Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Buzz on Every NFL Team as Free Agency Begins

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 10, 2017

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Running back Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners dives for a touchdown during their victory in the Sugar Bowl against the Auburn Tigers on January 2, 2017 at The Superdome  in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jackson Laizure)
Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

It's lying season in the NFL. As free agency starts and as draft boards get set coming out of the NFL scouting combine, it's hard to find someone to trust. It seems like everyone has an agenda. So when your phone buzzes and you see the name of a scout, coach, agent or player listed, proceed with caution.

Part of my job is to know who to trust and what information to share with you guys. It's a process and has involved learning some hard lessons along the way. This year, to recap the combine, we'll go team by team and look at the newest rumors from credible league sources—we're sharing vetted information that is both factual and logical—and note what we're hearing will happen when the picks start flying.

What else is going on this week?

  • Joe Mixon pro-day results
  • Updated Top 50 big board
  • Five Names to Know as pro-day season starts

The Scout's Report 

Arizona Cardinals: The focus this offseason for the Cardinals, per a front office source, is getting younger. "Time to find the next wave" is how he put it to me over late-night texts at the combine. In Round 1, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer fits what head coach Bruce Arians has liked in the past.

Atlanta Falcons: Addressing the run defense and building a better defensive line rotation are the goals of the front office, per a scout I spoke with at the combine. Montravius Adams of Auburn fits the need and is a solid late first round value. 

Baltimore Ravens: The signing of Tony Jefferson came thanks to a recruiting assist from fellow safety Eric Weddle. The two will pair up nicely in the defensive backfield and allow Baltimore to go after a "best player available" approach in Round 1. I'm told by scouts there that the team has eyes for Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey as a potential first-rounder.

Buffalo Bills: Could the Bills be all in on O.J. Howard? Yes, according to a scouting contact with the team. Now that Tyrod Taylor is locked up, the team won't be forced to go quarterback early. Howard, according to the scout, is a player the Bills love.

TE O.J. Howard is the No. 13 player on my latest Big Board (see below).
TE O.J. Howard is the No. 13 player on my latest Big Board (see below).Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Carolina Panthers: Reportedly signing Matt Kalil, provided there are no snags in final negotiations per ESPN's Adam Schefterto play left tackle isn't a splash move, but it does free the Panthers up to go in other directions early on in the draft. Said one scout, "cornerback or running back are our top needs right now."

Chicago Bears: Does signing Mike Glennon prevent the Bears from drafting a quarterback at No. 3 overall? "Not at all" is how one scouting source in Chicago put it. The scout told me the Bears will go with a best-player-available approach but don't feel pressured to go after a quarterback in Round 1 now, either.

Cincinnati Bengals: Losing Andrew Whitworth to the L.A. Rams hurts, but one scouting contact said the team believes in Jake Fisher as a long-term starter. The team would also like to re-sign swing tackle Eric Winston, per the same source.

Cleveland Browns: What will the Browns do at quarterback? Don't count on Brock Osweiler being the guy. I reported earlier this week that head coach Hue Jackson loves Mitchell Trubisky, but he won't be on the board at pick No. 12. According to one coaching source, the Browns may wait until 2018 to get the franchise quarterback they crave.

Dallas Cowboys: It's no secret the Cowboys need pass-rushers, and a scouting source there told me the team likes the look of Tennessee's Derek Barnett and UCLA's Takkarist McKinley.

Denver Broncos: Offensive tackle remains the No. 1 need for the Broncos heading into the draft. I'm told by a coaching source that the team is very fond of Utah's Garett Bolles and views him as a Day 1 left tackle.

Detroit Lions: General manager Bob Quinn is "determined" to improve the tight end position, per a scout on staff. That may come through free agency, but the team is also high on the three-down skill set of Alabama's O.J. Howard.

Green Bay Packers: No one should have expected the Packers to be very active in free agency, and a scout with the team told me they're heavily invested in this year's draft class. Where will they go in Round 1? My source said cornerback is where they'd like to add a premium player.

Houston Texans: The Texans have been linked to quarterbacks in Round 1, but don't expect DeShone Kizer to be their guy. I've heard from a contact in Houston they're not fans of the Notre Dame quarterback.

Indianapolis Colts: Missouri's Charles Harris is a favorite of the Chris Ballard regime, per a scout I spoke with at the combine. He may seem like a reach at 15 overall, but I currently value Harris as a top-25 player.

Edge Rusher Charles Harris has quietly become of the top 25 players in this draft class.
Edge Rusher Charles Harris has quietly become of the top 25 players in this draft class.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Jacksonville Jaguars: "The offensive line has to protect Blake [Bortles] better" is what a coach told me at the combine. The same coach expected the team to go after a guard in free agency and both a running back and tight end in the draft. 

Kansas City Chiefs: A developmental quarterback is what the fans want, but a source in the front office told me a defensive-front-seven pick is more likely in Round 1—if the Chiefs don't trade back. "We're in a prime trade-back spot, so I could see that happening too" said the source.

Los Angeles Rams: A scouting source told me general manager Les Snead sees a roster with few offensive weapons and a young defense with free agents like T.J. McDonald expected to leave and an aging defensive line. Because of that, Trumaine Johnson could be traded if the team can land a second-round pick in return.

Miami Dolphins: Re-signing wide receiver Kenny Stills became a priority once the team lost faith in DeVante Parker late this season, according to a coaching staff source. Stills will be counted on to remain the team's No. 2 target with Jarvis Landry and Julius Thomas seeing a large share of targets, too.

Minnesota Vikings: The loss of Matt Kalil was expected, according to a staff source in Minnesota. How will the team address the left tackle position? Said the source, "we're always moving around on draft day. Don't rule out a trade up."

New England Patriots: The biggest rumor coming out of the combine was that the Patriots wanted multiple first-round picks in exchange for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. According to a source in Cleveland, the Browns were willing to send No. 12 overall but not a future first-rounder at that time.

New Orleans Saints: Why would the Saints be willing to trade Brandin Cooks? As I reported last week, Cooks wants to go to a team where he's the featured wide receiver and can be a deep threat. New England and Tennessee are his choices, according to a front office source.

New York Giants: The signing of Brandon Marshall seemingly eliminates wide receiver as a need for the Giants, but I'm told by a scouting source that the team absolutely loves Western Michigan's Corey Davis.

New York Jets: Don't rule out a quarterback at pick No. 6. Word has it the team likes two of them and will go with the best-player-available approach again in Round 1.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders continue to explore the running back position and were in attendance to see Oklahoma running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon work out Wednesday. A Raiders front-office source told me their meeting with Mixon was "exceptional."

Philadelphia Eagles: Finding a deep threat for Carson Wentz was a priority, and the team did that in free agency by signing Torrey Smith. The team then added Alshon Jeffery on a one-year deal. Now, look for the Eagles to be very aggressive in looking at a loaded running back class, according to a coaching staff source.

RB Alvin Kamara could be a fit in Philadelphia.
RB Alvin Kamara could be a fit in Philadelphia.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers: Defense, defense, defense. That's what a scout told me this last weekend about the needs of the Steelers. "Corner in Round 1 and maybe a linebacker in Round 2 is my dream scenario" he said.

San Diego Chargers: No one saw the Joey Bosa pick coming last year, but this season might be more predictable, per my source in the new coaching staff. "We have to fix the offensive line or nothing we want to do can happen."

San Francisco 49ers: NFL Network's Mike Silver reported that he expects Kirk Cousins to eventually be the team's quarterback. I agree, and scouts I spoke to at the combine said a quarterback doesn't rank in the team's top five players right now. Adding Brian Hoyer was a short-term solution, according to a scout there.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive line is expected to be the team's No. 1 need, but don't sleep on running back. My source in the Seattle front office says the team is doing their homework on potential backs in the top three rounds.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signing DeSean Jackson fills one hole on the roster, but a front-office source said the Bucs aren't done adding on offense. Expect starting-caliber players to be added at running back and tight end (to pair with Cameron Brate) either in the second wave of free agency or early in the draft.

Tennessee Titans: With two picks in the first round, the Titans can shore up a bad secondary. That's what a rival GM told me they expect will happen. "They can draft [Malik] Hooker and [Gareon] Conley from Ohio State and be set for five years."

Washington: I spoke to four agents this week who all expressed doubts about sending their players to Washington under the current structure. The late firing on Thursday night of general manager Scot McCloughan is affecting the team's ability to lure top players.

5 Names to Know 

5. Tight End George Kittle, Iowa

One of the more impressive pass-catchers at the combine just so happens to be one of the best blockers, too.

Iowa's George Kittle rocked the track with a 4.52 time at almost 6'4" and 247 pounds. He also added a 35-inch vertical jump and 11-foot broad. Those numbers are insane for a big tight end. Kittle is a bit raw, and the Iowa offense never featured him as a receiver, but his testing is good enough to get him a look in the middle rounds.

4. Safety Obi Melifonwu, UConn

When you're 6'4", 224 pounds and you run a 4.40 time in the 40 and broad jump 11'9", teams are going to stand up and take notice.

Obi Melifonwu parlayed an excellent week at the Senior Bowl and a great combine into a huge move up my board this week. He's now ranked in Round 2 after being a Round 3 player when the season ended. One scout I spoke to in Indianapolis believes Melifonwu will go in the first round when it's all said and done.

3. Wide Receiver Zay Jones, East Carolina 

Zay Jones isn't the biggest (6'2", 201 lbs) or fastest (4.45s), but his agility and hands are very nice. That was on display at the combine the same as it was at the Senior Bowl.

WR Zay Jones has been climbing draft boards since the end of the season.
WR Zay Jones has been climbing draft boards since the end of the season.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

In Indy, he turned heads with his ability to snag the ball, his smooth transitions in routes and his 11'1" broad jump and 4.01-second 20-yard shuttle. Those are top-50 player numbers when combined with his on-field traits.

2. Safety Josh Jones, North Carolina State

At 6'1 1/2" and 220 pounds, Josh Jones impressed with 4.41 speed and the hips to turn and attack the ball in the air. His film looked top 100 and his workouts backed that up.

Jones is getting lost a little in a very deep safety class, but his name should start to heat up as the draft gets closer. With his overall size and athleticism, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jones sneak into Round 2 over more well-known players like Eddie Jackson of Alabama.

1. Edge-Rusher Jordan Willis, Kansas State

There were a lot of impressive showings at the combine, but you could easily say Jordan Willis had the best day of any player at any position. When your numbers compare to guys like Von Miller, you're doing pretty good.

Courtesy Caric Sports

Willis is a classic pre-draft riser following a great week at the Senior Bowl and a strong combine showing. He has an outside shot to go Round 1 now.

The Big Board 

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network has a great line that I'm going to borrow for this time of year—mock drafts are what he hears, rankings are what he sees. I've tried for years to explain the difference, and nothing comes as close as that one sentence. 

With the combine in the rear-view mirror, here's a look at my top 50 players.

Updated Top 50 Big Board
1EDGE Myles GarrettTexas A&M
2RB Leonard FournetteLSU
3LB Reuben FosterAlabama
4S Jamal AdamsLSU
5S Malik HookerOhio State
6EDGE Solomon ThomasStanford
7DL Jonathan AllenAlabama
8WR Mike WilliamsClemson
9CB Quincy WilsonFlorida
10WR Corey DavisWestern Michigan
11CB Marshon LattimoreOhio State
12QB Mitchell TrubiskyNorth Carolina
13TE O.J. HowardAlabama
14TE David NjokuMiami (FL)
15CB Gareon ConleyOhio State
16EDGE Taco CharltonMichigan
17QB Deshaun WatsonClemson
18RB Joe MixonOklahoma
19CB Sidney JonesWashington
20LB Haason ReddickTemple
21QB DeShone KizerNotre Dame
22T Garett BollesUtah
23WR John RossWashington
24RB Christian McCaffreyStanford
25EDGE Charles HarrisMissouri
26RB Dalvin CookFSU
27EDGE Derek BarnettTennessee
28G Forrest LampWestern Kentucky
29T Ryan RamczykWisconsin
30RB Alvin KamaraTennessee
31S Jabrill PeppersMichigan
32EDGE Takkarist McKinleyUCLA
33CB Tre'Davious WhiteLSU
34QB Patrick MahomesTexas Tech
35CB Marlon HumphreyAlabama
36DL Montravius AdamsAuburn
37S Budda BakerWashington
38S Obi MelifonwuUConn
39EDGE Ryan AndersonAlabama
40DL Caleb BrantleyFlorida
41LB Jarrad DavisFlorida
42T Cam RobinsonAlabama
43CB Fabian MoreauUCLA
44CB Adoree' JacksonUSC
45LB Raekwon McMillanOhio State
46S Justin EvansTexas A&M
47DL Malik McDowellMichigan State
48WR Zay JonesEast Carolina
49WR Cooper KuppEastern Washington
50EDGE Jordan WillisKansas State
Matt Miller

Parting Shots 

10. As free agency unfolds, it's interesting to watch the San Francisco 49ers basically buying a short-term solution on offense. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin were all added. If tailback Carlos Hyde can stay healthy, that's a formidable skill position group. Buying an offense to win some games now could work if the 49ers can also draft well to eventually replace those players. Freeing head coach Kyle Shanahan to recruit and sign his kind of players is a refreshing change in San Francisco.

9. I've reported previously that Joe Mixon is off the draft board of four NFL teams based on off-field issues. The other teams may be warming up to him more after a pro-day workout that saw Mixon post Round 1 times and skills.

At 6'1" and 228 pounds, Mixon ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. Some teams I spoke to had him at 4.40 flat. Even if you add .05 seconds for pro days—which is customary—Mixon's 4.48 time is great. Same for his vertical jump (35"), broad jump (118"), and 21 bench press reps. 

Drafting Mixon will require a full organizational approval. The owner must sign off. The public relations people must be involved. The general manager and coach definitely need to know the young man and sign off on the person and the player.

Where will he go? I suspect he's off the board in Round 2.

8. Myles Garrett is poised to be the first overall pick in the draft—the first non-quarterback since Jadeveon Clowney was drafted by the Houston Texans in the 2014 class. How do the two compare?

Myles Garrett vs. Jadeveon Clowney
Height6'4"6'5 1/4"
Weight272266 lbs
Arm Length35 1/4"34 1/2"
Hand Size10 1/4"10"
10 Yard SplitN/A1.56s
40 Yard Dash4.64s4.53s
Vertical Jump41"37 1/2"
Broad Jump128"124"
3-Cone DrillN/A7.27s
20 Yard ShuttleN/A4.43s
Bench Press3321

My initial thought was Garrett would rank higher than Clowney on draft grade. With six weeks to go, it's still looking that way.

7. Free agency has a way of shaping team needs, but don't expect any of the signings at quarterback to seriously alter the draft plans of the teams that entered the week with a need at the position. Here's an updated list of teams with a question mark under center moving forward.

  • Jets—Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are on the roster. The team is trying to add a veteran.
  • Browns—The Browns traded for Brock Osweiler, but they absolutely need a quarterback still. A trade for Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't seem possible now, which could mean adding a quarterback with pick No. 12 overall.
  • Texans—Sending Brock Osweiler and a second-round pick to Cleveland reset the short- and long-term options at quarterback here. The Texans are expected to be in on Tony Romo but could also draft a quarterback of the future.
  • Broncos—Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are both well-liked, but will John Elway go in on Tony Romo?
  • Washington—How long will Kirk Cousins be around? Who is calling the shots here? There could be a major change coming at quarterback very soon.
  • Bears—Mike Glennon's signing doesn't change anything. The Bears could still draft a quarterback in the first two rounds.
  • 49ers—Brian Hoyer isn't the long-term answer, but the 49ers won't be forced to draft a quarterback in Round 1 now. That doesn't mean they won't, but there is no pressure to add a franchise passer at No. 2 overall.

6. Much was made of Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster being sent home by the NFL after an argument with a worker at the combine during his wait for a medical exam. In talking to a scout familiar with Foster and the combine procedures, he told me this was "no big deal."

Said the scout, "if you're standing in line for hours with no information and you're missing meetings with NFL teams, you're going to get heated. And the way we heard it, the guy working the exams was being an assh--e and trying to act like he runs the show. Reuben didn't like that and didn't want to miss meetings, so things got heated. He really shouldn't have been sent home for it."

That's one team's view on the situation, but in polling other teams, I couldn't find one scouting source who said this would hurt Foster's draft stock.

5. Scot McCloughan was fired on Thursday night. Washington moves forward with his draft board and plan (to this point) but without the man who has one of the best scouting eyes in the league. McCloughan, according to the Washington Post, was fired due to "alcohol issues" per an unnamed source.

I won't pretend to know what is going on behind closed doors in D.C., but I do know many thought this was coming before the season. McCloughan, like many scouts, can be opinionated and will fiercely defend his positions, but every current and former colleague of his I know has continued to defend him.

The front office in Washington has long been known as a messy one—dating back to issues over Robert Griffin III vs. Kirk Cousins, to my knowledge of the situation—and a coach I spoke to Thursday evening said leaving D.C. was the best thing that ever happened to him. 

McCloughan may have his demons—and we should all hope he finds any help he needs—but Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen hired him knowing his past. What steps were taken to help McCloughan if alcohol did become an issue? Did the organization help him or use this to force him out the door?

4. The 2011 Wisconsin Badgers were a great team, perhaps best known for Russell Wilson's final college football season. But how about that offensive line?

The highest-paid center (Travis Frederick), guard (Kevin Zeitler, per Schefter) and second highest-paid right tackle (Rick Wagner, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport) in the NFL all played on that '11 Wisconsin line. This reminds me of the time I spent with Wilson before his throwing session at the NFL combine, where he told me his line at Wisconsin was the fourth-tallest in all of football that year (NCAA and NFL) and he never had an issue seeing over the line or getting passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Turns out, Russ was right, and three of his starting five linemen went on to be amazing NFL players too.


3. Let's take a step back and really look at this Brock Osweiler-to-Cleveland trade and try to cut through the rumors that are circulating out there. In reading Twitter on Thursday, I saw three different scenarios floated by three major network insiders, so it seems like this needs explained.

The Houston Texans sent Osweiler, a 2017 sixth-rounder (No. 188 overall) and a 2018 second-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for pick No. 142 overall in this year's draft and $10 million in cap savings this year. 

The trade of Brock Osweiler to Cleveland is something you don't typically see in the NFL.
The trade of Brock Osweiler to Cleveland is something you don't typically see in the NFL.Steven Senne/Associated Press

That money is expected to give the Texans the freedom to go all in on Tony Romo if he's released. And if Romo is traded, the Texans needed that money to fit his contract under the salary cap once restructured. For the Browns, they can take on Osweiler's salary to reach the NFL cap floor while also releasing or trading him to a team and then agreeing to take on part of his salary. And I was told when this trade happened by a Browns team source that Osweiler isn't expected to ever make the roster.

This is an unprecedented NFL trade, and the way I understand league rules, this is potentially a violation of the pay-for-picks rule. But, as long as the league office says this is kosher, the Browns have essentially purchased a draft pick.

2. Kirk Cousins isn't the kind of guy to force his way out of Washington—at least not based on my interactions with him since his days at Michigan State or in my talks with his representatives over the years. And I don't expect he'll attempt to force a sign-and-trade this year. What's more likely? Play under the tag and then hit free agency in 2018.

Cousins will make roughly $24 million in 2017. He made $20 million in 2016. He'll turn 29 years old in August. Looking ahead, the San Francisco 49ers can sign a 30-year-old Cousins to a five-year deal next spring and have a franchise quarterback locked up into his mid-30s. And with the longevity of NFL quarterbacks reaching new highs, it's not unlikely that Cousins could play six, seven, or eight years in San Francisco if he remains healthy.

1. I hate the idea of winners and losers from free agency—does any team ever really win in free agency?—but understand you guys love it. Here are a few of my favorite moves from Thursday's opening period.

  • Brandon Williams (Ravens)—Locking up a third-round draft pick with top nose tackle money keeps the anchor of this defense in place. Great leader, great deal.
  • Kyle Jusczcyk (49ers)—A lot of people won't understand paying a fullback $7 million a year, but the 49ers had to spend money to reach the cap floor, and Juice will be a leader in a locker room that desperately needs one, and he will help establish the power run game in San Francisco.
  • Kevin Zeitlier (Browns)—The Browns were determined to spend to improve the offensive line. Sounds very Oakland-ish, right? I love it, and Zeitlier will have an impact on and off the field.
  • Stephon Gilmore (Patriots)—$14 million per year for a cornerback is the going rate, and the Patriots got a player who is a perfect fit for the press defense they run.
  • Andrew Whitworth (Rams)—Can't protect Jared Goff? Get him a stud left tackle. The Rams did that and landed a perfect leader for a young locker room.

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.


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