PFR Originals

2025 NFL Fifth-Year Option Tracker

NFL teams have until May 2 to officially pick up fifth-year options on 2021 first-rounders. The 2020 CBA revamped the option structure and made them fully guaranteed, rather than guaranteed for injury only. Meanwhile, fifth-year option salaries are now determined by a blend of the player’s position, initial draft placement and performance- and usage-based benchmarks:

  • Two-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternates) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag
  • One-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag
  • Players who achieve any of the following will receive the average of the third-20th-highest salaries at their position:
    • At least a 75% snap rate in two of their first three seasons
    • A 75% snap average across all three seasons
    • At least 50% in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will receive the average of the third-25th top salaries at their position

With the deadline looming, we will use the space below to track all the option decisions from around the league:

  1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars ($25.66MM)
  2. QB Zach Wilson, Broncos* ($22.41MM)
  3. QB Trey Lance, Cowboys** ($22.41MM)
  4. TE Kyle Pitts, Falcons ($10.88MM)
  5. WR Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals ($21.82MM): Exercised
  6. WR Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins ($15.59MM): To be exercised
  7. T Penei Sewell, Lions ($19MM): Extended through 2029
  8. CB Jaycee Horn, Panthers ($12.47MM)
  9. CB Patrick Surtain, Broncos ($19.82MM): Exercised
  10. WR DeVonta Smith, Eagles ($15.59MM): Extended through 2028
  11. QB Justin Fields, Steelers*** ($25.66MM): To be declined
  12. DE Micah Parsons, Cowboys ($21.32MM): Exercised
  13. T Rashawn Slater, Chargers ($19MM)
  14. OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jets ($13.31MM)
  15. QB Mac Jones, Jaguars**** ($25.66MM)
  16. LB Zaven Collins, Cardinals ($13.25MM)
  17. T Alex Leatherwood, Raiders: N/A
  18. LB Jaelan Phillips, Dolphins ($13.3MM): To be exercised
  19. LB Jamin Davis, Commanders ($14.48MM)
  20. WR Kadarius Toney, Chiefs***** ($14.35MM)
  21. DE Kwity Paye, Colts ($13.4MM)
  22. CB Caleb Farley, Titans ($12.47MM)
  23. T Christian Darrisaw, Vikings ($16MM)
  24. RB Najee Harris, Steelers ($6.79MM): Expected to be exercised
  25. RB Travis Etienne, Jaguars ($6.14MM)
  26. CB Greg Newsome, Browns ($13.38MM)
  27. WR Rashod Bateman, Ravens ($14.35MM): Extended through 2026
  28. DE Payton Turner, Saints ($13.39MM)
  29. CB Eric Stokes, Packers ($12.47MM)
  30. DE Greg Rousseau, Bills ($13.39MM)
  31. LB Odafe Oweh, Ravens ($13.25MM)
  32. LB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Buccaneers ($13.25MM)

* = Jets traded Wilson on April 22, 2024
** = 49ers traded Lance on August 25, 2023
*** = Bears traded Fields on March 16, 2024
**** = Patriots traded Jones on March 10, 2024
***** = Giants traded Toney on October 27, 2022

Prospect Profile: Bo Nix

Quarterback has been a position of significant intrigue ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft. The least intriguing piece is USC’s Caleb Williams, who has been slotted into the No. 1 overall pick pretty much since the end of the 2023 NFL Draft. For several weeks now, a prediction that three other quarterbacks (LSU’s Jayden Daniels, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy) are expected to occupy the three picks immediately following the presumed selection of Williams, in some order. After those four, only two other names have been mentioned as potential first round passers: Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. (who received a Prospect Profile a month ago) and Oregon quarterback Bo Nix.

Nix started off his high school career at Scottsboro School (Alabama) before following his father, former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, who had just been hired as the head coach at Pinson Valley HS (Alabama) closer to Birmingham. A fractured left ankle kept the younger Nix from thriving in his first year at the new school, but he made a return in time to lead Pinson Valley to a state championship title. He absolutely dominated his senior year, leading his school to their second straight state title and getting ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s 62nd best overall recruit and second-best dual-threat quarterback behind Daniels. Other recruiting services had him as a five-star quarterback and the top dual-threat passer in the nation.

Sitting smack dab between Alabama and Auburn, Nix was recruited heavily by both programs. It did not take much to persuade Nix, though, as he committed to his father’s alma mater before his senior season even began, never wavering from following in his father’s footsteps. Nix enrolled early for the Tigers and quickly beat out Joey Gatewood and Malik Willis for the starting job as a true freshman. Despite early growing pains, namely his 57.6 completion percentage, Nix shined in his first year leading the team, earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors. While Nix displayed some ups and downs over the next two years, his numbers continued to improve despite having three different offensive coordinators. The team success did not improve, though, as the Tigers went 12-9 with Nix starting in those two years.

After a broken ankle ended his 2021 season, Nix let it be known that he was miserable under new head coach Bryan Harsin, who didn’t coach in 2023 after being fired part-way through the 2022 season, and entered the transfer portal. Nix committed to Oregon, reuniting with Kenny Dillingham, who had been his offensive coordinator during his freshman year at Auburn. Thanks to COVID-19, Nix now had six years to play five seasons, meaning he had two years of eligibility remaining with the Ducks.

Nix exploded in his first season at a new school. For the first time in his collegiate career, Nix eclipsed a 70 completion percentage (71.9), 3,000 passing yards (3,593), 20 passing touchdowns (29), 500 rushing yards (510), and 10 rushing touchdowns (14). He was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection as he set the school record for highest completion percentage at a school that produced such quarterbacks as Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert. His senior year saw him take off even more, beating his prior year passing numbers with a new record-77.4 completion percentage, 4,508 passing yards, and 45 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

If stats were the sole determining factor for who would go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, Nix would be the unanimous selection. In 2023, Nix’s 77.4 completion percentage led all of college football. It wasn’t just a school record, it broke Mac Jones‘ FBS record for single-season completion percentage. Nix was second in the FBS in passing yards only behind Penix (4,903) last season. He let the nation in passing touchdowns, and while some full-season starters like Florida State’s Jordan Travis and Penn State’s Drew Allar had few interceptions (2), neither were producing near the yardage and touchdowns of Nix. But scouts and coaches focus on much more than numbers when it comes to the draft.

Physically, Nix is not the prototype for a quarterback, but his body type works for the game he plays. While Nix set records with his arm this year, he still projects best as dual-threat passer. Some of his best throws come on the run and without his feet set, and he uses strong footwork to avoid tacklers in a collapsing pocket. He benefited from most of his production coming off quick, one-look passes, but those plays fit his quick release and strong arm.

Nix still showed the ability to throw all over the field and was productive using play fakes to open routes up down the field. He is a strong runner and, though he did sustain a pair of ankle injuries through high school and college, any questions of his toughness were put to rest when he broke Colt McCoy and Kellen Moore‘s NCAA records for most starts in a career for a quarterback with 61.

So, why isn’t Nix going No. 1 overall? Mainly, quarterbacks with Nix’s style of play have not generally fared well in the NFL. They have not fared poorly (see Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor), but they never really stick out around the league’s best. Coaches have nitpicked a lack of patience that does not allow routes to develop and open up. Nix also can rely on his great arm strength as a catch-all, affecting his accuracy and forcing his receivers to make some uncomfortable grabs. Teams also will not like that he is 24 years old entering the NFL draft. It’s not quite on the level of Brandon Weeden (the NFL’s oldest-ever first-round pick at 28 years old), but he’s already the same age as Trevor Lawrence.

Nix presents a mixed bag coming into the draft. He provided outstanding production through the air and on the ground at the collegiate level. Though his style of play isn’t tailormade for the NFL, Nix has proven to be very coachable. After three different coordinators in his first three seasons and a change of schools, Nix continued to improve year after year, going from a 57.6 completion percentage as a freshman to the FBS record-holder in the stat. He has been lauded for his academics and leadership with his coaches calling him “another coach” on the field, and he only got better each year.

There is plenty to suggest that Nix could struggle to be elite at the next level, but with his tools and drive, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t get a chance as a starter at some point.

Now, where does a player like that go in the draft? Most see Nix as a likely Day 2 pick, though an early run of quarterbacks could force a team’s hand if they truly want Nix, and there isn’t an absence of teams who do. According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, there is an assumption in league circles that, if Nix goes in the first round, it will be to the Broncos. While some speculate that Denver could trade up to select McCarthy, many like Nix better as a stylistic fit with head coach Sean Payton. The Broncos do not have a second-round pick, so they may opt to trade back from No. 12, collect more draft capital, and draft Nix to compete with the newly acquired Zach Wilson.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter warns not to dismiss the Rams, either. Schefter points to general manager Les Snead, who was a graduate assistant coach at Auburn in 1993, when Nix’s father, Patrick, was the Tigers’ quarterback. With some speculation that Penix could be the fifth passer coming off the board as high as No. 8 overall, do not rule out Los Angeles taking Matthew Stafford‘s heir apparent at No. 19.

The speculation does not stop there. With mere days remaining until the draft begins, there is no shortage of possibilities for how the event may play out. Nix could join the others in the first round, or he could freefall into the middle of the draft. Regardless, some NFL team should be adding a coachable, fast-learning competitor later this week.

Prospect Profile: Laiatu Latu

The NFL world is lucky that it will soon have the opportunity to watch UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu. The deadly pass rusher almost passed up a football career after leading his high school to two national championships in rugby. After briefly considering an international career as a professional rugby player, Latu made the decision to go to college for football and is now preparing to receive a call this Thursday from an NFL coach or general manager.

Latu was a consensus four-star recruit out of Jesuit HS in Carmichael, CA, with 247Sports ranking him as a top-100 recruit and a top-five weakside defensive end in the country. Latu received all the major college football offers before narrowing it down to an all-west coast top-five of Cal, Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Washington. Latu committed to the Huskies as their third-best recruit in the Class of 2019 behind only Trent McDuffie and Puka Nacua.

As a true freshman, Latu failed to see the field much at all as a reserve and special teamer. In the runup to the 2020 season, Latu suffered a serious neck injury and was eventually told he would have to medically retire because of the ailment. After seeking out the opinion of the doctor who performed Peyton Manning‘s neck surgery back in the day, Latu was medically cleared to play again.

During his rehabilitation, Latu returned to the rugby pitch. Once again, the young athlete was given the opportunity to go pro, receiving a contract offer from the Seattle Seawolves, but yet again, Latu refused to give up on his dream of playing football. He entered the transfer portal and found his way back to his home state with the Bruins, following his position coach at Washington, Ikaika Malloe, whom Latu saw as a bit of a father figure.

In his debut season at UCLA, Latu exploded coming off the bench. Despite not starting a single game, Latu led the team in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (12.5) on his way to first-team All-Pac-12 honors. Last season, as a full-time starter, Latu improved on both of those numbers, leading the Pac-12 in sacks (13.0) while leading the nation in tackles for loss (21.5). Not only did Latu return to the All-Pac-12 first team in 2023, but he was also the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. On top of his ability to bring opponents down behind the line of scrimmage, Latu was disruptive in other ways with five forced fumbles, five passes defensed, and two interceptions during his two years in Los Angeles.

Latu is a pass-rush specialist. With 129 total pressures in 25 games, NFL teams will be licking their chops to add the 23-year-old to their defensive front. He’s wily and effective in putting together his pass-rush moves. His hands are quick and strong, helping him beat any player in his path with rips, clubs, and punches. He is quick off the line, and his elite flexibility helps him to get around tackles on the outside with ease. He’s used to getting double teams and still finds ways to be productive. Latu keeps his eyes on the backfield, helping him to rack up those TFLs, and he uses the drive and aggression from his rugby days to pursue ball carriers all over the field. He also showed athleticism dropping back in coverage, and the coaches at UCLA claim he could have been their best tight end if they had played him both ways.

Latu’s biggest red flag is going to be his medical history. The two-and-a-half-year sabbatical from football due to the neck injury could scare some teams off, though they’ll all have done their homework on the situation at this point in the process. On the field, though, he could stand to improve in his run defense. He’s great at identifying the play but can too easily be erased when runs are designed to go right at him, and he misses too many tackles.

Alabama’s Dallas Turner has long been viewed as the top edge rusher in a class that maybe isn’t as strong as groups of the past. Latu has already worked his way up the draft board, passing Penn State’s Chop Robinson and Florida State’s Jared Verse to get to the second spot on most draft boards at the position. As the draft gets closer and closer, front offices are starting to become enamored with Latu’s disruptive abilities. There isn’t a better pure pass rusher in this draft, and with the ability to play standing up or with a hand in the dirt, he could go to nearly any team and become their sacks leader as a rookie.

5 Key Stories: 4/14/24 – 4/21/24

The 2024 NFL draft has nearly arrived, and rumors continue to swirl regarding teams’ intentions near the top of the board. Plenty of updates on that front continue to emerge, although a pair of major extensions were also worked out in recent days. In case you missed any of the top developments from around the league this past week, here is a quick recap:

  • Eagles Retain Smith Through 2028: In the era of fifth-year options for first-round picks, no receiver had received an extension after three seasons in the league. The Eagles made an exception to that rule by handing DeVonta Smith a three-year, $75MM deal which will kick in following his rookie contract. To no surprise, Philadelphia also picked up Smith’s fifth-year option (valued at $15.59MM) and as a result the former Heisman winner will be on the books through 2028. Smith, 25, will collect $51MM guaranteed and the average annual value of his extension puts him in a tie (with teammate A.J. Brown) for fourth at the WR position. That marks a lucrative long-term commitment on the Eagles’ part, one which will no doubt continue to push the top of the receiver market forward when other ascending producers negotiate their own extensions.
  • Colts Extend Buckner: Indianapolis became the latest team to hand a sizable new contract to a defensive tackle by inking DeForest Buckner to a two-year, $46MM pact. The 30-year-old was set to enter 2024 as a contract year, but he has secured $43.55MM guaranteed at signing, a sign that he will remain in place for at least three more years. Buckner has received two of his three Pro Bowl invitations along with his lone first-team All-Pro nod during his four-year tenure with the Colts, and he will be counted on to remain a foundational figure on the team’s defense for years to come. Having kept a number of key players in the fold this offseason, Indianapolis will have Buckner at a reduced cap charge ($8.35MM) in 2024 before seeing that figure spike in later years.
  • Commanders Still Positioned To Select Daniels? Caleb Williams is universally seen as the Bears’ selection with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Commanders’ choice at No. 2 is murkier, but indications continue to suggest Jayden Daniels will be headed to the nation’s capital. The 2023 Heisman winner was the subject of a recent report stating Washington is expected to draft him, but links to Antonio Pierce and the Raiders persist. Daniels’ preference is believed to be Las Vegas, an arrangement which would reunite him with Pierce. The Commanders are much better positioned to draft one of the class’ top quarterbacks (unlike the Raiders) as things stand, though, and Daniels is considered a fit within OC Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme. With Washington’s unorthodox QB visit process in the books, all eyes will remain on the team’s draft plans.
  • Top-Six Teams Discussing Pick Trades: Teams in need of a quarterback outnumber the selections available near the top of the order, which could lead to trade-up maneuvers on Day 1. While the Bears, Commanders and Patriots are in position to retain the first three selections, the next three picks could be in flux. The Cardinals are known to be open to moving on from No. 4, although their conditions for trading down may not be met in the coming days. Meanwhile, the Chargers (set to select fifth) and Giants (sixth) have each received calls from teams looking to move up. New York’s extensive homework on QB prospects could lead to a small trade-up, but the team remains a wild card with a move down the board believed to be in play. Overall, the potential exists for a substantial shake-up of the top-six order once the first round begins.
  • Prescott Open To 2025 Free Agency? No agreement is expected between the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott this offseason. As a result, the three-time Pro Bowler is on track for free agency in 2025, something his comments on the matter suggest he is open to exploring. Prescott has no-trade and no-tag clauses in his current deal, a $40MM-per-year accord which will be dwarfed in value by his next one. Coming off a season in which he finished second in MVP voting, Prescott holds considerable leverage in talks with the Cowboys (although his and the team’s latest underwhelming postseason exit could lead to trepidation in pursuing a second multi-year commitment). Still, Dallas has another deal for the 30-year-old – as well as CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons – on the radar, something which could lead to a complicated financial outlook.

Prospect Profiles: Adonai Mitchell, Xavier Worthy

While LSU’s top-ranked duo of Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. have garnered plenty of press so far and Florida State’s duo of Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson have seen a drop in their respective draft stocks, it might be time to shine a spotlight on the two receivers coming out of Austin who both have a chance to hear their names called on Day 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft (Washington’s trio of Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk, and Jalen McMillan may require a profile in the future, as well).

Junior Longhorns Adonai Mitchell and Xavier Worthy have a chance to be the first Texas receivers drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft since Roy Williams in 2004. This would also make Mitchell and Worthy the third and fourth first-round receivers for the Longhorns in their storied history (Lam Jones, No. 2 overall to Jets in 1980).

Texas hasn’t had the greatest history with sending wide receivers to the NFL. Since 2008, players like Limas Sweed (second round, 2008), Jordan Shipley (third round, 2010), and Collin Johnson (fifth round, 2020) have failed to make an impact at the NFL level. Third-round picks Marquise Goodwin (2013) and Devin Duvernay (2020) are really the only pass-catchers since Williams to make a name at the professional level, though Goodwin only has one season over 432 yards in an 11-year career and Duvernay’s biggest impact has been as an All-Pro return man. Mitchell and Worthy have a chance to change the trends of their school’s history at the next level.

Worthy was a top-100 recruit in the Class of 2021 out of Central East HS (California) in Fresno. After a breakout junior year, Worthy began fielding offers from college football’s best. Despite offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, and others, Worthy committed to Michigan. He initially intended to enroll early alongside quarterback signee J.J. McCarthy, but trouble meeting Michigan’s academic requirements led Worthy to defer his enrollment until June. He still found an apartment in Ann Arbor, though he couldn’t work out with the team, but moved back home to explore other options after a month, decommitting from the Wolverines in the process.

Worthy had originally chosen Michigan over the Crimson Tide, who had then-offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. When Sarkisian was hired as the Longhorns’ head coach in 2021, Worthy committed sight unseen. Worthy immediately made an impact as a true freshman, leading the team by healthy margins with 62 catches for 981 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. The next highest totals were 26 catches (Jordan Whittington), 377 yards (Whittington), and four touchdown catches (Bijan Robinson). He finished as a Freshman All-American, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Worthy’s production dipped a bit as a sophomore as Whittington and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, who had redshirted in 2021, ate into some of his production. Still, Worthy led the team in catches (60), receiving yards (760), and receiving touchdowns (nine) while earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. It was more of the same last year for Worthy. Once again, he led the team in receptions (75) and receiving yards (1,014), but he was eclipsed in receiving touchdowns (five) by the newcomer Mitchell.

Mitchell was a rare situation of a high school reclassification. Where it’s common to sometimes see recruits reclassify to enter college a year early, Mitchell reclassified from the Class of 2020 to the Class of 2021 in high school, spending his gap year training. Growing up in the Houston area, Mitchell transferred from Westbury Christian School (Texas) to Ridge Point HS (Texas) in order to get more recruiting attention. Still struggling to garner offers, Mitchell followed his father, who moved to Nashville, and transferred to Cane Ridge HS (Tennessee) for his senior year before reclassifying to the Class of 2021.

Shortly after reclassifying, Mitchell committed to Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. Six months later, though, as the offers continued to roll in, Mitchell flipped to Georgia and then-offensive coordinator Todd Monken. He joined the Bulldogs as a three-star recruit, the 60th best wide receiver in the class, according to 247Sports.

As a freshman, Mitchell was part of a balanced wide receiving corps. While tight end Brock Bowers led the team in every receiving category, Mitchell’s stat line of 29-426-4 (catches-yards-touchdowns) was very similar to then-sophomore Jermaine Burton (26-497-5) and redshirt freshman Ladd McConkey (31-447-5). Mitchell also caught the go-ahead touchdown in the team’s National Championship victory. In his sophomore season, Mitchell was limited to only six games with a left ankle injury. He had nine catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns.

While in school in Georgia, Mitchell’s parents had been looking after his daughter (born the summer before his freshman season). After winning two championship rings with the Bulldogs (and missing most of his sophomore year), Mitchell opted to transfer closer to his family by enrolling at Texas. In his lone season as a Longhorn, Mitchell finished second on the team behind Worthy with 55 catches for 845 yards but led the entire Big 12 conference with his 11 touchdowns.

Mitchell and Worthy present as two different types of receiving options coming out of Austin. At just over 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Mitchell is a bigger target with a wider catching radius. Mitchell doesn’t sacrifice speed or explosiveness for his size, though. At the NFL scouting combine, Mitchell put up a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, a nearly 40-inch vertical jump, and an 11-foot-4 broad jump. He has above-average acceleration to get him to that elite top speed and uses impressive agility and control in his routes to create separation with stutter routes and by lagging into open areas of coverage. He shows that extra gear when the ball is in the air and has good body control to make adjustments on the ball. When he’s not the quarterback’s target (he was not a high-volume target in college), he’s always looking for someone to block.

Mitchell will need to get stronger at the next level, though. With his lean form, Mitchell can get bullied by more aggressive cornerbacks. While he has a large catch radius, he has smaller hands and wasn’t elite at reeling in contested catches, though he only had one drop in 2023. He also got most of his yardage without the ball in his hands, only averaging 3.2 yards after catch this season, displaying a lack of ability to make tacklers miss as a ball carrier.

Worthy is a bit shorter than Mitchell at just over 5-foot-11. He’s also slight at just 165 pounds. Similar to Mitchell, Worthy had impressive explosiveness with a 41-inch vertical and nearly 11-foot broad jump. Elite speed is what defines Worthy and gives him a chance to be a first-round pick.

You’ll know the name “Worthy” because he broke the NFL scouting combine’s record for the fastest ever 40-yard dash a month and a half ago. Worthy covered the distance in a record-breaking 4.21 seconds. His speed will be his biggest asset at the NFL level. He has great agility to make cuts in his route-running and his speed makes coverage with a cushion a necessity, though often a futile one. He shows good ball-tracking on deep routes and has a good ability to make tacklers miss with start-and-stop jukes. While the smaller wideout can get knocked back at contact, his low center of gravity and strong balance helps him stay on his feet often.

His size will limit him at the next level, though. Despite his impressive vertical jump, he doesn’t show that ability on the field to climb the ladder for high throws. He doesn’t have a strong ability to make contested catches, either, and focus is often an issue that leads to drops, fumbles, and muffed punts.

Despite their weaknesses, both Mitchell and Worthy project as late-Day 1 or early-Day 2 draft picks. Mitchell has great speed with an ideal frame, provided he can put on some muscle. He also displayed a clutch gene in college, often making the biggest plays at crucial moments. His effort and athleticism will draw the attention of several clubs in the mid-to-late first round.

Worthy is much more of a specialty player at the next level, but that certainly doesn’t mean he can’t find success. He was already a second- to third-round projected pick, but his record-breaking speed may be enough to elevate him to the late-first round. Even if team’s balk at some of his shortcomings, Worthy’s speed and special teams prowess (he led the NCAA in punt return yards this season) guarantee him a draft selection in the first two days. Together, the duo will work to change the reputation of pro Longhorn receivers.

Community Tailgate: Broncos, Raiders’ Quarterback Plans

With the Broncos and Raiders‘ most recent quarterback plans not working out, the AFC West presents a stark have/have-not disparity at the game’s glamour position. Going into the draft, Denver and Las Vegas have uphill climbs to find passers who could provide hope of matching up with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

Yes, the Broncos and Raiders have enjoyed some success against the Chiefs and Chargers (more so the Bolts) during these two Pro Bowlers’ stays. But this era of roster building has mandated either a franchise QB or a stacked roster is necessary to be a true contender. Denver and Las Vegas meet neither criteria, and the rivals’ current draft real estate does not leave clear paths to acquiring such help.

Holding the No. 12 pick, the Broncos did not match the Raiders’ urgency to add a bridge-type starter. The Raiders (No. 13) have Gardner Minshew signed to a two-year, $25MM deal ($15MM guaranteed). If they are unable to piece together a trade or do not see good value in picking one of the draft’s second-tier options, the Minshew bridge merely extends.

The Broncos, conversely, have only Jarrett Stidham — a player best known as the emergency starter as Derek Carr and then Russell Wilson were parked largely for contractual reasons — as a realistic starter option. While rumors about the Broncos being fine with Stidham beginning the season as the starter have emerged, it is difficult to envision Sean Payton entrusting the career backup/third-stringer to that role without a better option being acquired.

The Broncos are planning to add another arm via free agency or through a trade, but options are scarce at this point. As far as the draft goes, the team has been tied to Bo Nix and J.J. McCarthy. A recent report suggested a “heavy expectation” exists the Broncos will leave the first round with a QB, and while Denver has been viewed as wanting to trade up, the Payton and Wilson trades make this a dicey proposition.

Denver has not held a first-round pick since 2021 (Patrick Surtain). Unless the Broncos want to entertain trading their best player to help acquire draft assets, they would need to return to the treacherous road of trading first-round picks. Denver unloaded two in the Wilson swap and sent the Bradley Chubb-obtained choice to New Orleans for Payton’s rights. That Saints swap also stripped the Broncos of their 2024 second-rounder, creating a daunting task for the again-QB-needy club. Eating a record-smashing $85MM in dead money over the next two years on Wilson’s contract, the Broncos obviously would best benefit from a cost-controlled passer.

The Raiders do hold their second-round pick, but the player they have not made a great secret of coveting is viewed as unavailable. Reuniting Antonio Pierce and Jayden Daniels became a Raiders goal early this offseason, but ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter said this week a climb from No. 13 into Daniels territory is likely impossible. Michael Penix Jr. consolation-prize rumors have surfaced, and while the Washington product is seen by some coaches as having skills in line with this draft’s top QBs, scouts have seen some mechanical issues that could pose a problem for the deep-ball maestro’s NFL acclimation.

It also will be worth monitoring how serious the Raiders’ trade-up efforts will become in the days leading up to the draft. A recent report suggested Pierce was in favor of doing what it takes to move up the board for a long-term answer while GM Tom Telesco was OK with hanging onto draft assets and using Minshew as a full-season starter if need be. That will create an interesting backdrop ahead of the duo’s first draft together.

Trade routes for the Raiders and Broncos also stand to be complicated by the fact the Chargers sit in one of the spots that could be used to move up. At No. 4, the Cardinals hold prime real estate to collect a major haul from a QB-needy team. If the Cardinals opt to stay at 4 and draft a wide receiver, the Chargers suddenly become the gateway team. L.A. will probably not be inclined to help one of its two division rivals climb to 5 for a franchise-QB hopeful — at least, not without increasing the price tag. The Giants and Vikings also have the AFC West clubs outflanked in terms of draft assets, with New York sitting at No. 6 and Minnesota holding two first-rounders (Nos. 11 and 23).

With the 2025 draft class not viewed — as of now, at least — as rivaling this QB crop, the stakes could soon rise for the Broncos and Raiders. The teams have done their homework on this class, meeting with passers that will be difficult to impossible to obtain (Daniels, McCarthy). Nix, who profiles as a player the AFC West teams would not need to craft a monster trade haul for, also visited the Raiders. These teams coming out of Round 1 without a QB raises major questions about each’s viability.

Neither of these franchises has enjoyed much luck drafting QBs in Round 1. The Raiders made one of the biggest mistakes in draft history by selecting JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007 (16 years after drafting quick bust Todd Marinovich). Like the Broncos, the best QBs in team history (Ken Stabler, Rich Gannon, Daryle Lamonica, Carr) were either outside additions or a second-round pick.

Denver’s history here is also checkered, with the franchise having traded 2006 first-rounder Jay Cutler after three years and made the strange moves of drafting a first-round QB ahead of John Elway‘s age-32 season (Tommy Maddox) and then trading up 18 spots to draft Tim Tebow in 2010. These decisions both provided more value than the 2016 Paxton Lynch whiff. Lynch is among the 12 QBs/Phillip Lindsay (the 2020 COVID-19 game against Payton’s Saints) to start for the Broncos since Peyton Manning‘s retirement.

Appearing to reside in the backseat among teams with chances of acquiring draft real estate necessary to acquire one of the class’ top arms, the Broncos and Raiders’ QB situations double as two of the top storylines going into the draft. How will the rival teams navigate their complex tasks of upgrading early in the draft? Weigh in with your thoughts on these situations in PFR’s latest Community Tailgate.

Early Extensions For First-Rounders In Fifth-Year Option Era

The 2011 CBA introduced the fifth-year option, and teams have taken advantage of the flexibility with first-round picks throughout its existence. Despite the options being guaranteed for injury only from 2014 — the first year this contract clause came into play — until 2020, teams did not act aggressively to extend players early. Here are the first-round picks in the option era to be signed to extensions with two years of team control remaining:

2011 draft:

2012 draft:

2013 draft:

2015 draft:

2016 draft:

2017 draft:

2018 draft:

2019 draft:

2020 draft:

2021 draft:

The Cowboys and Vikings, respectively, did not extend Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb last year, keeping an under-the-radar streak involving receivers intact. But the Eagles broke new ground by giving Smith an early deal, making him the first Round 1 wideout in the option era to receive an extension with two years of rookie-deal control remaining.

Although Jordan Love signed a deal that extended his contract through 2024, the Packers starter’s new contract does not run beyond the point where his fifth-year option would have gone. Nearly a third of the players to sign early extensions have been quarterbacks. Tannehill, Watson and Wentz did not receive another extension from their respective teams, being traded before the respective contracts expired — in Watson’s case, before the new years even started.

The 2014 draft saw a record 23 options exercised, but no member of the stellar first-round group — headlined by Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Zack Martin — saw a payday come until 2018. While Donald waited until Year 5, Rams also have shown a steady interest — both during and before Sean McVay‘s tenure — in extending first-rounders after three years. Their four such extensions lead the pack through 10 option-era offseasons.

Prospect Profile: Quinyon Mitchell

With these Prospect Profiles, we generally like to shine a spotlight on players who haven’t constantly been thrust into the national spotlight, prospects you likely haven’t been watching on primetime television. Enter Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell.

Toledo went eight years (2009-2016) with zero players drafted into the NFL. The Rockets exploded back onto the scene in 2017 with three players getting drafted, starting with former Chiefs third-round pick Kareem Hunt. Including the 2017 picks, Toledo has sent nine players to the NFL through the draft since then, featuring impact players like Hunt and Diontae Johnson. Mitchell has the chance not only to extend that recent lineage, but also to become the Rockets’ first Day 1 draft pick since Dan Williams in 1993.

Mitchell’s lack of a spotlight dates back to his early days in high school. Despite residing in the talent-rich state of Florida, Mitchell found himself at Williston HS, a small, 1A school south of Gainesville. Lost in the dregs of high school recruits, Mitchell was a consensus three-star athlete ranking so far down the boards that he avoided the attention of the state’s big three (Florida, FSU, Miami). 247Sports.com ranked Mitchell as the nation’s 114th best cornerback recruit.

Mitchell raked in a number of small school offers from the likes of Alcorn State, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, South Dakota, and South Alabama before landing a couple offers from in-state FAU and USF. At a satellite recruiting camp, visiting Toledo coaches took note of Mitchell and delivered an offer. He committed to the Rockets, but a senior year offer from Illinois led Mitchell to consider his options before ultimately sticking with Toledo and heading north to Ohio.

At Toledo, academic struggles forced Mitchell to grayshirt his freshman year before the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season kept him mostly quiet in 2020, as well. Following the slow start, though, Mitchell came on strong as a full-time starter in 2022. Through the final three years of his college experience, in fact, Mitchell didn’t miss a single start, playing through a couple minor injuries to make 40 straight starts.

In his second season as a starter, Mitchell exploded onto the scene. While leading the MAC in interceptions with five, two of which were returned for touchdowns, Mitchell earned first-team All-MAC honors. But he caught the national eye after leading the country in passes defensed with 25, helping him to earn second-team All-American honors. He followed that up with a strong 2023 season, as well, in which he recorded one interception and 19 passes defensed (leading the MAC) and earned the same All-MAC and All-American accolades.

His elite ability to break up passes occurred all over the field. Not only did he display the speed and stickiness to stay with receivers down the field, but he also showed off an elite ability to read the quarterback and receiver and drive upfield to break up short comebacks and screens. He may have the best ball skills of any defensive back in this year’s draft. What’s almost as impressive as what he did with those skills, though, is what he didn’t do. Mitchell’s elite coverage was accompanied by elite restraint. During his two second-team All-American seasons, Mitchell drew only one penalty (a pass interference call in 2022).

It difficult to find holes in Mitchell’s game. The glaring red flag is obviously the lack of competition, though he did face off against a number of talented receivers, including top wide receiver prospect Marvin Harrison Jr., who beat him for a touchdown in 2022. There could be concern that Mitchell may not hold up as well against top-end receiver talent on a consistent basis. Also, due to the lack of talent around him, there isn’t a ton of film on Mitchell in hard press coverage. In order to help cover more of the field, Mitchell was often in zone or off-man coverage. Teams will want to get him coached up on press techniques early. Similarly, Mitchell lacks experience in the slot, playing almost exclusively on the outside in college.

At the NFL scouting combine, Mitchell only improved his draft stock. He showed off speed that we already knew was there with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. He also displayed a surprising strength and explosiveness in the bench press and jumps that, while not elite, were very impressive. Everything he did in Indianapolis was just a confirmation of what he’s put on film at Toledo for the last two years.

Mitchell is almost certain to become the Rockets’ first first-round selection in 31 years. Both ESPN’s Matt Miller and Dane Brugler of The Athletic have Mitchell ranked as the second-best cornerback prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft behind only Alabama’s Terrion Arnold. Brugler ranks Mitchell as the draft’s 11th best prospect, while Miller ranks him slightly lower at 15th.

Mitchell is an NFL-ready cornerback likely to start immediately wherever he is chosen to go. Team’s will be tempted to utilize his elite abilities on special teams, something he excelled at with Toledo, but his elite speed and ball skills will immediately become a factor on some mid-first round team’s defense. Mitchell is finally about to step into the spotlight, and how he handles it will determine whether or not Toledo has produced another unexpected NFL contributor.

5 Key Stories: 4/7/24 – 4/14/24

The countdown to the draft continues, and teams around the league remain busy hosting prospects set to be selected at every point in the order. Plenty of intrigue is building regarding the teams positioned to add a potential franchise quarterback in particular, though some notable developments concerning established players have also taken place. Here is a quick recap of the NFL’s top stories from the past week:

  • Jags Extend Allen: Another franchise tag recipient landed a long-term deal when the Jaguars inked Josh Allen to a five-year extension. Falling in line with the deal Brian Burns landed upon arrival with the Giants, Allen secured $28.25MM in annual base value and $76.5MM guaranteed at signing. That places him near the top of the edge market and cements his status as a foundational member of Jacksonville’s defense for the foreseeable future. Allen, 26, set a new franchise record with 17.5 sacks in 2023 after failing to reach double digits in that regard each of the past three years. Repeating last season’s success would represent a major development for the Jaguars’ front seven.
  • Chiefs’ Rice Facing Eight Felony Charges: As expected, Rashee Rice now faces charges stemming from his involvement in a hit-and-run incident during which two vehicles which were racing were involved in a six-car crash. The Chiefs wideout – who was driving one of the cars – has been charged with eight felonies (seven counts related to collision involving bodily harm and one count of aggravated assault). Rice turned himself in to police and posted a $40K bail. The 23-year-old’s situation therefore remains one worth monitoring closely in terms of legal developments and the potential league discipline which could accompany them. Theodore Knox, a former teammate of Rice at SMU, was driving the other vehicle; he has been suspended from the Mustangs’ football team and he now faces the same charges as Rice.
  • Daniels Likely Commanders’ Selection At No. 2? The Commanders represent a key turning point in the upcoming draft by owning the second overall pick. With Caleb Williams likely to come off the board first, Washington will have a choice of Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy and Jayden Daniels at the No. 2 slot. Many around the league expect the latter to be the Commanders’ ultimate selection, although the team has ‘top-30’ visits lined up with all three passers. Daniels won the Heisman in 2023, his second season at LSU. The Arizona State transfer has drawn praise for his processing as a passer along with his rushing abilities, but concerns over his age and build have been raised. Whichever rookie heads to the nation’s capital this summer will likely have the chance to compete for the starter’s gig right away, and Daniels’ floor could position him well to see early playing time in 2024.
  • Bucs, Winfield Making Progress On Market-Setting Extension: Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. remains on track to play on his franchise tag in 2024. That one-year pact carries a value of $17.12MM, but a more lucrative long-term agreement could be on the horizon. Optimism exists Winfield and the Buccaneers could work out a deal making him the league’s highest-paid player at his position. While the veteran safety market took a notable hit ahead of this year’s free agent period, keeping Winfield in place for years to come would likely prove to be a valuable move on Tampa Bay’s part. The second-generation defensive back earned first-team All-Pro acclaim in 2023, and at the age of 25 he is positioned to be a staple of the team’s backend for years to come. GM Jason Licht is confident a deal with both Winfield and standout left tackle Tristan Wirfs can be hammered out.
  • Eagles Begin Smith Extension Talks: Like Winfield, DeVonta Smith could soon have a second contract in hand. The latter is now negotiating an Eagles extension, and optimism exists an agreement can be worked out relatively soon. Smith has been a key figure in Philadelphia’s passing game during his three-year tenure, reaching the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two campaigns. The Eagles’ offense already features a number of lucrative commitments (from quarterback Jalen Hurts to offensive linemen Landon Dickerson, Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson as well as fellow receiver A.J. Brown). Smith – who will no doubt have his fifth-year option picked up this spring, keeping him in place through 2025 – could be in line to command a sizable raise compared to his rookie pact, though. No wideouts have been extended in their first offseason of eligibility during the era of fifth-year options, so it will be interesting to see if a Smith pact can be finalized this spring or summer.

Prospect Profile: Cooper DeJean

The University of Iowa has been a bit of a surprise team of late with a number of former Hawkeyes going pro and making a big impact in the NFL. Joining the ranks of Lukas Van Ness, Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, Tyler Linderbaum, and Tristan Wirfs, junior cornerback Cooper DeJean is expected to be the next Iowa alum selected early in an NFL draft.

DeJean grew up in Iowa as a multi-sport athlete, excelling in baseball, basketball, track, and football. At OABCIG HS in Ida Grove, Iowa, DeJean was a star athlete on the gridiron, playing wide receiver, quarterback, and defensive back while also returning punts. He earned All-State honors as a receiver his sophomore year and then led his team to undefeated, state championship seasons at quarterback the following two years.

Despite ranking as a consensus four-star recruit and a top-ten safety in the nation, according to 247sports.com, DeJean only garnered one FBS offer. His first offer came from Iowa Western CC before he earned offers from FCS programs like Illinois State, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Northern Iowa. He earned his first and only FBS offer from the Hawkeyes following a Junior Day visit and committed two months later.

At Iowa, DeJean played sparingly as a freshman, appearing in seven games and making one start but staying mostly off the stat sheet. His sophomore season was a different story as he exploded onto the scene. Starting all 13 games in his second season with the Hawkeyes, DeJean finished the season with second-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the team with five interceptions and 13 passes defensed while playing across from Broncos cornerback Riley Moss. DeJean demonstrated his return abilities on those interceptions, returning three of them for touchdowns. He also demonstrated his return abilities on returns, averaging 16.5 yards per return on ten punts fielded.

DeJean’s junior year at Iowa was similarly impressive. He received first-team All-Big Ten honors as both a defensive back and punt returner while also being named Big Ten DB of the Year and Big Ten PR of the Year. On 21 punt returns, DeJean had 241 return yards and a touchdown. Seeing far fewer targets, DeJean continued to produce as a cornerback with two interceptions and seven passes defensed, but a broken fibula in his right leg in November would require season-ending surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of the year and for the pre-draft process until very recently.

This past week, DeJean was able to host a private workout for scouts. He demonstrated an impressive explosiveness on his vertical and broad jump and clocked in at 4.42 seconds (unofficial) for his 40-yard dash, per Jeff Risdon of USA Today. The mini-pro day did much to prove that his recovery was progressing well and that the injury likely won’t be a factor in his rookie season.

DeJean is slightly shorter than the prototypical cornerback size (just over six feet tall), but as an athlete who was moved around to safety and hybrid roles in Iowa City, he has decent size to go along with his above average speed. His reaction time can be a hindrance at times, but he often masks it with great anticipation. His playing experience as a quarterback, receiver, and cornerback gives him a unique insight that allows him to anticipate better than most other defenders. He’s one of the better tackling cornerbacks in this draft and plays physical even when the opponent is not carrying the ball. His combination of speed and physicality allow him to use a variety of man coverage techniques with success. His lack of solid reaction time leads to the occasional overrunning of a route, and he can get grabby to avoid losing coverage, but these are rare occasions in what is usually stellar coverage.

ESPN’s Matt Miller ranks DeJean as the fourth-best cornerback and the 26th-best prospect overall. Dane Brugler of The Athletic seems to agree, slotting DeJean as the fourth-best corner and the 25th-best prospect overall. DeJean seems like a no-brainer in the mid- to late- first round. He shows versatility with experience playing all over the secondary and becomes an immediate special teams asset as a rookie. DeJean will hope to land with a team who can utilize him early and often as he attempts to join LaPorta, Linderbaum, and George Kittle as the most recent Pro Bowl Hawkeyes in 2024.