reward of potentially increased draft positioning does not justify the risk of an injury that could be sustained at a workout. Greg Gabriel of NFPost.com, however, disagrees with that line of thinking, as he thinks private workouts are a critical part of the draft process that allow a team to learn more about a player’s talent and personality. He adds that Mikhail’s decision will cause Cravens’ draft stock to drop (Twitter links).
  • Clemson DE Shaq Lawson, who already has a number of visits/workouts lined up, will also visit with the Lions, according to Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press.
  • The Eagles worked out Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, WR/TE Devon Cajuste, and LB Blake Martinez today, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (Twitter links).
  • 16 teams showed up to watch LB Victor Ochi at Stony Brook’s pro day yesterday, per Pauline, who adds that the Colts privately worked out Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich (post via WalterFootball.com).
  • UCLA KR/WR Devin Fuller worked out for “multiple members of the Falcons braintrust” yesterday, according to Rand Getlin of The NFL Network (via Twitter).
  • Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun will visit with the Vikings next week, according to Darren Wolfson of KTSP (via Twitter).
  • The Bengals were on hand at Western Kentucky’s pro day today to watch TE Tyler Higbee, as Robert Klemko of SI.com tweets.
  • Temple CB Tavon Young will work out for the Cardinals, Jets, Titans, and Ravens, and will visit the Steelers and Ravens, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle (article via NFPost.com).

NFL Draft Rumors: Spence, Jack, Cowboys

Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence is an interesting prospect with one of the more unique “red flag” situations in this year’s class. Spence, a former star at Ohio State, was dismissed from the Buckeyes after two positive tests for ecstasy. In 2015, Spence shined for the Colonels, but he’ll now have to answer questions about his history. They say that honesty is the best policy, and that’s exactly the approach that the defensive end will be taking heading into the draft, as Tony Pauline writes for PhiladelphiaEagles.com.

Last year, cornerback Marcus Peters wound up being a first-round pick of the Chiefs despite his own off-the-field issues. Peters’ strategy was to accept just about every interview and visit request from NFL teams and Spence will be taking a page out of his book. It’s probably not a coincidence that Peters and Spence share the same agent.

Here’s more on the NFL Draft, courtesy of Pauline:

  • Decision makers have indicated to Pauline that UCLA’s Myles Jack will go “very early” in the draft. Pauline admits that he, personally, is not a fan of the linebacker, but NFL decision makers are referring to Jack as a “rare athlete.” There are concerns about his size, but scouts are quick to point to Shaq Thompson, the Panthers first round pick in 2015, as an example of a player who was not held back by his statue. Jack, they say, is also a much better prospect than Thompson.
  • In an informal survey of NFL execs, Pauline says that this is the consensus for how the first five picks will go: 1. Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss, left tackle), 2. Jalen Ramsey (Florida State, defensive back) 3. Jared Goff (Cal, quarterback), 4. Jack, 5) Joey Bosa (Ohio State, defensive end).
  • Ramsey going that early would be disappointing to the Cowboys as Pauline hears that the FSU star sits atop their wish list. Dallas owns the No. 4 pick in the draft. Ramsey, a former top ten recruit out of high school, shows promise at both the cornerback and safety positions. Last season, he tallied 3.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass break-ups. In 2014, he had a gaudy stat line of 79 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and12 pass break-ups.
  • Former LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson is drawing a lot of interest and the Raiders and Giants are among the teams impressed by him. Robinson played at LSU in the 2013 season, but a series of issues led to him being jettisoned from the program. Robinson was suspended indefinitely in 2014 and was denied reinstatement to the program in 2015. Robinson has red flags, but he’s also a 6’2″ corner with talent.
  • Safety Keanu Neal (Florida) is getting late first-round consideration from teams. In fact, several teams view Neal as the “best-looking safety in the draft” thanks in no small part to his explosive play. A leg injury slowed him down somewhat in 2015, but scouts are putting more stock into film from the 2014 season when he was healthy.
  • Indiana defensive tackle Darius Latham has promise and, talent-wise, projects as a second/third round talent. However, like Spence, he has some off-the-field issues that need to be addressed. Latham was suspended back in September for a student ethics violation – the second suspension of his collegiate career. The Indiana standout measures at 6’4″, 310 pounds and finished his IU career with 81 tackles, 31 solo, 7.5 sacks (42 yards), 18.5 tackles for loss (66 yards), two fumble recoveries, one interception, seven pass breakups, and two blocked extra points.
  • Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez is generating buzz after he tallied six tackles in the Senior Bowl, Pauline writes.