Derrick Henry

South Notes: Panthers, Newton, Titans, Davis, Henry, Buccaneers, Winston

Just three years ago, Cam Newton was the league’s MVP who led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. The past two years haven’t gone nearly as well for him, and now Newton is on the “hot seat” according to David Newton of ESPN.com. He notes that 2018 will be a big year for Newton as he starts anew with a new offensive coordinator and scheme.

“If he doesn’t show improvement after consecutive down years, there will be a lot of questions about his future” he writes. Newton is the face of the franchise, but the team could theoretically get out of his contract relatively easily after this season. It would be shocking if it happens, but according to this report, it’s not totally inconceivable that the end of the Cam Newton-era in Carolina could be near if he doesn’t turn things around this season.

Here’s more from the league’s southern divisions:

  • Corey Davis “was one of the stars” of the Titans’ early offseason workouts, according to Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com. The fifth overall pick in 2017, Davis was somewhat limited by injuries last season, but still flashed a ton of potential. Wyatt notes that Davis “looked smooth during the offseason, snatching the ball out of the air with ease in traffic”, and that the team is “counting on Davis to make a big leap in Year 2.”
  • Jameis Winston‘s suspension may have caught a lot of people by surprise, but it didn’t shock the Buccaneers, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Stroud writes that the Bucs had been bracing for the suspension for quite some time, and re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick back in March knowing they might need him to start some games.
  • “The plan” is for Derrick Henry to be the Titans‘ lead back in 2018, according to Wyatt. The Titans signed Dion Lewis to a four-year, $20MM deal this offseason, but apparently view him as more of a complimentary piece.

Murray Suffered Third Degree MCL Tear

An MRI revealed that Titans running back DeMarco Murray has a third degree MCL tear, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). The veteran back believes he can play through the injury with the Titans aiming for a playoff spot. DeMarco Murray

This is a change from Schefter original report on Sunday night that Murray sprained his MCL in the Week 16 tilt with the Rams. Murray’s status is still up in the air, with head coach Mike Mularkey saying on Sunday night the back was day-to-day and commenting on his toughness.

The Titans currently own the final wildcard spot in the AFC with an 8-7 record and just need a win vs. the Jaguars, or losses from both the Chargers and Bill, to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Though in front for the final spot, Tennessee has dropped three consecutive games.

If Murray was to be held out of action, 2016 second-round pick Derrick Henry would assume the role of lead back. Henry has been the better back, out-gaining Murray by 34 yards on 36 fewer carries.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Tennessee Titans

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.

Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with Dave-Te Thomas’ insight on the Tennessee Titans’ draft class:

First Round – Jack Conklin, OT (Michigan State, No. 8 overall)

It was apparent after last season that the Titans needed to address their lack of depth on defense, but they also had to add speed on offense. Ultimately, Tennessee started the draft by placing a higher priority in protecting their franchise quarterback and opted to build a formidable front line that already featured two first rounders and four starters selected by the team since the 2013 draft phase. Jack Conklin (vertical)

The Titans watched Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil slide down the board, but he wasn’t the tackle that they wanted when they traded up from No. 15 to No. 8. When they owned the first overall pick in the draft, many draft experts expected that Tunsil was a shoe-in, but all along the Titans were eyeing either Conklin or Notre Dame standout Ronnie Stanley.

Being a Top Ten choice does not always spell instant success, at least where offensive tackles are concerned. Among the 179 offensive tackles to ever be drafted in the first round, four never even played in any NFL games and seven others never started any contests during their pro careers. Since the 1970 draft, five other first round offensive tackle selections never reached double-digit starting figures.

Still, Conklin’s future looks bright and his presence is doubly appreciated following Byron Bell‘s season-ending ankle injury. His injury leaves the door open for Conklin to immediately step in as the new starter at right tackle, joining 2013 first round right guard Chance Warmack, 2014 first round left tackle Taylor Lewan, 2015 third round left guard Jeremiah Poutasi, and 2013 fourth round center Brian Schwenke up front.

Second Round – Austin Johnson, DT (Penn State, No. 43 overall)

Dick LeBeau is placing more emphasis on the 3-4 game this season and second round pick Kevin Dodd is currently sidelined with a foot injury, which means that the team could experiment with Jurrell Casey playing on the edge and DaQuan Jones on the opposite side. That would leave Johnson to battle Al Woods for time in the middle of the front wall.

The former journalism major graduated from school early and was eligible to compete at the 2016 Senior Bowl, where he put on quite a performance throughout the week-long practices. Johnson ranked second among interior defensive linemen in the major college ranks and finished third overall on his team with 70 tackles. That was the most tackles for a Penn State defensive lineman since Jimmy Kennedy (87) in 2002. He also recorded 6.5 sacks among his fifteen stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2015.

With his thick-cut frame, Johnson can play either the zero-gap or line up as a traditional under-tackle when the team utilizes the 4-3 scheme. He’s proven last season that he can be very stout at the point of attack and you have to be impressed with his balance and coordination when attacking the rush lanes, along with his great leg drive and core strength to anchor vs. double teams.

Second Round – Derrick Henry, RB (Alabama, No. 45 overall)

DeMarco Murray is a ball-hungry veteran intent on proving that last season’s debacle in Philadelphia was a one-time thing. If Murray looks strong off the bat, it remains to be seen how playing time in the backfield will be divvied up. Murray only had 193 carries (3.6 avg) last season, but he had his best year when he carried the rock for 392 times for Dallas in 2014.

Henry is a one-time starter who needs room to operate and build his acceleration. He will have the benefit of seeing fellow Tide backfield mate, Jalston Fowler, serving as the team’s lead blocker out of the backfield, but he will still have to vie for “scraps” that Murray leaves on the table. Further complicating the touches available for Tennessee players is the fact that Bishop Sankey, David Cobb, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews, and David Fluellen will all be fighting for the two available slots behind Murray on the depth chart, though Sankey could be traded. Only time will tell if Henry can be a successful runner in the NFL and the same goes for his opportunity level in 2016.

Third Round – Kevin Byard, FS (Middle Tennessee State, No. 64 overall)

Kevin Byard (vertical)Ever since LeBeau became a coordinator, he has surrounded himself with smart, instinctive safeties. Last year, the Titans made a great move by securing the services of former Bills strong safety Da’Norris Searcy. Now, in Byard, they believe they have a ball-hawk free safety to pair with to Searcy’s hard-hitting style. Byard has nineteen interceptions to show for those ball-hawking skills at MTSU, but despite his pedigree and fine performances in practice at the 2016 Senior Bowl, he was not invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. The Titans realized what he can offer, as he not only set the school all-time theft mark, but also returned those interceptions for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

Byard’s arrival does not mean he will be the instant starter at free safety, which is where Arizona castoff Rashad Johnson resides. His versatility (he played every secondary position in college) will see him be called upon to play the slot corner spot in passing situations and he could also be utilized as a Cover-2 linebacker vs. the run. All that stands in his way for playing time is a challenge from veteran Marqueston Huff, along with Daimion Stafford and Lamarcus Brutus for the two safety spots on the second unit.

Fifth Round – Tajae Sharpe, WR (UMass, No. 140 overall)

To hear Marcus Mariota and the offensive coaches during mini-camp, you’d think that they’d hit the lottery with this fifth round find. Nagging injuries limited the UMass receiver to eleven games last year, but he still pulled in 111 balls, breaking the school season-record. He also holds the career marks with 271 receptions for 3,348 yards. His addition gives Mariota another big, physical possession-type receiver, one with very reliable hands and excellent route-running ability.

Sharpe’s arrival could take playing time away from 2015 second rounder Dorial Green-Beckham, who will now compete with aging veteran Harry Douglas for outside receiver chores. Kendall Wright should line up outside on the right side, and Sharpe expected to challenge Miami castoff Rishard Matthews for the slot receiver role. The team plans on keeping five receivers, putting Douglas and 2013 second round pick Justin Hunter on the bubble. Ben Roberts, Tre McBride, Reece Horn and Andrew Turzilli all appear to be “warm bodies” for training camp at this position.

Fifth Round – Sebastian Tretola, OG (Arkansas, No. 193 overall)

Bell’s loss also gives Tretotala a great opportunity for playing time. Bell was also projected to serve as the top reserve guard, but that role will likely fall to the former Razorback. What Tretola lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with his high level of aggression, especially in the running game. He should easily steal away playing time from fellow Titans reserve blockers, Josue Matias, Andy Gallik, Quinton Spain, and Nick Ritcher. That quartet holds one distinction: none of them were ever drafted. The Titans also signed Ben Jones away from the Texans, but he was mainly brought in to challenge Schwenke for the center spot.

Dave-Te Thomas owns and operates The NFL Draft Report, a service which has provided insight to league scouting departments for over 40 years. All year round, can read Thomas’ in-depth reviews of both blue chip prospects and diamonds in the rough by visiting the NFL Draft Report blog. 

 

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans Cut Damaris Johnson, Add 11 UDFAs

The Titans, one of the last teams in the NFL to formally announce their undrafted free agent class, have done so today, confirming in a press release that they’ve agreed to terms with 11 rookies who weren’t selected in the 2016 draft. The team announced that it has reached deals with six members of its ’16 draft class as well.

In addition to bringing in 11 undrafted free agents and locking up six draftees, the team also announced that it has waived two veteran players — wide receiver Damaris Johnson and cornerback Steven Clarke. A former Vanderbilt CB, Clarke spent last summer with the Dolphins but has never appeared in an NFL regular season game. Johnson, on the other hand, has played in 44 career contests, most notably catching 31 balls for 331 yards and a touchdown during the 2014 season for the Texans.

Here’s the complete list of the Titans’ 11 incoming UDFAs:

And here’s the list of Titans draft picks who have agreed to terms with the team so far:

First-round tackle Jack Conklin and second-round edge defender Kevin Dodd are among the draftees who have yet to finalize contracts with the club.

 

Draft Rumors: Titans, Eagles, Dolphins, Drake

Titans general manager Jon Robinson completed a major trade today, sending the No. 1 overall pick – along with a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder – to Los Angeles in exchange for six picks, including two first-rounders. In fact, according to multiple reports, the deal was finalized last night, but the Rams wanted to wait until today to announce it to avoid stealing headlines during Kobe Bryant’s final game.

Speaking to reporters today, Robinson suggested that he may not be done dealing. Armed with four picks in the top 45, and six in the top 76, the Titans GM referred to those extra picks as “currency,” suggesting Tennessee has options when it comes to moving up or down during the draft. Robinson added that his phone “is still working,” inviting teams to call him if they want to discuss trades (Twitter links).

As we wait to see if Robinson has any other mega-deals up his sleeve, let’s round up a few more draft updates and rumors…

  • Before agreeing to send their top pick to L.A., the Titans had spoken to the Eagles about the possibility of a swap involving that No. 1 pick, but Philadelphia withdrew its offer earlier this week, a source tells Ed Werder of ESPN.com (Twitter link). As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of Philadelphia continuing to explore a potential trade with the Browns, who hold the No. 2 pick. Of course, that would only be plausible if the Rams don’t select the QB the Eagles like, and the Browns decide not to take a QB of their own.
  • The Dolphins, who remain in the market for help at the running back position, have shown interest in Alabama reserve RB Kenyan Drake, but not Crimson Tide starter Derrick Henry, observes Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald (Twitter link).
  • The Rams, Falcons, and Seahawks are among the teams interested in Utah State wide receiver Brandon Swindall, who has intrigued NFL clubs, writes Aaron Wilson of The National Football Post.
  • Air Force tight end/long snapper Garrett Griffin is drawing interest from the Lions, Saints, Chargers, 49ers, Chiefs, and Broncos, as Aaron Wilson tweets.
  • Duke safety Jeremy Cash had more than 10 teams at his pro day, including the Panthers, Steelers, Falcons, Cardinals, and Saintstweets Rand Getlin of NFL.com.

Cowboys Rumors: Hardy, Goff, Wentz

The latest out of Dallas:

  • Free agent defensive end Greg Hardy sat down for an interview with Adam Schefter of ESPN (video link) and claimed that he never put his hands on his alleged domestic assault victim. Hardy had another solid season as a pass rusher in 2015, recording six sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception in 12 games for the Cowboys. However, he remains on the open market thanks to his reputation for being difficult in the locker room and the PR backlash that his signing would bring for a team.
  • The Cowboys will bring in quarterbacks Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, Connor Cook, and Jacoby Brissett for visits, as Todd Archer of ESPN.com writes. Hackenberg, Cook, and Brissett could be had later in the draft while Goff, Wentz, and Lynch are likely first round picks.
  • Laquon Treadwell will visit with the Cowboys tomorrow, according to Rand Getlin of NFL.com (on Twitter).
  • Shaq Lawson‘s long anticipated visit to the Cowboys took place on Monday, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
  • Alabama running back Derrick Henry will visit the Cowboys this week, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
  • Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter links) has the details on Joe Looney‘s two-year contract with Dallas. The interior lineman will get $1.675MM with a $100K signing bonus and salaries of $775K and $800K. He’ll also get a $250K play time incentive in 2016 and a $500K playtime incentive in 2017.
  • Jack Crawford‘s one-year deal will pay him $1.1MM but he can earn up to $1.6MM through incentives, Clarence Hill of The Star-Telegram tweets.

Draft Notes: Browns, Seahawks, Saints

Some assorted draft notes from around the NFL…

  • Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook had an official visit with the Browns, reports Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com. The writer notes that Cook could be an option towards the end of the first round. This follows news that the organization was planning on hosting Carson Wentz, who the team could theoretically select with the second-overall pick.
  • Alabama running back Derrick Henry is set to meet with the Seahawks, reports Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. “I have my own path. (Marshawn Lynch) did a great job; unbelievable job with the Seahawks,” Henry said. “But you know, I wanna have my own path and do my own thing.”
  • If teams are seeking help at defensive tackle, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah believes they won’t have to spend a first-rounder to secure one. “A lot of it has been said out there, but it’s one of the best defensive tackle drafts I can remember,” Jeremiah said (via Evan Woodbery of NOLA.com). “I started in 2003 in scouting, and I can’t remember this much depth of talent at that position.”
  • Meanwhile, while Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell could be a logical pick for the Saints with the 12th pick, Jeremiah believes the team would be better off holding out. “We’ve been so spoiled the last two years with the depth of talent, I don’t think we quite have that this year in terms of that top-end talent (at receiver),” Jeremiah said. “But I do think in the middle rounds there is a lot of value to be found there.”

South Notes: D. Jackson, Titans, Brees, Draft

Earlier this week, Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was found guilty of simple assault, stemming from a February 2015 altercation with a delivery driver. On Tuesday, Jackson responded to the decision by issuing the following statement, per Mike Berman of CBS4 in Indianapolis (Twitter link):

“I was surprised and disappointed by yesterday’s verdict and we are planning to appeal. I sincerely believe justice will eventually prevail. Nevertheless, I sincerely regret that this case ever happened and has gotten to this point. I will continue to live my life in a way that confirms I am a good and honorable citizen.”

While Jackson seems unlikely to face severe legal penalties, no matter how the case is resolved, the NFL could eventually hand down discipline of its own for the incident.

Here’s more from around the NFL’s two South divisions:

  • Word in league circles is that the Titans are still shopping the first overall pick, exploring trade options, a league source tells Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com (Twitter link). If Tennessee does make a deal involving its No. 1 pick, it’s unlikely to be consummated until much closer to draft day.
  • Former agent Joel Corry takes a deep dive into the Drew Brees contract situation in a piece for CBSSports.com, explaining how the Saints could create $10MM in 2016 cap room by signing their star quarterback to an extension through the 2020 season.
  • Albama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd are among the draft prospects set to visit the Panthers, per multiple reports (Twitter links via Tom Pelissero of USA Today and Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer). David Newton of ESPN.com explores Henry’s potential fit in Carolina.
  • The Falcons, who are looking to improve their team speed at the linebacker position, have a private workout scheduled with LSU’s Deion Jones on Thursday, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com details.

Alabama RB Derrick Henry To Enter Draft

Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry has decided to enter the 2016 NFL draft, according to Joe Schad of ESPN.com. By entering this year’s draft, Henry will forgo his final year of college eligibility.Derrick Henry

Henry, a Consensus All-American, led the nation with 395 carries for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns in his junior year at Alabama. He capped his incredible year by rushing for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries in the Crimson Tide’s championship win earlier this week.

Henry’s staggering workload may be of some concern to teams, since only six running backs in NFL history have ever racked up 395 or more rushing attempts in a regular season. Still, he is viewed as one of the top backs in this year’s draft class, trailing only Ezekiel Elliott in the estimation of CBSSports.com and ESPN’s Todd McShay. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report currently places Henry fourth among running backs on his big board.

While Henry doesn’t currently project as a first-round pick, he looks like a good bet to come off the board on day two of this year’s draft. He could also be joined by several of his Alabama teammates in the 2016 draft class. Schad reports that defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson has seriously considered entering the draft, while defensive end Jonathan Allen and tight end O.J. Howard have also weighed the possibility.

The deadline for NCAA underclassmen to declare their intent is next Monday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Nkemdiche, Henry, McCarthy, Kelly

Consensus top-10 pick Robert Nkemdiche remains in stable condition after a fall from a hotel room window in Atlanta, David Ching of ESPN.com reports.

Reports varied over the nature of the Ole Miss junior defensive lineman’s fall, with this tweet indicating the Atlanta police said Nkemdiche fell from a fourth-floor window. But according to Ching’s report, police indicated this was a one-story fall of approximately 15 feet.

Per Ching, Nkemdiche appeared to have broken the window, climbed over another wall before falling to the ground. A small amount of “suspected marijuana” was present inside the room.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report projects Nkemdiche to go fourth in the 2016 draft, and Mel Kiper Jr. lists the former No. 1 overall recruit as his No. 5 prospect.

Here are some additional news items on draft prospects and other news from around the league.

  • Character issues are affecting Nkemdiche’s perception among NFL decision-makers, Miller reports (video link). Miller, however, cautions that demoting character risks can be costly, considering Justin Houston and Tyrann Mathieu‘s rapid rises.
  • Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player, but that doesn’t automatically mean he will be a high draft pick, writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. He spoke with former scout Dan Hatman, who has Henry rated between his 100th and 150th best prospect, citing his reliance on blocking, poor change of direction, and a heavy college workload as reasons to be wary of overrating the top college running back.
  • Mike McCarthy notified associate head coach Tom Clements on Monday he’d be reassuming control of calling the Packers‘ plays, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports. The 10th-year Packers coach was following the advice of others in the organization urging him to do so, but McCarthy demurred initially because of fear it would make Clements and offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett look bad, Demovsky notes. Entering Sunday’s game, the Packers ranked 22nd in offense and 26th in third-down conversions. They rushed for 230 yards against the Cowboys. Clements last called plays for the Drew Bledsoe-era Bills in the mid-2000s. “The personal part of it was brutal,” McCarthy told media regarding Clements’ demotion. “Professionally, I felt like I had to do it. I was worried about making sure I was going to do my job good.”
  • Chip Kelly denied calling LeSean McCoy this week, an alleged phone call that resulted in the former Eagles running back hanging up on his ex-coach. “When people want to make up false stories about me calling people up during the week and them hanging up on me – people (are) trying to get Twitter hits or things like that and make themselves significant,” Kelly told media. The Philadelphia Inquirer stands by the story, the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane writes. Kelly attempted to call McCoy after news of the trade with the Bills in March, however.
  • Gus Bradley‘s job should be safe after the Jaguars‘ 51-16 thrashing of the Colts, O’Halloran writes. O’Halloran believes Bradley was on thin ice prior to this performance, but notching his fifth victory and first over the Colts puts the former Seahawks DC on firm ground in O’Halloran’s mind.
  • A 2011 loss in Jacksonville prompted Jim Irsay to fire Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell, and Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star wonders if the Colts‘ owner’s reached his decision to fire Chuck Pagano after allowing the 5-8 Jaguars to put up 51 points. In his contract’s final year, Pagano seems a pretty safe bet for a Black Monday headline.
  • Next week’s must-win for the Colts could feature career backup Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, Kevin Bowen of Colts.com writes. With Andrew Luck throwing but not yet practicing and Matt Hasselbeck exiting Sunday’s rout early, next week’s Colts-Texans game could double as Whitehurst’s second-biggest career start, after the infamous Week 17 2010 game that clinched the 7-9 Seahawks’ playoff berth. The 33-year-old Whitehurst has made nine career starts, including five last season with the Titans.

Rob Dire contributed to this report.