If you're like me, you make fun of preseason NFL depth charts while memorizing every one of them and getting excited about what the release of them means—the season is almost here!
You're excited about the release of those depth charts unless you're a fan of the Chicago Bears or Kansas City Chiefs, that is. Otherwise, you're panicking over the placement of rookies Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes.
Both Trubisky and Mahomes went off the board in the top 10 of the 2017 NFL draft after the Bears and Chiefs traded up to draft them—Trubisky at No. 2 and Mahomes at No. 10. Should we be surprised that both are listed as their respective teams' third-string quarterback on the initial depth charts?
Not at all.
The Bears drafted Trubisky after signing free agent Mike Glennon to starter money. Kansas City drafted Mahomes to be its quarterback of the future once the team moves on from starter Alex Smith. Neither team drafted those players with 2017 in mind.
There's often a rush in the NFL to draft quarterbacks and immediately put them into the starting lineup, but the football people in Chicago and Kansas City are making the right move by letting Trubisky and Mahomes sit and develop with no pressure. When either player is ready to start, they will.
In the meantime, where they show up on the first depth chart of the preseason means nothing.
Here's what else is going on this week:
- Top five juniors for 2018's draft
- Tyreek Hill taking the next step
- Devonta Freeman gets paid
- Josh Rosen, student-athlete crusader
- Alabama harder than the NFL?
The Scout's Report
—The Atlanta Falcons signed running back Devonta Freeman to a five-year, $41.25 million extension Wednesday, making him the league's highest-paid running back, according to NFL Network's Michael Silver. When I asked a competing NFL executive for his thoughts on the contract, he said, "Good luck with that one. Freeman isn't worth top-five RB money." We should all expect Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell to top that contract soon.
—As Field Yates of ESPN points out, the Falcons now have their top pass-rusher, cornerback, offensive lineman, linebackers, receiver and running back locked up for at least the next three years.
—Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report recently sat down with UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen for a telling interview. It had the football world on Twitter up in arms Tuesday based on some headlines that came from the piece. My advice: Read the whole interview.
Rosen is upfront about his views on student-athletes, but the headlines floating around about "raise the SAT requirement at Alabama" are taken out of context.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the piece is that Rosen's shoulder is 100 percent after he missed all but six games last season.
—The Chiefs are relying upon Tyreek Hill to be their No. 1 receiver after releasing Jeremy Maclin in June, and by all accounts I've heard coming out of training camp, he looks like one. Hill has the speed, jacked physique and hands to lead the team in receptions.
—If you love Hard Knocks (I do) and the San Francisco 49ers (I did growing up), you'll want to check out this new web series the 49ers are starting called "Brick by Brick." Starting August 10 on the team website and on YouTube, the Nike-sponsored series will look at the Niners training camp.
—NFL practices are hard, but the preparation at Alabama got linebacker Ryan Anderson ready for them. Anderson told CSN Mid-Atlantic (via Adam Spencer of Saturday Down South), "Practices [at Alabama] are a little bit rougher than [they are] here. We do a lot of banging around there, so it definitely prepared me physically and mentally for this grind that I'm doing now." You may have seen a headline about Anderson saying Alabama was harder than the NFL. That isn't what he said.
—What does it take to start at wide receiver for Ohio State? Wide receivers coach Zach Smith told Kevin Harrish of Eleven Warriors what he's looking for at each of the team's three receiver positions. This is a great look inside a team and inside what a coach is thinking and looking for.
—Luke Falk returned to Washington State after a good junior season, and one area scout I spoke with said the team has him slotted as a Round 2 player headed into the year.
—Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, on the other hand, has a Round 4 grade from the same scout.
—Baker Mayfield has a great shot at the Heisman this year, but NFL scouts see him as a Day 3 prospect after talking to three different area scouts about the Oklahoma quarterback.
5 Names to Know
Here are my early top five juniors for 2018's draft class.
5. Connor Williams, Offensive Tackle (Texas)
The Texas Longhorns have struggled as of late, but left tackle Connor Williams has been one of the few consistent spots on the roster. In two years of charting Williams, he's surrendered one sack (on a quarterback scramble) and shown a mean streak in the run game. Williams is a lean athlete with an excellent skill set as a finisher. He looks like a young Joe Thomas.
4. Saquon Barkley, Running Back (Penn State)
As far as running backs go, Saquon Barkley is close to perfect as a prospect heading into his junior season. The 5'11", 228-pound back has hands, vision, speed and the size to run through tackles. Barkley could stand to run with a little more burst through and after contact, but my preseason grade on him is higher than the grade I gave to Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette.
3. Christian Wilkins, Defensive Line (Clemson)
The entire Clemson defensive line is loaded, but as far as the 2018 NFL draft goes, the man to watch is interior lineman Christian Wilkins. Wilkins is blessed with first-step quickness and strength that allows him to shoot gaps and stuff the run like a future top-five pick.
2. Sam Darnold, Quarterback (USC)
Sam Darnold has started just 10 games at USC. Those 10 games showed grit, accuracy, football IQ and athleticism. Now he has to continue to show those skills over a complete season while making the improvements needed to stay ahead of the defensive coordinators who just spent an offseason studying his every move.
1. Josh Allen, Quarterback (Wyoming)
When the 2018 draft gets here, Josh Allen could be the top overall player, or he could fall off to a mid-round prospect. His stock is polarizing, but I have a deep love for his athleticism, arm strength and toughness. Allen's accuracy and decision-making must improve in his second season as a starter, but he's already ahead of where Mahomes was at this time last summer.
5. Many perceived Jared Goff as soft, quiet and unassuming after the Los Angeles Rams were profiled on last year's Hard Knocks. If you watched the Amazon series All or Nothing, you saw little of Goff as a person as the series focused more on the team's late-season decline. Bleacher Report's Ty Dunne decided to get to know Goff the person and figure out what makes him tick.
"I'm more afraid that people will be like, 'He's a little b---h,' than I am of truly getting hit."
It's a must-read piece.
4. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson took home the Heisman Trophy last season and dominated the college football world as a dual-threat player. But what does his NFL future look like?
I did a quick film study of three games (Houston, FSU, Clemson) to see if Jackson has the goods to play quarterback in the pros. Here are my initial notes:
Jackson has elite speed to make plays against NFL defenders. He's fearless with the ball in his hands. Jackson shows the ability to work through progressions and get to his second and third targets when protected. He's able to slide out of the pocket or move up to find passing windows. Jackson's placement and touch are very good, and they improve when he's throwing on the move. His motion is quick, and he's a rhythm passer who can get on hot streaks and pick apart defenses.
Jackson has a slim, slight frame that must be improved upon. He looks smaller than Deshaun Watson was before his sophomore season. Jackson plays exclusively in the pistol and shotgun formation. His throwing mechanics need work. Jackson throws with a stiff, straight front leg that limits his follow-through and causes poor accuracy. Learning to bend that front knee and throw through his body by rotating his hips will improve his placement and velocity.
3. Who are the top five receivers in the NFL?
I thought the list was pretty clear-cut, but Twitter disagreed. Here's where I rank them:
5. Mike Evans
4. A.J. Green
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
1. Julio Jones
You could make an argument for Jordy Nelson, Julian Edelman or maybe even sleepers like Jarvis Landry and Doug Baldwin. But the top five is easy. And don't be surprised if Evans comes in ahead of Green after the season.
My big riser this year: Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. He was my top-ranked receiver in the 2016 draft class and finished among the top 10 last year in catches (92) and touchdowns (nine).
2. After starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury during training camp, Jay Cutler is now a Miami Dolphin. And here's a hot take for you—Cutler is better than Tannehill in head coach Adam Gase's offense.
Cutler and Gase were together in 2015 with the Chicago Bears. Cutler threw 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions that season, which was the second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. He also has a better offensive line, run game and wide receiver corps around him in Miami.
Tannehill is a solid quarterback, but he's essentially on a year-to-year deal with the team following the 2017 season. I wouldn't be shocked to see Cutler turn his one-year deal into a longer commitment with Miami.
1. Stick to Football Episode 17 is ready to download! Joining Connor Rogers and I this week is co-host Marshal Miller (Mello) as we talk to The MMQB's Peter King about the NFL's best player all-time (it's not who you think it is), preview the AFC and NFC North divisions and list our top 10 fantasy football players for 2017.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.