Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert To Return To Oregon

Long rumored to be heading back to Oregon for the 2019 season, Justin Herbert confirmed (via Twitter) he will do so on Wednesday.

Perhaps the top quarterback prospect who could have been part of April’s draft, Herbert will instead stay with the Ducks and then be part of the 2020 class. This further depletes the quarterback talent pool in the 2019 draft. Herbert almost certainly would have been a top-10 pick. He rated sixth overall on Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board.

NFL teams in need of a quarterback have scouted Herbert this season, the Broncos and Giants among them. The Dolphins, too, were high on the junior Ducks passer. Instead, Herbert will be part of what is, as of now viewed as a stronger quarterback crop in 2020. Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa are eligible to enter that draft. Herbert’s decision could have key ramifications for teams this year.

The respective values of other passing prospects, such as Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins (who has yet to declare himself but is expected to do so after receiving a first-round grade) and Missouri’s Drew Lock, will be inflated because of Herbert’s choice. Although, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller categorizes West Virginia’s Will Grier and Duke junior Daniel Jones — who also has not declared yet, though he’s expected to do so — as the top non-Haskins passers who could be available (Twitter link).

Prospective free agent passers Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor may be more popular commodities in March as a result of this as well. Joe Flacco is now going to be available via trade; perhaps the Ravens’ price will rise. Herbert not being available will take a key option off the board for teams lacking a long-term answer.

Herbert’s decision coincides with younger brother Patrick Herbert’s Oregon signing. The class of 2019 tight end will join the Ducks next season. This year, Justin Herbert has thrown for 2,985 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. While his completion percentage dropped to 59.6 percent, down from 67.5 percent in 2017, the 20-year-old quarterback intrigued teams in a way the other 2019 QBs have yet to.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Patriots, Eagles, Redskins, Fins

While the Patriots haven’t historically paid up for free agent defensive lineman, Trey Flowers could be a special case, as Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweets. For one, Flowers is highly respected within the New England locker room — Howe deems Flowers a “model human being” with zero off-field issues. Second, Flowers and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick share the same agent (Neil Conrich), which could theoretically help push negotiations along. Flowers, 25, is part of stacked 2019 free agent edge rusher class that also includes Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Frank Clark, and DeMarcus Lawrence. While he’s posted only 3.5 sacks, Flowers ranks sixth in the NFL with 31 quarterback pressures.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two East divisions:

2019 NFL Draft Notes: Haskins, Jones, Patterson, Herbert

With college football season starting to wind down, scouting and draft talk is starting to ramp up. Opinions are being formed on the top draft-eligible prospects, and many teams are beginning to shape their evaluations of players. Rumors are also starting to swirl about which players will and won’t declare for the draft. One potentially surprising name is Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who is expected to leave school early for the draft after this season, sources told Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.

According to Miller, “barring injury or a massive drop-off in play down the stretch”, Haskins plans on entering the draft. Miller writes that he had previously heard Haskins was likely to return to Ohio State, but the player appears to have had a change of heart recently. Ohio State has been having a bit of a rough season, and there’s some reported dysfunction surrounding the team, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s what ended up pushing Haskins towards the draft.

Here are more notes from the 2019 NFL Draft:

  • Speaking of quarterbacks, Duke signal caller Daniel Jones is also likely to declare, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com. Pauline says on his podcast that sources told him the “decision has already been made and he’s gone.” Pauline supports the decision, and doesn’t think he has much more to gain with another season. Jones wasn’t known by many coming into the season, but has quickly risen as a sleeper in this class. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted about him last month, calling him “one of the top QBs we’ll all be talking about in April” despite him being “under-the-radar.”
  • In addition to Haskins, another Big Ten quarterback could be leaving early. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson is also likely to leave for the draft after this season, according to Miller. Miller writes that multiple sources expect Patterson to declare, and one told him Patterson thinks he can “benefit by not competing with the 2020 group that includes Jake Fromm and Tua Tagovailoa.” It’s an interesting strategy, and one that has paid off in the past. Quarterbacks that aren’t actually elite prospects often get taken much higher in the draft than they normally would if there isn’t a very strong class available.
  • We heard last month that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is likely to stay in school for another year, and Miller confirms that report. Herbert is widely seen as the quarterback with the highest ceiling and most potential, but Miller writes staying in school is seen as “the best thing for Herbert, as he’s often cited as not having the mental toughness right now to handle the NFL.” Many have declared Herbert a likely top overall selection in this year’s draft, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be available.

NFC Notes: Dez, Seahawks, McCarthy

Saints WR Dez Bryant suffered a brutal blow when he tore his Achilles just two days after signing with the club, thereby shelving him for about eight months. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) noted that Bryant’s recovery timeline could make his 2019 foray into free agency just as complicated as his 2018 one, though RapSheet does report in a separate piece that the Saints are open to bringing Bryant back next season (which Jay Glazer of FOX Sports [video link] also hears). Rapoport also says that Saints head coach Sean Payton fully expects Bryant to continue his playing career, and that Saints players quickly got to know Bryant and were stung by the injury (Twitter link). Given that, and given that Bryant made a concerted effort to improve his route running this offseason, perhaps he will still end up playing for New Orleans.

Let’s round up a few more items from the NFC:

  • Adam Schefter of ESPN.com details (via Twitter) the $500K in incentives (all tied to receptions) that were built in to Bryant’s contract with the Saints, which is obviously a moot point now. Earlier today, Schefter reported that the Saints are expected to pursue Brandon Marshall now that Bryant is on IR.
  • Rapoport writes that, when the Seahawks are sold to a new owner, the beneficiary of the transaction will be the Paul G. Allen Foundation, which consolidated the causes of recently-deceased owner Paul Allen. That means that the proceeds of the sale — which could exceed $2.5 billion — will be going to charity. As of now, Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, has taken more of a visible role in team operations, but the club is still expected to be sold (though it will remain in Seattle). Potential buyers are already preparing for the Seahawks to hit the market.
  • Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com confirms what we have been hearing for some time: that something is off in the relationship between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy, which could lead to McCarthy’s ouster at the end of the season. McCarthy is widely perceived to be on the hot seat, though Dougherty points out that team president/CEO Mark Murphy thinks highly of McCarthy and has final say over all football matters. However, Murphy will give a great deal of credence to the opinion of new GM Brian Gutekunst when it comes to the head coach’s future with the club.
  • We learned that top decision-makers for the Giants were in attendance at the Oregon-Utah game yesterday to scout Oregon QB Justin Herbert, even though Herbert is unlikely to enter the 2019 draft. Greg Joyce of the New York Post confirms that GM Dave Gettleman was one of the attendees, along with assistant GM Kevin Abrams and West Coast scout Jeremy Breit. If Herbert changes his mind and declares for the draft, New York will certainly be in play for him.
  • We learned earlier today that the Cowboys nearly fired OC Scott Linehan during last month’s bye.

East Notes: Bills, Barkley, McCoy, Giants, Dolphins, Herbert

It’s been a crazy season for the Bills. While the defense has been promising, the offense has been an absolute train-wreck. They’ve cycled through quarterbacks, and will now get their fourth new starting signal caller of the season this Sunday. Recently signed Matt Barkley will get the start for Buffalo over Nathan Peterman, according to a release from the team (Twitter link).

There was some hope that rookie Josh Allen would be able to return this week, but the Bills ruled him out with his elbow injury. Derek Anderson has still been unable to clear the concussion protocol, so he won’t be able to play either. That left Barkley, who was only signed ten days ago, and Peterman as the only healthy options. It’s been reported before that coach Sean McDermott risked losing the locker room if he started Peterman again, so it makes sense why the team is turning to Barkley here. Barkley hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2016, when he started a few games with Chicago down the stretch. In those starts Barkley was up and down, looking awful at times and competent at others.

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

  • Top brass from both the Giants and Dolphins are at the Oregon-Utah game today to scout quarterback Justin Herbert, according to Albert Breer of SI.com (Twitter link). Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill both have uncertain futures with their respective teams, so it makes sense why they’d be taking a look. Herbert is widely considered the best quarterback prospect who’s draft eligible, but is reportedly considered unlikely to enter the draft after this year.
  • The Bills’ season might be circling the drain, but star running back LeSean McCoy insists he is happy in Buffalo, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com (Twitter link). McCoy said that while “a lot of teams” wanted to trade for him at this year’s deadline, he is in the Bills’ longterm plans and is happy where he is. McCoy is getting up there in age, but still has his same burst and trademarked cutting ability. He’s hardly responsible for the Bills’ offensive woes, as opposing defenses completely sellout to stop the run.
  • In case you missed it, former Jets draft bust Christian Hackenberg signed with the upstart football league the AAF yesterday.

Extra Points: Burfict, Tannehill, Browns, Herbert, 2019 draft

Vontaze Burfict seems to always be involved in controversy. The Bengals linebacker only recently returned from a suspension that cost him the Bengals’ first four games of the season, and found himself once again the subject of a lot of criticism due to several hits he made during Cincinnati’s loss to the Steelers last week.

Burfict was slapped with a massive fine, and the next time he makes any sort of hit that’s seen as dirty he’ll be hit with another suspension, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapoport writes that Burfict’s “next similar action to last week will result in suspension for a player the league office has spent countless hours with to try to get him to adjust his play.” Additionally, a source told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk that the only reason the league didn’t suspend Burfict this past week was that they were “concerned that a suspension would not hold up on appeal.” Apparently the NFL wanted to suspend him, but thought it was likely to be overturned by independent arbitrators, and wanted to avoid the embarrassment of losing in court.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • “The Dolphins are in wait-and-see mode on QB Ryan Tannehill, whose complex shoulder issues limit his range of motion”, Rapoport tweets. Tannehill has now missed two straight games with a mysterious shoulder injury, and his return date is an open question at this point. The Dolphins have a short week before they take on the Texans in a Thursday night game, and Rapoport adds that it’s “hard to see him playing Thursday night.”
  • The Browns should look to re-sign receiver Terrelle Pryor, opines Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Pryor was recently released by the Jets, and although there seemed to be some bad blood between the two sides after Pryor left the Browns in free agency, a reunion would make some sense. The Browns’ receiving corp has been depleted by injuries, and Pryor could definitely help.
  • Despite being widely seen as the best draft-eligible quarterback prospect, Oregon signal caller Justin Herbert is likely to not enter the draft and return for his senior season, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. A lot of people have identified Herbert as a potential number one overall pick, but it’s “far more likely that the junior actually remains in school for another year”, writes La Canfora.

Broncos Notes: Keenum, Draft, Joseph, OL

Case Keenum‘s gotten off to a rough start with the Broncos, going from being the No. 1 DVOA quarterback during a potential outlier 2017 season to sitting 24th in that metric and 31st in Total QBR through five games this season. However, this is unlikely to produce a Chad Kelly promotion in the near future, with Albert Breer of SI.com noting the sense he’s getting is any such switch won’t come until the team falls out of contention. Denver won its first two games but has lost its past three, and Vance Joseph is now 1-9 on the road after the Broncos dropped Week 3 and Week 5 games in Baltimore and New Jersey. The Broncos may have discussed Kelly, who has never attempted a regular-season pass but fared well in the preseason. But Breer adds Joseph and John Elway are tied to Keenum thanks to the $25MM in fully guaranteed money the journeyman passer’s making on his current deal. Keenum’s on pace to throw more than 600 passes, and the Broncos have oddly turned to the weaker component of their offense more so than committing to their strong ground attack that ranks third (137 yards per game).

Here’s the latest out of Denver:

  • It’s likely Elway will have to look for yet another post-Peyton Manning solution in 2019, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes. The Broncos have cycled through an unlikely successor (Trevor Siemian), a spectacular first-round misstep (Paxton Lynch), a retread (Brock Osweiler) and now Keenum. Elway and Broncos player personnel director Matt Russell are in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday for a Washington-Oregon game that features possible top 2019 QB prospect Justin Herbert, Mike Klis of 9News reports. Several teams are in attendance for this Pac-12 matchup, per Klis, who adds the Broncos figure to be looking at cornerbacks and tackles as early-round possibilities as well.
  • An interesting indictment of Pro Football Focus appears to be coming out of Denver this week. The acclaimed advanced-metrics site has Broncos right guard Connor McGovern rated as the No. 4 overall guard in football (and No. 1 in run-blocking), but OC Bill Musgrave said (via Klis) Max Garcia will take some of McGovern’s snaps this week against the Rams. McGovern struggled at times against Leonard Williams, and Garcia — a starter from 2016-17 and a player not graded nearly as well by PFF — may start this week, per Joseph, against the Rams’ menacing defensive front. This would be a curious move for a team that’s running the ball as well as it is.
  • Volin also doesn’t view Broncos president Joe Ellisstatement this week as a ringing Joseph endorsement, pointing to the team’s once-vaunted defense struggling against the run vs. Jets backs and entering Week 6 with just 11 sacks (19th) despite having used a No. 5 overall pick on Bradley Chubb. Elway hired Joseph, a career defensive-based coach, after one season of DC experience. The Broncos’ pre-Week 10 bye slate features a home game against the Rams, a Thursday road assignment in Arizona, a road matchup in Kansas City and a return home to face the Texans. With Joseph looking like a two-and-done coach at this point, this will be a pivotal stretch for the embattled leader.

Draft Rumors: QBs, Tackles, Contracts

The 2019 group of draft-eligible quarterbacks is beginning to endure some scrutiny in advance of a pivotal stretch. One view of this collection of passers makes it look rather bleak, a crew featuring no clear frontrunner and possibly no prospects worthy of a surefire first-round pick. Another, via Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, indicates there’s some potential promise here. Oregon’s Justin Herbert rates as Miller’s top quarterback, and Drew Lock of Missouri has generated Josh Allen comparisons from scouts because of his arm strength and debatable accuracy. Miller writes, however, that with 13 teams having spent first-round picks on QBs over the past four years — with Dak Prescott essentially upping that number to 14, since he’s entrenched as the Cowboys’ starter — fewer teams will need quarterbacks in 2019 than they did in 2018. At least, fewer franchises will be willing to invest in one in the first round, which could create a scenario where a better group of prospects (which is possible for the ’19 contingent, per Miller) but fewer Round 1 investments.

Here’s more from the draft world:

  • Herbert also generated praise from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, who referred to the Ducks’ current starter as a player with franchise QB-level talent whose mobility, accuracy and abundance of pro throws already on film make him a prototype player NFL OCs are looking to install as offensive centerpieces. Regarding Lock, Brooks writes his 54.5 percent career completion rate shouldn’t be as alarming as Allen’s accuracy issues became for teams. Brooks calls the senior-to-be a pinpoint passer who could well be the 2019 draft’s QB1.
  • In general, evaluators are excited about next year’s draft. One AFC team’s college scouting director told Miller the prospects likely to be eligible for 2019 draft picks collectively comprise a talent pool that’s “10 times better than” 2018’s. With teams less than enamored by the past two tackle classes, Miller notes the next one has scouts labeling three players as possible top-10 picks. The top player in the minds of many scouts is Alabama’s Jonah Williams, per Miller. Ole Miss’ Greg Little and Washington’s Trey Adams are the other two currently classified as possible top-10 choices next year.
  • The 2018 class has seen many of its draft choices sign, but offset language and bonus structure may well delay deals for this year’s top five, Mike Klis of 9News writes. Players’ signing bonus values are already locked in, but when the money is paid is a sticking point for some teams. Half of the rookies’ bonuses must be paid within 30 days, with Klis noting teams like to delay the rest of the cash in installments within a year of the signing date. With agents trying to accelerate the pay schedule, Klis expects some of this draft’s top players to wait until camps near to sign due to this largely minor issue.

Draft Notes: 2019 QBs, Browns, Jackson

A possible dearth of quarterback talent in the 2019 draft class may have contributed the first-round aggressiveness of teams in recent years. The Bears, Chiefs, Texans, Jets, Bills and Cardinals traded up to land their hopeful quarterbacks of the future the past two drafts, and Albert Breer of SI.com notes some of the impetus behind these moves may be coming from issues teams have with the crop of passers likely set to populate 2019 big boards.

Not right now, there isn’t one (that would go in the first round as it stands),” an AFC college scouting director told Breer. “The kids at Auburn (Jarrett Stidham), Missouri (Drew Lock) and N.C. State (Ryan Finley), by the end of it, could work their way into the conversation. But on the surface, based on current performance, it’d be a no. Now, if they ascend, which they should, those three guys have a chance to get there.”

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com (Insider link) has both Lock (No. 16) and Oregon’s Justin Herbert (No. 18) in his early top 25 for 2019. Issues with Lock’s completion percentage (57.8 percent is the senior-to-be’s career high) and Herbert’s toughness, per Breer, are early concerns for respective first-round hopefuls. While events of recent years show it’s a good bet a quarterback will be taken in the 2019 first round, Breer compares this crop — at this early juncture — to the 2013 group that saw only E.J. Manuel chosen in Round 1 instead of other recent classes that saw the likes of Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston emerge as obvious down-the-line high draft choices in advance of their final college campaigns.

Here’s more on this year’s draft, courtesy of Breer:

  • Breer reports the Browns “loved both” of the Denzel Ward/Bradley Chubb duo, but the team felt the Ohio State cornerback possessed upside potential the N.C. State defensive end didn’t. Ward started just for one season but sat behind Buckeyes cornerbacks that are now in the NFL. Cleveland brass also didn’t view Chubb as a Myles Garrett– or Jadeveon Clowney-like athletic specimen. Plus, Gregg Williams said the team’s need at corner was greater than the one opposite Garrett. Also noting Ward, who went to Nordonia High School in the Cleveland area, pitched his local ties and desire to help a Browns resurgence, Breer writes the Browns did their homework on this difficult decision and did not make an impulse call on draft night.
  • If the Eagles did not trade their first-round pick to the Ravens, they were going to consider eventual Broncos wideout Courtland Sutton at No. 32, per Breer. Sutton visited the Eagles in early April. Philly has Alshon Jeffery, a player to whom Sutton’s been compared, signed long-term and has Nelson Agholor controlled through 2019. However, the defending Super Bowl champions still signed Mike Wallace and Markus Wheaton, the latter a post-draft addition.
  • Ravens brass needed to hear from John Harbaugh the coaching staff was confident the team could win with Lamar Jackson before trading up to take him, and Breer reports Harbaugh, OC Marty Morhinweg, senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and QBs coach James Urban all developed a plan for the rookie before Ozzie Newsome made the trade with the Eagles. Both Mornhinweg and Urban were in their same positions under Andy Reid on the 2010 Eagles, when Michael Vick resurfaced as a top-flight weapon after previously working intermittently in certain packages. Roman’s work adjusting the 2012 49ers’ offense for Colin Kaepernick also played a role here, Breer writes. The Ravens look to be preparing Jackson sets already.
  • The first four rookies to sign their deals all had offset language built into the contracts, Breer tweets. Da’Ron Payne, Josh Rosen, Marcus Davenport and Quenton Nelson saw their teams include offsets in their deals. Offset language provided one of the sticky points in Joey Bosa‘s 2016 holdout, and the Chargers won out. So far, teams are doing the same with their 2018 top picks.