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Week 17 Monday 10-pack

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It’s the first Monday of the year, and it’s the last Monday 10-pack of the year.

I miss the days when football season ended before December 31.

As a setup goes, that’s all I got.  Let’s get on to the 10 takes from a 32-team season-ending Sunday.

1.  Packers should strongly consider franchising Flynn.

In 2008, after the first annual Brett Favre retirement, the Packers drafted two quarterbacks.  The gesture was interpreted by some (i.e., by us) as a bolting of the door behind Favre and the blocking of it with large pieces of furniture.

Brian Brohm, who entered the 2007 college football season as one of the top prospects, slid to the Packers in round two, pick 56.  LSU’s Matt Flynn was an afterthought, with pick number 209 in round seven.  Four seasons later, Brohm is long gone — and Flynn showed on Sunday that he’ll be the hottest commodity in the 2012 free-agent market.

If he gets there.

Like Matt Cassel of the Patriots in 2009, the Packers should think about slapping the franchise tag on Flynn, in order to trade him to a quarterback-needy team.  With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the best options in the draft, teams like the Redskins and Dolphins and Browns and maybe the Seahawks will be clamoring for a proven commodity like Flynn.

The risk, of course, is that Flynn would sign the franchise tag but no serious offers would come for his services, given that the starting point for a long-term deal would be the one-year guaranteed salary of $14.5 million or so in 2012.  If that would happen, the Packers would be stuck with a backup earning roughly $6.5 million more next year than starter Aaron Rodgers, who is due to earn a base salary of $8 million next season.

The other side of the coin is that Flynn will walk away with plenty of coins in his pockets — and zero compensation to the team that transformed him from a seventh-round pick into a guy who’ll be the most coveted quarterback not named Luck or Griffin.

2.  Rex should be on the hot seat.

Though it’s too early to fire Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has two appearances in the AFC title game in three seasons as a head coach, he deserves the pressure that goes along with the accountability for guaranteeing a Super Bowl win (and, even more importantly in New York, a win over the Giants) and failing to deliver.  Only so many times can a head coach protect his players and assistants by saying “put the blame on me” until someone decides to put the blame on him.

Yes, his players seem to still believe.  More importantly, the owner seems to still believe.  But the players and the owner may believe a little less in 2012 — especially if Rex emerges from a disappointing 2011 season (in light of the expectations fueled by Ryan) as brash and bold as ever.

Beyond the boundaries of his team, Rex has become a caricature.  (Some would say he already was one.)  If that sense ever makes its way into the locker room, and eventually it should, it’ll be time to move on.

Apart from all the words, it’s one specific action that could, as a practical matter, put Rex in a position to be coaching for his job in 2012.  The misguided decision to make receiver Santonio Holmes a captain, given that Holmes spent much of the year not acting like a captain, could come back to haunt Ryan.

Arguably, it already is.  And now Rex has a mess on his hands, especially since a guy who spent much of Sunday acting like he didn’t want to be with the Jets signed a long-term, big-money deal before the season.

3.  Steelers fleeced Jets on Holmes.

Speaking of Santonio, Steelers fans didn’t care much for the abrupt decision to trade Holmes to New York for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  With a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy coming on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger’s misadventures in Milledgeville, it was perceived that the Steelers’ decision was driven less by football strategy and more by public relations sensitivities.

But the Steelers were looking ahead.  With Holmes due to miss the first four games of the 2010 season and one wake-n-bake away from a one-year suspension, the Steelers opted to unload a potential headache — especially since the Steelers knew they’d never tie their hands by giving Holmes a huge contract.

And so the Steelers didn’t simply get a fifth-round pick.  The Steelers also received the peace of mind that comes from dumping a wideout who would have been a major pain in the butt for the balance of 2010, and who simply no longer factored into their plans.

Meanwhile, the Steelers traded that fifth-round pick to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick.  And with that sixth-round pick the Steelers found their 2011 MVP in round six of the same draft.  Receiver Antonio Brown has become almost everything Holmes was as a player, without creating any of the headaches or other issues that go hand in hand with having Holmes on the team.

Advantage Steelers.

4.  Texans-Bengals game could be the key to the AFC playoffs.

I’ve been concerned throughout much of the 2011 season that, once the Texans get to the postseason, a lack of playoff experience would keep them from being successful.  But their first opponent is the Bengals, a team with young players having no playoff experience and, by all appearances, no players having any positive playoff experiences.

So the Texans, who beat the Bengals last month after trailing 16-3 at the half and 19-10 after three quarters, will have a very good shot at holding off the No. 6 seed.  Taking a broader look at the AFC field, the outcome of that game could have a huge bearing on the determination of the eventual conference champion.

If Houston holds serve at home, it will be time for a return to Baltimore, where the Ravens’ eight regular-season wins included a trouncing of the Texans.  The Steelers, after most likely beating Denver, will head to New England.

Though Baltimore would have to face one of those two potent teams (either Pittsburgh at home, where the Ravens won 35-7 in Week One or the Patriots in New England, where the Ravens won in the playoffs two years ago, 33-14), the Ravens wouldn’t have to play both of them.  Which, for the Ravens, is nice.

If, in contrast, the Bengals upset the Texans, Cincinnati would head to Foxboro — and Pittsburgh would return to Baltimore with a burst of momentum and a shot at becoming the latest wild-card winner to catch a division rival flat-footed after a bye week and knock them out of the playoffs.  If Baltimore manages to beat the Steelers for a third time this year, the reward would be a trip to New England.

The converse is true for the Pats.  A win by the Bengals keeps New England from having to play both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  If Houston wins, the Patriots would have to face a Steelers team that gave New England one of its three 2011 losses before inviting the Ravens back to town.

One way or the other, the outcome of Saturday’s game will make the path to Indy considerably easier for New England or Baltimore, by sending the Steelers to one place or the other.

5.  Crossroads for Daniel Snyder.

The Redskins became the property of Daniel Snyder in 1999.  In the 13 seasons since then, Snyder has employed (excluding interim hires) six head coaches.  Other than Snyder’s boyhood hero, Joe Gibbs, no coach has made it more than two seasons on the job.

Mike Shanahan has just completed his second season on the job.  Recently, Shanahan has been subtly justifying his two losing seasons by explaining that much work needed to be done to improve the bad team he inherited.  And while there’s no indication that Shanahan will be fired, there likewise was no indication that the end was coming three years ago for Shanahan in Denver.

The bigger question for Snyder is whether he’s willing to stay the course not only now but after the 2012 season.  If Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen position themselves to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the draft, it would be foolish to give Shanahan only one year to work with the new quarterback.

And so Snyder needs to realize that, by deciding to keep Shanahan now, Snyder essentially is deciding to keep Shanahan for 2013 — and possibly for 2014.

6.  Another Manning/Leaf dilemma coming?

Speaking (twice now) of Luck and Griffin, what once was a one-man show at the top of the draft quickly has become another Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf conundrum.  On Sunday’s Football Night In America, former Colts coach Tony Dungy explained that Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has shown a willingness to go against conventional wisdom in the draft, taking Edgerrin James in 1999 over Ricky Williams and Dwight Freeney over Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

Dungy even said he’d personally lean toward Griffin, the Heisman winner and architect of a 67-point explosion in Baylor’s bowl win.

Luck still has one more chance to create some separation, when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Despite the obsession over measurables and the things a guy can do when not wearing pads, scouts seem to be influenced heavily by performances on the big stage.

What Luck does with it could ultimately determine whether Luck and Griffin will become another Manning and Leaf dilemma, which despite being a no-brainer in hindsight was a much closer call in 1998.

7.  Pay the Cruz.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz has made, in two seasons, the unlikely climb from undrafted free agent to superstar.  Nearly as shrewd as the Giants’ decision to give him a chance was their decision to sign him to a three-year contract.

And so Cruz remains contractually obligated to show up for mandatory offseason workouts and training camp in 2012, despite being slated to earn a paltry $490,000.

But the Giants need to send a message to the locker room that stellar play will be rewarded.  While they could force Cruz to continue to prove himself — and to bear the injury risk — for the final year of his rookie deal and a season as a restricted free agent, the best move would be to find a way to pay him a fair salary that reflects not only his skills and abilities but also the contributions he made during a season that seemed destined for failure again.

In each of the last two games, a long-yardage catch-and-run from Cruz gave the Giants the upper hand.  It’s only right to put a lot more money in the guy’s pockets.

8.  Broncos should get Quinn ready to play Sunday.

Tebowmania landed with a thud 15 days ago, with the Patriots providing the rest of the league with the blueprint for turning the page on the NFL’s flavor of the month.

As a result, Tim Tebow has played worse than poorly the last two weeks, with as many turnovers against the Bills and Chiefs (six) as Tebow had in his 10 prior games combined.

Enter the Steelers, who have made crafted their legacy over the past two decades by methodically building a lead and then gradually choking off the opposing offense.

As a result, if the Broncos want to have a realistic shot at advancing, it may be prudent to be ready to pull off a Rocky-style switch to southpaw, by switching from the southpaw to Brady Quinn.

This isn’t a long-term indictment of Tebow.  It’s a recognition of the fact that, at least for now, he has bumped up against his ceiling.  The goal on Sunday is to win one game, and it could be that the only way to do that will be to know when to flip the switch from the unconventional quarterback to the guy whose abilities would defy the Steelers’ preparation.

9.  MJD deserves high praise.

Every year, there’s a sense that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has reached the limit of his abilities, and that a regression is coming.  Every year, he simply continues to play at a high level.

This year, on a team with no passing offense to draw safeties away from the box, Jones-Drew piled up 1,606 rushing yards, more than 240 yards better than Ray Rice, who finished at No. 2.  Jones-Drew added 374 receiving yards, which gives him 1,980 yards from scrimmage.

At a time when former USC tailback Reggie Bush is still trying to become the best running back in the game, the former UCLA running back who entered the league in the same draft as an afterthought to Bush is what Bush has always wanted to be.  Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may not be able to develop a decent passing game before the window closes on his prime.

10.  Packers defense is even worse than the Patriots.

All year, the media has harped on the Patriots’ porous defense, barely noticing the Swiss cheese sieve in Green Bay.

At the end of the season, the numbers don’t lie.  The Patriots gave up 411.1 yards per game, and the Packers gave up 411.6.

The Packers also finished with a worse pass defense, giving up 299.8 yards per game.  The Pats surrendered, on average, 293.9.  That’s 34.1 yards per game more than the third-worst pass defense, the Saints.

Fittingly, the three worst pass defenses are complemented by the three best pass offenses.

And so, if the top two seeds make it to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl (or if the Saints get there instead of the Packers), it could be time to reduce the field from 100 yards to 50, put up nets at either end, and just call the game what it will be — arena football.

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Cowboys add Jourdan Lewis, who faces a July jury trial

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The Cowboys have rolled the dice on a player who is facing domestic violence charges.

Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis has been drafted in round three, despite a July 10 trial date on misdemeanor charges. That fact that it’s a misdemeanor means he wouldn’t face significant jail time.

Lewis allegedly “dragged [the victim] across the living room floor and then grabbed her by the neck and held her down on the floor for about three seconds.” He has pleaded not guilty.

Lewis faces no discipline from the league, given that the incident happened before the draft. However, the incident would be considered as potential aggravating circumstances if Lewis has any violations of the Personal Conduct Policy while in the NFL.

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Giants add Davis Webb

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Amid a buzz that former Cal quarterback Davis Webb could have crashed round one, he lasted until round three. And he ended up on the depth chart in New York.

The Giants have made Webb the 87th pick in the draft.

He becomes the potential replacement to Eli Manning, whenever Eli Manning will decide to retire. (Or when the Giants will decide to retire him.)

Webb arrives from Cal. He transferred to Berkeley after losing the starting job at Texas Tech to Patrick Mahomes. Before that, Webb beat out Baker Mayfield, resulting in Mayfield transferring to Oklahaom.

Webb aspires to be a coach. For now, he’ll be a player with the Giants — and he potentially could become the starter there, in time.

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Ravens take a flier on risky pass-rusher Tim Williams

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Father Ozzie’s Home for Wayward Boys has taken in another one, and doubled up with another former Alabama player.

With the 78th pick, the Ravens took linebacker Tim Williams, who has both the pedigree and checkered past that the Ravens have some background with.

Williams is one of the most talented pass-rush prospects in the draft, with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss last year.

But he comes with concerns, specifically his admission of multiple failed drug tests in college. Coupled with a misdemeanor gun charge, it was enough to scare some people off, at least at this point in the proceedings.

Williams was also used almost exclusively as a pass-rusher, but Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome obviously felt like the middle of the third round was an acceptable time to take a chance on someone from his old school who could be an impact player on passing downs.

Williams is the second Alabama player to join the Ravens this week, along with first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

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Eagles “really confident” Sidney Jones will be same player after Achilles tear

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Cornerback Sidney Jones became a new member of the Eagles in the second round of the draft on Friday night, but it’s still unknown when Jones will be able to get on the field for the team.

Jones tore his Achilles in his pro day workout and will be on a rehab schedule for several more months at least. A recent report from his doctors indicated a return during the season is in the cards, but Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said Friday night that the team didn’t know when Jones will be ready to play.

He did say that the team believes Jones will be the same player he was before the injury when he is ready to go.

“Our doctors and training staff not only looked at corners, but we reached out to teams in other sports,” Roseman said, via CSNPhilly.com. “That gave us a lot of confidence here. There’s no insurance for this, but we feel really confident that with our medical team when he gets here he’s going to be able to be the exact same player he was before the injury. … There’ll be no rushing back from this. We’ll do whatever’s in the best interest of getting Sidney Jones 100 percent. Whatever the timetable is. We’ll defer to the doctors. That will not be our decision.”

The Eagles would obviously like to see Jones help them in 2017, but picking him here means they’re comfortable with trading a year of playing time for a better player once he’s back on the field. That says a lot about how highly they regarded Jones before the injury and how much that full return would mean to the team.

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Rams add Cooper Kupp

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The Rams are adding weapons for Jared Goff and Sean McVay.

After taking a tight end in round two, the Rams have added a receiver in the third round, nabbing Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp.

Primarily a slot receiver, Kupp’s arrival creates an intriguing situation as it relates to Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft who received a second contract last year but who has still not really become what they hoped he’d be.

Kupp could transition to the outside at the next level, with Austin on the inside. However it plays out, the Rams are adding pass catchers and playmakers as they prepare to go head to head with the Chargers in Los Angeles.

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Saints continue to add to backfield with Alvin Kamara

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The Saints already had a 1,000-yard back, and then they went and signed a former MVP and future Hall-of-Famer.

So naturally, they drafted another running back.

The Saints traded up to the 67th overall pick in the third round to take Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara.

He didn’t get regular work in college, but he was a big-play threat, averaging 6.5 yards per carry last year. He’s also a solid pass-catcher, and gives them a different element than either Mark Ingram or Adrian Peterson.

The Saints like using multiple backs, and they’ve now reloaded significantly.

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Marvin Lewis: We felt we could move forward with Joe Mixon

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The Bengals brought one of the bigger storylines of the second round of the NFL draft to an end when they drafted Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon with the 48th overall pick.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged that the 2014 video of Mixon punching a woman is repellant — “I don’t know who isn’t disgusted at what they saw,” Lewis said at a press conference Friday night.” — but said that the team’s research into Mixon during the pre-draft process and the settlement he came to with the woman left them feeling comfortable about bringing him to Cincinnati.

“We’ve done such a lot of work regarding Joe Mixon, throughout the entire process this year and based on all the time, all the research, we felt that we can continue to move forward,” Lewis said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Joe’s situation kind of came to a settlement in all ways this week, which also led us to feel better about the opportunity here to move forward. We have done all our due diligence we could do, time spent, interviewing people, everybody around him, everybody around his background, people that have coached at Oklahoma with insight regarding him and how he has carried himself since that day.”

Mixon will be scrutinized on and off the field in Cincinnati, something that he and the team should already be well aware of and something they’ll likely continue to deal with for some time given how big of a story Mixon’s assault became in the last few months.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster is a Steeler

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It’s time for virtual JuJu Smith-Schuster to change teams again.

The former USC receiver, an emotional and competitive player who will instantly fit with the mindset of Pittsburgh, has become the newest member of the Steelers.

He arrives via the 62nd pick, near the bottom of round two. And he could instantly boost a depth chart that consistently features plenty of impact players, especially with the conditional reinstatement of Martavis Bryant.

During a recent visit to PFT Live, Smith-Schuster said the Rams and Cowboys showed the most pre-draft interest in him. After creating a player based on himself in Madden, he joined the Bills before obtaining a release and signing with the Raiders.

The real Smith-Schuster is now a Steeler, and once upon a time the Steelers found a receiver from USC who did great things for the team, in Super Bowl X and elsewhere.

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Cowboys take CB Chidobe Awuzie in round two

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The Cowboys continue to address the exodus that damaged the defense in free agency.

After taking pass rusher Taco Charlton in round one, the Cowboys replaced Brandon Carr and/or Morris Claiborne by selecting Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in round two.

The Cowboys will need Awuzie to compete for playing time right away, along with pretty much every other defensive player they pick.

Nearly all of the pre-draft visits conducted by the Cowboys were defensive players. Look for more of the same over the rest of the draft.

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Mixon pick creates crowded backfield in Cincinnati

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Setting aside the biggest issues arising from the Bengals’ decision to draft running back Joe Mixon, the team has now added a third second-round tailback to the depth chart.

Gio Bernard arrived via the second round in 2013. The following year, the Bengals used a second-round pick on Jeremy Hill. With Mixon now on the team, who gets the short straw?

Bernard, who tore an ACL late last season, already has received a $1 million roster bonus for 2017. He has a cap charge of more than $3.6 million this year.

Hill enters the final year of his rookie contract. He has averaged fewer than four yards per carry in each of the two years since his rookie season that featured 5.1 yards per attempt. He could be vulnerable to a trade or, possibly, an outright release. Either move would entail a cap charge of only $262,000.

It makes more sense for Mixon to supplant Hill, given their comparable styles. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine the Bengals keeping all three guys in 2017.

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Browns get a quarterback, draft DeShone Kizer

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After passing on quarterbacks three times in the first round, the Browns drafted a quarterback in the second round.

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer went to Cleveland with the 52nd overall pick.

The Browns had three first-round picks but eschewed quarterbacks with all three, but tonight they decided to grab Kizer, a physically impressive quarterback who still has a lot of work to do in developing as an NFL-caliber passer.

Kizer joins Cody Kessler, last year’s third-round pick, in the Browns’ quarterback room. Cleveland also has Brock Osweiler and Kevin Hogan under contract, and the Browns have said that Osweiler will get a chance to start, although he was acquired mostly because the Texans gave the Browns a second-round pick to take his contract off their hands.

Although Kizer probably won’t start over Kessler at first, he’ll surely be given an opportunity to win the starting job at some point during the season. Whether he’s the Browns’ quarterback of the future remains to be seen, but he’s probably the most talented player they have at the most important position in football.

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Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen goes to Bears at No. 45

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The Bears traded up and took a quarterback in the first round and followed that up by trading down to take a tight end in the second round.

Their choice comes with an unusual pedigree for a second-round pick. Adam Shaheen played at Division II Ashland after starting his college career as a basketball player and dominated over the last two seasons. He’s big at 6’6″ and 278 pounds, but ran well at the combine and drew a lot of interest during the pre-draft process.

He’ll now be making a big leap in competition and there will surely be some growing pains as he finds himself lined up against NFL players. Should he grow as a result, the Bears could have a very useful weapon to go with first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky and 2016 rookie running back Jordan Howard in their offense of the future.

There’s a flip side to that happy ending, of course, but Bears General Manager Ryan Pace is betting that his offensive picks will be part of the foundation of better results in Chicago.

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Bengals draft Joe Mixon

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The most controversial player in the 2017 NFL draft is off the board.

With the 48th overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon.

Although he had first-round talent, many teams took Mixon off their boards entirely because of the ugly incident in 2014 when he punched a fellow Oklahoma student, breaking bones in her face. When video of that punch was released late last year, some people thought Mixon wouldn’t be drafted at all.

But talent wins out in the NFL, and the Bengals have a reputation for looking past players’ off-field troubles when the players can help on the field. And there’s little doubt that Mixon can help on the field.

With John Ross yesterday and Mixon today, the Bengals have added a lot of playmaking talent to their offense. With Mixon, however, they’ve also added a potential source of controversy. This pick will be heavily scrutinized.

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Colts take cornerback Quincy Wilson with the 46th pick

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New Colts General Manager Chris Ballard had a big task in front on him when he took over this offseason, and he’s starting at the back of the defense and working forward.

The Colts took Florida safety Quincy Wilson with the 46th pick, adding to the rebuild of the secondary.

They took Ohio State safety Malik Hooker in the first round last night, a shot of talent to a unit that really needed it.

Wilson gives them a big, physical cornerback, which they needed back there with Vontae Davis.

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Rams finally pick, take tight end Gerald Everett

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The L.A. Rams didn’t have a first-round pick, and they traded pick No. 37 to the Bills. Now, with the 44th overall selection, the Rams have made a selection.

The selection is South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett.

He becomes the fourth tight end taken in the 2017 draft; the position is regarded as very deep this year.

Like many pass-catching tight ends, the knock on Everett is his blocking ability. But that’s why teams tend to have two tight ends.

Everett has drawn immediate comparisons to Washington tight end Jordan Reed, a guy new Rams coach Sean McVay helped develop before getting his own team.

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