Lamar Jackson

Patriots Host Lamar Jackson On Top 30 Visit

The Patriots quietly hosted Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson on a Top 30 pre-draft visit two weeks ago, sources tell Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Pats were left “intrigued and impressed” with Jackson, which gives further credence to reports connecting New England to the Heisman Trophy winner. 

The Patriots may or may not be within range to select Jackson at No. 23 overall. The draft’s top four QBs – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield – are widely projected to come off of the board in the top 10, but the Dolphins (No. 11), Bills (Nos. 12 and 22), Cardinals (No. 15), Ravens (No. 16), and Chargers (No. 17) all have varying degrees of interest in signal callers. If the Patriots are truly sold on Jackson, they may have to move up in the order. In theory, the Pats could package the No. 23 and No. 31 picks to advance in the first round, but that would be a gutsy move to make with more pressing needs to fill elsewhere.

The Patriots have not selected a quarterback in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, but they need to address the future of the position with Tom Brady‘s 41st birthday coming up in August. The Patriots are either gung-ho about Jackson as his heir or they are actively seeking to give other teams a false impression in advance of the draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Notes: Giants, Eagles, Lamar Jackson

There are plenty who believe that the Giants would be foolish to pass up one of the top QBs in this year’s draft to select Saquon Barkley, regardless of how good Barkley is. But Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com wonders if the presence of Davis Webb, whom the Giants selected in the third round of last year’s draft, is impacting New York’s decision-making. Webb has impressed with his work ethic and preparation, and while it is unclear how highly the new regime values Webb, it could be that the Giants feel better about their short- and long-term QB situation than those outside the organization (plus, Webb still has a major supporter within the front office in president of player evaluation Chris Mara). Therefore, maybe it would not be much of a surprise to see Big Blue pull the trigger on a non-QB with their No. 2 overall pick.

Now for a roundup of more draft-related rumors, starting with another note on the Giants:

  • The Giants could also trade their No. 2 overall pick to a team who really does want to snag one of this year’s top QB prospects, but as Raanan notes, New York is going to ask for a major haul in exchange for that selection — including multiple first-round picks — and clubs that want to move up may be better served in making a deal with the Broncos or Colts (who hold the Nos. 5 and 6 overall picks, respectively). Raanan points out that Denver and Indianapolis have been talking to teams about the possibility of moving down, which hurts the Giants’ leverage.
  • The Eagles do not have many holes that need to be filled for the 2018 season, but there are plenty of questions they need to answer for 2019 and beyond, so as Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, the team may be drafting for future needs this week. For instance, the Eagles know they currently have a few young players on expiring contracts that will be in line for richer deals soon — most notably Carson Wentz — so they will need to find talent that can contribute on a rookie contract for a few years. Running back, offensive line, and safety are three positions that are at least somewhat unsettled beyond 2018, so Berman suggests the Eagles could target those positions this week.
  • In his latest mailbag, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com takes a look at two of the pass rushers that have been frequently connected to the Lions — Boston College’s Harold Landry and UTEP’s Marcus Davenport — and opines that Davenport would be the better fit. However, as we learned yesterday, Detroit could be looking to trade down from its No. 20 overall pick, and Rothstein notes that remains a possibility.
  • It’s unclear whether the Dolphins will be targeting a QB with their No. 11 overall pick — or if they will trade up to land a signal-caller — but Florida Football Insiders offers its view as to why Miami should pick Louisville QB Lamar Jackson with its first-round selection.
  • Speaking of Jackson, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock (article via Edward Lewis of NFL.com) believes the former Heisman Trophy winner will not only be a first-round pick, but that he could go in the top-10 (he also believes a team could trade up into that territory to land him). But if Jackson is not selected in the first 20 picks, Mayock says the Saints and Patriots would be two clubs that could target him, as they have the offensive minds to harness Jackson’s talent.
  • With more available data than ever before, a “handful of teams,” including the Rams, are using analytics to help them locate hidden gems and special teams contributors/reserve types on Day 3 of the draft, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes. Volin writes, “[i]n addition to comparing 40 times and broad jumps, teams find different ways to track a player’s health, his productivity at various positions and alignments, his performance in the fourth quarter, and so on.” So while old-school scouting and face-to-face meetings are still the most important tools with respect to early-round picks, potential late-round selections are increasingly being scouted with advanced metrics.

Draft Notes: Raiders, Ravens, Eagles, Penny, Michel

Reggie McKenzie isn’t worried about butting heads with new head coach Jon Gruden during next week’s draft. The Raiders general manager said that after having worked with Gruden for three months, the two are on the same page when it comes to prospects.

“I’ve got a feeling for Coach Gruden. We like the same type of players,” McKenzie said (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “Just good football players. It’s not about height, weight, speed or where they come from. It’s about who they are as players, do they love playing football. All those characteristics you truly like about football players.”

The Raiders are armed with a number of picks heading into next week’s draft, including the 10th-overall selection.

Let’s take a look at some other draft notes…

  • Despite the fact that Lamar Jackson met with the Ravens earlier this week, Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun isn’t convinced that the organization would select the quarterback if he’s available with the 16th pick. The writer cites the fact that owner Steve Bisciotti has stated that the team isn’t worried about finding Joe Flacco‘s successor, and the Ravens have more pressing needs as they look to return to the postseason. While the front office could end up taking a signal-caller at some point during the weekend, Zrebiec believes the team will use their first-rounder on another position.
  • After striking out on the position last year, Jeff McLane of Philly.com says the Eagles will be eyeing running backs during the upcoming draft. While the organization did end up selecting Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round, the team had been eyeing a number of top-tier prospects, including Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt (in fact, McLane notes that Philly attempted to trade up for Cook). While the team hasn’t traditionally spent high-round picks on running backs, and while they’re also armed with a relatively deep group (including mid-season addition Jay Ajayi), the writer believes the team could still be eyeing a future starter at the position.
  • Speaking of running backs, Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune believes San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny could ultimately be the steal of the draft. The offensive weapon is projected to be a late first-rounder or early second-rounder, and he’s labeled as an elite special teamer. The one knock is his pass blocking ability, but Penny believes that’s a misconception. “I could care less about the media talk,” Penny said. “Talking to GMs and head coaches, I know they’re high on me. There’s always going to be a chip on my shoulder. I could be a seventh-round pick, but I can prove it on the field.” Penny is listed 46th overall (sixth among running backs) in NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah‘s recent top-50 prospect rankings.
  • A scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller that Sony Michel could very well be the second running back selected next week (Twitter link). The Georgia product is regarded as one of the better prospects at his position, and he’ll be vying with backs like Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones II, and Nick Chubb to be selected after top prospect Saquon Barkley.

South Rumors: Jaguars, Hooker, Texans

The Jaguars would have an interesting setup for Lamar Jackson, employing a recently extended starting quarterback but a long-scrutinized player whose long-term future with the team remains in doubt. Tom Coughlin said Friday the Louisville prospect was an “outstanding young man” and an “extremely talented athlete.” But Dave Caldwell said the team that pulls the trigger on Jackson would have to be ready to adjust its offense to accommodate the dual-threat talent.

He’s a rare athlete,” Caldwell said, via Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union. “As a quarterback, he’s a good player. He won a lot of games at that position. [Drafting him] depends what your scheme is, what you want to do and how you want to play and how he fits. I can’t say he’s the prototypical pocket passer, but you can win games with a guy like him.”

Jacksonville holds the draft’s No. 29 overall pick and has not conducted a workout with Jackson, who may now be a full-fledged top-20 prospect.

Here’s the latest from the South divisions:

  • Caldwell did not give an indication on which way he was leaning with regards to picking up Dante Fowler‘s fifth-year option. The Jacksonville GM said the team had not made a decision. Earlier today, Fowler’s price became clear. It will cost the Jaguars a massive sum ($14.2MM) to keep Fowler on their books for 2019 on his rookie contract.
  • On the subject of AFC South pass rushers, Brian Gaine is optimistic the Texans will extend Jadeveon Clowney this offseason. But Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports no deal is particularly close at this point. Clowney, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack figure to see the others members of this trio’s deals affect theirs, and Von Miller may become the fourth-highest-paid defender by the time this offseason is over.
  • Gaine does not plan to deviate from Rick Smith‘s philosophy of setting the offseason as the window for extension agreements. John McClane of the Houston Chronicle notes the first-year Houston GM wants to finalize re-ups before the regular season. Clowney and Benardrick McKinney‘s proceedings will put this approach to the test this year.
  • Malik Hooker joined his Colts teammates for the start of their offseason program earlier this month but said (via Matt Taylor of Colts.com) he’s “not 100 percent by any means” as he recovers from a severe knee injury. Colts.com’s Andrew Walker writes training camp isn’t a certainty for the 2017 first-rounder, who went down in late October of last year with a torn ACL and MCL.
  • Former Broncos and Bears linebacker Lamin Barrow was driving the car at the time of the accident that ended with Buccaneers ‘backer Kendell Beckwith fracturing an ankle, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com reports. Barrow and Beckwith were LSU teammates. The crash occurred at around 1 a.m., April 12. The vehicle veered off a road and crashed into a gate, per Laine. Although authorities said Barrow did not show signs of impairment, he was given a citation for driving with a suspended license.

NFL Draft Rumors: Fitzpatrick, Jackson

Is the stock of Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick slipping? That’s the sense Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com (on Twitter) gets. Mortensen, personally, feels that Fitzpatrick is one of the three or four best overall talents in this year’s draft and one “proven evaluator not picking in the top 10” tells Mort that Fitzpatrick, Bradley Chubb, Quenton Nelson, and Saquon Barkley made up this year’s top four.

Here’s the latest NFL Draft buzz:

  • Several NFL sources tell Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com (on Twitter) that they really like Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and Raanan expects there to be five QBs off the board in the top 20. Jackson is one of the more fascinating players in this year’s draft as some evaluators have written him off as an NFL QB, despite his tremendous athleticism.
  • On Friday, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reported that LSU stars Arden Key and Derrius Guice could slip in the draft due to off-field concerns. Within the same piece, Pelissero touches on UCF cornerback Mike Hughes and Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Hughes left the UNC football program two years ago when he was accused of sexual assault, but he maintains his innocence and teams believe his version of events, Pelissero hears. Callaway, meanwhile, has a host of red flags that figure to tank his stock. Callaway was cleared of a sexual assault allegation, but he argued in his Title IX hearing that he was too “stoned” to have intercourse, which is troubling considering a past citation for marijuana. He was also charged with two third-degree felonies for his role in a credit card scam. Callaway might be one of the the most talented WRs in this year’s class, but he could fall late in the draft due to all of his issues. It also doesn’t help that Callaway didn’t impress at his pro day.

North Rumors: Bengals, Lamar, Lions, Bears

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson met with the Bengals on Monday, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. While the Bengals haven’t attempted to upgrade on incumbent signal-caller Andy Dalton in recent years, Jackson could potentially be available when the club picks at No. 21 in the first round. But as Dehner notes, Cincinnati might also be planning for other outcomes, such as a Jackson draft-day fall or a trade with another team. It’s conceivably the Bengals simply want to appear interested in quarterback prospects in an effort to goad a club into moving up. Currently, Cincinnati has free agent Matt Barkley and Jeff Driskel behind Dalton on its depth chart.

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

  • The Lions have hosted Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry, reports Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). Detroit has added several interior defensive lineman so far this offseason, but the team has yet to address its pass-rushing need. Landry could help in that regard, but there’s no guarantee he’ll still be on the board at pick No. 20. For what it’s worth, Landry played under now-Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni at BC. Landry, who posted 48 sacks during his collegiate career, would not only give Detroit immediate help on the edge, but allow the Lions to hedge against a potential 2019 loss of franchise-tagged defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
  • Darqueze Dennard finally lived up to his first-round billing in 2017, and the Bengals are now open to extending his contract, as Dehner writes in a separate piece. Under contract for one more season thanks to his fifth-year option, Dennard will earn $8.526MM in 2018 before hitting free agency next spring. The No. 24 overall selection in the 2014 draft, Dennard played 899 defensive snaps a season ago (nearly triple his previous career-high) and graded as the NFL’s 30th-best corner, per Pro Football Focus. Cincinnati is already heavily extended at cornerback, as it re-signed Dre Kirkpatrick and draft William Jackson III in 2016, but the club has always been willing to pay for secondary help.
  • The Bears will work out veteran defensive back Tharold Simon at their minicamp this week, tweets Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Simon, 27, didn’t see the field last season after inking a futures deal with the Redskins, as he was cut in May. A subsequent tryout with the Saints didn’t result in a contract, and Simon never generated any other known interest. However, Simon was a key contributor for the Seahawks in 2014, and as Bigg notes, has the type of size 6’2″, 200 pounds) that Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio covets. Wide receiver Marlon Brown and linebacker Ryan Delaire, each of whom boasts NFL experience, are also auditioning for the Bears, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link).

Jets Rumors: Mayfield, Hackenberg, Teddy

As the Jets prepare to reconvene on Monday for their first day of the offseason program, here’s where their quarterback situation stands — both in terms of veterans and the player they’re eyeing at No. 3.

  • While it’s not certain if Baker Mayfield would win out in a Mayfield-or-Sam Darnold scenario, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes the Oklahoma-developed passer would be Gang Green’s preferred option over Josh Allen. The Jets will be prepared to go with Mayfield’s accuracy — back-to-back seasons with a 71 percent completion rate, albeit in the Sooners’ air raid attack — and his career winning games for the Big 12 school over the Wyoming product with the tantalizing upside. Although, at just 6-foot, Mayfield would be the shortest quarterback the Jets drafted since Jeff Blake in 1992, Cimini writes. Blake did end up having a 14-year career, despite only one of those seasons occurring with the Jets.
  • If the Browns take Allen and the Giants draft Darnold, Cimini expects the Jets to stay with Mayfield if confronted with a Mayfield-or-Josh Rosen decision (Twitter link). While the Jets held a higher opinion of the latter going into the offseason, Mayfield may well have usurped the UCLA product as the draft nears.
  • Lamar Jackson is not under consideration for the Jets at No. 3 overall, per Cimini (on Twitter). While Jackson has met with the Browns, it hasn’t been reported that he visited the Jets, Giants or Broncos. His known meetings have come with the Ravens, Chargers and Saints thus far. And the Patriots have interest in the Louisville standout.
  • Todd Bowles expects Teddy Bridgewater to throw passes this spring, but it’s uncertain how much the recently signed QB will participate in the team portions of these voluntary workouts, Brian Costello of the New York Post notes. The Jets signed Bridgewater to an incentive-laden contract, doing so after the Vikings expressed concern about his knee this offseason. For now, Josh McCown is preparing to start for a second season in green.
  • While both Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty could be on their way out of the Big Apple soon, Costello writes Petty is the likeliest to be given walking papers before camp commences. As for Hackenberg, there remains a contingent at Jets headquarters hoping he can be salvaged to some degree. However, once the new quarterback arrives, the 2016 second-round pick will be the fourth-string quarterback going into camp. The statuses of these incumbent backups could be determined by how Bridgewater looks in camp. Hackenberg has still yet to play in a regular-season game. Petty finished the past two seasons for the Jets, but has led them to one win in seven starts and last season finished with a 49 percent completion rate.

Draft Notes: Key, Jackson, Kirk, Price, Patriots

Former LSU defensive end and top draft prospect Arden Key has told teams that he has been sober for more than a year, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes.

This is big news from a player who has been speculated to have off-the-field concerns. Key is supposedly being up front with the teams about his issues, which included taking a leave of absence from the Tigers for four months beginning in February 2017 for personal reasons. He will not disclose the reasoning for that absence with the media — which is his right — but is reportedly laying it all out in front of teams.

Rated as one of the top prospects before the start of the 2017 season, Key is now viewed mostly as a potential late-first-round pick, but more likely to go off the board on second day of the draft.

Noted pass rush coach Chuck Smith is a big fan of Key, saying he is a threat to challenge for double-digit sacks the moment he enters the league. His honesty with teams and ability to stay sober for more than a year could put teams more at ease about taking a shot on the talented pass rusher.

Here’s more surrounding the draft:

  • Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk visited with the Steelers on Friday, Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Kirk has also visited with the Seahawks and Panthers, a pair of teams in need of a receiver. The Steelers seem set at the position with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster but have not been shy about adding to a loaded receiver position in the past.
  • Former Cardinals head coach and quarterback guru Bruce Arians is a big fan of Louisville product Lamar Jackson, Bob McManaman of AZ Central writes. “I think Lamar puts the time in. He’s going to get better, and he just brings that unique ability to break the game open with his legs. Because he does it. He sits in there and flips it up the field,” Arians said. “He’s been in a pro-style offense. He’s more of a scrambler with designed runs. I don’t think I’d design runs for him. I would just let him, a la Russell Wilson, take what’s there, and whoosh, take off running.” The Cardinals could have interest in Jackson at the No. 15 spot in the upcoming draft.
  • In a panel piece on ESPN, a host of writers tabbed left tackle as the position the team should focus on in the first round if everything were to fall perfectly. With the team owning the 23rd and 31st picks, New England could potentially address the position by taking Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey late in the first round. The tackle is rated by many pundits as the best at the position this year.
  • Ohio State center/guard Billy Price had his NFL Combine medical recheck on Friday, Darren Wolfson of KSTP 5 News reports (Twitter link). He notes the potential first-round pick is expected to receive full clearance soon.

Browns Meet With Lamar Jackson

The Browns will meet with Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson on Friday, according to a press release from the team. Jackson is not believed to be in consideration at No. 1 or No. 4 overall, but the Browns could consider him later on if he is still available. 

The Browns are armed with three picks in the second round at Nos. 33, 35, and 64 overall. As unlikely as it seems, the Browns could opt to use both of their top picks on non-QBs and package two of those selections to move up and snag Jackson if they are especially impressed by him.

Taking, say, Sam Darnold at No. 1 overall and using a later pick on Jackson would make little sense since the team already has two QBs with guaranteed money on the roster in Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton. However, if Jackson goes into a free fall in the draft, the Browns could select him with the notion of moving him to wide receiver. Jackson has resisted such talk, but many evaluators feel that he has the athleticism to succeed as a receiver.

Will the Browns target Jackson over one of this year’s big four QBs? Occam’s razor dictates that they won’t and are simply doing their due diligence on one of this year’s most intriguing prospects.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Interested In Lamar Jackson?

Lamar Jackson‘s taken several visits recently as he readies for what will probably be a call from a team that’s selected him in the first round of the upcoming draft. He is not believed to have visited the Patriots yet, but they do appear to be monitoring the Louisville-honed dynamo.

The Patriots are the team that’s shown the most interest in Jackson, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report writes, adding teams have been impressed with the quarterback’s intelligence. During an appearance on SportsCenter, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported he’d also heard plenty connecting the Patriots to Jackson.

Mortensen said he does not expect the Pats to move up from their No. 23 perch to land the quarterback but notes they would be interested in the dual-threat player if he’s there when New England’s initial first-round window opens.

The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has met with the Saints, Ravens, Chargers and Browns. The latter franchise does not look to be a logical candidate to land Jackson, and the Patriots pick in front of the Saints. The Ravens could be a Jackson landing spot at No. 16. The Chargers haven’t selected a quarterback since 2013, and Philip Rivers may be a reasonable bet to retire after Tom Brady does, having expressed intentions to play into the 2020 season when the Bolts move into their new Los Angeles stadium. Brady, whose contract runs through 2019, also issued some praise (via Instagram) for Jackson this week.

New England has not selected a quarterback in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, but now that Jimmy Garoppolo is in San Francisco, the AFC East kingpin probably needs to look to identify a legitimate Brady successor. Robert Kraft said as much recently. The Patriots have also been linked to Baker Mayfield, but it would take an un-Patriot-like trade to move up into possibly the top five to have a chance at landing the latest Heisman winner. Jackson may well be gone by the time the Pats pick, but that’s not a lock.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.