Posted April 17, 2014

2014 NFL draft position rankings: Aaron Donald, Louis Nix III lead versatile defensive tackle class

2014 NFL Draft Primer
(Keith Srakocic/AP)

Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald dominated inside throughout the 2013 season. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Versatility is the name of the game in the modern NFL, and this is especially true for defensive linemen of any stripe. It’s increasingly rare to see any lineman stuck in a single gap — more and more, collegiate linemen are also shifting from place to place to make their own defenses more versatile and effective, and it’s a warmup for the pros.

As such, it’s a little tough to split ends and tackles into different rankings — there are players like Missouri’s Kony Ealy who could just as easily be on this list, while Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt may be seen by some as an end. One thing’s for sure: The top man on our list this year can bring it, no matter where you put him. Continue Reading

Posted April 17, 2014

The SI 64, No. 15: QB Blake Bortles

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014, The SI 64
2014 NFL draft top 64: No. 15: Quarterback Blake Bortles

Blake Bortles very much remains a work in progress. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that, as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.

The SI 64 – which can be found in its entirety here –uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. This spot on the list belongs to one of the few players outside our top 10 that could still wind up being taken with the first selection of the 2014 draft.

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Posted April 17, 2014

The SI 64, No. 16: Safety Calvin Pryor

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014, The SI 64
2014 NFL draft top 64 prospects: No. 16: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Calvin Pryor has all the tools to be a top-tier defender. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that, as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.

The SI 64 – which recently covered prospects 19-17 and can be found in its entirety here – uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. Now, our top 16 players in the 2014 class each will be highlighted in individual posts, and we’ll get that rolling with the best pure safety in the 2014 draft — and quite possibly the best pass defender overall. Continue Reading

Posted April 17, 2014

2014 NFL Mock Draft 7.0: Could Texans land both Jadeveon Clowney, Blake Bortles?

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
2014 NFL Mock Draft: Could Houston Texans land Jadeveon Clowney, Blake Bortles?

A trade back into the first round could net the Texans both Jadeveon Clowney (left) and Blake Bortles. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

To this point, through my previous six 2014 NFL mock drafts (seven, if you count the adjustments made on Mock 3.1 when Marcus Mariota decided to stay at Oregon), I have kept things pretty straightforward.

No longer. Blame the NFL for making us wait an extra two weeks for the actual draft, if you will, but in hopes of mixing things up — and of recreating a draft that more closely resembles its real-life counterpart — I pulled the trigger on a few hypothetical first-round trades. Six trades, to be exact, three made by teams looking to land their next quarterback.

This year’s draft shapes up as one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. A first round like the one that follows would shoot the excitement factor through the roof:

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Posted April 16, 2014

2014 NFL draft position rankings: Calvin Pryor, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix lead deep safety class

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
2014 NFL draft position rankings: Calvin Pryor leads deep safety class

Calvin Pryor has the potential to be an amazing NFL safety. (Garry Jones/AP)

Remember when the safety position used to be an afterthought? When it was primarily composed of guys running downhill and tackling like rabid hyenas, leaving the true coverage to the cornerbacks? Well, those days are clearly gone, as the NFL moves to more diverse defenses than ever before to counter offenses that run everything from three-tight end sets to five-wide formations in the blink of an eye. The die cast by Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu a decade ago has been forwarded by amazing athletes like Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, Eric Weddle, and Jairus Byrd. And the six-year, $54 million contract given to Byrd by the New Orleans Saints in March (with $26.3 million guaranteed) indicates that no NFL team worth its draft picks undervalues the position anymore.

In the 2014 draft class, there are two safeties with the skills to be every bit as good as the names listed above, and a sub-group with unique and special attributes. It’s a deep and under-the-radar bunch, especially in the projected middle rounds, where hybrid defenders will be available at a bargain price. Continue Reading

Posted April 16, 2014

The SI 64, Nos. 19-17: Ra’Shede Hageman, Taylor Lewan and Marqise Lee

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014, The SI 64
2014 NFL draft top prospects: Nos. 19-17: Marqise Lee, more

Marqise Lee disappointed in 2013, but he still has the talent to be a top-flight NFL wide receiver. (Peter Read Miller/SI)

With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that, as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.

The SI 64 – which recently covered prospects 24-20 and can be found in its entirety here – uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. Starting Thursday, our top 16 players in the 2014 class each will be highlighted in an individual post. Here, we cover prospects 19-17, a trio of players bordering on the upper-echelon of this draft.
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Posted April 16, 2014

Chris Johnson signs deal with Jets

AFC East, New York Jets, NFL Free Agency
Chris Johnson signs deal with New York Jets

Chris Johnson (left) has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in every one of his six NFL seasons. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The New York Jets have a new home-run threat in the backfield.

After lingering on the free agent market, Chris Johnson has signed a two-year deal with the Jets. ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report the news. Per multiple reports, his deal is worth $8 million with another $1 million in incentives.

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Posted April 16, 2014

Josh Freeman, Giants agree to deal

New York Giants, NFC East, NFL Free Agency
Josh Freeman agrees to deal with New York Giants

Josh Freeman misfired on 33 of his 53 passes in his lone Vikings start, a 23-7 loss to New York. (Elsa/Getty Images)

In his lone 2013 NFL start for the Minnesota Vikings, Josh Freeman, the former first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, played about as badly as he could in a 23-17 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 21. Freeman had signed a one-year, $3 million contract soon after the Bucs released him, and he was thrown into the fire very quickly, making his first start a couple weeks after his signing. Freeman was horrid, completing 20-of-53 passes for 190 yards no touchdowns and an interception. He frequently overthrew receivers and looked completely out of place, and he never took another snap for the Vikings through the whole season. Continue Reading

Posted April 16, 2014

Any Given Draft Day: Comparing 2014 NFL draft prospects to fictional quarterbacks

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
Comparing 2014 NFL draft prospects to fictional quarterbacks

Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel wonder: “Wait … you’re comparing us to WHO?” (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

In a pre-draft process that has become more and more vile and nefarious for its blindside hits from anonymous NFL scouts, coaches and executives, this was the comedic capper. And knowing Matt as I do, I have no doubt that there is actually a coach in the AFC North who compared Teddy Bridgewater — a player who may be the top quarterback prospect in this year’s draft class — to the fictional quarterback in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Besides, with anonymity comes impunity, and with impunity comes stupidity, so … there you go.

But this got us thinking: What other 2014 draftable quarterbacks could we compare to fictional quarterbacks? After all, if we’re just going to throw legitimate scouting observations out the window in our dealings with the media, why the heck not? So, for your edification, here are six more possible comps. We encourage you to watch and re-watch the movies featuring the fictional quarterbacks involved. Because apparently, it sure beats watching tape and talking about it!

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Posted April 15, 2014

2014 NFL draft Round 1 trade scenarios: Players, positions each team should target

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
(Damian Strohmeyer/SI)

Safety doesn’t offer a luxury of depth, which could convince teams to trade up for someone like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. (Damian Strohmeyer/SI)

With an additional two weeks before the NFL draft this offseason, the rumor mill is spinning like never before. Could a surprise team make a move for one of the top quarterbacks? Will Houston or St. Louis dangle Jadeveon Clowney as trade bait? Is Detroit really considering a run at Sammy Watkins?

Much of what we hear in the weeks before the draft turns out to be noise — either teams attempting to lay a smokescreen on their actual plans or scouts doing what they can to diminish a player’s value, thus making it easier to land that prospect with a later pick.

No matter what is true or false right now, the 2014 draft sets up as one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Several teams could be in the trade market come May 8. Here’s a look at which player or position each franchise should be thinking about trading up for in Round 1:

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Posted April 17, 2014

Eli Manning had previous minor procedures ‘nobody knew about’

New York Giants, NFC East
Eli Manning secret surgeries: New York Giants QB had previous minor procedures 'nobody knew about'

Eli Manning is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. (Simon Bruty/SI)

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning recently underwent surgery on his ankle as rest wasn’t providing the needed relief.

Some have expressed concern that the injury is just another example of Manning’s decline, but former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride doesn’t think so.

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Posted April 17, 2014

Troy Aikman says Johnny Manziel has a chance to have a ‘special career’

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
Troy Aikman: Johnny Manziel has chance for 'special career'

Johnny Manziel is expected to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. (Greg Nelson/SI)

Legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman isn’t much of an NFL scout, but the signal-caller knows greatness when he sees it, and he believes Johnny Manziel has all the tools needed to succeed in the NFL.

Aikman, speaking to DallasCowboys.com, was asked about the Texas A&M product and couldn’t help but gush over Manziel, giving him a glowing review.

“I’m a fan of his, and I’m really pulling for him,” Aikman said. “I had a chance to meet him at the Final Four, and I saw some of his workout from television. I wasn’t in Houston for the workout, but I think he’s got an opportunity to really have a special career, and I’ll be pulling for that to happen.”

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Posted April 17, 2014

Chris Johnson says he has chip on shoulder, wants to prove doubters wrong

New York Jets
Chris Johnson

Now running for the Jets instead of against them, Chris Johnson wants to prove critics wrong. (Frederick Breedon/AP)

Questions loom about the health of running back Chris Johnson, who signed with the New York Jets on Wednesday, but the former Pro Bowl talent isn’t concerned about rumors of declining skill and health.

In fact, Johnson says everything is going to be ‘fine’ with the Jets, despite a somewhat crowded backfield. Continue Reading