T.J. Watt

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Price, Browns

Two key Steelers will be changing positions. Pittsburgh’s outside linebacker starters, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, will swap spots, with Dupree shifting to the right outside linebacker role and Watt moving to the left side, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes. Dupree’s issues with being too far behind quarterbacks on outside rushes, in a league that features mostly right-handed passers, prompted Keith Butler to relocate him.

What Bud did too much of last year, in my opinion, was he got past the quarterback,” Butler said. “To me, you’re useless when you’re past the quarterback. Now, he won’t be as useless behind the quarterback because he can work back a little bit or he can go up and under where the quarterback won’t see him.”

Although the Steelers exercised Dupree’s fifth-year option, the 2015 first-round pick has not lived up to expectations just yet. The Kentucky product rated as a bottom-10 edge defender, per Pro Football Focus, last season, but the Steelers will try to give him another opportunity to make good on their investment. Butler said the relative inexperience of the players involved in this switch prompted him to wait until the offseason to make this move.

I think I’m more natural on the left side just because I’m more right-hand dominant,” Watt said, via Benz. “I can have a better dip and a better stab. I have more pitches I can throw on the left side.”

Here’s the latest out of the AFC North, shifting to the division’s most pressing issue — Le’Veon Bell‘s status in Pittsburgh.

  • As less than a month remains until the pivotal extension deadline for franchise-tagged players, Bell has not shown up at Steelers workouts. This was expected. But as of last week, the Steelers had yet to resume contract talks with their All-Pro running back. And Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette puts the odds at an extension occurring as longer than the sides continuing their present arrangement. Fittipaldo writes Bell not reaching a long-term agreement would again induce him to skip training camp and the preseason. Of course, Bell and the Steelers failing to come to terms this year could well mean the 26-year-old dynamo will be playing elsewhere in 2019, considering the prohibitive cost for tagging a player three times.
  • Tyrod Taylor will be a free agent at season’s end, but one AFC executive views him as a player who could make Baker Mayfield wait a long time before taking the Browns‘ reins. “Tyrod Taylor could keep Baker Mayfield on the bench for years,” the anonymous staffer said, via Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. This seems unlikely given the investment the Browns made in Mayfield, and the fact full redshirts for first-round QBs rarely occur anymore. But Taylor does have three years’ experience as a starter and has maybe the best cast of wide receivers he’s enjoyed since ascending to a starting role. That said, the risk-averse passer will need to be re-signed for this to occur. It would likely take Mayfield’s development stalling considerably for Cleveland to bring back Taylor.
  • Prior to the Lions taking Arkansas interior lineman Frank Ragnow with their first-round pick, the Bengals had he and Billy Price ranked “pretty much evenly,” Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com notes. After watching the Ohio State product operate this offseason, one that didn’t feature him becoming fully cleared until Monday, the Bengals believe Price might be a better fit for their offense rather than the player who was selected one spot ahead of him. He’s expected to be Cincinnati’s starting center from Day 1.

Steelers Sign First-Round Pick T.J. Watt

The Steelers signed first-round linebacker T.J. Watt, according to a team announcement. After also inking third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton this week, Pittsburgh has become the latest team to wrap up its 2017 draft class. T.J. Watt (vertical)

T.J. is a rock solid young man who has a lot of upside,” said Coach Mike Tomlin in a press release. “He doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position, but at the same time we saw some things that were exciting to us. His hand usage in particular for a guy with his short resume at the position was exciting. His production speaks for itself. He’s just a quality guy and a quality pick for us. We’re excited about continuing his development not only as a football player, but as an outside linebacker. That’s probably the most exciting element of the T.J. discussion. We are excited about the potential upside and growth given the short length of time he’s played the position.”

Watt, a Wisconsin product, finished the 2016 season with 17 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks. Last year was his first campaign as a starter and just his second season playing defense after switching from tight end. But, of course, hard-nosed defense runs in Watt’s blood.

I am a lunch pail kind of guy who yeah, I just got picked in the first round, but I am here to prove that I am worth that pick and I am worth much more than that as well,” said Watt, the younger brother of Texans superstar J.J. Watt. “I think some things come easy for me, like the transition over to defense. It came naturally to me, but at the same time there was so much work behind the scenes that no one ever saw. That’s what it’s so hard to put it into words. It is a lot of God-given ability, but it is so much work that no one will ever see. No one will ever know. It’s an insurmountable amount of work. That is how you get to places like this and get the opportunity to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It all pays off. It really does.”

Watt may wind up starting at one of the Steelers’ outside linebackers pots, putting him opposite of James Harrison with Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams in between. Former first-round pick Bud Dupree and Arthur Moats will also be pushing for playing time at OLB.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pauline’s Latest: Webb, Bolles, Robinson

Cal quarterback Davis Webb is expected to be selected at some point in the middle of Round 2 of the draft, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com. Webb has been mentioned as a possible first-round pick, and the dearth of quarterback options could certainly push him up the board. But Day 2 looks more likely, per Pauline, who adds the Jets, Saints, Chargers, and Cardinals have shown the most interest in Pauline thus far. Those final three teams, notably, currently employ veteran signal-callers, which would allow Webb at least one year of development.

Here’s more on the 2017 draft, all courtesy of Pauline:

  • While Garett Bolles is reportedly considered the top offensive lineman by some clubs, the Utah product may ultimately slip into the second round, reports Pauline. That would certainly be surprising, especially given that the 2017 offensive tackle class is considered especially weak (meaning top options such as Bolles should come at a premium). The clubs most heavily linked to Bolles are the Broncos, Giants, Raiders, and Texans, says Pauline. Bolles’ age is the one key factor working against him, as he’ll already be 25 years old when the upcoming season begins.
  • If the Ravens don’t trade down from No. 16, Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson is expected to in consideration, per Pauline. After losing right tackle Ricky Wagner during the free agent period, Baltimore could use another offensive lineman to help protect Joe Flacco. Given the presence of 2016 first-rounder Ronnie Stanley, Robinson would presumably play on the right side for the Ravens (though he could conceivably play guard, as well). Meanwhile, if Baltimore does trade down, the team would probably target UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley, whom Pauline says is a favorite of general manager Ozzie Newsome.
  • The Packers are gearing up to select Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt in the first round, a team source tells Pauline. Zach Links sent Watt to Green Bay in at pick No. 29 in PFR’s live mock draft earlier today. Watt, who managed 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2016, is a local product, as he hails from Pewaukee, Wisconsin and spent three seasons with the Badgers. The Packers re-signed edge defender Nick Perry last month, but could still use another outside linebacker, especially if the move Clay Matthews Jr. back inside.

PFR’s 2017 Live NFL Mock Draft

The 2017 NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, and Pro Football Rumors is back with its second mock draft of the year. While our initial mock attempted to project what will happen in Round 1, we’ve taken a different approach for mock draft 2.0.

PFR editor Zach Links and I conducted this live mock draft on Tuesday morning, rotating picks and breaking down what we would do were we in charge of these selections. We posted each pick on Twitter, followed by a short explanation of our thought process on this page.

Here’s the complete mock:

1. Cleveland Browns (Zach) – Myles Garrett, LB, Texas A&M

I suspect this is the easiest pick either one of us will make all day. Garrett is the best pure talent in this year’s draft and the Browns would be foolish to go in any other direction at the top of the draft.

2. San Francisco 49ers (Dallas) – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

Reports that the 49ers are considering a quarterback with the second overall selection stand out as a potential smokescreen, and instead San Francisco uses the No. 2 pick to bolster its defense. Hooker, who recently earned a full medical clearance following combine rechecks, has been commonly linked to the Chargers as a perfect fit for Los Angeles defensive coordinator Gus Bradley‘s scheme. But the 49ers are running the same defensive look as the Chargers under new DC Robert Saleh, and Hooker would give the team a centerfielder with the upside of an Earl Thomas. San Francisco’s plan to convert nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward to safety won’t stop it from adding Hooker, who is possibly the draft’s No. 2 overall prospect.

3. Chicago Bears (Zach) – Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford 

Dallas’ bold pick left my Bears with a golden opportunity. The Bears could go safety or cornerback in this scenario, but the talent of Thomas is too good to pass up. Thomas can be used on both the inside and outside of the Bears’ defensive line and I see him as one of the safest talents on the board.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (Dallas) – Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

No, we didn’t forget the Jaguars used a top-five pick on Jalen Ramsey in 2016 and then handed a $67.5MM contract to A.J. Bouye in free agency last month. But one of Ramsey’s key selling points last year was his versatility: while he’s a shutdown corner at his best, Ramsey can man the slot, cover tight ends, and dabble at safety. As such, adding Conley doesn’t mean Jacksonville is facing cornerback overload, especially given that NFL clubs are in the nickel more than two-thirds of the time. Conley is viewed as a safer prospect than his Ohio State teammate Marshon Lattimore, and he’d give the Jaguars a Broncos-like secondary.

5. Tennessee Titans (Zach) – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

The Titans, arguably, get the best cornerback available in the draft even though they are the second team to address the position. No, we don’t have a ton of film to go on for Lattimore, but his combine numbers indicate that he could be a megastar. Few teams in the NFL would have a young cornerback duo like the Titans if they can pair Logan Ryan with Lattimore.Mitch Trubisky Instagram

6. Cleveland Browns (projected trade with Jets) (Dallas) – Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

In need of a franchise quarterback, the Browns send the No. 12 and No. 52 pick to the Jets in exchange for No. 6 with the intention of drafting Trubisky. It’s a slight overpay for Cleveland (at least, based on Chase Stuart of Football Perspective‘s draft value chart, which is likely what the Browns front offices uses), but it does the deal anyway to land a long-term option under center. Given that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is reportedly pressing the club to select a quarterback early — and the fact the Cleveland may still be considering Trubisky with the first overall selection — landing the UNC signal-caller at No. 5 for the cost of a mid-second-round pick is a move the Browns can’t pass up.

7. Los Angeles Chargers (Zach) – Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

In this scenario, it seems like Allen’s subpar workouts have led to a bit of a drop. His size (6’3″) is a bit of a concern, but he has the ability to be an effective defensive end while spending some time on the inside as well. Allen would look great lining up on the opposite end of Joey Bosa.

8. Carolina Panthers (Dallas) – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Sitting at pick No. 8, the Panthers certainly have options. General manager Dave Gettleman & Co. could go after a running back like Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey, bring in a young edge rusher to play alongside veterans like Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers, or even reach for an offensive tackle given Michael Oher‘s health questions. With Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown having defected via free agency, the Panthers need another wideout to pair with Kelvin Benjamin. Enter Davis, who topped 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (Zach) – Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster’s stock, by all accounts, is slipping after he turned in a diluted urine sample and got into an argument with a hospital worker at the combine. However, with other teams in the market for an inside linebacker (like the Jets at No. 12, for example), it would be somewhat risky to trade down into the teens and expect Foster to still be there. The Bengals have been willing to overlook character concerns in the past, so I see no reason why they can’t do the same here and land the Alabama star.

10. Buffalo Bills (Dallas) – Jamal Adams, S, LSU

While the Bills gave Jordan Poyer a four-year deal with $6MM in guarantees earlier this offseason, I’m still not convinced Buffalo views him as a definite starter. Those questions come to the forefront with Adams still on the board, and the Bills don’t hesitate to take the LSU defensive back. With ex-Packer Micah Hyde also in the fold, Buffalo can field one of the more diverse and flexible safety tandems in the league. Adams is viewed as a leader in the locker room, and has been favorably compared to former Cowboys All Pro Darren Woodson by Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.

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Draft Rumors: 49ers, Jets, Fins, Mixon,

The 49ers are willing to trade the second pick in the draft, which has been the case since at least February. They’ll “listen to anything,” said general manager John Lynch, who revealed that teams have shown interest in acquiring the selection (via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area). Regardless of whether they trade the choice, the 49ers won’t have top prospects like Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas or Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in for pre-draft visits. “I think we know those guys pretty well,” stated Lynch (Twitter link via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com). They did work out Cal quarterback Davis Webb on Tuesday, per Wagoner. Webb is gaining momentum as a potential first-rounder.

More on the draft:

  • The Jets worked out North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky on March 30, but they’ll take another look at the 22-year-old Thursday in the form of a pre-draft visit, reports Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. There are some members of the organization who are quite bullish on Trubisky, Mehta writes. The quarterback-needy Jets, who are set to pick sixth, have also met twice with Texas Tech signal-caller Patrick Mahomes.
  • With their first-rounder, No. 30, the Steelers plan to select the best defensive back available, says Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com (video link). That could be Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, whom GM Kevin Colbert “loves,” according to Kinkhabwala. Head coach Mike Tomlin said last month that the Steelers need DBs capable of playing man coverage, noting that New England quarterback Tom Brady roasted their secondary in January’s AFC championship game.
  • The Dolphins’ previously reported visit with Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton took place Wednesday, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.The team also hosted Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, who, like Charlton, is a prospective first-rounder. PFR’s Dallas Robinson currently has Miami taking Charlton at No. 22 overall.
  • Speaking of the Dolphins, they’ll meet with Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt this week, and he’ll also visit the Saints, 49ers and Broncos in the coming days, relays Jeremy Bregman of NFL.com. The brother of Texans superstar J.J. Watt may end up coming off the board in Round 1.
  • Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is “absolutely in play” for the Vikings in Round 2 (No. 48 overall), Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller told Matt Vensel, Andrew Krammer and Michael Rand of the Star Tribune. Along with Minnesota, the Saints, Bengals and Raiders have shown the most interest in Mixon, per Miller. The Raiders seem like a curious fit, though, given Mixon’s past and owner Mark Davis’ zero tolerance policy regarding domestic violence.

PFR’s 2017 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

The 2017 NFL draft is less than a month away, and while the first overall pick may be nearly set in stone, the rest of the first round is as muddled as its ever been. A lot can and will happen between now and April 27th, and there are still plenty of teams near the top that could go in a number of different directions on draft day.

Pro Football Rumors’ first mock draft of 2017 is below. To be clear, this is our projection of what will happen – not necessarily the choices we would make – based on reports and information gathered from beat and national writers, our general assessment of this year’s crop of prospects, and, of course, team needs. Let’s dive in:

2017 Mock Draft 1.0 (Vertical)

1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, LB, Texas A&M
The easiest prediction of the first round, Garrett was considered the favorite to be selected first overall for much of the collegiate season. Nothing Garrett has done since the 2016 campaign concluded has changed that outlook, and the Browns reportedly have an “astronomical grade” on the Aggie edge rusher. At the scouting combine, Garrett weighed in at 272 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, and posted 33 bench press reps. Cleveland was “blown away” by the numbers, and it will pick Garrett knowing he can single-handedly alter their front seven.

2. Carolina Panthers (projected trade with San Francisco)Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
Rumor has it the Panthers are interested in acquiring the No. 2 pick from the 49ers, and I’ve projected that trade will indeed occur (last week, I examined what sort of package Carolina may need to sacrifice in order to move up). While Leonard Fournette could also garner consideration, the Panthers will take Thomas, another signal that Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman values the defensive line above all else. Veteran defensive ends Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers are only signed through 2017, and Thomas would give the Panthers long-term security on the edge. He can slide inside, as well, protecting Carolina against free agent defections by Star Lotulelei and/or Kawann Short.

3. Chicago Bears – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
While the Bears have a number of needs on both sides of the ball, they could stand to add another cornerback, and in Lattimore they’ll secure the best CB in the draft. Chicago did add Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in free agency, but Amukamara signed a one-year deal and Cooper has done nothing to prove he’s a starting NFL defensive back. Former first-round pick Kyle Fuller‘s time with the Bears may be coming to an end, and Lattimore would give Chicago shutdown corner potential from day one. Chicago hosted Lattimore on a predraft visit on Monday.O.J. Howard (Vertical)

4. Jacksonville Jaguars – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Defense shouldn’t be a problem in Jacksonville this season, as the team has invested heavy resources — both dollars and draft capital — on the defensive side of the ball over the past two years. The Jaguars’ offense, however, ranked just 27th in DVOA in 2016, and while much of the struggle can be attributed to Blake Bortles and a poor front five, Jacksonville isn’t going to replace Bortles immediately, and there are no offensive linemen worthy of the No. 4 pick. Instead, the Jags will select one of the safer players in the draft, pinpointing Howard to replace free agent whiff Julius Thomas, who was traded to Miami last month.

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) – Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
The Titans could still use help at both wide receiver and cornerback, but with another pick in Round 1 to address other needs, general manager Jon Robinson goes with the best player available and selects Allen. At least one AFC personnel director believes Allen’s shoulder issues could lead to a draft-day tumble, but Allen would give Tennessee a truly dominant defensive line. He’d team with lineman Jurrell Casey and Sylvester Williams and edge rushers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan on one of the league’s more underrated front sevens.

6. New York Jets – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Gang Green isn’t in a great position at No. 6. Lattimore and Howard may have been the club’s best options, but they’re now off the board, and it’s difficult to see the Jets selecting another linebacker or defensive lineman given their first-round investments over the past several years. Under center, New York seems to want to give 2016 second-rounder Christian Hackenberg a chance to play, and the team’s visits with this year’s top quarterback prospects are largely viewed as smokescreens. Safety probably isn’t a priority for the Jets, but the the team simply needs talent, and Hooker is the best player left.

7. Los Angeles Chargers – Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Hooker is a better fit for new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley‘s scheme, but Adams will work as well. While he’s not the center fielder that Hooker is, Adams offers the type of versatility the Chargers covet. Los Angeles has yet to replace Eric Weddle, who left after the 2015 season, and while it re-signed Jahleel Addae last month, Adams would serve as an improvement over Dwight Lowery. The Bolts could begin eyeing a long-term replacement for Philip Rivers this year, but they won’t use the seventh pick to find their franchise quarterback.

8. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade with Carolina)Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Even after signing 13 external free agents, the 49ers still have holes all over their roster. Foster would be in consideration for San Francisco even if it holds on to the No. 2 selection, but in this scenario, the club has traded down to acquire more assets while still getting the player it originally targeted. Foster has some negatives — a February shoulder surgery, a dust-up with a hospital worker at the combine — but he’s unquestionably one of the more talented players in the 2017 class. An inside ‘backer by trade, Foster would likely slide into the weak side in the Bay Area given the presence of NaVorro Bowman.

9. Cincinnati Bengals – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
If the Bengals have a “type,” it’s productive players from the SEC. During Marvin Lewis‘ 14-year run as head coach, Cincinnati has selected a first-round SEC prospect half the time. Barnett fits that mold, as he topped Reggie White’s Tennessee sack record of 33 in only three years. Doubters, however, worry Barnett’s physical traits don’t match his production. But the Bengals need to upgrade on defensive end Michael Johnson, who hasn’t posted an above-average season since 2013. Wide receiver could be another option here, as could a trade back, especially if quarterback-needy clubs want to jump ahead of Buffalo, New Orleans, and Cleveland.

10. Buffalo Bills – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Corey Brown. Andre Holmes. Dezmin Lewis. Brandon Tate. Jeremy Butler. Those are the names on the Bills’ wide receiver depth chart behind Sammy Watkins. It’s the worst group of supplementary pass-catchers in the NFL, and while Buffalo’s offense is heavily run-focused, Tyrod Taylor still needs someone to throw to besides Watkins. Davis comes from a small school, but he’s been extremely productive against lesser production, topping 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. He’d immediately become the Bills’ No. 2 receiver.

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Draft Notes: Trubisky, Mahomes, Steelers

North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky figures to go early in this year’s draft, though Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is concerned that he only started one year with the Tar Heels. “A really talented player,” Arians said of Trubisky (via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com). “The growth potential is obviously there. The question is why wasn’t all that talent starting for the last three years? That’s always bugging me. So you have to go and answer those questions with him, with his coach, but the physical talent is there.” Arians isn’t the only talent evaluator around the NFL who’s leery that Trubisky was a backup prior to 2016, as another one told Cabot he has similar concerns.

More on the upcoming draft…

  • Cognizant that Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to be around forever, the Steelers have made it known that they’ll consider drafting a potential long-term successor this year. That could be Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, whom the Steelers observed Friday at his pro day. Pittsburgh sent “at least one” representative to watch Mahomes, writes Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.
  • The Browns worked out Florida cornerback Teez Tabor on Friday, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. It’s unclear how early Tabor might go in the draft – while Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com places him 35th overall among prospects, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report could see the defender lasting until Day 3. Tabor’s stock seems to be dropping on account of subpar 40-yard dash times.
  • Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, brother of Texans superstar J.J. Watt, is drawing interest from a bevy of teams and getting looks at various front seven positions. The younger Watt has lined up at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and along the defensive line in recent workouts. Watt told Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com that he has worked out for the Cowboys, Lions and Patriots in the past week. He’s scheduled to work out for the Panthers, too, and will visit the Cowboys’ and Redskins’ facilities soon.

Draft Rumors: Kaaya, Watt, Conley, Thomas

Here’s the latest NFL Draft news:

  • Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya will enter the NFL Draft, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Kaaya has long been expected to go pro this year and take advantage of a weak QB crop. Reportedly, the Bears are among the teams that are fond of him and some say he has the highest football IQ of any QB in this year’s class.
  • Wisconsin standout T.J. Watt announced that he is NFL-bound. After tallying 63 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 14 games, Watt stands as one of the very best outside linebackers in this year’s class. The younger brother of Texans superstar J.J. Watt is expected to go within the first two rounds.
  • Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley declared for the draft this week. It has been long expected that the fourth-year junior would forego his final year on campus to go pro. Conley is one of the best cornerbacks available this year and projects as a late first-round or early second-round pick.
  • Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas announced that he is declaring for the NFL Draft. Thomas could potentially be a first round pick, but he is in competition with an uncommonly stacked defensive end class.