JuJu Smith-Schuster

NFL Suspends Steelers’ Smith-Schuster, Bengals’ Iloka

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Bengals safety George Iloka have each been suspended one game for violations of safety-related playing rules on Monday night. The league announced the suspensions in a press release on Tuesday, and has already denied an appeal by Smith-Schuster. JuJu Smith-Schuster (vertical)

In his letter to Smith-Schuster notifying him of the suspension, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan slammed his unsportsmanlike conduct in his illegal hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Runyan also noted of Smith-Schuster’s taunting:

You are suspended for the dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts you committed during the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Specifically, with 7:10 remaining, on a passing play to a running back, you lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area. You then “celebrated” the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.”

Smith-Schuster is appealing his one-game suspension, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Per the collective bargaining agreement, his appeal will be heard by either Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks or former NFL receiver James Thrash.

Meanwhile, Iloka will serve a one-game ban for his helmet to helmet hit on Antonio Brown with 3:55 left in the game. He’ll miss Sunday’s game against the Bears while Smith-Schuster will be forced out of Sunday’s primetime matchup against the Ravens.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Peyton, Fuller, Big Ben, JuJu

Peyton Manning has taken a few years off from the game after his Super Bowl farewell in 2016. However, he’s been widely speculated to move into a team president type role as soon as he fills like jumping back into the industry, and there should a wide amount of interest in his services.

As part of his Friday column, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated mentioned that Manning would likely be on the top of the list for any team with an opening at the head of their football operations. He spoke to a source on the Broncos current staff who said that, “There’d honestly be no one better.” 

Breer expressed that while the former Colts and Broncos signal caller doesn’t have any front office experience, he’s been preparing for the position for years as a player, specifically shadowing the actions of current Broncos football czar, John Elway. As a player, Manning always kept tabs on the draft, free agency and many of the other aspects that go into leading an NFL franchise. While there’s nothing like firsthand experience in that atmosphere, Manning has clearly demonstrated his vast knowledge of the game in the way he revolutionized the quarterback position during his time in the league.

“He’ll be extremely successful in anything he chooses to do because of the person is, how smart he is and how hard he works,” said one personnel man who worked with him in Indy. “He’ll be extremely well prepared, have done research on the job and have an understanding of what the job entails. 

Breer speculates that the Browns would likely be clamoring to bring Manning aboard to lead their football operations, among pretty much any other front office needy franchise.

  • The Texans have been without big play threat Will Fuller for the past two weeks and head coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t expect that to change in Week 13, reports Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The 2016 first round pick missed the opening part of the year with injury too, but sandwiched an outstanding run of games in which he scored six times in four contests. Barshop does note that the O’Brien didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of Fuller making a return in the final few weeks of the regular season.
  • The Steelers are in a much different spot than the Giants at this point in time, but veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger opened up to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to discuss how he empathizes with the situation Eli Manning is going through right now. “It sparks the reality that that could be me,” Roethlisberger said. “They could do that to me next year or whenever, who knows? It’s eye-opening that you have to take every play, every game, don’t take it for granted, take it for what it is because you never know when you’re done.” However, while Big Ben and Eli were taken in the same draft and both have multiple Super Bowls to their credit, the Steelers signal caller doesn’t believe that the only team he’s ever known would treat him in the same way. “I don’t, and I don’t mean to talk negatively about the Giants, especially I know the Steelers and Giants are very close and are family, too. But I don’t think they would, I think they would handle it differently.” These are interesting comments considering Roethlisberger expressed some reservations about continuing to play this past offseason, and even though he’s recovered nicely from a unusually slow start, the fact that he’s thinking about these career questions shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • On the field, Pittsburgh is expected to have rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster back in the lineup for the team’s Monday night affair against the Bengals, according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk. The 21-year-old sat out last week’s victory over the Packers with an ankle injury, but returned to practice in-full on Thursday. He’ll likely continue to operate in the slot with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant playing more on the boundaries.



AFC Notes: Gordon, Bolts, Cutler, Steelers

Browns receiver Josh Gordon declared himself ready to go despite having another week before he is ready to be activated, according to ESPN’s Tony Grossi.

It’s been awesome. It’s been a joy. It’s been fun. It’s been exciting,” Gordon said Friday. “I think I knocked that rust off prior to getting back to the building. I think I accomplished that. First day of practice, [I was] able to adjust pretty quickly.

Anyone worried about Gordon needing time to round into shape hasn’t kept up with his comeback. The former All-Pro receiver has been working out constantly and looks ready to go when the team can activate him in Week 13.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • The Chargers did not escape their Thanksgiving Day bout with the Cowboys unscathed. Kicker Nick Novak sustained a back injury and his status has led the team to possibly tryout kickers next week, Eric Williams of ESPN reports (Twitter link).
  • Staying in Los Angeles, the Chargers also expect rookie wideout Mike Williams to miss time, though it has ruled out an ACL injury, Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams writes. Williams was carted off the field with an injury during the game.
  • The Dolphins have ruled out Jay Cutler (concussion) for Week 12 vs. New England, ESPN’s James Walker reports (Twitter link). The team will turn to Matt Moore for the divisional bout.
  • Steelers rookie wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster has been ruled out of the team’s Sunday night matchup with Green Bay, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. (Twitter link). The first-year receiver from USC has been impressive in recent weeks, averaging 17.2 yards per reception and logging five touchdowns on the season. He will miss the game due to a hamstring injury.

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster Signs Rookie Deal

JuJu Smith-Schuster is officially a member of the Steelers. The team announced on Wednesday that the second round pick has inked his rookie deal. JuJu Smith-Schuster (vertical)

Smith-Schuster first received national attention in 2015 when he caught 89 passes for 1,454 yards and ten touchdowns at USC. He wasn’t quite as impressive last year as he battled through a back injury, but he still managed to haul in 70 receptions for 914 yards and ten scores. The stock of the 6’1″, 215 pound receiver may have dipped a bit in 2016, but the Steelers see him as a first-round caliber talent and someone who can help take some of the heat off of Antonio Brown.

A former USC assistant coach gushed over Smith-Schuster’s work ethic and athleticism before the draft.

He has a mom and stepdad who keep him grounded. His passion and enthusiasm are second to none and he absolutely loves football. He came in as a safety and probably could have gone pro as a safety as well if he had stayed there,” the coach told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Notes: QBs, Foster, Ross, Cook, Mixon

Although the 2017 rookie quarterback pool has been heavily scrutinized this offseason, teams are warming up to select signal-callers as the draft nears. While this shouldn’t be unexpected, given the position’s scarcity at the sport’s highest level, Charlie Casserly of NFL.com and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (Twitter link) hear two QBs could well be taken in the top 10. A GM told Casserly he expects two quarterbacks to be taken in the top nine picks, meaning the Bills — who have been linked to passers at 10 — could have to look elsewhere if they don’t trade up. Miller points to Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes as the players most likely to be those top-nine choices, while a 22-team survey from Casserly produced Trubisky or Deshaun Watson as the quarterbacks teams identify as this draft’s best.

Here’s more from this draft pool, with the three-day event less than six days away.

  • Reuben Foster has been linked as high as No. 2 overall to the 49ers, but since, the former Alabama linebacker has run into off-field trouble on multiple fronts. And Miller hears a Myles Jack-like fall could be in store for the talented ‘backer. Viewed as a top-five talent in 2016, Jack plummeted to the Jaguars at No. 36 last year because of a severe injury he suffered while at UCLA. Foster falling out of the first round based strictly on character issues would stand as a surprise. A failed drug test and his forced exit from the Combine indeed raise red flags, but Foster has been viewed as the top off-the-ball linebacker in this draft throughout the process. It would take a lot of linebacker-needy teams to pass on him for this freefall to commence. PFR’s Zach Links asked whether Foster was going to fall out of the top 10 earlier today; slinking out of the top 32 would be something else entirely.
  • Regarding other possible falling stocks, Miller hears John Ross and Dalvin Cook may fall out of the first round as well. The Florida State back has not seen much momentum since the Combine, with a low SPARQ score accompanying a past that includes some troublesome signs. Ross underwent surgery after the Combine to repair a torn labrum but did set the event’s modern record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash time. This isn’t the first time Miller’s warned about concerns around Ross potentially causing a slippage for the Washington-developed speedster.
  • Ross’ agent, Brad Cicala, attempted to address concerns that there’s more to Ross’ medical history. Ross underwent two surgeries to correct knee problems in early 2015, per Cicala, but did not undergo two ACL procedures. “Despite recent reports, John Ross III has never sustained 2 ACL injury’s (sic) nor has he had 2 ACL surgeries,” Cicala wrote (via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Facebook link) “In January of 2015 he endured surgery on his right lateral meniscus and in April of 2015 he had surgery on his left ACL.” Cicala adds that Ross has been deemed “ahead of schedule” in his recovery from the labrum surgery, with the wideout expected to be ready by training camp.
  • Miller is hearing Mixon’s name connected to the second round. One team to meet with the runner has a need at running back but is connected to a higher-profile name. The Raiders met with the Oklahoma product who grew up in the Bay Area, and Reggie McKenzie was satisfied with the embattled running back’s answers. “We thought he was a really good kid,” McKenzie said Friday, via Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He came off really well. He explained each and every thing. The questions that we had, he had an explanation. He was upfront about everything.” Mark Davis is associated with having a “zero tolerance” policy on domestic violence, and the Raiders are currently negotiating with Marshawn Lynch. So, this would be an interesting fit, to say the least.
  • Former USC wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster said the Rams and Cowboys have shown the most interest in him, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The Los Angeles-based wideout said he would like to play for the Chargers last month.

Eagles Notes: McGloin, Wentz, Draft

This year, Eagles player personnel vice president Joe Douglas and de facto general manager Howie Roseman are teaming up to run the draft, as Les Bowen of The Philadelphia News writes. “Since he’s been here, have we done everything that I wanted to do? No. Have we done everything that he wants to do? No. But have we done everything that’s right for the Philadelphia Eagles? Yes,” Roseman said. Earlier this week, both men spoke highly of controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon.

Here’s more from Philly:

  • Matt McGloin‘s one-year deal with the Eagles is worth $800K, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Caplan (on Twitter). The quarterback gets $775K of that sum from his base salary plus a $25K workout bonus and no guaranteed money. “Moxy” currently projects to be the third QB on the Eagles’ depth chart behind starter Carson Wentz and primary backup Nick Foles, but the Eagles could conceivably use a late pick on another signal caller in the upcoming draft. It’s also not a given that they’ll carry three QBs on the 53-man roster in the fall.
  • The Eagles will listen to what Wentz has to say about certain prospects, as Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com writes. “If there’s any player on our roster that has insight into a guy in free agency or the draft, it’s part of our information gathering,” Roseman said. “Certainly, it’s no different with Carson. If he has insight because he worked out with a particular guy or knows a guy from college, then we want that information. But that’s not unusual just to him.” This offseason, Wentz worked out in California with several draft prospects, including Cooper Kupp, Chad Hansen, Mack Hollins, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, so he might be able to give the front office some extra scouting material.
  • Mike Kern of the Daily News advocates for the Eagles to take running back Christian McCaffrey at No. 14 overall. He also pitches the unorthodox idea of the Eagles going for tight end O.J. Howard if he falls that far, but that would be a surprise given that they already have Zach Ertz at TE.

Ravens Rumors: Mangold, Draft, Mixon

The Ravens had a good meeting with center Nick Mangold and are comfortable with his medicals, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets. There’s nothing imminent on that front, JLC reports, but a deal could emerge at some point.

Mangold, 33, could be the Ravens’ replacement for Jeremy Zuttah in the middle of the offensive line. Although he missed half of the 2016 season, the veteran has been largely healthy over the course of his NFL career. On Wednesday, GM Ozzie Newsome hinted that the team could be on the verge of adding a free agent soon and that free agent just might be the former Jets standout.

Here’s more out of Baltimore:

  • Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta believes Mike Williams and John Ross both have a grade that could put them in the mix for the No. 16 overall pick (via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com). DeCosta said that Corey Davis and JuJu Smith-Schuster were also somewhere in that range. The Ravens used their 2015 first-round choice on a wide receiver (Breshad Perriman), but that wouldn’t necessarily preclude the team from going that route again in 2017.
  • DeCosta was diplomatic when asked about Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon as a player, but “you can be that Mixon’s name is nowhere to be found on the team’s draft board,” Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun writes. Naturally, the Ravens are not going to consider Mixon after going through the Ray Rice ordeal a few years ago. Speaking of Rice, he has found a new job.
  • More from Zrebiec, who gets the sense that the Ravens not content with having just seven picks in such a deep draft. Newsome has said that teams have asked about potentially moving up to the Ravens’ No. 16 pick if a certain player is available. Zrebiec notes that in five of the past 12 drafts, Newsome has either moved up, back, or out of the first round entirely.
  • On Thursday morning, we learned that the Ravens are on the verge of re-signing defensive back Lardarius Webb. Webb was a cap casualty earlier in the offseason but the fan favorite has agreed to return at a lower price. Before circling back to Baltimore, Webb also drew interest from the Vikings.

Cowboys Meet With 21 NFL Draft Prospects

The Cowboys have now used more than two-thirds of their 30 allotted predraft visits, and Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link), Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com (Twitter link), and Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News have provided the list of prospects with whom Dallas has met:

The Cowboys’ visits with Michigan DE Taco Charlton, UCLA DE Takkarist McKinley, UConn S Obi Melifonwu, UCLA CB Fabian Moreau, and Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt had all been previously reported.

JuJu Smith-Schuster To Enter NFL Draft

USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will forego his final year of collegiate eligibility and enter the NFL draft, according to Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com.

Oct 15, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) runs for a touchdown after making a catch against the Arizona Wildcats during the first half at Arizona Stadium. The Trojans won 48-14. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Smith-Schuster is going out on top, as he caught seven passes for 133 yards and a touchdown in last week’s thrilling Rose Bowl, which ended in a 52-49 USC victory. He was a three-year starter for the Trojans, amassing 213 receptions for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns.

The 6-2, 220-pound wideout is the fourth-best receiver in this year’s draft class, according to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. (Insider subscription required), and he is expected to be selected in the second half of the first round.

Smith-Schuster issued a statement on his Twitter account, which included the following:

“This was a very difficult decision to make. I have loved my time at USC and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Playing for USC was truly a dream come true, and I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in three years.”

This year’s Rose Bowl champs have already seen guard Damien Mama declare for the draft, and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson may follow suit.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.