NFL football analysis

Posing as reporter, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan trolls Patriots WR Julian Edelman in media conference call

Published: Updated:
Posing as reporter, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan trolls Patriots WR Julian Edelman in media conference call

Although the Patriots have yet to announce who'll play quarterback Sunday versus the Bills, Rex Ryan went to great lengths Wednesday to try and crack the mystery.

Posted via the Bills' official Twitter account, Ryan posed as a fake reporter, "Walt Patulski" from the Buffalo News, during a media conference call with Patriots wideout Julian Edelman on Wednesday, asking the former Kent State quarterback if he'll be under center this week – much to the delight of the Bills' press room.

"Well, I'm gonna do whatever the coaches ask me to do," Edelman replied. "So, if they ask me to go out and get a glass of water to someone on the sideline, I'm gonna do that with a smile on my face if it helps our team win. So, you can ask coach that one."

Ryan replied, "Alright, Julian. I will, buddy," with a laugh.

Jimmy Garoppolo is nursing a sprained A.C. joint in his throwing shoulder sustained in the club's win over the Dolphins in Week Two. Jacoby Brissett suffered a right thumb injury while filling in for Garoppolo last Thursday night against the Texans.

It's expected either Garoppolo or Brissett — or perhaps both — will be available Sunday.

Edelman, who backed up Brissett last week, had 385 completions for 4,997 yards and a 54.5 percent completion percentage in three years as an option quarterback at Kent State.

Houston Texans officially place J.J. Watt on injured reserve

Published: Updated:
Houston Texans officially place J.J. Watt on injured reserve

The Texans officially placed J.J. Watt on injured reserve Wednesday, which means he'll miss at least eight weeks and could be done for the season after reinjuring his surgically repaired back in Week Three.

Watt, whose three Defensive Player of the Year awards is tied with Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor for the most in NFL history, has never missed a start since being selected 11th overall in 2011, a streak of 88 games that will be snapped Sunday versus the Titans.

Watt, 27, underwent back surgery in mid-July, days before the Texans opened camp, and didn't practice until the week leading up to the club's opener vs. the Bears. But he was largely ineffective in three starts, none more so than when Watt was virtually invisible in the team's Thursday Night blowout loss in New England.

Nonetheless, Romeo Crennel's defense ranks near the top of the league in scoring (seventh), yards allowed (fifth) and sacks (tied for third). The 2-1 Texans will obviously need much greater contributions throughout their defense in Watt's absence, starting with 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

The Texans will also need to lean more on their expensive new offense, currently tied for 31st in the NFL in scoring, led by Brock Osweiler (three touchdowns to four interceptions) if they're to successfully defend their division title in a middling AFC South.

To fill Watt's roster spot, the Texans signed Antonio Smith, who spent 2009-2013 in Houston, where he notched 27 of his 47 career sacks.

Kansas City Chiefs' secondary emerging as one of the league's best

Published: Updated:
Kansas City Chiefs' secondary emerging as one of the league's best

Last Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs defense picked off Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick six times.

While there is no question Fitzpatrick didn’t have a very good game, you have to give the Chiefs a lot of credit, their pass defense was suburb.

Remember, in the Jets' previous game, Fitzpatrick and the Jets' passing attack lit up a very good Bills secondary, going for almost 400 yards in a Thursday night win. The Jets have no shortage of weapons, but they had no answer for the Chiefs' defensive backfield.

The Chiefs have the potential to be the NFL’s best secondary, which should come in handy during their trip to Pittsburgh to face Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and company.

Spearheading this talented group is perhaps the NFL’s best safety, Eric Berry, and an emerging star at cornerback, Marcus Peters. The second-year CB out of Washington has had two picks in each of the last two games.

“Listen, he has great instincts,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said about Peters. “[His teammates] respect the job that he’s done since he’s been here.”

“Marcus Peters is a special guy,” said Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Berry can’t say enough good things about Peters.

“He is very focused and locked in on his technique, more so than the picks,” Berry said. “He understands when he does the little things right, the picks are going to come. He’s quick to point out where he messed up and what he can get better at. That is really admirable about him.”

And starting opposite Peters is Phillip Gaines, who might be a little underrated. At 6-1, he has the length to match up against taller receivers, and did a tremendous job against the Jets' 6-4, 225-pound wideout Brandon Marshall.

“Brandon Marshall is a hell of a receiver,” Gaines told Pro Football Weekly. “You just have to be physical with him every play and just try to make plays on the ball. Fitzpatrick is going to [throw him open], so you have to compete with him every play. You have to be physical with him and make the window as tight as possible.”

On top of the secondary talent the Chiefs have, they also have one of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers, Derrick Johnson, who had a pick six vs. the Jets, and hasn’t lost a thing at 33.

And aside from having a good group of cover guys, also bolstering the Chiefs' pass defense are the top-shelf game plans and play-calling of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being one of the NFL’s best.

“Bob is going to put that pressure on – he’s going to make every throw tight, he’s going to make [offenses] work and make the game hard (for them),” Gaines told PFW. “In such an offensive-minded league, with everything kind of pointed to them, you have to make it as difficult as you can on them, and that is what Bob does.”

Remember, the terrific work by the Chiefs' pass defense is being done without the the team's best pass rusher, Justin Houston, who is on the PUP list.

We all know that a secondary's best friend is a good pass rush, so when Houston returns, this pass defense could get even better.

Report: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt re-injures back, could miss rest of season

Published: Updated:
Report: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt re-injures back, could miss rest of season

Stunning news out of Houston on Tuesday evening: Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt could miss the remaining 2016 season after re-injuring his back, first reported by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.

Watt, 27, had offseason back surgery to correct a herniated disc, yet returned for Week One ahead of schedule. Initial reports at the time estimated Watt could miss some regular season games.

Now, arguably the league's best defensive player is in danger of missing the rest of the season, which would be a devastating blow to a defense currently ranking in the top-10 in both yards (fifth) and points allowed (seventh) through three weeks.

Watt has eight tackles and 1.5 sacks on the year, but is in danger of halting his streak of not missing a start since being drafted 11th overall in 2011.

We'll update as information becomes available

Chicago Bears place 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller placed on injured reserve

Published: Updated:
Chicago Bears place 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller placed on injured reserve

Kyle Fuller’s season could be over because of a knee injury, as the Bears placed the third-year cornerback on injured reserve Tuesday.

New rules allow the Bears to bring one player back from injured reserve, so Fuller is eligible to practice after he spends at least six weeks on injured reserve. He would be able to return and play in a game two weeks later.

The 2014 first-round pick underwent a knee scope in August and returned to practice when the regular season began, but in a limited fashion. Fuller has been inactive for the first three weeks.

John Fox was asked about when Fuller could return on Monday and replied, “He has a sore knee. It has some medical things that kind of restrict you. When we get that healed up, he’ll go.”

Last season, Fuller started all 16 games and struggled early, and Vic Fangio commented that Fuller needed more confidence. He finished strong, though, with seven passes defensed and two interceptions in the final 10 games.

A Phil Emery draft pick for Mel Tucker’s defense in ’14, Fuller had quite the start to his NFL career, picking off two passes in his NFL debut in San Francisco in Week Two that season after he replaced Charles Tillman. He had three forced fumbles and four total picks that season, but wasn’t as effective down the stretch, along with the rest of the ‘D’.

Fuller’s athleticism has never been doubted, but his ability to play in Fangio’s man-to-man defensive backfield has been questioned, especially after seeing some positive play from Jacoby Glenn and fourth-round pick Deiondre’ Hall through the first three games, as well as slot corner Bryce Callahan.

If Fuller gets healthy and can come back in two months, he would probably have to compete to regain a starting job, and may be in that position for 2017, too, if he sits out the entire year. If Hall and/or Glenn take advantage and continue to ascend, Fuller could be a trade option for the Bears in the offseason.

This increases the spotlight on Glenn and Hall. With five passes defensed, Glenn leads the team, but he gave up a few big plays against Dallas. Hall surprisingly didn’t play any snaps on defense in Dallas. He has two passes defensed this season. Fuller's injury is also a reminder of the Bears' lack of depth and experience at corner outside Tracy Porter.

Chicago Bears add RB Joique Bell, DL C.J. Wilson; waive LB Anderson, TE Scruggs

Published: Updated:
Chicago Bears add RB Joique Bell, DL C.J. Wilson; waive LB Anderson, TE Scruggs

With Jeremy Langford expected to miss 4-6 weeks, the Bears signed former Lions running back Joique Bell Tuesday, just in time to prepare for this week’s opponents, the Lions. Bell posted an Instagram of his contract signing with GM Ryan Pace and director of football administration Joey Laine.

They also signed former Lions and Raiders defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and promoted linebacker John Timu from the practice squad.

The Bears waived linebacker Jonathan Anderson and tight end Greg Scruggs.

Bell, 30, had 90 carries for 311 yards and four rushing touchdowns last season for Detroit to go along with 22 catches for 286 yards. It was his least productive season of his four as a Lions back.

From 2012-15, Bell tallied 2,235 rushing yards, a 4.0-yard rushing average, 22 rushing touchdowns and 161 receptions for the Lions.

Langford sprained his right ankle in Sunday night’s loss to the Cowboys, and Ka’Deem Carey missed the game because of a hamstring injury he suffered the previous week against the Eagles. Bell, who has plenty of experience (and should know the Lions well), will complement rookie Jordan Howard in the Bears’ backfield on Sunday.

Wilson, 29, is a 6-3, 290-pounder who appeared in eight games for the Lions in 2015 and four for the Raiders. He spent the preseason with the Saints.

In 2014, Wilson played in all 16 games with seven starts for the Raiders and had 23 tackles and two sacks. He gives the team another option on a D-line that is without Eddie Goldman, and rookie Jonathan Bullard injured his foot during the loss in Dallas.

Anderson appears to be the odd man out as the Bears work to replace Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker. A second-year player out of TCU, Anderson played in 18 snaps against Dallas and had two tackles. He has also been a core special teams player and could return to the practice squad.

TImu will take Anderson's place at inside linebacker and on special teams. Timu played well late last season after spending most of his rookie year on the practice squad, where he started this season.

Scruggs played in only four snaps as a blocking tight end. The converted defensive lineman is also a special teams contributor. The Bears could bring either tight end Ben Braunecker or fullback Paul Lasike up from the practice squad to get another blocker before Sunday.

Week 4 NFL Power Rankings

Published:
Week 4 NFL Power Rankings

After three weeks in the NFL season, let's get right to the power rankings entering Week 4.

1. New England Patriots

Can Jamie Collins play QB? He does everything else

2. Minnesota Vikings

Vikes showing championship caliber ‘D’ and mental toughness

3. Denver Broncos

Trevor Siemian the reason for victory, not roadblock, Sunday

4. Green Bay Packers

That’s more like it for Aaron Rodgers and offense

5. Philadelphia Eagles

Credit rookie QB, but also rookie coach, his great staff

6. Kansas City Chiefs

QBs might want to stop throwing Marcus Peters’ way

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell back at right time after dud in Philly

8. Seattle Seahawks

‘D’ great as always but Russell Wilson injuries mounting

9. Carolina Panthers

Chance to get well with 3 straight in division but must protect Cam

10. Houston Texans

Mini bye much needed for Watt, Miller and morale

11. Baltimore Ravens

Credit ‘D’ for being stout while offense finds footing

12. Cincinnati Bengals

Run game encouragingly showed a pulse in tough home opener

13. N.Y. Giants

OBJ’s outbursts a detriment to himself, team in ugly loss

14. Arizona Cardinals

Carson Palmer’s playoff hangover major cause for concern

15. Oakland Raiders

Defense played better but stopping the run still a problem

16. New York Jets

Usually good enough to get you beat, Fitz awful in K.C.

17. Atlanta Falcons

45 points with little help from Julio bodes well for offense

18. Dallas Cowboys

30 carries for 140 yards — that’s the Zeke we remember

19. Los Angeles Rams:

Big offensive plays great but need to get Gurley going

20. Indianapolis Colts

Luck and Hilton wouldn’t let Colts drop to 0-3

21. San Diego Chargers

Could easily be 3-0 but emotional losses taxing

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New offensive coach, same old defensive issues

23. Buffalo Bills

For one week at least, Rex’s decision paid off

24. Washington

Credit Cousins for delivering with distractions swirling

25. Miami Dolphins

Deserved to lose against worst team in football

26. Tennessee Titans

Strong run game means little if Mariota doesn’t progress

27. San Francisco 49ers

Call to bullpen for Kap could come this week

28. Detroit Lions

Stafford-to-Jones is real but so too are defensive deficiencies

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

High-priced ‘D’ finally delivers but Bortles couldn’t

30. New Orleans Saints

‘D’ predictably bad but Brees’ struggles surprising

31. Chicago Bears

0-3 with much bigger tests for shorthanded ‘D’ coming

32. Cleveland Browns

What other positions can Terrelle Pryor play?

The Way We Hear It: Are the New Orleans Saints running out of excuses?

Published:
The Way We Hear It: Are the New Orleans Saints running out of excuses?

The New Orleans Saints have had one winning season and one trip to the playoffs over the last five years, and with their 0-3 start this year, we’re hearing patience is running thin in the French Quarter and the surrounding area.

In spite of his 14-21 record over the past two-plus seasons, head coach Sean Payton is still considered a top NFL coach, and because his focus has always been on offense that is understandable.

But Payton is the head coach, not the offensive coordinator, and his club hasn’t fielded a decent defense since Gregg Williams was ushered out of town following the Bountygate scandal in 2011.

With Payton having just received $45 million worth of new paper in March that pays him to coach the club through the 2020 season, we’re hearing all eyes are now on Mickey Loomis, Saints executive V.P. and general manager.

Loomis is a favorite of team owner Tom Benson and is also the head of basketball operations of Benson’s NBA franchise, the Pelicans. But the Saints' defense, or complete lack of has been particularly embarrassing in the club’s two home losses this season.

Steve Spagnuolo, Rob Ryan and current defensive coordinator Dennis Allen have all experienced significant success elsewhere before taking turns in the Saints' top defensive job, suggesting that talent evaluation and acquisition has at least been a big part of the problem.

Complicating the option for Benson of moving Loomis out or just over to the basketball team is the fact that Loomis’ top lieutenant, Ryan Pace, left last season to take the Bears' general manager job and took some of the Saints' top scouting talent with him.

Was Pace getting out of town just ahead of the posse, or did he just see a better opportunity?

Benson has shown remarkable patience with his people over the years and is rumored to be in less than 100 percent good health himself after some ugly family squabbles over power and ownership were recently settled, but sources close to the team are telling us something has to give soon over their defensive incompetence that has now been epidemic for years.

Tuesday Signings Tracker: San Francisco 49ers, WR Keshawn Martin agree to 2-year deal

Published: Updated:
Tuesday Signings Tracker: San Francisco 49ers, WR Keshawn Martin agree to 2-year deal

49ers, WR Keshawn Martin agree to 2-year deal

Former Texans fourth-round wide receiver Keshawn Martin is headed to the 49ers on a two-year deal, San Francisco announced Tuesday.

Martin spent last season with the Patriots, and in nine appearances (eight starts) the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder produced 24 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns.He also provided special teams value with eight punt returns for 92 yards.

In 57 career games with the Patriots and Texans (2012-14), the 26-year-old has 62 receptions for 685 yards and five touchdowns.

Washington adds former Vikings center John Sullivan

With Kory Lichtensteiger just landing on injured reserve with a calf injury, Washington signed former Vikings stalwart center John Sullivan.

Sullivan lost out on the center spot to Joe Berger, resulting in his release from the Vikings after seven full seasons with the club. A back injury sidelined Sullivan all of 2015.

Sullivan, 31, may be pressed into service quickly with Lichtensteiger not likely to go this week. Sullivan has 93 starts in 109 career games.

Defensive back DeAngelo Hall was officially placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL.

Bills release K Jordan Gay

The Bills announced Tuesday that kicker Jordan Gay has been released.

Gay, a three-year veteran, has recorded no statistics.

The club signed two to the practice squad: Northwestern WR Ed Eagan and former Stephen F. Austin center Terran Vaughn.

To make room for Eagan and Vaughn, the club released linebacker Carlos Fields and safety Damian Parms.

Panthers sign S Michael Griffin, DL Kyle Love

With first-round pick Vernon Butler nursing an ankle sprain that could sideline him for two or three weeks, the Panthers signed five-year veteran defensive tackle Kyle Love for a second stint with the club.

In 2015, Love appeared in 15 games with two starts. The 29-year-old amassed 19 tackles and three sacks for the NFC champs.

Former Vikings and Titans safety Michael Griffin was also signed, as safety Marcus Ball was waived. Griffin spent the 2016 offseason with Minnesota, but was cut prior to the season. The 31-year-old has 133 career starts in 141 games.

Cardinals dump LS Canaday, TE Niklas to IR

Just a few days after rookie long snapper Kam Canaday botched a snap leading to a Bills touchdown, the club released him on Tuesday.

Tight end Troy Niklas has been placed on injured reserve with a wrist injury. Ifeanyi Momah has been promoted from the practice squad.

The Cardinals also released 2016 fifth-round pick safety Marqui Christian and 2015 fifth-round pick Shaq Riddick.

9 Route: Top 9 Fantasy Football waiver targets in Week Four

Published: Updated:
9 Route: Top 9 Fantasy Football waiver targets in Week Four

Every Tuesday, Arthur Arkush shares his top nine waiver wire targets for fantasy football players. This will focus exclusively on players owned in less than 50 percent of all Yahoo! leagues.

A note of caution: just because a player is on this list, it doesn't mean readers should exhaust their claim priority and/or waiver budget. Those decisions should be based on individual roster makeup, injuries and other outside forces.

Have specific roster questions for your fantasy team? Tweet @ArthurArkush

9. Broncos QB Trevor Siemian: Draft Aaron Rodgers but forgot to invest in his bye week fill-in? Not loving Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer or Derek Carr this week? The Buccaneers' 'D' has a big target on its back and Siemian lit up a far superior Cincy 'D' on the road a week ago. The training wheels are off and Atlanta is on the docket after Tampa. Siemian might be able to help you the next couple weeks if your QB situation is shaky.

8. Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood: Rookie coach Doug Pederson is an equal opportunity provider for his rookies, whether it's Wentz, Smallwood or CB Jalen Mills. Smallwood picked up 71 hard-fought yards to lead the backfield after Ryan Mathews reinjured his ankle in Pittsburgh, which was preceded by the fragile Mathews managing 3.2 yards per carry. The Eagles are on a bye but have the Lions 'D' (bad) in Week Five, plus both against soft division rival defenses and Atlanta left. If Smallwood isn't your type, I also reccomend that "other" rookie in the backfield as a sneaky bye-week add, and wouldn't object to grabbing Darren Sproles if he's somehow available.

7. Browns WR/QB Terrelle Pryor: Any chance Cleveland can teach Pryor to play defensive back? How about having him evaluate QB prospects? No. OK, well Pryor can do everything on offense (clearly) and will get an uptick value as long as Hue Jackson's imagination swirls. Josh Gordon is coming back next week, when Pryor won't be defense's focal point but will still have a freakish size-speed ratio for the Browns to continue leaning on in different ways.

6. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph: His 18 targets since Sam Bradford took the reins match Stefon Diggs for a team-high. Rudolph has found pay dirt in consecutive games, including an outstanding 7-70-1 receiving effort against Carolina's terrific defense. He's long tantalized us, but Rudolph has the look of a player putting it all together along with the ascending Vikings.

5. Giants RB Orleans Darkwa: I fought the urge to list Darkwa higher for several reasons, most importantly a super stout slate forthcoming, but also the presence of former UCLA human joystick Paul Perkins, whom the club drafted in Round Five despite having Darkwa and Shane Vereen in addition to Rashad Jennings. Perkins, not Darkwa, is the natural pass-down back to fill the role of Vereen, whose season could be over due to a torn triceps. The Giants are pass-heavy and Perkins is "ready to step up," according to Ben McAdoo. Perhaps I just listed Darkwa, then, to increase my chances of landing Perkins without blowing my budget/waiver priority?

4. Bears WR Kevin White: The only part of White's trajectory that wasn't predictable thus far is Brian Hoyer being his quarterback — which provides White a boost. Targeted a game-high 14 times in Week Three, White's explosiveness and ball skills started to show up, as he nearly doubled the production in his first two outings. A dropped deep ball prevented him from his first 100-yard day, but White also made a circus grab and was deployed on more fly patterns where his size and speed can be utilized. Next up: Detroit's awful defense.

3. Chargers TE Hunter Henry: Don't be scared off by Henry's critical fumble on the Bolts' last-ditch drive; he was trying to make a play and the Chargers won't fault him for it. What choice do they have, really? With Antonio Gates' hamstring injury still a concern, and New Orleans' pathetic defense next on the docket, Rivers will look to build off his rookie TE's solid 5-76 showing, the fumble notwithstanding.

2. Washington WR Jamison Crowder: Emerging as Kirk Cousins' 1B alongside Jordan Reed, Crowder had a highlight reel catch-and-run score and has been insanely busy in the red zone despite his diminutive stature. He's a threat for six every time he touches it, making his 10.9-yard catch average poised to increase. The best part? Crowder, who often works inside, gets a Cleveland defense that just helped Jarvis Landry erupt for 7-120-1, with more advantageous matchups (vs. PHI, at DET) not far behind.

1. Bears RB Jordan Howard: Howard isn't a finished product — far from it — but he flashed big-play potential as a runner for the second week (9 carries, 45 yards including a 36-yarder) and didn't look out of place in the passing game. With Jeremy Langford reportedly on the shelf 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury, it's Howard's job to lose for a team that must run to be successful, starting Sunday against a shorthanded Lions club permitting a league-high 5.1 yards a pop. Moreover, Howard has a delectable upcoming slate as he auditions to separate from Langford: vs. DET, @ IND, vs. JAX

What's wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers' pass rush, and how can it be fixed?

Published: Updated:
What's wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers' pass rush, and how can it be fixed?

The Pittsburgh Steelers, through three games, have one sack.

And that sack was a bit of a scramble sack without any yardage lost.

Sixteen times nothing is nothing, and that's the projected yardage-lost total for the Steelers' pass rush in Keith Butler's second season as defensive coordinator.

They used to call long-time "Blitzburgh" coordinator Dick LeBeau "Coach Dad," and, no, this is not your father's pass rush anymore.
Ba-dum.

And there are reasons, some warranted, some not, but one needs explained:

Before the outside linebackers continue as lightning rods for criticism in a town that reveres its long line of wicked edge rushers, realize that they're not the edge rushers of the LeBeau era.

The base defense remains, in name, a 3-4, but it's hardly what's being used anymore. Ask starting nose tackle Javon Hargrave, he, the rookie, of 37 snaps through three games.

That wasn't even a big snack for Casey Hampton back in the glory days of the 3-4 outside linebacker.

What that means, with the starting nose tackle on the field 18 perent of the time, is that the nickel package has clearly become the predominant package, or base.

And that means the outside linebackers -- college defensive ends drafted to stand up because they're smaller and possess enough dexterity to drop into coverage -- are now playing defensive end, over tackles, in a four-man front. They are no longer edge players lining up over tight ends in a five-man front.

That also means the 3-4 defensive ends -- drafted as "tweener" college ends/tackles -- are now lining up over guards and centers as tackles in a four-man front.

Smaller might mean quicker and better in pass coverage, but it also has meant this: 1 sack for 0 yards lost.

Of course, this four-man front, this "nickel," was the predominant alignment last season, when Butler replaced LeBeau and oversaw an increase in sacks from 33 to 47.

But the pass defense finished 31st last season, and Butler late in the season agonized about the amount of blitzing he was calling. His lament became, "We've got to get there with four," and he and Mike Tomlin even hosted former "Tampa 2" maestro Monte Kiffin for a week of practice.

"He likes it because it's a little bit more versatile," Butler said of Kiffin's thoughts on the Steelers' 3-4 zone-blitz/Tampa 2 hybrid. "You don't have to teach those defensive ends to stand up and drop in fire zone, so he likes that part of it. And I think it's a little more versatile than a 4-3."

But even last year the outside linebackers weren't putting up a high percentage of the sacks total. James Harrison (5), Arthur Moats (4), Bud Dupree (4) and Jarvis Jones (2) combined for 15 sacks, or one fewer than what Harrison recorded during the Steelers' last championship season of 2008.

However, Butler did unleash the defensive tackles last season, much to their delight and to the what-if dreams of Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. Cameron Heyward (7) and Stephon Tuitt (6.5) led the way with 13.5 combined sacks.

It offered hope that the frenetic defensive pressure of past championship seasons could return, but Butler had other ideas.

"I don't want to have to blitz all the time for pressure," he said before the start of the season. "We blitzed a lot last year and got a lot of sacks and stuff like that, but sometimes it leaves you vulnerable. If we can get a good four-man rush this year, it would definitely augment, enhance, our daggone defense. We need that."

That was clearly the plan in the first game, as the Steelers rarely blitzed, and didn't need to. Kirk Cousins was off the mark and the Steelers rolled in Washington.

In the second game, the Steelers focused on stopping A.J. Green and the Cincinnati running game, and rolled in their home opener.

But in the 34-3 debacle at Philadelphia, the lack of a pass rush allowed rookie quarterback Carson Wentz to pass for 301 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. The Steelers, who now count "pressures" the way they used to count sacks, only came close twice with Harrison and once with Anthony Chickillo, giving the team seven "pressures" on the season.

"Blitz more" has become the rallying cry from fans and media, because the Steelers obviously aren't "getting there with four." But the Eagles' game plan, heavy on the screen game, made blitzing a moot option.

"It may just be a function of some September ball," said Tomlin of the barren pass rush. "A lot of offenses are spreading the ball around and getting the ball out quickly, undressing blitz packages and so forth."

Injuries are also a bit of an issue. Heyward has been playing with a high ankle sprain, and Dupree, last year's first-round draft pick, is out at least half the season with a sports hernia.

Not that anyone's sure Dupree is the answer, because Jones, the other first-round draft pick, has struggled and is playing out his option with the team. The 38-year-old Harrison remains the Steelers' best edge-rusher, so the draft hasn't been as kind to the Steelers as it once had been at the position.

The expected return of Dupree, of course, offers hope, and Butler might also dial up more blitzes as his young secondary matures. But there's another option, and one with which Butler has tinkered: a true four-man front that includes Hargrave, Heyward AND Tuitt along with one outside linebacker as a defensive end.

"We did it last year against San Francisco," Butler said in training camp. "We'll do that a little bit. We're trying to take advantage of putting one of our big defensive ends on their tight end and see if we can get a mismatch in terms of the running game."

It would be considered an evolution, at least by Blitzburgh 3-4 standards, but it's actually just a return to the good old days for those who remember the "Steel Curtain." Or as coaches like to say: "Getting there with four."

But anything's worth a try at this point.

Jim Wexell is the publisher of the Scout Network's SteelCityInsiders.net.

Report: Chicago Bears RB Jeremy Langford could miss 4-6 weeks

Published:
Report: Chicago Bears RB Jeremy Langford could miss 4-6 weeks

Bears running back Jeremy Langford is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a right ankle sprain, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Langford suffered the injury in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game in Dallas and was carted to the locker room. He was seen after in a walking boot.

As the Bears’ lead back through three games, Langford has 116 yards on 31 carries (3.7-yard average) and two rushing touchdowns to go along with five catches for 27 yards. He also has a lost fumble.

Rookie Jordan Howard, who ripped off a 36-yard gain against Dallas, finished with 45 yards on nine carries and four catches for 47 yards. He’ll likely step into the No. 1 back role, as Ka’Deem Carey missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury.

Depending on Carey’s health, the Bears will have to add a running back. They did promote Raheem Mostert from the practice squad, but he played only on special teams in Dallas.

The Way We See It: Arizona Cardinals' start correctable but Bruce Arians has a lot of work ahead

Published: Updated:
The Way We See It: Arizona Cardinals' start correctable but Bruce Arians has a lot of work ahead

It may not be real yet!

Many believe Week Three of the 2016 season was moving day, and that the cream rose and the chaff fell, as Vegas must have taken a terrible beating thanks to the underdogs ruling the day.

Going into the Monday night meeting in New Orleans between the Saints and the Falcons, only six of the 15 favorites won games outright. Favorites' record vs. the point spread is 4-10-1.

Did we just have all the favorites wrong, or is it likely Week Three was a bit of an aberration? Though I don’t bet, I’m taking the latter in that one.

Philadelphia spanked the Steelers and the Bills trashed the Cardinals, yet we’re still confident those winners are not better teams for the long haul than the clubs they beat.

Here is the reality of one year ago this week in the NFL:

The Kansas City Chiefs were 1-2, on their way to 1-5, and then on their way to 10 straight wins plus one more in the playoffs to finish at 12-6.

The Seattle Seahawks were 1-2, would fall to 2-4 and then go on to win eight of their last 10 plus one in the playoffs.

The Houston Texans were 1-2, would drop to 1-4 and then 2-5, and then win seven of their last nine to win the AFC South, and Washington started 2-4 a year ago and finished 7-3 to claim the NFC East title.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Detroit Lions were 0-5, 1-7 and then finished 6-2.

On the flip side, Atlanta was 3-0, 5-0 and 6-1 a year ago and finished 2-7; Dallas was 2-1 and finished 4-12; and Buffalo was 2-1, would climb to 5-3 and then finish 3-5.

Here’s what we know for sure after three weeks of the 2016 season:

The New England Patriots and Bill Belichick play in a league of their own, the Minnesota Vikings' defense is the best in the NFL and the Cleveland Browns are better at finding ways to lose games than they are to find ways to win them.

Week Three of the 2016 season was highly entertaining, there are some great stories developing and some coming that we haven’t even imagined yet, and it’s way to early to form any final conclusions about anything . . . except the Patriots.

Eagles flying high, is it momentum or talent?

Here’s one thing we’ll say after three weeks, own it and stick with it: Carson Wentz is more than the real deal, he’s really good.

There will be potholes coming, and Wentz will run into some teams that play really good defense, as Cleveland and Chicago clearly aren’t on that list and the Steelers actually aren’t either.

But that will only make Wentz mortal, not less of a star.

Beyond Wentz’s obvious God-given talents – size, strength, vision, athleticism and arm talent – he is clearly demonstrating a feel for the game and instincts that you usually only find in the great ones.

But there are two other things about the Eagles, one of which makes us marvel even more at Wentz, and the other that allows us to question where this ride ends.

Wentz is running one of the most effective and productive offenses in the NFL right now with just marginal talent around him.

Jason Peters has been one of the great left tackles in the game for a while now, but at 34 he is not any more. He’s still good but the season will catch up with him.

Lane Johnson is better than average but not great at right tackle and will probably be starting a 10-game suspension after the Eagles' Week 4 bye, and Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks are just guys inside.

Perhaps most impressive about what Wentz is accomplishing is the minimal help he’s getting from a very average-to-below average group of Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, and with Zach Ertz injured.

We expected Wentz to play well against a developing Steeler defense that is still not close to a finished product.

But what we didn’t see coming was the job the Philly defense would do on what is arguably the best offense in the NFL.

Philadelphia outgained Pittsburgh 426-251 and was particularly impressive holding the Steelers to just 29 yards on 10 carries on the ground.

How did that happen – talent or momentum?

Fletcher Cox is a beast and can anchor any of the 32 defenses in the NFL, and DEs Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham would be on the field with most teams as well.

But Mychal Kendricks is the only linebacker of consequence, and Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod is a “nice” pair of safeties and the corners are soft.

Our hats are to the rookies, head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz, but this Eagles' start still feels more like an exciting find in Wentz and momentum than it does a lineup full of championship talent.

The Eagles are a great early season story, but whether or not they’re legitimate contenders remains to be seen.

So what can’t the Patriots do?

We all saw the same thing last Thursday night in Foxboro and came away asking ourselves how does Belichick do it.

Obviously the answer isn’t public knowledge and isn’t going to be or else there’d soon be more than one Belichick and we know there never has been and probably never will be.

An interesting side note to New England’s 27-0 flogging of the Texans was all the chatter over the weekend of how it must certainly now be time for Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to get his second shot at a head coaching spot and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia his first.

But is it? As beyond great as Belichick is as a head coach and organizational patron, his coaching tree is not so great.

In fact, let’s not forget what’s going on in Houston, Belichick’s latest victim.

Houston head coach Bill O’Brien was the Patriots last McDaniels, his departure to take the Penn State job opening up the OC job for McDaniels to reclaim.

Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, of course, was the last Matt Patricia, a great defensive coordinator but unfortunately a failed head coach in Kansas City before joining O’Brien in Houston.

And it doesn’t stop there; Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey was also a Belichick disciple from 2010-2012.

Like so many before them, McDaniels and Patricia are brilliant members of a Belichick triangle – with Bill always at the top.

So what did we learn this weekend? Maybe McDaniels and Patricia will get head-coaching jobs in 2017 or maybe they won’t, and if they do maybe they’ll do well or maybe it won’t work out.

What we know for sure is it won’t impact the Patriots. With Belichick in charge they’ll just keep on winning.

Those two Arians Coach of the Year Awards a fluke?

We highly doubt it. Arians didn’t suddenly become a bad coach and the Cardinals didn’t suddenly become a bad football team.

But the redbirds were overly confident and poorly prepared in their opening night loss at home to the Patriots – but of course, as we just discussed, that happens to all the Pats opponents – and Arizona flat out stunk in its Week Three 33-18 loss at Buffalo.

Or was it just that Carson Palmer was so awful it rubbed off on all around him?

The problem with the Arizona Cardinals over their past five games —the first three this year and the divisional playoffs and NFC Title game last year in which they are 2-3 — is that Carson Palmer has thrown nine touchdowns versus 10 interceptions and most of his picks have been of the “did he really make that throw” variety.

Particularly surprising is that Palmer had actually been an MVP candidate for his 2015 regular season performance and then just fell apart in the playoffs.

Though Arizona beat the Packers in the Wild Card game, they had to go to overtime to do it, in part because of the two picks Palmer threw in regulation.

Arizona then went to Carolina a game away from a Super Bowl trip and Palmer’s first half was one of the worst we’ve seen from a quarterback in recent title game history.

Palmer finished with just one touchdown and four interceptions, and many immediately began to speculate how the veteran would overcome the disastrous performance with a long offseason to stew on it and not getting any younger.

It appears with just five TDs and four more picks in his first three starts this year, Palmer isn’t over it and the Cardinals are clearly suffering for it.

Arians got all the credit in recent years, so he has to own some responsibility now, too. Beyond Palmer’s woes, the defense was solid in a Week two stoning of the Bucs, but shaky in the opener and awful in Buffalo Sunday.

Arizona’s defense has been battling injuries in the secondary since training camp, but they are clearly out of sync on both sides of the ball.

This is one of those 1-2 starts we expect will be corrected as the Cardinals are too talented to believe otherwise, but it is definitely time for Arians to get to work.

Was Ryan Fitzpatrick really that awful?

Yes, while we’re sure it wasn’t all Fitzpatrick’s fault – in fact we know it wasn’t since three of his picks were deflected balls off his receivers’ hands – his stat line against the Chiefs Sunday in a 24-3 loss – 20-44, 188, 4.3, 0 TD, 6 INTs, 1 fumble, 18.2 passer rating — was historically bad and it’s left his Jets team with a world of hurt on its hands.

No other team in the NFL was cursed this season with a murderer’s row of an opening schedule like the Jets: Cincinnati (L), Buffalo, Kansas City (L) and now coming up in order Seattle at home and then trips to Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Of course we have to ask the question: Had Fitzpatrick been with his team throughout the offseason getting ready to play football this year, would he have been more prepared to play vs. the Chiefs?

That’s hard to say.

Was his performance against the Chiefs indicative of why the Jets refused to give him the contract he sought?

Absolutely.

We know Fitzpatrick can play better and almost certainly will at times, but what you saw of him Sunday is what you will get again at times down the road, and that is why the Jets will not be one of those teams like Kansas City, Houston and Seattle last year that rebounds from 1-2 to be a strong playoff contender this year, with two versus the Patriots also waiting down the road.

A lot of what we saw in Week Three still isn’t real as it relates to where we’ll be come Week 17 of this season, but sadly, what we saw in Week three of the Jets most likely was a harbinger of things to come.

NFL unveils new agreement to expand scouting for prospects seeking special 2018 Draft Eligibility

Published: Updated:
NFL unveils new agreement to expand scouting for prospects seeking special 2018 Draft Eligibility

The NFL and the American Football Coaches Association announced an agreement Monday allowing further scouting from NFL teams regarding select prospects seeking special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Beginning next February, each FBS school may designate a maximum of five players who may apply for special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft and receive additional scouting. FBS schools could request to submit more than five, but the NFL will hold the final word.

NFL teams will have the ability to scout these players throughout the 2017 season as if they were seniors. They also can be timed, tested and interviewed prior to the season at the school's Senior Pro Day for 2017 draft-eligible players.

The move is likely intended to provide more accurate evaluations from the NFL College Advisory Committee for underclassmen seeking a future in the league.

“The more information our College Advisory Committee has, the better evaluations they can make for student-athletes who are at a critical juncture of their lives,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent.

“While there is no question that obtaining a college degree is a transformative experience for so many people in society and a goal to which we encourage everyone to aspire to, for those talented few individuals that have the ability to succeed in the NFL prior to exhausting their college football eligibility, this new agreement will ensure they have better information with which to make their decision. We appreciate the efforts of our partners at the AFCA in making this new agreement a reality.”

Report: New York Jets claim TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins off waivers from Buccaneers

Published: Updated:
Report: New York Jets claim TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins off waivers from Buccaneers

The Jets claimed Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins following his arrest for a DUI last Friday and subsequent release from the Buccaneers.

Seferian-Jenkins, 23, had gradually worn out his welcome in Tampa Bay over time, but the arrest was the last straw. The third-year tight end out of Washington has 45 career catches for 603 yards and seven touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins had been kicked out of practice during training camp by coach Dirk Koetter.

This season, Seferian-Jenkins has three catches for 44 yards, including a 30 yard touchdown.

Seferian-Jenkins clearly has talent, evidenced by the waiver claim despite the recent arrest, and the young tight end now heads to a Jets team coming off an eight turnover afternoon last Sunday in an ugly loss in Kansas City. Seferian-Jenkins has the chance to contribute immediately, as Kellen Davis, Brandon Bostick and Braedon Bowman have combined for zero catches in the first three games.

Report: New England Patriots sign former Browns DL John Hughes

Published: Updated:
Report: New England Patriots sign former Browns DL John Hughes

The Patriots are signing former Browns defensive lineman John Hughes following his release earlier this week, first reported by ESPN's Field Yates on Twitter Monday.

Hughes, 28, signed a four-year extension worth $14.4 million in March 2015, before making three starts among his 16 appearances. In 2014, Hughes was limited to just five games (three starts) due to a hamstring and a torn medial collateral ligament. Hughes was Cleveland's third-rounder in 2012.

Hughes will reportedly replace recently-released defensive lineman Anthony Johnson, per the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe. In two games, Johnson, 23, recorded four tackles, but was a healthy scratch Week Two. The LSU product had a decent preseason with four tackles and to half-sacks, but the Patriots apparently want something else for depth.

The Patriots (3-0) currently rank fifth in points and 17th in yards allowed.

Report: Cleveland Browns deny rumblings of signing K Cody Parkey over free agent Robbie Gould due to money

Published: Updated:
Report: Cleveland Browns deny rumblings of signing K Cody Parkey over free agent Robbie Gould due to money

After losing kicker Patrick Murray to a knee injury Saturday, the Browns signed 2014 Pro Bowler Cody Parkey. Yet, the following Sunday was a day to forget for Parkey and the Browns.

Parkey went three for six in field goal attempts, including a 46-yard miss as time was expiring in regulation. The Dolphins prevailed in overtime, handing Adam Gase his first NFL head-coaching win.

Yet, a report from the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero indicates Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor wanted to sign former Bears kicker Robbie Gould, who was surprisingly released Sept. 4. However, per Salguero, management deemed the Bears' all-time leading scorer was "too expensive".

Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot cites a Browns source that denied the reported reason why the club opted not to sign the 34-year-old Gould.

"Money had nothing to do with it,'' the Browns source told cleveland.com. "That's absolutely ridiculous.''

The source continued and said the reason Parkey was signed was due to age, and his potential to be part of the team's plans moving forward. Parkey is only 24 and has a Pro Bowl to his name for tallying 150 points for the Eagles, a single-season club record, in 2014.

Gould could be an interesting option should the Browns reverse their plans. He struggled in his final preseason with the Bears, making 5 of 6 field goals, and just 1 for 3 in extra point attempts. Coupled with his downward trending previous two years, the Bears moved on from Gould after 11 seasons.

Gould was set to make $3 million in base salary with a $500,000 roster bonus before his release from Chicago.

Monday Injury Tracker: Seattle Seahawks confirm sprained MCL for Russell Wilson; Rawls (fibula) out a few weeks

Published: Updated:
Monday Injury Tracker: Seattle Seahawks confirm sprained MCL for Russell Wilson; Rawls (fibula) out a few weeks

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suffers MCL sprain; Rawls injures fibula

Russell Wilson's knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the 49ers gave way to extended time for backup Trevone Boykin, and coach Pete Carroll confirmed on Monday Wilson suffered a left MCL sprain.

Wilson had already been nursing a sprained right ankle leading up to the game, and as of now, is expected to play against the Jets next week. Wilson has not missed a start since being drafted in the third round in 2012.

Running back Thomas Rawls has an injured fibula, and will be out a few weeks, per Carroll, with an injury that's worse than Seattle initially thought. Christine Michael will continue to handle lead back responsibilties, with Alex Collins mixing in. Fellow rookie C.J. Prosise remains sidelined with a broken hand, though he could be nearing a return.

Chargers LB Manti Te'o expected to be out for season with torn Achilles

During the first quarter of the Chargers' loss to the Colts on Sunday, linebacker Manti Te'o suffered a torn Achilles, and will be out for the season, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports on Twitter.

Te'o's injury came on a non-contact play as he pursued Colts running back Frank Gore on a dump-off from Andrew Luck.

The former second-round pick had 17 tackles on the season, including a 10-tackle showing in Week One. Te'o was replaced by Jatavis Brown, a 2016 fifth-rounder, but he left with a minor injury of his own later in the game.

In 36 career games, the former Notre Dame star has 221 tackles, nine passes defensed and 1.5 sacks.

The club has yet to officially announce Te'o out for the season.

Washington DB DeAngelo Hall reportedly suffers torn ACL, expected to be out for season

After being injured during the first half of Washington's win over the Giants, defensive back DeAngelo Hall's MRI is complete and he suffered a torn ACL, first reported by ABC7's Erin Hawksworth on Twitter Monday.

Hall, 32, had 10 tackles so far on the season, but the ACL injury is the latest setback in a bumpy three-year stretch. Including 2016, Hall has started just 13 games and hasn't had a full season since 2013.

In Hall's absence, second-round pick Su'a Cravens, drafted as a hybrid linebacker-safety, figures to help fill the void.

Dolphins RB Arian Foster expected to miss second straight game with groin injury; Cameron suffers concussion

While the Dolphins continue their running back by committee approach with Arian Foster nursing a groin injury, it's expected he'll miss the club's Thursday night game against the Bengals.

Tight end Jordan Cameron suffered a concussion during Sunday's win over the Browns, Dolphins coach Adam Gase confirmed on Monday.

Cameron has a lengthy history with concussions, as he had at least three as a member of the Browns.

Giants announce RB Shane Vereen suffered season-ending triceps injury

A bit of a surprise out of New York, as the club announced Monday running back Shane Vereen has a triceps injury that will require surgery, ending his season.

Vereen had a productive 11 carry, 67 yards rushing afternoon with a touchdown on Sunday. In three games, the 27-year-old had 31 carries for 167 yards and a 4.7 average.

Backup running back Rashad Jennings figures to get the bulk of the carries with Vereen lost for the year.

We'll update this thread as more information becomes available.

Week Three Film Review: Back and forth affair between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman

Published: Updated:
Week Three Film Review: Back and forth affair between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman

The first of two meetings between Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr. this season resulted in a “win” for Beckham Jr., but a loss for his team. After jumping out to an early 21-9 lead in the first half, the Giants stalled repeatedly and were outlasted by Washington, 29-27.

The two marquee combatants were more reserved for the most part, as the officials made sure to let them know that any nonsense would not be tolerated, and that they could get tossed out.

"Today, they came up before the game and said, 'If you do anything, we're throwing you out of the game,'" Beckham told SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano. "That was before the game. There was no, 'You get a warning.' There was not any of that. You just have to be on your best behavior. Unfortunately, that's what it's come to. It's not really football anymore as much as it is all the other things that play into it."

Norman was told he and Beckham would not be allowed to — and we’re not making this up — make a mockery of the game.

While they definitely sparred, the near-brawl that broke out when the two met last season never emerged.

Beckham and Norman both had moments where they appeared to come out on top. In the first half, Beckham was targeted just four times, catching just two of those passes for 44 yards.

Norman had his number by blanketing Beckham whenever the receiver wasn’t in the slot, and it forced quarterback Eli Manning to look elsewhere.

At times, Norman’s coverage seemed a bit excessive.

That was fine for the Giants, as rookie receiver Sterling Shepard caught all three of his targets for 53 yards and a touchdown. The Giants scored on two rushing plays as well.

Then the worm turned, and Beckham started to get separation on Norman, and some success.

Beckham’s routes seemed to get crisper and he threw a few double moves at Norman, turning the corner around more than once.

On one play in particular, Beckham and Manning hooked up on a short pass. Beckham caught Manning’s throw, then stiff-armed Norman before twirling away for extra yards.

Beckham was able to make back-to-back catches to move the Giants' offense along more than once, often at the expense of Norman. The result was Beckham’s 16th 100-yard game and a total of 3,000 yards receiving for his career, something nobody has done quicker than he has.

Despite his success on the field, the combination of Norman’s constant needling and the Giants' many stalled drives seemed to get to Beckham, and he took his frustrations out on some inanimate object instead.

The net won.

Amusing as that is, once again we’re left with the impression that while Josh Norman might be a bit of a jerk, Odell Beckham Jr. is a bit of a toddler. More than one player had to make a point of getting Beckham to relax and calm down, despite the fact that he was doing well and the team was still in the game.

This is a problem the more it happens, the more other teams will know that you can get Beckham off his game if you just needle him enough. It also puts a bit of a burden on his teammates as they are constantly forced to baby him when things are running smoothly.

Most great receivers are prima donnas, and many need some special handling. Teams hope that, when it’s the latter, the player can eventually grow out of it and control himself.

It appears as though Beckham has yet to reach this point in his development. As that’s the case, and until he shows more mental toughness, there will always be a sore spot a Josh Norman can rub the wrong way.

Greg Gabriel: 2017 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks could be special

Published:
Greg Gabriel: 2017 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks could be special

In the last two NFL Drafts, the depth of the quarterback class has been weak. Last year after the top three of Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch it was a crapshoot. The Dallas Cowboys look like they got lucky with the drafting of Dak Prescott based on his early play, but it still is a little too soon to know for sure. We know one thing: 32 teams passed on him for the better part of four rounds, as he wasn’t selected until the bottom of the fourth round with a supplemental draft choice.

In 2015, it was a two-man show with Jameis Winston going first overall to Tampa Bay and Marcus Mariota going second overall to Tennessee.

Though it’s early and way too soon to start ranking players, the 2017 NFL Draft could have some special quarterbacks in it. I say could, because most of the top players are underclassmen and still have to declare for the draft come January.

The top two quarterbacks in most evaluators' opinions are Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Watson is a junior and Kizer is a redshirt sophomore, so Kizer still has two years of college football left if he feels he isn’t ready for the NFL.

At about 6-4, 230 pounds, Kizer is big and very athletic to go along with excellent arm strength. In a throw last week against Michigan State, the ball was in the air over 65 yards. Not many can throw that far.

Kizer became a starter in the third game last year and went on to have a strong season with 2,884 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. To date this year, he has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also run for 186 yards.

What makes Kizer interesting to the NFL is the offense he plays in, his ability to audible and that he plays in a full-field offense and has to go through a full progression. While Notre Dame has lost three games, it was becasue of the defense, not what the offense has done. He has the ability to become special by year's end.

Watson set the world on fire last year in leading Clemson to the National Championship game. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. Going into the season, he was the odds-on favorite to be the first pick in the draft, but to date he hasn’t played quite as well as a year ago. His completion percentage is down eight percent and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is also not quite as good as a year ago.

Still, he has some outstanding qualities, plays in a good offense and has a very good arm to go along with outstanding overall athleticism. His best game of the year was last Thursday when he went 32-of-48 passing for 304 yards and two touchdowns.

The only senior of the top group is Mississippi’s Chad Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, so the genes are there. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Kelly doesn’t have the height of the others, but he may be just as athletic and also has superb arm strength.

While Kelly has all the physical traits scouts look for, he can be a bit erratic. He can look great one series then come back and look totally different in another. He needs to become more consistent through the course of a game. He is a great competitor and can make all the throws. He is very capable of getting the win when his team is trailing.

Miami’s Brad Kaaya may not have the natural physical traits that the first three have, but he is a very good game manager, accurate, and has a good enough arm. He hasn’t missed a beat playing in a new offense this year and is putting up very good numbers. In three games, Kaaya has completed 50-of-76 passes for 694 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. While he isn’t as athletic as the first three quarterbacks, Kaaya is athletic enough to keep a play alive and throw on the run. Right now he is a late first- early second-round type with a chance to improve and get drafted higher.

Two others you need to watch closely are both seniors. Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush is highly thought of by NFL evaluators. He measures about 6-3, 228 pounds with quick feet and good movement skills. He also has a very strong arm. He is a four=year starter who has put up some great numbers. Last year he threw for over 3,500 yards and to date in 2016 he has already thrown for 1,359 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Another interesting senior is Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, the grandson of former NFL GM Bobby Beathard. This is only Beathard's second year as a starter and by the nature of Iowa’s offense, he doesn’t put up the numbers the other do, but he is very talented in his own right. Beathard plays in a NFL-style offense, shows the ability to read defenses and makes big plays. While he only threw 17 touchdown passes a year ago, he already has seven in three games this year. Like Rush, Beathard is a player the NFL evaluators like.