The little guy in Cleveland aside, there may not be a more intriguing prospect from the 2014 NFL draft class than former University of Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla.
The tight end slipped through the draft and was signed as a free agent by the Green Bay Packers, but Lyerla’s explosive past and unpredictable future ensure many sets of binoculars will be trained on him.
The first thing to understand about Lyerla is he is in a really good place in Green Bay. The Packers take pride in developing young players and young men, and they are pretty good at it. Strong locker room leadership surrounds Lyerla, and there is opportunity at the tight end position.
In the Packers’ sixth game last season, starting tight end Jermichael Finley bruised his spinal cord. He did not play again in 2013, and he may never play again. He is a free agent.
Assuming Finley does not return, the void at the position this season is likely to be filled by Andrew Quarless, third-round pick Richard Rodgers (who has impressed in OTAs) and Brandon Bostick, an undrafted free agent from two years ago who has caught the attention of the coaching staff. There is room for the kind of playmaker Lyerla has the potential to be.
In fact, Packers coach Mike McCarthy would love to find a player who can do what Finley did.
"Jermichael Finley, to me, is a premier player," McCarthy told Bleacher Report. "Any time you have a tight end who affects the way defenses play, who can affect the way they tilt or cap coverage, that says a lot. People played us differently with him in than with him out. He has that kind of presence at the position. He’s a matchup challenge for safeties, a total mismatch for any linebacker."
Scouts said some of the same things about Lyerla at Oregon. "He’s very athletic," one said before the draft. "If he had kept playing and fulfilled his potential he could have been a second-round draft pick."
Said another, “He’s big, athletic, dynamic, confident and talented. He can make a short catch and turn it into a long gain. He’s a consistent player and a good enough blocker. He has second-round talent.”
Lyerla’s vertical jump of 39 inches and his broad jump of 128 inches were best among tight ends at the combine, and his 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds was third-fastest, per NFL.com. He tested much better than Rodgers, whose vertical jump measured in at 31.5 inches, broad jump at 116 inches, and he ran the 40 in 4.87 seconds.
McCarthy acknowledges he thought Lyerla was one of the best tight ends in the draft from a talent standpoint. Of course, 10 tight ends were chosen ahead of Lyerla because he has a long history of off-the-field problems, including an arrest for cocaine possession.
"Colt needs to live for today and tomorrow,” McCarthy said. “Everybody wants to keep digging up the past. It will always be there. I just want him to focus on today and tomorrow, make sure we have success each and every day on and off the field.”
In the initial days of Lyerla’s NFL career, McCarthy said the success and focus has been there. “He’s done well,” he said. “There is a lot to like there. He moves very well. He’s strong. Really athletic, good body control.”
Lyerla is a little like Finley in some aspects, but they are not the same player.
“When I look at Colt, I compare him to where Jermichael was as a rookie,” McCarthy said. “Jermichael had to learn to play out of the backfield, move out of the backfield. Colt has some history there. He is definitely a little more experienced in playing different spots than Jermichael was when he came...Jermichael is a little longer athlete. Colt doesn’t have the catching radius Jermichael does.”
In his rookie season, Finley caught six passes. It took him a while to become a tight end defenses feared. Lyerla also is likely to develop slowly.
He does not have an extensive playing history, as he caught only 34 passes for 565 yards and 11 touchdowns in his college career. What may be more pertinent is he has caught only two passes since 2012.
"I wouldn’t say he’s raw as much as he’s rusty,” McCarthy said. “But there are things he does extremely naturally, all the way though—weight room, his movement, his core, the way he’s connected structurally. He has a lot of power in his body."
The Packers will never see those skills translate into production unless Lyerla can run better routes off the field. Many teams doubted he is capable of doing that, which is why they had no interest in taking him on despite his potential. But the Packers believe they can help Lyerla.
"I’m rooting for him," McCarthy said. "This is a support program. It’s not just me taking him under a wing and taking the credit for it. We have a number of people involved. This is a group effort. If he’s successful personally and professionally, it’s obviously the best thing for the organization. We have great resources here and we feel we have the environment that can make all of our guys successful, Colt included."
• Having a running back by committee really never was part of the plan for the Seattle Seahawks. The reason is the coaching staff does not want to take Marshawn Lynch off the field. Lynch is one of those backs who becomes more effective as his carries go up in the course of a game. For Lynch to be optimized, he needs to be a workhorse.
But the Seahawks would like to get Christine Michael some work, and the challenge for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will be to find a way to do that. The Seahawks think Michael is one of their most explosive players and believe he can help their offense.
• Dwayne Bowe’s commitment has been questioned in the past, but this summer the folks at Arrowhead are raving about how Bowe is buying into the Chiefs program in Andy Reid’s second year. Bowe, who hasn’t always done things the right way, is said to be in exceptional shape and has shown a great attitude.
What’s more, he has been a positive influence for teammates. The 29-year-old appears to be maturing nicely, and the expectations around the team are that he will have a big season.
• The Titans are not yet sure where first-round pick Taylor Lewan will end up playing this year, but chances are good he will start somewhere. The team signed Michael Oher in free agency to play right tackle, and consistent incumbent Michael Roos probably has the left tackle position locked down.
Lewan eventually is destined to play left tackle, perhaps as soon as 2015. Roos is in the final year of his contract and will be 32 years old in October.
This season, it is possible Lewan will beat out Oher. And it is possible he will be bumped inside to guard. The team feels, however, he is ready to play and wants to get him on the field somewhere.
The Titans viewed Lewan as one of the six best players in the draft and never thought he would be there at 11, where they chose him. The feeling was they could not pass him up, even though they had other positions that were bigger needs.
• Even though Michael Floyd made big strides in his second season in the NFL last year, the Cardinals believe he has more big strides in him. And they also believe they might have started to see some of those strides in OTAs, where the wide receiver has created a buzz.
In particular, wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said he is working with Floyd on route running and getting in and out of breaks. Floyd ran good (not great) routes last year. Drake also is emphasizing that Floyd devote himself more to blocking, as Floyd often finds himself at the point of attack in the Cardinals offense.
Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery recently told Sporting News that he believes he and Brandon Marshall are the best receiving duo in the NFL, and a strong case can be made that they are. Three front-office men offered their opinions on the top duos. Here are their top eight wide receiver duos in alphabetical order, by team.
Jeffery and Marshall, Bears
All three of the front office men thought Jeffery and Marshall were as good as any duo. “They have size, playmaking ability, ability to catch the ball and they can get yards after the catch,” an AFC personnel man said. “They aren’t burners, but they get yards after the catch. They are exceptional in the red zone.”
An NFC front office man pointed out Jeffery and Marshall are not as explosive as some duos, and said, "They are big receivers who play big, as opposed to Demaryius Thomas, who can play smaller with more quickness.”
A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, Bengals
The consensus is Green and just about anyone would be a decent duo. He and Jones challenge defenses.
“A.J. is one of the top three in the league, and he and Jones would be No. 3 on my list after the Falcons and Bears,” the AFC personnel man said.
Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, Broncos
The issue with the Broncos is whether Welker or newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders is No. 2 to Thomas. No matter how you look at it, the Broncos have a good duo, and they probably have the best trio in the league, according to one of the front-office men.
"Welker plays the role of slot receiver better than anyone in the league, so they have a really good mix,” he said.
Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, Cardinals
The potential is significant with this duo, but one of the front-office men indicated he wanted to see if the 30-year-old Fitzgerald will show signs of age and if Floyd will continue his progression. If Fitzgerald keeps playing at a high level and Floyd comes on, the Cardinals duo could enter the top tier.
One of the front-office men said the Falcons duo is as good as any. One praised Jones and White for the toughness, saying they are “not divas at all.” But the third was a little skeptical about whether the duo can perform in 2014 like it did in 2012.
"Roddy is descending and Julio is coming off an injury," he said. "We’ll see where they are."
Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Lions
This is a new duo, as Tate was a free-agent addition. But the front-office men think Tate will complement Johnson well.
"Tate is more of role player, but if defenses try to take Calvin out, Tate will step up," one said. "He has a knack for coming up with the ball in 50-50 situations."
One NFC front-office man said Nelson and Cobb have a nice blend of skills and rated them high on the list of duos.
"They can do the underneath things, get vertical, get yards after the catch and they have good hands,” he said. “There is not much weakness there.”
Another pointed out that having the best quarterback in the league throw to them helps.
This is an interesting mix. The Redskins should be able to get vertical, but this duo may not be as versatile as some of the others. “It will be interesting to see how the chemistry works with the two receivers and the quarterback,” the AFC personnel man said.
• The Padres drafted Johnny Manziel. But somehow, an association between a team named after priests and Johnny Football seems unlikely.
• It was fun to see soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo at Jets camp, but he throws a football with about the same level of skill I imagine Rex Ryan would exhibit performing a reverse step-over.
• The Jaguars are offering poolside cabanas in EverBank Field at a cost of $12,500 per afternoon. Personally, I’d be much more likely to write that check if the cabana was in, say, Aruba.
• The Bills are trying to adjust a law so they will be able to sell beer at Ralph Wilson Stadium earlier on game days. In addition to being an income generator, this also could impact the fans' ability to focus on the on-field product.
• Lane Johnson paid a $17,747.86 dinner tab for Eagles teammates, but said he did so voluntarily. That shifted the concern from Johnson being bullied to Johnson lacking good judgment.
• A.J. Green admits he loves hot dogs. It’s a pity he never had a chance to play with Chad Ochocinco.