Trevor Penning

NFC South Rumors: Saints, Jones, Panthers

Trevor Penning is slotted to be the Saints‘ long-term Terron Armstead replacement, but a stopgap may be required ahead of that succession. The Northern Iowa alum is not a lock to open the season as New Orleans’ left tackle, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com notes. The Saints expected the Division I-FCS product to be raw coming in, and it does not appear he has seized the job for which he’s ultimately ticketed just yet. If Penning is on the bench to start the season, swingman James Hurst would be in line to get the call. The former Ravens starter was a 15-game first-stringer with the Saints last season.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Departure rumors have encircled Deion Jones for a stretch now, but the well-paid Falcons linebacker is on the shelf after undergoing shoulder surgery. Jones is set to count $20MM toward the Falcons’ cap this year — the highest figure on the rebuilding team. The Falcons should be considered unlikely to cut Jones, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com writes. They would be slammed with $18MM-plus in dead money, saving barely $1MM, by releasing the seventh-year veteran. Jones could potentially be an in-season trade chip, once the Falcons pay out part of his $9.6MM base salary. At just 27, the off-ball linebacker would be an upgrade for many teams. Atlanta signed ex-Dean Pees charge Rashaan Evans, has Mykal Walker returning, and the team drafted Troy Andersen in Round 2. The Arthur SmithTerry Fontenot regime appears to have a post-Jones plan in place.
  • New Panthers secondary coach Steve Wilks, returning to Charlotte after a few notable stops, is not planning to have Jeremy Chinn play much linebacker, per David Newton of ESPN.com. Despite the team signing free agent safety Xavier Woods, the plan is for Chinn to stick at his listed position. The third-year defender saw extensive run on Carolina’s defensive second level as a rookie, and while Newton notes Chinn will still move around, the Woods addition will not lead to extensive Chinn linebacker burn. Having already totaled 224 tackles in two seasons, the former second-round pick has a big year in front of him. Chinn will become extension-eligible in 2023.
  • The Panthers are on the lookout for a veteran edge rusher, but the team has plans for the recently extended Frankie Luvu. The fifth-year linebacker is on a new Carolina deal because the coaching staff believes he can contribute on the edge, according to Newton. In his first Panthers season, Luvu started four games but worked mostly as a backup. Among players who saw the bulk of their snaps as off-ball linebackers, Luvu graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2-ranked pass rusher — behind only Micah Parsons — last season. Granted, this came on just 249 snaps and produced just 1.5 sacks, but the American Samoa native earned a two-year, $9MM deal to stay.
  • Panthers defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon is not expected to be full-go when training camp starts, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-turned-Carolina fifth-rounder is still recovering from the knee injury that ended his rookie season. With Matt Ioannidis in the fold alongside Derrick Brown, Nixon is in line to be a rotational presence in his second season.

Saints Agree To Terms With First-Rounders Chris Olave, Trevor Penning

Friday has seen each of the Saints’ first round picks from this past draft sign their rookie contracts. New Orleans has reached an agreement with both receiver Chris Olave and offensive tackle Trevor Penning

As ESPN’s Adam Schefter details (on Twitter), the deal for Olave is worth just over $19.27MM. The Ohio State alum put up consistent production over the course of his four seasons there. He was the team’s leading receiver in 2019 and 2020, but his best individual season came this past campaign.

Over the course of 11 games, Olave totalled 65 catches for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns. While those figures were eclipsed by 10th overall pick Garrett Wilson and phenom sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba, they represented his ability to produce despite a heated competition for targets. Given the Saints’ lack of receiving options, Olave was named as a candidate for the team to consider, so there was little surprise when the team traded up to select him at No. 11.

Penning, meanwhile, had already agreed to terms on his rookie contract before the Olave deal was announced (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport). The Northern Iowa blocker showcased an appealing combination of size, length and athleticism throughout his time there, earning stellar PFF grades along the way. He held up against higher-quality competition at the Senior Bowl, confirming his status as a first-rounder. Predictably going later than Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu and Charles Cross, Penning was the fourth tackle off the board, landing at 19th overall.

Given the concerns related to his level of competition, as well as discipline, the six-foot-seven, 325-pounder might not be able to occupy the left tackle spot vacated by Terron Armstead right away. He is nevertheless viewed as a candidate to do so at least down the road, which would make him, like Olave, a pick aimed at filling glaring roster holes on Day 1. Penning will earn $14.1MM on his pact, per Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson (Twitter link).

Saints Willing To Move Up Or Down In First Round

The middle and later stages of tonight’s first round are expected to house most of the trade action which could take place. That makes the Saints one of the most important teams to watch. It comes as little surprise, then, that New Orleans has been calling other teams regarding moves up and down the board (Twitter link via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler). 

After their deal with the Eagles, the Saints own the 16th and 19th overall picks. That likely puts them in range of some – if not all – of the top quarterbacks in the class. If the team does elect to add a signal-caller, it appears their preference would be either Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral. With that said, the team has already re-signed Jameis Winston and added veteran backup Andy Dalton, leading some to believe other positions could be of greater concern to them.

The two positions most referenced along those lines are offensive tackle and wide receiver. In need of a Terron Armstead replacement, Trevor Penning will likely be the top blocker still available at 16, so a move up to select a top-tier option like Charles Cross wouldn’t come as a surprise. Likewise, the team would, in all likelihood, need to move into the top 10 (or thereabouts) to be in range of wideouts such as Drake London, Jameson Williams and Garrett Wilson as they look to boost last year’s passing game.

If the top options at those positions are off the board by the middle of the round, though, a trade down would become a possibility. The strength of this class is said to be truly seen on Day 2; especially if the team chooses not to add a quarterback, then, and a run on the position occurs in the 20s, moving down could become mutually beneficial for the Saints and a QB-hungry team.

Like all Day 1 trades, the ultimate decisions teams make will become known in a matter of hours. Depending on how the top of the board shakes out, New Orleans could become one of the most active teams, and therefore one worth keeping an eye on.

Draft Rumors: Jets, Neal, Giants, Seahawks, Texans, Cowboys

Although the Jets were reported to have gone through a productive visit with Kayvon Thibodeaux, it is looking like they will not draft the Oregon-developed pass rusher if he is on the board at No. 4. Questions about Thibodeaux’s fit with the rebuilding team’s culture has led most to expect GM Joe Douglas to pass, Brian Costello of the New York Post notes. Thibodeaux may be this draft’s most frequently discussed player, given his talent coupled with the attitude and effort concerns that dinged him during the draft lead-up. The Jets have recently been linked to Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson, a player they are believed to prefer to Thibodeaux despite the latter being graded higher by most experts. Johnson has generated buzz about becoming a top-10 pick, which would put the Jets to a decision at No. 4. The Georgia transfer might not be available when the Jets pick again (assuming they do not trade for a wide receiver) at No. 10.

On draft eve, here is the latest heading into the 2022 event:

  • Another player on the top-five radar, Evan Neal is not believed to have been given a clean bill of health by every team. Hip and knee issues have given some teams pause, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. This could see the Alabama product, depending on where teams in the top 10 stand here, fall behind fellow high-end tackle prospects like Ikem Ekwonu and Charles Cross. Neal’s camp has pushed back on this, and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio adds the top-tier prospect was not asked to return to Indianapolis for the Combine’s medical recheck. Neal did not miss a game last season.
  • Jerry Jones said recently he is willing to trade up from No. 24. How far up? The Cowboys might be prepared to part with notable draft capital, with NFL.com’s Jane Slater indicating Cross, Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning and USC wide receiver Drake London are names to watch regarding a Dallas move up. Cross and London have been mentioned often as top-10 picks, while Penning has his share of fans as well. Based on the targets listed here, the Cowboys would likely need to make a strong offer. It would be quite costly for the Cowboys to move into or near the top 10, but they have been eyeing O-linemen. Dallas holds one pick in each of the second and third rounds.
  • On the subject of moves, which are mentioned often in the days ahead of a draft, teams have contacted the Giants about the No. 7 overall pick, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The Seahawks are one of them, having shown interest in moving from 9 to 7. Seattle has often traded down in Round 1 under John Schneider, though the team has not enjoyed top-10 real estate since Schneider and Pete Carroll‘s first draft together (2010). Possessing needs at several spots, the Giants have been connected to using their No. 5 pick and trading down from 7.
  • Texans GM Nick Caserio said Wednesday a 99% chance exists his team will stay at No. 3 and make a pick, but the team is more open to a move at 13 — the pick obtained via the Deshaun Watson trade. The second-year GM has spoken with at least six teams about the No. 13 choice, per NFL.com’s Jim Trotter (Twitter link). Many teams view first-round trades as likelier to occur after the top 10, Fowler adds.

AFC Draft Notes: Chiefs, Jaguars, Texans, Steelers

We’re only two days away from the NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at some assorted draft notes out of the AFC:

  • The Chiefs are armed with 12 selections in the upcoming draft, including picks No. 29 and No. 30. According to Albert Breer of SI.com, Kansas City’s front office has started to call teams in the 20s about trading up. Breer opines that a potential deal could precede a second trade up the draft board.. Breer speculates that the Chiefs could be eyeing one of the league’s top receivers, but he also cautions that the front office could make “an aggressive move” for a cornerback or pass-rusher.
  • We can add two more teams to the list of Trevor Penning suitors. According to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com, the Titans and Chiefs are among the teams being mentioned as landing spots for the Northern Iowa left tackle. Kansas City would likely have to trade up in order to acquire the lineman. The Ravens, Titans, and Panthers have previously been linked to Penning.
  • Four prospects are believed to be in play for the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but ESPN’s Todd McShay is hearing a lot of buzz around Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker. Sources believe the Jaguars prefer Walker’s “upside and traits” over Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson‘s “proven production, motor, and leadership.”
  • The Texans are high on Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, according to McShay. However, the Texans won’t take the wideout at No. 3, and they’d probably have to trade up from No. 13 in order to select Wilson. If that ends up being an unrealistic path, McShay could also envision the Texans trading out of the No. 13 spot.
  • The first QB off the board could end up going to the Steelers at No. 20, according to McShay. Pittsburgh is apparently eyeing Liberty’s Malik Willis, and the signal-caller could end up falling in their lap. However, the reporter seems to be cautioning that the Steelers may not be able to pull off “a Bill Belichick” (referring to last year’s Mac Jones pick), meaning the front office may have to trade up if they want Willis.

Seahawks Open To Duane Brown Return, Interested In Trevor Penning

We heard in March that the Panthers were pursuing free agent LT Duane Brown, though nothing has materialized on that front just yet. Brown, who spent the last 4+ seasons as Russell Wilson‘s blindside blocker in Seattle, could still return to the Seahawks, according to head coach Pete Carroll (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times on Twitter).

While Carroll has said the door to a reunion remains open, Condotta expects the team to wait until after the draft (which is now just four days away) to make a decision with respect to Brown or other veteran OTs. Indeed, the Seahawks hold the No. 9 overall pick in the draft as a result of the trade that sent Wilson to the Broncos, and they may want to use that pick on a collegiate left tackle from a class that offers a great deal of high-upside talent at the position.

Alabama’s Evan Neal and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu are widely expected to be off the board by the time Seattle is on the clock with its No. 9 selection, and none of the sources that Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network has spoken to believe that Mississippi State’s Charles Cross will fall past the Panthers’ No. 6 choice. Assuming the ‘Hawks do not have a chance to draft any of those players, Pauline hears that the team is prepared to pull the trigger on Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning.

The small school product did not necessarily profile as a top-10 prospect at the start of draft season, but his stock has risen considerably since the Senior Bowl, and his 6-7, 321-pound frame certainly projects well to the professional ranks. And, although his FCS competition level should certainly be taken into account when evaluating his NFL future, Pro Football Focus’ analysis of Penning includes a 99.9 run-blocking grade, the highest mark that PFF has ever given out.

The Seahawks and Panthers are the only teams to be connected to Brown thus far this year, and if both clubs fill their LT vacancies with high-end rookies, one would assume that they would no longer be interested in the five-time Pro Bowler. Still, there will be teams with a left tackle need once the draft is over, and Brown should be able to find a starting role on a short-term contract despite the fact that he will turn 37 in August.

Draft Rumors: Panthers, Penning, Commanders

Throughout the offseason, the Panthers have been linked to either drafting an offensive tackle or a quarterback. Carolina’s draft position is intriguing as they hold the sixth overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft and then, barring any trades, won’t make another selection until the 137th pick at the end of the fourth round.

While the options are plentiful in this year’s Draft, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reports that other teams in the league are convinced that Carolina will select a quarterback this Thursday. Breer thinks the Panthers would prefer to trade down, exchanging their high pick for some draft capital to close the gap to their second pick, but points out that teams just don’t seem to be dying to trade up for any position or player this year.

Here are a few more rumors leading up to the Draft this Thursday, starting with a prospect out of Cedar Falls:

  • Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning visited with the Titans this week, according to Matt Miller of ESPN. Tennessee has been rumored to be looking at addressing the offensive line this upcoming Thursday. The Titans return Ben Jones at center, Nate Davis at guard, Taylor Lewan at tackle, and brought in Jamarco Jones from Seattle to fill in at the other guard position. They also return backups in Dillon Radunz, Corey Levin, and Aaron Brewer. Radunz is probably who they hope will fill in opposite Lewan at tackle, but he failed to catch on in a rookie year that presented him with plenty of opportunities. Drafting Penning will either light a fire under Radunz and kick him into gear or provide the Titans with a secondary option to start at tackle.
  • In the article linked above, Breer addressed the Commanders’ approach to their 11th overall pick and pointed out that Washington has diligently done their homework on the wide receivers in this year’s class. After star receiver Terry McLaurin, Washington’s top receivers were running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson, followed by now free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries. Pairing another talented pass-catcher with McLaurin is a must if they want newly acquired quarterback Carson Wentz to succeed in DC. So who does Breer predict the Commanders will select to place opposite McLaurin: none other than McLaurin’s former Ohio State teammate, Chris Olave.

Jets, Ravens Eyeing Tackles In Draft

Joining the Giants in the historically exclusive club of holding two top-10 picks in a draft, the Jets appear to be targeting the same position as their Big Apple rivals. The Giants have done extensive work on this year’s tackle crop; the Jets are interested in bolstering that position as well.

Despite the Jets having chosen Mekhi Becton in the 2020 first round, Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com reports they are zeroing in on this position entering this draft. Jets brass has informed several players the plan is to select a tackle early. Although it is not certain the Jets will use one of their first-rounders (Nos. 4 and 10) on the position, Joe Douglas is a fan of a tackle who figures to be on the board at No. 10.

Douglas has been high on Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning since the Senior Bowl, Pauline adds. The 6-foot-7 Division I-FCS product slots behind Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal and Charles Cross on most tackle prospect rankings. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. ranks Penning 25th, while NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah slots him 22nd. It is unlikely Penning drops that far.

The Ravens are also interested in Penning, per Pauline, who adds they scheduled a visit and are aiming to exit this draft with a potential future tackle starter. Baltimore’s No. 14 overall pick should represent Penning’s floor, Pauline notes. Baltimore has Ronnie Stanley coming off another significant injury and signed ex-Jet Morgan Moses in March. Moses’ three-year, $15MM deal includes $5.5MM in guarantees, giving the Ravens flexibility after 2022.

This is not the first report to indicate the Jets using one of their first-round picks on a tackle is in play. New York is eyeing an extension with George Fant, who moved to left tackle to replace the injured Becton last year. The 363-pound lineman’s stock has nosedived since his promising rookie year. Becton’s weight has been a consistent problem, and he reported to camp out of shape last year. Becton suffered a knee injury in Week 1 and did not play again in 2021. While the Jets may try the mammoth blocker at right tackle, their patience is wearing thin. A first- or second-round tackle would crowd this position group.

Release Candidate: Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva

In the week before the 2021 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens gave in to the wishes of Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and traded him away to the Chiefs. This trade left a hole on the Ravens’ offensive line opposite All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. To address this issue, the Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva, a free agent whom the Steelers felt ready to move on from

After not falling in love with any of the tackles the Draft had to offer at their position in the early rounds, Baltimore opted for a stopgap solution, signing Villanueva to a two-year deal worth $14MM. Villanueva had performed admirably over his sevens years in Pittsburgh, but was never really considered an elite tackle. His best years saw him make consecutive Pro Bowls in the 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons.

As a Raven, Villanueva did his job, and then was asked to do more. After four years of starting at left tackle as a Steeler, Villanueva struggled initially when asked to fill in at right tackle. He got to go back to his more natural position after ankle surgery sidelined Stanley for the all but one game of the 2021 season.

Villanueva had an up and down year. Often Villanueva’s age showed during some rough outings, but the 33-year-old showed some resiliency, playing through some discomfort knowing that another absence for the injury-devastated Ravens could spell disaster. He seemed to find his footing with time, though, playing a pretty good stretch of football to end the season.

But was Villanueva’s performance in 2021 worthy of a $9.25MM cap hit in 2022? Likely not. The Ravens will hope for a strong return for Stanley and they signed Ja’Wuan James to a low $9MM, two-year contract knowing that he likely would be out with a torn Achilles tendon for much of the 2021 season. The likeliest scenario sees Baltimore cutting Villanueva loose to rely on a combination of Stanley and James to bookend the offensive line. The Ravens also recently signed utility offensive lineman Patrick Mekari to a three-year extension. The former undrafted free agent has started at all three offensive line positions for Baltimore and could continue to fill in at right tackle until the next franchise tackle shows up.

Baltimore could also opt to address the position in the 2022 NFL Draft. While, with the 14th overall pick, the Ravens are not in a position to take one of the Draft’s more exciting tackle prospects like NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal, if Mississippi State’s Charles Cross were to fall to Baltimore, the Ravens, who are known for drafting for value over fit, would likely find it hard to pass on Cross’s potential. Cross, who ranks as the 8th best Draft prospect on The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s Top 100, impresses many evaluators, but, reportedly, hasn’t convinced the entire league that he’s a top ten draft pick. If the Ravens were to trade back later into the first round, another common move by the draft-savvy franchise, they could find smaller school prospects like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann falling into their laps. They could even wait until their second-round or third-round selections come up and opt to take a flyer on Minnesota’s massive Daniel Faalele or Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere, respectively.

Regardless, most paths that make sense for Baltimore don’t entail the team stomaching a $9.25MM cap hit for a tackle that struggled much of the year for them. Turning 34 at the beginning of the 2022 season, Villanueva could save the Ravens the trouble and simply retire. Whether retired or released, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see Villanueva in purple and black next season.