Connor Williams

Cowboys Sign 8 Draft Choices

The Cowboys now have all but one of their nine 2018 draft choices signed. Headlined by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas reached agreements with everyone but third-round wide receiver Michael Gallup on Friday, Todd Archer of ESPN.com reports. Here’s the full list of signees:

The structure of the Boise State product’s contract slightly held up the team’s proceedings with its top draft investment, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill (Twitter link), but he’s now signed up. Vander Esch will earn approximately $11.847MM and collect a $6.696MM signing bonus.

Vander Esch met with numerous teams that held picks in the middle of the first round, and despite needs at both pass-catching positions, the Cowboys selected the Mountain West Conference standout. Connor Williams also didn’t play a position of dire need, given Dallas’ three All-Pro linemen, but he’s now in the mix for the team’s left guard spot.

Despite being unsigned, Gallup is working out at the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp on Friday. Many third-round picks around the league have yet to sign. This is an annual tradition due to the CBA’s gray area regarding third-rounders’ compensation.

Extra Points: Gates, Ray, Giants, Cowboys

Last week, news broke that the Chargers and Antonio Gates would not reunite for a 16th season. The Bolts confirmed this on Monday.

Antonio is not only one of the best Chargers of all-time, but he’s one of the best football players in the history of our game,” Tom Telesco said, via Ricky Henne of Chargers.com. “He has meant so much to this organization — both on the field, off the field, in San Diego, in Los Angeles — and we can’t say enough about the type of person he is, and player.

“These decisions are really, really difficult. … There aren’t many guys like him that come along, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years and have had a chance to be around some special players — some special Hall of Fame players — but nobody greater than what he did at his position.”

The Chargers signed former Broncos starter Virgil Green this offseason, and the blocking tight end will pair with Hunter Henry. Gates wants to catch on elsewhere and play what would be his age-38 season. His 114 touchdown receptions are the most by a tight end in NFL history and sixth all-time for any pass-catcher.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • Another AFC West team has a decision regarding a player’s future due soon, and the Bradley Chubb pick may be clouding the Broncos‘ fifth-year option choice on Shane Ray. It’s far from a certainty the Broncos pick up Ray’s 2019 option, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets. Prior to the draft, Ray expected the Broncos to pick up his option — worth $9.232MM. John Elway did not reveal which way he was leaning, and that was before Chubb’s arrival. A 2015 first-round pick, Ray has enjoyed intermittent success, registering eight sacks in 2016, but has missed time due to injuries in 2015 and ’17. Denver also has contract-year outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett on its roster. The Broncos won’t be able to retain both after this season, and keeping either may prove difficult now that Chubb’s in the mix. Denver is projected to possess $28MM-plus in 2019 cap space but has UFAs-to-be like Barrett, Matt Paradis and Bradley Roby potentially on the docket to comprise some of those available dollars.
  • Dave Gettleman didn’t seem too interested in the interest that came his way for the No. 2 pick, but the Giants‘ first-year GM did tell WFAN (via Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com, on Twitter) one team made a respectable offer. It’s uncertain which team supplied such a proposal, but before the draft, a report emerged indicating the Broncos had interest in moving up to No. 2. Elway held Sam Darnold atop his quarterback-prospect hierarchy but elected to stay put and take Chubb.
  • For now, Connor Williams will try to win the Cowboys‘ starting left guard job, Dallas VP of player personnel Will McClay confirmed during a Sirius XM Radio interview (Twitter link). But the Texas tackle will also be viewed as depth behind Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, the latter of whom has multiple years of experience as the Cowboys’ left guard starter. The Cowboys struggled to replace Ronald Leary at left guard last season, and Jonathan Cooper ventured to the 49ers in free agency.

NFL Draft Rumors: Cowboys, Key, Bills

Wednesday marks the final day for NFL draft visits, and we have some notable ones to pass along. Here’s the latest NFL Draft news:

  • LSU linebacker/defensive end Arden Key worked out with the Cowboys on Tuesday and met with the Saints on Wednesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
  • Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans is visiting the Bills and Texas tackle Connor Williams is visiting the Packers, Rapoport tweets.
  • The Patriots are hosting Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley on a pre-draft visit, a source tells Rapoport (on Twitter). The Patriots aren’t known for taking receivers in the first round, but Ridley could be an exception as they look to rebuild that group. Ridley also visited the Bears on Tuesday.
  • Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore seems to be a firm first round prospect, according to Rapoport (on Twitter). For a while, Moore appeared to be a fringe first/second round type, so his stock is improving as the draft draws near. Moore met with the Bills, who pick No. 12 and 22, on Wednesday.
  • Ohio State center Billy Price will meet with the Seahawks, Alex Marvez of SiriusXM tweets. Price is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered during the bench press at the combine. The good news is that Price is expected to be ready in time for training camp.

NFL Draft Rumors: Patriots, Key, 49ers

After losing Nate Solder in free agency, the Patriots are on the lookout for offensive tackle help. With that in mind, the Patriots hosted Texas tackle Connor Williams on a visit on Wednesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Thanks to the Brandin Cooks trade earlier this offseason, the Pats are armed with two picks late in the first round. Williams could be available when the Pats are called to the podium at No. 23, though the league-wide need for tackles could result in the 6’6″ lineman going higher.

Here’s the latest batch of NFL draft news:

  • LSU outside linebacker/defensive end Arden Key worked out for the 49ers on Wednesday and will move on to the Raiders on Thursday, Rapoport tweets.
  • South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert, who could be the first tight end to come off of the board, visited the Dolphins on Wednesday, Rapoport tweets. Miami is reportedly high on him, but he has also met with the Seahawks, Chargers, and Lions, according to Rapoport. As previously reported, the Vikings met with Goedert last week.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Oliver has had workouts/visits with the Eagles, Falcons, Bears, Texans, 49ers, Cardinals, Panthers, Patriots, Saints, Broncos, and Cowboys, sources tell Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Miller personally believes that he would be a great fit for Arizona. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has Oliver ranked as the 36th best prospect in this year’s draft and it would be no surprise to see him go in the first round.
  • Georgia running back Nick Chubb will visit with the Buccaneers on Wednesday, according to Josh Norris of NBC Sports (on Twitter). Chubb has been lauded for his power and ability to run on the inside and figures to be a second round pick.
  • The Lions hosted Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson for a visit on Tuesday, Rapoport tweets. Johnson was recently bumped from Jeremiah’s top 50 but should still garner consideration in the second round.

Draft Notes: Nelson, Evans, Patriots

The 2018 draft class is considered to be one of the deepest in recent memory with respect to quarterback talent, and the quarterbacks are understandably dominating draft-related stories. But there are plenty of other collegiate players with the potential to dominate at the next level, so let’s round up a few non-QB draft notes:

  • Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com believes there is a “decent” chance that the Giants trade down from their No. 2 overall selection, and if they do, he believes Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson would be the target. Nelson is widely-regarded as the safest bet in the draft.
  • Because there is so much QB talent in the draft, as many as six signal-callers could be taken before New England’s No. 23 overall pick rolls around. As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes, that could allow the Patriots to land the type of player it rarely gets the chance to select, as they are typically picking at the end of the first round. Reiss suggests that Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans could be the team’s target, as he would provide much-needed speed at the LB position.
  • Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne, an excellent run-stuffer who has the skills to become a quality pass-rusher as well, will meet with the Bengals tomorrow, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).
  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union thinks the Jaguars need another TE who can threaten the middle of the field to take attention off their outside receivers, and he believes Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews would be a good fit for Jacksonville’s No. 29 overall selection.
  • Florida DT Taven Bryan has been generating a lot of buzz lately, per Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, who tweets that the Gator could be a top-25 pick. Miller suggests the Falcons, who are working out another DT in N.C. State’s B.J. Hill, could be a fit.
  • Miller tweets that three offensive tackles are considered locks for Round 1: Texas’ Connor Williams, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, and UCLA’s Kolton Miller.
  • UCF’s Mike Hughes has a great deal of upside and is the No. 15 overall prospect in Daniel Jermiah’s most recent Top 50 rankings. However, Miller believes that, because of Hughes’ off-field concerns, he could be the fourth or fifth CB off the board (Twitter link).
  • There are four linebackers expected to be taken in the first round, per Miller (via Twitter): Evans, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch, and Georgia’s Roquan Smith. Miller says Edmunds’ stock is rising rapidly and that he should be a top-10 selection.

NFL Draft Rumors: Bucs, Packers, James

Florida State safety Derwin James spent Wednesday meeting with the Buccaneers and will sit down with the Packers on Thursday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). James, the No. 9 ranked safety in the draft per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, offers versatility with experience at both safety spots, nickel cornerback, and even outside linebacker. He arguably performs better when playing closer to the line, so the team that drafts him will likely look to continue using him in multiple roles.

Here’s more NFL Draft news:

  • NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb met with the Buccaneers on Wednesday and is visiting the Giants on Thursday, Rapoport tweets. Chubb has another top 5 team visit next week, Rapoport notes, but he did not specify the club.
  • Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy was with the Vikings on Wednesday, Rapoport tweets. Cichy suffered an ACL tear in the summer that prevented him from seeing the field in 2017. Before the injury, he was considered a first-round prospect and he could still come off the board in Day 2 if he demonstrates that he is healthy.
  • Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward is visiting the 49ers on Thursday, according to Rapoport (on Twitter). The Niners pick No. 9 overall and he could be a possibility for San Francisco there. SF will also meet with Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter.
  • The Bears met with a pair of top defensive backs in Ward and Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), Rapoport tweets. Fitzpatrick previously visited the Buccaneers. The Bears own the No. 8 pick in the draft, so they could be in range for both players.
  • The Vikings met with University of Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams and Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, Rapoport tweets. Jeremiah has Williams ranked as the No. 21 prospect in this year’s draft while McGlinchey is at No. 35.
  • Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans visited the Dolphins (No. 11) this week, Rapoport tweets. Evans, who played all over in Bama’s front seven, offers strong coverage against both tight ends and running backs.
  • Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne is meeting with the Falcons, according to Rapoport.
  • The Buccaneers, who own the No. 7 pick in the first round, had former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson in for a visit on Wednesday, Adam Caplan of ESPN.com tweets.

Draft Notes: McGlinchey, Edmunds, R. Smith

The 2018 offensive tackle class is setting up to underwhelm, as Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.net observes in his latest look at this year’s prospects. So far, most NFL clubs only rate one tackle — Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey — as worthy of a first-round pick, and given that he may be the only available tackle capable of starting on day one, his stock figures to rise even more as draft day approaches. Meanwhile, Orlando Brown (Oklahoma) is viewed as a right tackle, while Connor Williams (Texas) is only on some teams’ guard boards. Further down the list, Western Michigan’s Chukwuma Okorafor, Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill, and UCLA’s Kolton Miller are considered Day 2 selections, while Martinas Rankin (Mississippi State) isn’t believed to be a left tackle at the pro level, per Pauline.

Here’s more on the 2018 draft, all courtesy of Pauline:

  • With NFL teams searching for athletic linebackers, Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Teach) and Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State) are likely to come off the board earlier than many expect, according to Pauline. In fact, Edmunds is rising up draft boards so quickly that he may become a top-12 selection. However, the scouting combine will prove to be an important test for Edmunds, per Pauline, who says the former Hokie lacks “quick change-of-direction skills.” Vander Esch, meanwhile, is being compared to former Bears linebacker and 2018 Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, and most clubs believe he can be a three-down defender.
  • While Edmund and Vander Esch are drawing rave reviews, fellow linebacker Roquan Smith is trending in the other direction, reports Pauline. Given that the pass game now dominates the pro ranks, Smith’s problems playing man coverage against opposing running backs and tight ends could prove troublesome. However, Pauline says Smith can be effective when used in zone coverage, which should make the Georgia product viable for a good number of NFL teams.
  • Wake Forest edge rusher Duke Ejiofor underwent surgery for a torn labrum in late January, but Pauline doesn’t believe the operation will affect Ejiofor’s draft stock. Projected as a Day 2 pick, Ejiofor is expected to run a 4.75 40-yard dash despite sitting at nearly 270 pounds. Scouts are impressed by Ejiofor’s “explosiveness, power, and athleticism,” and given that his labrum injury occurred in October, teams can account for any drop in performance after that time.

OT Orlando Brown Declares For NFL Draft

Another potential first round pick is throwing their name into the upcoming draft mix. Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown announced his intentions to forego his senior year and declare for the 2018 NFL Draft on his personal Twitter account tonight.

Orlando Brown (Vertical)

“After talking things over with my family and coaches, I will be declaring early for the NFL Draft. It’s been an amazing 4 years here. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other university. Thank you Sooner Nation!!!”

Brown is listed at a large 6’8”, 345 lbs, which gives him a large presence when he is on the field. He’s also been durable throughout his college career, having starting 40 games in three seasons at Oklahoma. Brown was a unanimous first team All-American and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy in 2017. In addition, he was voted as the Big 12’s best offensive lineman from this past season.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report ranked Borwn as his third-best offensive tackle in his November big board. Brown is likely to compete with other top offensive line prospects like Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, along Texas’ Connor Williams as projected first round picks come April.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Notes: Mayfield, Lamar, Barkley

While there’s still plenty of time for evaluation before the 2018 draft gets underway in April, it would be a “surprise” if Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield isn’t selected in the first round, according to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. Mayfield, this year’s Heisman winner, completed 71% of his passes this season for 4,340 yards, 41 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Per Breer, there are character questions about Mayfield, and his height (6’1″) could also present concerns. But Todd McShay of ESPN.com placed Mayfield in the first round of his first 2018 mock draft, and new Browns general manager John Dorsey — who will certainly be in the quarterback market next year — recently sang Mayfield’s praises.

Here’s more on next year’s NFL draft, all courtesy of Breer:

  • Mayfield may be a locked-in first round, but last year’s Heisman — Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson — isn’t likely to be selected on Day 1, reports Breer. Some evaluators have openly wondered if Jackson will play wide receiver in the NFL, but he simply may need time to develop at the next level. Indeed, Breer says there are still questions about Jackson’s “instincts and anticipation,” as well as those who believe Jackson is “more thrower than passer.” Jackson has topped 3,400 yards passing and 1,400 yards rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • While the 2018 running back class may not compare to that of 2017 (which included Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, and many others), Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is still viewed as an elite prospect, per Breer. While Barkley faded down the stretch, one AFC executive tells Breer “to the people that matter, nothing’s changed” in regards to Barkley’s draft stock. Barkley posted at least 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons as a Nittany Lion, and scored 34 touchdowns over the past two years.
  • Running backs might not be plentiful in 2018, but next year’s class is loaded with offensive line talent. Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, plus Texas’ Connor Williams, are all potential top-15 picks, per Breer. That’s quite a contrast to 2017, when only two offensive lineman were selected in the first round (with Garett Bolles being the first off the board at No. 20).
  • Although Courtland Sutton (SMU) perhaps isn’t as well-known as Alabama’s Calvin Ridley or Oklahoma State’s James Washington, he has a chance to become the first wide receiver selected, according to Breer. Sutton, who is expected to stand 6’4″, 230 pounds at the combine, could even be a top-10 pick. From 2016-17, Sutton averaged 68 receptions, 1,132 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
  • Analysts believe Mayfield, North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb, and Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst all helped their draft stock by staying in school for an extra season, says Breer. What does one evaluator like about Chubb, who has posted 10 sacks in consecutive seasons? “Everything.”

Texas T Connor Williams To Enter NFL Draft

With the majority of college teams’ regular seasons having concluded, draft announcements are underway. One potential top-10 pick will be making the move to the pros come 2018.

Texas tackle Connor Williams will declare for the 2018 draft and will not play in the Longhorns’ bowl game, Williams announced (on Twitter). He will not play in the Longhorns’ to-be-determined bowl game, per the Longhorn Network (on Twitter).

Viewed as a top-tier offensive line prospect, Williams is a junior and was a first-team All-American as a sophomore. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman was projected to go inside the top 10 on Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller’s most recent mock.

Considering what happened to Jake Butt last season in Michigan’s bowl game, and the fact Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipped theirs and went in the top 10, the bowl-skipping trend could be a widespread tactic this year.

My family and I have decided it is my best interest to forgo the bowl game and my senior season to begin preparing for my professional football career,” Williams said in a statement (via TexasSports.com). “One of the reasons I worked so hard to come back from my injury was to help the team reach its goal of playing in a bowl game, and I’m proud we were able to accomplish that.”

Williams missed time this season with an MCL injury.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.